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October 2009 Blog Archives

Saturday, October 31

3:16 PM Adam Darnell provides us with a link to a new site for great worship music. I can hear the naysayers now: "I will sing only the good old hymns of the faith!" If that's the case, read this forward to a Baptist hymnal that was published in 1926. You might find it enlightening.

Yes indeed, some things never change.

3:03 PM According to this report by the BBC, the fall of the Berlin Wall will be commemorated on Nov. 9, twenty years after the event. "The people were the heroes," states the report correctly. What a day. I'll never forget it.

Incidentally, I've got a piece of the wall in my safe deposit box. A real treasure.

2:52 PM I know lots of you pray for Becky regularly. Please don't stop now. She is feeling really ragged today and probably has gotten a head cold. That means I'll be doing our Ethiopia presentation by myself at Bethany Baptist Church tomorrow morning, as well as our first meeting afterwards with those interested in coming with us in 2010. It's like Lee going into battle without Jackson. I'm really really really asking God to allow Becky to come to chapel with me on Thursday, but if He says no I will accept it. As I read the Scriptures, I'm haunted by the idea that God doesn't really need any of us to accomplish His work. He uses us as He sees fit. Always.

My word, sometimes I feel like I'm still using spiritual training wheels.

11:05 AM It's official: Nolan now has two toofies. Sharp things too. If you're a seminary student you'll get to meet him next Thursday, Lord willing. Nate, Jess, and Nolan are planning on being in chapel to hear my little talk. Nathan, by the way, will be playing the organ prelude.

10:17 AM Ah, nothing better than a healthy debate over church leadership. It's important for pastors (and all of us) to stop at regular intervals and look at the road signs. I applaud such iron-sharpening-iron.

10:08 AM Say you're a school teacher. What grade would you give the Protestant Reformation? Arthur Sido gives it an "I." Here's why

9:51 AM Just in time for Halloween comes this story that London is trying to convince people to share a grave with a stranger. Seems the old city has reached cemetery capacity. Talk about urban sprawl.

9:24 AM It is only too appropriate that Mike Bird should publish his thoughts about Evangelicals and Catholics on this historic day. His peroration deserves to be quoted in full:

I genuinely believe that good progress has been made in Catholic-Protestant relations since the Reformation. This is evidenced by the Evangelicals and Catholics Together as well as the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification which were positive moves forward (see Richard Mouw's quotation from Charles Spurgeon on Spurgeon's trip to a Catholic Church). I can honestly say that I'd rather worship and pray with an Orthodox Catholic than with a Liberal Protestant. I believe in the Reformation and yet recognize that the definition of a Christian in Rom 10:9-10 is broader than my own doctrinal statement. Still, at the end of the day there remains several incommensurable and irreconcilable differences between evangelicals and Catholics over the distinction between justification and sanctification, the nature of Christian assurance, the eucharist, the papacy, doctrines of Mary, and priestly celibacy. In the end, rediscovering covenant as a unifying theological category, experiencing the blessings of liturgy, digesting the church fathers in a serious way, and seeking transformation rather than transcendence, should be a means of enriching our own theological tradition rather than a reason for running to Rome. What is more, resources to do these things actually are available in the Reformed tradition if you look far and deep enough.

Good grief. Right in the middle of our finger-lickin' chicken Mike has to remind us of the importance of theology.

P.S. "digesting the church fathers in a serious way"? Are you kidding? We're Protestants!

8:59 AM Today we celebrate Reformation Day (see Eric Carpenter's reminder of why). Of Luther's famous "theses," my favorite is the first:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

I don't know about you, but I carry lots of excess baggage that hinders the mission of Christ. Effective evangelism leaves security blankets at home. Jesus told the 70 not to take extra clothes, food, or money. We are not to depend on our own resources. We are to change from being independent to dependent. Jesus said you either enter the world of the lost or go hungry. It's a change of perspective that's essential to effective evangelization.

It is urgent that the church repent of our attitude of "looking down on others to save them." We must associate with unbelievers. Our focus must be on people and relationships, not money and programs. To reach men and women for Christ, we must lay aside the temptation to be detached from them.

We Protestants call ourselves "evangelicals" because we believe in the Evangel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We're called to be redemptive people. We must repent of the need to control, to dominate, to possess. It is a broken, repentant heart that will stop unbelievers in their tracks.

8:49 AM Last night I decided to take el plunge and re-read Michael Shaara's novel Killer Angels, the book upon which the movie Gettysburg is based. Shaara describes Robert E. Lee with these words:

He was in his fifty-seventh year.... He had been down that spring with the first assault of the heart disease which will eventually kill him. He believes absolutely in God. He loves Virginia above all, the mystic dirt of his home. He is the most beloved man in either army.

It's hard for me to believe that I'm the same age the general was when he led the Army of Northern Virginia in its invasion of Pennsylvania 146 years ago. My inward man still feels like I'm a 25 year-old, but the mirror never lies. Had I lived in those times I would have opposed the invasion of the North. Both Gettysburg and Sharpsburg (Antietam) turned out very badly for the South. At Gettysburg Lee fought with a recalcitrant Longstreet, a sick Hill, an eccentric Ewell (who had lost more than a leg; his aggressivity had flagged), and an absent Stuart. Still, you have to admire the courage of the men who made that assault on the third day. I have walked that fateful mile from the Lee Monument to the "Clump of Trees" by foot 3 different times. I can only imagine what the troops must have experienced that day.

In my view, neither side in that conflict was completely in the right. That is how it always is with war. After World War II the Western powers hung Keitel for carrying out the orders of a civilian government. Were the Russians punished for slaughtering over 15,000 Polish officers in the Katan Forest? Were American and British leaders held accountable for the unleashing of aerial bombardment upon thousands of innocent civilians in Hamburg or Dresden, Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Gandhi used a policy of non-violence, but only to establish the oppressive power of the Indian state, which punished its Sikh minority. The waging of war is a highly precarious matter.

General Omar Bradley, in a 1948 Armistice Day speech, said:

We have too many men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the system of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

Truer words were never spoken.

8:22 AM This morning I've been reading Phil. 3:12-18 in preparation for next week's Greek class. It's been stretching my thinking cap to the breaking point.

Note: Once Paul made the decision to consider all of his status symbols as unspeakable filth, his zeal was drastically redirected. He became "zealous for good works" (Tit. 2:14) as a sold-out follower of Jesus. So have I, I suppose. It is not enough for me to give lectures or write essays or publish books. I want to serve Christ by serving others in His name, including the most needy, no matter what the cost to me personally. Impersonating a wet dishrag in a hospital bed for 6 days is not my idea of fun. But what is that in comparison to the cross? I feel as though God has given me a second chance in life. It's spelled G-R-A-C-E. I think Paul must have felt the same way.

8:12 AM I owe a great debt of gratitude to all who have taken time to review The Jesus Paradigm. The latest review is by Geoff Smith. Thank you, Sir!

Friday, October 30

1:36 PM Matthew McDill thinks church meetings are to be highly participatory. And he's right. You say, "We are a traditional congregation. Where shall we start?" If you need advice, why not email Matthew? I'm sure he'd be glad to help.

1:24 PM Just back from spreading skubala. Time for a rest until Nathan gets back from Oxford and we resume work on his remodelling project.

1:13 PM Good news! On Monday the team that will be constructing our water harvesting system at the clinic will be leaving Awassa for Burji. The plumbing will be there awaiting their arrival. Can you believe it? A clinic in Podunk with not only electricity and refrigeration but running hot and cold water! Isn't our Savior great?

12:54 PM Becky just spoke with her nurse oncologist at UNC. Her chemo has been postponed from next Monday to the following Monday. As of yesterday Bec's WBC was only 1.8 and her neutrophil is only 0.5. So she is "severely immunologically compromised." She'll start on antibiotics as a prophylactic today. She's also indefinitely grounded.

11:05 AM Everyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge fan of World War II escape stories. Well, I just finished reading my latest book. Its author is Tim Carroll and its title is The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III.

If you've never read this book, you simply must. In reading these books I often ask myself the question: What was it that brought men from different kinds of background and from every part of the world together to fight against Nazi Germany? Carroll answers that question on p. 303 of his book: "The one thing they had in common was their love of living and their hatred of oppression." I believe that is the principle upon which the church is called to live as children of God in light of the cross. We are to love life -- the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord -- and hate the Enemy of the souls of men and women. That, ultimately, is what will unify us despite all of our differences and our various backgrounds and our (legitimate) denominational convictions.

Without wanting in any way to be insensitive to those who have given their lives for our country, I believe that the sacrifice of self is more costly -- and more difficult -- than the sacrifice of our bodies. Only as we are prepared to make that sacrifice, only as a "Great Commandment Resurgence" accompanies a Great Commission Resurgence, will we be able to reach a lost world for Christ.

Friends, our organizational ability, our eloquence, our wealth, our missionary strategies -- all of these things are irrelevant in the eyes of the world. What the world sees and knows and recognizes is love.  

10:01 AM Henry Neufeld reflects on book publishing and espousing "the truth."

9:50 AM Mr. Obama has honored the fallen at Dover. I just sent the White House an email thanking him.

9:20 AM From CT comes this look at marital unfaithfulness: When the Other Woman Is His Job. A sample:

Was Matt committing adultery? No, but he was being unfaithful in other ways. By working so much, he temporarily widowed his wife and left his kids fatherless. While he sought the exhilaration of his next promotion, his family—the reason, he said, he worked so hard—was left behind. Ironically, his attempt to provide for his family left them instead with very little.

Ouch!

Paul said that the good is the enemy of the best (Phil 1:9-10). Daniel Webster was once asked which was the most important subject that had ever crossed his mind. "My personal responsibility" was his reply. May we husbands catch something of the spirit of that reply! One day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of our husbanding to God. We cannot escape from that fact and hide behind our excuses.

9:08 AM Quote of the day (Arthur Sido):

This is so vital: we don't choose who to "go to church" with, the membership of the church has already been decided. It is up to us to live in community together. We are also not free to "make it up" when it comes to living and worshiping as a people as we go.

8:58 AM I offer this follow-up to Kevin's post (from Christian Archy): 

Evangelist Tom Skinner once said, "Let's be honest. We tithe to ourselves." What he meant is that most of the money we contribute to the offering plate is used for facilities and programs designed for ourselves and our families. Very little is dedicated to evangelism or social action, whether in our communities or in the rest of the world. 

8:50 AM Today's the release date for Mega Belt, a look at our zany culture here in the southern "Bible Belt." I haven't read the book yet so this is not an endorsement. Where I live there are more Baptists than people, so there is obviously a need to tackle the issue. A good place to begin, perhaps, is to chuck "Bible Belt" and replace it with "Religious Belt." Biblical illiteracy here is, sadly, rampant.

I wish the book and its young author well.

8:38 AM Kevin Brown, an elder at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Wilkesboro, NC,  questions the status quo in his latest essay Are we just "entertaining" or are we "reaching" people for Christ? Here is a fascinating and frightening insight into the human heart. As Kevin points out, there is a price to be paid when following Jesus. And Kevin is not just all talk. His church has started a ceremony for their youth that raises the bar big time. He describes it in his essay Rite of Passage: A Return to Scriptural Adulthood. Folks, the preacher has a point! The task facing the church today is overwhelming. We won't get the job done as long as we continue to pamper ourselves and our young people.

Kevin (left) and his daughter Katy went with us to Alaba in 2008:

He taught the local church elders verse-by-verse through the book of Ephesians.

He quickly fell in love with Ethiopia, as all of us have done. It is wonderful to see the Lord connecting churches in America with churches in Ethiopia.

Thursday, October 29

9:04 PM People are vulnerable to love. That's one of the points Becky emphasized with the middle schoolers today. She told the story of a Muslim man in a small village in southern Ethiopia whom she had outfitted with a pair of non-prescription reading glasses. When he left the church compound he told the leaders, "Never have I seen such love as in this place."

As I've reflected over that experience, I've become more convinced than ever that the confrontational approach to evangelism is lacking. No, I'm not against passing out a Gospel tract or placing bumper stickers on your car. I'm not against going door to door. In confrontational evangelism, the encounter is unique. It's usually brief, often intense, and frequently scary. Then it's over. Many have used that approach successfully. Thank God for them! But nothing is more powerful, in my opinion, than a Spirit-filled individual targeting his or her gifts to meet the needs of others. In southern Ethiopia you couldn't buy a pair of reading glasses if you had a million dollars. They are not to be had. But when Becky gave that man a free pair of glasses, and when she told them where they had come from -- not from the U.S. government, not from the Ethiopian government, but from people in America who love Jesus -- and when she told him, "Every time you wear these glasses you will be reminded that Jesus knows you and loves you," she threw a redemptive switch in that man's mind.

I can't overemphasize this point. Evangelism is essentially a lifestyle -- a lifestyle of sharing what we have with others with a view to them realizing that there is a Savior, a Lord, a Redeemer named Jesus who loves them. I encourage all of us to develop this capacity to draw others to Christ. Do it however the Spirit leads you. But do it with a gentle, loving spirit. After all, as Becky emphasized in her talk, people of all stripes need to see and feel love. If we don't have a genuine love for other people, we have probably forfeited our right to evangelize them!

6:55 PM Years ago, on the bottom of p. 674 of my Greek New Testament, I wrote these words:

David Brainerd (d. at 36): "I wanted to wear myself out in His service for His glory. I cared not how or where I lived or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls for Christ."

The Lord Jesus gave Becky and me a wonderful day. Even though right now we feel completely worn out, as David Brainerd must have often felt, we thank God that He allowed us to minister in His name today. And indeed it was a long day: we left the house at 6:00 am and returned at 6:00 pm. The first of our four chapel presentations began at 8:00. All of those in attendance, including the little ones, were fascinated by Becky's pictures and our display table.

Today was the first of several talks about Ethiopia we are planning on giving at Cresset Christian Academy. I can't thank brother Jon enough for his warm hospitality. He even went so far as to provide us with some of our favorite refreshments. And the books by Kenneth Wuest that he gave us were just the icing on the cake. Thank you Cresset Baptist Church for your love for Ethiopia and the nations. May God bless you for it.

After we left Cresset we got Becky's blood work done at UNC Hospital in preparation for her chemo there next Monday. Then we visited a precious elderly brother at Duke who had just undergone lung surgery. Call it a pastoral call if you like, even though we are not pastors in the technical sense.

Now, today was my "day off." My Tuesdays and Wednesdays are so labor intensive that I can barely make it through Thursdays without resting. But a wise old preacher once said, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." Without doubt that includes a time for sensible rest and recreation. The hyper-active Christian is of no use to God. But still, I'm glad I pushed ahead with today's busy schedule. God gave both of us incredible strength in the midst of our weaknesses. I will NEVER be able to match Jesus' love, but I am called upon to mirror it.

5:30 AM Cresset Baptist Church in Durham is the home of our good friend Jon Glass, pastor-teacher par excellence, intrepid missionary to Ethiopia, and blogger (when he's not shamelessly tweeting in Greek class).

It's also the home of Cresset Christian Academy, and today Becky and I will present the Lord's glory in Ethiopia in 4 chapel meetings ranging from kindergarteners to high schoolers. What a joy! Jesus said, "This is My commandment that you love one another," which means that we must be willing to deny ourselves, our own plans and pleasures, our own ambitions, anything that centers on us, for the blessing of others. This is the message that Becky and I want to convey today. That, ultimately, is why we speak so often in churches and other venues. Please pray for us and with us that this message will be gotten across loud and clear, and that these precious children and young people will catch a glimpse from the Ethiopian church what it means to live the cross-life.

5:23 AM For 11 years now I have had the honor and privilege of teaching in a seminary that is all about missions. And I know of no one at SEBTS who loves the nations more than our president, Danny Akin. I maintain that the words "Every Classroom a Great Commission Classroom" is far more than a motto here at Southeastern. It's a reality. Surely living in a manner worthy of the Gospel has got to be our greatest priority (Phil. 1:27).

This driving passion is at the heart of Danny's final essay in his series on the Great Commission Resurgence, which I have reprinted below. As I read Danny's words I wept with gratitude to God that he would allow me to serve under and alongside such a humble servant of God. When all the finer points of theology have been discussed, when all the scholars have had their say, when all the authorities have been consulted, nothing remains more simple or demanding than our Lord's words to go everywhere and preach the Good News to everyone (Mark 16:15). This message, surely, is loud and clear in the following essay. If you should doubt where Southeastern seminary stands, this essay by President Akin should erase any confusion in your mind. Read it and be blessed.

Myths Concerning the GCRTF: A Postscript

In June at the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, I had a conversation with my father in the ministry and hero in the faith. That man is Dr. Paige Patterson.  My love for this man cannot be measured in human words.  My gratitude for his investment in my life is impossible for me to express. Now, I know he does not always agree with me, but I have never doubted he loves me and wants God's best for me. That is why I am always ready for him to speak into my life. That is why I am always eager to hear what he says and to know what he thinks on almost any issue.

As we were talking about the SBC and the GCR Declaration that had gained more than 4,000 signatures he asked me, "Danny, what do you see as the end game in all of this? What is it that you personally hope to see come to pass?" My response was quick and simple. I said, "Dr. Patterson, it is about what you taught me when I was your student at Criswell College in the late 1970's and the Conservative Resurgence was just getting started. It is about getting the gospel of Jesus Christ to the 6 plus billion people on planet earth." He then said, "Is that it?"  I responded, "that’s it." He "no." I went on to say I am not smart enough to come up with anything like that. I did say that I believed there were men and women in the SBC who could help us get there, and that I prayed that if Southern Baptists authorized brother Johnny Hunt to appoint a GCRTF they could lead us in getting there.

That is what the GCR is all about. This is what the GCRTF hopes and prays God will do. He will have to because even with many smart people on the TF we are not smart enough, wise enough, or gifted enough to make it happen. God will do it or it will not come to pass.

There are challenges to be sure. None is more obvious than the distrust and infighting that characterizes too much of Southern Baptists life at the present time. This must stop or we are going nowhere.

The greatest man I believe I ever met was Adrian Rogers. In God's goodness we developed a very sweet friendship over the years. The last time I was with him we had lunch together in Memphis. Six months later he would step into eternity into the presence of his King and Savior whom he loved so dearly and served so faithfully. As we talked about the SBC he expressed concerns and disappointments at where we were following the Conservative Resurgence. I shared my agreement with his assessment and then asked what he saw as the problem. I will never forget what he said.

Dr. Rogers said the problem was we were no longer on the battlefield fighting shoulder to shoulder the real enemies of sin, Satan, death and hell. Rather, we were back in the barracks standing face to face and fighting one another. We were now squabbling and arguing over things that would matter little if we were out on the battlefield engaging the real enemy as we fought for the souls of men across North America and around the world. Dr. Rogers always had a heart for the unreached peoples of the world. Dr. Rogers said we needed to get back on the battlefield and recognize we are one mighty army, all on the same side, serving under our commander-in-chief King Jesus. What a timely word for Southern Baptists in 2009!

This concludes the "myth series." It is my hope that they have been helpful in clarifying and making more clear the work of the GCRTF. Feel free to attribute any lingering fog to my shortcomings and inability to communicate well. The responses I have received from so many do encourage me that the time and effort put into all of this was worth the investment. One more time the bottom-line is simply this: the nations need to hear the gospel. Without it they are eternally lost. We have the gospel and God has graced us with the personnel and resources to get the good news of Jesus to them. The question we all must ask and answer is this: what will I do to see this happen? Let's not live wasted lives. Let's not be a wasted Convention of churches. Jesus deserves better. Those who have never heard the gospel deserve better. I believe, by God's grace, we can step up and be better. Dear Lord, please make it happen!

Wednesday, October 28

7:52 PM Spring Arbor College announces an opening in Bible Ministry.

7:44 PM This is one of the most important books I have in my personal library:

It represents the renaissance in New Testament Greek scholarship that is currently taking place in Spain. If you are looking for a detailed and scholarly exposition of the Matthean Beatitudes, I highly recommend this book to you.

7:22 PM Check out Sola Scriptura Nathaniel. It's published by a SEBTS student in South Korea. Yes, I said South Korea. Nathaniel hopes to bring his family to Wake Forest to complete his studies. I wish him and his beautiful family the very best.

7:10 PM Gordon-Conwell Seminary is seeking to fill positions in Early Christianity, Counseling, and Missions.

7:05 PM Hope College announces an opening in Religion.

6:57 PM Quote of the day (Hail to the King):

Fealty to Caesar is rejection of God.

6:50 PM Heard about the man who tried to smuggle 24 snakes into Norway by strapping them to his body? I wonder if he's ever met Alvin Reid, our resident snake handler at the seminary.

And you thought I was daft? 

6:45 PM Jim West is not only an interesting blogger; he's also a good speaker. Here he does a great job of preaching from one of my all-time favorite passages, Phil. 2:1-11. Jim says:

If you can really hold on to this notion that other people are really more worthy of honor than you are, that other people are more worthy of being in first place than you are, that other people deserve to cross the finish line before you do, you'll step aside and allow them forward, and if they need a hand you'll even help them advance.

He concludes:

Every Baptist a missionary. That's how you can have a good week.

Amen!  

6:36 PM Agree or disagree, you owe it to yourself to read this resignation letter (.pdf). A key excerpt:

The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified. In both RC East and South, I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul.

Matthew Hoh's journey from combat Marine to war protester is a logical one, given the nature of current U.S. foreign policy. This week Hoh is scheduled to meet with Antony Blinken, Vice President Biden's foreign policy adviser. Hoh will "advise a reduction in combat forces…providing more support for Pakistan, better U.S. communication and propaganda skills to match those of al-Qaeda, and more pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to clean up government corruption…" (source). 

I hope the White House listens. If no legitimate governing formula can be found in Afghanistan, it's time for the U.S. to scale back our resources, not ramp them up.

6:26 PM Happy Blogiversary to my former student Mike Seaver. I especially commend Mike for the way he and Cheryl Schatz have gone about debating the often cantankerous issue of women in ministry. Exemplary!

6:22 PM Andy Bowden asks, Was Paul forgetful?

6:17 PM Eric Carpenter just published an excellent photo essay (A Parking Space for Jesus) featuring this photo:

It reminded me of a story about World War I. After the allied victory, General Pershing announced to the troops that there would be a great victory parade in Paris. If any soldier wanted to march in the parade he had to (1) have a good record and (2) stand at least 186 centimeters tall. The men in one company of U.S. troops began comparing themselves, standing back to back to see who was taller. Eventually the tallest men in the company began teasing the others, "Too bad for you, Shorty! We’ll think of you when we're in Paris!" Of course, no one knew exactly how tall 186 centimeters was. They were all merely guessing.

When the commanding officer came to see if any of his men qualified, he put a mark on the wall at 186 centimeters. The shorter men saw it and simply walked away, realizing immediately that they wouldn't qualify. The taller men also missed the mark by a small amount. Then the tallest man in the company stood up to the mark but discovered than even he fell a quarter of an inch shy of the mark (6 feet 6 inches). In the end, nobody qualified.

 

In the church, nobody stands than taller than anyone else. "We are all brothers" is the way Jesus put it in Matt. 23:8. We are all equally sinners and saints. As Paul puts it so marvelously, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). The family of God includes in its ranks all Christians of all ages, all levels of intelligence, all nationalities, and all levels of social strata. Even leaders are not "over" the people but an extension of them (see my essay Church Leadership According to Philippians 1:1).

Do we truly understand this? The real test comes in mundane ways, as Eric pointed out. It is here, at the grass roots level, that we are called upon to demonstrate the reality of our oneness in Christ.

6:10 PM My colleague Maurice Robinson has just published two essays in a new book edited by Stan Porter and Mark Boda called Translating the New Testament: Text, Translation, Theology.

In his essay titled, "Rule 9, Isolated Variants, and the 'Test-Tube' Nature of the NA27/UBS4 Text: A Byzantine-Priority Perspective," Maurice challenges conventional thinking by addressing the question of the history of the transmission of the New Testament text. He concludes:

Those who maintain the status quo might reject such a claim as exceptional; yet it is the modern critical text that reflects de facto conjecture, transmissional abnormality, and historical implausibility. Ultimately, the question becomes whether confidence should be placed in a text that in the aggregate reflects conjectural speculation and lacks transmissional viability, or in a text with clear historical roots and a potential transmissional plausibility in its favor.106 If one is willing to reexamine long-standing scholarly opinion, the Byzantine-priority hypothesis becomes at least reasonably plausible, particularly in view of its actual historical existence when contrasted with the conjectural claims underlying the NA27/UBS4text.

Man do I like Maurice. Not just because he's an outside-the-box thinker. I like the questions he raises, questions that are all the more difficult because fixed opinions have long since been reached on both sides and are rarely subjected to the least examination. It is these simple and uncontested beliefs that Maurice proposes to challenge. I applaud that effort.

Incidentally, here's what a true scholar's office should look like:

 

6:03 PM We translated Phil. 3:1-11 in Greek class yesterday. I asked my students what their favorite translation of skubala in verse 8 was. Then I read to them the excellent note in the NET Bible:

The word here translated "dung" was often used in Greek as a vulgar term for fecal matter. As such it would most likely have had a certain shock value for the readers. This may well be Paul's meaning here, especially since the context is about what the flesh produces.

Perhaps the best rendering in English is "unspeakable filth." Paul is saying, in the strongest possible language, that we are to forsake all confidence in human merits and accomplishments. That includes me and my accomplishments! Perhaps Malcolm Muggeridge put it best. In a sermon delivered at Queen's Cross Church, Aberdeen, on May 26, 1968, he uttered these unforgettable words:

I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets -- that's fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue -- that's success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions -- that's pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time --  that's fulfillment.

Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing-less than nothing, a positive impediment-measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. What, I ask myself, does life hold, what is there in the works of time, in the past, now and to come, which could possibly be put in the balance against the refreshment of drinking that water?

Thank God for that living water. I don't know about you, but I couldn't make it through a single day without it.

Monday, October 26

10:31 PM Yikes! The Holy Grail has been discovered!

5:44 PM Hey, check this out. Becky's been cleaning her old pots and whatnot and look at what she discovered not 20 minutes ago.

We bought this pot at Petersplatz in Basel, Switzerland during our student days there. It is engraved with the Roman numerals "MDCC." The best I can figure that means 1700. I bet they slurped from it Basler Mehlsuppe too, the famous "carnival flour soup" of the city. That is some yummy stuff.

Ya never what you'll discover when ya dust off old pots, eh?

5:26 PM Right now I'm feeling very grateful:

  • I'm grateful for cows. I love cows.

  • I'm grateful that Nate just moved the cows to another pasture.

  • I'm grateful that we have another pasture to move the cows to.

  • I'm grateful I have an indentured servant -- er -- son who loves farming.

  • I'm grateful for the brownies Becky made for Greek class tonight.

  • I'm grateful that Becky is feeling up to baking.

  • I'm grateful that brownies will be in heaven.

  • I'm grateful for my Greek class tonight.

  • I'm grateful for the Greek language.

  • I'm grateful that Greek will be the language of heaven (along with German, French, Amharic, etc.).

  • I'm grateful for this silly blog that allows me to tell everybody what I'm grateful for even if they don't care.

4:57 PM I see that Andy Bowden loves animals as much as I do. He also likes to draw spiritual lessons from them, as he does in his latest essay: No pit too deep.

By the way, welcome to the wide wide world of blogging, Andy.  

3:59 PM Here's one good reason to move to Tibet. (Other than the climate of course.)

1:57 PM Becky just got off the phone (land line) with Oshe down in Soyama. There's much I could report, but for now I'll offer a praise and a prayer request:

1) Praise God for the first cell tower in Soyama, Burji. Lord willing we'll be able to use our mobile phones there in the near future, especially between the clinic and our ambulance. And to think that when Becky and I first went there in 2004 there wasn't even electricity in the entire Burji district.  

2) Now here's an urgent prayer request. The leaders of the Guji churches are, as I type, moving into the areas of unrest to try and calm the situation between the Gujis and Burjis. Thank God for their courage, and may their efforts reap a harvest of peace.

12:46 PM Once again my inbox is overflowing with appeals to support this or that ecclesiastical effort seeking the reformation of American society. "The church reformed is always reforming." I can't for the life of me understand how we can come to that conclusion by looking at the Scriptures. Experience has shown that the church never reforms itself. Each time the church has taken a radical step forward it is because it has been grasped again by the Word of God. All of our reforms are futile and will inevitably fail.

I have tried to make this clear in my forthcoming book (Christian Archy), and not necessarily in an agreeable or pious fashion. Church reformation begins and ends with an explosion originating with God. The battle is waged entirely upon our knees. I insist on this, because the Gospel insists on this. The Gospel forces us to admit that our organizations and institutions and ethics, no matter how honest and scrupulous they may be, are incompatible with the kingdom of God. I am not therefore even faintly interested in "taking America back for God" schemes of any kind. I have seen the prayers of an old woman account for more than all the misguided efforts at political agitation that solve nothing. I refuse to be a laudator temporis acti simply because I believe that a cosmic lever is needed to change anything. If we fail to see this, we will become just another Martin Heidegger seduced by Nazism or another U.S. citizen who has succumbed to the myth of American exceptionalism.

9:58 AM Heads-up: In Wednesday's New Testament Theology class our guest speaker will be SEBTS's own Nathan Finn, who will be lecturing on the implications of Paul's teaching about Christian unity in Philippians to current Southern Baptist life. All are cordially invited to attend. Nathan's lecture will begin at 2:00 pm sharp. Please email me if you are planning on coming to hear Nathan.

9:46 AM I am so jazzed. Tonight in our Greek class we will begin translating 1 John. This is the long-awaited payoff for all the sweat and tears of the past 7 months. (The students worked hard too -- LOL!) Once we learn the subjunctive and imperative moods it will be "smooth sailing." Hardly. Our work in the text is only just beginning. But a start it is, and I couldn't be more excited. My heartiest congratulations to all of you who endured to the end. One race has ended, another has just begun. You done good.

9:30 AM This Thursday Becky and I will have the privilege of speaking 4 times at Cresset Christian Academy in Durham. Our topic? Ethiopia of course. Thank God for missions-minded Christian schools!

9:23 AM What does fire fighting have to do with discipleship? Much in every way. Have you ever heard of a fire fighter "trainee"?

In New Testament times a trainee was called a disciple. Now, when we speak of disciples, we normally think of the Twelve or the Seventy whom Jesus sent out. But the New Testament mentions the word in a much broader context than that. Moses had his disciples (John 9:28), as did John the Baptist (Matt 9:14) and the Pharisees (Matt. 22:15-16). Discipleship abounded in both the Greek and Jewish worlds.

And who were disciples other than groups of trainees who sought to understand their teacher's ways? At the heart of discipleship was a diligent application of the truth. Knowledge was never enough. Jesus told the Jews who had believed on Him, "You are My disciples -- if you hold fast to My teaching and live in accordance with them" (John 8:31). A disciple is not like a Ph.D. student facing an oral exam. No, the disciple was to become like his teacher (Luke 6:40). The branch was expected to bear the same fruit as the tree. A fire fighter trainee is not someone who simply acquires knowledge but someone who is expected to apply that knowledge diligently on the job.

The point is that discipleship is hard work. And it involves lots of training. But the reward comes from the doing and not merely from the talking or the discussing or the preparation. As a volunteer fire fighter for 4 years, I think I can understand the difference between being a student of the Word and being a trainee for service.

8:21 AM I've had to make some U-turns in my life but nothing like these Northwest airlines pilots had to make when they overshot their runway by 150 miles.

Incidentally, studies show that short routes are more stressful than longer flights and cause more fatigue issues. That may explain a lack of alertness, but a 150-mile overshoot?

8:05 AM Over at The American Interest Online, James Kurth has written a piece called Pillars of the Next American Century. There's a lot to chew on here, but especially the comparison the author draws between the U.S. and China -- the world's next global power. And how exactly does China propose to become the dominant player on the international chess board? By a new "New Deal," argues Kurth:

Like FDR's New Deal, the Chinese version centers on large-scale spending on big infrastructure projects like highways, railroads, bridges, dams, rural electrification and public buildings. These infrastructure projects not only provide steady markets and continuing employment for such basic industries as steel, cement, heavy machinery and construction; they also bring long-term productivity gains to the national economy. In contrast to both the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s and the Chinese government today, the Obama Administration is spending little on new infrastructure.

This strategy is not only brilliant -- it works. I've seen it in Ethiopia. Unlike the U.S., China does not pump millions of dollars of free aid into that nation's sick economy. Instead, it enters contractual (and well-paying) agreements with the Ethiopian government to essentially build the nation's entire infrastructure, from roads and highways to hydro-electric projects. This may be one reason the government of Prime Minister Meles is moving further away from the American orbit and toward its communist business partner. What consequences that move may have for those of us who work in Ethiopia as volunteers remains to be seen. But you have to admire the Chinese for their good, old-fashioned "American" savvy.

Read Kurth's piece if you want to understand why Chinese capitalism is working and ours is failing (and is fast fading from the international scene).

Below: The highway between Gondar and Bahir Dar in northern Ethiopia. I snapped this picture in the summer of 2008. Two years before, this was nothing but a gravel/dirt road. The Chinese are not only good at highway construction but quick.

Sunday, October 25

9:30 PM Ran across this quote today:

Sprachlernen ohne Arbeit ist night möglich.

Now that's an understatement.

9:22 PM Here's a hat Becky was given by my Greek class at Bethel Hill. I think it fits Nolan perfectly. And no, we haven't converted to Rastafarianism.

7:52 PM We heard today that the Burjis and Gujis are fighting again: 1 dead, 4 wounded. No further details are available at this time. What a tragic waste. Jesus had a lot of harsh things to say about inordinate allegiance to family and tribe. And only He can bring lasting peace to southern Ethiopia. Please pray with me that the church will remain strong in the midst of such barbarism.

Below: Meeting with believers during my first trek among the Gujis in June, 2008 (their winter).

The meeting place where I met with the church. I am praying fervently to God that I will be able to revisit Gujiland next July.

4:27 PM Just back from watering the cows. Three of them are so big I think they're going to pop. Right now I'm starving. Saving my appetite for supper -- liver and onions.

3:53 PM Highland Theological College announces an opening in New Testament.

3:24 PM I'm led to make a brief follow-up comment to the essay I published earlier today on leadership. If you are indeed the "senior pastor" of your church but prefer to preserve that title for Jesus, what should you call yourself? How about:

Servant Pastor

This would also work for the title "lead pastor." After all, leaders are to be servants, right? What a message that would send to your congregation!

3:12 PM It may not be spring time, but we've got the house cleaning bug. Becky's been deep cleaning the kitchen and dining room, while I've been working on my closet, book shelves, and dresser drawers. I didn't know I was such a huge pack rat. Like son like father, I guess.

2:56 PM Speaking of the church:

Congregations must no longer follow an introverted, self-serving agenda. Our priority must be to become the King's servants in the world. Local congregations must begin to see themselves as satellite offices of the kingdom of God.

Source: Christian Archy.

2:50 PM In the latest edition of his "Scripture...As We Live It," Alan Knox raises the question of the nature of the church -- the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church -- though few of us would confess that she actually exists. The word church means "my" church to so many of us.

And the focal point of our consciousness is often what we call our denomination. None of this has anything to do, of course, with the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth. I rejoice that brother Alan rightly regards the church as more than his own fellowship in Wake Forest. We are one family in Christ, the only "Christian nation," and all believing members are not only mutuality linked together but are equipped for full participation in the Gospel ministry. "The Gospel ministry" -- ah, if we could only accept the full implications of that mandate in our churches, I dare say we would no longer elevate our little circle of faith above the one across town. 

9:17 AM A rose is not just a rose -- not when it's from your very own rose garden at Rosewood Farm.

9:08 AM Becky has decided she needs to stay home from church today. Her immunity levels are just too low to risk getting the flu from someone. I'll stay with her and work on my chapel message.

8:59 AM Jona Lendering reviews W. A. Simmons' Peoples of the New Testament World.

8:45 AM The latest addition to our home page is called What the Jesus Freaks Got Right.

8:05 AM The ideal surfboard:

8:02 AM Once again, I find that Allan Bevere and I are on the same wave-length.

7:58 AM Another good reason to blog: Most publishers will send you a gratis copy of their books if you will agree to post a review. Ph.D. students take heed.

7:47 AM So what's next on my intellectual book shelf? It's called:

Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk

I've already begun writing it in fact. I view it as a synopsis of my current thinking about theology and ethics. I hope I'm up to the challenge. Please pray for  me as I try to tackle this daunting project. Thank you.  

7:22 AM The desire for fame seems to be ballooning these days. How far would go to achieve it? The Heenes are not as untypical as we might imagine.

Paul said, "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). Christians have no need to play act, pretending to be what they aren't. Paul was what he was. I can be myself without simulation or hypocrisy. I can accept myself too, with all my shortcomings and foibles. I don't need to play "Christian." I also don't need to play "perfect." What would happen if you could wear glasses that would allow you to see me, not as I appear, but as I really am in my heart? That, of course, is impossible. But it is possible for you to test my works. Jesus said people would know we are His disciples if we love one another. Not if we look pious on Sunday. Not if we loudly defend our theology. We are to love the souls of men and women.

The truly great do not always enjoy 20 minutes of fame, but wherever they are there's a lot of good, old-fashioned love and kindness.  

Saturday, October 24

8:34 PM I've asked Nate to describe the following pix. But before he starts I just want to say how much I enjoy working with him on old buildings. I know that many of you who read this blog share our love for all things antebellum, so I will plan on updating this project frequently. With that introduction, here's Nate....

Well, here's the latest project at our house. We have been planning to re-do the kitchen for quite some time, but have been "sidetracked" on various other projects. I knew that the kitchen floor was in bad condition due to past termite damage and "remodeling," and we were thinking of redesigning the area to function better as a kitchen. What I didn't know was the extent of that damage and how the frame had been cut up and walls moved compromising the strength of the structure. This part of the house is 16 ft wide and 30 ft long, with about 20 ft being circa 1820 and about 10 ft circa 1890 (the old room was originally separated from the front section of the house by a breezeway that was enclosed during the first remodeling about 1890). The original room consisted of a door and a window on each side with the chimney at one end and a corner "winder" stair at the other going up to a sleeping loft space. Original interior finish was plaster on hand-split lath and a wide board wainscoting with chair rail (a baseboard, then a wide +/- 20" board, then a chair rail, then plaster to the ceiling). This section is framed with hand-hewn beams that are about 4" x 10" and the sills are 12" x 10". All the joints are mortise and tenon and pegged through with wooden pegs. 

The first remodeling took place about 1980 when the original finish was removed and the staircase taken out (no need for it as there was a stair in the front hall too). Then the breezeway was walled in and the partition walls were shifted, making a small hallway and two rooms. The walls were covered with narrow 3-4 inch wide boards as was the fashion about that time. Later, about 1955, when electricity was first run in this area and indoor wiring and plumbing was added, the interior partitions were moved again, creating a kitchen and dining room (remember the kitchen was out in the yard until this time) as well as a bathroom. The narrow boards were covered with sheetrock as had become popular by that time. Structural issues were ignored for the most part, as doors and windows were cut wherever they were desired and walls were moved with no regard for bracing or stability (from side to side there is only one brace left in its original place; all the others were in walls that had been moved or had been cut through in adding doorways or windows!). If you look you can tell that the walls are leaning in one direction due to lack of bracing.

In this picture you can see the kitchen as it was built about 1955. The sink was in the middle under the window, the stove was on the left of it (out of sight in this pic), and the water heater was on the right side of the sink. The fireplace had been closed up when we moved here but I removed the brick filling and put a wood heater in the original fireplace for heating. I think this is the original mantel circa 1820, or an early replacement.  

In this pic the kitchen is on the right, and the dining room on the left.  We have already removed the sheetrock in the dining room. Dad is taking down some shelves on the wall in preparation for removing this added wall.

Isn't demolition such great fun? Look closely at the studs on the left end of the wall. All the studs on this wall are level but because the exterior wall on the left was leaning (due to removed braces) the last stud had to be placed at an angle. The wall is leaning about 4" from bottom to top. 

Removing the 1890 boards on the wall. Original blue-green paint!   

Careful, it may be hot!  

And bye-bye to the sheetrock in the kitchen!

Making some headway. Right behind where I'm standing you can see where a door had been added, severing the original down-brace keeping that wall from racking. The door was covered over in 1955 when the cabinets and sheetrock were added. That wall leans about 4" to the right.

In an old house, one thing leads to another. While we were doing the kitchen, Jessica commented that she would sure like to have a little larger bathroom. Well, what better time to do it than while we're doing the kitchen? Here you can see the old bathroom that was added in the breezeway.  The siding on the left wall is the original exterior siding on the front part of the house before it was connected to the back section.  

The bathroom also had boards behind the sheetrock. The tile around the tub had been glued straight to the sheetrock and water had been seeping behind the time, rotting out the base of the wall.     

What a pile of debris! Actually, other than the sheetrock and rotted/termite eaten wood, I'll stack the rest of the boards for reuse somewhere.

Stay tuned for further updates as the project continues.    

4:45 PM I just spent 4 grueling hours working with Nathan on his remodeling job. I'll post some pictures later. Right now I've got to cook supper. I'm tired, but it's a good tired, if you know what I mean.

4:37 PM Many thanks to Jim West for his kind words about my latest book.

12:18 PM Two brief notes for the Rondeaus:

1) Happy 31st Birthday, Matthew. Hope you enjoy the song we left on your answering machine.

2) Liz, if you can believe it, the balloon you got for mom after her surgery is still flying high. It even plays its crazy song. "Don't worry, Be happy!" Thought you'd like to know.

Hope you guys get over that nasty flu soon. Love to all five of you,

Mama B and Papa B

11:20 AM And the winner to our "Name the Face" contest (see Wednesday, Oct 21, 6:55 pm) is ....

Rachel from Raleigh

She had a tough time with Helmut Schmidt, but that's par for the course. I'll get the book to you ASAP, Rachel. It's the perfect cure for insomnia.

11:08 AM Nate just arrived with his tools to do work on our electrical system, so that means I have a few more minutes to type before we resume work on his kitchen. So what's on my mind this very moment?

Seats.

This old world offers a lot of top seats -- you know, the kind that Jesus talked about, such as the chief seats in the synagogue. Today we don't even blush when we rise to take these elevated chairs, the self-promoters we are. Jesus said, "Take the higher seats and you'll get demoted real quick." Now, think for a moment about the seating arrangements in your church building. We have pews for the passive and platforms for the prominent. I like neither. Jesus wants His followers to serve, not sit. We are so accustomed to tradition that we cannot see the application of Jesus' teaching to our own "chief seats in the synagogue." I once heard a preacher call them "electric chairs." Stiff. Upright. Often gaudy. Thrones, if you will. And about 18 inches above contradiction.

Pastor friend, have you even thought about sitting with the saints and speaking from among them, as the old Anabaptists did? It is amazing how the ordinants would be shocked and the people delighted if you did. "Look, he's one of us!" they might exclaim. Personally, I find it awfully tiresome to perch on a podium. As a guest speaker in many churches, I am usually granted permission to sit with the folk and preach from the floor -- if I ask politely.

Are we so in love with our stages that we are unwilling to obey Paul's injunction in Rom. 12:16? You may be surprised at how little evidence there is in the New Testament for our pulpits and platforms. And even less for our pride.

Incidentally, in Norway there's a mountain outcropping that is actually called
"Preachers Chair" (Preskestolen). Tourists flock to it. But it's a very dangerous place. The drop is a thousand meters straight down.

Think about it.

10:11 AM More wisdom from the Country Parson.

9:58 AM Benny Hinn's statement that all he wants to do is live for the Gospel continues to attract ink. Read the latest for yourself over at ABC News.

9:43 AM Writing two essays today: "What the Jesus Freaks Got Right" and "Lead Us Not Into Obfuscation." The one has to do with loving Jesus over institutions and programs, the other with naturalness in Bible translation. Writing is like maintaining a relationship. You get the joy of discovering and getting to know yourself, what makes you tick, what's truly important to you. I find it never boring.

9:19 AM The inanity of Twitter astonishes me.

Why use Twitter when you can write inane things on your blog?

9:10 AM Make sure you read this piece over at PBS: Interview: Col. Andrew Bacevich (Ret.). Bacevich isn't exactly lukewarm:

Can anybody possibly believe that the United States of America, ... facing a federal budget deficit of $1.8 trillion, ... has the resources necessary to conduct a global counterinsurgency campaign? Over what? The next 20, 50, 80 years? I think [there] is something so preposterous about such proposals. I just find it baffling that they are treated with seriousness by supposedly serious people.

8:59 AM Speaking of rain, this blessed my socks off:

As I write ... [t]he rain is falling gently...washing the dust & grime from the earth, satisfying thirsty plants, refreshing animals, cleaning the air.

Reminds me of the Father's Love for us. It is His Love that cleans the grime of our souls, that satisfies our inner thirst, that refreshes our spirit, that renews the breath of life within us.

The last rain I experienced was in Texas. It had been raining for hours before we even noticed! The large brick house and the composite roof insulated us.

But here on the farm, our home is clapboard and the roof is tin. The windows are large, and we delight to look outside.

How much these 2 houses are like us people. What is your "housing" like today? Are you wrapped up in thick insulation, so that you don't even know His Love is flowing down all around you? Or are you connected to the world around you, so that you readily see His Hand?

Source: BHBC Blog.

8:50 AM A light rain has been falling since early this morning. Much needed too. I think of the words of Paul: "God blesses the earth by allowing rain to fall on it often. It produces useful crops for farmers" (Heb. 6:7). Amen to that!

8:47 AM Wise counsel from a fellow professor:

8:43 AM I was deeply affected by a conversation I had with a student this week. He said he was experiencing some anxiety about his desire to take certain steps of obedience that he felt would be costly. He had discovered that his convictions went against the grain of cultural Christianity. What was he to do?

Paul declared in 1 Cor. 4:1-5 that he did not judge himself. He was not living for man's "day" (Greek hemera) but for God's day. Even though Paul could be accommodating to the situations he found himself in (1 Cor. 9:19-23), he neither feared nor valued the appraisal of humans. He would await the verdict of God. What a great way to live!

Discipleship is always costly. Obedience may cost us fame, fortune, and even our families. But if we believe the Gospel, we must also trust the Christ of the Gospel. We must get our eyes off ourselves and begin "off-looking" (so the Greek) to Jesus (Heb. 12:2). It is uncomfortably true that it is easier to produce Pharisees than Christians. It is easier to get people to blindly conform than to get them to obey the leading of the Spirit and the teaching of Scripture.

I asked the student, "What reward are you working for?" The hypocrites of Jesus' day sought the praise of others, and that was the reward they got. But those who seek the approval of God will receive it -- maybe not today, but it will come.

Friend, you must do, and speak, and write, and blog as the Lord Jesus directs you. Others may oppose you. You may receive unkind emails. But do it you must. Do it graciously, but do it boldly. Do it motivated solely by love and you will discover that love casts out all fear.

8:34 AM This is way too cool: a downloadable version (.pdf) of Exploring the German Language. I found the link over at Nick Norelli's blog. Thanks, Nick, for the heads up. I'm passing the word to all of my doctoral students. 

UPDATE: Nick informs me that  because of possible copyright issues he has removed the link from his blog and asked me to do the same. I'm happy to comply.

8:30 AM And I thought our Shelties were silly.

Friday, October 23

8:27 PM Right now Becky's on the phone with her mom and dad in Texas. She sounds really really good. She spent around 3 hours with her friend in Clarkesville ("our fair city") today. We're definitely over the hump, around the corner, on the rebound, etc. All praise to God. I'm sitting here nursing a sore back but it's nothing a few Ibuprofen can't handle. Time to get out a good book and gell. See you tomorrow.

6:23 PM Know what's on my mind this evening? Our trip to Ethiopia next July. This time we plan to take teams to Burji and Alaba -- about 25 people in all. We LOVE taking people with us. What makes each trip so special? The hundreds of people served? The decisions for Christ? The smiles on the children's faces when they see a white-faced foreigner loving on them? Sure, all that is a huge part of it. But ultimately what makes these trips so special is the joy of watching the Spirit of God working in and through simple, ordinary believers.

Our first orientation meeting for our July trip is Nov. 21. As the weeks go by Bec and I will get busier and busier. To be honest, the greatest bulk of the work falls on Becky's shoulders, not mine. Try tackling that job when you're also fighting a disease. We need to pray a special prayer for Becky. We need to ask God to do for her what in our wildest dreams we would never imagine. She will need all the supernatural strength she can get for the task ahead.

Sorry -- I'm getting mushy again. Anyway, I'm praying that God would help B. and me to be faithful during these crazy days in which we live. After all, discipleship is simply moment-by-moment obedience as Jesus enables us to live for Him.

Below: Miss Stacey samples Ethiopian food for the first time.

Our 4 orientations are like a mini-course in missions. We study Ethiopian culture, history, religion, customs, and language, and we get to know the local churches with which we will be working. But the most important preparation is spiritual. With our July team we will be studying the Gospel of John and the subject of love. Each team member will be required to memorize a lengthy passage and be prepared to recite it when we arrive in Africa. It's a lot of work, but it pays dearly once we arrive in country.

5:56 PM Joel Watts is discussing the warning passage in Heb. 6:1-8. Chime in.

4:36 PM I love the farm. In a hurrying, noisy, neurotic world, I enjoy its quietness and serenity. A perfect world it is not. There's hard work aplenty, and you see death here more than you do in the city. Still, the cycle of life on a farm is a wonder to behold. This afternoon we mucked manure, took hay out to the steers on the back 40, picked up firewood for Nate and Jessie's hungry fireplaces (I rescued a turtle on the way there), admired the fall foliage, and just enjoyed life. I'm thanking God for a pleasant and productive day. But boy do I ache.

Photos (of course):

12:50 PM Is writing therapeutic? So says this author. The bigger question is this: Should journaling be kept private? I don't think so, but I have mixed feelings about it. Anyhoo, I wish Jean and her memoir well.

12:32 PM Adam Darnell thinks he knows the antidote to atheism. And he's right, of course.

12:21 PM Just returned from a trash run. The rest of the day I'm helping Nathan remodel his kitchen. We've already knocked out a wall and removed the sheet rock. Right now I'm making Saimin soup and tuna fish sandwiches for lunch. Becky's gone out to eat with a girl friend. That's so neat. I'm glad she's feeling well enough to get up and about.

10:12 AM Did I read somewhere that Dr. Jim is taking a sabbatical from blogging? Yeah right. Just look at his output today. Jim is too good a blogger to throttle back. And he knows it.

I am a blogging enthusiast. That's why I blog so much. It turns my whole life sunny side up. Even when I'm down. You see, the reason bloggers don't blog is because they aren't really bloggers. Simple as that.

Jim is a blogger. He's hooked. No, he's gifted. And, if pressed into a corner, I dare say he'd give all the credit to Another.

9:49 AM Nate and Jess just showed up. I asked Nate was his plans were for the day. "Get some coffee," he replied. Ah, a man after my own heart -- can't think without caffeine.

9:44 AM The Lord has given Becky another powerful essay. It is a testimony to the grace of God in her life. She's calling it Living in Denial: Cancer and Romans.

Meanwhile, I am pleading the promise in Matt 18:19: "If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you." What a joy to know that we can always pour our heart out before the Lord. Then we must have the faith to believe that He will give us according to our need.

At any rate, read Becky's essay. I think you'll be glad you did.

8:47 AM I'm glad to link to yet another outstanding post over at Arthur Sido's site: Multi-Site Churches taken to their logical extreme. With oozing sarcasm Arthur writes:

For most Christians in traditional churches on a Sunday morning, they are primarily sitting and watching. Does it really matter if they are watching a guy in-person on stage or Mark Dever on a video feed? I think taking the traditional model of evangelical church life to a logical extreme, why not do this? Just think, we could take up the offering and put it into the bank and then the central church could sweep the money into one big account and distribute it. That is how mormons do it. Instead of squabbling about carpet colors at the local level, let a regional super senior pastor figure it out. For those of us who are Reformed, we could break it down regionally. Albert Mohler could get the south, MacArthur everything west of the Mississippi, Piper the Midwest and Northeast and Dever could run the east coast. We could appoint under-under shepherds in smaller areas, Steve Lawson in Alabama, Kevin DeYoung in Michigan, etc. No more boring, wandering sermons. No more butchering of “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.

Arthur mentions the Mormons. I suppose we could add the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. It is partly because of our incurable anthropocentrism that so many evangelicals have taken to the Canterbury trail. The pulpit is never central in the New Testament. Christ is.

8:32 AM Becky just sent out an email to several dozen Bible institutes and colleges outside the U.S. about our Greek DVD series.

The Lord Jesus allowed us to produce this series during a 6-week course I taught in Addis Ababa. I wanted to stress here that the original purpose of producing the DVDs was to help students learn Greek in places where such instruction might not otherwise be available. So if you know of a Bible school or Christian ministry in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, etc. that might be interested in using them, please let us know. Thank you. 

8:08 AM Yesterday I gave four examples of what I thought a good leader looks like. Here's another implication of leadership we often ignore: Since ministry is a matter of function and not of status, we would do well to allow various gifted teachers to do the formal teaching in our churches. If I understand Eph. 4:11-12 correctly, all pastors are to be teachers, but not all teachers are necessarily pastors. A good spiritual leader, as I have said before, delights in setting people free to use their gifts for the good of the Body. This means that the regular pastor-teacher may have to yield to other gifted teachers. You say, "But they can't teach as well as I can." All the more reason to allow them an opportunity to hone their skills in the crucible of teaching. According to 1 Tim. 3:2, all elders are to have the gift of teaching, and it would be very healthy to allow them to share the burden. Members of your congregation may well be shocked to find their regular pastor-teacher sitting down while another gifted teacher gives the formal instruction that day, but what a message that would send about every-member ministry. It is unfortunately so radical a concept that it may take time to become accepted. I was delighted to see in our congregation a gifted teacher in our church filling the pulpit when our pastor was away recently. How glad I was that we didn't go outside our Body and bring in a guest speaker. There was no need for it; we have several excellent teachers in our midst.

Such a teaching model is rare, but it need not be. It can happen in any congregation.

7:45 AM Prompted by news that Iran has agreed in principle to ship its enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment, Justin Raimondo takes up his analytical pen with excellent effect in Our Two-faced Iran Policy. He opines:

In any case, we are walking a tightrope in simultaneously engaging with, and terrorizing, the Iranians: one misstep, and we are likely to fall into yet another Middle Eastern quagmire, one we will no doubt come to regret.

War, as Raimondo notes, is almost inevitable-- with nary a protest from the peace movement.

Thursday, October 22

8:38 PM Hooray for Eric, who just bought one of those despised "ponies" to help him read his Greek New Testament. Glad he didn't listen to those who are telling us to burn our learning aids.

Oh, if you are someone who is planning on burning your interlinear, please send it to me instead. I know some people who could benefit from it.

7:31 PM Tonight we enjoyed a wonderful supper provided by one of my students. Thank you, Miss Cari, for your thoughtfulness. The food was excellent! 

5:18 PM The First Lady was hula-hooping on the south lawn of the White House yesterday. Mrs. Obama was holding a health fair with cooking demonstrations and exercise stations, all to promote healthy living.
 

Sure, it was a publicity stunt. But I'm all for raising awareness about the problem of obesity in these here United States. In North Carolina, if you are enrolled in a state health insurance plan, your insurance premiums can go up if you are obese (see this report). Good old southern cooking and Krispy Kreme donuts have made North Carolina the 12th fattest state in the Union. The prevalence of fast food doesn't help.

Yesterday I knocked on the office door of one of my colleagues and found him doing push ups. Good for him. Isn't our weight a matter of stewardship before God every bit as much as our finances?

4:58 PM Look at this map of Ethiopia, just published at the BBC

We have a responsibility, friends, toward our suffering brothers and sisters in Ethiopia. We cannot escape it. We cannot shake it off. We do not have the luxury of saying, "It is their problem and not mine." Privilege and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. Christians in the developing world have a desire for help from American believers provided that such helpers come, like their Master, with a desire "not to be served, but to serve." Praise the Lord for those who have sent us money to buy protein bars for our emaciated evangelists. Praise God for those who are supporting our health clinic in Burji, where basic care and medical supplies are furnished in the name of the Lord Jesus. Whenever I am tempted to doubt the faithfulness of the Lord, all I have to do is think about such people. I can rise from knees in full confidence that He hears my prayers on behalf of the suffering and the starving. My hope is in God, and He will provide.

Below: An elderly man awaits his turn at the Galana clinic. Although his name and village are unknown to me, he is as much loved by God as I am. Today over a thousand people come to the clinic for help monthly. Glory be to God.

For more on the food crisis in Ethiopia, go here.

12:22 PM Farm Update: Came inside to take a break and grab a cup of coffee. Our project du jour is priming our porch deck boards (both sides). There are several hundred to do, so it's a long term project. The Lord Jesus has created a beautiful day for working outdoors.

Nate and Jess are in Stovall (NC) working on an antebellum house that needs some fixin' up. Of course, all 5 dogs are up at our house loafing --  when they're not chasing butterflies or barking at birds. You gotta love it.

9:25 AM You'll find some hot intellectual action here: Tim Keller on Preaching. A taste:

I am sorry to have to say this and sorry to hurt some pastors ears but again, there is more to the pastoral ministry and church life than just the preaching – there is the ministering of the ordinances, there is pastoral care and nurture, shepherding, leadership issues, and so on and on and on.   And in the end what does all this do?  Make you a better preacher.  Why?  Because you’ve been interacting with people, dealing with daily life issues and problems and successes and so on.

9:17 AM I find this essay by Johann Hari to be as percipient a discussion of the topic as we're likely to see from The Independent: The three fallacies that have driven the war in Afghanistan. He opens:

Obama has to decide now whether to side with the American people and the Afghan people calling for a rapid reduction in US force, or with a small military clique demanding a ramping-up of the conflict.

Mr. Obama is indeed at a vital crossroads. He faces a crisis that he has brought upon himself, and the nation. What he will do is anyone's guess at this point. Hari concludes:

The President is expected any day now to announce his decision about the future of the war in Afghanistan. He knows US and British troops have now been stationed in the hell-mouth of Helmand longer than the First and Second World Wars combined – yet the mutterings from the marble halls of Washington DC suggest he may order a troop escalation.

9:12 AM Okay, okay, I've been writing a lot these days about leadership in the church, and you'll probably quit reading when I say I'm going to offer my thoughts on what a good leader looks like. But here goes anyhoo:

1) Leaders should be enablers. Their task is to equip and empower others for works of service (Eph. 4:11). Their ministry does not center around themselves or their pulpits.

2) Leaders should be examples. That is the clear meaning of Heb. 13:7 and (I am certain) of Heb. 13:17 as well. They realize that Christian education is essentially likeness education (Luke 6:40). Like father like son, like pulpit like pew.

3) Leaders should be able to teach. In Ethiopia, this function is frequently delegated to an "evangelist" who is brought in from the outside. The New Testament teaches that all elders are local, and that each of them must be able to teach. Again, teaching is done not only by words. But regular instruction in the Word of God remains one of the most fundamental essentials of Christian leadership. (P.S. Teaching doesn't necessarily mean a well-crafted 30 minute homily. Why not step aside from the sacred desk and allow some interaction as you teach, or at least a Q & A session?)

4) Leaders should be able to oversee and serve. This means they need to genuinely care for others. It begins with postnatal care. New believers must be helped to read the Bible. They must be given opportunities to discover their spiritual gifts. They must become a living part of the Body, not just a number or pew sitter. They need to be given chances to share differences and doubts. Good leadership is never threatened by intelligent followership.  

My heart is to help the Ethiopian church to raise up such leaders in their congregations. See how totally pathetic I am. I just can't get missions off my mind.

8:55 AM Drat! Even when he's on vacation Alan Knox keeps on posting articles that I just have to link to. Here he continues his series on church life -- and I mean church life as you may have never thought of it before. I know, external form is not everything, but it is something. Take a peak at his essay and see how you might use it as fodder in your own spiritual pilgrimage.

8:43 AM Quote of the day (Zach Kennedy): 

We never graduate from the gospel. If we don’t feel a passion for it, we need to keep reminding ourselves of it.

Wednesday, October 21

8:44 PM Check out this "mini-review" of one of yours truly's tomes.

8:10 PM "The Gospel brings unity where disunity was before." This was the main theme of our guest lecture today in New Testament Theology class as we studied Paul's teaching about marriage in Colossians and Ephesians. My colleague Tracy McKenzie did a phenomenal job of walking us through the salient texts and rooting them in the teaching of Genesis 2-3.

I had never noticed before how Paul's discussion in Ephesians 5 climaxes in his quote from Gen 2:24, where he says that a husband and his wife are glued together in a binding and permanent relationship. So, if I follow Paul's train of thought correctly, he shows how a husband's love is (1) a sacrificial love (never a selfish love), (2) a purifying love (he helps his wife to be consecrated to the Lord), (3) a caring love (he is not to seek his own physical comfort, pleasure, etc. but hers instead), and -- perhaps most importantly -- (4) an unbreakable love. A husband would no more think of leaving his wife than he would consider tearing his own body apart. As Tracy said, Paul's arithmetic here is profound: 1 + 1 = 1. And the pattern, the exemplar for us, is the Godhead -- "I and the Father are one," said Jesus.

Becky and I are one. Jesus and His Body are one. Just as Jesus will never leave or forsake His Bride, so Becky should know -- she should really KNOW beyond the shadow of any doubt -- that I will never leave her or forsake her. Does your wife know this? Does mine? When you see the faults in your wife, you are to keep on loving and forgiving her. Even should she be as unfaithful as Gomer, you should still keep on loving her, realizing that she has not offended you a fraction of how much you have offended God.

Talk about "love"! Talk about raising the bar! All of this teaches us an important truth about the Christian life, and that is that the Christian life is first and foremost about relationships -- my relationship with the Lord, and my relationship with others. Once we men learn how to enjoy that kind of fellowship with our wives, show them that kind of love, and bear each others burdens in such a sympathetic way, will we be fulfilling our vocation as husbands.

Incidentally, I took several pages of notes during Tracy's lecture, including this one:

I just love being a student of the Word!

7:22 PM Speaking of books, Christian Archy is now available for preorder at Amazon.

7:15 PM Doug Chaplin has given birth to his first book. Heartiest congratulations, Doug. I remember the feeling well, and it is exciting.

7:10 PM Finally, some good news about evangelicalism: Soul-searching evangelicals look to nonpolitical future.

7:02 PM Recent openings:

6:55 PM Fellow bloggers! Announcing the "Face-Naming Contest" of the century. Go here and see if you can identify the faces of the portraits hanging on my office wall. Here's a sample:

The first person to get all 9 names correct will win an autographed copy of The Jesus Paradigm. There's one catch, however. You will have to agree to write a brief summary of the book on your blog. You say, "I don't have a blog." Well, why not begin one today?

Email your answers to dblack@sebts.edu.

One more thing: No fair right-clicking on the picture to see the file name.

6:43 PM Becky, Becky, Becky. What am I going to do with you? Here you've been struggling with your chemo all day and I come home to find you cooking supper. And what a delicious meal it was -- stuffed cabbage (Greek style), fresh salmon (with lemon), and fruit compote. I don't deserve you, sweetheart, but I sure do love you.

Monday, October 19

9:35 PM Big news! Nolan has his first tooth. And get this -- he's wearing the clothing of a 12 month old. And he's only 4 months.

9:24 PM Saw my kooky dogs running after a butterfly today. They almost caught it too. Goes to show it isn't just people who enjoy a special relationship with pets.

9:20 PM Back from Greek class. My wonderful students gave me a book as an appreciation gift. Way too cool. Next week we begin translating the book of 1 John. What fun. Translation is where the rubber meets the road (or, as we said in California, where the chili meets the cheese).

12:24 PM If you're on lunch break and want something interesting to read, why not check out the Bethel Hill blog? Becky just updated it and it is good.

12:20 PM The back cover just went online. I'm still looking for the blue canary.

11:19 AM There will be Greek class tonight at The Hill. See you at 7:00 sharp.

10:54 AM Can you believe it? Becky is already organizing our trip to Ethiopia next July. We are taking upwards of 25 people with us this time. The Lord knew our work would need an organizer with a brain like a filing cabinet and one that can't say "can't." Our home office is the strategic base for service to Ethiopia and a habitation of love for that nation.

I want you to know that your prayers are being answered moment by moment in regards to Becky's illness. He continues to give grace and guidance. What more can we ask for? A poet once wrote that people everywhere need three things: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. God has graciously given Becky and me all three. I believe that God's overriding purpose for keeping Becky with us is so that we might continue our work of connecting churches in America with churches in Ethiopia and thereby motivate believers in both places to help establish His church where it does not yet exist.

Bec and I plan to continue our involvement among the Ethiopians for as long as we are needed and God continues to allow us the privilege. Whatever level of healing God brings, may He help us to understand what role He wants us to play in fulfilling His commission and grant us the blessing of doing it.

10:15 AM Allan Bevere has published his latest