February 2012 Blog Archives
Wednesday, February 29
9:12 PM Good evening, bloggers and bloggerettes! Whew, what a week it's been so far. Becky and I just got back home from The Hill where we heard the most fantastic missions presentation. Becky wore her mask this evening as we are trying to ward off all them nasty germs that proliferate in the air all around us. When someone asked her how she was doing, she replied "I'm walking and not fainting." I guess that's a pretty accurate assessment. We'll do the blood work on Friday again, but my guess is that her white count has continued to fall -- hence the need to watch out for neutropenia.
Classes this week were wonderful. To say that I have good time teaching would be a classic understatement. A special treat was having Maurice Robinson in class today to wax elephant on the Majority Text. Here he is giving the class his opening quip: "I'm the Rodney Dangerfield of New Testament textual critics. I get no respect."
I beg to differ. He's got a lot of us here admiring him for standing like a David against the Goliath of critical text proponents. Today we were also blessed to have in our NT class a missionary speaker. If you're wondering "What does the New Testament have to do with missions?" you obviously do not know SEBTS very well. Note, by the way, that all the really bright and dashing NT professors here have grey hair and white beards.
In more campus news, this morning I encountered a bit of divine serendipity. An email arrived in my inbox with the following subject line: "I learned Greek on my own using your beginner's textbook." The writer goes on to say:
I take heart from the fact that God can teach any of us New Testament Greek if we will only apply ourselves. I also thank God that the power is not in the textbook or the teacher but in the Holy Spirit. Incidentally, his email concludes with this anecdote:
Sound advice indeed.
Oh, before I forgot: Becky spoke with Nigusse in India this morning. All is well, despite an internet outage throughout India. The men are working hard and are very tired, but what do you expect from our young whipper snappers these days? They got nothing on us old fogies when it comes to missionary stamina!
Well, that's all the news that's fit to print, so until the morrow: "Gute Nacht and schlafen Sie wohl!"
Monday, February 27
8:18 PM Other than a few technical glitches B's chemo went very well today. We could not ask for better health care than what we are receiving at UNC. Our nurses are always the best. The infusion room was jam packed today, but we were treated as though we were the only patients there today. Our thanks to everyone who ministered to us today. You are the greatest. Thanks also to everyone who sent us an encouraging email today. (You know who you are.) To you we say "God bless you." It's now after 8:00 pm and we are both tired but happy. It's been a long but good day. We know in our hearts that God's love will never give less than the best. And we are content.
8:40 AM How's Becky doing? She rested well last night. We're still on schedule for her afternoon chemotherapy. Right now she's preparing breakfast for a few friends from Wake Forest: omelets and fresh fruit, with homemade bread. Please pray that her treatment this afternoon does not tire her out too much.
8:35 AM Just got a phone call from Nigusse and Joel. They sounded great. They are safely ensconced in their Delhi hotel. Both seemed rested and raring to go. Grateful for journey mercies thus far.
7:36 AM I have often spoken out against the professionalization of ministry. "There simply were no professionals in the New Testament church," I've said. Well, today I must eat my words. For one of the most famous of all New Testament ministers was indeed a professional. "Luke, the beloved physician," Paul calls him (Col. 4:14). So there you have it: A professional minister in the New Testament. This remarkable man teaches us at least two lessons:
1) We are to put our "profession" at the feet of Jesus, completely at His disposal. Yes, Luke was a medical doctor. But that was only his job. His business was the Gospel, and I have to emphasize that he took that business very seriously (he is responsible for 2 New Testament books). The principle is simple: we are to use our vocations to advance the Gospel.
2) We must practice our professions selflessly. I think Luke's attitude toward his own profession is exemplary in this regard. He was willing to forego professional ease and advancement to do what He felt God was calling Him to do. He seemed to be utterly committed to a Great Commission lifestyle. When Paul needed a traveling companion, Luke was there, ready and willing to accompany him.
The application for today seems obvious. Like you and me, the first Christians were ordinary people with ordinary jobs. And yet they made an astonishing impact on their world. They evangelized, planted churches, and gave to the poor (often out of their own poverty). I think today of those everyday Christians who come with us to Ethiopia every year. They bring with them their secular skills and use them for the kingdom. They sacrifice income and holidays for the sake of the Gospel. They refuse to be bolted down in one place and one set of relationships. And I am talking about both men and women. These days I cannot help but notice that God seems to be raising up more and more of them.
Dr. Luke has unassumingly shown us the way.
7:22 AM You can take the little girl out of Ethiopia.
But you can never take Ethiopia out of the little girl.
This whole crazy adventure began in 2004 when Becky asked me to go with her to the land of her childhood. "It will help you to understand me better," she said.
Indeed it has.
Praise be to God.
7:15 AM They've landed!
Sunday, February 26
8:22 PM Began re-reading The Great Escape tonight. Classic breakout story of WW II. An excellent work. Ode to man's ingenuity and doggedness in the face of insurmountable odds. I always liked the movie but found its historical inaccuracies inexcusable. The book is much, much better.
8:22 PM Missions quote of the day:
6:14 PM So proud of my Ed.D. student Thomas Hugdins who just published an essay in Eleutheria. It's called An Application of Discourse Analysis Methodology in the Exegesis of John 17. (He likes brief titles.)
6:10 PM Our India team (of 2) is now over Canada. You can follow their progress at Flightaware.com. Just plug in American Airlines flight 292 from O'Hare to Delhi.
2:58 PM This morning we laid hands on our missionary Nigusse before sending him off to India.
Pastor Jason led the church in a wonderful prayer of commitment and commissioning.
Then Becky and I drove Nigu and Joel to RDU.
As I type they are flying over southeastern Indiana on their way to Chicago's O'Hare airport, whence they will fly to Delhi tonight. The following is a letter from Joel with their itinerary. Please keep them in your daily prayers.
7:30 AM I have no plans to see George Clooney's movie The Descendants, filmed in my native state of Hawaii. But from what I've read it sounds like an interesting flick.
Just thinking about the Islands makes me nostalgic. I can almost smell the plumerias and see the Pali mountains. Hawaii is perhaps the ultimate paradox. Yes, I said paradox and not paradise. Any honest kanaka (local boy) will admit its imperfections. Hence a film that erases all the clichés we know about the "Paradise of the Pacific" can't be all bad. It features (so I've read) an American marriage in crisis and a tragic loss of life. The sun and sea of Hawaii are no less beautiful because of the human tragedies that are played out daily on its shores. My upbringing there was predictably adventuresome. I was the ultimate I-don't-get-it-kid. Why did my parents have to divorce? Why was I deprived of a father? Why this, why that? On the other hand, never did a day go by that I didn't consciously thank God for the beauty that surrounded me.
Hawaii is a palpably wonderful place to live. As a born and bred Hawaiian, I will always feel a close connection to the aina. Happy memories include surfing Pipeline and Pupukea, sailing between Lahaina and Oahu, watching the sun rise over the Mokulua Islands, and even enjoying watching the steam rising from the sidewalk after a rain. And who can forget aloha shirts or mariachi sandals or puka shell necklaces or the salt water splashing through your hair. (Yes, I did have hair at one time.) Still, Hawaii -- the true Hawaii -- is as much about Angst as it is about gorgeous vistas. Clooney plays a smart alec who is learning not to be an idiot in a Hawaii that has lost its paradisiacal veneer. If your life has been anything like mine, it is the stuff of melodrama and (at times) tragedy. Even as an adult I still the carry the baggage of an ambiguous childhood, from my struggle with self-esteem to my pidgin accent (which you never lose, only suppress). In short, I lived a life that ran the gamut of experiences and emotions, not all doom and gloom by any means, but hardly an idyllic experience despite its Eden-like setting. Hawaii has its good, its bad, and even its ugly. And having Jesus in my life enabled me to appreciate the first, accept the second, and endure the third.
Saturday, February 25
8:56 PM Update:
1) Thanks to all the young ladies who came to Bradford Hall today on a short term "mission trip."
They worked on preparing laminated book marks with Bible verses for our team going to Ethiopia in July. "God is not so unjust as to forget how you ministered to the saints." God bless all of you!
2) And here's a shout out to George, Laura, and Jackson Woody. Greatly enjoyed your visit for dinner tonight. Laura, those venison meat balls were out of this world. Grateful for your love and your partnership in the Gospel at Bethel Hill. We love you back!
3) Remember: Tomorrow is the Day of Prayer for brother Youcef in Iran. God can still work miracles today. I do not know why they don't happen more often. But I do know they can happen. And I think they do so when we pray with intensity and boldness.
4) Right now I'm helping Nigusse pack for his trip to India. He leaves tomorrow. We plan on a brief commissioning service for him at The Hill before Sunday School. Nigusse, we already miss you!
11:20 AM Just spent two and a half hours in Bible study with "the guys." Time well spent. No doubt about it: Our churches need to get back to the Scriptures if there is to be widespread evangelism in our day.
6:51 AM Last night, as Becky, Nigusse, and I were comparing our calendars, it occurred to me that I will turn 60 this year. Statisticians tell me I've spent 20 years sleeping and 3 years eating. O joy. What I can't figure out is how I got to be 60 when I was 40 only yesterday. At any rate, were you to ask me if I've learned anything in 6 decades of living, I might offer the following list:
1) A greater appreciation of God's love. John 3:16 has never lost its profoundness to me. What's more, God's own love has been implanted in my heart (Rom. 5:5), which means that I now have the privilege of sharing His attitude toward the lost. That's an awesome thought.
2) A deeper sense of my personal unworthiness. Jesus' last words were to go into all the world and make disciples. For many years of my adult life I assumed He was talking about other people, certainly not me. Well, I was wrong. I regret the "lost" years of my life. Perhaps that's why I give myself so passionately to global evangelism today.
3) A deeper sense of being merely a pilgrim on this earth. I am a resident alien, Christ's ambassador in a foreign and often hostile land. This world holds little attraction for me any more. The heavenly Father has taken me into His family and has given me a new set of priorities. My job now is to call unreconciled sinners to the Savior. It's a work from which I can never retire, regardless of my age.
4) A deeper sense of the needs of others, both spiritual and physical. I am learning to look beyond myself by showing love and care for the brethren. I've discovered that there is nothing more attractive to non-Christians than Christian love in action. It is a quality worth pursuing, don't you think?
5) A deeper dependence upon the Holy Spirit. At one time I could make it on my own. Today it is inconceivable that I could go through a single hour without the support of God the Holy Spirit.
6) A deeper need for fellowship with other believers. It is fatally easy for a young person to act like a Maverick in the Body of Christ. It is only gradually that I have learned to cherish genuine Christian fellowship -- loving one another, meeting together regularly to study, supporting one another as we go through our various trials, seeing what I can do in service to my neighbors and my world. It is all part of the wonderful koinonia that the Spirit creates among Christians (Phil. 2:1).
7) A deeper need to express what I'm thinking. I suppose that's why I began blogging many years ago. A blog enables me both to clarify and verbalize my feelings and also to discipline my thought life. As I get older, I'm going to need a lot of help and encouragement from others. A "web family" can be very helpful at this juncture.
I could go on and on. (You see, I've also become more verbose the older I've gotten.) I find that growing older has its benefits and its costs. No doubt God is preparing me for bigger challenges ahead. Thankfully, I have the Holy Spirit within me to enable me to keep a joyful spirit and to keep on thanking God ... and trusting Him ... and serving Him ... and ministering to others in His name ... and living for Him. That's a pretty good deal, if you ask me.
Friday, February 24
7:57 PM Becky had her blood work done today. It shows her white counts beginning to drop more quickly than we had anticipated. They're still in the "safe" range, however, so we'll go ahead with her chemo on Monday. Next week will be critical in terms of neutropenia. Please pray for her.
6:06 PM Ever heard of the Do Something Awards? The idea is to reward our young people for doing more than sitting around on their duffs and being royally entertained (and spoiled) by their parents and other so-called adults. The nation's best youthful "world changers" are honored.
My friend Kevin Brown does something like this at their church in North Wilkesboro. Read his essay Rethinking Youth Ministry and you'll understand why. He's also published a fine book called Rite of Passage for the Home and Church. Both are highly recommended.
2:43 PM Odds and ends ...
1) Follow up to my post about Quarles' book, Sermon on the Mount: on p. 4 he says that the Didache was "probably written some time between AD 60 and 80." Is that so? I always thought it was dated to the early first century. Kurt Niederwimmer, in his Hermeneia commentary on the Didache, opts for a date between AD 110-120. Unfortunately, Quarles cites no evidence for his dating. Is this speculation on his part?
2) Becky says that God has a message for us in the snow.
3) Bethel University announces an opening in Religion.
4) Mike Bird calls our attention to a new book honoring Martin Hengel. He says it is "a bit expensive." At 99 Euros (130 USD) it is not expensive; it is luxurious. I might ask our library to order it, however. Hengel, who was Emeritus Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism at the University of Tübingen, died in 2009.
5) Did the Holy Spirit raise Jesus from the dead? Good discussion here.
6) My colleague Alvin Reid hits the nail on the head concerning the name change in the SBC.
2:08 PM Yesterday I read Charles Quarles' new book, Sermon on the Mount, published by B & H. The "Series Preface" quotes Phil. 1:27 from the HCSB: "working side by side for the faith that comes from the gospel." How odd, I thought. The verb Paul uses here is sunathleo. I suppose one could render it "work side by side," but the more common meaning is something like "wrestle together, strive together, struggle together." BDAG has "contend/struggle along with" (p. 964) and suggests it is a military image. Note these translations:
It seems clear that the metaphor is of an athletic contest, or perhaps a gladiatorial one (so P. T. O'Brien in his Philippians commentary, p. 150). The HCSB rendering misses this idea completely. One would think the Greek term they were translating was sunergeo.
Oddly enough, in Phil. 4:3 (the only other place in the NT where sunathleo is used) the HCSB renders it "have contended … at my side" (cf. NASB: "have shared my struggle," NIV: "have contended at my side"). I do like the HCSB, but in Phil. 1:27 it seems to miss the mark. I find myself looking at the Greek here and wondering why the translators seemingly overlooked Paul's metaphor. At a bare minimum we should consider using something like "struggling side by side" rather than the bland "working side by side."
A student once asked me, "Are there too many English Bibles?" The answer is probably yes. But newer translations are not going away any time soon. Bible publishing is simply too lucrative a business. The imperative thing to do is to check out as many translations as you can, then compare them to the original if at all possible. There are many excellent online resources for just that purpose.
10:49 AM When people ask Becky how she's doing, her usual answer is "I'm fine." She explains in her latest essay. It's called Life + Christ = Fine.
10:20 AM We're enjoying a balmy day in which the high will be 75. Becky said to me this morning, "Honey, it feels just like Hawaii." Indeed it does. Then she pointed out to me that our daffodils have already begun sprouting up. And it's only February. Wonderful. Beautiful. Graceful. Our Creator is just like that. Can you see the flowers just calling for our praise to Him?
8:12 AM Thinking about becoming a foreign missionary? Then you must read this blog post by Alan Knox: Being one of them – not just pretending to be or trying to be. It's the story of a professional missionary who left the organization (and its platform) to get a job and settle down in Milan, Italy, as a tentmaking missionary. It's really a lesson for all of us. I've said it before but it bears repeating: Being self-supporting produces a radically changed life. Missions becomes the natural outworking of what God works within. There is nothing "professional" about it. The respectability barrier, the clerical barrier, and the professional barrier must all go down if we are to become credible in the eyes of a non-Christian world. This was the spirit of those "laypeople" who first brought the Gospel to Antioch. We need more like them today.
8:04 AM I am very glad to commend this wonderful treatise on justification by Donald Verseput, formerly of Bethel College: Faith and Works: Squaring the Circle (.pdf). Don writes:
Isn't that great? By the way, Don and I were in Basel together working on our doctorates in the early 80s. He passed away from cancer at the age of 51 in 2004.
7:45 AM Andy Bowden's discussion of healing in James 5 got me thinking. (Andy's post is essentially a summary of a Th.M. thesis he wrote under my supervision. I'm so glad to see him sharing the results of his research with a larger audience.) In fact, the whole concept of suffering has been a preoccupation of sorts with me lately. Sounds morbid, doesn't it? Of course, my theologian mind reminds me that if I try to write for everyone experiencing pain and suffering, I tread on unfamiliar ground. I have not experienced what you have experienced, and so I can never say "I understand perfectly what you're going through." In each of our private wildernesses, we must find the High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Our hearts are never satisfied until they find their satisfaction in Him. Not even a spouse can meet that need. Paul Tillich once put it this way:
One thing I've discovered as Becky and I have traveled the cancer road together is how fragile all of life's relationships are. Evil, sin, depression, and sickness can ruin good things. I work with students whose lives have been deeply impacted by evil. One question I often get asked is, "What is God’s role in all of this?" I can only speak from my own experience. Pain is God’s way of getting our attention. It's His way of helping us to reconsider our priorities in life. It's His glue to bring certain relationships closer, and His winnowing fork to separate the wheat from the chaff relationship-wise. Whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing when compared with the fantastic future God has for us. "None of us lives, and none of us dies, for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Whether therefore we live or die, we belong to the Lord." We are His. His love is always present, always active, always protecting. He does not always "fix" things in our lives precisely because He loves us.
Others have run the cancer race before us. Some finished well. Their heroism lay in their acceptance – their wholehearted acquiescence of things others would have avoided at all costs. They could accept and endure because they belonged to the Lord. Cancer is a precious blessing. It's a huge gift, one to be surrounded by Truth even when the Truth is initially painful. And that Truth is this: The best is yet to come. So I rest in the Truth. I pray that He would do His powerful work of grace in me. And I cry out, "Thy kingdom come."
Thursday, February 23
9:26 PM Bishop Will Willimon wants to raise up a new generation of leaders in the church. Personally, I'm not all that eager to raise up a new generation of leaders. I want to raise up a new generation of butlers and scullery maids. A generation of nobodies who are content to be obedient to the simple teachings of Jesus. A generation of Christ-followers who die to family, fame, fortune, success, patriotism, and the American Dream. A generation of Dietrich Bonhoeffers who realize that "when Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die." I want to raise up a generation of men and women who give without counting the cost, who deny themselves, who willingly take the cross as the path of union with Christ, in whom there is no trace of triumphalism, who put their lives at Christ's disposal with unconditional surrender, who place Christian allegiance over their national allegiance, who act as though they were part of an upside-down kingdom, who die to all claims of the self-indulgent life, who refuse to lionize success or repudiate pain, who "share in suffering as good soldiers of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3), who stand high and lift their drooping heads because the Son of God inhabits their lives in the power of His resurrection. We cannot all be seminary grads or professional ministers. But we can all be engaged in fulltime Christian ministry. We can all bring others to faith in the Savior. We can all be devoted to prayer. I am concerned not so much with raising up a generation of leaders but with training a generation of men and women who are consumed with a passion to understand Christ better and make Him known. This does not invalidate the educational enterprise. It gives it purpose.
9:20 PM Good to be home again. I love Wake Forest, but I love the farm even more. Becky's been having some issues (leg swelling and rashes) but is doing better today. I offered to pick up a pizza on the drive home and she agreed. It's great to have a relationship that is trusting and intuitive. Becky and I have it. It's a huge blessing, one to be cherished.
1) Below is a very special picture. It shows what I brought home from the seminary for my bride -- a key lime pie, a card, and a sack of coffee.
Students gave them to me to give to her. I have no words to express my appreciation.
2) In my NT Gospels class on Wednesday Kevin Brown brought a wonderful word. I tell you, that man is a lean mean talking machine.
What did he talk about? What didn't he talk about? He covered marriage, family, child raising, home schooling, church tradition, baptism, deacons, elders, missions, Michael Jordan, and more. His lecture lasted for 2 hours and 15 minutes but he held everybody spellbound, myself included. Thank you, Kevin, for bringing us back to the roots of our faith and for reminding us that Jesus really can and does change lives.
3) Like this picture?
I am wearing my Rick Warren power shirt. No, I'm not about to badmouth brother Rick. Not a man with such a huge heart for missions. I was listening to one of his tapes this week in which he reminded us that the Great Commission tells us to make disciples of ALL the nations. He and Saddleback take that command seriously. You know how many nations there are in the world today? 196. All are members of UN except Serbia, Vatican City, and Taiwan. In 2010 Saddleback went to nation 196. They have sent over 14,000 members to the nations. From one church. Thanks be to God for a church like that. May God give us at Bethel Hill such a passion for the nations.
4) Finally, you've read the news. It's now official: 34-year old Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani will be executed for his faith. Paul, in his final words to the Ephesian elders, said, "You know how I have lived with you in all seasons." Paul's life was transparent. It was lived with utter integrity. That's what gave power and authority to his message. Brother Youcef is such a man today. He is showing the rest of us how to live – and die – for Christ. You can't pretend to be a man or woman of God. One day a test will come that will prove our genuineness. That day for Youcef has come. May God bless him and make him to be faithful no matter what happens. The modern world may not understand Christian endurance, but they notice it with awe.
So what to do? Some are tweeting for Youcef. I say Amen to that. Others are trying to take political action. One blogger I read even commanded Iran to release him. Now! Yeah right, as if Ahmadinejad is listening to bloggers in the U.S. To be sure, we can and should seek his release and for justice to be served. But prayer, not activism, is the only thing we can rely on. How do I know? "So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him" (Acts 12:5). Peter's case was hopeless, yet he got out of prison because prayer was made for him. But note: It was not just any prayer. It was earnest prayer. The Greek word entenos makes this plain. Peter's friends really cared about him. They strained to pray for him. If we are to see Youcef released from prison, it will not happen without fervent prayer.
Might I be so bold as to ask that all of us make this Sunday, February 26, a "Day of Prayer" for Youcef Nadarkhani in our homes and churches? Our great God can still work a miracle. Amen? Amen.
Monday, February 20
7:30 PM Quote of the day (see comments here):
7:15 PM I promised you some pictures of our visit to North Wilkesboro. Well, here they are. We were hosted by the ever-gracious Pam Brown and her wonderful family.
Below: Two Ethiopia team veterans. Both are members of the Brown clan. You're never too old or too young to serve Jesus. As their daddy likes to say: There is no "teenage Holy Spirit" and "Holy Spirit." There's just the Holy Spirit.
Here Becky gives her testimony to our friends at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
Then Nigusse brought a powerful word from the life of Joseph.
In other news, our visit to UNC today was uneventful. Becky's two treatments went well. She and I dozed while Nigu studied Greek. Poor guy -- having to take Greek from the orneriest professor alive. That aside, how are we doing? TIRED.
Thanks for praying and for sending us your emails. We read several of them in the hospital. Great blessing. Huge encouragement.
9:14 AM Here's an important word: Neutropenia. Becky's already been hospitalized because of it. That and fatigue are the two leading possible side-effects of her chemo treatments. Gotta watch for both of them in the days ahead.
9:08 AM "Missionary zeal does not grow out of intellectual beliefs, nor out of theological arguments, but out of love." -- Roland Allen.
8:12 AM Interested in international church planting? Just posted my thoughts: Can We Please Do Church Planting Cooperatively?
7:44 AM Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
7:20 AM "Don't think for a moment that it is more honorable to go to seminary and become a pastor than it is to serve God faithfully as a nurse or salesperson."
From Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? (p. 2).
7:16 AM Looking ahead:
1) This Wednesday Kevin Brown will be speaking in my NT 1 class. Kevin is a very unique guy: He pastors the church he was raised in (how many people do you know who are doing that?), and he has no formal biblical education yet can handle the Scriptures as well as anyone I know. The class starts at 12:30. Other guest lecturers this semester include my esteemed colleagues Maurice Robinson (speaking on the Majority Text and the Gospels), Keith Harper (speaking on salaries, "hirelings," and the pastorate), David Beck (speaking on characters in John's Gospel), Joseph Solc (speaking on evangelism in the Gospels), Dan Heimbach (speaking on divorce and remarriage according to Jesus), and our resident English language scholar Michael Travers (speaking on the Gospels as literature).
Are are welcome to join us.
2) Today at 1:00 pm Becky resumes chemo therapy at UNC. The drug she will be taking shows little promise for her type of cancer; we agreed to the therapy as a matter of good stewardship of the medicine available to us.
3) "Revival" continues at Bethel Hill tonight through Wednesday at 7:00 pm. Kevin Brown is speaking.
6:58 AM It was 50 years ago today that astronaut John Glenn was shot into space. He has always been one of America's greatest heroes. And just who is his hero? His praise is reserved for his wife:
Mr. Glenn, I know EXACTLY what you mean.
6:45 AM Latest update: Last week Becky's oncologist sent us an official report containing these words:
So glad the last word is never man's.
Sunday, February 19
6:30 PM "The Lord protects them" (Psalm 41:2). Amen and amen! Becky and I just returned from Western North Carolina and had to drive through snow and sleet to get home. I kept praying, "Lord, please allow me to get Becky home safely." We counted 10 wrecks beside the road on the way. But He answered our prayers! The drive was exhausting so I'll post pictures of the church service after Becky and I get back from the hospital tomorrow.
Stay safe and talk to you then.
Saturday, February 18
11:40 AM Tomorrow Nigusse will bring the message at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, then tomorrow evening their pastor Kevin Brown will begin a 4-day "revival" at Bethel Hill. This morning we Skyped with the Alaba church leaders. Here's a brief video clip of brother Simon who heads up the men's prayer groups throughout all the churches of Alaba.
I cannot tell you how blessed we are to know that the believers there -- as individuals, in small groups, in their congregations -- are praying for us and especially for Becky. Let us also pray for them as they face a severe drought and much, much more. We are one church, and there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. What a privilege to share our joys and burdens with each other.
7:14 AM This month Becky and I have the pleasure and joy of sending Nigusse to India. He will be there with Joel Bradsher (a recent SEBTS grad), and together they will scope out the land in view of a trip Joel will lead there this summer. They met on the upstairs porch last night to discuss their itinerary and ministry plans.
They will be working hand in glove with Moncy Mammon (another recent SEBTS grad) and his parents, whose ministry is based in Bagdogra in Bengal. It's wonderful, isn't it, to see Americans and Indians working together and supporting one another in the common task? Love should be the rule among God's people, but Satan has deceived many into thinking that only they are building the kingdom. This is why we find so much jealousy and division even in the best churches. All the more reason to be grateful for partnerships in the Gospel like the one I'm seeing developing.
7:04 AM Hold on to your hats! Becky has finished the first in a series of vignettes describing our life and work in Ethiopia. It's called Desta and Beki. You will be blessed in reading it. So grab a cup of coffee and get ready to be transported to a faraway place where God is very much at work.
Friday, February 17
2:15 PM James McGrath quotes the following on his blog:
I get the gist of what this unnamed professor is saying. My own experience, however, has been a bit different. Speaking "generally" (as he did), I'd say that my students enjoy coming to class. Not only that, a good number of them have become so excited about their studies that they have gone on for graduate and post-graduate studies at such places as Duke, Aberdeen, Saint Andrews, and the University of Munich. An education in ancient Greek involves discipline and a great deal of structure in learning basic language skills, because those skills give students the tools to explore subjects that would otherwise be well beyond their reach. I'm amazed at the eagerness I see in my students when they realize that Greek is a logical and precise language and that even its "exceptions" follow normal linguistic rules.
I want to remind my fellow teachers to bring joy into the classroom. Our attitude sets the tone for everything we do as teachers. I want to help my students find the joy of education. It doesn't help when I am complaining about their perceived laziness or disinterest. If your classroom is not a happy, joyful place of discovery, I sincerely doubt that it's primarily the students' fault. As a former first chair trumpet player, I loved these words by Phil Smith, principal trumpeter of the New York Philharmonic:
Let that be a lesson to all of us who claim to be teachers. Joy is infectious. And so is pessimism.
1:25 PM Amazon has just listed an anthology of essays on the Bible called Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible's Origin, Reliability, and Meaning. For what it's worth, my chapter is entitled "Greek, and How It Works."
1:20 PM Over at Homesteading by Faith we are reminded about the importance of Christian hospitality. Lots of good advice here. I am amazed at how easily and quickly Becky opens the doors of Bradford Hall to others, on a regular basis. Hospitality for her is not an activity; it is a way of life. Abraham welcomed three strangers (angels!), Rahab let the spies stay with her, the Samaritan woman was eager to have Jesus stay in her community, Peter stayed with a tanner named Simon in Joppa – the list goes on and on. This weekend, Becky, Nigusse, and I will be staying with the Browns in North Wilkesboro. When I am in Dallas I have enjoyed the hospitality of complete strangers. As the story of Mary and Martha reminds us, when we do have guests we need to take time to be with them, not just host and feed them. It's a great paradox, isn't it, that we who are merely pilgrims and strangers on earth have places we call "homes." May we all rediscover Paul's simple command to "love hospitality" (Rom. 12:13) as we open our homes – and our hearts – to others.
10:54 AM This has been quite a week. Care for some highlights?
1) For starters, we just finished Skyping with Martha, Demissie, Tilahun and other friends and loved ones in Alaba. Do you remember that I asked you to pray for Martha? Well, her malaria and typhoid are now gone. Praise the Lord for answered prayer. He is soooooo good to us!
2) And here is "our" grandson Nathan. Doesn't he look beautiful? He is our miracle baby.
3) As you know, Becky had several bone scans on Monday at UNC. The report showed three spots suspicious for metastasis. Together with Becky's oncologist we made the decision to add a new chemo drug to her Avastin treatments. The drug is called Gemzar. We'll start the new regiment on Monday. Here we are waiting to meet with Becky's doctor.
As you can imagine, we spend a lot of time in waiting rooms and doctors' offices. But it's not wasted time. Here B and Nigu work on "Kidz Kards" for Ethiopia while waiting for a bone scan.
These cards are Scripture passages in the Amharic and Oromo languages. We'll distribute them in July, once we have had a chance to laminate them.
4) On Wednesday one of my colleagues spoke to us about Jesus and education. Ken Coley did a fantastic job. He is a model teacher for me in so many ways. Thank you, Ken! Check out his education website sometime. It's called The Helmsman.
5) You ladies out there will love this. Despite her illness, despite being tired much of time, Becky still insists on preparing meals for Nigu and me when we go to campus. And talk about meals! Here's this week's menu:
Ain't that awesome?
6) Oh, if you're wondering how the update on our "Greek Portal" is coming, wonder no more. This week my assistant Matthew Meyers (who blogs at Alien In This Land) finalized the site, and we are now in the process of uploading it to the internet. It may take us a few days to get this project accomplished, so please be patient with us. I think you'll enjoy the final product.
7) To top things off culinary-wise this week, yesterday Nigusse and I were invited by one of my Greek students, Sejun Kim, to have barbeque with him at a Korean restaurant in Raleigh. (Some students will do anything for a good grade.)
Here's Nigu enjoying kimchi. Like his dear old dad, Nigusse has the spiritual gift of eating.
8) Finally, today Becky has been organizing clothing for the Ethiopian evangelists and their families. Our thanks to everyone who collected or sent us clothes. We will deliver these love gifts when the team sets sail in July.
So, that thar's the news from Lake Woe-Be-Gone!
7:52 AM In his essay For This Child I Prayed, SEBTS academic dean Ken Keathley reminds us of the importance of prayer. Drawing from the prayer of Hanna, he says it is:
Ken is so right. Prayer – definite, sacrificial, persevering, heartfelt, unreserved, and transforming prayer – must undergird everything we do as Christians. In recent days I have prayed for Becky privately and publicly, silently and with loud groans, standing up and lying down, with eyes closed and with eyes wide open while driving. Sometimes I just say, "Help!"
Husbands, do you pray for your wife on a regular basis? Do you pray for her spiritual needs as well as her physical and emotional needs? Let's be men (and women) of prayer.
7:40 AM Before I forget: Our new house keeper began yesterday. She spent 5 hours cleaning house from stem to stern. It looks great. She will come every Thursday. So glad we could do this for Becky. It was my Valentine's Day gift to her :)
Thursday, February 16
9:01 PM So Jeremy Lin hits the winning shot in a game against Toronto on Tuesday night and then gives credit to his fellow players: "It's not because of me, it's because we're coming together as a team," Lin said.
If you see a turtle on a fence, you can be sure that somebody put him there. One of the most subtle tactics the enemy tries is to make us ineffective by discouraging us and making us think we are alone. When you recognize this, you must immediately repent of such thinking, accept God's grace as freely given in Christ, and then thank Him you are playing on a winning team. Paul wrote "We are more than conquerors," not "I am more than a conqueror." We fight – and win – together. We are a team.
8:48 PM Thank you for visiting my blog today. So glad for your support and love. There is a sense in which Becky and I must face this trial alone. In Gethsemane, Jesus had to be alone in prayer, for only He could pray the prayer that He prayed. But at the same time He needed the encouragement and support of His closest followers nearby. Likewise, as brothers and sisters in Christ we need each other.
I have a lot of weaknesses, but ingratitude isn't one of them. Thank you again for your prayers on our behalf. May God bless you for your kindness.
Tuesday, February 14
6:17 AM In his excellent book 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons, my colleague Ben Merkle suggests three reasons who so few churches have a plurality of elders: lack of qualified leaders, lack of biblical knowledge, and fear of change (see pp. 188-91). Ben writes, "Fear is a motivating factor in the eyes of many people, and fear of change often is what holds back a church from adopting and implementing plural elders." What do you think? Can fear keep us from obeying the Scriptures?
6:12 AM Becky's been reflecting on her latest cancer prognosis. Read Going for the Deeper Joy.
Monday, February 13
5:45 PM Been a very long day. We left the house at 7:30 and just now walked through the door. They cancelled Becky's Avastin treatment today. Seems the doctor who read her bone scan wanted her to have two more tests done in order to check her spine and head. So today was one scan after the other. Poor Becky, she was so tired. She hardly got any sleep last night because her legs were hurting so much. Right now she's resting while I'm about to cook supper. Nigusse was by our side the entire day giving us moral support. We met with Becky's gynecological oncologist and decided to add another round of chemotherapy to Becky's Avastin. As you know, we've had a difficult history with chemo drugs (including leucopenia and hospitalizations). We start the new treatments next Monday.
Please continue to pray for Becky.
6:28 AM "I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness" (Psalm 26:3). Grateful for an unchanging God.
6:12 AM Today Becky will have her bone scan to determine the cause of her bone pain. I'm praying that it's due to inflammation and not to her cancer. Her appointment is scheduled from 9:00 to noon. They will inject her with a radioactive material that travels through her bones and organs. I believe the actual scan will last for only 30 minutes or so. Please pray that Becky will not be too uncomfortable as she lies still for the exam. At 1:00 she gets her next Avastin treatment in the infusion center. The Avastin is supposed to inhibit blood vessels from carrying nutrients to her cancer cells. I'm concerned about the potential side effects of the Avastin, which include GI perforation and severe bleeding.
I hate this cancer. But I love the patient and the community of faith that is upholding us.
6:06 AM Last night I continued reading this short story in Greek about a boy growing up in Greece. The chapter called "Dekate" tells the story of a farmer who has to pay a tithe to his tyrannical landlord. This tale is an absolute pleasure to read. The plot line is worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle. It's definitely a short story I'd recommend to anybody who can read ancient Greek -- and who is rethinking the New Testament tithe!
Sunday, February 12
5:25 PM Matt Lewis offers a wonderful defense of blogging. Sure makes sense to me. "Embrace the blogosphere," he writes. Amen and amen!
5:18 PM We took a mission trip to Roxboro today. Last night we took a mission trip to Raleigh. Tomorrow we're taking a mission trip to Chapel Hill. Missions is simply being the hands and feet and heart of Jesus wherever you are and wherever you go. Here's Becky speaking at Ca-Vel. Don't you just love her Ethiopian garb?
And here's Nigusse giving his personal testimony after becoming an official part of the Bethel Hill community today.
Needless to say, he was warmly welcomed. As elder Jason said, this was a historic day in the life of The Hill: The first time a foreign national has joined our congregation.
Nigusse, all I can say is that you had better get used to being loved on. A lot.
8:12 AM The internet is so frustrating. Just when I thought I could sit down and get some writing done on my next book, I come across another essay that begs to be cited. This time it comes from the pen of Arthur Sido, who is responding to something I said yesterday on my blog. Arthur's post is called Old Glory and the Old Rugged Cross Don't Mix. The question, once again, is simply this: What kind of message are we sending when we fly old glory in our churches? Two quick thoughts and then I'll get back to writing:
1) I've done a good bit of traveling in this world and have never seen the national flag flown in the churches of any other country I've ever visited. Do they know something we don't?
2) Instead of getting rid of old glory, another option would to fly the flags of every nation your church has ministered in personally. At Bethel Hill, this would include India, Ethiopia, Brazil, and a few other countries -- not nearly enough, but a good start. Of course, if you could display only the American flag, I suppose that would be an enormous embarrassment -- as well it should!
7:52 AM Ben Witherington has now chimed in on men and women in ministry. Not that it's very important, but I once expressed myself on the subject with these words:
My essay is called A Great Commission Marriage.
7:45 AM Quote of the day:
Amen to that. Read Resources for studying and teaching: 3 helpful books on Bible backgrounds by SEBTS doctoral student Paul Himes.
7:32 AM Today the Gospel Train rumbles into Ca-Vel Baptist Church in Roxboro, NC. Dear group of people there. We are inviting some of them to go with us to Utopia this July. Once again, it is a joy to watch the Lord Jesus put our teams together. He's had a lot of practice doing this!
7:22 AM As I said, the food at the Abyssinia is superb. The only thing that can top it are the people. The proprietor hails from Harar, the famous walled city in eastern Ethiopia.
Our server is a dear friend and prayer partner who moved here from Gondar, a city in the north that we have visited many times.
Becky raved about the kai wat (beef stew), while Nigusse gobbled up the tibs (goat) in less time than it takes to say "I love goat meat."
Our friends served us coffee, I mean, real Ethiopian coffee. What a treat that was.
The funniest part of the evening was me trying to speak Amharic with our server. Every time I said something she would look at Nigusse with a puzzled look on her face, as if to say, "What in the world is that man saying?" Well, at least I tried.
Check out the Abyssinia sometime. I double dare you. You won't be disappointed. When you do, be sure to say hello to everyone for us.
Saturday, February 11
4:24 PM Want to practice your Greek? Here's a great short story about a boy growing up in Greece. You can read it online for free.
4:20 PM About to take Becky and Nigusse out for dinner tonight in Raleigh. The Abyssinia has great Ethiopian food. Try it sometime if you're ever near NC State.
3:52 PM Wednesday past I exegeted in our NT class all of the Great Commission texts in Greek, then showed my Ethiopia slides. My emphasis was a very simple one: The gathering of the church exists for the going. Many of us are adept at sharing the Gospel locally, but all of us have a stake in global missions. Tomorrow, as we gather in our churches, let's remember a very important New Testament truth: Jesus did not command the world to go to church. He commanded the church to go to the world.
So...are we going?
1:15 PM In his latest blog post, Roger Olson is being radical again, radical in the sense of getting to the root of the matter, in this instance the matter of flying the American flag in our churches. His peroration?
Again, it's easy to see this as radical and spectacular, but it's only because we live in a church subculture that has lost touch with the Scriptures. Christianity that "flies the flag" is the Christianity I grew up with. Christianity in which King Jesus alone is worshipped as Lord is the Christianity I am falling in love with.
12:57 PM "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18).
12:20 PM Will you please join us in interceding today for our sister Martha in Alaba who is suffering from both typhoid and malaria?
11:06 AM Update on Becky: Like one billiard ball striking another, cancer triggers a long chain of events. This morning Becky and I made two important decisions: (1) we will plant a much smaller garden this year, and (2) we will hire a house keeper. Eventually, other changes will occur. The Ethiopians have a wonderful saying: "Kus b'kus." Step by step. Our own strength is failing us. Praise God. We feel less and less the need to survive on our own.
11:00 AM The goal for your church and for mine is to turn spectators into an army. It can be done. Empowerment is available to all God's people (Acts 1:8).
10:15 AM Last night's Valentine's Day dinner for Ethiopia was a blast. Here's Miss Mary, who has made two trips to Utopia with us.
Becky gave a preview of our up-coming July trip.
Lots of sweet friends there, including Miss Montague, whose husband was shot down over Ploesti during WW II and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp.
It's so important for the Body to meet informally like this from time to time, with all ages represented. As brother Chris Jacobs put it to me, "This way when we need to pray for so-and-so, we can put a name with a face." We also played some pretty zany games, which had Nigusse in stitches. And over $900.00 was raised for the July team. Thank you, Lord! Frankly, I could have a fellowship time like this every week. I imagine the early church knew what they were doing when they enjoyed a weekly observance of the Lord's Supper (as a full meal)! Special thanks to Miss Cindy, Miss Kim, and all the others who organized this wonderful time of fellowship. "Together for the Gospel" is more than a motto at Bethel Hill!
7:12 AM Contemplating going in a new direction in your church? (A more biblical one, I assume.) Remember Robert Gallagher's famous words:
Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
I want to belong to a church that is moving forward in obedience to the Scriptures, don't you? As the French theologian Jacques Ellul once said, "Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society."
Yep. It's just that simple. And it's called change.
Jesus was crucified because of it. You might be too.
I guess in that sense, some things never change.
7:02 AM So grateful for Henry Neufeld and his philosophy of book publishing.
Friday, February 10
11:44 AM It's been quite a morning. Right now Becky is on the phone speaking about the goodness of God with a close friend of ours, Nigusse is upstairs praying aloud in Amharic, and I'm -- well, I'm sitting here blogging. Becky and I just spent an hour at one of our favorite places on the farm, the fire pit in the back 40.
We talked and talked and hugged and hugged. No sooner did we return to the house when we got a Skype call from Oshe in Burji. And who should he have with him but our good friend and co-worker in the Gospel brother Marcos.
The connection was poor but Marcos brought us a wonderful word of encouragement. Remember, Burji is Becky's "home," and her heart has never left. You will never meet more humble servants of the Lord than our friends in Burji, Ethiopia. Missions is meaningful only to the degree that it is rooted in love, authentic relationships, and mutual interdependence. Marcos, you are a valued and precious co-laborer in the Gospel. We love you very much!
So grateful for Skype, and for friends.
10:24 AM Read my colleague Steve McKinion's latest blog post (A Biography of Cancer) and be encouraged. So glad to hear that Harrison is making progress in his battle with leukemia. Let's continue to keep that precious 10-year old in our prayers. As Steve writes:
9:40 AM Quote of the day:
Read John Piper und die Re-Maskulinisierung. The author is absolutely correct: John Piper is not the only one who reads the Scriptures through color-tinted glasses. We all do. All the more important that we are aware of our presuppositions.
8:50 AM We just received a very kind email from a "Jim" and "Mary." They are complete strangers. I noted that their email signature read, in part, "jimary." How precious. When you've been married for a while I guess it's hard to tell where "Jim" ends and "Mary" begins. Thanks, everyone, for these sweet emails. They mean a whole lot to me. This morning I am feeling pretty low emotionally, so a special thanks. Your words are tremendously encouraging.
8:14 AM This week Becky sent a letter to our Ethiopian friends and family alerting them to her condition. Should you care to read it, it's called Open Letter to My Ethiopian Family. Allow me to offer a brief quote that is both an update and a prayer request:
7:15 AM Becky had a good day yesterday. Thankfully her bone pain has subsided. She's been doing a lot of writing, not so much web essays but brief vignettes of life in Ethiopia as well as the autobiography she's been working on for some time now. I think we've both recovered from the shock of Tuesday's meeting with her radiologist. I had been expecting him to say, "Let's go ahead with more Cyber Knife and try and knock out at least the larger tumors in your lungs." Instead, he said no more radiation. His explanation of why further radiation was not possible was a perfectly reasonable one, but it threw me into blinding confusion nevertheless. Or should I say blinding clarity. The truth is that Becky should have died last year according to the doctors' prognostications. God has been immeasurable good to us in allowing her these extra months. We have shared our journey with you in the fervent hope that a passion to know and follow God will be stirred within you, perhaps a deeper passion than you've ever known before. I can't wait for you to read the vignettes she is writing about our work in Ethiopia and the many people God has touched through us and others. These stories declare in no uncertain terms that God is alive and well in that great nation despite the desperate loneliness and severe opposition. Focusing on the glory of God in Ethiopia has helped to restore our joy. The spotlight is falling on Jesus, as it always must. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ calls us to a new identity and a higher set of values than the world offers, values such as enduring persecution, living for others, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and forgiving our enemies. These values are being lived out by many of our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia, people of whom the world is not worthy (Heb. 11:38). "Be of good cheer," says the Lord. "Why?" we cry out. "Because I have overcome the world." And the evidence of this is everywhere. These are mere glimpses of the glory that God has in store for each and every one of us who follow Jesus in obedience and love. We have tasted His goodness. And we are content until we go home.
Thursday, February 9
7:48 PM Odds and ends ...
1) Henry Neufeld, a Methodist layman, reflects on the cult of the speaker. I appreciated this thought of his:
This is the same issue that I, as a Baptist, addressed in my essay called Why I Love WMU Sunday. There I wrote:
Lay ministry is essential to the ministry of the church. Just as importantly, it is vital for our own growth in maturity and faith. Untangling this issue is going to be critical in the days ahead, regardless of what your denomination is.
2) Arthur Sido assesses the problem with voting. I keep meaning to link to Arthur's site more often. I wish I had seen this essay when I was asked "Will you vote?" in class yesterday. I would have referred everybody to it.
3) Now in stock at Amazon: Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?
4) The debate over "masculine" Christianity continues. Matt Anslow chimes in here. His point #8 reads as follows:
I get the idea, but a related word is indeed found in the New Testament (as McKnight himself admits in his original response, though this is not mentioned by Matt). This is the verb andrizomai, which occurs in 1 Cor. 16:13. Here's a sampling of translations: "act like men" (ESV, so also NASB), "be men" (Young's Literal Translation), "live like men" (J. B. Phillips), "give it all you've got" (The Message), "be courageous" (NIV), "show courage" (NET), "soyez des hommes" (Louis Segond), and "seid männlich" (Luther). The NLT renders the verb "Be courageous" but adds this note: "Greek Be men." The ISV (which I worked on) renders it (without any note) "Keep on being courageous," an attempt to bring out the verbal aspect. Notice that we did not see in the term any reference to "masculinity" in this context.
I'm curious as to what people on both sides of the issue do with this interesting verb.
5) Here's a great lectureship Down Under I'd love to attend. Why, oh why, does Australia have to be so far away? There are lots of people Becky and I would love to visit there. Anyone interested in me coming to give a workshop on surfing? Pleeeease?
6:45 PM Facing cancer for the first time? Read Five Things to Do When You Hear the "C" Word.
Wednesday, February 8
5:46 AM Last night I took Becky out for dinner. Not for the food. We just needed to be together. Then we sat together in our library enjoying the fireplace and just sort of gelling. Becky has been reading Watchman Nee's The Normal Christian Life, while I finished Stephen Sear's Landscape Turned Red, a book about the Battle of Antietam. The day after the battle, Union General George McClellan had at hand twice the number of troops that General Lee had. All of them were available to renew the offensive against the Confederates had he chosen to use them. McClellan, however, so fearful of losing that he would not risk winning, did nothing.
I know of only one way to live, and that is with the reckless abandon of one who knows he's on the winning side. I think the world is desperately in need of radical dissidents, those little voices that can point us to something greater than ourselves. There is a brilliant truth I have come to see, largely because of the trials that Becky and I have been through together these past two years: You always have something to give to others, despite whatever pockets of incurable pain you are experiencing. "Wherever you are, be all there" was the way the great and good Jim Elliott put it, who lived as well as he died. People are drawn toward folks who do not have it all together yet who are defiantly moving forward. "Believers" are a dime a dozen in our churches. But how rare are radical pursuers of God (dare we even utter His Name?). It's called the power of grace.
When we moved here 14 years ago from California I discovered that the Special Olympics were being held that year in Raleigh. One day I was watching the event on TV. It was a foot race, and the contestants were Down Syndrome children. As they neared the finish line, all of a sudden one of them stumbled and fell. Do you know what happened next? The other children stopped and put their friend back on his feet so that they could all finish the race together. When I saw that I said to myself, "That's the church! That's the church!"
Whether you are running or stumbling today, let's pursue the race in such a way that we all finish -- together.
Tuesday, February 7
5:10 PM Good evening, friends. Today was an important day. Becky and I spent it at the UNC Cancer Hospital. We had asked God for a clear CT scan and He gave us one. I am devastated by the results. Becky's stubborn lung tumors are still growing. Her radiation oncologist tells us that Cyber Knife is no longer an option. Not now, not in the future. In short, there is no "cure" for Becky's cancer. Surgery is out -- her lung tumors are too widespread. High level radiation is out -- her lung tumors are too numerous. Chemo has proven ineffective. For the first time, lymph nodes in her chest have been affected. In addition, Becky has been experiencing a great deal of bone pain, mostly in her right arm. Has her cancer metastasized to her bones? We'll find out on Monday. Becky is scheduled for a bone scan from 9:00 to noon. Then at 1:00 we'll be back in the infusion room for another Avastin treatment.
Only God knows where we go from here. I do know one thing, however. Cancer will not keep Becky down. She will keep on serving God and others selflessly. Yes, I'm anxious about the future. At the same time I'm so thankful for everyone who prayed for us today. I'm grateful for friends and family members and even complete strangers who cared enough to email us. Please continue to pray for us daily. Pray that God will be merciful to my Becky. Pray for healing. And please pray that I will be what I need to be. Becky needs a strong and tender husband right now.
Monday, February 6
4:18 PM The doggies just took me for a long walk to check the mail and feed the animals.
Pity the poor field mouse who doesn't hear Sheba coming.
The goats and the dogs have, well, a "standoffish" relationship.
Tinnish Koi wants to know, "Can't we just be friends, Dayda?" Dayda's thinking about it.
"Thank you, daddy, for our hay!"
12:04 PM Recent discussions of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews may be found here and here. If you're interested in my take, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will email you a .pdf of my published essay.
11:52 AM It was awesome driving to the grocery store just now and listening to Chuck Swindoll on BBN. He's started a new series on the church called "Body Building."
That's a huge topic, and definition of terms means everything. So Chuck gave us his own definition of the church. It went something like this: "The church is an ever-growing family of born again believers over whom Christ rules as Head." I think that is an excellent definition. However, by way of impudent expansion, I would like to modify it a bit to read: "The church is an ever-growing family of born-again, obedient followers of Jesus Christ over whom He and He alone reigns as Lord." I feel it's necessary to add a word about obedience since the Great Commission requires it (Matt. 28:19). Jesus Christ alone has "all authority" in the church (Matt. 28:18). He alone has the authority to settle the affairs of His church, to dispose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as He thinks good and proper, to institute ordinances to be obeyed until He returns, and to commission His followers to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Christ is Lord of all (Acts 10:36). It is therefore our duty to observe what He has commanded us without reservation or discussion. And obedience to Christ is not genuine unless it is universal, that is, unless we "go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to every creature" (Mark 16:15 -- yes, I DO quote this verse as original). It all begins with faith, but it ends in faith-produced obedience. I believe we are living on the verge of a great awakening of God's people to the task of global missions. How can it be otherwise if we are truly obedient followers of the LORD Jesus?
9:48 AM Our quote of the day comes from quarterback Eli Manning, who was quick to give credit where credit was due:
As Mama Leigh reminded us in our meeting yesterday, there is no "I" in TEAMWORK.
9:08 AM This has been quite a week. We had the Superbowl on Sunday, and we had the Superbowl of New Testament debates last Wednesday. (You can read Wallace's summary here and his response to Köstenberger here.) Has anything changed? Going into the Superbowl you were either a Patriots fan or a Giants fan. Did you change your allegiance as a result of the outcome of the game? I doubt it. Going into last Wednesday's debate you were probably either on Ehrman's side or on Wallace's. Did anybody change their mind as a result of the debate? Perhaps. But I've scoured the blogs and have come up dry. I must say that debating Ehrman isn't the easiest thing to do. But even for this boy from Kailua Beach in Hawaii, it seems like we're missing the boat here. God seems to prefer to use foolish things to confound the wise. I will never forget debating the doctrine of inspiration with a fellow doctoral student in a Basel coffee shop back in the early 80s. The guy was brilliant. I tried two or three times to get him to avow biblical inspiration before giving up. It was only when I began to talk about my own intellectual struggles that he began to open up to me. It was hard for him to stay cynical when I was willing to be so honest with him. Eventually I had the nerve to bring up the topic of salvation with my interlocutor and soon discovered that he longed for a personal relationship with God. I felt that the Lord Jesus had steered the conversation in a direction it needed to go. I'm wondering if perhaps we sometimes have the cart before the horse. For modern-day skeptics the problem might well be more spiritual than intellectual. Needless to say, I'm in no position to give anyone advice on how to debate Bart Ehrman, least of all Dan Wallace. But what's to prevent us from talking about Jesus over a cup of coffee with those we engage intellectually? Speaking personally, the temptation I face is to compromise the cost of discipleship and, in the process, to cheapen the very Gospel I claim to be defending. If I remove the cross from the discussion, I face the very real danger of promoting a purely intellectualized form of Christianity. The more I read the text of the New Testament, the more uncomfortable I feel in doing that.
The story is told of a skyscraper that had just been opened. A major crack on the 72nd story was found. The engineers were called to investigate the matter. They took the elevator to the third subbasement, where they found the problem. Problems sometimes seem like they are on the 72nd story when in reality the problem is much deeper than that. That's true in your life and in mine, and perhaps in the lives of those with whom we discuss the Bible.
7:57 AM Good morning, thoughtful bloggers!
This Wednesday in our New Testament class we'll be discussing my book Christian Archy, whose premise is simply that all of our proud substitutions for Christianity are but false Christianities. Whenever we put our petty gods above Christ, we reject Christ's archy (rule). These include all of our "good" archys that rely on our own moral competence to "fix" our problems or "advance" the kingdom of God. Any Christian movement or ideology that takes the place of the cross has absolutely no biblical or theological foundation for its existence.
This is one reason I am reticent to identify myself with the "homeschool" movement or the "agrarian" movement or the "church growth" movement or other similar movements. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated a beautiful spiritual truth when he wrote, "The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community." Many modern evangelical "causes" or "movements" are, frankly, in love with their causes and movements. We are tempted to enshrine our programs in golden calves and "Christian" bureaucracies. Indeed, once you start a 501(c)3 you feel obligated to do all you can to perpetuate your organization. You fight for the limited resources that are out there while forgetting that God is bigger than our petty organizations. Bonhoeffer was right. When we love our "dream" or "vision" more than the reality, we end up destroying both.
I want to make a modest suggestion: Our goal should not be to establish our majestic mega-church models but to embrace a "movement-less" kingdom that grows by simply caring for those around us sacrificially. I take great courage from the fact that I meet students who are beginning to study the earliest believers in the book of Acts, people whom Paul could describe as "the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world" (1 Cor. 4:13). In my opinion, we need more little people in our churches today, people who are taking steps to grow a more humble kingdom. The Jesus Revolution is a celebration of Christ's archy. It stands in awe of no man's "system" or "movement" or "program." We are nothing but a ragtag bunch of Jesus-followers who are quite content to be ragtags. Or at least we ought to be!
Your fellow nobody,
Sunday, February 5
8:58 PM Tonight I've been reading Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. Online. Here's the link. How rich!
When was the last time you sat down and read Greek, just for the enjoyment of it?
6:30 PM "It is always in season for old men to learn." Aeschylus.
My thanks to Jacob Cerone for his very thorough review of Ben Baxter's
3:10 PM Two things stood out to me as we gathered this morning at Bethany Baptist Church. First, no one in the congregation paid any attention to the clock. Nigusse spoke for 20 minutes, Becky showed our pictures for another 35 minutes, and then I wrapped things up. Maybe people were cringing inside, but if they were they didn't show it. The second thing that amazed me was that no one said anything about the Superbowl. I have no idea how that happened. For those of us who grow instantaneously nauseated at the fascination our culture has with sports, this can only be considered a miracle. After all, this is SUPERBOWL SUNDAY.
Several people said they were interested in going with us this summer to Ethiopia. I warned them: Don't come with us unless you are ready to have your life changed forever. You will fall in love with the Ethiopians so much that your heart will literally ache when you are not with them. No wonder Jesus taught us that love is the only prerequisite for doing missions (Matt. 9:36). The best thing we can do, folks, with all of our blessings is to give them away. Christianity is meaningful only inasmuch as it is grounded in generosity. When the church turns inward, she ceases to be alive.
Friends, we are called upon to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside. All of us. When you see your fellow Christians getting this, there is no greater joy. Thank you, pastor Brian and Bethany Baptist Church, for opening your hearts wide to missions today. The whisper of the cross could be heard this morning in your midst. What an awesome sound.
8:02 AM Good morning, fellow extremists for the Gospel! Today the Gospel Train rolls into southern Person County, NC. Bethany Baptist Church has been a long time partner with us in the Ethiopia work. Will the Lord lead anyone to come with us this summer? Stay tuned....
In the meantime, will you please keep us in your prayers? This Tuesday Becky will have her next CT scan. Then we will meet with her lead oncologist to decide where we go from here. When it comes to cancer, everyone knows how important the benefit-to-risk ratio is. Doctors are taught to "do no harm." Therefore, once the risk of treatment begins to outstrip the benefits, difficult decisions need to be made. I prefer to think that we are still in the treatment stage. But if we do go with more Cyber Knife, good lung tissue will be killed along with her tumors. I simply don't have the smarts to figure this thing out. But no matter what happens, our calling is to live in the confidence that God is always in control. Life itself is a lethal disease. Paul called it "the law of sin at work in my members." From the moment we are born we begin to die. Believing that God can turn anything into good is what makes life bearable. As I pray for Becky I know one thing: I want to learn how to enjoy God for who He is rather than use Him to get what I want. I long to see Him use our cancer journey to change me into the mature Christian I long to be. I admit that no one, not even God, can do that overnight. I must give God time to operate. I must repent when necessary (as brother Craig reminded us today). Old foundations take time to crumble away. My worst problem is not pain but sin. Life requires a terrifying dependence upon God. Becky and I can endure hardship and disappointment because we love Him. We know that God is good. We know that He will supply everything we need to travel the rest of the journey, together. "Blessed are the poor in spirit." We will overcome.
Thankful for your love and prayers,
Saturday, February 4
8:35 PM Kevin Brown's son Andrew is now his brother in Christ. You can read the remarkable story here. It made my day. Welcome to the family, brother Andrew. Mr. and Mrs. Black love you.
8:12 PM Hello friends.
How cocksure I was back in my thirties and forties. How ineffably proud I was of all of my academic accomplishments. I could usually bang out a base hit when a hit was needed. I would have sacrificed anything except my personal honor to enhance my career. How constantly was I deceived.
It is natural for people who have lived a long time to rethink life's priorities. I have not the slightest doubt that today the only valuable thing in life is worthwhile labor for the sake of the Gospel. Christianity is something to be lived and not just talked about. Thus I was deeply moved when I read this morning about the deaths of John and Wanda Casias, who had a burden to reach Mexico for Christ. They gave their lives for the sheep. Which, by the way, is the same thing all of us are called upon to be willing to do as followers of King Jesus in the midst of a very scary world. Their work is done. They are now in the Father's arms in the living room of heaven. Their goal in life was to serve Christ, to make Him known by treating others in the same way He treated them, living life as He lived it. Instead of trying to build a city here, they looked forward to the one that God was constructing for them in a far better place. There they now reside, permanently. You and I will join them, perhaps sooner than we think. Let us praise God for their lives.
I encourage you to be a true believer, not in the power of American politics, but in Jesus Christ and the revolution He has inaugurated in the world. Live for Him. Love for Him. Die for Him if necessary. He is worthy.
6:40 PM Lots to appreciate today:
1) Grateful for our Bible study in Philippians this morning. We covered 1:12-26.
2) Thankful for the "fig-nut-squash bread" Becky prepared for us. Deeeelicious! Thank you, honey.
3) Encouraged by students willing to discuss the Gospels. Remarkable how the Story changes everything.
4) Right now Becky is cooking up a storm. Liver and onions. Great topping to a great day.
6:57 AM Just snapped this:
"God's glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening" (Psalm 19:1-2, The Message).
6:46 AM A few thoughts, if I may, about "masculine" Christianity:
Read (if you dare) With a Mother's Love.
6:36 AM Congratulations to SEBTS student Jacob Cerone who just had his paper accepted for the upcoming regional ETS conference on campus. I will never forget reading my first ETS paper. It was at Westminster Seminary in California, and Dr. Harry Sturz was in the audience. Yikes was I scared!
6:30 AM Up for a stern warning this morning?
Before I issue it, some background. I have nothing against public speaking. I am asked to speak all the time. I enjoy listening to other speakers (provided they are well-prepared and not just repeating the same old same old). I have been responsible for organizing two major conferences on campus that featured such speakers as Dan Wallace, Darrell Bock, Moises Silva, Grant Osborne, Keith Elliott, and Scot McKnight. I am speaking, in fact, at a conference today at SEBTS. So what is my warning?
Beware the cult of the speaker!
Our culture, methinks, places far too much stock in the opinions of so-called "experts." The only opinion that matters is God's. Two weeks ago in chapel our president Danny Akin put it this way: "I don't care what you say. I don't even care what I say. The only thing that matters is the Word of God." No truer words were ever spoken.
If you are a public speaker, never forget the words of the greatest man who ever lived (sans Jesus): "He must increase, but I must decrease." The purpose of John the Baptist's ministry was to point others to Christ and away from himself. He did not form his own little following. (Others formed the "John the Baptist Society," but long after John was dead.) He didn't set up his own 501(c)3. Just as the light of the morning star fades in the light of the rising sun, John was content to become nothing so that Christ might become everything.
In other words, John abased himself. This is not self-abasement for the sake of self-abasement. It is abasing oneself in comparison with Christ. The more others exalt us, the more we need to be very, very careful to humble ourselves. One way to do this is by stating publicly from time to time exactly what our president said: "It don't really matter, folks, what I think. You check out the Scriptures for yourselves, and then go wherever the evidence points you." In fact, maybe we should say this every time we get up to speak.
According to the author of Hebrews, Jesus has inherited a Name that is far greater than the angels' (or ours). According to Colossians 1:18, Jesus is to have first place in the church. Are you willing to decrease in order to honor Christ? Am I?
Beware the cult of the speaker!
Friday, February 3
4:48 PM Good news! My colleague Maurice (Majority Text) Robinson has agreed to give a guest lecture in my New Testament class on Wednesday, February 29. I want my students to be exposed to the Byzantine Priority theory, and who better than Maurice to present it?
By the way, I disagree with his viewpoint. Adamantly. All the more reason to expose my students to it.
4:40 PM So glad to read that the two kidnapped American tourists in Egypt have been released and are in "good health." Let me ask you, though: Who in their right mind would travel to such a dangerous place? Reminds me of a crazy couple who took the bus (yes, public transportation) from Jerusalem to Cairo in 1985, rode the train to Luxor, and traveled by camel to the pyramids of Sakhara. (Cue theme from "Lawrence of Arabia.")
Crazy, crazy, crazy!
3:54 PM No more beautiful day could have been imagined for Southern Virginia than today, which required one to work outdoors -- in my case, cutting down the ubiquitous cedars that seem to be popping up all over the farm. I think I'm ready for my breakout sessions at the 20/20 Conference tomorrow, but we'll see. Right now I'm getting some writing done before taking Becky out to our favorite seafood hole in the wall in Henderson. Hope yall are having a great day in Jesus. If not, don't blame me!
Thursday, February 2
8:56 PM Rod Decker has a nice tribute to Frederick William Danker. I did not know Fred well. When he began his work on the third English edition of the Bauer lexicon he called me and asked if I would help with the translation, since I knew German. "I don't have the patience," was my reply. I use his lexicon all the time. One can only imagine the industry and effort that went into producing it. Every student of the New Testament owes Dr. Danker profound thanks.
8:40 PM Good to see the Parson at it again. Welcome back, Mark.
8:28 PM Just finished grading my New Testament students' summaries of Why Four Gospels? Never have I read better papers. My thanks to each and every one of you. I love you.
5:40 PM This has got to be the quote of the century (see comments here):
That pride Jesus warned us about, the leaven of the Pharisees, is so infectious today that I would sooner teach students who are obedient than those who leave seminary with heads filled with useless knowledge. If a knowledge of Greek does not lead to greater obedience, if it is not marked by a passionate love for the lost, if it is not born of a commitment to the Great Commission, then it is the same old pride that does little more than flaunt our own superiority by making others feel just how "ignorant" they are.
5:34 PM Somebody hit me with the stupid stick. I spoke too soon when I said that Win had correctly named all the faces. "Gerald Ford" it most certainly is not. So what to do? Well, Win will still get his prize since the mistake was mine. But can anybody correctly identify the sixth portrait below? (Hint: Think Germany.)
11:02 AM As you know, in class yesterday we discussed the Synoptic Problem. Before I kicked things off, however, I asked my students to fill in the following blank:
Have you ever been wrong? Of course you have! Have you ever changed your mind? Who hasn't? For what it's worth, here a partial listing of ways in which I have changed my mind. I use to think that:
I could go on and on. How about you? How would you fill in that blank?
10:50 AM Are you a tactful person? In his book Family Communication (p. 159), Sven Wahlroos has an excellent definition of tact. He says that
Isn't that great? I have found tact to be vitally important in life, especially in dealing with students. Tact does wonders when it comes to dealing with a censorious or defensive spirit. Is tact easy? Are you kidding! Is it necessary? You bet it is! Friends, when we're dealing with other people, let's exercise tact. Be committed to honesty and to mutual respect. Surely God is pleased when we show tact.
10:02 AM Odds and ends ...
1) Andy Bowden, who is on his way to Munich, Germany for his doctoral program, recommends the book The Germans. I concur. I read this fine tome when I first went to (West) Germany in 1978 as a summer missionary with Greater Europe Mission. It was a real eye-opener for me. Incidentally, Andy, since you will be living in Bayern I think you could use a lesson in speaking the local dialect:
2) Carleton College announces an opening in Religion.
3) SEBTS doctoral student Paul Himes reviews Scot McKnight's The Jesus Gospel.
4) William Birch speaks the truth in his essay called Life is Worship.
5) Our "Name the Face" contest winner is Win from Meadows Place in the great state of Texas. The answers (as he listed them):
Thanks to all who played. We'll have another contest soon.
Wednesday, February 1
8:52 PM I actually agree with Arthur Sido's stinging reassessment of what constitutes idolatry. A snippet:
Just think. The money saved by not printing bulletins or by foregoing Sunday School quarterlies (and using the Bible instead) could be sent to missions. I'm so thankful to belong to a congregation that is beginning to rethink our priorities in light of what is of ultimate importance. If your love affair with God needs some rekindling, I strongly encourage you to read Arthur's entire essay.
8:38 PM Nigusse took this picture.
He is quite a photographer, wouldn't you agree?
I don't know this professor, and even if I did I wouldn't comment on his teaching. I know for myself that it easy to put the onus on students for my own failures in the classroom. I can claim that I spend a lot of time preparing lectures. I can claim that I am well prepared whenever I enter the classroom. I can claim I am setting attainable goals for my students. But it is very difficult to know for sure whether I have succeeded or not.
"Earning an A" means different things to different people. There are too many factors and imponderables to know whether or not my grading system is fair. (For example, who says lecturing is the best method of communicating with our students? Isn't teaching more a give-and-take, a sharing of life together, a mentoring process?) All we teachers can do is to try our very best with the lights God has given us AND at the same time be humble enough to listen to our students (and colleagues) and adapt our methods and requirements if necessary.
Above all, nothing can replace love. Students know why we are in the classroom. They sense if we value them and their opinions. They know this by our deportment in and out of class, and not by what we require in our syllabi. The longer I teach, the more I realize just how much I can improve. Teaching is like reading the book of Romans. On the one hand, you go away feeling wretched and ashamed because you realize just how short you fall of God's expectations for you. On the other hand, you go away encouraged because Paul has shown you the way to make progress in holiness. If I take small steps and don’t bite off more than I can chew, I can become a better classroom teacher.
At least that's my goal.
7:42 PM Care to meet our New Testament faculty? From left to right are Scott Kellum, Ben Merkle, Andreas Köstenberger, Dave Lanier, and David Beck. (Maurice Robinson is on sabbatical.)
Special thanks to our dean Ken Keathley (pictured in the background) for hosting us for lunch today. What a pleasure to work with such a great faculty.
7:12 PM Good evening, bloggers and bloggerettes!
When I lived in California I knew a man who had suffered from cancer. I prayed for him frequently. Eventually his cancer went into remission. He prayed that God would allow his cancer to return if it would bring him closer to God. In his final year of his life he found God in a closer way than he had ever known before. And then he died – of cancer.
Some problems never disappear, like Paul's thorn in the flesh. (Or was it a "stake"?) They never go away because they weren't meant to. When we pursue the health that God provides more than we seek after God Himself, we often get neither. Problems have the power to drive us to our knees, begging God for mercy and comfort. "You are not alone," they whisper. Thorns allow us to survive in a world of disappointment.
God has given us a thorn in the form of metastatic uterine cancer. Unless God intervenes, Becky will undergo hospital treatments for her lung tumors the rest of her days. My purpose is to walk the prickly pathway with her and do everything in my power to release her for service to the God whom she loves and serves so selflessly. I admit that my own selfish desires often masquerade as commitment to Becky's health. My prayer has become, "O God, I need Becky desperately. But I would find you to be sufficient in the midst of my pain and loss. I would thank you for shattering the security of my world so that I might begin to look for the eternal city made without hands. Wean me from earth, O Lord."
Our days are numbered. They are all in God's hands. In the meantime, He pulls back the curtain and gives us glimpses of heaven. A suffering woman who consistently seeks the welfare of others more than her own? That is a work of God. I find myself time and again wanting to shake everyone I meet by the shoulders and cry out, "How I love that woman!"