September 2013 Blog Archives
Monday, September 30
6:10 PM Becky barely had the strength to dictate the following to Karen. I dare you to capture in your mind's eye what she is describing without getting choked up. She named her mini-essay "What the Last Fight Is Like":
5:34 PM Picture time at the OK Corral:
1) Today our newest grandson Graham paid us a visit. What a cutie pie he is.
2) The boys worked hard in the sandbox.
3) Jessica, Graham, Nolan, Nathan, and Bradford Black.
4) Nolan is a natural gardener ...
5) ... while Bradford loves animals.
6) Discovering Noah's ark.
7) Nate and Jess have trained their children well. The only correct way to eat an Oreo cookie is by separating it and polishing off the insides first.
8) Love them boys of mine!
10:22 AM Great quote here (Arthur Sido):
Yep, we "tithe to ourselves," as someone once put it. That's not giving, it's pooling. We can do better.
8:38 AM Good news! Chapter 7 of Bec's autobiography is now up. It's called Stateside Ministries. And many and varied they were!
8:30 AM Good morning, blog world!
So how's our Becky doing? She started on morphine for pain the other day. And, thank God, it worked. The pain is mostly in her spine. She's not on morphine all the time. It's just a boost to her other pain meds. We all agree that she is so unstable on her feet that she should stay in her hospital bed. She eats very little -- loss of appetite being normal for this stage of the game. She would love to see her Savior.
As for me?
There, I said the word. I'm more than "dog tired" or "bone weary." And I'm not too proud to ask for help. So you can expect some major changes around here. This week hospice gets into full swing -- nurses, social workers, CNAs, even a chaplain (I forget her name but she was pleasant enough on the phone). To the rescue! -- all in the name of fatiguedom, a word I've just made up. You know you're at this point when everyone who sees you asks, "Are you sure you're doing okay, Dave?" A friend wrote to me from Pennsylvania yesterday: "You can't continue on a 24/7 schedule. You've done a wise thing in bringing in help. Now use it and take some time to get away.... Your body can only go so long like that; your will/heart might stretch it a bit, but you'll break if you're not careful." Wise counsel. It speaks to my desire to just keep on pushing and pushing and pushing. Yesterday I looked at myself in the mirror. A dog never looked shabbier, I thought. Karen agreed, so she gave me a haircut and beard trim. Thank goodness for honest friends.
Everyone is telling me to go somewhere for a couple of days. Of course, I'll pray about it. If I do go, where? Maybe the beach. After all, I still have my surfboard. Of course, I'll have to install handicap rails on it if I take this route. Or maybe I'll go to a nearby Civil War site like Appomattox and disappear into another world, an era when ordinary people were caught up in extraordinary times, each, in his own way, rising to a higher level, some fighting for honor and duty, some for fame and glory, but nearly all driven by amazing courage. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I think the one thing that floors me is the reality of the familial love I share with complete strangers around the world. Every single time I check my emails there's yet another one from a "stranger," someone who is technically completely unrelated to me but who I can't really call a stranger. The thing is, this is good old Dave Black, a man who used to see hurting people as interruptions rather than an opportunity to share the love of Jesus. Yet Christ still accepts me, accepts me so perfectly that at times I feel that we only have each other. And by knowing Him, I am slowly learning to respond to the hurting as Christ did.
Miracle of miracles, after 4 years of this journey called Cancer, I think I'm finally coming to a sane evaluation of myself. I'm learning there is only one person on the cross who can accomplish the salvation of others. God doesn't need a fourth member of the Trinity. He is not seeking to use me up but to fill me up, as I make Him (not my job or my writing or even my family) the center of my life. In human terms, I am fatigued, used up, but in spiritual terms, I am well-equipped for the task because everything He is in wisdom, power, strength, and compassion is available to me, through His indwelling Spirit. Funny, how often we forget (or feel unable) to draw on the resource of the One who lives within us. I am enough because He is.
To that end, I want to learn how to work not harder but smarter. It has been a growing process for me to understand and accept my limitations and to understand and accept that God is as interested in faithful endings as He is in happy endings. I'm having to exchange my confusion for a divine transfusion of God's wisdom and clarity. I may not know why, but I know who; and if I know who, I don't have to know why.
Thanks for listening, and thanks for praying.
Saturday, September 28
4:11 PM As Becky's been sleeping I decided to mosey on over to Alex Stewart's blog to see what was new. Sure glad I did. You have simply got to listen to the audio testimony he just linked to. It's by a student at Tyndale Seminary who is on home assignment from China. What he has to say about missions will both bless and disturb you. He asks some difficult questions, especially about our modern-day emphasis on "methodology" and "pragmatics" in missions. Let's face it. We are fascinated with "bigger and better." We love our programs and strategies and methodologies and especially our acronyms. Some modern church growth teachers are now openly marketing Madison Avenue techniques to divide churches on the basis of demographics rather than spiritual health. What's happening is that we're making our theology into an image of ourselves. Could it be that many of us have never turned from our own ways of thinking to the Bible's simple approach to missions? Could it be that we adore our own minds and abilities rather than the God who gave them to us?
I was greatly encouraged by what I heard in this testimony. I know you will be too. Thank you, brother Phil, for sharing it with us. And thank you, Alex, for posting it. I hope it gets the hearing it deserves.
12:42 PM Our first ever planning meeting for the new ministry training center in Burji is now history. It's amazing to think that some of those in this picture will be back in Ethiopia before 12 months are out.
Christ wants us to move in the same authority and power that accompanied His ministry. The exchanged life is the New Testament norm. How grateful I am for these friends who have jumped off the American Dream Merry-Go-Round, who refuse to follow a Convenience Store Christianity. And how grateful I am for a wife whose last earthly act was to organize a planning meeting to expand God's kingdom in a fairway place. Never in history has their been a society with so much information but so little real knowledge of the Holy. Folks, we have supernatural strength and miracle power to fight this battle. I ask you then: Is your commitment to Jesus Christ real enough that you are willing to sacrifice everything on behalf of the nations and to count the cost of losing friendships, family ties, and anything else that comes between you and the Lord? He is worth it.
10:05 AM The print addition is now available at Amazon.
9:56 AM I was strangely moved by this CNN video of a guide dog who saved the life of his owner's 4-year old son and died in the process. I recall there was serious flooding in Ethiopia one year and the federal government was sending out helicopters to rescue stranded people. A photo showed a 10-year old boy watching over his flock of goats atop a mountain, surrounded by miles of flood waters. Above him hovered the aircraft. When it lowered the rescue chair the boy refused to desert his herd. After all, that morning his father had told him to guard it, no matter what.
Many students come to me with troubling questions about what it means to fulfill the Great Commission, about how to prioritize the Gospel and integrate it into the rest of their lives. Can you see why "self" has to be placed squarely on the cross for us to have the victory in this area of our lives? If we try to build a personal kingdom rather than His kingdom, there is no way God will support us in the battle. There are many ways you can get involved. Become an informed intercessor. Become a faithful prayer partner. Get involved personally by taking trips every year to a mission field, even if it's only your neighborhood. Sponsor others in the work. At this very moment, thousands of native missionaries are ready to go to the unreached if only support were available. The opportunities are many and they are great. There is no longer any excuse for us to live mediocre, compromised lives. Every one of has something great to do in this task we call global evangelization.
So the question I ask is: Are willing to give away your life, like that guide dog or that Ethiopian goatherd? If your answer is Yes, then I guarantee you have taken the first step toward experiencing the abundant life that Jesus promises to His followers. Just like your bank manager who handles millions of dollars every day but has no right to use any of it on himself, so you will realize that your life, and everything in it, great or small, is no longer yours to do with as you please.
For this He has called you. Don't give up.
Friday, September 27
6:40 PM P.S. Tonight and tomorrow I am answering emails. I am down to 80. Thank you so much for your patience and love.
6:24 PM Hospice came today. I signed them on. I thought about doing this before. But the time has come to get some professional assistance for me, Karen, and Nigusse. It turns out that they offer more than I thought. So next week we'll have an RN visit Becky twice a week for assessments, a social worker once a week, and a CNA coming every day for two hours. In addition, I have hired someone to spend all day with Becky on Tuesdays, and next Saturday a dear friend (and retired nurse) will be here. Of course, I am here 24/7. We are able to maintain relationships with all of our doctors and keep our same pharmacist in Clarksville. All this has been a balm for the soul. And Becky? The smile is fleeting, the energy gone. She will not eat or drink much, has no appetite. She is still aware, and I try to read her the many emails we've been getting, but I don't do very well. I get too emotional. I am a Greek scholar, not a theologian. I don't pretend to understand. It's difficult to forget that this is a woman who has always been as tough as nails and yet as compassionate as they come. She's been by my side through the hardest year of my life, cooked for me when I got sick, bore my children, believed me when I told her what my dreams were. Still, it's hard to be too melancholy when you realize that God has already extended Becky's life a lot longer than anybody had thought it would last. And so we take one day at a time. This evening I asked her what she wanted for supper. "Some Saimin soup, please." I was back in a jiffy with a small bowl of soup and a half-glass of milk. She took a tiny sip of each and quietly asked that the tray be removed. You tried, honey. Thank you.
These are the times I miss Home. Just as much as Becky does. I'm not trying to be melodramatic. But facing death makes one feel so ALIVE. You realize all over again just who holds you in His hands, the Lover of your soul, the one who mends your heart with the same nails that pinned Him to a cross. The healing I prayed for isn't the healing I'm witnessing. But it is healing nonetheless. The best healing of all.
She's almost there. Please pray for us.
9:28 AM Psalm 94:19: "When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul."
9:12 AM Joni Eareckson Tada sent Becky this book and personal letter yesterday.
One quote: "Our little time of suffering is not worthy of our first night's welcome home in Heaven."
Thank you. Joni.
Thursday, September 26
9:39 AM My thanks to Brandon of the IT department at Southeastern for his help in getting our Outlook back online last night. It enabled me to send out "the" email:
Elizabeth Elliott, widow and biographer of her husband Jim, once wrote, "We must allow God to do what He wants to do. And if you are thinking you know the will of God for your life and you are anxious to do that, you are probably in for a very rude awakening because nobody knows the will of God for his entire life." She was right. God can lead us from darkness into light. But He can also guide us out of light into darkness, into times when we must simply blindly trust HIM. It is part of the way of the cross. As I write my book on the early church, one thing I've noticed is the amazing endurance of the earliest Christians. Think of the peace that marked Peter as he slept between his guards the night before his execution, or Paul and Silas lying in prison with their feet in stocks, or Stephen whose face shone radiantly as he was being stoned to death. They were willing to go to their deaths singing. How could people die with such radiant joy and exultation? They did so in the power and love of the Holy Spirit. And because they knew others were praying for them. You all have been "Barnabases" to us in so many ways. We've already received dozens of beautiful emails of encouragement. I suppose this is the most crucial mark of the church: people marked by the Gospel, people who have really found the Good News, are people who love and care for each other. And note: They are willing to give glory where glory is due. This is the supreme secret of a healthy, faithful church: it has a single passion, the person of Jesus Himself. This emphasis upon Christ and Christ alone I did not always understand. But I do now, and I hope to go on discovering further depths in this most wonderful adventure we call the Christian life.
Thank you for bothering with us. For taking time to write and pray for us. Becky and I bow to the will of God. We must allow Him to do what He wants to do, in His timing. And, by His grace, we will.
Meanwhile, life goes on. Today we are having our wheelchair ramp pressure-washed so that I can paint/stain it later. We have set a date for the dedication of Maple Ridge as unto the Lord (Sunday, October 6). I continue to edit Becky's autobiography for publication (you can expect the next chapter on Monday). My writing continues as the Lord provides time. In fact, you Kindle users can now acquire a copy of my latest book, The Authorship of Hebrews, for a whopping 99 cents at Amazon! (In case you didn't know, in biblical scholarship there are the gadflies and the watchdogs. Each has an important role to play: the gadflies to sting us out of our apathy, the watchdogs to bark when liberties are taken with the text. I suppose I have always been more of a gadfly than a watchdog, so why break the pattern now?) Nor is this all. This Saturday we have a planning meeting here at The Hall to begin work on a new ministry in Burji, Ethiopia with our good friend Oshe, whose 4-year daughter was killed by the enemies of Christ a few years ago. That said, living as we do in a world where we are given to organizing everything, it is still incumbent upon us to make prayer and the ministry of the Word primary. The sheer power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's people is surely one of the most attractive magnets that draws people to Christ. But before He can do that He has to break us down, break us of the pride and independence and disobedience and lethargy that come so naturally to us.
And so I come full circle in this post. Wherever we turn, whatever situation we are facing, we cannot escape our utter and complete dependence upon the work and power and presence and witness and prayer-enabling of the Holy Spirit. He is sovereign. Without Him, we can do nothing.
Thank you for praying for Becky and for our family. One of you wrote:
Amen and amen.
Wednesday, September 25
6:38 PM We can no longer access our seminary email. So please bear with us if you don't hear back from me when you send us an email. Talked with IT just now and they are working the problem. Lord willing, we'll be back up tomorrow.
6:32 PM Bec and I had a helpful meeting with her pulmonologist today in Clarksville. To you, driving 8 miles might not mean much. But to us, it is like driving to Los Angeles. But the Lord helped us, and, as I said, He brought some clarity to us through the advice of her doctor. Becky will continue to get weaker and weaker until she passes, he told us. The best thing we can do for her is to see that she is as comfortable as possible. Truth be told, she is ready -- more than ready -- to go Home. I wrestle sometimes with God's timing, but then I catch a glimpse of His character in the Word, and I can just rest, knowing that whatever path He chooses, it will be the right one. How should I pray? And how do I ask others to pray? Life has gone from being a whirlwind of trips to UNC for chemo and radiation and surgeries and ER visits to spending time with Becky as she wastes away in bed. Tell me over and again, until I listen, until I understand: It's okay, David. You don't have to have it all figured out. It's only a matter of time. And then the battle will have been won. I kinda like putting words in other people's mouth. And I promise: I will do my best to heed your wonderful advice.
So please do pray for Becky. Pray as you have never prayed before. For peace. For joy. For patience. For comfort. For acceptance.
And will you keep on praying for her husband and family while you're at it?
6:23 PM Today an officer from the county department of forestry stopped by the Hall to ask me where the loggers where working on the property. Seems it's his job to make sure they are doing their job well. As he left our driveway he "just happened" to back into our favorite magnolia tree, the one we planted when we first built Bradford Hall. (Yes, a tree can have sentimental value.)
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Remember: Here was a professional forester making sure that the loggers weren't harming any of the trees on our property. Did I politely remonstrate to the department head? You bet I did. They're promising to replace the tree. They said nothing about driving lessons for their staff.
1:35 PM "Amens!" for David Croteau's book Tithing after the Cross.
As co-editor of the series (along with Allan Bevere), I am delighted to see this.
1:22 PM Please pray for a brother in Iran. Billy Graham asks Iran's president Rouhani to release him.
Prayers going up!
1:18 PM From chapter 3 ("Apostolic Teaching"). The topic is the place of the intellect in Christianity:
8:44 AM I have been doing a lot of thinking about the intractable problem of pain in connection with my book on the church. Let's be clear: We Christians will be better able to face suffering when we have done a lot of thinking about it. As I watch Becky's body deteriorate, I see plenty of evidence that Satan is still in business. Yes, there is a devil, and he intends to destroy. If he can't attack our bodies, he will attack our spirits. I am not saying that the devil is all-powerful. Satan remains "God's devil," as Luther put it. The accuser of the brethren is on a leash, albeit a very long one. Christians are not just individuals; we are part of a common, fallen humanity. When the First Couple sinned, chaos ensued.
You say, "Where in your book on the church are you discussing the problem of pain, Dave?" In my chapter on the Lord's Supper, which according to Acts 2:42 is the fifth mark of a New Testament church. If the "breaking of bread" here is a reference to the Lord's Supper, as most commentators believe, then it would be a particularly obvious mark of the church's koinonia. So often our gatherings today are man-centered. But in Jerusalem it was not. There was a strong emphasis on the common meal, on celebrating the exalted Jesus and the union of all believers with Him. Today it is not uncommon to find congregations combining a real meal and the Lord's Supper in a time of fellowship and celebration. This practice is to be greatly commended. A communion service like that can be very moving. There will be sharing and singing, a teaching or two from the Scriptures, much prayer and perhaps some weeping. And it will take time; it won't be accomplished in an hour. As every family knows, fellowship around a table can be unpredictable! But if that fellowship has Jesus at the center, the results can be profound.
In this chapter I want to think with my readers about why the Lord's Supper is so important. I will seek to make four points:
1. The Lord's Supper is important because it looks back at the cross.
2. The Lord's Supper is important because it symbolizes (and even creates) unity in the body.
3. The Lord's Supper is important because it honors Christ above men.
4. The Lord's Supper is important because it causes us to look forward to Christ's return.
Did you notice the first reason? The focus on the cross? It is here that the problem of pain is handled biblically. The cross reminds us that God is no stranger to pain. The cross reminds us that God loves us through the pain. The cross reminds us how God uses pain to accomplish His purposes. And the cross reminds us that God ultimately triumphs over pain through the resurrection.
Such is the Christian hope. Such is the hope that Becky and I cling to daily. It means that we can face suffering and even death in a new light. Why should we go around with hushed, solemn voices as though there were no hope, no life after death? John Bunyan put is like this in his Pilgrim's Progress when Christian passed over the river: "the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."
Becky, honestly, cannot wait for the trumpets to sound. We have grown wearing in well-doing, I'd say. But whether sooner or later, one thing we know: when we go through the valley of the shadow, our Lord will be with us. He will receive us, because He has overcome the Evil One.
Tuesday, September 24
5:18 PM Here's an interesting thing. Some of my favorite websites have abysmal Alexa ratings. (Not that Alexa is the only or even best means of judging such matters; but it is an important tool.) I have no idea why this is. They should have a much wider readership, judging by the excellence of their content:
Do me a favor: visit these sites and send them some much-deserved traffic. Lots of good stuff to ponder at these sites. PLUS -- they update frequently!
1:16 PM In chapter 4 ("Genuine Relationships") I deal with the matter of "voting" in church. In case you might be interested ....
Please continue to pray for me as I write this book. As the Spirit leads you, of course :)
12:42 PM Today it is my joy to be editing two essays Becky has written: "The Story of Maple Ridge," and "Manual for Maple Ridge." The first tells the history of how Maple Ridge became a shelter for people hurt in ministry. The second is a guideline for those who end up staying there. The former essay concludes this way:
I can already see this playing out, can't you ? A family not only being served but serving. A household restored to help others work through restoration. The principle is simple: We get to give. If we have received mercy, we now need to become dispensers of mercy.
I often think to myself: I don't know what I'm going to do when Becky's gone. I think I'll just tuck this little essay away, to be read when I'm super-tired or engaging in a bit of self-pity. (Of course, I never feel this way. I am super-Christian and super-professor and super-husband, didn't you know?)
This essay sets the tone for the rest of my life. I'm coming to realize that my "new normal" is nothing but the same "normal" people have been experiencing for generations. Some days are so incredibly painful that the last thing you want to do is face another. Other days are so full of joy that you feel like you will burst. Either way, what makes life worth living is, as Becky puts it, the "joy to watch the Spirit of God as He orchestrates the Body in this continuum of ministry." Life is to be lived for His glory and for the good of others. All. Day. Long.
Simple, isn't it?
11:28 AM Been thinking a lot about prayer these days. I've even been writing about the topic for my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. Here is an excerpt from the chapter called "Fervent Prayer":
Just now I prayed a prayer like I've never prayed before. It's as if the words were placed on my lips by Another. Fervent groanings, you might say. I pray that I would pray like this more often!
Monday, September 23
7:08 PM Hey folks. Thanks for blogging in. Today I had a delightful interview here at Bradford Hall with Mark Elkins of Grace Baptist Church in Stuart, Virginia. He's a masters student at Shepherd's Seminary in Cary and is writing his thesis on some very obscure theory called the Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis, the view of yours truly. I found Mark to be a wonderful interviewer. I wish him well with his thesis. It ought to be interesting. Mark's messages on Philippians, by the way, are well worth your time.
To make a slight left turn, the timbering in the back 40 is coming along superbly. The weather continues to be perfect for logging, and the guys love their new logging deck.
Karen and Nigu, for their part, have been working on homework and various other projects around the farm. They were kind enough to test the wheel chair ramp for me today. It works!
Oh, and this is very cool: My friend Becky. Thanks, Bonnie, for a great essay. It was fabulous having you here, all the way from upstate Michigan. And yes, your prayer is ours also.
Blessings on all of you, and remember: Be a thinker, but not a group-thinker!
9:16 AM Sad trend here: Divorce After 50 Grows More Common. And yes, it can happen to you and to me. How we need God's grace.
9:12 AM Another excerpt from chapter 4:
8:52 AM This is big day for Becky and me. We're meeting with an expert in personal home care about hiring an aid to assist us. I think professional hands taking care of Becky at this stage of the game is vital. So pray for us. The meeting is at 10:30. In the meantime, I just published chapter 6 of Bec's autobiography.
We are now in mid-life. How time flies!
Sunday, September 22
7:27 PM Here's an extract from chapter 4 of my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I finished typing it today :)
Saturday, September 21
6:10 PM The ramp is done!
We used all salvaged lumber, too! The price was right! Praise God!
Four exclamation points, Dave? The Lord deserves it!
1:24 PM Good news! Becky's awake. She got up at 12:30 pm after a good long sleep. The poached egg I made for her has remained in her stomach, and right now she is resting comfortably in our library. Meanwhile, I've been editing her autobiography (as I noted earlier) as well as poking away at my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. In chapter 3 ("Apostolic Teaching"), I remark:
In view of this, it seems astonishing that the dogma of Timothy's "pastoral ministry" in Ephesus should be allowed to bedevil the promising conversations in progress with a view to gaining a more biblical view of Christian leadership. The holders of this view fail consistently to recognize that Paul had already met with the Ephesian elders (note the plural!) long before he sent Timothy to Ephesus as his personal (and temporary) representative. Evangelicals take a stand fairly and squarely on the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture. Yet we continue to promulgate the fallacy of Timothy's Ephesian pastorate (ditto for Titus in Crete). Don't we even bother to read Scripture?
I also include the following in the same chapter:
8:52 AM I think Becky went for some sort of record these past two days. She finished the final chapters of her autobiography yesterday, which means that God not only answered our prayers, He did so in record time. I'm still smiling to myself. I'll be editing this weekend, and Lord willing I'll publish chapter 6 on Monday. It's called "Stewardship Lived Out: Careers." Note the plural. Becky has been anything but lazy during the 60 years God has given her. She's had several careers, all of them successful. Her essay concludes with these words:
I'm a big fan of Becky's writings. I hope you are too.
8:42 AM Quote of the day (Andy Bowden):
8:28 AM Worked outdoors all day yesterday. A thousand thanks to Robbie Dunn and Nigusse for their help. We hope to finish the new wheelchair ramp today. I made Robbie, an SEBTS grad, translate Nigu's shirt before he could leave the farm:)
Thursday, September 19
8:02 PM Pix for Bec:
1) We've finished thinning about 15 acres of pines. Only 30 more to go.
2) Another load of logs leaves the farm.
3) Here's the mother of all rose bushes: Becky's Burji Rose Bush.
4) Becky insisted on painting the sign herself from her sick bed. You can tell it's her delicate touch, can't you?
5) Today they began thinning our replanted pines.
So there's your farm update :)
As I type, Becky is dictating the final chapter of her autobiography to Karen. She is too weak to type any more. I'll post the next chapter on Monday, Lord willing.
6:08 PM A common but unreasonable expectation about marriage is that it will last forever. Or at least a very long time. We never anticipate the death of a spouse. Soon I will no longer be a husband. I will receive the gift of widowerhood. It will be another in a long line of assignments that God has given me in my 61 years. Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, and their act of defiance had consequences for each of us. For me, it will mean being half of a couple. My joy will be less the result of my circumstances and more a response to His presence. Somehow my grandiose plans for retirement on the farm and vacationing in Hawaii with Becky will fit into His larger plan. The end of a "perfect" marriage? Hardly. Neither of us has found our fulfillment in the other. But we have enjoyed many good years together, strengthening and purifying each other. We are holding on to each other, but we are not groping or grasping. We will soon be torn apart, and God will stand silently by, allowing us to agonize. For death is the natural outcome of marriage. "Until death do us part." If we love our marriage more than we love God, it is nothing other than idolatry. Still, it hurts. Deeply. And there is no answer but our faith, faith in the character of God Himself.
Today Becky and I received this email:
I include this email, a sample of many similar ones, to show you what God can do through the lives of a very imperfect married couple. Note that the writer of this email is himself "dying" -- dying to the way he used to think about life and ministry. For him, as for Becky and me, death marks a new beginning. Losses are God's way of making gains. When Becky and I got married 37 years ago, we died to our independence, we died to our childhood homes, we died to making unilateral decisions, we died to being "I" instead of "we." We died the very day we said our "I dos." And so we die again. Death always brings forth blessing. Death to self = a new life of acceptance of God's will, of suffering, of so many things.
I am writing these words in the wintertime of my marriage. The stark beauty of summer and fall has long since faded away. The supreme and final separation will soon take place. I will learn to say "I" instead of "we" again. Christ requires Becky's presence with Him in heaven, and who am I to argue with Him? The purest of joys do not derive from gorgeous sunsets in Hawaii. Pure joy is the light of God's love for me, for us, for Becky.
One look at Him and ....
Wow. Can't you just see her grasping her Savior's feet? The tent may have been swept away, but the foundation is still standing.
If Christ's lordship means anything, it means that I am at peace, whether I live or die, whether my marriage lives or dies. He is, after all, Lord. All that I have, all that I want, all that I do, all that I suffer is placed at His nail-scarred feet, for Him to do with as He pleases.
I have been singing this hymn lately:
Thousands upon thousands (Becky and I are but two of them) have found it so.
9:15 AM It's in!
Wednesday, September 18
7:45 AM Just a note to say how much I appreciate your prayers. These have been pretty intense days. I find myself utterly exhausted long before bedtime. Mom said I should take a couple of days off, get away by myself, but that's not likely to happen. I find myself worn out long before bedtime. (Did I say that?) There are constant dealings with this person or that, and just plain navigating through life. The bed we ordered ended up having an air mattress that made you feel like you were sleeping on rocks. I think we're going to have to return it. I'm praying that the spa installation goes without any major hitches today. The house will be a construction zone all day and noise will be a major factor. But somehow I sense that you are right here with us, cheering us on, You can do it, you can do it! More and more, I'm finding this blog to be such a blessing. It's a way to express my gratitude for you. It's a way to request intercession on tough days. It's a way to be honest.
As I type I'm watching the sun rise in all of its glory. I love this farm. What will today hold? God alone knows. My part? I think its called obedience, and I'm not always sure I like the taste of it. But I'm pretty sure that God can make something beautiful out of my crazy old life if I just let Him.
So thanks again. You guys are the greatest. I wish I could share with you all the emails we get. Your love and prayers and encouragement and letters during this time mean everything. So although posting may drop off for a while here, please don't go very far, because there is always a new adventure around the corner.
Blessings on you,
Tuesday, September 17
9:23 AM Well, got time for only a quick blog entry this morning. Had a great time on campus yesterday working with my assistant. We bought a new laptop for Becky and are setting it up so that she can finish her writing. When I arrived I found that the air conditioning was out in our building at the seminary. They must have known I was coming! As for my writing, thank the Lord, I've finished the chapters on baptism, teaching, and genuine relationships. I hope to do more writing today.
Today B's new hospital bed arrives and I sure hope the air-cushioned mattress makes a difference. Her spine is killing her and the pain meds don't seem to be working very well. So I'm very thankful for the new bed. And there's more good news: Our new bath tub with jets will be installed tomorrow. It's designed for tall people (Becky is almost 6 feet tall) and will fit in our current bath tub/shower stall area.
Finally, The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul is still on schedule for an October 1 release.
Off to water the garden!
P.S. Thanks for the shout out, Craig. You are the greatest!
Monday, September 16
7:50 AM Two quick items:
1) I just published chapter 5 of Becky's autobiography. It's called Motherhood. It was a real blessing to read.
2) I will be on campus today for business, in case any of you students need to see me (or would like to bring me a caramel macchiato!).
Sunday, September 15
2:04 PM Quote of the day (What about the tithe?):
1:50 PM Been reading this church's website and found an interesting description of their leadership:
Note the word "co-equal." The site goes on to say that the church currently has two elders, neither of which is called the "senior pastor" or "lead pastor." Are elders to be co-equal? Is there such a thing as primus inter pares (first among equals) in the New Testament? Some argue Yes on the basis of Peter's prominence among the apostles. But even acknowledging that Peter often spoke for the group, do you really think he was considered a "Senior Apostle" and the others "Associate Apostles"? "Senior Pastor" is mentioned only once in the New Testament, and there the reference is to Christ (1 Pet. 5:4). Otherwise, Peter was content to call himself a "fellow elder" (5:1).
Our terminology matters. What do you think?
1:35 PM Just got this photo from Thomas Hudgins. Look who he saw at Capitol Hill Baptist Church this morning.
And please do note: Nigusse is carrying his Greek New Testament. Way to go, son!
It's a peaceful morning here on the farm. Karen is at Imago Dei. Nigusse
is at the Nine Marks conference in DC with our church elders. Today
Becky and I hope to get a lot of writing done. She's working on her
chapter called "Lies, Lies, and Lies." I hope to complete editing
Becky's chapter on mothering (to be published tomorrow) as well as my
chapter on "Christian baptism." Becky got off to a rough start this
morning. She requested a poached egg for breakfast but couldn't keep it
down. In many ways Becky reminds me of Elizabeth Elliott: strong, kind,
wise, dogged, a talented writer. She also reminds me of Joni Eareckson
Tada. I've never met Elizabeth Elliott, but I recall meeting Joni. It
was the summer of 1978, and Becky and I were on our first mission trip
together as a married couple to West Germany. We had just arrived in
Frankfurt and had been driven to Seeheim (where the Bible school we
would be serving at was located). It had been a long flight and a tiring
bus ride, but instead of hitting the hay I was asked to usher that
evening for a special evangelistic meeting in town with Joni. So I went,
and there I heard the most wonderful testimonial of the power of God in
the midst of our human weakness. I think both Elizabeth and Joni are
testimonies to how we can take tragedies and turn them into something
useful and purposeful. They also remind me that it's okay to ask tough
questions, to examine the hurts we feel, and to explore the nature of a
God who is so sovereign He actually asks for our prayers and petitions.
Finding confidence in God's design for our lives is a lifelong process.
The same suffering that Satan designs to impede our progress toward hope
and confidence can be used by a loving Savior to increase our capacity
for surrender and obedience.
Pray for Becky. She is almost done with her autobiography. Her days are difficult. And they promise to get even more difficult in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, God is calling me -- and perhaps you too -- to poverty, to the stripping away of our attachment to all this world has to offer. Becky and Elizabeth and Joni are living proof that it is not health or marriage or ministry that determines happiness, but obedience and joyful acceptance of God's will.
Saturday, September 14
12:51 PM Today Karen and I decided to begin planting our winter garden. We cleared out a couple of beds, then I roto-tilled them...
... adding a bit of cow manure.
As I type, Karen is planting beets, kale, and spinach.
Swiss chard and collards to come.
It's a gorgeous day in "our fair city." How 'bout where you live?
Friday, September 13
6:50 PM The past few days have been so intense that I felt I was coming down with a chest cold. Thankfully, Airborne saved the day. I want to learn how to pace myself, which is very hard for a go-getter like me. Neither do I want to be seduced by my culture into thinking that I can't have a weak moment or that I have to be something I'm not. Be yourself, Dave, I tell myself, But be your best self.
At any rate, we said goodbye to mom this afternoon. It was real good having her here. I'm hoping our daughter in New York can come to visit sometime. She and Becky are so much alike it's scary. Becky's been having a pretty good day. She's had some nausea and vomiting, but nothing too bad. I am absolutely determined to see that she is as comfortable as possible. The good news is that she just ate a little cottage cheese and Jell-O. Let's pray that she can keep it down.
As for me, I've been piddling around trying to make myself useful. I got more writing done on my book, changed the oil in the van, got the car washed, and managed to complete a project that had been on my list for weeks: tying up Becky's Burji rose bush.
Yes, this bush came from Ethiopia. It was, in fact, originally planted by her mother back in the 1960s. You can imagine what it means to Becky. So I tied it up and placed some chicken wire behind it so that the cattle wouldn't be tempted to take little bites out of its leaves.
Oh, the logging continues.
I think we've sold about 5 truck loads thus far.
The thing that gets me is just how quiet the whole project is. I was expecting a whole lot more noise.
Today I was guilty of allowing little petty annoyances to get to me and rob me of my joy. That's just plain stupid, but when you're a bit on the tired side it's just something that can "happen." Right now I'm writing the chapter called "Fervent Prayer" for my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I am a little surprised at how easily this book is coming to me. At the same time, I often ask myself, How can I write anything about prayer? I've still got so much to learn about it! Pray for me that I will be able to see all this through God's eyes. Becky has her race to run, and so do I, and I want to finish well.
Thursday, September 12
5:01 PM Yesterday, as Matthea was preparing to leave the farm after spending the night with Mama B, she couldn't get the clutch pedal in her car to work. It stayed stuck on the floorboard when she pushed it down. Being the world-renowned "expert" that I am in all things mechanical (you're laughing), I was duly summoned to fix the problem. I proceeded to pump the clutch pedal by hand a dozen times until it loosened up. Then I started the car and drove it in a couple of gears before Matthea went happily on her way. Now, it had been a year or so since I had driven a stick shift, and something caught my attention. Have you ever noticed how you need to pass through neutral on your way to the gears?
Which got me to thinking.... Don't we need "neutral" times in our lives when we are not "engaged" in our normal activities? How much more productive and effective we might be if we took time to disengage. The Lord has been very real to me these last few months. The time I've spent on sabbatical has been absolutely wonderful. I'm grateful for the chance to take a break from my normal "gears" of traveling and classroom teaching. "Time off" can be tremendously important for the Christian. Of course, it can also be overdone. I'm on sabbatical, but this does not mean I'm idling all the time. Life is still full, as full as it's ever been. One day I will return to my normal routine of traveling and teaching. In the meantime, I welcome the change of pace. Even in neutral, life is never boring. That's the charm of the Christian life. There's always something to be done for Jesus -- and for others.
Perhaps it's time for you to put your life into "N." How will you know? When you start crunching gears!
8:22 AM Today marks the day after. The day after the most remarkable anniversary celebration I think we've ever had. It's killing me that I wasn't able to tell you about it last night, but Becky and I were exhausted after the evening's festivities. Never was a couple treated more royally. As you know, Becky and I had been excommunicated from the south side of the house while the conspirators carried out their carefully planned plot. This included seeing that the delicious Waldorf Astoria cake (our favorite!) was ready to go.
Eventually the dinner bell was rung and out came the honeymooners. We were both in a goofy mood, so we began singing the "Wedding March" when all of a sudden our piano picked up the tune.
Does Karen play the piano? I asked myself. No, they had connived our church pianist into providing live piano music during our meal! Leanna played all of our favorite hymns and worship songs.
She was also very kind to accede to a request: "Above All" by Michael W. Smith. Thank you, Leanna, for providing just the perfect ambiance for our evening. Your music definitely needs to be recorded. Here you see our first course.
Karen and mom had thought of everything. Recalling our days living in Switzerland, they started us off with delicious fondue and fresh, crispy vegetables with a side of humus. Splendid! The only thing lacking in the fondue was the wine but, hey, we're Baptists. The main course consisted of roasted veal and artichokes tenderly wrapped in bacon, and the dessert, as I said, was our most favoritist cake in the whole universe.
Becky and I just talked and reminisced and read the cards that had been laid on the table. We have shared life and soon we shall share death. I have never been more at peace, and I've never been more scared. But hey, how can you complain when Jesus is staring at you though the eyes of loved ones like these? There's something so wonderful about our family. It defies my best efforts to describe them. And just when you think they've thought of everything, they bring out one more treat. Can you guess what it was? Chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii, of course.
Becky and I immediately went into reenacting mode:
I offered her a nut (just as I did 40 years ago in the cafeteria line at Biola), and she accepted it (saying, "You don't know this, but you've just met your future wife"). Then it happened. I could smell it all over it again. Because it smelled like youth, and it smelled like innocence.
My favorite moment of the evening was inviting Becky to take a drive with me. She had just enough energy left to make it down the front steps, so Nigusse pulled up the limo and off we went. Into the sunset, as they say.
You see, everything is okay. How can it be okay? The world we live in is so broken and so hurt and so full of pain. That's true of your life, and it's true of mine. But when you are served your favorite meal and your bestest dessert, when you are pampered and loved on, when you are surrounded by oozing affection, how can life not be okay?
Yes, it's okay. Because there is life after death. There is hope and joy and love in the midst of the pain. No, not for everyone. But for those who have been touched by the Master's hand, that's all that matters.
Anywhere I am, whether in a hospital room with Becky or in a golf cart with my best girl, He is there too.
Wednesday, September 11
8:32 PM More pix for Becky :)
12:50 PM Karen just told us that the kitchen and parlor are off limits until 6:30 this evening. Entry before then will require blindfolding. What in the world are they planning?
12:37 PM Here it is. How do you like it?
You say, "That sure looks simple!" That's the point. This is referred to in the business as a "Jewish casket." No metal, no nails, all dowels and unstained wood. Do we have the money for a fancy casket? Yes, Sirree, but not the interest. What possible kingdom purpose can be served by having frills around your dead body?
9:36 AM We've already had our anniversary dinner at Berry Hill. So what to do today? Right now Matthea is getting Becky dressed for our hot date at 10:00 -- a meeting with a Jacuzzi rep who will be giving us prices for a hot tub for our bathroom! The thinner Bec gets and the more pain she experiences will require "heat therapy." Also, get this: We're getting a new hospital bed with an air mattress cushion. So how's that for not one but two anniversary presents in one day! Later today I'll go to the funeral home to get pictures of B's simple wooden casket. She wanted to see it before she went Home. Nigu and Karen have something up their sleeve but they are very hush-hush about it.
Wonderful day so far!
9:04 AM Oh my! Thank you for all the wonderful anniversary emails. What a blessing!
8:30 AM So here I sit at the computer. The part I hate about writing? Typing. I use the biblical method of typing ("Seek and ye shall find"). This is chapter 3 of my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.
50 pages of handwritten notes. I'd ask my assistant to type it for me except that I end up editing as I go. When Paul said "Do all things without grumbling and complaining" he excluded typing, right?
All right, Dave, stop your dithering and get to work!
8:22 AM Which European country is less Christian than North Korea? Stumped? Answer here.
8:14 AM Whooohooo! Our 37th anniversary! Praise God! What an appropriate day to publish chapter 4 of Becky's autobiography: Early Marriage. And yes, she tells it like it is!
Happiest Anniversary Ever, Honey!
Tuesday, September 10
7:20 PM Pix for Bec:
4:28 PM No time to blog today. I am swamped. Been writing like crazy -- already got two chapters written on my "Marks of the Church" book. Took Becky to get her blood work done. The loggers have started thinning about 45 acres of our pines. Nigu and Karen have deserted me for greener pastures in Wake Forest (haha). Looking forward to our anniversary tomorrow!
Monday, September 9
7:25 PM And the winner of our blog contest?
8:38 AM Today I will be editing the fourth chapter in Becky's autobiography. It's called "Early Marriage." I'll post it on Wednesday, Lord willing.
8:30 AM My dean Bruce Ashford has a good reminder up today on the importance of viewing the academy as a mission field. His suggestions?
1) Teach the Lordship of Christ over every area of life, including the hard sciences.
2) Consider plying your trade as a academician overseas.
3) Encourage students to earn their Ph.D.s from Ivy-League institutions with a view that they might eventually teach there and thus influence their peers and students for Christ.
(Please don't overlook his third point. Having a doctorate from the University of Basel has in and of itself opened many doors for me to teach internationally. Add to that a quasi-expertise in linguistics, and the combination can be leveraged for the Gospel.)
Will the next C. S. Lewis please step forward?
Sunday, September 8
6:18 PM My friend Phillip Marshall of HBU has written a great essay entitled Why Study 'Linguistics'? His answer may surprise you. For me, having some knowledge of a "secular" field like linguistics has opened many doors for me to share my faith in foreign universities. Here's one example -- Yerevan State University in Armenia. You won't be asked to lecture on Christianity there, but you just might get in with a lecture on ancient Greek morphology.
The students loved it, and I made many new friends.
6:12 PM Praise God! Becky had the strength to join us for Ethiopian food in the library today! Tope and Friesh brought it from Chapel Hill. Thanks for coming, you two!
9:15 AM Good Sunday morning to you, folks! To start things off: It's Contest Time Again! Drawing will be made at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow night. Just answer the following question to win a tripack consisting of my books Christian Archy, Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?, and The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul:
And no, it doesn't have to be my blog :)
Last night Becky and I finished up our reading of the book of Acts. What a thriller! Next stop: Ruth. As for Acts, I just finished sketching another book I plan to write. Scratch that. I've already started it! It's been percolating in my sub-conscious for years. Here's what I wrote last night:
In case you're wondering, these seven characteristics are:
So there you have it! Again, the foundational passage is the following:
37 Ἀκούσαντες δὲ κατενύγησαν τῇ καρδίᾳ, εἶπόν τε πρὸς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς ἀποστόλους· τί ποιήσομεν, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί; 38 Πέτρος δὲ ἔφη πρὸς αὐτούς· μετανοήσατε, καὶ βαπτισθήτω ἕκαστος ὑμῶν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν, καὶ λήψεσθε τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος. 39 ὑμῖν γάρ ἐστιν ἡ ἐπαγγελία καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις ὑμῶν καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς εἰς μακράν, ὅσους ἂν προσκαλέσηται Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν. 40 ἑτέροις τε λόγοις πλείοσι διεμαρτύρετο καὶ παρεκάλει λέγων· σώθητε ἀπὸ τῆς γενεᾶς τῆς σκολιᾶς ταύτης. 41 οἱ μὲν οὖν ἀσμένως ἀποδεξάμενοι τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ ἐβαπτίσθησαν, καὶ προσετέθησαν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ ψυχαὶ ὡσεὶ τρισχίλιαι. 42 Ἦσαν δὲ προσκαρτεροῦντες τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων καὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ καὶ τῇ κλάσει τοῦ ἄρτου καὶ ταῖς προσευχαῖς. 43 Ἐγένετο δὲ πάσῃ ψυχῇ φόβος, πολλά τε τέρατα καὶ σημεῖα διὰ τῶν ἀποστόλων ἐγίνετο. 44 πάντες δὲ οἱ πιστεύοντες ἦσαν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ εἶχον ἅπαντα κοινά, 45 καὶ τὰ κτήματα καὶ τὰς ὑπάρξεις ἐπίπρασκον καὶ διεμέριζον αὐτὰ πᾶσι καθότι ἄν τις χρείαν εἶχε· 46 καθ᾿ ἡμέραν τε προσκαρτεροῦντες ὁμοθυμαδὸν ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ, κλῶντές τε κατ᾿ οἶκον ἄρτον, μετελάμβανον τροφῆς ἐν ἀγαλλιάσει καὶ ἀφελότητι καρδίας, 47 αἰνοῦντες τὸν Θεὸν καὶ ἔχοντες χάριν πρὸς ὅλον τὸν λαόν. ὁ δὲ Κύριος προσετίθει τοὺς σῳζομένους καθ᾿ ἡμέραν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ.
Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is intended to be a brief but comprehensive overview of ecclesiology. I'm already about 20 pages into the book. I plan on spending a good deal of time in the first chapter on "preaching" understood as evangelistic proclamation rather than what is normally called "expository preaching." The former is for non-Christians; the latter is directed toward Christians and is better described as "teaching." At any rate, there is a beautiful but powerful grassroots movement in the church today all over the globe asking such basic questions as "What should be the norms of a church?" What many are being caught up in today is a commitment, more to modern traditions, and less to the exegesis of specific texts. Many are looking for a simple, biblical definition of "church." Perhaps The First Church of Jerusalem can provide us with some answers. I hope so!
Off to church -- oops -- the gathering!
Saturday, September 7
6:23 PM Since it's college football season...
6:12 PM The work in India continues. For more information, see our India/Ethiopia Files.
4:22 PM After spending this beautiful day doing more bush hogging, I got caught up on the news. The recent election in Australia fascinated me, not least because voting in elections is compulsory Down Under. Voting may be a duty in Australia, but here in the good ol' U.S. of A. it's a right. If it's un-American to stay home on Election Day (and that is a questionable assumption -- if candidates are unworthy of my vote, they don't get it) it's even more un-American to make voting mandatory. But perhaps a larger point looms. Australia considers voting a duty. Hence voting is required by law. In there a parallel with our own heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20)? Paul could not be clearer than when he asserts in Phil. 1:27 (the key verse of Philippians), "The only thing in life that matters is that we live as good citizens of heaven in a manner that is required by the Gospel." That is not an option for the Christian. The Gospel requires a certain lifestyle of us all. This lifestyle is described in 2:1-4, illustrated in 2:5-11, and modeled for us by Paul (2:17-18), Timothy (2:19-24), and Ephaphroditus (2:25-30). Jesus requires this lifestyle. And the only "vote" that counts is an emphatic Yes! The genuine follower of Jesus will not shrink from this duty. The joyful news of redeeming love should spur us to never-ending obedience (2:13-14).
In early 2000, when I began to break my heart over the lostness of this world, one of the first things I did was to ask myself, "What kind of a steward am I being of the blessings God has shed upon me?" I began to realize that all of my blessings are only temporary and conditional. I began to realize how late the hour is and how urgent it is that I personally respond to the call to "go" in obedience to His mercy and grace. May God open our eyes to the billions of people still unreached with the Gospel. And may we respond to our heavenly citizenship as the Australians do to their earthly one -- with a deep sense of duty to take this Gospel to "the whole world" (Mark 16:15). Folks, we'll never get the job done if we continue to outsource missions to professionals and abdicate our personal responsibility to become bearers of His love and salvation to a world lost in sin and darkness.
Friday, September 6
7:58 PM It's so easy to forget to say thank you. So, before I turn in for the night, "Thank You." Your prayers have challenged me to walk by faith and not by sight. Your emails have motivated me to dream big and act bigger. As I was bush hogging today, I was praying. Praying for the church in China, in India, in Iraq, in Iran, in Egypt. I was praying for my students past, present, and future, for my recently-graduated doctoral students who are teaching their first classes this month, for my incoming Ph.D. students who are about to embark on the experience of a lifetime. I was praying for family members, from children to grandchildren to in-laws to my precious wife. As I pleaded with God to allow Becky and me to go out tonight, something in me broke. There, as I sat on the tractor, I prayed one of the strongest prayers I've ever prayed, and then I drove on, full of confidence that God would allow us this privilege, one last time. I rejoiced in this: that the God who knows where we were born is the exact same God who decides when and how we die. As Becky and I die -- yes, we are both dying, I no less than she -- as her ship sails to the far shore and leaves me behind on the near one, I am at peace. God has written the book of her life, not she. It was He who penned each and every page even before she was born to her missionary parents. And it is He who brought us together in a cafeteria line so very long ago and who was there in the car with us as we drove to the restaurant tonight. God is always the THERE ONE if we will only stop and look and listen and see Him.
Tonight was so incredibly awesome. Tonight God, in a form that looked strangely like my wife's, took my hand and said, "I love you."
7:25 PM Because of the mercy and grace of God ....
... and your prayers. Glory to God! Doesn't she look beautiful?
2:28 PM No more perfect day for working outside was ever created.
I ended up bush hogging the cattle pasture ...
... and the donkey pasture.
Becky, in the meantime, has taken her shower, her pain pill, and has picked out her dress for tonight's extravaganza (it's a navy blue one). Her mom and Karen are her co-conspirators. Hope she's found her dancing shoes, cause tonight we're gonna party!
Slow down, David, it's not 4:30 yet.
Keep praying, folks!
P.S. Care to ride the tractor with me? Be sure to turn up your speakers. Ain't nothin' in this ol' world quite like the purr of a Massie-Ferguson 135!
8:21 AM Thomas Hudgins, Greek prof at Capital Bible Seminary, has just published a great interview with one of his students. He asked him, "What is the ultimate purpose of your Greek studies?" In that vein, I offer the Ten Best Books for Studying New Testament Greek.
8:10 AM I've just posted the third chapter of Becky's autobiography. That's right, you're seeing it four days before our normal publishing day (Monday). She's on a roll and I don't want her to let up now. In the current chapter, Becky tells the story of how she readjusted to life in America, why she chose to study nursing, and where she met her future husband. It's quite a saga.
The chapter is called Bending His Way.
Thursday, September 5
5:42 PM Special prayer request, folks. Tomorrow evening at this time I hope to be having dinner with my bride of 37 years at Carrington's Restaurant in the beautiful Berry Hill Plantation House (about 25 minutes from us). And yes, they are equipped to handle wheel chairs. Will Becky be strong enough for this, perhaps our final anniversary celebration on earth? Here's where you come in. We are requesting an outpouring of prayer to our dear Father that Becky will be strong enough for an evening on the town. Just be forewarned that I am pulling out all the stops for this one. I can't help remembering the anniversaries we celebrated in this very same restaurant, enjoying the best filet mignon this side of heaven (and yes, there will be filet mignon in heaven, guaranteed). Becky may be skin and bones and may not be able to get out of bed much these days, but I can already see in my mind's eye a starry-eyed and gray-haired couple enjoying a scrumptious dinner in an antebellum home tomorrow night.
The reservations have been made, and the oxygen bottles are filled to the max.
4:35 PM Our thanks to Karen and Kelly for putting up the final stencils at Maple Ridge today.
Here's the laundry room:
And here are the stairs.
10:28 AM And now a word to my students. Hope you all have been enjoying your semester. I've been perusing the discussion of Hebrews in several standard introductions to the New Testament. They almost all say the same thing.
1) Paul could not be the author because the language of the book is different from Paul's in his letters. Question: Did you actually compare the language yourself? I did, and I came away with a completely different conclusion.
2) The author of Hebrews says that he only heard the gospel from those who received it from Christ. Ergo, Paul could not have the author. This objection, of course, is based on 2:3, a verse that is capable other explanations favoring Pauline authorship (explanations that are hardly ever mentioned).
3) In these textbooks Origen is usually misquoted. His words "... who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows" are assumed to mean that he took an agnostic position relative to the question of authorship. This is, of course, the selfsame Origen who consistently cites the letter as Paul's.
4) Finally, some textbooks argue that the Western church rejected Pauline authorship. Clearly this is a misreading of the external evidence. The epistle was admitted to be Paul's by the Councils of Hippo (AD 393) and Carthage (AD 397), as well as in the lists of canonical books set forth in their canons. These canons speak of thirteen epistles of Paul, and then add, "[he wrote] another one to the Hebrews." In addition, Hebrews was received as Paul's by Hilary (AD 354), Lucifer (AD 354), Victorinus (AD 360), Ambrose (AD 374), Philaster (AD 380), Gaudentius (AD 387), and Rufinus (AD 397). The tradition in the West that there were thirteen epistles of Paul clearly meant thirteen that bear the apostle's name. In fact the fifth Council of Carthage in AD 419, at which Augustine was present, reckoned fourteen epistles as Paul's, without any further qualification.
Students, I have no problem with rejecting Pauline authorship, if your conclusions are based on all the evidence as well as on a personal examination of the data. If this is a topic that interests you, I encourage you to read my book The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul when it is released next month.
9:30 AM I once spoke at a Baptist Men's Conference at Crewe Baptist Church here in southern Virginia. This was very exciting to me because CBC is the final resting place of 4-feet 3-inch Lottie Moon, former missionary to China. Why should I feel so honored? Read these two excerpts from her bio and you'll understand:
"Over-indulged and under-disciplined" describes the North American church to a tee. I praise God for Lottie's life and testimony. It sure is convicting.
8:15 AM Interested in taking beginning Greek in the comfort of your own home? Here's a program that can't be beat.
Wednesday, September 4
7:27 PM In my book Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? I encourage my readers to view modern missions as "a global, cooperative movement," a partnership, if you will, between local churches in America and local churches in other nations.
Once we understand that we have only one King and one kingdom, we should be able to begin working cooperatively, side by side with foreign nationals, to get the job done. Once we see this principle, it is the most liberating revelation. We will find ourselves working intentionally with national churches as each one of us does our part to finish the task before night falls.
4:22 PM Now that Senator McCain has been busted using his iPhone during a meeting ...
.... I suppose I should say something about my classroom policy for the use of electronic devices.
I have none.
As one report said, "... in the end it's a politeness thing." And you can't teach politeness. Students who are rude will continue to be rude. Students who are told they can't check their emails during class will still find a way of doing it without the teacher's knowledge. Nor can one wholly blame them. If I had to sit through boring lectures (or meetings) I'd probably be online too. So my rule is to have no rules. Except for one. This is what I write in my syllabi:
Students, remember: As Christians we are free in Christ. But we are only free to do what it right (or polite, or gracious, etc.). The minute we do what is wrong we become the slaves of sin. That said, I am not going to look over your shoulder. I am going to treat you like the adults you are. Or at least the adults you ought to be.
9:08 AM Was reading this in the seminary library the other day.
It's a 17th-century commentary on Genesis, written in Latin with oodles of Greek and Hebrew thrown in for good measure. Another reminder of why Latin is indispensable for anybody going into biblical studies.
8:56 AM At the beginning of a new semester, perhaps you'll allow me a few random thoughts about education.
1) Teaching is not teaching unless lives have been changed. It is not mere instruction we need in the classroom. Instead we need men and women who will model the Jesus lifestyle. Those who do, who depend completely on the living God and not on their own intellectual prowess, are the people God will use to shake our generation.
2) Information is not a product to be marketed. Today we have a glut of information about the Bible. The result is often a slavish dependence upon computers, degrees, education, management skills, and human talent. If there appears to be any human explanation for what we do, we jump on it. When this happens, our science and technology become nothing more than tools of the Evil One. It is only when we are freed from our over-dependence on human plans, programs, and leaders are we able to trust God rather than ourselves.
3) Our "studies" often betray our callous indifference to God and what matters most to Him. If we love the Lord our God the way we say we do, how can we spend so little time in doing what is of eternal importance? The world is looking for handsome, self-important people to lead it, but God is looking for humble, Spirit-dependent people who will love the lost as He does.
4) If you are a student and a follower of the Lord Jesus, you have a lot more to worry about than good grades and a diploma. God has prospered you for a reason. The fields are white unto harvest now. Millions of people in Asia have never once heard the Gospel and have never seen a Bible, let alone spoken with a Christian. Remember: we're talking about real people with real souls.
Through the years I've closed my classes with a simple prayer that contains these words: "Lord, make us winsome and attractive for the Gospel." I got the imagery from 2 Cor. 2:15. Paul says our lives are to be a "fragrant aroma." We are to influence others like perfume. Our goal is not to beat people into submission with academic arguments. It's to love them to the Savior.
8:45 AM I well recall when I first fell in love with the Word of God. I was about 16 and part of the Jesus Movement in Hawaii. As I began to read the Bible, I discovered that I just couldn't put it down. At that time I used the translation called the Good News for Modern Man – line drawings and all. In it I discovered that the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. It began to convict me of sin. It began to reprove me concerning my false beliefs. It not only exposed my sins and theological errors, it began to correct my conduct and thinking. It began to put the fractured pieces of my life back together again. I found it to be all the spiritual food I needed.
As much as I enjoy and benefit from reading the writings of other authors, and as much as I enjoy writing books myself, I pray that God will restore to His people an appetite for His Word. I pray that He will make us aware – perhaps for the first time – that we need to feed ourselves every day on the living Word of God and to stay away from the junk. I pray that He will show us that the words of men are nothing in comparison with His own precious words.
Tuesday, September 3
5:07 PM Jason Kees has some good thoughts about learning German for his Ph.D. program at Southwestern (Learning Deutsch). Here many go wrong. By focusing only on theological German you will be able to form only a very rough and general idea of how the language works. If, however, you learn how to speak the language, the rest will all fall into place. At once you will be able look at the whole discourse you are reading through the eyes of a native speaker. You will see why Barth used da here or why Brunner used doch there. Focus only on theological vocabulary and you will end up baffled when you encounter real German. So I ask: What is your goal? Learning German is like learning how to drive a car. What matters in driving is developing an intuitive sense of the road. There are three essential elements in learning a modern foreign language: grammar, vocabulary, and the ability to think in that language. In contrast to the trinity of 1 Cor. 13:13, there is no "greatest of these." Only the three together, each facilitating the development of the other, will do.
5:04 PM I see that my colleague Charles Quarles has just been elected into the prestigious Society for New Testament Studies. Congratulations, Chuck.
5:00 PM Just in case you thought that nothing exciting ever happens around here, check out my day today. This morning Becky's pain and discomfort caused by her catheter got so bad that we ended up back at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. They decided to remove her catheter in a procedure that wasn't as painful as we had anticipated. Of course, mom and I (and Becky!) did a lot of praying. I'm not trying to sound super-spiritual here, but prayer really does make a huge difference. After a chest x-ray they discharged her, so we are all nestled on the farm again. God has a funny way of reminding us of how dependent we are on Him. Just when I think I'm too breakable doing this, He reminds me that with Him I've got everything. I've said it before -- I can't handle all this on my own. But it's a joy when you're plugged into His strength. So I'm going to learn to stay connected. I promise.
Monday, September 2
5:24 PM The latest blog posts on Hebrews are only a click away.
5:20 PM Blaire and Catherine have got to be two of the zaniest people I've ever met. But what do you expect from young ladies who took me for beginning Greek? They've been working up a storm here at the farm. Among other things, they cleaned the upstairs porch at Bradford Hall from stem to stern (while checking for snakes). Then mom and I went over to Maple Ridge to put up the curtains she had sewn for us in Dallas. They fit perfectly. Like I said, it's great to have so many people here. As for Becky, we think her catheter is plugged and she is in a lot of discomfort right now. Hopefully we can have her checked out at UNC tomorrow. Life is such an odd kaleidoscope of conflicting emotions. But it feels good to be able to say, with Paul, "I can face any circumstance in union with the One who energizes me." So thanks to all who have come to serve and (hopefully) to be served and encouraged by Becky's faith while they're here. I want to say more but I feel like it's all been said before. Faith. Family. Love. Sacrifice. Jesus. That's about all you need.
4:12 PM Since it's Labor Day, I'm wondering if you've seen this?
4:04 PM She made it! And at the ripe young age of 64! Who's the Diana Nyad in your life? Mine was my college roommate for 4 years.
Reubens was from the jungles of Brazil. He'd been adopted into an American family. When I first saw him my heart was moved with compassion. Here's a guy who needs a lot of help, I thought. After all, Reubens was completely blind (from birth) and could hear only with the help of a hearing aid. Boy, did he show me up. There was nothing he could not do. He had been trained as a classical pianist in New York City. He played the clarinet in the Biola college band. He went on to earn a masters degree in Romance Language and Linguistics from UCLA. Today he is a successful composer living in his native Brazil.
So congratulations, Diana! You're an inspiration to us all. And I'm sure glad that at the end of your swim your helpers didn't pull a practical joke on you and start speaking French while pointing to the West, though I suppose you would have just kept on swimming!
10:40 AM Forgive me, but I've got the church fathers on my mind this morning. Pascal once said that had Cleopatra's nose been shorter this would have changed the history of the world (to say nothing of her face). His point was that human events (in this case, Mark Antony's defeat at Actium) are often determined by unusual antecedent conditions. All would agree that where there is a cause, there is an effect. The chief difficulty lies in defining "cause." I'm mentioning this only because I've often wondered why New Testament scholars have been so quick to turn away from Matthean priority. In trying to discredit the "second-hand" knowledge of the fathers, they have become skeptical about patristic testimony in general. Their reasoning goes: The church fathers are contradictory and unreliable, ergo their statements can be rejected out of hand. It is just possible, however, that the modern scholar is the one who is in error. The test of consistency and non-contradiction must be applied, not merely asserted. In other words, what modern synoptic scholars assert to be true (Markan priority) requires testing. William Farmer, to whom I dedicated my book Rethinking the Synoptic Problem, is an example of a scholar who did just that. At many points he found the fathers to be self-consistent and trustworthy. He felt their statements had been entirely misrepresented by his colleagues, that assertions and conjectures had replaced historical investigation. Nor did he stop there. He also asserted that the value of historical testimony generally increases in proportion to the nearness in time and space between the witness and the event about which he or she is testifying. I mention this simply to remind myself (and anyone else who may be listening) that nothing could be more artificial than the scientific separation of a scholar's theological and historical perspectives. The ultimate question for the historian is: Which facts? At no time should a theologian take a vacation from being a historian. Which means, at the very least, that anyone who is really interested in New Testament studies today must also be a master of early Christian history. It also means that he or she must know not only Greek but also classical Latin. And yet Latin is not required in most Ph.D. programs that I am aware of. But how can we read the fathers in translation? Impossible!
8:23 AM Just a quick note to let you know that I just posted chapter 2 of Becky's autobiography. She went back in time to her early days in Ethiopia. If you haven't heard that part of her life story yet, it might be worth clicking through to make sure you're not missing anything. The chapter is called Strengthened through Hardship: Growing Up in Ethiopia.
8:22 AM I'm sitting here at the computer. Mom is here. Karen is here. Blair and Catherine from the seminary are coming today to help Karen clean. Moral support, you know. I love my life. I specially love the One who orders it. If prayers are incense (see Psalm 141), then heaven is fragrant this morning.
Sunday, September 1
6:29 PM Occasionally I will visit the Patheos site to get caught up on a couple of bloggers, but lately whenever I go there an annoying popup ad appears on my iPad. Anybody know how to prevent that? If I can't find a way around them, I'm going to avoid Patheos.
8:56 AM Jazzed. Only 10 days till my 37th anniversary. (How's that for a tweet?)
8:54 AM Had to chuckle while reading my colleagues' tweets this morning. "Bama." "Ohio State." "Poor tackling." "Too many turnovers." The reason I chuckled is because I had no idea it was football season again!
8:45 AM The current political imbroglio in the Middle East is yet another reminder that we've got to place no faith in politics, period. The only security lies in Jesus and His living Way. The irony is that so many of us Bible-believing Christians are running away from what the Bible clearly teaches about following the rule of law. So, my message to my compatriots is, in a nutshell, let's treasure our great Constitution. Not in a prideful way, of course, but simply as recognizing it as the law of the land. Lest we forget: Only Congress has the authority to decide whether the U.S. will go to war. That's the law. If the U.S. attacks Syria without just cause and without legal authorization we will be guilty of unprovoked unilateral aggression.
I am eager for some answers: What kind of gas was used? How was it delivered? Who authorized it? Can you prove it? Let me be clear: I have nothing but the greatest respect for our democratic system. But even honest politicians can make mistakes. Even Colin Powell, who presented "incontrovertible" evidence of Iraq's possession of WMD, is urging caution on Syria. It would be foolish to act on incomplete information. Even the most bellicose Republicans are saying so!
Bottom line: Act unilaterally and you act outside the bounds of international law. Act without congressional authorization, and you act outside the Constitution of the United States. This, of course, is merely my interpretation of the facts. The whole matter will call for extraordinary political discernment. Let's pray for this to happen.
But the bottom of the bottom line? The New Testament clearly reveals that the battle God wants us Christians to fight is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. On top of this, Jesus chose to love and die for His enemies rather than engage in "justified" violence against them. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find any exceptions to Jesus' command to do good to our enemies. This is what I shall attempt to do when eventually I resume my international travels. The unmistakable message we need to show the Syrian people is that if you want to know God, look at Jesus Christ. Jesus isn't just one prophet in a long line of prophets. He is the unsurpassable revelation of God. He is not a way but the way to God. He alone reveals the Godhead, and there is no competing revelation. But what does Jesus look like? The life of a kingdom-person is always counter-cultural and subversive of power. It takes the downward path of service and sacrifice. While perhaps some good things can come as the result of political involvement, our time and energy must be spent replicating the love of Jesus even to our "enemies."
I promise to pray for our national leaders. Will you? I will also pray for the evangelical church in America that, for the most part, is absolutely pathetic at living out the radical call of kingdom citizenship.
8:12 AM It's here to stay. I'm talking about online education.
8:07 AM So honored to hold the Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. Chair in New Testament. And so pleased to wish Dr. Owens a Happy 100th Birthday on September 3.
8:02 AM Paul Himes offers a few thoughts about Bible software. That the electronic "library" is the repository of the largest source of our recorded knowledge about the Bible (including the biblical languages) needs no demonstration. The student who reports the number of aorist imperatives within 5 words of a present imperative in Josephus's Jewish Wars (to use Paul's example) found this information on a search engine. It is highly unlikely people find this kind of data by a manual search.
Paul summaries the benefits of electronic resources as follows. These tools will help you to:
It is natural for beginning Greek students to feel a little overwhelmed in a library of this type. But such tools are the inescapable prerequisite for serious Bible study, as Paul rightly notes. All of this is common knowledge, but Paul is to be warmly thanked for his timely reminder.
P. S. The best quote in Paul's essay (for me, at least!) has nothing to do with electronic resources:
Does that hit the nail on the head or what?