Tuesday, March 31
6:33 AM Goodbye, March. What a great month you were: Spring Break; Burji team orientation; speaking at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Amelia Baptist Church, Providence Baptist Church, North Roxboro Baptist Church, and the Beulah Baptist Association; Nate's 26th birthday celebration; Alan Knox's seminar; the Dead Sea Scrolls conference in Kansas City; Greek class at The Hill. I couldn't manage such a complex and pressured schedule without planting my feet firmly in relationships. Christianity is inescapably relational. None of us understands fully our relationships. But I for one am grateful for each one that I enjoy, beginning with the relationship I have with my Priscilla (Becky). I know I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, with all this talk about the priority of deed over word, orthopraxy over orthodoxy. It reminds me of John Peer's Law of Enough Already: "The more you run over a dead cat, the flatter it gets." But Jesus didn't come just to save our souls. He came to give us a brand new way of living. We are immobilized, demeaned, and defeated whenever we think that Christianity is a dead religion of works. True Christianity is a cross-like lifestyle in the midst of all the gook, grit, and grind of life.
Wherever we go this day, may we live out what we believe in, keeping our eyes on Him.
Monday, March 30
10:04 PM Just back from Greek class. Fantastic. Although to be honest, I struggled to convey the concepts adequately. Oh well, the Lord is going to have to take up where I left off. He's an expert at doing that. My hats off to all my students who have hung in there to this point. Believe me, it's well worth it.
Tomorrow I return to my Wake Forest office. My schedule reads like a brain surgeon's. That's the way I like it: nice and busy. Thank the Lord, I'm up to par physically. I must finish two writing projects by Wednesday. Pray for me as I debate, ponder, and pray over my choice of words. I would freshly appreciate, I'm sure, the ongoing filling of the Spirit. I return to campus gripped with this statement from the Lausanne Covenant: "World evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world." I cannot get Acts 1:8 out of my mind and heart. I thank the Lord that He is such a good Nudger, prodding me from where I am to where I ought to be missionally. How much further I still have to go!
2:30 PM Right now I'm preparing a fresh translation of Phil. 3:1-11 for tomorrow's Greek class. (Hey, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. I do all of my students' assignments as if I were a student with them. Come to think of it, I am.) The mark of a good Greek student, it seems to me, is that he or she is determined to understand what the text means and not merely produce a literal translation of the words used in the text. Today we are deluged with Bible translations that simply repeat what other versions have said without ever getting to the heart of the text. There is a difference between being able to express in English the various Greek words in a passage and knowing what God's Word says.
For example, it's almost impossible to grasp the brilliance of what Paul writes in verse 2, where he makes a complete mockery of his opponents' lifestyle. The verse contains at least four extremely significant rhetorical devices that Paul uses to reinforce his meaning (asyndeton, alliteration, anaphora, paronomasia). Paul even dares to use highly offensive language to get his point across: "Beware of the dogs! Beware of the evil workers! Beware of the mutilation!"
Paul seems driven by an impulsion to warn his friends in Philippi to cling to a Gospel that is pure and unmixed from any human work or achievement. His language seems to be intended to insult as much as it is to inform, much like Limbaugh's "Feminazis" or Luther's "Your Hellishness" for "Your Holiness." Human advantages are completely without value! They are worse than useless. They are the enemies of Christianity! Thus Paul stabs our ears again and again (paraphrased to bring out the meaning): "Beware of those who are preying on you! Beware of those who are practicing evil things! Beware of those who insist on circumcision! For we are already circumcised because we serve God by His Spirit and boast about what Christ Jesus is doing. In fact, we've never placed confidence in physical things!"
This is the picture of the Christian soldier, recognizing that there is no area of our lives safe from the enemy of legalism, no avenue of approach that the Evil One cannot take, no stratum of behavior where we are inaccessible to the temptations of the flesh. Every Christian is in a battle. No one can register as a conscientious objector in today's warfare against our spiritual opponents. The Christian life is not about rules and regulations, quotas and ratios, methods and strategies. It is a living relationship with the Lord, of whom we can say with full confidence, "Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down our assailants!" (Ps. 44:5).
Praise the Lord!
9:27 AM Scot McKnight's guest post How do you introduce yourself? got me thinking. In fact, I talk a lot about this in my new book on discipleship. Why? Because Jesus talked about it (see esp. Matthew 23). This point is also made in several places by Donald Kraybill in his outstanding book The Upside-Down Kingdom (Scottsdale, PA: Herald, 2003):
- "Tagging each other with titles has no place in the upside-down kingdom where everyone stands on equal ground" (226).
- "Kingdom people will also strive to minimize hierarchy in social governance" (238).
- "Titles are foreign to the body of Christ. Terms like Doctor and Reverend perpetuate status differences unbefitting the spirit of Christ" (239).
- "We call each other by our first name, for we have one Master and one Lord, Jesus Christ" (256).
Think about it.
8:45 AM Brothers Jason and Joel (our elders at The Hill) have been taking us on a wonderful journey through the Bible. We've been studying the atonement and Christ's sacrificial and substitutionary death on our behalf. To Jesus belongs the redemptive work of grace, not to us! His sacrifice (not ours) paid the price of sin! And by His continual presence He liberates from sin!
Yesterday these truths became crystal clear once again as we studied the opening of Galatians (Gal. 1:1-5). Jesus truly "paid it all," not just 99.9 percent. I may have missed it, but I wonder if Jason or Joel will include the opening of Hebrews in their series (Heb. 1:1-4). Here Jesus is described as the one who made "purification" for the sins of men. The whole book of Hebrews is predicated upon an understanding of the Old Testament sacrificial system, in which animals were slaughtered and butchered. As you know, we process our own meat here on the farm. Animals "sacrifice" their lives, if you will, that we might have something to eat to sustain our lives. There are, however, at least three differences between the sacrifice of an animal and Jesus' sacrifice for our sins as the Lamb of God.
1) Jesus' sacrifice was voluntary. He chose to die. An animal does not "give his life"; it is taken from him.
2) Jesus' sacrifice was rational. Our animals do not know what is happening to them. Jesus was not an ignorant victim. He died knowing exactly what He was dying for.
3) Jesus' sacrifice was eternal. Animal sacrifice has only temporary benefits. But Jesus' sacrifice opened the way to eternal life.
We often invite friends and guests to the farm to help us get up hay or build barns. Occasionally they also help us process beef. The experience is foreign to most of them, but it can be an object lesson that reminds us of the unique sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf.
The implications? A Christian is nothing other than someone who is called upon as a constant priority to reflect the love of God by sacrificing self for the blessing of others!
8:25 AM Newsflash! Latin to be banned in jolly olde England. Reminds me of the story they tell about President Andrew Jackson. He was receiving an honorary doctorate from Harvard when he noticed that the entire graduation ceremony was in Latin. So when he got up to give his speech he said, "Quid pro quo, E Pluribus Unum, et cetera!" and sat down.
If nothing else, you gotta appreciate his honesty.
7:55 AM Alan Knox is at it again. In his latest post (Speaking and Serving), he provokes us mightily by asking questions like "How do we serve God" and "Do I need to know my 'gift' to serve others?" The paradox, to me at least, is that those who speak well have no credibility (again, in my opinion) unless they are also serving well. Thus Paul came to the Thessalonians and preached to them the Word, but not only with words. He writes (1 Thess. 1:5), "When we brought the Good News to you, we did not do so with words only but also with power, the Holy Spirit, and complete certainty, just as you know what kind of people we were when we lived among you for your sakes." Note three things:
1) The Thessalonians heard more than words. They saw a powerful life of sacrifice that backed up the words.
2) Paul "lived among them." He did not pull up his theological dump truck, unload his message, and then pull a wheelie out of the parking lot screeching all the way. He lived the Gospel before their very eyes.
3) And just how did he "live the Gospel"? Paul doesn't tell us explicitly. He just says that he and his fellow missionaries did everything "for your sakes." We might paraphrase this, "you know the good things we did for you rather than advance our own comfort and lifestyle."
Elsewhere we read (Heb. 13:7), "Remember your leaders who have spoken to you God's Word." (Here's the speaking ministry.) "Think about how their lives turned out, and then imitate their faith." (Here's the serving ministry.) Of course, the greatest example of speaking AND serving is Jesus Himself. I am really impressed with the way He ate with people, healed them, and spoke to them the Word. And He tells us to do the very same thing (Luke 10:8).
It is said of the Lord Jesus that "He went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). Today, a "do-gooder" is someone who shuffles about helping lost dogs. But in the New Testament a "do-gooder" is invested with the dignity of Jesus. Paul is quite clear about this: "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10).
So speaking gifts must be exercised in the context of genuine relationships if they are to be effective in the long run. They must also be exercised selflessly, seeking no good for the giver but only the good of the receiver. Speaking and serving are two sides of the same coin. And, if I may brag for a moment on one of my students, this is exactly what our speaker modeled for us last weekend when he volunteered his time and energy to serve us at Bethel Hill for absolutely no personal gain or remuneration.
Here endeth the exegetical lesson! -- but it will be helpful as we begin to flesh out these ideas of speaking and serving.
7:43 AM I've started writing my next book. I'm thinking of calling it "Rantings of a Jesus-Loving Greek Prof." No kidding. It'll be about the way of Jesus and about taking seriously our relationship to the Gospel, the Body of Christ, and the kingdom of God. I agree with Kierkegaard that too much of the Christian life is mostly an exercise in "playing Christianity" (Attack upon Christendom, p. 121) and that God is calling His church to begin to wean itself from the cheapened variety of discipleship it practices.
I plan for it to be a nuts-and-bolts, down-to-earth kind of book characterized by everyday ordinariness. Here's my thesis: Christianity is a genuinely radical faith, a revolutionary struggle against all other revolutionary struggles. If my thesis disappoints you, I have no choice but to risk it. I will argue that discipleship involves suffering. Pain-free discipleship does not exist. I'll spend a lot of time, obviously, in the book of Philippians as well as in 1 Thessalonians. Like The Jesus Paradigm, it will take neither a liberal nor a conservative approach to Christian ethics, simply because I do not believe that Jesus can be claimed by either the Old Left or the New Right. This means that no one will like this book!
7:38 AM Love is not a four letter word.
7:32 AM If you're interested in attending this weekend's living history and reenactment at the Alamance Battleground, here's a link that will give you the schedule and directions. I'll be the speaker at the period church service on Sunday morning.
7:23 AM Students, mark your calendars now for our next Student Day at Rosewood Farm: Saturday, April 18, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. We'll eat at 12:00 noon. Otherwise, we'll just "hang out." I'll have a handout in class this week with directions and more details. Hope to see you and your family here.
Sunday, March 29
3:20 PM I just sat down at the computer after taking a nice long walk on the farm. It occurred to me that I was missing a mighty good opportunity to get outdoors while the getting was good. Slowly, very slowly, the grass is coming back nice and green, a foretaste of the toil that awaits us when haying season begins.
The dogs love the tall grass, but -- alas -- they also instinctively love to chase our poor Little Miss, whose 9 lives I'm sure are being sorely tested these days. Have you ever watched a cat climb up a tree in less than a second, and then watch her climb back down again when the coast is clear? That's just exactly what Cat is able to do. I can't tell you how that's done, except the good Lord gave her the ability.
And then, there they were! The flowers I planted last fall. They are finally blooming, and how beautifully. I doubt if I'll ever fail to be interested in plant growth. A seed, then -- voila! -- a farm flower. I had the crazy feeling when I took this photo a few minutes ago that I should preach a sermon from it, so I will. We read this morning in Galatians that we Christians will reap a harvest in due season -- if we do not faint. I strongly suspect that a few of my Greek students could take heart from this word just now. I'm tackling one or two sowing opportunities of my own right now, so I'm not just preaching to others. So I'm thankful for these pretty little flowers. They give the world a mood of optimism, in a very pessimistic time. Reap. Sow. Faint not. God gives the increase.
Off to take a good old-fashioned Sunday nap.
2:15 PM It seems that we went through practically the entire book of Galatians this morning in the service. I was deeply impacted by the truth of the Gospel. We drilled deep into key passages to mine all the good teaching there. It is very legitimate to ask, "What is at the heart of the Gospel that requires that we keep it so pure?" To me 5:14 says it all: We are to serve (lit., enslave ourselves to) one another through love. Orthodoxy without orthopraxy is insidiously deadly. In particular, I resonate with Paul's statement in Gal. 2:20 that I am crucified with Christ and live only as He lives through me, so that I might become His hands and feet in the world. There's so much more I can say, but for the moment let me suggest that a church can espouse a pure Gospel and still not LIVE the Gospel. I for one am glad to belong to a church family that, by the great grace of God, is doing both.
I think Becky is going to be blogging about this more on the Bethel Hill website. I do know she's got some nifty pictures of the children who participated in all the fun and games yesterday. Meanwhile I'm still processing all that the wonderful Gospel of Jesus means to me. It is a true treasure. May your life be filled with the Good News today!
8:38 AM The sun has decided to stage a reentry! It's a glorious day, and I think I'm even well enough to attend the "Sunday meeting" (as brother Alan would call it). To be honest, I love my Sunday School class. Right now we're in the book of Philemon. And guess what? Our text is the Bible! For the last several years I've been pushing the "get rid of your Sunday School quarterlies and just use the Bible" cause. I imagine that's how Jesus would have taught. He'd unroll the scroll of, say, Isaiah, then comment on it. From there, of course, He would proceed to quote all the famous Rabbis of His day -- Jona Piper, John Mac-Amos, Chuck Swin-Joel. Say what? That's exactly what He wouldn't do! I long to see a generation of Bible teachers who know the Scriptures so well that every class session is a clash session -- a clash between the Bible and all of our manmade ideas about the Bible. Let's stop the overdependence on our glossy publications and go on the offensive for Jesus. Let's let all of our so-called experts take a seat when it comes to the Bible -- a back seat. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying we shouldn't use helps when preparing a lesson. But when it comes class time, I want to see the Bible in our hands, not a pile of newsprint. And (I add selfishly): think of all the money that could go to purchasing Bibles for Ethiopia instead of purchasing Bible-substitutes for lazy Americans!
Saturday, March 28
6:44 PM If you were at last Saturday's seminar led by Alan Knox, you really need to check out Becky's report. It's over at the new Bethel Hill blog.
6:14 PM Today I "officially" signed my book contract with my new publisher. I'm very excited to be working with his company. As soon as he gets the book in his online catalog, I'll link to it. Then you'll know who he is! As you can probably figure out, the book was written in the context of a very busy professor's life, not to mention the incessant farm work and missionary travel I do. So I'm relieved to get my part of the work out of the way. It'll be neat to see people coming into contact with Jesus through reading and studying this book. If you're a blogger and would like to review it, the publisher tells me he'll make advanced review copies available for free this summer. By the way, we've decided to change the title of the book. It's now called The Jesus Paradigm. I love that title. Short and sweet. We hope that it will also help market the book in secular bookstores.
Can you tell yet that my passion is to DO the Gospel? It looks like "theology for real life" is becoming my new motto! It definitely has been transformational in how I write. But nothing -- and I mean nothing -- can take the place of scandalous love and working to share the greatest message of love with others. Let's be honest. The infighting going on right now in the Baptist blogosphere is just plain ridiculous. In our heart of hearts we must surely know it's damaging Jesus' reputation. None of us is big enough or "orthodox" enough to reach the nations by ourselves. Why I am saying all this? Two reasons. First of all, I want us to be OCD over reaching the lost. Let's be characterized, not by fighting over tongues-speaking or Calvinism or Arminianism or worship styles, but by passionate proclamation of the Gospel! Secondly, if we are agreed on the major issues of God's Word, we should be able to agree on what that Word tells us to do -- go everywhere and preach the Gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15).
So if we are going to get distracted, friends, let's get distracted by the crucified and resurrected Jesus!!!
6:02 PM The Maple Ridge part of Rosewood Farm is doing as well as can be expected. When I took the dogs for a walk I had a nice visit with Nate and Jess and found them working on Craig's List. Nate is still selling some hay from last year, and the Internet is a great tool to help him get that job done. He seems to be doing a little better today physically but he's still got a ways to go before he's back to his normal self. I'm emotionally impacted by a story Nate and Jess told me. (Pardon me, but my "paternal" side is about to make another grand entrance.) It seems that they had a close call the other day when I was on campus. They were out fertilizing a neighbor's field when three idiots (I use the term intentionally) on an adjacent property began firing their guns into the air for fun, apparently not realizing that what goes up must come down somewhere. (Go figure.) Well, the bullets began landing awfully close to Nate and Jess. They could hear the whizzz as they went past! Nate went over to talk to the men but they didn't seem to be in a very receptive mood. So he had to call the Sheriff to go over and try to talk some sense into them. The Sheriff reported to Nathan afterwards that they seemed to realize the folly of their ways and were "repentant." We'll see. I have lived in rural America long enough to be skeptical about such shot gun conversions. But you can bet your bottom dollar that we'll be much more cautious in the future whenever we go near that field.
To be perfectly honest with you, I don't understand why God allows things like that to happen. It's a reminder to me that I need to be in prayer constantly for my family. Living out in the country has its downsides as well as its blessings. The irresponsible use of firearms is a classic example of the former. Nathan and I are very well armed, but at leastwe've got enough common sense to know how to use our firearms responsibly. Still, I can't allow myself to get angry. (That is, stay angry. I was fuming when I heard that story.) There are too many souls in our community to be reached for Jesus, too many people that are hurting (and therefore do stupid things that harm themselves and others), too many lost Baptists who think they're going to heaven while going to hell, and too many opportunities to serve Jesus to waste my time in fruitless arguments with my neighbors. Still, it's a bit of a shock to realize that you don't have to go to Ethiopia or Iraq to put your life at risk.
Nathan will always be my little boy. But, more importantly, he's God's child. So I wait on the Lord, and pray a lot.
11:35 AM Got cabin fever. Off for a walk with the dogs. Who knows what we'll find before the next big storm hits.
10:18 AM In family news...
1) It's the beginning of the end, I hope. I've started coughing up gooey junk. Gross.
2) A week from tomorrow is Nate and Jess's one year anniversary. Hardly seems possible. Becky and I have celebrated 32 of these. That confirms my "geezer" status!
3) Becky has been sewing up a storm. A new reenacting gown and several jumpers. The other day Jessie commented on one of Becky's dress fabrics: "I made a dress years ago with the exact same material!" Guess some things never change at Wal-Mart.
4) Looking ahead, I'll be in my "missional" mode as we go on the road to nearby Person County in NC for a Bible conference. It will migrate from church to church, starting Sunday night at Bethany Baptist Church. The remainder of the schedule looks like this: Monday night at Antioch Baptist Church (youth night), Tuesday night at Red Mountain Baptist Church (evangelism night), and Wednesday night at Timberlake Baptist Church (missions night). Services begin at 7:00 pm. Dates are April 5-8.
5) God willing, we are still planning on attending next weekend's reenactment at the Alamance Battleground just west of Durham, NC. Again, Nate has been asked to call the period ball on Saturday night, and I'm on the schedule to preach at the period church service on Sunday morning. More details as they become available. But if you've never been to a Civil War living history and live in the greater Raleigh-Durham area, this is a convenient event.
6) Lastly, Edelweiss (one of our goats) is due any day now. Then again, we've been saying that for weeks. I love baby goats. No sooner are they born than they're jumping and leaping in praise to their Creator.
10:03 AM Bethel Hill Greek students, your vacation is almost over (I hate to remind you!). Keep your powder dry, because we'll be in the thick of it on Monday night as we introduce chapter 7 on the imperfect and aorist active indicative (which you should read before coming to class). Yes, I know it will be a challenge, but remember that I am your God-appointed thorn in the flesh to keep you humble and (hopefully) growing in your faith. Our time together in class has been superb so far and I think can only get better.
But ... it will take perseverance.
9:32 AM Doug French notes how we Americans have become incurably addicted to government in his essay The Lies Are Sacred, Blessed by Government. I quite agree with his use of the term "sacred." Government solutions to our problems have become sacrosanct, and it is almost blasphemous to question them.
I've always found it somewhat disconcerting that "sacred" and "scared" are spelled so closely in our language.
9:23 AM It's much easier to start a war than finish it, as President Obama is discovering. Over at The Guardian, Simon Tisdall thinks the U.S. will only get deeper and deeper into the quagmire called Afghanistan unless we have a coherent exit strategy. Somehow it seems to me that we're still groping in the darkness. God help the president and our policy makers. They've got my prayers.
8:42 AM I've been enjoying interacting with Brian Fulthorp about Rom. 12:16, one of my favorite verses in all of Scripture:
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
More and more I'm beginning to realize that education and social status mean absolutely nothing to Jesus. I'm beginning to realize that in His kingdom there are no small people. I'm beginning to repent of my hankering after prestige and recognition. Service and sacrifice are gradually becoming more important to me than relevance. An overcommitment to the academy is gradually being replaced by a commitment to Christian community and discipleship. In our Philippians class we've seen how Jesus had status but refused to exploit it. He had power but used it to serve the needs of the outcast and the stigmatized. He was willing to serve others even at the risk of His own life. One of the main reasons I wrote my new book is to give a heart's cry for a great awakening in the area of missions. So often we seem to be more concerned with minor, ephemeral matters than with the real basis of the Gospel. In our current techno-urban society there's so much pressure to conform to churchianity. That's one of the reasons I love working with Ethiopians. We work closely with local evangelical congregations in Ethiopia that have banded together for the sake of the Gospel. Token unity is not enough for them. Friends, I don't have to see eye-to-eye with you to work hand-in-hand. We are all brothers in Christ, members of one spiritual family, parts of one spiritual Body. I know we can't pretend to have unity where there is none. I'm well aware that doctrine is vitally important. My whole life has been dedicated to training people to think biblically and to engage in serious Bible study. But when we make secondary issues the main issue, we have set aside the vision we read about in Acts 1:8 and Matt. 28:19-20. It's time we did the Gospel -- together.
In this day of financial uncertainty, let's invest in the only stock market that can never crash and where our investments are always safe (Matt. 6:19-24)!
Friday, March 27
8:42 PM What in the world am I smiling about? Watching Cary Grant's Father Goose with the family this evening. Jessie gave Nathan the DVD for his birthday. So Nate and I sat there nursing our colds and enjoying the goodness of the Lord, and the company of our wives.
My prayers are going up for Nathan to get well real soon.
6:38 PM So it seems we won't be able to make it to the reenactment after all. Nate is just too sick. It's a mixed blessing. He won't get to call his dance, and I won't get to preach. But the long drive, plus the wicked weather, would be too challenging physically for both of us. Nathan really wanted to go. He'd rather fulfill a commitment than be comfortable. Weird how he's so much like me. It's interesting to see how he tends toward tenderness in relationships rather than holy justice. Neat. The point is that I'm deeply impacted by his example. Lavish grace. Selfless giving. People before money. Family. Jesus. What a great son.
Tonight I cooked Chinese again for everybody. As always it contained my secret ingredient.It has medicinal value, of course :)
9:11 AM What is the church? That's the fundamental question Alan Knox raises at hiswebsite. I tell you, that question goes right to one's convictional solar plexus. To be honest, it's a lot easier to talk about the church than it is to actually be the church. We get distracted so easily from being the church to one another because we are chasing down something that is like a UFO. Please don't get me wrong. The question is an important one. We must study the Scriptures so that we can effectively know how to make a difference in the world. We must discover what God is working in before we can work it out (Phil. 2:12-13).
I think we'd go a long way toward defining what the church is if each of our churches filled in the following blank:
"Our church exists to ______." I imagine there are as many answers to this question as there are churches:
"Our church exists to promote the doctrines of grace."
"Our church exists to promote age-integration."
"Our church exists to promote elder-led congregationalism."
"Our church exists to promote the glory of God."
"Our church exists to enjoy God."
"Our church exists to fulfill the Great Commission."
As for Bethel Hill Baptist Church, I might perhaps answer the question this way: "Our church exists to embody the crucified and resurrected Christ by ministering to the world in the power of the Spirit of God." Sadly, for many of us, we have made following Jesus all about being a "good church member." The church is drowning in the folly of worldly power, fortune, and success. The earliest followers of Jesus insisted that disciples prioritize God's kingdom rather than worldly self-seeking, even if that meant their martyrdom. They taught that "Jesus is Lord," far from being a meaningless catchphrase, is a radical claim. For them, Christianity was incompatible with allegiance to other authorities, be they political, cultural, ethnic, or even ecclesiastical. Christianity transcends all boundaries -- cultural, racial, political, geographical, natural, even national. Radical disciples of Jesus embrace those on the other side of the dividing walls of hostility, including our "enemies."
Sometimes I forget what an awesome privilege it is to be a part of the Body of Christ. Jesus is up to something so big, so powerful, so transformational in our churches today that it boggles the mind! Thanks to the great mercy of God and the marvel of Pentecost, the church can be transformed from the sad parody of Christianity it has become into the glorious Bride that God intends for it to be.
8:18 AM Over at To Be Like Him, Dave Wellman has been posting his thoughts about discipleship. He's challenged me to think about what Jesus is doing in my own life to become a truer disciple. Right now Jesus seems to be peeling back the layers of my relationships and helping me work through the "clay pot + treasure" syndrome. As an earthen vessel, I am a relatively inexpensive and fragile container into which God has poured out the treasure of His Gospel. The problem is that I tend to focus on the clay and not enough on the treasure. To complicate matters, I've chosen a lifestyle that does not lend itself to easy balance. I'm constantly facing new and challenging situations, from farming to missionary work to writing books (and writing is hard work!). Oddly, the older I get, the more unpredictable life becomes. To top it off, I live in a fishbowl, as does everyone who has a high public profile.
Life for me is often like being inside a hurricane, surrounded by the same stresses all other people face but trying to operate within the eye, the place of peace and normalcy. I am not reluctant to say that, next to my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with Becky is the main cause of my growth as a disciple. She is such an important balancing agent for me. I watch with wonder the unwavering quality of her love for Christ, for me, and for others. Our life has become a mutually shared effort to please and serve God. She and I deliberately channel our energies into ministering together, and we are the spiritually healthier for it. Becky's creative common sense and practical piety enable me to do what God has called me to do, and (hopefully) I serve her in much the same way. It's a synergism that I can't explain. I want people to say when they see Dave and Becky, "That's a partnership." The theme of serving Jesus together has become the overarching principle of our marriage. Becky and I are committed to doing everything we possibly can to wash the feet of others in Jesus' name. We are discovering that Christian servanthood is unlike anything the world has to offer. It is a service that one voluntarily undertakes. Whenever you voluntarily lay aside your "rights," God's grace is at work. It does not come naturally. It is a gift of God's love and, I believe, a gift that God wants to give every married couple. The result will be a relationship in which selfishness diminishes (it will never disappear altogether) and giving increases.
So I'm grateful this morning that Becky and I are co-plodders, learning the value of living in a world that is bigger than either of us, and increasingly becoming disinterested in our own security and comfort. We are determined to see the things in our lives as mere tools and nothing more. Things do not matter anymore. People do. For me at least, that's what "discipleship" is coming to signify.
Below: Becky in prayer at Nate and Jessie's wedding last April. Dich lieb' ich sehr, mein Liebchen.
Thursday, March 26
1:53 PM Feeling pretty lousy right now. Off to bed. (How's that for a "tweet"?)
1:30 PM Life never quite works out the way you plan. Nathan has come down with a bad cold. Last night he ran a fever of 101. Fortunately he's got a great wife to help nurse him back to health. But right now he's in no shape to call the dance on Saturday night. Of course, I'm not feeling the greatest either. We may have to cancel our trip to Latta after all. If we do, there'll be disappointment, but also satisfaction knowing that God isn't wringing His hands wondering what He's doing.
On a personal note, my publisher and I have decided to do an audio version of my book. That'll be a first for me. I'll do the recording myself. That should be an interesting experience.
Oh yes, our Jessie continues to do well. She's got about 11 weeks to go, and baby Black seems to be as active and normal as ever. They've begun talking about possible names, both male and female. Some pretty interesting ones have come up so far. Sorry, I can't tell you which names they're thinking about. If you want to know, you'll have to ask them!
12:36 PM Alan Knox wants to keep us thinking about what the church is. Amen to that. I argue in The Downward Path of Jesus that New Testament ecclesiology is much more than "doing church right." If we are to be true to the New Testament vision of the church as a family, then we must insist upon a more costly and participatory manifestation of the unity and diversity of Christ's Body. The patterns that I read in the New Testament lead me to conclude that a successful church is much more than an organization with a hard-working paid staff, a large and expanding membership, a growing budget, and a multiplicity of programs. The church, to me, is simply a group of radical Jesus-followers ministering to each other sacrificially and reaching the community about them with the Gospel in word and deed. This kind of radical discipleship as taught by Jesus and modeled for us by the early church is, in my thinking, the great need of the hour. Being a citizen of Christ's kingdom involves a commitment to a radical way of living that both rejects the corrosive influences of Christendom and embraces a citizenship status quite apart from political or official church structures in any given time or place. Christian discipleship means trading everything for the privilege of gathering voluntarily around the person and example of Christ and giving all for the cause of Christ's mission in the world. That's why I argue that restoration, not reformation, ought to be the goal of church renewal today. As I mentioned to my publisher yesterday, nobody will really be happy with my book. It will please neither traditionalists nor emergents, neither red Christians nor blue Christians, neither age-integrationists nor age-segregationists (or any other -ists), neither those on the left nor those on the right. I hope, however, that it will appeal to anyone who is prepared to pay any price necessary to develop churches dedicated exclusively to life and faith under Jesus' authority. The Jesus way of life is a consistent lifestyle of sacrificial service rather than occasional acts of solidarity with people who cannot give us anything. We are called to be revolutionaries byacting (and not only thinking) like Jesus. Our only loyalty should be to Him and the Kingdom He is building. We cannot have two allegiances. We cannot serve two kingdoms. Let anyone who thinks that radical obedience is not needed in today's world come with me to Armenia or India or Ukraine and see the poverty and smell the dung and hear the crying of the people. Let those who champion upward mobility rather than the way of suffering love spend one week with me among the Burjis or the Gujis or the Alabas or the Amharas of Ethiopia. No, the church of Jesus Christ is not the equivalent of the "good life" of Western culture. It's the exact opposite, in fact, and it alone offers a real-world alternative to the grasping and getting of American society.
The root of the problem? We Americans know the price of everything and the value of nothing. In the end, though, only servanthood and love are forces strong enough to break the grip of human sin.
10:47 AM I get a lot of encouraging emails about my beginning grammar but only rarely do I get phone calls. Well, I had one yesterday. It came from an optometrist in Oklahoma who's been studying Greek and is, to put it mildly, jazzed. (If you're reading this, Doc, God bless you!). My feelings aren't public domain, but I'll admit to being elated by and very grateful for his phone call. On another occasion I recall getting an email from China (of all places). It was from an American teaching at one of the state universities over there. He wanted me to know that they were using my grammar. How funny, that something I've written would be used as a textbook in a Chinese classroom. I thank God that my literary efforts, limited though they are, will register throughout time and eternity. I want to improve my craft and serve my Lord with excellence as He gives me the potential for excellence.
Thank you, Father, for interrupting me yesterday to say how much you love me. You used the words of a gracious man whom I will never meet this side of eternity. I praise you that he felt free to dispense kindness to me. Still, you alone wear the halo. I give you a kneeling ovation!
I pray this in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wednesday, March 25
8:40 PM Hey, students, Brian Small provides a great list of online articles on Hebrews. Also, Jamie Wooten shares some superb comments with us about Facebook Fallacies. Finally, Manuel Rojas asks whether Peter and John could read and write. His conclusion is worth quoting in full:
Al parecer, Pedro y Juan sabían leer y escribir, pero no habían sido educados en las escuelas rabínicas formalmente. La obra de Dios no se hace basados en la sabiduría humana, ni acumulando PhD de varios seminarios (lo cual no es malo). La obra de Dios, la proclamación del evangelio, se hace con el poder del Espíritu Santo (Hch. 1.8).
8:34 PM Friday through Sunday we're planning on attending the Civil War living history at the Latta Plantation near Charlotte. NC. Will there be any energy left in my body? We'll see. I do enjoy going to these events. There's always lots of good interaction with the public, plus Nate is calling a period ball on Saturday night. The best part for me is the privilege of sharing the Word at the period church service on Sunday morning. As you probably know, there were many revivals during the war, especially among the Confederate rank and file.Christ in the Camp is a must read for anyone interested in the history of American revivalism. Today the need is just as great to reach this target group for Jesus. Reenactors are just like anyone else. Most have deep pockets of incurable pain (don't you and I?) and are seeking an escape from the trials of life through entertainment, drugs, liquor, or even historical fantasy. They need Jesus, just like we do! And, in the words of one of my students, "Any relationship-building act that has sharing the gospel as its intent is evangelism, no strings attached."
Reenacting holds so many wonderful memories for our family. We've camped in the rain, marched in thunderstorms, and fought battles in 100 degree heat (with wool uniforms on). We've attended events with 50 reenactors and others with 25,000 reenactors. I think, though, my favorite part of these weekends is just hanging out with friends and fellow historians and then getting to share the love of Jesus with them in deed and word. Please pray for me as I proclaim the Good News on Sunday morning. People always expect their "preacher" at these events to be articulate, funny, and provocative. I'm not sure I can live up to those expectations (or even need to), but I do want to present the truth in a powerful and loving manner.
8:22 PM It's official: The Obamas will plant a vegetable garden at the White House. Their goal is to set an example to the nation of the need to go green and to become more self-reliant for its food. You can read about it here.
I think it's a really smart idea. I might suggest they add a couple of fenced pastures for sheep and goats. After all, Woodrow Wilson let sheep graze on the White House lawn. It would save the country gobs of money on lawn care.
The next step would be to build a chicken coop. That's how our family started out in California. Long before we had a dog we had a bevy of backyard Bantams. They took care of the bug population much more efficiently than insecticide. I've even got a few hens the Obamas can have for free (if they pay for the shipping). I'll even throw in some warm compost and manure.
Then they should erect a backyard clothes line. Think of the energy savings! Not to mention the benefit to the girls. They'll be so busy tending the garden or hanging blouses on the clothes line they'll have no time to waste on TV or video games.
Come on folks, let's all get involved. Someone can donate the animals, others the cedar fence posts and woven wire, and still others the tin for the coop roof. It's time we lived up to our (new and improved) national motto: E Pluribus Hortibus, Unum -- Out of Many Gardens, One!
8:13 PM What is it with Twitter? I now see that one of our "Said at…" sites updates a certain blogger's tweets. Are we that addicted to staying connected? Maybe obsessed is a better word. I don't care if you just ordered a latte at Starbucks or what you think about your boss. Do what I do: save your inane little comments for your blog. (*Smile*)
8:04 PM We dialoged a lot about Epaphroditus in Greek class this week, as well we should have. Clearly, he was willing to risk his life for the kingdom, and almost died in service to Jesus. That's why Paul calls him his "fellow soldier." Wow! Epaphroditus not only shared the work, he shared the danger. When I surfed in Hawaii, I always looked forward to the winter surf on the North Shore. The thrill was partly in the ride, and partly in the risk. You knew that people died doing crazy things like that, that big wave riding was a dangerous sport, but you did it anyway. Jesus is like that. He calls us to put our personal safety aside to serve Him. After all, that's what He did for us.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy is going to meet Aslan (the Christ figure of the Chronicles) for the first time. She asks Beaver about Aslan: "Is he a man?" Beaver replies, "A man? He's the king of the beasts. Aslan is a lion." Lucy goes on, "Oh, a lion. I am nervous about meeting a lion. Is he safe?" Beaver replies, "Oh no … he's not safe, but he is good."
Jesus isn't always safe, but He is good. Paul said that Epaphroditus risked his life for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe you've done the same thing, or are about to. This is not a super-human feat reserved for church elders or fulltime missionaries. Every Christian is called to follow Jesus in love and obedience, wherever He leads them, even if He leads them into dangerous situations. Of course, to do such a thing is foolishness to this age, but the cross is a scandal to the unregenerate man. A Gospel without risk is a Gospel without effect. There was nothing lovely about dying between two thieves, or a bruised and battered body stuck away in a borrowed tomb. But the salvation of the lost was worth it. It still is.
So, what are you willing to risk it all for?
As I see the great wave approaching, my heart is pumping with fear. I turn my board around. I can hear myself say, "No holding back, just do it!" The wall of wave now looks like a skyscraper as I begin to paddle down its face. Wind and spray blind me as I plummet to the bottom and make my turn. Suddenly I'm in the tube and being blown out by the backwash. I MADE IT! Then the wave collapses around me. I'm in a washing machine of white water, struggling for my life. Finally the wave releases me just in time to snatch a breath of air before being taken under again by the next wave in the set.
Friends, all I can say is this: The thrill of surfing can't even begin to compare with the joy of sharing Jesus with others! Will you be a "fellow soldier" with Jesus? As our team returns to Ethiopia in May, we are placing no limits on what God can do, and we are prepared to receive from His hand whatever His good will entails. I ask you to pray for me. Pray for me to yield to the Spirit in every area of my life. I want to be the Jesus follower that God has called me to be. I want to know what it means to love others so much that I am willing to gamble away everything for them. I want to be an Epaphroditus.
Jesus, I love you!
Tuesday, March 24
5:06 AM I'm heading back to school. Pray for me that I would be effective in my teaching, that God would bless the socks off my students and their families (seminary can be a real struggle at times), and that together we'd enjoy the communion of the community. Pray for me and with me that I would have the physical stamina to get through these next few days. And remember: if I can pray for you, just shoot me a private email.
5:03 AM For those of you who have been interceding on behalf of the clinic well, here's a snippet from an email Becky sent out yesterday:
Please continue praying for the well-diggers at the Galana Clinic in Burji, Ethiopia. They are now at about 150 feet depth. They have brought in a new team of diggers. Please pray for safety; the dangers are real & significant at that depth. Also pray for water.
I can't imagine what it's like being 15 stories under ground in a narrow well shaft. But I CAN pray.
5:00 AM Greek DVD update: I know, I know, you've been waiting so patiently. We've had to make a few changes to the labels on a couple of the DVDs. As soon as these are fixed, then I think we'll be ready to launch. If you could be patient for a little while longer....
Monday, March 23
4:58 PM Please pray for Becky tonight. She's representing the Galana clinic at the Beulah Baptist Association meeting in Person County, NC. I truly believe that God is up to some big things in the association. I'd go myself but I'm under nurse's orders to stay put and get well. (Yes, Becky is an RN.)
1:40 PM Just added to our family calendar: Nate and Jessie's baby shower. Date: April 19. Time: 2:30-4:00. Place: Bethel Hill Baptist Church. I tell you, this is starting to get EXCITING.
1:29 PM Today I'm meditating on Phil. 2:19-30. More on that later. As I prepare to teach this passage tomorrow, I realized that I wanted to try and memorize it. It's not easy to do, I found. I think my problem is that I'm trying too hard. I know many passages of Scripture by heart (even in Philippians) and can recite them verbatim, even though I've never tried to memorize them. Internalizing Scripture is one of those things really resonating in my soul. The things of Scripture are so deep that just reading over a passage superficially seems like a real disservice to its Author. I'm really thankful for the ability to read the text in the original. Weird that I find myself like a little child with a new toy every time I open my Greek New Testament.
Tomorrow in Greek class we'll open to this text and talk about it, trying to hear all in His Word. I have no clue what the Holy Spirit will teach us, but it doesn't take a scholar to see several obvious truths in this passage:
1) Teamwork is essential in mission work. Paul and Timothy labored together like a father and son team. I especially like this simile because of the way Nathan and I have worked side-by-side on so many farm projects.
Actually, Paul says that Timothy "slaved" with him, and man do I feel that way sometimes when I work for Massa Nate! Poor Nathan, of course, must work at a very severe disadvantage: he's a got a total klutz for a father when it comes to manual labor. Still, I do think he's got a dad who "takes a genuine interest" in what he's doing. And that's the key.
2) This teamwork has a very specific goal: to spread the Good News. Everything in this passage hinges on these words. We evangelicals cooperate in the Body of Christ not for unity's sake. We work together because we believe that heaven and hell are real and that a crucified construction worker actually arose from a limestone outcrop. What a great purpose for living -- knowing Him and making Him known!
3) The life of Epaphroditus (and his near-death experience) shows us that discipleship is always costly. Several years ago I set out to find Jesus, armed with a sophisticated religious education and a detailed itinerary. Little did I know when I began this spiritual journey that one day I'd be putting myself in jeopardy on behalf of those whom Jesus called "little ones." What made the difference in my life? Why did I step out from behind my scholarly facade and adjust my preconceptions about the Christian life? The answer is that God, in His great love and grace, brought a severe mercy into my life filled with spiritual conundrums, and I went away limping. And I've been limping ever since. I often groan, "Is the end of my tether the only place I'm sure of finding Jesus?" What set Epaphroditus apart from those less committed Jesus followers was his sheer selflessness. He "gambled away his life," Paul says. This, I suppose, is the Jesus I found in my searchings: One who sacrificed Himself for me.
I've concluded that this is a very dangerous passage to study. It's chock full of Jesus. He may, in fact, one day turn to you and ask, "But you -- who do you say I am?" Then you will either have to follow Him all the way in selfless service (and possible death) or else abandon His company altogether.
10:09 AM 80 percent of Americans don't have passports. If you're one of the 20 percent that does, take a look at this interview with world traveler Rick Steves. Lots of insights here, and some controversy too (you're mature enough to handle it -- I hope!). His statement about squatting versus sitting is destined to become a classic!
Some personal thoughts:
1) Americans need to travel outside our own county if for no other reason than that it helps give us an objective perspective on America. It's like learning English. You never really learn your own language unless you study a foreign language. Ditto your culture.
2) Americans have a much-deserved reputation for being self-centered twits. Our ways are always better than the "primitive" ways of others. Steve's point that there's a difference between being a traveler and a tourist is well taken. Go abroad as as traveler/learner and guess what -- you'll learn and grow as a human being. Go abroad as a trinket seeker, and all you'll get are trinkets.
3) For me, the best reason to travel abroad is that it helps you to become a world Christian. Not a worldly Christian. But a Christian who realizes that God loves the entire globe and every tribe and nation in it. One day you'll be sitting around the throne in heaven enjoying their company. I figure it might be nice to get to know some of them in the here and now.
Elsewhere I asked Are You a Missionary? Perhaps the question needs to be posed again.
9:50 AM This week I'm sending the manuscript of The Downward Path of Jesus: From Cultural Conformity to Radical Discipleship to my new publisher. I'm excited about this book. It's been a long time gestating. I'm told that the book will be out sometime in July. Ofthis year. That would be a record for anything I've ever published. I'm eager to see what happens next. There are many excellent books on discipleship written from the viewpoint of a philosopher or skilled debater. This is not one of them. I don't offer the thoughts of a scholar or theologian. This is a book written out of my own experiences. It is written for anyone who is dissatisfied with cultural Christianity and who longs for greater unity in the whole Body of Christ. Its plea is that we get serious about following Jesus. I draw great courage from the fact that a new generation of Christians is awakening to Jesus' call to a sacrificial lifestyle. I see them everywhere I go. They are willing and eager to move from a "serve us" mentality to a "service" mentality. They are truly the great generation.
Look for the book sometime this summer. Hope you enjoy it!
9:42 AM Becky and I have been blown away by the opportunities we've found to serve the Lord and the Body at Bethel Hill. Hey, I get to teach Greek for Dummies without being heckled. Now ain't that sweet! Becky has found an awesome opportunity as well. She's the new webmaster and has revamped the church website. She is performing a much-needed service to the family, but I bet she'd say she's the one being blessed to the hilt. Anyway, for updates on what's happening on The Hill, check out Bethel Hill Baptist Church when you can. It's a great site. But don't take my word for it.
9:34 AM Alan Knox has just posted audio of his weekend seminar. Go here to access the files.
9:22 AM It's a bummer being sidelined with illness. Truth be told, I hate being sick! The upside is that it gives you plenty of time to think. There are so many great points made by Alan Knox on Saturday that need fleshing out. I really like how he quoted Heb. 2 to show that Jesus is our brother. That is one phenomenal truth. Our Lord is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters. Why, then, do we find it so difficult, so unnatural, to do so? How far have we departed from the simplicity that is in Christ. The whole traditional hierarchical view of leadership is a practice that is totally foreign to Scripture. Yet our excessive deference to titles and academic qualifications continues. I think it is very dangerous when we'd rather be known as "Senior Pastor" or "Professor of New Testament" than simply a member of the family. It's proof we've been caught up in the whirlwind of professionalization that characterizes the modern success-driven church. Jesus tells us to foreswear the use of such titles not because they're evil in and of themselves but because they maximize what should be minimized in the family of God, where each member has equal value and worth. Maybe the real problem is that we don't really think of ourselves as a family.
Think about it.
Sunday, March 22
11:20 AM At this very moment Becky is speaking. I'm much in prayer. As everyone knows, we go to Ethiopia twice a year, and our next trip is only two months away. We're also taking teams with us to Alaba and Burji. I'm really feeling the urgency of this trip. In both places the Dark One has been shooting his fiery darts big time. He is trying his best to distract and discourage the church there, with the ultimate goal of destroying it. But Jesus is on the attack against the forces of darkness. The gates of hell shall not prevail against His church. The one thing that will defeat the devil is when God's people unite for the common cause of the Gospel. To be honest, I'm getting tired of the "me-first" approach many Christian denominations have in trying to evangelize the world. The Burji clinic needs a well. This is not a Baptist thing or a Methodist thing. Let's get the job done, church! The clinic needs a vehicle. Desperately. Let's unite our forces to buy one! The Burjis and Gujis need to stop their fighting and be reconciled through the blood of Christ. Let's pray and pray and then pray some more until God sends a breakthrough! He has already done some pretty amazing things in Ethiopia through your prayers. With spring upon us it's easy to get distracted with gardens and vacations and Easter eggs. My prayer is that God's Spirit will move in the heart of the American church in such a way that the Great Commission becomes our number one priority regardless of the season of the year we're in.
Meanwhile ... I'm with you in spirit, honey.
10:58 AM The latest addition to our home page is called Bi-Polar Christians.
10:42 AM This morning Becky and I were scheduled to speak again at North Roxboro Baptist Church, where our good friend Ben Durand serves. I woke up with a head cold, but Becky will carry on bravely. She'll be focusing on the Galana clinic with her slides. Please pray that God does a mighty work in the hearts of His people at this exciting church this morning.
Saturday, March 21
8:48 PM What a great conference! We had about 90 people present from all kinds of churches. Here's a list (assuming I spelled the names correctly): High View Baptist Church, River of Life Church, Blanch Baptist Church, Messiah Baptist Church, Providence Baptist Church, BASICS Church, Five Forks Baptist Church, Wake Crossroads Baptist Church, The Summit Church, North Wake Baptist Church, Hempstead Bible Fellowship (in Texas!), First Baptist Church Durham, Southwest Christian Assembly, Cresset Baptist Church, Bethel Hill Baptist Church, and Olde Mount Vernon Baptist Church.
The seminar itself went fine. Alan spoke. A panel discussion followed. Here are some powerful quotes I heard during the meeting:
- "We should begin with the Bible as our foundation."
- "The church is not just a people but a family."
- "As people change, the church will change."
- "God the Father gave Jesus sole authority over the family on earth."
- "If we really believed that Jesus is with us, it would affect the way we treat each other as family."
- "If there is life in the church meeting, it's because there is life outside the church meeting."
- "When we go to Scripture, we should expect to change."
- "If we're just using Scripture to justify our practices, we're not using it correctly."
- "Jesus turned leadership upside down."
I want to thank brother Alan for sharing his heart with us. I also want to thank all my brothers and sister at Bethel Hill for volunteering their time and energy to make the conference a success. Not once did I hear -- cha ching!
I agree with everything Alan said. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that God desires us to act and function as a family. Listen to the words of Paul to the Philippians: "I pray that your love for one another might abound yet more and more in knowledge and full discernment." And again, "The only thing that matters is that you live together as good citizens of heaven in a manner worthy of the Gospel." What a great reminder. That is my prayer for my church and for yours.
Thank you, Father, for making us one family. And thank you most of all for the ultimate gift of your Son!
These pix will give you a flavor of the fellowship we enjoyed as family this weekend. Enjoy.
Friday, March 20
4:42 PM Okay, so I'm not feeling the best. But the day was too beautiful to stay indoors, plus the doggies needed a walk, so off we went, camera in hand.
Here's Nate's latest toy: a new tractor. He says he can't wait to paint the words "Rosewood Farm" on it. You can see evidence here of the repairs he's had to make. He's already replaced the wiring.
I also see that their pantry is coming along nicely. In fact, this paint was applied only a couple of days ago. Looks great, guys.
Finally, I see old Hercules has been up to no good again, clearing a place for yet another hay shed. Nate, I'm gonna go on strike one of these days if you keep on building them barns!
10:58 AM Tonight's the big night. And tomorrow's the big day. Pray for these events to be effective. Pray that God would move in our hearts in a powerful way. Pray for brother Alan as he shares. Pray for those who are seeking to implement biblical truth in the context of their own ministries. Man do I love the church. What I see is something beautiful. And man do I love the Word. How practical and life-changing it is. Pray with me that God does something incredible in all of our lives this weekend.
Thanks a bunch.
9:15 AM Family is a true gift from God. Because of His grace He grants deep and lasting relationships to us even when we are undeserving. I was telling Nathan the other day how much I enjoyed working with him on the farm. It's one of my greatest joys in life. I've loved every minute watching the grace of God at work in his life through these past 26 years. What's more, I am very excited to see how God is blessing him and Jessie as they establish their family on the Rosewood homestead. It's been a neat ride and it's only gonna get better. At any rate, we decided to have a small surprise dinner party for Nate yesterday, and here are a few pix you might enjoy.
After a scrumptious supper cooked by his mom (Nate's favorite while he was growing up: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green peas), we gave him our gifts. Each person read a portion of Scripture to him before he could open their gift. Becky read the Psalm she had chosen for him the day he was born. Now THAT was a special moment.
Here's what he got from his mom and dad. "Look, pa, a new twactoh!" Actually, Nate, it's a bird house :)
Caleb reads a Psalm. Sweet.
Note the title of the Rondeau's gift: "The Farmer Takes a Wife." Perfect!
Then it was Jessie's turn. Awesome.
She gave him a book that will help him with his Bible teaching.
Ed, Dolores, and Leanna Johnson gave him this hat -- er -- shirt.
I figured none of this celebrating would have been possible without Becky, so she got a little present too: her first Greek New Testament.
The evening wrapped up with some out-of-this-world cheese cake from Jessie.
What Scripture did I read for Nate? Easy choice: 1 John 2:14 and 1 Tim. 4:12. I'm proud of you, son. Keep living the Life.
Thursday, March 19
11:55 AM Being Nathan's birthday, I thought I'd post a couple of pictures. (Surprise, surprise.) He was born at exactly 8:52 am at La Mirada Community Hospital. I was present for the birth. Neither Becky nor I knew the sex of our baby until he was born. (Yes, there were sonograms at the time. That was our choice.) I think the first words out of my mouth were, "It's a boy!" Well, here are the pix. This one was taken on his actual birthday. Sorry for the grainy photo, but we didn't have digital cameras back in the Dark Ages.
Nathan weighed 4 pounds, nine ounces when we brought him home from the hospital. He made up for that quickly.
I could have posted more photos, but you get the idea: Nate was the sweetest little baby boy a new mom and dad could have asked for. For all you new parents out there, I have one word of wisdom: They're young, and then they're grown. Yes, it happens just that fast.
9:49 AM Man am I dragging today. Starting to fade fast. But not so fast that I can't wish Nathan a Happy B-Day. He's 26 today. I love you, son. Looking forward to dinner together this evening.
9:28 AM All of us are familiar with consumer Christianity. We discussed this problem in class this week.
I am convinced, for example, that the cult of the speaker has really gotten the church over a barrel. We are not being scriptural as churches because we are not thinking scripturally as individuals, and that despite all of our seminars and blog posts and self-help books and twitters. My blog is nothing but blah-blah chatter compared to the truth of Scripture. That's true of every other blog out there too. Even a seminar like the one we're hosting this Saturday can be a real cul-de-sac unless we internalize the Word of God along the way. The clearest and most helpful insights we can find about the church come from the New Testament itself, not from seminars about the church. At the very least let's all be careful about being caught up with stupid "controversies and quarrels about words" that Paul condemns in 1 Tim. 6:3-5. Debates are fruitless. They are dead-end streets. They go absolutely nowhere. There's too much kingdom work to do and too many people who need loving on to spend our time defending our own ecclesiology or bashing the ecclesiology of those with whom we might disagree. Please pray for me as I try to find a healthy balance between promoting what I consider to be a "biblical" church model and advancing the Gospel message. And pray for our seminar -- especially for our speaker and for those in attendance, that we will refuse to waste our time (and God's!) in fruitless debating.
8:12 AM A new book explores the poetry of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It's called Who Am I, a title based on what is perhaps Bonhoeffer's most famous poem.
Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir oft,
ich träte aus meiner Zelle
gelassen und heiter und fest
wie ein Gutsherr aus seinem Schloß
Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir oft,
ich spräche mit meinen Bewachern
frei und freundlich und klar,
als hätte ich zu gebieten.
Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir auch,
ich trüge die Tage des Unglücks
gleichmütig, lächelnd und stolz,
wie einer, der Siegen gewohnt ist.
The poem goes on to say, "Wer bin ich? Einsames Fragen treibt mit mir Spott.Wer ich auch bin, Du kennst mich, Dein bin ich, o Gott!"
I want that to be said of you and me. We should be so full of the knowledge of Christ that it overflows from us. "Thine I am, O God!"
7:52 AM From LRC comes this piece: The 'Emerging Church': Christianity That the Beltway Crowd Can Love.
7:46 AM One of the reasons I really appreciate my home church is its spirit of volunteerism. Take this Friday and Saturday for example. On Friday night at 6:30 a family in our church is opening their lakefront home to Alan Knox and some of his friends from Messiah Baptist Church in Wake Forest. There will be a very informal discussion to which all are cordially invited to attend. (If you'd like to participate, simply email Jason Evans for directions.) We're expecting maybe 40 people for this time of sharing. Church members (including Becky) are providing finger foods to munch on. Then Alan and his crew are being put up in members' homes on Friday night rather than spending their money on a hotel. On Saturday morning, Bethel Hill is opening its facilities free of charge for the conference and is even providing a free breakfast. It's taking care of all the logistics. People are simply volunteering their time and energy to help out, including our speaker, Alan. I love that!
The Hill is really committed to taking people wide out into the world through evangelism and deep into the Word through discipleship. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Giving our time and resources to God without expecting any payment in return is a phenomenal witness to a lost world and a powerful means of doing His work. I am energized by being around generous people. As James 1:17 reminds us, not only the gifts we give but even the desire to give those gifts comes from God Himself. Generosity, my friends, is like a bright sunbeam. Let it shine! Let it shine!
7:28 AM In Greek class yesterday we talked about the awesome power of God that energizes us for the works of service we are called and gifted to do (Phil. 2:12-13). We compared 3 phenomenal verses that succinctly summarize what ministry is all about: 1 Cor. 12:4-6. These verses have been very special to me ever since my pastor shared them with me during my college days in California. Lessons learned? 1) I don't have to seek out or ask for any spiritual gift. The Holy Spirit sovereignly dispenses. 2) I also see something special in the fact that the Lord Jesus determines the place where I am to exercise my giftedness. Since my gift is teaching, I've always known I could trust Him to open (and close) doors of opportunity to use it. 3) Finally, God is the one who "works all things in all people." To be honest, I'm relieved that I don't have to compare the "results" (the Greek word is energemata) of my ministry with anyone else's.
My goal is to be effective, not popular. I don't need to have a best-selling book. I'm content to have written textbooks that apparently some people have found helpful. I'm also relieved because I feel confident that God's not done energizing my gifts of teaching and writing. I think my students sometimes struggle with questions about their gifting, their place of ministry, and their effectiveness. The thing about 1 Cor. 12:4-6 that is so great is that it shows us how we can trust the Triune God with our entire life. If you're struggling with these issues today, may I say to you: Be yourself. Embrace your Spirit-dispensed giftedness. Trust the Lord to guide you to the place of His appointment. And then watch God provide the results.
Wednesday, March 18
7:48 PM Reading At Dawn We Slept. Can't put the book down. What an incredible story full of huge paradoxes.
7:15 PM A giant Wednesday shout out to all my brothers and sisters at Bethel Hill Baptist Church. Becky and I have been attending BHBC for several months now and this church rocks and is rocking the community with the Good News. The really, really, really sad part is that B. and I are off speaking in other churches on Sunday morning so often that we feel a bit disconnected from our church family. It's crazy. So, just want you all to know that we love and miss you and are excited about the future. Let's keep reaching out to our community relentlessly with the love of Jesus!
6:51 PM Several of my students have graciously agreed to read over an essay I've written for publication. It's called "Exegesis and the Text Driven Sermon." I've been receiving some very helpful criticisms. One student wrote:
The proper role of resources - you have helped me recognize the proper role of resources in exegesis and that we should not be dependent on the commentaries. I haven't done away with buying commentaries, but am now more likely to buy those that are more technical that will help me interpret the text rather than interpret it and preach it for me. I am also more likely to use those commentaries as a resource to which I can compare my own ideas rather than use them as a crutch. I felt like this was the one area that wasn't as explicit in your chapter, although you mentioned the importance of the preacher hearing before speaking (p. 1). I think the problem is that many preachers would completely agree with you, but in the back of their minds still think that reading MacArthur or Wiersbe is necessary if they're going to hear from the text.
How true, and insightful. Back to the drawing board.
6:43 PM Check out Diapers!
6:12 PM Just got back home, unpacked, and showered. Becky is cooking up a storm (one of my faves – creamed tuna over rice.) Time to chill out and enjoy the family.
My days at the seminary were fantastic as usual. I had a nice visit after chapel yesterday from Jon Glass of Cresset Baptist Church in Durham. Jon and his wife Matthea are a neat couple. They have three children, as well as "Galana," one of our Sheba's offspring. It turns out that CBC will be hosting Becky and me on April 26 for an Ethiopia presentation. I know of few men who are more committed to missions and to Ethiopia than Jon, who was part of our Burji team last November.
I taught my usual classes, introducing the participle in Greek class and exegeting Phil. 2:12-18 in my other classes. There was keen interest as we explored the "outworking" of the "inworking" of God in our lives (Phil. 2:12-13). Attendance was down a bit as there seems to be illness going around campus. I myself have been struggling with a sore throat and general tiredness. Several students are facing various challenging situations – a wife undergoing surgery, a physical ailment, a couple expecting their first child any day now. So I prayed a lot.
I've been involved in some pretty heavy writing assignments this week. Fortunately my mind has been alert and active even though my body is running on fewer cylinders than normal. I am determined to clear the writing deck before summer arrives. Emphatically, I believe God still has a few more books for me to write before I finish my teaching career. There's always a satisfaction to see how He can take an idea and flesh it out in black and white. Writing about what I'm personally going through and thinking about is actually enormously therapeutic. I was really touched by this blog post over at Alan Knox's website. From a Christian perspective, you never know what direction the wind of the Spirit will blow from next. Living in the kingdom is all about trust, relying on an invisible force to keep you going and moving along the right highway. Maybe it's a dumb question to ask, but I sometimes wonder if we Christians are outsiders enough in society. It is so difficult for us to get beyond the concept of church as a Sunday activity when it is really a Spirit-empowered community fleshing out Jesus' cross-love.
That's why I'm really expectant about Saturday's seminar on the church (.pdf). The students I talk to are, like the students of my generation, an inquisitive lot. The underground lake of curiosity is beginning to heat up, oozing like magma through the deep fissures of their personal dissatisfaction with the status quo. Those who attend the conference on Saturday will be challenged, I'm sure, in fresh ways. Not all will be equally satisfied. But one of the surest ways of testing one's own beliefs is to measure them against the beliefs of other people. At the very least I hope the seminar does more than gratify our childish craving for diversion. Ecclesiology, the odd-man-out of the Protestant Reformation, will be the center of attention, as it should be in a day when emerging Christianity is making headlines all across America. Well, I certainly don't want to romanticize the subject. The big question is: How should we treat Jesus' Wife? That's what we really want to know. The answer may depend on both our desire and our desperation.
Tuesday, March 17
6:34 AM Hey, pards. Just hitched up the wagon for a jaunt over to the Forest of Wake. Before leaving, though, I wanted to congratulate Miss Robin for receiving the 110 Award last night in Greek class. And here's a shout out and huge "thank you" to the rest of the class for hanging in there and doing so well. Half of you got over 100 percent on the exam. Keep up the good work, and I'll see you back in class in two weeks.
Monday, March 16
5:56 PM Exam time. Do well, boys and girls!
5:51 PM I just got back from a visit to Nate and Jessie's farmhouse. Nate had some heavy moving to do, and of course Lady Jessie is strictly forbidden to carry any heavy objects during her pregnancy. So what do you do when you need help? Call for granddaddy. (Yes, Becky and I will be known as grandmommy and granddaddy.) Anyways, after we finished Nate had me listen to a wonderful organ CD of Bach's music. It was recorded in the famous Grossmünster of Zürich. I thought to myself, Where did Nathan get this great CD? Then I remembered that I had bought it for him a couple of years ago on a visit to Switzerland. As we sat there listening to Toccata and Fugue in C-Minor, I noticed the organist's name: Rudolph Scheidigger. That name looks familiar, I mused. Then I read his bio. He was the church organist at St. Peter's in Basel (photo) when Becky and I lived there in the 1980s.
It was he who organized free organ concerts in various Basel churches every Friday night, which Becky and I often attended. So it is very possible that I actually heard Prof. Scheidigger play the organ in person. Imagine: If he only knew that someone was listening to a recording of him playing Bach in an 1820s farmhouse in the middle of Podunk Virginia. He probably wouldn't believe it.
10:58 AM Speaking of Greek, tonight's the night: our first review exam at Bethel Hill. It will cover chapters 3-6 of our textbook. Remember that it includes an extra credit English to Greek sentence that will allow you to earn a total of 110 points on the exam. And, if you receive the 110 Award, you will be able to select one of the following books for free. Are you enticed yet?
10:38 AM I see the debate over the use of Greek tools continues. I have no very strong opinion on the matter. It seems to me that Greek students can make up their own minds both about their goals in studying the language and what tools/ponies/helps they should purchase. I suppose the main question is how to best help students who are struggling to learn Greek. I can think of no better advice than that given by a pastor: Halitosis is better than no breath at all. As an incurable infracaninophile, I will never criticize a student for using the aids.
9:58 AM Alan Knox's latest post is a delightful read. It's called An encouraging dialog between a Catholic and a Baptist. Why shouldn't a Baptist and a Roman Catholic talk together about Scripture? Coincidentally, on my trip to Missouri I read John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy. Talk about one great book about one great Baptist. Here is a choice quote:
Broadus was a convinced Baptist and wrote prolifically on behalf of Baptist distinctions.... But he did so with a generous spirit and breadth of wisdom not often found in the denominational apologetics of the era.
The book notes that Broadus married the daughter of a Methodist minister, preached his first sermon in a Presbyterian church, and delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale. No standoffish condescending Baptist Greek scholar he!
Jesus' association with secular Jews earned Him the reputation for eating and drinking with sinners. But He had long since given up any pretense of following the "rules." He even allowed women to travel with Him and to finance His preaching missions -- something no other itinerant rabbi of that day is known to have countenanced.
I say, Good for you, Alan! May your tribe increase!
8:52 AM Fun link: Why Most Christian Music and Entertainment Stinks.
7:50 AM The doctrine of evil has been on my mind lately. I'm talking about the kind of evil that would lead a group of men to hunt down a man like a dog and take his life. Despite the fact that I have a doctorate in theology, I really don't know much about the theology of sin. Nor am I alone, judging from the mess America is in. I am convinced that the only solution will come about when we Christians begin to live up to our ideals and begin to acknowledge our blind spots. We are to love peace and be peacemakers. Why, then, do we frown on peaceniks, denouncing them as un-American? It seems that few of my friends have any qualms about the rightness of our foreign policy in Iraq but are quick to decry the protestors at home who seek to disturb the false peace. All very interesting. I hurt inside for our self-righteous nation. I hurt when my friends so easily and so vocally condemn abortion and yet turn a blind eye to the thousands of innocence Iraqi civilians our arms have killed. Only the most scant and superficial references are made to it. I am weary of the kind of Christianity that condemns the evil of others while tolerating our own. The fact is, we are all members of the community of evil, not just those who kill people from another tribe. Below is a picture of James and me with a small group of Guji believers. (James has his arms around the small child.) Every time I think of James I remember that love is something you dorather than pious chatter. He's a reminder to me that the only solution to evil is the Gospel. The cross showed us what evil can do. It also showed us what God can do.
Will the saga of the Gujis be one of the great conversion stories of modern times? I pray so. But it involves risk. The preaching of the Gospel must begin in a world where loss is possible.
Father, I would like to take a moment and thank you for loving the Gujis. I ask that you give me another chance to return to them. I desire to spend my nights on the king's doorstep instead of in Bathsheba's bed. I praise you for having given me the appetite to work among the Gujis. Now keep me faithful to that calling, whatever the cost. And Lord, please give me the words to keep my readers reading about Ethiopia without getting bored or becoming indifferent.
I pray this in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ.
7:34 AM Matt McDill reminds us of the Beauty of Humble Leadership. My Doktorvater in Basel was such a man. So knowledgeable, yet so approachable. Would it be improper for me to refer to him as "beautiful"? I think not. Thanks, Matt, for this reminder that love without truth is sloppy sentimentality, and truth without love is unmitigated ugliness. Which, by the way, is one reason I enjoy this website so much.
7:22 AM I confess that I am hopelessly nostalgic this morning. Especially when I have to say adios to an old automobile. Last week our 1993 Club Wagon kicked the bucket. We sold it on Craig's List -- sans working engine -- for $250. We bought it new in California. Becky and I went to the Ford dealership in Whittier at the end of the year, when they were under pressure to reduce their inventory. We had prayed about the price beforehand and decided that the Lord didn't want us to spend more than $19,000. The van listed for $29,000. After a test drive we sat down in the sale's office. "The very best I can do for you is $24,500," said the salesman. "Thanks," I replied, "but I won't go a penny higher than $19,000. If you change your mind, here's my card." As we stood up to leave, the salesman smiled, stuck out his hand, and said, "You win."
We put 247,000 miles on that van. I sit here thinking about all the wonderful places it took us every summer, pulling our tent trailer. Or all the reenactments it allowed us to attend. And, of course, the dozens of manure runs it made down to Oxford and back. Whenever I'm transported to my celestial habitat, I'll leave all my "things" behind. But in the meantime I can't help but turn a wistful eye to the past and the vehicles God gave us that enabled us to build so many happy memories.
Sunday, March 15
7:25 PM The 10 smartest dog breeds in the world.
7:15 PM Today Becky and I had the wonderful privilege of speaking at Providence Baptist Church in Caswell County, NC. A nice serendipity was that Nate and Jess could join us.
It's always a joy to meet new congregations and tell them about the Lord's work in Ethiopia. Sometimes a visit like this initiates a long-term relationship between that church and Ethiopia. I'm always reminded of the time when Becky and I decided to get involved ourselves. We had visited Ethiopia without anticipating we'd ever return. What happened next is similar to the story Jesus told about a situation between strangers. A priest and a Levite passed by an injured man, and a Samaritan "who had compassion" came along and chose to get involved in that man's crisis. The fact that the first two men chose to pass by "on the other side of the road" suggests that they might have felt uncomfortable and possibly even afraid. Jesus was teaching an important lesson: loving our neighbors means choosing to intervene when people need help, even if that involves personal risk. Whether it is referred to as involvement or intervention, it is something the Body of Christ has been doing for a very long time. But the really amazing thing is that when we get involved in other people's lives, we are helped by the very people we are helping. When Becky and I take other people with us to Ethiopia, they don't put on a "role" of helper, sort of like Superman going into a phone booth to change into his "helper" uniform. They do not come across in a condescending manner. Helping others is like a swinging door. Helping works both ways. And I often think it is we who get the greater blessing. So it's always neat to watch the Lord as He shows other congregations their need to reach out. Many are doing so already, perhaps not in Ethiopia but in other parts of the world. Others are just beginning to wrap their arms around the nations. But all of us must get involved. Earlier this week, on Monday to be exact, Becky and I did the same thing at Amelia Baptist Church.
Next Sunday the Gospel Train rolls into North Roxboro Baptist Church.
6:45 PM Good evening, blogging buddies! I had a great trip to KS. I went primarily because I've begun revising my little book on the Gospels and wanted to know if there was anything new in Dead Sea Scrolls studies that I should include. That I concluded with the answer "No" doesn't mean that my trip was unprofitable.
Conferences such as these are good. They can be helpful and intellectually stimulating. You've got to keep sharp about the latest trends in biblical studies. Here's the sticky part: relevance. I find an increasing reluctance, even unwillingness, to "enjoy" myself in places where I know that scholarship is done for scholarship's sake. This is even true among the evangelical conferences I attend. Frankly, I doubt if it's possible for me to thrive on scholarship anymore. I always feel compelled to ask the "So what?" question. I keep wondering: How will this make me a more effective servant of Jesus? Or is this just another example of my profession walling itself in? In the years since I published my doctoral dissertation I've been putting into practice, little by little, the idea of "profitability for the kingdom." I get the idea from 2 Tim. 3:16: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable...." I believe that effective ministry requires both cognitive information and practical application. Cognitively, Scripture teaches me what it means to be a follower of Jesus. But do I actually perform it? So I've attended a conference, and I've learned a little bit more about the Dead Sea Scrolls. But it only intensified the anxiety and agony of being an alien in one's own guild. This attitude may well surprise some of you. But I've reached a turning point in my life. I know that I can no longer be a standard evangelical Christian, content with a standard evangelical Gospel. The time has come for me to evaluateeverything in terms of it application to the Great Commission.
Four highlights of the trip:
1) Yakking with the many Ethiopians who work at RDU.
2) Meeting for breakfast with three of the elders of Christ Fellowship of Kansas City. What a great bunch of kingdom-focused guys.
3) Meeting for lunch with Tyris Horton, who blogs here. Tyris, thanks for the wonderful fellowship!
4) Visiting the Spurgeon Library on the MBTS campus. This is the famous preacher's desk. Do I look like John Calvin or what?
Thursday, March 12
4:30 AM I'll be at the Dead Sea Scrolls conference in Kansas City, MO today through Saturday. Here's the schedule:
Thursday, March 12, 2009
7:00 to 9:00 PM
"A Dialogue on the Gospel of Thomas"
Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College
Stephen J. Patterson, Eden Theological Seminary
Friday, March 13, 2009
8:00 to 9:00 AM
"The Scrolls and the Hebrew Bible"
Peter W. Flint, Trinity Western University
9:15 to 10:15 AM
"The Scrolls and the New Testament"
Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College
10:30 to 11:30 AM
"The Scrolls and the Dead Sea Community"
John J. Collins, Yale University
11:30 AM to 1:00 PM
1:00 to 2:00 PM
"The Scrolls and Interpretation of Scripture"
George J. Brooke, University of Manchester
2:15 to 3:15 PM
"The Scrolls and the Scribes"
Terry L. Wilder, B&H Academic Publishers
Saturday, March 14, 2009
9:00 to 10:00 AM
"The Scrolls and the Messiah"
William M. Schniedewind, University of California, Los Angeles
10:15 to 11:15 AM
"'Dark Secrets' of the DSS?"
R. Philip Roberts, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
4:23 AM In Heb. 13:17 the verb peitho is a bit controversial. Does it mean "persuade" or "obey"? The word is discussed here and here. Interestingly, the term is also found in James 3:3, where it is traditionally rendered "obey," as in the ESV: "If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well." But in what sense do horses "obey"? As an avid equestrian, I've given this some thought.
Riding is a unique sport in that it teaches you the ability to understand what goes on in the mind of another creature. Ultimately only kindness and mutual understanding can bring about the achievement of perfection. Xenophon, writing in 400 B.C., said, "Young horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders but look forward to the time they are with them." For some inexperienced horsemen, the aim of their training is the subjugation of their horse. They think that punishment is the best means of education. In my dressage lessons in California I learned that a good rider will never try to obtain by force what he or she can obtain by the correct use of the aids (including the bit). No punishment is better than a punishment that is administered unjustly or that is not understood by the horse. I only had to punish my Thoroughbred once, and that was when I first acquired him and he was accustomed to nipping at his rider while being saddled. He immediately stopped the practice. My goal in riding was to give my horses confidence in order to make them a pleasure to work with. And what a friend my horses were to me! The key was that I treated, handled, and respected them like friends. Horses have no treachery. They are hard-wired to return love with love. If they trust their rider, if they have faith in him or her, they will always do their best. I rode and enjoyed my Arabian Cody for 12 wonderful years. He was always an easy ride. Because I had gained his confidence and his willing cooperation, I got the full benefit out of his mental and physical state.
My relationship with my horses was always more than mere ownership. It required special insight into the nature of a horse – its grace and strength, its speed, its beauty, even its "personality" (and every horse has a distinct personality). I sacrificed a lot of comfort and time to train them, but it was worth it. Most importantly, I never blamed my horses for my riding misfortunes. If you don't school a horse properly, you can't expect a pleasant ride. The key is education. We must educate the horse and rider so that they both understand what is expected of them. I have always found that once a horse understands, he will do what he is asked (not forced) to do.
So, do horses "obey" their riders? Of course they do, and partly because of the bits in their mouths. But good riding, successful riding, is never achieved by bits and bridles. It always requires building mutual understanding and confidence. Ultimately, riding is not a dictatorship but a partnership.
Below: My Thoroughbred Traveler. Unlike my Arab Cody, who could do difficult dressage movements with ease, Trav had been on the race track in California and knew only one speed: all out, with the afterburners on. Each of my horses was different, and each deserved (and received) individualized attention. The harmony we achieved together is indescribable.
4:12 AM Encouraging reads:
- Gary Delaney on Kingdom Living.
- Jeff McQ on The Question of Leadership in the Church.
- Jon Glass on Sad, Yet Rejoicing.
- Co-Heir on Half Empty or Half Full?
- Dave Shumaker on A Fundamentalism Worth Saving.
- Jim Elliff on The Value of Hanging Out.
4:03 AM We received baby pictures from Tilahun this week. Here's one of them. Isn't their little girl beautiful? No name yet. Tilahun writes from Gondar:
Please let all who were praying to my wife know that we are so much thankful to their prayers. Words cannot express how much we are happy and thank full to the Lord and you. Once again thank you so much and may God abundantly bless you!!!
Wednesday, March 11
9:14 PM What's the deal with grief?
This week my translator James died. He was only 23. Last December a friend and I spent 5 days with him trekking among the warring Gujis in southern Ethiopia, eating, sleeping, traveling, and ministering together, day in and day out. He knew the risks, and faced them gladly.
His death has hit me hard. My emotional response has surprised me. I feel as wind-tossed as the disciples did in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. Lately I seem to have had my share of storms. I am being forced to confront my own weaknesses. I am pushed to acknowledge again and again that Christianity is not a Pollyanna religion that denies the existence of sin and evil and death. Trouble is a constant reality.
My heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. I have all kinds of questions. Did he face death alone? Was it painful? I want to have the all-knowing eyes that only God possesses. Jesus can give me strength to cope with this circumstance, but I need friends to help me walk through it. It's hard to maintain hope when the Evil One keeps throwing up roadblocks of fear and intimidation. The drama of ethnic clashes in Ethiopia is gripping. You can read about it here. To work in Ethiopia is to work with people whose lives have been impacted by raw evil. How they need the Gospel! Yet how can I bring others the water of life when my own soul is parched? Oh for a drop of water to cool my desiccated tongue! Jesus invites me come and drink. Only He can satisfy – He who cried out, "I thirst." The last invitation in the Bible is, "Let the one who is thirsty come!" (Rev. 22:17). Why is it so hard for me to accept this gracious invitation? There are broken cisterns aplenty in Burji and Guji, conscious of their need. They must come to the Source and drink, they must receive by faith, and then they must believe that they have received (Mark 11:24). They must overflow to the glory of God and the blessing of others. But so must I.
Jesus is tapping deeply into my life right now. I'm having to grapple with the ugly, sordid, hideous problem of evil. The Gospel is a bloody, gory story. It is repulsive to the "refined" sense of a lost world. Nothing about the Gospel appeals to the natural man. James risked his life by volunteering to help us. Like the Christ he loved, he chose to be a humble cross-bearer. I saw nothing of selfish ambition in him. He never once boasted about himself. He was content, like the apostle Paul, to be "the very least of all the saints" (Eph. 3:8). Unlike Christ, he did not die vicariously. But like his Savior, he always considered others as better than himself.
"I am in the midst of you as one who serves" (Luke 22:27). This is the verse I will always remember when I think of James. He has raised the bar for our Burji team. He has reminded us of the importance of numbering our days, so that we may apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:12). He is a reminder that every Christian is called to "fulltime Christian service." Are we not to live for Him all the time? James harvested in the souls of men, and now he's reaping the harvest. He made a total commitment of all he was and all he had and was looking unto Jesus for everything. Now he sees Him face to face.
One day each one of us will depart this life. It is the final dead-line. James's came at the age of 23. Jim Elliott's martyred body in the jungles of Ecuador was a mangled sight too but it was only his body. His soul had gone home through gates of splendor. He did not count his life as dear to himself (Acts 20:24). Of course, life is precious in God's sight. It is one of His most valued gifts to us. But we are not to count our lives as dear to ourselves. One day we will give an account of the way we lived it. When we count it as His, "we lose what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose."
The Lord has much to say to me through James' life. I believe I can say with complete honesty that I am willing to live on the edge and to risk it all for Jesus. My life is not my own but His. I am but the steward of my days, and I had better number them that I may apply my heart to wisdom. All He asks is that I stay in the path of His will. This summer we will return to the conflict. I am more committed than ever to taking the Good News to the Gujis. Yes, the work is tough, very tough, and the setbacks hurt, deeply hurt. But good soldiers are developed in battle, not by marching in parades. Meanwhile the Grinder will continue to sharpen the axe.
Farewell, James. We loved thee well.
Sunday, March 8
8:45 PM We just received an email from Tilahun in Gondar. I laughed aloud for joy when I heard the news. Sinte has had her baby. And it's a girl. Praise the Lord for His goodness. I'm certainly glad for it. I was a little nervous about it all, but God provided for a delivery without a C-section.
Meanwhile our visit to North Wilkesboro is history. We stayed overnight with the Ellers in their beautiful lakeside home. Such peace and quiet. The experience reminded me of Kailua Beach where I grew up. Otherwise Becky and I were in meetings yesterday and today. It's really amazing to see the team that God has brought together for our Ethiopia work this May. Amber, Katy, Kevin, and Dale -- we already feel bonded with them in the ministry.
But for me the highlight of the weekend was getting to meet Andrew, the Browns' recently adopted 2-year old son from China. Small things are good. Especially when they are children. The Shriners Hospital in South Carolina did a fantastic job on Andrew's clubbed feet, and he is proving he can run just as well as any other American toddler. This is a wonderful gift of grace and one for which I share the inexpressible joy of Kevin and Pam.
Tomorrow morning Becky and I travel to Amelia Court House in central Virginia to speak to a group of seasoned citizens. We'll explore together the riches of God's grace toward His followers in Burji, Alaba, and Gondar. We'll show lots of pix and take our display table with us also. Afterwards I'm told there's a covered dish lunch. I expect to eat some good southern friend chicken. After all, it's a meeting of Baptists.
I'll put a couple of photos of the weekend below, in case you're interested.
Here's Becky "taking attendance" at our team meeting. From left to right: Katy, Amber, Dale, and Kevin.
Dale recites his assigned memory verses from 2 Corinthians 5.
Kevin fills out his visa application for Ethiopia.
Katy sings a solo in the service on Sunday morning. Katy and Kevin will be the first father-daughter team we've taken with us to Africa. When a blessing to see Katy's enthusiasm to serve the Lord. As I told the group yesterday, there's no adult Holy Spirit and teenage Holy Spirit. There's just the Holy Spirit. Katy, who will be 15 when she leaves for Ethiopia, is raising the bar big time for her generation.
My newest buddy: Andrew Brown. I praise God for you!
Saturday, March 7
6:15 AM This morning Becky and I head to North Wilkesboro in the western foothills of North Carolina. Mount Pleasant Baptist Church is a congregation we know fairly well, having visited it several times in the past. I did a Bible conference there a couple of years ago, and we've given Ethiopia updates there once or twice before. There's a lot of really good God stuff going on at MPBC. It'll be fun driving there with Becky. We're "in class" all day long, then tonight Becky and I will spend the night with a former student of mine and his family. He works with Samaritan's Purse in Boone, just over the rise. Can't imagine what we'll talk about :) Tomorrow they've given us the morning service. Lord willing we'll be home Sunday evening.
Friday, March 6
1:23 PM The delivery is now loaded. Off to a couple of hungry horses I hear. They will never eat better hay.
I was the thrower, Nate the throwee.
One more tidbit. Nate and Jess picked up a couple of roosters yesterday. They've already acclimated to their new surroundings. You can tell it's that time of the year to start having chicks around again. Aren't they colorful?
Off to enjoy a mater sandwich.
12:27 PM It's a perfect day for farm work. The manure's been spread. Hit's purdy, too. Jessie of course drove the tractor. Sheppie and Missie loafed, as usual. Later we'll deliver 50 bales of hay to Rougemont. I don't spose there's a better life on this here planet. For me it fulfills a longing to "go back," wherever "back" is.
Sum pix fur y'all to enjoy.
10:47 AM Two very significant articles appeared today. Regardless of your politics (red or blue), I believe you need to read them. One is on Afghanistan and is called Obama's War. The other is on Iran and is titled Iran in the Crosshairs. At least they'll help you wrestle with deep things. The single most impacting thing in foreign missions today is, in my opinion, the myth of a redeemer nation. Some call it Pax Americana. The freedom that we Americans have to travel to many countries in the world, even countries that are closed to the Good News per se, is a precious gift from God and one we can never take lightly. It would be easy to think that our foreign policy hasn't affected missions, but it has, and not positively in my view. It is an occasion to ask God for national guidance, that's for sure.
8:06 AM Somewhere I read that Asbury Seminary has a Professor of Prayer and that students can even major in prayer. I think that Bethel Hill must have a few graduates of Asbury. We are a praying church if nothing else. I love this picture because it shows our church family wrestling in the trenches, praying over our Burji Team before sending them off last November. How does one do the work of God in Ethiopia? On one's knees.
8:01 AM This week found Becky working very hard on my Greek DVD set. It's based on the beginning Greek course I taught several years ago at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa. My wife gets the Patience of Job Award for endurance. It's been a long process, from the videotaping in Addis, to the editing in Dallas, and finally to designing the jacket cover in New York. Now I'll quickly admit that I had a blast teaching this class. Below are my students. Imagine trying to learn Greek in English when your first language is Amharic. The fellow in the left center holding a copy of my New Testament Textual Criticism consistently won the 110 Award. Amazing. How they lasted 6 weeks I'll never know. To those who "endured to the end" I gave a free Greek New Testament. There's much more I could say, but for the moment I just wanted to let you know that the DVDs are almost ready for release.
7:19 AM Greek students will find Theologica's Original Languages Study Group a very helpful resource. There are as many ways of approaching the Greek language as there are Greek instructors, I suppose. That's why this kind of discussion is healthy. As for my own introductory grammar (which is briefly discussed at the site), I would say that I am eager to get feedback from users. Please send me your honest criticisms about the third edition. I promise I will turn them to the improvement of the book if I possibly can. (I'm sure the authors of the workbook would say the same thing.) In fact, most of the changes in the new edition came in response to suggestions from users. The problem is that I'm too close to the book to see its weaknesses.
7:07 AM The seminar being led by Alan Knox will take place in two weeks from tomorrow (Saturday, March 21). You can RSVP here. I thought you'd like to know that anyone attending the seminar is welcome to attend a get-together to be held two weeks from tonight (Friday, March 20). The venue will be the living room of a private home on the lake. Light refreshments will be served. Alan and some of his folk from Messiah Baptist Church will be there, and I know they are looking forward to the interaction. If you'd like to participate let Jason Evans know along with your RSVP for the seminar. Personally, I think the networking and relationship-building will be every bit as important as the actual conference, perhaps even more so. Remember: there is no charge for either the seminar or the pre-seminar meeting.
Thursday, March 5
6:32 PM Becky and I just enjoyed a wonderful supper of liver and onions. Right now I'm surfing the web and just read a wonderful essay by Owen Strachan called Skateboarding Class at High School, and Other Signs of the Demise of the West. He is absolutely right about the dumbing down of the American high school, of course. Still, I had to smile when I read his essay. At my high school in Hawaii -- Kailua High, to be exact -- we were never offered courses in skateboarding for the simple reason that all of us were expert sidewalk surfers already. We skated to school, and then we skated from class to class. We held semi-official races down the sloping sidewalks on campus. I built three of my own skateboards (I also built three surfboards, so that was nothing special). I guess I could have taught courses in skateboarding if anyone had been dumb enough to pay me for it.
Come to think it, might make a good sideline...
4:04 PM Guess what I'm doing right now? Enjoying a piece of freshly-baked bread. Potato bread to be exact. Becky's back to baking these days. That's so neat. When we lived in Basel she would bake all of our bread. It was delicious then, and it's delicious now. Especially with homemade blueberry jam.
3:45 PM A funny thought just occurred to me. It was 30 years ago that Becky and I took our first mission trip together. Wow. Seems like yesterday. Actually, it was 31 years ago, the summer of 1978 to be exact. We went to a country that no longer exists (West Germany). We ministered in a Bible school that no longer exists (the Bibelschule Bergstrasse). We were there during a century that no longer exists (the twentieth). I even had gobs of hair at the time! Those were interesting days for us. I was still in the throes of wondering what God wanted to do with my life. Now I'm an old-timer in my profession. It was the first time I had been to Europe. Now Europe seems old hat. And who knows how many mission trips Becky and I have made together since then.
Many years ago another missionary named Samuel Zwemer penned these beautiful words:
The Alpine climber who is trying to reach a summit can "on the upward path" scarcely see his goal except at certain fortunate moments. What he does see is the stony path that must be trodden, the rocks and precipices to be avoided, the unending slope that gets ever steeper; he feels the growing weakness, the solitude and the burden; and yet the inspiration of the climber is the sight of the goal. Because all the hardships of the journey count for naught.
I can say in 33 years of wedded life that all the hardships have counted for naught. It's still our joy to be able to serve Jesus together, and we never lose sight of the goal.
12:55 PM The latest addition to our home page is called Beyond Religious Infighting.
12:41 PM Karl Barth is one of my favorite writers. The second edition of his Epistle to the Romans was translated by Edwyn Hoskins.
On p. 314 Barth writes:
If Christianity be not altogether thoroughgoing eschatological, there remains in it no relationship with Christ.
This is a far cry from Barth's much terser German:
Christentum, das nicht ganz und gar und restlos Eschatologie ist, hat mit Christus ganz und gar und restlos nights zu tun.
I wonder, do we sometimes miss things when we read them in translation? What do you think?
9:31 AM Good news! We just received some phenomenal pictures of the Galana clinic in Burji. Can you image getting jpegs from a remote village in southern Ethiopia that had no electricity when we began working there 5 years ago? The sovereign, triune God must delight in performing such miracles. At any rate, here are the photos. I think they speak for themselves.
These pictures make me think of trust. God is perfectly trustworthy, but do I really trust Him? By now the well diggers have practically descended to the center of the planet. Can you imagine how dangerous it is for them to be more than 10 stories below the surface of the earth? And they are doing it all by hand (we tried a rig but it didn't work). Then too, the clinic desperately needs a vehicle. That's painfully obvious from the photos. To be honest with you, my faith gets pretty tired at times. Most difficult right now is worrying about the Burji-Guji fighting that is preventing sick Gujis from coming to the clinic. People are literally dying because they cannot receive medical care that is only a four-hour walk away. Again, a vehicle would solve that problem since we could take the health care out to the Guji villages.
Well, I'm determined to leave all these matters in God's hands and to trust Him not only with the work in Galana but also with my fears, my hopes, and my fragile faith.
7:59 AM Looking ahead to the summer, I've decided to teach a Greek exegesis course at the seminary in late July/early August. I've chosen the book of Mark for our study because its Greek is relatively easy. I chose a Gospel (rather than, say, Romans or Ephesians) because Solus Christus is the turning point in New Testament theology. Frankly, I've been convicted that I haven't taught the Gospels as often as I think I should have. But my interest in church renewal forces me back to the earthly life of Jesus, for the church is to be nothing other than a Christ-like community that reflects His life, His activity, and His priorities. More and more I want to model my ministry on the example of Jesus. I want to relearn His values, His love, even His "manners" as He dealt with people. God is doing a work in my heart to make me rethink my entire Christology. The other day I was thinking how wonderful it is to have not one but four accounts of the life of Christ. How rich and unending the study of His life is. Bottom line: to see Christ is to (hopefully) become more like Him. And becoming more like Jesus is something I desperately need in my life right now.
7:55 AM As you will see if you go to the Amazon site, my revised grammar that was due out on March 1 has still not been released. My publisher informs me that they're behind schedule but that both the grammar and the workbook will be published no later than April 1. The workbook is, in fact, already printed.
7:18 AM I'm finally feeling rested up. Yesterday was a brutal day. I felt completely drained in body and mind when I returned home. At the same time, being on campus is an experience I love. For one thing, I have lots of good fellowship with my colleagues. I don't expect to be able to spend a lot of time chewing the fat, but I love talking with godly men and women who are passionate about the Great Commission. One happy development was that I was able to finish my writing project that is due on April 1, which is a good thing as life will be very busy for me between now and then. This weekend Becky and I travel to North Wilkesboro, NC, to train our Alaba team that consists of 4 intrepid members of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. It's such a wonderful joy and privilege to work with church folk who are up to the challenge of foreign travel. The more rigorous the better too. On Saturday we'll spend the day going over Ethiopian culture, language, history, religion, etc. Then on Sunday we'll share slides and video clips with the entire congregation in their morning service. That is, Becky will be showing the pictures. She's so much better at communicating to others the details of our work than I am.
I've noticed something as we travel from church to church. It's so easy for people to think they are unqualified for "missionary" work. "I could never go to Ethiopia!" My feeling is that if God can use lazy old me, He can use anybody who is willing to do the work. Living in the "How could God ever use little ol' me?" frame of mind enslaves us. I used to think that way myself, especially in my early teens. Thank God He changed all that. And just think -- now I get to spend my time with people who love Ethiopia nearly as much as I do. The kicker is that none of us is even remotely a trained professional. (God has a sense of humor.) We're just trying to be good Jesus-followers. During my leisure time I've been re-reading At Dawn We Slept, which is a really amazing book, not so much because it recounts the attack on Pearl Harbor but because of its description of our unpreparedness on that fatal day to see what was coming. Unpreparedness is one of those things that's hard to deal with. You think you know what's going on in your life, you think you're ready for anything, and then -- kaplow! -- your whole world blows up in your face. Sometimes I think to myself, "What slothful things am I doing right now in my life that are robbing me of my effectiveness to serve Jesus?" I am roiled to think of the situations sometimes I've allowed myself to get into because of myopia. The fact that our Pacific Fleet returned to harbor every weekend came as a shock to the Japanese. Yamamoto wondered in awe, "What Navy on the verge of war would maintain such a predictable schedule?" So when 350 Japanese airplanes arrived at Oahu on that quiet Sunday morning, they found the fleet right where it had always been on the weekends and in a perfect state of mind to be attacked: sound asleep.
History, I'm told, is the great ironist. And the culminating irony about history is that we learn so little from it. I'm convinced this has something to say to our generation that seems to be distracted by what Rick Hertzberg and others have called "Christianism" -- a rigid and unthinking religion motivated more by the status quo than active faith. I read somewhere that half of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife and that the Bible says, "God helps those who help themselves." All this in a supposedly Christian nation. We live in a society in which Christians can sign up for aerobics classes called "Firm Believers" or read Joel Osteen's Your Best Life Now as if it were the Bible. I'm even worried about my Greek class. Even though I don't promote the course as a "self-help" class, the focus is often still on "me" -- learning Greek so that I can read my New Testament in the original language -- when Jesus wants us to focus on others. I live and work in the so-called Bible Belt. We're all good, church-going folk. But when it comes to the Bible, our knowledge quotient is abysmal, and our obedience quotient is even worse. You say, "Wait a minute. Abortion rates are lower in the Bible Belt than in the rest of the nation." True. But divorce rates are 50 percent higher. (I intend no disparagement. The sin of divorce is no greater than any of our other sins in the Bible Belt.) The problem we face is the gap between knowledge and obedience. Admittedly, I enjoy teaching the Bible and Greek. But frankly I'm scared to death of the possible outcome. It's spelled SELF. The only legitimate outcome in God's eyes are great good deeds of love, deeds rooted in the plain teaching of the Scriptures. If Greek can help us to do this, Amen. But I'm still a worried man. Knowing Greek won't necessarily help us to "Re-Jesus" the church, which is what we really need.
Wednesday, March 4
7:45 PM Over at Sundry Musings, Josh Gelatt asks whether pastors should use Hebrew and Greek in the pulpit. My thinking is, "Of course they should." At least they should have their Greek New Testament firmly in hand. I always teach directly from the Greek text. But I don't think anybody knows it.
7:41 PM Greek students, check out these vocabulary flash cards. A student in my Bethel Hill Greek class prepared them.
7:37 PM Multnomah University pays tribute to Joe Aldrich, who has passed away at the age of 68. Dr. Joe (as he preferred to be called) was my teacher when I attended Talbot back in the mid-1970s. I took him for every class he taught. I even drove down to Mariner's Church a couple of times to hear him speak. He was the man who first taught me that Christian education is likeness education (Luke 6:40). Here I am faced with a rather strange thing. I am quite sure Joe himself would never have asked anyone to take him rather than his course. I think he would be very careful to point out that his place was subordinate to the place of Christ. Yet that very humility is what made Joe's classes so attractive to me. Like John the Baptizer, Joe was not that light, but he was a powerful witness to that light. And in that sense, I suppose, he was destined for greatness. At any rate, Joe's loss to the Body of Christ is real, but the end of the story is an unspeakable triumph.
7:30 PM Over at LRC, Michael Rozeff's latest essay They Done Us Wrong fairly drips with salutary sarcasm, as well it should:
Very few men on the street, including my doctor, understand that spending, whether private or government, does not get rid of economic depression; and the lack of spending does not cause it. They do not fathom that government spending, borrowing, and taxing will further gash the sinking economy below the water line and send it to its watery grave. They are more inclined to believe, along with prominent economists, that government spending should be increased by trillions more. There cannot be too much of a good thing.
In case you hadn't noticed, liberty presumes an autonomy that includes freedom from government "solutions" to all our problems. In his dissent from all this nonsense, Mr. Rozeff scorns the financial bailout for what it is: a scandal. It's impossible not to be a bit disgruntled at people who want to benefit from government at the expense of your grandkids. Talk about quid pro quack.
Incidentally, I don't agree with everything published at LRC. Still, it's an oasis of discontent in a complacent society that is brainwashed each day by CNN and Fox News.
7:23 PM Gene Healy brings home the bacon (and the entire butcher shop) in his latest essayConservatives need a humble foreign policy. Frankly, I don't think most evangelical Christians have the courage to say "No" to empire.
7:16 PM Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald has published his commentary on Bush's lawless presidency, which as usual is well worth reading. It's called The newly released secret laws of the Bush administration.
7:07 PM The Abominable No-Man does it again. Read Ron Paul's Is Spending the Answer?Paul's chicken analogy about government says it well:
But, like a chicken with its head cut off, no one knows which way it will run, just that it will flail about wildly until it collapses.
Tuesday, March 3
8:19 AM It's a bright, sunshiny day. In a few minutes I'll be leaving for campus to get some typing done. I am not a typist. It is a duty I must perform. Lord willing, I will finish my writing project before returning home. Students, remember that my office door is always open, even when I'm hunting and pecking.
Monday, March 2
1:45 PM The latest addition to our home page is called God's Better Way.
12:41 PM I absolutely refuse to post any more perfunctory snow day pictures. Absolutelyrefuse.
(Well, maybe just one or two.)
8:36 AM Here's one of my favorite H. L. Mencken quotes:
I do not believe in democracy, but I am perfectly willing to admit that it provides the only really amusing form of government ever endured by mankind.
This, from an essay over at LRC on a new book about Mencken's political philosophy. Looks like a good read.
7:38 AM One of the greatest blessings of Lionel Woods' website is the interview format he is developing. Today I finally got a cup of coffee and sat down to savor Lionel's interview with Alan Knox. For anyone seeking the heart of "the ministry," this interview is a must read. At first reading it may seem to you very surprising that Alan's perspective on pastoring is so radical, but then you begin to see that being radical is nothing more than returning to the roots of the matter, which Alan does beautifully. The following is one of the most important things Alan has to say in this revealing interview. I hope every pastor will read it and take it to heart.
I don’t lead programs. I don’t do administration. I don’t plan long sermon series. I don’t preach or teach every week. I don’t lead deacons meetings. I don’t try to recruit people to do things they don’t want to do. I don’t hire or fire – in fact, we don’t have any staff. I don’t maintain a building. I don’t deal with “personnel” or “employment” issues at all.I just pastor – shepherd, care for people – in my daily walk. This happens when the church meets, but also when people come to our house, or we go to their house. It happens when I’m working or teaching. It happens when I’m talking to people on the phone or emailing people or talking with people on Facebook. My desire – wherever I am or whatever I’m doing – is to encourage people in their walk with God and to trust him in everything they do.
"I just pastor." For Alan, pastor is more a verb than a noun, as it is in the New Testament. The essence of the matter, as I see it, is that Christian ministry takes its example, its inspiration, and its dynamic from Christ. I think perhaps that He, too, "just pastored."
To me there is nothing more interesting than to see men and women of God grappling with the great issues of the day. In this interview we see one such man who, along with his wife, are committed to a biblical pattern of ministry. Agree or disagree, you will come away from reading it sensing a heart throbbing with love for others. May their tribe increase.
7:09 AM These sights greeted me not ten minutes ago. Dayda is loving it. Here's the view from our front porch.
And here, from left to right, is our garden shed, reenacting shed, and carriage house.
6:52 AM Alan Knox continues his series on worship here. He writes:
How do we "worship" God? We worship God in the way that we serve, submit to, love, and accept one another. When do we worship? Well, we worship when we serve, submit to, love, and accept one another. What if we're not doing these things? Then we're not worshiping.What if we're singing and listening to preaching, but we not demonstrating love to those around us? Then we're not worshiping. What if we're demonstrating God's love to those around us, but we're not singing nor listening to preaching. Then, we're worshiping.
Barclay, I think, would agree:
Real worship is not the offering to God of a liturgy, however noble, and a ritual, however magnificent. Real worship is the offering of everyday life to him, not something transacted in a church, but something which sees the whole world as the temple of the living God (Romans, p. 157).
Christianity is a religion of worship, but a worship that is never limited to four walls. Why, then, do we so often limit discussion of "worship" to music styles?
6:40 AM Bethel Hill Greek students, please remember that there is no class tonight. Use this time to get caught up if you're behind or to study for your quiz over adjectives next week. Next Monday, in addition to our quiz over chapter 6, I'll be sending you home with your first review exam. It will cover chapters 3-6 and have three parts: translation, parsing, and a 10-point extra credit sentence (English to Greek). A sample sentence might be something along these lines: "The good apostles see the Lord in the wilderness." If you receive a perfect 110 on the exam, you will receive the much-coveted
-- a free copy of one of my other books (you choose). I anticipate several of you leaving class with one of my Pulitzer Prize-losing tomes in your hands.
6:34 AM Tom Engelhardt is one pundit who refuses to sing the customary hosannas over the nation's imperial blindness. The following is classic Engelhardt:
Think of the above as just a few prospective entries in The Dictionary of American Empire-Speak that will, of course, never be compiled. We're so used to such language, so inured to it and to the thinking behind it, so used, in fact, to living on a one-way planet in which all roads lead to and from Washington, that it doesn't seem like a language at all. It's just part of the unexamined warp and woof of everyday life in a country that still believes it normal to garrison the planet, regularly fight wars halfway across the globe, find triumph or tragedy in the gain or loss of an air base in a country few Americans could locate on a map, and produce military manuals on counterinsurgency warfare the way a do-it-yourself furniture maker would produce instructions for constructing a cabinet from a kit.
In our day, profound changes are taking place in American society resulting from cultural, social, and economic revolution. What I find so disturbing is that the Body of Christ continues to fall short of its own finest confessions of allegiance to Christ when it comes to statism.
6:27 AM Bill Bonner is obviously in an irascible mood. Today he pens Financial Pigs at the Government's Trough, in which he predicts another 50 percent drop in the DOW. Seems that our addiction to Uncle Sam's largess is not going away any time soon.
Sunday, March 1
2:42 PM Becky and I now drive 30 minutes to our Sunday fellowship, and every second spent and every penny of gas is worth it. Our fellowship has the true marks of the church -- love for Christ and love for others. However biblical a church may be, however orthodox its theology, however properly it may "observe the sacraments," however accurately it may "preach the Word," it is not a true church unless it is characterized by love and mutual edification. So let me thank the sister who reminded me this morning of the importance of forgiveness, the brother who reminded me that church is not a place but a people, the sister who reminded me that God is still in the miracle-working business, and the brother who reminded me that I am saved by grace alone. I have not earned it, nor could I earn it. But in the Gospel the lost relationship between man and God has been restored in Jesus Christ who has demolished the barrier between us that sin had erected. All this, and much more, I was reminded of by meeting with the Body. It is a very great privilege, really.
8:15 AM In just 3 months we'll be back in Ethiopia, Lord willing. We're taking two teams with us this time. One will go to Burji and the other to Alaba. As I think about the work in Africa, the word "saga" comes to mind. It is a long story with many twists and turns. One of the latest twists is the work we feel God is calling us to do among the Gujis (neighbors of the Burjis). In 1994 two Burji men named Guya and Guba were murdered by the Gujis as they were preaching the Gospel and planting the church among the Gujis. In 2009 we hope to bring believers from both tribes together for a "Unity Conference" in which they will "wash each other's feet" and worship the Savior together. The Guji church, as Becky put it in a recent email, is "weak and stressed." The believers have no Bibles, none at all. And because of the warfare they do not go to market in Soyama Town. They must subsist on parched corn and bread. Love will not speak of the situation without a broken heart. There is no cold, logical solution to the problem. The nearest way to the heart of the Guji is the way of God's love. Flies come to honey, not to vinegar. I've been among the Gujis twice now. Both times they were very responsive and gracious. I tried to validate their culture by eating and drinking whatever I was offered. I tried to extend sympathy to their traditional society. I would like to say that I "loved" them, but the term love is used so often that it is stripped of any real meaning. I can say this: The evangelization of the Gujis is a task so great that it demands our utter surrender to the Lord Jesus. At times I do wonder about God's timetable. Will He allow us to hold this conference in June? Will He provide us with the Bibles needed for the Guji people? I do not know the answers as I type these words this morning. Right now the only thing I can do is pray. Someone has said that prayer is the most talked about and least used resource in the Christian life. Undoubtedly, I believe there is more responsiveness among the Gujis now than there has ever been in the past. They are tired of the constant warring. The government has not solved the problem, nor can it. And so I am asking God to do what only He can do. Will you join me?
These pictures will perhaps give you a flavor of what it is like to be in Gujiland. Last JuneJason Evans and I spent several days among the Gujis. Here we have stopped in a Guji town to show the Jesus Film in the village square. The faces of the people display a mixture of curiosity and surprise that white-faced foreigners would visit them. The only hostility we sensed was when we encountered armed Guji warriors along the roadway.
Here Jason presents a bag of seeds to a church elder on a Sunday morning. The Gujis are subsistence farmers and were very appreciative of this gift. The believers in this church are eager to earn Bibles through our Bible memory program. A Bible costs us only $5 dollars (the cost of a Happy Meal). I noticed that the elders themselves had no Bibles; they simply cannot afford one.
Wherever we stopped I brought out the drawing pad. There is no better way to attract a crowd of young people. "We're showing a movie tonight in the town square. Be sure to come back!"
Jason spent time with the youth wherever we went, teaching them English and just basically "hanging" with them. They loved every minute of it. This June I will have to stay with the Alaba team, but Jason will be with the Burji team. I'm hoping and praying that the Unity Conference will take place as planned. If so, Jason will likely represent our team at the meeting. I can think of no better representative or of a man who loves the Gujis more than Jason.