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May 2015 Blog Archives


Saturday, May 9


9:36 AM List of things to do for Saturday, May 9:

  • Deep clean my bedroom

  • Wash clothes (again!)

  • Cook meals for the week

  • Walk fence line

  • Saw fallen tree in pasture

  • Repair fences

  • Fix picture frame

  • Clean front porch and remove pine dust

  • Replace hardware in my bathtub

I mention this because I am lazy by nature and would much rather be surfing or riding or writing. Earnestness is not activity. Neither can I wait for the "unction" to fall on me. Just grit your teeth and get 'er done, Dave!

8:02 AM Did you know there are Two Kinds of Church Unity according to John 17?

There are two kinds of church unity – mechanical like the staves of a barrel held together by the external pressure of hoops; and vital, like the roots, trunk and branches of a tree unified by the mysterious inward force which we call life.

These are like night and day. They are polar opposites.

For which of these did Jesus pray? We find our answer in these words which He had just uttered, "I am the true vine" (John xv. 1). He prayed for vital unity, the only oneness worth praying for. This is infinitely superior to that illusory thing after which many are striving, a church unity through an exterior governmental uniformity.

Just think:

  • You can have a marriage that has a perfunctory unity without a vital relationship.

  • You can have grown children who relate to you mechanically and those who seek a deep fellowship with you.

  • You can have a local church whose unity is merely mechanical because internally it is divided into various factions.

It's encouraging to know that I'm in good company. Every marriage goes through phrases where intimacy seems to be lacking. I know mine did. Every parent experiences closeness at times and distance at other times with their children. That's pretty normal. And every local church faces "growth stages" when disunity drives it to come face to face with the real issues and perhaps deal with them openly and honestly. More importantly, our relationship with God can easily become perfunctory. In a crowd of Christians, sure, I can act very Christian. But God isn't fooled by my play-acting. I know full well when He's close -- and when He isn't.

Our goal as Christians should be to penetrate beyond the surfacy stuff in our relationships and move toward "that mysterious inward force we call life." Ever talk to a Christian couple who has been married for a very long time? They will admit they've had a roller-coaster experience of feelings toward each other. There have been bright days, and there have been stormy days, exuberant highs and devastating lows. But when they talk to you they'll probably end by saying something like, "But it's been worth it all." You see, Jesus really is the vine. He's our access to life and spiritual health. He left no doubt about it: If you abide in Me, you will enjoy real life.

Perhaps it's time we stopped white-washing our relationships. And, I have a feeling that if I would start first with my relationship to God, my other relationships would all fall into place.

Friday, May 8

7:34 PM She started building her nest weeks ago. She situated it in the far corner of the porch.

From where I sat, it looked like she would work for a while and then fly away for hours. But then today, as I sat on the porch, I thought to myself, There are furry things up there. I couldn't see much sitting down, so I climbed up on a ladder for a better view. Would you believe it? Four little fur balls, sound asleep.

This scenario is undoubtedly being played out on a thousand front porches all across Virginia. But something in me says, "These are your babies, Dave, to enjoy for however long they are in their nest." I recall hearing that John Stott was an avid bird watcher. That surprised me. I had this notion that bird watchers were people who didn't have it all together. But Stott was just being biblical. "Look at the birds of the air," said the Savior. "They neither sow nor reap not gather into barns. Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them." And then He added, as if for emphasis: "You are more valuable than they are, aren't you?"

What are some of your needs today, friend? A job? Rest? Finances? Healing? A word of encouragement? Birds are God's way of saying "I'm here to take care of you. I'm constantly at your side, encouraging you and helping you and providing for you through times of celebration and times of despair. You are surrounded by Me!" I'm amazed at that. God is just that close to me. I am God's child! I am not an orphan!

All of a sudden, bird watching just became very personal.

4:42 PM "There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse" (John Lubbock).

Rode for two hours today.

Magnificent feeling. "The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire" (Sharon Ralls Lemon).

8:42 AM If you're needing a break, here are a few thoughts from Mark Dance: Five Keys to Recharging This Summer. To his list I might add:

  • Make a Mother's Day card instead of buying it

  • Go horseback riding

  • Take a long walk at sunset

  • Pick some flowers and put them on your dining room table

  • Keep your mouth shut and actually listen to the nature all around you

  • Take a bubble bath

  • Ride a bike

  • Surprise your spouse with an act of kindness

  • Quit a bad habit

  • Belch out loud

  • Visit a National Park

  • Tinker

  • Update your blog

  • Watch the fireflies at night

  • Sing "Amazing Grace" at the top of your lungs

  • Sleep in

  • Give your dog a cookie

  • Write a handwritten letter to grandma or grandpa

Finally: No need to blush or feel guilty that you're indulging yourself in a few extravagant pleasures. As the psalmist says, "The Lord frees the prisoners" (146:7). Even from our own hectic lives.

Thursday, May 7

8:48 PM What a beautiful evening it is. I just got back indoors after sitting on the front porch with the puppies. Earlier I had to do some shopping in town so I decided to eat at one of our favorite places in Clarksville, the Great Wall of China. As I sat alone at my table I remembered with fondness all the times Becky and I dined here -- she enjoying her Chow Mein noodles and me my spicy chicken. For dessert I came home and broiled a couple slices of Hawaiian Sweet Bread -- another nod to Becky who never tired of that delicacy. I have a full day of farm work tomorrow so today I got caught up on indoor chores such as washing clothes and folding towels. Seminary-wise, we were sent the list of graduates today for our approval. I know one is never justified in enumerating one's poultry while the process of incubation is incomplete, but I think I'm justified in saying that this crop of graduates will produce a fine number of academics whom the world will soon hear about. I sometimes feel a certain guilt in knowing that I have not often set and pursued academic goals with relentless effort and determination. I know I've often fallen short of my own professional goals. But then again, God does not need my efforts to raise up a generation of passionate, godly, and thinking scholars who will wear their learning lightly and serve the Lord as much as, if not more than, the guild. I've already begun praying for these future scholars, recalling the words of William Law, "There is nothing that makes us love a person so much as praying for them." As unbelievable as it sounds, next week I complete my 38th year of teaching Greek. I keep pinching myself. I suppose it's been the perfect career track for me. I am so proud of our graduates. You know, opportunities are pretty common. They present themselves to us almost every day. It's the people who know how to seize these opportunities who are rare. Well, we've got a rare bunch of grads, and long after their seminary experience becomes a distant memory I trust they will never forget the foundation that was laid here.

3:16 PM Dads, get the Kleenex out.

12:46 PM My thanks to Abraham for his kind endorsement.

8:54 AM One of my crazy daughters has just purchased tickets for us to go on the Alexandria Bike and Boat Ride to celebrate my birthday. Yes, yours truly will huff and puff his way by bicycle from Alexandria to Mount Vernon on June 13.

Thankfully, Miss Christin will pick us up and return us to Old Town. (Miss Christin is a river boat.) Well, I've never visited Washington's old home site, nor have I ever seen the Potomac by boat, so what's to lose? Just hope I can get a bike with training wheels.

8:28 AM Paul Maxwell has just published To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce. Among many of the important points he makes is this one: "Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected." To love our family completely, we must wrench our affections from all that hinders our relationships. To grow in our family relationships, we must say "no" to the weeds produced by the flesh. "To be in good moral condition," wrote Nehru, "requires at least as much training as to be in good physical condition." What's wrong with most advice about living with divorce is that it's too simplistic. If your essay can't provide all the answers, why I'll hop to another website or seek out another counselor! The frustration of living with the fallout of divorce is the very thing that James says we not only are to endure but endure joyfully (James 1:2-4). As Paul Maxwell notes, "Brokenness is not unrighteousness."

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

I like to think of my parents' divorce when I was 3 as a pearl. A pearl doesn't just create itself. A pearl is formed when a grain of sand is imbedded in the soft inner folds of an oyster, which in turn soothes the irritant with a rich fluid that eventually forms a hard surface -- a pearl. I know the odds sometimes seem staggering. You face issues that others never even have to consider. Yet God is at work in our divorce-laden lives. He is in the business of taking life's greatest irritants and making them into priceless gems. But, as Paul points out, it's a process that takes time. It can't be rushed.

Wednesday, May 6

9:16 PM In this video, Henry Neufeld interviews Robert Martin about his book The Caregiver's Beatitudes.

Robert and his wife were going through "normal existence" when they got the surprise of their life. Cancer struck, and Robert was suddenly faced with becoming his wife's caregiver. That's when he began to share his personal struggle, gripped by the words of Jesus in the beatitudes of Matthew 5.

There have been many times when darkness has crept into my own life. Perhaps you know the feeling. Life turns black. You struggle with fear and doubt. You feel like you're facing a hopeless tangle of problems. And then you turn to the Owner's Manual and you discover that the Bible is like no other book in the world. If the Sermon on the Mount is for us today (and it is), we should read it and study it -- and take courage from it. You think cancer is awful? So does God. He promises one day to rid the world of all sorrow and suffering, but until then He blesses those who are grieving and sorrowing and suffering. Jesus is the way out of darkness. Through the Holy Spirit, God is still at work in us -- helping us to simply cope. Unlike the God of the Deists, He doesn't create us and then sit back and watch us struggle. He is there, and He is not silent. It's just a matter of letting Him (back) into our lives.

Blessed are you when you fumble badly and drown yourself in self-pity and shrug and say, "Sure, I'm fine" and don't mean it and can't understand what is happening to you. No kidding, the Lord really does promise us His peace when we think we're going crazy. This is the message of Robert's book. His was a spiritual battle, yet he endured and persevered through every trial and bout of despair.

Praise be to God.

8:10 PM Have you seen this video yet? Wowsers! It reminded me that I'm not playing a game with my life. Pure and simple, the Christian life is a grueling foot race. The only hitch is that you've got to keep on going, cocking an ear toward heaven and an eye toward the Author and Finisher of faith. And on that day when I cross the finish line, I expect He will be waiting for me at the tape with outstretched arms and my name on His lips.

7:12 PM Hey folks! Trust you're having a good week. Mine has been extraordinarily spectacular thus far. This is the view that met me this morning on campus.

As you might imagine, I never tire of the beauty of SEBTS. But there's more:

1) I am pleased to announce that The Pericope of the Adulteress in Modern Research has been accepted for publication in T & T Clark's Library of New Testament Studies series. You may recall that SEBTS hosted a major conference on this topic in April of 2014.

Well, the papers have now been assembled in book form. Yours truly and my former assistant and current Th.M. student Jacob Cerone are serving as editors. Here are the contents:

Foreword:  Gail O'Day

Preface: David Alan Black

Introduction: Jacob N. Cerone 

Chapter 1: John David Punch: "The Piously Offensive Pericope Adulterae"

Chapter 2: Jennifer Knust: " 'Taking Away From': Patristic Evidence and the Omission of the Pericope Adulterae from John's Gospel"

Chapter 3: Tommy Wasserman: "The Strange Case of the Missing Adulteress"

Chapter 4:  Chris Keith: "The Pericope Adulterae: A Theory of Attentive Insertion"

Chapter 5: Maurice Robinson: "The Pericope Adulterae: A Johannine Tapestry with Double Interlock"

Chapter 6: Larry Hurtado: "The Pericope Adulterae: Where from Here?

I'll just say that I'm delighted that Gail O'Day agreed to write the foreword and Larry Hurtado the response. And, of course, I am grateful beyond words to T & T Clark. If this book in any way contributes to even one person coming to a better understanding of this key New Testament passage, then the conference was worth the effort a billion times over.

(Note: For a permanent link to this announcement, go here or here.)

2) Moving on, Duke professor Melvin Peters was a huge hit in our LXX class today. Of course, being a Septuagint scholar, he's biased toward that witness to the text of the Hebrew Bible, but he really does make strong case for the originality of a good many readings in the LXX over the MT. The whole subject is very complex and ambiguous, but Dr. Peters has a knack for making the complicated simple without being simplistic. Thank you, sir, for gracing us with your presence on campus today. Here's a shot of the class during the 3-hour lecture.

And during the break.

And as a group.

Honestly, nobody should be allowed to have so much fun in an academic setting. 

3) Changing subjects yet again, I've got lots of pots on the fire, but I'm never too busy to read a good book. Well, I found one at our library last night on Philippians, one chapter of which -- "Friends, Romans, Women: Lend Me Your Context?" -- was splendid.

In it the author, Joseph Marchal, rightly emphasizes the role of 1:27-30 in the discourse structure of the letter. "If Phil. 1:27-30 establishes the purpose of the letter's argument [he writes], then it becomes especially significant that a number of the terms in this section are found in speeches of encouragement given by commanders to their troops when they seemed discouraged or intimidated" (p. 40). The terms he elucidated include politeuesthe ("live as good citizens"), stekete ("stand firm"), me pturomenoi ("not being intimidated"), and paschein ("suffering injury"). Here in 1:27-30 Paul seems to be appealing to his audience's sense of moral and civic obligation. As Christians, we have a duty to be good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel (1:27). This sense of moral obligation is critical for our understanding of the purpose and theme of the letter. The difference, one might argue, is between work and play. As David Jensen notes in his Responsible Labor: A Theology of Work (another fantastic book I checked out from the library last night), the act of marital intimacy is an activity that hardly qualifies as "work" even though it nourishes a relationship. "[W]hen one makes love out of a sense of obligation, the activity ceases to be lovemaking and becomes a mechanical act devoid of happiness and intimacy" (p. 124). By contrast, the activity of living out our heavenly citizenship involves a sense of moral duty that surely qualifies as work, argues Jensen. When, for example, I joined the local volunteer fire department, I undertook this activity at least partly out of a sense of civic obligation to my community. Soldiering on behalf of Christ is one of the activities in which we respond to the God who works in us both to give us the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him (Phil. 2:13). Surely, this is a work worth pursuing, even unto death if necessary. Exercising our heavenly citizenship is the way of Jesus. It's also the only way to true wholeness and abundant joy.

4) Finally, it's been several weeks since I had perused the journals, so I decided to rectify that situation yesterday evening and in so doing stumbled upon an essay in the latest issue of The Bible Translator by John David Punch (who is coincidentally one of the contributors to our volume on the Pericope of the Adulteress). You'll love the title:

Punch argues that Paul uses a vulgar term in Phil. 3:8 to describe the decision he had made to contemptuously cast aside all of his personal and ceremonial privileges for the sake of knowing Christ. To "glory in Christ" we need to reject all efforts at self-righteousness, personal merit, and acquired virtue, Paul argues. What we once valued so highly has, in Him, become loss, refuse, something positively worthless -- even less than worthless, mere skubala. How little I knew of this truth for so many years! There is nothing that can even begin to compare with knowing Christ. In all honesty, some days I still cling to the old credit balance. But Christ says, "Hold nothing back. Test Me and see how precious I am. At your most privileged, at your most zealous and devoted, you are not fit to serve Me. But in Me you are adequate. I know that. But do you?" Folks, take all of your advantages and add them all together. If the sum total is anything but zero, you need to recalculate. Here, by the way, is a photo of what I think Paul was referring to with the word skubala. "Muck" is a polite way of describing it!

I am deeply humbled and honored to be able to share these blessings with you tonight. My prayer is that God uses these paltry thoughts to spur you on to greater love and good works in His Name. I'm excited to be looking forward to our last week of class next week and then to visiting "my" island again. In the meantime, I urge all of us to be FAT: Faithful, Available, and Teachable.



Tuesday, May 5

8:45 AM Just a quick note to let you know the plan for this week. Today I introduce the imperative mood in Greek 2 class (both of them), have lunch with our Provost, have a therapeutic massage on my arthritic neck, and carefully read a book contract I received this morning from a British publisher (details to come). Health-wise my back is "back" to normal again thanks to a day of rest that was recommended to me by one of my daughters (who is a far more conscientious guardian of my health than I am). I'm still reeling from the pictures I've seen of the dedication of the new building in Bagdogra, India, and to those of you who helped make that day possible a huge and sincere "thank you." In other news, I'm happy to report that the hay looks great and is almost ready for cutting and baling though I still have to remove some dead trees that fell into the pastures after the ice storms of the winter. I'm getting the farm ready for some retreatants and I still have to repair the downstairs air conditioning unit in Maple Ridge. Anyone who knows me is probably aware that fixing things ranks right up there with Chinese Water Torture on my list of things to do, but this has to be done as the weather has turned hot again. I can't wait to see the farm activities in full swing again. There's something about the buzz of activity on a farm that isn't like anyplace else in the world. Did I hear someone say they want to volunteer to help me cut fallen logs?

P.S. Happy Cinco de Mayo to all my good friends in Mexico!

Monday, May 4

5:58 PM A couple of completely useless and irrelevant notes:

1) The farm is ablaze in color. I love it!

2) Just prepared my meals for the week. Here's a sampler.

3) In case you didn't know, there's now a website that tracks emoji usage on Twitter. It tells you exactly how many (and which kinds) of emojis are being used that very second.

I use emojis all the time, but I've never used the gun. Gun did you say? What in the world ...??? I predict that "emoji" will one day be declared an official language. Why, we already have Moby Dick translated into this "language" (Emoji Dick), and don't laugh when I say that one day your favorite Bible verse will be available in "biblical" emoji.

Now close this webpage and go do something useful.

Yours truly,


4:32 PM I see that Delta has me flying a 747-400 to Hawaii this month. Can anything in the air beat this jet? In the first place, I lean toward Boeing over Airbus. The Airbus 380 may be bigger and newer than the 747, but the 747 was the first giant passenger jet. Besides, it's just better looking. One of my favorite memories of flying is taking off at Honolulu Airport in August of 1971 aboard a brand new 747. As we rounded Diamond Head I could look down and see the beach where I grew up. Such happy memories.

Oh, I splurged a bit and will be able to enjoy the business class service. I plan on sleeping most of the way from Atlanta to Honolulu so I can surf that afternoon. Am I nuts or what?

3:55 PM Have you noticed? One of the few constants in life is change. Two years ago this month Becky and I were putting the finishing touches on the remodeling of Maple Ridge. Six months later she was in heaven. I guess I'm feeling a little pensive right now. I feel in limbo, in a kind of in-between stage of life, like when you're standing at the end of the high diving board and wondering if you'll ever be able to take the plunge.

I want to be on the other side of change, not constantly staring it in the eyeballs. Tooling around the web today I came across Gina Grizzle's post called simply Whatever. Her thoughts echo my own on this bright and sunny day in southern Virginia:

I have found a couple of bloggers during some really low points of my life over the past few years. The ability to peek into their lives and see their mess and yet their beauty has really been an encouragement to me. Many days, I just needed to know I wasn't dumb, defeated, dangerous to society, or deranged!

Whew. Now I know I'm not unique. Everyone who experiences loss goes through what I'm experiencing. I'm so blessed to have a family and my farm and the animals and a great job. All that being said, I'm not sure where I belong. I want to mean something, to do something crazy in my life and with my life. I've been around the world dozens of times but still I have this nagging urge to try something totally different, to leave the familiar behind and do something where I know my heart will be in my throat. I think, in the final analysis, what I'm afraid of the most is that I'll become irrelevant or that I'll be unable to cope with change or even that I won't make the change quickly enough. Today I was reading the author's preface to a book he'd just published about the Lord's Supper. In it he expresses appreciation to his siblings for standing by him when his son died -- and when his divorce occurred 6 months later. Who knows how one experience in our lives can set in motion a chain of events too horrible to contemplate? When we experience loss, that loss may appear to be random. But it wasn't. Everything in our lives fits a scheme that goes far beyond what our puny brains can dare to contemplate. I often picture my story of loss as fitting into a greater picture and a larger scheme -- most of which I know I'll never come close to fathoming. And so I choose to accept change. I choose to believe that my loss is part of something greater, something designed for me by God Himself. I sometimes reflect on Becky's death, placing myself again in the room and in those dark moments. My mind then takes me back even further into the past -- a reflection of some 60 years that reveal the story of a sapling being formed into a weathered and towering oak, and now that oak has died. Becky's life bore fruit until her works were complete, and then everything in her life spilled over into the next, pointing to reality as God sees it. Frederick Buechner once said, "Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey ahead." It is impossible to go back. Change cannot be reversed. We really must live in the present. Loss forces us to face ourselves as never before. It strips us of all the old familiar props we once relied on. It brings us to the end of the diving board -- or, if you will, to the beginning of a new adventure. It opens us to new ideas and we begin to perceive hints of what it means to be our true and deepest self.

So this is my life. It's quiet and noisy and happy and sad and peaceful and chaotic and same-old-same-old and always changing. It's not your typical life by any means, but I feel pretty blessed to have it.

9:14 AM Who can ever forget Lee's words on the first day of Gettysburg? Witnessing a Federal rout, he ordered his wing commander Richard Ewell to "take those hills if practicable." The "hills" Lee was referring to were, of course, Cemetery and Culp's Hills, to which the retreating Federals were repairing posthaste. Scholars have debated for decades the exact intent of Lee's use of the odd term "practicable." Did he mean "practical"? Or "feasible"? And why was he allowing so much discretion to Ewell, who was engaged in his first battle as a corps commander? Had the Army of Northern Virginia taken "those hills," who knows how the rest of the battle might have turned out for them?

As a student of language, one of my questions for a long time has concerned the use of the term "practicable" itself. I could find no precedent for it -- until yesterday. I've been rereading the story of the American Civil War and just came to the First Battle of Manassas. Union General Irvin McDowell's troops were descending on the Confederate forces along a creek called Bull Run, just north of the town of Centerville, VA. Confederate President Jefferson Davis had divided his forces in Virginia between those of Beauregard at Manassas (with about 22,000 troops) and Johnston at Winchester (with about 11,000 men). Anticipating an attack, at 1:00 am on July 18 Davis sent a telegram to Johnston:

Gen. Beauregard is attacked. To strike the enemy a decisive blow all of your effective force will be needed. If practicable, make the movement...."

Lee used the exact same word at Gettysburg two years later. The problem with the term is that it leaves matters in doubt. Generally speaking, an order by definition is distinctly either one thing or another thing. You either are to do this or that. The term "practicable" too easily allows for non-compliance -- which is exactly what Lee got on Day 1 of Gettysburg. Johnston, on the other hand, quickly moved his infantry toward the fighting, and it was his troops that saved the day for Jefferson Davis and the Confederates at First Manassas.

There is, of course, a place for discretionary orders. Life is rarely black and white. Thus Paul can write, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people" (Rom. 12:18). Paul's words are very wise. This is an age of placation. We go along to get along. We seek unity and eschew divisions, as we should. But not all relationships are reconcilable, try as we might to set things right. So much of the church today puts up with what God would put out. To be sure, we are to be cured of youthful rashness and impatience, but it is just as bad to allow an inoffensive acceptance of things that can and should be changed. The Gospel is repulsive to the senses of many people today, for there is nothing in it to appeal to the natural man. Moreover, even when we take the initiative, we can't control the decisions of others. Thus, while reconciled relationships are the heart of the Christian experience, they are not always possible. We can rejoice when a broken relationship has been restored. But we need not be disappointed into inactivity by a relationship that still needs time to heal. Life often challenges us, and we can either wallow in self-pity or we can allow the challenges of life to widen our perspective and deepen our faith.

Sunday, May 3

9:56 AM If there was ever a statement that drop-kicked consumerism in the teeth, this is it. The Baltimore Orioles played a game -- without any spectators. Wow. Even if no one is watching you, you need to step up to the plate.

My mind went to all of the saints who "play ball" without ever getting any attention or recognition. Many of them are housewives. Friend, let me encourage you. Your time, talents, and contributions are known to God. What you do is vastly important to Him. Millions of people exist only for the praise of others. If you and I do not allow God to develop our identity, we will try to find it in people and popularity. Finding your purpose in human praise is like building your life on the sand. I know of one young leader who is committed to his little flock not far from our farm. There he ministers, week in and week out, for no pay. He plays piano and leads the singing and teaches the word in what one might call "total obscurity." The people want to make him their "pastor" and pay him but he refuses. He will never write a best-selling book or be invited to speak in chapel. But I look up to him. I'm just trying to make the point that even godly Christian leaders can turn the church into marketers and people into commodities. Grow where you're planted. Serve in obscurity if that is what the Lord has asked you to do. Be an Andrew. The most famous thing Andrew ever did was to introduce his brother Simon Peter to the Lord. What if the greatest thing you ever did was to cause someone else to be closer to Jesus? No friends on Facebook. No followers on Twitter. But what could be more epic than pointing others to Christ?

8:25 AM Well, I woke up sore and barely able to move this morning. I need to get better at this balance thing. I love to work so much that I easily overdo it. Here's the thing. I know I'm 62 years old. I know I'm aging. But my heart and my mind and my entire outlook tell me I'm still 24. I can't help but think back to when we were building Bradford Hall or fencing in all 123 acres or constructing the outbuildings on the farm. Where in the world did I get the strength? It's a blessing to be able to work without pain. Unfortunately, those days are long gone. So you just keep plodding on.

It turns out that I know of several churches that are in transition. I mean, big time. Pastors arrive on the scene full of optimism but somewhere along the line things start to go wrong. Think about this:

  • The typical Southern Baptist church has about 90 participants -- 60 adults and 30 children.

  • The typical tenure for pastors is 4 years.

  • In Southern Baptist churches, 6 of 10 sermons focus on conversion rather than edification.

  • 52.9 percent of churches are either plateaud or declining.

I have nothing of earth-shattering importance to say in response. I love the local church. I also love how its Head showed us how to run things. We gather for mutual edification under His headship. Pastors are not to be parachuted in every 4 years. They are to be home grown. Leadership is to be shared. Trying to peal back the layers of tradition is almost impossible in a typical church. In the midst of it all is another, wild note in my soul. Jesus loves us still. He loves His body despite all of our spots and blemishes. The Messiah is not only the Head of the church, He's the Savior of the body. It is He who enables His body to grow. He cares for each member and gives the whole body strength to build itself up in love. He knits her into unity. Just as when a husband realizes that his role as head is both a privilege and a grave responsibility, so the fact that I am part of Christ's body calls for nothing less than total devotion and enthusiasm. Christ's love affair with His bride has no equals in all of history. No Odysseus can match it, nor an Oedipus or a Don Juan. Christ's love is so pure that it forgets what lies behind. His bride's "spots and wrinkles" (possibly of a venereal or leprous character) are nothing for One who has the power to sanctify, purify, and glorify. In turn, the task of the whole church and of every individual believer is to carry out works of service for the praise and glory of God and the benefit of all those who need it. This we can do, regardless of our church's polity and even, to a degree, regardless of the level of spiritual health in our churches. People in our churches need us and our services -- including perhaps "the lonely men at the top." I once viewed the clergy as being distinct from the laity. As lay people our job was a simple one: receive instruction and (when needed) discipline. I have since repented of that view. It is the whole church that is the "clergy" appointed by God for ministry. Pastors will come and go (about every 3-4 years). But God's grace does not terminate and die when this happens. The role of pastors, in fact, is to be servants in that ministry to which God has called the whole church.

About 16 years ago God began doing a work of grace in my heart and Becky's. All of a sudden we were left trying to find our way in a world that suddenly wasn't our own any more. All of a sudden we had gotten out of the ownership business and into the stewardship business. What caused the change? It was Him. Who can gaze into the pages of the Gospel and not have their life changed? It's as if an old lion has turned around in his cage to look at you, only that all the bars have magically disappeared.

Life, to me, was unbelievably barren and perfunctory before I met this Jesus. So we come back to where we began this discussion. Is your church undergoing change? The answer is probably yes. But be that as it may, the question for us is whether or not we have been placed there for the King to use as He sees fit. Don't be afraid to be absolutely crazy for God. This is what the "single eye" is all about. Find your identity today not in an organization but in Whose you are -- a child in the arms of your Abba, Daddy. Then serve Him -- serve Him with everything you've got. 

Saturday, May 2

6:14 PM I love days like today -- days when you can get caught up on all those little jobs you've been meaning to get around to such as house cleaning, vacuuming, mowing, general farm maintenance, and (my project du jour) replacing both of my water heaters (shout out to my good friend Robbie for his help). I love the farm. I love taking care of it. I love the challenge of managing it. I love watching birds building their nests and listening to donkeys braying. I'm in agrarian heaven right now.

9:58 AM Saturday is work day here on the farm and I hope to get some much-needed fence-mending done today in addition to making a long overdue trash run. When you're such a famous author things to do tend to get back-burnored a bit (cough cough). So how 'bout a little blogging?

1) I've said it before -- I'm an incurable lover of languages. It's pure joy to be able to speak in another tongue even if my speech leaves a lot to be desired. Currently trending at the BBC website is this essay called A Chinese businessman's awkward English. Lei Jun is the founder of an iPhone company in China and was giving a talk to a group of entrepreneurs in India. Rather than using a translator, he attempted to speak a few sentences in the world's lingua franca, English. The response was mixed. Some ridiculed him, others commended him for his humility. In my library is a conversational grammar that I used when teaching myself German many years ago. A week into my studies I wrote these words on the title page: "Ich will sprechen Deutsch." Now in German the verb "will" is not the future tense marker that it is in English. It means "want to" or "desire to." I was, in effect, saying, "I want to – I am determined to – speak German." What was behind my determination and drive?

In 1978 I had been invited to play trumpet on Greater Europe Mission's "Eurocorps" brass octet. We spent the summer in Germany playing evangelistic concerts. The music would attract the crowds, while our German-speaking director would share the Good News. However, I wanted to do more that toot my own horn. I hoped to share my personal testimony during the concerts and to engage in conversation with the audience afterwards. And thus I purchased my grammar book and began meeting regularly for conversation with a native German-speaker in California. When I arrived in Germany in June of 1978 I could hold an intelligible (if simple) conversation in German and could even share my faith with others in a very limited way. I was thrilled!

By the time I arrived in Basel, Switzerland in 1980 to begin doctoral studies with the Swedish New Testament scholar Bo Reicke, I had acquired a fairly good working knowledge of German with (I was told) a slight Prussian accent. I immediately began speaking German whenever I could, even though I knew my speaking ability was far from perfect. The Swiss, I soon discovered, were quite willing to correct you when you committed a verbal gaffe. This is as it should be, of course, but it takes some getting used to. Being corrected in public is never pleasant but it is essential it you want to master a foreign language. On my very first day in Basel I had gone to the university library to seek out Professor Reicke. When I found him in the stacks, what language do you think we conversed in? Here I was, a fledging student from Kailua, Hawaii, meeting with a famous Swedish scholar. Naturally we spoke the language of the university – German. When Dr. Reicke mentioned that he was thinking about getting a cup of coffee, I asked him, "Darf ich Ihnen begleiten?" ("May I accompany you?") "Darf ich Sie begleiten?" was his gentle corrective, and off we went to a local café. (Note: he did not switch to English.) So it was throughout my stay in Basel – me speaking German at every opportunity, and others correcting me until I reached a fairly high level of fluency in the language, even preaching in it several times. Becky and I were never too proud to use our German in public, and our efforts were always warmly appreciated.

Are you a language student? Are you determined to succeed? Without determination you won't get very far in language learning. The other essential quality you need in order to master a foreign language is humility, which is the opposite of pride and hubris. Take, again, my week-old German sentence, "Ich will sprechen Deutsch." As anyone who has studied German knows, the syntax of my sentence was incorrect. In German, the object comes before the infinitive: "Ich will Deutsch sprechen." I had gotten the words correct but the word order wrong. And that was hardly the last mistake I made. But if you want to learn a foreign language you must be willing to actually use it, even if it means making mistakes and even if others have to correct you.

How many people do you know who have had three years of high school Spanish and cannot utter a single sentence in the language? Even when they are among Spanish-speakers they are too proud to open their mouths for fear of being laughed at or corrected. Friend, speak out. Like Lei Jun, don't be afraid to make mistakes. Don't fear correction. Swallow your pride and go for it.

2) My heart was strangely touch by this BBC report today that a famous soccer player lost his sweetheart yesterday. Rio Ferdinand's wife was only 34 when she died in a London Hospital of breast cancer. Her husband's statement brought back so many memories as he paid tribute to "a fantastic loving mother" and to the hospital staff for their "dedication and expertise." Rebecca Ellison leaves behind three children ages nine, six, and four.

People say, "I can't imagine the heartache." I think I know what Mr. Ferdinand is feeling. I also think I know what he will face in the days ahead. My advice to him -- and to you too, if God has allowed you to experience loss -- is to forget everything you've ever been taught about the normalcy or the process of grief. There are no magic formulas. Grief is a long walk in the shadows, and you can either fight it or embrace it. It will weigh you down until you feel like it's crushing you. And -- believe me -- it will last a lot longer than you want it to. If you are experiencing overwhelming grief, there's nothing wrong with you. You are not abnormal. One day the disequilibrium of grief will diminish. You will gradually invest your emotional energy elsewhere. And if you and your loved one are believers in Jesus, you can look forward to being reunited some day. And so I intercede on behalf of Mr. Ferdinand and his family. Pray for him, that he will see through all the pain into God's own eyes and see himself as loved and lovely, precious beyond belief to his Creator. Even amidst the darkness of our lives a light is shining. There is hope and healing. And I find that very comforting.

3) Not sure who put this video of Kailua Beach together but it's making me want to jump on the plane today. May 21 seems so far away.

Friday, May 1

9:26 PM Two contrasting views of worship:

1) Ed Stetzer writes Worship as the Ultimate Act. Here worship is basically understood as what we do when we gather as believers.

LifeWay Research’s Transformational Church Research Project showed that of all churches that were seeing regular, consistent transformation in the lives of people who made up those churches, more than 75 percent either strongly or moderately agreed that they see evidence of God changing lives as a direct result of their worship services or their worship experiences.

2) Bruce Chapman writes: Worship -- not just about Sundays.

Worship is not 'just about Sunday' it is NOT even about Sunday! Worship is living in obedience to God every day.

Worship was when I cut the grass yesterday. Worship was when I wrote a chapter in my book today. Worship was when I brushed my teeth this morning. I do not mean this facetiously. By God's design, we are to be worshippers 24/7/365. He wants us to see our daily work as an act of worship. Ditto for anything else in our lives. For example, worship Him through your marriage. You are not just a husband or a wife. You are worshippers of the living God. Right now, at your school or your job, there are people who will be influenced for Christ as you worship Him through your daily lives. No matter how small or insignificant you think your daily activities might be, they aren't to Jesus. When you worship God through working at Starbucks or flipping burgers you are showing what Sunday "worship" is all about: merely a supplement or continuation of what you do throughout the week. All of life is sacred because of our union with Jesus. You are God's "worship team," and your place of service is not limited to a building on Sunday morning. I am not suggesting that on Sunday mornings we should not offer worship that is acceptable to God. But it seems to be assumed by some that worship is an activity led by singers and performed in a church sanctuary. We cannot simply write off such verses as 1 Cor. 14:26 and make believe they say nothing about the true purpose of the gathering. That's why I'm not even faintly interested in the so-called worship wars. What I do on Sunday morning is merely a tiny fragment of the worship I (hopefully) offer to God in Spirit and in truth as I sit at my computer or wash the dinner dishes. Worship is not the prerogative of some. It is the daily privilege of all of us. And a theology of worship that does not take into account the sacredness of all of life, I maintain, is a defective theology.

So ... what are you doing right now, this very moment? Is it an act of worship unto the Lord Most High? It can be and should be and will be if we would but offer it to God as such.

9:15 PM Seafood dinner tonight with Nate, Jess, and the boys (Nolan, Bradford, and Graham).

Boy number 4 is soon to arrive!

5:42 PM Notes in the margin:

If you enjoy foreign films as much as I do, you might just enjoy The Attack. I watched it last night on Netflix. Filmed in Hebrew and Arabic (with English subtitles), the movie poignantly broaches the topic of Palestinian-Jewish relations in modern-day Israel. The protagonist (played by Ali Suliman) is a Palestinian surgeon working in Tel Aviv whose wife is suspected of being a suicide bomber.

The Attack is a realistic (and, in many senses, ugly) picture of both societal discrimination and religious intolerance. It's hard to watch as those involved become more and more cynical, but this movie will help you get a better understanding of the underlying tensions that exist in the Middle East. I think it did a good job of personalizing the issues and asking the question, "When will this ever end?" Both the cinematography and music are brilliant. I give it 4 stars (out of 5).

On another note, this Wednesday in our Septuagint class we'll enjoy a guest lecture by Melvin K. Peters (Ph.D., University of Toronto), one of Duke's religious studies professors and one of the world's leading LXX scholars.


This will be our penultimate class. I see that next year Dr. Hardy and I will be offering the LXX class for the first time as a doctoral seminar. Our hope is to promote interaction between linguistics and biblical studies. It's also worth mentioning here that I ran across a new website the other day thanks to an email from Brian Fulthorp. It's called LXXi and is hosted by Brian Davidson. If you enjoy biblical studies (including Septuagintal studies), you will enjoy this helpful site.

Oh, here's an incredibly scientific term that I learned this past Wednesday in our LXX class and that I wanted to share with you. Chip Hardy called our attention to an occurrence of animacy in one of the texts we were examining. I had never heard the term animacy before. Apparently the human brain is wired in such a way that we construct lists of people or objects according to how sentient they are. Hence we find the expression "wife, children, and cattle" in Joshua 1. For me, animacy was a neologism akin to such terms as staycation, geobragging, and crowdsourcing. It's also a very useful concept.

A final thought or two. I've been mulling over John Munier's decision to take a blogging break. In technical terms this is called a hiatus or a moratorium, and it's an essential step in keeping one's blogging fresh. John is one of a handful of bloggers I read regularly, and he will be sorely missed. Enjoy the break, sir, but please be sure to return.

I know I've mentioned it before, but I'm really looking forward to returning to Gettysburg this summer. I'm not sure the exact number of times I've been to this famous battlefield (4 or 5), but there's always more to see and learn. To start with, I know very little about the Culp's Hill battlefield nor have I ever visited the site of the cavalry fight that took place on the third day east of Gettysburg (Stuart versus Custer). History isn't one of those things that involves merely checking off boxes in little charts. So much of what I do in studying history is getting personally connected to the era and the people involved. This is my life -- incurably addicted to learning from the past and optimistically committed to pressing through my personal problems and challenges to the future. Somewhere along the line I'll get too old (or disinterested) to pursue Civil War history any longer, but that day hasn't arrived yet.

12:58 PM "The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do." Sarah Ban Breathnach.

8:44 AM It was Friday, May 1, 1863. The Federal army was advancing eastward on three roads toward Fredericksburg. That day they hoped to clear the Wilderness and emerge on to open fields with room to maneuver. The soldiers had the step of men who knew they had the upper hand and a good chance to win the fight that was coming. As they emerged from the Wilderness, they met the lines of Confederate Generals Anderson and McLaws of Jackson's Corps. Fighting erupted and then began to slow. The Union army turned around and gradually retreated to the Chancellorsville crossroads, upon orders from General Hooker. The night before, Hooker had toasted his army's success, predicting that Lee's army "must either ingloriously fly or come out from behind his entrenchments and give us battle on our own ground, where certain destruction awaits him." Then he shouted above the cheers, "God Almighty will not be able to prevent the destruction of the rebel army!" Hooker had prepared his army well and might rightfully have expected victory to follow. Nearly 200,000 men fought at the Battle of Chancellorsville, but when it was over Hooker had suffered a catastrophic defeat.

In 2 Chronicles we read the story of King Uzziah, of whom it was written, "He was marvelously helped until he was strong. But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to destruction." At the height of his career he was stricken with leprosy and was buried near but not in the tomb of the kings since the corpse of a leper would have defiled it. Both Uzziah and Joseph Hooker collapsed not in a time of weakness but at the height of success. "Let the one who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). Perhaps there is no greater peril than the menace of success and prosperity. This is why I love the words of Malcolm Muggeridge so much:

I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets–that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue–that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions– that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time–that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you — and I beg you to believe me–multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing–less than nothing, a positive impediment–measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.

Being an aging web journalist, in addition to passing myself off as a teacher, I find quite an interesting (and often challenging) combination. The sincere prayer of my heart is that of an ancient saint:

God, humble my pride, extinguish the last stirrings of my ego, obliterate whatever remains of worldly ambition and carnality, and in these last days of a mortal existence, help me to serve only Thy purposes, to speak and write only Thy words, to think only Thy thoughts, to have no other prayer than: "Thy will be done." In other words, to be a true Convert.

7:58 AM Good morning, fellow missionaries! I am happy to report that Team India arrived home safely last night. What often follows is a difficult period of readjustment to life in America. Becky wrote a good many letters to our Ethiopia team members but perhaps none is so insightful as the one she wrote for the spouses and families of those who just returned. Mission trips are exhausting both mentality, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We are burned out and often show, not our best sides, but our worst sides to our families.

We honor God when we are honest about our weaknesses. So, if you ever go on a trip, Becky's letter will help you. It speaks plainly about the darts of the Evil One but also about the restorative power of the Gospel. The times may be perilous but the believer can persevere.

Here is her letter in its entirety.

Orientation #5 for Spouses/Families

As you read this, your spouse and the rest of the Ethiopia Team is getting ready to board the plane to return back to USA. The Team will be reading their Orientation #5 on the airplane. This last orientation is designed to help "re-entry" and processing.

This year I want to include spouses in the Re-entry orientation. After 2 1/2 weeks in Ethiopia, your spouse is returning home. You might think you will pick up where you left off....but nothing could be further from the truth.  So let me give you some hints that I hope will help you get back to normal.

1. Your spouse will likely be physically exhausted.  He/she has been pushing physically, eating strange food, sleeping in strange beds, often going night after night without good sleep, etc.   So....whatever you have been doing while he/she has been gone, please continue that for at least 3 days.  Continue to wash the clothes, cook the meals, straighten the house, etc.  Sleep and more sleep is what they need. So avoid any expectations of physical labor.

2. Your spouse will likely be mixed up in terms of when to sleep & when to be awake.  At 3pm he/she will be looking for a bed to climb into....because their body thinks that it is 10pm!  And when it becomes 10pm here, his/her body will be in the wee hours of the morning.  So....don't expect the usual bedtime routine (whatever that involves).  Whatever you are expecting can wait another few days.

3. Your spouse will be glad to see you, but realize that he/she is also in mourning. The Team has just formed tremendously deep & tight bonds with people on the other side of the globe. And they have had to say "goodbye" to them. So their rejoicing at being home is tempered with memories of those they left behind. So....give space for mourning. Don't become angry or discouraged if your spouse seems mellow, sometimes cries, talks incessantly of Ethiopia.  He/she is happy to see you, but he/she is also mourning.

4. Your spouse will be overflowing with stories that are important to him/her. But you won't fully understand why those stories are important. No matter how much he/she tries, you just won't really 'get it'.  So....allow him/her to talk & share. Try to appreciate the importance of the stories. Accept the difference between you and him/her. And next time, maybe you can go to Ethiopia together.....then you will really understand the stories!

Conclusion....Give Grace & Give Space. Hold things lightly for at least 5 days. After 5 days, the jet lag will be mostly settled, the fatigue will be largely erased, and the mourning will be soothed. For the next month, watch yourself & your family. The Evil One delights to do his one-two punch during the first 4-6 weeks after a tremendous mission trip. Guard yourself. Be in the Word. Give abundant grace. Nip attitudes of self-pity, indulgence, hostility, etc, in the bud. Pray with & for each other. Have times of fasting & prayer.

I hope all of this helps your Re-entry.  Know that you are appreciated in your part of the Team!

Rejoicing in His goodnesses to us.....

Becky Lynn

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