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June 2013 Blog Archives

Sunday, June 30

8:28 AM Yesterday I had a long talk on the phone with someone in New York about preaching and about the pastor as "preacher." Both of us were struck by the modern (mis-)use of the preaching word-group to refer to what the New Testament clearly calls teaching (see Eph. 4:11 and 1 Tim. 3:2).

In Ephesians 4:11 Paul speaks of "teaching shepherds" (lit. "pastors and teachers"). My translation tries to do justice to the Greek construction the apostle uses. The words "pastors" and "teachers" belong closer together than do "apostles and prophets" or "prophets and evangelists." This does not, of course, resolve the age-old question of whether Paul has one ministry in mind (i.e., "teaching shepherds") or the unity of two individual groups ("teachers" and "shepherds"). However, Paul's injunction in 1 Timothy 3:2 makes it clear that an overseer must be didaktikon ("able to teach" or — perhaps —  "teachable") and that the function of teaching is part and parcel of the pastor's responsibility.

The famous Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 says essentially the same thing. Here Jesus commands His disciples: "As you go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them…and teaching them…." The two modal participles "baptizing" and "teaching" explain the main command to "disciple all the nations." Our Lord is saying that His church is to be established through two continual ministries, the one involving evangelism (where new converts come to Christ), and the other involving teaching (where converts are taught to observe the "all things" He commanded). An analogy may be helpful to explain what Jesus meant. Just as the physical body grows in two ways — by the addition of new cells to the body and by the nourishing of existing cells — so the Body of Christ grows in two ways. New believers are added by the Lord to the church, but in order to grow and truly become disciples it is absolutely necessary that they be taught and instructed. Of course, all believers can and should "teach one another" (Col. 3:16). Yet it is also the pastoral leadership of the church that has been entrusted with this task.

The point is this: Pastors are called upon to teach — not entertain, or tell stories, or focus their messages on non-believers. While evangelism can and should be done when believers are gathered, the focus must always be on teaching the Word of God to believers. The only New Testament passage where evangelism takes place within the gathered congregation is 1 Corinthians 14, where the unbeliever is said to be "convicted by all"— not by an evangelistic sermon. Indeed, Paul sums up the exercise of the various proceedings in the assembly in one phrase: "Let all things be done for edification" (14:26). Perhaps it is because we have neglected solid biblical teaching in our churches that so many believers today are still immature, baby Christians. Teaching one another is absolutely necessary to impart the eternal doctrines of the Word of God.

So are we "teaching one another"?

7:22 AM Good morning, world!

The household is slowly waking up. Karen has just left to attend her church in Raleigh (Imago Dei). She tells me that Becky did not have to get up once during the night. Such is the goodness of God. She's not strong enough to attend our fellowship this morning, especially after the events of yesterday. For this reason, I will represent the Black family at church today. Becky has asked me to tell everyone that she would love to see you if you would like to pay her a visit. It makes sense. She wants to take advantage of whatever energy she has left. I offer this warning, however. Don't be surprised, as you visit her, when she prays over you and speaks encouragement into your life. You say, That doesn't surprise me. She's being Becky. And you're right.

So if you'd like to wend your way through the country lanes of Southside Virginia to the farm of Dave and Becky Black, please feel free to do so. If you would, please call or email me first (I am the social chairman -- how's that for role reversal?) at Bradford Hall these days. This evening one of Becky's infusion room nurses from UNC is coming with her husband. Judy and Mitchell, we can't wait to see you. Then tomorrow Genet (an Ethiopian lady we met in Raleigh) will grace us with her presence. Tomorrow I meet with the local funeral home director, and on Tuesday a dog groomer (who does house calls!) will spiffify our two Shelties so that Becky can enjoy them.

Right  now I am looking at the Greek text of Phil. 4:6. I note that the words "with thanksgiving" are fronted for emphasis. Because apparently ungrateful requests aren't appropriate for God. Because God's plans are so much bigger than mine, and so He deserves praise and thanksgiving for being "one step ahead" of us. That's a pretty cool thought. Can you say "God is good"? God is good.

Stay centered in Jesus.


Saturday, June 29

8:20 PM Becky wrote an email to one of our Ethiopian sons in Alaba today. Would you care to read a portion of it? It reveals the heart of a true servant of God. I know it will encourage you.

Greetings, Desalyn! Thank you for your email.

I am getting weaker. I am using oxygen all the time. I have little strength. I am losing weight. I am dying in the perfect time of The Lord Jesus. I am eager to see my Lord Jesus, whom I love with all my heart. To die is part of Christ's separate body from soul, so that He can (at the right time) resurrect the body.  It is all a part of His perfect plan of salvation.  Soon my sanctification will be completed....and then I will be glorified to reign with Him according to my faithfulness on earth.

Remember, my son....all of life is vanity, except seeking His heart & serving Him.   Money, children marriage, career, comforts, enjoyment , honors, education.....all of these things turn into air & vanish into nothingness .... And all the energy & time spent in pursuit of those things is wasted.  Such a great waste of the life that Christ has given to us!  

Guard yourself.  Remember, to serve the church is not the same as to serve Christ. Our Lord Jesus cannot be replaced by an organization!  Seek Christ's "well done"..... Do not substitute anything (even ministry) for Him.

Know that you are loved.  Greet Zenish for me. I have set my heart to serve Him until the last complaining...only praise & worship...serving others. My heart is completely calm, even as I watch my body die.  Jesus is faithful.....I am trusting Him to be who He said He is!

As you can see, God is absolutely looking out for Becky. And that is enough.

12:44 PM So we decided to do it. Becky and I flew the coop. We grabbed her portable oxygen tank, jumped in the van, and went for a long drive through the countryside. She (and I) just had to get out of the house, just had to go somewhere TOGETHER. And what a wonderful drive it was. We drove past the Berry Hill Plantation where we once spent many happy hours enjoying dinner together. We talked and talked, for hours it seemed. It is a blessing to be able to hop in the car and get away. It's also a blessing to return to a happy home where you are almost coddled by people who love you. I've said it before  -- I'm one blessed guy. God's given me a lamp for my feet, not a spotlight for my entire life. And when He tells you to go on a hot date with your slim and trim bride, well, you just do it.

7:27 AM Right now I'm thinking about our Ethiopia team that leaves next week. How should they -- and we -- do missions? Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians has some good advice. Here's a sampler (1:5):

The Good News we brought came to you not only with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with complete certainty. In the same way you know what kind of people we were while we were with you and the good things we did for you.

Did you see that? The good things we did for you. I'm haunted by the idea that God is not so much asking us to tell people what a friend they have in Jesus as in showing them what a friend they have in us. Paul's mission was show and tell. From beginning to end, 1 Thessalonians is an epistle of sacrificial love. God's love for the lost. Paul's love for the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians' love for their Macedonian neighbors. The letter virtually shouts: Love others! Love them until they ask why!

That Paul emphasizes lifestyle evangelism should not surprise us. Our Lord Himself told us to love our neighbors, not evangelize them. And we cannot love them unless we love Him. Indeed, I would say that our relationship to Christ is the single most important qualification for becoming an evangelist. We simply demonstrate and declare what He has done for us. We are to do as He did, speak as He spoke, love as He loved, live as He lived. There's no "method" beyond this method. There's no class at seminary you have to take. Evangelism is simply "Jesus fleshed out," a second incarnation. That means we must stay in close fellowship with Him. If He speaks, listen. If He sends, go. If He asks, give. It's just that simple. People see the Light when they feel the love. That's why Paul got involved with the lives of others. He served them. And he loved doing it. This presupposes:

  • Close, regular contact with people (like "living epistles," 2 Cor. 3:2-3)

  • Revealing the character of God (like "light," Matt. 5:14)

  • Cultivating relationships (like a "patient farmer," Matt 13:1-43)

Remember: Evangelism is show and tell together. To use a popular agricultural metaphor, evangelism involves cultivating, planting, and reaping.

  • Cultivating is developing significant relationships with the lost.

  • Planting is sowing the seed of the Gospel into their lives.

  • Reaping is bringing them to the foot of the cross.

Cultivating appeals to the heart. Planting appeals to the mind. Reaping appeals to the will. If you need an acronym, how about "CPR." (I made it up.)  Becky and I have noticed that sometimes we reap what we have planted. Other times we reap what others have planted. Either way, people need to hear the music of the Gospel (Cultivating) and see its light (Planting) before they can make a decision to follow Christ (Reaping). We're not called to shout the Good News from a safe distance and then pull a wheelie out of the parking lot. Paul spent time with people. He was like a "mother taking care of her children" when he was with the Thessalonians (2:7). He voluntarily laid aside the temptation to be detached from the unsaved or to lord it over them. He was "one of us," they must have thought. No power plays. No condescending attitudes. No need to control, to possess, to dominate. No insistence upon having everything “convenient.” Taking care of children is never convenient. And it's seldom convenient to cultivate, plant, and reap. I know. I'm a farmer.

The bottom line? Lifestyle evangelism is not a method. It's a way of living and loving. Paul put it like this in 1 Cor. 9:22: "I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some of them." No gimmicks. No tricks. No manipulation. No gospel blimps. No quickie "decisions." Remember, Jesus didn't say "Make decisions." He said "Make disciples." Our task involves bringing people to the point of lifelong discipleship.

So don't confuse evangelism with methodology. Evangelism is simply a way of living that uses methods appropriate to a person's gifts and abilities. The one thing people are vulnerable to is love. Live the Gospel before them. Cultivate the parched soil of their lives. Model commitment and faithfulness in all you do. Again, we're not commanded to evangelize our neighbors but to love them. Why? If we really do love them we will evangelize them!

Team, stay in close touch with your Heavenly Father. Ask Him what you should do and when. When it's time to act, He will guide and empower your efforts. Don't depend on man-made "strategies." When God opens a door, go through it. When faced with a green light, proceed full speed ahead. Even if you can't spell homiletics you can still preach the Word. Evangelism is a lifestyle. Our Lord said as much. "You will BE my witnesses."

Friday, June 28

6:38 PM It's a wonderful thing to put down roots. We love where we live in Southside Virginia and feel part of the community. One of the things I marvel at, however, is the constant turnover of pastors in our area. Typically a pastor will remain in a church for only a handful of years before moving on. Very few put down any roots in the community.

Contrast this with the New Testament pattern. In the early church we find local men leading local churches. They came from within the local church and were committed to that church. Thus the link between the church and the ministry was maintained. However, in our modern system, where the "ministry" is considered a profession, men seek for themselves, or are sent by authority, to occupy this or that post without any regard to the link which is thus broken. The result is that pastors often look upon churches simply as places that offer them opportunities to exercise their ministry gifts or else as steps up the ladder of employment. Seminarians often have to leave their local churches for seminary training and then rarely return to their own congregations for ministry. As Erik Svensen writes:

The purpose for calling attention to all of these passages is to show the apostolic pattern of training elders.  Far from insisting that a prospective elder uproot and move his family to a new location to receive this training from the apostles, the reverse is true–the apostles went to the prospective elder.  This pattern is by no means confined to the book of Acts but is also found in the pastoral epistles.  Paul left both Timothy (in Ephesus, 1 Ti 1:3) and Titus (in Crete, Tit 1:5) for the purpose of setting the churches in order.  A major part of this responsibility entailed the selection and training of elders (1 Ti 3:1-7; Tit 1:5).  Again we find that this training takes place within the church and by church leaders.

When pastors are "parachuted" into the community there is little accountability. They know that, should they fail or get tired or bored, they can always move on to another location. In the city, where the population moves from place to place with ease, this evil is not so apparent. But in the country, where generation after generation has lived in one locale, the link between the church and its ministers is of great importance. The "importation" of a minister who does not know the people to whom he is ministering is a serious problem indeed. Paul Winslow has noted:

In the letters to Titus and Timothy we are given the qualifications for elders, that is, the means by which they can be recognized. If you look closely, you will see that potential elders have already been at work in the body with their gifts of teaching and hospitality, etc., so that the body is already responding to them. It is on that basis that they are identified as elders. I would say further that the Holy Spirit has a direct action involved in identifying elders. In Acts 20:28, where the Apostle Paul is talking to the elders of Ephesus, he says to them that "...the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." So the Holy Spirit is involved in identifying these men we call elders. They are qualified, as I have said, on the basis of spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit has placed within their lives. Through faith they have begun to respond and act on the gifts they have; they have begun to serve others. It is only on that basis that they can be so identified as elders, not because they belong to some particular ethnic group, or they happen to be the local banker or whatever.

Folks, let's remember that in the first century of the church's existence the spontaneous growth of the church depended not only upon the freedom of its members to preach freely, but also upon the freedom with which churches could provide for any new groups of converts by giving them an organization like their own. Any new congregation chose its own members to assume pastoral roles, men who probably were already employed and thus providing for themselves and in a position to go on doing so. The church may or may not have paid a personal salary, since the practice was made a charge against the Montanists. At some point, however, the congregation may have offered these men some gifts in money (honoraria) to compensate for any loss of time through their pastoral efforts. Either way, whether they were paid or not, these men considered themselves a part of the community in which they lived and labored.

6:10 PM Greek students, a few essays just for you:

5:44 PM I feel like I just crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon. The last day of our summer Greek class is now history. The past 6 weeks have been nothing but sheer pleasure for me career-wise. I count it a joy to be able to share what  little knowledge I have with my students, spilling out the modicum of understanding I have about how languages work. I can't help getting excited about these students. How will they use their knowledge? Where will God take them? We have cried and laughed together, and have "finished the race." Or a leg of it. The real race, of course, is much more difficult. It involves heartache and grief. You see, I realize that teaching is but a small part of the life God has called me to live out. I'm called to live the Christ-life in my marriage and a host of other relationships. And none of these relationships is permanent, except the one that binds us together forever as brothers and sisters. In the midst of it all, I'm feeling it's a real privilege to walk this pilgrim pathway. I never feel at home here. I'm just a passin' through. Some days, Christ can't come back fast enough. Becky and I have come a long way, baby. And we're traveling together. I suppose this is what a miracle looks like. Two people just hanging in there together, taking very small steps, singing the praises He's waiting to hear from His children. Today she had a tough day physically. But we're together, and that's what matters. Today I arranged for the local hair dresser to come out to the farm. As I type she is busy preening Becky. I can hear them talking. Becky is sharing a Bible verse with her. Beautiful. And I'm not the only one following the conversation. I know God is listening in as well. I think He's enjoying it as much as I am. And He smiles through the face of a husband who is thrilled to be part of the conversation.

If that's all the joy I get out this day, it will be more than enough.

5:35 AM I was reading a church's website yesterday and ran across a statement that ran something like this:

The most important event in the life of our church is our weekly worship service on Sunday morning.

Friends, please, let's not forget: the gathering exists for the going. New Testament worship is a way of life. It is not a Sunday morning religious exercise. The New Testament never describes a gathering of Christians as a "worship service." The reason is simple. According to Scripture, worship cannot be confined to a particular time or place (see John 4:23-24). God designed worship to happen at all times and in every place. Everything in our life should be an act of worship (Rom. 12:1). Moreover, when we do gather, the New Testament teaches that we should "Enter to Serve." One of the marks of the early church was its highly participatory nature. Whereas our Sunday morning services tend to focus on one man (the pastor), the New Testament focuses on "one another" in the building-up process. Hebrews 10:24-25 indicates that "assembling ourselves together" means much more than sitting still and being entertained for 60 minutes (and God help the preacher who goes past 12:00 noon). The Old Covenant priesthood involved only a relative few saints, but the New Covenant priesthood includes all the saints (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). All members of Christ's Body are to function as priests when the church gathers (Rom. 12:1-8).

I often wonder: How can we miss something so simple?

Thursday, June 27

8:10 PM It's blackberry season on the farm!

6:54 PM Quote of the day (Arthur Sido):

The church should never have gotten so cozy with the state when it comes to marriage. We thought it was fine and even dare I say to our advantage to cozy up to the state when the state sort of defined marriage more or less biblically and also showered us with tax breaks for married couples and religious organizations alike but it was inevitable that as the prevailing morality of the world and this nation in particular have changed (and not for the better), so too would our most cherished institutions. Marriage in our culture is subject to legal definition by Caesar even though the actual definition and purpose of marriage is part of God’s eternal decree, a decree not subject to ruling by the courts of men or the winds of popular opinion. So when the culture says marriage means something that it doesn't we only have ourselves to blame.

6:48 PM Calling all missions minded folk out there! The latest issue of JETS has an essay you've got to read. It's written by one of our seminary grads named Keith Campbell. Keith actually was kind enough to send me his manuscript to peruse before he sent it to the publisher. I support its premise unhesitatingly. Keith titled his essay "The American Evangelical Academy and the World: A Challenge to Practice More Globally." Got a Ph.D. in biblical studies but can't find a job? Maybe it's because you're looking in all the wrong places. Keith will tell you, there's jobs aplenty if you are willing to look beyond the borders (and comforts) of the good ol' U.S. of A. He calls this "academic missions," and it's a concept whose time has come. His model? The apostle Paul, who "was simultaneously the church's greatest theologian and its greatest missionary." Even if you never relocate to a foreign nation, you can still be an NRM -- "non-residential missionary." It's what I've been trying to be for the past 12 years of so, globe-trotting annually to the Middle East, Asia, and Africa to teach and evangelize, often (though by no means always) in an academic setting. Keith, by the way, is no arm chair academic. He is currently a fulltime professor of biblical studies at Shanghai Normal University. That's right: The Chinese have hired him to missionize their nation. That is great. That is biblical. And it saves the U.S. church tons of money that could go to the really needy in the world. Thanks, Keith, for calling us to consider international missions as a showcase for our scholarship. I love what you're doing. I hope that many scholars -- unemployed or otherwise -- here in the U.S. will follow your example.

5:15 PM It's hard to believe it, but my Greek class draws to a close tomorrow. We'll grade our exams, and then my assistant and I will calculate final grades and upload them to Moodle. All this translates into the fact that I'm actually starting my one-year sabbatical on Monday. I've thoroughly enjoyed this summer Greek class, but I think I'm ready for a break from teaching. I'm looking forward to just sitting with Becky and doing next to nothing, settling into our "new normal" (again). There are times when I miss the old days, days when I could grab Becky and whisk her away to a fancy dinner in town. More often than not, however, I'm learning to be content in my present circumstances. It's hard to explain how some days all this seems so normal and natural, as though God had planned everything in His Day Planner 36 years ago when Becky and I said our "I dos." Well, He had planned it. Maybe you're finding yourself in the same situation in your own life, or a similar one. Somewhere along the line things began to shift in your life. You began to feel lost and disoriented. And then you started thinking about all those Bible verses you memorized when you were a kid, all those words in Scripture that were always meant for "the other guy." You were left trying to find your way in a new world that suddenly wasn't yours any longer but belonged to Someone much bigger than you. That's it, isn't it? That's what this life is all about. Pealing back the layers of "normalcy" (is anything ever really normal?) and realizing the glorious truth that you are in the hands of our Creator God, that a bigger Heart than yours is living and loving through you. Given all this, I was really struck today by how normal all this has become. Because there is life after a cancer diagnosis. Because sometimes running towards the Savior is all that really matters in life. In the midst of heartache and pain, you learn something about God you knew all along. He is love. And when we abandon ourselves to His love, I mean really abandon ourselves, our perspective blows wide open and everything comes into focus. He has pursued you, has wooed you to Himself with sure love and unending promises. You are His, and you will never be anything less than that.

You understand me?

6:24 AM Hello bloggers,

Hope you have a great day. Before leaving for campus I wanted to call your attention to a new bog called Missionary Scholar. I strongly commend it to you. No, it's not your typical blog about dilettantes and controversies bla bla bla. I'm in total agreement that missionaries ought to be scholars. Yet I can't help but point out that all of us are missionaries if we are obedient followers of Jesus. Let's all seek to become better scholars of the Bible. In the meantime, I think this blog nicely expounds on the value of biblical studies (including the languages) for those who seek to live out the truths of the Bible.

By the way, welcome to SEBTS, Cody. Hope to see you soon.


Wednesday, June 26

7:12 PM Hey guys and gals! Check this out:

Брак Великого Поручения

It's the very first Russian essay of mine to be published at DBO. Praise God! The English title is "A Great Commission Marriage." My thanks to Dima and Anya Murkin of the Odessa Theological Seminary for this labor of love on their part. They attended my hermeneutics class there last April. Look for more essays and even a few books to be forthcoming in the Russian language. 

Isn't God good?

6:56 PM I had quite a day. To say it was hectic would be a gross understatement. I was up at 5:30 to drive to school and teach my class, then drive home. Over 400 ccs were removed from Becky's right lung today. That's less than the normal 500. I'm calling hospice tomorrow. I'm eager to get as much capable help as possible. I've got two more days of teaching, and then I can be home fulltime.  

The Glass family was with us for three days. They're gone now. We've gone from being overrun with children to having only mom here. Until tomorrow, that is. Then Rachael arrives, with Karen arriving on Friday. I love being surrounded by such capable women. Today I had to run a zillion errands, one of which was to take a prescription to the local pharmacy. It was for opium. I never in my craziest imagination thought I would ask for that for Becky. It turns out she is needing a bit more intensive medications. I'm coming to realize all over again that this is the rhythm of life around here. That some days you do crazy things. That there's no way to tell what's around the next bend. And, of course, that God's grace is sufficient for every zany surprise that hits you. Which, at the end of this wild day, is exactly what I needed to be reminded of.

Friend, if you haven't done so yet today, take a moment to snuggle in the arms of God. Again. It will do you good. Especially when life gets crazy.

Tuesday, June 25

6:48 PM Yo folks,

Here are a few odds and ends:

1) If you are interested in publishing, do read 10 Lessons Learned About Publishing As An Editor. (As an editor myself, I might take issue with the capital "A" in "As" and "An," but that's beside the point.) These two points struck me:

Rejection is extremely common and happens to everyone regardless of stature. We have gotten articles from well-known scholars and we have received submissions from grad students. Because the process is peer-reviewed blindly (anonymously), preference is not given to the “big names.” As an editor, sometimes I cringe when I see that a reputable scholar has to be sent a rejection email. But – that is part of academia.

Comprehensive footnotes are not as important as they used to be. A half-century ago, academic articles were expected to interact comprehensively with a topic (especially before there were online search tools and multiple bibliographic indices). Nowadays, because there are so many journals, and so many ways to get at the same information, you really do not need to cite every article, essay, monograph, and commentary related to every point you make. You definitely need good evidence from sources to back-up your thesis, but aim for the most eminent, cogent, and reliable sources.

Have I ever been rejected? Umpteen times. But then again, by the sheer grace of God, nothing I have written for the public has ever gone unpublished, and none thus far with a vanity publisher. My books are also getting shorter and shorter, with much less reliance on others' works than in my previous publications. Partly this is because the American attention span is not what it used to be. But also because I really do believe that "less is more" when it comes to writing as well as public speaking.

2) Yesterday Becky sent the following email to our prayer list. I post a portion of it here in case you do not receive our personal emails.

Rejoice with me at our Lord's goodness!  Today, for the first time in a long time, I have breath sounds in the base of my right lung!!!  This morning we drained only 200 cc.  So it's clear that the Lord is allowing us to empty the pleural effusion.

It feels SOOOO wonderful to be able to breathe on that right side!  The chest wall on the right side is still very painful, but our Lord's goodnesses overshadow that little problem.  We rejoice in HIM....and He doesn't our rejoicing doesn't need to change.  Isn't it wonderful?


Now that is really good news!

3) The 150th Gettysburg Reenactment is almost upon us. For information, go here.

There will be spectacular Battle Reenactments, Field Demonstrations, a large Living History Village, Living History Activities Tents, Guest Speakers and an extensive Sutler Area. Thousands of reenactors from across the nation and around the world will be staging the battle reenactments for this very special reenactment.

Reenacting is a great hobby, and reenactments are a good way to get to know your history as an American. The reenacting community is also a great mission field in which to share the love of Jesus. You might want to check it out.

Monday, June 24

5:55 PM "Barry" Obama's Hawaiian pilgrimage is recounted in this touching essay. Eerie reading for me in some ways.

We both were born in Hawaii, we both graduated from High School there (he from the prestigious Punahou, me from the run-of-the-mill Kailua -- our schools were famous rivals), we both wore maile leis at commencement, we both lost our fathers to divorce early in our lives, and we both loved water sports and basketball (I surfed every day and, at 6' 4", played tons of basketball). He and I both value ethnic diversity (which I miss terribly where I currently live and work). I see he still body surfs, as do I. No, I don't expect "Barry" to bring sanity to our political system. But I don't think he deserves the low-tech attacks he's getting either. For a guy whose daddy went wobbly and who grew up (as I did) as an ethnic minority, he's done well with his life. I wish him well, even though he didn't get my vote.

Oh, I liked this quote:

The opportunity that Hawaii offered — to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect — became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.

I quite agree.

5:48 PM If you need impeccable proof that daily blogging is biblical, just read Heb. 3:13: "exhort one another daily." LOL!

5:43 PM Praise God for yet another recent graduate placed in a fulltime teaching ministry.

Our heartiest congratulations and best wishes, Thomas.

7:08 AM Today I will be on campus briefly to teach my morning class, then return home. I am humbled to be a member of such a wonderful profession. The Christian faith is at heart an intellectual faith. As I once heard Francis Schaeffer say to a group of students in Switzerland, faith perfects the mind, it does not destroy it. Faith is the way to a vital contact with a God who is knowable, and not to some abstract "Principle" worked out by syllogisms. Ultimately faith is the key to the universe.

To my students I say: Keep this faith. Hold fast to the truth. Human tradition only perpetuates things that cannot be perpetuated, but God's truth lasts forever. The life of the church is the life of God, poured out into His church by His Spirit. Remain under the Spirit and under the Word. No other "word" can ever replace or supersede it. To those who have attained worldly knowledge and academic recognition, this Word says, "Be fools for Christ's sake, take the last place among men, live with those who are uneducated and despised, serve other men instead of making them serve you. When they push you around, do not resist them but pray for them. Take upon yourself Christ's cross -- his humility and poverty and obedience and renunciation -- and you will find rest for your souls."

I leave you with an old Scottish proverb: "Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place. But it is not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them, but rather at the foot of the cross in humble service to Christ."


Sunday, June 23

12:24 PM Wise words from martyred missionary John Stam:

Let us be reminded that the Great Commission was never qualified by clauses calling for advance only if no hardships were involved.

For Stam's incredible story, go here.

12:19 PM Recently my inbox has been inundated with pleas to support this or that "conservative" political cause. Not interested. The Gospel is meant to subvert political power, not vice versa. Christians do not need to promote God's agenda. We should simply bow before the unfathomable expression of His love -- Jesus Christ -- and "live like He lived" (1 John 2:6). In the kingdom, God always has the freedom to act in surprising ways, quite apart from our human archys. He seeks neither polemics nor apologetics but obedience. This is the way of Jesus.

When we are tempted to bring the church under submission to money or the state or popularity, when we promote social triumphalism, when we engage in religious propaganda for political causes, the only remedy is repentance and faith. Both Scripture and history show us that when the church uses political means to protect itself and its interests, then it is endangered by the very thing in which it trusts. Politicians do not rely upon God. This is why government exists.

As a Christian, it does not matter to me in the least whether America is a great nation, or that I should live in a democracy. The disciple of Jesus plays a role in society that is radical and disinterested. Institutional power is of no concern to God. He raises up nations and then sweeps them away. Some might endure longer than others, but none has an assurance of perpetuity. That the U.S. currently enjoys democracy should be a warning to greater usefulness in the kingdom and to greater love for the nations. The presence of the church in America is no guarantee of future divine blessing. Democracy may be lavishly golden. But it's a trap. Inside there is nothing of eternal consequence.

One wonders what would happen should America ever cease to be democratic. Would the church have to go underground, as it has had to do in so many other nation-states? Probably. But let me be quick to underscore that the idolatry of power can exist even in an underground church. Power divides and corrupts the innermost depths of man. But institutional power, whether political or ecclesiastical, is of no interest to God. On the contrary, the way of Jesus is the way of downward mobility and powerlessness. In His kingdom, outer props become unnecessary. The essential thing is not what we do but what God does in us and through us. All of our deeds are useless unless they originate from Him.

11:18 AM Just saw this over at the Tyndale Seminary (The Netherlands) website. Congratulations to Alex Stewart, who begins fulltime teaching this fall.

This is the best part of our doctoral program here at SEBTS -- seeing God use your students. By the way, Tyndale still has openings in Intercultural Studies and Old Testament. Interested? Give Tyndale a look. Students, please please please consider using your talents abroad in an international ministry setting!

10:28 AM So grateful for our Ethiopia team. They met at Cresset Baptist Church last night for their final orientation featuring, among other things, a taste of Ethiopian cuisine.

I think this was the first orientation ever that was not attended by Becky. The writer of Ecclesiastes might have said, "... and a time to pass the baton." We were with you guys in spirit, though.

8:40 AM Greetings, cyber friends! Becky's home. Nuff said. Am I happy? Are there cows in Texas or brumbies in Australia?

While as a follower of Jesus I know I am to have an attitude of gratitude all the time, on this special day I have a long list of things for which I'm deeply grateful. Being around Becky 24/7 gives me a context for deep gratitude to God for her many excellent qualities. It constantly amazes me that she is so giving, so encouraging, so transparent, so ... Becky! Thank you, Lord, for my wife.

I find that, at this time in my life, I'm especially grateful for family, and not just blood family. They have stood by us day in and day out, have gone without food and sleep, have sacrificed to minister to us in countless ways. Yesterday I was needing to get a cell phone for myself (I've been using Becky's), and Liz just stepped in and took over, stopping at Wal-Mart to buy it and then getting on the Internet to set me up with NET 10. In a world where things wear out, where relationships rupture, where sin happens, I'm so grateful for people I can count on. Liz, Karen, Leigh, Rachael, Matthea, Kimberly (our daughters) and a whole gigantic host of others are to me like Boaz in the Old Testament, a man of high noble character who saw those in need around him and then reached out to bless them, even when it was costly. So thank you to my family. You're the absolute greatest!

Technology. What a great word. What would I begin to do without email or cell phone service? So thank you, Al Gore, for the Internet.

I'm grateful for the ability to adapt to "new normals." Attitude is everything in life. Becky and I have had (and still have) enormous adjustments to make in our married life. Can stress be the result? No doubt. I find that the key is to ask constantly, "What can I do for my spouse?" Marriage is based on mutual commitment (Eph. 5:22-32). Husbands need to agree to give themselves to their wives just as Christ gave Himself for the church, and wives need to agree to be supportive of and positive toward their husbands (jerks though we may sometimes be) as to the Lord. A good place to start, I think, is speaking to one another with a respectful and considerate tone. Love always seeks the best for the other. And we are called to love. I'll admit that dealing with a terminal illness is a gnarly situation. It can evoke feelings of sorrow and anger as well as great empathy and care. Constant change is the new normal. But God is there to help. If in the flesh we are weak, in Him we are mighty!

Finally, I'm so grateful for prayer. I'm praying right now for lots of things: wisdom, patience, endurance, Christians in India and Ethiopia .... I continue to be troubled by the extravagance and waste of the North American church in light of the radical call of Jesus. I find myself increasingly frustrated with the "American" gospel because it is so incredibly inadequate. The real Gospel makes all the difference. One happy outcome is that it frees us from self to serve others unconditionally. It helps us remain centered on Jesus and His upside-down kingdom. It makes us do all kinds of crazy things like take a mission trip to places like Ethiopia. The lesson of the Gospel is that even when life is crazy, God is still persistent to bless His people, but that blessing should always lead to activity in loving and gracious ways.

Well, I've got to stop. I wasn't sure whether I should write about all this now or later, but I found myself with some spare time. Thank you so much for all your love and prayers and words of encouragement during this time. I can't complain, not after what God has been doing in my life and in the lives of those closest to me. Becky's illness doesn't mean that God is not on His throne. Even when I begin to cry quietly, He steps in to renew my spirit. He has not changed, and so I find myself fleeing into His arms every time the ground starts to shake, tucking my little body under the shelter of His wings. Charles Spurgeon once said that Christians find God's footsteps on the floor of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Because He has been there before us, we can take our next step.

Saturday, June 22

8:58 AM Good morning! And it IS a good morning, despite whatever is going on in our lives. I returned to the farm last night to drop Nigusse off and check on things. The two bulls had gotten out of the farm and so I've been chasing bovine all morning long. As soon as we've ironed out this wrinkle I will get back to UNC. Becky is doing well. We did take her to the hospital on Thursday evening and she was admitted yesterday morning. She now has a catheter draining the fluid from her lung. And there is plenty to drain. They are draining off 500 cc. each day. Had lots of visitors yesterday. We feel surrounded by love. The best news of all: I hope to bring her home today. I'm going to enjoy having Becky on the farm again.

So grateful for your prayers.

Off to Chapel Hill!


P.S. A thousand thanks to Ed, Joel, Leigh, Thomas, Marshall and anyone else who helped get up our bales yesterday while I was at the hospital. What a labor of love.

Thursday, June 20

3:48 PM Quick update. Becky is struggling. She may need direct doctor's care as early as this evening; I don't think we can wait until Monday to get her to the hospital. We'll see. Liz is with us; Jon and Matthea Glass visited earlier. Many are praying. The elders are on their way to the farm even as I type. Thanks be to God.

9:10 AM Today's quote? "The work goes on."

As you know, God has appointed Becky and me to help the Peniel Gospel Team in the far northeast "neck" of India. This location is strategic. It is not in the southern region, where most believers reside, where most ministry investment is done, and where outreach has been done since (literally) the days of the Apostle Thomas.

No, the Peniel Gospel Team is working in a region that is untouched with the Gospel, and it is right next to the "closed" countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. This ministry was started by a pioneer, obedient man who left his comfortable home in south India. As the only believer in this region, he preached and preached and preached. Alone in the work for many years, God saw his faithfulness and has multiplied his work. Today the work of Peniel Gospel Team has 400 evangelists, 2 children's homes, a seminary, a low-income private school, and outreach to dozens of unreached mountain villages.

However, a big problem exists in the work: It is almost totally dependent upon gifts from USA. Why is this situation a problem?

  • The government (Hindu-based) is suspicious of money coming from abroad

  • The local community is suspicious of the work as being a "foreign" work

  • The ministry budget is dependent upon the faithfulness and goodwill of Americans

  • Fluctuating exchange rates, changing bank rules, and money transfer issues create challenges to financial stability.

God has appointed Becky and me to help the Peniel Gospel Team establish a large private (meaning, tuition-based) school that will generate the income needed to sustain this ministry for many decades to come.  There are many benefits to this plan:

  • The community gains a benefit through education; this endears the work to them and opens their hearts to the Gospel

  • The 2500 students coming daily to learn their A-B-Cs also have exposure to the Lord who loves them

  • The ministry gains a stable income source for its outreaches; in fact, we expect that the vast majority of the needs for the evangelists, orphans, and seminary will be met through the school tuition income.

As we have been praying about this project (and it is a BIG project), God has brought a donor who is placing before our DBO readers and ministry partners a challenge to give to this need. Here are the facts about this challenge:

  • For the first $10,000 given, there will be a 50% match. This means that if you give $500, the school will receive $750.

  • For the next $10,000 given, there will be a 100% match. This means that if you give $1000, the school will receive $2,000.

  • For the following $10,000 given, there will be a 150% match. This means that if you give $2,000, the school will receive $3,500.

The deadline for giving is Dec 31, 2013.

When you give, make your check payable to Bethel Hill Baptist Church, and write in the memo "India School Matching." Mail the check to Becky Black, 2691 White House Rd., Nelson, VA 24580. You will receive a tax-deductible receipt from Bethel Hill in Jan, 2014.

Caution: do not delay until we reach the 150% matching level; the need for funds is NOW.  If God is appointing you to help in this work, be among the first to "launch" the matching. The construction has already begun!

Wednesday, June 19

6:40 PM To change the subject:


6:28 PM Where to start today? (I'll try and make this short, as I am quite sure you're not wanting a doctoral dissertation on the subject.)

Our main task for the day was simple. Get Becky home. At times it seemed like it would take forever to get her discharged from the hospital. Two doors down a patient had an emergency. (Code Blue. He didn't make it.) Eventually we got Becky's blood work done, signed all of the forms that needed signing, refilled her oxygen bottle, and off we went like a herd of turtles. Our life has settled into a rhythm that no one would describe as monotonous. Becky is in the living room right now, talking with one of our daughters (Rachael). We got a hospital bed for her and set it up, but we are waiting for the sheets to be cleaned and dried before she can use it. Her admission to UNC has been postponed to Monday, so she gets to enjoy her farm for a few days of uninterrupted peace. I've been doing such a lousy job of taking care of her that we've called in the reinforcements. Our daughter Liz arrives tomorrow from Upstate New York for a quickie visit. She will stay with us until Monday. Then, on Monday, Becky's mom arrives from Dallas for a two-week visit. Also, this Friday another one of our daughters (Karen) will join us for a couple of days. I'm sure we'd be happy to take you in too!

My task for this evening is simple. Get Becky settled in, then chill out. Three guesses as to what book I'll be reading. It will help me get my mind off of the hospital. Having someone die right next to you calls you back to reality real quickly. It puts this wisp of a life in real perspective. I wish I could sit here and say that things are getting better, that I am full of faith and peace and joy. The truth is, I am kinda struggling right now. Life is sometimes nothing but fog and haze. I find it hard to get the words right. It's much easier to teach Greek than to negotiate real life, I can tell you that. Thankfully, I still trust God. I still have the Spirit. I still have Jesus interceding for me. So don't worry about me. God carries me along. I am acutely aware of how important it is to take just one step at a time, and not to throw off my shoes and run full speed, as I used to do on Kailua Beach.

So there you have it. For better or for worse, this blog is the story of my life. It's been a good life, and still is. Also, I'd like to mention just how encouraging are the dozens of emails we're received, some from complete strangers. One of them wrote:

For a number of years now I have been encouraged frequently and challenged too by what you share on your blog.  Thank you so much.  Your comment yesterday of rounding third base and heading home moved me deeply.  I haven't played baseball for many years.  Even so, I recall clearly the excitement of crossing home plate.  In no way does the base runner dread reaching home plate, but yearns for it as the thrilling goal of the game.  Your apt analogy of the Christian's life was the occasion for God to reaffirm a crucial truth in me:  A life of increasing intimacy with Christ can only fuel our hunger to be home with Him.  I continue to pray for both you and Becky that you would experience Christ's closeness in every aspect of the journey home, be there much or little road ahead.

It's emails like this one that mean the world to me right now. Tonight I'm just tired. As for Becky, there's a good bit of fluid sloshing around in her lung right now. Her chest cavity is very sore. But she's home and plugging away. Both of us are looking forward to having family here.

Which reminds me: When we got home today, Leigh Humphries and her son Thomas were here cleaning and cooking and mowing, etc. How can one have a pity party in the face of such amazing love?

Tuesday, June 18

6:50 PM Has it really only been 24 hours since I last updated you? Seems like an eternity. Without further ado, here goes...

Becky had her lung drained today as planned. And you know what? She didn't cough one single time. Unsurprisingly, since so many of you had been praying for this. They will keep her overnight for observation. I am no doctor, but my understanding is that 1.3 liters were drained off. That's quite a bit of fluid, but here's more news: she still has another 2 liters in her lung! So what to do next?

Our first priority was to talk with Becky's oncologist at UNC. And before you could say "UNC is the best hospital in the world" we had Dr. Gehrig on the phone, talking with the pulmonologist at Halifax Hospital. This is the first time I've ever seen not one but two doctors "just happen" to be available, at the same time, on a busy week day, to talk to each other. And the news only gets better. UNC is arranging for Becky to have a plurex catheter placed into her chest cavity in order to drain off more fluid and relieve Becky of her shortness of breath. Which means that we will be admitting Becky to UNC either Thursday or Friday of this week for that procedure to be done. They will keep her overnight then send her home. I think that sounds like a good plan.

So we managed to live through a pretty exciting day. Will Becky have to remain on oxygen? No doubt. They tested her oxygen level after the thoracentesis and she barely took 20 steps when it dropped down to 84 percent. Back on the oxygen she went, muy pronto. I know I've said this already, but we seem to have turned the corner. We've rounded third base and are headed home. It's such a strange thing, knowing that this day would come but wanting so badly for life to go on normally forever. It's a hard pill to swallow, but we do so in the full confidence that our Redeemer lives and cares for His own. I think it's called something like "obedience" or "faith," this acceptance of God's plan for one's life.

So with that I need to sign off for now. I'm going to beat a path back to Halifax and spend the night with the love of my life. I do so rejoicing in the Lord. I can't even explain how cool it was to hear that Becky didn't cough even one time during her procedure. It's hard to understand how anybody could think they could make it through a single day without Jesus. I know I couldn't. So it's "Thank you Jesus!" and back to the hospital.

Is this really my life?

Monday, June 17

5:14 PM The Lord has given us an excellent doctor. He's admitted Becky to the hospital in South Boston where tomorrow he will drain the fluid from her lungs. Becky is resting well but very tired. She remains on oxygen. I'm home to pick up a few items and will spend the night in the room with her. Our hearts are filled with nothing but praise for our great and loving Shepherd Jesus!

11:27 AM Praise the Lord! We have an appointment to see the pulmonologist today at 1:30. Praise the Lord!

7:40 AM We've had a wrinkle in our schedule. Becky went to the ER yesterday with shortness of breath. She is now home on oxygen. We hope to meet with the pulmonologist today. (Yes, I am back in Virginia.) Grateful for many things today:

  • Grateful to God for getting me a flight home yesterday on such short notice.

  • Grateful for my wonderful hosts at CBS in Lansdale, especially my new friend Doug Finkbeiner.

  • Grateful for my church family and Nigusse who took such good care of Becky in the ER yesterday.

  • Grateful for a good ER that is only a 20 minute drive from the farm.

  • Grateful for oxygen.

  • Grateful for my assistant Jacob Cerone for covering my classes at the seminary.

  • Grateful for your prayers.

  • Grateful for a God who never changes.

I'll be in touch,


Thursday, June 13

6:17 AM Shortly I'm off to the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Hope to visit the Gettysburg battlefield while I'm there, as well as Amish country. Please pray for my students at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, that each one will be motivated by the message of Philippians to become, like Paul, a global Christian and eagerly pursue the downward path of Jesus.

6:02 AM Many of you have asked, How is Becky doing these days? I am grasping at words to answer that question. The short answer is this: Either God is taking us through this cancer process to use it as a platform to perform a mighty miracle, or else He is using it as a testimony of how people who walk with God can go through a time of trial. Every day is a special gift of God. We just keep praying and trusting our way through the valley. Becky's strength ebbs and flows. One minute she is getting around normally, the next she is crashing and burning. Her digestive system has not functioned normally for weeks. Treatment after treatment has sapped her energy. "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."

(Would you pause right now, click out of my blog, and take a moment to acknowledge God's presence in the midst of your valley today? The God who created you and formed you and redeemed you. The God from whose love nothing can ever separate you. The God who is there for you in the fiery furnace. You belong to Him, and He has never left you nor forsaken you.)

Naturally, it's been frustrating for me to watch Becky suffer. The past two weeks have been especially difficult. I could not have handled the pressure without getting alone with God. On the farm I have a quiet place that no one knows about, my private Garden of Gethsemane. With tears running down my face I can pour out my soul to God and release my unhealthy fears. I am so grateful for family and friends who are praying for us. We are all clinging to the providence of God. This is the only way to get through the valley of suffering. So many of you email us and say, "We're praying daily for you." Believe me, we need those prayers. I have to admit that there are days when I wonder why God doesn't just step in and do something about Becky's cancer. There are times, more frequently than I'd like to admit, when I can hardly bear it another day, another hour, a time when I pine only for the days when Becky and I could travel together and do crazy things like riding donkeys again in Ethiopia or camels in Egypt. Married love's torment is the discovery of our human limitations, the realization that there is so little we can do for the one whose embrace has the largest meaning in our life apart from Christ. There may be some who can stoically endure suffering while they wait for a glorious life after death. I'm not one of them. Thankfully, I have a Savior who was tested in all points as we are, who sends a pillar of cloud each day and a fire each night to lead me out of despair, whose love doesn't boil and then cool down like a tea pot on the stove, a Savior who is not afraid of Gethsemanes or infusion rooms and who enters the world as a baby only to take up a cross and arch up again through an empty tomb. Faith, as Elton Trueblood once said, is an anvil that has worn out a good many hammers. Becky is strong in faith, and so am I sometimes. We draw strength from each other daily, knowing that we will travel this road together to the end. More than anything else, we cling to Him.

"There is no music in a rest," wrote the wife of Charles Cowman in the book Streams in the Desert, "but there is the making of music in it." She went on:

In our whole life-melody, the music is broken off here and there by "rests" and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts, and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives…but how does the musician read the "rest"? See him beat the time with unvarying count, and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come between. Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the "rests." They are not to be slurred over, not to be omitted, not to destroy the melody, not to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With an eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.

And that just about says it all.

5:45 AM When the great C. S. Lewis moved from Oxford to Cambridge, his inaugural lecture explored the theme of literary history. In it he questioned the age-old practice of referring to "periods" in English literature, such as the "Renaissance." Such terms, he insisted, were myths. "The Renaissance never happened," he said. He argued that "periods" in history are not necessarily facts but rather retrospective concepts shaped more or less by polemical factors. Thus the literature of the so-called "Middle Ages" is no less important than that produced during the Renaissance.

In my forthcoming book on the authorship of Hebrews, I argue that the reception history of the book of Hebrews, a book that always circulated in the early church among the Pauline letters, has shared a similar fate. The evidence for its Paulinity has not so much been refuted as overlooked or ignored. In my book Why Four Gospels? I have argued similarly for Matthean priority based upon the unanimous testimony of the earliest church that Matthew (and not Mark) was the first written record of the life and teachings of Jesus. Throughout my studies of the Gospels I've been struck by one thing: how Jesus' ministry broke like a thunderclap on Galilee. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan were of the same degree, I would imagine. In Mark we often read that Jesus' hearers were completely amazed at His teaching and shocked beyond words at His scandalous deeds.

I will be the first to confess that Jesus' teachings did not always strike me in this manner. For many years I was much more attracted to the detailed logic and complex semotaxis of Paul's writings. But if I am correct in arguing that Matthew is our earliest Gospel and that it may have been written within a decade of the resurrection, then it seems likely that the apostle Paul was well aware of its contents and, indeed, may well have a had a copy of Matthew's scroll with him on his various missionary journeys. It is not hard to imagine the impact this Gospel of Matthew might have had on Paul's life and ministry. For throughout the whole account of Jesus' ministry in Matthew there is a singular and profound focus on the Great Commission to reach the unevangelized nations, ta ethne. The Great Commission requires, not discussion, but obedience. Jesus demands it -- of Paul, and no less of us today. And Matthew has provided not only for his own community (in Palestine) but for all Christians of all times and places a marvelous tool for carrying out this commission to the ends of the earth.

This, then, is why I think it is so important for us to read and study the Gospels. And I do hope, in this light, that my students and I do not get so distracted by the many marvelous details in the Gospel accounts that we fail to live out the "Good News" that so captivated and transformed the first followers of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 12

6:50 PM My thanks to brother Mark Vasconcellos for inviting me to dinner last night at the Olive Garden.

Mark is the one coordinating my trip to Guyana this September to hold a pastors conference and to teach in the university. Mark was born in Georgetown, Guyana, raised in Venezuela, and now facilitates missions all over the globe. Stay tuned for a link to his new church plant in North Raleigh called All Nations Church.

Also, a huge "Thank You!" to Becky for making the most wonderful birthday dinner for me this evening.

Honey, you outdid yourself tonight. Ich liebe Dich.

6:42 PM Yo folks,

Hope you're enjoying your week thus far. I returned home to the farm today. My body is in Virginia but my mind wanders disobediently to Germany. Have you ever seen the Cologne Cathedral? I have, from the inside and out. When builders in the nineteenth century sought to complete the cathedral, it was not necessary to prepare a new plan but only to retrieve and study the design as it was first conceived by Meister Gerard in the thirteenth century. I often wonder why good and thoughtful Bible scholars and pastors so easily forget the scriptural injunction to make all things according to the pattern shown to us in the New Testament. We would be wise to pause a moment and consider how much we need to understand and then put into practice Paul's broad perspective on leadership in the church.

This will be a major emphasis in my ministry next week in Pennsylvania. Since I will be teaching pastors and pastors-in-the-making, the topic will be all the more relevant. Not long ago I read a book that said that "leading the church is the most difficult job in the world." The church being envisioned was one led by a solitary pastor upon whose shoulders the weight of preaching and administration was placed. But is this how the Lord Jesus planned for His church to operate? Perhaps our difficulties are self-induced. If pastoring a church is the most difficult job in the world, it is not because our Lord designed it to be that way. Jesus never entrusted congregational leadership to a single individual. Let me repeat that: Jesus never entrusted congregational leadership to a single individual. He gifted His church with pastors (note the plural in Eph. 4:11) whose main responsibility was to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Pastors and people are to serve together so that the gifts of the whole Body may be exercised. That is what pastoral leadership is all about – not buildings, budgets, books, and broadcasts.

Today I am glad to say that among many young Christians I know, careerism is beginning to take a back seat to humble, team-style leadership. I am beginning to see more and more students come to the realization that every Christian is a minister and that God has given each of His saints, men and women alike, gifts that make an important contribution to the health of the church (1 Cor. 4:7). These students are eager to begin working in a leadership team for the purpose of equipping the saints. They are anxious to labor among servant-leaders who differ in giftedness but who have equal responsibilities. They see themselves as a "fellowship of leadership" (I owe this wonderful expression to Michael Green) who serve as equals, not as CEOs in a chain of command. They understand that Christ is the only head of the church, its only Senior Pastor, and that under His leadership elders are always plural (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17-25; Tit. 1:5; James 5:14-15; 1 Pet. 1:1; 5:1).

The book I referred to above also made a statement to the effect that pastoring is the only job in the world in which one’s impact depends on a 30-minute sermon delivered weekly. Biblically, nothing could be further from the truth. Although the Lord Jesus has provided pastor-teachers for our benefit, and although we should avail ourselves of their ministry, we are not to be dependent on them for our understanding of the Bible. Each one of us has the privilege and duty to approach God directly and to search the Scriptures to determine what is true. Moreover, I believe you will look in vain in the New Testament for the well-crafted 30-minute sermon or the carefully-alliterated homily. I think it is significant that pastors are never described in the New Testament as "preachers." In Eph. 4:11 they are rightly called "teachers," because nothing is more necessary for the equipping of the saints than sound biblical teaching from the Word of God. Likewise, in 1 Tim. 3:2 Paul emphases their ability to teach (or to be "teachable" – the Greek allows both renderings). The ultimate purpose of all such teaching is the building up of the church – a church in which all the members are equipped for their various ministries. I have not found a clearer explanation of this truth than the following words of John Stott (Ephesians, p. 167):

What model of the church, then, should we keep in our minds? The traditional model is that of the pyramid, with the pastor perched precariously on its pinnacle, like a little pope in his own church, while the laity are arranged beneath him in a serried rank of inferiority. It is a totally unbiblical image, because the New Testament envisages not a single pastor with a docile flock but both a plural oversight and an every-member ministry.

Do I have no sympathy, then, for the solitary pastor engaged in "the most difficult job in the world"? On the contrary, I pray for many of them daily. Yet I am afraid that we have brought upon ourselves our own difficulties. A greater, wiser, and more efficient pattern for church leadership exists in the NT, and when we ignore it or disobey it we may well expect to suffer the consequences. What would such companionate leadership look like if it were implemented today?

1) Leaders would recognize that each local Body is a theocracy with Jesus Himself the absolute monarch and Head of the church (Eph. 1:20-23). He alone possesses all legislative authority (Matt. 28:18).

2) Congregations would recognize that the nature of pastoral ministry requires more than can be done well by only one pastor.

3) Leaders would acknowledge that they all have equal responsibility in their congregations, so that no one of them could be singled out as the pastor.

4) Congregations would see that shared leadership is a deterrent to any one leader becoming a Diotrephes (3 John 9) who runs roughshod over the church.

5) Leaders would understand and accept the diversity of ministering according to one’s individual spiritual gifts.

6) Congregations would make decisions together, and unanimously. Where there is no unity of the Spirit there is grave danger. Being "of one accord," the early church sought consensus, not "majority rule." Unanimity was the goal of every decision (see 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 1:27; 2:2; Eph. 4:1-6; 1 Pet. 3:8).

7) Leaders would encourage all believers to have an active role in the Body. They would teach and model the priesthood of all believers. They would not allow the congregation the luxury of expecting their leaders to do everything. “He that is greatest among you will be your servant” would be their motto.

8) Congregations would recognize that plural leadership brings collective wisdom to bear on problems and decisions.

These are but a few implications of companionate leadership. On his blog yesterday, Matthew Malcolm wrote:

I am convinced that one of the biggest contributors to bad exegesis is bad systematics.

My friends, many unbiblical patterns of church leadership are ensconced in some of the world's leading textbooks on theology. User beware. If a teaching does not comport with the New Testament, it is to be discarded. We have said that shared leadership consists in following the New Testament pattern of congregational life. I myself have not always thought that this pattern of leadership was important or believed this way. But I am learning that God's Word is the framework into which I must fit my thinking, my beliefs, and my actions. Let's see to it that we do not frustrate the wise purposes of God by neglecting truth in order to pursue man-made ecclesiastical traditions and structures.

Think truthfully,


Sunday, June 9

9:58 PM Thanks to everyone who sent or blogged me a "Happy Birthday." It was a truly wonderful day. Of course, the 64-million dollar questions is: Was Becky strong enough to get up and about?

Well, this afternoon, she did just that. She told me she needed to get out of the house and insisted on taking me to Lowes in South Boston to buy me a birthday present -- a new set of drill bits. Of course, by the time we got there, Lowes had already closed. We did enjoy the drive, however. What a crazy life.

Please, please pray that we find a good pulmonologist for her this week. And thanks again for your prayers on her behalf.

Dave (now, at 61, officially a fossil)

9:04 AM My poor Becky. She wanted so badly to cook my birthday dinner today but I told her no. She is just too tired. I just put her back to bed where she is undergoing another treatment. Her back still hurts something terrible. She cannot take a deep breath. We are determined to have her see a pulmonologist this week. Please pray that she can get some sleep this morning. She desperately wants to be active this afternoon and piddle around with me at Maple Ridge. So please ask God for this little serendipity, okay?

In the meantime, I've been pondering a question. Which is more important -- teaching a Greek class or bush hogging a field to keep it looking neat? I'll try to give an answer even though I'm not the brightest bulb in the kitchen. (In high school there were A students, B students, C students, D students, and my friends.) Whether an activity is important or not is determined as much by our attitude toward it as by the activity itself. We often fail to see the spiritual significance of our work because we have too narrow a view of the spiritual. Instead, we look on our everyday activities as though they were purely mundane and therefore inconsequential. But what if bush hogging a field is necessary for the maintenance of this farm? And what if the farm is used as a retreat for people needing a place of beauty and serenity? In the final analysis, bush hogging a field may have as much eternal significance as anything I could say in the classroom. In the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for work, a time for play, a time for family, and time for everything. Frankly, I need the physical exercise of working outdoors. The neglect of the body is an ancient "Christian" sin. Bible teachers and pastors are notorious for neglecting their physical selves while stressing the importance of the "spiritual" self. This unbiblical attitude stems from the ancient Greek dichotomy between body and soul. The body was the "prison" of the soul. But man is a total being. There is no separation between my body and soul, between my religion and my secular life. Because I am one in all my parts, my life is religious in all of its activities. Both the other-worldly saint and the man of the world fall short of the ideal balance. Living a balanced life is not optional if we are to realize the biblical concept of man as total person. Meaning within gives meaning without. This is simply another way of saying that the Dave Black in the classroom is exactly the same Dave Black on the tractor. And he has value in the eyes of God no matter what he is doing.

I once saw a sign above a kitchen sink that said:

Divine services performed here three times daily.

I urge us today to see all that we do as sacred to God. 

Saturday, June 8

8:07 PM Well, he did it. Spilled the beans. I'm referring to Paul Himes, of course. Read it and be blessed.

8:02 PM I am a happy man. This book arrived today from Amazon.

I am blessed to have visited the Gettysburg battlefield on three different occasions. I have stood on the Round Tops, Cemetery and Seminary Ridges, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den, and Herr's Ridge (where the fighting began). I have felt the emotions you have while driving along Reynolds's Blvd. or walking across "that deadly space," following the path of Pickett's men. Gettysburg is not an abstract idea to me. Some pretty famous Americans were there -- Custer, as well as Longstreet, Meade, and Lee. The battle defined our nation. If you are planning a vacation this year, you must make it Gettysburg on this, the 150th anniversary of the battle.

6:06 PM Simple. That's the word that comes to my mind when I think about my life. My existence is not very complicated. I teach my classes, do my farm chores, write my books, do my missions work, and take care of Becky. Speaking of whom, she did me proud today. We invested a total of 10 hours today on Ethiopia (including our driving time). She did much of the teaching. On the drive home she was exhausted. Several times she cried out in pain. (Her spine again.) She can hardly walk. I've just put her to bed with a hot water bottle and a kiss.

See, I told you. Simple, isn't it? You do your duty, cheerfully, trustfully. "In sickness and in health. Till death do us part."

Of course, simple does not mean easy. Moving a ten ton rock is a simple job but certainly not an easy one. Life is simple but not easy. On the face of it, life seems complicated. Yet all I can think is, It's so very simple. You simply live out your calling with grace and hope. I have no answers to life's riddles. I have nothing to add to Paul's incredible dictum, "For to me to go on living is Christ and to die is gain." Soon the business of this day will fade away. Tomorrow, my birthday, Becky will be too weak to attend church. We'll postpone my birthday dinner. Yet no matter how tough life gets, there's never a day when I don't want to be here, by her side.

What's not to like about that? It's really the only way to live. Simply.

Happy Simpling, everybody.

6:53 AM Today is our third (of four) orientations at Cresset Baptist Church for our trip to Ethiopia in July. On today's agenda:

  • Bible memory

  • Spiritual warfare

  • Language and social greetings

  • Ethiopian society and culture

  • Burji orientation

Becky asked me to do the teaching on spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6. Here are my notes, derived from the Greek text:

I will make much of the shift from the present imperative to the aorist imperatives, since the tense of a verb is as much inspired by the Holy Spirit as the words are. I will also note the difference between the aorist participles Paul uses to describe the armor and the two present tense participles he uses to describe the need for continual prayer and watchfulness. The basic teaching of the passage seems to have four themes: the energy for the battle, the enemy in the battle, the equipment for the battle, and the essential attitude in the battle (prayerfulness). At least that's the way I see things. And no, I do not always alliterate my outlines.

Speaking of teaching, yesterday my Greek students sent Becky a card thanking her for the delicious cake she baked for them. Each wrote a little note. My favorite was:

Dr. Black teaches Greek almost as well as you bake cake.

Never were truer words spoken.

See you after the orientation.

Friday, June 7

4:42 PM Brief note to my Greek 1 students. My secretary and I calculated your final grades today and have been trying all day to upload them to Moodle but no go. Seems IT has not yet configured the system to allow grade reporting. Maybe we are just being too efficient? At any rate, we will try again on Monday. Thanks for finishing well. See you next semester* for Greek 2!

(*That's on Monday).

4:30 PM Back home again. Here are a few odds and ends for your afternoon reading pleasure…

1) This week I sent my book The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul, to the publisher. It begins:

The writer who would challenge this learned consensus opinio [that Hebrews is not Paul’s] must either be a hopeless obscurantist or possessed with a morbid desire to commit academic hari kari. Surely there is no easier way to destroy one’s standing in the scholarly guild than to affirm the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. However, to a writer whose daily routine has been to ride pell-mell through the countryside on a Thoroughbred, this is perhaps not as daunting a challenge as it may appear. Moreover, if this writer enjoys an occasional game of devil’s advocate and, in addition, is of the opinion that scholarly acceptability is never an excuse for compromising one’s personal convictions, fear of expulsion from the academy carries with it no great terror.

Aren’t I irascible?

2) One week from today I fly to Pennsylvania. My exegesis class on Philippians will be student led. I am praying that they will work hard at their preparations and presentations. What costs little accomplishes little.

3) I have learned more details about the seminary in northeast India led by our good friend Mammen Joseph. Allow me to copy and paste a recent email from Mammen on this matter:

This year by His grace alone we have some students from Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh border and the neighboring states. We have selected some thirty students and we hope and we are praying that we will be able to find some sponsors for these deserving students from many unreached tribes of north east India and neighboring countries. To sponsor a student it would be $25 per month per student. This would cover his accommodation, food, classes and also some basic necessities like paper, pen etc.

Becky sent out an email to our prayer partners with these words:

Imagine giving a man from an unreached area a Bible education for a mere $25/month!!I think their program is 2 years. So that would be a commitment of $25/month for 2 years...less than a phone plan, yet for eternal benefits!

I think this is a good time to stop, reflect, and refocus. The question is not, "Are these men deserving of our support?" The question is, "Is this something I can and should get behind?" We've already received an email from a sister saying, "I can commit to that." Then a brother emailed to say he would cover the costs of 8 students. Please let us know if this is something God is putting on your heart. I will publish more on this very shortly.

4) I wasn't planning on blogging about this until Allan Bevere brought it up, but Energion is having a summer blowout on several of its books. You might want to check it out: All Your Summer Reading Is Right Here.

5) Today I sent a letter to our email list. Thought you might like to read it.

Dear prayer partners,

I have a confession to make. I would be less than truthful with you if I told you all was well with Becky. I feel like we have just entered the spin cycle. She is exhausted from her treatments. She’s experiencing diarrhea, fatigue, shortness of breath with any serious activity, and back pain. She’s also losing weight – about 1 1/2 pounds each week. 

I’d be flat-out lying if I said I wasn’t feeling concerned. Becky is my best friend. She’s been by my side through thick and thin. Being with her makes me want to serve and love and sacrifice more and more. I don’t want to lose her. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t want to cry about the situation sometimes. And then I remember the words to a song:

Before the sun has touched the sky
Colors bursting from Your eyes
Before the flood of the morning light
Before the earth has felt Your heat
Before I stand up to my feet
Before I begin to feel this weak

Satisfy me Lord
Satisfy me Lord
I'm begging You to help me see;
You're all I want, You're all I need
Oh, satisfy me Lord.

This morning I prayed for Becky. I mean, really prayed. I know God hears my prayers. He hears yours too. I know His heart breaks along with ours. I also know He still works miracles. Even if that miracle is nothing more than the strength to get out of bed in the morning or the ability to smile in the face of adversity.  

It’s not hard feeling a little ashamed at my lack of faith. B’s next PET scan is just over a month away. (I’ll be teaching in Ethiopia when she has it.) I am eagerly awaiting the results. Maybe too eagerly. Maybe it’s okay that I don’t know what’s going on in her spine and lungs. Jesus asks me to be content in all situations. So I am reminding myself today that I have much. A sovereign God who cares daily for Becky. A wife who is loved and lovely. Work to do for the kingdom. I am learning all over again what marriage is. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s a climb up Everest. And it’s okay for life to be one big open-ended question mark. Because God is the most amazing and satisfying friend a befuddled husband could ever have.


And that's all the news from Lake Woe-Be-Gone.

Wednesday, June 5

5:34 PM Dear praying friends,

As you know, we're gearing up for a busy summer of ministry. It's hard to believe it, but the ministry/shelter house is almost open, and God seems to have already picked out a family to stay here for the short term. On June 28, summer school here ends and I leave for Ethiopia the next day. I will be teaching two classes in the capital city of Addis Ababa (Greek Exegesis and Special Issues in New Testament Studies) as well as catching up with a number of friends in Alaba. This month I will also be teaching for a week at Calvary Baptist Seminary near Philadelphia. We do need your prayers for all of these ministries. On a personal note, thanks for your continued prayers for Becky. Her back pain has been severe at times, and yet she keeps pressing on. I sometimes wonder, What will happen tomorrow? I then remember that God's mercies are new every morning. He sends them when we need them. This means that I don't have to live on the basis of yesterday's blessings or even on the anticipation of tomorrow's blessings. Today's burdens are covered by today's blessings. I continue to see God opening doors of ministry for Becky through her illness. So thank you for praying for us. Everything we do – from our farm ministry to our work in India and the nations – depends on the daily blessings of God. By the way, we are grateful for the $5,900 that was pledged through our local church for the new school in northern India. Becky's essay Building for the Future in India has all the details. If God puts it on your heart to help out, let us know.

On a completely unrelated note, this Sunday I'll turn 61. That's right -- this sweet little guy turned out to be an ornery, recalcitrant old Greek professor.

Several years ago I would have thought 61 described an old man. That's still probably true. I am told that I look my age. Be that as it may, I do plan on staying as young as possible, if not physically, then at least spiritually. Psalm 48:14 says, "This God is our God forever and ever, and He will be our guide even until the end." What a wonderful promise, and I plan to claim it often this year. I had planned to write an essay called "60 things I learned in my sixtieth year," but I got about three lessons into it and quit. However, I will not stop asking, seeking, and knocking (Luke 11:9) or celebrating the rich blessings of the present. Nothing too great for the living God can come my way. Nothing outside of the will of God can cross my path. Christ is not only my reason for living but my resource for living (Phil. 1:21). I am especially grateful that my sweetheart will be by my side again this year, as she has been for my last 36 birthdays. I am blessed to have an incredibly smart woman in my life. She is not only perfect for me but for everything we do together in ministry. Not to mention the fact that she is an awesome cook. When she asked me what I wanted for my birthday dinner, I requested my favorite: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and peas. Amazing. Becky has gone through a lot with me (and has never given up), yet she still likes to cook for me!

In 9 short years I will reach the biblical "statute of limitations." Rest assured, dear readers, that between now and then I will make every effort to exercise the duties incumbent upon all senile citizens: uphold the awful dignity of my age, take no more than one nap at a time, and work hard on passing the baton to the next generation.

3:10 PM Enjoyed a wonderful lunch on Monday with my (former) doctoral student Paul Himes, who promises to post very shortly an essay called "5 years of doctoral work: what went well and what could have gone better." That's one post I am really looking forward to reading. His website is called Paroikos Bible Blog.

3:02 PM Hello, virtual friends. As you know, it's Wednesday, my day to return to the farm. I am tired in body and soul but I need to tell you what God has been showing me these past few days. (You didn't really think that last Thursday's post about politics was the last word, did you?) It is, quite honestly, a long story.

For about 15 years now I have been pursuing what the NT calls discipleship – the combination of knowing and doing, theory and practice. Honesty demanded that I face the contradictions between the ideal and the real in my life as a Christian scholar. Suddenly the NT became very simple to me. I noted its constant emphasis on serving. (That theme was hardly hidden or camouflaged.) I realized that missions would have to involve personal sacrifice on my part and not merely supporting missionaries. I began to see that "knowing God's will" is not something that comes merely through reading the Scriptures but through the process of listening to the divine voice while exploring ways of obeying the Great Commission personally.

This conviction gave me the courage to enter "fulltime missionary service," even though I have never been ordained in the traditional sense of the word. I began to consider writing books that went beyond the mere formal study of the NT. I developed a suspicion and even fear of scholarship for scholarship's sake, even though I was blessed with a doctorate from one of the world’s leading universities. As I read sixteenth century Anabaptist history, I began to understand why so many of the radical reformers were reluctant to call themselves "scholars." It is no accident that in my book The Jesus Paradigm – my first foray into the world of Anabaptist hermeneutics – I reflected deeply on how scholarship had taken on a whole new meaning for me. I began to see my work in the seminary less as an academic vocation and more as a calling to serve the church and the world. This in turn gave me the courage to explore a variety of interdisciplinary approaches to Scripture.

One significant result of this exploration was that I became increasingly suspicious of many cherished beliefs that I no longer felt could hold up to serious reflection and inspection. This led to an intense study of the works of Jacque Ellul and Vernard Eller, with a particular focus on their concern to preserve a kingdom focus in a day when the church was being distracted by various "causes." Indeed, my book Christian Archy looked to the Anabaptist tradition for assistance, and I found within Anabaptist theology a wonderfully freeing theological approach to issues of modern-day politics and ethics. I became convinced that theology has ultimate value only if God's kingdom is discerned among us. My entire worldview began to shift with this emphasis, and with this shift came a powerful urge to communicate my beliefs to others. For instance, when I speak about the NT church, I do not begin with the popular "marks" of the church – expository preaching, the observance of the ordinances, church discipline, etc. Instead I use Paul's imagery of the church as a family in which every member has a vital role to play. I have come to view my primary vocation as one of calling this family to become more faithful to its Founder and Head. At the same time, I am keenly aware that progress cannot be made without sound theological and exegetical moorings. And so I continue enjoy equipping students with an important tool for exegesis (Greek), even as I attempt to model for them the downward path of Jesus, all with the simple prayer that they will thereby be enabled to impact more profoundly the world that God created. In many circles in which I travel, there seems to be a reluctance to pursue the road less taken. We need to exchange our ease with a commitment to wrestling with the text of Scripture itself as we prepare for the coming age of post-Christianity. This is a great opportunity for us to hear the sacred text of the church in new ways and to allow Scripture to mold us into radically new beings. That's a large part, if not the core, of all I do as a professor. The Bible is not merely an analyzable datum of linguistic investigation. It is God's tool for grabbing hold of our lives and shaking us. If we truly allow it to do its work, then we can no longer allow scholarship to be our goal. Instead, our work will be marked by witness and involvement.

I have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of the Anabaptists. So do you. Their commitment to unite theology with uncompromising obedience may help us today to avoid a false dichotomy. It won't be easy, of course. My own life has been a succession of struggles to come to grips with this notion of "scholarly obedience." I am too intellectual for southern Virginia and too practical for the scholarly guild. Nevertheless, I know who I am. What is peripheral has fallen by the wayside, and what is left is a love for the family and a desire to see it grow in both numbers and depth.

I owe a very great debt to the Anabaptist writers who helped me to understand all of this. I hope that all of us – teachers and students alike – will have the humility to acknowledge our intellectual laziness, biblical illiteracy, and disobedience to Christ's call to "come and die." To be clear, I'm not decrying the need for biblical scholarship. As the author of numerous books on biblical Greek, NT interpretation, and textual criticism, I would be the first to acknowledge the validity of certain higher-critical methodologies. Still, I believe the time has come for a serious and sincere reappraisal of graduate theological education. What the church needs from its scholars is not arrogance or elitism but an honest, consistent, and serving faith. What might that look like? And how might scholarship take the priesthood of all believers seriously without disenfranchising itself?

These are questions I imagine I'll be pondering until Jesus returns or takes me home. But they are good questions, and necessary ones. Perhaps you would like to join me in contemplating them.

Monday, June 3

5:58 AM 150 years ago today the Gettysburg Campaign began. It would determine the outcome of the war. The war-weary armies moved north through the heat and the dust. It was the third summer of the conflict. After his defeat, Robert E. Lee wrote:

No blame can be attached to the army for its failure to accomplish what was projected by me. I am alone to blame, in perhaps expecting too much of its prowess and valor....

The issue had been settled by combat.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is a fictional account of the four days of the battle. It is possibly the best book ever written about the Civil War. Buy it. Read it. It is genuinely compelling.

Sunday, June 2

7:45 PM Every year, on June 6, I watch The Longest Day on DVD. The movie's subtitles really bother me. When Rommel is speaking, for example, entire phrases are left untranslated or else are only briefly summarized in English. Makes you wish you didn't know German. According to a wonderful book called Key Terms in Translation Strategies, movie subtitles must work within the parameters of not more than two lines of text, with each line not accommodating more than 35 characters. This means that materials are often deleted, condensed, or adapted. Still, subtitles are infinitely preferable to dubbing. Besides, if you know French and German, you can always ignore the subtitles and appreciate the aesthetics of the original work. I'm bringing all of this up because one of my objectives in our Greek class this summer is to discuss the question of translatability when it comes to the Greek of the New Testament. In other words, what makes a translation "good" or "bad"? Translation invariably involves a loss of meaning associated with the Source Text. The relevance of this for my students lies in the ability to perceive the intended meaning of the text and in the ability to recognize that intended meaning is always subject to subtle variations in translation. I'm anticipating some good discussions. I may even show a German clip from The Longest Day, seeing that all really intelligent people are expected to be proficient in that language.


7:32 PM I can't wait to get back into the classroom tomorrow. William Arthur Ward once wrote:

The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

The apostle James says it's a mistake for many of us to become teachers. We'll receive a greater judgment if we do. What an awe-inspiring responsibility. One danger is trying to teach something before we ourselves know anything about the subject (see 1 Tim. 1:6-7). The tendency then is to pander to the desires of our audience. How thankful I am today for my college and seminary teachers who were careful to exercise their calling with integrity and who took care that their lives did not contradict their teaching. May God make me like them.

7:22 PM Looking forward to my next trip to Ethiopia in just a few weeks. Students, don't wait to graduate to take the Gospel to the nations. The time to act is now. You can sit on the fence too long. This is the message of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland:

The Mock Turtle, in a deep hollow tone, said: "Sit down, and don't speak a word 'til I've finished." So they sat down and nobody spoke for some moments. Alice thought to herself, "I don't see how he can ever finish if he doesn't begin."

Folks, it's time to begin. You can't finish unless you start. Is it hard? Are you kidding? Nothing's harder. I've found world missions to be tough, tiring, and (at times) terrifying. It takes commitment to deny yourself and serve others sacrificially. Finding and working with the lost in our own community is a good place to start. But don't stop there. Serve the kingdom worldwide. It involves time, effort, and money, but nothing can match it.

9:15 AM T. C. Robinson posts I do not Speak in Tongues. In it he writes:

My friend even appealed to Acts 2:38, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” to prove his point. At first, I thought he was pointing me to the wrong Scripture reference, because I had never seen that use of Acts 2:38 before to prove that every Christian should speak in tongues.

For what it's worth, I might note that I've always thought "the gift of the Holy Spirit" in Acts 2:38 to be an example of the genitive of apposition (also called the epexegetical genitive). The idea is, "the gift, that is, the Holy Spirit." A paraphrase of Peter's words might be, "You will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift." In other words, there is nothing here of a specific gift of the Holy Spirit (tongues, prophecy, healing, teaching, etc.). The Holy Spirit, Himself, is the gift. Another NT example might be Jesus' promise that He would give the people "the sign of Jonah." What He seemed to mean was, "I will give you Jonah as a sign."

What do you think?

8:08 AM They say "It's the little things in life that count." Can you imagine how many "little things" go into setting up a household? So, in honor of all of the little projects accomplished yesterday by Work Force One, I offer this photo collage:

1) What's a dining room without curtains?

2) This buffet now has sparkling glasses in it.

3) A door stop is a door stop is a door stop.

4) Thank the Lord for toilet paper holders and trash cans!

5) Clothes hampers and an ironing board in the utility room.

6) I suspect these children's books will get plenty of use (note the Hardy Boys series).

7) Hampers for both trash and diapers in the baby's room.

8) Bathroom privacy is now assured.

Simple blessings. But they don't produce themselves. Our thanks again to the ladies (and Ryan) who worked so hard and so long yesterday to make all this happen.

7:42 AM We just received some wonderful news from our friend and co-worker in Burji, Ethiopia: 

Dear Becky how are you? Praise God! Thank to God He heard our all prayer and answered in amazing way.

Today in the afternoon Asegedech she feels pains in her stomach I took her to soyama health centered the specialist examine and told me it may be impossible for them to keep my wife up to delivery time. They told me to look for the vehicle to take her to the hospital.

When I am looking the vehicle I asked for God will. Our God is amazing God. In a very short time (2and ½) hour time she delivered a baby Girl. Praise God! Praise God! Praise God!

Please pass our thank for those who stand with us at this time by prayer. Really God heard your prayer and answered. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Many times please give our thank to all who prayed for us.

Becky thank you very very much for giving us good advice and encouragement.

God bless

Oshe Burje

You may recall that this is the same Oshe whose 4-year old daughter was murdered by the enemies of the cross several years ago.

Becky sent this email to Oshe last night:

Praise God! We serve such a wonderful & merciful God! His Name be praised forever & ever! he is worthy of all our service & worship!

Please give Asegedech my special love....and give the baby a kiss from me. God has replaced the little girl that He allowed to be taken from you. Praise His wonderful Name!

We love you! I will give everyone the wonderful news.


Now let me say a word about persecution if I may. Persecution is nothing other than sharing the fate of Jesus. The death of Oshe's precious daughter was an opportunity for us Americans to live as true brothers and sisters with the church in Ethiopia. As Becky put it in an email at the time, "We don't want the killer jailed. We want him saved." Let us not become like Peter who, appalled at the prospect of a suffering and dying Messiah, argued with the Lord whose messiahship he had just confessed. In His response Jesus was categorical: "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind. He must take up his cross and come with me." In many ways, persecution determines His true followers. It distinguishes the true from the false church. The cross was central to the life and work of Christ, and it must be central to the life and work of the Christian. A Christian without suffering is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. It is as meaningless as a Christ without a cross. There could have been no Easter without a Good Friday.

When a Christian suffers, Christians everywhere should not mourn as if something strange is happening. Instead, we should rejoice just as the apostles of the Lord rejoiced because they were "thought worthy of suffering for the blessed Name" (Acts 5:41-42). Suffering is the price of grace. So, as the church in Ethiopia suffers, we suffer with it. As Christ's cup of suffering overflows, we suffer with Him. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. If suffering be our lot, it is to help us bring consolation, comfort, and strength to others. Christ turns the table on the devil precisely at the point of what the world considers his triumph. "With all this in mind, what are we to say? If God is on our side, who can be against us?"

Please note: The demons do not fear denominational programs or bureaucratic initiatives. They do not fear our "church growth strategies." What they fear is a person, not a program – a person who carries on in the midst of pain and heartache, who realizes that nothing can ever separate him or her from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Attacks will come. We know that. As soldiers, then, we must always be ready. To be the true church, there must be a partnership in the sufferings of the worldwide Christian community. Our weapon, paradoxically, is the Gospel of peace. It is the sword of the Spirit, God's word to mankind. Our assignment is to pray "for all the saints" (Eph. 6:18), and with them. The apostle Paul was never alone in his prison cell or in his ministry because other members of the Body stood with him through prayer and supplication. His request was not for deliverance. It was that he might boldly proclaim the Gospel as an ambassador in chains. Intercessory prayer is emphasized throughout the New Testament (Col. 4:2-3; 2 Thess. 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:14). Would that all Christians were praying Christians!

So, how am I praying for Oshe and the church in Burji today? My prayer is that it will maintain its passion for holiness and truth, and that it will practice love in action, animated by Christian hope and by the assurance of Christ's victory over sin and death. Toward these ends, I intercede on behalf of the brethren. Whatever our enemies may do to us, the purpose of Christ's mission is to bring them to the Father's house.

Today I will also pray for the church in America. You and I are so blessed to live in a country that enjoys freedom from oppression. What a grave responsibility that should lay upon our shoulders as believers. When I look at the suffering church around the world, I become impatient with students who slough off their assignments, who fail to perform with excellence, who take their education for granted. The present generation of Americans has received the most unearned and undeserved blessing of all time. The Lord God has made us the richest nation on earth and we squander our wealth as if we had no obligation to serve Christ wholeheartedly or to take His Gospel to a lost world, dying in darkness without a Savior. Take any problem you might have and multiply it a thousand times and you will begin to understand what the church in Burji faces. It is time we repented. It is time we stopped comparing ourselves with our fellow church members and started comparing ourselves with the high calling of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We must get up, raise our sails as it were (Heb. 6:1), and allow the Spirit of the living God to move us out of our apathy, realizing that all of our blessings as Americans are only temporary and conditional. May God open our eyes to the reality of the needs in Ethiopia. Remember, these are real people, with real souls, with real heartaches. But as bad as the persecution is in Burji, the worst scandal of all is the situation here at home as we stuff ourselves with the Gospel while millions the world over are still waiting for their first bite.

7:15 AM The persecution of believers in Eritrea is on the increase. They deserve our prayer support.

6:58 AM The Malaysian meal we enjoyed on Thursday night was called a "hot pot." Hot indeed, and spicy. Thanks again to my student Caxie.

6:45 AM I recall a conversation while staying at the SIM Guest House in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A visitor from California was talking about the church he attended, the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, where Chuck Swindoll had once pastored. He noted dourly that visitors to EV Free were still referring to it as "Swindoll's church." Pastor Chuck had not been there for many years, he reminded me.

Newsflash! EV Free was never "Swindoll's church," and I am sure Pastor Chuck would be the first to admit that. Yet how unthinkingly we use such language. I attend "MacArthur's church," or I go to "Dever's church," or I visited "David Jeremiah's church," we say. But the church of Jesus Christ belongs to none of these fine men.

Please notice how Paul addresses the church at Corinth in his opening greeting: "to the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2). Paul does not talk of "my church," but of "the church of God." This phrase aptly summarizes Paul's concept of the local church. His 18-month stay in Corinth (longer than anywhere he had visited except for Ephesus) might have justified him referring to the church as "his" church. The Lord Jesus had given him a significant ministry during this period as he spent time "teaching the word of God among them" (Acts 18:11). The believers there were to Paul "the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (1 Cor. 9:2). Yet he refrains from calling the Corinthian church "his" congregation, for he rightfully saw that all he had accomplished there was the work of God. Paul's expression "the church of God" provides us with a healthy corrective. No individual Christian or group of Christians has any special claim upon a local assembly. Christianity today is full of cliques, each following a different personality. There is a distinct lack of humility and of consideration for others. Personality-cults have emerged that would have made the divided Corinthians blush.

When a Christian, or a group of Christians, becomes absorbed with following a particular leader, nothing but false loyalty has been achieved. There is probably no church with any history behind it that has not taken its eyes off of Jesus at one time or another. Often this assumes the form of hearkening back to "the good old days" when pastor so-and-so was there. Genuine appreciation of leadership can often give way to a very self-centered pride. It needs to be said that much division in our churches today arises because the eyes of Christians are elsewhere than on Jesus Christ. "My" church, like "your" church, belongs to God, not to you or to me or to any other person. If that is true, perhaps we would do well to follow Paul's example in 1 Cor. 1:2 and, at least from time to time, unblushingly refer to our assembly as "God's church."

Saturday, June 1

6:24 PM I feel like it's been forever since I blogged, yet it hasn't even been 12 hours. Right when Becky and I thought we were falling behind in our work, here come the reinforcements, big time! I look at the faces of those students and friends who helped us today -- Sam and Brandon and Melissa and Ryan and Drew and Rachel and William and Karen and Nigusse and Rachael -- and I am undone.

You mean to tell me you would actually give up an entire Saturday to come to the Blacks and help us with our work? Rosewood Farm, where the work is never-ending. Rosewood Farm, where it seems we are always only "days away" from finishing the ministry/shelter house. Rosewood Farm, which belongs, every last inch of it, to the Lord Jesus. I think I'm echoing the heart of Becky when I tell you I am ready to shout hallelujah. To top it all off, the Lord gave us a perfect day for working. Our projects included getting the cedar posts up at Maple Ridge for the backyard fence, hanging curtains, assembling chairs for the deck, installing a rain gutter, organizing the kitchen, spraying Round Up, chopping down trees in the North Loop, and edging around Maple Ridge. I've said it before -- I feel like a child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean when it comes to farm work. All too often it's easy to forget how truly blessed I am to have such giving and caring students and friends. Today, life rocked. To the core. It was pure joy to find that God had again met our needs, and more. To all those who came and served: Thank you. And to the One who makes it all worth doing, we are your unworthy servants. Thank you for using weak but yielded vessels in your kingdom. We are truly blessed.

Below: Scenes from today's work day. Photography by Dave Black, Esquire, Jack of All Trades and Master of None.

6:43 AM On Thursday night I was honored to have supper in the home of the Hang family. Caxie is in my Greek class this summer. She and her family are from Malaysia. Much of our discussion centered on church planting in other nations. I was able to share briefly about the work the Holy Spirit is doing to accomplish the evangelization of the tribes in Ethiopia. The most effective church planting ministries in Ethiopia are those carried out by nationals. Everyone who works in Ethiopia can, I believe, attest to that fact. Yes, I realize that many U.S. missionary organizations send personnel to plant churches in Ethiopia. I am not against American missionaries serving in Ethiopia. But this practice does raise a question in my mind. It is a fundamental question that I have been pondering for some time now. And the question is this:

How can we justify sending our well-paid church planters to Ethiopia when Ethiopian evangelists and church planters are eager to do the work themselves at a fraction of the cost?

Becky and I meet these evangelists and church planters wherever we travel in Ethiopia, whether it is in Gondar in the far north, or Alaba in central Ethiopia, or Burji near the Kenyan border. Many of these faithful servants of the Lord are weak, sick, and emaciated. Some are just skin and bones. What a contrast with your typical American missionary. Everything in American society is geared toward ease and comfort. Not only physical comfort, but the comfort of a "normal" family life. Even becoming fulltime professional missionaries involves little sacrifice and suffering when compared to what a typical Ethiopian evangelist experiences. It is not living unashamedly for another world when we drive the latest model Land Cruisers or live in luxurious compounds while foreign nationals suffer.

Here's my suggestion:

If we, as the church in America, would learn to invest our money more wisely, it could be used to empower and equip Ethiopian nationals to evangelize their own people.

Think about it. They speak the language. They know the culture inside and out (and believe me, Ethiopian culture is not easy to understand). They are used to going without. They do not need to be pampered. How many dozens of Ethiopian evangelists are ready to begin their work if they only had the means to do so? Amharas are ready to reach Amharas. Siltes are ready to reach Siltes. Burjis are ready to reach Burjis. Tigrais are ready to reach Tigrais. Can you imagine what would happen if Christians in America were the grasp the principle of cooperation? Within a few short years, national missionaries would have preached the Gospel in every lost village in Ethiopia.

In my book Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? I encourage my readers to view modern missions as "a global, cooperative movement," a partnership, if you will, between local churches in America and local churches in other nations.

Unfortunately [I continue], many U.S. mission teams fail to coordinate their efforts with the churches of host locations. Recently a student of mine mentioned that his local church was going to plant a new church in China. I asked him, “Have you ever considered simply going to China and asking the existing churches how you can come alongside them and help?” Failing to understand and connect with God’s already-at-work global purpose is one of the greatest mistakes we can make as churches. More and more local churches in America are forging effective partnerships with local churches in foreign nations, asking how they can best serve the needs in those countries. When done well, everybody benefits through this kind of beautiful partnership, and Christ is honored as His people submit to one another in love.

Once we understand that we have only one King and one kingdom, we should be able to begin working cooperatively, side by side with foreign nationals, to get the job done. Once we see this principle, it is the most liberating revelation. We will find ourselves working intentionally with national churches as each one of us does our part to finish the task before night falls.

Of course, I fully realize that this issue tends to divide modern missionaries. Reared in a culture that has sent out church planters to Ethiopia for generations, we argue that we cannot leave the work to nationals on the assumption that we are indispensable. In my book I contest this belief. Slowly and patiently, God is working to create a spirit of cooperation among His church. My prayer is that God will help free us from the tendency to work as though the church in Ethiopia does not exist. My hope is that we will become increasingly aware that He is very much at work in the hearts of Ethiopians who desire, more than even we do, that Christ's kingdom be established in their nation.

May God help us to see the need to work with the existing churches in Ethiopia to reach that great nation for Christ. Yes, let us send missionaries to Ethiopia. Yes, let us go ourselves. But let our goal be to come alongside the courageous Body of Christ there and humbly ask, "How can we best help you?" If we say this, and mean it, I believe the effect on the church in Ethiopia will be immensely beneficial.

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