An Old Friend

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?
He said to him, Yes, Lord;
you know that I love you.
He said to him, feed my lambs.
(John 21:15).

An Old Friend

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the fall of 2003 my mentor and friend at Michigan State University, professor Glenn L. Johnson, broke his hip removing a fallen tree from his back yard. Glenn knew me as well as anyone having served on my doctoral committee, attended the same church, and become a close friend during my student years. When I heard of his injury, he was in physical therapy and I called to check on my friend.

Asset-Fixity Problem

Among agricultural economists, Glenn was known for his work on the asset-fixity problem. This problem arises because, once investments in real capital are made, they cannot be reallocated without suffering a capital loss. Having invested, farmers often continue producing at a loss, which, in the aggregate, led to further price declines and worse losses. The asset-fixity problem provides a theoretical justification for farm policy intervention, which made Glenn ‘s work famous.

Behind the asset-fixity problem is the stark reality of farm policy—modern agriculture produces too much food. The world food problem that motivated me to enter agricultural economics proved to be more politics than reality. When farmers in the developed countries produce too much food, low food prices force farmers in developing countries into poverty. When I realized that the world food problem was a myth, I also realized that agricultural economics could not be my ultimate call as a Christian.

Professionals face the same asset-fixity problem when they invest years of work in a particular field, only to find their work ignored and their career stalled. For both the farmer and the professional, the problem of getting stuck is best solved by investing in new skills and activities during slow periods. As the saying goes, you need to know when to cut bait and when to go fishing.

Prophetic Word

During my conversation with Glenn, we talked about my work at OCC on agricultural banking, but I also regaled him with details of a sermon that I spent weeks preparing. On and on I went about this sermon, getting more excited by the minute.

Glenn listened patiently but pretty soon, like every good Illinois farm boy, he had reached his limit and blurted out: “Stephen, you really seem to enjoy preaching, why don’t you go to seminary?”

His seminary comment puzzled me, but I sensed that I had bored him long enough. I thanked him and excused myself.

Several months passed. I then heard through the grapevine that Glenn passed away the week after I spoke with him. The last words I heard from my mentor of 20 years was: “Stephen…why don’t you go to seminary? Stephen…why don’t you go to seminary?” For me, Glenn’s words sounded like Jesus’ last words to Peter (John 21:15).


Also see:  Looking Back 

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Galatians 1: Christ Alone

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Christ aloneBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,

by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14 ESV).

How do you introduce yourself?

Paul’s first statement after his name is to say he is an apostle and, not through men, but through Jesus Christ (v 1).  In other letters, Paul refers to himself either as an apostle or as a slave (δοῦλος) of Christ.  Moses is likewise referred to as a slave of the Lord (מֹשֶׁ֖ה עֶ֣בֶד יְהוָ֑ה (Joshua 1:1 WTT))

Paul’s introduction as an apostle is surprising because in the Greek apostle (ἀποστολικός BDAG1010) means messenger, envoy.  For most of the apostles, the term referred to disciples who were specifically appointed by Jesus and had served Jesus for three years (Mark 3:16-19).  By contrast, Paul never knew Jesus during this ministry and never followed him.  Quite the contrary, Paul persecuted the church (Acts 8:3). Paul’s commissioning as an apostle came through a vision of the risen Christ (Acts 9:4-19).  Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus led him to a dramatic change in faith and calling much like the prophet Ezekiel (2:1-3).  We might expect that Paul would brag, not about his call, but about his education under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

After his introduction (vv 1-2) and a blessing (vv 3-5), Paul gets down to brass tacks:  I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6 ESV).  Paul basically accuses them of heresy and twice lays down a curse (ἀνάθεμα) on those that might preach it (vv 8-9).  Verse 6 accordingly sets up an important theme for the entire letter.  What is the “grace of Christ”; what is this “different gospel”; and how do they differ?  Paul then goes on to justify his authority to offer this critique—the focus of the rest of chapter 1.

Paul’s careful introduction of himself and his autobiography form an important foundation for the gospel that he presents latter in his letter.  His unusual credentials as an apostle called directly by the risen Christ, not by men (v 1), serves to initiate this foundation.  He then argues that the gospel of Christ is a revelation, not of men, but of Christ himself (vv 10-12).  Paul’s schooling as a pharisee (in this different gospel) and persecution of the church make it unlikely that he simply thought up a new doctrine (vv 13-16).  Neither was Paul taught by the Jerusalem church nor Christian leaders whom he only visited after 3 three years in Arabia (vv 17-20).  In fact, he was already preaching and teaching in Syria and Cilicia before he had any contact with the church (vv 21-24).  The point of this long biography is to reinforce the uniqueness of the gospel of Jesus Christ which Christ and Christ alone revealed to Paul.

How does your faith story affect the faith that you profess?


  1. What is your faith story? How did your life experiences affect it?
  2. Why does scripture need to be interpreted? Which methods of interpretation do you know about and use?
  3. What kinds of literary genre do you find in scripture? What is Galatians?  All of it?
  4. How does the author’s view, the view of scripture, and your view differ?
  5. What is a concordance? How is used?
  6. Why do we need commentaries?
  7. How do you introduce yourself? How does Paul?  What is unique about this introduction? (v 1)
  8. Who did Paul write to? (v 2) Where are the church or churches of Galatia?
  9. When was this letter written?
  10. Which kind of writing would you call verses 3-5?
  11. What does Paul say in verses 6-9? What is the theme of Galatians?
  12. Why does Paul talk about being a people pleaser and the fact that his teaching comes from revelation? (vv 10-12)
  13. Why does Paul dive into his personal history? (vv 13-17)
  14. Why does Paul distance himself from the Jerusalem church leaders? (vv 18-20)
  15. Why does Paul distance himself from the Judean church? (vv 21-24)
  16. What is so unique about Paul’s background? (vv 23-24)
  17. How do you define grace?
  18. What is law? What about Gospel?

Galatians 1: Christ Alone

Also see:

Galatians 2: Jews and Gentiles 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

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