May 2020 Blog Archives
Sunday, May 31
8:22 PM One more.
8:14 PM Never has a 60's folk song had more relevance.
"How many years can some people exist, before they're allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind."
7:12 PM This is Pentecost Sunday. What is the promise of Pentecost? Jesus promised something that no one dared to imagine -- that he would send his Spirit to be among his people as their Helper. "Christ in you -- the hope of glory." There is hope nowhere else. There is no hope in science, including medicine. We have made staying alive our major concern when it should be how to live. Politics holds no hope. High sounding speeches quickly become meaningless scraps of paper. Religion offers no hope. The only answer to our situation is an awakening the likes of which we haven't seen since the Second Great Awakening. "It is time for you, O Lord, to work" (Psalm 119:126). "It is time to seek the Lord" (Hos. 10:12). "It is high time to awake out of our sleep" (Rom. 13:11). Let John Piper's prayer be a start until out of sheer desperation all of our churches are filled with men and women humbling themselves and praying and seeking God's face and turning from their wicked ways because of the need of the hour in our hearts and in our homes and in the nation we love so much. Love is not flabby sentimentality. Christian love is devotion to Christ that is loyal to him at any cost and intolerant of anything that smacks of untruthfulness and injustice.
God is in this crisis. And he's calling us to turn to him.
6:08 PM Stop today and listen for a moment to John Piper's prayer his own city of Minneapolis. Only God can treat the trauma of America's soul. Gather your family tonight before bedtime and listen together. Jesus promised something more than an afterlife. He promised a better life. He hasn't forgotten us. He is fully engaged. He is the potter and we are the clay. But the work begins with prayer.
7:04 AM A verb students learn early on in Greek class is aspazomai -- "I greet." Its importance might surprise you. Paul concludes most of his letters with personal "greetings," as he does here in Philippians 4:21-23.
Here the verb aspazomai is found 3 times. Verse 21 begins, "Greet every saint in Christ Jesus." The Living Bible renders this, "Say 'hello' for me to all the Christians there." No doubt this is what Paul meant. But let's dig deeper. Why does Paul go out of his way to "greet" both individuals as well as congregations in his letters? One lexicon says that the term aspazomai has the sense of "hospitable recognition." In other words, when we "greet" someone, we are recognizing them, acknowledging them, showing that we value them. When Becky and I lived in Europe, it was not very common to greet or be greeted when you were walking down the street. That was a bit frustrating for my wife, whose gregarious personality had her saying "Hello" to almost everyone she met. Her "Hello" was a way of saying, "I see that you're there, I know that you're there, I'm glad that you're there." That's exactly what Paul is doing here in Philippians. His greeting is what linguists call "phatic communication." Phatic communication has a very important function in society. The emphasis is not so much on information as it is on expressing friendship and eliminating social distancing. It's why I usually begin an email, not simply with "Rob," but with "Hello, Rob," or "Greetings, Rob." It's also why "No problem" (instead of "You're welcome") can seem rude to some of us. So when Paul goes out of his way to greet the Philippians, he is affirming that they exist, that he knows they exist, and that they matter to him. This makes sense. The great theme of Philippians is "Unity in the Cause of the Gospel." Thus Paul's greeting serves to strengthen the bond of fellowship with those who are engaged in the same task and who serve the same Lord. Note too that he greets "every saint," not "all the saints." I think he wants to be sure that he's not seen as playing favorites in the church. Each and every Christian in Philippi is to be cordially recognized, including Euodia and Syntyche, the two women around whom the church had become polarized.
Paul's last words, then, are a warm embracing of the Philippian believers -- a gesture of genuine affection and brotherly love. May we have eyes to see the worth in our fellow Christians and may we celebrate the banquet of blessings that is ours because God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters "in Christ Jesus."
Saturday, May 30
7:35 AM "Why? Why me? Why this?" Ah, the questions we ask when we are suffering. But God has the answer to each. Notice the three occurrences of "so that" in 2 Cor. 1:3-11 (NASB):
Verse 4: " ... so that we are able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God."
Verse 9: " ... so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead."
Verse 11: " ... so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.
As usual, Paul combines simplicity and depth. When we invite God into our world of suffering, he walks right in. He brings a host of gifts -- resilience, hope, patience, joy -- but also understanding. He wraps us in his arms and says, "My dear child, here is why I allow you to suffer affliction. That you might be prepared to comfort others. That you might not trust in yourself. And that you might learn to give thanks in everything."
Simple? Yes. Easy? No. If we are suffering, this is a time to examine ourselves, as Paul suggested in 1 Cor. 11:28. In the first place, suffering brings us closer to reflecting God's own empathy. Who best knows how to comfort a man who's lost his wife than someone who has lost his own? Who better knows how to comfort a couple who has lost their infant child than another couple who has lost a baby? Who understands cancer better than someone with cancer? Think of dominos bumping against each other: God comforts us, we comfort others, they comfort still others, and the domino effect goes on and on.
Then too, when we suffer we're forced to look up. We abandon reliance on ourselves and become utterly dependent on God alone. We have to surrender. We have to give in. And when we do, God wonderfully comforts us. "I'm right here," he says. "I never left. Just lean on me. Let me comfort you. The One who pulled off the resurrection will see you through." He may not bring back the wife or baby you lost, but he will being back your soul, your hope.
Finally, maybe it's time we gave thanks for the situation we find ourselves in. To be honest, it took me years to give thanks after Becky's passing. Years. No one and nothing could bring thanksgiving out of my mouth. Finally, God brought it out. The silence had lingered for 5 years. Four Christmases had come and gone. Then one day, it was like a light broke into my life. Finally I was able to say, "Thank you, Lord, for what you have taught me in the midst of all this pain. I would never have gotten so close to you. In the mystery of your will, it's not only what you give us but what you take that is a vital part of the plan. You lovingly and sovereignly rule over me, shaping me into the image of your Son. Thank you for your comfort, your grace, your mercies. Thank you."
The three lessons of suffering?
We aren't victims of circumstance. In fact, the very suffering that Satan intends for evil, God intends for good.
Believe that today.
6:45 AM In his book The Cross of Christ, John Stott argues that the cross is a revelation not only of God's love but also of his justice. Hence the community of the cross (the church) should be concerned not only with loving philanthropy but with social justice. Pity for the victims of injustice isn't enough. We cannot sit by and do nothing to change the unjust situation itself.
The cross, says Stott, doesn't solve all of life's tragedies but it does provide the perspective from which to look at them. "I could never myself believe in God," he writes, "if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as 'God on the cross'. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of this."
Suffering and injustice are alien intrusions into God's good world. As we try to muster the courage to confront these issues, let's not forget God's personal, loving solidarity with us in our pain.
Friday, May 29
8:12 AM In a recent edition of USA TODAY, writer Alan Gomez explores how long-term loneliness affects us physically and mentally. It's a valuable analysis. In short, Gomez writes that "humans were not meant to be alone." We are hard-wired to be social creatures. (The writers of the New Testament might say we are created for koinōnia -- deep and genuine relationships.) The forced isolation of Covid-19, "if it is prolonged, puts wear and tear on our bodies. The reason it's unpleasant is it's a biological signal, much like hunger and thirst, to motivate us to reconnect with others."
If you are the friend or loved one of someone who lives alone -- and 25 percent of Americans do -- I have a few suggestions. Continue to pray with and for your friend. Reach out to them in simple ways. Call or text frequently to check in. Sometimes a mere smile on FaceTime can be a balm for another person. Make sure to listen to your friend sympathetically as he or she pours out to you the pain and struggle of living in isolation. Be a good listener. Give your friend permission to say whatever is on their mind. Ask God to give them the courage to trust him. Additionally, you may need to direct them to a pastor or trained counselor. Remind yourself that it's not your job to "rescue" them. That's God's responsibility. You may find it beneficial to share with them your own struggles with loneliness. Being transparent with your hurting friend will help create a loving and honest atmosphere. Ask God to show you how to help your friend along the way. Be like the four men in Luke 5. They did not ignore their paralyzed friend's need. They did not abandon him to a life of loneliness. They were fully committed to seeing that he got relief. They were willing to sacrifice their time and energy. They were persevering and undaunted in their caregiving.
During this time of isolation on the farm, my friends and family have been wonderful. This pandemic has given all of us an unexpected opportunity to reconnect with each other. My friends and family spend hours with me every week on the phone just listening. They demonstrate their love and concern on a daily basis. They encourage me to stay in the word and trust God. They pray for me on a regular basis. I know they are only a phone call or text message away if I need them.
When I feel lonely, I find that reading or listening to Scripture is a source of comfort to me.
Finally, let's not forget that Jesus experienced loneliness. "All the disciples forsook him and fled" (Matt 26:56). "He was despised and rejected by men" (Isa 53:3). His ultimate loneliness was when he died for you and for me. Jesus was lonely for us. If you have come to the end of your rope (and we all do eventually), turn your life over to him. Let him bear your burdens. He is the closest friend and companion we will ever have. The more we meditate on his presence, the less we will tend to be overwhelmed by the loneliness of life.
Thursday, May 28
5:04 PM This evening I'm requesting prayer for the former manager of our seminary bookstore who has gone missing in Hawai'i. Bob Walker is suffering from dementia and was last seen on O'ahu's North Shore. Here's the story. The official search for Bob was called off days ago but private volunteers have continued the search and need our support. Please consider giving at the Go Fund Me page called Find Bob Walker. Thank you.
4:50 PM I am convinced, now more than ever, of our Christian duty to pray for our nation. Yet some social activists seldom seem to mention it. If in the community there is more violence than peace, is it because we're not praying as we should? Prayer is an indispensable part of our calling as Christians. Paul gave it first priority (1 Tim. 2:1-2): "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life, godly and respectful in every way." No matter what the issue may be, we cry out, "Lord, help us! Please intervene!"
Humble prayer, for the Christian, is not a sign of weakness, but of maturity.
2:32 PM In 1978, Becky and I spent the summer in Germany. She worked at the Bibelschule Bergstrasse while I played the trumpet on an evangelistic brass octet that toured the country.
Our favorite composer was, of course, J. S. Bach. Our director, Mr. Julian Bandy, would often introduce the famous German musician with these words:
By this he meant that Bach wasn't only a fantastic composer of music but, just as importantly, a Christian by conviction. Someone once called him "A Christian who lived with the Bible." He used to pour over Luther's three-volume translation of the Bible. Music was never just music to Bach. Music was to be done to the glory of God and for the refreshment of the spirit. He signed all of his church music with the initials S.D.G. -- "Soli Deo Gloria," "Glory to God alone."
Below is one of Bach's most beloved chorales.
The English title is "Jesus Shall Remain My Joy." Please remember that Bach wrote in a time of misery and sorrow on the European Continent. The 30-Years War had resulted in the death of a third of the population. Bach gave faith a dynamic physical form. In the darkest of times, his music reminded listeners that God was a physical presence in the lives of his children and that salvation was just around the corner. We live in a day of Covid-19 and George Lloyd. Never have we needed Bach more. Please take the time to read the lyrics below and bring your heart once again into harmony with the heart of God.
11:48 AM Reading a widower's letter to Twitter president Jack Dorsey yesterday was heartbreaking. Timothy Klausutis wrote of his deceased wife, "Her passing is the single most painful thing I have ever had to deal with in my 52 years and continues to haunt her parents and sister." He added, "I have mourned my wife every day since her passing."
My wife passed away on Nov. 2. 2013. It's been said that it take 2 years to recover from a natural death in the family. If, like me and Mr. Klausutis, your grief lasts longer than that, you're not abnormal. The event was. And so, even though hope has replaced despair, you continue to remember. There is literally not a day that goes by that I do not miss Becky.
Perhaps you have questions about recovering from grief. Does it mean forgetting the emotional pain of the loss? No. There will forever be a core of grief that will emerge at unexpected times for many years. There is nothing unhealthy about that. At first your life was diminished by the loss, but now it is enhanced. Your faith is stronger, oh, so much stronger. Priorities toward your family are reordered. Your commitment to living a life more fully is deepened. You learn to direct your pain to meaningful activities. You learn to live with your loss and adjust to your new life. Still, a good-bye creates an empty place in you. Thankfully, if your loved one knows Jesus as their Savior, the goodbye is only for a season. One day we'll say hello again. And the thought of Becky in the very presence of the One she served so faithfully brings only joy.
As we grieve, some days will seem freer than others. This is the way of grief. Like Mr. Klausutis, we can share our grief with others so maybe, just maybe, they can understand. It may help them with their own grief one day.
8:22 AM Doing a deep dive in Galatians this morning. There were three points of controversy between Paul and the Judaizers of his day:
1) The question of authority. Who should I believe -- Paul who claimed apostolic authority directly from Jesus, or the Judaizers who claimed ecclesiastical authority from Jerusalem?
2) The question of salvation. Am I saved solely through the atoning death of Christ on the cross or through circumcision and law-obedience?
3) The question of sanctification. How is it possible to be holy and "fulfill the law"?
The short answer to all three questions is Jesus Christ:
1) The answer to the question of authority is Jesus Christ through his apostles (and today, through his apostolic word).
2) The answer to the question of salvation is Jesus Christ through his cross.
3) The answer to the question of sanctification is Jesus Christ through his Spirit.
In short, we have Christ through his apostles to teach us (chapters 1-2), Christ through his cross to save us (chapters 3-4), and Christ through his Spirit to sanctify us (chapters 5-6). (This power point may be useful as you study these three themes in the book of Galatians.)
Blessed are you when you depend on Christ for your authority, your salvation, and your sanctification! Since he is at work, you're never without hope, because you're never without him.
Wednesday, May 27
2:25 PM Civilization is facing its harshest winter in ages. When people cry "Peace and safety," sudden destruction comes. But this world is not our true home. We are only pilgrims and strangers. But the Lord will keep us going. All he asks is that we acknowledge his Lordship. "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
2:18 PM Every day we're alive is a special day. It's the only day we have. Tell yourself every day, "I'm not guaranteed tomorrow. So if it's worth doing, it's worth doing today. If it's worth saying, it's worth saying today." It's time we lived the en-Christed life, the exchanged life, Christ living in us, living in his strength every hour of the day and every day of the week by the power of Christ himself.
2:15 PM But we don't know what our life will be like tomorrow. James says our life is just a vapor that appears for a very little time and then simply vanishes, like a puff of smoke. And because of that, we need to respect the Lord's will for our lives and avoid pride and presumption.
2:14 PM These are dangers we face each and every day. I know I do. Sometimes my list of things to do is longer than my prayer list. The fact is, as James reminds us, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." We do not know what our lives will be like tomorrow. Oh, we think we do. We've got it all planned. Why do we need the Lord when we've got it all figured out?
2:12 PM As we walk through the months that remain of the pandemic, we all face certain dangers. There's the danger of walking in the flesh instead of walking in the Spirit. There's the danger of walking by sight instead of walking by faith. There's the danger of planning every detail of our lives but forgetting the most important duty of all -- prayer for God's guidance and direction.
Tuesday, May 26
11:30 AM But we must make a choice: The flesh or the Spirit. It's certainly not an easy choice. But it's one God demands we make daily, if not multiple times daily. Fellow Jesus-followers, let's do that today.
11:24 AM The goal is Christlikeness. On our own, that's as impossible as adding another foot to our height. But we don't struggle alone. God is working in us both to give us the desire and the ability to do what pleases him (Phil. 2:13).
11:22 AM But it's a very great mistake to think that all we have to do is crucify the flesh. If we live by the Spirit, we must also walk by the Spirit.
11:20 AM Our rejection of the flesh is to be pitiless. The secret of holiness lies in the decisiveness of our repentance.
11:18 AM The word of God, when empowered by the Spirit of God, not only informs but transforms. There is never a time when we don't need both. I want to go in the same direction the Bible and the Spirit are going. That's simply another way of saying I want to go where Jesus is going. In Paul's words, we must crucify the flesh and walk by (or in) the Spirit.
11:16 AM It was a lovely August day in 1971. A 747 took off from Honolulu International Airport. On board was a 19-year old, leaving home to attend college in California. He was enamored by the airplane. He still is.
This YouTube tells you why. It is the perfect flying machine by any standard. And it was to usher in the age of the jumbo jet. Alas, the 747 is no more as a passenger jet. It first rolled off the assembly line in 1987. Many of my students weren't even alive back then. During one of my trips to China I flew on one of the last 747 routes. In the upper deck no less. But no memory can ever replace the one I have of that lovely August day in 1971.
7:40 AM As Christians, it's our duty to "weep with those who weep." Likewise, it's also our duty to "rejoice with those who rejoice." What's there to rejoice about in a pandemic? Maybe we could begin with solitude. Haven't we all had a bit more time to ungarble our thoughts, restring our nerves, gather some perspective, and realign our priorities? Then there is the evidence of God's care and help every day. This evidence starts in creation -- those cotton candy clouds we see, the snails we pass on the path, the sunrise and sunset. These are reminders that the most valuable things in our lives are things that no one and nothing can take away from us. A pandemic has no effect whatsoever on the indwelling presence of the Spirit, or the love of God, or the wisdom of the word. It can't diminish the STORY of the Bible: God knows the situation and has a plan worked out. What may seem impossible to us is possible with God.
Our joy doesn't depend on good times. It doesn't depend on what we read in the news. Christian joy is soul deep. And it can be evidenced in our lives at all times.
Do you know someone who's rejoicing today? Rejoice with them!
Monday, May 25
7:32 AM As we continue our study of Rom. 12:15, it occurred to me that Memorial Day is an apt time to weep with those who weep. As pastor Alan Cross reminds us, today we grieve not only for all those men and women who paid the ultimate price in service to our country. We also grieve for the 100,000 Americans who've died during the coronavirus pandemic. Whatever the object of our grief, we are to "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15). On the one hand, we weep for all we lost during the pandemic. Loss of life. Loss of innocence. Loss of normalcy. On the other hand, we also weep because of what has been exposed by the pandemic. Loss of civility in the public square. Loss of truth. Loss of moral absolutes. The pandemic has exposed our pride as Christians. Our autonomy. The delusion of self-sufficiency. Our complaining spirit. The sin that lives within us.
Alan writes, "This weekend should provide for us a perfect opportunity to mourn, grieve, and fully express the sorrow of what has happened in America over the past 3 months." The word "should" is important. The Greek of Rom. 12:15 is simply, "To weep with those who weep." There is no command here in the imperative mood. Infinitives are used instead. To understand Paul's statement we have to supply a little word in Greek. That word is dei -- "it is necessary." Paul is saying, in essence, "It is necessary, it is our moral and logical obligation, to weep with those who weep." The apostle is appealing, not so much to our will, but to our sense of "moral oughtness." In short, he's saying it's our Christian duty to mourn with our fellow mourners. Writes Stott in his Romans commentary, "Love never stands aloof from other people's joys or pains. Love identifies with them, sings with them and suffers with them. Love enters deeply into their experiences and their emotions, their laughter and their tears, and feels solidarity with them, whatever their mood."
There are no loopholes. Every Christian has an obligation to fulfill this duty. Paul once wrote to Timothy, "Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there's no getting around that" (2 Tim. 3:12, The Message). But the good news is that we don't have to face trouble alone. Jesus paid the ultimate price to see to it.
Sunday, May 24
7:46 AM I love art. I love drawing and painting. To engage in art is to have a conversation with yourself. It's like blogging -- we see the ups and downs of our lives through our work. Through art we struggle, heal, are liberated. Art reveals the soul. Think of a great cathedral. Its sublimity. Its grandeur. Its architectural precision. Its symmetry and texture. Its hidden treasures. Now look at a text of Scripture. Take verse 15 of Romans 12.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." The Greek has two clauses, each using the exact same number of syllables. Notice too the rhyme:
This is literary artistry on a monumental scale. It's "cathedral" beautiful. What does the phrase "The power and glory" conjure up in your mind? This wonderful book we call the Bible, this place of worship, may enable us to come closer to that God whose power and glory we declare when we gather on Sunday mornings like today. Scripture that is endued with this kind of power cannot be passively received. It has power to survive in the desert. Power to build community. Power to live by the New Covenant, to love God as we ought, to care for one another as we should. It is God's power to destroy human darkness. In the coming days, I hope to unpack the meaning of verse 15 and the other verses in Rom. 12:9-21. In a pandemic, what is there to weep over? And what it there to rejoice over? Much indeed, as we will see.
Remember, art enables us to observe minutely. Designs. Colors. Patterns. Meanings. Textures. You tend to see things you could never see before. Even if they were always present there!
I trust you will have a glorious time of worship today, my friend. Remember, if we want to meet with God and worship him, we don't have to go to any special place, be it Gerizim, Jerusalem, or a church sanctuary. We come instead to a Person. True worship is impossible without Jesus.
Saturday, May 23
7:40 AM My publisher is kindly offering two copies of my book Running My Race for free. They are very slightly damaged copies. Simply contact me with your mailing address and I will see that the publisher gets a copy to you. Only two copies are available.
7:22 AM It's wonderful to believe in the past value of studying Greek and the future value of using the language in our ministries, but do you also believe in the daily nowism of your Greek New Testament (directing, transforming your life)?
7:06 AM Good morning. This was my view as I arose.
There's never a day in our lives, no matter what it going on, when we don't have reason to rejoice. His mercies really are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness.
Friday, May 22
7:06 AM In Mark 5 we have three miracles. (Another instance of the "rule of three" so well beloved by the NT writers?) They concern (see Hendricksen, p. 216):
Yet Christ triumphs over each hopeless case. He expels the demons, he heals the woman, and he raises the child back to life. Writes Hendricksen:
One example of Jesus' compassion is given by Mark. When he speaks to the little girl he is about to raise, he says "Talitha Koum!" Mark renders this "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" (The words "I say to you" are not in the Aramaic but are implied.) Were these the words her mother used to awaken her in the morning? Another example: "He ordered that she be given something to eat." What thoughtfulness! What complete and marvelous restoration!
On to more miracles in chapter 6.
Thursday, May 21
10:38 AM My morning reading has been in Mark 5. Here Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man living among the gravestones. As is typically the case, Mark's account is longer than those of Matthew and Luke. Jesus eventually permits the legion of demons to go into a herd of pigs, which run headlong into the lake and drown. The Greek tenses here are fascinating -- a point brought out wonderfully by my favorite NT commentator, William Hendricksen. He writes, "Here Mark suddenly changes the tenses of the verb. So far he has very briefly stated four incidents, four summary facts: gave, came out, went into, rushed down. It is as if he, in very rapid succession, showed us four snapshots. Then we are shown a slow-motion picture movie: one by one we see the (approximately) two thousand pigs choking to death in the sea, until all have drowned."
Like a good commentator, Hendriksen wears his considerable learning lightly. It's only in a footnote that we have any idea he's basing his conclusions on a close examination of the Greek:
In this regard, perhaps things haven't changed all that much since the introduction of linguistics into the study of New Testament Greek. Hendriksen is discussing verbal aspect and contrasting the unmarked nature of the aorist tense with the more marked significance of the imperfect. Such observations are common in his writings, but the fine points are usually left for the footnotes.
Another reason for you to consider getting a set of commentaries by the one and only Wm. Hendriksen.
Wednesday, May 20
4:58 PM Been rummaging through my old sermon notebooks and stumbled on the wise words of Chuck Swindoll in one of his messages on prayer. He concluded with "Four relevant reminders":
1) Prayer is to be continuous. It's not limited to Sunday, or to when we go to bed, or to when we eat.
2) Prayer is designed for every part of the Christian life. Prayer fits -- no matter what the situation. You're walking into a business meeting? Pray. You're making a decision? Pray. Nothing is too insignificant or too overwhelming for God. He cares about it all.
3) Prayer is not a substitute for our responsibility. It's not an excuse for laziness or passivity. It's okay to pray, "Lord, give us safety through the night," but you still have to lock the door and turn on the burglar alarm. Every night. Otherwise you're being irresponsible. Yes, you should pray for good health -- but are you eating properly, exercising properly, listening to your doctor? "Prayer in place of those things is wrong," said Chuck.
4) Prayer is not for perfect people, but for the imperfect, needy person. The only perfect person is the Savior, and he's praying for us! Prayer is simply remembering you're nothing and calling on the one who is everything, and then getting out of the way.
I'm glad I found those notes today. I needed these four reminders. Everyone has an "insurmountable obstacle" in their lives. It's got "impossible" written all over it. I know I do. So I'll make a deal with you. For the next two weeks, I'll pray about my obstacles every day. Preferably several times a day. I'm going to take the obstacle and give it to the living God and leave it in his hands, trusting him with it. Will you do the same? I've got a feeling that within a week or two, we're all going to have some pretty wonderful things to share with each other.
11:22 AM I've signed this statement, along with David Dockery, Don Carson, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, Darrel Bock, Ed Stetzer, and 10,000 others. Let's take a stand against anti-Asian discrimination.
9:08 AM Got missions on my heart this morning. What exactly is missions? It is the intentional and sacrificial penetration of human barriers whether at home or abroad. It is acts of Calvary love that produce obedient followers of Jesus Christ. All of us must work at creating within every culture communities of sons and daughters of God who will love and serve him forever. The "ends of the earth" Acts 1:8) may be found right next door to you as God brings the nations to America. These people represent what one missiologist has called "the great blind spot in missions today." Oswald Chambers put it best when he said, "The light that shines furthest shines brightest close to home." In this definition of missions, there is no difference between between "senders" and "goers." We are all sent (John 20:31) and we are all to go (Matt. 28:19).
In this day of global pandemic, will we prioritize the cause of global missions? What if each of us could say with Elton Trueblood (Company of the Committed, p. 23):
Friends, this is the calling of every one of us. Together, let's determine to make Christ's global cause the unifying cause -- the "reason for being" -- of all we are and all we do. World Christians (in the words of Corrie ten Boom) are "God's tramps who have left their hiding places to roam the world with Jesus."
Why should we settle for anything less?
Monday, May 18
11:10 AM After a spring rain.
10:32 AM It's become clear to me that Paul's letter to the Philippians (which I have the privilege of teaching every year) summarizes many of Paul's core convictions about Christianity. These include:
1) Christians aren't just to study theology but are to follow the example of Jesus and live the way he lived -- in selflessness and humility.
2) Followers of Jesus are to put the needs of others before their own needs.
3) Christianity is a matter of ethics as much as theology.
4) Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life.
5) Believers are called to pursue a kingdom that is radically different from all versions of the kingdoms of this world. This kingdom is always cross-centered and countercultural.
Perhaps this pandemic is giving us the opportunity to reexamine our priorities, to learn humility the hard way, and to choose to help one another as we pursue Christ's upside-down kingdom.
10:10 AM Just finished grading my students' exams for the semester. Can't believe I won't get to do this again until the fall semester. If you miss the classroom, raise your hand!
Sunday, May 17
7:48 AM While reading through Mark's Gospel this morning I was again impressed with the way Jesus chose ordinary people to follow him. He sees Simon and his brother Andrew, commercial fishermen, and says, "Come, follow me! I will make you fish for the souls of people!" A little farther up the beach he sees Zebedee's sons, James and John, in a boat mending their nets. He calls them, too. It's easy to forget that two of these plain fishermen later wrote two of our Gospels. With God there are no ordinary people. Think about that when you meet (vicariously) with your church family today. Most of us are ordinary folk. But God specializes in taking "nobodies" and making them "somebodies." The only question is: Are we willing to be used by him? I am, though I am keenly aware of how short I fall of loving and serving him as I ought. I come to him daily asking for a renewed heart and a renewed desire to follow him as his disciple.
This is a challenge each of us must face daily.
Saturday, May 16
7:54 PM Congratulations to my assistant Rodolfo and his bride Lauren on this, their wedding day! May God richly bless you both!
Friday, May 15
9:32 AM My AM reading today was in Mark 1. Jesus has just taught in the Jewish place of worship, the synagogue:
Why did the people say that? What was different, even unique, about Jesus' teaching? Hendricksen notes 6 features:
1) Jesus spoke the truth. Evasive reasoning marked the speaking of many of the scribes.
2) Jesus spoke on matters of great significance like life and death. The scribes often wasted their time on trivialities.
3) There was system in Jesus' preaching. The scribes, as their Talmud proves, often rambled on and on.
4) Jesus excited his audience by making generous use of illustrations. The scribes' speeches were often dry as dust.
5) Jesus spoke as the Lover of men, as someone who was deeply concerned with the welfare of his audience. The scribes' lack of love and compassion is clear from such passages as Mark 12:40.
6) Finally, and most importantly, Jesus spoke "with authority." His message came from the very heart and mind of the Father, and hence from his own inner being. The scribes were always borrowing from fallible sources.
John Stott's service over many years at All Souls Church in London has tremendously impacted my own understanding of the act of what is called biblical preaching. Listen to his sermons (which rarely go over 30 minutes, by instruction of his elders), and you will see that just about everything said about Jesus' own preaching above applies to Stott's. His sermon library can be found here. Stott's book I Believe in Preaching lays out his method:
1) Choose your text.
2) Mediate on it.
3) Isolate the dominant thought.
4) Arrange your material to serve the dominant thought.
5) Add the introduction and conclusion.
6) Write down and pray over your message.
Stott also insists that the speaker ought to use simple words and avoid committing "verbicide" -- murder words (C. S. Lewis's expression). Say what you mean, and never over-inflated words. And make sure your message is based on the text itself. (See What Is Text-Based Teaching/Preaching?)
That's precisely what John Stott did over and over again throughout his life. Not in his own power, but carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Go and do likewise.
Thursday, May 14
5:20 PM A brief(ish) update:
I got running shoe issues. Big time. Nobody carries my size. Well, except for New Balance. Thankfully, they've got the 880s in 13 extra wide. Seriously, the 880s are far and away the best shoes I've ever run in. And the new version (which I got in the mail today) is amazing.
It's been completely overhauled to include a flashier Hypoknit upper, from the toe box all the way through the midfoot, as well a Fresh Foam midsole.
I've already taken them out for a walk and I feel like I'm on a cloud. The icing on the cake? I sensed no movement in the heel at all. Can't wait to run in them. Comfortable, light, and cushiony. What more could you ask for?
Meanwhile, I've been grading Greek final exams. Still can't believe that this time next week the semester will be over and my final grades will have been reported to the registrar. Overall, it was a good semester. The students adapted well to the online learning environment. Your do your best to try and foster community even when you can't meet together physically. So we write emails and make comments on Moodle and reach out by Zoom. We try to provide a structure that makes finishing out the semester not only easy but enjoyable. Above all, we pray. If you have a front porch, then you have an altar to gather around. Next Monday I'll spend the day grading the finals in my NT 2 class. These will take longer because they are essay exams, but I find nothing but sheer pleasure in reading them.
Finally, I see that Paul Himes, one of my former doctoral students, has just published an essay in our seminary journal. To read it, go here. Thanks for another insightful essay, Paul.
Gotta boogie. The supper dishes are calling and I need to feed the animals.
Wednesday, May 13
9:22 AM Today I read Ephesians for my AM Bible study. I was curious to see how The Living Bible (TLB) rendered 4:11-12, where Paul writes about apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. Here TLB has:
It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this passage. A few thoughts:
Strictly speaking, there are no eye witness apostles today. That doesn't mean, however, that there aren't any "apostolic ministries" at work today. I'm thinking especially of pioneer missionary work, church planting, and itinerant ministries.
What about prophets? TLB seems to suggest that the NT gift of prophecy has to do mainly with what today we call "preaching" (that is, the Sunday sermon). But again, in the technical sense, there are probably no prophets today if by "prophet" we mean the recipient of special revelation from God. But as with apostles, there may also be a less technical way of understanding the term. Paul may have also had in mind what Stott calls "a special gift of biblical exposition" (p. 162). High on my list of such gifted men would be James Boice, Haddon Robinson, Chuck Swindoll, and John Stott himself. Not surprisingly, two of these men have written standard textbooks on biblical preaching. (If I were to ever teach homiletics I would require my students to read Robinson's Biblical Preaching and Stott's Between Two Worlds. In my opinion, no better books on the preparation and delivery of expository messages have even been produced.)
As for evangelists, I think TLB has nailed it with its rendering "some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior." Stott thinks the term includes a special gift of "evangelistic preaching" or of "making the gospel particularly plain and relevant to unbelievers" (p. 163). "There is a great need for gifted evangelists today," he writes, "who will pioneer new ways of exercising and developing their gift, so as to penetrate the vast unreached segments of society for Christ" (Stott, p. 163).
Finally, I love TLB's rendering of the couplet "pastors and teachers":
For one thing, TLB makes it clear that Paul is not calling these people "pastors." He's using a metaphor. For another thing, TLB rightly stresses the need for shepherds to lead and teach their flocks. Who would deny that sound biblical teaching is a major need in our churches? So let pastor-teachers teach well! As Paul writes in Rom. 12:7 (NLT):
And what is the purpose of these gifts of Christ to his church? "Why is it," writes TLB, "that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things better?"
I would render the first clause here as, "To equip God's people for works of service." This is the well-known principle of every-member ministry that I have written about in my books The Jesus Paradigm and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. A pastor will encourage "God's people to discover, develop and exercise their gifts" (Stott, p. 167).
The Protestant Reformation, adds Stott, recovered the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Isn't it time that the modern church recovered the ministry of all believers?
To recapitulate, let me offer here an expanded paraphrase of Eph. 4:11-13 to attempt to bring out the meaning of this passage. In so doing, I will take TLB's translation and tweak it in certain places:
As I conclude, I venture to suggest that Paul's words here in Eph. 4 are indispensable to all members of God's new society, the church. Shepherd-teachers must actively cultivate body life. Christians are not passive spectators of what God is doing in his church. The way the body of Christ grows to maturity is when all of its members use their God-given gifts for the building up of the church. It is good to see this simple truth being affirmed and practiced more and more in our day.
Tuesday, May 12
6:12 PM A thousand thank yous to my son and daughter for getting up the hay today.
The donks will love this stuff come winter.
Weather couldn't be better for haying. Thank you, Lord!
11:34 AM From my AM Bible reading:
Those 3 underscored letters pack meaning. (The little kat is an intensifying prepositional prefix. Kat means "down.") To "laugh" is one thing. To "laugh down" is another thing. The verse is Matt. 9:24. You recall the setting. The rabbi of the local synagogue has asked Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus arrives at the man's home and sees noisy crowds and hears funeral music. He says, "Get them out, for the little girl isn't dead. She's only sleeping." What happened next? See the following versions:
However, the Greek verb seems stronger than "laughed." The KJV has "They laughed him to scorn," but nobody talks like that any more. I like the TLB: "Then they scoffed and sneered at him!" The ISV has "they ridiculed him with laughter." I believe these translations do more justice to the meaning of the compound verb. "They laughed at him" just doesn't seem to cut it.
Notice how quickly the crowd turns from mourning to laughter and ridicule. Writes Hendricksen sarcastically, "It seems that these mourners were endowed with the dubious gift of shifting (automatically?), in one sudden moment, from dismal moaning to uproarious mirth." By the way, have we ever done that? Dare we ask God to comfort the grieving without at the same time turning to him for a miracle? Yes, a grieving heart and a hopeful spirit can belong to the same person. Our sorrows are Christ's own sorrows, for he dearly loves these burdened ones. He feels for them, deeply, and is eager to help them. He is deeply moved with pity and compassion when he sees how helpless and hopeless we are.
God calls on us to do the same. Illustrate stubborn faith. Incarnate hope. Who knows but that God is giving us a Goliath-size chance to see Jesus do something miraculous in the lives of our loved ones.
Monday, May 11
6:36 PM Went through 100 verses about prayer today. Basically, it's a mind-blowing subject. So many takeaways:
The "Back 40" -- one of my favorite places to pray.
To sum up: Paul wrote, "Prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long" (Eph. 6:18 MSG).
11:58 AM Thank You Notes:
1) Thank You, Lord, for the New Testament in Greek.
2) Thank You for being so clear in how You wrote it.
3) Thank You for the fun I'm having trying to translate Your words in John 14 into English.
4) Thank You for English versions whose editors have worked hard at their craft.
5) Thank You for what You promised, Lord, in verse 27. My Greek text has:
I hope, Lord, it's okay to render this emphatic statement as:
Thank You, Lord! Forgive me for all the exclamation points, but this is ohmystars wonderful!
8:04 AM Happy 67th Birthday to Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. Her life continues to inspire me and so many others. Am grateful for the 37 years the Lord gave us together.
Becky in Bobitcho, Ethiopia, age 2.
Sunday, May 10
5:34 PM What in the world is the message of Covid-19? Good question. Sometimes I can't figure out the simplest things in life. It took me two years and eight months to figure out that I was to propose to Becky. Had to have all my ducks in a row first, of course. Becky knew right away. I once ordered a "pepperoni pizza" in Germany only to be served a pizza covered with red peppers. During my doctoral exams in Basel I uttered those unforgivable words, "Ich weiss nicht" (I don't know). Can you relate? Of course you can. Who hasn't scratched their head when faced with tough questions?
One of life's giant-sized questions is facing us today. What is God doing during Covid-19? While we may speculate, we don't really need to guess. Has any other time been so conducive to solitude? To self-examination? To taking stock of our lives? To going deeper than we have ever gone before? Today Chuck Swindoll embarked on a 2-part series at Stonebriar Community Church with the title, "The Priority of Solitude." I'll link to it below. You need no ephod to know where Chuck's going. Covid-19, he says, is "the most abnormal, unusual time in which we have ever lived." If we're not careful, we'll miss its significance. Chuck drives home his point with a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge: "Any happening, great or small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us. And the art of life is to get the message."
To help us get that message, Chuck gets up close and personal with us. He tells the story of the months he spent overseas courtesy of Uncle Sam. He was unprepared for the deployment. He didn't want to leave his wife alone at home. He couldn't imagine there being anything worthwhile about the place where the military was sending him. He was happy where he was. The message God had for him during this time? Merely the most life-changing message of his life. In Chuck's words, the Lord was saying to him "I want to remove from you every crutch, everything you normally lean on, so that I can have your full attention, because my plan is to change your whole course of life." The result? Chuck came away with a new sense of calling:
It's so easy, says Chuck, to be riveted to Covid-19, to the statistics, to the news, to the impact of the virus. But with strong emotion he adds, "That's NOT the message! That's NOT what God wants us to hear!" The Covid-19 virus stops us in our tracks. It pulls us out of the fast lane. It pushes us into isolation and we're left to ourselves. Traffic has stopped. Business has stopped. The movement of life, the rhythm of life, has stopped. "We have been pulled over for an extended pit stop in this race track called life."
"Let's not miss this message," says Chuck. This is time to "discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" (1 Tim. 4:7). Godliness isn't automatic. It doesn't come miraculously. Discipline is involved. "It won't come easily, and it won't come naturally. But it can come at a time when we're all set aside from the normal activities of life, if we are aware of it and see it as a priority." Quoting from Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipleship, Chuck brings it all home:
It's time, concludes Chuck, to "go deeper in ourselves, to take stock of how we've been living our days, our years, and we pause and go through the disciplines involved in probing deeper and deeper in our relationship with our Lord."
Today I thought of Chuck Swindoll not so much as a famous pastor but as our national chaplain. I ask myself, "So Dave, have you learned this lesson -- the lesson of Covid-19?" This lesson begins with disconnections. It continues with self-awareness. And it ends with finding God -- and yourself. "You'll never know that Jesus is all you need," writes Max Lucado in his book Facing Your Giants, "until Jesus is all you have."
No, we never saw the storm coming. Its arrival jolted our complacency. It destroyed so much of what we love. The devil's stirred up nothing but trouble, fear, and death. We're all living in the Covid-wilderness. We want to go to church. We want to attend that game. We want to eat out again. We want to return to the classroom. We want to visit grandma and grandpa or see our grandkids. We want normalcy.
That day is coming. Maybe even sooner than later. But in the meantime, we don't have to travel to a faraway country for 16-17 months to face a life-changing encounter with God. A pandemic does the trick just fine. Yes, it will require some work on our part. But never have we had more time for solitude and self-reflection than today. Maybe God will do for us what He did for Chuck those many decades ago. Isn't it time for us to take that long inward look we've been avoiding all these years? Assemble a meeting of three parties: Yourself, God, and your Bible. Let Him speak to you as never before.
As Muggeridge reminds us, Covid-19 is a parable whereby God is speaking to us. And the art of life is getting the message. Chuck Swindoll gets that message. May God help us to do the same.
12:14 PM A very happy and blessed Mother's Day to all of you mothers out there. On this 2020 Mother's Day I honor the cherished memories of my wife who went to Heaven on Nov. 2, 2013. I still love and miss her.
And to mom Lapsley in Dallas, I express my love and deepest affection.
Saturday, May 9
5:50 PM Odds and sods ....
1) My daughter-in-law and I were texting today. In Spanish. And she's not even Hispanic. Talk about fun.
2) I wore these out weeks ago.
Thankfully, the New Balance store in Raleigh reopened today. My news 880s are in the mail!
3) Our final frost is tonight. These beauties will go into the garden tomorrow.
Wish me well. Becky used to do all the planting.
1:08 PM Today's view while exercising. Somber time.
11:12 AM At long last, for what it's worth, here are my thoughts on the phases of a running/sports injury. Not sure it's your cup of tea. But maybe it will be helpful to just one person out there.
My injury occurred when I went biking recently on a very cold morning and on a day when the pollen levels were through the roof. The result of breathing cold air through my mouth and inhaling a gazillion particles of irritants was a brochospasm. Instead of seeking treatment for it right away, I continued to train for my next marathon. Why? I was going through the "phases of a running injury." To wit:
This is where you begin to suspect that something has gone awry. Hmm, that doesn't feel normal. Why do I feel so tried and achy? Man, it feels like I just got hit by an 18-wheeler. There's no way it could be an -- INJURY? Which immediately leads to phase number 2:
This can't be something serious. After all, I've got a big race coming up. And I've been doing so well. No way the Lord would allow me to get injured. NO WAY. Which leads to phase number 3:
Here's what I'll do. I'll take some time off tomorrow and then get back into training the next day. I just need some time for my body to recover. Nothing to worry about, really. Besides, if I stop now I'll lose all of my fitness. I'll get fat and lazy. Which leads to phase number 4:
Okay, Dave old boy. This might be serious. It might even require some medical attention. Which leads to phase number 5:
5. Seek treatment.
Alright, it's time to see the doc. Time to take follow her instructions like a good boy and practice some patience.
The key is to get to phase 5 sooner rather than later. Alas! As you know, I'm not one who can slow down very easily. But the times in which we live right now have helped me realize just how thankful I am for my overall health, for the exceptional medical care available to me even though I live in the boonies, and for having a roof over my head and loved ones who check on me and pray for me each and every day. For many of us, the pandemic has put a lot into perspective. An injury that takes me out of running for a few weeks is not the worst thing in the world. Most of all, we do what people did back when Jesus was on this earth healing those who were brought to him. We place the sick at his feet and request his touch. When we do that, he always responds. Mark it down -- Jesus will do what is right each and every time. Will he do it right away for you? I hope so. But he will still work something GOOD on your behalf.
Dear reader, I'm sorry for the pain you may be going through right now. Your injury or illness or suffering is not what you wanted, but it's what you were dealt. Just remember that we all move through these phrases at different speeds. Because of my own folly, I stayed in the denial phase longer than I should have. Even today I ping-pong between acceptance and negotiation whenever I have an injury. The Bible says, "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7, NIV). When you sense fear or dread beginning to well up in your heart, cast it, THROW IT in the direction of Christ. Do it immediately. And do it each and every time. Let your prayers be specific.
Lord, you are good. Please help me to slow down. Please help the medication to work. Please help me to be patient. Please help me to sleep well tonight. Please bless my doctor's appointment tomorrow. Please help me up cough up more mucus. Thank you.
Specific prayers are effectual prayers. They are golden opportunities to see God at work in specific ways. Do not indulge the lies the Evil One throws at you. Place yourself entirely in God's care. If you struggle with regrets, take them to Jesus and leave them there. (I've had to do this more times than I can count.) There's a reason the windshield in your car is bigger than the rearview mirror. God made us for more than breath-stealing anxiety. He's writing a new chapter, and in him everything is secure.
So there you have it: Sports Medicine 101. Believe me, Dave Black speaking on sports injuries is like Nero speaking on fire safety. As I said, take my advice for what it's worth. But know that I love you. And that he loves you. He will help you well, my friend.
9:05 AM A couple of weeks ago I asked my NT 2 students to read an essay I once wrote on John 17 -- Jesus' prayer for Christian unity. It appeared in the Criswell Theological Review. John 17 is an unusual chapter. Ponder it for a moment. Remember: Jesus prayed this prayer. My main takeaway? Christian unity is such a precious treasure. It is God's gift to us, or we don't have it. But it would be a gigantic mistake to think that what is free for us is cheap. It cost God everything. He gave His Son to provide this gift for us.
Here Jesus makes 3 brief points about church unity. First, spiritual unity should be expressed visibly. Second, this visible unity of the church must be founded on truth. And third, this visible unity must allow for diversity of belief and practice in matters of secondary importance.
In my essay I mentioned something all the evangelical churches in Basel did every Easter. We gathered in the city's central cathedral to celebrate both our unity and diversity. Later, back in California, an annual Easter Sunrise service was held at the Hollywood Bowl. The idea was the same -- to show to a dubious world that believers worship and serve the same Triune God.
I want to say to you with all the conviction I possess that I care intensely about Christian unity because I believe that God has revealed it fully and finally in Jesus Christ.
8:32 AM Good morning, friends. The email I got today from India was so encouraging. The relief work I spoke to you about last Saturday with the Peniel Gospel Team has gotten underway. Aren't these pictures beautiful? Brings tears of joy to my eyes.
Can we not see in this the call of Christ to discharge our duty to the mass of non-churchgoers?
The goal is to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every household in Siliguri, Sikkim, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
Church, we cannot delegate the task of evangelism and social assistance to the few.
I visualize my work at the seminary as the training of a considerable number of church members for the task of fulfilling their unmistakable, indispensable responsibility toward our neighbors who are strangers to Christ and His Gospel of grace. We cannot play at this. It will mean real sacrifice in our busy lives.
Mammen Joseph writes:
Again, if you'd care to join me in this task, please go to this page and give as the Lord leads.
Friday, May 8
5:18 PM I wasn't going to watch it. I knew I didn't have to watch it. But I did. I needed to. I have no doubt this weekend will be uniquely painful for many. A grieving woman will spend Mother's Day without her 25-year old son. It would have been Becky's 67th birthday. How I will miss my wife and the mother of our children. And who knows how many families will grieve the loss of wives and mothers and daughters who were taken by the coronavirus? Our Lord said that only two things can put out our light as the people of God, a bushel and a bed, the one a symbol of worldly wealth, the other a symbol of worldly pleasure. May we the church reject both and instead be the light of the world, refusing to fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather exposing and reproving them.
To all my pastor friends: I realize this Sunday's message may well be like no other you've ever preached before. Intentionally or not, what you say will communicate what you believe matters most. Praying for you.
You spoke to storms. Would you please also speak to ours? We are worn out from our worries and fears, battered by the wind and waves of viruses, illness, death, and injustice. As we consider events in our nation, will you stir up courage in us? No human life is without value. We must face that truth and deal with it. There is no deliverance until we stop passing the buck. We the church cannot be allowed merely to coast along.
Above all, Lord, thank you for the Gospel. Through it men and women can not only find salvation from sin, they can begin to be remade into your image. The Gospel of your love supplies the most wonderful incentive to rescue people and nations from all that dehumanizes them. This weekend, I pray that you would help all of us to remember that the Great Commission neither replaces nor overrides the Great Commandment to love and help our neighbor.
Through Christ I pray. Amen.
9:45 AM Summer reading suggestions for those who've just finished first year Greek:
9:12 AM Each fall I get to give away quite a number of my books to deserving students. Been doing this for about 30 years now. Here's the email I sent to my Greek students yesterday:
8:15 AM Racism is in the news again. That's why I was glad to stumble on this video of Billy Graham's 1965 crusade in Honolulu. How might we as a society overcome the scourge of racism? Listen to Dr. Graham as he preaches the Good News with a grimace and a fresh resolve to display Jesus Christ as the only solution to our need.
P.S. In that ethnically-mixed audience that evening was a 13 year old young man singing in the crusade choir behind the speaker's dais. It occurred to him then, as it occurs to him now, that Satan, the master deceiver, wants us to think that one race is superior to the other. He wants to leave our society in a swarm of unresolved racial tension. But if we are facing the perfect storm as a culture, Jesus offers the perfect solution. I'm so thankful for Billy's message. May it resound throughout the internet today as it did so long ago in an island melting pot.
7:55 AM It's the end of the semester. The light is at the end of the tunnel, but there's still plenty of work to do. If we're not careful, we can get flustered by the demands our students put on us and that we put on ourselves. But Paul doesn't allow any leeway for that. He says we can stay calm and even-keeled even when life turns frenetic on us. If your life is a bit weighed down with worry and care this morning, I have a Scripture for you to read. Actually, it's one word from Scripture. If there was such a thing as the Greek Word Hall of Fame, I'd nominate this word for it. It's right up there with charis (grace) and agapē (love). The word is epieikes (upper right hand corner).
It's found in Phil. 4:5. It's one of those Greek words that could be translated in any number of ways -- generosity, forbearance, mildness, magnanimity, kindliness, considerateness, gentleness, charitableness. I like Hendricksen's rendering the best: "Big-heartedness." In essence, Paul is saying:
Others may freak out, but we are to be known for our levelheadedness, our fairness, our clear thinking. The big-hearted teacher is the one who tells his students, with words but especially with demeanor, "You really matter to me. Whatever happens, you can bring your concerns to me and you will be treated fairly and graciously."
Paul adds, "Let your big-heartedness be known to all." It's to be evident, not hidden. When you possess it, people sit up and take notice. Calmness ensues. "I can count on you to be fair and evenhanded with me."
Students aren't impressed by our eloquence or trite formulas. But they are moved by our love. After all, isn't that how Jesus taught and lived? I'm so glad I had teachers like this when I was in college and seminary, and even in grad school in Basel. I can remember my aging and arthritic Greek professor at Biola taking the time to actually walk to my dorm room at the end of the semester, knock on my door, and say, "Dave, I know you're leaving for Hawai'i tomorrow, and I thought you'd like to see your final before you left. Congratulations on a job well done." Then he turned around and hobbled back to his office with his cane.
Do the same. Tell others they matter to you. Less consternation at semester's end, more sweetness. In the end, what better lesson to teach our students than the magnanimity of our Savior?
Thursday, May 7
10:48 AM "Always pay attention to the small words." Good advice for anyone doing exegesis. I've often told my students to do this very thing. Well, let's try and apply this to James 1, the passage I was studying this morning.
Notice, first of all, the word "when." James doesn't say "If trials come." He says, "When trials come." "When" stands out. Trials are inevitable. They are unavoidable. They are inescapable. They are inexorable. Don't try to ignore them. Don't try to escape them. Don't try to deny them.
Secondly, look at that word "various." James says we face "various kinds of trials." The Greek word is poikilois.
Harmless sounding enough. But it carries a deep meaning. James says we will face all kinds of trials in this life. Some will be minor. Some will be life-threatening. Some you'll be responsible for. Others not so much. You may suffer a trial you did not choose or cause. At other times you suffer the consequences of your own sin or stupidity. (My recent running injury is an example. Ugh! More on that later.) Some trials are outward -- loss of job, grief, a broken arm, some other hardship. Others are inward trials -- anxiety, feelings of rejection, emotional pain, depression, anger, battles with the flesh.
In my own experience, the hardest struggles have been when the trial was both outward and inward. Thankfully, that hasn't happened very often. When I suffered from malaria after a trip to Ethiopia, the trial was outward. Even after a week in isolation at UNC Hospital on morphine the pain still hadn't subsided. I wouldn't wish malaria on my worst enemy. But the struggle was largely external and physical. Loosing Becky, on the other hand, was an internal struggle called grief. It's not a comfortable place to be. And it seems to always last longer than you wish. There is nothing pleasant about grief. It's disruptive. It's painful. It's hard work. Sometimes the weight is so oppressive you can hardly bear it. It changes you as a person and your whole perspective on life. Grief is an internal battle, but it's also a natural, God-given process of recovery.
So, two little words that make a big difference: "When," and "Various." I'm so grateful for what the Lord is teaching me through this passage. And I'm grateful that God accepts me as I am, wounded and broken. I am being transformed daily in the arms of my Abba, Daddy. How about you, my friend? Open your heart to Him. Be renewed in your inward person. Let joy and thanksgiving be found in your heart again, for He is good and His mercy endures forever.
[To be continued ....]
7:50 AM Spent this AM praying the first chapter of James. Do you know someone who is suffering today, either physically or mentally/emotionally? One thing they will need is wisdom. Wisdom is nothing other than seeing life through God's eyes, from His perspective. Wisdom is knowing that God is using our pain to deepen our faith in Him, increase our endurance during trials, enhance our character so that we become more godly (= Christlike), and building our maturity so that we don't remain stagnant in our spiritual walk. That's a combination that can't be beat. But it usually comes by way of a trial -- what we would not have chosen.
If you're helping someone you love walk through a trial, please remember that you can't rescue your friend or loved one. Rescue is God's responsibility, not ours. On the other hand, here are some things we can do:
My life has not turned out as I imagined it when I was a youth. I wanted life to be easy. I wanted to need God only for the easy things. I'm glad God didn't give me what I want. Faith and suffering are not mutually exclusive. You can have faith and have pain. Hasn't this been true for you? What did you learn about God and about yourself through the experience of pain? How has it developed a deeper trust in God? Have you asked Him to give you His wisdom -- His perspective on your pain? Are you learning to praise God in the midst of your circumstances.
All this and more, the Lord has been gently teaching me. May God continue to lead us on our journey.
Wednesday, May 6
7:44 PM Let the haying season begin.
Never has fescue looked greener!
7:04 AM Please join us for chapel today at 10:30. President Danny Akin will be our speaker. It will be a wonderful encouragement to us all I am sure.
Tuesday, May 5
11:22 AM Had a wonderful Zoom conversation this morning with a good friend who lives in Israel and teaches Greek and Hebrew at a Bible College there. He once studied under me before getting his Ph.D. in Hebrew at one of our sister seminaries. We had a blast chatting about Greek and Hebrew. Should you need some entertainment today, take a look at John 1:1 in both the Delitzsch translation (left) and Modern Hebrew (right).
See anything wrong with the final clause of verse 1? Not sure? Remember that the Greek theos ēn ho logos is to be rendered "The Word was God," and not "God was the Word"! (Okay, so Luther wrote "Gott was das Wort," but notice that the more modern German Bibles all have "Das Wort war Gott" -- Schlachter, Neue Genfer, Hoffnung für Alle, etc.)
Incidentally, I've been invited to teach Greek 3 and 4 at this college, and my friend (who is also the dean) has already translated most of my beginning grammar into Hebrew.
I have feelings about this. Good ones. I could never have imagined in a million years that I would be working with my friends in the modern State of Israel to teach the language of the New Testament to Hebrew and Arabic speaking evangelical pastors and pastors-in-the-making. Let us be inspired and grateful that God made us to do crazy things for Him that we could never have asked for or imagined. You and I were made to run. So run!
P.S. I'm told that the president of this Bible college is an avid surfer and that the college itself is very close to the Mediterranean. Oh boy.
7:20 AM This week, as my students prepare for their finals next week, I'm continuing to scour the Gospels for information concerning Jesus' view of the kingdom of God for my book Godworld. As I think about my students and their research, and as I contemplate my own work in the Scripture, I feel burdened to reiterate the place that the Bible should have in all our study and life. I'm seeing again and again that Jesus was conservative in His attitude toward Scripture. Jesus may have gone beyond the Old Testament but He never went against it. Likewise I want my students to know that if submission to Scripture in all areas of life was right for Jesus, it must be right for us, always and without exception. This is because we are evangelicals, whose view of Scripture is never compromised on the altar of accommodation to modern liberal thinking.
That said, Jesus did two other things. In the first place, Jesus was quick to challenge the accepted wisdom of His day. But secondly, He wasn't content with a mere knowledge of the Scripture but called for a profound application of its demands for life in the kingdom of God. Students, Jesus is calling all of us to a similar radical obedience. "Evangelical" is not enough. We should be obedient evangelicals, even radical evangelicals. Our calling as kingdom Christians is to be both conservative and radical at the same time. We are to guard God's revelation and to be thoroughgoing in its application to our lives. We are to be both faithful and relevant.
As you prepare for your finals, and as I work on my book, may we all listen to the Book of books more carefully than perhaps ever before. May we be anxious to read it, study it, understand it, believe it, and obey it. Above all, may we find it to be true that real freedom is found not in discarding the yoke of Christ but in submitting to it. May Christ the Lord control our thinking and our living and may we, through the Scripture, reject everything that is plainly contrary to it, and accept Christ's emphasis on love for others as an indispensable call.
I hope our final days of the semester will be marked by grace and affirmation instead of inward-turning and isolation. Let's do all we can to help each other achieve our goals. A rising tide lifts every boat in the harbor. When one rises, we all rise. Let's call forth the best in each other and strengthen each other to love our families, our neighbors, and our world well. Let's point each other toward God, to whom alone be the glory in this semester, and every semester, both now and forevermore.
Monday, May 4
1:05 PM Hey everybody. How ya surviving isolation? Today I got in an hour walk as I try to recover from my recent injury/illness. I've also been trying to get more writing done these days. In fact, today I'd like to talk to you about a character trait that's been on my heart for several days now. It's a trait that all Christians need, but especially those of you who are serving in pastoral (teaching) ministry.
I suppose we're all familiar with Paul's lists of qualifications for church leaders. They're found in Titus and 1 Timothy. The trait I want to talk about today is found in 1 Tim. 3:2. It's the 7th qualification that Paul sets forth for "overseers." The Greek word is didaktikon. "An overseer," writes Paul, "must be didaktikon." Your Bible translation probably says something like "must be able to teach." And that's one way the Greek can be rendered. But did you know that the same Greek word can be rendered in a completely different way? My Greek dictionary tells me that didaktikon can be translated either as (1) "able to teach" or as (2) ... are you ready?
That's right. Teachable. You say, "Well, Dave, what does it mean here?" And my answer would be, "I don't know!" You see, one of the things I have to constantly remind my Greek students is that Greek is not a magic potion you can ingest and then afterwards everything becomes crystal clear. It isn't the Abracadabra or Open Sesame of biblical interpretation. It's a not a magic wand you can wave over your passage and then -- POOF! -- expect the meaning to jump out at you miraculously. This is precisely one of the most important things we can ever know about Greek: It doesn't necessarily tell us what the Bible means. But it can (and does) limit our options. It tells us what is possible, and then many others factors -- especially the context -- have to kick in at that point.
So do I have an opinion about what didaktikon means in 1 Tim. 3:2? Sure do. Here I think it means "teachable." Look, first, at the context. No other qualification mentioned in Paul's list has to do with an aptitude, or a skill set, or an ability. Instead, they all have to do with a man's character. His lifestyle. I think "teachable" fits this context quite nicely, don't you? Secondly, think for a moment, if you will, about those pastor-teachers in your life you've come to love and respect the most. I'll do the same. Know what I think they all have in common? They're passionate learners! They love studying the Scriptures! They don't burn out or rust out. Instead, every week they can't wait for Sunday to come. "Look at what I've been learning this week! I can't wait to share it with you!" In a word, they are teachable. In two words, they are lifelong learners. That's called teachability. It's one reason so many pastors are returning to our seminary for their Doctor of Ministry degree. They are lifelong learners. That's why some pastors even enroll in our Ph.D. program. Recently my former assistant received his Ph.D. in New Testament from our school. Know what he does, week in and week out? He pastors a local church.
Billy Graham once spoke at a pastors' conference in London toward the end of his ministry. Someone asked him, "Dr. Graham, if you had to do your ministry all over again, what would you do differently?" He thought for a moment and then said, "Well, I would have prayed more, that's for sure." BAM! That struck me right between the eyes! If ever there was a prayer wimp, that's me! Then Graham added, "And I would have studied more and preached less." I find that it's difficult for me to learn anything when I'm doing all the talking. There's a time for listening, and a time for talking. A time to be "quick to listen and slow to speak." A time for study -- deep, reverent, Spirit-led study. R. C. Sproul once said that the key to being an effective pastor-teacher is being simple without being simplistic. He said a great teacher-preacher is like an iceberg. You only see 10 percent, but underneath you sense the other 90 percent.
What's your teachability quotient, pastor friend? Are you preaching from the canteen of Saturday night or from a reservoir of Bible knowledge? If you're not sure, just ask your people. They know. You can't disguise mediocrity.
Are you teachable? The leader who has nothing to learn has nothing to teach. So ... are you teachable? If not, you can be. Start today.
Saturday, May 2
6:48 PM This morning I attended a drive-in church in North Carolina and then an online service in Alabama.
Coincidentally, the text for both sermons was Phil. 2:1-11. Elsewhere I've called this passage "the heart of Philippians." If there's one section I will ask my students to memorize in Philippians, it's this one. Both of today's sermons spoke eloquently of the need for unity, humility, and Christlikeness during a time of pandemic. The thought that came to my mind was:
Looking for some relief during a time of crisis? Serve others. Be kind. Reach out. Often. Offer to wash the dishes. Volunteer to mow the grass. Check up on your elderly friends and relatives. Need more ideas? Look at the totality of how Paul describes the body of Christ in 2:1:
What a bucket list that is! Notice: "One another," "others," "we all," "each other." Today is no time for rugged individualism. As Mother Teresa once put it, "I can do things you cannot. You can do things I cannot. Together we can do great things." As both pastors said today, during times of crisis we can either pull together or pull apart; we can either divide or unite.
I think this may be what is Paul is trying to drive home in this passage. Serve, serve, serve. Give, give, give. Others, others, others. That's the "mind of Christ" (2:5). We must regard no task as too menial or degrading to undertake for our brother or sister in Christ. We are to be like Christ -- in His incarnation, in His love, and especially in His service.
April wasn't the month any of us wanted. May will probably be more of the same. But God is not baffled. Jesus has a plan for us during these stormy days: "It is more blessed to give than to get" (Acts 22:35).
Happiness is ours when we give it away.
Saturday, May 2
2:20 PM I wasn't sure if I should share this with you, but hey, what's to lose? When I get too caught up in my own problems, it's a relief to pray for someone else. Prayer is (or ought to be) the center of all we do as believers. Then we act on our prayers whenever we can. Today I have a good friend in northern India who is requesting prayer. He wrote:
I asked, "What can be done?" Here's what he told me. He said he is hoping to give 150 food relief kits to 150 families who are suffering from hunger. Each kit will contain:
Each kit will feed a family of four for a week. One kit will cost $12.00. So $100.00 will feed about 9 families, and $500.00 will feed about 42 families. Just think -- for a mere $12.00 a family of four can be fed for an entire week!
I'm not necessarily asking you to give to this cause. We are all "prioritizing" these days. But for some reason I felt led to share this need with you. Seeing needs like this always gives me perspective. "God, I thought my needs were pretty big, but their needs are so much bigger than my own." Oh, the inexhaustible compassion of our Lord! He not only felt sorry for the 4,000. He fed them. Maybe if you have kids it might be fun to see if they can all pitch in to raise $12.00 to feed a hungry family in India for a week.
Just for the record, I know this ministry in India backwards and forwards. Their son studied at our seminary. Two of my kids have made trips there to serve with them and to dedicate the Becky Black Building in Bagdogra, which houses both an English day school and a theological seminary.
Mission trips like these are sort of like being on dialysis. They flush the self-pity out of our system.
Okay, enough. This season of quarantine has introduced a level of fear we haven't seen since 9/11 in our nation. Fear of what we can see, and fear of what we can't see. And so we pray: Father, let your mercy fall on all who need it. And please use us, your church, to heal a hurting world.
If you'd like to make a donation, please go here.
And do it with a smile, every day.
11:32 AM My good friend Ben (who pastors in Roxboro, NC) reminded me today that it was 10 years ago that our team entered a village in Burji, Ethiopia (where Becky was raised) on the back of motorbikes to share the Good News and to teach the believers there.
I must admit: I miss those crazy days. But these are happy memories, unmistakably. Praise be to God.
Friday, May 1
10:42 AM Happy May Day! In Hawai'i we'd all be wearing plumerias behind our ears. I've started a study of According to Luke. Luke often puts into words what my heart is feeling but can't fully express. His writing makes me smile as much as it makes me cry. I feel like Luke is patting me on the back and encouraging me to step into all God has for me. Really, I feel like I'm having coffee with my best friend! Here are a few notes I've taken so far:
1) Luke was probably the most highly educated of the Gospel writers. And yet his story is readable, accessible, and oozes with love. The preface (1:1-4) is Classical Greek; that of 1:5-2:52 anything but. He uses Classical Greek when he is not using sources and Koine Greek when he is.
2) Luke was a medical doctor. What a provision of the Lord for a man like Paul in all his afflictions!
3) Luke's "new" material is truly profound. Where we would be without his telling of:
4) Luke emphasizes certain cardinal truths of Christianity:
5) Luke has provided artists with many themes. Think of Plockhorst's The Good Shepherd:
Or Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son:
What more can I say? Luke is a remarkable book. Readers of this Gospel will feel understood, comforted, and challenged to grow. I'm already in chapter 18.