Saturday, January 31
1:30 PM Because I've got nothing else to do (he-he), I've begun a series of essays on the book of Philippians, which we will be studying in two of my Greek classes this semester. The first essay is called Introducing Philippians.
1:23 PM Alan Knox is promising to tell us more about his seminar presentation. I look forward to reading what he has to say. I have no idea what to expect. But I do know this: what Alan will tell us about the church will have been forged on the anvil of biblical principles by the hammer of the facts of real life.
10:04 AM Here's the latest installment of Becky's Burji Blurb:
The Guji Team was the most flexible of our 5 teams. Until the very last minute, literally just hours before they departed, we did not know how this ministry was going to pan out. The Guji people live on land that borders the Burji people. They are part of the large Oromo group of people, which reportedly makes up about 71 percent of Ethiopia’s population. They migrated up from southern sections of the African continent, and all over Ethiopia they have land disputes with their neighbors. (In the Alaba District, just a few months before we arrived, 1000 homes – that is no typo! – were burned by the Oromos.) So there is great tension between the Guji people and their Amarro and Burji neighbors.
Dave and Jason were burdened to go to the Guji people with the Gospel. But where would we find a translator? At the last minute the translator who was arranged (who came from a distant Guji church) backed out. But in the providence and grace of God, a young Burji man named James volunteered to go with Dave and Jason. The church leaders were not happy to send James, knowing full well the danger to his life. “Oshe, let me tell you clearly: you are not sending me, I am going of my own free will. God is sending me to the Guji people with Dave and Jason. I am not afraid.” And so James joined the Guji Team.
The three of them, taken by Demissie the driver, drove to the first village. They went straight to the leader of the village and introduced themselves. They were welcomed with open arms! “Why didn’t ALL of the foreingees (white-faced foreigners) come to our village?” they asked.
Over the next 6 days, Dave and Jason and James showed the Jesus Film, preached, distributed seeds, and generally shared life with these people. And God planted a special love in our hearts for them.
We learned many things during this ministry time:
1) These people are trapped in generations of tradition that includes barbarism and warfare; they want to be free, but who will show them the way? Who will show them that Love is stronger than Hate, that Peace is better than War, that Gentleness is mightier than Brutality?
2) These people are on the edge of starvation, eating only a pan-fried bread morning, noon, and night, and drinking some coffee or milk. This starvation is largely self-inflicted, as they have cut off access to food through their warfare. Can we use food as the key that opens doors to their hearts?
3) The Christians are few in number, and they have no Bibles. No Bibles at all! We must work to establish a line of direct communication with these Christians, so that we can bring them Bibles and help them to become strong in the Lord. (They do not want to fight the Amarro and Burji people; they do not want to go with their non-believing Guji neighbors.)
The story was told of one Guji Christian who refused to go shoot Burji people. His neighbors took one of his oxen, killed it before his eyes, and then said, “We will do this to you if you do not join us.” They gave him a gun, he went with them, and at the time of battle he shot all his bullets into the air. “Look, I don’t have any more bullets,” he told his captain. “Then you have done your duty and now you can go home.” We cannot fault these brothers and sisters in the Lord; we must help them to be strong in the Lord and in doing right. And we cannot fault their neighbors; it is the Evil One who has blinded their eyes with this violence, as he has blinded the eyes of so many in our world. Only the Lord Jesus can free these precious people from this never-ending violence. We left Gujiland more committed than ever to do what we can to bring the Gospel to them.
After about 6 days of going from village to village, renewed warfare broke out. The Gujis killed 4 people in 3 days, and wounded several others. So Dave, Jason, and James came back to the “safety” of Soyama Town. En route back, they witnessed the amassing of Guji warriors with spears, knives, and guns. James quietly slid down to the car floorboards to escape their notice. And as you in America and we in Burji prayed, God brought them safely back to us.
But they left behind women, children, old people, sick people, and confused, angry people who need the Lord Jesus. Please continue to pray for these dear ones, that the Light will shine in their midst and dispel the darkness that surrounds them!
UPDATE: About 2 weeks after we left, the Amarro and Guji Christians got together; the Guji Christians wept, asking forgiveness, and the Amarros freely forgave them. Now this reconciliation needs to happen between Guji and Burji. The church of Jesus Christ must lead the way; we must demonstrate the reality of reconciliation. The Ethiopian government cannot solve the problem; only Christians can show the way of peace. As I write this, Christians from all the neighboring areas and all the different tribes in this section of Ethiopia have gotten together and are trying to plan a Unity Conference. If God is willing, we will be a part of that conference during our May trip. Please pray for a lasting peace, made possible by the One who is the Prince of Peace!)
9:05 AM On NPR this morning a historian was interviewed who compared Ronald Reagan with Barack Obama -- not their politics, of course, but their style. He noted how easily both of them seemed to transition into the role of president. He also compared their attitudes -- competent, but not arrogant. The interview played a clip from Reagan's first inaugural (Jan. 20, 1981):
Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work—work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.
"Work with us, not over us" might well apply also to leadership in the church. I see no leader-centricity in the New Testament, do you? I see no pulpit centricity either. Instead, I see leaders "from among us" (Phil. 1:1), extensions of the church rather than heads of pyramids. Should we not expect this mentality in our churches, whatever our church structure may be (elder-led or single-pastor)? No longer can leadership assume a responsibility that belongs only to the Head. I have seen this "we will do the work" mentality not only in single-pastor congregations but also in elder-led churches. In contrast, I have also seen pastors in traditional single-pastor churches who saw their role not as doing the work of the ministry but as servant-leaders equipping others for their own ministries. Perhaps the structures are not as important as our attitudes.
Shepherd-teacher, as a "layman," may I respectfully ask you, in the words of Ronald Reagan:
- Will you "stand by our side, not ride on our back"?
- Will you "provide opportunity, not smother it"?
- Will you "foster productivity, not stifle it"?
7:57 AM Aren't you glad Acts 4:13 is in the Bible? I sure am. What does it means that Peter and John were "unlearned and ignorant"? It means they had no education or special training. It means the Jerusalem church had no big shots.
It suggests that God delights in using people who lack professional qualifications and status. I see this everywhere I travel. I see men and women who lack any kind of academic attainment and yet are powerfully used of God, and I mean "powerfully." I doubt that Jesus was very impressed with book learning and titles. Not that He would necessarily be against these things either. But, as Helmut Thielicke says ("Beyond Pushing and Producing,"Leadership Journal, Fall 1995, p. 85):
He appears not to be bothered at all by the fact that these are not strategically important people, that they have no prominence, that they are not key figures, but only the unfortunate, lost children of the Father in heaven. He seems to ignore with a sovereign indifference the great so-called "world-historical perspectives" of his mission when it comes to one insignificant, blind, and smelly beggar, this Mr. Nobody, who is nevertheless so dear to the heart of God and must be saved.
Yes, Jesus ignored "with a sovereign indifference" all the things we elevate as indispensable status symbols -- degrees, titles, attainments, publications, conference papers. And there is a very good reason for it, I think. Notice how all the leaders of the early church were men of the Spirit (see Acts 6:3; 7:55; 11:24, etc.). It was the Spirit who made the Ephesian elders overseers (Acts 20:28). The Spirit was the source of their power, their eloquence, their success. The power of the Holy Spirit is such that it can give simple disciples a life and message that can reach every heart. The New Testament shows with crystal clarity the effect of the Spirit's filling in our lives. Real Christianity is a very simple thing when done in the Spirit. So...
- Greek student -- learn your lessons in the power of the Spirit!
- Greek teacher -- teach your students in the power of the Spirit!
- Ph.D. student -- write your dissertation in the power of the Spirit!
All of us -- the same Spirit who anointed Jesus' ministry is surely willing and able to grant us empowerment for service today.
Friday, January 30
5:02 PM My alma mater, the University of Basel, is opening a Center for Africa Studies with the following emphases: Gesundheit (Public Health and Social Life), Medien (Media and Imagination), Wissen (Knowledge Production and Transfer), Staat (Governance and Civil Society) und Umwelt (Environment and Development). The Center's new website can be found here. Below: The Theologisches Seminar of the Uni-Basel in the historic city center, where I spent many happy hours researching and writing.
4:34 PM Check out the beautiful hair on this Toggenburg of Jessie's. I had never noticed before how long it is in places. Amazing what you see when you go for a walk.
2:03 PM We just enjoyed a delightful lunch with Becky's good friend Debbie, who used to be B's supervisor at Mariah Parham Hospital. I learned a new word during our conversation when Debbie mentioned how people often pick up "nosocomial" illnesses in the hospital. That is, sometimes you can get sicker under medical care than if you avoid medical care altogether.
Can the same thing happen in a seminary, I wondered out loud. Is it possible to pick up spiritual illnesses when one is studying in a spiritual environment? I have been compelled, reluctantly, to admit that the answer is yes. The potential dangers include:
1) An attitude of superiority.
2) The pride that comes from knowledge.
3) Learning to view the Bible as one book among others rather than as the only infallible source of truth about God and man.
4) Treating the text as just another analyzable datum of linguistic investigation.
5) An argumentative spirit.
6) A zeal for theological method over theology itself.
7) An over-familiarly with God and the Bible whereby both lose their specialness.
A seminary education can easily over-intellectualize religion and make a kind of philosophy out of it. Paul himself was guilty of this until one day he came to God in humble faith and found in Christ that fellowship he had sought so long and hard in his own privileges and attainments. "To know Him" -- that is, to have a right relationship with God, a living, personal relationship -- now meant more to him than anyone or anything else. Any seminary student must be more anxious to listen to God than to propagate his or her own opinions or will run the risk of becoming a victim of seminary-induced illnesses.
1:17 PM As I'm reading through the websites today I'm impressed how important the theme of ecclesiology has become to the modern generation of bloggers. I am also very impressed with the flavor and tone of many of these websites. Through them runs one dominant feeling and that is the feeling of affection and love for the Lord Jesus. That should be the mark of any website. Ecclesiology is dear to the heart of God's people because Jesus, the Loving Head of the Body, is dear to their heart as well. We should count it a wasted day when we peruse the world wide web and do not receive a blessing and when we have not penetrated deeply into the heart of God. Genuine Christianity is a lovely thing. It has a winsome attractiveness to it. I thank God for all the bloggers out there whose sites are not only good (agathos) but pleasant (kalos).
12:55 PM I see that Nate and Jess have retrieved their long lost Cat and have taken Cat back to Cat's home, fed Cat, and told Cat to stay put. I am under strict orders not to let Cat into our house or feed her under any circumstances. Meanwhile N. and J. are driving back to Raleigh to continue their remodeling job, which means that I have the day for writing. Just before they left, Becky told them, "Well, we seem to have inherited your dog and your cat, but what I really want is to have your baby come live in my house." To which Nate quipped, "Don't worry, mom. One day you'll be in the nursing home and my child will indeed be living in your house!" Right now Becky has a good friend of hers from her ICU days visiting the farm. She'll stay for lunch and supper.
11:35 AM Well, maybe I should bring her inside just this one time. After all, she's soooo cute and just loves to be held. It won't really hurt anything, will it?
10:21 AM OK, I'm declaring a state of emergency. Maybe even a state of war. Little Miss is on our front porch again. She thinks that by whining and meowing we will open the door for her and let her inside. She thinks that just because she is so cute and adorable she can worm her way into our hearts. She thinks that because we have dogs as pets we will welcome her into the fold with open arms. I tell, this is war. NO WAY I'm gonna let you in, Cat. No way I'm gonna feed you. No way you're gonna wheedle your way into my house. I know your kind: if I let you into the house you'll end up sleeping on my bed. I'm on to you, girl. You might as well give up, all's I can say. Now scat and go back home where you belong, you sweetie pie!
9:40 AM A brief word to my Greek students. It may truly be said that my series of books on New Testament Greek began almost accidentally. The first volume in the series, Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek, I had no intention of writing at all. While I was teaching Greek at Biola I began to see the importance of the science of linguistics for the study of the New Testament. At that time I could not find any book that tried to integrate linguistics with New Testament Greek on the introductory level. So I went to my typewriter (the one with the daisy wheels!) and produced Linguistics mainly for my own students. I sent it forth to the publishers with fear and trepidation knowing that it would be criticized by the purists (as it was) because its author was not a linguist. It was only the second book I had published (the first being my doctoral dissertation, Paul, Apostle of Weakness). I will remain eternally grateful to the editors of Baker Book House for their unfailing sympathy and help. Since then the academic book market has been flooded with works seeking to integrate linguistics with the biblical languages, so much so that I am delighted thatLinguistics is still in print some two decades after its initial publication. My aim was to make the results of modern language study available to the non-technical reader in a format that does not require any background in linguistics to understand, and then to show how linguistics is relevant to exegesis. It is my fervent prayer that my Greek students, many of whom are reading the book for the first time this semester, will become better Bible readers and better Bible expositors as a result.
8:26 AM Here's yet another reason to attend the Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology (.pdf) seminar in March: the only book you'll need is the Bible. As I told my students last week, whatever position you hold on divorce/remarriage, or tongues, or female elders/deacons, or church organization, you had better base your convictions on the exegesis of specific texts of Scripture and not on anything Dr. So-and-So says. I am honestly worried about this generation of students because I see in them (as I saw in my generation) a tendency to follow this or that teacher rather than the Scriptures. This is nothing but a form of modern-day Gnosticism. The Gnostics loved to claim that their special teaching came directly from God. They believed that all kinds of special knowledge were needed for salvation and sanctification. They taught that the Word of God was not sufficient. Men and women needed a special knowledge beyond that which Jesus could give. So if you had gnosis (special knowledge) and knew the right formulas and used the correct passwords you could escape the ignorance of the world. But Paul taught it was only in Christ that the full divine nature dwelt, and that is was only through Him that the believer could find truth and wisdom.
What does modern-day Gnosticism look like? One sure sign is whether the Bible is preeminent or not. This truth alone should make us rethink the value of any seminar or conference that packages biblical truth in a way that elevates the package above Christ. As the Gnostics saw it, the simple truth of the Gospel, written down in the Bible, was not enough. It had to be supplemented by an elaborate system of philosophical thought. The resulting system was too difficult for simple Christians to understand. Only insiders -- intellectuals -- could understand. It is amazing to me how quickly we Christians run after this system or that system today. There is too much of the Christianity that says "I've got the answer" and too little of the Christianity that says "In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Supremely it is so today with all of our "networks" and "ministries" that promise freedom in Christ (if you'll only attend my seminar) or how to discern the true marks of the church (if you'll buy my book) or how to become a "New Testament" congregation (by following our ministry model). I am not saying that any of these ideas are necessarily unbiblical or wrong. It is the packaging that threatens the life of the church for, I believe, the packaging raises questions about the total adequacy of the Scriptures and the unique supremacy of Christ.
So please do not attend our seminar if you think you need something more than the Word of God to understand the mind of God. Please do not attend our seminar if you believe that Christ is not adequate to deal with your questions. Please do not attend our seminar if you are seeking a Gospel that needs to be supplemented by human ideas. Please do not attend our seminar if you want to join an intellectual aristocracy. Please DO attend our seminar if you are drawn to the unsearchable riches of Christ, if you believe that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, if you believe that "truth is in Jesus," and if you are ready to listen to a man who is as eager to learn from others as he is to instruct them.
(Note: My opinion will change very quickly if our speaker ever decides to incorporate and form "Assembling of the Church Ministries" and take his system on the road for a fee.)
7:55 AM Last November, while I was serving among the Gujis, Becky traveled with the Village Team. Here are 3 photos taken in the village of Koro. Aren't the people beautiful? I think so.
Thursday, January 29
7:40 PM Tomorrow it's back to work with Nathan. He and I have, if you will, both sacred and secular jobs. Some of you may know that Nathan provides leadership in a small church not far from our farm. He leads the music, plays the piano, and does the Bible teaching. (He is very good at all three.) His leadership is greatly appreciated by his congregation. They have asked if they could pay him for his services, but Nathan refuses to be remunerated. I know I'm hardly an impartial observer, but I believe it to be the absolute truth when I say that Nathan is respected by all for his generosity of spirit, his freedom from the love of money, and his commitment to gainful employment. For him, tentmaking has always been the norm, and he seeks to follow the pattern of Paul who earned his own living by the labor of his hands.
This practice, incidentally, was not unknown in the early church. The Apostolic Constitutions writes, "We ourselves, besides our attention to the word of the Gospel, do not neglect our inferior employments. For some of us are fishermen, some tentmakers, some husbandmen, so that we may never be idle." Basil, bishop of Caesarea, in a letter generally assigned to the year 375, says, "Although our clergy do seem very numerous, they are men inexperienced in traveling because they never traffic and prefer to live not far away from home, the majority of them plying sedentary crafts whereby they get their daily bread." Let me state clearly my belief that Paul's principle of "living from the Gospel" (1 Cor. 9:14) allows the support of those who for good and sufficient reasons receive financial assistance. But it is clear that Paul himself usually declined to make use of that principle. I think Nathan and I have in common the desire to work hard with our own hands so that we may have something to give to those who are truly in need. Nathan has always had this work ethic; I have not. I was the ultimate beach bum while growing up in Hawaii. But now I am learning the importance of work, the joy of work, and the necessity of work if I am to follow the example of the apostle Paul -- and the example of my son.
7:12 PM It is a truism that a man thinks out the implications of his faith largely as circumstances compel him to do so. Becky and I have recently joined ourselves to a new fellowship of Jesus-followers, a congregation that seeks hard after God and is committed to following the teachings of Jesus. In a few weeks we will be hosting a seminar about the church, and in connection with this conference I've been collecting a number of bullet points for discussion. My thoughts lay no claim to special merit of any kind. They are simply matters I have been thinking about and questions I'd like to raise to the panel if I have a chance. If not, I can still ponder these things, seeking to know the mind of God that comes only through the Scriptures. So, for what they are worth, here are my theses:
1) All believers are clergy -- priestly ministers.
2) All ministry is fulltime.
3) Serving Jesus is a total vocation.
4) Every member of Christ's Body is a fulltime minister and a fulltime missionary.
5) Every member must be prized and every ministry appreciated.
6) Acknowledging and affirming the contributions of less appreciated or weaker brothers is not optional.
7) The local church must be the primary context for growing into maturity in Christ.
8) When the Body assembles, as much as possible structure must be participational rather than representative and relational rather than organizational.
9) Unremunerated ministers must be considered to be as significant as remunerated ministers.
10) The elders of the church, whether remunerated or unremunerated, should be teaching elders.
11) Not all teaching should be done by acknowledged teaching elders; this is because acknowledged teaching elders are not the only ones in the Body who are "apt to teach."
12) The ministry of the church, at every level, should be shared by remunerated and unremunerated ministers.
13) Every minister must adopt an intentionally sacrificial lifestyle. Like the apostle Paul, they must be willing to forego career advancement and private leisure for the sake of ministering to others.
14) All ministers must renounce the authority of titles and positions of influence.
15) Seminary-trained ministers must affirm that non-seminary training for ministers is possible.
This list will expand in the days and weeks to come.
4:36 PM It's been a fun day. As I type, Becky is in the next room practicing her Greek alphabet. "The Greek nu looks just like a v, doesn't it?" "That's right, honey." "The theta and the phi both have lines going through them, don't they?" "Yes, darling." She's definitely a verbal learner. Earlier I took Sheba and Dadya for a long walk. Sheppie had to stay behind (Sheba is in heat but we're not breeding her right now). Poor Sheppie. You can hear him moaning and howling all over the farm, he misses our company so much. Finally, here's another great quote from Roland Allen (Spontaneous, p. 112): "All men naturally tend to leave direct missionary work to a professional class when there exists a professional class whose special duty it is to do it." Have you ever read anything more true?
O, I see that Nate and Jessie's cat Little Miss has shown up at our front door. I think she's trying to meow her way into the house. This place is becoming a zoo.
11:18 AM My latest essay is called Servants-in-Training.
9:07 AM Yesterday a student asked me how my son Mohammed was doing. Strangely enough, when I answered him my mind went to Philippians. Paul says in 1:19, "I know that this will result in my deliverance (from prison) because of your prayers for me and because of the generous help of the Holy Spirit." Like Joseph of old, Mohammed, though imprisoned for murder, was elevated to a leadership position in the Alaba prison because of the change in his life that everyone had noticed since he became a Jesus-follower. And then, last June when I was in Armenia, I received the wonderful news that Mohammed had been pardoned by the federal government and released 9 years ahead of schedule.
So he is now a free man, attending school and living in the home of an evangelist. And so an old unhappy story has taken a very happy twist. Last December Mohammed honored me by giving me the pardon he had received from the government of Ethiopia.
I will treasure this document as long as I live. Right now Mohammed is committed to being the best citizen of heaven he can possibly be. He knows he must live worthily of his faith and profession. It is impossible to put into words how thankful I am to God for what has transpired in the life of my Ethiopian child in the faith. "The odor of a sweet savor" is what Paul might have called it. All praise be to God.
(Note: If you aren't familiar with Mohammed's story, I've written about it in an essay called Miracle in Alaba.)
8:20 AM Another thought. Missions involves close cooperation between Christian congregations. That's why Becky and I do not take "individuals" with us to Ethiopia. Each short-term missionary is a part of a congregation that supports the work of the Lord in Ethiopia. Thus they represent the entire church when they travel to Africa and, in turn, they are expected to report back to their home congregations after the trip is completed. Moreover, although we require our missionaries to attend several in-depth training sessions in which we learn about Ethiopian culture (customs, language, food, history, religions, etc.), we do not expect a certain a level of formal education from any of these representatives. I am reminded of the words of Roland Allen on the last page of his magisterial work The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church (p. 156):
The spontaneous expansion of the Church reduced to its elements is a very simple thing. It asks for no elaborate organization, no large finances, no great numbers of paid missionaries. In its beginning it may be the work of one man, and that a man neither learned in the things of this world, nor rich in the wealth of this world. The organization of a little church on the apostolic model is also extremely simple, and the most illiterate converts can use it, and the poorest are sufficiently wealthy to maintain it.
The Philippians (as well as all of the Macedonians) were famous for their poverty, but that did not stop them from becoming involved in missionary outreach. Their generosity to Paul went back to the very beginning of his ministry among them. There was a bond between him and them that was unique and beautiful. They had been generous toward him while he was imprisoned, and their generosity had made him very glad, not for his own sake but for their sake. This is the very same joy that Becky and I feel and experience every time we connect an American church with an Ethiopian congregation. What greater gift can we give the Lord Jesus than our participation in the Gospel together, whatever our differences on secondary and tertiary issues?
Below: A team prayer meeting in Burji, Ethiopia. These modern-day apostles (representatives) came from 3 Southern Baptist churches in the greater Roxboro area. Can you tell who is a nurse, a pharmacist, a physician's assistant, a pastor, an agricultural specialist? How rich is the Body of Christ!
7:38 AM As we begin our study of Philippians in my Greek classes next week, there are several assumptions about the church I want to make clear:
1) The Holy Spirit gifts "all the saints" with the full complement of gifts needed to minister to the entire Body.
2) All Christians are "in the ministry."
3) Leaders are extensions of the Body and not over it (see 1:1).
4) Adequate shepherding cannot be a one-man ministry.
5) Active love is contagious (see 2:19-30). Godly examples of selflessness are needed to grow a caring community.
6) Love needs to be modeled by church leaders, though the greatest example will always be Christ (see 2:5-11).
7) Missions involves a mutual commitment in terms of prayer, service, and finances (see 4:10-20). Each local congregation is to be a self-propagating church.
Clearly, Paul did not just "lead people to Christ." He founded churches, and he expected these churches to be committed to missions. Paul wrote to the Philippians to urge them to be unified in the cause of the Gospel. The question I will ask my students is simply this: Are you a Great Commission Christian? Is your family a Great Commission family? Is your marriage a Great Commission marriage? And is your church a Great Commission church? Do you take Paul's words seriously: "The only thing that matters is that you live as good citizens (of heaven) in a manner worthy of the Gospel" (see 1:27).
Not that it matters very much, but I'm toying with the idea of writing a "layman's" commentary on Philippians. I have a sense that a great wave of renewal is about to break out in the church. I am convinced that "unity in the cause of the Gospel" does not belong to the marginalia of Christianity but lies at its core. I believe it is a day for the radical transformation of the people of God into a ministering, serving, and giving people. In this regard, the book of Philippians has been a major source of inspiration not only to me but to countless others. What a wonderful book, and what a joy to study it together with my students.
7:25 AM Nate and Jess are doing a bathroom remodeling job in Raleigh today so we're keeping Sheppie. He really misses Sadie. He's not the only one.
Wednesday, January 28
7:18 PM Just added to our Ethiopia speaking schedule: March 9 at Amelia Baptist Church, Amelia, VA, 10:00 am; March 15 at Providence Baptist Church, Caswell, NC, 11:00 am; March 22 at North Roxboro Baptist Church, Roxboro, NC, 10:45 am.
7:06 PM Earlier this evening Nathan said, "Look outside, Dad." Glad I did.
6:35 PM Publishing update: The third edition of Learn to Read New Testament Greek is right on schedule for a March 1 release, along with its companion workbook. Also, I have a book proposal before Zondervan. The initial response has been positive. The proposal goes before the entire editorial board next week. Meanwhile, I'm writing a chapter for a book being edited by my colleague Ned Matthews. My piece is called "Exegesis and the Text-Driven Sermon."
For fun: the shortest books ever written.
6:28 PM Here's one man's opinion on the role of women in the church (.pdf). In the conclusion he states:
"The truth is that women are no less a vital part of the church then are men."
I heartily agree.
"Men are in dire need of women to show them Christ."
Amen and amen.
"Keep in mind that the church – the ekklesia – is a female."
Say what? Hand me the aspirin, quick!
6:22 PM Nice little serendipity: Jon Glass has just published his tenth report on Ethiopia. You can read it here.
6:12 PM Over at Simple Church, Alan Knox explains why he's not that kind of a pastor. He's got some excellent thoughts. That there exists today an unrealistic expectation of the role of a pastor is a gross understatement. This often results in an oppressive "oughtness" of responsibility. The pastor becomes Mr. Everything as he assumes an imagined role that is neither tenable nor biblical. I wonder what would happen if we were to change our thinking and consider our pastors as "training ministers" and our so-called laypeople as the "real ministers"? As Alan writes:
I'm part of the church. I'm not the main guy or some outside expert or professional. I'm just another brother who is struggling in his walk with Christ just like everyone else. Hopefully, since I've been recognized by the church, my walk is at least a little more mature and is a good example for others to follow. This also means that I'm free to say, "No", if someone asks me to do something.
Brother Alan is obviously not Mr. Everything to his congregation, nor should he be. In his book Everyone A Minister (p. 80), Oscar Feucht has noted rightfully:
An adequate ministry is not a one man ministry. It is not even a corps of associated pastors. It is the whole church, congregation by congregation, mobilized and trained for mission. Only this strategy is adequate.
I can't ever imagine Alan speaking of pastoring as a lonely or burdensome ministry. A core of shepherds produces more competent pastoral care than a one-man ministry ever could.
6:05 PM Phillip Fletcher offers some perceptive observations on church eldership.
5:54 PM Wednesday shout-out to all my Greek students at Bethel Hill. Isn't Greek fun? And what about that wacky Alphabet Song? As you study this week, a few reminders of what the class is all about and not about. It's not about information – I don't want Bethel Hill to become a small-scale seminary. It's not about being initiated into the mysteries of theological jargon so that we can join the "elite." It's not about knowledge for knowledge's sake. No, Jesus is the ultimate purpose of the course – to know Him better so that we can make Him known. I believe each local congregation has been commissioned by the Lord Jesus to preach to the whole world and to participate in the advancement of God's kingdom. Greek, then, must always focus on equipping us for dispersion, for witness, for life in society through exhortation, admonition, and especially modeling. Luther once said it is by living and dying, not by reason and speculation, that we become theologians. He said that what counts in church life is not knowledge but maturity of character. I heartily agree. Greek can help give us an underlying supportive foundation and grid for everything we do as we serve Jesus. So, to that end, let's buckle down and get that alphabet memorized! And remember: you can email me if you have any questions.
5:32 PM It was 23 years ago today that the world was reminded of the importance of O-rings. Despite warnings from the ground personnel that the Challenger's equipment could be damaged by freezing temperatures, the space shuttle was launched, and the rest is history. At fault were a few crucial but hardly noticeable design flaws.
A lesson I've had to learn the hard way is this: It's always a serious mistake to underestimate the importance of little things. Real estate agents know that you get the kind of house you pay for. Shoddy construction is due to cheap materials. I think we are afflicted nowadays with a cheap Christianity. We are erecting edifices of wood, hay, and stubble. We refuse to pay the price for the best building materials. Forget the gold, silver, and precious stones. A little religion, a gesture of piety will do just fine, thank you. I am discovering that discipleship is costly. True Christianity has its price. Character is expensive. Jesus never opened a Bargain Basement, and His prices were never "marked down." I have often experienced His rebuke precisely because I was trying to live "on the cheap." Thankfully, whom the Lord loves He chastens so that we might learn to hate our sins and love our Savior.
Have you checked your O-rings lately?
5:18 PM Steve Scott has a blog entry that captured my attention. The topic is how we sometimes (blindly) follow this or that Christian personality. Steve writes:
What I've found is that a subculture has come into existence that is defined by these people and groups. Terminology is embraced, and their writings become formulas for living. Walls are built and blinders put on. Change is resisted, unless it is only to conform to the already defined formulas. Outsiders are labeled and ignored, or spoken of with a disclaimer. A narrow mindedness often prevails, one which is not open to differing views. I'm speaking in general terms here and don't apply this to everybody. There are a number of people who follow these people religiously.
It seems beyond question that Steve is on to something. Unanimity is not uniformity. One of the reasons I love the Anabaptists so much is that they weren't always quoting so-and-so but preferred to simply quote Scripture. It is fashionable to secure the endorsement of the "experts." But the experts are not automatically (or always) correct. Thanks for the timely reminder, brother Steve.
Tuesday, January 27
5:16 AM The new semester begins officially for me today. My favorite verse as a teacher is of course Luke 6:40, where our Lord says that when a disciple is fully taught he will be just like his teacher. Jesus taught the multitudes, but at the same time He gathered to Himself a small band of men and women into whom He poured His life and truth. He taught them by personal example how to live and work and serve and witness. The result was that they learned how to multiply the Lord's work many times as they poured their lives into the lives of others. My goal this semester is to be a living example before the young Christians committed to my care by the Lord Jesus. Will you cover me in prayer to that end? I desperately want my students to learn to approve what is of real value in life, to be filled and flooded with the very Presence of the Lord Jesus, and to live in a manner worthy of the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the privilege of the teacher, and it is a joy to serve Jesus by serving my students!
5:12 AM Becky's Burji Blurb continues with a report on the Galana clinic personnel.
While we’re at the clinic, let me tell you about the Clinic Team. By the grace of God, your prayers, and our hard work, the Galana Clinic was opened in Burji just a few months before we arrived. It is staffed with 2 nurses (Gezaheen and Birhanoo), a chaplain (Solomon), an accountant (Teshoma), a pharmacist (Memiroo), two guards, and a cleaner girl. The clinic is under the supervision of the Burji District church leaders, and Oshe is the primary leader we talk with since his English is so good.
Our role on this trip was 2-fold: to act as a medical resource in training and assistance in providing medical care of patients, and to help set up smooth operations.
Molly is a Physicians Assistant here in Roxboro, NC. For 5 days she worked alongside Gezaheen in handling patient care. Let me tell you, there is no way to prepare someone adequately for working in a rural clinic in Africa. It was tough work! Word had spread that there was an American doctor in the Galana clinic, and people came in droves to see her. Combine that scenario with the utterly primitive working conditions, and it’s a recipe to challenge even the sturdiest of heart. She had a high learning curve and handled the situation well. After 5 days, she transferred to the Village Team, and I joined the Clinic Team.
My role was more administrative assistant than nurse. We evaluated the flow of patients, standards of cleanliness, medical equipment and organization, policies and procedures, job descriptions, etc. At the end of my time, we had a 2-hour staff meeting that was very profitable, and the time of prayer was especially precious. Matthew was an “unofficial” part of the Clinic Team, in that he spent some special time with the chaplain Solomon, discussing spiritual issues and praying together. In the first 3 months of operation, Solomon has led 15 people to our Lord Jesus! And these people are being absorbed in the local churches. What a joy to see!
5:02 AM It appears to me that we are off to a very good start in our Greek class. I received, in answer to prayer, an enthusiastic group of students from all walks of life, all of them eager to learn how to read their Greek New Testaments with the use of a lexicon. That's my promise to them. I leave the outcome entirely in the hands of the Lord, but I will do my very best to lead them along.
The class includes Becky as well as 4 shepherd-teachers and several home scholars. Their homework this week is to master the Greek alphabet and pronunciation. My thanks to Bethel Hill for providing the venue -- and the refreshments at break time!
Monday, January 26
4:36 PM Writing in his column Eye on the Empire, Alan Bock offers some useful historical context to the debate over torture and prisoners in his essay Sadism, Not Substance, Behind Torture Advocacy. It's no wonder that the Bush administration officials (one of whom I heard this morning on the Diane Rehm show) giddily defend the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" to wrest information out of our enemies. Moral questions aside (though morality is never an aside), Bock notes how ineffective torture really is. He writes: "Whether it is sadism, childhood memories of powerlessness that need to be countered by embracing power, or some other essentially psychological phenomenon, it is surely not a strictly rational position to take. A rational analysis would yield the opposite conclusion, that torture is to be avoided not only because it provides a rationale for opposing forces to torture our military, but because it just doesn't work." The really sad thing is that Mr. Bock will be accused of anti-patriotism and irresponsibility for defending law and principle.
4:22 PM More good stuff here from Matthew McDill about church leadership. Many of the truths he is unearthing convey enormous paradoxes. A major one is Paul’s teaching in Acts 20 that "it is more blessed to give than receive" (a teaching Paul learned, somewhere, from Jesus Himself). How odd, I've often thought, that these very words are used to exhort Christians to support the church budget (and its staff and building programs, etc.) when the words were first given in the context of exhorting elders to give their ministry free of charge. Such examples of eisegesis could be multiplied time and again. For someone to minister to others as a free gift is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. It is also the only way we will ever be able to reach a lost world for Christ.
4:12 PM Michael Jones writes to say he agrees with the New Testament pattern of baptizing then teaching. We need both, of course, but the order is not unimportant. How can we tell new believers to obey "all" that Jesus commanded them when we fail to tell them about His first and most basic command?
9:38 AM I'm off to campus to attend our Junior Scholars Program. I'll sit on a panel and share what little I know about teaching with my younger colleagues. I'm just as eager to learn from them how I can become a better classroom teacher. One thing I can say: I agree with Alan Knox that relationships are the key to effective teaching.
9:18 AM Monday shout-out to Chris, Joel, Kimberly, Ed, Jason, Kimber, Taylor, Bonnie, Erica, Linda, Jacob, Susan, Summer, Sabrina, Margaret, Martha, Joni, Leanna, Laurie, Luke, Frank, Jason, Sandy, Debbie, Michael, Hannah, Tim, Joe, Melissa, Stephanie, Louie, Woody, Sherry, Josh, Lynn, Sammy, Richard, Mary, Raymond, Tina, Sarah, Alissa, David, Lee, Dale, Betty, Matthea, Jon, Matthew, Lona, Pam, Chris, Frank, and Becky Lynn. See you tonight in Greek class. Be prepared to tackle the Greek alphabet and to watch your instructor royally embarrass himself as he tries to sing the Greek Alphabet Song.
Below: The opening verses of Philippians in my favorite book in the entire world, my Greek New Testament. Not only is every word inspired by God the Holy Spirit, but also the tense, voice, mood, person, number, gender, case, word order, phrase order, clause order, discourse structure, ad infinitum. That's one good reason to know Greek: to unpack what God the Holy Spirit so beautifully and wonderfully packed into the Word. Greek students, I'm warning you: you are about to wade into a limitless ocean. My job is to teach you how to swim.
Sunday, January 25
7:25 PM I just helped Nate and Jess spread horse manure in the back field. As I worked I reflected that it won't be very long until our fields are ready for cutting and baling.
I love harvest time here on the farm. There is nothing like it. It's an extremely busy period when we must be ready at a moment's notice to get down to some hard physical labor. So it is with missions, I think. There is always an urgency about missions. Jesus said that the fields are white unto harvest right NOW -- not at some distant time in the future. Every farmer knows exactly what that means.
When the crop is ripe in the field, everything else stops. You either harvest the crop or it goes bad on you. Jesus told us in Mark 16:15 (a verse I believe is authentic) that we are to go into "the whole world" with the Good News. With love in my heart, the only thing I can say to the person who tries to get out of the work is this: We will all have to answer to God for what we did or did not do for a lost world. God does not need our service. It is ourprivilege to serve Him. The only way to live as a true disciple of Jesus is to obey Him by becoming a bond-slave servant to the world. The Book of Acts (which we are studying together on Wednesday nights under the guidance of brother Jason) shows us how active the first Christians were. Why should we be any less active today? It's so easy to love comfort more than God, to love our churches more than the kingdom, to talk about servant-leadership when pride swells our hearts. The supreme importance of the Great Commission raises troubling questions indeed! I do not have the answers to these questions. But I do know this: When I see hay that needs cutting and baling, I get down and dirty and I see that the job gets done. How can I not relate the same principle to the crying demands of the unfinished missionary task?
5:17 PM The church is a group of dedicated men and women who desire deeply to get beyond mere church membership to active discipleship, recovering the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit and exercising their gifts as disciples and missionaries. That was the gist of Becky's talk today at Bethel Hill Baptist Church as she focused on what the Lord Jesus is doing in His church in Ethiopia. It was an excellent presentation. Becky began by saying that missions is simply all God's people exercising their spiritual priesthood every day wherever they are -- in all the various areas of life and in all the opportunities God gives us to serve Him. This is what it means to be the "church" -- Christians infecting society with the liberating, saving, and ministering power of Christ. In short, missions is carried out in the world wherever there are disciples of Jesus Christ. She ended by saying that the one who gives is more blessed than the one who receives. This is God's basic principle of Christian giving. The church in Ethiopia has been blessed by the gifts they have received from our mission teams -- Bibles, instruction, eye glasses, clinic supplies, etc. But we are even more blessed because of the joy we have been privileged to experience in giving. All I can say is that it is positively dangerous for people to hear these reports and watch these videos of Ethiopia, because God desires to multiply His workforce and that workforce might include you! Jason closed the service with the great reminder that true missions is not spending a couple of weeks living on foreign soil but by being a "company of the committed" right where we live and work. Living for Jesus is not an option. It is a necessity. (I think Jason and Joel, our pastors, consider themselves missions directors and enablers. Their team is as large as their congregation.)
The pictures Becky uses in her presentation always move me. Here are 3 of them. The first shows Miss Mary, one of my favorite international missionaries. Her ministry? Being the hands and feet of Jesus and loving on the people of Ethiopia, especially the precious children. By the way, talk about happy children. They have literally NOTHING except the clothes on their back, yet for the most part they are the most well-behaved, contented, and delightful children to be around. I wish you could meet them in person.
Here's Molly, Jason's wife, a PA here in the States but in Ethiopia an "NA" -- a nurses' assistant. Her work was to come alongside and encourage the two fulltime nurses who work in the clinic. Talk about having to adapt to a difficult and strange working environment. But Molly did a great job of it. An exemplary "cross-cultural" missionary if I've ever seen one.
Finally, meet Solomon, the clinic chaplain/evangelist. He too is a fulltime worker -- "fulltime" because the main purpose of the clinic is spiritual, not medical. Praise the Lord -- through his witnessing 15 individuals have already joined the family of God in Burji. Here Solomon stands in front of "his" blackboard, where he writes daily Scripture verses. This one reads, "Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
I want to personally thank the leadership at Bethel Hill for allowing us the privilege of sharing in the assembly today. There's nothing I'd rather be doing than talking about what God is doing in the world today. (I take that back. I'd rather be doing it than talking about it.)
7:45 AM This is a must read by all pastors who labor in the "pulpit": To Preach or Not to Preach? Here's a sample:
The more traditional rhetorical sermon is a difficult vehicle for consistent growth in the church since it tends to be orator, preacher, or message focused, rather than group focused. It is a unilog instead of a dialog. It is one-way communication that, by its very nature, is just as concerned, if not more concerned, with style and an effective delivery than with careful attention to the needs of God’s people in understanding and applying Scripture for themselves. If the rhetorical sermon is the center and focus of our time together then spiritual growth will be much slower, there will remain a chasm between the preacher and the rest of the church because the rhetorical sermon method feeds the unbiblical clergy-laity distinction, and the majority of God’s people in the “audience” will never get grounded in Scripture like they could if they were given the chance to ask questions and participate in the teaching.
7:38 AM Just noticed Lionel Wood's piece called Shepherding From the Pulpit is Like Having an Online Marriage. The crowds in Jesus' day had plenty of "Bible teachers" and plenty of religious leaders. But Jesus saw what they didn't have -- shepherds. Good post, Lionel.
Saturday, January 24
7:25 PM Yesterday, as I said, was a busy day for me. It began by helping Nate unload some doors and roofing tin into our old barn. (Don't quote me, but I believe this barn dates back to around 1790, making it one of the oldest buildings on the farm.)
Then it was off to Durham Country, NC, where Nate salvaged a ton of used lumber, some of it dating back 100 years or more. Here we're loading some tongue-and-groove flooring that Nate will probably resell on Craig's List.
These beams will come in handy on the farm and are in excellent condition.
Our work over, it was time for supper. Our Burji reunion dinner was a wonderful time of eating, sharing, and praying together for Ethiopia. We sat at a long table and enjoyed 4 different soup options, including my favorite, corn chowder. Our experiences in Burji forged deep relationships. It was neat to hear about how many of the team members have been asked to speak in various churches and civic clubs about their trip.
As always, Dayda was a big hit with the children.
Finally, I took this picture at about 10:00 am. A most unique formation, wouldn't you agree? It was a wonderful reminder to me of the grace and love of our Lord Jesus.
Tomorrow morning we're giving an Ethiopia update at Bethel Hill. Please cover us with your prayers. I hope you have a wonderful Lord's Day wherever you are.
9:53 AM In light of our upcoming conference on the church, I think Jim Cymbala's comments are important:
Let me make a bold statement. Christianity is not predominantly a teaching religion. We have been almost overrun by the cult of the speaker.... It is fine to explain about God, but far too few people today are experiencing the living Christ in their lives. We are not seeing God's visitations in our gatherings. We are not on the lookout for his outstretched hand.The teaching of doctrine is a prelude, if you will, to the supernatural.
This is from Jim's excellent book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God's Spirit Invades the Hearts of His People (Zondervan, 1997, pp. 151-52). The main question I am asking in my forthcoming book (The Downward Path of Jesus) is this: Is the evangelical church in America prepared to deal with biblical truth, not just on the intellectual level, but on the level of daily living? Frankly, I think that seminary classes and seminars and Bible conferences sometimes do more to distract us than to deepen our sense of dependence upon God. We are so often told to press this button and everything will work, and we have pushed so many buttons and nothing has worked. Hence the awful split between church and academy, between thought and action, between truth and practice. As Jim says, it is the living Christ we need, not more information. May that be the focus of our conference and of our lives.
Friday, January 23
8:55 AM Good morning, guys and gals. This will be a very busy day with little time for blogging. I did, however, find the time to post a new essay on my home page. It's calledReturning Evangelism to the Local Church. I found it very convicting to write: it's definitely one of those three-fingers-pointing-at-yourself kind of essays!
Enjoy your day as you serve Him.
Thursday, January 22
6:23 PM Just buried Sadie. The Lord who gave has taken away, and we bless His name.
10:42 AM Here are 5 reasons to attend the Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology Conference on March 21 at Bethel Hill Baptist Church.
1) I will not be speaking.
2) No one will try to sell you a package or a system (or even a book!).
3) You will not be asked to jump on a bandwagon.
4) No one will say, "This is the way to do church."
5) You will never be asked to copy the "success" of someone else.
If you're a pastor thinking that this conference will give you the "solution" to your church troubles, you will be more miserable if you attend. One of the greatest fallacies of modern evangelicalism is the notion that we can copy someone else's "success." The sole purpose of this conference is to get on our knees and on our faces and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the right solutions to our needs.
One other thought. We have been told that Christianity is rocket science. We have been told that only specialists can understand it. We have been told that is it very complicated. It isn't. It's really very simple -- so simple it will shock us. I believe that Alan has some important insights into all of this. But I can guarantee that there will be no hype, just a humble, soft-spoken man who will share from his experience how the Lord Jesus is building His church in Wake Forest, NC. And I am really looking forward to being challenged to get on my knees and on my face and ask the Lord Jesus how He wants to build His church in Bethel Hill, NC.
8:09 AM As you know, we have been working very hard to provide light and power to the Burji district. In part 3 of Becky's Burji Blurb, you are treated to an eye-witness account of how the Lord arranged everything for us. Don't miss the miracle Becky describes in her final paragraph.
Now for the Solar Team. This Team consisted of Matthew and Ed. For many, many months, Ed had been preparing for his work. His job was to place solar power at 3 places in the Burji District. Two of these places were at growing, strategic churches, so that they could have lights and a loudspeaker. With these tools, they could have evening Bible classes, community leadership meetings, and broadcast Christian music and educational programs. A leader of one of these churches came to me, almost weeping, and said “Before, we were as nothing. Now we have dignity. Now we have lights and a loudspeaker!” (If our Lord is willing, when we return in May, I will record Bible and health teaching by the leaders in their own languages; this will be duplicated onto CDs and will be played at these churches for instruction and outreach. Please pray for me to learn this technology well.)
Their first 4 days were spent at the Galana church, which is next door to the Galana clinic. Here Ed and Matthew installed enough solar power for lights in both the church and the clinic, a loudspeaker for the church and the clinic chaplain, and power for clinic equipment (like a refrigerator, centrifuge, battery recharging, etc.). One night Jon was returning from visiting the Guji Team, and in the far distance, in a sea of blackness, he saw the clinic lights. What a time of rejoicing! Imagine the hope that those lights bring to the people…the lights of a clinic offering health and healing, love, and comfort!
After the clinic, they moved to the village of Gara and then the village of Nedele. The Village Team followed them to Gara and Nedele and thought they were living in high cotton, having lights after dark and a loudspeaker for evening preaching!
In addition to helping Ed with the manual work of installing the solar power and loudspeakers, Matthew did some preaching in the evenings and also mentored the clinic chaplain. He was a good example of a servant; although his heart was in preaching and teaching, he was willing to do whatever needed to be done in helping Ed. We’re hoping that Matthew will return with us in May to focus on preaching and teaching.
By the way, do you know how difficult it is to plan a project like this for a place at the end of the world? By the grace of God, everything Ed planned worked perfectly; no supplies fell short; no equipment was missing. And in the end, even though I greatly misjudged the distance from the church to the clinic, Ed had enough wire for all the places…with only 2 feet to spare! Only God can arrange something to work so perfectly. As we returned to Addis, we found a solar store that was adequate for our needs; so in the future, we hope to get the supplies in country. The cost isn’t any better, but the convenience and headache is much better.
7:20 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Obama's Sermon on the Steps.
7:14 AM Good news. We've finally found parts for the Alaba church vehicle. Replacement parts are hard to come by in Ethiopia, but the church elders finally located what they needed in the city of Awassa. It was a small congregation in Wake Forest, NC, that originally donated the funds to make the purchase of this Toyota Land Cruiser possible. This is one of the goals Becky and I are constantly pursuing: connecting local churches in America with local churches in Ethiopia.
Below: The Alaba vehicle at work serving the church in faraway Burji. The Alaba elders made the Land Cruiser available at no cost and even provided the driver. Here the car is transporting the Village Team to their assignments last November. This is the kind of mutual cooperation between churches you do not often see in Ethiopia. It was a blessing and provides an example of the kind of unity Jesus prayed for in John 17.
7:00 AM Now this was a happy read. Reunion Church in Washington State has a page on its website describing the "opportunities" it has for its people to serve the Lord. Note carefully how it is worded:
The Opportunities you will find at Reunion Church are all about being the hands and feet of Jesus. This kind of incarnational-ministry means that in the midst of brokenness, we live in the power of Jesus' resurrection wholeness so that the world can see, touch, hear, smell and taste the physical presence of Christ in us. You will never find satisfaction in life, unless you find a way to help others. With that in mind, we encourage you to join in with us and share the talents God has given you so you can be a blessing to others. If you are looking for a list of ministries, then click here to find out why we do not offer any. If you are looking for opportunities, then you are at the right place.
Wow! Which brings me to my own local church, where I will begin teaching a free Greek class on Monday night. Serving others in the Body of Christ (and beyond) is the heart of the Christian experience. Dead with Christ, we rise to walk in newness of life. Parents living in the lives of their children, pastors in the hearts of their flocks, missionaries in the souls of their converts – all of us living for others. I will thus join the myriad of believers at Bethel Hill who are faithfully serving Jesus as His "hands and feet" by visiting the sick or singing in the praise team of teaching a Sunday School class or doing a puppet show or preparing a meal for shut-ins or going to Ethiopia – in short, living Christian lives in home, school, office – everywhere. These include the older saints who refuse to say, "I've had my day, let the younger generation do the work." We have not had all our day until our day is over! None of us is retired from the duty of being Jesus' hands and feet as long as we are still on this earth. Each of us has a job to do. It might not be teaching Greek, but we can and ought to dosomething. So look for the opportunities at your own local church to serve others. It might even be a "ministry" that no one has thought of before. What would you do if you could? Or if you dared? Find it and do it!
One last thought: Instead of asking people, "Where do you go to church?", try asking "Where do you serve?"
6:51 AM Catching up on some noteworthy posts:
1) Jon Basil Utley shows us how bin Laden bankrupted America.
2) Indiana Wesleyan University is seeking to fill a full-time position in its new Master of Divinity program.
3) Benjy Overcast asks Does your Pastor Read Greek and Hebrew?
4) From the pen of C. S. Hayden: Critiquing the Use of God's Name in the Presidential Inauguration Oath.
5) Justin Raimondo predicts a False Dawn: Obama's election doesn't mean peace is breaking out all over – far from it.
6:50 AM Please don't forget to pray about the Burji-Guji situation in southern Ethiopia. As far as I know, the hostility between these tribes is still very high. When I was there last November four Burjis were shot to death. Right now I am working with the church leadership in both tribes to hold a major unity conference in June. The venue will be No-Man's Land bordering the territories. Potentially thousands of Christians from both tribes could attend. I'm glad Christianity is not a Pollyanna religion, painting the clouds with sunshine. Trouble is a reality, but we can be of good cheer because He has overcome all this world can throw at us. Peace will come to southern Ethiopia when people start getting right with God. I am praying hard for this conference to take place.
Below: Explaining how to plant kale and field peas to a group of Guji farmers in the village of Hitta Korma. In Gujiland almost 100 percent of the population consists of subsistence farmers.
6:44 AM How will history remember George W. Bush? For two widely disparate opinions, one from the right and one from the left, go here (Wall Street Journal) and here (AlterNet). It seems to me that the latter author does a more satisfactory job in the presidential history department. One really hates to be so negative all the time, but Bush's ingenious Crusade to rid the world of evil can only be describe as catastrophic. Enter the Gospel. The only Christian nation is the blood-bought people redeemed by the blood of Christ. We need to be what we are – whether Americans or Ethiopians – and that is a heavenly colony, a holy nation that is meant to be an ambassador beseeching men and women to be reconciled with God. Americans these days seem to live to show forth the praises of Barack Obama, but God’s holy nationals live to show forth the praises of the One who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.
6:34 AM Good morning, bloggers and bloggerettes! I'm a happy man because I'm back in the warm recesses of my home in Virginia enjoying the company of my family after a long three days on campus. The big storm we were expecting finally hit us this week, dumping a couple inches of snow in North Carolina and Virginia. Heaven's gyroscope dances forward snowflake by snowflake. A beautiful dance indeed.
Wednesday, January 21
4:23 PM Today Rosewood Farm mourns the death of our Sheltie Sadie. The pain is real and will take time to heal. Pets are wonderful blessings of the Lord. But with deep love comes deep loss whenever you lose one. Pets are a blessing from God in more ways than one. They are reminders of the cycle of life and death that we must all pass through. Please pray for Nate and Jessie, whose dog Sadie was. They are going through the natural grief process, as we all are here at the farm. But we know that as time goes on we will be able to look back on Sadie's life with gladness and not sadness. Meanwhile we give abundant thanks to the One who created her and gave her to us.
Monday, January 19
4:55 AM Off to school. The marathon begins again. I'll blog again on Wednesday, Lord willing. In the meantime, I've written a brief essay called Teach, Then Baptize? I hope you enjoy it. Most of all, I hope you have a great week and, wherever you go, Happy Trails!
4:51 AM Our Greek class at Bethel Hill starts a week from today. Some things you will NOT learn in this class are:
1) Greek is the Abracadabra or Open Sesame of biblical interpretation. Hardly. Greek will not automatically tell you what the text says though it will limit your options.
2) Greek is inherently difficult to learn. Wrong. Greek is impeccably logical. It has mathematical precision. After all, God invented the language, and He does all things decently and in order. Anyone can learn it who is hardworking and motivated.
3) Greek is never abused by preachers and theologians. Wrong again. This happens all the time. This is one reason to learn Greek for yourself -- so that you can check the accuracy of those who use Greek in their teaching (see this discussion for a current example). Greek is often (more often than we think) used to support one's a priori conclusions as to what a text means. It's what I call "evangelical Greek," and no one, myself included, is immune from it.
4) Greek is strange and unique. Absolutely not! Greek is like a long-lost relative you're meeting for the first time. Like English, it is an Indo-European language and thus shares many cognates and derivatives with your own mother tongue.
5) The New Testament had to be written in Greek because it is superior to other languages. (Sometimes this is phrased as follows: "The New Testament could never have been written in Hebrew because Hebrew lacks the complex semotaxis of Greek.") True, Greek morphology and syntax is a bit complicated, but the real reason the New Testament was inscripturated in Greek (rather than, say, Hebrew) is a man named Alexander the Great.
6) Greek makes you a more spiritual person. Nonsense. Just remember 1 Cor. 8:1: Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up. Will Greek make you a more loving person? No. Will Greek help you learn truth that can change your life? Absolutely!
I am really looking forward to this class. I've opened it up to anybody in the community, and I anticipate a wide variety of language aptitudes. One thing I do not expect of anyone is familiarity with grammar of any kind, not even English grammar. Really, you will be learning two languages for the price of one, and even that "price" is free!
4:44 AM This week I will have the joy of meeting with a missionary couple who is on home assignment. They are what I call "missions mobilizers." That is, they do not only want to be missionaries, they want to get other people involved in world evangelism and missionary work. Becky and I are the same way. We believe every church and every Christian ought to be a part of this great task. Whenever we speak, we always begin our talks by emphasizing the fact that mission work is the work of God. The Holy Spirit is the CEO of world missions, as George Verwer likes to say. (George is the founder of OM.) We also believe that missions begins and ends on our knees. I often speak from Matt. 9:35-38, where Jesus tells us to plead with the Lord of the harvest to sent out workers into His harvest field. Christians will never take ownership of world missions until they are burdened by the Spirit with a sense of personal responsibility. How sad when Christians fight over church music styles when there is a lost world to be reached. Our appeal is to learn how to agree to disagree on secondary matters and get on with the primary task of mobilizing our churches for missions and presenting the Good News to the whole world. Thankfully, Becky and I see attitudes of humility, teachability, and openness to missions wherever we speak. One thing is certain: God is doing great things in the world today. Praise His Name!
Below: Speaking in a Baptist church in Bucharest. I love being in Romania. My mother's family comes from Cluj. This makes me half Romanian.
4:33 AM In part 3 of Becky's Burji Blurb we are reminded of the importance of the Scriptures.
We took 1,100 Bibles to Burji for those people who had completed memorizing the 9 required passages. (These passages are Psalm 1, Psalm 23, 1 Cor. 13, Rom. 8:28-39, Phil. 4:4-8; James 1:2-8 and 12-28, John 3:1-21, and John 14:1-21.) At every village we listened to the people recite a sample memory passage. What a joy it was to hear children, women with babies on their backs, the handicapped, the elderly and young people alike recite the Scriptures! As they recited, we could see people in the congregation mouthing the words. And if they hesitated even a split second, others took up the passage.
Then we recited our memory passage (2 Cor. 5:14-21); this was our theme for the trip. They were so excited to watch their American brethren reciting the Scriptures! We presented oodles and oodles of Bibles to those who had earned them. We tried to bring enough Bibles to each village, but in one village we under-estimated and 16 people were without Bibles. You should have heard the uproar…crying, hollering, wailing! It was as if someone had died. Quickly we returned to get the additional Bibles needed. It was so much fun to see their love for the Scriptures and to see the leaders’ strict standard of Bible memory. Truly, this aspect of our work is one of the most satisfying. What could be more important than distributing the eternal Word of God! Please pray for these precious people as they now read their own Bibles. The Evil One will do his best to keep them from reading, but we must stand firm in praying for them, so that the Word will have its completed work in their lives.
Sunday, January 18
5:36 PM Not much news here. We had a wonderful visit with our friends at Cavel. More than at any period in my life I am struck by this verse: "The only thing that matters is that you live your life as a good citizen of heaven." I simply desire, as never before, to maximize my life's energy for the kingdom. There are a good many needs in Ethiopia -- a vehicle for Burji, more Bibles, clinic salaries until the staff can become completely self-supporting, etc. Where it all comes from is not our concern. We know the Lord will provide in His due time and we are in perfect peace. It is our joy to work tirelessly for Ethiopia.
After the service we had lunch with Jon Glass and his family. Their little Caleb is a real charmer.
Then we drove home for a nap and a good rest. This will be an eventful week. J-term ends (which means more exams and grading), the new semester starts, and we are hosting a dinner party at Bradford Hall on Friday night. Meanwhile I've got to make final preparations for my spring semester classes.
All in all, a very productive and satisfying weekend, and I am grateful.
9:30 AM Right now we're listening to the Haven of Rest Quartet, the same music we listened to avidly when we lived in Basel. It always floods us with memories. Currently they're singing "O love that wilt not let me go." We're leaving for Cavel in a few minutes. There is bright sunshine and even some warmth in it. Glorious day to serve Jesus.
7:52 AM The news this morning is all about Mr. Obama, as it should be. The presidential inauguration is now in its final stages of ebullition. I have some rather foreboding feelings about the new administration, given the existing Weltanschauungen of the inhabitants of Washington. Even as the war in Iraq winds down the war in Afghanistan will wind up. Tuesday's festivities will function like a kind of Greek Chorus to the drama of the future. What more can I do than to pray for the president as he assumes office? Meanwhile the idolatry of nationalism shows no signs of abating. I suppose it is too much to expect from our national leadership fidelity to the U.S. Constitution. Do reread it, if you haven't looked at it in a while. It's a real eye-opener.
7:48 AM What a blast we had last night. After enjoying the spécialité de la maison it was movie and dessert time. Here's what Jessie prepared for her hubby.
We couldn't find Rear Window so we ended up watching Roman Holiday. Now Jessie knows where our family got the saying, "In toto!"
7:23 AM We're back to our normal weather pattern. It's 33 degrees as I write, going up to a high of 44, with rain showers in the forecast. Not a flake of snow yet this winter.
Saturday, January 17
5:30 PM It hardly seems possible, but we've already purchased our tickets for our next trip to Ethiopia. We leave May 23, one day after graduation. Becky will be taking a team to Burji, and I'll lead a team to Alaba. I'll stay an extra week to teach in the Orthodox seminary in Addis. Look for more reports and stories about our November-December ministry, which was a very full trip. I wish I could show you all of the pix I took. Each tells an unforgettable story. That the Lord Jesus should use for His glorious service someone as unworthy as I can only be ascribed to His amazing grace.
4:20 PM Guess what? Becky and I are going on a double date tonight. Nate and Jessie are joining us for dinner at the most exclusive Chinese restaurant in southern Virginia: The Black Shack. (Yes, I'll be cooking with my secret ingredient.) Afterwards it's off to the movies (in our library) to watch the Hitchcock thriller, Rear Window. Jessie's never seen it before. Already I can't stand the suspense!
4:12 PM Now here's a special gift from the Lord. While rummaging through the barn I saw that Nathan had moved some of my musical instruments there, including my old ukulele.
If I sound nostalgic, I think I have every right to. I was born in Honolulu and raised in Kailua. I got this uke when I was 10 years old. Everyone in Hawaii plays the ukulele. It's the easiest musical instrument in the world to learn. From there I "graduated" to the guitar, the piano, and finally the trumpet, which I played all the way through high school and beyond. My mother must have spent a fortune to buy this uke for me -- it's a top-of-the-lineKamaka, and it still plays perfectly. I've even made up my own songs on it; instead of "I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakakua, Hawaii," I would sing, "I want to go back to my little Black shack in Kailua over the Pali." Thanks, Lord, for letting me rediscover this treasure from the past. Can't wait to teach the grandkids how to play it.
Below: Kailua Beach on the windward side of the island of Oahu. The most perfect beach in the world.
2:55 PM I just reread Mr. Bush's farewell address. I have no doubt that he was sincere in what he said. Yet I have my grave concerns. I've written in other places about the extraordinary importance of keeping cross and flag separate. While many evangelicals remain overwhelmingly Republican and pro-war, I would like our model of Christian engagement to be: "They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth." At the very least we can eschew the language of "righteous empire" and of an American "mission" to rid the world of evil. Enemy-love is at the heart of the Gospel, not the periphery. Jesus' teachings are either authoritative for Christians or they aren't. God is not partisan or ideological. Why should we be?
2:34 PM So, what do you do on a cold winter's day? You start by taking your puppies for a long walk on the farm. Here they are -- I've got all my "dogs in a row"....
Then you help the farm manager unload a pile of roofing tin he scavenged from an old house in Oxford....
Then you take a picture of the chairs he got for absolutely free when rummaging through the attic of a condemned building (he'll need them -- he and Jessie wants lots of children)....
Then you take the chairs and put them in the upstairs of the barn....
Then you grab the camera again....
Then you take advantage of the frozen ground to haul out the cedar posts you've cut from the land you've been clearing....
Then you get a picture of yourself with Mr. Sheppie, the "old man" of the farm -- make that the two "old men"....
Then you go back to Bradford Hall and remove the logs your son piled in your carport while you were in Ethiopia ("You know you're a redneck when you park the car in your driveway and the firewood in your carport")....
Then you help the culprit load the firewood into his trailer so that he can deliver it to Rolesville tomorrow ....
Then you go inside and get warm again.... Th-th-th-that's all folks!
9:09 AM In part 2 of Becky's Burji Blurb, she takes us into the countryside with the Village Team.
The core of the Village Team in the Burji District consisted of Lynette, Leigh, and Jamie. I joined the team for the first 5 days, and Molly joined the team for the last 4 days. We traveled to 5 villages, staying 2 days in each village.
While in the villages, we slept on mats on the floor of the churches, and the women of the church prepared our food. We functioned by flashlight and kerosene lantern after dark. Leigh brought a light-weight pup tent, which aroused the curiosity of all the Ethiopians and became a source of comfort for Lynette when she heard a wild animal outside! The food was delicious; no one got what is lovingly called "Traveler's Diarrhea." Each church built a new outhouse for us. Our stay at each place was wonderful.
Everywhere we went, the people came out to greet us. Such happy singing, dancing, and clapping like you’ve never seen! The singing was accompanied only by large drum. They carried flowers or cut branches, and they were dressed in their best, colorful clothes. It was so pretty.
Lynette taught sessions on hygiene and nutrition to the women. As you know from our pre-trip website postings, we took 800 wash basins and soaps to distribute to the women who attended Lynette's handwashing class. To earn these, the women had to recite 1 John 1:5-9 (about spiritual cleansing), demonstrate good handwashing, and recite the Handwashing Catechism to their church elders. We're told that almost all the basins and soaps have now been distributed!
I taught the women lessons from the women in the life of Jacob; these women were Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel. And I taught the Timeline to the children. The Timeline was a series of pictures I put together that told the story of redemption, from Creation to the Rapture. Each picture had a statement that stressed the theme of redemption. "God spoke, and the world was created." "Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, but God promised a Deliverer." "Abel understood the sacrifice needed for sin, but Cain refused God's way," etc. I wish you could have been there as I said the statement in English, then the translator said it in one tribal language, and sometimes another translator said it in a second tribal language! Not only did we have statements to go with each picture, we also had hand motions. They loved it!
In our closing program at each village, the children recited the Timeline, and then they presented to their elders a Bible Picture Scarf produced by the IMB and a notebook with our Timeline. Jamie helped me with the Timeline, taught Bible to the men, and thoroughly loved on the children. Everywhere he went the children gathered around him, drawn by his gentle spirit and kind heart.
Leigh taught sessions on agriculture and animal health to the men. We took seeds to distribute to the men who attended Leigh's agriculture class. They had to recite Matt. 11:28-30 and the Farming Catechism to their local church leaders. These church elders are making a list of those men who have completed the requirements, and then they will divide the seeds evenly among those who qualify. I wish you could have been with me as she calmly explained how to relieve a cow of bloat (and thereby save its life); these poor farmers lose many of their livestock to bloat since they free-range in largely uncontrolled circumstances. They rejoiced greatly as she explained the procedure, and already have asked for her to return to teach them some more. We had hoped that these sessions would be more evangelistic, but it seemed that few non-believers came. Next time, we’ll hold these sessions in more public venues with special invitations to the village leaders.
8:43 AM 12 degrees. Going up to a whopping 33 today. The sun shines brightly in a clear sky.
7:38 AM Just a word to say how pleased I am with the way our little Dayda is developing into a mature Sheltie. She is now plump and fully grown, and her winter coat is beautiful. She is still full of mischief, as opposed to her daddy, whose petite vitesse seems to be getting petiter by the day. (I know how you feel, Sheppie.) She is disinclined to let anyone catch her, but when she is caught she enjoys being held and petted. She hardly realizes she is bringing us so much joy and temporal happiness, and I imagine she never will know how much she means to us -- dogs are unconsciously unselfish, I think. She's definitely got Sheba's bloodlines, which will keep her charming and unspoiled through the years I'm sure. Sadie, of course, loves to chase Dayda and catch her by the tail, which sets me roaring with laughter. Yesterday my heart stopped when I saw Dadya walking on the frozen pond, but she came when I called her and I doubt that she could have fallen through the ice anyway as she is so light.
Call me funny if you like, but I thank God everyday for my dogs.
7:02 AM It's 5 degrees. That is not a typo.
Friday, January 16
5:52 PM The sun has set on yet another wonderful day. My heart is full of gratitude. Becky is sewing. I'm reading. The dogs have been walked. All is well, thank the Lord. It's satisfying to look back at the week and know you've tried to live up to the saying (Jim Elliott): "Wherever you are, be all there, and live to the hilt whatever you believe is the will of God for your life."
5:10 PM Becky has written a series of reports ("Becky's Burji Blurb") about our last trip to Ethiopia. Here's the first installment:
We've been back in Virginia for 2 weeks now, and the time has come to give you a full report of our trip. Many of you faithfully prayed for us and also helped us with the practical needs of ministry. Thank you!
Let me begin with the Burji Team. This consisted of 10 lovely folk from the Roxboro, NC area, along with Dave and me. We divided into 5 teams. Jon, Cindi, and Mary were on the Soyama Town Team. Miss Mary, at a young 81 years of age, worked mostly with the children and women of the Soyama Town Church. She had many sessions teaching the children and doing crafts with them. The children in Ethiopia attend school only half-day (4 hours in either the morning or the afternoon). Miss Mary got them when they weren't in school.
Jon is pastor at Ca-Vel Baptist Church (here's his website). His primary ministry was to teach the book of 1 Corinthians in a variety of settings. One of these settings was a 4-day conference of the evangelists and rural church men. Prerequisites of this course were to read the book twice, to memorize a key passage in chapter one, and to commit to teaching the book to their home congregations. About 65 attended the conference. At the end of the conference we gave a commentary on 1 Corinthians (in the Amharic language) to each of the rural churches represented. The district leaders have reported that since our departure almost all of the churches have been studying 1 Corinthians! Jon also taught several times at the Soyama Town Church, and had evening discipleship sessions with the Soyama young people.
Cindi was a "jack of all trades." What a blessing she is in her quiet spirit of service and flexibility and joy. Here in America she works in a charter school, organizing volunteer work, but in Ethiopia she helped Jon with the young people, worked with Emebet (a lovely Ethiopian lady) in teaching the Timeline to the children, taught the women, and was always looking out for Miss Mary. (Cindi is the daughter-in-law of Miss Mary.)
Those on the Soyama Team had the special joy of watching the other teams come and go, so they functioned as a sort of communication headquarters, passing messages along, giving reports, etc. We lovingly joked that they were staying in the Hilton, with beds off the floor, some non-Ethiopian food, toilet rooms with cemented floors, electric lights, etc. Truth be known, none of us would have traded places with them!
4:20 PM Here's more information about our conference on ecclesiology (March 21):
- 8:30 Breakfast
- 9:30 Session 1
- 10:30 Session 2
- 11:30 Panel Discussion/Q & A
Afterwards a bunch of us will probably go to the local Mexican eatery and continue the dialogue. If you live in the greater Roxboro area (or even farther away), I hope you'll take advantage of this great opportunity for Christian fellowship and interaction. For a downloadable brochure, go here (.pdf). By the way, this will be a very dangerous seminar. You cannot make even a minimal change in your conduct or thinking without causing other people around you to change. Relationships – for better or for worse – bind us together inextricably and intimately.
4:12 PM Jon Zens traces four tragic shifts in church history. They are:
- The Shift from the Body of Christ as a Dynamic Organism to a Settled Institution.
- The Shift from Polyform Ministry to Uniform Ministry.
- The Shift from a Suffering Church to an Institution of Ease.
- The Shift from a Spirit-Dependent Church to a Letter-Dependent Institution.
Looking at what the Bible teaches about the church has made many of us feel unavoidably nervous. The Bible many of us know has been chained, and men like Zens intend to unchain it. Yet the Bible is the only place we can look for God's formula for spiritual health. And that's precisely the point of our upcoming seminar. Let the church of God be Scripture-driven!
4:03 PM David Miliband says The War on Terror Was Wrong. Of course, militarism looms, always and forever, in both ruling parties, but there are quite different flavors of hegemony. Here's hoping for a bit of amending in the next administration. The neocons have left the last one in utter disgrace (as Doug Bandow shows here).
3:55 PM Rick Steves has just returned from Iran. Here's his report.
3:45 PM Yesterday I listened to this series of messages from a seminar in Siegwinden on the topic of Gemeindebau. I especially enjoyed part 13 by Hartwig Henkel who emphasized the importance of team leadership ("Team Leitung"). It's a good reminder that church leadership is called primarily to an equipping ministry. This is surely one of the most believed yet rarely practiced principles of the modern church. (Note, by the way, how joyful and interactive the presentation is.)
3:37 PM Quick notes… This Sunday Becky and I will speak at Cavel Baptist Church in Roxboro. Cavel has been a supporter of the work in Ethiopia and even sent one of its members (brother Jon Glass) with us back in November…. Had another wonderful week on campus with my Greek students. Everything so far has exceeded my expectations. One of the students told me, "I just wanted to thank you for making the class so easy." Another volunteered to help out a fellow student who was struggling. It's been that kind of a class. I sent them home today with their second exam. I hope someone will earn the 110 Award (a free book written by yours truly)…. 27 degrees. Where's the Ethiopian weather when we need it? In Ethiopia of course, not in Virginia.
3:22 PM Speaking of Bonhoeffer, listen to what he says about preaching:
It is not a good sign when someone says that the sermon was beautiful or moving. It is a good sign when the congregants begin to open up their Bibles and to follow the text.
God help us to see through the superficiality of all of our "preaching"!
3:13 PM As I prepare to teach the book of Philippians to my Greek exegesis students, my mind is drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his leadership of the illegal Confessing Church seminary in Finkenwalde during the Second World War. Bonhoeffer made prayer and meditation the core of his pedagogy, insisting that his students allow the Holy Spirit to teach them through the Word. When they insisted, "But it's your job to teach us what the text means," he replied, in essence, "Nonsense. That's the Holy Spirit's job." In his bookMeditating on the Word, Bonhoeffer wrote:
Every Christian needs quiet time for prayer. The theologian who wants to be a Christian needs it more than anyone else. More time for God's Word and for prayer is needed because of our appointment to a special task. How should we go about during the day as ministers of the Word, preaching and instructing, helping to carry the burdens of others, if we have not experienced God's help for the day ourselves?
He then addressed the temptation to "flee to the commentaries":
Read the same passage again and again, write down your thoughts, learn the verse by heart (indeed, you will memorize any text which has been thoroughly meditated upon). But in all this we soon learn to recognize the danger of fleeing once again from meditation to Bible scholarship or the like.
I'm asking my students to spend considerable time in meditating on the passage under consideration and to begin their study of the text with prayer. I want them to bring their studies under the scrutiny of God's all-seeing eye. I think that many blunders in exegesis would never have been made if we had prayed as much in advance as we spoke afterwards. I'm not against serious study of the text. But sometimes we spend all of our time in the attic of intellectualism. The Bible we claim to be studying says much about the need for the Spirit's guidance and illumination. We ought to check our hearts before engaging our minds.
The next time you read the Word, begin with God. How foolish to start anything in life without Him.
2:45 PM In case you didn't know, there's a website that tracks New Testament lecturers in the UK. Now if someone would only to do the same for the States….
2:37 PM I love listening to this website that features the Bible in French. I can't get enough of it. It's probably because my French is so bad. Also, the BBC offers 24 interactive French videos here. I am determined not to lose my French.
Thursday, January 15
5:37 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology. Meanwhile it's back to school for me. Today I introduce what may well be the most important of the Greek tenses, the perfect. Only 4 more lessons to go in our grammar and then J-term comes to an end.
Wednesday, January 14
2:32 PM Right now I need to make a trash run to the dumpster. It's 37 degrees. On Friday the high will be 30. No snow in the forecast, however.
1:55 PM This is one of the most perceptive essays on Afghanistan to come along in a long time: The Aghan Scam: Why the U.S. Is Certain to Fail in Yet Another War. Not to pile on, but here's another essay that manages to land the hook good and hard (though it's a bit dated): Can't Win in Afghanistan? Blame Pakistan.
1:50 PM Greek students, I've just gone to Campus Net and uploaded the class schedules for Greek Syntax and Exegesis as well as for Intermediate Greek Grammar. If you want to get a head start on the assignments, now you'll know what to do.
1:38 PM Ethiopia, as everyone knows, is full of oddities, including vehicles of all sizes and shapes. Nathan, who is the ultimate pack rat, has never packed his trailer as full as this truck I saw in Addis. What an education one gets when traveling abroad!
1:30 PM Jim Hamilton asks: How often should a church observe the Lord's Supper?
1:25 PM The latest Ethiopian census has stirred up considerably controversy. But one thing seems certain: the number of evangelical Christians is on the rise, numbering about 18 percent of the total population.
1:16 PM At the Better Bibles Blog, Dan Sindlinger discusses that slippery Greek preposition en and offers his own rendering of one problem passage, Rom.16:9. I'd like to know Dan's thoughts about verse 22 in the same chapter. Here Tertius claims to have written the letter "in the Lord," unless we take the prepositional phrase "in the Lord" with "greet." But, as Leon Morris notes, "in the Lord" occurs repeatedly in this chapter in verses conveying greetings yet is never connected with the greeting itself (vv. 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13). Thus, instead of "I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord," we should probably read "I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter in the Lord [= in service to the Lord or possiblyby the strength of the Lord], greet you." If so, what are the implications for us when we write our own books and essays? This "teasing little problem" (Morris) won't go away any time soon.
PS: I notice that Robert Jewett in his Hermeneia commentary on Romans renders v. 22 as: "I, Tertius, the one who wrote this letter [in the service of the] Lord, greet you [pl.]."
1:06 PM On this day in 1875, Albert Schweitzer was born. Go here to read his life story. I greatly admire his writings. His vast knowledge enabled him to strike at the joints between various academic disciplines, including theology, philosophy, and literature. In order to writeVon Reimarus zu Wrede (read it here) one has to be a major genius. The work is basically untranslatable – as are most good books originally written in German. Any equivalent in English becomes automatically florid and unsatisfactory.
Schweitzer's missionary work in Africa is a giant inspiration to me. A New Testament scholar of the first rank and an accomplished organist, Schweitzer was willing to pray, not "Lord, bless me," but "Lord, use me." His best work was accomplished toward the end of his stellar career. Sometimes God grants His servants their greatest "success" in their final chapter. None of us should ever think that our best experiences are in the past. Even Caleb, in his old age, asked God for a mountain (Josh. 14:12). I once asked God for molehills. Now I'm asking Him for mountains, and He seems to have given me one in Ethiopia (including opening a health clinic). Even if you think it's ancient history, read Schweitzer's story. I bet you’ll learn something from it. As William Faulkner put it, "The past isn't dead. It's not even past."
12:55 PM The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently published a study on thereligious makeup of the US Congress compared to that of the American public. It's a good reminder that religious activity is not necessarily synonymous with spirituality, as the church at Ephesus proved (Rev. 2:1-7).
12:46 PM Krista Tippet, host of NPR's "Speaking of Faith," has garnered highly favorable reviews for the dialogue she hosted between Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne. You can listen to the entire, uncut interview here. I did, and it was worth every minute of my time. (The written transcript may be found here.)
12:40 PM At the risk of looking like a back-scratcher, I want to thank Chip Bayer of the Thideology website for linking to my essay Christians without Borders. Chip shares my view that the "American Dream" is nothing but a pipe dream (see the links in his first sentence). I am deeply grateful to meet another writer who is not shrug–prone when it comes to the problem of statism.
12:33 PM Some good comments here about Christian fellowship. A quote:
Fellowship takes place amongst people in general, a variety of people, not just a select group like oneself. God has designed the body of Christ such that there might be interaction with other believers of every stripe and color, from a myriad of backgrounds, with plethora of testimonies concerning the grace of God and the method of His salvation in their lives, in their hearts, in their places, and circumstances.
When Becky and I began attending Bethel Hill, we were looking above all for a Great Commission congregation. And we found one. This may sound a bit cynical, but a simple assembly of humble believers can know more about this great subject than all the missiologists trying to get their books published.
12:27 PM Bill Heroman's essay on Christian Academics is another reminder to me about why I don't do "debates." When some hardworking waitress in a restaurant manages to display more grace than a renowned Bible teacher, you know Christianity is in trouble.
12:16 PM Michael Lewis asks, What do you feel when you see the crowds in Austin? It ought to be compassion. Our Lord always dealt with the sick and sinful tenderly. That's what we're here for too. We've been called out of this world in order to be sent right back into it to win people out of it. I am finally learning, late in life, that people are so much more important than programs and professional prospects.
Below: Thronged by crowds in dusty Alaba. These children are singing the "Mamada, Dansamida Song," a little ditty I made up. Mamada/Dansamida is "How are you?/I am fine" in Burjinya. Each day I added a new language: Ugarete/Ugareta (Alabinya), Tomando/Fayando (Kembatinya), Cómo está/Muy bien, Comment ça va/Tres bien, Como vai/Muito bem, Wie geht es Ihnen/Es geht mir gut, Pos eisthe/Poly kala, etc. Then I added Ezhabiher/Malcameno ("God is good"), Yesus/Getano ("Jesus is Lord"), etc. It's now almost the national anthem in parts of Ethiopia. I love being around these children. Unlike in China, they are ubiquitous.
12:10 PM Are you a Mr. Ask a Question in Class to Try to Look Smarter Guy?
12:02 PM Here are two noteworthy study Bibles you may not have heard about.
Monday, January 12
5:25 AM The latest issue of Bethany Baptist Church's newsletter listed "Ten Sure Signs You're a Redneck Preacher." I think you'll enjoy them:
10. If your Sunday School bus is on blocks.
9. If you've ever canceled church because your cows got out.
8. If your belt buckle's bigger than your Bible.
7. If you're skeptical of preachers who wear robes and clerical collars.
6. If there's a sign over the church that reads, "Protected by Smith and Wesson."
5. If you've ever taken deep-fried possum to a church dinner.
4. If you've ever made change in the offering plate.
3. If you've ever shown slides from your trip to Graceland.
2. If you "work up lather" when you preach.
1. If your altar call is longer than your sermon.
5:19 AM Today I'm giving a take-home exam in my Greek class. I find that students do a whole lot better when they write their exams in the relaxed environment of their homes rather than in a crowded classroom. This also frees up about 3 hours of precious class time.
In addition, tomorrow the students will grade their own exams in class. No, they will not swap papers. Each student will grade his or her own exam. It's what I call the honor system, and I've used it for the past 33 years. I trust my students not to cheat and, frankly, I believe they love me too much to take advantage of me. I tell them that I am not worried in the least that they might cheat on the exam, primarily because if they do the Holy Spirit will be all over them until they make it right with Him -- and with me. So it's just not worth it. I love my students. I think they know it. I hope they know it.
Which reminds me. When I was interviewing for my current position at the seminary some 11 years ago, one of the questions I asked president Patterson was, "How many office hours do you require of your faculty each week?" (I was then teaching at an institution that required 8 hours.) He looked at me and said, "We have only one rule here, Dave. We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Act accordingly." I knew immediately that this was a faculty I wanted to join!
Think the best of people. Trust them. Even at exam time. Sure, you will be disappointed on occasion. But more often than not you will be pleased with their response.
5:10 AM In other news: Sheppie's eye is doing much better, thank the Lord and thanks to Jessie's home remedy.... We've just added Mount Tirzah Baptist Church in Charlotte Court House to our speaking schedule.... On Friday evening, Jan. 23, Becky and I are hosting a Burji team reunion here at Bradford Hall.
5:03 AM Got a minute for a quick Sunday update? It began with a visit to beautiful Person County and Bethany Baptist Church.
Brother Matt, who went with us to Burji last November, shepherds there. The congregation is meeting in its new building and the service was packed. The choir anthem was a great blessing to me as they sang, "We pledge allegiance to the Lamb" -- music to my ears!
Becky gave a 35-minute overview of what the Lord accomplished in Ethiopia in 2008. I got teary-eyed several times as I listened to her report and viewed the pictures and video clips.
Brother Matt has asked me to come back in April to do a Sunday-Wednesday community-wide Bible conference. It will be my pleasure to do so. I'll also be seeing Matt in my Greek class at Bethel Hill that begins in two weeks.
Then it was off to the Rondeaus. Here the boys romp with their uncle Nathan and aunt Jessie. The boys are growing up so fine. B. and I miss them terribly when we're gone.
Next came a game of Scrabble, a fiercely fought competition I might add. Isaac won pulling away (with a little help from his dad). His very first word garnered him a whopping 38 points. Here Micah helps Jessie with her turn.
Matt and Liz cooked up a delicious lasagna dinner topped off with homemade apple pie.
Then we hopped in the car to return home, taking with us Caleb and Micah, who wanted to spend the night with their aunt and uncle at Rosewood Farm. While driving home both boys were singing up a storm. Their repertoire included "I've Got the Joy" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World." When things had quieted down a bit, I heard Micah's soft voice from the back of the car. He asked, "Papa B. Why does Jesus love the little children of the world?"
Life doesn't get any better.
Sunday, January 11
7:17 AM Three weeks from tomorrow our beginning Greek class begins at the Hill. A few miscellaneous items to get you started:
1) We will meet at Bethel Hill Baptist Church (just north of Roxboro) in the fellowship hall.
2) Classes will meet every Monday night from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.
3) No fees, but you will need a copy of our textbook, Learn to Read New Testament Greek. A used copy is fine. It's currently in its second edition. A third edition is due out on March 1 (too late for this class).
4) I will provide a pronunciation CD for each student on the first night of class.
5) There are only a few seats left. The class is open to anyone. Contact the church if you're interested.
6:38 AM Becky and I had several unexpected blessings on our last trip to Ethiopia, but one of the best was seeing the Blue Nile Falls up close and personal -- from the air, no less. On our flight from Gondar to Addis the captain of our prop jet went out of his way to fly around the falls, giving his passengers a priceless view of the famous landmark. We serve a serendipitous God!
6:23 AM I want you to meet a very special fulltime minister of the Gospel. Her name is Mary, and she has been to Ethiopia twice in the last two years. Her age is 81. Her ministry? Love. Loving people. Loving children. Loving her team mates. Loving her family. Especially loving her God. I want to say publicly, "Thank you, Miss Mary. I love you too."
When Libanius heard the story of Chrysostom's mother, he exclaimed, "Heavens! What women these Christians have!" In the early church it was not famous evangelists but the little people, nameless and forgotten by society, who took the Gospel far and wide. Actually, in Christ there are NO little people. The laity was abolished when Jesus ascended and gave gifts to His people!
5:56 AM A very good morning! I don't know about you, but I am enjoying the weekend immensely. There are magnificent woods and plenty of solitude. Work on the farm is a glorious respite from the rigors of teaching -- especially to one who, like myself, isn't really a born farmer (but has large aspirations!). Right now I'm writing essays on baptism, evangelism, and Ethiopia, as well as planning our March conference on the church. I enjoyed Roland Allen very much -- the substance interesting, the style eminently lucid. I find the desire for simplicity and lucidity grows in me. I also need to finish a chapter I'm writing for a book on exegesis being edited by one of my colleagues (the publisher is B & H). It's due on April 1 (no joke). In the meantime I've accepted an invitation to teach Greek at the Orthodox seminary in Addis Ababa this summer (the seminary, interestingly enough, is located in a very historic building where slavery was abolished in Ethiopia). In teaching Greek, of course, one inevitably must say something about the Great Author and Subject of the New Testament, right? I wonder, by the way, if any of you have seen the latest essay by Glenn Greenwald in Salon? I am always appalled when I hear people prattling away about our peace-loving nation when actually both major parties cheer on war ad infinitum.
Well, I do hope you have a pleasant and restful Sunday. Becky and I will speak on Ethiopia at Bethany Baptist Church and then spend the afternoon with our family in Charlotte Court House. I have some very special gifts for the boys -- Ethiopian airplanes!
Saturday, January 10
3:25 PM Nathan just reported that the recipient of the fire wood was very pleased with both the quality and quantity of the load. Seems the last trailer load from somebody else was very skimpy, and the logs were too wide to fit into his wood stove. That's just like Nathan -- to do everything with integrity and excellence. That'll land you a new customer every time.
3:20 PM The manure has been spread. Jessie drove the tractor too. Right now Bec and Nate are bathing one of Sheppie's eyes, which seems to have acquired a major infection of some sort. Becky's nursing skills come in handy at times like these. Pets are wonderful creatures but, like humans, are susceptible to illness and, alas, death, but life would be so much less enjoyable without them. Anyway, I'm praying for him to get better.
2:04 PM Right now I'm taking a break from farm work and rereading Roland Allen's The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. I love this book. In fact I can't put it down. Sometimes I have the disquieting feeling that I am somehow being punished by my love of books -- that it is a tool to lead me deeper and deeper into my besetting sin, the exalting of man's words above God's and the substitution of intellectual values for moral values. But what a book and what an author! Gott sei Dank!
12:07 PM Just received this thoughtful email from a shepherd-teacher in response to my latest essay. It blessed my socks off.
I enjoyed your post immensely. One thing I often hear concerning the greatness of America is that we are allowed to worship freely, but as I think more about this I realize what is truly being said. What people usually mean when they say this is that we are allowed to build church buildings, have worship “services” in God’s “house,” and to publicly display a veneer of faith (which may or may not originate from true faith.) However, as I realize Paul’s political milieu I am coming to understand that even in the oppressive Neronian regime Paul never lost his freedom to truly worship. Maybe they couldn’t build sanctuaries or have a tax-exempt status, but not even Nero could stop true worship. Not even Nero could stop the caring for widows and orphans. Not even Nero could stop something as basic as breaking bread and drinking wine in remembrance of One who was broken and poured out. Not even Nero could stop the primary identifier of the Christian brotherhood – love for one another. Therefore, when I stop and think about why America is exalted by believers, I think it has more to do with the freedom to perpetuate all the non-essentials, errata, and misunderstandings of worship rather than true worship itself. True worship can be freely performed in any political regime. A Caesar may take our lives, but never our freedom to worship – just a thought.
Isn't that great? Jesus didn't come to tweak the kingdoms of this world. He didn't come to improve them or dress them up. He came to tell us to put down the sword and pick up the cross. Our job is to topple the kingdoms of this world by acts of scandalous love even if it costs us everything. Amen?
11:24 AM Good news. My GP told me yesterday that my foot is fine and that I should regain complete feeling within 6-8 weeks. Time will tell I suppose. By the way, although we have a bathroom scale here at the farm I never use it. So I'm always curious to see what my weight is when I check in at the doctor's office. Yesterday it was exactly where I thought it would be: 217 pounds. That's what it was a year ago during my annual physical, and that's what it was two years ago during my checkup at that time. It's right where I want it to be. Farm work has its many benefits!
11:16 AM Very shortly I'll have an announcement about a major conference we'll be holding at Bethel Hill in March. It will be devoted to developing a biblical view of the church and to clarifying how to flesh that out in even the most traditional church setting. The approach will be both theoretical and pragmatic. I hope it will challenge several widely-held assumptions about the church.
Meanwhile I've been enjoying the discussions taking place over at Alan Knox's blog. His emphasis on church structures being relational rather than organizational has struck a raw nerve with some. I'm glad to see it. Rethinking one's ecclesiology usually involves a major paradigm shift for most people, pastors included. That one issue (organism versus organization) is, however, only the tip of a huge iceberg.
10:55 AM Just killed three stones with one bird (he-he). (1) We rid the farm of crooked or useless pines. (2) We sold the logs for cold hard cash. (3) We got a hefty workout in the process. Nathan did the cutting, I the loading.
N. and J. just left for Stovall, NC, to deliver this load of fire wood. Then they'll get another trailer load of horse manure. We are working in picture-perfect weather today: 48 degrees and bright sunshine. God is good.
8:19 AM Good Saturday morning, fellow bloggers! Right now I'm working hard on the final installment of my series on Christian Archy. It occurred to me that I had never brought it to a conclusion! As you might have guessed, in recent years my own interests have turned in the direction of politics (a-politics, really). A current and very relevant example is the United Nations and the imbroglio in Gaza. I wish one could feel optimism about the U.N. or about any other international organization for that matter. But nothing ever changes in human society: nobody wants war, but everybody wants all the things that produce it. We gladly ignore the basic problem -- which is that peace can never be attained except through the Gospel. Thus politicians (Mr. Obama included) will continue their lunatic game of power politics, ignoring the fact that what they are squabbling about will very shortly be replaced by a new, unsolvable problem. I am in fact quite dubious about the whole idea of progress, in its twenty-first century expression at any rate. The West, I'm afraid, is falling into irreversible decline, and, quite frankly, there is nothing that can be done about it. The only sensible thing to do, it seems to me, is to try and regulate one's life in conformity with Jesus' kingdom values and the diagnosis and empirical findings associated with it. As long as there is no widespread and radical change in the world's philosophy of life, I see no reason to suppose that people will not gladly and eagerly continue to succumb to the temptation of political power, in precisely the same way they are doing now in the Middle East.
On a lighter note, Becky has just run off to Raleigh to attend a couple of sewing classes, while my goal today is to become acquainted with the insides of a couple of new library books. Right now, though, I'm too lazy to read -- besides, Nathan has just arrived and we've got some fire wood logs to load on the trailer. In the meantime, I've just published my latest essay. It's called Christians without Borders. I hope you enjoy it.
Friday, January 9
6:20 PM Speaking of libraries, here’s a photo of the first Christian library in Gondar, northern Ethiopia. It was opened in December by the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Gondar, and Becky and I were privileged to donate the first installment of books.
6:12 PM I had to smile when I read this story about Ethiopia’s first ever mobile donkey library.
6:06 PM Donald Hester asks, Is Jesus a poached egg?
5:49 PM Alan Knox explores the technicalities of learning New Testament Greek at his new website aptly titled Hellenisti. Alan writes: “My goal is that Hellenisti will be a cross between the standard online Greek resource (there are many of these) and a blog (there are many of these also). So, I hope that it will be interactive.”
5:45 PM Rick Brannan has just installed the New Testament Textual Criticism Collection, including a work by yours truly.
5:33 PM Jeff Burns is enjoying library humor.
5:25 PM Can man fly? Watch the amazing wing suit in action.
5:19 PM The BBC celebrates an end to Bushisms. My personal favorite was, "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
5:13 PM The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor announces an opening in New Testament.
5:10 PM Interested in thrift shopping? Leah over at the Prayer of Hannah has some advice.
5:02 PM I doubt that this will come as any surprise, but the question “Which Gospel came first?” is still being asked these days.
4:40 PM Is it “Easter” or “Passover”?
4:32 PM Here are some wise words about mentoring from Chuck Swindoll:
In a day of tarnished leaders, fallen heroes, busy fathers, frantic coaches, arrogant authority figures, and eggheaded profs, we need mentors like never before. Such rare finds are guides, not gods. They are approachable and caring souls who help us negotiate our way through life’s labyrinth without shouting or dictating. Mentors know how to stretch us without insulting us, affirm us without flattering us, make us think without requiring their answers in return, release us without abandoning us. They’re always right there, even though they may be a thousand miles away. They become invisible partners, whispering hope and reproofs on the journey toward excellence.
4:21 PM Relaxing today after a very busy time on campus. Thousands are asking: How was your first week back at school? Fantastic! I sense that God is moving in a big way in the class. A few impressions: the pace of J-term is not suitable to everyone….students easily get over the Greek jitters when you show them how logical the language is…. Many are getting perfect scores on their quizzes (chalk that up to their hard work)…. We are already almost half way through the first semester.
A big thank you to everyone who made our meetings so enjoyable this week: Lauren, Bae, Tyler, Erin, Christopher, Robert, William, Ben, John, Jordan, Walter, Travis, Aubry, Frank, Brandon, Chris, Daniel, Matthew, Ed, Joseph, James, Seth, Matthew, Josh, Ryan, Geoffrey, William, Brandt, Amy, Christopher, Albert, James, and Jason. Thanks for your great attitude, thanks for studying so hard, thanks for always being so punctual, and thanks for your excitement about this amazing language. Keep up the good work!
Thursday, January 8
5:27 AM I've just published my latest essay. It's called Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church.
5:22 AM Good news! Enrolment for my Greek class at Bethel Hill now stands at 43. Even Becky has signed up. We’ll close the class at 50. Special thanks to brothers Jason and Jon for coordinating everything.
5:16 AM This Sunday Becky and I are giving an Ethiopia report at Bethany Baptist Church in Rougemont, NC. Service time is 11:00 am.
5:10 AM The situation in Gaza grows worse by the day. These horrors of war are really unthinkingly appalling. The disproportionate use of force increases popular sympathy for peace, but on the whole the situation seems thoroughly unredeemable. I get extraordinarily irritated with those who seek to justify such brutal and licentious power under the sinister influence of a modern-day Prussianism. The longer the war goes on, the more I loathe and detest it.
5:06 AM Aren’t libraries wonderful? The current issue of Biblica (vol. 89) contains a fascinating study of Paul’s unusual expression “sister woman” in 1 Cor. 9:5 and reminds us that many of the apostles’ most trusted co-workers were women. A hearty “Amen” to that!
5:00 AM Doug French presses the fight against adolescentism (my term) in another impressive piece over at LRC: Conforming Creativity. French writes:
Epstein’s book is chock-full of examples of young people in history who have made tremendous contributions. Louis Braille, if he were a blind kid today, would be cooped up in special needs classes. Fortunately, he lived in the early 1800s and had perfected the Braille system by the time he was 15 years old. Samuel Colt invented the multi-round, revolving-head pistol when he was 16. Edgar Allen Poe had his first book published at 18, including poems he had written at age 12 and 13.
French might have also mentioned these famous home scholars.
Wednesday, January 7
2:43 PM Nice surprise: I received a beautiful 2009 calendar from a friend in Australia. Each photo is of a different beach along the continent's 34,216 kilometer coastline. Makes me drool to see all the good surf they have Down Under. Thank you, Aussie John!
2:21 PM Thanks for your prayers about the commentary offer. I’ve decided to decline, for several reasons. The invitation raised a million questions: What is the best use of my time and energy? What will advance the kingdom the most? Can I still travel to Ethiopia and other countries during my vacations? My conclusion? Why intrude shyly into a world in which I am a complete stranger when I might do something really useful in Africa and elsewhere? Frankly, at 56 years of age I simply don’t have the emotional or physical energy to devote to missions and to the researching and writing of a major Greek commentary. Whatever time the Lord gives me on this earth I want to invest in loving others in practical ways – “not with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). I have come to see the absolute centrality of deeds in all my dealings – Calvary-quality love that sacrifices for the poor and needy. This is how the world will know that I am Jesus’ trainee (John 13:35).
So you can look for a major new commentary on the Greek text of Philippians in the future, but it won't be authored by me.
2:15 PM Nate and Jess just returned from the thrift store in Oxford and brought back bags of baby clothes, sheets, and books. I can't wait to sift through the book bags. Jessie always seems to find some real treasures, like the Italian grammar she just added to their library.
2:10 PM Countdown to our next trip to Ethiopia: 128 days.
2:02 PM Tonight we're in for a special treat at the Hill. Jason is beginning a series on the book of Acts: "Thirty Years That Changed the World." Ever since then a least some Christians have been moving out in obedience to Jesus' last command, with the Holy Spirit crackling through their witness. I hope to learn much from these lessons.
1:10 PM Lawrence Vance asks, Must Evangelicals Be Conservatives?
1:03 PM Jon Glass addresses the problem of materialism – in the Ethiopian church – in this sermon called Eat, Heal, Tell.
12:48 PM Mark Strauss suggests a few ways the ESV can be improved (.pdf).
12:42 PM The debate over the authorship of Hebrews continues.
12:33 PM Yesterday I listened to this on-air debate (more of a “discussion”) between Bart Ehrman of UNC Chapel Hill and Peter Williams of Tyndale House in Cambridge. The topic: Is the New Testament reliable? What’s striking to me is the facile way in which Bart argues that errors in transmission undermine the veracity of the New Testament. I simply do not see how the fact that Mark 1:41, for example, contains a textual variant overturns inerrancy. It seems to me that, whether or not we read “was moved with anger” or “was moved with compassion,” we have not lost a single word of Scripture here. Ditto with the woman-taken-in-adultery passage. “I don’t think it can be determined that we have lost any of the original wording of the New Testament,” was Peter’s response (at about minute 55). An even better response may be found in Daryl Wingerd’s review.
12:09 PM Steve Burchett says Beware of Study Bibles.
12:05 PM My colleagues Mark Liederbach and Alvin Reid have co-authored a new book on the church. It’s called The Convergent Church. From the foreword (by Ed Stetzer):
The missional approach outlined in this book is vigorously biblical. Neither Jesus nor the early church was satisfied to just let the lost come to them. They took every opportunity to take the good news to those ready to hear it. Wherever they went, they were prepared to talk about the kingdom of God and the hope it represented for those without God. This holistic approach will compel readers to a missional view of evangelism that springs from meaningful worship. Should we continue to invite our lost friends to church services? Of course. But we must also engage the surrounding culture as passionate, worshipful missionaries to those around us. The lost are waiting. Will we have the courage to go to them?”
The sad thing is that these will sound like “radical” ideas.
11:58 AM Jason and Molly Evans have posted some new pix of Ethiopia.
11:52 AM Students are asking if there are any online helps available for our Greek class. The answer is yes. Here’s one of the best: Greek Class by Alan Knox, who teaches Greek at Southeastern’s college. You can also check out these flashcards.
11:49 AM One side-effect of our recent trip: a partly paralyzed left foot. Not too serious, just feels tingly, as if it has fallen asleep. I’m having it checked out on Friday.
11:45 AM David Ker, a writer over at the Better Bibles Blog, reminds us why naturalness in translation is so important in a delightfully humorous post called google your loins. I read it while sipping a hot drink and just about spilled Kona Coffee all over myself.
Monday, January 5
5:15 AM I need your prayers. I've been asked to write a major commentary on the Greek text of Philippians in a new series to be published in the Netherlands by one of the world's leading theological publishing houses. I have never before agreed to write a commentary, even though I've had many offers in the past. But this series is unlike any I have seen. It will come at it from a Greek discourse perspective and also focus on the theology of every paragraph. It will be an attempt to move away from word-bound exegesis. It will look not only at the microlevel of language but also at the macrolevel. In short, it's just the kind of commentary that I believe might justify its existence in a world deluged with commentaries.
I must let the editors know my decision by Wednesday.
5:06 AM It'll be good to get back into the classroom today, awfully good! If anything, I find teaching more attractive, fresh, and invigorating after 33 years in the classroom than when I first began. It's a "rush" like one gets (I suppose) when climbing Mount Everest or spelunking in some deep, dark cavern. Gracious, what fun it is! Forgive the gibbering idiocy, but it's been almost 7 months since I set foot in a Greek class. It will be splendid seeing my students again. How anyone can take a full two-semester sabbatical is beyond me. At the same time, I am eager to return to the wilds of Ethiopia, foregoing the simple and pleasant physical amenities of North America. Part of me always lingers behind wherever I am: right now my heart is in Ethiopia, and when I am in Ethiopia my heart is in Virginia. Both worlds beckon constantly. I suppose my restlessness is due to a sense of alienation, knowing that I am a citizen of another world and here only as an ambassador. (Which reminds me: our appointment with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia had to be canceled last November because he had an unexpected visit from a foreign ambassador that day. If he only knew Whose ambassador I am!) So it's back to the classroom for me, where I shall admonish my charges with the great truth that learning only begins when others stop teaching.
Below: My Philippians class in Gondar.
Sunday, January 4
7:02 PM Becky shared in our Sunday School class today about the sufficiency of Christ during our travels in Ethiopia.
Bethel Hill has been our unofficial church home for several months now. Today we made it official. You will not find a more Jesus-minded church. Or a more missions-minded church. Which is one and the same thing. Our Bethel Hill brothers and sisters mean the world to us. It'll be fun working with them to equip all the saints for works of service. No professional missionary can get the work done. It will take all of us and each of us working side by side. Thanks Jason, Joel, Chris, Woody, Danny, Ed and the rest of you for constantly challenging me to be busy about the kingdom of God. I need you and love you!
7:56 AM Ivan Eland has penned another winner: Is Israeli Policy Crazy? Near the end of the article he makes this statement:
Even the best outcome for Israel is grim. If the Israeli military invades Gaza on the ground to wipe out Hamas and its military infrastructure and Egypt does not allow Hamas fighters to escape to its territory, the Arab grievance will likely merely morph into a more angry and virulent form after the almost certain eventual Israeli withdrawal. Alternatively, if Hamas is not completely wiped out – either because some fighters successfully melt back into Gaza's population or because Israel merely threatens a ground invasion but doesn't follow through – Hamas's stature will grow in Gaza and the Arab world for successfully withstanding the Israeli goliath – as Hezbollah's did after the Israeli onslaught against and withdrawal from Lebanon in 2006.
Jesus was right: If you live by the sword you will most certainly die by the sword. Violence always begets more violence. Pearl Harbors always lead to Hiroshimas. I wonder why it is that modern people, who are supposed to be sophisticated, are so insensible to this timeless truth. Unhappily, look for the carnage only to continue in the next few days.
7:47 AM Few of us are untouched by the dead hand of Christian jargon. Some idioms are so firmly entrenched in our vocabulary that any change is considered almost blasphemous. Using traditional terminology gives us a sense of security I suppose. But familiarity is not always a good thing. I'm trying to reform some of my biblical vocabulary. Here's my list as it currently stands:
- church: community (as in the German Gemeinde)
- pastor: shepherd (retaining the metaphor)
- elders: older men (the term is age-specific)
- deacons: servers (think of your restaurant "server")
- disciples: trainees (think of a Wal-Mart trainee)
- overseers: supervisors (or possibly "care-givers")
- baptize: immerse (this is a no-brainer)
- saints: God's people
- gospel: Good News
- brothers: brothers and sisters (the plural is usually gender-inclusive)
- mystery: secret (there's nothing mysterious about the Greek word musterion)
- tongues: foreign languages (whether learned or unlearned)
- sound doctrine: healthy teaching
- wine: grape juice (just kidding)
- sanctification: progress in holiness
- "the" ministry: scrap it altogether
This list is sketchy and tentative. But maybe it will help you to rethink the wineskins. I suggest that our vocabulary can make a BIG difference in the way we understand and practice our faith.
7:33 AM This beautiful poem touched my heart: An All Too Familiar Snapshot of Grace.
7:30 AM The latest addition to our home page is called A Man Named James.
Saturday, January 3
5:45 PM Nice try, Nate, but I'm out of range.
Look who joined us. I love work, don't you? I could watch it all day!
4:42 PM It's been a glorious day so far -- lots of sunshine with warmth in it. I took all four dogs for a long walk and enjoyed watching them romp and play. Becky has been working non-stop on the pooter for our Ethiopia work. Amazing how the planning never stops. We are already looking at purchasing our tickets for our May trip! I've got a few updates for you, but I see that Nate has just pulled up to the house with tractor, so it's off to muck out the manure trailer.
7:50 AM News and notes about three of my doctoral students:
1) Matthew McDill reports some of his findings about leadership from the Gospels. A taste:
To exalt teachers in the church to a position of unique status above others distracts from, and may even deny, the unique position of God above all and the equality of all the brothers and sisters before God.
Matthew demolishes the always-lurking pridefulness of Christian leadership. Pastor, be careful reading Matthew's stuff, especially if you have an aversion to shared, non-hierarchical forms of pastoring.
3) Mel Winstead is reading through the Bible again this year.
7:43 AM Greek students! Check out Rod Decker's excellent discussion of genitive absolutes. Rod has a way of cutting through the underbrush and inoculating us against what I can only call pedanticism.
7:34 AM No gift is unimportant to Christ. He can use any talent or ability we have in His service. I found this to be true while working among the Gujis. A simple two-minute drawing makes a huge impact on the receptivity of the people. What simple abilities have you received from the Lord? Are you using them for the work of His kingdom?
7:04 AM A few personal goals for the new year:
1) Work with others to begin a lay training program in my local church that can be fully integrated into the equipping ministry of the leadership with a view to training all members for life in the church and ministry outside it.
2) To train my students in such a way that they become dependent only on the Head and on no human teacher or leader. That Head is directly connected to each individual believer and does not need to speak to the hand via the foot.
3) To emphasize wherever I go that every believer in Jesus Christ is called to fulltime Christian service and that there is no clergy-laity distinction in the Body of Christ.
4) To help all my dear pastor friends to realize that they are not rent-a-shepherds but equippers of God's people to do the work of service.
5) To focus my life on both social action and evangelism, helping people but never forgetting the primacy of the personal Gospel.
6) Learn to walk more by faith than by sight, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide me personally every day as I live in this world.
Friday, January 2
8:40 PM Just back from the newlyweds. We enjoyed sweet potatoes and salad along with our burgers. Afterwards Nate cooked up some popcorn. We read while the ladies talked about childbearing. Our hamburger buns were homemade and fresh from the oven. Simply scrumptious.
Nate installed this door lock in their parlor today. The room is almost completed. It houses Nate's large organ, and I look forward to hearing many concerts there in the future.
A nice serendipity: Jess got me this book while I was in Ethiopia -- the Three Musketeers in the original French. I got through about a fourth of it tonight. Delightful reading.
And lookie here. This photo from the Civil War was tucked away in one of Nate's old books. The couple looks vaguely familiar, don't they?
Right now I'm writing an essay on baptism, while B. has gone off to sleep. Her bronchitis is doing much better and she is coughing a great deal less than when we arrived on Tuesday. Give us a few days and we'll both be back to par.
5:43 PM I must be getting old(er). Needed a long nap this afternoon to cope with jet lag. But I feel much better now. In a few minutes Bec and I will go over to Nate and Jessie's for supper. She's making cheeseburgers. I love cheeseburgers. I'm sure cheeseburgers will be in heaven.
9:25 AM In this post over at Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald talks about whether the Obama Revolution will take the nation forward or backward and writes:
For the last seven years, Democrats have repeatedly cited GOP political dominance to excuse their wholesale failures to limit, let alone reverse, the devastating war waged by the Bush administration on America's core liberties and form of government. With a new Democratic president and large majorities in both Congressional houses, those excuses will no longer be so expedient. As dark and depressing as these last seven years have been for civil libertarians, culminating in an almost entirely grim 2008, there is no question that the Obama administration and the Democrats generally now possess the power to reverse these abuses and restore our national political values. But as the events of the last 12 months conclusively demonstrate, there are substantial questions as to whether they have the will to do so.
Make sure to catch the discussion of our fast-fading civil liberties. By the way, it turns out that Obama is not as hugely popular in Ethiopia as I thought he would be. I saw very few O-shirts but lots of renascent Rastafarian stuff. Bob Marley is still apparently "da man."
9:05 AM I've long thought that returning from a mission trip can be just as difficult and potentially traumatic as going on one. Thus we consider "post-trip" orientation as important as the 4 detailed orientations we provide pre-trip. Here is what we gave our Burji team when they returned to the States after 2 weeks of grueling ministry in Ethiopia. It was written by Becky. I believe there is much wisdom in which she has to say.
ORIENTATION #5 (LETTER for HOMEWARD BOUND TRIP)
1. We talked with you in our debriefing in Addis that the work is not finished; you now have the responsibility of communicating about Ethiopia to folk back home. That communication will take many different forms. But don't forget the over-all purpose in communicating. Don't forget your focus...while it's necessary to tell some about the condition of the roads, living, eating, etc., we recommend that you make your focus to communicate the glory of the Lord and His work. Don't fall into just talking like you're a travel agent or the National Geographic. The thing that makes our reports different is that we have seen the glory of our Lord amongst us and amongst His church in Ethiopia. We've got a GREAT report to tell, so let's not water it down with the mundane things of life. Let's talk about Jesus amongst His people!
2. Also, in your communications, include possible future ministries...while we tell what has happened in the past & during the trip, that's not all we have to tell! The work goes on! At this time the details aren't certain about the future ministry, but you can still present some ideas that we're working on...specifically, the Rural Clinic, the Bible School dorm and library, moreBibles to distribute, placing wells at rural churches, and placing solar-powered loudspeakers at rural churches for evangelization, Bible reading & health education as a service of our clinic. As you speak about what God has already done, and you mention what we’re looking at for the future, know that Dave & I will work out clear, concise proposals that we can present to the churches here. So finish your presentations with not only praise for the Lord's faithfulness & glory in the past, but also with a view to the future & continuing the ministry.
3. Remember, pictures are very powerful. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. At least in visually-oriented societies (like USA), I'm sure that's true. We are very visually oriented, so make your pictures count by choosing ones that the people here can relate to. Have an assortment…with/without people, up close/far away, lifestyle/ministry, Team/Ethiopians…so that people will get a more complete picture. Remember, the more prepared you are for your presentation, the better...then you can relax & flow smoothly, and more easily "hear" the Spirit directing you as you present. Also, remember that though you have returned tired & ready for a rest, all of Person County has been waiting for you & your report. Their interest is high. Don’t lose this opportunity to communicate when they want to connect. It’s good to jump in a schedule sharing times for early January, after Christmas…then people will know that sharing is coming/they have an end-point to look to, and you also have a “deadline” to prepare for. Share with co-workers at work, with church groups, with civic groups, follow up with newspaper reports, etc. If God opens a door to share, jump on it…you never know what He will continue to do thru you for His people in Ethiopia!
And always remember that Dave & I are happy to help you, support you, come to your meeting, etc. Just let us know.
4. Emotions after a trip like this are high. Many time team members have a sense that they are "lonely" for Ethiopia. Some even say that they'd drop everything & return to live if they could. The Lord gave us a great time of bonding in Ethiopia. Our ministry focus was the people, so it's only natural that we feel a void now that we have left those people. As time passes, this longing will change to just a "warm fuzzy" or happy memory with a few of us, but for some of us, it may be a life-long hunger to return to the people of Ethiopia. This longing is God-given, and is part of His way of directing His way in your life. But it also can be used of the Evil One. The Evil One wants us to wander in the feelings of loss & separation...but we need to be about the Father's business here in the US. Our Lord has work for us to do here & now in America. Our Ethiopia presentations are part of that work. Living in the light of what we have learned from our Ethiopia experience & making new godly habits of spiritual maturity is another aspect of that work. We must not let our feelings distract us from the spiritual work that we need to be doing here & now.
From 1964 until 2004 (40 years), I lived with this longing, a deep-seated yearning for Ethiopia. But it was not God's timing for me to work there in person. Financial & prayer involvement was all I could do. My appointed work was raising my boys, learning to live in the Spirit, assisting my husband in his calling, etc. But 'in the fullness of time' God has opened our ministry in Ethiopia. He does things in the right way & at the right time. The key is to keep busy for the Kingdom, doing what He wants here & now, and not become so incapacitated by feelings of loneliness for Ethiopia that we allow the Evil One to sidetrack us from the work God has for us today.
5. Beware of putting others on pedestals. Pedestals are man-made; they feed idolatry. The tendency of mankind since the beginning is to set up some visible 'god' instead of the true & living (though unseen) God. All cultures have this tendency, but here in America, and in Christian circles in America, we have made an art form of this. Dave & I "fight" this all the time, as people want to put us on a pedestal because of our work, our farm, our whatever-it-is-that-they-admire. As we have said many times publicly & privately, if you see anything good in us, anything courageous in us, anything kind/loving/godly in us...it is the Lord's work in our lives as we have yielded to Him. There is no glory in ourselves. If you see Jesus in us, then follow us, imitate us...just as Paul 'led' those he was in contact with. But beware of substituting us for Jesus. We all must take charge of our own spiritual lives, living in the power of the Spirit who indwells us, learning & obeying the Scriptures.
This same principle of don't-put-others-on-a-pedestal applies to the Ethiopian people, church & leaders. There is much in them to admire; there is much they can teach us; in some ways they are excellent role models. But don't put them on a pedestal. Everything that I've said about Dave & I above applies equally to them. We're all creatures of His grace! His grace is made perfect in weakness, activated by our submission & surrender, sustained by the Spirit which is in each of us. There is a saying "The Ground is level at the Cross"......the Cross is the great equalizer. No matter our differences in culture, in personal history, in temperament, in education, in wealth, in health, in family....no matter any of our differences...the Cross with all its power is ready & available to redeem us & make us like the Son who hung upon that Cross.
So beware of putting anyone, including Dave/me & the Ethiopians, on a pedestal. Remember, if the pedestal falls, (and I guarantee you it will fall!) the resulting damage is not the fault of the one put on the pedestal, but the one(s) who created the pedestal. We must guard ourselves from idolatry.
6. Beware of contempt. Somewhat tied to the pedestal, is the temptation of the Evil One to condemn others for not meeting expectations. We blame others for our disappointments. There is a saying that with knowledge comes contempt. In other words, the more you know about someone, the more the possibility that you will be disappointed by them. This can happen about anyone on our Team, or about an Ethiopian, or about things in general. The “cure” for this syndrome is to remember Reality…we’re all sinners, saved by grace alone. We’re all in process. Things are not perfect this side of Heaven. Sin & human limitations abound. So we must keep our eyes on our own role in the Kingdom…a role of obedience & surrender for the Gospel’s sake…and let the Lord deal with others. We must give grace to others, freeing them to follow God’s work in their own heart. So guard your heart from condemnation or criticism that can follow familiarity. It is God’s work, and each of us, in our own limited, stumbling, imperfect way is attempting to fulfill our personal part in His work.
7. Preparing for the Future. There is a sort of cyclical pattern to these trips of ministry. Phase 1) is thinking, praying, 'brainstorming', waiting, listening....this is the formation stage, where we are sitting quietly in the waiting room of the King of Kings & Lord of Lords. We are waiting for His orders. We must patiently wait, think, pray, brainstorm, listen; this stage cannot be rushed. It is important that we do HIS work and not ours. There is a temptation to take the lazy road & just do the activities of missions textbook, or duplicate the activities of some other mission work, without taking time to discern the Lord's will for us in particular. There is also the temptation to rush ahead with plans because our emotions are high; if we make commitments in the rush of emotion, without this prayer/listening/waiting time, then we run the risk of hurting others when we cannot meet our commitments. Sometimes this phase of ministry takes months, but eventually the Lord "arranges" our thinking, settling us in peace into a plan or a focus. Then begins phase 2)...focusing energies, time, communications on the specific ministry activities He's directed. This time is full of logistics. It's also full of watching Him bring people & funds, seemingly out of nowhere, for the work at hand. This is the preparation stage, anticipating & making ready for the doings. It takes a lot of conversation & coordination with the Ethiopian church & the American church. Then, at an appointed date, phase 3) starts...the on-site trip to Ethiopia with hands-on ministry. As you know, it's a high-energy, high-focus, sacrificial time, being faithful to the end, finishing the task, living on the edge of Faith, etc. At the end of the trip, the sudden change of location begins phase 4)...separation, mourning, loneliness, emotional/physical/spiritual fatigue, mental & emotional "wandering" between Ethiopia & America. This is a time of personal disconnect from those around us who didn't experience Ethiopia, and a time of "surreal" bonding with those who experienced Ethiopia with us. Ethiopia stays on our mind. Maybe tears come easily. We reach out to re-connect with the trip thru pictures, emails, conversations. In my experience, usually this phase of 'disconnect' lasts 4-12 weeks.
Perhaps it will help you to process things & gain perspective if you see & understand these phases. So you are reading this letter we are beginning to transition Phase 4 to Phase 1. This is a time of physical & emotional rest, or "regrouping". It is a time of hanging between cultures and peoples. It is a time of reporting to others & trying to bring them into Ethiopia. It is not a time of decision about future ministries; we must take the time to pray, wait & listen before making decisions about the future.
Also, I want to comment that this time, right after a great ministry & seeing the Lord’s glory, often opens into a time of great vulnerability to the Evil One. We are so “high”, so amazed at His power, so thrilled that He used us…that we let down our guard, and the Evil One smashes us with discouragement, depression, loneliness, etc. So you need to consciously “walk” the Life the same…by faith, by looking to Him, by surrender, by resting in His grace, by focus on Kingdom work…no matter what phase you are in. Be on guard for the Evil One as you recuperate in these coming weeks.
With much love,
8:22 AM Brother Jon Glass, intrepid equestrian (photo), has published several reports about his work in Ethiopia. His website is called Connect with God, Connect with Others (love that title!).
7:49 AM The latest addition to our home page is called How Are Your Verbs?
Thursday, January 1
5:51 PM Nate and I just moved all this fine old lumber into our barn. He salvaged it in Oxford today. I don't know how Nate got it into the trailer by himself. It took both of us to lift it off. Right now I couldn't lift a feather if my life depended on it, my arms are so tired.
Farm life. Ya gotta love it.
3:08 PM Guy Muse is once again prodding us to think more scripturally about the way we do church. His latest post is called How I got into house/organic/simple church. It contains a brief description of his personal pilgrimage as well as a nod to a couple of books he found nutritious. I am perhaps not as radical on the idea of house churching, but it is imperative that we all rethink the wineskins and do what we can in our churches to become more faithful to the biblical witness.
2:45 PM I award a full three cheers to Alan Knox for doing such a great job of blogging about the church. He's just listed his Helping Out Searchers, a sort of mini-summary of his ecclesiology. I hope his ideas find favor with many of you. Why? Because they're biblical. Along the way, I think you'll learn a lot about grace and humility by reading Alan's site. (I sure have!) Have another great year, brother Alan, and don't slow down.
11:10 AM It's 22 degrees and the dogs are frisky and HAPPY. Same with the herds.
Light snow is expected tomorrow. Should be gobs of fun. Mr. Denver was right: It's wonderful to be back home again.
9:17 AM My colleague and good friend Alvin Reid has posted his perspective on 2009. I need to home in on several things he says. Disclaimer: I really like Alvin, despite his fondness for ugly reptiles.
9:11 AM And now for a departure from our normal fare to bring you a blog post that has everything to do with a huge problem in our society: Book Review: Do Hard Things. Way to go, Jeremy. You're not alone, by the way.
9:02 AM Rats. Brother Lionel keeps posting essays that I just have to link to. A recent pick isOnce Saved Always Saved or Falling From Grace. Years ago Keith Elliott showed (in an essay published in the Expository Times) that the key to interpreting Hebrews 6:4-6 is the shift from the 5 aorist tense participles to the 2 present tense participles: as long as one keeps on crucifying to himself the Son of God and exposing Him to public shame, repentance is impossible. The idea is: STOP IT! You can also see this truth in verses 7-8 (the "forgotten" verses in this problem passage). Here the principle is: Where there is fruit on the tree, there is life in the tree. I think to interpret the passage any other way is disastrous.
By the way, aren't you glad that Lionel keeps on returning to the blogosphere from his early retirement(s)?
8:21 AM Becky and I came home to a clean house and a countertop full of gifts and goodies, including my all-time fave, Doritos. A big thank-you to Nate, Jess, Liz, Matt, Caleb, Isaac, and Micah!
Tonight I've invited Nate and Jess to join us for supper -- Chinese food, of course, made with my top-secret ingredient. By the way, Jessie is now showing, and she sure looks beautiful.
7:10 AM Surfing the web this morning I ran across this essay on Learning Biblical Languages. Some good stuff here. I especially enjoyed comment #14.
By the way, if you live in the greater Roxboro area (NC), I will begin teaching a basic Greek class on January 26. We will meet every Monday night, starting at 7:00 pm, at Bethel Hill Baptist Church. All are invited, but class size is limited. No tuition is charged.
6:39 AM I've just uploaded my first post-trip essay. It's called Eat, Heal, and Tell.
UPDATE: I see that Jason and Molly have been busy reporting about the mission trip as well.Check out their reports here. Lots of pix too.
4:54 AM We’re back! Landed yesterday at RDU after our plane made a harrowing go-around due to wind gusts. A good reminder that God is still sovereign. These past 6 weeks have been phenomenal. The Lord Jesus blessed us abundantly. We experienced His grace and mercy every step of the way. To top it off, we were met by our church family at the airport yesterday. It was a wonderful token of love, and it took us completely by surprise. Afterwards we enjoyed a meal together in Roxboro before driving to the farm. How I thank God for Bethel Hill!
So how was the trip?
Comedian Steve Martin once quipped, “Comedy isn’t pretty.” Well, neither is missions. It can be a very untidy business – at times rough and tumble, and often dangerous. It demands one’s all, and one must be willing to pay it. As everyone knows, I’m not very impressed with book-learning. Yes, I appreciate the insights a formal theological education has to offer. (Hey, I’m a prof!) But I RELISH being in the presence of Jesus-followers, educated or not, who are on mission with their whole being and who live sacrificially for others. I’m thinking, of course, of my American teammates on our trip to Ethiopia. I found them to be a gentle, humble, wise, and patient group of friends and mentors, with a great sense of humor to boot. They were not just physician assistants and pastors and pharmacists and nurses and school teachers and homemakers but men and women with an increasingly passionate desire to serve God by serving others. I think all of them would affirm that there is nothing in life quite as exhilarating as getting involved in the ministry of reconciliation. The fact that lost souls exist means something to these people, and they are brokenhearted over the misery we human beings inflict upon ourselves through our own waywardness. I certainly don’t mean to imply that all Christians are failures in this regard or indifferent to the world’s suffering. Yet there can be no doubt that the narcissism we see in the world – a cult of the self – has permeated many of our evangelical institutions, including our churches, our colleges, and – dare I say it – our seminaries. We have played into the hands of the Evil One by emphasizing certain doctrines over a commitment to articulating and living out a faithful Christian lifestyle. In the flesh, of course, I’d much rather be in a comfortable classroom in North Carolina than trekking among the Gujis in war-torn southern Ethiopia. But that’s my flesh speaking, not my spirit. Whether in a classroom or in a desolate village, I simply want to be a "Christian" – a man whose whole being is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m not there yet, but that’s my goal.
During our travels in Africa my teammates and I rediscovered the great truth that there is one Gospel, one Lord, one faith, one church, one Shepherd, and one sheepfold. Our trip began and ended in God’s amazing grace. Far from being impressed with our accomplishments, we are stunned – flabbergasted and astounded! – that God should have chosen us to do His kingdom work. Let me put it bluntly: we are nothing but a group of sinful and at least partly dysfunctional (in one way or another) individuals whom God welded together into a cohesive unit to accomplish a God-sized task. I was constantly amazed at how the Lord Jesus allowed us to get in sync with each other, adapt to one another, and encourage and disciple each other. Patience and wisdom were demanded at all times, and God was there to supply. We were, in short, a “community,” and not just isolated individuals. We were able and willing to work together as a team for a mutual goal. Jesus did not send His disciples out one by one but two by two. He intends that we should love and serve Him in community. The New Testament was written for people who were to interpret and apply it together. So it was that our team constantly prayed for and with each other, prodding and encouraging each other along. Much like the book of Acts, it was the church in action – humble Jesus-followers giving their hearts for the world. Once again, don’t get me wrong. I love the classroom. I missed it terribly. I enjoy academic conferences with my friends. I enjoy fellowshipping with the saints. But – to use a football analogy – intramural scrimmages don’t win games. We are saved for presence and witness in the world. We are to be “disciples” (the Greek word simply means “trainees”) in the Missionary School of Jesus, gripped by the truth that God desires all men and women to be saved and then discipled.
I want to thank everyone who made our trip possible. The day-to-day organization fell to Becky, whose ability to handle a mass of details – cross-culturally at that – is phenomenal. Becky is a true servant of the Lord and a wonderful example of Proverbs 31. I am deeply grateful for her. Whenever I think of Becky I think of Lydia of Philippi, who was a woman of great business acumen, and also of the four occasions when the Philippian church sent supplies to Paul (2 Cor. 11:9, Phil. 4:10-20). This ministry was probably due to Lydia’s foresight and generosity. There is no doubt in my mind that anyone who has been helped in Ethiopia by our ministry owes a great deal to my noble, wonderful, and beautiful wife.
In Ethiopia we were assisted by church elders, translators, drivers, cooks, and many other humble Christians who used their gifts and talents as a “service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). Each had a genuine love for people. We worked side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder. They were the greatest. Betam amasagenalo!
Our team of Americans and their supporters were great. Each one of them increasingly grasped the meaning of our Lord’s words, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Knowing Him and making Him known has become, for them as well as for Becky and me, the simple greatest reality in our lives. We left Ethiopia with a renewed confidence that God will give us more than we could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). We kept our eyes on the tape. We gave our best and went our hardest until the last lap. We faced many obstacles, but we strode on confidently and steadily in Christ. Missionary work is living in the deep end of the swimming pool without being allowed to touch the sides. Whatever He is asking us to do, we can’t do it without Him. All of us labored until we were physically exhausted and emotionally spent. Then we labored some more, drawing on the amazing enabling power of the Christ who indwells us. The work was back-breaking and often heart-breaking. But it was the work to which God had called us, and our adequacy was of Him.
Look for updates and essays about our trip in the coming weeks. I sincerely thank you for your prayers, and I hope our updates will be a blessing to you, my blogging friends, and an encouragement to join Jesus’ Great Commission team if you haven't done so already.
Your fellow trainee, Dave