August 2014 Blog Archives
Thursday, August 28
7:54 AM Jody Neufeld is writing a wonderful series on mourning. May I join the conversation for a moment?
Caught up in the crossfire of circumstances, we humans sometimes become as unpredictable as the weather. We suffer from a crippling disease: being a human. I have known discouragement – a life that Thomas Hobbes once referred to as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." So have you. I have also known elation. So have you. Most days I'm striving to find a balance between the two extremes. Life is a psychic infirmity brought on by the reality of the struggle between darkness and light, flesh and Spirit. So I'm always grateful when I read how Jesus had compassion on people experiencing this kind of distress. I imagine that I struggle where many of you struggle – being preoccupied with the things I've done (or failed to do) in the past. When I think of Becky going Home, I think How much better of a husband I could have been! How much better of a Christian I could have been! I run the film backwards, and misery ensues. Then I look into the face of the One who took the brunt of Martha's mocking words at the tomb of Lazarus: "Well, I see you finally made it. Don't you think it's a bit late to do anything about it now?” The Rabbi is not defensive. His face mirrors her own grief. The past is tragic, He seems to say. But there's hope. "I am the resurrection and the life."
Through all the vicissitudes of my life, I have discovered that the only answer to discouragement is hope. Hope made David get dressed and begin to act like a king again after his son died. Hope made Simon Peter a rock after he had denied his Lord. Life is impossible without hope. Yes, Jesus frustrates me. He will frustrate anybody who tries to live in the past. "It is finished," He says. "It’s all under the blood."
7:38 AM I get to spend the weekend with one of my all-time favorite Christian educators, my colleague Ken Coley, head of our Ed.D. program. As an educator myself, I am deeply concerned with what people think. But I am equally concerned with how people think. Unfortunately, due to the tragic condition of the American school system, most students are simply told what to think rather than being equipped with tools to think for themselves. This is not a time for evangelicals to ignore biblical truth. Still less is this a time for mindless conformity.
It is no longer possible to ignore the academic vacuum that exists at all levels in our churches. Even pastor-teachers fall prey to what I call educationism – the belief that one can't know anything unless one learns it from this or that "expert." Such an attitude actually produces a shallow conformism since it leads us to believe that we need others to tell us what to think. Many well-meaning friends once warned me about going to the University of Basel for my doctorate. "You'll lose your faith!" they exclaimed. Actually, one of the many reasons I ended up in Switzerland was to have my faith challenged. Thank God I came though still believing in unchanging standards of truth and goodness, but my point here is that students today seldom look for ways to have their beliefs challenged. When I was in college and seminary, I allowed my professors to dictate what the questions were and the method of approaching them. I was told that Mark was our earliest Gospel, that Paul could not have written Hebrews, that the Byzantine Text was secondary. I was rarely asked to look at the evidence for myself and make hard choices. What I sought and desired in school, but rarely found, was a map or a guide by which I could know what questions to ask.
Modern education in the U.S. has largely forsaken the scientific method of inquiry. The result has been unreflective rigidity. This inattention to discovery and heuristics is often a product of an anti-intellectual stream in our past. This is very unfortunate. I want my students to leave seminary with solid biblical convictions, of course, but I also want them to understand how one comes to know (epistemology) and to think (logic). Pedagogy matters. It matters because the systems that are opposed to biblical Christianity use logical arguments and philosophical methods. Michael Peterson, in his magisterial work Philosophy of Education (p. 83), writes:
In other words, if our business as Christians is to glorify God, then that includes glorifying Him with our minds. Whatever it takes, whatever it means, whatever happens to me, am I willing to obey His lordship over my thinking? Students, beware of the pedagogy that says, "You sit still while I instill." And to my fellow Christian educators I say: let us teach our students how to think and not only what to think.
7:34 AM Southern California has become a surfer's paradise. Just when you thought you'd seen it all, check out this footage of a guy shooting the pier at Malibu, shot from a drone:
Wednesday, August 27
6:38 PM This and that ...
1) Geoff Smith writes Wondering what to read before seminary? He also has a great post called The King James Bible, with reasons why you should read the KJV and why you should read other versions as well.
2) "I'm his master but his best friend as well." A lesson from the BBC about being a good pastor/shepherd.
3) Henry Neufeld has some thoughts about Voting in Local Elections.
4) Beautiful day on campus:
5) "The Bible was never intended to be a book for scholars and specialists only. From the very beginning its was intended to be everybody's book, and that is what it continues to be." F. F. Bruce.
7:45 AM "Missions is ravenous in its hunger to please God. It knows no other purpose for its existence. It lives for the single pleasure of hearing God say, 'Well done, good and faithful slave' (Mt 25:21). You have told the truth in a false world, you have turned the iron key of liberty in the steel door of hell, and the captives are freed (Lk 4:18)! For this liberation you have been called 'missionary.'" Calvin Miller.
7:22 AM "My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed." Anne Sullivan, referring to her student Helen Keller.
Tuesday, August 26
7:28 PM I know of several students who are beginning their seminary studies this fall. Believe me, your first semester is likely to be your most challenging. So, for what they are worth, here are seven tips for those just starting seminary:
1) Be prepared to work and to work hard. Seminary is usually harder than college. Much harder. The expectations are high, and the requirements heavy. So be prepared to learn self-discipline and good study habits as well as theology and missions.
2) Consider a reduced class load for your first semester. That is, instead of taking 15 hours, take 12 (or even 9). Allow yourself some time to get over the initial hump of adjusting to graduate studies. Four classes will keep you plenty busy.
3) Buy a day planner and use it. Don't ever wing it, schedule-wise. Be sure to write out your weekly assignments for each course you are taking, and then review your schedule frequently to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks. Know your due dates, and keep them.
4) Get to know your professors outside of the classroom. My office door is always open, and I would love to meet you in person, whether or not you are a first semester student. So take some time to become acquainted with your teachers. And then be sure to go to them during the semester with your questions.
5) Take the languages first. Yes, I recognize that Greek and Hebrew are not usually prerequisites for theology courses or even for NT and OT Introduction. But if your professor is anything like me, you will be hearing lots of Greek and Hebrew in even the most basic general ed classes, and the more of the discussion you can follow, the better.
6) Use the library. Get to know its ins and outs. Take a guided tour and then make use of its ample resources. Librarians are some of the most helpful people on any campus. They are eager and able to help you with your research. Use them.
7) Finally, take a mission trip at least once during the semester. I do, and it is a constant reminder to me that inflow requires outflow. After all, you are learning to serve other people, and the best learning is by doing. Your "mission trip" might be a visit to the local soup kitchen, or it may be to some faraway country. The "where" doesn't really matter.
Have a great semester!
5:18 AM More on Phil. 1:1-2....
Cooperation in the Gospel is essential if we are to reach the world for Christ. This is one reason why Paul writes to all the saints who are in Philippi (1:1). Philippians is fundamentally an appeal for Christian unity. It is organized in such a way as to allow Paul to address tactfully two women who had quarreled badly and were endangering the church's unity (4:2). It is because of the need to maintain the unity of the church that there arises in the very heart of the letter the great passage about selflessness and humility (2:1-11). Thus the words "to all the saints" (1:1) sets the tone of the whole letter.
The word "saints" here is not so much a reference to behavior or conduct as it is a reference to the Philippians' position "in Christ Jesus." Far from connoting otherworldly piety, it pictures a people who are set apart from all other people because of their commitment to follow and obey Christ. Believers in Jesus Christ are the "different ones" – different because they live in the sphere of eternity and in the encircling presence of God. They are, moreover, consecrated to Him because of their special relation to Jesus. Like Paul and Timothy, they too are bond-slave servants of Christ Jesus, set apart for a different and special function in life. This function is nothing less than full participation in the work of the Gospel (1:5). The Philippians had been drawn together by the grace of God, and when people are really touched by God's unmerited favor their hearts begin to beat with the pulse of Christ and their love begins to go out to the men and women for whom He died.
The Philippians lived, of course, in two spheres simultaneously: "in Christ" and "in Philippi." Christians must live out their sainthood in this world. But wherever they live in the world, and whatever outward circumstances they may face, they are always in Christ, enjoying His presence and purpose and power. My "Philippi" happens to be Southside Virginia. Yours is wherever you reside. My job happens to be teaching Greek. Yours is probably something quite different. But wherever we live and whatever we do, we can do it willingly and cheerfully, because we do all things as unto the Lord and in His presence -- and service.
When asked how he attained such great victories, Nelson said, "I had the happiness to command a band of brothers."
The church is a genuine church only when it has the quality of togetherness. The Philippian church was just such a church, a group of saints whose first concern was to put their Christianity into practical action for the sake of others. That this togetherness was in danger of being torn asunder did not prevent Paul from addressing his loving thoughts to all of them rather than to some of them or most of them.
Monday, August 25
7:12 PM Odds and ends...
1) My poor mechanic. It took him as long to figure out how to reset the "change oil" warning light on the dashboard in my van as it did to change the oil.
2) It was a perfect 76 degrees today as I mowed. An early taste of fall perhaps?
3) It's hard to take a bad picture at Rosewood.
4) Been cooking supper, and, no, it's not Chinese stir fry tonight but another special concoction I've brewed up. Ingredients? Cooked hamburger meat with cream of chicken soup and a can each of kernel corn and green beans. Served over Jasmine rice. Mmmmm mmmmm good.
5) While I was cooking, the Market Place Evening Report on NPR was interviewing the person at Google who designs their little doodles in their search engine. The young college graduate being interviewed began every response with "so." That used to drive me crazy, but it turns out this overused conjunction actually has a logic of its own:
Sew now you know!
6:15 PM Continuing our discussion of Phil. 1:1-2....
In this opening salutation we also note that Paul goes out of his way to greet "the overseers and deacons" (so most translations). In the New Testament there are two Greek words that are used interchangeably to describe church leaders. The word presbuteros is usually rendered "elder," while the word episkopos is usually rendered "overseer." The uniform practice of the early church in the New Testament was to have a plurality of elders or overseers. This is because leadership by one person always tends to exalt one man over others, while the Bible clearly teaches that only Christ is to be exalted, for He alone is the head of the church (Col. 1:15-20; Matt. 23:8-12). Thus, Paul does not greet the "overseer" (singular) of the church in Philippi, but the "overseers" (plural). Though the churches we attend may have a "pastor," this is generally not the teaching of the New Testament.
It is instructive that Paul describes these believers in Philippi, not as being "under" their leaders (in which case the Greek preposition would have been hupo), but rather "along with" (Greek sun) the overseers and deacons. This is not accidental. In terms of biblical teaching, every Christian is a minister. There is no separate class of those who minister while others stand by and watch. Though some ministers may devote more of their time and energy to the ministry, and some may even be paid for their ministry, all Christians are "in fulltime ministry." As Alec Motyer of Christ Church, England, writes: "Within the local church there was fellowship (all the saints) and leadership (the bishops and deacons). The leadership, however, was not an imposition upon the fellowship but an expansion of it. For the saints are not 'under' but with ('in company with') the bishops” (The Message of Philippians, p. 33). Motyer adds, "As is always the case in the Bible, the existence and activity of such ministries arise out of the needs of the church, and they can be exercised only in ways that are suited to what the church is. Thus, for example, the New Testament never speaks of any ministry as mediating between God and the church" (p. 35). Motyer is referring to the great New Testament doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which is an essential part of the biblical idea of the church.
It is also important to note that neither "overseers" nor "deacons" is used with the Greek definite article. This seems to be significant. In Greek, the use of the definite article generally points out particular identity, whereas the absence of the article generally emphasizes qualities or characteristics. Apparently Paul uses this construction to emphasize the work these individuals do and not their titles. Evidence for this functional meaning of the terms comes from other Pauline epistles as well (see 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Cor. 12:28-31; Rom. 12:6-8). The clear impression we receive is that of local churches under apostolic authority with each church managing its own affairs under the leadership of qualified men who oversee and serve the congregation.
The implications of this are tremendous. If you were to go into practically any Protestant church today, you would likely encounter a hard and fast clergy-laity distinction, and very often a church led by one man (sometimes with an iron fist). Or you may find the leadership divided into pastors, elders, and deacons, or into ruling elders and teaching elders, with the ruling elders functioning more like administrators who are involved in very little pastoral ministry. None of these models is, in my opinion, truly biblical. While some passages suggest the presence of an elder who became the spokesman for the leadership, there is no suggestion anywhere of one man who was viewed as "the" pastor. Such a person was always accountable to the other elders and never led in a hierarchical manner, as was the case with Diotrephes (3 John 9-11). Thus the church is never viewed as a one-man team with the "pastor" doing all the work while the "laypeople" watched. Because of the limited capacity of one man to lead the church, New Testament leadership was plural and equal, with no system of hierarchy. True, certain people will generally function as leaders among the leaders because of their wisdom and experience, but all are equal and accountable to each other.
Moreover, in the worship of the church, the leaders are never seen as dominating. Instead, a pattern of multiple participation by the congregation seems to have been the mark of all apostolic churches (see Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 4:11-16; 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), regardless of their geographical location (see 1 Cor. 4:16-17; 11:16; 14:33). The New Testament teaches that the congregational meeting is to be a place where Christians exercise their spiritual gifts and stimulate one another to love and good deeds. There is no division into two classes of people: clergy and laity.
In addition, the leaders in the congregation did not take upon themselves honorific titles that might set them apart from the rest of the "saints." Alexander Strauch, author of Biblical Eldership, correctly notes (p. 259):
In light of what we have seen above, there is a great need for reformation within local churches in the way we view leadership. Traditional pastoral ministry tends to promote a one-man model of leadership under the self-styled "pastor." In contrast, the New Testament teaches oversight by a plurality of men usually called elders. Some elders might be gifted differently and may even excel in specific pastoral tasks, but there is no biblical warrant for dividing church leaders into separate, highly-developed "offices" with honorific titles. The New Testament does not speak of two classes of Christians, as we do today. According to the Bible, all Christians are the people of God who through the exercise of spiritual gifts do the work of the ministry. Such is the teaching of Paul in Phil. 1:1. Once again, Alec Motyer summarizes it well (p. 40):
This kind of leadership has many facets. It involves realizing that leaders and led share the same Christian experience: both are sinners saved by the same precious blood, always and without distinction wholly dependent on the same patient mercy of God. It involves putting first whatever creates and maintains the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It means that leaders see themselves first as members of the body, and only then as ministers. In this way they face every situation from within the local body of Christ and not as people dropped in from the outside (or even from above!). It involves patiently waiting for the Holy Spirit to grant unanimity to the church in making and executing plans. It involves open relationships in which the leaders do not scheme to get their own way or play off one against another, but act with transparent integrity. It involves willingness to be overruled, to jettison role-playing and status-seeking, to be ready to cast a single vote with everyone else. It involves putting the welfare of the body of Christ before all personal advantage, success or reputation and it involves co-equal sacrifice for the Lord and his Gospel. It is the leadership of those who are content to stand among the saints as those who serve.
12:25 PM Oh, the joys of trash!
No, not the trash itself. But on the way to the dumpsters I did have a chance to hear a great Diane Rehm interview about care giving. The interviewee had lost her husband to Alzheimer's. This statement of hers caught my attention: "Military men are the best caregivers. You know, 'honor,' 'duty,' 'leave no one behind'." Wow. Men, some day you might be called upon to care for your dying wife. How will you do it? Honor. Duty. Leave no one behind. For it is the special magic of love to demonstrate convincingly that the real goal of marriage can only be achieved by total self-sacrifice. It will not be easy to watch your spouse die. But even more startling is the realization that there is nothing your wife can do to unearn your love. "How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!" (Song of Songs). "You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes!"
If a man and a woman spend enough time looking into each other's eyes, they will realize that they are really one, and that there is nothing in the world that can destroy their love for each other.
11:34 AM My friend Robbie stopped by to help me fix the truck's windshield wipers. I did the hard part (bought the parts at NAPA).
10:56 AM One of my daughters just texted me to ask me if I was working today. I told her, "Yep. Fixing plugged drains, spraying Round Up, writing, doing a trash run, getting an oil change ... and texting you." And did I mention mowing? Love my work!
10:12 AM In the opening greeting of Philippians (1:1-2) we see that the letter was written and sent by two of Jesus' slaves, Paul and Timothy, men who worked side by side and shoulder to shoulder for the Gospel. Timothy is mentioned because he was with Paul when the church at Philippi was established and is now with Paul in Rome. Of all Paul's churches, the church at Philippi was the church to which Paul was closest, and of all Paul's companions, no one was as dear to him as Timothy was. The great contribution of Timothy to Paul's missionary service was that he could be entrusted with any task. His one desire was to serve Christ. Paul could therefore send him to Thessalonica, to Philippi, and to Corinth with perfect confidence that Timothy would get the job done. Like Paul, he was simply a bond-servant, a slave of Christ Jesus, His absolute possession and the One he owed absolute obedience.
Only rarely in life does one find such a trusted friend as Paul found in Timothy. Becky and I were extremely blessed to have known and worked with many such "Timothies." I'm not talking about people who merely put on a show of affection for others or who feign concern for the Gospel. I'm talking about believers whose sacrificial service for others in the name of Christ is exemplary, just like Timothy's was (2:19-24). I must tell you, these radical Jesus-followers were a great encouragement to us. Our work in Alaba, in Burji, in Gondar, our work among the nomads, the animists, the Muslims, the Orthodox of Ethiopia – all this work would have been impossible without the willingness of Timothies who worked with us side by side and shoulder to shoulder.
Sometimes our closest Timothy is our own spouse. I know that was true in my case. Jonathan Edwards' last words before he died were those of gratitude to his wife Sarah for the "uncommon union" they had enjoyed by the grace of God. Whenever I think of the partnership between Paul and Timothy or between Aquila and Priscilla I think of the similar kind of relationship I enjoyed with Becky. We had the opportunity to spend large amounts of time serving the Lord Jesus together both in America and abroad. We tried to set priorities for our marriage that elevated the kingdom to a place of precedence over everything else in our lives. I am not ashamed to say that God used Becky tremendously in my life to draw me closer to Him and to nudge me toward greater Christian maturity. Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary to China, had a similar relationship with his life partner, Maria. J. C. Pollack, in his book Hudson Taylor and Maria (p. 102), writes:
I'm sure you would be as blessed as I was to see Becky’s servant-style selflessness. She was a woman of great faith and prayer and an indispensable part of my work in the Gospel.
Notice how Paul elevates Timothy to his own level as a co-equal partner in the Gospel. Later he will tell the church, "I have no companion who has a spirit like Timothy does, no one else who is so genuinely concerned about other people, no one who lives so selflessly. He practically enslaved himself to me in the Gospel!" (2:19-24). Like Paul, I am a wealthy man because I have been blessed with such selfless companions in the service of the Lord Jesus. What makes my work in Ethiopia and Asia and the Middle East so precious? It's simply the people – people who join me in the work, who faithfully continue the job, and who hand it on to still others.
9:20 AM Today I'm starting a brief series of posts on Phil. 1:1-2, the opening salutation of Paul's love letter to the Philippians. Christianity was a revolution that changed the attitudes and values of the ancient world. It was an entire way of living and not merely a set of dogmas. What made early Christianity so revolutionary? The salutation of Philippians contains several answers to our question.
But before I begin, allow me to say something about the first word of the letter: "Paul." When I think of Paul, I am reminded of his scholarship. No, I'm not referring to his academic achievements or his publications or his reputation as a graduate of one of the world's leading universities of his day. In fact, the term "scholarship" is completely redefined when we think of Paul's missionary life. I've often heard Paul referred to as a theologian. I can't dream of Paul ever using that term to describe himself. Paul wrote great theology, it is true, and he was a thinker of the first magnitude. But he thought of himself, first and foremost, as a preacher of the Gospel, a church planter, and a lover of souls. He was God's "chosen instrument" to take the Good News to the Gentiles, and to that single task he was fully devoted. He was, as every Christian should be, "separated unto the Gospel" (Rom. 1:2), and whatever publishing he did he did for one purpose: to advance Christ's kingdom and to build up the church.
Many years ago I came to a similar conclusion in my own life. Like many others before me, I had viewed my scholarship as an end in itself, as an entrée into the world of academic conferences, as a means of gaining recognition and affirmation. But as I read the New Testament – I know that is a novel thing for a New Testament professor to do! – I began to see that my priorities were terribly misplaced. The words of Kierkegaard spoke to my heart (Provocations, p. 201):
Today, I seek to use whatever scholarly abilities the Lord has given me for His service. Simply stated, I try to practice serving, as did Paul. The opportunities are endless to model the Jesus walk to others. Don't wait for politicians to bring about cultural renewal. Be the hands and feet of Jesus – evangelizing the lost, feeding the hungry, teaching the illiterate, caring for unwed mothers, rebuilding the broken walls of our culture.
There is much to savor in Paul's opening salutation in Phil. 1:1-2. I hope you enjoy our brief excursion into these two verses.
8:06 AM Money and mission trips can be a sensitive topic.
7:48 AM Historical background issues of interest in Philippians:
1) The history of Philippi as a Roman colony
2) Latin as the official language of the city
3) Emperor worship (the imperial cult) in Philippi
4) Paul's use of the "citizenship" motif in the letter
5) The absence of a synagogue in the city
6) Paul's ministry as described in Acts 16
7) Why were only Paul and Silas arrested (and not Timothy and Luke)?
8) The membership of the nascent Philippian church
9) The (unique?) place of women in the church at Philippi
10) Where was Paul when he wrote the letter?
11) The nature of the opposition in Philippi
12) Paul's "thankless thanks"
13) The leadership of the church
14) The pax Romana v. the pax Dei
15) The koinonia/societas motif as pecuniary
We will be discussing all of these topics (and many more, I'm sure) in tomorrow's Ph.D. seminar on Philippians. Our first presenter is my assistant, Joshua Covert. Wish him well!
Sunday, August 24
7:22 PM Read Britain Is Not a Christian Country. Key quote:
6:53 PM My prayer for my children and grandchildren this evening:
6:34 PM This Tuesday one of my missionary friends will be sharing very briefly in my Ph.D. seminar on Philippians. Makes sense, since Philippians is all about the way we can partner together to advance the Good News. I want these doctoral students to be exposed to a fairly novel idea in academia, namely that their skills and degrees can perhaps best be used in overseas settings. This was the point made by Keith Campbell in an outstanding essay that appeared in JETS. His article is well summarized in this blog post by Bruce Ashford, my provost. Ashford concludes:
This is wisdom for today. It is sound advice. And even if you should find a fulltime teaching position here in the states, you can still leverage your doctorate for the Gospel by serving overseas on an occasional basis.
What about it? Would you consider going overseas to teach?
6:10 PM Once again, I listened to the TED Radio Hour on NPR as I drove to church this morning. Today's topic? Vulnerability. Transparency. I loved it. You say, "I don't do vulnerability." I understand that. It takes a good deal of courage to be transparent. In fact, according to one person interviewed on today's show, "Vulnerability is one of the greatest expressions of courage." I agree. The apostle Paul embraced vulnerability. Just read the book of 2 Corinthians -- a book that most scholars agree is Paul's most personal writing. God led Paul down one of the most difficult and harshest roads imaginable. He speaks of having the sentence of death within him; he speaks of being weak and broken; he speaks of coming to the end of himself. "Outside were conflicts, inside were fears." If there was anyone in the ancient world who knew what it was like to be transparent, it was the apostle Paul. He was truthful, honest, and open in his dealings with others. And he sought to develop a culture of openness in the churches he founded. He knew that truth and trust were the twin building blocks of relationships. And even though he talked openly about his weaknesses and infirmities, he always seemed to find comfort and victory in union with Christ. He was hard-pressed but never crushed; he was sorrowful but always rejoicing. And all because of the Savior.
Transparency is a flattening force that has the potential to have a profound impact on every one of our relationships. When we are open and transparent, we share our struggles with others. Not everything. Not all the details, for sure. But we are, in a word, real. My favorite bloggers are like that. I sense they are real human beings with real flaws and real aspirations and real victories. Their example is worth following.
2:55 PM Lunch with the Glasses today in Durham:
Earlier, Jon began a series on the book of Nehemiah at Cresset Baptist. It was excellent. Later I heard my son Nathan bring a wonderful, Gospel-centered, Christ-honoring message at a funeral at a church near the farm where he ministers. I am a blessed man.
Now I need to get some writing done. See ya!
7:20 AM As you know, I've had to come to grips with the fact that I'm not married. Most of my friends are wedded. Most of my children are. Many of my students are. But God does not owe us a spouse. Nor is singleness a disease. I have a good friend who has been single for a very long time. Today his "family" is comprised of hundreds and thousands of Iraqis in Kurdistan. I'm not saying that marriage is not an option. But for those who pursue God's calling for a single life, there is still a great blessing. Jesus, who was a bachelor, knew that some people are called to singleness ("Some choose to stay single for the sake of the kingdom," Matt. 19:12). Paul had much the same notion (1 Cor. 7).
God has given me peace. I once made a vow, a holy pledge, spoke sacred words that required perhaps 30 seconds of my time. Keeping that vow was the work of a lifetime (37 years to be exact). Becky and I consistently looked back to our vows. And now God has called me to comfort, encourage, and perhaps even challenge those who have made those same vows to protect them. He has given me many "children" to care for and look after. In my affliction I have been comforted, and now it is my turn to comfort those who are afflicted with the help of God's gift of widowerhood. Single or remarried, my goal is to give glory to God. There is much love in my life. The face of that love is seen in so many ways and in so many individuals. But it is the Lord who makes this gift of love possible in the first place. It is He who calls all of us, single or married, to be transformed into His own likeness and image, to demonstrate His great love to others, to allow ourselves to be sucked into the great vacuum of the world and its sin and horrors and make His love incarnate. Thus marriage (and singleness) is not something we need to carve out for ourselves but a gift from God to be used in the service of the kingdom. Our identity is not in our marital status but in our God, who allows us to see all the weaknesses and failings of others (our spouses included) and then, by the pure grace of God, accept them and love them.
I suppose I've become used to being identified as "widowed" on the forms I sign. To the government, I am a single taxpayer. To the banker, I am no longer required to have another's signature. Nevertheless, I am not what others think of me. I'm not just an insignificant blip on someone's radar. Rather, my name is known to God and is inscribed in the Book of Life. And that's what I have: an identity secured by all that God intended. It is truly a foretaste of heaven, where there will be no marriage other than the marriage of the Bride to her Lover.
Christian, are you struggling today with loneliness? I understand your struggle. But we're free to turn back to God. "Look at Me. I stand at the door and knock," Christ says. You opened the door once. Go ahead -- open it to Him again.
Saturday, August 23
8:15 PM Let the chase begin!
5:30 PM It's been two months since my daughter and her husband lost their full-term baby named Kai. Parenting is inevitably a trap -- a trap in which two people are caught up in the absolute necessity of trusting God and loving each other. Marriage is the closest possible bond between two human beings, and the fruit of that bond (children) are the most tangible results of that permanent commitment. Such a bond always comes at a very high cost, and the cost is nothing less than one's own will. The capacity to love your spouse is, in fact, nothing less than a death to self, and there is nothing really one can do about this but to allow that death to occur and to make use of the event as an opportunity to lift one's thoughts to God. Marriage is a living demonstration to the world of the inexplicable intimacy into which God desires to draw us. It also opens us up to heartache and tragedy that we could never ever have imagined when we said our wedding vows. Naturally, I love my children and want to do anything I can to assuage their grief. I have prayed for them constantly over the past two months, and I have done so because I know no one except God who can comfort their grieving hearts. As with Becky's death, the Homegoing of Kai personalizes Christianity -- the joys, but also the pains. For in our losses we discover a new thing -- a love that is deeper than anything we had dreamed could be possible, a love independent of any earthly thing at all, a love that finds its meaning in Love Himself. Kai's death challenged me anew to find my true contentment in God. To all who are grieving the loss of a loved one I say: God isn't just watching your pain; He is experiencing it with you. You're a unique creation of His whom He loves and is lovingly guiding along the route that is best for you according to His eternal perspective. I know that fact doesn't lessen your pain. But God says, "I am working this out for your good, and therefore you can release your grip on worries."
On the first Easter morning Christ burst His bonds. But the day is coming when all those who have died in Christ will arise victorious from death. That reality, I believe, will one day be Becky's, and it will one day be our precious Kai's. Blessed by the name of the Lord.
3:38 PM Yes, it's true ... I survived another farm work day here at Rosewood. I had lots of excellent help, as always. My heartfelt thanks to Matt (landscaper) and Luke (farm boy) and Russ and Leah (very hard workers) for coming all the way from the Forest of Wake to help out -- on very short notice. If you're a small-scale farmer like me, you know how quickly farm buildings have a way of becoming messy and overgrown with bushes and weeds. So having a farm work day was long overdue. I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed working with my "crew." I was especially impressed with Luke's rendering of the "Greek Alphabet Song" (last picture). Way to go, Luke!
Greek students, we'll have another work day this semester, and this time I will give you plenty of advanced notice (warning).
Now, for the pix:
8:28 AM Good outline of Philippians by Walter Hansen in the Pillar series:
What's your favorite outline of Philippians?
8:22 AM "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." So said Gerard Manley Hopkins. Well, the grandeur around here has succumbed to weeds and fallen tree branches. So grateful for the students who are coming over to help me clean up a bit today. At times, 123 acres can be a bit much to care for by yourself.
8:13 AM Pastors, let's be careful what we say about Ferguson tomorrow. There is often a huge disparity between our human reaction when wronged and that of our Lord, whose response to those who shamed and beat and killed Him was, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." We humans are good at seeking revenge, at hating. That's why, I suppose, He died for us. Let's pray for justice, yes. But justice tempered with mercy.
8:10 AM Read Biblical Languages and the Local Church.
Friday, August 22
9:12 PM Just spent time in prayer for my family. So many needs. Relationships can be a hot tin roof. It's a place where love never sleeps. Only a God who knows all things can be called upon to help us in our challenges. As obvious as it sounds, prayer can be the most difficult priority to keep in perspective. I want to DO, not pray. What it amounts to, finally, is a kind of pride that says I have the answers when I really don't. Thankfully we have a Lord who has hair on His body and blood oozing out of His wounds. Today is the day to carry to Him all of my burdens and rest the whole weight of my responsibility as a father and grandfather on His shoulders.
7:08 PM I've been reading Henry Neufeld's blog and was so impressed by his thoughtful post called Why Not to Tithe that I just had to stop and comment on it. Henry says he's always been against tithing in a legalistic sense, even before he published David Croteau's book on the subject. Yet he was afraid to tell others he didn't believe in tithing. He was afraid that people would give less than 10 percent if he did. As it turns out, I share that fear. If I were to teach pure grace (as I indeed do teach), people might assume that I didn't think giving was all that important. Actually, grace giving ought to be the easiest type of giving of all, but instead it can be the most difficult. It takes maturity to know when to give, how much to give, to whom to give. Giving is an abstract subject. There is no black and white. For when Christ enters a person's life, it is always on the level of grace and never on the level of legalistic morality. Tithing reduces all decisions to one simple decision, and there is no struggling with the Holy Spirit. When, however, we come to understand and accept the place of grace in our lives and love relationships, it becomes easier for us to grasp the theological doctrine of grace giving. Somehow we must learn to love as God loves and give as He gives. Our giving should be watered with tears and bedecked with affection. For now is the time to give, now is the time to be generous, before the opportunities have passed and it is no longer an option.
5:19 PM Just picked these from the back yard.
Roses to honor the memory of my rose.
10:30 AM Please pray for me. I have several upcoming meetings to speak with individuals and churches about India: Today, Sept. 7, Sep. 14, Sept. 28, Oct. 22, Oct. 26, Nov. 2, and Dec. 7. I take great courage from the fact that many of us are taking steps toward greater obedience to the Lord's Great Commission. There is a brilliant truth that I have come to see, largely through Paul's letter to the Philippians. In 1:5 he thanks God for the church's "participation in the Gospel." We have a God who promotes His own mission through the lives of His people. And note: This participation came about in three very specific ways, which I believe are patterns for how we are to do missions today. The Philippians actively participated in Paul's Gospel mission by:
1) Praying for him (1:19)
2) Sending him regular financial support (4:10-18)
3) Sending someone to care for his needs (Epaphroditus; 2:25-30)
The body of Christ in Asia is looking for Christians in other lands who will link hands with them in this time of great harvest for the kingdom. With prayers, support, and love we can help native evangelists and their families march forward to complete the task of world evangelism in our day. That's my vision, that's my goal, that's my burden these days. Believers in North America and believers in India are made of the same dust. We cry the same tears. And we are free to help each other by becoming partners in the Gospel. I am trying to raise up an army not simply of mission supporters but of lovers -- people who have fallen desperately in love with God and with suffering, lost people.
9:50 AM Loved these posts:
9:05 AM A word to my beginning Greek students:
So you've chosen to take me for baby Greek. I'm glad for that, and I'm glad to teach these classes. But I do have a word of caution. Two things ought never be entered into prematurely: embalming and a Greek class. So let's make a deal. I will do my very best to fulfill my side of the bargain. And that's to teach the language in a way that is easy, simple, understandable, and motivating. I promise to be as clear, accurate, and precise as possible. I also expect you to be as careful with your part of the bargain. What's that? you ask. Blood, sweat, and tears. Tons of memorization. Hours of study. Let's both do our part, okay?
Nothing we strive to do should begin in a context of vagueness and uncertainty. If I have time, I'll .... No, no, no! Purgatory has a special room for procrastinators. If we say we are going to do something, we need to do it. It's called commitment. In our irresponsible society, I realize that commitment is a dirty word. I also realize that many of you are already over-committed. Then I might suggest that you delay your embalmment -- and your Greek class -- until the right time.
One last thing: You can't do this on your own. It takes what I call divine discipline. On Wednesday I was brutally honest with you about my own failures in this area (I lasted only three weeks in my first semester of Greek before dropping the class). We've all failed in one way or another in this area of life. I'm simply suggesting that before you begin a new project you count the cost. It will require a great deal of divine discipline. As with a marriage, you must choose to adapt, adjust, and work through the obstacles that will inevitably come your way. I've already pointed out on this blog how William Gladstone, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, took up a new language when he was 70. That really convicted me when I read it. I myself am thinking about jump-starting my Spanish this school year. It will come in very handy as more and more Hispanics move into our area.
In the end, you do whatever you know is God's will for you. As Jim Elliott put it so eloquently, "Wherever you are, be all there, and live to the hilt whatever you are convinced is the will of God for your life." And if Greek is part of that purpose for you, you can rely on Him for the grace to get you through.
8:59 AM "He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." Harold Wilson.
8:40 AM Claire Smith's study of the concept of "teaching" in the Pauline communities disappointed me. I read it in its entirely last night.
She attempts to give us a portrayal of what Paul's "scholastic communities" might have looked like, but she delimits her study to only 1 Corinthians and the Pastorals. This is, in my opinion, a critical oversight. It means that such crucial verses as Col. 3:16 (which emphasize fraternal instruction) are completely overlooked ("Teach and instruct one another in all wisdom"). In terms of specific cases of exegesis, I also found her study wanting. For example, I was particularly curious to see her discussion of the adjective didaktikon (which is one of Paul's requirements for being an overseer in 1 Tim. 3:2). She renders the term "able to teach." In a footnote she states "This translation ... is to be preferred to 'able to learn' or 'teachable'." But why? No rationale for her position is given. BDAG allows for both renderings. My preference is for "teachable" in light of the context (character traits are in view, not skills or aptitudes). Besides, the best teachers are those who are always learning. They are, in a word, teachable.
A final thought. I do not think the word "scholastic" is appropriate for the Pauline communities. That they were didactic is beyond doubt. That teaching took place -- both formally and informally -- is beyond question. But Paul's churches were not mini-seminaries. I encourage you to put no trust whatsoever in scholarship per se. We all know people who have been educated beyond their intelligence. The only real knowledge is knowledge of God, a knowledge that can be attained without a formal biblical education. I say this as a professional educator and as one who is often called a scholar. We must remember Paul's words (in 1 Corinthians no less!): "God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and He chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important." The world thinks that scholarship is very important. It indeed is, when we understand its purpose: to be placed in humble service to the cross.
Thursday, August 21
8:14 PM I was 7 years old on this day in 1959 when the original "Hawaii 5-0" (as in "50th" state) was officially launched. I remember it (and the fireworks) well.
Little did not I know at the time that Hawaii had been an independent nation when U.S. Marines illegally overthrew its government in 1893 and when President William McKinley handed it over to the U.S. in 1898 (though he had no authority to do so). In 1993 the U.S. Congress passed a bill officially apologizing for this illegal history. Public Law 103-150 reads in part:
Oh, well, sometimes childhood innocence is a good thing. At any rate, Happy Statehood Day to my native state of Hawaii. All together now:
Makua Lani e
Makua Lani e
12:16 PM This morning I enjoyed having Kim and 5 of my grandkids over. They played so nicely. Now I'm getting caught up on reading all of my favorite bloggers. There seems to be some discussion about the purpose of the church. Some of the discussion was apparently prompted by my new book on the church. Well, I have an opinion (surprise, surprise!). Let's start by asking a few questions:
"The Son of Man came to .... what?"
"You shall be My .... what?"
"As you go .... make what?"
"Go into all the world and .... do what?"
"As the Father sent me, so I am ... what?"
"I became all things to all people in order to .... what?"
To me, the evidence is more than ample. I am not against the gathering. I gather regularly. I love the gathering! But: The gathering exists for the going. I suppose you could call this a mantra of mine, but I will keep repeating it ad nauseum if necessary. To return to the above statements:
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.
That's a missionary purpose!
He told us to be His witnesses.
That's a missionary purpose!
His final command to us was to make disciples of all the nations.
That's a missionary purpose!
He instructed us to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to everyone.
That's a missionary purpose!
As the Father sent Him, so He is sending us.
That's a missionary purpose!
Paul became all things to all people so that he might save some.
That's a missionary purpose!
YES! YES! YES!
And so I ask my readers: Are you heartbroken that countless people have never experienced the forgiveness of their sins? Will you do whatever is needed in order to fulfill Jesus' final command to His disciples? In short, are you a missionary – locally, regionally, globally, even cross-culturally (Acts 1:8)?
I think it's very dangerous when we'd rather be good businessmen or pastors or scholars or churchmen or homeschoolers than good witnesses for Jesus. I think it's very dangerous when we find good reasons for hiding our faith. I think it's very dangerous when we learn how to be "all things to all men" but not for the purpose of "saving some." What is the point of Christianity if not to lead men and women to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord? Why does the church exist if not for the conversion of the lost?
Here's the gist of my argument. To me it's a matter of priorities. Jesus taught that as we humble ourselves before God and reject all earthly standards of success and happiness we learn to view the world as He sees it. We then want to make Jesus and His teachings known as far and wide as possible. We learn that the way of the Gospel is the way of suffering, trial, poverty, and sometimes despair. We no longer cling to our creature comforts. We are ready to sacrifice everything for the Gospel. It becomes the object of our preoccupation (Phil. 1:27). It gives meaning to all of life. We now find the true significance of our earthly existence. We learn to accept the insecurity of freedom in God. We do not need security! We are free in Christ to live for others, not ourselves.
In my book The Jesus Paradigm, I had a lot to say about the Anabaptists, because I think they got it right when it comes to this matter of priorities. The purpose of the Anabaptist movement was more than to recall Christians to their biblical roots or to the notion of "proper" church services. At every point the Anabaptists sought to correct the notion of their contemporaries that the Great Commission had been fulfilled by Christ's original apostles. It was this emphasis that explains the disgust, and even contempt, that some of the magisterial Reformers felt for the missionary program of the Dissenters. I believe that our own situation is much like that of the Anabaptists. Today we have to strip off the false notion that missions is only for professionals. Jesus is asking His followers today to take seriously not just the gathering but the going. What we must learn to say to the world is: "Here we are. We are willing to make any sacrifice to see that you know Jesus. We are not asking you to come to church with us. We love you right where you are. We love you no matter what you do to us. If we have to build a hut next to you for the rest of time just to witness to the love and grace of the Lord Jesus, we are going to make that effort."
For the Anabaptists, the church was a community consisting of those who had a vital relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. It was the brotherhood of the redeemed, purchased by Christ's spilled blood. It was the fellowship of the regenerated who as "living stones" were being built up into a holy temple. It was the body of Christ where each bore the other's burdens and thus fulfilled the law of Christ. The church was all of this to the Anabaptists.
But it was much more than this.
The church was the community of those who not only worshiped God and learned of Christ but who witnessed to others and proclaimed in word and deed the Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation to anyone who would listen. For the Anabaptists, the biblical church was at heart a Great Commission church – witnessing, evangelizing, and ministering in love both to each other and to the outside world. For them the whole of life was to be one of service and sacrifice. Members of free churches were not to be left alone to their own devices. This meant that they would not only serve the needs of the brethren but carry their witness into the world. No words of Jesus meant more to the Anabaptists than the Great Commission. They believed that the true church was obliged to take that commission seriously. We are obliged, I think, to do no less today.
In my opinion, then, if the ministry of the church is God's means of fulfilling His mission in the world, it is necessary that we view what we do on Sunday as merely the beginning, not the climax, of our work. In other words, we need to change the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the ministry of our churches. The question is not "How many attended on Sunday?" or "How well were we edified?" but "What did those who attended on Sunday do during the week to advance God’s mission?" This is what it means to be the People of God. It is a people who understand that the mission of the church is to fulfill God’s redemptive mission. Our calling is to join God’s army and become aggressively involved in His mission in the world.
I want to thank all of you who have interacted with my new book on the church. The conversation will continue. But in the meantime, may I encourage all of us to not wait on the outcome of the discussion. Starting now, let us unite with other disciples and manifest Christ's love to a lost world. How you gather on Sunday isn't necessarily going to change the world. How you live will.
Blessings on you all,
Possibly interested in more? See:
Wednesday, August 20
8:14 PM Here's another book I have to read! Primarily because my good friend and colleague Daniel Heimbach gave me a personal copy.
Please check it out at Amazon. Thank you, Dan, for this gracious gift and for the privilege and joy of serving with you on campus. I know that many will be challenged in their thinking as they read this book.
7:48 PM Here's the latest photo of the new school building in Northern India that, with God's help, will be completed next spring.
The school will hold 2,000 students. The Peniel Gospel Team sent me this update today. I could scarcely contain my excitement when I read it.
By charging a monthly tuition fee of $25.00 USD per student, not only the school but the various Christian ministries of PGT will be maintained. The building will be used for public and Christian education during the daytime hours and for the training of evangelists and "lay" leaders during the evening hours. Brilliant plan, eh? Yup. Becky thunk it up.
As I mentioned a few blogs ago, the bottom line is that Indians are ready to reach India for Christ. They have been placed in the harvest fields of this work by God. The question is, What is the Western church's role in these matters? Lord willing, I believe that if we follow God's instructions (2 Cor. 8-9), we will see these endless millions of Indians come to know Him, and ministries such as this school will be the bridge to reach them. God is already doing a wonderful work in India by His Holy Spirit. He is building "His" church in every nation of Asia. The day of the native missionary movement has arrived.
Well, sorry for preaching at you all the time about this. Well, not really. I am passionate about this, can you tell? My prayer? For hundreds if not thousands of North American Christians to awaken to what the Lord is saying to His church. This involves sacrifice and, for some, suffering. But that is what the kingdom of God is all about. And it's also the only way to know true joy and the abundant life that Jesus promised His followers.
Holy Spirit Blessings (and I'm not even a charismatic!),
6:24 PM Sometimes words just don't cut it. A case in point is Wake Forest. Man, I have more fun there than a barrel of monkeys. Our opening convocation was packed with new students.
Then I taught three great groups of students. Then I was honored to be interviewed again by my good friend (and former grader) Abidan Shaw. Then I was blessed to meet with several of my doctoral students.
Then I got home only to see that another review of my Seven Marks book has been published, as well as an interview with one of our Areopagus authors, David Croteau, on the Janet Medford Show (David's treatment of the subject of tithing will really get you thinking). My heart is filled with song.
I do believe I love this life of mine.
My friends, despite feeling so unworthy, despite feeling so inadequate for the task, our limitations are not liabilities to God. We carry on -- in His name. And when we become tired from all the effort and from the investments we make in the lives of others, just picture His open arms as He calls us close and says, "Come to me, all of you who are exhausted and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."
Tuesday, August 19
5:30 AM Back to school day. I'm grateful for Southeastern and its focus on the cross. There is no place in Jesus' band of disciples for those who are not willing to accept suffering and uncertainty. We have millions of theology books today and more head knowledge than ever before in Christian history, but what good will any of this do unless we pick up the towel and the basin? We will stand powerless and defeated. "Mere garbage" (Phil. 3:8) is perhaps the most famous euphemism in the New Testament. Paul uses an expression that carries a highly offensive connotation. Perhaps the best we can do in English is "unspeakable filth." Many people who call themselves Christians have never arrived at the point at calling their assets "debits," or their accomplishments "manure." Our Lord invites us to gain Him and reckon everything else as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable.
May all of us find Him this semester.
Monday, August 18
7:55 PM My topics at the Apologetics Conference in California?
7:50 PM Tomorrow we begin Dr. Little's email to the Horse-Lovers. Get it? I've modernized it a bit :-)
7:40 PM You will enjoy this:
7:20 PM Philippians students, please, please, please read this fantastic blog post by Brian Fulthorp called On Paul's Letter to the Philippians. The man nails it. The reason he writes is "because I know the church local and global is in the midst of conflict. There is strife about certain preachers locally. The church in the Middle East is being systematically murdered. The church is facing new levels of conflict both from within and from without."
Yep. You are right, Brian. Thank you for your own "prophetic and powerful word." Let the church of Jesus Christ be known for what we for, not against. And, let it be noted: This unity cannot be drummed up on our own. The Spirit of God alone can initiate and empower such unity.
Incidentally, this is why Becky and I intentionally adopted a consciously cooperative model of doing missions. (See How We Do Missions.) That is, when we go into a nation, we do not go as representatives of the American church bent on pursuing our own strategies and agendas. We have no American "experts" telling us what to do. No, we simply come alongside the churches that are already there and ask, "How can we help you?" The reason we have done this is very simple: Christ does not have "bodies." He has one body. And every local church is a manifestation of that body. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one kingdom, one church, and one authority -- the word of God. Individualism is out; we strive together as one person.
Do you see your local church as one with Christ's worldwide body? Are you fighting side by side with the brethren in other nations for the sake of the Gospel? We can. We must!
5:53 PM Cooking supper now. Yes, stir fry with my super secret ingredient.
5:42 PM I thought my Ph.D. seminar started at 7:00 in the morning but then I was gently corrected by my new assistant. We actually start at 7:30. Thank God for assistants!
1:25 PM I just sat down to write a thank you note to John Reumann, author of the magisterial commentary on Philippians in the Anchor/Yale Bible series, only to find out that he died from cancer in 2008. I cannot speak too highly of this work. It is an excellent book written by an excellent scholar and churchman. Reumann taught New Testament for 50 years. Having read the book in its entirely (805 pages), I have come to the conclusion that I should have read it years ago. The Spirit has already used it in my personal walk with Christ. Reumann takes great care with the text, as if it were something precious and holy (which it is). I especially loved the way he challenged conventional wisdom -- for instance his view that the Greek word normally rendered "humility" should actually be rendered "humiliation." His commentary, in short, is a deep study of Paul. It is tough reading but thankfully all the Greek has been transliterated. I plan to read the book again as our class goes through Philippians this semester. And I can't wait to thank the author personally when I get to glory.
10:42 AM It's official! In September I will have the honor of being a keynote speaker at an apologetics conference in San Jacinto, California as well as speaking at 412 Church on Sunday morning.
My talks will center on the absolute trustworthiness of the New Testament, including the four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. I just love the warmth and enthusiasm of my Calvary Chapel friends who always make me feel right at home. In all honesty, I probably won't be saying anything these folks haven't already heard a thousand times. I hope they won't be too bored with me!
Get the word out, all you Southern Californians!
10:04 AM Remember "our" Indian evangelist who received his new motorcycle? I received this email from him this morning. Praise God for the internet!
We assure our prayers too :-)
9:36 AM Well, I'm off to a terrible start this morning. There I was, sipping my first cup of coffee and enjoying the view from the back porch when NPR ruins my day. It ran a story about the Fields Medal, a prestigious mathematics prize that is given every four years to the nation's top mathematician under 40 years of age. This year the award went to an Iranian scientist working at Stanford. But that's beside the point. The story posed a different sort of question: What happens to these recipients after they receive their prizes? Do they become more productive in their future work, or less? With whom are they being compared? you ask. Well, you have to remember that the prize is given only every four years, so the study involved 37 year-old mathematicians who lost. Who was more productive: those who received the award, or those who lost out? And the answer is ...
The award winners were less productive than their prize-losing counterparts.
Now, it's important to keep in mind that the whole purpose of the award is to encourage productivity in that mathematician's particular field of research. What the study showed, however, is that once a person receives the award, they tend to lose interest in the subject that got them the award in the first place. In a word: They lose their single-mindedness.
Now stop what you're doing and listen to the story over at NPR.
The reason this story ruined my day is because I wasn't planning on blogging much this morning. Too much work to do on Philippians. But how can't I blog after such an interesting report? Let's see if I can't weave this it into my work on Philippians, okay?
In Phil. 1:27, Paul begins the hortatory part of the letter (i.e., the section in which he begins to show us how to live as Christians) with a single Greek word monon: "Only!" Since the word is a neuter adjective, we might translate Paul's meaning as: "[The] only [thing that matters]!" Paul says there's something in life that we can be absolutely sold out to. It's the only thing that matters in life. Now I'd called that single-mindedness, wouldn't you? Jesus spoke about this subject in Matt. 13:44-46. Remember? He said that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field. It's there but it's hidden. Then it's accidentally found. The finder is ecstatic. He sells everything he has to buy that field. No, he doesn't care about the field. He cares only about the treasure.
Let's say you were to visit my farm and you notice a big sign out front: "For Sale: 123 Acre Farm with Two Houses." Not only that, but when you pull up the long gravel driveway you see a "For Sale" sign on my Honda Odyssey. You'd say, "What's up with Dave? What in the world is he doing? Looks like he's selling out. For what?"
Now let's ask the apostle Paul the same question: "What is the 'only' thing in your life, Paul? And what will it cost you to acquire it? Will it cost you a beating? A shipwreck? Going without food or water? Your finances?" Paul's answer might go something like this: "Yes, I had it all. I used to be a pure-bred American. No immigrant, me. Had a Harvard Ph.D. to boot. I had everything, man. But then I caught a glimpse of that treasure in the field. Since then, everything else seems like ______ (untranslatable). No, I don't have it all figured out yet. But I'm working on it. My goal is now very simple: I want to know Him and to make Him known. At whatever personal cost. Even if it costs me my life."
So let's go back to Phil. 1:27. For Paul, living as a good citizen of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel was the only thing that mattered to him. Now, just how you and I flesh this out is between us and the Holy Spirit. There's no magic formula that says "do A-B-C." You'll notice that I haven't literally sold my farm and car.
Bonhoeffer put it this way (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 211):
Listen. Our time is limited. Yours and mine. Our days are numbered (by the Lord). Our resources are limited. Our money is limited. Have you found that treasure yet, Dave? What will it cost you? What is your "only" thing in life? Being a native son of America? Having a Basel degree? Enjoying a reputation as a "scholar" (whatever that means)? Well, I'll tell you: I don't have it all figured out. But I'm working on it. I want to have the same single-mindedness that Paul had. "This one thing I do" -- not "these 50 things I dabble in."
Coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." Now that's single-mindedness. And that's precisely what the award-winning mathematicians lost.
Little wonder I stopped sipping coffee and started blogging.
Sunday, August 17
8:25 PM Hey there, all you missions-minded people out there. Check out this history of the church in Africa as told in maps. It's a brilliant essay. About one of every four Christians in the world lives in sub-Saharan Africa.
Now contrast that with the Indian sub-continent. The world's least-evangelized people groups are all concentrated in India. According to Operation World, of India's 159 people groups of over 1 million population, 133 are unreached. Christians number barely 6% of the total population of the nation. Hindus comprise 75%. Many Indian states have no church and very little Gospel witness.
But there is a bright side to all of this. An entire generation of young Indian Christians is mapping strategies to reach all of India with the Good News of Jesus Christ. I believe (as you well know by now!) that the church in the West is being called to be involved by sharing both prayerfully and financially in the great work of evangelism that lies ahead. It is time, is it not, to launch the biggest missions movement in history, one that mobilizes hundreds if not thousands of native Indian missionaries to reach their own people with the Gospel.
Will you not join me?
6:34 PM I've now had my iPhone 5s for three weeks and I'm loving it. Here are ten things I like most about my new smart phone:
1) It's thin and light.
2) It's handsome and elegant.
3) I can hold it easily.
4) It's fast.
5) Siri works great (most of the time).
6) The fingerprint sensor is awesome. (I actually use my thumbprint.)
7) It allows me to answer emails anytime, anywhere.
8) The emojis are fun.
9) The space pack battery case I bought provides all the extra juice I need.
10) It takes great pix.
Thanks to my daughters for suggesting (i.e., needling, provoking, urging, insisting, cajoling) that I buy one.
Below: Dave's iPhone (***actual photo!!!!***).
2:54 PM Another great morning at The Hill. We said "goodbye" to our pianist Leanna. But she won't be going very far. She starts at the College at Southeastern tomorrow! As for moi, I've been working outdoors. I love mowing.
I love being outdoors period. I even enjoy mowing around the farm cemetery.
In case you can't read it, this marker says: "Anderson Boyd. Corp. 59th VA. Inf. C.S.A. November 21, 1936." Boyd is the former owner of the property. I'm grateful for this entire farm, even the parts that cause me to sweat like a horse. I call this "willful gratitude"!
9:58 AM As our Philippians class begins this week, I thought I'd link to some essays I've written on the book. Enjoy!
8:48 AM Our retreat ministry here at the farm is kicking into high gear and I'm afraid I can always use help in completing my (ever-growing) list of farm, yard, and garden projects. This coming Saturday I am announcing a work day here at Rosewood from 9:00 to 1:00. Please send me an email and let me know if you'd like to participate. The more the merrier. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. My street address is 2691 White House Rd., Nelson, VA, 24580. You'll need your work gloves and a chain saw if you have one. I'll be passing around a sign-up list to my three classes this week. I know this is short notice, but this is the only Saturday I've got free. Ladies, there's plenty of house work that needs to be done too!
8:14 AM Ship ahoy, matey! Eight bells and all is well. Did I hear someone ask how the India work was coming along? Since last Sunday I've had four invitations to speak about India in various churches. It's such a strange paradox. I don't feel like a fundraiser or that I am doing fundraising. But I love talking about what the Lord Jesus is doing in other parts of the world. So we'll keep speaking as long as He opens doors. I'm glad I live among people who think the same way.
I was talking with someone yesterday and we realized all over again how dangerous it is to be an American and to grow up with wealth (all of us are wealthy when compared to people living in the Majority World). DC is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. But to be honest with you, I have the same reaction that Paul had when he entered Athens. I think of that wonderful verse in Philippians that says our citizenship is in heaven. As Christians, the Jerusalem that is above is our mother. On this earth we are nothing but "resident aliens" (to quote the title of a fantastic book). Do we pride ourselves in the halo of big government, the marble edifices, the laws and protections afforded by our constitution? Far more real is the heavenly commonwealth of which we are citizens, the commonwealth that gave us birth and that governs our lives by its dictates. The greatest display of power this world has ever seen is when God used His almighty power to dive into the murky waters of humanity with all of its weakness. At the incarnation, God took upon Himself all that is hideous and redeemed it all, making it shockingly beautiful. Now, I'm fully aware that many find the Bible's teaching about human government offensive if not insane. And it does sound crazy: We are to love our enemies, not kill them. Jesus is no prize fighter beating up His enemies. He's clothed in a blood-soaked robe (Rev. 12:11). And if we are His true followers -- true citizens of His kingdom -- the only way to conquer is through Jesus' lamb-like way. This is not to say that Christians can't participate in politics or government, but the only real security the Christian has is in Yahweh and living as He has revealed in Jesus Christ, even if it means dying. The portrait of human government in Revelation 13 is very instructive here. So is the apostle John's statement that "the whole world lies under the power of the Evil One." Over and over again God stresses that He does not in any way conquer evil by evil. He seeks time and again to awaken us to our bondage to the ugly, illusory notion of political power. Scripture teaches that cosmic forces are loose in this world and governments are held hostage to these forces -- but not forever! It's from this perspective that we refuse to grant ultimate and unconditional allegiance to the nation-state (Acts 5:29). By contrast -- by sharp contrast -- believers are to follow the Lion/Lamb with absolute loyalty and undying love ("all who love His appearance," 2 Tim. 4:8). Jesus said it's impossible to serve two masters. I don't think this means we can't be involved in the political process. It's a democracy, so go ahead and assert your opinion about who to vote for or what policy you'd like to see in place. Never forget, however, that for our God, the governments of this world are "less than nothing" (Isa. 40:15-17). Our job is stay centered in the King and run after His righteousness and not the things the pagans run after. To use a military metaphor (2 Tim. 2:4), our responsibility is to please our Commander-in-Chief and put His beautiful character on display at all times (Eph. 5:1-2).
On a completely unrelated (and possibly contradictory-sounding!) note, on Friday, Sept. 29, I'll be walking the field where Pickett's charge occurred at Gettysburg. If you'd like to join me, let me know. It's an easy walk. There are usually a couple of mowed paths from in front of the Virginia Monument all the way past the Emmitsburg Road to the Angle on Cemetery Ridge. We may even climb the trail up Little Round Top afterwards. On Saturday and Sunday I'll be speaking at the Middle Creek Bible Conference just a few miles from the park, thanks to a very gracious invitation from my colleague Ken Coley.
This Tuesday is Convocation, of course, thrusting us all into a new semester. The church in the West is at a vital crossroads. My prayer? That we all would hear what the Lord is saying today to the North American church. Are we willing to live for eternity and follow Christ's sacrificial lifestyle? I hope so!
Saturday, August 16
6:58 PM Last night I watched the movie Into the West for the fifth time. It's got a cute story line: Two "traveler" boys (gypsies) in Ireland steal a horse in order to return to the West and leave behind the tenements of Dublin, including their drunken father. Their acting alone makes the film worth watching. I think the toughest role is played by their conflicted father, "Papa Reilly" (Gabriel Byrne), who has never come to grips with the death of his wife seven years earlier.
I think the movie is profoundly right about this. I suspect any widower watching this flick would say, "That's exactly how grieving feels." The movie thus has potential to be a great story about redemption. Unfortunately, it has too much mysticism mixed in with it for the truth to win out. Too bad. The movie has a good plot line and is exceptionally well acted. In one scene, where Papa Reilly kneels down and grabs two handfuls of ash and then "washes" his face with it all the while crying out "Mary, Mary," the note of absolute realism is glaring. He had wept in private but never publicly, and in that one public act he experiences the long-awaited catharsis. Denial has its place in the grieving process. It's like a cushion that eases the initial blow. But watch out if it turns against you and keeps you from moving forward with life. We all need to learn how to say goodbye. I'm not one for etymologies, but perhaps because the word "goodbye" originally had the notion of "God be with you," it's a bit easier to let go when we realize that God is part of the process. At least that's how it's been with me.
How about you, fellow traveler?
6:32 PM From Seven Marks of a New Testament Church:
2:42 PM 541. That's the number of miles I just put on the old horse and carriage. On Thursday I decided to drive up to DC to see my daughter Karen. She had just moved there from New York for work, and so I wanted to catch a glimpse of her new apartment and meet her roommates. One of the things I'm no longer very good at is driving all day or through the night, so I broke the drive up there into two parts. I'm really glad for that, because there is something about taking your time when you're driving across this great nation of ours. You can hop into bed whenever you want to and can get up late. You can just luxuriate. Since I avoid driving on the Interstates (unless I'm in a very big hurry), I have acquired an embarrassingly large amount of knowledge about Virginia's two-lane highways. Of course, the GPS on my new iPhone worked wonders to keep me relatively on course to my destinations. I was thinking -- I suppose I am always thinking -- about how we used to travel during the dark ages, when I pulled a tent trailer full of kids and dogs through countless states during summer vacations. No internet, only a crumpled up map. I think I like the modern way of traveling a lot better. I had always wanted to visit the site of the Civil War's greatest cavalry engagement at Brandy Station, so that was my first destination on Thursday. After that I decided to spend the night in a quaint old (ca. 1859) bed and breakfast right on the Fredericksburg battlefield grounds. (General Lee ate his breakfast there on the morning of the battle.) On Friday I drove the rest of the way up to DC, paying my respects to the old man of Arlington House before crossing the Potomac and taking Karen out to dinner. I overnighted back in Virginia, whence I left this morning to get back to my farm work. On the way home I stopped by the historic Manassas Battlefield to say hey to Old Jack.
What I am about to do is detestable, I know, but here are a few pix if you can bear them. Augustine once quipped, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." Happy Trails to you, wherever your own horse and carriage -- or someone's words and pictures -- should take you!
1) Leaving Clarkesville ("my fair city") and heading up Hwy 15. The traffic was terrible, I tell you, terrible!
2) Enjoying a delicious bacon and eggs breakfast at the famous Wyliesburg Diner, just around the bend from Podunk. I was their only patron.
3) And get this: Gas for only $3.09. Ever seen a 62-year old man do a back flip? Woo-hooo!
4) Hwy 15 is famous for its ante-bellum homes. This one has been turned into a restaurant.
5) This is Jeb Stuart's HQ at Fleetwood Hill near Brandy Station, where the Gettysburg campaign began in 1863.
Can you imagine 21,000 sabers going at it right here? Good old Jeb was taken by surprise, though he did eventually manage to send the Union boys scurrying back across the river. Embarrassing for old Jeb for sure. Think that's why he decided to ride around the Union army again, maybe just to save face? When he did, of course, he left Lee and his army blind.
6) Care to purchase this old structure in Brandy Station? I wish I could move it the farm!
7) Braehead Manor, where I spent Thursday night. Isn't she a beaut?
8) Warren and Karen were the perfect hosts, along with their two dogs and cat. If you ever want to break up your trip going north through Virginia, do consider Braehead. Their website is here. I give it 5 stars out of 5.
9) They even let me play their period
10) Beautiful Arlington House, once overlooking a 1,100 acre plantation.
11) The monstrous unfluted Doric columns are almost enough to send one scurrying back down the hill. Lee once wrote, "My affections and attachment are more strongly placed here than at any other place in the world."
12) The room where Robert and Mary were wedded on June 30, 1831. Military life took a heavy toll on Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee.
13) The gardens are kept immaculately, even today.
14) Here's Karen's three-story apartment in DC. She shares it with 5 other young Christian ladies. It's about two blocks from Capitol Hill Baptist Church and not much farther to the U.S. Capitol.
15) Although there are several good Ethiopian restaurants in "Little Ethiopia," there is also an excellent diner only 5 blocks north of Karen's apartment. We decided to try it for dinner.
16) Ethiopia is definitely one of the top contenders for the best food in the world, and our meal at the Ethiopic was right up there with anything I've eaten during my 17 trips to Addis. Check them out whenever you're in DC next.
17) Recognize this?
18) And this?
19) And him?
Well, this concludes our travelogue for today -- only a few highlights from the oodles of things that happened as it were in an instant of time. To travel is to be swallowed up by time and events. For one moment I saw nothing but clean and wondrous sky and thought, My Father made all this. He also made each one of my wonderful daughters, has them at different stages in their life. And I am their dad. Wow. That word carries with it a lot of joy but also a whole lot of responsibility. Like Judas at the sight of Mary pouring out her costly perfume at the feet of Jesus, part of me cries out "This money could have be used for other things!" But Jesus, of course, loves scandalous acts. He is the inventor of the "scandalous waste." Parenting involves an extravagant commitment of pouring out time and effort and resources into the lives of the people we love. I guess, in the end, that is what this little jaunt up to DC was all about. To share love with those who love you. To talk, to eat, to encourage and be encouraged, to say goodbye -- "Till the next time!"
Sometimes I think the only real way to demonstrate that something is not ours is to give it away. And that's why I love taking 541-mile trips like this one.
Thursday, August 14
8:20 AM Imagine this scene: You've just exchanged vows and your bride says to the minister, "Would you mind holding off on the reception? I just saw a man in the audience that seemed to, well, be more attractive than the groom. This man here is too short and a bit too grumpy, and his eyes are the wrong color. I just want to be sure that this other man is not meant for me."
This scenario is, if course, absurd. When you got married, you accepted your spouse without qualifications. Your love was not based on works or performance. You loved them because of your choice to love them. Granted, at times they were not very lovable. There were times when you withheld your affection -- such as the time when your spouse offended you in public or was caught telling you a lie. Your affection is great but it does have its limits. But you've never stopped loving your spouse, because love has no bounds. Your love is unconditional.
This was the message I took away from reading Mike Mason's The Mystery of Marriage last night. In marriage, he says, you have to give away everything. The marriage ceremony itself is nothing but a symbolic gesture of giving it all away. It's only the start of a long process whereby God is demanding that you become selfless.
For 37 years God broke me on the wheel of another's love. She was my hermitage, my dwelling place, and I was her hermit. Her body led through a glorious forest and her heart shot arrows into my own. Two rocking chairs on a porch, a voice on the other end of the phone, laughter squealing around the door from the kitchen. Just to touch her face was more powerful than life itself, and in her arms I could safely die.
My love, all my searching found its end in you. Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, I had no one like you. You were the best, the cream of the crop. That I knew you intimately still makes me feel thunderstruck. But all this joy, all this light, was nothing more than looking through a glass darkly. Something more breathtaking awaited us when we said our "I dos" those many years ago. "Today you will be with Me in Paradise" has taken on new meaning for you -- and for me. I can tell you, it's mighty painful, but I would not have you back for the world. He gives. Hallelujah! He takes away. Hallelujah! His Name is blessed forever. Hallelujah! And so it will remain for all of eternity. Hallelujah!
But I miss you no less because of it.
Wednesday, August 13
5:52 PM Had to run into Clarkesville ("our fair city") today, so I decided to grab a quick bite to eat at our favorite Chinese restaurant.
Becky and I spent countless hours here, sipping hot tea and munching down stir fry.
My goodness, what happy memories. Becky was right. She knew I'd come back, knew that I would finally be able to sit where we used to sit together, this time alone. The work of healing did not cease with the apostolic age, I can assure you. Loneliness is a healthy discipline. Everyone is lonely in some way or another. The purpose? So that we might cling more to the Giver than to the gift. I do not "handle" my loneliness. I hand it over to One who knows all about me, knows what I can endure. He's made provision for it all.
What a Script. Is your life story as crazy?
1:20 PM Get Seven Marks of a New Testament Church on Kindle for only $2.99.
1:12 PM Finally cleaned out the freezer.
Hated to see all this good food go to waste.
I blame the landlord!
10:42 AM Quite a pretty picture, eh?
Yep, Katy's latest book is out, and for a completely unbiased report you can read her daddy's blog post. Congratulations to you, sis!
9:45 AM The question (as I posed it to you on Saturday) is a simple one: How can Western culture, which is so "Christian" and knows so much truth, fail to perform? Is it because we are willing -- oh so willing -- to be students of Christianity, but not followers of the Lord Jesus? It is always a time of intense spiritual warfare for me to write blog posts like this one, and I battle over practically every word I type. I realize that perhaps for many of my readers, I am just a kind of entertainment for the day. Yet as I write these words the lost souls of millions in India tumble before my eyes into the eternal flames of hell.
Today, in India, a former of student of mine labors, along with his parents, in a region of grave danger and great opportunity. I have had them in my home here on the farm. I have arranged a missions night for them to share their vision with like-minded Jesus-followers in the area. My student's name is Moncy. Moncy's father is Mammen and his mother is Alice.
Mammen, like me, has grown tired of church-growth consultants, fund-raisers, and salesmen with shortcuts that do not require us to do anything bold. They ask us to accept horizontal solutions when we are eager for vertical solutions to our dilemmas. And the need? The need is clear. The Peniel Gospel Team is blessed with numerous evangelists, local congregations, children's homes, and a Bible school. With Becky's help, they came up with an idea that would make them totally self-sufficient, able to support their ministries without looking to the West any longer for aid. The idea is already becoming a reality. It is a Christian school that would teach in English (English being the ticket out of poverty for Muslims and Hindus in the region). The tuition generated from this school will cover the ministry costs of the Peniel Gospel Team. At the same time, the Bible will be a required course, and the love of Jesus will be shared with each and every student. And our part? The biblical requirement is that we should voluntarily go out of our way to accept assignments that are costly on our part in bringing spiritual birth to the kingdom of our Lord. It means making sacrifices in the small things of life. It may mean "brown bagging" instead of going to a restaurant and using the money you save to support missions. There are thousands of ways we can find to create some extra dollars to help reach lost souls in the Majority World.
The ministry I am describing is on the cutting edge. It borders Nepal, Sikkim, and Bangladesh. Its evangelists are literally willing to risk their lives to preach the uncompromising word of God. These native missionaries are incredibly effective. The latest word from the Peniel Gospel Team indicated that they needed about $200,000 to complete the school building. You may recall me saying that as soon as the first $100,000 has come in, I will personally match the rest from my savings and/or retirement. This remains my pledge. Thus far we have received about $40,000. The work can be done, and by God's grace it will be done. I am so grateful to all who have already sacrificed to accomplish this great work. Some of you have built a door. Others have built a window. Still others have laid a foundation stone. But we're all building the same house. It doesn't really matter who builds what so long as the house gets built.
There are two things I think we can do going forward:
1) First, we must spend time with the Lord Himself, getting to know Him intimately and pursuing His knowledge. We must yearn to become like Jesus. We must rediscover His heart.
2) Second, we must rediscover the full work of the cross. The Father has not only provided for our justification, our salvation from the penalty of sin. He has provided a way for us to experience daily victory over self and our predisposition to hoard and spend what we have lavishly on ourselves. A believer must come to the place of reckoning him or herself as totally dead with Christ, living no more for self. Give the Lord time to work in those areas of your life that are not yet yielded to Him. Put Satan on notice that you reject his claims on your life, your time, your possessions, your vacations even. Then do whatever the Holy Spirit tells you to do. Simply obey His voice.
The bottom line is that the Lord Jesus lives in us by His Holy Spirit. He is always with us. There are no desires or plans that are secret to Him. He leads us daily though our trials and tribulations. He tests our faith and spurs us on to a life of more prayer, of deeper dependence on Him, and of greater generosity toward others. It is all His work. Today there are tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations still without Christ. Many of them are in northern India. There are hungry people who need to be fed and sick people who need to be healed and lost people who need to be saved. The Lord is looking for individuals who are willing to empty themselves of self-sufficiency and prayerfully accept the challenge of reaching the lost billions with salvation. If the Lord Jesus directs you to give toward the work in northern India, simply send your check to:
Every penny you send goes directly to the work abroad. We take nothing for overhead or expenses. Leigh (trained by Becky and a fellow-member of my local church, Bethel Hill Baptist Church) handles the finances. If you would like your gift to be tax-deductible, simply make your check payable to Bethel Hill Baptist Church and earmark it "India."
Love by sharing. That's the message I'll be trying to get across to my Philippians class this semester. I have a long ways to go! Have I ever been overcome by an unsanctified love for earthly things? You bet I have. But bondage to materialism can be broken. I am boldly demanding that you choose a life of total surrender not because I consistency practice this but because it is the New Testament standard for a Christian. If you can't give money to help others, you can give your time or your energy. God will carry you along in His service. All you need to do is rely upon Him for mercy and grace in your time of need.
Love in the Lamb,
Below: Partners in the Gospel.
8:08 AM The news report went something like this: "Comedian Robin Williams dead at age 63, apparent suicide." Honestly evaluate your own life. How do you respond to stress and depression? Peace for some people means drugs and alcohol (as apparently in Williams' case). Others binge. Some vent their frustration through anger. The best any of those avenues can do is make us comfortably numb.
Hello? Hello? Hello?
Life -- a series of explosions and shrieks, a heap of bricks and twisted girders, a fiery maelstrom. But there, inside the ruins -- a Man, seemingly insulated from the chaos all about Him. He is peace amidst our biggest battles and deepest sorrows. Have you found it to be so? Then thank Him. Whether you're happy or down in the dumps. Thank Him. Whether you're healthy or covered from head to toe in boils. Thank Him. Even if you're bawling and sobbing like a baby because of a loss in your life. Thank Him.
He is our peace (Eph. 2:14).
Tuesday, August 12
9:20 PM Good essay on bivocational ministry. Have you ever considered it? Would you ever consider it?
8:58 PM Must listen: Fresh Air's interview with Robin Williams.
8:35 PM This November, as most of you know, I will have the privilege of teaching for the fourth time in Ukraine. I will lecture four times daily for three days. Here are the 12 topics I plan to cover as I "teach the teachers":
The students will all be either Greek or hermeneutics teachers from the various seminaries in Ukraine. Obviously there is way too much to talk about to do all of these subjects justice. We are keeping the class English only, for two reasons. 1) Translation cuts into my teaching time by 50%. 2) Teaching is much more than content. Translation, as everyone knows, involves too much communicative loss. Lecturing is only 13% verbal. The rest is non-verbal. People pick up cues from my attitude, style, intonation, passion, enthusiasm, good looks (haha!), etc. Most of this is lost in translation. Of course, there will be plenty of time for Q & A. I am very much looking forward to it. Here are two pix from last year's trip. Speaking in chapel ....
And my hermeneutics class....
I love Eastern Europe!
6:11 PM Hey folks, check out Paul Hime's link to Rod Decker's final essay.
5:34 PM Had another day of faculty workshop. Among other things, we covered how to use a heart defibrillator and we enjoyed several more sabbatical reports. Online instruction was the main focus. I was suffering (again) from a horrible sinus headache; I get these nasty things whenever the barometric pressure changes. Ho hum, you just cope. While on campus I picked up a copy of this book for one of my daughters who is married to a pastor.
We had been talking about tithing the other day and I said, "Boy do I have a book you guys should read." I'll get it in the mail to them tomorrow. The author did his dissertation here at SEBTS on this subject, and then Allan Bevere and I asked him if we could publish a briefer synopsis as part of our Areopagus series. The book received a bunch of neat endorsements. Michael Grisanti of the Master's Seminary wrote, "David Croteau has provided the church a concise and helpful argument for a biblical approach to giving for modern times," while Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary added, "Here is essential reading for the Christian who wants to be biblically obedient!" Finally, Robert Plummer of Southern Seminary wrote, "...well-written, and concerned about the practical generosity of God's people...." So thanks to David for his book, and I encourage those interested in this topic to be looking for it.
Once again, I thank God for a seminary that lavishes care upon its faculty, including a generous sabbatical policy that allows us to take time off and then come back refreshed and eager to get back into the classroom. Also wanted to say thanks to my out-going assistant (Jacob Cerone) and welcome my new one (Joshua Covert), even though both of them were perfectly useless when it came to helping me change the ringtone on my new iPhone. Their job description even includes proofreading this blog so that we can hopefully keep the typos down to a bare minimum. Believe it or not, one thing my assistants/graders never do for me is grade, as that is my job, and there are far more important things for them to do in terms of my research and writing.
Speaking of writing, this week I received the penultimate manuscript of La Historia de Mi Vida: Un Testimonio de la Gracia y la Fidelidad de Dios, the Spanish translation of My Life Story by Becky Lynn Black. Here's a sample for all of you Spanish-speakers:
Mi nacimiento en este mundo ocurrió mientras mis padres estaban esperando por sus visas en Dallas, barriles llenos de sus pertenencias, listos para ir a Etiopía. El Emperador Haile Selassie había reinado sobre Etiopía por varias décadas. Él invitó a misionarios para venir del Oeste para ayudar a su gente. Su deseo era el de establecer escuelas, hospitales, y el Cristianismo entre las ochenta y cinco tribus que conformaban la nación de Etiopía. Sin embargo, hubo una gran oposición a su invitación desde los cuartos de la Iglesia Ortodoxa de Etiopía (IOE). Mis padres pronto descubrieron que todas las aplicaciones de visa de misioneros estaban siendo puestas al final de la pila por autoridades que eran fieles a la IOE. Cuando el Emperador se dio cuenta de eso, él ordenó que todas las aplicaciones sean enviadas a él, y el Emperador mismo firmó la aplicación de visa de mi familia para unirse al trabajo de Dios en la tierra de Etiopía.
Is that cool or what? Bottom line: Life goes on. There are books to write, classes to teach, students to mentor, a farm to care for, guests to take good care of, a huge family to love on, and a passport to put to good use for the kingdom. Tonight I'm playing catch up on some reading and some seminary projects. Anyway, I'm grateful for everything I have, including an office where I can just kick up my heels and be myself.
Monday, August 11
6:36 PM Just back from our faculty meeting. I arrived home to find that the back porch freezer died, apparently several days ago. The motor is shot. Which means that everything in the freezer is spoiled. Oh well....
The meeting went great. Our guest speaker was an expert from Texas on ethnic diversity. He made some excellent points. I thought this quote was profound: "Accept criticism humbly; give criticism carefully." It was especially neat to see all of my colleagues again. I gave my sabbatical report during the lunch hour along with four of my friends. It was so interesting to see how the Lord has been using our faculty in so many diverse and interesting ways. I am blessed to know them all. We added 6 new faculty members this semester, including posts in Old Testament and Linguistics, so our student body isn't the only thing that is growing around here.
As I begin my 38th year of teaching, I have never more excited about my profession or more passionate about the classroom. It was a tough sabbatical (I think of Wordworth's saying, "But she is in her grave, and oh, the difference to me!"), but when something unexpected happens in our lives we have a choice. We can shake our fists and blame God or we can trust Him to help us fight off the discouragement and take one step at a time to regain our footing. If Jesus never flaunted a spirit of self-sufficiency, why should we? Students can see a fake a million miles away. So just be yourself. Be honest. Be transparent. Above all, be loving. As our provost reminded us today, it's not enough to have a Great Commission seminary. We have to have Great Commandment teachers who love God with all their hearts and love others. Jesus' summary of the Christian life is simple yet profound. We can never love our students as we ought until we first love the Lord with all our being.
Meanwhile, the normal busy is always around with a lot of stuff going on this week. I'm afraid I've fallen behind on answering your emails (and the many requests contained therein), so please be patient with me while I get caught up. Seems impossible that this will be my first year of teaching without Becky at my side. Just goes to show that I still have lessons to do in the school of faith and obedience. A true faith rests solidly on His word and His character, not on emotions. So wish me well as I begin a new semester, will you?
Thankful for your prayers,
6:40 AM I'm told that the epitaph on Ruth Bell Graham's tombstone reads: "End of construction. Thank you for your patience." I couldn't have said it better myself. At the age of 62 I think I'm finally coming to a sane evaluation of myself. Amid the challenge of helping students over the past 38 years I've been learning to live a more Christ-centered life. I used to see problematic students as interruptions rather than as opportunities to show Christ's love. My agenda at the moment was more important to me than their well-being. Now I realize that they are all works-in-progress, as I am: we're all still under construction. Frankly, I feel ill-equipped to help them. I've had to exchange my own confusion for God's wisdom. For me, ministry is not fireworks. It's a daily struggle to be a conduit of God's love and acceptance at a particular point of need in someone's life. Ironically, it's surprising how often I forget, or feel completely unable, to draw on the resources of the God who lives within. I imagine Ruth had the same struggles. We all do I suppose. But one day we come to the end of road -- the work finished, perfection attained, Christ finally exalted.
Until that day:
"Construction ongoing. Thank you for your patience."
Sunday, August 10
7:04 PM Just played the piano. Hadn't played it since Becky died. Lobe den Herrn. Abide with Me. All of my old favorites.
Is my song returning?
6:33 PM Can't wait for our faculty workshop tomorrow. Some of my deepest friends are my seminary colleagues. In the Bible, God puts a premium on developing personal friendships. Of course, friendship is something that is earned. "The only way to have a friend is to be one," said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Friends accept you for who you are. I like that. We're a pretty diverse bunch, but we all get along exceptionally well. Except when we disagree. Even then, love wins out. I know it sounds a little sappy, but we really do love each other in Christ. More importantly, we seem to be on the same page when it comes to the priority of a seminary: fulfilling Christ's Great Commission with His Great Commandment love. Of course, He's on our side, rooting for us to succeed. I just thank God that each of us, regardless of what we teach or how many years we've been at it, stand equal before God. And that, my friend, is something to be grateful for.
2:44 PM So how was your church meeting this morning? Like soggy oatmeal? My sympathies if that was the case. As for me, I feel like I just came home from a rollicking banquet and a wedding feast all rolled into one. Joy is serious business at The Hill! And we're all Bible students. I know I can't ever get enough of the teaching of God's word.
Not that anyone is interested, but I sit in the front row along with my iPad open to the Scripture passage, my notebook, and my Greek New Testament.
Jason's teaching from Matthew 9-10 was both deep and simple to follow. Friends, if you want to know more about God, all you have to do is open your Bible. Before Jason spoke I was given permission by the elders to share about the need for the refugees in Iraq and guess what -- $1,340 was given today! This means that our church will send BGR a check tomorrow for $2,680 to prevent kids from dying from dehydration and starvation (someone matched it). I love my church. I love giving whenever I can. Compared to the Bible's standards, my love and self-abnegation seem pretty puny. And then it struck me: this money wasn't mine to give. It all belongs to Him. When you have the potential to do something, just do it. This is the challenge that each of us must face: How will I manage what belongs to God? That's the question that you face every day in a myriad of ways. Giving to charity doesn't make you a Christian any more than climbing a tree makes you a monkey. Really, God doesn't need our money. As head of the church, He owns it all anyway. That said, He wants us to experience the joy of giving. What you can do, do. What you can't do, God will do. Either way, He gets all the glory. As Philippians puts it, the fellowship of the church is a fellowship in contributing to each others' needs (1:5). We remember the poor, no matter what race they are, no matter who they are, no matter where they live. In our hearts there is room for others. Whatever pertains to the advancement of the Gospel and the glory of our Lion-Lamb -- this we will do, and we will do it together!
So I ask: How long? How long before the church in America comes alive to the needs in Iraq? How long do babies have to starve to death before their parents have groaned enough? I'm coming to realize again and again that this is what the church looks like. For a child in Iraq, you and I are the one small hope to hold on to. All we have to do is hold out our hearts.
8:27 AM Hello, fellow bloggerites! For what it's worth, I agree completely with Fareed Zakaria that the U.S. needs to help the Kurds. I have never been in a place that loved America or Americans more. As Fareed says, their leaders are legit, their government a genuine democracy. Of course, if I am going to be consistent with myself, this means that by default I also support America's "humanitarian bombing" of ISIS forces in Iraq, even though I know full well that ISIS is so strong today partly because of the U.S. program to arm and back the Islamist insurgents who have been trying to overthrow the government in Syria. (Go figure.) But America needs to do something. I would say this whether the civilians being killed were Christians (as is currently the case) or Muslims. However, the criteria for political decisions isn't my faith but common decency that promotes the common good. In that sense, I agree that any Christian is free to offer his or own opinion, say, about gay marriage or any other political hot potato in the name of "family values." The problem, of course (and as I pointed out the other day), is that we invite the charge of hypocrisy if we ourselves have as high a divorce rate as the rest of our culture. I spent a whole chapter dealing with this in The Jesus Paradigm. When Jesus exposed the demonic power behind earthly rulers (Luke 4:5-7), it was not to deny the legitimacy of human government. It was to show how government and the kingdom of God are diametrically opposed to each other. The cross, not the sword, is our only authority. Until we live by Jesus' example of self-sacrificing love, the world will think we are just another PAC trying to have our way politically.
But to the real subject this blog post is all about. My deepest worry is that we will get so busy trying to steer politics in a certain direction that we will stop being the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, that we will stop asking ourselves the question, "How can we bleed together to manifest Jesus' Calvary-love to this world?" That's one reason Jesus made the cost of following Him so high. "Are you ready to rough it?" He asked His disciples. "We're not staying in the best inns, you know" (Luke 9:58, MSG). Instead of becoming caught up in the politics of Caesar, Jesus was beat up, spat upon, mocked, and finally killed. He also warned His followers that they could expect the same treatment. Not only in Iraq but in many countries today, Christians languish in prison, are tortured, have their brains blown out. If you take God seriously, you ought to take Satan seriously. He is ruthlessly seeking to destroy the church, and he would like nothing better than to distract us. Self-preservation can never be our goal. Neither can politics. There will always be Matthew the Roman Sympathizers and Simon the Zealots among us. So ... the question is: What can we do together to unite to do something sacrificial to address injustice? Indeed, humanitarian organizations are now on the ground in Syria and Iraq begging for aid. If you're Southern Baptist, there is much you can do (go here). To give through Baptist Global Response, visit www.gobgr.org. I did so this morning. I am also hoping to mention this to our congregation with a view to perhaps taking a special offering for Iraqi refugee relief.
Lots of other things could be said about this issue, but I've got a pile of work to do this morning before heading off to The Hill. I'll sign off for now, but please keep Northern Iraq in your prayers and give if you can.
Saturday, August 9
1:58 PM Okay, all you cyber-geniuses out there. I could use your help. I'd like to change the ringtone on my iPhone to the Beach Boys' "Catch a Wave" (which has already been downloaded to my iPad from iTunes). Any ideas? If you do write, remember that I am the ultimate über-klutz when it comes to all things cybernetic, so please give detailed, step-by-step instructions. Thanks!
1:34 PM It's official: Guyana here I come! Lord willing, I will give four lectures on Saturday, Sept. 20 in Georgetown on the following topics:
On Sunday the 21st I have been invited to speak in the cathedral. I am a total ignoramus when it comes to Guyana -- its history, culture, cuisine even. What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that I am excited to be visiting a new continent and a new country. Your comments would be most welcome if you've ever visited Georgetown.
12:13 PM Well, I see that Jacob Cerone has just wasted another perfectly good hour listening to Car Talk -- and writing a new review of my Learn to Read New Testament Greek.
11:06 AM Philippians students, please watch this short video by Asbury Old Testament professor John Oswalt. His topic is holiness. What does it mean to be holy? This question is important for us because Paul addresses the Philippians as "holy ones" (hagioi) in the very first verse of the letter. Oswalt defines "holy" in two ways. First of all, "holy" is a term of identity. A holy thing -- say an altar -- is something set apart for a special use. It must be used only for God. Christians are holy in that they are set apart for God's purposes. They are "God's people." But secondly, the term "holy" is a term of character. Holy people do certain things that reflect who God is. The emphasis is on behavior. Christians are to reflect God's character. Note, for example, how this theme plays out in Phil. 1:9-11. Paul prays that the Philippian believers might increase in their love for each other. The church apparently had a problem with unity and mutual amity. Their love, says Paul, ought to keep on growing more and more. In this way, he adds, they will be "pure and blameless" (i.e., holy) when Christ returns. In other words, since they are already "holy people" (1:1), they need to act out their holiness in blameless living, which requires them to love each other and put aside their differences (see 4:2, where Paul actually confronts the two women around whom the church was polarized). In essence Paul is saying, "Be what you are. You are holy. Now act that way."
What to do? For starters, thank God for setting you apart as one of His own, for making you "holy" in Him. Then ask God to begin making you holy in your character, in every area of your life, whether spiritual, emotional, social, intellectual, or physical. That's a tall order, but it's not one-sided. God promises to make us holy because He is holy.
9:22 AM Today marks the anniversary of the resignation of President Nixon. It might be a good day to watch this movie:
In his White House farewell speech, Nixon said:
Never were truer words spoken.
7:50 AM Good Saturday morning, one and all! It's just another rainy day here on the farm. Tonight a couple is celebrating their wedding anniversary at Bradford Hall, while I will be concentrating on prepping for my sabbatical report which is to be given on Monday. Had to chuckle when I read this report of a music duo complaining about those biblical "literalists" out there. I interpret the Bible literally, and have for years. It is false piety of the most pernicious sort (aren't I being kind?) to demand a less literal reading of the Bible because it shows just how "educated" and smart we are. Don't buy that. I espouse 6-day creationism not because I am a literalist but because that's how I interpret the text. Same thing goes for biblical inerrancy. Yes, I agonize over uncertainties and insecurities. I do not not have all the answers. But just because I'm a Christian doesn't mean I can put my brain in park or neutral. Above all, because we are Christians our success in how we interpret the Bible ought to be gauged by our changed lives. A trail of generosity leads straight to God.
Meanwhile, the situation in northern Iraq worsens. Yesterday I heard a reporter describe what's happening in Irbil and Dohuk. A few years ago I was in both of those cities. I've seen firsthand how difficult a region it is in which to find water. I know I need to pray more for the situation. I mean really pray. But time slips away so easily and I get busy with other things.
Oh, I've started passing out a copy of Mike Mason's The Mystery of Marriage to all my kids. I have begun re-reading it myself. In exactly one month it will have been 38 years since the day I said to Becky, "For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part." I vowed to love her, and I did, for 37 years. And when Becky died on Nov. 2, 2013, it was not just a case of "till death do us part." That's when life just began for her. That's when she finally met the Bridegroom face to face. Since I am such an expert in marriage (ha-ha), let me offer some advice to you younger couples. Without respect, love dies. Respect says, "I will accept you for who you are, listen to your heart, honor your privacy, and give you the freedom to be all that God wants you to be." The purpose of marriage, as I told one of my daughters yesterday, is not to make us happy but to make us holy. And our love for one another is to be complete and unconditional. It should create an environment of trust, respect, acceptance, and sacrifice. That's how God first loved us, and that's how we can show our mate that love is more than an emotional rush or a moment of blind physical passion. Above all, as Mike Mason shows in his book, marriage isn't a matter of works or willpower on our part. It's grace on God's part. Period. Almost unaware of what is happening, the Holy Spirit begins to take two selfish people and mold them into one, and they begin to experience a life change from the inside out.
On another note, I'm putting together some more thoughts about the needs in India. I'll share them with you later. I have long believed that every Christian in North America can find ways of helping to send out native missionaries by sacrificing something in their personal lifestyle. I once read that there are over 600,000 churches in America. There are 314,000,000 people in the U.S. That's one church for every 523 people. There are over 11,000 unreached people groups in the world still without a church. Jesus gave us a clear command to have a vision that reaches our own Jerusalem as well as our Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. How then can we help? What can we do?
Stay tuned ....
Friday, August 8
6:58 PM Once got this email:
Nice thought, but the truth is that you can change your Levis but you can't change your genes.
6:52 PM Read Philippians, Missions, and You.
2:18 PM What do lawn mowers and the Holy Spirit have in common? Go here to find out.
2:15 PM Greek students! Richard Sugg has produced an excellent system of free vocabulary cards for my beginning grammar. If you're interested in using them, go here.
2:06 PM This is for all of you who are studying Greek. In his book A Beginner's Guide to New Testament Exegesis, Richard Erickson describes exegesis in a unique way. He says it's like keeping a ball rolling by nudges rather than starting it rolling each time from a complete stop. The ball keeps going unless the nudging stops. Erickson calls this a "crude analogy" but I think it's brilliant. The key is to never let the ball stop rolling, which is why we've got to tap it constantly, which means reading our Greek New Testaments daily. Incidentally, I taught for Richard two summers at Fuller Seminary in Seattle, where he is the director. It was my first exposure to Starbucks coffee. I wasn't too excited about it then, but today I'm hooked on caramel macchiato.
9:52 AM We have a winner:
Congratulations to Matt of Minnesoooota!
9:33 AM I've been working for some time now with a couple that is going through a painful divorce. It is a heart-wrenching tragedy. In the past three years I've watched two relationships fall with gigantic pain. So I pray for the Lord of reconciliation to do His work and beg, "Thy kingdom come." Relationships are so fragile. All relationships.
On a different note, if you'd like to meet my new assistant, you can go here. You will love the name of his blog!
8:35 AM Morning, peeps! No, the language spoken in Guyana is neither French nor Portuguese. "Georgetown" ought to give you a clue.
The question I want to pose today is: Do we honor God by relying on Robert's Rules of Order and voting, or do we slight Him by ignoring the Holy Spirit and thereby dishonor not only the Spirit but the Lord who sent Him to guide His church? In the past two weeks I've gotten into discussions about something I wrote about in my Seven Marks book.
Here's how I put it there:
One of my conversation partners objected: "But this could never work in a large church! How can consensus be won where there is inevitably such diversity of opinion?" For the answer, we might do well to look to the Quakers. Several basic conditions lie at the core of their idea of the "sense of the meeting":
1) The living Christ is present within every born-again member of the congregation. This Christ is well able to lead His people into unity.
2) The "sense of the meeting" (whereby a decision is made without taking a vote) is not the collective human wisdom of those gathered but instead the collective discernment of the will of God.
3) The primary authority in the church is Christ and not any human leader, and all are equally able to discern the leading of God.
4) The "sense of the meeting" is not really a consensus. Consensus is based on mutual compromise, whereas the Quaker way is that of discovering what God wants for His people.
5) Process is valued more highly than outcome. A decision that is made without the Spirit's leading is ultimately of little value.
6) If there is considerable dissent, this dissent is taken as a sign that the divine will has not yet been grasped and the matter is tabled.
7) True decision-making takes time; it cannot be rushed.
I have witnessed this at work in Quaker meeting houses in California, and it is a delight to behold. "But," protests my interlocutor, "what if there are unsaved people in your midst?" Well, one answer would be this. The next time you need to make an important decision based on a sense of the Spirit's leading, require a day of fasting and prayer before the decision is taken. Anyone not present for the time of fasting and prayer would be excluded from the decision-taking meeting. I dare say this would weed out the Christians-in-name only!
Now, I ain't no Quaker, but I am absolutely convinced that Christ is well able to lead His people into a collective discernment of the will of God. In 37 years of marriage, Becky and I never made a single major decision in which we were both not on the exact same page. After all, I reasoned, why would the Holy Spirit tell me to do one thing and tell her to do another thing? Unless we both agreed that this was God's will for us or for our family, the matter was tabled, pure and simple. Being a follower of Jesus means that we can't just blindly follow the world's model for doing business. Unfortunately, the Western church has on the whole done a rather poor job of relying on the Spirit to move in the congregation.
In any event, if you'd like to read about the sense of the meeting, go here. How beautiful it would be if for once in history our traditional evangelical churches were to follow the pattern set forth for us in Acts 15:28: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...." We claim that the Bible is the word of God -- a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. But we often find ourselves wondering whether the Bible is worth following. If our God is the same God of the New Testament believers, how can we justify ourselves in resting content with an experience of vote-taking that falls so short of God's ideal?
Thursday, August 7
9:15 PM Did I hear you say you wanted to see more pictures? Here's my fair campus, with a freshly mown yard. There is no place like it on earth.
And here's brother Mark from Guyana. Last year I donated books for the library of the new Christian college he is establishing in Georgetown.
I had him rummage through my office today for more books. And stay tuned -- he's wanting me to go with him in September. But what does my calendar say!!??
In other news ... today I hired my new personal assistant. More on him later. He's a great guy and a provision of the Lord. I also approved a Th.M. thesis and wrote a Ph.D. evaluation. Oh, the highlight of my day? Having dinner with one of my daughters. She's one of the seven ladies that Becky "adopted" when she was still alive. Moral of that story? If your wife adopts kids, guest what -- so do you! My hope is that I can be an encouragement in their lives and serve them as selflessly as Becky did.
Tomorrow will be a quiet day as I try to get caught up with farm chores. Next week school starts -- well, sort of. We have our faculty workshop and I expect to run into students new and old. I'm excited to meet people I'll be seeing over the next few months, and I'm really excited to see old friends I've worked with over the past 16 years. It's getting easier, this grieving thing. One of you wrote me today: "I wanted to tell you I am always so very encouraged when I read your blog. You certainly have a gift for writing!" And yet.... I find myself struggling to blog, to continue to be brutally honest with you about my feelings and this crazy journey I'm on. So I suppose I'll just keep on keeping on. I'll do my best to blog, and to blog often, whenever the chance is given to me (divine passive). Blogging is a choice, a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guilt. And here's the thing. Even if nobody ever read my blog, I'd still write. I'm never going back to silence.
I love days like today. They're the ones that make me seriously question whether or not I'll ever be justified in complaining again.
Thanks for blogging in,
P.S. Trivia question. Guyana is in South America. But do you know what language is spoken there? First person with the correct answer (without Googling it!) gets a copy of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.
6:47 PM So glad Simon and his family could visit Rosewood today and tomorrow.
Simon just started working on his M.Div. at the Shepherd's Seminary in Cary.
They cooked a wonderful (and spicy!) meal, then picked blueberries to take home with them.
Tonight we thought we would watch the historic movie Tora! Tora! Tora! to give them a little history lesson about Dec. 7, 1941. In the meantime I am doing my best to answer your emails. Please be patient. You will get a response soon!
12:26 PM There's been some talk these days on the web about forgiveness -- are words enough? I'll just tell you what Becky and I decided long ago. "Forgiveness" is an action word. Faith is dead unless it's accompanied by works, says James. Anyone can apologize. Don't just say the words. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. When I would do something to offend or hurt Becky, I would of course apologize and ask for her forgiveness. But it got to the point where she would simply say, "Don't tell me, honey, just show me. Just never do it again." She was right. Apologies like that speak louder than words. Of course, Christianity is predicated upon grace, not works. However, the way we apologize is the way others will remember us later. In the end, words are never good enough.
9:54 AM Last night I re-read Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction by David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The book reveals how the some of the Republicans in the Bush administration sought the votes of evangelicals but had no real interest in leading a new Great Awakening. "This [is the] message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it's not a war for God, it's a war for politics. And that's a huge difference," said Kuo in an interview on 60 Minutes. His point? Mixing evangelical faith and Washington politics-as-usual is antithetical to the Gospel. I could not agree more. In his book Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the demon Screwtape advise his young cousin on how to derail a Christian:
That's my take exactly on the issue, on where I stand vis-à-vis the politics of God. While I deeply respect my friends who seek to "take America back," I really do wish they were aiming at a different bull's-eye. As I wrote to a friend yesterday in response to their email:
I fully agree with the Anabaptists that the state is meant to be secular and that a dualism exists between church and state, between political power and the proclamation of the Gospel. So in my opinion there is neither "Christian" liberalism nor "Christian" conservatism. Equally valid (or invalid) perspectives can be found on both sides, and there are no Christian grounds for preferring one side over the other. If Jesus was a capitalist (or a socialist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian), I fail to see anywhere in the Gospels where He has made that known to us. The fact is that political loyalties are always relative and determined for purely individual and conscience reasons. Our homeland has its fixed location in heaven (Phil. 3:20)!
My feelings about politics didn't change overnight. In fact, my mouth sometimes feels like it's filled with cotton balls whenever I talk with others about the subject. But at least now I'm talking. So is David Kuo and others. "Evangelism provides a supernatural remedy for the needs of the world," wrote Faris Whitesell. I believe it's time to stop seeking God in the misguided and erroneous teachings of do-goodism, whether the source is liberalism or conservatism. Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise plaguing our families, our churches, and our society.
Tuesday, August 5
9:42 PM Tonight, for fun and reading pleasure -- haha! -- I'm reading Reumann's magisterial commentary on Philippians.
I love Philippians. This book ruined my life in a good way. It brought me face to face with Jesus ("The only thing I want is to know Him....") and met me right where my needs were. It's by far the best thing I've ever read on why the church exists: that we should exercise our heavenly citizenship in a manner that is required by the Good News (1:27). Let's remain united in mind and purpose, writes Paul. Let the mind of Christ, who humbled Himself and became obedient to death, be our mind also. If this means suffering, so be it. Whatever road blocks Satan might set up to stop the progress of the Gospel are really stepping stones to a deeper appreciation of His saving grace and to a greater courage in declaring it.
I love this book. Reading it and re-reading it helps me shake off the deadening effects of religion and get back to the breath-taking quality of the Gospel.
8:21 PM "Thorns may hurt you, men desert you, sunlight turn to fog; but you're never friendless ever, if you have a dog." Douglas Mallock.
5:58 PM Odds and ends ...
2) Kevin Brown is celebrating an eldership vote.
3) Andy Bowden is still enjoying Bavaria.
4) Big surf expected in Hawaii.
5) Wheaton College announces an opening in Old Testament.
10:27 AM Nothing like a freshly mowed front yard.
Still to do: Mop the porches, trim the bushes, do a trash run, drive to Ace Hardware in Clarksville ("our fair city").
8:52 AM I'm a bit ashamed to say it, but last night I had my first introduction to Gordon Fee's short commentary on Philippians. I gained many insights into the letter just from reading the first few pages.
Fee, for example, asks why the church's "overseers and deacons" are mentioned in the opening salutation. Highly unusual for Paul. The three answers he gives are spot on and frankly, powerful stuff:
1) He notes, first of all, that the terms are all plural. "No evidence exists for a single leader as the head of the local assembly in the Pauline churches."
2) The words "along with" are a sure indication that Paul viewed these leaders not as being "over" the church but as part of the whole and simply extensions of the body.
3) The terms are not titles. Instead, they refer to functions: "people who care for others," and "people who serve others" (in some special way).
What are the implications for today? "Much in every way" (to paraphrase Paul).
1) Does your local congregation have a plurality of leaders? Do you enjoy a "fellowship of leadership" (the term is Michael Green's)? You can. You should.
2) As leaders, do you consider yourselves as part of the church, first and foremost? Shepherds are still sheep in the flock we call the church. In fact, the latter is their primary identity. Are you willing to recede into the group and become "one of us"?
3) Can you go by your first name? Can you dispense with those fancy diplomas on your office wall? You are either qualified to lead or you are not. People can tell without the external trappings.
My heart was strangely warmed and unusually disturbed by reading what Fee had to say about leadership. I have to say I was impressed with Fee's handling of the text. So honestly, can you really say your church is biblical if you do not follow these basic principles of church leadership? Now, we could debate the merits of eldership endlessly, as with many other points of doctrine. Fine. But my point is that appealing to our church "tradition" to support our views won't help the matter. Whatever "leadership" means, it always aims to replicate Calvary. The way up is truly down.
Monday, August 4
9:28 PM So here I was, standing on the front porch, and who should come along but this spider...
... slowly going round and round, weaving his web, patiently, doggedly. To think we can find God only in church is a patent absurdity. Open your eyes and there He is -- in the workings of a spider web, the design of a flower petal, a dog's eyes, a lover's embrace. Have you seen a tree catch on fire at sunset? Or a firefly light up the path before you?
"Does God seem far away?" someone once asked. "Guess who moved?
8:50 PM The dogs just took me for a walk. Here's our home sweet home:
8:25 PM This email blessed my socks off:
8:18 PM Just finished my book about Ethiopian evangelicalism written by an Ethiopian evangelical. Sometimes a book isn't all you thought it would be. Oh well. I agree that authors should be able to write anything they want to, and to write how they want to write it. Just be prepared to be disappointed -- and don't let that disappointment get to you.
I won't bother with another book by this author, though.
8:12 PM "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7). Grateful tonight for godly leaders.
6:35 PM Dinner of champions!
This Italian donut should last me for at least three meals.
1:23 PM Okay, so I'm not a "Christian agrarian," but I do try to farm to the glory of God. And He's been so good me!
Today He gave me a dry day when I could mow, and look at the orchard grass -- leafy and perfect.
Yes, looks like a second cutting this year. It's all part of the fun of working the land. Once again I'm in awe at the way God orchestrates our lives. He weaves a farm into the tapestry of an Island boy. How crazy is that?
10:10 AM Hey blogging buds! Did you happen to listen to the TED Radio Hour on NPR yesterday? It was a fascinating program on child raising. Parents are asking themselves one question: How can I raise my children so that they will be happy? This question drives American culture. It wasn't always so, said one expert who was interviewed. Prior to the industrial revolution, children were expected to work for their parents. Today, she said, it is the opposite: Parents work for their children. We are expected to help them with their homework, drive them to soccer games, make sure they play the piano or the violin, etc. We drive them to excel in school so that they can get into college and "succeed" in life. But a good college education doesn't guarantee happiness. Because it simply can't.
So the program took a shift in direction. The question became, not how can we make our children happy, but what character qualities can we teach our children that will ensure that happiness is a by-product when they grow up? Now if that's not a biblical idea! I'm delighted that a secular program had the audacity to challenge pop culture on the topic. They began to talk about instilling within our children, say, a high work ethic, or the priority of loving others. That way, it doesn't matter in the least whether or not they go to college or play the violin. Happiness is not the goal of parenting. It can't be. Your faith and love is what counts. These ought to motivate you to love others actively and practically. True living is more than a job or an ability. So much more!
The odd thing is that so many of us American parents are pursuing happiness for our children as a goal in itself. And get this: The "American Dream" has now been exported to other nations, including mainland China. In China they even talk about the Chinese Dream. The idea is to build a prosperous society.
One person interviewed said, "My dream is to enroll my child in the best university, in the best American university." And so Chinese families are moving to America for one purpose: so that their children can have an American education. As if that would produce happiness! Chinese home buyers now make up a quarter of all immigrant home purchases in the United States. There's something so, well, human about this pursuit of the "Dream." I once bought into it, and maybe you did too. The only hitch is that a good job and a nice home do not satisfy, because they were never meant to satisfy. Malcolm Muggeridge put it perfectly in his famous "Living Water" quote:
Man, that quote will almost give you a coronary! It was the surprise of my life when I acquired all the things I sought and discovered that what Muggeridge said is absolutely true. In the end, I think us parents will do much better (and the world will be a much better place) if we chucked the whole idea of the "American Dream" or the "Chinese Dream." Don't try to be a success. Try to follow Jesus. Avoid the bum advice of well-meaning people. Tell your kids there's no time for Plan B. They've got to grab hold of Jesus and then pray like crazy that they will never, ever, seek anything other than the Living Water that He offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.
8:20 AM A friend of mine has been teaching through the Gospel of Mark. "Time's up! Change the way you think and act!" So says Jesus in Mark chapter 1. He calls for a radical transformation of every aspect of our lives -- our attitudes, our thoughts, our outlooks, our priorities, our direction. I often ask my students whether they have ever considered making such a radical transformation. Jesus doesn't make sense. He hasn't made sense to me for years. For me, the greatest reason to teach the Gospel of Mark is because the upside-down kingdom of Jesus is real, and because the kingdom is real it has the right to the allegiance of every person who claims to be a believer. The question is: How will I respond? For starters, take Mark's description of John the Immerser. What a contrast between him and our youth today. He could care less about being "in." He dared to be different. He lived and ate simply. He said, "He must increase, and I must decrease." No interest in position, prosperity, power, or popularity. He poured himself into his life's work. As I begin to teach again in two weeks I keep asking myself, "Am I a prisoner to people's expectations?" I need to teach to the best of my abilities, not according to someone else's standards. I love teaching. You might say it completes the loop of ministry: because my own Greek professor poured himself into me, now my students are on the receiving end in a very substantial way. May God help me to teach well.
8:05 AM Recently a student and I discussed Paul's philosophy of self-support (Acts 20, 1 Cor. 9, etc.). I was reminded of a famous statement George Muller once made. It's recorded in his Autobiography (pp. 36-37).
How weak is my faith compared to that great and humble man's.
Sunday, August 3
9:25 PM My dogs love nothing more than popcorn.
They are such polite beggars too.
Back to my book ....
8:52 PM Hey folks! This is where I sat just a few minutes ago, reading 2 Corinthians 1.
A passage in this chapter spoke to me so vividly that I just had to come inside and blog about it. I'm throwing these words out there as sort of an internet song of praise and an awed hush in the presence of the God who answers prayer.
Let me go back in time a couple of hours. Today I was getting caught up on emails as well as checking out certain Christian websites I visit occasionally. One of the them was defending this blogger's brand of ____ -ism and mocking a brother pastor with whom he disagreed. In the years that I have lived and worked as a professor and missionary, I have watched all kinds of believers get caught up in all kinds of crusades and causes that, though not sinful in themselves, easily become distractions and keep us from focusing on the goal of building and expanding the kingdom. Folks, when we become apologists for this or that red-hot issue it is often nothing more than a subtle form of pride, which is sin. And then I opened my inbox and read an email from a dear brother in India whom Becky and I have supported for years. In his email he included this picture.
It shows the new motor bike we helped to purchase for an evangelist who works in a number of different unreached people groups in the region of India bordering Nepal and Sikkim. (I have plans to visit there in the next few months.) Here is a man who literally risks his neck every single time he travels to share the Gospel. People, I am not even kidding here. Is it any wonder that I spend so much of my time crying out to my brothers and sisters in the First World on behalf of the lost millions in the Two-Thirds World? Is it any wonder that I am so passionate about coming alongside my brother evangelists in places like India who are ready and willing to do the work if only they had our support? To be perfectly honest, I am offended by the spirit of jocularity and even hubris that I see in some of our apologetics websites. Here we are, citizens of the Western world, free from the basic wants that make living so difficult in other parts of the world, and we are arguing about ____-ism? As I read 2 Corinthians (a book that is all about missions), I see that God's plan is quite different from ours. God desires that there should be equity between His people on a worldwide basis. Paul writes, "Your abundance should be a supply for their want ... so that there may be equity" (2 Cor. 8:13-14). The conclusion is obvious and inescapable: Affluent believers in the West must share what they have with their poorer brethren in the rest of the world. We own nothing. We are merely stewards of these spiritual and material blessings, and God is calling us to invest our wealth in the kingdom of God.
So to return to the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. Here's what Paul writes: "From such terrible dangers of death He saved us and will save us, and we have placed our hope in Him that He will save us again as you help us by means of your prayers for us. So it will be that the many prayers for us will be answered, and God will bless us, and many will raise their voices to Him in thanksgiving for us." Tonight I raise my voice in thanksgiving to Almighty God. For months I prayed that someone would help me shoulder the burden of purchasing this expensive motorcycle for a brother evangelist. A congregation in North Carolina took up the call, and together we were able to supply this need. All together now: Praise God! I'm not ashamed to say that I weep when I see God providing for the needs of His people in the Majority World. Our participation makes a huge difference. And so I am here today, asking you to spend time in prayer and even to invest your resources to facilitate the spread of the Gospel in India. I am absolutely convinced that there are enough sponsors in the Western church (North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand) to meet the basic needs of each and every native missionary needed to evangelize the Third World. What a tragedy when we spend our time defending our view of _______ when literally thousands of God-qualified evangelists are ready to be sent forth in India. We seem to be driven more by our powerful egos to be right than by a heart broken for the lost of the world. God blesses us for a purpose -- not that we should squander our blessings on ourselves but so that we should use our resources wisely to win the lost to God's saving grace.
Friends, know that I value you. I treasure your partnership in the Gospel and will lift you up in prayer as we fight this battle together. I am as prone to sloth and selfishness as anyone. I am from laid back Hawaii, remember? Anyone who knows me is probably aware that sitting in an airplane for hours on end ranks right up there with Chinese Water Torture on my list of fun things to do in life. Somewhere along the way, though, God began to get a hold of my heart. I'm not the missionary I want to be, but I love seeing God work in places like India. I love seeing the smile of an evangelist when he receives a motorcycle he thought he would never have even if he lived for a million years. I love to see local churches in North America begin to move forward with deep conviction to see the Gospel preached and the Great Commission truly fulfilled in our generation. Above all, I love to see Christians following the example of Jesus, who kept the supreme priority of sharing the message of salvation before Him at all times, even though it cost Him His life.
The challenge of Asia cries out to us here in the West. God is calling all of us to be a part of what He is doing.
8:37 AM While we're on the subject of prayer and gluttony...
1) I recall once donating blood to the Red Cross in Southern California. I was seated at a table about to polish off the perfunctory cookie and fruit juice they give you after they draw your blood. As was my custom, I bowed my head to pray silently before eating. Suddenly I felt two Red Cross workers gently lifting me by the arms. "It's okay," they said. "You'll feel better after resting a bit on this cot." You should have heard me trying to convince them that I didn't feel faint but was only thanking God for my food!
2) I read the following exercise tweets recently:
I reckon the professional ministry has some advantages after all.
8:25 AM Headline, headline, read all about it!
Don't believe me?
Henry Neufeld chimes in: I Think I’d Go Somewhere Else. Man, Henry, you've got it all wrong. That's my kind of a restaurant! Hmmm ... I wonder if they'd add an additional discount if I prayed for forgiveness at the end of the meal for over-eating?
P. S. I hate to mention it, but the Research is In: Baptists are Fat!
8:06 AM Want to be published? A major Christian publisher discusses the differences between evangelical publishing houses in a fascinating essay called Overlapping Publishing Models. You'll learn a lot about publishing by reading it. Every author needs a publisher, but finding the right match isn't always easy. I could never run a publishing business, but I love publishers and publishing houses, especially the convenience that comes with a modern publisher. Speaking of publishers, congratulations to Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month. Can you believe it -- Henry has published seven of my works. Glutton for punishment, if you ask me.
7:58 AM "We should serve God even if there is darkness enveloping our life and even if we don't understand what's happening ... even when the circumstances of our life don't make sense. Because He is worthy of praise. Because He is God." Max Lucado.
7:55 AM A local body I know and love well is deciding today whether or not to have elders. I'm praying for them. I wrote the following in The Jesus Paradigm:
7:49 AM To gratify the flesh does not necessarily mean grossly immoral living. It means pandering to the old self-life, the Adamic nature, as opposed to Christ. A young seminary student (or professor for that matter) seeking to establish for himself a "name" is living for the flesh as surely as the worst profligate. Certainly the apostle Paul had more right than anyone to claim that he had "made it," yet even he would boast only in the cross of Christ. A sure sign of revival in our churches will come when our preachers and academicians put away their titles and diplomas and refuse to live any longer in rarified spiritual superiority far removed from the problems of the common parishioner.
Saturday, August 2
9:55 PM How many times?
9:39 PM The day is fast drawing to a close and my heart is ready to burst with happiness and joy. I was joined tonight by my daughter Matthea and her husband Jon and we enjoyed the best Ethiopian food this side of heaven at the Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill. (Yes, Ethiopian food is the official cuisine of glory.)
I end the day realizing how blessed I am. My thanks to sister Friesh for providing the perfect meal, as she always does. Ijig betam konjono!
Today my heart was filled with a new song. I'm gonna try and learn it by heart and sing it the rest of the year.
P.S. Amazon delivers -- again!
4:38 PM Off to celebrate Becky's life.
4:36 PM "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all of your anxiety on him because He cares for you." 1 Pet. 5:6-7.
4:34 PM "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Cor. 15:57.
4:29 PM "For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone." Lam. 3:31-33.
4:25 PM "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have receive from God." 2 Cor. 1:3-4.
10:32 AM It has been quite some time since I changed the air filters in the house, so I got that job done today.
You'll never guess what clogs up my spiritual filters like nothing else. No, it's not watching TV or blogging. It's not wasting time moping around the house. It's -- are you ready? -- reading books about the Bible. You smile, think to yourself, Now I know Dave's gone off the deep end. He loves books! He's even written a few himself. How in the world can he claim that books about the Bible clog up his spiritual walk with God?
Let me tell you how.
They keep me from reading the Bible itself.
Whenever I'm asked, "What made you and Becky change so much during the last 15 years of your marriage?" I can tell you the honest truth: We began to lay aside everything the "experts" were saying about missions, or the church, or how to raise a family and began just relying on the simple teachings of the word. (Interestingly, the Bereans reached the same conclusion.) Folks, it's all a matter of priorities. For many of us, the only infallible source of information about God are books by (name your favorite Christian authors) which may be supplemented, illustrated, and illuminated by the Bible. Actually, the truth is the opposite: The only infallible source of information about God is the Bible, which may be supplemented, illustrated, and illuminated by (name your favorite Christian authors). Despite what others are saying ("You've just got to read my book, you've got to listen to my sermons"), God has given you the ability to think for yourself. He has granted you "an anointing from the Holy One, and you have no need for anyone to teach you." For starters, I might recommend reading the Bible at least as often as you read books about the Bible. Give the word at least equal time! Or perhaps you just need to detox from reading your favorite human author for a month or so. Generally speaking, authors like myself are the first to tell you that we are hardly infallible. The same is true of any sermon you hear about the Bible. "The trouble with some of us," wrote Leslie Dixon Weatherhead, "is that we have been inculcated with small doses of Christianity which keep us from catching the real thing." Years ago I decided to stop living life vicariously. I'm too busy doing the real deal. I still enjoy an occasional movie, but it's a pursuit that isn't eternal. As head of the church, Jesus invites us to feast on Him. It's just a matter of giving Him enough elbow room to do that.
Try reading your Bible amid the noise and confusion of the world you're facing today. It might well clean out some of the filters that have become clogged through the years.
9:08 AM Today, as you may know, marks an important anniversary of a traumatic event. It was 25 years ago today that a United Airlines plane crash landed in Sioux City, Iowa. This morning on NPR, Scott Simon interviewed Laurence Gonzalez about his new book about the crash, Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival. Listen to it if you can, especially if you or someone you love has ever gone through a significant traumatic event.
What are the survivors doing today? How are they coping with the trauma 25 years after the event? Most of the flight crew went back to flying within months of the crash. One of the passengers, a young student from Japan, became an airplane pilot and flies every other day. Many never flew again. None got over the disaster emotionally. At least not completely. People who have experienced trauma often have their trigger points. One of the surviving passengers later witnessed the attack on 9/11, and her PTSD immediately returned.
Was Becky's death traumatic for me? I would have to say yes. Her death seemed so untimely, so sudden, so premature. Really, I have no words to describe how I felt that day. Rest and sleep became a struggle. Tears were common. On the other hand, through those tears I found my heart. I renewed my faith in God. I experienced the One who moves "near the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Ps. 34:18). I held out my weak arms to Him and He hugged me, is still hugging me with a grasp that will never let go. I know I am not alone even in my loneliness. Today I am ready to celebrate her life, give expression to my most precious memories. I'm stabilized now, but the trauma is always there in the background, lingering like a bad sinus headache. My goals today are the same they were exactly 9 months ago: accept the loss, work though my grief, adjust to daily life without Becky, and move from presence to memory. One thing is sure: I may let her go, but she will never leave me.
I love you, Becky Lynn Black. You will never be forgotten.
7:40 AM A good (rainy) morning to one and all! Seems impossible that the semester is almost upon us. My year-long sabbatical was just what I needed. I wasn't anticipating a funeral but God, who always knows best, had other plans. It was a blessing to be able to be with Becky daily as she finished her race. It was great having so much family around too. This is shaping up to be an exceptionally busy fall. A week from Monday our faculty workshop begins, then we have convocation the following Tuesday. In between I'm making a quick trip to upstate New York to see Liz and Matt's new house. The last weekend of August I'll be back in one of my favorite spots on earth (Gettysburg) to speak at a conference. In September I'm giving a missions message at Clement Baptist Church and then participating in the 412 Church apologetics conference in San Jacinto, California. I'm tentatively scheduled to leave for Asia on Oct. 2, and then I'm speaking seven times (Oct. 14, 19-22, and 25-26) at three different Bible conferences in North Carolina. November, of course, is my Odessa trip.
I've got a pretty normal fall teaching schedule: Greek 1, Greek 3 (syntax and exegesis), and a Ph.D. seminar in Philippians. The latter course will be completely student-led while I serve as a facilitator. Each student will treat one of the steps in exegesis (historical analysis, literary analysis, textual analysis, lexical analysis, syntactical analysis, structural analysis, rhetorical analysis, tradition analysis, theological analysis, and homiletical analysis), plus four students will read papers on special topics in Philippians (the debate over the discourse structure of the letter, for example). I'm not sure I feel very confident about how some of these topics will be handled, especially rhetorical analysis, which is rarely taught as a part of exegesis. Yet this is one of the most rewarding aspects of exegesis, in my opinion. Philippians overflows with rhetoric. Just like we read in the opening paragraph of Hebrews, Paul conveys his meaning in Philippians in a richly textured way, using "many forms and many ways." He assumed, of course, that his letter would be read aloud to the church (all reading in the first century was reading aloud), so I'm not surprised at his use of catchwords, inclusios, repetition, and chiastic structures. He delights in simple yet profound word plays: We are the peritome (those who cut "around," i.e., the circumcision), while the Judaizers are the katatome (those who cut "off," hence the mutilators). In calling his opponents "dogs" and "evil workers" he intends as much to insult as to inform, much like Luther once called the pope, not "Your Holiness" but "Your Hellishness." All of these rhetorical devices are designed to foster a greater awareness of Paul's message: we are to live in a manner required by the Gospel (1:27).
In all of this, regardless of where I am or what I'll be doing, God wants me to love others. "Life is not lost by dying," wrote Stephen Vincent Benet. "Life is lost minute by minute, day by day dragging, in all the thousand small uncaring ways." The bottom line is that I don't really know what I will be doing this fall; God alone knows that. The same is true of you. You have no idea what kinds of challenges you will face next week, next month, next year. But God does because He's gone before you and scouted out the territory. "Do not be afraid," we read in Deut. 31:8, "for the Lord will go personally ahead of you." Both the Old and New Testaments (see Heb. 13:5) offer the ultimate assurance that God will never fall us or forsake us. We need only follow Him.
For what it's worth, here's the sabbatical report I'll be giving next week in the faculty workshop. Blessings! Dave
Sabbatical Report 2013-2014
David Alan Black
Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament
I wish to sincerely thank the administration and board of trustees of SEBTS for granting me this sabbatical. Providentially, it turns out I needed to be home fulltime when Becky entered hospice care at the farm. I was with her 24/7 until she drew her last breath on Nov. 2. Thank you, again, for this great privilege. A summary of my sabbatical activities follows. Sincerely in Christ, Dave Black
Sabbatical Ministry Travels:
Asia (September, 2013)
Ethiopia (December, 2013)
Hawaii (January 2014)
California (February 2014)
New York (May 2014)
Hawaii (July 2014)
Pericope Adulterae Conference (SEBTS, April 25-26)
The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul (2013)
Seven Marks of a New Testament Church: A Guide for Christians of All Ages (2014)
It's All Greek to Me: Confessions of an Unlikely Academic (2014)
The Pericope Adulterae in Modern Research (co-editor with Jacob N. Cerone
"Greek Grammar," Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception
"The Translation of Hebrews 6:1," Festschrift for Antonio Piñero, Professor of New Testament Philology at the Complutense University of Madrid
Aprenda a Leer el Griego del Nuevo Testamento (Spanish translation of Learn to Read New Testament Greek)
La Historia de Mi Vida: Un Testimonio de la Gracia y la Fidelidad de Dios (Spanish translation of My Life Story by Becky Lynn Black)
My Life Story by Becky Lynn Black (2014)
Friday, August 1
5:25 PM Amazon has come through again:
Yep, Koester on Hebrews and Mike Mason's powerful book on marriage (which all of my daughters will receive).
Still more to come....
11:53 AM As someone who has raised beef cattle on his farm, I couldn't resist linking to this ditty.
11:13 AM Joel Brasher asks, "Do you believe in a pretribulational rapture? Should you?" What I found most interesting was his very next blog post showing his team in Vermont doing works of mercy in Jesus' name. Love that juxtaposition! The Bible constantly urges believers to be busy about the kingdom while awaiting the return of their King. I care not one whit what your view on the tribulation is unless you are doing something for Jesus. When our Lord ascended to heaven He didn't vacate the planet. He left His followers behind ("Left Behind"!) and filled them with His Spirit so that they could serve for Him, speak for Him, and love for Him. If people around us fail to recognize Him for who He is, perhaps it's because we're failing to do our job.
10:42 AM Loved this email:
10:04 AM Ever feel like a verse in the Bible was written just for you?
Becky and I were married for 37 years. I tell people, "Did you know that Becky had three husbands?" They look at me like I have ten heads. But it's true. Here's the evidence (from Biola to Basel to Bradford Hall):
Which period of your relationship with Becky was your favorite, you ask? All three, to tell the truth. You know, the excitement of being newlyweds, the passion for life, the eagerness to start a family, the thrill of getting established in jobs and careers. The first trimester of our marriage was for us a thrilling time. We also discovered that God doesn't promise us fail-safe, risk-free Christianity. Things don't work out like in the movies. He didn't guarantee either of us immunity from disappointment and hurt. But we held out and grew.
And the second trimester? We had the world at our fingertips. A modicum of wealth. Solid reputations. Homeschooling. The list is a mile long. We began to realize a deep truth about Christianity: our spiritual maturity mattered more than our physical maturity. Our actions would speak louder than our age.
It seemed like we entered the winter of life before either of us were ready it for it. We began to feel hindered by our age and limitations. We also learned that God could use us in big, extraordinary ways if we were only willing to trust Him. We began to look forward to eternity, to that day when "the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). Unlike some, we never did hop on the biblical prophecy bandwagon. We thought, instead, that we should be occupying till He comes, and so we worked harder than ever for His kingdom. We felt a new, spiritual, inward power to do His will. As Isaiah writes, "Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint" (Isa. 40:31). I think the hardest part of getting old is simply letting go and trusting God for such basic things as the ability to put on your shoes in the morning or to cope with a 15-hour plane ride. Pretty soon you've got yourself convinced that God is there to support you in your dotage. In the past few years, Becky and I began to realize that God is in the pearl-making business. Pearls don't just happen. It begins with a small grain of sand -- an irritant -- that gets imbedded in the soft inner folds of an oyster. The oyster says, "What's this?" and begins to soothe the irritant with a rich fluid that forms a smooth surface -- a hard pearl. I think that's the way it was with us. God had been turning the irritants in our lives into priceless gems. Instead of feeling limited by our age and infirmities, we turned them over to the Lord and He began His work of grace.
Today, I am alone in this world. So today I will do what every old man must do if He is a follower of Jesus. I will seek to live out my faith in very ordinary ways and trust God in very extraordinary ways. I'm not just another widower lost in the noise of life. I'm a unique creation of God whom He is lovingly guiding along the path He feels is best for me, according to His eternal perspective. Pure and simple, my salvation is guaranteed by His blood, and He (and Becky) will be waiting for me at the gates with His arms wide open and my name on His lips.
Friend, don't fear old age. Find on older person whom you can follow because they display God's beauty -- someone like Becky whose faith was as radiant as a summer sunrise despite being trapped in a body withered by cancer. Despite her disease, her smiles were bigger and her praises louder than anybody I ever knew. Not a day goes by when I do not thank God for her testimony and ask Him to make me like that. The amazing thing is that it's within our power to decide how we will face life.
9:12 AM Because of my schedule I will have to miss this year's annual Society for New Testament Studies meeting in Szeged. The program looks fabulous. I would especially have been interested in the presidential address:
I imagine education in the early church operated a bit differently than what we know and are used to today.
9:06 AM "The only peace that is worthy of the name is peace with God." William Hendriksen.