Tuesday, June 30
5:42 PM Added to my Mark list:
And yet there is room.
5:10 PM Had a two hour nap. Exquisite.
11:50 AM Just back from running errands in "our fair city." In order of visits: post office, gas station, vegetable stand, bank, Food Lion, Ace Hardware, and the local Mexican eatery.
Love Clarksville. For a small town it's got everything.
Plus good old Southern hospitality. People greet you by name. You wave at the occasional car or truck you pass. No one is too busy to chat. Oh, see my shirt?
The Hesses sent it to me. They run a great equestrian camp called Leg Up Christian Ministries that I support. Summer camps feature horsemanship and Bible study (this summer's theme is the names of God). Hence this shirt. Ain't it cool?
8:56 AM Great quote from Randy Alcorn:
A cute idea, this prosperity gospel, but in your "fight of faith" you will face temptations daily that blitz your belief. You've got to make it to the final bell, and that ain't easy. Paul had no prosperity gospel -- but he did have beatings, whippings, stonings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and threats. Yet he endured through every trial and bout with despair. In the part of the world I just visited, "name it and claim it" is making deep inroads into the church. Paul makes hamburger of this creed. We've got it all wrong. God never promised us a risk-free, fail-safe life. But Jesus is making a return trip, and when He does everything will change. Talk about peace and prosperity!
8:40 AM The book of Hebrews with illustrations. But how can you say that the opening paragraph is 1:1-3?
1) I'm compiling a list of "issues" to be discussed in my Mark class this fall. Thus far I've come up with a preliminary list to which I will be adding many other items:
Can you think of others?
2) Jacob Cerone, Joshua Covert, and I are making the final edits on our forthcoming book The Pericope of the Adulteress in Modern Research (T & T Clark).
3) Last night I listened to an excellent discussion (hardly a "debate") on homosexuality which included Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Seminary. You can find the link to the audio at Robert's website (scroll down). Be sure to also read his post-discussion response called On Love, Misrepresenting Jesus, and the Spirit of Self-Delusion. Lots of good stuff at Robert's site, including a piece called "Does the Bible Regard Same-Sex Intercourse as Intrinsically Sinful?"
4) As I've said, I am deeply humbled and honored to be asked to teach a weeklong course in Kahuluu, Oahu in October and am praying about my topic. The venue is Windward Baptist Church, which has just started a Bible institute on its church campus. My prayer is that God will use this discipleship school to prepare God's people in Windward Oahu to fulfill the vital role God has for them in the kingdom movement He's inspiring in the islands these days. It is so exciting for me to be able to return "home" as it were and make even a small contribution to the work of the Lord and repay the investment so many made in my own life while growing up there. I'm thinking of discussing basic New Testament hermeneutics and calling the class "How to Read the New Testament for All It's Worth." How's that for an original title!
5) I see that the Vocal Majority, which is merely the best men's vocal group in the universe, is offering a free outdoor concert in Dallas this weekend. Wooooooohoooooo! I "just happen" to be going to Dallas this weekend, and my in-laws are great fans of that singing group. Maybe we can ham it up and sing along with the men.
6) Didn't sleep a wink last night. I'll probably fall asleep at noon today. But no worries -- the government has it all figured out!
Monday, June 29
8:08 PM Just ordered:
6:06 PM George Weigel has written a sobering piece called The Church and "the New Normal." Here's a telling quote:
In crucial areas, many Christians are simply out of touch with the majority of people outside the church. It is utterly critical for those of us who are serious about communicating the Gospel in the twenty-first century to take the time to understand how different the world's thought forms are from ours. Evangelism is not for some kind of contentless, anti-intellectual Christianity. We can study Scripture without ever studying culture. The result is pseudo-Christianity, false orthodoxy, and simulated piety. Our supreme business today is not one of success or self-satisfaction but stewardship, and it is required of stewards that they be found faithful, both to know the truth and to live it out in Calvary-deeds of love.
10:58 AM The audio of my interview with Michael Lorin has now been posted.
10:18 AM On the flight from Asia to Detroit yesterday I watched a movie about surfing in -- New England of all places. It's called The Granite Stoke. I had no idea Vermont had such amazing waves. Seriously, though, where's the fun in surfing in 10 degree weather? But surf they do. I guess there are some things you just don't forget in life. For me, that includes surfing. The first thing I did after Becky went Home to be with Jesus was go surfing on the North Carolina coast. It was a time to get away and just be by myself doing what comes naturally. I would catch a wave and just weep. But it helped me. A lot. Sitting on your board gives you time to think, to sort out your life, to come up with a plan to cope with tragedy. The icing on the cake was that there were some pretty nice swells too. I was completely alone on the beach. Not another soul in sight. (Probably because it had been snowing.) Surfing will always be that way for me. Since those days at Wrightsville Beach I've made three trips to Hawaii to surf. Like the waves of the ocean, life ebbs and flows and sometimes the only way you can survive is just to let the breakers wash over you and receive the healing as well as the pain. In the movie, a surfer relates the story of the loss of his five-year old daughter to cancer, and how the surfing community rallied around him and his family during that horrific experience. It seems like such a small thing, this thing we call community, but it makes a difference. Never alone. Just that. Nothing more.
Wish me well. I'll be surfing again in October. The swells should be big at that time. This could be interesting.
9:04 AM Home again. I've unpacked. The washing machine groans. I'm sitting here at the keyboard wondering what words my jet-lagged brain will type. To every single one of my blog readers -- you know your beautiful names -- this trip was successful at least partly because of your prayers, and I will never be able to thank you enough. All is grace -- the safe flights, the students, the wildly warm teaching sessions, the God-strength, the astonishing joy of watching one of my Greek students begin teaching a Greek class himself after years of training. I am so thankful for the gift of community, the principle of doing life together, the appalling thrill of the soul's intercourse with God. Is this the apex of truly living? Lewis said, "I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation." Indeed. The extravagant pleasure of serving others; the lavish encouragement from friends; the radical demands of Jesus' upside-down kingdom -- all is grace. It's an astounding truth that while we serve Christ it is He who is constantly serving us. You go to bless others and you come back blessed out of your gourd. I'm busted open. I kneel in gratitude. This is the crux of Christianity: to give and receive grace.
There is not a better time in history to be involved in global discipleship. Travel is simple (but never easy -- it took me four days to arrive at my destination). Communications are a miracle. Resources abound. Somehow I feel like I'm 19 all over again -- passionately excited to be alive and going off to Bible college, a bright future ahead. But suffering prepares us for a higher calling. Job had to learn in his older years that God becomes everything only when everything else is stripped away. If we are obedient to God in the place of suffering, He will give us from His unlimited resources everything we need to endure and even overcome. I'm discovering that being refined in the furnace of grief is remolding my character and giving me a deeper understanding of God's nature and His perfect love. If we cast all of our cares upon Him, He will reward us in due time. He is in control. He creates, sustains, and governs even the smallest details of our lives -- like the extra leg room of an exit row in last night's flight from Detroit. There isn't a day go by where I don't consciously thank God for His goodness to me. He never intended widowers to live in isolation. Even Jesus had close friends. If you're like me, you thank God every day for people who know you and love you and support you, fellow believers with whom you delight in serving, friends who help you become that child of God whom God planned all along. On Nov. 2, 2013, my life changed forever. On that day, I had two choices. I could face death and loss on my own, or I could trust God, go on with life, and even perhaps draw closer to Him and enjoy a deeper relationship with His Son. At times I feel overwhelmed by it all. But that's okay. His grace is enough. If we are willing, that grace can wash over us like the cascading waterfalls one sees on the road to Hana in Maui.
So what's ahead? Resting up for three days. Answering emails (please be patient with me; it may take several days). Then on the road again. On Thursday I leave for Dallas to spend some time with Becky's mom and dad. In October I teach in Hawaii and visit New York. In November I revisit Asia. And of course I'll continue blogging -- for you give me shoulders to lean on, listening ears, and hearts ready to pray for my needs. Fighting the good fight of faith -- and make no mistake: a trip abroad is spiritual warfare -- is akin to a Civil War battlefield, of which it has been said "A battlefield is the loneliest place which men share together." Soldiers of both North and South knew the importance of camaraderie on the field of battle. They sought the "touch of the elbow" with their fellow troopers on either side of them who served as reassurance they they were not being deserted or overly exposed to enemy fire. When Union General Dan Sickles placed his 3rd Corps in line of battle on the second day at Gettysburg -- extending it from Sherfy's peach orchard to the strong ridge and then down to the rock outcropping known locally as Devil's Den -- his 10,000 men had to cover more than 2,700 yards, which meant 3 men for every yard, if you included in the total every non-combatant. This placed a terrible burden on the every-day soldier who had been on the march for almost 12 hours without pause. When Longstreet attacked them en echelon, the 3rd Corps was chewed to pieces. The collapse of Sickle's troops could not have come at a worse time for General Meade and his Army of the Potomac. "Desperate and sanguine" is how one eyewitness described the fighting of July 2. The fight at the Trostle farm claimed a sensational casualty in the person of Dan Sickles himself, who lost a leg. Likewise, in spiritual warfare, we need the "touch of the elbow." This trip reminded me that I must never underestimate God's love and power -- or the power of Christian community. If you are caught up in the great battle for souls, be careful not to go it alone. Take heed to "mellowing" with age. It is easy to say, "I've done my share, paid my dues, so let the younger generation handle these issues." Our day is not had until our day is over. No Christian retires from duty as long as he or she is still on earth. Paul fought to the finish. Nothing develops a Christian's own spiritual life as much as sharing one's blessings with others. Yes, we need to be alone, to enjoy the solace of the retreat, but it is to be spent preparing us to return to battle. A comfortable Christian is an oxymoron.
If you are walking through the valley of weeping today, be careful not to resent God. He's simply trying to get your attention. He wants to strengthen your soul and equip you for service. If you submit to God, He will honor you. That's for sure. But it is His gift of patient endurance that will keep your path clear until the results you are expecting are evident.
Thursday, June 18
6:18 AM I was up early today. This morning I feel strangely sensitive to the small pleasures around me -- a cup of coffee, my Bible, the quietness of the morning dew. On mornings like this I feel voraciously alive and my anxieties evaporate in the dawning awareness of the Presence. Yet "the world languishes and withers" (Isa. 24:4). There is work to be done, and that is true regardless of how I am feeling -- whether my energy is diminished or overflowing. We Christians, as a panelist said yesterday, are to offer the world what Jesus offered the adulteress woman in John 8: non-condemnation, and then a call to repentance. I almost wished he hadn't brought up that passage. The great majority of New Testament scholars would say, "Why, that passage shouldn't be taught! It is isn't original." But perhaps uncertainty about this or that textual variation is an avenue of connection. Perhaps those who question what Jesus said or did will see that their views have implications on a huge scale. That dear woman in John 8 needed protection from the demons that were assailing her, just as we all need protection from the fear of death and pain and medical conditions and abandonment and alienation from our loved ones, even fear of the unknown -- "If I repent, what will my friends think of me?" But if we let them, God can use our encounters with this non-condemnatory-ever-calling-for-repentance-Jesus to turn us toward God, who meets us even in the depths of our self-made hells. I know that the Spirit who spoke to you today through His word is the very same Spirit who is leading me to travel far away from home today. I know that whatever needs I might have on this trip He will meet them. I know that whatever strength I have will be His strength alone. This is not my day, it is God's day, held within His hands. I choose to make it an offering to Him. Besides, I'm working with Team Awesome, and you're watching my back. (Credit where credit is due.) Don't you realize? He whispers through the morning dew. My grace is greater than your weaknesses, Dave, My love is stronger than death. He has placed a seal over my heart, and I will rest there.
Wednesday, June 17
7:32 PM Earlier today I watched the live streaming of a panel discussion at the SBC convention in Columbus. The topic was gay marriage and it was handled with grace and profound humility. One thing Russ Moore said really got my attention. He said he wished our church services had more time for personal testimonies. No, not braggamonies, but simply brothers and sisters sharing with their brothers and sisters honestly about their struggles, whether it be with alcohol or gluttony or same-sex attraction. The challenge for me as I blog is to be open and honest with my readers and try to model for them what it means to die to a relationship with hope, integrity, and an open heart. It's surprising to me how many people have tried to encourage me by assuring me that I'll get through it because I am so strong in the Lord. I'm really not. I am as weak as a kitten. So are you, even though you may not realize it or ever acknowledge it in public. Of course, said Moore, biblical ethics is worth fighting for (I am paraphrasing), but one must love sinners to Christ by befriending them. The way we love LGBT people all around us must change. I'm much too tired (and this is me speaking, not Moore) to play along with the polite deceptions of people who insist "I'm okay" when they are really not. All of us can redirect our own lapses into denials ("Well, I may be fat but gluttony isn't as bad as drunkenness"). Folks, we can't wash our hands of the world's troubles simply by piously saying "I am of Christ." Jesus is what really matters, and everything else is to be judged in the light of Him. We can become so upset over the world's condition that we forget to live the Gospel. No one need be ashamed of loving his or her neighbor. We have to take people as they are. But God has also asked us to be holy because He is holy, to be transformed and not conformed to the spirit of this age. The true Christian perfectionist knows that he or she is not perfect, but perfection is still their goal and they constantly move toward it. The struggle is learning how to be patient with ourselves (and others) while not being tolerant of evil that can and ought to be dealt with. But let it first begin in my life. To do anything less is to doubt and disobey God.
7:08 PM Just finished an interview with Michael Lorin on the Messiah Community Radio Talk Show. The topic was "Why Study New Testament Greek?" Not sure when it will air but you can check Michael's website for details.
11:56 AM All dads should read this.
11:45 AM Beautiful day on campus today.
A huge shout out to our fabulous grounds crew.
Tuesday, June 16
9:08 PM I'm sitting in a dark house listening to the rain fall and reflecting on the past 18 months of life. The birds have long since gone to their beds for the night and the only sounds I hear are the bullfrogs and crickets. Somehow, it is peaceful in the midst of the storm. Tonight I wanted to go out for dinner, to the Chinese restaurant Becky and I haunted so many times. Seems a long time ago now. Can I really eat there again? The memories are too vivid, the ache too recent. This is a good time to review all I know about moving on after loss. So many questions arise in a time of grief. "Can I ever sleep in that bed again?" "What shall I do with her vegetable gardens and her berries?" "I still have her reenacting clothes. Who would like to have them?" The odd thing about old griefs is that they keep on triggering new griefs. A simple trip into town erupts in painful memories that you can't suppress no matter how hard you try. Then there are those who promise, "If there is anything I can do for you, be sure to let me know." But people become busy, have their own lives and their own problems and their own schedules and aches. They want to help. Their intentions are good. Maybe the problem is just with me and my expectations of others. I'm realizing that neither coping nor helping others to cope with their losses is easy. "It is what it is," Becky used to say, not so much with a spirit of resignation as with a wisdom borne of experience. I have to believe that even these slight human refusals and demurrals are meant to connect me with the One who sustains me in these difficult and sometimes dark days. Still, I need people. I need people who will know when and how to reach out to me, who will offer the gift of their time or maybe a precious hand showing compassion and offering reassurance. As I find my way, I'm reminded of Denise Levertov's poem "The Avowal" and her description of "all-surrounding grace."
I need this grace desperately. I want to learn again that every "no" or "maybe" by humans is surrounded by God's much bigger "yes." Jesus put up with so many things that must have tried His patience to the core from others who so frequently misunderstood His meaning. Yet He loved them still.
O God, let me learn from that. Grant me that same patience. Grant me clarity to think wisely and well of others who disappoint. Grant me confidence in your peace and love. I release my fears to You in trust. Praise and bless Your name.
8:00 PM Once again the Lord comes through. We got up this orchard grass just before the rains hit us.
Not a lot in terms of quantity but in terms of quality -- well, let's just say that horses love orchard grass and it's really terrific for metabolic horses who just vacuum it up. Good in protein and calories too.
#Love my work.
6:54 PM The Lincoln assassination story continues to fascinate me no end. I'm not 15 pages into James Swanson's book Manhunt when I'm introduced to a major character in the story by the name of Dr. Charles Leale, a 23-year-old U.S. Army surgeon on duty at the Wounded Commissioned Officers' Ward at Armory Square Hospital in Washington. It was Leale who ended up being the first medical professional to attend to the stricken president on the night of his assassination. Three days before the play at Ford's Theater, Leale heard Lincoln speak at the White House. When he heard that the president would be attending Laura Keene's performance of Our American Cousin, he decided to attend. Leale's specialty just happened to be brain injuries, and the reason he wanted to attend the play was not to see the actors but "to behold [Lincoln's] face and study the characteristics of the 'Savior of his Country'." Who was this Dr. Leale? I wondered. What did he witness that night in Washington? So I asked Dr. Google and boy was I surprised at the answer. Apparently Leale's eyewitness report lay hidden in obscurity until 2012, when a researcher with The Papers of Abraham Lincoln stumbled upon his 1865 report. You can read it here. Although Lincoln was technically dead by the time Leale reached the presidential box, he was able to restore his pulse and get him breathing again.
So there he was -- a Union army officer thrust into unexpected duty at a moment's notice. Leale literally saved the president's life, though nothing could ultimately prevent the hand of Death from escorting the president to that far and distant shore. I think we could use a lot of good old-fashioned Christians today who know their duty and are eager to serve their Commander-in-Chief at the drop of a hat. There is nothing weak or effeminate about Christianity. Our Lord told Peter that he faced martyrdom and He told the saints in Smyrna that more persecution lay ahead for them. The kingdoms of this world have not become His yet. But one day they will. Until then, the real test of faith is in doing our duty as God gives us light to see it. Blessed are those who can see the real soldiers among the counterfeits and, beyond them, their Master and Lord, and choose Him and His ways.
4:32 PM And I've got hay to get up today ....
11:50 AM Today I've been watching the SBC convention in Columbus as it's being live-streamed. One of the highlights this morning was the report of our six seminary presidents. Sometimes belonging to a seminary faculty makes you feel like you belong to a secret club of some sort. We have our own language (Heilsgeschichte, eschatology, systemic linguistics) and our own weird customs (like those monkey suits we wear at commencement). It's incredibly satisfying to know, however, as our seminary presidents reminded us today, that it's really much simpler than all that. It's about God, who makes something out of nothing, who delights in penetrating the darkness of our lives and giving us forgiveness and hope, who then sends us back into the work to suffer and sacrifice and even die if necessary. So I cling to that truth. Seminary is much more than knowledge. And I'm glad to serve among people who are truly on target when it comes to eternal things.
You can watch the convention here if you're interested.
Monday, June 15
9:10 PM Had the munchies so off I went to Food Lion, where I got ...
Before I indulge myself (i.e., pig out), I thought I'd share with you (for no particular reason) a few of the things I'm grateful for (in no particular order):
1) That despite all the turmoil in my life of late I have never doubted the love or goodness of God.
2) That I have never questioned the reality of heaven and the afterlife.
3) That I have never doubted the genuineness of those who love me and show me their love through words and actions.
4) That though I've been discouraged I've never despaired of life itself.
5) That I am still able to travel (am I really going to fly 7,320 miles this Thursday to Asia? Ugh. I hate flying.)
6) That I have good health.
7) That there is the internet, which allows me to catharticize (yes, I just made it up) as well as receive your kind emails.
8) And then there's music. What can I say about the gift of music? I'm not one to say "God spoke to me" very often, but I've often sensed His presence through music. What was once an enjoyable experience has become an ecstatic experience. Thank God for music.
Now if you'll excuse me ....
7:42 PM I've begun rereading an interesting book about Booth's escape and death: Manhunt. It opens with an anecdote that illustrates just how ironic the times were. There is Lincoln giving his second inaugural on the eastern steps of the Capitol Building, and in the crowd is none other than John Wilkes Booth, the man who said shortly before Lincoln's reelection in 1864, "[Lincoln] ... is the tool of the North, to crush out, or try to crush out slavery, by robbery, rapine, slaughter and bought armies ... a false president yearning for a kingly succession." Lincoln's first inaugural speech was intended to keep the border states in the Union. His second inaugural was much more somber and soul-searching. Lincoln could not have imagined he was standing in the presence of his future assassin.
For his first inaugural, Lincoln asked his erstwhile political foe William Seward, whom he had defeated in the presidential election, to read the manuscript and offer suggestions for its improvement. Seward made 49 editorial improvements, 27 of which were accepted by the president-to-be. Seward had also suggested that Lincoln end the speech with a call for moderation, and Lincoln added a paragraph to his speech with his own hand. In short, Lincoln believed that the Union was "perpetual," and that it was his hope that the regional tensions could be resolved "by the better angels of our nature." But that was not to be. The question of secession would be resolved by the sword and not by the pen. When Booth leaped onto the stage of Ford's Theater and cried out "Sic semper tyrranis," he thought his immortality as a Southern hero was sealed. But his last words, spoken to the soldiers who had captured and shot him, are his true epitaph: "Useless, useless."
To read Lincoln's first and second inaugural speeches, go here.
6:22 PM Talk of evolution aside, these birds are spectacular.
5:54 PM Elizabeth Elliot passes through gates of splendor. She was 88 and suffering from dementia. Gandhi once said, "If Christians were to live their lives to the fullest, there would not be one Hindu left in India." Elizabeth Elliot put her love into action in countless ways. She lived her life inside out and was a tremendous inspiration to the women of my generation. You see, grace can be poured into every life. I count it a joy to have read her books and to have been inspired by her faith. Right now, I have to smile. I can imagine Becky and Elizabeth swapping missionary stories. Two simple women who loved the Lord their God with all their hearts. Praise be to God.
5:44 PM When my server in Alexandria brought me my entrée I immediately thought of ...
5:34 PM National Geographic lists its Top Ten Civil War sites. How many do you still have to visit? Somehow I've managed to see all 10 and several of these more than once. I'm contemplating revisiting Gettysburg this year, where there is always something new to discover.
12:15 PM Just mowed. Not done but it's 103 degrees (real feel) so I had better stop for now.
But lookie here -- the blackberries are almost ripe. Ooo la la!
7:56 AM Awesome drone footage of the Mudd House.
7:48 AM Had an interesting encounter with one of Virginia's finest on Friday morning. I had stopped for gas in South Hill. Next to me was a Sherriff's patrol car. The officer had just gone inside to pay for his gas. I began pumping mine. When the officer came out -- a young man about 30 -- I looked at him, smiled, and said, "Good morning officer. Thanks for all you do." He thanked me, got into his car, and then suddenly opened his car door, got out, and walked up to me and said, "In this day and age you don't hear that a lot, so I just wanted you to know how much that meant to me." After a firm handshake he got back into his car and drove off.
A little respect goes a long way.
Sunday, June 14
9:06 PM I love Civil War history, love the engrossing blend of history and thriller that creates an edge-of-your seat tale worthy of Edgard Allen Poe. It was the most horrific war Americans have ever known and concluded with the mind-numbing twists and turns of Booth's assassination of Lincoln 150 years ago. Here are a few pix from my weekend adventure:
1) Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee.
This was my third (and best) visit. The docent was fabulous.
2) Christ Church in Alexandria, home to George Washington and R. E. Lee.
3) Sitting in Lee's pew.
4) This dear woman lived to the ripe old age of 152.
I don't think so. I guess they had vandalism in those days as well (the number "1" has clearly been chiseled in later).
5) Mount Vernon. I know it's a cliché but -- awesome.
6) Last year I did a personal "John Wilkes Booth" tour but missed seeing the Samuel Mudd house because it was closed when I happened to be there. Well, today it was open, and the docent's beautifully crafted narrative of the events that took place on the night when Dr. Mudd set Booth's broken leg sounded like a page-turning novel. Here's the house as it looked exactly 150 years ago.
7) Booth and his accomplice David Herold entered though this front door on the morning after the assassination.
8) Dr. Mudd guided the "stranger" (it is still debated whether or not Mudd knew he was aiding and abetting Booth) to this upholstered settee in the front parlor of the house.
The diagnosis was basic: a fractured bone about two inches above the ankle joint. Mudd took some paste and made it into a splint.
9) He then led Booth into this upstairs bedroom and offered him a soft mattress for the rest of the night.
10) It was the crime of the century, hidden in complex layers. It was thrilling to actually be in this house and I could almost imagine the events as they transpired. I purchased the newest book on the subject: The Assassin's Doctor by Robert Summers. It was an honor to have Henry Mudd himself inscribe it for me.
I have always been interested in Lincoln's assassination but until very recently I had no real opportunity to give it the attention it deserves. I'm glad to say that my "Booth Tour" is now complete. It's amazing to think that in those days the president had no "body guard" in the modern sense of the word. Today, a century and a half since the chase for Lincoln's murderers began, the story has not lost its interest.
Friday, June 12
9:10 AM Today I'm hoping to visit a historic site I haven't seen in a very long time. Tomorrow I'm cycling from Alexandria to Mount Vernon. In between -- writing, and lots of it. Last night I listened to my favorite R & B classics of 1973, the year I met Becky. You know, for old time's sake. It was a very good year for music, too: Killing Me Softly with His Song, Will It Go Round in Circles, You're So Vain, Drift Away, We're an American Band, Rocky Mountain High, Dancing in the Moonlight, Daniel, Feelin' Stronger Every Day, and my favorite (for obvious reasons) You Are the Sunshine of My Life. And, in a day when contacts with police are becoming more and more frequent (and, it seems, more hostile), I watched on Netflix the docudrama Fruitvale Station. It's the story of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by BART police on New Year's Day in 2009. It is yet another exposé of the systematic, structural dimension of race in America. The event was recorded on multiple cell phones -- cursing by the police, excessive use of force, and eventually a shot fired into the back of Grant while he was on the ground. Let me hasten to say that I am always respectful to law enforcement. This is as it should be. But I also respect the laws that law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold. All I can say is that any police office who values the U.S. Constitution and personal liberty will find nothing offensive in this movie. (Warning: Foul language).
I'll end by saying I'm delighted in the way my ideas on a new translation of the New Testament are developing. Your emails have been very helpful. Of course, it's the height of hubris to think that one can translate the New Testament. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that there are already so many helpful translations out there today. All we need is another Bible translation! So I'm still very much in the formative stages of my thinking. Maybe I'll blog about it tomorrow. Or whenever.
Thursday, June 11
6:40 PM A Baptist pastor takes his own life. You can read the story here. Note:
That's bad news. If you want a good description of the church's responsibility toward its leaders, see 1 Thess. 5:12-13. We are to respect them and esteem them "very highly" (huperekperissou) in love because of their work. Have you written your pastors/elders lately to tell them how much you love them and appreciate the work they do? Our essayist is right:
6:10 PM Arroz con pollo for lunch today. After I swam my laps, of course.
I had the staff at Mexico Viejo in stitches when my server Francisco asked me (in Spanish), "Want anything else?" and I answered "Vaca." "You want a cow?" he said, laughing uncontrollably. Ugh. But there's an explanation. I was thinking in Amharic, not Spanish: "Vaca" (pronounced "Baca") in Amharic means "Finished." Ugh again. Switching between languages would be really cool, if I knew how to do it. I hear that children that grew up bilingual have a really hard time with this. I can only imagine. And it need not just happen between related languages either (such as French and Spanish -- saying, for example, "froid" instead of "frio"). The more languages you speak the more you're gonna mess them up. But it's better to make mistakes than resort to English in a Mexican restaurant, meiner Meinung nach. The one possible exception might be saying "Je suis finis" to your French-speaking server. "Je suis finis," of course, means "I am dead." When you want to pass on dessert, the phrase is "J'ai finis" (lit., "I have finished," not "I am finished").
Languages. You gotta love 'em.
9:28 AM There's more than one way to beat city hall. You go, "green girls"!
9:16 AM As a student of language I find America's accents inordinately fascinating. But do we really need Gawker's America's Ugliest Accent contest? If discrimination is unacceptable on the basis of one's race, why should it make any difference what kind of an accent a person has? As I point out in my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, correctness and incorrectness in language is not a linguistic question per se but a sociolinguistic question -- which is another way of saying that textbooks do not ultimately determine what is right or wrong in language, but people do. If everyone says "It's me" (instead of "It is I"), then "It's me" is correct.
American accents are indeed fascinating to study. Last night I watched what many believe to be President Kennedy's most important speech on foreign policy. It was delivered exactly 50 years ago yesterday at American University in DC. At one point I had to stop the video and replay it. Did the president really say?
For we can seek a relaxation of tension without relaxing our God.
Of course, the transcript clears up the confusion:
Which is another way of saying ... language is a very complicated thing. Bible translators argue over gender bias in the use of language. Publishers may or not may not insist on the use of "inclusive language." People are stereotyped on their use of English in social conversation. In Hawaii, about half of the population can speak Hawaiian Creole ("Pidgin") English. Stigmas about Pidgin use abound in the islands. It's "good" versus "not good" all over again. But language is merely a part of culture. I easily lapse into Pidgin when I'm home. When I moved to California from Hawaii in 1971 I was barely able to make myself understood. And that might well be the main concern about dialects of English. Pidgin may very well become a handicap when trying to get ahead in the real world. Still, I have a somewhat laissez faire attitude toward the whole thing about accents. After all, the English most of us speak was once a pidgin and a creole.
Bottom line? Fo talk Pidgin -- no pilikia. But you try feed da pidgin, big kine trouble wit da police.
Wednesday, June 10
7:45 PM Good news. My visa has been approved so I'll be returning to Asia next week. According to Danny Akin:
The body of Christ is enjoying its fastest growth today in Asia and Africa. Yet one of the greatest needs in both regions is training, including training in the biblical languages. This is the challenging work to which the Lord has called me. It's hard to sit here and try to quantify just what makes working in Asia so satisfying but there is nothing quite like it in the world. I keep praying for God to fill me back up with love and wisdom and strength (both physical and emotional) so that I can return and pour myself out again. Please keep praying with me.
2:20 PM The Amish (I am told) consider the dying to be gifts to the community because they call forth the kindness of others. I used to visit the grieving. Now I know those waters intimately. Sherwin Nuland, in his book How We Die, describes how at death the body's systems shut down one by one and, in the case of cancer, why the cause of death is more complicated than "pneumonia" or "congestive heart failure." Becky did not get to choose the time or manner of her death. And those she left behind do not get to choose whether or not they will experience the pain of her loss. Dying -- and surviving -- is an individual art, just as I imagine giving birth is different for every woman. "Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither," said King Lear. Birth and death -- twins? Indeed. Now, I certainly believe what the Bible teaches about death, that death is not the end but only the beginning, and that the value of this short journey of ours on earth doesn't lie in its duration. As my 63-year-old body gets older, my eyes dimmer, my strength more diminished, I'm reminded of the story about a lonely, terminally-ill woman who sees a pear tree outside her bedroom window. The branches of that pear tree reach closer and closer to her window and then practically into it, as if offering her the hands her human friends have not. Oddly, I see in the trees of the farm -- especially Becky's memorial tree -- friendly presences, flickers of love from the Creator of all life, be it plant or animal or human. I am asking this Creator God of mine to make me as faithful in my final decades of living as in my earlier years, to make my life blessed and a blessing, to attune me to the call that guides me home. I'm surrounded (thankfully) not only by trees but by human hands. I am not alone. And I have every confidence that as I grow old and infirm I will be well cared for. Just as Jesus helped Peter on the Sea of Galilee, so He will carry me until I can walk on terra firma again, joyfully in faith. When Becky and I would travel to Ethiopia, we would often be gone for many days, weeks even. We loved Ethiopia. But as much as we loved being in the land of her youth, we were always eager to go home. Whenever I contemplate heaven, I believe (from all I've read and studied in Scripture) that death and dying will simply be "going home." Meanwhile I can think of several purposes that a life of grief might serve: encouraging others, blessing children and grandchildren, anticipating new things, learning how to face life's challenges with joy and hope. I want my last years to be my best years. I want to learn to accept the gift of tears, to savor the comfort of His embrace, to enjoy the "pear trees" that reach their hands toward me in my loneliness. The fact that Becky died is a reminder that one day I will too. Until then, I pray that each remaining year might be a quiet act of praise and an offering of acceptance, and that my pen might be a vessel of the great Spirit that blows where He wills.
1:56 PM Just back from lap swimming at the county pool. It was great.
9:35 AM Loved this quote:
You can read the whole thing here: Why Do We Have Babies and Small Children in Our Services? by Kevin Brown. Kevin is the author of Rite of Passage for Home and Church and To Date or Not to Date.
9:08 AM Last night I reread the chapter called "Must the Pastor Be a Superstar?" in Howard Snyder's classic book, The Problem of Wineskins: Church Structure in a Technological Age. In the preface to his book Howard writes, "Every age knows the temptation to forget that the gospel is ever new. We try to contain the new wine of the gospel in old wineskins -- outmoded traditions, obsolete philosophies, creaking institutions, old habits. But with time the old wineskins begin to bind the gospel." The analogy with the field of New Testament studies is obvious. It's amazing to discover how a certain agreed-upon interpretation expands until a carapace of accepted "facts" hardens. We have today several of these "accepted conclusions" in the academic guild:
These are only perhaps the most prominent of the controversies in the field of New Testament studies. On these (and a few other) issues I have taken my own counsel as the best way to make sense of the facts in each case, arguing in print for the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, Matthean priority, and the usefulness of the Byzantine text. Books that challenge the consensus opinio and status quo are not in high fashion today, since they often engender suspicion among scholars that obscurantism is at work. Yet interest remains high among students of the New Testament in each of these areas: witness a recent (May 25, 2015) review of my book Why Four Gospels? at Amazon:
Snyder, writing about church structures, evokes a similar response from everyone who has ever read him. He writes: "Human nature wants to conserve, but the divine nature is to renew. It seems almost a law that things initially created to aid the gospel eventually become obstacles -- old wineskins. Then God has to destroy or abandon them so that the gospel wine can renew man's world once again."
I've become pretty used to being referred to as a free-thinking obscurantist. Nevertheless, I'd like to think that I'm a voice seeking to foster church renewal that is deeply spiritual, exegetically sound, and immediately practical. There are, of course, good reasons not to believe anything I say or write. I am human; I am susceptible to error; I have cultural and theological blinders. Since this is the case, I would never ask anyone to believe what I believe simply because I say it is true. Let's all be Bereans. The only hitch is that we must first cock an ear toward the evidence and, above the dim of the humdrum, listen for His voice as He speaks to us through His word. This will not be an easy process. In my experience I've found that the more I study, the less I seem to understand. Things are usually much more complicated than they first appear. In the end, though, this does not not matter. God's word is still true, whether we understand it, accept it, or obey it. That's why, when I awaken in the morning, my first thought is often "Come quickly, Lord Jesus. I'm tired of debates over Your Scripture. I'm weary of the daily battle against pride and jealousy. I'm saddened by our disunity." All that will end when Jesus returns. One thing is certain, however. Until that happens, and despite all of our infirmities and weaknesses and human struggles, God has given us the ability to think for ourselves. We have the perfect source (the Bible), the perfect teacher (the Holy Spirit), and the perfect motivation (the glory of God). All we need do is become active. For starters, ask God to help you make the most of every opportunity that now lies before, whether mental, social, emotional, or spiritual. Regardless of what others are saying (including Bible scholars), allow God to shape your thinking through your own personal study. Once you're sure you're being faithful within your present level of understanding of the Scriptures, then ask Him to begin knocking down a few more of your intellectual walls. God heard Jabez's plea for broader horizons, and He will hear yours as well. He isn't bound by all the walls that surround us. Ask God to soften your heart and open your mind. More importantly, pray that He will empower you to live according to the light He has already given you. For apart from God, we can do nothing.
Howard Snyder concludes his book with this powerful challenge:
That's the key. Follow Christ as He is revealed to us in the Scriptures. As Christians, we face that choice every day in how we respond to questions and controversies. Christ can't be ignored. Will we follow Him? Recrucify Him? The choice is ours.
(Note: I urge you to consider getting a copy of The Problem of Wineskins. You can find it at Amazon beginning at only $1.49 used. It will help you better understand God and the Bible, which is His final word on how to experience a full and happy life.)
Tuesday, June 9
9:26 PM Hello blogging buds. Just a few pix from today and then I'm off to vegetate (the old geezer that I am):
1) This Festschrift in honor of noted Old Testament scholar Alan Groves arrived for me at the seminary by way of interlibrary loan. Can't wait to read it.
2) Well, I was able to rough out a draft of "the" preface today. Anyone who knows my work can see why I would be excited about publishing another book on textual criticism.
3) My former student Paul Himes (whose blog may be found here) was kind enough to treat me to lunch today at the home of the statue of liberty (aka Red Robin). Oh the perks of senior citizenhood! Paul currently teaches biblical studies at the Baptist Bible College in Menomonee, WI.
4) My sweet grandkids Katharine, Caleb, Christian, and Carter Glass.
5) Jon and Matthea pulled out all the stops tonight: a complete spaghetti dinner, along with scrumptious homemade chocolate cake for dessert.
Anyway, it's been a long but good day and one I will not soon forget. Thanks also to all of you who took the time to send me your birthday greetings. C. S. Lewis expresses my own heart when he writes, "It was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world ... had only been the cover and the title page; now at least they are beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever and in which every chapter is better than the one before."
Peace on you all,
10:32 AM Aaawwww.
9:52 AM Today is going to be a great day. I'm "celebrating" my birthday (ugh!) by going into campus and working on "the" preface. But I've got a lot more planned besides that. At noon I'm meeting a former Ph.D. student for lunch, then one of my kids has invited me over to their house for a birthday dinner. Beyond that I've got my daily chores, about 100 texts and emails (on average) that require a response daily, I'm working on my other writing projects, plus I'm supposed to be keeping up with my field by reading and reading and more reading. I love every bit of this but I especially love it when I find new and interesting topics to write about. Thanks to a website I linked to yesterday, I'm now "officially" researching the symptoms of grief from a psychological point of view. I'm only just beginning but already I've learned tons. As I gather it, the most significant dimensions of grief are the following four: Physical (the immune system may be compromised big time), psychological (cognition may be impaired), social (friendships may change and people you once counted on aren't there for you anymore), and spiritual (questions, questions and more questions: "Why me, God?", "Where are You when I'm hurting?", etc.). Put all this together, and you arrive at the conclusion that grief is a pretty big thing. Now, I'm not pretending to be an expert on any of this, but I find these dimensions to be profoundly insightful.
1) Physical (the immune system may be impaired big time). How true! I used to never be sick. Now it seems I catch a head or chest cold at the drop of a hat. Thankfully my days of total insomnia are over, but for the first few months I was getting practically no sleep at all. As you know, I'm working hard on this dimension of grief, trying to listen to my body, trying to eat healthier and exercise more. But it's gonna be a long road to recovery.
2) Psychological (cognition may be impaired). Before Becky died I had no idea how true this could be, how all-encompassing and fickle and downright terrifying this aspect of grief is. Typically, academics don't have any trouble processing logic or disciplining their minds or concentrating on the tasks at hand. You have something to write, you write it. You have decisions to make, you make them. Honestly, there are days (and nights too) when I can barely concentrate well enough to compose a simple email, when every part of my body and mind wishes I didn't have to write anything. My mind tires easily, my focus is easily distracted. I'm doing much better now (it's been 18 months) but there are days when I wonder to myself, "Will I ever get back to normal?" The rational, scientific side of my brain cries out, "This can't be happening!"
3) Social (friendships may change and people you once counted on aren't there for you anymore). I love that my life includes opportunities to share with others my cancer journey, both pre- and post-. I know that no matter how difficult the days may be, there are people (some of them complete strangers) praying for me. I've also noticed just how fragile relationships are. They require constant tending, like a flower garden, or they will suffer the consequences of neglect. You have to guard yourself against becoming co-dependent on others for your self-image or joy. But healthy relationships matter to me, perhaps even more today than before Becky died.
4) Spiritual (questions, questions, and more questions: "Why me, God?", "Where are You when I'm hurting?", etc.). This one's my favorite. It's not helpful that I'm supposed to be an "expert" on all things biblical. Being the nerd that I am, I am constantly thinking about the theological aspects of suffering and loss. Being the human being that I am, I am thirsty for healing, as everyone who experiences grief is. Sometimes I am ashamed at the way I have acted toward God. God never stopped loving me, never stopped His pursuit of me, never withdrew His promise of His presence even when I was doing everything I could to tear myself from His inexorable hands. I am God's child. He celebrates me not because of my degrees or accomplishments or anything else. I am simply His beloved.
Please keep praying. I'm not healed yet. Thank you so much for standing with me in this fight. I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing.
Monday, June 8
5:42 PM This 92-year-old widow gives me hope.
10:22 AM This week I need to complete writing my preface to The Pericope of the Adulteress in Modern Research but I'm finding it very hard to concentrate. Call it "island-lag" (rather than jet-lag) if you will. You know, hang loose, ain't no big ting bruddah, no schedules or deadlines.
9:24 AM Someone asked me today: "Are you still translating the whole New Testament?" The answer is yes. I just took a whole year to read carefully through all 27 books of the Greek New Testament again. I'm at the critical point where I have to "position" my work among the other single-man translations that are available (Phillips, Peterson, Williams). What shall I emphasize? What register of English shall I use? Will I use footnotes such as "Lit."? Feel free to share with me what you might be looking for in a new rendering of the Greek text.
9:18 AM A widow shares her heart in a post called What To Say When There Are No Words. I couldn't have put it any better. The takeaway line for me (because it's so true):
9:04 AM 3 miles this morning.
8:05 AM Well, what to talk about on this, my last day being 62? An AARP survey once asked boomers at what age they would become "old." The majority said, "79." I can buy into that. A Yale University chaplain once said, "The art of living is to die young as late as possible." I want to age "in community," meaning helping other people, volunteering, advocating for the Cause of causes, sending flowers, celebrating others' passages and successes. I keep wracking my brain for words to describe how I feel, to describe the peace I sense as I surrender to the will of God during my crisis of impermanence. I am not a huge Viktor Frankl fan, but his book Man's Search for Meaning contains a message that is universal: If you have a why to live you can bear with almost any how. Frankl, who survived the horrors of the concentration camps, asserted that everyone of us has the ability to "choose one's attitude" in any situation. I realize that I face one of the most potentially richest passages of my life. I have gradually given myself permission to begin letting go: of Becky, of unrealistic expectations from others, of even the desire to please the reading public. A sustained tone of equanimity is gradually replacing moods of uncertainty. A quest has begun to occupy my attention, a quest to be as faithful as possible with whatever the Lord gives me in terms of time, energy, and resources. It has become a totally absorbing struggle. Yet the delights of new passages also encourage me. As we grow older there must be a willingness to change, to adapt to changing circumstances, to face the demands of new growth. For some this may mean giving up unsatisfying jobs or relationships that have lost their meaning. It may mean giving up the familiar for the new and unsettling. I find I'm enjoying the simple things of life more often -- a phone conversation with one of my grown children, a morning walk, writing a rambling blog post (like this one). I want to exercise and get fit -- not in order to compete with my younger self but simply to feel and look better. Daily walks have left me feeling more sprightly than I have felt in years. There's a bounce to my step that one just doesn't get from inactivity. There's something extra special about the friendships I enjoy, the rage of emotions I permit myself to experience, even the joys of cooking. I've had a fantastically productive writing career but I feel that somehow my best work is still in the future. I don't anticipate "falling in love again" or losing myself in someone else, but, oddly, I feel a capacity for deeper love and devotion to my loved ones that I ever had in the past. I am, in short, ready to do and be everything that God has created me to do and be. By God's Spirit, I will be faithful, and I'm looking forward to the ways He will make Himself famous in and through me in the years to come.
Sunday, June 7
10:08 PM A pastor's parting words. Sweet.
9:26 AM Greek students: Robert Thomas has written an important essay called Modern Linguistics Versus Traditional Hermeneutics. His warning certainly has some validity to it. Linguistics is not the Abracadabra or Open Sesame to biblical interpretation that it is sometimes made out to be. My own approach to the matter is to urge my students to use linguistic insights with caution, but to use them nonetheless. Modern translation theory, for example, recognizes that the search for a literal word-for-word equivalence between one language and another is futile. Of course, anyone who can speak a modern foreign language fluently knows this. Johannes Louw, in his delightful book Semantics of New Testament Greek (p. 71), illustrates this point by the story of the "translation machine" that rendered into Japanese the sentence "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." The resultant sentence was then back-translated into English as "There is some good whisky, but the roast is mediocre." In my opinion, no one should despise the help of linguistic research to illuminate the truth of the New Testament. I have discussed this issue at length in Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. It seems that we need to avoid two irresponsible extremes. One is the naive assumption that the New Testament is purely divine. Please notice that I used the word "purely." The New Testament is most certainly divinely inspired (and, I would add, inerrant), but it is also the product of human language and as such is susceptible to the vagaries of human speech. The remedy to this extreme is to foster a conscious approach to the New Testament that acknowledges the Bible as a divine-human book. The other extreme is the over-enthusiastic iconoclasm that insists that Greek alone is necessary to interpret the New Testament. This is surely not the case. The translation of John 1:1c ("And the Word was God"), for example, cannot be determined by syntax alone (Colwell's Rule notwithstanding). The remedy to this situation is to give primary weight to Greek linguistics while taking into careful account the contextual, theological, and historical dimensions of the text.
I have no desire to disturb traditional views of hermeneutics for the sake of novelty. But when linguists can help us to understand how something as complicated as language works, and when Christian preachers continue to be woefully ignorant of the exegetical fallacies they commit (etymologizing, illegitimate totality transfer, etc.), it seems to me that we should pause and ask ourselves what is to be gained from an exposure to the art and science of Greek linguistics. Perhaps we will discover that it can help us at many points to read the New Testament with fuller understanding.
8:20 AM I was up early this morning washing clothes and cleaning the porches while it was still fairly cool. Next weekend I'm planning a visit to Mount Vernon and the following weekend I hope to be in Asia again (if my visa comes through). I saw this cartoon last night and I thought to myself, "I wonder how many times this could apply to interpersonal relationships or to controversial/debated topics?"
If you want an example, one comes to mind immediately. Everyone knows that American Pharaoh won the coveted Triple Crown of horse racing yesterday. All well and good. Or is it? Am I seeing three 2-by-4s or four? I have owned sheep, cattle, goats, donkeys, and dogs. But my all-time favorite animals were my two horses Cody and Traveler. Cody was a purebred Arabian, and Traveler was a lean mean racing machine (aka Thoroughbred). Traveler raced as a 3-year-old but was retired from the track and somehow I got him before he went to the slaughterhouse. I have neither horse today. When Cody contracted cancer I had him compassionately euthanized when he got too weak to stand or eat. Traveler I gave away to a homeschooling family who needed a good riding horse (and I was traveling too much to ride consistently anyway). Anyone who knows horses knows that they should be kept out of competition until they are at least four years old. Until then they simply don't have the skeletal maturity and are not up to the pounding and stress of a track. Thousands of horses from the racing industry are killed in slaughterhouses each year (the winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby ended up in a Japanese slaughterhouse). When a horse breaks down on the track it's usually put down immediately. Now remember, horses can generally live into their late 20s. Owning a horse is a 20-30-year commitment. The bonds I shared with Traveler were deep, much deeper than the bonds I enjoy with my Shelties (and everyone knows how much I love Sheba and Dayda). Being a Thoroughbred, Traveler knew only one speed (the gallop) -- which happened to be my favorite speed as well.
He was bred to run, and so I never tried to teach him dressage like I did with Cody. But no breed deserves to be sent to the slaughterhouse. For every successful race horse, there are thousands that break down, die, or are slaughtered. You say, "But haven't you slaughtered and butchered your own cattle on your farm?" Yes we have. But they were raised for their meat. We don't eat horses in America. So I do question the horse racing industry. I question why horses are competing when they are too young, why so many are bred (leading to over-population), why retired horses aren't put out to pasture, etc. We can help by making a contribution to a reputable horse rescue service. (I recommend Eagle Hill Equine Rescue in Fredericksburg, VA). We can also stay informed: horseracingwrongs.com documents the daily horrors if you're interested. I'm not against horse racing per se. But it's time the owners, breeders, and trainers in this industry did right by the horses (e.g., eliminate race day meds, cut back on breeding, require fees dedicated to TB retirement, etc.).
Saturday, June 6
6:05 PM A few random reflections on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I'm still coughing a little bit, but I'm glad to say I'm almost back to normal. I'm missing Hawaii already -- can you believe it? I've heard from quite a number of you who have been to the islands and I'm glad you enjoyed my pix of the Aloha State. (I also know the ocean is not everyone's cup of tea.) Anyway, I'm ready to go back to Oahu and have already booked my cottage at Kailua for October. Still, it's good to be back on the farm. Today I mowed the yards and cleaned up a bit but I also did a little blogspotting and watched a couple of videos, one of which was called A Labor of Love: The Theology of Work in 1 and 2 Thessalonians by John Taylor of SWBTS. This is honestly one of the best things I've seen on this topic. The speaker exegeted Paul's references to "work" in the Thessalonian epistles and then topped it off with a tremendous summary of the Pauline ideal of work. I was reminded of several things:
Of course, I've written about all of this before (go here if you're interested), but it is wonderful to realize again that I am chosen in Christ to reflect Him in my daily work. I do not work at Rosewood Farm or at the seminary by chance. The invisible hand of God led me here. Therefore, my jobs are sacred vocations, and this includes baling hay as much as it does writing Greek textbooks. Not only that, but God has given each one of us a unique personality through which He works, regardless of what our vocations might be. It's thrilling to think that through my jobs I have the freedom to express my personality and abilities without ever having to compare myself with anyone else. I am loved, embraced, and kissed by Daddy, and so are you my friend. So let's live purposely -- despite the mistakes we might have made in the past. Aren't you glad that the son who went to Vegas and partied and chased hookers was welcomed into the Father's house?
All of this is very significant theology, a theology of work and vocation if you will. It's significant if for no other reason than because of the amount of time each of us spends working every week. After watching the video I spent a few minutes just reflecting on how blessed I am to know a God who treats His children with extravagant love and even makes their work something that is satisfying and purposeful. It's certainly something to think about.
Enjoy your work today whatever it is!
10:36 AM A week ago today I was watching this:
Friday, June 5
7:10 PM A bit of blogspotting....
1) Becky and I would always watch The Longest Day on June 6. The movie is available at Netflix and YouTube. Here is "the moment of discovery" (without the English subtitles).
2) Yesterday in a blog post I left out an apostrophe -- which reminded me of this quaint website: Apostrophe Abuse.
3) Here's your worthless word of the day.
4) Clint Eastwood has a new movie coming out and I think I'm gonna like this one: Sully.
5) When you travel as much as I do you've got to be concerned about a 95 percent failure rate at the TSA. Then there's all the stealing that has been going on.
This is not very reassuring to the traveling public. Yet when you think about it, didn't our Savior say that moth, rust, and robbers would wreak havoc on our earthly goods? I suppose that's why He asked us to lay up treasures in heaven.
3:50 PM Emojis vs. Hieroglyphs. Fun read!
2:55 PM Being the consummative lover of all things Hebrews, I've been reading through a very interesting doctoral dissertation called Chiastic Structures in Hebrews by David Mark Heath. I think all scholars would acknowledge that Hebrews contains chiastic structures on the micro-level of language, similar to what you find in Latin ("Edere oportet ut vivas, non vivere ut edas," "You must eat to live, not live to eat") and English ("You can give without loving, but you can't love without giving"). The big question posed by students of Hebrews is whether or not this approach to chiasmus can be applied beyond the phrase level to the discourse level, that is, to larger macrostructures and even to the entire book of Hebrews. Some New Testament scholars (Bullinger, for example) have posited a chiastic structure for practically every book in the New Testament -- leading me to quip to my students that perhaps the time has come for someone to write an essay called "Chiasmomania in New Testament Studies" (mimicking, of course, Samuel Sandmel's classic JBL essay called Parallelomania). In fact, the author of this dissertation was kind enough to quote me on p. 127:
In the rest of his dissertation, Heath argues for the presence of numerous chiastic structures that operate at the macrolevel of language and that these macrostructures are arranged concentrically. The dissertation concludes with several helpful appendices including "Hook Words in Hebrews" and "Inclusios in Hebrews."
Make no mistake about it, the New Testament world knew and loved rhetoric and rhetorical devices such as chiasmus. The author of Hebrews uses perhaps the most elegant Greek in the entire New Testament to make his point that Jesus is better -- better than the prophets, the angels, Moses and Aaron, the Levitical priesthood, even better than "Jesus" (the same Greek word can be translated "Jesus" and "Joshua"). I am always humbly relentless (an oxymoron, I know!) with my students: Don't ever overlook the use of rhetorical devices by the New Testament authors. Living in a post-Gutenberg era, we tend to forget that the first century was an oral culture that delighted in such figures of speech as alliteration and paronomasia. Thus, without "listening to the text," we may very well miss out what God the Holy Spirit inspired in the original text. Even though there has been considerable debate on the structure of Hebrews (see my The Problem of the Literary Structure of Hebrews), don't let that keep you from engaging in rhetorical criticism of the New Testament.
Below: The opening lines of Hebrews in p 46.
Thursday, June 4
8:22 PM Today I was interviewed for the third time by Abidan Shaw for his Hoi Polloi podcasts. Today's topic was New Testament textual criticism. He says it will be up in a couple of weeks. For previous Hoi Polloi interviews, go here:
8:08 PM Some final thoughts on my trip to Hawaii. Hard to believe that this time last week I was surfing and basking in the warmth of a tropical sun. But the main reason I went to Hawaii was to remember. When you're missing someone so much that it hurts, you need help. You don't need somebody saying, "Cheer up." You want someone to be with you, sharing your sorrow, empathizing with your pain. You need someone who understands you, not someone who has all the right "biblical" answers. You need someone who will never leave you or forsake you.
Of course, this "someone" I am describing sounds an awful lot like God. Then why did I feel the need to go to Hawaii to find Him? And the answer is: I don't know. Maybe it's because when you are going through something unfamiliar you need the familiar -- to smell the old smells you once enjoyed or experience the salt water you once lived in. Maybe it's because Hawaii was the place where God said "No" to me so many times -- "No" to having a father in my life, "No" to having an easy childhood, "No" to a healthy self-esteem. In each and every case, I learned an important truth, and that truth was that "No" is not a sign that God has abandoned you. Instead, it's a sign that He has something far better in mind for you than you could have possibly imagined. It was in Hawaii that I first learned that His grace was sufficient for me, that even in an old beat-up world that is hedged in with limitations we have a taste of another world, that when we abide in Him we abound in Him, that He alone is the vine and we are but the branches, that when the temptation comes to get by with shoddy stuff and build a cheaper structure we are still obligated to give our very best, that Christianity is the greatest of arts and requires that we work hard to show ourselves approved unto God, that Jesus' joy is not the artificial whooped-up joy that can be worked up at a football game by cheerleaders but is the Savior's own joy, that while there are no perfect Christians there can be Christians with undivided loyalty. As I sat at the beach or climbed a mountain or walked a trail I could almost hear Him saying to me, "In your youth I surrounded you twenty-four hours a day with evidence of my greatness and glory. The surf at Pipeline, the heights of the Koolaus, the endless ocean -- all these were reminders of My love for you, a love that two thousand years ago I funneled into the plain package of a human being just like you who also lived in poverty and experienced rejection and yet who harnessed the heavens and burst His bounds and arose victorious from the ashes. It was in Hawaii that I handpicked you, yes you, Dave Black, Kawika Eleele, for a big job and promised to be with you as you turned your disabilities into blessings. I only ask that you admit your need and trust Me with the load."
Someday I will stand before this God and be asked to give an account for my life. If there will be anything positive to show for my sojourn on this earth, it will be because of the One I first met at the age of eight in Kailua, who stood there patiently at the door of my heart until I opened, who helped me overcome my unbelief and my lack of self-esteem, who diagnosed me with a terminal illness called sin and then made a way for sick people like me to have their health restored.
Lord, are You sufficient? That's the question I asked myself over and over again while I was in the islands, and it's the same question I face every day in a myriad of ways. I can't say that my life changed drastically because of this trip to Hawaii, and yet I find myself being a little more enabled to face life's sorrows and the loneliness of widowerhood. The world promises cures that it cannot deliver. The healing of a wounded heart comes not from within as we focus on the pain and sorrow, nor does it come from without as we focus on other people (who will always disappoint us), but it comes from enthusiastically living life God's way and allowing the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in us. His peace then guards our hearts from the discouragements and fears that assault us whenever we face the harsh realities of life.
It is taking me a long time to learn this lesson. I have certainly yet to master it. But ever so slowly, the Lord is gradually transforming my understanding of loss and will continue to do so until I come to the place where I can see my widowerhood not merely as a condition to be endured but as a gift that God has given me to give back to Him.
3:45 PM He's as beautiful as I imagined. I'm jealous of all that hair.
11:22 AM I'm about to meet my newest grandbaby, Mr. Peyton Brooks Black. Man, I love grandkids.
11:15 AM My colleague Alvin Reid has written a powerful piece called Pastors, Depression, and Our Definition of Success. As with everything Alvin writes, it's real.
Wednesday, June 3
4:12 PM This is phenomenal:
Go here to read the entire story. I know and love Mr. Eugene. I also know and love Dr. Akin. Both of them are fulfilling God's call on their life with faithfulness. In 1 Corinthians 1, we read about worldly wisdom, or what we might call education. I love teaching. I love educating young people. But I believe it's a blunder of the first magnitude to think that education has any inherent value. The ancient Greeks called this hubris, and they said that hubris always leads to a nemesis. That's true on a national scale as well as on a personal one. Education is like the tree in the Garden of Eden. What more could one want? It was good, pleasant, even useful, offering aesthetic pleasure and intellectual stimulation. What could be better? Yet we all know the outcome. The same can sadly be said for education. Whereas educational status divides the world and society, in the church the opposite is true. In Christ there is no Greek or Scythian, no scholar or barbarian. Christianity is a patently revolutionary and retrogressive force, while the opposite is the driving force behind modernism.
If the church in America remains static, it is because it has lost the basic meaning of the Christian life, which is to serve rather than be served and to give rather than to get. This service is both horizontal (among people) and vertical (of people to God), but either way it occurs only by sacrifice and lowliness of mind (tapeinophrosune). Wherever we find the worship of worldly knowledge and power -- and this is a common problem today in evangelicalism -- the church should be ready to expose it, attack it, and root it out. Paul says, "You think you're wise? God will destroy your wisdom! You think you have understanding? God will set it aside! What really pleases God is the foolishness of preaching that saves those who believe." He adds, "God has made foolish the wisdom of the world." The term "make foolish" in Greek (moraino) can also be translated "make tasteless." There comes a point in your life when you just can't stomach worldly education any more. The degrees mean nothing any longer. The status means nothing any longer. Knowledge per se means nothing any longer. What matters is this: putting whatever God-given knowledge you have into practice in ways that help and serve and bless other people and glorify God. Do I live up to this ideal? Hardly. Barely. But it's my goal!
Thank you Dr. Akin and Mr. Eugene for reminding us of this great truth.
4:00 PM Overheard on NPR: "We read because it makes life more enjoyable. Or at least more tolerable." I couldn't have said it any better.
1:15 PM It has long troubled me that pastors seem to come and go so frequently in our rural churches. The transitions are rarely smooth between pastorates. Theologically, there is another problem, and that is the New Testament's teaching about church leadership. That the so-called minister is called not primarily to do the work of ministry but to prepare and equip and shape the saints to do the work of ministry is the clear implication of Paul's letter to the Ephesians (especially chapter 4). Pastors come and go. But why can't there be continuity of leadership? This thought occurred to me while reading a comment in this blog post. The commentator stated, very perceptively in my view:
As one who has worked in local churches as a "lay person" for over 45 years, I am profoundly surprised that many pastors simply do not get this. Sure, itineracy is a problem. But I am convinced that the problem is much deeper than that. I am also convinced that liberating the laity for leadership in the church is not a peripheral matter of New Testament Christianity but one of its central tenets. As the commentator notes, through equipping, both pastor and lay people are restored to their proper dignity in the body of Christ. A pastor will see his role as one of seeking to move the whole people of God into a ministering people. Thus systems -- the structures and polities we implement in our churches and denominations -- are important. There is no point in affirming "every member ministry" when the structures of our fellowships say the exact opposite. Christianity is essentially a people movement. Leaders are viewed as not being "over" the congregation but as being extensions of the body (see Paul's profound use of the preposition sun in Phil. 1:1). The world has its own leadership pattern that is quite contrary to that of the New Testament, which permits no pyramidal forms. "Clergy," sadly, has become an imbedded mentality, a philosophy wherein the clergy lead the church, even run it at times. In the church, however, every member is indispensable. The structure of the church, therefore, must communicate that the whole body together has clerical status. Under the direction of the Head, the whole church -- interrelated to the other members -- discovers Christ's goal and vision for the church. I realize that this truth is enunciated and even taught. But it seems to me that it is one of the least practiced principles of the contemporary church. Two principles summarize Paul's teaching in Ephesians 4: (1) church leaders are called primarily to an equipping ministry ("They are the leaders of the leadership of the church" puts it very well) and (2) God's people (the "saints") are to be equipped not merely to assist the pastors but for their own ministry. In his Ephesians commentary, F. F. Bruce hits the nail on the head when he writes: "In the theocracy of grace there is in fact no laity" (p. 86). When human underequippers realize this and practice it, what a relief it is. What a release it is from unhealthy and unbiblical expectations. Pastor-teacher, has God called you to shepherd a local flock? Then work hard at your calling. Bring your people under the authority of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. Nurture them into the reality of Jesus' leadership and headship. And friend, if you are a lay person (as I am), realize that, whatever leadership your church has, it has a mandate to equip the saints for works of service. And if the leadership has worked hard to make people dependent not upon themselves but upon the Head (who makes the highest claim on leadership), all will be well when there is a change in pastoral leadership.
11:04 AM Last night I was sitting in my upstairs bedroom, reading a book. I could hear it coming -- a thunderstorm, bringing much-needed rain to our parched farm. The louder the storm got, the happier I was: more rain. I let the dogs in at night but they know their limits: You stay downstairs. So there I am reading when I hear the faint sound of a dog ascending the stairs. It was Sheba, one of my Shelties. She knows upstairs is off limits but she is also scared to death of thunderstorms. Guess who sheepishly shows up and sits down in my room? Without once looking at me, of course. Okay, sweetie pie. You can stay. Until the storm is over.
I shared this story by text with a few of my daughters and one of them wrote me, "So funny ... And almost human like. Your presence brings her comfort and protection. It's craziness outside but she was like, 'Where's Dad?'"
Chances are, you've had a similar experience. We approach the throne of grace in heaven (Heb. 4:16) through prayer. Somehow, in the midst of our fears, we receive mercy and grace for help at just the right time -- liberation from fear and strength for the heart. As I think about the various challenges I've faced in my life, my heart is overcome with gratitude to God for the many times He has listened to my petitions. The most important thing is not "Come" but "Come unto Me." We aren't promised rest in the act of coming but in Himself. That's what Sheba found, and that's what we can find whenever we approach Daddy. The simpler our faith, the better. Come as you are. Trust Him the best you can. Your rest and peace is found not in how you do it but in a Person.
Tuesday, June 2
6:32 PM Since I have nothing better to do I thought I'd talk with you for a moment about books. Here's one of my faves:
I purchased it in Piccadilly Circus, London's go-to place for used books of all stripes and colors. One of my most sought-after genres (as you know) is escape books from the Second World War. I ask myself, Why in the world would people try to escape once captured? Sense of duty? Claustrophobia? The chance of promotion? I find myself totally engrossed in the true story of men seeking their freedom under the most desperate of circumstances.
But there's more to this book than meets the eye. Much more. I love reading this book because, well, it's a book. A real book. I simply cannot bring myself to read an eBook. There's no use in trying to talk me into it either. And it doesn't matter to me one whit that if I should ever have to move again I will be stuck with umpteen box loads of ... books. When I say "book" I am referring not only to content but to the tactile pleasure of holding a paper product, admiring its ink and paper and glued binding. This particular book of mine even has a smell of its own, quite unlike any other book I have in my personal library. Maybe it's because I am entering my dotage, but I like things that age with time. Books are like that. Books are fragile and easily offended. As you can see, it's time I had this one rebound. Or will I? Would you have a face lift or liposuction? Everyone knows you're getting old, so why try and hide it? Books really are my best friends. They are always at my side or in my hand. My publishers sell many of my books as eBooks. You can read most of them on Kindle. Ok, fine. Have at it but, again, don't try to bring me over to the dark side. My heart and soul will always belong to paper books.
Now, you say, what in the world brought this topic up? The answer is NPR, which (while I was cooking supper) ran a superb story called A Publishing Insider Turns The Page On A Bygone World In 'Muse.' It's about a publisher-turned-novel-writer named Jonathan Galassi. Muse is his first novel but I certainly hope not his last. When Lynn Neary read the book's opening lines, I just about fainted:
Do you see? Do you see now why I can't read eBooks? I just can't. Yes, I know there will always be eBooks. But there will be book-books too. Maybe for another 40 years if we're lucky. But by then I'll be dead and gone and it won't matter anymore.
In the meantime, long live books!
5:34 PM Civil War enthusiast? Read how a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly described Gettysburg in 1865. Fascinating!
4:24 PM Who said it?
Why, Karl Barth of course!
(Cited in G. Casalis, Portrait of Karl Barth, p. 3).
4:08 PM Well, I just got back from the doctor's and she gave me antibiotics and told me to rest. Ugh. I hate being sick. I know I'm not supposed to hate but I do. (My therapist says it will take time but that I will recover.) So what to do? How about lining up future speaking engagements? The dates are now set for my class in Hawaii: October 4-7. So all of you kamaainas as well as you malihinis, come out and join us at Windward Baptist Church in Kahuluu. One more good thing: I've just been asked to speak at the Correctional Institution (i.e., prison) in Butner, NC, next month (July 13 to be exact). This is so awesome I am speechless. Well, almost. I don't know if you were aware that the great Karl Barth regularly preached in the Basel prison. You can read about it here. Can you imagine listening to the good doctor of the church speaking from Luke 23:33 on "The Criminals with Him"? Wow. It's just possible I may get to do this on a regular basis. Wouldn't that be great! But back to my pity-party. I was hoping to do a 5K this Saturday but it looks like that will have to be put on hold too. Rats! Oh well. This too I accept. I find that learning to trust God is like learning to swim. You can't fight the water. Instead, you've got to let the water support you. The hardest part of the Christian life for me is letting go. Surrender is another word for it. There will always be losses to cope with, hassles to work out, and temptations to overcome. I find that sometimes God has to put me flat on my back before I pay Him any quality attention. I have tons of faults, but one of the greatest is my tendency to be so busy doing everything that I have no time to be anything. True Christian ministry is always the outflow and expression of who we are in Christ. Doing can never become a substitute for being. So grumpy ol' me is just gonna have to accept this down time and leverage it for good. Must it not delight our Lord when His children seek Him for Himself? We'll, that's my goal for the next couple of antibiotic-cough-syrup-filled days.
I crave activity. But when will I seek Him alone?
12:15 PM I finally had the chance to see Selma on my flight from Atlanta to Honolulu. On the whole, I thought it was an excellent film. On the flight back to Atlanta I watched the new release called McFarland USA.
Another excellent film. There wasn't a single weak link in the cast. (BTW, McFarland USA was released today on Netflix.) The movie's goal is to make you feel empathy with the culture of Mexican immigrants and it succeeds without being pushy. It's Kevin Costner at his best, who learns not only how to be a good coach but a good dad. If you like cheering for the underdog, you'll love this movie.
11:52 AM On the Southern Accent:
Monday, June 1
2:40 PM If you ever visit Hawaii, you simply must do the Diamond Head hike (762 feet in elevation). You'll love every minute of it. The view from the top of the crater is absolutely spectacular. The hike is paved but beware: there are two tunnels and lots of stairs to climb. I managed to complete the hike in about 20 minutes.
Here's a pano that will give you a good overview of the Leeward Side of Oahu.
On this day, the surf at Diamond Head Point was breaking about 2-4 feet. I recall some days the surf getting up to 15 feet. Hawaii no ka oi!
1:20 PM Kailua Beach has gone to the dogs.
1:10 PM Got out of bed at 11:00 am today. Yesterday it was noon. If I improve an hour a day, I'll be back to normal on Friday.
Sunday, May 31
7:38 PM I received a question the other day that I get quite often so I thought I'd share the answer with you. "How are you doing, Dave?" There's nothing simple about the answer but I'll do my best. Picture it this way. Until Nov. 2, 2013, my relationship with God looked like this. I imagined Jesus and I were walking on the beach together. There were always two sets of footprints -- one set belonging to me, the other to Him. But on the day Becky died, I noticed that the second pair of footprints had mysteriously disappeared. "Lord," I cried, "how could You desert me when I needed You the most?" "My dear child," came the reply, "I never left your side. When you saw one pair of footprints, it was then that I carried you."
How extravagant is God's love for His children. And when we are not carried by His love, we slip into emotional quicksand and lose the capacity to live life to its fullest. Since Becky's homegoing 18 months ago, life has been full of changes. I can honestly say that I feel her absence more today than I did when the Lord took her Home. If there is an exit door to the house of grief, I have yet to find it. Yet grief doesn't have any value in and of itself. But if allowed to, it can produce growth. One learns to move forward. Values and relationships are reevaluated. Even one's relationship with God can be enhanced. If I were to list the positives coming from losing Becky, my list might look like this:
For 37 years there was a woman in bed beside me. She was "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Yes, there were other significant people in my life, but no one like her. Ironically, from the very beginning of our marriage there was always a tearful sense of mourning over one another, a realization that marriage is ephemeral and that death is something that looms larger and larger in a marriage as you both grow older, a realization that it does no good to mourn over your loved one when they are gone, that now is the time to eulogize and to plant kisses on their lips, to dare to love and forgive and dream and grow from your mistakes as a couple while there is still time. The most authentic love always grows out of brokenness. Husband, don't be terrified by the prospect of losing your spouse. More than anything, your wife needs your love now, your unconditional love, and the good news is that God is able, more than able, to help you to become a man whose worth is based on grace rather than on performance and to be a husband who proves to a lost and loveless and lonely world that love can actually exist. Friend, only God can do that, can help you as a husband to embrace both the gift and the challenge of marriage, can bind you to that special woman of yours all your life long and even into eternity in the cords of love.
May He do that.
May He do just that.
4:43 PM Grocery prices in the Aloha State are crazy!
2:32 PM "I woke up and looked around. My sleep had been very sweet" (Jer. 31:26). As I noted earlier, today I am enjoying the extravagant pleasure of sleeping in and doing nothing. No exercising either. I've got a runny nose, cough, and sore throat. Yes, I'm learning to listen to my body. Which means I've got plenty of time for reflection. Meet bruddah Kevin Akana.
He serves at Windward Baptist Church in Kahuluu along with bruddah Mark Napuunoa. They are ministering in a very needy part of Oahu sharing the love of Jesus. We met last Sunday and I was thrilled to hear about the ministries God has led WBC to be involved in. A couple of years ago they started Kahuluu Christian School to provide a biblically-based education for the children of the community. They have also begun a Bible Institute for the purpose of training disciples into Christ-likeness.
On my next trip to the Oahu (October probably) I have been asked to teach a class in the Bible school. Earlier today I gave you a glimpse of what my trip to Hawaii looked like. However, I wasn't being completely honest with you. I failed to describe the pleasure I derive whenever I see Jesus at work in the islands. There's also the quiet joy I feel when I see history repeating itself. For you see, as a young man in Hawaii I was well aware that I fell light-years short of God's standards for Christians. My lapses and struggles gave me a clear picture of my need for good Christian fellowship and, above all, of my desperate daily need of a Savior. For me, that fellowship came in the form of International Baptist Church in Honolulu. I was one of pastor Jim Cook's "preacher boys" -- young men from broken homes who needed a strong father figure in their lives, young kanakas who needed to see that in God's eyes our mistakes and misfortunes are less important than our response to them. Pastor Jim didn't run from us; he stood firmly by our side. And the Lord stood beside us all. Through his example I learned that God works for good in everything -- even in the negatives. For me, the path forward took a mainland turn -- Bible school, marriage to Becky, seminary, a doctorate, and a teaching career that, though completely undeserved, has been more satisfying than I ever imagined possible. (An island boy teaching Greek? You've got to be kidding.) That's why I love churches like WBC that are reaching out to the lost and lonely around them. That's why I love it when I see accomplished "scholars" leave their ivory towers and get a taste of real life. In truth, Hawaii is no Paradise. The needs are all around. Even a blind man could see them. I'm not sure I can add much to the work that's already being done there, but one thing I know how to do is teach. My class in the fall might not have cosmic implications, but any day now we'll hear the trumpet blow and maybe, just maybe, there's a young man in Kahuluu who will be encouraged and challenged to hang in there because a kamaaina haole from Kailua showed him the way.
12:58 PM I woke up at noon today, which means I slept for 16 hours straight. Guess my body was a bit tired. I may never have the opportunity to compete with the Windward Kai Canoe Club, but I sure did enjoy training with them, as tiring as it was. Practices started at 5:00 pm daily. I was on a 6-team crew. And we were worked to the bone. Success at canoeing doesn't just "happen." It comes with training -- learning the fundamentals of paddling and perfecting them with the help and encouragement of a good coach. Here's my coach: Pali.
His job is to steer the canoe and keep us all rowing together. I can still hear him saying, over and over again as we paddled, "Stay together, stay together." In many ways, church is like those team practices. As head of the body, Christ has invited us to his group practice sessions. Like my teammates, I'm practicing for much more than a race that will last an hour or two. Jesus Himself set out the course 2,000 years ago and stands at the finish line cheering us on. And get this: Practice is meant to be a group event. As we draw together as the body of Christ, we inspire each other on to greater usefulness and faithfulness in Christ. And what kind of work is that? I was visiting a large hotel in Waikiki when I saw a sign on a ground-floor door that said, "Servants' Entrance." Serving God is not finding the perfect job or fulfilling our dreams. It is becoming a person who can wash dishes or serve tables for God's glory. When we live like that -- when we refuse to make a false distinction between "work" and "ministry" -- all work will become ministry and all ministry, work. And together we will become God's "ministers" to the glory and praise of His name.