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December 2012 Blog Archives 2

Monday, December 31

6:50 PM I see that the weather will be sunny and nice for tomorrow's Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. Yes, we actually spent the night one year on Colorado Blvd. just to watch the floats go by. Crazy.

6:23 PM Well, goodbye, 2012. What a great year you were. I'm especially grateful for family and friends. I couldn't manage such a complex and pressured life without planting my feet firmly in relationships. Christianity is inescapably relational. None of us understands fully our relationships. But I for one am grateful for each one that I enjoy, beginning with the relationship I have with my Priscilla. I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, with all this talk about the priority of deed over word, orthopraxy over orthodoxy. It reminds me of John Peer's Law of Enough Already: "The more you run over a dead cat, the flatter it gets." But Jesus didn't come just to save our souls. He came to give us a brand new way of living. We are immobilized, demeaned, and defeated whenever we think that Christianity is a dead religion of works. True Christianity is a cross-like lifestyle in the midst of all the gook, grit, and grind of life.

So ... wherever we go this year, may we live out what we believe in, keeping our eyes on Him.

"Happy Newness Year!" (Rom. 6:4).  

3:40 PM I've just completed the schedule for my seminar on hermeneutics for Odessa. I'll lecturing on 4 topics each day, morning and afternoon. I'm calling my lectures:

Monday, March 25

Why Hermeneutics? (Part 1)

Why Hermeneutics? (Part 2)

Toward a Hermeneutics of Obedience (Part 1: Introduction)

Toward a Hermeneutics of Obedience (Part 2: Following Jesus to Ethiopia)

Tuesday, March 26

The Text of the New Testament: Issues in the Current Debate (Part 1)

The Text of the New Testament: Issues in the Current Debate (Part 2)

New Testament Lexicography: Promises and Pitfalls (Part 1)

New Testament Lexicography: Promises and Pitfalls (Part 2)

Wednesday, March 27

Reading the Gospels Today (Part 1)

Reading the Gospels Today (Part 2)

Syntax and Hermeneutics: What’s Old? What’s New?

The Medium Is the Message: Rhetorical Criticism and the New Testament

Thursday, March 28

Structural Analysis of New Testament Texts (Part 1)

Structural Analysis of New Testament Texts (Part 2)

Discourse Analysis: Getting the Big Picture of Philippians

Sociological Criticism and the Life of Christ: Jesus and the Age Thirty Transition

Friday, March 29

Anonymity and Authorship: Hebrews as Test Case

The New Perspective on Paul: My Take

Shaping a New Testament Sermon: John 21:15-17

Epilogue: Why Hermeneutics Matters

Lots of preparation between now and then. As must be obvious, I am looking forward to this class -- with a great deal of fear and trepidation. The students all know that I have been trained in Switzerland and have a dispassionate detachment at which even I marvel at times. Yet I have no doubt I will get very passionate about these topics. I can't hardly wait for the class to begin.

10:13 AM From The Jesus Paradigm:

It seems to me, then, that bearing witness to Christ is absolutely and unavoidably necessary and obligatory for the believer. This conclusion is not based on experience or philosophy. It is based on the totality of God’s missionary mandate.

8:53 AM Looking ahead, this weekend, Lord willing, I will have the privilege of speaking Saturday night and Sunday (am and pm services) at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cleveland, NC, where one of my former students serves. If you live in the 'hood, why not stop by and introduce yourself? And thank you, Joshua, for the kind invitation.

8:37 AM Years ago, when I lived in Southern California, I taught adjunctively for a small school called Simon Greenleaf University. In those days it was a leading center for the study of apologetics, and they insisted on teaching Greek. I was happy to accommodate them. While there I struck up many enduring friendships, not least with a young man named Alfie Mosse, who now serves the Lord faithfully at the Odessa Theological Seminary. Lord willing, in March of 2013 I will be returning to Odessa to teach a course in Advanced Hermeneutics in their new masters program. I accepted their invitation partly because I will get to spend time with Alfie and his family. I am overwhelmed by the range of knowledge that is required in this vast subject, but, as I told the dean, I will do my best to avoid rash generalities. My goal today is to prepare the syllabus for the course and to send several of my essays to be translated into Russian ahead of time. When I was a student in Basel, I well recall one of my chief intellectual pursuits -- aside from my own work in the text -- being attending the lectures of some world-famous scholar upon subjects of which I knew little but which seemed to open wide doors. I can never forgot Lochman on Comenius or Schmidt on Augustine. We would cheer our lecturers vociferously when they were done, not knowing that one day we too would be giving lectures before students. My previous two trips to Ukraine were some of the most joyful experiences I have had while traveling, and I look forward to renewing old acquaintances and making many new friends. I find Odessa a fascinating city, what with its ancient buildings and narrow streets. It is a deep relief to me to know that all of my lectures will be translated into Russian, as I know not a word of that language.

Below: Alfie in front of the seminary building.

The school's motto:

Teaching a group of pastors and their wives in Mykolaiv.

The Russian translation of Using New Testament Greek in Ministry.

7:59 AM Quote of the day (Donald Kraybill):

Leadership is only worthy of allegiance when the led freely grant it to the leader in response to the leader's servant posture.

Husbands, that goes for us too.

7:50 AM The weather in Jerusalem is currently 61 and sunny. In Nelson, VA, the high today will be 52 with a real feel of 48. Enjoy the beautiful day God has given you, Nigusse!

By the way:

בוקר טוב

(Yes, I am trying to help you with your Hebrew.)

7:34 AM Just snapped this:

7:20 AM "Education as Dispersion: The Migration Outcomes of International Students." This was the title of a paper I heard this year at the regional ETS meeting at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. It highlighted the problem of what the presenter called "academic migration." And the facts are startling. She said that 62 percent of students who come to the U.S. on "temporary" student visas still reside in the U.S. five years after graduation. The highest stay rates are students from China and Iran, she said. In a  Christian context, even evangelical students who pledge to return to their homes after graduation still remain in the U.S. at the rate of about 50 percent.

I say all that to say this:

1) Don't assume that a Christian student will return home after graduation out of a sense of Christian commitment. That may or may not happen.

2) Be sure that the international student you are sponsoring understands this problem of Gospel drain and affirms the value of keeping his or her word upon graduation.

3) It is equally important that we support national Bible schools and training centers so that more and more students can remain in their contexts for their education. I have said elsewhere that the problems with sending students to the capital or to a foreign country for education is threefold: Extraction (we remove them from their homes and families and local churches for an extended period of time), expense (it is much less expensive to train students in their own villages and towns), and elitism (when students return back home after their training they are often seen as "experts" and no longer as parts of the Body).

I have discovered in my own life that I need a balanced approach to supporting students for higher education. We brought Nigusse here for his M.Div., but most of the students we have supported remained in their home nations. Then too, I make it a point to travel every year to teach foreign nationals on their own soil, coming alongside the local pastors and educators and supplementing the excellent work they are doing. Finally, by sending our personal libraries abroad (where they will probably do more good than sitting on our office shelves) we can help to develop the next generation of national pastors and evangelists.

True education rolls together dependence, faithfulness, cooperation, obedience, humility, submission, and worship. It waits on God to display His grace and mercy. It demands that we keep our word when we make a promise, and that we lay aside our reliance on any human resource to make waiting on God the number one priority in life.

7:03 AM I see that my Ph.D. student Paul Himes has been working on a new book. No, it's not his dissertation. He's calling it:

Minnesota Mounce and the Participles of Doom

Tell me it ain't so, Paul. Pleeeeease.

Sunday, December 30

9:42 PM Today, at his always-inspirational blog, John Meunier asked What do we mean by 'Christianity'? He writes:

If our eyes are not opened to God, if we are not aware of our sin, if we do not see with faith, if we do not know pardon and assurance, if we do not grow in grace, if our lives do not bear the marks of these changes, then our church membership and regular attendance and knowledge of theology do not make us Christians.

I quite agree. What did the world see in the first believers? They saw their "Christ-likeness." I once heard a child refer to this, not as Christianity, but as Christianality. I love that word. Would our neighbors see Christ in us, would they recognize our Christianality? That's a question I ponder daily here on the farm. In a close-knit community like ours, it's difficult to fake this sort of thing. People want to see reality. I encourage you to spend some time this year getting reacquainted with the Book of Acts. Perhaps you will conclude, as I have done, that our lifestyles are so far removed from the pattern of the New Testament that it's time to make some real changes in the new year. This includes the Christian obligation to exercise hospitality toward others – opening our homes freely and graciously to others, and going out of our way to care for the orphans and widows in their need. This is something the Lord has been impressing upon me for several years now, and today I would just as soon open our home to guests as preach a sermon.

In this world of woe there is nothing greater than becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ. We can do this successfully only by exercising relentless faith – faith in the Triune God who saves, keeps, and satisfies as no other can. Then, as He leads us so to do, let us go out into our communities and declare to them – more by our actions, by our "Christianality," than by our words – that He loves and cares for them too. After all, as Jesus Himself said, this has always been the greatest apologetic for true Christianity (John 13:35).

9:12 PM The church is all about people, people just like you and me, a bit hypocritical maybe, and sinful certainly. You may not remember the Jesus Movement, but I was a card-carrying member back in the 1960s. We left the institutionalized church in droves. After all, who wanted to hang out with all those hypocrites? Know what I discovered when I got to be about 16? That I was as big a hypocrite as all of those folks I left behind in my local church. So what did I do? I went straight back into my local fellowship (First Baptist Church Windward) and plugged in, big time -- youth leader, choir director, deacon. At the ripe old age of 16. Preaching, serving, teaching Bible studies, volunteering for all sorts of things. Today I love this Body chosen by God to display His grace in the world.

I remember reading about an evangelical church in North Carolina that believed and practiced age-integration. No youth group, no children's church, no Sunday School. When they heard about an age-segregated evangelical congregation in their city that needed help with Awana on Wednesday evenings, know what they did? They went over and helped them. Their members went to that church and listened to the Sparkies say their verses. Compromise, or scandalous love? Your answer to that question would tell me a lot about your ecclesiology.

Stay centered in the Lamb,


9:02 PM As I type, Nigusse (UA 84) has just passed Newfoundland and is heading through the North Atlantic. His flight was delayed but he should make Tel Aviv pretty close to schedule. By now he has had his dinner on board and is settling down for the night. Nigu:

לילה טוב

לישון  טוב

6:05 PM As an exurbanite and a farm owner, I was interested in possibly taking Becky to see Matt Damon's new flick about fracking (set in rural America), but I think I'll pass. Reviewers are calling Promised Land "unremarkable" and "hackneyed." I'll miss seeing the great actor. Is Damon in good movies because he chooses good movies, or does he make the movies good? I'd guess the latter, but what do I know, and even he apparently struck out this time, as we all do from time to time.

6:00 PM And the winner of our super spectacular subcultural Hawaiian quiz? None other than:

John Rising of Surrey, British Columbia

In case you were wondering, the answers were:

1) There's a famous kind of meal enjoyed by all local folk in Hawaii. When you order it, you're often asked "How many scoop rice?" What is this delicious cuisine called?

Plate lunch

2) Ice cream cones are loved in Hawaii, but ________ ice is enjoyed even more. What's the missing word?

Shave (not shaved)

3) Anyone who grew up in the Islands knows that young people often pick fights with each other. I can't tell you how many times I was asked "Wanna fight?" In Hawaiian Pidgin, the invitation goes like this: "You like _______ or what?" What is it I'm supposed to "like"?


4) Finally, this panoramic photo shows the inside of what famous crater?

Diamond Head (of course)

The book goes out in Wednesday's mail. Congratulations, John!

1:56 PM Missions update:

1) I don't think I've ever introduced you to our precious "daughter" Neeli. We first learned about her through our friends Mammen and Alice Joseph. As I mentioned to you the other day, the Josephs are working in the northeastern corner of India among several unreached people groups. God has giving them a ministry called Peniel Gospel Team. In 2011, Mammen's son Moncy, who was then a student at SEBTS, asked if he could bring his parents to the farm so that they could share their vision with us. The answer was an immediate and hearty yes.

This was when we found out about the many activities being carried out by PGT in India, from Gospel teams to a Children's Home to various educational ministries. God laid upon our hearts to support one of their orphans, and that's how we got to know Neeli. This is a letter we received from PGT after we began supporting her.

Neeli belongs to an Adhivasi community. She lost her father and her mother. We brought her seven years back and she is studying in tenth grade. We were struggling without a sponsor. Many times we were not able to meet all her needs for school and personal.  We have total 56 children in our home. In the beginning each child had sponsors. But later many lost sponsors and Neeli was one among them. She is very good in her studies and she accepted Christ in her life. She is one of the future missionaries in their community. She is grateful to you both and assured her continuous prayers.  

In a letter addressed to Becky, Neeli wrote, "On 17th November, 2012 there is a singing competition in which I am also involved. I really thank God for giving me this wonderful opportunity to glorify His name. Please do pray for me so that many may be touched with the song and would come to know more about Christ."

Isn't that a precious letter! What a compassionate sister in Christ! Will you please join us in praying for Neeli and for the other orphans in northeast India? And I just wonder: How many millions of our Christian homes in America would be able to support a child?

Below: Two blood-bought sisters in Christ. Aren't they beautiful?

Mammen, Alice, and Moncy -- missionaries from southern India to northern India.

2) Our dear Ethiopian sister Aberash (whose story may be found here) has just left her home in Alaba to return to her native village, where her aged mother is dying. Please pray for the family as it gathers in Damboya. I am amazed at the dozens of small and large prayer needs that I become aware of on a daily basis. Many of you must experience the same thing. These should spur us on to a life of more prayer and intercession. We have countless opportunities to trust God for the work He is doing in the world and to stand alongside those who are suffering. Aberash -- we love you, we miss you, and we are praying for you. Nathan, we love you too!

Thank you, friends, for your kindness to me and Becky in hearing our prayer requests and then acting upon them. I have traveled to scores of nations but have never been to a country where people are so generous as in the United States of America. May God increase our compassion for the nations of the world. Yes, we have our problems here. But take any problem you find here, multiply it a thousand times, and you will begin to understand what other nations like India and Ethiopia experience. To whom much is given much is required. May we all be willing to press forward to greater things in the year to come. Amen?

12:12 PM Down to RDU we went this morning, after feasting on the breakfast of champions.

A vigorous and enthusiastic United Airlines employee met us at the ticket kiosk and got Nigu squared away. We thought he was flying through New York but he's really going through Newark. Oh well, the words are almost homophones.

After enjoying a cup of Starbuck's caramel macchiato together, we made Nigusse promise he wouldn't do anything we wouldn't do and said our farewells. He will soon experience the place I had idealized since childhood and actually saw for myself in 1986 with Becky. It will mean a much-needed break from his SEBTS studies. Besides, I think the traveling instinct is as much a part of Nigusse's psyche as it is ours. Fortified with this knowledge, we sent him on his way.

A glimpse back at our own journeys to various and sundry esoteric places got Becky and me to reminiscing with Nigusse about -- well, how about the time we got stuck in Luxor without any Egyptian money -- or the time we got stranded at the Gar de l'Est in Paris and could not, for the life of us, find our way to the Gar du Nord. (Who knew that Paris had more than one train station?) Those trips to faraway places were the happiest we have ever known. The eye of the most casual sight-seer is caught by the size of the Valley of the Kings or the magnificence of the Tour Eiffel. It was during the latter trip that we visited Basel in quest of a doctoral program, little knowing that we would end up living there as a juvenis ornatissimus. I am absolutely thrilled that Nigusse has this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and to visit the excavations at Tel Megiddo. I'm not saying I wish could life again vicariously through my adopted son. Then again -- it would be nice to revisit the Holy Land someday.

With Becky, of course.

And this time with local currency.

7:48 AM Am about to cook some traveler's food for breakfast: Fried ham and eggs with homemade toast. Hearty stuff for a long trip. Tel Aviv, here he comes.

7:32 AM I have been re-reading a book called Mi$$ion$ and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem.

The author is a Mennonite scholar named Jonathan Bonk who, of all things, grew up in Ethiopia. The book is both exquisite and irritating at the same time -- like a good book should be. Jesus provoked controversy wherever He went, and we should not be afraid to do so ourselves. Much of what I am reading in Mi$$ion$ and Money meshes well with what I read in the Scriptures. For example, Jesus' ministry lacked the speed, the efficiency, the mobility, the "success" of all our current missionary strategies. His mission unfolded in weakness, obscurity, and poverty. Contrast, says Bonk, our modern missionary enterprises. Western missionary strategy, he writes, is becoming more and more characterized by dependence on technology. He notes:

  • Several levels of well-paid bureaucrats are now needed to support those who are incarnating Christ and doing the actual work of missions

  • Our strategies are becoming all about abstract "programs" and "people groups"

  • Charts and graphs have become a substitute for identifying with actual people

  • Mobility and speed have taken precedence over time-consuming personal relationships

  • Wealthy missionaries too often fail to identify with the life situations of the poor to which their message is intended to address

  • Rather than attempting to become poor with the poor, many missionaries seek personal and family security, comfort, and material hope

  • Western missionaries show no great willingness to lose all things for the sake of Christ (Phil. 3:7-8)

  • Material symbols of affluence are still absolutely necessary for the continuation of the mission effort from the West

The book includes this unforgettable quote from M. Gandhi: "I have told my missionary friends, 'Noble as you are, you have isolated yourselves from the people you want to serve.'"

There is much to think about in this book. Jesus' method of foreign missions is vastly different from ours. I would hope and pray that we could get back to radical, people-loving, relational, sacrificial, and costly missions. No, you do not need to drive the latest model Land Cruiser. (I see this everywhere I go in Ethiopia.) In fact, you do not even have to own a vehicle. You can always use public transportation or just walk. Eat what the people eat. Live where the people live. Develop relationships that are not necessarily related to your "work" as a missionary. Fund your own ministry if you can. This means that money that would go to pay for your airfare can now be spent on the needy. Work as much as possible from local church to local church. Let's be like Hudson Taylor (photo) and James Gilmour of the nineteenth century, who were regarded with suspicion by their peers because they refused to insist on Western standards of living. In the New Testament, men like Barnabas, Timothy, Luke, and Paul have shown us that there is an alternative to our blatantly materialist way of living.

My main takeaway from this book is my need again and again to return to the Jesus paradigm in my work as a missionary. How really difficult to do! -- especially in a day when anthropologists, theologians, educators, historians, missiologists, and even marketing consultants are deemed indispensable for missions. The thousands of books, journals, articles, symposiums, conferences, seminars, and consultations all devoted to our "missionary strategies" reflect our deep-seated human tendency to supplant the simple wisdom of the Bible with our own insights, which, of course, we deem the indispensable key to more effective missions. Bonk's work is a reminder that the only missionary model that is truly biblical is the Jesus model of incarnational missions. "As the Father sent me, so I am sending you."

7:12 AM "Didn't I tell you that working on the new Greek Portal would drive us both crazy?"

Crazy or not, we launch it on January 1. 

Saturday, December 29

7:28 PM Growing up in Hawaii, there was not a single day that I did not look up at the mountains and sky and say, "Lord, thank you for allowing me to live in such a wonderful place." I never took the beauty of the Islands for granted. Never. Likewise the farm. I post these pictures (taken on my walk today with the dogs) for no other reason than to say a big "thank you" to the One who made all this possible.

1) The goats enjoying their palace. Sadly, we lost the little one. She was sickly. That's life -- and death.

2) One of several hay barns we built on the farm. We call this the "Pizza Hut" for obvious reasons. We've not had to feed a single leaf of hay yet this year, the weather has been so mild.

3) One of my favorite views of Maple Ridge and her outbuildings. We are beginning to make plans for her dedication service. Care to join us?

4) The view that greeted me when I returned to Bradford Hall.

Thank you, Lord, for your goodness to me.

6:02 PM Believe it or not, one DBO reader has already correctly answered all 4 questions in our subcultural Hawaii quiz. And the man lives in Canada, of all places. How about you? Want to give it a try? You have until 6:00 pm tomorrow to submit your answers.

5:48 PM Jeremy Myers thinks you ought to use these Greek cheat sheets. Do I agree? Absolutely. "Halitosis is better than no breath at all," said one pastor to another. The older we get, the more helps we need to keep up with our Greek. An old geezer like me should know.

5:28 PM This is Nigusse's last night here in the States before shipping out for Israel in the morning. He's been working like crazy to finish his map work. The pre-assignments for this course are simply fantastic, as Becky and I can attest personally. Hard to believe that his class starts on Tuesday. Better brush off your Hebrew textbook too, son. You'll be surprised at how much of it you can use in country. Please join us in praying for safe travels and for eyes to see and ears to hear all of the wonderful things God has in store for him.

Nigusse will be gone for three weeks. Which means that Becky and I will be by ourselves the whole time. Not really: I see our social calendar has just filled up. Never a dull moment at Bradford Hall.

5:20 PM When the Russian ban on adoptions get personal. Truly heartbreaking. Thanks for getting the word out, Kevin. I am wrestling in prayer on their behalf.

Craig and Kim, you know that we love you guys. We will stand with you in prayer. Remember: His character never changes.

2:33 PM It's Contest Time again! A free copy of my book New Testament Textual Criticism to the person who can correctly answering the following questions. This is a cultural quiz, mind you. Well, maybe a "subcultural" quiz. Hawaii has a definite subculture, one that our President knows very well since he, like I, was raised there. I am sure he would know the answers without even having to think. And here are the questions:

1) There's a famous kind of meal enjoyed by all local folk in Hawaii. When you order it, you're often asked "How many scoop rice?" What is this delicious cuisine called?

2) Ice cream cones are loved in Hawaii, but ________ ice is enjoyed even more. What's the missing word?

3) Anyone who grew up in the Islands knows that young people often pick fights with each other. I can't tell you how many times I was asked "Wanna fight?" In Hawaiian Pidgin, the invitation goes like this: "You like _______ or what?" What is it I'm supposed to "like"?

4) Finally, this panoramic photo shows the inside of what famous crater?

Be sure to send your mailing address when you write me at I'll announce the winner tomorrow night. Islanders are welcome to play along. (Do I even have even readers in the Islands?)

Mahalo and Aloha,


P.S. Did you know that Hawaii has a company called Mahalo Airlines?

12:55 PM Well, it's the year end, and rather than listing here my most-read blogs of the past year (or some such nonsense), I think I'll tell you what my favorite new blog of 2012 was (at least "new" to me):

The M Blog by Guy Muse

Guy is a fulltime professional missionary of the Southern Baptist Convention serving in Ecuador. And boy does he tell it like it is. He's always honest, sometimes critical, but never disrespectful of the church. Unlike some who have left the institutionalized church and throw rocks at it from the outside, Guy writes as an insider. That takes guts and, in my book, deserves a lot of respect. He's been serving Jesus faithfully for 25 years as a missionary -- plenty of time for opinions to form, don't you think? In a blogosphere filled with group think, his blog is a breath of fresh air. On my own blog I spend a good deal of time discussing with my friends how church is perceived and what kind of culture it fosters. In this regard, Guy is very much a kindred spirit. He says things the church definitely needs to hear. I can't wait for his latest blog post to appear and to watch him bare his soul again.

So there you have it: The M Blog. There is no way I can recommend this site...

... enough.

11:52 AM My colleague and friend Alvin Reid posts A few ideas for a more fit 2013. Kudos, brother Alvin. Over-eating and obesity are HUGE problems among Baptists. Why are we so silent about it? And about divorce? A couple of years ago someone posted a proposal to ban divorce. Why, folks, serious social issues do not, repeat do not, include serial polygamy. Repeat after me: Gay marriage and abortion, gay marriage and abortion. Public protest is not allowed when it comes to the most egregious of all sins in evangelicalism. Divorce is AOK in many Religious Belt churches. It's the Trojan Horse of evangelical ethics. A nation that is half stupefied by groupthink over "grave moral issues" will not even stop to consider how much more subtle the danger of divorce is to the fabric of our society than is gay marriage. Besides, if we go after divorce, who knows, Bible Belt obesity might be next on the list.

So please read Alvin's comments. And please, let's all eat and live healthier. Only at one point might I take issue with my friend. He writes, "Weigh once a week, same time, same clothing. Don't weigh daily as it will drive you mad." I say, throw away the scales and just look at yourself in the mirror. If you are happy with the way you look and feel, you are probably doing fine. If you're not, do something about it. But don't get caught up with numbers. I get my exercise through working on the farm and light weight lifting. That has kept up my metabolism for all these years. I weigh the same today as I did 20 years ago. I know because they weigh me at my annual physical. It's not the numbers that count.

As Alvin puts it, "the ultimate goal is lifestyle change." And, judging from the following map, we could all use a bit of that.

11:22 AM Two weeks ago a student asked me, "What was it in your life that changed you so dramatically?" I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Why? I don't know. Perhaps it's because I've been avoiding writing. I'm a bit uncertain as to how to share my thoughts with all of you. I've lived many lives in my 60 years. I've gone through phases struggling to learn what life is all about. After decades of trying to live up to others' expectations, I picked up my Bible and began to read it like it was something brand new. That's when I turned to the Lord. Really turned. My decision wasn't a public one. But I was ready to abandon the religious way of life and simply follow Jesus. Praise God that I have an abundant Christian life today. The wasted years, the wasted opportunities -- those are mostly in the past now. The world has nothing to offer. I am free from its demands and expectations. "The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them" (Thomas Merton). I have discovered that being a Christian is not so much inviting Jesus into one's heart as getting oneself into Christ's heart. As a result, I have become passionate about how people can find and follow Christ. Gratefully, I belong to a community of Christians who are chewing on the same questions. Like Job, I insist on living in the pain of faith. And like Paul, I want to encourage people to discern what's actually taught in the Word and not just gloss over the real problems with wishful thinking. So to answer the student's question: It was an encounter with the Living Word of God that began this change in my life, pure and simple. Nothing profound. Seeing Jesus again for the first time -- I believe someone wrote a book with that title or one close to it. Well, that's the perfect explanation for the transformation that is taking place in my walk with the Lord.

How about you? What is God doing in your life to transform you from who you are to who you want to be?

11:15 AM Today CNN published an opinion piece called It's time for evangelicals to speak up about guns. The author raises an important question: Is there a "Christian position" on political issues? Let me begin my brief answer by referring to the character of God. God defines Himself as hesed -- mercy, loving-kindness, faithfulness, etc. Perhaps the most important question in the debate, then, is "Why is God so good to us when we are so evil? Why is He moved by our tears? Why would He enter personally into our suffering?" This morning I read that a 12-year old was accidentally shot and killed while hunting in Wake Forest. It seems that our society is awash in blood. The Christendom paradigm of Christianity says, "Let's take political action to straighten this mess out." But there's a different vision of the kingdom of God. It's a vision that millions of Christians are waking up to. God does not in any way cause evil. But He does respond to it in ways that further His redemptive purposes in the world. This is a profound truth. It is absolutely mindboggling. That God can take evil and use it for good, and do so without violating our free will -- that is nothing less than amazing. That's why I refuse to allow the kingdom message to get co-opted by politics (whether leftwing or rightwing). I believe the answer to the gun question ultimately lies in my response to the kingdom. My stance against violence means nothing. It becomes culturally relevant only to the degree that I display Calvary-love and service of others, including my worst enemies.

I'm going to pray about what all this means to me practically. In the meantime, I urge all of us to remember that the kingdom of God is radically different from the kingdoms of this world, and so we must always be wary of placing too much trust in any governmental solution to our problems.

8:29 AM A review of John Stott's new biography contains this revealing paragraph:

Like Graham, Stott pursued this goal through extensive international travel at a time when flight still incurred considerable costs. Globetrotting conferred prestige in the early years of Stott's ministry. Today, even junior high evangelicals get their passports stamped in far-flung locales on short-term mission trips. They should thank Stott, who dedicated his last 20 years of ministry to bolstering the global church by making it possible for non-Western pastors and scholars to study in prestigious seminaries. He was uniquely suited for this leadership role from ages 65 to 85: never married, retired from preaching at All Souls Langham Place in London, and unencumbered by a bishop's responsibilities in the Church of England.

Stott's visit to Ethiopia is still remembered there with awe and wonder. "Bolstering the global church." What a worthy goal for this 60-year teacher. It is, in fact, my chief desire these days. John Stott set the pace and raised the bar. I'm thankful for that.

8:15 AM So Thomas Hudgins wants to visit the birthplace of A. T. Robertson with me. Why not? It's only 50 miles from the farm. Should be fun.

8:10 AM In the movie The Great Escape, one of the two "halfway houses" in the tunnel was called Piccadilly Circus, a term that reminds me of a very pleasant few days I spent in London shopping in the used bookstores in the famous Circus.

It has by far the finest collection of World War II books in the world -- with a dash of smart and affable folk whose only vice was their slight speech impediment (or was it my accent that made them sound so strange?). I also did a certain amount of sightseeing, museums and the like (the British Museum and, of course, Baker Street), but nothing could match the sheer joy of buying good books at very cheap prices. I regret that my flights to Ethiopia do not go through London, because Piccadilly would make a great stopover.

8:05 AM Quote of the day (from Barth the Elder):

Sofern er in ihm auch der Wahrheitsfrage gegenüber verantwortlich ist, ist jeder Christ als solcher auch zum Theologen berufen.

I am suffering agonies at the moment over the appalling truthfulness of this statement. All I can do is hope to go on finding this unreasonable assertion (aspiration?) sufficiently true despite all evidence to the contrary.

7:30 AM Over at the M Blog, Guy Muse crunches the numbers for us -- the only numbers that really matter:

6,944,287,685 - Number of people in the above 11,342 people groups.

4,192,663,816 - Number of people in the above 6,422 people groups where Evangelical Christians comprise less than 2% of the total population.

240,245,046 - Population of the 3,133 unreached people groups not engaged by anyone.

96,381,569 - Population of unreached people grooups that are not engaged by anyone, anywhere around the world.

He adds:

So what does all of this mean? For me there are at least three ways to respond:

1) Indifference--not my problem, I'm not going to do anything about it, already have a full plate.
2) Involve myself--as we begin a new year, I am going to intentionally engage in trying to do my share of making sure the Gospel gets to the nations--I am going to inform myself, pray with understanding, give purposefully, and maybe even go myself.
3) Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to me about what He would have me do, and then do it.

Of course, option #1 is no option at all. Involvement is our calling as Christians. There are several ways you can go about this:

1) Become an informed Christian. Here's a map you can get for free from The Voice of the Martyrs.

Right now, ours is sitting on our library sofa. You can hang it on your kitchen wall or on the frig. We have a larger version of this map on one of the walls at church.

2) Go on brief informational tours of the mission field. This is what Becky and I hope to do this year in northeast India, where neither of us have ever been. A vision tour can be life-changing if it is organized properly.

3) Become a faithful intercessor for the needs of the world. Send out one sentence prayers for the persecuted or other needs you learn about.

4) Finally, get involved personally by either (a) sponsoring missionaries -- especially foreign nationals, (b) going to the field as a short-term missionary, (c) arranging a missions conference in your church (Becky and I are always happy to speak about Ethiopia, and we do not charge for our visits), and (d) realizing that you are a fulltime missionary yourself.

Can we finish the task in our generation? It has never been more possible than now. But each of us must play our part if the work is to be done. The world is looking for self-confident people to lead it, but Christ is looking for humble, God-dependent people who will love the nations of the world as He does.

So ... Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?

7:12 AM Quote of the day:

In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.

These words ("Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit") were spoken in a loud voice by Felix Manz as his arms and legs were being bound. A few minutes later he would be dead. Standing on the banks of the Limmat River was his mother, whose voice could be heard entreating him to remain true to Christ. And the charge? Manz was sentenced to death

...because contrary to Christian custom and order he had become involved in Anabaptism,...because he confessed having said that he wanted to gather those who also wanted to accept Christ and follow Him, and unite with them through baptism, that he and his followers separated themselves from the Christian Church and were about to raise up and prepare a sect of their own....

Manz's crime was to seek to recover the church of the New Testament. He refused to join himself to the secular rule, as Zwingli had done. He had the audacity to view the church as a body of the saved surrounded by an unregenerate mass. He refused to erase the distinction between Volk and Volk Gottes, a distinction we Americans enjoy today because of our First Amendment. All I can say is, thanks be to God for those who considered freedom of conscience a prized possession.

7:02 AM More on why I love the Anabaptists so much. They believed in:

  • serving instead of ruling
  • suffering instead of inflicting suffering
  • biblical authority instead of ecclesiastical tradition
  • brotherhood instead of hierarchy
  • the towel instead of the sword
  • the headship of Christ instead of that of any pastor
  • the way of peace instead of "just war"
  • the church as a living organism instead of as a human institution
  • the reign of God instead of a political kingdom
  • the catholicity of the true church instead of sectarianism
  • the power of suffering instead of the cult of power
  • the Bible as a book of the church instead of as a book of scholars
  • loyalty to their heavenly citizenship instead of to the principalities and powers
  • Spirit-orientation instead of forced structures of church life
  • being a "light to the nations" instead of a Christian enclave
  • faith that works (in both senses) instead of dead orthodoxy
  • effectual grace as a living reality instead of as a theological dogma
  • every-member ministry instead of clergyism
  • baptism into Christ instead of baptism into a denomination
  • a unity that is lived instead of a unity that is merely extolled
  • welcoming the despised and marginalized instead of ignoring them
  • a hermeneutic of obedience instead of a hermeneutic of knowledge
  • individual conscience instead of theological conformity
  • volunteerism instead of professionalism
  • allegiance to Christ instead of allegiance to the state

Adapted from chapter 3 of The Jesus Paradigm.  

Friday, December 28

9:10 PM Quote of the day (Conrad Grebel):

We were listeners to Zwingli's sermons and readers of his writings, but one day we took the Bible itself in hand and were taught better.

This was Grebel's response when he was asked where he found his new view of the Christian church. I love Zwingli and have studied his life. I have profited from his writings. But the Anabaptists were right: The clear teaching of the New Testament was more important than the teachings of their earthly teacher.

7:32 PM I'm having so much fun revamping the Greek Portal -- ripping out the old and putting in the new -- that I'm beginning to feel a little guilty.

7:20 PM From Being an American and a Missionary at the Same Time:

Believers and churches in the States should be more aware of the difficult situation in which this reality places the missionaries they send out around the world. Trying to communicate to love of Christ in such a setting can be a serious blow to your sense of self-esteem, if it is not firmly grounded in who you are in Christ alone, and not who you are as an American. Those who support missions back at home should also be aware of how political issues in the States can, at times, make the burden that the missionaries they send out have to bear, even heavier. Without compromising on our God-given responsibility to be salt and light in our society, and maintain a prophetic voice in the face of evil and injustice, we should be sensitive as to how our public image affects not only our witness on the home front, but also, more and more, on the international mission field, as well.

Dated but good.

7:13 PM Come Tuesday, we's gonna have us a hootenanny! The new and improved Greek Portal is a-comin'! 

7:09 PM Rick Morton's perspective on Russia's ban on adoptions is well worth reading. A key quote:

I believe that God has been at work in preparing an adoption and foster care movement in Russia (more on that in a moment), and this legal change in Russia may hasten its growth. In reality, international adoption has never been a holistic answer for Russia’s orphan problem. It’s not that I am suggesting that international adoptions from Russia or wrong or should be halted, but I am suggesting that the adopting of Russian children by foreigners is at best one small part of the solution to Russia’s orphan crisis. I count among my closest friends families who have adopted from Russia, and their adoptions are both good and healthy. They don’t get the press simply because their families are not sensational. Most Russian kids who have been adopted by American are loved, well cared for, and are better off, but they are woefully too few in number. Of the 800,000 children living in Russian orphanages, only a small fraction of those children are available for adoption with even fewer available for international adoption. Most Russian orphans are social orphans who have living parents (or other relatives) who retain legal rights to the children but have given them up to orphanages because they cannot support them for reasons of poverty, addiction, and etc. Foster care or reunification are the only legal options for these children. Moreover, the high cost of non-Russians adopting a child from Russia sets a glass ceiling on the numbers of children that can realistically be expected to be adopted by foreigners. Getting more Russians to adopt and foster Russians is the answer. To my eye, any discussion of the welfare of these un-adoptable or unadopted children has been lost in the discussion of the current policy turn by Russia in the media or in the blogosphere.

Please read the entire essay.

"Getting more Russians to adopt and foster Russians is the answer." Well said indeed. May God awaken His church in Russia to see this need and act on it. In the meantime, I pray that Putin will allow adoptions that are currently in the pipeline to proceed apace. As I wrote in The Jesus Paradigm:

Don’t wait for politicians to bring about cultural renewal. Be the hands and feet of Jesus – evangelizing the lost, feeding the hungry, teaching the illiterate, caring for unwed mothers, rebuilding the broken walls of our culture. “The central lesson of the last one hundred years is that the state can disrupt, but it cannot save families,” concludes Allan Carlson. If we want to build a caring society, good deeds speak louder than words. Societal renewal is not ultimately a political task but a spiritual mission. We need to take ownership of the towel and basin Jesus offers us. We must be willing, as Jesus was, to bend over and serve the helpless irrespective of status or social custom. Jesus not only taught but modeled the downward path. He embodied it by being an advocate for the outcasts. He said that we are to love others as He loved us. Isn’t that plain enough?

5:23 PM It has now been eight and a half weeks since Becky's "event." The time has been spent in doctors visits and lots of time spent in bed. But her strength is slowly coming back. That, my friends, is a nice serendipity. It turns out that when you've come face to face with death you're a lot more appreciative of life. I can't explain what I feel about this coming year. Happy New Year Dreaming, everyone. I don't know if I'll ever be able to travel abroad with Becky again, but just thinking about it is lovely. I am by no means a wise man, but I think I'm beginning to understand what true wealth is. That's why I'm so excited about the future. Because I am, more than ever, in love with a serendipitous God.

4:57 PM Michelangelo had a motto: "Criticize by creating." You see something you don't like? Do something about it. I love seeing lives changed by truth.

4:44 PM "The less I spent on myself and the more I gave to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become." Great words from Hudson Taylor.

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