June 2009 Blog Archives
Tuesday, June 30
5:08 AM Off to school. Praying for a great class.
5:06 AM Last night I had a great talk with Jon Glass about the Lord's Supper. How dare we settle for anything but the best in our churches! The meeting of the New Testament church was a memorable scene, radiant with brotherly love as members sat down together for a love feast that included the breaking of the bread. Christocentric, rather than preacher-centered! Alive with spiritual power! Every member making use of his or her gift for the benefit of the whole Body! And it was the Holy Spirit who was the cause of it all. The evidence for a highly participatory meeting is incontrovertible. This is what will always attract me to the writings of the New Testament -- the power of the Spirit unleashed in every member!
5:01 AM Quote of the day:
By the way, Ross, all the best to you as you begin your doctoral studies at Baylor!
4:55 AM "Time's up! Change the way you think and act!" So says Jesus in Mark chapter 1. He calls for a radical transformation of every aspect of our lives -- our attitudes, our thoughts, our outlooks, our priorities, our direction. I am asking my Mark students whether they have ever considered such a radical transformation. Jesus doesn't make sense. He hasn't made sense to me for years. For me, the greatest reason to teach the Gospel of Mark is because the upside-down kingdom of Jesus is real, and because the kingdom is real it has the right to the allegiance of every person in Wake Forest. The question is: How will I respond? Repentance begins with me!
4:49 AM Last day of June. Unbelievable. Three weeks in Ethiopia. Nolan's arrival. Haying. My 57th birthday. Praise God for His goodness!
4:40 AM My Greek class at the Hill performed brilliantly last night. I praise God for their diligence and dedication. This goes for Becky too, who made a 102 on her quiz. Thank you Jesus!
Monday, June 29
3:50 PM The opening chapter of Mark's Gospel is so rich. For starters, take Mark's description of John the Immerser. What a contrast between him and our youth today! He could care less about being "in." He dared to be different. He lived and ate simply. He said, "He must increase, and I must decrease." No interest in position, prosperity, power, or popularity! To speak quite frankly, I am reminded of Nathan. He is considered an "oddball" by many people who yet admire him because he is delightfully different and a man of biblical convictions. Nathan will probably never be rich or famous in the world's eyes, but he is a giant of a man in my eyes.
3:10 PM Today a student and I discussed Paul's philosophy of self-support (Acts 20, 1 Cor. 9, etc.). I was reminded of a famous statement George Muller once made. It's recorded in his Autobiography (pp. 36-37). It contains much food for thought!
How weak is my faith compared to that great and humble man's!
3:10 PM Adam Darnell is translating though the book of Colossians and doing a sweetastik job. Check it out here.
2:45 PM Had a wonderful lunch with Becky in Oxford today on my way home from campus. My summer school Greek class is off to a superb start. Rejoicing greatly in the Lord. How merciful God has dealt in granting me strength after such a hard week of haying. May He enable me to trust Him more!
Sunday, June 28
2:12 PM Enjoyed great fellowship this morning at Cavel Baptist Church in Roxboro. The saints there collect an offering every quarter for Bibles for Ethiopia. Becky gave a short update on the work, and we both got to sing in the choir!
Brother Tobie Stone is now doing his third interim at the church. What a saint of God! His message from Philippians 3 was outstanding.
Finally, here's a pic from last night at Mount Tirzah, where the folk are contributing eyeglasses for Ethiopia. What a blessing to know so many missions-minded people!
Hope you're having a great day wherever you are. Remember: serving Jesus and His kingdom is what it's all about!
8:10 AM Anthony Gregory reviews Pat Buchanan's Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. It's a lengthy review, but at least the conclusion is worth reading: "The impact on America."
8:04 AM Bethel Hill Greek students: be prepared for a quiz over the present middle/passive indicative tomorrow night. As always, we'll offer extra credit (English to Greek). I remain excited about this class. I hope it encourages the church at large to support a priesthood of all believers in contrast to a dominant teaching office over powerless, uneducated laity.
7:45 AM I missed this HuffPost piece on the Iranian revolution of 1908 when it first appeared, but it's full of sound practical advice for President Obama. This disturbing phrase caught my eye, however:
7:32 AM Dreamt in German last night. Lufthansa was performing Brahms. Crazy!
Saturday, June 27
10:16 PM Had lunch with Becky's brother Ben and his family in Mebane, NC. Then they left with mom for Greenville, SC. Mom flies home to Dallas tomorrow. This evening we helped out at a pancake dinner fundraiser at Mount Tirzah Baptist Church in Charlotte Court House for Matthew Rondeau's upcoming trip to Central Asia. All in all a great day. I'm thankful for such a wonderful family!
8:07 AM Just spent time with Jesus in 2 Timothy 2. Here's a great verse (2:7): "Understand what I'm saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things." I love Paul! First the exhortation, then the encouragement. My takeaways? All spiritual understanding ultimately comes to us from the Lord Jesus. But He often uses human instruments to convey His truth. So for me to understand what the Lord is saying I need to pay very close attention to what Paul and Peter and James and John are saying. God help me to think your thoughts today!
7:26 AM Can't believe that haying is over for now. I think of Jesus' yoke metaphor when I think about working with Nathan. For us the yoke is intergenerational connectedness. And the next generation of farmers (Nolan) is not far behind. But "yoke" can also mean balance, as when 2 people balance each other. I think we've struck a good balance with our farm work. When we share the work, the "yoke is easy and the burden is light." At least easier and lighter!
7:17 AM Last night we enjoyed a fine supper: farm fresh beef, mashed potatoes, veggies. Mama B leaves today. She spent lots of time loving on her great-grandbaby. We'll miss her!
Friday, June 26
7:28 PM Watching Nate with his sheltie puppies reminds me of a few great doggie sayings:
How boring life would be without our furry friends.
6:43 PM Quote of the day: "Boy, this is some nice-looking hay, dad." Nathan Black, Rosewood Farm, June 26, 2009. Make that the quote of the year!
6:36 PM I hit a wall at about 2:30 today. It was forced progress, my will driving my legs. Yet I plodded on, and at about 4:30 the Lord gave me a much-needed second wind. We just finished getting up another barn load of hay -- 350 bales to be exact. Our 3 day total is 1, 096 bales. God is so good.
12:33 PM Unloaded the manure trailer. Time to bale. My leg is almost back to normal. Thanks to the Great Physician!
10:45 AM Almost forgot this praise: Nate found and replaced the baler chain!
10:43 AM So far the weather is holding. Thank you Jesus. Nate's gone to turn over the hay with the rake. Et moi? I'm cleaning off some moldy furniture then repacking it in the barn.
9:41 AM How is baby Nolan, you ask? His checkup went extremely well yesterday. How kind is God. We are praising Him for His grace in lots of ways. May Jesus be glorified in that little baby's life!
9:34 AM Just had some great time in the book of Philippians. Paul said to honor people like Epaphroditus highly. Why? Because Epaphroditus "had risked his life and almost died for the work of Christ" (Phil. 2:30). Earlier Paul described him as a man who shared the life, shared the work, and shared the danger as his "fellow believer, fellow worker, and fellow soldier" (Phil. 2:25). Do I live up to that standard? What constitutes proof that I do? We can talk about a Great Commission Resurgence until we're cyanotic but the reality may be something far different. Oswald Chambers once said, "What the world needs is not 'a little bit of love,' but a surgical operation." Paul held up Epaphroditus as an example of how to do it. What an amazing man he must have been. I can't wait to meet him on the other side.
8:40 AM You've probably seen this already, but just for the record here's David Bromwich's take on the Iran crisis: Iran Was an Easier Enemy Before We Saw Their Faces. "All vicarious politics is sick--the more eager, excited, and fraternal, the more prone to self-deception," writes Bromwich. I'm hoping you'll read the entire essay.
8:34 AM Today we complete our first hay cutting of the season. It's the completion of months of backache and sweat. It's a wonderful life. Hay is a kind of beauty I can understand.
8:24 AM As I begin to teach again on Monday I keep asking myself, "Am I a prisoner to people's expectations?" I need to be myself. I need to teach to the best of my abilities, not according to someone else's standards. I love teaching. You might say it completes the loop of ministry: because my own Greek professor poured himself into me, now my students are on the receiving end in a very substantial way. God help me to teach well!
8:06 AM I think I found the answer: conversion does not mean completion. The struggle continues.
8:00 AM Last night we had a great musikalischer Abend in our formal living room. Mom played one of her flute solos. Nate accompanied her on our reed organ as we sang some old hymns and choruses. The baby slept through the whole thing. Great fun.
Thursday, June 25
9:00 PM I hear Becky and mom scurrying around in the kitchen. Wonder what delicious concoction they're up to?
8:56 PM We quit work at 8:00 pm. Baler chain broke. Maybe we can get another one in the morning. I hope so. Still have another field to get up. Still, it was a good day. Nate and I got up 290 bales, by ourselves. Not bad for a young buck and his old dad.
2:48 PM It's almost 3 pm. Just had a quick lunch. Been raking all day. Nate is baling. My leg is still gimpy. Beautiful weather.
10:15 AM Quote of the day:
9:38 AM Amazon now lists The Jesus Paradigm.
9:25 AM Great breakfast with Becky and mom. Farm fresh eggs and homemade blueberry jam.
8:45 AM Jesus writes in the sand. Why? To show that He remains above the angry mood of the crowd. By remaining in total control of Himself, He broke the momentum of the moment. Is Jesus writing in the sand of your life? Or in your family? Or in your denomination? Yes, Jesus can even speak to a denomination if we will listen. Composure in the midst of crisis. Serenity in the midst of silliness. Let Him write, Baptists, let Him write, Methodists, let Him write!
8:22 AM Oswald Chambers:
8:17 AM In several of my books I mentioned that my calling was to teach students preparing for ministry. I now repent of that language. I am prodded to correct my verbiage: I am called to prepare God's people for works of service.
8:12 AM I am still plagued by the question: "How do I allow truth I already know to percolate through my spirit and become part of my lifestyle?"
8:02 AM This morning I am listening to the Voice and dwelling on His Word. I love Hebrews. It recognizes that Christ holds all things together. That includes broken old me.
7:59 AM Up and about, but barely. Nate's given me the morning off; he and Jess are taking Nolan for his first well-baby checkup. Our goal today is to bale the back field, then deliver 100 bales to some horse people in Roxboro. Becky and mom are heading to town to run some errands. Looks like another hot day.
Wednesday, June 24
10:45 PM I walked into the house tonight at exactly 8:59 pm, exhausted, in pain (I pulled a muscle in my right calf), filthy -- and never happier. It's HARVEST TIME! It's what a farmer lives for.
We got up exactly 456 bales this afternoon. Had lots of great help too. Special thanks to Becky's nephew Taylor and also to our good friends from Bethel Hill, Woody Jacobs and his son Lendon. Also, Bec's mom arrived safety. The two of them, along with Jessie, were our cheering section all day as we worked. Again, the harvest is what farming is all about. I rejoice in the nuts-and-bolts, down-to-earth, everyday ordinariness of life on a farm -- and our hay crop is our own commonplace glory.
I know you're tired of seeing nothing but pictures on this blog, so I'll spare you this time. (Just kidding.) The following photos barely scratch the surface of this wonderful day. I am a blessed man -- all's I can say!
Below is about a 20-acre field. We raked and baled about a third of it today. I raked.
12-year old Lendon drove the van and pulled the hay trailer. He is one good driver, let me tell you. I think he's got NASCAR in his blood.
My job was to keep an hour ahead of the hounds. Nathan baled just as fast as I was able to rake up the hay.
Thanks partly to Taylor's eager help, picking up hay went quickly and efficiently.
Woody and I had a bet that he couldn't beat my record of 120 bales in one trailer load. The rascal. His first load came in at a whopping 133 bales. Of course, he was born and raised a redneck. I've been one for only 11 years. I owe you breakfast, Woodster!
Here's our new hay barn, more than half full of freshly cut high-quality square bales. We'll add a couple hundred more tomorrow, Lord willing.
Finally, as you can see, Becky's mom is beautiful. So is her daughter. Mom lives in the Big D. She's on the East Coast attending a flute convention and managed to include visits to her daughter Barbara, her son Ben, and her eldest, Becky. It's a great blessing to have her in our home. I hope she'll bless us with a mini flute recital.
Tomorrow is more of the same. Can't wait.
8:53 AM Becky and I just found some old chorus books we used to sing from during our college days. "Every day with Jesus, I'll be walking down the King's highway." "Every moment of every day." "Christ for me." "What though wars may come." "Let the beauty of Jesus." "I'm happy all the time." "Mansion over the hilltop." Wow! We couldn't stop singing them. One after the other. I know Mrs. Lapsley will remember these songs. We'll have to have a major sing while she's here.
8:41 AM I appreciated the even-handed tone of Muhammed Sahimi's latest post on Iran's election drama. Don't miss his peroration.
8:33 AM I see the shriekfest has begun. It is imperative, for those who support the status quo, that people do not learn to think for themselves. Some facts to consider:
1) The Great Commission was given to the local church.
2) Any local church can send out missionaries.
3) The Great Commission needs to be the one focus of any group or organization that claims to follow hard after Jesus. This includes our marriages.
4) It doesn't matter to me whether my students have a wall-sized poster of Calvin OR Arminius in their dorm room, as long as they are living for the sake of the Gospel, like Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:17-30).
It is important to remember that Christianity at its core is neither liberal nor conservative nor fundamentalist nor Baptist nor Methodist but radical. It involves being a "living sacrifice." It thrives on scandalous love. The Christian is to be Christ's servant in the world. It is just that simple. Thankfully, this servanthood can take place regardless of what takes place on the national level!
8:12 AM Slept in. Needed that rest. Full day today.
Tuesday, June 23
10:07 PM Just had a pancake again. Is this becoming an addiction?
8:36 PM Made Chinese food for supper again tonight (using my secret ingredient, of course). Sheba must have Hawaiian blood in her. She can't wait to clean out the rice bowl.
8:12 PM Nate and Jess had visitors this afternoon. So the best we could do today was to rake the fields. Baling is postponed until tomorrow. Three fields to do, too. Should be tons of fun. My sinuses can't wait.
7:45 PM I gave both dogs a bath this afternoon. They needed to get prettified because we're expecting a very special guest to arrive at Bradford Hall tomorrow. Becky's mom has been visiting 3 of her 6 children -- one in Greenville, South Carolina, one in Cary, North Carolina, and us in southern Virginia. Mom will stay until Saturday. Wait till you see pictures of Mrs. Lapsley. She and Becky are almost identical twins. She is also a huge dog lover, though she and dad prefer schnauzers to shelties. We've forgiven them.
7:31 PM The barn interior doesn't look too shabby, eh? Tomorrow, Lord willing, we'll start stacking hay in it.
The exterior is almost completed. We still have to build the doors and fill in the front gable end. I can't believe we're almost done with this project. It has been a blast from day one.
4:59 PM Both dogs are back to normal, thank God. Couldn't find the snake.
4:55 PM Been following the convention through Jon Glass's tweets.
4:51 PM Time for a break. I've gotten cleaned up and am taking a rest. Enjoyed a cold shower. Had a flashback to when I used to surf at Waikiki Beach. There was a public shower right on the main drag where all of us surfers would wash the salt off. What a great feeling after 4 hours of nonstop surfing. I get the same feeling today on the farm after working for several hours, only our showers are indoors.
4:45 PM Nate is not raking yet. He's decided to cut another field today. Hope we can beat the bad weather that is due on Friday.
4:23 PM Just back from making a trash run. Also stopped at Yancey Store, the local mom and pop convenience store. Not much there, but if you're a farmer and need 4 rolls of baler twine, it's the only happening place. A steal for only $80.00 dollars too.
3:55 PM The barn siding is finished!
1:20 PM Farm update: We're treating the dogs for snake bites... Nate and I are finishing up the siding on the barn... just enjoyed delicious cheese rolls and fruit compote prepared by Becky... Nate will rake and bale this afternoon... still have to swap out trailers.
7:47 AM Here's something to think about. The poor, the lowly, the outcast -- these are the people who are often the most open to the Gospel, rather than the rich and the successful. Check out 1 Corinthians 1 for this truth. For example, I've been deeply impacted by the story of Mohammed. Mohammed is now walking with Jesus, a true servant of others, an excellent student in school, and just a blessing to be around. The time we spent together in Ethiopia was absolutely priceless.
Here's the house Becky and I built for Mohammed's mother to live in. One of 4 wives, she had been put out of the household because of the shame her son had brought on the family. The hut is almost ready for habitation. Once the walls are mudded in, she can move in.
The property we purchased is located adjacent to the site of the murder. Here's Girma's tomb -- a grim reminder of the consequences of sin.
I love this picture of Mohammed and his mom. When he is not in school he comes to the village and helps his mother with planting and harvesting her crops (mostly maize).
Mohammed is very proud of his sheep. He now has 4.
Why am I telling you this? First of all because I love the grace of God. It is truly "amazing"! Secondly, I love the so-called "little people" of this world. Jesus was always eager to touch them. He was passionate about lepers and bleeding women and centurions' servants. Talk about an upside-down kingdom! His presence shakes everything up. He'll do the same for us if we'll let Him. I'm writing a book about this called Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. Actually, I've been working on this project off and on ever since we started going to Ethiopia. It will tell the story of the Mohammeds in my life. Please pray for me as I try to tackle this enormous project.
Monday, June 22
10:02 PM Just back. Great Greek class. Have a sudden craving for pancakes. Off to slap some on the griddle. But first, where's the ibuprofen?
5:50 PM The past 11 days have been a gift of grace. There's no other way to put it. Nolan is beautiful. You can go to Jessie's blog if you need more pictures to confirm it. He was near death but today he is SO alive. I hope you will read Jessie's testimony to the faithfulness of God. You will be blessed. And please continue to pray for us.
5:01 PM Today we finished the flooring! Then we helped a neighbor get up hay and put it away in his barn. Tomorrow we hope to get the siding put up on our barn. Just in time, too. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we'll be raking and baling. The weather is holding up fabulously.
Below is my right hand as of 10 minutes ago. It's due to a combination of baler twine, tin snips, and the manure pitchfork. That's what I deserve for taking a few weeks off of farm work.
8:22 AM Barbara Boxer wants to be called "Senator." Good for her. From now on I will insist that students call me not just "Dr. Black" but "Herr Professor Dr. Black." From now on I will also cut in line in the seminary bookstore.
7:36 AM Greek class resumes tonight at the Hill. Why Greek, when you could be doing so many other things? In teaching Greek I am particularly concerned with the relationship between Scripture and culture. The text is the point of contact between Jesus and the world. The Gospel is still the power of God unto salvation. It is still flowing throughout the world. Greek is not an end in itself. It is not a panacea. It is not an Open Sesame to biblical interpretation. It does, however, open more doors to interpretation than you or I will ever be able to walk through. After 33 years of teaching this ancient language I still feel like a small child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean.
See you on the beach.
7:12 AM The first century, like today, was a world that experienced widespread religious ferment and upheaval. Latourette once remarked in his History of the Expansion of Christianity (p. 13): "In this ethical, philosophical, and religious ferment is one of the chief reasons for Christianity's remarkable spread." Today, established ideologies are under attack as never before. Witness Central Asia.
The world has come full circle. Never have people and cultures been more ripe for the Gospel. And never has it been easier to travel on a worldwide scale. I wonder: Who will take the Good News to the nations whose populations are in uproar, where there is growing disenchantment with both ideology and traditional religion? What an opportunity.
6:56 AM Mr. Knox has come up with the ultimate anti-slogan slogan: Just Make Disciples. Great idea, Alan. I'll volunteer to edit the "Just Make Disciples Study Bible."
Sunday, June 21
8:50 PM Slept for 2 hours... mowed the grass... edged... unloaded a ton of horse manure with Nate... got filthy dirty... showered... B. has some papaya for me for FD... about to read Escape from Colditz.
Life doesn't get any better.
1:43 PM After a wonderful morning at the Hill, Becky took me out to dinner for Father's Day. We ate at one of Roxboro's colorful Mexican restaurants. Funny, we both ordered identical meals. I guess you can do that when you've been married for 33 years. Right now I'm looking at taking a nice long nap.
6:22 AM To respond to Alan Knox's latest blog post: He raises an enormously difficult question. How does one affirm biblical truth when one's own life seems parsed with inconsistency? What a conundrum. Believe me, no one struggles with this more than I do. Which is more commendable -- the "scholar" who publishes books about radical discipleship yet whose own life (admittedly) falls short of the very truths he is espousing, or the saint who in complete obscurity lives a life of consistent love for Jesus and service to others? As for me, I want to have consistency, but consistency in what? The fact is this: There will always be a gap between what we KNOW and what we DO. The important question is: does the obedience level rise along with the knowledge level? So at the core of our questioning of "Why am I not consistent in living out what I believe?" we must believe that God's intent for us is to make PROGRESS in holiness year in and year out, day in and day out. At times, when we begin moving in the wrong direction, or when we are growing indifferent to the spiritual dimension of our lives, the Father will spank us to get our attention, but even then He acts in love. The one thing we cannot do is become nonchalant about obedience. So let's keep allowing the Holy Spirit to move us along toward maturity (see the ISV rendering of Heb. 6:1). The job is way too big for us to accomplish alone. If progress resembles a limp, then so be it. The alternative is to live a status quo life as status quo church goers whose status quo Christianity makes not an iota of difference in the world.
I'm looking forward to reading Alan's review of the book. I think when we peer into the abyss of our hearts, we are better for it, even if it is painful.
6:05 AM This marvelous sight greeted me at 5:52 this morning, my first Father's Day as a granddad. What a great God we serve.
Saturday, June 20
6:55 PM Newsflash! Nate's begun cutting.
Here are the eyewitnesses to prove it.
This is just the first of several fields he's got to cut. Looks like it will be a long evening for Mr. Nate. Never fear: the farm photographer will stay on top of this breaking story.
4:27 PM Brief farm update:
1) Finished the roof tin. Caulked all the holes. No holes = No leaks = No moldy hay.
2) Tossed manure in the back field. Have you ever seen a man sweat so much it's downright pitiful?
3) Roto-tilled one of B's garden beds.
4) Later on Nate will start cutting hay. The weather is holding up beautifully.
5) An emailer requested a photo of our backyard garden. Happy to oblige.
8:32 AM The heat index will be pushing 103 degrees today. Nate and I will push ahead and try to finish the barn roof and siding today, maybe even get some of the flooring down. Guess what? The Lord Jesus has seen fit to produce a high pressure system to the west of us, and it looks like we may enjoy a few dry days next week. If so, Nate will cut hay either today or tomorrow. Believe it or not, this is still our FIRST cutting this summer, it's been that wet. Yesterday I managed to finish mowing the 3-foot tall grass in my backyard with my trusty John Deere. Almost needed a scythe to get the job done.
I love cutting hay. Freshly cut hay always catches my eye -- and my sinuses.
8:11 AM Last night we had Nolan over for dinner. He was kind enough to bring his mom and dad with him. He can't eat solid food yet, but he certainly was the guest of honor. It was fun sitting around the table talking with Nate and Jess about the momentous week we all just lived through. What are my takeaways?
First of all I need to be careful to give credit where credit is due. True, the doctors and nurses at UNC were wonderful. They did one fantastic job, let me tell you. They deserve a lot of praise and a bunch of medals. But I especially want to thank my God for what HE did in bringing my firstborn grandbaby into the world. We watched Him arrange and orchestrate every detail in miraculous ways. I saw Him bend over the balcony of heaven and smile on us. To Him belong all the praise for all eternity! Secondly, maybe I'm just an idiot, but isn't the miracle of new birth something to get EXCITED about? To be honest, I feel a little guilty for being so ecstatic about the arrival of Nolan Elijah, but in my defense I plead temporary (i.e., grandfatherly) insanity. I literally can't describe how sweet and beautiful he is! Finally, I am convinced that having children is a great marriage builder. Husband and wife are now dad and mom. More than ever they have to push aside their own desires and agendas and live for each other -- and their baby. I love watching Nate and Jess interact with their infant son. In fact, I am sure that the single most important impacting factor in raising Nolan will be the quality of Nathan and Jessie's relationship. Praise God for that too!
The long and short of it? God's blessings have been cascades of goodness upon us. We are drenched in them! I am so undeserving; He is so merciful and gracious.
Okay, since you asked, here are some more pix of the baby. Actually, I think I've been good about not going overboard (like some people I know). It's been 5 days since I posted any photos of Master Nolan. So, like it nor not, here goes!
Friday, June 19
1:13 PM Good afternoon, bloggers and bloggerettes. I am flying high today. After all, I just got to hold my grandbaby!
And now, on a more serious note...
In our postmodern world where uncertainty is extolled as a virtue, my prayer is that we get back to believing what the New Testament says should be the purpose of the church. I just chiseled out a new essay called Why Church? I wrote it mostly for my own local church to consider as we begin to rethink our vision statement. My hope and prayer is that this essay encourages all of us (no matter what type of denomination we belong to) to make our churches the most radically missions-minded organisms on the face of God's green earth. Let's stop holy huddling and go on the offensive for Jesus all over the globe!
7:45 AM One of the definitions of "myth" is that given by the Random House Dictionary: "An unproved collective belief that is accepted uncritically to justify a social institution." I thought of this recently when speaking to one of our Ethiopia team members about children's church and youth ministry. Elsewhere I have argued that adolescence is a myth in the sense described above. I also believe that age-segregated ministry in our churches ultimately does more harm than good. But if we take the Bible as our clue for understanding, then we must go a step further and say that segregating the ages is unscriptural. We have settled for what seems the easier option. We have supposed that children need teaching that is "on their level." We have tended to think that we have outgrown the patterns of the past, when children and adults sat together on a Galilean hillside to listen to a builder's son. As Kevin Brown put it to me in Alaba, "Where did Jesus ever tell Peter, James, and John to take the children to the bottom of the hill until He finished the Sermon on the Mount?"
What is to be done?
Curiously, the same Sunday morning that Kevin was speaking in the Alaba town church (where the children were "dismissed to children's church") I was speaking in a more rural congregation in which young and old alike sat together. My audience included children and suckling infants. I have noticed in Ethiopia that the more urbanized the congregation, the more age-segregated it becomes. And -- dare I say it? -- it also seems to me that the more child-focused the ministry is, the less mature and responsible the children tend to be. This ought to deliver us from being impressed by the various pedagogical proposals that are frequently made to the effect that if we will adopt modern ideas of child-rearing we can be assured of success. It ought to inoculate us against the ivory-tower thinking that tends to effect pastoral leadership. It ought to direct our minds to the awesome reality of Jesus whose love for children caused Him to rebuke His disciples, whose "wisdom" turned out to be folly.
How can we reconcile our age-segregated programs with the teaching of the New Testament? In my opinion, we can't. But an even greater question might be: What does this say about the way in which the ideas of the world are promoted in our churches, backed up by courses in "youth ministry" in our Bible schools? How is it possible that we so easily overlook the vocative case in Eph. 6:1, or the comment "not counting the women and children" in Matt. 14:21? Have we become wiser than the Scriptures? Whatever we do in the church ought at least to be grounded in Scripture. As I have tried to show in my book on adolescence, it is essential to recognize that all human thinking takes place within a sociological structure that determines which beliefs are true and which are not. People living in modern societies are continually bombarded with ideas, images, slogans, and stories that presuppose a world view that is often radically different from the Christian understanding of human nature. It has to be added, I think, that in recent years there have been many studies that have shown how ineffective all of our age-segregated programs are. The church of Jesus Christ cannot advocate a new social order if it is not itself a new social order. When it is such, it will invariable be out of sync with the rest of society. It is only in this way that the life of the world can be challenged by the Gospel and brought under the searchlight of truth as it has been revealed in Jesus.
I say, "Let the little children come to us!"
6:51 AM Millions have been asking, "How's the new hay barn coming?" The answer is sloooowly. As you can see, the tin siding and roofing have been going up. We still need to finish nailing the floor boards too. We're in a time crunch. We'll need this barn for our next cutting, which, if the weather holds, may be as early as next week.
Thursday, June 18
4:33 PM Well, I'm working on one of the most significant essays I think I've ever written. I'm calling it "Why Church?" Regardless of where you stand on age-integration, worship styles, Calvinism, and women in ministry, you gotta agree that the Christian life is all about introducing people, not to religion, but to a relationship with the Jesus of the Bible. My goal in life has become very simple: to live and share the Good News of Jesus to all around me. Pray with me that God does something significant through this essay and that He would call His church back to what He created it to be, a community sent forth into the world.
6:54 AM Quote of the day:
6:42 AM A friend sent along a link to this Letter to a Mouse. Pretty cheesy, if you ask me.
6:25 AM Being supported while doing Christian work is not wrong. Jesus Himself set His seal of approval on this type of support. During His ministry He was supported by "certain women ... and many others" (Luke 8:2-3). Still, Becky and I have chosen to be self-supporting. The biblical basis for this is found in 1 Corinthians 9. Paul had been accused of not being a genuine apostle because he was self-supporting. He acknowledged that he could have received support from the churches, like the other apostles had. He had chosen to be self-supporting. He did so so that he could "win more people" to Christ.
In the late 1970s a friend of mine went to Japan as a fulltime salaried missionary. His goal was to lead Japanese businessmen to Christ. He would ask them, "What do you do for a living? What kind of business are you in?" Then they would ask him, "And what exactly do you do for a living?" Terry couldn't really answer that question. He led no one to the Lord. On his first furlough he returned to the States and resigned his position with the mission board. Then he turned around and went back to Japan, this time getting a job as a fulltime English teacher to Japanese businessmen. Soon they were coming to faith and a small church was started. He eventually married a Japanese women and started a family. Needless to say, he speaks Japanese fluently. He had identified with the target culture. And since he was not "paid to witness," he had credibility among the hard-working Japanese.
Self-support is an option that should be considered by every missionary. William Carey supported himself by being a salaried professor of Sanskrit at the University of Calcutta. Robert Morrison, who translated the Bible into Chinese, was a paid interpreter for a trading company. David Livingstone was a consul for the British government. Henry Martyn went to India as an employee of the East India Company.
The bottom line: Whatever our profession may be -- whether it is medicine, education, economics, farming -- our main task must be that of bringing others to Jesus Christ. My "job" is teaching Greek. But my "business" is the Gospel, fulltime.
6:12 AM Four words that changed the world: Buildings, clergy, degrees, respectability. We can't conceive of the church without them. Today we take all 4 for granted. The church has become localized, clericalized, professionalized, and institutionalized. Why do we raise money? To build or maintain buildings. To pay clergy. To send our youth off to school. To establish programs. I wonder: What did the church do when it did not have have ANY of these things?
It converted the Roman empire.
Wednesday, June 17
6:35 PM I had a great time on campus today. God seemed to be speaking to my heart all day long. I've been praying nonstop for some pretty special people who are facing some pretty deep waters. I know that God loves them, and He will never leave them nor forsake them. He doesn't promise we won't get hurt in life or that we won't experience pain, but He does promise we can trust Him through it all. Thank you Jesus!
Greek students, if you've signed up for my Greek class on Mark that starts in a week and a half, I've posted the course syllabus and the translation schedule online today at the seminary website. I love Greek, and I want everyone to experience the blessing of reading the New Testament in its original language, but there is only so much you can do in a 2-week class. I believe God has something real good in store for us as we read, ponder, discuss, and then (hopefully) obey the truths in this tremendous true story of the life, words, and works of the Lord Jesus. Greek can be real tough at times, which is one reason I like it so much. We can all use a little intellectual stimulation at times, and what better way to stretch the gray matter than trying to master an ancient language. I'm talking language on steroids. Mount Everest challenges. A thirty foot ride at Waimea Bay. You get the idea. Pray with me that I will teach well, and that God will use this class to impact the next generation for Jesus!
6:58 AM In Alaba, discipleship increasingly takes place under the sign of the cross. Believers are severely tested. Persecution. Malaria. Typhoid. Typhus. Malnutrition. Ministry in Alaba is a real test of faith and endurance. Still, God is blessing. The church continues to grow both in numbers and maturity.
Your prayers meant everything to our Alaba team during our trip. That's because there was no distance between us and you except for physical distance. If an A-bomb were to explode in North Africa, the radio-active dust from the explosion would poison the milk in India. It's equally true that when people meet to pray, their prayers can have an impact on people living 6,000 miles away. Prayer is one way people have "partnered with us in the Gospel" (Phil. 1:5). Giving is another. The word koinonia in Phil. 1:5 can mean "sharing in a very practical way." That's its meaning in Rom. 15:26, where it is translated "contribution" for the poor. Imagine: the gift that the believers gave to Judea is actually called koinonia. Thus we show our koinonia with those of other nations by contributing to their needs.
The deepest koinonia comes when we work together for the Gospel. Such sharing is impossible without love, says Paul (Phil. 1:9-11). It was important for the Philippian Christians to show increasing love toward each other if they were to remain united around the Gospel. Love is what causes us to help our fellow believers. And if we love, it is because He first loved us.
But there is more. Paul says that love requires knowledge and discernment. We must take the trouble to discover how to love "well," not just "much." We must love APPROPRIATELY. Parents love their children when they help them grow in responsibility, not when they pamper them. Becky and I are discovering after 5 years of work in Ethiopia that love requires an enormous amount of discernment. Paul warned against the tendency to love inordinately (see 1 Thess. 4:9-12). Here in our Philippians passage he says we are to "approve the things that are excellent" or "discern what is of greatest importance." We must constantly be asking ourselves, "What is it that chiefly will enable the church in Ethiopia to grow spiritually?" And we must rid our lives of anything that hinders that effort.
I am giving much thought to this principle these days. Not only in my work in Africa. In my teaching, I need to pursue what is "best" for my students. I must love them enough to ask them to do hard things. I want to love them much AND well. In myself I lack such discernment. This brings us full circle: back to prayer. This may sound odd to some, but may I ask you, my students, to pray for me? Pray with and for me that God would give me spiritual discernment to know what is best for you in my teaching. I have a long ways to go to become the teacher I want to be. I need your prayers.
My mind is still in Alaba although my body is here in Virginia. The struggles of the believers there are still mine, as are their joys. This is all because of the love of God, who loves not only much but well.
Below: Brother Tesfai, whose 8-year old daughter was beheaded by the enemies of the cross 5 years ago in an attempt to get him and his family to leave their village. It didn't work. Tesfai continues to share the love, forgiveness, and grace of the Lord Jesus with his neighbors. I am humbled to be working "together for the Gospel" with such a man.
6:43 AM Yesterday I got to see my "other" grandsons. Nolan is not the only one who is growing up fast. Here's Caleb, the monkey bar expert:
And Isaac is really enjoying his new bike:
Here Micah takes a big swing. Striiiike!
Thanks, Matt and Liz, for a great evening and a superb supper, even though I couldn't pronounce the names of half the dishes you served. You guys were sorely missed!
Tuesday, June 16
8:15 AM Talked with my father-in-law last night. In a breathtaking excess of pedagogical confrontery, he asked me whether I had mastered Amharic yet. Just what I needed, dad.
Actually, his question was appropriate. I am a failure as a missionary. At least a partial failure. What do I mean? The key qualification for a missionary is a willingness to identify with the people to whom you are ministering. True identification involves two main areas: a) language and b) relationships. I feel that I am doing a fairly good of cultivating genuine relationships with Ethiopians on a personal level. I eat their food, sleep in their huts, visit their villages. At the same time my knowledge of Amharic is poor. I am unable to communicate effectively with the people I serve. Thankfully, God has always provided excellent translators for me. But that's no excuse for not learning their heart language. Still, I told dad, "I can't learn another language! There are already too many in my brain. If I try to push Amharic in, another language will escape out the other side."
Lord, why didn't you call me to be a missionary to Germany!
7:55 AM Steve Scott's series, Scripture, American Style, is superb. I wish I could say it's just for laughs, but it does have a serious side.
7:35 AM I never leave home without my note pads. I discovered the following thoughts in one of them. I think I jotted this list down during a layover in the cavernous Frankfurt airport.
12 Reasons Why I Love Being a Global Missionary:
It allows me to invest my talents in global missionary work.
It gets me into stretching experiences.
I am placed in situations where I do not feel entirely secure.
It allows me to prioritize my financial assets.
I am able to contribute to the world missionary effort.
It forces me to follow through in a practical way my concern for my fellow Christians.
It allows me to invest my time and energy in the kingdom of God.
In constantly forces me to ask myself, "Am I living the Christian life safely or with joyful abandonment?"
It challenges me to allow God to prove His steadfast love for me.
It reminds me that God has different ways of leading people.
I am privileged to witness the tireless toil and inspiring self-denial of other missionaries.
It has allowed me to find myself through dying to self.
7:15 AM To travel to Ethiopia is to be plunged headlong into more deprivation and hunger than most of us have ever witnessed. In my experience, only India comes close. I am very much aware that there are so many needs and so little I can do about them. This morning I would like to tell you the story of two forgotten people with whom I share this finite planet.
Zemete is a married woman in Alaba and the mother of 3 children.
When I first met her 5 years ago, she was in desperate need of fistula surgery. She could control neither her bladder nor her bowel movements. She was totally ostracized from her family and friends in her small village of Kuke. Becky and I were to able see that she got to Addis and into the excellent fistula hospital there, where she had a successful operation. That is not the end of the story, however. Upon returning to her home her husband forced himself upon her even though he knew he had to refrain from all intimacy with her for a period of several months. Since that time, the fistula has tragically reappeared. I met with Zemete two weeks ago. I am eager to have her return to the capital for another operation. But it would be senseless to do so without first getting her husband's agreement that he will cooperate this time. He claims to be a follower of Jesus, but this is quite impossible in my mind. No man who treats his wife in that manner can be a true Christian. The elders are even now talking with him.
The other woman I want you to meet is Fatima Mohammed. She is a recent convert to Christianity. She lives in the hillside village of Galaye.
As you can see, she is blind in her left eye and partially blind in her right. I think Fatima is 15 years old, but most villagers have no idea when their birthday is. Last year she lost her parents to starvation. She now lives with her older brother, a simple farmer.
As I think of such suffering, my theologian brain tries to make sense of it all. On one level, all of this is the consequence of the fall. And, since God is absolutely sovereign, He controls the situation completely. That's true of every person in this world. Nothing takes Him by surprise, including our illnesses and diseases. Whenever I go to Ethiopia I consistently realize the impact of sin in this world. But not only in Africa. There are no boundaries when it comes to heartache and grief. Life hurts!
On another level, however, I know that suffering has a purpose. At the very least, it is God calling me to get involved in the lives of others. He wants me to be like Jesus who left comfort behind to serve the lepers in society. In Ethiopian society, both Zemete and Fatima are absolute NOBODIES. But in God's eyes they are huge SOMEBODIES. So, while there's sadness and pain in joining in the sufferings of other people, there is also the joy of knowing that the God of all comfort, the Father of compassion, is right there with us all.
Why I am sharing this with you? I don't really know. Maybe it's because I'm feeling the post-trip blues. Maybe it's because I just need to jangle. I think mostly it's because I just want you to pray. Pray for your sisters in Christ, Zemete and Fatima. Missions is hugely demanding. The joyous frustration is constant and irrevocable. Personally, I wouldn't want to live any other way.
Below: Fatima and Katy. A study in contrasts. Both are 15 years old. They are standing side by side. Yet they are worlds apart.
Monday, June 15
6:42 PM "Integrate teens in every typical church setting." Thus sprach I (go here if you're interested in reading more.) Youth ministry tends to fall into two general categories. Those that involve teens in ministry and, in fact, insist that youth ministry is ALL about service. And then there are those youth leaders who see their job as entertaining the youth. What's funny is that young people themselves are eager to prove to us that they are the young adults God made them to be. I say, raise the bar and involve our teens in EVERYTHING our senior adults do.
I was really impressed with the father-daughter team God sent us on our recent trip to Alaba. Miss Katy and her dad Kevin made up quite a team. Talk about a whole lot of serving going on! It's the natural outcome of getting filled with the Holy Spirit and rejecting the mindset that says teenagers don't have spiritual gifts. To be honest, I think Katy was phenomenal. The young ladies LOVED her. I'm praying that God would send even more parent-child teams and even entire families with us to Ethiopia in the future. My goal is that youth take the double dare and serve Jesus with all their hearts even when the adults tell them to go out and play.
Below: Katy teaching in a rural village somewhere in Alaba. My son Mohammed is holding up her pictures. To his left is Tekalyn, in whose home we stayed. He was eager to help in any way he could.
Mohammed came with us every chance he could. (Remember, this is the guy who was once in prison for murder.) I'm thinking to myself, "In America the teens would be out social networking. Mohammed is taking his time to travel and serve others in Jesus' name." Awesome.
In this photo Katy speaks to a large group of teenagers at the main town church in Alaba. She preached (oops, spoke) on the need for teens to set the example of what it means to be a believer (1 Tim. 4:12). What really excited me was not just the number of teens that heard her, it's the potential impact she made on their entire worldview. If they catch the bug, I believe God is going to use these youth in BIG ways in Alaba and beyond.
Finally, here's 15-year old Katy with a few of her peers in Ethiopia. Like I said, everyone loved her. Thank you God for such a wonderful young lady. May her tribe increase!
12:15 PM The latest addition to our home page is called A Lesson from Ethiopia.
10:48 AM A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, a baby named Nathan was born. He was a wee little 4 pounds, 9 ounces when he came home from the hospital. And to think: in his loins was Nolan Elijah Black.
I am deeply impacted by the mystery of it all.
10:17 AM Just finished answering my last email. Hallelujah!
9:27 AM Raimondo's analysis of the Iranian election is the best thing I've seen so far on this hot issue. Neocons, nota bene.
9:05 AM Nolan is so beautiful. There's been a huge amount of prayer for that little baby. He is so alive, so healthy, so wonderful. Life is incredible. It's a deep experience to be shared with all the emotions and ups-and-downs we experience as humans. It also makes one wonder why we Americans should be so blessed to have such excellent health care while other nations (such as Ethiopia) are in constant crisis. Becky discussed this over at the BHBC blog this morning. There's a protective, providing system in America that the Ethiopians know very little or nothing about. Ethiopian mothers lose their babies all the time to preventable or treatable problems. That's a scary thought. I'm really glad good health care is available here in the States. But I groan for my brothers and sisters in faraway places who have no way of treating, for example, meconium aspiration. No, I don't believe in the health-and-wealth gospel, but I do believe God wants equity between poor churches and wealthy ones (2 Cor. 8:13-15).
You should see Nolan's hands and feet. They're huge. I think the Lord is preparing him for some hard and happy farm work. None of this would have been possible without the expertise of some pretty wonderful doctors and nurses at UNC. Life. Little boy. Awesome. But I must also think: Responsibility. Equity. Compassion.
8:55 AM I'm dealing with a certain level of frustration as I consider how few students actually use Greek in their ministries, despite getting "A"s in class. In Ethiopia I met a pastor who had had 4 semesters of New Testament Greek in seminary. His grade point average was far above average. He had been out of school for only 2 years. Yet when I asked him to translate very simple prose (1 John 1:5) he recognized hardly a word. He could not produce a translation of that verse if his life depended on it. Witnessing the impact of ministerial "busy-ness" is so hard to see. I've met very few students who can actually read their Greek New Testaments with facility. It can be pretty discouraging at times. In 2 weeks I'll be teaching the exegesis of Mark. I've been teaching exegesis courses for 33 years and love it. But what is the profit if my students can produce slavishly literal translations without a) thinking about what the text means, and b) improving their ability in Greek rather than just preparing to get "A"s in the class? I'm really having to rethink my entire approach to assignments and grading. Maybe an individual oral exam at the end of the course is the way I'll go. Perhaps I need to do more one-on-one mentoring. We'll see.
8:44 AM Overheard in the car as I drove Nate and Jess home from the hospital yesterday:
8:35 AM I think it is wonderful that my little book on textual criticism is now available in Mandarin. I was thinking how neat it is to see interest in the Greek New Testament growing all over the world. Of course, variant readings play an important role in how we understand our Bibles. You can pray for Chinese believers as they come to grips with these matters.
Sunday, June 14
7:49 PM Have you seen this site yet? I just bookmarked it!
7:28 PM You've got to read this blog post by Chip Anderson about the place of biblical education. The reality is that a formal education in Bible does not have anything to do with loving Jesus or even knowing Him. You should have heard Brother Kevin's audience in Alaba when he told them he had no seminary degree. They were flabbergasted. "How can anyone be such a good Bible teacher without a formal biblical education?" they wondered. Sometimes I forget what an awesome privilege it is to read my New Testament. Imagine with me 350,000 plus churches in America going back to the simple teachings of the Scriptures. Pray that God does that for His glory! I believe that every Christian has a duty to know the Bible inside and out -- not only facts about the Bible. May God raise up an army of Bible-reading soldiers who realize that the Jesus revolution begins on our knees.
Below: Kevin Brown of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church teaches the shimagelioch (elders) of the congregations in Alaba, Ethiopia. His textbook? The Bible, in this case the book of Ephesians, which he taught verse-by-verse. By the way, Kevin is an overseer in the church he grew up in. That is SO cool. Maybe we should come out with a new movie called "The Pastor Who Never Went to Seminary" starring my buddy Kevin. We could watch as he consecrated his life to reading the Bible on his own. It would rock our worlds.
6:47 PM Nate, Jess, and Nolan (Nolan Elijah Black, to be exact) are back from the hospital. I love holding my grandson. Sounds trite, I know. But it's true. A nice serendipity: Our good friend Jon Glass of Cresset Baptist Church (who blogs here) made a pastoral visit to the hospital just as we were leaving. What a special blessing and thoughtful gesture. Jon, you're the greatest, man.
6:43 PM Two good reads:
1) Wade B. on "Going to Church."
2) Lionel Woods on "A Black Man in a Simple Church."
6:22 AM Almost forgot! Becky has been blogging about Ethiopia at the Bethel Hill church website. You can read her reports here.
6:11 AM I'm back! Arrived at RDU last night at 6:15 pm and got a few hours of good sleep last night. I'm warning you: my writing juices are flowing. The BIG news is that Nate and Jess are now the proud parents of a healthy 8 pound, 10 ounce son. I got to see Nolan last night at UNC Hospital. We are praising God for this addition to our family. Nolan is a very handsome young man. No surprises, I suppose. I was thinking how wonderful it is to be a grandfather. But am I THAT old? At any rate, you'll be hearing a lot more about the baby in the days ahead. Here's a pic to tide you over.
Back to Ethiopia. My heart is full as I write. In many ways I can return to the States and never leave Ethiopia. I feel that way this morning. There have been Christians in Africa since New Testament times. Many have been persecuted and even killed because of their allegiance to Jesus. For 2 weeks in May and June Becky and I took 7 other Americans with us to Ethiopia to serve these believers. Our team members were common, ordinary men and women who love the Lord and love people.
For them, the world is the object of God's missions. To them, the church transcends the barriers of geography. O I wish the church in America could learn that! This is one reason why Christians in one nation must be concerned for the Christians in another nation. What happens to one happens to all. Together, our 9 team members sought to be the hands, feet, eyes, and mouth of Christ. At all times we sought the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. We mobilized our resources -- manpower, finances, talents, opportunities -- to go through the open doors that the risen Jesus had set before us. Our goal was to teach and preach the whole Gospel of the kingdom to the whole man in the whole world. What follows in this blog will be several reports about what we witnessed.
But first a confession. I have sometimes referred to the work we do in Ethiopia as "our" work. This is, of course, completely erroneous. Missions is always the work of God. So it was in the book of Acts; so it is today. Jesus Himself spoke of His words and works as not His own but those of the Father. Whenever we are tempted to see the work of missions as our work, we need to remember that fact. It is the Spirit who gives us power. It is the Spirit who bears witness. It is God who acts in the power of the Spirit secretly drawing the hearts of men and women to Himself. It is impossible to emphasize this point too strongly, and I must ask your forgiveness if I have not stressed it enough on this blog. It is in this light that I would like you to understand our Ethiopia reports. "Our" missionary work is not ours at all. "A servant is not greater than his master, nor a messenger than the one who sends him" (John 13:16). As Paul says, the love of Christ compels us. Missions is the work of God from beginning to end.
I am incredibly thankful for the privilege of having been in Ethiopia. I know in my own life, the greatest joy comes from serving others in Jesus' name. Thank you JESUS!
Right now personal stuff is calling. If you've sent me an email in the past 3 weeks, hold tight. A reply is on its way. Thanks a million for your prayers on behalf of our teams. God is up to something HUGE in Ethiopia. Praise His name!