December 2013 Blog Archives
Tuesday, December 31
4:16 PM Just ordered Hiking Through: One Man's Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail.
Thank you, Patsy, for sending me the link!
4:10 PM In the new year, I am hoping that many of you will continue to support the Lord's work in Ethiopia and India. As you know, every penny you send us goes directly to the work abroad. We take nothing for overhead or expenses. Beginning today, instead of sending your checks to me, please send them to:
Leigh (trained by Becky and a fellow-member of Bethel Hill) will handle the finances from now on. If you would like your gift to be tax-deductible, make your checks payable to Bethel Hill Baptist Church and earmark your check for "India" or "Ethiopia." Thank you, and Happiest New Year.
1:02 PM Another wish for 2014: That all Greek grammar classes would be as interesting as they can and should be!
11:54 AM Just added to our Greek Portal:
9:42 AM Thinking back over the past year brings back many happy memories:
Of course, there was also the recent trip to Dallas. We got some shopping done while there. Although I couldn't find a "realistic" manger scene (you know, a crowded manure-filled cave with a smelly feeding trough), we did manage to find some shoes and shirts. (Thanks, mom!) I'm looking forward to 2014 to see what the Lord is going to teach me. I'm not naive. I'm involved in spiritual warfare, as are you. So we need to keep each other covered in prayer. I'm hopeful that the new year will see my life return to a somewhat "normal" vortex. Of course, I'll keep on blogging, and I hope you will check in frequently. I'm a victim -- as many of you are -- of CTD (Compulsive Thinking Disorder), and I hope to use you as a sounding board for several new ideas that have been floating around in my head lately. If you find my disorder helpful (not everyone does, for sure!), then I welcome your feedback. I'm always available by email at email@example.com.
9:02 AM While in Dallas I watched a YouTube called "The Seven Critical Decisions of Gettysburg." (Incidentally, John Buford's decision to fight at Herr's Ridge was not one of them, nor was Ewell's failure to take Cemetery Ridge on the first day. That surprised me.) So, my theologian brain asks, "What will be the most critical decision we Christians can make in 2014?" I'd like to suggest it is the following:
Think about it as you drink your eggnog tonight. Are we going to try and transform society by fixing government, or by imitating our Lord and Master? In my book Christian Archy, I have argued that our only allegiance as followers of Christ should be to Jesus. Thus, if you should send me an email with the following, I will do nothing other than delete it:
Remember, the question is a very simple one: Will we abandon the Christendom paradigm of the traditional church and become more authentic followers of Jesus? In 2014, I want to encourage all of us to strive to cultivate a kingdom mindset, especially toward those with whom we disagree politically and morally. This may well be the most difficult act of discipleship most of us will ever face because it directly confronts our fallen nature (which always demands that we get "our" way). At all times and in every circumstance, we are commanded to imitate Jesus, including His attitude toward one's enemies.
By the way, in February I'm planning on attending the Justice Conference in Los Angeles as part of the research I'm doing for my book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. Basically, the conference is about all the stuff that is normally covered in the writings of evangelicals like Jim Wallis and Shane Claiborne. I'm 6 or 7 years into the book and have yet to address directly the problem I see with trying to steer politics to the point that we no longer get around to simply being the kingdom. When in L.A., I'm also scheduled to be interviewed by my good friend and fellow-Biolan Don Stewart on his radio show, Pastor's Perspective.
A final thought. When in Dallas I watched an interview about homosexuality on CNN with the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. (You can view it here.) Hat's off to pastor Jeffress for conveying biblical truth in a most Christ-like fashion. I especially liked how he lumped himself with all the other sinners in our society. ("I'm no better than a homosexual or adulterer.") He's right. Christians say they oppose homosexuality because they support "family values," but when the divorce rate among evangelicals is as high as the rest of America, surely the charge of hypocrisy is merited. Maybe, just maybe we'll get to the point where we can all unite together sacrificially in loving the homosexual community and earn the right to speak truth into their lives. Now that would be an expression of moral authority! After all, our sins (pride, gluttony, easy-divorcism, etc.) are often like planks compared to others' specks.
8:32 AM Quote of the day (Conrad Grebel):
This was Grebel's response when he was asked where he found his new view of the Christian church. I love Zwingli and have studied his life. I have profited from his writings. But the Anabaptists were right: The clear teaching of the New Testament was more important than the teachings of their earthly teacher. Please, fellow students of the Word, let's never put the writings of our favorite Bible scholars above the Bible itself!
Monday, December 30
6:02 PM I am gearing up for several international trips this year, including one in April to Asia to speak on this subject: "The History and Theology of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement." So glad to find this review by Craig Keener of John Macarthur's Strange Fire. I've book-marked it to read when my brain is not so fried. The opening reads as follows:
Talk about a sermonic "hook." Should be interesting reading.
5:38 PM Today, Nigusse is visiting the Billy Graham museum in Charlotte. A review of John Stott's biography contains this revealing paragraph:
"Bolstering the global church." This was the vision of both Graham and Stott. What a worthy goal for this 61-year Greek teacher. It is, in fact, my chief desire these days. Graham and Stott set the pace and raised the bar. I'm thankful for that.
11:18 AM Here are a few pix of our trip for Netsanet ("Choo Choo"), Nigu's fiancée in Ethiopia.
1) Here we are in mom and dad's house in Murphy, Texas, dogs included. Becky's sister Lisa (with her husband Dan and their son Ross) joined us the day after Christmas.
2) What, no Chinese stir fry for Christmas dinner? Mom's turkey dinner was out of this world, Choo Choo.
3) We ate out. A lot. Here we are enjoying some Mexican food at El Fenix. Scrumptious.
4) Santa brought your beloved a diary. Wonder what secret thoughts he'll be recording this year?
5) Yes, this beverage is non-alcoholic.
6) At Sheba's Kitchen -- our favorite Ethiopian restaurant in the Big D.
7) On Saturday, Nigu and I took the train to downtown Dallas to do some sightseeing. This is the (in)famous Dealey Plaza, where president Kennedy was assassinated.
8) Then it was a long elevator ride to the top of Reunion Tower.
9) A speculator view of the Dallas skyline, for sure.
10) And here's a replica of the oldest house in Dallas.
11) Finally, your dear old dad painted this landscape when he was in high school. It now resides in the world-renowned Lapsley Art Gallery in Murphy, Texas (haha).
Our love and greetings from Virginia to you, Choo Choo!
10:22 AM Hello, faithful blogging pards. Hope your Christmas went well. Mine was spectacular. We were together with Becky's family -- which in my mind makes life pretty great. Of course, in a fallen world you can't expect everything to be wonderful. Imagine for a moment that you are a small drop of water in a very large river. You've been bubbling along innocently when lo and behold you go over a gigantic waterfall and the massive river is suddenly on top of you, pounding you under. That's what these past 8 weeks have been like for me. And that's why going to Texas was so important. I feel like I'm finally beginning to transition into the slow quiet at the bottom of the waterfall. "I will never forget this awful time as I grieve over my loss," wrote Jeremiah (Lament. 3:20). "Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends. His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness!" When I married Becky Lynn 37 years ago, I vowed to love her no matter what. I promised to "have and to hold [her] till death do us part." She pledged that exact same thing to me too. We didn't know what would lie ahead for us. But we knew our vows would bridge the bad times, the lean times, the ill times until we were parted in death. Yes, parting is such sweet sorrow. If you've ever wanted to know why God created the institution of marriage, a look into the eyes of a grieving widower will give you a pretty good idea. How I look forward to the day when I will embrace her again and together we will celebrate the goodness of the God who redeemed us. Because of Christmas (and Good Friday and Easter), I will see Becky again, and I'll never have to say goodbye again. I know that Becky is happy where she is, and I'd never want her back again. She is now healed, and every last tear has been wiped from her eyes. Yet some days I'd give anything to be able to talk with her again. I suppose God knows how I'm feeling. After all, Christmas is not just about a baby laid in a feeding trough. It is the Heavenly Father saying goodbye to His Son. So, until I see Jesus face to face, I must accept what I cannot change and be content with what I do have (which is plenty!).
As 2014 approaches, I've written down a few goals for the new year. They're not really New Years resolutions. Since my blog is the ultimate "un-blog," maybe we could just call them "un-resolutions." Perhaps they will spur you on to jot down a few of your own.
1) In all of my future publications, I will stop producing long run-on sentences that are redundant, pleonastic, and superfluous or that use more words than are absolutely necessary to say what I want to say.
2) I will continue to put off doing what I know I should have done last year but didn't do because I lack the self-discipline to do it. (Just being honest, folks.)
3) I will never again drink coffee after 3:00 pm unless I'm absolutely sure I want to stay up all night.
4) I will do everything I can to kick the ______ habit. (Wouldn't you like to know what that is?) At the same time, I will not expect perfection. When I fail, I will confess my sins to God, remembering the words of C. S. Lewis: "You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a very long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again."
5) I will not spend money frivolously, unless it is on my daughters.
6) I will relinquish my devotion to "having devotions." I will not feel guilty for not reading my Bible every day. My relationship with Christ is just that -- a living relationship, not a list of things to check off.
7) (This one's for Nigusse.) I will not cook Chinese food for dinner more than 4 times a week.
8) I will talk less about what it means to live as an obedient follower of Christ and will actually start living like one.
9) I will make no resolutions that I have no intention whatsoever of keeping.
10) I will make every effort to keep my future publications simple. (Albert Einstein: "Keep everything as simple as possible, without being too simple.")
11) I will never admit that I am addicted to Beach Boys music, unless in confidence to other Beach Boys lovers.
12) I will make sure that when I teach or preach from my Greek New Testament, no one knows I'm doing so.
13) I will be more understanding toward others, especially those who don't see things like I do.
14) When it comes to giving parenting advice to my children (who are now raising their own children), I am going to zip my lips, knowing that nobody cares as much about raising good kids as their own parents. At the same time, I will not confuse children with angels.
15) By God's grace, I'm going to do something really crazy this year, like surf the North Shore or hike the Appalachian Trail.
16) I will gleefully thumb my nose at the skeptics around me who think that change is both evil and impossible.
17) As much as I love and appreciate them, I will not abdicate my personal responsibility for global evangelism to professional missionaries.
18) Like Jabez of old (1 Chron. 4:9-10), I will ask God for bigger challenges and greater opportunities to serve Him in 2014, believing that I will get them.
19) I will do at least one magnanimous act every day.
20) I will say "I love you" to my family members more often.
21) When nobody is within ear shot, I will belch as loud as I can -- and enjoy every second of it.
22) I will pass out 100 free copies of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? this year. As the saying goes, it only takes a spark to get a fire going.
23) I will not be anything but myself. I will enjoy my own special God-given personality and temperament. I will feel free to weep, to express my fears and doubts, to laugh until I cry. I will not wear a mask and try to appear controlled when I am freaking out. God made me -- down to the last scar.
24) In Luke 9:58, Jesus said to His followers (The Message), "Are you ready to rough it? We're not staying in the best inns, you know." I will eagerly "rough it" for Jesus in 2014.
25) I will accept Becky's death. When King David prayed for an entire week that his son's life would be spared, God said no. "No" is good news when God says it, because He has something far better in mind for us than we can possibly imagine.
26) I will seek out friendships. (Dolly Madison: "Friendship doubles our joy and halves our grief.")
27) I will be more generous in 2014 than I was in 2013. (John Wesley: "Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.")
28) I will banish that past mistake from my memory forever. (Don't ask.)
29) I may stumble, but I will run my race. Wrote Paul to the Hebrews (Heb. 12:1-2, The Message): "We'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running -- and never quit! No extra fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in."
That's it in a nutshell. Hope that gives you some food for thought as we begin 2014. In upcoming posts I'll try and flesh out these ideas. Stay tuned!
Happy New Year.
Monday, December 23
5:45 AM Time for a blogging break. We return next Sunday. There is too much to share, so let me leave you with an email I received this morning:
"To see more of God." I am comforted by that thought. If I live to be a hundred years old, I don't think I will ever be able to get enough of Him. So for the rest of this day, and the rest of this week, I'm going to looking for His face in the littlest details of life. Life is a conversation with pain, a willingness to participate with others in the healing of broken lives and a broken world. That's why this week is going to be incredibly challenging and incredibly wonderful. Wonderful, because He is my true Lover. And because I am so much in love.
Sunday, December 22
7:44 PM Where to start?
After church today I stood silently at Becky's grave and wept. I can't even explain how I am feeling today. I'm fairly certain you're not here for a dissertation on the subject. I think God's heart must ache when He looks at cemeteries. I know mine does. I realize how quickly I had grown accustomed to her face, to her constant companionship. Serving, playing, laughing, crying, soothing, dancing -- together.
Did I mention loving?
I've thought of this so many times before. What can fill an empty heart? It takes the fire of God to cleanse a heart of selfishness. Loneliness can be a form of selfishness. The widower can magnify his loneliness all out of proportion. Many times in my life God has asked me to accept what I want to understand. I need evidence that at least God is doing something. The phone doesn't ring. The house is empty. The cards no longer come in the mail. God Himself seems silent. The other night Karen said, "It'll be okay, Daddy." She encouraged me to trust and obey. In my aloneness I have something precious to offer to Him. My trust. My hope. My love. I can accept with both hands the things He gives me, humbly, submissively, joyfully. Jesus found His joy and peace in doing the Father's will. When God gave us Himself, He gave us everything. The joys of family, a sunrise, pure air to breath, the stars in the sky, the strength to get out of bed in the morning -- all these blessings come from Him. Grief, too, is a blessing from His hands. In His mercy and grace God stands by silently and permits me to agonize. I need purifying, not self-gratification. I need to find my identity in Him and in no other. Where else can a lonely man flee than to Him? The same One who said "It is not good for man to be alone" is the One who has called me to be alone. The same Love that wooed Becky to me now reaches out to me in His tenderness and gives me the gift of widowerhood. He asks me to accept the discipline of loneliness, His gift of allowing me to walk with Him. I am called close to the side of the Savior. Will I approach? The choice is mine. Would you also go away? He asks. Or will you come with Me? It hurts, this loneliness does. But I think He understands. I think Becky would too. There's no way I can even begin to fathom how much Daddy loves me. Becky's death is a new beginning, both for her and for me. Is it easy? No. But the Captain of our Salvation was made perfect through the things that He suffered. How much more is this true for His subjects?
In his dialogue between Christian and Death, George Herbert wrote:
Becky's tomb screamed at me today: This shall crush thee! Yes, it will. It already has. But He has not forsaken me. The pain, the tears, the unbearable loneliness -- all these He shall dispel, and one day I shall be better than before. And that, my friends, is good enough reason to keep on keeping on.
Pray for me, okay?
1:20 PM We commissioned 5 members this morning for an overseas mission trip.
So grateful for a Great Commission church.
8:04 AM Poor Nigusse. He has to sit through 3 hours of the Messiah tomorrow night. Here's my favorite chorus:
7:48 AM Greek students! Have you seen Sam Freney's Greek Reader's Lexicon over at iTunes?
7:42 AM Meet Dave Black. He has lived in many places: Hawaii, California, Switzerland, North Carolina, Virginia. Everywhere he's lived he's had to adjust to a new culture.
Meet Jesus Christ.
I don't know what to say. I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the incarnation. But I know it happened. I know that Jesus Christ, God Himself, actually became one of us, and that He can change us in ways that we can't even begin to imagine. Surely the baby in the manger is the greatest of all miracles. And today, for a brief, moment, I think I got a glimpse of what He experienced that night in Bethlehem.
Thank you, Paul, for a phenomenal post.
7:24 AM The Chronicle of Higher Education has just listed the compensation packages for college and university presidents in the U.S. (One example: Liberty University, where the president is compensated $504,490 annually. The head football coach makes $429,993). For Religious Non-Profits, go here (e.g., Samaritan's Purse: $612,884). None of this is illegal or (in my opinion) immoral. My point is simply that God has clearly provided more than enough money in the U.S. to meet all the evangelistic and church-planting needs in the Two-Thirds World. It costs about $5,000 to build a very simple meeting hall for believers in Ethiopia. Which means that a church sanctuary built in the U.S. for, let's say, 7 million dollars could build 1,400 meeting halls in Ethiopia. That same amount could practically guarantee that the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to an entire Ethiopian state -- or even some smaller countries of Asia. Please, I am not speaking out against these salaries. I am saying that to whom much is given, much is required. As we respond to the needs of the Great Commission around the world, and as we do what we can in the name of Jesus (and each of us can do something), others will hear the Good News of forgiveness from sin through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and entire nations will be blessed. My heart breaks when I think of how I have hoarded God's blessings. My earnest prayer is that, in my own life, the love of Christ may be shown in tangible ways that draw others to the Savior. Jesus desires that "the poor have the Gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:5). If that is not accomplished, we in the West have failed.
5:50 AM Enjoyed a nice meal (Japanese Steak House!) and a great ballet (the Nutcracker) in downtown Raleigh with daughter Karen last night.
Today it's back to Bethel Hill Church for the first time in several weeks. Eager for the teaching and fellowship! Tomorrow we leave for Dallas. The Hudgins will be farm-sitting for us.
Hope and healing. God is good.
Saturday, December 21
9:20 AM Quote of the day (Joel Bradsher):
That's only 420 dollars a year to support one fulltime native missionary. Compare that with the 50,000 dollars it takes to support one Western missionary. Why the difference? The living standard, for one thing. Plus, many Western missionaries are saddled with extra costs (visas, airfare, Western-style housing, cost of food, extra medical care, etc.). The result is that Western missionaries often need 40-50 times more support. Folks, this approach just makes sense.
Please contact Joel if you're interested.
8:16 AM I have been talking with a dear friend who is about to move to the Middle East as a tentmaking missionary. For anyone contemplating this type of ministry, Jonathan Merritt's post In the Middle East, Not America, Christians Are Actually Persecuted is a must read. The title is absolutely true. Think about that the next time you're tempted to boycott Target because their employees wish you "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Xmas." (Yes, I used Xmas intentionally.)
8:07 AM As you know, earlier this year I attended the memorial service for Dallas Seminary's Howard Hendricks in Frisco, Texas. The service is now available on YouTube. If you or someone you know suffers from depression, you simply must view it. Howard Hendricks would often disappear into the darkness of depression. As one of his sons recalled, "A massive gray wet blanket would wrap itself around him," adding, "As a little boy I was terrified by it." I can't tell you how often the subject of depression comes up when I speak with young people. Students everywhere seem to struggle with it. Yet there is hope.
This video is powerful.
8:05 AM A shout out and "Thank you!" to Robert Noftz for his video review of my beginning Greek grammar and DVDs.
7:43 AM Good morning, cyber-friends! I know I've been blogging a lot lately. I do hope you don't get tired of all this posting, especially not the posts coming at you from my heart. Unless I'm badly mistaken, you ponder many of the same questions I do. Today we are hearing a great deal about restoring America to the "truly Christian nation" she once was. Well, I am indeed a nationalist. I belong to the only Christian nation the world has ever known, the holy nation of the people of God. Nations may contain Christians but there will never be a Christian nation except for the people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. God's people today need to be what they are -- a minority of holy nationals and heavenly ambassadors who exist to show men and women how to be reconciled to God. When I travel abroad to visit the persecuted church I go as a missionary of this holy nation, because I believe in a God of scandalous love, because I believe that no one is beyond redemption, because I realize that all creation is groaning and that political Christianity has not satisfied the souls of those who hunger and thirst for a new way of living. I believe in the way of peace even though all we have are wars and rumors of wars. I believe that another World is about to break into our earthly kingdoms and men will begin to beat their swords into plowshares. As if that weren't enough, I believe that Jesus turns power on its head, that God is taking over the world through little acts of kindness and offering every slave of sin an Emancipation Proclamation.
Folks, there's something bizarre about watching grown men sparring like they were 8-year olds. What would it look like if the Christian shared the same purpose in life that Christ had? Why did He come to this earth? What was His purpose in life, His goal? "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." That's pretty clear, wouldn't you say? How few Christians -- how few pastors -- have a clear sense of mission. We study to get a degree, we train to fill a position, we move to the top of the ladder, we supply a demand. For Jesus, there was no such confusion. He came to give His life away for others. Listen to the shoptalk even in our seminaries and rarely do you catch that note. We are too busy looking for appreciation and honors and a top salary and a wealthy church. Few of us live to minister to the needy. "The matter is quite simple," said Kierkegaard. "The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be able to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly."
I'm ready for something new. I have a hunch you are too. When I began studying the life of Christ, I realized that the time had come for a change. I was tired of talking and was ready to live. The satisfaction of normalcy and conformity had died. Was I merely a would-be disciple who, with fingers crossed, said, "Lord, I will follow you, but ..." (Luke 9:61)? Our Lord says, "Let the dead bury their dead." He had resolutely made up His mind and was headed for Calvary. Will we follow? Of course, if we do, we have no idea what we're getting ourselves into. But I can guarantee one thing: it will be a little more dangerous but a lot more satisfying. In Ethiopia, Tesfai's 8-year old daughter was decapitated and her headless body was thrown down the village well, simply because her family was Christian.
Yet Tesfai has never complained. He truly loves his enemies. Here's another example. It's the main headline this morning on CNN:
Ronnie Smith's wife Anita tells it like is: Christianity is different because it loves its enemies and forgives them. Bottom line? I want one thing. I want to be like Jesus. I want to be a passionate lover of God and others. I want to be a man who takes the Jesus way of life seriously. I want to be willing to risk my life if necessary for the sake of the Gospel.
Anita, let me tell you, you are one class act. So are you, brother Tesfai. You've set the bar high for the rest of us.
Friday, December 20
7:48 PM The past five hours have been nothing but pure joy. Jon and Matthea brought the kids (Catherine, Carter, Caleb, and Christian) over to the farm ostensibly to cook supper for us and to wrap up Becky's fine china collection (wedding gifts) to take home with them. I say ostensibly because I think they knew that I would need a bit of cheering up today. So in the midst of the sorrow and pain there's a wonderful joy that comes from knowing that one is safe and secure, not only in the arms of Jesus, but in the love of family. I count it all joy that my life has experienced this loss because it means that God wants to fill it with good things. It's a reminder that I was created for another life. I have never been more excited about Heaven. I simply can't wait for Jesus to come back. But in the meantime I realize that there still many earthly joys to experience. Hugs, and good food, and spiritual fellowship, and reading a story to the kids about obedience -- I can live the rest of my days knowing that I am loved, that even though I have lost someone very dear to me there are others who are eager to share my burden. God smiled at me today, and my heart is shouting a million praises to His name for giving me more than I could ever ask or imagine. The last picture below says it best. These concert tickets were found in the silver purse that Catherine "just happened" to select from Becky's things tonight. They are the tickets I bought for Becky and me for our very first date to attend the "Celebrate the Son" Christmas program at Biola. Talk about a miracle. Miracle? Miracles aren't always God healing the sick or Jesus raising the dead. They can be something as simple as stumbling into your past and being flooded with happy memories. So tonight, as I pray my evening prayers, I will spend a little time telling God thanks for the miracles He performs for His children, even when they don't ask Him. Love, like truth, is concrete. Tonight I felt it in a special, wonderful way, and it has gone a long ways toward healing a broken heart.
2:02 PM If you're anything like me, you can't believe how fast time flies. It seems like it was only yesterday that Becky and I were designing our cemetery monument. Well, today it was installed. Before that, I treated Nigusse to lunch at Mexico Viejo. I had a picture taken of him showing off his brand new haircut. Then it was off to church to watch them deliver the grave marker. Let me know if you like it. At the very least, I hope it gets the message across that there's only one thing worth living for. I count myself blessed among men to have known and loved Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. Also, I'd just like to mention how encouraged I've been because of all of you. Your emails have meant tons to me, and I can honestly say that I find myself experiencing something that can only be called divine peace as the result. It's going to be hard to stop myself from thinking about her -- but then again, why should I stop thinking about her? Despite all that transpired in the past 4 years, the good by far outweighs the bad. And today? Definitely a bittersweet day. Please keep praying. I haven't healed yet. Thank you so much for standing with me (us) in this fight.
9:08 AM This email postcard from Odessa Theological Seminary just arrived:
I had the honor of meeting brother Shemchysyhn last March when I taught there.
Love what you are doing, Sir. Eager to get back!
8:58 AM Read the latest persecution report in the Middle East from the Gatestone Institute. It will boggle your mind. We must always remember that Satan is the god of this age who controls the entire world (see 2 Cor. 4:4 and 1 John 5:19). Our only loyalty and trust must be in the God who sovereignly uses our Calvary-like acts to transform the world into the domain over which He reigns.
8:52 AM Enjoyed this post: 3 things you should do to live life more fully. I especially liked the third thing:
I have never been very good at this, but I am working hard on it now, especially with my family members. I invite you to join me in the process.
8:40 AM Well, let's move on from politics to hermeneutics. Matthew Malcolm asks What is the hermeneutical task? His answer is as follows:
Wow. This is so right on. And it involves precisely the steps I follow in my own guide to Greek Exegesis (Using New Testament Greek in Ministry). We must always ask three questions of the text in front of us: Do I understand its context, both historical and literary? Do I really understand what the text is saying? And would anyone profit from what I have to say about this text (myself included)? Or to use an acronym: CIA (context, interpretation, and application). Anyway, check out Matthew's post. Let's do our best to be faithful to the text before us without shortcutting the hermeneutical process!
8:10 AM I read this morning that a Baptist College in Wisconsin is changing its name -- and getting rid of its "Crusader" mascot. (The story is here.)
Is this caving into political correctness? Or is it cultural sensitivity for the sake of the Gospel? Many will argue the former. Well, believe it or not, I'll argue for the latter. Remember, our picture of God is to be rooted in Christ alone, and our attitude toward the lost is to be derived from Christ alone. This is one reason why the ladies who go to Ethiopia with us are asked to wear only dresses. Cause no unnecessary offense, is our policy. Incidentally, "Campus Crusade for Christ" became CRU in 2011. Why? "We think the name of Jesus and his love is the most attractive thing on the planet, and to do anything to make it seem forced or that we're trying to cram it down anyone's throat is just not necessary," Sellers said. "We're constantly trying to eliminate things that are a barrier or obstacle." Read Campus Crusade Changes Name to CRU.
What pros and cons can you think of in response to the decision of this college and of CRU? Keep thinking, learning, growing, and loving!
7:40 AM I'll be watching Seabiscuit with Nigusse during the semester break. The movie reminds me of several lessons I learned from my four-footed equine companions.
I must confess that I really do pity someone who has never known the pleasure of the unique partnership that exists between horse and rider. This is true especially when you've had the chance, as I have, to train up a young horse yourself, when you take him out as you have "made" him, not as someone else, more of a horseman than you, has "fixed him up" for you.
The German equestrian expert Rudolph Binding once said: "Das Pferd ist dein Spiegel. Es spiegelt dein Temperament. Es spiegelt auch deine Schwankungen" ("The horse is your mirror. It mirrors your temperament. It also mirrors your weaknesses"). Smugness has never been the genuine horseman's vice. The human rider, even when mediocre, has a mute companion on whom he relies to make up for his shortcomings. The fact is that my horses may have learned much from me, but I learned so much more from them.
7:22 AM James Lee asks Who has the authority to close a church? I would encourage everyone to read this fine essay.
7:18 AM As a follow up to my post of last night, just wanted to call your attention to a great book about the culture wars: Blinded by the Right. In my book The Jesus Paradigm I offered a few reflections about my own journey out of the conservative movement. Better yet, if you're interested in a Christ-centered and sacrificial way of living -- as we all should be -- forget about these books and read Paul's letter to the Philippians and what it says about our heavenly citizenship. Yes, live for the Gospel. But do it in loving relationship with those you are seeking to win.
7:05 AM I published my first book (Paul, Apostle of Weakness) at the age of 32. Writing is so much easier now that I'm an old fossil.
6:53 AM Thankful for answered prayer this morning.
6:50 AM This video is priceless:
Thursday, December 19
7:28 PM Over at Fox News, Todd Starnes wrote today:
"Take to the streets"? Here's what concerns me. Would Jesus do this? We who have pledged our one and only allegiance to Jesus Christ are called upon to do one thing with our lives: follow Him in obedience and love, even toward our worst enemies. We're not called to demonstrate against the evil world system. I see that neither demonstrated nor commanded in the New Testament. As much as I appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in the U.S., and as much as I am passionate in rejecting the secular worldview that permeates our society, I am just as passionate -- perhaps even more so -- about keeping Christianity and politics apart. It's a bit ironic that on the very eve of Christmas, when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, professing Christ-followers are threatening to take to the streets over the concept of freedom of speech, a completely secular notion that is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. Earthly kings delight in having their subjects fight to defend them, but our King told us that His kingdom is not of this world and pointed to the fact that His followers did not fight as proof of His claim (John 18:36). To the best of my knowledge, the New Testament says nothing about defending the right to free speech. Instead, it tells us to love and forgive others, humbly serve them, turn the other cheek when someone strikes us, feed and give drink to our enemies, do good to those who persecute us, and respond with gentleness when persecuted for righteousness' sake. I see no exception clause here that says, "Do good to your enemies -- unless they trample on your First Amendment rights." I grant that Mr. Robertson is a man of courage. He stated his beliefs for all to hear. And now he is facing the consequences in a manly way. I give him credit for that. This doesn't in any way condone the tactics that some of his "fans" are apparently going to use by way of protest. Today, any follower of Jesus who wants to speak out against the sins of our society must realize that "we do not wage war as the world does" nor do we "fight with the world's weapons" (2 Cor. 10:3-4). My point is that we need to clearly distinguish the kingdom of heaven from the kingdoms of this world. The New Testament love command is the greatest command of them all. It is to be placed above everything else we do. We are to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful. All this simply means that we are to look like Jesus and love sinners so much that we will often be lumped together with them, as our Lord was. In this light we have to ask: how is following our gut reaction to an injustice ("taking to the streets") compatible with Jesus' love command? Do we do everything in love? Do we place love, even of enemies, above everything else? If we're thinking biblically, clearly we have an obligation not only to speak out graciously and humbly for what we perceive to be right and holy and just, but also to "live in love, as Christ loved us and gave His life for us" (Eph. 5:1-2). This is the kind of power that God delights in using against His enemies. This is the kind of Gospel that ascribes indescribable worth to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or religious fanaticism. I've seen this power at work in places like Ethiopia, where I have had the joy of leading people to Christ not only by speaking the truth to them but by living in their huts and sharing my life with them. I am talking about places where Christians have been killed for their faith. The enemies of Christianity wilt when they encounter scandalous deeds of Christian kindness. "Why do you love us," they ask, "after all we have done to you?" Still today, the greatest apologetic for Christianity is love, as Jesus said (John 13:35).
Friends, let's replicate Calvary, and then watch what happens. May we pray, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Let's stop blaming the world for acting like the world. Let's place our ultimate hope in the Gospel and, as citizens of heaven, advance the kingdom.
6:15 PM Everything's bigger in Texas.
12:45 PM Well, this is a historic day at Bradford Hall. Our daughter Rachael is here making one last pass through mom's things, carefully assorting them according to the famous "White Book" -- the tome in which Becky carefully documented all her possessions (replete with photos and descriptions of where each item had come from). The daughters went through it, indicating their preferences. Clothes, shoes, and jewelry will be apportioned, and the pictures will come down from the walls. Thank you, Rachel, for this expression of love toward your dear old dad. It seems like such a small thing, but it's really a huge thing. I've been both looking forward to and dreading this day for 6 weeks. I'm blinking back tears as I sit here contemplating what this day means. Is it the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning? God knows. The most exciting thing is that Becky's earthly possessions are going to people who will value them without worshipping them. Dresses will be worn, jewelry hung around necks, shoes used, Bibles read. Speaking of Bibles, I just have to show you Becky's blue and black Bibles.
Both are going to Lizzy. The blue Bible is the KJV that Becky used most of our married life as her primary reading Bible. Below it is a New Scofield Reference Bible I gave her on her 22nd birthday in 1975, a year before we were married. She would use it for study purposes. Don't know if you can read it, but this is what I wrote to her on the inside cover.
And so life goes on. Today I will laugh and I will cry, glad that I didn't have to make these momentous decisions on my own (Becky had it all planned out, of course). I'm singing "Joy to the World" to my Savior, and He's singing right back to me, I love you, Dave! And guess what? My marital status has no bearing whatsoever on that reality.
12:08 PM Duck Dynasty? Never heard of it until two days ago. Most evangelical pundits are saying: Let the poor man express his religious beliefs. It's called the right to free speech. If you don't like what he's saying, just change the channel, for crying out loud.
I have a slightly different take.
11:38 AM There's something magical about Handel's Messiah. Mom just called to let me know that we will be attending a performance of that great oratorio next week in Dallas. What's not to like about "Comfort Ye My People"? I think Jody Neufeld had a similar thought on her mind this morning. She writes (Real Comfort -- Even at Christmas):
37 years of marriage was too short! Let Him comfort you, Dave. I can't bear the loneliness! Listen to His tender heart, Dave. I miss her more than I ever thought I would! With arms open wide, Dave, receive the joy along with the pain. Her tender kisses are gone forever! See Him weeping outside the tomb of a friend, Dave.
This is hard, not because I don't know God, but because I do. Please pray that I -- and my family -- will take hold of His comfort during this season of the year.
11:22 AM Just to let you know that I do, in fact, know how to cook more than just Chinese stir fry.
10:02 AM I see that my good friend Kevin Brown, taking a cue from Billy Graham's portable pulpit, has decided to install this contraption on his own "sacred desk" at Mount Pleasant Baptist.
Kevin, if I may, don't you think a calendar would be more appropriate?
9:54 AM The monument company just informed me that they are installing Becky's grave marker in the church cemetery tomorrow. They asked me if I would like to be there. Are there cows in Texas?
9:38 AM Click here to read a review Richard Ounsworth's new book Joshua Typology in the New Testament. It's a study of one of my all-time favorite passages in the New Testament: Hebrews 3:7-4:11. Though there has been some debate about the passage, it seems clear to me that the "rest" spoken of in Hebrews is the rest believers will experience after their earthily labors are done. How, then, does this "rest" square with the rest that Jesus promises His followers today (Matt. 11:29-30)?
The problem lies in the confusion about what it means to "rest" in Christ. I used to think of it as ceasing from all activity. But the word Jesus uses here (anapausis) never has that meaning in the New Testament. When Greeks wanted to refer to the cessation of activity, they used a different though similar word – katapausis. The author of Hebrews uses this latter word to describe the promised "rest" of the people of God when they have ceased from their earthly labors (Heb. 3:7-4:11). That rest is not a present reality for those of us who are still living in this world. It is offered only to those who labor diligently in the here and now to enter that rest (Heb. 4:11).
In the meantime, Jesus tells us to "work hard for the night is coming" and to "keep busy until I come." We come to Jesus, then, not to rest from our work but to rest in it. This is only possible when we yoke ourselves to Him. Coming to Him does not mean that I rest in the sense of stopping my labors. It means walking next to Him in harmonious balance as together we plow the fields. Jesus "rests" us, not by taking away our heavy burdens, but by allowing us to join our harness to His. Paul puts it this way: "Do not be sluggish in zeal ... as you serve the Lord" (Rom 12:11). Being co-yoked to Christ means there is never room for lethargy or sloth. God intends for us neither to burn out nor to rust out.
If there is one thing I remember about Becky, it is that she was a woman co-yoked with Christ. In her long ministry, she neither burned out nor rusted out. We might say that she lived the "co-yoked" life, the life that makes one's burdens not only bearable but enjoyable, the life that enables one to keep on serving, ungrudgingly and uncomplainingly. The service Becky rendered was service in the strength that God had supplied. Such an attitude preserved her from both pride and sloth.
So, are you resting in Christ today? That is, are you laboring tirelessly (and uncomplainingly) for the Gospel, with Jesus at your side, lightening your load, until He ushers you into that eternal rest promised in the book of Hebrews?
9:14 AM Good morning, guys and gals! Do you remember the old rock song by the O'Jays' called For the Love of Money? "Money, money, money, money -- MONEY"! Well, a new Ipsos survey asked the question: "Do you measure success in life by the things you own," and the Chinese finished at the top. India was right behind them.
The message? Americans aren't the only ones obsessed with things. Well, believe it or not, I'm going to see how we might leverage this survey for the Gospel. Now, for the first time in history, the world's most populous nations have become capitalistic. What should intrigue us -- especially here in the Christian West -- is the way that in many cases a knowledge of English has become the key to upward mobility. And that's perhaps where you and I come into the picture. Teaching English abroad has become a leading platform for evangelism in many nations. So, while on the one hand I am a huge proponent of supporting native missionaries, I also sense a gigantic opportunity for fruitful ministry by expats teaching English abroad. Of course, teaching English with a view to evangelism has its pitfalls. But I've seen it work, up close and personal. I do have one caveat: relationships aren't formed automatically. They need to be actively pursued. This is true whether we are seeking to reach out to international students living in the U.S. or whether we are expats living abroad. The bottom line is that we are missionaries wherever we live and wherever we are sent by the Lord. Whatever your initial "break-in" is into the society -- offering a professional service, giving financial advice, teaching origami! -- make it your simple aim to live the Christian life before others. Build up good will, form lasting relationships if you can, and then watch God do His work. My message to the West is simple: God is building His church in Asia. He is raising up native missionaries to extend His church. Perhaps He might send you to one of these nations to come alongside the local churches and help. God is using many Western expats who truly care about the lost to expand His kingdom. I know many of them. I pray for them regularly. And whenever I can, I come to them to assist them with whatever limited gifts and abilities God has given me. If you are an expat living abroad, just know that I appreciate the work you are doing for Christ. There is no guarantee that your ministry for the Gospel will be fruitful. But you can be faithful.
Wednesday, December 18
4:16 PM Hey folks! My good friend David Allen of SWBTS has just published a 10-part series called Interpreting and Preaching Hebrews 6.1-8. It is really good stuff. Now, you might think that 10 blog posts loaded with exegesis and theology would be pretty boring, but it's not. On the contrary. David manages to package his considerable erudition into a dialogue that keeps you spell-bound (at least it did me). The only substantial disagreement I have with him is over his translation of the main verb in 6:1 (which is the verb that controls the entire passage!) as "let us press on to maturity." As I have noted elsewhere, the author seems to have had a completely different emphasis in mind (see my essay "Press On" or "Be Carried Along"?). Nevertheless, I encourage you all to read David's powerful and poignant series. It is a model of careful exegesis.
One final note: David and I have sparred through the years about the authorship of Hebrews. He is perhaps the leading defender today of Lukan authorship (see his magisterial Lukan Authorship of Hebrews), while I have forfeited whatever smidgen of credibility I had left in the academic community by coming to the defense of the apostle Paul (The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul). I am humbled to announce that I have won the smack down, but I'm not one to gloat. (Just kidding, David!)
12:23 PM Recently, Jacob Cerone gave away a copy of my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. Which caused me to reflect on the fact that so few Greek teachers employ linguistic science in the teaching of New Testament Greek. I tried to address this issue in a chapter in a book I co-edited, Interpreting the New Testament. The language of the New Testament is just that -- a language. As such it is to be studied and taught as one would study and teach any language: according to the acknowledged principles of sound linguistics. There is obviously no hope of thinking rationally about language apart from linguistic science. Linguistics is over 150 years old, yet it has barely entered into the curricula of our seminaries and Bible schools. Most pastors remain perfectly ignorant of it, and seem perfectly content with their ignorance. I hope this will all change for the better in the future. I do see the younger generation of Greek students taking definite steps toward consolidating their linguistic knowledge and applying it to the languages of the Scriptures. The really deplorable thing is that the number of teachers of the linguistic method is at present ludicrously small. A change would entail, I'm afraid, some very radical alterations in the way evangelicals think of the sciences.
10:28 AM Guess what I get to do this summer for 6 weeks? Teach Greek. I wonder if I'm an unusual teacher in that I never get tired of the classroom. I can't begin a new Greek class without being reminded of my own dismal failure as a Greek student. I lasted all of 3 weeks at Biola. And today I'm teaching the language. (God has a huge sense of humor.) Students, when and if you begin your Greek studies, my advice is simple: know yourself. Recognize your strengths, your weaknesses, your danger spots, the things in your personality that will keep you from succeeding in the course. Keep close to the Lord and ask Him to help you at your weakest points. Work hard to present yourself to God as a worker who doesn't need to be ashamed. In Rom. 14:17-18 Paul says that "the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by people." This should be the aim of every one of us, whether teachers or students. We are to do our utmost to win God's approval and others' acceptance. For my part, this means that I will do my very best to:
My promise to you is this: If you complete all of your assignments and do well in them, the payoff will be the ability to read your Greek New Testament with the use of a lexicon. Beyond that, I hope you will be better prepared to recognize (and avoid) exegetical fallacies. Above all, I trust the course will help you to become a more obedient follower of the Lord Jesus.
Can't wait for summer!
10:12 AM I snapped this picture while driving through South Boston, VA. Side by side we find ads for MacDonald's and Halifax Regional Hospital's cardiovascular services.
Quite an irony, wouldn't you say? This article is a reminder that we Baptists need to watch our weight during the holidays.
It's no laughing matter. The authors add:
Good "food for thought" this week and next, when most of us will probably eat more than we plan to.
8:48 AM Not long ago I had a conversation with a young man who sought me out and wanted to tell me about his mentor -- a widely known evangelical pastor. He went on and on. Stars in his eyes. I mentioned we all needed to be careful about exalting men over Christ, especially men we highly respect. Judging from the look in his eyes, I think this may have been the first time in his life somebody warned him about his attitude. I'd rarely seen a more fawning attitude toward anyone. The young man reminded me of a character in the movie Pride and Prejudice, the right reverend Mr. Collins, who is always prattling on about his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose "condescension" is indispensable to his earthly happiness.
It is a sad day for the people of God when we start our Christian fan clubs. I think the church is undone when we become idolaters.
8:34 AM This morning I had breakfast with a dear friend and brother. The fellowship we enjoy goes far beyond the gastronomic. We love to talk about the church -- what it is, and what it ought to be. My mind wanders to a famous book published in 1967 by Hans Hillerbrand called The Fellowship of Discontent. Both of us feel a holy discontent with the status quo in our churches. Like the radical reformers of the sixteenth century, we desire to cut to the root of the church. We feel a holy dissatisfaction with the affluenza that characterizes Western Christendom. We desire with all our hearts the establishment of a church that Luther once described as "Christians in earnest who profess the gospel with hand and mouth." We see the church today mired with its own success and apathy. We long for a community of believers that is characterized by simplicity, democracy of organization, theological purity, humility of spirit, and strong fraternal feelings -- in sum, a church composed of those who, in the words of Waldo (the founder of the Waldensian church in 12th century France), "follow nakedly a naked Christ." We want to be believers who live in such a way that proves that the church's task is to give itself in love and service to the world.
I doubt that any of us think that we live up to our aspirations. Sometimes I feel like the perfect hypocrite. Here I am, preaching about sacrifice, and but have I sold everything to follow Jesus? Am I just another Zwingli, a Greek scholar who had become (in the eyes of the Anabaptists) a mere "halfway man," afraid to face the consequences of his own teaching? The Anabaptists made the Great Commission the responsibility of every Christian. We Baptists outsource missions to professionals. The early Quakers went into all the world with a carelessness about geography. We ask ourselves, "But is it safe?" (No, it isn't.) The Methodist leader Thomas Coke died in 1814 on his way to Ceylon. James, a 24-year old Burji, willingly exposed himself to grave danger when he translated for me while I preached to the Gujis, not knowing that a few weeks later it would cost him his life.
Am I really seeking in my own life what the Hutterites called Gelassenheit -- a German word that connotes a complete yielding to God's will by the radical elimination of self-will? It is a high and holy privilege to serve Jesus. It is our assignment to reveal Him before a watching world. And you and I are added to the list of participants. Will we carry our weight?
The early fires of youth may be just embers in my life, but the God of the past is also the God of the future. I may not be able to mount up with wings as eagles or run and not grow weary. But I can walk and not faint. I can put one foot ahead of the other. I can do my duty. Longfellow once wrote, "Something remains for us to do or dare/Even the oldest trees some fruit may bear." God's not through with me yet -- or you. It is one thing for me to serve God on Sunday. It is quite another to submit in uncompromising, unquestioning obedience each and every day of my life.
Tuesday, December 17
4:08 PM I love flash mobs, and here's the best one I've ever seen -- the United Sates Air Force Band and Chorale performing Ode to Joy and Joy to the World at the National Air and Space Museum, much to the surprise of the visitors. Warning: You may get choked up watching it. Turn your speakers up and enjoy!
1:52 PM Today, we had a wonderful visit from Joel and Kimberly and the kids. I felt right at home, having family with me again. The kids were, of course, marvelously well-behaved (as always). The unanimous favorite part of Papa B's lunch? The chocolate pie for dessert. All the reverie made me long for my other home, the one on the other side, where Becky lives. As Kim said to little Rachel while going through Becky's clothes, "Mama B won't need any of these any more. She's got a new white robe that will last forever." As you might guess, I've asked all our daughters to go through mom's belongings (clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc.) and take whatever they want. I'm doing it because it's the only thing that makes sense, especially if I want to use our bedroom as a guest room. It isn't easy to do this but that's okay; no one said this had to be easy. But oh, thank God that He is my cover, that He has already walked before me through this trial of pain and loss. In the meantime, this evening I've got to take Nigusse into town. I need to buy some ink cartridges for our printer and the city of Henderson just happens to have a Ruby Tuesday with the best ribs this side of the Mississippi. Nigusse + Ribs = Happiness.
Let the adventure continue!
10:25 AM Mark Stevens took a long break from blogging, but for a very good reason. Read about his work in Vietnam here.
7:22 AM I'm back! Remember the Civil War? My love for American history? At any other time in my recent past, I would have thought that visiting historical sites was not a top priority. But sometimes God just tells you to do something out of the ordinary. These past three days were like that. I wouldn't have traded them for the world. Here are a few pictures of the Fredericksburg Battlefield, beginning with the Slaughter Pen Farm, a wide open field across which the Federals had to march before they encountered Jackson's troops ensconced along the railroad and trees.
"The action was close-handed and men fell like leaves in autumn," remembered one Federal soldier. I simply cannot imagine how Meade's Pennsylvanians felt as they moved out in the mist at 8:30 a.m. and headed for Jackson's line in the trees, over a mile away.
Then there was Chatham Manor, located on the north side of the Rappahannock and used as a headquarters for the Union generals.
In the following photo (which I took from the Manor) you can see the spires of the Baptist church on the right and the Episcopal church on the left.
It was here that the Federals constructed one of three pontoon bridges across the river before occupying the city.
Incidentally, I had a chance to visit the historic Baptist church on Sunday morning.
It houses an interesting historical museum where I learned that the church building was used as a Federal hospital during the war. One parishioner wrote:
A contemporary newspaper article added:
I also revisited the famous Sunken Road/Stone Wall just below Marye's Heights and was again struck by the utter folly on the part of General Burnside in launching his attack against an impregnable Confederate position. "A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it," boasted a Confederate artillerist.
Behind the wall, only 300 Confederate soldiers were shot. But in front of the wall, twenty times that number of Union soldiers were hit. Not a single Union soldier reached the stone wall. Of the 12,600 Federal soldiers who were killed, wounded, or missing during the battle, two-thirds of them fell in front of this wall. As I stood there, I got an overwhelming sense that the battle was nothing less than sheer murder. I realized something else, too. (Can you feel a sermon coming?) Each of the men who fought on this ground was doing his duty as a soldier. Take the Confederate soldier who perhaps stood at this very spot and fired his Enfield, over and over again, at the approaching Yankee troops.
I had never before realized the utter devotion of a soldier as when I stood on this ground. The soldier almost certainly wanted to be at home with his wife and family. Yet he unhesitatingly did as he was told to do, biting off the cartridge and ramming it home before firing, time and again, load and fire, load and fire. Did his eyes ever meet those of the man he just shot? Was he himself perhaps wounded, taken to a field hospital where a limb was amputated? Either way, he had volunteered, and he did his duty. He left his post on penalty of death. Are not you and I, similarly, combatants in a heavenly cause? We are called, not to destroy lives, but to save them. Each of us has a post, a place of duty. Do you see the lost? Can you envision them? Created, known, and loved by Him. I am not called to save every soul. I am simply called (if one can presume to call such a simple task) to be God's hands and feet and voice reaching out to a lost humanity. I am a man under authority, under orders, just as each of Burnside's troops was as he crawled forward over that deadly space below Marye's Heights. I want to love everyone who crosses my path, no matter how difficult they may be, even if they are called my "enemies." I am not ashamed to say that I want to be the most obedient soldier I can possibly be in the cause of the Gospel. Because the more I read about God's Son, the more I realize that He showed us what boundary-breaking, scandalous, heart-wrenching love looks like. Being an incurable history buff, I came away from this trip with a brand new perspective. I have been so blind. I saw the war as something to be commemorated, reenacted, its memory to be hallowed and preserved, as these fine people did at the Slaughter Pen Farm.
A few years ago I might have contributed to the cause of preservation myself. How ephemeral! As much as I cherish my heritage, the question gnaws at me: Of what eternal significance is any of this? The impact of the Gospel continues to grow on me. And not only on me. I believe we will see our generation reached for Christ as more and more young adults unite with concerned older Christians, churches, and missions around the world. As I stood silently on the battlefield I prayed earnestly for a great revival in America, for God to send us a new dedication to our Commander in Chief, drawing us nearer to Christ and feeling His heartbeat for lost and dying souls. I am one dreamer who is no longer skeptical. On Sunday night, at a dinner party thrown by one of my former doctoral students who lives in Maryland, I again saw proof that a new wave of interest in global missions is upon us.
Christians are no longer just saying, "I'm willing to go." They're saying, "I'm going." They are leaving behind their comforts, personal ambitions and dreams, and family ties. Thus it was a great privilege for me to share with three couples about missions at the Hudgins' home, to speak about the exciting and crazy things God is doing in Ethiopia and elsewhere, including in my own heart. As I shared, I sensed that the Holy Spirit was moving in our midst. I sensed we no longer wanted to pray for "showers of blessing" but rather for thunderstorms of blessing in the days ahead. This is the kind of faith and commitment it will take to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. God has given me a clear message for the Body of Christ -- a cry to my brothers and sisters in Christ on behalf of the lost millions in the Majority World. Will we conform to the demands of the Gospel? Or will we lose the Gospel mandate, abdicating our heritage of missionary outreach? Imagine the implications of becoming personally involved in missions instead of merely outsourcing it to others. Why else do you think God has allowed you to be born in the most affluent society on earth and to be blessed with such material and spiritual abundance? Think about it. If only a small percentage of the 80 or so million people in America who claim to be born-again Christians were to sponsor a native missionary, we could literally see hundreds of thousands of native evangelists taking the Gospel to the lost villages of Asia and Africa. My prayer? That every time I share with others the work that God is doing in Africa and Asia he will raise up at least one person with the spiritual sensitivity to hear what the Lord is saying to the church in America. Today God is reaching the lost, not through programs but through individuals whose lives are so committed to Him that He uses them to bless a lost world.
It's just that basic.
Thank you, Thomas and Lesly, for hosting the dinner party on Sunday night. You were the perfect hosts.
I am grateful to see how the Lord spoke to all of us. There were tears and a feeling of Christ's presence among us. This has been a painful time for me, but I needed to be faithful to God's call on my life to share the vision of lost souls with the affluent Western Christian brothers and sisters who have it in their power to help. May God help us all to be obedient.
On a slightly unrelated note, please continue to pray for me. The transition to life without Becky is still difficult. I know I will do better with time. I will get into a new routine, I will learn to sleep through the night again, and maybe I will even be able to sleep in "that" room again. It would appear that I've not been as successful in making this transition as I had hoped, but I'm just going to keep my head down and push ahead despite the wind and rain. I think being in Dallas for the holidays is going to help. Mom and dad "do" Christmas, and I'm just going to enjoy the celebration and whatever traditions they have. Blessings to you and yours as you celebrate (or don't celebrate, as the case may be) the season wherever you are.
Saturday, December 14
7:18 AM Ali Luke asks How Often Should You Blog? My own take? As frequently as possible, daily if you can. (If you need impeccable proof that daily blogging is biblical, just read Heb. 3:13: "exhort one another daily"). Bottom line? Blog whenever you have something to say. It's just that simple. But I gotta be honest with you: I detest sites that post frequently. Especially when their content is good. Makes me keep having to link to their posts :)
7:12 AM Nate reports that he is making good headway on the remodeling of their house. Here's the latest photo:
6:36 AM Good morning, cyber-friends! Well, it's Saturday, and I'm sitting comfortably in my office mulling over the events of the past 6 weeks, once again totally flabbergasted by the goodness of God. You'll remember that it was 6 weeks ago today that Becky died. Not exactly my plan. But His. And His ways are always better than ours. So here I am, trying to keep myself usefully occupied, thankful for the good night's sleep the Lord gave me (born of pure exhaustion), realizing that soon enough I'll be back in the "normal" swing of things again, teaching my classes and attending faculty meetings and flying hither thither and yon. But for now I simply want to pause and gather the precious moments of Becky's last day on earth and tuck the memories away into a little corner of my mind so that I will never forget -- never forget what God did in my life that day, how He sustained me through the darkest moment I've ever experienced on earth, all the time writing His story all around me and in me and through me. Can you say God is faithful? God is faithful. The exact second Becky passed into heaven I was filled with a joy that's impossible to put into words, no matter how hard I try to describe it right now. She was finally Home, grabbing His ankles and kissing them over and over and over again as she whispered through tears of joy, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." So much has changed since that day, and so much has remained the same. I am still the same old klutz who can't change a light bulb without instructions, I am still the yoyo whose emotions travel up and down at the speed of light, I am still the writer who treasures words and all their shades of meaning, I am still the grandfather who loves to be surrounded by babies and the teacher who loves to mentor and the son who loves to spoil his in-laws and the musician who thinks that Buxtehude was the absolute greatest organist in the world and the child of divorce who never quite feels adequate for anything that life throws his way and the super-scholar and super-missionary (the latter are clearly hypothetical, you know) and the Christian who feels so small, so utterly insignificant in the face of all of it. You see, I am the same old Dave you've always known, though maybe a little more tender toward others and a whole lot more eager to be a good daddy to my daughters. Today I'm going to grieve and I'm going to rejoice and I'm going to take a break. I'm going to drive to a faraway place on the Rappahannock River and find a nice hotel and stay on the top floor and listen to the rain hitting the roof, and I'm going to enjoy myself. And it's going to be just what I need on this anniversary. And I can't wait to explore and share my new journey with you, post-Becky, and I can't wait to feel useful again, and I can't wait to feel full of life once more, because I am convinced that God has something momentous in store for me (and for you too) if we can just learn to be quiet and listen to His voice. And yes, I want many people to share this crazy dream with me. That's why I blog. But mostly, I just want Him.
Thanks for stopping by,
Friday, December 13
7:46 PM As promised, a few pictures. Suffice it to say, my cup is full and overflowing.
6:24 PM Today, 151 years ago, the great Battle of Fredericksburg was fought. Tomorrow, Lord willing, I shall visit the Sunken Road, Marye's Heights, Prospect Hill, etc. I may take a few pictures.
5:48 PM Time to cook Chinese food for the Blacks. Let's see ... where did I put my secret ingredient?
5:42 PM Meet Carolyn and Sudie, missionaries to Ethiopia.
Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel, ladies. May your tribe increase.
9:22 AM Tomorrow it will be 6 weeks since Becky's Homegoing. This will be my first Advent season without her in 37 years. In fact, our very first date 40 years ago was to attend the annual Christmas program at Biola called "Celebrate the Son." As I look back at the Light that Jesus brought into the world, I am filled with hope, the kind of hope that knows that there is always a way forward, no matter how dark the night might be, the kind of hope that whispers in the ears of a man who lies sleeplessly in his bed at night, desperately wishing that she was still there beside him, the kind of hope that looks forward with breathless anticipation to a grand Reunion on the other side. What a tremendous thing hope is. What would we ever do without it?
May Jesus fill you with hope this Advent, no matter how hard life may be for you right now. May He surround you with peace, and may you know that the only thing that is not uncertain is the Christ.
8:48 AM Joel Bradsher reminds us why it's important to support our Indian brethren as they do the work of evangelism and church planting. But the best thing is that he and his wife don't just talk about doing it; they've gotten involved personally.
Thank you, Joel and Kimberly, for setting an example for the rest of us. My view is that if we do not share in the work of global evangelism we are sharing in the responsibility for those who go into eternal flames without ever hearing about the love of God. Will you join the Bradshers in ministering to India?
7:52 AM I'm insanely grateful for family and friends. Tonight Nate and Jess and the boys are coming over for dinner (Chinese -- Nate's request), then this weekend I will be heading back to Maryland to share about Ethiopia at Thomas and Lesly Hudgins' home. I dare you to watch the pictures of Becky's ministry in Ethiopia without getting choked up. Life is an amazing thing. So many ups and downs. You just sort of jump in and swim for dear life. At any rate, today I'm having lunch with two ladies who went with us to Alaba several years ago. They attend Tabernacle Baptist Church in South Hill, VA. This kind of openhanded sharing of time and energy is what missions is all about. Pray that more people in our Baptist churches will be touched with the need to share their resources with the Two-Thirds World. There's nothing like serving others.
7:27 AM This email came yesterday from a pastor in Kiev, Ukraine.
The situation is desperate. Let's hold that nation up in prayer.
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!