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Friday, July 28 

8:52 AM "There is a season ... tuuuuurn, tuuuurn, tuuuurn." Today I got the urge to purge. I went through my closets and drawers and made a huge pile of everything I wanted to give away to Goodwill.

Then I sat myself down and began thinking through my running goals for the remainder of the year. "Remember, Dave -- 'know thyself' and all that?" Well, here're some lessons I've learned this year about running.

1) If you're preparing for long distances races (10-milers, half marathons, marathons) it's probably best to cut down on shorter races. I used to do, say, 20 5Ks a year. I may still do some, but now I'll view them as training for my longer races.

2) Attitude is everything. Love what you do. Enjoy the sport. Forget time, pace, awards, peer pressure, weight, etc. I run because I am a runner. I run because I love running.

3) Age is only a number. Don't let anyone tell you you're "too old." The key is fitness, and you can be fit at any age.

4) Starting off slow always pays off in the end.

5) Listen, l-i-s-t-e-n, LISTEN to your body (hel-LOW!).

6) Set goals for yourself but don't freak out over them. Sometimes overcoming is better than victory.

7) Keep your life light and simple. Change happens and you have zero control over it. So just cope the best you can and get on with it. Move forward trusting Jesus to guide your steps. Life is too short to sit around stewing.

Happy Running (and Living),

Dave

Thursday, July 27 

6:04 PM Seems hardly worth pointing out, but I did get in 5 miles today on my bike and then swam some laps at the pool. I know it's in my best interest not to do too much too soon but it feels so good to exercise. Activity is a sort of detox for my soul and, like a good chiropractor, makes everything click-clack back into place. But I know I'm not 100 percent yet. I'm not great but I'm feeling way better than before. Occasionally I'll cough up a big blob of gunk. So we'll see how Saturday night goes down in Durham. Be odd, wouldn't it, to be caught wearing a Nike hat and then finding that you "just can't do it." 

Meanwhile I've been getting caught up on my reading -- not my personal stuff but my academic and professional reading so that I don't fall too far behind the hounds. It's interesting to read the scuttlebutt about verbal aspect in some of the most recent publications. One of the Baylor handbooks on the New Testament has, in fact, quite a lengthy discussion about it in its introduction. Then I look for an application of verbal aspect theory in the commentary itself and -- whoosh! -- all of a sudden it seems like verbal aspect isn't all that important any more. I know there's supposed to be a new "consensus" on the topic. But it's kinda like the Bermuda Triangle. Everyone says it's out there, but the empirical proof that it really exists is a bit shaky.

As I said yesterday (or maybe it was the day before yesterday -- I don't know, I don't read my blog very often), I leave for Hawaii a week from today. I'm really happy I grew up on Oahu. Everything is just slower in the Islands. There also weren't any video games or iPhones. You did, rather than talked about doing. Nobody cared about what you wore, either. (Flipflops and a swimsuit sufficed.) Finally, we all got along pretty well, and that included Haoles and locals. I remember one day waking up and realizing that my home was literally thousands of miles away from everything else. The word is "insulated," I believe (you Latin guys will know for sure). Today I was talking to a local forester who loves to surf. He takes his long board to the North Carolina coast and hangs ten whenever he can. He has to drive about two hours to get there. I think he was a bit jealous when I told him that the beach is never more than a 10-minute drive away when you live on Oahu. Yes, growing up in Hawaii was unique. But so is growing up in Rhode Island I guess. At least here on the mainland I can do multi-state road trips. I remember moving to California when I was 19 and hearing people rail against Mexicans. At the time I thought that was stupid. I still do. I miss the aloha spirit of the Islands. I guess I also miss the simplicity of those growing-up days in Kailua. You know, I never started revisiting Hawaii until Becky passed away. (We had made several trips there together, including our honeymoon.) But the month after she died I was on Waikiki Beach again. I think that trip, and my subsequent trips, have helped me gain perspective. In the familiar I find reason and courage to keep going and keep on believing. The sadness is still there, of course, but it's mixed with a greater depth of joy than I had before. I think, too, that returning to one's childhood home is a reminder that there's more to life than this earth. Kailua is not my real home. Neither is Rosewood Farm. Life here on this earth is not the end-all and be-all of my existence. As Peter Kreeft once put it, earth is heaven's workshop. Whether it's in Hawaii or the great state of Virginia, God is at work, molding this lump of clay into someone He can be proud of.

Wednesday, July 26 

5:04 PM After some down time due to illness, I'm back and ready to work hard again. Today I wogged 4 miles at the local high school track. It felt good to be running again but it did leave me pretty tired (nothing a 2 hour nap couldn't handle though!). As you can see, this brings my total mileage for the month of July to over 100.

Right now I'm trying to find something to say about this Saturday's 5K because I feel like there should be words for it. Honestly, however, my heart just isn't into it all that much. It's not that I don't want to get back into a road race. I really do. Rather badly in fact. But if I'm being truthful, I'm not a big fan of 5K races anymore. 5Ks are cruel in that they make you run faster than you ever intended to. You're always seeking that sub-30 minute PR, even when your body is warning you to take it slow and easy. So I think I'm just gonna hang back and enjoy the atmosphere of the race since I'm only half-committed to this event anyway. Meanwhile I'm retranslating Philippians and finding it to be more fun than a barrel of minkeys (no, that is not a typo; think Chief Inspector Clouseau).

Actually, I can't even get past the first verse, there's SO MUCH here. For starters, the verse is verbless. So which Greek verb am I supposed to supply? Some have suggested graphomen -- "We, Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, are writing to all God's people ...." Sounds good to me. Oh wait. Timothy's not the co-author of the book. We know this because all of the first person verbs in the letter are in the singular rather than the plural. Okay, let's try this: "I, Paul, along with Timothy -- slaves of Christ Jesus -- am writing to all God's people...." In this case, the conjunction kai would mean something like "together with" instead of "and." The Greek certainly allows for that. However, for propositionalization, "greet" many be better, since this is the verb used in the letter closing in 4:21-23. Oh my!

Then there's the deep structure. What does it mean that Paul and Timothy are servants of Christ Jesus? Men who serve Christ? Men who belong to Christ? William Barclay opines that the word "servant" suggests three things about Paul and Timothy:

1) They both are the absolute possession of Christ and can never belong to anyone else.

2) They both owe absolute obedience to Christ since slaves have no wills of their own but only their master's.

3) They are both placing themselves in the succession of the Old Testament prophets, for whom "servant of the Lord'" was the greatest possible title.

I like that! That said, now comes the really hard part: application. Paul and Timothy had become slaves of Christ. I believe God is eager to do the same for any one of us, providing our ambition is not ruled by selfish desire (see 2:3-4). The problem is, we're often too content to take charge of our own lives. Or perhaps you feel that "slave" is beneath your dignity. Or perhaps you feel you're a nobody and that God can't use. One thing is certain, however. Despite what others say or what your own circumstances may have allowed, God wants you to see yourself as HIS. Chances are you don't run in the same circles as the Old Testament prophets like Moses or Joshua. But you too can be guided by the light of Christ living in you, can be guided to serve Him by serving others. "Slaves" is an outrageous, audacious claim. Yet all these years later, that word can have the same power as when Paul first penned it.

Off to cook supper!

7:48 AM Pastors = Elders = Overseers. Then why should we have a church polity with "pastors" on the one hand and lay "elders" on the other? We are told it is because pastors are paid while elders are not. This seems like a distinction without a Scriptural difference. Church, ordination, titles -- a biblical understanding of these themes is one of the most critical issues facing the worldwide body of Christ in our day. Even among evangelicals with their professed high view of Scripture, significant confusion remains. This is what makes Alexander Strauch's Biblical Eldership so timely and relevant. Its appeal is for Christians of all traditions to get back to the "basics," by which he means the word of God. He asks important questions. "What is the church?" "Who are called to its priesthood?" "What is the real significance of ordination?" Strauch is convinced that only when we recover the supremacy of Christ and His lordship over our thinking in these areas can local churches function as New Testament churches. Speaking personally, I've found that when our ecclesiology gets into trouble, it's generally because we've tolerated distortions in our Christology. An example. Jesus alone is our high priest. Hence the word "priest" is never used in the New Testament for any official church "minister." It's the total community of believers that is the "royal priesthood." Just as Christ offered Himself in service to the Father, so Christians offer themselves and their whole being to God as living sacrifices. Each and every Christian, as a "priest," presents his or her entire life as a sacrifice to God. This is the priesthood of all believers, not just the "clergy." Even a Roman Catholic theologian like Hans Küng recognized this:

The fundamental error of ecclesiologies ... was that they failed to realize that all who hold office are primarily (both temporally and factually speaking) not dignitaries but believers, members of the fellowship of believers; and that compared with this fundamental Christian fact any office they may hold is of secondary importance if not tertiary importance (The Church, p. 465).

Küng further notes that, in the New Testament, words common in secular Greek for religious authorities are consistently avoided, including words implying hierarchy, primacy, rank, and power. The classic exception is the Diotrephes of 3 John, who is hardly being held up as a positive example. Instead, argues Küng, the language of the New Testament is one of horizontal relationships. Phil. 1:1 suggests that formal leadership in the church is placed within the congregation and not above it. No ministerial office represents status or rank in a social or political sense. The leaders' influence is measured, not by their titles, but by their Christlikeness and the extent to which they allow the Holy Spirit to work through them for the good of others and the glory of God. In essence, then, the New Testament church is a brotherhood of believer-priests, centered not in the bishop but in Christ.

Ministry, not status, is what the church is about. The Protestant Reformation replaced the altar with the pulpit and the priest with the preacher. It was left to the Anabaptists to develop the concept of the church as a fellowship of active believers, a Christian brotherhood in which the ideal of the kingdom of God would be realized. I wonder if the title "senior pastor" is even biblical. It creates a leader-centric paradigm in which discipleship is staff-driven. It encourages a consumer mentality in which responsibility for "ministry" is shifted from the so-called laity to the pastors. Intentional or not, the title communicates that the head of the church is not Christ but a mere man. Ironically, the one man in the New Testament who could possibly have claimed to be the "senior" or "lead" pastor is willing to recede into the group. Why does the apostle Peter, in addressing elders, refer to himself simply as a "fellow elder" and only Christ as the Chief Shepherd (Senior Pastor)? Could it be that he's widening the definition of what counts? I am suggesting this: titles matter. Whose name is on the marquee matters. The church is not a collection of supernovas but a collective light that shines on the Son.

(Taken from my forthcoming book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk.)

Tuesday, July 25 

7:56 PM I'm excited to share with you the news that my Odyssey has now been transformed. Took it to a healing service in Wake Forest today and had it detailed.

Them squashed little buggies on the front hood are now history! Then it was off to campus to have lunch with Noah my assistant where we worked on all kinds of various and sundry projects.

I had just purchased about $800 worth of my own books as gift copies and so here's Noah organizing them in my office.

He also checked out for me this stupendous volume, in which the author (correctly!) takes the epenchontes of Phil. 2:16 as "holding forth the word of life" instead of "holding fast to the word of life." The parallel with "shine as lights" is just too obvious to ignore.

Tonight I'm reading a book called A Semantic and Structural Analysis of Philippians by John Banker. It arrived in today's mail and I'm eager to see what he has to say. Meanwhile, I hope to get in a short run tomorrow -- as in RUN. I'm not going to whine any more than usual, but I still have a little cough that's hanging on, but Dr. Google tells me that's pretty normal with a chest cold and that, in fact, a cough can linger for as much as up to 8 weeks before the doctors get too worried about it. This Saturday I'm hoping to run in a 5K in Durham, NC, and I enter the race in high hopes of simply completing it without stressing my body too much. If I have to walk, I have to walk. No biggie. My goal is to have fun on the course and spend some time with quality friends. Per usual Dave Black tactics, I will go out slowly and see what happens. The race starts at 8:00 pm and I'm looking forward to running at sunset. I may even take my iPhone with me and snap a few pics for old-time's sake. A week from Thursday I'm scheduled to fly to Oahu for some R & R and surfing -- well, depending on the swells at this time of the year. The South Shore might actually be breaking and if so I might try to hang ten at Waikiki (Queens to be exact). For such a complete obsessive-compulsive surfing freak I think I'm actually being pretty patient with myself. If all I do is hike while I'm in Hawaii that will be fine too. I absolutely love my home away from home in Kailua. I am truly blessed!

I will close by reminding everyone what Paul says in Phil. 2:16. We as the church need to step out of the shadows and make Jesus known, like lights shining in a dark world as we hold forth the life-giving Gospel. You think it's awful that a loved one may not go to heaven? So does God. The authors of the New Testament writings didn't just write to write. They simply wrote so that others might come to know Christ as well as they did. Let's honor that desire of theirs, shall we?

7:48 AM Here's a blessing I don't talk about much. But my beginning Greek grammar is being used in families and churches for Greek instruction on a pretty wide scale. I know because I hear from these students on a regular basis. Not every story ends well of course. One class I personally started in a church a year ago petered out after completing only half of the textbook. To that class (and anyone else who's ever "dropped" Greek), I want to say: Look, I know how overwhelming and intimidating Greek is. I grew up surfing, not studying. When I went to Biola and became a Bible major, I was required to take two years of Greek. And not just Koine Greek. The first year was based on a Classical Greek textbook designed for students at Harvard. It was called Chase & Phillips.

After three weeks in class I ended up dropping. Turns out, I wasn't cut out for languages after all, or so it seemed to me at the time. Greek was just really really hard. That was maybe one of two times in my life when I felt completely overwhelmed by something. To this day I still can't believe how close I came to missing what today is such a huge part of my life (Greek). Folks, the hardest challenge in life isn't always the subject matter or the task. It's finding the courage to take the first step and then sticking with it. Runners know exactly what I'm talking about. After two months of "enjoying" their new-found love, they peter out. I think the only reason I've stuck with it is because my goal is simply to have fun during my workouts each and every day. And, this is isn't merely a daily commitment. It's for a lifetime. I know I won't get stronger and healthier by sitting on my rear end or if I let myself get embarrassed by lack of ability. It was the same way with Greek. After dropping my class (and seriously thinking of changing my major at Biola to CE), someone told me about Moody Bible Institute's Greek course by cassette tape instruction. The textbook they used was a really simple (many today would say over-simplistic) one by a man named Ray Summers. But it was down to earth and didn't assume I had had three years of Latin. Within 4 months I had passed both semesters of beginning Greek with flying colors, and a year later Dr. Harry Sturz invited me to teach 11 units of Greek at Biola University. That was 41 years ago. And guess what? The book I taught from was none other than that little monster called Chase & Phillips.

Folks, the hardest part is not getting started. It's getting started and then saying "I'm going to stick with this even though it's soooo hard." Neither Greek nor running is easy. Just figuring out how to stay motivated is half the battle. Listen, I know how intimidating becoming active can be for those of us who didn't play sports growing up or who avoided anything too physical. Greek's the same way. Greek was the first foreign language I had ever studied. I was as ready and prepared to take Greek when I got to Biola as I was prepared to run a marathon when I first started jogging two and a half years ago. So I bit the bullet and enrolled in Harry Sturz's Greek class, and even though I lasted only three weeks I have no regrets because I gave it everything I had and walked away knowing that failing wasn't the end of the world. I just needed to try again.

Regardless of where you are in your Greek studies, dear reader, what matters most is that you dare to fail, because failure is a part of life. But even should you fail, you won't have a single regret knowing that you gave it your all. Brush yourself off and then start all over. All that matters is that you keep saying Yes to life.

And to any would-be runners who may be reading my blog today: Let me tell you the bare nekkid truth. Unless you really want something, you'll never get around to pushing yourself to the place where you will stick with it. Never. I don't care if your goal is to run a 5K or to qualify for Boston. The hardest part about running is giving it 100 percent. My easy runs are hard. My long runs are hard. But they're still FUN because I love what I'm doing. Even when you claw your way through the first two months of running it doesn't get easier. But if you have the courage to think and live like an athlete, then you will find, as I have, that you have more strength than you ever dreamed possible.

Monday, July 24 

6:20 PM Good evening! Today I put exactly 9.22 miles on my mountain bike, and I did it in one of the most interesting cities in all of Southern Virginia. Lynchburg is really two cities. The one I'm most used to hosts a huge university and dozens of upscale restaurants. I rode today in the other Lynchburg, with its barred windows and pawn shops. Actually, this side of the city has carved out a trail system they call the James River Heritage Trail. It has four interconnected shorter trail systems and I was able to bike three of them today: The Blackwater Creek Byway, the Point of Honor Trail, and the Kemper Station Trail. I'll save Percival's Island Trail for some other day. I arrived at the Ed Page trailhead at around 10:00 am and found it full, though I only had to wait a few minutes before I got a parking spot. Before beginning my ride I noticed what looked to be garden next to the parking lot and sauntered over to investigate. Turns out I was in the Awareness Garden that is dedicated to the memory of people who have died from cancer. It was heartbreaking to see so many names there, but cancer is, unfortunately, a fact of life (and death). Eventually I took off and found the first several miles to be a piece of cake. You're going downhill at a slight grade, which meant you could maintain a 13-mph pace without even pedaling. (Of course, you also had to pedal up this same stretch of asphalt on the way back to your car.) Eventually you cross a couple of wooden bridges, go under a tall railroad bridge (as in TALL), and then find yourself at the entrance to the funky Hollins Tunnel. Here the air temp went down by at least 20 degrees and you could even feel the water dripping on your bike helmet as your rode to the other end. From this point it was a short ride to my turnaround spot, the Kemper Street Railroad Station.

I loved this trail. All the fears, worries, and pressures of life seemed to melt away as I cycled through some of God's most beautiful creation. At one point I even met a little doe who was the spitting image of Bambi. What a wonder that here, in the middle of the city, the joy I felt the very first time I got out in nature in Hawaii as a surfer came back to me. You know, getting older isn't all that bad. You tend to slow down and smell the roses more. With each passing day you also worry less about what people think of you and more about how you feel and look and dream. I've learned that my 65-year old body will do almost anything I ask it to do (within reason) as long as I allow it to adjust to the new demands. I don't believe I have had my last best day. That day is still out there waiting for me, and each day I'm alive is a chance to find it.

Pix (of course):

8:50 AM Good morning!

Gonna be another busy day. My plate's full, as is yours. So much to do, think about, write, plan. But I couldn't start the week without at least mentioning the passing of one of our greatest saints, a man I came to know and love in Dallas. I heard him speak many times on visits to Becky's family. He often filled the pulpit at the church where they attend. He was a professor of "preaching," or homiletics if you will. We used his textbook on preaching when I was in seminary back in the Dark Ages. Those were the days. In my homiletics classes we were taught all sorts of things. How to project your voice. Which tie goes with what suit. And to follow your notes. Religiously. "Be well prepared!" Like any organization, church has many good leaders who can communicate well, and some who are terrible at public speaking. In my experience, one of the least desirable traits in a preacher is lack of authenticity. What ever happened to brother So-and-So when he clambered behind the sacred desk? The voice becomes wispy, breathy, and even "Jesus" takes three times as long to say. Folks, authenticity is not easy, but it is simple. You just be who you are. "Naturalness," is what they call it. You're talking with us, not at us. Notes aren't needed, because you are speaking to us from the heart. (We love eye contact!) Great public speakers care. They depend not only on force of reasoning but on passion. Listeners crave intimacy with them. Great speakers keep it simple. Their sentences are short. Special vocabulary is left to the homileticians. A great speaker's voice is like a Swiss Alp. It's beautiful. It goes up and down, its rhythm changing with the contours. Great speakers are decent people. They may or not be funny, but I've never heard a great speaker who didn't have a sense of ease, who didn't poke fun at himself. And yes, you should illustrate your points.

The man who just went home to be with the Lord he so faithfully served is named Haddon Robinson. If you've never heard him speak in person, I feel sorry for you. Thanks to YouTube, you may yet have a chance. This is perhaps the most powerful graduation speech I've ever heard. If you take the time to listen to it, you will discover what a great preacher looks like, sounds like, feels like. What a precious gift from God.

 

Be well, pastor friend. Give your messages a chance to work. Everyone is fighting a tough battle in life, but you're the pacesetter. Give yourself to your people, and they will give back.

Dave

Sunday, July 23 

9:05 PM No nap. My neighbor had the spare part so back to work we went. Just now finished the mother of all hay fields. Glad it's done. The barns couldn't be fuller. Earlier I biked 9 miles. Felt great, but I can't wait to run again. People run for different reasons. Some run for causes. Most run for themselves -- in a good sense. They're running from a destructive relationship. They're running to prove to themselves that they are worthy of another's love and affection. They're running to become fit. I run for many reasons I suppose. I think mostly I run for Becky, in her honor, to raise money to combat the disease that took her away from me, and maybe mostly to manage the bottomless hole in my heart that I feel every day of my life. Someone has said that running isn't any different from grief. Both are hard. Neither gets easier. But both make you stronger. Honestly, I just love running. I'm not trying to set new PRs every time I run or anything like that. I just want to be out there with my fellow athletes. Your last race doesn't matter any more. Each new starting line holds the promise of a small victory as you struggle against your limitations and push to the edge of your ability. You rediscover the will to win and the desire to finish.

Each race is a new chapter that God is writing in my life.

3:32 PM The baler just broke down so we've stopped haying for the day. Good thing too. The real feel is a mere 107 degrees. The Lord has a good purpose in everything! New Holland's got the part, so we'll be back in business later this week, when things promise to be cooler.

Nap time :-)

1:45 PM Snapped this not two miles from the farm.

Yep, a neighbor's cattle got out again. I keep informing them but it doesn't seem to do any good. Oh well, at least the owners of this property won't have to mow their grass this week. 

9:14 AM As we attend the fellowship today, let's recall the words of Paul in 1 Thess. 5:12-13:

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you, and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

Think how helpful it could be if we followed this injunction. Paul realized that people need practical help on how to treat their leaders. All of this is excellent nurture. Remember also the need to pray for one another, and the need for more experienced colleagues to take younger leaders under their guidance. Finally, notice three things Paul says about these leaders that are often overlooked:

  • It's striking that the verbs controlling this passage are a long ways from the imperatives that call for obedience or submission.

  • Note too the absence of titles (overseers, pastors, elders). Instead, these leaders are identified by their activities.

  • Finally, it's not possible to take these three descriptions of leaders as suggesting different kinds of people, as if some "care for" the flock while others "admonish" it. Almost certainly the three Greek participles used here assume that these are tasks that all of the leaders fulfill.

These three points are made by Gordon Fee in his commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, which I highly recommend. Today I'm convinced more than ever of the usefulness of studying the subject of church leadership through the exegesis of specific texts like this one. There's real value in such an undertaking. At least there would be, if the best teachers in the church were doing it. Many a young pastor has not the faintest idea of how to read the Greek of 1 Thess. 5:12-13. This is perhaps a weakness of our educational system. Indeed, in some settings, exegetical training is discounted in comparison to practical training. Only those who are academics by temperament go on to master the biblical languages. No wonder the church is in some disrepair. I fear much of the trouble goes back to those of us who teach Greek. Showing just how useful Greek can be in pastoral ministry is one of the most urgent tasks of the church if it is to be a true New Testament body.

8:54 AM Switching for a moment from textual criticism to Greek lexicography ....

In our Syntax and Exegesis class this fall we'll be looking at the various parts of speech in the Greek language, including conjunctions. Believe it or not, we'll have a lot to say about kai, since it is used about 9,000 times in the New Testament. If students are introduced to the gloss "and" in their beginning courses, all well and good. But more comprehensive descriptions are necessary once we move beyond elementary studies. One of my favorite examples is the use of kai in Matt. 21:5. Did Jesus really ride on a donkey and a colt, perhaps straddling them? Or take Acts 5:29: "Peter and the apostles." Clearly Peter was an apostle. Hence Luke meant something like "Peter and the other apostles."

Is kai ever pleonastic? Is it ever used to intensify an idea? How can we be sure that kai is being used adverbially as opposed to being used as a coordinating conjunction? How does kai join phrases? What about the so-called Granville Sharp construction? What is the difference between kai and te? Can kai ever introduce a paragraph break? Why do we read "Grace to you and peace" instead of "Grace and peace to you"?

We'll look at these and other questions in class. But it will be up to you to write the next chapter in the story.

8:36 AM The ETC blog is featuring a post about Kirsopp Lake's views on the need for conjectural emendation in New Testament textual criticism. But there's also this interesting quote:

It is between these texts, and not between individual MSS., that we shall have in the last resort to judge, so that the situation which we must face is that we have to deal with a number of local texts, that no two localities used quite the same text, that no locality has yet been shown to have used a text which is demonstrably better than its rivals, and that no one of these local texts is represented in an uncorrupt form by any single MS.

This quote is a challenge to modern-day textual criticism. In my experience, students tend to fall into one of two camps: They are either Alexandrian priorists, or else they are Byzantine priorists. My hope is that they will see that no text type can be followed automatically, if indeed it can be shown that no text "is demonstrably better than its rivals." This is precisely what Harry Sturz argued in his work The Byzantine Text-type and New Testament Textual Criticism. It is the view I personally prefer. It is also a theory that I applied in numerous essays in Novum Testamentum, New Testament Studies, etc. Anyway, I'm guessing that some of you have never heard of Dr. Sturz or are familiar with his views. My life was greatly enriched by first studying under him at Biola and then becoming his colleague in the Greek Department there for many years. I can hardly articulate my gratitude for his contributions to the art and science of textual criticism, though I have attempted to do so here. So as we consider "what" we do as students of the New Testament, may we constantly be reminded "why" we do it as well.

Saturday, July 22 

10:08 PM Thank You, Lord, for a wonderful evening of work. This is the fourth night we've worked on this one field and we're still not done. What a blessing from Your kind hand.

Thank You that today was Lake Fest in Clarksville. We enjoyed the fireworks show while we were picking up bales long after dark. I now have enough hours to qualify as a second shift laborer. Thank You, Lord, for tuna fish and rice. It's not a fancy meal but I'm going to enjoy it in just a few minutes. Thank You, finally, for air conditioning. Mr. HVAC, you make my life tolerable. 78 degrees feels a whole lot better than 103.

3:05 PM Good afternoon folks! I hope you've been having a really great summer. Mine has been wonderful so far. I turned 65, I completed my first triathlon ("survived" might be a better word), I got to teach 6 weeks of Greek, and I was interviewed on The Today Show and NPR (not really, but one can fantasize, right?). I still can't believe I have another marathon coming up in October. I've been so grateful to the Lord that He's allowed me to get this far without any major injuries. I'm happy, too, because I've been able to keep my weight off and maintain an even 210 pounds (down from a high of 245). I've never been too much of a yo-yo person anyway; I usually finish what I start. Exercise and healthy eating works. Who would have thunk it? However, I can also be a bit overly-ambitious at times. Like today. Believe it or not, I've been praying about trying to do the 50/50 marathon challenge. This simply means completing a marathon in all 50 states. Of course, it's gotta be okay with my doctor -- and with my body. Hopefully by the end of this year I will have completed a marathon in 4 states: OH, VA, UT, and -- no, not HI, but AZ. That's right. I'm nixing the Honolulu Marathon in December. I suppose it's mostly because I've been reading too many blog reports that decry the race's horrendous humidity, even in December. You know, when you grow up in Hawaii you never notice the humidity until you move away and go back. When you do go home, you ask yourself, "How in the world did I ever put up with that for so many years?" So where shall I run in December? I'm looking into the Tucson Marathon on Dec. 9.  Like my race in Utah in October, this is mostly a downhill marathon. People say it's one of the prettiest courses in the nation. We'll see. If I do try and do the 50/50 Challenge, I'll need to do 5 marathons a year for the next 9 years. Think that's possible?

Oh, here's good ol' moi today in Farmville, VA. I'm enjoying a caramel macchiato at the Uptown Cafe, having just completed a half marathon on my bike.

Nothing too rigorous, of course. I gave my heart and lungs a rest. But my legs got a nice workout, which is a good thing when you consider that downhill races put a lot of pressure on your quads.

When I exited the cafe I noticed two men in starched shirts and ties across the street sitting at a portable table with some literature on it. Well, since I had praying all morning that the Lord would open up for me a Gospel opportunity, I made a beeline for these distinguished-looking gentlemen. "You know the Bible doesn't say anything about wearing ties when it's 100 degrees outdoors, right?" We laughed and shook hands. "Jehovah's Witnesses?" I asked. "Yes, sir," they replied. And thus began an hour-long conversation. As you folks know, I'm currently writing a book on the concept of the kingdom in the New Testament. The book is called Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk, and in one chapter I'll be discussing how various Christian denominations (and sects even) understand what the kingdom looks like. I asked the men, one of whom was about my age, and the other of whom was about 40: "Can you please tell me why your New World Translation says 'a god' in John 1:1 instead of 'God'"? The younger man started in. "In Greek there is no word for 'a.' So every time you have a word like 'God,' you have to decide whether or not to use the indefinite article in English." I said, "So you believe that Jesus is divine but not 'God'?" The same man spoke up, "Exactly. We believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is a theological construct that's not taught in the Bible. As a result, we don't see Jesus being called God here." I had them turn to other passages such as Tit. 2:13 and Rom. 9:5. Conveniently for my interlocutors, the NWT renders both verses in such a way as to avoid a reference to Christ's Deity. They had a little more difficulty when I asked them to read for me John 20:28, where Thomas, speaking to Jesus, says "My Lord and my God." After about a half hour of discussing Christ's Deity, I felt led to move the discussion in a different direction. "If you were to die today, do either of you know with certainty that you would go to heaven?" Again, the younger man spoke up first. "No one can know for sure whether they're saved." "Okay," I replied. "Let me ask my question this way: On your understanding of the Bible, what must a person do to be saved?" "Strive his best to obey Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount," said the younger man. "It's the meek who will inherit the earth," chimed in the older man. I said, "Well and good. I'm all for living out the ethics of the kingdom of God. But what about these verses?" I then quoted to them Eph. 2:8-9.

For by grace

are you saved

through faith,

and that not of yourselves.

It is the gift of God,

not of works,

lets any man should boast.

They looked at me like I had ten heads. I honestly believe they had never heard this verse before. Then I quoted Acts 16:31:

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

and you will be saved.

About this time I sensed that the conversation was going in a way they felt uncomfortable with. The older man excused himself to go to the restroom. The younger man stood up and announced with his body language that the discussion was now concluded. He said to me, "I want to thank you for for being so polite and respectful to us during our conversation today. You know, people can disagree about salvation and that's okay because it's our sincerity that counts in the end." I replied, "People can be sincerely wrong. Muslims are sincere. Buddhists are sincere. Even atheists are sincere." Then I added, almost in a whisper, looking at that handsome, well-dressed young man straight in the eye: "I can tell you with complete certainty today that when I die God will take me straight to heaven, not because of any works of righteousness that I have done, but because on the cross Christ died the death that I, a terrible sinner, should have died, and when I placed my faith and trust in Him, God imputed Christ's righteousness to me. I want you to know, my friend, that no amount of good works will get you or anyone else into heaven. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."

We look at each other for a moment. Then we shook hands, and as I patted him on the arm I quipped, "And remember: There's no verse in the Bible that says you have to wear ties on a hot day!"

Laughing, we parted ways.

Friday, July 21 

8:52 PM I was feeling pretty good today, in fact so good that I thought I'd drive into Raleigh for some Ethiopian food and then see the movie Dunkirk. The former was outstanding. The latter was, well, let's just say it was less than outstanding. As usual, for lunch I order the kai wat, which was Becky's favorite dish at the Abyssinia Restaurant. It's basically the Ethiopian version of beef stew but a whole lot spicier. If you're ever in the mood for some real finger-licking-good grub, I tell you what ... my goodness. You can't beat the Abyssinia. But be forewarned: There's nothing shy about Ethiopian cuisine. You'll love the restaurant, which is now under new owners, Berhanu and his lovely wife (who is also the chef).

You're still quite a ways from Ethiopia, of course, but you get my drift. By the way, on each table is a little basket with the message "Word for Today" on it. Each basket contains Scripture verses. Yes, the owners are in the Lord! It don't get much better than that, folks.

As for Dunkirk, I'll just say: Don't fall for the hype. I give it a D at best. The stumbling blocks were simply too many. Take the musical score for one. The vibrating, gnawing string background (think the theme from Jaws) never shuts up. It's like listening to a pile-driver for 2 hours. Then there's the film's intensity. Imagine the vehemence of the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and then multiply that by four. Ugh. Finally, there's the "believability" factor. One could make a strong case that German rifle fire can't punch holes in the hull of an ocean-going vessel, or that a Spitfire that's ditched in the Channel can't stay afloat for an entire half hour before sinking to the bottom (and why didn't the trapped pilot try to shoot his Very Pistol through the Plexiglas instead of merely trying to smash it open with the butt of the gun?), or that a Spitfire that's run out of fuel can't glide east to west over the Dunkirk dunes at 200 feet and then turn around and glide west to east at the same elevation. Come on, folks. At one point I thought of just walking out of the theater, but I paid my 7 bucks and I sure was going to stick it out to the bitter end. Never again.

Do I recommend you see this movie? Many reviewers are calling it a "masterpiece." Well, I didn't care for it. It certainly wasn't as good as I expected. In fact, it was downright painful to watch. It didn't bother to get simple things right. At least a movie like Pearl Harbor (surely one of the worst war movies ever made, what with its cornball romantic triangle and awful acting) had some magnificent attack scenes. Dunkirk is worse than boring. I left the theater asking myself, "What was that all about?" The one redeeming factor in the film was its unspoken premise, which, in essence, is a movie theme that hits home for me every time: Ordinary people are capable of accomplishing some pretty amazing things. It was the common civilian sailors who saved the day at Dunkirk. They did what the Royal Navy, with all of its vast warships, couldn't do: get 330,000 soldiers back home safely.

In the end, Dunkirk is an action film and nothing more. If that's all you want, you'll probably enjoy it. But you may want to spend your hard-earned money on some good Ethiopian food instead.

Your humble culinary (and film) critic,

Dave

8:02 AM I just sent out an email to my Syntax and Exegesis class reminding them that one-fifth of their grade this semester will be based on classroom recitation, and that correct pronunciation of Greek is an essential component of this process. I reminded them that an appendix in my beginning grammar contains a very brief summary of the rules of Greek accentuation, which by now should be intuitive to anyone who's had a year of Greek instruction. Of course, it's possible to focus too heavily on accents, as many a beginning grammar does in my opinion. Such matters are probably best left for when students have some Greek under their belt. Yet even beginning students can still accentuate properly when they read the language aloud. Of course, at times the accent can change the meaning of a word completely (as in the present and future of meno). This semester we will also be doing English to Greek composition and, although accents and breathing marks are optional in my classes, I will ask the students to do their best to apply the basic rules of accentuation even during composition exercises.

You're welcome, by the way.

7:50 AM Last night I finished rereading this provocative book. With "The Juice" in the news again, I thought I'd at least mention it to you.

It's an absolute must read for the skeptical mind. If you think O.J. was guilty, read this book. If you think he was at the crime scene but wasn't alone, read this book. This book is meticulous in its examination of all the suspects in the case, including one you'd never think about, even though a very strong case can be made that he, and not O.J., was the actual murderer. I won't give the conclusion away, but I'll admit that I was convinced. All you need is an open mind to get value from this book.

Thursday, July 20 

9:14 PM Most of my readers know that I've been trying to do everything just right in preparation for my 2017 races. I've followed a solid training program, eaten right, hydrated properly, stayed injury free, and gotten pretty good rest between workouts. But to everything there's a limit. Sometimes you just need to take a break from it all. Like driving down to the great state of North Carolina and pigging out at your favorite seafood restaurant -- a place you visited with Becky many a time in your former life. I'm talking sweet and subtly delicious hushpuppies, fantastically fatty fries, sweet pickle cole slaw, and, of course, a gigantic piece of deep-fat-fried trout. Is there anything better than a fish fry after writing all day and then getting up hay all evening? Well, yes, I suppose there is. What I'm "inching" toward saying here (yes, the allusion to one's waistline is intentional) is a seafood addiction isn't just due to lack of willpower. Satisfying an occasional craving is downright good for you, it really is. And what's more, I did turn down that second helping of hushpuppies after all. Now ain't yall proud of me?

P.S. This was my view while driving home tonight. "From sunrise to sunset, let the name of the Lord be praised!" (Psalm 113:3).

4:50 PM Okay. So I've followed my own advice and registered for my next 5K. It's the Blue Moon Ride and Run in Durham on Saturday evening, July 29, beginning at 8:00 pm. Yes, this will be the first race I've done in the dark. I'm not the most observant person in the world, but I did have to smile when I saw that so far I'm only one (of two) participants in the race who are between 65 and 69. That's out of 656 participants. (Looks like it will be White versus Black.)

My give-a-care bubble is pretty small, but this does give one a reason to pause. I will say at this point that I enjoy being in an older age category if for no other reason it's easier to win a medal. And nothing is nerdier than watching an old guy tooling around with a piece of tin around his neck.

4:28 PM Today I wrote the notes for a PowerPoint on Roland Allen's classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul's Or Ours? I'm going to us it in my NT 2 class this fall (Acts through Revelation). I'm also requiring my students to purchase this book even though it was written over 100 years ago. In my estimation, Allen's Missionary Methods ranks right up there with other Christian classics such as Jacque Ellul's The Subversion of Christianity and William Farmer's The Synoptic Problem. Authors such as Allen, Ellul, and Farmer appeal to me because they ask the reader to forget virtually everything that has been previously accepted as fact about the subject at hand. Historians make a distinction between the "ephemeral event" (an event as it actually happened) and the "affirmed event" (a commonly agreed-upon interpretation of that event). A practical example is the synoptic problem. Over the years an agreed-upon interpretation of the facts is hammered out by scholars. This interpretation claims to be able to smooth out the gaps in knowledge and provides students with a longed-for consensus. Once this consensus has been reached, the interpretation becomes almost indelibly fixed. Even if seemingly contradictory evidence is put forward, the "affirmed interpretation" becomes nearly impossible to dismiss. For William Farmer (and for others like him, such as Bernard Orchard and myself), this is precisely what has happened to our attempts as scholars to resolve the synoptic problem. Markan priority is now so embedded in the popular consciousness that it's almost impossible to challenge. As long as the agreed-upon interpretation of the facts remains anchored in our minds, alternative explanations will remain hidden.

William Farmer felt that the consensus opinio didn't work. It didn't explain, for example, the unanimous testimony of the early church that the apostle Matthew, and not Mark, was responsible for our earliest Christian Gospel. He therefore produced a bold book that was unafraid to offend, rather than an inoffensive book that was destined to simply collect dust. This is why I consider Farmer's work a "classic." The "affirmed solution" to the synoptic problem has left the historian with lingering questions. The answer to these questions will remain incompatible with each other until the central piece of the puzzle is put in its place.

I have a friend who says that every hundred years or so a book comes along that messes everything up. That, I can say, perfectly describes Roland Allen's book about missions.

P.S. Feeling better today. Walked for 4 miles at the track then cooled off in the county pool. Getting more hay up tonight. My body, all except for my chest, feels superb. I have three and a half weeks before my next triathlon, and I plan to get back into running very slowly. Famous last words, I know. But I really am trying to be patient. Besides, in exactly 14 days I leave for Hawaii. And I really can't afford to be in bad health if I'm going to catch a few.

8:24 AM This sermon title from Phil. 1:6 caught my attention this morning: The Most Important Day of Your Life. The "day" being referenced in the sermon, of course, is the day of Christ's return (see Phil. 1:6 and 1:10). The speaker asks: "If this day were to come tomorrow, would you be happy about that?" From the time I became a Christian when I was 8 and heard someone pray, "Come, Lord Jesus," I've always eagerly anticipated the Second Coming of the Lord. The Bible is clear about one thing: though we may not know the day or the hour of His coming, we can be prepared for that day. And so I began asking myself the question: "How do I become prepared for the Judgment Seat of Christ?" I think Philippians itself has the answer. Let's return to Phil. 1:6:

And I'm certain that God, who began this good work within [or among] you, will continue it until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

All of this talk about Jesus returning to judge and to reign is, of course, very important. But is that the emphasis of this verse? It sounds rather like Paul is complimenting the Philippians for the "good work" they had begun, and this good work is to be found in verse 5:

They had become participants in the Gospel Commission along with Paul.

In other words, the Philippians had become what I like to refer to as "Great Commission Christians." This began on the very day Paul had brought them the Gospel, and their faithfulness in the work of sharing Jesus with others was evidence that their faith went beyond mere belief but had issued in action. Gospel action.

Do you support the propagation of the Gospel? Do I? This can't be reduced to mere financial considerations. I may place some money in the offering plate to help "all those missionaries out there" and never become a missional person myself. Paul was in the Gospel "business" fulltime. So, evidently, were the Philippians. Thus he could describe his relationship with the Philippians as sunkoinonous -- "fellow partners." Moreover, since God is the one who founded this "fellow-partnership," only He can complete it.

In short, Paul's eager anticipation of Christ's Second Coming had more to do with this day than some coming day. Remember, Christ has already come once. He rules spiritually in the hearts of His people, whom He has commanded, "Go everywhere in the world and tell everyone the Good News!" (Mark 16:15). In other words, the choices we make in the here and now are binding in eternity.

So what's the most important day in your life? Other than the day of my conversion, I think it was the day I realized that my life was not my own. God longs to redeem this fallen world. He cares about people, but He can only work with what He's got to get the job of reconciliation done. That means you and me. Have you joined the cause of global missions? I tell you, life is as simple as that. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Do good to others. Share Jesus' love in practical ways. Then let people know that there is truly Good News for them.

God is still moving and active in our world today. Throughout the centuries, followers of Jesus have been responding to the Spirit's call and have taken up the Cause of causes. We are the people of God, and we are moving forward to that day, prophetically embodying the shalom of God.

Wednesday, July 19 

7:22 PM I was going to write a lot tonight about what I've been reading lately, and I may still get on a blogging roll, though I'm kinda tired. (Supper, by the way, was delicious: hamburger/onion/cream of chicken mixture over rice.) Believe it or not, I've been rereading one of my own books that I haven't looked at in a very long time, but since I'm requiring it for my NT class I thought it might be a good idea for me to revisit it. Seven Marks of a New Testament Church reminds me of a crusty old man on the sidewalk yelling "Go, man, go!" during a marathon. As someone who's not an expert in ecclesiology, I had tons of fun writing this little book and was delighted to find that people are using it as they prepare to teach through the book of Acts. I've also been going through Walter Hansen's Pillar commentary on Philippians, which is very good though not in the same class as Hawthorne (in my humble opinion). For one thing, I think Hansen makes way too much of a supposed connection between Philippians and the "letter of friendship" genre that existed in the first century -- not that Paul wasn't friends with the Philippians. I do, however, like his section and paragraph headings, obviously written by someone who loves teaching through this book. He calls 1:1-2 "Greetings and Grace" (I might have written "Servants and Saints"), and 3:18-19 "Mourning over the Enemies of the Cross" (a good title but the discourse unit is most certainly not limited to these two verses). In wonderful chiastic fashion, he crafts the closing paragraph under the title: "Greetings and Grace" (4:21-23). Another nice thing: He refuses to impose the canons of the ancient rhetorical handbooks onto the letter. I'm with you there, brother. Another book I've dusted off is Homer Kent's outstanding commentary on Hebrews that appeared way back in 1972 but still has a lot of helpful information in it. I'm reading it partly because I loved that era of New Testament studies, when so many of our profs were either Dallas or Grace ThDs. And even though he employs the now-outmoded outline of Hebrews that draws a sharp distinction between "Doctrinal Discussion" (1:1-10:18) and "Practical Instruction" (10:19-13:17), he remains very good at weaving together the author's theological foundations with his practical applications. As I read through Kent's commentary on Hebrews, my respect for his knowledge and wisdom continues to grow.

Okay, so there ya go -- three books I've been reading of late. Of course, I'm always on the lookout for more books on running and runners, and I want to ask you if you have any recommendations. (If you do, just post them on your blog or Facebook page.) I still haven't read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, though it's one of the most popular running books out there. Running is a challenging sport, and if you're like me, you need books to keep you motivated. But mostly I'm plugging away at New Testament commentaries, mainly ones that have been sitting idle on my shelf for years. As with books about running, I take into consideration the reputation of the author before selecting a book to read. Not that I won't read a book by a novice author; these can have great content! But books written by well-known writers have the upper hand in my thinking (and purchasing).

Happy reading!

6:04 PM Well, the doc just put me on Amoxicillin and a steroid for my cough/chest congestion. I'm told I should be feeling tons better very quickly. I wouldn't mind that at all. Every run -- and every non-run -- seems to open a window on my soul. It's as though I'm having to confront the real me over and over again. As running has become a more central part of my life, I'm finding it more and more impossible to be unaware of who I am. Someone who likes ease. Someone who wants to be good at something other than teaching. Someone who wants to have the courage to live like an athlete. And it all began with a single step. I need to be careful not to look so far ahead in my life that I miss what's right at my feet.

Whoosh! How's that for a zany blog post. I'm heading off to cook supper ... and take my new pills like a good boy.

11:45 AM Hey folks! Not much news to report here. I've been working away at prepping for my fall classes, including several new lectures. This morning I was reading Hawthorne's Philippians commentary and his discussion of the words "overseers and deacons" in 1:1. He suggests that the expression is a hendiadys, meaning we should translate it as "overseers who serve." (Whew! I almost typed "swerve.") I can't say I wasn't intrigued by his suggestion. There are very few occasions in reading a biblical commentary when I run across a truly novel interpretation. I feel hesitant to join the Hawthorne bandwagon, however. (I've always felt Paul was referring to two groups of leaders in the church -- "those who oversee and those who serve [in some special capacity]"). But if Hawthorne is right -- if the emphasis is indeed on "overseers who serve" -- then we have a ready-made explanation of why Paul would mention the leaders at the beginning of his letter. It would also be consistent with his theme of "unity through humility," as well as with his insistence that "authority before all else means responsibility" (p. 10). If Paul and Timothy can be "servants," so can the church's leaders, indeed so can all of us who claim to follow the One who said "I didn't come to be served, but to serve and to give My life as a ransom for many."

So, is it ....

"Overseers who serve"?

Or "Watchmen and Waiters"?

You decide!

This morning I also rambled into town to run some errands and while there did some light weight lifting and then walked 5 miles at a 3.8 mph pace. My cough is still there, and I'm seriously thinking about going back to see the doc tomorrow or Friday if things aren't better. However it goes, I'm eager to get back into running soon. I recognized another local runner at the track today and for a moment I felt a tinge of jealousy arise within my heart. Thankfully it passed quickly and I returned to my humble, grateful self. I truly am blessed to be able to get up out of bed in the morning, let alone walk, let alone RUN. My lapses into self-pity, however, give me a clear picture of my constant need for a Savior and how easy it is for me to fall flat on my face. Don't get me wrong. I'm actually a fantastic guy. But deep down I know (as does everyone else) that I fall short of the standard God sets for His people. Without Jesus I would get exactly what I deserve: condemnation. Thankfully the cross has mastered evil, and the closer we live to it, the more we truly live.  

Onward and upward.

Tuesday, July 18 

6:08 PM When I was in seminary, my intermediate Greek prof used Philippians in class to illustrate the method of exegesis he was teaching us. It was a wise choice. There are many good reasons for students who've had a year of Greek to study Philippians.

  • It's a fairly short letter (only 4 chapters).

  • Its grammar is straightforward (for the most part).

  • Its theme is literally out of this world (living as citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel).

  • Its theology is deep. Here Paul deals with Christology, false teaching, suffering, Christian giving, division (and its cure), joy (we served a serendipitous God who delights us with joy), and gratitude -- to name but a few themes.

  • It's a good way to get acquainted with discourse analysis.

  • It contains several famous rhetorical flourishes (see 3:1-2 for examples of anaphora, paronomasia, polysyndeton, alliteration, and chiasm).

When this bit of dialogue was taking place between Paul and the Philippians, dusk was beginning to settle over the apostle's life. Paul was continuing to discover that his life's work was to be a witness for Jesus wherever he found himself, even in a prison awaiting possible death. Like Paul, we can either focus on our insufficiency or on Christ's sufficiency. When we give Christ what little we have, we will find that He is only too willing to take it and multiply if for His glory and our good. The result is abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine.

12:52 PM This morning I cycled for 10 miles, with an average heart rate of 104 bpm. The CDC defines a moderate cycling pace of less than 10 mph and a vigorous cycling pace of more than 10 mph. My average speed today was 10.3 mph.

Want to hear something funny? Sometimes I make believe I'm actually paid to exercise, which means that I simply have to be active because ain't no way a cheapskate like me is gonna leave any money on the table. Also -- believe it or not -- I'll sometimes bike and not blog about it. (Does something really happen if no one on social media knows about it?!) Okay, that doesn't happen often. One of my big motivators is community. If something is worth doing, it's worth sharing with others. Who knows, maybe they'll become motivated to make the Big Transition from Cheetos-covered fingers to sweat-covered foreheads? Maybe endorphins are useful after all. Thankfully, I'm not a bad cyclist. Plus, there's very little that can hurt you when you're biking -- except for a certain unmentionable part of your anatomy hurting like the dickens. Besides, during my next triathlon I'm really looking forward to getting some "kills" in. I'm planning on going all out in the cycling phase and will try not to yell "Ha ha, I'm beating you!" when I start to pass another cyclist. When the bike leg is finished, of course, these same people will be passing me during the final 5K run.

Over coffee this morning I was reading the section in Gerald Hawthorne's commentary on Philippians where he deals with the Christology of the letter. I jotted down these takeaways, for what they are worth:

1) Paul was "obsessed with Christ, because for him Christ was everything (1:20-21)."

2) "The centrality of Jesus Christ ... vibrates throughout the letter to the Philippians ...."

3) "A life of goodness, that is, one filled with the fruit of righteousness, is possible because of Jesus Christ (1:11; cf. 2:5-11)."

4) "Jesus Christ was the central 'fact' of Paul's life ...."

5) "The day of Christ's return, the day of transfiguration, is near (4:6)."

And yet when I visit a church's website, often the most prominently displayed page is the one about "leadership" or "staff." That's odd. Shouldn't a confrontation with the living God, like the one Paul had at Damascus, cause a reversal of one's priorities? Or is it just that we don't take verses like Col. 1:18 very seriously. (In all things Christ is to enjoy preeminence.) The way some people talk, coming to their church is more about their pastors and their programs than about a Person. For that reason, many today have grown weary of churchianity. For them, the razzle-dazzle of church has simply fizzled. They seek, instead, to follow a man who was born in a smelly backyard stable and who lived in poverty before dying in disgrace. Yes, Christ's light was rekindled on Easter morning. But mostly that light shone in the plain package of a human being. Paul was so awestruck by this man that he willingly gave up all of his assets to know Him and the power of His resurrection, experienced in the midst of his own human suffering.

There's no tremendously deep or theological point to be made from this, other than pointing out that what Hawthorne says about Paul is absolutely true. The greatest apostle who ever lived was a man obsessed with Jesus Christ. I just thank God that each of us, regardless of the world's standards, can have the same attitude.

8:36 AM When you think of the book of Philippians, what one word comes to mind? Or the book of James? A recent blog post argues that "Each [Bible book] has a major theme that emphasizes an aspect of God's character or a way he is working to carry out his perfect plan." The author is quick to note: "What follows is an attempt to capture these themes. These themes are certainly reductionist and required me to make a few tough choices, but I hope you'll be helped by considering them."

As everyone knows, I love simplification. Less is so often more. My books are getting shorter and shorter for that reason. But there's a fine line between simplification and oversimplification. In discussing New Testament books, I guess I prefer something a bit more analytical. I'll give you a couple of examples and let you decide for yourself:

"1 John: God of Love"

Actually, the message of 1 John seems to be predicated on two (and not just one) characteristics of God: "God is light" and "God is love." Go here if you'd like to see my PowerPoint on the subject. Another example:

"Philippians: God of Joy."

Of course, joy is a significant sub-theme in Philippians ("joy" and "rejoice" occur 16 times in the book). But the rest of the letter suggests that joy is at best the by-product of something else Paul is emphasizing in the book. As to what I think that theme is, you might go here, where I discuss the discourse structure of this wonderful book. One last example:

"James: God of Trials."

Actually, it seems that "trials" is one of several major themes James deals with as he describes what a "mature" (see 1:4) follower of Jesus looks like:

  • A mature Christian is patient in trials (chapter 1).

  • A mature Christian practices the truth (chapter 2).

  • A mature Christian has power over his or her tongue (chapter 3).

  • A mature Christian is a peace-maker, not a trouble-maker (chapter 4).

  • A mature Christian is prayerful in trouble (chapter 5).

Even this outline is an oversimplification (cf. Robert Longacre, "Towards an Exegesis of 1 John Based on the Discourse Analysis of the Greek Text," in Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation, ed. David Alan Black [Nashville: B & H, 1992] pp. 271-86). At any rate, it seems clear to me that "trials" is only one of several major themes in the letter we call James.

Deciding the theme of a book of the Bible is not easy. Swift changes of topic and even of tone often occur. But to argue, for example, that Galatians is about justification ("Galatians: God of Justification") while Titus is about good works ("Titus: God of Works") implies an antithesis that simply doesn't exist -- in either book.

Sometimes oversimplification works like magic, and sometimes it so doesn't. But the goal is a worthy one.

Monday, July 17 

7:20 PM What's wrong with the Living Bible's "To: The pastors and deacons and all the Christians in the city of Philippi" in Phil. 1:1? Does the Greek word order matter here? What did Paul actually write?

6:48 PM Did 5 miles today. Feeling like Hercules.

6:20 PM Here's a typical opening salutation from the Ancient Near East (Dan. 4:1):

Ναβουχοδονοσορ ὁ βασιλεὺς πᾶσι τοῖς λαοῖς φυλαῖς καὶ γλώσσαις τοῖς οἰκοῦσιν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ γῇ εἰρήνη ὑμῖν πληθυνθείη.

The pattern is "A to B, Greeting." How Paul expands this conventional formula in Phil. 1:1-2 will form the basis of our discussion in Greek class beginning next month. As Joe Hellerman notes in his commentary, here Paul both refrains from honoring himself and affirms the status of others. Hawthorne notes, "Paul allows Timothy to share the same 'platform' with him." I won't lie. I love how Paul writes. There is so much he says in these 2 verses and so much he doesn't say as well. In a world where relationships were established by status, I love how he begins to attack selfishness and hubris right out of the chute in this letter.  (This is so important and matters forever.)  

8:34 AM Last week Bill Clinton and George W. Bush met in Dallas to discuss leadership and the presidency. The interview is -- fantastic!

It's worth watching if for no other reason than to hear both presidents agree that the most important quality in a president is humility -- the willingness to learn from others and to recognize that the universe doesn't revolve around you. That's one reason in the ISV we rendered didaktikon as "teachable" instead of "able to teach" in 1 Tim. 3:2. The best teachers are learners, pure and simple. They are eager to be taught, to grow, to stretch. They disagree respectfully. As a novice runner, one of the reasons I love this sport so much is because I've had to become a learner all over again. I'm in the Kindergarten of racing. I need, crave even, the help and advice of others. One way is to find friends who will be willing to do this. Alas, where I live there ain't many. I have to really hunt them out. But I dare say, they are some out there somewhere. Start putting your feelers out and they will come. One piece of advice I welcomed as a newbie? Sign up for a race. Don't overthink it. Just do it. Lock yourself in before you lose your nerve. With dollars (and a t-shirt) on the line, you and your heart have a good reason to follow through. Another piece of advice I welcomed: Never take yourself (or anybody around you) too seriously. Unless, of course, you are that competitive runner at the front of the pack. The rest of us will hang back and be cool. Sure, you may be an idiot. But at least you're an active idiot. Yes, I enjoy being a runner-learner. Running has taught me so much. Resilience, for one. "You completed a marathon, so you can get through this too!" It's the same feeling I get when I present a really compelling PowerPoint presentation in class. I realize that neither running nor teaching is the same as curing cancer, but I still find both rewarding.

Pastor friend, are you truly humble? One way to know is by being teachable. Do you need to know Greek? Yes? So what's holding you back? Do you need to get out into the "real" world more often? Why not take up running/racing? It can fill a void in you that a cushy, air-conditioned office can't. The ultimate point is to keep on learning, striving, growing, expanding your horizons -- like George Bush and his (awful) paintings. He was getting bored and said, "I'll try doing portraits." Good for him! If you're a leader, maybe you should consider a new avocation too. It is so worth it.

P.S. The dilemma I mentioned yesterday has been resolved -- where to celebrate my 41st anniversary. One of my kids asked me to run the 9-11 Memorial Half Marathon in DC on Sept. 10, and of course I accepted the invitation (er, challenge). What a great way to honor Becky's memory -- and the memory of those who perished on Sept. 11.

Sunday, July 16 

2:02 PM Today I got up early and went for a walk.

As you can see, I walked exactly 7 miles. My legs thanked me profusely. I'm actually feeling a whole lot better today. My cough is decreasing both in its intensity and frequency. Which means I'm glad I didn't run in the Chicago half today. A half marathon takes everything out of you even if you're 100 percent on race day, which I most certainly was not. Afterwards it was off to church -- Rats! I told you I'd never use that word again! It's not "church" but "community""! Aaaargh!!! -- where the message today was from Ezek. 22:30. I need to stand in the gap for my kids and grandkids more than I do. The Lord is looking for someone -- anyone -- a man or a woman (Hebrew ish, Greek andra, which itself can be used generically) -- to intercede for others. It was quite a convicting message. I've also been thinking a lot about a very important day that is due to arrive in less than 2 months, and that is my 41st wedding anniversary. I know this is not the place to review the grief I've experienced over the past 3 plus years. So many issues come up in a time of loss. New grief often triggers old grief. The fact is, I haven't stopped grieving over Becky's death, as odd as that might sound to some. Perhaps incompletion is an avenue of connection. Perhaps what is unfinished will always remain unfinished. These days I need to see and claim my life in those terms. That's why, I suppose, I still celebrate her birthday and our anniversary. For me, losing a wife isn't that simple. I know we're no longer married, I know she's in heaven with the Lord. And I'm truly grateful for that. But there is still the psychological residue of grief, if that makes any sense. I don't want to be the object of pity. Instead, celebrating her memory is a way, I've found, to live the paradox. So ... what shall I do in September to honor that day, to relive that wonderful memory? I've got two options. One is something I've been thinking about for a very long time, and that is climbing the highest of the 14ers in the Rockies, Mount Elbert. I even know someone in Denver who's said he'd love to climb it with me. That's one option. The other option is something that just occurred to me recently. It's the Dick Beardsley Marathon in Minnesota. It's held on Saturday, Sept. 9, only two days before my anniversary, in beautiful Detroit Lakes. It offers, I'm told, picturesque scenes along Big Detroit Lake, complete with flat stretches and a few rolling hills. I've longed admired Dick both as a runner and as a person. I've even read his autobiography. Ever since the famous "Duel in the Sun" at the 1982 Boston Marathon, where Dick came in less than two seconds behind Alberto Salazar, Dick's been holding running camps and offering online coaching to help people reach their fitness goals. I'd love to meet him in person. Plus, I'd really like to complete a marathon between now and the St. George race in October. Right now I'm torn between the options. But either one would be a magnificent challenge for me physically. To follow Jesus means you have a divine companion all the time. But it does not mean that you won't ever feel lonely. Traveling and being active, I guess, is one way I cope with my loneliness. I especially long for the communion I enjoy with my Creator when I'm out in nature. It's there that I most often experience the strange peace that is not the world's. As for my grief, I'm simply waiting on the Lord -- no agendas, no deadlines, no demands. I have full confidence that what He chooses will be better than my best. The tears, the loneliness, the pain -- all these are part of the process He's working on. If I understand that, then I will never need to become disappointed or bitter.

By the way, even though I'm not in Chicago today as I had hoped to be, I'm still following the results. Heartiest congratulations to all of those who won their respective races:

  • Austin Winter, who won yesterday's 5K with a time of 16:51.

  • Brigette Girouard, who won the women's 5K with a time of 18:33.

  • Tyler Pence, who won today's half marathon with a time of 1:09.

  • And Neely Spence, who won the women's half with a time of 1:13.

Kudos to all. And "well done" to everyone who took part in a great event. I'll run it with you next year, Lord willing. Right now it's time for lunch, however -- egg salad sandwich, half an avocado, a kosher dill, and some V8 fruit juice.

Told you I was eating clean.

Saturday, July 15 

8:34 PM Here's our field du jour. This one's about 9 acres and very loooong, so we worked over 5 hours on it today.

Thankfully there was a cool breeze and the temps didn't get much over 90. Meanwhile, I've been looking online for another race between now and the Wake Forest triathlon in August and I think I might have found one. For a while now I've been wanting to do an evening/night time event, and the Bull Moon 5K in Durham, NC, on Saturday, July 29 fits the bill perfectly. Drama to end the month, I know. Actually, should be a breeze. You run through downtown Durham and end with a huge block party on Blackwell St. Proceeds go to a good cause: Habitat for Humanity of Durham. The race starts at 7:45 pm. You can also opt to bike instead. There may be less heat and humidity to complain about at this time of night. Too bad it's so long from now. Sigh.

More haying tomorrow.

Night night!

1:08 PM As you know, I've benched myself. From running at least. But not from walking. Yesterday I walked 2 miles at the local track. Today I did 4 miles in 1 hour with an average heart rate of only 98. I've heard that the more similar an activity is to running, the greater the benefit. It's called "transfer benefit," or something like that. Walking is simply running without the "flight" phase. The forces exerted on the body (heart, lungs, joints) is also less. That's exactly what I need right now -- and for as long as I still have this hacking cough. Today I burned a mere 580 calories in 1 hour. But my pace was a comfortable one, and, actually, I felt I could have walked a few more miles without any problem. But I'm trying to be patient. And eat well. The slippery slope to bad eating is an easy one. Going forward I'm gonna try and exercise wisely. Until then, it's walking for me. Slow walking. I call it wogging (think: "jogging"). As I wog along, I think about all kinds of things. Occasionally I'll say hi to a fellow wogger/jogger. They are usually ladies out to get in some speed-walking. (Dudes, I guess, don't like to walk in 85-degree temps.) So when I feel good, I'll wog. When I don't, I wont. My next big race is my triathlon on August 13. I need to get back into swimming and biking before then. I also need to get back to the Y and start lifting again. I mean, really lifting. Look out, Lou Ferrigno.

See you soon (*cough, cough*).

9:05 AM Shabat shalom! Dear reader, I wanted to call your attention to a new video series by Will Varner over at the Daily Dose of Greek website. Will is talking about how to use what everyone knows is the standard lexicon of the New Testament. If you are not already a user, Will will get you started. And if all you have is the second edition of Bauer, my stars, you're in for a delightful surprise with the third edition.

Click here to get started.

Friday, July 14 

4:14 PM Hey peeps! I can't believe we're already half way through July. We were going to get up hay today but it's started to rain so that will have to wait. So I've been working on my fitness and running goals/challenges for the remainder of the year. I would like to race a bit more often, a bit faster, and a bit longer if possible. 2017 has already been a fantastic year for running and I can hardly wait to see what the Lord has in store for the rest of the year. After what happened this weekend I'm a bit hesitant to share my goals with you. But I'm going to be positive. Here are the races on my calendar that I'd like to do in 2017 if I'm healthy. Which I will be, God willing.

  • August 13: Wakefield Sprint Triathlon, Wake Forest, NC.

  • August 19: Run for Life, Cary, NC.

  • September 3: Virginia Beach Half Marathon, Virginia Beach, VA.

  • September 16: Race for Our Heroes 5K, Cary, NC.

  • September 23: Virginia Ten-Miler, Lynchburg, VA.

  • September 30: Starry Night 5K, Raleigh, NC.

  • October 7: St. George Marathon, St. George, UT.

  • September 21: Paws for Life 5K, Wake Forest, NC.

  • November 11: Richmond Marathon, Richmond, VA.

  • December 10: Honolulu Marathon, Honolulu, HI.

I've already registered for all the "big" races. I'm going to try some new races while repeating the ones I love. I've been blessed to have already met some of my biggest goals as a runner this year, including completing my first marathon and triathlon. It's going to be a fantastic rest of the year, and I'll try to blog about my experiences along the way. I'm very much looking forward to these challenges and being surrounded by the people in my life that I love and care for as I go about my adventure. 

Happy you stopped by!

Dave

9:35 AM Should I run with the remnants of a chest cold? I think the better part of wisdom is to answer No. There's not too much of a chance I'll feel perfectly fit in a couple of days anyway. Doing a half is a massive effort for your body even when you're running slowly or walking. The human body requires balance between rest and work, which means we can't overdo anything. Right now I still need to rest. Sure, if I rest and recover, I'll fall behind. But if I run I'll fall even more behind. So it's a no-brainer. It's merely a temporary setback anyhoo. Let's say you have $100 and you invest it and it grows to $1,000. Then you lose $200 and are left with $800. You may have lost $200 but you're still $700 better off than when you started. What's frustrating is that chest colds are not generally weaknesses for me. The old windbag has been functioning pretty well since I began running. There's nothing worse than the frustration of working towards something and then seeing it slip away. So what happened? I must have run last week when my immune system was weak. Running can take a lot out of you, and perhaps I need to take more time to recharge my batteries completely. So it's all been canceled -- my flights, my hotel, my plans for glory (hardy har)! To be fair to myself, I'm not just sitting around moping. So ... like anything in life, you just take things one day at a time. So long, Windy City! See you next year, Lord willing!

My thanks to everybody who's run beside me in races and in life. Thanks especially to my family for their love and support even when I mention the crazy things I want to do. I just want to get back to running so badly!

Thursday, July 13 

9:50 PM The Lord gave me a wonderful day today. I spent most of it in Roanoke on business, but the drive there and back was through some of the most beautiful farmland in all of Virginia -- corn, soy beans, and acres and acres of hay. I got back just in time to help Nate get up hay. No, I didn't pick up the bales as I usually do. (I may be be dumb but I'm not stupid.) What I could do was drive the truck. Around 7:00 pm a thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere on Google Maps, heading straight for Clarksville ("our fair city").

By that time we had only been able to get up one trailer load of hay. I pray and prayed (that's the imperfect tense in Greek) that God would dissipate the rain. Sure enough, a half hour later the storm had disappeared completely from the radar. It was GONE.

Miraculous? Providential? I can't say which for sure. (I think a miracle happened.) No matter what happens in my life, God is always there. Spontaneous worship can erupt any time and anywhere. There's something so touching and, well, so human about this aspect of God's dealings with us. You get the idea that personal relationships with His children mean something special to God.

By the way, I'm feeling tons better today. I'm coughing less and my energy levels are way up. In addition, yesterday's x-ray came back completely negative -- no pneumonia or bronchitis. Everywhere I looked today I saw the gracious hand of God. He asks us, "Is anything too hard for Me?" (Jer. 32:27). The problems I tend to fret the most about are the very things I ought to trust God for. Like the trailer loads of hay we got up tonight. Dry hay.

Fill in the blank: "Is _____________ too hard for God?" Substitute the worry or fear you have for the word "anything." He's a hands-on God, this God we serve. He's always there to help us.

7:48 AM Here's an interesting read: Bilingual Speakers Experience Time Differently from People Who Only Speak One Language, Study Finds. The study also suggests that being bilingual has long term cognitive benefits. Hmm. I'm not so sure. As one of the commenters notes, different languages simply have different ways of referring to the same reality. In Hawaii, we never used the directionals "north," "south," east," and "west." You either were going "mauka" (toward the mountains) or "makai" (toward the sea). This is simply about  geography. Likewise, while living in the German-speaking part of Switzerland I learned not to interrupt people when they're speaking because very often vital information (such as the verb) comes at the end of the sentence. This hardly means that German speakers think and speak "backwards." I'm used to measuring distances in miles; the Swiss in kilometers. I can't drive without a compass in my car because I tend to think in terms of north, south, east, and west. "Head north on Hwy 96, then go south onto ...." When I was driving in Germany people thought more in terms of geography: "To get to Stuttgart take the autobahn via Augsburg and Ulm." As for measuring time, I think the article forgets to include idioms: "I'll be there in a minute" is never taken literally. On the other hand, if a Swiss train is scheduled to leave at 7:45, it leaves at 7:45 -- not a minute earlier or later. I say "5:30." The Germans say "half six" (halb sechs). So I'm really not sure if this involves two perceptions of time or merely two different ways of saying the same thing.

But what do I know? I'm not a linguist.  

Wednesday, July 12 

9:50 PM Okay, let's talk Chicago weather. The high on Sunday is predicted to be a pleasant 76 degrees with partly cloudy skies. Not bad for a 13.1 mile race. But will I be there? Friday will be D-Day (decision day). I will have to honestly face myself and not pretend I'm well when I'm not. With running, as with all of life, you have to decide which battles you will fight and which you will walk away from. The problem with people like me (who are late-comers to the sport) is that we are so used to being quitters that we end up going to the other extreme and turn a deaf ear when our body is telling us to rest. The problem with me (as in Dave Black, in particular) is that since I've started exercising regularly I have very seldom been sick. As a result, at times I've fallen into the delusion that my fitness is complete and absolute. It isn't. Neither is yours or anyone else's for that matter. On the days when everything in my body is working just right, I never think about my health. I take it for granted. An illness is a good reason to sit back and take stock of your life. There's something about being on a Z-Pack that drags you back into reality. "You are human after all, Dave." All of us think we're invincible from time to time. It's human nature, I suppose. The real truth is that each of us has our limitations, and it's better to face them than to risk injury -- or worse. I'm learning a lot during my own personal health journey, and one of the things I'm learning is to go easy on myself and not feel guilty when I miss a workout or a run. There are times when even the most committed warriors have to sit out the battle. Any sport or hobby can become a prison. In the end, you have to listen to your body. You have to. Day after day. Moment by moment. It's one thing to push past comfort. It's another thing to race when you shouldn't. To be a good runner you have to do more than run. You have to think.

3:04 PM One of my sons joined me for lunch today and then off I went to see the doc, who listened to my lungs and promptly said, "We need a chest x-ray NOW." I'll find out the results tomorrow (I'm in small town and the x-ray needs to be read in the big city hospital.) I also had her write me a doctor's excuse saying I'm too sick to fly just in case I need to cancel my Expedia reservation (and use the travel protection plan I always purchase when I book a flight). You guys, I want to go to Chicago! But I also know that pneumonia is not something to fool around with. So I will be patient. Count on it. Except when I'm impatient. (We all have different strengths.)

Thank you for praying! (You are praying, right?)

11:50 AM I'm bored stiff. Nothing to do until I see the doc at 1:30. Hey -- I'll check out the web!

1) Loved this pic with the caption: "I was going to run, but it looks like rain so I think I'll pass."

2) This t-shirt describes me perfectly.

3) She ran her first 14 miles. You go, girl!

4) Harrumph!

Later.

9:28 AM Morning cyber pals! A year ago I was in Zermatt climbing the Alps. I found myself pushing my body in a sport that doesn't come naturally to me. I remember how great it felt when I summited my first 4,000-meter peak. But there are more reasons to be involved in the sport of climbing. Some reasons are communal. You get to meet people who inspire you. As you watch them trying to become better versions of themselves, you want to do the same thing. Climbing also helps me manage my emotions, which sometimes can be overwhelming. Climbing doesn't require you to think very much. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Your mind and heart are free to think about other things. I've also learned that everything we do in life can be leveraged for a greater good.

So many times I was reminded of Becky's perseverance during her long battle with endometrial cancer. Her courage made me think to myself, "Maybe I do can do this after all." When you push through more elevation than you ever thought possible, you reach a deeper appreciation about what you're made of. Climbing fills an inner craving we humans have for part of our souls to cry out, "I can do this!" Friends, we are often capable of so much more than we think. So much of climbing (or running, for that matter) is a mental game. There's so much No inside of us that we feel we can't dream big. I remember one day struggling to reach the summit of the Breithorn. I was desperately trying to keep up with my mountain guide Walter. All of a sudden I breathlessly looked down and realized there weren't any more steps to take. We had made it. That day I was reminded that when we go through something really hard, we will fear it less the next time around. This is one reason I so want to run in this weekend's race. Running gives you the opportunity to connect with others who are facing the same challenges you are facing. There is a solidarity in the running community that is unbelievably encouraging. We know that we will probably never see these people again, yet we feel bonded forever as we push each other into whatever we might be facing next.

Some say the best reason to run is the comradery. I tend to agree. Just watch your fellow racers as they struggle to finish, as they are running to honor the memory of a loved one, as they confront their overweight bodies as they strive to become athletes. They send a powerful message to anyone with the eyes to see. I'll be okay if I can't run in Chicago this weekend because I know there will be other races for me to run, other challenges to face, other runners who will be there for me -- strong, supportive, empathetic.

Let me warn you: You may be not fast or even a very self-disciplined person, but if you're not careful, running will embrace you anyway. One day all those medals will be hanging from your door knob, and you won't even recognize yourself in the mirror. If I can climb a mountain or finish a road race, you must now believe that you can too.

Dave

Tuesday, July 11 

12:12 PM Had a difficult night last night with a gigantic headache that didn't go away until 2:00 am. But I'm better today and even had enough energy to drive into town to eat at the local Amish bakery: a chicken salad sandwich with a bowl of fresh vegetable beef soup, as in cooked this morning. As far as running this weekend is concerned, I'm following the standard rule of runners: if it's above the neck (e.g., slight runny nose), run all you want; if it's below the neck (e.g., wheezing), don't run at all. I'm dealing with my current health issues the best I can. After all, a few minor setbacks are to be expected in this sport. One thing I've been blessed with is a strong heart and healthy lungs, plus drive and determination -- gifts that I do not take for granted. Maybe this is the Lord's way of helping me "taper" before the race this weekend. So there ya have it. There's not much more I can say right now except that it's time for a loooong nap.

P.S. Got the nicest email from a friend who writes: "You inspired me to run today!" Aw, shucks. :-)

Monday, July 10 

6:20 PM Just started a Z-Pack. They usually do the trick. Hope's hoping! Seems to be a lot of illness going around in the family right now. And just plain tiredness. The days are hot and humid so being outdoors is very unpleasant. Still, the hay has got to be picked up. Work continues. I bless you God. For my health. For my precious family. For kids and grandkids and ups and downs. We're a ragtag bunch for sure, but we love You. Thank You that I do not have to walk this pathway alone. Thank You.

9:15 AM I'm seeing the doc today about my chest cold. I have no idea where it came from. I was training moderately (and sleeping a lot), but "it is what it is" (as Becky would famously say). Speaking of training, you've got to watch this short video clip about an 85 year old runner who is breaking world records.

 

Deirdre Larkin started running much later in life than I did and she's already showing me up. The reason she started exercising? She was taking meds for osteoporosis that were making her sick. She decided to stop taking drugs and began running instead. She would walk three steps, then run three steps, then walk three steps. Today, she has earned over 500 medals recognizing her athletic accomplishments, including 21 half marathons. She runs in over 60 races a year. (By way of compassion, I've only done 16 so far this year.)

No doubt one of the reasons I run is the fact that Becky's death made me acknowledge my own mortality along with my powerlessness and vulnerability. It provides both mental and emotional release. It allows me to dwell on something else for a while and then come back to the house in better shape to care for my family as well as all of my other responsibilities. Running puts life into perspective. We can keep on going no matter what challenges we face, and oftentimes our challenges aren't nearly as difficult as those of others. (A sign at a marathon once read, "Blisters don't require chemo.") At the age of 65, I am a young man again. Like Deirdre Larkin, I've been released from "sedentary confinement." The sad truth is that I didn't know a fit lifestyle was available to me until I was well over 60. I'm from an era that says, "The older you get, the more you sit back and take it easy." Now I'm discovering the joy and magic of an active lifestyle. Exercise is a gift from God that keeps on giving. Today I face the challenges of life the same way I face the challenges of competing: taking one step at a time. Running is simply a mirror of my life.

Sunday, July 9 

9:34 AM Over at the Nerdy Language Majors Facebook page there's an interesting discussion about whether or not Timothy and Titus were "pastors." After all, we call their letters the "Pastoral Epistles" (PE). I'll just point out here that the most recent scholarship has begun to refer to the PE as the LTT -- "Letters to Timothy and Titus." It's a great improvement over the traditional nomenclature if you ask me. For more, see this issue of the Southeastern Theological Review, which is dedicated in its entirety to these important letters. 

9:12 AM Running is so much like life it's downright scary. Just when everything seems to be going so well disaster strikes. One day you're up, the next day you're down. One day you experience kindness, then someone treats you poorly. Chest congestion isn't something to trifle with. Life is a keep-on-moving-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other deal. I frankly don't know how I'll be feeling one week from today when the starting gun sounds in Chicago. The only thing I'm focused on now is taking one day at a time and waiting upon the Lord. Hopefully Sunday's experience will be great but it might also suck. Either way -- spectacular or sucktacular -- it will be an adventure, as all of life is. Can't wait.

8:50 AM I'm reading Gordon Fee's commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians this morning. It's truly a unique treasure-trove.

As Don Carson writes on the dust cover, "Fee could not be boring even if he tried. The zest of his prose makes him exciting to read, and his scholarship is always rigorous." This morning I'm focusing on Fee's discussion of what he calls the "disruptive-idle" in 2 Thess. 3. Here are a few takeaways:

1) Fee correctly notes the beautiful play on words Paul uses in vv. 11-12 when he writes ergazomenous and then periergazomenous. The Thessalonians weren't being "busy." They were "busy-bodies"!

2) Fee is right to "translate out" (as he puts it) the "walking" metaphor that Paul uses to describe a person's behavior. (Greek students are aware of this controversy: peripateo versus zao.)

3) The "traditions" to which Paul refers here have to do more with how God's people live in the world than simply how they think. Hence this classic Fee quote:

At this point a certain sector of the Christian church wants to yell "foul," because they think one really can divorce how one is related to God (by faith alone) from how one who has such faith must live in the world. But Paul was not privy to the kind of theology that thinks such division between faith and works can actually be made. Paul is obviously dead against anything that resembles "faith + works = a right relationship with God." But as this passage makes plain, he equally spells death for "faith" that does not lead to "works" (= behavior) appropriate to that faith.

4) I love Fee's emphasis on the imperfective aspect of the verb pareggellomen in v. 10:

Paul's verb (pareggellomen) is in the imperfect, thus implying an ongoing, or at least repeated, command.

Friend, I'm less and less impressed with many of the newer commentaries that seem to be coming out these days at a furious pace. Their authors are new names to me, perhaps even those who are just starting out in the academic world. The best voices, however, are often those with a world of experience, both in the classroom and in the world. I'm compelled by this commentary because I know Gordon Fee to be a man who's not content to sit behind a desk typing script for commentaries. He's genuinely concerned about the mess we humans have made with the world around us -- and within us. He gets down on our level, shoulders brushing. Fee, like so many other outstanding commentary writers, had been trained (whether in seminary or some other way) to believe that a story isn't enough. Faith without works is in fact dead. We dilute the power of the Gospel when we divorce it from the world God came to redeem.

Saturday, July 8 

11:45 AM Hey blogging buds! North Carolina farm fresh tomatoes are in.

Nothing like your first mater sandwich of the summer.

Meanwhile I've been perusing an excellent book called Paul As Missionary, and I just finished reading Steve Walton's chapter called "Paul, Patronage and Pay: What Do We Know About the Apostle's Financial Support?" I'm delighted to discover that Steve's conclusions are not inconsistent with my own. Here are a few of the highlights:

1) Paul's general philosophy of support was "Thanks, but no thanks." This was because his tentmaking trade was at the heart of his life and vocation. He considered manual labor not a hindrance but a help to his Gospel work.

2) Paul describes himself as not profiting from God's word -- "not marketing" the Gospel, is how he puts it in 2 Cor. 2:17. Traveling orators of the day charged fees. Paul made a deliberate decision not to follow their example. (Reminds me of a story. I was once asked to debate someone. I said I would do it provided we both waived our speaker's fees. His fee was, I believe, about $3,000.00. Mine was 0.00. The debate never happened. I have never charged for speaking and never plan to.)

3) Paul gives up his "right" to financial support in order to demonstrate that the Gospel is free. On this basis, he can argue in 1 Cor. 8-10 that the strong ought to give up their rights for the sake of their weaker brothers and sisters.

4) However, for Paul there was also a "No thanks, but thanks" policy. For example, he received monetary gifts from the Philippians because He saw those gifts as God's own provision for him.

5) Paul is not being inconsistent when on the one hand he refuses support and on the other hand he accepts it. The Gospel's radical idea of equality implied mutuality of concern for one another in the body of Christ.

I think Steve does a great job of fleshing out Paul's attitude toward support, at least as far as church planters are concerned. I know some folks don't think this is a very big deal, and maybe they're right. But how then do you account for Paul's lengthy discussion about work in 2 Thess. 3? Once again we have Paul trying to be consistent. "I'm not just saying you have to work. I'm not just telling you that if a person doesn't work neither should they eat. I'm showing you by my own example that work is not beneath the dignity of one who labors fulltime in the Gospel." I think this is perhaps a necessary corrective to what I've seen in some countries (some parts of Ethiopia for example) where fulltime pastors are strictly forbidden from holding "secular" employment. Paul viewed idleness as inappropriate behavior for Christians, and thus he modeled a high work ethic for others, even offering to pay Onesimus' debts. In other words, because he had a trade, Paul could contribute to the needs of others and (usually) pay his own way. Finally, I think a point often overlooked is this: Paul's activity in the workaday world enabled him to reach people he would otherwise not have reached. This, of course, is a pattern in many churches today that have volunteer elders. These leaders are perhaps more closely modeling the pattern of the New Testament, where elders were not parachuted into the community from the outside but were homegrown and apparently already had jobs, homes, and families in the community.

Whatever view we hold on this topic let's be gentle with each other. If Paul was anything, he was the ultimate non-legalist. That said, money corrupts in every human environment, even when no one intends this. The early church lived on mission with God, pure and simple. They lived simple lives, and what money they had went to the needy. Everyone pulled their weight, everyone pitched in, everyone was in "the ministry." I honestly doubt that professionalization existed in the church of that day.

As I put all this together, I'm led to the belief that it really doesn't matter that much where our income comes from because in the end it all comes from the gracious hand of God. What matters is how we steward these resources. Is the purpose of my life living for God and serving people? Honestly, it really is that simple. As someone has said, "The church is nothing but ordinary people doing ordinary things with Gospel intentionality." God is big enough and good enough to use us all, and together we just might see His kingdom come on earth.

9:50 AM Just finished registering for the Genworth Virginia 10 Miler in Lynchburg on Sept. 23. Care to join me? Go here. If you do sign up, please consider making a donation to one of the fabulous causes the event is sponsoring.

8:10 AM I love finish lines. I can stand there for hours and watch people completing their races. Some are crying. Others are shouting for joy. Once in a while you see something unique, like I did a week ago in Dallas when I ran the Liberty 10K. Just before our race kicked off, they held a children's 1 mile "fun run." The kids were all supposed to be finished by the time our race started at 8:05 am. But 8:05 came and went, then 8:10, then 8:15. You see, the starting line was also the finish line for the fun run, and the race sponsors wanted to make sure each and every child that started the race that sultry day in Dallas was given the chance to cross that finish line. Finally, there came into view the child we had all been waiting for. She was I'd say about 6 years old and was accompanied by her mother. The girl had braces on both of her legs, and I assumed she was suffering from childhood polio. She was a little unstable on her feet, and mom had to help her keep on the straight and narrow. But on that child's face was an expression I'll never forget. It was the biggest, hugest, most wonderful smile I think I've ever seen. Holding her mother's hand, she proudly crossed the finish line more than an hour and a half after she started. I will never forget the look of unadulterated joy on that child's face. Everyone clapped and clapped, and not a few of us had tears in our eyes. I wanted so much to go up to that little girl and her mother and give them a giant hug, but the gun sounded and off we went to run our 10K. If I could talk to that child today, I would say, "Thank you. Thank you for inspiring me to be all that I can be. That you for reminding me that all of us can push through our handicaps and weaknesses if we just don't give up. Thank you for so joyfully accepting the hand God dealt you. Thank you."

It's been said that the key to running is not discipline but dedication. If you and I keep putting one foot in front of the other, whether it's in a marathon or in life -- we will see ourselves through to the end. As a Christian, I want to be dedicated to a life not only of physical activity but a life of service to others in the name of the Savior who loved me and gave Himself for me. As I grow older I may not be able to run as far or as fast as I hoped to run, but that's okay by me because the goal is perseverance, not coming in first.

7:50 AM Fundraisers generated $32.4 million at this year's Boston Marathon. Way to go guys and gals!

7:48 AM Taking another day off from running. My goal is to arrive at next weekend's starting line healthy -- and finish the race. Runners: If you miss a workout, don't feel guilty. Just start back up when you're ready.

7:40 AM "It's not about how fast we get there. It's about who's waitin' for us at the end." Beautiful.

 

Friday, July 7 

9:48 AM The internet is lovely. I go to the Nerdy Language Majors website and browse. I stumble across a post by David Yoon that calls my attention to three new articles in the Biblical and Ancient Greek Linguistics journal. I go online and read the essay called Semitic Influence in the Use of New Testament Greek Prepositions: The Case of the Book of Revelation. I then send the link to my Greek Syntax and Exegesis class for them to read.

The "hook" worked.

9:18 AM In only one month I'll be here again for 9 days. It will be the perfect respite before beginning a heavy semester of teaching and writing.

And planning. Yes, the the dates have been set for our Linguistics and New Testament Greek Conference. Please mark your calendars for Friday and Saturday, April 26-27, 2019, on our beautiful campus. Ben Merkle and I are starting to contact the speakers now. Tickets will go on sale September/October 2018. Stayed tuned for more details.

9:02 AM Good Friday morning to one and all! I'm beginning to cough up gunk, which I'm told is a good sign, but that means no exercise for me today. That's fine. I have plenty of light chores to do around the farm. Here's a video I sent to someone yesterday who is just getting back into an exercise routine.

Frank Shorter is a running icon. If you need someone to befriend you, pick you up and dust you off, and maybe even give you a good kick in the pants, he's the guy. His advice might, just might, help you to fall in love again with fitness. His two points are very simple: (1) exercise as little or as much as you feel like; and (2) beware of the two-month precipice. This is two months after you've begun getting into shape and when the danger is greatest of you falling off the bandwagon. Perhaps the hardest transition for those of us who are "adult onset" runners is to go from thinking of ourselves as exercise failures to accepting that we are truly athletes, slow though we may be. Bondage to past failures serves no purpose, however. The main thing is to be willing to move off the spot we're (stuck) on. Being an athlete doesn't mean that you win races. It means that you are committed to taking care of the temple God has given you to the best of your ability. If you have the courage to think that way and act on your thinking, you will find, as I have, that you have more strength of the will than you ever dreamed possible.

Keep on running your race!

Dave

Thursday, July 6 

5:28 PM I'm still feeling slightly blah, but at least I'm feeling about 50 percent better than I did this morning. Looks like tomorrow will be another "day of rest." Believe me, that's waaaay better than getting a full blown head cold or something worse. When I do get better my plan is to keep my runs light and easy leading up to the half and maybe focus on some cross training as well. I've been eating clean and sleeping well, so I don't anticipate getting worse as long as I listen to my body. Hands down, I'm the most blessed man on the planet. I just keep plugging away at this running thing, hoping that eventually I'll get it down pat. I know some of you are in transition now, between where you are now and where you want/need to be. Don't even think about tossing in the towel. Never give up on your goals, because if you persevere you'll eventually get there. One famous example I love to hear about (since I'm an author) is Jack Canfield. He tried 135 times -- and was rejected 135 times -- before he finally got his book Chicken Soup for the Soul published. It's now sold well over 100 million copies.

Pursue your goals.

I know you can do it.

12:02 PM Exactly one year ago I was doing this.

P.S. If you ever want to climb the Alps, here are the 3Gs of mountain climbing.

11:42 AM Mom served this blend of coffee in Dallas so I thought I'd try it myself.

I'm sorta tired of Food Lion brands anyway. Meanwhile, here's the book I'll be reading all afternoon (until I fall asleep).

Yep, I need to learn myself some conversational Spanish. (I can read it fine.) For some crazy reason I find spoken Spanish really difficult and frustrating. I really need to live for 3 months in a Spanish-speaking country. That way I'd pick up colloquialisms along the way (as I did with German and Swiss German). Trying to use reflexive grammar just doesn't click with my brain sometimes (despite my knowledge of the German reflexive). Sure, I can tell you my name, age, where I'm from, and maybe even ask you some simple questions (like where are the bathrooms?). But that's not where I want to be. Ordering in Spanish in a Mexican restaurant doesn't count much either. Lots of my Spanish sentences are really clumsy but I still keep trying because I want to learn this language so badly and I also want to set a good example for my Greek students. So what if I get it wrong? Most people appreciate the fact that at least I'm trying to speak their mother tongue. Patience and motivation are the most important factors in mastering a foreign language. But to be honest, I've massively underestimated the amount of time and effort that needs to be put into learning to speak this wonderful language. So here are my "rules":

  • Study as much grammar as I can.

  • Talk to as many native speakers as will listen. (Note: Native.)

  • Never try to speak perfectly.

  • Forget about not failing.

  • Feeling embarrassed is okay. (I once asked someone from El Salvador, "How many people live in San Salvador?" They laughed me to scorn. I had used hombres for "people." Ugh.)

  • Watch movies in Spanish with English subtitles.

  • Remember always that there's a huge difference between learning something and mastering it.

  • Ahora lo más importante para mí es la práctica de hablar con alguien que escucha. Práctica, práctica, práctica!

Don't say I'm not a tryer!

8:56 AM I've been trying to think about topics to blog about this morning but the truth is I'm still feeling a little under the weather (a slight cough) and my life is not all that interesting right now. I'm so ready for next weekend to come around because the half marathon is probably my favoritest race of them all. I'm supposed to be cross training today (I wanted to put at least 20 miles on my bike) but that's not going to happen and, besides, nothing can replace logging as many miles on foot as possible before a big race. Anyways, I'm sitting here surfing the web and to be honest with you, there's nothing very interesting out there, though the post I read about "Make America Great Again" now being an officially-CCLI-licensed "Christian" hymn did make me stop and think. Then I bopped on over to the official Marine Corp Historic Half site to see wassup with that. It boasts that it's "The Greatest Half in History" (maybe, maybe not), and it's only a couple of hours up the road from me in Fredericksburg, VA. The fact that it's held on May 20 fits nicely with my schedule as it will be coming on the heels of the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy earlier that month. The problem is the infamous "Hospital Hill" that you have to climb at the end of the race. The good news is that most of the race is downhill from I-95 to the Rappahannock River. One of my daughters ran this race a couple of years ago, which in fact was the motivation for me to get started in running. So we'll see ....

Last night I went grocery shopping and tried really hard to weed out the toxic food products I occasional indulge myself in. Like cheese puffs, which travel in large packs. So yummy. So tasty. So healthy. (I am living in denial.) I also said goodbye (and good riddance) to prepackaged frozen food, which I discovered taste much like the cardboard boxes they come in. While teaching summer school Greek I unfortunately relied on these little monsters for relief when I got into a pinch. Not anymore. Yuck! On the other hand, I have no plans to get rid of coffee or my stir-fry ingredients. After all, a guy's got to have some fun.

Oh, just ordered this book.

Just imagine yourself running 2 marathons and a 10K each and every day. One Amazon reviewer writes:

Overall, a good read, and a great reminder of the unlimited potential of the human body, yet also a somewhat troubling look into the soul of a truly obsessed man.

This sounds truly insane. What would motivate a man to do this? Do runners do crazy things in order to redeem themselves from being bad fathers or bad husbands or bad whatevers? Should be an interesting read. Anyhoo, tomorrow I hope to be back in the saddle. Chicago will be here before you know it, and I refuse to go into a race unprepared. Yes, I can be stupidly stubborn at times.

Hope all is well with you all!

Wednesday, July 5 

9:16 PM Man alive. Just read a sad, sad story about a Pennsylvania mother of three who collapsed and died after finishing a half marathon back in April. She was only 36 years old. Compare that story with the news that a 94-year old completed the San Diego Half Marathon last month. On top of that, Harriette Thompson is a two-time cancer survivor. What to make of this? Not too much, probably. There are risks in life. It's just that simple. If it's mediocrity you're after, there's plenty of that commodity to be had. But if you really want to excel in life, no matter what your hobby or line of work is, that'll take all your might. If you're gonna run and run hard in the race of life, you can't be allergic to sweat.

Chicago will be my sixth half marathon. Only God knows the outcome. But this I do know: "There is more than enough room in My Father's house," says Jesus. "If this were not so, would I have told you that I'm going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am." Jesus doesn't ditch His own. He knows exactly when He will take us home. In other words, death is not something you can prepare for at the last minute. You need to be right with the Savior.

Someone has said that everyone who lives has a 100 percent chance of death. A person runs a much higher risk of dying in an automobile accident while driving to a race than while competing in the race itself. On the other hand, more people die from heart disease/stroke/diabetes every day than die from running. God designed for our bodies to be active. When we cease to do that, we age -- and we age irrespective of our years. The lesson? Maybe it's this. Make every day count. Make every person in your life count. Life is a gift, and every day is precious. We must be forever enlarging our lives, and not taking them for granted.

8:42 PM For all you runners out there, here are some quick facts and anecdotes about my 10K (6.2 mile) race last Saturday in Dallas.

  • The course was actually longer than 6.2 miles. Both my Garmin and my Map My Run app showed the distance to be exactly 6.33 miles.

  • My time was just under 1:10 -- 1:09:58 to be exact. I'm not exactly sure why I was shooting for a sub-1:10 for this race, except that it made my average pace to be around 11/mile, a pace that always makes me happy.

  • As I said, my average pace was 11:03/mile. My best pace was 8:05/mile.

  • My average speed was 5.4 mph. My max speed was 7.4 mph.

  • I was very pleased with my average heart rate: 138 bpm.

  • I'm not kidding when I say that the course felt like a mud race. Nobody anticipated rain, and few of us were aware that the course only began and finished on the roads. It slowed everyone down considerably, but better safe than sorry.

  • I made it through the race without any chafing, blisters, soreness, or G.I. problems.

  • I burned a total of 858 calories during the race. I put all of it back on that same evening at the Ethiopian restaurant.

  • As I said earlier, the last mile was a killer. I'm discovering that your body won't always give you 100 percent despite the fact that you push it to do so. It's the "Are we there yet?" syndrome that every parent on a road trip is familiar with. I so wanted to "be there." I finished just fine, but it sure took lots of determination.

  • Could this post be any more boring than it already is?

8:04 PM I hadn't scheduled a "rest day" for today, but God had. I'm just feeling a bit achy and dragging. But rest is as important to training as running is, and so I gladly accept this day of rest from the Lord. Tomorrow? Biking -- if my body is rested and the weather holds up (rainy!).

7:10 PM This week we're putting the final touches on the syllabus for my upcoming NT 2 course (Acts through Revelation). I'm calling it "Becoming New Covenant Christians: Living a Life of Sacrificial Service to God and Others by Following the Downward Path of Jesus." Our textbooks are:

  • The Jesus Paradigm (Black)

  • Seven Marks of a New Testament Church (Black)

  • The New Testament: Its Background and Message (Black and Lea)

  • Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? (Roland Allen)

Student learning outcomes include:

  • Show from Scripture what Christ's upside-down kingdom looks like.

  • Discuss what a New Testament church looks like.

  • Outline each New Testament book from Acts to Revelation.

  • Explain the basics of the authorship, date, purpose, etc. of each of these books.

  • Wrestle intelligently with the major interpretive issues that arise within these books.

Then there's this:

  • Engage in towel-and-basin ministries with a view toward leading non-yet Christians to faith in Christ.

What a great 15 weeks it's going to be! As you can see, the course has plenty of content --  as is in data, facts, information, doctrine, details, particulars, etc. But the goal isn't knowledge. Think of this class as "training" for life. It's like learning how to run a marathon. The first step, pardon the pun, is training. But real and lasting inspiration comes only by running the race itself. With each step forward, it becomes more difficult NOT to be an athlete. It's the same way with learning how to live as New Covenant Christians. Truth receivers need to be become truth practitioners. Head, heart, hands. Or, as I put it to my assistant today: Information, internalization, and implementation. Just think: Part of your final grade will be determined by the towel-and-basin ministries you and the Lord decide you'll do over the course of the semester. What other explanation exists for God creating such a beautiful community as the church? What insane advantages we students of the Bible have! What a treasure we receive alongside of our salvation! In a "me first" culture, what will our non-Christian friends conclude when they see us serving and uplifting them, simply because we love them. May the world see in me and my students this coming semester a thankful, committed, selfless family who loves their God, adores their Savior, can't get enough of one another -- and shows love for their neighbors in big and small ways. Church, God wants us out of the closet. Our love and faith ought to motivate us to love others actively and practically. Put your faith to the test today by getting involved in people's lives. Anyone can say, "I'm praying for you." But how many of us are willing to be inconvenienced for others? That's the message that Luke and Paul and Peter and Jude and John had for their churches. Students, don't say "I'm too young" (Jer. 1:7). Listen, instead, to Paul: "Don't let anyone look down on you because you're young. Instead, teach other believers what a true follower of Jesus looks like. Do this by how you speak, how you live, how you truly love others, how you keep your word, and how you live a life of integrity" (1 Tim. 4:12). Paul told Timothy that his actions and his everyday godliness would speak louder than his age. The only hitch is that you must first cock an ear toward heaven and, above the drone of the humdrum of everyday life, listen for His call to follow the downward path of Jesus.

8:32 AM I have a strange habit. Whenever I travel, I always enjoy looking around to see how ethnically diverse the place I'm visiting is. Texas, for example, is an immigrant magnet. Its largest city, Houston, is the most ethnically diverse city in America. Jobs fuel the influx. Here are a few pictures of our latest fellow citizens, all sworn in on July 4, 2017.

I imagine my ancestors had the same kinds of memories.

The Black family moved here from Wales.

My maternal grandparents, the Arsus, arrived via Ellis Island from Romania.

Looking back, I see just how ethnically mixed I am. I was born in a territory of the United States. Hawaii didn't become a state until I was 8. I grew up thinking that ethnic diversity was the norm. Of course, Jesus doesn't think it's so crazy either. Around the throne in heaven will be individuals from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. That's what grace is all about. People can't wait to come to America. The grand experiment in democracy that began two hundred years ago continues. The world hasn't gotten over it yet. A unique, miraculous creation of God? Oh, I suppose. But on a day-today basis, America has just about as many unreached people as any other country. And many of these are like my in-laws' neighbors in Murphy, TX -- expats from India, Ethiopian immigrants, Colombians and Persians and Iraqis.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as comprising one big mosaic. I wish it were true. Racial bias is alive and well, where I live and where you live. Overcoming our fears and stereotypes won't be easy. When Jesus said that faith could move mountains, He didn't mean that all we'd have to do was say "Abracadabra." He implied that the kind of faith that moves mountains always carries a pick axe. I drive through Raleigh and stare at the shrinking landscapes and burgeoning gridlock and feel my concerns rising with all the houses and people and cars. I watch quietly as God brings the nations to North Carolina. But God doesn't just watch. He directs. To Him, each new resident of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill isn't some ant swallowed up in the vastness of the nation. He views each person as a unique creation of His that He will lovingly and individually guide if only they will turn their lives over to Him. You too must decide what to do with these new neighbors of yours. As a Christian, you face that choice every day in how you respond to other people. Immigrants can't be ignored. So will you love them? That's the key. God sees through our shallow posturing. "I love all people!" Oh? Even the imam building that mosque next door to your church? Even those who can't speak English as well as you can? Even if they wear a turban? Churchianity only turns people away from the Lord. People, even immigrants, see through the phoniness of religion. Jesus told each of us to be a light in our own corner of the world. We should be the bright spot in other peoples' lives. Knowing that, there's only one thing we need to do. Start living like it.

Tuesday, July 4 

4:24 PM It began raining when I finished mile 5 (out of a total of 10 miles planned for today), so I returned to the car and drove home for an early spaghetti supper. My July totals thus far are:

  1. Workouts: 4

  2. Duration: 4.8 hours

  3. Calories: 2,901

  4. Total distance: 20.8 miles.

Thanks for being on this journey with me. Sometimes it's shocking to see how far I've come. I never thought I'd ever describe myself as a runner, let alone as a marathoner or a triathlete. I'm really looking forward to my bike ride tomorrow, weather permitting. I'm starting to get nervous about Chicago, though. Will it be hot? Humid? Too crowded? Either way, and whatever the conditions are, I'm learning that everything we do in life, even a road race, holds the possibility of the holy, as long as we do it in God's strength and for His glory. The human body is a marvelous thing. I agree with Kathryn Switzer: "At 70, 80, 90, the body will always get better if you push it." In fact, why not just read her entire Reader's Digest article: How This 70-Year-Old Marathon Runner Stays Just as Fit as She Was at 20. It's really fantastic.

I have no confidence in myself but I have plenty of confidence in Jesus, and as long as He says "Keep on going," I'm gonna keep on going.

10:46 AM Shot this pic in Dallas.

You'll notice that "community" is used instead of "church." This is the high calling of the body of Christ, including your local church and mine: to live in community. (Some day I will stop using the word "church" to translate the Greek ekklesia. If people around me aren't doing it, that's no excuse for me not to try. An ekklesia is a group of people who have something in common as opposed to an ochlos, a "crowd.") This illustrates something important for me. I am being lured back to the simple ways of Jesus. And I am finding the process so convicting. The humility of Christ doesn't grant us permission on this Fourth to call out our fellow Christians for feeling patriotic or to harp about a revolution in 1776 that was probably at odds with Paul's teaching about submission to civil authority in Romans 13. Oh my. This approach, it seems to me, is based largely on the habit of being negative -- seeing only (or mostly) what's wrong in our culture and even in our church culture. In Matthew 25, Jesus condemned those on His left not because of something they did but because of something they failed to do right. This is how simple the Gospel is. "Whatever you do for the least of these, My brothers and sisters, you do for Me." In other words, Jesus is describing (as in the church sign above) a community, and a community that cares. If, on my website, I'm constantly calling out gays or liberals or Trump-supporters or Trump-haters, how can I ever expect to befriend them with a view to sharing with them the love of Christ? I've already alienated them. As my seminary evangelism professor once told me, "You've got to play the music, Dave, if you want to say the words." We take our marching orders from King Jesus, and last I checked I don't think He was asking us to defend homeschooling or eldership or a political brand. Believe what you want, but be careful of becoming apologists for your views. That's the theme, by the way, of my little book Christian Archy. One example I used was pedagogy. Practice homeschooling if that's your personal conviction (it was ours), but remember that other Spirit-filled Christians might view education differently, and you can both hold your convictions in love because you are in community, not pontificating from a keyboard. Following Jesus never comes with a permission slip to get up on our high horses. In their book The Tangible Kingdom, Hugh Halter and Matt Smay write, "People in America are not ignorant of Christianity.... They've seen so much of pop Christian culture that they have a programmed response to us: Ignore, ignore, ignore" (p. 125). Representing a kingdom alternative to the world does not require a boo-hooing of everything else in our culture.

Well, Dave, isn't it time you stopped preaching to the choir and got real? How are you going to change? After all, aren't you the greatest of sinners? (Answer: Yes.)

If I see a serviceperson today, I will thank him or her for their service without stopping to think (not even for a nanosecond) about politics. I will watch tonight's fireworks and marvel at this Chinese invention. I will listen to Sousa and tap my feet. I will take a long walk. (I don't need to be in "church" to experience God.) I will look for Him in a grandchild's smile or in the reflection in a pond or in the scent of a gardenia or in feeding my puppy a treat or in taking a bubble bath. I won't feel guilty that I live in a free nation. Instead, I will seek to leverage that privilege for Jesus. For starters, I will ask God to help me to make the most of every opportunity that lies before me both on the internet and at home, school, work, and every area of my life. I will ask Him to knock down a few of my defensive walls. Like Jabez, I will ask Him for broader horizons to share my faith. I will think long and hard about people I know who are not yet heaven-bound and will add them to my salvation prayer list and intercede daily for them. I will ask God to soften their hearts to the love and saving power of Jesus and to convict them of their sins. More importantly, I will ask God to make my life a light that points them toward heaven.

Friends, the amazing thing is that it's within our power how we will view this national holiday. With a snub we can create enmity; with charity we can work miracles, even the miracle of leading someone to the Savior. A put-down, even if it seems well-deserved,  might make us feel good for a while, but loving encouragement can heal a multitude of wounds. And boy could our nation use some healing right about now.

So ....

  • Have your convictions.

  • Hold them in love.

  • Act civilly toward all.

  • Be Jesus to everyone you meet.

It's a tall order, but it's not one-sided. "Remember, I am with you, day after day after day." The Lord has big-time plans for Americans who, on the one hand, value their liberty, but who, on the other hand, leverage it for the Gospel.

Happy Fourth!

Monday, July 3 

7:38 PM Hello there pards! I guess you could say I've had a "successful" summer of training thus far. I'm now heading back into the "long" race season, with the Chicago Half Marathon in only two weekends, followed by the St. George Marathon (October), the Richmond Marathon (November), and the Honolulu Marathon (December). I wouldn't say that my overall performance has improved all that much, but I know my mental state has. I'm having fun with all of my goals (if it's stressful, it's not fun), and I'm listening to my body more closely than ever before, trying to keep it happy (and uninjured). One major goal I have is to combine travel and racing. That means Chicago, Utah, Richmond, and Hawaii this year, and (at least) Alabama next year. I know that I will run for the rest of my life, so every decision to run becomes another mosaic in an already somewhat colorful life. I placed another "stone" in my running mosaic this weekend when I participated in the annual Liberty Run 10K in Dallas on Saturday.

10Ks (= 6.2 miles) are unique races. They aren't simply doing a 5K twice. Almost all serious runners will tell you that the halfway point is mile 5. In fact, were I to be chosen by some imaginary athletic tribunal out there to adjudicate in such matters, I'd argue that there are 3 miles between mile 5 and mile 6. Eventually, success boils down to taking one more step, and then another. If you are really blessed, sooner or later you will step across the finish line. In the end, racing has nothing to with "winning" or "losing." It has to do with your being yourself from start to finish, at every moment of the race. As runners, we look at ourselves honestly. Together, yet alone, we chase our dreams. Running both brings us to each other and to ourselves. Here I am with the fastest man on Saturday's course.

He won the race, but we were both winners. How's that? We both started the race. We both finished it. We both endured the obstacles along the course (mud, rain, humidity). We both achieved our personal goals for the race. His was to win. (He finished in just over 33 minutes.) Mine was to come in under 1 hour and 10 minutes. (My finish time was exactly 1:09:58. I laughed out loud when I saw that. I also got a third place medal in my age division.) I had a blast running this race. I loved the challenge. I loved the camaraderie. I loved the competition. I loved all the celebrating at the end. I'm having the time of my life, friends. I am slow but happy!

I'm eager to run my next marathon this year. Little did I realize last May that the final step of my first marathon would be the first step of my next marathon.

Keep on running!

P.S. Mom and dad send their greetings!

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