Wednesday, July 30
8:59 AM Odds and ends:
1) Must-see program on Front Line: Losing Iraq. Watched it last night online. Heartbreaking.
2) We are a lump of clay.
3) Good article here on the future of Christian publishing. My take? As long good writers keep writing, publishers will keep publishing, though the delivery systems may change through time.
4) Pets make everything better.
5) Now that I have an iPhone and have gone cybernetic, people are asking the million-dollar question: Will Dave open a Twitter account?
Tuesday, July 29
8:56 PM "We must have a new reformation. There must come a violent break with the irresponsible, amusement-mad paganized pseudo-religion which passes today for the faith of Christ and which is being spread all over the world by unspiritual men employing unscriptural methods to achieve their end." – A. W. Tozer
7:10 PM Just discovered what "emojis" means. Always thought that someone was trying to type Greek but forgot to use the correct font.
6:48 PM Had lunch with Nate today in South Boston. Of course, the big draw was seeing my grandboys again. Although Jessie and Graham had work to do at home (she is getting Nolan ready for homeschooling if you can believe it -- my five-year old grandson is about to start school!), Nate brought Nolan and Bradford along. I so totally enjoyed seeing all of them again. I left them to drive out to Kim and Joel's new house they are finishing up. I simply don't know how to describe the place to you except that it's perfect for their family and ministry. I loved hearing the stories from Kimberly of how God would supply, over and over again, just what they needed, just when they needed it. Well satisfied, I set off for home again, thinking to myself how ironic is it that I can actually praise God for being a single parent, glad that He has left at least one of us to love on these kids and grandkids. Jesus is so amazing. He's the new life surging into our lives and pushing off the old so that there might be room for the new. I've got more kids and grandkids coming for a visit this week. That's good. Being quasi-ADD, it's good for me to get my nose out of the books. I really enjoy being around my crazy family, and the wonder is all the more wonderful because it is all so utterly improbable. Life is a dance, and we're all in it.
8:22 AM Mornin', yall! Let's return for a moment to the picture I posted the other day of this Catholic "community" in North Dallas.
Is that how you would describe your "church"? Peter Savage once wrote a fascinating essay called "The Church and Evangelism." It appeared in The New Face of Evangelism, a book that was edited by C. René. Savage suggested four models of the church that are in operation today in North America. Here they are:
1) The lecture hall. This is the church where people go primarily to listen to sermons. I'd say that in many traditional Baptist churches, this model most definitely applies. The pastor is even called the "preacher," the service "the preaching service." I myself have always been attracted to meetings like this, especially where there is excellent Bible teaching. You know, you go in with an empty notebook and come out with a full one. You know, the kind of church where the pastor says "Now the fifth thing I want you to know about this Greek verb is ...." Yep. Suits me to a T.
2) The theater. This is the church people attend because of the drama of the service, the great music, as well as a good sermon. And have you noticed -- even the architecture in our churches encourages this view of the church? As in a secular concert hall or theater, you have programs and ushers, cushy chairs (instead of hard pews), and you expect to be royally entertained for about hour. Participation on your part? It doesn't exist, except perhaps to applaud.
3) The corporation. This is the highly-programmed church. For every need there is a provision. When our children are growing up, this is the kind of church we often are attracted to. We gotta make sure there is a good children's ministry and a good youth group and lots of exciting events to attend.
4) The social club. The focus here is not so much on the word or on entertainment or on programs but on social works. Food drives. Car washes. Community service.
Savage then goes on to discuss the church as the New Testament seems to depict it: as a community of obedient followers of the Lord Jesus. The emphasis is on sacrificial living rather than on knowing the truth about the Gospel. The note of genuine community is primary. Hierarchical titles that tend to create distinctions among the brethren are discouraged (the elders are known by their first names). Have we ever seen churches like this? Yes, indeed. They were called the Anabaptists. Here's what they stood for:
Significantly, in this kind of a community, Christ's followers are all seen as brothers and sisters, each with a vitally important contribution to make to the whole. Church is now characterized by direct relationships, by reciprocity, by obedience to the Gospel, by deep fellowship, by mutual assistance, by participation by all of its members. The church no longer exists for itself but for others. Its kingdom call is reconciliation of people to Christ through the Gospel. Church growth for growth's sake is now seen as a form of missional mutilation. There is a reawaked awareness of the value of spiritual gifts. It is a community created and animated by the Spirit. It is, moreover, a missionary community. The gathering exists only for the going. There is a keen sense of responsibility for evangelization and church planting in other nations. Mercy ministries also have their place.
Folks, we live in a techno-age, that's for sure. Even yours truly just got an iPhone! In this kind of a society, the church can easily morph into nothing more than a smoothly-running machine with a veneer of power. Of course, there is a biblical alternative. I think the Anabaptists nailed it. For them, church was a radically biblical, caring community of believers totally sold out to Jesus and His reign.
What a church.
What a community.
Monday, July 28
9:32 PM My evening:
1) Cooking supper, enough for three meals.
2) Chinese stir fry on a bed of Jasmine rice. Not a bad meal for an old geezer, eh?
3) Sitting at my writing desk tonight, always accompanied by my faithful furry friends.
9:04 PM Just read this line of gorgeous prose in Michael Shaara's book The Killer Angels:
Writing is more an art than a science. I read dozens of books every year. Most of them are yawn-producing ho-hum heard-this-all-before wastes of time. When I read a book, I want an epiphany. Shaara does an excellent job of using back story, of fleshing out his characters, of developing his plot line. But above and beyond the mere content of his books, there is the solid-gold use of language. A well-written book actually takes longer to read than your average no brainer because you simply have to slow down and savor it. I learned how to write by reading the Hardy Boys series as a child, then graduating to Arthur Conan Doyle, who had an uncanny internal ear for unheard melodies. I remember finally understanding what people meant when they said they had read a really good book. Let your subconscious do its thing and then go away a very happy camper.
Ah, the joy of good prose. Nothing like it in this world.
4:24 PM Just back from campus, where I worked with doctoral and Th.M. students and posted syllabi to Moodle. IT also helped me with setting up Outlook for my new iPhone. Finally, Paul Himes was kind enough to stop by the office before beginning his long drive this week to Minnesota to start his new teaching job.
He got a free book, of course. Paul's latest blog post, by the way, is a real gem: Pedagogical book alert. Check it out if you're a teacher.
7:10 AM More on participatory church meetings here.
7:03 AM Here's my interview with Abidan Shaw:
6:55 AM I'm feeling a bit scattered today. That's pretty normal for Mondays. I'm coming off a weekend high, that's for sure. Last night at bed time I was reading 1 Corinthians 1 again, which is all about Christian unity in the Gospel (and not in any man or movement). "Be completely united, " writes Paul, "with only one thought and purpose" (1:10). As for following any human, "Christ has not been divided into groups!" (1:13). Hey, we can even have our disagreements (see chapters 8-10) and still be unified, because unity is not necessarily uniformity.
Disagree with me? That's A-Okay!
Sunday, July 27
6:02 PM Hey friends! As I reported earlier, there was a quick commute today to Roxboro to help send the Vermont team off. Here they are in all their glory -- well, at least in all their t-shirts. (For those of you who live in Australia, T-shirts are a Southern Baptist thing.)
It was great to hear their vision of coming alongside a church up there to help with VBS and evangelism. I'm sure it will be a very busy week for them. I'm praying for much fruit, and for fruit that lasts. Afterwards Kimberly and I took the kids out to Pizza Hut. Here we are saying hello to Joel and Nathan.
On the drive there this morning I listened to one of the more absurdly interesting programs on NPR I have ever heard. It's called the TED Radio Hour, and this morning the topic was "Disruptive Leadership." The two interviews I enjoyed the most were the ones with General Stanley McChrystal (who was fired by Obama) and Sheryl Sandberg (the CEO of Face Book). McChrystal asked, "What can we learn from failure and personal hardship?" You can believe I was all ears! His answer, in a nutshell, went something like this: The best leaders are those who have experienced significant hardships in their personal lives. As for Sheryl Sandberg, she dealt with the stereotypes that women have to face day in and day out in the world: "You are not to be strong leaders." That idea is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it is almost impossible to eradicate it even though it's not true at all. If you knew my Becky, you knew that God had given her many wonderful qualities, including gifts of leadership, organization, and vision. When she had her own business as a financial planner (she worked out of our home in California), she made the top tier each and every year, even earning us all-paid vacations to such places as Flagstaff, Arizona. I know of several other happily married women who are very strong organizers and know how to take the bull by the horns. None of these women was (or is) an egalitarian; each enjoys a very godly relationship with their husbands. Yet each shine in certain areas that involve major decision-making. The downside is that people will sometimes accuse you of being bossy when you are only exercising your natural gifts and abilities. In case you'd like to listen to any of these programs, you can go to NPR and click on the links. (Please note: I am not endorsing everything these people are saying in these interviews!)
I was super yawny when I got home so I lay down for an hour or so, and now it's time to prepare for all the little jobs I need to accomplish on campus this week. Normally I would have had all of my syllabi posted to Moodle long before this, but my recent travel schedule put a stop to that. As I drove through Roxboro I kept seeing places that Becky and I would frequent when she was still alive. Lots of memories. Early this morning I did a deep prayer session on behalf of a colleague who ministers for Jesus a world away and who faces uncertainty about whether he can stay in that country. I am going just about as hard as I can with writing and editing every day. And, of course, there's the daily "pastoral" work of just caring for my zillions of family members and their needs. Makes one exhausted but happy! I'm super excited to be getting back into the classroom in the fall, and I feel super blessed that our enrolment is up (again). 3,200 students is a lot of people to work with, but thankfully I don't have to teach them all!
9:24 AM Another excellent piece of fiction by Henry Neufeld. Packs quite a punch! If you've got teenagers, it's a must read.
9:10 AM Last night I finished a book on the battle of Chancellorsville, Lee's greatest victory. At one point in the great battle, Confederate General John B. Gordon was selected to lead an attack. He assembled his troops and told them, "Wait until you get up close to the heights. Let every man raise a yell and take those heights!" And then he added, "Will you do it? I ask you to go no farther than I am willing to lead!"
When I grew up in Hawaii, I don't ever recall any of my pastors going on mission trips. Never. They led from behind. Pastor, friend, are you leading from the front? From the time I became a Christian at the age of 8, I've always been looking for men I could follow. The very thought is staggering: The world is our mission field, yet some American pastors don't even have a passport. I know all of this sounds awfully judgmental. But no one was more guilty of this than me for many years of my academic career. Missions was for professional missionaries. My job was to put money in the offering plate. But as I wrote in my essay The Future of Southern Baptist Missions, it's time we stopped outsourcing missions.
When will this happen? As soon as leaders lead. As soon as we stop talking about missions and actually do missions (like my son Joel and his son Nathan are doing today). You're not just another nobody lost in the rush of Churchianity. You're a unique creation of God whom He will lovingly guide along the routes that He feels is best for you. And He is the one who told us to go. So are we?
7:28 AM Good morning bloggers of the world! "If I had my life to do over again...." As you know, I've made a few of these lists and shared them with you over the past few years. But here's one I left out: If I had my life to do over again, I would reject the notion that the size of your ministry is important. Because it isn't. All that matters is our attitude toward serving Jesus and our faithfulness to whatever tasks He assigns us. Some of my books sell extremely well; others sell barely a trickle. Some of my classes are huge; others are teeny. In fact, as I enter the mentoring stage of my life and career, I would much rather speak truth into a handful of lives than speak to the masses. But the size of ministry is totally up to the Lord. In Ukraine this November, a select number of Greek teachers will meet in Odessa for training in Greek pedagogy. I'll be "training the trainers." In Asia this fall, about 9 committed brethren will be trained in Greek, and they in turn will be able to teach many others that language. I currently have a very select number of doctoral students I'm mentoring. And then there are all of my children and grandchildren to attend to. These aren't always easy or enjoyable times, because I know I've often fallen short of God's standards. So I just redouble my efforts to be a good teacher and a good father and grandfather and a good mentor and a good facilitator. Being a Christian is sweaty. It's the hardest thing you'll ever do. But the fact is, I am important to the body. So is every part. Each and every one of us is critical to the whole. The body of Christ needs you if it's going to operate as God designed it to (1 Cor. 12). You may feel like your part isn't all that important. Your ministry may be "small" compared to others' ministries. You may feel less useful than Dr. So-and-So because of your lack of formal education. No matter. God has placed you just where He wants you to be.
Today I am attending my daughter's fellowship in Roxboro. Her husband and eldest son are off to Vermont to serve King Jesus. (Go Joel and Nathan!) After that, this week will be super packed. Anytime I'm on campus, it makes life full. Tomorrow I should have the syllabus for my doctoral seminar on Philippians posted to Moodle. I'm also going to try out the new iPhone 5s. I've got 14 days to decide if I really need a smart phone. (It is interesting to see the reviews online.) There is a ton of stuff I need to finish, writing-wise. I just keep sowing seed and waiting for whatever harvest the Lord provides for my labors. James, the brother of Jesus, closed his book with these words: "You see farmers do this all the time -- waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong." That's pretty good advice for an old farmer like me. Don't give up. Don't give in. Don't despair about the size of the harvest. There will be fruit -- if we are but patient.
Saturday, July 26
7:49 PM My pretty little girls, complete with their tiny red bows:
(Yes, I had Ramen soup for supper which they are polishing off. Yummy.)
6:48 PM A Bible without chapters and verses? Yep.
11:10 AM "Why meeee, daddy? Why is it always meeeee?"
10:16 AM Today, if you will, I am enjoying a personal retreat here on the farm. Nothing scheduled except a visit from the dog groomer to make the puppies happy with a new bath (and me happy with a new, clean smell in the house). I've got lots of good things on my mind today. I think, for example, of my family members who have made my life so full, enjoyable, and just plain exciting. You never know what joy or emergency you'll be hit with next, but we are able to laugh together as we face the challenges of daily life in a very pain-filled world. Then there are my ministry partners whose prayerful support and loving encouragement keep me going. "Ministry partners?" you ask. That's what I call them. You know who you are. You are the ones with a sweet and humorous spirit who are always emailing me, who indulge me when I want to rant about something, who pray for me and let me know that you are praying for me. This has been a tremendous help to me as I've tried to learn how to cope with Becky's death. Aside from the pure grace of God, I can only ascribe my healthy mental state to my having been taught to live according to the truths of God's word and to those who faithfully support me day in and day out with their prayers, calls, and emails. I am deeply grateful to the school in which I ply my trade of teaching for the faith and generosity it has shown me through 16 years of teaching there. I am also so very grateful for all the publishers I have the joy to work with, who continue to prod me to produce the message of hope found in God's word. To Henry and Jody at Energion Publications especially, you are a continual delight to work with. It is no surprise that your authors display a fierce loyalty to you. Just think -- my beginning Greek grammar will soon be available in Spanish thanks to Energion. And what about my travels? In the next two months I will have the privilege of ministering the word in New York, Pennsylvania, and California. Then in September, November, and December I will have the honor of coming alongside my brothers and sisters in foreign lands and simply serving them. I am so blessed! A special word to a special helper. Jacob Cerone has been my personal assistant for the past year and a man who consistently guides me to produce far better work than I am capable of. He has taken a personal interest in my life and work and especially in the message I feel I am called to share with others, and I count on him as a dear co-laborer in the Gospel.
All of the above have enriched my life in ways I never once imagined possible. I am gradually learning through my hardships to commit myself to accepting and obeying the truth, no matter how hard or difficult or unpleasant or unpopular it may seem at the time. And, it seems, God is blessing and using my writings in surprising ways to challenge the church's thinking. Frankly, I have not met many "experts" who see things the way I see them, but I have met a good number of ordinary people who seem to know God's word far better than the experts do. I know a pastor who never graduated from Bible college and has no seminary degrees yet who knows (and obeys) the word of God as few men I have ever met. We have been to Ethiopia several times together. We have been like iron sharpening iron. He is now writing books and is in great demand as a speaker. He destroys the notion of the "expert" speaker. His books are both biblical and provocative. I want to be like that. I want to write like that. As I have negotiated the deep waters of widowerhood, I am so thankful for men like him, for these "1 Corinthians 1" men who are nothings in the eyes of the world yet who mean the world to me. A humble fellow believer who really knows the word of God may be the only friend you will ever need.
The apostle Paul knew something about suffering. Just read 2 Cor. 11:26-29. Still, with all the wounds of the past, he was able to write his letters. That's how I want to be. Instead of becoming resentful over the good that hasn't happened to me, I want to notice the good that is all around me. As we find genuine healing for the wounds of our souls, part of that process will involve cultivating the habit of gratitude. God's answer for worry is prayer and a spirit of thankfulness.
What can you thank God for right now, my friend? Despite all the losses you've experienced in your life? That is the question I am contemplating on this, my sabbatical day. Isn't it wonderful that God invites us to spend time with Him without ever scolding us? He invites us to present our requests -- and ourselves -- to Him. The local gathering on Sunday is a wonderful place to give thanks to the Lord, but it's not the only place. It's only fitting that we should thank Him constantly for all that He has given us -- running water, good friends, sunshine, trees, birds, a long hot shower, relief from headaches and aches and pains, family members, ministry opportunities, the miracle of vision.
Thank you, Lord God, for loving me, and for loving me just the way I am, with all of my foibles and weaknesses and imperfections and unrealized dreams. I praise You for taking Becky home to be with You and for taking away her suffering. I thank You for the health you have blessed me with even though I am getting old. Thank You for my job and my helpers and my farm and my dirty dogs and especially for Your word that allows me to see life through the lens of Your eyes. Thank you for offering true healing for my soul through the Scriptures and the working of Your Holy Spirit in my life. I love you!
8:12 AM Have you ever visited the Seminary? I'm referring to Dallas Theological Seminary of course. I know of no alumni who are more devoted to their alma mater than DTS grads, my father-in-law included. And they have every right to feel this way. I'm especially impressed by the DTS library. On my frequent trips to Dallas I often spend hours in the stacks perusing the thousands of Th.M. and Ph.D. theses that our library at SEBTS lacks. One of the dissertations I once stumbled upon was written by James Slaughter, who eventually went on to publish a synopsis of his findings in a wonderful essay entitled "Peter's Instructions to Husbands in 1 Peter 3:7." This short essay, which could easily be read in 30 minutes, is outstanding. Men, get your hands on it if you can. It appeared in the book Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands: Biblical and Leadership Studies in Honor of Donald K. Campbell, edited by Charles Dyer and Roy Zuck. The bibliographical introduction was written by none other than the man himself, Howard Hendricks (below).
But back to the essay. My main takeaway from Slaughter's chapter was a renewed realization that the entire book of 1 Peter is all about what to do when treated unfairly. What are believers to do when they face unfair circumstances? The answer, according to Peter, is to display a spirit of deference. Peter expects Christians to behave with deference when facing unjust persecution (2:11-12), unjust legal affairs (2:13-17), unjust domestic affairs (including marriage; 2:18-3:7), unjust civil affairs (3:8-4:19), and unjust church affairs (5:1-9). When believers encounter harsh, unfair circumstances, they are to "seek peace and pursue it" (3:11) and follow the example of Christ and not commit the sin of unrighteous anger and unforgiveness. In unfair circumstances, when we are tempted to become defensive, self-justifying, and retributional toward others, Peter urges us to behave with respect, kindness, and understanding, that is, to reflect a spirit of deference. We are never to accuse, castigate, or intimidate others or threaten them in a rude, patronizing, or contemptuous way. Though we might confront them in a loving way, we are to be accepting, forgiving, and unwilling to hold a grudge.
Wow. Talk about raising the bar. As you can see, Slaughter makes the word "deference" a key to his understanding of the book of 1 Peter. What does the word mean to you? According to Slaughter, it conveys the idea of thoughtful consideration of another person's wishes or desires, a courteous and respectful regard for another's wishes, and a spirit of humility. It does not necessarily connote agreement, passivity, or acquiescence, though it does rule out any thought of retaliation or vindictiveness.
Do Christians ever face unjust circumstances? I imagine only about 99 percent of us! When we are treated unfairly, we should follow Christ's example. That is a hard truth. And believe me, I'm not writing these words for anyone other than myself. Opportunities to show Christ-like deference abound, if we will only take them. This love for one another is crucial. Without it there can be no church. Until the world sees in Christian circles a warmer and more accepting fellowship than anything it can find anywhere else, it is not going to be impressed in the least with all our talk about Jesus and forgiveness.
8:02 AM Shout out and heartiest congratulations to my former Ph.D. student Paul Himes, who will shortly begin teaching at the Baptist College of Ministry in Minnesota. This is a great fit and a gracious provision of our Lord. I love my students -- past, present, and future!
Friday, July 25
8:18 PM Hey folks, I really really appreciate all the recent invitations to join you on LinkedIn and Face Book but, sorry, I don't "do " those. I just sorta focus on doing my un-blog along with sending out "tweets." Awfully kind of you to think of me, though.
7:06 PM I had a couple of hours to kill in Roxboro today so I went to see the movie America by Dinesh D'Souza. It's your basic apologetic for entrepreneurial capitalism but done in a very captivating and professional way.
The producer and co-director is well-known for his social and political conservatism. Since I once lived in that world I could appreciate where he was coming from. As the movie puts it, we fought the Revolutionary War for our creation, the Civil War for our preservation, WWII for our protection, and we are now fighting a political war for our restoration. I'm not much of a D'Souza fan, but this movie was surprisingly good. But its inconsistencies are glaring and they drove me crazy. The main inconsistency is that while the movie argues for "faith, freedom, and family" (and, indirectly, for pom-pom waving Republicanism), it utterly fails to ask the question, "Why in tarnation did God bless our nation so much?" Fortunately, I have wonderful friends who keep reminding me that the Gospel is not the true Gospel unless it is truly sacrificial. The Gospel is not just about "receiving the Lord" or "having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" or "being a good American." As I wrote in my book The Jesus Paradigm, the most fundamental disagreement I have with the religious right in America is in the "bull's eye" we're aiming for. D'Souza's desire is to see more Christians participating in politics in a certain way. Frankly, I think that's a huge mistake. As David Kuo, who served in the George W. Bush White House, puts it in his excellent book Tempting Faith, we Christians can easily become more concerned about "taking America back" than about being the church, the body of Christ in the world, the upside-down kingdom of God. True, America has departed a long way from the ideals of her founding, and that saddens me, but how beautiful it would be if the church followed Jesus' example and said "no" to political power and engaging in political squabbling and power plays. How much is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness worth to you? We race after the American Dream as if it were a commandment of God. How much are eternal souls worth to you? That's what God has called us to consider. What about the millions who are desperately waiting to hear the Gospel in Asia and the Middle East? If affluent and wealthy Americans will not sacrifice what we have to reach the lost, who else on earth can afford to send forth laborers? The whole purpose of the church in this world can be summed up in that one word "sacrifice." That is what the Gospel is really all about. But millions of American Christians are still in spiritual diapers because they have been taught only how to pursue the American Dream rather than practice true love through sacrificial sharing.
When I see a movie, I ask myself two questions: Does it help me fulfill the Great Commission? Will it help bring His kingdom? This should be the acid test of everything we Christians do in life. Judged by this yardstick, I'd have to say that America is an abysmal failure, even though it pays lip service to the Gospel. The one good thing I did come away with after seeing this film was a renewed appreciation for the privilege of living in a nation that is not only awash in financial wealth but is super-saturated with the Gospel. That should lead us to ask ourselves seriously why God has blessed America with these previously unheard-of material and spiritual blessings.
Blessings on you, my fellow Americans!
7:17 AM Hello my intellectual internet friends,
I've got some random thoughts today about what we normally call "preaching." The following quote comes from chapter 3 of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church:
I then add:
Occasionally I will be in a church where a pastor-teacher will conclude the service by saying, "Before we leave, does anyone have a word?" Can't we at least start there? "Teach me. I am teachable." Is that your leaders' attitude? It can be. It must be. Some day, praise God, the church will indeed become the community that the New Covenant promises (see Heb. 8), marked by fraternal instruction. Each one will know the Lord directly, "from the smallest to the greatest" among us. The old, obsolete forms of Judaism will be replaced by new wineskins. This, I argue, is why Paul is so insistent in 1 Cor. 14 that our gatherings by highly participatory. It also explains why he spends so much time instructing us about "body life."
And now, on a totally unrelated note, I've just ordered from Amazon what appears to be a most interesting book called Culture Change in Ethiopia: An Evangelical Perspective, published by those good people at Wipf & Stock. I've also ordered commentaries on Philippians by Fee, Lucado, Carson, and Reumann. Finally, I can't wait to get my hands on the 50th anniversary edition of Williams' famous The New Testament in the Language of the People. Good stuff. My "flesh" may be getting weary in my old age, but my mind and spirit are soaring.
Thursday, July 24
7:40 PM I have been reading a good deal lately about relationships and about how fragile they are. See this picture?
I had no sooner taken the dogs to check the mail when this storm blew in out of nowhere. For many years now I have been witness to a drama that is all too familiar to us mortals. Things change. Relationships change. Some for the better, some for the worse. Someone finds out he has cancer. He and his family get on the medical treadmill, begin the long march, hope is mustered, is rebuffed at almost every turn. Every one of us, at some time in our lives, is dragged into a maelstrom that we never expected to face. It would be terrifying were it not for the presence of the Lord. I'm more aware than ever of my need for Him. Not books about Him. Not even talking to Him. Just Him. Theology is just that simple: The Father loves His children, and He always has their ultimate good in mind. Elementary. A blind man can see it. Yet I have to be reminded of it over and over again. Then comes the hardest work of all -- intercession on behalf of those you love. In my case this means praying for a whole bunch of sons and daughters and grandkids, each unique with their own set of problems and challenges. Yet nearly always it is possible for me to be there to help them, with effort and planning. Because one thing is for certain: If we do not foster our relationships, they will wither and die. If we do not make it a priority to communicate with each other and pray for one another and email and text and call, our relationships will stagnate.
Relationships. So meaningful. Yet so fragile. What are you doing to maintain yours? Let's be honest. Relationships take a lot of work. But they are worth the effort. Recently I was in turmoil about something someone had said to me, and one of my daughters called, reached out to me, not even knowing what I was going through. It didn't matter: she sensed dad needed to be called, so she called. This doesn't always happen, of course. In relationships you always run the risk of being ignored, stepped on at times. But still, love prevails. "The very spring of our actions," wrote the apostle Paul, "is the love of Christ." It is through His love for us that we are constrained to truly love others, friends and foes alike. Even when human relations seem to pose "impossible" difficulties, we can always count on Him.
Aren't you glad?
4:22 PM In other news ... CNN thinks that it might be a good idea to eat dog meat in America, adding perhaps a new twist to the old saying "Wok the dog." I've been to a dog restaurant in Seoul and thought the food was delicious. I've also eaten donkey meat in another Asian country (where it is legal to serve that food). The taste was horrid, and I didn't have the heart to tell the owner that where I live in America, donkeys are usually considered pets (I own two of them). Is there a moral issue here? Probably not. As the CNN essay puts it, "If you befriend it, it's a friend. If you raise it for food, it's food." There's also a third option: our goats have been both friends and food. (Goat has a fabulous taste. I first loved to eat goat meat in Ethiopia.) And, of course, we do our own slaughtering and butchering, so nothing is kept from our eyes.
So read the essay if you have the "stomach" for these kinds of topics. I'd say it's pretty good "food" for thought.
Aren't I terrible?!
10:50 AM Okay, so it's finally done. Read Top 20 Books on the New Testament.
9:08 AM Have you thought about your favorite books on the New Testament yet? I'm currently writing mine down.
9:04 AM Okay, so here's a rabbit trail. I love foreign languages. And one of my favorite foreign language expressions is:
What a great need today. So few of us ever get back to the primary sources of anything we are studying. You can imagine my amazement when I discovered that the early church father Origen -- yes, the same Origen who is quoted by Eusebius as saying, "But who wrote the epistle [to the Hebrews], in truth God knows" -- actually consistently cites the letter as Paul's. Origen was unsure only about the stenographer. (See my Origen on the Authorship of Hebrews.) A parallel construction occurs in Rom. 16:22, where we read that someone named Tertius "wrote" Romans -- Paul, of course, being the author (and authorship is all that really matters in the end).
But back to Ad Fontes. I recall once seeing a blogger translate this phrase as "to the fountain." However, fontes is the accusative plural form of the Latin fons ("spring, fountain, source"). Hence a more accurate rendering would be "to the fountains." The expression was originally used by Renaissance humanists with the meaning "Let's get back to the original sources of truth!" The saying was later picked up by certain of the Reformers. My point is that if you're going to cite foreign language expressions, I assume that you actually know these languages. I assume that if your blog or church name is in Latin, you can read that language. Ditto with Greek. With my own doctoral students, I do not allow foreign language citations in a dissertation unless the student can read that language. Most of my students are required to have an excellent reading knowledge of two modern languages (French and German). I also strongly encourage them to acquire a working knowledge of Latin if at all possible. A bit of Spanish wouldn't hurt either, especially in light of the renaissance in New Testament lexicography currently taking place in Spain.
By the way, one of my favorite blogs has the handle:
I can assure you that this blogger indeed knows Greek, and knows it well!
8:45 AM Some really good news on a cloudy and rainy morning: Meriam Ibrahim has arrived in Rome! If that piece of news doesn't light your fire, your wood is all wet. When I heard it on NPR I literally shouted Hallelujah.
He sure does. Thank you, Lord, for answering the prayers of Your people.
Wednesday, July 23
6:46 PM Just curious: What are your top 20 books on the New Testament? I'll share my list with you later.
10:55 AM My personal assistant and Th.M. student Jacob Cerone sent me this link to the Lexham Discourse Handbooks. Jacob has been helping Steven Runge with 1-2 Thessalonians. Eager to see more samples!
10:45 AM Without further ado, pix from my interview with Abidan Shaw. I think it went well, though who am I to judge such matters. The podcast should be available early next week. Stay tuned....
9:29 AM The abnormally Anabaptist Rob Martin has decided to publish his first book, and no one could be happier than yours truly. As his wife went through her own struggle with cancer, I became an avid reader of his blog. I was flooded with encouragement. And now he has taken those blog posts and made them into a book.
Thank you, Rob, for being willing to be transparent so that others might benefit. So much is distilled in our suffering, not the least of which is wisdom for living. I look forward to buying and reading the book, and passing it on to others.
8:35 AM Just went to the seminary website to see the pictures of the students in my beginning Greek class this fall. One of them was proudly displaying the Hawaiian shaka sign. Smart man. Guaranteed a passing grade, for sure.
7:23 AM This and that ...
1) Students, I will be on campus next Monday should you desire to meet. My office door is always open.
2) Ph.D. students, I should have the syllabus for our Philippians seminar completed and posted to Moodle on Monday also. Please check the seminary website then.
3) My book on Robert E. Lee never arrived. I had gone through a book seller who lists on Amazon. I will never again use that seller. Amazon gave me a full refund. Hooray for Amazon!
4) Today I am being interviewed about my new book, It's All Greek to Me: Confessions of an Unlikely Academic for a new podcast called "Hoi Polloi" at radio station WLUS-FM in Oxford, NC. I'll let you know when the podcast will go live.
5) Arthur Sido was kind enough to review Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. He thinks I missed one!
6) Read Stop abusing Philippians 4:13. I'm not sure I agree with the author. What do you think?
Tuesday, July 22
6:08 PM So, I've got lots of pans on the fire. Then why in the world did I go and accept an invitation to write an essay for a Festschrift? Somebody hit me with the stupid stick for sure! Long ago I decided I'd let the young bucks write the essays and journal articles. I've paid my dues. But I just couldn't pass this one up. In the first place, it's on a subject that is very dear to my heart. And in the second place, how do you refuse to honor a colleague with whom you co-founded an international journal several years ago? (My co-dependent tendencies are getting the better of me, I suppose.) But I'm not done whining yet. If you are ever traveling in these here United States by plane, you will want to stay away from yours truly. I must have the hex. Last Thursday I got stuck in Charlotte because a ground stop had been declared in Dallas (severe weather). And then, on my return trip, my flight to Charlotte was delayed because of a ground stop in Charlotte (you guessed it: severe weather). I don't expect you to feel sorry for me, but I do expect US AIR to be able to rebook flights automatically (like Delta) rather than having their passengers stand in long lines to speak to an agent. This is the 21st century, ain't it!!??
For what it's worth, here's the abstract for my essay, in both English and Spanish. In the meantime, I gotta go and clean the kitchen.
12:18 PM Quote of the day (Jon Glass):
10:38 AM Hey guys and gals! I need your feedback. Please read this first:
This suggestion just arrived in my inbox. What do you think?
10:15 AM Can I share with you another picture from my Dallas trip? As you can probably guess, it has to do with Becky. Grieving means letting go. It means moving on. But it does not mean not caring anymore. It does not mean blocking out the memories of your loved one. Remembering is a precious gift from God. It's something I'm doing all the time. Thus, when Becky's parents were discussing where to go for Sunday dinner, I didn't even have to think about it. "Let's go to Luby's Cafeteria so that I can get chicken fried steak in her memory!"
Here's the back story. Every Sunday after attending Grace Bible Church, Becky's grandfather would invite the entire extended family to dinner at Luby's. Sometimes there would be upwards of 45 people there. After becoming part of the family, I too attended and noticed that Becky always ordered the same meal. It quickly became my favorite too. Hence my meal on Sunday:
I know it all sounds silly, but this was my small way of honoring her memory, of saying "thank you" for her companionship.
Friend, are you grieving the loss of a loved one today? You will always have stories to tell about them. Telling these stories is a wonderful way to celebrate their life. You're writing a biography as it were. You are now your beloved's historian. And it's not just about the big events in their life. It's about all those little things that went into making them -- them. Your biography is everything you saw and knew about that person. It's a very precious thing, this biography you are writing. On Sunday I wrote another little vignette in my biography of Becky's life. It's a small part of her I never want to forget. And even though I am sharing it now with you, I'm not really writing for you. It's for me most of all. Fellow griever, God is not trying to rush us through this process. Give yourself permission to remember. Those tiny displays of humanity; those little remembrances; those crazy ideas you have; those desires to relive happy experiences -- God accepts them all. So as you live with grief as your constant companion, take time to "go back," if not physically then in your heart and mind. It just might do you some good.
Your friendly grief counselor.
9:22 AM Hi folks. Hope you had a great weekend. Mine was sweet-tastik! My daughters always remind me when it's been too long since I've updated my blog, but I had a very good reason for taking a break. On Friday, Becky's mom and dad had a celebration dinner in Dallas for their wedding anniversary, and I decided to fly in for the occasion. It was a delightful weekend. Here are the newly-weds (62 years) in all of their splendor:
We drove to the lake and dined in a 5-star restaurant. We ate Ethiopian food.
We enjoyed fellowship at Grace Bible Church where Becky and I were married in 1976. While in Dallas I stopped by the Ethiopian Evangelical Baptist Church in Dallas. I gave pastor Bedilu a copy of Confessions of an Unlikely Academic to help him sleep at night. Bedilu graduated from SEBTS in 2011 and actually remembers being in our home and Becky serving him dinner!
And now for a couple of serendipities.
(1) I saw it again during my trip to the Big D: A church sign with the best translation of ekklesia ever: "Community."
Hey folks, can't we just get rid of "church" once and for all? Of course, that might be a problem if your congregation is called "Raleigh Community Church"!
(2) This was waiting for me when I returned home last night. Already half gone. Thanks Nate and Jess!
(3) Just received the page proofs for my article on "Greek" for the Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception, to be published by de Gruyter later this year. Here's the opening paragraph:
Oh well, thanks for tuning in anyway. It's crazy, this blogging thing: sharing your life with complete strangers. (Hello, strangers!) Stay tuned, because I'll have a lot more in the days ahead.
Unless I'm traveling, of course.
Thursday, July 17
7:43 AM This and that ...
1) Writers take note: Distractions weaken your words. I wrote so much yesterday that even my words got tired.
2) Traveling to Ethiopia? Here's the greeting cadence.
3) John Piper's son on the dysfunction and conflict of his upbringing.
4) A very happy 62nd anniversary to Becky's parents, Brad and Betty Lapsley!
5) Some Island braddahs.
Hawaii no ka oe!
Wednesday, July 16
7:22 PM Go here to read a tear-jerker of a story.
5:55 PM The concept of "finishing well" has been the center of my thought life the past year or so, as you all well know. Thus I was so encouraged, while having lunch with one of my daughters today, that she seemed to think she noticed a major change in my emails to her and the family. "You seem to be doing so much better, dad." And she is right. I do feel I am doing better. Disruption, confusion, despair, inability to concentrate -- there are many faces of grief. Tears cloud your vision. Your mind can't sleep. Prior to the death of your spouse, your life was going in one direction. Now it seems like everything has changed. You continue to be the same person you were before, but your life will never again be what it was before. There's a hole in your life that only one person can fill, and she's not here. But here's what I have been discovering: You are still the same person, you're just traveling in a new direction. There is a "new normal." God still has a good plan for your life, but it's different from the one you've been used to for so long. I call it "Plan B."
By this I do not mean that Plan B is in any way inferior to Plan A. It's just not the one that you planned for your life. It's like passing through uncharted waters. But ever-so-gradually, those waters become more and more familiar. You begin to have more good days than bad ones. Your faith is stronger, too. You're taking baby steps to go on with your life. Little things that you once took for granted now mean the world to you: rain showers and salt water and fluted mountain ranges -- and lots and lots of love. You are beginning to heal, and you wouldn't have it any other way. The same God who makes sure that each chirping bird is fed daily cares for you. Even if the future is uncertain, you know, just know, that His new plan for your life is good because He is good.
My daughters have helped me to see this. Though they've never exactly put it into words, I can see it in their loving eyes: The God who took mom to heaven will fill your emptiness, dad. Let go and free yourself to move on. You're on your way Home. Yes, the homeward journey has been re-routed a bit, but one day you'll say hello again. Mom just went to the banquet table before you, that's all, dad.
I will always remember Becky. I remember the good as well as the bad, the happy times and the sad times. But it's beginning to be more of a historical remembering than an emotional tie. I'm beginning, just beginning, to invest the emotional energy I've spent grieving in other places.
Move on? Definitely.
All glory to God.
3:28 PM Just a brief word about the nature of this blog. (I'm using "brief" in the sense Einstein would: relatively.) As I put it to a pastor friend in Hawaii, "My blog can best be summed up in the words of 1 Cor. 14:3." Here Paul says that "the one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them." Every time I hit the "send" button to upload a blog post, I ask myself, "Is what I have written either edifying, encouraging, comforting, or all three?"
The internet is awesome. For just a few bucks a month you can write practically anything you want to write and be read by practically anybody in the world. Please pray with me. Pray that my blog will be a source of inspiration to people who need it. Pray that it will lift up our awesome God. Pray that people who read it will go away saying to themselves, "Wow, what God has in store for me is more than I could ever imagine in my wildest dreams."
I'm ready to see God do great things.
3:16 PM Had a good discussion in Hawaii about the importance of elders in a local church. Not long ago my church "ordained" our three elders. But what is ordination? It is not the conferring of special grace (as in Catholicism). It is simply the setting apart, the commissioning, the consecrating to a particular ministry in the church. As such, ordination is not in contradiction with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. In the body of Christ there is a principle of equality with functional differences -- without being hierarchical. From a scriptural perspective, a better word might be "dedication" or "consecration." Since all ministers in the body have the same purpose -- to serve Christ in the ministry of reconciliation -- all believers are to be dedicated or consecrated to their tasks. The danger we must avoid is to give the false impression that only these three men are somehow "in ministry." In Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 we find lists of the spiritual gifts that the risen Christ has given to the church "for the work of ministry." The basic idea of ordination in early Christianity was not transference of authority but conferring a blessing and petitioning for divine favor. Because the church is a priesthood of all believers, the recognized ministry is a representative ministry. To belong to this representative ministry, it is the call that is important and not any rite of ordination.
Elders are overseers, but as members of the body of Christ they no doubt also have individual gifts that vary -- teaching, administration, etc. They are shepherds but, like the rest of us, they are also sheep. They are, as Phil. 1:2 reminds, not over the church but extensions of the church. Thus, from the beginning of church history, ordination has never been a cardinal doctrine of the church. Service is what the church is all about -- and all of us are to be servants of Christ. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers would suggest that our elders should view themselves first and foremost as co-members of the body, under the authority of Christ. Together, leaders and led alike are unified in a Christ-centered and Spirit-filled ministry. In such a setting, ministry does not create a hierarchical organization. The total ministry is the body of Christ, and He alone remains the Head of the church.
2:43 PM "Our little time of suffering is not worthy of our first night's welcome home in Heaven." -- Joni.
10:48 AM The perfect bed and breakfast in Kailua: The Lilikoi Cottage.
I highly recommend it if you're ever vacationing in the Islands. Only a block from the beach too. Beats Waikiki any day!
10:18 AM "One thing is supremely important; that all minister, and that nowhere is to be perceived a separation, or even merely a distinction, between those who do and those who do not minister, between the active and passive members of the body, between those who give and those who receive. There exists in the Ecclesia a universal duty and right of service, a universal readiness to serve, and at the same time the greatest possible differentiation of functions." -- Emil Brunner (The Misunderstanding of the Church, p. 50).
Tuesday, July 15
2:35 PM I'm back home after taking a much-needed break from my work and my insatiable obsession with writing. Not surprisingly, the Lord had some wonderful surprises in store for me when I arrived in Hawaii last Monday. I still find the Islands uniquely enchanting. At the same time, Hawaii is changing, and not for the better (in my opinion). For one thing, Oahu is sinking under a mass of people and automobiles. As I see it, urban sprawl has invaded the island like a cancer. Kailua, my "quant little" home town, is so crowded it is barely possible to find a parking place. Then there's the housing crisis. When I was in high school I lived in an apartment down town. Today these apartments have been replaced by brand new buildings in which a one-bedroom condo starts at $700,000. Does that leave room for anybody trying to pay a mortgage to have any fun at the beach? I don't see how it does. But hey, I'm not here to complain! The bed and breakfast I stayed at was absolutely phenomenal. I spent every day surfing, and the waves happened to be really good. I surfed in the morning, swam laps, then surfed in the afternoon. Do you see how totally pathetic I am? Sure, I missed family and farm, but as compensation I enjoyed great physical stimulation.
Ministry-wise, my friends at Calvary Chapel did a great job of organizing our myth conference on Saturday, and the Sunday meetings were a real blessing. The Lord led me to bring an evangelistic message (which is rare for me -- I usually just teach on Sundays), and He brought over 18 people into His kingdom. For a God who has saved untold millions of people through the ages, this is an infinitesimally small number, but it is also beautiful, and He gets all the glory. As I met with pastors and others in the churches, I realized there is a need for people like me to do training in the Islands. As you probably know, I'm doing this already in several foreign countries. I told them I'm willing to come alongside their churches and help in any way I can. Which means I have a problem. I think there is work for me to do in Hawaii, but I have no idea how I can fit it into my hectic schedule. I have a hunch this will mean at least one trip there every year. I honestly would love to be more involved with training "my" people, and I appreciate the eagerness I saw among the pastors for more training, especially in the biblical languages.
Anyways, there's a trillion things I could discuss, but I'll just annotate a few photos and then take a long nap. My deepest thanks to all of you who prayed for me and sent me emails. Like I said before, I had no idea what to expect when I left for Oahu. I found myself just having an old-fashioned good time and not thinking too much about the past or the future. I felt so much at home there, and I think it had more to do with the first 19 years of my life than the past 7 days. It's not the first time I've felt a love for my Hawaiian ohana, and I pray it won't be the last. The bottom line is that despite Becky's absence everything is still right in my world. I find myself more in awe than ever with God's amazing creation, even though it's fallen. So here I am, back from the Islands, dazed after spending the night on a plane and amazed that God still has a good plan for my life. For all of this, I count myself blessed among men.
1) Kailua as seen from the Pali Lookout.
2) Famous (and treacherous) Mount Olomana. I hiked it several times as a youth.
3) My elementary school. It was on this field that I played "Taps" before the assembled student body when JFK was assassinated. I was only in the sixth grade.
4) "My" house in Kailua.
5) The infamous paddle (that was on occasion applied to my rear end at Kailua Intermediate School) in retirement behind glass. My offense? Drawing caricatures of my teachers in class.
6) Kailua is famous for its Chinese food. My favorite dish growing up was crisp gau gee mein with vegetables.
7) Anybody want to buy a "cheap" condo in Kailua?
8) Enjoying my second childhood.
9) Below is the vice-principal of Kailua High School. My graduating class in 1970 numbered 1,000. Now the entire student body numbers 800. As she told me, "If you can afford to live in Kailua, you can afford to send your children to private school." In this photo I had just given her a copy of my Confessions of an Unlikely Academic. We talked about me coming back to speak at commencement next May. Now wouldn't that be something.
10) First Baptist Church Windward. I was saved in this congregation and here I served until I went off to Biola in 1971.
11) Hawaii is known for its plate lunches. My favorite is two scoop rice, mac salad, and teriyaki chicken.
12) Yes, I'm enjoying myself!
13) My local Calvary Chapel buddies: pastor Charles (left) and pastor Felix (right). One Hawaiian, one Filipino/Chinese.
14) A Samoan brother.
15) Teaching at the men's barbeque on Sunday afternoon. I tried to show them how to judge the accuracy of their Bible translations.
Monday, July 7
3:53 AM If I had my life to do over again:
I'd have written more poetry and drawn more pictures.
I'd have read the Bible more and books about the Bible less.
I would take the first move in reconciliation.
I would pick more roses and place them in vases.
I would travel lighter than I have.
I'd have tried to make more friends, people dedicated to helping make others' dreams come true.
I would be sillier than I have been.
I wouldn't have skipped so many classes to go surfing.
I would have doubted more greatly so as to be able to believe more deeply.
I would have loved Becky more selflessly.
I would have held fewer grudges.
I would be less rude.
I would have had a higher regard for singleness.
I would have pulled out and read my high school year book.
I would have picked up more hitchhikers.
I would more easily have admitted my absolute worst before God.
I would have picked my friends more carefully.
I would have uttered fewer pious clichés.
I would have said No to the lie of low-self-esteem.
I would have stopped trying to win the wrong contests.
Thankfully, I still have my whole life ahead of me. When I begin to feel hindered by my age or limitations, I can remind myself that these are not concerns to God. He can use my life in gigantic, extraordinary ways if I'm willing to trust Him with the very ordinary things of life. The Bible says that God "will never fail you nor abandon you." He's with us each and every day, from here to eternity. I needn't be afraid or discouraged. I need only to follow Him. And that can mean a very radical way of living.
Well, it's time to rest up, to celebrate, to remember, to serve ... and to ponder the future. The mountains I still face? They're nothing but what Chuck Swindoll calls "great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations." The Lord's return is near. It's time to "make the most of every opportunity" and to be about the Father's business. Soon and very soon we will be asked to give an account for our lives. Each day is therefore valuable. Let's make the most of them!
Mahalo and much aloha,
Sunday, July 6
4:43 PM Thanks to all who have written such wonderful words of encouragement. Here's only the latest. Thank you again.
3:50 PM I am very much looking forward to having some good friends farm sit for me while I'm gone. They've even agreed to finish a few projects I've started. At the same time, I'm praying that their time here will provide some R & R from the restful rushing of life. Farms are good for that, you know :)
Meanwhile, I just finished packing my checked luggage, mostly myth books that I will make available at the Myth of Adolescence Conference next Saturday. I never put my Greek New Testament in my checked bags; it's much too valuable. It stays on my person at all times. I see the temps will be in the mid-80s on Oahu all next week, with the possibility of a few light showers on the weekend. I plan to take lots of pix of course, including the sunrise at Kailua Beach facing the Mokulua Islands. God loves to create such marvelous vistas, doesn't He?
Oh, did I tell you I'm staying only a block from the beach and a block from the first house I lived in when we moved to Kailua from Honolulu in 1955? There is just no way I can express the beauty of Kailua. But I'll certainly try when I get back.
Can you spell unbelievable?
2:12 PM More odds and ends ...
1) Received this from Oahu today:
One of the unexpected blessings of Becky's passing was getting reacquainted with my Hawaiian roots. It all started when my good friend from my Biola days Don Stewart began emailing me with words of encouragement. That led to an invitation to speak at Calvary Chapel Tustin in February. But even prior to that, Don kindly arranged for me to speak at Cavalry Chapel West Oahu during my visit to Hawaii in December. And now it's nothing for me to get emails from the Islands from my long lost ohana there. Look back over the way God has brought you from where you were to where you are today. There have been a few delightful surprises along the way, wouldn't you say? You've made new friends and gotten reconnected with past ones. When I look back at my time growing up in Hawaii, so much seaweed clogs the memories. The good old days seem long forgotten. But if we look forward -- alas! Thoughts of the future are filled with hope and new life. I'm going "home," and by George I'm going to frolic!
2) Had a wonderful Lord's Supper today. God knows we're all worms. He knew what we'd get into by sinning. Still, He has made provision for us. We lay many traps for ourselves when we forget just how sinful we are and just how badly we need a Savior. Little wonder that the Lord Jesus never invited anyone to His table. "Do this," He commanded, "in remembrance of Me." God is the one who takes personal responsibility for our salvation. What a glorious thought!
And our part? All we have to do is declare our bankruptcy. The simple fact is that today I saw Jesus, I really saw Him! I saw my absent-yet-present Savior whom all creation praises at all times -- the sun and the stars and the moon and the wind and the seraphim and the sparrows -- and I saw Him high and lifted up, my risen, ruling, returning Lord, even though I was not feeling terribly spiritual today, even though words of praise did not spring spontaneously from my lips. Still He was there, and I worshiped Him, That all my powers, with all their might/In Thy sole glory may unite. Praise God for the blessing of the bread and the cup.
3) As Jason was teaching today, I thought to myself, I am so grateful for the Scriptures. In them we have the answers to life. We have the only perfect frame of reference for all of our questions. The Bible is there when we need reproof, it's there when we need correction, it's there when we need comfort. How kind of God to grant us His word, and how necessary that we give it a first hearing and allow it to shape our thinking.
4) Finally, I wept at Becky's grave today, thinking of that time when a martyr died in the early church, when "devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him."
When Moses died the people of Israel wept for him for thirty days. And so today I wept tears of sorrow and tears of joy, grateful for a life lived out in obedience, whatever that obedience entailed. I am sure there are much worse ways to lose a spouse than from death. How much more painful the wounds of rejection and unfaithfulness. My faith is far from being Exhibit A of what faith should look like, but I have tried to maintain a thankful heart toward God throughout this ordeal. Even when there are lapses and failures, our God understands perfectly what we are going through.
Friend, whatever dark tunnel God is asking you to walk through today, He has been there. Faith is not ignoring the heartache. It's a choice to thank God and obey His word even in the absence of feelings. Lay hold on His character, for He will never fail you.
8:32 AM This and that ...
1) Good read here: On "Courage" in the (Christian) Academy. It costs nothing to tow the party line, whether you are a conservative or a non-conservative. But dare go against the status quo and -- well, it's a fallen world out there. But the fact is, you don't have to "win." You don't have to play "king of the hill." Just speak the truth as you see it.
2) Mike Bird enters the discussion about international biblical scholarship. His suggestion that we in the West try harder to involve scholars from the Majority World in our writing projects is well taken. He also suggests that more of our Western books need to be translated into other languages for easier use by foreign nationals. As one who has had several of his books translated into such languages as Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, and Mandarin, I can certainly agree with this suggestion. But I have a fundamental disagreement with this notion, on a deeper level. In my opinion, it is time we took English off the pedestal where we have placed it and begin encouraging foreign scholars to produce original works of theology in their own languages. I think both China and Ethiopia are on the verge of seeing this happen. Men and women trained with doctorates in the West are surely capable of writing volumes on the biblical languages, theology, church history, Christian education, etc. Finally, Mike raises the troublesome issue of the expense of bringing a foreign national to study in the West. He writes:
This is all well and good. But might I suggest another solution? What if every New Testament scholar in North America sponsored at least one international student to enroll in their institution? That is, we would pay for their airfare, tuition, and room and board for the three years it takes to earn their masters or doctorate. Even better, why not have that student live in our homes with us for those three years where they can be mentored one-on-one? You say, That would involve a lot of sacrifice on my part! And you would be correct. It does take a great deal of sacrifice to sponsor a foreign national. But it can be done.
3) The latest issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society contains a must-read essay by my former Talbot colleague Klaus Issler called "Exploring the Pervasive References to Work in Jesus' Parables." When I first read the title I thought Klaus was talking about "works," as in "good works." But no, his essay explores work-related references within the teachings of Jesus. Among his conclusions? The concept of work is included in 32 of 37 parables (86%). That's a lot! Moreover, notes Klaus, Jesus Himself devoted about 20 years of His life working as a builder/contractor. That's six times as long as His public ministry! Klaus concludes that:
I already knew that Paul had a high work ethic (see my The Thessalonian Road to Self-Support). Now I think I know where he derived it. I'm going to be coming back to this essay again and again. I will use it the next time I teach the life of Christ at SEBTS. I never thought one could glean so much information from studying Jesus' work ethic. Bravo!
4) "Change cannot be managed; it must be led." (Will Willimon.)
5) Sure hope this doesn't happen on my flight to Hawaii!
Saturday, July 5
6:13 PM Meet Francisco. He's one of the servers at the Mexico Viejo Grill in town.
More than that, he's a brother in the Lord. I shared with him about my trip next week and asked him to pray for me. He said, "It's good that you asked for prayer, hermano. Unless the Holy Spirit comes upon you in a very special way, your teaching will be useless." He is so right! Paul often asked other people to pray for him. Like Daniel (Dan. 2:18), he felt the need for prayer. "Brothers and sisters, pray for us!" (1 Thess. 5:25) was his constant plea.
Pray for me, please, that my messages would come not only in word but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in full conviction that what I am saying is the absolute truth. Gracias!
2:30 PM Yesterday it was an officer pushing over a paraplegic in a wheelchair. (Yes, he had been goaded, but was that an excuse for what he did?) Today it's a CHP officer punching a woman lying on the ground. (Was his use of force excessive? You decide. Go to CNN online to watch the videos if you like.) One would think that law enforcement personnel are taught how to deal with uncooperative, non-violent citizens and how to deescalate unstable situations. Maybe they are. Maybe these are exceptions to the rule. All this is a mere reminder that we live in a very fallen world, so it is not surprising that we find these kinds of situations. Each one of us can be pushed beyond the limits of self-control if we are not very careful. I recall how Paul and Silas, even though they were Roman citizens, were beaten by the constables in Philippi. The next morning the praetors sent the lictors to tell the jailor, "Release those men." And Paul's response? Are you kidding me? You beat us publicly without a trial, men who are Romans, and now you are trying to get rid of us secretly? Not on your life! You come and lead us out! What in the world was Paul doing? It's all very simple. Justice had been trampled on; the law had been violated by its would-be defenders. The honor of the missionaries demanded that they be officially vindicated. I am so proud of the police chief of Lafayette, Indiana, when he saw that a citizen's basic human rights had been violated by one of his officers. (Go here to see his official response.) What an honorable man. Thank God for law-abiding law enforcement officials like him. I am sure they are in the vast majority.
10:24 AM It's now been 8 months since we laid Becky to rest. Wasn't it just yesterday? If you've been reading from the beginning, you know how my heart broke when Becky died. In the interim, God has been teaching me a very important lesson: Don't complain about what you don't have; instead, be thankful for what you do have. I have never seen so clearly God's provision at Becky's home-going as I do right now. She died on a Saturday morning. We were able to have the viewing that very night at the local funeral home and the memorial service at the seminary chapel the very next afternoon. These were provisions of the Lord. Even as Becky slipped from this world into the next, God was not silent. He was not idle. He was taking care of a million little details, laboring tirelessly on behalf of those who were left behind. I recall having to decide whether or not to have an open casket at the viewing. Becky's body had been worn by years of cancer and the last few weeks of her life on earth were horrifying. But an open casket it was. Somehow I found relief in seeing her face one last time in a setting different from her sick room. I said my goodbyes, looking into a face free from pain. I could see the real Becky, the Becky I knew for most of our 37 years together: her strong features, her beautiful lips, her noble face. This was a ritual that we needed, that we all needed. C. S. Lewis once commented about the significance of ritual. "It is a pattern imposed," he said, "on the mere flux of our feelings by reason and will, which renders pleasures less fugitive and griefs more endurable...." It was right and proper that those who knew and loved my precious wife should be able to grieve over her body. Crude and primeval emotions sprung up as we gave her back to God in death. We looked on "the earthly house of her tabernacle," the body in which we had all known her, and gave silent thanks, thanks for the life she lived and for the God she served, knowing that because of His goodness and grace hers was a body that was resurrectible.
I am going to Hawaii partly to minister but mostly to remember, to remember the place where two bodies and souls were united on a honeymoon long ago and where palm trees and sunsets swallowed up our cares. I have now spent 8 months without her, full of unbearable pain and joy and life and little deaths and learning and much love. I don't know how I will handle the memories when I arrive back home in Kailua. But that's okay. Nobody said this was going to be easy. So I'm going to do the only thing that makes sense: I'm going to do what everyone does in the Islands and just flow.
The death of a spouse is a pill I didn't want to swallow. But as with everything God plans for our lives, we accept and move on. I think this is called obedience, and it is not easy. But I know it's going to be good. On Monday I will board a plane in Atlanta and 9 hours later I will be back in Paradise. I think it's going to be awesome.
9:16 AM Still the greatest sport around.
8:23 AM Once again, I see that I have become the source of unending consternation to my ever-loyal reading public. As soon as I commit an egregious faux pas, my inbox fills. Blackberries, Dave, not blueberries! I should know the difference. Just snapped this pic of the BLUEberry bushes in our backyard.
Anyhoo, two things:
1) I think I'll leave my reference to "blueberries" in yesterday's post as a perpetual memorial to my senility.
2) In the future, just know that whenever I say "blueberries," I really meant to say "blackberries." It's like when our kids were small and we told them to do something, and they would do something completely different. "Don't do what I said, do what I meant!" was our reply.
In jest, of course.
Friday, July 4
5:48 PM Vanilla ice cream smothered with blueberries.
What a great topper to a wonderful day.
5:36 PM Woohoohoohoo! Today's surf report from Kailua shows swells of 4-5 feet, bigger than Diamond Head and Waikiki even.
My gills have sprouted and I'm ready!
5:28 PM As we are enjoying our freedoms, others are suffering. Please join me in remembering those who are in prison for the cause of Christ. The latest news may be found here.
4:37 PM Quote of the day (James Douglass, The Non-Violent Cross):
8:38 AM And now, on a totally unrelated note, I've been inundated by emails from people thinking I should give prayerful thought to doing my own translation of the New Testament, as crazy an idea as that sounds (at least to me). To whit:
My heart is strangely warmed and unusually disturbed by these comments. What a great challenge this project would be. Who is adequate for these things? In any event, I've decided to rough out a translation of the book of Philippians while I'm loafing on the beach in Kailua. Just me and my Greek New Testament. What a crazy life I live!
Keep thinking, growing, and loving!
8:16 AM In his latest blog post, Larry Hurtado reflects on the need for the Western church to support scholars in "developing" countries. Please read this excellent post. As you know, one of my goals in life is to support graduate theological education in the Majority/Emerging World. In the past 10 years I've made 17 trips to Ethiopia for teaching. In the past 4 years I've made 7 trips to Asia for the same purpose. (I'll be back there in September.) This November I will make my fourth trip to Ukraine. I've been to Armenia twice. I could go on and on. The frustrating thing to me is that many of us Western scholars are quick to talk about the needs but slow to meet them. I'll give you but one example, hitch-hiking off this quote by Hurtado:
Inadequate libraries? Yep. And the solution? I've got one. You ready? Cull your personal theological library at least once a year and send the books to where they are needed the most. This has been my practice for years. In fact, I have seriously embarrassed myself when people have visited my Wake Forest office. "Why, your library is so small!" Yes it is, and that is intentional. Why should I hoard books when I can use the excellent library on campus?
So I have a challenge. I want to challenge my colleagues in academia to donate at least 25 books from their personal library to a library in the emerging world. Pay the postage yourself. Do it this summer before the semester gets going and you get too busy. The needs are real. But we have the goods. The only question is: do we have the willingness?
7:56 AM I am saddened to see that my good friend and co-editor Allan Bevere has stopped blogging. Thankfully, the hiatus will apparently be a temporary one. Allan wrote on his blog yesterday:
I feel his frustration. But it springs from hope, as it must. Frustration has led me to wonder whether the church can ever be restored to her original (apolitical) purpose. But there is hope when I read the blogs of men like Allan. Years ago Jacque Ellul warned us that the greatest danger to liberty in Western society proceeds from the military-political state born of a dream of utopian perfection on earth. It seems clear to me that Ellul has touched on something of very great importance. As one who rejected out of hand the para-Marxist realism of my practical theology professors in Basel, I find it just as easy to part company with those on the theological right who argue that evangelicals should inject Christianity into politics. A close reading of the Gospels would show that the opposite is true. Neither Jesus nor His disciples ever engaged in or showed any interest in politics. Our Lord refused to be the political liberator of Israel. I fully agree with the Anabaptists that the state is meant to be secular and that a dualism exists between church and state, between political power and the proclamation of the Gospel. There is in my opinion neither "Christian" liberalism nor "Christian" conservatism. Equally valid (or invalid) perspectives can be found on both sides, but there are no Christian grounds for preferring one side over the other. If Jesus was a capitalist (or a socialist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian), I fail to see anywhere in the Gospels where He has made that known to us. The fact is that political loyalties are always relative and determined for purely individual and conscience reasons.
Today, Allan added this addendum to his post of yesterday:
Allan seeks simply to set forth what Scripture teaches and what history illustrates about the church. I don't know if he is an inerrantist, but he takes the biblical record seriously as God's authoritative revelation. I remain indebted to him, as do so many others. Our understanding of both Scripture and culture, by and large, remains far too shallow. We must therefore be willing to learn from brothers and sisters who care deeply about the church. Allan's is one such voice.
Allan, know that you are loved and your blog is appreciated. Enjoy your moratorium but please don't stay away too long.
7:42 AM "The evangelical subculture, which prizes conformity above all else, doesn’t suffer rebels gladly, and it is especially intolerant of anyone with the temerity to challenge the shibboleths of the Religious Right." Randall Balmer.
7:28 AM And the winner is....
Richard of Elmira, NY
The correct answer was, of course, former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany.
Thursday, July 3
9:18 PM Opens Christmas Day:
9:06 PM "Weariness after the battle is bone-deep and long-lived." Great quote from Robertson's biography of A. P. Hill.
9:02 PM So far I've not received the correct answer to our "name the face" game. So I'll give you a hint:
8:56 PM The life of a country redneck! Here are the donks. "Daddy, pleeeease can we have a carrot? Pleeeease!" Would I indulge them like that?
Then there are the dogs: "Daddy, will you pleeeease take us for a walk? Pleeeease?"
Well, maybe just this once ....
Oh, I just booked my flights to Odessa, Ukraine. I'll be there from Nov. 21-28, Lord willing. My hosts are the good people at the Odessa Theological Seminary. The teaching time will be highly focused. They are bringing together under one roof all of the Greek and hermeneutics teachers from the various seminaries in Ukraine to take a three-day intensive with me. I am very much looking forward to seeing my old friends and making many new ones. I get to hold 4 sessions daily, Tuesday through Thursday, with these teachers. And imagine this -- I get to teach in English without a translator. Woohoo!
Prayers much appreciated!
12:52 PM Have you ever seen these?
I can't help but think that the Lord is asking me to do the same thing, to provide my own translation of the New Testament, trying to bring out the various nuances as I see them in the Greek text. It chased me down this morning, this reality of doing something like this, or at least giving it a whack. I'll say it again -- I don't know if I'm up to it. It was challenging enough when I did the ISV New Testament base translation 20 years ago. I find myself overwhelmed just at the thought of doing this. But I know that God still has writing plans for me. So I'm praying about it. It would be quite a project -- incredibly satisfying and difficult and rewarding and challenging, all at the same time. Oh, to converse again with the Greek text, just me and it, not as a matter of study or devotion but as a willingness to allow God to speak to and through me. So I sit here at my computer desk, pondering. Pray for me, that I would see this through God's eyes and not just my own. That's it, isn't it? To see all of life through His eyes, to do what He asks us to do and equips us to do.
10:08 AM One final "name the face" contest to win a free copy of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. This may be a tough one. I'll announce the winner tomorrow morning. If there is more than one correct answer, I'll pick the winner from a hat.
10:02 AM Working on the syllabus for my Ph.D. seminar on Philippians this fall. I think my students will like it.
7:05 AM Has your car been recalled yet? Taking the Honda Odyssey in this morning. Yes, things do go wrong.
6:55 AM James Robertson's General A. P. Hill: The Story of a Confederate Warrior is a masterpiece.
New things I've learned from just the first few chapters:
Wish I could write like that!
Wednesday, July 2
8:32 PM "God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him." Jim Elliott.
8:28 PM Am about to scarf down a plate of stir-fried pork over a bed of steaming hot rice, then start reading a new biography of A. P. Hill. #Life is good.
(Does this count as a tweet?)
2:46 PM Oh! I see there's a men's barbeque coming up a week from Sunday.
And lookie where it is too! Cavalry Chapel West Oahu. I love Hawaiian barbeque so I think I'll attend!
2:01 PM Just swam my laps again. Gettin' ready for the huge surf at Kailua Beach -- two to three footers (haha)!
8:25 AM And the winners, chosen randomly, are Alfie and Michael. Their comments are as follows:
1) It is hard to choose which book of
yours is my favorite. I have decided to take a practical approach.
Linguistics for Students for New Testament Greek has been very
useful to me as a teacher.
2) I think you should take three or four of your NT sermons that you think are most important for the church. Start with the text and take us through every step of your exegesis narrating why you made the decisions you did. Then in the end include the sermon text. That way we, the students, can see the entire process of the master - that's you.
1) My favorite book of yours is Christian Archy. I was a history major in college and have always loved politics, especially presidential history. This book challenged me to rethink what the church's role is in political process. Our primary aim is not legislating morality but proclaiming the gospel!
2) I would love to see you write on the issue of pastoral ministry from a practical point of view. Specifically, how do pastors/elders wed a passion for biblical theology and the Great Commission with life in what is often a very ordinary ministry setting. My observation is that much of evangelical Christianity lives in the megachurch world where pastors are more or less celebrities. I feel as if we are inundated by this perspective of local church ministry when the reality is that most pastors spend their lives and ministries in small churches. This is something that I have been wrestling with personally and I believe many other pastors struggle with this same issue.
Your books are going out in today's mail. Thanks to everyone who played along. I enjoyed reading your comments!
Tuesday, July 1
9:49 PM This just came in:
Mistake noted, correction made.
8:36 PM Tonight, while trying to decide which Civil War reenactment to participate in this year, I've been going through our old pictures of past events. Here's a blast from the past. Now that thar's one purdy couple, wouldn't you say?
Nathan called the dance that night and boy did he call a good one. My daughters: no one could dance the waltz like your mother.
Man do I miss her.
7:20 PM Odds and ends:
1) A good friend who lives in Oxford (NC, not England) wrote to tell me about a lecture to be given next Monday at the Oxford public library. The speak is Billy Yeargin and his topic is "Robert E. Lee: The Autumn of His Life." It begins at 12:00 noon. I'll have to miss it (flying to Hawaii) but it sure sounds like a good lecture to me.
2) On "The People's Pharmacy" (NPR) last week, a North Carolina Nutritionist bemoaned the state's "low fat food" and "high fat people." He concluded by suggesting two ways we can all cut down on our calorie intake, and I thought they were fantastic. He said, whenever you go out to eat, either (1) buy only one meal and share it with your spouse, or (2) eat only half your meal and save the rest for dinner that night or lunch the next day. I've been converted! Tonight I enjoyed a half of a chili relleno and a half serving of refried beans, leftovers from today's lunch. Delicious -- and I got two meals for the price of one. Try it. You might like it -- and lose some weight too.
3) Our free-book contest today asks two questions, the first being "Which of my books have you enjoyed the most, and why?" The answers I've gotten thus far have been most enlightening, but this one has got to take the cake:
I love an honest man!
12:50 PM Woke up this morning thinking, Good day to get caught up on some projects around the house. There wasn't much question of what needed to be done:
1) The porch, which has been used all year for bombing practice by the local bird population, desperately needed deep cleaning. So did the porch chairs and cushions. Check.
2) The Round Up I purchased a week ago still had not been sprayed where it was most sorely needed. Any guesses as to where that was? Check.
3) Finally got on the phone and sold my Grand Marquis. It'll be gone tomorrow. Check.
4) Blackberries are coming out of our ears, but thanks to one of my daughters that situation is quickly being rectified. Check.
We are both tiring. It is hot out there. I'm coming to realize that there's only so much a person can do outdoors on a day like this. Which means: Mexican food, here we come.
9:25 AM I've got two more new books to give away. I'll pick the winners from a hat tomorrow morning. To win a free book all you have to do is write and tell me two things:
1) Which of my books have you enjoyed the most, and why?
2) Is there a topic you think I should write on, and why? I figure I've got about 15 good years of writing left in me and am open to going in different directions if I sense that's the Lord's will. So ... help me think this through!
(P.S. I've got a book project that has been percolating in my subconscious mind for many years. I may let it surface and share it with you in the next few days. It would truly be my magnum opus, but I am scared to death to even contemplate doing it.)
Write me today at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contest ends at 9:00 am tomorrow morning.
9:06 AM Good news! My new book is now available on Kindle for only 2.99.
8:44 AM Fellow Southern Baptist Ed Stetzer has written a thoughtful essay called What Is Calvary Chapel & Why Should You Care? I'm looking forward to spending time with my CC bruddahs and sistahs in a week and a half during my trip to Oahu. CC West Oahu is ministering in one of the toughest areas on the island. They've even begun a church plant in Makaha on the west coast. I get to teach 6 times while I'm there. There is just no way I can thank CC West Oahu enough for their kind invitation to speak there not only on this visit but when I was in Hawaii last December to commemorate my wedding university (my first without Becky). I was struck by the simple way of life in the Islands. Everything happens on "Hawaiian time." The CC pastors are, for the most part, all local boys who were born and raised in Hawaii. This is not as common as you might think: many pastors in Hawaii are mainland haoles who sometimes find adjusting to life in Hawaii difficult. Not so with these kanakas. I'm also looking forward to returning to Southern California this September to speak 4 times at 412 Church, a CC church in San Jacinto. My good friend and Biola alum Don Stewart arranged this visit, as did he my trip to California last February to speak at CC Tustin. He also interviewed me twice on KWVE radio, which is a ministry of Cavalry Chapel. I want to spend a lot more time with these good folk. I've rarely met pastors who are hungrier for good Bible training, and I am eager to do what little I can to provide it. It's odd, but when I lived in La Mirada, California for 27 years I never once attended a Calvary Chapel, not even the mother church in Costa Mesa. I've always been attending Baptist churches. I'm not as big a fan of end-times prophecy as some of my CC friends are, and I personally don't espouse the Moses Model of ministry. They know that and invite me to speak anyway. What we have in common, at least with the older CC people, is our participation in the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and (for many of us old-timers) our love for surfing. Most of all, I think, we have a common love for Jesus and for the Gospel.
As I prepare to return to Hawaii, there is no way I can express my sense of connectedness with this place. It somehow feels like "home." Growing up there I was deeply touched by the pastors who mentored this fatherless young surfer. I would probably never have left Oahu for school had there been a Bible college there in 1971. I suspect that I'll be making at least one visit there annually to teach. I'm especially drawn to the work of ministry in West Oahu where I am seeing churches like CCWO doing irrational works of service in their communities and loving, wrestling, and laughing with atheists who haven't joined their fellowship (yet!). I confidently predict that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will continue to be proclaimed and lived out in that place.
On a completely unrelated note, one of my daughters is coming over today to pick blackberries. I'm so glad. I would really hate to see them go to waste. I'm so grateful for family. As an empty-nester, I'm finding great joy in just being a parent and grandparent. I consider it my joy and duty to keep reminding my kids that God is their Father, that He has a good purpose for each of them, and that nothing in our lives -- absolutely nothing -- is useless or "accidental" in the fulfillment of that purpose if we will only trust Him and submit to the lessons He's trying to teach us. Diminishment is sometimes the only way to be enlarged in the Lord, to be conformed to the image of Christ. Nothing in the deep dark caverns of our lives is a mystery to Him. We can trust Him with everything, even the imponderables and the unfathomables.