Monday, February 19
7:34 AM Vituperation. Noun meaning abusive language, a sustained and bitter condemnation. Synonyms include invective, disparagement, vilification, scolding, condemnation, opprobrium, obloquy, castigation, attack, censure, vitriol, venom. From Latin vituperatio, from the past participle of vituperare, "disparage." Examples include:
A more negative and ungodly human trait can scarcely be imagined. I once worked for a man in California who used abusive language constantly. It was a well-paying job so I overlooked his fault until one day he turned his opprobrium on me. The next day he had my resignation on his desk. (I'm ashamed it took me so long.) We humans tend to vilify others when we disagree with them. We revel in other people's humiliation. Some of us vilify others by talking behind their backs. Others are happy to use abusive language in public. Nazi propaganda even published children's books that vilified Jews. Last year Facebook and Twitter spent much of their time cataloguing Russia-backed ad spending on their sites to vilify certain presidential candidates in the 2016 election. Someone has said, "To bake a vilification cake, just add ignorance and stir." All wrong recoils upon the vilifier. He or she finds ugliness attractive. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, "To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness." If I were to call someone "very insecure," "lightweight," "totally unhinged," "dishonest," "totally biased," "a total loser," or "sick" in public, odds are that I'd only be describing myself.
People seem to vilify others more in politics than other fields of endeavor. John Ehrlichman, a key player in the Watergate scandal, once famously said:
Ehrlichman was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy and sent to prison.
The reason I'm bringing this up? In our passage for the week, 1 Thess. 2:13-16, Paul is said by some scholars to be using vituperation/invective. One commentator, for example, refers to Paul's "attack on the Jewish people." He says that Paul and other New Testament writers used "vituperation directed at the Jewish people as a tool in the struggle," never dreaming "of the consequences of their statements on subsequent generations." Well, I'm not buying it. As Willi Marxsen has shown, an anti-Semitic interpretation of 1 Thess. 2:13-16 can be held only when these verses are disconnected from their context (Einleitung in das Neue Testament, pp. 48ff.). I've already blogged about the punctuation at the end of verse 14. The difference is between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. So if you punctuate the text as is commonly done ("... the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus..."), I think you're missing Paul's point big time. A more accurate rendering, in my view, would be:
It's clear that Paul's words are directed at only those Jews who were hostile towards the Gospel and, indeed, his words aren't aimed at Jewish opponents alone, insofar as the readers' own countrymen (who were Gentiles) were attempting to thwart Paul's evangelistic efforts. In class Tuesday night we'll talk about this subject. We have to. A large part of exegesis comes down to observing carefully the details of a passage. It requires us to disabuse ourselves of our attachment to modern marks of punctuation (which for the most part are merely the contributions of editors). It all boils down to a close reading of the text, a willingness to consider the context, and an ability to read commentaries discerningly and even suspiciously.
Is vituperation a characteristic of the world's most loving and selfless apostle? I think not. Such a character flaw is only descriptive of small people. Very small people.
Sunday, February 18
6:45 PM So what am I doing tonight? I can tell you what I'm not doing. Reading a certain man's Twitter account filled with misspellings and profanity. Let's see. I watched a fabulous interview with Gov. John Kasich about gun laws. I perused several websites on textual criticism. And most important of all, I've been listening to the fabulous music of Gabrieli, including my all-time favorite composition of Andrea called Aria della Battaglia.
How beautiful these wind instruments! Great intonation, and I speak as a (former) trumpet player. This music is paradise. Chills all over. All I hear is the beauty of each individual's musicianship collectively playing together in an unforgettable moment in time. Would that our nation could do the same.
3:54 PM When I woke up this morning I knew it was going to be a perfect day for training. After enjoying a hearty breakfast and making sure the animals were fed and watered, I drove an hour to one of my favorite spots on Planet Earth, historic Farmville, VA. As you can see, Southside Virginia was as beautiful as ever.
First up on my agenda was to attend a Jesus community in Farmville that I've come to know and love ever since I first started training in that town for my 2015 climb in the Alps. The message today focused on Paul's arduous trip to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20-21).
More on that later. Eventually I arrived at the start of my workout.
I knew I would either be doing a 10K run or a 13.1 mile bike ride. I decided to do the half marathon distance in honor of the race I did with my kiddos exactly a week ago in Birmingham. (Wow! Was that only a week ago? Tempest fidgets, as the Romans would say!) The trail was practically deserted for a Sunday afternoon.
The Olympics you think? I did eventually bump into an older couple out for a walk and they graciously agreed to snap my photo for prosperity.
As you can witness, it took me an hour and 14 minutes to cycle 13.1 miles at an average speed of 10.6 mph -- which sounds fast until you realize that elite marathoners run 26.2 miles at a speed of 12 mph. Egads.
Then I pigged out on a wonderful Reuben's Sandwich at the local hole in the wall. Pure deliciousness!
As for today's sermon, the verse that stuck out to me during the message was Acts 20:13.
Here we read that Paul's companions sailed from Troas to Assos while Paul decided to hoof it. Paul's motives for wanting to walk to Assos while the others sailed are unknown, but my guess is that he was glad to have a couple of days of solitude. Incidentally -- and I found this factlet most interesting! -- the distance between Troas and Assos is 20 miles, which we all know is the exact distance marathoners run before tapering in preparation for race day -- which obviously means that Paul was a marathoner. Little wonder I enjoy the sport so much! Anyhoo, I'm so grateful to God for granting us such a gorgeous day after a fairly rainy week. I love where I live. I love training on deserted trails. I love the solitude, miles from the maddening crowds. No traffic. No shopping centers. Just wide open spaces. The bottom line is that cycling perfectly complements your running routine and weight training program. Without the stress of impact, you can train your cardiovascular system and bring it up to speed.
Time to dust off that old bike of yours?
7:56 AM If you're into running (even a 5K), you need to check out Strava's Running Pace Calculator. So I've got 8 hours to complete a 50K race (31 miles). If I run/walk at a 4 mph pace (= 15 min./mile), I can finish in 7:46:02 -- which is a relief, because I suspect that I'll be doing a lot of walking, especially on the hills.
Love these gadgets!
7:34 AM Phillip Long continues his two-part discussion of the warning passage in Hebrews 6 here. He argues that the passage "... is a rhetorical strategy, to describe the worst case imaginable, then show how the reader has not gone quite that far yet." That's a possible interpretation for sure. But then he uses an analogy that, I think, overstates his case:
Here's where I agree and disagree with this analogy. I'm sure all of us Greek teachers do our very best to equip our students to pass their exams. But does that guarantee they will all pass? How can we know that "none of them will fail the exam" for certain? We simply can't. There are no guarantees, despite our best efforts. I might put it this way: Learning doesn't always occur even when good teaching takes place. I'm sure my high school Algebra 2 teacher was a fantastic instructor, but I failed the class anyway. Each of us, I'm sure, would eagerly love to have a handle on this passage. But the debate is a shifting debate. This shouldn't surprise us. This is how scholarship works. Scholars put forth their arguments (with their analogies) and receive counterarguments in return. I've read both of Phillip's essays and have benefited and been enriched by them. This invites all of us, myself included, to approach this passage humbly and charitably.
7:15 AM A few quotes from Cory Reese's Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures from the Back of the Pack.
Even if you're not a runner, I think you would enjoy this book.
6:58 AM Love unselfishly and sacrificially. Even if you get nothing in return. That's genuine love. That's Christ's love.
Love is very patient,
Nor is she conceited,
She never is resentful,
She bears up under everything,
(For more New Testament poetry, go here.)
Saturday, February 17
7:18 PM Back to our discussion of 1 Thess. 2:13-16 for a minute. Verse 13 is a real hoot in the Greek.
I confess to being a complete fanatic when it comes to rhetorical devices in the Greek New Testament. A complete weirdo, in fact. Take a look at verse 13. Here Paul writes, in effect, "when you received the word of hearing from us of God." I told you it was a hoot. I once wrote an essay called Literary Artistry in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There I noted several instances of what's called hyperbaton. Hyperbaton involves the separation of words that naturally belong together. Here are a few examples from Hebrews:
That's just crazy cool. Here in 1 Thess. 2:13 we're stuck with a conundrum. Does "of God" belong with "word" or with "hearing"? And why does Paul separate "of God" from its noun phrase? Some scholars think that the words "of God" are redundant if they refer to "word." Isn't every word preached by the apostle Paul the word "of God"? Or is "of God" being set apart for the sake of emphasis? (I tend to think so.)
I am no expert in rhetorical criticism, but boy the difference a simple rhetorical device can make!
6:28 PM Two quick thoughts about the Florida shooting:
1) In a world where a fatally wounded Devil is still active, I'm not sure there can be any easy answers. As Jacque Ellul often pointed out in his various writings, Christian participation in the political process depends on a myriad of factors and is a continuum from political engagement on the one hand to countercultural disengagement on the other. These are the two poles I personally struggle with since they allow for a broad range of roles for the church. Either way, the church should never be seen as disinterested in social justice issues, even as it doggedly refuses to define "success" as political power.
2) "Thoughts and prayers" are certainly not enough when a community is suffering. But the opposite danger is also true. To view prayer as a cop-out is simply unbiblical. As Paul often reminded his readers, prayer is action. As the very least, we can pray for the families of the dead, for those who were wounded, and for those who are suffering from PTSD. We can pray for wisdom for our government officials as we are commanded to do in the New Testament. We can pray for wisdom as our nation begins yet another gun debate. (One of the greatest acts of vulnerability and courage is to listen with the exact same amount of passion with which we want to be heard.) But pray we must. Nothing opens a window into our personal walk with Jesus quite like the role that prayer plays in our lives. So when we say that thoughts and prayers are not enough, that our nation must act, let's not think that action is a substitute for prayer, because it's not.
I just watched the powerful video of survivor Emma Gonzalez. Those teens are on a mission. It reminded me of the passion I had in high school when my surfing buddies and I spoke out against the paving of Paradise. "Save Our Surf" (SOS) can't compare, of course, to what just happened in Florida. Are we listening? I'm reminded of the words of Alvin Tofler:
I, for one, am listening to you, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I am praying for you and for our nation. I feel your pain and sorrow. May God grant you healing, and may He grant us all wisdom, for He is indeed concerned about justice, shalom, and social-cultural transformation.
12:12 PM One of my favorite things about the sport of running is not running. This morning I woke up at 5:00 am tired and, besides, the weather was just plain too lousy for me to drive all the way to Chapel Hill for a 30-minute run in the cold and rain. I don't mind missing this race. My money was already paid up front, and for a great cause too. Rest days are just as important as workout days. They allow your body to grow stronger. By resting, you give yourself permission to recover from the stress and impact of the training cycle. Running is all about listening to your body. No training or running program needs to be followed slavishly. So today I'm allowing my body to rejuvenate and grow stronger. I'm kicking my feet up and just chillaxing.
My new motto is: Work hard ... but don't forget to rest.
8:58 AM This week in Greek 4 we're going through 1 Thess. 2:13-16. What a fascinating passage!
What I find incredibly interesting about this paragraph is the way Paul switches from aorist tense participles to present tense participles.
I've seen this pattern elsewhere, except in reverse order. Here the switch is extremely important exegetically.
One of the continuing hotbeds of discussion in Pauline studies is whether or not this passage can be used to suggest that Paul was in some way anti-Semitic. I've striven hard to consider the evidence with evenhanded fairness, but I really don't think there's any way this text shows that Paul had an animus against his Jewish brethren. This debate is one of the most volatile in the church today and will merit in-depth discussion on Tuesday. I love the emphasis in 1 Thessalonians on apologetics and evangelism. I like the way students are being exposed to Paul's philosophy of ministry. I especially love exploring with them the implications of the text for teaching and praxis. Any course in exegesis that fails to do this is doomed to irrelevance.
8:06 AM From The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul:
Today, I'm intrigued to note how often exegetical arguments are based upon subjective internal evidence. Arguably, this is not the best way to approach exegetical conundrums when there is an abundance of external evidence to be considered. I would prefer that our students be exposed to all of the evidence, even data that are contrary to the consensus opinio. I fear that much of the trouble goes back to the way we do theological training. Thus one will rarely (if ever) hear that "there is strong (although not probative) internal evidence and solid external evidence for the Paulinity of the epistle [to the Hebrews]." Now, I can see some force in arguments to the contrary, but to ignore the primary data is beyond comprehension.
Friday, February 16
7:20 PM I still can't believe I'm running my first ultra marathon in only 7 weeks. If I succeed, it will be like knocking off the peak of Everest. I used to read about ultra runners, about how they would use marathons as training runs for their ultras, and now I'm doing that very thing. I just hope and pray I can get to the starting line injury-free. My first ultra. Life sure is a crazy journey and we keep learning along the way. Perhaps the greatest wisdom of all is realizing just how much wisdom you lack. Maybe the thing that's surprised me the most is how welcoming the running community is. Back in the 60s, running used to be a "member's only" club. Now a runner is someone who runs -- no matter how fast, how long, how far. We run because we love it. It's about the journey, not the end.
Run gently out there,
6:10 PM From Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek:
An organized whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That's why discourse analysis is so important in New Testament studies!
1:20 PM What a great morning it's been! Got my 5K in. Watched Nate spread fertilizer. (You know the saying: "I love work. I can watch it all day.")
Visited with my Person County grandkids.
They are so sweet!
Last but not least, what do yall think of this church sign I saw on my drive today?
Don't you love it? Reminds me of a great book Joe Hellerman wrote called When the Church Was a Family. One of the things we're trying to do in our NT 1 class is to study carefully the biblical nature of the church. My own thinking about the church has benefited immeasurably by books like Joe's. The church is a family where everyone has a role to play. But when we insist on a clergy-laity division, we exclude 90 or 95 percent of all followers of Jesus. By the way, I think I've come up with the perfect replacement for "churches." I want to start calling them Jesus communities. I know this must appear like a frivolous suggestion. But the way we talk about the church -- the speech patterns we use -- reflect and reinforce our concepts about the church, be they biblical or unbiblical. If, for example, we banned "layperson" from our vocabulary, this might force us to rethink how "ministry" should take place in our Jesus communities. Each member of the family of God is involved in "the work of the ministry" in some way or another. These small steps toward renewal don't mean that we have to reject the institutional church. But they might just help us to be honest and open to rethinking the wineskins. "The Family of God." Should this not be a mark of evangelicalism's "unity in truth"? Hope so!
7:55 AM Odds and ends ....
1) Anthony Zurcher of the BBC is correct: One side wants to talk about nothing but mental health. The other side wants to talk about nothing but gun control. And Washington will do nothing. Again. Read One Shooting, two Americas. I'm well-armed, as is everyone who operates a farm. But I see no reason whatsoever to allow a 19-year old to purchase a semiautomatic rifle when he can't even buy a can of beer. I'm horrified at the deaf ears of our leaders. To those who say that semi-automatic assault rifles should be made illegal nationwide, I say more power to you. By the way, this is simply my personal opinion. It's not a "Christian" position. And I know there is no absolute political answer to the problem. I'm just baffled when godly and sincere people are even against background checks. Our leaders can and should do better.
2) MacDonald's is taking cheeseburgers out of Happy Meals? What is this world coming to? I guess we'll have to call it an Unhappy Meal from now on.
Fact of the matter is: Eating an occasional cheeseburger won't affect your health in the least. Good health depends on your overall lifestyle and eating habits. And this is where we fail as a society. We can all do better. One step at a time. One meal at a time.
3) For you Bible geeks out there, I just posted a new Power Point called The Great Commission. It's a quasi-argument against the view that "nations" in the Gospel Commission of Jesus is referring to "people groups." (For the Power Point to work properly, be sure to download and open it before viewing.) I've also posted a collection of sermon outlines of 1 Thess. 1:6-10. There's always something new at our Greek Portal!
4) The best running apps. Yes, Map My Run is included.
5) Paul Himes asks, Can Christians eat sushi? I sure hope so!
Thursday, February 15
9:46 PM Oh. Almost forgot. Nate and Jess came over today to load up some hay. Which meant that I got to see my boys. Here I am helping Graham.
Nolan, of course, insisted on moving the bales himself.
Bradford discovered that bales could just as easily be pushed as carried.
Meanwhile, Peyton thought the goats should get the leftovers. How cute!
And Chesley? He was the supervisor.
Love them boys!
9:14 PM There are so many good, God things going on right now I hardly know where to start. First off, my daughter Matthea has been blogging again. If you've ever experienced major loss and deep, inconsolable grief, you definitely HAVE to read the essay she posted today. It's called Does God love me? A few years ago, Jon and Matthea lost their full term baby named Kai. Just writing that sentence brings tears to my eyes. I was at the hospital and held baby Kai in my arms. This was about a year after Becky had passed away. Together, Jon and Matthea and I discovered something through our pain: That it's virtually impossible to handle grief through human strength alone. Now, years later, we are able to look back on our experiences and see that the struggle in our souls was only resolved by what Matthea calls submission to truth, especially the truth that nothing, NOTHING, can separate us from the love of God. I thank God every night that He answered our prayers for spiritual healing, for giving us the assurance that He is in control even though He also assigns to us the ability to use our freedom to make good choices about how we handle grief and to remain faithful to Him even when the world all around us is screaming at us to forsake Him. Matthea's essay is a stark reminder that while God covets our love, He will never coerce us into a relationship. It's something we must choose. And we have. We have chosen to see our good God for who He is, even though we will never comprehend His sovereignty. I have made peace with the past. So have Jon and Matthea. So must you, my friend. If God is there to welcome our precious loved ones into heaven, He's also there to give us reason and courage to keep going and to continue believing.
One way people handle their grief and loss is by leveraging it for something good. This Saturday I'm registered to run in the Carolina Fever Fight Cancer 5K in Chapel Hill, on the same campus where Becky was treated for 4 long years. I've done this event twice already. I love this race. It's a way I can pay back the fine people at UNC for their tender care and aggressive treatment of Becky's endometrial cancer, which is the most common form of cancer that attacks a woman's reproductive organs. This year alone, over 63,000 new cases of endometrial cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S., and over 11,000 women will die from that disease. Becky was a woman of incomparable courage. She had a spirit of prayer far beyond the ordinary for our times. She challenged so many (me included) to serve a world that often languishes under misery. I will run this race for her and for every woman who suffers or will suffer from this terrible disease. Becky loved the people at UNC. So do I. It will be fun being back there again.
As for my "streak" running, today I got in a 5K at the Tobacco Heritage Trail in South Boston. I know that streak running has its pros and cons. But right now this is where I'm at. It doesn't mean that I'll stop cross training. Why, today I lifted at the Y for a good 45 minutes. Nor does it mean I'll go all out every day. The run streak, by the way, seems to have arisen from, basically, boredom. Marathoning is now old hat for many runners. For others who have gone on to run in ultra races, even super-long-distance races can lose their fizzle. For them, running every day gives them a good challenge to put their mind to. It's sort of like reading your Greek New Testament every day. It's actually quite fun to see whether you can keep up that pace. My goal is to mix up my running styles so that I don't grow bored of running. There are 8 basic types of running. They're called:
Today I did a tempo run where you perform at the fastest pace you can sustain for a certain period of time. At one point I was able to get up to 9 mph for a quarter of a mile -- a first for me. I did this several times, interspersing walking in between. Tomorrow I think I'll try a base run, which you do at your natural pace and which is not meant to be overly challenging. Then Saturday is race day. I really want to place in my age group but there aren't any group awards this time around. That won't stop me, of course, from running hard (I tend to overdo things in 5K races). Not gonna lie, I'm becoming quite competitive in my old age!
Finally (for now), here's a link to Tuesday's powerful and prophetic chapel message by Thabiti Anyabwile.
He asks, "Why isn't there more preaching about justice in our churches?" I agree completely. Passages such as Rom. 13:1-7 and 13:8-14 make it clear that political ethics can't be separated from the ethics of love and justice. True ethics demands charismatic responsibility. Thabiti considers it a very dangerous thing when we flatten the word "justice" to refer only to justification and imputation. He suspects that not one in a 100 pastors gets this right. "Preachers preach doctrine where the Bible is preaching duty." Duty and doctrine can't substitute one for the other, he says. Both are important. "It's like giving birth to twins and saying to the doctor, 'I only want to leave with one.'" Beginning at 48:08 he turns to the "current evangelical attachment to our president." Don't miss this part, folks. Principle, he says, has been abandoned for political power and pragmatism. I have rarely heard words so powerful. Thabiti approached his topic with wisdom, pastoral sensitivity, and love. His message is one all of us could profit from.
Well, gotta go and spend some time with Sheba. She is aging before my very eyes and some day I won't have her bark welcoming me home. "Live each day as if it were your last." What, my friend, are you doing, if anything, to make your life what you want it to become? Make each day count. I'll try to as well.
7:55 AM Last night I was so tired I couldn't blog about everything I wanted to. So I'm going to make up for it this morning before heading off to the Y. We'll call this post "potpourri."
1) The spirit of volunteerism was out in full force during Sunday's race. I loved seeing so many church groups literally passing out cups of cold water in Jesus' name. This sign stood in front of one of these church buildings.
Inspiring! By the way, I've been collecting my humble thoughts about running in a little book I've started writing. I think I'm going to call it From Side Line to Finish Line: How the Sport of Running Changed My Life Forever.
2) While in BH I had the joy of visiting Matthea's new booth at one of the local malls. She sells jewelry and natural soap made by women escaping poverty and human trafficking. Please check out Freegrance and support this fantastic ministry if you can.
3) Here is Jon and Matthea's Sheltie named Galana. She's my Sheba's daughter. Ain't she sweet?
4) Karis Lynn is almost walking. Unbelievable.
Reminds me of this quote by Mitch Alborn:
5) The owner of the Ethiopian restaurant in BH loved Becky's book.
So grateful she could finish writing it before she passed away. It continues to minister to so many! Blessed be His name.
6) One thing I've learned about running is that there's no one-to-one correlation between your finish time and the joy you experience out on the course. As you can see, I came in dead last in my age group (65-69) and am right proud of it.
I think I probably could have finished the race with a time of around 2:45, but nothing was going to keep me from running with my kids. The main differences between the three of us and the top finishers are related to genetics and priorities. Otherwise, our accomplishments were identical!
7) It may sound trite to say it, but no race can be successful without an army of volunteers and a whole host of uniformed officers keeping the streets safe for us runners. Every chance I got I tried to say a hearty "Thank you" to every volunteer I saw and to give a high five to the people standing between me and the traffic. No one who has ever run a race is ungrateful to these men and women.
8) Speaking of races, yesterday I purchased my plane tickets for my trip to Cincy in May for the Flying Pig Extravaganza.
This will mark the anniversary of my first marathon. Right now, as you read this post, there are millions of Americans who want to run a marathon but they're only dreaming. They aren't doing it. When I stood at the start of last year's race, I realized that I was trying something that 99 percent of the population has never tried. You don't dream your way into the marathon club. You earn it. Once they place that medal around your neck, it becomes a symbol of your willingness to not only dream big to act on your dream. Some people compete in marathons. Others complete marathons. But the sport is big enough to embrace us all.
9) Yesterday I started streaking. No, not that kind of streaking. I'm going to try and run every day until my marathon on March 18. I need to get more miles on these legs of mine before I attempt another long-distance race. Plus, there's my first ultra marathon to prepare for on April 8. Since I'm such a sucker for books about running, I decided to get this volume with what I thought was a super duper title. Hopefully I can pick up some good ideas about running my first 50K race.
10) This could go on forever! One more pic and I'm done! I just want to give a shout out to God for the amazing work He did in getting my Greek grammar into Spanish and now Mandarin.
To think that my beginning textbook is now available in the world's three most-widely spoken languages -- well, it blows my mind. My prayer is that God would somehow use these books to demystify Greek and show readers how mere mortals like me can learn to master a foreign language.
Wednesday, February 14
6:48 PM Hey everybody, and Happy Valentine's Day to you. As you know, last Sunday was RACE DAY! It was my 11th half marathon and Jon and Matthea's first.
Here's a brief recap:
I arrived in Birmingham on Thursday. Since I was going to be in Alabama for the race on Sunday, I wanted to spend as much time with the Glasses as possible. We even found an Ethiopian restaurant in town and had a marvelous meal together.
On Friday, Jon and I did a 5K run through a local subdivision adjacent to a gorgeous park.
The day was sunny and even a little on the warm side.
All that was about to change, however. The weekend turned out to be cloudy and rainy, but nothing could dampen our spirits. We were running a HALF MARATHON!!! We made our way to the expo in downtown Birmingham. The drive there only took half an hour. There we got our race numbers and Jon and Matthea got new stickers for their cars.
Time to replace their 10K stickers with ones that read 13.1!
The expo was on the smallish side but exciting nonetheless. On Sunday morning we woke up incredibly early because we wanted plenty of time to eat a good breakfast and find parking at the venue. The food at the Waffle House was just what the doctor ordered.
When we arrived in downtown Birmingham, we had about an hour to wait before the race began. I don't know about Matthea and Jon, but I was a bit nervous. I'm always nervous before a race. You never know how those last 3 or 4 miles will go. Eventually we found our way to the back of the pack and waited for the race to begin.
Step by step we slowly shuffled forward, a sense of excitement filling our hearts, and suddenly we were off.
We were feeling good. Our running pace was a manageable one, and we often took walk breaks to keep our legs fresh.
I didn't think the hills were all that bad. We seemed to chug up those hills just fine. As we neared the 12-mile marker the excitement began to build. We decided to run the last 100 yards or so and join hands as we finished the race. I can tell you, we put whatever power we had left in our legs to cross that finish line. There we hugged and celebrated the end of the race. "You did it!" I said to Jon and Matthea. "You really did it!" We got our medals and then I asked someone to snap our picture.
We broke no records on Sunday. In fact, we finished at the very back of the pack. Did that matter? Not in the least. We had set out to slay the Mercedes Half Marathon dragon and we had done it -- together.
After the race we went inside to the post-race party. Jon and Matthea were radiant with joy, as well they should have been. The half marathon is the most popular race in America save for the 5K. I can certainly see why. Just look at the smiles on Jon and Matthea's faces.
We ate barbeque and chips and then drove back home to shower and nap, still glowing in our runners' "high." As I rested that afternoon, it occurred to me why we ran that day. It wasn't to escape from reality. It wasn't to win a prize. It wasn't even for the gorgeous medal. We ran because we love the sport. Running has become a part of our lives. For me, the best part of the race was watching the determination on Jon and Matthea's faces as they approached the finish line. By this time, many people were walking, but not Jon and Matthea. They were going to fly across that finish line even it killed them.
"Go, go, go!" a spectator yelled. "You're almost there!" The race may have been slow and agonizing, but they kept moving forward. As is often said, running a race is a parable about life. You just keep on taking step after step after step as your legs weep quietly. Even when you begin walking, you never stop. Jon and Matthea had both gone farther than they had ever gone in training. They ran into uncharted territory like a bulldog chasing a rabbit. They stuck to their race plan, and it worked. They crossed the finish line with their heads held high and with praise in their hearts to the God who gave them the strength to run that day. The race was a gauntlet testing their bodies, their minds, and even their souls. And that's the lesson from participating in a long-distance race. You learn that life is lived in exactly the same way. One step at a time. In the end, the experience was more than any of us could have ever hoped for it to be.
Such a happy race and such a happy day in Birmingham! Jon and Matthea, I am so very very proud of you!
Thursday, February 8
7:56 AM The high in Birmingham on race day will be 67, with a 57 percent chance of rain. Yes, runners race in the rain. Raining or not, most people can run a half marathon in about 2 hours. My PR is 2:27 (Petersburg, VA). I usually finish in a little less than 3 hours. But there's 3 of us running and we'll probably want to stick together. I hope when we cross the finish line that our form will be a little bit better than this.
Whatever our finish time, it will be an incredible experience. This afternoon Jon and I will be driving the course. There are some "hills" I'm told along the route. If these "hills" are anything thing like the ones I experienced in the Cincy marathon last May, we had better hire a Sherpa. I hope we can get to the race venue early on Sunday morning. If you've never been to a big race before, it will be an awesome experience. There's so much to take in. You can feel the anticipation the moment you arrive. As you make your way to the starting line and the horn sounds, you can't help but let out out a primordial scream of excitement. You're actually running a half marathon! I still have to talk with Jon and Matthea about our pace. 13.1 miles is no joke. When I first started running half marathons, I went out of the starting block like it was the Kentucky Derby. I would hitch up with a pace team that I knew was going to run faster than I was capable of sustaining over the entire distance of the race. These days I start out much slower, usually at the back of the pack so that I'm not jostled about too much. If I can turn it up a notch as the race proceeds, I'll do it. If not, I'm happy to settle into my usual (slow) pace. The main thing to remember is not to try anything new on race day -- a rule I am sorely tempted to break since I just picked up my new running shoes in Raleigh on Tuesday. Don't worry. I'm leaving them at home. A half marathon is no place to break in new shoes. Or to try something new for breakfast. Or to try a new brand of socks. As for hydration and fueling, I usually just depend on the water stations to have everything I need. I like to run light, though I will often carry a candy bar with me just in case. My policy is to eat something nutritious about mile 8. I don't plan to run between now and race day. My goal right now is to hang up the running shoes for a couple of days and be well rested for the race.
I want to thank my family for their support of my running. In fact, they put up with every weird thing that I do. Thank you so much for being there for me. You guys rock! I especially want to thank my daughter who, 3 years ago, told me I needed to start running. See what you started, girl? Running, like love, is very simply yet very mysterious. When I finally discovered that I would run for the rest of my life, everything changed. This weekend I'll only be adding to the mosaic of my life as a runner. And every month, every weekend, every day that I run, I'm closer to heaven. I am unapologetically an advocate of running. And to think that I can run this weekend with two of my kids? The very thought makes me giddy.
For everyone looking to discover themselves, this sport is for you. More and more people are jumping on this band wagon. Maybe it's time you did too?
Wednesday, February 7
7:14 PM I'm sill ALIVE! Was another lovely but hectic stay on campus. Taught my four classes and otherwise tried to get some significant writing done. On Monday I took our visiting scholar, John Meade, out for Mexican food. He teaches Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary and is here working on a book on the Hexapla.
We debated whether California or Arizona has better Mexican cuisine and ended up agreeing it's pretty much a wash. What a great guy and what an honor to have him on campus for the semester. Also, hat's off to my Greek students for doing so well on their quiz over chapter 15 this week. I sent them home with their first exam -- a review of the entire indicative mood. Congrats, y'all, for arriving at this important juncture in your studies. I'm so proud of you!
This weekend, as you know, I'll be traveling to Birmingham to race on Sunday. My kids tell me we'll be eating Ethiopian food one night while I'm there. You heard me right. BH has more than one Ethiopian restaurant if you can believe it. Jon and Matthea are awesome, but I'm really going there to spoil my five grandkids. By the way, I have to say I feel like I'm back at the University of Hawaii in 1973 taking my two required American history courses while living through the Watergate hearings (live and direct from DC). I can't help but sense that another showdown at the OK Corral is right around the bend, pardner. Worried? Nope. Concerned? Yep. When the Ephesians turned to God from idols, the makers of the images started a riot. Today, the shrine makers to Diana are so little troubled by our "Christianity" that they stage no protest. "Go along to get along." Have we made a pact with the "Christianity" of this godless generation and agreed not to arouse its antagonism? Maybe we need more Ephesians and Philippians-like awakenings even if they land Paul and Silas in jail. As we saw in our 1 Thessalonians study this week, when Paul led a person to Christ, the devil lost a customer. Friends, it's not our main business, as Christians, to denounce this or that political party or administration official, although that certainly has its place (and I'm sorely tempted to do more of it in these pages). The fact is, we are all politicians more or less, in a mad scramble for the top seats of power and prestige in this world of ours. Jesus says, "Want the highest seats? Then be prepared for a demotion." It is a humiliating time in our history when American evangelicals should be red-faced with shame for our glory-seeking.
The only real truth is in Christ and the only way to be different is to be a real Christian. Run-of-the-mill church membership just won't cut it. A true follower of Jesus is neither conformed to this world nor merely non-conformed to this world, but is transformed by the renewing of his or her mind to prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. True Christianity is the real revolution going on in the world today, my friends. The only allegiance followers of Jesus have is to, well, Jesus. This isn't to say we can't be involved in political debates or translate our values into politics. But I'm not to be worried about any of this. As a follower of Christ, I'm commissioned to manifest the reign of God in every area of life. Our call as Christians is to be in the present what the entire world will look like in the future, when the reign of God comes to complete fruition. In the meantime, this means translating the word of God into living epistles known and read by all. No Bible translation is quite as effective as the flesh and blood edition. May we all be true translations in letter and in spirit. Faithfulness is our motivation, faithfulness in even such mundane details as taking care of farm animals and making sure they have food and water. (My forthcoming book Godworld will explore this theme in greater detail.) I take animal care seriously because I'm a follower of King Jesus, if that makes any sense. He is Lord of all creation.
Well, its time to run and do my household chores. I'm a bit behind, as usual.
Stay centered in the King!
Monday, February 5
5:55 AM Guess what? In April I'm going to try something brand spanking new. I'm "ultra" excited about it, too. Get the hint? Yessiree. I took the plunge and signed up for my first ever 50K run. It's called the Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12M and 50K Challenge and will be held on Sunday, April 8. The course follows a single track through the woods around Falls Lake in North Raleigh. Now, if this were a 50K road race on concrete, you could count me out. But a hiking trail? What's to worry about -- except logs, roots, low-hanging branches, quick turns, and water. The course has a VERY generous time limit of 8 hours. A marathon is 42.2 kilometers, and my average marathon time (based on the 7 marathons I've done) is about 6:00 hours. According to some smart doohickey I found online called Strava, I can actually calculate my potential finish time for a 50K race by inputting my average pace. If I run a 14-minute mile pace, I can expect to finish the race in about 7:15 hours. That's a 4.3 mph pace. If, on the other hand, I have to slow down to a 15-minute mile pace, my finish time should be around 7:46 at a 4 mph pace. Being the geek that I am, I decided to go online and check out last year's finishers' stats. A guy named Shan came in first place with a time of 4:16:21. (Awesome, dude!) The last place finisher's time was 8:35:02. (Good for you for hanging in there to the end!) Every runner in last year's event was under the age of 60 except for someone named David, who finished with a time of 6:58:15. (Nice, going, David!) The top female finisher had a time of 5:04:43. My goals for this race? Have fun. Don't get hurt. Finish. In that order. It would also be nice if I can stay injury free between now and then. I'm not going into this event with my eyes closed, or at least I don't think I am. I know it's going to be the hardest thing I've ever done. But actually, it's just the logical "next step" when someone becomes a runner. You go from a 5K to a 10K to a 10-Miler to a half then a full and eventually you ask yourself, "So what's next?" For me the answer is an ultra. The great thing about this event is that it's close to home and the course is fairly flat (no big mountains to climb). I know I'm being a bit hard on myself, but that's how I've always been. The toughest challenge for me will be to remain strong mentally and to give the race the respect it deserves by taking it slow and easy. Knowing me, I'll probably miss a turn somewhere on the course and get a DQ. (Ugh.) If so, I hope from that failure will come the strength and wisdom to do better the next time. I define real success as the willingness to fail. I could have DNF'd my first half or my first full. You just have no idea how well you'll do going into a long distance race. Real success is looking at yourself honestly and knowing that there are never any certainties in life. I've come to realize that, by the grace of God, I'm having the time of my life right now. The worst day I've ever had as a runner is better than the best day I had as a couch potato. So if you're still enjoying the sport, why not go for bigger challenges? Just makes sense to me. So ... why did I sign up for this race? Ultimately, to see if I can do it.
Again, this will be my first "ultra" but don't let that word fool you. As far as ultra races are concerned, this is like a 5K in comparison to all the other ultras you can run, the ultimate one probably being the Hardrock Endurance Run in Colorado. It's "only" 100 miles long. Yes, I said miles, not kilometers. (Think: 161K. Ouch.) Not only that, the average elevation is 11,000 feet. I'll post a picture of the Hardrock Run here because that's the closest I'll ever come to participating in the crazy thing. Looks beautiful, eh?
As for training, I'll need to get in at least one really long run before the ultra in April. This is already on my calendar: the Tobacco Road Marathon in Raleigh on March 18. In the meantime, I'll try and get in at least few miles on the actual course since it's not far from Wake Forest.
Am I nervous? You bet I am. Can I travel 50K in less than 8 hours on a hiking trail? We'll find out, I guess. It's like everything else in life, folks. You set a goal and then commit not to quit. An ambivalent attitude will practically guarantee a DNF.
Hmm. I kinda love it that boredom hasn't become an issue in my life.
Sunday, February 4
5:05 PM Here are a few of my Cliff Notes from Charles Wanamaker's discussion of 1 Thess. 1:6-10 in his Commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians.
Wanamaker, who has taught in South Africa, has produced a solid work on 1-2 Thessalonians. I never come to class without having first consulted it.
9:30 AM Sheba and I sat on the front porch for about an hour waiting for the snow to arrive. She busied herself with marking her territory on the grass while I read and recited 1 Thess. 1:6-10, our passage for the week.
The text raises all sorts of questions in my mind:
Questions, questions, questions! This is called "listening to the text." Our awareness is totally on the surface structure of the text at this stage. We notice what is said as well as how it is said. Then we go on to stage 2: we notice what is not being said or what is being said below the surface structure. It is when we can clearly articulate in our own words what a text is saying that we have arrived at the goal of exegesis.
Fellow student of the word: Asking good questions is so important. Read, recite, study, learn, solve exegetical problems, make decisions -- all these depend on asking the right questions. Framing questions of the text is not only a crucial first step in the exegetical process. It's something we need to do repeatedly. The questions we ask shape all of our conclusions. This is a large topic but one I hope to develop with my Greek students this semester.
7:15 AM Well hello there. The snow is heading our way again.
It's already in Lynchburg, where I ran yesterday. Looks like I'll have to postpone the 10 mile training run I had hoped to do this afternoon. The Birmingham Half Marathon is a only week from today. Do you know how far 13.1 miles is? It's a long way. There's no way I'd be doing this unless I had prepped myself on shorter courses -- 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-Milers, etc. The half is no marathon, for sure. As someone has said, "The reason why the half is so popular is that you can run a half marathon and walk the next day." Most of us who run for fun can train ourselves to run a half without too much difficulty. A half is also the perfect challenge for someone who's been running for a year and wants to step it up a bit. I know this graphic is a bit dated, but it clearly shows the rise in popularity of the half marathon in the past few years.
My first half was in 2013. I've now done a total of 10. It's a great experience with the added benefit of health. This year my daughter and son are running the race with me next weekend. They live in BH so it only makes sense. They've been training consistently for the race. The nice thing about training for a half is that you get to do long runs that aren't "too long." In March, my daughter's husband who lives in DC will be running the Four Courts Four Miler in Arlington, VA, with me. That should be a hoot. I love running in groups. And to run with family is even better. The other nice thing in running a half is that there's very little pressure to finish with a fast time. Usually you're given a very generous time limit of at least three and a half hours. Which means that the half marathon allows you to feel great about yourself without pushing yourself into aerobic distress. This may account for the fact that the average pace for the half marathon is slower than the average pace for the full marathon. Most of us who run the half are simply trying to complete the distance and have lots of fun while doing it. Many people who participate in half marathons follow Galloway's walk/run method. You'll see a lot of walk-runners in a half, including me (I've run the complete 13.1 mile distance only once). Running a half is a bucket list sort of thing for many people. For me, it only got me hooked on long-distance running. In fact, I'm hoping to do my first ultra this year -- nothing too major, perhaps a 50K race somewhere close to home. First, we'll see how I do in the marathons I've got scheduled for Raleigh in March, Arlington (TX) in April, and Cincinnati in May. One of my sons might be running the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon with me. How cool is that?
Running is a great sport. It's so satisfying and affirming. It gives you an opportunity to test how much grit you have and is literally a breath of fresh air when your work begins to suffocate you. But it can also be challenging. One of the things I'm trying to work really hard on this year is my form while running, especially my upper body position. Running form is very serious business. I've been discovering that proper arm action helps me to maintain my form, cadence, and posture when I'm beginning to feel fatigued (usually around the 9 mile mark during a half marathon). Coach Matt Rush from The Running Factory has a great video explaining correct arm motion while running.
The main areas to watch for are:
The point is: To be a good runner you have to worry about more than your leg motion. A proper arm swing balances out the momentum caused by your legs. A good arm swing balanced by a solid contact with the ground near center of mass should correct a weak core.
I know there's a spiritual lesson in there somewhere but I'm too lazy to look.
Saturday, February 3
7:02 PM Dolores Keane, Frances Black, and Sharon Shannon perform Solid Ground. Ireland's treasures. Awesome.
12:58 PM Just back from the Arctic 5K. I'm a real fan of this race. Many think it's a tough course and I'd have to concur. It doesn't help when you arrive onsite barely in time to get your bib number. As you can see below, I was the last person to cross the starting line. You all know that trail running is way out of my comfort zone. Especially the uphill portion. Eventually I ended up walking a good deal of it, though even then I was able to pass a number of people if only because I have longer legs than they do. Don't worry: they made up for it on the downhill portion! Anyway, despite the rigor of the course, I ABSOLUTELY loved it. The real challenge was on the downhill portion. I kept wanting to speed up even though leaves covered much of the course and I knew I was prone to slipping and sliding. I think my center of gravity is just way too high to be able to go any faster than 5 mph on the downhill leg. I kept asking myself, "When will this race ever end?" Then sure enough, I crossed the finish line with arms raised high. The awesome news is that aside from a few minor aches and pains, my body feels fantastic. I stiffened up a bit on the long drive home but right now I feel fully recovered. I came in 77th out of a total of 109 runners. The winner's time was an unbelievable 23:09. The last place finisher's was 1:26:47. I managed to squeak out a 45:02. Throughout the run I never forgot why I was there. To do my very best. It was as simple and as complicated as that. That's my goal in every race I run. I'm not competing against anybody except myself. A race always tests your body, mind, spirit, and endurance. That's a test I always hope to pass. I was very impressed with the organization of this race, from the registration to the course support to the after-race party (pizza, bananas, cookies, and lots more) to the awards ceremony. LU is to be commended. My day was crazy. So awesomely crazy. I've never had more fun on a run. Can't wait to run Birmingham next weekend!
5:45 AM Good (early) morning! I was up at 5:00 am today, eager and anxious for today's trail run. It will be good to get back to Camp Hydaway, the venue for today's event. The trails have some pretty funny names: Split Decision, Great Escape, Idiot's Run, Killer Bees, Dirty Ridge, and (my favorite) Psycho Path. I love running in cold weather and harsh trail conditions because it makes me a better runner. The key is having the right gear. First of all, you put on about 1,000 layers. Then you have to make sure you keep your noggin warm. And gloves? Don't leave home without 'em. Something happens to you psychologically when you run in severe conditions. You start out the race thinking you're absolutely bonkers, but after 5 minutes or so you usually want to keep on going. By the time you reach the finish line you are on cloud 9. As long as there's no lightening or ice, I'll run. Right now Nature is being seriously bipolar. We get snow and then we have a heat wave. Today, the temp at race time in Lynchburg will be a mere 21 degrees. But you warm up quickly during the race. The trail is either going up or down, giving your body a chance to vary muscle usage. I've read a ton about how to do a trail run, but nothing can beat just getting out there and doing it. For me, a difficult trail run is symbolic of hard work, determination, and just plain gratitude to God for the ability to get out there and be active.
So it's off for an hour and a half drive to suffer, er, do something I love doing. Thanks for following these ramblings about my journey and how it keeps evolving. May today you be able to find the blessings all around you.
Friday, February 2
6:58 PM Breaking News! An animal saw its shadow today, so I guess we're all stuck with six more weeks of winter. What is it about Groundhog Day that makes the news? I think it's because, if you're like me, we feel stuck in Winter and can't wait for it to be over with. Everywhere we look we see signs of death -- dried brown thickets, shriveled rose bushes, naked tree branches. Our weary eyes gaze steadily ahead, as if Spring can't arrive early enough. Everything in life can become a sort of wintry interlude. Even marriage is a death of sorts -- a launching out into deep and uncharted waters, with no escape clauses. Of course, in marriage there's also sunlight and flowers to go along with the gusts of wind and peals of thunder. It's often only after our marriages go through times of testing -- through a Winter if you will -- that we experience the wondrous beauty of the married state. Everything in life seems to go through this same dying-and-living-again cycle. The flower dies to produce fruit. The fruit dies to produce seed. The seed dies and then -- Springtime! Existence is a constant death-and-life cycle. Death is the mercy of God, though we struggle with that truth. "Can these bones live again?" "Can You please give me living water?" "Who will roll the stone away?" We add our own questions: Will I ever get over my grief? Why did You take my baby away from me? Will I ever overcome my loneliness? After Becky died, many people came to visit me. But no one person could be with me all of the time. I had entered the Winter of my soul. And yet today I can look back and see that God was doing a quiet work in my heart. My assignment was simply to keep on walking, one step at a time, left, right, left, right. This is what a cruciform life is all about. Only heaven will take away all of our tears and pain, but the possibility of heaven on earth, of Spring smack dab in the middle of Winter, remains, as the Risen Christ walks with us. Of course, the roads remain rugged, the precipices steep. But that's only because God requires of us perseverance, and it's in that perseverance that He plants the seed of His strength. Because of Becky's death, I've not only felt pain as never before, but I've also discovered the pain that God suffered for me. "Unfolding every hour;/The bud may have a bitter taste,/But sweet will be the flower" wrote William Cowper, an 18th century poet who suffered from severe mental illness. My plea, as we face the Winters of our own lives, is that we give the Divine Creator-Gardner a hearing, that we start with theology and not our circumstances, that we give the Word a first hearing, and a second and a third if need be. If we do this, our ability to endure the Winters of our lives will arise out of our life with Christ Jesus. We can't do this ourselves. He can, and He will enable us.
1:14 PM I love family!
7:45 AM Hey folks. Are there any comparisons between running a marathon and learning how to read New Testament Greek? Much, in every way.
1) Don't start anything without first examining your motives. It all begins with desire. I took Greek in college because it was required for graduation. I had no idea that I would fall in love with the language. I sort of stumbled into my career, if you will. Some of you may be like me. You were shocked when you took Greek, only to discover that you really love what you're doing. So make sure you're motivated or you'll never get past square one.
2) You need to plan and prepare. Because sooner or later it will happen. A 5K becomes routine. So does a 10K and even a half. You begin to think the unthinkable. A marathon? Am I really up to it? You can't simply go from a 5K to a marathon. A marathon is, by definition, a race that requires a training program. So it is with Greek. Are you ready to tackle a really difficult subject like Greek? Can you devote sufficient time each week for study? Have you carefully chosen your "trainer" and your "training program" -- that is, a teacher and a textbook? Not all textbooks are created equal. Teachers can be helpful but they can also get in the way. You can't be half-hearted with your planning and preparation.
3) You won't get anywhere without self-discipline. Nearly all of us find that running requires more effort than we ever thought possible. With Greek, it's easy to burn out after a couple of chapters. Some days you feel like you just can't go on. On those days the real test is not in your mind but in your soul. All you can do on those days is just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Both running and learning Greek will teach you something about yourself. Some days you're convinced that the world should make allowances for you. You want everything to be easy. You want all the traffic lights to be green. You want to be in the fastest line at the grocery store. But life doesn't always work that way. Being a runner often means going to the very edges of your ability and strength. Greek students find that small victories make all the difference in the world. You master one chapter and then the next one. You know that somewhere out there is a finish line. As you keep your eyes on the goal, somehow you're able to keep those arms pumping and legs churning.
4) Remember that you're not alone. The running community is just that -- a community of fellow runners of all sizes, shapes, and abilities who are more than willing to help you get to the finish line. In my Greek classes, students are encouraged to ask for personal tutoring if they feel they need it. Some students enjoy studying with a study partner. Having someone to share the load with you builds confidence. My story as a runner is largely a story about the people I've met along the way, people who have shared their joys with me, laughed with me, and tutored me. This is not just true of me but of everyone who runs. Even if you are studying Greek on your own, you can always reach out to the author of your textbook by email. Most Greek teachers I know would be more than happy to respond.
5) Finally, be aware of the risks. Simply having the desire to run a marathon doesn't guarantee that you'll be successful. Simply wanting to take Greek doesn't mean that you will finish the class or master the textbook. We are often "interrupted" by life. I remember when I was teaching Greek every Monday night in my local church. Becky was one of my best students. She was acing all the quizzes and exams. She had always wanted to take Greek with me and now was her chance. Then chemo kicked in and she became too weak to continue her studies. One thing I admired so much about Becky was that she never looked back at what might have been. When I first enrolled in Greek at Biola, I lasted exactly three weeks before dropping. Then I discovered that Moody Bible Institute had a Greek course that was taught on my level, and the rest, as they say, is history. If you've had a false start, that's okay. Take a break, then get back in line. If you see me running a marathon, you'll probably smile. Don't be surprised at the sight of my plodding style and persistence. And don't expect me to ever stop smiling.
I love what I do. I love my running life. I love my life as a Greek student. As slow and silly as I may look, I'm having the time of my life. Day by day, moment by moment, I'm adding to the mosaic of who I am and who I want to be. Every day I am closer to becoming the person my Creator wants me to be.
May God bless your journey!
Thursday, February 1
8:18 PM Tonight on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Garrett Graff, author of The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror. You can listen to her interview here.
The interview was an eye-opener. I had no idea that Mueller took over the reigns of the FBI just before the events of 9-11. Nor did I realize that he had led a platoon in Vietnam as a Marine officer and received the Purple Heart. I just ordered the book from Amazon. It should get here on Saturday.
I'll tell you one thing: I wouldn't want to mess with a man named Robert S. Mueller III.
6:28 PM What I'm reading ....
These are for next Tuesday's Greek 4 class as we cover 1 Thess. 1:6-10. Each essay speaks to how Paul and his missionary friends had influenced the Thessalonians. The paragraph has three colons and so makes three points:
The Second Coming is a doctrine we can stake our life on. One day we'll be face to face with Jesus. Between now and then, Jesus has entrusted us with an assignment. For three and a half years, He showed people what God looked like. Now it's our turn to do that. He asks us to serve for Him, love for Him, and speak for Him. The Thessalonians seemed to have excelled in doing all three. Now, as then, you and I are Jesus' heart and hands. Everything we do ought to mirror His character. If we're successful at this, people will recognize God in us and will want to know Him. If they fail to recognize Him, it's because we've failed to do our job.
"You imitated us and the Lord," writes Paul. Jesus has many imitators today, some good, others not so good. A celestial circus? Perhaps. The good news is that God can take every one of us common sinners and convey His message to the world through us. But we've got to be willing to turn from our idols. Go ahead and think for a moment about those people who've had the greatest impact of your life. What do you think of when you think of them? Imitation is serious business with God. Find someone who truly loves you for who you are, someone you can look up to, someone who imitates Christ (imperfectly, of course), and your life will never be the same. In a sense, Paul was in the business of making somebodies out of nobodies. In his eyes, there were no ordinary people, just people -- people like the Thessalonian believers who couldn't wait to share their newfound faith with their neighbors and friends. This is the challenge we each must face individually.
P.S. Korean bulgogi for supper. Sheba says, "It was great!"
10:42 AM On Monday one of our students from Korea and I enjoyed a wonderful meal together at the Seoul Garden Restaurant in Raleigh. Joseph is in my beginning Greek class.
Then on Tuesday, I discovered a Korean market in Cary and was finally able to purchase some much-sought-after items for my kitchen, including fresh Kimchi.
Korean food and I are old friends, stemming from all those trips I made to Korea when I lived in Southern California. Their idea of a meal is that it should be something to be enjoyed, something that will fuel the body, and something that is nourishing. To be honest, I could eat Korean food every day of the week. My ultimate goal is to learn how to cook it fresh. For the most part, I'm enjoying a healthy relationship with food these days. I feel thinner, look thinner, and can say that I've embraced the whole concept of healthy eating. I still love my puffed Cheetos and sodas, but you won't find me indulging myself in those cravings more than once or twice a month. I can't ever imagine going back to my fast food days. I know it sounds crazy, but it's a fact that you get fit in the gym but lose weight in the kitchen. I eat to live instead of live to eat now. I don't use my scales because I know that healthy eating and exercise will balance themselves out. My body is a temple and I want to fuel it right. I'm no doctor, but I mean, how hard is it to eat healthy? I advocate for this slippery slope and hope to encourage people to take up running as a great way to get into shape. But exercise will do nothing for us if we're eating junk food all the time. That being said, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I have all of this figured out. When I overeat or eat something that's really unhealthy, I can feel guilty about it. It's just a reminder that I need to keep on educating myself about diet and exercise. It's sort of like learning to read New Testament Greek: you just take it one chapter at a time, one lesson at a time, and try not to fall behind too much.
We all have unhealthy tendencies at times. What are you doing to overcome them?
8:48 AM Morning, blog. I just registered for the 7th annual Arctic 5K Trail Race this Saturday morning in Lynchburg, VA. The course is a single track trail intermixed with some forest roads.
I ran this 5K last year and I can tell you: it is brutal. Total elevation gain exceeds 450 feet.
Coming down isn't any easier, either, because you have to watch out for limbs and roots. Last year I placed 79 out of 127 runners. The next oldest racer was 56 years old. Most of the participants are college students attending nearby Liberty University. I have to admit that I've kinda lost interest in 5ks. Some people think they're too easy. I think they're too challenging. The temptation for me is to push myself too hard, whereas in any race longer than a 10K, I feel I can just be my (slow) self and take my time. My time last year was 42:51. The winner finished in 22:52, and the last place finisher's time was 1:06:46. This only confirms my semi-official status as a racer: a mid- to back-of-the-pack runner. Last year when I finished I was just glad I survived without stumbling over a root. It was a good race, a fun time, and I told myself I would definitely do it again if I felt up to it. At any rate, I think it will be a good prep run for next weekend's half in Alabama. Trail runs are cruel because they make you run, and run hard, the whole way. 3.1 miles is a long ways to race on a narrow track. And the result is what it is. You have no idea how well you'll do until you begin racing. As long I run inside of my comfort zone, I think I'll be okay.
So ... on to my first race of February. And to think -- a month ago today I was running the Allen Marathon in Texas. Wow. Life, moving at warp speed.
Wednesday, January 31
9:45 PM 12 days ago I was privileged and blessed to climb the NRocks Via Ferrata in Circleville, WV. It was a beautiful Saturday with sunshine and clear air. I wasn't sure what to expect, even though I had climbed one other Via Ferrata in Zermatt two summers ago. It was definitely going to be a new challenge. Along with my guide Matthew, we put on our helmets and climbing harnesses and hooked onto the safety cable with our carabiners. It doesn't take very long before you get into a routine: fix onto the steel cable, climb a little bit, and then transfer to the next section by rehooking. The route was mostly a vertical cliff. After I finished, my Garmin indicated an elevation gain of 2,327 feet. Climbing became increasingly more and more difficult. At times I found it very hard to find a good place to step or to stand while reattaching my carabiners. Every so often we paused for a brief water break. I'm so glad I brought 2 liters of water with me because the climb made me very thirsty. Mostly, though, it's all about concentration. Vertical rock climbing requires you to stay in the moment and not let your mind wander. Fortunately, I felt pretty strong the whole way and was thrilled when we finally made it to the top and began our descent down a mountain path. It sure was an adrenalin kick. I was glad I was able to take my GoPro camera with me, mounted on my climbing helmet. This climb is a "must do" for anyone who enjoys a challenge. By far the best part was climbing with an experienced mountain guide who kept me on track and never let me get discouraged. A Via Ferrata allows you to experience the mountains in a unique way. It takes a combination of strength and balance to make it to the amazing views at the top. But be forewarned: You use a completely different set of muscles than you do when running. It was days before my calves had fully recovered from the climb. The reward comes with confronting your fatigue and going to the edges of your abilities and experience. It's not like I climb because I have a special gift for this sport. For me, a great climb is one that I finish. A vertical rock face is not to be taken lightly. But with preparation, persistence, a little bit of courage, a good guide, and the Lord's help, you can cross that "finish line," which in this case meant returning safely to the HQ building. A fist bump -- and the experience of a lifetime was over. In any case, here's a GoPro YouTube I put together today should you like to make the climb with me.
Upward ho, ya'll!
Monday, January 29
6:32 AM Another great quote from Roland Allen (Spontaneous, pp. 53-54).
6:25 AM You can throw out your old bathroom scale now. Instead of just focusing on pounds, the new Shapa approaches your health in a more holistic way.
5:55 AM Good morning friends! I've been wide-eyed and bushy-tailed since 4:00, putting some last-minute touches on my classes for this week. In Greek 4, we talk about a lot more than Greek. In 1 Thess. 1:2-5, we find Paul's "method" (if you can call it that) of church planting. When the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul, it never intended their missionaries to set up a chain of institutions to be kept under the control of the sending church. Whatever churches were planted would be deeply rooted in their host countries. They would be "home grown" congregations, integrally identified with those people who would both lead and follow in those churches. As a church planter, Paul never intended to become the pastor of the work at Corinth or elsewhere. He facilitated the work of others who would be appointed by the Holy Spirit for leadership there. We make a very grave mistake, I believe, when we think expatriates such as Timothy and Titus were the "pastors" of the churches they were involved with in Ephesus or Crete. Their ministry, as Paul's personal representatives, was the selection and training of local responsible brothers to lead the work.
In all of this, Paul's servant attitude comes forcefully into play. He took as his model for ministry the kenosis pattern of Jesus Christ, a model of other-orientation and costly servanthood (Phil. 2:5-11). Paul consistently labored in the best interests of others rather than himself. Even as an apostle, Paul refused to arrogate to himself exclusive powers. He eagerly sought to train others who would carry on his pioneer ministry.
In Antioch, Barnabas and Saul worked side by side in discipling the church in the ways of Jesus. Little wonder that the church at Antioch, once it had been well established in the teachings of Jesus, had a burden for the nations. Barnabas and Saul went on to be commissioned by the church for the work of church planting. Within 10 years, Paul had gone on to plant churches in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. In all of these places, the perpetuation of the Gospel ministry was predicated upon members of the local congregations becoming leaders of the churches among them. Ministry training was accomplished through local training, not by sending church leaders away from their homes and communities. John Frame ("Proposals for a New North American Model," Missions and Theological Education in World Perspective, p. 377) proposes a "Christian Community where teachers, ministerial candidates and their families live together, eat together, work together" (p. 379). Today, forms of distance learning include seminars, guided self-study, internet chat rooms, Skype, and interactive video links via satellite to widely dispersed students, allowing them to study without interrupting and disrupting their customary lifestyle. My own Greek DVD series is being used all over the world to provide instruction in beginning Greek to pastors who otherwise would have no access to such training. Discipleship thus takes place in a living local church context. It is people-related rather than textbook- or professor-related.
When the church in the book of Acts became centralized in Jerusalem, God scattered it through persecution. Without decentralization, the church could not reach its maximum potential as a witnessing community. But scattered, the church preached wherever it went, carrying out the Great Commission. Within these scattered congregations, God provided leaders directly. In Acts we read, "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust" (Acts 14:23-24). Nationalization is an act of trust: trust in God to further His church on earth according to biblical principles, and trust in believers to whom the leadership of these local churches is to be entrusted.
By insisting on control (or leadership) of national institutions, as some missionary organizations seem to do today, expat missionaries belie their professed commitment to servanthood. The apostle Paul pioneered the local ministry model. It deserves emulating today. Wherever I travel, my goal is to come alongside the national churches, both leaders and led, and assist them to the best of my (limited) abilities. My approach is intentionally cooperative. I seek to take no leadership role. I am there to serve, not to be served. It is this true "partnership in the Gospel" (Phil. 1:5) that makes missionary service so rewarding for me.
So this is just a taste of what we'll be talking about in class this week. Great students = happy teacher!
Sunday, January 28
10:05 AM Markus Barth's classic commentary on Paul's letter to the Ephesians is well worth your hard-earned bucks. I'm blown away by the author's astuteness, brilliance even. His section on Eph. 4:11-13 deserves a reading by every Christian.
Let me try to summarize it for you. Remember, Markus Barth was no conservative evangelical. He wasn't a Southern Baptist. He was a professor in a Reformed university in Basel. Yet above all he was a biblicist. At some point, you and I are going to have to become the same thing. But to my summary:
1) Barth argues that Eph. 4:11-13 is a locus classicus on the church -- its order, origin, design, etc.
2) By separating "the equipping of the saints" and "the work of the ministry" by a comma (as in the KJV), we miss Paul's point completely. This leads to an aristocratic and ecclesiastical interpretation that falsely distinguishes between the mass of "saints" and the superior class of "clergy" who are distinct from them. In this view, laypeople are only the beneficiaries of the work of the ministry; they may benefit from it, but only official ministers can carry it out.
3) The ministries of verse 11 are given to the church so that God's people can become equipped to carry out works of service and thus allow the light of God's goodness to shine in a dark world. "All the saints (and among them, each saint) are enabled by the four or five types of servants enumerated in 4:11 to fulfill the ministry given to them, so that the whole church is taken into Christ's service and given missionary substance, purpose, and structure."
4) Barth thus challenges the prevailing "aristocratic-clerical and the triumphalistic-ecclesiastical" interpretation of 4:11-13. These interpretations are nothing less than "arbitrary distortions of the text."
5) There is, therefore, no biblical distinction between clergy and laity. "Rather, the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world." This means, among other things, that we can't reduce church members "to the rank of mere consumers of spiritual gifts," nor can we view the church as turned in on itself.
6) Each one of the saints is a recipient of grace from on High. They should also be dispensers of grace. Even the weakest members of the body are indispensable.
7) What, then, of the special call to "the" ministry? "There is but one calling or vocation valid in the church: the call of God into his kingdom."
8) This is not to undermine the necessity for special ministers. "Their place is not above but below the great number of saints who are not adorned by resounding titles. Every one of the special ministers is a servus servorum Dei [a servant of the servants of God]."
9) This means that the main ministry of the gathered church is mutual edification. "There are needy people inside the church -- and 'the lonely men at the top' may well belong among them."
10) As for honorific titles, Barth argues against their use. "Divers books of the NT show that all 'clerical' titles available from Israel's history and literature have been conferred upon Jesus Christ and comprehended in him."
I love Barth. I loved him when I sat in his lectures and seminars in Basel and I love him now. He never treated faith in an abstract, theoretical way.
Yes, the church needs specialized and gifted leaders. Paul says as much in our text. But the call of God to fulltime Christian service comes to every believer who has ears to hear. We are all "joints" in the body of Christ and connected to each other. We may therefore choose to either edify or ignore our calling. Will I abdicate my responsibility to the leaders or will I build up the body by building up this brother or that sister? The special ministers of the church may model equipping for us, but we can never delegate this work completely to them.
How to flesh this out? Perhaps we could begin with our church's marquee:
Name: Local Baptist Church
Senior Pastor: Jesus Christ
Ministers: Every Member
Assistants to the Ministers: [Your Elders' Names]
I know this looks radical, but that's what the church is supposed to look like. I think you'd have the most interesting church marquee in town. And the glory would all go to Jesus. And even non-believers might be curious enough to darken your doorsteps. And the kingdom of God would advance.
9:55 AM And another one (Roland Allen, The Case for Voluntary Clergy, p. 128):
This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Thess. 1:5: "You know exactly what kind of men we were when we lived among you, doing everything for your own good and not our own."
9:45 AM Here's a great quote from missionary Roland Allen (Spontaneous, p. 112):
Have you ever read anything truer?
8:15 AM In just two weeks my students and I will be discussing the so-called Synoptic Problem in our NT 1 class. I've summarized the leading "solutions" to this problem in a Power Point. Although I espouse Matthean priority, I feel it's my duty as a teacher to expose my students to the major views held by New Testament scholars today. Still, my dream is that my students might see the occasional nature of the documents we call "Gospels." Recently the journal New Testament Studies kindly allowed access to several of its online essays for free. I've been reading Graham Stanton's "The Fourfold Gospel" with great interest, since I'm a proponent of the "Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis." Stanton's essay, of course, assumes a commitment to the Markan Priority Hypothesis.
I appreciate Professor Stanton's tireless work in Gospel studies. As I've tried to show in my book, however, to understand how the fourfold Gospel got to us, one needs to forget virtually everything that has been previously accepted as fact about the Synoptic Problem. The Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis does not allow readers to acquire a new idea that can be applied to their existing solution to the problem. Simply put, students of the Gospels cannot hold to the traditional solution of Markan Priority and accept the concepts that are put forth in my Why Four Gospels? Here's why:
1) The Markan Priority Hypothesis -- which is the "affirmed" interpretation of history based almost exclusively on the internal evidence -- is fatally flawed when one takes into account the writings of the earliest Christian fathers. Regrettably, any theory of New Testament interpretation, once it is established, becomes nearly impossible to dislodge, even if new (and seemingly contradictory) evidence is produced. Any new interpretation of the events, if it is to be accepted, must be built around the old consensus even at the expense of logic. An example of this is the Farrer Hypothesis, which dispenses with "Q" while insisting on Markan Priority. Indeed, so embedded is the popular view in the public consciousness that it is nearly impossible to dismiss it. The story is "safe," and the matter is not really open to debate. In my opinion, New Testament scholarship has become so preoccupied with maintaining the status quo that it has neglected to explore the external evidence.
2) As noted above, the accepted version of the story focuses on the internal evidence. If, however, one were to seriously investigate the external evidence -- the evidence provided by the patristic testimony -- it would become evident that current explanations are incongruent and incompatible with the opinions of the fathers. Why, for example, did Clement of Alexandria insist that the Gospels "containing the genealogies" (i.e., Matthew and Luke) were written first? And why is Matthew always listed as the first Gospel? Why is Mark's Gospel consistently described not as an independent work of Mark but as a record of the words of the apostle Peter? In light of this evidence, it seems illogical to believe that our earliest Gospel was written by Mark, a non-eyewitness.
3) Ensconced deeply in the affirmed version is the notion that Mark contains inferior grammar to that found in Matthew and Luke. Some Markan priorists have even gone so far as to claim that Mark contains "errors" that were subsequently "corrected" by Matthew and Luke. Yet each of these supposed "errors" allows for a plausible alternative explanation that does not require Markan priority (as I have attempted to show here). If the New Testament student desires a complete understanding of the factors that led up to the writing of the Gospels, the internal evidence alone simply does not provide it. The external evidence keeps getting in the way of the affirmed version.
I can't help but ask: why are the fathers so adamant that Matthew came first? Why did Clement aver that Matthew and Luke came before Mark? Why do the fathers go to great lengths to show that Mark never set out to write a Gospel but simply recorded the words of Peter as they were spoken before his Roman audience? What has prevented proponents of the affirmed view from asking these vital questions? The answer, in my opinion, is that the consensus view is falsely shackled to a misguided preference for the internal evidence. In fact, as long as the patristic testimony is ignored, the internal evidence, which by its very nature is subjective, will continue to reign supreme. And as long as the traditional view is anchored in the minds of scholars, the solution will remind hidden.
So what is the simplest explanation of the facts -- all the facts? To discover that, one must be bold. The missing pieces of the puzzle must be included if we are to assemble the whole puzzle rather than leaving them out because they do not seem to fit. Taking the external evidence into account will have serious repercussions. The answer to the Synoptic Problem will remain incomplete until a central piece of the puzzle is in place.
6:14 AM So what are most of us doing today? Attending a "worship service." This way of thinking has been challenged by Vaughan Roberts in a delightful little book called True Worship.
Interested? Here's my summary.
Enjoy this day that the Lord has made!
Saturday, January 27
5:55 PM Since Karen and her new hubby live in Arlington (just outside of DC), we thought it would be fun to run the Four Courts Four Miler together on Saturday morning, March 10. If you survive the uphill climb to the finish, you're treated to a pint of beer (I'll pass, thank you) as well as live music and Irish dancers jigging to the tunes.
The other option was to run the DC Half Marathon that day but since I've got a full marathon in Raleigh the next weekend I thought that would be a wee bit too much, sure and begorrah. (Sorry for the English disguised as Gaelic there.)
5:02 PM Today Sheba took me for a long walk in the woods to check up on the work our forestry consultant has been doing as he prepares the pine/hardwood tree stands for harvesting.
This year I'm cutting around 85 acres.
Each will be replanted in fast-growing loblollies. What do you think of this amazing grapevine?
It's almost as big as the surrounding trees. It will be preserved from cutting, of course, since one day it will qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records. What I should have done today (and was hoping to do) is run 10 miles. Of course, it might have helped had I not killed myself at the gym yesterday. Anyway, I still have a week to get in my pre-half long run so I'm not too worried. With the flu season being as bad as it is this year, today I listened to my body and stayed home. One thing running does is help me live in the moment. I've stopped thinking about the races that eluded me in the past and the victories that may or may not be there for me in the future. There's plenty of reasons to concentrate on living this day. The only time I have is now, which is why I spent basically the whole afternoon on the front porch reading several books about 1 Thessalonians. The end result is that my body is feeling great but my mind feels like wilted lettuce. At least I got way ahead on my reading. Yay for that, I guess. I'm still waiting to be unwussed enough to climb another Via Ferrata, like this one in Quebec.
Or this one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Or this one in British Columbia.
I don't think you can beat this last one for pure awesomeness. Anyway, a vigorous training workout awaits me this week and I'm sure it will have me couched on my sofa before 9:00 pm. Now I'm off to tend to the animals one last time and make sure they're tucked in for the night.
10:08 AM One of the essays we're covering in next week's Greek 4 class is by W. Weiss and is called "Glaube -- Liebe -- Hoffnung. Zu der Trias bei Paulus" ("Faith -- Love -- Hope. On the Triad in Paul"). It's just plain beautiful how Paul uses the "rule of three" so often in 1 Thessalonians, beginning in 1:2-5:
Ferdinand Hahn, in his Theologie des Neuen Testaments, notes: "Glaube, Liebe und Hoffnung sind für ihn die entscheidenden Kennzeichen für das Christsein " (p. 307). We see this most clearly, of course, in 1 Cor. 13:13, where faith, hope, and love are prominent ideals for the Christian. In his essay, Weiss notes that the trio "faith, love, and hope" occurs elsewhere in Paul in 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:10; Eph. 1:3ff.15-18; Col. 1:4f.; and Heb. 10:22-24. I can't imagine that Weiss was ever a proponent of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, but his reference to Heb. 10:22-24 is a reminder that the number of parallels between Paul and Hebrews should give us pause before rejecting the Paulinity of Hebrews purely on the basis of the internal evidence.
Evidence like this, coupled with the external evidence drawn from the church fathers, is a challenge to the modern-day consensus opinio that Paul could not have been the author of a letter that always circulated among the Pauline Corpus in the early church. It would perhaps not be too sardonic to say that the external evidence is all too easily ignored in our day. Perhaps it's time for another lusty debate over the matter. And perhaps my own booklet on the subject will help in clarifying these issues. I'm a little chary about jettisoning the testimony of the early church fathers. Conversely, a look at the internal evidence shows that the contents of Hebrews are at least sui generis with that of the authentic Paulines.
Perhaps, above all, it's imperative that we are humble over such contentious issues.
Time for chores.
8:54 AM Sermon Audio is one of the best things to hit the internet. This morning I listened to messages in both French and German. Here's a German series I found on "The Marks of a Christian."
What are the indications in our lives that a seed has sprouted and a new life has truly begun? Here the speaker asks, "What are the marks of a Christian? What makes a Christian a Christian? What are the necessary signs of a true believer?" He points us, of course, to the Scriptures, which contain several several marks of a genuine follower of Jesus, including service (der Dienst).
A Christian is simply a servant of God. The first passage referenced, unsurprisingly, is 1 Thess. 1:9:
Christians serve God. This is how our faith becomes visible. As Spirit-filled Christians, we should be the world's greatest servants. Our love for God can be measured by the amount of time we serve others in His name and for His glory. This transformation from selfish people to selfless people occurs from the inside out. It's best seen not in a fish design on our automobiles but by the ways in which we love others. "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples," said Jesus (John 13:35). Francis Schaeffer called love for others the greatest mark of a Christian. (Read his book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century.) Christianity isn't for idlers and goof-offs -- a point Paul makes in both First and Second Thessalonians. The stories we read in the Gospels often pertain to the ways in which our Lord served others. Serving was indeed "serious business" with Christ. And if we're filled with His Spirit, we ought also to be in the business of serving others.
How has your understanding of service changed through the years? As radically as mine has? For years, "missions" for me was placing an offering in the collection plate to support all those "missionaries" out there. Trouble is, there's a big difference between supporting missions and becoming a missionary yourself. Take some time to develop a list of the 10 biggest obstacles that hold you back from living a life of service. Write them down, and then ask God to help you whittle them down. Every genuine born-again Christian is a missionary. We are, every one of us, in "fulltime Christian service" to God and others. That's why Paul said his life was an example to us (1 Thess. 1:6). By following that example and being faithful to that pattern, others are bound to see Christ in us.
I once wrote a little book called Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? On the last page is a place you can sign your life away on the dotted line. Email me at email@example.com if you'd like a copy. I am absolutely sure that the person you'd swap your life for is worth it.
7:20 AM Good Saturday morning, readers! Next Tuesday in Greek 4, we'll be discussing 1 Thess. 1:2-5. This paragraph underlines Paul's entire approach to missions. When the lost are confronted squarely with what Christ has done for them, a response can be expected. Paul therefore sees the evangelistic preaching of the "word" as fundamentally tied to a subsequent changed life on the part of the receiver. He was certainly not afraid to mention the consequences of God's election. We tend to view election as something in the past. Paul, however, is not afraid to point out the present evidence of a past election. An attitude of humble obedience, selfless sacrifice, and unshakable hope characterize both church and evangelist when they are at their best.
This colon (which is one long sentence in Greek) can be outlined as follows.
The main independent finite verb "We give thanks" is modified by three participial extensions:
Mention of Paul's prayer for his readers leads him to draw the veil aside for a moment on the threefold evidence of their conversation. We have to realize that without fruit there is probably little or no root. In the case of the Thessalonian believers, they were known for three things:
These are but a few of the ways we cooperate with a God who shines into our hearts against a god who blinds our minds (2 Cor. 4:4-6). They are ways by which we "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). They are part and parcel of the "good works" that God foreordained that His sons and daughters "should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
The Thessalonians' fruitfulness is matched only by the missionaries' commitment. Paul and his fellow preachers were resolved to preach not only the word. Coming to Christ involved far more than the intellect. Preaching must also include power, the Holy Spirit, and complete conviction of its truth. As a Greek teacher, this is an important reminder to me that the classroom must do more than disseminate information. I think we can safely assume that an effective classroom teacher will also be known for his or her passion. Good Bible teachers are utterly and irrevocably convinced that what they are teaching has the potential to unlock the door to a lifetime of Scripture study and growth in grace. So Paul goes on to consider how the Gospel came to the Thessalonians. He hopes that they will see from his own earnestness that the Gospel is a vital matter of spiritual life and death. If we are to have an effective Gospel ministry, we have to come to terms with the spiritual battle raging all around us. A satanic force is utterly opposed to the Gospel and will do whatever it can to hinder its spread at every turn. How dare, then, we think that we can come "with word only" when the opposition is so stark? Paul saw himself as deeply imbued with power from on High. His endurance of suffering was the result of a constant inner strength supplied by the Holy Spirit. He knew his message was true, and so he saw himself as an ambassador for Christ. Paul was "gripped" with his message, as the original of Acts 18:5 puts it. Once we find Christ, we simply have to tell others.
It's obviously possibly to take Paul's teaching here too far and make works a requirement for salvation. This will not do. "He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal" (Rom. 2:28-29). Works never saved anyone. Nevertheless, faith and works belong together in the purpose of God. They jointly form "the Way" of Jesus. We are heading for trouble when we confuse decisions with discipleship. Salvation means justification, but it also means sanctification. They stand or fall together.
So here is what I see when I read a passage like 1 Thess. 1:2-5. I see a church -- a bride if you will -- that is loved and beautiful. She is laughing at her troubles. She is shaking off the apathy of her former life and throwing open the doors of service to others, service that requires a brimful of sweat. She is secure in the love of her Savior. And therefore, she loves.
Could these Thessalonian believers have loved unless they were first loved? Could they have learned how to live sacrificially had not Paul sacrificially brought the Good News to them with power, the Holy Spirit, and complete conviction of its truth? Someday I hope to become an evangelist like Paul and Silas and Timothy. Friend, we can experience this bonfire today. We -- you and I -- can post a few signs in the direction of the kingdom, weak though we are. The kingdom of God won't be established through our own efforts, including taking a class on 1 Thessalonians. The kingdom of God shows up when we experience God's love and then love each other well. The kingdom of God is in the check we send for disaster relief. It's in opening our homes to strangers. It's in making space for the outcasts. Paul is clear on this: the kingdom of God starts in our own hearts and lives. God may call you (as He did Paul) to lead the charge. Or He may use you in ways that will never be acknowledged until you get to glory. He leads, and we follow. It's as simple as that. From God's point of view, what matters is not only that we receive His Holy Spirit, but that we experience the presence and power of the Spirit moment by moment and day by day. To waste away one's life while claiming to have been saved is sheer presumption. There's a far better way, and it's the one Paul is showing us here. Praise be to God.
Friday, January 26
5:50 PM Nate and Jess were here just now getting some more hay. Which means I got to see "THE BOYS" -- all 5 of them.
Love my grandkids. In exactly two weeks I'll get to see the Glasses and their five kiddos in Birmingham. "In awful and surprising truth," wrote Lewis in The Problem of Pain, "we are objects of His love. You asked for a loving God; you have one...." (p. 35). God has given me the gift of widowerhood, but I am never alone, praise be.
12:45 PM I got a decent run in today at a 5.2 mile per hour pace.
I didn't do the 10 miles I was hoping to but I'll make up for it tomorrow, I promise. Before the run I spent an hour at the Y working on curls and other upper body strengthening exercises, since Mont Blanc promises to be pretty brutal on its more vertical sections.
At the Y, I ran into a former student of mine who now pastors a nearby congregation. That was pretty cool, though I will admit that it's definitely NOT possible to get a good workout when you're talking shop the whole time. Before I worked out I helped Nate load his trailer for a hay delivery.
It was cold out there. The cold air never fails to clear my mind.
Check out this barn that we built from scratch about 15 years ago.
I think our only expenses were the nails since we are the ultimate scroungers. I'll leave you with one last picture: Sheba and me on the front porch early this morning.
I was sipping coffee and getting caught up my reading while she was carefully guarding her territory. I won't go into any details, but I find the indoors so boring.
P.S. I just ordered my next pair of running shoes. New Balance 880s.
I love everything about these shoes, including the fact that they come in double wide and NEVER give me blisters (except when I'm running 26.2 miles on pure concrete the whole distance!).
6:55 AM In my NT class this Wednesday I showed the first few minutes of this video clip by Bart Ehrman, who insists that we can't just accept tradition about the Gospels but must think, use our brains, evaluate the evidence for ourselves.
He couldn't be more correct. But does the critical study of Scripture necessarily lead to skepticism about the historicity of the Gospels? I would answer that question with a resounding no. Ehrman's evangelical faith was undermined by critical scholarship. Mine was validated by it. In class on Wednesday, I mentioned this work by Mark Noll of Wheaton College.
In a sense, it's a history of evangelical scholarship in the last century. Noll shows how believing critics have dealt with critical issues in the Bible and how they have attempted to integrate higher-critical scholarship into their faith journey. This is a book that should be read by every evangelical even though it's dated. My goal in teaching NT 1 this semester is to help my students consider how they might contribute to evangelical scholarship and to suggest some steps going forward. Anti-intellectualism is unfortunately still prevalent in certain evangelical circles today. As genuine Christianity becomes just another worldview in American society, perhaps this generation of evangelicals has an opportunity. Many of my students are pursuing advanced degrees at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. They are concluding, as I did many years ago, that the dichotomy between faith and reason is a false one. As Noll points out in his book, it's no longer a question of faith or reason. It's a question of a reasonable faith versus a faithless reason. We should be seeking an appropriate and God-honoring synthesis of faith and reason, of Scripture and the natural sciences. "The emergence of a class of learned evangelical Bible scholars is a remarkable development of the last half century," writes Noll (p. 9). "The effects of that emergence in the evangelical community have been no less worthy of attention." In his conclusion, he writes: "If evangelical Bible scholars are to flourish, they must be wise as serpents with respect to the world of thought, [and] as innocent as doves with respect to the gospel" (p.197).
Frankly, I'm not sure that most younger evangelical scholars are nimble enough to do this. Still, the "life of the mind" is well worth pursuing. As Francis Schaeffer put it when a group of us students heard him lecture in Switzerland in the 1980s (I'm paraphrasing him), "When you become a Christian you don't have to put your brain in park or neutral. Christianity is a historical faith and requires no 'leap of faith' to claim that the Gospels are historically trustworthy." As an evangelical who, like Bart Ehrman, was trained in a fundamentalist college and then went on to study in a secular university, there is much in this perspective that I agree with. Brothers and sisters, let's worship the Lord Christ not only with all of our hearts but with all of our minds.
Thursday, January 25
6:44 PM Gordon Fee's 1992 SBL paper "On Text and Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians" is outstanding.
We reviewed it briefly in our Greek 4 class on Tuesday night. Fee bemoans the fact "that contemporary English language commentaries evidence impoverishment regarding their textual questions-- except for the most notable issues -- thus leaving their users with an inadequate awareness of this dimension of the exegetical task" (p. 165). He urges the following (p. 168).
Fee is unhappy that so many discussions of textual variation seem to be limited to a brief citation from Metzger and that's that. I ran across an example of this very thing while reading through Keown's new commentary on Philippians today. On p. 95 he discusses the variant sunepiskopois ("fellow-overseers") versus episkopois ("overseers"). The former reading, he asserts, "can be rejected, as Paul elsewhere never calls himself or Timothy an [episkopos], and the variant is clearly a theologically or ecclesiastically motivated addition (Metzger, 544)." The arguments both pro et contra sunepiskopois seem to me to be rather inadequately presented. Metzger evidently believed that the reading was "theologically or ecclesiastically motivated." But why should I believe that? No reasons are stated. Fee's solution to such inadequate discussion of variant readings is twofold:
1) Use extensive footnotes in which variant readings can be discussed as completely as possible.
2) Incorporate a discussion of textual variation into the exposition itself.
Next week in my NT 2 class we're devoting the entire 3 hours to issues of New Testament textual criticism and the Gospels, and Fee's essay will be discussed in some detail. My greatest concern is not what goes on inside the halls of academia but about how pastors will teach on such important places of variation as John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20. Despite frequent denials, there appears to be considerable prejudice against incorporating questions of textual criticism into the exegetical process. I would prefer to see just the opposite: pastors and church teachers sufficiently demonstrating their capacity to handle the 2,000 or so major variant units in the New Testament with their audiences.
8:24 AM Yo, folks. I'm all set for the ETS Southwest regional meeting in Houston on March 2-3 -- flights, hotel, and car all reserved. Lord willing, I'll be reading a paper on Heb. 1:1-4. This week I'm going over in great detail a book sent to me (autographed, no less) by a friend of mine, Walter Uebelacker.
He begins with a discussion of the "Rätsel" (riddle) of the epistle to the Hebrews, including its literary character and the various approaches to its structure and theme. In Part 2 he lays the groundwork for later chapters through a thorough analysis of "Strukturale Textsemantik," especially the approach popularized by J. A. Greimas. Part 3 is his analysis of 1:1-4 "als Exordium im rhetorischen Sinne." The final two chapters treat 1:5-2:18 "als theologisches und paränetisches Fundament (chapter 4) and "Der Abschluss des Hebräerbrief als Rückblick" (chapter 5). The concern of my paper is to show how the author (Paul, in my opinion) emphasizes the place of the Old Testament in the establishment of the New Covenant (Jer. 31; Heb. 8). No doubt I'll carry over many of Walter's suggestions into my Power Point presentation in Houston. The opening paragraph of Hebrews shapes our understanding of the entire book. The person of Jesus Christ has always been the most compelling argument for our churches to live according to the New Covenant, in which fraternal instruction comes to the fore, instead of a top-down "priesthood-type" of leadership model.
Meanwhile, I find myself writing regularly on the discourse structure of 1 Thessalonians, and it you'd like to follow along you can go to a Power Point that my able assistant has been updating on a weekly basis. Also this week, I plan to delve into two works I just received.
I plan on spending about two hours in my NT 1 class this semester discussing marriage, divorce, and remarriage -- adding into the mix, of course, a lengthy word about singleness and celibacy. As for this new commentary on Philippians, I've already perused the first volume and I frankly came away a bit disappointed.
The author believes that the letter has no overriding theme but instead pursues 9 "key elements" that are "threaded through each section of the letter" (pp. 80-81):
Part of the effectiveness of discourse analysis is the meticulous care devoted to recovering a text's linguistic "macrostructure" or overall theme. I would prefer to see an outline that reflects this concern. But obviously these observations are premature. I may or may not publish a complete review of this work later, once I've had a chance to digest its contents.
Today I need to do farm chores, clean the kitchen, do my banking, go to the Post Office, do some lifting at the Y, and then meet with a forestry consultant. And take Sheba for a long walk, of course. It's gorgeous out there. There are a hundred good reasons to get outdoors today if you can.
Wednesday, January 24
7:04 PM Life goes through various periods, but occasionally you encounter an exclamation point. I had such an "exclamation point" moment today. When I got back to the farm, guess what was waiting for me in my mailbox? Not one, but two translations. On the left is the Russian edition of The Myth of Adolescence. On the right is Learn to Read New Testament Greek in Mandarin. The first was published in Ukraine; the second in Shanghai.
Both books look fantastic.
My sincere thanks to all who worked so tirelessly to make these translations possible. I've been privileged to have been given the gift of 42 years, no less, in a Christian writing ministry. I have found every step to be an exciting adventure of faith. And now to see two more translations of my books appear in public leaves me speechless. As we discussed in our New Testament class today, evangelism is no good without proper follow up. May our God be pleased to use these translations to provide something nurturing for Christians. The only thing that could match my joy at receiving these books was the sunset I witnessed on my drive home.
Loving God, it's hard for me to put into words what I'm feeling right now. Even as I grow older, You grant me something useful to do. As the years come and go, I do not wish to find a fountain of youth. What I pray is that I may stay vital and creative as long as I last. For those friends who made these translations possible, I give You thanks, dearest Lord. In the communion of saints, they will always live on in my heart, even though I may never see them again in the flesh. Help me, dear God, to be like the widow in the Gospels, who gave everything she had for the sake of the kingdom. And help us all to realize that the life of the mind is the service of God, and that we learn and grow as long as we live. Amen.
Peace and love to you on your journeys, my friends.
Monday, January 22
9:02 AM Auf "Los" geht's los! That's right. Tomorrow night at 6:30 we begin our study of 1 Thessalonians. Sheba and I were on the front porch this morning listening to some audio files of 1 Thessalonians in German. (Sheba is bilingual.) When we got to 3:10, I said "Bingo!" (Das ist es!) Here's 3:10 in German:
And here's the same verse in a different translation:
I can't explain my excitement when I heard the words "etwas fehlt" and "etwas mangelt." Now let's be clear. Paul has a lot of good things to say about the Thessalonian congregation. Lots. However, there's more to the story than that. Thanks to chapters 4-5, we realize that there were several things "lacking" in their faith. Just like in our own lives. Let's be honest. If it were not for the intervention of God in our lives, we'd all probably end up on Jerry Springer. In many, many ways, I am really immature in my faith. My closeness with God suffers not for lack of desire but for lack of commitment. But God is teaching me slowly to walk humbly as He continues to train me for acting justly and loving mercy. The thing I really love about the apostle Paul is that he was never content with the level of spirituality to which he had attained. Ditto for his followers. "I don't have to tell you how to love one another," he says in 4:9-12. "You've been taught by God Himself how to do that. But guess what? It's possible for a church love too much. Your love can become mere sentimentally if you're not really careful. Just look at yourselves -- you're allowing people to mooch off of the charity of the church. Can't do that. Tell these bothers and sisters to, well, get back to work."
So when I say that 3:10 holds a vital key to the interpretation of 1 Thessalonians, what I mean is that this verse is the pivot point, the hinge upon which all else rests. The community can't tolerate certain behaviors. We all need to do some growing up. Thankfully, we can be patient with each other while God works on our transformation. Paul is saying to this church, "I love you. In fact, I love you so much I'm not going to allow you to become complacent and apathetic." Call it tough love if you will. But it's love just the same.
6:58 AM This is Sheba last night. Her eyes are telling me, "I see you have muffins. I have no muffins. Everybody needs muffins, right?"
Here's the back story. Last night while I was fixing my meals for the week, I decided to bake some muffins for my breakfasts but I just couldn't muster up the energy to do it. My climb on Saturday really did a number on me. I texted one of my daughters, "I want to cook muffins tonight but I'm too tired." To another I wrote, "Since last May I've done 7 marathons, but what I did on Saturday was harder than all 7 of those races combined." So I sat down to read a book. Then I saw Sheba's eyes. Shelties are unique doggies, or at least I think so. They're very smart and always need to have their minds and bodies occupied. They're also hyper-sensitive to the moods of their owners. They sense when we are happy or sad, tired or energetic. Once you have a Sheltie, they become your closest companion. Their middle name is loyalty, and they will run around with you all day. I'm pretty sure that Sheba has understood every word I've ever said to her. So here I am, "dog" tired, watching Sheba melt my heart. She was like, "Daddy, you always bake muffins on Sunday night, remember?" If you've never owned a Sheltie, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. But every Sheltie owner understands. Our dogs are so cute it's almost criminal. So off I went with my little buddy to bake "our" muffins.
If you want to see something cute, watch the expression on the face of a Sheltie who's munching on a freshly baked muffin. Sheba's the first thing to put a smile on my face every morning. She loves to bark when she sees me, as if she were saying, "Good morning, Daddy! It's a beautiful day!" Shelties crave interaction with their owners. Wherever I go, it seems that Sheba is always talking to me. When I'm about to take her out for a walk on the farm, I simply start putting on my jacket and she immediately knows -- "It's walk time!" Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark. And how she can tell when I'm about to feed her a cookie that's hidden in my jacket pocket -- I'll never be able to figure that one out.
Most of us, I suppose, have sensed great solitude upon losing a loved one or saying goodbye when a child moves out of the house. The world offers poor substitutes for loneliness. It was the love of God that brought Adam's companion into being, a refuge for his lonesomeness. To Becky I owe a deep consciousness of God as my Provider. Now, in her absence, He still provides for those who are alone. He teaches the widower to see, hear, smell, feel, taste, and perhaps even bake muffins, and if He also gives you a furry companion to "help" you bake them, so much the better. Sometimes we see God's tenderness in the most unexpected places, even in the smile of a pet.
Sunday, January 21
4:08 PM Photo update:
1) Today I finished reading Heinrich Baltensweiler's classis essay on 1 Thess. 4:3-8, in which he argues that Paul's topic is not immorality in general but the custom of obtaining a divorce so that a male relative might marry a daughter who inherits her father's property when the latter has no surviving sons.
I took classes, by the way, under Professor Baltensweiler when I was a student in Basel in the early 80s. He was a wonderful lecturer and the second reader on my dissertation.
2) The latest issue of JETS arrived last week.
Gregory Goswell, in his essay "Authorship and Anonymity in the New Testament Writings," argues generally that "The attribution of authorship to a biblical book is hermeneutically relevant" (p. 748) and specifically that "Timothy is a link between Paul and the author of Hebrews" (p. 748).
3) This book was sitting on my bookshelf. Glad I dusted it off.
The author suggests that John Buford and his cavalry might well be considered the heroes of Gettysburg by putting up a successful defense against all odds and holding the high ground on Cemetery Ridge until the Union infantry arrived, thus forcing Lee into offensive action against a well-fortified enemy.
4) John 1:1-5 contains so many interesting questions of exegesis that it's impossible to know where to stop listing them. Why in the Greek is there no "the" before "beginning"? Why does the Greek say, "And the Word was with the God"? Why is theos in the third clause anarthrous (without a Greek article)? Indeed, what does the word "word" mean in this context anyway? And then there's the threefold repetition of the Greek verb en-- "was." People often assume that this verb (the most common word for "being" in the New Testament) means the same thing in all three instances. I assumed as much as well until I happened upon this Spanish rendering. Here the same Greek verb is rendered by "existía," "estaba," and "era." Fascinating!
5) Finally, folks, I think I've found the perfect waist pack for my summer running.
Time to cook my meals for the week. My first class kicks off tomorrow night at 6:30!
7:42 AM Hey folks! Here are some random reflections on my climb yesterday in West Virginia.
1) Friday dawned cold but clear. The farm had just gotten 8 inches of snow, but thankfully I had little trouble getting to the road from my house.
2) My goal was to arrive at my hotel in Harrisonburg at 3:00 pm. The roads in southern Virginia were good. I encountered very little traffic, though in Charlotte County I did see this Amish buggy.
3) Yesterday morning I was up at 5:00, had breakfast, and then headed to Circleville, WV for my climb. I arrived right on time for my 9:00 am appointment. Here's the HQ building for NRocks.
As you know, my goal was to climb their famous Via Ferrata. "Via Ferrata" is Italian for "Iron Road." It's a climbing route where you're secured to the rock face by a cable and iron rungs in the steepest sections. It's a method of climbing that's been around in Europe for centuries. This may well be the ultimate activity for people wanting to challenge themselves in a safe environment. You constantly have to clip yourself into the cable by means of two carabiners. The internal locking system makes it virtually impossible to clip out of both at the same time. The course is easy to follow and allows you to tackle otherwise impassible cliffs and ledges, with effort, of course.
4) The Via Ferratas in the States are usually climbed during the summer months. I wanted to go earlier in the year to avoid the crowds. Here's my guide Matthew.
When I took this selfie he said, "Let's look serious." Actually, Matt's a very cheerful and humorous guy. There are hundreds of free Via Ferrata in Europe, and none of them require a guide. Here in the States it's different. Most if not all of the Via Ferratas in the U.S. are commercial operations where the land is privately owned. They all require you to be guided. I just happened to come on a day when no one else was climbing, so I had a guide all to myself.
5) Most Via Ferratas, whether here or in Europe, have only one set route that takes you from start to finish. Some of them, however, offer escape routes at various points along the course. This was the case with the NRocks course. Every so often Matt would turn to me and ask, "There's an exit here. Do you want to go back or keep on going?" I think he's required to say that to all of his clients.
6) There were basically three sections on this particular Via Ferrata. They seemed to increase in difficulty -- or maybe I was just getting more tired the farther we went. Look precarious at all?
When I climbed the Via Ferrata in Zermatt two summers ago, the route had three levels of difficulty, from A to C. When we completed Part B, my guide Walter asked me if I wanted to keep on going. He told me that Part C was very steep and rocky and that you needed to be in excellent condition to do it. Progress is possible only by very small steps and slab climbing. I told him I didn't come all this way to stop now, and by the grace of God I was able to finish that portion of the climb. It took me about 6 hours to climb only 1,800 vertical feet, but having the right guide definitely played an important role in me being able to persevere.
7) Likewise, during yesterday's climb Matt was always coaching me, advising me where to place my feet, and just generally being a great encouragement. For him, safety was the end-all and be-all of the climb. On a Via Ferrata you have to go carefully and constantly and avoid rock slides at all costs.
8) By far my favorite part of the climb was the cable bridge that crosses a 200-foot high gorge. According to Matt, it's here that a good many climbers say "I'm done" and avail themselves of the nearby escape route. Matthew, of course, scrambled across in no time.
9) It took me considerably longer to get from one end of the bridge to the other. To say I was frightened would be an understatement, but I never felt terrified to the point that I couldn't proceed. I mean, once you get on a bridge like this, you have no option but to continue.
10) Finally we reached the summit, where I was able to take this panoramic photo.
The joy of summiting a mountain for the first time is indescribable. I think I pushed the limits a little bit by insisting on making it to the top, and my legs are definitely hurting today. But it was totally worth the effort to be able to see the Eastern Continental Divide. So much of life is like mountaineering. Ingrid Bergman once said, "Getting old is like climbing a mountain. You get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!" C. K. Chesterton once quipped, "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." Finally, Nelson Mandela's wise words come to mind: "After climbing a great hill, one finds that there are only many more hills to climb." Now you know why I like to climb.
11) When Matthew and I arrived back at HQ, I texted the family to let them know I was okay and sent along a few pics. One of my daughters texted me, "My arms are hurting just looking at you. What a wild ride!" I replied, "2,327 vertical feet. No wonder your arms are hurting!!!" It took me almost 4 hours to hike a distance of only 3.36 miles. That means my climbing pace was less than one minute per mile. I laughed out loud when I saw that stat. It's a new record for me for sure. :-)
If you're ever in West Virginia, why not give the Via Ferrata a try? Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones is a great excuse not only for exercise but also for personal growth. Taking that first step is the hardest part. But that's life, right?
Thanks for visiting,
Friday, January 19
6:45 AM In our Greek 3 class last semester, I emphasized that the theme of Philippians -- its rhetorical "macrostructure" if you will -- is "Unity in the Cause of the Gospel." But what is the theme of 1 Thessalonians? The letter as a whole has an opening (1:1), a body (1:2-5:24), and a closing (5:25-28). The body can be divided into two parts:
The letter moves from personal thoughts to practical instructions. The theme of Part 1 is goodwill and thanksgiving. It contains multiple expressions of Paul's love and concern for his readers. In Part 2, the focus shifts from encouragement and commendation to exhortation and correction. If Part 1 has a predominantly approbatory function, Part 2 has a predominantly admonitory function. Here the major text-sequences all deal with growth in the Christian life. But what was the precise rhetorical exigence that led Paul to write the letter in the first place? It can only have been the topic reflected specifically in 4:13-5:11 and in the entire letter generally: the serious potential for the Thessalonian believers to question not only the sincerity of Paul's preaching but even the reliability of the Gospel itself. In light of this, it's perfectly understandable why Paul would spend so much time in Part 1 defending his integrity and in Part 2 defending the need for eschatological suffering. Doubt over the eschatological status of those who had died (quite possible due to persecution) only led to questions about the eschatological status of those who remained. The letter therefore has an apologetic function. I consider it to be perhaps the clearest rationale for Christian suffering in the whole of the New Testament (see 3:3). But while suffering is to be expected, it's a mere precursor of the messianic banquet, the marriage supper of the Lamb with His bride, the time when we the church will be united with Him in joy forever. Little wonder the earliest believers cried out to Jesus, their only hope in this life,
"O Lord, come!!"
It is to this suffering yet exemplary congregation that Paul writes 1 Thessalonians. In teaching this book in Greek 4, I want to stimulate my students to examine for themselves this remarkable record of the relations between the world's greatest church planter and one of the most beloved congregations he founded and cared for. Suffering is the rule, not the exception, of Christian living, insists the apostle. This is a lesson Paul himself learned painfully and reluctantly through his missionary journeys. This is why he never complains about his sufferings but considers them a badge of honor and the greatest proof of his apostolic authority. As always, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. We ourselves are likely to learn the deep truths of Christianity only through suffering. If you haven't yet had a "severe mercy" (C. S. Lewis) in your life, cheer up. You will. Our extremity is God's opportunity. As the Thessalonians will be reminded again and again, suffering teaches us Christlikeness perhaps better than any thing else in life. As Paul puts it in 2 Cor. 4:10-12: "We always carry in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we are alive we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. The result is that death is at work in us, but life in you." If suffering is inevitable, it is also invaluable. This view of pain is rather uncommon in some of our churches. I certainly wasn't taught it growing up in Hawaii. But the fact is that we all live between the first and second comings of Christ. This world passes away, and so do our lives. This consideration must influence our behavior. It did Paul's. In Philippians he says he's turned all his assets and liabilities over to Christ. He found peace in the midst of trial and strength in the midst of weakness. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is no less adamant that the Christian life is not necessarily one of wealth and ease. There is nothing triumphalistic about a truly New Testament church, regardless of its polity or denomination. Like our Master, who was killed, we are not concerned with glory. Instead, we are concerned about submitting to suffering, just as He did. People will not be drawn to Christ through our arrogance and pride. We have no right to preach the Gospel if we do not reflect the death of Christ in our individual and congregational lives.
Brothers and sisters, as we go through the book of 1 Thessalonians this semester, I want to invite you to join us. If you know Greek, you can follow along in that language. If you have a favorite English Bible version, use a different one for the sake of variety. There are many advantages in studying the Bible using as many different English versions as possible. 1 Thessalonians has an enormous amount to say to our contemporary situation. It's theme is "Suffering for the Sake of The Gospel." In short, this letter was written for us. Open its pages and be transformed from the inside out.
5:55 AM On this day in history ....
That's right, the roads are plowed, the weather has turned warm(er), and the sun is shining brightly. Yesterday I was able to clear enough snow from the driveway to get my car to the road, so I think we're good to go today. I'll spend the night in Harrisonburg then wend my way over the mountains to Circleville, WV for tomorrow's rock-face climb.
My GoPro is charged and ready. My strength is up. Hopefully, the climb will be a rousing success. You never know how you'll do until you get on the mountain. While basically meaningless in the grand scheme of things, these little adventures of mine keep me active and excited about life. I have to admit to a strong case of Wanderlust in my soul. The older I get, the less active I'll become, so it makes sense to have as much fun as you can while you can. "Fun" meaning doing things that are both incredibly stressful and exhilarating. I can say that I'm just a little bit antsy to find out what I'm made of tomorrow.
Thursday, January 18
9:38 AM You know you're getting old when you mention "Earle Ellis" and your students go, "Who?" Edward Earle Ellis served for many years at my sister seminary, SWBTS, as Research Professor of Theology.
He was born in 1926 and went home to heaven on March 2, 2010. I didn't know him well but I considered him a dear colleague. When I was praying about studying overseas for my doctorate, Ellis (and a few others) were my inspiration to take the plunge (his Ph.D. was from Edinburgh). When I was in seminary, his books Paul's Use of the Old Testament and Paul and His Recent Interpreters were required reading. He also founded the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), a society I once belonged to before it became too much for me to belong to ETS, SBL, IBR, and SNTS, all at the same time.
This morning I read (and took copious notes on) Ellis's essay in New Testament Studies called "Paul and His Co-Workers." Although I've never served in the role of local church elder (1 Tim. 3:1 simply doesn't apply to me), I've always felt that leadership is essential to the vitality of a local congregation, if only because most of us who are not in leadership rarely rise above the quality of our leaders. Leaders can create a lot of problems. This happened in Corinth and the church to which 3 John was written. Sometimes leaders attempt to impose their will on the congregation, as if their authority lay in their "office" rather than in their example and teaching (Heb. 13:7). Sometimes "elder-led" churches are actually "elder-ruled." The opposite can also be true. We can wrongly minimize the importance of the leaders that God has put in our midst. Christian leadership is essential to healthy-functioning churches. Paul was such a leader, as were many of his friends and co-laborers. In this essay, Ellis explores in some detail those leadership qualities that seemed extraordinarily attractive to the apostle Paul. Here are a few Cliff Notes for your consideration:
1) Paul had no formal "disciples" (Greek: mathetai).
2) But he did have many associates.
3) When we combine Acts with the Pauline writings, some 100 names are associated with Paul's ministry.
4) Most of these are his colleagues and co-workers.
5) Some he identifies by their "titles" (Ellis uses quotation marks to indicate he's using the term loosely).
6) Three periods seem to be discernible in Paul's ministry and, concomitantly, in the work he did with his colleagues: The Antiochean Stage (Mark and Titus), the Second Missionary Journey (Timothy, Prisca, Aquila, Aristarchus, Luke, and Erastus), and his Mission Based in Rome (Demas, Tychicus, and Trophimus).
7) Nine of these co-workers remained in close association with Paul to the end of his life.
8) "In summary, the picture that emerges is that of a missionary with a large number of associates. Paul is scarcely ever found without companions" (p. 439).
9) The most common terms used by Paul to describe his associates (in descending frequency) are co-worker, brother, servant, and apostle.
10) The term co-worker (Greek: sunergos) mostly refers to Paul's fellow itinerant workers.
11) Paul uses "brothers" (Greek: adelphoi) fairly consistently to refer to "a relatively limited group of workers" (p. 447).
12) Paul and his colleagues eschewed titles of eminence such as "teacher" or "leader" even though were teachers and leaders. "With reference to their task they are the workers, the servants, the special messengers; with reference to one another they are the brothers" (p. 451).
13) Finally, Ellis suggests that "Paul's associates also may have had a literary role" in terms of assisting him with his writing projects (p. 452).
Dear church leaders: You are very special to us, your followers. We know your schedules are over-loaded. We know you're aware of the shift going on among millennials, who are less dependent on programming and also less dependent upon pastors for their spiritual growth. Perhaps Paul would ask, "Who are your colleagues? Your co-workers? The special 'brothers' with whom you form a team?" The danger of going it alone is a grave one in the modern church. Clearly, the plurals that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 3:5-6 stress that leadership includes cooperation to a very high degree. Solitary leadership in any church is bad for the leader and bad for the people. Our theology of leadership must reflect Jesus. We have one Teacher, and we are all brothers. To quote Ellis again (and please let this sink in) regarding church leaders:
No church has a Senior Pastor other than Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 5:4). Church leaders are "fellow elders" (1 Pet. 5:1). If we followed Paul's teaching and changed our title to "Servant Pastor," would that free us up at all -- free us up, perhaps, from our congregation's unrealistic expectations, from the heavy self-imposed burden we carry, from the danger of arrogance? The gift of discernment is essential for a leader (1 Cor. 2:15). Is humility a characteristic of most modern clergy? Do we rely more on our eloquence and degrees than on the Holy Spirit of God? Paul, a top rabbi from the University of Tarsus, is constantly receding into the group, constantly praising his co-workers and brothers, constantly stressing the importance of team effort. I don't think for a moment that Paul is denigrating his own authority as an apostle. But precisely because he was an apostle, it's all the more impressive to find him stressing the need for mutual ministry. A seminary degree or title has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Church leaders are regular church members who are vetted and then entrusted with spiritual discernment and leadership. We recognize them by their humility, their integrity, and their sense of personal responsibility before God to lead their people through Scripture and example.
Ellis deserves the final word, however. He notes how Paul, having established a local church, would appoint men into leadership roles. "For these workers ... charism doubtless preceded religious function" (p. 451).
Elders are workers and servants, for whom worldly titles and structures are subservient. I couldn't have said it better.
Blessings on y'all,
7:58 AM "Morning has broken...." Love the sunshine!
The big question is: Has VDOT plowed the tertiary roads yet? If not, I'll be stuck here for a while. Not to mention the long gravel driveway I have to negotiate to get to the road, and in a vehicle that rides very low to the ground. Once the primary roads are passable, crews work 12-hour shifts to clear the secondary roads. I'm afraid my neighborhood doesn't make that list. But they will get here eventually. Even after the sun has done its work, crews still work to push ice and slush off the roads. These guys and gals are amazing. A huge "Thank you!" to VDOT and their wonderful snow removal crews.
Wednesday, January 17
5:56 PM This post is dedicated to my good friend Kevin, who I think is enjoying the snow as much as I am!
5:44 PM While cooking supper this evening -- Korean bulgogi over rice -- I listened to All Things Considered as Mary Louise Kelly interviewed author Daniel Pink about his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. It's now at #148 at Amazon.
The author asks: How does the time of day affect our work and decision-making? Pink verbalized for me something I've always felt to be true intuitively. Our day can be divided into three basic phases: peak, trough, and rebound. The key is to align the task with the time. I do most of my best writing in the morning. I take a daily nap during my "trough" period. And then I do more work in the evening. He suggests that students take their exams in the morning, that you schedule your surgeries before the noon hour, etc.
I'm on board, generally speaking, with this way of thinking. When I send students home with a take-home exam (they usually have a week to work on it), I'm going to be more intentional about suggesting they take it in the morning. Here's another takeaway from the interview: "Most people think that amateurs take breaks and professionals never do. The opposite is true. Professionals take breaks and amateurs almost never do." It's important for me to schedule in rest times and not feel guilty for taking time off to let my body and mind recover. It's hard to believe that inactivity is a vital part of an active lifestyle but it is. I'm learning how to be as serious about rest as I am about working out. Especially after a hard race or the completion of a major writing project, the worst mistake I can make -- both physically and mentally -- is not giving myself time to recover.
I haven't purchased the book. But I'm grateful for the interview I heard. Its basic thesis rings true for me, and it might for you as well.
4:35 PM 6 hours later .... 5 inches of snow.
9:14 AM So the President is 1 pound short of being obese. So what's new. According to this report by the NIDDK, more than 2 in 3 American adults (70.2 percent) are considered to be either overweight or obese. Honestly, I've struggled with lack of exercise as much as anybody. I've said "Lord, Lord" without simply doing the will of my Father -- taking care of the body He's entrusted to me. The doctrine of surrendering our "bodies" as living sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1) is meaningless until it becomes more than words. As long as our lives are marked by unhealthy diets and apathy about physical exercise, no matter how we much claim to be obedient followers of Jesus we're only clanging cymbals. Thankfully, failure in this area is not a deal-breaker with God. It's never too late to start exercising. There are no secrets, no gimmicks. It's just you and your body becoming active. Some time ago I wrote an essay called Taking Care of Your Temple. It tells the story of how I put my dreams into action. It doesn't matter if you've been active for years or this is your first day to exercise ever. We need to spend less time talking about the problem and more time doing something about it. Let's stop deciding if we are going to get fit and start deciding when we are going to get fit. Millions of active Americans have gone before you. Each of them faced the same fears and anxieties that you're facing. And each has learned, as you will, the joy of exercise.
8:30 AM A gentle snow has begun falling in the Piedmont. Up to 6 inches is expected before the weather system moves out this afternoon.
This may put Friday's rock climbing plans in West Virginia on hold. We'll wait and see. Right now I'm going over my calendar for the next few months and making sure I'm well prepared for any eventualities. My next full marathon is in exactly 2 months. It will be a "local" race (anything in Raleigh I consider to be "local") and boasts of being Fast, Flat, and Fun. This will be my first attempt to run the Tobacco Road Marathon. The full marathon has 22 miles on the American Tobacco Trail -- a crushed gravel surface that is much more to my liking than the concrete I ran on 3 weeks ago in the New Years Double Marathon in Texas. The race usually sells out every year (the limit is 1,500 full marathon and 2,500 half marathon participants), so I made sure I registered early. The time limit is a very generous 7 hours. I plan to run with the 6:00 pace group. Also on my calendar is a concert I'm really looking forward to. It involves a return trip to the Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh for a performance called In the Mood, featuring big-band style music from the 40s. Here's a sampling of what I can expect.
(Think there are a few ballrooms stashed among those mansions in heaven?) I'm also finalizing plans to attend the Southwest Regional ETS meeting on March 2-3. When I saw that the meeting was going to be held at Southwestern Seminary, I immediately assumed the reference was to the Fort Worth campus, but it turns out I was wrong. The venue is actually Houston. While there I hope to get caught up with my good friends at HBU. Today I've got a stack of journal articles to leaf through, including an essay by B. Orchard called "Thessalonians and the Synoptic Gospels." Orchard argues that Paul had a copy of the scroll of Matthew with him when he wrote to the Thessalonians on his second missionary journey. "For in the Matthean and Pauline accounts [of the Parousia] we find the same Greek words used in the same way and in similar contexts" (p. 37). Matthew's Olivet Discourse provides the "only appropriate background" for understanding Paul's teaching on the Parousia, he claims. Ouch. This claim goes against everything proposed by the so-called Markan Priority Hypothesis and suggests that Matthew, not Mark, is our earliest written Gospel. Orchard, of course, went on to argue for Matthean priority in his later works. Interestingly, after years of study, I came to the same conclusion. Now the question is: What do the church fathers say?
So yes, the snow is falling and I may not be able to get out of the farm for a couple of days. Maybe I need the rest time here more than I need the strain of a difficult ascent. The Lord knows!
5:55 AM Gratitude:
I hope this will inspire you to make a list of your own.
Tuesday, January 16
4:02 PM I've got the rice cooking for supper and I've got a few minutes to spare, so what shall I blog about? Obviously you're tired of me blogging so much (and so humbly) about my publications, so let's try the subject of "hoarding" on for size. Hoarding? Yes. As in, "Why in the world did I keep my upright piano for so many years when I knew someone would play it a LOT more than I do?" Let's be honest. I said goodbye to my piano today for one reason. I didn't need it. A couple of weeks ago I went through my dresser drawers and closets, filling gignormous bags with the results of my consumerism. I mean, did I really need 12 pairs of running shoes? Well, I just did a quick recheck, and there's about 50 pounds of stuff I can still get rid of. Do I actually need all of these suits?
Or these dumbbells? (You never use them, Dave; you go to the gym, remember?)
Or why do I still have two pairs of climbing boots, one of which doesn't even fit me any more?
"When I was a child," to paraphrase Paul, "I used to spend like a child, on ME." The Paul of my imagination then added, "But when I became a grown-up, I visited Goodwill Industries and gave away half of it." Like you, I have an overabundance of things. You know that compulsion to have, have, have? Maybe we should stop being the packrats we are and literally carry the Gospel to others -- or, as in the case of my piano, hire someone else to carry it for you. And hey, if anyone needs a set of never-used copper pots and pans or an electric recliner that's never been used, I know this guy who lives in Southern Virginia....
9:22 AM Said goodbye to my piano today. One of my daughters will be putting it to very good use.
I prefer playing my clavinova anyway. "Without music, life would be a mistake" (Friedrich Nietzsche). Amen to that.
8:42 AM Take something away, and you're often better off for it. I stopped watching TV years ago. I get my news online. Even there I'm pretty selective since I try to avoid time-wasting and sophomoric sites. But every now and then I run across something so powerful I just have to press the pause button. An elder of a church in an ethnically-diverse part of the nation recently posted something about the race war that is ridiculously well-written. I've largely uninvited myself from the media party going on in our culture today. But sometimes you're forced to dig deep. Our social norms are changing before our very eyes. Some think it's for the better. I have my doubts. I rest in the knowledge that, ultimately, it's God who's moving the chess pieces around. That said, when a pastor with tons of street cred speaks out, maybe it's time to pay attention. He might just have a point. He speaks of the ethnic diversity in his congregation. (He himself is non-Anglo.) He is concerned about racial bias -- and racial barbs. About bigotry and animus. About the direction in which the immigration debate in our country is going. I realize the novelty of not linking to his essay, but my point here is not to quote what others are saying but to ask, "What are we thinking and doing about it?" You? Me? I am uptohere with books and online essays and videos about the culture war we Americans are facing. What I see lacking are faith communities that embrace the grave challenges of the Gospel. Happy exceptions do come along, however, and in that I rejoice. Every person has a voice. Speak out if that's how the Lord is leading you. But going public with your views isn't necessary to make a difference. Turns out I'm confronted with my own unconscious bias on a daily basis. I can either ignore it and hope it will vanish, or I can confront it head on. We live in a day when evangelical Christianity is being redefined. If we're not very careful, what started out as the turning of a blind eye can turn into a way of life. I wonder where we get our disregard of the immigrant? It's certainly not from the Gospel. If we truly follow Jesus, then someday we'll need to make the transition from advocate to neighbor. The Gospel brings us together, regardless of our race and national origin. I know this because I grew up as an ethnic minority. What if we tried to solve this problem together? Maybe the solution is right under our noses. Maybe we don't recognize justice because it's disguised as simple acts of other-kindness.
These thoughts burden me constantly. Trouble is, I can always make the problem someone else's. Listen lambs, when life becomes more about us than the marginalized, we have a problem. What is happening in American society today is a golden opportunity. This is our chance to become what we believe. This is a chance for us Americans to become who we know we are in our heart of hearts. We are better than bigotry. If not in the culture at large, then at the very least in the body of Christ.
6:58 AM According to my "definitive" (yes, that is a joke) 79-page introduction to textual criticism, there are about 2,000 significant textual variants in the New Testament. (Ehrman seems to think there are about 400,000; Wallace about 4,000.) A "significant" variant, in my humble opinion, is one that affects both translation and (therefore) interpretation. The most famous of these are treated in two books I've been privileged to edit:
I became interested in the subject in 1975, when I took a course in textual criticism from Dr. Harry Sturz of Biola University's Greek Department. Few teachers have made such a significant impact on my life. We read, we translated, we parsed, we collated. By the time I finished seminary I had fallen in love with the discipline and had even written my master's thesis on the famous textual variant in Eph. 1:1. I consider the art and science of textual criticism so important that I even included it as 1 of 10 steps in my book Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. The kindest thing you can do for your Greek students is to at least expose them to the usefulness of this discipline.
In 1 Thess. 2:7, we encounter what I would call a "first-class textual variant" or a "textual variant of the first order." Much has been written about it, including this essay I'm having my Greek 4 students read this semester.
What did Paul write here?
"But we became babies among you...."
"But we became gentle among you ...."
The article I cited above argues for the latter reading. Delobel, its author, considers the reading "babies" to be "almost a lectio impossibilis" -- an "impossible reading" (p. 131). Cut to my primer. There I argue that the most geographically widespread reading is most likely to be the original one. This tips the scales in favor of "babies" over "gentle." But is "babies" a nonsense reading, an impossibility? Depends on who you read. "Babies" is possibly due to the repetition of the final letter of the word that comes right before it in Greek (this process is called dittography, "writing twice"). Here's "babies" in Greek:
And here's NEPIOI combined with EGENETHEMEN ("We became"), the word that precedes it:
The question for exegetes is this: Should we read one "N" or two? If we read only one, then we end up with "gentle" (EPIOI). If we read two, then we have "babies" (NEPIOI). I would argue that we can't settle the case one way or the other on the basis of the internal evidence since the error could have gone in either direction. (If dittography can occur in manuscripts of the New Testament, so can haplography -- the inadvertent omission of a letter or letters in writing). The old story illustrates this well:
Atheist Teacher: GODISNOWHERE. (God is nowhere.)
Christian Student: GODISNOWHERE. (God is now here.)
What then do we make of the sudden shift of metaphors -- from "babies" to "nursing mother" -- in the very same breath? In his Textual Commentary (p.p. 629-630), Bruce Metzger notes that "though the shift of metaphor from that of babe to that of mother-nurse is admittedly a violent one, it is characteristically Pauline and no more startling than the sudden shift of metaphor in Ga. 4:19." Hmm. Sounds good to me. But hear this: I don't think God wants a war of words over this. On the other hand, don't underestimate the importance of being able to think intelligently about this subject.
How do I summarize a topic that is so vast? Back to that 79-page book I mentioned above. A major theme of my primer is that anybody can learn the rudiments of New Testament textual criticism. No Bible degree required. Even a guy with your typical Hawaiian laid-back-whatevah-attitude sees the value in this discipline. So grab yourself a copy of New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide and have at it. I promise you that all proceeds from the sale of the book will go directly to needy children.
Monday, January 15
10:15 AM It's 19 degrees.
Sheba and I have been on the porch enjoying the brilliant sunshine.
I've been listening to 1A on NPR. It's a very disturbing program about injustice but one I need to hear. I'll save my run for when the weather warms up.
8:45 AM As a kid growing up in Hawaii, I cut my eyeteeth on the old King James Version Bible. Even today, when I quote a verse of Scripture, the first rendering that comes to mind is the KJV. One such verse is 1 Thess. 5:19:
Most of us doth not speaketh this way anymore, so you'll find more colloquial renderings of this verse, such as:
1 Thessalonians has an enormous amount to say to our contemporary church situation, not least in the area of Christian living. That's one of the reasons I chose it as the focus of our Greek 4 class. The way in which Paul handles the "stifling of the Spirit" in Thessalonica has a curiously modern ring to it. Here I think of books like Strange Fire and its response Strangers to Fire. Both of these books call us to reexamine some longstanding assumptions about church life and the role of the Spirit in our daily lives. I want my students to examine for themselves the role that charismatic Christianity plays in today's world. Hopefully we won't duck out of the more controversial issues Paul seems to be dealing with in 1 Thessalonians 5. We are far too prone to view the Holy Spirit as a doctrine to be discussed. Alas, He is far more than that. We need constantly, as Paul reminds us in 1 Thess. 5:19, to examine ourselves and check up on our relationship with the Spirit, otherwise for all our preaching and teaching we ourselves might prove to be reprobates. It if could happen in Thessalonica, it can happen in Raleigh and Roxboro and in your hometown. The one lesson from 1 Thessalonians we must all take away is that the Christian life is one of suffering. Holy Spirit power is not always displayed in the miraculous. More often than not, "We have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not of us." This is Paul's famous "power-perfected-in-weakness" doctrine, a topic I studied in some detail in one of my books.
The Master suffered. So will we. We are not called to be successes. We are called to obedience. Heirs of the age to come, we are still heirs to all the fallennness and frailty of the present age. I suspect that the young church at Thessalonica struggled with this doctrine, as do some of us today. But a truly apostolic church is nothing if it isn't a church that carries with it the dying of the Lord Jesus. It's authenticity is drawn from its identification with the poor and downtrodden, from suffering, from enduring mockery and persecution. That's why when someone this week belittled the African nation in which my wife grew up, my mind instantly went to a time when someone said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" What a ridiculous idea that the Gospel produces weaklings! Many of us grew up "on the other side of the tracks." But through His Spirit, Christ makes His followers strong, regardless of the place of their birth or their background. The power of His name is available through faith to all who call upon Him. We read in Hebrews of those who "out of weakness were made strong" (Heb. 11:34). A sickly Christian is subnormal. We can be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
The apostles of the New Testament provided the norms of doctrine. A writing such as 1 Thessalonians shows us how newborn Christians sometimes need a bottle. Eventually, however, they also need to be fed meat and to begin to discern the mind of God for themselves through the indwelling presence of the Spirit and through the Scriptures. It is to that measure of maturity that Paul was calling the Thessalonians. And it is to that measure of maturity that he is calling the church of today. There is, perhaps, no higher calling in all the world.
Sunday, January 14
8:42 PM Well, I decided to make a reservation at the NRocks Via Ferrata in West Virginia for later this week. This has got to be one of North America's best kept secrets.
Europe has a gazillion of these "iron roads." I climbed one in Zermatt a couple of summers ago and let me tell you, it wasn't easy. It took me several hours to climb only 1,800 vertical feet. Here's my GoPro from that climb should you be interested in seeing what it's like.
The trip to the Via Ferrata in West Virginia will be a three-day affair. I'll need to drive up to Harrisonburg the night before, climb the next day, then rest up back in H-Burg before my long drive home. But it sounds like the perfect adventure to help me celebrate my last few days of vacation before school starts again. The temps will be a bit on the cold side (in the 30s) but the forecast is calling for sunny skies. Being that it's off-season, I got a great rate for my climb, and it looks like I'll be the only climber that day so it's almost like a private tour. Of course, I'll take my GoPro with me and see if I can capture any exciting views. You're clipped into a safety system the whole way comprised of steel rungs and ladders. This year, as you probably know, I'm trying to ramp up my climbing time, distance, and elevation in the hopes of summiting Mont Blanc this summer -- which, from what I hear, requires an almost super-human level of fitness. Am I up for it? Training climbs like the Via Ferrata will hopefully help me sort things out in my brain. The rigors of a three-day expedition to a high altitude summit like Mont Blanc is a serious undertaking. A strong body, especially a strong core, is essential. I'm trying to take my training one day at a time, because, honestly, the whole enterprise seems rather daunting. But even if I never make it to Mont Blanc, climbing is still good for me.
What, if anything, are you doing to make your life what you want it to be right now? Be careful about your choices. We can't do everything we want to do. Just make each day count.
9:50 AM Who cares about restrictive versus non-restrictive clauses? I do! Note the difference between:
In the first sentence, "which is in the garage" is not an essential clause. However, in the second sentence, "that is in the garage" is an essential clause. It specifies a certain mower and sets it apart from the others. In other words, "that" is being used in a restrictive sense and therefore lacks a comma before it.
In 1 Thess. 2:13-16, a great debate has been raging over this very issue.
Did Paul assign blame for the death of Jesus to all of the Jews or only to those Jews who actually had him put to death? Compare the NASB and the ISV:
The ISV clearly takes the clause "who killed ..." as restrictive. Hence the absence of a comma. Weima notes (p. 170), "The ... clause deals with the role that some Jews played in the death of Jesus and the prophets...." (italics added). Bruce adds (p.p. 46-47), " ... even in Acts the responsibility is limited to the Jerusalemites and their rulers (Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13-17; 7:52; 13:27, 28)."
Improve your foreign language skills. Improve your English language skills. It's just that simple.
So what are you waiting for?
8:46 AM It's been quite a week ...
But the news is not all bad. Did you read the amazing story about a teacher in upstate New York who'll be running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents this month and teaching her students about geography while doing it? Hope she finishes. As for our concert last night, words fail. Not only was "Pictures at an Exhibition" performed flawlessly, the conductor was a real trip to watch as he jogged across the stage and jumped up and down while conducting.
His name is Rune Bergmann and he hails from Norway. Currently he's the Music Director at Calgary's Philharmonic Orchestra. My favorite NC Symphony conductor is, of course, Grant Llewellyn, but if you're going to have a substitute, might as well make the evening interesting! The standing ovation that he and the entire orchestra received was well deserved for sure.
"Pictures" is one of the most exhilarating pieces ever written. The brass section's performance was brilliant. And to think that the entire piece was composed to honor a friend who had died. Praise be to God!
Saturday, January 13
12:12 PM It was a beautiful day for a run. I got in 5 miles at the local rails-to-trail course at a 13 min./mi. pace.
The swamp was eerie-looking to say the least.
I'm home now devouring some cream of broccoli soup, a fresh chicken salad sandwich with lettuce, and a glorious sweet pickle!
Like the majority of runners, I'm a heel striker. That's not a good thing, and it's a problem I'm really working on resolving in 2018. When you land on your heel, your ankles and knees suffer the impact. When you land mid-foot (where you should be landing), your calves can act as much-needed shock absorbers. Heel striking has been compared to hitting the brakes every time you try to drive your car somewhere. So today I focused on landing mid-foot. The nice thing is that a mid-foot strike doesn't make me feel all out of whack. It's almost as though my body is saying, "Oh, Dave, this feels so much better." I just hope I don't give up on the concept. My other goal is to increase my pace and reduce my stride. I'm becoming really good at that. Anyways, I'm hooked on this sport. Sure, it involves hours and hours of training. For me, every new day is another starting line in life. Every day I'm asked to face myself with honesty. And every day I discovery the joy of running anew. Every time I run, I'm grateful to those runners who silently beckoned me to join them.
How about you?
7:50 AM A few random reflections before I head out to the Y:
1) Yesterday the high was 70. Today the high will be 45, and on Sunday 34. As long as it stays above 0, I'm good.
2) This evening is the event I've been looking forward to for such a very long time. Accompanied by three of my kids, Lord willing I'll be attending the NC Symphony's performance of Mussorgsky's fabulous Pictures at an Exhibition. A few of us saw this same performance a few months after Becky passed away. I'm sure memories will flood my mind tonight. No words can describe the jubilation I felt when the orchestra played the victorious final movement. It's almost as though I could see Becky entering the gates of heaven and being greeted by the Master she served so long and so well. That evening was a pure gift of God to me. Tonight my story will continue to unfold. I have a sense that the story will be good. In fact, because of the mercy and grace of the Lord, my whole life is turning out to be what appears to be a very happy book. Grateful.
Care to watch the concert online? There's no better performance than this one. If you're pressed for time, begin the video at 29:25. You won't be disappointed.
3) Just for fun, I decided to list the marathon times of a few people we all know.
The latter stat is a bit interesting. Previously, in an interview while he was a candidate for vice president, Mr. Ryan remembered his marathon time as being around 2:50. That's under 3 hours -- quite a feat! This led to no little controversy. Later, a student at Harvard developed the Paul Ryan Time Calculator. I'm not making this up, folks.
No word about President Trump's time ....
4) Along with my coffee every morning, I'm reading through a different English translation of 1 Thessalonians.
Upside: You get to see how Bible scholars have rendered the book. Downside: You keep scratching your head wondering how they got that from the Greek. 1 Thessalonians has five chapters, right? And they all end with a reference to the second coming of Christ, right? That's a priceless observation. I heard it as early as my Sunday School classes in Hawaii. Journey with me on a quick sidebar if you will: Who decided on where to make the chapter divisions? They aren't in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. Everyone I've read agrees that 1 Thess. 2:17-3:10 belongs together as a major unit within the body of the letter. "Chapter 2," then, should probably have ended in 2:16. But then we'd have a chapter that didn't end with a reference to the Parousia. Please, don't miss this. Before we can study a book of the New Testament, we need to discover the distinct literary units it contains. Then we need to put them all together into a whole. A good commentary will always have a section called "literary analysis" or "structure of the book." It's just not right for us to exegete a New Testament letter like 1 Thessalonians without understanding something about its discourse structure. The fertile soil of discourse analysis is where exegesis forms roots and actually bears fruit. We ignore it at our peril.
5) Finally, Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon 50 years ago, shares her 2018 running goal. She'll be running the London Marathon for the first time. You go, lady Kathrine! I love how the article ends:
I get it. I totally get it!
Friday, January 12
7:42 PM Making more muffins tonight. Seems like this is becoming a weekly tradition. They're really fun to bake.
Even Sheba enjoys it (she's now licking the bowl). They are super versatile and I take them with me wherever I go, including the gym.
Is that the timer I hear?
7:08 PM My heart was deeply saddened today to read about the death of 68-year old Linda Evans, who was killed by a driver under the influence of drugs while she was out for a run near her home in Columbus, Ohio. This leaves me sick to my stomach. What a tragedy. For 37 years in a row, Linda had never missed her daily run. Every year she ran the Columbus Marathon since its inception in 1980. The 2017 race would have marked her 68th marathon. "It's hard now without her, but I've got six grandkids that I love dearly," said her husband Gary. "I'm hoping that they will grow up like Linda." I get pretty choked up just reading that.
When I began running a few years ago, I would run on the roads near the farm. Not any more. Honestly, rural Virginia is not a very safe place to run because of the way people drive. We're simply not looking out for runners. Today I do all of my runs either at the track or on the trail. Even then I run "defensively." I listen for bikes. I keep a close eye on my environment. I don't take shortcuts through the woods. If someone looks shady to me, I avoid them if I can. I always take my phone with me in case I get into trouble. I always run alone simply because I don't have any running friends where I live. I always run with an ID and emergency contact information. But I want to start doing a better job of letting my kids know when/where I'm running/biking/climbing that day.
Gary, I know you're probably not reading this, but if you are, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I don't have much to offer except to say, enjoy those grandchildren of yours. They will never replace your wife's presence, but they are reminders that the future is always bright. Like you said, your wife's influence will live on in them.
8:30 AM Don't go low. Go high. Donate today to an aid organization in Haiti or Africa. I recommend the Haiti Relief Fund. Channel your shock, anger, disappointment, displeasure, vexation, stupefaction (or whatever you're feeling) to good (Rom. 12:21).
6:25 AM Was Paul a "tentmaker" or a "leatherworker"? That's the question asked by Karl Paul Donfried in his chapter titled "Paul as [Skenopoios] and the Use of the Codex in Early Christianity" (pp. 293-304 of his book Paul, Thessalonica, and Early Christianity). He's discussing 2 Tim. 4:13:
The "books" are obviously scrolls made of papyrus containing portions of the Old Testament. Paul wants to have several of these scrolls at his disposal -- hence the plural "books."
Donfried suggests that the "cloak" here is not a coat but a "cloth for wrapping" -- a "carrying case," if you will, for the scrolls. The major debate here has to do with the meaning of tas membranas -- "the parchments." And bam, right in the middle of his chapter, Donfried comes up with a brilliant suggestion. These "parchments" were made of leather. Not only that. The term membranas also "seems clearly connected with the codex, the technical term for a leaf book" (p. 296). The codex was the earliest form of the modern "book." It eventually replaced papyrus and wax tablets as writing materials. It's main advantage, of course, was that it could be opened at once to any passage in a text.
Donfried goes on to establish that Paul was more than a tentmaker. He agrees with Meyer, Jeremias, Lake and others that the correct rendering of skenopoios should be "leatherworker." Paul likely used these parchments, which he himself had probably produced, to collect the necessary reference texts he would use in his evangelism. Moreover, Paul could have used them for the first-draft writing of his letters, since parchment was easily erasable.
My takeaways from this fascinating chapter?
1) Was Paul personally responsible, at least partly, for the development of the codex form of the book as early as the first century? Donfried seems to think so. "It is thus quite appropriate to speak of the apostle Paul as the most instrumental factor in the shaping of the book as we know it today, that is, in the form of a codex rather than a scroll" (p. 304).
2) Even though Paul is in prison awaiting execution at the hands of the Roman government, he's still eager to evangelize and perhaps even to continue his writing ministry until the Lord calls him home. In other words, even at the end of his life, Paul's mission was concentrated and unambiguous. My land, do I have far to go! My distractions are too numerous to count. But Paul kept his eye on "the only thing that matters" (Phil. 1:27).
3) I'm now in 1 Thessalonians, so what's the relevance of this chapter to my study? Back to Donfried. He takes Acts 17:1-3 as an example. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, he went into the synagogue ("as was his custom") and for three weeks argued with the Jews "from the Scriptures" that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. As Donfried notes, it's unlikely that Paul would be rolling and unrolling many feet of papyrus scrolls to locate his Old Testament passages. "The membrana is precisely that vehicle which would allow Paul to collect the necessary reference texts which he would require for these discussions" (p. 302).
I would add a fourth takeaway but then I would be accused of meddling: Y'all might could learn you some Greek!
Thursday, January 11
7:34 PM Here's one last nod back to 2017, "by the numbers." My thanks to all of you for your support, love, and prayers.
57. The number of years I've followed Jesus.
11. The number of classes I taught.
41. The number of years I've been teaching.
2. The number of my Ph.D. students who graduated.
65. The number of birthdays I've had.
1,139. The number of miles I put on my Map My Run app.
151,000. The number of calories I burned.
2. The number of grandbabies God added to our family.
1. The number of trips to Hawaii I made.
2. The number of triathlons I finished.
4. The number of half marathons I ran in.
6. The number of marathons I completed.
365. The number of days God was good to me and people were kind to me.
1:04 PM Today was a great break from running. Professionals call this "cross training," which basically means that you've discovered other ways than running to keep you fit and active. My days of pounding out 40 mile weeks of running are long gone. I'm finding that my old body responds best to a combination of running and other forms of exercise such as weight lifting, which I did today. My normal regiment includes bench press, incline flye, barbell high pull, lateral raise, and dumbbell biceps curl. The goal is not to lift weights. The goal is to become a better and stronger runner and mountaineer. I try to strength train at least twice a week. Weight lifting has definitely become a regular part of my fitness program.
In other news, I'm so excited that this book came today.
Fire and Fury will definitely have to take a back seat to it! In traditional exegesis, discourse analysis (textlinguistics) is often a forgotten handmaiden. Moreover, traditional exegesis often misses the point because it's so caught up in the trees and ignores the forest. The situation has changed today, and for the better. It's impossible to study a text today without being at least partly aware of the place of discourse analysis in the exegetical process. This requires three things: (1) competent training in the discipline, (2) a willingness on the part of the student of Scripture to take a back seat to the text, and (3) a willingness on the part of congregations to be content with nothing less than exposition that takes into account larger discourse units when interpreting, teaching, and preaching a passage of Scripture. Exegesis is never easy, but discourse analysis can lead to a very fruitful outcome. I have enormous admiration for Bruce Johanson and his contemporaries for applying the basic principles of discourse analysis to specific texts of the New Testament. I see this same commitment in many of my students. They are orthodox through and through theologically, but they are also immensely sharp intellectually. I wish I could ask all of them to read this book but sadly it's out of the print and the current price is prohibitive. I've edited a book that might be useful called Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis.
How much good this book has done I have no earthly idea, but I was glad to edit it. It might make a good entree into the field for anyone curious enough to want to try their hand at the method.
Time to check on the animals!
8:12 AM Et voilà! Care to take a walk with me through a beautiful Greek garden? Here's my colon analysis of 1 Thess. 2:9-12. (Main clauses to the left; subordinate clauses to the right!)
Μνημονεύετε γάρ, ἀδελφοί, τὸν κόπον ἡμῶν καὶ τὸν μόχθον
ἐκηρύξαμεν εἰς ὑμᾶς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ
νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ἐργαζόμενοι πρὸς
τὸ μὴ ἐπιβαρῆσαί τινα ὑμῶν
ὑμεῖς [ἐστε] μάρτυρες καὶ [ἐστιν] ὁ θεός
ὡς ὁσίως καὶ δικαίως καὶ ἀμέμπτως ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἐγενήθημεν
ὡς [ἐγενήθημεν ἐν ὑμῖν] ἕνα ἕκαστον ὑμῶν ὡς πατὴρ τέκνα ἑαυτοῦ
εἰς τὸ περιπατεῖν ὑμᾶς ἀξίως τοῦ θεοῦ
τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ βασιλείαν καὶ δόξαν
To get the flow, let me provide a translation:
For you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how we worked and toiled!
We proclaimed to you the Good News from God
while working night and day
so as not to be a burden to any of you.
You are our witnesses -- and so is God --
how pure, honest, and blameless we were to you believers,
just as you know how we treated you like a father treats his own children.
We were constantly encouraging you, comforting you, and urging you
to live your lives in a way that is worthy of God,
who calls you to share in His own kingdom and glory.
The passage clearly emphasizes Paul's "self-sufficient labor" (Weima, p. 149). As a general rule, he and his co-workers paid their own way while doing their missionary work. Paul then uses a father-child metaphor because he is, in a very real sense, their father in the faith. There's so much here for parents, and especially dads. The three verbs Paul uses to describe a father's actions are telling:
Dads, think about that. Are we living up to our responsibilities? Children require more from us parents than we could ever have imagined. There's just so much to do. But we can't forget the ultimate goal. I love this passage because it rings so true. Jesus is the only stability they'll ever know. Paul was constantly pointing his readers to the Lord. His kingdom is the only one that will endure.
Of course, Paul paints with the brush of idealism. There's no magic formula to raising kids. They can walk away. We can fail them. But when they are questioning (and we are gasping for air), there He is. The way we call our children to follow God's priorities (and not our own) and to seek His glory (and not their own) is a big deal to Jesus. If we're too busy to remind our kids of these truths, then we're too busy. Today, as a dad, I'm still working on these things. A perfect parent? Hardly. Humble, moldable, dependent, a useful vessel for God -- these are the qualities our kids will never acquire unless we parents acquire them first. If you haven't been a great parent in the past, Satan will tell you you're all washed up. That is a lie. The wisest parent is secure enough to reach out for help. Don't waste your time grieving over what is past. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It will grow slowly, imperceptivity, but grow it will.
Wednesday, January 10
7:58 PM For the two of you who might be interested, here's the course map of the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham, which my son Jon and I are running next month. The marathon course is exactly the same: you just run the course twice. As you can see, it has a good many turns.
It's also hilly. I mean, the elevation is greater than Diamond Head in Hawaii, which itself is a pretty good climb.
Hills are always a challenge!
This is, if I've counted correctly, my tenth half marathon. My fastest half was in Petersburg, VA, where I finished right around the 2:27 mark (I usually come in somewhere between 2:45 and 2:50). However, my "best" half marathon was my first half marathon, which I ran in Raleigh. The thrill of finishing your first half marathon is simply indescribable. But getting back to Birmingham .... I'm not a huge fan of hilly, curvy courses. My idea of a great course is the St. George Marathon in Utah, which I ran last October. Other than Veyo (the largest mountain on the course), you're mainly going downhill. There aren't really any turns on this course. You're on one road the whole way until about mile 24, and even then the turns are few and far between. I finished that race with a time of 5:41:40, which was (and still is) a PR. The Birmingham half will be an altogether different kind of beast, I think. This will by Jon's first long distance race. Usually when people are training for their first half marathon, they'll train by doing a 5K, then a 10K, then a 10-miler. Hardly anybody recommends that you run the entire 13.1 miles before race day; your adrenaline can be expected to carry you the last 3 miles to the finish. If I had any advice for newcomers to distance running it would be this: listen to your body more than you look at your watch. If you are in tune with your body, you will probably know when it's time to speed up and slow down, when it's to run and take a walk break, when it's time to drink and eat along the course. However, even if you listen to your body during the race, by the time you cross the finish line you will be sore, guaranteed. A half marathon is such a popular race in America partly, I believe, because it really pushes you physically and at the same time is a good test of your mental fortitude. That's why, when training for a half, respecting your body is such an important step. Learning to work with the body God has given you (and not necessarily the body you might have wanted) and learning to allow it to improve on its own terms is essential to your success as a runner. I noticed that the Birmingham event is limited to 4,000 runners for the half marathon and 1,000 runners for the full. This is good as it will limit the jostling that inevitably occurs at some of your larger races. The half also has a very generous time limit of 4 hours. The only question Jon and I need to work out is our pace -- do we want to finish together and, if so, how fast do we want to run? Of course, it will be totally up to Jon if he wants to stay together. I imagine him sprinting past me at some point in the course! I don't have a runner's body and I'm just not very fast. But what I can work on is developing a runner's soul. It isn't a bib number that makes you a runner. It's running. It's the challenge of facing your own limitations and pushing through them. That's the difference between a runner and someone who just runs. My hope that by running the Birmingham half marathon, Jon will discover (and I will rediscover) the joy of long distance running. I imagine we will share the joy of each other's victory long after the race is over.
Tomorrow I'm taking the day off from running and will work out at the gym instead. I've found it best to weight train at least twice a week if possible. Then on Friday I hope to get in a 10 mile run.
So what are your race/training goals for 2018?
1:40 PM Continuing my half marathon and marathon training program ....
Today I did a 10K run at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, beginning in LaCrosse and running to Brodnax, where I turned around and ran back to home base.
My runs nowadays are fairly slow affairs. As proof, here's my average pace: 14:25/mi. And my average speed: 4.2 mph. It's less than a month until the Birmingham half, so I still need to go 9-10 miles and then finish up with a 13.1 mile run before tapering. Today was not my best run but not my worst. Anyhow, it was a good training day, and I'm feeling like I'm preparing as well as I can for the race. It's been 10 days since the Allen marathon and I must say that I'm feeling fully recovered, praise the Lord.
Wait a minute. Did I just say I ran 6.2 miles today to help me recovery from a marathon? Runners are some crazy dudes.
8:08 AM Here's a quick update today on my attempt to write (again) a complete colon analysis of 1 Thessalonians. Here's 2:1-8.
I know you can't read that picture; it's too small. But you get the gist. Here's a more detailed look at the first two colons.
Paul's train of thought?
1) You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a waste of time.
2) In fact, we were bold in our God to speak to you the Gospel of God in the midst of much conflict, despite the fact that we had suffered before and been mistreated in Philippi, as you well know.
No matter where we are in life, no matter where life takes us, it's important that we don't waste our time doing things that don't really count. Time is finite. Paul was keenly aware that one day he would stand before God and be judged for everything he did in his body. There was work for him to do, work that only he could do. That's why he's relieved to be able to say to his readers, "My visit to you wasn't in vain. God accomplished what He was wanting to accomplish." The old cliché is true: Less is, in fact, more. Yet we so easily succumb to the more is more mentality. I live with this fear all of the time, fear that I'm going to become too distracted to live well and a little more wisely. I don't want to have this fear but it's there all the same. Perhaps the key is to begin each new day, each new undertaking, with God. We can't get off to a good start without Him. How foolish of us to run off to work without breakfast, and yet how much greater is the danger of running off to work without bringing our day under the scrutiny of His all-seeing eye and the guidance of His loving hands. Begin the day with God. It will not only sanctity you for tomorrow, it will prepare you for today.
7:10 AM The movie Farther Than the Eye Can See tells the story of a blind athlete named Erick Weihenmayer and his successful summit of Mount Everest. The movie had its share of platitudes about overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you, but the clichés were more than offset by the amazing cinematography and the incredible courage of Erik and his team.
What impressed me most about Erik was his modesty and optimism. As humbly as he knew how, he was going to conquer Everest. I've always been a soul that seeks adventure, driven by some unexplained urge to challenge the parameters of my world. I suppose my attitude toward mountain climbing is the same attitude I had toward surfing when I was younger. You must learn to face danger and be responsible for yourself. Everything in mountaineering is ultimately your decision. When I come back home from a climb or a marathon, I feel totally renewed as a human being – stronger and more capable of facing life's unpredictable terms. By climbing the Alps this summer I hoped to inspire my children and grandchildren to take a closer look at their own lives and to consider whether God might still have some dreams for them to live.
Each person faces a choice in life. When we face grief or loss, we can quit or we can have the courage to persevere, even if in the end we fail to reach our goals. In Erik's story I found inspiration to continue to test my own limits. If we never test our limits, we will never know what they are. I would like to believe that the roads in life we choose depend less on external circumstances and more on internal longings that compel us as humans to reach the heights of whatever mountains we are facing in life. Successful people take what they have and make something of it. But you can't be passive. You have to grasp the opportunities as they come along and, through hard work, stir up that tiny ember that burns within you.
I realize that the battle to become a mountaineer is won or lost through my weekly training program – those unglamorous times in the morning when you don't want to get out of your warm bed to run 10 miles or work out at the gym. It's just another one of the universe's hidden truths: without training, there can be no success. Tentative doesn't cut it. When I climbed the Alps two summers ago, I went for it 100 percent.
Total commitment. Heart and soul. So today, I'm learning to embrace the hard work of preparation. Without it, there can be no meaningful achievement. I talked about this at length when I had dinner last night with two very close friends, both elders. How do you accomplish an audacious goal? One step at a time.
If anything, Erik's story is a reminder that summits in life don't come easy. You have to be willing to go through pain to reach your goal. As Erik proves, never underestimate the power of perseverance. Pick your goals carefully, think clearly about it – then act decisively, suppressing your fears. I see these qualities in Erik and, to a much lesser degree, in my own soul. But the more I do with the little I have, the more opportunities will gravitate towards me.
Tuesday, January 9
12:26 PM Today I'm booking my flights to attend the ETS Southwest Regional Meeting in Fort Worth, March 2-3. The venue is Southwestern Seminary. I attend this conference every year because it allows me to spend time with mom and dad in Dallas as well as usually get a paper in. The theme of this year's conference is "New in the Old and Old in the New." Greg Beale is the plenary speaker. Should be great. My paper proposal reads as follows:
How does that work for "technicaleze"? LOL! The working title is: "Colon Analysis of the Greek New Testament: With Special Reference to Heb. 1:1-4 and the Author's Emphasis on the Old Testament as Prophecy."
12:04 PM I just finished writing a training plan for my next two big races: The Mercedes Birmingham Half Marathon on February 11, and the Tobacco Road Marathon in Raleigh on March 18. Woohoo! Today I did a 5K at the track.
I have two more runs scheduled this week: One for 9 miles, and the other for 13. Crazy? Yes. But I like crazy. It's pretty exciting and scary!
8:44 AM Hi folks,
I've been arguing on this blog for some time that Paul was eager to show genuine affection for his readers, despite his superordinate position as an apostle. Hats off to Trevor Burke for his brilliant essay in the Tyndale Bulletin called "Pauline Paternity in 1 Thessalonians."
It's been on my stack of journal articles to read this week and I finally got around to perusing (devouring is more like it) the essay. Burke writes, "...Paul's patriarchal role undergirds everything he is and does for the Thessalonians" (p. 76). Just what does this role look like? Concern. Love. Provision. Dads in the ancient world "... loved their children above and beyond that of their offspring's love for them" (p. 77). And don't miss the note of tenderness, insists Burke. Paul likens his separation from his beloved friends in Thessalonica as a "bereavement," like that of death. He is anxious for them and grieves their separation. Finally, "... Paul, rather than making financial demands of his spiritual children, chooses instead to be self-supporting, thereby displaying his kindly feelings and love for them" (p. 79).
I rest my case.
I have to say that the best part of this essay is Burke's exegesis of the Greek text. The most insightful observation, I thought, was when he discussed Paul's use aporphanisthentes in 2:17 -- a word that goes beyond the mere idea of being "orphaned" but "... applies also to parents bereft of their offspring" (p. 78, n. 55). That's a very wonderful (and woeful) sentiment and one I've felt on many occasions.
During this season of life when my children are grown and gone, I would do well to remember how Paul treated his "kids." Jesus operates beyond the black-and-white boundaries of books on parenting. An incredibly useful resource for parents would be to read -- duh! -- a book like 1 Thessalonians. Our children need in us spiritual mentors that will point them away from us and to the word of God as the only reliable guide to life. If they are to learn how to love Jesus beyond the four walls of our homes, we need to give them something to stick to in the real world.
On another note (but still related to 1 Thessalonians), last night I read Ralph Martin's discussion of the Thessalonian Epistles in his New Testament introduction.
I dare say nobody uses this book as a classroom text today, though it was very popular when I was in seminary. (Dave, you can expect the same with your tomes!) I knew Ralph quite well when I was teaching at Biola (and he at Fuller). He was the first modern scholar to quote extensively from my doctoral dissertation (Paul, Apostle of Weakness) in his outstanding commentary on 2 Corinthians. We disagreed on many issues -- he thought I held to a narrowly infallibilistic view of Scripture, for example -- but I was always struck by the high caliber of his work as a scholar and his affability as a person. His introduction to the New Testament (in 2 volumes) is well worth your time. Chapter 13 of volume 2 is entitled "Persecution and Parousia in the Thessalonian Letters." I'm not saying this chapter will resolve all the controversies in these two letters, but it will go a long ways towards it.
Finally (and totally unrelated to 1 Thessalonians), I have now lost water in my entire house. This can't be due to frozen water lines because yesterday it got into the 40s and today it will be 55. Since I am a complete Doofus, I've sent for the reinforcements: two of my kids. It feels good to have experts in all things mechanical in the family. I'm filled with gratitude.
I'm off to the gym and the track. It's too gorgeous of a day to stay indoors for very long.
Monday, January 8
6:02 PM Today was a glorious day spent at the office in Wake Forest then seeing my physical therapist, who stretched my legs and massaged my calves. Ono-licious, as we would say in Hawaii. The high temp today was 44 degrees but it never got warm enough to thaw out the pond, so when I got home I carried a bucket of water out to the goats, which I've been doing daily until the pond melts.
It's such a joy to provide for these beautiful and carefree animals.
Reminds me of how tenderly my Good Shepherd always cares for me. Tending to the land and the animals. I love my life.
Remember to close the gate on the way out.
7:06 AM In 1 Thess. 2:1-12, Paul reviews and defends his ministry among the Thessalonians. Just like in 1:2-10, there's a noticeable movement here from the activity of Paul and his fellow missionaries to the response of the Thessalonians. Paul does two things specifically in this passage: he shows how he came to them in a spirit of love, and he denies that he had been wrongly motivated. As in Galatians and 2 Corinthians, Paul becomes very personal and transparent in this text. His message and his personal integrity can't be separated. The life he lived before God and before the Thessalonians is proof that his ministry was based on love. He was ready to share with them not only the Good News but his own life. "You are our witnesses, and so is God, that our conduct toward you was pure, right, and without fault" (2:12). I'd probably label a sermon on this passage something like, "Christlikeness as the Missionary Strategy." I'd explain how missions is like midwifery: For God to birth new life in people, He must use our lives, our work, our humility, our obedience, our faith, our prayers, our sacrifice. Throughout the New Testament, we see this principle at work. "As you go, train the people from every nation how to follow me in obedience and love." And one way this is accomplished, generation after generation, is through our modeling for others the downward path of Jesus. Upward mobility? Take a hike. It's all about downward mobility. For instance, instead of "Do for me," it's "I'll do for others" (Phil. 2:3-4). Jesus often modeled this principle for us in the Gospels. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." He was right.
Is this principle, this way of living, too idealistic? Comedian George Carlin once said, "Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist." I grew up an idealist about the church. That is, until my church fired our pastor. I was about 12 years old at the time. Our elderly pastor had suffered a minor stroke and his speech became slurred. Yet he remained the same godly, gentle shepherd he had always been. "He's too difficult to listen to," people complained. So off he went. Since then I've become deeply distrustful of religion. Isn't God's power perfected in our weaknesses? Didn't Paul boast in his stake in the flesh? "Well, Dave, a preacher has got to be easy to listen to." That doesn't cut it for me, friend. I could understand him perfectly. You see, the message he brought Sunday after Sunday was more than words. I'm reminded of one of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. On one of these trips, one of our elders came with Becky and me. This was in fact his third trip with us to Ethiopia. On his first two visits he had taught the Scriptures daily to the church elders. Indeed, the man's a wonderfully gifted Bible teacher. But on his third trip he did nothing of the kind. He had heard that our health clinic needed painting, so he volunteered to head up the paint crew. For two weeks, all he did was slap paint on the walls of our clinic buildings. I once told this story in a seminar I was giving on church leadership. Afterwards two young pastors-in-the-making came up to me and said. "It was wrong of your pastor to have painted. His gift is pastor-teacher. He should have been teaching." I replied, as gently as I could, "Don't you see? He was teaching." He pastored that painting project, even if no one would call it pastoring. In him I saw Jesus with a towel and a basin.
I am drawn toward this kind of lifestyle. I want my "ministry" to encompass all of human life. The more I repent of my own sin and blindness, the more the Lord nudges me beyond my missing-the-point leadership principles. At yesterday's 5K, I showed people that a Baptist cared about the death of an Episcopalian teenage who died in an alcohol-related car accident. The funds raised at the race will go toward driver education in the Raleigh school system. Maybe, just maybe, one less family will go through the unspeakable grief of losing their son or daughter in an avoidable car wreck. When my pastor was let go many years ago, it broke my child's heart. Yet the experience was a gift to me in every way. I see that now. A new truth. I see this truth in Paul's "I came to you in weakness, fear, and trembling" theology. I see it in the Christ hymn of Phil. 2:5-11. And I see it in Paul and his fellow missionaries in 1 Thess. 2:1-12. "We were gentle among, like a mother taking care of her children" (2:7). I am suggesting this, pastors: Bang the drum for vulnerability. You are more than a disseminator of information. You are also a fellow believer, and the family needs you to be tender with us and with yourself. I know you're trying to get this church thing right. We all are. Perhaps it starts with 1 Thess. 2:1-12: coming into our communities and our lives without impure motives, without flattering talk, without words used to cover up greed. Instead, please be gentle among us, like a loving mother and an encouraging father. "You were so dear to us," wrote Paul (2:8). We love you too. Together, we can make our faith communities beautiful again.
Sunday, January 7
7:02 PM A 5K race in beautiful downtown Raleigh on a sunny day? Don't mind if I do! The temp was 27 but that's nothing compared to my race in Dallas last Monday. It's definitely still winter in North Carolina though. The race was sponsored by Christ Church, Raleigh.
It's located right across the street from the state capitol.
At 2:00 pm we were off.
The race was a simple out and back through the historic district of Raleigh. All kinds of architecture kept me fascinated. Here's the Baptist church.
And the Methodist church.
We turned around at one of the city's most well-known landmarks, the bell tower on the campus of NC State. The race, to say the least, was a bit hilly.
But I'm pleased with my consistent pace. The vitals stats:
My time was 32:07, not very fast but good enough for a first place in my age group.
At the end of the race my lungs were on fire but I recovered quickly. The bling was fantastic. This represents 40 bucks worth of goodies!
Afterwards I celebrated Ethiopian New Years at the Abyssinia with these wonderful believers.
What's not to like about genuine Ethiopian fresh-roasted coffee?
I came, I ran, I froze, I ate! (Apologies to Caesar.) Time to watch a good movie and go to bed!
9:20 AM The current issue of Biola Magazine came in the mail yesterday. (I'm a two-time alum of Biola -- '75 and '80.) Among other things, it features a report on the new "Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today," directed by Oscar Merlo.
The goal is fourfold, according to the report:
To quote the director:
Why do I find this so attractive? Because I'm 100 percent sure that it's time to put sinew into the words "Spirit" and "spiritual." When I was an undergrad at Biola, we were required to read He That Is Spiritual by Chafer. Today's generation would do well to get their hands on Gordon Fee's books on the Holy Spirit. As Fee has often said, theology can't pay mere lip service to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was certainly one of the key features in Paul's letters, as we'll see in our study of 1 Thessalonians. I grew up immersed in a fairly non- or even anti-charismatic Christian culture with heavy emphasis on linear thinking and dogma. Eventually I embraced listening. It seems clear to me that the whole matter of the work of the Spirit in our daily lives transcends "charismatic" versus "non-charismatic" categories. Believe it or not, our students are craving something more than knowledge. Let's put the Spirit in front of them. Let's teach them how to be filled with the Spirit and care about the world beyond their iPhones. The best we can do is give them the word balanced by "power, the Holy Spirit, and full conviction" (1 Thess. 1:5).
Saturday, January 6
5:14 PM Tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 pm is the annual Run for Young in downtown Raleigh. The race is held in memory of a young man who was killed as a passenger in an alcohol related accident in 2007. I've run this 5K twice in the past. I went ahead and registered for the race, although I'm not sure I'll be up to another cold-weather event so soon after Dallas. On the other hand, a drive to Raleigh is always a good excuse to eat Ethiopian food. Either way, my registration fee and donation will go to a great cause: safe driving education programs.
4:56 PM The low tonight will be 2 degrees. Folks, don't forget the three "p"s: people, pets, and pipes.
4:48 PM Just stumbled across this: Marathon Investigation. The idea is to catch people who are trying to cheat their way into the Boston Marathon. Oh my.
4:25 PM Here are the readings for the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians (our Greek 4 class), in case you were wondering:
This stuff is so rich it should get its own tax bracket. Heartfelt thanks to my assistant, Noah Kelley, for his help in compiling our bibliography for the semester.
12:08 PM Yes, yes, YES! Awesome workout at the Y this morning. I absolutely love the gym. Weight training requires equal amounts of physical and mental strength. The goal is not to become merely physically stronger as the weeks go by but mentally stronger as well. Today I feel like I could run another marathon tomorrow. (Don't worry: I won't. Maybe a 5K but that's it.) Words can't describe how thrilling it is to run a marathon. It's definitely something that ought to be at the top of everyone's bucket list. Thank you, Lord, for the strength and health to be up and about!
Speaking of health, it's probably time for a nap. Must. Sleep. Now. Bye!
6:50 AM This morning I was up at 5:00 am thinking about my goals for 2018. Last year my big goal was to slow down a little bit and focus on what's really important in life. It was a year of quiet weekends, lots of time with family, and less stress. The one thing I can't believe is how quickly the years have passed. Can you believe I've been blogging since November 2003? That's 14 years. I think I have written the most boring collection of blog posts known to man. What's more, in November I commemorated 4 years without Becky. And just think: I'm in my 42nd year of teaching. Amazing. I simply can't fathom that.
Last year I tried out some new activities and enjoyed several major accomplishments. Many of them were a team effort, relying on a myriad of factors including help from my assistant and the encouragement of publishers. But running a marathon was different. This was a goal that could be accomplished only by one person committing to it fully: me. There's no way to describe walking back to my hotel after the Flying Pig Marathon in May and hearing complete strangers say, "Congratulations." For the most part, my emotions were a combination of relief, joy, pride, and gratitude to the One who gave me the wherewithal to finish the race.
In June I celebrated turning 65. My family put on a surprise Hawaiian luau for me. There are no words to describe what that meant to me. 2018 is now here and who knows where it will go? I know that most of us are longing for God to do something new in our lives. Maybe there's something I can't see. And that's my prayer for the new year: that I will be able to see something I couldn't see before, and that I would trust Him to grant me the eyes to see it. A tiny part of that is seeking ways to lead the students in my 4 classes this semester to move beyond knowledge and see the world God created, to see how full of beauty and mystery it is, to see a world around them that awaits discovery each and every day. I want them to be fully aware and alive. I want them to see that life is fully lived only when the whole system -- body, soul, and spirit -- works together. (Sometimes the most spiritual things in life are the most physical. When we become physically active, we honor our bodies and the God who created them.) I want them to learn how to celebrate dark places, to believe that what is empty can be filled, to allow God to walk them through brokenness. I want them to step back and discover new rhythms and sounds in their lives. Above all, I want them to think of the well-being and happiness of others first. That's the work of the Gospel, isn't it? Like Paul in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:5), the energy we expend on kingdom building is done on behalf of others.
So what does 2018 hold for me? I have no idea. But I know that He will guide me. "When it's over," wrote Mary Oliver in When Death Comes, "I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms." That's my prayer for you, dear reader. Never stop dreaming. Don't fear your humanness. If you feel stuck, open your eyes to the hidden things of God in your life. Drive to the mountains or to the ocean. A new vantage point may be just what you need to see the new thing God has in store for you. But wherever you find it, remember that it's always a gift.
Friday, January 5
6:45 PM Last month, BBC Travel published a fascinating article called How the South Korean Language was designed to unify. There seems to be more "we" and "our" in Korean than "I" and "my." Of the 6 trips I've been blessed to make to South Korea to teach, I remember learning this lesson on my second visit to Seoul. When asked to show someone a picture of my dogs, I produced a photo of my two Shelties and then asked, "How do you say 'my two dogs' in Korean?" The response was (and here I'm back-translating into English), "Our two dogs." The term "uri" (our) kept coming up over and over again. It totally made sense to me. After all, the dogs belonged to both Becky and me. Which got me thinking about 1 Thess. 1:2. Here Paul (the author of 1 Thessalonians) uses the plural "we" and then continues to use this pronoun throughout the letter (the 3 exceptions being 2:18; 3:5; and 5:27). The plural is a reminder to the Thessalonians "that all three of them [Paul, Silas, and Timothy] were in that original ministry together" (Fee, p. 20).
Once again, I like that about Paul. He's got no problem receding into the group. Of course, he doesn't always do that. I do it even less. I use "I" most of the time when I write. This wasn't always the case. In seminary, if you were caught using the first person pronoun in a paper (whether "I" or "we") you were immediately sent to the Russian Front. "The author" was the only self-respecting way to refer to yourself. Better yet, we were told to use the passive voice. Today I choose to use "I" because I think it connects better with my readers. I also tend to use "you" instead of "one." I could go on and on: "I found that" is better than "It was found that." Of course, I haven't really addressed the question of whether I might want to use "we" in my writing more often than I do. Actually, I haven't thought about the matter all that much. But I will say this: I think maintaining a simple, informal blog -- where you use "I" or "we" and even contractions like "I'm" and "we're" -- is a great way to improve one's -- er -- your writing skills.
5:52 PM Best wishes to Robert Siegel as he signs off today for the last time on NPR. I've been a Siegel fan for a long, long time, so his voice will be missed. All Things Considered is a well-written show, always has been. His gifted colleagues will carry on. If I had one piece of advice: "Lose yourself in the service of others" sounds like a good way to spend one's retirement years. Blessings on you, Robert, as you discover your encore career.
1:22 PM Our second class session in Greek 4 will include a discussion and analysis of 1 Thess. 1:2-5, in which Aristotle's "rhetorical triangle" comes into sharp focus. When Paul visited the Thessalonians, he came "not with word (logos) only." His message was balanced by both pathos and ethos -- spiritual power/passion and credibility.
Fist bump! Paul got all three right. He brought the message. He brought it with power and passion. And he brought it by living among the people and doing everything for their benefit, not his own. You want to share the Good News with someone? Then live and work and breathe the air of their community. I am floored by Paul's priorities. His goal was to effect long-term benefits among the Thessalonians, not put on a puppet show. Whether knowingly or unconsciously, Paul embodied the Aristotelian triangle perfectly.
I am suggesting this, friends: To have the greatest persuasive effect, logical appeal must be accompanied by both emotional appeal and ethical appeal. I don't mean to minimize the message. Sloppy exegesis is sloppy exegesis. Don't hear me say, "Content is not important." But when the message is accompanied by passion and especially by the speaker's selfless attitude toward his or her hearers, the Gospel can become the powerful thing Jesus dreamed up. It really can.
12:40 PM Darkest Hour was a magnificent film. Churchill was one of the twentieth century's greatest figures. What wasn't he? He was a bricklayer, painter, cavalry officer, orator, and for 55 of his 90 years a member of the British Parliament, 8 of those as prime minister. I loved how the movie told the story of Churchill's first days in office, how he was a lonely voice warning his people of the dangers of Nazism. I thought the best part of the film was the dénouement, in which what is perhaps Churchill's greatest speech is put on full display, the one ending with these immortal words:
Never has a speech had a more awe-inspiring peroration. Despite his many shortcomings, Churchill was a master orator and had the tenacity of a bulldog. I give the movie four out of five stars. If you would like to meet "Winston," this film is one way to start. But be forewarned: The movie serves only as an apéritif to wanting more and more. What strikes me most about Churchill is his resilience. When he failed or was defeated, he got back up again. At a time when so many of our leaders are shallow, childish, and even vindictive, it's encouraging to witness a man who was the polar opposite. "There is nothing more draining and exhausting than hatred," he once said. Wise words for today, I should think.
8:10 AM Yo folks. I hope you're enjoying the cold weather. I'm having a great time but I feel a little scattered. I'm having to back burner some things and front burner others. What's occupying most of my time right now is reading through all of the essays I'm asking my Greek 4 students to read. Each essay has something to do, either directly or indirectly, with the book of 1 Thessalonians -- the book I use in Greek 4 as a model for exegesis. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me because I absolutely love doing this. What I find frustrating is not being able to communicate to you, my blog readers, the many gems I'm picking up along the way. Guess you'll all just have to take my class! For example, take Fee's essay I mentioned yesterday. It's intended to be a comprehensive overview of Paul's teaching about leadership in the New Testament. The essay is very good and I'd recommend you read it. Fee's main point is that, when you read the New Testament in the light of Jesus (which all of us must do), you come away with a vastly different view of church leadership than if you follow Old Testament models. It's true that under the Old Covenant the role of leadership was often delegated to the king and priests in particular, who were recognized as having an existence apart from the "people" (laos) of God. "It is precisely this model of leadership that breaks down altogether in the New Testament," writes Fee (p. 130). And why should this be the case? Fee is clear: "The basic reason for this is the Lordship of Christ himself.... As head of his church, all others, including leaders, function as parts of the body both sustained by Christ and growing up into him (Eph. 4:1-16)" (p. 130).
Two other points in Fee's excellent essay are worth mentioning. First, Fee rightly points out that the people of God in the New Testament are thought of corporately. "[Believers] are addressed individually only as they are members of the community" (p. 134). God views each member of the His body as equally valuable and important to the proper functioning of the whole. It is very unfortunate, notes Fee, that texts that Paul intended to be taken corporately have been individualized, thus losing their original force and impact. These include texts that have to do with the exercise of church discipline.
Secondly, Fee has a superb section on the question of whether church leadership should be singular or plural.
It's Fee's "guess" (p. 142) that the model of a single pastor emerged from a sort of "role transference," in which there arose a permanent single leader based (incorrectly) on the model of the itinerate apostle.
Fee then adds:
This "pride of place" may crop up in the most unexpected of places. Do you think that maybe this space could be used for the elderly, families with small kids, people with disabilities ...?
Fee concludes by urging his readers to recapture "the New Testament view of the church itself" (p. 143). The irony, of course, is that hundreds if not thousands of local congregations are running away from this concept of leadership instead of embracing it. Some churches even allow their kingdom message to be co-opted by politics (whether on the right or the left) because of the political views of their senior pastor.
I am deeply humbled and honored to belong to the same academic community that Fee belongs to. My prayer is that God will use essays like his to prepare our local congregations for the vital role they have to play in the kingdom movement He's inspiring in our time.
By the way, when I was in Dallas I saw Darkest Hour with mom and dad. Time permitting, I'll share a few thoughts with you later about that movie and what I think it says about leadership and especially about the power of words.
Thanks for stopping by!
Thursday, January 4
11:25 AM What do you love about winter? I love frozen ponds.
I love old houses freshly dusted with the white stuff.
I love watching my dog making fresh tracks in the snow.
I love stacking 100 bales of hay for delivery.
When I'm bored, restless, or just annoyed, walking in the winter wonderland is just what the doctor ordered.
11:12 AM This weekend's race was truly a great event. The worst racing conditions brought out the best in each runner. If this had been any other event I might have given up. But hey, Texans are tough, and I wanted to prove to them that this Hawaiian dude could pass muster. Seriously, this was top notch fun. And what could be better than free pics? That's right, these photos arrived today in my inbox, compliments of The Active Joe. You guys are Aw- Sum! Here I am at the start of the race, when I could still run. Looking sharp, eh?
This guy behind me is actually smiling. He must be from Alaska. Actually, I saw lots of high fives and encouraging smiles on the course.
Here's the look of pure pain as I approached the finish line, barely ambulatory. As they say: the agony of de feet ...
And the thrill of victory.
Thankfully, I'm healing up nicely. One thing I'm very thankful for is the ability to bounce back after injuries. Happily my blister is almost entirely healed. My plan is to see my PT next week and then get back into training. So, yeah, I already have much to be grateful for this year. I hope you do too.
8:54 AM Today I'm reading Gordon Fee's "Laos and Leadership under the New Covenant: Some Exegetical and Hermeneutical Observations on Church Order." The focus is on structure and ministry in the New Testament. And by "ministry" Fee is not referring solely to people we might call "ministers"! This essay will be required reading in my Greek 4 class this semester.
8:30 AM Winter weather advisory .... 10-mile long traffic jam in Moore County ... temps in the teens ... the water lines are frozen at my house ... but the dusting we got last night is so pretty.
Meanwhile, in Dallas I ordered two books from Amazon Prime.
It's dated (1987) but not as ancient as some of my books. Here's the second tome.
I just hope it comes with a photo of the button.
Since we're talking about bragging, I suppose it's okay for me to flaunt my first place finish in my age division in Monday's marathon. I know, I was the only one running in the male 65-69 age group, but it's still an incredible victory when you consider all the guys I could have beaten. My average pace, by the way, was 15/mile. A pace of 15 minutes? I think my Garmin must be broken. As many a good lawyer has said, "Facts only obscure the truth."
Today I'm writing the good people at the Mercedes Birmingham Marathon in the great state of Alabama to let them know I've just made a brilliant decision. This is my "February race," in case you'd forgotten. I'm moving from the full marathon to the half marathon because my son Jon who lives in Birmingham is running the half and I don't want him to be lonely. As the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." (I think the other half of the proverb says, "But don't go with guys named Jon.") I've observed that runners are more prone to succeed when they know someone who's already been there and done that. (They also tend to be more "prone," period.) Okay. The real reason I'm moving to the half is because I'm done with 6-hour time limits. I'm dumb but I'm not stupid. 6 hours puts too much pressure on world class athletes like myself. So from now on it's 6.5 to 7 hours or nothing. Why, the Honolulu Marathon doesn't even have a time limit. Now, before the good people of my home state get insulted thinking I'm disparaging their race, let me be clear: Hawaii, you're a laid back culture. I know. If I tried running from Ala Moana to Hawaii Kai and back and didn't stop to cool off in the Pacific, I'd be crazy too.
I'm left with no choice, then, but to revise my running schedule. Lord willing, my next big race will be the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, NC, on March 18. I'm running in honor of the former owner of my farm, who use to grow cigga-weed back in the day. Like everyone else, he overfarmed the soil. Today I grow hay on the same land. That doesn't mean people don't smoke where I live. They do, even Baptists (don't tell anyone I said that). I'm against the habit but that's no excuse to miss out on a marathon that's practically in my back yard. After Bacci Road, my next marathon will be the Flying Pig in Cincy -- yes, the city where it all started last May. It was in Cincinnati that I discovered hundreds of people my age who were into marathoning. This isn't your typical group of old codgers, like folks who still use DOS and have AOL email addresses. They are super heroes, though their quest focuses more on tenacity than talent. Between now and my race in Birmingham next month I'll be doing some world class loafing. The worst mistake you can make after a long race -- and I've made it over and over again -- is not giving yourself enough time to recover. Having ice and snow covering your roads helps.
Finally, I wanted you to see the kind of food people eat in Texas. This is called barbeque.
As in real barbeque. As is beef barbeque. The abbreviation is BBQ -- which is about the closest I'll ever come to a BQ (Boston Qualifying time).
Wednesday, January 3
6:40 PM Let's see ... words emanating from my computer can only mean one thing: the race in Texas didn't kill me. For the 3 people who still read this boring blog, you may remember me talking about this event (ad nauseum). The long and short of it is that I toughed out another marathon, though it left me seriously questioning my sanity (which I question pretty much every day). With extreme weather alerts on tap for the greater Dallas region all weekend long, I kept a close eye on my weather app. For the "News Years Double," you could run either on Sunday (New Years Eve) or Monday (New Years Day) or both -- hence "New Years Double." I had chosen to do only the New Years day race. The weather on the last day of December was heartbreaking for anyone wanting to run outdoors. There was a thin layer of ice everywhere, with the low temps hovering in the single digits. Unbelievably, the race went on as planned. A total of 800 runners had registered for Sunday's race, either for the half or for the full marathon. On race day, 281 stalwart (i.e., crazy) runners actually showed up for the race. Kudos to each and every one of them, and especially to the volunteers manning the water stations and handing out the race medals while literally freezing. That afternoon the skies cleared and the ice disappeared. When I woke up at 4:00 am on Monday (New Years Day), it didn't take me very long to decide I was going to try and run the race that day. I had come all this distance and I wasn't about to chicken out now. I knew that if I dressed in lots of layers I'd be fine. I wore long johns under running pants on the bottom, and two tech shirts plus a sweatshirt plus a racing jacket plus a windbreaker on top, not to mention a fleece neck warmer (which I covered my nose with), North Face gloves, and 3 hoods over my running cap.
I arrived at Celebration Park in Allen, TX at 7:30 am and checked my weather app. The "real feel" temp was exactly 1 degree Fahrenheit. You read that correctly. ONE degree. That's like 31 degrees below freezing, if my math serves me right. Like everyone else, I picked up my race bib then sat in my warm car until race time. 700 participants had signed up for Monday's races (including the half and the full marathon). 220 of us showed up. (I don't blame anyone for staying at home.) Despite the cold, the morning was sunny and the people around me were electric with positive energy. Physically, I knew I would be fine. The question, as always, would boil down to mental toughness.
The race was run entirely on a concrete sidewalk that ambled through the subdivisions of Allen.
Thankfully, the course was completely dry without a trace of ice. Once I started moving I was able to keep warm. Given that I was doing a full marathon, I decided to run at an easy 13-minute/mile pace. I had shin splints for the first two miles or so, but they quickly cleared up. But the concrete running surface was beginning to takes its toll. I had never run a race on concrete before, only asphalt, crushed gravel, and dirt trails. By mile 12 my feet were killing me, and by mile 18 I had developed a horrific blood blister on the bottom of my left foot. When I stopped to check on it (there were no aid stations on the course -- one of the disadvantages of small races), I began freezing. I had to laugh out loud. I had started the race thinking it would be a breeze. The course was entirely flat, and I'd gotten some solid training runs in. I'd had feet issues while running before, and I knew I could push through the pain if I had to. But this was different. From mile 18 on I couldn't run at all. It was all I could do to walk without hobbling. My stride was reduced to the pace of a turtle. What happened? I'm sure it was the running surface. I had read that running on concrete is 10 times harder on your feet and legs than running on asphalt. It slowly dawned on me that I was now paying the price for running on this surface. It was beyond frustrating that my body wouldn't cooperate with my mind. I began to be engulfed by negative thoughts and emotions. I never wanted a race to end so quickly! My feet were driving me absolutely crazy. After a while, I realized I had bitten off way more than I could chew. Worst case scenario, I could simply drop out of the race. Nobody would blame me. Everyone gets a DNF (did not finish) at least once in their racing career. But Monday was not to be that day. Not if I had any say about it. I had to do this. I had to finish. On the very first day of the new year, I was forced by circumstances to take my own advice. Stop thinking and keep moving, Dave. Call me nuts, but that's just what I did for the last 8 miles of the race. The only thing on my mind was my reason for running these races in the first place. A marathon is the ultimate metaphor for any major undertaking in life. Does it hurt? Yes. Does it require time, effort, and commitment? Yes. But the payoff is out of this world. It doesn't matter what your goal is. Marathoner. Healthy eater. Patient mom. Writer. More diligent student. Divorce survivor. Whatever. You've got to push out of your self-imposed boundaries and never look back. This year, as you know, I'm trying to cut back on processed foods. I'm not going to lie. I'm already making excuses. Life isn't as simple as saying, "I'm going to eat clean this year." Just deal with it. Take a deep breath and take it one step at a time. Remember that you have weaknesses just like everybody else. So I said a prayer, mustered up what little courage I had left, and waddled along to the end of the course. Only 43 marathoners finished the race that day. I was no. 42. The volunteers were absolutely amazing. While we runners could keep warm through activity, the volunteers must have been frozen. They were the heroes of this event, not us.
When I got back to my car I revved up the engine, turned on the heater, and guzzled down two bottles of chocolate milk that mom had sent with me. (She is so thoughtful!) Eventually I arrived back at the Lapsleys' house. The minute I stepped out of the car I began shaking uncontrollably. I was nearly overcome by the cold just walking from the car to the house. After a congratulatory word from mom and dad, I took the most amazing hot shower of my life, then a two-hour nap. In the evening we went out and celebrated at the local Outback. It was the perfect capstone to a wonderful day. Prior to this race, my coldest event was the Richmond Marathon at 27 degrees. Now that seems warm. Cliché as it sounds, there is so much value in sucking it up and just keeping on going. When we have to, we can all do hard things. In the end, I made it. Of course I did. 26.2 miles may have taken me 6 and a half hours to finish (6:38:31 to be exact), but I fought hard for my medal and I earned it.
I will never ever run another marathon on concrete, that's for sure. But I will always treasure this race. It was my hardest marathon of the seven I've completed. It was my slowest marathon. And it was my most satisfying marathon. All in all, it was the perfect way to ring in a new year of heart-stopping adventures.
So, Happy New Year to you! The best of everything in 2018!
P.S. Love you, mom and dad. What a great time we had together.
Friday, December 29
6:48 AM The marathon has been called "Every Man's Everest." Almost anyone with a modicum of health can train themselves to run/walk 26.2 miles in 6 hours or less. It helps if you can check your ego at the door and learn from your mistakes. I'm just not built to run marathons. Yet the marathon is one of my top life experiences, right up there with surfing Sunset Beach or climbing the Breithorn. I savor each step, amazed at how far I've come. And the finish line is just the beginning.
Weather on race day in north Dallas? Not looking as bad as it looked a few days ago. They're now calling for partly cloudy skies with a high of 30. The wind will be out of the northeast at 13 mph (oy!), and the humidity will be a pleasant 37 percent. At the start of the race we can expect temps hovering around 20 degrees. So that's what they call a tease!
The course is pancake flat but I'm not expecting to set a PR or anything like that. The strategy is to maintain a fairly even pace if possible. I rarely set specific time goals but I do hope to finish around 6 hours. It all depends on how the old bod holds up under the strain of the cold. Anyway, the race needs volunteers to staff the packet pickup stations, so I've volunteered for tomorrow night from 3:00 - 6:30 pm. Granted, I should have been volunteering years ago, but it's not too late to get caught up I reckon. One of the good things about keeping a blog is that you can go back and review the races you did in the past. I remember my first marathon in Cincy last May as being cold and windy. Plus you had to cross the mighty Ohio twice. There are some days when I think I'm too old to worry about such things. Maybe I should just stay in good enough condition to get out there and not worry about times. However, something invariably happens when I get to the starting line. When I put on a race number, I'm ready to rumble. I may not look like a gladiator, but I feel like one.
The spirit of competition is buried deep inside the human psyche. If I can come in 699th out of 700 runners, I'm going to give it my best shot. At my age, being victorious is largely a matter of making peace with my limitations. I simply try to do my best. But once I'm on the course, I'm not looking back. I'm a long distance ace.
In the end, my race matters only to me. Running, almost as much as the Bible, has taught me how to live. My own two feet have taught me the meaning of triumph and failure, pleasure and pain. As a runner you have to dig deep within yourself. There you discover that you are stronger than you ever imagined you could be. Maybe it's time you signed up for your first 5K, as I did three years ago. I promise you: You won't have any regrets. Look for a charity race in your area and get started. Who knows? You might become a regular on the running circuit. We're never too old to push ourselves to excel, no matter how crazy it may seem or how small the rewards may be.
I won't be running between now and my race on New Years Day, so I thought I'd gander over to my Map My Run app and see how many miles I did this year. Including walking, running, hiking, and cycling, these legs of mine took me exactly 1136.2 miles. That's the distance from Washington DC to Oklahoma City. My weekly averages were 19 miles, 4 hours, and 4 workouts. Calories burned totaled 2,569. In 2017 I also started seeing a physical therapist/personal trainer. She's great. She tells me how awesome I am and sends me on my way until our next visit. She tells me about foot turnover rate and the like. (Makes me sound like a pro, eh?) Happily for me, she treats me like the science dummy I am and puts everything on the bottom shelf.
Well, this ends the year 2017 blogging-wise. I've enjoyed the ride with you. See you in 2018, Lord willing.
Happy Newness Year (Rom. 6:4),
Thursday, December 28
6:48 PM I nearly did a back flip when I went to the mailbox this evening and got this report from UNC.
The leading essay featured the cutting-edge research Dr. Vickie Bae-Jump is doing on endometrial cancer and the $25,000.00 donation to her research that many of you helped make possible.
Endometrial cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting women and has been on the increase globally. The number of women dying from this form of cancer has also been increasing disproportionately to its rise in incidents. Vickie, I'm so proud of the work you're doing. My prayer is that the Lord will grant you success in all your endeavors. And to everyone who donated to the Becky Black Memorial Fund I established when I climbed the Alps, I am so grateful for you. I can never thank you enough.
8:55 AM Of all the things I'm thankful for right now, a love of Bible study ranks first and foremost. Perhaps I should have rusted out by now. I started teaching in 1976. That's before most of my students were born. But our minds are more elastic than we think. Humans are resilient beings. We bounce back from hardship and grow in ways we never thought imaginable.
A full life is not the same as a full calendar. You can be very busy and still lose your first love (Rev. 3:1-7). In my life, I'm struggling to make a change. I want to notice, really notice, what the Lord is trying to teach His people through His word, and that includes my study of the short epistle of 1 Thessalonians. I have so many things to do on my schedule that I lose the ability to listen, to connect. So today, let me try to share with you a few truths I'm learning from chapter 1 of this letter. I'm ravenous for truth -- truth that changes lives, my own first and foremost. So here goes nothin'.
1) Paul had no orphans. Paul was into disciple-making big time, just as His Lord had commanded. I have no hesitation whatsoever in regarding this as the main ingredient in my own life. I believe that careful nurture made the difference between a Dave Black who was content with an overt, one time commitment and a Dave Black who sought after an experiential Christianity. Several months after founding the church at Thessalonica, Paul engages in "after-care" of the first magnitude. Our shallow, slap-happy form of Christianity will not change unless we do the same.
2) After-care shows itself in a myriad of ways. If Christianity is to attract anybody to its Master, it must have a faith that works, a love that labors, and a hope that remains steadfast through persecution. I imagine the Thessalonian believers were quite the talk of the town. I imagine their congregation was well-known for the way it joyfully cared for the needs all around them. A Christian congregation was never intended to be a private hobby. The gathering exists only for the going. I bet the Thessalonian community was a friendly place. Evangelism was in their life blood. They had a radical openness to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was allowed to have His way.
3) There's another characteristic of the Thessalonian community I find attractive. They took example seriously. They realized that following a good example -- and setting one -- is a vital part of Christian living. I can see warmth and lightness of touch emanating from the congregation. They were eager to follow Paul's gentleness and his commitment to sharing the love of Jesus with others. They were Christians (little Christs), not Baptists or Methodists. If Paul believed in personal evangelism, sure as shooting they were going to as well. The atoning work of Christ on the cross was taken with all seriousness, as was the utter sufficiency of His death for our salvation. Mission was a central tenet of their philosophy of living. In this they were merely following the example of Paul -- and Jesus.
4) Did you notice how Paul calls his readers "brothers and sisters"? (Yes, the term is inclusive.) This seems to me to be one of the main emphases of the congregations I've had the privilege of visiting in Asia. What matters is not their social status but that they are spiritually alive, sons and daughters of the same Father. Wherever I go, I'm called "Brother Dave." All they want to do is understand and apply, without addition or subtraction, the teaching of Jesus in Mathew 23. I have to confess I'd like to see this happening more in the States.
5) Finally, the Thessalonian believers were eager for their Savior's return. Were they pre-, mid-, or post-? I doubt this question was even raised. Here's what I think they did know: The bride of Christ is undeniably a sign of the coming kingdom. It's a significant but small manifestation of the way God meant human beings to act and relate. But this old world is merely a proving ground for the real deal. The kingdoms of this world have not become His but they will. One day the meek will indeed inherit the earth and the saints will indeed judge the world. Meanwhile, we are living for a coming kingdom. We are merely pilgrims and strangers on this earth. As a result, we are not to be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. Eugene Peterson puts it this way:
Christian friend, beware of any deals with the devil to get the kingdoms of the world by a short-cut. The way -- the only way -- is by the cross, and we travel this road with our Lord, bidding farewell to the wisdom of the world and "eagerly expecting the coming of God's Son from heaven."
Wednesday, December 27
6:38 PM 18 things I'd like to do in 18:
Okay. So that's more than 18. What can I say. I got on a roll. Now it's time to cook supper. Korean bulgogi.
1:45 PM Been bench pressing all morning. Now it's time to rest before my afternoon run. But first a few "Thank You" notes:
1) Thank you, Amazon Prime, for free shipping.
2) Thank you, Lord, for a wonderful lunch of cream of chicken soup with garlic and a salad of green cabbage, romaine lettuce, kale, and carrots. (Wow, Dave is such a health freak.)
3) Thank you, Google, for online recipes for raisin muffins. (Well, I guess he isn't such a health freak after all.)
4) Thank you, Jesus, for a New Year!
9:40 AM Morning, folks. Here's my analysis of 1 Thess. 1:6-10.
In doing a colon analysis like this one, the first step is identifying all of the independent finite verbs. You'll notice that although this paragraph has 7 finite verbs, only 3 of them are independent verbs -- the ones marked in blue. The 4 dependent finite verbs are colored green (because they're all envious of the blue verbs). There are 3 Greek conjunctions that move the paragraph along; these are marked in red because they are such hot items and should never be neglected. There you have it, folks. The Dark Ages are past. Fiat lux and all that.
And hey, if you're wondering why anybody should go through all the time and trouble of doing this ...
It's obvious that there are 3 main colons in this paragraph. Each contains a major idea. Now I have to tell you something, and it's bad. The verses in our English translations can hide all of this. By breaking paragraphs down into individual verses, our Bibles leave the impression that every verse can stand on its own. This is how most of us memorize Scripture, right? Fact is: You can't automatically follow the verse divisions in your Bible. I'm sorry, okay? I told you I'm the type to look for connections between clauses rather than verses. Now, as we inventory our analysis, we're back to the 3 colons and what they might be emphasizing. Perhaps I could summarize the paragraph this way:
1) Imitation is the highest form of flattery. In other words, Christian education is likeness education. Be like Paul, who was like Jesus!
2) Keeping the Good News to ourselves is not very appropriate when we can choose to do the opposite: trumpet it forth.
3) Are you weird? I mean, in a good sort of way? I really, really like how this paragraph ends. The message is clear: Until our Savior returns, we are to joyfully and scandalously serve King Jesus.
As I write this I ask myself: Are you ready to adopt this way of thinking, Dave old boy? I mean, adopt Jesus' version of "kingdom," "rich," "blessed," strong," "generous"? I'm starting to see 1 Thessalonians with fresh eyes. I hope you will too as you read and meditate on it.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
8:45 AM My favorite German chorale:
"Außer dir soll mir auf Erden/Nichts sonst Liebers werden." Exactly!
Tuesday, December 26
8:12 PM Somebody please hit me with the stupid stick. Yo blogger's so dumb. I drove all the way to Raleigh only to find out that all of the showings for Darkest Hour were sold out for the entire day. Of course, it never occurred to me that the day after Christmas might be a whopper of a shopping fiasco. I'm probably not one who is susceptible to fits of disgust, but even I blurted out "Bleurgh!" So what, you ask, did I do today? I drove home and frenzied myself about class preparations. I took the doggie for a walk. I fed the animals. I cooked supper: Szechuan pork over rice. (When my mojo goes down the drain, I eat.) Sorry. This has been a totally uneventful blog post. But you know me. I write about my day as it happened, not necessarily as I planned for it to happen.
Looking ahead, Monday's marathon in Texas will be an exciting event for sure. You run for 6 hours. You give your body a beating. A chunk of metal is placed around your neck and you're given a popsicle. You waddle to the car and drive home in pain. You take off your shoes and admire your black and blue toenails. You take a hot shower and send texts and pictures to your friends and family. You nap. Then you go out and celebrate with family. You are sore. You are stiff. And you are enjoying every minute of it. The marathon is the race of races for an old fossil like me. It's the ultimate challenge. But it's worth every hard-earned mile. I can't imagine my life any other way. I knew I was hooked when I finished my first marathon in May. Now it's number 7. I run because I'm a runner. Because I feel good about those days when I'm engaged in physical activity. Because running allows my body to rebuild itself over and again into a body that will be stronger and healthier for the Lord's service. Because I can.
The high on race day is predicted to be 18 degrees. Yes, I said "high." That will feel warm compared to the low of 8 degrees during the night. Oh, wind gusts of up to 17 mph are also being forecast for race day. WAH. Oh, but there's good news. No snow in the forecast. Not a flake. Always something to be grateful for. But hey -- what do you expect when you run on New Years Day? There's only one thing to do during a cold weather race. Well, three things. Stop your whining, suck it up, and remember that you get to this do. Amazon's delivering this to me on Thursday.
No, not the gorgeous head of hair. The fleece neck and face warmer. Praise the Lord. A Noble Prize for whoever invented the thing.
It will be a very interesting race, to say the least.
Back to my warm fireplace, my dog, and The Killer Angels, my book about the wo-ah.
7:35 AM My daughter Matthea has begun working with a ministry called Freegrance (a play on "fragrance"). The whole idea is to fight human trafficking in Asia and elsewhere. According to their website:
They offer both soap products and apparel. (Thanks for the idea, Jesus!)
This is precious, of course. If discipleship doesn't include any sacrifices, then it's not discipleship. Even a pagan writer, Lucian (130-200 C.E.), could write of Christians:
I know, I know. This isn't easy. I'm trying to reduce consumption so that I can give a bigger chunk of my money to ministries like this one. Plus -- I love sudsy soap! (I'll pass on the earrings, however.) I have some sweet memories of the girl my wife and I helped take off the streets of Addis many years ago. When all the talk today in our culture is about bank accounts and tax savings and the rising stock market, the church takes on the same gluttonous attitudes. That's not only not Christian, it's boring. Words move me. "Our vision is to help women vulnerable to human trafficking by helping them start businesses and bring their products to market under the Freegrance brand." We each decide where our dollars go, and I'm not trying to be preachy here. But please do take a look at their website and, if you can, buy a bar of soap. If each of us did just one act of kindness every day it would unleash a torrent of justice in this world of ours.
Meanwhile, you all know I've been working on doing colon analyses. Here's 1 Thess 1:2-5. It's only a rough draft.
But as you can see, the paragraph is amazingly simple. First of all, you have your typical "head" -- "We give thanks."
This is followed by three Greek participles that explain the "when," "what," and "why" of Paul's prayer. You don't have to understand Pythagorean Theorem to see this:
On the "prominence" side of things, I think it's pretty clear that Paul's moving from "The Thessalonians and who they are" to "The missionaries and who they are." This is called a "shift in expectancy." (I think. I'm technically not a linguist.) So while you are there at home quietly sipping your coffee and eating a healthy breakfast, I've been producing a colon analysis of every paragraph in the book of 1 Thessalonians. I'm having so much fun, almost as much fun as I'll have when I go to see Darkest Hour in the theater this afternoon.
May Jesus continue to be the bright spot in your dark days,
Monday, December 25
7:48 PM I love me a bike ride. Especially when the weather is cold. This was the toughest part: going over the High Bridge in Farmville.
You're 250 feet above the Appomattox and the wind is gusting, making for a wind-chill factor of 25 degrees. By mile 10 of my half marathon ride, my hands and feet were freezing.
Frostbite!!! My goodness, have I become a stotan?
Did you know it's cold and rainy in Dallas this week? Race day on Monday is supposed to be iffy. Most marathons are run rain or shine, and I suppose that's how it should be. A year or so ago I did a 10K in Dallas that was run during a thunderstorm. The race director almost cancelled the race, but radar showed the lightening moving out of the area by gun time, so run we did. I hope I don't get cold feet (figuratively speaking) a week from today. One of the biggest mistakes new runners (like moi) make is forgetting to put a new set of dry clothes in the car on race day. I have a feeling, though, that I'll need at least a new jersey and sweat shirt once the race is over, if only from the sweat. Also, I'm hoping against hope that I won't forget to take my body glide with me like I did when I ran the Dallas Marathon a couple of weeks ago. Chafing is the worst of evils because it sneaks up on you like a windshield on a bug and you don't realize you have it until the race is done. Hey, why run if you don't make a few mistakes along the way?
Today I began writing a complete colon analysis of every paragraph in the book of 1 Thessalonians. No, I am not a medical doctor, and "colon" does not mean what you think it means. This is not a colon:
This is a colon:
Actually, I did this about 20 years ago and even typed everything out, but I feel it's time to do it all over again without peeking at my previous work. Overall I'm feeling really good about what I've done so far. I've stopped for the day, because I'm the kind of guy who likes doing hard things and then being really lazy. (I grew up in Hawaii, remember?) My puppy and I are going to curl up in front of the fireplace in the library and read a book. Yep, it's back to The Killer Angels. Can't seem to put that thing down. I reread it at least three times a year, mostly for its impeccable prose. Michael Shaara, the author, was a sailor, prizefighter, paratrooper, and policeman before he became a professor of English. The Killer Angels earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and later became the basis for the movie Gettysburg. The only book I've received an award for is my Pullet Surprise winning Black's Encyclopedia of Surfing and Skateboarding. Gotten your copy yet?
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
10:24 AM This was my breakfast this morning.
As you know, in 2018 I'm really really trying to eat clean and not fall back into the convenience trap. I want to do better. I know I can do better. I still eat tons of processed food. Oh well. Baby steps ... But I've already come a long way. I am trying to eliminate almost all processed food from my diet. I'm hoping to be greener and buy more organic food, especially if it's locally grown. When I eat well I actually feel more satisfied and healthier. I plan on watching Forks over Knives tonight. I hear it's a pretty good documentary. My head is exploding just thinking about this stuff. Pray for me!
8:22 AM Feliz Navidad, mis amigos! When we needed a rescue, there came a Deliverer. Praise the Lord! Now our supreme goal is to follow Him in obedience and love. My years are now His years. To me, life is Christ. "It is I who can help you. I will take care of everything. Your sin. Your guilt. Your shame. Your needs. Your eternity. Forgiveness freely offered to all, the price paid in full by My blood." Today I thank God for blessing me with these precious gifts. I also thank Him for giving me such a loving family (and blog readership). May this day bring you and yours bucket loads of joy and happiness in Jesus.
As you know, I was planning on leaving this morning to do some serious rock climbing, but my plans are shut down due to bad weather in the West Virginia mountains. They're calling for snow with a high temp of 28 degrees. Not very good climbing weather. There's only one thing to do now, and that's go with the flow. This means back to the gym and the track for me, hanging out at my favorite coffee shop, prepping my lectures on 1 Thessalonians, and taking Sheba for long walks on the farm. Believe me, I'm not complaining. This year we had almost perfect weather with great temps and practically pristine conditions for running and climbing. It's still hard for me to believe that my next marathon is only one week from today. Meanwhile, I've been reading a piece in the New York Times that has me scratching me ol' head. It's called Plodders Have a Place, But Is It in a Marathon? One "hard core" runner who was interviewed said:
Hmm. Just a bit censorious maybe? What do you say to this guy?
John "The Penguin" Bingham, the "slow" marathoner who is the current world record holder in perfect-comeuppances, posted this brilliant response:
First of all, to the elitist runners who complain about us penguins "walking every other mile," I want you to know that I have actually managed to walk two miles during a marathon. So there. Second, who am I to say how fast you should run your marathon? You see, unlike football or basketball, what makes running such a unique sport is that both first-timers and elite runners compete on the very same playing field. In the third place, there's a huge difference between pace and effort. I really don't care what anybody's pace is as long as they are pushing themselves to accomplish their personal goals. Finally, there's no one "correct" way of doing anything in life. Where I work, all of us Greek teachers use different beginning grammars. Our teaching styles are also radically different. Viva la difference! As long as we get the job done, we're good to go.
The bottom line? Once you cross that finish line at the marathon, you become a marathoner. Period. The elite runner's goal might be to win the race. My goal might be to get to the next mile marker without dropping dead. As far as I'm concerned, we've both accomplished something pretty monumental. I will never be more than a very average recreational runner. I run for the fun of it and because I enjoy a good challenge. I've seen mortals of every age, size, and shape cross the finish line. I'm one of them. I'm racing the clock just like everyone else is, and I'm right proud of it. I've read that some runners who were once 3:30 finishers now take 6 hours to finish a marathon. Eventually that will happen to all of us. It's called aging. So can we all just be grateful for the gift of running? As long as we train hard and respect the distance, I think the sport is big enough to embrace us all.
Finally (for now), as promised yesterday, here are a few thoughts about Will Varner's new commentary called Philippians: A Linguistic Commentary. First, it seems strange not to find any mention of the publisher in the book. Maybe it's there and I missed it. If you go online, however, you will see that the book is a "CreateSpace" product. Not saying this is good or bad. Second, there is no table of contents. Third, the book has four major chapters. Each begins as follows: "Analysis of Philippians One," "Analysis of Philippians Two," etc. This approach seems to contradict the author's "most distinguishing principle" in writing (p. 6):
He adds (p. 6):
I love this emphasis on discourse analysis. Student, don't skip this step! But you have to put the meat on the right bones. No discourse analysis (or even rhetorical analysis) of Philippians that I'm aware of sees a major break between chapters 1 and 2. On the other hand, I'm impressed with the way the author handles such matters as ....
Textual variation. This seems to be a real strength of this commentary, more so than its "linguistic" approach. See especially the discussion of 1:1, where we're actually treated to a useful photo of Codex Vaticanus.
Clause structure. See the excellent diagram of 1:3-6.
Verbal aspect. See the discussion of present versus aorist infinitive in 1:21.
Certain discourse features. An example is the prominence the author gives to 2:1-4.
At the same time, each of these strengths seems to have its own built-in weaknesses.
Textual variation. How is the itacism of "Timothy" in 1:1 relevant?
Clause structure. A diagram would have been helpful in several passages where one is missing, not least in 2:5-11. For what it's worth, my own understanding of "Wie der Text spielt" here would look like this:
Verbal aspect. I think there's some inconsistency here. If you're going to translate katergazesthe in 2:12 as "continue working out," why not translate the politeuesthe of 1:27 as "Continue to [or Make it your habit to] conduct yourselves..."? Both imperatives are in the present tense.
Certain discourse features. We read that monon in 1:27 "marks off a new unit" (p. 47). I agree! This is why commentaries begin a new section of the letter here rather than in 2:1.
It's really difficult for me to place this book within the spectrum of commentaries on Philippians. I think it will make an excellent aid for people with rusty Greek skills. They will, of course, use it in conjunction with other books on Philippians as well as the major lexica. From an initial reading of this commentary, I'd have to say it's overall helpful but not as much as I hoped for in a work claiming to be "linguistic." I would view linguistics as incorporating so much more than words, phrases, and clauses. The author admits as much in his opening introduction. It's just that I don't see this philosophy played out very consistently in the commentary proper. In other words, to me the book promises more than it delivers. That said, I want to end this mini-review with a number of quotes from the book that will (hopefully) show you just how practical it is.
These are the words of a gentle pastor who obviously cares about the spiritual development of his readers. I'm reminded of an old Scottish proverb: "Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place. But it's not at the head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Christ." This commentary is a good treatment of a wonderful letter. Anyone desiring a careful navigation of Philippians needs to read it.
Sunday, December 24
5:58 PM Today I joined my daughter and her family for a wonderful Christmas eve dinner since they had to be back in Birmingham tomorrow.
Of course, I couldn't wait to sit next to little Miss Karis Lynn, who's already eating big people food. What a a cutie pie!
This week my hope is to do some major rock climbing in West Virginia before leaving for Dallas on Friday. Just wanted to say Merry Christmas to all and thanks for putting up with this techno-challenged blogger for so long. I'm in the process of critically reviewing a new "linguistic" commentary on Philippians. My aim is to see if the author has reached his goals of producing a linguistically sound approach to the letter. Till then, let's keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We are all co-rulers with Him. Politics (whether from the left or the right) doesn't have the last word!
7:35 AM The new Google Translate is very impressive. After I finished typing "Do we want to converse in German?" I glanced over to the right, where this German rendering appeared: "Wollen wir uns auf Deutsch unterhalten?" The German is perfect -- both idiomatic and natural. Sure, GT isn't perfect. I like the following example. Here's what you get when Google fails you:
Or when you get lazy:
(They could probably also use a translator.)
Since I know Latin, this morning I decided to listen to the original vision of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" on YouTube. But wait a minute. This looks weird.
The Latin actually says, "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall be born to you, O Israel." It certainly seems like somebody dropped the ball here. "Drop the ball," did I say? Hmm, let's try that in Google Translate:
Okay, I'll give this one to GT. How could a machine know I was referring to the idiom "fail to do one's part," in which case the German would read something like "etwas versäumen"?
In the end, maybe it's better just to keep things un-translated.
Back to my Christmas music.
Saturday, December 23
7:34 PM The New Years Double Marathon in Allen, TX is only a week away. As you can see, it's a smallish race.
In fact, the 5K is limited to 600 participants and the half/full marathon is limited to 700. Sounds cozy. It will be the first time I've run an entire marathon on concrete rather than on asphalt or crushed gravel. (I've yet to run one on grass.) Concrete is said to be 10 times as hard as asphalt and therefore delivers the most shock to your legs when you're running. As you can see, however, the course is lined with a grassy surface and I hope against hope I'll be able to do at least a portion of my running on the grass.
No runner wants to have an injury, least of all an injury caused by a running surface. I just hope I will emerge a wiser and stronger runner from the race. I may be biting off a bit more than I can chew, however. Thankfully there's a 7-hour time limit, which is almost unheard of for a complete marathon but one I'll gladly accept.
Ever heard of the "Blue Zones"? Neither had I, until today. While browsing books on Amazon I saw a book called The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest. The author argues that longevity is a combination of lifestyle, community, and spirituality. Since the book sounded interesting (and was cheap), I ordered it. It outlines how the author traveled the world in search of places where people seemed to enjoy remarkably long and happy lives. I also took the author's "Happiness Test." The response was, "Congratulations! You scored high in pride, purpose and pleasure. You have a great balance in your happiness." You can take the test here. I do think I am basically a happy person -- though I definitely have my "moments." I love where I live, I love to teach and meet new people, and I love helping others. I've learned that people come and go in our lives, and I'm at peace with that. That said, I have to admit to having a pretty serious case of Wanderlust. I'm always searching for new horizons, it seems. My home is everyplace. I know that sounds crazy. Sooner or later in every marathon I've ever run, I start laughing out loud. It seems utterly absurd that a normal guy like me could be on the same course as a 2:20 marathoner. Real success in life comes from being willing to take risks. This world is a big place. When asked for His name, the Creator simply uttered, "I AM." He is a God who likes to pop up in some surprising places -- burning bushes, fish bellies, Pacific island beaches, remote villages in India and Ethiopia, even marathon race courses. One of my favorite sayings is by Dorothy Day: "Don't call us saints; we don't want to be dismissed that easily."
Jesus interrupts our lives. We can't, therefore, settle for comfort. He's paving the way ahead, and all we have to do is follow, even when the surface is a concrete one.
1:46 PM Ok, folks. Let me start by saying I never thought (or said) that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is easy. I just want to be clear about that. This morning, after I lifted weights for 30 minutes and ran a 5K at the track, I went grocery shopping. I will never look at a grocery aisle the same way again. That's because I watched the movie Fed Up on Netflix while running.
Food documentaries aren't anything new, but this one grabbed my attention. It easily deserves 5 out of 5 stars. Please don't watch this movie if you're satisfied with your dietary status quo. It really shook me up. Here's an aisle in my local grocery store. I snapped it about an hour ago.
There is nothing here that hasn't been processed. Not one thing. According to the movie, of the 600,000 food products sold in the U.S., over 80 percent have sugar added to them. As a farmer, I was shocked and disturbed to discover that our federal government subsidizes farmers (to the tune of 8 billion dollars a year) to grow corn in order to produce fructose intended to make everything we eat taste great. My only regret is that I didn't watch this movie 4 years ago. Here is the truth: Type 2 diabetes statistics among our children are stunning. Can't we at least help our kids break the soda habit? What most of us don't understand (or if we do understand it, we do nothing about it) is that the sugar in our diet is driving our diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease epidemics. My biggest complaint is not about the movie. It's about me. I've heard all of this a million times before. So have you. We know our food industry is a joke. But do we make any changes in our food purchases?
See this picture?
This is the scene that greets you when you land in the Geneva airport, as I did two summers ago. Bread in Europe is baked fresh daily. Most Europeans I know refuse to eat packaged foods. That's why they go grocery shopping daily. That's what Becky and I did when we lived in Switzerland. Somehow I have to learn how to cook that way again. I can't believe that after Becky died I actually bought Hamburger Helper thinking that it would be an easy and healthy meal for me to prepare!
So what did I buy today? Tangerines. Avocados. Salmon. Pork. Bananas. I actually passed by the Doritos without blinking an eye. I just had a tuna sandwich for lunch, with whole milk. When I assess my recent blessings, becoming health conscious is one of the uppermost. Who knew disgust with the food industry could create such community?
So what does healthy eating look like? Don't ask me. I'm just starting out. But I'm taking baby steps. Our nation is in a nutritional crisis of our own making. Why cook when you can heat up a TV dinner? It's been a devil of a bargain. Not since Becky was alive have I smelt the aroma of warm bread rising. I'm hoping for a way to return to those olden days.
9:15 AM We hear it every day. Diets don't work. I can't loose weight. I had 2 years of Greek in seminary but I couldn't use it today if my life depended on it. I've jogged for three months now but it seems I've lost all interest (and self-discipline). Remember the P90 exercise fad?
It was all the rage on campus a few years ago. Now you never hear about it. Many people I talk to think I took up running to lose weight. Running can indeed help you lose unwanted pounds. You burn tons of calories in a very short period of time. But running (or any form of regular exercise) needs to be balanced with a proper diet and proper rest.
Obviously, this is a complicated topic. I for sure don't have a handle on it. All I can do is live up to the light God has granted me to this point. The truth is, to preserve your vitality and to prevent disease, you need to do two things, as I pointed out in my essay Taking Care of Your Temple:
1) Carefully select everything you put in your mouth.
2) Do some form of exercise regularly.
That's it. Do this and everything else will fall into place, including your weight. You will NEVER hear me say I count calories. You will NEVER hear me say I weigh myself every day. I haven't stood on the bathroom scale in weeks. You know when you're healthy: It's when you're (1) feeling good and (2) looking good. Just look in the mirror. I'll have to admit it: I've never been overly prone toward obesity. I was as skinny as a bean pole in high school. That all changed in my 50s. But I've lost dozens of unwanted pounds simple by exercising regularly and trying to be more careful about what I eat.
Still, I struggle with my relationship with food. First of all, I enjoy eating. Secondly, I don't like to cook. Finally, I hate shopping, whether it's grocery shopping or shopping for clothes. I don't know what the answer is. Yesterday one of my daughters and I went through my pantry. We cleaned out the refrigerator. That was an eye-opener. My hugest, biggest, most gignormous goal for 2018? Learn how to cook healthy food at home and eat out less. This will obviously involve some major dietary and culinary changes. But I'm ready to face the challenge. Let's face it: the ordinary American diet is atrocious! We eat at fast food restaurants, and when we eat at home we eat food that was prepared for us. So change is on the way for this surfer dude. Here are some proto-thoughts (very much still in the distillation phase):
I've ordered Color Me Vegan. This book is NOT just for vegans. It explains the health benefits of a plant-based diet and teaches ways we can make vegetables taste good in a hundred different ways. (Keep in mind: I am not saying I agree with or condone everything in the vegan philosophy.) I appreciate the people in my family who are helping me and giving me advice. I'm going to start with small but achievable goals in the New Year and thus (hopefully) set myself up for success. Remember, friends, you can't embrace the nutrition without the exercise, and vice versa.
Thanks to all who have inspired me with their blogs and notes of encouragement. I'd like to think it's the Lord who's leading me to make these changes in my lifestyle. I know without any doubt that He was the one who prompted me to become physically active after Becky passed away. I think of exercise as a healthy addiction. It's been three years since I threw in the towel on my sedentary, unhealthy way of life. I've completed 5Ks, 10Ks, sprint triathlons, half marathons, and marathons, In 2018 I hope to do an ultra. (Can I get an Amen!) The key, for me at least, is learning how to cook my own meals and how to shop for groceries. I know I can fail in this. How many times in the past have I said "Lord, Lord" and not followed through? But I feel ready. I'm motivated. I'm committed. In the end, it's all about treating our bodies with the respect and care they deserve. Health is a lifestyle, not a passing fad.
So what's your next move?
Friday, December 22
8:35 PM Superb meal tonight in Henderson with the Black family. (Family meals make me SO happy.)
Earlier today one of my grandkids wanted to see all of my racing medals. She took this picture. Now that's a lot of scrap metal.
8:46 AM Salutations to all my cyber-friends on this Friday before Christmas. I'm sufficiently caffeinated to begin blogging, though I have no idea what I'm going to say. Let's start with this morning's sunrise. Yes, even though the weather has turned cold, nothing can stop me from doing my Bible reading on the front porch unless it's a snow storm.
Before there was air conditioning, there were porches. A house without a porch is, well, not a house. I'm actually seriously contemplating joining my local chapter of the Professional Porch Sitters Union. The nice thing about it is that anybody can call a meeting at any time and there are no dues. Anyways, in keeping with the Christmas spirit, here's the cartoon of the day:
Maybe these guys needed more caffeine too.
So what did I ponder anew on my front porch on this cold but clear Friday morning? Nothing other than ... Dun Dun DUN ... Paul's triad in 1 Thess. 1:3. You know: faith, love, and hope. Each word is in the genitive case in Greek, which makes all of them modifiers of the nouns that precede them. Maybe we could bring out Paul's meaning as follows: "We remember how you put your faith into practice (=work of faith), how your love made you work so hard (= labor of love), and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ has been so steadfast (=perseverance of hope)."
(A word or two. One. I don't prefer literal translations. Why bother with Greek if all you're going to is give me the ESV? Two. I love words in the genitive case, but if you feel overwhelmed about them, just skip. But honestly, genitives deserve more love than they get.)
Now, I'm not 100 percent positive about what I'm about to write, but a thought occurred to me this morning. Since I'm looking for connections between various parts of the same letter, could 1:3 be an anticipation of what Paul's going to write later on in 4:3-5:11? There we have three main sections: 4:3-8 dealing with proper behavior; 4:9-12 dealing with proper love; and 5:1-11 dealing with proper preparation for the Parousia of Jesus. Visualize it this way:
I know this is a "quirky" proposition, but it's not the first (or last) one I've made. Way back in ye olden days, I would have never bothered to even ask such questions of the text. The NASB was good enough for me. Now in the new world, I've become a full-blown exegesis junkie. I won't lie. I love doing what I do for a living. Even more, I love asking my students to do the hard work of exegesis despite their lack of sleep and their missing brain cells due to taking too many classes at once. We'll talk about all of this in class, of course. Why, for example, does Paul use so many triads in 1 Thessalonians? (A student will cover this topic on our first day of class.) There seems to be something inherently satisfying about the number 3, don't you think?
Dun, Dun, DUN. (No one would ever say, "Dun, Dun, Dun, DUN.")
Vini, vidi, vici.
Lost sheep, lost coin, lost son.
Three blind mice.
Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Three little pigs.
Three ring circus.
Three French hens.
Three-point sermons. (2 seems too few; 4 seems too many.)
And my favorite ....
The Three Stooges.
Think about it ....
Well, that's it for now. Today I'm cleaning house. All day. Some of my kids and grandkids are coming over to help me because, frankly, I have no idea what I'm doing. I am so excited to watch them work.
Thursday, December 21
7:44 PM My thanks to Running USA for posting a really informative report about the state of running in the good old U.S. of A. Check out this chart:
What a crazy road trip! First of all, the 5K race remains the most popular event in the U.S., which doesn't surprise anyone because most of us started out by running a 5K at the prodding (nagging) of a friend or loved one. Secondly, although 20- and 30-somethings comprise the largest group of runners, take a look at the percentage of 55-65-year-olds-plus who've been released from a life of sedentary confinement.
We Methuselahs comprise about 12 percent of the running population. See, it doesn't matter how old you are. It doesn't even matter how far or how fast you go.
In many ways, my blog is an invitation for you to discover the athlete in yourself. Today I am stronger than I ever imagined I could be. As a runner, you learn to dig deep, where you discover a mighty reservoir of God-given strength. When I did my 5K training run today, there were good patches and bad patches. In the final analysis, running is teaching me how to think and live and feel like an athlete -- someone who takes risks, reaches for something beyond their immediate grasp, and accepts failure just as much as success. What's most surprising of all is that this beach bum from Hawaii is willing to do the work and put in the miles. Each race that I participate in is a pure gift from God, not an entitlement. I love to run because I know that each step is a step in the right direction, taking me closer and closer to who I want to be mentally, physically, even spiritually. If, just if, I could help you embrace this same outlook on life in 2018, I think it would be the greatest present I could give you this holiday season.
I haven't lived my last best day. Neither have you, my friend.
6:55 PM The term is being bandied about nowadays so we might as well try to define it. It actually comes from a Greek word:
This might be rendered, based on its etymology alone, as "a revealer of figs." Here, however, context and usage serve us better than etymology (as is so often the case with words of Greek origin). A sycophant is someone who bows down and gives praise when they don't mean it. They shamelessly gush over someone they probably intensely dislike. When I was much, much younger, I briefly worked for a man who was mega-rich, crude, and pathologically vain. The moment he began to require obeisance from his employees, I was outta there. This kind of a situation sets leaders and followers up for failure. Again, I come back to the apostle Paul. If there was any trait he was known for, it was his modesty. Only when backed into a corner -- and especially when he felt the truth of the Gospel was at stake -- would he engage in "foolish speech" -- i.e., boasting. Contrariwise, we often find him lavishing praise on his co-workers out of a heart of pure love, as Ellis points out in his essay. Postmoderns will not accept hubris. They will not follow a leader without a limp. The irony is that my generation seems to miss this point. So guess what, millennials? It's up to you to turn things around. Respect your leaders. Show honor wherever honor is due. Fight the instinct to always be right. This is your calling -- not sycophancy. And leaders, earn the right to be heard and followed. You're way more human than you're likely to admit. Young people respect vulnerability. Hold your authority with tender hands.
6:05 PM Among the dozens of essays I'm asking my Greek 4 students to read next semester is this one:
Earle Ellis was a professor of New Testament and Greek at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leader of leaders among Southern Baptist New Testament scholars. His Ph.D. was from the University of Edinburgh.
So there you have it. What an acute assessment of what is awry with our views of church leadership today. How profoundly biblical his conclusions. Let's not overcomplicate this, friends. The shepherds are not only sheep themselves; they delight in identifying with the flock. I guess I'd prefer something a bit more like this in our churches today. As I argue in my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, a shared table is the supreme expression of Christian equality and unity in the New Testament. Leader friend: Don't fear receding into the team, into the group, into the community. It's your best offering to your one and only Boss/Leader/Lord/Master. So here is my invitation to form your own team of co-workers. I'm cheering you on from the sidelines.
(Side note: We can't go a mile wide and an inch deep when we study a book like 1 Thessalonians. The fact that in 1:1 Paul includes the names of Silvanus and Timothy alongside his own is shockingly disconnected with the "senior pastor"/"associate pastors" model we are familiar with today. Students, brace yourselves. It's going to be one whirlwind of a ride.)
8:58 AM Bwaaaaaaa!!!!!
8:22 AM Happy Thursday everybody! I'm sitting here at my desk when I'd rather be outdoors roughhousing with nature, enjoying the art and play that's called running. All in due course ....
I've been an exegete of the New Testament for 41 years and I'm still trying to explain this self-renewing inner compulsion. The more I study the Bible, the more I want to study it. The more I study the Bible, the more my life has the chance of being influenced and fashioned by my study. At the minimum, I begin with the text. This is where things happen. Reading the text of, say, 1 Thessalonians -- the book we're studying in Greek 4 this coming semester -- provides the meditative setting. Like everyone else, I like to be challenged. I want to find out whether or not I can do this. I want to see how much effort I'm willing to put out ... what I can endure ... if I can measure up to the challenging task ahead of me. But mostly I study the Bible because I'm a child of God, and these are His words to me. The Greek text of 1 Thessalonians consists of 18 paragraphs. Together they merge to communicate Paul's life-changing message. These paragraphs are: 1:1; 1:2-10; 2:1-12; 2:13-16; 2:17-20; 3:1-5; 3:6-10; 3:11-13; 4:1-2; 4:3-8; 4:9-12; 4:13-18; 5:1-11; 5:12-22; 5:23-24; 5:25; 5:26-27; 5:28. These, my friends, are the basic building blocks of 1 Thessalonians. There are perfectly good reasons for these individual paragraphs. Every New Testament writing is a sum of its parts. I know of no better way to discover the theme of a book of the New Testament than putting it together like a jigsaw puzzle. It's sort of like being involved in a difficult kind of marathon, a long road of discovery. The aim is accuracy. How well the exegete knows this. At first it appears we are fighting against heat and humidity, hills and challenging terrain. But soon it becomes apparent that my real opponent is me -- the true self who all too often is willing to settle for "nice try." We see again and again the importance of exegesis. As we study the Scriptures, there will never be a day when we don't need guidance from above, energy, dedication, discipline, and the assurance that true knowledge changes lives.
Whenever I check out a new commentary on some book of the New Testament, I always turn immediately to its outline of the book. My experience has convinced me that even the best commentary can have significant blind spots. I just Googled "Sermons on Heb. 1:1-3" and found a very long list. If the sermon is in a series, the next message begins with verse 4. This, of course, is an utter impossibility. The reader of the Greek text realizes immediately that Heb. 1:1-4 is one long sentence. In other words, the first four verses of the letter comprise a paragraph, a basic unit of thought. Suddenly, preaching from verses 1-3 seems much less attractive to me. An inquiring mind doesn't want to get it "almost right."
1 Thessalonians itself has not been immune from a sort of slipshod approach to jigsaw-puzzling. As you know, I'm requiring my Greek 4 students to acquire a copy of Fee's outstanding commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians in the NICNT series. Fee's exegesis is normally impeccable. But his outline of chapter 1 befuddles me.
Here's the Greek text of 1 Thess. 1:2-5. You'll notice that it's a single sentence.
The one disagreement I have with Fee is the way he begins a major new thought unit with a dependent clause (Greek: εἰδότες). How can a section of a Greek letter begin in the middle of a sentence? My approach to such matters has been to go back to the fundamentals. By the way, technology does not spare me the effort. Online aids are not, as they might first appear, energy-saving innovations. Don't believe for a movement that computer software will make things easier. All too often, we abdicate our souls to the gatekeepers. Self-involvement changes something boring into something quite exciting.
Exegesis is a good kind of "hard." But it's not intended to be an end in itself. We evangelicals are inundated with information from blogs and books and sermons. Such is the ridiculous American life. I don't want to study 1 Thessalonians unless I'm prepared to allow God to use my study to change my life. I once read about a university in Oregon that offered a fitness course. Students weight trained one day and ran the next. You might think this repetition got boring. Not so in this class. Why? Because the daily activities were part of a course that prepared the students to climb Mount Mood. That goal transformed the mundane daily workouts into a new and exciting experience.
Each of us must have a mountain (or maybe a hill) to climb. We need a meaningful goal in life. We need something we believe we are incapable of doing. You'd be surprised how many mountains are out there waiting to be climbed, how many 5Ks are waiting to be run, how many courses at your local community college are ready for you to enroll in. All that matters is doing wherever it takes, with God's strength, to achieve one's personal best. That's my prayer for my Greek 4 students this coming semester. A challenging task lies ahead of us. I hope it will provide something sufficiently difficult to increase our knowledge and obedience. Things will change if we put a mountain at the end of our program.
Wednesday, December 20
2:42 PM While driving home from the Y today, on iTunes I listened to what is probably the greatest rock classic of all time, a song we used to listen to over and over again as we drove from Biola to surf at Huntington Beach in the 70s. The guitar solo is absolutely unforgettable. I'm reelin' in the years, or at least trying to. Hope you are too!
9:20 AM Morning everybody! So today it's raining, which means it's the perfect day to set my running goals for 2018. My first and foremost goal is to be realistic. Three years ago I couldn't walk a mile let alone run one. My caveat is to be myself and don't let anything other than personal enjoyment determine my goals. Despite what some of you might think, I don't view the marathon as the pinnacle of running. If you're planning on running a hard 5K, that's just as impressive as a marathon. Running is only as important as we, the runners, make it. That said, I'm hoping 2018 will be another good year for pursuing my marathon goals. Actually, I hope to be able to run my 70th marathon on my 70th birthday, which means a pace of one marathon every month from here to eternity!
Speaking about goals, did you know there's a list of the world's most popular goals? Neither did I. Here's the link. Go #21! The list toppers?
#1 -- Blog
#2 -- Lose weight
#3 -- Write a book
Honestly, I can't believe that "eating more Doritos" and "learning Greek" aren't contenders on the list. What is this world coming to? And can someone please tell me the difference between #3 and #27? By the way, I'm seriously contemplating #100. Now wouldn't that make for an interesting 2018? "Grow long hair and bungee jump with it." Awesome! But back to my running goals .... There are six marathons I have on my bucket list. If the Lord is willing, I do hope to be able to run in each of them before I'm confined to my front porch rocker. They are, in order of importance:
#1 -- The Boston Marathon (as a fund raiser)
#2 -- The Chicago Marathon
#3 -- The New York City Marathon
#4 -- The Honolulu Marathon
#5 -- The Marine Corps Marathon
#6 -- The Athens Marathon
Other people I know have a list that looks quite different from mine. But speaking personally, I have zero interesting in the Marrakech Marathon or the Kilimanjaro Marathon or the Great Wall Marathon or the Reykjavik Marathon of the Cayman Islands Marathon.
As for my eating goals for 2018, I need to make some changes. For the most part I have a good relationship with food. I don't calorie count. I don't gauge how good I'm feeling by what my bathroom scale says. I have a vague notion of what "clean" eating ought to look like. I want healthy eating to enhance my life but not BE my life. I cannot ever imagine becoming obsessed with getting all the right nutrients into my body. That said, I really do need to lay off certain foods (like a snack that begins with the letter "D"). When I first started running a couple of years ago, I lost 45 pounds even though I never set out to lose weight. I'm at a healthy BMI so I don't need to freak out over my diet. Bottom line: My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I want to feed it right. I hope to encourage people who are obese or overweight to take up regular exercise. That being said I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I have my eating act together. I need advice and I'm hoping to get it from a few people I trust. Even though I struggle with food at times, I continue to educate myself. All that matters is that I am active and I am happy, and that I give God all the glory for it.
So that's where my running and dietary "gaols" stand for now. I want to feel good, look good, and live healthy. I'm more concerned about the quality than the quantity of the food I eat. I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat a ton of red meat. My greatest desire -- O Lord help me to do this! -- is to learn how to cook my meals by scratch and, when I do use meat, to make sure it's organic. What do you think? Are you a clean eater? Are you a vegan or vegetarian? Would you encourage people to follow a plant-based diet? I don't expect to have a perfect body. I'm getting older. I'm plagued with minor aches and pains. But I'm a firm believer that being active gets things moving -- your heart, your blood, your oxygen, your bowels. It gives your mental health a genuine boost. I have yet to meet an "older" runner who's worse off for running than better. Excuses like "I wish I could do what you do" just don't cut it with me. Yes, learning to exercise is hard. But only at the beginning. You must ease into it. The biggest risk of regular exercise is doing too much too soon. Just exercise good wisdom and you'll be fine. Try your hardest to listen to your body. Speaking of which, it's time to mosey on over to the gym....
Happy running, all.
Tuesday, December 19
6:10 PM When ya got a hankerin' for the mountains, it can't be denied. The essence of hiking is leaving your normal life behind, if even for only a few hours. You want to explore the world around you, the world your Creator made. When I left the house this morning I was greeted by this magnificent view.
Two hours later, I arrived at the base of the Peaks of Otter.
As you can see, the place was packed with visitors.
I left the house thinking I was going to climb Flat Top again, but when I realized that I had never done the Harkening Hill Loop Trail I changed my mind.
Hiking is a sport unto itself. And anybody can do it. Literally. Any. Body. The number one health problem in the United States is our sedentary lifestyle. Just going for a walk (you can call it a hike if you like) helps to alleviate that problem.
As you can see, I was treated to an eye-boggling mixture of hardwoods -- from white oak to yellow poplar to red maple to American beech to mountain laurel.
All of these varieties and more thrive in central Virginia. The trail does a lot of meandering. Along the way I encountered some incredible natural rock formations, like this one.
Nature always amazes me! It took me 45 minutes to reach the summit and another 45 minutes to descend, for a total hike time of 1:27:45 for a distance of 3.37 miles.
There's nothing like taking a selfie from the top of a mountain you've just climbed!
Afterwards I pigged out at the local Mexican eatery before heading home to get up hay.
This, by the way, is our last trailer load for 2017.
Can you believe it? It's Dec. 19 and we're just now finishing the harvest! Here's a prayer I ran across today. I just have to share it with you.
This, of course, is Psalm 65:9-13 (NLT). Just more words from a poet? Hardly. They perfectly express the gratitude in my heart today. Go outdoors today or tomorrow, my friend. God is there -- He "whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere" (St. Bonaventure). My time spent on the mountains and in the fields helps me center my life in Him. When I'm enjoying God's creation, I return to my normal life with a renewed game plan, once more on compass to reach my goals in living. In facing life, no one knows exactly what is going to happen or when. The best we can do is be prepared. Being active makes us athletes in all areas of our lives, trained in the basics of living and ready, therefore, for whatever comes.
5:55 AM Baime's The Accidental President has got me hooked. It's informative as well as entertaining.
Truman's middle initial was "S." It literally stood for -- nothing. You see, his parents couldn't agree on a middle name (they went back and forth between Solomon and Shipp) so they ended up with the initial only. Reminds me of the scene in North by Northwest where Eve Kendall asks Roger O. Thornhill what the "O" in his name stands for. "Nothing," came the reply.
One last bit of name trivia then I'm off to the mountains. What does the "S" in Ulysses S. Grant stand for?
His birth name was Hiram Ulysses Grant, though he usually went by "Ulysses." However, when Grant was applying to West Point, an absentminded congressman wrote the name "Ulysses S. Grant" on the application, and the name stuck. You might say that the meaningless "S" later took a fortuitous turn. After the Confederate surrender at Fort Donelson, Grant's initials "U.S." were said to stand for "Unconditional Surrender."
"There are no handles upon a language...." (Carl Sandburg).
Monday, December 18
4:50 PM We've been busy. This includes a follow-up visit today with my PT (physical therapist/sports trainer). She gave me two thumbs up for my marathon in two weeks. I also realized that I can climb again, which means tomorrow I'm going to try an ascent in the Blue Ridge as part of my training schedule for Mont Blanc. No, I haven't definitely decided to climb MB yet, but if I do end up heading for France this summer I can't wait until the last minute to train. Life never stands still still. We're either moving forward or we're backsliding. Thanks go out to all the first ascentionists who paved the way for the rest of us, and all the climbers who've blogged about their ascent of the highest Alp. Inclement weather is headed our way on Wednesday, so I'll need to make my attempt tomorrow. I'm thinking of doing either Flat Top or McAfee Knob, both of which I've already climbed numerous times. Wherever I climb, I need to remember to keep my focus on God and my gaze upward. I truly believe we better understand the inner workings of our faith when we literally experience mountains and valleys. It's when we're up and down that we develop a deeper reliance on God. When I call out from a mountain pass I sometimes think I can hear God calling back to me in an echo. At times like that I am never alone. He is there. "Life is one mountain after the other," says the Haitian proverb. For years I would stare at the mountains but couldn't imagine actually climbing one. I could only imagine the sense of accomplishment when one reaches the top. God has mountains for all of us to climb. He can handle any size mountain that we face. When I climb I see glimpses of how God is leading my life. Perhaps it's from the vantage point of a mountain peak that we can better see the tapestries of our lives coming together. I'm not a professional mountaineer. But I share their passion humbly. I don't ever want to be removed from a mountain God is asking me to climb if He is using it to grow me. I know He will always be several steps ahead of me, always calling back with words of love and encouragement. So for now, as He grants me strength, I will keep climbing and will praise Him on the mountain. I will search out His ways in the midst of the clouds. I will tell others about my mountains and how I scaled them with my Lord.
Below: The Gouter Refuge on the way to the summit of Mont Blanc.
6:56 AM It's been a wonderful 2017. Like usual, it ran the gamut of experiences and emotions. My life these days pretty much revolves around the Lord, family, teaching, writing, farming, and athletics (many of the photos below are running related). We hear it so often it's almost a cliché: Live each day as though it were your last. The end of a year brings tender thoughts. Seeing just how faithful God has been melts our hearts and dampens our eyes. Just as bankers have to invest their money all the more carefully when they have less of it, so I need to invest wisely what remains of my days. It was a wise Psalmist who asked God not to forsake him when he was old and gray (Psa. 71:18). Paul wanted to finish his course with joy (Acts 20:24). But with prospect comes retrospect. There is a new year to be greeted, but not before rejoicing in the blessings of the past year. I could talk about problems. There were plenty of those. But today, Lord, I want to say thanks for all the things I've listed below (and You know I could have added many more). I've grateful for every one of these memories from 2017.
1) I attended 2 convocations and 2 commencements.
2) I totally destroyed my toenails.
3) I ran my first marathon.
4) I saw another book translated into Spanish.
5) I was endlessly entertained by politicians.
6) I enjoyed a beautiful winter.
7) I biked over 300 miles.
8) I surfed in Hawaii.
9) I finished my sixth half marathon.
10 I hiked Bryce Canyon.
12) I came home to a surprise 65th birthday party, Hawaiian-themed no less.
13) I gave lectures.
14) I dined out with multiple friends.
15) I got up countless bales of hay.
16) I competed in 2 sprint triathlons.
17) I enjoyed grandkids.
For these and easily a hundred thousand others, I offer this prayer of gratitude, Lord. In 2018, I know You will neither fail me nor abandon me. You are with me now and through eternity. I needn't to be afraid or discouraged. I only need to follow You.
Dear friend, are you ready for the new year? The Bible begins with God. Creation begins with God. We can never get off to a good start without Him. Let's bring every new undertaking under His all-seeing eye. If it's time to deal with something, deal with it. Throw off whatever is holding you down or back. Forgive and release those who have hurt you. You can do this. So can I. We will together. Despite our messy lives, God loves us anyway. Let Him use your normal life to minister to your normal neighbors. Just be real. We are capable of a Spirit-filled life in 2018. Cherish what has gone on before, but don't spend your days by the casket of the past. There's a new year to be greeted. Welcome it with open arms. It's but the prelude to an endless story that will unfold throughout eternity.
Sunday, December 17
8:10 PM Let's hear it for Larry Macon who just finished his 2,000th marathon at the Rock N Roll San Antonio. So glad for you sir!
If you're tired of the news (fake or otherwise) and could use a smile, go out and watch a marathon sometime.
7:38 PM Aaaah, my library, the coziest room in the house, especially on a cold winter's night. Sheba enjoys it too.
I'm finishing my book about Everest. Then tomorrow I'll be up early again as I have of tons of errands to run and appointments to keep. Should be a busy and pleasant day. I will work out this week but they will be very light days and I'll go very very slowly. I'm feeling strong. I think I may have found my happy place with marathoning. Can you believe how fast things change?
6:45 AM Random musings on a Sunday morning (and I mean random):
1) I was asked to participate in the SNTS meeting this August in Athens in 2018. I decided I'd have to pass because I'm planning on attending the 2019 meeting in Marburg and can't attend both. As for Athens, my hope is to one day run the Athens Marathon, which is normally held in early November. The course begins (of course) on the coast in the town of Marathon, passes the tombs of the Athenian soldiers, and then follows the coast until reaching the city of Athens. The Pathaninaiko Stadium is where the race finishes -- the site of both the 1896 and 2004 Olympic marathons. This year's men's overall winner was Samuel Kalalei of Kenya. The women's overall winner was Bedatu Hirpa of Ethiopia. Each year the course attracts some 40,000 competitors. In 2016, a group of refugees (many from Syria) participated in the 5K event. One of them wrote:
2) The latest about my feet? They are doing great. Even my blister has healed up completely. There are only 15 days before the marathon in Allen, TX. This week my goal is to walk 10 miles, and then begin running again, gradually moving from a 5K to a 10K and then finishing with a long run of 15 miles before tapering. Famous last words I know, but I've got to set goals or else I'll get nowhere fast. The cold weather has just begun in the Dallas area, and the weather on New Years Day is anything but predictable. Running in cold weather requires a different kind of preparation than running in warmer climes. You dress warmer, you layer, and you take extra time to warm up in order to get those molecules inside you going. I've begun paying attention to Hal Higdon's method of training for long distance events. His suggestions include:
If and when I do show up at the starting line in Dallas, there will probably be only one thought going through my feeble mind: complete the 26.2 miles any way you can. Every step takes you a little closer to where you want to be. Man, if that doesn't sound like sanctification -- one step at a time -- what does?
This post includes the word "I" more than a Trump speech, so it's time to move on to my next subject ....
3) It's prep time for my 1 Thessalonians class. Yay! Gordon Fee's bibliography is a rich repository of journal articles on this letter, and I've begun to cull the most important ones for my students to read.
Checked here are Stein's essay on Pauline eschatology and Tuckett's article asking whether or not Paul was familiar with the Synoptic Gospels when he wrote 1 Thessalonians. My own view is that we one can indeed make a distinction between "early" Pauline thinking about the Parousia and his "later" thinking on the subject. As for Paul and the synoptic tradition, I've argued in my book Why Four Gospels: The Historical Origins of the Gospels that Paul in fact had a copy of the scroll of Matthew with him on his first and second missionary journeys, since in my view Matthew was produced by the church in Jerusalem within 10 years of the resurrection. Not all of these essays are in English by the way. I have some students who can read French and German as well. This class will be way too much fun.
4) This evening at 5:00 pm, the Duke Chapel is featuring Organ Music for Advent and Christmas. The program features music by Marchand, Vierne, Conte, Dupré, and Bach of course. Would could be better at advent than listening to "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme"? Tickets are free but it'll cost you 5 bucks to park.
5) Last weekend in Dallas, Meb Keflezighi formally retired from the marathon race circuit. On Twitter he wrote, "Competitively racing at the 26.2 mile distance is behind me. Now I run for the love of the sport and have fun at this pace." Welcome to the wonderful world of amateur running, Meb! His "easy pace,'" by the way, is 6.18, and his average speed is 9.5 miles per hour. In other words, he still runs twice as fast as I can. I can't even do my fastest mile at his slowest. But the neatest thing is that Meb gives all the glory to God for his abilities.
Keep running, Meb. You're awesome.
Saturday, December 16
6:42 PM For the past three hours I've been listening to the purr of a Massie Ferguson tractor, the sweetest sound in the universe. I also tried my hand at some photography.
Off to cook supper for Sheba and me. (She loves Chinese.)
12:40 PM The Jolly Elf Run was a smashing success. I got to work in packet pickup. I wish you could have seen the faces of the runners.
They are faces of people who've discovered, as I have, that running is about finding the God-given best in yourself and the best in each other. Tons of money was raised for a good cause too. Plus I discovered today the joy of volunteering. Volunteers make it all happen. They are the heart and soul of the sport.
Exercise is always compelled by something we want to attain. To make a change in your lifestyle, you've got to set goals. Our only excuse is ignorance or apathy. Anyone so inclined can get involved at some level in exercise. I once had a prof say to me, "Never take things easy, Dave. Always take things hard." That's why I picked perhaps one of the most challenging (and rewarding) doctoral programs in the world. Running in races has made all of this plain to me. I am running the race of my life, and I couldn't be happier.
Which race has the Lord called you to? Keep "Running On"!
4:50 AM I woke up at 4:00 this morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Right now the temp is 27 and going down to a warm and peasant 26 degrees at race time. At this moment I'm reading 1 Thessalonians (sort of my daily habit nowadays) and this thought struck me:
All theology is autobiographical.
I see this clearly in the first two chapters of 1 Thessalonians. I also saw it when I was studying Philippians. The order of Paul's experiences in Phil. 3:10 -- knowing Christ, resurrection, suffering -- parallels Paul's personal experiences as described in Acts 9. This thought isn't unique to me. Joseph Hellerman makes the same observation in his fine commentary on Philippians (p. 190). When I wrote my dissertation in Basel -- Paul, Apostle of Weakness -- little did I know then what that book would come to mean to me later in life. I didn't grow up with a "theology of suffering." The theology of the cross was an unfamiliar concept in my happy clappy Jesus Freak circles. When you grow up in a culture that pioneered the concept of beach bumming, theology of any kind doesn't come easily. Then "real" life kicked in. I like to think of those times as pearls. Pearls start out as a grain of sand -- an irritant that imbeds itself in the soft lining of an oyster, which tries to soothe the irritant by secreting a fluid that eventually forms a pearl. The Bible is filled with pearl-producing lives. Job, Joseph, Daniel, and Paul are clear examples. Ah Paul, always turning his biggest irritants into priceless gems. "You know that suffering is part of God's will for us," he writes in 1 Thess. 3:5 -- perhaps the locus classicus on Christian suffering in the New Testament. Hence Paul not only endured his sufferings, he endured them joyfully, knowing full well that the difficulties he faced helped him to grow spiritually.
In my 57 years of walking with Jesus, I've had to rethink and relearn about a gazillion things. The theology of the cross is one of them. In the words of Paul, whom I love and with whom I sometimes feel like I'm a close personal friend, it's all about knowing Christ by experiencing the power that is displayed only in the midst of our weaknesses. About 90 percent of the reason I write this blog is for what it does on the inside of me. (What I lack in maturity, I make up in verbiage.) I believe God because I have to. I am stunned by my intimacy with Him. With God, it's not about a title or a business card. Even if your life is in a freefall, He's there waiting to catch you. He died for us, and He wants us to never forget that act.
My relationship with God, your relationship with God -- it's all autobiographical. It's truly the world's greatest love story, perhaps not the greatest story ever written about but the greatest ever seen.
Friday, December 15
1:55 PM It's freezing out there! Had to do chores and then run errands and I've never been colder in my life it seems. Also got my annual flu shot.
Been rereading my books about Everest, including the autobiography of Sir Edmund Hilary. Mountaineering has a zany attraction for me. Obviously climbing mountains includes physical endurance, strength, and climbing skills. But even more important than any of those things is the ability to exercise good judgment. The weekend I climbed the Matterhorn, two 67-year-old Brits perished on the mountain, having gotten "caught out" overnight without warm clothes. They literally froze to death. Neither of them had hired a mountain guide and had simply gotten lost. Climbers who've had a zillion years of climbing many big summits can still be reckless and irresponsible. Just a day or two before Hillary and Tenzing summited Mount Everest for the first time in history, two climbers from the same expedition, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans, had reached the South Summit, only 300 vertical feet below the summit. One of them snapped this photo. No person had ever stood higher on Planet Earth.
Can you imagine how strong the temptation must have been for them to push ahead? Fame and glory awaited them. But they concluded that the risks of climbing any higher were just too great. They knew they didn't have enough time or oxygen to get back down to the South Col before dark. Good decision-making on their part. It saved their lives.
Virtually every day of our lives we're called upon to exercise judgment and discernment. Living out the kingdom of God in the right-now is scary. But I'm learning to take one day at a time and to make one decision before making the next one. Somehow, God holds me together, just like He does the universe. He is always with us, you and me, hiding in plain sight. "The Lord is near" is the way Paul puts it in Philippians. And, because He is so close to us, sometimes the best thing to do is to say no, to back off, to refuse to climb any higher until God gives us more light. And don't forget. You're not the only one worried about your future. God's got a lot at stake in the outcome too. He can use our lives in very extraordinary ways if we'll only trust Him in the very ordinary ways.
So here I am, trying to discern His will about so many things, not the least of which is whether or not to attempt to climb Mont Blanc next July. A large part of my indecision is just trying to figure out who I am. Am I capable enough? Strong enough? Am I being irresponsible? Is it too risky? I feel like I'm caught in massive tug-of-war. I need to decide soon. Flight reservations have to be made. My guide needs to be hired. I need to book our mountain hut. And yet I have no sense of peace. I've been here before. So have you. Thankfully, our limitations aren't handicaps to God.
One step at a time, Dave. Keep your head down and your chin up. Live moment by moment. And be sure to say no if you need to.
10:02 AM Have you enjoyed a "first" lately? As in ... first date, first kiss, first baby, first home purchase, first job offer, first time travelling outside of the country, first sermon, first trip to Disneyworld. Well, tomorrow I'm having a "first." Ill be volunteering at a 5K race in Cary. That's right, not running in the race, but being a grunt. You know, the spirit of volunteerism and all that. When I think back to all the races I've participated in, each event had an army of volunteers to make things happen. These dear people rarely get the thanks they deserve. I think it's high time I began to pay off my debt to these fine folks. The race, incidentally, is called the Jolly Elf Trail Run and here's the website is case you'd like to run --
-- or volunteer. :-)
8:44 AM Today I'm continuing my study of 1 Thessalonians. I'm so in love with this letter. For better, for worse, the Christian life requires bucketloads of perseverance. Our hope in Christ needs to remain steadfast until the end, no matter what the Evil One throws at us (1 Thess. 1:3). Hardship brings about perseverance (Rom. 5:4). And when we persevere under trial, we're blessed (James 1:12). Once we're approved, we'll receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Hence we "rejoice in hope" and "persevere in trouble" (Rom. 12:12).
I can remember saying my "I do's" to Becky on Sept. 11, 1976. On that Saturday afternoon in Dallas, neither us had an inkling of just how much perseverance would be required in our marriage. Last weekend, as I stood on the exact spot where I proposed to Becky 41 years ago, I thought about the vows we exchanged 6 weeks later.
I, David, take you, Becky, to be my lawfully wedded wife.
You know the words ....
To have and to hold.
When we spoke those words to each other, it felt like a rare gift. Others around us were thrilled for this new family, so full of possibility and life. Through 37 years of marriage Becky and I clung to each other.
From this day forward.
Becky and I looked forward to celebrating many anniversaries, to growing old together and watching our grandkids grow up and get married. Life was an endless highway, or so it seemed at the time.
For better, for worse.
As I said, God tests His children. Marriage taught us, over and over, that God is waiting to be found, even when things go wrong, even when people fail us, even when we play hide and seek with Him.
For richer, for poorer.
I don't know if there was a happier time in our marriage than when we lived in Switzerland. We were as poor as church mice and as joyful as larks.
We tap danced through life as though we had hardly a care or a concern.
In sickness and in health.
Marriage is a place of unimaginable beauty and promise. It's also a place of unfathomable suffering and disease and despair. God delights in using broken jars of clay. Like you, during our married life together Becky and I had made the usual number of trips to CVS. But neither of us were prepared for the chaotic journey into cancer the Lord planned for us. Just when we thought we had life all knitted together, one string seemed to unravel the whole ball and left us with a mountain of new questions.
To love and to cherish.
Four years after her diagnosis, even at the end, we still loved each other, perhaps more than we had loved each other before. It was time -- time to make all things right, to leave no leaf unturned, to perform a task that was both enormously daunting and shockingly simple: say our goodbyes.
Till death do us part.
We had a plan, and the plan was gone. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed is Your name, O Lord. The day Becky died, I felt powerless, but even then I knew that although I may be powerless there is always power, and the One who holds that power is both sovereign and good. Because of that power I have learned to say, "I know You are good. I know I can make it."
Each anniversary of Becky's passing, each monument to her memory -- even a grassy knoll alongside a Dallas lake -- feels sacred and beautiful, imbued with something heavy and yet joyful. The present has become the past. I've been transported back to a place and time where I stood 41 years ago -- a wonderful vista brimming over with beauty and color and light.
Thursday, December 14
5:24 PM This evening, with the help of my teaching assistant, I finished writing the syllabus for my Greek 4 class -- a study of 1 Thessalonians and other literature from the Koine period (including the Didache), plus a reading of A. T. Robertson's "Weight Lifting 302" textbook. Our textbooks will be the commentaries by Fee and Weima. The road we'll travel together will be both broad and narrow. Above all, it will (as I write in the syllabus) pursue a learner-centered method in which the teacher (me) is not so much a disseminator of information but a facilitator who stands on the side and leads the class in interactive learning. In other words, I'll employ a flipped classroom model that encourages students to prepare their lessons beforehand so that the class becomes a dynamic environment in which they elaborate on what they've already studied. In short, the class will involve a student-centered approach to learning in which teacher and students play an equally important role in the learning process. You have the keys, guys and gals! My primary role will be (as someone with 41 years of experience) to coach and facilitate your learning and comprehension of the subject matter. Your learning will be measured and assessed by a comprehensive oral exam (privately with me) at the end of the semester. (Brits will be familiar with this practice.) A wise teacher at Biola once said to me, "Dave, all learning is self-learning." Hence a high premium will be placed on a student's ability to read and read well, to translate assigned passages ahead of time, to lead the class in discussion when called upon, and to intelligently discuss various aspects of the text and/or assigned readings. I'm asking them to (1) keep their interpretive translation and/or paraphrase of the book of 1 Thessalonians in a course notebook, and (2) bring to class their completed translations and parsing along with any interpretive and exegetical notes gained from reading their commentaries and other exegetical and homiletical resources. In preparing their translations they're allowed to use any helps available to them, but their final translation must be their own. There will be no quizzes over weekly translation assignments and/or other reading. I expect everyone to be a self-starter. Each student will lead (at least once) the classroom discussion over a section of 1 Thessalonians and/or other assigned materials. A final oral exam covering mostly translation and parsing from anywhere in the book of 1 Thessalonians (without the use of any helps), plus any additional topics pertaining to grammatical/exegetical points we have studied, will be given on the last day of class.
Am I am expert in pedagogy? Hardly. But I think this plan is do-able. Like sitting around a fire pit, the keys are good questions and good listening (to the text and to each other). Obviously, I can't make anybody learn. But at this level, it makes little sense to me to force students to memorize large amounts of information that will either be begrudgingly regurgitated on a quiz or instantaneously forgotten. When we're faced with multiple options, the best course of action is to listen to each other and arrive at an answer that promotes both unity and maturity. As teachers, we are only marker-makers. We leave our mark by being more committed to the message than our methods. If we're arrogant and judgmental, guess what our students will become? Jesus never simply enforced the "rules." He showed others the kingdom. As faculty, we can't shrug this duty off because we are teaching the next generation of the church. Good teaching may involve lecturing or it may not. It may include traditional components or it may not. Thank goodness we all have access to the same Holy Spirit who can fill us not only with knowledge but with passion and power -- and humility.
Can't wait to get started.
12:50 PM Scanning my bookshelves I see nothing on the life of Harry S. Truman. Well, I just rectified that. Today on 1A (NPR) Joshua Johnson interview the author of this new book.
It's already been ordered. Before that I worked out at the Y and then walked for 5K (at a 3.6 mile per hour pace) at the local track.
Finally, I stopped by Food Lion to see if they were finally shelving my favoritest drink in the world. They were!
Right now it's back to writing and then going for a long walk on the farm. It's too pretty a day to stay indoors for very long.
8:12 AM My farm chores are done, so I've been reading the Byzantine Text Theory website and I noticed that someone linked to an essay by Jonathan Borland on Matt. 5:22, where he defends the reading "without cause" (Greek: eike). Jonathan cites my own Novum Testamentum article at the end of his piece, but without linking to the PDF that's available here. This important variant has everything to do with whether or not a Christian has the right to get angry. I'd argue that Jesus is hardly prohibiting all anger. Then why would a scribe want to omit the word eike? If you read my essay you might be surprised at the answer.
Off to the gym.
6:45 AM Hey there folks! Wow, I can't believe it's Thursday already. How has your week been? Mine has been fantastic. I'm still enjoying a total runner's high. I was shocked at how good I felt throughout Sunday's race. This was a hard marathon but I'm pretty pleased with the results. Here's yet another boring picture from the race. (I purchased them from Marathon Photo and I'm determined to get my money's worth out of them.)
A few post-race thoughts ....
1) I've been asking myself, "Will I ever PR again in the marathon"? Is that even possible? I think I know the answer: I need accept that I am a 6-hour (or so) marathoner and be happy with that. I need to learn contentment and move on with my running goals.
2) I was thinking yesterday about how much the little things in life mean to me. A text from a friend. A photo sent to me by one of my kids. A warm house. A puppy who is as faithful as faithful can be. The little things keep a smile on my face when the days are dark.
3) I am nervous and excited about the upcoming marathon in Allen, TX. I expect the weekend to be full of fun. Between now and then I'll be working hard to prepare for the race, including more stretching of course. I'm meeting with my PT again next week, and she's going to teach me more stretching exercises that I can do at home or anywhere for that matter. I'm like a sponge in that I can't seem to get enough instruction. I have 18 days until race day. So the official countdown is on. This week, however, will be one of rest and relaxation.
4) I am thankful for being able to run. Betcha didn't know that! Running has brought me new friends, a new mission field (everyone needs the Lord, including runners), and relief from stress. I have the best family, who form a great support team. They are funny, caring, and provide unconditional love. Without these wonderful people in my life, I wouldn't be where I am today. Although I don't say it out loud every day: "Thank you."
5) Life is all about balance. I'm a firm believer that you can't overdo anything in life. Yes, I run, yes, I train, but I also teach and write and bike and climb and lift weights and blog and spend time with the fam and sleep. I try to eat "clean" but I'm not an über-freak about my diet and will never eat food only from the local whole foods store. I don't believe in the "perfect" life. That's one problem I have with so much modern worship music. It's so often just happy-happy-happy, Jesus-Jesus-Jesus. There's so little nuance. It's all white without any gray or black. As a musician, I'll add that, in my opinion, modern worship music has plenty of light (truth) but very little salt (attractiveness, beauty, artistry, musicality). Once again, the whole Christian music industry seems to be out of kilter, out of "balance" if you will. Look at nature. After every fall comes winter, and every winter leads to spring and summer. It's an annual reminder that a similar dance awaits you and me. Light is balanced with darkness, fruitfulness with periods of barrenness. It's all a part of the natural life cycle. And the best news of all is that one day, maybe soon, the spring of springs will burst forth and we'll finally stand before our Lord, our Savior, the King of kings. But for now, let's accept the good with the bad, the sorrow along with the joy, the happy days with the not-so happy days.
6) Finally, I've been thinking about New Years resolutions. Here are a few I'm working on.
Wishing you a terrific Thursday and a fabulous Friday,
Wednesday, December 13
9:40 AM I am officially a marathoner x 6!
I left for Dallas right after graduation on Friday. I arrived at DFW, picked up my rental car, and then drove 40 minutes to mom and dad's home in Murphy, just northeast of Dallas.
On Saturday I was up bright and early. 5:00 am is a good wake up time on vacation, right? Since the expo in downtown Dallas didn't open until 9:00 am, I decided to get some grub at the local Denny's and then drive to White Rock Lake, where I was sooooo happy to be able to find the spot where Becky said "I do."
The expo on Saturday was pretty cool. I found this massage thingamabob that is out of this world.
I actually bought one to bring home with me.
I also made a contribution in the name of the Black family to the memorial fund in honor of the 5 slain Dallas police officers who were killed last year. They gave me this cool hat in return.
At the expo you could sign your name on the race banner.
Yes, girl, this one was for you!
Since the race was sponsored by BMW, I decided I'd purchase one of their new convertibles. Well, at least I did buy this pair of sunglasses. They make me look hardcore and I'm sure they will make me a faster runner in the future.
After the expo I got a pedicure since my toenails are too thick for me to cut myself. I was trying to get as ready as possible for the race on Sunday. My feet, thank the Lord, were feeling good. Mark it down to all the stretching I've been doing. 26 miles is a long way to run, in case you didn't know. It's actually a long way to drive if you're stuck in traffic or riding in an Amish buggy. Everything's relative I guess.
For supper on Saturday we all went out for Ethiopian and then I got to bed early. Race day dawned cold but clear. I was up at 5:00 (again) and drove to the Dallas City Hall, where the race was scheduled to begin. I had 3 plans going into the race: plan A, plan B, and plan C. Plan A was to finish under the six and a half hour time limit feeling good. Plan B was to finish under the six and a half time limit feeling lousy. And plan C was to finish under the six and a half hour time limit without croaking, like Pheidippedes (the first marathoner) did a couple of millennia ago. The race was pretty normal for me:
I got to my corral at about 7:40 for an 8:10 start. Before I knew it, the countdown began. The horn sounded, the fireworks went off, and we were running.
I was feeling good even though almost immediately I began to develop shin splints in my right leg.
Thankfully, by mile 3 they were gone. I got on pace and stayed there. By mile 10 I was struggling. That's pretty normal for me. My mind was completely on the finish line. I knew I couldn't possibly PR so I just kept focused on moving forward as hard as I could. The "hump" came as we started running around White Rock Lake. I took this picture flying home yesterday. It gives you a pretty good idea of the distances we ran from downtown Dallas (upper right) to the lake (lower left) and back.
At first I enjoyed the gorgeous scenery (and it is a beautiful lake), but after several miles of seeing nothing but water you eventually tire of the lake and keep wondering if you'll ever get around it.
Again and again, you push past your fatigue.
Once you've passed the lake, you begin to run back into the downtown area. At about mile 24 I passed the Criswell College building, where I've been privileged to lecture several times. Classic architecture for sure.
Eventually you begin to hear the crowds at the finish line. The relief I felt in crossing it was indescribable.
I was so happy to be done and so proud of myself for finishing. Then I looked at the race results. Not only had I finished the race before the six and a half hour time limit, I had finished with a time of 6:02:56!
I didn't PR, in fact I didn't even come close (5:44). But I had done it. My sixth marathon! The race medal is super cool.
It even stands up.
And the race shirt? O man, it's the softest piece of fabric I've ever had on my bod. You likie?
By the way, the Dallas Marathon is a bit unique for being such a large race (25,000 or so runners). It doesn't have any world-class elite runners from places like Kenya and Ethiopia because there's no big-dollar payoff. We're all serious athletes but proud to be amateurs. The origin of the word amateur is the Latin word for "love." By definition, we run just for the love of the sport. I run about 99.9 percent of all of my races alone, but I'm beginning to talk some of my kids into running with me in 2018. Now, I'm not complaining. I love that I'm embracing a really challenging hobby and that I haven't given up (yet). But it will be fun to run with family members, and we all know that being family is really, really, REALLY vital.
As I said, my feet felt great during the race, but that's not to say I didn't have any problems. At about mile 18 one of the decrepit toenails on my right foot decided to press into my shoe. The pain was so excruciating that I had to stop and retie the laces on that shoe. Eventually the toe pain subsided, but the adjustment I had to make to my shoe gave me this beauty of a blister.
One thing I can say about marathoning is that it makes you tough, and not just physically. As I get older, I care less and less about what people think about me. I will run my race. So what if I'm tired? So what if I hurt? Running is an amazing experience. I will never take for granted how blessed and privileged I am to be able to run at all. My advice? If you have even the slightest desire to get outdoors and do a 5K, do it. I promise it will make you a richer person and will instill within you an attitude of "Yes, I can."
Right now I've got plenty of recovery time planned into my schedule. On Monday I slept practically the entire day. Resting actually makes me rest-less, so I have to force myself to take a break if I'm going to get my running legs back. Lord willing, for my seventh marathon I'll be back in the great state of Texas. The event is called the New Years Double and the venue is Allen, TX, only a 10-minute drive from mom and dad's. As you may recall, I had planned to do the Charleston Marathon as my January race but I changed my mind after reading all the negative reviews about the course. Plus, Dallas is an easy non-stop flight from RDU. The only negative about the Allen race is that it's a loop, meaning that you basically run a circular course 4 times. I'm not a fan of loop courses, but just like anything in life you accept the good with the bad, settle into a rhythm, and forget about the negatives while focusing on the positives. If you live in the Dallas area and haven't heard about the Allen race, here's the link. You have the option of running on New Years Eve or New Years Day. I hope to run on January 1st and usher in the New Year with a bang.
Oh, I almost forgot. You've just got to watch this video showing the winner of the women's marathon on Sunday as she (barely) crosses the finish line.
Oh my goodness. It's the marathon finish that makes us all feel like winners. We've all got physical issues when we run, but this woman is my H-E-R-O, as is the high school relay runner who helped her to cross the finish line. Know someone who's down today? Why not pick 'em up so that they can keep on going?
So now it's on to my first race of the New Year. Time to see what this dude's got left.
Thanks for visiting!
Friday, December 8
6:26 AM Well, that's all the blogging there is around here for a few days. You're welcome! I'll make you wait until next week to find out how I did in the marathon. (I know that's all you'll be thinking about.)
Have a great weekend. Make each minute count. Drive to excel in all you do for the Lord. I'm going to try to.
5:58 AM Gather around, dear readers, so I can offer both leadership and a confession to a serious matter. Today is graduation day. For many of my Greek students, their seminary education comes to an end. Exams may be over, but questions remain. How will you fare, student? How will I? It all depends on our "maturity."
The Greek term for maturity is teleios. It can refer to physical maturity, spiritual maturity, and even mental maturity. Pythagoras, the ancient Greek mathematician, said he had two kinds of disciples: those he called "babies" (nepioi), and those he called "mature" (teleioi). The mature students not only had a mastery of the rudimentary elements of the subject; unlike the babies, they also went on to put their knowledge to good use. "What kind of a student am I?"
Baby Greek students rejoice that their degree program is over and passing grades have been earned; they are pleased to have Greek on their transcript; but they have forgotten the vocabulary they once memorized for quiz purposes, and they have neglected their paradigms and principal parts. "Mature" students are not content to remain at the elementary stage of instruction. They not only review what they've already learned, they apply it to the reading and study of Greek. Knowledge is important to them; but even more important is the application of that knowledge. I've had students who receive "A"s in Greek but who never open their Greek New Testaments. They fail to receive the real riches of their studies. Their unflagging effort to get a good grade has dissipated, and all is soon lost and forgotten. A year or two later, when I ask them how their Greek is doing, they admit to still being babies and no nearer to maturity than when they began their studies.
As I type this post, I look back and see how I've done this very same thing, maybe not with Greek, but with a host of other subjects. I once was really good at biblical Hebrew, but now not so much. The Spanish I once spoke in Southern California is almost history. I know I need to read more in systematic theology, but I'm too lazy to do it. I'm just saying there's no place here for finger pointing. It often happens that we defeat ourselves by starting out well on milk but never going on to meat. Arrested development is no less a disaster in one's intellectual life as in one's spiritual life. I'm not implying that we reach complete knowledge or complete maturity. But if I fail to "leave behind the elementary teachings" and allow the Holy Spirit to "carry me on to maturity" (Heb. 6:1), I can't see how that pleases God very much.
What to do then? Here are a couple of suggestions. Read a few verses of Koine Greek every day. And that includes the Septuagint as well as the church fathers (if you start with the Didache, as I recommend, you will want to use William Varner's excellent handbook as a companion volume). Do your devotions in the language. Take your Greek New Testament with you to church. Acquire and maintain a good working vocabulary. Visit Daily Dose of Greek. It's true that all these tasks are difficult. It's true that our lethargy and laziness will often get in the way. But one of the saddest sights is that of a solid foundation wasted because we have refused to build a superstructure on it. Will that happen to you? To me? The choice, I reckon, is ours.
Thank you soooooo much for all your hard work in my Greek classes through the years. You matter so much to me. Now let's take our successes and failures and keep on going. I hope the world will see in us a community that is teachable, always learning and maturing, as well as a community that is determined to build one another up, a people who show love in small and big ways. Let's take our knowledge and give it to Jesus. He can make magic with it, I assure you.
With much love and appreciation,
Your (former) teacher,
Thursday, December 7
11:28 AM Okay. Term papers are graded. I spent a couple of hours at the Local Amish bakery gettin-er done.
Afterwards I hung out at the gym. Long time readers of my blog (all 3 of you) will recall that I joined the local Y a couple of years ago. Today I did weight lifting because my new PT told me I needed to lose those "love handles" of mine. Weight training is a great idea especially when your body is carrying around extra pounds (ahem). I don't think I'd push myself so hard at the gym if I didn't have race goals out there always dangling in front of me. My plan for the race this Sunday is just to run/walk at whatever pace feels good. I'm not sure just how well my feet will be cooperating with me, so there's no sense in setting any time goals other than finishing before the 6.5-hour course time limit. Whatever happens, I will savor every second of the race and soak up the experience, good or bad. No matter how painful my feet become, I'll be grateful for every step of the way.
Since my term paper grading is done and I'm now bored, I thought I'd check the 2017 stats on my Map My Run app. Here are the numbers (rounded off to the nearest mile so you don't think I'm OCD or anything):
Calories burned: 142,900
Distance: 19 miles
Time: 4 hours
Calories burned: 2,569
Distance: 2,400 miles
Time: 485 hours
Calories burned: 326,277
For those of you who've been waiting anxiously for these stats, I guess today's your lucky day! My favorite miles this year came from running the Flying Pig Marathon. Crossing the finish line in Cincy changed my view of running and made me realize I can do -- and want -- more. My cup still overflows from that moment. I could sit here and write more on this as a ton of emotions are flowing through me right now, but I've got chores to attend to. An early "Happy New Year" and prayers that you run strong in 2018!
5:44 AM The best book about the attack on Pearl Harbor is probably At Dawn We Slept. The best movie is Tora! Tora! Tora! Did you know that the leader of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, became a born-again Christian after the war and traveled the world sharing the love of Jesus? You can read his incredible story here and here. Below, Fuchida is pictured with the American who led him to Christ in 1948 in Tokyo.
Listen, that war was horrific. The good that came out of it is less obvious. Moms and dads, use this day to teach your kids something about history. We don't live in a bubble today. The past is still with us and should never be forgotten. Every kid also needs to know that when society goes off the rails, Jesus will hold them fast. He is ever faithful. He is the most trustworthy Savior they could ever have, and they will never be alone.
So here's my invitation to you. Share with your children something about what transpired 77 years ago today. You can be truthful without being gory.
Then remind them of some good theology: The love of God is greater than anything, and more important too. Teach them Paul's instruction often: "If it's possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18). Tell them they can create a better story for their generation than we did with ours. Peace is happening all around us, but it doesn't happen automatically. It happens when we do the hard work of Shalom.
Off to grade papers....
Wednesday, December 6
5:38 PM I know this is the ultimate in cheesy cheesiness, but here's the sign I'll pin on the back of my race jersey this Sunday. I designed it myself. Like it?
Let's face it. I'm hopelessly nostalgic. Can't wait to run past "the place of places" along the course -- where I proposed to Becky Lynn Lapsley 41 years ago. Over time I've discovered something very interesting about myself. Though every day is chock full of God's amazing grace, I notice it about as much as I notice gravity or the air I breathe. That ought not to be. So what I'm going to do is pursue the future path God has for me while not forgetting to be thankful for the past blessings He's so kindly allowed me to experience. Becky was a huge part of that blessing, that grace-filled life, that provision and protection of God. Maybe the sign on my race jersey will remind another runner that they, too, are the objects of God's grace, regardless of the hard knocks they've experienced in life.
The weather in Dallas, by the way, promises to be absolutely perfect for a marathon. Sure beats the snow they're calling for in Raleigh on Friday afternoon.
Should be a very exciting race weekend. Like everyone else, I have a love/hate relationship with the sport of running. But every race brings me joy in some form or another, even if it really beats ya up. Even the "worst" run makes you feel good because you've gone out and done something really hard with your body. When I first started exercising regularly I could barely walk a mile. Now I can run for 13 miles without stopping. Even though my pace and times haven't gotten much better, I'm pleased and thankful that my overall health and energy have improved consistently. I walk when I need to, and when I'm done I feel great because I did something I didn't think I could do. When I look back at the past four years, filled with sorrow over Becky's loss, it's like there's a bright new path I've been walking on and didn't even know it. Ever felt that way? In hindsight? What gives me hope is that God is always near to grant me strength and faith to keep moving forward. I trust you're experiencing the same thing, my friend. God keeps His promises. All we have to do is see.
4:32 PM Well, classes are taught … exams are done … grading is mostly done … and (other than for commencement on Friday) the semester is finished. Aaaah. Closure. Always a good feeling. As far as my training goes, I did a 10K at Joyner Park yesterday. I also made an appointment at Breakthrough Physical Therapy in Wake Forest to see a therapist about my feet and to get someone to help me stretch my poor aching muscles. I was assigned a PT named Humeera. She was fantastic. She's got a doctorate in physical therapy from a school in Boston and really knows her stuff. Whatever also can be said about my leg muscles, they are tight, tight, TIGHT. According to Humeera, the tendonitis on my left foot was caused by tightness in my Achilles tendon, which in turn was caused by tightness in my calf muscle, which in turn was caused by tightness in my hamstring, which in turn …. You get the (sordid) picture. She also diagnosed a mild case of plantar fasciitis in my left foot. She worked on all of these issues (yes, I have "issues"), and boy did it NOT feel good. But the temporary pain was necessary. It's my own fault for not warming up before races and not stretching afterwards. Honestly, I'm just too lazy to do so. Remember: during a marathon, nature throws everything at you. The only way I can finish a 26.2 mile race is through bribery. Depending on how badly I'm feeling during the race, I promise myself either a Ben and Jerry's ice cream cone or a ribeye at the Texas Roadhouse. Thing is, you know going into every race that it's going to be sheer pain. The easiest way to overcome your negative thoughts is to distract yourself. Even if you're barely able to walk, you have to tell yourself to keep moving. I've climbed 14-thousand foot peaks that way: "Okay, just go another 10 minutes then you can quit." You keep saying that to yourself until you're on the summit. You just have to elbow, punch, round-house kick, and jab your negativity to the ground. My number one motivator, by the way, is people. People like you. Your texts. Your emails. Also, out on the course you make new friends who push you to complete the race. I'd also run with my dog but she's too old. (She's probably looking at me and saying the same thing.)
Speaking of negativity, I notice there's a discussion on the web about which beginning Greek grammar is the best one, and yours truly's has come up for appraisal. Some teachers love it, others not so much. That is to be completely expected. To each his/her own. Which got me to thinking …. (uh-oh, he's thinking again). I imagine that you and I would disagree about a whole bunch of things. See if you don't "agree." Here's a list I compiled because I have so much free time on my hands. (Not.) It's a list of things I like (and things I don't like so much). After you read my list, you can post your own on Facebook. Just pleeeeease don't say anything negative about my beginning grammar. I’m sooooo codependent.
So here's the list:
1. I like wicking shirts. I wear them all the time. All I can say is: Where have you been all my life?
2. Prolly shouldn't admit it, but I dislike cats. Can't stand 'em in fact. I know this makes me un-American, but I think cats make awful pets. Please don't hit me.
3. I like the beach. Especially "my" beach, which is Kailua Beach on Oahu. Studies have actually shown that being at the beach is good for you psychologically. I've spent a lot of time at the beach in my 65 years. Blessed.
4. I dislike announcer speak. Good night, even the new Siri voice uses it. It's totally unnatural and fake-y. I actually remember when people on TV and radio talked normally.
5. I like YouTube. These days I've been watching this amazing Chicago tribute band. I think they're actually better than the original performers.
6. I dislike dress shoes and ties. In fact, let's just throw in suits while we're at it. In short, I can't stand being uncomfortable. Also, you can forget sweaters. I've tried to wear them but they're too confining. Just give me comfortable shirts (see #1).
7. I like to walk. It's a great way to relax and exercise at the same time. It's also a time when I get my thoughts in order. I especially love it when I have interesting scenery to look at.
8. I dislike Coke. Hate it. It's a banned substance in my house. There is no gray area here.
9. I like it when friends leave nice comments on my blog. (Actually, my blog isn't enabled to do that, but I imagine that I would like it if it was.)
10. I dislike Twitter. Period. That's why I don’t use it.
11. I like anything that reminds me of pop culture from the 70s and 80s. (Think: Magnum PI.) I also like memories of growing up surfing at Sunset Beach, Pipeline, Pupukea, Ala Moana, Diamond Head, and Makaha.
12. Finally, I dislike New Year's resolutions. Why do people do such stupid things? Which is exactly why I've made my own list this year (hardy-har):
Run 12 marathons in 2018. Easy cheesy, lemon squeezy. (Yeah, right.)
Claim Sheba as a dependent on my 2017 tax returns.
Stop reading blogs. Totally over-rated.
Eat Doritos once a week instead of five times a day.
Refuel with chocolate milk. Gatorade, take a hike.
Work on my French. It's gotten so bad that I don't even remember how to say "Bonjour" when I'm in Geneva.
Stop freaking out at airports. So flying is a hassle. Deal with it.
Tell my children to stop texting me so often. (This is my attempt at reverse psychology, kiddos.)
Never do another triathlon. Not sure if it's a pride thing or a stupidity thing, but since I'm really bad at two of the three legs, why bother?
Stop waltzing out the door and not telling my kids where I'm going. If I fall off the top of McAfee Knob, who will know?
Volunteer at races. It's time I began to pay back the running community.
Learn something new. Wind surfing?
Oh, I almost forget. We have a visitor on campus these days, none other than Michael Bird from Australia.
I like him not only because he's an interesting and prolific writer but mainly cuz the Bible area faculty got a free lunch in his honor today in the Hall of the Presidents. Thank you, Mike!
Monday, December 4
6:48 AM Happy Monday yall! As a good little worker bee, my week is chockablock filled with meetings, classes, and calculating final grades. Welcome to the last week of school. It's all leading up to commencement services on Friday and then my flight to Dallas. The good news, going into this weekend's marathon, is that I've got very little pain in my feet so hopefully I'll be totally healed before Sunday. There are reasons for me to be optimistic about this race. The course is fairly flat. And the weather won't get very warm (warm weather is always a runner's nemesis). Plus, we're talking DALLAS, man. It's, like, a huge event. I've always gravitated to big races with tons of participants. It's especially cool when you get to meet celebrity runners, like Meb Keflezighi this year. Someday I'd like to meet Jeff Galloway. Lord knows I've got a billion of his books. But I'd probably have to run three yards, then walk three yards, then run three yards again to catch up to him. Folks, running is such pure joy. Even when you're hurting (and everyone is hurting). All you need is the courage to put one foot in front of the other.
But before then I've got another "race" to finish, and I hope to finish well, not least by having my students' grades posted to Moodle before I leave for Texas. I feel they deserve as much, so I work very hard at it every semester. It's one way I can say "Thank you" for all of their hard work. (As a student, you didn't like having to wait weeks for your final grades, did you?) In addition, I'm continuing my study of 1 Thessalonians, including whether the letter ends with an "amen" or not. Jonathan Borland's essay has been very helpful in this regard. He makes a fairly strong case for including "amen" in places where the UBS/NA/SBL texts omit the word. Incidentally, I ran across Jonathan's work at a Facebook page called Byzantine Text Theory. It does a good job of challenging the status quo without (I think) going overboard in its support of the Byzantine text. Some, of course, seem to be Byzantine-priorists, and that's okay in my book. I need to hem and haw here a bit before I say what I need to say, but I have found that the Byzantine text least often stands alone in places of textual variation -- which, in my opinion, attests to its good quality. But I'm not convinced that it should be rehabilitated to the "best" text. I'll have much more to say about this in our Greek 4 class next semester.
Have a great week, everyone. Remember, if you worry too much about the destination, you'll miss the journey.
Sunday, December 3
8:02 PM Tonight all creation praises Him -- the sky, the oceans, the rivers, the mountains, and even the moon.
Imagine. We worship the Creator of all things.
I once published a study of Heb. 1:1-4, where Christ is referred to as the One through whom God created the universe (see #10 below).
As Rom. 1:20 puts it, "By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God created, people have always been able to see what their eyes can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being" (The Message). Paul's point? You don't need a church building to experience the presence of God. He surrounds us 24 hours a day with the evidence of His power, love, and glory.
"Nature is the living, visible garment of God" (Goethe).
Amen and amen.
7:22 PM Been on the front porch watching the supermoon. Which is why I'm linking to this: Supermoon 2017: How to watch (and why). Do go outside tonight if you can.
6:44 PM The book of 1 Thessalonians is absolutely lovely. It's also maddingly filled with all kinds of exegetical pitfalls. Here's a list of some of them. I drew it up this morning while reading the first chapter of this marvelous letter:
I mean, seriously. These aren't simple questions. I plan on exploring them in detail in the days ahead. Exegesis is a difficult calling. God, make us worthy of our calling.
1:36 PM As you know, I've been trying to improve the esthetic quality of my photographs. I very much consider myself a rank beginner in this field. One tip I've learned is to take your camera with you everywhere you go. Also, I've been thinking about my subjects in brand new ways. What would make this an interesting picture? What's the back-story? Is there anything unique about this photo? How can I develop my own style without merely mimicking the work of others? At any rate, my creative juices have begun to flow. Hope you enjoy the following.
1) "Fog over Rosewood."
We don't get fog here very often so I thought this scene merited a photo.
2) "Carrot Tongues."
Yes, I spoil my donkeys with an occasional carrot. It just so happened that they all had their carrot ends sticking out of their mouths at the exact same time.
3) "Sheba's Ramp."
My sweet little puppy is now 13 years old, which is about 74 years old in human terms. She's as deaf as a doornail and can't walk up stairs any more. Here she's using the wheelchair ramp I built for Becky many years ago. Isn't she cute?
4) "David Go Round in Circles."
I like this pic because of its colors. (Awesome job, Garmin!) As you can see, today I did a 5K at the track. I wouldn't call it running, but I didn't walk either. "Shuffled" might be the best term. Notice my average pace: 14:17. To complete a marathon in 6.5 hours (which is the time limit for the Dallas Marathon), I'll have to average a 14:52 pace. That's just slightly faster than 4 miles per hour. Overall, I'm going to aim for 60 percent running and 40 percent walking. Of course, it all depends on how my feet and legs are working next Sunday.
P.S. I never get tired of this cartoon. It's soooo true!
8:34 AM Map My Run just sent me my averages for the month of November. Here's how things panned out:
Pretty crazy when you actually think about it. It was a great month. I had tons of laughter and I shed a few tears. 2017 is about over. 2018 is about to start. I can't wait!
6:50 AM If you're curious about what running a marathon is like or if you just need some inspiration this morning, check out this YouTube of the St. George Marathon. This is the race I ran back in October.
I was waaaaaay behind the elite runners, but I gave it all I had and that's all I ever ask of myself. As I close out my third year of being a runner, I can't help but look back at what's made this sport so enjoyable for me. Each race is its own reward. You can do more than your best on any given day. Every race frees you just a little bit more from being sedentary. As an adult-onset athlete, I don't expect to be a young man again. A victory at this stage of life mostly means getting to the starting line. Trophies and medals don't matter. It's all about finding that un-tapped, God-given source of energy within yourself. I've never won a single race I've competed in, but I've been victorious dozens of times, even if I came in 53,478th place. Running can teach us to live with the dramatic shifts in our lives. Despite the hardships, running allows you to experience moments of unspeakable joy. Those moments of joy will stay with you forever. Right now, looking back at three years of running, I know I'm not satisfied with my accomplishments. But rather than thinking only about what's left to be done, today is a day for honoring them and being grateful for what the Lord has allowed me to accomplish.
If you are graduating this Friday (as some of my students are), I hope you will do the same. Reject the obsession with what you wish you were. Instead, focus on who you are and what you are becoming in Christ. Enjoy every moment of your accomplishment. For just a day, stop trying to get somewhere else. The joy is in knowing that just as God has led you to this point, so He will continue to lead you as you write the next chapter of your life. Being a student isn't a goal or a destination. It's a way of living life. Consistency ... that's what it's all about. Runners know this well. Getting out there consistently, even if it's just for 15 minutes every other day, goes a long way. Consistency simply means not giving up and not giving in. I may not be able to run as far or as fast as I would like to, but that's okay because in the end what matters is the process of running, not the destination. Even today, I'm amused at all the things I've become -- triathlete, mountaineer, marathoner -- all because I decided to begin moving my body with my own two feet. That's what "scholarship" is like too. Don't let your self-doubts keep you from learning more. Take it slow and enjoy each step along the way. Allow your unique combination of talent and dedication to become the tools by which you build the person you most want to become. And be sure to accept whatever hardships God allows you to experience along the way. I'm sure I'm a better person today because I'm a widower than I would have been otherwise. The answer to our loneliness is not found in another person but in surrendering to the One who loves us with an everlasting love. Once we learn to love Him with all of our hearts, He will pour out His love to others through us.
Dear graduate, "May the Lord satisfy your needs and cause your light to rise like dawn out of darkness. May He give you strength of limb. May He cause you to be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail" (Isa. 58:9-11).
May you always move in the direction of God's will.
Saturday, December 2
6:35 PM Heard the one about the teenager who had a Chinese character for "love" tattooed on her shoulder? She had no idea that the character actually meant "soy sauce." It's the craziest thing, but I find people getting Greek or Latin tattoos who don't check them out first. What's the point of showing off gibberish to your friends? You say, "You don't really notice those things, do you, Dave?" Yes, I do. Like this afternoon, for instance.
I really enjoyed the Christmas concert. The singers were in good form, and the musical selections were on point. But two of the songs were in Latin -- with, of course, English "translations" provided in the concert program. That's when my left brain started revolting even as my right brain was delighting in the music. Can someone please tell me how you can get "Savior Jesus Christ" from "Dominum Jesum Christum"? Or "the incarnation of the Father" from "Dei Filio"? Or "gatherer of all nations" from "rex gentium"? Or "separateness" from "peccati"? Sometimes I think knowing foreign languages is more a curse than a blessing. The subtitles in the movie The Longest Day? The German and the English are like two ships passing in the night. (I like the movie anyway.) I'm ashamed to say it, but the "small wrongs" that people commit every day are not that different from the ones I so often ignore or rationalize away in my own life. Like the typos on my blog. (Aaaaargh!) Or leaving the dishes unwashed for days on end. (At least they're soaking in the sink.) The opportunities to improve are pretty common for each of us. They're before us every day. It's the people who know how to seize them who are rare. Thankfully, love covers a multitude of sins. In the middle of the concert, I forced my left brain to shut down so that I could relax and "smell the roses." In the end, I left singing "Silent Night" -- with a big smile on my lips.
Even in this age of fuzzified thinking, there's still a lot to enjoy in life.
10:20 AM Ya gotta love living in the rural South. This was my view at 8:30 this morning on my way to the local Y.
Keep in mind: Hwy. 58 is the busiest east-west corridor in all of Southside Virginia. Love it.
Today I mostly worked on my biceps and pects. The Gouter Route on Mont Blanc has some difficult vertical sections that will require some pretty hefty upper body strength. Who knows. Maybe I'm too old for this. We'll see. I didn't walk today as I'm resting my feet. I'm definitely in the waning days of training for the marathon in the Big D (only a week from tomorrow). I'm just trying to maintain my overall fitness and then see how my feet do on race day. The actual race goes through some pretty cool areas of Dallas, including downtown, the Santa Fe Trail, Deep Ellum, the famous "Dolly Parton Hills," and White Rock Lake (where I proposed to Becky). I think I know which part of the course will be my favorite. I'm hoping to get outside again this week for a couple of slow walks. I cannot thank New Balance enough for the great shoes they make. I leave a trail of fire whenever I run in them. (Not.) Right now Accuweather is calling for cloudy skies and a high of 63 on race day. Here's hoping the weatherman gets it right. Either way, it'll be nice to be back in Dallas.
This afternoon I'm going to take advantage of the proximity of the big city of Durham to take in a Christmas concert. It's the Durham Community Chorale's annual Holiday Concert featuring Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and -- get this! -- O Magnum Mysterium. Is it just me, or is this one of the best choral pieces ever written? To listen to it is to be transported to heaven. I thank Morten Lauridsen for composing this incomparable musical work.
Well. I've got my chores to do, so I'll leave you with the best Christmas flash mob video. Ever.
6:10 AM Neologisms are nothing new to students of New Testament Greek. One of the more famous neologisms in the Pauline letters is theodidaktoi (1 Thess. 4:9), meaning something like "God-taught." So when I recently ran across an English word I had never seen before -- nomophobia -- I make the mistake of thinking that it too was based on Greek morphology, assigning it the meaning "fear of the law." Boy was I wrong, as this study in Scientific American reminded me. I'll admit it. I experience "iPhone separation anxiety" (no-mobile phobia) from time to time. When I wake up in the morning I put on my Garmin -- and grab my phone from the recharger. What ever would I do without it? I need to check the weather. I need to answer emails and texts. I need to check the news. When I was a child in Hawaii, time seemed to move along at a snail's pace. Today, life is careening at warp speed. I closed my eyes as a 17-year-old and opened them as a 65-year-old. Putting down my iPhone is an extravagant pleasure. I need to do it more often. Thankfully, the little pleasures of life haven't escaped me altogether. A morning sunrise. The look on Sheba's face when she gets a tummy rub. An old-fashioned workout at the Y. Freshly mown hay. Belching in public. Paying a stranger's restaurant bill. All of these are more magical than anything Apple can provide. The Bible recommends having fun (Eccl. 8:15). It also says to be ready for Jesus' return (Matt. 24:36-39). Maybe there's a balance between those two perspectives. I ought to enjoy God's good blessings while they last. I also ought to be prepared for Christ's long-heralded second coming. It could happen today. Is my heart ready? Is my life in order? Siri doesn't know the answer to those kinds of questions. Only my soul does.
Friday, December 1
7:16 PM I love photography even though I'm not very good at it. But I thought this shot turned out pretty good.
I took it while we were getting up hay and the moon was rising. Of course, there's no possible way I can convey the sheer scope of the scene I witnessed this evening. If there's anything wrong with this photo it's that it has too many details -- always a distraction. I prefer simpler compositions. Oh well, I do hope you like it!
12:05 PM Read 21 science-backed reasons you should take a nap. I'm a believer!
11:46 AM Hey folks! Just finished farm chores with Nate. Had to feed the animals, put up hay, and cut up a dead fruit tree.
Earlier I did a 5K (3.1 miles) at the track. It's just too beautiful of a day to stay indoors. Nature is my number one stress killer. Today people spend 25 percent less time outdoors than people did just 20 years ago, according to a report called Stop and Smell the Weeds. Whether I'm outdoors exercising or working, I keep thinking to myself, "Through Him all things were made. Apart from Him, nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:3). What a great Creator we serve. Don't let your iPhone keep you from noticing that.
Right now, it's time to do some grading and then rest a bit before getting up hay this afternoon. "Productivity is never an accident," wrote Paul Meyer. "It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort." Amen to that!
6:48 AM This and that ...
1) Hay there!
We worked late into the night getting up two trailer loads yesterday.
I still can't believe we're haying in December and it's not over yet.
2) Here's an outline of Philippians I found somewhere online.
Philippians in 12 messages? It can be done. I think the outline is pretty creative. I might have made "Partner" plural in #1 but, hey, this isn't my outline. The alliteration is helpful without being annoying. I think the author nails it in what I'm calling the "heart" of the epistle:
I've always had a hard time making decisions. Even in restaurants. Shall I order the same old same old or is it time to try something new? But Philippians teaches us there's one decision that's especially difficult to make. It's the painful process of saying yes to God, which means we have to comparatively say no to everything else. Living for the Gospel (i.e., living for others) is indeed "The Bottom Line" of the Christian life. God demands our complete devotion to His cause. Not a part of it and not even the biggest part of it. He won't share His throne with anyone.
3) A takeaway from Ray Collins' book on 1 Thessalonians:
4) I get a rash just thinking about running marathons. But the Dallas Marathon is coming up in only 9 days. My mind is already turning to Jell-O. It's obvious I'll never have a runner's body. But a runner's soul? Hmm. Maybe. Just maybe.
5) I've purchased 4 front row seats for the NC Symphony's Jan. 13th performance of Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Mussorgsky wrote this suite after the loss of a close friend. The music is heartbreaking in that context. I have loved this piece since I first heard it performed by the NC Symphony a few weeks after Becky's death. This has actually become my favorite classical piece of all time. You feel like you're walking through the exhibition yourself and looking at all the wonderful paintings. The final movement ("The Gates of Kiev") is unparalleled.
Music has been wonderfully therapeutic for me. I'm experiencing what Jesus meant when He promised, "You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy" (John 16:2). Praise God!