July 2015 Blog Archives
Friday, July 31
7:06 PM My new living room arrangement. Like it?
6:48 PM Reports of church buildings and crosses being torn down overseas are disturbing indeed. We will make great strides, however, only when we come to view church buildings (or even house churches) not as holy places but as bases from which the servants of the cross deploy. Jesus says the fruit is the world, and this is where we as Christians are to focus. A church building of any kind is dangerous if the members are satisfied to make the gathering an end in itself. The test of both the validity and the vitality of a local church does not occur during the weekly meeting but after the meeting is over. The earliest Christians had good reason not to own buildings of their own: they were far too busy turning their world upside for Christ to build monuments to themselves. And who can deny this temptation of ours to build Christian shrines? I love architectural beauty so much that I would rather gather in a great cathedral on Sunday morning than in a simple brick edifice. But I am speaking in my flesh. The Brethren had their meeting halls that emphasized simplicity and functionality rather than grandeur and ostentation. What good is it to have a fantastic building in which the brethren gather to meet maybe only two or three times a week? But where we meet is really beside the point. The church is not a building but a society of people characterized by commitment, witness, and penetration into the world. The central task of the church is to be a continual reminder of what the main thing is, and the main thing is love for God and, flowing from that, a loving concern for one another and for all people, in the sense of a burning concern for the welfare of those who are not adherents at all. What is truly wonderful and amazing is that the church has the potential to become this kind of community regardless of the type of structure we meet in. If we are to take seriously the transformation of the church into a genuine society of Christ's brothers and friends, we must be ready to voluntarily accept any deprivations that come from without, including the destruction of our edifices and symbols.
7:35 AM What I'm clicking:
3) Did Jesus Laugh?.
5) GOP Debate: Real News Or a Reality Show? The debate will be enormously entertaining. Some viewers will make up their minds from the opening statements alone. Me? I'll wait until at least after the swimsuit competition.
Thursday, July 30
1:02 PM Just announced:
Release date: April, 2016. Time now for a nap. I think I deserve it: 3 mile walk, 5 mile bike ride, then lap swimming.
7:35 AM Good Thursday morning fellow bloggers of the world!
I've always hated running. Especially in high school and college. It hurt, it was boring, and it was a complete waste of my time. It wasn't that I was against exercise. I've never been a couch potato. All my life I've been active -- swimming, surfing, sailing, snorkeling, playing basketball and volleyball, riding horses. Why then this interest in 5Ks? It all started several months ago when one of my daughters invited me to watch her race in her first half-marathon. She quipped, "Dad, we need to do a 5K together some time." And thus began what she called "Operation Getfit." I began walking regularly, and I went online to see if there were any 5Ks in the greater Raleigh area. And then it all started. At the same time, I joined the Y to map out some new goals for my aging body. Aging involves a change of gears. It's partly ego of course. "I'm not 63!" my brain protests. But for me, it's mostly a sense of stewardship (there's that word again). "You either are or you're not in shape, Dave. You actually just can't talk about fitness any longer. You have to take action to develop a body of your own." Okay. I get it. It's not a game, it's not a joke, it's not just a sport. At my age, exercise means fitness, and fitness means power -- the power to do what you need to do in life. At 63 you feel the breath of mortality on your back. It all begins when the grandkids come along. "Hey, I'm not young anymore!" Then you lose a spouse and become vulnerable to loneliness. You're unable to transfer from First to Second Adulthood. And then something begins to drag you out of your isolation. I've reconnected with former friends and colleagues from years gone by. You learn to be totally honest with yourself and with others. The idea is to develop new interests and dream new dreams.
For me, 5Ks are the process of discovering the multiple selves upon which I am building the last decades of my life. So I bought my running shoes and signed up for races. I haven't run a complete race yet but that's my goal. (Walking is okay.) But you know what? It's not about competition anyway. It's about community. It doesn't matter whether you're a rank novice like me or a medallion winning racer. "Real" runners don't care about how old you are, how you look, how you feel, or how fast you walk or run. I've run in three 5Ks now and I have never once felt embarrassed or out of place. To be a runner, all you have to do is lace up and go. If you're out there and moving, you're a winner. So it's not about finishing first. It's about keeping your arms and legs moving despite your mind and body screaming at you to stop. You literally take one step at a time. Slow down if you need to. But keep heading in the right direction. It really doesn't matter that much what your pace is or what your split time is, as long as you are moving forward.
My first love in life will always be nurturing -- nurturing my students, my children, my blog readers, a devoted circle of friends. And now this includes doing a better job of nurturing the body Jesus entrusted to my care. Physical fitness is something you need to start thinking about when you hit 50. But once you get in the groove, being active will become part of your normal daily routine, like brushing your teeth or deciding what clothes to wear that day.
It's funny, but I always have my eye on those who are older than me during a 5K. There's a lot I can learn from them, not least how to age gracefully. If you have any doubt that older men and women today are in the process of a dramatic transformation, just attend a weekend 5k race.
Wednesday, July 29
6:45 PM Been through a cancer journey or know someone who is? This video is for you.
6:02 PM Want to know what a good pastor is like? Just read John 10. That's what I tell my students. The "Pastoral Epistles" were not written for pastors but John 10 was. And guess what -- a good pastor looks just like Jesus, the Good Shepherd/Pastor. One thing I question about the modern pastorate is the vocal transformation some people undergo when they begin to "preach." It's like, here's a normal guy I was just speaking to a few minutes ago, and all of a sudden he's become an orator, a pulpiteer, a homiletician -- call it what you may, but I've always thought it very odd. An analogy: Do you really think that radio announcers talk that way at home? Oh yes, that's my other pet peeve, "announcer voice." It really gets under my skin. Please, PBS, have some mercy on your poor listeners and have your readers just talk with a normal cadence if that's still possible. But back to Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus talking to sheep? Calling them by name? Leading them in and out? I can. I've led sheep. And goats. And cattle. My dogs too. I never need to use pastor-speaker with any of my animals because they know me and understand my natural tone of voice perfectly. If I were a sheep in the body of Christ (what? -- I am!), I'd ask my pastor friends: "Could you please talk to me in the language I'm fluent in? The language called Sheep, not Shepherd." I've heard one sermonizer whose breath becomes so, well, breathy when he's behind the pulpit that it's impossible for me to follow him. Let's not perpetuate this trend. Talk to us like I imagine Jesus talked to His sheep. No other-worldly accent is needed. No halo either. There's nothing wrong with your normal voice. There really isn't. Your natural voice was quite sufficient when you visited Joe's aunt in the hospital. Your natural voice was a huge hit at the wedding you spoke at the other day. Your natural voice works just fine during small group. It was said of John Wesley, "His attitude in the pulpit was graceful and easy; his action calm and natural." Earlier today I ran across an ancient book on homiletics called Homiletical and Pastoral Lectures: Delivered in St. Paul's Cathedral Before the Church Homiletical Society. On p. 57 we read these delightful words:
I realize this is a sticky topic, but I think there are at least five goals we can all strive for when we engage in public speaking:
1) Consistent eye contact. (Preach without notes, pleeeeease!)
2) A kind facial expression.
3) A warm (and natural) voice.
4) A relaxed speaking rate.
To which might be added, 5) shorter messages.
I am terrible at the last two of these: I usually speak much too fast and much too long. So am I myself guilty of "pulpit voice"? I might be. But I'm ready to repent.
7:30 AM Much appreciation to Henry Neufeld for hosting an interesting and thought-provoking discussion about Christian stewardship last night on Google Hangout. You can watch the whole thing below.
It's horrifying to confront my own lack of stewardship. "Sell all of your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor." K-thanks-goodbye. Jesus mocks our materialism, at least He does mine. Yet as Steve Kindle pointed out in the discussion, stewardship doesn't begin with the question of "How much should I give?" Instead, the right question is "How much is mine?" -- to which the answer is nothing. Hence, as David Croteau noted -- David has now written three books on why tithing is not for Christians -- the church still doesn't get it. The consumer vortex that most evangelicals are (unwittingly perhaps) sucked into is just ignored. Well, David confronts it head on. The New Testament doesn't require the tithe? Nope, and it never did. I stare blankly at David's impeccable logic. "Love each other well and your needs will be met." For me, the largest takeaway from last night's Hangout was the reminder that Jesus came to set us free. He sees much deeper than what we see. He realizes that everything we have belongs to Him. 100 percent in fact. And so we have to make a choice. We can either draw people to a calculator or lead them to Christ. Jesus, You are the standard to which we all aspire. Teach us to love, to lead, to trust, to obey -- and to give (back).
Tuesday, July 28
6:46 PM Read Hope in the Face of Intractable Racism.
6:22 PM Tonight I've been setting my race goals for the year. I've already scheduled 5Ks for the next two Saturdays. And then out of the blue, I run across the Richmond Marathon.
It's being held on November 14 and features the beautiful fall foliage of the state's capital. I can hear you now, pooh-poohing the thought of me running a marathon. And you're right. I'll be participating in my first ever 8K run that starts a half hour before the marathon. I'm eager to see how well I will do in my age class, now that I'll be up against the "pros." Beware my fellow geezers! The "ancient of daze" is on his way north!
5:44 PM My poor doggies hate thunderstorms. "Where's daaaaaaad?"
11:45 AM Got a text recently from a former Greek student of mine who is now teaching Greek to a group of pastors in the evening. He writes: "Too excited after class. Can't sleep now." I know the feeling brother!
11:02 AM I've already walked my 3.1 miles in preparation for Saturday's 5K in Cary. Now it's time to do some mental exercise and get some serious writing done. Before then, however, I'd like to pass on to you a great word from Gary Thomas in his book Every Body Matters (which, by the way, is going out in today's mail to Brian in North Carolina). There are so many good elements of this book I could mention to you but I only have time to summarize my favorite chapter called "Meet My Friend Morty: Our Ongoing Battle against Sin" -- the "sin" he has in mind being mostly sloth and laziness (which are the sworn enemies of physical exercise). So whatever temptations you might be facing today -- sloth, a bad temper, a secret habit -- Gary's message is that you can't stop fighting, and I agree totally with that encouragement. Gary says you have to "go on the offensive" when it comes to temptation and offers 6 suggestion on how to do this:
1) Taste the bitterness of your sin.
2) Examine the deceit behind the sin.
3) Consider the circumstances of your sin.
4) Use the exposure that sin provides to gain a more accurate view of the condition of your soul.
5) Consider the strength of your sin.
6) Find a holy substitute.
There is simply nothing to add here except an amen. One thing I find so helpful is to try and identify the circumstances of sin and anticipate them if possible. This way I can try and ease the pressure before I get there. Make sense? Also, I agree with Gary that sin has its (potentially) "good" side if we allow it to usher us into a new transparency both with ourselves and with others. We need to be honest with our sin and allow constant confession to deal with it. What we sometimes fail to remember is that the Jesus who raises God's moral standards is the same Jesus who reaches out to the biggest violators of God's love. You and I have a gracious and merciful God who will forgive us every time we fall short if we only come to him in sincere repentance. Jesus is our "holy substitute," as Gary says. Honestly, when I'm communing with Him I have far less time for pity parties!
Monday, July 27
7:36 PM Just finished baling again. At one point Nate called out to me as he was driving by, "Looking good, dad! You might make a farmer yet!" -- or words to that effect. Wise guy. But I love him anyway.
12:05 PM I have a few inherited traits that were indelibly marked into my DNA from birth. For example, I tend to go all out and give 1,000 percent to whatever I happen to be doing at the time. (I include the category of "loafing" here!) It's genetics plus environment I suppose. I see a slice of this tenacity whenever I work out. I love going to the Y and lifting. And, as a beginner/intermediate when it comes to resistance training, I see plenty of parallels between what I do in the gym and what my Greek students are about to be doing when the semester begins in a couple of weeks. Let me mention three here:
1) With resistance training, your muscles grow when they encounter resistance. It's just that simple. In terms of weight lifting, this means that we have to lift weights that are heavy enough to make the exercise difficult (and therefore beneficial). So it is with Greek. We are constantly having to adding more "resistance" (knowledge) to our training in the language if we are going to reach our goal. This requires constant vigilance and discipline. In fact, I'd say that the amount of discipline that training requires is unfathomable. If we don't carefully monitor our progress, we will plateau. And that's a big no-no whether you are weight training or learning to read the New Testament in Greek. As with weight training, Greek is progressive. You grow best when you add a little weight at a time. Too much too soon is a sure recipe for disaster.
2) Rest is an important factor in training of any kind. Our muscles actually grow not when they're being trained but when they are resting and recovering afterwards. That's why my beginning Greek grammar has built-in times of rest and review. I also try to introduce any new material in manageable chucks.
3) Finally, as with any scientific endeavor, it's helpful to know the technical jargon. Weight lifters talk about reps, sets, pecs, lats, traps, and quads. Greek profs talk about morphemes, verbal aspect, and discourse structure. The practical payoff of demystifying this jargon is that you're better prepared to read the more technical exegetical commentaries one day.
At 63 years of age I'm not interested in doing bodybuilding competitions. I simply want to maintain (and, if I can, improve) my current weight level and maximize my overall strength, stamina, and health. Since beginning my weight training and aerobics regiment my strength has skyrocketed. I'm discovering what it takes to build a great physique to the glory of God. Being so tall, I'm what is called a "tough gainer," meaning that I put on muscle slowly. But I'm committed into getting into good shape, thereby making exercise, healthy eating, and good sleeping long-term habits.
Here's a brief video I taped today at the Y. (Thanks to my trainer Adrian for serving as my videographer!) I apologize for the poor sound quality but I'm just a rank novice at this kind of stuff. Hope you enjoy it.
Sunday, July 26
3:24 PM Odds and sods ....
1) Thought you might like to know that today, at the age of 103, Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. gave his closing message for the traditional service at Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, NC. He and his family are celebrating 80 years of faithful ministry. In May of 2012 yours truly was installed as the Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament Studies at SEBTS. It was such a huge surprise that I am still suffering from whiplash. Even today I am deeply humbled and honored, and my profound thanks goes to Dr. Owens, his family, and the good people of Parkwood Baptist Church for their generosity toward the seminary and my family. Thank you, Dr. Owens.
2) Had a delightful lunch today in Oxford with Matthea and Jon Glass.
3) Here's the obligatory "Grandkids with Papa B" picture. Love it!
4) Finally, if you would like to have my (unmarked) copy of Every Body Matters it's yours for the asking. Just tell me why you want it. If more than one of you requests it, I'll draw straws in the morning. God wants out of the closet in every area of our lives. And He wants to be free to affect every part of our lives, our bodies included. If you think this book could help you, just let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
10:30 AM I just finished reading a really good book called Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas (writer in residence at Second Baptist Houston).
Here are a few of my personal takeaways:
I agree with Gary that we should all pursue good health to the extent we are able. For me, this is not merely a physical or biological move, but rather a kingdom action. Through exercise we will never overturn the curse of the fall. In fact, good health can sometimes get in the way of seeing God's grace and the need for Him. We can get so busy with exercise that it's easy to forget or ignore the beauty that God wants to create in our inner beings. How to obtain this balance? Don't ask me! I don't have the foggiest idea. I'm still trying to figure it out. But one thing is clear: if I am to continue to travel for kingdom work I need to stay in good physical condition. But let me conclude by stating emphatically: our wounds (spiritual, emotional, psychological, and even physical) do not disqualify us from ministry. In fact, God often uses our weaknesses to display His overarching power. Why, I believe I wrote a book about that.
9:42 AM I loved it. I really did. I loved it when I saw the host church's name yesterday at the 5K: Hatcher Grove Christian Community. I loved it because it was a reminder to me that the body of Christ is made up of all of the followers of Christ and not just the church staff or a church building. Ask any body builder. They will tell you that the body is made up of many different muscle groups, and that each group is vital to the correct functioning of the body. The church is about people, not the building or the leadership. Please, please, please -- wherever you attend today, ask yourself about your place in the body. Ask God to help you find the best place for the use of your God-given gifts for the good of all. Don't by shy. Contact the church staff/leadership and let them know what you're thinking. We are called to be one body where every member does its part. No part is better than another; no part is superior to another. Even the idea of church leadership is radicalized when we consider Eph. 4:11-12. You see, in a "church" the idea is that we pool up a certain amount of money so that the staff can do the work of the ministry. This is how it has worked for many many centuries in North America. The paradox is that when we operate like this, much less ministry gets done. The more I work out at the Y, the more I realize that God has an amazing plan for the human body. But He has an even more amazing plan for the church. Having strong leg muscles does no good without a strong heart and strong lungs. Just try running a 5K. We need each other! True Christian "community" allows God to show up on any given Sunday and grant permission for every member of the body to function as God has designed them to do.
A healthy dependence on one another is so important folks. The other day I slightly pulled a lower back muscle when lifting. Believe me, "When one member of the body suffers, all the other members suffer with it"! Gradually I allowed my other muscle groups to step forward and pick up the slack while I told the strained muscle to chillax. This is proper and healthy interdependence. So again I ask: What part of the body are you? What role has God designed for you to play in the functioning of the body? How do you express godly and healthy interdependence? Or are you overly dependent on others? Or, conversely, do you need "time out" because of a trauma? It is our inter-connectedness with each other that makes a "church" a "community" or even a "body."
9:06 AM Honestly, I'm a bit anxious about starting a new semester of teaching Greek this fall. I believe the largest factor in education has little to do with your professor's expertise or the course's curriculum. Jesus said, "Make disciples," and the word He uses goes far beyond classroom learning. Discipleship means living. I've been a Greek teacher for some 39 years now. I've taught baby Greek thousands of times. But as I begin another semester, a thought engulfs me: "God, let us here at SEBTS encounter Jesus in such a way that transformation interrupts our entire lives." Scripture clearly talks about the fullness that comes only through obedience. Isn't that what we're looking for? It's hard to grasp; it's a paradox -- those who come to Christ by simple grace through faith become insatiably hungry to serve Him. Someone emailed me the other day to suggest that, in lieu of the final exam in Mark, I allow the students to serve at an inner-city soup kitchen to share the love of Jesus. How could that be? Because it's the heart of what Jesus teaches us in the Gospel. He washed the feet of others and then said to His followers, "No servant is greater than his Master. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." Pastors, that begins by serving your wife and children more than the church. As for us educators, the classroom just doesn't cut it anymore. We're trying to fill the void in our lives with something (in this case knowledge) that will never be sufficient. I can never dispense enough knowledge in Greek class to produce lives that reflect the heart of Christ or students who will serve Him selflessly. If we are going to educate people, let's educate them! Let's do whatever it takes -- within the boundaries of school policy -- to show our students what it means to share our lives with others. If the Gospel is good news at all, then it is not just a degree to procure or an idea to consider or a box to check. It's a life to be lived.
Like every other Greek prof out there, I love what I do. Through the years I've seen students exchange suits for jeans and chapel services substitute bands for organs. None of that really matters, because the world is unimpressed by our "worship" services. So is God. We can't ignore or neglect "humility of mind" and expect to maintain His favor. This is probably the most important lesson we Greek teachers need to impart to our students. I shudder to imagine how often I've failed to insist upon this. Student, if somehow I fail to tell you what the cost of discipleship is when I'm teaching you Greek this semester, serve anyway. Go anyway. Sacrifice anyway. Be the real deal. And be sure to serve scandalously. As for me, I'm going to try harder than ever to challenge you to seek service at the bottom (without honorific titles), because (as Jesus says) if all we do is talk theology and smile at the forsaken all around us and say, "Blessings on you!" -- what good is that?
Saturday, July 25
8:55 PM In case you couldn't guess, we were baling and stacking hay this evening on the farm.
Here's more proof:
Yes, folks, it takes a village (thanks, uh, Hillary). I can't do everything on the farm by myself, so today Nate and I put our shoulders to the plow (it's a mixed metaphor, I know) and got 'er done.
Boy did we work hard. I hate selfies (they're so, well, self-centered), so here's the only selfie I'll ever post on DBO. That's one sweaty dude.
Afterwards I was too jaded to cook (or even warm up leftovers in the microwave) so I went to a Mexican place for comida.
In the process I left copies of Becky's book (one in English and one in Spanish) for the servers and management. Sweet.
On the drive hope I had to marvel that the same Lord who had treated me to a marvelous sunrise this morning was now letting me in on an incredible sunset. How groovy it is that?
Well, I reckon that's all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Tomorrow's the Lord's Day. Hope you make it a good one.
Below: The only other selfie I'll ever post at DBO :-)
4:22 PM Hello, folks!
Giving up control of our bodies to the Lord is about as difficult as starting a diet in December. We prefer status quo and security -- but even if you've only read the first chapter of Mark's Gospel you know that's not God's priority. And so I'm learning, gradually, to trust Him with my body. Just as we have our children for a season ("They're young and then they're grown"), so we have our earthly bodies for a limited time. Did you know that kingdom living and the human body make a formidable team? And guess what else? You only have one body, one heart, one set of skin. My body is God's miracle gift to me -- not only in the Sonic-boom moments of life but also when my body takes out the trash or pulls weeds or stands in a classroom teaching. I will carry this body with me for the rest of my days.
Today I looked on my calendar and saw that my body was booked to be in Morrisville, NC, for a 5K race and by golly at 4:30 this morning my body said to me, "Okay, Dave, it's time to get up and at 'em. Let's get 'er done, old man!" I can't hide my pleasure at today's race. First of all, it was for a very good cause. The goal was to raise funds for African American students to be able to go to college. The sponsoring church was Hatcher Grove Christian Community. What a great group of people. Secondly, I came in 88th out of 159 registered runners and third place (again!) in my age group (we call ourselves the "moth-eaten marathoners"). I also topped my personal 5K best with a new record split time of 11:43. Nothing earth shattering for you, maybe, but for me it felt like I had just climbed K-2. It was challenging to stay the course, not least because the last half of it was uphill (I detest that word!). But just when you think you're gonna quit, you see the finish line and hear the shouting and watch the other runners completing the race to deafening applause and your body says to you, "Okay, now, steady as she goes, Dave. Keep on going. Don't you dare give up now. You're almost there!" I tell, you, this 5K stuff can become addicting it's so much fun. God is a good Father ain't He? If you ask Him for fitness, He won't give you exasperation. If you beg Him for endurance, don't expect to quit. He is all that we need. "I know what you need and I'm delighted to give it to you." That's His promise.
Humble, simple, determined: 5K runners are, I think, closer to the kingdom than some of us are. If they can push through exhaustion and move past boundaries, so can we. Besides, exercise is the ultimate de-stressor. Endomorphs and a "good" sense of tiredness can be super relaxants!
1) The early bird gets the sunrise.
2) Ready to start my third 5K race.
3) The pastor and principal of Hatcher Grove. Proud of them. Their students have a 100 percent college placement rate.
4) The women of Hatchers Grove serving the community. Bless you ladies! You are the greatest!
Next week: The Java Jive 5K/10K in Raleigh with proceeds going to Small Hands Big Hearts ("Nurturing our children's' compassion.") I double, no, triple dare you to join me!!!!
Friday, July 24
1:30 PM Not that anybody in the world is even faintly interested, but my weekly workout routine is three days resistance training and three days cardio. (I take Sundays off.) Which means that it was back to the weight room this morning for a monster workout. Afterwards I came home, did some writing and editing, wrote emails, mowed the yards, than went grocery shopping. As you can see, I'm trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.
My doc says my optimum weight for my age and height is 220 and I'm 225 so I'm not too concerned about obesity but I really, really want to teach my brain to hate junk food. In fact, I am announcing today ("officially," ahem) that I am hereby renouncing MacDonald's and Burger King and I'm also starting to remove the junk food from my house. Tonight for supper I'm having fresh corn and two juicy pieces of pork chops, with a side of avocado. Every time I eat at MacDonald's I regret it. Every single time. So I'm calling it quits, folks. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye -- and good riddance!
Time now for a power nap :-)
Thursday, July 23
6:22 PM Only in America!
5:36 PM The only stat that truly matters in the race for the Republican nomination for president:
I'm talking about Facebook likes of course.
5:20 PM Have you ever had friends who let you down? In Mark 2 we read about a paralytic who was let down through the roof of the house where Jesus was staying. Nothing could stand in the way of these four men who were determined to help their friend. I'd like to make an application here if I may. I believe all of us need to have at least four friends who will always "let us down" -- people who will not allow anything to prevent them from helping us and pointing us to Jesus. Since Becky's death, it has been my privilege to walk through my loss with at least four of these devoted friends. Even when they don't know what to say, should they see me suffering they encircle me with encouragement, prayer, help, and love. Closeness is a biblical idea. Even Jesus had closer relationships with some of His disciples than He did with others, although He loved them all deeply. As long as life lasts, we need confidantes, people with whom we can reveal our anxieties, our prayer requests, our practical concerns. I suppose I am more needy than some. Widowerhood means you no longer have your best friend and confidant by your side. I don't want to become overly-dependent on others. Nor do I want to become a rescuer, always focusing on others and never being able to look at myself honestly. I need friends, but I need friends who will help me rise up and lift whatever burdens I can lift. These days I feel like I need to reclaim my life in those terms. I am like that half-finished drawing I've been working on for years. Perhaps it will remain unfinished forever, but perhaps incompletion isn't a bad thing. Maybe incompletion is a blessing to those (like me) who need to be reminded that only Christ can complete them. These days I don't have much energy for superficial relationships. Life is too busy for that. It's also too short to play games with one's emotions. These days I pray a lot for grace. I pray for the grace of compassion, but I also pray for the grace of discernment. I can afford fewer friends if they are deeper friends.
I don't really know how all of this will look like 5 or 10 years from now. But I do know the value of a good friend. I'd like to be one of those, reaching out with open ears and open hands toward those who need me. Even as I exercise my body daily, I pray for the grace of a sharpened appetite for the things of the Spirit. I remember pouring out my heart recently to one of my dearest friends. Such memories are painful but valuable. They are a reminder that some of those who are dearest to me really care. There is deep comfort in that -- to know there are people in your life who will "let you down" if that's what it takes to get you to Jesus.
10:24 AM Yesterday the NTSB released its preliminary report on the crash two weeks ago between an Air Force F-16 and a small Cessna near Charlotte. The two people aboard the Cessna were killed but fortunately the pilot was able to eject safely. It was a terrible accident any way you look at it. Reading the report is frightening. Some 30 seconds before the crash, ATC contacted the Air Force pilot about some traffic that was straight ahead. Then, 15 seconds before the crash, the controller instructed the pilot to "turn left immediately." From what limited knowledge of ATC policy I have, the word "immediately" is not used very often and thus carries with it an emphatic connotation. What happened next isn't clear and won't be known until the NTSB investigation is completed, but many are speculating that the F-16 pilot's response was too little too late. Also puzzling to me is why the F-16's radar would not have alerted the plot to any other aircraft in its vicinity. At any rate, it seems pretty clear that human error was involved somewhere along the line, though mechanical failure of some sort can't be ruled out.
As I read the NTSB report I thought of the word "immediacy." As you know, in Mark's record of the life of Christ the word "immediately" occurs very frequently. Mark emphasizes action, immediacy, the potential to do something with your life and then getting on with it. "The Pharisees went out and immediately discussed with the Herodians how they might destroy Jesus." No time here for committee meetings. When Jesus called His disciples, they left their nets immediately. As someone has said, after reading Mark you feel exhausted. All of this stuff about immediacy is, of course, very true in Mark's Gospel, but it also sounds very formal and stiff, like just another "literary device" that only scholars talk about. And yet the older I get, the greater a sense of immediacy I have. I agree with Chesterton:
As Christians we are called to set the world on fire until Jesus returns. Paul advised Timothy to rekindle the flame of God within him. Alas, it's so easy to move from fire to frost. Christianity becomes old, mundane, ritualistic. A little preaching, a little music, a little singing, a little fellowship -- the church itself becomes very worldly. Of course, we keep up a good front (I am an expert at this), but inside our spiritual lives are wasting away. I grow stale in my walk with the Lord. I seek satisfaction in things that cannot satisfy. Are you there today? If so, don't spend time in your theological library trying to work out a theory. Go to Jesus. You have the Bible, you have Him, and you have the Holy Spirit. These three always agree. Bring your emptiness and doubts to Him with all the simplicity and faith of a little child. And please, don't try to imitate anyone else's experience. You are yourself, and no one else can become the blueprint for your experience. You are free to be you. With Him you are always welcome, and He will never cast you out.
Lord, today will You renew within me a spirit of immediacy? In You I am both a pauper and a plutocrat. I have nothing and yet I have everything. All that I have belongs to You and I am only the steward. The world's glory is in its shame. Let my glory be in Your shame, the reproach of the old rugged cross. May I hold all earthy relationships and temporal concerns loosely in view of Your soon return. As our nation faces its hardest winter, and as the carcass is being made ready for the vultures, let me remember that I am a pilgrim and stranger, that my home is not nor ever has been down here, that the darker the days, the sooner Your return.
Friends, one real encounter with God may take care of a host of problems we may never settle one at a time.
Wednesday, July 22
5:06 PM A bit of good news in the case of Asia Bibi. Let's keep praying!
4:46 PM Just back from my annual physical. Doc says I'm as fit as a (63-year-old) fiddle. I'm grateful to you, Jesus, for my health.
11:54 AM Just back from a great workout. Which means a blog update:
1) Glad to announce that Gary Burge (Ph.D. Aberdeen) of Wheaton College has agreed to write the foreword to our forthcoming book The Pericope of the Adulteress in Current Research (T & T Clark). Gary is a world-class Johannine scholar and the author of dozens of books and articles, including one on the PA.
2) Enjoyed watching Jody and Henry Neufeld discuss Christian publishing last night on Google Hangouts. Can't wait to visit them in September. I've been so inspired by their story of wanting to disciple the church in America with books that make people think. Thank you. Your ministry has mattered. And thanks for welcoming me into the family.
3) Ron Hale asks, "Where have all the Jesus freaks gone?" Well, one of them is blogging at DBO.
Cowabunga for sure! It was during my sojourn as part of the Jesus Movement that God first began to pluck me out of comfortable, complacent Christianity and drop me into the deep end. The Jesus Movement is nothing other than the story of how Jesus got into the lives of messed up people and changed them forever. Come, Lord Jesus. Please have Your way with the current generation of young people.
4) I am often interviewed by pastoral search committees. No, I'm not seeking a pastorate. My name is often given out as a reference. When contacted, I think I ask as many questions as I answer. Here's the problem (or at least a big part of the problem): We've been sold a bill of goods. No single man could ever meet let alone exceed the unrealistic expectations of your typical local church. On one such interview I was told, in essence, that the church was looking for (1) a great preacher, (2) an outstanding administrator, and (3) a man with excellent pastoral and people skills. This is certifiable insanity. No one person can be all of that. The only thing worse than the unrealistic standards we set is when pastors actually believe that such perfection is possible. Disaster is then sure to ensue. Pastor friend, when a church asks you to be all things to all people, perhaps you could simply and calmly say, "No. I cannot do it all or master it all." Which brings me to this essay I stumbled across today: Musings on the 'One Guy' Leadership Model. The money quote:
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. If we could only get back to the New Testament pattern of shared leadership -- what Michael Green calls a "fellowship of leadership." But alas, that goes against the Diotrephes in each and every of us.
5) Which Greek New Testament is best for you? Go here for some ideas.
Tuesday, July 21
3:58 PM You have got to read this PBS story called Colorado Springs Evangelicals. The head of Focus on the Family is interviewed in depth. His goal? To engage the culture without becoming "wrapped around the axle of politics." He is so right about this. The bottom line is simply that politics and religion don't mix. We are called to follow Jesus and advance His kingdom, which is "not of this world." It's also important to remember that the earliest Christians loved and supported their communities. They did not look down on lost sinners. It's a beautiful thing when you begin to hear people admit that it was a mistake to become cultural warriors. The truth is that our activism has been a loud gong that has drowned out quiet voices, so that the culture has lost interest in anything we have to say. The people who have changed the world have always been risk-takers who climbed down through torn up roofs while the rest of the world slammed doors. I was a stranger at first to this kind of thinking, but my reading of the Gospels completely changed all that. I don't believe God needs an advocate in DC or a faith-based organization to promote His kingdom. So I urge us all to be careful to whom we pledge our allegiance. Let's be careful to raise the banner of the cross high above all other flags. Please do check out this interview. It should make all of us very uncomfortable. But the more we read the Gospels, the more our comfortable lives will be interrupted.
3:46 PM Just finalized my air travel for the remainder of 2015:
Meanwhile, I have a closet full of unfinished projects and a list of things-to-do that is a mile long. God gives us work in this world to do, and for that I am deeply grateful.
12:24 PM Hay donation today for a very worthy equestrian ministry.
11:38 AM Our contest winner is Richard in Elmira, NY. The answer, of course, was Harry Reasoner.
11:28 AM Please join me in praying for Tom Elliff (former president of the IMB) whose wife Jeannie just went Home after a long fight with cancer. What faithful servants of the Lord. Our loss is heaven's gain. I know Tom is missing her terribly.
10:58 AM Just met with my personal trainer at the Y.
Here's the regiment we've come up with (3 sets of 10-15 reps):
I can do these either at the gym or at home. He says that average body fat is around 20-25 percent of your body weight, whereas 25-30 means you're overweight and 30 plus means you're obese. He estimated my body fat to be between 20-25. Eventually I would like to have underwater weighing, but this will do for now. In North Carolina, two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. North Carolina is also fifth worst in the nation for childhood obesity. Lord willing, this Saturday I'll be participating in the annual Run with Heart 5K in Morrisville, NC (near RDU). The race starts at 7:45. It's for a very worthy cause. Join me at the starting line if you can. There's also a kids fun run.
8:04 AM Name the Face Game! Free copy of Why Four Gospels? to the first person to correctly identify this (formerly) famous American:
Monday, July 20
8:16 PM Special alert! Prayer needed NOW for Asia Bibi as her case goes before the Pakistani Supreme Court this week. Read the story here. Let's all pray passionately for justice.
8:10 PM Nice evening to cut our lush hay.
I love our gambrel barn. Almost makes me feel Amish.
6:33 PM Puppy birthday party.
7:15 AM Quite a weekend for pix.
1) You rock, Greta.
2) A surfer's worst nightmare.
3) It's called kindness. Color has nothing to do with it.
6:38 AM It's July 20 -- and therefore time to ask the question (again), "Was Bonhoeffer complicit in the conspiracy to kill Hitler?" A good place to begin is here (see the comments especially).
6:35 AM My latest essay is called The Downward Path of Jesus: Moving Beyond the Sunday-Centric Church. Be encouraged in the Lord today.
Sunday, July 19
5:38 PM This is one of the best essays I've read on the homosexual debate: Some Advice on Same-Sex Marriage for US Church Leaders from a Canadian. The essay is as long as its title but well worth your reading. To whet your appetite, here are just 2 (out of 5) perspectives you'll find here:
To read the rest you'll have to click :-)
8:30 AM Yesterday I mentioned my years of service as a volunteer fire fighter when we moved to North Carolina (and before we moved to Virginia). In a similar fashion, I believe God is raising up an army of kingdom volunteers today. I meet them all the time. In rural North Carolina, you realize the importance of volunteerism immediately. If your house catches on fire, the city fire departments are too distant to do much good. Hence each community has its fire brigade -- ready at a moment's notice to come to the aid of its fellow citizens. Nothing gave me more of a sense of "community" than belonging to the local fire department. I believe we're on the verge of a comparable movement in the church today. Volunteerism has become a leading theme in the IMB under David Platt's leadership. And rightly so. The Great Commission is for all of us. It beats centrally in the heart of our missionary God. Only a new wave of global volunteerism can get the work of evangelism done. I wrote Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? to promote eager-hearted volunteerism, pure and simple. Becoming a "World Christian" means understanding that the kingdom of God requires active engagement by all of us. That said, it is also an undeniable fact of church history that a person's commitment to global missions is commensurate with that person's convictions about the authority of the Bible. Scripture alone gives us the mandate, the motive, the message, and the model for missions. I pray that Jesus' words "As you go, train the people from every nation to become my obedient followers" may be written on our hearts as never before. How dare we become passionate about sports or politics and not become passionate about being global Christians with a global vision for the glory of our global God. May God bless all of you this Lord's Day who have already responded to His call. May the Lord search our hearts to see if we should not be joining this committed "fire brigade." As Jacque Ellul, perhaps my favorite theologian, says in his magnificent book The Judgment of Jonah:
If you'd like a gratis copy of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?, it's yours for the asking. Just write me at email@example.com.
Saturday, July 18
12:24 PM Today's 5K raised funds for the Ridgeway Volunteer Fire Department.
As a former volunteer fire fighter I was glad to support this worthy cause. Here I am with two of North Carolina's finest.
Congratulate me. I came in third place!*
(*In my age group, hehe.)
Next weekend: 6th Annual Run with Heart in Morrisville, NC.
Friday, July 17
7:22 PM Been a great day, folks.
1) No campus is more beautiful than Southeastern's.
2) I finished all of my fall syllabi today and then enjoyed Red Robin with a prospective student from South Carolina.
3) These shelves in our campus bookstore are ever expanding -- which is a very good thing.
4) Then back home just in time to get up tons of hay. I had to stop several times to sit in the shade and drink buckets of water. "Why in the world do I do this?" I asked myself. Well, (1) it's hard work, and hard work is good for the old bod, (2) few other farmers get up square bales because it's too labor intensive (which means that in the winter I have a corner on the market when it comes to horse-quality square bale hay), and (3) I can leverage my hay sales for international mission trips. Ain't I smart!?
5) The barns are quickly filling up.
6) And to think: We city slickers built these barns ourselves. Love it!
7) I'll fill this one with our next cutting, Lord willing.
As I put up bales today, my mind kept going to that old saying: "The fields are white unto harvest, but the laborers are few." That sure is true here at Rosewood Farm. Seems there's also a deep spiritual application that I could make to missions here, but I'm too tired right now.
8:58 AM Last night I was listening to an interview with a Markan scholar. When asked about his view of the ending of Mark, he was clear that the consensus held sway in his thinking: Mark definitely ended at 16:8. But is the case really that "closed"? Writes Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College:
Craig is referring to this book: The Original Ending of Mark: A New Case for the Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. The book provides a means for double-checking the primary data and arriving at one's own conclusions after careful study of all the evidence. Which is what New Testament studies should be all about anyway.
8:50 AM Poor pastor.
Thursday, July 16
7:24 PM Good evening fellow bloggers of the world! I am extremely pleased and very humbled to announce the future publication of my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church in Chinese. (Go here for the publisher's own announcement.) This brief volume represents the best thinking I can muster on what seems to me to be a very urgent question -- the question of how the church can be so reconstructed in our day as to play a more vital role in the fulfilling of Jesus' command to disciple the nations. I have learned a great deal from the hundreds of books and essays written by dedicated scholars who have tried to shift the center of ecclesiology from clericalism to body life, including Ray Stedman, Howard Snyder, Hans Küng, Jacque Ellul, Michael Green, and Emil Brunner. Thus I was ready to publish what I hoped would be mature conclusions regarding the urgency of church reformation in our time. Perhaps it is only fair to say that I am not a systematic theologian. My emphasis on the essential church is due to my exegesis of specific texts of Scripture. When it comes to our understanding of the church, not just any approach will suffice. The second law of thermodynamics -- or entropy if you will -- describes how everything goes downhill unless there is a relevant faith held by a sufficient number of trained minds. Superficially, the church in North America appears to be successful, but closer examination of the facts is alarming. This is shown in many ways -- by the unbiblical (though not necessarily sinful) traditions held by many congregants, by an ignorance of church history, and by a failure to be utterly grounded in Scripture. People are leaving the church today in droves because they see little difference between their Sunday morning experience and what they can find in secular entertainment, which is provided in abundance by our pathetic media outlets. If the ultimate test of the vitality of any religion is seen in its effect upon culture, we must say that Christianity in North America is fighting a losing battle. It is hard to exaggerate how far the modern church is willing to go to seem relevant to modern society, only to lose its real relevance in the process. The radical difference between the church and most human endeavors is lost in the maze of cultural, pompom-waving Christendom. This is why it's necessary for the younger generation of Christians to rethink the wineskins and be committed to a biblical ecclesiology. Another way of stating this is to say that the church in North America will not be salvaged by anything less than a total commitment to Christ and His word. To give but one example, the New Testament teaching regarding every-member ministry (as opposed to clericalism and professionalism) will not flourish except as it is nourished deliberately. It will not develop on its own. It has to be produced, and the only way this will happen is when the leaders support it unconditionally and courageously. The easy thing, of course, is to talk about pastors "preparing God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:12), but are we hard pressed to put this policy into action? We must, before it is too late for the church, get's God's people into the production line. Once we alter our notion of what the church is, viewing it as inherently participatory -- not merely in North America but in places like Asia and Africa -- we realize that we have hardly begun to implement this vital truth.
You will recognize in Henry Neufeld's announcement one of the reasons I'm so passionately committed to Energion Publications. Recognizing that all publishers (Henry included, no doubt) seek to make their companies as profitable as possible, it is perfectly clear to me that not every publishing house has as great a heart for Christian missions as does Energion. As soon as we recognize Christ's intention to make His church a company of the committed ready to perform Calvary-acts of sacrificial love at whatever the cost, we understand at once that the conventional arrangement in the publishing world cannot suffice. We have to come to terms, then, with the paradox of capital and simultaneous goodwill, and its probable price in terms of the bottom line. The text that comes to mind is 1 Cor. 16:9: "A wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries." Blessed indeed are those publishers who place the Gospel first and who work at it with great dedication. Much lost territory is waiting to be occupied, not least in Asia. Let authors and publishers work together, then, for the greater good of Christ's kingdom. The urgency of the times demands it.
By the way, Henry is also publishing Becky's autobiography (My Life Story) in Chinese -- a book I hope and pray will have a significant impact. Words like "Take up your cross and follow Me" seem quaint to a generation that is in desperate need of female role models like Elizabeth Elliot and (dare I say it?) Becky. I realize that Energion is taking a huge risk in publishing these books but, as Pascal taught us, to be committed always includes an element of wager. As these books go to press, my prayer is that they may serve as a catalyst for church renewal both here and abroad.
8:18 AM Odds and sods ....
1) Great Ethiopian food last night with my daughter from New York.
2) I'll be on campus tomorrow in case anyone needs to meet up.
3) As I will be traveling to the great state of Pennsylvania shortly, I thought this was interesting:
5) Off to swim laps.
Wednesday, July 15
3:46 PM Interesting essay: Is the Position of Senior Pastor Biblical?
12:40 PM Grateful for Lendon and Will Jacobs (cousins) of Bethel Hill Church who helped me with yard work today.
Grateful that I can see the garden beds again.
Grateful that we could cut several fields today.
Grateful for a second cutting and the lush grass.
Guess you could say that I'm just plain grateful.
8:38 AM I'll be posting my Exegesis of Mark syllabus to Moodle today. In case you might interested in taking this course, here are the requirements.
1) Read Mark’s Gospel 5 times in as many English translations and once in Greek. After your reading, type a 1-2 page (single spaced) response to what you read: what were your impressions of the language, style, theology, themes, characters, etc.? Due first day of class. Worth 20 percent of your final grade.
2) Carefully read Why Four Gospels? Write a 1-2 page (single spaced) summary and response. Due August 25. Worth 20 percent of your final grade.
3) Discussion leading: Lead the discussion of one paragraph of your choice from that day’s assignment. Each student will do this once during the semester (see schedule below for your presentation date). Your discussion should show an awareness of the major grammatical and interpretive issues in your paragraph. Be sure to use a Greek synopsis in preparing your remarks. Write a 2-4 page (single spaced) summary of your presentation. Be sure to include a sermon/teaching outline of your paragraph. This summary will be distributed to your fellow students during class. Worth 20 percent of your final grade.
4) Final exam: Translation and parsing from Greek Mark. In lieu of the final, the student may privately recite to the instructor Mark 1:9-15 in Greek. Exam date is December 8. Worth 20 percent of your final grade.
5) Write a 3-5 page informal term paper (single spaced) discussing one aspect of Mark’s Greek or a debated/important aspect of Mark’s theology or background (e.g., use of historical presents, predilection for prepositional prefix morphemes, “redundant” genitive absolutes, Christology, Israel, suffering, eschatology, discipleship, historical Jesus research, the synoptic problem, the social setting of Mark, etc.). Paper topics require approval by the instructor. Due date is December 1. Worth 20 percent of your final grade.
7:26 AM Big day today. Clearing out the garden (which has become a jungle). Cutting hay. Working out at the gym. And blogging of course! I grew up in Hawaii, where there is an abundance of racial and ethnic groups. I've always loved the cultural diversity of the Islands. And when I moved to Southern California nothing changed. My "Christian service assignment" at Biola was going to Watts on Saturdays and playing pick-up basketball with the kids and sharing Jesus with them as opportunities arose.
Later I began traveling regularity to sub-Saharan Africa and Central- and East-Asia. Recently, as you know, I've begun returning to Hawaii regularly. My friends there include Hawaiians and Samoans. Everyone has dreams. Maybe you're like me. I dream of a church on earth that resembles the multi-ethnic congregation around the throne in heaven (Rev. 5:9). I believe in a God who is color-blind, wealth-blind, status-blind, and nation-blind. Part of Christ's coming to earth was to raise up a new people for whom ethnicity wasn't an issue. This is a point made recently by LifeWay Research. Malcolm Muggeridge once said, "To believe greatly, it is necessary to doubt greatly." What he meant is that, as followers of Jesus, we must develop a healthy skepticism toward anything that is ungodly -- including an inappropriate attachment to the nation-state. To say yes to God may mean saying no to even some good things -- family, friends, and even country -- if they seek to usurp Christ's rightful place as Lord and Sovereign in our lives. I realize that the nature of the church can't be fully expressed in a single idea, but surely unconditional love for the stranger is a true mark of the church. In such a society there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, bond or free, barbarian or Greek, etc. One can hardly enter any sanctuary in America on any given Sunday without embarrassment and shame, because one is forced to face the fact that the church often exhibits the opposite of its supra-national character. For Baptists, the paradox is the greater when we reflect that our American forebears paid a heavy price for their support of disestablishment. Some Christians are shocked when they travel abroad and look in vain for any symbol of the nation-state among the gathered believers. All through our 2,000 years of Christian experience there have been men and women of faith who caught a glimpse of the radical nature of Christ's demands for complete loyalty, and who answered it by actions that often led to their deaths. The good news is that wherever Christians are gathered there is a chance for genuine koinonia, the New Testament word for the fellowship of the caring. If the church in America were to ever understand its true character, and therefore its main business, it would doubtless seek ways by which to testify to its racial, ethnic, and geopolitical diversity. The church of Jesus Christ offers our best hope for the kind of "meeting" without which the race question will not be solved. We do not need to assert that all Christians have equal gifts; but we do need to assert that, in Christ, the people of every nationality and race are equally valued by God.
There are millions of Americans waiting for the demonstration of this kind of love in action. The church is where we need a new theology of divine impartiality (James 1). God is no respecter of persons. If Christ, as we believe, is truly revealed in the life of His body the church, the most important thing to Him is the creation of congregations of loving fellowship whose sole allegiance is to their Head. Jesus invites all to His table, and He extends God's love to everyone. It is in the church that He demonstrates God's ultimate intent to fellowship with all of His people. Will we eat and drink in true devotion as we await the return of the Son of Man?
Tuesday, July 14
6:15 PM First pair of glasses. Awesome.
5:54 PM Someone sent along this link: 10 ways to keep the pastor you love. I don't agree with everything it says, but there's some really good advice here, especially point #1. That same attitude is shared by God: Just read 1 Thess. 5:12-14. The Thessalonians were to esteem their leaders "in love" and "because of their work." Through His Holy Spirit, God is at work in us to help us appreciate and value the leaders He's given us. Release your grip on your critical spirit. Neither place your leaders on an unrealistic pedestal. As head of the church, Christ has gifted us with pastor-teachers. "Hey pastor Joe, I can't you tell you how much it meant to me when you visited my mother in the hospital last week!" "Hey elder Jim, thank you for your passion for sharing the Gospel with others!"
How about letting your leaders know you appreciate them?
5:40 PM In Philemon 9 Paul refers to himself as the "old man." I love it! The Greek is presbutes. Just how old was Paul? Most scholars believe he was just over 60 -- which, believe me, doesn't seem all that ancient to this 63-year old. I would imagine that Paul may have aged prematurely, what with all he suffered during his various journeys and imprisonments.
Which got me thinking....
Grief doesn't know how old you are. It doesn't know what time it is. It doesn't know how many months it's been since your loss. Which means that it's never wise to rush the process. No amount of mental pushups or "positive thinking" or diversions (such as vacations) can erase the pain. The one thing we must, however, move toward is contentment. In Philippians, Paul writes, "I've learned in whatever circumstance I'm in to be content." Elsewhere in the same letter he says, "I can face any situation in union with the One who infuses me with strength." Remember: This is Paul, the "old man," calling himself strong! Like Paul, the believers in Philippi had already faced grievous suffering (1:27-30). And the devil was behind all of it. But suffering brings Christ nearer to the soul. Believe me: it does. The cure for grief is not inactivity. Neither is it self-pity. The proper antidote for grief is the outpouring of the heart to God. "Let there be no worrying but only prayerful trust in God alone" (Phil. 4:5-6).
Result: Peace incomprehensible.
Monday, July 13
5:32 PM Tonight at the Butner prison I'm going to speak from Phil. 1:12-14. It's not that I feel like I'm an expert in what Paul is saying here, but God has provided us a big enough peek into the apostle's life to occupy our thoughts and send them in the right direction, whatever our own "chains" in life might be. Because we are human, and because we live in a fallen world, each of us will experience the hurts of life, but soon and very soon God will take all mourning and crying and pain away. Until then, we simply have to accept what we cannot change and make the best of it. Far from what others were saying and thinking, Paul regarded his imprisonment as an advantage for the Gospel and therefore is an optimistic prisoner. He is a joyful servant of Jesus Christ, and if the Gospel is going forward he is content. As someone has said, Satan's roadblocks can become God's stepping stones. These days I need to see my own life in this way. Today is God's now, and if I am willing, He can transform what others might think is a negative into a positive for the Gospel.
Lord of the prisoners, receive our chains as we give them back to You. Help us to endure our going hence even as we have endured our coming hither. Let Your joy release us from the grip of anxiety and fear and restore our hope in You as we travel this unpredictable journey. Amen, come Lord Jesus!
9:44 AM Monday morning shout out to Fleet Feet of Raleigh where I bought my new shoes on Saturday. The staff was super friendly and efficient. I feel like I'm walking on air. I tried my shoes out today and have begun to develop a small blister on my right heel. Several things to try: Doubling up on my socks; lubrication with Vaseline; and especially using the extra lace holes on my shoes. I also need to avoid the wet grassy areas. We'll see how it goes. Here are the results from my morning walk:
"Brisk" walking is considered to be 20 minutes per mile and my average now is 14:16. I want to gradually improve that and then add short stretches of jogging.
Sunday, July 12
7:52 PM If you haven't watched the Trump speech in Phoenix yet, you should. It's over at YouTube. Whatever you think of his politics, it's refreshing to see a politician who can speak from the heart -- without a teleprompter. Trump is at the top of his game. The big question I have is: What game is he playing? Stay tuned...
While Trump has been giving speeches, I've been setting a few personal goals for the rest of the year. These include:
My motto for 2015 is: "Don't back up. Severe tire damage!"
9:54 AM Yesterday, as I walked and jogged my way through my very first 5K race, I kept thinking in my 63-year old brain, "God, thank You so much that this body of mine still works. Thank You, God, for the common grace that every runner here today is experiencing. Their strength all comes from You, whether they acknowledge it or not. Thank You, too, that the more I exercise, the better I feel all around. I suppose that's how You made us. We are body and soul. With every single step I take I am witnessing to Your grace that allows us humans to do such fantastic things with our bodies. Thank You for this special gift."
I completed the race ecstatic (1) that I had finished it, (2) that I had bested my then-current split time, (3) that my joints held out so well, especially my knees, and (4) that it allowed me an opportunity to be less-absorbed with my problems by helping a sister in Christ. Yesterday I picked berries to give to someone who is very special to me who loves to bake. It's odd how a little bit of physical effort can strengthen your faith. At the same time, physical exercise reminds me of how much more important it is to exercise spiritually (as Paul says in 1 Tim. 4:7-8). I want to deepen in my faith this year more than ever before. The fact is, our bodies are decaying daily. The reason we take care of them is because we desire to steward God's good gift to us. But nothing can stop the inevitable decline. In Phil. 3:20, Paul refers to our "lowly bodies." Folks, he's not just talking about octogenarians. All of our bodies have an expiration date. It doesn't matter whether you're 3 or 33 or 103. Yours is a lowly body. For me, I see the main value of exercise as enabling us as believers to be more active in the Lord's service (in my case, especially to travel long distances on crowded airplanes). Today one out of every three adults in America is obese. I don't think we Baptists have a complete theology of the body and physical fitness yet. But don't let that stop you. Do what little you can to move from what's comfortable to what's necessary. I'm giving it a try and it sure is making a huge difference in my strength levels, my attitude, my ability to do things, and even my walk with the Lord in that it reminds me daily of the priority of the spiritual side of life. In fact, I just registered for my next 5K. It's next Saturday in Ridgway, NC, and the objective is to raise funds for the local volunteer fire department. My goals are to best my current pace of 11:52, to meet lots of new people, and to glorify God in my body. Such fun!
8:52 AM What I'm clicking:
7:44 AM The Linguistics and the Greek Verb conference, held in Cambridge July 10-11, is now history, and the papers are being published in a volume titled The Greek Verb Revisited. I am especially looking forward to Buist Fanning's contribution, "Porter and Fanning on NT Greek Verbal Aspect: Retrospect and Prospect." Other topics of interest to me include the function of the augment, the middle voice and passive morphology, and morphology and pedagogy.
7:30 AM It's no secret that I love Greek prepositions. Not in an inappropriate way, I hope. I teach my students to avoid "prepositional theology" like the plague -- that insipid over-exegesis of Greek prepositions that pushes their meaning far beyond anything the context would support. Still, prepositions are part of the graphe that's God-breathed (theopneustos) and profitable (ophelimos) for teaching. What, then, to make of that most surprising of prepositions, huper, in Eph. 5:20 -- "giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." It would be preposterous for me to pretend that I understand all the nuances of this passage, but honestly, this one surprised me. I've been taught to give thanks in every situation and circumstance. But for everything?
On the one hand, what Paul writes here makes perfectly good sense. Every good and perfect gift we receive from the Lord requires an expression of thanks. And indeed, I have a lot of good things for which to be grateful, including good health, a wonderful marriage to Becky, a satisfying career, etc. But am I to give thanks for the not-so-good things too? The answer, of course, is yes, and it is yes for one main reason: out of suffering and heartache come many blessings in life. If I should begin to enumerate them, where would I stop? Endurance, strength, fortitude, humility, peace, joy, God-dependency. Even widowerhood is a gift from God, for in our widowerhood (or widowhood) He gives us Himself. He uses our loss to remind us that even the most intimate and satisfying of human relationships cannot satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts simply because our hearts were created for Another. And because of His great act of self-giving on the cross, we can experience the peace that passes understanding and that outlasts pain. Take my word for it. Yes, there will be plenty of tears, but even those tears are a gift, and when we allow them to mix with the great river of God's own sorrow they bring their own kind of consolation.
Paul's use of huper in Eph. 5:20 cheers me on. No, God did not give Becky cancer any more than He causes a baby to be born with deformities. These evils are the result of an act of disobedience in the Garden, an act for which we all suffer today. But in His death, Christ makes everything right again. His death begat a new beginning. Thus we gladly -- and gratefully -- accept the losses of life and place all we suffer at His disposal to use them as He sees fit.
"Give thanks for everything." Yes, it was the Lord who placed this gift of widowerhood into my trembling hands. It is a wonderful comfort to be absolutely sure about that.
Saturday, July 11
8:05 PM I just prayed this beautiful prayer from the very depths of my being:
My friend, if you have ever been hurt or rejected, if you are experiencing disappointment or loneliness or grief or loss or pain, what should you do? Give your life back to Him. Lay down life's glory dead. Rest your weary soul in Him. In his hymn O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go, George Matheson understood what to do with suffering. It is the response of a humbled heart, and it is called surrender.
12:54 PM Just back from the Barefoot for Kelly 5K Run in Raleigh. Kelly is a sweet sister in Christ who has Transverse Myelitis, a debilitating condition that has left her paralyzed. The event was sponsored by her home church to assist with providing Kelly a handicap-accessible bathroom so that she can regain some of her independence. A portion of the proceeds will also go to help fund the research of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The event was super well organized and the venue at the Dorothea Dix campus was perfect for a 5K. I came in dead last in my age group but it was all for a very worthy cause. If you'd like to read about Kelly and her condition, the Raleigh News & Observer is the place to go. Prior to this event I had no idea what TM was or how many lives it takes yearly. Kelly is a great testimony to the grace of God that can help all of us face our troubles with trust and confidence that His grace is sufficient.
1) The ever-smiling Kelly Dowless.
As she put it to the race participants, "TM may have taken away my spine but it hasn't taken away my spirit."
2) Lining up for the starting gun. Next time I'll run shirtless too I think.
3) The winning time was 16:49. Not too bad.
4) I came in last because I wanted the 80-year old guy in my age group to feel good about himself.
That's my story, and I'm stickin' with it.
Friday, July 10
8:52 PM Pickin' up bales at dusk. Ain't nothin' like it.
5:42 PM This afternoon I was listening to a sermon on Ephesians 5 about the filling of the Spirit, one evidence of which is "singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord." I was reminded of just how important music has always been in my life but never more so than after Becky passed away. Bible reading and serious study have their proper place too, but nothing can replace the power of music to penetrate our souls with the veracities of Scripture. Someone has called music a great shaft of brilliant sunlight through the dark clouds of life, providing an almost mystical connection with the Heavenly Throne of God. I am aware of just how many times over the past year I've paused to take renewed pleasure in the gift of music, whether at the North Carolina Symphony or in the privacy of my bedroom. Rutter's What Sweeter Music, Brahms's Requiem, Barber's Adagio for Strings, Copland's Appalachian Spring, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Lauridson's O Magnum Mysterium, and even Christopher Cross's Sailing -- I listen to these and many other great pieces of music both more frequently and differently, more slowly, more attentively. Just as I find junk food less and less appealing the older I get, so I find increased nourishment in music and poetry. Grief opens one's ears. "Deep calls to deep," wrote the Psalmist, and that line might well describe the joy a composer and his audience feel. And so there are moments when I turn to music, when I feel I can afford to "waste time" doing nothing but listening and dipping into the deep. Music is a relief. And I thank God for that.
4:30 PM This is way too cool not to post. Get ready to smile.
12:40 PM I hereby declare mowing the lawn to be a spiritual gift. You get extra points if you do it in 90 degree heat.
7:12 AM Coming soon -ish.
Thursday, July 9
6:58 PM Clean dogs = backyard exile is over.
11:16 AM News from Rosewood:
1) Today's workout.
2) Freshly picked. Yummy.
3) Clean again!
4) Pat me on the back. I'm throwing these out.
Yep. Giving up microwave popcorn, which is an absolute health disaster. And it's not even lent.
10:52 AM Just when I was bemoaning the dearth of interest in music and art among today's youth there appears this excellent essay by Ken Schenk called The Value of Music and Art. "Art and music inspire," he writes, and then concludes by saying:
There is much wisdom here. Ken makes a strong case for a liberal arts education and one that includes exposure to the musical arts. I couldn't agree more.
10:18 AM After walking my three miles today I stumbled upon Warren Throckmorton's discussion about retirement and longevity. It's actually a rebuttal of sorts to something David Barton said and is well worth your time. I tend to doubt that retirement age and life expectancy work in tandem. General health is far more important, as in keeping active. I fully expect to be retired from teaching within 10 years. Nevertheless, I don't plan on being less active. It's no mistake that people who think this way are called "diehards." There can be no golden years unless we begin to cultivate parallel interests now. One thing seems clear: any aspect of life that was dominant and satisfying at one stage in life should not be expected to necessarily be the mainstay of your life forever. Yes, I plan to continue teaching, mostly abroad as the Lord gives my the health and strength to travel. But who knows. I may work on another degree, say in Spanish. I may even take up gardening even though my thumb is a pretty dark shade of brown. As for writing, I'll leave that for the younger crowd. It's amazing after all these years of writing, I feel more satisfied than ever that I have reached my potential as an author. I know I will continue to read -- I have read voraciously all my life. I may take up golf or hiking. The point is to always be aware of the law of entropy that tells you to slow down and just watch TV. Sedentary lifestyles only lead to backaches and heart attacks. For fun, I just completed one of the life expectancy quizzes you can find online and scored an 89.98. Whew, not sure I want to live that long! I don't enjoy being alone but I'm not unhappy being single. Climbing toward the next level of life is far less frightening to me today than it was a mere 18 months ago. Dostoevsky once said that "taking the next step, uttering a new word, is what people fear the most." Actually, the opposite is far more fearsome. Only time will tell what becomes of me after retirement. But I do hope I can avoid the trap of falling into a stale and repetitious life.
Wednesday, July 8
7:02 PM Homer's Odyssey. Incredible. Listen and enjoy!
6:44 PM Looking forward to reading this book when it is released next month.
From the Amazon site:
I suppose Gary wrote this book to try to understand what he is living. Daniel Levinson once wrote a fascinating book called Seasons of a Man's Life that introduced a new concept into my thinking, namely the idea that adulthood proceeds in stages of development throughout the human life cycle. At each stage of life we must shed some of our protective shell and stretch toward new growth. Even if we refuse to make conscious choices, the future will still be restructured. Tomorrow I'm sending a copy of my book It's All Greek to Me: Confessions of an Unlikely Academic to a pastor friend in Hawaii who is curious about my own academic pilgrimage. It is enormously encouraging to me to find more and more academics willing to examine their lives when they approach the end of their careers. I myself can recall reading F. F. Bruce's biography with great pleasure. For Bruce, it seemed that his life could be characterized by that one word passion. There must a reason why God allows us to live so long. What are we meant to do with our lives after our academic careers come to en end? I believe it is useful to read and re-read books like Bruce's or Burge's to refresh our awareness of the types of choices we all have to make in mapping out the rest of our lives. Even setbacks can open up new paths if we allow them to. One thing is for sure: without warning, you will one day find yourself experiencing a major passage in life. "What web is this/Of will be, is, and was?" (Jorge Luis Borges). May God help all of us to find the answer.
2:50 PM Let the bush hogging begin!
12:40 PM Fellow trumpeters, check out this video of a 13-year old playing Il Silenzio. Bravo! Oh how I could wish our youth today were learning how to play musical instruments.
12:32 PM History. You just can't escape it. Next Monday I'll be speaking at the Pope Correctional Institution in Butner, NC, not far from the town where we first lived when we moved to North Carolina 17 years ago (Oxford). Butner has long been known in the area as a military facility and, in fact, was called Camp Butner during WW II. At that time North Carolina had two major army bases -- Fort Bragg and Camp Butner -- and each had major POW bases within them.
At Camp Butner's peak it held almost 6,000 German POWS. I say "German" when in fact many of the prisoners were of other nationalities who had been forced into service by the Germans. These included Poles, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, and even a Lithuanian. Many of these POWS worked on the neighboring tobacco farms, though I have yet to find a POW who actually settled in the area once the war was over. No matter how well treated they were, most of them just wanted to go home. I would imagine that many of them became life-long Tarheel fans.
As I said, history is everywhere.
10:52 AM If you're gonna be a student of the New Testament you're gonna have to disagree, on occasion at least, with the experts all around you. They've been wrong before, and they'll be wrong again. Here's an example or two:
1) We call three letters of Paul the "Pastoral" epistles even though neither Timothy nor Titus were pastors. We then exalt these two temporary emissaries of the apostle Paul into role models of local church eldership.
2) We speak of the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Mark, etc. Here antiquity offers a healthier perspective. Irenaeus spoke of the tetramorphic or fourfold Gospel. By this he meant that each of the four accounts, and all of them together, have a common message as documents of faith in the service of faith. The differences between them do not obscure their basic message of salvation through Christ. Hence in the earliest church these writings were known as the Gospel according to Matthew, the Gospel according to Mark, etc. (These are still their titles in Greek today.) Significant difference if you ask me.
3) We call Hebrews anonymous, and formally it is. But so is First John. First what? First John is formally anonymous -- nowhere is the author mentioned by name -- yet church history is clear that the author was the apostle John -- hence First John. Technically, Hebrews is anonymous, but read chapter 13 and you'll discover that the author was well-known to the readers. And when you check church history, there was a consensus by the fourth century that the letter was Paul's.
4) The fathers of the church. Why do we continue to ignore them? To suggest that evangelicals should pay attention to the fathers will strike many as absurd, but I think it is an advantage and not a detriment. Indeed, the sometimes fragmented and atomized way we read the New Testament is often merely an excuse for intellectual laziness. If reading the church fathers makes me a catholic (note the small "c"), then so be it.
I'm not holding my breath. The Pastorals will still be called the Pastorals, no one is likely to begin referring to John's Gospel as "According to John," Hebrews will always be non-Pauline, and the fathers -- well, I think there's a glimmer of hope here: see Christopher Hall, Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. I wrinkled my nose in seminary when I first heard the Markan Priority Hypothesis. Something seemed fishy in Denmark. Maybe you've had a similar experience. It's okay. Rethink the wineskins. Challenge the consensus. As I said, we New Testament scholars can be wrong -- myself included of course. Or, to crib a thought from Luke, let's all be Bereans.
Tuesday, July 7
8:10 PM Yep. I'm in a crazy sentimental mood tonight. While watching PBS with mom and dad, I saw and heard "For Good" for the very first time on a Boston Pops Special. It's absolutely gorgeous. Because I knew Becky I've been changed for good. "So much of me/Is made of what I learned from you. You'll be with me/Like a handprint on my heart." Beautiful.
Why not share this song with someone you love tonight?
7:42 PM Just ran across these powerful words about relationships:
"Once a heart is broken it can never be truly mended." This is what makes relationships so difficult. They are fragile. Some of us are so constructed they we live in a stew of troubles we bring upon ourselves. Sometimes we try to justify ourselves by claiming we suffer for Christ. Truth is, we can't claim that beatitude unless the evil things being said about us are false (note: the word pseudomenoi ["falsely"] in Matt. 5:11 is to be read). On the other hand, it is also possible to criticize some servant of God until we come dangerously close to ascribing his or her ministry to Satan. So what are we to do? It's not merely enough to follow one's conscience because our consciences may be sinful and unreliable. What we must do is live with one goal and one aim -- the kingdom of God and His righteousness, aiming at having a conscience avoid of offense toward God and others. Such a Christian walks in the light because he or she carries the Light of Christ within them. It is by God's grace, God's unmerited favor, that we are saved and that we can enjoy healthy relationships with others. I am discovering that the more I abandon my self-righteousness for Christ's imputed righteousness, the more His peace and joy come and live within me. So when I say Pray for me, I mean keep asking God to fill me back up again and again, so that I can go out into life and pour myself out even when I feel inadequate as I do now. I'm not healed yet, but I firmly believe that God still has great things to do through me.
No evil, no darkness, no brokenness can sever our relationship with Him.
7:02 PM Love this Moody Blues song. "And somehow I'll return again to you." Sweet.
6:44 PM Tired. Too much editing today. Trying to filter down what others write into cohesive and easy-to-digest prose is well-nigh impossible, at least for this editor. So I'm taking a break and looking for Bread and Breakfasts for my trip up north. I think I found the perfect spot.
2:20 PM Ev Carter was buried today in Wake Forest. I just got back from her celebration service. She was 88 years young and had served as a faculty secretary at Southeastern for over 50 years. As Danny Akin put it, Ev was the "quintessential Christian servant." She was indeed. I'm glad I live and work among such special people.
6:26 AM Yesterday I flew back from Dallas awash in happy memories of a lifetime spent with Brad and Betty Lapsley's eldest daughter. One scenario seems to stand out. It was a hot summer day in Basel. Humidity dripped in the air. I had just completed an extremely busy semester. Yet the air was alive with the festivity of another anniversary of my birthday -- my 29th to be exact. We walked into the tiny chapel of our Baptist church in Basel and Becky sat down at the piano. Then she began to play, from memory, all three movements of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. I sat there in open-mouthed astonishment. When she finished, Becky smiled at me and said, "Happy Birthday, sweetheart." There she sat, rheumatoid arthritis pervading the fingers of both hands, offering me the greatest birthday present I ever received. "Honey," I stammered, "I can't thank you enough." Privately I wondered: "Where in the world did she muster the strength to practice?" With bold relief I glimpsed the glory of another of the Master's marvels, and I remembered: "Impossible" is God's specialty.
Becky was hospitalized for a month in Basel because of her RA. My part was behind the scenes: praying, encouraging, assuring her of God's love -- and mine. One day, years later, I sat next to her in the infusion room at UNC. Without hair, she never looked more beautiful. My lips formed the words, "I love you." She nodded and then fell asleep again. A few months later I buried her.
Becky did many things well during her 60 years on this earth. But one thing that will always stand out to me is the way she quietly accepted her cancer. She taught me to accept my own limitations too. When I grew weary, she always encouraged me: "Honey, you have a right to feel tired." Despite my weakest moments, she kept on loving me and accepting me just like she always had. One thing she never did was put me on a pedestal or give me hero status. Thank God for that. She, more than any human being, knew my struggles, the agony I felt at trying to be a godly husband and father. No one studied David Alan Black more than Becky Lynn Lapsley did, yet she stubbornly believed in me. Now, 20 months after her death, I understand more than ever why God brought her to me in 1976 and said, "Try her, Dave. I think you'll like her." We spent the next 37 years saying "I do" to each other. Here was a woman who didn't have a fraction of the formal biblical training I had, but whose intimate knowledge of the Savior was unparalleled. Amazing.
"To get the full value of joy, you must have somebody to share it with." Mark Twain said that, and I know it to be true. In Bethel Hill, NC, there's a tiny piece of real estate with my name inscribed on it. I often visit it, not to see my name but to look upon the name written beside it -- the name of the woman who was my confidant, my dependable partner, my closest companion. Death does happen. It's happened in my family and it's happened in yours. To date, my burial plot is unused, and in my heart of hearts I hope that the money I spent on it will be a total waste of resources, that Jesus will return for me long before I need an earthly burial place and bring Becky with Him. Yet either way -- whether by rapture or by death -- my desire has never been to stride in the hallowed halls of academia. I want to walk alongside the rank and file Christian so that we might all finish the race together. I'm acutely aware that my heart isn't in politics or status or the scholarly guild. My heart is in dirty villages and smog-filled cities and places in this world where Jesus is hated. It really doesn't matter what continent I'm on. If one has eyes to see, there are plenty of opportunities to serve. Honestly, I feel like I'm on the verge of something huge in my life right now. I feel like God has something wonderful in store for me that I can't even begin to imagine. I've said it before -- I'm determined to live in the light of the resurrection. I am going to discover what it means to trust God, and what it means to love again. Pray for me that I will realize that ministry is to be equated with all of life and not just some period in life. When one set of tasks is completed, others are waiting.
The rest of my life is going to be amazing.
P.S. A couple of pics.
1) Below: Mr. and Mrs. Lapsley.
Mom's recovery is going extremely well, praise the Lord. She's playing her flute again and was even able to attend church services yesterday. Thank you for praying for her.
2) Meet Joe Santana, the new Hispanic pastor at mom and dad's church.
Thursday, July 2
8:48 AM Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sure you know that I leave today for Dallas to spend a few days with mom and dad. Mrs. Lapsley recently had shoulder replacement surgery so please keep her in your prayers. I couldn't have a better set of in-laws. As we all get a little bit closer to seeing Jesus (and Becky too -- woohoo!), I am reminded of that day when all creation will be set free from every diabolical influence such as sin and death and we shall rule and reign with Christ on earth. Then, God's will shall be done "on earth as it is in heaven." I, for one, am looking forward to that day with great anticipation!
8:05 AM Good morning, fellow blogging nerds!
"You can probably make more money by having a first-class yard sale" is the way Rachel Toor's essay Things You Should Know Before Publishing a Book opens. If you've ever thought about writing your own book, you need to read this article. The author will regale you with publishing myths, how to boost your odds that a publisher will accept your manuscript, and even "What makes for a good author?" I write because I have to. It's a virus. George Orwell (Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty Four) once wrote an essay called "Why I Write." Here he laid out his four primary motives for writing, which were:
In short, I think he was saying that authors generally feel (1) that they have something important to say and that others should read what they write, (2) that writing is extremely pleasurable, if not for the reader then at least for the writer, (3) that by writing they hope to "set the record straight about some subject," and (4) they desire to push people's thinking and attitudes in a certain direction -- theirs, of course. "All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy," added Orwell -- and there is no little truth in that statement. I myself have got to be the most un-self-disciplined author in the world. I write when I feel like it. Otherwise, I'm doing other things. What drives me, I guess, is a felt need to get a point across. Thus Orwell again:
Or, as Gao Xingjian puts it, "Writing eases my suffering."
I am now 63, and yet there are stories I still want to tell, ideas I still want to flame into reality, myths I still want to challenge, and students I still want to motivate. I do not know of a single publisher who would not honor those motives for writing. But your brain must lead, not your ego. For example, a book idea came into my head the other day as I was contemplating my next trip this summer to visit the Antietam and Gettysburg Battlefields and to do some genealogical research on my paternal grandparents (the Millers of Sharpsburg) in Hagerstown. "Why not write a little book on personal valor during the American Civil War with an application to the Christian life?" This crazy idea was only reinforced when I was talking recently to a friend of mine from Pennsylvania who said he had never been to Gettysburg. It's true: When you live in a certain place, sometimes tourists have seen more of the sights there than you have. The Civil War is one of the most riveting stories in history. At heart, it's a family tale and one that is worthy of a Shakespeare tragedy. I entered this drama when I was contacted by the 1st Maine Cavalry many years ago in California to ride with them in battle reenactments. I knew little of Civil War history at the time, like so many Americans today. Sure, I had read "picklock biographies" that did little more than set the stage. Today I am more interested in books on the Civil War that amplify my understanding of how ordinary men and women faced the vagaries of those times so that I can better understand how I can face the vagaries of my own. The people of those times faced unflinchingly the vicissitudes of life and in so doing transcended them. Beyond that, the war provides us with endless examples of personal courage and valor. "Duty" was a word that still meant something, and as I face the closing years of my career as a teacher and writer I have come to see the value of that word and all that it means. Jesus said, "Happy are you if you know these things and do them" (John 13:17). One of the main spiritual challenges I've faced in my 55 years as a Christian is being strong on knowing and weak on doing. The head and the hand must go along together if we are to be happy. So says Jesus. Since I was 16 the word of God has been my constant delight, but it wasn't until fairly recently that I entered the fray of Christian warfare, at times taking the Gospel to the front lines in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. I am slowly discovering that there is no simpler way to enjoy the Christian life than to translate doctrine into duty. Some of us who have been on life's road for quite a stretch grow anxious and worry if old age will still find us useful for the kingdom. We need not worry. We can still fight the good fight. We may not mount up with wings as eagles, but we can run and not be weary -- or at least we can walk and not faint. Walking along the Bloody Lane at Antietam or the Sunken Road at Fredericksburg or the Clump of Trees at Gettysburg, it feels like you are seeing what those soldiers saw in those bloody battles of 1861-1865. When the war was over, these Americans from North and South came together again and the nation was reborn, this time without the scourge of slavery. Today, buoyed partly by their example of reconciliation, I work together with believers in many nations to preach the Gospel of reconciliation and to expand the only kingdom that, in the end, really matters. But it calls for courage, tireless devotion, and sacrifice. As in Red Badge of Courage. (Oops, that title's already taken.)
Now you know how a jetlagged brain works. There are many other publishing ideas dangerously percolating in my mind as well -- things "that human lips may not speak" (2 Cor. 12:4), at least not yet. Any academic who has achieved a modicum of success in the publishing field knows that dreams often do not become a reality. But every book starts somewhere, and for me, the incubation period usually begins in the intersection of my personal interests at the time and my personal journey -- where I find myself in life at any one stage of my earthly existence. I'm an entrepreneur at heart, and I suppose I love reading and writing books more than even surfing or horseback riding, which is saying a lot. Let me thank you for supporting my already-published books, and let me thank you in advance for your loyalty in praying for me as I contemplate future writing projects.
Wednesday, July 1
8:28 PM Good evening to fertilize the fields.
5:20 PM When I think of family, I think of my persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world. One of them is named Asia Bibi.
If you haven't already heard, Asia is near death having already suffered for 5 long years in a Pakistani prison. Please, let's intercede on her behalf as we are commanded to do. I'm sure she is willing to die for her faith, but at least we can pray for some relief from her pain and discomfort. If anyone wants to do more, petitions for her release can be signed at Change.org:
In the meantime, I've copied her picture and taped it to my frig so that I can remember her in prayer daily. Remember: praying for the imprisoned is not really a choice, but a command (Heb. 13:3). And to the extent to which we obey probably says more about us and our Christianity than anything else.
4:45 PM What better way to end a long day of work than by having homemade stir-fry and fleshly picked blueberries over ice cream?
2:04 PM Kudos on the launch today of the Exegetical Tools Quarterly.
A sampling: Discourse Analysis Annotated Bibliography.
1:50 PM My life: Mowing and editing, mowing and editing, mowing ....