Dave in Liberia

LIFES Group Afterwards April 2017On Saturday (April 8) at 1:00 am I was picked up by Moses, the LIFES (= Liberia International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) staff-worker, and his family.  Shannon joined us from Guinea Bissau later that evening.  I was scheduled to speak at Monrovia Christian Fellowship on Sunday at the second service, but with typical African warmth, my friend Pastor Joshua invited me last minute to speak at the early service also. “Sure,” I replied.

As I entered the sweltering sanctuary I thought agreeing to a homiletic “double-header” was a bad idea.  I wasn’t used to the heat.  A few weeks earlier I had been shoveling snow off my driveway in Pennsylvania.  As I preached on the smiting of Uzzah (my go-to sermon; 2 Samuel 6:1-11) my light blue shirt became distinctly two-toned—because of sweat.  Afterwards, a woman came up to Shannon and I, telling us just the day before she was reading the story of Uzzah and was distressed because she couldn’t understand it.  The talk felt like God answering her prayer.

Dave Carrying Well Water

On Monday, we spent several hours filling up large barrels of water at LIFES student camp site.  There was no running water, so cooking, bathing, flushing were all dependent upon getting those barrels full.  We filled them from the well with a bucket on a long rope.  It took several hours, but right as my back started to ache (my shirt had already changed color), I realized this was phenomenal preparation for my talks.  At the camp I would teach on the Wedding at Cana (John 2) and the Samaritan Woman (John 4), two passages where wells and water feature prominently.  I was doing first-hand research, and just like the Samaritan woman, we were doing this at mid-day.  (But I still don’t think that means we’re prostitutes; see Prostitutes & Polygamists, page 81.) The students at the camp filled up the barrels for the rest of the week and slept on thin mats on hard concrete classroom floors.  We were humbled by the costs these LIFES students were willing to pay to study the Word of God with us.  I particularly enjoyed my conversations with two students.  Pray for Ibrahim a recent convert and Cyrus who is helping to start a new fellowship on his campus.

The low point for us came when we decided we could no longer handle the heat.  We had were teaching long hours every day with a heat index over a hundred degree Fahrenheit, and had been staying with a delightful and wonderfully hospitable Liberian family, who didn’t have air conditioning.  We moved to a local hotel so that we could have air conditioning at night.  It felt like defeat for us since we wanted to be with Liberians as much as possible.  We had been teaching on the incarnation of Jesus (John 1).  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but Dave and Shannon couldn’t take the heat, so we needed to move over to Jandy’s Tropical Paradise.  It was humbling.  And it made us even more appreciative of the costs Jesus’ paid to dwell among us and die for us.

Thank you for your support and prayers.

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Confusion is Good

Confusion, for lack of a better word, is good. At least that’s what we see in several passages in the Bible.  Why would God want to intentionally confuse people?  Great question. When God called the prophet Isaiah, he gave him confusing message .

When God called Isaiah to be his messenger this is what God told him to say:
“Go and say to this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; 
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull
and their ears heavy
and blind their eyes:
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with the ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

What’s Isaiah’s message? Don’t understand, don’t perceive, don’t see, don’t hear, don’t turn, don’t be healed. What? It sounds like God wants the Israelites to remain confused. It’s confusing that God would want people to be confused.  I guess God gets what he wants.

While many of us avoid or ignore weird texts like this one, Jesus didn’t. In each of the four gospels Jesus quotes these verses from Isaiah 6 (Matt. 13:13-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40). There are very few Old Testament texts quoted from the mouth of Jesus that appear in all four of the gospels. Jesus thought this confusing text was important, that sometimes it’s good to be confused.

Those of us who teach the Bible often like to put the cookie on the lowest shelf, to make it really simple, to help people understand. But there is a problem from always making things simple and easy to understand.  That’s not how God does it in the Bible most of the time.  The Bible is often confusing. Many of Jesus’ parables are confusing. God makes his word confusing intentionally.

We need to not remain in a perpetual state of confusion. But sometimes, confusion is good. If we are never challenging, provoking, and even confusing people, we aren’t teaching like Jesus.

What purpose does confusion serve?  I see three.

First, confusion makes us humble.  We have to acknowledge that we don’t know everything. We are finite. We may not like it, but we are dependent. Do we really expect that we could fully comprehend a gloriously mysterious God? Confusion keeps us humble before an infinite, sovereign, power God.

Second, confusion causes us to ask questions.  In his confusion about this confusing passage Isaiah asks a question, “How long, O Lord” (Isa. 6:11).  Jesus quoted this passage to the disciples when they asked him a question about the parables.  When we’re confused we should ask questions.  People ask questions about things they care about. Care enough about the Bible to ask questions.

Third, confusion leads us to God. What does Isaiah do with his question? He goes directly to God with it.  “How long, O Lord” is one of the psalmist’s favorite questions (Psa. 4:2; 6:3; 13:1, 2; 35:17; 62:3; 74:10; 79:5; 80:4; 82:2; 90:13; 94:3; 119:84). In the midst of our confusion, our humility and our questions should take us to God who may or may not answer them.  But if our confusion leads us into a deeper relationship with God, it serves a great purpose.

Going to Liberia (April 2017)

Dave Boy on ShouldersDespite the malaria, it was one of the highlights of my life.

In the summer of 1985, I went on a summer mission project to Nigeria.  We taught in churches, worked in fields, and enjoyed amazing Nigerian hospitality (my favorite, though, was giving rides to kids on my shoulders).  We served among the Tangale people in Bauchi state, in the NW region of the country, near where Boko Haram holds power today.

While my wife Shannon has made three trips to Africa in the past fifteen years, I’ve stayed home with the boys.  I’ve loved hearing her stories and supporting her efforts, but I’ve missed seeing first hand what God is doing and serving alongside her.  But now that we are empty-nesters, I will be able to join her this April on her next trip to Monrovia, Liberia.  Shannon will be traveling for 3 weeks (she is also visiting Guinea Bissau); I’ll be gone for two (April 5-19).

We have been invited to serve alongside staff from LIFES (Liberian International Fellowship of Evangelical Students).  There are currently 1400 students involved in LIFES and only two full time staff.  Liberia is the fifth poorest country of the world and is still recovering from a fourteen year civil war (1989-2003) and the recent Ebola epidemic (2013-2016).

Moses, one of the staff, has asked us to be flexible, but we know for sure that we’ll be the main speakers for the LIFES Easter student conference: “Knowing Christ and Making Christ Known,” focusing on the book of Philippians and John 1-4.  We will have other opportunities to speak in churches, and work with students and local pastors doing training in Bible study skills. Most pastors in Liberia do not have access to seminary training, so I’m hoping my presence will be a blessing to them.

In order to allow their limited financial resources to remain in the country, I am hoping to raise $2500 to cover my expenses.  If you’d like to contribute, you can go directly to the website: https://donate.intervarsity.org/support/shannon_lamb.  Funds need to go through Shannon’s IV account because my account is still in process.  If you would like to receive email prayer requests please send me your address (dlamb@biblical.edu).

If you’re the praying sort, we’d appreciate prayers
for health (I have reflux which is easier to control at home,
for safe travel,
for God to move powerfully, and
for great partnerships with Liberian staff and pastors.

LIFES Flyer Image April 2017

Sinai and the Saints

IVP has just come out with a new book which could be very helpful to people trying to figure out how to understand the laws of the Old Testament, Sinai and the Saints: Reading Old Covenant Laws for the New Covenant Community by James M. Todd III.

IVP asked me to give an endorsement, and the first half of it ended up on the back cover.  So, I thought I’d include my full endorsement here, for any one who’s interested.

“Many readers of the Old Testament struggle to understand all those random, bizarre, strict, and oppressive laws.  What’s a Christian to do?  Start by reading James Todd’s Sinai and the Saints.  Todd offers his readers engaging stories, provocative insights, and a compelling interpretation that offers a way forward, one that makes sense of the Law, and helps people understand it in light of Jesus and the rest of Scripture.”

Here are the other endorsements that appeared on the back cover:

“The failure to understand the relationships of the old covenant to the new is probably one of the most important areas where Christians need good help–and they will receive good help here.”  – Peter Gentry, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Anyone grappling with how to approach the laws of Exodus to Deuteronomy from a Christian perspective will find this book an invaluable introduction.” – T. Desmond Alexander, Union Theological College.

I hope you can check it out.