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Friday, December 19 

3:44 PM For all 37 years of our marriage Becky's mom and dad would send her this deluxe fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery for Christmas.

A part of me asks, "Why should they continue to do this, now that Becky has gone Home?" But another part of me -- my stomach in particular -- is glad they are continuing the tradition. Thanks a million, mom and dad. 

2:20 PM As you all know, this evening, after his press conference, the president will leave for "my" beach in Kailua, where he will spend the Christmas and New Years holidays with his family. Michelle Obama once said of her husband, "You can't really understand Barack until you understand Hawaii," and I would say that's probably true of yours truly as well. In a sense, Hawaii will always be home for the president -- and for me. Of course, if you live in Kailua you will be aware that a portion of the beach has been declared a security zone. The zone begins at Kapono Point and extends along the shoreline to Kailuana Loop. Enter the zone and you're likely to be fined $40,000 and sent to prison for 10 years. Auwe! But it's really not that big of a deal folks. The surfing is lousy along that stretch of Kailua Bay anyway. Kamaainas, please try to enjoy your holiday. And to the president: A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Catch a big one for me, and watch out for the Portuguese man-o-wars.

11:58 AM Right now I'm reading through Gerald Hawthorne's commentary on Philippians. It is a model of exegesis and a superb guide.

11:52 AM Interested in the book of Hebrews? Here are some good resources from Paul Himes.

9:38 AM Apropos the recent discussion of employment opportunities in biblical studies, I have a thought. In 1 Cor. 12:4-6, Paul says that the Spirit grants to all the members of the body spiritual gifts (charismata). The Son, on the other hand, assigns ministries or places of service (diakonoi) to every gifted member. These are opportunities to exercise one's spiritual gifts in ways that edify other believers. Note that God does not give us gifts so that we might simply boast of or brag about them. God desires us to serve and use those gifts as the Lord Jesus directs us and in the place of His appointment. Finally, Paul says that God Himself grants us the energemata – the abilities – to use our spiritual gifts in an effective way.

Think of your calling in life as a funnel.

At the top is the matter of your gifting. What are your strengths? What interests you the most? What are you "good" at? Paul says that our gifting comes from the Holy Spirit. You don't ask the Spirit for your gift; you simply discover it and then develop it. This is the matter of what.

Secondly, the middle of the funnel is the matter of where. In what place of ministry am I to exercise my God-given abilities? Where shall I serve Him and others? Paul says that the place of our ministry is up to the Lord. Jesus Himself will appoint us to a place of ministry. Let's say, for example, that your gift is teaching. The only thing you want to do with your life is teach. But where? You can teach in a public school or a private school. You can teach in primary school or graduate school. You can teach in a secular school or in a religious school. You can teach in a Bible college or in a seminary. How to know? Well, in one sense, you don't have to bother trying to figure it out. The Lord knows exactly where He wants to "put" you. He knows the best showcase for your gifts. And He will open whatever door needs opening so that you can serve Him in that place.

Finally, at the end of the funnel is the matter of why. What do I hope to accomplish by exercising my spiritual gift in the place of the Lord's appointment? Again, Paul is clear. This matter has already been arranged by God. He is the one who "works all things in all people." Therefore we can leave the results to Him. We simply allow Him to produce in us those good works that He has already foreordained that "we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).

So there are three steps in this process: discovering our gifts, discovering the place where we can best exercise those gifts, and discovering what God wants to accomplish though us as we exercise those gifts in the place of His appointment. (I realize that's wordy.)

1 Cor. 12:4-6 played a significant role in my life when I was in seminary. Once I figured out what God had created me to be (a teacher), the next question was where? Well, the Lord opened the door for me to teach Greek at Biola College while I was taking classes at Talbot Seminary. The Lord made it clear to me that my field of teaching was to be at either the college level or the seminary level. Subsequent to that revelation, it was then a matter of acquiring a doctorate (which was and still is a prerequisite for teaching at this level). As for the results, I have watched in amazement as God enabled me to teach and write and publish. Yes, I set personal publishing goals (one book every five years and one journal article every year), but I never sweated about any of this. I just taught and wrote and published as God enabled and led and provided and opened doors. You know, when you truly come to grips with Paul's teaching here (i.e., that the results of our ministries are up to God), it is so liberating. You are free from ever having to compare yourself with anyone else. You will never be jealous that another New Testament scholar has, say, written more books than you have. There's no need for that. The energemata are, after all, up to God, who works everything in everyone -- and therefore gets all the glory for anything we may have accomplished.

My point? If you feel that God is calling you into fulltime college or seminary teaching in the field of biblical studies, I say go for it. Don't sweat the job market. I know this may sound very simplistic, but I really believe it. If this is God's will for your life, He will open the door and produce the results. Why, then, worry about it? I can tell you example after example of my doctoral students being placed in teaching positions, some immediately upon graduation. This is a God thing. But that's Paul's point!

8:50 AM "On the third day of Christmas ...."

8:38 AM I love languages. I also love cathedrals. The two have much in common. A cathedral has nouns, all sorts of them -- arches, aisles, naves, bays, chapels, organs, flying buttresses. And verbs? A cathedral has the entire system. Tense: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Voice? Listen as I make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Mood? Exuberant and jubilant. It has syntax -- "words" lean on each other in a sort of equilibrium, much like a house of cards. It would take a lifetime to learn and understand all of the architecture and art of a cathedral. A cathedral, like a language, is something you admire. It stands there, quietly, while you stare at it. All of the great cathedrals were built as places of worship to the glory of God. They never fail to evoke in me a sense of awe, a sense of another world -- some taller than the pyramids of Egypt, as heavy as the Statue of Liberty, and able to contain the entire Empire State Building.

Last night I visited the famous Duke Chapel -- I'll call it a cathedral.

At least it's probably the closest thing to a European cathedral you'll find in this neck of the woods. I felt like I was back in Notre Dame in Paris or the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

Carved from a hundred million pounds of stone, soaring effortlessly atop an intricate pattern of masonry, the Duke Cathedral is a marvel of human achievement. You think: There's arches and bright stained-glass windows God is building in me. He's the great cathedral builder, after all.

The North Carolina Boys Choir did a fabulous job.

O Magnum Mysterium was sung flawlessly. There was congregational singing as well. I loved singing Once in Royal David's City, especially the final verse:

Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by, we shall see Him, but in heaven, set at God's right hand on high, when like stars His children crowned all in white shall wait around.

Prior to the concert I decided I wanted some Ethiopian food, so off I went to the Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill.

The owner and cook Friesh and I reminisced about the times Becky and I would eat there.

One of us made the comment (I forget who), "Becky is not dead. She is more alive than either one of us." I had to swallow hard just then.

My heart was filled with song last night. I'm home and yet I'm not Home. Parts of my heart are a billion miles away in glory with Becky. A cathedral will do that to you. So will good Ethiopian cuisine. Most of all, you think of heaven when you're flanked by people whose priorities are eternal.

Blessed Advent,

Dave

Thursday, December 18 

1:40 PM Tonight's concert by the NC Boys Choir at the Duke Chapel features O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen.

Can't wait. People will be singing this hymn for hundreds of years if the Lord doesn't return first. Praise God for the Great Mystery of the incarnation!

O magnum mysterium
et admirabile sacramentum
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum
jacentem in praesepio.
Natum vidimus et choros Angelorum
collaudantes Dominum. Alleluia.

Quem vidistis, pastores, dicite,
annuntiate nobis, quis apparuit?
Natum vidimus et choros angelorum
collaudantes Dominum, Alleluia.

O great mystery
and wonderful sacrament
that even the animals saw the new-born Lord
lying in a manger.
We saw the new-born, and a chorus of angels
Praising the Lord. Alleluia.

Whom did you see, shepherds, say,
Tell us, who appeared?
We saw the new-born, and choruses of angels
Praising the Lord. Alleluia.

1:22 PM Bible study.

11:56 AM A major North American publisher is coming out next spring with a new primer to New Testament textual criticism. I just submitted an endorsement to them. I am very impressed with this book. In case you might be interested, here's what I sent Eerdmans today:

Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism is an excellent treatise on a vitally important subject. The authors sought to produce a textbook that falls midway between Bruce Metzger's The Text of the New Testament and my own New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide. In this they have succeeded brilliantly. Not only is every major area of textual criticism covered, but each section of the book ends with "key terminology" and an up-to-date bibliography. The book concludes with an extremely useful guide to the text and apparatus of the latest editions of the Greek New Testament. The authors' careful research deepens our understanding of the role of textual criticism in exegesis, and I am confident that their book will be widely used both inside and outside of the classroom.

11:46 AM Millions want to know: "What did you get from your daughter, Dave, on the second day of Christmas?" A picture is worth a thousand words.

Oh my!

11:38 AM Leland Ryken, formerly professor of English at Wheaton College, is interviewed here about his new book, A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible. I am all for a literary reading of the Bible as long as it doesn't replace the historical-grammatical method. Personally, I think Ryken goes too far when he says that "form is meaning." Marshall McLuhan repeated a similar axiom: "The medium is the message." I agree with neither statement. The medium is a huge part of the message, however. Evangelicals tend to underestimate the importance of literary style in exegesis. So I do hope that Ryken's latest work will be well received by careful exegetes.

10:28 AM It happened at the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg -- the single bloodiest day of a very bloody war. Union forces had just gotten a foothold on the opposite side of Burnside Bridge and began to move north to roll up the Confederate line. The men of the Federal IX Corps were allowed a few minutes of rest prior to the assault. Today on the battlefield you will find a monument to one of the Union soldiers who served here. He was a member of the commissary of the 23rd Ohio, and he served here with coffee instead of a gun. The soldiers who drank from their tin cups no doubt appreciated the efforts of William McKinley, future President of the United States.

The God of the universe once took a towel and washed His disciples' feet. From majesty to meniality! Grace must never be unwilling to take the form of a servant. Christians should not only stand but serve. Sadly, it's possible to enjoy saving grace without very much serving grace. Of course, serving is not enough. The trouble with the social gospel is that it is no gospel at all. I was in a church recently where much was said about the 2.4 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day. Not a word was said about the Gospel. My heart broke. As much as we may want to see hundreds and thousands of people delivered from poverty, our battle is not against flesh and blood or symptoms of sin like poverty and illness but against Lucifer and countless demons who work day and night to see that souls enter a Christless eternity. A spiritual battle must be fought with spiritual weapons, and this is why we must insist first and foremost on evangelism and discipleship. (I say that as someone who started a health clinic in Ethiopia.) When all is said and done, the best way of serving a lost world is by teaching them about the Lord Jesus Christ. The true fulfillment of the Great Commission must be at the heart of every one of our endeavors to minister to the needs of humanity. We must see that "the poor have the Gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:5).

Wednesday, December 17 

6:40 PM "Christmas is a son away from home." Norma Alloway.

6:36 PM "In worship, it is God who gives, and it is we who receive. The miserable idea that God should in any sense need or crave for our worship like a vain woman our compliments or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him is implicitly answered by the words from Psalm 50:12: 'If I be hungry, I won't tell you.' Even if such an absurd deity could be conceived he would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures to gratify his appetite." C. S. Lewis. 

4:48 PM Well, my daughter Liz has done it again. (You remember her, don't you? She's the one who is committed to soiling -- er, spoiling -- her dad.) Well, her package arrived today from New York. It contained 12 gifts for the 12 days of Christmas.

Can you believe it? Let's see ... what's in the first package?

Well, there goes my excuse for not drawing!

To Liz, Matt, Caleb, Isaac, Micah, and Mercy Magdalene -- a thousand thank yous from Papa B!

12:44 PM I love the panorama feature on my iPhone camera. How many contrails can you count?

It was a gorgeous day to have visitors on the farm.

Jacob Cerone (blog) is my former personal assistant and my current Th.M. student. He and his family currently reside in Washington State but are in Cary visiting with family.

So great to share a meal with them and get caught up. What a sweet family.

Right now I'm planning on taking a long walk on the farm to work off all the calories I've ingested in the past week. Don't want to end up like this!

11:32 AM Quote of the day (Thom Rainer):

... I have had to learn that there are certain people in churches and other organizations who have the spiritual gift of complaining. And they will exercise that gift frequently and with vigor.

9:53 AM Excellent thoughts here on getting a teaching job in biblical studies. 

9:35 AM Here's what I'm reading over the break. How about you? 

9:18 AM Quote of the day (Frank DeFord on NPR today):

Why do we call a man who shoots dumb animals a "sportsman" and a man who plays first base or offensive tackle an "athlete."

8:20 AM Last night I was having a discussion with someone about Paul's use of the Greek word nomos in Romans 7 and Romans 8. On the one hand, the term refers to the capital L "Law," that is, the Law of Moses. This is the Law that was "weakened" through the flesh and thus could not provide what God had to provide through the sending of His Son (Rom. 8:3). On the other hand, Paul can use the term to refer to a certain type of "power" or "principle" at work in the believer's life, as in Rom. 8:2: "The power [nomos] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power [nomos] of sin that leads to death" (so the NLT). Paul seems to be employing here the law of contrasts, if we can call it that. The righteousness of God is for Paul a noun of action. It is His power in relation to men and women who do not do what is right and who violate the rights of others in self-righteous aggression, as we saw yesterday in Pakistan with the horrific slaughter of school children and their teachers. Humankind robs God of His rights by smacking Him down in their pride and religious hubris. God's righteousness is the power to disturb our status quo, to shatter imprisoning conventions and traditions, and to break into new paths of freedom. Where this imputed righteousness through Christ is not able to do its work freely, God then uses the instruments of "law" (small "l") -- including threats and punishment -- to achieve justice. Luther once referred to this latter law as God's opus alienum, His "strange work." As we saw in Peshawar yesterday, there is a deep perversion in man. Our aversion to the righteousness of God assumes the form of preventing the future of others by seeking to use them for our own present good and security. God uses the pressure of law to get us heading in the right direction, in the direction of justice. He uses the law to cause us to serve each other rather than abuse each other.

Thus God works under contrary signs -- law and Gospel. He is secretly and hiddenly working "behind our backs" as it were, and even the greatest tyrants of history can be made to do His will. The law is universally present as a pressure to drive us to do what is right, to give others their due, but this law is not the statement of an eternal will but an instrument on the way to the goal of God's universal rightness kingdom.

Today the Pakistanis -- indeed the whole world -- is asking, "How could God have allowed this to happen?" This question has a theological basis. When God declares His righteousness, it takes the shape of a searing and searching light. It reveals the demonic powers at loose in the world, gripping it to keep it the way it is. It points us to the unconditional righteousness and love that were mediated into the world only through Jesus Christ. The church exists as an eschatological community of hope for the world. It declares that a new world -- Godworld -- is coming into being through the power of Christ's death and resurrection. The church does not exist for itself. It exists as a sign of hope for the world for which Jesus died and rose again. Christians can neither separate themselves from this world nor merge with it. We cannot separate ourselves from the world because in one sense Godworld is already present in Jesus of Nazareth. We cannot merge with the world because then we would lose our distinctive calling as a light to the nations, as the new humanity foreshadowing the future universal kingdom of God. Any dimming or diminution of this eschatological consciousness results in the relaxation of our missionary existence in the world. The church exists as God's eschatological mission for the world. When, therefore, the church becomes preoccupied with its own religious needs, when it becomes ecclesiocentric, it can no longer be authentically Christian.

The tragedy of our times is that the situation in the world is desperate (as we were reminded again yesterday) but the saints are not. If we were as desperate as the situation, something would happen. Times of emergency call for responses of urgency. A Laodicean complacency will accomplish nothing. So I urge us not to be alarmed at evil tidings, for our hearts are to be fixed on the Lord. But the times call for measures that are suited to the crisis. Just read Tit. 2:11-14. This is what we are here for. By life or by death, by what we do and by what we do not do, whether we eat or drink, our business is to glorify God by counting our lives as His and "losing what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose." The Lord has much to say to us in these trying times. In the hour of extremity I urge us to live Spirit-empowered lives that place the Gospel first. Getting out among the "issues" and dragging in Scripture to support this or that "cause" is something else altogether. Don't create "issues." We have one already. Christ is what matters, and everything else -- even the world's greatest tragedies -- are to be judged in the light of Him.

Tuesday, December 16 

6:40 PM Everyone is talking about it. The "it" being Jeb Bush's potential candidacy for president. Can he get the conservative vote? I deal with the topic of conservative politics in the book I'm currently writing, which, as you know, I'm calling Godworld. Godworld is the antithesis of Jesusland -- the geopolitical entity that embodies populism, evangelical identity, quasi-nationalism, and American exceptionalism. I'm arguing that Christianity in America functions best when it operates outside the circle of power in Washington and is not tethered to particular political parties or secular ideologies. Sound familiar? I believe Jesus' vision of Godworld is a vision whose time has come.

6:08 PM As I was getting new tires put on the van today, I just "had" to go next door and have lunch at what is quickly becoming my favorite Mexican restaurant in Wake Forest.

I even presented a copy of Becky's book to the staff there. (I just "happened" to have a copy with me.) You can probably tell by my over-use of quotation marks that I'm trying to make a point. I am still amazed at being a Christian. Amazed that God should number my steps daily. Amazed that I should have the privilege of walking with Him and working in His vineyard where nothing happens by happenstance but is directed by His Spirit and His Word. Must it not delight Him when He finds His children delighting in Him? Consider the privilege of hearing the Word of God. What if God had remained silent and there was nothing from heaven -- no Word-made-flesh, no feeding trough in Bethlehem! Today I sensed His presence and leading, His provision and power, in even the smallest detail. Rest assured, Dave, everything will be all right. Not because you say so but because God says so. He is with you "day, after day, after day," until the end of the age.

Try practicing the Presence of God yourself amid the clamor and confusion of the world of trouble you face today.

8:13 AM All I want for Christmas is ....

But before I get there, I learned a new word this morning. NPR was airing a story about "reshoring." The story described how American businesses are moving back to the U.S. after "outsourcing" to places like China.

I thought to myself, "Now that is a great Christian word. I think I'm gonna steal it." Think of the book of Hebrews. One of its major themes is that we have no abiding city on this earth. In fact, no earthly city (or nation) can provide true security. This totally reverses the situation we found ourselves in outside of Christ. What was attractive to us when we were lost -- the world system and its values, goals, and priorities -- now becomes repulsive. We now recognize that we are mere transients on this earth, because earth itself is transient. God is taking us to a city where the angels and saints celebrate His presence forever. Hence, as Christians we are to "reshore." We are, as Hebrews puts it, to "go outside the camp." Just as Moses renounced wealth and prestige, so we are to embrace kingdom values and relinquish temporal securities for a transcendent hope (13:14).

When we "reshore," everything changes. Some examples: we care for the brethren (13:1); we do not neglect to care for strangers (13:2); we remember the prisoners as though imprisoned with them (13:3); we are content with what we have (13:5); we do not neglect acts of kindness and fellowship (13:16). Christ has asked of us the apparently impossible: to be His ambassadors in a lost and dying world and to be His loving hands and feet at home and abroad. Like the boy who offered Jesus his sack lunch, God takes what little we give Him and multiplies it.

Christmas has been hijacked by Wall Street. The Bible, however, has quite a different emphasis. "You must have the same attitude toward life that Christ Jesus had" (Phil. 2:5). Just as the decision to forsake all others is central to a happy marriage, so the Christian must choose between two masters, God or Money. If our love for God is sincere, we will despise all that hinders our relationship with Him.

So what do I want for Christmas?

Well .... This week we crunched the numbers for the India School project I've been telling you about. Since we last spoke on the subject, $28,000 has come in. Praise the Lord! My heartfelt thanks to all of you who have given to this cause. But the need is still there. Mammen Joseph in India told me yesterday that, in order to complete the project, another $163,000 is still needed. Practically, what does that mean? It means that once $63,000 comes in, the total need will have been met! (The final $100,000 will be matched.)

I am asking God for that $63,000 as my Christmas present this year.

You want a great Christmas in 2014? Do something extravagant. Take a bubble bath. Play jump rope with a friend. Eat some Cracker Jacks. Suck on an orange. Or give lavishly to a worthy cause. Should God lead you to give to the cause of the India School, make your check out to Bethel Hill Baptist Church (yes, it is tax-deducible) and send it to me at 2691 White House Rd., Nelson, VA 24580. And don't forget to write "India School" in the memo line.

Then go out and skip down the street. Or give your dogs a treat. Or fly a kite. Or wash somebody's car. Or ....

7:58 AM Thank you, Lord, for Your sunrise this morning.

Monday, December 15 

6:20 PM Read How to Use Your Home for Mission. Interesting fact: 27.2 million people live alone in the U.S.

6:14 PM Seems I'm full of quotes tonight. Here's another one (by Watchman Nee):

It is not necessary that elders resign their ordinary professions and devote themselves exclusively to their duties in connection with the church. They are simply local men, following their usual pursuits and at the same time bearing special responsibilities in the church. Should local affairs increase, they may devote themselves entirely to spiritual work, but the characteristic of an elder is not that he is a "full-time Christian worker." It is merely that, as a local brother, he bears responsibility in the local church.

6:12 PM Great missions quote by Samuel Zwemer:

The great Pioneer Missionaries all had "inverted homesickness" --  this passion to call that country their home which was most in need of the Gospel. In this passion all other passions died; before this vision all other visions faded; this call drowned all other voices. They were the pioneers of the Kingdom, the forelopers of God, eager to cross the border-marches and discover new lands or win new-empires.

5:55 PM "The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets." C. S. Lewis.

1:15 PM Been texting with one of my daughters today. She's been trying to send me a surprise for Christmas. My comment in blue.

12:50 PM Have you ever talked about the "good old days"? Have you ever become nostalgic for the past? I have. But we can't idolize the past. That's a lesson I've been forced to learn lately. The Christian does well to forget the past and strive to complete the tasks yet ahead. I was reminded of this during my recent visit to mom and dad's house in Murphy, TX, where I am a charter member of the Murphy Cemetery Association.

Dad proudly showed me the improvements that have been made in recent months, including their new historical marker.

One thing that stood out to me was this reminder that of the 300 graves in the cemetery, over one third of them are for children under one year.

The "good old days"? Not when you consider infant mortality. Today in Germany there is a phenomenon called Ostalgie (a combination of Ost -- "East" -- and nostalgia).  Adherents to Ostalgie look back with nothing but the greatest fondness for the communist years of former East Germany. It's easy for us to idealize the past. I do it all the time. But a year spent means another year due tomorrow. At some point, retrospect needs to give way to prospect. There is a New Year to be welcomed, and there are new challenges to overcome. How foolish of us to think that our best days are in the past! There is still much land to be possessed -- all that is ours in union with Christ, and all the service that remains for us to do. Let's reach for these things while pressing toward the mark.

12:20 PM Someone dear to me recently experienced a major loss. I was reminded of Paul's words to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:20): "I left Trophimus sick in Miletus." I am somewhat helped and encouraged by the fact that Paul didn't have one unbroken record of success in his ministry. There are times when we, too, must leave Trophimus sick at Miletus, when things don't work out the way we had planned, when there are events in our lives that we just can't explain. Paul had healed many other people, but his own companion he had to leave behind due to illness. I hope he later recovered. We're simply not told. But one thing is clear: Pain is sometimes God's way of stepping out of the shadows and making Himself known to us. And so today I weep with those who weep, thankful that we have a God who helps us maneuver through every difficulty of life, whether it's the loss of a loved one, or the tears of a broken relationship, or physical illness. Friend, in your journey to heaven, be sure to leave room for a Miletus along the way.

11:18 AM Changed the van's oil today. I see I need two new tires plus a front-end alignment. The good people at Auto Care and Quick Lube in Wake Forest will have everything ready for me tomorrow. Love their quick and efficient service.

11:14 AM Want to thank my daughters again for insisting that I get an iPhone. I am getting real good at emojis!

8:15 AM If you'd like to hear a sample of the music our brass team performed in West Germany, here it is: Aria della Battaglia by Gabrielli. Powerful stuff. And here's the best online rendition of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Hauntingly beautiful. Thank God for the precious gift of music.

7:55 AM When one of us suffers, we all suffer. Let's keep Saeed in our prayers today. He is reported to be in "severe pain" in his Iranian prison cell.

7:50 AM A few odds and ends ....

1) Advent books going out in today's mail. So are all of the Greek DVD orders.

2) Good review of Moses: Gods and Kings.

3) Another one.

4) Jeff Cook wants to know who is worthy to take the Lord's Supper. In this regard, I offer a few thoughts about communion based on several New Testament texts (such as 1 Cor. 10-11 and Acts 20:7):

  • The Lord's Supper is the centerpiece of the Christian assembly.  

  • The supper is superbly Christ-centered ("Do this in MY remembrance").

  • No believer is "invited" to partake of the supper; we eat and drink in obedience to Christ's command ("Do this" is in the imperative mood).

  • The supper is a genuine meal, not a ritual to be "administered."

  • The emphasis is both on remembering and anticipating.

  • It is a joyous celebration and not a sorrowful funeral.

  • The meal symbolizes the unity of the Body of Christ.

  • ALL are to partake, and ALL are to partake together.

  • The "unworthy manner" to which Paul refers has nothing to do with one's spiritual status at the time of eating. It refers to eating and drinking in a divided manner.

  • Self-examination is a necessary part of the Christian life, but in 1 Cor. 11 it is not a reference to the preparedness on the part of the believer. It is a call to observe the social nature of the meal in which distinctions based on partiality of any kind are forbidden.

  • The one loaf of bread not only symbolizes this unity but in some sense creates it.

  • Because there is only one loaf of bread, we are one body no matter how many we are or how diverse we may be. "Many yet one."

Sunday, December 14 

3:55 PM Hello blogging buds,

Just back from Durham, North Carolina. I've been having a great day. How has yours been? Here are a few of the highlights:

1) We have been enjoying Chamber of Commerce weather here in the Piedmont. I mean, right now it's 60 degrees and sunny. I have never seen a more beautiful winter day. And the best part of all is that it feels like fall.

2) Today I had the privilege of presenting to the folks at Mexico Viejo a copy of Bec's book in Spanish. Here I am with Hector (manager), Francisco (Asst. Manager), and today's server, Carmen from El Salvador.

I gave a little speech before I presented the book to Hector:

This book is very special to me. As you know, my wife is in heaven. But her spirit will always live on in my heart. She was a fabulous wife. She was also an example of faith, faithfulness, hope, and love. She loved this restaurant. So I want you to have this book. It's for you and all the servers who work here. I hope you enjoy it. May God bless you.

Such was the gist of my little talk. Somehow I managed to give it entirely in Spanish. (Thomas and Lesley would be proud of me.) I am eager for all of them to read it and then share it with their spouses.

3) Finally, what can I say about today's cantata other than that it was superb. Now, you know me. You know I'm not a big fan of spending money on church buildings, Christmas trees, etc. That's the intellectual and theological side of me. But to be honest: on the esthetic and emotional side, give me a gigantic church building and a huge church organ any day. The bigger the cathedral the better!

Today I experienced one and a half hours of nothing but pure worship of the Almighty. And it was an unexpected blessing. As you probably remember, on Thursday I was scheduled to leave for Asia but my trip was postponed at the last minute. Which means that I had this Sunday free. I really, really hated to miss my own church. I miss the fellowship there, the teaching, the music, everything. But as compensation, I was treated to a heavenly time of some of the best chorale music in all of North Carolina. Life is full of trade-offs, I suppose.

The theme of the cantata was, as you know, "Wake Up!" And the entire concert was performed in the original German. When asked why, the conductor responded, "The German words fit the notes perfectly." So true. I offer but one example. Compare this:

Wir folgen all/zum Freudensaal/und halten mit das Abendmahl.

With this:

We all follow/to the hall of joy/and hold the evening meal together.

Point made?

I wish you could have been there today. It so reminded me of when Becky and I lived in Switzerland and attended the German-speaking Baptist church in Basel. It was not at all unusual for us to sing the great old German hymns of the faith -- all 12 verses of them! (Not, "We'll sing the first and last stanzas of The Old Rugged Cross.") I think people forget that a mere 250 years ago, Lutheran worship services lasted anywhere from 2-4 hours. In addition to the sermon, an entire cantata might be sung. It is said that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote one new hymn every week. And I'm so glad today's concert was in a church and not in a concert hall. Bach wrote for the glory of God (soli Deo gloria), and he was a churchman and a Christian first and foremost. When I played the trumpet on a brass octet in the summer of 1978 in West Germany, I well remember our conductor, Julian Bandy, telling the audiences every time we played a piece composed by Bach, "Er war nicht nur ein grosser Kompanist. Er war auch ein überzeugter Christ." I know some folks don't think too much of classical music. Where I live, sports tends to be way more important than teaching your kids how to play the trumpet or piano. Actually, I'm not very biased when it comes to music. I enjoy Country Gospel every bit as much as I enjoy Sacred Music. But today's experience was, well, out of this world, inherently beautiful and intuitively compelling.

As I have been thinking about the music, and especially about the words of today's cantata, God has given me a brief word to share with you. No, not all of you. What follows is for those of you who have lost their wives. (The rest of you can eavesdrop if you like.) So ... to my fellow widowers:

I've heard from quite a number of you this past year. I think I can say with utter integrity that I know exactly what you are going through. But I have a message for you today, and I take it from the wonderful Bach cantata I heard this morning:

Wake up!

You say, "What in the world do you mean, Dave? If there's one thing I am constantly doing, it's lying awake at night. Why, don't you know that sometimes I don't fall asleep until three or four in the morning?" Well, yes. I certainly do understand all of that. I too have struggled with insomnia -- and with boredom, and with loneliness, and with all of the other things you struggle with on a daily basis. But if you understood the background to the cantata "Wake up!" you would see where I'm headed. I believe it was the year 1598. The black plague had come to Germany. In one day alone, pastor Philip Nicolai buried over 30 people. That year he wrote a hymn for his suffering congregation. The first words of the hymn were, "Wake up!" Imagine that. The first people to sing this hymn was a congregation of grieving widows and widowers. Friend, in the midst of the graveyard, God is calling His people to wake up -- because the Bridegroom is coming! Just read Isaiah 52:1-10. This is a truth that should produce deep and profound joy in our lives. Through the gift of faith we can stand in the midst of death and point to the coming King. "Hope, peace, love, and joy" are more than advent candles. Jesus is alive, and He is coming back. David danced childlike and naked in the presence of the Lord. Death did not hold him back. Of course, our joy is a broken joy. We live in a fallen world. The recent report about torture reminds us that there is none righteous, no not one. But God is still mending broken hearts. The Prince of Peace is still working among the conflicts that mar our lives. Ours is not a religion that ignores the existence of evil and death. Our Christ is no Pollyanna, painting the clouds with sunshine when they are really dark and gray. But He met trouble with joy. "Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Trouble is a reality -- including loss, grief, loneliness, and insomnia -- but we can cheer up for He has overcome all that this world can hurl at us. He makes all the difference.

My favorite aria in the cantata was the following. Read the words and you'll see why:

Mein Freund ist mein/und ich bin sein/die Liebe soll nights scheiden./Ich will mit dir/ -- du sollst mit mir --/im Himmels Rosen weiden,/da Freude die Fülle, da Wonne wird sein.

My Friend is mine/and I am Yours/love will never part us./I will with You/ -- and You will with me --/graze among heaven's roses,/where complete pleasure and delight will be.

One day -- just think of it! -- you and I will be reunited with our departed wives, and it is Jesus Himself, our Lover, who will lead us to them as they "graze among heaven's roses." Saving grace is singing grace. If we are not singing, we had better check on our state. Saving grace is also sufficient grace. "Of His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." "Our God is able to make all grace abound to you." "My grace," said He, "is sufficient for you," in sickness or in health, in success or in failure, in gain or in loss, in height or in depth, in every circumstance of life. What was provided for the apostle Paul and his thorn is made available to you, my friend, and to me. I urge us not to grovel in self-pity this Christmas season but instead to move on to the daily blessedness of sufficient grace!

With warmest Advent greetings,

Your friend,

Dave

9:12 AM Great Christmas hymn: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence."

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.

King of kings yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture,
In the body and the blood,
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

9:08 AM The disadvantage of being an author.

8:54 AM What is the church offering the next generation? A significant step forward has been that the contemporary church is becoming in various degrees a peoples' church. Christians who have been truly born again are not satisfied to be merely numbers on a church roll. They see themselves as the first-century Christians did -- ordinary men and women who so moved the world that their enemies could say that they "turned the world upside down." The church must always be in a process of self-renewal if it is to be relevant in a constantly changing world. Even in the Roman Catholic Church there has been a movement of late toward what is being called the "apostolate of the laity." In his book The Tragedy of the Unemployed, Richard Halverson writes:

The authentic impact of Jesus Christ in the world is the collective influence of individual Christians right where they are, day in, day out. Doctors, lawyers, merchants, farmers, teachers, accountants, laborers, students, politicians, athletes, clerks, executives ... quietly, steadily, continually, consistently infecting the world where they live with a contagious witness of the contemporary Christ and His relevance to life.

I know many "lay people" who are known for their "contagious witness." One of them lives in DC. Another lives in Australia. They see themselves, not as spectators of the kingdom work that God is doing, but as building blocks. They are priests offering themselves to God in daily service in their "secular" jobs, that is, in all they are, do, and say. Indeed, for this ministry of kingdom-building, the Holy Spirit has bestowed on every Christian various gifts that are cooperative and complementary. It is unmistakably clear that the term "ministry" as used in the New Testament does not refer to officiants in a church building but rather describes all Christians in their role as priests. In other words, your pastor exercises a priesthood that belongs to all believers. The whole work of the church must be done by the whole people of God.

In the movie Evan Almighty, congressman Evan Baxter hears somebody banging on his door. He answers it only to find God, played by Morgan Freeman, standing outside by a stack of lumber. Baxter is understandably surprised, as you would be, if God suddenly showed up in your front yard. Once you recovered from the shock of it all, what would you tell God about your life?

Of course, Christianity is not a religion of works. It is based on pure grace. There is nothing we can do to earn heaven. However, people will remember you later by the values you live now.

Are you in fulltime Christian ministry? You can be. It is a choice God demands that we make.

Saturday, December 13 

5:14 PM Flags are flying!

4:30 PM Always a classical music buff, I'm eager to hear Bach's Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme performed in German tomorrow at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Durham. The title (in English) is "Awake! calls the voice to us." It's one of my all-time favorite chorale cantatas and very worshipful.

3:56 PM By the way: One of the requirements in the LXX class will be to memorize the basic Greek vocabulary of the Septuagint. A list will be provided. This list is based on frequency of occurrence. Incidentally, in the TESOL Journal, Paul Nation once argued that learning vocabulary in related lexical sets (e.g., synonyms, antonyms) makes memorizing vocabulary words more difficult. I tend to agree, even though it sounds counterintuitive.

3:38 PM Greek students, the syllabus for our LXX class this spring has now been posted to Moodle.

3:28 PM I found at least 4 typos in my blog. And that's just from today's entries. Aargh! Little wonder I enjoyed reading this: What's Up With That: Why It's So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos.

3:22 PM Did you hear about the Harvard prof who went after a small restaurant for "overpriced" Chinese food? Talk about a Scrooge. By the way, this month I've decided to give a 100 percent tip. My meal last night cost me $10.00. The tip was $10.00 -- along with a huge "Thank you!" Just trying to spread a little Christmas cheer. (I once bussed tables in Waikiki so I know how hard servers work.)

11:02 AM This and that ....

1) Just took a long walk and fed the animals. Gorgeous day over here.

2) Nate and Jess recently took the boys to the Smoky Mountain Railroad Polar Express. What a blast they had. Their boys are rail fans to the max.

3) "Do give books, religious or otherwise, for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal." Lenore Hershey.

In the spirit of Advent, I'm giving away 4 of my Energion booklets. Just send me an email with your mailing address. If more than 4 people write in, I'll draw straws. Deadline is tomorrow at 6:00 pm.

10:23 AM "If we should take lay religion seriously as was done in the early church ... pastors would not be performing while others watched, but helping to stir up the ministry of the ordinary members." Elton Trueblood.

9:35 AM "Get into the habit of dealing with God about everything." Oswald Chambers.

9:20 AM Breakfast of champions.

8:55 AM When I was a kid and learning how to dive from the high dive into the swimming pool, I would stand at the edge of the diving board petrified of what lay below me. Eventually I took a big breath and -- I made the plunge. "Gee, this is fun!" I told myself as I clambered my way back up the diving board steps. But the real heroes of this story are my friends who stood on the pool deck and encouraged me to step out in faith.

I find that learning to trust God for change in our very traditional churches is like learning how to dive. The hardest part is simply letting go of our doubts and reservations and trusting God. Let's say your church is currently having to decide between taking a step of obedience to what the Scriptures clearly teach or else maintaining the traditional set-up. You may agonize over your uncertainties and insecurities, but the easiest way forward is simply to step out and take the plunge. God is there to support those who trust, not in their own security and certainty, but in His.

In this regard, I find it interesting that Paul mentions three groups of Christians in the Thessalonian church (see 1 Thess. 5:14). There were the "idlers," the "fainthearted," and the "weak." Let's look at the "idlers" for just a moment. The term Paul uses here often carries with it the notion of "not in order, not conforming to the established law or practice, being insubordinate." Apparently these people were insisting on their own way and were "out of step" with Paul's injunctions. Some perhaps were also lazy and were refusing to obey the command of Paul to "work with your own hands." In any case, these good folk had to be dealt with, and dealt with directly.

Now please notice the verbs that Paul uses with reference to each of these groups:

  • The idlers are to be "admonished."

  • The fainthearted are to be "encouraged."

  • And the weak are to be "upheld."

There is something very important going on here, and it is easy to miss. The verbs must match the nouns. In other words, we fail in our duties should we, say, admonish the fainthearted or uphold the idlers. People in rebellion against God are not to be coddled. They are to be admonished (noutheteo). This verb is a Pauline word, occurring 7 times in his writings. It always has a sense of correction, but the correction is always based on instruction. It can never be correction alone or instruction alone. And it is never to be done in a vindictive or judgmental spirit.

If you are a church elder, you know exactly what I'm talking about. There will always be people who will refuse to obey the Word, so steeped are they in tradition, or in sin, or in whatever. Sometimes these people have been in the church for years and years and believe they are above reproach -- and correction. But the fact is that none of us is ever above correction in some area of our walk with Christ. We all act against the will of God in some form or another. But that is no excuse for passivity.

Another observation, and it too is vitally important. Please, please note that Paul is not telling the church leaders to "admonish the idlers." A thousand times no! His exhortations in this verse have the whole church in view ("We appeal to you, brothers and sisters ...."). This means that, while our congregational leaders will obviously play a huge role in moving the church forward in obedience to God's Word, the obligation to instruct and correct each other is ultimately the responsibility of the whole congregation. This means that I, who am not a local church elder, still have the privilege and responsibility of speaking up when I sense the Lord is leading me to offer instruction and correction, under the leadership of my elders of course. There is no evidence that Paul would have ever delegated this responsibility to the leaders alone.

Now think about your own local church. Many Christians find it hard to obey the simple teachings of the Scriptures. Moreover, they find it hard to accept advice, instruction, or correction from others. In such situations, Paul exhorts the members of the church to speak truth to one another and to do so in a patient and long-suffering manner. Let there be instruction! Let there be correction! Let's move forward as congregations into those areas of obedience that are clearly taught in God's Word. Our churches will be happier and healthier if we do so -- together.

Friday, December 12 

8:20 PM Becky and I loved this restaurant in South Boston, the closest "little big" town to our farm.

We loved to eat Mexican food together here, and the servers all loved Becky. As I ate there tonight I thought a lot about her. Why? I don't really know. She's been gone for over a year now, and yet it seems as though she's never left my side. The restaurant was packed, but still all the servers seemed to go out of their way to say "Que tal?" to me. I think they miss Becky as much as I do. That's what can keep me up until one or two in the morning. Still, I consistently realize the grace of God. I mean, what could be simpler than widowerhood? The simplest thing of all is to love the Lord your God. It's a task that's not very exciting from the world's perspective but one that could hardly be of more importance to God. How can a man who enjoyed 37 years of marriage to one woman have anything to grumble about? Marriage is never ideal, though we often idealize it. But one thing marriage does do, and does well, is provide us with at least a modicum of love in this world. So powerful a force is love that it's not easily tamed. And when one loses one's spouse, when one's love must be redirected, there is a profound sense of loss. It requires a surrender, a surrender of one's brain and body to the One who is his true Lover, the Lover of his soul. So love lets God rule, lets God have His way, realizes that it is only by relinquishing control that we experience fullness and joy. It's really just as simple as this: When you love someone, you seek to please them. If using a toothpick after dinner bothers Becky, is it my business to question her judgment, her "over-sensitivity"? Or is it rather to simply refrain, in love, from using a toothpick when Becky is around? Marriage has been defined as sameness. Wrong. Dead wrong. Marriage is not about sameness but about oneness. True love is humility expressed on behalf of the other. And so tonight I ate out again, at one of my favorite restaurants, ordering my usual meal.

I was alone, though I knew I was not alone. At the very least I was surrounded by happy memories. At the very most, I knew that the servers who stopped by to say hello meant it. To truly love others, we must come out of our shells, escape from our hermetically-sealed cocoons and look others in the eye with vulnerable majesty. And so I am determined. I am going to learn how to love again -- not another woman perhaps, but life itself. I am going to discover what it means to be content in every situation, abased or abounding, in want or in plenty. In short, I am going to learn what it means to be a Christian. Becky, I think, would be proud of me.

5:45 PM *Smile.*

5:34 PM On their new blog (aptly named "Across the Atlantic"), Antonio Pińero and Thomas Hudgins discuss which New Testament Greek text one should follow in doing exegesis. It's a vitally important question. In Hebrews alone one finds numerous significant textual variants: 1:3; 2:9; 4:2; 8:8; 9:2-3; 10:1; 11:11; and 12:1. From the time I became a Christian I was aware that the New Testament was written in Greek. But I didn't get excited about textual criticism until I was in college taking Greek courses with Harry Sturz. Since then, I have usually included textual criticism as part of my Greek exegesis courses. The odd thing is that most pastors today are probably on very unfamiliar territory when it comes to textual questions, despite the fact that they may have taken Greek in seminary. That's odd. But the fact is, it takes work, hard work, to become proficient enough in Greek to be able to make decisions about the text of the New Testament. Christian Barnard didn't just pick up a scalpel and become a heart transplant surgeon overnight. Nor can you arrive overnight as a Greek scholar. Is the sin in Heb. 12:1 "easily distracting" (euperispaston) or "easily besetting" (euperistaton)? Did Paul write to "the saints" or to "the saints who are in Ephesus" (Eph. 1:1)? Or, in a passage Thomas alluded to, does Jesus forbid all anger or only anger that is "without a cause" (eike)? Honestly, I don't think pastors ponder these matters very much. Thomas is correct when he writes, "I guess my point in mentioning all of that is even with a modern critical edition of the Greek New Testament, you have to wrestle with textual issues. Having such an edition doesn't free the student of God's Word from having to think about such things." Would that it were so.

As is often said, biblical exegesis is nothing other than the art of asking questions about the text. But the questions we ask (or fail to ask) always reflect assumptions and biases on our part. I do hope that this new blog will be a valuable prolegomenon to our own reading and study of the text, helping us to assess and evaluate the presuppositions we all bring to it. To that end, I wish it well.

2:22 PM "If you find what you really enjoy doing, you will never work a day in your life." I don't know who first uttered this platitude, but boy is it true. I first entered the classroom in 1976 at Biola. It was love at first sight. Someone asked me today if I still enjoyed teaching. My answer was, "Yes, but I wish I was better at it." C. S. Lewis once wrote, "Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and again make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is the man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on." In the end, goodness isn't measured by the good things we do but by the inward thing we are. I love teaching. But I can always do better. Thankfully, what we can't do, God can do. He will help us if for no other reason to keep us trusting Him and not ourselves. Deep inside me is the God-given urge to know Him better, more fully, and to be able to communicate His greatness to others in ways that they too would like to see Him, up close and personal. Today's commencement service was just another reminder of how blessed I feel I am to be able to teach, and to teach in a premier institution of higher education. Thankfully, more than head knowledge goes on here -- and I call as witness Danny Akin's superb message today from Phil. 1:21 called "An Absolute Win-Win Situation." To live is Christ and to die is gain because death simply means more of Jesus. Thank God for the Gospel, and thank God for a Great Commission and Great Commandment seminary like Southeastern. It is an honor beyond belief to be able to teach here.

A few pix of today's graduation. 

7:50 AM On May 1, 1865, President Andrew Johnson issued an executive order directing that Lincoln's co-conspirators -- all civilians -- stand trial before a military commission. Their alleged crimes were military in nature, he argued. Hence they were "enemy belligerents" and not civilians. To the president, this made perfectly good sense, as the District of Columbia was still operating under marshal law. A military trial would ensure that the process remained under the War Department's control. Some, even in Johnson's cabinet, were opposed to trying the accused before a military commission, but Secretary of War Stanton insisted that a military court was the only proper authority for the trial. The defense attorneys in the case argued strenuously against trying their clients in a military court as long as the civilian courts were functioning in Washington. A year later, the United States Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ruled that U.S. citizens could not be tried by military tribunals in any jurisdiction where the civilian courts were open and functioning. Several years later, when John Surratt was tried in a civilian court as an accomplice in the murder of Abraham Lincoln, the trial ended with a hung jury and Surratt was set free. Mary Surratt, his mother and the first woman to be executed in the U.S., would likely have met a similar fate had she been tried as a civilian.

Yesterday the CIA director defended his agency and its use of harsh interrogation techniques, including "rectal rehydration." President Obama, on the other hand, has said he believes some of these techniques used by the CIA constituted "torture." What's remarkable to me is that the president opposes criminal investigations into the program. We were able to defeat both Nazi Germany and Japan without the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. If the allegations in the report released yesterday are true, then high-ranking government officials are guilty of unlawful behavior. Torture is both immoral and illegal. It violates the very Constitution the CIA has sworn to uphold. What was wrong in 1865 is wrong today. Our government must abide by the law. "We're at war" is no excuse for "rectal rehydration" and other violations.

Thursday, December 11 

5:44 PM Just crossed off everything (but one) on my list of things to do today. Good feeling. Time to curl up with a good book.

5:40 PM Here's my supper:

And the donkeys' supper.

Everybody is happy!

4:13 PM Busy day. Cleaned house. Did my banking for the week. Went for groceries.

I think I deserve a steak, don't you?

11:40 AM Henry Neufeld just notified me that La Historia de Mi Vida: Un Testimonio a la Gracia y Fidelidad de Dios is now available in Kindle. Praise the Lord!

11:30 AM Things aren't always as they appear. Two examples:

1) At Heritage Park in Fort Meade, Florida, stands this historical marker.

It says that Meade "built" the fort (he only selected the site) and that he "later became commanding general of the Union Forces during the Civil War" (which would have come as a huge surprise to the real commander, Ulysses S. Grant).

2) Next to Becky's parents' home in Murphy, Texas, stands this crossing guard. When a train passes one hears a whistle, only it isn't coming from the train. The horn emanates from the crossing guard itself.

In other words, things aren't always as they appear.

There's a grave danger today that while we emphasize the new birth we fail to give a corresponding emphasis to the new life. In my own circles, it's easy to say "I'm a Great Commission Christian." The words come easily. The challenge is becoming the kind of Christians who will not only talk the missional talk but who will also go far beyond that and live missional lives in home, school, shop, and office. It is easier to be a Pharisee than a Christian. It is doing without being, being religious without being righteous, which is exactly why our Lord called the Pharisees "hypocrites." We outlive ourselves only when we live to the glory of God and for the good of other people. The Magi said, "We have seen His star." But they also did something about it. They came to Him and gave Him their best gifts.

So why am I telling you all this? During this past year grief has affected every aspect of my life. Emotionally I have felt completely numb. Physically I suffer from insomnia. Intellectually, I face the challenge of concentration. I still cry from time to time, though I have never felt the need to apologize for my tears since they are God's gift to those who are grieving. At times I feel like my talk is far greater than my walk of faith. Yet as I continue to feel, God continues to heal. Grief has not only changed my life. It has changed my perspective on life. Becky's death was a punch in the face, a wake-up call for me. Life is short. My eye must be single (Matt. 6:22-23). A single-eyed person will have but one goal in life -- the kingdom of God and His righteousness. A little church work, a little piety, a few dollars to good causes -- No! Jesus is worthy of my very best. Now.

And you know what? All of us are in this together. We never have to shoulder the burden alone. Every day He is making everything new, and we are all part of this new creation. That seems like a small thing, but it's everything.

11:12 AM I shared an excellent essay with a few friends the other day. It's called Can We Still Trust Critical Evangelical Scholars? I agree with much of what the author says. He raises some very pertinent and critically important questions about evangelical scholarship. This statement stuck out to me:

For a while, the tide was stemmed against the onslaught directed at God’s Word.  Soon however, evangelical drift began again with some calling for education of Bible believing students in Ivy League and European schools to gain prestige for the institutions that taught the Bible. The result was disastrous for inspiration and inerrancy among such schools. The warning of J. Gresham Machen in 1936, who fought the first battle in the 20th century, was disregarded by evangelicals as unnecessary although it had struck deep at the heart of Bible-believing scholars everywhere before: "[M]any seminaries today are nurseries of unbelief; and because they are nurseries of unbelief the churches that they serve have become unbelieving churches too.  As go the theological seminaries, so goes the church."

Now, as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to get my doctorate from a "prestigious" university. I was tired of the repetitiveness of seminary. For me, those years in Basel were formative to everything I have accomplished in my 38-year career as a teacher. As Joel Hawes once put it, "Youth is the forming, fixing period, the spring season of disposition and habit; and it is during this season, more than any other, that the character assumes its permanent shape and color, and the young are wont to take their course for time and eternity." Yes, many warned me not to study in Basel. In a nutshell, truth wasn't necessarily an absolute standard there. As you might expect, my faith was challenged. But that's exactly why I went there. As such, doctoral studies are an opportunity -- to listen to yourself and to God, to let the fog in your life lift and get your bearings. To those in Basel who would say to me, "You know, Dave, I don't really think that an intellectually honest person can take the Bible seriously," there was only one answer. It was the one Paul gave in 1 Cor. 1:19-21:

The Scriptures say, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent." So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world's brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.

Right from the start I made it clear that I was not in Basel to sacrifice my faith on the altar of intellectualism. Nor, however, was I willing to sacrifice my intellect for the sake of my faith. The two, I reasoned, go hand in glove -- just as Francis Schaeffer would often say. (I heard him say this myself.) Christianity is a reasonable faith, he would argue, ad nauseum to some.

Perhaps you think like I do. Perhaps you believe that the choice is not between faith and reason, but rather between a reasonable faith and a faithless reason. My own doctor father in Basel was a man who seemed to be able to combine both virtues with ease. Slip your brain into neutral and you're dead. Give up your child-like faith, and you get the same result. There have been many times when I've thanked God for my "secular" university training. It's opened doors for me to teach and preach in places I never thought possible. It helped me to think honestly about myself and my theology. Christianity doesn't require you to have a Mensa IQ. Being "educated beyond one's intelligence" is a horrible thing. If you really want to know about God, all you have to do is open your Bible. Did Jesus really raise the dead and heal the blind and forgive sins? You have the testimony of four separate writers that He did.

I agree with Machen -- partly. Seminaries and universities can become "nurseries of unbelief." As the great New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce (who, by the way, taught at a secular university) once said, "The Bible was never intended to be a book for scholars and specialists only. From the very beginning it was intended to be everybody's book, and that is what it continues to be." Bruce hit the proverbial nail on the head smack-dab. But notice the word "only." There is yet a place in evangelicalism, I believe, for critical scholarship.

Where, then, to study for one's doctorate? In the end, it's a very personal choice. I accept doctoral students at my seminary. I think we have an excellent program. At the same time, several of my former students are now working on doctorates in the U.K. and on the continent, partly due to my urging. God doesn't just watch our lives -- He directs. You're not just another somebody lost in the rush of life. You're His unique creation, and He will lovingly guide you along the route He feels is best for you. It will be tough finding your equilibrium. It will be a challenge to find the right balance between faith and reason. Just as we need to be cured of the rashness and errors of our youthful enthusiasm, so it is just as bad to avoid the battle for truth under the guise of a wiser "tolerance." And this is where I think the essay I linked to above hits the mark. We should indeed grow gentler and wiser with age, but we must not mistake that for leniency toward false teaching or error. It is a fearful thing to live one's life in the swamp of unbelief. But it is equally fearful to just look to our faith. It is the object of faith that makes all the difference. Both faith and reason grow as we use these gifts for what they are: a means to an end, and that end is Christ Himself, who is the Truth. 

Wednesday, December 10 

5:48 PM From this week's photo journal:

1) Treating my doctoral students to breakfast for our final day of class.

2) The last paper of the semester was presented.

3) Gave Edgar Aponte a copy of Becky's autobiography in Spanish. Edgar is the Director of Hispanic Leadership Development at SEBTS and a good friend. He's taking more copies of the book with him as he leaves for Latin America tomorrow.

4) Ate Mexican food last night with some friends in Wake Forest. Do you enjoy chile rellenos as much as I do?

5) I read portions of John's Gospel in my Hebrew New Testament.

6) Worked on final grades with my assistant. They have now been posted to Moodle.

Time to eat supper.

Tuesday, December 9 

5:32 AM I'm a couple of days late, but here's your annual reminder to read From Pearl Harbor to Calvary. It's the story of Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who led the attack that balmy Sunday morning in Hawaii. The airman ended up becoming a committed follower of the Prince of Peace and a warm-hearted Christian missionary. In an era of terrorists and terrorism, Fuchida's story shows how the Gospel can transform a life from the inside out. More than anything, it's an awesome reminder of the power, grace, and sovereignty of God. Read it, and then share it with a friend today.

Monday, December 8 

10:46 PM Hi folks,

I hope you had a great weekend. Mine was simply spectacular. I had the privilege and pleasure of spending a few days in Dallas with Becky's mom and dad (and mine too!), Brad and Betty Lapsley. We ate out -- a lot. (This is common in the Big D.)

Quite a spread, eh? It was delicious. On Friday night we attended a Christmas performance by the Vocal Majority, my all-time favorite Barber Shop group.

But the main thing was just hanging out with mom and dad. I managed to get some rest and to get through a couple of books I was hoping to read during my mini-vacation in Texas. I delighted in the many memories of Becky that flooded my mind, like this quilt she made for her mom several years ago.

Each square has a special meaning, and the whole thing fairly screams "Love!"

On Sunday I got to hear mom's flute choir -- the "Flutes of the Spirit" -- perform Christmas music at a local church. I also enjoyed watching her give private flute lessons.

She's a natural teacher. Becky and her mom were so much alike it's perfectly scary. Perhaps what I loved the most about Becky was that she was a doer. She didn't just talk about helping people in India or opening a health clinic in Ethiopia or mentoring her daughters. I was constantly amazed by her originality and her self-discipline. Again, so much like her mom! I'm proud of Becky for being so down-to-earth, for allowing God to use her talents in remarkable ways, for being the kind of wife and mother who placed Jesus first in everything. I have never known anyone more courageous than Becky. Even during her cancer journey she remained unbelievably optimistic and forward-looking. I still miss her smile, her energy, her laugh. Oh, her laugh. It was so contagious. Her presence filled every room she entered. Watching her, people learned to laugh at their troubles and be generous with others. Live for Christ. Live each day as though it were your last. Live with grace, with dignity, with courage, with humor, and above all with love for God and for others. I stand in awe at the joy and love she brought into so many lives, especially mine. I have laughed until I cried and cried until I laughed thinking about her on this trip to Dallas. She lived with the uncanny empathy of a fellow traveler. In her autobiography she shared parts of her life that were no laughing matter, though never with grim seriousness. Like the Ethiopians she ministered among for so many years, she laughed at her problems. The finest tribute to Becky is that people knew her simply as "Mama B." I don't think we'll ever see her likes again -- her brilliance, her wisdom, especially her generosity. The years I spent with her changed my life.

If something Becky did or said or wrote made you laugh or cry or think, you can repay her today. You can commit to loving and laughing and living like she did, facing whatever life hands you with a smile and undaunted faith in the Savior. Just as there will never be another Michelangelo or another Rembrandt, there will never be another Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. To know her was to be blessed. No other woman could live quite the way she did. Wonderful memories of Becky will continue to live on in our lives forever. Praise be to God.

On a completely different note, I've been carrying on a private conversation by email with several friends (mostly New Testament textual critics) about Harry Sturz, about whom I blogged the other day. Seems most were unaware that Harry was in the process of producing his own edition of the Greek New Testament when he died. Harry dared to dream and he saw the necessity and value of what was then called the Byzantine text type (today's Majority text). He was the deft and moving "town crier" of New Testament textual scholars. I and others who have analyzed his work seriously can testify to his absolute devotion to objectivity and to the canons of history -- to the trade and practice of the careful scholar. I recall on one occasion he showed me a little booklet he had self-published on the Gospel of Matthew. It was to have been the first installment in his Greek New Testament According to the Second Century. When I asked him to explain to me the unusual title, his quiet reply mitigated the presumptuousness of the question: "If I felt I could have penetrated with any certainty into the first century, I would have done so." Harry was a man who believed that all three of our major text types were equally early, at least as far as their readings were concerned. To him, the Byzantine text was no sooner to be relegated to the scholarly junk pile than it was to be elevated to a position of prominence. He was forever urging his students on to greater heights. "We've not reached our goal yet, but we can never be satisfied with our progress." His book The Byzantine Text-type and New Testament Textual Criticism triggered an exploring mind in his students, for Harry was a wonderfully endowed teacher and mentor. He eschewed pontification. Thus he always sought to express his ideas with profound and inquisitive simplicity. In the many years of our friendship and professional association, I felt that he was always learning. He enjoyed textual criticism because he was so full of history.

And that is it. History. For if we are to make any headway today as New Testament textual scholars, progress will emerge from an insightful and perceptive excursion into the whole period of the early church, its lessons and meaning. So I can't help feeling that Harry's goal was worth the cost. We have not reached that goal today, and I'm not sure we will ever be satisfied with our progress. But we've got to keep on trying. The path was laid out for us in the writings of our esteemed predecessors, not least in Harry Sturz's The Byzantine Text-type and New Testament Textual Criticism, and it is a very good path for any young scholar to follow.

One last thing and I'm done. While in Dallas I was reading one of dad's books called The Owner's Manual for Christians. On p. 210, I ran across these words:

The word cheerful is literally a Greek term from which we get the word hilarious. "God loves a hilarious giver."

I have said all through my ministry, and I repeat it again: If your giving isn't done with hilarity, don't bother.

One can only stand in awe.

I suppose it all started with ekklesia. Back in the days when Vines, Vincent, Robertson, and Wuest were the craze, etymologizing was not only practiced in sermon and commentary, it was considered salutary. "Ekklesia comes from two Greek words, one meaning 'call' and the other meaning 'out of.' Hence the church is that which is called out from the world, to be separate from it." I never thought much about this until I began teaching Greek at Biola in 1976. Works like Silva's Biblical Words and Their Meaning and Carson's Exegetical Fallacies began showing up in our bookstores. If you were lucky, you got the message. One can't determine the meaning of a Greek word on the basis of its etymology alone. Unfortunately, pastors -- even seminary-trained ones -- don't always pay attention to the collective wisdom of their teachers. Seminary is like a trial marriage. A trial marriage is a legal agreement, but husband and wife agree to continue it for only a limited "trial period" unless at the end both partners are willing to stay together. Seminary is like that. Once we graduate, alas, we go back to our old habits. After all, etymologizing makes for such good preaching. We do it even if we suspect it's wrong-headed. Psychologists call this an "ambitendency." When people fill out their tax returns, they are often pulled in two directions: to be completely honest (on the one hand) and to cheat a little and save some money (on the other hand). Such opposite tendencies are called ambitendencies. I'm reminded of Sevareid's Law: "The chief cause of problems is solutions." "If only Greek teachers would stop inventing solutions, our problems would largely go away," we reason. It's clear to me that it's almost impossible to eradicate etymologizing. It can only expand continuously. This is related to Murphy's Second Law: "When things just can't get any worse, they will." I guess for many of us it's more important to have a rule to go by than to go by a rule.

Now please don't think me a Scrooge. I believe we should give to the Lord, and give joyfully. It is also generally understood that Christians are to be cheerful givers. Moreover, I suppose a little hilarity while the offering plate is being passed wouldn't harm anything.

Time to get out the laugh tracks?

Blessings,

Dave


Thursday, December 4 

9:54 AM Definition of happiness: Dog food for the puppies. Eggnog for me. 

8:34 AM Two brief book notes:

1) Eldon Jay Epp's contribution to the Elliott Festschrift is titled "In the Beginning was the New Testament Text, but Which Text? A Consideration of 'Ausgangstext' and 'Initial Text'." It's an excellent discussion of a crucial issue. In one section of his essay, Epp discusses "A Critical Text's Nature and Its Appropriate Terminology." He is referring, of course, to such constructed texts as Tischendorf, Westcott-Hort, and the Nestle-Aland traditions. Referring to Hort's The New Testament in the Original Greek, Epp is convinced that Hort went too far. His title "obviously claimed far too much...." (p. 49). Two pages earlier Epp mentions my colleague Maurice Robinson's own text, The New Testament in the Original Greek according to the Byzantine Text Form, and notes that the similarity of title to that of W-H is said to be "intentional" on the part of Professor Robinson. From personal conversations with Maurice I know this to be true. I have very mixed feelings about his title. In the long run it may be found that it will have a deleterious affect on text-critical studies. I feel myself closer to those Greek New Testaments who self-identify simply as Novum Testamentum Graece or The Greek New Testament. However, an edition of the Greek New Testament that believes it has discovered the true history of the transmission of the New Testament text should not be faulted for using rhetoric, provided it does not blur the rationality of its vision. Harry Sturz, for example, with whom I had the privilege of working in the 1970s and 1980s, was content to call his work The Greek New Testament according to the Second Century, feeling that one could not push back into the first century with any level of certainty. This is language that transgresses against the grain of scholarship, for who in their right mind would want to read a Greek New Testament that did not claim to have found the "original" text? Thus Sturz set out on a path that was truly revolutionary. In my own primer (New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide), I do not claim to have offered more than a start toward reviving interest in the views of my former mentor. On the other hand, we must try to go further. Today, as Epp rightly notes, we face radical choices. To many it seems that the horizons of biblical interpretation and modern culture are moving further apart through the process of secularization. Whether or not we can recover the original text of the New Testament seems an irrelevant question to many. But I think it's still a legitimate question to pose, and I doubt that any of us would wish to see the discussion end with this fine Festschrift, least of all its honoree.

2) Last night I finished reading Mary Surratt: An American Tragedy. The author's claim is a simple one. The entire judgmental process was deeply compromised. Civilians were tried in a military court. A plea for clemency from the judges was either ignored by President Johnson or deliberately misplaced. Americans witnessed nothing less than a complete travesty of justice when the first woman in U.S. history was hanged. Does the author make her case?

I bought this book assuming I would learn the facts about Mary Surratt's guilt or innocence. Instead, it didn't take long before the author's intentions became clear. In my view, the book is a highly tendentious work, replete with unsubstantiated conclusions. The lack of objectivity is appalling. This is a book that discusses Mary Surratt's innocence and not an objective history. The subtitle tells it all. It's sad what happened to Mary Surratt. In my heart of hearts I hope and pray she was innocent of complicity in Lincoln's assassination. But buying this book brought me no more clarity on the matter. It was a mistake to have purchased it.

More thoughts on Jeff Weima's new commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians forthcoming.

Wednesday, December 3 

4:44 PM This and that ...

1) Lunch today with my assistant and his bride.

2) A former student picking up his prizes for completing my "Five Minute Greek Club."

3) Began reading this yesterday. Good stuff. It does Keith justice. 

4) Finally, no one goes through loss unchanged. Myself, I shall long remember the years I spent with the most wonderful woman who ever lived. After her death I find myself in the adolescent struggles of the new pilgrimage I face. I won't soon forget the final years we were privileged to spend together on our farm. I was reminded of those days when I received this email today:

Dr. Black,

Changing topics rather abruptly, ever since the passing of your wife, Mrs. Black, I have been meaning to write to you to share with you two ways that she blessed me before she went to be with our Lord. This is way way overdue, but I hope it will be something of an encouragement nonetheless.

The first was way back in 2012, my fiancé at the time (now my wife) and I were attending Dr. Akin's conference on marriage, Family Life Conference. I had taken your Syntax and Exegesis Class in the Fall and I knew your wife had cancer. When we showed up a the conference, I was surprised to see you and Mrs. Black in attendance. I initially thought you both were going to be guest speakers. Once the conference ended I realized that you both had gone together to a marriage conference to learn after already having been married for 40+ years! It was such an encouragement to see your and your wife's humble spirit and desire to improve your marriage even at that stage in life. It was the kind of example that my fiancé and I needed to see at that point in our lives.

The second happened when I drove up to the farm to prepare for the LXX presentation with Nigusse.... In Fall 2012 (if I remember correctly), Mrs. Black came very close to dying. By the Spring she had greatly improved, but still had cancer. As Nigusse and I were working on our presentation, Mrs. Black was diligently working outside, around the house, and even made time to prepare us a very large lunch. It was so large, in fact, that when my wife and I ate dinner that evening, she asked me if something was wrong because I wasn't eating. I was just too full to eat due to the fact that Mrs. Black had cooked us enough grilled cheese for four men! I was so encouraged by the joy Mrs. Black showed as she worked, made us lunch and talked to us. Just a few months ago, she was nearly dead, but no one would ever know it by watching her that day. In a way, it was difficult for me to let her serve us in that way. She had cancer and was making our lunch. She never once mention her cancer. She was so full of joy and so selfless.

I hope that me sharing these stories with you blesses you in a similar way to how experiencing them has blessed me.

What it all means I'm not yet sure. Despite my bumbling aloneness I know that Becky's spirit somehow lives on in everyone who knew her. To everyone who has taken the time to send me an email or write me a letter or text me on my iPhone, thank you. I only hope that, once the raw edges of grief have worn off, I may be as comforting to you as you have been to me.

Tuesday, December 2 

5:58 AM "The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues the better we like him." Emerson.

Monday, December 1 

5:28 PM I have the habit, as I suppose many of you do, of turning to my favorite passages whenever I get a new commentary on the New Testament. Today was no exception. This evening I was reading Jeff Weima's new work on 1-2 Thessalonians, and I was eager to see how he handled the expression "help the weak" in 5:14, since this verse formed a major part of my doctoral dissertation (see my Paul, Apostle of Weakness if you're interested in such matters). He agreed with me! But then I jumped over to 1 Thess. 5:18 -- "in everything give thanks" -- and was surprised to read these words:

Concerning this prepositional phrase, it is more important to note that Christians are not to give thanks "for everything" but "in everything." Believers are never thankful for the specific trials and tribulations that they must endure either from living in a fallen, sinful world (general suffering endured by all people, Christian and non-Christian alike) or from their faith in Jesus Christ (specifically suffering as a Christian).

This startled me, having just studied Eph. 5:20, where Paul writes "Giving thanks always for all things...." Such simple things like prepositions are the very things that seem to matter much to Paul. Trouble is, there's a big difference between thanking the Lord in everything and thanking Him for everything. Ask anyone who is grieving. We hope that an explanation -- especially a biblical explanation -- will lessen the pain. It won't. Even when Job asked God for an explanation, God remained silent.  The struggle to thank God for the pain is not difficult to understand. Nor is it unusual. You may want to give thanks, but not at this time. Yet, in spite of lingering questions, it is possible to thank God for all that He has allowed into your life. Writes Markus Barth in his fabulous commentary on Ephesians:

Paul exhorts the saints to accept with manifest gratitude, i.e. with great joy, all that they receive or are called to do or to suffer.

Now I will be the first to admit that this is a hard saying. But our response to suffering can either drive us closer to God or further away from Him. He asks only that we admit our need for Him and that we trust Him with the burdens He has given us to bear. Because I am an imperfect human being, I will never be able to do this perfectly. But I can at least make a beginning. And so can you.

4:40 PM The IBR has several job postings

4:30 PM This must be Cyber-Monday. Has your inbox been as inundated as mine? I'm reminded of the old saying, "The trouble with me is, I got too much month at the end of the money." Moth, rust, and robbers are wreaking havoc on all of our earthly possessions it seems. How are you on laying up treasure in heaven? Tomorrow will be our annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in chapel. The money will be used to support missionaries around the world. If you are a seminary student, I hope you will give, and give generously to this cause. When Jesus is our Lord (and not just our Savior), we will be faithful stewards.

11:26 AM Got this email today:

Hello Dr. Black,

I enjoyed your photo essay from your recent trip to the Nation’s Capital immensely!  I know you are quite busy, but I wonder if I might impose a favor.  I too am a student of the Civil War and read as much as I can on the subject.  Would you mind listing your top 5 books that you have read on the Civil War?  I am looking for some new reading material to get me through the winter.

Much thanks!!

Happy to oblige. Here are not a mere 5 but a whopping 15 (!) books I highly recommend about the Civil War.

I own them all and have read and reread them many times over. You can Google for the Amazon prices. From left to right:

Dabney, Stonewall Jackson

Pryor, Reading the Man

Henry, The Story of Reconstruction

Davis, Jefferson Davis

Longstreet, From Manassas to Appomattox

Huntington, Search for General George Gordon Meade

Searcy, The Battle of Antietam

Freeman, Lee (abridged edition)

Early, Narrative of the War Between the States

Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic

Michael and Jeff Shaara's trilogy: Gods and Generals, The Killer Angels, The Last Full Measure

Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

What would you add to my list?

11:16 AM "A woman's work is never done" (hehe!).

10:38 AM Nice day for picture taking.

1) Maple Ridge, our 1811 farm house.

2) One of our hay fields.

3) The former owner of the farm is buried in our cemetery. As you can see, he served with the 59th VA Infantry.

4) The oldest structure on the property, dating to ca. 1790.

5) Chicken house (correction: chicken mansion) and hay barn.

6) I love the signs Becky designed.

7) Bradford Hall. "Home sweet home."

9:31 AM Well-written essay on Ferguson.

9:24 AM The day is far too beautiful to stay indoors. I think I'll hike the Twin Loops Trail today at the Staunton River State Park. Care to join me?

9:10 AM Good morning, fellow intellectuals, and Happy December! Last night I began reading American Brutus and boy is it a good book. So where did John Wilkes Booth get his name? His father, Junius, was infatuated with British history. Junius named his eldest son "Junius Brutus Booth" after Junius, a rabid anti-monarchist, and for the Brutuses, who tried to save the Roman republic. "Algernon Sydney Booth" was named for a man who perished while conspiring to kill Charles II. "John Wilkes Booth" was named after John Wilkes ("the Agitator"), whose unflinching hostility toward government was infamous. John Wilkes Booth's grandfather Richard was also deeply committed to the fight against tyranny. Interesting back story to the assassination of Lincoln, wouldn't you say?

Do you know how you got your name?

In the Gospels, Jesus ("Savior") gave Simon a new name because it was a Jewish custom to rename a person who had experienced a life-changing event. You will recall the renaming of Abram (Gen. 17) and of Saul (Acts 9). Saul, of course, means "Asked of God," a fitting moniker for a man of the tribe of Benjamin. Many believe that Saul took the name "Paul" from his first Gentile convert (Sergius Paulus). More likely, Saul had been given the name Paul as a Latin cognomen at birth, as was the custom among Diaspora Jews. Paul means "little" or "insignificant" (as in our "paltry"), and the apostle to the Gentiles bore the name fittingly as he traveled throughout the Roman Empire. Tradition says that Paul was short, bald, and bow-legged, but I wonder if Mr. Paltry doesn't better describe his stature. Paul himself was eager to admit that he was the "leaster" (so the Greek) of all the saints (Eph. 3:8) and the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Indeed, Paul knew "how to be abased" (Phil. 4:12), for he had learned to glory in Christ alone. Philemon is "Mr. Love," while his runaway slave Onesimus is "Mr. Useful." Procurator Felix (Mr. Happy) was succeeded by Festus (Mr. Heavy or even Fatso), while Philippians was written to "The Horselovers" (two of whom, Euodia – "Miss Pleasant Journey" – and Syntyche – "Miss Happy-Go-Lucky" – were at loggerheads). Simon Peter is "Rocky" and Thomas Didymus is "Two-Faced," while Silvanus is "Forest" and Timothy is "God-Honorer." Abram means "Exalted Father," but Abraham means "Father of Many" – a commentary on his new role.

Now here's your assignment. (Remember, I am the professor and so I get to give you assignments). If you were to rename yourself, what would your new name be? Or, if others were to rename you, what name would they choose? By the way, if you don't know what your present name means, you probably ought to find out. It might prove enlightening.

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