Thursday, December 12
5:32 PM Our daughter Leigh just finished cleaning the downstairs. I hardly recognize the place. Thank you so much, Leigh. Nice to have a clean house again :)
Now it's time for me to make supper for Nigu and me. Let's see ... what to cook? Guess what? We're having fried chicken tonight and not stir fry. Miracles never cease.
5:10 PM Aren't you glad Acts 4:13 is in the Bible? I sure am. What does it means that Peter and John were "unlearned and ignorant"? It means they had no formal education or special training. It means that the Jerusalem church had no academic hot shots. It suggests that God delights in using people who lack professional qualifications and status. I see this everywhere I travel. I see men and women who lack any kind of academic attainment and yet are powerfully used of God, and I mean "powerfully." I doubt that Jesus was very impressed with book learning and titles. Not that He would necessarily be against these things either. But, as Helmut Thielicke says ("Beyond Pushing and Producing," Leadership Journal, Fall 1995, p. 85):
Jesus ignored "with a sovereign indifference" all the things we elevate as indispensable status symbols -- degrees, titles, attainments, publications, conference papers. And there is a very good reason for it, I think. Notice how all the leaders of the early church were men of the Spirit (see Acts 6:3; 7:55; 11:24, etc.). It was the Spirit who made the Ephesian elders overseers (Acts 20:28). The Spirit was the source of their power, their eloquence, their success. The power of the Holy Spirit is such that it can give simple disciples a life and message that can reach every heart. The New Testament shows with crystal clarity the effect of the Spirit's filling in our lives. Real Christianity is a very simple thing when done in the Spirit.
And to all of us: the same Spirit who anointed Jesus' ministry is surely willing and able to grant us empowerment for service today.
10:38 AM Off to Roxboro for Mexican food. This will be two days in a row that I've enjoyed a meal with one of my daughters. Awesome joy.
10:35 AM Books in the to-be-published-in-2014 pipeline: My Academic Journey: Confessions of a Limping Greek Teacher; My Life Story (editor); Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Spanish edition); Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Love writing and editing.
10:16 AM So many details to attend to. Just added this sentence to my bio at DBO:
I miss you, Becky!
9:32 AM The Random House Dictionary defines "myth" as: "An unproved collective belief that is accepted uncritically to justify a social institution."
I thought about this on my recent trip to Ethiopia. Elsewhere I have argued that adolescence is a myth in the sense described above. I also believe that age-segregated ministry in our churches ultimately does more harm than good. But if we take the Bible as our clue for understanding, then we must go a step further and say that segregating the ages is unscriptural. We have settled for what seems the easier option. To quote John and Noel Piper, "Children can be taught in the first five years of life to obey their father and mother when they say, 'Sit still and be quiet.' Parents' helplessness to control their children should not be solved by alternative services but by a renewal of discipline in the home" (cited in The Family: Together in God's Presence). We have supposed that children need teaching that is "on their level." We have tended to think that we have outgrown the patterns of the past, when children and adults sat together on a Galilean hillside to listen to a builder's son. As my friend Kevin Brown once put it to me in Alaba, "Where did Jesus ever tell Peter, James, and John to take the children to the bottom of the hill until He finished the Sermon on the Mount?"
What is to be done?
Curiously, the same Sunday morning in Ethiopia that I was speaking in the town church (where the children were "dismissed to children's church") I also spoke in a more rural congregation in which young and old alike sat together. My audience included children and suckling infants. I have noticed in Ethiopia that the more urbanized the congregation, the more age-segregated it becomes. It is also my observation that the more child-focused the ministry is, the less mature and responsible the children tend to be. This ought to deliver us from being too impressed by the various pedagogical proposals that are frequently made to the effect that if we will adopt modern ideas of child-rearing we can be assured of success. It ought to inoculate us against the ivory-tower thinking that tends to effect pastoral leadership. It ought to direct our minds to the awesome reality of Jesus, whose love for children caused Him to rebuke His disciples, whose "wisdom" in seeking to turn away the children turned out to be folly.
How can we reconcile our age-segregated programs with the teaching of the New Testament? In my opinion, we can't. But an even greater question might be: What does this say about the way in which the ideas of the world are promoted in our churches, backed up by courses in "youth ministry" in our Bible schools? How is it possible that we so easily overlook the vocative case in Eph. 6:1 ("Children, obey your parents," not "Parents, tell your children to obey you when you get them from children's church"), or the comment "not counting the women and children" in Matt. 14:21? Have we become wiser than the Scriptures? Whatever we do in the church ought at least to be grounded in Scripture.
As I have tried to show in my writings on adolescence, it is essential to recognize that all human thinking takes place within a sociological structure that determines which beliefs are true and which are not. People living in modern societies are continually bombarded with ideas, images, slogans, and stories that presuppose a world view that is often radically different from the Christian understanding of human nature. It has to be added, I think, that in recent years there have been many studies that have shown how ineffective all of our age-segregated programs are. The church of Jesus Christ cannot advocate a new social order if it is not itself a new social order. When it is such, it will invariable be out of sync with the rest of society. It is only in this way that the life of the world can be challenged by the Gospel and brought under the searchlight of truth as it has been revealed in Jesus.
I say, "Let the little children come to us." At the very least, let's make sure we give parents the option of keeping their children with them when the other kids are being dismissed to children's church.
8:56 AM Next week, Lord willing, I'll be back in the DC area. I hope to give a little talk on missions. Some facts to consider:
1) The Great Commission was given to the local church.
2) Any local church can send out missionaries.
3) The Great Commission needs to be the primary focus of any group or organization that claims to follow hard after Jesus. This includes our marriages.
4) It doesn't matter to me whether students have a wall-sized poster of Calvin or Arminius in their dorm room, as long as they are living sacrificially for the sake of the Gospel, like Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:17-30).
5) It is important to remember that Christianity at its core is neither liberal nor conservative nor fundamentalist nor Baptist nor Methodist but radical. It involves being a "living sacrifice." It thrives on scandalous love. The Christian is to be Christ's servant in the world.
Missions is just that simple.
8:50 AM I love the book of Hebrews. It recognizes that Christ holds all things together. That includes broken old me. Why do you love Hebrews?
8:45 AM A few great doggie sayings:
8:33 AM Recently I had a talk with someone about the Lord's Supper. How dare we settle for anything but the best in our churches. The meeting of the New Testament church was a memorable scene, radiant with brotherly love as members sat down together for a love feast that included the breaking of the bread. Christocentric, rather than preacher-centered. Alive with spiritual power. Every member making use of his or her gift for the benefit of the whole Body. And it was the Holy Spirit who was the cause of it all. The evidence for a highly participatory meeting is incontrovertible. This is what will always attract me to the writings of the New Testament -- the power of the Spirit unleashed in every member.
Wednesday, December 11
5:56 PM Today I watched part of the NTSB's hearing on the crash of Asiana 214 in San Francisco earlier this year. I was amazed at the fact that Lee Kang Kuk, the pilot who was landing the 777 for the first time at San Francisco, stated it was "very difficult to perform a visual approach with a heavy airplane." This is a trained professional? The person who thinks that performing a visual approach on a crystal clear summer day is "very difficult" has absolutely no business piloting a commercial jet.
As an educator, I see certain parallels between piloting and teaching. To become a seminary professor, students transit from being pupils to teachers largely by completing certain degrees and completing an increasingly complex series of courses in their subject with yet another "box" checked off. Yet we've all known "qualified" professors whose classroom skills weren't worth a hill of beans. "Qualified" does not necessarily mean "skilled." I've often wondered why teachers at the graduate level do not have to be credentialed like their counterparts in K-12. At least we could take courses in, say, "College Teaching Procedures" or "Tests and Measurements." (I took both of these courses at Biola College during the semester I began Greek teaching there as a fledging M.Div. student at Talbot.) More importantly, why aren't successful classroom teachers mentoring the younger generation? I would love to see this kind of mentoring take place in our seminaries. (When cutting my eye teeth as a teacher at Biola, I was kept under wing by one Harry Sturz, whose classroom skills were off the charts.)
The point I am trying to make is a simple one: a set of credentials doesn't make one skilled. Qualified (in the eyes of the credential watchers), yes; but able to fly (or teach), no. One would hope there would be a one-to-one correspondence, but this is never guaranteed.
Flyers (and students): beware!
5:10 PM Just snapped this:
"How clearly the sky reveals God's glory! How plainly it shows what He has done!" (Psa. 19:1).
12:40 PM The discussion of authorship continues ....
12:12 PM I am by no definition of the term a wise man, but I feel as though I am beginning to understand the importance of simple things. Which is why, when the dogs invited me to take a walk with them this morning, I immediately accepted. Being on the farm is just plain happy.
Each animal, each building, has its own special meaning. Take this here fella.
He's pretty nice to be around -- for a bull. Of course, he'll be in our freezer before long. He will have fulfilled his destiny, you might say. And then there are the donks.
I bought them for Becky when she could no longer travel to Ethiopia. So I brought a taste of home to her. (And to think they actually eat donkey meat in China. I know; I've tried it.)
Maple Ridge -- now here's a classic antebellum home.
I never tire of trying to imagine the stories it could tell if it could speak. (When Anderson Boyd was off fighting the woah -- "war" has two syllables where I live -- how did his wife and family fare?)
And what do you think of our chicken mansion and gambrel barn?
Nate and I built both of them from scratch. Now that was a fun project.
Finally, I think I'm telling the truth when I say that this is the oldest building on the farm (ca. 1790).
A beaut, don't you think?
Being on the farm is lovely.
It doesn't matter where you go, there are plenty of happy memories. Thank you, Sheba and Dayda, for getting dad out of the house today. I am, more than ever, convinced that the farm's best days are still ahead.
10:56 AM "Sorrowing, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). I wept this morning. No big deal. Sometimes it's just overwhelming. But did you notice that verse? The participles are in the plural. None of us ever has to shoulder the burden alone. Becky and I have always relied on you, and now I rely on you, as you pray for a man most of you have never met. As the calendar marches on, I feel energized by your energy and more ready than ever to pour out my life for others.
Thank you for sorrowing -- and rejoicing -- with me.
9:20 AM Yesterday I wrote the following Postscript to Becky's book:
The first thing I noticed about Becky in that cafeteria line 40 years ago was her walk -- quiet, graceful, elegant. When she stopped in line behind me, in that very instant I knew she was special. Behind her glasses flashed those beautiful blue eyes. One ear, I noticed, stuck out more than the other. Cute, I thought to myself. We met, and the rest was, as they say, history.
It is impossible to estimate the significance of that first encounter. Two lives intersected in a "chance" encounter, as if the meeting had been preordained. (It was.) Becky would introduce me to the Truth in ways I never thought possible. That Truth set us free, free from the shackles of the Churchianity we both had been living. With Becky's help, I became alive to how good God is, and how much He loves the nations. After all, that's one of the tasks of a spouse: to wake us up to what reality is and to encourage us to take our eyes off of ourselves and the "good life" of the American Dream. Through those bright blue eyes I could see it all for myself. I discovered the joy of close friendship with my newly-found partner in the Gospel. We began to be gripped by the apostle Paul and his vision of self-supporting missions. Becky was particularly gifted at seeing the future, at envisioning the ministries God would eventually call us to. Struggling with godly manhood, I was eager to learn from her. I felt honored that God had given me such a special gift. It was as if God had created my ears just to hear His voice through hers.
Middle age came before either of us realized it. Then the cancer struck with all its fury. We did the best we could to understand the monster that was ravaging her body. In reality, it was worse than we had imagined. It is more important to say "I trust You" to God than to say "I love You." Becky knew this, and that's why we decided from the very first day to be transparent about our cancer journey. We began publishing her essays on the subject, the final one of which was called “Running to Home Base.” As I look back on Becky's life and ministry, I am reminded of the three phases in Jesus' pattern of discipleship. In Mark 3:13-15, the disciples are first of all called to be with Jesus. Then in Mark 6:12-13, they are commissioned and sent out. Finally, in Mark 6:30-31 they return to Jesus and report to Him all they had seen and heard. It was only after they had done His work that He said to them, "Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31). Becky used this verse for our retreat ministry at the farm. I never imagined it would describe perfectly her own going from death to her eternal Rest.
Becky always felt it was important to be well-prepared for our mission trips to Ethiopia. She knew we would confront the demonic in direct ways. After all, she was a TCK -- a Third Culture Kid. She grew up witnessing the impact of demonic activity firsthand. In her final days she was assaulted directly by the Evil One. In her heart she knew that Jesus alone had the power to get her into heaven. Being His "soul-friend," she finally was able to rest in His arms, the One who considered it a joy to endure the pain required in order that the two of them could walk together as friends. As far as I know, that was the only time Becky ever doubted her salvation. She knew better than anyone else her own failures. But she also knew that Jesus was her Friend, and that friends always love and always forgive.
As I sought to listen to her, I sought also to listen to God. What was He trying to teach me? I recall the story that Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's biographer, tells about their days in an underground seminary in Germany. When the young men became distracted during their two-hour long silent prayer meetings, Bonhoeffer would tell them not to fight the distractions but instead to "Follow your mind wherever it goes. Follow your thoughts until they stop, and then wherever they stop, make that person or problem a matter for prayer." During the months before her death, Becky and I learned to listen to God as never before. He desires to be with us. He wants to fill our emptiness with His presence. And that's exactly what He's done with our Becky. She understood where she was going when she died. God calls each of us to take this step of faith, to become totally and completely dependent upon Him and His promises. This is the kind of childlike faith that made Becky a woman of God. She knew that this old world is not all there is, that one day she would stand before her Judge and receive her reward. In the death of a Christian, God's love is expressed in sharpest detail.
On Saturday morning, November 2, 2013, Jesus said to Becky, "Come with Me and rest." Her faithful duties were over. As she breathed her last, I had the sense that I was escorting a fallen warrior off the battlefield. The disciple should not be surprised if, as he travels the road with Christ, there is abject, total loss. Far from being bad for us, the death of a spouse may be the means of spiritual growth and of experiencing a new beginning. The Giver and Taker-Away of life can be trusted. And even when sorrow clouds our vision, we can find peace as we look up to the Father from whom "every good gifting and every complete gift comes" (James 1:17). I am learning that the same God who gave me the gift of marriage 37 years ago has now given me the gift of singleness. Will I receive it as from His hand? Is Becky's death the end of the story? A million times No. Out of the darkness emerges a ray of light, even if I am unable to see it clearly. Can this thicket of thorns produce a rose? The answer is Yes. In some mysterious way that I can't explain, God enables the sufferer to endure loneliness without bitterness. Remember what I'm teaching you, Dave. I bring life out of death, gain out of loss. If you allow me to, I can even transform your sadness into joy unspeakable.
Jesus always referred to death as "sleep," a state from which we will be awakened by Him. Becky was created not only to perform the good works for which she is justly famous, but for more, for something infinitely better, for eternal life. And now, what she has left unfinished, we must complete. Becky's magnum opus, her "big one," was nothing she did on the mission field. It was her simple, childlike trust in One who is the Magnus Salvator, the Great Savior of the world.
"Be faithful to Him, Dave," she would often tell me. "Be faithful."
"Yes, honey, I will."
8:53 AM So today I am finalizing my travel schedule for 2014. When I really sit down and think about it, I realize that within the past 10 years I've been in 9 countries on 4 continents. I published 8 books. I watched my wife die. This year I'll be making 4 international mission trips. When you catalogue it like this, I think I must be crazy. Who in their right mind would live like this? Only old crazies like me, and you. Because as much as you enjoy living in the United States, America is not your real home. Because the salvation of souls and the making of Christ's disciples has become your one aim and goal in life. Because our battle is not against cancer or liberal politics, but against Lucifer and countless demons like him who struggle day and night to take human souls to hell with them. Because genuine social concern is a natural fruit of the Gospel. Because it is our Christian duty to come alongside our brothers and sisters who faithfully serve Christ daily, suffering untold hardships. Because we are convinced that there are enough potential sponsors to support all of the native missionaries needed to evangelize the Majority World. Because we believe that God delights in using nobodies who have never been to seminary to confound the wise.
With youthful zest, Becky and I began the work in Ethiopia 10 years ago. Now an old fossil is limping along, more determined than ever that his limited talents and energies be put to good use in kingdom service before the Lord calls him home.
The secret of following God's will, I've discovered, is wrapped up in rejecting the good for God's best. I can't wait to learn and relearn this principle, over and over again, in 2014.
Tuesday, December 10
6:34 PM I'm back home from campus, and am now sitting here at the pooter in my Bradford Hall office, answering your emails despite a major case of brain burnout. Your brain would be fried too if you had been talking to two trust lawyers and a government bureaucrat. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork -- all of it quite necessary and proper. Then I had to cook supper for Nigusse and me. Thank God for fried egg sandwiches and Campbell's tomato soup -- quick and easy. It took me all day, but I finally sent Becky's manuscript, duly edited, to my assistant, who will now make one final pass. I'd write more tonight, but I have this intense desire to, well, gel. But I just had to leave you with this essay. It's written by our daughter Liz (that's her on the left, next to Caleb, Mama B, Micah, Matthew, Isaac, and Mercy Magdalene).
She sent it to me this morning and, with her permission, I am publishing it here. It's really no use trying to explain it to you. You'll just have to read it for yourself. But I think you will find it to be well worth your time and effort.
“Just want ya to know…”
And other phrases that mom used so frequently that they are forever etched in my mind.
As we have all discussed in the last few weeks, Mom was an incredibly special person. There are so many things that made her unique that we would fail to try to write them all. Yet, in the last days and weeks, I’ve found myself contemplating the phrases that she used so often that in our home they’ve become known as “her” phrase. We find ourselves often saying, “well, you know what Mama B always said…” Here’s my attempt at jotting down a few of those phrases. I hope you’ll enjoy.
It’s just a guide. It’s no secret that Mama B had a deep desire to make every single moment of her life count for eternity. One of the ways that she insured a productive use of her time was through her lists. Any person who entered her home would doubtless have seen her lists. She had a “things to do” list for each day. She had a list for groceries, a list for things that she wanted to accomplish but not necessarily for the immediate day. And there’s no telling how many lists were needed for each mission trip that she coordinated. She was well organized; there is no doubt about that.
But mom also knew that God was sovereign. And mom cared about people and investing in people more than projects. Often times God would bring a circumstance into any given day that would trump her goals for the day. If there was a need, particularly from one of her daughters, she was always quick to say, “it’s just a guide” when contemplating the list of things that would inevitably not get done for the sake of caring for another’s needs. I’m so thankful for the way that she modeled this for me.
God knows. Mom had a strong understanding of the character of God, and because of this she was able to (seemingly effortlessly) rest in His character. She sometimes found herself in difficult situations with the various issues that accompany ministry. And she would so frequently say, “God knows.” There was no need for her to fight needlessly, or to defend herself, or to try to be something that she simply was not. She would examine herself before the Lord and then rest knowing that He alone knew all.
Baca. This is the Ethiopian word for “enough.” Mom had learned as an MK at a very early age to train her emotions. For her, there was no time for indulging in a pity party. Whether mom was working with a fussy toddler or dealing with a grumbling 30+ year old daughter, she was quick to stop it with the simple word, “baca.” The neat thing about mom was that she had such wisdom, and this single word could be spoken in so many different tones. She knew when we needed a gracious gentle nudge back to truth. But she was just as aware when we needed a firm rebuke. While none of the people in my home have made the trip to Ethiopia (yet), we still often speak this phrase to each other.
And, Hulett, Sost, Bilu! Mom had a fabulous tradition that so many of us daughters have adopted into our own families. When a meal was served, no one was to eat until ALL had been served. The cue that it was time to dig in was simply counting, “one, two, three, ENJOY!” To make it all the more exciting and fun, we would count in Amharic and sometimes German, but very rarely in English.
It’ll be what it’ll be. Again this phrase so often used by mom expresses her intense trust in the care and sovereignty of her Lord. This phrase should never be confused with some laissez fare attitude-- quite the contrary, in fact. Mom knew she had a responsibility to use her life and every resource given to the fullest extent for God’s glory. But at the end of the day there were times when she had no control over a situation, and so she would remain calm and unfazed about these situations. Some examples that I remember clearly discussing with her were things like trying to apply for visas for travel, thinking through the effects of chemo on her body, and even things like the weather on student days and such.
This is grace. Mom knew that she had been saved by grace, and she trusted that every single event that took place in her life came through the Lord’s hand of protection and was ultimately an act of grace upon her. She was quick to make sure that each of us trained our minds to think this way too. The piles of laundry, the house full of sick children, the flat tire, the unexpected pregnancy, the difficulties in church, all were to be seen as an opportunity to acknowledge God’s grace in our life. The years of her instilling this in my head have been so critical in the last years as we all watched mom suffer so much and then to die. Oh! that we could all echo with mom that this is all, indeed, grace.
Not gonna worry ‘bout that. This goes along with several of her other often used phrases, but I’ve saved it for last for a reason. The usual context that I would hear this phrase was in the daily mundane this and that of life. However, as I sat with mom in her last few days of life on earth, it was hard to tell if she was altogether “there” or not. But she would repeat some words over and over again. Sometimes she made no sense at all, but other times it was as if she was working through some list in her mind…checking things off her mental list as she prepared to go be with her Savior. And do you know one of the phrases that she repeated over and over again in those final hours. It was this one, “not gonna worry about that.” Perhaps it wasn’t a list she was working through. Perhaps she was still facing attacks from the evil one. She knew that she would claim Christ’s righteousness for her own, and there was no need to worry about any accusation that came from the evil one. Whatever the context, she was able to rest safe in His care.
I bet that mom would be flattered for us to contemplate her words and to even incorporate them into our own use. But I’m certain she would only be pleased if we looked beyond the woman and her words to the Savior whose character had affected every way of life for her, including her speech.
Thanks Lizzy Pie. Beautiful thoughts. I love you. Dad
8:36 AM Today I have the incredible privilege of putting the final touches on Becky's autobiography, My Life Story, to be published early next year (with full color photos!).
My thanks to my assistant, Jacob Cerone, for his editorial help, and to Liz for reading a draft of the book. And just like that, this project will come to an end. So grateful for your prayers. You will recall that Becky's one prayer request before she died was to be able to complete her life story. Buoyed by prayer, surrounded by angels, and filled with the courage of the Holy Spirit, she succeeded.
This God of ours, He does nothing half way.
7:53 AM Graduating this month? I've written a brief meditation for you.
Monday, December 9
5:32 PM Time to cook supper. Let's see ... shall we have Chinese, or shall we have Chinese...?" (As my seminary professor used to say, "Dave, choose your ruts carefully; you'll be in them a long time.")
5:22 PM There is deep wisdom in Jesus' words in Luke 6:40. In essence, He is saying "Christian education is likeness education." I suppose, then, that the greatest joy of teaching is when your own students become teachers themselves, and here is one such person: Solomon (second on my left).
This photo was taken in the summer of 2005 just after we had enjoyed our final class together at the Evangelical Theological College (ETC) in Addis. At that time I presented each of my beginning Greek students a copy of their very own UBS Greek New Testament. (To paraphrase Scripture, "He that endureth to the end shall receive a free book.") Here he is today, a fulltime teacher at ETC.
We met for lunch and I was amazed at how the Lord had worked in his life since I last saw him. As I thought about it all, I couldn't help but giggle, thinking You never know who is in your class. It is easy to fall in love with the profession of teaching when you meet people like Solomon who take the ball and run with it. We do indeed worship a serendipitous God.
3:56 PM I'm in a goofy mood this rainy afternoon, sipping on a Pepsi (no Cokes allowed in our home, thanks to Lizzy) and listening to Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. As I think about the needs of the world, I'm driven to ask what it would take to reimagine the church. To reach this world it will take working together and the kind of humility that admits we can do together what we could never do alone. I'm troubled by the do-it-my-way mentality of so many mission organizations. As a Christian who lives in America, I have watched believers and entire congregations get caught up in all kinds of ridiculous battles and causes that end up taking our eyes off of obedience. That's why I was so delighted when I read Thomas Hudgins' latest blog post in which he cites a letter a student had sent him. The student wrote:
In this sense, all of our courses in seminary (including Greek) can easily morph into nothing more than antichrist diversions if we are not careful. We are driven by powerful egos to protect our turf. We need to be right -- always. These are all manifestations of pride, not the kind of humility I see in an old Scottish proverb: "Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it's not at the head of the cross where Pilate put them, but rather at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus." Sadly, our pride all too often stands in the way of making real progress in global missions because we see education as an end in itself. It is so easy to get caught up in secondary issues, even at Christmas time ("We don't observe Christmas; it's a pagan holiday" -- and yes, I have been guilty of this, since I really don't observe the holiday in any significant way). Unfortunately, millions remain lost in the Majority World. While we are bickering, they are slipping off the edge into eternal darkness.
By faith, I can see a coming revival in North America: the body of Christ rediscovering the power of the Gospel and our obligation as debtors to take it to the ends of the earth or to support others who are doing so. I sense that God is working in the hearts of many of my students to give them life again and a passion for what really matters in life. I think that's one reason why so many people loved Becky. There are a good number of Christians who talk a good message but not too many who actually live it out. Becky was serious about reaching the unreached people groups of Ethiopia and India. It is painful to think that God might have to judge America before we recover this perspective, but that is always a possibility. In all honesty, I do not think we really believe the Bible. Only a few Christians have genuinely integrated the reality of hell into their lifestyle. I would like to be one of them. I am determined, by God's grace, to be one of them. That's why I believe the response of Western Christians is crucial.
Averting our eyes from the need will not eliminate our guilt. Thankfully, no one is beyond redemption, not even American evangelicals.
1:23 PM Have you ever heard the term "flipped class"? It's what I've been doing for years in my New Testament Introduction classes. Rather than lecturing for a couple of hours, students get the material by reading ahead of time. Class time is then used for more important things. I often have guest lecturers speak on subjects on which they are acknowledged experts. Or I will exegete in-depth a text from Scripture. Or students will lead the class. The focus is no longer on content but rather on processing and grasping the content.
Have you ever tried this approach? What have been the results?
12:06 PM Just took Nigusse out for Chinese food. Yes, I spoil my kids :)
8:18 PM Why did the angel insist that Mary's child be named "Jesus"? Answer here.
8:15 PM Want a free copy of Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek? Just click here.
8:05 PM Just saw this quote:
Read Becky Black.
7:12 PM Don't forget to mark your calendars now for the next major conference we'll be having on campus. The topic? The Pericope Adulterae.
The dates are April 25-26, 2014. The speakers are all experts in the field, including Chris Keith, author of The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus. I will have the honor of moderating the event. See you then, I hope.
6:48 PM I'm sitting here in my office, reflecting on the grace of God. Lots of good, God-things happening. So grateful to Liz for cleaning out the fridge (contents were toxic!) and pantry. What would I do without her? Then this morning I get this wonderful letter from an Ethiopian I've never met.
He's a student at Tyndale Seminary in Holland of all places. Thank you gobs and gobs, Ermias!
I'm trying to get some writing done today. It's not helpful that my mind is 7,812 miles away in Burji, Ethiopia. The only trouble is that I have too many pix to share with you. Here are a couple:
The church in Medeba:
Being greeted by the children of Ethiopia:
Oshe and his dear wife:
They lost their 4-year old daughter several years ago. She was murdered by an enemy of Christianity. They still serve King Jesus joyfully and faithfully.
Meselech, a choice servant of God:
She waited on us hand and foot, serving our meals and making sure we had everything we needed. Great is her reward in heaven.
Years ago God gave Becky the idea of distributing reading glasses in Burji to the older saints who could no longer read their Bibles. Each of these people received a pair of glasses through that ministry:
The man to my left once taught in Gambo, the old (and now abandoned) missionary station where Becky's dad and mom served. He recalls how happy Becky was as a child -- and also what a great cook Mrs. Lapsley was.
It' been 50 years since Becky lived in Burji. I'm floored by the reality of God's love and grace in taking a little girl who grew up in the bush of Africa and turning her into one of the greatest missionaries I've even known. Really, though, she was so much more than that. We connected on so many other levels, and it was incredibly sweet. We had our differences to be sure, but essentially our hearts were tuned to the same frequency. So it was good -- very good -- to get back to her own tribe, the Burjis, to grieve and celebrate with them, to be with people who completely understand why I love Ethiopia so much and always will. (Although, to be perfectly honest, I had my doubts as to whether I would survive the drive to Burji and back.)
Today I've got an appointment with the Social Security Administration in South Boston. I'm not eager to go outdoors. I might live in Virginia but I've got Hawaiian blood running through my veins. Thankfully the ice has mostly disappeared (and, I'm sorry to say, is about to pay Liz a visit in New York). Meanwhile, I'm sitting here grateful for this blog and the connection it's allowed us, you and me. Someone wrote to me the other day:
I have been made to feel so loved, so cared for, often by complete strangers. But it's much deeper than this blog. We are connected through the blood of the Lamb, through the fact that we ARE family, forever family, and all of us will soon be seeing Jesus (and Becky). Knowing that, being certain of it, makes it a bit easier to brave the elements and get on with life.
Keep centered on Jesus.
Sunday, December 8
4:58 PM Paul Himes, erstwhile doctoral student of mine, reflects on his time at the annual ETS meeting this year in Baltimore. Some good stuff, the most interesting being the new moniker he gives D. A. Carson. (Read it and see!)
12:50 PM Trip Update #4:
The trip to Alaba was unforgettable. It was well-organized, and everyone was eager to celebrate Becky's life. It was difficult sitting through Saturday's Memorial Service. I've said it before -- I'm a hopeless romantic. I came near the end of myself. But as I came to the end of myself, the pure joy of knowing and trusting Jesus had only just begun. The following day, Sunday, I spoke at the main church in Alaba and then at the church in Zobechame. In both places, buildings had been named after Becky: a guest house in Alaba, and a kindergarten school in Zobechame. I can't wait to hear stories of all the people these facilities will help draw closer to Jesus. Pray for these ministries -- that they will bear much fruit for the kingdom. In the midst of suffering and persecution, God is blessing His people. He is so good. What led Him to bring me to Alaba 9 years ago? Because He loves me. And I'm starting to realize that He will never tire of showing me new Alabas to serve.
7:14 AM Trip Update #3:
I first met Frew (pronounced "Fray-Oh") in 2005. He was then the academic dean of the Evangelical Theological College in Addis, where I was scheduled to teach 6 weeks of beginning Greek that summer.
Since then he's completed his doctorate in the U.S. and is now back at ETC. Here we're sitting in a cafe in the capital enjoying a cup of Ethiopian macchiato. I have been blessed to know Frew for almost 10 years. Of course, he's always after me to teach again at ETC. I can't even explain how cool it is to be involved in theological education around the world. If you have an earned doctorate in your field and would be interested in teaching a short class at ETC, send me an email and I'll put you in touch with Frew.
6:50 AM Greek students! Check out Thomas Hudgins' Ten Exegetical Steps:
As usual with anything written by Hudgins, the prose is clear and engaging, the graphics eye-pleasing. It is beyond me that some approaches to Greek exegesis actually leave out textual analysis and even rhetorical analysis. A big no-no, in my opinion.
5:26 AM Contest time! I once taught in Stuttgart (Freie Hochschule für Mission) and Switzerland (Bibelschule Walzenhausen), and here is the basic principle of exegesis I tried to communicate to my students.
A free copy of Rethinking the Synoptic Problem to the first person who can correctly translate this sentence without the use of helps.
5:16 AM Just read a couple of posts that argue we should leave our iPads home when we go to church. Food for thought, for sure. It won't stop me from bringing my iPad to church, however. I have immediate access to texts in almost any language I want. Or I can Google a cross reference within seconds. I also take my yellow note pad to church -- and to chapel services, convocations, commencements. I am never without the means of taking handwritten notes. Some of these turn into blog posts.
Bottom line? I see no "protocol" here. To each his own. Want to preach/teach from your iPad? Fine with me. Better yet, have your message so nailed down you need no notes whatsoever.
4:40 AM Last night I was joined by seven of my daughters. (Emebet, we missed you!) I could post a hundred pictures, but these will have to do, each worth a thousand words. I had no idea the dinner would be so wonderful, so delightful, so encouraging. One by one we shared what Becky meant in our lives. It's strange not having her here. I try to picture her, in the presence of her King. I can't wait to see her again. I miss her, as we all do. But there are needs here too, and there are daughters to love on and care for. Which means that life will go on for each one of us. (At least that's what I tell myself. Feel free to keep on reminding me.)
Last night we all found our smiles again, laughing and hugging and, at times, speechless. It's hard to let Becky go. But one thing is certain. She was anything but unloved. Her death makes us cherish life all the more -- the joy of picking up a precious baby, of enjoying a delicious meal together, of praying together.
Family. An undeserved blessing.
Oh ... the pix:
Saturday, December 7
7:14 AM Good news here: Christianity is growing in India, where there is a "remarkable receptivity to Christ." I believe the most effective and most efficient way to reach Asia for Christ is through financial support for the indigenous missionary force that God has raised up. In other words, in my opinion it is far better to support native missionaries than to send them Western missionaries. It is also more cost-effective. In northern Ethiopia, Becky and I once supported 6 evangelists to plant churches in the difficult Orthodox region of that nation. Each of the 6 evangelists was a native Amhara and had grown up Orthodox. Two of them were still priests in the Orthodox Church. Three years later they had established 4 completely autonomous and indigenized churches. The cost to us to support all 6 evangelists? Only $3,600 per year. Contrast that with what it costs to send one U.S. missionary to Africa (in excess of $40,000 per annum). Roland Allen once wrote in his book The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, "Foreigners can never successfully direct the propagation of any faith throughout a whole country." I agree totally. But note the word "direct." What Westerners can do is to send the major portion of our funds to native missionaries. In Ethiopia I have met personally with many of these evangelists, have trained them deep underground in Gondar and Bahir Dar. I am not worthy to wipe the dirt from their sandals. One of them even came all the way from Gondar to attend Becky's memorial service in Addis last Sunday. I deeply respect him as a brother and as a choice servant of the Lord. Folks, the fact is that God is already doing a wonderful work in northern Ethiopia by His Holy Spirit through these native ministers of the Gospel. From my experience (over a dozen trips to Ethiopia), Western missionaries are much less effective in establishing local churches in the villages of Ethiopia than are these men. Indigenous missionaries are seeing thousands turn to Christ each year, and dozens of the new churches are being formed. Where we can help these missionaries is in the area of support as well as biblical training. Let's do it!
Shortly I will be returning to India. My purpose will be to link hands with indigenous missionaries in a great time of harvest along the border of Sikkim and Nepal. With the love and support of believers in North America, we can help native evangelists and their families march forward and complete the task of global evangelism in India. Will you join the cause?
6:10 AM Been up for over 2 hours. Simply can't sleep. So what to do? Write. It's my outlet. And I do have a book or two to finish this sabbatical. The house is quiet. No one is astir except me and the dogs. They seem to be my ubiquitous companions these days, seem to know something's not right with dear old dad. A dog can gaze into your eyes and just KNOW. They can also adjust and adapt to ever-changing circumstances -- a lot more easily than we humans can. Here's Dayda.
Earlier her eyes were filled with reproach. I had made the coffee without petting her first. But her reproach was gentle and loving, and now she lies quietly on the carpet next to my office chair, causing me to wonder again about the redemption of all creation, about the perfection of all creatures great and small. Dayda seems to know that I am trying to keep myself occupied, so she busies herself with licking her paw or puts her head on the rug and snoozes. But she is never far away. It's her business to keep me happy. She's always thinking of her master. What can I do to cheer him up? Just be yourself, sweet Dayda. Your presence means more to me than you can ever possibly fathom.
Oh, and tomorrow I promise to greet you before putting on the coffee.
Friday, December 6
7:50 PM Liz has had a few challenges getting to RDU from Albany for our daughters' dinner at the Queen of Sheba restaurant in Chapel Hill tomorrow night, but it looks like she will still make it. Traveling is a mess tonight in the south. So, gals, clip your fingernails and get ready to dig into some great Ethiopian cuisine as we celebrate the life of Becky Lynn Black!
6:20 PM In case you have nothing better to do tonight:
6:12 PM Well folks, tomorrow marks the anniversary of my generation's September 11. The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, will always be a date that will "live in infamy." If you only read one story about tomorrow's commemorations, please take a minute and read From Pearl Harbor to Calvary. It's the story of Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the attack that balmy Sunday morning.
The airman ended up becoming a committed follower of the Prince of Peace and a warm-hearted Christian missionary. In an era of Osama bin Ladens, 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, then share it with a friend today.
P.S. This also means that it's time to dust off the old movie Tora! Tora! Tora, the classic Pearl Harbor tale.
11:30 AM "God will not protect you from anything that will make you more like Jesus." Elizabeth Elliott.
11:25 AM Very thankful to Nigusse for doing such a great job of farm sitting while I was traveling. Of course, there's always more work to do, such as taking care of fallen trees.
On another note, I know I should be doing more posts about the trip. I feel like I sort of just kept you hanging there, and I'm sorry. Look for more posts shortly -- as soon as I catch my breath.
10:56 AM Some good advice here from Jacob Cerone on how to keep up with your Greek studies: Learning Biblical Greek.
10:26 AM Now here's a really cool website: Running Reality. It allows you to animate backward or forward in time. History buffs, beware!
10:20 AM I was asked recently whether I felt lonely. Yes! I struggle with loneliness. Not aloneness. The two are not the same thing. Before, I could be alone and not feel lonely. Not so anymore. Becky's death has forced a complete reshuffling of my life. True, I still have a wonderful family and many friends. Yet I long for intimacy, have this need for an intimate listener and helper. I want someone who will demonstrate strong interest in my struggles, cry when I make known my pain, celebrate with my laughter, stay deeply involved for the long term. Oddly, I think I often find in you, my readers, a conversation partner. When I cry out "Man, this is tough!" you've never attempted to refute my statement. Through your emails, you simply reflect that feeling back to me, commiserate with me, empathize.
I can't tell you how many time I've seen Jesus staring at me through your eyes.
9:35 AM Ice storm in Dallas = No Betty Lapsley for the dinner tomorrow night. Her flight has been canceled. We'll miss you, mom!
9:20 AM Thankful for the life of Ronnie Smith -- who was much more than a chemistry teacher in Libya.
My prayers are with his family and friends.
8:44 AM I love being a fulltime missionary. Some days it just feels so good. But other days it's tough because you have so many decisions to make. One question I keep getting asked is, "So what will happen to the Ethiopia work now that Becky's gone?" Enter Team Awesome. Let me explain.
Paul once referred to himself as a "master builder" ( 1 Cor. 3:10). The label surely applied to Becky, wouldn't you say? Her skills at organization, her qualities, her expertise were known and appreciated by all. But when Paul calls himself a master builder, he is certainly aware that he is but one of a number of people whom God had called into the work of building the church. "I laid a foundation as a master builder, and someone else is building upon it." In Paul's day, as in ours, many people are involved in the work of building the church, and each one must be careful how he or she builds. I think Becky realized that she played only a temporary, foundational role in our work in Ethiopia. She knew that unless the Lord Jesus returned in clouds of glory, others were likely to follow her lead, to continue the work she had begun. In fact, when we first traveled to Ethiopia in 2004, we came into a church that already had a pre-history. We were simply part of a wider team, as in a relay race where the baton is passed from one runner to the next. We must keep looking forward to the day when the building will be finished and the work complete. But in the meantime, the work can and must go on.
Paul says that there are two kinds of materials with which we can choose to build the church: gold, silver, and costly stones; or wood, hay, and straw. One Day our work will be subject to fire, and some of our edifices will survive the test while others will be reduced to a pile of ash. If we are not careful, leaders can become destroyers instead of builders. Our labor may end up being more like demolition than construction. The challenge is to pay particular attention to the materials we use. The work in Ethiopia is God's, not ours. And it is in transition. But it has always been that way, even when Becky's parents passed the baton to their successors. And now it's time to pass the baton again, from Becky and me to Team Awesome -- the next generation of missionaries who will work in places like Alaba and Burji. Becky and I played a significant but limited role at one particular point in history. What we have done will significantly shape the future work, for good or for ill. The important thing is not to lay aside our tools and give up on the work (unless, of course, the Lord should tell us to do so). The blunt and simple challenge is to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, which means not only preaching the cross but living according to the lifestyle it demands. Becky has now seen her Master. She has been rewarded by Him for her work on earth. Now it is up to others to continue the work begun.
As I said, I love being a missionary. Ethiopia is but one of several nations the Lord Jesus has appointed for me to work in. I have been placed in these nations, and I will rest in the hollow of His hands.
Thursday, December 5
7:54 PM Just back from campus. Time to cook supper for Nigusse. Had a wonderful lunch at Chili's today with Jon and Matthea Glass. Lots to get caught up on.
Then I spent the afternoon working at the office. Did notice a brouhaha of sorts had developed while I was gone, which Jonathan Akin addresses in an excellent post called Christian Hip Hop, The Sufficiency of Scripture, and Judging the Heart. He writes:
This is so right on. Friend, you are welcome in my home even if you're a man who wears a baseball cap backwards, or has an earring, or sports super long hair, or has a shaved head and a tattoo, and enjoys (or dislikes) Christian Hip Hop. The Scriptures are clear: We are free to disagree, to like or dislike a given form of music (see 1 Cor. 10:23-33). As a former member of a Christian subculture (the Jesus Movement – long hair, Christian rock, and – dare I say it? – mariachi sandals), I can tell you that Jesus is often found in places you'd least expect Him. I thank God for Christian Hip Hop. Here's a sampling in case you've never heard it: Shai Linne’s The Glory of God. It contains the following fantastic lyrics:
No gansta rap here. Even if you don't enjoy Christian Hip Hop, please be willing to try and understand it and its positive impact on a huge American subculture. This is what Paul Washer did.
I really loved this line:
Hip Hop per se is not sin. It can be performed by Christians. If it is, it should be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
10:02 AM My colleague John Hammett will be installed today as the John Dagg Professor of Theology at SEBTS. This is a well-deserved honor. Heartiest congratulations, John!
8:58 AM Ready or not, it's time to get back into the swing of things around here. This week I am working on legal matters involving Becky's death certificate and was reminded of the discussion we had with our local funeral director. "What shall I list as your occupation?" he asked. Several answers came to mind: wife, mother, financial planner, ICU nurse, mentor, missionary. None of those seemed comprehensive enough to describe in a few words Becky's life. So we decided on the following:
Ambassador for Christ
I kid you not. That's exactly what appears on Becky's death certificate. And why not? That's exactly who she was. The allusion, of course, is to 2 Cor. 5:20, where Paul writes "We are Christ's ambassadors." In Paul's day an ambassador was not usually a professional diplomat but a person able and willing to travel to represent a government. He would carry a message and express only those views of the government that sent him. He embodied the interests of that government and would negotiate on its behalf. He was sent with the authority to find the most strategic means of communicating the message. At the core of the role of ambassador lay the idea of representation. He was called upon to act in such a way that he knew would secure the full approval of those who had sent him. Paul speaks of himself as an ambassador, first, "of Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20), and secondly, "of the Gospel" (Eph. 6:19-20). Those two brief phrases hide a wealth of meaning. Indeed, I can't think of a better way of describing Becky. No one who heard Becky could ever doubt the authority by which she spoke. It is as if her words conveyed a message on behalf of the sovereign -- which they did! Her Sovereign was a man who had been despised and rejected of men, whose only crown was a crown of thorns, whose royal throne was a cross. As a representative of this Sovereign, Becky modeled the Savior's humility and selflessness. The message and the messenger were in beautiful harmony. A sense of future accountability always loomed large in Becky's thinking. All of her actions were calibrated by the thought of the Judgment Seat of Christ. At the same time, the love of Christ compelled her to work tirelessly for the good of others. For her, love was not merely an emotion, as it might be in a teenage romance. It was a controlling force. It was what sustained her through all the vicissitudes of life. As an ambassador for Christ, she was inclusive in her lifestyle and reached out to all with the Good News.
This was my precious wife, this Becky of whom I speak. She had received a divine commission, and it was this commission that gave an everyday housewife her identity.
Praise be to God.
Wednesday, December 4
6:54 PM Before cleaning the kitchen, a brief word to say thank you to everyone who has sent me an email in the past two weeks. They have been amazingly encouraging. I am learning a lot through this experience. I am learning to ask only those questions that can be answered and facing only those problems that can be solved. I think that if I can manage to do this, life can move along pretty smoothly. Only some of life works. Other parts don't and perhaps never will. Some problems will only be fixed when we get to heaven. Some pies are really "in the sky," if that makes any sense. Focusing on these problems only takes us away from things that really matter.
I'm struggling, then, to manage what can be managed (like my bills and my schedule) and to stop trying to manage what can never be truly managed (like my emotions and my pain). I know that God understands my heartache, even wrote a Book explaining how to deal with it. I have to struggle with my problems the best I can, but a caring email and a listening ear touches an ache within that nothing else can quite relieve. Because I've been honest in my blog, many of you have shared with me stories of your own journey, the life-changing events that are shaping you. This is the power of the healing community. The power of the Gospel is realized when we live with one another in connectedness. The profound intimacy with Christ that only suffering can produce enables us to enter the suffering of others. The Gospel plants deep within our hearts a desire to give whatever can be given despite the pain, even if we never understand the pain, even if the pain never abates. In short, I'm discovering since Becky's death that life has the feeling of Calvary about it. The loss, the despair, the darkness, the powerlessness, the weakness, the confusion -- we experience all these and more, but we experience them from the standpoint of those who stand by an empty tomb.
Luther was right: "The cross puts everything to the test." And you, dear friend, are helping me to pass that test in ways you will never know.
4:12 PM Would I be what I am today without Becky? Not on your life!
3:30 PM Where to start with Ethiopia? How about with my flight from Toronto to Addis aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Here's the business class section.
The flight was half empty and people were sleeping stretched out on three seats. Now I know to fly from Toronto instead of Washington Dulles when we take our teams to Ethiopia. Dulles flights are always jam-packed. I enjoyed seat 2A with a great view out the window. You know when you're leaving Sudan and entering Ethiopia. Just look for the mountains.
The flight attendants and I got along swell after they found out that my wife was from Ethiopia. Born-again Christian ladies too!
Up next: Hot, dusty Alaba Kulito and the incredible Christians there.
3:16 PM Which New Testament scholar once sent this letter to the great A. T. Robertson?
2:58 PM Thinking about earning a Ph.D.? You want to read this first.
2:30 PM Please continue to pray for my friend and New Testament colleague Rod Decker as he struggles with cancer.
1:14 PM This picture of Choo Choo (Netsanet) is for Nigusse's eyes only.
1:05 PM Looking ahead: Liz arrives from New York on Friday night for our daughters' dinner at the Ethiopian restaurant in Chapel Hill on Saturday evening ... mom arrives the same day from Dallas ... mom and I will attend the performance of Handle's Messiah at the Duke Chapel this Sunday afternoon ... Liz flies home on Sunday, mom on Monday ... am eager to see all the daughters again.
11:20 AM I wrote this letter to Becky last Saturday, exactly one month after her death.
Oh, Becky, how I love you, mein Liebchen (remember what I used to call you in Switzerland?)! You were with me since September 11, 1976. I spent two-thirds of my life with you, and I can't remember what the first third was like. You loved and supported me for 37 years. Your love for me was far beyond what I deserved. Thank you for making the journey with me. How much we enjoyed our life together! From our first tiny apartment in La Mirada to our Virginia farm. You were there when I taught my first Greek class at Biola and when I worked on my doctorate and when I published my first book and we cried and thanked God for what we had accomplished together. Those days are gone, but their memory lingers in my mind.
Four weeks ago today I said goodbye to you. It was the worst day of my life. I still can't quite believe it, can't quite fathom it -- you are no longer here. To whom will I turn for solace and comfort? Now, as I try to do the work of both of us, I have to deal with my own grief and the sadness of those who loved you. People tell me that I should pour myself into my teaching, my writing, my publishing as a way of coping with the grief. But am I too old for that? An injured lion wants to know if he can still roar.
As far as I'm concerned, honey, the day I married you I won the marriage lottery. I had the winning ticket, that's for sure. We worked hard at our marriage. In the past few years we got so much better at sensing each other's needs and struggles, strengths and weaknesses. It saddens me that we won't be able to experience this richness for the next 20 years. Now that you're gone I feel truly alone. I roll over in bed at night and you're not there. I eat meals by myself. I will never get on another airplane with you by my side. Still, I wouldn't trade our four decades together for anything. Somehow I feel at peace. Your illness gave me a newer and deeper appreciation for life. For that I shall forever be grateful. Together we accomplished most of our dreams. Together we grew to love each other and the world. Together we made it.
Today I feel like a buoy cut away from its mooring, adrift, vulnerable. I know this too shall pass. I also know this: I know that I love you with an everlasting love. I won't know you as my wife in heaven, but I am eager to see you again as my forever sister.
I love you, Becky Lynn Black.
8:45 AM I see that Jacob Cerone is translating through Chrysostom's Homilies on Philippians. Taking his advice, I just translated this passage. I really like how Lydia is described as a an "exceedingly godly woman." Know who I thought of? Course you do!
Greek student, want to try your hand at a translation? Use it or lose it.
8:32 AM Seminary update: I'll be on campus tomorrow if anyone needs to meet up. Also, I've been granted a special dispensation to teach Greek 1-2 this summer. Normally, if you're on sabbatical you have to wait till the fall to teach again. I am grateful that I can start early. I really need to get back into the classroom.
8:28 AM Heartiest congratulations to my publisher Henry Neufeld and his bride Jody on their 14th wedding anniversary. If you haven't read Jody's Thankful Marriage, you are really missing out.
8:02 AM Is there a revolution in Hebrews studies going on today? If so, it appears that I am partly to blame. Take a look at these two posts:
If the answer to the above question is Yes (which it is), it should not surprise us. Hebrews always circulated as a Pauline epistle in the early church, and little wonder, since it probably is Pauline.
Viva la revolución!
Below: Hebrews 5-6 in my Greek New Testament. After Philippians, Hebrews is my favorite New Testament book.
7:44 AM Yo folks! I'm back and excited to share with you some of the God-sized things the Lord accomplished on my trip to Utopia. I had a great time but felt scatterbrained since so much effort was needed. If you ask me how I'm doing, I'm just trying to stay centered in His love and grace. I am deeply honored and humbled to have been asked by the churches in Ethiopia to come and share their joy and sorrow over Becky's passing. At least a dozen people told me I'd come back a different person, and I do think the Lord enabled a lot of healing to take place. I could post hundreds of pictures and they still wouldn't begin to describe this trip. It was a time of reconnection, reflection, and instruction. What did Becky and I seek to teach others about missions through our years of ministry in Ethiopia together? That it should be our number 1 priority as Christians. That it should be Spirit-dependent and sensitive to the guidance of God rather than given over to textbooks, committees, and bureaucracies. That it is not the purview of paid ministers only, people expected to engage in God-talk, but the privilege of every Christian. That it requires us to go to where the lost are and make disciples of them rather than attempting to drag them to church. That it demands we maximize our financial resources for the Gospel. That it should be spontaneous and natural instead of highly organized, expensive, and "strategy"-dependent. That it is more often caught than taught. That pastors and other Christian leaders (including seminary professors) need to teach about the importance of missions and then model it.
This is what a missional lifestyle is all about. And it is available to every Christian, including you. If you yield your life and talents to the Lord, He will use you. When a missional perspective reigns in a church, good things begin to happen. It's like sunshine after rain; everything starts to grow. Being a Christian is costly. It will cost us our self-centeredness and our independence. It will cost us our comfortable lifestyles. Discipleship is a commitment for life. It means becoming number 2 to Jesus. We may expect, and we may pray, that God the evangelist will truly allow us to see what He can do through human instruments. I was not brought up to expect these realities. I never heard them emphasized in my professional training. But now I know they are real. I have written more fully about them in my books Christian Archy, The Jesus Paradigm, and Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? I am convinced that there is no evangelistic force so powerful as the work of the Holy Spirit through the lives of everyday ordinary Christians. When that spirit is embodied in a local church, it is profoundly attractive.
This is the message I took with me to Ethiopia. The best way we can honor the memory of Becky is to emulate her single-minded devotion to Christ and her passion for the Gospel. What is it about people like Becky that attracts us? They laugh at their problems. They are other-focused. Like Jesus, they are secular in their outlook on life; they do not keep themselves in splendid isolation from the defilements of society. Their faith is so real, so attractive, that it shines brightly in other people's lives. They leave no stone unturned in passion, in pleading, to win people to the Savior. They are concerned for the poor and the hurting. They make great friends. Their message and their way of life are radical. They are eager to turn the world upside down for Christ. There is a practical love about them.
It is a good thing to remember people like these. Take pains to be like them. Seek to obey what God is saying to you through their lives. Offer your service freely for the King. Faithful service, bathed in prayer and offered humbly, may well transform the world you live in.
I owe many debts of gratitude as I reflect on this trip. Gratitude to Nigusse for helping me to plan my itinerary while in Ethiopia. Gratitude to Samuel, Tegegn, and Berhanu for serving as my translators in Alaba, Burji, and Addis respectively. Gratitude to all the saints in Ethiopia who honored Becky by attending her services. Gratitude to you, my readers, for your prayers and emails while I was gone. Above all, gratitude to the One who called me to Himself 49 years ago and gave me the ministry of reconciliation. I thank Him for giving me such a perfect partner in the Gospel for 37 years. I only wish that every husband could be so blessed.
During my travels I often felt too far spent to minister to others. Yet time after time my weakness vanished and my strength was miraculously renewed. I have been filled with God's power not only in my soul but physically. Hope for a grieving widower lies in his confidence in God's good and perfect plan, a confidence strengthened when friends stand by him without offering "solutions." The struggles that remain become opportunities for deeper trust. Like an insecure basketball player, I did not want the ball passed to me. But I'm changing. Today I'm more resolved than ever to catch whatever ball God throws at me and take it to the hoop. I may not make a basket, but I will shoot.
This is just the first in a series of posts about the trip. Ironically, I've got so many photos I don't know where to start. Each is a reminder to me of why I fell in love with Becky in the first place.
Life is good -- simple and good. And I think I'm starting to love it again.
P.S. Just a note: I was surprised and amazed that some friends were there to welcome me at RDU last night. It felt so goooood. Thank you Glasses, Godwins, and Jacobs families!