April 2019 Blog Archives
Monday, April 29
7:34 AM Last night I saw the movie Breakthrough. It's been a while since I did a movie review, so here goes.
Breakthrough is a fascinating movie that tries to give an answer to the age-old question: Why does God heal some people but not others? In the movie, a teenager named John drowns in an icy lake and is given up for dead. When his mother Joyce prays for him, he miraculously revives.
Despite having gone without oxygen for 20 minutes he wakes up in the hospital without any signs of brain damage. This is another of those "true stories" that you suspect has been embellished a bit but I'm told the story line is pretty accurate. I thought the acting was average at best (as seems to be the case with so many "Christian" movies nowadays). Still, I'm glad I saw it. Breakthrough poignantly raises the issue of how faith and real life intersect. Parts of it were hard to watch, like when John returns to school and his teacher asks him why God didn't heal her husband who died two years previously from an aneurism. Indeed, maybe the main value of this movie is that we can't opt out of the difficulties of life and that we must constantly trust God for the future. The movie will help move you in this direction if you're not already there.
I saw this story as a compelling commentary on the power of love -- the love we share as family members, the love we experience as members of Christ's body, and especially the love that God has for us even when we'e going through tough times. Loving God and living in community are tied together. You can't purse the one without pursuing the other. I loved the way their distant pastor all of a sudden becomes loved and accepted when he begins to show true compassion to a member of his church. As he puts it in one scene, "A shepherd takes care of a sick sheep."
One of God's methods of bringing us closer to Him is to disrupt our normal lives by allowing us to feel the terror and pain of grief and loss. He does not ask us to whitewash the truth. Quite the opposite. By honestly facing our weaknesses, and by admitting deep pain into our souls, we are exposed to the ugly unbelief that all too often rules us. Sure, we pray to God, but at heart we are still preoccupied with ourselves. Our passion is to live pain-free lives rather than to submit to God's good, pleasing, and perfect will.
The apex of the movie comes when John's mother, alone on the roof of the hospital building, cries out to God and confesses her pride, her obstinacy, her desire to control the situation. She realizes, finally, that our primary purpose as Christians is not to use God to solve our problems but to move through our problems toward finding Him. God reveals Himself to people who want to know Him more than they want anything else. When John's mother comes to that realization, everything else changes. For those of us who have experienced loss in life (and that includes just about every one of us I suppose), Christ is all too often merely the shadow, and something else shines more brightly. Nothing makes us regain a proper focus, nothing puts Christ back into the center, more quickly than pain.
Breakthrough is a heartfelt story. Sadly, it's aimed more to the choir than to a lost world. The parking lot at the theater last night was jam-packed but there were only 8 people in my movie. The rest were watching Avengers.
By the way, if you haven't read Craig Keener's two-volume work on miracles, you need to. Science can't explain everything!
Dave Black, film critic at your service.
Sunday, April 28
8:18 AM Just accepted a kind invitation to speak at a conference on the NT canon in September. The princes of canonical studies -- Peter Gurry and John Meade of Phoenix Seminary -- will also be there. Should be great fun. Details to come.
6:56 AM Discourse analysis figured prominently in our linguistics conference. If you'd like a simple and straightforward introduction to the subject, you can do no better than read Noah Kelley's discussion (with application to Colossians). Check it out when you can.
6:16 AM Odds and sods ....
1) This is the sight that greets me every morning as I make my way downstairs.
Sheba's too old to climb steps so she sleeps at the foot of the stairs, faithfully awaiting the arrival of her owner. She is a gift from the Lord. How I hope I can have the same attitude toward my Master.
2) Mowed the yards for the first time this year. Felt good.
3) I don't particularly like to have sparrows' nests on my porches, but I don't have the heart to destroy them. Here a mommy patiently sits on her eggs, a living parable of God's love for His own.
4) Saw the podiatrist on Friday morning. Not even the pedicurists can cut my runner's toenails.
5) Inspired by Will Varner's talk on James yesterday, I spent my Bible reading this morning in the second chapter of this great letter. Here James insists that we are not to treat other people differently based on their wealth or social status. It was so good to see this truth played out in our conference as I watched students talking with established scholars who seemed to truly enjoy the interaction. Always the best part of a conference!
6) Finally, Baker was kind enough to give me a copy of my good friend Don Hagner's latest work.
I loved this book! Without giving too much away, its argument is that the NT announcement of the kingdom of God changes everything about how we understand the relationship between the Testaments. The writers of the NT, he says, know only one way of salvation for both Jews and non-Jews, and that is the cross of Christ. "For this reason, they would never entertain the notion of two covenants, the old for the Jews and the new for the Gentiles, nor would they ever have considered the idea of a Sonderweg (a "special way") of salvation, apart from faith in Christ, for the Jews" (p. 177). He concludes (p. 179):
One implication of all this that Don doesn't discuss is our understanding of NT ecclesiology. And this is important, because all too often we have in our churches an OT concept of ecclesiology: holy men doing holy things in holy places, as opposed to the New Covenant emphasis on all members as ministers and no holy places other than the temple of the Holy Spirit. As a few of us discussed yesterday during one of our breaks at the conference, it's time to abolish, not the clergy but the laity, since all of us are to be ministers of the Gospel.
Now you might have concluded that a book with this depth would be boring, but the opposite is true. It's actually a page-turner. Thanks, Don, for yet another wonderful book from your hand.
Saturday, April 27
6:32 PM Few things capture the spirit and excitement of scholarship more than a conference. Here's a picture of today's speakers:
Actually, the people shown above are imposters. Here are the real Avengers:
(Inside joke. If you weren't at the conference, you have no idea what I'm talking about.)
Try to imagine for a moment having the world's leading Greek linguists in a single room packed to the gills. It was so amazing it hurt. The conference had lots of laughs. It had plenty of stimulating presentations. It even had some tears. In any event, it was a huge blessing. I saw many old friends and made some new ones. If you include the speakers, people came from as far away as Australia, Israel, Hawaii, California, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. I personally thought the lectures were very helpful. The simple fact is that God has gifted His church with some incredible talent. Of course, there were some disagreements. But overall I'd say we all left with a good feeling about the future of New Testament Greek scholarship. The undeniable reality is that Greek studies have made a major course correction. If we forget this and carry on as we always have we unnecessarily weaken the church. We who pledge ultimate allegiance to Christ and to His word should individually and collectively engage in linguistic scholarship at the highest levels. Does this mean that we have everything figured out? Of course not. Not at all. But it does mean that we are committed to moving forward and not just spinning our wheels. Anyway, like I said, I think the conference threw the audience into a vortex of excitement. I think people came away engaged. Anybody who knows my work can see why I would be very excited at this outcome.
I'll leave you with a handful of pix. The lectures will be published, by the way, by Baker Academic in due course. Until then, this is a topic I'd encourage everyone to wrestle with.
1) Here's Will Varner of the Master's University speaking at a pre-conference luncheon. His theme was the application of discourse analysis to Matthew's nativity and the book of James.
2) In the "Green Room" with the speakers. From left to right: Steve Runge, Mike Aubrey, Randall Buth, Michael Halcomb, Nick Ellis, Con Campbell, Stan Porter, Thomas Hudgins, Rob Plummer, and Ben Merkle.
3) The event was sold out.
4) People came to hear these topics.
5) Stan Porter kicked things off magnificently.
6) Shout out to our sponsors: Baker Academic.
7) And GlossaHouse.
8) These amazing guys ran the sound.
9) Winner of the "Hat of the Year" award.
10) With colleagues from New Orleans Seminary.
11) Almost my entire Philippians class from last semester attended. Oorah!
12) My friend and colleague Ben Merkle (right) co-organized the conference with me. His skill as MC made all the difference in the sessions. Ben and Rob Plummer (left) are completing a major new beginning Greek grammar for B & H. I am a little embarrassed to say that I have no doubt it will far surpass anything I have ever written on Greek grammar. We hope it may attract a huge clientele to the study of Greek.
13) Finally, here's a short clip of Con Campbell's peroration. Such was the flavor of all of the lectures.
I want to express my gratitude to God as I look back over the past two years of preparing for this conference and the privilege of interacting with the scholars who presented papers. Each of them amazed me by their intelligence and spiritual passion. I am also deeply grateful to the seminary administration for its unflagging support of this endeavor. Most of all, I am grateful for the privilege of working for the best of all employers, Jesus Christ. Without Him, none of this could have happened. Glory to Him alone.
Friday, April 26
6:46 AM I love me a good conference. I suppose this stems from the Bible conferences I attended while growing up in Hawaii. I began to develop a deep love for the Word, a love that has never left me. Eschatology, prophecy, inerrancy -- I was fascinated by it all.
When I came to Southeastern 21 years ago, I had the opportunity to organize a New Testament symposium on campus. Here, assembled in the Forest of Wake, were such well-known names as Craig Blomberg, Scot McKnight, Bill Farmer, Grant Osborne, Keith Elliott, Eldon Jay Epp, Moisés Silva, Michael Holmes, and others. I was elated with the results. Later, it was possible to get two other conferences off the ground, one on the last twelve verses of Mark and the other on the woman taken in adultery passage. The success of those conferences led to the one on linguistics that begins today. It is almost an undreamed-of blessing for God to allow this symposium to take place. There are two particular ways I hope this conference will advance the discussion. I pray, first of all, that by collecting in one place at the same time the leading Greek scholars in the world the wonderful spirit of collegiality that already exists among them might be strengthened and expanded. I also cherish the dream that those in attendance might see the relevance of general revelation for biblical studies. Studying linguistics through the years has been an enormous encouragement to me, as you can well imagine. I do not think that the study of a "secular" science like linguistics and the study biblical exegesis are incompatible. I believe God often uses the pages of general revelation to inform our knowledge of Him. As a result, it would be folly for us to think that we can please God without fully engaging the minds He has given us. No doubt there are some precautions to be taken, but as long as we do not sacrifice inspiration on the alter of academics I think God still has much to teach us about how language in general works and how the Greek of the New Testament works in particular.
This year marks my 43rd year of teaching Greek. This calling is exactly what the good Lord designed for me. If I had to live my life over again, I would follow the exact same path. It has meant teaching in some of the best seminaries in the United States. It has meant teaching in theological colleges and universities in Great Britain and many other countries. It has meant travel in the cause of the Great Commission over a good deal of the world. It has meant having the privilege of watching men and women turn to Christ and many Christians devote their lives to the only Cause that really matters.
It is that decision to follow God's will for our lives that is so vital. I believe there are some who attend our conference whom God is calling into fulltime teaching at the college or seminary level. Perhaps they will see or hear something in the next two days that will slowly and quietly draw them into the academic guild, like the gently unfolding of a flower. Vocation is the name we give to the calling of God in our lives. One's vocation is always God's gift, but there must always be a human response.
I am well aware that nothing we humans do can even begin to approximate perfection. This conference will succeed only to the degree that the hand of God is upon it. I cannot thank Him enough for the privilege of attending and of witnessing firsthand what He is doing among us as we seek to honor Him with our whole minds as well as our whole hearts.
Thursday, April 25
8:55 PM "You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your finality ever enters your head, of how much time has largely gone by, you take no heed." --Seneca.
I love being dramatic.
I do know that I am riding on cloud nine right now. This afternoon I spent almost 2 hours with my cardiologist and his assistant. It was time to get the final report after all the tests I had taken the last couple of weeks. The bottom line? I've been cleared to run again! The tests showed a PERFECTLY NORMAL HEART for a 66-year old. No coronary heart disease. No palpitations. No PVCs. No fibromyalgia. No cardiomyopathy. No peripheral heart disease. All ruled out, thank God. The blood work showed normal glucose levels and the absence of anemia. In short, my heart strength is "superb," according to the doctor. I can continue to run long distance races provided I do so "IN MODERATION," he stressed. Okay. I'm good with that. That means maybe 1 or at the most 2 marathons a year instead of the 5 I've been averaging. It's only a race, after all. Get over yourself. And I have to monitor my heart rate. Carefully. I can do that too.
A theme of this blog is determination. No wimping out. Persevere to the end. But life never stands still. In a new season of life you can't do the things you've done in a previous season. It just doesn't work that way. Nothing is meant to last forever. Yes, I can keep pushing myself, but in new ways with different results. I will still push myself physically every day, just not as hard. And I know one thing for sure. I will never again take running for granted.
I'm not saying anything profound here. I'm writing it simply for what it's worth. In life, you're always having to try new things. This is reality. You have to adjust your goals and expectations with age.
I truly do not know if any of this makes sense to you. But I do know that I will be approaching things differently from here on out. It's highly unlikely that I'll attempt the Flying Pig in two weekends, but you never know. Still, I truly believe my best days are ahead of me.
7:45 AM I'm not sure if you all knew I was in Georgia and Alabama last week. After all, I never write about my travels. (Insert sarcasm.) You know you're with family when you are spoiled to death -- chorale concert, jazz club, Easter services, home-cooked meals, foot massages, snack at the Waffle House with grandkids, etc. It was also a good week for exercising, although all I can do right now is walk. Currently I'm working on the "less is more" approach to life. You simply can't ramp it up week after week and month after month without it taking a toll. I am fully convinced that God didn't make a mistake when He created me with a type-A personality, but that's no excuse for carelessness. Right now I'm trying to remember a few things:
Believe me, I'm not saying this is easy. It takes patience to overcome setbacks. The key is finding what works for you. Will you lose fitness by not running? Yessiree. In fact, you lose fitness twice as fast as you gain it. But that's true of anything in life. That means, for example, if you've just finished a year of Greek it will take you less than half that time to lose what you acquired despite all of your hard work and study. The key is constant use. If you are a former Greek student and are currently in a dark place, read Five Things to Do Until You Master Greek and Letter to My Greek Students, written by yours truly. One thing is guaranteed: if you put in the time and make the effort, great things can happen.
Well, gotta get this "road on the show." A few pix:
1) The boys shore do love them werffles.
2) Out for some exercise in Trussville, Alabama.
3) My granddaughter performing at the Alabama School of the Fine Arts in B-Ham. Can you spot her?
4) Live music in downtown Columbus, Georgia. I love me some jazz!
5) In front of the Infantry Museum at Fort Benning. Karen's husband was just promoted to Sergeant. Go Tino!
6) The River Walk in Columbus was flooded, so no biking this trip.
7) My grandson Chesley watches his dad fertilize one of our fields while I was away.
8) Shout out to Steve Booth for lecturing in my NT class yesterday. Steve is academic dean and professor of New Testament at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary. His topic was "Selected Peak Markings in the Gospel of John." Pretty awesome.
9) I read this book during my trip. So many great takeaways.
Wednesday, April 17
5:10 AM I've been reading a very interesting book on leadership. It's not a "Christian" book per se but still it has some good principles. One chapter is devoted to the leader's family. In it the author says that our family relationships are the most important sources of happiness in our lives. We draw strength and encouragement from the love of our kin. But, he says, we have to be very careful not to be lulled into thinking that our efforts to sustain these relationships can be put on the back burner. Even when we think our relationships are healthy, we still can't take them for granted. This means that the most important time to invest in building strong families is, paradoxically, when on the surface it appears that it's not necessary.
I've often told you that I feel family-rich. And I am. But we make a sincere effort to invest in each others' lives. Solid relationships happen to people who are diligent, careful, loving, and attentive to the needs of others. No one is immune from a souring relationship. We've all been there. If you haven't, just wait a little longer.
My kids have been with me through thick and thin. They've helped me adjust to life as a single parent. They've given me invaluable advice about how to manage the houses and land. We spent hundreds of hours on the phone together that first year after Becky died. They grieved with me and not merely for me. I have indeed experienced family at its best. When I have a need, they rally to my side.
Today I leave to visit my kids who live in Alabama and Georgia. I love these visits. They provide familiarity and security in a world that sometimes seems out of kilter. They also remind me of the past that I had lost -- but in a good sort of way. I recognize that my children will respond to the tragedies in their lives in part on how I cared for them as their father. Still, I realize that all relationships are fragile. They require nurturing. We need to be present in each others' lives. Becky's death drove me to find a source of love that I couldn't find in myself, and to a large degree I found it in family. My family reminds me every day that I'm not alone as I face the future. They challenge me to believe and inspire me to serve. I'm grateful that I can keep their company and learn from them. I will forever be discovering and experiencing new dimensions of what it means to be a father and a grandfather. I want to preserve the heritage Becky bequeathed to us. But we also have our own story to live out, our own destiny to fulfill.
My soul has grown because of the love and grace extended to me by my family. God is growing me through them, making my life fuller and larger and filling it with Himself. I couldn't be more thankful to God.
Tuesday, April 16
5:30 PM Since you asked about my running (wait -- did you ask?), let me bring you up to speed. As you know, I've been running for 4 years now. My first ever marathon was almost exactly 3 years ago in Cincinnati -- the Flying Pig. Since that race, I've been pushing pretty hard -- 17 half marathons, 14 full marathons, 4 triathlons, one 31-mile ultra, and countless 5Ks and 10Ks. In all of these races my body felt like you always want it to feel -- like a sponge. Your body should be able to absorb all the training and races you do, and (hopefully) you find yourself slowly getting stronger and better. But my last two marathons -- one 10 weeks ago and the other only 4 weeks ago -- took me in the opposite direction. I felt extremely fatigued after each race, and during the marathon I did a month ago I even experienced mid-race something I had never felt before -- my heart fluttering wildly. This was a first for me, and right then and there I knew that something must be amiss. The only wise thing for me to do was to stop running altogether and seek the advice of a good cardiologist, which I am now doing. Yesterday I had both an echo cardiogram and a treadmill stress test. I felt they both went well. In fact, the techs told me they saw absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. But they're not the doctor. I meet with him next week Thursday after I get back from vacationing with my kids and teaching my 4 classes on campus. I am asking God for the wisdom and strength I need to endure the trial I'm facing. I'll be honest. I want to run again, badly. But the truth is, for now all I can do is walk and then only if I can keep my BPM (beats per minute) below 80 percent of my maximum heart rate. Here's the thing, though. As I walk -- as I do each and every day -- I'm finding myself relaxing in the knowledge that God knows all about my struggles and is in the furnace with me. Deena Kastor, of the movie Spirit of the Marathon fame, once said that runners go through both good and bad patches, and when you go through a bad patch you will eventually come out on the other side. I know that it is true because I have seen it time and again in my own life. I truly believe with all my heart that I can get "back into the race" -- though the "race" might need some redefining at this stage of the game. If so, I'm good with that. I really am.
The Christian attitude toward suffering and affliction is truly revolutionary. I try to imagine what life would be like without Jesus and I simply can't fathom it. "Do not be afraid, man greatly beloved. All will be well with you. Be strong, be strong" was the angel's message to Daniel when his strength was about to fail him in the lion's den. I saw how God sustained Becky through 4 years of suffering. Like Jesus, she was in anguish of soul as she pursued the course of her Father. Yet she was never a victim of her sufferings. She never once said, "Woe is me." Hannah Whitehall Smith, in her book Religious Fanaticism, wrote:
Becky was an overcomer because she had her hope fixed on the grace that was to be hers when Jesus Christ is revealed. By God's grace, I know I can too. Meanwhile, I'm so grateful to Him for:
Did you know that very few records are broken at the Boston Marathon? That's because there are two kinds of marathon races. The first is called a paced race that has a designated number of runners whose job is to set a fast pace and allow the other runners to tuck in behind them, protected from the wind. The other kind is the non-paced race. When records are set, it's always in paced races like Chicago. At Boston, which doesn't have pacers, there are usually slower times because most runners hate running out in front and serving as a windbreaker.
In just 3 weeks the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy will be upon us. At this point I have no idea idea if I will be strong enough to participate in it. But if I do, my goal will be a very simple one: to get the very best out of the body God has given me and to realize my full potential as a runner who is 66 years of age. If I do make it to Cincy, and if I do cross the finish line, I know I will feel as happy as if I had won the race. And I know that I will draw so much encouragement from all those runners ahead of me who are setting the pace and breaking the wind so that I can run the race I'm capable of. I love how the book of Hebrews calls us to run our race with endurance by "fixing our eyes on Jesus." Our attitude toward our struggles arises out of our life with Him. Though an old pot, my body holds a priceless treasure because it holds Him. Yes, the race is always hard. But Jesus always supplies what we need to complete it. Blogging friend, my body has found in running (and now walking) all it needs to know or do. I am not disappointed that it has so few other skills. As such, the body is not to be profaned.
Remember: Right now, somewhere in the world, someone is planning their day tomorrow without realizing they're going to die before then. It's what we do today that counts. It's not the achievement but the unremitting effort to achieve that marks the successful life.
7:04 AM Boston 2019 is now history. The Kenyans and Ethiopians excelled as usual. Go East Africa!
The weather forecast called for rain and a serious head wind. But as things turned out, the weather ended up being beautiful if a bit on the humid side. For many runners yesterday, the race wasn't about winning or a new PR. It wasn't about time. It wasn't about age group ratings. It was about stepping over the finish line of their very first Boston Marathon. It was about chasing a dream and seeing it come to pass. If you've ever been involved in sports, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I like what Pope John Paul once said about athletics:
On the high school track where I live the football team has already begun training. Can you believe it? "I am my body's sternest master," wrote Paul. After all, bodily exercise does bring about limited benefits -- that is, benefits limited to the schema of this age. The Baptist subculture to which I belong jokes about our self-indulgence and our failure to exercise any kind of self-discipline when it comes to what we put in our mouths. Sure, some of us are overweight due to physiological reasons. But I imagine the vast majority simply are guilty of eating too much and eating the wrong things. I suppose a great many don't do any form of regular exercise. But the bodies we are given are meant to be cared for. Paul calls them a "tent" in which we live temporarily until we die. Even then, that's not the end of our tent. One day we will be clothed again and will spend eternity praising God for the good gift that came to us when we were clothed with our tent. Sadly, we have come to imagine that caring for the tent is somehow an "extra" for the Christian. Nothing could be further from the spirit of discipleship. A body needs care, just like your pets do.
So how's your tent today? For we all have one. In my case, the tent is tall (6 feet 4), half Romanian and half Scots-Welsh, oldish (66), male, with blue eyes, crooked teeth, and a heavy bone structure. I wasn't given a choice about any of these things when I was born. But I have a choice about how I use them today. "There's a time for every activity under heaven," wrote the Philosopher. We are given only the present in which to choose whom we will serve and how we will serve Him.
Why do people run Boston? For some, it's the prize money for sure. But for most, it's a symbol of hard work, determination, and the pursuit of personal fitness and health. I personally will never run Boston but I understand why people do. It's a measurable goal. To tell you the truth, I'm just happy that I can still be up and about every day. Any day I can get out of bed and enjoy God's beautiful creation is a win for me. I keep craving that next challenge. I'll be happy if I can stay in good enough shape to do 1 marathon a year. When I run, I'm a 5-year old with sneakers. How about you? Whether it's running Boston or eating clean or writing your first book or climbing your first 14er in the Rockies or sticking it out in an unfulfilling marriage, if that's your goal I'm your #1 cheerleader. Whatever goal you're pursuing, you should be proud of yourself. Good for you. The goal of every true disciple is to please God. But remember: It's not all Spirit-control. Self-control is needed too. Paul willingly disciplined himself. But only the will that is surrendered to God can do this.
Sunday, April 14
7:20 PM "Strive to choose, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult. Do not deprive your soul of the agility which it needs to mount up to Him." These are the famous words of St. John of the Cross, and perhaps the motto of my life. I think back to my last year of college. As a Bible major, I was required to take 2 years of Greek. I enrolled in Greek 1 and dropped out after a mere 3 weeks. I wanted to give up. Maybe I should have given up. But I was determined to graduate with a Bible major (and not one in Christian Education) and so I pressed on doggedly until I found a Greek course that I could understand (Moody Bible Institute). It was then that I learned something I hadn't learned in all my years of schooling in Hawaii. God desires that we love Him with our minds. Up to that point, to say that I had an idle mind would be no exaggeration. "There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking," wrote Joshua Reynolds. How many times did I swallow, gullibly, what I was being spoon fed at church and on Christian talk radio? How many times did I use surfing as an escape from reason, a chance to lose myself in creation without ever contemplating the Creator?
Today I'm not sure things are much improved. My mind wanders in a thousand directions (as you can probably tell already from reading this post). It's almost like being back in Hawaii, knowing little besides waves and wipeouts. And then I recall men like Harry Sturz of Biola or Bo Reicke of Basel. They were thinkers. As I got to know them, I began to realize that my problem was that I never truly thought. Not in any depth at least. Holiness is vastly more than adopting a certain lifestyle. It engages in the most dangerous form of behavior of all. It actually thinks. It is repelled by its blindness. It abhors the self-indulgence that passes for scholarship. From time to time I've found it necessary to reevaluate everything I believe in and hope for. How many of my values are based on the wisdom of this world and not on the kingdom of God? Just because we're "thinking" doesn't mean we're thinking Christ's thoughts after Him. "May the mind of Christ my Savior/Live in me from day to day" becomes my constant prayer. But setting one's mind on heavenly things is never easy. The natural mind prefers to go with the flow. It prefers argument to obedience. There's no end of conformities we are capable of substituting for thinking. If we truly wanted to rethink current events, would we not find the teaching of Scripture absolutely revolutionary? Truth that contradicts the Bible is not truth at all. If I am to love the Lord my God with all my mind, I must give it over to Him.
Our great model in this, as in all of life, is Jesus. He did nothing apart from the Father. And thus He honored the Father. No wonder Paul wrote that we are to set our minds, not on earthly things, but on heavenly things. Worldly wisdom always exalts itself against God. Forward progress is always made through a very narrow gate. But what is the alternative?
"Strive to choose, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult." The minute I think that I no longer have to make that choice is the day when I stop being a true Christian.
6:14 PM Well, it looks like the weather will be a challenge for the Boston Marathon tomorrow. Rainfall's a lock in the morning, though the temps will be milder than last year. Still, that's crummy weather two years in a row.
The dirtiest word for a runner isn't rain, however. It's heat. Which goes to show: We runners obsess about the weather. A few months ago it was too cold. Now it's too warm. Call it cyclical whining, but it's real. On a warm day, it's important to take in 6 ounces of water every 15 minutes. You might even have to adjust your pace. (I know that from sad experience.) Speaking of running, I haven't been doing any. But walk I can, and my goal is to walk at least 1 hour every day.
And eat clean. The 10 pounds I've lost so far are due, I think, to not eating out so much and to cutting out fatty snacks, including soda and fruit drinks. (Minute Maid lemonade actually has more calories than a Coke.) My dinner tonight was fairly simple: Curry chicken with jasmine rice and fresh corn on the cob. And a glass of delicious well water.
I know this looks like a lot of food, but earlier I biked 10 miles and worked up a hefty appetite. I hope to get back into running next week if my doctor gives me the go-ahead. The Flying Pig is 3 weeks away so there's no time to lose in training. Like I've said, if I have to walk the entire race I can but I'm really hoping I can run/walk like I normally do. The weather will play a big role. I'm a huge wuss about heat. But I promise not to whine ... much.
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.
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.
Saturday, April 13
5:18 PM This afternoon I've been watching YouTubes of Malcolm Muggeridge, and one of them merits at least a very brief comment. In it, Muggeridge opines:
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 unacceptable 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.
Watch for yourself:
7:50 AM I'm mentally TOAST this morning. Maybe I'm trying to pack too much into my life (I don't think I told you, but this weekend I have to finish grading a master's thesis and then read a 378-page manuscript a friend from South Africa sent me for an endorsement). I am still a bit tired after the exertions of the past two days but not too tired to exercise. Sometimes I find that exercise is just what my body needs to rejuvenate itself. One of my points in this post (and I just realized it) is that being mentally tired can actually make us physically tired. I find that I'm at my worst physically when I'm worn down mentally. All of that to say that I'm not going to touch anything mentally rigorous until I've had a chance to restore vitality to my body. Then I'm going to rest up and pamper myself.
It's raining today so my workout will be at the Y. If you've been been reading this blog for a while, you know that I prefer the track or the trail to the treadmill any day. Still, the treadmill can give you a satisfying workout. I love my workouts. And I love my sleep. Everything in-between is icing on the cake., What is your schedule today? Think (but don't obsess) about what you are doing and why. Are you doing too much? Are your activities imbalanced (either too much mental activity or too much physical activity)? Are you sleep deprived? This happens to the best of us. Some days are just tougher than others.
Health is truly a privilege and a gift. Don't abuse it.
Friday, April 12
7:38 PM Hello blogging buds. Hope your week was wonderful. Mine was exhaustingly delightful. So, you're wondering, how was Winston-Salem?
Splendid! The university was kind enough to put me up in the historic Brookstown Inn (ca. 1837).
I imagine these rafters are original to the building.
For meals, I hung out with their faculty.
Or ate with their awesome students.
I lectured in chapel.
I spoke at a luncheon.
And I sat in on two of their Greek classes.
Of course, none of this matters much to you. You've been busy pursuing your own ways of serving Jesus. Whatever we do, however, it's nice to be able to share it with others, don't you think? I loved being with my new friends at Piedmont. To equip and send students into a lifetime of service for Christ and their fellow human beings is one of the most treasured privileges that has ever come my way. The harmony on campus was beautiful to behold. The worship music left me open-mouthed. Its content and musicality was as much a delightful surprise as was the person using sign language to lead their deaf students in praise and worship. I had several more surprises -- meeting former students, signing books, listening to the president share with me his heart for missions and global education. I have come away time and time again from lectureships like this one with the conviction that God is doing a new work today in Christian higher education.
Thanks again for all your prayers, by the way. I'm feeling much better. I'm still a little worn out after my last marathon, but I managed to get in an hour of exercise both yesterday and today. Overall, lots of good, God things are happening in my life right now, and I can't tell you how excited I am to be able to visit my kids and their families next week in Alabama and Georgia. But let me conclude by saying thank you to Piedmont for hosting me and letting me be part of their annual lecture series. I hope I wasn't too boring!
Thursday, April 11
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. Simply 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:
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.
Wednesday, April 10
8:12 PM Update:
1) I got in a 1-hour walk every day this week at Joyner Park in the heart of Wake Forest. The weather could not have been more perfect. I am feeling fit and strong. Seriously, God is good.
2) The great joy: Going through 1 John 1:5-10 with my Greek classes. Fun and extremely satisfying.
3) This came today.
I hesitate to open it lest I spend all night reading it. One quote from Muggeridge and only one (for now):
That is so good it hurts. The simple fact is that people who share the same faith can disagree fundamentally about politics. The one thing we can't do is allow someone other than Jesus to be Lord.
Well, I gotta boogie and get ready for my trip to Winston-Salem tomorrow. By the way, my talk (and its Power Point) at Liberty U. is now online should you need a sedative tonight.
Monday, April 8
7:45 AM For any of my Greek students who may be reading my blog this morning, let me congratulate you. This week we begin our study of the book of 1 John, and you will now be translating directly from your Greek New Testaments. (Quiet! Did you hear that? My students breathing a deep sigh of relief that they are no longer translating my silly made-up Greek sentences or short excerpts from the Greek New Testament.) In all seriousness, this is a landmark week for us. And where shall we begin? None other than 1 John 1. Here we read much about sin and confession and forgiveness, but the theme of this passage is something altogether different. Anyone care to guess what it is? It is koinōnia, the Greek word most often translated "fellowship" in our English versions. Our passage is perhaps the classic New Testament passage on the theme of fellowship in the entire Bible.
What can be said about it?
1) The basis for Christian fellowship is the fellowship we enjoy with God. Note the 4 occurrences of koinonia in this chapter. The reference is either to our fellowship with God or to our fellowship with one another. The former is the basis for the latter. "Our fellowship," writes John, "is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." Now, to have "fellowship" with something is to have a share in it. John says that we all share the same Father. That's what every Christian has in common with other Christians. And because God is our Father, we are all brothers and sisters. Then, John writes, our fellowship is with Jesus Christ. If God is our Father, Jesus Christ is our Savior, the propitiation for our sins, the means by which God's wrath had been satisfied, thus bringing about reconciliation between us and God (2:1). Finally, we have fellowship with God's Spirit. Although this truth is not enunciated here in chapter 1, later John writes, "This is how we know we live in Him and He in us: He has given us His Spirit" (4:13). Thus the Christian has fellowship with God as Father, with Christ as Savior, and with the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier, the one who leads us into all truth and holiness (2:20-27). This fellowship with God is the basis for all human fellowship we enjoy in the body of Christ. In other words, our fellowship with one another is dependent on our fellowship with God. If we have anything in common with each other, it is only because we have something in common with God. And we do. We all possess the same Father, we all possess the same Son, and we all possess the same Spirit.
So then, fellowship with God is the basis of our Christian fellowship and unity. There is no other basis. And all our differences, and differences we have galore, are eclipsed by the brightness of our common inheritance. Take, for instance, the color of our skin. Why on earth does it matter if our skin happens to be a certain color? What does it matter what language we speak or what accent we have? What does it matter what schools we attended or didn't attend? What does it matter how much money we earn? What does it matter what political affiliation we espouse or whether we home school or government school our children? All these differences are so superficial as to be almost irrelevant in comparison with what unites us. However great our differences may seem to be, we have this in common: We have the same Father, the same Savior, and the same indwelling Sanctifier, and how I wish the church would demonstrate this. The more interracial and international and intersocial our Christian fellowship is the better. For the more diversity we have, the easier it will be able to prove to the world the truth about Christian fellowship, which is based not on external similarities but on our common participation in God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2) Now look at verses 6 and 7 of I John 1. Here John writes that fellowship with God, and therefore fellowship with each other, is impossible if we are walking in darkness -- in ungodliness and untruthfulness. But if we walk in the light as opposed to the darkness -- in the light of holiness and in the light of truth -- then we have fellowship not only with God but with one another. Here John is talking not about the basis of Christian fellowship but about the obligations of Christian fellowship. If fellowship with God puts us into fellowship with one another (and it does), what will this mutual fellowship look like? Well, it will always look like a meaningful one-another relationship. Fellowship with God puts us into inescapable reciprocal obligations. In Greek class last week we talked about the reciprocal pronoun allēlous, "one another." The word describes an obligation that is reciprocal. It isn't a one-sided but a two-sided relationship: Me to you and you to me. Christian fellowship is, we might say, one-anotherness. The church is not a train car where people sit together and go in the same direction but have no meaningful relationships. It is more like a fireside, where the family meets together and where we all share common pursuits and common interests and converse with one another. Our common relationship binds us all together in a warm bond of love. A biblical illustration, and one that Paul frequently uses, is that of the human body. As Christians, we are all members of the body of Christ. That is, we are members of one another, whether we like it nor not. We belong to one another. And because we're all members of the same body, we each have a duty to care for that body. We are to love one another, serve one another, provoke one another to love and good works, pray for one another, admonish one another, bear one another's burdens, etc. Incidentally, at the root of the Greek word koinōnia is the adjective koinos, "common." Christians share things in common, or should. So it shouldn't surprise us that in Acts 2, one of the ways Christian fellowship was exhibited was by the fact the believers in Jerusalem had all things in common. As a result, no one had a need. Not a single person! Here in 1 John, the writer asserts that we cannot simply stand by when we see a need without doing anything about it. "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can God's love be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with mere words or speech but with actions and with truth" (3:17-18). If God so loved us that He gave His Son to die for us, we ought also to love one another. This is the basic obligation we have as Christians to one another. We are to receive one another as Christ has received us without judging one another. This is Paul's teaching in Romans 14-15. We are to forbear one another. We are to submit to one another. We are to receive one another into our homes. And it's always a characteristic of love to serve the other. This is what Jesus did when He took a towel and washed His disciples' feet. We serve each other by caring for one another and by building one another up. We seek to help one another by exercising our spiritual gifts for the benefit of one another. We encourage one another and comfort one another. And if we fail to do this, we are walking in darkness. We are sinning against the truth.
Are we fixed on this kind of one-anothering? Or are we leading sinful, self-centered lives? Let's beware of a religious aloofness that is the hallmark of Pharisaism. Nothing develops our own spiritual life as sharing our blessings with others. I personally know many Christians who are outstanding examples of this truth. They are constantly giving and sacrificing for others. They not only believe the Gospel but practice it. Here is a grace that can be practiced anywhere and by any Christian. There is nothing weak or effeminate about love. Anyone can be selfish. Only great souls are truly caring.
Reminder: Don't just translate a Greek passage to get its meaning. Find its message for today. You never know how God might speak to you through the passage you're translating, so soak it up and be PRESENT.
Sunday, April 7
7:20 PM Well, it's April, and I'm reminded of a scene in Elizabeth and Her German Garden. In case you haven't heard of this book, it's a semi-autobiographical look into the life of a British woman who marries a German and moves to her wealthy husband's estate in Germany. Visitors come and go, even when she wishes they wouldn't. Elizabeth can be snarky at times, but she's always honest. I love this quote about "New Year's resolutions" made by one of her visitors:
Did you make any New Year's resolutions for 2019? If so, what's their status as of April 7? Someone once said (probably George Washington or Beyonce) that the trouble with our "resolutions" in the plural is that we lack "resolution" in the singular. We lack the determination and the motivation to carry them out. So we struggle to make our resolutions more resolute, if you will.
Well, there's one resolution I made in the New Year and, though I've only been partially successful at keeping it, I'm trying to make it a daily habit. It's based on Rom. 12:1-2 and it involves doing 3 things every morning before getting out of bed:
1) Thank God for His mercies. Paul writes, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God's many mercies to us, to present your body as a living sacrifice unto God." The mercy Paul has in mind is the culmination of 11 chapters of argument. These 11 chapters describe both our need for God's mercy and His provision of mercy. Here Paul demonstrates our sin and our guilt, and then he shows us how God has made provision for our sin by sending His Son to identity with our sin and guilt. In this Jesus, this God-man, God condemned sin when He took our flesh. He bore our condemnation, became our substitute, and paid the penalty for us. That's the very essence of the Gospel: Jesus died in our place. And if we run to Jesus and put our trust in Him as the only refuge there is for sinners, God pronounces us righteous and adopts us into His family. Not only that, He begins to transform us into the likeness of Christ. All we have in Christ is the result of the mercies of God, and these undeserved blessings from the hand of God should motivate us to live our lives day by day for Him and not for ourselves. Could it be that our resolutions are so quickly abandoned because we have forgotten the mercies of God? No wonder we're so irresolute. But it's God's mercy that draws out our commitment to Him.
2) Present my body unto God. Not only my "spirit" or my "heart." God wants the whole of me, including my body. The New Testament knows nothing of the Greek disparaging of the human body. We are embodied spirits, and our bodies are vehicles through which we love and serve and find our pleasure in God in the midst of all our earthiness and physicality. God has given us feet to go places. He's given us hands that can create and paint and caress and serve and cook and clean and play musical instruments with. And even if our hands can't paint a beautiful picture, our teeth can.
God has given us ears by which we enjoy music and listen sympathetically to one another and find pleasure in the sounds of nature and the cooing of a newborn baby. God's given us eyes with which to see His handiwork in creation and in each other's faces. And I am to present it all to God for His direction, blessing, and control. Have you ever done this? Have you ever examined your bodily parts and asked God to direct, bless, and control each one? When and if we learn to do this, it will result, says Paul, in the true worship of God. The question is, "What am I going to do with this body of mine today?"
3) Pray that God would help me not to be conformed to this world but to be more and more transfigured into the likeness of Christ. The fashion of the world never loses its allure. It will always pull us away from God and seek to direct our lives. Will we live according to the will of God or according to the pull of the world? This question presses upon us every day. The world says, "Get." God says, "Give." The world says, "Get even." God says, "Do not repay evil for evil." The world says, "Seek to be first." God says, "If you want to be first, you must become the slave of all." The world says, "Greatness is measured by one's accomplishments." God says, "Greatness is measured by one's service." The world says, "Don't let anybody push you around." God says, "The meek will inherit the earth." We have to choose. None of us can serve two masters.
So there you have it. Each morning my desire is to 1) thank God for His mercies, 2) come to Him in prayer and present my body to Him and say "Take all of me as a living sacrifice," and 3) ask Him to protect me from a world that is determined to squeeze me into its mold. I know this sounds simple. And it is, in theory at least. It's putting it into practice that gets tough. As I wrote this morning, I believe the greatest work of God in our lives is not in the occasional burst of the miraculous but in the day-in and day-out testimony of Christian living in the mediocre and mundane and monotonous. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to make all this possible, every day of our lives. The Bible teaches that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked and that our carnal minds are in rebellion against God. Hence we must seek His grace if we are to see His power released in our lives.
In Rom. 12:1-2, Paul begged his readers in Rome: Present your bodies to God and allow yourselves to be transformed by a renewed mind. Thomas Schreiner believes that these verses encapsulate the themes of all of chapters 12-15: "If all the exhortations contained here could be boiled down to their essence, they would be reduced to the words: Give yourselves wholly to God; do not be shaped by the old world order, but let new thought patterns transform your life" (Romans, p. 640).
The Holy Spirit dwells within but we have the power of choice. We can obey or disobey Him. But if we obey Him, there is not bondage but glorious liberty. The Christian who accepts Christ's daily control is under no cold dictatorship. For our God is also our loving Father.
1:12 PM Last week in Greek class we learned some additional pronouns, including the possessive pronoun/adjective emos. This word is perhaps the most emphatic way of saying "my" in Greek.
Here's an example from our textbook.
The speaker is Jesus. Not only does He use a form of emos here, but He postpositions it, which tends to add even more emphasis. We had lots of fun in class trying to come up with a way of translating this nuance into English. "It is My judgment that is just" came in a close second. But the class's favorite was, "It is My judgment, and Mine alone, that is just."
I thought of this during our communion service today. Here's the text of the Lord's Supper from 1 Corinthians 11.
Notice how Jesus uses an emphatic form of emos when He refers to eating and drinking "in remembrance of Me." Hence my scribble, "Jesus is the focus!"
Friend, we don't come to the Lord's table to remember our sins. We come to remember our Savior. We come to remember His mercies. I say this because I grew up in a church in Hawaii that asked everyone to examine themselves before the Supper to see if they were "worthy" that day to partake of the bread and the cup. But Jesus never invited anyone to His table. The word "Do" in the expression "Do this" is in the imperative mood. Besides, no one is worthy to take the elements. That should go without saying. What Paul is referring to here is eating and drinking in an unworthy manner -- in this case, eating and drinking before the whole body has assembled, including the poorer members.
Could not our Lord's Supper observances -- where Christ is front and center -- be a weekly occurrence in our churches, as they apparently were in the churches of the New Testament (see Acts 20:7)? When Paul insisted that Christ have the preeminence "in all things" (Col. 1:18), I wonder if that included the times when the church was gathered. Our Lord certainly deserves to have the preeminence, but He is a gentleman and will not demand it of us. We must offer it to Him willingly. Are our churches eagerly granting Him the "first place" when we gather as His body? We can and we should.
7:45 AM Happy Sunday! Let's sit down over a cup of coffee and get caught up. I think we all have a tendency to see life in polar opposites. We are either weak or strong, healthy or ill, rich or poor, successes or failures, etc. We often look at the person with the largest portfolio or the biggest church or the most publications or the bulging muscles as a hero. I'm beginning to think that the opposite is true. I believe weakness is our greatest asset in life. Let me explain.
Not too long ago I was invulnerable. Nothing could slow me down. I was able to schedule dozens of races every year, and I never once had a DNS (Did Not Start) or a DNF (Did Not Finish). I won some age group awards and took home lots of prizes. Running brought me joy and pleasure, even though it wasn't (and still isn't) the biggest part of my life.
Then I was struck down with an infirmity after my last marathon. I still don't exactly know what the problem is, but I'm almost positive it's an overuse injury. I've had to cut back on my running. In fact, right now I can only engage in walking until my body begins to restore itself through rest and healthy eating. What once brought me so much enjoyment is now a source of frustration.
An injury will humble you. It will make you realize that you're not invulnerable. It will force you to look inside for a source of strength you realize you don't possess. You begin to understand what Paul meant when he said, "When I am weak, then I am strong."
Last week, in our NT class, we talked about miracles. I suggested to the class that God's primary means of displaying His power in this age is not through the overtly miraculous (although He's certainly capable of healing us miraculously) but through perfecting His strength in the midst of our weaknesses and infirmities. Rather than focusing on the external, it is far better to cultivate inner strength. The thought occurred to me that right now, this very moment, I have everything I need to handle whatever life throws at me because I have Jesus. My strength is nothing less than my vulnerability.
I recall Joni Earickson Tada once being interviewed on a Christian TV show. The interviewer asked her, "Why are you still in your wheelchair? Don't you have enough faith to be healed?" I wanted to scream, "You fool! Can't you see a miracle even when it's staring you in the face? Which is more miraculous -- Joni standing up and walking, or that big smile on her face while sitting in her wheelchair?"
My friend, you have that same strength inside of you right now. You don't have to wait until you're injured or broken to experience it. Going through times of testing and divine discipline make us stronger. Alas, that's a truth I need to relearn time and time again. You would think that as a New Testament professor I should know better, right? I am ever so human, but residing within me is all the strength and hope that I could ever need. Vulnerability and humility are two traits I don't want to live without in my senior years. If we could only see what setbacks are giving us, we would appreciate them more.
As you know, I've been working hard at eating decently. I've recently made several gignormous changes, including cutting out all junk food and unhealthy sacks. No donuts, no burgers, no fries, no chips, no cookies. For snacks I eat veggies. I have no huge plans for weight loss, but the doctor did suggest I lose 10 pounds to attain my optimum BMI. In a couple of weeks I'm going in for a treadmill stress test so that I can have a better idea of what my VO2Max is before I start running again. I'm trying not to eat out, but when I do dine in a restaurant I try to pick healthy food choices like Korean. I fully understand that if I want a permanent change in my body I have to make permanent changes in my attitude. It's a long, steady process, but I've already seen movement down the scale. "Slow and steady" is my motto for sure. I started my exercise journey just after Becky died 5 years ago, but I still have a long ways to go.
Some things grow mellow just before they spoil. I don't want to make that mistake as I grow older. Paul kept fighting the good fight of faith to the finish. We should grow easier to live with as time goes by, but we must not mistake gentleness for apathy. It's so easy to say, "I've had my day. Let the younger generation take care of everything." But I have not "had my day" until my day is over. No Christian is retired from duty to God and others as long as he or she is still on planet earth.
For me, Paul is the best example of this truth. He did not live for fame, pleasure, or success. He sought the "Well done" of his Master. A true Christian is conformed and not merely non-conformed. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds to prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Let me say this again: Don't be afraid of your vulnerability. Thank God for the crisis of faith you are now going through. Suffering does not allow us the luxury of self-pity. Continue believing in God. Even if suffering makes belief in God more difficult, at least for a time, it can give us the security of knowing that He is in control, even when we are not.
Saturday, April 6
8:12 PM I am slowly putting together my agenda and weekly worksheets for my next race. Today I walked as part of my marathon training. This morning I walked for 1 hour, and this evening I walked for 3/4 of an hour. I plan to walk 1 hour every day for the next 30 days. Today I listened to the Monkees while walking. Their music is so timeless. You start listening to A Pleasant Valley Sunday or Daydream Believer and before you know it your hour is up. Walking has been proven to:
Clearly, I enjoy running. But I'm coming back from a pretty nasty bout with bronchitis, so I'm going to begin by walking regularly. Overall, it's a plan my doctor would be proud of.
Do you enjoy walking?
Do you listen to music when you walk?
Do you vary your walking routine?
Just had to add this:
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.
Meanwhile, I don't plan to kill myself training for my next marathon. I want to be sensible, and that means an easy workout today. I simply don't want to find myself not being able to run ever again. I figure I can make good progress if I can remember to 1) exercise no more than 4 times a week, 2) get adequate rest/recovery, 3) listen to my body, and 4) get a massage every day (I wish!). Plus, if I can continue to avoid junk food and cook for myself, I should be good to go come race day. I feel like I'm firming up everywhere and I know I'm getting stronger. So we'll see.
Friday, April 5
8:10 PM A few pics from the ETS meeting at Liberty:
1) The university's Scriptorium didn't disappoint.
2) Greg Lamb, who's finishing his Ph.D. at Southeastern, speaking on the pneumatology of Philippians.
3) Nathan Ridlehoover lecturing on the structure of Matt. 6:19-7:12.
4) Chuck Quarles delivering his keynote address.
5) Me doing what I like best.
All in all, an amazing time.
P.S. My Power Point is here in case you have nothing better to do than click on some boring slides.
9:20 AM I've got some time before I have to leave for Lynchburg, so what should I blog about?
Here's the heart rate chart from my Garmin for my last marathon. It's crazy.
Pushing so hard at the end is just plain stupid, but, you know, sometimes stupid is my middle name. I'm competitive by nature, so it's hard for me to hang back when everyone at the finish line is cheering for you. Seems I always want more. Seems I am never satisfied with my effort. This annoys me no end but it's just my temperament. But the truth is, I have to change my running habits if I'm going to be fit and healthy at the same time. If you haven't done a marathon, you may not realize just how competitive it is. And even though you're 66, you push yourself because you feel like you're 40. (You know the old saying: "Old is always 10 years older than I am now.") Soon I'll begin my 67th trip around the planet. Hopefully I'll keep running. And swimming. And climbing. And cycling. I keep telling myself that speed is not everything. I know what running does for my mental health, so I'll be out there (Lord willing) regardless of what pace I go at or how far I go. I just have to learn not to be so hard on myself. You get what you give to your body!
On a completely unrelated note, I got a news article in my inbox this morning about the mass of people who are leaving Hawaii because of the high cost of living. I'm not surprised in the least. Many young people of my generation left Hawaii for the mainland ("The Big Big Island") and still live here. A couple of years ago my cousin who owned a medium-sized house in Kailua sold it for a million dollars and moved to Oregon, where he could buy a mansion for half that price. Housing costs, cost of living, food and gasoline costs, and lack of good paying jobs are forcing people to say "aloha" to their home state. And don't get me started on the traffic congestion. I once thought about buying a condo in Kailua because I travel there every year but I was shocked at the prices. Studio apartments started at $750,000. The other day I watched "Seattle Is Dying" on YouTube. There are many similarities with Honolulu. One study published last month says that Hawaii is ranked as the worst place for doctors to practice. That's right. Hawaii is expensive even for well-paid professionals. People are being priced out of paradise.
I'm glad I grew up in Hawaii. Back then I could surf to my heart's content. Beaches like Pupukea and Pipeline weren't crowded or territorial. Single-income families could make it financially. Much of that has changed. Today, many residents need to have two jobs, or even three, to make ends meet. Of course, Hawaii is still considered to be the happiest of the 50 states, despite the cost of eggs and milk. So if you live there, congratulations. I'll have to be content with an occasional visit.
With one of my pastor buddies in Kaneohe.
And on that note, I need to leave for Lynchburg. Let's see if I can make it through my presentation without a couching spell.
Thursday, April 4
9:20 AM Big news. I just pulled the plug on Netflix. As in, cancelled it. Haven't watched it in months and when I did watch Netflix it was mostly a big waste of time. I never once watched House of Cards (whatever that's about). Plus, I was I got agetting ads from them daily via email. If I want to watch a movie, I'll stick with Amazon Prime.
6:35 AM Since no one reads blogs before driving to work, hello to all two of you. Here are some random musings on what's going to be a knock-dead gorgeous April day in sunny Southside Virginia.
1) Here's this weekend's ETS Eastern Region program.
The venue is Liberty University's Rawlings School of Divinity. My colleague Chuck Quarles is one of the keynote speakers. Eager to hear him. (If you can't make it to my session, I'll post the Power Point here as soon as it's finalized.)
2) Easter plans? I'm flying to Birmingham to visit my daughter and her family then driving to Fort Benning to visit with another daughter and her husband. I get to witness his promotion to sergeant. Pretty cool.
3) I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but nothing is more interesting to me than reading the Gospels in Hebrew.
Right now I'm in Markos. That's right. You gotta get used to some different spellings: Ya'akov, Yochanan, Shim'on, Andrai, Sons of Zavdai, Yeshua, Yerushalayim, Mashiach, Notzri, Chalfai (Alpheus), Shabbat, Prushim (Pharisees), Galil, Benei Regosh (Sons of Thunder), Ba'al Zevul, etc.
4) So grateful this morning for my health, the ability to make a living, my family, my farm, etc. I don't take good health for granted any more. I am SO thankful that 4 years ago I began being active.
5) The link between Facebook and depression. (FYI: The main danger is one of constantly comparing ourselves to other people.)
6) Enjoyed lunch on Tuesday with one of our visiting scholars.
Steve Booth is dean and professor of New Testament at the Canadian Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He's an expert on all things Johannine and will be the guest lecturer in our NT class in 2 weeks, when the theme is The Gospel According to John.
7) Do you even care what I'm reading right now? Probably not. But in case you do: The Killer Angels, The Great Omission, Knowing God, Growing in the Spirit, and Evangelical Is Not Enough.
8) As you know, I've cut out all sodas from my diet. All. That's a new habit for me. Someone has said that creating a new habit takes 21 days. Sounds simple, but really, it can be tough. What does eating healthy mean to you? Do you have a new fitness goal? If not, why not start with ridding yourself of soda pop? You have to make a conscious effort to do it, of course, but it will eventually become a habit. You'll feel a lot better and it will also help you lose weight.
P.S. Another habit I'm trying to establish? Doing things in moderation. I'm pretty terrible at this. I do everything 110 percent, even getting sick. The key, I think, is making very small changes. I'm starting with eating smaller portions at mealtime. This goal is basic, manageable, and simple. The trick is not to get side-railed.
9) We started translating 1 John in my Greek classes this week. What's the theme of this epistle, you ask? "Doing the Truth by Living in Love." The letter is predicated on two attributes of God: He is light, and He is love. More here if you're interested.
10) Less than 2 weeks to the Boston Marathon. No, I won't be there. But I'll be watching. Boston is a symbol of hard work and determination. My hat's off to everyone racing that day. As a solid pack-of-the-packer, I'll never get in, but I appreciate the joy of those who do. Hope the weather is better this year than last.
Wednesday, April 3
7:30 PM Well, it's definitely the sick season. Some of my kids and grandkids are sick. Many of my students are sick. I'm still sick. Be interesting to hear what the doc says tomorrow. I think once I get over this bout of bronchitis I will know how much it has set me back in terms of my training. Personally, one thing I will never do again are back to back marathons. It's been so hard to recover. When it all comes down to it, you've got to know your body and what it's capable of doing. Listen to your body. Take care of yourself. Lay off of running for a while if you need to. There are always other races. It's been two weeks since I've run and I don't really plan on running any time soon. It's disappointing and frustrating. But I truly am grateful for the strength God gave me this week to teach my 4 classes. Right now, more than anything, I'd like to take a long walk. That's right. A walk. Not a run. Not a bike. Just a simple walk to experience the freedom that comes from walking, even if it's a short stroll, throwing off the cares of life. Walking is such a simple joy. Walking mean being outdoors in the fresh air. "Outside" is no longer a transition between house and car but a destination in and of itself. Outdoors is my element. One foot in front of the other, finding your rhythm, being a pedestrian, nothing more. I love to walk alone, buried in nature, where everything talks to you -- trees, flowers, steams, the wildlife.
Well, hopefully this weekend. Or maybe next week. No running for a while, but walking? I'm so ready for it. The body is made for this movement.
Monday, April 1
6:12 AM According to Mark continues to speak powerful to me. It's awesome. I'm in chapter 5.
1) A man with evil spirits is healed by Savior (that's the name I'm using for "Jesus" in this blog post; the name "Jesus" means "The Lord is salvation" or, more simply, "Savior"). This miracle took place on the eastern shore of Lake Galilee. Becky and I once stood on this very spot, as I know many of you have (our guide called it the place where "The First Swine Dive in History" occurred). The demons enter the pigs. The pigs drown. The man is healed and is "clothed and in his right mind." The people of the region ask Savior to leave. As He is getting into the boat, the man who had had the demons begs him, "Let me go with you!" Savior replies:
This might well be the first instance of the Great Commission in the ministry of Savior. The man did as he was told. He went through the Ten Towns and told everyone what Savior had done for him. And all who heard it were amazed.
Someone has said that Faith stands for "Forsaking All I Take Him." We are to let go of ourselves, our sins, everything, and rest in Savior for salvation and all that goes with it. We must 1) lay hold on eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12), because salvation is not ours until we take it. We must 2) hold fast to what we have received (Rev. 3:11), lest we lose our testimony and our reward. And we must 3) hold forth the life-giving word (Phil. 2:16), because the Good News is not something to be hoarded but to be heralded.
2) A synagogue official named Jairus begs Savior to heal, not his "daughter" (so Matthew and Luke), but his "little daughter." Remember, According to Mark is comprised of the words of Peter, an eyewitness of all that Savior had said and done. "Little daughter" is known as a diminutive. In Greek 3, we study diminutives. Donald Swanson, in his JBL article "Diminutives in the Greek New Testament," shows how rare diminutives were in Attic prose. But in Koine Greek they were widely developed. In High German there are two diminutive suffixes: -hoch and -lein. If Tisch means "table," Tischlein means "little table." The Swiss, instead, use the suffix -li, and boy do they use it a a lot. The German Heftchen ("little book") becomes Heftli. Very sonorous. Sometimes -li isn't a diminutive suffix at all. It's an expression of endearment. Both of our pet parakeets in Basel had names ending in -li, and everyone who's lived in Switzerland calls their spouse Schätzeli ("precious treasure"). Hence Jairus's words:
Powerful. To add even more pathos to the scene, the girl is described as being 12 years of age. Can you imagine the emotion the readers would have felt at this point? A girl on the verge of womanhood!
This, I believe, is the heart of the Christian experience. Dead in our trespasses and sins, we are now made alive with Christ to walk in newness of life. We go down to go up. Savior meets us in our infirmities (whether physical or spiritual or both) and we are changed in a moment. I think of General Booth of the Salvation Army with his single worn-out uniform but living a thousand lives in the souls he rescued.
People today are looking for another Savior, another Messiah to set their hopes on. There will indeed be another. He is called Antichrist, and many will believe his lies. Modern political rallies that work up mere optimism and positive thinking only further deceive us. Sin is our trouble, and we are left in a worse state than ever when we are given less then the cure -- a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Our tender Lord dealt with the sick and sinful immediately and compassionately. This is the message I'm taking away this morning from According to Mark. It's easier, I think, to write a check to send the Gospel across the sea than to take it across the street. While we are helping to send missionaries, let's be sure we are one to the needy all around us. I am stunned by the goodness of Savior. Today, may we embrace His Gospel over infighting and God's glory over our own.