Category Archives: Christian living

Pour Out Your Grief Before Him

Friday, November 2, 2018

7:45 AM I woke up tired this morning, physically drained. And why not? Four weeks ago — a half marathon. Three weeks ago — an ultramarathon. Two weeks ago — a 52-mile bike. One week ago — a marathon. And this weekend? You know when you have a tough day coming and you dread it? It has to take place, but you still lose sleep over it. Loss is just plain tough. It’s hard to understand, deal with, work through, endure. God allows it for a reason but does that lessen its pain? If you ever feel the need to pour out your grief before Him, believe me, I understand. This morning, at 5:00 am, sitting on my front porch in the dark, I read the last chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes. Holy cow. What can we learn from this?

  • That aging and death are inevitable.
  • That God disciplines us because He loves us too much to let sin destroy our lives.
  • That, like the Philosopher who wrote this book and who “studied proverbs and honestly tested their truth” (v. 9), so we too can speak openly and honestly about our pain.
  • That reverence for God is not a feeling, it’s a choice.
  • That you can be confused and still trust Him.
  • That God doesn’t despise our fragility but created us with real, raw emotions like sorrow.
  • That suffering has a noble purpose.

Exactly five years ago this morning, to use the words of the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes 12, the silver chain snapped, the golden lamp fell and broke, the rope of the well came apart and the water jar was shattered. A body returned to the dust of the earth, and the breath of life went back to God, who gave it to her. A major part of our lives was ripped from us, and just as it takes time to heal from surgery, it takes time to heal from loss. But no matter what our loss may be, the words of the Bible remain true:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.

Let me mention four things that have helped me cope with grief through the years. Maybe they can help you cope with your own losses as they come to you in life:

Be yourself. Others may try to “fix” you, but you don’t need fixing. Embrace your grief and learn from it. It is a great teacher.

Expect to be overwhelmed from time to time. Grief is like that giant wave that pummeled me at Sunset Beach years ago. When waves break, they smother you, and you struggle to survive. But waves eventually run out of energy. They expend their power and calm returns. Struggling against a wave is an exercise in futility. You must yield, accept, and even embrace it. The quicker you do that, the more you will recover.

Force yourself to look to the future. Turn your heart and mind to what God still has in store for you. I am grateful my kids helped me to see the importance of doing this. “Daddy, why not start running?” “Daddy, why not go back to Hawaii and surf again?” “Daddy, we’d like you to come and visit us for Thanksgiving.” By forcing ourselves to look to the future, we begin, little by little, to cope with the past.

Help others. One way God carries our burdens as His children is by sending someone into our lives who’s experienced something similar to what we have experienced. All around us are people who are hurting, who have needs (spiritual or financial), and when we reach out to them, we help not only them but ourselves.

Suffering is one of the hardest parts of our faith. But beauty after ashes is possible. Becky died with her family by her side. We wept over her still-warm body. Then we sang a hymn and prayed, expressing our gratitude to God for her life and that finally she was in pain no longer. I quietly asked everyone to leave the room. I caressed Becky’s hand one last time, reluctant to let her go. I wept as I said a final goodbye to my beloved friend and partner. Then I left the room to plan her memorial service. Becky would have been surprised at how many people attended her homegoing celebration on campus. But I wasn’t surprised. Becky was an honest and decent human being whom everybody admired.

I have many more special memories to offer, but this is not the place or the time. I miss you so much, my darling Becky. I wish you could be here to enjoy your grandchildren like I can. But I bet you’re watching everything from above and smiling. I grieve for my adulthood without you, but I accept it. I’m so glad we were always together, perhaps in sickness even more than in health. I have no right to feel self pity. Your life was a pure blessing to me. You taught me about so many things and I will hold on to every one of those truths. I can’t imagine having another intimate relationship. At this point in my life, I have plenty to do just keeping up with our kids and grandkids. I know that your spirit of love and generosity lives on in their hearts, and for that I am grateful. I hope that someday I can learn to trust God like you did. Deep down, I know that losing you will help me to discover who I am, now that I am on my own. I love you, sweetheart. I hope you can hear/see/feel that.

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Becky Lynn Black.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Fruit of the Spirit

(Thursday, September 20, 2018) Like most people, I think of lots of things when I’m biking (or running, or walking).

Today my random thought was: I wonder why Paul used so many agricultural metaphors in his writings. Specifically, he mentions the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians — a book I’ve been pondering of late, as you can probably tell. Please tell me I’m not the only person who likes to take a metaphor and translate it into non-metaphorical language. So, why did Paul say “fruit” of the Spirit when he could have said “deeds” or “works” or “expressions” or “products”? He must have thought there was an important distinction between the “works” of the flesh and the “fruit” of the Spirit, ya think? I once heard someone say that it’s the difference between the fruit on a tree in an orchard and the ornaments on a Christmas tree in your living room. The Christmas tree ornaments have no living connection to the tree. They are completely independent objects that we hang on the tree. But fruit has a vital connection to the tree. Without the life in the tree, there can be no fruit on the tree.

As I pondered this question while riding along, I thought back to the lecture I gave yesterday on what the apostle Paul says about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the book of Galatians. It’s one thing to know the will of God. It’s another thing to actually do God’s will. And the amazing thing is that the obedience that God requires in our lives is exactly the same obedience that He enables. Because I wasn’t able to do this in my lecture yesterday due to time constraints, I want to point out here four additional metaphors Paul uses to describe how we are to live the Christian life. These are all to be found in the 5th chapter of Galatians. They are:

  • Walk in the Spirit.
  • Be led by the Spirit.
  • Keep in step with the Spirit.
  • Sow to the Spirit.

To walk in the Spirit is to live by the power that the Spirit gives us. To be led by the Spirit is to allow the Spirit to direct our lives instead of our fallen, sinful natures. To keep in step in the Spirit is a wonderful military metaphor. “Left, right, left, right,” goes the drill sergeant, and likewise we place our feet wherever the Holy Spirit is wanting us to place them. Finally, we need to sow to the Spirit if we are to bear the “fruit” of the Spirit.

So you might wonder: How do I know whether or not I am walking in, being led by, keeping in step with, and sowing to the Spirit? The Bible is clear that this does not happen automatically. As Paul says in Eph. 5:18, we have to invite the Holy Spirit of God to control our lives. I don’t know about you, but I have to do this on a daily basis at least. Every morning, before I set foot on the floor, I pray a very simple prayer: “Father, thank You so much for this new day. It belongs to You. My goal this day is to please You. Lord Jesus, You are my King and my Master. My goal this day is to serve You. And Holy Spirit, please fill me with Your power and presence so that I may be enabled to please the Father and serve the Lord Christ.” Then I begin to proceed through my day. I’m constantly asking, “Lord, what would you have me do today? What shall I write today, if anything? How shall I serve you today? What emails and text messages should I answer and when? Who needs a phone call of encouragement from me today? What exercises shall I do today to maintain this temple You’ve given me? Where and for how long shall I meditate on Your word? Shall I cut grass today or tomorrow?”

As for prayer, for me the key verse is Eph. 5:18: “praying at all times in the Spirit.” I don’t want prayer to be a do-it-yourself activity. I want to pray when the Spirit is prompting me to pray, all throughout the day. Plus, keep in mind that prayer is much more than spoken communication. Prayer is also communion — a moment by moment, step by step, relationship with God. Not only do I pray when I get up in the morning, but I pray while biking or running, while doing the kitchen dishes, while standing in the grocery store line, while taking a shower. I’m not very good at compartmentalizing: This is spiritual, and this isn’t. Sometimes my prayer is a quick “Thanks.” Often it’s a desperate “Help me.” Prayer, for me, is like talking to my best friend. It’s spontaneous. While out biking today, about all I could think about was how thankful I am to God to be able to be outdoors doing what I love to do. Sometimes I pray with groanings that can’t be expressed in words, as I did for a long time last night. It’s at these moments that the Holy Spirit, we are told, “helps us in our weakness…. And the Father who knows our hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27). Finally, more often than I’d like, I find myself asking forgiveness of the One I love. That’s why, when I wake up in the morning, the first thought on my mind is, “Holy Spirit, please help me. Fill me with Yourself so that I may walk in You, be led by You, keep in step with You, and sow to You.”

My friend, whatever it is you are relying on today other than the Spirit for help in making progress in holiness, for God’s sake, get rid of it. Amputate it as you would a gangrene limb. He accepts you as you are. And the obedience that He requires of you this day, He will also enable. You can count on it.

Well, sorry folks, but my thoughts are totally random and scrambled after I work out. I think of a lot of things while exercising, and it just so happened that today you had to bear the brunt of my latest cogitating!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of a number of books, many of them from Energion Publications, including The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and Forty Years of Teaching. This post used by permission.)

The Word and Unhooked Christians

(Friday, July 20, 2018) 7:46 AM Hey guys. This morning I’ve been “in the Word.” Both of them. I think God worked overtime on this morning’s sunrise, don’t you?

And then there was this passage in Heb. 13:1-2:

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t forget to welcome strangers into your homes and show them Christian love, for some did this and welcomed angels without even knowing it.

Two quick observations if I may:

First, I noticed the verbal aspect in the first command: “Keep on loving one another.” I find it interesting that the author didn’t rely on the tense of the verb to express his desire for continuous action. He used a verb that literally means “let it continue.” Perhaps our Greek textbooks should reflect this way of “mitigating” imperfective aspect?

Second, I noticed the morphological connection between “love of brothers” and “love of strangers.” This play on the phil-prefix is often missed in our English translations — “brotherly love” versus “hospitality.” Why should this be?

Finally, this morning I was reviewing my syllabus for the New Testament course I’m teaching this fall. This course is designed to cover Acts through Revelation. Its official title is “New Testament Introduction and Interpretation 2,” but I’ve entitled it “Becoming New Covenant Christians: Living a Life of Sacrificial Service to God and Others by Following the Downward Path of Jesus.” One of the books we’ll be using in class is this one.

I wrote this short treatise because, despite the proliferation of books about the church in recent years, no one had (to the best of my knowledge) ever exegeted 11 brief verses in Acts 2 that seem to practically “list” the hallmarks of the nascent church in Jerusalem. The early church was an evangelistic church, reaching out to the world in witness. It was a committed church, pledging allegiance to Christ alone in the waters of baptism. It was a learning church, devoted to the teachings of the apostles. It was a caring church, eager to share life together with one another (koinonia). It was a Christ-centered church, elevating His supper to a place of continued prominence. It was a praying church, asking God to help keep it pure and to give it bigger challenges to expand its territory. And it was a sacrificing church, generously caring for their poor brothers and sisters.

Today we read a great deal about “unhooked Christians,” Christians who’ve dropped out of the church. The reason they had done this was their disappointment and disillusionment with the local church. These churches seemed to lack a heart of witness, unquestioned loyalty to Jesus, devotion to biblical truth, genuine fellowship, Christ-centeredness, a keen sense of dependence upon God, and a sacrificial spirit, which is always a test of the sincerity of one’s love for Christ. With apologies to MLK, I have a dream of a church that is a truly biblical church, whose people love the Word of God and adorn it with loyalty and obedience. Such is my dream for the church. May it be one that all of us can share in our NT class this semester!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is the author of The Jesus Paradigm and many other books.)

Turning to Our Great High Priest

(July 11, 2018) 10:16 PM This evening Sheba and I were sitting on the front porch watching the storms going through the area, casting a feeling of foreboding over the countryside. My mind went to a decision I recently made that I have since come to regret. It wasn’t a life or death matter, or even a right versus wrong matter. It was simply a choice I made, made too hastily and without sufficient forethought. The regrets have since piled up in my brain and are sitting there festering. Ugh. I’m often paralyzed by decision making. I have been guilty of making by-the-seat-of-my-pants decisions. Then I say to myself, “Wie dumm von mir!” (Okay, so I don’t really speak German to myself. Well, not often. But I love that line of Rommel’s from the movie The Longest Day. “How dumb of me!” said the German commander when he realized that the Allied invasion of Europe was taking place in Normandy and not at the Pas de Calais as everyone, Rommel included, had assumed.) Do you know what happened next? I opened the book of Hebrews and my eyes just happened to fall on Heb. 4:14-16. That was a God thing, big time. This text began whispering to me, “You’re ignoring your Great High Priest.” And I was. Not only was I not turning to the throne of grace for help in time of need, I was turning everywhere else for relief from my self-inflicted guilt. Evidently, Jesus understands exactly what I’m going through. “Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses.” And boy do I have weaknesses. Becky would have not made the mistake I made. But I’m not Becky. I’m me. We each had our own weaknesses, but a good many of them we shared, per Craig Koester’s description of “weaknesses” in his Hebrews commentary (p. 283):

1) Physical weakness.

2) Social weakness.

3) Vulnerability to sin.

Jesus enables weak people like me to “approach the throne of grace” (v. 14). “[H]uman beings are subject to forces beyond their control, and they need help to cope with daily life” (Koester, p. 295). There is something so nourishing, so healing, when we remember that our High Priest understands exactly what we’re going through. It’s like falling into a soft cushion. When I’m feeling down, I want to call Pizza Hut. When I fail to look unto Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith, I injure my own soul. A soul divided against itself will collapse, crushing everyone taking refuge under its shelter. Enter Jesus. Is there anything more we could ask for? Sure, we could spend our lives dragging our regrets behind us, but that’s our choice. Jesus allows us to move beyond our guilt and regrets by commanding us to look unto Himself (Heb. 12:2). “You’re not a failure.” “Everyone else struggles like you.” “I understand.” Jesus may have suffered, but I bet you a thousand bucks He was not whiny. I am His friend, beloved and treasured. If I ask Him for strength and mercy and grace, He will give them to me.

Obviously, I’m still working on this wisdom thingy. When we make silly decisions, He’s neither shocked nor horrified. Love still wins. Hope still triumphs. Faith still conquers. I may not be able to see my Great High Priest, but evidences of His presence are everywhere. All I have to do is pause and look for them. If any of you cared what I thought and asked for my opinion (right after Uncle Sam sends me a million dollar tax refund), I would say that we all need to give a lot more space in our lives for the concept of redemption. We need to incorporate a worldview that begins and ends with our Great High Priest, Jesus. I couldn’t fathom living a single day without Him. Could you? This has everything to do with Christian discipleship. Not only is Jesus the compassionate High Priest we’ve always wanted, He creates peace in us that we can only find in Him.

I’ve had many setbacks in life. And there will be plenty more to come. But the fact is, failure after failure has brought me to the place where I am today. The point is that I tried. I wasn’t afraid of failing. Mistakes are always learning opportunities.

Hey, Dave!

Try again.

Learn from your mistakes.

Never let fear paralyze you.

Fall down 10 times, get up 11.

Keep the faith even when you have no earthly reason to do so.

Never be the victim of your circumstances.

Stop beating yourself up.

Grab hold of your High Priest.

In celebration of Him, I’m gonna visit the throne of grace and tarry a while tonight. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus — not Jesus the tooth fairy, but Jesus the Redeemer and Lover of my soul. This is so cliché, I know, but it really is true.

Through all of my tough times, I will forever be grateful for Him.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

 

Divine Gifts or Natural Abilities

(Thursday, April 5, 2018) 9:50 AM “In your opinion, what’s the best book on spiritual gifts?” A student asked me this question after my NT class yesterday. That’s easy. Kenneth Hemphill’s Spiritual Gifts: Empowering the New Testament Church. That said, I cautioned my student to be aware of two things: (1) the lists of NT gifts are not exhaustive, and (2) none of the gifts is defined per se. Then I asked him this question: “What, in your thinking, is the difference between a ‘natural ability’ and a ‘spiritual gift’?” I had a reason for asking him that question. You see, in the end I think there’s very little difference between a so-called natural ability and a spiritual gift. When you become a follower of Jesus, two things happen. First, you acknowledge that every one of your so-called “natural abilities” is really a gift from the gracious hand of God. And secondly, you now employ those gifts in His service and for His glory alone. One of the gravest dangers of doing a spiritual gifts inventory on people is that it can all too often produce carbon copies of a stereotypical archetype. Instead, let’s ask people, “What do you love to do? What is your passion in life? What is it that you do that causes you to feel God’s pleasure?” Psychologists call this “self-discernment,” but for Christians, self-discernment is always connected to our relationship with God. The more we become like Jesus, the more we become authentically ourselves. What incredibly important theology. The path to self-fulfillment is simply discovering who our Creator designed us to be. (Side note. Here’s a quick test to determine if you’re doing the rightthing with your life and not merely a good thing. Do the satisfactions of your work outweigh the stresses? If your vocation is born out of a relationship with Jesus, then it will be a pleasure both for you and for others. After all, Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” So what are we complaining about?)

Our chapel speaker on Tuesday drove this point home. “Don’t waste your life! Don’t bury your God-given talents!” It’s simply too costly. So let’s give people the freedom to be what God wants them to be. The best we can do is give them Jesus, not a book about spiritual gifts. I have no confidence in Dave Black but I have every confidence in my Savior. He is utterly dependable, and if we look to Him, He will guide us in the right path for our lives. Trust me, no one wants to follow a fraud. Be who you are, the real you, the person God created you to be. The church is for real people with real families who lead real lives. And always remember the theology: Our true self emerges only from our uniqueness in Christ.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm and many other books.)

On Vituperation and Careful Exegesis

7:34 AM Vituperation. Noun meaning abusive language, a sustained and bitter condemnation. Synonyms include invective, disparagement, vilification, scolding, condemnation, opprobrium, obloquy, castigation, attack, censure, vitriol, venom. From Latin vituperatio, from the past participle of vituperare, “disparage.” Examples include:

Four years later, in a contest marked by grotesque vituperation, Jefferson beat Adams.

Accordingly, Puerto Ricans experienced many of the same denigrating conditions familiar to African-Americans: housing segregation, inferior schools, job discrimination, media vituperation and everyday violence.

A more negative and ungodly human trait can scarcely be imagined. I once worked for a man in California who used abusive language constantly. It was a well-paying job so I overlooked his fault until one day he turned his opprobrium on me. The next day he had my resignation on his desk. (I’m ashamed it took me so long.) We humans tend to vilify others when we disagree with them. We revel in other people’s humiliation. Some of us vilify others by talking behind their backs. Others are happy to use abusive language in public. Nazi propaganda even published children’s books that vilified Jews. Last year Facebook and Twitter spent much of their time cataloguing Russia-backed ad spending on their sites to vilify certain presidential candidates in the 2016 election. Someone has said, “To bake a vilification cake, just add ignorance and stir.” All wrong recoils upon the vilifier. He or she finds ugliness attractive. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness.” If I were to call someone “very insecure,” “lightweight,” “totally unhinged,” “dishonest,” “totally biased,” “a total loser,” or “sick” in public, odds are that I’d only be describing myself.

People seem to vilify others more in politics than other fields of endeavor. John Ehrlichman, a key player in the Watergate scandal, once famously said:

The Nixon Campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left, and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Ehrlichman was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy and sent to prison.

The reason I’m bringing this up? In our passage for the week, 1 Thess. 2:13-16, Paul is said by some scholars to be using vituperation/invective. One commentator, for example, refers to Paul’s “attack on the Jewish people.” He says that Paul and other New Testament writers used “vituperation directed at the Jewish people as a tool in the struggle,” never dreaming “of the consequences of their statements on subsequent generations.” Well, I’m not buying it. As Willi Marxsen has shown, an anti-Semitic interpretation of 1 Thess. 2:13-16 can be held only when these verses are disconnected from their context (Einleitung in das Neue Testament, pp. 48ff.). I’ve already blogged about the punctuation at the end of verse 14. The difference is between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. So if you punctuate the text as is commonly done (“… the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus…”), I think you’re missing Paul’s point big time. A more accurate rendering, in my view, would be:

You suffered the same persecutions from the people of your own country as they did from those Jews who killed the Lord Jesus (ISV).

It’s clear that Paul’s words are directed at only those Jews who were hostile towards the Gospel and, indeed, his words aren’t aimed at Jewish opponents alone, insofar as the readers’ own countrymen (who were Gentiles) were attempting to thwart Paul’s evangelistic efforts. In class Tuesday night we’ll talk about this subject. We have to. A large part of exegesis comes down to observing carefully the details of a passage. It requires us to disabuse ourselves of our attachment to modern marks of punctuation (which for the most part are merely the contributions of editors). It all boils down to a close reading of the text, a willingness to consider the context, and an ability to read commentaries discerningly and even suspiciously.

Is vituperation a characteristic of the world’s most loving and selfless apostle? I think not. Such a character flaw is only descriptive of small people. Very small people.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Dave Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm, Running My Race, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and many other books.)

The Goal of Our Instruction Is Love

(From Dave Black Online, June 27, 2017. Used by permission.)

8:12 AM Did you know that students at the College of Charleston can take a class called Sport Physiology and Marathon Training? Bet you’ll never guess what the final exam is. You guessed exactly right. Running a marathon. I ask you humbly: How can students take “New Testament” and remain overfed, arrogant, and unconcerned? The U.S. spends more on trash bags than almost half the world spends on all goods combined. This helps me better understand Paul’s teaching in 1 Tim. 1:5: “The goal of our instruction is love.” I like how The Message puts it: “The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love — love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.”

I’m finally beginning to connect the dots. As an old Scottish proverb puts it: “Greek, Hebrew, and Latin have their proper place, but it’s not at head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus.” God is requiring from our New Testament students obedience. Not the kind that is little more than an hour of inconvenience on Sunday morning. The next time there’s a Run for Nepal — a 5K race in Morrisville, NC dedicated to raising funds to rebuild that country after its devastating 2013 earthquake — I hope hundreds of born-again Jesus freaks will sign up with me. “Broken and poured out for you” is the way Jesus, I think, would put it. Jesus left heaven to come to the foulest place in the universe only to be betrayed by His own. When His followers are asked to do the same thing, they can only hear and obey (hearken). I once asked God to send me to a closed country. I knew it was a dangerous prayer. But I meant it. And He answered. At the very same time, it was glaringly obvious to anyone who took the time to notice that my stateside priorities were far more about me and my scholarly reputation than about God and other people. Richard Rohr writes that “… power, prestige, and possessions are the three things that prevent us from recognizing the reign of God….” (Simplicity, p. 56). The pattern of ascent is so ingrained in our circles that it may be physically painful for some of us to reject it. But if I am to “take the lowest place” (Luke 14:10), I’ll need to get off my high horse.

τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη.

I hate this kind of simplicity. I hate asking to be countercultural, even as an academic. But that’s where I am, folks. I am so over upward mobility. I’m ready to join to Jesus at the bottom. And ask my dear students to do the same.

Unity and Other-centeredness

[04/14/2017] 7:56 AM Phil. 1:15-18a is a parenthesis. A what? A parenthesis in grammar is a remark or passage that departs from the main theme of the discourse. You can call it a digression if you like (though the latter term has a slightly different connotation). I just made a parenthetical remark, by the way. So, then, in Phil. 15-18a Paul offers his readers an aside. He says in passing that he rejoices that the Gospel is being proclaimed even by people who are opposing him out of personal animosity. Who cares? Ti gar! The only thing that matters is that Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice!

When you were young, did your parents ever tell you, “Watch the tone of your voice”? Sometimes it’s not what we say that’s wrong. It’s the way we say it. Paul’s is prison. He’s facing possible execution. What’s more, not everybody there likes him. He could have grumped, griped, complained, and made life miserable for himself and for all those around him. Instead, he looked at the bright side of everything. Even when he’s pointing out selfishness and impure motives (as he’s doing here), he does it with a tone of grace and kindness. It doesn’t mean it lessons the seriousness of the problem. It just means we don’t have to add to the problem by the way we speak.

By the way, in case you didn’t see the connection, Paul is again “telegraphing” to his readers (us included) that in this letter he is going to deal directly with the problem of disunity in the church (see 4:2-3). Disunity occurs when we “look out for our own interests rather than the interests of others” and when we “esteem ourselves as being more important than others” (2:2). The antidote for our self-centeredness is, of course, a good dose of tapeinophrosune — “lowliness of mind” (2:3). Today, I can choose to be other-centered. I can choose to forgive that relative who has hurt me. I can choose to be patient rather than fly off the handle. I can choose to pray more and wimp less. I can choose to be like Jesus: generous and loyal. Let’s pinky promise today — you and me — that we’re really going to make an effort to listen to the people in our lives. That we’ll be slow to speak and quick to hear. I pray that the Holy will invade our lives today, that we would see (as Paul did) where God is hiding in plain sight in our lives, that even when we feel taken advantage of we will remember that we are the chief of sinners.

The Gospel is more important than people’s motives. If our inner monologue is constantly negative toward those who don’t act and think the way we do, it’s time to move back to grace. Isn’t that what Paul is saying?

It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

It will take me an entire year to fathom the depths of what Paul just said. I absolutely understand why we would criticize people who are hoping to take advantage of our misfortune. But it’s sadly possible to bend the universe too sharply toward our own feelings. I suspect that the real culprit is our failure to unpack the root motives behind our own actions. Love God and serve Him. Really, nothing else matters. If you are ever unsure how to treat other people, just remember how Jesus treated us. He loved us even when we despised Him. This gives me such comfort. It also reminds me that I never — never! — have to compare myself with anyone else. Play the “Gospel competition” game? You can have it!

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Rising to the Occasion of Crisis

[January 31, 2017] 7:45 AM Vital information:

1) Full text of the executive order.

2) Current vetting procedures for refugees.

3) Contact numbers for your Senators.

Stay informed, my fellow Americans! Let your views be heard!

Let’s not forget, too, that the New Testament sets forth a pattern of crisis and conduct:

1) Rom. 13:11-14

2) 1 Cor. 7:29-31

3) Tit. 2:11-14

4) 1 Pet. 4:7-19

5) 2 Pet. 3:10-12

There is no doubt about the crisis, but is our conduct rising to the occasion?

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.]

Is EKKLESIA Called Out or Community

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

6:35 PM In Greek class today we discussed words and how they take on meaning. It’s part of my effort to make class practical and motivational. At the same time, there’s nothing easy about lexical analysis. Much of it is undoing damage. Take the well-known and much-discussed fallacy of etymologizing — determining a word’s meaning by its constituent parts (morphemes). For example, some insist that a New Testament church is “called out” from the world — separate, if you will — based on the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which is comprised of two parts — ek, “out of,” and kaleo, “I call.” Hence the church is a “called out” organism. It is to be different from the world. And believers are to separate themselves from the world.

In New Testament usage, however, it seems that the word ekklesia never quite had this meaning of “called out ones.” Normally it was used to describe a group of people that had something in common. At times this group met, and then it was an ekklesia. At other times it wasn’t meeting per se, but even then it was an ekklesia. This term was used in contrast to ochlos — a term that describes a group of people that have come together and yet have nothing really in common. Ochlos is often glossed as “crowd” in English, and that is indeed a very good rendering. How, then, should we translate ekklesia into English? When I posed this question to my class today, I got several excellent responses: “gathering,” “assembly,” “congregation,” and the like. All of these are fine, but none of them in my opinion captures the essence of what a New Testament ekklesia is. I prefer the term “community.” Church is not simply a group of just any people, and it is most certainly not a building. Instead, I like to think of a church as a space in which all of us are ministering, praying, preaching, teaching, singing, caring, loving — a family if you will. Our motto might be: “We’re all in this together. So let’s do it together.” This is the community to which we, as followers of Jesus, are giving ourselves with our whole hearts. This is our “church” — a diverse, global, caring paean of praise to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, Master, and only true Senior Pastor.

Recently I became part of a similar community, a community known simply as the “runners’ community.” The similarities between this community and the “church” are legion. As soon as I began running competitively I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice — where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race. Being part of this community helps each of us to become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners. We are a celebration of men and women, boys and girls, who are striving to be the best and healthiest versions of ourselves through running and fitness. We are forever occupied with growth, with exposing and developing what is latent with us. Each race is an enactment of a lifelong struggle for advancement and perfection.

I am not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: “I’m looking for a Bible for my mother but I’m not sure who the author is.” A non-runner asks you, “How far is your next 5K race?” As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn! We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain. An athletic race is a place where we discover strength and faith and courage we never knew we possessed. We are runners. It doesn’t matter how fast we run or or how far we run. It doesn’t whether we are running in our very first race or have been running for fifty years. During a 5K race this past weekend I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race at about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran.” I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him “The World’s Greatest Runner Award” that day.

Running metaphors occur all over the place in the New Testament. Think Heb. 12:1; Phil. 2:16; Gal. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:7; and 1 Cor. 9:24-26. Remember: this is a race we run together. It’s no different in the running community. “Hey guys. I’ve got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?” Or (in the church), “As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?” The point is: We are there for each other.

At one time I was really struggling going uphill in 5K races. So I asked the winner of a race how I could improve. His simple answer caught me off guard. “You learn to run uphill by running uphill.” Yet another reminder that “we’re all in this together.” Need more proof? Watch this.

So what will it be, church?

This?

Or this?

It’s our choice.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)