January 2014 Blog Archives
Tuesday, January 21
5:04 PM Jay Thomas offers a post called A Biblical Understanding of Depression and Anxiety. An excerpt:
I still need to read it slowly and digest its contents, but it looks like there's plenty of practical wisdom here.
4:15 PM Ever feel like driving off the freeway of life and pulling into a rest stop? What should you do when you're on the edge of exhaustion -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Here are four suggestions:
BE HONEST: With yourself, with others, and with God. He knows your body. He knows you're worn out. He knows your spirit. He knows you're discouraged. He also knows your future. He knows it is still good.
BE REALISTIC: If you're anything like me, you're very passionate about what you do. You have high goals and standards. You feel you need to make a contribution to your worlds -- family, church, school, missionary calling. You feel a need to pour your life into others. This makes you vulnerable. Vulnerable to exhaustion, weariness, loss of passion, fatigue.
BE PROACTIVE: You need to stop ignoring the Rest Principle. You need to recover your scattered energies. You need to give yourself -- and others -- grace. You need to let your soul catch up with your body. You need to allow the Word to renew your inner force.
BE TRANSPARENT: Never be ashamed to ask your friends for their prayers. Bonhoeffer once wrote, "A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another." Prayer makes a difference.
Today, I urge all of us to be honest, realistic, proactive, and transparent.
12:28 PM In honor of all our new and returning SEBTS students, I offer the following aphorisms on education:
Blessings on you, men and women! My prayers are with you.
10:20 AM This morning I'm working on my book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. It's slow going. The idea is that there is only one holy nation, and it is not America but rather "Godworld" (the kingdom of heaven). Right now I am in the book of Acts. I am struck by the eagerness of the church in Antioch to help the believers in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). Think about it. From the outset, the early church recognized that salvation was more than positional. It has a moral aspect. Luther's doctrine of justification by faith has been rightly criticized because of its overemphasis on the forensic aspect of salvation. He was primarily interested in forgiveness, and not in renewal. Hence his trouble with James. But early Christianity was not aloof from society. It penetrated it with love and good deeds. And it was love of Christ, not of country, that impelled them to be involved in the affairs of society. Note the words of the second-century document The Epistle to Diognetus (5:1-5):
True Christianity never pits "Christian culture" against non-Christian culture. Instead, it infuses new leaven into the existing culture. The church is a people within a people, but it is never part of the sacral society that idolizes man or nation. When Luther put the trumpet of reform to his lips he was prepared to make a break with the state, though not a complete one. As soon as he joined himself to the secular rule, the Reformation came to a crashing halt as far as I am concerned. I am greatly indebted to God for allowing me to live in these United States. But, like God's people of old, I "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:16). The kingdom of God transcends national borders, so why should cultural values craft the church's institutional forms? If we were to view our national holidays as human creations, we would be less likely to sacralize them. And then the kingdom would advance. And even Caesar might become interested in learning a thing or two from the church.
Think about it.
10:06 AM Is your church unified? Jesus commands us to go to the world, but not in the context of dissension within our ranks. His overriding command is that we be committed to one another in love, affirming and strengthening each other as fellow workers in His kingdom. It's no exaggeration to say that, without a deeply spiritually united team, our hearts can never be synchronized with God's.
9:47 AM From Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?
7:48 AM Today is convocation. Wishing all of my colleagues at SEBTS a great semester.
7:37 AM In the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh, not pixels. Computers can never be a substitute for relationships.
Monday, January 20
2:08 PM Monster waves arrive in Hawaii on Wednesday. I arrive on Thursday. Is there a message here for me?
12:34 PM Pray for Billy Graham.
10:43 AM When you share the love of Jesus with someone, don't forget to bring up repentance. The Gospel is not the Gospel if we strip it of the whole package. It's like saying the NFC Championship Game score was "Seahawks 23."
10:40 AM The Reader's Digest once published an article entitled "13 Things Used Car Salesmen Won't Tell You." Well here are "13 Things Your Greek Teachers Won't Tell You":
1. Greek is not the only tool you need to interpret your New Testament. In fact, it's only one component in a panoply of tools. Get Greek, but don't stop there.
2. Greek is not the Open Sesame of biblical interpretation. All it does is limit your options. It tells you what's possible, then the context and other factors kick in to disambiguate the text.
3. Greek is not superior to other languages in the world. Don't believe it when you are told that Greek is more logical than, say, Hebrew. Not true.
4. Greek did not have to be the language in which God inscripturated New Testament truth because of its complicated syntax. Truth be told, there's only one reason why the New Testament was written in Greek and not in another language (say, Latin), and that is a man named Alexander the Great, whose vision was to conquer the inhabited world and then unite it through a process known as Hellenization. To a large degree he succeeded, and therefore the use of Greek as the common lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century AD should come as no surprise to us today.
5. Greek words do not have one meaning. Yet how many times do we hear in a sermon, "The word in the Greek means..."? Most Greek words are polysemous, that is, they have many possible meanings, only one of which is its semantic contribution to any passage in which it occurs.
6. Greek is not difficult to learn. I'll say it again: Greek is not difficult to learn. I like to tell my students, "Greek is an easy language; it's us Greek teachers who get in the way." The point is that anyone can learn Greek, even a poorly-educated surfer from Hawaii. If I can master Greek, anyone can!
7. Greek can be acquired through any number of means, including most beginning textbooks. Yes, I prefer to use my own Learn to Read New Testament Greek in my classes, but mine is not the only good textbook out there.
8. Greek students think they can get away with falling behind in their studies. Folks, you can't. I tell my students that it's almost impossible to catch up if you get behind even one chapter in our textbook. Language study requires discipline and time management skills perhaps more than any other course of study in school.
9. Greek is fun! At least when it's taught in a fun way.
10. Greek is good for more than word studies. In fact, in the past few years I've embarked on a crusade to get my students to move away from word-bound exegesis. Greek enables us to see how a text is structured, how it includes rhetorical devices, how syntactical constructions are often hermeneutical keys, etc.
11. Greek can cause you to lose your faith. When the text of Scripture becomes nothing more than "another analyzable datum of linguistic interpretation," it loses its power as the Word of God.
12. Greek can be learned in an informal setting. The truth is that you do not need to take a formal class in this subject or in any subject for that matter. I know gobs of homeschoolers who are using my grammar in self-study, many of whom are also using my Greek DVDs in the process.
13. Greek is not Greek. In other words, Modern Greek and Koine Greek are two quite different languages. So don't expect to be able to order a burrito in Athens just because you've had me for first year Greek. On the other hand, once you have mastered Koine Greek it is fairly easy to work backwards (and learn Classical Greek) and forwards (and learn Modern Greek).
Okay, I'm done. And yes, I'm exaggerating. Many Greek teachers do in fact tell their students these things!
10:18 AM Some of my favorite bloggers are leaving the blogosphere. Don't exactly know why, but they haven't posted in months. I write online because I love writing, not because I don't have other things to do, and certainly not because I can't (or don't) write anywhere else. I simply have things in my head that have to come out. I try to tell the truth as I see it, but I don't assume that anyone will agree with what I have to say. After 10 years of blogging I still feel like I'm trying to find my voice, and I have a constant conversation within me about how to blog and when. For better or for worse, I opt not to remain silent. I also try to post interesting links on my site - within minutes of an important news story you can get the word out and even have a comment or two to make about it.
Of course, I need to be careful about what I write or link to, as there's always a slim chance someone out there might read it. :)
10:08 AM Though a bit dated, here are some interesting stats. Out of 4,120,000 bloggers, there are:
1) Teens and twenty-somethings are living up to their name "Generation Text."
2) Note the final category. I still think blogging is underused by us aging evangelicals (aka, fossils) to get the Word out.
9:45 AM Just had a huge answer to prayer. I am amazed at how often God reveals His goodness to us in times when there is chaos and confusion, in the opportune moments when an act of servanthood presents itself. It reminds me of one of the unusual traits of my wife, who always had the habit of listening carefully to the wishes of her husband and children, and then doing whatever was needful in response. Prayer is a serious matter. It is also a great privilege. If only I would avail myself of it more often.
9:12 AM Hey, when was the last time you said "Thank you" to your pastors/elders? I am constantly amazed at the relatively small group of people in our churches that hold things together so that the rest of us can enjoy the fruits of their labor. They often pay a high price to serve the Body. And remember: they are human beings, just like the rest of us. They grow weary and restless and grapple (usually silently) with the prospects of just calling it quits. We do them a disservice if we fail to acknowledge their work and servanthood.
Today I sent my elders this note. I hope to do it more often this year. I love my leaders! How I praise God for them!
8:42 AM I see that Thomas Hudgins has been speaking about "A Great Commission Marriage." Since he cited two of my essays, perhaps I could elaborate here a little bit on the way Becky and I did missions together when she was still with us. We saw ourselves, quite simply, as stewards, not owners, of all that we had. We had gotten out of the ownership business a long time ago. Jesus had become Lord not only of our individual lives but also of our marriage, our home, and our loyalties, affections, and obedience. We had come to realize that the call to follow Jesus involves a submission not only to serve Him but to serve other people as well (2 Cor. 4:5). We viewed not only our possessions as His but also the gifts, special abilities, and talents with which He had endowed us.
At the same time, the Lord gave us a new motivation for living – to develop all of our resources and skills to the full in service to Him and to people. In describing what is involved in Christian stewardship, our Lord said that the foremost quality He expected from His disciples was faithfulness (Luke 12:42-48). A faithful steward is simply one who has given up his self-interests and is absorbed with his master's purpose, goal, and concerns. He is trustworthy with his master's goods, and he uses all of his master's resources in the most effective way he knows how in order to achieve his master's objectives.
From the point of view of his involvement with his fellow man, the Christian steward's lifestyle is one of sacrificial living and sacrificial giving in order to contribute to both evangelism and social relief. He views his faith not just as a private bank account but as public property that has to be shared through proclamation and service. The Lord Jesus claims the first place in his life, and he submits to Him and to His authoritative teaching in a life of obedience. Did Becky and I still lay up for the future in view of our anticipated needs? Yes. But we also sought to function as channels through which the love and provision of God could flow to others. We found this love to be needed not only in our culture but supra-culturally beyond our own borders. We believed that it was the nature of the Christian's call to participate in the work of the Spirit in the world, always having an eye to the needs of others.
Becky and I considered ourselves as a part, not only of our local congregation, but of the universal church as well. Moreover, though we identified most closely with the Western church, we recognized that no church is self-sufficient. Thus all true churches – East and West, American and African – should develop with each other relationships of prayer, fellowship, ministry, and cooperation. We should freely share our spiritual gifts, our knowledge, our experience, and our financial resources. Together, Becky and I tried to do what we could with whatever resources we had in order to share the love of Jesus with others, for love is a language that is understood in every nook and cranny of the world.
It blesses me beyond words to see that my former students are seeking to establish in their marriages a Gospel commitment. Look inside their lives for secrets, and you will find a handful of things that defy system and definition. They are just faithful Jesus-followers. Praise be to God.
8:20 AM Quote of the day (J. Gresham Machen):
8:12 AM Bothered by textual variants in the New Testament? Robert Dabney had this to say about the text of the New Testament (Discussions by Robert L. Dabney: Volume I: Theological and Evangelical, pp. 351, 389):
Sunday, January 19
9:20 AM Yesterday I received this letter in the mail from SEBTS:
Oh, that touched my heart! I am one blessed man.
9:02 AM Sometimes short blog posts are the best!
8:41 AM Energion publisher Henry Neufeld called my attention to this wonderful piece by David Watson called What is a Liberal Christian? David is the dean at United Theological Seminary in Dayton. I would like to express my gratitude to David, a New Testament colleague in another seminary, for his insightful essay. Friend, if you do not like liberal theology, that is fine by me. Neither do I. But don't waste your time denouncing it. Go and share the Good News. There is no higher priority for a church that has lost her way in ecumenism on the one hand and endless squabbling about theology on the other. If we are Christians at all, then we are not only in the theology business, we are in the Gospel business. When I was in Basel, I was often invited to coffee by theologically liberal ex-pat students, mostly Germans or South Koreans, to discuss theology in one of the local Stuben. As perhaps the only inerrantist among the Doktoranden I was assaulted mercilessly, but I managed to stand my ground, and no friendships were broken over our disagreements. (I never did become a Barthian.) Inevitably the conversation turned to Jesus and the Gospel, as it had to. Both liberals and conservatives need Christ, to learn to obey Him and follow Him radically. And we all need to think for ourselves and not just adopt the party line. As David notes:
This is so right. The way to engage liberals is not by denouncing them but by engaging them, using reason and Scripture. But love is crucial. Without it there can be no genuine theological discussion. Without it there can be no effective evangelism.
One final thought: If you are a conservative and wish to debate liberals, you had better have the right academic credentials. You must also be able to translate the Gospel into terms that secular people of the day can understand. The underlying understanding of liberalism in our churches today is puerile, the ignorance vast, the unthinking conformity almost complete. We theological conservatives can do better.
6:22 AM It's 3:00 o'clock in the morning. I'm sitting in bed with my yellow note pad thinking about the week ahead. I'm trying to resign myself to the fact that I'll never be able to really explain widowerhood to anyone who has never experienced it. I leave for Hawaii on Thursday. I couldn't be more eager, or more anxious, to return to the land of my birth. It's an odd sort of feeling -- knowing you're going "home" when home hasn't been Hawaii for 43 years. Here's the thing. I know going back to Hawaii is going to be incredibly wonderful and incredibly challenging at the same time. That's why I'm a bit apprehensive. I feel so unworthy of God's love, so unfit to serve Him, so inadequate even to do something as simple as take a plane ride to the paradise of the Pacific. So pray for me, that I will be able to see the Islands through God's eyes. Oddly, I feel the dull ache of homesickness, not so much for Hawaii but for a new, future Home. The two homes are blurred together by tears of joy and tears of anguish. In Hawaii, I will do what Becky and I had planned to do -- will remember one amazing woman with whom I shared a wedding chamber in Kailua and a house at Pearl Harbor and an airplane ride over Molokai and a rental car to Hana and the waters of Hanauma Bay and the freshly sliced pineapple of the Dole Cannery and the scenery of Haleakala. If I live to be a hundred I will never forget her smile as we boogie-boarded at Kailua Beach. If there's life after widowerhood, if there is hope and healing in this world, it can only come from brokenness, from grateful remembrance, from running towards the Savior and finding sure footing. Is that Him I hear whispering in my ear? "Remember your wife, Dave, this Becky Lynn Lapsley Black whom you loved and who loved you and bore your children and brought you so much earthly joy and ripped your tender heart into tiny pieces. Take your sore-hearted self and deposit it firmly on Hawaiian soil and think about the most beautiful person you've ever met and laugh and cry and recall how sweet she was, this beloved of yours, loved and lovely, despite the ugly scars of cancer. And remember My love in the midst of the confusion and chaos, over and underneath it all."
And so I prepare to leave on the trip of a lifetime, knowing full well that I will agonize over my uncertainties and insecurities, but also knowing full well that God is there to support those who trust in His certainty and security. To them He promises "a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:11).
The journey to healing begins when you make the first move.
Saturday, January 18
8:23 PM Great Ethiopian food tonight, as always. Thank you, Friesh, for cooking it Habasha style!
4:14 PM Well, seems Nigusse needs a car for his new job. Maybe I can find one for him next week in da Islands at Murdie Murdock's Used Cars ....
3:38 PM The Hawaiian Islands from space:
They were discovered by captain James Cook exactly 236 years ago today. Here's one kamaaina hauoli who is awfully glad he did. Hawai'i no ka oi!
2:04 PM Some things aren't as hard as you think they would be. Like distributing Becky's possessions. Today Nate and Jess went through the stacks and piles, and I feel strangely ambivalent about the whole thing. There's something so wonderful to know that her earthly goods are going to people who loved her and who will treasure what they're getting. The other day I heard the story about a widow who waited 10 years before she went into her deceased husband's clothes closet. I understand that, believe me. That's why I said that I can't really figure out my feelings today. Somehow I prefer moving ahead without dragging out the inevitable. I just wish it didn't hit me like a sucker punch, this realization that Becky is no longer here. I'm glad I have a family who loves me, and I'm even more glad I have a Father who understands me. This world we will live in is so broken that it's nice to know there are people who really care.
11:58 AM From chapter 3 of my forthcoming Seven Marks of a New Testament Church:
10:43 AM I love well-thought-out articles like this one: Charismatic Ramifications on the “Long Ending” of Mark’s Gospel. Its peroration?
Now tell me that textual criticism is irrelevant for biblical theology or practical living!
10:12 AM Quote of the day:
Read Why Obama’s NSA Reforms Won’t End The Privacy Debate. And remember: They're watching.
8:50 AM This email put a smile on my face:
8:46 AM Looking ahead ...
This year I'm planning on attending the regional ETS meetings in Fort Worth (March 7-8) and Baltimore (March 21-22). If you'd like to drive up to Maryland with me let me know at email@example.com. This includes any of my current Th.M. and Ph.D. students.
8:32 AM As a frequent flyer, I scratch my head whenever I read about a plane landing at the wrong airport (think Southwest Airlines) or crashing on a perfectly clear day (think Asiana). I once read that there are three axioms to flying: Aviate, navigate, and communicate. The Southwest crew failed to navigate. The Asiana crew failed to aviate. In neither case was there a complete breakdown of these functions, just enough to cause embarrassment or (at SFO) needless death.
Life offers many analogies. Anyone who is undergoing a significant change in their life must aviate, navigate, and communicate. For me, aviating means being conscious about my daily decisions. It means being intentional about what I do, where I go, and who I associate with. In terms of navigation, I follow an instruction manual written some 2,000 years ago. For me, the Bible is quite enough. Finally, as for communicating, well, need I mention my blog? It's my "open space," a place to risk breaking through the high-gloss facades, to shatter the ceramic smiles, to behave like a real-life human being. I'd blog even if no one ever read what I had to say.
So, best wishes to you as you aviate, navigate, and communicate your way through life. Best wishes not only for your future successes but also for your future misfortunes -- the good times and adverse times, those times when you are outrageously joyful and those times when only God can move in your weaknesses.
8:02 AM Will there be real, spontaneous sharing in your worship service tomorrow? I have a strong suspicion that the Spirit prefers to be trusted rather than controlled.
7:10 AM Meet the man who surfed while Pearl Harbor was being attacked.
7:02 AM Here is a good biography of Dr. Henry Morris. I had the signal good fortune to be under his tutelage during my sophomore year at Biola College in California. Dr. Morris would drive up from San Diego every Thursday and lecture for 4 hours. He required that I submit to him a 30-page paper on a topic in the field of geology. I chose to write on "The Formation of the Hawaiian Archipelago according to the Flood Theory." Dr. Morris knew that the best way to learn how to write is by writing, and the paper I wrote for him – replete with underwater photos I took myself – was my first serious literary production.
If I am grateful to Dr. Morris for contributing to my writing skills, I am doubly grateful to him for enriching my life through his example of humility and kindness. My favorite times during that semester came on Thursday evenings when I sat at the feet of a wise and good man. Eventually my other mentors – Harry Sturz of Biola and Bo Reicke of the University of Basel – provided me with a model, not only of scholarship at its highest level, but even more of character. Each combined the attributes of keen rationality and unashamed piety – the proverbial "clear head" and "warm heart." Although none is alive today, I feel they are still looking over my shoulder whenever I write.
If we have any doubts whether it is possible in this day and age to be both tough-minded and tender-hearted, we need only look at the lives of men such as Henry Morris.
6:46 AM Here's our chapel schedule for the spring semester. Don't miss Don Carson in chapel Feb. 11-13.
6:36 AM Several friends and loved ones have asked for special prayer recently. I want you to know that I am happy to oblige. Prayer is acknowledging the suffering and misery of the world and God's sufficiency to deal with it. This is exactly how Christ prayed: "In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood" (Luke 22:44, JB). I want you to know that I deeply empathize with you and am interceding on your behalf. One thing is certain: Without the Christ-given gift of courage, none of us could endure life's crushing blows. I commend each of you to God's grace -- His overflowing, infinitely wise love, never deserved and never repayable.
6:22 AM Recently I met with a student who is contemplating doctoral studies. Of course, I always encourage young people to consider a European doctorate, and one from a university. All other things being equal (which they never are), a university doctorate is more rigorous than a seminary one. I still remember going to the University of Basel and thinking, "This can't be happening. Graduates of a non-descript seminary like Talbot don't go to Europe for their doctor's degree."
Why did I choose Basel?
Two reasons. First, it was a "liberal" university (in the best sense of the word). The professors there were open-minded. There was no automatic bias against conservative evangelicals. As long as you wrote an acceptable dissertation and had it published, they granted you your degree (after you delivered 125 copies to the university library). Basel has always been known for welcoming people of various theological perspectives. The function of Basel as a city of refuge in the 1500s is well-known. Through the influence of Erasmus we find there Curione, Castellio (who was unwelcome in Geneva), Cellarius, Hans Denck (who died there), Karlstadt, and David Joris (the "Anabaptist flamingo"). Oecolampadius arrived there in 1522, and in the same year Erich Hugwald, a professor at the University of Basel, wrote a book against infant baptism. I arrived there in 1980 and have never regretted it.
The other reason I went to Basel (rather than Tübingen, where I had also been accepted) was a man named Bo Reicke, my doctor father, who to me embodied the perfect balance between humanitas and pietas. Again, I was not disappointed. Professor Reicke was the perfect mentor.
So if you are thinking about doing a doctorate, I would encourage you to put all the options on the table and then let the Lord narrow your choices. I wouldn't put God in a box in any way, shape, or form. Dream high. And then let Jesus direct your steps.
6:05 AM I once read this purpose statement in the foyer of a church:
What a radical idea -- every member a missionary. But maybe not so radical when we read the New Testament. I am glad to see local churches looking outwards to a degree unimaginable 30 years ago. Instead of being a ghetto church, zealously guarding its borders and fearful of the world, churches are beginning to "earth the Gospel" in a big way.
Is yours a church "for others"? Is mine?
Friday, January 17
5:12 PM So Nigusse had not one but two brand new experiences today (all part of his "seminary" education, mind you): his first "real" (i.e., hand tossed) pizza at Randy's Pizza in Durham, and his first trip to outer space (courtesy of the Carmike theater next door). Gravity is a smart thriller with an unbelievable ending. This has got to be Sandra Bullock's best role ever. The special effects were so realistic that you felt sure you were going to be struck by all the satellite debris being flung past you in the theater. The movie is positively brilliant, and it has a powerful (though perhaps subliminal) message to boot: when the chaos of life strikes you, you're got to keep on going. (Sandra Bullock's character had lost her 4-year old daughter and lived in the past.) But that's where the message ends, because it has to. This world offers no genuine hope for us. Self-help can only get you so far. That's what Psalm 46 is all about. When you're down and out, when you're facing the squeeze of hardship, the ultimate (and, really, ONLY) security is knowing He is there and always will be. Still, the underlining premise of the movie is true: we aren't promised a fail-safe, problem-free life here on this earth (or in outer space, either). And we as believers are not offered risk-free Christianity. There are no guarantees in life period -- except that one day we will need God as never before, and that He will be our God if we let Him.
At any rate, go see this movie, if for no other reason than its superb cinematography. And make sure you watch it in 3D.
Your humble movie reviewer,
10:40 AM I hear that Gravity simply must be seen in a theater. Nigusse's first 3D movie!
10:32 AM Sink is fixed. Nigusse did all the work. Under my indispensable supervision. But of course.
9:58 AM So how would you translate our verse of the day?
9:22 AM Not far from the farm is un unfinished house. It's been sitting there for years. What unfinished business is there in your life?
"It is finished" are words of great satisfaction (John 19:30). Do you have any unfinished business?
8:25 AM Looking forward to teaching again in the fall after my sabbatical ends. Just agreed to teach Advanced Exegesis of Philippians for the Ph.D. program (third year level of Greek). Should be fun. In fact, I'll also be back in the saddle this summer teaching 6 weeks of beginning Greek. If you're interested in joining us, contact me for a syllabus in early May. The course meets three hours a day from May 19 to June 27.
8:16 AM The Bible is like an ocean in which a child can play in its shallows and an elephant drown in its depths. Our teaching, therefore, must be simple without ever becoming simplistic.
7:59 AM Was needing to have delivered a bouquet of roses the other day and found the absolute best florist in Raleigh. Check out Fallons Flowers. They even sent me a picture of the roses by email!
7:41 AM Pray for me -- the world's greatest klutz has to fix a bathroom sink today.
Then again, "I can do all ...."
7:36 AM Do Christians misuse Phil. 4:13? Jonathan Merritt says yes.
What say you?
7:28 AM "Faith is not being sure where you're going but going anyway." Frederick Buechner.
7:02 AM Over the past few days I've been trying to think of an analogy that would help you to understand where I am emotionally these days. Do you remember attending the circus as a child and watching the trapeze artists? That's what I feel like right now. I'm "between trapezes." Hanging in mid-air. Call it a "trapeze moment" where you're hurtling through the air between two trapeze bars. You've got to let go completely of the old bar before gabbing onto the new one. Folks, it's this transition that I find so disorienting. Palms sweat. Heart races. The safety and security and familiarity of the old are gone, gone forever. Fears keep creeping in. You keep asking yourself, Can I really do this?
The odd thing is that I understand the grieving process intellectually. I know the Bible pretty well too. What I really need is someone to go with me through that small, potentially deadly space. The Bible says that Christ was God's mediator for me. Jesus stepped between me and death. Why? Not only because He knew that my soul needed saving from death and hell. But because He knew that one day Dave Black would lose the most precious earthly friend he had ever known. He knew that this experience would help to prepare me for the race that will last my entire life -- a race that involves some big risks and perhaps a few really scary seconds hanging in mid-air. As head of the church, He calls me to come to the safe place where He dwells and release my heavy load of anxiety, strengthen my slender threads of faith, and most of all think on Him. When Christ died on Calvary, He knew the solution to my trapeze moment. He always does. What seems impossible to us is possible with God.
I can't say that my life has changed dramatically for the better since Becky's passing. Yet I find myself being a little more careful with small decisions, knowing that it will ultimately help me with the big decisions. It's just a matter of letting Him carry me from one trapeze bar to the next. When it comes right down to it, He wants His followers to feel utterly incapable of doing anything. As with Moses, He delights in using self-doubting nobodies who are just willing to follow Him. It certainly is not an easy choice. Our trials might well tempt us to abandon the faith. Life is a painful, anguishing process of counting the cost. But when you are "between trapezes," partial commitment won't work. God demands our complete devotion, our complete trust. Not a part of it, not even the biggest part, but all of it. After all the circus training and preparation, you've got to let go if you want to grab the next bar. No race -- not even a figurative one -- can be won living in the past. Right now, my faith can change the course of events, as can my lack of faith.
I'll tell you one thing: My hat goes off to all the widowers out there who made it to the next bar. Will I be one of them? With God's help, I can and I will.
Thursday, January 16
8:04 PM Hi folks,
Just back from our favorite seafood restaurant with Nate and Jess and the boys.
It was simply outstanding. Makes life feel pretty wonderful. I am grateful beyond words.
Blessings on all of you, and remember to spend time with those you love.
1:20 PM A humble, grateful, and adoring spirit toward God is worth more than all one's diplomas and degrees combined. That said, God can still use our education if we leverage it for the Gospel.
8:24 AM Have you read Tithing after the Cross yet? Short and to the point!
8:16 AM Our marching orders (Matt:28:19, The Message):
So glad to see Southern Baptist missions returning to an emphasis on discipleship training. Conversion is vital. But so is after-care.
8:02 AM Students of Koine Greek will enjoy this story about a recalcitrant donkey! (Subtitles included.)
7:55 AM Here's a great verse (Rom. 12:8): "Whoever shares with others should do so generously." Am I being generous today? As Phil. 2:5-11 teaches, it is the nature of God not to grasp but to give. Is that my nature as well?
7:40 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Enjoying Nature Without Worshiping It.
7:12 AM The problem with misquoting the Church Fathers.
7:04 AM What's wrong with this picture?
When we think of worship we think of the Lord's Day, of Sunday. But worship is really all that we do as believers. It is Christian living in its entirety. The essence of worship is living a life of obedience and service to God (see Rom. 12:1-2). It is a God-centered life. It embraces, yes, what we do when we meet together as a church, but it embraces what we do on our own -- at work, with the family, in our neighborhoods, at our computer terminals. When we conduct ourselves in ways pleasing to God, then we are worshipping. God becomes central to everything.
How is such a life possible? "By the Spirit of God" (Phil. 3:3). We have the Holy Spirit in our heart. The Spirit brings God into every area of our life. He does this so that God might have first place in our life as a whole.
Are you worshipping only on Sunday?
6:43 AM Yesterday was an especially difficult day for me. There are some things in life you simply don't forget, no matter how long it's been. I was at CVS picking up a prescription. A lady in front of me was paying for her purchase -- two large packages of Depends. One look at those adult diapers sent me reeling from near whiplash as the memory of changing Becky's diapers washed over me. I almost began to cry, right there in public. Call it grief, call it whatever you like, but there I was, fighting back the tears. It seemed like such a small thing, but it was a huge thing. There she was -- a middle-aged woman making a commonplace purchase. It all seemed so normal. But I knew better. I thought to myself, Who is she buying them for -- her father, her mother, perhaps her spouse? Somehow I felt an invisible bond with this complete stranger. I wanted to hug her, whisper in her ear I understand, tell her how grateful I am that someone in her family could depend on her to buy Depends.
I'm not ashamed to say that my heart aches for people who suffer from incontinence. I think God's heart must ache also. After 10 weeks I still can't get used to life without Becky. Truth is, I am still in denial. One thing I cling to is God's sovereignty. "Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart's desires" (Psalm 37:4). I'm so grateful I have a Father who understands suffering and loss and who delights in doing good things for His children. So don't worry about me (too much). I'm in good hands, hands that bear nail prints of love. He is nigh unto those who wear Depends, and those who purchase them. He's the new life that surges into our lives, enabling us to cope with memories of winters past and causing us to hope for new buds in the spring.
Wednesday, January 15
7:21 PM Been a long but good day. Today's highlights:
1) Lunch with daughter Rachael in Raleigh.
2) Hearing Thomas Hudgins address an Ed.D. cohort at the seminary. For a report, see Jacob Cerone's entry.
I'm super proud of both of them.
And now, if you'll excuse me, time to enjoy a good read, say my prayers, and hit the hay.
7:35 AM Congratulations to Danny Akin on the tenth anniversary of his presidency of SEBTS. If, by a miracle, evangelism and costly discipleship came back into the "first things" category in Southern Baptist life, I have no doubt it would be partly because of his excellent leadership. Ad multos annos!
6:52 AM This email just arrived:
I appreciate the kind encouragement and accept the gentle rebuke!
6:44 AM According to Tom Elliff, 75 percent of the world's population live in areas hostile to Christianity. Who will reach them with the Gospel?
6:36 AM Speaking of the Lord's Supper, a pastor sent me this response to my essay The One Table of the Lord. He gave me permission to share it with you.
6:28 AM This seems like a good way for a church to practice the Lord's Supper. Please read to the very end of the article to see what benefits there are in connecting the Supper to a full meal.
5:58 AM A topic of conversation that often comes with students is the importance of knowing German for doing academic work in theology. I guess it was in 1977 that I first realized that a working knowledge of German was de rigueur for a student of the New Testament.
How then did I learn the language? Quite simply from a book. That is, from several conversational German grammars. (They're all basically the same, of course, but variety is the spice of life, right?) But how did I learn to speak the language? Ah, that's another story altogether, and the answer is: Mr. Paul Mittmann. Herr Mittmann had emigrated to Anaheim, California after WW II, as did so many others from Germany after the war. He got a job and also pastored a small Lutheran Brethren congregation there, and since it met early on Sunday morning I could attend its German-speaking service before going to my home church in La Mirada. Eventually we began to meet together weekly for grammar and pronunciation lessons.
Like the language he was teaching, Herr Mittmann was hard, clear, and sharp as a winter dawn. Hailing from East Prussia, he spoke impeccable Ost-Preussen, considered by many Germanophiles to be the purest form of the language. Paul Mittmann was neither talkative nor taciturn, neither sanguine nor phlegmatic, neither excitable nor lugubrious. He kept an even course and held just the right temper in his relationships with everybody. Without arrogance, he yet exuded confidence and had a remarkable talent for sorting out complicated issues by cutting through them with a swathe of quiet logic. We discussed in German many topics together, from theology to his wartime experiences. He had been inducted into the Wehrmacht when he was 18 and had seen action on almost every front, from Poland to Italy to France. After the war he and his wife lived under an overturned military vehicle for a year in the western part of Germany, along with hundreds of thousands of others of DPs (displaced persons) who had fled from the east in 1945. How he became the pastor of a German-speaking congregation in America, I am not sure; but he was an excellent speaker and a wonderfully caring personality.
Once, after I had been attending the church for several weeks, he turned to me and asked, "Would you like to read the Scripture next week?" That really put me on the spot, but as I was blown away by the special emphasis he had given to the public reading of Scripture I found myself the next Sunday reading from the Luther-Bibel during the Gottesdienst. Not long afterward he had me preaching in German during his absence, much to the delight of the aging congregation who, I feel, were happy to have a young person in their midst and thus were willing to overlook the blunders of a fledgling speaker.
And so there was Herr Mittmann, undeniably, indisputably German, and above all else a fellow believer in Christ, to my astonishment taking me under his wings as a master would his apprentice. I have often wondered what my experience in German-speaking Basel would have been like had it not been for his willingness to help out an American student whose father had been wounded in 1945 while fighting Germans. There is no question in my mind who profited more from this relationship, and I shall forever be in his debt. I mention all this simply to remind us that we can live out our Christianity in numberless ways, even by tutoring another believer in a foreign language (or in math, or in science, etc.). I know many of you are already doing this, and that fills me with great joy.
5:40 AM I have several books about Hawaii on my shelves, including one called Margaret of Molokai. It tells the story of a 12-year old girl who was snatched from a hula recital in Honolulu and exiled to the island of Molokai. For 33 years she watched her body scar and shrink from leprosy. Over those years she lost 3 husbands to that disease. Her 4 children were taken from her at birth and delivered to adoptive families on the mainland. She thought she would never dance the hula again. Later she was declared healed and found a loving family at Kalihi Union Church in Honolulu. I have only seen Molokai from the air or while sailing from Maui to Oahu, but one day I'd love to visit the island and see the leprosarium there. For more information about this amazing story, go here.
I noted with a smile that Margaret's favorite "plate lunch" (a popular noontime meal in Hawaii) happened also to be mine: 2 scoop rice, macaroni salad (Hawaiian style), and teriyaki beef. Incidentally, we once had a student at SEBTS who hailed from Molokai. It was fun talking with him and hearing his thick Hawaiian accent, the kind I had when I first arrived in California in 1971 when nobody could understand my English.
5:25 AM Up early again, thinking about her. And about Truth. My father-in-law once sent me a CD by the Vocal Majority, a group based in Texas. One of the numbers they sing usually brings tears to my eyes. It's called "The Lost Chord." The music was composed by Arthur Sullivan while he watched his brother die. Never have I read more powerful words. Here they are:
What have you lost, my friend? A parent? A son? A daughter? A special relationship? Perhaps you are estranged from someone you love dearly. Larry Crabb was right in his book Finding God: In even the happiest of Christian lives there are deep pockets of incurable pain. Jesus Himself was once called the "Man of Sorrows." In these trying and baffling times, God is with us. He sends us trouble and heartache to enable us to glory in Him. Let's look to the Lord for grace to release our "lost chord" to Him.
It may be that only in heaven we will hear that grand "Amen" again. But hear it we will. Praise be to God.
Tuesday, January 14
5:20 PM A close friend of mine recently asked me if I had any ideas on how they could cope with their out-of-control emotions. My reply, in essence, was Welcome to the club. How in the world can I counsel people like that when my own life is a constant roller coaster of feelings, from exuberant highs to gut-wrenching lows? Trouble is, people sometimes look to me as an example for them. You know, If Dave can cope with all he's been through, maybe there's hope for me. Well, to be perfectly honest with you, Dave is not coping very well. I want closure, but God wants faith. It's like taking a long cross-country trip without any maps or a GPS. Not very reassuring.
"Christianity is for risk-takers." I've heard this all my life. Now I'm living it. I want to play by my rules, but the game plan has changed. Which is why I love the following quote by Oswald Chambers. Maybe as a fellow risk-taker you will find it to be an encouragement:
Come game time, friend, remember that. The Bible offers no assurance that God will show us the road ahead. It does, however, offer the ultimate assurance that He will "never fail or abandon you." It's just a matter of allowing Him to ride the roller coaster with us.
So ... altogether now:
3:23 PM Tuesday shout out to Robbie Dunn for helping me with the truck repair, as well as to Nigusse. I never thought I would actually get to meet Click and Clack (the Tappet Bros.) in person.
1:58 PM Great quote here by Mark Stevens:
1:50 PM Long list of things to do before I leave for Hawaii (fix golf cart, replace water pump in truck, work on taxes, etc.), but never too busy to intercede for family members. I want to be like Paul. When Ananias was sent to verify the reality of Paul's conversion, he found him praying (Acts 9:11). Friend, whatever else you do today, be in touch with God.
1:26 PM Paul said to the Ephesian elders in his farewell speech in Acts 20, "You know how I have lived with you." Transparency in ministry is good policy. No one can pretend to be a man of God for very long if he lives with the people.
11:32 AM "There are three stages in the work of God: impossible, difficult, done." Hudson Taylor.
10:13 AM Paul Himes has just written Proper etiquette for posting comments on blogs. Excellent advice, Paul!
10:10 AM Without brotherly love there can be no effective evangelism.
10:05 AM Churches taking votes? There's a better way, I think (from chapter 4 of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church):
Think about it.
8:52 AM Please join me in congratulating Thomas Hudgins on the (soon) publication of his doctoral dissertation.
8:22 AM Sometimes I feel like I'm not being a very good dad to my daughters. Call it upbringing, this feeling of never-good-enough. Call it teenage insecurity that dogs me. Whatever you call it, there are days when I wish so, so badly that Becky were back so that she could love on her daughters as only a mother can do. Honestly, I feel absolutely too small for fatherhood. But last night I read something in Ephesians 3 that made me chuckle. (I'm quoting it in the Hawaiian Pidgin Bible because this is the Bible I've been reading from of late):
("Ohanas" means "families.")
How beautiful. When I read those words I thought Das it, brah! Genau! Spot on! Mais oui! You, see, I don't have to be a perfect father to the girls, because they already have a perfect "Fadda" in heaven. And I know that there is nothing I do as a dad that hasn't already come from the Father. It's as if God were saying to me,
So today, early in the morning, I prayed for each of my daughters by name. Nothing dramatic. Just short, arrow prayers. If perchance they should stumble across the blog this morning, I would say to them:
Remember, girls: He is your Father. "He da real kine Fadda!" But I do hope and pray that I can "make litto bit jalike Him."
Monday, January 13
6:43 PM Tonight God is driving me to pray for desperate needs. We cannot do things for God without prayer.
6:30 PM Evangelism involves both Christian proclamation and Christian presence. Always.
6:50 AM I once had a long and delightful discussion with a Pentecostal pastor who worked as a hospital chaplain. He asked me what I believed about the gift of tongues. I told him that I usually teach an entire two-week series on the history and theology of the Charismatic Movement in my introductory New Testament class, including the exegesis of specific texts such as 1 Cor. 12-14 and a myriad of passages from the Book of Acts. I quoted Paul, "All do not speak in tongues, do they?" I noted that I had never sought the gift of tongues nor had I ever spoken in tongues (unless one considers French and German to be "tongues"). I said, "My view of sanctification can be boiled down to one statement: The Christian life is Jesus Christ, period. Jesus Christ plus nothing." On that we both heartily agreed. My pastor friend did not become the proselytizing Pente, nor I the proud Pharisee. Both of us have been born again, birthed anew spiritually. We both realize that we are judged by Jesus' cross, not by our rigid negativisms. But just as importantly, I have come to realize that our greatest strengths as evangelicals (our emphasis on biblical inerrancy, on the new birth, on morality and ethics) have also become our most glaring weaknesses (becoming proud, smug, and self-satisfied, as if we are better than other Christians). Instead of dialoging with those with whom we disagree, we remain psychologically and spiritually immature, blind, and shallow. We can and must do better.
6:45 AM From chapter 5 of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church:
6:28 AM I've got missions on my mind this morning. You will quickly see that I am no expert on the subject. These convictions are simply the product of a "lay" missionist and conclusions drawn from my personal Bible study.
Mission Conviction #1:
The church, not the missions organization, is God's primary instrument in this world. Perhaps, then, the time has come to stop outsourcing church planting to paramissions entities. This is not to downplay the role of those who are specially gifted in evangelism or church planting. These evangelists and church planters, however, are to work primarily with and through the local churches. Imagine the impact the church could have on the world if every local congregation saw itself as God's missionary organization. "Missions" would come to mean more than sending money to support missionaries and missions programs. Nor would we continue to use the term "missionary" to refer to professionals who are paid workers. The term missionary, if used, would be given its biblical sense of "representative of God in the world" (apostolos). In the scriptural sense, all Christians are missionaries, and all are to be involved personally in missionary discipleship in service to the world. That's why I often introduce myself to people, not as a professor of Greek, but as a "full-time missionary." No, I am not with a paramission organization. Nor am I paid to be a missionary. So people ask, "How then can you call yourself a full-time missionary?" We must change this way of thinking. There must be a significant move away from a paternalistic attitude towards the "laity," with a growing recognition of their importance in bringing the Gospel to our communities and to the world. According to the New Testament, ministry is not the prerogative of an elite corpus. It is not the function only of seminary-trained professionals. It is the function of the whole people of God. Thus every Christian shares the mission of the church both through personal witness and missions activities. This participation is irrespective of sex, age, gender, social standing, or academic achievement.
Mission Conviction #2:
This is an implication of #1. It is my opinion that we can no longer justify theological training that aims only at making "laypersons" into "professional "missionaries. Rather, theological education must aim at mobilizing all the people of God for ministry in the world. In light of 1 Pet. 2:9 and Eph. 4:11-12, we much change our definition of ordination to include the setting apart of the whole people of God for "works of service." In our seminaries, I believe it would make a very great difference if we were to recognize that the New Testament, from beginning to end, was written by missionaries for missionaries. It is critical to view the missionary mandate of Christ as the foundation upon which the entire work of Christian education rests. Missions acts, then, or at least should act, as the one encompassing task of Christian theology and community. Why, then, should "missions" be relegated to a missions and evangelism "department"? Such is to imply only a peripheral importance. Our goal in Christian education must be to incorporate the mission thrust of Jesus into all of our subjects. I can envision the day when trained "experts" are wedded to local churches rather than only to academic institutions. Together the whole body -- trained theologians and untrained practioners -- would join in the process of theologizing and missionizing. The object is for each local church to "hold forth the life-giving Word" (Phil. 2:16) in a way that people will know why and how they should turn to this new Lord Jesus Christ.
Mission Conviction #3:
Conviction #2 implies that the theological task in our seminaries must go beyond the classroom. That is, God's plan for contextualized missions is rendered inoperable when academics fail to think in such a way that their theology comes across accurately in their lives. God never intended theology to be divorced from life. In our day, such a divorce has become a major problem within Western Christianity. We must reconnect the academy with the church. We seminary professors, whatever our area of expertise, need to live missions, not just talk about it. As with Paul, the Gospel must become the one passion of our lives. "What am I here for?" might serve as a good daily reminder to those of us who serve as academics in our colleges and seminaries. We so easily lose sight of the reason for our existence: to further the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a matter of keeping first things first (Phil. 1:27). And ultimately that mission belongs to the church, not the seminary. The church alone is permanent, and it alone can provide the permanent structure for evangelism and service. This is one reason why in our own mission work Becky and I have worked primarily with local churches and not with larger structures. It is also why we attempt to link local church to local church between the U.S. and Ethiopia. Already several American congregations have decided to partner with their Ethiopian counterparts to further the work of the kingdom. This is because they have come to realize that the local church is God's center for mission strategies and outreach activities. And more and more churches are getting involved.
These convictions have legs. And I really do think we're getting somewhere, folks. My students have convinced me. I speak with a good many of them who are throwing off the bonds of selfish individualism that mummify the Body and paralyze our people into thinking only about my salvation and about my soul and about my Christ. They are allowing God into their private lives, as 1 John and James and Jude teach them to do. Organizational self-appraisal no longer dominates their conversations. They are reexamining their crowded programs. Emphasis is being properly placed on personal sanctity. Programs to arouse pride impress them no more. Their reading of the Scriptures -- not the mere words of famous American pop-theologians but the Word of God itself -- has shaken their complacency, shocked the status quo. Now Christ is more important than Christendom. One student even told me he's leaving seminary to get a job in a secular field so that he could begin "full-time Christian ministry." Vital bonds between church and world are being formed. "I was naked and you clothed Me!" They are acting for Christ, striving to keep Him clothed and warm. Above all, they are becoming Gospelers. Evangelism is now a lifestyle, not something to do on Tuesday nights.
Yes, the road is long, but I dare say we're getting somewhere.
Sunday, January 12
6:10 PM Be on fire with Christ, and you will never need a course on evangelistic technique.
5:30 PM Quote of the day (Joel Bradsher):
5:08 PM There's a rhythm to this farm. I've finally gotten back into my daily walks with the dogs. Today I even spoiled the donks with a couple of carrots (normally "reserved" for Chinese stir fry).
And of course, what would the farm be without the Grand Old Lady herself, Maple Ridge. Here she is in all of her wintertime glory.
If you know any family who could use it, just let me know. (Go here for more.) Being here just makes me all the more grateful for the nature God created. I think it will always have a special place in my heart.
4:33 PM It never ceases to amaze me that the ministry of reconciliation should have been given, not to angels, but to forgiven sinners.
4:14 PM Evangelism is not a grim duty but a generous gift.
2:40 PM A potential Ph.D. student asked me the other day if I were a Pauline scholar. Here's basically what I told him:
I may have a doctorate in New Testament and I may have taught New Testament and Greek for some 37 years, but I certainly do not feel that I am a New Testament "scholar" any more than I feel that the gardening I do makes me a horticulturist. In fact, I am learning things today about Jesus and the Gospels and the writings of His apostles that I never thought were in the New Testament at all. I must have missed them the first time around! After all these years of teaching I will tell you the absolute truth: I feel like a small child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean when I read my New Testament. I still learn new things every day from the Greek text itself. The term "scholar," you see, implies a level of expertise that few would care to claim for themselves. I certainly don't. At best, let people think of me as a New Testament "student." The term student is appropriate. After all, that's what Jesus said we were: His mathetai, His "students." To return for a moment to my gardening analogy: I imagine that I've worked with my hands as frequently if not more frequently than any of my readers -- gardening, animal husbandry, slaughtering and butchering our own cattle and goats, raising and selling crops, building fences, etc. All that makes me is just another "farmer" as far as I'm concerned. Ain't no big deal around here where I live. I'm certainly no "agricultural specialist." And as a New Testament student I am no "scholar." How can I be a "specialist" in the New Testament when I know only a tiny fraction of what it teaches, and obey even less?
Paul asked, "Where is the scholar?" (1 Cor. 1:20). Any takers? Not me. In Romans, Paul puts it this way: "Don't become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Don't think of yourselves more highly than you should" (Rom. 12:2-3). And he then adds this in 1 Corinthians: "Those who think they know something still have a lot to learn" (1 Cor. 8:2).
That says it all to me.
Care to join me on the shore of that limitless ocean?
9:14 AM A lesson on discipleship from making Ethiopian injera.
8:44 AM Spanish grammar update: Looks like the Spanish edition of Learn to Read New Testament Greek is nearing completion. My thanks to Thomas Hudgins and all the others who have worked so tirelessly on this translation.
As the church continues to grow among Hispanics, the need for pastoral training in the languages will only increase. Witness these statistics from the Hispanic Evangelical Association.
At this point it is necessary to be very sensitive and dependent upon the Spirit of God. Greek is not the Abracadabra or Open Sesame of New Testament interpretation. But does not the Spirit use His Word? Always. And the word came to us in human form (and not in either Spanish or English). For the Body of Christ to grow it needs a healthy diet. May the Lord Jesus use this grammar to edify His church and expand His kingdom among our esteemed Hispanic friends.
7:55 AM This morning I ran across several posts reminding readers that the center of "Sunday worship" is the word of God. I agree entirely, if by that you mean Christ, the Living Word. But if you mean the sermon, I might take issue with you. I have little doubt that the gatherings of the early church contained some sort of formal teaching. On the other hand, gatherings were open enough to allow the Spirit to bring a "word" made quite spontaneously by one of the members. Our services are utterly predictable. We plan them out days if not weeks beforehand. If thoughtful teaching was important to these earliest Christians, so was silent waiting upon God to lead them in reading Scripture, sharing prayer needs, leading in a song, or bringing some word from God to the people. 1 Corinthians 14 is really very remarkable in this regard. Alas, in many churches today there is very little opportunity to share personal concerns in the "worship service" itself. Not so Bethel Hill, where just last week a sister brought a word of testimony after which we gathered around her and prayed. It was an electric, unifying moment. We also partook of the Lord's Supper, which figured a great deal more prominently in the gatherings of the early Christians than it does today in many Baptist churches. Unlike the Passover (whence it originated), communion was observed regularly instead of annually, probably every week (Acts 20:7). And why should it not be? One envisions a local church lifting up their exalted Lord in thankful remembrance of all He has done for them. Jesus Himself is the "center" of worship and not a pulpit or a pastor. Emphasis upon the Lord's Supper as central to Christian gatherings was not always on my radar. But it is now, and I am hopeful still that it is not too late for our own congregations to recovery the centrality of the table in our gatherings as followers of Jesus.
Saturday, January 11
5:48 PM Parents, listen up. Here's an excellent post by Matt Walsh called Your life is over when you have kids. It'll make you both chuckle and cringe. An excerpt:
5:12 PM If you grow up in Hawaii, you will either learn to play the ukulele (if you're a kane ["guy"]) or to dance the hula (if you're a wahine ["gal"]). Check out this Christmas hula dance at Calvary Chapel West Oahu. Absolutely beautiful. I'm scheduled to speak at CCWO on Jan. 24 and 26. Looking forward to it!
5:05 PM Loved this quote:
(Am I displaying my Anabaptist leanings much?)
1:14 PM Movie lovers, check out this article called 5 films that will make 2014 ‘the year of the Bible’.
1:06 PM "To the man with an ear for verbal delicacies — the man who searches painfully for the perfect word, and puts the way of saying a thing above the thing said — there is in writing the constant joy of sudden discovery, of happy accident." H. L. Mencken.
12:56 PM My experience is that once a church becomes concerned about overseas missions, everything else begins to move forward.
12:42 PM Time to take dominion over -- toilet paper tubes. These ideas ain't bad!
12:08 PM More from chapter 4 of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.
11:40 AM Got a second for yet another list? Read Top 50 Countries Where It's Hardest to Be a Christian.
11:02 AM Do you ever use the Bible Gateway website? If not, read this.
10:57 AM The New Testament teaches that God does not live in buildings but in people. Very few churches today take this teaching seriously.
10:38 AM Check out the HBU Theology Conference, March 19-20, in Houston. The theme is "Paul and Judaism." Speakers include N.T. Wright (St Andrews University), Beverly Gaventa (Baylor University), and Ross Wagner (Duke Divinity School).
10:05 AM From chapter 4 of my forthcoming book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church (which I am working on today):
P.S. If you would like to review this chapter, your comments would be welcome. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The chapter title is "Genuine Relationships."
9:16 AM Kailua sunrise. I witnessed this every day for 16 years of my life. Can't wait to see it again.
9:08 AM Okay, so I'm in the mood to post lists. The British Library holds an annual Study Day for Teachers of New Testament Greek. Superb idea. If we in the States were to hold a Greek Teachers Day, here are some topics I'd like to see discussed by those who teach first year Greek:
Care to add any?
8:53 AM Last night, while I was dining with Jon and Matthea down in Chapel Hill, Nigusse was watching the movie Pride and Prejudice. Everyone has a favorite character in this film, and mine is none other than the infamous Rev. Mr. Collins. The reasons are obvious. A clergyman he is, and rightly proud of his profession! And then there's his penchant for verbosity. How I wish I could kvetch like that. Above all, I get a kick every time I hear him prattling on about how lucky he is to receive the "condescension" of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Makes me think of the number of my-way-or-the-highway clergymen I've met in my life who seem allergic to introspection or analysis of any kind. I'm sure I could never have survived the Anabaptist purges in Europe. Those in power tend to operate on the mistaken assumption that if they just act like the king of the world everyone else will either bow down or scamper away. Sadly, the price for such hubris is all too plain. Perhaps we would do well to remember what the real King of the Universe said about leadership:
None of us can ever fully plumb the depths of Calvary. But we can start to emulate it (as Jesus taught us) by exercising leadership with a gentle sensitivity and a genuine humility that will allow us to function as the Lord designed us to be, rather than as pale imitations of bosses and CEOs. Find a leader like that, my friend, and you've found a quality of leadership that merits following.
7:50 AM Top ten things to do on Oahu:
7:12 AM "Begin to weave and God will give you the thread." Old German proverb.
7:08 AM "Why don't pastors preach from the Old Testament?" I'm sometimes asked this question. To ignore 75 percent of the Bible is not only dangerous, it's downright stupid. If you need to jump start your interest in all things Old Testament, a good place to start might be Allan Bevere's The Character of Our Discontent, which encourages pastors to teach outside of their field of expertise (which is usually the New Testament).
6:45 AM There is something so inscrutable about healing. I think we start out thinking that the problem is external to us when all the time it has always been inside. Think of that old sci-fi thriller in which you see the giant monster and you flee into an open doorway and lock the door behind you, only to spin around and discover that you've locked yourself inside with the monster. That's why focusing on just the externals will never bring lasting healing. And that's why God always focuses on the internals. He starts with the monsters within, because that's where true change works.
Have you allowed God to tame the monster within you? My internal monster, I'm ashamed to say, looks a lot like impatience these days. But godly character is built one stone at a time, minute by minute, day by day, in a million seemingly insignificant choices we make second by second. The divine Stonemason is at work grinding and chiseling and buffing and polishing until every facet of our lives reflects His beauty. This isn't a particularly cosmic thought, I realize. But this morning I needed to remind myself that time makes a difference. God still has a wonderful plan for my life that exceeds my wildest expectations. And He's more than willing and able to guide me toward that destination, mending and restoring hurts and sorrows and even creating positives out of negatives. When my world begins to spin out of control, I need to let Him work things out inside of me -- to be the Center of my ever-changing world.
Friend, God's presence is as real as the front of your face. You can almost see His open arms as He calls, "Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."
Friday, January 10
1:35 PM Read Paper Perfect Churches.
1:31 PM Just back from visiting with Kimberly and the kids. Saw their new house (which is under construction) too. What a blessing. Thanks for the great lunch, Kim!
8:57 AM Wise words this morning from Jacob Cerone in an essay called Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship with the Book of Jonah. Here's an excerpt:
8:26 AM This email arrived today:
In case you haven't read it yet (or are having trouble falling asleep), here's the link:
8:03 AM To me, da bes' t'ing about Hawaii is da language we wen spoke when we was keeds. Now dat I stay grown up, I no can speak Da Kine ova hea on da mainland. Das why I no can wait fo get back to da Islands. Check out dis guy who wen take one taste test. Too funny!
Dat kine stuffs go make you laugh.
7:26 AM Yet another reason to support indigenous missionaries in India, which will become the most populous nation in the world by mid-century:
6:55 AM Warning: This is going to be long.
Last night as I lay in bed I felt that my day was not what it was meant to be. Sure, there was a circus of activities -- phone calls, emails, blog posts, trips to the post office and grocery store, cooking meals. But God's voice seemed distance, drowned out by the drone of activities, the jingle of cell phone rings, the pounding of fingers on a computer keyboard. Buried in the midst of a frenetic day was God's voice as quiet as a lover's kiss. As I lay in bed, I felt the loss. I groaned to hear again the sounds of His silence deep within my heart, and I prayed for forgiveness. I'll do better tomorrow, Lord.
But will I do better today? Today will I allow His still, small voice to whisper in my ears? For the real Christian is not only a doer. He is a lover. He loves Someone he's never met in person, talks with Someone he cannot see, hears what is inaudible. As Christians, we can't very well be lights in the world if our wicks are dim. And it's hard to generate much light when we're so busy polishing the lamp stand that we forget to light the candle. It's only when we get our inside world put right -- our hearts and minds -- that we can see God in the outside world.
I've felt this way before....
By the time I had graduated from Kailua High School and had completed a couple of years at Biola College, I was ready for a break. I wanted to put the books down and get away from the pressure of having to earn straight As to maintain my full tuition scholarship. I was bored in the classroom -- and with life in general. So I did what any Hawaiian-born surfer would do. I went back home. I lived in Waikiki and surfed all day while bussing tables at night in one of Waikiki's swanky tourist hotels. It was just what the doctor ordered. A year later I was back at school, ready to tackle the rest of my B.A. program, my M.Div., and my doctorate in Europe.
In a sense, I feel like this trip to Hawaii has a similar purpose. You see, God has been cutting and shaping me (as He has you), like a craftsman shaping a surfboard, and to be honest with you, a lot of coarse material needs to be cut away. I am lonely, and a bit bored. The question nags at me: I am growing old, but am I growing up? The day Becky died is tattooed on my brain. It was traumatic to say the least. Sometimes my life feels like a burrito someone has sat on. The good news is that I think God understands. He says in the Beatitudes, "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there's more of God and his rule" (The Message). Boy, can I identify! I'm trying to be patient with myself, but feelings of inadequacy and inferiority keep popping up. I want to slow down, take a break from the demands of work, home, writing, cooking. I want to stop worrying about God's will for my life and just work on today. As Irenaeus, the early church father, once said, "The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God." Listen, I know full well that a Hawaiian vacation is no panacea. Maybe things will be different when I return, maybe not. But I have little choice in the matter. I'm sensing the time is now to make this trip, to revisit the places where Becky and I walked and ate and laughed and played and made love.
Early on in our marriage Becky and I established a sort of "rule" that we would always try to be honest with each other, especially when we felt vulnerable or unloved. I can't help but think that this trip to the Islands has something to do with that commitment. It's my way of saying, "Okay, Death, you took her away from me, but it's only for a short while. In the meantime, I won't let you rob me of the memories, the little joys, the silent pleasures." Not that I'd ever really talk to the Devil that way. I feel far from invincible. But God understands that. He understands when we are sometimes hesitant to move forward because of old wounds. And it is this God who promises us in His word, "The Lord will go ahead of you" (Isa. 52:12). Why? Because He wants us to experience something new. He's got a surprise up His sleeve reserved for those who put past losses behind them and kick up their heels and buy shave ice and rent a surfboard and eat at the same restaurant where they bussed tables in the distant past.
With God's help, I can and I will learn to laugh again. I can experience a life change from the inside out. And so can you, no matter what your trauma may have been.
Thursday, January 9
6:32 PM This email blessed my heart:
6:30 PM Another one of my essays has just appeared in Spanish. Check it out:
What a labor of love, José. Gracias por todo.
6:16 PM I hope you are sitting down for this next announcement from DBO, because I don't want anyone to suffer a heart seizure. Tonight for supper I cooked for Nigusse -- are you ready? -- beef stroganoff with a fresh Caesar salad and cheese cake for dessert. Here's proof.
And no, I refuse to apologize for expanding my culinary repertoire in this manner, even though I must admit that the main course came from a box ("Hamburger Helper" -- shhh, don't tell Nigusse).
The meal was, I'd say, a huge success. Who knows, tomorrow night I might prepare -- frozen fish sticks!
3:44 PM Yet another excellent post by Henry Neufeld on Bible translations: The Potential Arrogance of Critiquing Bible Translations. Here are 5 helpful takeaways:
3:05 PM Odds and ends ...
1) Arthur Sido has written a very insightful article that deals with Christian unity: Dividing Over Gender.
2) In case you don't know, Robert Martin has a website called The Abnormal Anabaptist. It's loaded with useful material for Christians and all who take their Christianity seriously. Highly recommended.
3) Check out the article called Why Are We Commanded to Make Disciples of All Nations? It's by the president of Asbury Seminary.
5) Thousands are asking: Will Dave do the plate lunch challenge at Zippy's Restaurant on Oahu? Oooooh yeah. I think I'll order lomi lomi salmon, lau lau, kalua pig, teriyaki chicken, shoyu chicken, two scoop rice, and one side mac salad -- all at once. Ono-licious!
10:46 AM Can we idolize the "ideal church"? Mark Stevens says yes -- and offers a biblical antidote.
10:03 AM 45 years ago today John MacArthur began his teaching ministry at Grace. Thankful to God for His choice servant.
9:24 AM As I am working with several couples I know through some really difficult marital issues, I find myself increasingly frustrated with the "normal" approach to the Christian life. I know I'm a pathetic egghead for saying this, but I am bit tired of all those marriage enrichment seminars out there and those colorful gimmicks to "enhance" our marriages. We need to understand that only the love of God can ultimately satisfy our deepest need for unconditional love, and only following His will fulfills our need for significance in this life. I hear so much today about "compatibility" (or the lack thereof) and "meeting my psychological needs." Paul tells us to look out for the needs of others, regarding other people as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3-4). Marriage can't be "all about me." If we have this attitude, then we will remain faithful to our spouse up to the point of diminishing returns. As long as serving our wives brings us what we want, we will gladly keep our marriage vows. What a godless notion. Have we forgotten that marriage is for better or for worse?
I don't suppose that there has ever been a marriage that at some point has not reached a seemingly irredeemable low point. And it's only normal that we should want to be deeply intimate with another human being. The problem is when we allow our relational needs to assume greater priority than simply doing what God wants and tells us to do. I am unconditionally opposed to any line of thinking that undermines the concept of personal responsibility in marriage, but I also oppose the notion that following Christ guarantees a life of satisfying emotions and fulfilling experiences. So you're not "compatible." So what? Love each other any way.
I love that line in the movie Rear Window where the wise old nurse says to Jimmy Stewart, "For 30 years my husband and I have been two incompatible misfits, and we are still madly in love with each other." Marriages (especially in America) spend a disproportionate amount of effort on seeking self-fulfillment. The average married couple is clueless as to the deepest needs of people all around them. We have a culture of consumerism that puts the focus inwardly on our home, our family, our needs. We need to realize that marriage is not about us. It's about modeling for a lost world what real love, commitment, forgiveness, and dogged persistence look like. As I see it, Christian marriages today have two options. We can echo the actions of the rich young ruler and walk away from Jesus and from our commitments because we're not willing to give up the idols in our lives, or we can respond as the disciples did by leaving everything behind to follow Him in obedience. Let's just love our spouses, accept them, enjoy them for who they are, and especially work together for something bigger than ourselves. Agree or disagree with me, it's something we all need to think deeply about.
The crises I'm dealing with may or may not resolve themselves. There's lots of pain in these relationships, and things can still end up in a total disaster. Trust when I can't control things is difficult. Major intervention (by the Spirit) is going to be needed before all is said and done.
Switching topics, I've made my reservations for the trip-of-a-lifetime (my final anniversary celebration), so this blog will shut down from Jan. 23-29 while yours truly is contemplating his navel on the beach at Waikiki. I'm also honored to have been invited to speak at Calvary Chapel of West Oahu on Friday and Sunday, so if you live on Oahu and would like to meet up, just Google the church.
Lots of good, God stuff going on in my life right now. Still, I need prayer for courage, wisdom, and trust. My pretty wife is no longer here to share in the celebration, but she still gets the Saint Becky Award for loving me so wisely and well for over 37 years. What a joy to celebrate her.
Wednesday, January 8
5:38 PM Had the joy of lunching with three seminary students and then driving them to the airport. Karen will be gone 10 days to a faraway place.
It will, of course, have its joys and its challenges, as do all such trips. Traveling such a long distance for the sake of the Gospel is tough, but it is absolutely necessary. There is nothing so attractive in this dark world as a life where Jesus is dominant. And those in whom He is dominant will not be ashamed to go in His name.
Please join me in praying for Karen, that she might be consumed with a love for Jesus Christ and please Him in all she does on this trip.
A very proud dad.
9:02 AM Are you just beginning a new season of life? Then you must read this.
8:43 AM Let's see: Is divorce ever permissible for a believer? And what about remarriage after divorce? You would think that such questions would hardly need to be asked in the Bible Belt, but the fact is that divorce is not uncommon in many of our churches. The world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood. In a sin-marred world, things go awry. All the more reason to cry out to the Lord for guidance. I once co-edited what I believe is one of the most important and helpful books ever to have been written on the difficult subject of Christian marriage and divorce. The book is entitled Except for Fornication: The Teaching of the Lord Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage. Often a book comes across as either too heavy to be practical or too light as to be helpful. Parunak skillfully avoids both extremes. Self-examination is crucial, and we must look at our lives honestly. Grace never ignores sin, but works God's power in taking broken sinful human beings and bringing them to wholeness.
6:42 AM I was up very early again this morning, restless, thinking, meditative, pensive. Read this email:
I love the simplicity of this prayer. It is a wonderfully comforting word to me. And it was written by someone who knows the reality of loss, the fire of suffering. Thank you, my dear sister. Then my son writes and says, "Will you venture to the top of Olomana?" This is the treacherous mountain in Kailua I used to climb in my youth. Nate and I once climbed it together. To be honest, I'd love to try it again. Don't you love it how everyone seems to be challenging me to greater heights (literally!)? Frank O'Conner, the great Irish writer, once described how he, in his childhood, would take long walks with his friends in the countryside. When they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high to climb, too difficult an obstacle to overcome, they took their caps and tossed them over the wall, and then they had no choice but to follow them. This year, with God's help, I will climb the wall and explore the wonders on the other side. It all begins with this crazy trip to Hawaii (Jan. 23-27). Perhaps from the thicket of thorns will begin to spring roses. Just because I am broken doesn't mean that I am useless.
Tuesday, January 7
6:47 PM The latest addition to our home page is called Oh, the Beauty of Scripture!
4:38 PM This cool email showed up in my inbox today:
Yep, the Pipeline was quite the surfing beach. Even broke a board in half there once. You'll notice in the video how much this spot has changed since the 60s and 70s. It is far too crowded today, and it's not uncommon for someone to cut in on you. Oh, for the good old days ....
By the way, my trip to the Islands has been postponed. I fly space available and the seats just up and disappeared. No problem. (A'ole pilikia, as they say in Hawaiian.) I'm told by a pilot friend that things are really crazy until about Jan. 15, so I've rescheduled my Island adventure for the 23rd. So that's that.
Thank you so much for all your love and prayers and encouragement during this time in my life. I'm moving toward closure, which is a big part of the reasoning behind going "home" and getting things sorted out sooner rather than later. In some ways I feel I've learned more about living in the past 9 weeks than I have in the first 61 years of my life. I haven't reached the end of the journey (will I ever?), but I think I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Well, it's time to cook dinner for Nigu and me. You guessed it!
11:06 AM My thanks to Jon and Matthea for having me over last night to share with their small group. Here I'm discussing the discourse structure of Philippians and illustrating it with a portrait I drew many years ago. (The point was that a discourse -- or a human face, for that matter -- has three components: cohesion, coherence, and prominence.)
Of course, grandfathers are rather handy gadgets to have around, especially if you want a story read to you.
Teaching. Family. Grace. What undeserved blessings. All the cares of the day seemed to fade away as I joined in the fun and laughter of a beautiful, godly home. I love that my life includes opportunities to teach Scripture to Twenty-Somethings and then turn right around and tell Bible stories to small children. That life is more than scholarship. That no matter how much you miss That Person, there are many other people to share your life with.
Thank you, Jesus.
Monday, January 6
9:12 AM Just saw this urgent prayer request by a pastor in Texas concerning his wife:
(Read Praying for a Miracle.)
Josh and Andrea, I just prayed for you and will continue to do so. May complete healing take place for His glory!
8:58 AM I'll be taking Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy with me on the plane this week. (I've already read it once.) It touches on a very important subject but, it seems to me, never really gets a hold of it. The author attacks great moral problems and then, before the campaign has started, beats an elegant and genteel retreat. Perhaps the only really good book to treat this topic is Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation. Makes me want to write a companion volume called The Christian of a Mythical Nation, which would expose the statism that exists in certain segments of Christianity. My Anabaptist forebears had a good deal to contribute to the debate as well, though like Boyd are not considered "mainstream" enough to be taken seriously. They are remembered for their remonstrations and their stubbornness, but what they really stood for was costly discipleship. When they saw that they in fact had to pay the ultimate price for their obedience, they went to their deaths singing, much like the earlier followers of Jesus who refused to bow the knee to Caesar. The question I would like to pose to Phillips is this: Would you personally be willing to pay such a price for obedience to the Word of God over loyalty to the state? Would I? This question may well become more than academic in the coming years.
8:50 AM Tonight's low? A mere 7 degrees. Be sure to bring your pets indoors tonight!
8:26 AM Interested in Bible translations? Then you must read Optimal Equivalence and the HCSB.
8:22 AM I just read that Thomas Hudgins will be giving a guest lecture at SEBTS in a few days. I loved this slide of his:
Now as you all know, tonight I've been asked to share a few words about Philippians with a group of young professionals. I will remind them (and me!) that persecution and suffering are not options for the follower of Jesus. This is clearly the theme of Phil. 1:29, and it is clearly what Paul teaches in 2 Tim. 3:10-11a, as Thomas notes. Yet how easy it is for us to stop with "teaching," as if knowledge alone changes lives. Thus my message tonight will be a very simple one: Make room in your life for trouble. We cannot preach the cross and not share in it. Suffering is inherent in the very nature of the Christian experience. Jesus grappled with the ugly, the sordid, the hideous, and if we are to follow Him we too must grapple with a bruised and suffering society. Our proving ground is the world, not the church. Great soldiers are developed in battle, not on parade.
Paul poured himself out for others, and so must we. It is a decadent generation that cannot endure sound doctrine and heaps to itself teachers who promise nothing but health and ease. Our Lord, when He lived among us, worked tirelessly for the sake of others and then died on a cross. He never meant to leave us smug and self-satisfied.
A comfortable Christian is an oxymoron.
8:02 AM 1 Timothy 5:1:
Yesterday we looked at Titus 2:2. Today let's discuss this verse from 1 Timothy. (Can you guess that I'm doing a study of age in the New Testament?) Paul is speaking to the older men in the congregation and he tells them how they should treat the younger men. In the church we are all brothers and sisters. Younger men are not to be looked down upon as if they were somehow inferior because of their age. Paul tells us old guys to treat the younger men as equals, because, essentially, that's what we are in the body of Christ. For example, in the opening of Philippians, Paul writes, "Paul and Timothy ...." Note that he does not insist on any title for himself here ("Paul the apostle") or for Timothy ("Timothy, my assistant"). This does not mean that Paul rejected any notion of functional roles. After all, if Paul was Timothy's brother, he was still the "big brother" and enjoyed more wisdom and life-experience (and apostolic authority) than did his youthful co-worker. Again, notice how frequently Paul addresses the members of his churches as "brothers and sisters." This is no accident. Even Jesus is not ashamed to call us "brothers," according to Heb. 2:11.
Any implications for daily life? Plenty. Never insist on being called by your title, for one. Of course, you are free to call me Dr. Black if you want to, or even Herr Professor Doktor Black (as I am sometimes called in Germany). Up to you. But if I understand Matt. 23:7-8 correctly, Jesus makes it clear that no one should require another person to address him or her with honorific titles. The reason? "Because you all brothers of one another." Titles can easily tickle our carnal pride if we are not careful. Of course, we need not press the injunction too literally (Jesus allowed Himself to be called "Rabbi"). But the spirit (if not the letter) of Jesus' words still apply today. In classical Greek, the word for "humility" was a term of reproach. But the New Testament writers elevated it to a place of prominence as one of the most important of all Christian virtues (see, e.g., Phil. 2:3). I urge us older men to esteem others as better than ourselves. This includes those who are younger and perhaps less mature in the faith. If the apostle Paul ("the chief of sinners") could do this, how much more should we?
Please, let's honor and esteem our leaders but never exalt them above others in the church. Overseers and deacons are extensions of the Body, not over it (Phil. 1:1). One of the greatest tragedies in the story of Christianity has been the shift in understanding that has taken place concerning our view of church leadership. "Overseers and deacons" are not proud titles but descriptions or activities: "those who oversee and serve [the congregation in some special capacity]." Our Lord anticipated our trouble when He set the record straight (Mark 10:44-45): "If one of you wants to be first, he must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many."
Elder, are you serving the younger? Are you treating him as a brother? Am I? We can, and we must.
7:34 AM I am an educator by profession. Which means that I study education (and pedagogy) as often as I can. Clifford Dowdey's magnificent biography of Robert E. Lee is a case in point. Many people do not realize that at war's end Lee became a professional educator, and an excellent one at that. As the president of Washington College in Lexington, VA, Lee placed his students on their own responsibility, much as he had with the soldiers under him. "To Lee," writes Dowdey,
Dowdey goes on to say:
When students abused this privileged, they were called into the president's office. Notes Dowdey:
The bottom line?
I could not agree more with this approach to education, at least in seminary and graduate school. The honor system that Lee established is still in effect at what is now called Washington and Lee University. It has stood the test of time, because it is based on sound pedagogy.
Think about that the next time you consider banning the use of iPads and cell phones in your classroom.
(Below: Lee as a college president just before his death in 1870.)
P. S. An older generation of Southern biographers were often guilty of making gods out of men like Stonewall Jackson and R. E. Lee. If we are going to profit from reading biographies about the great men and women of the past, we will need to have insight, which is nothing more than the ability to assess one's own and others' strengths and weaknesses in a healthy sort of way. Insight is a part of biblical wisdom and an essential part of the Christian's equipment.
7:22 AM Prepping for my trip to Oahu requires watching an episode or two of Hawaii Five-O. Lousy story lines but great acting. And the scenery -- well, what can you say about Hawaii other than that it truly is the Paradise of the Pacific? The first few episodes were filmed while I was still in high school (and while Obama was in elementary school), and the fashions were very 60s. (Did we really dress like that?) And poor old Steve McGarrett, having to wear a coat and tie in all that humidity. I challenge you to find one scene in which the man perspired. Maybe the guy had no sweat glands. (By the way, I never saw a cop dressed that way growing up there. We called that "dressing mainland.") But who cares? The series is worth watching if only for its opening theme song (which is the greatest TV jingle of all time and the unofficial theme song of the University of Hawaii).
All together now ... Book 'em, Danno!
7:12 AM Kevin Brown once mused about mediocrity. (Good stuff, Kevin!) Well, since I'm an expert in it, maybe I could add my two cents. When you get to be my age you realize there is very little you can change about yourself. Habits seem firmly entrenched. The temptation to give up, slow down, flake out is very real. Do I give in? All the time, sad to say. Jesus, however, is unambiguous about this subject in His Sermon on the Hillside. What do you really value? What are you really seeking after? What is your primary ambition in life? You cannot serve God and this world at the same time. He warns us about giving priority to things (like clothing) that simply wear out with time. He tells us to put our treasure where it cannot be stolen. In terms of commitment, disciples of Jesus should stand out in sharp contrast to this world.
That said, Kevin is right: we need to do better. But worrying about all this is useless. Anxiety, as our Lord said, can't add one day to our life or a few inches to our height. Worry means that we do not trust God for our failures, our mediocrity, our sloth and complacency. In a world marred by sin, mediocrity is inevitable for everybody, even Type A personalities. What we can do is to take baby steps forward. We can ask God to show us where we lag behind, and then ask Him to nudge us ahead a little bit. It can perhaps mean asking God: How can I be a better husband, a better parent, a better student, a better teacher, a better worker this year than I was last year? It might mean notching it up one bar even in areas in which you might excel. I never teach a class when I do not ask myself, "What one thing can I do this time around that will improve this class?" Here on the farm I've been learning how to do basic maintenance jobs without asking (or hiring) others to do it for me. Talk about raising the bar! ("Klutz" is my middle name.) Short as life is, I believe I can still make progress in almost every area of my existence.
As Kevin reminds us, Jesus is our model. He practiced what He preached. He told us to be about the Father's business, then He showed us how to do that: By walking daily in the Spirit and by trusting the Father. So, brother Kevin, I can truly empathize with you. Your words remind me that I am not about the Father's business as I should be. Yet, I'm sure you would agree that worry is unnecessary. Nobody works harder than a bird, but birds neither worry nor hoard. They trust. And it is not without significance that God allows us to see these little creatures every day of our lives. They show us the way forward.
Sunday, January 5
7:40 PM Sitting here scratching my dogs' ears, listening to Brahms' German Requiem and thinking about those who have died in the Lord. Truly, Selig sind sie.
I am a firm believer in the power of music to inspire and motivate. It is also a great balm for the soul. I'm grateful that God inspired Brahms to write such a powerful work. Luther was convinced that, next to the word of God, music has the greatest power to move the human soul. And Luther knew both very well.
6:12 PM Time to cook supper for Nigusse and me. Tonight I'm serving pancakes. No, I am NOT stuck in a rut.
6:08 PM Conferences, conferences, conferences. I love them (especially when I get to help organize them). I am über-blessed to have been involved with three major conferences on campus, the first being in 2000 (on textual criticism, the synoptic problem, and the authorship of Hebrews) and the second in 2004 (on the ending of Mark).
The speakers at the latter? Black, Wallace, Robinson, Elliott, and Bock.
Our third conference is yet to take place, and I want to cordially invite you to consider attending it. The topic is the "woman-taken-in-adultery" passage of John 7:53-8:11. Conferences such as these provide time to learn together, to catch up both personally and professionally with other New Testament students, and to create new memories. This type of energy is contagious!
Hope to see you in the Forest of Wake in April.
5:48 PM Three from Bonhoeffer:
1) "Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ."
2) "Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."
3) "Faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience."
5:38 PM Reminder: The Areopagus series (co-edited by Allan Bevere and yours truly) accepts manuscripts that deal with doctrinal or practical issues in an irenic tone. Feel free to send me an email if you think your work might fit our series.
9:05 AM Titus 2:2:
At the age of 61, I suppose I qualify for the status of "older man." Aging is one of the terms of our humanness and, in that sense, is incurable. But with age there does not necessarily come the virtues Paul lists here. I have found peace with my aging not only through accepting it but by making it an offering to God, who can transform it into something for the good others. It involves a choice to become a spiritual parent. It is a choice, in many instances, to become a burden-bearer. I can no longer stop at the pool's edge and calculate the water's depth. There is no time for that. I must jump in and swim or pitifully sink. Life is always too big for any of us, so why worry about trying to meet its demands? God is calling us to do the impossible. I have lost my bride. That fact will nag at me until the day I die. But still, God has called me to "exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely." This privilege is not beyond any man who will give himself totally to God. Scripture has some very strong things to say about aging. Patience. Sacrifice. Provision. Responsibility. The elders among us are to mentor the youngers. They are to beget children, yet that is only the beginning. They must call their children to follow the Savior with all their hearts, leading them with the bonds of love and teaching them how to walk. Can I say that I will ever get beyond my loneliness enough to be able to do this? No. No magic wand exists that will make my troubles vanish. But then again, in a different way, perhaps, I will learn how to be alone without being lonely. After all, it's only been two months for me. This morning I received an email from a sister in Christ whose husband died two years ago. In her wisdom she wrote:
The Scripture abounds with language like this. It would be preposterous for me to say that I understand what this woman is experiencing. Two years! Yet did I not detect a peace, a joy, the oil of gladness instead of the mourner's tears, garlands instead of ashes? Some day I would love to ask her and the other widows I know about the "how to's" of this whole daily exercise of faith. How do I handle this waiting? I do not know. I only know that no painful experience is great enough to drain the ocean of God's grace. God is disciplining me. He is making me long for something I cannot have so that He can reveal to me what He wants me to have. And slowly, very slowly, I think I am beginning to experience, as this widow has, the strange peace that is not the world's to give.
I urge all of us "older men" to heed the words of Paul in Titus 2:2. Lift up your hands in surrender to God. Acknowledge your total inadequacy to be the man of God you so desperately want to be. Ask Him to use you, a weak but yielded vessel, in His service. He delights in making somethings out of nothings.
Saturday, January 4
7:20 PM I have, this evening, been doing some quiet contemplation on marriage, no sounds to disturb my thoughts save those of the humming of the computer. I once ran across an amazing BBC story about conjoined twins who were born in Brazil having two heads, two backbones, but only one heart. Their names? Jesus and Emanuel.
Wow. If ever there was a sight to compete with a man's love for a woman (and vice versa), this has got to be it. Reading my own life into the picture, I see Becky and me, two people as different as different can be, yet somehow complementary, somehow conjoined at the heart, two people who constantly did for the other and not for self. Don't misunderstand. Our marriage wasn't perfect. It didn't have to be. In a world that has lost or discarded the marriage vow, we stuck it out, despite spiritual exhaustion at times, despite the Devil throwing at us everything he had. We never forgot the mystery that a good marriage is, or that it is not our experiences that change us, but always and only our response to those experiences. God calls every marriage to abject poverty -- that stripping away of all that this world has to offer. A good (though not perfect) Christian marriage shows a watching world that ordinary things can be very holy and very good. Two people, joined at the heart. Have you a spouse? Tell them, tonight, how much you love him or her. Bask in your marital love. But never, ever, forget that it was His own perfect and complete sacrifice of Himself (becoming one heart with us) that made this possible.
5:10 PM In case you are bored stiff, here are some fun facts about me:
5:06 PM Missions quote of the day:
11:03 AM Forthcoming from the pen of Kevin Brown:
10:44 AM This came today:
For any questions having to do with Greek vocab, Jacob Cerone's excellence page called Vocabulary is the go-to place. Check it out, Greek scholar!
9:38 AM Can what happened in the early church happen today? The earliest Christians were accused of turning the world upside down with the Gospel (Acts 17:6). Today, the great majority of Christians do not regard evangelism as their business. Together, however, we can return evangelism to a "first things category." If you need a place to start, why not try India? Just look at the unreached peoples it contains.
And one of the best ways of evangelizing India is by sponsoring the efforts of nationals who live there. What is more, Joel Bradsher has made it simple for you to get involved. Read Reaching NE India with the gospel and it might surprise you how easy it is to support God's work there. As Joel points put, I doubt that in our day we can have effective evangelism without a Copernican revolution in our own church life and priorities. Nor should we expect it.
Go, send, or disobey. These are our only options.
7:56 AM What is the best Bible version -- German style?
6:42 AM I'm taking a much-needed break today from working on all of the financial transactions pursuant to Becky's death to work on my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, which is due to the publisher the end of February (and, as everyone knows, I am a stickler for deadlines). In a nutshell, I'll argue that the best definitions of church are those taken directly from the text of Scripture rather than from some manmade construct that is superimposed on the text. The Bible (especially the book of Acts) has a beauty and power all its own. I think it's perfectly fine and cool to write books about church life that are based on your own church's philosophy or methods. But what's challenging is coming up with distinctives that are thoroughly Scriptural. In any event, I hope to get another chapter written today, so your prayers would be appreciated.
Yesterday Jacob Cerone was here to upload the pictures for Becky's forthcoming autobiography (My Life Story) to Drop Box. From there they will magically appear in my publisher's computer where he can begin composing the final pages of the book.
The release date had been postponed a month (look for mid-February for the book to come out) in order to make sure that the cover design is just right (he's got some great ideas), and there's even talk about me flying to Florida for the book's release. As I looked at all these photos of Becky's life I was reminded of how much love costs. All those little deeds of love that Becky did? They don't seem to amount to very much as we mortals measure things. But they sure do smell good to God. Nothing she did was unnecessary. Likewise with you, my friend. So what if you are unnoticed, overlooked, never appreciated. No labor of love, no simple act of service is ever lost to Jesus. It's like incense that arises to God. As I mused on these pictures, I kept saying to myself, Thank you, Lord, thank you, Lord. A woman with a grotesque disease that plagued her for more than 4 years found something worthwhile to expend her life on. It compels me to ask, "Lord, what would you have me give back to you today in the midst of my pain?" I tell you, I love this book. Thanks be to God for Becky's life. Fun, family, good times. Tumors, chemo, death. This is the world you and I live in. One day your world (or part of it) will come crashing down around you like that first pane of glass you broke in childhood. The reason I can say this is because you are human, and this is what happens to humans. My Life Story is a reminder that the American Dream is a fatal fallacy. Many have capitulated to it. Not so Becky Lynn Black. The Christian life demands self-sacrifice and humility, but it is the only road to glory.
Oh, last night I just had to give Nigusse some relief from the same-old same-old diet of stir fry and rice, so off we went to the Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill.
There we met up with our good friend (and the restaurant's' proprietor) Friesh. Delicious food, and even better fellowship.
Life is (still) good.
Friday, January 3
9:20 AM Quote of the day (Jacob Cerone):
9:15 AM Here's a good post about transparency: Are other people allowed in your refrigerator?
8:46 AM It's strange to think back to my days in Hawaii. I lived there from 1952 to 1971, when I left to attend Biola. At the time I was anything but a truly committed Christian. The days seemed so sterile, so useless, so devoid of anything that could be called selfless living. Yet God was at work in shaping the character of a young man who would eventually be called into fulltime Christian education. I never imagined myself a published author. It was beyond my wildest dream that one day I would travel to other nations to teach the Word, or that I would marry the most beautiful woman in the world. Last night I could not stop thinking about her. (It was exactly two months since that day.) It felt silly to be so weepy, to tear up at the slightest recollection of the days we spent together in the Islands. I will no more weep for her. I will be thankful for such a gift of God's grace. I don't know how many times I've said these words to myself. Then I proceed to wallow in solitary self-pity.
I'm afraid for this visit to Hawaii, for this trip back down memory lane, this return to the isle of my birth and my first taste of marital bliss. Yet somehow I need it. She would have wanted me to go. She would want me to carry on. There is one thrill that is known only to the soldier who fights on though wounded, who remains faithful despite great odds. Such determination is impossible without a deep and abiding belief in the sovereignty of God. But there is one thing that living by faith does not mean. It does not mean pretending that life doesn't hurt, or that loss isn't painful, or that sin and death will never invade our turf, our territory, our comfort, our self-image. Eight weeks later I am no better off emotionally than the day she died. That seems frightening to me. But that's life. Amy Carmichael of India once wrote these words about her orphans:
For all who fight on, who follow hard after Him, refusing to be pushed backward, Jesus prayed that "they might have My joy within them, in full measure" (John 17:13). Well, if life is to be "joy-in-the-midst-of-unbearable-sorrow," so be it. I will carry on. I will run my race. I will seek to love, honor, and serve Him with my whole heart, knowing that I will find peace only at the cross.
Father, Thy will be done on earth, even in this small corner of the earth where Thy servant doth dwell, as it is in heaven. May he live his life this day, and every day, as a joyful sacrifice of praise and of incredible worth to his Master. Amen.
Thursday, January 2
1:35 PM As some of you may know, Becky and I spent our honeymoon in Hawaii staying in my home in Kailua (my family was on the mainland at the time). It was a wonderful experience. I look back at the pictures we took and am aware of how much had been given to me then and how much has been required ever since. Last year, as Becky's health began to take a major turn for the worse, we decided to return to Oahu to revisit the places that meant so much to us in previous trips to the Islands. As you know, that trip never eventuated. Yet the call of the Islands has never left me, has increased, in fact, since Becky's Homegoing. Mulling over the whole thing now, I believe it's time I did something really crazy (for a change!). I've decided that, in loving memory of Becky Lynn Black, I'll take a little jaunt over to Hawaii next week and spend a couple of nights in the hotel we would have stayed in had we been able to return to Oahu, the one and only Pink Lady, the famous Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach. (We have a picture somewhere of my family on Waikiki Beach in 1952 when there were only two hotels there, the Halekulani and the Royal Hawaiian.) On Wednesday I'll take Karen to the airport for her trip to the Middle East, and then I'll fly out the next morning, bright and early, on what I am hoping will bring a measure of closure to this yearning of mine to somehow celebrate my anniversary one last time. Perhaps the solitude will help me understand the solitude of others, of widows and widowers, of single men and woman who wrestle with their singleness and celibacy. Perhaps more than anything, I will just be remembering, and giving thanks. So, in only one week the Paradise of the Pacific will welcome a native son (now an old fossil!) with open arms. I will say "Maikai kakahiaka" and be understood, I will smell the plumerias, and maybe I will even grab a long board and paddle out. I will give the Father my broken heart and offer up those very pains I've shared so often with you on this blog. Like the Hawaiian sparrow, I've got a song to sing, though I sing mine by faith. Life is chock full of things we can't do anything about but which we are supposed to do something with. As I think about that, maybe this trip isn't as cockamamie as I imagined. I'll be nothing but a fragile leaf blowing around in the wind. Blow, Holy Spirit, blow!
9:22 AM Allan Bevere does it again with his new post Ten Things You Never Hear in Church. Actually, Allan, I've said about half of them!
9:19 AM Read Jeff Oien's excellent post The Secret to Spending Less Time on the Internet. Really good advice!
8:36 AM Quote of the day (Ron Walborn, Dean of Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, New York):
Ah, that's it exactly. Local churches are really nothing more than "mission outposts." This is so good it hurts!
Wednesday, January 1
6:42 PM A former student of mine sent me a link to the recent Cross Conference that took place in Louisville. This led me to their blog (lots of good stuff there) and this essay in particular: Questions for Your Mission Budget. In it the writer asks, "Are we giving priority to long-term missions [as opposed to short-term missions]?"
There are a trillion issues I could discuss here, but I'll give you my take on just one. The distinction between short-term and long-term missions is, I think, somewhat overdrawn. In fact, I think it's every Christian's duty to be a fulltime (i.e., global) missionary wherever they live. "Life is a mission trip; take it!" is the way my colleague Alvin Reid puts it. I agree in a sense that certain people are called by God to become cross-cultural missionaries, but it's not a calling that is reserved only for budget-supported "missionaries." Many Christians could easily serve the Lord in fulltime Gospel ministry by acquiring secular jobs (i.e., non-church-supported platforms for ministry) in foreign countries -- and many in fact do just that. I suspect the reason many American evangelicals default to the "we-must-support-U.S.-sent-foreign-missionaries" idea is because this is the way the church has done it for decades. But as I argued in my essay The Future of Southern Baptist Missions, we have got to stop outsourcing foreign missions to our fellow American evangelicals if we are going to reach the nations in our generation. On top of this, I see very little being said today about another category of "missionary," namely the so-called NRM, or ''non-residential missionary," which is what I am. This is the calling from the Lord to serve in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, not by giving up one's gainful employment and relocating to these countries as a supported worker, but rather by using one's resources (including one's vacations) to travel and come alongside the existing churches, assist them in any way they think best, and do this on a consistent basis (year in and year out). Many thousands of North American evangelicals are doing just this. But until we get many more to become involved personally, I honestly think it's counterproductive to the kingdom to offer only two options to our people (short-term or long-term). Again, this is not to say that long-term missions is no longer needed. As the writer points out, where the church is non-existent, this may well be the best (and indeed only) method of establishing churches. That said, I still believe the biggest hurdle for most of us is the idea that someone from somewhere else can do the job better. The tragedy is that many thousands of foreign nationals are eager to do the job of evangelism and church planting but lack the support to do so. They already know the language and culture. And, unlike many Western missionaries, they are willing to live at an economic level that is far below that of the typical Western church planter. I have supported such missionaries in Ethiopia for many years, and have begun to do the same in India. As we have often noted in these pages, for as little as $50 dollars a month you can begin to support one of these native missionaries, sending him to an unreached village that is just waiting to hear the Good News. The Peniel Gospel Team alone supports dozens of these evangelists in India. To my way of thinking, it is the highest privilege of Western Christians (who are affluent compared to most people who live in the Majority World) to share in their ministries by sending them financial aid. If native evangelists do not go because no one will send them, the shame belongs to the body of Christ in the West. And remember: these are native evangelists who are already experts in the language and culture! As I travel annually to Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, I am overcome as I see so much harvest ready for reaping. But where are the workers? They are there, ready and eager to do the work. So do not wait for your church missions committee to support your efforts to become a global missionary. Save your money, support a foreign national, become an NRM yourself, even consider tentmaking in a foreign country. The very least you can do is to schedule an international mission trip in your calendar before that trip to Disneyworld.
Christ is building His church in every nation, and He is using mostly native believers to do this work. Will we stand with them and help?
3:40 PM A video for you today, to make you smile and laugh.
1:10 PM My top five failures of 2013:
1) Smiling like a fool when my heart was breaking. I want to be real in 2014.
2) Allowing myself to be annoyed with the petty little frustrations that crowd my day. That's just plain stupid.
3) Failing to take more chances to tell Becky how much I loved her while she was still alive. Honey, if you can hear me now, I LOVE YOU.
4) When I needed to cry, I sucked it up instead. Dave, you have permission to fall apart.
5) Fearing love. Love means getting hurt. That's just life. But the alternative is far worse.
I'll do my best to improve in each of these areas this year. Only 364 more days to go!
12:52 PM Praying for our missions team in Africa today. I can't help thinking what a privilege this is.
10:57 AM Read So did Jesus talk funny, y'all?
9:12 AM How many ways can you write "Jesus loves John" in Greek? The answer might surprise you. To get the ball rolling:
’Ιησοῦς ’Ιωάννην ἀγαπᾷ.
ἀγαπᾷ ’Ιησοῦς ’Ιωάννην.
ἀγαπᾷ ’Ιωάννην ’Ιησοῦς.
’Ιωάννην ἀγαπᾷ ’Ιησοῦς.
’Ιωάννην ’Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ.
ὁ ’Ιησοῦς ἀγαπᾷ ’Ιωάννην.
9:08 AM On Monday night I'll be speaking to a group of young professionals who are studying the book of Philippians in their pastor's home. My question to them will be this: Will it make any difference in your lives? We cannot treat the New Testament as a collection of intellectual insights. We distort its message when we use it merely as an exegetical tool. Truth alone, not knowledge, leads to lasting change in our lives. In Philippians, Paul is not offering us a philosophy. Read 1:27. Think about what Paul is saying here. It's not, "I have great kids! I got that job!" It's about putting the Gospel first and not allowing our lives to be hijacked by other agendas (homeschooling, "Christian" agrarianism, conservative politics, etc.).
The sad fact is that we can read and even exegete Philippians and still not be biblical in the way we live. We simply don't understand its message or, if we do, we refuse to obey it. Personal fulfillment remains our number one goal in life, and our lives remain unchanged. Need-driven, we rob the Scriptures of their vitality. We must opt for something better. If the entire goal and orientation of our lives is wrong, we need more than Bible study to make things right. We need Someone who will change us from the inside out, a Savior who will empower us to do what He calls us to do. There is no hope or power for change in education. Let me repeat that: There is no hope or power for change in education. None. Our only true hope is in a personal, daily encounter with the risen Christ. I am amazed at how often we have so little sense of the God of the Gospel whose love for the world should cause us to gladly accept suffering as a tool of His redemptive love. Suffering? Not for me!
Two things always hit me when I teach the book of Philippians. First, I am struck by the sheer simplicity of Christianity. It is not complicated at all. It is simply a call to have the selfless mind of Christ and to serve others. It is living in humble obedience as good citizens of a heavenly kingdom. It is loving as Christ loved -- sacrificially and even scandalously. It is basically a call to die.
At the same time, I am struck by the utter impossibility of anyone ever living this way. Our hearts are closed to such a way of living, our eyes blinded to its beauty. But opening blind eyes is at the heart of the Spirit's work in us. I sympathize with people who are caught up in the rat race of being "good Christians." I hope the message of Philippians will penetrate to the core of their beings.
Students, I will be holding you accountable. The book of Philippians is nothing less than a call to live a daily life of serving and suffering for the sake of others. This lifestyle doesn't require any more knowledge. It calls for a response. Like all true educational endeavors, Bible study must be incarnational. God is calling us to the same incarnational ministry that Christ had by the power of the same Holy Spirit. We must not merely claim to be followers of Jesus. We must love people like He did. Students, that's what Ill be asking you to do.
9:01 AM Here's a great quote about the purpose of the gathering of the local church:
This quote comes from a series of superb essays called Problems and Limitations of the Traditional 'Sermon' Concept. I grew up in a Baptist church where sermons were almost always directed to non-believers. Very little edification was in view. I see now why this was so unbiblical, and the error is due partly to our misunderstand of two very basic terms we find in the New Testament: "preaching" as opposed to "teaching." As the author of this essay points out, preaching is directed to the unconverted, not the converted. Can our local churches do a better job of trying to correspond to the pattern of the New Testament church? We can and we should.
8:33 AM My first blog post in the New Year is about the night. To be more precise: why we so often wake up at night. Here's the back story:
Last night at around 2:00 am, I woke up from a dead sleep. This is not unusual for me. But instead of simply rolling over and forcing myself to go back to sleep, I got out the iPad and began surfing the net for anything about nighttime sleeplessness. That's when I stumbled across Roger Ekirch's At Day's Close: Night in Times Past. I haven't read the book yet (it's been ordered), but according to Amazon the premise of the book is a fairly simple one: Waking up in the early hours of the morning is not only common but healthy. And, if the author of this book is to be believed, people for millennia used to sleep in segmented patterns -- periods of sleep interrupted by periods of wakefulness. The awake periods might be used for reflection, meditation, or even marital intimacy. I really think there might be something to all this. I remember during the past few years how Becky would get out of bed at about 2:00 in the morning and stay up for an hour or two. Then she would return to bed and wake up completely refreshed a few hours later. During the period of awakenness she would often read her Bible, pray, or write emails. I can't even imagine how much she accomplished during these periods of being awake. Me? I would usually resist the urge to get up. After all, I need 8 straight hours of sleep at night. Or do I? So what did I do from 2:00-3:30? Meditated, prayed, got caught up on emails. The one thing I did not do was try and force myself back to sleep.
The book should be an interesting read, especially at 2:00 in the morning.
Tuesday, December 31
4:16 PM Just ordered Hiking Through: One Man's Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail.
Thank you, Patsy, for sending me the link!
4:10 PM In the new year, I am hoping that many of you will continue to support the Lord's work in Ethiopia and India. As you know, every penny you send us goes directly to the work abroad. We take nothing for overhead or expenses. Beginning today, instead of sending your checks to me, please send them to:
Leigh (trained by Becky and a fellow-member of Bethel Hill) will handle the finances from now on. If you would like your gift to be tax-deductible, make your checks payable to Bethel Hill Baptist Church and earmark your check for "India" or "Ethiopia." Thank you, and Happiest New Year.
1:02 PM Another wish for 2014: That all Greek grammar classes would be as interesting as they can and should be!
11:54 AM Just added to our Greek Portal:
9:42 AM Thinking back over the past year brings back many happy memories:
Of course, there was also the recent trip to Dallas. We got some shopping done while there. Although I couldn't find a "realistic" manger scene (you know, a crowded manure-filled cave with a smelly feeding trough), we did manage to find some shoes and shirts. (Thanks, mom!) I'm looking forward to 2014 to see what the Lord is going to teach me. I'm not naive. I'm involved in spiritual warfare, as are you. So we need to keep each other covered in prayer. I'm hopeful that the new year will see my life return to a somewhat "normal" vortex. Of course, I'll keep on blogging, and I hope you will check in frequently. I'm a victim -- as many of you are -- of CTD (Compulsive Thinking Disorder), and I hope to use you as a sounding board for several new ideas that have been floating around in my head lately. If you find my disorder helpful (not everyone does, for sure!), then I welcome your feedback. I'm always available by email at email@example.com.
9:02 AM While in Dallas I watched a YouTube called "The Seven Critical Decisions of Gettysburg." (Incidentally, John Buford's decision to fight at Herr's Ridge was not one of them, nor was Ewell's failure to take Cemetery Ridge on the first day. That surprised me.) So, my theologian brain asks, "What will be the most critical decision we Christians can make in 2014?" I'd like to suggest it is the following:
Think about it as you drink your eggnog tonight. Are we going to try and transform society by fixing government, or by imitating our Lord and Master? In my book Christian Archy, I have argued that our only allegiance as followers of Christ should be to Jesus. Thus, if you should send me an email with the following, I will do nothing other than delete it:
Remember, the question is a very simple one: Will we abandon the Christendom paradigm of the traditional church and become more authentic followers of Jesus? In 2014, I want to encourage all of us to strive to cultivate a kingdom mindset, especially toward those with whom we disagree politically and morally. This may well be the most difficult act of discipleship most of us will ever face because it directly confronts our fallen nature (which always demands that we get "our" way). At all times and in every circumstance, we are commanded to imitate Jesus, including His attitude toward one's enemies.
By the way, in February I'm planning on attending the Justice Conference in Los Angeles as part of the research I'm doing for my book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. Basically, the conference is about all the stuff that is normally covered in the writings of evangelicals like Jim Wallis and Shane Claiborne. I'm 6 or 7 years into the book and have yet to address directly the problem I see with trying to steer politics to the point that we no longer get around to simply being the kingdom. When in L.A., I'm also scheduled to be interviewed by my good friend and fellow-Biolan Don Stewart on his radio show, Pastor's Perspective.
A final thought. When in Dallas I watched an interview about homosexuality on CNN with the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. (You can view it here.) Hat's off to pastor Jeffress for conveying biblical truth in a most Christ-like fashion. I especially liked how he lumped himself with all the other sinners in our society. ("I'm no better than a homosexual or adulterer.") He's right. Christians say they oppose homosexuality because they support "family values," but when the divorce rate among evangelicals is as high as the rest of America, surely the charge of hypocrisy is merited. Maybe, just maybe we'll get to the point where we can all unite together sacrificially in loving the homosexual community and earn the right to speak truth into their lives. Now that would be an expression of moral authority! After all, our sins (pride, gluttony, easy-divorcism, etc.) are often like planks compared to others' specks.
8:32 AM Quote of the day (Conrad Grebel):
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. Please, fellow students of the Word, let's never put the writings of our favorite Bible scholars above the Bible itself!
Monday, December 30
6:02 PM I am gearing up for several international trips this year, including one in April to Asia to speak on this subject: "The History and Theology of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement." So glad to find this review by Craig Keener of John Macarthur's Strange Fire. I've book-marked it to read when my brain is not so fried. The opening reads as follows:
Talk about a sermonic "hook." Should be interesting reading.
5:38 PM Today, Nigusse is visiting the Billy Graham museum in Charlotte. A review of John Stott's biography contains this revealing paragraph:
"Bolstering the global church." This was the vision of both Graham and Stott. What a worthy goal for this 61-year Greek teacher. It is, in fact, my chief desire these days. Graham and Stott set the pace and raised the bar. I'm thankful for that.
11:18 AM Here are a few pix of our trip for Netsanet ("Choo Choo"), Nigu's fiancée in Ethiopia.
1) Here we are in mom and dad's house in Murphy, Texas, dogs included. Becky's sister Lisa (with her husband Dan and their son Ross) joined us the day after Christmas.
2) What, no Chinese stir fry for Christmas dinner? Mom's turkey dinner was out of this world, Choo Choo.
3) We ate out. A lot. Here we are enjoying some Mexican food at El Fenix. Scrumptious.
4) Santa brought your beloved a diary. Wonder what secret thoughts he'll be recording this year?
5) Yes, this beverage is non-alcoholic.
6) At Sheba's Kitchen -- our favorite Ethiopian restaurant in the Big D.
7) On Saturday, Nigu and I took the train to downtown Dallas to do some sightseeing. This is the (in)famous Dealey Plaza, where president Kennedy was assassinated.
8) Then it was a long elevator ride to the top of Reunion Tower.
9) A speculator view of the Dallas skyline, for sure.
10) And here's a replica of the oldest house in Dallas.
11) Finally, your dear old dad painted this landscape when he was in high school. It now resides in the world-renowned Lapsley Art Gallery in Murphy, Texas (haha).
Our love and greetings from Virginia to you, Choo Choo!
10:22 AM Hello, faithful blogging pards. Hope your Christmas went well. Mine was spectacular. We were together with Becky's family -- which in my mind makes life pretty great. Of course, in a fallen world you can't expect everything to be wonderful. Imagine for a moment that you are a small drop of water in a very large river. You've been bubbling along innocently when lo and behold you go over a gigantic waterfall and the massive river is suddenly on top of you, pounding you under. That's what these past 8 weeks have been like for me. And that's why going to Texas was so important. I feel like I'm finally beginning to transition into the slow quiet at the bottom of the waterfall. "I will never forget this awful time as I grieve over my loss," wrote Jeremiah (Lament. 3:20). "Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends. His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness!" When I married Becky Lynn 37 years ago, I vowed to love her no matter what. I promised to "have and to hold [her] till death do us part." She pledged that exact same thing to me too. We didn't know what would lie ahead for us. But we knew our vows would bridge the bad times, the lean times, the ill times until we were parted in death. Yes, parting is such sweet sorrow. If you've ever wanted to know why God created the institution of marriage, a look into the eyes of a grieving widower will give you a pretty good idea. How I look forward to the day when I will embrace her again and together we will celebrate the goodness of the God who redeemed us. Because of Christmas (and Good Friday and Easter), I will see Becky again, and I'll never have to say goodbye again. I know that Becky is happy where she is, and I'd never want her back again. She is now healed, and every last tear has been wiped from her eyes. Yet some days I'd give anything to be able to talk with her again. I suppose God knows how I'm feeling. After all, Christmas is not just about a baby laid in a feeding trough. It is the Heavenly Father saying goodbye to His Son. So, until I see Jesus face to face, I must accept what I cannot change and be content with what I do have (which is plenty!).
As 2014 approaches, I've written down a few goals for the new year. They're not really New Years resolutions. Since my blog is the ultimate "un-blog," maybe we could just call them "un-resolutions." Perhaps they will spur you on to jot down a few of your own.
1) In all of my future publications, I will stop producing long run-on sentences that are redundant, pleonastic, and superfluous or that use more words than are absolutely necessary to say what I want to say.
2) I will continue to put off doing what I know I should have done last year but didn't do because I lack the self-discipline to do it. (Just being honest, folks.)
3) I will never again drink coffee after 3:00 pm unless I'm absolutely sure I want to stay up all night.
4) I will do everything I can to kick the ______ habit. (Wouldn't you like to know what that is?) At the same time, I will not expect perfection. When I fail, I will confess my sins to God, remembering the words of C. S. Lewis: "You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a very long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again."
5) I will not spend money frivolously, unless it is on my daughters.
6) I will relinquish my devotion to "having devotions." I will not feel guilty for not reading my Bible every day. My relationship with Christ is just that -- a living relationship, not a list of things to check off.
7) (This one's for Nigusse.) I will not cook Chinese food for dinner more than 4 times a week.
8) I will talk less about what it means to live as an obedient follower of Christ and will actually start living like one.
9) I will make no resolutions that I have no intention whatsoever of keeping.
10) I will make every effort to keep my future publications simple. (Albert Einstein: "Keep everything as simple as possible, without being too simple.")
11) I will never admit that I am addicted to Beach Boys music, unless in confidence to other Beach Boys lovers.
12) I will make sure that when I teach or preach from my Greek New Testament, no one knows I'm doing so.
13) I will be more understanding toward others, especially those who don't see things like I do.
14) When it comes to giving parenting advice to my children (who are now raising their own children), I am going to zip my lips, knowing that nobody cares as much about raising good kids as their own parents. At the same time, I will not confuse children with angels.
15) By God's grace, I'm going to do something really crazy this year, like surf the North Shore or hike the Appalachian Trail.
16) I will gleefully thumb my nose at the skeptics around me who think that change is both evil and impossible.
17) As much as I love and appreciate them, I will not abdicate my personal responsibility for global evangelism to professional missionaries.
18) Like Jabez of old (1 Chron. 4:9-10), I will ask God for bigger challenges and greater opportunities to serve Him in 2014, believing that I will get them.
19) I will do at least one magnanimous act every day.
20) I will say "I love you" to my family members more often.
21) When nobody is within ear shot, I will belch as loud as I can -- and enjoy every second of it.
22) I will pass out 100 free copies of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? this year. As the saying goes, it only takes a spark to get a fire going.
23) I will not be anything but myself. I will enjoy my own special God-given personality and temperament. I will feel free to weep, to express my fears and doubts, to laugh until I cry. I will not wear a mask and try to appear controlled when I am freaking out. God made me -- down to the last scar.
24) In Luke 9:58, Jesus said to His followers (The Message), "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know." I will eagerly "rough it" for Jesus in 2014.
25) I will accept Becky's death. When King David prayed for an entire week that his son's life would be spared, God said no. "No" is good news when God says it, because He has something far better in mind for us than we can possibly imagine.
26) I will seek out friendships. (Dolly Madison: "Friendship doubles our joy and halves our grief.")
27) I will be more generous in 2014 than I was in 2013. (John Wesley: "Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.")
28) I will banish that past mistake from my memory forever. (Don't ask.)
29) I may stumble, but I will run my race. Wrote Paul to the Hebrews (Heb. 12:1-2, The Message): "We'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running -- and never quit! No extra fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in."
That's it in a nutshell. Hope that gives you some food for thought as we begin 2014. In upcoming posts I'll try and flesh out these ideas. Stay tuned!
Happy New Year.