April 2009 Blog Archives
Thursday, April 30
7:50 PM A little taste of home for Nate and Jess. I took these not 10 minutes ago. We miss you guys!
6:44 PM When I heard about the recent fiasco at the Miss USA Pageant, I thought, "How sad." I was reminded of Simon Peter's beauty secret (1 Pet. 3:3-4). Everybody loves beauty. But Peter is not referring to a beauty you can obtain at the beauty parlor. Miss America of 2009 will not be Miss America in 2010, to say nothing of 2050. Little wonder Peter wrote, "Wives must not let their beauty be something external. Beauty doesn't come from hairstyles, gold jewels, or clothes. Rather, beauty is something internal that can't be destroyed. Real beauty expresses itself in a gentle and quiet attitude that God considers precious."
Man, ain't the Bible goooood!
6:22 PM Luther once referred to "security" as the ultimate idol. We Christians are willing to exchange practically anything to stay in our own secure little worlds. We are like vulnerable baby goats -- and I've got plenty of them these days on the farm -- who seek security at their mamas' side, or like Linus who is never without his blanket.
In the church, nowhere do we seek security more than in our funny little traditions. We fail to confront our deceits because we are too afraid of upsetting the apple cart. What -- don't display the American flag? What -- don't have a Christmas cantata? What -- let people other than deacons serve communion? Unthinkable! Many "successful" churches are large because they have surrendered so easily to popular expectations. By nature, we Christians are creatures of habit. Lacking appropriate knowledge of the Bible, we act merely out of fear of change. If my reading of Phil. 3 is correct, however, then we -- like Paul -- must be willing to readjust our notions of a "successful" ministry. Alan Knox has been doing just that lately, and his reflections may be found in an excellent blog post called I use to believe ... Now I believe. Isn't it interesting that a person can change his mind in such a brief period of time? A mere 8 years ago Becky and I had a vastly different priority system than we do today. Our "security" blankets don't mean as much to us as they used to -- though I shouldn't let myself off the hook too easily. The fact is that I still find it uncomfortable to be confronted, not simply with the lies of my secular culture, but with the radical vision of the church that the New Testament depicts. How do I fit in -- in this strange new world of downward discipleship? Is it really necessary to go back to the Bible? How can I forget all the stuff I learned in seminary about church? But that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. The first step is letting go of my security -- my things, my presuppositions, my need for self-preservation. Bearing the cross is the ultimate in dispossession and insecurity. As Barth famously wrote in his Church Dogmatics (4.3.2), the church "exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar ... and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise."
So Luther was right after all. If it is security we are after, then Christianity makes no sense whatsoever. The cross is not a sign of the church's passive acquiescence to culture but rather the church's revolutionary participation in a kingdom that transcends Christendom and whose main task is the formation of people who are willing to give up their security to pay the price of discipleship. People often hear the most logical arguments for Christianity without being greatly moved. But there is no answer to a life that has surrendered everything -- including "security" -- in order to serve others.
12:55 PM On Sunday, Becky and I will be doing our last Alaba team training session at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Wilkesboro, NC, in preparation for their departure on May 23. (I will leave two days earlier.) What a joy to be working with Baptists who aren't reactionary. They're not fussing over minor issues. They have a philosophy of ministry that gives them profound freedom. And they are seeking in creative ways how to love their fellow believers and how to love the lost. God loves people! And the early Christians were filled with compassion for them. Our missionary teams are not people who show up every few years and give a report and then disappear. They are all home-grown members, accepted as "real people," living among their congregations, taking off their masks (or having their masks stripped off). They are establishing networks of love and care between their churches in America and churches in Ethiopia. And when they come home their congregations will be waiting eagerly to hear their reports.
Why should local churches not plant local churches? Why should local congregations not send out their own missionaries? I truly believe that this method is not only more biblical but also more effective in the long run. There is built-in accountability, close friendships are established, and intimate needs can be met. Every local church ought to be strategizing how to get involved in world missions. So should every family. Evangelism -- loving people to Jesus -- calls for teamwork. And the best teams I know of are local churches that get into the business of living, helping, healing, and caring.
So my hat's off to our intrepid Ethiopia team. I can't wait to go to Alaba with you. Together -- through work, through prayer, and maybe through tears -- we must reach and reach and reach!
Note: the following pix are not for Interpol. We sent them ahead of our team so that the team members' faces might be recognizable when they arrive in Alaba. I'll have more on their individualized ministries later. These are some truly big-hearted Christians!
8:27 AM This morning I've driven off the freeway of life and pulled into the rest stop.
Why? Because I'm on the edge of exhaustion -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I've joined Elijah under the juniper tree. (See my initials next to his?) My zeal has all but dissipated. I am frustrated that my goals are not being accomplished. I'm struggling with sinus headaches.
What to do?
BE HONEST: With myself, with others, and with God. He knows my body. He knows I'm worn out. He knows my spirit. He knows I'm discouraged. He also knows my future. He knows it is still good.
BE REALISTIC: I'm very passionate about what I do. I have high goals and standards. I feel I need to make a contribution to my worlds -- family, church, school, missionary calling. I have a felt need to pour my life into others. This makes me vulnerable. Vulnerable to exhaustion, weariness, loss of passion, fatigue.
BE PROACTIVE: I need to stop ignoring the Rest Principle. I need to recover my scattered energies. I need to give myself -- and others -- grace. I need to let my soul catch up with my body. I need to allow the Word to renew my inner force. I need to stop making a god of self.
BE TRANSPARENT: I know, I'm wearing my fatigue like an oversized coat today. But I'm not ashamed to ask my friends for their prayers. Bonhoeffer once wrote, "A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another."
Wednesday, April 29
8:27 PM Becky recently sent out an important email:
Please pray with us for a well in Burji. The need for water -- both physical and living -- in southern Ethiopia is very real. Thank you. Dave
Monday, April 27
9:56 PM What a great evening. Our prayer time for Ethiopia was splendid. Then Becky got a 100 on her quiz. It doesn't get much better than this folks.
4:14 PM The high today was a perfect 83 degrees. My job du jour was rotary-tilling Becky's garden and mowing the backyard.
Here is my exercise machine, home gym, and weight trainer all rolled into one. It really gives you a good workout.
Tomorrow Becky is planting corn and maters. The electric wire is to keep the predators -- er, doggies -- out of the garden.
Right now I'm resting and Becky is studying Greek. What a life....
10:05 AM Fred Sanders has just penned a delightful little essay called Karl Barth Sinks With The Titanic. It's about a sermon the young Barth preached to his congregation in Safenwil and which he later regretted for its liberalism. Make sure to catch the paragraph beginning "Looking back on those early days...."
Barth may have rued ever preaching this sermon, but I for one find at least one phenomenal statement in it:
Too many evangelical denominations today are simply "fooling around" when there's a lost world to be reached with the precious Good News of the Gospel. One of Barth's contemporaries, Emil Brunner, put it this way (The Word and World, p. 108): "Where there is no mission, there is no Church, and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith." Many of us today have forgotten that God's basic call is a call to mission. Our main purpose as the church is a redemptive one. We are called to pursue the Great Commission, to make disciples of the nations, to build Christ's kingdom worldwide. What happens on Sunday morning is only the beginning of what it means to be Christ's Body.
The convention of churches which I have the privilege of serving desperately needs a Great Commission Resurgence. There is no doubt about that. It is by God's unmerited favor, and by the atoning death of Christ on our behalf, that we are saved, delivered from divine judgment, and made partakers of a heavenly calling. But God did not pay such a price merely to shine us up a bit. It is sadly possible to enjoy saving grace in uncompromising orthodoxy without much serving grace in obeying the Lord Jesus. The church needs to learn how to walk as He walked who took the form of a lowly servant in order to "seek and to save that which was lost." One sure mark of genuine revival is that it sets the people of God to sharing the Good News relentlessly and relationally. What showers of blessing can fall if we would only obey our Lord's command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.
For many years now missions has been my heartbeat -- more than my scholarship, more than my books, more than my personal comfort. Saving grace is serving grace. Our Lord Jesus came to set the world on fire. We need to rekindle the evangelistic flame of God in our marriages, our homes, our churches, and our denominations. We must confess and cooperate with God by throwing out the stuff that is displeasing to Him and recommitting ourselves to a Gospel- and kingdom-driven lifestyle. I am not big on resolutions and manifestos. But this one, I believe, deserves our support. It certainly has mine. If ever there was a day needing a Great Commission Resurgence among God's people, surely it is today.
9:16 AM I enjoyed Billy Wheeler's ode to Brian the Sheltie. The Arabian has always been my favorite breed of horse, and the Shetland Sheep Dog will always be my favorite dog breed. Is my partiality showing yet?
9:06 AM Becky and I had lunch with Jon and Matthea Glass yesterday. Jon has one of the most interesting and inspiring blogs out there. Take a look at today's entry and you'll see why I said so.
9:01 AM Heard from Nate and Jess last night at 11:30. They've arrived safely. Small things are good.
Sunday, April 26
6:25 PM Program note: Join us tomorrow night at Bethel Hill Baptist Church at 5:30 for a light supper and a prayer time for Ethiopia just before our Greek class begins. Of all of the many weaknesses that I have, prayerlessness is perhaps the greatest. A blessing beyond calculation can result from one single prayer offered in sincerity and humility!
5:55 PM Heard today: "Dave, you were tweeting before there was Twitter."
5:25 PM Becky gave a dy-no-mite presentation today at Cresset. I also spoke briefly. "Filter every aspect of your life through the Great Commission" was our message. Take a look at your pocketbook and your calendar to see if you have biblical priorities. I think every one of us who is involved in missions today can look back and remember the day in our lives when God created a world-sized love in our hearts. Our single purpose in life should be to extend the kingdom of God in every nook and cranny of this planet. Please don't mistake what I'm talking about for the new look in "doing church." You can be as up-to-date as the latest fad in church planting and still not be outward looking as a church. Our goal is to reconstruct the church from the ground up so that we are no longer building our own little kingdoms (ministries and churches) but the Lord's kingdom. If only the church in America could realize that we spend a disproportionate amount of money on buildings and staffing. By God's grace let's reset our priorities and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with love, boldness, and humility wherever we go!
Switching gears, we ran across Nate and Jess about 3 miles from the farm just as they were leaving for Maryland. We could have missed them altogether but God wanted to give us one last chance to say goodbye. Believe me, a week apart is a very long time for us. Becky and I are praying that God grants them a wonderful, safe, and relaxing trip. Lord knows how much work they do when they are on the farm.
By the way, if you prayed for us this morning, we really felt it. Thanks! Here are a couple of pix for your enjoyment:
7:38 AM Barn Report, Day 3.
We got a very late start yesterday, but it was for a very good reason. People come from all over the Triangle to buy Nathan's antique lumber, and yesterday he made a very good sale of flooring. It was 2:00 pm before got to work. We were assisted by Rachael Woodworth and William Warren from the seminary.
William worked in construction in his home state of Mississippi and was a great asset to us (especially to me!). The ladies worked on sorting and folding Becky's fabrics. She plans to do lots of sewing for the grandkids.
Us guys spent most of the afternoon cutting down pine poles and rafters.
We managed to finish framing in most of the structure as the day drew to a close.
And so ends our work on the barn for a while. Nate and Jess are going out of town today for a visit to her parents' home. Obviously, when the boss man is away, the workers go on vacation too. Watch out, Nate. We might be unionized by the time you get back.
Miss Rachael and William, thank you for spending your afternoon with us. We enjoyed your fellowship, not to mention your peach cobbler, Rachael!
Saturday, April 25
1:10 PM Right now we're taking a hiatus from working on the barn. Nate's selling some lumber to a guy from Fuquay-Varina. So I'm going back over the draft of my book. May I be honest with you? The more interest you show in the Jesus paradigm, the more Jesus expects of you. That's what I'm discovering these days. By writing this book I have placed myself in big trouble. Jesus has infinite patience with mere beginners. But when someone claims he can explain to others THE "Jesus paradigm" -- such audacity deserves a dressing down. James wrote, "Teaching is not for everybody. If you tell others how they should think and act, you'd better be prepared for a much harsher judgment." That worries me. Cynically I take heart from Jesus' original disciples. Perhaps it's unfair of me, but I am encouraged to see how often they had trouble adjusting their pre-conceived notions about Jesus, and they were His closest followers. So I keep on searching for Jesus. I'm not only finding Him. I'm finding a new way of looking at myself. Frankly, very often I don't like what I see.
I conclude my book with these words:
As Jesus' disciples discovered many years ago, I am discovering that you pay a high price to follow Jesus. This is not a very comfortable position to be in. But I'd rather be nowhere else in life.
Back to work....
8:20 AM Today work on the barn continues. We're expecting a high of 92.
7:40 AM Wow! Jessie's latest post is a blessing. What a precious daughter God has given Bec and me.
7:28 AM Please pray for Becky and me. Becky is preparing a talk on Ethiopia she'll be giving tomorrow at Cresset Baptist Church in Durham. We are very excited. Jon Glass, who went with us to Ethiopia last year and had a fabulous ministry of teaching and mentoring, is now serving there. Becky and I are now poised to take 2 teams with us to Ethiopia in less than 4 weeks. I truly believe that God is up to some big things in Africa. And it's always exciting to visit with new churches who have expressed an interest in Ethiopia. I find myself wanting to explode with enthusiasm whenever I have the opportunity to share about God's glory in that part of the world. But here's the kicker. God already knows the churches and individuals He wants us to partner with. And, in His sovereignty, the pool of participants just seems to keep growing. There is nothing more urgent in life than making disciples of the nations. Nothing. I love the Gospel. Maybe it's because I've been on the receiving end of God's grace so often. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that God desires to see every local church radically sold out to the cause of world evangelization. But it starts one church at a time. Involvement may or may not mean supporting the work of God in Ethiopia. But all I can say is that God opened a door so wide for Becky and me in Ethiopia that it would have meant disobedience had we decided not to walk through it. What door of missions opportunity has God opened for you? Go through it with gusto!
Friday, April 24
7:40 PM Barn Report, Day 2.
Yesterday we cut the floor joists and pine posts. This morning our first task was setting the joists. Here's how far we got before we ran out of joists.
So it was back to the forest to cut down more pine trees.
About this time who should show up but some much needed reinforcements. All pitched in eagerly.
What a joy to watch Caleb and Isaac work as a team to accomplish what neither could do by himself.
Neither of them could wait to pound nails.
Must be in their DNA.
By lunch time we had completed laying the floor joists. Not bad for a morning's work. Back at the Hall, the ladies had fixed us a great lunch.
We ate on the back porch along with the puppies, one of whom is getting the tummy rub of her life here.
On the way out I noticed that Becky had finished sewing Jessie's new dresses. Beautiful, aren't they?
We spent the afternoon raising the framing.
At break time, the ladies brought us some delicious ice-cold lemonade. Micah's job was to see that everybody got a cup. "Thank you, Micah."
After that we put up wall studs and wall braces, which required that we stop by our other hay barn for our tall ladder.
Our salvaged lumber will provide us everything we need for the flooring and bracing. We plan to use salvaged tin both on the roof and the sides of the barn.
Our goal today was to have the barn framed in. Here are we applying the finishing touches at around 6:00 pm.
Thus came to an end day 2 of our project. Tomorrow we hope to add the rafters and begin laying the flooring. We had lots of good help today. I want to thank Caleb, Isaac, and Micah for their assistance.
Caleb, you did a great job of photographing Papa B and Uncle Nathan. Thanks a bunch. I see you also took a self-portrait. Looks great. I love you!
Thursday, April 23
6:38 PM Today Nate and I started work on our new barn. Just for the fun of it, I thought I'd publish a photo diary of our work. If this isn't your cup of tea, I understand completely. But the rest of you will, I think, enjoy watching our progress, slow though it may be. Remember, Nathan's assistant is the world's klutziest klutz.
The spot we selected for the hay barn is next to our old tobacco barn and across from the goat barn Nate and I built several years ago. It sits astride one of our gravel driveways for easy access. Beside the barn we will add a small shed for equipment.
Here Nate is limbing the trees that overhang the barn site. We're still not sure what the roof pitch will be, but we're playing it safe.
Our next job was to clear the area of whatever small tree growth we thought might be in our way.
Here are our floor sills. Each is a 30 foot cedar we cut and limbed weeks ago in preparation for this project. Believe me, they are not light.
Then it was off to the lumber barn to see if there was any salvaged lumber we could use for rafters. In the end we decided against using our salvaged wood. We will just cut down pine rafters as soon as we reach that stage of the project.
The next step was to lay the corner stone and then align our floor sills. Did I mention that this barn will have a floor to protect our hay from damp rot?
Here you see the final floor plan. Length is 30 feet, width a mere 17.
So where to get our floor joists? From one of our pine forests, of course.
Nate's job was to saw and limb the joists, while I disposed of the limbs.
After several hours of work, we badly needed a break. We lay supine for about 10 minutes before loading the pine joists into our trailer. Sure felt good.
In the meantime the goats figured they'd take advantage of the sudden silence to saunter over and begin chomping on the delicious pine needles.
As the day drew to a close, we hauled our joists to the construction site, where tomorrow we plan to lay the floor and begin the framing.
8:53 AM It's good to be back on the farm. Today I'm helping Nathan and Jessie spread manure, working on a book manuscript, and beginning construction on a new hay shed. It is all work and it is all ministry. Some of this work is beyond what comes naturally to me. There is much growth and grace in that. I find writing more congenial to my personality than pounding nails. I am more delighted to be a facilitator than a leader. It is more natural for me to execute than to plan. Like you, I am sometimes put into positions I did not chose and for which I am not naturally suited. I have more than a little empathy for the student who finds Greek drudgery. Some students clearly have more language aptitude than others. But if I am a serious Christian, I cannot do only what comes easily to me. I don't enjoy traveling. By that I mean I don't enjoy cramped airplanes and long lines at airports. But I still accept many invitations that require air travel because, like Paul, I use travel to serve the kingdom.
What's your work today? Any drudgery involved? Who knows -- you may accidentally discover that you are co-yoked with Someone who will turn your drudgery into joy.
Wednesday, April 22
9:50 PM Becky bakes bread....
Nathan helps himself....
Puppies wait for crumbs....
Didn't Jesus once use this as an illustration?
8:28 PM Speaking of The Jesus Paradigm, my publisher has just posted a notice at his blog about how you can receive a free prepublication copy of my book for review. I hope many of you will take advantage of this generous offer.
8:10 PM Inspired by Tuesday's commissioning service of our student missionaries (you can listen to IMB President Jerry Rankin's outstanding address here), I've been toying with the idea of adding a section called "Afterwords" to my forthcoming book on discipleship. Here's a draft:
This is just a first draft of what will probably turn out to be a much longer addendum. But it does try to encapsulate my thinking about why theological education needs to be missions oriented. I'm so glad and humbled to be a part of a seminary that strives to be a Great Commission seminary. And I'm so proud of my students who were commissioned on Tuesday to go to the four corners of the earth. Pray with me that God will use them in great ways to advance Jesus' awesome kingdom on earth.
Monday, April 20
5:31 PM Quick update:
1) The Modest Boutique is now the exclusive distributor of The Myth of Adolescence. Price: $18.95. Of course, you can always pay $50.00 at EBay if you prefer.
2) Becky's studying Greek hard, so yours truly is cooking supper tonight. No, it is not Chinese food!
3) I'm already receiving first pages from my efficient publisher. Boy, is this fast. By the way, I very much like what I see.
2:02 PM Just had two more baby goats. Current total: 15.
12:58 PM Ten years after Columbine: the effect on two pastors. I can't even begin to imagine how enormously difficult their counseling situations must have been, all because of the human condition called sin. How do you rebuild trust in a community shattered by death? What a conundrum. All I can say is, God bless these two men and all those affected by the tragedy.
12:45 PM Why "conservative" protests against big government are not my cup of tea.
12:40 PM A week ago Becky and I attended a beautiful Easter Sunrise service in Person County, NC. But when I was growing up in Hawaii our sunrise services were held at Kailua Beach Park. This was the beach where I was baptized in 1960. This would have been a typical scene early on Easter Sunday morning:
I still think there is no more beautiful sight on earth than an ocean sunrise. At these events I would often be asked to play a trumpet solo, and the song I usually picked was "The Lord's Prayer."
Yesterday the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrated its Easter, called "Fasika" in Amharic. But the fact is that every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, and every day we can live in the power of the risen Christ. A constant awareness of the presence of Jesus in our lives is both possible and desirable. It is the ideal. It is the biblical norm. It is what God intends. It is the confident privilege God wants us to experience not just one day a year but each and every day of our lives.
11:24 AM It's so neat watching our little goats. Though only a week old, they've already become quite independent of their mamas (except at feeding time). They've begun to form little clubs. Each is Mr. Joe Confident. Just my opinion, but no farm is complete without a herd of goats.
10:19 AM Once again I'm reminded of the potential power of the Internet to do kingdom work:
Becky is having more fun with the revamped Bethel Hill site. Honestly, I can't wait to read her updates.
9:45 AM Bethel Hill Greek students, don't forget that we're still having class tonight, despite the awful weather. Come to think of it, the gloomy weather might actually help you do better on your quiz.
9:31 AM The New York Times comes through again, this time publishing revelations for all to see but to which most will still be blind: Interrogation Memos Detail Harsh Tactics by the C.I.A. As was to be expected, Justin Raimondo got right on it. Who would have guessed that our own lawmakers would have been behind such nefariousness? As Raimondo states (with ample hyper-linking):
America is driving down a dangerous road, and it doesn't look like we'll be turning back any time soon.
9:20 AM In the first 3 months of 2009 there were 56 soldier suicides. Last week in Roxboro a 21-year old young lady hung herself in her boyfriend's backyard. It seems that every week our community has its share of crises. God's love and power are so awesome. That makes it all the harder when things don't go the way we think they should. I wish everyone could hear pastor Jason's message yesterday from Psalm 42-43 on how to handle depression. There was an anointing on the service that was unique. Larry Crabb once said that in every human heart are deep pockets of incurable pain. I don't find anywhere in the Bible that God is obligated to make our lives easy. I work with people who have been deeply impacted by evil. That's right. Seminary students are no more immune to spiritual abuse than the rest of us. Maybe you have tried to live out your Christian life and have failed. Maybe today you are where many of us have been in the past: in despair. I challenge you: Go to a friend who will listen to your heartache. Go to God. Go to His Word. He is good and worthy of us to entrust our lives to Him -- again and again. Please don't give up.
8:55 AM In 1972, German theologian Hans Küng published a book that asked a simple question: Why Priests? A Proposal for a New Church Ministry. He attempted to detail the catastrophic emergency (as he called it) in Christendom. The root, he said, was a polarity between the office of pastors/priests (who form the "above") and the members of the congregation (who form the "below"). He pointed to the rediscovery and use of the total membership of a congregation as a necessary remedy. His call for a return to the New Testament concept of the church, not as a highly organized and professionalized institution but as a ministry of all believers serving Christ in every walk of life, fell largely on deaf ears.
Today, no local church can afford to go on with the business-as-usual attitude as it faces its God-assigned task to minister effectively to the people of our modern times. A recent blog post that encapsulates the situation and asks the right questions, boldly and hopefully, is Alan Knox's Mutuality: Dangerous, Acceptable, or Necessary. No church, and no church member, remains unaffected by the spirit of professionalism. The Body of Christ needs dedicated men and women who desire deeply to get beyond mere nominalism to active discipleship, and in this way recover the dynamic power of the early Christians as described in the book of Acts. The malady is not a minor illness. And, as Alan notes, it is not restricted to one or two denominations. Renewal must come not only from the bottom up but also from the top down. The church is not just a place for solace but for service, and that by every member.
I hope you will take a minute and read Alan's post. Better yet, why not read, study, and meditate upon Eph. 4:11-16? For a refreshingly provocative translation of this key passage, go here.
8:10 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Our Family on the Hill.
Sunday, April 19
8:25 PM Yesterday morning Becky asked me to go to Food Lion to get some ice for our Student Day. On the way there I was listening to Weekend Edition on NPR. Scott Simon was interviewing the author of some book (I forget both the author and the book), and in that interview I heard something so profound I just had to share it with you. The author said, "To the wealthy a book is an ornament. To the poor a book is a weapon." By that he meant that the poor often use books to escape from their circumstances, a medicine to help them make it through a desperate situation. There's a lot of truth in that. At present I am fairly comfortably situated, but my growing up years in Hawaii were spent in a broken home and poverty. Often our evening meal consisted of leftovers from the local public school. During those restless years, reading became an escape for me, an outlet for my vitalized mental condition. Conjure up, if you can, the absurd spectacle of a young surfer spending his evenings being transported by the Hardy Boys from Kailua Beach to the pine forests of Maine and Vermont.
Those memories of my verdant years will always be with me, and even today I enjoy the pleasures of being a book worm whose delightful occupation it is to read anything he can get his grubby hands on. It scratches my heart to think of all the children who escape from desperate situations via the codex. Truly, to the poor the book is a weapon.
8:03 PM As the rain begins to fall, another wonderful day draws to a close. Earlier our good friend and fellow missionary to Ethiopia Mary Jacobs and the fine ladies at Bethel Hill put on quite a baby shower for Nate, Jessie, and ???. Nathan was his charming and witty self (as usual), but Lady Jessica, radiating with maternal glory, stole the show. They got gobs of nice gifts, but I think they would be the first to say that the fellowship was the main event today. The beauty of their relationship is a testimonial to God and their own wise choices in life. It never ceases to amaze me -- absolutely amaze me -- how such a young couple can have developed an ability to discern wheat from chaff, to recognize and appreciate true values, and to know what is worthwhile in life. For most couples it generally takes a lot longer to achieve such spiritual tranquility and perspective, and many never achieve it at all.
Becky and I discussed Jessie's baby as we drove to church this morning. Our best guess is that he is currently about 4 pounds. I thought back 26 years ago, to that day when Nathan came 6 weeks early. I brought him home from the hospital at a whopping 4 pounds, 9 ounces. All the more reason to rejoice and be thankful that Jessie's pregnancy seems to be progressing normally.
My thanks to Miss Mary and the entire Bethel Hill church for making my son and daughter feel so welcome today.
8:52 AM From the Preface to my new book:
7:55 AM Joe Staub reviews my Why Four Gospels? I don't know Joe, but I appreciate the thoroughness of his review. While you're at his site, why not also check out his review of Ehrman and Bauckham?
Saturday, April 18
10:15 PM What an awesome day! When J. B. Phillips translated the New Testament into modern English, he said he felt like an electrician wiring on old house with the mains left on. As I spend time with my students and their families, sometimes I feel as if I am touching God's household of faith "with the mains left on." They are already "attempting great things for God." What an incredible privilege to be their teacher!
If you missed our Student Day, here are a "few" (wink, wink) pix for your enjoyment. Talk to you tomorrow.
Friday, April 17
11:46 PM Well, as you can see, our website is almost back to normal. Yesterday it went completely bottom up when my ISP changed servers and yours truly failed to re-upload Front Page. Thankfully, one of my former students came riding to the rescue on his white horse (that is, his cell phone). I've only a got a few more pix to upload and then I think we'll be okay. Thanks a million, Jerry, for all your help.
Thanks also to all of you who wrote asking, "What in the world happened to your blog?" You know, it's amazing to me that anyone would care. I think I'd write this blog even if no one read it. One day it will make entertaining reading for my grandchildren when they get good and bored one evening.
This has been a challenging week in more ways than one. Yesterday one of our mama goats went into a very distressed labor, and Nate, Jess, and I worked on her for a good hour before she delivered her baby. The latter, I’m sorry to say, was stillborn, and the mama died last evening. It stunned me to be reminded that motherhood can be just that costly.
Today Becky and I worked our aching bodies till – as they say in these parts – we couldn't work no more! I don't care much for the aches and pains, but I do like the idea of a bunch of people coming up to the farm tomorrow and the fellowship we'll enjoy. I'm not teaching this Sunday, so I'm planning on just gelling and hanging all day Saturday with my students and their families. Just think: On our next Student Day there'll be a little Nate (or a little Jessie) crawling around with all the other babies.
As if to assuage our sorrow from the loss of our goats, yesterday the Lord sent us a letter from the sweetest lady, whom Becky and I met while speaking at a country church last month. Her handwritten letter was accompanied by a money gram for $10.00, designated for Ethiopia – a sum that represented a large chunk, I'm sure, of her monthly income. Letters like that, and gifts like that, are hard to deal with without getting emotional. What does Jesus look like? I'm sure a lot like this dear saint who is hoping and praying that her investment in the kingdom will come to fruition.
By the way, the orders for our DVDs are beginning to come in hot and heavy. Got two more today. I've learned the hard way: unless you review, review, and then review some more, you'll quickly lose the grammar you once worked so hard to acquire. God speed to all of you who are embarking on the study (or review) of Greek.
There's so much good, God stuff going on it's hard to keep it to oneself. May your joy be as full as ours!
Thursday, April 16
11:32 AM I just spent a few minutes browsing the website of the artist who painted the cover art we are using in my new book. His name is Gregory Eanes. He's done some really interesting work, including several pencil drawings, something I myself have dabbled in from time to time. Care to play the Can You Name the Face game?
10:35 AM Some good reads:
1) Better Prayer Meetings and Prayer Groups.
3) The Progression of a Christian is Downward.
4) Dissertation Complete! (If you know Matt, send him a shout out.)
9:30 AM I want to congratulate my friend Elgin Hushbeck on the release of his latest book, Preserving Democracy. Much to reflect on. Elgin took Greek from me at Simon Greenleaf University many years ago and has since begun an apologetics and writing ministry. I hope his new book gets a wide reading. I think it deserves it.
9:18 AM The weather forecast is calling for sunshine and temps in the mid-70s for Saturday's Student Day. Students, if you missed the sign up sheet in class this week it's still not too late to register. Just send me an email and let me know. In the meantime, let's all be faithful to share the Good News with those God puts in our pathway.
Wednesday, April 15
8:18 PM Alan Huffman, author of Sultana: Surviving the Civil War, Prison, and the Worst Maritime Disaster in American History, was interviewed on the Diane Rehm show today. Even though I am an avid Civil War reenactor, I was unaware until today about the Sultana disaster on the Mississippi River in 1865. (You can get the details about the tragedy at History Net.)
Mr. Huffman made a profound statement during the interview. He said that survival is a process and not an achievement. The Union soldiers aboard the Sultana could have considered themselves "survivors" because they had lived through the horrors of Andersonville, or because they had survived a train wreck on their way to the Mississippi. Little did they know that they would soon face another disaster, one that would claim the lives of hundreds of them aboard the ill-fated steamboat. I have discovered that trouble is a constant reality in this world. I have survived a good many personal tragedies in my life, just as you have in yours. But survival is a process, precisely because we never know when the next storm will arise. Jesus once talked about superficial Christians who hear the Word and receive it with joy, but when trouble comes, when they read the price tag of real discipleship, they fall away. It is then that Christ meets us in our hopelessness and helplessness, if we will but trust Him! The Good News of the Gospel is that not only are we saved from the sins of the past but provision is made for the here and now.
Friend, what are you "surviving" today? Well did Spurgeon say a fish might fret about enough water in the sea before a child of God need be bothered about the sufficiency of God's grace. Without such hope we would be nothing but shorn Samsons in a treadmill. But with it we are more than conquerors!
5:58 PM Henry Neufeld, owner of Energion Publications, has written an insightful blog post called Stuck on Silent Saturday? If you've ever lost a child, you need to read this essay. Powerful.
5:47 PM Elton Trueblood, in his magisterial book The Incendiary Fellowship, used the term player-coach to describe the ministry of the professional pastor. Many pastors I know of yearn to fulfill their calling as an equipper (trainer-coach) of the congregation. Sometimes the problem is that the congregation itself gets in the way because of their misconception of the role of a pastor. They fail to understand that the call to salvation and the call to the ministry are one and the same. God is calling His people – all of us – to be ministers through whom He may work His work of redemption in the world. Ministry is not to be the sole responsibility of the "clergy." This is a revolutionary concept for many church-goers. They do not believe it and they certainly do not practice it. "That's the pastor's job," they say. "If he can't do it, let's hire someone who can." The congregation itself remains a vast untapped source of manpower.
A radical departure from the traditional understanding of the role of pastors is desperately needed today. That's the message of Lionel Wood's essay Releasing the Dove: Equipping Then Entrusting. It's also a theme that finds a very prominent place in my new book. We need to redefine what "success" looks like in our churches, and rethinking the role of the "laity" might be a good place to start.
5:34 PM It's been great to see how many of my students were traveling during Easter Break sharing the love of God, from Mexico to Nicaragua. Thank you, men and women, for once again showing that you are serious about reaching the world relentlessly and relationally for Jesus!
5:24 PM I recently heard about a revival that broke out in Florida not too long ago. It happened in a different denomination than my own. It was a reminder of the absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. It also raised some important questions. Would I accept revival if it started in some other church or denomination than mine? Would I say "Amen" if God started an awakening on the other side of the world and in some other country than "Christian America"?
5:16 PM In Greek class this week we looked at a phenomenal passage: Phil. 3:12-16. I like how the Cotton Patch Version renders it:
Wow! Paul chose a goal that is completely unattainable in its entirety yet that allows no place for complacency. Paul says he wants to know Christ – the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. What a great goal! And what a satisfying pursuit, even though we will never reach it completely down here. The truth is that I can know Jesus better and better every day, I can experience increasingly the power of His resurrection, I can enter more and more into the fellowship of His sufferings. I can never settle down in lukewarm contentment or Laodicean comfort. And I must never become so occupied with lesser goals that I lose sight of the main attainment.
Paul is not "reaching for the moon." Knowing Jesus is not a will-o-the-wisp, forever dancing ahead of us just out of reach. It is the greatest of all objectives. Paul is "off and running," and so am I!
5:03 PM One of the best ways to learn a modern foreign language is by listening to native speakers. This website has hundreds of audio files in German you can listen to. It's one of the ways I try to maintain my fluency in the language. See if it doesn't help you.
Monday, April 13
3:45 PM It's amazing that we just keep having more and more baby goats. As of two hours ago we're up to 13. Sheva had her twins then. Becky and I watched as her little ones found their mama's milk for the first time. Oh the marvels of instinct!
And how are the others doing, you rightly ask? Quite well, thank you. Can the lavishly gracious hand of God be seen any more clearly than in the miracle of birth? I am very grateful.
Incidentally, Nate and Jess have "officially" placed their kittens up for adoption. One has already been spoken for. If you're interested in any of the others, let us know.
1:50 PM As you can see from our home page, our Greek DVDs are finally available. I am incredibly grateful to Becky for all the hard work she did to make this a reality, from arranging the videographers in Addis, to working with our editor in Dallas, and finally in having the DVDs copied in New York. For more information on the series and how you can order the DVDs, go here.
Needless to say, I am stoked!
9:13 AM Two more goaties were born yesterday. Current total: 11. Mamas and kids doing fine.
Oh, Little Miss is going to have kittens. Seems like Rosewood Farm is downright serious about having babies.
9:03 AM A lesson from Ike?
8:45 AM Any time a blog post starts out, "I examine how macro-structure analysis (specifically some of the tools of discourse analysis) can help the biblical theologian determine themes and categories in Scripture," you know you're in trouble. You say, "That's way over my head!" Truth is, you need to know these kinds of things if you are to be a faithful exegete of God's Word.
I agree with Alan that discourse analysis is an indispensable tool in reading Scripture. A sample:
No easy answers here, but some great questions are posed.
8:28 AM Bethel Hill Greek students, we will meet again tonight at 7:00 for our "Greek for Dummies" class. You've had two weeks to learn about the imperfect and aorist tenses. If you are still confused about anything, don't worry. We'll begin tonight's class by fielding any and all questions you may have, will parse any verbs you are uncertain about, and will generally allow you a few moments to moan and groan before taking the quiz. Don't forget to study your vocabulary both ways, as there will be 8 extra credit points on the quiz (English to Greek). So I'll see you this evening. We're expecting lots of rain tonight, so please drive carefully.
7:54 AM I was delighted to notice the conspicuous absence of an American flag in the sanctuary of a church I spoke in recently. There are many ways of melding the Gospel with lesser loyalties other than devoutly flying the Star-Spangled Banner, but perhaps none is more obvious. I hope my new book will lead to a challenging dialog on what it means to be a Christian in a post-Christian environment. The cross should be the definitive identification of Christianity against which all others should be measured. In calling for a more radical Christianity, I am simply calling for the church to go back to her roots as an alternative community committed to the downward path of Jesus.
My book, of course, is simply the by-product of a much larger movement of the Spirit within the churches that is calling into question our loyalties. It challenges the legitimacy of such movements as the home-school movement and the age-integration movement and the eldership movement or any other movement that makes the Gospel conform to the preferences and priorities of any segment of evangelicalism. It argues that baptism signifies a radical and decisive break with our previous loyalties and priorities, as brother Joel reminded us yesterday morning at our sunrise service at the lake.
When he read 1 Pet. 1 and Phil. 3, I was reminded that the Christian life is essentially staurocentric (cross-centered), making the priorities, practices, and affections of Jesus our one and only guide. By being born again, Christians are by definition not what they used to be. Baptism, as the despised Anabaptists used to say, is a doorway into a Christian community that lives as an "alien" body in the larger social environment. This new community, this new Realm in which Jesus alone reigns, is relentlessness transdenominational. Its sole loyalty is to the Way of Christ and His kingdom. If the church is to remain credible in the years ahead it must take the Jesus paradigm more seriously than it has in the past. Ever since the church and the world were fused under Constantine this has become more difficult to do. Yet Jesus calls His followers to be radical. The Gospel frees us from our captivity to our political, economic, and cultural bondage. It liberates us from all the lesser loyalties we hold so dear. It frees us from the curse of merely "playing Christianity" (Kierkegaard).
That is the message of Easter.
Sunday, April 12
3:28 PM A few thoughts on the writing and reading of books:
1) The books I write are getting shorter and shorter. "Less is more" is becoming more of a reality and less of an old truism for me. Your don't need to know everything about a subject to understand it. In fact, innumerable facts are often a detriment to understanding. Above all, I try to avoid writing in such a way that might imply that thinking on the part of the reader is unnecessary.
2) I want my readers to become active participants in my book's ideas. Some will read for information. "What does Dave think about this or that?" Others will read more for their own personal understanding of the subject, with the hope that something they read will shine some light on the facts they already know. Some of us are so guilty of abecedarian ignorance that we have to start with the simple ABCs. Our goal is simply information. Eventually, I hope we can read books preeminently for the sake of understanding.
3) Each chapter in my latest book opens with a quote or two that contains pivotal ideas as to the argument of that chapter. Every chapter also concludes with a brief summary of what is new or important in that chapter. Hopefully this will give my readers a sense of the basic pulse beat of the subject matter. Chapter 1, for example, opens with this quote by Gordon Cosby:
Have I whetted your appetite?
4) Whenever I read a new book I always read it through from beginning to end in one sitting and without pondering the things I don't understand. I find I have a much better chance of understanding a book on second reading after I've already gained a bird's-eye-view of its contents.
5) As for speed of reading, my golden rule is a simple one. I read a book no more quickly than I can read it with satisfaction and comprehension. I can generally skim a book on my first reading. This gives me some idea of its form and structure. I am thus prepared to read it well the second time around. I can always tell whether a book is a "good" book. A good book is one that is always over my head in some sense. It forces me to think, to stretch, and to pull myself up to its level.
6) As for marking in books, I do so religiously. My pen is my best friend in reading a new book. Whether underlining major points or placing an asterisk in the margin or circling key words and phrases, I try to read consciously and interactively.
7) Book titles are, or should be, attention-grabbers. They should tell us immediately what kind of a book we're reading. Originally my latest book was called The Downward Path of Jesus. Later, in consultation with my publisher, we decided to change it to The Jesus Paradigm. This title gives essential information about the book but (hopefully) also raises a question in the reader's mind: "Just what is this 'paradigm' Dave is talking about?" The answer to that question, of course, is to be found in the chapter headings. My new title has a further goal, however. It implies that my concern in writing is not merely theoretical. A paradigm implies that there is a right way of doing something, one that is better than another as an end to be sought or a means to be chosen. I don't want to say simply what "is." My goal is that things would be better in the Body of Christ as a result.
8) My new book, like most works of non-fiction, is chronotopical. It deals with things as they exist or occur in a particular time and place (hence the term "chronotopical," from the Greek words for time and place). My book is the product of my own personal history. It traces how my thinking has evolved since I first began teaching in 1976. It is this revolutionary understanding of the Christian life ("revolutionary" to me, at least) that organizes the book into a whole. I try to explain all this in the book's preface, naturally. The problem is that most readers pay as little attention to an author's preface as they ordinarily do to the acknowledgements page. So I have tried to write in a way that exhibits unity, clarity, and coherence. Whenever possible I have told the reader what the questions are and the answers that are the fruits of my own study. But the reader must not expect me to do the job all by myself. He or she must meet me halfway. My goal is a "meeting of the minds," a reciprocal benefit that depends of the willingness of both reader and writer to work together.
9) Finally, the heart of my new book lies in the major affirmations and denials I am making, and the reasons I give for so doing. You may or may not agree with all of my propositions, but I hope you will not miss their meaning. I think I'm simply verbalizing what we all know to be true, though I might perhaps state things in an unconventional way. "2 + 2 = 4" and "4 - 2 = 2" are different notations for the same arithmetic relationship -- the relationship of 4 as double of 2, or 2 as half of 4. The same conclusion is forced upon us regardless of the proposition being made.
In the end, the best readers are the most critical. They make up their own minds on the matters the author has discussed. I invite you to read my latest book and engage me in these issues!
Saturday, April 11
6:37 PM Becky and I just enjoyed a wonderful meal at the local Chinese restaurant. Right now she's canning chicken soup. She's also been studying her Greek for Monday night's class. Go Becky! I've been picking away at various chores around the house. Right now I'm going to sit down and enjoy one of my escape books. Let's see, Major Calnan's just about to be recaptured near Merseburg....
Oh, I want to mention again how much I have appreciated the Theological German website. Anything to help my doctoral students to master this difficult language is welcome. When you consider that thinking itself is nothing but sub-oral speech -- one must use words to speak at all -- you will appreciate the enormous importance of being able to read and pronounce German correctly. This is more than philological gymnastics. I think of the man who said to Paul, "Do you know Greek?" Every language we learn affects us. Each has the potential to open enormous doors of understanding and service. Unfortunately, many students fail to gain even the most rudimentary ability in German. I am a fundamentalist when it comes to modern languages. If you don't learn to speak them well, then you may as well forget the whole thing.
12:35 PM On this day in 1945 the German concentration camp at Buchenwald was liberated.
Among those saved by the Americans was Elie Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. If you haven't read his book entitled Night, you simply must get a copy. It is a stark reminder that structural evil is just as devilish as personal evil. Structural evil has been described as three bored, silent people passing the buck. It is at the very heart of totalitarianism. We stand awestruck that such evil could have been tolerated for so long.
Wiesel's utter loss of faith in God contrasts sharply with the experience of Corrie ten Boom, another Holocaust survivor.
Both stories are a reminder of how our daily existence becomes a fabric of transition, an intricate interplay of all our psychological and interpersonal realities. I often ask myself whether I would have responded as Wiesel did, seeing only endless night, or with the spiritual vision of ten Boom, who discovered that "the light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness was not able to put it out" (John 1:5). That ten Boom learned to live triumphantly and joyously in the midst of raw evil will forever be considered a miracle in my mind. "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still," she wrote, rising victoriously from the ashes of Hitler's Germany. Remember that, my friend: "No pit!" Christ was, is, and forever will be the solution to the problem of evil.
10:35 AM Bec and I just returned from a walk through our pastures, checking out our goat herd along the way. We're now up to 9 babies, though that statistic seems to be changing hourly. Here's the guy responsible for all these goatlets. He's living up to his name: Tarzan.
Little Miss is the curious kitten, as are we all. Interestingly, mama goat will let Cat get near her babies but not Dog.
The two latest additions to our herd:
Snowball finally had her twins (her brown baby is asleep next to the tree). Snowball will always be my favorite goat. Her mama died at childbirth and I bottle fed her for two months in my kitchen.
Just took my shoes off. I see Dayda has been stealing my socks again. That rascal. "Zer vill be no shtock shtealink! Tventy days cooler!"
Folks, I know what you're thinking. "Dave's gone nuts. If he's this bad with pictures of his goats, what will happen when his grandbaby comes along?" Just wait and see!
8:32 AM Top Ten reasons to attend next Saturday's Student Day here at Rosewood Farm:
10) The weather will be perfect.
9) You need to get out of Wake Forest.
8) It's only an hour and 15 minutes away.
7) I won't be lecturing.
6) There are no scheduled activities.
5) You'll meet the sweetest Shelties.
4) Your kids can butt heads with ours.
3) I may challenge you to a game of Greek Scrabble.
2) You can see how HUGE Jessica is.
1) You get to spend time with Becky!
The farm will be open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, with lunch at 12:00 noon. So cancel all surgeries! Postpone all nervous breakdowns! Come one, come all!
8:17 AM The latest update at the Bethel Hill blog will bless and challenge you. It certainly did me. I think question #6 is the one I struggle with the most.
8:09 AM Did you know that Energion Publishers is on Twitter? Why not send them a tweet?
8:02 AM It's happening faster than we'd thought, but Europe is withdrawing from its involvement in deadly Middle Eastern wars. So writes Pat Buchanan in his latest: Why Europe Won't Fight.
7:55 AM At the Washington Times, Doug Bandow finds not "laissez faire" but government aid to be the main culprit in Africa's economic woes: Keeping Africa poor with foreign aid. As Bandow notes, "With aid's help, corruption fosters corruption, nations quickly descend into a vicious cycle of aid." Sadly, African nations aren't the only ones lunging toward finance socialism and the plundering of taxpayers.
7:24 AM We arrived at Matt and Liz's last night just in time for a delicious supper of homemade pizza. You should have seen the smiles on the boys when they saw their Mama B and Papa B for the second time in as many days. After our meal Micah shared with me some of the cashews I had bought for him. Thank you, Micah, for being so kind! Then it was off to Mount Tirzah, where the story of Jesus was told through the eyes of John 18. I was reminded that the way of the Gospel is the way of suffering, trial, poverty, and sometimes despair. We can no longer cling to our creature comforts. We are ready, like Jesus, to sacrifice everything for the Gospel. Just think: I am free in Christ to live for God's glory!
I thank God for pastor Matthew, who has an equal concern for spirituality and scholarship, understanding and community, nonconformity to the world and cultural engagement. The breaking of bread (a single loaf, no less!) at the conclusion of the service was a great climax to an uplifting, interactive evening. Becky and I are praising God for our wonderful daughter Liz and her husband and three sons.
As you might expect, I took a couple of pictures. The Body of Christ:
Micah reads Papa B's Greek New Testament.
An Easter diorama. Who will roll away the stone?
Mount Tirzah has been great about providing reading glasses for Ethiopians. Becky and I thank you!
Friday, April 10
2:17 PM Guess what? Nate and Jess just announced that they now have two more baby goats. No kidding! (Bad joke.) That's makes a total of 6 babies in 2 days. I haven't seen the new kids yet, but here are a few more pix of the ones I have met. Just wonderful!
1:45 PM I've been thinking a lot about church holidays today. Why? I don't really know. Maybe it's because we are going to a Good Friday service tonight at Mount Tirzah with Matt and Liz. Perhaps it's because in the end it doesn't really matter whether you religiously follow church holidays or religiously abhor them. Tonight we'll enjoy family, friends, and fellowship with God's people, and that's what counts. Beyond that, our minds will focus on who's really valuable: Jesus. "Jerusalem or Gerizim -- the place doesn't matter that much," I hear Him say to the sinful woman of Samaria, hiding behind her veil of religiosity.
Today He might put it this way: "Good Friday or just another day -- the name isn't that important. I'm not limited by time or space or culture. I transcend those boundaries. I live in another Realm altogether, and that's where you have to go if you want to find Me." I've always felt it ironic that the church should have developed its religious holy days in light of such passages as Gal. 4:10. Labels are so empty -- especially ecclesiastical ones like "Easter" and "Christmas." But does it really matter? Like the Samaritan woman, I take a deep breath, look up at the mountain, then back to Jesus, whose words startle me: "Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem." Jesus alone is real. All else is shadow.
1:32 PM Brian Fulthorp just reviewed my Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. If you're interested in such things, you can read his review here. Thank you, Brian, for such a detailed review. Your "turkey" example is destined to become a classic!
8:28 AM Speaking of the cross, I thought you might like to see the cover art we're using for the book. The artist has graciously given us permission to use it. I am super glad for technology that allows me to roam the web and find such great art work. As you can see from the picture, the Jesus Paradigm is anything but lovely, but it is beautiful.
8:24 AM It's a beautiful day, but rain is coming this afternoon. My goals this morning are to finish spreading the manure, fill in a few holes in the yard, and work on our powder bath towel rack. I am totally thrilled to know that I'll be back at The Hill this Sunday. They tell me the puppet team is doing a phenomenal skit during the sunrise service. I'm still opting for "Resurrection Sunday" and rebelling against "Easter." I figure, though, that as long as we keep our focus on the cross (and not on bunnies) we will honor the One who left glory for shame, peace for hostility, and wholeness for the most painfully ruptured relationship the world has even known. Now, if we could only recover this Jesus focus every time we meet as church....
I hope your joy is full as we move into this wonderful weekend.
8:02 AM Notes in the margin:
1) In The Suicide of the West, Justin Raimondo reminds us that blaming foreigners for our financial woes is ridiculous. We don't blame gravity for plane crashes, do we? Make sure you read his piece to the (bitter) end.
2) Meanwhile, over at LRC the man himself explains to us the futility of trusting government to solve problems it itself has created. Lew writes:
3) Alan Knox reprises his Connecting the Dots series.
4) The Accidental Log is talking about gender again. Good stuff here.
Thursday, April 9
8:55 PM Becky and I enjoyed working outdoors today. The temperature was a perfect 64 degrees, with plenty of warm sunshine. We spread manure and compost.
Included were the fruit trees in our orchard.
Then Becky weeded the flower beds...
... while I dug the holes for our new pecan trees. Before:
(The bucket is our watering system.)
Guess what Becky bought for me? A push mower! I haven't used one of these since my childhood in Hawaii. Works much better than our ride mower in the back yard.
At dusk I went to check on the herds and look at what I found. These kids were born yesterday.
Edelweiss had her twins this afternoon.
What a great day! In the midst of a neurotic world, the baby goats give me new faith and hope and heart.
God is good.
1:57 PM Arthur Sido's recent blog post (Home Cookin) will elicit various responses, I'm sure. Mine was simply, "Ouch!" He is so right on.
8:20 AM Here's the first published review I've seen of my revised grammar and its accompanying workbook. My thanks to TC Robinson for writing it!
8:00 AM The blogs this morning are abuzz with punditry about Newsweek's essay about our so-called "Christian nation." For what it's worth, I offer two comments, or rather a few excerpts from my new book The Jesus Paradigm. I begin chapter 6 with two amazing quotes:
In chapter 3 I write about the Anabaptists:
I obviously spend a great deal of time on the problem of American particularism and the myth of a Christian nation. It's really a matter of allegiance, pure and simple. Friends, the exclusive claims of Christ are just as controversial today as they were 2,000 years ago!
7:26 AM I want to thank four very special pastors for thinking outside of the box, pushing the envelope, and un-quoing the status this week.
Besides all the spiritual stuff, they made the atmosphere exciting and joyful for everyone involved in our meetings. I feel pretty pumped up this morning because I was able to deliver the five messages that God gave me. I think we all agree that doing a traveling Bible conference is worth repeating next year.
For those of you who attended and are still considering the claims of Jesus on your life, please feel free to email me. I'd be more than happy to pray with and for you. I trust that you will decide to sell out to Jesus and follow Him wholeheartedly. Discipleship is a reality series beyond our wildest dreams and aspirations. God bless you as you travel the road you're on. I hope you'll travel it with Jesus!
And to all of my newly-found Christian friends in all four churches: let's remember that the typical American church places far too much emphasis on "our church." We build the church (meaning our own church, not the church across town), give money to our church, invite people to our church, participate in our church's programs, etc. Being a Christian can so easily become nothing more than being a "good church member." To build the kind of church Jesus envisioned in John 17 we must help our people realize that it is not about us or about our church. It's about His kingdom, a kingdom that centers around Christ's glorious act of self-sacrifice. If we think we can present the Gospel without surrendering and forsaking everything in us, then we have not understood the Gospel. If we really want to reach all of Person County for Jesus, we must not only preach the real, unadulterated Gospel, we must live it.
So to everyone who made my week so enjoyable, a heartfelt "thank you" from the depths of my heart. I sense that God is doing some pretty awesome things among you. Don't let that stop just because our "revival" is over!
Wednesday, April 8
5:45 PM We had a blast today over at the Rondeaus. Here Mama B greets the birthday boy with a card and a whole bunch of birthday kisses.
Isaac always has flowers for his Mama B.
Whenever Papa B gets to drink coffee, the boys get to drink theirs too.
I took Caleb, Isaac, and Micah for a long walk to downtown Charlotte Court House.
Here I am reading to Micah in the local children's library.
The boys pose in front of the famous court house and its monuments to "the war."
I loved this church sign: "The Church Meets Here."
Boys will be boys.
They also tire easily.
Out comes the cake!
Out go the candles!
Cut goes the knife!
Yummy goes the tummy!
Caleb: You are growing up to be such a fine young man. Mama B and Papa B love you VERY VERY MUCH!
5:13 PM These emails blessed me:
5:06 PM "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
Those are the words of Robert Frost, one of America's most beloved poets. Those words could also be used to describe the route the Lord Jesus has taken a certain Greek prof on in the past few years. It has been an exciting journey, and it's not over yet. At the heart of my journey has been my personal quest to find Jesus. Not the Jesus of my childhood, neatly compressed into a glossy magazine. Nor the Jesus of my academic research -- an analyzable datum of objective linguistic investigation. Not even the Jesus of Southern churchianity -- a fossilized relic deeply embedded in literary limestone and hidden from sight by the attendance boards and manger scenes so visibly on display in our sanctuaries. Recently, some scholars have sought Jesus in social convention -- a Mr. Nice Guy who models societal decorum for our children. Others see nothing but the Jesus of politics -- either the political revolutionary or the societal transformer who eagerly uses our tax dollars for spiritual causes. Oddly, I found Jesus in none of these places. The Jesus I know and love is found in the Scriptures about Him, the Gospels themselves. Here I find the most beautiful life that was ever lived, a life devoted to placing the needs of others over His own needs, a life willing to go all the way down to wash the feet of outsiders and sinners. This Jesus said of Himself that He did not come to be served but to serve. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He is the Model Missionary. And it is like Him I am seeking to become. It is this Jesus that I will talk about one last time during our revival meeting tonight, praying and trusting that the revival is not coming to an end but is only just beginning.
8:20 AM The new Messiah Baptist Church website is up and running. Go here to find out who their pastor is. It may surprise you!
7:52 AM The basic thesis of my new book The Jesus Paradigm is that discipleship goes far beyond mere lip service. Like Bonhoeffer, I seek to emphasize Nachfolge -- the German title of Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. The German word simply means discipleship. Followers of Jesus Christ are expected to, well, "follow" Him! As Bonhoeffer puts it, "Only the believer is obedient, and only the obedient person believes." (The German original is fantastic: "Nur der Glaubende ist gehorsam, und nur der Gehorsame glaubt.") Declared righteousness ALWAYS produces practical righteousness if it is genuine.
The Anabaptists used the term Gelassenheit ("surrender") to describe their doctrine of discipleship. Christ calls us to surrender, to yield all we are and all we have to Him. "Cheap grace," wrote Bonhoeffer, "is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." Grace costs a man his life. This costly grace, this radical discipleship I talk about in the book, goes far beyond the personal piety popularized today by those writers who emphasize the so-called "disciplines" of the Christian life -- prayer, Bible reading, meditation, etc. For the Anabaptists, discipleship was always discipleship in community. It is especially manifested in the church's visible witness to the world. That's why the Anabaptists took Jesus' Great Commission so seriously. The true meaning of discipleship is the carrying of the cross. Not the listeners but the doers of the Word are blessed (James 1:22). Hence the Anabaptists insisted on every-member ministry. All were ministers, and all were to minister. As Pilgram Marpeck wrote while attempting to describe the problem with the Protestant churches, "Individual members are not permitted to exercise their gifts for the edification of the congregation, as if you alone had all the gifts." Bingo!
I am so jazzed that my students seem to be getting this message. They are forsaking the upward mobility mentality. They are willing to forego and eschew all the titles and status symbols that often meant so much to the preceding generation of leaders. They are willing to submit every area of their lives to Christ. Most importantly, they truly believe, are absolutely convinced in fact, that the Scriptures, and the Scriptures alone, and sufficient to guide them into truth.
Today Jesus is calling us all to Gelassenheit. He's calling us all to Nachfolge. How will we respond?
7:32 AM Preached my heart out last night. The meetings end tonight. I absolutely LOVE doing revivals this way. Not only does effective Bible teaching take place but strong community relationships are built along the way. Being in a different location each night is such a great atmosphere. If you've never done a revival this way, you'll have to give it a try. Good stuff.
Today it's back to gardening with Becky and running a few errands. Caleb just turned 6 so we'll drive out to Charlotte Court House to wish him a happy birthday. The other day he told his father, "Dad, I'm half way to being a man." Isn't that sweet?
It's hard to believe that in just over a month we'll be back in Ethiopia. What really excites me is not just the teams we're taking with us, it's the opportunity to return to a place where God is doing such a powerful work. He's raising up an army of people who confidently proclaim the name and fame of Jesus to their neighbors. God is going to use them in huge ways to make a big difference in the Horn of Africa. I'm an American. I respect and honor my country. But I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven. To be honest, I'm tired of Christians looking to government for solutions. Instead, we should be the ones out leading the way in societal transformation through soul transformation. I for one will not put my hopes in government leaders when I can trust the one transforms the world through the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Tuesday, April 7
5:25 PM Tonight is evangelism night. I will be bringing a message targeted specifically toward the unsaved. Please pray for my message to be clear and powerful. In the United States, presidents come and go. Peaceful transfers of human power take place all of the time. Tonight I am praying that many will sense their need to make the ultimate power shift, from lordship to self to lordship to Christ. He is the only sure Anchor in these turbulent times!
1:39 PM After 11 years of dialup, we just got connected to broadband via a satellite that is in orbit 23,800 miles above earth. Glory be!
10:18 AM I have really enjoyed our Bible conference thus far. Last night was youth night, and I sensed a great moving of the Holy Spirit among us. At the same time, I can't help but feel that I am somehow contributing to the pulpit-pew division that I so often write about in this blog. How can I condemn the cult of the speaker when I am perhaps guilty of it myself?
Last week we studied Phil. 3:1-11 in Greek class. We saw in verse 3 that Paul gives us a radically new definition of what it means to be a Christian. A true Christian is one who "worships God by His Spirit." The word we translate "worship" (Greek latreuo) can also be rendered "serve" or "minister." It carries with it deep religious connotations drawn from its Old Testament priestly background and usage. To worship and to serve and to minister are all one and the same thing. But note: none of this is limited only to professional "ministers" in the New Covenant. Paul does not distinguish between leaders and spectators. In fact, by using the term latreuo Paul implies that all of us in the Body of Christ minister as priests of the Most High God. That has always been God's plan for the church. That is why I'm an abolitionist and why my new book is all about the abolition of the laity! A truly biblical church always stresses that the people are the ministers and the leaders are the facilitators. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the kind of pulpit-centricity so common in our churches today (including our "revival" meetings and Bible conferences). Paul reminds us that nowhere is the external of any significance -- including our ornate sanctuaries and our robed choirs. And I say this as one who is personally moved to tears by the beauty of a John Rutter chorale or the ornateness of a Sistine Chapel! The vital sign of a saved person, says Paul, is when he or she ministers/serves/worships God without placing any confidence in external status symbols. And our commitment to serving God is demonstrated in our lives when we actively use our spiritual gifts to build one another up so that God's spiritual work can be furthered.
That's why it's just as important to be involved in other people's lives as it is to believe that Jesus died for our sins. Christianity is more than a belief system; it is a community of people knowing each other, drawing strength from each other, holding each accountable, and serving others and the world together. It calls us to a lifestyle of ministry and service, not a life of spectatorism. The New Testament knows nothing of the artificial split between pulpit and pew-sitter, professional and amateur.
Father, forgive me if I have fed into the lie of a clergy-laity division. As I employ my teaching gift, may I never infer that I am more important to you or to the Body than any believer to whom I am speaking. May I encourage others in such a way that they will be eager to use their own gifts for the building up of the Body and for the evangelism of the entire world.
I pray this in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
9:45 AM I appreciated Aussie John's remarks about my forthcoming book on Jesus. Even though I am its author, I am strangely drawn to this Jesus I write about. And yet, because I am so much a part of my selfish culture, this Jesus seems like a complete stranger to me at times -- this Lord who became a slave, this conqueror who came to save, this Owner of Everything whose riches were to be found in the very fact that He became poor to make you and me rich. I can hardly conceive of a more radical, revolutionary idea than the idea that the only Lord is the Servant of all. When I look into my own heart, I realize that the Lord shows His strength in my weakness and His glory in my surrender. I am discovering that it is one thing to write about Him and another thing altogether to know Him experientially -- His greatness in poverty, His power in self-surrender, His self-abasement all the way from a dirty cattle stall to a bloody cross on Golgotha, mighty in His self-giving, lovely in His loneliness, beautiful in His tenderness. In that light, I am ashamed that I do not seek Him wholeheartedly, with everything in me, and that I do not live by what I know I ought to do. Slaves in the Sudan cry out for freedom, but no less do I!
Is it really possible to live like Jesus in the here and now, or is it only a dream? I feel ashamed that I can write a book about this Jesus and yet follow Him with so much self-will in my heart. Will I ever be undividedly Christian?
Ave crux -- unica spes! Hail to the cross, my only hope!
Monday, April 6
11:15 AM It's a day late, but I want to wish a very Happy First Anniversary to Nathan and Jessica Black. They spent their big weekend cooking over an open fire and sleeping out under the stars. No tentage for these hardy whippersnappers!
10:47 AM Just a brief note to say I'm still alive and kicking. The living history weekend was great. Nate called a superb dance.
I even felt strong enough to bring the message on Sunday morning, with Gen. Lee in attendance.
Last night our "migrating" Bible conference got off to a great start at Bethany.
Tonight we're at Antioch. Pray for me and with me for fresh power. All I want is for the life of the Lord Jesus to be manifested in my very mortal body. I feel so passionately that the church needs to return to her simple roots, before Constantine bound the Christian church and the Roman state together. We've a long ways to go to get over it, I'm afraid.
Friday, April 3
8:55 AM Azusa Pacific University announces an opening for Dean and Professor in the School of Theology.
8:47 AM One of the things I try to show in The Jesus Paradigm is how mutual participation has enjoyed a long history in Baptist life. According to Wayne E. Ward ("The Worship of God," The People of God: Essays on the Believers' Church, eds. Paul Basden and David S. Dockery [Nashville: Broadman Press, 1991], 68), the earliest Baptist churches in England "were trying to restore the primitive apostolic form of the church, and, with unerring logic, they understood that worship must be an outward expression of their ecclesiology. Since the 'gathered community of believers' was their basic concept of church, all forms of worship, including baptism, the Lord's Supper, prayers, hymns, Scripture exposition, confession, and receiving forgiveness, involved full congregational participation."
This seems a far cry from the spectatorism so prevalent in Baptist churches today. I cannot deny that most Baptist churches have abandoned their own distinctive identity as a lay movement and have become at least as entrenched in the dysfunctional clergy-laity distinction as many of the more mainline denominations. I argue that the New Testament pattern for elders (as player-coaches) is to train, coach, and facilitate the ministries of the church's lay people. At Bethel Hill, it's been neat to watch as different people have given their testimonies as to the ways the Lord has been ministering through them. One of our members has used her unusual competence in animal husbandry to travel with us to Ethiopia and hold farming workshops among the Muslim communities. Another member installs solar panels for us. More and more I'm seeing traditional churches releasing their lay people in ministry.
How can we provoke one another to love and good deeds in the service of others (Heb. 10:24)? One approach would be to become more proactive in the way we recognize those who are exercising their gifts in the Body. This is something Becky is doing at our church website, especially in the blog (check it out!). Here's another suggestion. During the Sunday meeting, why not pause and have everyone greet one another, this time not simply saying "hello," however. Have them introduce themselves, give a warm handshake, and then tell the ministry in which they are involved. You say, "That would really put people on the spot! What if they don't have a ministry?" That's the point. As people who are not yet involved in ministry hear from others who are, this will communicate that Bethel Hill Baptist Church is as committed to lay ministry as it is to pastoral ministry. The next step might be to have lay people (instead of the deacons) serve the elements during the communion service or have the youth take up the offerings, on a regular basis.
I write in my first chapter:
Friends, pastors are to be enablers. And their team is as large as their congregation. Pastors and people have a common ministry. Can you imagine the impact the Body of Christ would have if the Spirit were to activate all the people as fellow ministers? Let’s pray to that end.
8:27 AM Alan Knox emailed me a link to this delightful blog post: Developing a Missiology for the Bible Belt. One of the most delightful things about it is a reader's comment that we should call it the "Religious Belt" instead. Amen to that!
8:23 AM On his ever-interesting blog, Josh McManaway reviews a new book I was privileged to edit: Perspectives on the Ending of Mark. He raises a good question in his final paragraph. Thanks for reading, thinking, and commenting, Josh!
8:16 AM Just when I give up Doritos for a much healthier snack food (pistachios), the FDA goes and issues a warning against salmonella contamination. First peanuts. Then pistachios. This is nuts, folks!
8:12 AM I've been following the president's travels in Europe. It's nice to see a man who doesn't feel he needs to strut about like a peacock on the world stage. I enjoy watching Mr. Obama treat other world leaders with the deference and respect they deserve. But success in international politics requires more than affability. Will the Obama administration's foreign policy reverse the course of the past 8 years, or will America continue its quest for hegemony with the spirit of triumphalism that characterized its recent past? Justin Raimondo argues that "the same old warmongering" will continue, cheered on by the identical crowd of neoconservatives. He writes:
Obama is simply pursuing what has been official American policy for the last half century. And, as PBS reported Tuesday night on Frontline, rest assured that government will continue its disastrous socializing of the economy until we are worse than broke. More pain is awaiting us in the wings, which, of course, is a perfect time for a reminder that God has provided security against all the uncertainties of life. Even if we have great wealth in a lockbox we are still paupers unless we have an insurance policy from Him against death, sorrow, and pain. Our mission is to share these reasons to believe in Jesus with every person we know!
8:00 AM Greetings, bloggers and bloggerettes! I've got some great news on the publishing front.
1) My beginning grammar has just been released in its third edition. You can get it at Amazon at a nifty sale price. I had an absolute blast revising this book. I'm also very excited at its excellent companion workbook, which has also just been published. It was produced by the New Testament faculty at Liberty University. Once again, Amazon offers a great discount. The workbook contains 1300 practice sentences and more than 700 drilling exercises. Does this say anything about the way Greek students are multiplying by leaps and bounds these days? Yesterday I had one of my former students stop me to say that he and his 7-year old son are studying Greek at home together. For the Christian, time is a precious commodity, to be used to the full. I'm so grateful for all those who have used, are using, and will use these tools to help them acquire a reading knowledge of the language of the New Testament. The rewards are beyond comparison!
2) Energion Publications has just announced that it will publish my next book, The Jesus Paradigm. You can find the announcement here, along with publisher Henry Neufeld's blog post about the book here. This work grew out of my own spiritual pilgrimage in the past 8 years to return to the simple teachings of Jesus in my life and ministry. I hope it will provide a new incentive to take a fresh look at the church and to consider the changes necessary if the church is to become what God intended it to be. I really feel that Energion is the perfect publisher company for this book. It is a small but growing publishing house, established but willing to innovate, and radically committed to illuminating and illustrating the truth of the Gospel. Check out their site when you can, as you may be unfamiliar with them.
One last thought. I have to confess that in my writing ministry I have often found a fellowship with my publishers that goes far beyond the mere sharing of a common interest in book publishing. It is a supernatural and spiritual reality that carries with it the privilege and responsibility of serving the broader church and society. In a sense, we are bearing each other's burdens in a sympathetic way, working together to expand Jesus' kingdom on earth through the printed word. What a joy to be able to work together with godly publishers who share my interest in teaching and in enabling others to be all that God has called them to be. It blesses my socks off.
Thursday, April 2
6:21 PM Sitting in my doctor's office this afternoon I scanned the March 23, 2009 edition of TIME magazine and was drawn to this attractively titled essay, "10 Ideas That Are Changing the World," by David van Biema. I was surprised -- and not very happy -- to see that #3 was "The New Calvinism." My disappointment stems from the negative publicity given to the debates now raging within evangelicalism over Calvinism. Case in point: the author's reference to Mark Driscoll as "pugnacious." He concludes the article with a nod to the "flame wars" in the Southern Baptist blogosphere (which I alluded to in an earlier blog post).
As a contributor to the ESV Study Bible (which the author correctly calls "Calvinist-flavored"), I am not unsympathetic to Reformed theology. But van Biema has read the situation aright: "It will be interesting to see whether Calvin's latest legacy will be classic Protestant backbiting or whether, during these hard times, more Christians will submit their wills to the austerity demanding God of their country's founding." I for one would like to see the evangelical church move past the "flame wars," but I'm not very optimistic that that will happen any time soon.
By the way, the diagnosis was pneumonia. I'm on two meds.