May 2013 Blog Archives
Friday, May 31
8:49 PM This just arrived:
Guess what I'll be doing tonight?
8:38 PM A pastor in Hawaii (no ka oe!) asks What is exegesis? and makes this comment:
Amen to that! We need each other as never before. Are you a teacher? Do you have something to contribute to the Body by way of "upbuilding, encouragement, or consolation" (1 Cor. 14:3)? I'm quite positive that you are, and that you do. Don't be afraid, then, to express your spontaneous zeal in teaching others what the Lord Jesus has taught you. It matters not what level of formal academic training you may have had or not had. (I have met many people who were "educated beyond their intelligence.") If we are members of the Body of Christ, we have the privilege and, yes, the responsibility of teaching one another. I emphasize this great truth everywhere I go. You do not need special training in a theological college to be a God-trained and God-taught teacher in the church. Just read Col. 3:16 ("teach and admonish one another with all wisdom"). Or look at Paul's use of theodidaktoi in 1 Thess. 4:9: "You yourselves have been God-taught." Or read John's instruction in 1 John 2:20, 27 about the chrisma (anointing) you have from God. "You have no need that any man should teach you," he says. Or see the promise in Jer. 31:33-34 that God would write His law on the hearts of His people and teach them directly as part of Jesus' New Covenant ministry (cf. Hebrews 8).
On the other hand, some of you are specially gifted in the area of teaching. Here is my advice to you: Do not think you need to be an elder or a pastor to teach. As Paul puts it in Eph. 4:11, all pastors are teachers, but not all teachers are pastors. I believe a healthy church will have both shepherd-teachers and sheep-teachers, working together in harmony for the building up of the entire Body of Christ. In other words, a New Testament church will have a host of teachers, not only ready to impart knowledge, but to receive it.
Are you a teacher? Then teach!
8:15 PM Today the matching pledge for India that Becky and I have presented to our local fellowship comes to an end. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "It was good of you to share in my troubles" (4:14). The Philippians had an eternal perspective. They gave the work of the Gospel priority over their own personal agendas and comfort. The universal church is a partnership, each partner contributing something different to the other. In sharing with Paul, the Philippians were seeking to put the Gospel and its advance first in their lives. Read Phil. 4:14-20 and you will see that God is able to provide all we need to give sacrificially. It may be a challenging exercise to reflect on the answers you would give to these questions:
If you do not give to India, give where the Lord leads you. But it is inconceivable that a true follower of Jesus will not give to the work of the kingdom. It is always the will of God to draw us closer not only to Christ but also to each other. Jacque Ellul, one of my favorite theologians, put it this way:
As we give sacrificially to the needs of our bothers and sisters, we prove our equality among God's people (2 Cor. 8:13-15). Amen?
8:02 PM Evenin', pards! Got back from the seminary and just had to get Becky away from her machine, so we went out for dinner and then shopping for groceries for tomorrow's work day. I love being with my better half. Right now she and Karen are preparing the lunches for tomorrow, while I've been doing farm chores. So much to say but so little time. However, I just had to share this email with you. It arrived yesterday.
First of all, I want to thank this reader for his kind words and prayers. Secondly, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not consider myself to have arrived when it comes to living the Christian life. The evidence against me is incontestable! But I do hope that my willingness to be transparent (and even vulnerable) and to reveal the personal issues that I deal with on a daily basis will encourage my readers to press on with new resolve in this thing called kingdom living. On this blog I attempt to do two things. First, I desire to encourage a new generation of Jesus-followers in their relentless pursuit of what Paul calls "the race." Basically, I want to peel back the layers of my own life and present some down-to-earth principles that I've gleaned through the years as I've passed through the School of Hard Knocks. Secondly, I seek to inspire within the new generation a clearer vision of what the kingdom looks like and how to reflect the glory of God in the midst of what Paul called "jars of clay." As I do this, I draw great encouragement from other bloggers who have chosen the high road of 1 Cor. 14:3. Your sites draw me as they do many others. It sobers me to think that some of you actually draw inspiration from my daily jaunts into the blogosphere. As long as I live, I fear that people will look to me and not to Jesus. How do we bloggers maintain a healthy equilibrium? By constantly focusing on Christ.
Frankly, I'm tired of so-called experts telling me what to think. I've heard most of it before. I've been listening to sermons all my life. But what I'm looking for are lives that have not only taken in the truth but have learned to give it out in concrete ways. Nothing is ever more important than allowing God to do His work in our lives. And that pursuit is an everyday affair that only gets harder with age and with the onset of physical limitations. I strongly feel that the best days for Becky and me are still ahead of us, even though both of us have had to adjust to our physical challenges. But if you and I live only in memory of dead blossoms we will miss the potential of the new blooms. The resolve to leverage everything for Christ enabled William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, to accept his blindness. He wrote:
Godly men and women never see any circumstance as meaningless. If Paul could use prison time for writing, can't I choose to cooperate today with God’s maturing love, despite all of my infirmities? How awesome it is to see older saints who have no sign of self-pity but instead delight in continuing to be useful for the kingdom. As crazy as it may sound, I'm actually enjoying these days of slow plodding as much as I did my earlier years when I was full of extra vitality. God still has great purposes for Becky and me that He has not yet unfolded. God loves me, and He loves Becky. He has already done for us more than we could have asked or expected. I’m learning to see Him in all the places of life – big or little, in health and sickness, in a good CT report or a bad one.
Stay tuned for more stories of His goodness.
Thursday, May 30
6:04 AM Much is being written in the blogosphere these days about American exceptionalism, voting, military service, the pledge of allegiance, etc. The discussion reminds me of another conversation that took place between the 16th century Anabaptists and their Reformed forebears. (History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.) Perhaps I should tell you where I stand.
Claiming God's special blessing for our nation (or race, or class, or group) is nothing but hubris. We co-opt God for our political agenda whenever it suits us. As Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural:
Radical Christianity pursues a different path. Rather than trying to get God to be on our side, it tries to be on God's side. This means, among other things, putting God's purposes ahead of our own group or nation's self-interest. This is the original NT message called the Gospel. It is a practical vision that creates a people who transfer their human identities from national loyalties to a new identity as the global people of God. Their mission is both to proclaim and live the kingdom of God, in contrast to the selfish kingdoms of this world. This "new nation" of Christ-followers does more than preach the Gospel. It lives it. Wherever you see Christians welcoming Muslims into their community and befriending them for the sake of the Gospel, wherever you see pro-life churches going beyond mere words of protest and actively supporting pregnant women financially so that they can carry their children to birth, wherever you see believers offering hope where nobody else does – there you will see kingdom of God in practice.
In his book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, reveals how the Republicans in the Bush administration sought the votes of evangelicals but had no real interest in leading a new Great Awakening. "This [is the] message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it's not a war for God, it's a war for politics. And that's a huge difference," said Kuo in an interview on 60 Minutes. His point? Mixing evangelical faith and Washington politics-as-usual is antithetical to the Gospel.
Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of modern American evangelicalism. Today God and conservatism have practically merged into one. The "wonder-working power" of politics now drives a large segment of the Christian right. But sin is our trouble, not liberalism in government. To treat cancer by temporary measures is to endanger the victim still worse. David Kuo will probably be considered a neurotic pessimist by his cheery fellow-preachers, but he is right and they are wrong, even if he learned his lesson the hard way. Modern political machinations – whether by the right wing or the left wing of evangelicalism – are nothing more than fads that work up mere optimism and positive thinking. Whenever government tries to make men good without being righteous – something the devil would love more than anything in this fallen world – the professing church becomes cluttered with hosts of superficial saints who never sell out to Christ.
Anyone who reads the New Testament will see that Jesus refused to identify Himself with any of the politico-religious parties of His day, whether they were called Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, or Zealots. Likewise, Christians today must maintain an ultimate commitment to Christ and eschew loyalty to a political party – any political party. It is indeed a decadent citizenry that rejects sound doctrine and heaps to itself politicians to tickle its itching ears. Yet who will deny that this is happening? Mr. Kuo is undoubtedly aware of the risks he is taking in airing his criticisms. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered the 1978 commencement speech at Harvard, one newspaper said, "Prophets are not popular. They are uncomfortable people; they make poor house guests. Not only are they not honored in their own countries but sometimes not even in their own times. The greatest of them have been labeled as arrogant, self-righteous, presumptuous, unpatriotic." Mr. Kuo's experience is a reminder of how easy it is for well-meaning Christians to substitute political activism for genuine compassion. As long as good people try to remedy conditions with temporary palliatives there will be a need for prophets like David Kuo. That's because lostness – not liberalism, not libertarianism, not "compassionate conservatism" – is our problem. We are sinners, blind, even lepers, and to try to make people religious without making them righteous only makes them harder to reach with what they need most.
If there is to be today a new politics of faith based on the cross of Christ, it will have to meet critically these issues. This means for me personally that it is not enough to question the just war tradition or to condemn the Constantinian compromise in the abstract. Nor is it enough to rail against the Christ-washed militarism being offered in His name by our politicians. Nor can I merely exegete Jesus' mandate in the Sermon on the Mount disinterestedly. The only responsible Christian ethic is for me to become an active participant in service and sacrifice for the sake of the Prince of Peace. I must discover what it means to rid myself completely of the baggage of self-will and to plunge into the tranquil sea of God's will where alone I will find joy. There are countless situations in my life in which I must decide to put the interests of others above my own life-interests. The power of nonviolence is an important step on the downward path of Jesus, but only if I deliberately chose such a path can "peace on earth" begin to be realized. At the very least, this means for me:
In the end, while I cannot say that I am currently a peace church pacifist, this is irrelevant since pacifism, unlike the just war tradition, is not as much a dogma to be believed as a lifestyle to be practiced. The work of a genuine peacemaker must be to call civil governments to account and to help limit the violence when conflict is actually in progress. At the very least there is never any reason to glorify revolution or war or to utter blatantly warmongering statements such as were made by candidate John McCain in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. The downward path of Jesus to which the Gospel calls us requires both peacefulness and peacemaking, and the history of the church shows our urgent need to be reminded of these twin emphases again and again in view of the church's compliance with violence.
Wednesday, May 29
5:55 PM I've gotten behind in yard care and landscaping, so today I called in the reinforcements -- the Dave Black Lawn and Auto Care Co. The first thing I had him do was to bush hog the whiskers in the fruit orchard.
I'd say it looks much better now, wouldn't you?
Then the fruit trees needed bracing.
Finally, I had him change a flat on the farm truck.
I tell you, it's awfully handy having such a skilled laborer around.
11:54 AM Last night I read a new book entitled Called to Lead by Anthony Robinson and Robert Wall. It's a commentary on 1-2 Timothy. These are said to be "letters to a young pastor" (p. 4), and we are told that "These are a pastor's letters to another pastor" (p. 5). Hence, "we who are called to pastoral leadership may turn to these letters with special interest, anticipating a particular benefit" (pp. 5-6).
Of course, a few moments of sober reflection will poke massive holes in the assumption that 1-2 Timothy were written by a pastor for pastors. This cliché reflects ignorance of the history of the early church and especially the book of Acts. A reading of Acts 20, for example, will show that the church at Ephesus already had elders (note the plural) when Timothy was left there as Paul's personal representative. I grabbed from my shelf Homer Kent's commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. On p. 19 he notes, "The function Timothy fulfilled in the early church should not be confused with the present-day pastor." He is absolutely correct. Neither Paul nor Timothy was a "pastor" in the NT sense of the word. Paul was an apostle, and Timothy was his "official delegate to assist the Ephesian church with its officials in conducting the affairs of the church" (p. 19). I'm not sure it is helpful to ignore these basic historical facts when interpreting these letters.
11:32 AM I've just returned to the farm and am feeling in an introspective mood. I've been thinking a lot about Becky. Got a second for a little theology? Throughout our long cancer journey, Becky and I have tried to maintain a relentless and even tenacious commitment to Truth. One verse that has meant a great deal to us is Phil. 1:21: "For to me, to go on living is Christ and to die is gain." Whether Becky is destined to live only a few more months or several more years, life will mean to her – as it has meant to her since her conversion in childhood – Christ. Life to her has no meaning, no significance, apart from Him. Of all she does, Christ is the inspiration, the motivation, the model, the goal. That's why death will mean gain. At death, she (and you and I, if we are too are in Christ) will be ushered into the presence of Christ, with the limitations of this earthly existence removed. However, as long as God has "fruitful labor" for her to do, she will go on "living in the flesh."
What are we to make of this attitude?
The apostle Paul is very clear about the situation in which he finds himself. If death means gain for him (and it does), it does not mean that he is tired of life or pining for death. It's as if Paul is saying, "I have a strong desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is by far the best thing. But if my work for Christ, in all its rich results in the mission field and the harvest it has produced in lives, is destined to continue, then I am well content. If for your sakes it is necessary that I should go on living in this mortal body, I am sure that this will be advantageous to you – and me." I think this is Becky's attitude precisely. I cannot think of anyone who has a healthier attitude toward life and death than she does. Death holds no terror for her. She faces it with the same strong resolve that has marked the 36 years of our married life together. For her, both life and death mean service to Christ, and serving Jesus faithfully is her primary goal in living. I think that’s worth emulating, don’t you? Physical life is not of ultimate importance. Faithfulness is.
By the way, as I was reading Philippians chapter 1, I just had to smile at Paul's metaphor, "fruitful labor." Becky, along with one of her spiritual daughters, will be spending this summer canning jam as soon as our fruit trees start bearing fruit. Sure sounds like "fruitful labor" to me. The jars of jam will be used for ministry and as thank you presents. In a word, Becky leads a surrendered life and finds the utmost joy in even the smallest act of service. Just as crushed fruit can produce wonderful jam, sickness can bring a blessing. But just to eke out a useless existence holds no charm for Becky.
I don't know why I'm telling you all of this. Perhaps I need the catharsis. It's hard to understand how God can be healing my heart even as He's breaking it. But this I know. I know His heart aches as much as mine does when He thinks of Becky's condition. I also know that He smiles as much as I do when He thinks of her canning fruit this summer.
You understand, right?
Monday, May 27
6:28 AM The fields are white unto harvest. Weather permitting, we hope to get this hay up this week:
Can't you see the horses drooling?
6:23 AM And the winner of this weekend's contest? Don Stewart. He wrote:
The book will go out in today's mail.
Sunday, May 26
8:18 PM It's after 8:00 pm and the farm has settled into a quiet hush. Becky is outside replanting a few bean plants. Nigusse is upstairs studying. I just finished mowing Maple Ridge and spraying the south pond. I hope you'll forgive me for posting more pictures, but today we enjoyed a wonderful visit with Nate and his family. Would you like to see them?
WARNING: Proud grandparents' pictures ahead!
1) Nate, Jess, and the three boys. Yes, you heard me right. Jessica is expecting another son in September. Isn't our God gooooood?
2) Here's Nolan, my little buddy.
3) He is one good hugger, let me tell you.
4) That boy is always on the go.
5) Here he is swinging with his daddy.
6) And sliding to Nigusse.
7) Go, go, go!
8) He slowed down long enough for Becky to read to him one of his favorite books -- Three Boys Who Walked In Fire.
9) Bradford is my other best buddy. Don't you just love his Aloha shirt?
11) Swinging with Papa B.
12) Here Bradford "reads" with Mama B.
13) At his age, he likes the pictures best.
14) Saying bye-bye to Mama B with a kiss and a love.
So there you have it. I am, in a word, grateful. Grateful for this farm, even if it is a fulltime job just trying to keep up with the work it requires. Grateful for my church family (our services this morning were, well, indescribably edifying). Grateful for the grace of God that allowed me to fix the lawn mower all by my-klutzy-old-dorky-self. Being so isolated here is lovely. You feel God's presence every step you take. After all, it's His creation. I am by no measure a wise man, but I feel like I'm on the edge of discovering something profound about life. Simple blessings are the best. Farm. Family. Hard, healthy work. I have who-knows-how-many years of good health left. I pray that I use them wisely. I think I succeeded today.
As I crawl into bed tonight I do so with a smile on my lips and a contended feeling in my heart. Today was an exceptionally good day. God deserves lots of praise for it. So if you'll please excuse me, I need to do some thanking right now.
7:25 AM Just beginning your studies at Southeastern? Here are Ten Tips for New Seminary Students. Numbers 3, 5, 9, and 10 are the most important.
7:12 AM How to survive a week on campus? 1) Load up on all the healthy meals Becky sends with you; fuel is necessary to keep a 60-year old body going strong; 2) make sure you get your photocopying done ahead of time as you never know when the copier will have a nervous breakdown; 3) do the same work and assignments you're asking your students to do, so that you can at least empathize with them; 4) use humor when teaching -- the drier the better; 5) rabbit trails are a necessary part of teaching; 6) don't forget multimedia (this week I'll show a YouTube); 7) keep shooting upward those little arrow prayers; 8) recognize this will be the last Greek class you'll teach until your sabbatical ends -- so don't take it for granted!
7:02 AM A very exciting week ahead in Greek 1: the aorist, imperfect, and perfect tenses, plus a whole bunch of pronouns. Our first take-home exam is tomorrow night. Who will earn the much-coveted 110 Award????
6:50 AM I hear that today is Trinity Sunday -- "trinity" being a concept that is better expressed by "triunity," lest we emphasize the threeness of the Godhead at the expense of the oneness. Christian unity is, of course, based squarely on the doctrine of the triunity. Jesus taught us as much in His famous prayer for unity in John 17. I've thought a lot about that prayer. In interpreting it, I think we need to avoid two errors. The first is to regard denominationalism as inherently evil. Diversity is not necessarily divisiveness; and it is just what we should expect when the Gospel is being spread among 9,000 different people groups. Such pluriformity should be expected and even celebrated, not merely tolerated. The second pitfall to be avoided is to see unity as something merely spiritual or social. The unity that Jesus prays for, while essentially spiritual, has an outward expression since it is a unity the world can see and know. As the Lausanne Covenant of 1974 puts it, we can all be unified "in fellowship, work and witness." This is one of the reasons Becky and I have adopted an intentionally cooperative philosophy of doing missions. (See How We Do Missions.) At the very least, we can share our resources. In my published study of John 17, I wrote:
Perhaps today, then, would be a good opportunity for us to acknowledge by name and pray for the other expressions of the Body in our community. This might be done in our corporate prayer time: "And Father, we thank you for [name the other Gospel churches in your community] and for our oneness in them created by Christ. We ask that by the power of the Spirit you would show us how to flesh out this unity in ways that promote the growth of the whole Body." Just a thought -- by someone who is still groggy and has only had one cup of coffee so far.
At any rate, Happy Trinity Sunday!
Saturday, May 25
7:58 PM Thousands of runners finally finished the Boston Marathon today. Good for them.
Their story is inspiring to this old geezer. Is it too stupid a question to ask all over again what endurance looks like? Look inside the life of a mature Christian and you will see the secret of finishing well. I have spent a lifetime listening to the excuses of students who have dropped out. Their tank is empty. They have no spiritual passion. They feed on nothing but thrills and excitement. They flit from one interest to the next. Then there are those who have never quit. They reach Heartbreak Hill and keep on going. The passion to finish the course remains. I want to be like them. What they have is a kind of reserve energy. And it is at Heartbreak Hill that the best runners prove their mettle. Something in me admires that. Something in me prods me to think that I can have that kind of passion too.
7:24 PM Received yet another invitation to join Twitter. No thanks. Besides, I was tweeting long before there was Twitter.
7:08 PM Just finished my work for the day, and I for one am happy to sit down again and relax. Which is a little odd, really, as my list of jobs is not greatly diminished. But I am done (in) for the day, and I think the Lord understands. I'm not quite steady enough with a tool to call myself a good farm hand, but if I keep plugging away at it I might begin to feel a little more comfortable in the job. For some reason, I feel the need to post some pix, not that anyone but my wife will be all that interested. I always find it hard to blog after a good day's worth of work on the farm. It's as if my life is so full, so satisfied, so content, or at the very least less boring and apathetic. So here are those pix:
1) Becky and Nigusse finished packing away all the sewing boxes in the sewing shed.
2) This is the sight that greets you from behind Bradford Hall. I never tire of it.
3) One of my jobs today was to get Becky's bean poles in.
4) Another was to trouble-shoot the mower. I think all I need to do is replace the fuel filter. At least that's where I'll start.
In the meantime I've been helping Becky in the kitchen. We've attained another one of those "new normals," if you know what I mean. Her back really really hurts. And her lungs aren't doing that great either. I keep thinking about hope. Hope is what keeps a 60-year old couple going forward, despite their weariness. Hope is the tiny flame in the midst of the darkness. Hope is such a small thing but it's everything. And its name is Jesus.
Rejoicing in hope,
1:38 PM You'll never guess what the men folk built this morning.
First we framed in the floor (with the help of our good friend Robby).
Then we dug the holes and set the posts. (At the same time, I gave Nigusse a grammar lesson in English. "The verb for today is 'tamp.' Tamp, tamping, tamped. I tamp, you tamp, he tamps, etc.")
Decision, decisions -- how high to make the floor?
Drive them nails, Nigu!
Up goes the framing.
Recognize it now? Our famous campground
No, it's not done yet, but we plan to put the finishing touches up on Tuesday. Wait till you see what we do with the "his and hers" feature!
7:22 AM It's contest time again! A free copy of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? to any Greek student who can correctly translate this Akropolis World News headline without the use of any helps:
Contest closes tomorrow at 6:00 pm.
6:42 AM In Greek class this week I asked my students, "How's your hekastology?" They thought I was asking them how their eschatology was, but I wasn't. Hekastology comes from the Greek adjective hekastos, "each, every." The apostle Paul often used it when describing what believers do when they gather -- "each one" participates in mutual edification (see 1 Cor. 14:26, for example). We live in a day when many Christians have their priorities backwards. In the first place, the New Testament teaches that worship is a way of life. It is not a Sunday morning religious exercise. The New Testament never describes a gathering of Christians as a "worship service." The reason is simple. According to Scripture, worship cannot be confined to a particular time or place (see John 4:23-24). God designed worship to happen at all times and in every place. Everything in our life should be an act of worship (Rom. 12:1).
In the second place, the New Testament teaches that one of the marks of the church is its highly participatory nature. Whereas our Sunday morning services tend to focus on one man (the "pastor"), the New Testament focuses on "one another" in the building-up process. Hebrews 10:24-25 indicates that "assembling ourselves together" means much more than sitting still and being entertained for 60 minutes (and God help the preacher who goes past 12:00 noon). The Old Covenant priesthood involved only a relative few saints, but the New Covenant priesthood included all the saints (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Each member of Christ’s Body is to function as a priest when the church gathers (Rom. 12:1-8).
If the New Testament makes a distinction between the people and their leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13), it nowhere creates the false idea that only "ordained ministers" are qualified or responsible for ministry. All of us have some ministry through the exercise of spiritual gifts. According to 1 Corinthians 12, ministry in the church should never focus on one or two members, but on the "many." Each member of the body has a vital function. This means that pastor-teachers are not to bear the entire burden of the edification process. They are to equip the saints so that they can minister also (see Eph. 4:11-12). Elders serve as a vitally important element in the building-up process, but they do not constitute the sole sources of edification. 1 Corinthians 14 indicates that when the entire church gathered the service was open to anyone who had something from the Lord to contribute. Nowhere can you find a pulpit centrality that focuses on one person. Edification was not limited to the instruction provided by the leaders. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, others spoke unto edification – "admonishing one another" (Rom. 15:14), "comforting one another" (1 Thess. 4:18), and even "exhorting one another" to live more godly lives (Heb. 3:13).
A. W. Tozer once said: "We must have a new reformation. There must come a violent break with the irresponsible, amusement-mad paganized pseudo-religion which passes today for the faith of Christ and which is being spread all over the world by unspiritual men employing unscriptural methods to achieve their end."
I could not agree more.
Friday, May 24
8:58 PM Got back home just in time to mow the front yard at Bradford Hall and cook a few burgers on the (homemade) grill for our overnight guests.
They are now enjoying the Renn Room, along with a live fire in the fireplace.
Tomorrow is a big work day around here for yours truly so I don't expect to be blogging too much. But who knows? I might surprise you.
Thursday, May 23
6:25 AM Mornin', yall! Before I leave for campus, mind if I mention a couple of former Ph.D. students? Of course you don't. First of all, please join me in wishing Alex and Jenny Stewart a fond bon voyage as they move to the Netherlands to begin serving fulltime at Tyndale Seminary. You can read Jenny's thoughts here. Secondly, you've just gotta read Paul Himes' latest post called A Dissertation: The Raw Data. You will love his sense of humor. Gentlemen, it was a joy and delight to work with both of you, and I wish you God's richest blessings as you begin writing the next chapter in your lives. I'll take a dozen just like you any time.
Side bar to Alex: You call your wife "Mrs. Doctor Stewart." You then are much too humble when describing yourself simply as "Dr. Stewart." Might I suggest, therefore, the following rectification?
Sehr Geehrter Herr Professor Doktor Stewart
Alles Gute und Aufwiederschauen!
Wednesday, May 22
7:32 PM Of the 3,000 or so languages in the world, my Greek students have decided to learn one of the finest. It is a great language not because of its complex morphology but because God in His infinite wisdom chose it as the vehicle whereby He would inscripturate the New Testament. This business of learning Koine Greek involves at least a mastery of the indicative mood, a topic that we have introduced this week. The complexities of Greek grammar are such that the authorities themselves often stumble. I think it patently absurd, for example, to call the sigma tense marker anything other than what it actually is -- the future time morpheme. It amuses me that linguistic terms are so often greeted with cries of despair and alarm by Greek teachers. Few acts are more salutatory than looking at the language of the New Testament and seeing how beautifully and wonderfully it is made, down to the smallest morpheme and phoneme even. It must be said, however, that in the end I do not really care how the student arrives at a reading knowledge of Greek. The goal is a facility in the language, not in memorizing jargon. Still, I must ask a question: Since Greek grammar is so complex and confusing to the beginning student, is there any good reason why we should not make the learning process as simple as possible? Forgive me for being so outspoken, but I cannot help it if I am such an unalloyed fan of logic in language.
7:04 PM Thousands want to know: How's Becky doing? Here's the lowdown. We are continuing to aggressively treat her cancer. She is currently taking 16 different combinations of R-F treatments for her cancer. Add to these her detox and total body scans, and we are talking anywhere from 12-15 hours of treatment daily. She continues to experience discomfort and tightness in her chest. Is this the pleural effusion or something else? We hope to have a chest x-ray shortly, which should shed some much-needed light on the question. On the other hand, she is adjusting to her treatments well, and her fatigue is much improved. Needless to say, we are spending a lot of time together. This afternoon we drove into town to go to the bank, post office, and Food Lion, but the real reason was we just wanted to be together. Right now she is trying some herbal tea to help relieve her chest discomfort. I've also detected a tendency for her to cough more often than usual.
As I type she is enjoying her new iPad (playing a game called "Flow"). Tonight we'll just relax. This weekend we are having overnight guests on Friday and a work day on Saturday (we're building, of all things, an outhouse for the camp ground -- replete with crescent moon). So life goes on, one step at a time. I wouldn't say we're exactly mounting up with wings like eagles. But we're not crawling either. Either way, life is good.
Thankful for your love and prayers for my Becky,
5:56 PM Well, I've bit the bullet. I've decided to publish my thoughts on the Pauline authorship of Hebrews as a book.
There goes whatever is left of my academic reputation.
5:40 PM I'm back in bucolic Virginia, checking up on my loved ones and animals. Thought you might enjoy a picture of my Greek class taking their first quiz.
And a great job was done by all. On the very first day of class I warned my students never to use Greek when they are preaching. The temptation for abuse is simply too strong. People know when you've done your homework; you don't need to impress them with a long list of grammatical terms and explanations. But if you do decide to use Greek in your preaching, please, I beg of you – use it correctly. Exegetical errors continue to crop up in evangelical preaching, and Andy Bowden calls our attention to just the latest example. Read his post from Monday called Trampling on grammar (for the sake of a sermon). It is a real eye-opener. The preacher says exactly the opposite of what the Greek in his passage is saying. Andy's tone may sound a bit harsh to our ears, but all of us deserve to be chided when we so blatantly misinterpret the Greek. There is so much linguistic nonsense out there that it boggles the mind. Students, your generation can do better. You must do better.
Speaking of SEBTS, John Sailhamer was my colleague here at the seminary for several years before he moved back to California to teach at Golden Gate. Now retired, he and his family have donated his entire personal library to Southeastern. The details are here. An excerpt:
So there are lots of good things happening on campus these days. I'm praying real hard for my students in Greek 1. Theirs is a daunting task, but God is able. If I could learn Greek, anybody can. Praise God!
Monday, May 20
6:13 AM Hey there folks! I hope you're enjoying these fine summer days as much as I am (or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, these winter days). Sorry I didn't blog too much yesterday but I've been very busy here (loafing, napping, listening to the rain, etc.). I'm super jazzed to begin a new Greek class this morning. Just wanted to say thanks to the Lord for granting me this awesome privilege. In the next few days I'll be "thinking out loud" about Greek with you. Don't expect anything too profound, however. I'm a simple kinda guy who is trying to pursue a Christ-centered way of learning that leverages knowledge in self-sacrificial, loving ways. That's it in a nutshell.
Well, I've got to run. I'll have more (un-profound) thoughts later.
Sunday, May 19
8:56 AM Good morning, thoughtful cybernetic friends! I am very excited this morning. Today our elders will begin a series on ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church. And why shouldn't they? I think, for example, of a church in Hawaii that I was a part of many years ago. It offered classes designed for "laypersons," and many of us eagerly attended them. I can still remember my lessons as well as my teacher, a Mr. Cook. He was a mentor and a model, and not merely a lecturer. The result? An unquenchable appetite to go even deeper in my studies of the Christian life.
There is a real need today for ministry to become de-professionalized. Let's not forget the sufficiency of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to guide even the simplest believer into truth. Any church can, if it is willing, follow the pattern of the early church in this regard. It can begin by ensuring that its shepherd-teachers are steeped in the Word of God and able to teach its magnificent truths to others. Happy the church that, like the Berean congregation, can listen sensitively to the Holy Spirit as He speaks through the Scriptures! I cannot help but think of the example set for me so many years ago by Mr. Cook. He had a true pastor's heart, and he knew the Word. He was a mature Christian who walked daily and deeply with his Savior. And what of his students? They came from all walks of life, but each was prepared to listen and discuss and study and learn.
I am not saying we should not have seminaries or Bible schools. What troubles me is that we so often equate a formal biblical education with true biblical understanding. It seems to me that it is time to say "Enough!" to the fallacious notion that a degree in theology makes one qualified for leadership in the church. Throughout the Scriptures the summons is given to forsake conformity to the world's wisdom and to pursue the wisdom that is from above. Paul reminds us that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3), and that we "are complete in Him" (Col. 2:10). Call this the "sufficiency of Christ," if you will, but it is insufficiently acknowledged. A major exception was the sixteenth-century Anabaptists in Europe. It was their devotion to the Scriptures that set the Anabaptists apart from their Reformation counterparts. They listened to the Word of God with humble reverence. They were anxious to obey it too, whatever the cost to them personally. Elsewhere I have noted that they believed in "the Bible as a book of the church instead of as a book for scholars," and in "a hermeneutic of obedience instead of a hermeneutic of knowledge." The Anabaptists well understood that we learn to apply the Word not in the abstract milieu of the classroom but in the world. And when we truly understand the truth of God’s Word, it shapes our entire life and worldview.
We in the church of Jesus Christ are always in danger of magnifying titles and degrees and forgetting that a formal theological education guarantees neither sound doctrine nor mature character. The essential mark of Christian leadership is love not ability, humility not arrogance, wisdom not knowledge. We must cease viewing knowledge as an end in itself, but must pursue the mind of Christ, remembering that "truth is in Jesus" (Eph. 4:21). I wonder if anything is more urgent today, for the building up of the Body of Christ, than that its leaders should be, and should be seen to be, men who have "been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).
The crucial thing is that local churches take discipleship seriously. And it is neither biblical nor helpful to abdicate this responsibility to institutions of higher education, as valuable as they are. The seminary exists to serve the local church, not vice versa. So when opportunity occurs to return biblical education to your local church, I say grasp it with both of your hands!
Saturday, May 18
8:08 PM Civil War photographer and founder of photojournalism Mathew Brady was born on this day in 1823. Without his efforts we would have forever gone without such magnificent photos as this one:
For more, click here.
1:29 PM On Monday I will be greeting a brand new class of beginning Greek students. Welcome to each one of you! Let me tell you why I am teaching Greek. It is simply this. God has a plan for individuals. And He has communicated this plan to us in His Word. Our God is a communicative God, and He has made known His will to and through His spokesmen who penned the Scriptures. Biblical truth is just that: truth that is communicated in and through the Bible. It is truth that is at once "inspired by God" and "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." It is clear that biblical truth is not given for knowledge's sake alone. I therefore emphatically agree with the old Scottish proverb that says: "Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place. But it is not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus." The ultimate reason for teaching and learning New Testament Greek is that, properly applied, it can issue in a "readiness for every good work" – that is, a life that is equipped to do God's will and go God's way.
What all this implies is that if we are to move from the classroom to real life we will have to prize what we learn and view it as a life skill and not merely as an educational attainment. Of course, this is not easy. Almost all of us feel tremendous ambivalence as we wrestle with the question of just how to apply what we learn in the classroom to the real world. Obviously, knowledge of Greek is essential if we are to have a firm foundation upon which to build our exegesis of the New Testament. On the other hand, I must say forcefully that facts, no matter how brilliantly taught or diligently acquired, are nothing more than the raw building blocks of life. How we put them together, and for what use (and whose glory), is another matter altogether.
On Monday you will take the first step in the adventure of a lifetime. I will be there as your guide and encourager. But we will have only one Teacher. My prayer is that all of us will look to Him and Him alone for the help we will need not merely to get by in this class but to excel for His glory.
10:18 AM Okay, folks, Becky's done it again -- written a fantastic essay. It's called Living with Resilience. It's a great reminder from someone who walks the talk.
9:33 AM Glad to report that 12 students have joined my "Five Minute Greek Club" this summer (where you translate two verses of Greek daily and thus earn a copy of one of my books for free in the fall). I'm also looking over the class list of my Greek 1 course that starts on Monday. The class has been closed at 40, which a good mixture of college and seminary students. This will mark my 37th year of teaching Greek. I never tire of it.
9:15 AM Just received this photo from one of our Korean grads:
Thank you, Peter!
9:10 AM Do you remember Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top? He was born in Maine and educated at Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. His teaching career at Bowdoin was a stellar one. As Professor of Natural and Revealed Religion, he spoke seven languages. After Gettysburg he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1871 he was persuaded to accept the presidency of Bowdoin, where he reshaped 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):
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. 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.
8:54 AM Right now I'm reviewing my lessons on Philippians for my June class at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Pennsylvania. The book, of course, is all about missions. Talk about practical applications.
1) For starters: The church at Philippi began in the place of prayer. That was due to Lydia, you will recall. For example, our Ethiopia 2013 team dares to do nothing without intensive prayer. The team will pray, as a team, twice daily. And, as you know, Becky will provide a prayer itinerary for you all of you to use. Why? "We have this treasure in earthen jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not of us."
2) Then, too, have you noticed that women played a very prominent role in Philippi? This included Lydia as well as Euodia and Syntyche. Many on our team are females. Truth is: we could not do this work without the ladies, and this includes one special lady who is phenomenally gifted in organization.
3) The ladies in Philippi, unfortunately, began quarreling. It was such a grave danger to the Gospel that Paul had to confront them -- by name -- in 4:2. We leave for Ethiopia aware of the dangers that face us externally but the even graver danger of internal strife. Disunity is a sin that threatens the heart of the church. It destroys the church's witness and effectiveness. It was abhorrent to Jesus, who prayed that we "may be one." I think it helps to recognize that this is a constant danger and to pray accordingly.
4) Paul addresses both the saints and those who oversee and serve (these are not titles) in 1:1. These latter folk are not "over" the others but "alongside" them. Every member of our team is a priest, a minister, a servant. Yet there are leaders. Bottom line: on our team we have some leaders and some followers but we are all slaves of Jesus.
5) Oh, and how about the theme of "joy"? Paul is joyful! The Philippians are joyful! I'd say our team is very joyful! You know why so many Christians are unhappy? Because they fail to acquire what they think is essential to their happiness. (I know this from many years of experience.) The key to joyful Christian living is acquiring what will bring true, lasting joy. For Paul, that was partnering in the Gospel (1:5) -- becoming a Great Commission Christian. So, Paul can be in prison and still rejoice because the Gospel is being proclaimed. Now, I admit I haven't always had that kind of joy but I do now, and I want to taste more of it.
6) Missions is the work of God. See 1:6. Yes, we will preach "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." But the work of the Gospel is the work of God from beginning to end. To return to Lydia for a moment, here's a wonderful verse that says it all: "The Lord opened her heart to listen to what was said by Paul" (Acts 16:14). I am praying for the Lord to open many hearts on our trip this summer. That's His job, not mine.
7) Finally, Paul prays that the Philippians might "choose what is best" (1:9-10). Christianity gives us a new priority system. A new value system. What's best? Not my health. Not my comfort. But the Gospel. As Paul says in 3:4-11, everything the world values turns out to be unspeakable filth in comparison to Jesus.
Well, you didn't need this little sermon, but I did. Between now and December I will leave for Ethiopia and then Asia and then Guyana and then India and then Asia again, no doubt a bit bedraggled in body but convinced that my calling in life is not to be just a Greek teacher (or even a just Greek teacher) but to be a Christian.
"Join me in suffering for the sake of the Good News, with God's power," wrote Paul in 2 Tim. 1:8. Okay Paul, I'll give it another whack.
Friday, May 17
7:32 PM It's early evening. Nigusse is recording a book in Amharic, while Becky and one of her adopted daughters are working over at Maple Ridge. I'm sitting here at the computer trying to take it all in. I honestly can't say enough about today's commencement service at the seminary. I think everyone was ready to breathe one long collective sigh of relief that the school year was finally over. Now all that's left is to pray that these graduates would find their fulfillment in serving Jesus. I'm ready to see God do great things through them. I am now, more than ever, convinced that nothing is more important in life than putting our God-given assets in service to His kingdom, and that includes whatever paltry academic achievements we have been blessed to have earned. And earned they were. Just ask my two doctoral students. They worked their tails off. But God's grace was (and is) always sufficient, both for them and for me. There are so many things I love about teaching. But at the top of the list is watching well-educated men and women place their learning at the feet of Jesus and live out the love He's given them to share. Add to this the fact that we are privileged to have the most beautiful campus on earth bar none, and you can see why I feel super blessed today. He is making everything new, and that's true whether you have just earned a doctorate or whether you are serving Jesus in absolute obscurity. Folks, I'm officially declaring today a day of rejoicing and praise to the One who makes all things possible. Care to join us in the celebration?
Pix (of course):
1) My my, but don't I look somber.
2) Here we are hooding my Ph.D. student Paul Himes.
3) Here's Paul with his dad, a missionary to Japan for over 30 years.
4) My only other doctoral student to graduate today is Thomas Hudgins, who also served as the first assistant to the chair I am honored to hold, the Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. Chair in New Testament.
5) Here's one brudda from da Islands. Poor Jayson, his prof is still telling him what to do.
6) We LOVE our international students.
7) Guess what? Today Becky was able to attend the service with us. The icing on the cake.
P.S. If you'd like to see the "SEBTS faculty shuffle," go here.
7:02 AM Memorial Day is fast approaching. Years ago Jacque Ellul 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).
6:43 AM Good morning, graduates! On Tuesday 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. 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:
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 16
7:49 PM Today has been a good day. I've been thinking a lot about and praying for our graduates tomorrow. You will begin writing a new chapter of your life. Truly, you will be stepping out into the deep waters of life. Obstacles aplenty there will be, too. When General George Pickett was asked to explain the failure of his charge at Gettysburg, he dryly replied, "I think the Union Army had something to do with it." Yet press on you must. There's a good reason why tomorrow's celebration is called "commencement." Nothing is really coming to an end. The Battle of El Alamein was the turning point of World War II for the British Army. Winston Churchill said of it, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Happy "End of the Beginning" to each and every one of you. You've done us and the Lord proud.
9:28 AM It's that time of the year when everybody is buying textbooks for the summer term. And it's no easy task to assign texts these days. Sit down with most any textbook and you'll discover that after a brief period you can't read it. It's too textbooky, too factual, too dull, too dry. Believe me, I know: I've produced my share of them. What brings on this long-winded, heart-breaking wordiness? I'm not sure, but I have a hunch. Everyone who writes textbooks knows that they are written for teachers, not for students. As long as the textbook pleases the teacher it will make the revered and unassailable list of "required reading." Students will be forced to read it, whether it is well-written or not. I think we textbook writers are finally wising up, though. About two or three books into my writing career I decided I would try to write for the student and not for the teacher. (Whether I have succeeded is up to you, dear reader, to decide.) This means that a good textbook will have a simple style. It may even contain personal anecdotes, cartoons, jokes, puns, and -- dare I say it? -- first person pronouns. Scholars will call it unacademic, but students will love it. And, after all, we're here to serve them, aren't we?
What do you think?
9:21 AM Speaking of Ethiopia, a wise old preacher once said, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Eccl. 3:1). It seems that in this season of my life God has called me to be intentional in carrying out His loving and merciful purposes in the nations of this world. As long ago as 1906 G. Campbell Morgan said, "Any man or woman in the church who does not know what it is to share the travail that makes his kingdom come is dishonest and disloyal to Jesus Christ." The early Christians found out that there was no joy like the joy of sharing Jesus with others. They saw evangelism as enabling people to escape from the snares of the devil and be transformed from darkness into light. Once you have been gripped by the need of people who do know the Lord Jesus Christ, you will need no other to reason to spread the Good News about Him with every person you can possibly reach.
To be quite frank, nothing in my life has brought me as much joy as being about the Gospel business. Missionary work allows me to participate in the greatest commission ever given to believers – to make disciples of the nations through Christ’s authority and presence (Matt. 28:18-20). This is the primary way the church glorifies God, and the heart of the great commission is to "make disciples." The tense of the command implies, “Do it, and do it now!” I admit that I have not always felt this urgency. But I do now, and I look forward to discovering in the future even more deeply what it means to disciple the nations for Christ. Notice that there is no option in Jesus’ command. Either we are doing it or else we or not. Either we are being obedient or we are not. There can be no disciple-making without a spirit of intentionality – a spirit of active pursuit that looks for opportunities to evangelize and edify. A great commission person is sharply focused. He or she doesn’t get bogged down in selfish agendas or the soft cultural values of modern American life. A great commission person is one who chooses to be so. We must be intentional about going into our communities and our world in order to turn people into committed followers of Christ. I have decided that my focus in life must be on making disciples. If a ministry does not aim at making disciples, why do it? I am learning to measure everything I do by whether it contributes to the disciple-making process.
If nothing else, missionary work has challenged my smugness and lethargy. I was born and raised in laid-back Hawaii. My spiritual muscles are naturally flabby and soft. But Jesus calls us to deny many of the comforts and pleasures we take for granted every day. His disciples saw how He refused the things they cherished – physical pleasure, popular approval, prestige – and accepted willingly the things they sought to escape – poverty, humiliation, sorrow, even death. In ministering to the sick, comforting the sorrowful, and preaching the Gospel to the poor, Jesus showed us that no service was too small and so sacrifice too great when it is done in His name. Being a missionary has forced me to renew my dependence on the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can enable believers to carry on the redemptive tasks of evangelism and edification in the midst of the watchful eyes of others. I teach three classes each semester, but on the mission field class is always in session. Our every word and deed is constantly scrutinized by believers and unbelievers alike. We must be willing to be transparent, and the people to whom we open our lives will see our many shortcomings. But hopefully they will also see that the heart of the whole miraculous drama we call salvation is dependent not on any man but on One who sacrificed self for the blessing of others.
Someone once said that to be "in Christ" is to be "involved." A burden is not a burden as long as it is on the ground. Only when it is on our own shoulders is it a burden. Have you taken up the burden of world evangelization? May the Spirit be the prime mover in our hearts today. For only He can give us a desire to see the nations reached with the Gospel. Not only can He break us of the pride and lethargy that come so naturally to us, He can thrust us out into the mission fields of the world so that our lives bear much fruit for Him.
9:15 AM An unknown writer once penned the following limerick: "There was a young poet in Japan,/Whose poetry no one could scan./When told it was so,/He replied, 'Yes, I know,/But I try to get as many words in the last line as I can.'" I am currently chin-deep in preparing my lectures to be given at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa in July. I am going to try and speak to the issue of translating the poetry of the New Testament into English, using the ISV New Testament as an example of what might be done in this area. The larger issue I would like to address is the question of why we as students of the New Testament are so insensitive to the rhetorical level of language when it comes to reading and interpreting our Bibles. I think Old Testament scholars are doing a much better job of it than we are, but we can all do better both to understand and translate the poetry of the Bible. Why am I so concerned about this matter? Only because my view of verbal-plenary inspiration extends not only to the words of the Bible but also to the rhetorical devices that God the Holy Spirit led the writers to employ. Shouldn’t that drive us all to be sensitive to this level of language as a meaningful level for receptors?
9:12 AM I love the idea behind the Texas German Dialect Project. It's highlighted in this recent BBC report. As Texas German dies out, scholars are beginning to record it. There remain only about 8,000 speakers today in a part of Texas that looks a lot like Germany. An example of this peculiar dialect:
Isn't that quaint? I would love to get back to the Texas Hill Country again and speak German with these folks.
9:08 AM I must break the news to you that I have decided to review my French, starting today. I cannot help it. I enjoy speaking in tongues too much to stop. Language study is a great work upon which to engage one's mind, and is a solace for my senility.
9:02 AM Congratulations to all of our LXX students who did so well on their recitations yesterday. Here's Psalm 1 in Hebrew:
And in Greek:
Wednesday, May 15
8:32 PM Raked and baled a couple of small fields today. Great fun. Perfect weather. Good fellowship. Excellent hay. Already have a buyer too. God is good, all the time.
8:12 PM When we first moved to the East Coast 15 years ago, we were invited to participate in a Civil War reenactment in the historic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The Battle of New Market was fought on this day in 1864 and is famous because of the exploits of a young group of cadets from the Virginia Military Academy who were called upon at the last minute.
I'll never forget the reenactment we did. Our unit was encamped alongside the Interstate the night before the battle. Needless to say, no one got any sleep that night. I was overwhelmed at first by the miserable conditions, but one incident, trivial enough in itself, comforted me quite out of proportion to its importance. During the reenactment a huge thunderstorm descended upon us troops, scattering the spectators to the four winds. We, of course, kept fighting. ("The show must go on.") In retrospect I reflected that this was only appropriate as the original battle had been fought during a severe rain storm. The scene was later dubbed "The Field of Shoes" since so many soldiers, on both sides, were deprived of their foot wear because of the mud. In these untoward conditions, the participation of the VMI cadets achieved a direct benefit for the Southern forces.
Likewise, it must be remembered that the youth in our churches are no less to be involved in the work of the ministry today. This summer, in fact, several young adults will be traveling with us to Ethiopia to serve under difficult circumstances. It will be the rainy season, and rain and mud will be our likely companions. But these "thorns in the cushion" -- as Thackeray once called them -- are not deadly, and indeed I find such obstacles fascinating and exhilarating. Young and old alike will face the elements, and a lot more. A friend of mine once said to me, "You know, Dave, there is no teenage Holy Spirit and adult Holy Spirit. There's just the Holy Spirit." He was right. The VMI cadets at New Market delivered a sharp hammer blow to the Federals, enough force to do more than surprise. They turned the tide of battle. The extraordinary event that occurred exactly 149 years ago today is a stark reminder of what a group of young people can do when sufficiently motivated and equipped. (I think my friend Kevin Brown would agree.)
8:02 PM Good evening, blogging buds! I suppose everyone's seen Ariel Castro's backyard by now.
When I lived in Europe I often rode the train, and I would frequently travel through the residential parts of small towns. The tracks would often run along the back side of a row of houses, and I got a good view of the backyards and porches. Many yards were filled with junk—they obviously hadn't been cleaned in years and had become catchalls for odds and ends. Had I been able to walk down the front street instead, I imagine I would have found these homes quite respectable. But because visitors don't usually enter from the rear, the backyards tend to be neglected.
It's easy to keep up a good front when you’re a Christian, but the backyard of our minds and hearts can become cluttered with much that no one should ever see. The Pharisees were good at decorating the front yard in a profession of public piety, but the Lord condemned them for their hidden sins. The Bible says that all things are open and naked before the eyes of God. You and I can only look on the outward appearance, but God sees our hearts in their deepest recesses, grunge and all. The Psalmist prayed, "Cleanse me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12), and I too must pray for cleansing. Moreover, I must be willing to get rid of all the "stuff" that displeases my heavenly Father.
One of the first passages my Greek students translate is 1 John 1:9: "If we make it our habit to confess our sins [rather than justifying them or rationalizing them away, see vv. 6, 8, and 10], He is faithful and just to forgive us the [aforementioned] sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Here the verb confess means something like "openly acknowledge," and the verb tense suggests continuous or habitual action. I have found that one of the most important aspects of my Christian walk is ongoing confession of sin. When is the right time to confess a sin? The moment we become aware of it. This means that most of us will have to confess our sins on a daily basis. We know we are saved because we have Christ in our lives, but daily confession is fundamental.
God, in His grace and mercy, offers forgiveness and cleansing to confessing Christians. But practicing daily confession of sin is not easy or always pleasant. As Erwin Lutzer has said, "Forgiveness is always free. But that doesn't mean that confession is always easy. Sometimes it is hard. Incredibly hard. It is painful (sometimes literally) to admit our sins and entrust ourselves to God’s care."
God's invitation to us today is clear. Why would anyone want to live with the guilt and despair of sin? Why would we wish to risk so much for so little? Why would we want to live like spiritual paupers and with such mediocre results in our lives and churches and in the propagation of the Gospel around the world?
Tuesday, May 14
4:48 AM Looking forward to our study of the doctrine of the church on Sunday mornings. Much of what we call "church" today originated, not in the New Testament, but in post-apostolic times.
The New Testament shows us that the need great of modern Christianity is to return to biblical faithfulness and the profound simplicity of the New Testament.
4:40 AM William Gurnall was a Church of England minister who lived in the seventeenth century. In the introduction to his classic work on Eph. 6:10-17 he writes, in the elevated prose of his day:
"Send faith oft up the hill of promise." We are all likely to need this word of encouragement today. Whatever trials we might have to endure this day, we can face the battles of life with blessed assurance. We can enter our battles with genuine optimism and with complete confidence that we will emerge victorious. Gurnall was expressing his unflinching faith in one decisive fact -- that "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Rom. 8:37).
4:32 AM This week I finish my 15th year at SEBTS and my 36th year of fulltime teaching. What an undeserved blessing. Congratulations to the class of 2013. Every seminary grad needs to read Nate Claiborne's post called Theological Identity Crisis. He writes:
"Play the pope." That would be funny if it wasn't so true. Students, let's never forget who we are: fallen human beings. Wear your learning humbly.
Monday, May 13
3:43 PM I'm feeling a little bit scatter-brained right now, so you'll have to forgive this disjointed update. Here's a snippet of what my day has looked like so far:
1) I couldn't resist taking this shot of B's rose garden in all its beauty. Red, yellow, pink, even orange. Takes one's breath away.
2) Our summer garden is going gangbusters. Here's the herb bed.
3) Looks like we may have 4-5 days of dry weather, so we cut grass today in hopes of baling on Thursday or Friday.
4) Over at Maple Ridge, Becky and I plugged away at little odd jobs, the kind nobody notices but that require a great deal of effort to finish. One example is this silverware drawer. It took two of us to build it, three if you count the page of instructions.
5) Finally, I thought you'd like to see the library/school room. The house is beginning to look like a home -- but, of course, it will become a home only when a family is living here.
Might mention here that I've been quizzing Nigusse on his Greek. Yesterday I asked him to translate these two headlines for me.
Τερατώδης λύσις ἐν τῷ ΒαγγλαδέςἈμερικανὸν στρατιώτην ἐν τῷ Βιετνᾶμ εὑρίσκουσιν
The language is Classical Greek. Nigu did quite well (after a wee bit of prompting by yours truly). Greek student, see what you can do with them.
7:27 AM Encouraged this morning by this stanza from "For All the Saints." Why not take a moment and sing along?
communion, fellowship divine!
7:14 AM Loved this absolutely delicious quote over at The New Republic. It you are as much a language lover as I am, get ready for a big smile to break out all over your face.
7:10 AM In my opinion, Vernard Eller (d. 2007) was one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. Yet he is also almost completely unknown today. His book Christian Anarchy is a classic work of theology and should be required reading by seminarians. (If you're unfamiliar with the term "anarchy" used in its specific religious sense, see my book Christian Archy for a simplified explanation.) In a wonderful little essay, Eller addresses the problem of using the term "sacrament" to describe the Lord's Supper. He writes:
Of course, I agree completely with this point of view. The human tendency is to sacralize our faith and transform it into something the Founder of our faith never intended. I've often smiled at the funereal ambiance in so many of our supper observances: you have the pall bearers solemnly removing the shroud that covers the deceased's remains etc. etc. As Eller notes: "The word 'sacrament' ... is a bad one; it says all the wrong things - although the tragedy is not simply that it's a poor word but that the word all too accurately describes the current practice of the church."
What word shall we use, then? Ah, that's the rest of the essay. You can read it here.
7:02 AM A few more weekend pictures:
Sunday, May 12
8:48 AM I just ran across two news headlines that could not be more different:
When the church becomes a place of political brokerage rather than an organic, witnessing community, she ceases to be the church. When we get to heaven, it will not have mattered in the least whether or not I was able to display Bible verses at a pom-pom rally. Christianity can too easily mirror secular organizations that demand political rights. Friend, if you were to lose all rights to be a Christian, would you still follow Jesus? Would I? That is the real question we face today, isn't it?
7:35 AM For every mother who may visit this blog today:
7:29 AM A Fuller prof asks What Is Seminary? I have wrestled with this question for years. The local church in America seems to have forgotten its responsibility to disciple its members. "After all, we have our seminaries." That is a dangerous attitude. The seminary classroom can be a place of magnificent learning, and often is. But every care must be made to avoid a learning experience that fails to give our students an idea of what it costs to follow Jesus. We must not forget that the early church had no formal educational institutions or professionally-trained academics, and yet it turned the world upside-down in a mere 30 years. There were many good reasons for this. Someone once said that the three greatest dangers of a seminary education are extraction, expense, and elitism. A clerical culture develops. Writes Abbé Michonneau in his book Revolution in a City Parish (pp. 131-32):
"Clergy" becomes a whole way of living, an ecclesiastical subculture. The church, however, predates the seminary and will outlast it. The book of Acts reminds us that the earliest church leaders were homegrown nobodies. They were not parachuted in from the outside with all of the proper credentials. They were already full participants in their congregations – they had homes, they had jobs, and they had solid reputations. If at all possible, I think we too would do well to train people for leadership in our local churches, equipping them for evangelism and other ministries, thus complementing the work of our seminaries and Bible colleges. The early church knew that leadership is best learned by on-the-job training, not by sending our most promising leaders off to sit behind a desk.
7:20 AM Sunday shout out to Kimberly, Karen, Rachael, Leigh, and Dolores, who made our surprise party for Becky such a huge success last night. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!
Saturday, May 11
2:42 PM Hello virtual friends! Hope you are having a great day. Mine has been wonderful. Becky and I have been working all day long at Maple Ridge. You should have seen the two of us old birds. Sorry, sorry SORRY! I know I always go on and on about working together with Becky, but it really is just that much fun. I'd like to write more but Bec has to have a treatment and I have to take a nap. I'll report after our Ethiopian food tonight, if, that is, I'm not as stuffed as a Strasbourg goose.
Thanks for blogging in,
6:56 AM Read Ride That Horse!
6:48 AM It's interesting to see some of my favorite bloggers leaving the blogosphere. I write online because I love writing, not because I don't have other things to do, and certainly not because I can't (or don't) write anywhere else. I simply have things in my head that have to come out. I try to tell the truth as I see it, but I don't assume that anyone will agree with what I have to say. After 9 years of blogging I still feel like I'm trying to find my voice, and I have a constant conversation within me about how to blog and when. For better or for worse, I opt not to remain silent about many topics, but writing down my thoughts is a good way of setting them in concrete. Of course, I need to be very careful about what I write - there's always a slim chance someone out there might read it.
6:40 AM Quote of the day (Jim Elliott):
6:33 AM I'm often asked where students can earn an accredited European doctorate without having to relocate. The Highland Theological College in Scotland offers just such an accredited Ph.D. program. This looks like an excellent course of study. From their online catalog:
Friday, May 10
7:58 PM 5 for Netsanet:
1) Your dear old dad had a load of work on his platter today, but none was more "enjoyable" than placing rat poison in the attic over at Maple Ridge. Aren't I getting a bit too old for this?
2) Your fiancé tore himself away from the books long enough to help me replace a water trough. I noticed one thing about your future husband. He really likes cattle.
3) And you know what? I think they like him too.
4) Here's mom's rose garden. We all very happy that spring has arrived. How are the flowers in Alaba these days?
5) Finally, Nigusse, as you know, is an avid eater and especially loves Chinese cuisine. Tonight mom pulled out all the stops and made one of our favorite dishes -- lo mein noodles. It was DE-licious.
Right now Nigusse and mom are sitting on the front porch enjoying a cup of Habasha buna. Tomorrow night we are taking her to the Abyssinia restaurant for her birthday. Sure wish you could join us. Of course, the food can't begin to compare with the cuisine at Martha's Migib Bet in Alaba.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this photo visit with us. Mom and Nigu send their greetings.
P.S. Do you like Nigusse's new haircut?
8:24 AM Becky and I just went over our schedule for the day. My list includes: go to Wal-Mart (buy more paint brushes and paint), get Nigusse a haircut, go to Boston Lumber and have some glass cut for a table top, return home, cover rose bushes and spray with Roundup, place stones around rose bushes, train the donkeys with halters, do a trash run, cut particle board to fit toy chest, spray duckweed killer on south pond, arrange for the recycling of metals lying around the farm, place bean poles in garden beds, spray Roundup along edge of vegetable beds, place DVD shelves at Maple Ridge, cut carpet, more leftover paints to crawl space, move furniture into library, attach legs to dining room table, clean tractor, mow Bradford Hall, tick treat dogs, edge pond, spread tick granules in backyard, and work on family finances.
Think I can get all of this done in one day?
7:12 AM When I taught at Biola University, our students learned classical Greek before they were introduced to New Testament Greek. This was both chronologically and logically sound, even though the classical language is more difficult to learn. Anyone learning only the Greek of the New Testament would do well to know how classical Greek differs from the Koine, and here's a good place to get that information.
7:04 AM Quote of the day (James Packer, in his classic book Knowing God):
6:55 AM Those of us trying to master French have our work cut out for us, especially when it comes to correct pronunciation. But there's help, and here's a sample of it.
6:50 AM In 1 Cor. 1:10 Paul writes "that all of you agree." The term "agree" here literally means "say the same thing." The expression is found on a first-century grave stone of a married couple, indicating a harmonious relationship. This does not imply that the husband was a yes-man or that the wife was a door stop. Harmony is not unison. Different people can live together in harmony even though they retain their freedom to express their own convictions and insights. Aquila and Priscilla seem to have worked together in this manner, and I would like to think that my wife and I do so as well. At least we travel together frequently -- a distinctive characteristic of the ministry of Aquila and Priscilla. They had lived together in Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome; and Becky and I have lived together in La Mirada, Basel, and now Nelson, Virginia. Sure, the journey has been bumpy at times, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.
And now, as Becky and I enter the final season of our lives, we do so living, laboring, and sacrificing together for a cause much larger than both of us. It's a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I couldn't think of a better way to honor the Lord Jesus through our marriage than by serving Him together. We "agree," as Paul would put it -- which is a pretty amazing thing for two people who couldn't be more different in background, temperament, and personality. I guess that's why they call grace "amazing."
Thursday, May 9
7:20 PM It's time to be brutally honest with you. I hate teaching. Yes I, a professor of New Testament and Greek, hate teaching. It forces me into intolerable corners. I must decide what I really believe about things. I must do the hard work of research, cogitation, and synthesis before opening my mouth. I have to use my limited intellectual tools to mine the depths of the text. It would be so much easier to send my students to the commentaries or the online helps. After all, what hubris to think that I have anything worthwhile to teach them. Plus, try publishing your beliefs. Talk about sticking your neck out. Maybe I should ditch teaching altogether and become a beach bum again like I was in the 1960s. No teaching means no arguments, no discussion, no controversy. I've been teaching for 36 years now. I tell you, I'm not up to the task. It takes the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the courage of Paul. It's the most demanding, challenging thing I'm called upon to do. Yes, I hate teaching. But at the same time, I love teaching. There's nothing more rewarding than watching the lights come on in the eyes of my Greek students when they "get it." Even better, I love it when my students flesh out the Savior's teaching in towel and basin ministries of their own. Awesome.
It takes no talent scout to locate a true follower of Jesus. Just look for a life-long learner who is never satisfied with his or her own spiritual or intellectual status quo.
11:30 AM My LXX students can opt out of next week's final exam if they memorize Psalm 1 in either Hebrew or Greek. If you take that option, here's the standard we're looking for.
11:26 AM Can't wait for Becky to open her birthday present this Saturday. Boy, will she be surprised!
10:48 AM The library floor is finished. Well done, Becky!
10:27 AM Congratulations to all of our seminary (and college) graduates. Looking forward to watching you "walk" next Friday. 33 years ago I was in your shoes. Here I have just received my Master of Divinity from Talbot.
I joked at the time, "No way have I mastered divinity!" In those days I suppose I thought that the Christian life was a stroll in the park. Now I understand that it's more like a race to be run with relentless determination and commitment. The New Testament often pictures a similarity between an athlete and the Christian in terms of purposefulness and dedication. With that in mind, I have written a little essay just for you. It's called Graduate, Be Like Jesus! May our Lord richly bless you as you pursue the lowly path of Jesus, and may your life always be an example of downward mobility.
9:42 AM Here are the Eight College Degrees with the Worst Return on Investment:
Where's the mind of Christ in this discussion? I might suggest it's time we re-defined "investment." Most of these degrees will easily allow you entrance into a restricted-access nation, if, that is, your purpose is to share the Gospel with those who have never heard. It's not uncommon to find young people without a reason for living. They simply "exist" and fill their emptiness with meaningless pursuits. The correct perspective comes when we acknowledge God as the owner of our lives, our vocations, our everything. Let's pursue a sacrificial lifestyle whatever our vocation might be. The doors are opening up everywhere. Will we go through them?
8:31 AM Good morning, friends and prayer partners. I promised you a full report. Well, here it is. I wish I could say that Becky's cancer is gone or in remission. I can't. Actually, the question is not whether Becky's cancer is terminal. Life is terminal. For each of us, the only question is When? So it's not a matter of wanting to live forever in this earthly body. It's about how to handle the curve balls that life throws at us. I'm convinced that the most important dimension in the fight against cancer is spiritual. And in this regard, we've already won the victory. Both Becky and I are absolutely convinced that a sovereign Hand guides not only the entire universe but the tiniest cells in our bodies. The real battle, for me at least, has been emotional. There is a danger of either denying reality or repressing my feelings. Neither is a healthy response.
Let me lay out the facts the best I can, and then tell you where we're headed from here. Becky has stage 4 clear cell uterine cancer. It's one of the most lethal of the more than 100 forms of cancer known today. Her cancer has metastasized to her lungs and spine. The latest pet scan shows "a significant progression of the disease." There are not only new lesions in her lungs, but the lesions that are there have grown in size. In addition, there are now 4 spots on her spine (3 of which are new). And now there is evidence of pleural effusion (a collection of fluid between the lung and the rib cage) which is causing Becky some discomfort. In short, Becky's tumors are growing and multiplying. The largest lesion in her lungs is now 1.6 centimeters. Left untreated, her cancer will continue to grow and eventually block some or all of her body's important functions. The only medical option available to us is the same chemo drug she was taking last year. This we do not feel is a viable option for us at this time. This means that we have basically exhausted all of the traditional treatments open to us: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. As you know, last year the chemo led to several unwanted outcomes (stomach perforation, blood clot, and stroke) requiring three hospitalizations.
So, what do we do with this monster that has invaded Becky's body? Here's our game plan:
1. Stay informed.
2. Reconsider all treatment options.
3. Be realistic about the prospects.
4. Maintain a biblical perspective on physical illness. Physical adversities are meant to strengthen our walk with God and produce steadfastness, approved character, and hope (Rom. 5:3-4). They are intended to develop positive character qualities such as humility (2 Cor. 12:7) and give us the means to encourage others in their adversity (2 Cor. 1:3-4).
5. Live in the confidence that God is always good and always sovereign. He is too good to allow anything to happen to us that is not in our best interest, and He is too sovereign to be frustrated in His good purposes for us. So, if you are ever tempted to feel sorry for Becky or to be morose in her presence, be prepared to be mightily rebuked by her. A sad spirit does not honor God.
6. Rejoice in the tangible reminders that all we have and are is of Him. God has extended Becky's time on earth far longer than the experts predicted. If it is His will, we will celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary this September. Truly, these are causes for gratitude and rejoicing.
7. Habitually turn from anxiety to prayer, as we are commanded to do (Phil. 4:6-7).
8. Share our faith as often as God opens the door. Our desire is to use every opportunity we have to tell others about God's treatment plan for a problem that's a lot worse than cancer. (Praise His name -- He's already done this on numerous occasions.)
9. Welcome the encouragement of others. How grateful we are for all of you who have shown your support in recent months and even years. We have never felt "alone" in our journey.
10. Practically, we will continue with Becky's electro-medicine treatments. But we will increase the exposure and change the settings. This means numerous hours each day (and even during the night) of treatments. (Last night Becky underwent 8 hours of treatments. At 10:00 today she will begin a 3-hour treatment.) The next scan will be toward the end of July.
11. Go on with life. As I type, Becky is working over at Maple Ridge, our ministry/refugee house. Today we will drive to Oxford to purchase fish so that we can restock the pond. On Saturday we will celebrate her birthday at the Ethiopian restaurant in Raleigh. We haven't changed our plans to send her to Asia this summer. She still works the logistics for our summer Ethiopia team. That woman don't miss a beat!
The grace and courage Becky has displayed these past 4 years have blessed many. Even though her body is suffering, her spirit has become more and more beautiful with every passing day. The love of God and the joy of the Lord have never been more apparent to me. Her illness has already drawn countless people closer to God and helped to make me more of the man of God I so desperately want to become. Together, we live with one goal: to live a crucified life, setting aside even our legitimate desires and wants in order to serve others in Jesus' name.
The bottom line? We are immortal until our work is done. And then we will strike the tent and be with Christ.
Love and thanks to all,
Tuesday, May 7
4:40 AM Our contest has now come to an end.
The Winning Caption:
The 5th horseman of the Apocal-oops: behold a brown horse w/a moistened tongue of saliva. And he who sits on the horse is old and grey, and authority was given him to wreak havoc on all first year Greek students.
Just in time for Gettysburg 150: Robert E. Lee and Traveler Ride Again!
The Horse and his Boy!
Monday, May 6
6:44 PM Never have we had a more enjoyable day. We left the house at 8:30 for UNC, stopping only to get some French Vanilla coffee along the way. (It was just an excuse to chat with the Amharic speakers who own a gas station about half way there.) Then we met with Becky's oncologist. It's no use trying to give you an update now. (We had requested a second reading of the pet scan but it hadn't been done in time for our consult with Becky's doctor.) Tomorrow, however, Becky will have this conversation by phone. We'll listen to what the medical experts have to say, seek counsel, consider our options, pray, and go from there. I can't really see Becky going back into the infusion room at UNC, but if that's God's will for us, we're game. If the current pet scan is accurate, there is no doubt that Becky's cancer has been progressing. There's also a new bump in the road. It's called a pleural effusion, and it set off alarm bells when Becky read it. But again, I'm probably getting ahead of myself. Expect a full report on Wednesday.
After we left the oncologist's office we drove over to sister Berhan's home for a visit. Berhan works at UNC and befriended Becky (makes sense since they are both Ethiopians though with different colored skin). When Becky was hospitalized last year, Berhan would stop by her room, affix herself squarely over Becky, lift her hands high toward heaven, and begin praying prayers that only Ethiopians know how to pray. I feel like a broken record, but I could go on and on about how greatly God has blessed our relationships at UNC and how much we love the staff there. Today Berhan pulled out all the stops.
Not only did we enjoy the best food this side of heaven, but we shared deep spiritual fellowship. To top everything off, Berhan fixed Ethiopian coffee for us.
I thought Nigusse had died and gone to heaven.
Speaking personally, it's so hard to know what to say right now. Thank you so much for your love and prayers and emails and encouragement during these past (almost) 4 years. We are His. That's really all there is to it. Pray for Becky as she speaks to her doctor tomorrow. Pray for protection from the Evil One who seeks to plant doubt and despair in our hearts. Pray for me to know how best to minister to Becky during these challenging days. I'll admit it: I'm not crazy about even contemplating going through chemo again. But at this point, honesty, I'm just happy to fall into the hands of One who never changes.
8:11 AM Off to meet with Becky's oncologist at UNC!
8:08 AM It's that time again! My book give away contest today is called "Name That Photo." A free copy of my Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation to the best caption writer for the following pic:
Winner will be announced tonight at 9:00 pm (EST). And yes, mockery is fair game.
7:18 AM Looking forward to my trip to Ethiopia this summer. If I find the ark I'll let you know.
By the way, the instructors at the Ethiopian school I'll be teaching at have requested me to bring copies of my intermediate Greek grammar, It's Still Greek to Me, for their students. I am happy to do so, but I do have some concerns. Not about the students' ability to understand intermediate Greek. It's my English I'm worried about, especially some pretty silly puns - "Up the Greek without a paddle," "to Koine phrase," "tense times with verbs," etc. And how about that cartoon with mice illustrating preposition usage? Well, at least it should be interesting.
7:12 AM Could this be describing you?
7:02 AM Is your church without a pastor? Times of transition are a challenge but also a great opportunity to rethink the biblical teaching about church leadership. Alexander Strauch's Biblical Eldership is both inspiring and convicting. If you have never thought through your position on church leadership, I commend his work to you. An abbreviated version may be found on the Internet by going here. Meanwhile, let warm, aggressive affirmations of love be the continual expression of our local churches whenever we come together - even though we may differ as to temperament, politics, and personality.
6:55 AM Neat link on Greek epigraphy with various fonts, including obsolescent letters like the digamma.
6:47 AM A few blogging tips. One of my favorites:
Sunday, May 5
8:26 PM The elders allowed me to share a brief but powerful story with the congregation this morning. I told it because several in our midst have lost precious loved ones this year, and others face the prospect of losing someone they hold dear.
Becky saw it at Joni and Friends. It's called ...
She's Not Gone
6:35 PM For dinner today we were treated to this delectable side dish.
I'll let Becky describe it to you :)
So there you have it -- straight from the pen of Becky Crocker.
5:58 PM Two years ago, one of our elders (Jason Evans) began a series in the book of Romans. Today he completed it. I remember so vividly the excitement with which I began this long journey. I was ready to see God do greater things in my own life and in the life of our church. Today, as I reflected back on these two years, I realized that God has more than blessed this time in His Word. Now "all" that's left is to do is to pray that these years of study will not be wasted. Our church family is incredibly close, despite the fact that we all come from very different backgrounds. And yet ... God can break down the barriers that man erects. He can make us one Body in Christ. It seems that this is a huge lesson to be drawn from the book of Romans. Salvation is a wonderful gift, but it is not the only gift that God has given us. Thankfully, at the moment of justification, a new process of learning how to love begins. And because it is a process, we have to be there for each other, prodding, nudging, encouraging, and even confronting and rebuking one another when necessary.
Jason had a lot to say about the 16th chapter of Romans today, but perhaps the greatest takeaway for me was the amazing role of women in the early church. Consider Priscilla and Aquila. In a Christian marriage, a husband and wife are called by their Creator to live together in a harmonious unity. But this is not unity for unity's sake. Note, for example, how the ancient church father Tertullian describes a Christian husband and wife:
Tertullian did not mean that gender differences disappear in a Christian marriage. That would be an absurdity. His description merely emphasizes that both genders can and must be involved in spiritual activities together, with each person contributing his or her own unique talents and abilities. Each enriches the other in a complementarian way. The result is true teamwork, a unity that puts God's needs and desires first rather than our own. Thus, not only do Christian couples seek to please each other, they willingly and actively seek to be faithful to the ultimate goal of reflecting God's glory and grace in the world all around them.
I freely admit that this emphasis on serving Christ in our marriages sounds strange in our narcissistic society. One of the things that surprised me when I began to study the New Testament teaching on this subject was that it talked so much about the way women participated in the ministry of the early church. We know that the wives of the apostles accompanied their husbands in their evangelistic ministries (1 Cor. 9:5). Commenting on this verse, Clement of Alexandria concluded that the apostles' wives were "fellow ministers," that is, co-laborers with their husbands as they ministered to other women. We also know that women in the early church opened their homes for church meetings. (It is interesting that Scripture gives us the names of the women in whose homes these churches met more than the names of the men: see Acts 12:12; 16:40; Rom. 16:3-5; Col. 4:15). Moreover, we know that Priscilla (Rom. 16:3) as well as Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3) were Paul's "co-workers." The latter duo went so far as to share Paul's "struggle in the cause of the Gospel," possibly meaning that they were exposed to the same suffering and opposition that the apostle Paul faced.
Then comes the real shocker. In Romans 16:1, Paul describes Phoebe as "a helper of many, myself included" (Rom. 16:2). The Greek term for "helper" (prostatis) is defined by Douglas Moo as "one who came to the aid of others, especially foreigners, by providing housing and financial aid and by representing their interests before the local authorities." Moo thinks Phoebe was "a woman of high social standing and some wealth, who put her status, resources, and time at the service of traveling Christians, like Paul, who needed help and support" (Romans, p. 916). Such facts, it seems to me, begin to point to the function of marriage as a ministry to others. Becky and I are glad to be a team (though a frail and imperfect one) in the work to which the Lord has appointed us. Together we seek to serve both in the practical ministry of meeting the physical and material needs of people as well as in the ministry of the Word. Together we are involved in church planting. Together we host visitors in our home on a regular basis. The key word is together. We are "co-workers" for Christ – and that without any diminution of our masculinity or femininity.
I'm going to miss roaming through Romans. But enough is enough. Teaching without implementing that teaching is worthless. One thing, however, is certain: Now that we have gone through Romans, our congregation has a much greater accountability to God for what we have learned than two years ago.
5:30 PM Today I was roto-tilling the garden when the tiller suddenly stopped working. Out of gas, I see. Okay, I'll refill the tank and we'll be good to go, right? Wrong. I yank the starter cord and it won't retract. I'm stuck. How in the world am I going to get this thing started again? Deep breath. I can do this. Out comes the tool box, and the farm's Alpha Male (hee-hee) goes to work. It took me 50 times longer than it would have taken a mechanic, but yes, little old me figured it out and fixed the problem. I was surprised. Shocked, actually. A couple of years ago I would automatically have taken the tiller to the repair shop. Victoriously, I cried out to Becky, "The age of miracles hasn't ceased yet! I fixed it!"
Friend, if you're facing a tough challenge and your misery is compounded by a sense of low self-esteem, be forewarned. God just might step into the situation, and you just might discover something about yourself you never knew was there before. Like you can do it, with His help. Like He is omnipotent. Like He wasn't kidding when He said, "My grace is enough."
Because at times, life can be just that simple.
7:58 AM I want to wish all of my Ethiopian friends a very joyous Easter. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Incidentally, who made the following statement yesterday?
Answer below (see *).
7:48 AM One of the many spiritual topics we discussed around the campfire this weekend concerned tentmaking as an option for pastors. The focus was the so-called "call to THE ministry." Which does not exist, of course. All of us are called to ministry. All believers are called to be in fulltime Christian service, whatever our vocation, whatever our location.
This led into a discussion of ministry in its social dimension. If God's mission in the world is to be accomplished, then his "ministers" – the laos – are to carry out their ministry in the world. To "believe" in Christ means to join Him in what He is seeking to do in the world. This is why Christ gave pastor-teachers to the church (Eph. 4:11-12). He calls them to equip the saints – His basic ministers – for their ministry, and in this way the Body of Christ is built up both by the addition of new "cells" to the Body (evangelism) but also by the nourishing of existing "cells" (edification). This equipping ministry of pastor-teachers is of unique importance and must be undertaken with the utmost dedication. If the church is failing to advance the mission of God in the world, it may be because we have been relying upon the wrong people to be His ministers. God has called every believer to be a minister, and His people are to be equipped for this call.
If, then, the ministry of the laos is God's means of fulfilling His mission in the world, it is necessary that we view what we do on Sunday mornings as merely the beginning, not the climax, of our work. In other words, we need to change the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the ministry of our churches. The question is not "How many attended on Sunday?" but "What did those who attended on Sunday do during the week to advance God's mission?" This is what it means to be the People of God. It is a people who understand that the mission of the church is to fulfill God's redemptive mission. Our calling is to join God's army and become aggressively involved in His mission in the world.
My point was that God's call to salvation and His call to mission/ministry are one and the same. To follow Christ in this way is not optional for the one who is truly born again. It is to this life of mission/ministry that we must respond. Not only is this possible and practical in this day of over-professionalization; an emphasis on anything else is, I think, a perversion of the Gospel.
7:33 AM Just had to post this pic of Maple Ridge. Will we will finish the house this month? That's our goal!
7:21 AM Good morning thoughtful, smart, and good-looking blog readers! We are expecting more rain tomorrow, which means that I have one more day to help Becky get her summer garden in. Thankfully the roto tiller is working splendidly -- and my 60-year old backing is cooperating. Whenever I think of gardens I think of Paul's prayer in Phil. 1:9-11. The climax of the paragraph is reached as Paul adds, "having been filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God." Paul's beautiful prayer is really an exhortation to a lifestyle of love that discerns what is of eternal value and issues in a holiness of inner and outer life. The motive for such a life of love is the provision that Jesus Christ Himself has made available. Paul calls this the "fruit of righteousness." I love the metaphor. Just as at creation God made the earth to teem with good things to satisfy men and women, and just as He has made many a backyard garden to overflow with delicious and nutritious vegetation, so He has showered us with an abundance of good in our salvation. James 1:18 declares, "Of His own will He brought us forth [like plants] by the word of truth, so that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures." As a result, the life of Christ within produces the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23), with God Himself as the gardener. He (1) exposes us to the sunshine of His presence, (2) enriches the soil in which we are planted by the nutrients of His word, (3) protects us from spiritual drought, and (4) prunes us so that we may bring forth even more fruit.
Will you permit the Spirit to produce a lavish garden in your life this summer? Will I?
Saturday, May 4
11:10 AM I feel like it's been forever since I've blogged. So here we go. I know, I know, too many pictures! To be honest, I'm posting these mostly for my grandchildren, who may one day ask their daddy, "What was grandfather like?" Well, they can read the blog, and I assure you -- mighty bored they'll be. Anyhoo, here are the guinea pigs who helped us break in the new campsite this weekend.
We had as much fun as the law allows. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Yesterday began with Becky and me turning Miss Sally loose into the pasture.
It was hard to let her go, but I am very glad to report that she was accepted by the other goats (except for Fandisha, our oldest mama Boer who is, at best, tolerating this intrusion into her fiefdom). Then we had to clear up around the campsite so that we wouldn't be walking in knee-high grass all day.
The men folk arrived and, like Peter of old, said "I go a-fishing."
Becky and I asked them to keep to the south pond which hadn't been fished in ages. Were there any fish left in the pond? we wondered. I think the answer is Yes.
Then it was down the farm path to the campsite. Loverly, ain't it?
There we were greeted by Pepe Le Peu (center of photo below) who, after checking us out, sauntered off casually into the forest -- with our profound thanks for deciding not to spray us.
Our evening meal was cooked over a live fire in our new fire pit -- a delectable stew that featured beef that was grown, slaughtered, and butchered right here on this old farm.
Then we all snuggled up around the fire and talked about the Lord to who knows how late -- well past 11:00 pm, I'd say. We all slept soundly, awaked only by the sound of deer grunting as they strolled through the campsite.
Is there anything like having your morning Bible study sipping a cup of coffee next to a warm fire on a cold morning?
Once again, Becky's menu was a huge hit.
Our breakfast featured scrambled eggs with very crispy bacon (hey, a little Carbon 14 never hurt anyone).
Right now I am seated again in my comfortable office chair typing on my keyboard. But it was good -- very good -- to get outdoors again, away from all of the conveniences of life, if even for a moment in time. All often too it's far too easy for me to forget how truly beautiful God's nature is. I start to take it all for granted. Yesterday and today were reminders that our God is truly a God of beauty. Plus, the fellowship of His people is out of this world.
Thanks to all who came and shared this experience with us. It helped us to know what to do better the next time. And it was a great excuse to be around our wonderful students. God bless you!
Friday, May 3
1:27 PM No time to write but wanted to mention that today we got two more Boer nannies (in the background).
So far they are all gettin' along. Time to introduce Little Miss Sally to the herd.
Thursday, May 2
8:53 PM Becky and I enjoyed a delightful dinner in town and are now ensconced again at home, with Becky on the phone with Liz in New York and me reading about Jackson's famous flank attack on May 2, 1863, during which he fell mortally wounded, shot by his own men. Lots of interesting reports on the web today about the attack, but this one left me flat: Astronomer Detectives Solve Civil War Mystery. Talk about obfuscating the obvious: Let's see here ... the general died by misguided Confederate fire while silhouetted against a full moon. Nothing at all mysterious about that. That's not to underestimate the significance of Jackson's wounding, of course. I would simply say this: The South lost the war exactly 150 years ago today when their greatest offensive tactician was shot down.
Below: A battlefield map of Day 2 of the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Nigusse at the site where the Chancellorsville mansion stood until it was destroyed on this day in 1863.
6:03 PM Okay, so I couldn't get Sears to repair my mower for several weeks, ditto for the local repair shop. But never fear, Wayne Thomas is here! Wayne lives on a farm about 45 minutes from Bradford Hall. His ad in the online yellow pages caught my eye: lawn mower repair. A phone call later and I was on my way to his shop, my Craftsman safety atop our trusty Hardee trailer. An hour and a half later and I was on my way home with a fixed mower. It was a difficult drive, as I had a female nibbling at my ear the entire time. Don't worry -- I'm referring to our newest Boer named Sally, whom Wayne just happened to be selling.
We are increasing the size of our herd, and this sweet female was too good a deal to pass up.
Becky, meanwhile, was at Maple Ridge staining some furniture...
... as well as the library floor. Looks nice, eh?
My job was to finish painting the stair well, perched atop this ladder.
The job is now done, though my work today barely made a dent in my list of things to do. Well, they will just have to wait until tomorrow.
I think Becky deserves a night out, don't you?
9:13 AM Got time for a quick photo update?
1) A thousand thanks to my former Th.M. student Heebum Lee for a delightful dinner at the Seoul Garden in Raleigh Tuesday night. Heebum and his family will be returning to South Korea this month to resume the ministry God has given them. May God richly bless you, Heebum!
2) Yesterday's LXX class was great. We started out by sight-reading some Greek prose (loosely based on Genesis 12).
3) Then Andrew and Nigusse led us through an excellent discussion of Jeremiah 25 and its implications for inerrancy, inspiration, and canonicity.
4) Nigusse and I returned to the farm just in time to unload more furniture for Maple Ridge that Becky has purchased in Durham.
5) Then it was to time to change the oil and hydraulic fluid in the tractor. As you can see, it needed it. (Marsh and Thomas, thanks again for the help!)
My goal today is to take my Craftsman lawn mower to a guy in rural Person County and have it repaired (Sears has a wait of at least 3 weeks for lawn mower repairs), stop by NAPA and get some "gunk remover" (the technical term) for the tractor as well as a fire extinguisher, and then help Becky over at Maple Ridge with painting. Tomorrow we're having a campout here at the farm and I would really like to bush hog the paths before everyone arrives. We'll see....
Be joyful, prayerful, and thankful!
Wednesday, May 1
8:08 PM Okay, all you history buffs out there. You know what battle begun 150 years ago today, right? Of course you do. And, for an eyewitness account of the Battle of Chancellorsville, no better account exists than that of Union General Abner Doubleday. Remember him? He's the man who did (not) invent baseball. It's nice to see that biblical scholars aren't the only ones who promote myths in the name of fact.
7:44 PM Hey there folks. Hope you're having a good week so far. Mine has been exhaustingly delightful. On Tuesday, my student Paul Himes passed his dissertation defense (and did an excellent job too).
My thanks to my colleague David Beck (Ph.D. Duke) for being my second reader and to Gene Green (Ph.D. Aberdeen, professor at Wheaton) for serving as the external reader. Both men agreed that Paul's work was exceptional. Paul worked on the concept of "foreknowledge" in 1 Peter. If you want to send him a word of congratulations, you can do so here.
In other news, Becky had her pet scan today at UNC and, while there, got caught up with one of her oncology friends. It's so odd to say it, but I think we really miss seeing these nurses who took such great care of us during our umpteen visits to the infusion room.
On a somewhat related note, I've been reading the blog of a wonderful family who is serving the Lord at the Soddu Hospital in Ethiopia. Frankly, it's beautiful and powerful stuff. You can check them out here. PLEASE read their latest update and how they literally saved the life of a newborn infant who had been abandoned by her mother. It will bless your socks off. I have never been to the Soddu Hospital, but several years ago Becky and I loaned them our ultrasound machine and I hear it is being put to very good use.
Speaking of Ethiopia, Becky has quasi-finalized the itinerary for our teams. Yes, I said (plural) teams. We have two teams (three, if you count me as the "Addis team"): one to the Gujis, and one to the Suggen Valley. Both are fairly unreached people groups. I will arrive early and meet the teams when they arrive at Bole Airport. It will be a crazy summer for me:
I love everything I do but it can get tiring. Lord, help me to hang in there until my sabbatical begins!
Moving on, here's something to chew on. The story is told of a father who was eager to read his newspaper but was being pestered by his small son. In order to distract the boy he took from a magazine a page on which was printed a map of the world. Then he cut out each country of the world from the map and gave the pieces to the boy to put back together again. Expecting that this would take considerable time, the father settled back in his chair. A few moments later, however, he noticed that the little boy had completed the project. When asked how he had assembled the map so quickly, the boy replied, "It was simple. On the other side of the page was the picture of a man. I just put the man together, and then the world fit together." Folks, if Christians would only look, not at their own country, but at a man – the God-Man whose kingdom unites people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation – there would be no need for displays of national patriotism in their churches. By its very nature, the church is different from any other society on earth. And the cross, not the flag, is the point of intersection between the church and the world. The cross of Jesus Christ is the secret of being in the world without being of it. It is the source of freedom for us to be given to the world as broken bread and poured-out wine. It is our banner, our emblem, our flag of allegiance. Let's fly it high!
I also want to share here a bit about an attitude that the Lord has really been convicting me of. It's about my joy (or lack of it). The springboard has been a great passage in 1 Thessalonians: "Always be joyful, continually be prayerful, and in everything be thankful" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). That's powerful stuff! The fact is, I am rarely ALWAYS joyful, prayerful, and thankful. So, starting today, with the Spirit's help, I am going to see if I can flesh out these verses in practical ways by maintaining a more joyful attitude (even when things are going terribly wrong), by offering short, targeted prayers throughout the day as God brings someone to mind, and by saying the words "thank you" more often (to my wife, my colleagues, my secretary, etc.). Really, it's not that hard to do, but it takes effort. I suppose with practice and lots of time it becomes easier. But hey – we're commanded to do it, so if we aren't, we are sinning!
Well, that's all for now. Peace on you (unless God starts convicting you that you need to be more joyful, prayerful, and thankful).