(02/22/2020) 7:18 AM Just as Kobe Bryant’s helicopter got lost in the fog and needed to fly by instrument, sometimes we’re caught in conditions of low visibility. All ordinary guidance seems to fail us. We can’t make sense of anything. Yet we aren’t left without a compass. The Word is a light and a lamp, and it never changes. It reads the same no matter what, even when all is hazy. To all my students: Our best navigating gadgets may fail, but His Word is settled both in heaven and on earth. Read it. Study it. Master it. Let it master you.
Get Dave Black’s book Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? as a free ebook. Paperback is just $4.99.
(12/22/2019) 7:46 AMIn Romans 15 this morning. Reminded that Paul’s ministry went through stages. This happens to us as well. We all grow. We all mature. We all develop. We all move from one stage of life to another. In Romans 15, Paul looks back on his ministry and, in effect, says, “I have fully proclaimed the gospel in the East. It’s now time to finish the great task of planting the gospel in the remainder of the Roman Empire, that is, as far as Spain.” There are two principles of life that occur to me:
1) Paul was being true to himself. Paul wasn’t a local church pastor. Paul was a missionary/church planter, a trail-blazer for the gospel. If he has planted, let others water! I must move on! Paul had one and only one ambition in life: to establish new congregations, not to build on someone else’s foundation.
2) What enabled Paul to say that it was time for him to move on? It was the fact that he could entrust his previous work into the hands of helpers like Epaphras (who established the church in Colosse) and others. Paul left no orphans behind!
I spent many minutes in prayer this morning asking the Lord to make clear to me His path in the coming years. As I write this blog post I am planning my international travel for the next two years. To the Greek mind, time was a circle imprisoning life until the soul was released through death. To the Hebrew (and Christian) mind, however, life was more of a line from past to present, the line of God’s redemptive purposes. Life was therefore meaningful. God has always been beside us on the road and is even now in charge of the route.
Of one thing I am sure. God leads His dear children along, as the old song puts it. Since 2004 Becky and I were involved in ministry in Ethiopia, where she was raised as an MK. This meant 14 trips for her and 17 for me. It’s been several years since I’ve been back. This was not unintentional. If Becky’s parents planted, Becky and I watered. Our work in Ethiopia was a most wonderful thing. But our work there is now completed. It’s time for others to carry it forward. Our ministry there will either rise like the Phoenix or go down in flames but we leave that in the hands of God.
In recent years I’ve made 13 trips to Asia to assist in the training of pastors. It was an unavoidable call. As we all know, in much of the world there has been much numerical growth without very much depth. There hasn’t been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth in members. Into this situation I found myself teaching Greek. I saw myself as a clay pot — common stuff, replaceable, but holding a priceless treasure that I was eager to pass on to others. That has now been done, and I sense it is time to pass the baton.
What’s the next place in God’s plan for my international ministry? What is my “place,” after all? What was our Lord’s place? It was that of a servant. A lowly slave. Can it be any different for those of us who claim to follow Him? Christ’s servants must be humble enough to be flexible. Paul certainly was. His obedience to the Father enabled him to do anything, go anywhere the Spirit sent him. No wonder he wrote, “There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others more important than yourselves. Look to each other’s interest and not merely to your own.” If we think of others before ourselves, everything else will fall into place. God will never disappoint us. He has a good purpose for every one of His children. Is there any joy more exhilarating than the joy of knowing He will help you maneuver through the stages of life? He cares about these things and more. You’ve got His word on it.
6:50 AM They had been predicting a steady rain to begin falling yesterday and, sure enough, that’s exactly what we have. The Low Pressure System we’re currently in will be around for about a week, which means much needed rain for the farmers where I live (including yours truly). This also means that I might not be able to get in my bike ride today, but if I don’t I still plan on visiting the Y and working out and getting in some laps. My tri is in exactly 15 days and I feel like swimming is my weakest link right now.
The rain this morning reminded me of that wonderful quote by the one, the only Malcolm Muggeridge, who once edited Punch Magazine, Britain’s counterpart to the Mad Magazine I grew up with. He said:
I may, I suppose, regard myself or pass for being a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets – that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue – that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions – that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time – that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you – and I beg you to believe me – multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less than nothing, a positive impediment – measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who are what they are.
As an incurable Muggerophile, I attempt to question traditional concepts at every turn, but not because I’ve become soured on life. Malcolm could be acid-tongued, but he was no kill-joy. He laughed a lot, and his love of the truth never turned him into a grumpy ascetic. But he cared deeply for the truth and trounced anyone who dared to corrupt it. That was the message I read this morning as I sipped my coffee.
1 John 2:20-28 is clear: We believers have had the Holy Spirit poured out on us by Christ, and so all of us know the truth. And as long as His Spirit remains in us, we don’t need anyone to teach us because His Spirit teaches us about everything, and what He teaches is true. Hence John’s final exhortation:
Obey the Spirit’s teaching, then, and remain in union with Christ.
Good reader, this was exactly the message I needed to hear today. I grew up immersed in typical Christian culture: go to church, listen to sermons, give to missions, and attend prayer meeting when you could. I was rarely challenged to read the Bible (or think) for myself. We can’t simply shrug this issue off, because biblical illiteracy is rife in our churches. Postmoderns share several key values, but one of them I respect the most is their insistence that church be relevant to all of life. They expect to be able to ask hard questions without being patronized or dismissed. Let’s give them the goods. And let’s begin by giving them God’s Word. They want to grapple with theology and ecclesiology and a thousand other topics. Remember this: The best antidote to evangelical group-think is reading the Bible for ourselves. Yes, I enjoy a good sermon as much as the next person. But Muggeridge got it right: Even the greatest sermon pales when compared to one tiny sip of the living water Jesus Himself promises to anyone who is thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. The Bible is the best Christian resource out there, so let’s lift it high. Do I read books about the Bible? Sure do. Have I written books about the Bible? Yep. But nothing, and I mean nothing, can replace drinking directly from the fountain of knowledge itself.
P.S. My ever-productive assistant has again updated the What’s New? page at our Greek Portal. Included is a link to a journal article I published many years ago on the text of 1 John 2:20, where the apostle John either says to his readers “You all know” or “You know all things.” I argue for the latter reading, in case anyone is interested.
Not long ago — well, this morning actually — I read about a brand new translation of the New Testament calling itself The Pure Word. It claims to reveal “the original Koine-Greek depths of meaning from the time of Christ using breakthroughs in monadic-based hermeneutics.” It further claims that “English is an imprecise language that can easily cause misunderstanding. In contrast, one of the most complete languages that clarifies intent is Koine Greek ….” Well, I think we could use a little more information. Please tell us by name who your translators were. Please explain to us what “monadic-based hermeneutics” is. Please give us more than one verse as a sample. Please back up your assertion that “There are over 450 English New Testament translations; all riddled with inaccuracies that never referenced the original Greek scriptures” with proof. As someone who originally worked on the ISV New Testament, I think we owe as much to our readers. The field of Christian publishing is a pressure cooker. Nowhere is this truer than with Bible translations. Bible publishing is this bizarre world where we hyperventilate because another translation is trying to vie for our loyalty. This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it restricted to the world of Bible translations. (Beginning Greek grammars fall into this category.) For instance, does this rendering of John 3:16 in The Pure Bible really help us understand what the Greek is saying?
Because, God has Loved in such a manner the satan’s world, so that He Gave His Son, the Only Begotten Risen Christ, in order that whoever is Continuously by his choice Committing for the Result and Purpose of Him, should not perish, but definitely should, by his choice, be Continuously Having Eternal Life.
I think not. And then there’s this notion that somehow Koine Greek is ambiguity-free. I can’t tell you how many times I heard it stated in college that the New Testament had to be written in Greek because Greek is the most perfect language in the history of the world. In seminary I recall reading about the days when some New Testament scholars were even promoting the idea of a special “Holy Ghost Greek” that God invented in order to inscripturate His New Testament truth — a notion that turned out to be, by the way, a demonstrable cul-de-sac. What would be so difficult about providing us with more information? More examples? A list of the translators along with their qualifications? It is hard to produce a new Bible translation. I know. But I think we do the church a tragic disservice to publish one in relative secrecy. By the way, scanning my bookshelves I see I have dozens of English Bible translations. They do me absolutely no good unless I read them. No, you don’t need to spend exactly one hour in the Word every day. But God’s beautiful Word — well, it’s essential, folks, and you’ll need it before the day is through, believe me. Reading the Word is how we become centered and remember that God wants to be personally involved in our lives. That’s why I was kicking myself this morning for forgetting my Greek New Testament at the office. (As you would expect from a Greek teacher, I read only my Greek New Testament. Except sometimes when I also read an English Bible translation. Okay, so many English translations that it has gotten a bit embarrassing.) What I’m trying to say is this: There’s simply no excuse for not being in God’s Word. At the same time, no Bible translation is perfect — which is exactly why we need so many of them for comparison.
Check out The Pure Bible for yourself. In the video clip, you’ll hear how the different Greek words for “love” in John 21:15-17 are said to be crucial for our understanding of this passage. Not all would agree, of course. But like I said, check it out for yourself. Hopefully the publisher will provide us with more information shortly. I’m especially curious to know who the translators were.
7:12 AM At the end of his biography, Malcolm Muggeridge writes something truly profound. He’s talking about the British government but his words, I think, apply to the current political situation in the U.S.
The Apostle Paul, as usual, was right when he told the early Christians that all earthly authority must be accepted since it could only exist to the degree that it was acceptable to God — that is to say, appropriate. When it ceased to be so, it would collapse.
Think about this. Instead of inviting the polarizing ambiguity of politics into our kingdom fellowships and fighting over what we think Caesar should do (and, of course, our side knows better than your side what government should do), we could stop blaming government for what it is or isn’t doing and partner with whatever other churches are willing to mimic Jesus, forsake privilege and power, and advance the Jesus-looking kingdom. In the spiritual realm, it seems to me that we’re spending a lot of time treating symptoms instead of the disease. An aspirin may remove the symptom but there may well be a more serious cause of the headache. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call attention to symptoms. But the basic trouble is the old self-life that doesn’t consent to identification with Christ.
A lot more could be said (and needs to be said — see my aforementioned book if you’re interested), but this post is already longer than I wanted it to be.
5:18 PMThis afternoon I’ve been watching YouTubes of Malcolm Muggeridge, and one of them merits at least a very brief comment. In it, Muggeridge opines:
To identify Christian hopes with an earthly cause, however ostensibly noble, is disastrous, because all earthly causes end in total disappointment.
It was my reading of Muggeridge (as well as Jacque Ellul) that launched a path that ended up in my book Christian Archy.
Muggeridge (and Ellul) taught me a powerful lesson about God’s work in the world. Participating in political causes as Christians inevitably requires acceptable compromise. That’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in government or politics. But it’s most certainly not their duty to do so. The most important part of Christian initiation is the new birth, for without the new life that comes to us through conversion, we simply have not begun living out the kingdom of God. Being a Republican or a Democrat has nothing to do with it. What would happen if the church took the words of Muggeridge to heart? What if Christians did what Jesus called them and empowered them to do? I submit we would do more than the combined efforts of all the world’s governments and political parties put together. Sadly, a secular world looks at the church and concludes that the only kind of power most Christians think makes an actual difference is political power. But our job is to manifest God’s scandalous love by using our time, talents, and resources to serve the world.
The one thing I like most about Muggeridge is his call to regeneration. There must always be a surrender to the claims of Jesus. And consequently, there must always be a lifestyle change. Without the new birth, we have good reason to doubt that Christian discipleship has begun. The older I get, the surer I am that this message of Muggeridge’s — this message of the New Testament — needs to be at the very center of our proclamation as followers of Jesus Christ. The new birth is crucial, but it is often muted or absent in churches that are into the maintenance of the chairs on the Titanic. Christianity begins with conversion, a personal encounter with the risen Christ. I thank God that I heard this call to conversion when I was 8 years old. I am well aware that not all are so fortunate.
(April 11, 2019) 7:15 AM I’m no expert on world missions, but by God’s providence I’ve been around the globe a few times. It has been an enormous privilege to minister in many countries. It humbles me to think that I’ve had a front row seat to see the workings of God in many parts of the world. It began in 1978, when Becky and I spent 3 months in West Germany. Some aspects of that trip were ludicrous: I thought I could speak German, but frequently made a fool of myself. I was often corrected ruthlessly. Still, I was privileged to see the Lord’s hand in the work our brass octet did as we traveled the length of breadth of that nation. Even in those early days, I realized that God can take any talent we have and use it for His service. The very evening we arrived in Seeheim after 24 hours of travel, I was asked to usher for a crusade being given in town by Joni Earickson. All I wanted to do was sleep. But I was young, and besides, who could pass up an opportunity to hear Joni speak? Her talk was electric. Such were some of the excitements of ministry in the early days of my life as a missionary of Christ.
Later I began traveling to South Korea to teach. I’ve made 6 such trips. This was my first real exposure to Asian Christianity, and I was fascinated to see the appeal of Jesus to the students I taught. At first I thought I was an abject failure. The students would never look at me when when I lectured. Later I was told that this was a mark of respect in that culture. You learn something new every day. My trips to Korea reinforced my determination to make Christ known wherever in the world I went and as long as I could travel internationally.
I have the happiest of memories of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. Simple to see where Becky grew up made an enormous impression on me. Today, during my lectureship at Piedmont International University, I plan on sharing some stories of our visits to Africa. Our repeated visits to Ethiopia were not without costs: malaria for me, and unspeakable disappoints for Becky. I began turning my attention more to Europe, especially the countries that were once in the Soviet Union. I can’t always recall why I was initially invited to visit Romania or Ukraine, but I was, and I delighted in the fellowship I enjoyed with my brothers and sisters there. I remember well a lectureship I gave for a week in Romania. It began in Oradea and finished up in Bucharest. Midweek I happened to be in Cluj, which my mother’s family of 12 left in 1916 in order to make its way to the U.S. It was a bit embarrassing for me not to be able to speak a word of the language, even though I am half Romanian. But it was wonderful to see the dedication and commitment of young people with had practically nothing, except a deep love for Jesus. When later I returned to Asia (13 further trips), what struck me was the way the new generation of Christians were taking risks for God and seeing fruit. I felt a sense of shame that we in the West are sometimes ignorant of the persecution of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, and I found myself praying that God would fan into flame the small fires of renewal to be found in churches where I live and work in North Carolina and Virginia.
I can’t help but wonder how different how things might have been for me had Becky and I not taken that first trip to West Germany. It’s remarkable to see what the Lord is doing all over the world. And it is remarkable to see more and more North Americans becoming intentional about missions both at home and abroad. This speaks eloquently of the free grace of Christ that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
All this, and more, will be on my heart and mind as I travel to speak at Piedmont. We need Christian centers like this, ready and willing to send forth students into the harvest. There is nothing gimmicky about the Gospel. You just follow King Jesus in obedience and love. I’m convinced that the churches in the Majority World have far more to teach us than we have to teach them. The future of the universal church now lies with them. The growth of the church in Asia, Africa, and Latin America totally eclipses anything in the West. Today I hope to share some of the lessons I’ve learned through my travels to these places. I’ll have the opportunity to pass out complimentary copies of my booklet Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?My appeal to my audience will be as basic as ABC:
Ask God to show you the needs of the people you hope to reach.
Be practical and sacrificial in responding to them.
Commit yourself to action.
There is nothing iconoclastic about the Great Commission. Partnership is the key word. We have a long way to go in our churches in America, but the job can be done provided we are prepared to make sacrifices of our time, prayer, finances, and commitment.
Thanks for reading,
Radu Gheorghita, a Romanian-American who teaches New Testament at Midwestern Seminary, served as my translator during my lectureship in Romania.
Here I’m trying to give my best impression of Count Dracula since we’re standing in front of his castle in Transylvania.
(4/6/2019) 7:45 AM The theme of my lectureship at Piedmont International University next week is “Proclaiming the Faith.” This was the theme given to me by the administration, and I’m utterly delighted with it. I’m determined to stay within the 30-minute time limit I have for the Thursday and Friday sessions, though I do have an entire hour to speak over the lunch break on Thursday. In due course I’ll post my Power Points here. I think one of the best ways we can nurture young Christians is through missions training. It enables them to share in the spreading of the Good News and see it take deep root in their own lives. But it needs to be modeled in their own churches and in the lives of their pastors. All Christians are called to serve the Lord, whether in the land of their birth or in ministry overseas (or both). It’s in serving the Lord through serving others that we develop spiritual muscles. We can serve Him through deeds of compassion or cheerful acts of helpfulness in the workplace or through undaunted witness but mostly, I think, through conforming our lives to His. Love shows itself in a myriad of ways. But if it’s going to attract anybody to the Master, it must embody that practical care for others that characterized the life of Jesus.
Just a brief word about my lecture last week in my NT class, which centered on the history and theology of Pentecostalism and the question of the sign gifts and their use (or nonuse) today. As I mentioned in class, I’m not fond of the term “Charismatic Movement” for the simple reason that all evangelicals — whether Charismatic with a capital “C” or not — are or ought to be charismatic in the sense that we all believe the Holy Spirit is given to equip us for service and mission, for love and worship. The Holy Spirit can’t be muzzled or contained. He blows where He wills. And we should celebrate that. The Charismatic Movement is a challenge to unbelief and intellectualism in the church. A true movement of the Holy Spirit always combines intellect and charism, knowledge and power. Not some but all are called to serve. We all have a ministry to perform. And, as the Book of Acts shows, the Spirit is given primarily for witness-bearing. All Christians have a story to tell, and the Holy Spirit is given to fuel our story-telling until we become enthusiastic witness-bearers. Even if we believe, as I do, that the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” refers to our initial encounter with the life-giving Spirit of God, we still need His love and power for continued witness and service. I know from sad personal experience that it’s possible to possess the Spirit of God and not be led by the same Spirit. One example will suffice, and that is prayer. Prayer is the believer’s lifeline to God, but prayer is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom. 8:26-27). We can’t achieve anything in the service of God unless we are open to the living God acting and working in our lives, and yet how abysmal is my prayer life so often. I don’t know about you, but at least once a day I have to invite the Holy Spirit to full me afresh with His power for holiness and service.
Any believer who does not do that regularly is doomed to powerlessness and ineffectiveness. I fear that much of our trouble goes back to over-intellectualism in our classrooms. A radical reform of theological education is one of the most urgent tasks of the church if it is to provide leaders whom people are willing to follow.
(Friday March 29) 6:12 AM This morning I opened my eyes and, before getting out of bed, grabbed my favorite Bible translation of all time. It’s the Bible I used when, at the age of 16, I “fell in love” with the Scriptures for the first time. (Remember when that happened to you?) The Good News Bible had just come out. Three things about this translation struck me. It was readable. It had nifty line drawings (I’ve always enjoyed good art). And it had a glossary of terms.
My text this morning was Galatians 6, and here I saw an interesting connection between v. 2 and v. 9. See it?
When we help each other, we obey the law of Christ. And when we do good (for others), we reap the harvest of eternal life. In Basel, theology was divided into two parts: dogmatics and ethics. The Germans might say Glaubenslehre and Sittenlehre, what we believe and how we live. Christianity involves knowing the good, but it always involves more than knowing. Ethical theory is quite worthless without ethical practice. The Christian life involves knowledge and action. Can Jesus be Savior and not be Lord? Those who think so need not bother themselves with ethics.
God’s Word is a songbook. Did you know that? His mandates are melodies. Today’s church suffers from a double malady. Some of us have the statutes without the song. Others of us have the song without the statutes. But we must have both words and music. Joe Aldrich used to tell his evangelism students at Biola, “Don’t say the words without playing the music.” I grew up in a church that prided itself on its strict orthodoxy. But it didn’t sing. The joy of one’s salvation, the first love, the sacrificial caring for others — these were scarcely evident. There were statutes but no songs. Other churches in Kailua tried to sing the song without the words. To be sure, they could whip up a synthetic joy, a simulated happiness, but it wasn’t grounded in God’s Word. After all, truth doesn’t matter as long as we feel good, right?
A true Christian will always have the right music and the right words. Evangelicals who care about social justice aren’t becoming liberals. They’re simply trying to be faithful to their biblical heritage. A frustrating thing about God’s character is that He always expects us to act on what we know fairly quickly. He first captures our hearts, but soon after He captures our hands, as James puts it. You see a need? You can’t just say “Best of luck!” Roughly two-thirds of unchurched adults were formerly churched. They’re not necessary anti-church. They just see the church as irrelevant to the real, hurting world in which they live.
Please hear me. I’m not saying “Go Right!” or “Go Left!” Today, American politics is utterly bankrupt. And it always nets zero converts. Did you read the news this morning? I did. Our politicians are willing to kill with words and insults. I came to Christ at the age of 8 not only because of the truth of the Gospel but because a man named Rudy Ulrich was willing to lay down his life for me. No one cared about me more than my pastor. As for me, I’m going to gamble on the fact that Jesus is calling me to do the same. Yes, I’m a truth-lover. I’ve even written a few books about the Bible. But if I’m going to err, I’ll err on the side of mercy and let Jesus sort it all out on that Day.
Maybe it’s because I grew up at the bottom (socially, economically, emotionally) that I have a bias toward people at the bottom. In his book Simplicity, Richard Rohr says “We cannot think our way into a new kind of living. We must live our way into a new kind of thinking.” Too many of us have become hyphenated Christians who build a false wedge between evangelism and social action. James makes it unmistakable that if a person is a Christian he or she will be something else too. We’re not talking about perfect Christians. There are no such Christians, but there can be no avoiding our responsibility to the least of these.
I think it was F. F. Bruce who conjectured that the word “Christians” was derived, not from Christos (Christ) but rather from the very similar-sounding chrestos, “good/kind.” (Both words may have been pronounced identically in the first century.) Followers of Jesus were known (and mocked) for being “Goody-goodies.” This is how serious the Gospel challenge is. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me” (Matt. 25:40). If our God could set aside privilege and power for the love of humanity, can’t we?
I truly believe that the evangelical church can stand on truth and at the same time share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a hurting world regardless of social status, political affiliation, and ethnicity. The unchurched want both the words and the music.
Thank you, Father, for all those who have shared good with me so sacrificially through the years. Thank you especially for those special friends, loved ones, and family members who give without question or hesitation. Please help me to do the same. Amen.