April 2008 Blog Archives
Wednesday, April 30
8:08 PM A Texas-sized shout out to David Allen, dean of the school of theology at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth and a long-time friend of mine, who lectured in my New Testament class today on very short notice. He is in the area for revival services and stopped by my office to say hello. I asked him if he would share his views on the authorship of Hebrews with the class, and he agreed. He spent an hour trying to defend the completely untenable view of direct Lukan authorship. Seriously, David is the leading proponent today of that view, and I'm just glad to see that I'm not the only one trying to re-open the question. David has two forthcoming books on the subject, the first a major revision of his University of Texas doctoral dissertation in which he sets forth the main arguments in favor of Lukan authorship, and the second his commentary on Hebrews in the New American Commentary series published by Broadman & Holman.
Tuesday, April 29
5:59 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Dissent.
5:56 AM Ron Paul will speak at UNC and Duke this Friday. A blogging friend has gotten a ticket for the Duke appearance. If he blogs on it I'll let you know.
5:45 AM Today is my day to pray for all of my students, by name. What a wonderful group of people you are. I can assure you that your Savior loves you very much. And by the way, so does this professor.
Monday, April 28
3:18 PM Fun, fun, fun!
2:45 PM Today I had a wonderful conversation with pastor Steve of the Greensboro Chinese Christian church, where I will be speaking this Sunday morning. Actually it will be a combined service of three different congregations: the American, the Chinese, and (can you believe it?) the Ethiopian. Here is what is so exciting to me: the Chinese congregation has an annual theme for its church, and this year the theme is "Loving God" and "Witnessing for Jesus." Steve discussed with me a message dealing with missions that would highlight both of these themes, including Jesus' teaching about missions and my own experience as His "witness" in Mecklenburg County, VA (where there are pagans a-plenty) and in Ethiopia. This seems to me an excellent idea; and I would also plan to show pictures of my recent mission trips. I feel there is a great deal to be said about "lay" mission work of the sort that Becky and I are involved in, because for some obscure reason the great majority of churches tend to lose the innate capacity for the correct relation between head and trunk and consequently never enjoy a normal organic relation between missionary and sending church. At the moment I can visualize showing slides of places that would be of natural interest both to the Chinese and the Ethiopian congregations. But the big question is, as always: How in the world do I keep all of this within the parameters of a 40-minute talk that is being translated?
2:34 PM I am thrilled to report that the entire sum needed to refurbish the Burji clinic -- $18,000 -- has now been donated. I only wish our rulers would permit us to keep a little more of what we earn. Yet how generous people are even though they are squeezed to the limit! I have been reading with grave concern about the food shortages in the Horn of Africa. Even with the best will in the world -- and the good will toward Ethiopia is magnificent -- catastrophes of this kind seem to be a normal part of life there. Right now all I can do is pray -- then take protein bars with me next month.
10:51 AM Over at Military.com, Jeff Huber, a former operations officer of a naval air wing and an aircraft carrier, sizes up the consequences of an attack on Iran. Jeff's credentials increase his credibility ten-fold, something that can't be said for Justin Raimondo, even though Justin's logic is just as impeccable. At any rate, don't stop reading Jeff's essay until you see his classic peroration.
10:09 AM We are enjoying a steady rain today, the kind that seeps into the earth and allows the root systems of our crops to grow deep. Nathan tells me that we may have a cutting before I leave for Ethiopia. It would be fun if I could be a part of it. There is nothing in this world quite like getting bales up out of a field.
Meanwhile Becky has gone to get the boys from Matt and Liz's house. We've got lots of fun rainy day projects waiting for them.
8:23 AM An invitation to all of my students, past and present. Student Day is this Saturday at the farm from 10:00 - 4:00. We'll plan to eat at noon. Bring your families and your walking shoes. Below are a couple of pix from previous events. The weather forecast is calling for clear skies and temps in the 80s. If you need directions, shoot me an email. See you soon.
Sunday, April 27
8:32 PM Just back from helping Nathan with a little job and I've got some fantastic news. Our hens are laying again. That's right. Here's proof:
Our chicken mansion is now a fully functioning hen house again. Even the bantams are laying. It's the season of the year, I guess. Either that or they saw the chopping block.
6:43 PM Here at the we're-all-enjoying-the-springtime-farm, I'm glad to say, all goes well, very well in fact.
We are about to be plunged again into a period of rain and thunderstorms, which means that our little dog Sheppie will be barking all night long (thunder = enemy = threat = bark). We enjoyed an excellent meal over at Maple Ridge prepared by Miss Jessie. It is clear to all that the honeymoon shows no signs of abating any time soon.
Bobby, Shelly, Justin, and Jonathan braved the speed traps along Hwy 58 to drive to Rosewood, and we all had an exquisitely pleasant time eating under the giant pecan tree.
I would give a fortune to have the laugh of Shelly or Jessie, while Justy and Jon show a talent for telling little jokes and anecdotes that are simply enchanting. Really, we are the ideal family -- not much in way of refinements, just good old-fashioned fun and laughter.
In other news, I received today a very unique invitation from a very unique country which, like the U.S., has a tendency to wallow in old miseries while creating new miseries in the hopes of getting out of the old. If I accept the invitation, I shall have to give a talk on "religion and the media," or something along those lines. I will gladly undertake whatever work the preparation of my lecture entails gratuitously -- that goes without saying. The more I see of the media the more I am convinced that we human beings have an incurable propensity for the semi-pleasure of tyranny and the imperial destiny of nations. It's all the dastardly fruit of political megalomania, I think. I will be able, I'm hopeful, to fit the lecture into an extraordinarily busy travel itinerary this sabbaticalized fall.
Speaking of tyranny, I have been writing a little piece on the place of dissent in church and society. I have also finished a very important letter -- a long wearisome job that I am glad to put behind me. My free time this weekend has otherwise been spent trying to get caught up with world events. One might conclude from reading the news that the world is destined to destroy itself. After reading what Robert Gates recently said about Iran I feel quite certain of it. The whole planet is crawling with politicians working 3 shifts ad maiorem Diaboli gloriam. What a relief for me to read Phil. 4:4-9!
Finally, a little anecdote. This morning the newlyweds visited a church in the Roxboro area -- a place Becky and I have often spoken on Ethiopia and to which Nathan often accompanied us. But today was Jessica's first visit. Poor Jessie, I unwittingly put her at quite a disadvantage, for it seemed that everyone already knew her from reading our blog. "Hi Jessie! How's the work on the house coming? Has your family arrived yet today?" And on it went. All from complete strangers. Now that's funny.
Saturday, April 26
5:48 PM More dispatches from the farm...
These delicious M-and-M cookies were prepared by the one and only Jessica Black and quickly and efficiently consumed this morning.
These chickies came in the mail last week for Nate and Jessie, a wedding gift from some friends in western Virginia.
The newlyweds have been hard at work in their upstairs children's bedroom and it shows. The mantle you see is one that Nate and I scrounged from an old log house that dated back to the late 1700s.
The latest musical addition to Maple Ridge: an upright with lots of class. This Lester was built in Philadelphia in 1918. Nathan traded his old grand for it.
It's got a very bright sound to it, just the way I like it. Here Nate and I play a four-handed rendition of one of our favorite tunes: Dixie. Nate is laughing because someone has just made a mistake. (I'm not saying who!)
Right now Becky is cooking up some of her wonderful spaghetti for supper and I'm getting a sinus headache, which means that rain is heading our way.
More pix later....
10:54 AM I see that Mrs. Nathan Black has just updated her blog.
9:56 AM Odds and ends on a gorgeous Saturday morning:
1) Two things impressed themselves on me during my morning devotionals. Number one: Time. It seems just yesterday that the good race began and now I am in the fall of life. The relativity of time is more real to me than ever before. Number two: Faith. I constantly meet believers who are facing inordinately difficult situations. The danger is to think that there is light beyond the light of faith. I know in the marrow of my bones that all will be well and will work out for good in the end. I even feel that in my odd, fiddling, marginal sort of way I am helping by praying.
2) Today is also my day to pray for the lost. My salvation prayer list grew by 6 names this past week. It has been several months since I have been able to cross a name off the list. But it's all in God's hands.
3) I am also doing a bit of concentrated writing today, including some important correspondence. Nothing is more difficult for me than word-hunting and the wrestling with difficult concepts. Writing has the merits -- or perhaps one could say the demerits -- of being an entirely individual occupation, offering no support but what one can find from within. And it is always a drain on one's energy.
4) Tomorrow Becky and I are speaking on Ethiopia again at Antioch Baptist Church, which is located just south of the great metropolis of Wyliesburg (pop. 500). One crosses over into beautiful Charlotte County where the old antebellum farms jump out at you with surprising regularity.
5) After the church service we have been asked to dine with a very special couple who happen to reside just down the gravel road from Bradford Hall. This will be our inaugural meal over at N & J's home and we are so thrilled to be invited that we are practically beside ourselves. Jessie's family will be joining us all the way from their homestead in Franklin, VA. This will be the first time we have all been together since the fabulous wedding celebration exactly 3 weeks ago.
Soweit die heutige Nachricht!
Friday, April 25
8:10 PM Here's a project we completed today: Asian lilies with dahlias safely ensconced underground.
Here Sheba lets Sheppie have it. All in jest, of course.
Right now Becky is cooking steak and mashed potatoes and my writing juices are flowing. What a combo! Truly it has been a wonderful day.
9:54 AM I leave for Ethiopia in just 29 days. Becky has put together a list of items needed for various individuals who are faithfully serving the Lord Jesus in that land. Please read her essay entitled Ethiopia Wish List and prayerfully consider what you might be able to do to help them. Thank you.
7:22 AM Ich sag's nochmals: I long to revisit the Middle East this fall. It's a dreadful business -- and only made more dreadful by an unpleasant slough of uncertainty in which one seems to wallow so hopelessly these days. How can we possibly continue to use war-like means to preserve peace? What an appalling illustration of the truth behind the legend of the Iliad. Thank God I do not have to worry about that!
Meanwhile I'm enjoying a pleasant and fairly restful Friday now that the rigors of revival services and meetings involving Ethiopia are over. It's obviously impossible to synthesize in a paragraph the results of the Burji Clinic Coalition meeting we had yesterday with four Roxboro-area pastors (photo).
Generally, the Lord has decided to bring together a group of like-minded churches that share a burden for a neglected part of the world. It is not just that the Burji region of southern Ethiopia is accessible only by the most strenuous and inconvenient means. Like Rome, Burji burns because it has not been sufficiently fiddled over. The populous centers of power in the country ignore it, while in Burji itself the people are scarcely able to eke out a subsistence living let alone support regional health services. Some of us have decided that it is not enough to denounce or express horror at such realities, and our plan is to open a fully staffed health clinic in an area accessible to Christians, Muslims, and animists alike. Moreover, because it is useless to treat spiritual smallpox merely by cutting the pustules and stitching up the wounds, the clinic will have a full-time evangelist who loves Jesus and is equipped to share the Good News with patients every single second the clinic is open to the public. Miraculously God has already begun bringing in contributions from Roxboro's churches, and plans are being developed for a team of representatives from these churches to accompany Becky and me this fall to assist the local churches in Burji in refurbishing the existing clinic buildings, constructing new facilities, and arranging for the hiring of staff, guards, etc. It has been a joy for Becky and me to watch God generate a passion to act and the strength to carry out the action. Above all, we know that this passion originated with the Holy Spirit, and that the work is entirely the Lord's and not ours.
Below are some pictures I took on recent visits to Burji. They will give you a feel for who the Burji people are and the circumstances in which they live. I have often said to Becky, "I love these people so much it hurts."
Note that the countryside has no electricity or running water. One of our goals this year is to dig a well at the health clinic as well as at 10 church sites in Burji. These would provide clean water to anyone in the area and serve as preaching points as well.
7:07 AM This email blessed my heart:
I want to thank all the "affirmers" who regularly write. You are God's special gift to me. You inspirit me as I seek to live out my calling. I especially covet your prayers. Prayer provides a strong protective curtain about the one who is engaging in spiritual warfare.
Thursday, April 24
8:11 PM The lovely day sinks to sunset among the budding trees. Becky and I have just returned to the farm after meeting with what we are calling the Burji Clinic Coalition. (More on that later.) Last night, in our final meeting of the revival services at Smyrna Baptist Church, Becky shared about God's work in Ethiopia and Satan's attempt to nullify it.
Believers there are neither annoyed nor disheartened. If God is for them, who can be against them? They are writing new chapters in the book of Acts. A new outpouring of the Holy Spirit may be expected when we, like the early apostles, seek to follow the Master, not as ivory-tower theory but as Jerusalem-jail certainty. After our sharing there was a good deal of praying and singing. Our hands-on display of Ethiopian artifacts was also a big hit.
Perhaps the most widely selected essay on our display table was A Great Commission Marriage. In fact, when I was speaking on that subject Becky said she could see mouths opening in gaping astonishment, as if to say, "What in the world is he talking about?" Personally I believe that a great deal of marital unhappiness is brought on by a plethora of marriage enrichment seminars and aggravated by spiritual quick fixes (like drugs) used in trying to alleviate the symptoms. I have enjoyed married life for 31 years, but our greatest desire as a couple today is to further God's kingdom as "partners in the Gospel" (Phil. 1:5), and the resultant blessedness is incomparable. If you've never experienced a Great Commission Marriage, it's not too late to give it a try.
I want to confess that I struggled more with the preaching of this revival than with any other I have ever done. I see all too often how the results of revivals, if any, are short-lived. I've seen how there are no shortcuts, no gimmicks, no single method to cultivate an intimacy with God and attain a heart of obedience. Revivals are so often considered some magical breakthrough. They are not. The fact is, we are trying harder and only getting wearier, especially when we rely on a handful of expert "gurus" of the faith. Let's face it, that is the nature of a revival. Not that it is wrong for faith to express itself in occasional explosions of joy or passion. But when it comes to Christian maturity, only a few things really matter, perhaps only three: being Christ-centered, Scripture-driven, and grace-based. I guess I tried hard in every message to steer the church in that direction through very simple Bible teaching that focused on Christ and His love and that, I hope and pray, generated a new love for Him. It is refreshing and salutary to know that these emphases do not have to stop once the meetings have concluded. Jesus and Jesus alone is the solution to our spiritual dullness. He and He alone can replace our self-doubt and negativism with holy confidence. He provides the passion to finish the course and to win the race. The church constructs its places of amusement and entertainment, its places of "revival" even, but any church that is worth its salt will keep pointing others to Jesus and to Him only. In that sense the "revival" at Smyrna Baptist Church did not begin when Becky and I arrived there on Sunday morning and it did not end last night. The words of the Lord, "I will be your strength," will no doubt continue to ring forth in Dinwiddie for a very long time to come.
Wednesday, April 23
12:10 PM A great day thus far. I've gotten caught up on emails, and just now Liz and the CIM Team (Caleb, Isaac, Micah) arrived for lunch -- homemade tomato soup courtesy of Mama B. Becky and I need to leave no later than 2:30 today if we are to be in Dinwiddie in time to be taken out to supper by a family in the church. Meanwhile I am stickily entangled in several personal projects that are gobbling up a great deal of my time and energy, but at least I know how to spend the tedious hours when inspiration to write flags and books seem to have lost their appeal. In the course of only a month I shall be leaving for Africa, and there are many preparations yet to be made for the trip. Gladly, vague plans are being firmed up; essential contacts have been made; and a rough itinerary has been sketched out. If in the meantime the warring between the Gujis and the Burjis should manage to resolve itself, even if temporarily, I plan to traverse the mountain trails to evangelize among the nomadic tribes along with two of my Ethiopian sons who hail from Burji. In fact, the father of one of them was murdered doing this very thing years ago and is still honored today as a martyr. Tonight Becky and I will have but 50 brief minutes to paint a picture of what the Lord is doing in Ethiopia. Should be an eye-opener! Weather here has been somewhat unpleasant, with heavy rain on and off all week, occasioning a positive biblical plague of ants.
While I'm at the computer, I might remind everyone that today is secretary's day (or it is administrative professional's day?), and I hope you have not forgotten to honor yours. I know I could never manage to get anything accomplished without mine.
7:41 AM Last night my message was on the Gospel -- the Gospel according to 4 women (Matt. 1:3-6). I am constantly made aware of the relatively large knot of people in most churches who have made "decisions" for Jesus but who have never found what it means to integrate all sectors of life in the lordship of Christ. For some it is a lordship issue. For others it is a salvation issue. For many, their "decision" consisted of words without substance. Perhaps we have touched one of those reasons so many Baptists never attend church but claim to be followers of Christ. This is one reason why I always preach an evangelistic sermon when I am asked to hold a "revival." It is no accident that our Lord was pulled and guided by one mission -- to "seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). I for one am glad He did. It was 47 years ago when He sought and saved me. Regeneration breaks things up and starts something new. It's just that simple. We have over-complicated our God and His way of coming to us. It is clear that He wants to be both Savior and Lord, that He wants to lodge in the crevices of our homes, our churches, and our communities. Last night I felt Him wooing the lost and the sin sick. I am very grateful for what He did.
Tuesday, April 22
3:58 PM Once again I am enjoying Fitzhugh Lee's biography of his uncle, especially the portions covering the Petersburg siege and battles. There are things in his book that have the force and clarity of very good nineteenth-century writing -- e.g., "Lee and Grant, dissimilar in many characteristics, were similar in others: both were quiet and self-possessed, both sometimes restless -- Grant to break through Lee's works somewhere, Lee impatient to improve any opportunity that might be offered. By mere chance both were satisfied." The Gray Fox is also very good, but I don't get as much satisfaction from it as from General Lee. How often does one find a biography of a great man that is written by his own nephew, who himself was a very colorful figure? I imagine one of the war's greatest ironies was when Fitzhugh Lee burned the U.S. Cavalry barracks at Carlisle, PA, on July 1, 1863 -- a post where he had taught young troopers to ride just 5 years before. Like me, his favorite horse was colored gray ("Nelly"). Sadly, he will probably be remembered not for his unquestioned skill and bravery as a cavalry officer but for his failure to inform his subordinates where he and General Pickett would be dining during the Battle of Five Forks. (They were at a shad bake far behind the lines.) Personally, I think I most identify with the good general when after the war he became a farmer on 1,200 acres of land in Stafford County. Lee struggled with the transition to farming. "I had been accustomed all my life to draw corn from the quartermaster and found it rather hard now to draw it from the obstinate soil," he wrote, adding, "but I did it." I can certainly empathize with his struggle to master the "obstinate soil"!
3:42 PM Today Becky and I had the supreme joy of watching a video of the outreach we sponsored in the Gondar prison last year. It is not easy for me to express in a few words thoughts and emotions that are deep and broad. Toilet paper, soap bars, and New Testaments were distributed to the prisoners. Food was prepared and eaten. Jesus' love was seen and felt. I am struck by what God is doing in northern Ethiopia. The commitment to the Great Commission that Becky and I share is a mark of God's grace and sanctification in our lives. It is a reminder to me of how demanding the love of the Lord is. My prior life had been a sort of compromise. The attitude I had was like having hobbies on the side that offered gratification when the main task did not satisfy. Now the Gospel is the main task. Now I have discovered that I will never be happy unless I am totally committed to reaching a lost world with the love of Jesus. But without the support and cooperation of the brethren all this would be impossible. When we keep our hearts and minds directed toward the Great Commission, we will come more fully "together." As Becky and I watched the video, we saw how the churches in Gondar came together and sacrificed their time and resources to help a suffering world so desperately in need of the Savior. Truly the blessings that God has given us in our mission work are in a different class from all the other sources of happiness and pleasure that have come to us. I have certainly nothing to complain about under this head.
8:27 AM Sunday morning we drove to Dinwiddie in a thunderstorm that seemed to last all day and all night. Smyrna Baptist Church is located in a county where we had actually looked for a farm years ago, so the drive resurrected plenty of memories. It was nice to get reacquainted with shepherd Robert Rowland who had taken classes from me the very first year I taught at Southeastern. The services on Sunday morning and evening were well attended. I was impressed not only with the diversity of age groups but also with the ethnic diversity in the congregation, which I miss from my days in Hawaii and Southern California. On Monday the church bought us passes to Pamplin Park, which is a private Civil War museum located on the actual site of the battle called the "Breakthrough," fought on April 2, 1865.
Prior to the battle the plantation home (the "Tudor House") had been used to house Confederate officers. We enjoyed an excellent guided tour of the home as well as of the outbuildings, including the slave quarters.
Most impressive to me was to walk among the breastworks that are still standing today. It was here that our history was written in blood, as in so many other historic sites in Virginia. I gazed with awe at those dear parapets, wondering whether I would have had the courage to stand my ground.
On Monday evening I spoke again to a large and receptive audience. Tonight I am compelled to give an evangelistic sermon that I hope many non-believers will hear. There is no alternative to simple faith in Christ, nor can we ever assume that church goers and even church members have personally experienced the forgiveness of sin. Meanwhile Becky is preparing a slide show on missions for tomorrow night's service, which I'm sure the church will enjoy as it is already a missions-minded congregation.
Sunday, April 20
7:45 AM The amazing story of Aberesh and her baby continues. Becky's latest essay is called Just a Servant.
7:41 AM I see that Dinwiddie is located only a stone's throw from the site of the famous Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865. The Confederate defeat there led to the evacuation of Richmond and Petersburg and Lee's surrender to Grant on Palm Sunday. The battle's depiction in a painting by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux is striking:
This evening, my message at Smyrna Baptist Church will focus on youth and their parents, while Wednesday night is a missions emphasis. On Tuesday I will "preach" and bring an intentionally evangelistic message.
7:34 AM Last night my mind wandered to the 1970s and to my Christian Education professor at Biola. He had a favorite question he would ask his students: "What do you think about it?" I think this must have been the key to his success as a teacher. We would, of course, read textbooks and discuss topics in class. But at the end of the day he would ask us, "What do you think?" For crude young men like us to hear such a man as he asking for our opinion was a marvelous boost to our self-esteem. We were discovering that we had a mind of our own -- ill-trained, narrow, opinionated perhaps, but a mind nonetheless. Under his tutelage we felt like mountain climbers, conscious that we were well above the timberline but made to feel we could conquer any peak we were headed for. He was never overweening, never dogmatic, never seemed to desire converts to his point of view. I had been brought up in a very liberal and dumbed-down public school system in Hawaii (Kainalu Elementary School, Kailua Intermediate School, Kailua High School), and I knew precious little about the joy of academic pursuits. After sitting in this professor's classes, however, I was wholly on the side of education. In the two classes I took from him -- College Teaching Procedures, and Tests and Measurements -- my grade depended solely on papers I wrote for him rather on useless quizzes and exams. One of these papers was titled "The Idea of Teaching" if I recall, and in it I subconsciously found myself elucidating an approach to higher education that imitated my own teacher's philosophy and style.
I wonder, Does anybody remember that man today? Does anyone even know his name: Bill Bynum? He helped me make a tentative, probing, provisional foray into learning, and for that I publicly profess my thanks and praise to God.
Saturday, April 19
8:24 PM Becky has been up to her eyes in work, preparing for our numerous scheduled talks about Ethiopia in the days ahead and getting our ducks in a row for our November trip. We are, to be perfectly honest, thoroughly enjoying our little empty nest. Tomorrow we are off to Dinwiddie for morning and evening services, and on Monday we plan to traipse over to Pamplin Park where we are told a fantastic Civil War museum awaits us. I am, of course, taking a break from my other full-time job of teaching this week, but otherwise life will go on in much the same old way as it has in the past. One thing Becky and I have not done in a very long time is reenact. It is really astounding, when one considers how often we have run hither and thither to commemorate this or that battle or preach in this or that Sunday service or play period music on our instruments. The best I can do now is to read books about that singular period in our history, including biographies of one of my favorite Americans, Robert E. Lee, hoping to extract the pearls of wisdom that so richly matured in his mind during his military and post-military career. Just tonight, for example, in Fitz Lee's book, General Lee, I read the following extract from Lee to his wife :
The mysteries of human relationships are impenetrably obscure, but I confess I do enjoy reading about General and Mrs. Lee's marriage.
He was not only in love with his invalid wife but in some strange way dependent on her presence, physically dependent, as one is dependent on the liver in one's stomach, or one's spinal marrow. His last years in Lexington must have been exceedingly joyful for him since he was able to remain in his wife's sweet presence without being pulled here and there by the army.
Tonight I am re-reading Fiasco, a difficult book that makes great demands on the reader -- nothing less than the whole mind at the highest pitch of attention. Not at all a book for a tired Greek professor. I hope, all the same, it will be widely read, for it is manifestly a work of first-rate importance.
2:31 PM After a series of hot, dry days, the rain is once again expected for this weekend. Many people here in the southland and elsewhere in the world are waiting for it. The animals are too. This morning Becky and I completed the front yard and garden. Becky is very pleased. I enjoy flowers, but nothing like she does. I feel happy and grateful and keep thinking an old thought: I wish all my friends could see and experience what I am seeing and experiencing this day. I know they never will. On this earth the experience of great beauty always remains idiosyncratic and mysteriously linked with the experience of great loneliness -- or at least aloneness. This reminds me that there is still a great deal of this world's beauty that I have never seen. There is, however, one cause of joy that I can relate to everyone, and this is the birth of Snowball's baby a couple of weeks ago (photo). White like his mother and grandmother (Floppy), he has but a touch of gray. It is a very special sensation for me to finally see Snowball's offspring, as I raised her since she was 3 days old, bottle-feeding her twice a day because her own mama never survived the rigors of childbirth. As you can imagine, Snowball means the world to me. It is good to become aware of this: that my animals can give me significance and pleasure and joy. Meanwhile I am exhausted after this morning's labors. I'm sleepy and in a general state of disorder. But a nap will cure me soon. I hope so, as we still have plenty of work to do this afternoon in the back garden.
8:55 AM Aussie John has rightly protested against the concept of the church that looks at the "layman" ordinarily only as a sinner who needs to be saved by grace, but sees him now elevated to participation in clerically organized "lay groups" that essentially do the bidding of the clergy. Neither view shows any real respect for the common Christian and both seem to miss something quite essential in the notion of the church. The whole church, not just some part of it, is the people of God. Obviously there must be organization of some sort. But love is vastly more important than organizations, and a group of believers united by a common commitment to love each other may be of far greater value to Christ than an apparently "successful" organization that in reality is nothing more than a series of frenetic activities. How easy it is for the church to concentrate too much on her own prestige rather than on her mission to suffer. The Christian faith demands that the followers of Jesus, each of them and all of them together, live out their faith in good deeds. Why, then, do we so often prefer sluggish repose in ceremonies chosen for us by others to selfless sharing?
8:34 AM More news from Ethiopia. The Gondar churches are again collecting bars of soap to distribute at the massive prison in town. I have been asked to speak there in June. The warden will meet me and give me a tour of the facility. I praise the One who said, "See, I have opened a door in front of you that no one can shut. You have only a little strength, but you have paid attention to my word and have not denied my name" (Rev. 3:8). I give thanks.
8:30 AM Today I added 3 names to my salvation prayer list. I asked God to bless them, and to use me in blessing them if it is His will.
8:19 AM Psalm 113:9: "He makes a woman who is in a childless home a joyful mother." This from my morning devotions. My mind raced to Aberesh. Baby Nathan's was a miracle birth. All because of God's amazing grace. But many people had a hand in it too.
To beg God to perform miracles to do our work is the refuge of laziness and the subterfuge of callousness if not outright hate.
Friday, April 18
8:12 PM Have been re-reading Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy. It touches on a very important subject but never really gets a hold of it. He attacks great moral problems and then, before the campaign has started, beats an elegant and genteel retreat. Perhaps the only really good book to treat this topic is Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation but, alas, all of his writings are "suspect" because of certain of his theological leanings. Still, his book is a great deal better than the fluff that passes for political commentary today. Makes one want to write a companion volume called The Christian of a Mythical Nation, which would expose the rampant statism that exists in certain segments of Christianity. My Anabaptist forebears had a good deal to contribute to the debate as well, though like Boyd are not considered "mainstream" enough to be taken seriously. They are remembered for their remonstrations and their stubbornness, but what they really stood for was costly discipleship. When they saw that they in fact had to pay the ultimate price for their obedience, they went to their deaths singing, much like the earlier followers of Jesus who refused to bow the knee to Caesar. The question I would like to pose to Phillips is this: Would you personally be willing to pay such a price for obedience to the Word of God over loyalty to the state? Would I? This question may well become more than academic in the coming years.
2:46 PM More and more I appreciate the beauty and solemnity of the long drive up through the woods, past the barns, up the rise, and into the clearing where Bradford Hall sits, hidden from the road by pines and cedars. It is essential, I think, to experience the moods of one good place. All of this is lost in the abstract routine of an official fluorescent light. The mere fact of calling a place "home" implies that a great deal of work must be done for its upkeep, and Bradford Hall is no exception. Bec and I got a good deal accomplished outdoors today in preparing her spring garden for planting. It's now time to make a jaunt to the big city of South Boston to make some purchases for the yard. I had quite scare today. Seems I forgot my Greek New Testament at the Dan River church yesterday -- crisis! Thankfully someone managed to find it, and it now waits my pickup at the church. I could not contemplate life without it. I sip its nectar daily and teach from it faithfully (I mean "regularly"; others must judge whether or not I am faithful to its teachings). I can imagine no dismaller prospect than losing my New Testament out of neglect, having then to purchase a new one, and then starting all over with adding notes, comments, etc. I am feeling very stupid right now that I could have been so careless with something that is so precious to me.
The analogy with human relationships does not escape me.
9:15 AM In light of Benedict's visit to the U.S., Gilson Medeiros discusses whether or not Peter was the first "pope" (in Brazilian Portuguese).
9:03 AM Nothing very exciting here. The weather is treating us exceedingly well. We have our hands full in the back garden as well as in the front yard: weeding, fertilizing, spreading compost. I keep fairly busy reviewing a lot of books and doing a fair amount of writing. It is a crowded sort of life, but I enjoy the work, including its great variety. The whole atmosphere of Rosewood Farm is so delightfully remote from the rest of the world, into which, however, I will shortly enter again and cheerfully so. The Black family down the way is working very hard, but the newlyweds are well and happy. Jessie has quite won our hearts. This weekend I begin a "revival" in Dinwiddie, in an enchanting part of old Virginia. My trouble, of course, is that I can never "preach" to Christian people, preferring instead to do simply Bible studies. It seems to me at any rate that this is the sort of thing the churches need today. Very difficult, and I doubt if I shall succeed in doing it. But I will try.
Thursday, April 17
7:55 PM On the farm front, Nate and Jessie have moved her goats to Rosewood, and they are now camping out in the goat barn until Nathan releases them into the pasture. Here are a couple of Jessie's young-uns.
Becky and I have been gardening all afternoon, mulching and what not. There are so many pretty things I could photograph, but this climbing rose bush is special. Becky's mom planted this bush in their missionary compound in Burji some 50 years ago, and now a part of that same bush is growing in our garden.
Our weather has been magnificent, and tomorrow it will be even warmer. Hence more gardening!
7:13 PM Good news! We received a report from Ethiopia that (1) Baby Nathan is growing normally; he is now over 7 pounds and continues to put on weight; (2) a man who had let his bees loose against one of our evangelists has come to faith in Christ and has joined the faith he once persecuted; and (3) another one of our evangelists was imprisoned but is now released. Please pray for them all; they are purchased by the blood of Christ, and faith really means something to them. O, the unity and universality that are ours in Jesus!
On another note, my sabbatical leave has been granted, which means that this fall I shall be busier than ever. I wish world affairs were a little less dismal, but nothing short of a complete economic collapse will keep me from traveling the world this year. I do enjoy the mission field, and it does me good I think. Meanwhile, God knows what the world is in for. If Gresham's Law holds good that bad politics drives out good politics just as bad money drives out good, so the Lord of the Universe operates by an even higher Law to which all nations are ultimately subject. This being so, I need not worry about world affairs. Being able to tyrannize, governments will continue to exert tyranny, because tyranny is agreeable to tyrants. That this tyranny is not yet exploited to the full is due to the providential hand of God alone.
3:03 PM There was a handsome turnout for today's first annual senior revival at the Dan River Baptist Church. As I drove there I kept asking myself, How do I make Him seen here? How do I make Him heard now? I was especially burdened for their children and grandchildren, who face unbelievable temptations and pressures in life. How can they reverse the tide?
The Lord gives us a most wee glimpse of this in Luke 2, and I think my kindly audience was as pleased as punch to hear it. Afterwards I got to break bread with the lovely ladies from the Chastain House, a home for seasoned adults in Halifax. We talked about the different work ethic they had when growing up, and how they can serve as role models for the current generation.
Anyway, it was a delightful way to spend the morning, though we did have some excitement when a senior adult passed out and had to be taken to the hospital. Elton is now in the ICU in South Boston and I know he and his wife would appreciate your prayers.
9:05 AM Becky has just finished writing up the reports of her recent visit to Ethiopia. Today we publish the first essay in the series. It's called Sleepless in Addis Ababa. It's a follow-up to her earlier report, Riding a Blue Donkey. We hope this glimpse of missionary life in Africa will bless and challenge you.
7:52 AM Multnomah University announces an opening in Bible and Theology.
7:48 AM Chuck Baldwin will not vote for the evil of two lessers.
7:45 AM Greek students! Need help in translating 1 John? Here are some aids. And if you want to check your parsing, go here. Remember, though, these websites can’t replace your own study of the text. It takes no talent or ability to use these helps, though there is nothing wrong with using them either. As someone has said, “Halitosis is better than no breath at all.”
7:34 AM The president has met with the pope, expecting perhaps the eventual triumph of his own idea of the civitas Christiana. I don’t think this will work, not if it involves actually listening to what Il Papa says about Iraq.
7:30 AM Charlie Reese argues that we are not at war but are in occupation mode. Reese is an excellent writer and an even better thinker. The Iraq crisis brings out all that is most powerful in him, in thought, feeling, and expression. I agree with him that from now on Iran will be considered the Great Satan that must be “defeated.” No one is determined to avoid this war. I suppose I must accept the status quo with unutterable sadness and resignation. The only person who can remedy the situation is not likely to do so.
7:24 AM Today I am preaching at the Senior Adult Revival for the Dan River Baptist Association in South Boston. My topic? Youth. I adamantly disagree with the notion that our children are the “future of the church.” Our adults are. Bonhoeffer, writing in the time of the Hitler Jugend, wrote: “The Church offered no resistance to contempt for age and the idolization of youth, for she was afraid of losing youth and with it the future. As though her future belonged to youth!” Yet this is what seems to concern most of our senior adults – placate, mollify, cave into the whims and self-centeredness and immaturity of our youth. The greatest temptation that assails Christians is that in effect, for most of us, sin has ceased to be sin. And thus we fail to truly love our children and youth because we do not hold them to biblical standards.
Of course, behind all of this lurks the question: “Is there a way to hold our children accountable to godly standards of behavior if we ourselves do not model it?”
7:16 AM One more thought from Hebrews. I note in 5:11-14 that the author was willing to lovingly confront the brethren with the truth. Occasionally, very occasionally, we will have to do the same. It is much easier, of course, to keep quiet, but “peace” is rarely the result. Bill Hybels has written, “When people submerge their true feelings in order to preserve harmony, they undermine the integrity of a relationship. They buy peace on the surface, but underneath there are hurt feelings, troubling questions, and hidden hostilities just waiting to erupt. It’s a costly price to pay for a cheap peace, and it inevitably leads to inauthentic relationships” (Honest to God, p. 53). Does that mean we should become a “professional weaker brother” and go around rebuking each other all the time? Hardly. Over-conscientious and supersensitive people easily go to this extreme. The professional weaker brother is usually a “mature” saint who has a very myopic view of life, uninformed by Scripture. His world is completely black or white. There are no secondary or tertiary issues for him. If he doesn’t like what you’re doing or saying, it’s because you refuse to adhere to his narrow list of dos and don’ts. It is precisely because you reject his petty legalisms that he dislikes you so much.
How, then, to handle the situation? George Guthrie lays out three practical guidelines for confrontational truth-telling (Hebrews, p. 211).
1) The confrontation must be given with the right motivation.
2) It must be well-thought-out and well-timed. No off-the-cuff comments will do.
3) It should offer specific suggestions for action when appropriate.
This is sound advice indeed. Meanwhile, to all of you who are weary, empty of spirit, directionless or numb because you’ve been dumped on so often by others, my prayers are with you.
7:10 AM “But we dare not identify the work of any state, any political party or any politician with the work of God or the task of the church. Every time we do so we end up embarrassing ourselves, enraging the neighbors we are called to love, deepening the culture wars and damaging our own mission.” David Gushee, in A Plea to Evangelicals – from an Evangelical.
7:07 AM Lee Shelton presents an animation of the War Prayer by Mark Twain. The words may be found here. The awful peroration: “It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.”
Thinking men. Better still, right-thinking men. Where are they? Where are they?
7:00 AM In the debate over who can and cannot “teach” in the church, an often-overlooked verse is Heb. 5:12, which we discussed in New Testament class yesterday: “You ought to be teachers.” Attridge is quite correct in pointing out that there is no evidence that we are dealing here with a special group of “Teachers” in the church. He writes: “The notion is quite general: anyone who is mature in the faith should be in a position to instruct others.” This thought finds a striking parallel in 10:24, where the author summons the whole church to a mutual stimulation of good works within the New Covenant community. If we would take every-member ministry seriously, as was done in the early church, the dull picture of our contemporary churches would be radically altered. Instead of churches designed for “preacher function,” they would intentionally promote “body function.” Formal teaching would be accompanied by informal teaching. Every member would contribute to the success of the Body. Pastor-dependency would be replaced by mutual edification (1 Cor. 14:26). By serving one another in love, we would begin to create satisfying and lasting relationships with each other. And as the Body obeys its Head, Jesus Christ, it “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its job” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Wednesday, April 16
5:59 PM Yesterday was a day of deadlines – yet another reminder of how inanely we humans race from one emergency to the next as fast as our ulcers and medications will allow us. But there is one deadline on the list we must all meet. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Now that is a deadline. It is strong language and some try to tone it down or explain it away. But it is reminder that there is only one saving message, the Gospel, and that anything else is a message of damnation. So let us pray even more fervently for the lost.
5:46 PM A student of mine wrote these powerful words:
O, to know Christ, the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering, and to make Him known – that should keep us occupied from here on!
Tuesday, April 15
5:43 AM I find the book of Hebrews the most exciting letter in the New Testament. It is actually a well-crafted sermon with an unforgettable introduction elevating Christ above any other spokesman or messenger of God. The fresh air we need is the clean breath of the Holy Spirit, coming like the wind, helping us to see Christ. Christianity is Christ: this is the great message we need to talk about in our New Testament class this week. The point is, there is in Christianity, or Christendom, the tendency to place mere men at the center, an anthropocentricity seen in our pulpits, churches, programs, commentaries, our speech even ("I attend So-and-so's church"). The world, in the great triad world-flesh-devil, represents greed for prestige, and this is seldom as clearly attacked as in Hebrews. I've looked forward to this week for a very long time.
Monday, April 14
9:06 PM I'm back after a wonderful trip. From my diary:
We are now in the most perfect days of the Piedmont spring, mid-April, days of dogwoods and redbud blossoms. Clear days with every delicate shade of green in the budding branches of the oaks and maples. I suppose the oldest trees on the farm are at least octogenarians, and they will be standing long after I'm gone.
It is Saturday morning. I kiss Becky goodbye and then go to Nathan and Jessie's house to give them a hug. I drive to the airport and notice the fields -- ploughed, red, eager to receive their crops of corn and tobacco. My purpose on this trip is to speak at a meeting held at a Christian school in central Pennsylvania. A good friend is on the school board, hence the gracious invitation. Afterwards there are sermons to deliver on Sunday morning and evening. I check two large bags at the airport, each filled with myth books. I don't know how many in my audience may have read The Myth of Adolescence, but I imagine all of them are intensely conscious that we are losing a generation of youth to the culture. It is curious that the growth of private Christian education and homeschooling has gone hand in hand with a kind of revival of practical theology, the kind that says "who cares?" to peer pressure and seeks to return to simple family values. At the same time, there is a new consciousness that the Great Commission actually means something. I am engaged currently in evangelizing people who are often considered untouchables. My method, largely, is to begin a dialogue with academics with the goal of discussing with them Christianity. Many historic models come to mind, including Anselm, who was open to a more tolerant and reasonable dialogue with the Jew as well as with the Muslim. But the Crusades did much to destroy this spirit of openness. Our modern crusade in the Middle East has had very similar results, all deleterious. Arab and now Persian Muslims are down at the bottom of the social scale and at the top of the hatred scale. It is interesting to note the creeping anti-Muslim sentiment in the evangelical world. This development is seen for example in the pulpits of some of America's mega-churches, where odious Muslim villains foreshadow the great end-time Battle and the return of Christ. Perhaps this concern of mine will emerge in my weekend talks, perhaps not. I ask myself: What is the use of talking about raising responsible youth unless we can also talk about fleshing the truth out in real life? It is very possible, I'm afraid, to raise a generation of proper, well-behaved, family-oriented youth who have no interest whatsoever in penetrating the world with Christ's love.
Charles meets me at the airport in Philly and we drive almost 3 hours to his home, where his wife Carol feeds us lavishly. The event at school goes well. Luke 2:42: expounded and applied. But "scientia inflat" -- knowledge expands man like a balloon, and I pray fervently that the Holy Spirit may teach us more than truth but show us our duty. There is a nice serendipity at the event: a coffee bar is open, and I am served a delicious macchiato, Ethiopian-style, the best I've had since my last trip to Africa.
Cold Sunday morning, pale sunshine, slight mist. I am suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I do not belong here, that I am unworthy to speak on behalf of the Lord of lords, that it is an absurdity that I should try to tell other people how to live their lives when I am just learning how to live mine. I almost laugh out loud. Yet I am, at the same time, conscious of the presence of God, knowing that He delights to use weak, undeserving vessels. I confess, though: I have a love-hate relationship with public speaking. Even when a talk "goes well," I have a partial sense of failure because I know I can always do better.
The morning service at Bloomsburg Southern Baptist Church is now over. I pray that my message was received as it was: nothing but the words of a fallible man who at best can only point others to Christ. Carol has again served us a delicious meal. I take some rest. Tonight I speak at Grace Bible Church where Charles serves as shepherd. I am glad that he gets a very evident satisfaction out of my being here. I pray for the power of the Lord to be evident tonight. Meister Eckhart, in a sermon, once said that when a person is about to be struck by a thunderbolt of lightening he turns unconsciously towards it. When a tree is about to be struck, all the leaves turn toward the blow. Let the lightening strike!
It is now late Sunday night. Formal ministry is done. I am very happy. There have been great blessings all around. A simple and straightforward exegesis of the commonplace of Jesus' life when He turned 30 -- nothing esoteric at all. I go to bed with the realization that there is a sacredness about the beauty of the church. I do understand why Christ loves her, despite her flaws and warts and wrinkles.
Today I fly home, filled with pleasant memories. How kind and wonderful these Pennsylvanians have been to me! In his homily on St. Matthew, Chrysostom describes the church like this: "As long as we remain sheep, we overcome. Even though we may be surrounded by a thousand wolves, we overcome and are victorious. But as soon as we are wolves, we are beaten: for then we lose the support from the Shepherd who feeds not wolves, but only sheep." The point is, there is something beautiful about the company of the saints, whether I should gather with them in Asia or Africa of the coal country of Pennsylvania. I was greatly blessed by the outpouring of grace and love toward this stranger and at the thought that we are all one in union with Christ.
Saturday, April 12
8:14 AM Today I reflect on Paul's response -- "So what?" -- to those who were preaching the Gospel in Rome with improper motives (Phil. 1:18). This is the same apostle who so vehemently defends the Gospel of pure grace in the book of Galatians. The two attitudes are not incompatible. If I am correctly informed, the evangelical church is to open its windows rather widely to other evangelicals. At the same time, it can happen that in a large house whose windows are open there might by a closed window here or there. Otherwise there would be an unhealthy draft. I believe there are many undesirable drafts swirling about us today -- which is natural enough in a reactionary, post-modern, emergent church setting. A certain pluralism in theology exists in the evangelical church simple because we are multidimensional beings, and because the historical and cultural situations we face are not the same. Nevertheless, I would say that ecclesiastical unity is utterly impossible without unity in truth, which is why in our mission work Becky and I work only with Bible-believing churches that are committed to the Gospel of grace and the fundamental truths of Christianity. I do not think that Paul would have ever compromised the Gospel message or the basic truths that he himself taught. At the same time, I have little patience with "holy huddles." If the church -- the Bible-believing, doctrinally sound evangelical church -- does not have the courage to preach the Good News to those who have not yet accepted it -- even if they are our avowed political "enemies" -- then she will shrivel up and die.
Friday, April 11
6:08 PM This afternoon has become a procession of writing, talking, visiting with the Blacks, laughing, reading blogs, writing emails, and planting flowers and herbs with Becky. I barely have time to pack for my trip. I have loved having Nate and Jessie here for a while today. I feel absurdly happy in their presence. Their laugh is unforgettable: two pealets from the same podlet.
While we were planting herbs Becky excuses herself, goes into the house, and brings back a sample of freshly baked Amish Friendship Bread. I have just died and gone to heaven. Never tasted anything better in my life. We have Liz to thank for the recipe and starter. Thank you again, Liz!
12:52 PM "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." John Stuart Mill.
11:50 AM Worthy read: A biblical perspective on young people, by my colleague Alvin Reid.
11:04 AM Finally, an improvement over the unpredictable hard drive is in the works. It's about time.
10:34 AM This is the best French rebus I have ever read: "Ga" = "I am very hungry." Here's how it works. The French capital letter G ("G grand") and small a ("a petit") are pronounced the same as "J'ai grand appétit." That is simply inspired. I wonder if something similar could possibly be behind the Greek of Rev. 1:8: "ego eimi to Alpha kai to O [instead of Omega]," meaning, "I am the Alpha and the Oh!" Why else not spell out the letter Omega? Today the rebus is largely forgotten except on American license plates, one of my favorites being RUNVS. My own conviction is that no play on words in language is ever without significance, as in the famous Latin anagram that turns "Quid est veritas?" ("What is truth?") into "Est vir qui adest" ("It is the man who is here"). A masters thesis that fairly begs to be written would treat all of the puns, rebuses, riddles, etc. in the New Testament.
10:24 AM I believe I am a step closer to getting my book on Anabaptism published. The present book is rather a bother to think of, rather a bother to write, and terribly feeble when written. But all will settle down in time. If my sabbatical is granted next week I shall write like a madman in the fall, when I am not traveling that is. I must add, before I forget, that my colleague's message in chapel last Tuesday was exceptional. There is no question that David Hogg is passionately sincere and has really studied his subject. It was a most interesting talk on Cyrus from the book of 2 Chronicles -- all very straightforward and cheerful, which is how a chapel message should be.
10:05 AM Flowers, flowers everywhere!
8:38 AM I am sorry to say that warfare has broken out again between the Gujis and the Burjis in an area where we work in southern Ethiopia. The main highway has been cut off, and there has been loss of life. I intend to visit that region in June. For more information about our work in Burji, go here.
8:32 AM More pictures of last Saturday's wedding celebration here. Thanks, Liz!
7:45 AM I ran across a most interesting blog the other day. I bookmarked it and it now occupies a very rare place in my Favorites. I have concluded that it is necessary to subject myself to strict rationing in regard to reading and perusing the millions of blogs that exist, most of which are worthless. In keeping with 1 Cor. 10:23, to refrain from excessive indulgence in website browsing may be one of the most salutary of necessary mortifications.
7:34 AM Just a word to say how pleased I am to see that Ron Paul is refusing again to take the big-government line. Paul is a prodigious debunker, but at the same time he is a realist (unlike most debunkers) who takes into account all the facts. In my opinion, the election this year is simply an attempt at apotheosis -- as for a Julius Caesar or an Augustus. One understands why the early Christians were so concerned about idolatry. The moral of the whole distressing thing is, as H. G. Wells once noted, that the dilemma of the political scientist has more than two horns. Between liberty on the one hand and perpetual warfare-welfare on the other lies the alternative of true Christianity. As I may have mentioned before, I am thinking of developing this theme more fully into a book. That is, if I can find the time before time finds me.
Thursday, April 10
8:12 PM Well, well, lookie here. Me and the dogs was out filling in tire ruts when what did we behold? Lady Jessica and Master Nathan spreading manure, with the young bride literally in the driver's seat. You will not be surprised that I just "happened" to have my camera ready to hand. Et voila!
I eventually contrived to finish my job as the official farm de-rutter.
Pursuant to our labors there resulted a time of quiet rest on the lawn amid the antics of the puppies. Here Sheppie is making short order of a cow hoof he managed to unearth.
Sheba on the other hand was happy to mimic her master and simply loaf while soaking in the sunshine.
It felt good to work up a good sweat after having lazed in the house writing all morning and afternoon. The result was a most pleasant afternoon, which has percolated into a most pleasant evening. Tomorrow Nate and I will need to do some literal fence-mending in the valley before the weekend thunderstorms arrive. I plan to get good and tired when the day is over, but pleasantly so.
4:08 PM A truly lovely day, fine and sun-swept. Matthew and the older 2 boys stopped by for lunch today after dropping off Matt's masters thesis at the seminary, rejoicing. The farm is springlike. The tulips are superb. The atmosphere is lazy. I do not expect that I will ever enjoy a place so much. And I render thanks.
Meanwhile, life proceeds calmly here. I manage to get some writing done, together with a certain amount of reading. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Johnson in his contempt for authors who write more than they read. Sadly, one rarely has time or energy to do both. I shall be in the hills of central Pennsylvania this weekend speaking on Jesus' age 12 and age 30 transitions (Luke 2:40; 3:23) -- the most extraordinary and instructive glimpses into His human development. If you want to amuse yourself with a very intelligent author, read Erik Erickson sometime, if you haven't already. He is an excellent toreador and gives some notable performances of sticking darts into our fallacious balloons. I will be staying, incidentally, with a former doctoral students at SEBTS -- an astonishing friend who is a fascinating conversation partner. He neither trespasses on others' domains, nor allows other people to trespass on his. He has some rather odd views about the chronology of the Last Supper. Obviously I have an interest in this topic, though I wish I had a more scientific mind to grasp the details. It is the ideal topic for a dissertation -- and in fact, it has already been set down as such. I hope one day it will be published for the broader world of scholarship to enjoy and benefit from.
Talking about publishing reminds me of an uncommonly interesting book on biblical linguistics I read the other day in the seminary library. I forget its exact title, but it was an anthology of extracts drawn from some of the greatest linguistic minds of our day. It was a reminder that most of us think illogically about language, and illogical thinking usually leads to acting stupidly. Anyhow, I enjoyed the book. I'm glad to see that books like this are still being published. Don't look for me to add anything to the discussion, however. I feel I have already contributed my share.
11:55 AM In the year 23 A.D. Smyrna was the first city to build a temple to worship the Roman emperor. Later, under Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.), people were required to worship the emperor and call him "Lord" as an act of political loyalty. In his commentary on the book of Revelation, William Barclay writes:
Where is your loyalty today? Are you willing to risk your popularity and perhaps even your personal security to say, "We must obey God and not men!"?
11:34 AM Whether or not a major war -- perhaps even a nuclear war -- with Iran should finally break out, we have to live in a way that takes this possibility into account. This implies certain choices. Will I choose to stand for life? Will I live in a conscious confrontation with my culture of death? Will I pray and work for peace? This is what it means to be a Christian: not simply one who avows "It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war," but one who lives it before Christ and before other men. It is too much for many president-day Christians to swallow. Preemption has become the opiate of the people. It is an article of faith that our militarism must be a confirmation of Augustine's just war theory. That is that. Fight or perish. Kill them before they kill us. Today it is no longer possible to fit genuine Christianity into this pragmatism. There is no "room" in which an intelligible light can shine. The myth of the momentous decision cloaks our pitiable lack of integrity and truthfulness.
What if you had the opportunity to go to Tehran and share the love of Jesus with the Persians, our "enemies"? Would you do it? Or would you refuse? This refusal would, of course, be heresy in a Christian whose faith is a radical and total commitment to the truth of the incarnation as revealed by God. The mentality of our world lays upon many Christians a burden of despair so great that they cannot meet even the ordinary exigencies of existence. Much less can we expect them to exchange the comforts and security of home for the possibility of annihilation in the service of Christ. A few years ago I never thought I would be asking myself such questions. And yet I do, because of the clarity with which the Scriptures speak: "Suffer persecution with me as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." "God has granted us the privilege of not only believing in Jesus but also of suffering for Him."
The last thing in the world that should concern a Christian is survival.
10:55 AM Take this simple survey and help a voice of sanity grow.
Wednesday, April 9
5:34 PM The latest addition to our home page is called I Have to Walk.
5:12 PM Praise where praise is due, and the opposite where necessary: Historians come clean about Bush’s leadership. (Please go the link.) Now that Bush has given the world his guide-book to hegemony, the other players can follow suit without fear of scandal, sheltering themselves behind his failed presidency. It seems a dismal conclusion; but it is the only one that a constitutionalist can insist on as inescapable.
5:08 PM Good news. Today, the Scriptures are available in no less than 2,454 languages.
5:04 PM Wednesday shout out to Craig T. and David B. of our Tuesday Greek classes. They won the 110 award with a perfect exam. Heartiest congratulations, young Greek scholars!
4:57 PM Surfing – in Albany?
4:43 PM Abraham Piper has 6 reasons why pastors should blog.
4:36 PM There’s one book J. I. Packer won’t sign.
4:30 PM Ashland University is seeking an Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies.
Tuesday, April 8
6:45 AM I am preparing to teach from 2 Timothy and Titus this week, letters that always create a smile and bring joy to my heart. After all, a good part of the New Testament consists of personal letters, and some of the most profound truths are written down in epistles between people who are attracted to each other by a deep personal affection. This is the side of the Bible I often forget. But the Bible is a human book and does not avoid any part of human reality, even a forgotten cloak or some scrolls and parchment. It is good to be reminded of this realism. Even at the end of his life Paul was still striving, still learning, still writing even. Though about to "depart and be with Christ" he still felt heartsick for the world with its pain and problems ("Trophimus I left ill in Miletus"). God, indeed, does not promise us a rose garden. The Christian life has become for me an experience of deep mysticism in which the active protest and the passive surrender are both present, and I struggle with God as Jacob struggled with the angel. In the end God must, of course, win, and I can walk away with a glorious limp that tells everyone, "It is God that matters, not me!" Well, I must be off to campus. I feel that I have just lived through an eternity this weekend. I can better understand now what the apostles must have experienced when they met Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana.
By the way, today is my day to pray for my students. I have quite a long list of names. What a gift to be able to pray at any time and at any place and for any one.
6:33 AM Our double date last night was a blast. Becky cooked up some great chicken fettuccini, and then Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Black opened their wedding gifts. Here's a brief sampling.
Monday, April 7
6:38 PM I have been looking again, in exegeting the book of Hebrews, at that astounding old taskmaster, Barth the Elder. What a prodigious monument those Dogmatics are! Better than anything of its kind, I think, but how discomfiting. The theme, fundamentally, is the Word -- and the rather awful vacuum that would exist in our lives without it. So far as I can understand these matters -- which is not very far -- it is only by being grounded in the Word that we can know God. This being so, I think I can say almost with certainty that no one knows God as he ought. We are unwilling to give the Scriptures the kind of attention they deserve. The present era has all the advantages of information at our fingertips, yet we still prefer to live in a dark room, being unable to tolerate the Light. Barth had the guts to point this out. So did his son Markus, under whom I studied in Basel. Thanks be to God.
6:12 PM Becky has just made a reservation for my flight to Ethiopia. I depart May 24 (the day after our commencement) and return June 23. I have almost no personal acquaintance with men of letters while in Africa, which is one of the reasons I think I enjoy my travels there so much. My itinerary is far from set in quikcrete, but it seems I must teach for 2 weeks in the north, attend a wedding in the capital, and evangelize among the nomads in the southernmost region of the country. It is a jolly and agreeable schedule and one that will surely occupy my 4 weeks there to the max. I find myself more and more reticent to teach in Addis Ababa, where the elite institutions are, preferring instead to take the Scriptures to the people where they live and work. I have also formed the habit of teaching only the Bible itself -- book studies based on my Greek New Testament. In Gondar I have been asked to preach at the annual assembly of all the evangelical churches of that region, to speak to the university students, and to give an in-depth Bible study to the evangelists we support and the leaders of their supporting churches. These are men who, like Epaphroditus of old, literally gamble with their lives to make the Good News known. In Alaba, which is 99 percent Muslim, I hope to visit most of the rural churches and hold Bible studies and prayer meetings, stopping at perhaps 2 or 3 villages each day. Finally, in Burji (near Kenya) I have been invited, and am eager to accommodate the invitation, to accompany the local evangelists to the summits and valleys in which the nomads reside and where the name of Jesus is scarcely known. Much of this will be laying the groundwork for when we take a team with us to Burji in the fall. Becky will stay at home this time around, enjoying a much deserved sabbatical from her labors.
Such, then, are my tentative plans for my next "missionary journey" -- of course, the Lord Jesus alone knows exactly what will happen. I must, as always, be prepared to "flow."
5:56 PM Becky's dad was dumbfounded when I told him I could read his Dallas newspaper online. In fact, I am a reader, with zest and regularity, of Le Temps and Figaro, Die Zeit and Frankfurter Allgemein. One day while I was living in Germany I was given a piece of advice that has stuck with me: Read as many German newspapers as you can to get the German point of view, and then read as many non-German papers as you can to overlook the German point of view from the universal point of view. I also linger occasionally in British, Spanish, and Greek newspapers. All online, and all free. Which is a very fine thing when one is counting pennies to buy his next ticket to Africa. Incidentally, I read without plan or purpose except to gratify an appetite for news!
2:36 PM The Palestinians are equivalent to the Taliban, I see. So says the church militant. But just what are we fighting? Islam, of course. What else is there to fight? But the church that fights only Islamists, or any other system that is hostile to us, has ceased to be militant. This perversity to condemn only those who are unlike us predisposes us to tyranny. Thus we drive Muslims into the arms of the extremists since we have left them nowhere else to go. Sadly, it is taking the brutal national trauma of war to destroy the myth of the church militant. They tell us, "Yankee go home," but when we get back home, home is not there anymore, for we are in the same mess as all the rest of them. Quelle vie!
2:23 PM Another reason to think twice about vaccinations.
1:53 PM N & J decided to spread the manure on our garden today -- which meant we got to see them! Notice carefully that neither Jessie nor I are helping Nathan muck. We did contribute a goodly amount of moral support, however, as did mom.
1:45 PM We've received plenty of very kind emails about last Saturday. This was one of them:
All I can say is Amen.
11:47 AM Nathan and Jessica are well-established in their home, but still I can't get their wedding out of my mind. I'd no idea it would be so incredibly joyful. It was full of the most extraordinary things, which themselves were all quite ordinary, if that makes any sense. Nate and Jessica have succeeded in making unmitigated simplicity seem interesting. By the way, they'll be coming over for supper tonight, after which they'll open their wedding presents. Jessie's calling it a "double date." Whoo-hoo! Meanwhile, are you up for a few more pictures of the wedding?
9:31 AM A habit I have as a teacher is never to take attendance, nor do I require attendance for a grade. I do require reading in my New Testament class, but I never quiz the students over the material. I see no merit in forcing students to do what any intrinsically-motivated learner will gladly do without external pressure of any kind. In Basel I did not have to attend lectures unless I wanted to. The professor signed each student's registration book (called a Testatbuch) at the beginning of the course and again at the end. I suppose that was considered presumptive evidence of attendance. The system was excellent for strong students who knew what they were doing, but it was fatal for weaklings. I suppose the same can be said for my classes.
On the right is a picture of a typical lecture hall in the main building of the University of Basel. I usually sat in the middle about half way back. When the professor entered the room we expressed our respect by enthusiastically rapping our knuckles on our desktops, and did the same when the lecture was over. During my first semester in Basel I took 20 hours of lecture per week, and during my second semester I had reduced that to 15 as I had begun writing my dissertation. None of these hours was required. If I recall, I had a perfect attendance record, even though the professor never checked or even noticed. All of the lectures were in German of course, but when one stepped out into the hallway the language quickly turned into the local dialect (Basel Deutsch), which is one reason I tried to master that language when I lived in that beautiful city on the Rhine.
8:28 AM BeckyLynn here. In these past days we've been thinking much about family and family traditions. A wedding has that effect. As we're celebrating the life of this new couple, our thoughts go to our own histories and the continuum down through the generations. In our library are pictures of many generations of my family. Although most of these people were gone long before my time, I feel that I've known them personally because so many stories were passed down to me about them. And how thankful I am to the Lord for this heritage. As I look at Jessica and Nathan I'm keenly aware of the future and the potential for this heritage to continue flowing to future generations. It is my prayer that they will stand for the Lord in their generation, as their ancestors stood in past generations.
Into this mix comes my precious daughter Liz. She's been "grafted" into our family. She's fully grown, our history is only a few years old, yet it seems like she's always belonged to us. In these past few days she has showered me with love and honor. In the picture below are love gifts she gave to me this past weekend -- a bouquet of flowers, cards full of tender expression, and a couple dozen animal napkin rings. Napkin rings? Well, it's a family tradition that started when I was a missionary kid in Ethiopia attending boarding school. We kept the same cloth napkin for a week, so each of us had our own unique napkin ring. (My ring is the dark brown antelope in the center front; it's almost 50 years old.) Here at Bradford Hall we each have our own ring, and all visitors get a ring. Recognizing that our family is growing, Liz has obtained all these napkin rings, and each one is unique!
One thing that's funny about napkin rings: as I've watched people select a ring for themselves, they almost always chose a ring that reflects their own personality. Those who are strong, authoritative, aggressive will choose a rhinoceros or a lion. Those who are dignified and self-confident will choose an elephant. The playful ones choose a zebra or hippo, and the graceful, gentle ones choose an antelope or giraffe. Call it Napkin Ring Psychology :).
God, in His mercy and kindness to me, has given me two WONDERFUL daughters -- Jessica and Liz. May His grace and blessing rest upon them! And may I live in a manner worthy of them!
8:15 AM The average wedding cost today is $27,000. Just think: all of that money could have gone to buy a new tractor.
8:12 AM A good friend of ours in Addis Ababa edits a magazine called "Mathetes" (Greek for "Disciple").
The latest edition features a story about our wonderful son Bereket -- how we met him in a village near Gondar, how he underwent successful eye surgery, how he came to Christ, etc. I wish I could translate it for you, but I'm not smart enough. If you'd like to read reports in English, you can go here and here.
In a couple of months I hope to be with Bereket again, along with his mother and sister, in their hut in northern Ethiopia.
Sunday, April 6
8:17 PM Almost forgot to mention a nice serendipity. Last night Becky's father treated us to Ethiopian food in Raleigh. The really nice thing is that Becky got to spend time with 3 of her siblings, which is a rare treat nowadays. They had come for the wedding celebration. It was fun for me to watch them reminiscing about their childhood. Lots of laughter. Food was good, too, especially the doro wat.
6:24 PM Take the test: The 25 most commonly misspelled words.
6:18 PM We saw Nate and Jessie at Sunday School and church today. They were beaming from ear to ear. After church they drove to Oxford to swap out manure trailers and to do some grocery shopping. Later they paid us a visit to pick up some leftovers from yesterday. Looks like they've settled into their routine. Tomorrow they'll spread manure together in the hay fields and then work on their house renovation. God bless 'em.
How are Becky and I doing? In a word: Wonderful. The nest is empty, and it feels right and good.
9:22 AM When I woke up this morning I discovered that I was still asking myself, How can I begin to describe yesterday's celebration? Some things are unexplainable. "What does an event mean?" As with Beethoven's music or Da Vinci's artwork, you can write about it but you can never really describe it. What struck me most about the day was its simplicity: simple structure, simple fellowship, simple conversations, simple smiles, simple focus: the love and goodness of God. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb -- that's what I was reminded of mostly, I suppose -- how our intimate gathering prefigured that grand and glorious future meeting when the Groom will receive His Bride. A time-bound anticipation of the heavenly reality. We ate, we laughed, we cried, we sang, and then we watched the groom take his bride by the hand and lead her to the home he had prepared for her. I will never be able to fully articulate what that moment in time meant to me -- the uncanny symbolism, the appropriateness of it, its utter simplicity and indescribable beauty. The sky was full of mysterious cloud formations, the red buds were bursting forth in full bloom, but no one took any notice. All we saw was a humble man and woman who adore each other, holding hands for the first time, walking -- almost jumping and leaping -- to their new home, turning to bid us one last farewell.
The only thing I can say now is thank you. Thank you to all who set up, cooked, served, cleaned, parked cars, pushed cars out of the mud, and cleaned up afterwards. Thank you to all who prayed for this day. And thank you especially to the One who heard our prayers. May His light continue to shine in our darkness, and may be we ready to receive it with joy and thankfulness.
I leave you with a few pix for you to enjoy:
Saturday, April 5
7:45 AM The festivities are upon us. I am convinced that because of the storms our numbers will be down, so we are meeting in Bradford Hall. Right now it is the center of the world -- our world at least. Everything of which human beings can feel elated over has come upon us it seems. I would be completely irresponsible if I did not take any pictures today, but I am so beside myself with excitement I just might forget to. Praise the Lord. He has truly answered our requests. This is the work of the Lord. He has not failed us. It is sweet and precious to see the willingness of the Lord to grant our undeserving petitions. Nathan and Jessica have placed their faith solely in Him, and He has honored it. What God has done for them we cannot doubt that He is eager to do for every young person who trusts Christ. "If any one does His will, He hears him" (John 9:31).
Truly, God has supplied all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Today let all the honor and glory be His.
Friday, April 4
2:58 PM Jessica has just posted her final blog entry for a while.
2:47 PM As I'm typing up my talk for tomorrow's wedding it occurred to me that marital problems are frequently due to simple misunderstanding. I recall reading about a mother who told her grown son that she was dedicating a poem to him. "O, don't do that," he replied unthinkingly. "You know I don't really understand your poetry." His mother went into her room without a word, but when she emerged her son noticed that she had been crying. He had meant, of course, "I don't deserve the dedication. It would be a form of intrusion into your work." But, alas, that was not what he said, and she was as distressed by the heartlessness of his words as he was by the remorse he later felt for uttering them. How often have I failed to communicate what is in my heart in words that don't offend. I pray often for special grace in this area.
11:17 AM I never tire of reading the poetry of the New Testament. It never ceases to move me. I find Paul's poetry different from the other New Testament authors. Christocentricity is its hallmark. How quickly one discerns, below the surface of the poem, a deep current of love for Christ and for men. Paul can even cite pagan poets when it suits his purpose. e.g., Titus 1:12: "Liars ever, men of Crete, savage brutes that live to eat." This is a real poem, discernable in the original as well. Yet so few see it. Mozart once complained that Protestants did not know the meaning of "agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi," and I sometimes feel the same way about evangelicals when it comes to the literary beauty of the Bible. Poetry is never the denial of meaning, but its affirmation.
8:35 AM In reading Douglass Freeman's classic biography of Robert E. Lee -- the chapter on marriage, of course -- I saw that young Lee and his bride also had a bit of weather-related trouble on their wedding day. This is hilarious!
Meanwhile I am finishing up my little talk for tomorrow, which, I'm afraid, has three points, taken mostly from Proverbs and the wonderful but often misunderstood book of Ecclesiastes, which is often thought to be pessimistic but is critical only of facile idealism, not of true wisdom based in the realities of life as God has made it. The question I shall seek to answer is: What kind of a marriage truly honors God?
8:17 AM Michael S. Rozeff can't find the words to describe American democracy. Let me help. Despite a fleeting reference to it on rare occasions, there is an active indifference in our nation toward the U.S. Constitution, an attitude of grudgingly admitting its existence as a cultural relic deserving an italicized footnote in some obscure and erudite tome but no place else. Relativism prevails. Any system of absolutes is by-passed for the sake of the "good life." Americans, in short, are "croyant, non pratiquant," i.e., non-practicing constitutionalists, from the president and vice-president on down. That's the root of our political trouble.
8:07 AM Had a great evening last night. We braved the rain to eat at the local Chinese restaurant (the real deal), then shopped at Food Lion for odds and ends for the big day. We are in the midst of a series of powerful and exotic storms, the kind that remind me of Hawaii on a very bad day. Extraordinarily much better than a drought, of course.
Thursday, April 3
6:06 PM I see that Thomas Woods is saying that the Ron Paul Moment has only begun. I do look forward to reading Congressman Paul's manifesto. The great question of course is this: will the public and those in authority pay any attention to what he says, or will the politicians go on with their silly games of power politics? I myself tried to put this question to the general public several years ago in my book Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon. My own interests in recent days have turned increasingly in the direction of church-state relations, and I see the problem of the church's relation to the state as not only an immediately practical problem, but also as a problem in ethics and theology. I hope very much that Ron Paul, as a Christian and a politician (note that I did not say "Christian politician"), will be able to make some impression in influential quarters. But alas, in light of what politicians and the voting public are like, hope must always be tempered with a good dose of skepticism. It seems to me that, if we are to have a true revolution and a better political philosophy, then we must also have a better theology. I am thus quite delighted that evangelical theologians such as Gushee and Boyd are raising theological questions about church-state relations. The job is a pretty harassing one; but it has to be done.
3:31 PM What a wonderful day so far. We have gotten into a rhythm of sorts. Becky and her mom have been a-cookin' nonstop in the cocina and are having a blast. They are also having some great talks, as only mothers and daughters can do.
Want to see sumthin funny? Becky had bought a whole bunch of potatoes for the men folk to eat before she left for Ethiopia. Guess what? The men folk forgot all about them. Reckon it shows.
My job today has been outdoor work: mowing, edging, weeding, planting flowers, and putting this plastic on Becky's raised beds. Had lots of help, though. Liz and the boys paid us a surprise visit and, as always, Caleb and Isaac pitched right in, helping Nate and me collect and place the bricks. I have never met boys who were more eager to work or to work with such a good attitude.
Before they left the farm we had the "great trailer jump-off contest." Second place went to Micah, who showed excellent form today.
But no one could beat Mr. Isaac. He won the coveted grand prize -- Papa B chasing their van like a maniac as it raced down the driveway.
Finally, here's a pic simply to illustrate the rhythm of life on the farm.
In the beginning I was hardly aware of how important the seasons were to crop management. Farming has made me a true believer. Not only is rain important, but also sunshine, and lots of it. After more than 5 years of growing and selling horse-quality hay, I can't look at a green field like this and not perceive God's presence. It seems that during springtime we are slowly lifted up from the gray, dull, somewhat monotonous, secular time cycle into a very colorful, rich sequence of events in which solemnity and playfulness, grief and joy, lightness and seriousness take each other's place off and on. It is hard to be glum in such a place as this. Indeed, when God's glory is so evident, there is nothing too far away, nothing too painful, nothing too strange or too familiar that cannot renew the heart. Even small tasks such as pulling a weed becomes a pleasure. It is a grace-filled time, and God is close.
9:55 AM The house is filled with laughter. And constant chatter, some of it in Amharic. Lovely. Granddaddy is reading an interview an Ethiopian magazine did about our son Bereket. Becky and her mom are busy in the kitchen cooking meals for Saturday. Nate has gone down to Oxford to swap out manure trailers. We hope to spread it before the rains start up again. I am writing an essay on missions and prepping my talk for Saturday. Not to mention answering emails. These are good days for the Black family.
Made one huge decision today: If it rains on Saturday we are moving the wedding festivities into Nate's hay barn. Now if that isn't a southern thang, I don't know what is.
8:14 AM I have known Christ for 45 years. In those years I have never faced a struggle or asked a question to which Christ and His promises were not the answer. Do you believe that He can and will do the same for you? This very day?
7:55 AM Often when we least expect it, Christ breaks through with blessings -- perfectly timed, magnificently suited to our needs. Yesterday Alan Knox reminded us that the answer to all of our questions and the direction of all of our decisions is a personal commitment to obey the Scriptures. Just as God guided the people of Israel with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, so He seeks to guide the church today. But we must obey the movement of the pillar. Alan put it plainly: to be a member of Christ's Body means loving each other, serving each other, caring for each other, teaching each other, learning from each other. It means keeping ourselves glued to dead center: people, not programs. It was a really good THINK session. Alan has posted an MP3 of his talk at his personal website. I hope that the adventure of one young scholar will encourage countless other such humble servants of Christ to strike out bravely on their way.
7:43 AM I spent an exciting half hour yesterday with the director of our missions center talking about an upcoming opportunity to minister in a faraway land where this is little to no Gospel witness. It reminded me that God is at work in so many ways I cannot see. At best I see only the “hem of His garment” of what He is doing in the world. After my meeting I ate lunch with two of our Korean students who prepared a delicious meal of fish and rice, along with some spicy hot soup. Made me want to get back to Korea just as soon as possible. Here I am at the table with brother Enoch. Not pictured is brother Minwoo. Choseumnida! Kamsahamnida!
7:35 AM Newsweek posts this touching article about man’s best friend. It’s hard to imagine what my life would be like without my puppies.
Wednesday, April 2
9:25 PM The last few days have been eventful to say the least. Becky’s mom and dad arrived from Dallas tonight, and other family members are due to arrive in gradual increments over the next two days. On Saturday I will speak at Nathan’s wedding celebration and then my direct involvement in his upbringing will come to an end. After the marriage supper is completed, Nate and Jessie will walk to their farm house to begin their new life together. But for the moment I want all my friends to know that my heart is filled with gratitude to God for having given me Nathan for 25 wonderful years. Rosewood is a beautiful, peaceful spot, and we are all hoping that the sound of little children will fill the air over the next few years. For Becky and me, too, this is a time of transitioning from a family of three to a family of two. Our retreat ministry will continue as God allows us to open our doors and rally around those who are hurting and need our help or who just need to get reconnected with the Lord or with each other. Becky hopes to be able to concentrate on her garden for the first time in many years. And all of us are realizing that family is truly a precious gift from the Lord.
For those of you who are curious, Saturday’s events line up as follows: a private wedding celebration at 11:00, then a church- and community-wide marriage celebration from 12:00 to 3:00. The feasting begins at 12:30, then at 2:00 Nate has asked to me speak on the goal and purpose of a scriptural marriage, after which he will tell the story of how he and Jessica became engaged before even meeting each other. Then he will describe their philosophy of marriage and child-rearing. At the conclusion, we will lay hands on the kneeling couple and several will pray, then we will sing three of their favorite hymns, followed by a benediction. The celebration will “officially” be over at that point, but I imagine many folks will linger, but not the married couple.
By the way, here’s the latest weather forecast for Saturday: cloudy, with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms.
Tuesday, April 1
6:56 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Confessions of a Missional Greek Prof.
6:50 AM I look forward to some pleasant days on campus. Tonight I dine with a seminary family, and tomorrow night I pick up Becky's mother and father from the airport in Raleigh. I will also have a conference with a colleague of mine to whom I turned over the editorship of a book project not long ago for lack of time on my part. This is his first editorial assignment, which he is undertaking quite well, and I am sure the result will be something very delightful and valuable. It is a collection of essays on text-driven preaching, to which I must contribute the essay on the role of exegesis in preparing a message. I'm afraid I will not have much in the way of original thought to offer, as I have already discussed the matter in my book on Greek exegesis. I don't know whether my attitude is an expression of mere cantankerousness, or whether I have gotten to the place where I am content to stand by what I have written earlier. Meanwhile I have been reading the political news with great interest, especially the rumor circulating on the I-net that Iran is to be attacked this month (the rumor is likely based on Fallon's forced resignation last month and other military considerations). It is just conceivable that the wholesale destruction of yet another nation may impel people to rethink their militarism, and saints will once again appear to be the only antidote to statesmen. But I'm not holding my breath.
O, I did glance at the many nice and functional gifts that Nate and Jess received at last Sunday's wedding shower, though I did notice one item was conspicuously missing. It is beyond me how a family can survive without an electric rice cooker; but, on the other hand, we did quite well for most of our married life by boiling rice on a stove top.
6:38 AM I was greatly encouraged by the hospital visitation Nate and I did on Sunday afternoon. Old people in our society are weak, sickly, lonely, ignored by their younger contemporaries. They cannot experience the progress going on in the world, because they are not personally progressing themselves but rather falling into decline. They tend to think that the good old days when they were young and healthy were better than the present, even though it is in the present that we all must live our Christian lives. I do thank the Lord for all those elderly folk who have prayed for so long and so hard for Nathan to find a wife. I am always amazed when I hear their stories of intercession. O, if they only knew what an impactful ministry they are having simply by talking to God on behalf of others, especially the young people all around us.
Monday, March 31
6:43 PM Forty years ago today, Lyndon Johnson announced that he wasn't going to run again for president. I well remember that day. NPR reports this evening how that event spurred a peace movement. The quote from the one-and-only Eric Sevareid in this report says it all.
5:29 PM The rain is now coming down in bucket loads. I'm sitting here at my computer typing away. A special blessing just now was watching Duck and Mary land on our pond. Nice serendipity on a dismal day. Well, Nate just phoned. He needs some help moving furniture in his house to get his home ready for his bride. My mind goes to John 14:2 ("I go to prepare a place for you"). Nate's already being a good husband. Off to Jessie's house!
3:39 PM When you keep anxiously waiting to see what others are writing about you, when you have hidden desires to be some important person in the community, when you have fantasies about prominent people mentioning your name, when you keep hoping for more stimulating work, then you know that you haven't even started to allow God into your heart. When nobody writes about you or hardly even thinks about you, when you become just another Christian "brother," when you have been forgotten by people and feel estranged even from your own loved ones, maybe then your heart can become empty enough to give God a real chance to let His presence and love be known to you. Then the Lord will truly be at the center of all things.
3:29 PM A "retired" pastor in our area does a lot of pulpit supply, and I have grown to know and love him in the past 6 years since we moved into Bradford Hall. His name is, in fact, on my pastor prayer list. I saw him just last night at the singspiration. He recently told me how old he was. I couldn't believe it. I had never realized he was that elderly. His great energy and zeal, his matchless speaking ability, his kind and gentle spirit fill me with a growing admiration for him. To be a "rolling stone" at his age is really quite an accomplishment. I hope that when I get to be his age I will have a mere fraction of the vibrancy that he has. Above all, I enjoy his constant smile and sense of humor. I think that only makes me like him all the more.
2:56 PM I have a very important anthropological announcement to make, to wit, the brick-ozoic age has now come to a glorious end. That's right, we finished the chimney, from the ground floor all the way up through the attic. I think we'll need to find some way to celebrate this auspicious event. Hey, how about a wedding on Saturday?
Meanwhile I am working feverishly preparing for my courses this week: a major review of the participle and infinitive in Greek, and the topic of church life in our New Testament class (this week we're in 1 Timothy, whose theme is "that you may know how to conduct yourself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth," 1 Tim. 3:15). As always I find myself having to make sweeping generalizations, whether I am talking about the Greek language or about the exegesis of specific texts bearing upon ecclesiology. I am not surprised that some should disagree with me about these generalizations; indeed, I disagree with most of them myself, but they must be made, even if they're glaringly untrue (in one sense), because one has to simplify things in any beginning course. So far as all the more important and fundamental facets of Greek and theology are concerned, however, it's impossible to explain anything to anybody really. One must simply learn things for oneself for any true and lasting learning to take place.
In this regard, I want to announce that in our New Testament class this Wednesday we will have a very special guest lecturer, Alan Knox, who will be sharing with the class his views on the church and especially how his thinking has changed and developed over the past few years. Alan is one of my Ph.D. students in New Testament here at SEBTS and is also the editor of The Assembling of the Church website over at blogspot. He will speak from 1:30 to 2:30 and then field questions from the audience. If you are not a student at the seminary but would like to hear what Alan has to say, I want to invite you to attend our session as my personal guest. Just send me an email and we'll go from there. By the way, Alan is also an elder at Messiah Baptist Church, whose website is well worth perusing. I also had the delight of interviewing brother Alan here.
It should be altogether a most interesting and stimulating class.
9:55 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Where Are the Peace-Makers?
9:46 AM Today we are living in a cloud. I piously hope it will be warm and sunny again soon. We are heading out shortly to finish the chimney, Lord willing, provided our legs hold out, especially Nathan's knees (the poor man can't even stand up straight in the attic to his own home). I will do my best to keep him well supplied with bricks and mortar. It is the mules who get things done in the world I suppose.
O, yesterday the bridal shower for Jessie was a smashing success I am told. Old Natie boy has found hisself a real winner, and that's fur shure.
9:41 AM My word, but Chuck Baldwin is at his best in this essay on the GOP. I am old-fashioned and only really at home with the most unmagical kind of direct discourse. I even enjoy Chuck's brevity -- "less is more" becoming less a rarified epithet and more of a reality in my own speaking and writing. Biblical, rock solid, and to the point -- that's Chuck Baldwin in a nutshell.
9:34 AM I have a huge problem, but it's a good problem. My prayer list has gotten so long and unwieldy that I have gone to a new schedule. Beginning today I have a different prayer list for each day of the week: Monday for family members (local and extended), Tuesday for my seminary family (including my 160 or so students), Wednesday for pastors and other church workers, Thursday for missions (Ethiopia, etc.), Friday for my local church, community, and friends, and Saturday for the salvation of the lost (my "salvation prayer list"). Sundays is potpourri, you might say. I will, of course, pray for family matters and for those who need salvation every day, not only on Mondays and Saturdays. And each week the lists will get longer I'm sure. In the epilogue to the book A Thousand Shall Fall (see below), I learned that Franz Hasel died in Germany at the age of 92, having befriended many young people in his long teaching and preaching career. At his funeral, one of those students summarized the loss they felt by asking, "Who will pray for us now?" This gives me much encouragement to be constantly devoted to praying for others, my students especially. God may work quite unexpectedly as a result.
Sunday, March 30
9:19 PM Just back from our 4-church singspiration, the best one we've ever had -- at least since the last time we got together. A cross between country gospel, blue grass, and hokey. I certainly don't know nearly enough about music to be able to remark on the quality of our singing, but thanks to a judicious infusion of the Holy Spirit we truly had what is called a "sang" tonight. The service got over at 8:00, then the real singing began, with Nate and Patrick at the piano, or we simply jettisoned the accompaniment and sang Acapulco. I don't see any particular reason not to report it like it is -- a truly remarkable evening of music that leaves one breathless with thanks and praise to God. The perfect capstone to a wonderful day.
2:13 PM Speaking of Jonathan ("der Grosse"), he just sent us a photo of himself that can be put to very good use. Many have been asking us what the dress code for Saturday's event is -- formal, semi-formal, casual, nice-causal, Hawaiian, hill-billy, etc. Thankfully, Jonathan can say in one picture what a thousand words could never do.
9:08 AM Jessie's brother Jonathan ("the magnificent") loaned me his copy of A Thousand Shall Fall, the story of a 40 year-old German pacifist who was drafted and assigned to Pioneer Company 699, Hitler's elite frontline unit. Having lived in Europe and been in several of the places named in the book, including Frankfurt am Main and Odessa, and having been interested myself in WW II history, I found this book magnificent and much more interesting than its title might indicate. If all Elizabethan tragedy is melodrama, then German non-fiction is sui generis. Franz Hasel refused to imbibe the pagan philosophies of his commanders and comrades-in-arms, and somehow survived to tell about it. Imagine -- a Sabbath-keeping, pork-refusing, conscientious-objecting Christian serving as a cog in Hitler's war machine as it crashed into Poland, Sedan, and Russia! The notion may be rather absurd, but the story is a good one and the ethics identical to Adventist theology -- and this is not even to mention the quite incredible comic statements emanating from the Vaterland: "We are the super race. We are invincible. Victory Salvation!" This touches the sublime. The decadent and putrefying nations of England and France quake. This vulgar beastliness, alas, did not disappear in the twentieth century. All countries eventually get the disease of decadence, even though individuals in them may see the light of day. As Socrates would say, "O dog!" (ne ton kuna).
Note: One of Franz Hasel's sons, Gerhard, eventually became an internationally-renowned Old Testament professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, IN. He published 14 books and hundreds of journal articles before being tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1994.
Saturday, March 29
6:36 PM A few days ago I worked in short sleeves. Today I wore a parka and a ski cap it was so cold. What a difference a week can make. "We're in the attic now, we're not behind the plow" -- halfway to the roof in fact. It's a good feeling. Nate and I had an extremely enjoyable time working together today, as we in fact always do. I'm not sure why that is. I think a big factor must be the indisputable fact that our personalities, temperaments, and styles are almost identical -- even if our skills and aptitudes are not. We have thus worked side by side for 7 years here on the farm -- two able, imaginative, energetic men with wide-angled intellectual lens capable of taking in the broad view of life. In this time we have never had a single disagreement, argument, or spat. We've prodded, backed off, nudged forward, given grace, aided and assisted each other as we tore down this, built up that, put up miles of fencing, baled hay, and mucked manure. Now the chimney goes forward quite nicely, and I am certain the final effect will be very pleasant, both from outside and in, once we punch through the roof. I was very glad I was able to work with Nathan on this project, as it represents a capstone of sorts to our life as a family. He will now have his own family, and a very capable, wise, and energetic wife to assist him with his doings and goings -- though I have the impression that yours truly will still be called upon from time to time to offer his very considerable expertise when great projects are underway. One thing is sure: life on this farm will never be drab or boring.
O, the weather forecast is calling for a good bit of rain this week, extending possibly into the weekend. Quien sabe? If it rains on Saturday, it rains. I can hear Nathan saying now: "The Lord knew the hay fields needed it." And he'd be right.
8:55 AM My mentor in college once told me, "Don't be too critical of other people and love much" -- and I have come to see more and more how wise that advice was. It was a warning against a rather conceited and selfish fault of my own. I think this is what Paul meant when he used that rarest of Greek words in Phil. 4:5 that means "big-heartedness," "gentleness," or "forbearing spirit." I see this, I understand it -- but when is God going to break through all my defenses so that I can see not just with my mind but with my heart as well? It was true for my college professor. May it be true for me today!
8:34 AM In one week the long looked-for and long prayer-for day will be upon us. We will open up our home to perhaps several hundreds of friends and family members whose purpose will be to joyfully celebrate the marriage of Nathan and Jessica, who have looked to the Lord God for aid and direction. Becky and I can only stand and gaze in amazement at the goodness of the Lord. At every step we have seen the Lord's fatherly hand in this blessing. They are acting by the dictates of their conscience, and God is blessing them because of it. They believe that marriage is above all a spiritual covenant, and thus the three-hour dinner and celebration will focus upon the Lord God of Heaven from whom all blessings flow rather than upon the unworthy couple who wed that day. This is as Nate and Jessie desire it. They seek only that their wedding supper be proof of His faithful love. In this freedom I am able to say, "O Lord, bless the union of these Thy humble servants, whose one desire is to live wholly for Thee. Let Thy holy name be praised forever!"
Friday, March 28
6:10 PM Done! Well, almost. Weeding out the garden beds still awaits my labor, not to mention the great cover-up. My un-calloused hands are extremely averse to such work, hence the blisters that have now made their annual appearance after tilling.
6:03 PM Newsflash: China, which of course funds the U.S. debt, is more capitalistic than America.
12:44 PM Time seems to have been oiled this spring, like a thief, for the express purpose of slipping between our fingers. Only 8 days to go. Becky has gone a-shoppin' with our daughter Liz, while Nathan is down in Carolina delivering this order of 50 bales of hay.
I have been cluttered up with garden work, hoeing and rotary-tilling our raised garden beds in preparation for our first planting of the year. Currently the landscape on the farm is classically lovely, with flowers blooming galore, including these local beauties abutting Bradford Hall:
The latter is of course my favorite; there is a reason, after all, why we named our farm Rosewood.
O, I want to say thank you to Lew Rockwell for linking today to our essay on "Bush's War." I do believe that shortly after 9/11 we had a golden opportunity to solve the problem of terrorism either through Machiavellian means or through cooperation and thus could have gotten rid of Bin Laden & Co. But instead we have devolved into the pitiful situation of the cancer patient who will die if left alone and will die if he undergoes the knife on the operating table. I see no reason to suppose that, when led into the temptations offered so invitingly by political power, any of the presidential candidates will not gleefully succumb to them, in precisely the same way that the current leadership in Washington is doing now. If one wants a demonstration of the basic misère de l’homme, one could hardly choose better than Clinton, Obama, or McCain.
8:45 AM During my 3 years as a doctoral student at the University of Basel I found my Doktor Vater to be at once utterly brilliant, approachable, rigorous, and caring. In many ways I have sought to emulate him in my own teaching. Professor Reicke had a passion for hard work, detail, and precision. He had an impatience with mental laziness, so-called "relevance," and bureaucratic ineptitude. Most impressive of all were his curiosity, simplicity, and personal piety. I offer these thoughts because I suppose it is only fair that my own doctoral students know what I expect of them. Doctoral work is the greatest academic challenge a student can face. It should also be the most joyful.
8:32 AM In about 9 weeks Becky and I will be returning to Ethiopia. It sounds like we lead a busy life, and we do, but I cannot imagine life in any other key. I do wonder sometimes whether America will be around when it's time to return home after one of our trips. The country simply doesn't understand that we are living beyond our income, and will have to pay for it sooner or later. I fear that the sun is setting in the West and that I must therefore try to be more of an asset than a liability to the kingdom in our remaining days. Please pray for us, more now than ever, as our travels will only get busier in the future and the responsibilities are truly great.
8:25 AM Progress report:
Attic, here we come!
8:12 AM I just finished reading the entire book of 1 Timothy -- a task I have implicitly assigned to my New Testament students for Wednesday next and which I myself must therefore fulfill. Once again, reading a book of the Bible straight through enables one to appreciate the strength and nobility of the language. Style is always something you want to look at in the sense that splendid writing can make seemingly inconsequential notions seem valuable and important. Paul's first letter to Timothy is a very noble work; like Hebrews, it is a book that finds a form of expression that is esthetically comparable in quality to its subject matter. The odd thing is that every time I read the letter different topics jump out at me as salient. An example is Paul's exhortation to the "rich" (which today would mean any American when compared to the citizens of almost any other nation) to "do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous, and to be sharers" (6:18). All this is to be done in view of "storing up a treasure ... for the future" (6:19). The exhortation proceeds contrapuntally. The two themes run parallel, the after-death experience throwing light on what is going on now in the material world, the events of time taking on a new significance against the backdrop of eternity. This Weltanschauung -- this way of looking at our possessions as things we do not possess at all but merely objects we are to "steward" -- is a wonderful theme in Scripture and one to which I often return in thinking about the way I choose to invest my time, energy, resources, talents, even my vacations to expand the Gospel. There are, of course, similar utterances to be found among the sayings of our Lord, who made it clear that one cannot serve both God and Money. It is sad to reflect that many scholars think Paul incapable of writing such a letter as 1 Timothy, a conclusion based on a supposed incongruity between form and substance -- dense and inspissated sentences replacing the broad generalizations and airy thoughts of the "authentic" Pauline epistles. Here the topic of pseudonymous authorship rears its ungainly head, which we must of course discuss in detail in class next week.
Thursday, March 27
11:30 AM I can remember only one semester since I was six years old when I was not in school as student or teacher. Even during my sabbaticals I am teaching in some foreign land. I must dispense many thousands of words on a weekly basis through public speaking or publishing. Still, I am realizing that the more I speak, the more I need to be silent if I am to remain true to what I say. "In much speaking thou shalt not avoid sin" (Prov. 10:19). I think we expect too much from speaking and too little from silence. Even the great orators of the past knew the value of the "pause for effect." Without a continuing rhythm of prayer and solitude, public speaking would become just a series of useless utterances.
Then why do I fail to make prayer and silence a major part of my teaching? It seems crucial that I make a concerted effort to listen to God before I preach or teach or speak to others. I see the importance of a better integration between my devotional life and my work. But I have a problem actually doing it. I think the only solution is to set a prayer schedule and never depart from it without consulting the Lord. Make prayer the most important task of the day. Make prayer for my students as important as my lectures to them. All this seems very convincing to me, even obvious. The only task left is to do it.
11:21 AM I am taking the morning off from work, resting up from my head cold of the past two days. Nate's got some help, though -- two friends who volunteered to spend their time and energies doing the necessary grunt work that I normally do. Et moi -- what to do other than write?
8:57 AM Unexciting news here. We go back to work on the chimney today, and then I must give a good deal of thought about the talk I am supposed to give in the course of the wedding supper a week from this Saturday. Nathan and Jessica's relationship is so pure, so simple, so unadorned, so unencumbered by societal and ecclesiastical tradition -- I think there is so much that is scriptural about all this, hence the question: which Scriptures do I use, and which do I leave out? I have asked the Lord Jesus about this but have not received any clear direction yet. All in good time.
Wednesday, March 26
6:23 PM The latest addition to our home page is called Bush's War.
5:29 PM A big Wednesday shout out to the students from Union University in Jackson, TN, who visited our New Testament class today. Glad you could join us. And glad to hear your school is recovering from the tornado. I also want to thank those students who were kind enough to read aloud in class today from our essay on the discourse structure of Philippians. You did a magnificent job. What a load to carry! Above all, I thank God for the message of Philippians. Certainly all of us must have an interest in the spread of God's Good news outside of our own circumscribed bailiwick. "Laymen" have their contribution to make if they are trained in righteousness and the Word of God and have a sense of mission. Oh the unity we have in Christ, if we would only unify around the Gospel! Next week we'll discuss in detail the requirements for spiritual leadership in the church as we study the book of 1 Timothy. I have already decided to focus on the spiritual requirements, which we can often prattle away from memory but which too often flow from our mouths without much meaning. Following Christ was no complacent status quo then nor can we allow it to be so now. Of course, that was when being a follower of Christ was to risk your neck. But I think those days are not too far off for us today in America.
Meanwhile Becky and Nathan have gone off to visit Jessie's family in Franklin. Becky will love their home and animals. Nate will be teaching from 1 Corinthians 8 tonight, but I will have to miss it because I am running on 4 (out of 8) cylinders and can't stop sneezing. I am sad that I will have to forego his insights.
One more thought on today's class. Despite the honest effort I make to be understood, I feel such inadequacy trying to communicate to my people a particle of what I have seen and felt, heard and pondered through my own study of Philippians. If I could expand these 3 hours into a 3 semester study we might do a bit better. Most of us have so little background in language or linguistics, so little knowledge of history, ancient or modern; our roots are so thin and brittle. I studied absolutely nothing about how language works when I was in college and seminary, and history was too narrowly ecclesiastical to be dignified as history at all. Very few relations were established between Christ's Body the church and the body of society. It was as though the Divine Word had been incarnated in ectoplasm. The social scientists, as well as biblical linguists, have guided my continuing effort to understand the what and the how, the why and the when. But alas! There is still so much to know, so much of the text to read, so much of ancient history to study, so many tangled strands to plait into the tapestry that we call Scripture. Even when we apply ourselves we can know so little and only then at such a price of persistent toil. Still, I must hold up the Light. That's all a teacher can do, really. But I do pity my poor students, who must feel like they are drinking from a fire hose.
Tuesday, March 25
4:58 AM O, what a writer is F. F. Bruce! He has a very clear, hard, and acute intelligence and very considerable knowledge, not merely of biblical subjects but of history and even literature. He is a stimulating companion. No wonder why so many Americans studied with him in Manchester.
On the farm front, we have begun to have some warmth, real warmth, but the spring season is by no means well established and the weather, instead of being set, is still variable. This past weekend saw perfect wedding weather (our celebration will be outdoors), and one can only hope for a repeat performance in less than two weeks. Rain or shine, however, we will still have daffodils, and the red buds will be in blossom. Nathan told me the other day that he had always wanted a spring wedding. Isn't God good?
Off to school.
Monday, March 24
9:04 PM Our precious Shiloh passed away 10 minutes ago. He had been at death's door for several days. He died quietly on the floor in our kitchen. He was a part of our life until the very end.
Francis of Assisi saw every creature as a messenger from God. The cricket, the donkey, each told him something about their common heavenly Father. They spoke of God's love and power, His creativity and majesty and kindness. We are made for community, he said. We are interdependent. We must share ourselves with each other if we are to be truly human. I think this includes the animals around us. In this blog I tell about goodness and glory, but also about weakness and death, because I write about the human condition. The whole creation exists to worship God, and that includes a 55-year-old man who loves his animals deeply and grieves when they are gone. Shiloh was a gift of Creation, created by God for my enjoyment but not my control. He that giveth has taken away, and His name is blessed.
Shiloh was with us since he was a brand new puppy, a total of 12 wonderful years. He was the last of our animals that moved with us from California 10 years ago. He will be buried tomorrow in our farm cemetery.
Goodbye, our precious puppy. We loved you. Thank you for loving us so well. We will miss you.
6:48 PM Nathan never did call. He couldn't fix his well. Seems he needs a new water pump. So we took Jessie to unload a trailer full of manure. Here's her very first fling. Nice form, eh?
Then she learned how to drive our "farm vehicle" -- Nate's Club Wagon. Go Jessie!
All in the life of a funny farm family.
2:37 PM Today Jessica and her mom and aunt came a-visitin'. It was Becky's first time to meet our new daughter in person.
After Becky had served a delicious lunch of tacos and fajitas, it was time to open presents to Nathan and Jessica from their friends and loved ones in Ethiopia. Here Jessie models a traditional costume given to her by the church in Burji.
Right now everyone has gone off to Nathan and Jessie's farm, where Nate is fixing his well pump. He tells me he might want to work on his chimney this afternoon, so I'm "on call." The day started off cold and dreary, but the sun is now peeking through the clouds, and I wonder if the sheikh being with his sheikha had something to do with it.
9:54 AM Last Saturday we were visited by some JWs -- four dear elderly African-American ladies, with whom I had a most delightful chat. I politely refused their tracts and tried to turn the conversation toward the Scriptures when out came a colorful pamphlet with an overview of their work in about 50 languages. When they heard that I was a Greek teacher, they excitedly turned to the page with Modern Greek, while I duly read aloud and translated -- along with the German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and one or two others. I attempted -- and succeeded, I believe -- to be as pleasant as possible, even though our theologies scarcely matched. "Aren't you glad we both believe in Jesus?" the eldest asked, speaking for the group. "Yes, indeed," I replied, adding, "But who exactly is Jesus -- that is the question." "But we are all children of God," she insisted," because we have all descended from Adam and Eve." "It is true that we are all God's creation," was my reply. "But only those for whom the Christ of the Bible is Savior and Lord is God truly Father." I had to excuse myself as I was in the middle of mixing mortar, but I said that if they should ever come back again, they would have to agree in all subsequent conversations to use only the Bible, "in the original languages," I quipped, at which they broke out in laughter.
How can we stand by without compassion and love for such people? I cannot comprehend the fundamentalists who revile them, tear them down. Surely one can have compassion without being rude. It is supreme uncharity to treat them as witches, yet that is in fact what we do. It shows our fear of them. I am a fundamentalist when it comes to the fundamentals of the faith. Yet how odd that both sides, clashing with different theologies, so often conspire to destroy the true nature of God while attempting to substitute for it the madness of a particular brand of fervor.
As those dear ladies drove down our long gravel driveway, I prayed for them, that the One who has the power to open blind eyes to false teaching would do so -- and in the same breath I asked myself, Where were the men?
Sunday, March 23
9:48 PM Tonight I am drawn to Hendricksen's commentary on Philippians. He has put his considerable insight at the service of students -- if they would listen. I like his application of the Greek text the best. Read him and see for yourself. All are welcome to share his clarify, his wisdom, his seasoned judgment. I like his depth too. Contact with such minds is a rare pleasure. Most of today's commentaries pale in comparison (same old, same old...).
9:20 PM Our cantata music went quite well today, even though our choir director took ill and was absent. Of course, the Easter traditions I have long felt to be nothing but glitter. The obsession with institutionalism and ritualism is something the evangelical church has long possessed. Yet the Holy Spirit is still at work in our institutions and rituals. Love is more important than the external forms of "doing church," and a small, apparently tradition-bound congregation held together by strong bonds of love may be of far greater significance than an apparently "New Testament" church that is in reality permeated with an over-emphasis upon the wineskins. The reality of genuine friendship, spontaneity, and spiritual liberty is of the greatest importance, and too much emphasis on the externals can be stupefying. For me, today's glitter ceased to matter. It was, in one sense, even beautiful.
8:55 AM My brief message this morning was taken from John 21, where the risen Jesus feeds the disciples breakfast. Christ does not live in a sealed vacuum but has infleshed Himself in a world of 3-dimensional humans. He knows that our souls inform our bodies with 5 senses, and a stomach. In the simplest equation this means food -- "Come and eat breakfast." He knew they were tired and hungry. He, the Lord of glory, the risen, resurrected, ruling Savior, serves them a meal. The Lord's Supper becomes the Lord's Breakfast. If we are to follow in His footsteps, we must serve others like Him. This "mindset" (Phil. 2:5) is ours with Christ and in Him and through Him. But the privilege implies great responsibilities! Thus was my simple challenge from God's Word to our community here in Southside Virginia -- neighbors, friends, farmers, and fellow pilgrims and strangers on earth.
Saturday, March 22
6:02 PM Just visited Nathan for a few minutes with the doggies. He was on the phone with his sweetie pie (hi Jessie!). This is how far we got today on the upstairs portion of the chimney:
And this is how things look from downstairs:
Nathan has already picked out the mantle from his storage barn: massive and hand-carved. His house is beginning to look more and more like the set to the movie Gone With the Wind. Just beautiful. It was warm today, a pleasant 70 degrees, and I'm growing accustomed to the spring-like weather. To Becky it feels cold (it was very hot in southern Ethiopia). Most exciting of all: Our cutting season will soon begin. But first things first: we've got to finish the chimney. The next step is to get the stone mantel upstairs and in place. I asked Nathan, How in the world are we going to do that? He replied, "With great difficulty." A man of few words. But he'll figure something out.
5:03 PM Today while working Nate asked me a question I had never been asked before: "What time did you get up in the morning when you lived in Hawaii?" We were discussing the fact that we'd have to arise early tomorrow for the sunrise service. I had to think before answering it. I told him that my daily schedule all centered on my surfing life. If it was a school day and I couldn't surf until that afternoon, I got up just in time to get to class. If, on the other hand, it was during summer break or winter vacation, I was normally up and out of the house by 5:00 am. We always tried to get to the North Shore before sunrise to beat the crowds. I can still remember being able to hear those monster waves long before we could actually see them. We would surf until about noon then head back home and pig out at one of those plate lunch drive-ins. (Anyone who has lived in Hawaii knows exactly what I'm talking about.) Nate asked me if the waves were better in the morning or the afternoon. Interestingly, local weather conditions rarely affected surfing conditions in Hawaii, at least with big waves. These were generated by storms thousands of miles away in the Aleutian Islands. On the other hand, for smaller waves (Ala Moana, Waikiki), the waves tended to become windblown and choppy in the afternoon as the trade-winds picked up. Did I ever surf when there were NO waves? All the time. I surfed EVERY day, waves or no waves. Surfers are the world's ultimate optimists, and we always "knew" that a big wave was just over the horizon!
Below: One of my favorite spots on the North Shore, the Banzai Pipeline on a small-sized day with perfect conditions. Takes your breath away, doesn't it?
4:32 PM Because of this horse, my life was made more wonderful. I lost him to cancer exactly 3 years ago today. How often would I give my friend a whistle and he would come ambling over for a rub and some oats. Conquering that Everest called riding became a consuming passion for me. It seemed as impossible as leaping the Empire State Building. But Cody was a good teacher, and finally I learned how to walk, trot, canter, gallop, and RIDE. What memories! It was obvious why Cody and I were such good friends. He loved me, and I loved him. That love grew with every experience we shared. Today I daydreamed about riding Cody and the years of pleasure we shared together. Odd isn't it -- the pain of missing him is still present after all this time. Spose it always will.
8:21 AM I am still hoping we can hold a conference on patristic hermeneutics next year. Of course, I have a deep personal interest in the subject since chapter 2 of my book on the Gospels is nothing but a fresh translation and interpretation of the fathers. To put it plainly, Why Four Gospels? attempts to show how in actuality a Baptist living in the twenty-first century is able to read the early fathers and identify with them as much in the same way as he would read a modern author like Carl Henry or Donald Bloesch. This is not to say that I am in perfect agreement with everything in the fathers. In the first place, these writers are not always in agreement with each other, and all of them make statements that a Baptist would not readily accept as they stand. Nevertheless, these writings have proved relevant and stimulating to me in an evangelical context. One paper I listened to in Dallas pointed out that the fathers need to be exegeted in the light of the normal rules of interpretation. This is one of the things I have tried to do in the last few years of my own academic life (Origen being a case in point). Doubtless I myself have been guilty of misinterpretation, and I still feel somewhat of a "bystander" in that none of my degrees is in Dogmengeschichte. Should that preclude one from studying the fathers? I think not, and I am growing daily in my appreciation for their works.
7:59 AM Becky's body clock is 8 hours ahead of mine, so she was up bright and early this morning. She's got to reorient herself to farm life, then begin preparations for hosting several hundred people at the farm, plus all the normal chores that go with the house and homestead. She looks great (in fact, really great) and is successfully fighting her head cold. Nate just now walked up to our house and I can hear them yakking away in the kitchen. Such a lovely sound. We've got a lot of catching up to do, so it may be a while before Becky can publish a report of her trip, though when she does, be prepared to sit at your computer for a good while with a strong cup of coffee.
7:53 AM Two weeks.
Friday, March 21
7:02 PM God indeed hears our prayers. I just brought Becky home from the airport. This joyful experience has dominated the entire day. And do you know what she had a craving for? Mexican food. It is indeed a season of joy! There is no longer any doubt that her trip was perfectly timed. The last 2 and a half months have revealed to me how demanding -- and delightful -- the love of the Lord is. I can never be happy unless I am totally, unconditionally committed to Him. And what a joy to be "single-minded" with one's spouse and to "will one thing." By allowing the Lord Jesus to be the center of one's marriage, life becomes so much simpler, more unified, more focused, doesn't it? In every respect, then, a day of great rejoicing. His Light has shone in the darkness. In a million ways I feel indebted to you, dear reader, for the unbelievable beauty of your prayers. What else can I say but "Thank you!"
9:21 AM Just put another load of clothes in the washer in anticipation of the great home coming. How shall I describe this day? How shall I express the feelings and thoughts that come together in joyful celebration? Nathan is not the only man eager to welcome his bride home! I think that Christian marriage takes hold on us when each partner sees himself no longer in the perspective of individual fulfillment and satisfaction but in the light of the cross. A biblical marriage is a rejection of the false view of the complete autonomy of the individual, who is no longer responsible to anyone, who is free to do exactly what he pleases without rendering an account to anyone and without considering the consequences of his actions. Living under the marital cross means that Becky and I have but one goal: to hear the voice of God and to obey it, immediately and unconditionally. It seems to me that it is a characteristic of pseudo-Christianity that, while claiming to serve God, it merely becomes a social mechanism for self-indulgence. Thus gradually the determination to advance selfish causes becomes a function of the church -- perhaps even its primary function. Let me remind you of Becky's definition of the kingdom:
This is precisely the attitude we have lost in the American church, because we have lost our fundamentally biblical view of Jesus. We are concerned with "success" rather than faithfulness -- with "practicality" and "efficiency." We thereby become the prisoners of self and lose all sense of values. Claiming to love God, we have in reality dispensed ourselves from all obligations to love anyone and are content to remain in our little circles and cliques.
O Father, let me today be free from false Christianity. Let me have a "willing heart of obedience" to follow and serve Thee whithersoever Thou leadest me. Forgive me for being content to remain in my clique. Let me hear Thy voice and obey it -- immediately and without equivocation.
8:49 AM In Dallas a relative asked me why I blogged. I told her that my blog is nothing more than a personal interpretation of my world. In elaborating such a version one inevitably tells something of oneself. But my blog is not meant to be a venture in self-revelation or self-discovery. Nor do I offer "answers" to life's pressing problems. I do have answers, but I think I have more questions, and I question nothing so much as the viability of "expert" answers, including my own. Maybe the best way to characterize my blog is to say that it consists of a series of sketches and meditations, some literary, some poetic, others theological and even linguistic, fitted together spontaneously and in such a way that they react upon each other. I simply record ways in which I view the world, or a small part of it, without attempting to be formal or even organized. To put it plainly, I blog because I enjoy it, though I do not delude myself that I am saying anything of eternal value. I also feel a responsibility, in a sense, to enter the world of ideas by offering at least a few contemplative and introspective ideas of my own. That is one of the things this blog attempts to do. It gives a personal view of contemporary questions -- with a touch of farm life thrown in for the reader's amusement.
Of course, I did not say all of this when asked why I blog, but if I had had the time it is what I should likely have said.
7:46 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Beyond Lone Ranger Christianity.
Thursday, March 20
7:11 PM Had a superb nap. My feeling of fatigue and lassitude is gone. Went back to work with Nathan some more. We're now working from the second floor, Gott sei Dank.
The puppies were happy to see Nate, and I think the feeling was mutual. After all, this used to be Sheppie's house too.
I've now come back to Bradford Hall to prepare supper. While walking with the dogs I thought to myself how enjoyable farming is: getting into great shape, learning some manual skills, knowing more about animals and trees, getting to do challenging projects. I snapped the photo below on the walk home. Nate and I are both huge chicken lovers. I'm not sure why. Yes, we enjoy their eggs, and their meat. I guess by watching them we also become aware of the simplicity of life as God intended it. I am overwhelmed by the realization that for most of my adult life I had no inkling of that.
Time to cook.
2:59 PM My word, but Lawrence Vance slices the cake with this essay on perpetual war. What he says about our religion of nationalism is interesting (Roosevelt once referred to our "preparedness for ever" in order to crush evil in the rest of the world). It really makes one gasp. One wonders which is greatest, the inanity or hubris of our leaders. I think it is their hubris. The ideas that inspire them are fundamentally rooted in egoism, as in Machiavelli's The Prince. Contrast that with one of Machiavelli's contemporaries, Erasmus of Rotterdam and (if I may also remind everyone, if only because I used to live there) Basel. Erasmus's Christian Prince is truly marvelous, the very opposite of Machiavelli. Both authors remind us that there is nothing new under the sun, that despotism always settles in the saddle when it is allowed to do so by the masses, and that men of genius are just as susceptible to revving up the God-machine as the rest of us are. A future of poverty, hunger, and dirt looms menacingly. But who in America really cares! This is indeed where the love of Jesus comes into play, or ought to. I never feel that I am performing a wholly worthwhile act except when I am serving others. Then and only then one is not wasting time.
2:38 PM Right now Becky has just checked her luggage at Bole Airport and has gotten her seat assignment for the leg to Amsterdam. Her flight leaves in just over an hour from Addis. Then it's on to Detroit and thence to RDU, where she will be met by one happy feller. Meanwhile, Nate and I are preparing the farm for a very special occasion. Only 16 days to go, in fact. We just got back from unloading a trailer-full of scrap iron at the local dump. Got a whopping 60 bucks for it, too. It's stuff that needed to go, as we always need more Lebensraum at the farm. Also picked up more sand and mortar in South Boston.
I am taking the rest of the day off, until I have to cook supper, that is. My left foot has proved very tiresome and it drains me of my energy. But the donkey work has got to be done, and in the nature of things I am the one upon whom this work normally devolves. Next week a DBO reader (whom I've never met) and his college-aged son are coming over to help us with farm work, and their work will be greatly appreciated by this father-son duo. Since my recent travels, my margin of reserve strength has somewhat diminished, but it's nothing a good afternoon nap can't take care of. On the whole, the work here is demanding but quite pleasant, though on occasion I am tempted to strike for higher wages.
8:27 AM My week off from teaching draws to a close. Today it's back to chimneying. Tomorrow we pick up Becky. Then it's back to the classroom. I do miss my students: knowledgeable, talented, generous persons almost to a man, many of them husbands and wives who really want to put on Christ and make Him the center of their being and have Him grow inside of both of themselves, so that they may more truly be conjoined to Him. On Sunday I will speak about what Christ's life is all about, both in 33 AD and in 2008 AD, and next year and next century. We have in our association of churches many elderly folk, and I do hope that the service will be moved indoors (a low of 34 is anticipated for Sunday morning). I certainly desire to avoid your stereotypical Easter sermon. Intriguing how words lose their power, how they just peter out! They grow old and tired and empty. Easter is an old worn-out word. To the mind's eye it conjures up bunnies and hard-boiled eggs and church-wide breakfasts and cantatas. It is, of course, much more than that -- as well as much less, for every Sunday is resurrection Sunday. God help me to do more than preach a "good Easter sermon"!
8:15 AM A former student of mine emailed me this morning to ask: Did Jesus say to Mary, "Do not touch me" (NET Bible) or "Do not hold on to me" (God's Word) in John 20:17? The latter is certainly in keeping with the Greek syntax here. Titian has a painting of Mary cringing in fear at the feet of Jesus, afraid even to touch Him.
It is more likely that Mary has already embraced the Lord. She wants to hold on to Him the way He used to be. But there are things the risen Jesus must do yet. If she doesn't let Him go, she might miss out on these blessings. Instead, she must go and tell the Good News. "Tell them that God is doing something brand new, and you yourself have seen it!" Now and again we must withdraw from the pressing demands of business and home, forsake the relaxing small talk of the coffee table in order to penetrate more deeply into this commission that Christ died and rose again to give us. As Nathan taught us from 1 Corinthians 7 last evening, husband and wife find unity in seeking Christ together. Seated side by side they ponder the same Truth, thrill to the same Love, follow the same Way, move to the same Life -- even if at times this calls for temporary separation. To be fused into one by the flame of God's love -- that's the great uniqueness of a Christian marriage. Let us not cling to our spouses, as if marital happiness were the goal of life. Let us live for Someone bigger than us by telling others this great Good News.
Wednesday, March 19
2:34 PM Eric Carpenter doesn't celebrate Easter. Good for him. If I were a theologian, I might put it this way (pardon the analogy, but I've got marriage on my mind these days): To wed a pagan holiday with Christianity is not only a marriage beneath the church's dignity, it is emotionally unsatisfying, logically repugnant, and ontologically impossible of consummation. Take that all you Easter-egg-hunters out there!
What, then, will I be doing this Sunday, you ask? Preaching at our regional Sunrise Service and then singing in our church's Easter Cantata. "You hypocrite!" Okay, maybe. But I'm preaching because our pastor is recovering from an automobile accident and asked me to substitute for him, and I'm singing because our choir director desperately needs basses and "insisted" (in a very friendly way) that I help the choir since I wasn't on the road this weekend as I usually am, etc., etc., etc. Folks, all I can say is that I will feel no closer to Jesus on this "Easter Sunday" than on any other day of the year. But I will feel close to my brothers and sisters because I love them just the way they are. If that doesn't make any sense to you, join the club; I hardly know what to think of it myself. But how can I make progress in my community if I jettison my friends simply because we don't agree on secondary matters? These are the same people who love me and Becky unconditionally and who pray constantly for us and our work. I once put it this way in class: "I do not know of any family that is not at least partially dysfunctional, and I do not know of any church that is not the same. Why should I exchange my dysfunctional church for your dysfunctional church?" As Bush senior would put it, "Nope. Ain't gonna do it."
1:55 PM We've heard from the world traveler! She's back in Addis Ababa, putting the final touches on her busy 10 and a half week trip. After her meetings in Burji she met with the director of medical work in Awassa, then with some friends from Alaba (who actually drove to meet her in Shashamanee), and is now back in her "palace." Believe me, I do not take this for granted. Nor would you, if you ever traveled on the infamous two-lane "Pan African" highway at supersonic speeds. Becky also said a brief goodbye to Aberesh, Tilahun, and Baby Nathan in Dila. I look forward to debriefing with her after she returns. There will be much to talk about, and many important decisions to make about our work in Ethiopia. Not to mention a wedding to prepare for. Please do not forget to pray for her. She said she thinks she might be coming down with a head cold.
The only news here is that we have taken a bit of a break from working on the chimney to play catch up on other projects today. In my case this means running errands and deep cleaning the house in view of the parousia (note the small "p"), while Nate is taking care of odds and ends over at his and Jessica's farm. I did want Mama B to catch a glimpse of home life one last time before she jumps aboard her big jet liner tomorrow night. Here Liz and the boys help Nathan celebrate the big two five. Nathan is wearing an exotic wedding hat I bought for him in the Middle East. He balances it nicely on his head, don't you think?
Here Mr. Micah prepares to entertain us with his rendition of Happy Birfday. At one point all three pairs of hands were doing arpeggios. Magnificent.
Finally, I couldn't resist posting this pic. Look at what I pulled out of our vacuum today. No wonder it was sputtering. Not to worry, though, honey. Yours truly has now vacuumed the entire house and even mopped all the floors (if you can believe that). Your house should be spotless (by male standards, of course) when you arrive home!
To end on a more serious note: Undoubtedly Becky will be exhausted when she gets back. She has given and given and it's not over yet. This is her nature. There are many ways of saying, "I love you." But I can't think of a better way than simply helping out a brother (or a sister, as in this case), can you? The world's in a mess. The world's torn asunder by hate. Only love can cure this hate. Only Christ's love. But love can be demanding, and so much more difficult that gallivanting around to gawk at the world's marvels. Unless I am badly misjudging, my wife qualifies as a Proverbs 31 woman in every possible way. But it is Christ living in her. To take just one example: her occupying temporary quarters wherever she went. She never fretted about that. Her thinking was: "Well, has not Christ occupied temporary quarters before I ever did? Remember, there was only a barn on the night He first arrived." Such love, Christ's love, we have discovered, opens up great possibilities and responsibilities in Ethiopia. But it is all God's work. Christ did not abrogate but rather confirmed by His own life the commandment "bear one another's burdens" as well as "and thy neighbor as thyself." May His great name be praised forever.
8:22 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Contemptus Mundi.
7:16 AM In the past few months I've had some very stimulating discussions with students who are interested in pursuing doctoral studies. I find these discussions immensely profitable. My constant plea is that we invigorate the academy not only from the top downward but also from the bottom percolating upward. I feel I must do everything I can to encourage a grassroots ferment of intellectual life in the church. The best scholarship is a vineyard that not only grows into the airy reaches of the academy but that likewise sinks its roots into the earthy soil of the workaday world. As the apostle John might have put it, verbum incarnandum est. The scholar is to incarnate Christ, not only in the classroom but in his personal, professional, and political life. We must conceive of education as affecting all of life. I am thus very excited when I see thoughtful, mature, and dedicated students making pioneer forays into scholarship, and I find myself doing whatever I can to help them on their way. Such scholarship -- the hard discipline of study, reason, and deliberation, all in the service of the church -- is, I believe, most urgently needed today.
6:57 AM I am a Thomas. The name means "twin," and the early fathers often commented that all of us are "two people," a doubting one and a believing one. It is very important, I think, to be deeply aware of this.
6:45 AM After the live radio performance of Brahm's Requiem on Monday night, the audience began applauding, and applauding, and applauding. No commentary from the radio announcer. Just unending clapping and cheering. So God has created us to be His audience. We exist to applaud Him, encore after encore. We who are the church are to live to the praise of His glory. Sometimes I think I have barely begun to perceive the breadth, depth, and dimension of this privilege. I pray that my students may see me loving God with more and more of my strength and loving my neighbor with a greater fraction of my own self love.
Tuesday, March 18
5:29 PM Brief farm update: This weekend Nathan was eager to try out Hercules. With his new track loader we can do in 5 minutes what would take us at least a week to do by hand. This is the "farm" way of doing things. Save on labor when you can, but do it the hard way if you must. Personally, I find much consolation in having Hercules around. No more back-breaking brush clearing. I can now wear myself out by hauling bricks and mortar. Sometimes I wonder: Am I growing old? To "grow old" is to live life less as an attempt to conquer new territories and more as a grateful response to the good gifts of God. There's no doubt that I'm aging. Everyone does that. But I refuse to "grow old" yet!
At any rate, here are a few pix for your agrarian amusement, beginning with the "damage" old Herc did behind the new hay barn.
This morning Nate sold this flooring and make a purty good profit too. Craig's List is really something.
The soon-to-be-wedded farm manager couldn't wait to show me the new stone mantel he scavenged up from a neighboring farmer. It was too heavy for even two men to lift. Nate hauled it to the farm with his tractor, then rolled it to the base of the chimney using logs, then hoisted it up with his hydraulic lift. Nice job, don't you think?
This is how far we got today. As the ancient Chinese proverb puts it, "A journey of a thousand miles is made one brick at a time" (or something like that). Onward and upward!
The daffodils are everywhere on the farm. All because of the foresight of Nathan, who planted them years ago. They sure brighten up our life here.
Tomorrow is the groom's birthday. Guess who's coming over to spend the day with us? Yep, the bride and her mama. Lots of decisions still to make about the renovation. Should be a great time. Meanwhile Liz and the boys are joining us for supper tonight for a "pre-celebration" dinner. Liz has cooked Nate's favorite meal: fried chicken, smashed potatoes, and peas. Can't wait....
9:58 AM Jessica tells "the story."
9:29 AM Becky will return home in exactly 4 days. "Absence makes the heart fonder," it is said. Isn't this true of all important relationships in life? I wonder if the first apostles felt the same thing when Jesus left them. When He was with them for three and a half years, they could never fully comprehend His presence. Only after He had ascended did they understand how close to Him they had really been. I have never "seen" Jesus. Yet I miss Him. "Although you have never seen Christ, you love Him" (1 Pet. 1:8). The only reason I am here on this earth -- I mean, the only reason I should be here -- is to love Him and serve Him until I see Him "face to face," "as He is." Meanwhile, all I am has become "waiting."
9:14 AM While visiting an Asian country recently I was ushered into a church sanctuary and shown its brand-new stained-glass windows from Germany.
It struck me that teaching is like that. My task is not to make beautiful windows but to help my students see them. Only by entering with me into the experience will any real learning take place. I often wonder, Do they see the same colors I see when the sunlight shines through the windows of my Greek New Testament? This is the side of teaching I tend to forget. I cannot "see" the stained glass for my students.
In the end, all learning is self-learning.
8:40 AM Thoughts on the weekend and the SBL meeting:
1) Becky met with the civil authorities in Burji and then was asked by the church elders to meet with the government official who oversees all medical work in southern Ethiopia. I have not had a report of that meeting. I'll let you know as soon as I hear.
2) I am attracted to joyful scholarship. Dale Allison's plenary paper at the conference was exemplary in this regard. There was nothing of the "dolorism" one often finds in key-note speakers. Thank God!
3) I met many students at the meeting. Eager, bright-eyed, optimistically anticipating the future. I was able to share with them a few thoughts on education from my own academic pilgrimage. We had some very enjoyable conversations. Made me miss my own students. Every time I think about them I am reminded of the need to pray for them. Even small tasks such as memorizing Greek vocabulary can become an anxiety-provoking burden. I pray during certain hours but especially while walking to class. In prayer I have a chance to serve my students as much as during my lectures, perhaps even more so. There is always a great temptation to do our work in the flesh, whether as teacher or student. But for anything of eternal value to be accomplished the work must be spiritual from beginning to end. During the last few weeks I have begun to realize this more and more. In prayer we have a chance to open our hearts just a little to God and seek His promises to those who wait upon Him in faithfulness. Even when I feel a total failure after lecturing, as I often do, I know that my prayers for my students are not in vain.
4) The TV in my Dallas hotel room had a zillion channels and one of those giant analog screens. I did not watch it much, as there was little of viewable value. I thought of the irony: millions of dollars spent by producers and station owners to lure the viewer, who finds nothing worth viewing. C. K. Chesterton wrote in his book, St. Francis of Assisi, that Francis was the most joyful of saints though he was a severe ascetic. His joy about all that God created was born out of his realization of its dependence on God. TV is the nemesis to this, I think. "How interesting, how fascinating, how insightful" -- I can say this of books but not of the one-eyed idol.
5) I spent Sunday evening and Monday morning with Becky's mom and dad. I spoke on missions at First Baptist Church Murphy then we went out for Bar-B-Q, real Bar-B-Q. I ordered a full rack of baby back ribs. Yesterday we enjoyed Ethiopian food at the Lalibela restaurant in Dallas. Mom and dad will be arriving at the farm on the Wednesday before the wedding. They can't wait to meet Lady Jessica. They are in for a real treat.
6) What perhaps struck me most in this conference was the idea that modern biblical scholarship seems committed to new approaches. I tend to agree with the principle but still feel uncomfortable by the consequences drawn from it. The radical and even reactionary ideas being promulgated concern me. Part of the problem, I'm sure, is terminological. (One paper referred to "Jewish Christians" such as Peter as "Judean Christ-followers." Of course, Peter was a Galilean. Other terms being bandied about were "Second Isaiah," "Implied Reader," "Progymmasmata," "Gendered Ritual Space," and "Haggadic Concord." Why should a doctor tell you your child is turning blue when he can say he's "cyanotic"?!!!) On a deeper level I wonder how much of scholarly work has to do with ego inflation. Papers often reveal less about a particular topic and more about how the scholar thinks about himself and how important he has made his own ideas and insights. I could say more, but I'll leave it at that.
All in all, a good conference and a great weekend. But I missed the farm and Nathan.
Monday, March 17
11:22 PM Back from Dallas. Just walked in the door. A marvelous trip. The best part? Driving home just now from the airport. The classical music station played Brahm's Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem). O, what a Godsend! And how grateful I am that I know German!
I am so moved I can hardly write. Several years ago Becky and I sang this magnificent requiem with the Northeast Piedmont Chorale during our first year with the group. Is there a better place than heaven? The river of the water of life! The throne of God and of the Lamb! His servants shall worship Him! They shall see His face! Night shall be no more! For the Lord God will be their light!
Am I living in the fall or winter of my life? It matters not! "Death, thou shalt die" (John Donne). Lobe den Herrn!
Friday, March 14
7:37 AM In case you're interested, here's the website for this weekend's meeting. I look forward to attending the following sessions (among others): "The Emergent Church: Ideology or Utopia?," "Topics of Encomion and Matthew: How Ancient Compositional Training Has Shaped the Structure and Content of the First Gospel," "Arguments for Q Revisited," "Breaking the Betrothal Bonds: Hospitality in John 4," "John's Gospel and the Imperial Cult," "Gendered Ritual Space and Early Christian Women at Philippi," "Democracy and Islam," "A Pauline Reprise: Unpacking a Generation of Scholarship," and, my favorite, "Complimentary Lunch."
7:24 AM I've had the privilege of teaching 6 times in South Korea in various seminaries. My favorite food in the whole world is Korean. I even have a Korean name! So is it any wonder that I should add to my home page essays in Korean? Special thanks to my assistant Dae Yoo (photo) for translating them for me. He's currently working on several others. If you see anything that should be translated but isn't, let us know.
4:52 AM Kevin O'Shaughnessy just posted a nifty photo and description of my alma mater in Switzerland. Check it out here.
4:49 AM It is early morning: beautiful, dark, very pleasant, a good day to soar at 30,000 feet. In a short time I shall look at the rising sun and feel that I see what my beloved witnessed 8 hours ago, the same sun and all of creation praising God for this day. I am looking forward to the ephemeral pleasure of academic meetings in Dallas, along with publishers conferences and, of course, some good Texas Bar-B-Q. "I am sure we honor God more," wrote Bonhoeffer, "if we gratefully accept the life he gives us with all its blessings, loving it and drinking it to the full ... than we do if we are insensitive toward life." SBL meetings are enjoyable, if curious events. In many ways, biblical scholarship is bankrupt. After centuries of "observation" and "investigation" we have lost our way in a desert of uninterpretable facts or -- to believe some of the world's leading New Testament scholars -- not facts at all but fictitious events, events that never happened, words that were never said but were put on the lips of the Jesus by His followers. Our doctoral dissertations only perpetuate the fraud. I will say it again (not that it really matters): arrogant scholarship is no scholarship at all. This has to be made clear to our students. Can't we do something more than give them nonsense? I, too, must repent of this sin and come to a turning point: shall I continue to clothe the truth in a good coat of inanity? Shall I continue to preach open-mindedness yet be so dogmatic? Shall I insist on clarity from my students yet obfuscate myself? Someday I shall learn how to teach! And why should our students not be taught to question things rather than sit around with rubber stamps in their hands?
Such, then, are the rambling thoughts of a New Testament student and gladiator as he prepares to enter the arena of academic scholarship again. Should be fun.
Thursday, March 13
6:52 PM It was on my very first trip to Burji near Kenya that I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved those people, even though we were complete strangers, and that they were mine and I theirs, that we all belonged to God. The whole idea was preposterous. Who were these people? Why did I love them so? They were the members of a tribe among whom my in-laws had labored to build the first school, open the first clinic, and preach the Good News. I realized then and there that I had a responsibility for them as a result of the link between Becky's family and mine. Through my wife -- can't you just see her as a 10-year-old playing with the children of Burji? -- I am one with them. They are not "they" but us.
Becky and I joke every time we visit Burji that she will build a little hut in the highlands as her second home and that I will come and visit her whenever I'm not teaching. We feel open, free, relaxed among these saints who live at the end of the road, on the top of the world, in the depths of our heart. Here I sit in the comfort of Bradford Hall, deeply struck by these contrasting panoramas. How often have we walked together from village to village! When we are with them we feel our own strengths and weaknesses without any praise or criticism from them. When I am in Burji, at the top of the world, it seems that these are the most precious moments of life.
This weekend the little girl who grew up in Burji will not be anticipating being back home; she will actually be there -- living a simple and sober life, not trying to be different from them in externals, working with them and expending her time and energy. My mind has a picture of people embracing each other with tears of joy! It is this understanding of love that I must slowly learn. My love too often proves to be tentative, a momentary attraction. Indeed, how divided my heart is! I want to serve God but also to be a "success" as a teacher and speaker. I want to follow Christ but also to be popular and liked by others. "One thing!" Paul said (Phil 1:27) -- then why am I double-minded, double-hearted, doubly-devoted? Today Becky is proving that you cannot serve God and mammon, you cannot follow the Savior just a little bit. It's all or nothing.
Dear Father, may Thy love fill not only the night with songs of peace but the wide ocean stretching between two continents. And may the one I love feel Thy embrace even as she embraces her past. I pray that the immense greatness of Thy love will shine into the darkness of Africa until all of our hearts and minds are directed toward Thee!
5:34 PM The Bible says, "With sweat on your brow shall you eat your bread" (Gen. 3:19). Bread and sweat have never been closer in my life than now. After 5 years of manual work, I am realizing how much I really do enjoy it. Nevertheless, it can be boring sometimes. When I write or lecture I can always make things interesting by manipulating them in certain ways. But in hauling cement or bricks, it is practically impossible to make things really interesting. It is a "job" to do. Mundane work like this contains a hidden blessing, however. It shows how dependent one is on interesting, exciting distractions to keep one's mind busy and away from confronting one's natural sloth. I do hope and pray I learn this lesson from boredom someday!
Speaking of work, we made excellent progress on Nathan's chimney today. I post these pix especially for Miss Jessie. (This will be her living room.) Here's the before picture:
And here's the after:
I did a pretty good job, don't you think, Jessica?
Of course, I did have a little help with the "unskilled" labor.
What a blast!
8:20 AM The genius of the Protestant Reformation lay in its struggle with the problem of justification in all its aspects. For the greatest question of life is the conversion of man and his reconciliation to God in Christ. But Protestantism, once it answered this question biblically, failed to press on to treat Christianity in its most radical form -- the form presented in the New Testament. The Protestant teaching on justification, in emphasizing truth, sometimes leads to a neglect of the new life, life in the Spirit, life in Christ, life as Christ's body. Koinonia takes on a superficial and rather suburban goodness -- moral platitudes, covered dish fellowships, an occasional "mission trip" to the local nursing home or to a nearby state. The Christian life has become merely a fidelity to ethical prescriptions or participation in the multitudinous programs in our churches. There is little real sacrifice about it. Witnessing becomes a trite tract or a bumper sticker. Heb. 10:24 is cited to drive people back into church but not to encourage them to "provoke one another to love and good works." Passive spectatorism becomes par for the course.
It is to the credit of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s (of which I was a part) and perhaps of the modern emerging church movement (of which I am not a part) that both sought to expose this hideous problem for all to see. There is a new generation and a new spirit at work today, and perhaps it will turn out to be the catalyst that will bring on our transformation from churchianity to a Christianity that is dedicated to the forceful living out of the life of Jesus in this world.
In this regard, I would ask that you remember my dear Becky Lynn in your prayers today as she takes Aberesh and Nathan home and then meets this weekend with the civil leaders in Burji. We are attempting to apply the yardstick of "Gospel" to all we are doing with the health clinic. She will be doing much talking. But there is also a time to listen, and the better part of action sometimes is waiting, not knowing what is next, not having the big answer. We are ready to reopen the clinic this fall, but is this God's will? We must have unity all around for this to take place. However, we do not feel we can compromise on the spiritual aspect of the work to make this happen. Harmony is not bought with parsimony. To stop in the right way is to go on. To leave things alone at the right time -- sometimes this is the "best" thing. How I wish I could be present during these meetings! Do pray that our Phoebe will not feel alone, that during these challenging days she will remember that Jesus is her Friend, and that His Spirit is always present. The important thing is simply turning to Him daily and often, preferring His will to everything that is tangibly "ours."
Wednesday, March 12
8:33 PM Truth is the meat of life. And how good it tasted tonight at Bible study! Nathan taught from 1 Corinthians 7 on marriage and divorce. We discussed, too, what the Bible says about remarriage and polygamy. A really fine evening. Earlier, when I returned home from Wake Forest, I found it necessary to spend a few lonely moments on the front porch in quiet prayer. The old desert monastics knew what they were saying when they coined the expression "fuge, tace, et quiesce" -- enjoy solitude, silence, and inner peace. God knows how fast the RPMs have been racing. I am beginning to discovery that it is exactly the lack of spiritual rest and refreshment that causes the heaviness in my heart. Solitude has great benefits. The challenge, I suppose, is to be solitary without becoming individualistic. Balance, balance, balance!
5:44 PM People are often surprised that I am not an ordained pastor. I have never sought ordination. God has not gifted me to be a shepherd-teacher (Eph. 4:11). Nor am I a deacon in my local church, since our deacons function as overseers and God has not given me the gift of oversight or leadership, nor have I ever aspired to leadership in the church (1 Tim. 3:1). What I write and teach is simply the experience and opinions of a working Christian, a man intensely convinced of the “layman’s” function in the local church. I have tried to demonstrate what the Scripture teaches about that function – about the “layman” in relation to the total mission of the church, and a very definite idea as to how every believer can find ways to fulfill that mission.
In recent days I have been relating the intimate story of a pastor’s wife in Ethiopia. The scene is Addis Ababa, but it could be any city in the world. It is a case where one believer saw a need and did what she could – as a “layperson” – to help. I am absolutely convinced that had not Becky been an aggressive medical advocate for sister Aberesh, baby Nathan would be no more. Why go to so much trouble? The answer is found, I think, in the little letter of Philemon, which we studied today in New Testament class. Here Paul does something very simple, so simple in fact that it is easy to miss. He calls upon Philemon to act as a Christian. When we were worth nothing, God gave us everything. This is how God acts toward us, and we in turn are called upon to take that same attitude and exhibit it toward all men, even our enemies. The mark of a true believer, writes Paul to Philemon, is that his actions toward his fellow men are governed by the love of God poured out into his heart by the Holy Spirit. God has given every believer a new nature, one characterized by giving rather than getting, by love rather than hate, by selflessness rather than selfishness, by forgiveness rather than bitterness. Since this is true of all believers everywhere, it should be natural and normal for us to want to help each other. The family of God to which we belong includes all Christians of all ages, all levels of intelligence, all levels of social strata, all nationalities. We are all “fellow citizens with the saints,” and therefore we are called upon to demonstrate the reality of our oneness in Christ in tangible ways. “Bear one another’s burdens,” says Paul. "Place your shoulder beneath the burdens under which a fellow believer is groaning, whatever those burdens may be!" The reality of our unity in Christ makes inevitable and inescapable demands on us regardless of race, color, age, denomination, nationality, or political affiliation. Yet individualism has shattered our churches and our communities. How can I give up my job, my health, my ease, my family for the sake of others? Our oneness is organizational, occasional, and spasmodic. If any unity appears it tends toward the back-slapping variety of the country club. Paul was eager to remind Philemon that the church is nothing less than a community of love: Christ-in-me loving Christ-in-you. And for this love to be real it must issue forth in forgiving one another's sins, bearing one another’s burdens, washing our brother’s feet, caring for our neighbor’s children, helping in the tiny incidents of everyday and the great emergencies of life. A heavy responsibility, then, lies on our shoulders.
The church today must deliberately move toward this type of Christianity. But only Christ can produce it. The danger of dwelling too long on “our” service is that we soon begin to speak as if we had done it by ourselves. We can be sure that we contributed nothing in comparison to what Christ has done for us. It is His wonderful and mysterious love that is at work in and through us. How much reason, then, to pray that God will turn our hearts to Him and set us free by His love to serve others.
As the drought makes me wish for rain, the clouds for the sun, the storms for the gentle winds, so my heart yearns for Thee, my Lord and my God!
5:24 PM A student came up to me today simply to tell me how much he loves Greek. He wants to master it, to read his Bible in the original. I'll take a dozen just like him. It was a delight to see such passion. Personally, I never tire of studying the New Testament in Greek. Such joy in reading it, and such agreement! I write this in my office at Bradford Hall, surrounded by books. But none is sweeter than my Greek New Testament.
5:10 PM Beautiful afternoon. Cool breezes. Blue skies. The young bulls lie under the trees. Flowers bend in the wind. A sweet spring day. I must enjoy it. This day will not come again.
Tuesday, March 11
7:37 AM Back to WF. Do I miss Rosewood when I'm gone? I need the farm as an Athenian needs Athens. I have developed a profound love of the countryside, but Wake Forest is the place where things happen and where I recharge my intellectual batteries. People drop in unexpectedly and are always welcome. I find there pleasant talk with people of all ages. I especially enjoy those who possess an inquisitiveness about things, a capacity for opposite points of view, and for relating facts to real life. The "ivory tower" has never held sway over me -- though I have always appreciated academic excellence (especially in my students) and the rejection of the tawdry. I feel ill at ease in the company of people who do not possess these qualities to some degree. I feel uncomfortable around people who are snotty and aloof and who seem "superior" to others, for I think that Jesus was being quite serious when He uttered the words of Mark 10:43. I believe the great Christian masses in America are insensitive to the ponderous issues of the day, but I am quite willing to work with them -- and with any genuine Christian in fact -- in getting the Good News of God's love out to the world. I remain an ecclesiastical optimist. I see the dawn of a new day for the church in which every Christian will at last become a minister of the Gospel and not just those who belong to the ordained "clergy." I always return to the farm with a fid of manuscript written on campus, in addition to various ideas for website articles and blog posts. So there you have it: I thoroughly enjoy Wake Forest, but I do miss Rosewood when I'm gone.
Monday, March 10
6:31 PM Found 'em! Ain't they sweet? Both of 'em males by the way.
Sadly, this is how far we got on the chimney today. Ran out of concrete. But it was a start.
All in all, a very good day. The sun shone brightly, you could almost hear the grass growing taller and taller, and seldom have I have gotten such good news in one fell swoop. Becky is happy and sounds so well and lovely. This great aching world seems so full of sorrow, but I know I should thank Heaven for all the blessings that have been showered upon me. I must now concentrate again on teaching and students: constant back-to-back meetings in between classes, plus chapel, plus emails, plus a trip to the bank in Wake Forest. What fun!
12:30 PM I am suffering agonies at the moment over the absence of my precious wife. When you get to bedrock there is really no substitute for one's spouse. (Yes, Nathan, I mean you.) I just called Becky and we had a perfect connection. The good news continues to pour in -- plans are still ongoing to return Aberesh and Nathan to Dila as hoped for this Thursday and then to make the long trek to Burji in the high mountains of southern Ethiopia. After that, Becky will return to Addis and depart for home on the 20th instead of the 25th (she can't wait any longer, and I can't either). This will give her a grand total of 15 days to prepare for the event of the decade. We are already in the logistics mode -- who is arriving when, who is sleeping in whose house, etc. Right now Nate has run back to his home to sell the flooring he took up, then he's off to South Boston to get the fixins for the new chimney, whose foundation we hope to lay later today. Then it's "up and up we go, where we stop nobody knows." It seems almost a crime to alter or refurbish such a neat old farm house, but actually Nathan is restoring its old look in many ways and expanding it to meet the needs of a large family. Meanwhile I am being "domesticated" today -- sweeping, dusting, mopping, washing clothes, and deep-cleaning Becky's kitchen so that she won't have to do an archaeological dig to find her pots and pans when she gets home.
Oh -- I am doggedly determined to find them new baby goats and snap some pictures for Becky Lynn before I leave for seminary tomorrow!
5:32 AM More good news from Ethiopia. Becky, Aberesh, and the baby have returned to their rooms in Addis. Becky reports that Baby Nathan is doing wonderfully well. They are returning every day to the hospital for antibiotic shots. Becky hopes to be able to take Aberesh back to her home in Dila this Thursday. Then it's on to Burji and meetings with the civil leaders about the health clinic. Another answer to prayer: We were finally able to find a vehicle for the church in Alaba. It is a 12-seater Land Cruiser with luggage rack, all "in excellent condition." As we reported here, this vehicle will meet a tremendous need in Alaba. The country there is most astonishing and beautiful, but I've never been in any place, except parts of New Mexico, which gave such an impression of being hostile, even alien, to man. Humans crawl around in this empty vastness like irrelevant ticks, with dust spouts and temperatures of 100 degrees not uncommon. Now the church will be able to drive about it in a Land Cruiser -- just a functional vehicle without air conditioning or any of the other modern comforts of life we are used to over here. If all goes well, and with proper maintenance, that vehicle should serve the Lord's church in Alaba for many years to come.
And so the good work continues, all because of the love of the Lord Jesus for the entire world. His love "has been poured out in our hearts like a mighty waterfall," the Bible says in Rom. 5:10 (the Greek verb is that wonderful term encheo). The deluge is so enormous that at times one is almost tempted to cry out, "Lord, I can't take it any more!" I've been up since 3:30 this morning rejoicing and praying over what He has done in the past week. Whirlwinds of blessing blow across the spiritual landscape of our lives, each blessing totally undeserved, each calling for nothing but heartfelt praise. One never ceases to be amazed at His mercies.
5:22 AM Yesterday Nate checked up on the goats after we got home and reported that twins were born while we were gone. So off I went, camera in hand, to document the event. Well, I couldn't find the newborns or their mama, but I finally located this cutie pie that was born about two weeks ago. He has the most unusual and interesting markings, don't you think?
Sunday, March 9
8:15 PM Stop the presses! Just in from Ethiopia! Pictures of Aberesh and her baby! This one of Aberesh and Tilahun was taken the night before Baby Nathan was born.
And here he is!
Mama B and her "other" Nathan!
Aberesh is the picture of maternal contentment!
Praise the Lord! Great things He hath done! To God be the glory!
7:47 PM Well, we succeeded in driving 600 miles in 2 days and had a pleasant and safe journey, thanks be to the Lord. Our first stop was in Franklin to visit with the Terry family. Their home is beautiful. Its seclusion and quietness reminded me so much of Rosewood. We walked around the farm, saw the garden and the pasture, met the goats, had a fabulous meal, and enjoyed rich fellowship marveling at God's gracious dealings in bringing their Jessica and our Nathan together. Of course, I say "their" and "our" but in fact Jessie and Nate have belonged to the Lord Jesus since the day were born and even before that. It was His purpose before the foundation of the world to unite them as husband and wife, and now in His providence and wisdom He is bringing that to fruition.
As the photo below shows, Bobby and Michelle have three children (and one dog). From left to right, pictured are Conan (dog), Justin, Michelle, Jessica, Nathan, Bobby, and Jonathan.
They live in a very rural setting in southeastern Virginia. (They are just within Nathan's "two-hour rule." If you want to know what that means, ask Nathan!) Their house was built in the late 1800s. It is surrounded by a big stand of pines and several large fields.
Jessie and Michelle love to bake. Upon our arrival we were served freshly baked muffins and Hawaiian (!) coffee. Here they are preparing homemade pizza for lunch. Simply scrumptious.
A tradition that both of our families have in common is our love of popcorn, though no one can make (or toss) it quite like Jonathan can. Jon's form was just a little off this day, but Conan was right there to handle the "overflow."
Below, of course, is the reason for all the hullabaloo. I have already seen how Miss Jessie has brought out the man in Nathan -- the complete man! The key is that he -- and she -- have given their lives totally to Jesus and are willing to follow Him in obedience, even radical obedience. Through the years Becky and I have watched in amazement as the Lord shaped Nathan into a man who uses all of his talents for the Lord -- a man who possesses godly desires, godly goals, godly thoughts, godly aspirations, and, perhaps most important of all, a loving heart. He is being changed into the image of Christ, and the change is still going on, the only difference is that now he will share that process with the one he adores and who adores him. I simply bow my heart in humbleness and gratitude before the God of the universe!
On Saturday afternoon we left Franklin to drive to Fayetteville for a series of meetings at Trinity Baptist Church, where Josh Owen, a former student of mine, and his wife Renae have faithfully served the Lord for the past two years. Josh has a huge shepherd's heart and tenderly loves his flock, a fact that was obvious to me after spending two days with him. A man tends to become what he reads, listens to, and dwells on. Josh has a scholar's passion for Scripture. He is deeply rooted in it. He also asked me several challenging questions. As he put it, once my student, always my student. How very true! My weekend with brother Josh and the people at Trinity was marvelously memorable.
I gave a total of 3 messages, from Luke 2, Luke 3, and Matthew 1. Throughout my talks I heard the sweetest sound one can hear in a church -- the rustling of Bible pages as people turned from Scripture to Scripture.
A nice serendipity was meeting up with an old friend from Winston-Salem, Edwin Sineath, who drove down for Saturday night's session. Edwin and I usually see each other during my battle reenactments, when I am dressed in slightly different array.
Honestly speaking, though, for me the highlight of our visit to Trinity was hearing Nathan play the church organ. Most people don't know what a tremendously difficult instrument the organ is to play, and to play it as well as Nate does. As he chorded the great hymns of the faith during the prelude and postlude and as he accompanied the piano during the congregational singing, I heard nothing but whispers of delight from the congregation. It was truly a blessing for me as well. Thank you, Nate!
I'm glad Nathan decided to come with me on this trip to Fayetteville. As he put it to me when I invited him, "Sure, Dad. You know, there won't be too many more times when we can do things like this together." He's right. Nate and I have had a wonderful life together. He has accepted my weaknesses, forgiven my faults, and acted on the promises of God in his own life with unfailing constancy. It is now a great joy for me to see Nathan give his loyalty to Miss Jessica, the lovely woman who I hope in years to come will be bestowed with so much honor from her husband and her children that it will cover her from head to toe.
Saturday, March 8
5:48 AM Off to visit Jessica and family. Warning: I'm taking the camera!
Friday, March 7
7:47 PM Nathan here. Can you guess what we've been doing lately? Dad took these pictures and asked me to tell you a little about them. The back part of my house was originally a large room, or "parlor," and a "hall," which contained the staircase. It was definitely built before 1830 because it was made using very large hand-hewn beams, and sawmills were set up in this area in 1830. It is probably older than that, but due to remodeling over the years there's no original flooring, molding, doors, or siding by which to help date it, only the frame. We have dated several outbuildings to the 1780-1790s, so it's possible the house is that old as well. Anyway, about 1850 they build the "front" part of the house, which is a typical antebellum two-story center-hall house. About 1900, judging by the narrow 3" board walls and 3" flooring, they took off the roof of the original back part, which had a "half story" attic as a sleeping space, and created a full two stories, matching the 1850 front house. At that time they also removed the original stairs and interior finish of the old part and recovered the walls, ceiling, and floors with the 3" boards which were in style at that time. Then when electricity was brought into this area in 1955, the previous owners put up a partition dividing the original large parlor into a kitchen and dining room, replacing the separate kitchen building that was standard on farms before electricity removed the fire danger from wood cooking. Finally, they covered all the 1900s board walls and ceiling with sheetrock.
We are removing the 1955 partition to open up the original large room, which will become Jessica's new large kitchen and will be about 15 feet by 24 feet. Today we stripped the sheetrock off of what is now the dining room. This picture shows the partition added in 1955 to make two rooms (dining and kitchen) out of one large room. The 2 studs at right are level, the original house walls have racked and are now about 4 inches out of level from top to bottom. You can see the 3" boards that were put up about 1900 when they added the upstairs rooms.
Here is the window looking out to the back porch which is now enclosed. There was a set of built-in cabinets on this wall. Behind this sheetrock was a little termite damage, which I expected in this spot due to how low it sits on the ground and the concrete porch which was added directly against the wood frame of the house in the 1950s. It was nowhere near as bad as I expected though.
Jessica and I have decided to remove the boards on the ceiling to show the old hewn beams, but leave the wall boards (yes, I know, the ceiling and walls are crooked, but in an old house what isn't!). Can you believe someone would cover those beautiful boards with sheetrock?!
As they say, men never grow up, their toys just get bigger. A lot bigger! When I was little I loved to build ponds and hills in the sandbox out in our yard. Now I can do the same on a much larger scale! This track loader is a very valuable addition to our farm equipment, as I will use it to enlarge fields, dig stumps, build ponds and farm roads, and clear brushy areas for productive hay land. It is an "International 250" and was made in 1978. It weighs 53,000 lbs and has about 180 horsepower (compared to the average farm tractor of about 30-50 hp). Still runs good for its age, just needs new batteries! It has a few minor fluid leaks, but that's typical for an old machine. Beavers, watch out--here I come!
5:46 PM It's official: The pond is full again! This calls for a celebration. Let's see, what shall we eat? Hmm, I think I'll make ---- Chinese food!
1:29 PM Just received an update from Traveler's new owners. That really was nice of them to send it to me. I was happy to hear that he feels settled on his new farm. I've resigned myself rather heroically to the situation. I don't know which I enjoyed more -- riding big waves or riding fast horses. Where has the time gone? Wasn't it just yesterday that I was driving to the North Shore or to Huntington Beach, or taking Cody and Traveler out for rides in the countryside? They were so funny. If I took one horse out I had to saddle up the other one as soon as I got back or he'd feel left out. Them horses sure brought me a lot of joy, and I still miss them terribly. Spose I always will.
12:16 PM The costs of war.
11:31 AM I fly economy on my trips abroad. You know, the sardine seats. 14 hour flights, too. And I'm 6' 4". Yet on both legs of my recent trip the Lord Jesus gave me the chief seats in the synagogue -- so much leg room that I literally could not touch the seat in front of me and had to unbuckle my seat belt in order to reach the magazine pouch. Ain't He somethin'?
Was it selfish of me to have prayed before my trip that He would provide those seats for me? What a serendipitous God we serve!
10:44 AM I just spoke with the most überwonderfullest woman in the whole wide universe. She sounded great and rested. Baby Nathan is doing fantastic: eating every two hours, putting on weight. The stool sample checked out good, so there is a slight chance that Aberesh and Nathan will be released from the hospital tomorrow, with Becky continuing to monitor their condition. I also spoke with one of our sons, David (photo), who is visiting Mama B from Alaba.
I asked him how Becky's Amharic is doing and he reported that she speaks it fluently. Becky disagreed, but I think she's just being self-effacing. Want to hear something funny? Becky says that when she's talking with Aberesh she catches herself speaking German instead of Amharic. I can identify! It's hard to keep one's languages from merging. I recall that many times in Switzerland Becky would think she was speaking German when she was really waxing elephant in Spanish! I would have to politely interrupt the conversation and whisper, "Liebchen, Deutsch bitte."
I suppose this is as good a time as any to say a big THANK YOU to all of our extended Ethiopian family who have taken such good care of Mama B while she has been in Ethiopia: Bereket, Mengisteab, Nigussie, David, Mercy, Emebet, and Burje Guba. If I have failed to mention your name please forgive me. I deeply appreciate your watch-care over my beloved wife as you have helped and protected her in my absence. You will never know what that means to me.
Amasagenalo betam betam betam!!!!!!!!
9:54 AM The rain is falling, a nice slow drizzle. It will guarantee at least one good cutting come May. The Lord is so gracious to us. Right now Nate is pulling up the flooring in his kitchen. He's sold it to a man in Raleigh who is remodeling his house and needed old 3-inch flooring. This is all part of the major job Nate is doing to redesign his kitchen and dining room. Jessica has already seen the house so it's neat to watch Nathan thinking, "What would Jessica want here?" As replacement flooring he is using some lumber we salvaged from an old house. I can't remember where we got it, but we have been storing it for a rainy day like today (and for when Nathan found him a wife). Later I'll go to his house to help him remove bricks from the old chimney. My job is the "dump master." Somebody's gotta do the skilled labor!
With the rain and all, it's somewhat of a dog day. I think the puppies have a sixth sense. They hover about me as if to try and assuage my loneliness for Becky. I just snapped this:
Precious, aren't they? No better friends, that's for sure. Except for one's wife. I get to call Becky in a few minutes. Can't wait!
8:04 AM I am working on a kind of position paper on missions now ("Missions and the Local Church: Refocusing Theological Education") and hope, when that is done, to get down to an essay on the subject of dogmatic ecclesiology -- at once theological and practical, speculative and devotional. Genuine Christianity as such will, I am quite sure, become a minority religion as we move toward a more technological and militaristically unified world. It has become associated, in the eyes of too many people, with the beastlinesses of our political and economic imperialism. Otherwise no news here. I think I nipped my head cold in the bud -- for which I am very thankful to the Lord as tomorrow we are planning on driving over to Jessica's farm and after that I must speak on Saturday night and Sunday morning in Fayetteville. Today the work will continue on Nathan's chimney project. I have not yet heard from Becky today but pray that the news will be good when I do. Nate will soon be up here from his farm house for coffee.
7:50 AM Today I prayed this prayer for Becky, Jessica, and Nathan:
7:15 AM Becky sent me this important Gondar update:
We want to remind everyone that we cannot post too many details on the website because of the delicate situations in which we are involved. If you would like to be on our email update list, please email us with your address.
Thursday, March 6
6:35 PM I think you'll enjoy this essay about burnout among pastors. The whole question of the “pastorate” is rather troublesome. There is – apart from the sheer grief of overwork – an added pain in the cynicism of the situation. One ought to be grateful and thankful for all the years that pastors spend in church work, ministering alone at times. Solitary pastorates are perhaps the ne plus ultra of human wisdom. But God, I think, has a better plan. Such is the point of Alan Knox’s recent blog entry. I can think of several pastors who could profit from reading it.
1:46 PM Here are some pix for Mama B to enjoy in "Ethiopa" (as Caleb calls it).
Nathan recently repainted all of the farm signs. In the background is his and Jessica's farm house. Do you think he may have suspected that we would shortly be having hundreds of visitors? At any rate, it shore looks nice.
Ya better get off that pile before Master Nathan sees you, Miss Chicken. He don't like no one messin' with his m'nure.
One more chimney needs to be rebuilt before Jessica moves into her new home. The work has just begun. We have exactly one month from today to complete it. What do you think: Can the bearded ones do it in time?
Everyone misses Mama B, even the animals. Just think, in a month there will be two ladies pampering these cutie pies.
Here's Sheba enjoying a swim in the creek. Her husband Sheppie was too chicken to get in the water. Maybe he doesn't know how to "dog paddle" (hehe)?
The violent storm on Tuesday night not only filled the creek but took down this fencing. Nathan found the 16-foot iron gate, bent and tangled up, 200 yards downriver. Another thing to do before the big day.
Hope you enjoyed these reminders of home, honey. I love you!
10:52 AM The sun is shining violently today -- indeed, winter is rapidly being chased away by springtime. Today I am resting, fighting the onset of a head cold, getting caught up on emails and finances, reading Colossians (eminently lucid!), grocery shopping, visiting the bank and pharmacy, and perusing the political blogs. Campaign 2008 is a sad, sad business. All of it at once lugubrious and farcical -- prodigals turning up to be reconciled for the pottage of White House power -- all very fantastic and everything happening to the strains of trumpet fanfares by the mainstream media. Voici le temps de le magie -- for it is certainly a magical hour in American history. If only men were rational beings....
Will I get any writing done today? I already have, though it is only a dustcover blurb for Harold Greenlee's revised The Text of the New Testament (Hendrickson):
Meanwhile, my love to all who have written notes of encouragement to Becky Lynn, who on occasion is able to check our emails in Addis. I believe and rather hope that mother and baby will be back home in two weeks' time, but it is all in God's hands. If all goes well, I expect to see Becky again on the 26th, and until then I shall miss her constantly with the whole gamut of thoughts and feelings associated with it. I am very touched by the good work God is doing through her, but I must be careful to give credit where credit is due. I am asking the Lord to give me a humble attitude and never permit me to rob Him of the glory that is due to His name alone.
10:24 AM Forget the hats. I say grow a beard.
9:14 AM The exciting engagement of Nathan to Jessica has been much on my heart this week. Yes, it was sudden, but clearly of the Lord. Maybe one day Nathan will share the incredible details with you. I have talked at length with students who testify to the Lord’s mercy and grace in their own marriages – how they had stretched out their hands in prayer and saw God answer in miraculous ways. Nothing makes us more conscious of our natural inabilities as well as our utter unworthiness than the precious relationships God brings into our lives. Becky and I already love the Terry family – each and every one of them. And guess what? Two of them are bloggers! Jessica once posted the following thoughts on her website:
Maiden in Waiting?
Alas, up in a castle,
How very sweet, and how very true. Waiting for the Lord to provide a spouse can be an exceedingly great trial of one’s faith and patience. But when He answers our prayers, and does so in ways that are beyond our human understanding, we can do nothing but fall on our knees and break forth in thankfulness to God. His faithfulness to us is everlasting. It is also a reminder that we are to use all we have and all we are unsparingly for Him – a thought nicely expressed in this blog entry by Michelle, Jessica’s mother:
Michelle is right: God is faithful to those who trust Him and (in the power of the Holy Spirit) obey Him. Becky and I have, I think, begun to taste the blessing of obedience in our own lives. And what blessed relationships He has granted us! Praise the Lord, He has truly been gracious to us in giving us not only Jessica but also her family.
7:52 AM Just in -- the very latest from Becky in Addis:
In America we praise rugged individualism and self-initiative. The fact is that most of us function more smoothly and effectively as part of a team rather than as individuals. This has certainly been the case with Aberesh and her baby. Everybody is getting into the act, everybody is being blessed, and the Lord Jesus is getting glory while His church is being edified. Lots of reasons to praise Him this fine morning!
Below: Building a book shelf for the Bible school in Burji, Ethiopia, June 2006. Teamwork in action.
7:20 AM The latest addition to our home page is called An American Theocracy?
Wednesday, March 5
8:30 PM Tonight Nathan taught us from 1 Corinthians 6 about responsible stewardship of our physical bodies. I confess that I love the way he teaches and the simple lessons he draws. I've been teaching teachers for 31 years but even I still pant with excitement when I see and hear sound biblical teaching on a deep yet practical level. Nathan's probing questions (of the text and of us) help to crystallize the insights of the Bible. How can a man so young and so "unlearned" be such an effective communicator? Where does he get this facility for translating difficult texts into simple truths without being at all simplistic? He may have gotten his balding scalp from his dear old dad but not his pedagogical abilities. The key, I think, is that Nathan has been "under the Word," as we used to say in Switzerland (unter dem Wort). Why travel a hundred miles to take a course when you can just walk across your living room, pick up your Bible, and get into it yourself? I think of the high priest's dismissal of Peter and John with the scornful charge that they were "uneducated and ordinary men" (Acts 4:13). Actually, Peter and John did quite well as teachers, thank you very much, without the formal training thought so essential for an educator in that day. The difference with those two apostles was that "they had been with Jesus." What about you? Me? Does our life tell others that we have been in the presence of the Master Teacher, that we walk with Him intimately? Frankly, I'll take a self-taught, "uneducated and ordinary man" over an edu-macated fool any day.
6:23 PM My thanks to Liz for keeping everyone updated so well on Mama B’s doings in Africa while I was away.
I spoke with Becky again today. Here's the latest on Baby Nathan, who is now in the neonatal intensive care unit in Addis. Two days ago he started to bleed, the cause of which was a vitamin K deficiency (which is normal with preemies). Nobody had any vitamin K anywhere, not even in the hospital, but one of our Ethiopian sons miraculously found some, and Nathan's bleeding has stopped. Praise the Lord! However, the baby is now fighting an infection in his intestines. The danger is that the infection will spread to his brain. The doctors did two spinal punctures but the lab messed them up, so there were no results. Tonight they will try one more time. If the results are negative, the doctors will rule out meningitis and treat the baby for a simple infection. Aberesh and Becky can leave the hospital with Nathan, and in a week or so Becky can take them home to Dila while she presses on to Burji for her meetings. If the test is positive, or if the lab messes things up again, the doctors will keep Aberesh and the baby in the hospital for at least two more weeks, under the assumption that they are treating him for meningitis. Right now Becky and Aberesh are sharing a single bed in very cramped quarters in the hospital, and Aberesh is feeding the baby every two hours.
Becky has two specific and urgent requests: (1) Pray that the spinal test is successful, and (2) pray that the result is negative. Our God is able! Becky is tired but coping. She has been in Ethiopia for over 8 weeks now. But she is prepared to stay with Aberesh and see that Nathan is treated aggressively. Becky has postponed her arrival back in the states until March 26. It is unlikely that she can postpone it again in view of the wedding preparations. Let us thank God for His provision of the vitamins. Let us trust Him that the test tonight will go well with the desired results. And let us be fervent in our intercession for our dear precious sister who is standing strong for Aberesh and her son (Gal. 6:2).
I thank God for every one of you. It is a privilege and blessing to know that you are standing with us.
Monday, March 3
3:33 PM Just returned from taking the dogs for a long walk on the farm. Actually, I took myself for a walk and the dogs were the excuse. I do love this place. I often think, What was it like for its residents when they sent their sons off to war in 1861 or during the Great Depression? I shall never know. I do know that the significance of the farm lies in the future and not in the past. Every fence post, every building we put up, is a reminder to me that this is God's farm. Let Him, then, be pleased with it!
Please do keep Becky in your prayers. The baby is here, but Becky's work has not ended. It is only being refocused. She is staying in the hospital with Aberesh under difficult living conditions (do not think of a Duke or a UNC). After that she must take Aberesh and baby Nathan back to their home in Dila, and then Becky must press on to Burji for important meetings about the health clinic we hope to reopen this fall. Being a faranji (foreigner) means people can be demanding on your time. Being Becky (gregarious and tender-hearted) means you delight in meeting others' needs. The work can be exhausting. I tried to call Becky several times today but there was no answer on her mobile, which makes me think she is much occupied with the needs of others. So let's continue to be Aaron and Hur on her right and left, shall we? I appreciate it so much!
I'm still answering emails. If you do not hear from me today you can plan on an email tomorrow.
10:53 AM I returned to Bradford Hall at 12:30 this morning. I have the most wonderful news, on two fronts. First, Aberesh has had her baby. On Wednesday her blood pressure went up to 170/110 so they decided to perform a C-section. The baby weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces. Becky reports that he is healthy and nursing well, and that Aberesh is healing up fine. Both Aberesh and her husband Tilahun thank everyone for praying.
Secondly, for many years Becky and I have devoted ourselves to prayer that God would provide a wife for Nathan. Though we are very limited in our perspective, we have always felt we could draw on the inexhaustible treasures of God. And He has provided! Nathan greeted me last night with the wonderful news of his engagement to Miss Jessica Terry of Franklin, Virginia. Nathan and Jessica have decided on a simple wedding here at the farm in April. We'll provide the details later, but Becky and I could not be more excited.
My teaching last week was abundantly blessed. I cannot tell you where I was but I can say that all I did was go through the book of Philippians verse by verse, in the Greek text, with 30 house church leaders who could read Greek but hardly a word of English. Their happiness was intense and their misery (yes, there were assignments) equally real. On the last day of class I told them to expect a special treat. I read out loud, from beginning to end, the entire book of Philippians in the Greek exactly as I imagine Epaphroditus would have done to the flock of believers that had gathered in Lydia's home 2,000 years ago. (In my mind's eye I could see Euodia sitting over here, Syntyche reclining over there, and Suzugos between them. The jailer and his family were present also -- or so it seemed as I looked out at my students.) It was moving. This was the first time I've done this in 31 years of teaching. I don't know why I didn't think of this before (somebody get out the stupid stick). As for the events of the world, I know nothing and am enjoying my ignorance tremendously. I am inundated with emails, which I hope to answer today. Tonight I am speaking at a missions conference in Youngsville, NC, then it's back to school.
This has been a time of great blessing. Nathan has found His bride, the fruit of the prayers of 25 years. She is absolutely perfect for him. God has blessed Aberesh and her son beyond our expectations. My work abroad was deeply satisfying. By the grace of God we have the assurance that in all these things God is working for good and that He will continue to direct our paths. He has once again given us precious proof that He is delighted when we expect great things from Him. My joy in God cannot be described. God blesses His people not so that we may gratify ourselves but for the sake of using all that we have in His service and to His glory. We should serve cheerfully and not because it's required. It has been a great blessing to me to watch Becky be a channel though whom God's blessings flow. As she has cheerfully yielded herself to His purposes, the channel of blessing has become wider and deeper. I stand in awe before my Lord and Master at the river of His bounty. We have abundant reason to praise God for His goodness and to go forward in the strength of the Lord.
One last note. Many have been praying for a wife for Nathan, but no one more than Aberesh. She and her husband have decided to name their son "Nathan" in thankfulness to the Lord whom they serve.