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May 2011 Blog Archives

Tuesday, May 31

6:53 PM Finally home again, having finished my long list of things to do at the seminary today. I've never worked so hard in my life, I don't guess. But the fruit will be evident, dear students, should you pay Moodle a visit. My course syllabi for the summer and fall terms have now been published with all of the appropriate fanfare, and with high hopes that all who dare to take these courses will flourish in their walk with God or will, at least, take a couple of steps forward. I wound things up gracefully on campus and hurried home to see Becky along with Tinnish Koi and Tolo Tolo, Fandisha and Kolo, all of whom seemed to be thriving despite a heat index today of over 100 degrees in the Piedmont. It was not all work and labor on campus, however, and I made the time to surf the net whereupon I stumbled across (not accidentally, mind you) these snarky quotes about Greek scholars by George Bernard Shaw (from his book Major Barbara):

He is a very amiable good fellow, but he is a Greek scholar and naturally a little eccentric.

Greek scholars are privileged men. Few of them know Greek; and none of them know anything else; but their position is unchallengeable.

Do I hear an Amen? (I found these at Gary Manning's excellent blog.) What an encouragement to someone in my shoes (I guess)!

And so, after a frenzied day of work I plan now to enjoy a delicious spaghetti dinner prepared by the chef of Bradford Hall (I am, at best, merely the sous chef) and finish reading Gods and Generals, Jeff Shaara's magnificent tale of the Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville campaigns of the War of 1861 (see how neutral I'm being?) -- though, as I heard the inimitable Kurt Vonnegut put it today on NPR during my drive home (see Kurt Vonnegut: Still Speaking to the War Weary), war fiction as depicted in novels and movies is nothing but malarkey (his term) and can never be anything but malarkey because it glorifies and even glamorizes war and thus woefully misrepresents its horrors and evils. I suspect you may disagree with this assessment, and you are certainly free to do so, but my Anabaptist leanings are just strong enough to believe that Vonnegut is right (remember: he personally survived the hell called the "Fire Bombing of Dresden," which killed tens of thousands of innocent German civilians; see photo below) and that the anti-war sentiment he represented in such books at Slaughterhouse 5 is not a mere historical curiosity but a major movement to be respected, or at least tolerated, by the mainstream.

Monday, May 30

9:06 PM Sitting here surrounded by the love of my family, watching Brahm's German Requiem on You Tube, scratching my dogs' ears, thinking, on this Memorial Day, about those who have died in the Lord. Truly, Selig sind sie.

Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben, von nun an.
Ja der Geist spricht, daß sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit;
denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach.
Offenbarung 14:13

7:45 PM It was while I was cooking rice for supper tonight that I had the good providence (luck is simply a word I cannot use) to have stumbled across Kevin Brown's magnificent defense of the apostolate of the laity, which is really a challenge to men and women to get beyond nominal church membership to active discipleship, and in this way recover the dynamic power of the earliest Christians as described in that most wonderful of all New Testament treatises, the book of Acts. A pastor himself, Kevin no longer sees a polarity between pastors (the "above") and the other members of the congregation (the "below"). It is significant that this upsurge in the practice of lay ministry is taking place in well-established Southern Baptist congregations. You might say that Mount Pleasant stands today where the early church stood in Acts 11 -- a church moving out into the gentile world. Kevin's fine blog post is the perfect reminder that every-member ministry is one of the first frontiers to be reclaimed by churches today. May his tribe increase.

1:40 PM Farm update:

1) That Tinnish Koi is quite a girl. She just can't get enough of her Mama B.

2) "Let's see here, if I just stand here maybe she'll notice me."

2) "Hmmm. That doesn't seem to be working. Let's get a little bit closer."

3) "She's still ignoring me! Well, how 'bout if I nudge her on the back?"

4) "Well it's about time!"

5) "Ooooh, thank you. That feels sooooo goooood."

Is Becky enjoying her animals? Are there cows in Texas?

6:33 AM Odds and ends ...

1) The University of Dubuque announces an opening in Old Testament.

2) Great quote for Memorial Day (John Leland):

No national church can in its organization, be the Gospel Church.  A National church takes in the whole Nation, and no more; whereas, the Gospel Church, takes in no Nation, but those who fear God, and work righteousness in every Nation.  The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. . . . If all the souls in a government were saints of God, should they be formed into a society by law, that society could not be a Gospel Church, but a creature of state.

3) Rick Warren and Unconditional Election.

4) Awesome tribute to the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

5) Bible stories made out of Legos.

Sunday, May 29

7:30 PM SEBTS students: Lord willing, I'll be on campus this Tuesday, so if you'd like to chat let me know. I'll be working on course syllabi and imbibing Kona Coffee compliments of the secretarial staff.

6:15 PM Great nap. Cooking pancakes. Dinner of champions.

3:10 PM Did I tell you what I've started doing at church? I've started to introduce myself to people in a more, let's say, biblical way. This morning pastor Joel brought to church a good friend of his that he had been discipling. So after the morning service was over I made it a point to go to his friend and introduce myself. Sticking out my hand I said, "Hi, I'm Dave Black. I'm one of the ministers here." To which brother Joel enthusiastically replied, "He sure is!" By the way, here are some other "fulltime ministers" at Bethel Hill Baptist Church, working away in the kitchen after our morning church-wide breakfast:

While I'm on the subject of Bethel Hill, brother Chris led us in another excellent discussion of the book of James during our Sunday School class this morning. Today we were in chapter 2, a passage where James is very clear that God is no respecter of persons, which is a subject that is near and dear to my own heart as I was raised as an ethnic minority in Hawaii. Chris made it very clear that for us to show partiality of any kind would be a sin against the character of God. I don't speak up all that often in Sunday School, but this morning I felt led to make two observations.

1) My first point was a theological one. The way we treat other people reveals what we believe about God. That is to say, favoritism has no place in the Christian life because it is contrary to the nature and character of God. Funny, I said to the class, how we Christians can study the so-called "attributes" of God -- His omnipresence, His omniscience, His omnipotence, His immutability, His eternality, etc. -- and yet fail to say anything about God's impartiality.

2) I made my second point with something of the sensation of a man about to jump off a cliff with a cannonball tied to his leg. But it was a point I felt I had to make, especially in view of all the American flags flying everywhere on the church campus this morning, it being Memorial Day weekend. Our God is a color blind God, I said. I added: Our God is a dollar blind God. Our God is a status blind God. And then I said this: Our God is a nation blind God. To say or to imply that America is somehow a "holy nation" is, in my humble estimation, blasphemous. The household of God (to which I belong by God's grace) is the only holy nation on earth. It includes in its membership all Christians of all ages, all nationalities, all levels of social strata, all levels of intelligence. The lesson is clear. From the moment of my conversion to Christ, and from the moment of your conversion to Christ, we have been in fellowship with every other Christian in the world, be they American or Ethiopian or Chinese or Iraqi or Iranian. The Bible tells us "we are all one in Christ Jesus" -- and that includes our guest speaker this morning who came to us from southern India.

It is here, on the national level, that we are called upon to demonstrate to a lost world the reality of our fellowship. We are bound together by a unity that goes far beyond mere geography or nationality let alone hobby or personal interest or political affiliation or denomination. Only when we learn to see ourselves as this kind of a holy nation, only when we learn to treasure that kind of fellowship, only when we experience this kind of trans-national love, will we fulfill our vocation as saints.

Beware of the sin of nationalism, my friends. A Christian is a citizen of a heavenly commonwealth because he or she belongs to the holy nation of the people of God. This, and this alone, is the only Christian nation. Other nations may contain Christians, and they may be influenced to one degree or another by Christian principles, but there will never be a Christian nation except the people redeemed by the blood of Christ.

7:58 AM Thankful for this reminder that we are all brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. As I put it in The Jesus Paradigm:

I see this same spirit at work today when I see younger leaders eschewing grand titles such as "reverend" or "minister" or "senior pastor," preferring instead to be called "brother" or simply by their first names. This kind of thinking is contrary to every manmade system or philosophy. A Christianity that seeks no power, no prestige, no position but instead prefers humiliation, service, even suffering? Unthinkable – except, perhaps, to someone travelling the downward path of Jesus.

7:46 AM Over at Theological Crossroads, Chelle Stearns, an avid gardener, is developing a theology of weeds. (You don't have to possess a green thumb to benefit from her article.)

7:42 AM A newspaper editor from Battle Creek visits Ethiopia and recounts his experience in this well-written essay: Ethiopia: Ancient land of both heartache and hope.

7:33 AM Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top, was born in Maine and educated at Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. His teaching career at Bowdoin is a stellar one. As Professor of Natural and Revealed Religion, he speaks seven languages. After Gettysburg he is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1871 he is persuaded to accept the presidency of Bowdoin, where he reshapes the curriculum to include modern scientific and engineering subjects. It is mainly as an educator that I remember him. Jeff Shaara, in his outstanding book Gods and Generals, describes Chamberlain's style of teaching (p. 198):

Chamberlain had built a reputation at Bowdoin for respecting his students as much as they respected him. He advocated less strict discipline, and more equal exchange of ideas, and this put him in conflict with the old professors, the men who treated the students with mindless rigidity, an inflexible doctrine of study and examination. The attitude appalled him, and he did much to show the students that they not only had the right to question their instructors, but were obligated to do so. He taught them to accept the responsibility for their own education, because, sadly, many of the professors would not.

I fondly remember the Joshua Chamberlains who taught me at Biola, at Talbot, in Basel. Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about learning. Good teachers genuinely respect their students and show it. They have no need to require attendance since their students are their peers in the learning process. Good teaching is about style as much as it is about substance. It is always interesting! Good teaching is about mentoring, about listening, questioning, seeking and eliciting responses. It expects students to accept responsibility for their own education.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a good teacher. His qualities are worthy of emulation today.

Saturday, May 28

6:34 PM Just received another order for our Greek DVD set, this time from Cincinnati, Ohio. In case you haven't seen it yet, here's the "trailer"!


6:28 PM To all of my pastor friends out there. Allow me to squander some more of your precious time by asking you to read Thomas Hugdins' latest blog post. It's called Single Pastor or Multiple Elders: Two Verses. Thank you!

5:21 PM My friend and former student Eric Carpenter says we need to think biblically about the church. The big challenge today, as I see it, is that everybody says they think biblically about the church! An unusual situation like this calls for a new approach to the problem. What will turn the gigantic battleship called the evangelical church around?

It always comes back to what we do more than what we say.

In many ways, people like Eric are beating a dead horse. Their blogs posts have become, well, predictable. But do they carry any weight? We need a mobilization of grass roots Christians who will apply their efforts and resources to solving the problem. That seems obvious, but it is far from obvious to me that America's ecclesiastical system is capable of producing leaders able to solve a problem of such magnitude. May I suggest that we need a blogging revolution? To Eric and his friends I say: Show us, in bite-sized chunks, what a New Testament church looks like. That is, reform should be built around existing relationships. These relationships model for others a congregation in which leaders do not monopolize the church's ministry but rather understand that their function is one of helping the church so that all members perform their several ministries for the good of the whole. That these kinds of model congregations would revolutionize the contemporary church there can be little doubt.

In short, anyone can claim to have a biblical ecclesiology. But the scriptural pattern is clear: the congregation itself must communicate that the whole body together has clerical status ( = the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers). This is surely one of the most believed but least practiced doctrines of the contemporary church. The lesson is obvious: In a society that learns best by example, the crying need is for churches that will respond when the doubters cry out: "Show me, don't just tell me!"

4:32 PM Please join us in welcoming to Rosewood Farm our newest animals. To begin with, here is Fandisha (left) and her son Kolo. Fandisha, we believe, is with child (or two children, as the case may be). It's great having goats again. We missed them!

And now let me introduce to you our beloved donkeys Tinnish Koi (left) and Tolo Tolo -- jenny and jack, respectively.

Becky really wanted to have an African cross on at least one of her donkeys, and Tinnish Koi fits the bill perfectly, don't you think? Both are as friendly as can be.

Let's see here -- I do believe the donkey pecking order has just been established!

Special thanks to the Leigh and Thomas Humphries Large Animal Trailering Company for their fantastic work today. Couldn't have done it without you guys. Thanks a plenty.

Leigh and Tommy, wouldn't you agree it shore was fun wrastling up them critters today? Hee-haw!

1:37 PM I received this kind email from a friend of mine who also happens to pilot airplanes for a living:

Brother Dave,

I too am a great admirer of Gen. Lee.  What you wrote today is fascinating, because I find myself grappling with strengths that seem to be weaknesses also. A great example in my life is, if you place ten widgets on a table and one is broken; I see the broken one. My wife sees the nine working ones.  In my work that is a strength, because one broken widget in my business can lead to disaster. However, in life, my seeing only the broken widget causes me great problems at times.

I wonder if 2 Cor 12:9 addresses this with our weaknesses being made strong in His grace? Quite a conundrum.

I replied as follows:

I appreciate your dilemma though I wonder if your comments have more to do with one's vocation than one's general outlook on life. I have always found you to be most generous and magnanimous, though perhaps you are secretly looking at the broken widgets in my life but are too polite to mention them. At any rate, a thousand thanks for writing and I do hope you get over your conundrum soon enough. Cordially, Dave

12:18 PM Allan Bevere has a great quip this morning, likening the photos of your church's former pastors to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Your essay was excellent, Allan, but that analogy was my main takeaway. Forgive me!

Related: New Survey Examines Why Pastors Change Jobs. Of course, the key word is "jobs," which, I would think, makes all the difference in how one views the issue.

11:37 AM Becky asks, What is the purpose of prayer? Her answer may surprise you.

11:22 AM No, No, NO! CNN has it all wrong! This is not America's best beach. This is:

11:06 AM The only true picture of the church is found in the New Testament. Any theology of the church must, therefore, be based in Scripture. I am, I admit, fascinated and challenged by the earliest description of the local church that we find in the New Testament. And one of the very best discussions of Acts 2:42-47 is found here (and here). It is a day for a radical transformation of the church into a ministering, serving, loving, Jesus-focused people. Nothing short of that will restore the church to its pioneering role in the kingdom of God.

10:42 AM Speaking of virtues, Thomas Hudgins cites an excellent definition of meekness. I think it may apply to General Lee as well (I have corrected the typos):

"Meekness was used in classical literature for 'a calm and soothing disposition' that contrasted with 'rage and savagery.' 'It implies moderation...which permits reconciliation.' It was a virtue hailed in leaders who should be slow to anger, willing to accommodate, and capable of showing pity. In keeping with this usage, Josephus uses it to refer to rulers who were courteous or of a gentle disposition, benevolent to all. Ancient writers esteemed this virtue because it 'mellows' all relations...between citizens...even while it remains implacable toward enemies.' It was viewed as a key virtue in those who had power over others. It kept them from the excesses of severity and tyranny and encouraged leniency, thus helping them to win over their adversaries. The 'mild look' and 'soft voice' of the one who is meek presupposes a self-mastery that controls any intemperate feelings from boiling over. This virtue was particularly crucial for a teacher who must be patient and not irascible with the errors of his pupils and the challenges from any detractors."

10:24 AM Among the more recently discovered amenities of my life is a wonderful biography of Robert E. Lee written by his nephew Fitzhugh Lee, who served as a cavalry commander in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Conjure up, if you can, the spectacle of a man writing a biography of both his commanding general and his uncle. It is an excellent and detailed biography. Fitzhugh attributes the loss at Gettysburg to three factors: 1) The discretion Lee allowed Jeb Stuart, which separated the latter from the army; 2) the lack of a positive order for General Ewell to advance on Cemetery Ridge at the end of the first day of fighting; and 3) Lee's "failure to replace an officer who opposed his plans with one who would have entered into them heartily" (p. 299). (The reference here, of course, is to General Longstreet.) Fitzhugh then cites the opinion of a distinguished Germany military observer: "... the defect in General Lee's military character was a too kindly consideration for incompetent officers, resulting from an excess of good-nature" (p. 301).

This is all very interesting, at least to this Civil War buff. Was it Lee's big-heartedness that lost for him the battle, and hence the war? Longstreet was a brilliant commander when once engaged. But he attacked later rather than earlier, as ordered by Lee. And Ewell? He was no Stonewall! Lee's discretionary order to take Cemetery Ridge "if practicable" fell on deaf ears. The hill could have been taken, should have been taken. The Federal forces were in full retreat. Had Ewell decided to go forward on July 1st, the Confederate forces would have been in line of battle on Cemetery Ridge that evening.

After his defeat at Gettysburg, Lee squarely took the blame. Writes Fitzhugh: "With that wonderful magnanimity which Lee so fully possessed he took all the responsibility on his own broad shoulders, and some of it must be put there" (p. 299). Lee's magnanimity, it seems, was both a strength and a weakness. I suppose this is like every virtue we possess. As I think about Lee's character -- his big-heartedness, his almost blind trust in his subordinates, his reluctance to harden himself to hew to the strict military line -- I ask myself, "Should Lee have stepped out of character and fired Longstreet on the spot? Was such a move even possible for a man of Lee's gentle disposition?" Clearly, neither Ewell nor Longstreet was responsible for the loss at Gettysburg. Yet is it just to place all the blame on the "broad shoulders" of Robert E. Lee? After all, Lee was acting in accordance with the natural disposition God had given him. I would call this "acting as an integer." It was impossible for General Lee to think one way and act another. He was truly a man of integrity.

Which leads me to ask: Can my greatest strengths also be my greatest weaknesses? It is amazing how many people hear the Word regularly but somehow manage to keep it in one compartment of their lives while carrying on their daily affairs in another. James would call such a person "double-minded." Paul writes, "Let your big-heartedness be known to all people" (Phil. 4:5), but nowhere does he say we should be gullible or unwilling to confront sin and failure, whether in ourselves or in others. The Bible says, "You who love the Lord must hate evil" (Ps. 97:10). Love and hate go together -- love of God and hatred of sin. Some things simply cannot and should not be tolerated. The church at Thyatira possessed genuine agape love, but along with it they tolerated Jezebel, and our Lord judged them harshly because of it. The Word of God does no good unless it is obeyed. On the other hand, a critical spirit, ready to find fault and pick out flaws, can find no basis in Scripture. The Bible imposes a solemn responsibility to show love toward all, and at the very same time it eschews compromise with ungodliness. Have you achieved this balance yet in your life? I know I haven't. But you won't find No Man's Land in Scripture. If we don't gather, we scatter. We are "Either, Or" in God's sight. It is impossible to be "Both, And." We are either with Him or against Him.

Friday, May 27

8:27 PM Rex Howe of Dallas Theological Seminary is excited. And for good reason.

7:52 PM Geoffrey Kirkland asks What was Jesus like as a boy growing up? Do read his answer. By the way, in my book The Myth of Adolescence I devote an entire chapter to "Jesus and the Age Twelve Transition."

6:35 PM Was Paul's "thorn in the flesh" a speech impediment? Possibly so, argues Matt Jones over at Theology Today. He writes:

Thus, his speaking style (which had been highly skilled) must have been impaired in some way; and it is possible that Paul developed this speech disorder as a result of his encounter with Jesus.  There is a condition known as Aphasia where a person’s ability to communicate can become impaired – usually due to a stroke.

An interesting theory but speculative. But if he is right, imagine the great apostle Paul trying to talk to people with a speech impediment. Humbling for sure.

Which reminds me of an experience I had as a child growing up in Hawaii. Our elderly pastor, a loving, caring, godly man, had suffered a stroke and, as a result, lost his ability to speak clearly. Know what the church did? It fired him. I was heartbroken. I could understand his speech perfectly, but it took a lot of effort on my part. Alas, the poor man had lost his pulpit prowess, and so he was out like a flash. How terrible. What an awful memory. Who better to have as a pastor than a man who struggles to carry on despite his infirmities, like the apostle Paul?

That experience is one reason I have become such an incurable infracaninophile.

6:16 PM The quilting project continues. In Becky's own words ....

Here I am preparing the back of the quilt center. I machine-stitched one side of each strip (joining it to a block), placed the batting, and then hand-stitched the other side.

I hand-quilted the center of the blocks, and machine-quilted the strips between the blocks. The machine is a Bernina 440-QE; it can both quilt and embroider....lots of fun!  This quilting pattern is called "free-flowing."  The machine has a sensor and whenever I move the fabric in any direction, the machine will sew, but as soon as I stop moving, the machine stops.  The challenge is to move the fabric in a smooth, curvy pattern.  It's a good work-out on the arms & shoulders!

Voila! The finished center! Sixteen blocks with machine-quilted strips joining the blocks.  In one block I wrote "Psalm 103, 2011." I always date, sign, and add a Scripture to my quilts.

Now for the border. This border will be very wide, since it will go on a king-sized bed. I did not have enough of the fabric used in the blocks, so chose new fabrics that have colors that "fit" the "flavor" of the center. Each side will have 45-degree edges, so that they mesh well with both the corner of the center and also the adjoining sides.

With past quilts, I did the complete top, joined it to the batting and the back fabric, and then quilted it all together at the same time on a large you see in quilting bees of the Old West. Our living room became a quilting room for months on end as I laboriously hand-quilted large quilts. In machine quilting, however, it is difficult to manage large sections of fabric on my machine, so now I quilt in sections and then join the sections together. So my next project is to combine the top, back, and batting of each side, quilt each side, and then I will join the center to the 4 sides. I've never done this before, but I have it in my head how I will proceed.....hope it works! :)

5:38 PM If I may, allow me to encourage all of you who live in the U.S. to visit the nation's Civil War sites this year, in particular the scene of the war's first major battle. I won't recount for you the vicissitudes of the Battle of First Manassas (aka First Bull Run) -- suffice it to say that it was an astonishingly historic moment in American history. I've spent hours on the battlefield, inclining Henry House Hill.

It was along that now famous ridge that the severest fighting of the entire battle occurred. It is an intensely interesting place, marred only by enormous statuary in certain places. Otherwise, the battlefield looks today much like it did on that hot July day 150 years ago. The rebellion that everyone thought would be crushed in 90 days would stretch out for 4 bloody years. In the South, the defeat of McDowell's army caused unwarranted optimism, while in the North Congress authorized an army of half a million men to be enlisted for 3 years. An historic battlefield indeed. And worthy of a visit.

(Incidentally, did you know that during his tour of the United States, Karl Barth insisted on visiting Civil War battlefields?)

5:20 PM Okay. Enough Mr. Nice Guy. There's plenty of curmudgeon in me this afternoon.

Once more I protest (as usual in vain) against the kind of blogging that is being done by the likes of Alan Knox, Eric Carpenter, Aussie John, Arthur Sido and a host of others of their ilk. They know all too well that they will never make the "Top 50" of any list out there and that their Alexa ratings are abysmal. To make matters worse, they update their blogs so frequently, how can they ever hope to generate a loyal following? They are forever publishing original material that makes their readers think, really think. Don't they realize that the evangelical subculture to which they belong demands conformity above all else? Honestly, these guys need to do something to make their blogs more palatable.

(As you see, I am feeling fine and enjoying the blogosphere immensely this afternoon.)

4:04 PM What with Memorial Day fast approaching, and since the subject of the church and civil religion has already come up, allow me to add my two cents. Years ago Jacque Ellul (pictured) warned us that the greatest danger to liberty in Western society proceeds from the military-political state born of a dream of utopian perfection on earth. It seems clear to me that Ellul has touched on something of very great importance. As one who rejected out of hand the para-Marxist realism of my practical theology professors in Basel, I find it just as easy to part company with those on the theological right who argue that evangelicals should inject Christianity into politics. A close reading of the Gospels would show that the opposite is true. Neither Jesus nor His disciples ever engaged in or showed any interest in politics. Our Lord refused to be the political liberator of Israel. I fully agree with the Anabaptists that the state is meant to be secular and that a dualism exists between church and state, between political power and the proclamation of the Gospel. There is in my opinion neither "Christian" liberalism nor "Christian" conservatism. Equally valid (or invalid) perspectives can be found on both sides, but there are no Christian grounds for preferring one side over the other. If Jesus was a capitalist (or a socialist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian), I fail to see anywhere in the Gospels where he has made that known to us. The fact is that political loyalties are always relative and determined for purely individual and conscience reasons.

To state that the church should reject any form of allegiance with politics does not, of course, imply the separation of church from society or that Christians should not hold or express political views. Quite the opposite is true. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord over all things means that we will seek to be biblically informed about our political decisions and discussions. But it does not mean that a Christian politician can claim to support distinctively "Christian" policies any more than an auto mechanic can claim that he practices distinctively "Christian" car repair. It is the duty of the church to penetrate society as salt and light – this is acknowledged by all – but it fails in that duty when it rubberstamps the platform of politicians of any stripe. According to the Scriptures, the church is not a political community at all. It is a brotherhood that proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord and that expects the coming of his kingdom – or, to put it another way, a brotherhood that lives with a view to the time when Christ will ultimately prevail over all earthly kingdoms. The church knows, therefore, that it lives in the midst of an eschaton that has not yet come, and that the polar realities of the church and the world are the twin sociological units within which it lives. We must be very careful, then, not to confuse the kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of man even as we love and serve the world in Jesus' name. Whatever political differences exist between Christians can be transcended by the common ground of the cross and empty tomb.

(For more, see The Jesus Paradigm).

3:40 PM Odds and ends (from my students' websites) ...

1) I am honored that Matthew Myers should have gone to the trouble to review my little book on Textual Criticism. Thank you, Matt!

2) Bon Voyage to Graham Michael who just left for Israel. You will be a whole different person when you return home, Graham.

3) Paul Hime's father has posted an excellent piece about Bible translation. If you're looking for a good bibliography to get started with, this is it.

4) Alan Knox shares more stories from his local food pantry.

5) Thomas Hudgins writes Here's a Crazy Philosophy.

Proud of, and thankful for, each of my blogging students!

12:14 PM A reader sent this along:

As the 60 year old said "I'm really only 18 with 42 years of experience."

I'm with you, brother!

12:10 PM Farm update:

1) It is finished.

2) If you ever have to pound metal fence posts, this is the gadget you need. I don't know who invented it, but he (or she) deserves a medal.

3) Isn't this a pretty bouquet of flowers? All from our garden. God's handiwork in action. I never tire of it. 

8:52 AM Good thoughts here about studying foreign languages. I had to work hard to acquire the languages needed to study in Basel (in addition to Hebrew and Greek there were Latin, French, and, of course, German). By the time I had graduated I had gained considerably in erudition and you would not have recognized me in my intellectual disguise had you met me then.

Well, I must stop now and get back to work on my anti-goat protection system.

8:48 AM Tonight I'll be cooking for 3 -- we've got a guest coming over for dinner. You'll never guess what I'm making (ha-ha). Don't tell anyone, but cooking is a secret passion of mine and I always look forward to it with the wildest anticipation. I don't for a moment mean to disparage Becky's culinary skills, which are far better than mine. I've concluded -- as has everyone else I suppose -- that I need to eat Chinese stir fry at least once a week to maintain my sanity.

8:31 AM If you're thinking about taking an online course, you may want to read this. One thing is certain: Online courses are usually much more difficult than classroom courses. 

7:42 AM Good morning! Yesterday I mentioned that one of the dangers of the institutionalized form of Christianity is that it fosters a status structure. These structures are perhaps unavoidable in a fallen world. In a highly competitive society, we establish our self worth by rising to the top of our professions. Success is defined by achievement. Even children feel unaccepted unless they are achieving -- or excelling. We talk about "career moves." Even pastors talk this way. "My next church will be a very important move in my career." Status symbols mean everything. At the bottom of the ladder is the pastor of a small rural church. At the top is the "senior pastor" of a large suburban church. How many associates you have under you is also a status symbol. In our prestigious universities, a "successful professor" is one who works for his own fame or perhaps the fame of the institution, while the students are exposed to second-class teachers. In the seminary setting we set apart professors who teach a relatively low number of classes and are designated "Research Professors" -- all of which tends to remove them from the actual classroom and the student-teacher dialogue. The pressure to participate in the rat race is overwhelming. Salaries, even in the pastorate, are competitive. Go-getters prosper. If you are "on the ball" or "well-liked" by the right people you can jump over the heads of your peers. Worth is often defined in terms of bigness -- bigger churches, bigger staffs, bigger budgets, bigger popularity, bigger authority. Academic degrees become more important than character. How can a man in his 50s who pastors a small country church, who is getting nowhere as far as his vocation is concerned, be considered "great"? Yet the words of Jesus are clear: "Many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Mark 10:31). In one stroke Jesus deflates our hankering for status by redefining greatness:

Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: "Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant. Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You'd rather eat and be served, right? But I've taken my place among you as the one who serves" (Luke 22:25-27, The Message).

In Jesus' kingdom, humble servants are honored, not assertive individualists. Slogans, titles, status symbols mean nothing. Each of His followers is treated with equality, dignity, and respect. Everyone matters. There are no small people. Each one of us has a gift from the Holy Spirit. We equally esteem each contribution, whether seminary teaching or cemetery mowing. And we use our positions and power to serve God's kingdom.

Thursday, May 26

7:18 PM Well, I've finally had time to check emails and do a bit of blogging. It is certainly a beautiful day but a terribly hot one. Nate and Jess are putting up hay while I've been cutting grass and trying to put up some woven wire fencing around the Weeping Willow tree in our pond pasture so that the goats don't chew it to pieces when they arrive on Saturday. (The tree is located dead center in this photo on the little peninsula that juts out into the pond.)

I expected the work to be difficult, but the heat and humidity really did me in. Becky has now loaded me up with Gatorade and I'm back to my old self. Personally, I never think about the heat and humidity. After all, aren't I still a 25 year-old (trapped in a 58-year old body)?

I spent a good hour or so this morning writing down some thoughts about status symbols -- you know, self-worth being determined by our position on the ladder of accomplishments. What prompted me to do this was watching a video clip that Arthur Sido linked to this morning in which someone waxes eloquent about the "institutionalized" church. As usual I have nothing to say that will interest anyone except that I am well aware of the dangers that creep into our lives whenever we view the church as an institution characterized by certain "marks" (one of which, naturally, is a teaching magisterium comprised of seminary grads). It is a very great relief to know that people like Arthur are questioning such thinking. I do wish we would rid ourselves once and for all of hyperactivism in the church.

Did I tell you that our son Nigusse is now in Addis Ababa preparing for his appointment on Monday with the American Embassy? If you notice any relief in my tone it's because the whole process of sponsoring a student to come to the U.S. is one howling mass of details. Thus far, Gott sei Dank, Becky's efforts to chart a direct course for Nigusse to follow have been well rewarded, but one always gets nervous any time government red tape is involved in anything.

Well, as I said, it's been a fine day. Tonight Becky and I will probably watch another episode of Hawaii 5-0, which is really one of the most amusing things imaginable to do. Despite the ubiquitous buffoons, murderers, and screaming women, I still think Hawaii is one fine place to live.

Aloha oe,


11:04 AM If you've ever used King Canute to illustrate a point (as I did in It's Still Greek to Me), you might want to think again, says the BBC.

"Everyone always gets it wrong. The latest debate is a nice example of how legend becomes distorted when it is told and retold," says Prof Keynes. "Every now and then someone points out that the reference is wrong, but commentators continue to do it and historians such as myself wince."

Guilty as charged.

Incidentally, our intermediate grammar It's Still Greek to Me will be our basic text in Greek 3, so, again, if you'd like to get a head start you can go ahead and do the exercises at the end of each chapter (checking your answers against the answer key in the back of the book). The more you accomplish ahead of time the less you will have do after class each day.

9:05 AM Quick reminder: Greek 3 (Syntax and Exegesis) begins on Tuesday, July 5. We will be translating through the entire book of Philippians in just three weeks. If you'd like to get a head start, here's a splendid resource you can use: Philippians Commentaries.

I hope to post the course syllabus next week.

8:59 AM How odd. Where I live, the pastor is often called "the Preacher."

I say this is odd because in the New Testament preaching was not limited to the 12 apostles. It was done by all believers. "The people who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the message" (Acts 8:4). In the early church, preaching was not confined to one locality (a church building) or done by one group of individuals (pastors). Preaching was done by any Christian, any time, anywhere. The entire church is under orders from Christ to share the Gospel with the whole world. Pastors are given in order to equip the whole church for this mission.

So don't be surprised if I call you "Preacher" the next time I see you!

Wednesday, May 25

4:22 PM About to cook up more Chinese stir fry for supper, then we're off to Wednesday night Bible study, led by my good friend brother Ed.

4:16 PM I see the discussion about every member ministry continues, thanks to the lucid pen of Arthur Sido. From what I can tell (and I am no expert), we are faced in the church with the necessity of developing a different attitude toward work and vocation. If, perhaps, we put less energy into trying to perpetuate a traditional notion about ministry, we could put more energy into encouraging one another to bear the Christian witness to the nations in business, in the professions, in management, in the arts, etc. This will entail a change in our theology of vocation. Or perhaps I should state it this way: no change in our theology is needed, but rather a return to biblical theology. Transitions of this nature always threaten the Establishment. The traditional church may not be willing to lose its life even though it means finding it. As Arthur notes,

We need to make it a top priority of the church to get away from a performance mentality that freezes the Body of Christ into inaction and get to a real, functioning priesthood of every believer. To do that, pastors need to equip people to do the work of ministry, bless and encourage them to do that work and then get out of the way and let them make mistakes. Otherwise we will be perpetually trapped in our system with one guy running on a hamster wheel while the rest of us watch.

This attitude can and must change if the church is be salt, light, and yeast in the world. Building a congregation into a "fellowship of the concerned" or a "company of the committed" is not easy, but it is necessary.

2:32 PM As a Greek teacher I appreciated this fantastic quote from Thomas Hudgins:

The Scriptures say that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. Paul tells us that through him we can do all things. You decide, Does this include learning a language? Maybe it does not mean you cannot learn a language apart from Jesus. After all, people all over the world learn languages apart from Jesus Christ. But, I assure you, you cannot learn a language to the glory of God, as the fruit of abiding in Christ, apart from Jesus!

2:28 PM I've enjoyed Andy Bowden's series called "Living as a Missionary." He's just finished part 3. It's called Reaching the Rich. Helps me understand why Andy has become a Moose!

11:12 AM Graham Michael, who was in my Mark class this past semester, has done all of us a big favor. He has decided to post his translation of Mark online. To read it, click here (.pdf). I think he did a splendid job. It sure was a stretching experience, for all of us. As Graham admits:

One of the most amazing things I have ever been challenged to do was to translate the Gospel of Mark. I never knew what went into translation work but I greatly appreciate the process now. It was easy to be a first year Greek student and scoff at all the translations that ‘miss it.’ Needless to say this was a humbling journey that revealed my weaknesses, which included but were not limited to: Greek, Textual Criticism, and strangely enough, English.

Thank you, Graham, for sharing your labors with the whole world via the blogosphere. May your tribe increase! 

11:04 AM Wheaton College announces openings in various fields of study, including Biblical and Theological Studies. For the position in New Testament, go here.

10:50 AM Did you hear it? The shout from North Wilkesboro, NC, that is. Kevin Brown's book has arrived, and here's the proof.

The book is an awesome piece of writing. It's called Rite of Passage in the Home and Church. Congratulations, brother Kevin. Job well done.

10:35 AM Arthur Sido needs help. He writes:

They are hawking a “God Bless America” T-shirt (to the exclusion of other nations I assume). How exactly is buying and wearing this particular T-shirt going to honor God? If someone living in Iran wears a “God Bless Iran” T-shirt, is he also honoring God? What about "God Bless Liechtenstein"?

As I think about this issue I have concluded that the one thing that might keep us from successfully insourcing missions, the one thing we have not learned from the past, is the danger of American exceptionalism. When evangelicals moved from cultural obscurity to become a major force in U.S. politics in the 1970s, along with this change came a pressure for conformity to the Religious Right. Calls to "Take America Back!" became ubiquitous. This rhetoric reflected a deep-seated theology of triumphalism -- the Army of God marches forward to take over the federal judiciary, overturn laws deemed inimical to Christianity, support Israel, etc. Obviously this agenda is incompatible with a Great Commission mindset and with the Jesus who tells us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Jesus had strong words for the moralists of His day, the religious leaders who saw the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye and paid no attention to the plank in their own. Evangelicalism, it seems to me, has lost its capacity to stand against what Paul called "the principalities and powers of this world." As I argued in my book Christian Archy (p. 16):

It seems that our steel is fatality flawed after all. It is only faith in Jesus Christ, the Originator and Finalizer of faith, that we have any possibility of salvation. In reality, the Gospel is the only source of personal, familial, and societal renewal. What matters, then, is not that we lose ourselves in futile political or social agitation. What matters is that we recognize in the incarnation of Christ, and in his death and resurrection, that God was intervening in the course of human history to give us not only eternal life but an abundant life every day. There is now only one response we can give -- calling all men and women into a relationship with God through this same Jesus.

In short, the purpose of the church is to be God's missionary people in the world. To put country above the Gospel is a gross error. Such thinking is a sin against the truth.

10:02 AM Wycliffe Bible Translators aims to start translation projects in every language still needing the Bible by the year 2025. Are you willing to help? It may involve grave danger. Read more here.

9:54 AM Eschatological quote of the day #2 (Kevin Brown):

It’s ok! That’s the thought that hit me. With Jesus, everything is ok, no matter what is happening in our lives. Are dark clouds building in your life? Fear may come, but perfect loves drives out fear. So, you and I can take heart! Jesus is in control and so we can even say, “Cheer up, even if it REALLY is the end of the world.” Because Jesus said, He’d be with us even “to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). And knowing that feels real good, when you think it might be.

9:43 AM In 1976 the Association of Theological Schools published a study called Readiness for Ministry. In it people were asked to list the most desirable qualities in priests or ministers. The results are as follows:

  • Service without regard for acclaim

  • The ability to carry out promises

  • Personal example of generosity

  • Competence in completing tasks

  • A character that people respect

  • Ability to build a strong sense of community

  • A perceptive counselor

  • A theologian and thinker

  • Calmness under pressure

  • Steadfast affirmation of persons

  • Recognition of limitations and mistakes

  • Continuing growth and learning

These qualities are consistent with classroom teachers. How do I measure up? How do you? Every Christian should be confronted with such questions. The frivolous and wasteful use of our time, talents, and treasure is often amazing. An old saying puts it this way:

The one who would leave footprints in the sand of time must wear work shoes!

9:30 AM Eschatological quote of the day (Henry Neufeld):  

I'd like to suggest that we need to make sound eschatology a regular part of teaching and preaching. I don’t mean by this responses to predictions like Camping’s. Explaining how wrong other people are, even if they are indeed very wrong, still leaves a vacuum. What we need to do is proclaim the positive message of eschatological passages. While we’re doing that, let’s put the emphasis on the good news, which is not how many people will be left behind or how many will burn in hell, but rather how many people we, as the body of Christ can reach with God’s grace and help acting as Christ’s body.

9:18 AM Are you in a traditional Baptist church that is moving toward plural eldership? I am. But why? Because the answer to mature leadership is found in shared ministry. Like Paul, church leaders need "yoke fellows" who labor side by side with them in the Gospel (see Phil. 4:3-4). A mutual ministry is possible only when pastors realize that their main responsibility is to guide members toward pastoral care of each other. Rather than being a "servant to the served," we desire for each of our pastors to see himself as a "servant with the serving." Does that make any sense? Christians who are touched by the life-changing power of the Gospel are not satisfied to be names on a roll. They see themselves as Christ's working force both in the church and in the world. They have the same spirit that activated ordinary Christians to establish the church in Antioch. The impact of the risen Lord in the world is the collective influence of individual Christians right where they are, quietly, steadfastly, consistently infecting the world where they live with a witness to the relevance of Christ.

It is unmistakably clear in the New Testament that the term "priest" does not refer to ordained officials in a church building but to all Christians in their role as priests of God. As I've often said, I'm not out to abolish the clergy. I'm out to abolish the laity.

7:42 AM Thousands want to know: How's Becky Lynn doing? By the grace of God she's as strong as an ox and as busy as a beaver. In addition to arranging all of the logistics for our Ethiopia ministry and writing articles for the Bethel Hill website (her latest is called A Tornado of Grace), she has started working on yet another quilt project. This is B at her sewing table putting together four layers of material plus the batting.

Her computerized sewing machine was a gift from her mother, Betty Lapsley.

And here's the pattern. Beautiful, ain't it? The pattern is called "Grandmother's Fan." It came out of the Old West in the early 1800s.

Each strip of colored fabric you see here comes from one of our reenacting shirts or dresses, so there's a bit of nostalgia behind this project as well. When it is finished, the quilt will go on one of our beds in the upstairs Renn Room.

As you know, Becky is not one to sit on her duff waiting for the doctors to tell her whether she is well or sick. She just keeps on keeping on. Puts many of us to shame, to tell you the truth!

7:14 AM Good morning blogger and bloggerettes!  Today I am working on the syllabus for my New Testament Introduction class in the fall. I am excited about this class, not only because I get to teach Acts through Revelation. but also because I get to utilize others -- colleagues and students alike -- in teaching the course. I have no greater joy than empowering others and watching them exercise their spiritual gifts of teaching. I also deeply appreciate it when I see local church pastors/elders enlisting and training so-called "laypeople" to the do the work of ministry. This emphasis on equipping others for the work is not a new doctrine but the repristination of the early church. In recent decides, perhaps no one has embodied this emphasis more than John R. Mott, who dedicated his life as a layman to the task of enlisting workers for Christ.

One of his books was entitled Liberating the Lay Forces of Christianity. From his ministry on countless college campuses sprang the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. It was Mott who said, "Greater is he that multiplies the workers than he who does the work." D. L. Moody had a similar saying: "It's better to put ten men to work than to do the work of ten men." Jesus followed this principle when He sent the 12 and the 70. He had a great vision for the usefulness of His disciples. I am beginning to realize that perhaps the greatest contribution a seminary professor can make to his students is to call them to discover and employ their God-given gifts. It is positively dangerous for our students to attend more and more classes and hear more and more lectures unless accompanying it all is an adequate outlet for their talents and abilities. "Learning in community" has become more than a catch phrase for me. Robert McAfee Brown, in his book Patterns of Faith Today, put it this way: "The true meaning of the Reformation phrase 'priesthood of the laity' is not that everybody is his own priest, so that community is not necessary; but rather that everybody must be a priest to everybody else, so that community is a necessity." Paul warns Timothy against people who seem to listen to everybody else but never really arrive at a working knowledge of the truth in their own lives (2 Tim. 3:5-7). I have seen in my own classes the eagerness and skill with which students approach their teaching assignments. I am prepared to predict that students who have the opportunity to "do" will be far better equipped for Christian service than those who merely sit and soak. Take a lesson from Wal-Mart: Trainees learn by doing.

And so, this fall, my students will be exposed to a variety of learning opportunities. They will get the essential background information by reading our textbook; they will see me exegete specific texts of Scripture (often controversial passages, such as the "husband of one wife" requirement in 1 Tim. 3:2); they will hear lectures from my faculty colleagues who are experts in their field of study (e.g., in Romans John Hammett, one of our theology professors, will give a lecture on Tom Wright and the New Perspective on Paul); and finally they will be asked to share with the class the results of their own written assignments for that day's class. I imagine the 3 hours will fly by.

Of course, a great classroom experience is never enough. The real test comes in converting truth into action in daily life. But hopefully a solid foundation can be laid, one upon which a superstructure of life-long learning can be erected.

Tuesday, May 24

7:27 PM Bec's next CT scan has now been scheduled. July 25 is the big day. That same afternoon we'll meet with her radiologist to discuss whether another Cyber Knife procedure is in the works.

Just thought you'd like to know :-)

5:26 PM It's official. Wipf and Stock Publishers will be publishing my latest book, Paul, Apostle of Weakness, an update of my doctoral dissertation that was originally published in 1984. Isn't God good? Wipf and Stock has long been at the forefront of biblical studies publishing, including publishing Stanley Hauerwas' latest book Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian.

2:22 PM I've got good news and I've got bad news. The bad news is that we were picking up bales not 20 minutes ago when a huge storm blew in from nowhere. Haying will have to wait yet another day. The good news is that I was able to fix the toilet in our bathroom without spending a plug nickel of one of them thar 80-dollar per hour professionals. So there. Don't you be telling me the day of miracles is over.

1:34 PM Brief farm update:

1) Our summer garden is coming along well. Hope yours is too.

2) Today I tilled another bed for Becky to use. She'll be planting more tomatoes and yellow squash. Ono-licious (as we used to say in Hawaii)!

3) And now for the REALLY big news. We have found Becky's donkey and goats. They'll be arriving shortly. We've named the female donkey Tinish Koi and the male Tolo Tolo. The mama goat we're calling Fandisha and her baby is called Kolo. I'll let you guess what the names mean (it might help if you know Amharic). They are as sweet as can be!

Is Becky excited? Can you say Sweet-tastik a million times!

11:23 AM Some wonderful news. Paul Himes, who blogs here, has just had an essay accepted for publication in the prestigious European journal Filologia Neotestamentaria. Paul is a doctoral student of mine. In more good news, my assistant Andy Bowden has just had his Th.M. prospectus accepted. Andy, too, is a blogger. How I praise the Lord for such wonderful scholars!

Please note how consistently both Paul and Andy blog (hint, hint).

Monday, May 23

9:16 PM I took these pix for my good friend Down Under.

John, there's nothing quite like gettin' up hay, now is there?

Good, hard work never hurt anybody.

Why is it that bales of hay keep getting heavier and heavier the older I get?

A nice way to top off a great day -- Chinese stir fry with shrimp.

Too worn out to write any more. Talk at ya tomorrow.

11:22 AM Here's another excellent excerpt from Matt McDill's doctoral dissertation (see below). For any church that is seriously contemplating moving toward an eldership model of leadership (as my own local church is doing), here is some useful advice indeed:

Before a man is recognized as an elder, he exercises authority de facto of influence in the church.  Since the gifts of shepherding, leadership, and teaching are not confined to the elders’ office (Eph 4:11; Rom 12:8; 1 Cor 16:15–18; 1 Thess 5:12), members of the community may demonstrate their abilities in these areas before becoming elders. This is implied by the prerequisites of leading and teaching given by Paul (1 Tim 3:2–4; Titus 1:9).The community may also observe the ability to lead and care for others by his ministry to his family (1 Tim 3:3–4; Titus 1:6). These qualifications also require elders to relate rightly to others and to have established credibility inside and outside of the community (1 Tim 3:2–3, 7; Titus 1:6–8). Such relational skills and credibility establish and maintain the elders’ ability to lead others effectively. This again emphasizes the fact that prospective elders were members of the community in which they were to serve. They were observed as men in ministry and proven as men of character (1 Tim 5:22–25).

10:54 AM Needed:

Greek students who will retain what they worked so to acquire.

How tragic to study a language only to forget it when you finish. It is easier to produce Pharisees than Christians. We can be seminary graduates and have taken both Hebrew and Greek and know scarcely a word of either language a year after graduation. How many former students of mine have I met who not could recite the Greek alphabet if their lives depended on it. Yes, they were interested in Greek -- a little bit. But their energies flittered away. Such dabblers are usually sold out to nothing.

In an age that glorifies degrees and titles, we need people who can demonstrate that an education is not a huge waste of time and money. Some have made a seminary education the guarantee of a better job and a greater financial income. Actually, a biblical education is like a bar of soap.

We are not sanctified by lectures on soap or by shelves filled with books about soap. The soap must be applied. The Word must be read and studied and heeded. It must be rubbed vigorously into our souls.

Only then will that diploma be worth it. 

10:45 AM Georgia State University announces an opening in Hebrew.

8:04 AM Are you an ordinary Christian? Then I've got good news for you. My latest essay is called Ordinary Missionaries. If you read it, I hope you will come away better equipped to apply biblical principles of missions to your own life. 

6:59 AM A few suggestions for your Memorial Day Weekend reading:

  • David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship.

  • Randall Balmer, The Kingdom Come.

  • Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy.

  • Jacque Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity.

  • Howard Snyder, The Community of the King.

  • John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom.

These books will really get you thinking.

Sunday, May 22

7:02 PM Quote of the day (source):

We are all wrong about certain aspects of our Theology. Think about it, no one has arrived with the perfect system.

6:54 PM Becky has published Part 2 of her series Chain Saws & Tornados. You'll love it!

6:45 PM Interested in church eldership? Then you will want to download Matthew McDill's doctoral dissertation (written at SEBTS): The Authority of Church Elders in the New Testament. This is not a merely theoretical topic for Matt. He is one of several elders at Highland Christian Fellowship in Boone, NC, where they are trying to flesh out what New Testament eldership looks like in the context of a living, growing local church. Matt argues for the following conclusions:

(1) Elders have authority de jure in that they hold a particular position that carries with it certain rights (which may be better described as responsibilities).

(2) Among the responsibilities of elders is leadership, but not government or control, in the sense of authority to make decisions for the church.

(3) Elders do not have authority de facto in the sense of power to enforce their will upon the church.

(4) The elders of the church should have authority de facto of personal influence based on respect that is earned in accordance with the character, skill, and knowledge prescribed in Scripture for elders (1 Tim 3:1–7 ; Titus 1:5–9), without which their authority de jure is made void.

(5) Elders are to lead as a group by consensus, without a lead elder who has more decision making power among the elders.

You will see, for example, that Matt challenges the concept of primus inter pares (first among equals), which many elder-led congregations insist upon; hence one of their elders will often be called "senior pastor" or "lead pastor." Matt finds no biblical justification for this view. Eldership is, in other words, non-hierarchical. But I urge you to read the entire work for yourself, compare it with the Scriptures, and then commit yourself to following the Scriptures when it comes to this whole area of biblical authority -- not your church traditions.

Here's a picture of Matthew (second from right) after he had just passed his Ph.D. orals in 2006. To Matt's left is his father, Wayne McDill, who is one of my esteemed colleagues at SEBTS. 

6:30 PM School has been out for only 3 days and already I am missing the classroom. I don't know about you, but I do not think about what I do as work. It's not a job. When I worked as a courier delivering tax returns in downtown Los Angeles, or when I worked two 12-hour shifts every weekend at an Amway Plant in Orange County, or when I bussed tables in Waikiki, that had been work. Being in the classroom -- that can never be work. July 5th and my summer school Greek class can't get here too quickly.

5:35 PM Odds and ends ...

1) As brother Joel was teaching from 1 John 2 this morning, I noticed a textual variant in which one ancient reading was said to be supported by a certain church father named Quodvultdeus. Who in the world was he? I asked myself. The front matter in my Greek New Testament stated only that he lived "about 453." So I did a little research. Seems the good Quodvultdeus was a bishop of Carthage in North Africa and a contemporary of Augustine. That says a lot. But what I especially like about this ancient church father is his name. If you've studied Latin, you will recognize it immediately:

What God Wants

If this isn't a great name for a follower of King Jesus. It implies sacrificial living. It implies instantaneous obedience. It implies true commitment. On page 809 of my Greek New Testament, I have written these words:

Luther to Zwingli (1529): "If Sc. [Scripture] told me to eat dung, I would do so."

My desire exactly. As brother Joel is always quick to point out as he continues his series in the book of 1 John, it is not just the absence of willful sin that characterizes the life of a genuine Christian. It is the positive presence of brotherly love. May that be said of each one of us, that we are truly men and women who could be named Quodvultdeus, "What God Wants."

2) In a glorious reminder of just how awesome our Creator is, the cicadas are back having spent the past 13 years underground.

Their above-ground mating frenzy will last for 2 months, then back they go into the earth. The sound (or noise, depending on your perspective) is ubiquitous here at the farm. We won't hear them again until 2024. What phenomenal creatures. As brother Ed put it to me after church today, "Only God...."

3) You might have noticed that during the commencement service on Friday I had with me a notebook, a Greek New Testament, and a German Bible (Die Gute Nachricht), seeing how I love to compare English versions with other translations. Danny Akin was teaching from the so-called Matthean Great Commission and when he came to verse 20 of Matthew 28 I found this written in my German New Testament: "Ich bin immer bei euch, jeden Tag, biz zum Ende der Welt." Bingo. Right on the mark. Bulls-eye. Most English versions say that Jesus promised to be with us "always," but the Greek has "all the days." The idea, no doubt, is jeden Tag, "each and every day." Which means that although Jesus didn't come back to this earth yesterday, He was still with me on Saturday, May 21, and He is with me today, on Sunday, May 22, and He will be with me on Monday, May 23, 2011. I'll stop now, but you get the point. Jesus is omnipresent because He is God. When Jim Elliott said, "Wherever you are, be all there!" he meant "Wherever you are, be all there, because He is there too!"

4) Here's a must read for all of you doctoral students who have ever struggled through a course in theological German: Twain on German.

5) To those of you who paid $135.00 for post-rapture pet care: I'm so sorry you wasted your hard-earned money. You can love your pets without worshipping them.

6) Andy Bowden is getting serious about evangelizing his own neighborhood.

Saturday, May 21

3:36 PM Did you know this website exists?

I'm using it right now. It will save me a few bucks.

What doesn't the Web have???? 

12:55 PM It's a small world. It's also a small kingdom. In yesterday's commencement service the benediction was given by Sam George of Emmanuel Ministries in Tenkasi, India.

It was a pleasure to meet him and I was surprised that I had once been within a hour hour's drive of his home. The occasion was the dedication of the new India Evangelical Ministries Bible College in Mavelikara, India, at which I asked to speak. The college is located in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. The State of Kerala teems with Hawaiian-like vegetation and fruit -- mangos, guava, passion fruit, bananas, lilikoi, etc. I enjoyed chatting with Sam and his son, who just graduated with his M.Div.

There are a total of 2,533 people groups in India. Of these, some 2,231 are considered unreached people groups. Don't believe me? Then go here. It will boggle your mind. Most adhere to Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. Brother Sam is doing all he can to reach them. Who will help him?

12:48 PM Just back from donkey hunting. We're getting closer.

8:21 AM Speaking of our Ph.D. grads, Michael Shepherd's dissertation is reviewed here (.pdf).

Michael currently teaches at Louisiana College. Congratulations, Mike.

7:32 AM Yes, He could come today. Are you and I busy about His kingdom and buying up the time?

7:26 AM Thought you might enjoy this: The external dissertation readers for our Ph.D. students who graduated yesterday included:


  • Dale C. Allison, Errett M. Grable Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Early Christianity at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

  • Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology, Emory University

  • James Charlesworth, George L. Collard Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary

This is as it should be and shows the healthy cross-fertilization that takes place in the doctoral program at SEBTS. 

7:18 AM Full day yesterday. Wonderful day. Said goodbye to lots of great people. Jody is off to Duke for post-graduate work.

 Ray leaves the seminary to serve Jesus in a church in Virginia.

Ronnie, talented Ronnie, will take his amazing guitar and settle in South Carolina.

Matt will continue his Old Testament studies here.

Our fabulous Korean grads. Wish we had more of them.

Bedilu, who pastors an Ethiopian congregation in Dallas, received his Ed.D.

I felt honored to be invited by the Korean students to attend their post-graduation celebration. Great "Seoul Food."

 We welcomed Bedilu and his family to Rosewood Farm for supper.

His mother came all the way from Addis to celebrate her son's accomplishment.

Danny Akin's commencement address was phenomenal. His text? Matthew 28:18-20. If we do not obey this command of Jesus to go, we commit high treason against the King, he told us.

Citing John Keith Falconer, the Arabic scholar who left his teaching post at Cambridge to serve Jesus in Yemen and who died at age 31 from malaria, Danny said, "I have but one candle in life to burn. I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land filled with light." David Livingston, who died in Africa, said, "Sympathy is no substitute for action." Danny was very clear. We do not need to stop and pray about it. God's will is clear. We are to go to the nations. His will is not always safe, but it is always best.

Perhaps the highlight of the commencement service for me was when our own Susan Durham-Lozaw sang Steve Green's "I Will Go." I could scarcely keep from weeping.


Yes, Jesus, I will go. I know it's not safe, but it is best. I will not substitute sympathy for action. I will go, King Jesus.

Friday, May 20

7:22 AM I began teaching Greek at Biola University in 1976. This means that I've sat through about 35 years of graduation exercise as a faculty member. That calculates to some 70 commencements! I've enjoyed every place I've taught, but there's something special about Southeastern. Jesus invites His followers to join Him in basin ministry. This call to an active basin ministry permeates the campus. We're asked to love, teach, serve, and go. The hallmark of Jesus' earthly ministry was His willingness to forego what was rightfully His. And that is exactly my prayer today for our grads. Like a Space Shuttle about to be launched, our graduates are sitting on the launching pad about to be propelled into space by thousands of pounds of thrust. The analogy breaks down, of course. In Christianity, the way up is down. Only in defeat do we know victory. Only through weakness do we experience strength. Only as we are on our knees can we ever hope to stand. We do not worship this world. We serve a New King and sing a New Song. We pledge allegiance to Him alone. Our only desire is that His kingdom come, His will be done -- through us. In this kingdom, even the least is greater than John the Baptist. Even those who did not earn academic honors. Even those who have no idea where God wants to use them. Even those without the trappings of "success." In fact, especially those.

Today in chapel Jesus will be there, standing and calling His disciples. He will point to the widow and say, "You might not have much, but you can give everything you have to the Cause of Causes. Don't just skim off the top of your abundance. Don't store up for yourselves treasures on earth. Strive for the kingdom and God's righteousness. Then you will have everything."

Students, if you hear and obey the biblical message, which urges us to place everything we are and everything we have under the reign of Jesus Christ, you will be truly blessed.

Thursday, May 19

8:46 PM Now living in El Salvador, Thomas and Lesly Hudgins continue to work faithfully on the translation of Learn to Read New Testament Greek into Spanish. I am both humbled and grateful. Gracias, mis hermanos quieridos.  

8:22 PM Odds and ends ...

1) Becky and I walked to the mail box and ran across Nate mowing the ripple field. That's some real nice hay the Lord's given us. Nathan thoroughly enjoys farming. He was cut out for it, except for his hay fever.

2) Becky cooked the most delicious chicken fettuccini tonight for supper. It included fresh peas from her garden. What a nice touch. I think I could have peas with every meal.

3) Becky spoke with Oshe in Burji for an hour today. He gave us an update on the work there. Here's a happy item: Our precious Tiblett, who is over 2 years, is almost able to pull herself up. That's tremendous progress for this little girl. Bogalech, her mother, is also doing fine. This report made my day.

4) Shoko, who also lives in Burji, has begun helping Oshe with the audio Bible teaching ministry. Shoko is an incredible young man. Blind from a detached retina, he is memorizing the entire New Testament in Amharic.

Much to be thankful for tonight.

6:56 PM Becky talks about chain saws and tornados.

6:52 PM I can hear Nathan out there cutting one of our hay fields. Farming sounds. Music to my ears.  

6:44 PM Happy Birthday Lizzy Pie. We love you.

6:32 PM We've decided to postpone our trip out West to the fall, when Nigusse can travel with us. There is nothing like seeing America from the ground up (rather than from an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet in the air). As many beautiful sights as there are in the Virginia Piedmont, I still feel that the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico have a beauty all their own. Also, Nigusse will be able to speak in churches as we criss-cross the nation. Imagine having your very own Ethiopian speaking about the church in Alaba.

So there you are: trip postponed, but not cancelled. I should also add that the UNC radiologists have ruled out, for now, further Cyber Knife treatments for Becky until she has a second CT-scan in 2 months. We understand their logic perfectly and are in agreement with it. In the meantime Becky is enjoying really good strength and vigor, which she is using to the max for the kingdom. Life is that simple, really: Every day you look in the mirror and say, "God, please use this weak vessel for your purposes."

6:06 PM 189. That's the number of students who will be receiving their degrees tomorrow. Pray they wear their learning lightly.

5:50 PM Wonderful news! The Alaba court case is settled. Nigusse sent us the following email this morning:

Yesterday and today the whole day we have been discussing our case with the Muslim district elders and some elders called from neighboring areas.  Finally the Muslims who had broken the vehicle and beat us confessed what they had done. They regretted their false counter-charge against us too. They said "Our accusation is wrong."  Then we forgave them officially. We did not get any payment back for the repairing of the vehicle and from the money we spent in this case. We fully forgave them. Tomorrow we will see the main district administrator (civil government) to discuss about how to maintain peace  in Alaba district, from this time onwards. Thank you, all of you, for your prayers, concern and for fighting the Evil One with us. Praise God for this and keep on prayer for our discussion with the officials. 

In response, Becky sent out this email today:

So....God has given us the victory!  The unbelievers have repented, and received full forgiveness by God's people.  And the Gospel has shown brightly in this dark place!   We have already sent funds for the vehicle repair.  All the injured brethren are fully recovered now.  And we hope that an open door will now exist for preaching the Gospel in Beshano village.  Please pray that the church will capitalize on this opening, and that the Alaba government will be courageous to fulfill the law of Ethiopia in granting freedom to Christians to worship even in areas 'claimed' by the Muslims.

From my heart, I say "thank you!"   The church of our Lord is ONE CHURCH.  And by prayer, we link together against the Evil One who seeks her destruction.  Thank you for standing, as Nigusse has said, against the Evil One thru prayer these past months on this issue.

Rejoicing in the victory He has won thru your prayers!


Becky is right. By standing together in prayer you made a difference. It's just another reminder that we fight our battles on our knees and then watch God give the victory. The one thing we cannot do is try to overcome evil with evil. 

11:32 AM Welcome back to my blog. I've just published my latest essay. It's called "The Rule of Paul." Here's an excerpt:

Church meetings today tend to be somewhat monolingual. By contrast, 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.

Interestingly, 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.

You can read the entire essay here.

10:52 AM Yesterday we received these marvelous resources from the Voice of the Martyrs. Becky has already started reading Victorious Faith.

On the very first page she has written the word "AMEN!" next to the following paragraph:

No one can exhaust the sense of Jesus' death on Calvary. But the wise have always taught by deeds. Through dying by His own will at the age of thirty-three, young and full of power, Jesus gave us a lesson on how to handle the problems of life. Die to them!

To which I add, "AMEN!"

9:18 AM Quote of the day (Arthur Sido): 

So find some other Christians who disagree with you (not to fight with them or convert them!). Get to know them. Let them get to know you. See what happens. I can virtually guarantee you that your life in the Body of Christ will be richer for it!

Read Unity because of differences. Our diversity in the Body of Christ is not merely to be tolerated; it is to be celebrated.

9:06 AM Before I forget, yesterday I received via email attachment an 800-page New Testament Greek grammar. (That is not a typo -- 800 pages.) The author asked if I would peruse it before publication.

Yes, the book is in German. 

9:02 AM Today I received this email inquiry:

I forgot to ask you in the last email whether or not you will be holding a German conversation group next semester.

My answer is simple: If I can hear from at least 5 committed German learners, I am willing to meet weekly for an hour with you to practice conversation, discuss theological terms, listen to German sermons together, etc. Email me if you're interested.

8:55 AM Certain bloggers, I've noticed, seem to delight in dirt. They are quick to point out every colossal blunder of government, every life wrecked by gross iniquity. I've often asked myself, Can't a life be equally wrecked by majoring on the minors? How tragic the person who is occupied with lesser things while neglecting his or her main responsibility. I face this dilemma each and every day. It is easy for me to become the slave of the trivial. I am so busy here or there, with this or that, that I never get around to the main business of life -- the business of the kingdom of God. And it gets worse. How fussy I can get about the washing of pots, about robes and phylacteries, about being called Rabbi and sitting in the chief seats in the synagogue. I'm not just saying this. It's true. I am a Pharisee if ever there was one. I struggle with hubris on a daily basis. I am trapped by the tyranny of the trivial. The truth is, tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before self-righteous me. The believer in Christ must also be a disciple of Christ, and discipleship costs everything. The cross spells death to my old self, all the false ambitions and desires of the Old Adam. Then why do I so often feel like someone who has never been buried with Christ?

The middle letter of sin is "I." The middle letter of pride is "I." It is this "I" that scares me to death. 

8:40 AM The Big Lie is not the fraud that will be exposed this Sunday morning (see Doomsday 2011). The Big Lie has nothing to do with idiotic date-setting.

The Big Lie is our false orthodoxy, our pseudo religion, our finger-pointing self-righteous Evangelicalism. We are too smart to be duped by false prophets who predict the return of Christ on such-and-such a date but too blind to see our own cheap substitutes for the real thing. Some call this pseudo-Christianity, others Christendom. I think "Churchianity" says it well. We choose simulated piety, and God lets us reap the consequences of our choice.

7:52 AM Good morning bloggers! Yesterday a prospective doctoral student shared with me his desire to work on the topic of Hekastology, or the doctrine that says that every Christian has a charisma -- a place, a position, a vocation as a disciple of Jesus. How can we best use our gifts and resources to serve God's kingdom? This is a key question of biblical theology. The term Hekastology is derived from the Greek word for "every." (Yes, I coined the term. I devote a chapter to the subject in The Jesus Paradigm.) The student felt that, in a flat kingdom, we should equally esteem each contribution, each endowment of the Holy Spirit, whether preaching or setting up tables. Regardless of vocation, each of us has a contribution to make, and the contribution can be important as long as we leave our personal ambitions behind and use our gifts to enrich the Body of Christ. Where all of this will go I do not know. But I would very much like to see the topic researched in depth. For that matter, any research that fleshes out the kingdom perspective in terms of biblical theology appeals to me.

Also this week a college student asked me where she could find my essays on missions, and I pointed her to the following. As you can see, a major deseridatum of mine is to see missions flattened. The need for us to stop outsourcing the task is a huge one. I imagine this topic will come up frequently in our New Testament Introduction class in the fall. At any rate, here are the essays I pointed her to:

Wednesday, May 18

9:25 PM A few notes in the margin on this last day of the semester:

1) A big Greek shout out to Chris and Kathy for winning the 110 Award on their final exam!

2) The following have joined the prestigious Five Minute Greek Club: Young Won, Minwoo, Zach, Doug, Ryan, Chris, Jeremy, David, Savannah, Matt, Heebum, John, and Justin. Welcome to each one of you! Others can still join. Send me an email and I will see that you get the sign up sheet. It looks like this:

Welcome to the Five Minute Greek Club

Two things you need to know right up front: There are no dues, and we never meet.

What, then, is the club all about?

By signing below you commit yourself to translating two verses every day from your Greek New Testament throughout the summer. Start with an easy book (like finishing 1 John), then go on to something a bit more difficult (the Gospel of Mark, for example). If you don’t read your Greek, you will lose it – guaranteed!

So sign up today.

“I, the undersigned, commit myself this summer to translate two verses every day from my Greek New Testament unless providentially hindered.”


Note 1: This commitment begins TODAY.

Note 2: Please email me if you signed this form and let me know you’ve joined the club:

Note 3: If you fulfill your commitment, please let me know at the beginning of next semester. You might qualify for a free copy of my book New Testament Textual Criticism. I will test your proficiency in my office to determine your eligibility.

3) In the fall I'll be teaching New Testament Introduction 2 (Acts to Revelation), Greek 1, and Greek 3 (Syntax and Exegesis). I'm told each class is now closed, but there are always drops, so if you want to you might sign the waiting list.

4) Special thanks to my Th.M. student and "grader" (assistant) Andy Bowden and also to my doctoral student Alan Knox for their help this semester. Andy has done yeoman's work for me in my research and writing, and Alan has answered untold web-related questions I've had. I treated them to lunch today as a small token of my appreciation. Thank you again, gentlemen.

5) I've been working on my syllabus for NT Intro 2. We'll begin in Acts, then work through the Pauline epistles (chronologically), and finish up with the book of Revelation. So far I've lined up several outstanding guest lecturers (Alan Knox on the church in Acts, John Hammett on Romans and the New Perspective on Paul, Bob Cole on Paul's use of the Old Testament in Galatians, David Lanier on the theme of Christ's superiority in Hebrews, Paul Himes on the theme of resident aliens in 1 Peter, Alex Stewart on perseverance in Revelation, Andy Bowden on the discourse structure of James, and others.) In every case my goal is for my students to rethink the wineskins as well as their exegetical presuppositions. When you're moving from one system to the next, the steps can be painful. I felt this personally when I came to the realization that I was as much a fulltime missionary of the Lord Jesus Christ as any board-certified professional. Change usually comes at a very high price, not least in terms of disequilibrium and resistance. No one has put this better than Machiavelli in the book The Prince:

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in introducing a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.

Sadly, sometimes we are afraid to confront truth. The solutions are not often to be found in our traditional textbooks. It's all about framing. And the frame must be the exegesis of specific texts. This is why, in a nutshell, courses in New Testament Introduction make so mush sense. It really comes down to understanding -- and obeying -- the Scriptures, whether that has to do with missions or the church or any area of the Christian life. I hope to post the preliminary syllabus for NT 2 shortly. I'll keep you posted here.

6) Finally, if you're a student of mine, you'll be happy to know that you can now check your final semester grades. They are online at Campus Net. Thank you again for your hard work this semester. Per ardua ad astra!

Tuesday, May 17

5:30 AM Off to see the dental hygienist. Part 2.

5:23 AM I hope many of you Greek students will join my Five Minute Greek Club today. It goes all summer long.  This is also your last chance to win the prestigious 110 Award (and a copy of one of my books) on your final exam. I love giving away books to deserving students!

5:19 AM Quote of the day (Brian Fulthorp):

So my advice is take Greek and Hebrew!!

Monday, May 16

8:49 PM Great series on the prologue of Hebrews here

8:30 PM Rick Brannan has some used Greek books for sale.

8:23 PM If you read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, Josh Honeycutt has a question for you.

8:05 PM Today Becky sent out the following report to our email list. Rejoice with us!

Greetings, everyone!  It's been a long day, but we're now home.  Everything went well.  Thank you for your prayers.  Our report is not definitive, but I'll tell you what we know.

In February, I had 4 cancer nodules in my lungs.  We treated the two largest ones with Cyberknife concentrated radiation.  The CT today shows that each of these nodules is about 40-50% smaller...and they will likely continue to get smaller in the coming weeks.  So that is a very good report.

The two smaller ones, however, have grown by about 50%, although they remain very small at less than 1 cm in size. 

In February, there were also a whole slew of "baby" spots, which were too small to clearly describe as cancer.  In the preliminary reading of today's CT, we still cannot say if any of these spots have grown and/or are clearly cancerous.

Over the next 2-3 days the doctors will have a meeting & go over my CT slide by slide.  Essentially, they will try to determine if any of the "baby" spots look like definitive new cancer spots.  If the answer is "no", then we will likely & immediately treat the increasing 2 spots with Cyberknife.  (This would necessitate a postponement of our camping trip West.)   If the answer is "maybe" or "yes", then we will likely wait another 2-3 months & repeat the CT, so that there will be more clarity to the overall picture.

In other good news, there are no signs of spread of the cancer to the abdominal organs or the lymph nodes.

So....the overall report is excellent.  Those nodules treated by CyberKnife in February were clearly responsive.  Now we decide whether to treat the other 2 growing nodules immediately with CyberKnife, or wait for a repeat CT in 2-3 months.  We hope to have a definite plan by Thursday.

Our days are in His hands....and joyfully so!

Thank you for your loving concern & prayers for us.


Sunday, May 15

7:08 PM Time to cook some pancakes for Becky. And me of course. 

7:01 PM Exciting news! Becky and I are sponsoring our first Ethiopian to study in America. His name is Nigusse. You can read about him here. Please pray for Nigusse as, Lord willing, he begins his studies this fall.

8:10 AM This Friday is Commencement. In honor of our graduates I offer the following aphorisms on education:

  • A burden to reach the lost can be developed in seminary but never created by it.

  • The best education for ministry takes place within the ongoing life of the local church.

  • The best professors teach by example. They serve Christ wholeheartedly, live for the kingdom of God, and model costly service and faithful involvement in missions. If you had great professors in seminary, model their example to others.

  • Worship is not what we do in chapel but what we do when we are driving our car or doing the dishes or mowing the lawn.

  • True education is intended to lead us into a practical love and sacrificial service in the world.

  • The most blatant sin of education is knowledge without humility. Your diplomas do not need to hang on your office wall.

  • The call to serve is the call to downward mobility. Forget the top position. Fight for the bottom of the pile.

  • Be careful of becoming a producer of spirituality and not a consumer.

  • You cannot serve two masters: God and power. Resist the temptation to use your position to manipulate others.

  • Avoid relational promiscuity -- chattering your life away in shallow friendships while dodging exhausting relationships.

  • "Superficiality is the curse of our age" (Richard Foster). As you teach others, always strive to be simple without being simplistic.

  • Beware of self-absorbed hedonism. Deliberately put yourself in risky situations for God.

  • Remember: to reach the world for Christ will take all of us. The most expedient thing we can do today to reach our generation is to have fewer supported workers and more self-supporting ones.

  • The very worst thing that can happen to you can turn out to be God's appointed means of preparing you for kingdom work.

  • Finally, always allow for a fresh leading of the Spirit. Let God surprise you!

Congratulations, graduates. My prayers are with you.

Saturday, May 14

7:24 PM Take the National Biblical Greek Exam!

7:16 PM Our supper tonight was a huge hit if I do say so myself. Dave Black, Über-Chef!

4:56 PM In a strange sort of coincidence, while Brian LePort has been cogitating about the significance of the biblical place name Emmaus, I've been doing the exact same thing with the "significant insignificant" town of Miletus, which perhaps you've never heard of.

You see, Monday is a very big day for Becky and me. Her CT-scan is scheduled for 11:30, and then we meet with her oncologist at 1:00 and her radiologist at 3:30. What, you ask, does that have to do with Miletus? Much in every way. Let me explain.

Becky's final Cyber Knife procedure was three months ago. Has God used it to heal her? That's the question I've been pondering for the past three months. To be honest, I'm a bit anxious about Monday's appointments. Although her scan won't be definitive, it will give us at least a preliminary indication of where things stand with her metastatic uterine cancer (now in her lungs). That said, regardless of Monday's outcome, our lives will go on. We will continue to serve King Jesus, come what may. You see, life (for me) is an unfathomable mystery. It's like one of those zucchini seeds that Becky planted today in our vegetable garden. To plant it is to recognize its value; to keep it is to destroy its value. To be of any value, the seed must die. Life is a precious commodity. But we can spend it selfishly and thus, in saving it, lose it. But if we count it as God's, if we lose what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose, then life makes sense, regardless of its length or quality.

I will be the first to admit that God is under no obligation to heal my Becky Lynn. Things in life do not always turn out as we want them to. Even the apostle Paul, who had healed a man at Lystra and had cast out demons at Philippi, left his good friend Trophimus ill at Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). Poor old Miletus -- forever known in history as a spot on the map where a sick man was not healed! Although I am praying for a miracle, and expecting one, I'm leaving room for a Miletus along the way. I simply have to. Of course, our Lord did not come to make life miserable but rich and full. Yet our treasure is in heaven, and we enjoy an abundance beyond the fluctuations of earth's little price variations. Everything is in God's hands, including the future. We are but the stewards of our days. So if you do feel led to pray for Becky and me, pray that we will accept a Miletus if that's what our God wants for us. Please pray, too, that we may learn to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

4:44 PM Odds and ends ...

1) Henry Neufeld chimes in on the "call to the ministry" debate from a distinctly Methodist perspective. A good read as always.

2) Meanwhile, here's Alan Knox's two cents.

3) Finally, Paul Himes ponders A Different Kind of Theodicy.

2:54 PM Becky ran across this incredible story from the Hoosier State: No right to resist illegal cop entry into home. Note the word "illegal." No warrant. No consent.

Oh, in case you forgot, our beloved Fourth Amendment reads as follows:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

2:32 PM The rain has started, but not before Becky planted our zucchini and picked our very first peas of the season. I'll use them in our Chinese stir fry tonight. Along with my top secret ingredient, of course.

2:23 PM Thanks to a tip from Nick Norelli, I'm ordering Dick Longenecker's latest book: Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul's Most Famous Letter.

11:52 AM Graduates, remember: A humble Christian can know more of God's Word than all the professors trying to study the Bible as just another analyzable datum of linguistic investigation. No one need be ashamed of simple faith. Don't deny your soul the meat of God's Word merely because some professor got stuck on one of its bones.

11:28 AM Moody Bible Institute announces openings in Bible and Pastoral Studies.

10:36 AM I have a question today, a question to which I do not know the answer. When will appeals for vocations to the ministry end? And when, in their place, will the church encourage all of its members to seek God's will for the area of ministry in which they can most effectively be used by Him? I propose that we never again use the expression "call to the ministry" unless we are careful to apply it to each and every Christian. All this will neither be easy nor popular. Yet at some point it must be done. One of the main reasons for burn-out in the pastorate is that it is often carried out alone. The New Testament never envisaged such a predicament. Ministry needs to be shared. Jesus realized this: He sent out the apostles two by two. Paul realized this when he appointed elders (note the plural) in every church. And it needs to be modeled by today's Christian leaders. It is not until church members are enthusiastic about their own God-given gifts that we will succeed in being the Body of Christ.

8:40 AM I would like to thank Juanita Hansen for donating the book Chancellorsville 1863 to the seminary library. I checked it out this week. I am two thirds of the way through the book and have not been disappointed. The author, Ernest Furguson, is a descendant of Confederate soldiers and weaves the story together as if he had been there himself. His treatise is balanced and fair (e.g., Union General Hooker has often been painted as a coward, yet Furguson makes us aware of the problems and challenges he faced). The book is interesting down to the smallest details, such as the one I found on p. 177, where the author mentions the word the Confederates used to describe the Yankee rout -- skedaddle. I had not known, despite my many years of teaching Greek, that the word apparently comes from the Greek verb skedannumi, to disperse or retire tumultuously. Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, and Xenophon all used it. Of course, as the author notes in a memorable comment, "Hooker's troops in the Wilderness knew nothing of its origin, but everything of its meaning." Naturally, this etymology has its detractors; but whatever the real origin of skedaddle, Furguson is a really gifted writer. In my opinion, this is certainly the best book out there on the Battle of Chancellorsville, and I highly recommend it.

8:23 AM I see Newt is officially in the race. I notice, too, that he is eager to gain the backing of the Religious Right, despite his multiple marriages. More and more of the "clergy" will no doubt find it advantageous to lend him their support. In American politics it has become popular to be a Christian and to cast a religious coloring over one's political ambitions. One day perhaps, religion will no longer play a major role in U.S. elections, but that day has not yet arrived. Popular campaigns for public office will continue to glorify their causes with religious sanctions, and this means that God's people, the only "holy nation" that exists today, must maintain a guard against any symbiosis of church and state.

Friday, May 13

9:12 PM Sweet time of fellowship with the Abernathys tonight. Long time supporters of the work in Ethiopia. We first met them when I preached a revival at Smyrna Baptist Church in Dinwiddie, VA. They have been a huge encouragement to us since then and great prayer warriors.

Thank you, Ben and Sheila, for your love for Africa -- and for us. We love you!

4:21 PM We went to the dentist in Chapel Hill today for teeth cleaning. Becky's went fine. She has perfect teeth. They used a chain saw, jack hammer, and TNT on mine. They'll finish Part 2 of the job next Tuesday morning. That should be interesting: teaching my Tuesday classes with half of my mouth completely numb. Right now we're prepping the house for some very special dinner guests. More on them later.

7:52 AM Felicity Dale asks Who can baptize? 

6:58 AM Odds and ends ...

1) It's official! Congratulations, Kevin!

2) Five (tongue-in-cheek) reasons to study Barth.

3) A Canadian visits "my" beach.

4) Check out Prayer for All Lands.

5) Leading people who are older than you.

Thursday, May 12

8:40 PM Can you put up with a few pix from tonight's festivities? Here's a view of the famous Berry Hill Plantation nestled amid 650 acres near South Boston, VA.

The Greek revival mansion dates back to 1842. Becky and I ate (make that "dined" -- there's no other word to describe it) in the fabulous Carrington's Restaurant located just inside the big house.

My filet mignon was out of this world, as was Becky's grilled salmon with orange sauce, prepared by master chef Jason.

 Here's a shout out to our fantastic server. Great job, Tommy!

We highly recommend the Carrington. Be sure to visit the magnificent flower garden when you stop by. 

Arriving back on the farm we moseyed over to Maple Ridge (Nate and Jessie's farm house) where Nolan & Co. greeted Becky with a card, birthday flowers, and some of Nolan's art work.

Nolan, I think, loves his Mama B.

As for Papa B? He's a pretty handy gadget to have around, especially when he plays chase with you.

I've never met a child with a bigger smile or more laughter just bubbling out all over.

So ... how to cap off this wonderful day? Watch another episode of McGarrett and Co., of course!

3:06 PM Man, can I identify with brother Craig. He's building a shed with his own tools and hands, and having the time of his life. He writes, "While I am tired, stiff and sore and know that tomorrow I will be paying a price for today’s effort – its a satisfying pain. For I can truly say – this is the shed that I built."

Craig, the outbuildings you see here were all built by my son and me. The one on the right we built from scratch, using materials we scrounged from other farms. The posts were cedar trees we cut down, the rafters were pines from our own farm. The other two buildings we disassembled and then moved to the farm. These buildings cost us absolutely nothing. Even the roofing tin was scavenged. I put in the garden fence you see here, as well as Becky's raised garden beds.

And check out this barn. It took my son and I a whole year to build it. Nate had always wanted a gambrel barn and he needed more space for hay storage, so it only made sense to add another outbuilding to the farm.

Why am I telling you all this? Because there is not a single day that goes by when I do not consciously say to myself, I love this farm. Thank God for it! Simply looking at all the things we ourselves have done and made brings a sense of satisfaction that is, really, indescribable. Craig knows what I'm talking about. He's building more than a shed. He's dreaming. And building many happy memories for the years to come.

2:28 PM Becky and I worked until we dropped. Made some good headway, though, in clearing one of our walking trails. As I worked, I thought to myself, I wonder how old the apostle Paul was when he died? Most scholars would say in his mid to late 60s. Which means, I am a young whipper snapper in comparison. Somebody please tell that to my body. It keeps saying, You're aging, old boy! I can see how older folk might say, "Time to retire. I've done my share. Let the younger generation take over." Not so Paul! He finished strong. He kept fighting till the match was over. He risked danger and death when he could have "retired" from the service. "Something remains for us to do or dare/ Even the oldest trees some fruit may bear," wrote Longfellow.

Lord Jesus, don't let me retire from serving you. May the last chapter in my life's little book be the best ever, for your glory alone!

(Yes, I did just pray to Jesus. Believe it nor not, this is a hotly debated topic in some circles!)

10:32 AM Inspired by Schnelle's interview, I've posted a few brief thoughts on the New Perspective.

8:33 AM More family news from The Hill (my home church). Wow, I get tired just reading it. My favorite line? "Our beloved Jason has been working diligently on his doctoral studies, but his love for us keeps getting in the way."

Well said, Becky! I love this picture of Jason "pastoring" our church after the recent tornado.

8:18 AM If you are interested in N. T. Wright's works and the New Perspective on Paul, then you simply must read this excellent interview with Udo Schnelle of the Martin Luther University of Halle/Wittenburg. His conclusion?

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, there was a misunderstanding of Judaism in some parts of the Lutheran church, which included Lutheran scholars. This is correct. It was good that the New Perspective started a debate about how near Paul the believer in Christ is still to Judaism. But, I say it again, for Paul, Christianity is not an update of Judaism. It is a new “meaning construction” with a new discourse founder – that is Jesus Christ. The discourse founder of Judaism is Moses. With the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is building it’s own world.

7:38 AM The third chapter of this book (.pdf) on Hebrews is entitled "Paulus und kein Anderer ist der Verfasser des Trostschreibens an die Hebräer." Of course, the book was published in 1878. In "pre-critical" times. Today we know better.

7:30 AM Greek students! Wayne Lehman's latest post over at the Better Bibles Blog (classy translation) is a must read. Here's the crux:

Can the principle of not changing the classes of words (or morphemes) be maintained while translating, whether from the Bible or any other utterance or document? No. As far as I know, such a principle is never taught in professional translation training programs. There is no logical reason why English Bible translators should follow such a principle, either, even as a basic guide which would have exceptions.

Once again, this illustrates to me the importance of being able to converse fluently in at least one modern foreign language if you desire to do Bible translation.

7:14 AM Two hot dates are planned today for B's birthday. (1) We're taking the chain saw and clearing a walking path together in the back 40. (2) Tonight I'm taking her for dinner to a fancy ante-bellum mansion. (Shhhh, don't tell her. It's a secret.)

7:10 AM Pray for Franklin Graham as he visits North Korea.

7:06 AM Enjoyed reading this essay (.pdf) on the literary structure of Heb. 1:1-4, which I found here. The author sees in the passage a complex chiasmus. I came to a different conclusion in my essay "Hebrews 1:1-4: A Study in Discourse Analysis," Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987) 175-194. If anyone would like a copy of the latter essay, just send me an email at

6:58 AM Read this fabulous verse this morning: "I make myself a servant to all people in order that I might win as many of them as possible" (1 Cor. 9:19). Now here's a principle of evangelism! No serving, No winning. Let's all find someone to serve today. With humility. Without reciprocity. With no strings attached. Love for the world can't be a mere theoretical doctrine. It must determine our very lifestyle. "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people" (Gal. 6:10). There is no higher calling.

6:50 AM Kevin Brown says it's time to forgive

Wednesday, May 11

7:42 PM Odds and ends ...

1) Ken Keathley asks How Many Chinese Christians Are There?

2) Food prices continue to soar in Ethiopia.

3) As a follow-up to Mother's Day, Becky writes The Morning After, For Mothers. An exquisite paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13!

4) David Gushee's essay Reflections on the bin Laden killing is worth reading, as is Paul Burleson's The Killing of Osama bin Laden

5) Ivan Eland reminds us that truth is the first casualty of war.

6) John Wesley had some important thoughts about the biblical languages.

7) I was very glad to see an essay by Spurgeon on religious titles -- a pretty harsh comeuppance, if you ask me. A wonderful snippet:

We wonder when men first sought out this invention, and from whose original mind did the original sin emanate. We suspect that he lived in the Roman Row of Vanity Fair, although the Reverend John Bunyan does not mention him. One thing is pretty certain, he did not flourish in the days of the Reverend Paul, or the Reverend Apollos, or the Reverend Cephas.

8) By the way, here's a good overview of Ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation. The next step is obviously this.

9) If you have ever thought about studying in Germany, Andy Bowden has good news for you!

10) In Tuesday's awards chapel, five of my graduating students received high honors from the seminary. Here they are, from left to right:

  • Adam Darnell: Henton Davies Old Testament Award

  • Ya Min Park: Arthur & Olga M. Robinson Advanced Language Prize

  • Michael Sexton: Nannie Bruce Nelson New Testament Award

  • Jody Haupt: Edward A. McDowell Jr. Greek Award

  • Chris Jones: Paulino de los Reyes and Joseph Block Greek Prize

Congratulations to each one of you. My prayers are with you as you pursue God's will for your life.

7:22 PM Greek students: I will shortly be posting my syllabus for the Greek 3 (Syntax and Exegesis) class that I will be teaching in summer school as well as in the fall. Should you care to get a head start, you might begin translating through Philippians now. In preparing your translations you are free to use any tools that are available both in print and online. Here's one of the best resources on Philippians you will find on the Internet: Philippians Commentaries. As an example of its usefulness, see this page on 1:27. You can see that it clearly provides the materials you need to build on the foundation of first year Greek. As for the textbooks you will need, allow me to quite directly from our syllabus:

Your academic tool box for this course will include several books.

Our basic guide will be my It's Still Greek to Me, a practical volume that shows you how to increase your knowledge of Greek grammar, building upon the work you did in first year Greek.

Since we will be focusing on the grammar of the text, you will also need a guide to Greek linguistics. My Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek will help us become more faithful to the forest even while studying the trees and tiny saps.

Also, please acquire my Using New Testament Greek in Ministry, which we will use to help us learn how to go from text to teaching outline.

We’ll also be going through a collection of essays by yours truly that will attempt to illustrate the importance of syntax in exegesis. It's called Selected Essays on New Testament Interpretation, and it is published by our bookstore here on campus.

For textual variants, please acquire a copy of my New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide.

Naturally, you should also possess a work that builds your vocabulary of New Testament words. Bruce Metzger’s Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek is the one we will be using.

The summer class will meet July 5 to July 22 from 9:00 to 12:30 each day. Hope to see many of you there.

7:14 PM I am currently prepping my New Testament Introduction course for the fall. The course will cover Acts, the epistles, and the book of Revelation. I plan on having the students do at least some of the teaching. I'm also going to have several guest lecturers in class to speak on their areas of expertise. As for me, I will focus class time on sharing my own exegesis of specific texts. In 1 Corinthians, for example, I will discuss Paul's teaching about sign gifts, especially tongues. In Philippians, we will look at the discourse structure of the book as well as the authorship of the Christ hymn in chapter 2. We will also discuss the missional aspect of the book and I will try to illustrate this theme through my own missionary work. A teacher who wants to be a real leader cannot merely disseminate information but is able to put the full range of his or her life experiences (and research) at the disposal of those who are being taught. As Paul Simon put it, the goal is to use our own lives and Christian experiences to lay ourselves down like a bridge over troubled water. When students listen to teachers who are genuinely available to them and offer their own life experiences as a source of teaching, I find that they are more open to a real dialogue with Scripture. I am not saying there should not be lots of content in a course like this one. But the students will get this information by reading our textbook, The New Testament: Its Background and Growth – all 688 pages of it.

7:07 PM Had a great lunch today with my friend and colleague Alvin Reid, one of many dear friends at SEBTS who are helping me to realize that the length of life is less important than the intensity with which it is lived. Alvin is a great teacher and a prolific author. Take a peek at his Amazon page and you'll see what I mean. Thanks for being you, Alvin.

7:00 PM "An excellent wife – who can find her? For her worth is far above jewels" (Prov. 31:10). Becky's birthday is tomorrow. She is my hero. Paul once called Phoebe a diakonos. Becky is not an office holder in any church, but no one I know has a more serving heart than she does. Phoebe had helped Paul. Becky has done more to help me with my ministry than anyone else. All Christians are to serve like my Becky. Paul often spoke of women as his "co-workers." He referred to "those women who labored with me in the Gospel" (Phil. 4:3). Becky is my Euodia and Syntyche. The term Paul uses to describe them (sunethlesan) can mean to struggle or contend. Like an athlete straining every muscle to achieve victory in the games, so these women had struggled with Paul to spread the Good News. With equal dedication, Becky has devoted her life's energies to serving the poor and downtrodden of this cruel world. She has literally risked her life for the sake of the Gospel, just as Epaphroditus had. It is simply staggering to me when I consider how much of her life Becky has poured into the church in Ethiopia and into the lives of countless people here in America.

The Bible also says: "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him" (Gen. 2:18). Becky is my best friend and helper. A best friend is someone with whom you love to spend time, someone with whom you share intimately. My "best friend" relationship with Becky has required, from both of us, perseverance, patience, understanding, and genuine love and forgiveness. We are the perfect example of the old saying, "Opposites attract." Thankfully, we have learned how to enjoy each other's personalities and temperaments, not just endure them. She is my greatest cheerleader – and most faithful critic. She is a constant reminder to me that fulfilling marriages don't just happen – they are built on the proven principles of God's Word. Gradually our marriage has gone from "good" to "great." It is solid, secure (only because of Christ, the Head of our relationship), lively, exciting, unpredictable, and fun! I am finally getting it through my thick lazy Hawaiian skull that I need to start acting like a husband around her, caring for and nurturing her. We are learning to accept one another, as Christ accepts us. Above all, I'm discovering that commitment is a wonderful building block.

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.

How could I know that Becky would contract cancer when I said those words? Oh what comfort commitment is! No matter what storms we face, we have the exhilarating sense that we're going to make it!

Honey, on your birthday, I make a sevenfold promise to you:

God enabling me, I will love you as Christ loves the church; I will love you sacrificially; I will love you actively; I will love you generously; I will love you for who you are; I will accept you totally; and I will never change my mind.

Monday, May 9

5:25 PM Arthur Sido has posted an excellent review of God's Desire for the Nations: The Missionary Theology of John Piper.

5:12 PM Was a beautiful day for mowing the grass and working outdoors. Meanwhile, Becky's started planting our vegetable gardens. This summer we plan on growing tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, yellow squash, zucchini, okra, and green peppers. So ... how does your garden grow?

8:50 AM This is the last week of instruction at the seminary before finals week, and I have a final challenge for my Greek students: Greek is not a quick gimmick that will open the truths of God's Word to those who are not willing first to live them out for themselves. Becky and I discovered years ago that if we were not obedient to what we did know, God would not bless us with additional truth. And yet we fail every day and cry out, "Oh, for greater obedience!" Because I am a teacher by profession and by temperament, I love encouraging my students and interacting with them. I enjoy leading them into a reading knowledge of the Greek New Testament -- so much so that I often forget to remind them what is of even greater importance: our love for Jesus, our worship of Him, our attention to Him. He must be consciously obeyed because He is the only Head. He alone sets the agenda for the church, and His clear command is to go into the world -- not in the context of coldness and ritual but with a philosophy of ministry that gives us happy freedom to seek creative, specific ways to love the lost. Greek student, is there built into your heart a genuine reach to the world? Let us never be satisfied with our present state of growth. A Christian who "has already obtained all this" (Phil. 3:12) doesn't exist. All the worthwhile and essential things we are learning in 1 John are included in the one great yearning God for us: that we might have a love for others and a passion for souls.

I will not go into the mechanics of keeping up with your Greek this summer. For this, you can refer to my book Using New Testament Greek in Ministry, published by Baker Book House. Con Campbell and a host of other Greek teachers will tell you that the use of helps such as interlinears is anathema. Do I agree? You bet I don't! Do I really care what helps you use? I want those of you who are struggling with your Greek to employ any tool available that will keep you in the Greek text. And if you are feeling like a nobody, just remember that God specially chooses nobodies to glorify Himself. The success or failure of your Greek studies depends on the extent to which your thoughts and attitudes and habits are brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. Our constant daily priority is to submit ourselves to the Spirit's control so that His fruit may be manifest in our lives. I am the ultimate egalitarian when it comes to languages. Greek is for everyone who has a love for Bible study. It is hoped that through our class many will be led into a deeper knowledge of God's Word and challenged to become more obedient to the call of God on their lives -- despite their struggles and failings. Being able to read your Greek New Testament is one of the most joyous and rewarding activities possible, and I have labored diligently to equip you for this task. I make no pretense of having successfully accomplished this. But I have tried. Ultimately, however, the work is God's. Now let us trust Him to accomplish it!

8:14 AM Odds and ends ...

1) There are now 2 million home schoolers in the U.S.

2) What Karl Barth might have said about the death of bin Laden.

3) Paul Himes shows us how to disagree without being a jerk

4) Check out the new Pearl Harbor Museum.

5) Tracing changes in the New Testament, one verse at a time.

6) Spotlight on languages: Is Latin valuable for today's students?

7) Spend 48 hours in Basel, Switzerland.

Sunday, May 8

2:58 PM May I share with you yet another wonderful quote from the book Back to Jerusalem? On p. 103 we read:

Miracles are not something we should seek after in themselves. They are not a toy for us to play with but an integral part of the gospel. We are not called to follow miracles, but the Bible says signs and wonders will follow us when we preach the gospel (see Mark 16:17-20). The miracles act as evidence that the message is true.

Please note these words: "... the Bible says signs and wonders will follow us when we preach the gospel (see Mark 16:17-20)." If this doesn't illustrate the importance of textual criticism! The last twelve verses of Mark (Mark 16:9-20) comprise perhaps the most disputed passage in the whole of the New Testament. This is not the place to mount a full-scale discussion of their authenticity. Suffice it to say that only a tiny handful of scholars accept these verses as original. If, however, they are original, that would make a huge difference in how we are to understand the sign gifts mentioned in vv. 17-20.

So what to do? A good place to start is to become familiar with the most important views on the passage. It was to meet this need that I organized a major conference on our campus that featured leading New Testament scholars. The conference papers have now been published: see D. A. Black, ed., Perspectives on the Ending of Mark.

I am quite sure the passage is original, and have argued as such in the book. Whether, however, these verses support a cessationist or non-cessationist view of the sign gifts is another matter entirely. But the issue is moot unless one has a firm opinion about the authenticity of the text!

2:42 PM I am not a huge fan of the patriarchy movement. (Note the word movement.) The whole approach is utterly one-sided. We husbands are not to be sidetracked by labels. We are to love our wives by dying for them if necessary. Especially dying to self. We are not to pull our weight around. We are not to go around reminding everyone that we are "the head." (Of course, we are the head in the marriage relationship; but this headship implies ultimate responsibility, accountability, provision, and protection more than it involves decision-making.) For any man who espouses patriarchy there is a surprise awaiting him in 1 Thessalonians 2, where Paul -- yes, the apostle Paul himself; and if ever there was a man, it was Paul -- likens himself to a nursing mother (vv. 8-11):

Instead, we were gentle among you, like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We felt so strongly about you that we were determined to share with you not only the Good News of God but also our very own lives. That's how dear you were to us! You remember, brothers and sisters, our work and what we did to earn a living. We worked night and day so that we could bring you the Good News of God without being a burden to any of you.

The simile borders on the edge of allegory. There are three features that are not to be missed:

1) Paul dealt gently with the Thessalonians, just as a mother cares for her children.

2) Paul, like any good mother, gave his children in the faith not just words but his very own life.

3) Paul's labors on their behalf were incessant -- night and day. Every mother reading these words knows exactly what Paul is talking about. Motherhood is 24/7/365.

The application goes wider than just apostolic ministry. A husband and father, the God-ordained head of the household, has much to learn from it. The image of a nursing mother is dynamic. It is a powerful spur to sacrificial living and a warning against harshness of any kind. On this Mother's Day, perhaps it is good to remember that the man who has the reputation for a woman's gentleness is to be much commended.

Saturday, May 7

7:38 PM If you recall, on April 23rd Becky had a sewing party here at Bradford Hall. She invited 5 of our church's young ladies to help her make a quilt for our pastor and his wife, Jason and Molly Evans.

I thought you might like to see the final product. I think I'll let Becky tell you about it.

Becky writes: Jason and Molly were totally surprised by the quilt. It measured about 4 ft. square, so is a good size for a wall hanging, a trunk cover, or a small lap quilt. Molly indicated that she would probably use it as a wall hanging.

The back of the quilt included this square, a block with Psalm 103 (one of my favorites), and the signatures of most of the congregation. It was hard to sneak around and get the signatures without Molly or Jason catching on!

Part of the back of the quilt....

Each of the blocks had a message. This one is their wedding date.

Several of the blocks were favorite songs. Great is Thy Faithfulness, There Is a Savior, In Christ Alone and Love Lifted Me were some of the other ones.

We took photos of each person in the Evans family, and then Dave made the photos into portrait sketches, which I transferred to fabric. So each member in the family was featured in the quilt. It was funny to watch as the fabrics chosen to surround the portrait somehow took on the "personality" of the person featured in the block.

"Great is Thy faithfulness!  Morning by morning new mercies I see! All I have needed, Thy hand has provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me."

The making of the quilt was a wonderful time. I watched Molly for several Sundays and figured out her favorite colors by what she wore. Then I make the centers on my embroidery machine and cut 1 1/2" strips of fabric in colors that went well together.  The girls chose a center and then added edges in different fabrics as they decided was best. In the end, each girl added her personality to the quilt and gained confidence in her sewing ability. We joined all the blocks with strips of burgundy red. Then I made the backing, got signatures, and quilted top and back together on my Bernina machine. The final touch was the simple edging.

It is my prayer that this quilt will bring many years of joy to the Evans family as they recall God's faithful blessing to them as a family.

6:25 PM Becky cooked a wonderful roast for supper. Just took a walk with her. Soon it will be time for another episode of Hawaii 5-0. Book 'Em Danno!

5:32 PM Odds and ends ...

1) Looking ahead: Tomorrow is Mother's Day, Thursday is Becky's Birthday, and on Wednesday I'm having lunch with the one-and-only-Alvin-the-former-snake-man Reid. In Greek class we'll be reading the rest of the book of 1 John. How awesome!

2) The internet is amazing. No sooner do I post some thoughts on unity than I see that Eric Carpenter has done the same.

3) Don't forget to pray for the Shouwang Church in Beijing.

4) The Christian Century Magazine carries a fine article on German theologian Hans Kung.

5) Allan Bevere asks What Happened to the Methodist Impulse for Mission?

6) Check out Becky's latest essay here.

5:11 PM If you haven't read the book Back to Jerusalem you simply must get a copy. You will be thrilled by the testimony of these Chinese house church leaders and challenged to live bolder lives as a result. I was especially intrigued to read about the "unity meetings" that took place in the 1990s between the various house church networks. Writes co-author Peter Xu (p. 66):

When we talk of this unity, it needs to be understood that the reason we came together was not for the sake of unity itself. It was unity for the sake of fulfilling the common vision God has given us -- the vision of taking the gospel back to Jerusalem, thus completing the Great Commission and hastening the return of our Lord! That is why we started our unifying gatherings. Although various house churches still have different interpretations of some Scriptures and different practices, we recognize that we all share the common goal of sharing the good news with every person inside China and beyond.

Then he adds this:

When believers are united around a common goal, we can head there together, putting aside our petty differences. When we lose sight of our common vision, we stop looking forward and begin to look at each other instead. Soon we see each other's weaknesses and faults, and instead of fighting for the kingdom of God we start fighting each other.

Is this not what unity means! I doubt whether most American Christians even think this kind of unity is possible. And they certainly do not regard it as a top priority. There is perhaps no higher priority for a church that has lost its way through introverted pursuits than to heed Christ's call to unity (John 17). It is precisely in this area that the church in China (and in Ethiopia for that matter) has so much to teach us. I suppose this is the most critical mark of any church when we are considering the matter of world evangelization. If believers are truly committed to preaching Christ to the untold millions of lost people on this planet, they will always be majoring on the Gospel, speaking of their common Lord, and consumed with a passion for bringing others to Him!

9:32 AM Funny, how nostalgic I've felt all week. And the funniest thing is why. May First has been on my mind. "May Day Is Lei Day in Hawaii." That's the name of a song I used to sing. "May Day is lei day in Hawaii. Garlands of flowers everywhere." We would all wear plumerias to school that day, May 1, even the guys. The whole island of Oahu was afloat in plumeria. I can still smell it today, even though it's been 40 years since I lived there.

Hawaii was once my "home." Odd how that word changes its meaning. Today, home is Virginia. Or is it Ethiopia? One place is just like another, really. Everywhere I've lived there were rocks and trees and soil and even the people were roughly the same. I was born in Hawaii but I'm no stranger to Virginia. Really, I feel at home anywhere, even in Switzerland where they looked down on Americans. I would be at home in Haiti. Or England. Or Iran. It all belongs to me. I am the world's, and the world is mine.

The Christian is at home anywhere in the world because God loves the world -- the whole of it, from Iceland to Fiji. It's home because it's where we're called to serve. "I am among you," said Jesus, who left His home in heaven, "as one who serves" (Luke 22:27). This is the way of Christ. And that is the heart of the matter. It is not the church that sends missionaries. It is God Himself. He is a sending God, and every Christian is sent, just as Jesus was sent to preach good news to the poor. It is an absolute shame the way some Americans say "God bless America," as if God plays favorites. Should we be grateful that we live in the United States? You bet we should. But it's not a question of "either-or." It's a "both-and." The world is God's. And, wonder of wonders, He has chosen us to penetrate it -- every nook and cranny of it, every dark corner it contains -- with the Gospel. From Hawaii to Virginia, from Virginia to Ethiopia and back again.

When we get to heaven our reward will not depend on the nation we called "home" but on our obedience, on how much we emptied ourselves and allowed God to use us.

9:06 AM Saturday morning shout out to Greg Soderberg and the juniors and seniors at Cary Christian School for their warm welcome yesterday.

It was quite an eventful day, from lecturing on the Greek New Testament to fielding questions to sharing the glory of the Lord in Ethiopia.

Special thanks to Matt Daub for the loan of his lap top to show my slides!

Friday, May 6

8:10 AM The book Back to Jerusalem: Three Chinese House Church Leaders Share Their Vision to Complete the Great Commission is a real eye-opener. On page 2 one reads:

As I chatted with these leaders, I learned more of their zeal, love and sacrificial commitment to the cause of Christ. These were not merely believers, they were disciples of Jesus. They did not preach a "ticket to heaven" gospel, they preached and demonstrated the reality of the kingdom of God. They had paid a great price for their witness. Every single Christian leader in the meeting had spent time in prison, and many had been subjected to severe torture, humiliation, and deprivation. You would never know it, however, as they were the most joyful and sincere people you could ever hope to meet.

What an amazing statement! They had no organization behind them, these Chinese leaders. They had no formal learning. But their lives had caught on fire with Christ, and they needed no instruction on techniques. They were enthusiasts for Jesus and found themselves constrained to spread the Good News of the Savior. As in the early church, the blood of the martyrs was the seed.

One cannot fail to notice their supernatural joy, their utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit, their willingness to suffer and die with exultation. I think also of their indigenous strategy. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, anticipated this when he wrote:

I look upon foreign missionaries as the scaffolding around a rising building. The sooner it can be dispensed with, the better; or rather, the sooner it can be transferred to other places, to serve the same temporary use, the better.

Is not this perspective needed today? Why are we sending North American missionaries to plant churches in China, or Ethiopia for that matter? Not long ago a student came up to me and exclaimed, "This year my church [a large Baptist congregation in North Carolina] is planting churches in China!" I said nothing but I thought, I wonder if he's aware that there already is a church in China -- a church that continues to grow and flourish despite attempts to crush it. There has been a disastrous tendency for some North American Christians to think that they alone know how to plant churches -- and these churches must, of course, all look alike. Denominational pride is one of the easiest ways Satan sidetracks us. The church in China is alive and well. Pray that God will give many more Christians in North America the vision to come alongside their brethren and support them in prayer.

Thursday, May 5

8:11 PM Becky's home after taking a 3 day writing retreat at the beach. She finished two more chapters in her autobiography. Took her out for Chinese tonight. Right now I'm going to loaf and read another couple chapters in one of my favorite books, Killer Angels

2:56 PM Interesting post here about a young pastor who resigned from his church after 4 years and then left "the ministry" completely. I will not comment on that case since I do not know that pastor. Needless to say, my heart goes out to him. At the same time, it is ironic that the author of the post references the Ephesian church. The church at Ephesus had no pastor. (If it did, surely we would know his name.) In the New Testament, ministry was shared. Pastors were always members of a team. Moreover, in the New Testament, "ministry" was the privilege and obligation of all Christians, not some. Pastors are no different from the rest of us in this respect. They are not "called to the ministry" while we sit around and soak. All Christians are commissioned to ministry. It is often assumed that the church at Ephesus had a single pastor (sometimes Timothy is incorrectly identified as such). But in Acts we read that Paul met with the Ephesian elders (note the plural) in Miletus. I am quite certain that this is the New Testament pattern, despite the fact that so many of our churches are in effect one-man bands.

Where I live in southern Virginia, pastors come, and pastors go. We live in a day when the "pastorate" is often considered a job rather than a ministry. (There are many exceptions to this, of course.) As honorable as the desire is to serve as the pastor in a local church, would it not be healthier to follow the biblical pattern? Shared leadership protects the congregation from the idiosyncrasies of one man, and -- let me add -- it protects the pastor from becoming the lightening rod for various and sundry complaints from disgruntled parishioners. Shared leadership pays handsomely. I wonder why this is so difficult to see?

2:21 PM Quote of the day (Thomas Jefferson): 

Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth.

Just finished tilling the garden beds...

...and weeding the cabbage patch.

And no, I don't take the quote by Jefferson seriously :-)

10:40 AM Kevin Brown's first book is due out later this month. Its title is Rite of Passage in the Home and Church: Raising Christ-Centered Young Adults. Today I finished writing writing the foreword.

I am often asked for advice from young pastors and seminarians about how to implement New Testament truth into the life of a local church. I usually refer them to members of their own generation. There are a handful of younger adults who seem to understand the church, our culture, and how to apply biblical truth to both. Writers like Eric Carpenter, Alan Knox, Arthur Sido, and Kevin Brown are people who will help the Christian community find its way forward. These men are precious gifts from God, and their contributions to the church are greatly appreciated by their blog readers. They are engaged, informed, and ready and able to offer well-reasoned and biblical responses to the issues churches face today.

How often are we wrong about our suppositions! Mary supposed Jesus was the gardener. The disciples in the boat thought He was a ghost. Joseph and Mary assumed He was traveling with them when actually He was back in Jerusalem. And how many times do we in the church assume His presence in our programs when He is nowhere to be found.

God has provided instruction on how we should raise our children. If we are to love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind, then there is a right way by which to honor Him. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and so we must always go back to the Scriptures if we are to understand His ways correctly. Today we draw up our blueprints for "youth ministry" and seek divine endorsement instead of seeking first the divine Word. We do not inquire, as we should, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" It is high time we reported to His headquarters for our marching orders.

The last invitation of the Bible says, "Let the one who is thirsty come" (Rev. 22:17). My friend Kevin Brown is a pastor who hungers and thirsts desperately after God. He is conscious, deeply conscious, that there is only one source of Truth when it comes to our youth. If we drink of this Truth and receive it by faith, we will overflow to the glory of God and the blessing of others.

What a blessed pattern for youth is set forth in Scripture! Our greatest delight as parents should be to see our children living for Christ. There is indeed a biblical pattern to parenting, but there are many impediments, not least our enslavement to tradition. Our Lord was careful to stress that children were important to Him. It is a mistaken notion that youth require entertainment and games. There is no adult Holy Spirit and teenage Holy Spirit. There's just the Holy Spirit, and all who possess Christ are to love and serve Him. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 12. It is of first importance that the church stop marginalizing its youth. How ridiculous to act as though the Gospel could not transform our teenagers' lives!

You will observe that this book does not claim to be the answer to every question you might have about parenting or youth ministry. Raising responsible teenagers is a work of God. Only He can transform our lives. Except the Lord build the house we labor in vain who build it. Kevin Brown says the time for flimsy alibis is over. It will take rugged tenacity and inspired stubbornness to see it through. But the pay-off comes when the world is obliged to acknowledge that the work was performed by the Lord.

Yes, says brother Kevin, Christian young men and women can be "strong" (1 John 2:14). The tragedy of today is that our sights are too low. Have you ever considered what the Scriptures have to say about the matter? If not, I urge you to make a start of it now, by reading this excellent book. Our Father would be pleased to give us so much more if we only had the faith to ask for it.

Look for an announcement shortly from Energion Publications about the book's exact release date.

9:36 AM Glad to see my girls again after 3 long days. Sheba is the perfect Sheltie: loyal, intelligent, great hunting instinct.

Dayda, her daughter, is huge for a Shetland Sheepdog. I don't think she'll ever lose her puppy's rambunctiousness, though. Both are great friends and companions.

By the way, how do you like Becky's roses? Aren't they fabulous?

9:18 AM More odds and ends ...

1) Grand Rapids Theological Seminary announces an opening in Old Testament.

2) Alvin Reid asks What can we learn from bin Laden?

3) Church leaders! Want to know what a 12-year old "Rite of Passage" looks like in a local church setting? Then go here.

4) Allan Bevere wants to know what's up with all those conspiracy theories

5) It's a beautiful day outside. I plan on rototilling the garden beds, then type the foreword for a friend's book, and then take a long nap!

8:15 AM A few random notes:

1) What's it like to be a foreigner living in China? Here's a blog that answers that question: Outside In.

2) It's time for a Great Commission Repentance.

3) Bin Laden – Some Questions.

4) Jody Neufeld invites us to consider The Chihuahua Called Cancer.

5) Robert Weissberg says Professors Should Dress Like Professionals. I couldn't tell whether his essay was written tongue-in-cheek. Et moi? Being the farmer/teacher that I am, I dress Red-Neck Professorial. Clean, but nothing too fancy.

6) In case you didn't know, we have a webpage devoted exclusively to our cancer journey. Carl Lundquist once said, "You never really find out what is inside a man until he is bumped and you see what spills out." We can never piece together the mystery of God's sovereignty, but we are learning to welcome the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. Above all, we are anxious to see His rule conquering the apathy and self-centeredness in our own lives, changing us and making us more like the Master.

7) Technorati now tracks 112.8 million blogs. Blogging is here to stay. Have you joined the blogosphere yet?

8) Check out Miniature Earth for a fascinating view of the world's population:


May it inspire us to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations!

8:03 AM This is hardly earth-shaking news, but for someone who writes as much as I do I am very selective in the books that I read. Here are four I just checked out from the seminary library to read this weekend. As you can see, I am interested in the church in China and desire to learn from it more about the cost and challenge of discipleship.

7:55 AM Art Mealer posts a wonderful graphic here. It shows that the word most commonly used in the book of Acts to describe Christians is "brother." God is simply not impressed with our titles and status-consciousness in the church today. Yet we go on measuring the significance of our ministries in terms of bigger and bigger budgets and buildings as well as by highlighting the academic credentials of our leaders. May God open our eyes to see that the kingdom is flat and that we are all truly brothers and sisters first and foremost, and that even goes for believing husbands and wives (1 Cor. 9:5).

7:46 AM Eric Carpenter has an important article about not becoming isolationists. It's called Learning to Live in the Traditional Broader Church Culture. Here's a brief excerpt:

This is a learning process. I'm still trying to figure out how to embrace the people but not the institutional structure. That can be tricky. One thing I'm trying to do is almost immediately look past the traditions to their hearts. I want to discuss things like fellowship, service, and sharing Christ with others. If they see these things through institutional structures, then I may have to listen to those things but focus on them as people.

I do not think we need to choose between traditional church and simple church. Jesus knows how sinful and frivolous our attitude can become toward those who differ from us in their ecclesiology. When generosity and grace spring from both sides of the issue, it is immensely powerful. Heaven's door is narrow, and we cannot enter it when our lives are bulging with resentments.

The awesome truth is that we all have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in the Body, even those with whom we most strongly disagree in some areas of theology. How evil is the fruit found in so many professing Christians today: Pharisaical casuistry, an arrogance that condemns, a religion that takes refuge in pious platitudes. I fear that the outside world looks at us and mocks our disunity. With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I believe Christ came to destroy religion. I will never defend Christianity as a system. It is too fractured and divisive to be acceptable to God. I claim ultimacy only for Christ. And what thrills His heart is our practical obedience, not all of our God-talk.  The evangelical right has its theology down pat. And it has every right (and responsibility) to defend the faith. My question is: What will it take to move us from being the best-informed Christians in the world to a life of active service?

7:34 AM In just two and a half weeks Becky and I leave for our trip out to the West Coast. I am in full count down mode. It will be the journey of a lifetime – Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National Parks, Ventura and San Diego, driving through miles and miles of desert in the Southwest. (The desert has a unique beauty of its own.) Thanks to the kindness of some friends, we will be giving Ethiopia presentations several times during our trip. We also look forward to getting reconnected with people we haven't seen in over a decade. I wonder what our old house in La Mirada will look like after all these years. Yes, I think I'm hopelessly nostalgic.

7:30 AM My colleague Ant Greenham has written a book on Muslim evangelism called Muslim Conversions to Christ. You can read about it here. Becky and I have often reported how practical, Calvary-like love has led many Ethiopian Muslims to Christ. The darker the night, the brighter the light of the Gospel shines.

7:22 AM What is the church? This question was recently posed here. What do you think? How would you define "church," and would you include in your definition such terms as "worship" and "sacrament"?

7:16 AM Here's an excellent essay (.pdf) in the latest issue of Themelios on the debate about the Son's subordination to the Father. My thanks to Nick Norelli for pointing it out to me. Just what is the Father-Son relationship in the Godhead? I remember debating this issue back in seminary. (I happen to espouse "eternal functional subordination"). What I especially liked about this essay was its emphasis on interpreting the church Fathers in context rather than reading into them our own preconceived conclusions. Often what a Father says and our interpretation of what a Father says stand in strong contradiction. I hope many people who do not normally read Themelios will enjoy this article and be drawn to study in greater depth the great doctrine of the Trinity. (In passing, I do wish the author had cited Augustine in the original Latin, but this is just a personal preference of mine.)

Incidentally, the same issue includes a review of my former colleague John Sailhamer's The Meaning of the Pentateuch. The reviewer concludes:

As far as I am concerned, John Sailhamer has distinguished himself as a servant of the Word in his work since that has been the object of his investigation, not some reconstructed source behind the Word. He has not followed the way of trendy scholarly fads, but has taken his cue from the Word. While I may disagree with him over various interpretations, his call to ponder the Torah day and night is nothing but the faithful transmission of a message from the big picture of the Tanak itself. That is a call that needs to be heard, and when it is heard it will no doubt become a Magna Carta for biblical studies.

Well said. John's text-centered approach to all of Scripture (not just the Old Testament) is profoundly appreciated by this blogger.

7:05 AM The week is rushing along. I finished up my revival services last night in Bunn. We had some excellent meetings. Of my 5 messages, the one on "The Gospel According to Four Women" (Matt. 1:3-6) attracted the most feedback. 

Right now I am prepping to speak at Cary Christian Academy tomorrow. My topic will be "Can We Trust the New Testament Documents?" Over lunch I will show slides on the work we do in Ethiopia. Looking forward to it!

Monday, May 2

3:08 PM Want to know how to be a great missionary? Don't bother going to the library trying to work out a theory or strategy. Go to Jesus for yourself. Friend, you have the Bible and you have the Holy Spirit. You have Jesus as Model and Enabler. Books about missions have their place but it is a very minor and insignificant one. There is no "preferred reading list" when it comes to missions. There's just the Word of God. A half an hour with God is worth more than hundreds of hours with a seminary professor.

1:38 PM Odds and ends ...

1) Getting ready for my third message at Rock Spring Baptist Church tonight. I hope I can get everything said within the time allotted to me. So far this has been a wonderful "revival" in all respects. Thank you, Rock Spring, for your warm welcome.

2) Will it surprise you to hear that I am so sore today I can hardly move? Yesterday, between speaking engagements, I drove back to the farm and planned to get 3 hours of work in on the wood chipper. I couldn't go a minute longer than an hour and a half. It's so hard to grow old(er). Inside I feel like a 26-year old. The outside is another story!

3) I haven't posted any pictures yet of the revival mainly because my camera broke down. This happens every year or so. It just can't stand up to the international trips I make, especially the visits to Ethiopia. The good news is that I just bought another (cheap) Kodak and this time a carrying case with it. We'll see how long this one lasts. As you know, I can't go anywhere without my camera and my Greek New Testament.

4) I wish I could sit here and write to you that Becky's cancer is gone, but we are pretty much in the dark until we have our first CT-scan in two weeks. Even then the test will probably not be definitive. I look her in the eyes and somehow I know she will be with me for many years to come. I think this not-knowing is just a part of life you accept and move ahead the best you can. My hope and prayer is that the healing will be complete. I think it has already begun.

5) I have many faults, but ingratitude is not one of them. So here's another huge "Thank You!" to everyone who came and worked for Ethiopia on Saturday. Sure, I know it was your day off. But I'm learning to pray for God's guidance about my days off and my vacations and my holidays. Perhaps this time could be used for kingdom purposes rather than wasted selfishly. Believe me, I'm not pointing the finger at you but at myself. Again and again, I am trying to repent and walk the way of the cross in obedience to the Scripture. I like what Luther once said: "If God told me to eat dung, I would." The kingdom of God is not patterned after U.S. military might or Corporate America. It is a fellowship of servants who do the most despised things for the sake of others. Service is probably the best thermometer you will ever have to measure your growth in Christ.

11:28 AM Here's the best response I've read to the demise of bin Laden. His death is a reminder to me of the millions of Muslims who need to be touched by the love of Christ. It can be done, and by God's grace it must be done. The only question is: Are we willing to go? There is no longer any excuse for our ambivalence about Muslim missions. Every one of us has something to do in this great job of world evangelization.

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