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July 2013 Blog Archives

Wednesday, July 30

8:16 PM Time for a quick update? Today started out like any other day. Becky got up and got dressed in preparation for our trip to UNC. Then it all started again -- the pain, the nausea, the vomiting. Eventually everything settled down. We got more medication on board, and off we went. I drove my groggy wife to get her blood drawn in South Boston and then we headed to Chapel Hill for our 1:30 appointment. The results are somewhat of a mixed bag: they were eventually able to clear her catheter line, but no sooner did we begin draining again this evening that it got clogged again. We'll see how it works tomorrow. One nice serendipity: on the drive home we decided to eat at Ruby Tuesday's in Durham. Never have ribs tasted better. The place was nearly empty except for a distinguished-looking gray-haired couple, a slightly used wheel chair, and a dinged up oxygen bottle.

Tonight we're both weary. Hours of travel tend to wear on the body. Before praying together, I read 1 Cor. 4-6 and once again, just like that, things made sense. When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he challenged them to be extreme servants for Christ. Believers have been given a stewardship responsibility, and the only thing required of them is to be found faithful. That's it. That's the whole issue. You spend and are spent. Not for yourself. For others. So that's life in a nutshell. Healthy or ill, come what may, you serve others in such a way that you make a difference for eternity. Trust even when you do not understand. Be at peace even when life flies past you at a hundred miles an hour. Just serve!

So that's the news up to the minute. Thank you, all of you, for your love and encouragement during this time in our life. It's a big part of the reason we just keep plugging ahead. For now, it's time to get a good night's sleep and enjoy the quietude of the farm. Who knows, tomorrow it may be back to UNC. If so, God will give extra grace. That would be just like Him. 

9:12 AM From The Jesus Paradigm:

One of the main reasons I wrote this book was to give a heart’s cry for a great awakening in the area of missions. So often as Christians we seem to be more concerned with minor, ephemeral matters than with the real basics of the Gospel. In my career as a seminary teacher I have to admit I was not always in the kingdom-building business. I confess it’s been a struggle for me to find the balance between my professional life as an academic and my life as a simple follower of Jesus. In our current techno-urban society, there is so much pressure to conform to “churchianity,” a form of Christianity that considers “relevance” more important than service and sacrifice. For me personally, this involved an overcommitment to the academy and an undercommitment to Christian community and discipleship. Gradually I began to see the need to take seriously Jesus’ announcement that He had come to preach the Gospel to the poor. He had status, but He didn’t exploit it. He had power, but He used it to serve the needs of the outcast and stigmatized. He was willing to serve others even at the risk of His own life. I began to see that those who are greatest in the kingdom are those who not only teach but also do the commandments of God (Matt. 5:19). I began to understand that nationality, education, and social status mean nothing to Jesus. I started to see that in His kingdom there are no small people. Above all, I began to repent of my hankering after prestige and comfort.

Tuesday, July 29

6:45 PM So, let's see ... I just mowed the back yard, Karen is cooking supper, and Becky is canning. She's had tons of pain today (which, thank God, she didn't have all last week), and tomorrow I am taking her to Halifax Hospital for blood work and then to UNC to have her catheter unplugged. It will be a very long day. This evening I'll be writing as time permits. I've been getting caught up on some of your blogs. One of them got me thinking about missions. As a missionary to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East for several years now, my ministry is not primarily to bring new people into the kingdom. Yes, by God's grace I have been involved with that work as well, but my main ministry/calling is enabling national Christians to do the work, and they are doing a splendid job! In recent years I've been working in a country whose national leaders (obviously) minister much more effectively than foreign nationals do. This does not mean, of course, that they do not need any training. The goal of missions is not only to save human beings from sin but also to establish communities of faith that obey the Lord Jesus and recognize their own missionary responsibility. Thus, for example, I am pleased and gratified that my beginning Greek grammar has now been translated into this national language and is currently being field tested in several venues. Praise God! It took many hours of training to prepare these national pastors to be able to teach their fellow pastors Greek, but I believe that one of the tasks of the Western church is to give people tools for interpretation and application of the Word of God to their own settings.

I say all of this in order to call your attention to a fine blog post by Thomas Hudgins called Is Greek Really More Expressive Than English? I would like to thank him for the reminder that we all face the danger of becoming cultural snobs. I share the conviction that God, the Creator of all languages, is able to take truth and "translate" it into our own cultures. As a step of missionary obedience we need to avoid the cultural prejudices that we sometimes hear from well-meaning Greek teachers. We also need to recover the conviction that faithfulness to Scripture entails not only maintenance of Christian doctrine but also the continuity of life that flows from the Holy Spirit. As I enter the final decades of my teaching ministry, my prayer is that we never divorce Christian theology from the lordship of Christ. Obedience, not knowledge, is the yardstick of the presence of God, and if we are obedient we will remain alert against forms of evangelism and conversion that are in bondage to culture rather than to Scripture.

2:53 PM Here's a new review of Herb Bateman's Charts on the Book of Hebrews. The conclusion?

Bateman has provided a top-notch resource for an important biblical book.

I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, the following endorsement by yours truly appears on the back cover:

Herbert Bateman's latest contribution on the book of Hebrews is truly excellent. I appreciate the effort he put into it. Anyone willing to dig into the treasures of this book will not be disappointed.

So dig away!

1:08 PM Another great victory! Just put an end table together. It had 20 steps -- count 'em. It took me three hours. But ... 


Speaking of Greek, I see the good parson is back at it again. Mark, here's to you, brother. Remember: Greek is easy; it's just us Greek professors who get in the way. Praying for you! 

8:24 AM Two real quick items before I prepare breakfast for the ladies. First, I am happy to see the response of James Lee to my extra credit question of yesterday. Read An Essay On Who Is Invited To Sup with Jesus Christ? Second, Henry Neufeld of Energion is starting a brand spanking new series on biblical studies, and guess which volume he's beginning with? My little tome on Hebrews. Expect an announcement from Henry shortly.

Monday, July 28

7:22 PM I took this picture not five minutes ago. It shows Becky with daughters Kimberly and Karen picking blueberries in our back yard.

I love this picture in a sort of Nothing's gonna keep Becky down and she will be active as long as she possibly can be kind of way. The girlies are planning a slumber party tonight. I'm pretty sure they're not going to get much sleep. As for moi, I get to indulge in a bit of book writing, a feat that's proving highly impossible these days. But hey -- I can be as determined as Becky when I put my mind to it.

6:58 PM Not much to say this evening except "Thank you!" to mom and dad for their visit. God blessed Becky with good strength almost their entire stay. Hmm, maybe they should just move in with us :) In the meantime, allow me to bore you with some additional thoughts about the Lord's Supper based on certain New Testament texts (such as 1 Cor. 10-11 and Acts 20:7):

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

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

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

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

5) The emphasis is both on remembering and anticipating.

6) It is a joyous celebration and not a sorrowful funeral.

7) The meal symbolizes the unity of the Body of Christ.

8) ALL are to partake, and ALL are to partake together.

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

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

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

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

Bye for now!

Sunday, July 27

5:48 PM This and that ...

1) It seems that my post about depression struck a cord with many of you. One woman at The Hill today thanked me personally for my comments. Then, too, you've been so kind to send me email responses, including this one:

Your depression post really struck my heart yesterday. I have been struggling with depression since before I was a believer and it is often a problem on a day to day basis. Your post is such an encouragement and is a reminder I am going to print out and place at my desk so that I see it as I am mentoring my students. God has given you such an ability to place great thoughts in words that are easy to understand. I have already shared the post with a few friends and they have also benefited from it. Just thank you. Praying for you and Becky and giving glory to God for the work that He is doing in you both.

Friends, let's not get hung up on the word "depression." Call it what you like -- discouragement, despair, despondency, hopelessness -- the exact term matters little. Paul uses some pretty hefty words to describe his own depression/despair in 2 Cor. 1:8-9. He was so "utterly burdened beyond our strength" that he "despaired of life itself." As Kent Hughes notes in his commentary, Paul is using a nautical metaphor describing a ship that is so overburdened that it rides so low in the water it can't rise again. Yes, even the great apostle Paul had feelings of despair and hopelessness from time to time. Yet he encourages us to keep our eyes on Jesus, to keep pressing forward, to endure hardship. It's not hard to understand Christians who claim they never undergo such deep waters in life. It's impossible! Those of us who have lived with weakness and who endure discouragement will one day be like the Lord Himself. Hallelujah!

2) For all of you aviation buffs out there like me, here's a great video showing what a proper landing at SFO looks like. Outstanding!

3) This just came in:

Forgive a book junkie for enabling others. But, John Mark Hicks’ book, Come to the Table, is an interesting read concerning the restoration of table fellowship. He brings an interesting perspective to the "grace" aspect, and Jesus as the servant at the table.

Just ordered :)

4) Jeremy Meyers treats us to 10 Christian Clichés to Avoid Like the Plague.

5) Finally, an emailer comes to my defense:

I believe, kind sir, that you were most correct in your placement of the toilet paper in the 'roll over' position and I would encourage you to not let the clamor of dissenting voices convince you otherwise.

5:15 PM Here's a quick update and I promise not to post too many pictures. I'm excited to share with you the news that not only was Becky feeling chipper enough to come to the fellowship with us today, but we were also able to pick out our cemetery plots -- together. Talk about a hot date. See those two little yellow boxes?

That's Becky and me. Did you know that Al Gore invented the internet just so that I could share this great news with you? Here's dad standing on "our" plots:

But there's more. I think our elders were profoundly right in leading us to have a single cup and a single loaf of bread when we held the Lord's Supper today. As far as I know, that was a first at Bethel Hill.

It contrasts with the tiny pieces of crackers that so "beautifully" (sarcasm) illustrate the fractured nature of so many of our congregations. (In case you're wondering: the single cup and single loaf are important; see 1 Cor. 10:16-17). I passionately believe that our Lord Jesus blesses little steps of obedience like these. The bottom line is that the Scriptures are pretty clear about what our meetings should look like when we come together as a church. We're not called to pretend that our traditions are infallible. We are called upon to do one thing: follow Jesus. This means, first and foremost, mimicking His loving service to all others. It means being a genuine, loving, caring, sacrificing, forgiving, patient, encouraging, unified family.

This is why I love The Hill so much. We are a true family that deeply cares about each other -- and about following Jesus in obedience as His Spirit leads us. I am so proud of our leaders. Their devotion to follow Christ is a constant challenge to my own spiritual walk with God. Their work is anything but easy, but I want them to know how greatly I esteem them in love for their work's sake. I am completely and totally and unequivocally behind you guys. What a family! This, I think, is how the Body of Christ is meant to function. Think about this, folks. If the American church wasn't so fragmented into a billion little fiefdoms, and if the average American congregation didn't spend most of its income on things that don't matter for eternity, just think of what we could get done for the kingdom. Let's start by confessing that for the most part we aren't unified around the Gospel as we should be. For this reason, when I see a congregation engaging in genuine and deep body life, when I see leaders leading biblically, and when I see believers following Jesus passionately, how can I not get excited? Next to the high calling of following Jesus and His ways, doing anything else amounts to little more than a distraction. This is why I get so jazzed when I see the family of God taking little steps of obedience. (Even the wording in today's bulletin reflected these steps of obedience. Did you notice?) In any event, let's all keep moving forward, but let's do it together and not run roughshod over those whom we think may be lagging a bit behind. Let's continue to celebrate the goodness of God whose love heals all wounds and conquers all evil!

Bye for now,


P.S. Essay question for bonus credit: Did Jesus ever invite anyone to the Lord's Supper? Or are we commanded to partake of the elements? Think about it.

P.S.S. Two more pix. Becky and I with Karen before going to the Hill today:

Becky with her mom and dad. Doesn't Bec look fantastic?

Saturday, July 26

9:06 PM This email made my day:

No, no, no.  The toilet paper is supposed to roll under, not over!  LOL

3:34 PM Speaking of the Lord's Supper, I. Howard Marshall, Professor Emeritus of New Testament at the University of Aberdeen, summarizes the biblical teaching about the Lord's Supper. Among his conclusions are the following:

  • The Supper should be celebrated frequently, if possible each Lord's Day.

  • There is no New Testament evidence that would require "ordination" to administer the elements.

  • Since the Lord's Supper is a meal, the appropriate setting for it is a table, not an altar.

  • The New Testament envisages the use of one loaf and a common cup.

Is it too much to hope that our churches today might return to this biblical model? Wherever the church honestly faces its task to be scriptural in all its dealings, believers will discover new ways and means of restoring modern practices to their ancient models. Acts 20:7 underscores this point. Here Luke speaks of a meeting of the church in which the focal point was not a sermon but a common meal. This was apparently the common practice of the early church whenever they gathered on "the Lord's Day." Today we gather for "worship" and occasionally tack on the Lord's Supper almost as an addendum.

I imagine this would have appeared very strange to New Testament eyes! The early church knew nothing of worship services or worship centers or worship teams or worship folders. Nor were the earliest gatherings of Christians "top heavy," leaving the ministry to a handful of selected professionals. Theirs was a one-class society – all saints, all priests, all members of the Christian brotherhood with Christ as their only Head. This is why, I surmise, the Lord's Supper was so important to them. The Supper offers us an occasion to focus on our Great High Priest, the church's only Senior Pastor (1 Pet. 5:4). Moreover, it seems that the Lord's Supper was a full meal in New Testament times. Indeed, if we ask ourselves what the word "supper" means, we find that the Greek word used is deipnon, which generally refers to the chief meal of the day. Such is its meaning consistently in the pages of the New Testament.

Would it be too radical to suggest that the way in which the Lord's Supper was observed in the early church – as a full meal – could also be replicated today?

3:22 PM Our Ethiopia Team came over today for lunch, and we had a wonderful time of sharing.

Jon Glass (team leader, in the center of the photo below) shared one thing that really resonated with me.

He said that the baton had been passed from generation to generation -- from Becky's parents to Becky (and her husband) then to our new team members. That is so biblical (2 Tim 2:2)! Below you see the first and third generations -- Becky's mom and Matthea Glass. How beautiful.

Another great thought was shared by Joshua (bottom left) who used the analogy of two oxen at the plow.

We Americans and the Ethiopians -- we're just two oxen pulling the same plow as equal partners in Christ, all moving toward the same goal of advancing the kingdom. Thanks for sharing this truth, Josh. By the way, as you can see in the following photo, Becky looked and felt great today. That's a real God thing. So thank you for continuing to pray for her.


If I could add one more request: We're hoping to take Becky to Bethel Hill tomorrow morning. If she has the strength. How wonderful it would be if we could all share the Lord's Supper together with the Body at The Hill!

10:04 AM Here's today's headline in our local newspaper:



Thought you'd like to know.

8:52 AM How would you answer this question:

What do you think are the biggest problems facing New Testament scholarship today?

For my answer to this question (and several others), read Interview with David Alan Black.

8:44 AM Good morning, denizens of the world wide web. I'd like to think with you this morning about transparency in blogging.

My favorite blogs are those whose authors are transparent. Not in a morbid sense. Not with a tell-all mindset. Well-informed and objective blogs are a reader's delight. Here I'm speaking of blogging as an exercise in subjectivity. It is here, on the edges of blogging, that I think transparency can give us one more reason to believe what a blogger says. If we can talk about our illnesses or our discouragement or our failings or our aspirations we are not saying that we are unconcerned about objectivity. I always try to say the right thing on my blog, i.e., what is appropriate for this venue (and perhaps occasionally I achieve that goal). I think about it, type it out, pray over it, then hit the upload button and get on with life. For me, to be less than candid with you is to be less than objective. Ignoring one's biases is disingenuous. I think we need both the highest level of objectivity and transparency, within certain limits of course (full disclosure is neither possible nor commendable). We all benefit from being more explicit about our feelings, perceptions, attitudes, etc. If this opens us up to criticism, it will also help us to connect with people. There are some terrific bloggers out there who strive for a balance between objectivity and transparency. Their blogs are really beautiful. Authenticity, transparency, and trust are like a three-cord strand that is not easily broken. Great blogs are blogs that leave no doubt about their motives. They are "real." They are "honest." Their writers have personality. Transparency adds verve to thoughtful commentary.

How engaged are you with your blog readers? Hiding tends to put people off. On the other hand, so does being too open and opinionated. But surely there is no reason why we can't blog on personal matters.

That's my reflection for the day. I'd be interested to know what you think. 

Friday, July 25

5:42 PM Well, folks, would somebody please hit me with the stupid stick? Seems I can't help putting one foot on a roller skate and the other on a banana peel. Ever done that? Let's just say that today my halo is definitely square :) It all has to do with installing a toilet paper holder over at Maple Ridge. That little project will be the end of me yet!

The day wasn't all goofy, however. Bradford Lapsley (Becky's dad) and Bradford Black (our grandson) got to play with each other -- in Bradford Hall, no less. Here they are in all their glory (Big Bradford's in the white tee shirt, while sweet Little Bradford is in his daddy's arms).

As for me, I got to play in the sandbox. Not alone, of course.

And the blessings don't stop there. This afternoon the seminary wives club sent along all this good food. Thank you, ladies!

Finally, to top things off, we're having chicken-broccoli-rice for supper. Wow. Makes you really look forward to what we're practicing for: The wedding supper of the Lamb. Can't hardly wait for that Day!

P.S. For all you farm types out there, here's a little trick to keep the flies off your animals. Simply add garlic powder to their oats, and voila -- the flies say "Hasta la bye-bye, baby!"



Thursday, July 25

3:20 PM I'm currently writing the foreword to a book called Luke 6:40 and the Theme of Likeness Education in the New Testament, a dissertation written under my direction. The author is Thomas Hudgins, who blogs here. The book's theme can be subsumed under the words, "Christian education is likeness education." In the forward I'm going to share a bit about the professors who had a special impact in my own life. They have been major tools in the hands of God to pull me out of my stubborn insecurity and low self-esteem. One of them was Dr. Harry Sturz of Biola, who hired me to teach there in 1976. His consistent attentiveness and constant friendship provided loving stability. I began to flourish as a classroom teacher. He put the building block of self-esteem in my life by valuing my opinions. What a miracle Jesus began to work in me! Through Dr. Sturz's mentorship the Lord enabled me to move out in faith to embrace fresh areas of responsibility as an academic (including publishing). His example strengthened me and drew me closer to the man of God I am intended to be. The end result is that I've been allowed to experience one of the greatest blessings in all of life -- the joy of fulfillment that comes from being used by God.

Friend, never forget that your heavenly Father wants you to be unique because He has a very special plan for you to fulfill. And a mentor is one of the resources that God extends to His children. They are there to plant seeds in our lives and then watch them bloom and grow. How thankful I am for the mentors I've had in my life!

Mentoring? Try it. It works!

12:50 PM "He who laughs, lasts." 

12:50 PM Hi all! There is so much good, God-stuff going on right now that I really hate to mention it, but I've been a little bit under the weather. Sigh. Now we'll see what Airborne can really do :)

Switching topics: We've really been enjoying having mom and dad around. Dad is being his humorous and sociable self, while mom works non-stop in the kitchen and helping to take care of Becky. Speaking of Becky, she's doing pretty well, though she tires easily. We took her to see her pulmonologist yesterday and he was pleasantly surprised at how good her breathing is despite all the cancer in her lungs. My pretty wife had on her nice yellow dress, which drew compliments from the medical staff, of course. It was so nice to be able to meet the doctor  in Clarksville ("our fair city") rather than in faraway South Boston. Yes, I know that SoBo is only a 20 minute drive from the farm, but when you're dealing with lung issues that's like traveling to the moon. Of course, I think any more trips to Chapel Hill are out of the question. It will seem strange hitting I-85 in Oxford and not getting on the freeway to drive to UNC Hospital. I'm sure the economy in North Carolina is going to take a drastic hit without us frequenting its gas stations and restaurants any longer. Oh well, I guess they'll survive without us.

By the way, here's an important excerpt from an email I received the other day:

I have started to send you an email several times over the past few weeks, but when I read your blog, I see how so many have sent their prayers and encouragement to you...and I have felt so inadequate to offer anything that hasn't been much better said by so many others.

I am so glad this person did decide to write us. Friends, this is long overdue, but let me say four things:

1) Both Becky and I read all of your precious emails.

2) I try to respond to every one of them (though I will hope you will please forgive me if I somehow miss yours).

3) Occasionally I may post an excerpt from one of them on my blog -- I'd say maybe one out of a hundred.

4) Again, your emails are precious to us.

Psychologists tell us that the happiest people spend the least time alone. We need each other as human beings. So thanks for sharing the journey!


Wednesday, July 24

10:06 AM Yo folks,

Hope you're enjoying this warm summer weather. I feel a bit scattered right now, but I'll try and snatch a few minutes and update my blog. I plan on getting back to the problem of kingdom ethics soon, but today I want to share an experience with you.

As you well know, one of the main ministries of the Holy Spirit is prayer. Left to ourselves, we can't pray as we ought. That's the clear teaching of Romans 8:26-27. However, through the intercessory ministry of the Spirit, prayer can be made according to the will of God.

I know all of this intellectually. I even spend a good deal of time in my book Paul, Apostle of Weakness discussing this passage. One thing I learned was that the Spirit does not carry the entire burden of prayer. The word "helps" (sunantilambanetai) here probably has the idea of assistance. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us when we pray and indicates to us what we should pray for. In other words, during those times of prayer when we don't know what God's will is, the Spirit Himself intercedes on our behalf, aligning our prayers with the will of God. I suppose this is what Paul meant by "praying at all times in the Spirit" in Eph. 6:18. Paul is thinking of prayer, not as a do-it-yourself activity, but rather as a Spirit-guided, Spirit-prompted, Spirit-motivated activity. As Rom. 8:26-27 shows, prayer is a kind of inter-trinitarian process whereby God speaks to Himself, yet He does so through us. What an interesting paradox. I can't pray unless the Spirit is praying, yet the Spirit does not pray unless I am praying! Prayer, in other words, is nothing less than the outworking of an intimate relationship with God, who sometimes accomplishes His will through the prayers of His people (see Ezek. 36:36-37; James 5:17-18).

But it is really possible to pray this way?

Last night, after reading Scripture and praying with Becky, I sat on my bed and began lifting up petitions, praises, and thanksgiving to God. As the Holy Spirit brought a need or name to mind, I silently voiced "our" prayer to God. This went on for about an hour ("Sweet Hour of Prayer"!). I experienced a strange and wonderful sensitivity to the Spirit during this time of prayer. Now, I'm not claiming that everything I prayed for was compatible with the will of God! Like Calvin, I see a tension between God's sovereignty and man's prayer, but I do not find them incompatible. What I did discover afresh was that prayer is essentially an act of worship. Through prayer we can experience a real, dynamic communion with God, even with His transcendence. Perhaps this is why Paul insists that we should always be seeking the fullness of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). This fullness is not an automatic bestowal but a command for every believer to obey. Filling is the sovereign work of God (the verb "be filled" is in the passive voice), but we are commanded to make it happen. The Spirit helps us to pray according to the will of God. He reveals to us the "deep things of God" (1 Cor. 2:9-11). He inspires all genuine prayer. He puts the desire in our hearts to approach God (Psalm 65:4). The Spirit works in our hearts, drawing out prayer, praise, thanksgiving, and petition.

Put all this together, and you arrive at a pretty powerful conclusion. Don't think of the Holy Spirit as only a heavenly intercessor, praying in your stead because you are too tired or weary to pray. Let's allow the Spirit to come to us and help us to pray!


Tuesday, July 23

7:35 PM Big day around here. Our first mater of the season: 

I post this pic just for Mark.

In other news, Becky's mom and dad just arrived at the farm along with Becky's brother and his wife. Right now they're chit-chatting in the bedroom with Becky. This afternoon B. and I had a fantastic meeting with the hospice folk and were very impressed both with their level of professionalism as well the services they can offer us. According to Becky's oncologist, Becky has "3-4 months," but she said this about three weeks ago, so it's not too soon to get the ball rolling.

As I said, God is good.

3:13 PM Evangelist Ahwol from Alaba sent this wonderful letter to Becky:

Before anything else I would like to present my greetings. How are you doing? We heard that you are doing better and we praise God for that. Let God continue to visit you by his mercy. My family and I are doing well though often we face sickness by malaria, especially my children. But it is not a big deal because the Lord is with us. Many times my wife and I are persecuted but, we are happy because it develops our faith and prayer life. One thing that I would like to remind you of is to be in prayer for my wife's family and mine to come to the Lord.

We praise God that you are the Lords servant and are doing His will in Alaba and in other places as well. Let me mention some other things. First, my family and I are very happy because we received the clothes that you sent and now have no need to buy clothes for the holidays. Second, we are happy that you sent us money. We had a mattress that we bought ten years ago and it was not in a condition to be used anymore.  We did not have enough money to buy a new one so, with the money you sent we purchased a new foam mattress. My wife and I are very happy. God bless you abundantly. Whenever we go to bed, we think of you. We always pray for your ministry and health.

Read Philippians 4:4-8 and pray for us.

You have to love the part about the "mattress." Ahwol almost died in his service to the Lord Jesus. He is a treasured co-worker in the kingdom.

3:08 PM "If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt." Robertson McQuilkin, as his wife died of Alzheimer's.

Men, read Living by Vows -- and then do it.

3:02 PM A list, by no means comprehensive, of the things I've learned in the past few months.

1) Doctors and nurses who are truly on board with you are priceless.

2) There is life after the diagnosis.

3) When I rely on my own skill and knowledge, trouble is usually right around the corner.

4) Working with the health care system isn't anything easy.

5) Life has a rhythm.

6) People with special needs aren't disabled, just "differently abled."

7) There is nothing sweeter than a grandchild who runs up to you and gives you a bear hug.

8) All of us -- no matter how scarred -- are image-bearers of a beautiful God.

9) Life is really simple. God is good. 'Nuff said.

10) I feel so small and useless at times, yet that is never an excuse for failing to do what I can do.

11) When my heart is in my throat, I need to keep my head on my shoulders.

12) Even though I'm on sabbatical and I am busy as Becky's caregiver, I need to keep up with my writing ministry. When research and writing ever become mundane, that's the day I'll walk out of the classroom.

13) My life is held in the hands of the One who flung the stars in the sky.

14) If you've never seen someone ringing the gong at UNC after completing radiation, you've missed out on one of the greatest joys in life.

15) I can't prove this from Scripture, but when Becky gets to heaven I know she'll be dancing to the beat of African drums.

Monday, July 22

9:20 PM Today we had a very good talk with Becky's oncologist. (Thank you for praying.) It's something we'd done dozens of times before, but this time it felt different. As she confirmed the extent of Becky's tumors, I felt God's very real presence. "You've come to a fork in the road," she said, meaning of course that we'd gone from curative to palliate care. I knew this, yet somehow I still felt nothing but peace. That's a God thing, I thought. Yes, I still have small amounts of panic when I think of all the details that still need to be worked out. But in the midst of it all, God is good to us. So good.

Tonight I helped Becky shower and then I sat on her bed with her, reading to her Psalm 91, then the book of Colossians. It was just what I needed to hear. Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. I count it all joy that my heart is set in Heaven. I also count it all joy that, if only temporarily, my heart belongs to Becky. As I sat on her bed, that same heart shouted a million praises to God.

I am ready to let her go.  

6:50 PM Praying tonight for my buddy and colleague Alvin Reid as he's ministering in Ukraine this week.

6:32 PM Between my other responsibilities I've been keeping up with the Asiana 214 crash message boards. Flying is a highly regulated industry. In fact, the airline industry in general is highly regulated. This does not mean, however, that all pilots are good at flying. As an educator, I see certain parallels between flying 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 School of Theology.) 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 that 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 not necessarily the case.

2:54 PM This prayer arrived today:

Father I lift my precious brother to you this morning. Fill him to over flowing with your Holy Spirit. Allow the tangible presence of your love to cover through him, causing him peace. Flow through Dave with your Spirit empowering him with your strength, so indeed the truth of him being able to do all things through you becomes a reality. And finally well up with in him, inspiring him, reminding him of who he is in you. Cause this welling up to drive out all debilitating fear... no matter the cause. Father, I also ask that you would place a hedge of protection over his mind, over his family, over the relationships where trust has been broken. Bring about deep healing and restoration. Let true love rule. 

2:50 PM Thank you, Robert, for the re-post.

She looked around the room, at the man sitting beside the empty bed, and the items of memory scattered around the room. Things would not be the same here with her gone. But, in many ways, that would be a good thing. People would take what she taught them and learn to use it in many exciting ways that she could never imagine.

She had done her work well, so well that they no longer needed her to be present in order for the work to get done. Others would carry on. Even her husband would build upon what they started together and go on to do many amazing and wonderful things. And her children, such blessings to her while she was with them, would take those blessings and give them to others. Yes, it was time to go. She would see them all again back home, but for now, they needed to stay here, aliens in this strange land.


P.S. Thanks, everyone, for your prayers for Becky's mom and dad. They arrive tomorrow from Dallas.

11:14 AM Brief update:

1) Becky had a restful night, praise the Lord. Right now she is getting caught up on your emails:)

2) Nigusse is back at school beginning a new class for three weeks. Please pray for him. He misses us when he is away but he needs to stay focused on his studies.

3) We may not live in Timbuktu but you can see it from our front porch. Living so far away from civilization has its blessings  -- and its challenges -- and I'm having a bit of a problem finding a hospice care provider for our neck of the woods. I think I finally have a lead. Prayers appreciated!

10:36 AM Kevin Brown, an elder at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, wrote this on his blog recently:

Many of you know how much Becky Lynn Black (a.k.a “Mama B”) means to me and so many at our church and literally throughout the world. Well, I preached a message this past Sunday entitled, “Examination By The King.” The primary “life application” I used? Becky Black. You can watch the message here. Many told me that it was a powerful message.

Karen and I just watched Kevin's message. Thank you, dear sir, for bringing us to the cross. Thank you for the challenge to live for the kingdom and not for the things of this life. Thank you for exalting Becky's Lord and Savior. Your message bought tears of joy to our eyes. I am near tears right now just writing about it. These are good tears.

Kevin referred to their closing song at Mount Pleasant called Ten Thousand Reasons: "Bless the Lord Oh My Soul, Worship His Holy Name." The final stanza reads:

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Soon my soul will sing your praise un-ending
10,000 years and there forever more.

Bless the lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship his holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I worship your holy name.

I get that. I didn't always get it, but I do now. Becky is going home, where she will sing His praises forevermore. Until she gets there, she will serve Her Lord with every breath He gives her.

How about you, my friend? What are you living for? What are you willing to die for? What drives you? What gets you up in the morning? If it's not living for Jesus and for His kingdom, you're living for the wrong thing.

When I'm tired and stressed I will go back to this video again and again. Kevin, I trust your words will bless many others as well. There is something so incredible about preaching that exalts the name of Jesus. Thank you, sir, a million times over, thank you.

P.S. Becky's mom and dad are trying to get a flight here from Dallas tomorrow. Please join me in praying for them.

7:15 AM Good morning, wonderful friends! I got this email today from a complete stranger who lives in the Bahamas:

I hope you find encouragement in this scripture:

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made
perfect in weakness." Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my
weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s
sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in
difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

We understand that because  we are Christians, it does not mean we are
exempted from cancer and from the pain and other unpleasant things that go with this disease. But we do have hope, security, and peace that can come only from knowing God and trusting in him.

Dave be encouraged.  I am praying for you and Becky, and the entire family. God blessings!

How awesome. What a difference Jesus makes. And prayer. Right now Becky and I are praying for many situations, including some marriages we know of that are facing some pretty tough challenges. The impact of sin is huge. But, as the emailer noted, the grace of the Lord is even greater. Despite our cancer journey, Becky and I have so much that it's hard to know what to be thankful for. I was really touched by a passage Karen read to Becky and me last night from Ephesians 3:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

As she read these verses I was thinking how wonderful it is to have the Word of God when you're dealing with marital situations where trust has been destroyed. The pain is deep. But prayer can make a difference. I prayed this morning for a good friend who is looking for work. As I began to pray, I sensed a kinship of spirit that left me in silent awe. Sometimes we wait and wait for the Lord but He delays His coming. Think about Peter's going fishing in John 21. Remember how he had gone to Galilee to wait for Jesus? What would you do if you waited and waited and -- no Jesus? You could play chess or drink a macchiato. Instead, Peter went fishing. He filled the time gap with an activity he knew would ease the excitement and disappointment of waiting. It's an incredible act of common sense. Which got me thinking. What activities do I turn to when I'm waiting for the Lord to show up? For me, one of them is blogging. It's a way to release tension and chill out. Blogging helps me to process my thoughts. I'm learning to say yes to the Lord, yes to the responsibilities (and privileges) He has entrusted to me, yes to His presence in our home, yes to the woman He wants me to care for. This morning I feel free to serve and give to others, free to enjoy my role as a husband, free to love my family and friends and give them quality attention, free to accept the wisdom of others, free to be myself -- the self that God made me. I sense God saying to me, "If you will just find your identity in Me, everything will run more smoothly." So that's my goal for today -- to focus completely on Christ. He wants me to walk with Him in the bad times, praise Him in the good times, and love at all times. I am growing to love Becky more every day. I'm learning to live a Christ-centered life. I'm learning to set aside my feelings, walk in faith as a child of God, and exchange my own confusion for a divine transfusion of God's wisdom.

I sometimes wonder: How did an island boy like me end up sharing life in Virginia with a Texan-Ethiopian? My, how God works in mysterious ways. It has been my privilege to be by Becky's side for 36 years. God has blessed us. God is changing us. Ever since I began teaching in 1976, Becky has shared the joy and sorrow of ministry with me. We function as one. We are a team. Husband and wife, male and female, well and ill, "we are laborers together with God" (1 Cor. 3:9). Working together has not only drawn us closer to Him. It has given us a common goal and a common outlook. We've not let go of Jesus. And -- praise God! -- He's not let go of us.

Sunday, July 21

6:35 PM Good evening, friends. It's been a long day. Been with Becky all day in our bedroom. She is very weak, and I think I will try to make a phone appointment with UNC tomorrow instead of making the long drive there and back again to see her oncologist. From time to time I've been able to peek at your emails and have been greatly blessed. One dear friend wrote:

Dave, just read your blog.  I know a diagnosis of cancer affects the entire family. As you know "Our strength cometh from the Lord". It is difficult to feel his strength in difficult times, but He has you in his hands and is carrying you and Becky.

She added:

Please let me know when we can come, help on the farm, cook, clean, take care of you and Becky or give you and family members some down time.

A friend in California had this advice:

I read your piece on being depressed this morning with interest.  I don't think you're depressed in the medical, clinical sense ... but you've got so much on your plate that you're wearing yourself out.  Full-time seminary professor, a husband dealing with a dying wife, author, missionary, and owner of a 123-acre farm with a things-to-do list that never seems to get any shorter.  No wonder you don't feel well!

I think that farm is trying to kill you! Why are you out there, in heat and high humidity, digging weeds and mowing and edging until you give yourself heatstroke?  That's nuts!  I think you need to take a serious look at your situation regarding the farm.  I know you love the place, but you need to seriously ask yourself, "At 61, how much longer can I keep this up?"

Someone I had not heard from in a long time sent along these words of encouragement:

Regarding your latest post on your blog, I could have copied it almost word for word. Brother I too suffer from depression but mine hits almost weekly and lasts for hours and hours.... All the feelings you felt I have had them happen to me many times often. One thing gets me through it all faith in JESUS! I just keep looking to him. :)

Finally, on the topic of evangelicals and politics, a reader had this to say:

I sometimes wonder how the cursory reading of the New Testament get’s so ‘muddy’ and ‘politicized’ by evangelicalism. But then I remember I used to be there also. I often find that seeking first the kingdom is much more difficult than forcing the kingdom down people’s throats. But alas, I also must remember that knowledge is what prevents one from perishing. You mentioned Eller and Ellul, but I would also recommend Verduin in that lot as well. Anatomy of a Hybrid is a significant treatise on the issue of Christendom/Kingdom opposition as well.

I will be ordering Verduin's book tonight.

It's such a strange paradox -- this caring for someone you love and hate to see suffering, while at the same time knowing that God is using your circumstances for others to speak some wonderful truths into your life. Pray for Becky. She is fading. And pray for all of us, that we would make wise decisions and that we would be able to care for her as we ought.

Once again, I'm glad for your emails. That are indeed a huge encouragement. I don't know if you realize how powerful your words are. Thank you and God bless,


8:56 AM I'm not sure how to tell you this, but I've got to.

I suffer from depression.

Not constantly. Not even weekly or monthly. But frequently enough to admit it's a reality. If you're shocked, if you're saying to yourself, "But you're Dave Black!", I'll give you a minute to get over it.

For several years now, Satan has tried to do everything in his power to put his claws into me. One of his fiery darts has been depression. It hits especially when I'm physically exhausted or when I feel overlooked, unappreciated. Once again, it came to a head last night. We had dinner guests, but I didn't feel like coming to the table. Unwisely perhaps, I had spent a miserably hot and humid afternoon edging, weeding, and spraying Round Up on all the weeds and grass that had been taking over our back yard. Sweat poured from every pore in my body. When I finished I knew I was suffering from a case of heat stroke. I came inside, drank some water, took a shower, then went to bed. Then I was called to the dinner table.

I felt horrible. I had a splitting headache. I know I should have excused myself and stayed in bed. But I felt I needed to be a good trooper. Besides, no one knew how I was feeling. We weren't at the table long when a hurtful remark sent me into an emotional tailspin. It was said innocently enough, but Satan had snared me. You idiot. You're no good. You can't do anything right. Nobody appreciates you. You deserve every last insult thrown at you. I felt worthless, like a piece of trash or worse. I excused myself and retreated to my bed. I did it quietly, but inside I was screaming. I felt scarred beyond hope.

I think people see in me the steady rudder in our family. Dave -- depressed? Yes. Not often. Not for long, thank God. I've never receded into the darkness for days on end. But at times I feel overwhelmed by the physical and emotional stress of caring for Becky, for the farm, for two houses, for Nigusse, and for a thousand other details including 123 acres that need constant attention. As I lay on my bed, nursing my self-pity, the rational, theological side of me wanted to shake me and make me understand that depression is irrational. Instead I found myself indulging the darker side. In the face of such despair, how do you triage? How do you overcome -- yourself? What encouragement and advice can I offer you if you're ever in my shoes?

Here it is. Simply draw near to God. Cry out to Him. Remember that with Him, there's room for depression. No matter how you feel, you are safe with him. Rest in the truth that through it all God has not changed. Then do the hard part. Forgive. Forgive others. And forgive yourself. If you do, suddenly the road does not seem so dark any longer.

It's hard not to feel a little ashamed as I tell you about my irrational feelings of worthlessness last night. But I think you'll understand. I don't want to be seduced by culture into thinking that I need to be perfect to serve God. Life is pretty much an emotional roller coaster for me right now. It is incredibly challenging and satisfying and difficult and rewarding, all at the same time. But I'm discovering that it's okay to hurt. And it's okay to rest in the knowledge that He will fill you up when you most need it.

My friend, you and I wear His worth around us like a robe. He has never stopped loving us even when we are doing everything we can to tear ourselves out of His grasp. The next time you're feeling down, remember that will you? I promise to do the same.


Saturday, July 20

8:58 AM Good morning, cyber geeks of the world. I feel a need to respond briefly to the pushback I'm seeing in the evangelical world against the federal government's incursion into our personal affairs through reading our private emails, monitoring our website usage, etc. One of the essays I read yesterday made much of our "Founding Fathers" and their concern about government "overreach and abuse." The author suspected that had the Founders lived in the 21st century they would have called a new constitutional convention to "deal with the erosion of our freedoms." I've also noticed a sort of cynicism toward "silent" Christians who sit idly by and say nothing. One author said that "there will simply be no privacy unless someone speaks up. That someone should be Christians."

I understand where these evangelical patriots are coming from. America once seemed invincible. After all, we were founded on principles of personal liberty and a high work ethic. When our freedoms are being eroded, we Christians cannot remain silent.

Or can we?

I think this approach is a dangerous one. For one thing, I think it downplays the radical aspects of New Testament Christianity. Evangelicals continually face the danger of mixing the kingdom of God with politics and the sin of nationalism. While I'm in total agreement that our nation was founded upon principles of liberty and freedom, I'm somewhat hesitant to accept the notion that our eroding personal liberties is a biblical problem that "Christians" can and should resolve. Many of the arguments used to support the idea of a "Christian" nation are quite speculative. If political freedom was central to the biblical storyline, wouldn't it be a little more obvious? In fact, Revelation 13 suggests an ongoing animosity between the state and the kingdom until Jesus returns. Personally, I'm not convinced that protesting against the erosion of liberties is the sort of behavior Jesus would encourage. If Christians are to speak up against government excesses, where will it end? I'm not pretending that government surveillance of my private emails doesn't concern me, or that I think the TSA "handlers" should be allowed to pat down my private parts. Nor am I pretending that government is a neutral player in cosmic affairs. In fact, I will go so far as to say that protesting against this or that government policy is fine and dandy as long as we don't confuse the kingdom and the world system. Until Jesus returns, the whole world will be held hostage to cosmic forces of evil. In the meantime, God is calling to Himself men and women and transforming them into citizens of a kingdom that transcends all national or political allegiances and is characterized by peace, love, and humility. As I have argued in my book Christian Archy, whenever Christians have become apologists for this or that political view it has been disastrous for the advance of God's kingdom. It should be obvious to anyone with even a cursory understanding of the context in which Jesus lived that our Savior chose to love, serve, and die for His political enemies rather than engage in debate with them over politics. As followers of Jesus, we are called to imitate this attitude and behavior. My point is that regardless of whether or not we can adequately justify political engagement on the part of Christians, this shouldn't stop us from following Jesus' example and obeying His teaching in the least. In other words, the best way we as Christians can protest injustice in our society is by living and acting like Jesus -- period. Our only allegiance is to Christ and His upside down kingdom. Therefore, our confidence as kingdom people can never be placed in political solutions. It is to be placed exclusively in God, and our lives must always be centered in replicating the sacrificial love of Christ to all people regardless of their political convictions.

Again, I don't think this means that a Christian cannot be involved in politics. But it does mean that we can't divide our loyalty between Christ and Caesar. Everything in the New Testament points to the way we are to go about changing society -- by simply imitating our Lord. Rather than becoming the new zealots, let's reject the temptation to advance the good by political means -- the very temptation Jesus rejected. Given that the essential message of the New Testament is not about politics (including our precious "freedoms") but rather about sacrificial service to others, shouldn't we be more focused on how we as Christians can serve the world rather than arguing with each other over government policies? Hudson Taylor refused to be compensated by the Chinese government after his property had been destroyed in the Boxer Rebellion. Chinese leaders were amazed by the virtues of Christianity. In the so-called "battles" we face today in the political arena, the meekness and gentleness of Christ may sometimes be more effective in reaching the lost than fighting for our "rights." Jesus told us not to resist an evil person. He said if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. He said if someone wanted to take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone (probably a government official!) forces you to go one mile, go with him two (see Matt. 5:39-41). Many today would view these actions as cowardly, as personal defeats, as a loss of face. But the followers of Jesus know that the real battle is too great for them to become sidetracked by minor causes and the loss of face.

How many people in America have rejected the Gospel simple because they can't stand the political machinations of so-called Christians? The only hope of the world lies in Jesus Christ, not in political activism, whether the issue is liberty or race (on the latter, see Robert Martin's masterful piece called What Do We Do About Racism -- an Alternative Way).

Well, this is already too long. I'll discuss this topic more in my book Godworld. For those wanting to go further into the topic, I strongly recommend the works of Jacque Ellul and Vernard Eller. Both authors present a balanced yet compelling case that Christians have a responsibility to grant allegiance only to Jesus. We can't serve two masters. This isn't to say that Christians can't participate in politics. But it isn't our duty to do so.



Friday, July 19

11:52 AM Greek teachers might find these two web essays interesting:

Both are written by my former doctoral students and, I assure you, are completely unbiased (smile). 

11:07 AM This has been a morning filled with surprises. Good things, and not so good things. We had some visitors scheduled for 10:00 but had to cancel. Becky got up, got dressed, had a bite to eat, then had to go right back to bed, she was so tired and in so much discomfort. Saying no, especially to good things, is not easy for me, but I had to tell our guests they would have to come some other time. On the other hand, Becky and I received the kindest email from a sister in Christ named Sally. She wrote in response to my plea for "suggestions along the way" in terms of the grief people experience when they lose a spouse. Well, Sally wrote an epistle that, as far as I'm concerned, ranks up there with 1 Peter or James. Lots of sound, practical wisdom from someone who lost her husband and had to come to terms with grief personally. As you know, I've been searching for some insights into this little matter, but I feel like I just received some of the best advice anyone in my shoes could ever get. This morning, I know you've got a million things to do other than read the following letter. But read it you must. I share it with you with her permission. This is exactly what God wanted Becky and me to hear today. Hopefully it will be a blessing to you as well. And thank you, Sally, thank you a thousand times over!

Here's her letter:

Of course I am willing to share, Becky, but first let me say this. You are such an inspiration of godliness, perseverance, contentment and faithfulness to our Lord and Savior despite your present circumstances.  The power of God is present within your witness revealing indeed that His power is perfected in weakness.

I appreciate your question regarding biblical grief and I understand it may be a natural concern of yours. Two years before my husband died my sister experienced a battle with cancer similar to yours and her main concern before her home-going was the same.  My husband was taken suddenly in a tractor accident (although I believe he had a heart attack) so we never had the conversations you and Dave are now having which seem so precious.  However, I believe even the method of bodily death is custom-designed by God in accordance with the needs and the frame of His children involved, so I do not deem the loss of "preparation" for the separation to be a deficit in my case. Perhaps some people benefit more from prior warning and preparation before they jump into the pool while others benefit more by just jumping right in.

The separation of covenant partners is a real cause of grief, but only to the one left behind.  As you said, it really can be boiled down to self-pity.  I miss that person I have loved for so many years, who completed me, protected me, encouraged me, etc. The pain is very real – the separation, the loss, but it definitely is me-centered.  I remember feeling like part of my own body was missing and even grappling with my altered earthly identity and role as suddenly I was no longer "Tom's wife."  As painful as it was, all these thoughts were me-centered, from my perspective; what will I do?  It was all about my missing my husband.  An extension of me is missing.  At the same time I was overjoyed for Tom because I knew where he was. He now was totally completed, free from the penalty, the power and the presence of sin and eternally face-to-face with Christ.  Adjusting to the loss just takes time during which the emotions truly are a mixed bag.  I knew the truths of God in my head, but the heart needed to vent as well.

As for a biblical perspective, we see grief from human loss all through the Bible expressed in terms like grieved, mourned, wept, lamented and distressed.  David's response to Jonathan's death (2 Sam 1) incorporates many of those emotions.  Humans hurt.  But there are boundaries to our hurt.  In our attitude towards those who are "asleep," Paul said not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4.13).  So grieving must be grounded in and mixed with the hope we have in Christ.  The Psalmist said he collapses from grief but he is sustained by God's Word (Ps 119.28). Thus grieving must be accompanied by healthy doses of the sustaining Word that teaches us that God's mercy shields us from too much grief (Phil 2.27), the same grief will disappear (Is 35.10) and that joy cometh in the morning (Ps 30.5).  In other words, the Bible teaches that grieving is a legitimate emotional response, but it also teaches how we are to handle it lest we cross that fine line into the proverbial pity-party that can lead to anger, doubt, depression, etc.

On a more experiential and practical side, my loss affected me in ways for which I was unprepared revealing weaknesses and vulnerabilities I didn't think I had.  I am not one prone to emotionalism but I experienced bouts of uncontrollable crying that came on out-of-the-blue.  I had trouble concentrating for a few months and had to ask someone else to lead my Bible study because I couldn't get through my preparations.  Maybe this was because of the shock of the suddenness of Tom's death…. I don't know.  During that time I dove into the Scriptures but I couldn't think through a lesson plan.  At any rate, God was showing me that I wasn't as strong as I thought and there were control issues that I needed to relinquish.  As in any trial God's purposes are many, but our being transformed more and more into the image of Christ is always primary.

Judging from my own experience, here are some things you might expect Dave to experience:

  • He will be shaken but he will not stumble because he has a proper relationship with the Father and an accurate opinion of God's character, His ways and His work

  • You will consume his thoughts every minute of every day (literally) for months

  • Every thought of you hereafter will be totally good and if you have any faults (surely you couldn't have many…. although we all have some) they will be totally erased from his memory

  • He will throw himself into the Word more than ever, especially relishing in the comforts of Psalms.

  • His life will become even more fervent in ministry as God's purpose for his life is heightened

  • He will listen even more intently to God's voice as he seeks to figure out who he is…. or who God wants him to be without you

  • His perspective on life and death will be a tad different as I'm positive he will both anticipate and be ready to answer his call home with much delight

  • He will have an increased appreciation for the workings of the body of Christ as they rally to his side

  • He will have a new sensitivity to others experiencing loss

  • He probably will have no thoughts of remarriage.  My attitude has been that I had the best there is, so why would I want another.  Of course God can change hearts, but He would have a lot of work to do in my case.  I was 50 when Tom died and I am now 68 and my attitude has never changed.  Something tells me Dave will think the same.

Through it all God will be in the business of refining his character to be more like Christ and using his testimony to minister to others

I have attached a simple lesson I wrote on Suffering & Persecution a long time ago that is pertinent also to the topic of grief.  Loss is a trial like any other.  There probably is nothing new to you in it but it is concise & to the point.

So sorry for the length of my answer.  I have never been known for brevity.  Just know that Dave will be alright.  He will hurt, but that pain eventually will fade into glorious memories of the gift you two had together. Those memories will be a constant encouragement to him and a place he will go for sweet refreshment.

I am praying for you through this trial being confident that our God is holding you closely in the palm of His hand.

Much love in Him…..and looking forward to a grand reunion of all of us in His eternal house!  


9:10 AM Perkins School of Theology announces an opening in Old Testament and Hebrew.

9:04 AM Vocabulary. 'Nuff said. 

9:02 AM Nicholas Moore reviews a new book on Hebrews called Reading the Epistle to the Hebrews. Hebrews is my favorite Pauline letter (wink wink).

8:52 AM Good morning, intelligent bloggers! This morning, as usual, I'm enjoying a cup of freshly-brewed coffee with some sugar, powered creamer, and a dash of whipped topping.

We call it "Dad's Macchiato" around here (everyone else seems to like it too). I always drink it in my favorite cup. Every day. Same drink. Same mug. It's a rare day at Rosewood Farm that I don't engage in this habit. Take away my whipped topping and I'm likely to freak out. Psychologists tell us that one of the most basic needs in life is security. The quest for security makes us do all kinds of weird things -- like drink out of the same cup every day. When someone upsets the apple cart we get disoriented. Is there anything worse than insecurity?


When God allows disruptions into our lives, He has a good purpose in them. Disruptions are normal. Leveraging them for good is not.

Here's where I'm going with this. When Jesus called us to follow Him radically, He didn't promise us a life free from insecurities. I'm learning that interruptions can be a very good thing in life. When you're thrown off balance (by cancer or whatever), you've got to do the hard work of trust. We actually need problems. There is a good, healthy, holy disequilibrium that compels us to crave the real, tangible Jesus.

Remember that the next time you run out of whipped cream, or when you're slapped with divorce papers, or when the test comes back positive. Good or bad, live or die, creamer or no creamer, Jesus is worth it.


Thursday, July 18

8:58 PM Sometimes being a husband feels like belonging to a strange club. Even though we are the heads of our households, we have our own secret faults and weaknesses (though we hardly ever admit to them), our own set of perspectives on life (completely different from our wives), and our own set of weird habits. Most days, I enjoy being Becky's husband. A lot. Today was no different. We were blessed to have a wonderful family visit us whom we have known for years. They have 10 children. Yes, you heard me correctly. They wanted to see their Mama B so badly. They baked bread for us, sang for us, picked blackberries, washed windows, swept and mopped the porches. The Mrs. and my Becky had a long talk for a couple of hours. I wasn't privy to all that was said but I'm sure it was deep stuff. Life is a tricky thing. Especially parenting. Us men folk think there's nothing to it, but you ladies have a much deeper understanding of family dynamics. So I think it was good that the two of them could share life together from a mother's perspective. I've gotten into the habit recently of writing down the words of wisdom I hear from other people. Just now, I needed to recall the words of Jim Elliott, who said something to this effect: "Wherever you are, be all there." In others words, don't play around with life. I never want to become so cold and callous that I don't feel the hurt of others. I never want to forget that God gave me to Becky so that I could share my life with her. It's so sweet to realize how often God has answered our prayers on others' behalf. We delight in interceding for our friends and loved ones. Not that there is anything special about my prayers. I am just a sinner saved by grace. But I'm not afraid to ask for miracles. I'm not afraid to ask God to do the impossible. I keep thinking about what a big deal our culture makes about a PET scan or an MRI. Of course, we need these tests for medical reasons. There's nothing wrong with them. But I am glad I know a Savior who has everything under control, regardless of the outcome of any manmade test. I never want to take Him for granted. I refuse to believe that Becky's cancer is hindering her ministry in any way, shape, or form. To hear her speak truth into the lives of others, to watch her smile and laugh, to see her take her medications without complaint, to watch her still working tirelessly for the forgotten people of Ethiopia -- I stand here and just can't stop thinking, That looks an awful like the One who stripped Himself of everything and put on skin and humanity in order to pour out His love unconditionally on others. If I live to be a hundred years old, I will never cease to marvel at what God's grace can do in the life of an individual who is yielded to Him.

So I don't know what the outcome will be for Becky. I am still praying for a miracle, yet I am still pursuing hospice care. We still have to pick out a burial plot. My mind boggles when I see all the new places from neck to hip where Becky's stubborn cancer cells have migrated and exploded. And I sit here at my computer, wondering when God will call her home, because unless He intervenes miraculously it's just a matter of time. In the wake of suffering and uncertainty, I somehow am comforted by the knowledge that Jesus is watching from a foreign Shore, looking down at all of Becky's friends who look past her scars and the cancer to the real Becky. Each of us -- Becky, me, you -- is called upon to do the work He's set out for us daily. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today. All we have to do is stop fretting and start thanking Him for His perfect plan.

Even though I am Becky's husband, and proud of it, and even though us men folk sometimes see life in very strange ways, I'm so glad I'm not the one who's really in charge.

3:42 PM Folks, as you know, I am writing a book on the kingdom called Godworld. In it I will discuss (among other things) a subject that is very near and dear to my heart -- namely, the current crisis that graduate theological education finds itself in. May I share with you some preliminary ideas for your feedback?

  • Much of the our current approach to theological education is shaped by Christendom presumptions. This, I believe, is a huge mistake. And it is something that needs to be addressed, since our presuppositions color everything we do.

  • The current system of graduate theological education in North America tends to "accredit" graduates more by their degrees than on the basis of their personal development and fitness of character.

  • The goal of theological education, as I see it, is to be explicitly praxeological in nature, aimed at training (not just teaching) kingdom citizens who are practitioners of kingdom living.

  • Our vision of theological education must be missional because that is the purpose of the church.

  • Our current system unwisely tends to remove people from their natural contexts of missions and ministry where the best theological education takes place.

As the church in North America is increasingly stripped of its cultural influence and privilege, I believe it will be increasingly possible to rediscover the true nature of the church and Christian mission. Any version of graduate theological education that isn't a call to radical discipleship or that makes obedience to Christ's simple teachings optional is not the vision of the Gospel found in the pages of the New Testament. What we need today in the arena of theological education is a paradigm that cultivates leaders whose entire life and ministry cohere with a missional view of God. Academic credentials must be replaced by kingdom-oriented character and competency. It is within this matrix that a rigorous and scholarly engagement with biblical scholarship (including the biblical languages and theology) is properly rooted.

The task before us, then, is to develop an approach to graduate theological education that is guided by a vision of the mission of God in the world and that helps students to develop a kingdom-oriented character. This sort of vision will entail seminaries that invest a significant amount of their time, energy, and resources to establishing meaningful relationships with local churches who share their missional understanding of God and the church as well as their commitment to shaping kingdom convictions. One of the reasons I love teaching at SEBTS so much is because we fully recognize the need for a truly missional system of theological education that is radically committed to a kingdom vision aiming to mobilize our students for loving and faithful service to the church and the world. I believe that our motto "Every Classroom a Great Commission Classroom" is more than a platitude. When all is said and done, our goal is to call our students into a journey of knowing, loving, and obeying God as His mission in the world unfolds.

With this in mind, let me mention here that if anyone is interested in pursuing a doctoral dissertation in this area with me I would be more than happy to talk with you. Simply email me at and let's get the discussion going.

8:14 AM This request just came in:

I have just read your book, “Why Four Gospels?”  I must say well done.  I appreciated the scholarship and logic that went in to your work.  I am looking for recommendation on book in the area of textual criticism.

Here's my reply:

So nice to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed my little foray into the synoptic problem. As for textual criticism, I have written the definitive 80-page book on the subject (smile). It's called New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide (Baker). Perhaps you will find it helpful. Of course, eventually you will want to move on to Metzger's The Text of the New Testament.

Best wishes and warm regards in the Lamb,


7:52 AM "When fear knocks let faith answer the door." Robin Roberts.

7:48 AM Milpitas Bible Fellowship has published an excellent essay called Participatory Church Meetings. Surely we can all agree that our meetings tend to be more like a business and less like a family. But change is possible. Here's just one example:

Furthermore we began opening up our meetings directly after the sermon for questions, comments, and insights from others. I was very hesitant about this new move, fearing that all doctrinal purity might be lost if everyone was permitted to comment from the Scriptures. On the contrary, this new new aspect of our meetings proved especially enriching. Often someone would bring an insight that I had missed in my sermon preparation that would open up the text in an important way. At other times, people shared insights as to how they could personally apply the text under consideration. On still other occasions, someone would ask a question that many others had on their mind, but would not have voiced. Instead of producing doctrinal confusion, I found that the questions and comments enabled me to allay confusion by addressing the real issues which were perplexing the church.

Please read the entire essay and share it with your leadership.

My thoughts? I think the author is right. The early church seemed to welcome participation by all. This becomes clear when we read 1 Corinthians 12-14. The power of Christ's upside-down kingdom lies in the corporate and community life of its citizens. This notion of mutual participation, this dialogical liberty, was described by Zwingli as "the rule of Paul," even though it never became a part of the national church in Switzerland. It would be up to Zwingli's erstwhile disciples, the Anabaptists, to flesh it out. In other words, the Zwinglians and the Anabaptists did not answer the same question differently. They asked different questions. And the key was the question of biblical authority rather than adherence to different theological traditions. I think it would be helpful to recall this "rule of Paul" whenever we read and study Paul's Corinthian Correspondence. Clearly, highly participatory meetings were not what the Magisterial Reformers intended when they argued for the perspicuity of Scripture and the priesthood of all believers. As a result, the "radicals" of the Reformation were driven into isolation.

Today there is a great need for radical Christianity -- the term "radical" referring not to specific societal issues but to the degree of thoroughness with which one attempts to implement reform. In a more communal and less monolingual context, we have a sign of those fresh wineskins Jesus spoke about. This task of rebuilding the church is an urgent mandate for our generation.

  • Are we willing to embrace a community in which kingdom citizens can participate as the Spirit leads them? Or are we using our positions of authority to perpetuate inequity?

  • Are we building pyramids of power that Jesus cannot bless because His kingdom is flat?

  • Do we allow edification to gravitate to the hands of a few?

  • Do we work hard to decentralize ministry as much as possible?

These questions cut to the core of our identity as followers of Jesus. His way unnerved the religious authorities of His day, and it will do the same thing today. His life and message assaulted the status quo. Likewise, Paul's appeal to every-member ministry offers an alternative model of community. Paul isn't just teaching church polity. He's unpacking bigger things. He asks us to remove the handcuffs that limit service to paid professionals. He invites kingdom citizens to become blind to status differences. He teaches that pastors are not to monopolize ministry but to equip others for works of service. He urges us to see others as more important than ourselves. There can be no misunderstanding here. Paul turns our notion of "doing church" on its head. He defangs the clamor for status that drives so many of us. He replaces ladders of power and prestige with towels and basins.

Folks, we need to grapple with these issues.

7:33 AM Just received this from someone who has walked in my footsteps:

An elderly saint made a statement during my grief that also ministered to me greatly.  She said, "God chose to take your husband, but He also chose to leave you here."  There was a great sense of purpose embedded in that statement and it was after that when I yielded all to His service. 

Yes, yes, yes. Stay or go, live or die, we live or die unto the Lord.

7:25 AM News flash. Our Greek Portal has just been updated. Get this: A complete list of vocabulary for my Greek classes has been developed by Jacob Cerone. This includes the vocabulary for my Learn to Read New Testament Greek (Greek 1 & 2), Metzger's vocabulary (Greek Syntax and Exegesis), Philippians (Intermediate Exegesis), and LXX. Click here for the .zip file. These flashcards can be loaded onto the Vocab Pro application for iPod, iPhone, iPad.

Thank you, Jacob!

Wednesday, July 17

6:10 PM Good evening, blog readers. Can you believe it's been almost 4 years since Becky's cancer diagnosis? We've got much to be thankful for. God has allowed her to live a lot longer than anybody was willing to predict when we began this blessed journey. So what's the latest news? As you know, we had her PET scan on Monday. Today we received the results and it's clear: Becky's tumors have dramatically increased both in size and number. What to do now? Attitude is everything. Since ultimate victory over death is certain, we will continue to live hopefully and accept the brokenness of ill health, working with both patience and enthusiasm for the Lord with every breath He grants us. Today her pain was excruciating. So today I'm praying for lots of things: relief, stamina, wisdom, patience as we deal with the health care system, healing, vulnerability. Yes, I want to be vulnerable as I go through this process of losing one's spouse, and I'm open to any suggestions you might have along the way. One thing I can affirm is God's presence in the valley of the shadow of death. The mystery of evil is way beyond the ability of my puny mind to comprehend. But God's Word tells us that He's always loving and kind and persistent to bless His children even when they doubt and falter. That alone is a great blessing.

Tonight, by the way, Karen has gone to her church in Raleigh and Nigusse is still on campus, which means that Becky and I will have a hot date alone here at the farm. Of course, a big draw is the manicotti Karen prepared for our supper. The best thing, though, is just being in each other's presence, puttering around the house and trying to live as "normally" as possible. As God's children we will look to Him in the terror of the night, in the loneliness of pain, in the reality of our finitude and humanity. Becky will continue to pour her life into our daughters. She will dictate letters that Karen and I will transcribe. As her strength permits, she will entertain visitors. (There are so many who just want to love and love and love on her.) This evening, as usual, Becky and I will have our prayer time together, entering into a battle on behalf of friends and loved ones whose problems and challenges are no less serious than our own. We will fight for their souls. We will pray for salvation, healing, restoration, courage and peace, and that their Christian testimonies would be strong in the whole situation.

Have you noticed? There is unparalleled delight in the presence of the Lord. Being under His wings is a wonderful place.

8:34 AM "Non scholae sed vitae discimus." This little Latin saying summarizes my entire view of education. We learn, not for school, but for life. I have little use for knowledge for knowledge's sake. In fact, I know of nothing uglier than a highly educated person who is an abject failure in his life and his relationships. The knife of the Heavenly Surgeon never cuts deeper than when He must root out the pride of knowledge (also called Gnosticism, which is alive and well today).

How can we respond correctly and positively to all of our book learning? We must begin with that great verse in 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is God-breathed." Truth does not originate with us but with a God who inspires and protects His words from error. That He accommodated Himself to using human language in the process of inscripturation does not change that fact one iota. If God breathed it, and if God cannot lie, then what He breathes is perfect.

Calvin once referred to the "God who lisps." By this he did not mean that Scripture was somehow fallible or imperfect. He meant that God could have chosen to express Himself in the tongues of angels but instead chose to employ the tongues of men. In the New Testament at least, He used the language of commerce and culture alike, a language spoken in the entire Mediterranean world, a language in which every man could understand the Gospel message clearly and unambiguously. God accommodated Himself in speaking His word, and we are the better off for it. But we dare not forget the rest of that verse – "All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable…." The word “profitable” may also be rendered "useful" or "practical." I like to put it this way:

The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation.

If we are not becoming more Christ-like by reading and studying the Bible, then we are not learning truth. Knowledge, perhaps, but not truth. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." You will know the truth, and the truth will make you a different person, in other words. Perhaps the only way most men get their faith increased is by experiencing great trouble. God has a way of using sorrows and sufferings to show us that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." I believe there is no place we can learn so much about the Scriptures, and have so much light cast upon our lives, as we do in the crucible of daily living.

Friend, are you trying to gain an acquaintance with the Scriptures so that you can be a person mighty in knowledge? Do not neglect to invite the Holy Spirit to flesh these truths out in your life. In God's educational system, some courses are optional, but not Sanctification 101.

8:25 AM "There are no closed doors to the Gospel provided that, once you get inside, you don't care whether you ever come out again." Brother Andrew.

8:15 AM An old Chinese proverbs says, "If you want to know what water is, don't ask a fish." Because you and I are so immersed in American culture, we often fail to see it for what it really is. It's only when we travel outside the bubble of our national existence that we gain an objective view of our culture. Many of us are so immersed in our present contexts that we are not able to see our failures and shortcomings as they are. For that reason, I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I've had not only to travel to other countries but to live in such places as Switzerland. I'll never forgot the first missionary trip that Becky and I took just two years into our marriage. The global need caught my attention as never before as I traveled throughout West Germany. I have no doubt that you have probably experienced something similar whenever you've traveled outside these United States.

As our Ethiopia team returns to North Carolina and their homes today, I know they will do so globalized in their perspective, passionate about the Great Commission, and eager to share with their family and friends what God did through them. Yet nothing can replace actually being there. We live in a remarkable day of globalization of both the church and missions. It has never been easier to travel. Friends, don't get sidetracked with things that don't matter. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to get involved in global missions. Stretch your mind, your heart, even your pocketbook. The world is a beautiful tapestry, multi-colored and multi-textured, but all part of the same weaving. It is also complex and challenging. I am profoundly thankful to God for these 10 men and women whom He sent to Ethiopia. If they could speak to us, I imagine they would focus our attention not only on the blessings of their trip but also on the scope of the unfinished task and on the necessity of being obedient to Christ's final charge to His disciples. All of us together have something to contribute to this great task of global evangelism. Together we are God's stewards, empowered and led by the Spirit of Christ until the lordship of Christ is proclaimed to the whole world.

I urge all of us to recommit ourselves to respond to the grace of God with a deeper level of cooperation for the sake of the Gospel and a deeper level of participation in missions. Let's take up the cross together and commit to equip ourselves and others to suffer in missionary service if need be and to serve the suffering church worldwide.

To this end may the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be glorified.


Tuesday, July 16

7:52 PM Just an FYI on Becky. Current temp: 99.8. Pain manageable. She slept all day. I forbade all visitors. Is checking your emails :)

4:55 PM Nice post here by Mark Stevens on the emerging church. Mark, I'd love to see your thesis published.

By the way, have you seen my Scot McKnight on the Emerging Church?

3:44 PM Afternoon, folks! Just had to share with you a pic of my new toolbox. I told Karen it makes me an Alpha Male.

It's supposed to help transform me from the klutz that I am into Johnny Fix It All. As you can see, I am currently putting together some end tables for Maple Ridge. They were made in Thailand, and I have no doubt the instructions were meant for Thai speakers, which I am not.

So what else is on my mind? There is a beautiful and grassroots movement all over North America that you may have noticed. People everywhere are waking up to the idea that the church is not an institution but a kingdom that looks a lot like Jesus. In fact, the heart of biblical Christianity is simply imitating Him. Many, therefore, are looking for local churches where humble, self-sacrificing love is the centerpiece.

This is precisely the vision of a great guy named Neil Cole. If you've never visited his website, it's called Cole Slaw. Neil had me for Greek when I lived in Southern California and even invited me to speak to his congregation when he was pastoring there. Neil plays a vital role in the great kingdom movement God is inspiring in our day. Anyway, to my surprise, Neil has taken the time to write not one but three reviews of Tim Keller's book called Center Church. Now, you might think that discussing the church is pretty boring, but it is not -- not by a long shot. I encourage you to read Neil's powerful reviews which, by the way, are largely positive.

Okay, that's it for the church. Or it is? For a different perspective on the same subject, I want to call your attention to another excellent blogger. He's a Baptist pastor who almost left the institutional church but decided in the end there was a better way. I link to him largely because I think his point of view deserves very careful consideration. I certainly don't want in any way to misrepresent anything that Alan Cross says, so I'll just link to his site (Downshore Drift) and you can do the rest. Hint: He has just finished a four-part series called "Why We Need Christian Institutions."

My heartfelt thanks to both Neil (whom I know) and Alan (whom I haven't had the privilege of meeting in person yet). If ecclesiology is a topic that interests you, by all means you should visit their sites frequently. In the meantime, let's all keep reading and thinking.

Now if you'll excuse the Alpha Male; he's got another table to put together.

11:55 AM Just ordered Women at the Cross for Becky. Looks like a wonderful book. Thanks, Bean, for the great review!

11:42 AM Recently I've been listening to Brahm's Requiem, in German. Yes, I enjoy the English version, but you have got to learn German if for no other reason than to listen to this great piece in the original. It was performed flawlessly by the Berlin Philharmonic and Chorale. I wonder, did any of the singers know what they were singing about? Nominal Christianity is everywhere in Germany. Were the singers all Christians-in-name-only? I don't know. But I do know that the best rendition of Handel's Messiah Becky and I ever heard was performed by a secular kibbutz choir we heard in Jerusalem. Powerful. And I know these were not messianic Jews. Just think about it: singing about Messiah Jesus and probably not "understanding" a word you are singing.

It's not much different with you and me, friends. Have many times have we read the New Testament and completely overlooked its obvious meaning? Jesus is always full of surprises, and when you begin to follow Him, you have no idea what you're getting into. Over and over again in the Scriptures, Jesus warns us against the pride of achievement, of titles, of worldly status and attainment. Have we learned that lesson? I do not want to settle for a cheap Christianity that exalts the Bible as inerrant (which it is) without living out what it clearly teaches. Yet for most of my academic career that's exactly what I did. All that is changing. I sense a new momentum in my life. I'm now an advocate for infectious nobodiness so that Jesus can have the status He deserves. Jesus calls us down from our raised platforms, calls us out from out behind our protective pulpits, so that we can walk and talk among the people just as He did. He tells us to refuse the chief seats, titles, prominence -- all that earthly pizzazz. Amazing, isn't it, that all of this is clearly taught in the New Testament yet we are so blind we can't see it.

I imagine it's like singing Handel's Messiah without knowing the Messiah.

11:35 AM Just prayed for brother Josh Smith and his wife Andrea who is facing aggressive cancer. Josh wrote:

We are asking the Lord to go before us and prepare the way.  He knows exactly what we need. We are doing well. We trust Him completely and do not fear. The Lord has already done such a deep work in our hearts it is overwhelming. I genuinely can’t wait to share all of this with you. He is changing us through this in a magnificent way.

Amen and amen.

11:26 AM "Life is lived in depth, not length." Adrian Rogers.

9:37 AM As many of you know, things have really been happening at Houston Baptist University ever since Robert Sloan took the helm. Peter Davids is now teaching there, as well as Lee Strobel and Michael Ward, one of the best known C. S. Lewis scholars in the world. Recently Peter Davids published an essay on their website called I do not believe in private property. Its title is intentionally provocative. Here is but one profound quote:

The world-system is not so much something that God wants to reform as it is something that God wants to destroy, again like Babylon the Great, the epitome of wealth. And it does not matter whether the demon of capitalism or his twin brother of socialism is the form that the demonic rejection of God as the sole owner takes: they are both demonic. But what does that mean for me? On the other hand, I do not need to work to destroy either capitalism or socialism, individual private property or collective human ownership, for why try to destroy that which is already doomed? The Boston Tea Party, for example, was anti-God, since God clearly says to pay taxes – period – and he will take care of “ordering” the government; besides, it is just money (about which Jesus does not have a high regard). My job is to express the rule of God, which includes the sharing of what I have with those who are in need. I do this because it is not really mine. It is the Lord’s, who is also my master. And I do this because I do not need to be concerned about my needs, for my master provides for me. My concern is to do his will.

Shades of Yoder, Eller, and Ellul!

At my age, it's easy to live with a sense of entitlement. Aging baby-boomers like myself may be tempted to think, "Hey, I've paid my dues. I've served Jesus faithfully for many years. It's time to be served. It's time for life to be easy. I have the right to comfort, respect, and appreciation." It's so easy to make an idol out of appreciation. We start needing others' affirmation so that we feel a sense of achievement and success. "I've traveled thousands of miles serving Jesus. I've trudged through deserts and forded rivers for the cause of Christ. Isn't it about time I got some credit for it?" Or a parent can think, "I've poured my life into raising you. The least you can do is show me some appreciation!"

Friends, do not give in to an entitlement mentality. In moments of discouragement and defeat, we can choose to accept every difficulty as a God-given opportunity to develop a more Christ-like attitude toward life. In order to live for Christ, God must expose those areas in our life that reflect irresponsibility, foolish thinking, and immature behavior. This is true whether you are nine or ninety. And immaturity often rears its ugly head whenever we decide to wallow in self-pity instead of choosing to serve others. The older I get, the more I need this perspective. I AM NOT MY OWN. I BELONG TO GOD. AND I AM TO GLORIFY HIM BY SERVING OTHERS IN HIS NAME. Unless we consciously guard ourselves against it, when we face discouragement we'll begin to search for a way for others to feed our much-deserved utopia.

Thank you, Peter, for reminding us that the Christian owns nothing. We simply manage God's resources.

Monday, July 15

7:58 PM This arrived today from Ethiopia:

The team has arrived safely in Addis after a 19 hour journey today!  We are all well and had a very wonderful 9 days of ministry in Guji and Konso churches!  I will have a fuller report later. In Christ, Jon.

Praise God!

3:12 PM Becky and I are home again. It would appear that an awful lot of people were praying for us today, as everything went flawlessly. Her energy never waned. She didn't cough even one time on the scan table. We were able to get a prescription for another (and more powerful) pain medication without any problem. Her oxygen never ran out. Best Christmas present ever, and it's not even December.

This past month hasn't been the easiest. But God is teaching us much. On the drive home, Becky and I assessed her condition. "Do you really think He might heal me?" was her response to my remark that God could still perform a miracle. Neither of us has ruled that out. And what if He doesn't? What if Becky becomes completely bed-ridden? We discussed that as well. Will her ministry come to an end? The life and ministry of Amy Carmichael came to mind. Let's not forget, folks, that she endured constant pain for the last 20 years of her life in India. Most of that time she was confined to her bed. But God used this weak but yielded vessel to do much for His glory. During those years she wrote 20 books, the fruit of her suffering. One of those books is called Rose from Brier. The introduction reads in part:

...I did not know how to give the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted without giving something of my own soul also.

In other words, Amy Carmichael used her suffering to bless others. I think Becky's of the same mindset. In fact, I know so. Today, the waters are perhaps a bit choppier than in the past, the winds may blow a little more unpredictably, but Becky has raised her sails. Because hers is an obedient spirit, she is learning how to know the fellowship of His sufferings and, at the same time, experience the power of His resurrection, for He never, NEVER allows us to undergo anything for which He has not promised the strength to endure.

Will this mean that we can expect many more essays from Becky's hand? I for one hope so. After all, she has a Ghost writer.

And now, on a completely unrelated note, please do read Guy Muse's latest essay called Ecuadorian Baptist Identity. Guy does something novel: He quotes the great London Baptist Confession of 1644/1646 and then comments on it. Here's a sampler:

BEING thus joined, every church hath power given them from Christ, for their wellbeing,
to choose among themselves meet persons for elders and deacons, being qualified according to the word, as those which Christ hath appointed in His testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of His Church; and that none have any power to impose either these or any other. Acts 1:23,26,6:3,15:22.25; Rom.12:7,8; 1 Tim.3:2,6.7; 1 Cor. 12:8,28; Heb.13:7,17; 1 Pet.5:1,2,3, 4:15.

"...choose among themselves" seems to be the pattern of those early Baptists who preceded us. The current practice of importing trained professionals from outside the congregation seems foreign to the wording in this article. As is the idea of home-grown plural "elders and deacons" which is in contrast with the more common "Senior Pastor" model which seems to be the norm today.

Today, of course, we know better. Today the apostolic conception of elders as pastors of a flock, every member of which they knew by name, has been lost. It is difficult to believe that our current practices are either healthy or wise. We must, then, set ourselves to prepare local men to assume those positions which are now occupied by "professionals," and we must encourage believers to look forward to the day when each local church will be directed by its own elders and deacons.

Read Guy's entire essay. You will NOT be disappointed.

Let me close this post by saying how much I love Becky. But I have to be honest and admit that my love doesn't even come close to that of her Savior. I feel like a broken record going on and on about how much Jesus means to us, but that's not a bad tune to get stuck on. 

7:20 AM "Faithfulness in a little thing is a great thing." Hudson Taylor. 

6:50 AM The house is strangely quiet. Karen has taken Nigusse to school. Becky is still sleeping. I will awaken her at 7:30, and we will leave for UNC at 8:00. Marriage has been on my mind lately. The essence of a good marriage, I am discovering, is not companionship, although that is an essential ingredient. Nor is it love, if by love we mean mere emotional attachment. If you have companionship and love in your marriage, that is wonderful. But neither comprises the essence of a good marriage. It seems to me that there is no greater value to a marriage than an interrelationship that is living for something greater than itself. Our society tells us that marriage is an end in itself, that marital happiness is a goal to be pursued at all costs. I am not against happiness in marriage, but that cannot be your goal if you are a married person. Our Creator is a serendipitous God, and we are often "surprised by joy" in our marriages. But I have discovered that joy is usually the by-product of having Christ in our lives and in our marriages. As He becomes more and more the center of our relationship, His "fruit" becomes more and more of our daily experience: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The marriage I am trying to describe is one that says, with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).

The beauty of a married couple – hand in hand, living together for Christ insofar as that is possible in this fallen world – is marvelous. I call this a Great Commission marriage. It involves the "new horizons" and "new doors" that C. S. Lewis described in his essay "Christian Marriage":

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go – let it die away – go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow – and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all around them.

In a truly Christian marriage, a husband and wife are called by their Creator to live together in a harmonious unity. But this is not unity for unity's sake. Note, for example, how the ancient church father Tertullian describes a Christian husband and wife:

Together they pray, they work, they fast, teaching, exhorting, supporting one another…. Willingly the sick person is visited, the poor person is helped – alms without afterthought, sacrifices without hesitancy, daily zeal without obstacle (Ad Uxorum 2.9).

Tertullian did not mean that gender differences disappear in a Christian marriage. That would be absurd. His description merely emphasizes that both genders can and must be involved in spiritual activities together, with each person contributing his or her own unique talents and abilities. Each enriches the other in a complementarian way. The result is true teamwork, a unity that puts God's needs and desires first rather than our own. Thus, not only do Christian couples seek to please each other, they willingly and actively seek to be faithful to the ultimate goal of reflecting God's glory and grace in the world all around them.

I freely admit that this emphasis on serving Christ in our marriages sounds strange in our narcissistic society. One of the things that surprised me when I began to study the New Testament teaching on this subject was that it talked so much about the way women participated in the ministry of the early church. We know that the wives of the apostles accompanied their husbands in their evangelistic ministries (1 Cor. 9:5). Commenting on this verse, Clement of Alexandria concluded that the apostles' wives were "fellow ministers," that is, co-laborers with their husbands as they ministered to other women. We also know that women in the early church opened their homes for church meetings. (It is interesting that Scripture gives us the names of the women in whose homes these churches met more than the names of the men: see Acts 12:12; 16:40; Rom. 16:3-5; Col. 4:15). Moreover, we know that Priscilla (Rom. 16:3) as well as Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3) were Paul's "co-workers." The latter duo went so far as to share Paul's "struggle in the cause of the Gospel," possibly meaning that they were exposed to the same suffering and opposition that the apostle Paul faced. Such facts, it seems to me, begin to point to the function of marriage as a ministry to others. Becky and I are glad to be a team (though a frail and imperfect one) in the work to which the Lord has appointed us. Together we seek to serve both in the practical ministry of meeting the physical and material needs of people as well as in the ministry of the Word. Together we are involved in church planting. Together we host visitors in our home on a fairly regular basis. The key word is together. We are "co-workers" for Christ – and that without any diminution of our masculinity or femininity.

So ... how would you describe your marriage? I do not for one moment suggest that there is no enjoyment or pleasure in marriage or that being in love is inappropriate or sinful. All that I have been seeking to show is that love is more than a mere feeling and that marriage is more than a means of self-fulfillment. A marriage with "broader horizons" exists to serve Jesus.


Sunday, July 14

9:20 AM I was just re-reading my 9:06 post. Forgive me for not fleshing it out. If you are daring enough, here's what I suggest you do. Rather than calling it a "worship service" where we gather to "worship" led by a "worship team" in our "worship center," let's be radical and rename the whole shebang: "service service," "service," "service team," and "service center." After all, biblically speaking, we enter to serve and depart to worship.

Come on, I dare you.

Double dare you.

9:06 AM My good friend Craig Bennett is back from a transforming retreat. He tells all in his latest post called Stripped away. Craig notes:

I have to say that at this point in time, I am ruined for the lifestyle of traditional church. Our modern churches are too safe. They are too “ME” centered. While its true, most churches proclaim Christ and him crucified – it seems to me that most neglect the important part of living out Christ and him resurrected within the midst of our communities. There is little sense of the importance of mission in the midst of our community.  There is little sense of the importance of those who we walk on by.

This is so right on! In recent years I have come to view church in a vastly different way than I used to view it when I was a younger teacher. I have, in fact, adopted a new set of theological assumptions that color my theological world and the way in which I view church and missions. My former worldview was deeply shaped by twentieth-century evangelicalism. In my experience, to be an evangelical Christian was to be a good church goer. Christianity was fundamentally about us. What was lost in this view was both the missional dimension of the church and the cruciform nature of Christianity. Today my definition of discipleship has shifted considerably from that of being "a good church goer." Discipleship means following Christ in obedience. It means participating in God's mission in the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship is exercised primarily in the broader culture rather than within the church. Missional theology, understood through the framework of the book of Acts, invites us to express our discipleship not only in doctrinal formulations (though these are vitally important) but also in missional practices and concrete acts of service.

For this reason, like Craig, I can't be content any longer to talk about a missional theology without at least exploring its implications for its transformation potential. God's concerns are much bigger than the typical church's concerns. Take worship for example. Understood biblically, worship is not a gathering of individual Christians seeking an intimate experience with God. Rather, worship is the offering of our lives sacrificially to Him daily (see Rom. 12:1-2). Worship is not merely an occasional activity of the believer. Instead, it defines the core of Christian discipleship: We are called to be worshippers in every sphere of life by participating in the Triune God’s mission in the world. This can take place only through intentional "neighboring" practices and in relationship with non-Christians. The key is for ordinary Christians (like you and me) to develop their capacity to serve their neighbors in love. The work of the Spirit is crucial to this renewed participation in society. Christians are to embody the ethics of Jesus before a watching world, providing it with a limited but powerful glimpse of what it means to be a bearer of God’s image. The Gospels clearly present Jesus as constantly moving into unfamiliar territory across cultural barriers and social lines. And at the heart of it all is the cross – the profound need for reconciliation through Jesus Christ, in whom God has acted to overcome the enmity of human sin. True Christian discipleship always means taking part in Christ’s ministry in the world in a dynamic yet concrete fashion.

Thus, when we speak of worship today, a much wider definition is needed. The church does not gather in order to worship. Believers gather as worshippers who have found their vocation in sharing in the community of Christ as He sends them like sheep among wolves to minister to the needs of others. This, as I said, represents a major paradigm shift in my own understanding of Christian worship. As I see it, too much of what passes as Christian worship today is unaffected by the world. It stands aloof, isolated, and ingrown. The incarnation and crucifixion are sung about but the realties behind these truths are rarely put into practice. Rather than participating deeply in the life of the world, the church holds itself apart from the world. This leads, in turn, to a highly individualistic conception of discipleship – a kind of anthropocentricism focused solely on an individual relationship with Jesus that fails to take into account the wider fabric of the Christian community, not to mention the Triune God's life and activity with all creation. What remains is a watered-down, emasculated version of worship in which the vocation of the church as a missional, worshiping Body is severely diminished.

One of the key trends in the world of seminary training today is the struggle to understand what a "missional" church looks like. I would suggest that a good place to start might be our understanding of New Testament worship. Such an understanding may well open up new possibilities of thought in matters such as congregational polity, leadership, and even missional theology.  

8:45 AM Is your faith failing today? Need some encouragement? Let me tell you the story of Felix Mantz. On January 21, 1525, the Protestant church of Zürich decreed that independent Bible study groups were to be banned. That very evening at the home of Felix Mantz a dozen men gathered to decide what to do. Was this civil disobedience or merely following one's conscience? Or was it both? Either way, Zwingli's erstwhile pupils would have nothing to do with a state church.

Even today  -- as I can attest from personal experience -- Baptists in Switzerland are often considered sectarian. Disdained by some and dismissed as a cult by others, our little flock (die Baptistengemeinde Basel) pressed on. We felt (and still do) that obedience to biblical authority requires the rejection of infant baptism and the adoption of believers' baptism.

I can hear some of Mantz's friends saying, "Too bad about old Felix. He got off to such a great start. He was a brilliant student of our esteemed Zwingli. But one day he had something like a sunstroke and he's been a religious fanatic ever since. Stays in jail a lot of the time too. And just as soon as he gets out, he's in trouble again and right back in jail. What a failure!" We may have forgotten that almost exactly the same thing was no doubt said of the apostle Paul by his former friends. But there is no shame in following one's conscience. Along with blessings come dangers. Along with abundance come adversaries. We are not to be terrified by our foes as the ten spies were, but neither are we to naively ignore their existence.

As Felix Mantz was being taken to the Limmat River to be drowned to death on January 5, 1527, his mother's voice could be heard above the crowd urging her son to remain true to Christ in his hour of testing. Mantz was the first Anabaptist to die at the hands of the Protestant church but certainly not the last. I still find it absolutely amazing how the Anabaptists could go to their deaths singing.

Lord, grant me such courage -- and faith. As C. T. Studd once put it, "The best cure for discouragement is another daring plunge of faith."

Saturday, July 13

8:42 PM There are so many things I want to share with you tonight, but it's already been too long of a day and I haven't the energy. I head off to bed tired but rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord. He gave Becky a good rest this afternoon, though she's still in quite a bit of pain (despite the medication she takes). Your emails have meant a great deal to us as we go through the day, step by (often) weary step. Of course, you can forget cancer and a thousand other things when your son is in need of a haircut, and I must say Nigusse looks a thousand times better tonight than he did in the morning. As for the household itself, Karen (our sweet daughter) just keeps plugging tirelessly away in the kitchen and elsewhere. Tonight she made the most delicious supper. It's called "Amanda's Casserole," named after one of Becky's high school friends. It was the perfect match to our garden fresh green beans.

Some things in life are just unfair, such as the fact that God gave all of the culinary talent in our family to others. But don't think for a moment that I don't appreciate the good meals Karen is preparing for us. What would we do without her? As for Becky, she's just too weak to go to church tomorrow; we've got to save her strength for Heartbreak Hill on Monday (i.e., UNC). It's not that she couldn't force herself to go. But picking out a burial plot can wait, for now. Tomorrow afternoon Karen will begin cooking up a storm for Nigusse, who will be on campus again all next week and will require daily breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Karen sent me to Food Lion this evening to do some shopping for her. You didn't think I'd come back without Becky's all-time favorite snack, Hawaiian Sweet Bread?

Unfortunately, she's not the only who loves it, so I don't think it will last too long. Earlier today I just sat beside Becky on the bed with her, saying nothing -- like the silent African servant in the movie Out of Africa. I couldn't stop the tears from falling down my cheeks. I think that's how Jesus would want it. I read the Gospels and see Him fully present in the moment as He stands by the tomb of a man He loves and weeps. Please pray for me, for us, for all of us -- for Karen and for Nigusse and for me and for all the others who have snuggled Becky into their hearts no matter what she looks like or feels like. It seems like such a small thing, this thing called prayer, but really it's everything.

At any rate, the household is quiet now, and it's time to shut off the computer and head to bed. I enjoy your daily visits and hope you will stop by again soon. Until I post again, I leave you with this statement. Go ahead, say it out loud:

You're more than enough, God.

Good night,


7:34 PM Here's more on how Saul got the name Paul.

5:30 PM Henry Neufeld raises some interesting questions in his latest provocative blog post

In many churches the only use of the sanctuary is for a worship service on Sunday morning. That has to make it the most wasted piece of architecture around. One or two additional meetings a week may make it a little bit better, but it’s still underutilized space, space we pay a great deal of money to have.

This isn’t the complaint of someone who doesn’t appreciate church architecture. I really like a majestic church sanctuary. I enjoy being in it. I enjoy sitting in the pews. If it has stained glass, it’s even better. A pipe organ? I’m in ecstasy. Just play it and let me look at the windows.

But that’s the problem. I like it. It’s for me. The question is, just how much money should go to pipe organs and stained glass as opposed to feeding the hungry. I’m not saying we should put an end to all church music, or eliminate all church architecture, but what are the priorities? Where is the balance?

What do you think?

1:56 PM Brief update: Just got back from South Boston where I took Nigusse for a haircut and made a stop at Lowes. Got caught up with Nigu and the course on Islam he has been taking. One of his assignments requires him to come up with a strategy to reach Muslims for Christ. Well, sorry Nigusse, but I hate to spill the beans. Actually I don't need to. Kevin Brown has already done it in his latest blog post. Folks, there is only one strategy, and one strategy only, for reaching the lost. You can read about it here.

As for our Becky, she really could use your prayers right now. Is having a rough day physically  -- lots of tiredness and pain. Please let's ask the Lord to give her a good afternoon sleep.  

10:36 AM Speaking of names, I noted that yet another "Dreamliner" has caught on fire, this time at Heathrow in London. I wonder if Boeing is re-thinking its publicity campaign. "Nightmare-liner" might have been more appropriate. Which reminds me. Whenever anyone describes a place or a relationship as a "paradise" watch out. A fall is not far behind. Remember Eden? Friend, you do not have to be the "perfect/ideal/dream" spouse or parent or child or pastor for God to use you. He delights in taking weak but yielded vessels and displaying His glory through them.

Beware of idealizing any relationship, even your relationship with Christ.

10:15 AM Two hundred years ago today, Adoniram Judson landed in Burma. En route his wife miscarried their first child. It took 12 years to make 18 converts to Christianity. At the age of 61 he died from lung disease, having spent 37 years in missionary service with only one trip home.

Friends, the greatest thing any local church could do for itself, for its people, and for the world is to publicly state its intention to place the Great Commission first in everything it does. The church's raison d'être is utterly tied up with the process of getting Christians to live and act as salt and light in the world, as our Lord commanded. The church must be equipped to serve in the world precisely because it is not of this world. It is an upside-down kingdom that moves forward on its knees, casts down evil strongholds through sacrificial love, and opens closed doors. As never before, we need God's servants who are willing to risk life and limb to preach the uncompromising Word of God. Excuses won't do. None of us is too young or too old to learn the power of voluntary service for others in the name of Jesus. And when we have learned to embrace this attitude of self-denial, we will begin to experience the life described in the book of Acts.

How can the church in North America get to the place where we will launch out into action instead of merely talking about the millions of lost people all around us? The answer is very simple. There will be no change until we change our attitude from that of a hireling to that of a bondservant. We must turn our backs on all of our excuses and voluntarily live a life that is totally separated unto the Gospel. As the great British athlete C. T. Studd once put it, "Some want to live within the sound of a church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell." It was because of His great love for people that Jesus deliberately reached out to the lost, sick, and dying people of His day.

If we are truly born-again Christians, if we have truly come to grips with the terms of "costly discipleship" (Bonhoeffer), how can we possibly do anything less?

10:05 AM "There is no university for a Christian like that of sorrow and trial." C. H. Spurgeon.

9:58 AM Henry Neufeld is revising his outline of Hebrews. So ... how do you interpret the structure of this book?

9:54 AM My personal assistant, Jacob Cerone, has written a fine piece called The Literary Complexity of Jonah 1:4c. Here's why I think you should read it:

  • It is accurate.

  • It places value on the rhetorical dimension of the text (which is normally overlooked, even by scholars).

  • It is a reminder that ancient texts were heard as well as read.

  • It is a rebuke to pastors out there who have let their languages slip. 

  • I like the author.

Do not click on the link unless you are prepared to be royally challenged and encouraged.

9:40 AM A pastor friend of mine knew a couple who wanted to have four sons. They planned on naming them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, after the four Gospels. Well, their first child came along and, sure enough, it was a boy. Then the Lord overruled. Their four children were called Matthew, Marcia, Lucille, and Joanna.

In the Gospels, Jesus ("Savior") gave Simon a new name because it was a Jewish custom to rename a person who had experienced a life-changing event. We all recall the renaming of Abram (Gen. 17) and of Saul (Acts 9). Saul, of course, means "Asked of God," a fitting moniker for a man of the tribe of Benjamin. Many believe that Saul took the name "Paul" from his first Gentile convert (Sergius Paulus). More likely, Saul had been given the name Paul as a Latin cognomen at birth, as was the custom among Diaspora Jews. Paul means "little" or "insignificant" (as in our “paltry”), and the apostle to the Gentiles bore the name fittingly as he traveled throughout the Roman Empire. Tradition says that Paul was short, bald, and bow-legged, but I wonder if Mr. Paltry doesn't better describe his spiritual stature. Paul himself was eager to admit that he was the "leaster" (so the Greek!) of all the saints (Eph. 3:8) and the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Indeed, Paul knew "how to be abased" (Phil. 4:12), for he had learned to glory in Christ alone.

Have you ever changed your name? Or have you ever had it changed for you? In Korea I am known as Pae Dae Ho (I have no idea what that means), and in Ethiopia I was given the name Bereket (Blessing). Philemon is Mr. Love, while his runaway slave Onesimus is Mr. Useful. Procurator Felix (Mr. Happy) was succeeded by Festus (Mr. Heavy or even Fatso), while Philippians was written to The Horselovers (two of whom, Euodia – Miss Pleasant Journey – and Syntyche – Miss Happy-Go-Lucky – were at loggerheads). Simon Peter is Rocky and Thomas Didymus is Two-Faced, while Silvanus is Forest and Timothy is God-Honorer. Abram means "Exalted Father," but Abraham means "Father of Many" – a commentary on his new role.

Now here's your assignment. (Remember, I am the professor and so I get to give you assignments). If you were to rename yourself, what would your new name be? Or, if others were to rename you, what name would they choose?

By the way, if you don't know what your present name means, you probably ought to find out. It might prove enlightening indeed.

9:32 AM I recall a visit a few years ago to the British Museum in London. There the book lover, the collector of ancient manuscripts, the avid reader will find treasures beyond description. It seems as though all the literary wealth of the world is to be found in that one building. But the riches of wisdom and knowledge are not to be found there – or in any earthly building.

They are not to be found on the vast information highway we call the Internet. They are not available to us by reading the books or commentaries of a Bible teacher. They are hidden in Christ, and they are ours, Christian friend, to appropriate and hold.

One of the most difficult tasks for my students is to wean themselves off of the milk of this-or-that preacher, or this-or-that author. Scarcely do we realize the wealth of knowledge that is ours and by which, through God's Word, we can know the truth, the answer to every problem. What does it matter what men say and teach? God has spoken (Heb. 1:1-4). Nor need we depend on our own understanding, for He has given us His Spirit so that we have no need that any man should teach us (1 John 2:27). He alone is our Guide into all truth.

When my wife and I arrived at the Bibelschule Bergstrasse as short-term missionaries to Germany in the summer of 1978, I was immediately struck by one sight. Written over the entrance to this great institution of Christian higher education were these words, etched in large German characters:

"In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

I could hardly imagine a more fitting motto for a Bible School. Would that all of us – and how the author needs to take heed himself – lay hold of what God has revealed to us in Christ!

9:24 AM This inquiry just came in:

I'm sorry to bother you but I've scoured the Internet and can't find an answer to this question:  does It's Still Greek to Me contain answers to its exercises?  I'm a seminary grad and homeschooling mom who wants to work through the book with my 15-year-old (who is finishing Mounce,  but weakly) but I think we need the answers.

Well, I'm glad you "bothered me." It's Still Greek to Me does indeed contain the answer key, as does my beginning grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek. I think it is unconscionable to ask students to purchase two books when the exercises (and their answers) can just as easily be sold with the grammar.

So there you have it :)

Friday, July 12

8:10 PM What a blessing was this email:

Sister, go ahead and get your "Sunday Best" ready, take your Saturday bath, prepare the Oxygen tanks, and nap on the way to church.  (Let Dave drive, you have Sunday off...)Just rest and sleep for the trip there.  You can look forward to sitting, lying down whatever makes you comfortable so that you can hear the word of Lord in the fellowship of your brothers and sisters.  Words that flow over you in comfort and give you strength.  I will be there excited about what the Lord will do.............Rest in His arms and hear the beating of His heart for you.

8:02 PM I suppose by now all of you know how I feel about old wood. Our outbuildings are classic examples. In addition, all of our interior doors are made out of solid wood, as in real wood. Today I had to plane down the library room door because it had been scraping the floor and driving everyone batty.

We tried to build Bradford Hall to make it resemble an old 1820s farm house that had been restored. I think we succeeded. Sometimes old is better. Old is more graceful, more generous, more experienced. That's one reason I suppose people go to the Cracker Barrel restaurant. Of course, old men are sometimes entirely devoid of wisdom. But that should be the exception and not the rule.

Aging gracefully -- ah, that is the challenge.  

12:26 PM Update on Becky: I am cancelling all of her visits for today and tomorrow. She has absolutely no strength and is in pain. I fear that an infection may be developing. There is good news, however. I was finally able to find an in-network provider for her dressing kits and drainage bags, which will be delivered tomorrow. So grateful for this provision from Him. Please ask the Lord to help her to rest and to cope with her pain. As I wrote earlier, we are also asking God to enable her to go to the church cemetery on Sunday so that Becky and I can choose our burial plots together. Lots to intercede about. Thank you!

9:38 AM I am a bit troubled by what I see as an alarming trend in the discussion surrounding the crash of Asiana 214, namely the tendency to blame the crash on the ethnicity of the pilots. Two supposed "realities" are often mentioned:

  • The Korean educational system encourages rote learning rather than independent thinking.

  • Korean culture is so authority-based that no one would dare question the authority of the pilot flying the aircraft.

This seems wrongheaded from the get-go. In the first place, it is based on speculation and innuendo. In the second place, Western pilots are just as susceptible to error (think Air France or KLM at Tenerife). I've taught six times in Korea as a guest lecturer, but this doesn't qualify me to criticize their culture or make stereotypical comments. In my experience, American students can be just as passive and over-deferential as any student I've ever met in Korea. If in fact the cockpit atmosphere on board 214 was compromised by errors based on social hierarchy, or if the command gradient at Asiana is oversteep, this will become clear when the NTSB report is issued in a year. (Why, for example, would Asiana place an absolutely new trainer on a long haul flight with a trainee captain?) In the meantime, I think it's unfair to claim that "the Koreans" are to blame for the crash. No culture has a corner on incompetence. The crash of Air France 330 shows that pilots still need to be trained to fly and not just manage the airplane. I may be way off the mark, but I find the rhetoric of race disturbing in this case. The main question (as I see it) is: Why was an unstable approach allowed to proceed to a point where recovery was impossible? An amalgam of functions is the most likely answer.

At any rate, that's my 0.00001 cents' worth.

9:22 AM Nowadays I find myself running through a long list of things to do. It's a blessing that I live in a country where the idea of good health care is expected and normal. Being a doctor myself (haha), I'm doing my best to practice my trade. It's an odd feeling, though, knowing you're taking care of a former ICU nurse whose knowledge of medicine is a billion times greater than your own. But what I can do is advocate for Becky. Right now I'm asking you to pray for two things.

1) On Sunday, I'm hoping Becky can make it to our morning fellowship at Bethel Hill. Please pray with me that she will have the strength. While there she also wants to pick out her own burial plot, so you can see this is a big deal. How can she hope to do this when she is so tired all the time? It'll take your prayers, and mine.

2) My second request is for Monday. At 9:30 am Becky is scheduled for her PET scan at UNC. This means an hour and a half drive there, two hours for the scan, and an hour and a half drive back home. I'm having small amounts of panic when I realize everything that could go wrong. I'd be flat-out lying to you if I told you I wasn't concerned about her strength holding up. At any rate, Becky will need lots of prayer support that day. It will like running a marathon for her, on oxygen.

So now you know how Becky is doing. And that I need you to pray for Sunday and Monday. Share this with your friends, and let's let Heaven know we're with her all the way.

A thousand thanks,


Thursday, July 11

4:30 PM Our good friends Kevin and Dale visited Becky this week. You can read Kevin's report of their visit here. Thanks, guys, for driving three and a half hours one way to be with Becky. After their visit they found me on the tractor and asked, "How are you doing, Dave?" I had to think about my answer. "I'm as weak as a kitten," I replied, "but I have to be strong for Becky." I tried to say it with a smile, but I felt like crying. I admire those who evidence a profound and peaceful acceptance of an unspeakable hardship. A glad acceptance of hard things opens the way to many blessings. Lie in a filthy Roman prison with Paul. Smell the urine, feel the shackles, see the blood hardening around your wounds. Would you have a song in your heart? I have nearly worn out the book of Philippians in my Greek New Testament re-reading it. I have studied it, taught it, prayed for its lessons to sink deeply into my own heart. What a phrase, "learned to be content"! In Christ alone will we find the key to contentment on this wounded planet. I often smile at naive newlyweds who know nothing at all about facing hardships together as a married couple. The pathway to marital happiness is strewn with failures. It often takes years of give and take, of ups and downs, before you fling body and soul in joyful abandonment to whatever the choice the Father may make for you. The seed finally falls into the ground and dies. The vessel breaks, and your marriage begins to become what it was meant to be from the very beginning -- a conduit of blessing to others.

Kevin and Dale, I suppose I have already entered the grief cycle. At times I experience a peace that is quite beyond explanation. At other times I feel bereft. Nothing seems simple any more, even my answers to simple questions like "How are you doing, Dave?" But I do know this. My deepest desire is to unite my will with His, because I realize that it is in exact proportion to my ability to do this that I will find contentment on this earth. I am involved in great matters, things too high for me. The furnace is indeed hot. But Becky and I belong to Him, and what happens to us is His business.

And that, my friends, is the crux (the Latin word for cross) of the matter.

8:52 AM Last night I was perusing some of the agrarian websites and was surprised to see that the argument is still being made that our country was founded as a "Christian-agrarian" nation. I empathize with this view. After all, I am an agrarian. But if I am honest with myself, this seems to be exactly what Jesus and others in the New Testament are ruling out. To the best of my knowledge, nowhere in the New Testament do we find anything that comes close to supporting an agrarian lifestyle. Every person who has pledged allegiance to live in the way of Jesus has to wrestle with the issue of what they will become apologists for. I cannot judge the motives of those who espouse an agrarian lifestyle as being "biblical." But neither can I claim to understand how they can reconcile this point of view with the constant kingdom focus of the New Testament. Yes, I enjoy the agrarian life. On our farm we have

  • processed our own chicken

  • slaughtered and butchered our own beef and goat meat

  • raised our own vegetables

  • canned our own fruit and jam

  • fertilized our fields with natural manure

Yet I want to say that this doesn't mean I'm an apologist for agrarianism as a "Christian" lifestyle. Jesus can use us wherever we live and however we live. In short, I want to be known as an apologist for the Gospel, plain and simple. Why, I even wrote a book on this subject. I urge all of us to live for the upside kingdom of God by leveraging whatever we have for the Gospel, whether or not you ever you get your hands dirty working in God's good earth.

8:37 AM Good morning folks! Got time for a "missions moment"?

I've been teaching fulltime now for some 36 years, beginning with my alma mater, Biola University in Southern California. But for the past several years I've also been a fulltime "missionary." This is not merely a matter of semantics. By mediating scholarship and service, I’m trying to cope with the incessant tug-of-war between the classroom and directly facilitating the Great Commission.

"Are you going abroad again?" is a question I'm often asked by students and colleagues. As part of my equipping ministry, I spend most of my so-called vacation time each year taking the Gospel to the nations as a tentmaker. My "scholarship," no doubt, has suffered as a result. I should not want you to feel sorry for me in the least because of this, however: there is no sacrifice involved. Strangely enough I feel a bit like the apostle Paul who said, "I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). Because I have been entrusted with this commission, and since there is really no choice for me in the matter, there is no sacrifice.

What is it, you may wonder, that led to this shift in perspective in my life? (I am often asked this question.) It is simply this. The more I study the New Testament, the more I am faced with this reality: If we are truly Jesus-followers, we cannot refrain from giving our lives for the world. Tertullian's oft-quoted testimony shows how the church's essential function is practical service in Jesus' name: "It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. 'Only look,' they say, 'look how they love one another…. Look how they are prepared to die for one another.'"

I claim, then, that service in the world is the apex of Christian living; it is the center, not the circumference. One sad aspect of the professoriate is that scholarship and missions are sometimes divorced. (Not in my seminary, of course – wink.) Truth is disconnected from life. But the church's mission to give itself for the world – the world that God loves – belongs to the academicians and theologians among us as well as to the accountants and salesmen. After all, the point of teaching Greek and Hebrew and church history and theology is not to make our students dependent on their teachers but dependent on the Head, so that each of them, and all of them together, might allow Jesus to live among them and in them and through them.

In other words, a seminary is designed to help Christians be Christians. Not just to talk "Christianese."

It would be fascinating to comb through the entire Bible to discover how many commandments it gives us. Yet two commands sum up all the Bible's demands on believers: Love God, and love others. To return, then, to my point: Every Christian is called to share in the evangelization of the world. I see no reason why academics should be given a pass. How foolish to think that we are exempt from living for the Gospel. I am not against attending academic conferences or writing books or giving lectures – I have done all of them – but much current scholarship, I feel, is a laid-back, pleasure-oriented, "hot tub" pursuit (apologies to J. I. Packer). I recall Kierkegaard's warning that there is nothing quite as dangerous as the abuse of Christian scholarship (Provocations, p. 201):

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

No, my friends, we cannot evade our responsibility. Missions is the work of the church. That work is for all believers. It is for all the regions of the world. Only as a missionary agency does the church justify its existence.

Below: Becky and me during our first missionary journey to Ethiopia in 2004.

That was 16 trips ago. Why have we gone? For one simple reason. God has placed His love for Ethiopia in our hearts.

Where is your heart, my friend? What people group do you love? If you don't have one, ask God. He delights in placing His love in our hearts.

Wednesday, July 10

7:53 PM Everyone's favorite pastor-gardener, Mark Stevens, writes and asks:

My wife and I were wondering what is in the bowls in your harvest picture on the blog? Please tell me it isn't blueberries!!! Unless it is blueberries then please pass on you secrets! :)

Yes, indeed, mates! And here's where they ended up today:

Want to know our "secret"?


It's a secret!

2:12 PM Today's harvest.

P.S. Note the okra. Whoo-hoo!

9:38 PM Thomas Hudgins begins teaching Greek fulltime in the fall. And he has a novel idea about Greek, too, one that combines mastery of grammar with an emphasis on practical application. May his tribe increase.

9:32 PM Look who's moving to North Carolina. Looking forward to meeting you soon, Brian and Debbie. 

8:48 PM Reading emails this morning reminded me of just how prayed for our family is. There's absolutely no question in my mind that we are not alone in this journey called cancer. Naturally, it would be impossible for me to mention by name everyone who has been interceding to God on our behalf. God knows their names. But there is a very special couple whom I count as among our most faithful prayer partners. God has led them tenderly and carefully through their own cancer journey. For some reason, He allowed our lives to cross paths. I have found in Henry not only an excellent publisher but also a close friend. God only knows how many times I've given thanks for him and Jody. Readers may think it strange that an author and his publisher should have such a close relationship. I know of no answer to give to anyone except the cross. Our heavenly Father calls all of His children to suffering. The self-life has to go. But grace enables us to endure. It helps us do what we cannot do. Through their own cancer journey, Henry and Jody have discovered a wonderful truth. They have discovered that suffering is never senseless, that pruning always leads to greater fruitfulness, that pain can make our lives more full and fragrant. Ought we to be surprised, then, when we discover that Henry has published books with such titles as Grief: Finding the Candle of Light and Healing Marks? All God asks is our patient acceptance of the painful process. Sometimes a simple gesture is all we can muster. Amy Carmichael once spoke of being so weak she could neither think nor pray. She was able only to lift her hands to the Lord as a gesture of acceptance and faith. Just like the old plow horse, you just put your head down and keep on going until the job is done.

The world needs people like Henry and Jody, sinner saints who, regardless of the circumstances, are willing to do what He commands, simply out of love for God.

Hmm, I think to myself. Do others see that kind of faith in me?

Tuesday, July 9

6:44 PM Today I had to bush hog several fields. I say "had to" but it's more than a chore to me. I really enjoy being on the farm and doing what I can to maintain it.

One of the advantages of sitting on a loud tractor is being able to sing at the top of your lungs with nobody hearing you. When Becky and I lived in Switzerland, we attended the German-speaking church there. One of my favorite hymns was Nun Danket Alle Gott. German-speaking Christians sing that hymn like Baptists in the U.S. sing Victory in Jesus. The hymn was composed by Martin Rinkart (d. 1649), a Lutheran pastor in Saxony. During the 30 Years War, refugees flooded into his town (called Eilenberg). When the Swedish army laid siege to the town, the German population suffered greatly from famine and disease. As the people began to die, the pastors of Eilenberg ministered to them, often at the expense of their our health. Some days Martin Rinkart had as many as 50 funerals. Finally the siege was lifted and in gratitude to God he composed a hymn for the survivors:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

This was the hymn I was belting out today as I drove along. I thank God for the life He has given me. I thank God for Becky. I thank God for the team now serving in Africa. Eagerly they have worked to build a bridge between the U.S. and Ethiopia. Their vision is to serve the neediest of the needy. Their motivation is neither Wanderlust nor self-fulfillment, but a deep love for the Savior and a desire to serve Him faithfully. So I'm grateful today for much.

"All praise and thanks to God."

8:52 AM As many of you know, during my sabbatical I've been writing a book called Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. It's all about the kingdom of God and how citizens of this kingdom should live. Last night I continued my jottings on the subject. Care to read what I wrote?


Keenly aware that I am a compound of both good and evil, I yet take real joy in the knowledge that mine is the way of final victory. I have a good life, but I am made for a better one. There is a natural kind of Pharisaism in the heart of us all. In recent years I have perhaps emphasized sanctification at the expense of justification. This is a damnable thing. I have added to faith. Not, perhaps, like some Catholics do -- Roman traditions to apostolic ones, the Apocrypha to the Scriptures, angels as mediators to Christ, papal supremacy to the priesthood of all believers -- but haven't I added my own version of purgatory when I boast about my sufferings for Christ on the mission field? When I pray "Thy kingdom come," have I exempted my own little fiefdom? Much in my life seems to belie my conversion. I doubt God's goodness. I complain of my "chains." I grumble about my infirmities and limitations. Two things have kept this world from becoming hell on earth: God's kingdom (Godworld) and His cause. Because He cares for His kingdom, God corrects His children more sharply than the world. Afflictions force us to God. Infirmities and weaknesses do not hinder His providence in attaining His ends.

I am 61 years of age. The sun moves westward at a wild pace. Every day shortens my life. I am past my prime. I am entering the final stage of the drama of redemption. Death will one day come, but judgment, not death, will tell the final victory. A sinful, guilty, miserable creature will meet his Creator and he will rejoice that when Christ came He did not come on a needless errand. The Father delights to call home straying sinners.

In the meantime, my highest motive should be to be a living image to show God to the world. The Great Commission shows the essential order: Go, disciple, baptize, teach. That was enough for the early church, and it is enough for me. Christ's path was not the way of earthly glory but the way of the cross. Here is where Godworld must begin and where it will end. Those who bear Christ's name must also bear His character. Any other approach to theology will be doomed to failure.

I'm only about 100 pages into this book and have no idea when I will be able to complete it. Like I say, I just add a little when I can catch a few free minutes.

8:13 AM Good morning, cyberites of the world! Yesterday I was too busy to blog, so today the writing juices are really flowing. The crash of Asiana 214 in San Francisco has affected me more deeply than I thought it would. Maybe it's because I fly so often. The question that everyone is asking is, Was it pilot error? And the frightening answer seems to be yes. The truth is, friends, even the most experienced people make mistakes in their own field of expertise. Sully Sullenberger said on the CBS Evening News that the pilot probably lost "situational awareness." Simply put, someone wasn't monitoring airspeed. To top things off, the crew's least experienced pilot was the one landing the airplane. I feel really badly for him. It was his first time landing a 777 at SFO and he crashed it. Then again, why didn't the first officer say anything about the slow airspeed? That's his job. Stall speed is the most fundamental element of flying. Why didn't he realize that the plane was approaching a stall?

Folks, this event is a reminder that well-trained, well-educated people can and do make mistakes. They can be wrong. I emphasize this because we live in a day of the "expert." We blindly follow this preacher or that Bible teacher. This is the age of the cult of the speaker. But no one is immune from error. That's one of the reasons I teach Greek. No, Greek is not the Open Sesame or Abracadabra that some people like to think it is. But it can give you a tool by which to check the accuracy of your favorite Bible teacher or commentary on the Scripture. In this regard, I'd like to point you to an essay called When Elders Make Mistakes. The author offers four suggestions for when this happens:

  • Use the Golden Rule

  • Assume the Best

  • Question Your Knowledge

  • Use Extreme Caution

The essay aptly notes:

Yet for all their qualifications elders remain mortal. They make mistakes. They err. To demand flawlessness of an elder is unreasonable and places upon them a requirement not even the apostles could claim.

I urge all of us to be Bereans when it comes to truth. I have never seen a Spirit-filled Christian who is not also filled with His Word. He or she treasures the Word of God more than the words of men. They would rather read the Bible than read Spurgeon or Calvin or Luther. They do not neglect the wisdom of men but place all of their weight upon the sacred Word of God. Demas had to choose between the world and Paul, and today we must choose between the love of the world and the love of the Word.

Sunday, July 7

9:04 AM On Thursday I received the nicest email from a sister who ministers in Kenya. This part brought a smile to my face:

I have been reading your blog for several years... I was immediately "hooked" by your theology, your common sense, your transparent candor, your Ethiopian ministry and of course all your pictures.  Your blog is like a classroom, a devotional, an exhortation on Christian life, a worship session, a slice of down-home Americana and a biographic soap opera all rolled into one. 

"A biographic soap opera." Gotta love it!

8:44 AM It's a gorgeous Sunday morning and the farm has settled into a quiet hush. Yesterday was a wonderful day. Nothing says "I love you" quite as much as when we help our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yesterday was one of those "I love you" days. Nigusse and I had a long list of projects to get done over at Maple Ridge, so the Lord brought along a couple of helpers in the persons of Danny Chambers and Rob Nixon.

It's really hard to describe these guys. Danny (left) attends Bethel Hill and has been to Ethiopia 3 times with us. Honestly, I know of very few people who love to serve others more than Danny. Ever since he "retired" from his job he's been volunteering for this project or that. As for Rob, he had the temerity to take Greek with me at the seminary a couple of years ago. Ever since then he's been giving me lessons in serving. This is the umpteenth time he's been to the farm to help us, and he certainly has cemented his place in our hearts.

Sorry to anyone who tires of my pictures, but you know me. It's my way of celebrating the goodness and faithfulness of God. Yesterday, others gave so that my life might be enriched. I can't help thinking that it's exactly what God did with me on the cross. At any rate -- to the pix!

1) We decided to fence in the back yard of Maple Ridge. It will be a place for the kids to play, the dogs to romp, and perhaps for mom to get a few minutes of rest while sitting on the back porch.

2) Unfortunately, we didn't have a drill bit that could penetrate these cedar posts, so we'll finish the gate on Monday afternoon. Other than that, the fenced-in yard is good to go. 

3) Yours truly and Rob spent the day working outdoors on landscaping, then indoors working on a variety of loose ends. The Lord finally sent us a couple of rain-free days which we took advantage of to the max by mowing and edging the entire property. Believe me, this project was long overdue.

4) Right now the farm has that manicured look that Becky really enjoys. I think our guests will enjoy it too.

5) Let's go indoors for a bit. Our dining room table needed new chairs. These arrived last week.

6) As you can see, we can feed a family of 10 around this gigantic table.

7) Off to the entryway. I love before-and-after shots. Here's the before:

8) And here's the after. Brightens the place up a bit, wouldn't you say?

9) Then Rob and I piddled about on various and sundry odd jobs, such as reversing the dryer door...

10) ... and installing 10 smoke alarms throughout the house as well fire extinguishers in the laundry room and kitchen.

11) The day ended with me going around snapping pix for Becky. You can enjoy them too if you like.

So ... care for a tour of the newly restored and refurbished Maple Ridge, ca. 1810?

Here's the upstairs back bedroom:

12) And here's the upstairs north bedroom (the master bedroom);

13) In the upstairs south bedroom the futon opens up into a bed:

14) Here's the upstairs landing:

15) Moving downstairs, the house's entryway greets you:

16) And here's the library/schoolroom:

17) Care to enjoy the parlor? All fire places in the house are wood-burning. (We also installed an H-VAC system.)

18) And the crème de la crème -- the new kitchen, replete with gas stove, dishwasher, trash compactor, fridge, microwave, and oodles of storage space.

19) We've stocked the house with homemade jams, pickles, and veggies. Farm fresh beef is on the way.

20) Can't you just see a family enjoying the back porch while watching the cattle grazing?

21) So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen -- Maple Ridge. I can't believe the renovation is finally done. It's been a great project for us to work on, and we've had lots of help. We'll soon be dedicating the house to the Lord as a place of ministry/refuge/restoration. May every inch of this farm glorify Him. 

22) Oh, I had to finish with this pic. One of my projects was to clean out all of the barns, and this is my final load to take to the metal recycling plant.

We call this a "cycle of completion."


Friday, July 5

9:56 PM Just put Becky to bed. It's been a tough day. Her temp has gone up and down. We weren't able to drain her lung. But today the Lord sent us a good friend who also happens to be a nurse. The Lord showed the three of us what to do, and we were able to draw almost 500 ccs. Right now there are three precious ladies caring for Becky 24/7 -- her mother and our daughters Karen and Rachael. We were also blessed to be able to host a birthday party for Christian Glass who turned 2 today. The Hall was filled with the laughter and enthusiasm of 8 kids. Tomorrow a couple of friends are stopping by to help Nigusse and me finish a long list of projects over at Maple Ridge. We're getting the house ready for the Rondeaus, who arrive next Monday for a week-long visit. Seems like years since I've seen the boys and Mercy Magdalene. Also on Monday, Nigusse begins summer school. He's taking a course on Islam. I've often said that the most effective strategy to reach common, everyday Muslims for Christ is scandalous love. Rom. 12:16, one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture, puts it this way:

Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.

More and more I'm beginning to realize that education and social status mean absolutely nothing to Jesus. I'm beginning to realize that in His kingdom there are no small people. I'm beginning to repent of my hankering after prestige and recognition. Service and sacrifice are gradually becoming more important to me than relevance. An overcommitment to the academy is gradually being replaced by a commitment to Christian community and discipleship. I've seen how Jesus had status but refused to exploit it. He had power but used it to serve the needs of the outcast and the stigmatized. He was willing to serve others even at the risk of His own life. So often we seem to be more concerned with minor, ephemeral matters than with the real basis of the Gospel. In our current techno-urban society there's so much pressure to conform to churchianity. That's one of the reasons I love working with Ethiopians. Becky and I have worked with local evangelical congregations in Ethiopia that have banded together for the sake of the Gospel. Token unity is not enough for them.

Friends, I don't have to see eye-to-eye with you to work hand-in-hand. We are all brothers in Christ, members of one spiritual family, parts of one spiritual Body. I know we can't pretend to have unity where there is none. I'm well aware that doctrine is vitally important. My whole life has been dedicated to training people to think biblically and to engage in serious Bible study. But when we make secondary issues the main issue, we have set aside the vision we read about in Acts 1:8 and Matt. 28:19-20. It's time we did the Gospel -- together. Just think of how many Muslims we could reach if we did so.

2:40 PM I see that my comments about biblical education yesterday have generated a bit of discussion on the internet. The disorders in my own life are to be attributed solely to my own fault, not to someone else's. I love the institution of the church, even as I reject its institutionalism. I also love the seminary. There is a great deal that students can learn in a formal academic setting, not least that they should wear their learning lightly, that they should place all of their knowledge in service to the church, and that they should become fulltime missionaries regardless of their location and vocation. I am too old to begin another career. Perhaps I am misguided, but I feel that renewal and reformation can still come from within. My classes all have a singular goal. They are a call to come follow Jesus. Barth's Basel chair was not his main identity. He felt most fulfilled when preaching to the prisoners in the local jail. Academic honors mean nothing to me. At best they are a platform to be leveraged for the Gospel. (At this I have been quite successful, thank the Lord.) There are so many subtle forms of self to cling to both in and out of the academy. The one vital thing is to keep obedient to the Spirit. He may call you to go outside the camp. He may decide to use you within the religious institution. It is a merciful Father who demands that we accept His will while relinquishing our own.

The wind of God blows on all of us. I pray that now, this very day, I may respond to His leading. I cannot claim that I am doing a very good job of this. I had no idea, when I began teaching Greek at the age of 24, that God would call me to be an institutional reformer. I could never be thankful enough for the privilege of influencing thousands of students over 36 years of teaching. It is an error, I believe, to suppose that a devout life is necessarily banished from the halls of academia. So God fits each of us with a role in the kingdom. Mine is to be a limping Greek prof who seeks renewal from within. If you are seeking the same goal, may God bless you. You are part of the glorious building in which God Himself lives by His Spirit (Eph. 2:22).

Someone once said, "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Creator calls a butterfly." Take wings, then, church and soar!

Thursday, July 4

9:32 PM I am neither a theologian nor a pastor. But this does not keep me from pondering the deep things of God. Today I have been thinking about the link between cross and crown, between suffering and glory. I do not have the answer to the question, "Why is God allowing Becky to die?" I don't need to know the answer. But of one thing I am certain. He has reasons. And good ones too.

Tonight I watched as Becky dictated the following essay to our daughter Karen. Becky notes in her essay that she's never asked God to heal her. Well, I have. Numerous times. Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing to do without her. But here's the profound truth God is showing me: Just as God is calling Becky to die, so He is calling me to die. The Great Grain of Wheat knows a thing or two about dying, too. He died, but the result was a great harvest. Betty Stam, the missionary who was beheaded, died long before the Japanese killed her. Whenever we forsake our own agendas, the old life "dies" and we receive Christ in its place. Suffering is evil only when it takes our eyes off the cross. The further I travel down this road of cancer, the more glorious the cross becomes, because I know there's a resurrection just around the bend.

O Father, if this be the last essay ever penned by my Becky Lynn, let Christ be magnified through it. She rightly speaks of wounds that only Christ can heal. She has tasted the cup of suffering and, through trustful acceptance, has found it sweet. She is on the glorious verge of seeing You face to face, the Savior she has served and loved so faithfully. Lord Jesus, she claims only Your grace. Shall I not do the same and be saved?

Becky's essay, published on our home page, is called Running to Home Base.

8:05 AM Okay, so I'm feeling nostalgic today. Here we are at a Civil War reenactment several years ago. Don't she look pretty?

7:55 AM As our team arrives in Ethiopia, I've got a lot on my mind. Like what? Here's an example. One of the greatest challenges we face in Ethiopia has to do with leadership training. Allow me to explain.

1) Most of the "ministry" in Ethiopia is done by ordained clergy who are seminary trained and are paid for their ministry. Often the people perceive them to be the ministers of the church. Becky and I are committed to involving more of the Body in ministry. And we are training the leaders of the local churches to do their best to equip others (2 Tim. 2:2).

2) The resident seminaries in Ethiopia are usually geared to training academically superior leaders who are required to dislocate themselves from their homes and communities for at least 3 years. This model of education, as I have often said, is beset with 3 problems: extraction, expense, and elitism. Extracting leaders from their communities is very expensive and often leads to a sense of elitism among the graduates. We are beginning to train leaders in their home environments. We do not believe that servants-in-training need to be uprooted from their homes. Nor do we believe that theological education need involve formal schooling; indeed, traditional theological education is, we are sadly discovering, often a disadvantage.

3) We believe that the best leadership development occurs in local churches. Students should be living in their homes, serving in their churches, and active in their communities as they exercise teaching, preaching, administrative, and evangelistic functions. Again, our experience has shown that when we extract students from their culture, many of them are unwilling or unable to return to the towns from which they came.

4) What should be the curriculum of leadership training? We believe that the best textbook is the Bible itself. Hence the scholar-teachers who come with us to Ethiopia do verse-by-verse exposition of a book of the Bible with a constant focus on practical ministry.

I suppose our convictions might be summarized as follows.

  • All believers are called to be ministers in building the kingdom of God.

  • Spiritual leaders have the responsibility to equip all members of the Body to serve.

  • Theological education is best accomplished on site rather than in faraway seminaries. 

  • Theological education finds its fulfillment within the framework of the local church.

  • The proper end of all theological training is ministry, not degrees or ordination.

  • The aim of teaching is not to impart knowledge but to produce obedient disciples.

  • If a man is seminary-trained but not living in a manner that is obedient to the commands of the Lord Jesus, he is not qualified to lead.

Below: Here's my good friend and co-worker Kevin Brown of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Wilkesboro, NC, teaching the book of Ephesians to church leaders in Alaba. His method? To simply go verse by verse through the book.

Kevin helps pastor a church he grew up in. He is completely self-trained in the Scriptures. He is seeking to develop leadership from within the church. Man, there's a lot to like about that guy!

7:44 AM Good morning, virtual friends on the internet super speedway! Hope you all enjoy this holiday. We're gearing up to have several visitors to the farm today, eager to spend some time with Becky. Please ask the Lord to grant her stamina!

I know that all of my readers are "thinkers," so here are three links you might want to consider clicking today between munching on hot dogs. The first is about tithing. Actually, it's about a brand new book called Tithing After the Cross, which I co-edited. Talk about a hot topic. It's not surprising that a book like this will get people flustered. I hope, instead, it will get them thinking.

Along the same lines, the writings of Bart Ehrman have long been best sellers. There's even a website devoted to refuting him. Well, here's a brief review of one of his latest works: Misquoting Jesus and the Great Commission. Sorry, sorry, sorry! I know I'm always talking about the Great Commission in these pages. But if you are a follower of Jesus, you need to be strong in the Scriptures, yet can we be sure that we have the "Scriptures" when there are so many variant readings among the manuscripts? Folks, textual criticism is simply an unavoidable science for anyone serious about the Bible.

Finally, Arthur Sido has some good thoughts about elders and where they came from in New Testament times. His post is called Home Cookin'. Here's his peroration:

It is certainly harder, more time consuming and more sacrificial to raise up leaders in the church but I believe (and I think the Bible supports) the idea that a primary responsibility of the local body is in the training and support of men from within that body to lead that body. Seminary may be a part of that training, but it is only one part of an integrated development of leaders, not an end in and of itself. Hiring pastors like an old western gunslinger to come in and clean up the town before moving on is an injustice to the local body, to those men and their families. We need to take the time to look around the cupboards, find the ingredients and whip up some home grown elders.

Please consider what he has to say. It just might revolutionize the way you do church.

Oh, since it's the fourth, I might as well offer a few thoughts. As followers of Christ, we must never forget that Jesus came into the world to inaugurate the kingdom of God. In this kingdom, national and tribal allegiances are unimportant. They are superseded by our loyalty to our Commander-in-Chief. If, by a miracle, unity ever became a "first order" category in our Bible-believing, evangelical churches, evangelism might become our one overmastering passion. I am told that as a Baptist I must fight for Baptist distinctives. Some would go further. They would say that I am not to eat the Lord's Supper with those who hold to "wrong doctrine" -- pedobaptism, for example. How avidly we cling to our distinctives! But our supreme aim can NEVER be to exalt our own regiment. The Commander asks us to follow Him. And if we make that our aim, surely we will realize that the things that unite us in the kingdom are much more important than the things that divide us.

In a word, evangelicals are to be a people who are united for the Gospel. The kingdom of God transcends every manmade barrier we can erect -- race, education, gender, color, background, nationality. Think of the leadership of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1). They had a Cypriot (Barnabas), a dark-skinned man (Simeon "the black"), a North African (Lucius from Cyrene), an aristocrat (Manaen, a member of the Herodian family), and a Jew (Saul of Tarsus). What made their joint leadership possible? I dare say that the "fellowship of the Spirit" (Phil. 2:1) was more important to them than their obvious differences. That humble attitude paid handsomely. The congregation at Antioch became a missionary sending church, as every local church should be.

I believe that most churches today could do a great deal more to encourage this outlook. We can hold city-wide meetings with other congregations, or we can combine services with the church next door, or we can come together for prayer meetings. Perhaps this would help us catch a glimpse of the true catholicity of the church. It is necessary to emphasize that we must depend completely on the Holy Spirit if we are to achieve such unity. The Spirit was given to us, not to make us comfortable, but to make us missionaries. It was the Spirit who drove Paul and the other early missionaries to "struggle together in one soul for the faith of the Gospel" (Phil. 1:28). It is He who dismantles our pride and enables the lovely fruit of the Spirit to take root in our lives. This, I believe, is what Jesus prayed for in John 17 -- a church whose fellowship was real and vibrant, and a church devoted to evangelism.

When the Spirit is freely welcomed among us again, who knows what the results might be?

Wednesday, July 3

8:35 PM I thought I'd post a few garden pix for my green-thumbed friends Down Under. Becky's mom, along with Karen, recently reorganized our pantry to make room for more canned goods. And just in the nick of time, too. As you can see, our tomatoes are just about to burst forth.

Of course, the corn has already been canned, and whatever other veggies we get (such as these yellow squash) will either be eaten or canned.

At the farm, we grow not only edibles but delectables, and the gardenia is absolutely my favorite flower. We've been blessed with an abundance of these fragrant blooms this year.

Well, I'm not the best photographer, but I hope you've gotten a glimpse of how our gardens are doing this summer. How does your garden grow?

4:56 PM Odds and ends ...

1) Here's an entire post dedicated to understanding web jargon, which is, I think, a very good thing. Now what we need is someone to discuss the theological jargon and clichés we throw around even though we know we are speaking over people's heads. Here's a classic example: "to equip the saints for the work of the ministry" (Eph. 4:12). Wow. Sounds pretty astute. Of course, all Paul is saying is that pastor-teachers should be about one paramount thing: "to prepare God's people for works of service." Now that's more like it. Even I can understand what Paul is saying. Creeds yes, but deeds, yes, yes, yes. And deeds performed by all God's people, not just super-saints.

2) Thinking about our involvement in Ethiopia, I often hear people saying that I work in "Africa." That's true, but it's easy to overlook the fact that Africa is comprised of some 55 independent nations, none of which is like any of the others. I predict a lot of people also don't realize just how America-centric the church in many African nations is, including the church in Ethiopia. This came home to me when I picked up a copy of the so-called "Africa Study Bible" and saw that it was (again) lumping all of Africa into one indistinguishable lump. I found indeed very little that had to do with Africa except for the occasional comment "in Africa, people...." We Westerners may be excused for making such misjudgments, but Africans themselves should know better (the authors were mostly trained in the West). In Ethiopia the language of instruction in the theological colleges is still English, and there is very little literature produced in Amharic. This will all change, I hope, with the next generation of Bible scholars.

3) Fellow Greek students, here's a plug for William Mounce's Greek for the Rest of Us. I quite agree that it is an excellent resource. Even if you've had a year or two of Greek, you could probably use a refresher. So whether it's Mounce or some other tool, use it or lose it -- and don't worry about using "cheats" like an analytical lexicon or an interlinear either, no matter what the purists tell you. As one preacher put it, "Halitosis is better than no breath at all."

4) Though I'm on sabbatical I haven't surrendered my interest in all things academic. Along with my colleague Maurice Robinson, I am working on organizing our spring New Testament conference (April 2014). The theme this time? The Pericope Adulterae (the passage about the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11). Is it original? Is it canonical? Should be lots of fun. Reminds me of the Last Twelve Verses of Mark Conference we held back in 2004. The speaker lineup then looked like this:

Can you guess who the speakers will be this time?

11:43 AM Hey there, fellow missionaries. Here's a brief update:

1) Jon Glass, our Ethiopia team leader, reports:

The team has gone through check-in without troubles. The agent allowed
some overweight bags!  We are boarding in about 15 minutes. Everyone
is doing well and we are excited about what is before us!

They are now flying to Addis. Please join us in praying for them. In fact, I encourage you to put missions on the front burner of everything you do today. The only real purpose for living is found in Yahweh and His living way as revealed in Jesus Christ.

2) Becky had a difficult night. She slept hardly at all. Seems her internal thermostat is broken; she is either too hot or too cold. Well, last night she was too hot and was constantly perspiring. It's no fun trying to sleep in a wet bed. Right now she is comfortably installed in the library sofa that her parents bought for her. Pray that she gets some good rest today. Her social chairman (moi!) has planned no visitors for today.

Tuesday, July 2

6:30 PM Last Saturday I was scheduled to fly to Addis Ababa to begin a two-week teaching stint. Instead, I'm going to be "holding the ropes" for our team that leaves today. I always find it much harder to stay than to go, if you know what I mean. Yet at the same time, it is a great privilege to support the work of overseas missionaries through prayer. Here's a letter Becky sent a few minutes to our prayer email list. Can you sense her excitement?

An hour ago the 2013 Ethiopia Team departed Cresset Baptist Church in Durham, NC, bound for Washington DC.  They'll get a last good night's sleep & be at Dulles Airport at 7:15 in the morning, for a 10:15 flight to Addis Ababa.

They arrive in Addis at 7:30am on Thursday (July 4th) & head straight to Alaba for overnight, before continuing on down the long stretch to Burji area on Friday.

Please be in focused prayer for travel safety, for physical rest (they hit the road running!), for the Ethiopian church leaders as do the logistics (buy Bibles, bottled water, etc) before the Team arrives.

This Team is composed of 10 people (5 vets and 5 greenies, 4 "adults" and 6 "youth").  Jon Glass is the vet leading the team.  This is the first time he has led a team, and the first time that a team has gone without either Dave or me.  So things will be different.

Please keep them in your prayers!

Rejoicing in His sovereign protection & provision,


This, I have to admit, is a real turning point in our relationship with Ethiopia. I find myself going back in my mind to our very first trip there in 2004, riding a donkey to Becky's old mission station (now decrepit), teaching and preaching and playing the tourist and marveling at the wonders of this ancient nation. I immediately fell in love with the people. It's hard to explain, really, what I am feeling right now, but I feel content and satisfied that, in a real sense, a big part of my work in Ethiopia is now done. Becky and I have passed the baton. It's not that I will never return or minister there again. It's not that I will lose my passion for seeing the Gospel reach the tribes from north to south. Once Ethiopia gets into you, it never leaves. I really do miss being there. But everything is still right with my world. The good work continues and expands, and the laborers multiply. I find myself in awe how God has a season for everything. So here I am, praying for my team mates as they go to the Africa I love. Ready or not, here they come!

P.S. Our team members. Pray for them, will you?

3:52 PM What's wrong with Dave? you ask. He hasn't posted farm pictures in days! Well, here ya go....

1) Shucking corn ...

2) Canning corn ...

3) And here are our newly bathed Shelties, as purty and purty can be. They are very happy to be indoors to visit with Mommy.

Right now Becky's visiting with a couple of folk from church. As the risk of sounding presumptuous, I think I am doing a pretty good job of juggling Becky's visitor schedule. Other than that, I don't have any other earth-shattering observations to make right now. I can't stop thinking about a passage in Matthew where Jesus talks about how unutterably small and fragile birds are, yet God cares for them. Worried? Fraught with despair? Come to Me. Learn to rest in My sovereignty.

All that matters is enjoying the unforced rhythms of grace. And posting pictures occasionally.

Monday, July 1

6:54 PM Nigusse and I just returned from Raleigh. We went there to pick up Genet whom we first met at the Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant near the campus of North Carolina State University. She has become a dear friend and a precious prayer partner. On the drive home today I felt like I was back in Ethiopia. I could actually understand about 80 percent of what Genet and Nigusse were talking about. I'll never forget the first time Genet waited on us. I had greeted her in Amharic and asked her what her name was. She looked at me like I had ten heads. My exact words were, "Denanish? Semish mano?" At this point Nigusse came to my rescue and "translated" for me. His words? "Denanish? Semish mano?" (Exactly what I had said.) This went on throughout the evening -- me saying something to Genet in (what I thought was) Amharic, and her displaying a puzzled look until Nigusse had "translated" it for me. Well, today in the car I had the temerity to ask her why it had been so hard for her to understand my Amharic. Her answer surprised both Nigusse and me. "I wasn't expecting such good Amharic," was her response. That shocked me. I was expecting a reply like, "Because your Amharic was so bad." But it seems she just couldn't fathom that an American could speak her own language with such an authentic accent. Of course, when she told me this, she may have just been being polite. Maybe my Amharic is terrible after all. But that's what she said.

In other news, we met with the local funeral director today here at the Hall. I've known him for many years and have given sermons several times at his funeral home. We discussed this and that, and at one point he asked us a very interesting question, one which at first we had no idea how to answer. Looking at Becky he said, "And what shall I write down on your death certificate as your occupation? You can list anything -- housewife, mother, nurse, financial planner...." Boy was that a hard question to answer. In the end we decided that only one answer would suffice. Yes, Becky has been a great wife and mother and financial planner and ICU nurse and missionary. But her death certificate will read, under "occupation":

Ambassador for Christ.

I like that, don't you?

7:59 AM Larry Crabb once said, "In even the happiest Christian lives there are deep pockets of incurable pain." I am immensely relieved at times like this that there is a High Priest who feels, truly feels, our heartache and shares it with us. Let's remember this great truth, whatever the via dolorosa we are called upon to travel in life.

7:55 AM The fact that Priscilla's name is usually mentioned in the New Testament before her husband Acquila's is, I sense, instructive. At the very least it suggests that Priscilla descended from an illustrious Roman family (gens Prisca). It also appears that, together, this wife-husband team made their home available as a meeting place for believers (cf. 1 Cor. 16:19) and that they had even risked their necks for the sake of the Gospel. When Becky and I were in our early years of marriage we were privileged to have a Priscilla and Aquila in our lives, whose Christian maturity, faith, and kindness I sometimes remember afresh today and whose example still remains powerful. One can well believe that such married examples of godliness and love would be warmly appreciated today. In spite of the appalling possibilities of unhappiness and the appalling frequency with which the possibilities are realized, I think on the whole marriage is most decidedly worthwhile.

Single person: If you need a Priscilla or Aquila in your life, I think you need do no more than ask God for one, as it is His delight to give us the desires of our heart.

7:48 AM And now a word to my incoming doctoral students who need to master French and German. Many German words have obvious English cognates. However, I have always been a bit taken aback by how few German lexemes have actually made it into the English Word Treasury, kindergarten and hinterland being perhaps the most notable exceptions. Otherwise, we do not say Mutter for mother or Vater for father. Very surprising indeed, especially when one considers the fact that English is basically a Germanic language and that many of America's original settlers were native German speakers.

Ph.D. students, take note: You will find that the everyday words in German are easy to learn when you are preparing for your doctoral exams (father, mother, daughter, book, auto, butter). The problem will be mastering its technical vocabulary. A good example is the expression "Word Treasury" used above, which, of course, is the literal translation of the German term for vocabulary (Wortschatz). In French the opposite is the case: the everyday words can pose a bit of a challenge (père, mère, etc.), but the technical jargon is much easier to master (e.g., vocabulaire).

Just a hint to get you started in your language studies!

7:34 AM It seems that the English of one of the witnesses in the Travon Martin trial is difficult to understand (her first language is Creole). There's a word for that: orthoepy. It refers to the study of pronunciation in English. As we all know, this is an extremely important science because English pronunciation is an utter absurdity (cf. heard/beard, five/give, low/how, paid/said). I'm told, by the way, that the word orthoepy can be pronounced in two ways. How anyone can learn English as a second language and pronounce it correctly escapes me entirely.

7:22 AM Today CNN posted an essay called The World's 50 Best Surf Spots. It made me really wish I had lived in Hawaii in the 1960s. Oh wait -- I did. Can you guess the #1 spot in the essay? Here's a picture of it:

I would post a shot of me riding a 15-footer at Pipeline but cameras weren't invented yet.

So what's your favorite surfing beach?

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