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May 2009 Blog Archives

Thursday, May 21

2:34 AM Someone snapped this picture of me this morning. Yes, it is a bit early to begin one's day. But I've got an early flight to Dulles.

The upside is that my grades are DONE and I am ready to go. I am full of happy memories of the semester. My students worked hard. Some of them are leaving seminary to write the next chapter in their lives. What a joy to have been their friend and guide. I will really miss being with them at their graduation celebration tomorrow.

As I leave for Ethiopia this morning I am placing no limits on what God can do. I'm grateful for the grace and growth I will experience there. I’m not wild about being away from Becky for 3 weeks (I will be in Alaba, she in Burji), but God understands. We are still marveling at God’s goodness to us in giving us Jessie and now a new baby (due June 10). I do hope and pray that Bec will be able to return to Virginia in time for the birth. My own return date is June 13. Until then, don't count on me answering any emails.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll take a look at our prayer itinerary while we're gone. I've published it on our home page. Feel free to copy it, link to it, and distribute it far and wide. I've also published a brief essay called Down to Earth Disciples. I hope you enjoy both.

Well, may your joy be full as we move into the summer months. Above all, let us be like Jesus.

My love to all, Dave

Monday, May 18

9:06 PM Sorry. But I can't resist posting a picture of the new barn that I took 25 days ago.

Sort of reminds me of the Christian life. We don't mature over night. Growth comes in gradual stages. There is no such thing as instant maturity, even in an age of websites. The faith that moves mountains is not showy, demanding attention like a spoiled child. It involves a gradual growth, a series of slow changes succeeding each other. You don't realize your barn is built until its new look startles you.

I guess there are lessons in everything we do in life.

8:56 PM She did it! Got a 99 on her Greek exam. I'm proud of you, honey! 

5:27 PM Can you hear the angels yet? They're shouting Hallelujahs. We finished framing in the new barn-shed combo today! The Lord gave us perfect working weather, too. Our high was 65 degrees. So thank you Jesus!

We began by putting up the shed rafters.

Then we started laying the slabs for the roofing tin.

The price on these slabs, you ask? Nada. Nate scavenged them from a local saw mill. That's my boy! 

Once the shed was done we moved to the roof.

Et voila! Here's the equipment shed.

And here's the barn. Both nicely framed in, wouldn't you say? Nothing left to do now (ha!) but to finish the sides and floor.

Here's another huge praise. The wind dried out the grass, so we began hay cutting today. That is, Nathan began cutting. How do like his new farm hat? A Wal-Mart special.

He and Jessie already have an order for several hundred bales of premium horse hay. Just look at the clover. Fantastic!

Right now I'm resting up a bit and Becky is cooking supper. One of my favorites, too. Liver and onions with mashed potatoes. The liver came from our own cattle. Then it's off to Greek class to grade the exams. Becky did hers last night and says she feels real good about it. She ought to -- she spent hours studying for it!

7:34 AM We're watching the weather closely today. For several years it was droughty around here. This past year, and now this year, we've seen a lot of rain and pasture growth. It's rained with such frequency, in fact, that it's hard to know when to cut, especially when you pride yourself (as we do) on rain-free hay. When we first bought the farm the fields showed signs of long neglect. At the same time, it seemed like everyone in the neighborhood remembered tending our fields when growing up. That was many years ago. Today there's a tired asepsis wherever you look in this area of Virginia. I think the good old days, when families helped each other cut and bale, are long gone.

Back to the weather. The rain has put our pastures in good shape. We have also added a water source to each one. We can shift the animals around as we please, thanks to our fencing and cross-fencing. Some of my fondest memories of the farm are the years Nate and I spent putting up fencing. I often look at a long row of fencing, shake my head, and say, "Did we really do all that?" Recently Nate went from operating a sickle mower to a mower conditioner that crimps the stem so that it wilts in the field more rapidly. Manuring has also helped to increase the yield and quality of our hay. We are constantly manuring -- not with commercial fertilizer either. By manuring we are completing a cycle that links cow (or horse) to field.

By the way, last night was a blast. I enjoyed several wonderful hours listening to organ and brass music with N. I thought to myself, "Here's a home where the children will be exposed to some great classical composers." Not only the children. The puppies were out in full force, munching away at my toes as I munched on delicious Jessie-cooked popcorn. They are the most cuddle-able dogs I've ever seen. Eventually we had to put them back in their playpen where they wrestled with each until they were worn out. Nate's CD featured Bach, Purcell, and Clarke. In fact, the arrangement of Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary was so spectacular I had to listen to it twice. For the grand finale we listened to my all-time favorite organ piece, "Cortège et Litanie" by Marcel Dupré. Then Sheppie and I moved into the front parlor where Nathan sat down at the console of his 1900s reed organ and actually played that haunting piece for me. It's beyond me how anyone can play anything in the key of E (four sharps), but Nate handled it beautifully.

Well, at this moment the sun is awake, bathing the farm with its pleasantness. I look forward to seeing whether Nate will cut today or not. Meanwhile, I do know that the new barn needs work and plenty of it.


Sunday, May 17

7:10 PM I think you've got a great idea, Celucien. In fact, I am now in the process of turning my little series on "Christian Archy" into a booklet. So ... are you listening, Lionel and Alan?

6:44 PM More good news! Nate and Jess have invited me up to their house tonight for popcorn and to listen to a new CD they got up in Pennsylvania. It features organ and brass. Imagine: A taste of heaven here on earth. What's Becky up to, you ask? Studying for her take-home Greek exam. In fact, I think she may take it tonight while her professor is loafing over at the Blacks' house. Wish her well!!

6:25 PM Good news! It looks like a wide swath of high pressure is developing over the country as the latest storm moves eastward out over the Atlantic.

This is good news for anyone in southern Virginia who has been patiently waiting to cut and bale hay. If Nathan does cut our hay fields tomorrow (or Tuesday), the earliest we can bale would be Thursday, the day I leave to go abroad. Baling hay is all about timing. It is a huge race against mother nature. Nothing will teach you patience or dependence upon God quite like hay season.

The following is, I think, my all-time favorite farm picture, featuring our trust Massie-Ferguson and a field full of hay patiently awaiting pick up. Looks like the Lord has arranged for me to miss putting up hay this time around, but that's okay. With all the rain we're getting we anticipate another cutting -- though, as I said, one never presumes on God when it comes to the weather.

4:31 PM Just back. The homecoming was great fun. I spoke at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. It was founded 150 years ago. My topic? How children were raised 150 years ago, before the "discovery" (invention) of adolescence. The message wasn't PC, that's for sure. One must always keep watching for surprises from the Bible. You miss great truth if you're not looking. I see I put 200 miles on the old chariot today, but the drive was very pleasant as I avoided I-85 and went the historic Boydton Plank Road instead (Hwy 1). Fortunately the rain was very light, and I was treated to several antebellum homes on the way up and back. This Thursday I need to be prepared to leave for Africa. It's a press since I still have papers to grade and all of my final grades to submit before I leave Wake Forest on Wednesday. Oh yeah, I'm also hoping to get some more work done on the barn and shed before boarding the Friendly Skies. We'll see. When you are teaching, farming, and doing missionary work, all fulltime (so it seems), you simply learn how to flow.

Here's Calvary BC. The old clapboard building was torn down many years ago. Amazing to think this congregation has been around since 1859, two years prior to the war.

Plenty of fried chicken on hand today for lunch. After all, it's a Baptist church. My favorite dish was the key lime pie, which I know we'll be eating in heaven.

When I was done speaking, pastor Wayne asked for a teenage volunteer to man the book table. At least 30 hands went up. We settled on these guys. Great salesmen, too.

7:05 AM What a joy to see our Burji team members last night!

We spent the time fellowshipping and praying for Ethiopia.

Our thanks to Randall and Lynette Carver for organizing our meal and prayer meeting. It was a sweet time together focusing on the kingdom.

Off to Petersburg.

Saturday, May 16

4:35 PM Becky and I are about to leave for a Burji team reunion in Roxboro, so I've only got time for a very brief update. First off we unloaded yet another wagon full of horse manure down in the valley, with Jessie at the wheel of the tractor and Nate and I tossing left and right from the trailer. I believe I worked off at least 10 pounds, I sweated so much. Then it was off to check up on the goat herd, only to find that one of our babies had an eye infection she must have contracted in the past day or so. After Jessie and Becky had carefully bathed the eye with warm water, "Dr. Black" expertly administered some penicillin to the young lady's hind quarters. We'll have to keep a close eye on her for the next few days. Finally, the N. and D. Construction Co. resumed their work on the barn and its shed extension, somehow managing to set all the posts and beams and even begin installing the roof rafters. As usual, we ran out of the latter, which meant another trip to Sherwood Forest with our handy chain saw. That's as far as we got today, partly because we cut firewood as we go along, and partly because we are thinning the woods ("forest management," they call it) even as we cut down rafters. Tomorrow I'm speaking in Petersburg, but on Monday I certainly hope and pray that we can at least finish the rafters and roof slabs so that the N. part of the company can continue working on the project while the D. part is gone. We'll see.

As usual, the ubiquitous photos:

8:58 AM Quote of the day:

It isn't about filling my brain and storing things up like school - this is all about learning to lean on Him. Learning to think like Him. Live like him. Working out my salvation that He already gave me. Journeying daily with God - to let Him change and shape and mold me to conform to Him more and more.

Read the entire post here.

7:24 AM In my life as a teacher one of my greatest joys is to join with others in their suffering, especially the brokenhearted that Jesus describes in His Sermon on the Hillside. Some people can go way overboard on self-pity, and it seems that others never bother with even an occasional introspective glance. One of my students is being very transparent with us today, and I think his honesty will resonate with many of his readers. I know it does with me.

7:13 AM I'm very glad to say that everything is going fine with Jessie and "Little Baby Black." One of my greatest needs on a daily basis is to surrender the baby (and her mother and father) to the Lord. I will be in Ethiopia when it is born. Waiting for the child to come seems endless. So I wait on the Lord and pray a lot. I do know that having that toddler around will majorly enrich our lives. In fact, I already love that grandbaby, and he/she already brings me joy!

6:51 AM One week from today our teams leave for Utopia (my father-in-law's expression for Ethiopia). I will have been there for two days already. Why are we going, and what will we be doing?

"Your objective, gentlemen," said Jesus to the 70, "is to harvest the crop." That's our purpose too. How do we do our work? And why? For what it's worth, here are some thoughts:

  • We revisit the same churches time and again. We seek to inject our lives into these churches over a period of time. We emphasize a cumulative approach to missions.

  • We focus all of our efforts on the kingdom. The kingdom is not a program or a denomination. It is not even one local church. It has nothing to do with bureaucrats or bureaucracies. The kingdom is God's means of forming a new society out of the dross of humanity. And the kingdom is transnational. We do not go to Ethiopia as Americans. We go as citizens of heaven and resident aliens in the world.

  • We have adopted an intentionally cooperative model of missions. We are happy to cross-pollinate our harvest with other believers. We work side-by-side with many different types of churches and groups, as long as they have a kingdom focus.

  • No junk, please! Forget the gimmicks, the gospel blimps, the ugly tracts, the faddish books (mostly from the U.S.). We fertilize with the best available: the Word of God.

  • We emphasize the local church. Period.

  • We work as a team. Each of us has our strengths and weakness. I often follow in the wake of my wife Becky. Her organizational skills are far better than mine. She networks more easily than I do. She can smell a phony long before I can. Most important of all, she genuinely loves people. And people find Christ! In the same way, we all have our strengths that correspond with other team members' weaknesses.

  • Our team philosophy is gift-driven. I don't say, "We're going to do VBS, and you will do this, and someone else will do that." We believe that the effectiveness of mission work is closely linked with the use of one's spiritual gifts. A screwdriver turned by a loving heart is every bit as potent for evangelism as a sermon. Under the direction of our Ethiopian counterparts (the elders of the local churches) we seek to allow our team members to use their individual skills and abilities to serve others at their point of need.

  • We are people-centered rather than process- or program-centered. Lifestyle is at the core of everything we do. To us, evangelism is fundamentally a way of living that utilizes methods appropriate to the circumstances. If this means drinking a cup of coffee filled with roasted coffee beans (that you are expected to chew and swallow), so be it. Jesus Himself taught us how to do missions: eat, heal, and then tell (Luke 10:8).

  • Most of all, we as a team recognize that we are utterly powerless when we are not aligned with God's Spirit. To keep things in focus, we begin and end the day in prayer. We ask afresh to be filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit. We abandon ourselves to His adequacy and trust Him for His enablement. We surrender our need to control, to possess, to have everything go "our way."

The bottom line? We focus on people and relationships, not on events and programs. And we work together. Alone, each of us is but an eddying speck of dust. But together we are God's chosen race, linked to every other Christian in history. To be God's ambassadors to the nations is infinitely more important to us than to be a great success in the eyes of the world. And the rewards are beyond comparison!

Note: The following pictures bring back many happy memories. Some of them make me weep. I wish you knew the stories behind them. How I desire to be with the Ethiopians again! I love these people so much it hurts.

Friday, May 15

5:52 PM In Basel I had the privilege of studying under some of the world's greatest scholars and theologians. Who would not want to take a course in Dogmengeschichte with Martin Anton Schmidt, or Theologie with Jan Milic Lockman, or Neues Testament with Markus Barth? But Basel also had a phenomenal Greek philology department, which offered a course in how to read minuscule Greek manuscripts. The professor was the famous Greek philologist Bernhard Wyss. As I recall, there were three of us in the class, and two of us who actually finished it. But it was worth it. I learned how to read the very difficult cursive script used in the later copies of the New Testament. The biggest payoff came after we had completed the course. I was allowed access to one of the original Erasmus Greek New Testaments, kept under lock and key in the university library archives. At any rate, I see that the Evangelical Textual Criticism website is having a bit of fun with transcribing a Greek manuscript written in the twelfth century. Care to try your hand at it?

Below: The theology building in Basel where I spent so many happy moments in the early 1980s.  

4:18 PM It's thundering outdoors right now. Time to stay inside and grade papers. We did manage to unload a trailer full of horse manure this morning. Here's how far we got with the shed project today:

We had high aspirations, but just as we started cutting cedar posts to place in the holes, Nate's chain saw broke. I couldn't resist snapping this picture of him working on it, along with his trusty new helper, who goes wherever his master goes.

Earlier today I had an email request for more kitten pictures. Here's the best I can do (they were sleeping, after all).

As you can see, they can open their eyes now. Cute, cute, cute!

Back to grading....

9:40 AM Great news! Over 250 Gujis have now completed the Bible memory program. And many others are working tirelessly to complete it. As you know, Becky and I have had the awesome privilege of distributing thousands of Amharic Bibles to both children and adults in Ethiopia. They do not get them for free. They must memorize nine passages of Scripture (e.g., Psalm 1, Psalm 23, 1 Corinthians 13, etc.), word for word, verbatim, and recite them perfectly to their church elders before we will give them their very own copy of the Scriptures. This work has now begun among the Gujis, and I couldn't be more excited. Last June I traveled to Gujiland for the first time. Then last November Jason Evans and I spent several days among the Gujis, meeting with the church elders and doing open air preaching. The church there is growing, but the need for Bibles is desperate. Even the church elders we met with did not have Bibles of their own. How have we funded this ministry? Through the generosity of His people in America. Simple children of God, like you and like me, have decided to be channels through which God's abundant blessings can flow. A Bible for Ethiopia is the cost of a Happy Meal in the States. I thank God for each person whom the love of Christ has compelled to give to this work of Bible distribution. Your generosity is making a huge difference in the Lord's church among the Gujis. Nothing is more desperately needed than the Word of God!

9:17 AM A 60-year old American soldier was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. He was only 4 years my senior. The commitment and dedication of our service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan is amazing. In spiritual warfare, the need for such dedication is just as great. The Christian soldier is called upon to struggle, strive, watch, resist, and be highly disciplined. Jesus' own life personified that struggle. Just as Paul tells us that a Christian soldier has one aim, to please the one who enlisted him, so Jesus said, "I always do what is pleasing to My Father." And to what lengths did He go to prove that. A soldier is prepared to maintain his objective even at the cost of his own life!

In the church, our opposition is not basically outward and physical but inward and spiritual. It is, in fact, diabolical, led and planned by the devil himself. Scripturally, we are expected to acquire all we can by way of preparation, and then apply everything we acquire in the actual fight. Knowing biblical truth is not enough. We must live it out as well. "By this," said Jesus, "everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." The Bible knows nothing of a disciple who does not live and serve and love others radically. We are called upon to give our all for the cause; we are called upon to sacrifice ourselves for the blessing of others. "Christian warfare" is hardly bellicose! It does not seek to "win." It involves "losing" -- the sacrifice of self on behalf of other people. It means being willing to deny myself, my own ambition, anything that centers on "me" --  for the benefit of others. I am even called upon to lay down my life if necessary.

A Christian is expected not only to think well but to do good, and to fail in the latter is to fail in the former. As Mother Teresa put it when she received an award for her humanitarian work, "The biggest disease is not leprosy, or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, deserted by everybody." I may never be able to match Jesus' love, but I am called upon to mirror it.

Jesus' words, "Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends," are almost always interpreted in the context of war or law enforcement. But the words have a vastly different significance. Jesus wants us to sacrifice ourselves for His kingdom, for the sake of His Gospel. Am I willing to do it? Are you?

Thursday, May 14

5:38 PM This entire day has gone to the dogs. (I mean that in a positive sense.) First of all, I drove to Durham with Nate and Jess to pick up their new Shelties. They're both females, sisters, and 7 weeks old. They will be bred to Sheppie. They haven't been given names yet. Any suggestions? I'm voting for Dixie and Daisy.

Earlier I had taken Sheba and Dadya to the groomers. They returned home washed, combed, and smelling like roses. Little Dadya is now a beautiful woman doggie. Wouldn't you agree?

Right now we're off to Chinese food!

7:47 AM The recent crash of a commuter plane near Buffalo was partly attributable to the bantering going on between the pilot and the first officer. So says this report at USA TODAY:

In the minutes before the crash, the pilots engaged in several minutes of conversation that was not relevant to the flight, according to a transcript of their conversation. Such discussions are forbidden while flights are below 10,000 feet under federal law.

Now, I suppose there's nothing wrong about chatting when flying an airplane -- unless you are about to do something that requires focus, such as landing. I recall how our Lord told the 70: "Don't greet anybody on the way." What in the world did He mean? That we shouldn't get involved in other people's lives? Certainly not. He was telling His disciples not to get involved in anything that might distract them from the mission at hand. There's nothing wrong with chatting with other people along the road -- unless that keeps you from reaching your town for Christ. Jesus' evangelistic game plan was carefully thought out. He wanted His disciples to be focused. "This one thing I do," wrote Paul, not "These dozen things I dabble in." If you and I are going to get the greatest return on our time and energy, we must discern whom we can and cannot influence for Christ. Jesus even went so far as to say that we are not to give what is precious and priceless to brutes. There are millions of lost sheep out there, and I cannot find them all. I need to focus on the lost flocks of my own relational network.

Please pray for our Alaba and Burji teams as we leave for Africa next week. Begin to pray that God will use us in our present networks in Ethiopia and will help us to build new ones. No one will receive Christ through our efforts who will not receive us first!

Wednesday, May 13

8:56 PM When I got home this evening I found Nate and Jess hard at work on the new barn. The flooring looks great, don't you think? And that Jessie -- she's quite a nail pounder.

Just to the north Nate has begun clearing a large area for an equipment shed that will attach to the barn. This is how far he got today.

Otherwise, as you can see, the grass is ready to cut and bale. All we need is a few days of sunny weather. Looks like more rain on Friday, however, so the farmers must remain patient!

8:45 PM Sometimes I feel utterly unworthy to be a teacher. Like today. When I returned to my office after teaching a class, this book was waiting for me:

As you can see, the author was the famous Yale linguist William Whitney, and the book was published in 1896.

I found these words inscribed inside the front cover:

Dr. Black,

I found this at a used bookstore in Durham, NC and thought of you. Thank you for your teaching ministry.

A grateful student.

Wow. The Holy Spirit moves like a mighty wind according to God's sovereign will. No one understands why He does so. God is always on the loose, majestic and mysterious. I stand amazed that He should have led this anonymous student to do something so lovely for me. Chares H. Gabriel put it like this: "Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me! Enough to die for me! Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me."

Whoever you are, Sir or Ma'am, you made my day. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

5:50 PM Yesterday I read that Kenya is about to explode again. Tribal violence of the kind we witnessed a year ago is simmering just under the surface. The same can also be said for certain places in Ethiopia. The sad part is that the churches and the believers often get caught up in these disputes. I pray for the Lord of reconciliation to do His powerful work and beg, "Your kingdom come."

5:43 PM The SBC gets wordled. Interesting….

5:39 PM As you know, we studied the book of Philippians in our Greek Syntax and Exegesis class this semester. It's kind of an intermediate step between 1 John and the rest of the New Testament. It's also a very good book to illustrate the importance of discourse analysis. I don't claim to be a guru in the field, but I do appreciate its relevance to New Testament studies. I see that one of my students has begun blogging on what he's been learning in class. Keep the posts coming, Bryan. Deep theology meets gritty pastoral experience in this wonderful little book!

5:33 PM This is the time of the year when I get notices from students who, for one reason or the other, feel the need to explain to me their motivation for dropping out of Greek. If you are one of them, I want you to know that I understand your situation. I am not interested in quick decisions and instant growth. Neither was our Lord. He wanted to develop slow but sure growth in His followers. As a teacher, I must allow people to grow at their own pace. Every one of my students is an individual. For each and every one of them, God has a special plan. I cannot and I must not assume that everyone will grow at the same pace or even end up at the same destination. After all, why do we study Greek? To be better able to follow Jesus in obedience and love. And one of the most valuable traits of an obedient disciple is the ability to make difficult decisions. I have students drop out of Greek for all the right reasons and yet still feel guilty. There's no need for that. When people are ready to learn, they will – through God's power and in His timing. That's true of everything in life, from learning a foreign language to losing unwanted weight. Our lives are constantly full of important decisions. How much time should I spend on this or that? What are my highest priorities right now? Sometimes the decisions we make are right, and sometimes not. But people have to see things for themselves. If you have dropped out of Greek because you feel you the need spend more time with your family, I say "Amen!" My goal in teaching is not the imparting of knowledge. It is changing lives. Learning opportunities are not limited to those of the classroom. As Christians we possess truth. But none of us possesses absolute wisdom. So to all of my students, whether you have hung in there or not, I say: Be at peace with yourself. The ultimate end of even unresolved dilemmas is growth.

5:20 PM

God, you our Fadda.
You stay inside da sky.
We like all da peopo know fo shua how you stay,
An dat you stay good an spesho,
An we like dem give you plenny respeck.
We like you come King fo everybody now.
We like everybody make jalike you like,
Ova hea inside da world,
Jalike da angel guys up inside da sky make jalike you like.
Give us da food we need fo today an every day.
Hemmo our shame, an let us go
Fo all da kine bad stuff we do to you,
Jalike us guys let da odda guys go awready,
And we no stay huhu wit dem
Fo all da kine bad stuff dey do to us.
No let us get chance fo do bad kine stuff,
But take us outa dea, so da Bad Guy no can hurt us.
Cuz you our King.
You get da real power,
An you stay awesome foeva.
Dass it!

Now you’re speaking my language!

5:13 PM In one week I leave for Ethiopia. I'm going back for one reason: people need the Lord. As I read the Bible I'm haunted by the thought that God is always telling us to reach out and love the world. Love people, He says. Love them until they ask why. This time we're taking a few greenhorns with us. They may be a wee bit nervous about the whole thing. I don't know. But I do know that they desire to see men and women find Jesus. What tools are we using? The panoply is huge! But we will not just be teaching or disseminating information. We'll be loving on people, first and foremost. "Sounds like liberalism to me," I hear someone say. Now, don't be too hard on me! Neither Becky nor I believe that the goal of our ministry is humanitarian aid, pure and simple. Becky has even written a phenomenal report on this: The Role of Humanitarian Aid in Building the Kingdom: A Study of John 6. Here's her conclusion:

The Evil One has been substituting his way for a very long time. He cares not what the substitute is. In fact, often good things make better substitutes; people go to sleep spiritually if they are involved in doing and funding good things.

Perhaps the Spirit put the passage of John 6 in the Gospels to warn us. Humanitarian Aid yields very little in terms of the Kingdom. Beware!

As I see it, as followers of Jesus we are all called to prepare webs of relationships so that Jesus may become real to other people, whether here in the States or abroad. We build the relationships, and then God uses us to sow the seed of the Gospel. Evangelism is a process that God uses to draw people to the foot of the cross. Sometimes we reap what we sow; sometimes we reap what others have sown. But all of us must do the work of cultivating!

5:04 PM What does the expression "God told me" conjure up in your mind? You can read Adam Darnell's take here.

Tuesday, May 12

6:10 AM Haying season is almost upon us. I'm eager to get going.

As everyone knows, I am trying to become a first-class farmer. You see, preaching and plowing are equally callings of God. Not that I have much talent as a farmer. I must strive, and I must strive very hard, to overcome obstacles. Like Demosthenes the stutterer orating to the sea with a mouth full of pebbles, I see no point in whining about my deficiencies when I can do something about them. I have come to realize that there are some things I can do and others that I cannot. There are some obstacles I can overcome and others I cannot. Frustration is a legacy bequeathed to people who cannot recognize the difference between the two. I don't pretend to understand barn construction, but I can pound nails. Nathan has capacities and aptitudes I lack. He has a mind that grasps intrinsically the ways of a farmer. The upshot is that we both have a contribution to make to Rosewood Farm, I no less than he. And I truly, truly love farming. Indeed, nothing is ordinary or drab when God is in it.

So let the haying season begin!

Monday, May 11

5:41 PM I just put 240 wonderful miles on the car. I say wonderful because I spent the last 8 hours driving Nate and Jess to look at an Econoline van they found on Craig's List. We ended up going almost all the way to Southern Pines, NC. The van was not exactly what they were looking for, but we had great fellowship on the long drive there and back. Right now I'm pooped. Time to rest up before Greek class. Tonight I pass out the take home exam over chapters 7-11. I'm so nervous....

7:33 AM So here I am trying to describe what a wonderful day Mother's Day was. Imagine with me what's involved in trying to reduce to a paragraph or two (and a picture or two out of 78 taken) a spectacular event. I have so much to be thankful for it's hard to know what to put down in words. First of all there's Becky -- our most seasoned mother, a great wife and a superb mentor to the younger women in our life. Then there's Jessie -- our newest mother, 8 months pregnant with her first child (boy does that bring back memories of 26 years ago). Finally, Liz has the most children of the bunch -- 3 fantastic rough-and-tumble males. As you know, we did Mother's Day a little differently this year and, judging by the response of the women, it may well be repeated next year. Matt's salad and dessert (crème brulé, which he lit with his own blow torch) were superb. Nathan did the cleanup. And, believe it or not, yours truly's spaghetti was edible. Liz and Matt brought B. a bunch of flowers to plant in her garden, and the boys were eager to help with the table set up and take down. So everyone was serving everyone else. It was a wonderful celebration.

By the way, you'll see that we got Isaac a new bicycle. He had outgrown his old one, which will now become Micah's new "hot wheels." In case you can't tell, the boys have pull in my life.

Motherhood. Family. Life. Joy. Jesus.


Sunday, May 10

9:06 AM Off to Bethel Hill. Yes, we're actually attending our home church this morning!

9:04 AM Leanna did a fabulous job last night. Here she is with her proud parents after the recital.

When we walked into the parking lot afterwards, this is what greeted us. What a topper to a great evening.

Last night I was reminded of what James wrote: "Every good act of giving and every perfect thing we give to others comes from above." Could this be a reference to spiritual gifts, on a par, say, with those wonderful truths in 1 Pet. 4:10-11 and 1 Cor. 12:4-7? We glorify God and find our highest fulfillment in life when we serve Him as "good stewards of God's varied grace." Our abilities are not our own, but God's, and they are entrusted to us not to enrich ourselves but to serve others. The crux of the matter is that we can claim no credit for any service we render for others because, as James reminds us, both the desire to give and the gift itself come from God. Our gifts are meant to leave people better than when we found them -- wiser, godlier, lovelier than they were before we passed their way. Life finds its true meaning when we exercise the gifts of God flowering within us.

Thank you, Leanne, for enriching our lives through your God-given musical gifts. May you always use them for His glory!

Saturday, May 9

5:50 PM We finished framing the roof today. I can't believe that part of the job is done. Our next step is to mail slabs to the rafters for the roof tin. After that, up go the sides and the floor.

Right now Bec is cooking supper, then we're off to a piano recital at First Baptist Roxboro. I hear we're in for a real treat. 

10:57 AM Without a doubt, we're gonna have fun tomorrow. The guys are "kidnapping" Becky, Jessie, and Liz for Mother's Day. Shhhhh. It's a total surprise! Matt will provide the salad and dessert. I'll cook the spaghetti and French bread. Nate will do the cleanup. The festivities begin at 5:00 pm. Right now Nate and I are finally going to work on the barn. I was delayed because I had to run into town to do some shopping. Don't EVER go into town when there's a street festival!

9:05 AM Ever heard the old saying, "Beauty crowds us all our life"? Everywhere we turn, there are sights and sounds that are a thrilling reminder of God's creative genius. For what it's worth, I've jotted down "My Twelve Favorite Things on the Farm." Here goes:

1. A baby goat leaping into the air as if it had built-in springs.

2. The smell of freshly-cut wood.

3. The mystery of a snowflake.

4. The song of a whippoorwill.

5. The taste of fresh tomatoes.

6. The exuberance of dogs running full out.

7. The eloquence of a cat's tail.

8. A field recently washed by rain.

9. The sound of dry leaves as you trod on them.

10. A sunset hugging the pines.

11. Wild geese sailing overhead.

12. The tranquil charm of a front porch.

"Consider the lilies of the field," said our Lord. I wonder: Did Jesus have a list of things He cherished and enjoyed about His own creation?

7:56 AM It's Becky turn on the pooter. Nate and I intend to get beaucoup work done on the hay barn today. The weather is suitable enough for it: sunny with a high of 87. Bis später!

7:56 AM From the Daily Nation we learn about yet another catastrophe in Africa: Millions in Kenya require food handouts to avert starvation. Note: The Turkana District of Kenya is very close to Burji, a region of Ethiopia where one of our teams will be in two weeks and where the Galana clinic is located. For more background on the situation, go here.

7:50 AM I guess the cover of my new book will have to be redesigned after all.

7:43 AM Quote of the day (again!): 

"Pastors are used to preaching. They are allowed the unique privilege and responsibility of preparing a message from God’s word each week and communicating that message uninterrupted in a one-way monologue. Those days are over," Forbes said. "Preaching from the platform of a church may not have changed much, but there is an increasing demand from church members to have real and meaningful conversations with their ministry leaders beyond the Sunday morning service times and outside the walls of the church."

7:40 AM Quote of the day:

I also think it is important to be educated. I'm pursuing a PhD in biblical theology. I do not think being educated makes me a leader, nor does it qualify me to be a leader. Some people may be following me because of my education and studies. I try to encourage those people follow by serving.

7:35 AM Over at the Bethel Hill blog you can read about a novel way of celebrating Mother's Day.

Friday, May 8

6:28 PM Becky and I just finished a delicious dinner of Stir-Fry Chicken (with my super-secret ingredient!) and rice. I'm as stuffed as a Strasbourg goose. Earlier I took the dogs for a walk in the goat pasture. I love watching Dadya herd the animals. Every so often there's a face down with one of the mama goats. Inevitably the goat wins and Dayda goes scampering off. Too funny! Sheba, on the other hand, is our hunter. Normally she is as docile and harmless as a dove. But put her out in a pasture and heaven help the rabbit or field mouse who gets caught out in the open. Yep, that's my sweet little doggie.

Becky is studying her Greek right now, having just picked a few of the beautiful flowers in her rose garden.

My favorites are the red ones.

Enjoy your evening, yall!

4:41 PM The latest addition to our home page is called Gordon Guggisberg

4:34 PM This just in:

Brother Dave,

I am doing home independent study with your Greek DVDs (WOW, I have made leaps and bounds with verbs!! You got me over the first mountain!!).... Thanks to you and Mrs. Black for your labor of love.

Boy does that bring back memories of when I was learning Greek!

3:56 PM Have you ever faced an important crossroad? Life sometimes involves difficult choices, giving us "either-or" alternatives.

How often we flounder in the sea of uncertainty. The problem is that indecision is not always a bad thing. I am not speaking here of becoming a Mr. Milquetoast who elevates tolerance to the position of greatest-virtue-in-life, whose "anything goes" attitude forgets that our Lord eschewed sentimental broad-mindedness. At times -- in fact, very frequently -- we may be called upon to declare, "Here I stand, I can do no other." But there are also times when choices depend on factors other than one's personal convictions or convenience. It seems to me that evangelicals are in danger of getting lost in the minutiae of life, as J. P. Marquand observed in his play Point of No Return when he had one of his characters say, "He knew all the little answers, but he missed the large questions." For me, the big question is often the more disturbing one. This is, I suppose, what Peter meant when he wrote, "Minister to one another." By this he didn't mean that we are to be blind to the faults of other people or to what we perceive may be deficiencies in their convictions. No, he was thinking of our responsibility to esteem the other as more important than ourselves, to make our choices with their well-being in view. When we shift the emphasis from "ego" to "alter," from self to others, life assumes a whole new meaning and freedom.

9:09 AM They're up! Corn:

Field peas:  

7:58 AM The comment thread at The Gospel in 3D has really taken off on the question of what should unite (and divide) evangelicals. Here's my favorite comment thus far (by host Lionel Woods, in case you couldn't tell):

Now I want to make sure, I am not saying that we shouldn’t debate for theological fidelity. I am a proponent of New Covenant Theology, Calvinist Soteriology, Simple Ecclesiology, Semi-Egalitarianism and the Churches Fulfillment of the promises of God, not Israel, not to mention Charismatic Openness. However I am never, ever instructed to “contend” for such things as I am commanded to “contend for the faith”. I think the church would be much better off if they held to these theological distinctives as they seem to be the most faithful to scripture. I will even debate these things with vigor. However, whenever I become the least bit antagonistic, judgmental, critical, and sectarian over these issues I have disobeyed the New Covenant command of love.

Allow me to tell you a story, Bro. Lionel. Not long ago I heard about a congregation of mostly home-schooling families. The church was, of course, age-integrated (no Awana, no youth group, no children's church, no VBS), elder-led (and no elder received a salary), and focused on edification during their meetings (rather than on "worship"). My kind of church exactly! One day they heard about a very traditional Baptist church across town that needed help with their Awana program on Wednesday nights. Seems they didn't have enough adults to listen to the children recite their memory verses. Do you know what that age-integrated congregation of home-schooling families decided to do? That's right. They said, "Well, we're not doing anything on Wednesday nights. Why don't we go over and help them?" And that's exactly what they did.


7:46 AM Forgive me, but I love silly reports like this one: Which Dog? A Guide to Shelties. You have to be a dog-lover to understand what I mean. 

7:37 AM I find this essay by LRC's Thomas Woods to be about as prescient a discussion of the economy as we're going to see from the libertarian camp: No, the Free Market Did Not Cause the Financial Crisis. The bottom of the bottom line:

The truth of the matter is that intervention in the market, rather than the market economy itself, was the driving factor behind the bust.

7:30 AM I'm glad to link to yet another expertly crafted essay by Alan Knox: Your everyday, ordinary life. It takes a lot of grace to teach, preach, do missionary work, and write books. But it also takes a lot of grace -- perhaps even more -- to handle the grind, the ordinary, the run-of-the-mill experiences and responsibilities of life, Amen? I find that when I am on the heights I am sustained by the thrill of it all, and when I am in the depths I am sustained by the desperation to find God. But it is in the daily grind that I struggle the most because there I tend to become bored and apathetic. For me, grace is needed at every level of life, including the monotonous routine that often tries the weary traveler.

7:23 AM Aussie John raises a very good question: Why do you blog? Well, for starters, John, I would have never met you had the both of us not blogged!

Thursday, May 7

7:32 PM The rain has started falling again. Otherwise we enjoyed partly cloudy skies to do some work outdoors, beginning with digging the post holes for the backyard fence.

We set the cedar posts and tamped them down before resuming work on the new hay barn. Our goal today was to begin building the roof.

Here's Nate up in the pine rafters. We had a blast working together. Before we knew it, it was 6:00 o'clock and quittin' time.

Here's the progress the Lord allowed us to make today. Weather permitting, we'll be back at it tomorrow morning.

Side note: We heard some dogs on our property (somewhere in the back field) and so I called all the goats together before we went to investigate. It's neat how the animals come straight to us when we call them. They trust us fully and know we will do whatever we have to in order to protect them.

Oh, would you like to see our new kittens? Three males (light colored) and two females (dark colored).

Ain't they teeny?

One final pic. Nate couldn't wait to show off Jessie's new pantry floor. She had just finished wiping it down. Looks great, you guys. I love the brickwork.

As I said, Nate and I really enjoy working together on all these farm projects. I will be forever grateful for the happy memories it builds. It may not always look like it, but we always pursue excellence in all we do. Don't confuse excellence with perfection, however. We don't! Both of us know we will never build anything perfectly. It's just that we are not very eager to serve the King of kings halfheartedly or with a begrudging spirit. We work to the maximum level of our ability and leave the results with the Lord. And we try to do it all to the glory of God. What joy! What fun! What sore muscles!

7:10 PM Read this in an email today:

You can’t get away from Greek just by being an OT guy.

Amen to that!

10:06 AM Kudos to Gordon-Conwell seminary for its new D. Min. program in Bible translation. Fantastic!

9:15 AM Over at the Messiah Baptist Church website, Jonathan offers us a highly readable comment on The focus of Messiah. One quibble: I maintain that the one-anothering exists for a much higher purpose than edifying the Body, and that is to spread the Good News. The church is Jesus' Body. So what did Jesus do with His own body? He offered it up for the world. Knowing MBC as I do, I am convinced that this is their passion and heart also. It certainly is the focus of THE Messiah.

9:10 AM Yesterday, at Wake Forest Baptist Church, my friend and colleague Ed Buchanan gave his final formal lecture. It was phenomenal.

Ed is retiring this year from fulltime teaching. He not only poured out his heart to us but challenged our thinking about Christian education. One quote of his I shall never forget. Actually he was quoting Jaroslov Pelikan, who said these words: "Doctrine is not the only, not even the primary, activity of the church... The church is always more than a school...[but] the church can never be less than a school.... The Christian church would not be the church as we know it without Christian doctrine."

Thank you, Ed, for this reminder of why I'm teaching Greek at Bethel Hill. I've enjoyed your friendship and camaraderie these past 11 years. I'm glad you'll continue to mentor students in the Ed.D. program and retain an office on campus. The Lord bless you, and "May the road rise to meet you" (traditional Irish blessing).

8:53 AM Guy Muse has done some dabbling recently in ecclesiology. Make sure to read his latest essay, When can we be a church?  What he's talking about will hit home if you ever desire to plant a church.

8:49 AM One really hates to be so negative about president Obama, but here's yet another pessimistic evaluation of his foreign policy: Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture. I think you'll find this essay both interesting and informative, if not disturbing.

8:42 AM Lionel Woods always has a way of inoculating us against what I call group think. But his latest essay takes a slightly different twist. It's called What Does Legalism and Carbon Monoxide Have In Common? You won't regret reading it.

8:31 AM I've had several long discussions this week about leadership in the church. As I've already said in these pages, good leadership is essential in the church. By "good" I mean leadership that does not manipulate, leadership for the glory of God alone, leadership that fosters growth and passion for the Great Commission, leadership that is poor in spirit and self-effacing, leadership that always helps other people to grow. Whenever I teach on the topic of leadership from the New Testament (as I will do shortly to the elders and other church leaders in Alaba, Ethiopia) I choose to make my emphasis pastoral rather than managerial because I believe that is where the Scripture places the emphasis. There is no need to deny the notion of positional leadership (pastor, teacher, elder) in the church. Some would call this de jure leadership, leadership based on office or position. Designated leaders existed in the New Testament church and they exist today. In my own local church we are blessed to acknowledge two such pastor-leaders. The Bible teaches that to aspire to leadership is an "honourable ambition" (1 Tim. 3:1, NEB). We cannot forget that we, as church members, are to follow their leadership as together we work and pray and serve. We must respect and love them lest we squash their initiative and cause them to "groan" (Heb. 13:17). But leadership is not only positional. In fact, I would argue that leadership is not even primarily positional. In essence, leadership is a function that involves serving, planning, motivating, teaching, guarding, and the like. You see, in the New Testament church the total burden of leadership never rests on our designated "leaders" alone. One can have the gift of leadership without holding an official position of leadership (see Rom. 12:8).

This should humble us. It means that at times leaders will be followers, and that followers may sometimes be called upon to lead. And we are all to be humble servants of each other because that is the primary ministry our Master has given us. In fact, without this heart of servanthood I dare say it is sadly possible to have the designated role/title/office of "leader" and yet exert no edifying influence on others whatsoever.

All that to say this: Jason and Joel, I thank God for you. I thank God that you have allowed Him to form in your hearts and life a true model of biblical, New Testament leadership. It is a joy to watch you take your leadership responsibilities seriously. It is a blessing to be part of a fellowship in which the leaders are eager to read, study, and obey the Scriptures, who lead by example, and who love the flock passionately. May the Lord Jesus richly bless your lives and your families as you serve Him and His church at Bethel Hill -- and beyond.

Wednesday, May 6

7:44 PM Dan Wallace discusses the meaning of skubala in Phil. 3:8. Check out his preferred euphemism. One question: Why not "unspeakable filth"?

7:34 PM When "church" is a verb.

7:28 PM Did you see this story about the arrest of a 16-year old in Oxford, NC, who is now being held without charges in Indiana thanks to the Patriot (sic) Act? Mind-nudging indeed. For analysis, see William Norman Grigg's essay over at LRC. So this is how we fight the "war on terrorism"?

7:22 PM I've been wondering what Justin Raimondo might write about Jon Stewart's now infamous "apology" for daring to raise questions about the nuking of Japan. Well, here are his thoughts: Jon Stewart: Wimp, Wuss, Moral Coward. Hearken:

For a moment, however, Stewart saw through the veil of myth and prejudice (yes, racial prejudice) that obscures the truth about what we did to Japan, which was ready to make peace on reasonable terms. Roosevelt's insistence on unconditional surrender, upheld by Truman, rationalized mass murder on a scale never before seen, and at the time the liberals fell right into line, with nary a pip or a squeak from any of them.

7:14 PM I see that Kindle 2 is here. Amazing. Little wonder the publisher of The Jesus Paradigm is jumping on the bandwagon. Go Henry!

7:06 PM Over at Losing My Religion, Jeff continues his review of ReJesus. It's all a part of the rethinking-the-wineskins movement that's going on in the church today. Jeff concludes:

There is a great need in all our expressions of church to recalibrate back to our founding principles, and to our Founder Himself--to recover our focus on Jesus and truly be His disciples again, as the starting point for all that we do. And this is why the discussion in ReJesus is so important.

6:43 PM Don't miss this priceless piece at Pastor Michael's Blog: Servant Leadership. I would only add that every child of God is a servant. I am not just referring to that individual who has felt a "call" to enter "the" ministry. Everyone who is a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ has entered the ministry. The Bible knows nothing about a Christian who is not also a minister (see Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12-14).

6:37 PM Andrew Thompson offers a highly-readable reminder why the term "Christian America" is problematic. Here's his excellent peroration:

It is good when Christians exert an influence on the society in which they live. Their participation in the larger world can lead to greater civility in social life and more compassion in the legislation and execution of laws. But the telos of the practice of Christian faith is not to make the world Christian. That makes no Scriptural sense. It is instead to spread the gospel and build up the church. And yes, there is a real difference.

So we shouldn't worry about trying to Christianize America. We should just be concerned with Christianizing the church.

I left a comment at Andrew's site, but I’d like to add a brief thought here. I know as well as you do how easy it is to become enslaved to the trivial. We work so hard at a myriad of minor activities and never get to the main business of great-commissioning. We need to stop wasting our hours helping the dead bury their dead and get back to Christianity 101: Going and sharing Jesus with the world around us. Coming to Christ makes the believer. But serving Him makes the disciple.

6:22 PM One of my Ph.D. students successfully navigated his orals on Tuesday and will graduate on May 22. Heartiest congratulations, Matthew. My only regret is that I will have to leave for Ethiopia a day before the celebration. I'll really miss "hooding" you!

Here's Matt along with his persecutors-in-chief: Black, Köstenberger, and Merkle.

Monday, May 4

9:56 PM Just back from Greek class. Drove through a hefty rainstorm. Rain is falling steadily now. The Lord is softening up the yard for our post holes!

4:35 PM Thanks a million for the copy of your new book, Elgin. It arrived in today's mail. Handsomely done.

3:10 PM Among the books in my library, perhaps the most battered is my old Greek concordance to the Septuagint. David Hill once wrote a wonderful book called Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings. It is a well-known criticism of many expositors that they tend to overlook the Hebraistic background of the New Testament writings. A classic example is a word we are looking at this week in Greek class, namely "propitiation" (1 John 2:2).

That, in a nutshell, summarizes Christ's work on our behalf of appeasing God's righteous and holy anger toward sin. The NIV's "atoning sacrifice" may or may not be adequate as an English gloss. To recognize this is simply a reminder that no New Testament translation is impeccable (and this most certainly includes the ISV). Without wanting to be in any way insensitive, I believe that the study of Greek is an essential part of our tools for understanding the New Testament. But I must add a rider to that statement. Greek is not the abracadabra or open sesame to biblical interpretation. Nor is word study the queen of exegesis. It is at best a handmaiden, and in my own teaching I try to emphasize the need to move beyond word study to syntactical and structural studies as well. We preachers seem to be incurably proud of our little forays into etymology, and the sad result is that we so often ignore the larger context and its role in determining meaning. So our discussion in class this week should be fun as we discuss "propitiation" and other difficult words.

1:22 PM Time for a quick farm update?

1) Little Miss has had her kittens. Where and how many? We have no idea. She hasn't shown us yet. Stay tuned....

2) Our project du jour was to extend the backyard fencing. Becky and I want to have a spacious yard for the dogs and (especially) the grandkids to run around in. Nate and I began digging the holes with our post hole digger and got absolutely nowhere.

Even with the tractor and auger we made no progress. So the project has been postponed indefinitely. This is one of those "we should have done it earlier" jobs. We should have dug all the holes back in winter when the ground was saturated. However, another good soaking rain and we should be back in business. At least the cedar posts have been cut.

3) Next on our list was repairing some flashing on the roof, which Nathan knocked out in no time at all, under my capable supervision of course.

4) Speaking of our front porches, you'll notice we've got some mean wood rot in our flooring. There's an interesting history here. When we built Bradford Hall we initially installed oak flooring on both the downstairs and upstairs porches. Oak, we reasoned, would last a very long time. Were we wrong. After the first rain our floors began to buckle. So we replaced them with (un)treated pine. Yes, I said "untreated." Actually, we couldn't find any treated flooring at the time. You can be sure that when we replace the existing floors this time around we'll use treated wood.

Incidentally, do you know what we did with the old oak boards after we replaced them? Used them for our kitchen cabinets. Not too bad looking, eh? Nothing ever goes to waste around here. 

5) Right now Nate and I need to walk the property line and check the fencing since we are about to move the cattle into a new pasture. And then, of course, there's that new hay barn to finish. But, alas, Nate's carburetor has gone out on him and he's at home trouble-shooting it. That means I'm off to the post office to mail out some Greek DVD sets.

Hope you're enjoying your day as much as I'm enjoying mine. 

7:55 AM Two things, Celucien: Congratulations on your ETS paper acceptance, and thank you for linking to Boyd's comments on The Patriot's Bible.

Update: Wrapping the Bible in the American Flag.

7:42 AM The Theological German site is always full of good surprises, like this one:

Sie ließ keinen vergessen, daß sie Griechisch gelernt hatte.

7:38 AM Quote of the day:

This is not rocket science and it is not art. Everyone knows torture when they see it; and no amount of twisted logic can detract from its illegal horror, its moral antipathy, and its attack at core American values.

Cited here.

7:29 AM Question for my Bethel Hill Greek students: Who will get a perfect 111 on tonight's quiz over the perfect tense?

7:22 AM 15 days and counting.

7:15 AM Right now I'm up to my eyeballs in thesis and dissertation reading. One of them is on the topic of pastoral authority. It in fact inspired my comments on Rom. 12:8 on Saturday. My biggest challenge is getting "distracted" by the biblical text, which of course is often cited and discussed. This prolongs the reading experience but at the same time makes it much more worthwhile!

7:08 AM Over at ETC I've been reading about the Database of Armenian Manuscript Illuminations. As everybody knows, Armenian is a phenomenally important language for New Testament textual criticism. Take a look at any map of the ancient Roman Empire (as I just did) and you will see that Armenia played a major role in extending Roman influence in the east. I don't read Armenian. But I usually take note of what the ancient Armenian attests when I encounter a New Testament variant. The new database will provide a wonderful entrée into the world of these colorful documents.

Incidentally, a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Ancient Manuscript Museum in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Here are a couple of pix.

I gave the museum curator a copy of my little primer on textual criticism.

If you can believe it, flash photography is permitted in the museum. As you can see, the art work is magnificent.

Sunday, May 3

9:10 PM What a great day! What a blessed day! We drove down to North Wilkesboro. Took us almost 4 hours to get there but it was worth every second. Our final orientation meeting was a huge success. We are -- all of us -- eager to get to Ethiopia. Hey, when you're in the Lord's work, life is never stale! Did you ever stop and think just how remarkably elastic the human mind is? Today we seemed to cover every possible topic, from malaria and typhus to flannelgraph to bedbugs to gifting to memory verses to travel issues to dress and etiquette to e-tickets. We reviewed our trip mottos:

"Look beyond the poverty to see the person."

"Look beyond our issues to live the Gospel."

The key words for our trip are "Flow" and "Surrender." We will be "deep in the bush" and must entrust our families to God. I must confess to you, heretical and un-American as it may be, that I have little interest in the world of American politics right now. I live (and so do you, if you are a Christ-follower) in a strange new world where one must chuck most of his or her ideas of reality. It is a world in which we are called to live a life of utter, unquestioning obedience to all the revealed will of God, a God who alone has the right to reign over us. I have decided to call my next book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. The picture itself is perfectly obvious. Christians are "God's own specially purchased people" (1 Pet. 2:9). What a staggering thought! We constitute a new nation, an alien commonwealth, we are members of a Godworld that changes and transforms everything, a world is which we gladly risk it all for Jesus. It's so easy for us to get our eyes off of life's real purpose and on to secondary issues. Christianity requires that we brave a new beginning. I'm certain that each one of us on the Ethiopia team has come to the conclusion that we would rather see others blessed than attain business success, popularity, or wealth. Believe me, I am honored and humbled to be associated with such a group of radical Jesus-followers! And get this: the family members who are releasing our team members for ministry in Ethiopia are just as much a part of our ministry as the ones who are getting on that plane on May 23! Thank you, Lord, for the sense of energetic purpose! Thank you, Lord, that we can live for something bigger than ourselves! Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to enter that strange new Godworld!

Saturday, May 2

9:15 PM I washed the cars today. You can expect rain tomorrow.

8:59 PM The Lord's answered our prayers. Nate and Jess returned safely home this afternoon. Then Bec and I enjoyed supper with Matt, Liz, and the boys up in Charlotte Courthouse. They prepared the most exquisite Rhode Island clam chowder and smoked bluefish, caught last week on the Outer Banks. Before dessert us guys went for a walk downtown. I tell you, we're gonna miss this family when we're gone this summer. In case you're wondering, Micah is holding a copy of my revised grammar that I gave Matt as a birthday present. The perfect cure for insomnia. Thanks, Rondeaus, for a great time. And no, Micah, I am NOT Uncle Nathan!

11:16 AM My body is in Virginia but my mind wanders disobediently to Alaba. This will be my 9th trip there in the past 5 years. What a joy and honor to work with the Lord's church in this Muslim region of Ethiopia. I can't resist posting a few pix. I think I'll leave them captionless. (If you're interested in reading the reports about our work in Alaba, please see our Ethiopia Files page.)

Dear Father,

I am ready to return to dusty Alaba. Do with me whatever you purpose. Thank you for the joy of my part in it. I release it to you. Your will be done. To you be all the glory!

I pray in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

9:48 AM Just 3 more weeks before we leave for Ethiopia again. It takes an awful lot of work to organize all of these trips. An AWFUL lot. Mostly the work falls on Becky's shoulders. This is in keeping with her gifting, which is described in Rom. 12:8 as "leading" or "guiding" or even "organizing."

Paul also describes the manner associated with this gifting: "with zeal" (Greek en spoude). According to Louw and Nida's Greek-English Dictionary, spoude can mean "to be eager to do something, with the implication of energy and effort  --  'to be eager, eagerness, devotion.'" If these words do not describe Becky, I don't know what do! Eagerness, energy, effort --  anyone who knows my wife knows that this is how Becky does everything in life. In 2 Tim. 2:6 Paul wrote, "It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops." Having farmed now for several years I would be hard-pressed to find a better picture of hard work and toil. Farmers are on call morning, noon, and night, and they can never evade their responsibilities.

But my goodness, what rewards! William Hendriksen comments, "Similarly, if Timothy (or any worker in God's vineyard) exerts himself to the full in the performance of his God-given task, he, too, will be the first to be rewarded. Not only will his own faith be strengthened, his hope enlivened, his love deepened, and the flame of his gift enhanced, so that he will be blessed 'in his doing' (James 1:25), but in addition he will see in the lives of others ... the beginnings of those glorious fruits that are mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23."

Friend, can you truthfully say that your Christian service is motivated by a deep sense of love for the Lord Jesus, and that you are wholeheartedly committed to the work of God's kingdom? That is our inescapable duty as Christians. But the rewards are amazing:

  • Faith strengthened

  • Hope quickened

  • Love deepened

  • Gifts enlivened

  • Seeing in others the fruit of the Spirit

Friday, May 1

8:02 PM Quote of the day (part 2):

Greek is grueling, I will not lie but constantly begs to honestly consider the Biblical text and reflect on important theological truths in context of God’s redemptive plan for His creation.  And one thing I will probably never say again is “in greek, this word means X”.  As we are getting into more translation, we always have to consider the context…ALWAYS.

Source: Observations from the Shelf: An Inside View of Seminary.

7:36 PM The man at the post office asked me, "So, do you think Obama is gonna support the National Day of Prayer?" I live in an interesting part of the country. We affirm everything that is good, wholesome, reasonable --  and American. "Christian values" mean everything to us. It is thus more important for a U.S. president to support a national day of prayer than abolish the use of torture. "That way we'll know for sure he's a Christian," the man added. Yep. What we need are more "Christian" politicians and we can turn this nation around.

My answer was, "Well, the president is a politician, and he'll probably do whatever he thinks is politically expedient." My dear sweet community is asking all the wrong questions. We have unconsciously distorted the Gospel and made it into something it never claimed to be. Out with paganism. In with imperial Christianity. It's Constantine redivivus.

For me, Christianity is no longer, can no longer be, cultural Christianity. It's an invitation to become part of an alien people. It transcends all politics. It could care less whether prayers are said in public places to "counter humanism." Is that so hard to see?

7:12 PM God is always full of neat surprises. I called down to Oxford today, and the conversation went something like this:

"Hi, Paul. This is Dave Black."


"Dave Black. I used to live just south of Oxford. I bought my John Deere mower from you."

"O yeah. You're Nathan's daddy, right?"

There are few things more enjoyable to me than to be known as "Nathan's daddy."

6:55 PM Have you ever noticed just how blank a piece of paper is --  and how long -- when you begin writing a new book?

10:04 AM Quote of the day:

For many years, I have told students, "Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it."

Source: End the University as We Know It.

9:51 AM Don't miss Becky's latest entry at the Bethel Hill blog. It's called "Family Dynamics during Times of Depression."

9:44 AM Today, during my morning devotionals, cup of coffee in one hand and my Bible in the other, I read Mark's account of the rich young ruler. These remarkable words found in Mark 10:21 jumped off the page: "Jesus looked at him and loved him." There's simply no measuring the love of Christ.

One of my favorite memories of college was the relationship I enjoyed with my Greek professor (and later my colleague in the Greek Department at Biola University), Dr. Harry Sturz. Incidentally, one of the surest proofs of the invincibility of Christianity is that it survived my first encounter with New Testament Greek. I stumbled two steps backwards for every three steps forward. But when I eventually "caught it," I knew I had found my life's calling. Dr. Sturz welcomed me into the guild with open arms.

One summer I had just finished my final exam in Dr. Sturz's class and was packing my bags to return to Hawaii. All of a sudden Harry Sturz appears at the door of my dorm room. Crippled by arthritis, he had yet somehow managed to walk all the way from upper campus and up two flights of stairs just to return my exam to me and to say goodbye. On the outside I was amazingly calm about the whole thing, but inside I was struck as by lightning. "He did this for me?" I busied myself with my packing and went about the activities of life. But I have never forgotten that day when a great man "looked at me and loved me."

I have tried to live up to that example and have failed again and again. Listen, Dave, to the message of Mark's Gospel. Hear it above the mockery that surrounds your failures. Hear it louder than your screaming fears about the impossible task. Hear it over and above your weaknesses and inadequacies. Jesus, at your word, I will follow you! At your word I will let down my net. At your word I will love as you love. At your word I will run again with your message. At your word I will dare to be your disciple. At your word I will keep on climbing!

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