Ordinary People

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.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Billy Graham on Racism

Friday, May 8, 2020

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.

From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. Note: Dave’s blog does not include separate posts that can be linked. As his publisher, Energion Publications posts selections here.

A Generous Disciple

8:40 AM My reading this morning was in what is probably my favorite letter in the New Testament. Perhaps no human being is less into writings that are too wordy, but the author of Hebrews doesn’t waste a single syllable. His point in the final chapters of his message (a letter, true, but more of a transcript of a sermon spoken to a group of Christians audibly) is that the way we love each other, serve each other, and live our lives with each other really matters. It’s a big deal to Jesus. One little snippet jumped out at me:

Don’t forget to do good and to share what you have with those in need, for such sacrifices are very pleasing to him (TLB).

This reminds me very much of Rom. 12:13 (which, by the way, is my life verse):

When God’s children are in need, you be the one to help them out (TLB).

Generosity ranks terribly high on Jesus’ list of required attributes for His followers. Back to Hebrews for a moment:

Stay away from the love of money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never, never fail you nor forsake you” (TLB). 

The Greek here seems to be even stronger: “I will never, ever leave you, nor will I ever, ever forsake you” (5 negatives). But the promise is tied to the command: Be satisfied with what you have. Once again, I can’t help but think about Paul: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).

You know, friends, a person may have an abundance of things without an abundance of life. We can be poor in the midst of plenty. Has there ever been a generation who surrounded themselves with more things to make their lives enjoyable only to be the most bored and unhappy generation of all time? I remember watching the kids of rural Ethiopia playing with their toys. No, these gadgets didn’t come from Wal-Mart. The kids would find scraps of discarded plastic or metal and fashion toys for themselves. These kids had practically nothing yet were the happiest kids I think I’ve ever seen.

Here’s what I’m learning. Dave, life does not consist in the presence or absence of things. You are rich and have an abundance beyond the fluctuations of the stock market. “We have nothing and yet possess everything” wrote Paul (2 Cor. 6:10). I am both a pauper and a plutocrat! I have nothing because it all belongs to God and I am only its steward. I have everything because I am a joint-heir with Christ. I have all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of being both poor and rich.

Believe me, I’m still working on this generosity thingy. I am hardly immune to the feverish selfishness of this age. Yet the earliest Christians “had everything in common” and “gave to anyone as they had a need” (Acts 2:44-25). I’ve been reading a book by an author whose church gives more than half of its income to the needy. “We won’t spend more on ourselves than on our poor neighbor” were the author’s words. Think about that while looking at your church’s budget! Bottom line: Generosity has always been a characteristic of the society of Jesus. That’s because God is a generous God. And His Holy Spirit gives His people a tender conscience for the needy.

This is the kind of kingdom man I want to be and the kind of kingdom students I want to raise up. The extent of our generosity is but a whisper of our devotion to God.

Master It!

(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.


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Romans 15 and stages of ministry

(12/22/2019) 7:46 AM In 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.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.)

One Tiny Sip of Living Water

Saturday, June 8 

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.

Bible and 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.

Overlooked Stylistic Arguments Regarding 1 John 2:20

The Pure Word Bible

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.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

pARTNER WITH wHATEVER cHURCH wILL fOLLOW jESUS

Sunday, April 14    

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.

The Jesus Paradigm: A Book that will set you on a downward path