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Thursday, September 21 

6:54 PM I spent the afternoon haying.

I'm hot, sweaty, and very hungry.

I'm calling it a day. Been a good one. Hope yours has been too.

11:20 AM Only 1 day and 20 hours until the start of the Genworth Virginia 10 Miler in Lynchburg. Boy I am excited. The course finish includes the infamous Farm Basket Hill. Actually, it's 3 smaller hills. I plan to run it one section at a time. A 10 mile race is all about conquering your fears. I have to make sure I don't go out too fast, since the first mile and a half is downhill. I love being able to participate in really challenging races. After Lynchburg, my life only gets crazier. It's only 2 weeks until the St. George Marathon, then I have the Richmond Marathon in November and the Dallas Marathon in December. Looking back through my blog I can't believe how many races I've run since I first got involved in this sport. I am sitting here, mildly terrified about Saturday's race. Right now I'm a little tired since I just ran 5 miles. Nothing a good afternoon nap can't cure, however. My goal is to finish in under two and a half hours, God willing. Last year there were over 3200 finishers in the race. I hope to be one of them this year. Wish me Godspeed!

7:50 AM A couple of unrelated posts before I go out for my morning run.

1) Here He is displaying His glory again. Pretty awesome, huh?

2) These were some of the sentences we translated in baby Greek this week.

Yes, I have my students reading my silly made-up inauthentic sentences for practice. There are certain convictions I have about Greek pedagogy that probably aren't too kosher in the academy today. One of them is: start out nice and easy. Give students sentences they can actually read and translate without too much difficulty, even if no one has ever spoken the sentences you've just made up. This was the way I learned German. Das ist ein Haus. Das ist mein Haus. Das ist ein grosses Haus. See Jane. See Jane run. Yes, I know: Kindergarten-ish. I think back to my first exposure to Greek at Biola 42 years ago. We were learning Classical Greek, and our first translations were authentic sentences taken straight from Aristotle. When I saw those sentences I went straight to the fetal position. I had no clue what to do with them. I decided to pass on that method when I began teaching Greek at Biola two years later. Chalk that up to experience I guess.

Can't teaching be simple without being simplistic?

6:44 AM What are the marks of a Christian? Growing up in Hawaii, it seemed we had this question all figured out. Christianity was a fish insignia on our cars, or saying "Praise the Lord!" at every opportunity. As you flip through the pages of Philippians, however, you begin to wonder. People live out their faith in many different ways. And that's precisely why, I believe, Paul wrote Phil. 2:1-4, which I studied here

For him, diversity was no excuse for disunity. One of the most memorable passages in the New Testament is Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17. Christians dwelling together as one? Oh, I suppose. But on a day-to-day basis, I just don't see it happening. When at look at Phil. 2:1-4, I'm awestruck. Wow, God, You really know how to get down to brass tacks. Unity is not easy. In fact, it's downright impossible without humility. Perhaps no passage in Scripture explains this as well as the verses below.

Read them over and over again. If you are up to the challenge, commit them to memory (as I have). I feel a certain kinship with the Philippians because they were real people with real weaknesses. Even though they had been used by God, they still felt short of His expectations. Paul says to them, "Here is the way forward. Walk in love, as Christ loved you." This would be a lot easier, of course, if we could measure love like we measure the air in our car tires. But in the end, it's not that simple. That's why passages like Phil. 2:1-4 are so helpful. They provide practical tests to help us get a handle on love. They are commonsense ways to test our feelings and actions. Love is not just another mark of a Christian. It's the birthmark of a Christian. If you choose to follow the ways of Christ as Paul describes them here (and make no mistake, it's your choice), the result will be abundantly beyond what you could ask or think.

Wednesday, September 20 

7:24 PM In Phil. 1:30, Paul refers to the "struggle" or "contest" he's been going through. The Greek word he uses is agon. Ding!! There's a book on this subject, isn't there, Dave? Sure enough, I recalled what it was, and our library even had a copy.

It's the first real study of the agon motif ever published. So last night I reread it and jotted down a few notes. Here's my summary of this excellent book:

  • The use of athletic imagery in Paul's writing is frequent.

  • The image of an athletic contest receives its fullest treatment in 1 Cor. 9:24–27, which is possibly a direct reference to the public games familiar to his readers in Corinth.

  • The terms agon and agonizomai suggest the thought of exertion and maximum endeavor.

  • The public games assumed a central position in the life of the Greeks. In fact, the whole idea of competitive contests in sports is Greek. This competitive spirit was far removed from Jewish thinking. The Greek public games were completely foreign to Israelite thought and life. The fostering of athletic contests went directly against the national and religious sensibilities of the Jews.

  • The agon motif was used not only for the united struggle of people at war but also for every kind of contest in civilian life. The entire civic life of a Greek became an agon—a sphere in which to exert oneself and excel over others.

  • Greek athletes were frequently designated as hieroi—holy men. They would bow before the image of the deity, to whom they would bring their offerings and prayers for victory.

  • In Greek culture, the gymnasium was the center of sports in which the youth were trained from an early age in the various contests.

  • The ideal of such training was to produce a man who was both agathos (morally good) and kalos (physically beautiful). Physical beauty, especially that of the naked body, was considered the ideal medium for expressing internal goodness.

  • Sometimes military imagery is combined with athletic metaphors. Hence there is a close relationship between agon (contest) and polemos (war).

  • The picture of the athletic contest that is most extensively developed in Paul is found in 1 Cor. 9:24–27, followed by Phil. 3:12–14, Phil. 1:27–30, and 1 Cor. 1:29–2:1.

  • In the Pastoral Epistles, whose Pauline authorship is sometimes disputed, the agon motif occurs especially in 1 Tim. 4:7–10, 1 Tim. 6:11–12, 2 Tim. 2:3–4, and 2 Tim. 4:6–7.

  • Paul often compares life to a battle and describes the struggle after good as a contest with the flesh.

  • Paul thus becomes the father of his converts both in life and faith—their “trainer” in the race or contest of the Christian life.

  • Paul, however, most frequently applies the agon motif to himself.

  • Paul conceived of his apostolic mission as an agon for the gospel. This involved a continual struggle against opposition.

  • In summary: (1) agon involves self-renunciation and training in the endeavor to place everything in the service of the gospel. (2) Within the contest, the goal dictates the earnestness of the struggle against opposition and error—the goal being the ultimate victory of the gospel itself. (3) To attain this goal, wholehearted endeavor and application of the will is required. (4) Physical sufferings may be part of this process, but so is the heavenly prize as the reward for faithfulness. (5) Those who have entered the race and have begun to run must persevere. The race isn’t won until the goal has been reached. (6) The athlete of Christ strives not for their own honor, but for the honor and glory of Christ.

Yes, folks, the Christian life is a struggle. Think of a foot race, or even a gladiatorial contest. Every runner knows exactly what Paul is talking about. Out on the road it's just the pavement and you. And the will to persevere. Runners know the only person they have to outrun is themselves. As I've continued to run, as I've gotten to see my body thin out and my strength increase, I have learned that running is simply a matter of getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other. It's also important to have goals. It doesn't matter if your goal is to run one mile or to finish a marathon. You can be certain that you are getting closer to your fitness goals. I've also discovered that progress isn't always linear. Sometimes you move backwards before you can move forwards again. Don't worry. That's just how running works. For better or for worse, running means that you just keep trying. Running can teach us many lessons about life if we let it. The book of Hebrews, for example, says that maintaining a long-term relationship with God is like preparing for a marathon. It takes at least a year to train for, say, the Flying Pig Marathon. Training involves months of long, hard workouts. It requires an all-out effort. But the more you train, the more your endurance increases. 26.2 miles now seems like an attainable goal.

Training and preparation. That's what it takes, folks, to run the race of life. You've got to be willing to enter the "struggle." You've got to hit the track and run like the wind. Through running I find inspiration to continue the marathon called the Christian life. I have been engaged in these battles for three years now and I can assure you that the competition is as real for the last place finisher as it is for the 1st place winner. Running, at whatever speed, teaches you that you can reach inside of you for the God-given strength you need to be victorious.

Paul wasn't a letterman in high school track and field. But he knew enough about racing and about living the Christian life to know that neither is a cakewalk. Endurance is a must. Your attitude, my friend, makes all the difference.  

7:06 PM Brief update:

1) You've seen me mention running in Joyner Park before, approximately a billion times. If you live in Wake Forest you're very familiar with this park. Rolling hills is definitely the word I'd use to describe this park. They aren't massive but they'll give your legs a good workout. I do my running here when I'm in the Forest of Wake.

2) Today in our NT class my friend and colleague Dan Heimbach lectured on "Homosexuality and Romans." Hand to the heavens, Dan is one of the most interesting lecturers I've ever heard. He's brilliant but accessible, strong but still gracious. He's a Third Culture Kid (born in China, raised in Southeast Asia), served in the George H. W. Bush White House, was Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Navy for Manpower, graduated from the United States Naval Academy as well as from Drew, has written or contributed to over 16 books, and has done additional studies at both the University of Southern California and Harvard. His lecture today was both stimulating and compassionate. It was good to have you in class today, Dan. There is no end to the ways God works through the Scriptures to speak to His people. Thanks for being His voice today.

3) Finally, to all of my great students: You are so very loved, both by your prof and by your Lord. I pray you would remember it, live it, rest in it. May each of you become a parable of the kingdom right where you are.

Monday, September 18 

9:56 AM So here's my penultimate rendering of Phil. 1:27-30.

Now the only thing that really matters is that you make it your habit to live as good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Good News about Christ, so that, whether or not I'm able to go and see you in person or remain absent, I will be hearing that all of you, like soldiers on a battlefield, are standing shoulder to shoulder and working as one team to help people put their trust in the Good News. Don't allow your enemies to terrify you in any way. Your boldness in the midst of opposition will be a clear sign to them that they will be destroyed and that you will be saved, because it's God who gives you salvation. For God has granted you the privilege on behalf of Christ of not only believing in Him but also suffering for Him. Now it's your turn to take part with me in the life-or-death battle I'm fighting -- the same battle you saw me fighting in Philippi and, as you hear, the one I'm fighting now.

For a long time I struggled with what to do with Paul's "striving together [Greek sunathlountes] in one soul for the faith of the Gospel." Many commentators insisted that Paul was using an athletic metaphor here, one dealing especially with teamwork. But did the ancient Greeks have what we know as "team sports" similar to our basketball, volleyball, and football? Indeed they did. One such team sport was akin to our modern-day rugby. Another resembled field hockey. The Greeks loved sports. They felt that it distinguished them from non-Greeks.

Verbal aspect ... civic, military, and athletic metaphors ... objective genitives ... all make for an interest paragraph, don't you think? Please understand that Paul is not a military hawk, even though he uses military metaphors. We overcome evil not with evil but with good. We "love our enemies to death" says Fee, and he's right. We are literally offering the "life-giving message" (2:16) to those who are dying.

Next up: Perhaps the greatest description of Christian unity in the New Testament (2:1-4).

Sunday, September 17 

9:56 PM Just back from my favorite seafood dive in North Carolina, which boasts the tastiest (and greasiest) food in all of Henderson. Just enjoying the benefits of exercise, folks. Earlier we got up more bales.

This is actually our second cutting of the summer, and the hay couldn't be better. We bale hay during the hot days of summer so that horses have something to eat during the cold days of winter. When darkness fell we quit for the day. Square baling is genuinely a test of your machismo. It ain't easy but it's oh so rewarding.

Night all!

2:04 PM What does an American Christian look like? We look like any other people outwardly. We don't normally dress much differently from unbelievers. We don't wear our hair differently. We don't have secret handshakes. We don't all drive the same model car. In the grocery store you're unlikely to be able to pick out the Christian from the non-Christian. So what's the difference between those who are born again and those who aren't?

One again, Paul helps us out. In Phil. 1:27-30, he's clear that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christians is they suffer for Christ, or at least are willing to do so. This is a "given," writes Paul, using a construction sometimes called the divine passive. Thus "it was granted to you to suffer" could be rendered "God has granted this to you." This has always been the case. In every generation, those with a whole-hearted allegiance to the Gospel can expect to share in the sufferings of Christ.

The idea of suffering for Christ is not an unusual one for Paul. In the book of 2 Corinthians, not once but twice he lists the sufferings and trials that came to him for being a Gospeler. Here's one of them (2 Cor. 6:4-10). At first blush there seems to be no rhyme or reason to Paul's list.

But a closer look reveals some interesting patterns.

In the ISV, we tried to indicate the thought units as follows (please note the punctuation):

I see that Eugene Petersen also seemed alert to some of these patterns.

Note especially the following constructions:

  • "in hard times, tough times, bad times"

  • "when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed"

  • "working hard, working late, working without eating"

Brilliant! The point is that Paul didn't just talk about suffering for Jesus; he experienced it. And because he stood strong in spite of sometimes fanatical opposition, he can exhort the Philippians to do exactly the same thing ("Don't be intimated by your opponents in any way").

I once saw a bumper sticker with the words "Things Go Better with Christ" -- a takeoff on a Coke commercial. That's not always true, of course. In fact, if I understand Paul correctly here, God never intended things to "go better with Christ." Thousands of Christians around the world (yes, in 2017) are undergoing extreme suffering for their faith. You can't live uncompromisingly for the Gospel and not have some scars to show for it. By saying yes to Christ, we have to comparatively say no to everything else, including our comforts and safety. Paul doesn't mean that we go out and look for trouble. He's simply saying that my love for Christ should be infinitely deeper and stronger than my love for my own life.

Once again, in Philippians we see Paul at his very best. He rejoices and give thanks in everything, including his own sufferings and hardships. What a remarkable example he is for us. May God grant us courage as we seek to live and speak the truth in love in our own communities and nations.

7:52 AM I just received professional photos from yesterday's race. Here's your 40th place finisher.

And here's your 1st place finisher.

His name is Valo Endara and his time was 19:21. The dude looks like he's breezing along. But hey, he's only 36. I tried to find a photo of my arch-nemesis, Mr. Verburgt, but none could be found. Guess he was going too fast for pictures.

It's funny what running will do to you. Put on a race bib and all of a sudden you're a warrior doing battle. We're an odd assortment of shapes and ages, we warriors are, and some are entering battle for the first time. We're battling our fears. We're battling our history. Some are battling grief. Alone and in groups, we make our way to the finish line, some faster than others, some sprinting, others limping, some chatting, others completely out of breath. Our confidence grows as we win more victories over ourselves. Runners actively seek ways of challenging themselves. There may be other ways of doing this, but certainly running is right up there at the top of the list.

6:40 AM One year I taught Greek in a foreign setting and asked the principal of the college where I was teaching if I could use closed-book take-home exams. He looked at me like I had ten heads, "You can't do that," he said. "Why not?" I asked. "I use them at home all the time." His reply shocked me: "Because the students will cheat. They will use their textbooks while taking the exam. It's happened before. I'm sorry, but I just can't allow that."

This incident came back to me yesterday as I read Paul's words in Phil. 1:27: " ... whether or not I'm able to go and see you...." He says basically the same thing in 2:12: "So then, my dear friends, just as you always obeyed me when I was with you, it's even more important that you obey me while I'm away from you."

I think Paul's point is pretty clear. Obedience to the Lord's commands should not be dependent on Paul's personal presence. There's an unhealthy tendency for us to lean too heavily on our teachers. Is this not true? The Philippians must learn to rely more on God than on the presence of any teacher of theirs. Every parent knows exactly what Paul is saying. The purpose of parenting is to give our children roots and then to give them wings, to live out God's plan for their lives without our supervision and advice. Moreover, every parent knows their own weaknesses and shortcomings. As hard as we may try to lead our children and guide them into maturity, we realize that, in the end, this is a God thing. And so, conscious of our own imperfections, we give our children to God. We don't know where they will live or what careers they will choose or how many children they will have, but if there's one thing we do know it's that long before they belonged to us, they belonged to God. They can trust Him wherever they live and whatever they do and regardless of how many kids they have.

This gives me such comfort. I can entrust my children -- and my students -- to the care of Jesus. If they follow Him, everything else will fall into place. Perhaps that's why I enjoy teaching Greek so much. Greek is a tool that (hopefully) equips and empowers our students to think for themselves, to wean themselves from what can often become a slavish dependence on others to understand "what the Bible means." In so many of our churches, the staff is expected to take full spiritual responsibility for people. Folks, that's asking too much of them. I wonder if a "Come to us and we'll tell you what the Bible means" approach is workable let alone biblical. I think what Paul's doing with the Philippians is essential. He's transferring spiritual responsibility from leaders to Christ-followers. This is a philosophy of ministry that can be profoundly good for our congregations. Yes, let's go ahead and teach one another. All well and good. But let's also be sure that we, as individuals, are in the word ourselves.

The bottom line? People will fail us. Even people we trust. But Jesus is ever faithful. In essence, Paul is saying to the Philippians: Jesus is all you need. No one loves you more. No one will teach you better. He is enough. I may not be able to be with you, but you are never alone.

Saturday, September 16 

5:42 PM Evening, folks! Even though I'm sorta burned out on 5Ks, today's race was a very enjoyable event. I felt pretty good the whole race and finished with a respectable time for an old man. There's no way I can praise the race organizers enough. They were superb. There were relatively few participants because it was a fairly low-key event. I was the quintessential middle-of-the-packer in this race, finishing 40 out of 89 runners.

The route was laid out to take you through Cary's various subdivisions, and one part of the route was even on a beautiful greenway. I didn't run as fast as I could, but I didn't dilly dally either. To be honest, I was a little more competitive in this event than I normally am. Once the race started I was never passed.

But there was this one guy ahead of me that I knew was about my age, and I desperately wanted to pass him.

I was getting bored, so what the hey -- let's have some fun. The more I pushed, however, the more he pushed. When he finally slowed down to almost a walk for a breather, I thought, "Now I'm gonna catch you!" The dude even walked faster than me, for crying out loud. And he's 69! As you can see, he beat my time by more than a minute. Way to go, Robert!

After the race I enjoyed a free stretch session with one of Cary's local sports therapists. There are countless benefits of stretching, but I'm too lazy to do it myself. It was nice to have a pro do it for me. Today's weather was pleasant. It never got too hot. I'm not one to run very well in hot weather or humidity, so I'm very grateful to the Lord for a fine day weather-wise. In short, it was a superb day, a fun race, and a good time. I'd do it again but only if Robert Verburgt isn't running.

P.S. If you're deciding what race to do for your first 5K, try to pick one that's smallish and family-friendly. Find runs that are for really good causes. And try to get your friends to run it with you. Today's race wasn't a bucket list thing for me that I can check off. I drove all the way down to Cary to raise money for a great cause. This is the second year I've run it and it just keeps getting better.

P.P.S. Some people think it's blasphemous to wear the t-shirt from one event to another event, but I'm a doofus so who cares. Today I wore my Flying Pig Marathon shirt and guess what? A lady comes up to me and says, "I ran the inaugural Flying Pig!" Small world.

P.P.P.S. After the race I decided to visit the Ethiopian restaurant that opened in Cary a couple of years ago.

Boy was I delightfully surprised. The kai wat was authentic and flavorful. I thought I was in heaven. (Yes, there will be Ethiopian food in heaven.)

The owner and her sister treated me like I was royalty. What gracious hosts. Betam amasagenalo!

Ever in Cary? Do check this place out, both for its cuisine and its atmosphere. It's called the Awazé. You will not be disappointed.

Keep running your race,

Dave

5:12 AM Still working on my translation of Phil. 1:27-30. Here's the latest iteration:

Now the only thing in life that really matters is that you live out your Kingdom citizenship in a manner required by the Gospel of Christ, so that, whether or not I'm able to go and see you in person, I will hear that all of you are standing side by side with one common purpose: to work together as one team to see people put their trust in the Gospel. Don't allow your enemies to intimidate you in any way. Your boldness in the midst of such persecution will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory. For God has granted you the privilege, for the sake of Christ, of not only believing in Him but also suffering for Him. It's your turn to take part with me in the battle I'm fighting -- the same battle you saw me fighting in the past and, as you hear, the one I'm fighting now.

There are 3 themes here:

1) The church must act corporately and cooperatively (with one common purpose and goal) if others are to come to faith in Christ.

2) Since unbelievers are devoted to another "lord," persecution and opposition will be inevitable. Hence boldness is required -- a kind of uncommon courage that will prove to one's enemies that they are headed for certain destruction.

3) The Christian life is a struggle, all of it, from beginning to end. If our Lord was crucified, should we expect any less? The path to heaven always leads through a cross.

What does this say to a 65-year old Greek prof? Today's news is frightening. There are wars (Afghanistan) and rumors of wars (North Korea). International tensions abound. Increasing numbers of the elderly are putting an almost overwhelming strain on Social Security. I realize I am growing older. Some day my children will have to become parents to me. They should understand my joy is found in serving Jesus. Even though I feel nostalgia for the days gone by, I am living in the "now." Yes, I need time for renewal and reflection, but I also want to be active. I want to remind my students (and blog readers) that partnership in the Gospel includes mutual suffering. Discipleship is always costly. If it isn't costing us anything, then it isn't discipleship. Christ is our only paradigm. By living the "cruciform" life, He showed us the way forward. It's the path of downward mobility. It means having a genuine interest in others' welfare. It means putting aside our own selfish interests. It means adopting Jesus' definition of "rich." (Farewell keeping up with the Joneses.) It may mean risking one's life for the sake of Christ. It is not enough to be citizens of America. The Gospel proclaims only one Lord, who is the incarnate Savior. Nothing is more important today than living out a Christlike vision of the kingdom. The United States can never be the kingdom of God. God's kingdom looks just like Jesus, and no amount of pom-pom waving will ever lead one person to salvation. To miss this central focus on the Lord Jesus is to miss the focus of the entire book of Philippians. Christ is the focus of everything God has done and everything He will yet do in this world.

Dear reader, may we "join together" this very day in "imitating" Paul by "walking" as he walked (Phil. 3:17). For, you see, "the only thing in life that really matters" is truly the only thing in life that really matters.

Friday, September 15 

5:04 PM The 7th Annual Race for Our Heroes 5K kicks off tomorrow morning at 9:00 sharp in Cary. The race supports Operation Coming Home, which is an incredible organization.

When I started running about 3 years ago, I noticed that many races were charity races. Running for others is perhaps the greatest gift of our sport. So many of us who were couch potatoes were changed through running, so it only makes sense that we would want to improve the lives of others as well. Folks, this is a great way to give back to our communities. It's even Scriptural. Paul often talks about "faith, hope, and charities." Okay, so I fudged a little with the text. But you get the idea. It's not too late to sign up. Come and run (or walk) with us!

10:48 AM It's another gorgeous day here on the farm, though the temps are gradually creeping back up into the mid-80s. It's hard to believe that we've got less than three and a half months left in the year. The semester seems to be flying by. We're already in Phil. 1:27-30 and I haven't said a thing about 1:21! People sometimes ask me if I have any routines in my daily schedule, something I do repeatedly, and actually I do. I suppose you could say I repeat Phil. 1:21 almost like a mantra: "For to me to go on living is Christ, and to die is gain." I'm ashamed to say it, but I don't always find my identity in Christ. That's why this verse is so important to me. It's a reminder that my life with Christ is what really matters. It loosens my grip on all circumstances and props and frees me from all those things I generally rely on or deem important. When I'm unappreciated, my life is Christ. When someone says or writes something nice about me, my life is Christ. This is a verse that will force your values and fears out of the shadows and into the light. I can't help but think how different my daily life would be without Christ. Without Christ, life is vanity. Without Christ, love erodes. Without Christ, living is a drudgery. Paul, I think, reached the same conclusion. He wrote a verse that is used today in ways he would have never imagined. The thing is, God wants my whole heart. Not just a part. All of it. I can't, like Ananias and Sapphira, hold something back. Friends, dwell on Christ's sole sufficiency today. He wants us to experience the "glorious riches" He has planned for us from the beginning of time (Rom. 9:23). Feel old and useless? God's saving His best for last. He's got plans for your life that will amaze you.

Today, let's kick up our heels in the sunshine of Christ's presence. 

6:20 AM The study of Greek has changed my life in such acute ways I can no longer envision my life without Greek in it. And I don't think I'm weird in this respect. Some of you are the same way. Before I studied Greek I had no idea how languages worked. Then I joined the fray. I've had so many great teachers. One of them, a certain Colin McDougall, exposed me to morphology when I was in seminary. He was the only Greek prof at Talbot, as I recall, who paid any attention to linguistics. His discussions changed my life for the better. My book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek is all his fault, I guess you could say. I've never done this publicly before so here goes: Thank you, brother McDougall, for being a true advocate of language study. Which brings me back to the subject of morphology. Which of the following renderings of James 1:17 do you like the best?

Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father (NLT)

Every good and perfect gift is from above (NIV)

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above (NASB)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (ESV)

Every generous act of giving and every perfect gift is from above (ISV)

As I write this, my Greek 3 students are reading my chapter on morphology in Linguistics. They're learning the difference between a -sis suffix and a -ma suffix, for example. Notice what James writes (James 1:17):

Πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον ἄνωθέν ἐστιν

This verse has earned a clear spot on my Morphology Greatest Hits List with its interesting use of both of these suffixes within the space of 4 words. The first word for "gift" has the -sis suffix -- a process morpheme -- and the second word for "gift" has the result morpheme -ma. Let's see how this plays out. The NIV thinks the repetition of "gift" is redundant -- hence "Every good and perfect gift." The ESV translates both of the "gift" words but without any distinction in meaning. The ISV deviates from the norm and tries to tackle the issue of morphology -- "Every generous act of giving and every perfect gift." I'm not saying this is necessarily correct. But why would James use two different words for gift unless he wanted to stress different nuances? Again, it could be simply for stylistic variation without any change in meaning. But it could also be because he wanted to emphasize that both the gifts we give to others and the generous impulse that led us to give those gifts come from God. There's a nice flavor here, wouldn't you admit? Admittedly, I'm a bit biased toward the ISV's rendering. In addition, I have an inexplicable, boundless love for all things Greek. But the best thing about Greek is that it helps us to ask questions. Hear this (again): Greek isn't the Abracadabra of exegesis. We're so conditioned to hearing "The word in the Greek means ..." from our pulpits that we've forgotten that meaning is a very muddy concept. Calvin referred to "the God who lisps." He didn't mean that the Bible contains mistakes. He meant that when God decided to speak to us, He decided to use ordinary human languages, with all of their susceptibility to ambiguity. I've discovered I can study a passage in Greek for days and still not really understand exactly what it's saying. My goal becomes: This matters, this doesn't. This counts, this doesn't. I'm so grateful for the work of Bible translators. Without them most of us would be in the dark. I'm sure of it. But no two translators see the text in exactly the same way. Hesitantly, I offer to you the ISV's rendering as one possible alternative to what you're used to reading. Clearly I believe my job as a Greek prof is more than teaching paradigms. Are there ways a knowledge of Greek can enhance our study of God's word? I think maybe there is. And James 1:17 might just be one example.

I have no expectation that this rather whimsical post this morning will radically alter anybody's life. Aside from simply loving Greek, I think the inspirations underlying my teaching have changed through the years. The biggest driving force has been to help students think for themselves. I feel a real sense of urgency to show them ways that Greek can make a real difference in their lives, even in such areas as the way they think about giving. If you want to study Greek, just do it. As with running, it's not as hard as you think. You just need to modify your schedule a little bit and be sensible. Needless to say, once you've crossed over to the dark side, you'll never be the same person again.

Thursday, September 14 

7:26 PM What does the phrase "the faith of the Gospel" mean in Phil. 1:27?

for the faith, which is the Good News (NLT)

the faith that comes from the gospel (HCSB)

the faith that the Good News brings (God's Word)

people’s trust in the Message (The Message)

so da odda peopo goin trus da Good Kine Stuff Bout Christ too (Hawai'i Pidgin)

Fee (p. 77) thinks the phrase means either "the faith contained in the gospel" or "the faith, that is, the gospel." The NLT agrees with the latter:

fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

It's so tempting to translate this literally, to go along with the majority of translations, but this will not do, simply because "the faith of the Gospel" doesn't mean anything in English. (Yeah, I know, I used that expression in an earlier blog post today, but I've since repented.) Unless Paul is intentionally using ambiguity here, he means one thing, and it's our job as exegetes to determine which meaning he had in mind. As I told my Greek 3 students last Tuesday night when we were going over the Greek cases, the genitive will give you a Charley Horse between the ears if you're not careful. All due respect to those who render the expression as "the faith of the Gospel," but pretending that people know what that means isn't being honest with the text. Caring about the deep structure of the text is a big, big deal. And here -- as in so many places -- Greek simply will not tell you what Paul means, though (thankfully!) it will limit your options. Genitive of source? Genitive of apposition? There is no secret way around the problem. You guys, this is exactly why we need to learn Greek.

The end.

1:02 PM That's right: 828 miles. That's the distance I've run/walked/biked so far in 2017 according to my Map My Run app. I'm currently in week 2 of training for the St. George Marathon and so far things are going pretty well. The interesting thing is that I'm trying to pick up my distance but not my speed or pace. The issue isn't that I don't think I can run faster. It's just a matter of being able to pace myself for long distance events. Today I ran 5 miles at the track.

Score! Before that I lifted weights at the (mostly empty) Y.

The place is usually slammed packed but today it was deserted. The funny thing is that I usually don't notice. When I'm working out I'm so intense I hardly notice anybody else. I'm still working on my upper body strength because I haven't given up on my dream of trying to summit Mont Blanc next summer as a fund raiser for UNC. Today's routine was pretty simple: Mostly dumb bells. That sure beats the "sit around and get fat" routine I guess. This weekend's 5K will be a lot of fun. Normally for a 5K race I check last year's results to see if I have a chance of placing in my age group. This year I'm just happy to be running the silly thing. Next weekend will be another long run before the marathon -- the 10 Miler in Lynchburg. After that I'll need to do a 20 miler and then start to taper. This was my "strategy" before the Flying Pig Marathon and it seemed to work pretty well. Oh, my shoes worked out really well today. I'd post another picture but you're probably still swooning over the pic of my legs I posted earlier. Right now I'm gonna rest up a bit and then do some writing. I love to write because I love to read. True, I spent a lot of time at the beach growing up in Hawaii, but I also visited the Kailua Public Library at least three times a week. I still have a love of books and reading. You can't enter my house without finding books. I love people who write because they want to change the world. I think I write mostly because I want to discover and understand myself. I guess my thoughts just insist on being spilled out. My students are good writers. Some of them are excellent writers in fact. For me, and perhaps for some of them, writing is an irreplaceable experience.

I'll talk to ya later!

7:55 AM I am very blessed to live in the countryside. This is the view I get to see most every morning from my front porch as I read my Bible.

I love the view. Like, love it. I'm talking about my Bible. Oh yes, the sunrise is nice too. So is nature. There's so much to love in life. I love the outdoors. I love humor. I love sarcasm and witty people. I love symmetry and precision and balance and saliency. That's why I was thrilled to be in Phil. 1:27-30 this morning. I felt like I was a 4-year old locked in a candy store. Thank you, Paul, for making your POINT so clearly. You know, folks, Phil. 1:27 contains the most important verb in the entire letter. (I know you're cynical. Stay with me.)

Let's set aside, to begin with, all of the standard translations for a moment. Paul is not telling us to "conduct ourselves" or "live" in a manner worthy of the Gospel. Consider his use of the verb politeuesthe ("live as good citizens"). Philippi was a Roman colony, remember? So it only makes sense that Paul would appeal to the Philippians' sense of civic duty. Which is exactly what he does with this verb --  the letter's first imperative. (Told you it was important.) Note the following:

And this:

Today most of us don't live in real communities so we don't know what Paul is talking about. But for those of us who live in rural settings ... bingo! When I first moved to North Carolina 20 years ago, I joined the local volunteer fire department, like this one.

See the words "Our Duty"? If you were a MAN in Granville County, North Carolina, you joined the VFD. It was as simple as that. It was my civic duty. Didn't matter that I was pretty lousy at operating the fire hoses. I was so bad that, in fact, I was eventually "promoted" to chaplain. Still, I faithfully attended our monthly meetings, turned out in full gear for all training sessions, and was often the first on the scene of a house fire or a car accident. I think I know a little about what it means to belong to a "community."

Let me pause to remind everybody I'm pretty apolitical on this blog, intentionally so. Politics, for me, is largely a huge distraction from what God's called me to do. But here, in this passage, politics can't be avoided, for the simple reason that Paul is using a political metaphor to make his point. The inhabitants of Philippi were, quite simply, proud of the fact that they lived in a Roman colony. Almost half of the population enjoyed Roman citizenship. Hence Paul's wordplay. It goes something like this:

Now the only thing in life that really matters is that you live out your citizenship in a manner required by the Gospel of Christ, so that, whether or not I'm able to go and see you in person, I will hear that all of you are standing side by side with one common purpose: to work together for the faith of the Gospel.

The use of this political metaphor is, as Fee reminds us, "a brilliant stroke" (p. 78). The "civic" responsibilities Paul has in mind are the duties incumbent upon all of us as citizens of heaven (see 3:20). This helps untangle us from the God and Country narrative that so often entraps us and sets God free to be God instead of just another idol we worship along with Caesar. It lends restraint when declaring our political views as "Christian" because sometimes my political allegiances sound suspiciously like the American Dream rather than like the Gospel Commission. The Gospel for Paul is ultimately about loyalty. Which "god" gets my allegiance? The state or the Gospel? Our allegiance is not to Caesar Kurios (Lord Caesar) but to Iesous Kurios (Lord Jesus), before whom every knee will one day bow, including those of the emperor himself. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This is our place. These are our people. This is our life. Paul is asking us to rethink our priorities. Get a handle on who we are. On what we value. On how we want to live. Young Christian, it's time to live for the Gospel. Retiree, it's time to place the Gospel first. Greek prof, a worthy life involves living for others as Christ loved them, sharing with them the ridiculous mercy God has poured out on you. This is our high calling as citizens of heaven. God makes us worthy of the Gospel of Christ as we desire His kingdom above everything else. No early citizenship could ever be more important than our heavenly citizenship. And guess what -- we have access to this kingdom now: love, kindness, sacrifice, patience in the midst of persecution, joy in the midst of sorrow, self-control.

This was the high calling of every Philippian who claimed the name of Jesus, and it's my calling too, and yours.

P.S. Time to work in my new shoes.

Wednesday, September 13 

8:34 PM Well, the animals are taken care of, my supper's been cooked and devoured (Chinese, of course), and I'm about to settle down and get some relaxing reading done tonight after three busy days on campus. I got this stack of tomes from our library.

However, I've set them aside for now because I simply can't put down The Last Founding Father by Harlow Giles Unger. First off, you know that any author with three names is gonna be really good. Even more importantly, the man can write. When James Monroe loses Elizabeth, his wife of 44 years, he dies within the year, of a broken heart some said. When she passed into eternity, "He fell to his knees at her bedside, his frail body shaking as he sobbed hysterically" (p. 343). I learned that Monroe later became profoundly depressed. I think he found what many of us have found: that human strength alone is insufficient when we face death and loss. Yes, God is there to welcome our loved one into His presence. Yes, God is there to comfort us. But it's still hard to function normally. On the outside everything looks fine, but inside your soul has shriveled up. Other people can attest to the truth of what I'm saying. Everything but Jesus in life is transitory. I thank God that Becky was a person who showed me His love in my life. And now the best way I can honor Him and commemorate her memory is by passing that love on to others. The people I know who have aged gracefully are people in whom Christ is working His ministry of renewal. They have an openness to Christ's working in them. The glorious truth of Jesus' resurrection shatters their fear of death. When we realize that what happened to the body of Jesus will one day happen to us, death seems less final. Fears are liars. Even that final fear of death.

It's so good to be back on the farm again, back in the middle of nowhere. The peace and quiet. The wildlife. The wide-open spaces. The lack of traffic. The night sky. The clean air. The slower pace. Some days I just want to hold up here for months and not go anywhere. Then Wanderlust kicks in again, and off I go on a jaunt or a road trip. Where I live there's plenty of nature to enjoy, and plenty of places to exercise. This week I need to get back into training for St. George. I'm told that 14 is the magic number. Get to mile 14 and you should be good to go for the rest of the marathon. I know my quads will be screaming by the time I get there. I know my legs will struggle with the downhills. Still, I'm really looking forward to that race. I feel focused and determined. Finishing is the only thing I'm thinking about. I know there will be grueling miles at the end but I will fight with everything I've got to carry on. For what it's worth, I plan to run with the 5:30 pace group. If I survive the race, my plan is to spend a few days at Zion doing some hiking, including scampering up the infamous Angels Landing with my GoPro camera. This will be the week of semester break, and I'm praying that God will allow me to have some good down time. I'm beyond grateful for a body that can do something difficult. I know I can do hard things. Not sure I know how many races I've got left in me, but I don't think I'm washed up yet. I love races. When I run, I think. I think of Becky. She always give me perspective. I think of my job. That always humbles me. I often think of this great quote by C. S. Lewis:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.   

With God sustaining this "house" of mine, I'll continue running around the world with a grateful heart and a smile on my face.

May the course be with you,

Dave

Monday, September 11 

7:32 AM This Saturday's race in Cary is called the Amberly Race for Our Heroes 5K. All proceeds will go to Operation Coming Home, which builds and then gives away homes to severely wounded veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Hopefully, the race will be a rousing success. Today, by the way, I'm picking up a new pair of New Balance running shoes. Sole Dimensions in Wake Forest is my go-to store for shoes. Good shoes will set you back a bit but they're worth every penny.

6:40 AM One of my daughters took this picture exactly 4 years ago today.

Becky was too weak to go out for dinner, so we ate in our formal living room. Our sweet daughter waited on us hand and foot. Becky and I were treated to fondue -- a tasty reminder of our oh-so-pleasant sojourn in Basel. I have many happy memories of that evening Becky and I spent together. Neither of us knew that in less than two months she would be in the sweet presence of her Lord.

Widowerhood might be life's strictest judge. You need to face yourself afresh. You need to find the courage to explore other aspects of your life, some interest that got buried through the years. You feel the need to prove to yourself that you still have both physical and spiritual reserves. What you really need to admit is that you are responsible for your own happiness and misery, that you create your own heaven or hell, that you are the architect of your own attitudes. Perhaps I should stop using the word widower with its often negative connotations, and use instead opportunity -- the opportunity to change one's lifestyle, to find new priorities in life, to explore one's fantasies and dreams and even one's absurd ideas. Widowerhood is redirection. It's just another station on life's journey as we change gears and move on. Nothing we can do will reverse the loss, but there is much we can do to allow the situation to change us for the better. Right now, almost 4 years after Becky's homegoing, I happen to be enjoying a period of equilibrium that I often lacked during those turbulent earlier years. I feel like I'm standing atop the Breithorn in the Alps, with a clear view of where I've been and where I'm going. My eyes fill as I think back to the gift God gave me for so many years. You, dear friends, will never know how much your emails have meant to me when I went through periods of confusion and self-pity. They allowed me to begin my own personal healing journey. Fellow sufferer, you will never find the sun until you turn around and face the darkness. As you deal with the loss head on, you learn to go above and beyond it.

Prayers for all those who lost their own loved ones on this day 16 years ago.

Dave

Sunday, September 10 

8:06 PM As I write this I'm riding high. First off, in only 7 weeks Karen and Tino will be wedded in Arlington. I couldn't be more excited. I already love Tino as a son. 

Second, our 5K race was so much fun. In case you didn't know, races aren't always about running. Today we just chatted, joked around, and otherwise had a good time. Here we are with our finisher's medals.

Then we spent several hours at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC. Wow. There is no way to describe how moving this place is. You simply have to see it for yourself. To say that your visit will be emotionally wrenching would be a huge understatement. You could easily spend days there and still not see everything.

Yesterday's visit to Highland, the home of James Monroe, was another devil of an eye-opener.

I bought his biography in the gift shop simply because I am so abysmally ignorant of the life of the man whom many call the last of the Founding Fathers. Then it was a short drive into Charlottesville, where I placed flowers at the site where Heather Heyer was murdered.

I tell you, the aura of evil there was palpable, and I'm sure I wasn't the first to stand on that spot and weep. We will not forget you, Heather. Rest in peace, brave girl. There is a way out of this madness, and it is found only in the Prince of Peace. Jesus is a redeemer in every sense of the term. Because the cross levels the playing field, no earthly distinction is valid anymore. That's why love people is directly connected to love God. So once again, it's for the church to pray that God might become evident in everything we do.

Tomorrow I'll try and post some thoughts about my anniversary if I have the time. Right now I've got to prepare my meals for the week and see after the animals. For the past several years, God has used circumstances in my life to mess me up, but in a good sort of way. My sanitized version of Christianity went plum out of the window years ago. Life is ... messy. But God is teaching me to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. Gotta be honest, I've not always lived that way. I still don't. I've got plenty of growing up to do in my walk with the Lord. The whole world is currently in rebellion against God. But that will all change when the Lord returns. What a homecoming that will be! It could happen tonight, or tomorrow while I'm teaching my Greek class. Nobody knows. I don't really care that much. My job is to keep watch, for it is faithfulness that Jesus will reward when He comes. I desire to live my days well, for Jesus' glory, sharing His love with others and practicing peace in a world of violence. But the drift into cultural entropy is strong, folks. Perhaps that's why He constantly urges us to come, submit, yield, and obey. Never stop forgiving, my friends. Never stop loving your enemies. Never ignore the cries of the mistreated. I am so grateful for this day. I had no idea it would be such a blessing -- and a rebuke. Gentle reader, if you are not a Christian, please try to remember that God loves you. He promises to forgive you and erase your record if you come clean. If you confess even your racial prejudice, He will forgive.

Peace,

Dave

Saturday, September 9 

6:50 AM I know the Caribbean and Florida are really hurting today. I guess everybody hurts in their own way. I always feel better when I'm able to do something that can positively affect others. My heart goes out to the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. So does my pocket book. What else? Well, tomorrow I'm running for a great cause.

All proceeds go the Wounded Warriors Project. My daughter and her fiancé are running it with me. What a perfect way to run a race. I'm pretty pumped to see how well we do. Karen has been running for years, but Tino is just starting out. As for me, I'm just going to take it slow and easy. This summer has been one long and extremely difficult test of patience, so I don't want to overdo things. The course takes you along the famous Chesapeake & Ohio Canal path.

Afterwards we'll have lunch together and maybe get a museum visit in. The race is in Georgetown so we're basically already in DC. Looking ahead, there's only two weeks to go to the Virginia 10-Miler in Lynchburg, and only 4 weeks until the St. George Marathon. After that my next big scheduled races are the Richmond Marathon on November 11 and the Dallas Marathon on December 10. That's a total of 88 miles of racing. I'm feeling 96.7 percent great today, so I'm hoping for a good race tomorrow. I'm 100 percent grateful for all the blessings in my life.

On my way north today I'm planning on stopping at Highland, the James Monroe House just outside of Charlottesville. President Monroe was quite a character. Wounded in the American Revolution. Negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. Pushed the Missouri Compromise through Congress. Issued the famous Monroe Doctrine. Even Monrovia in Africa is named after him. I'm really looking forward to the group tour of the buildings and also learning about slavery at Highland. I've already visited Monticello and Montpelier.

Every runner needs a change of pace from time to time, and what better change than to take in the beauty of the Potomac while running for a good cause. I'm loving the cool, crisp morning air, and I can't wait for the fall foliage to start. I also love driving through Virginia. So much history. So much beauty. Wish me well in the race. I have no expectations other than to finish.

Run strong, my friends! 

Friday, September 8 

7:24 PM My sweet granddaughter came to visit me today, along with her new kitten.

Her mommy was here spiffying up the houses while her daddy and I went out for lunch together.

Yeah, I'm spoiled. 

11:32 AM I am a word guy, fully right-brained (unless I'm being left-brained). Carved into the temple at Delphi are these words:

I wonder if Paul might be alluding to them in Phil. 4:5, where he uses the Greek term epieikes, often translated "gentleness." The temple carving means something like "Nothing in excess." Hawthorne prefers "big-heartedness," but then adds, "For big-heartedness one may substitute any of the following: forbearance, yieldedness, geniality, kindliness, gentleness, sweet reasonableness, considerateness, charitableness, mildness, magnanimity, generosity" (p. 193). The goal is to "meet people halfway," to "not insist on one's own rights all the time." Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but, again, don't we see this in Paul's discussion of the Roman "preachers" in 1:15-17? Paul could have gotten on their case because of their false motives. The fact is, they are advancing the Gospel, and for Paul that's the main thing. Yet isn't it also possible that Paul has chosen to highlight these ill-willed evangelists because they are causing strife and division in Rome, much like the Philippians themselves were possibly polarizing around two women whom Paul actually names in 4:2? I think the point is this: Paul is being tactful. He wants to address the issue of division (or at least disharmony) among the Philippians, but he's willing to bide his time. First he has to set the backdrop: the life and ministry of Jesus. This tactfulness on the part of Paul is whispering to me, "Not so fast in becoming argumentative when you disagree with people, Dave." I've got a dozen emails I still haven't answered, and one of them is, let's just say, a bit uncharitable. Epieikes doesn't apply to me, does it? Surely not.

Ahem.

"The Christian is the man who reasons that it is far better to suffer wrong than to inflict wrong (I Cor. 6:7)" -- so writes Hendriksen on the word epieikes (p. 193). Who am I in this scenario? A man who needs to heed Paul's injunction. How about you? Try practicing the presence of the One who is meek and gentle amid the noise and confusion you'll be facing today. Rest assured. You can be big-hearted. So can I. Such simple things matter to God -- and make a Christian stand out in a crowd.

8:32 AM Paul Himes' latest book has just been released: Where Is Your Allegiance: The Message to the Seven Churches. I haven't seen it yet (hint, hint, Paul) but I like its title.

7:48 AM I would not have you ignorant, brethren, about the discussion taking place at the Nerdy Language Majors (NLM) Facebook page about English Bible translations. The New Living Translation (NLT) seems to be squarely in the bulls-eye. Well, shall we take a brief look at a sample from the NLT Interlinear? The passage is Phil. 1:12-13.

1) Note, first of all, the use of "dear brothers and sisters" to render the single Greek word adelphoi. And why not? The Greek term, as used here, seems to be gender-inclusive. In addition, as Hendricksen notes (p. 68), adelphoi is more than a mere discourse marker. It's a term of "endearment." "Dear brothers and sisters" seems to capture this thought well.

2) Secondly, you will see that the NLT fails to render the Greek adverb mallon: "Everything that has happened to me has helped to spread the Good News." This seems problematic. Hansen notes, "The close connection of the negative word chains and the positive word advance in this sentence indicates that Paul is using the word actually [Greek mallon] as a marker of a surprising alternative to a negative expectation" (p. 66). The idea seems to be: Paul's imprisonment (something bad -- a "negative expectation") actually served to advance the Good News about Christ. In other words, far from being a proskope (hindrance), his imprisonment is a prokope (advance)! With the little word mallon, writes Hawthorne, Paul "announces the unexpected" (p. 34). I quite agree.

Hear this: I don't think there's any perfect English translation. This goes for the ISV New Testament, for which I was the base translator. (Note: Years ago the Committee on Translation was disbanded, and I haven't been involved in the project since that time.) I'm guessing that most of the commenters at the NLM site feel basically the same way. I don't want to base my life on what I'm against. I value most every New Testament translation that is out there. Even more, I applaud the efforts of my Greek students to produce their own translation of the Greek text of Philippians. So yes, the NLT is helpful. I've discovered, however, that I can't put my brain in park or neutral when I consult it. Ditto for any Bible translation out there.

Okay, back to writing.

6:16 AM Morning friends! When I said yesterday that we are to imitate Paul's life and teaching, a crazy thought occurred to me. Has Paul done this very thing in Philippians? A good place to start, I said to myself, might be Paul's concluding exhortations in 4:4-7. Mind you: This is no "shotgun parenesis." What Paul writes in 4:4-7 is tailored-made for the Philippians' situation. At this point, it might be interesting to compare Paul's injunctions here with what we've already studied in 1:1-18. Ready?

  • Rejoice! Yep. Paul's joy is already evident in the body opening: Paul prays and gives thanks with joy.

  • Give thanks! Most certainly. What is Phil. 1:3-8 if not a thanksgiving?

  • Pray! The heart of Phil. 9:1-11 is just that -- a prayer for the Philippians.

  • Let your big-heartedness be known to all! You mean, maybe like Paul was toward those who sought to add to his bonds in Rome (see 1:15-17)? Note: In class the other day I called these people jerks. So I repent today. Paul never called them that, so I shouldn't either. Knuckleheads maybe, but not jerks.

  • The Lord is near. He is indeed near -- both to those who pray to Him, and to those sufferers who await ultimate vindication upon His return.

  • The peace of God. In 1:2, Paul had prayed for this peace to flood the Philippians' lives.

I wouldn't dare call this an exhaustive treatment of parallels between the beginning of Philippians and its ending. I'm not sure it's even that important to point out, except to note how self-consistent Paul seems to be. He seriously knew how to write a letter! If he calls upon the church to have Christlike humility, he's going to make sure they know he's not an ivory-tower imposter. Paul the apostle was maybe the most fully and completely unselfish, unpretentious man to ever live apart from Jesus, and I just want to be more like him.

By the way, here's Eugene Petersen's interpretation of Phil. 4:4-7. I don't know why, but I like it.

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Seriously? I'm expected to live like that? Which reminds me: I need to pray right now. I'm starting to worry again ....

Thursday, September 7 

6:04 PM Anyone studying the book of Philippians needs to keep in mind what Paul writes in 4:9:

ἃ καὶ ἐμάθετε καὶ παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε καὶ εἴδετε ἐν ἐμοί, ταῦτα πράσσετε· καὶ ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης ἔσται μεθ’ ὑμῶν.

The teaching we've learned and received from him we need to be putting into practice constantly. Nothing like hitting us over the head with a two by four, Paul.

11:24 AM This morning I drove into town to run a few errands. First stop was the post office to mail my Greek DVDs out. Seems there's been a run on these of late.

I will confess: I'm glad people are teaching themselves Greek. Maybe knowing Greek isn't the catalyst for the Spirit's movement in our day. But it sure couldn't hurt. While driving I opened the sun roof and enjoyed the GORGEOUS weather. It's a perfect 66 degrees with bright sunshine. Nice weather for a bike ride too. Since I'm cross-training these days, I decided not to run but to cycle instead. Never have I enjoyed a 5-mile ride more. Then it was off to the store to stock up on bottled liquid and canned goods in view of a possible weather "event" this weekend. If Irma does pay us a visit, we could be without well water for a long time. Not to worry, though. I've got plenty of water -- and Vienna sausage -- to keep me alive until they get the power back on.

So anyway, I'm back home now and need to get some chores done, but not before sharing with you these funnies:

  • Venison for dinner again? O deer!

  • How does Moses make tea? Hebrews it.

  • I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.

  • They told me I had Type A blood, but it was a typo.

  • I changed my iPod's name to Titanic. It's syncing now.

  • I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.

  • When chemists die, they barium.

  • I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can't put it down.

  • I didn't like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

I'm not a linguist or the son of a linguist, but I sure enjoy language!

7:10 AM We're just about ready to announce the final schedule for our Greek linguistics conference on campus. The lineup is oh-so-good. (So is the Lord for putting it together.) You can expect papers by Stan Porter, Stephen Levinsohn, Thomas Hudgins, Randall Buth, Michael Halcomb, Rob Plummer, Con Campbell, Jonathan Pennington, Mike Aubrey, Steve Runge, and maybe one more. (Care to guess who's speaking on what topic? I bet you can.) We've scheduled the conference for Friday evening and Saturday morning, April 26-27, 2019. You are cordially invited to attend. More details to come, including how to register for the conference.

6:48 AM Only one month to go. Lord willing, in exactly one month I'll fly to St. George, Utah, lace up my running shoes, board an event bus at 4:00 am, drive over 26 miles up I-18, exit the bus at the St. George Marathon starting line, grab a free pair of gloves and a mylar blanket, find a spot by a fire to keep warm along with 20,000 other runners, listen to the music of Festival Sounds, stock up at the ClifBar station, ambulate some 26.2 miles, pass 16 aid stations and 2,500 volunteers, and (God willing) cross the finish line as MY NAME is called. One month. Only one month. For the love of Pheidippedes. Am I ready???

5:25 AM Let's get caught up, shall we?

1) Here's my student Joe leading our Greek 3 class in a discussion of the structure of Phil. 1:12-18.

2) I'll repeat: There is nothing I enjoy more than watching my students teach. Here Joe is taking us through the Greek text of Phil. 1:12-14.

His analysis clearly shows how, in this section of Philippians, Paul is turning his attention to the progress of the Gospel, as seen in two ways: 1) his guards (and others) know that he's in prison for the cause of Christ, and 2) the Christians in Rome are more actively (and fearlessly) proclaiming Christ. That little word mallon shouldn't be overlooked. The "progress" that Paul's describing came "unexpectedly." One would think that imprisonment would mean the end, not the beginning of something. But God delights in making good out of evil. (More on that below.)

3) I enjoyed lunch at the Olive Garden yesterday with Miguel (left) and Chip (right). Chip teaches Hebrew and Miguel Greek. Thanks guys for the great fellowship. Your wisdom and enthusiasm fuels my passion.

4) This came yesterday. Not saying that I plan to run when I'm 100 ....

5) Yesterday Robert Thomas of the Masters Seminary left the earthly church to join the heavenly one. John MacArthur's testimonial says it perfectly: "His legacy is incalculable." Bob was my Greek teacher at Talbot, the major professor for my master's thesis, and my colleague for many years in Talbot's Greek Department. Even in his later years he remained involved in the church and the academy. George Bernard Shaw once lamented that youth is wasted on the young. We could add: Aging is often wasted on the old. So much talent and wisdom is lost to society when our senior citizens see themselves as lacking in value to others. Bob Thomas "hoed to the end of the row." Praise be to God.

6) My anniversary is next Monday. It struck me like lightning -- 41 years it would have been! (Do I really look that old?) As I enter the fall of my life, I am all too aware of the need for constant spiritual renewal. I hunger after the eternal word. I want to grow spiritually and age gracefully. And I never want to be unthankful for the past. Becky and I were married for 37 years. In that brief window of time we both sought to serve our Savior to the best of our very limited abilities. When she was diagnosed with cancer we were assigned a terrible duty and a tremendous opportunity. I thought about Becky in class Tuesday night as we discussed how Paul's imprisonment actually meant the progress (not regress!) of the Gospel. When Becky first arrived at UNC Cancer Hospital, she stepped into a whole new world. In that world she shone gloriously for Jesus for 4 years. I witnessed, day in and day out, the Gospel making progress. Folks, loss is loss. It's never easy. But God delights in taking our losses and making them, somehow, some way, gains. Becky's story is still being told. Her autobiography is being read in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. In her honor I've been able to raise (thus far) $32,000 for cancer research at UNC. Loss is devastating, irreversible, cumulative. It can also be redemptive. It is an unspeakable horror to watch a loved one die. But Becky was not a victim. She was a more-than-conqueror through Him who loved her. Her memory is now God's gift to me. It gives me freedom to invest my energy in the living, not the dead, to carry on despite the nightly solitude and loneliness. Simply being alive is now sacred to me. Somehow, in the pain, I've found the grace to serve and grow. I imagine Paul felt the same way. He could not get away from his jailors, no matter what he might have wanted to try. Still, he refused to indulge in self-pity. He embraced the loss of his freedom, leveraged it for Jesus. Becky ... Bob Thomas ... the apostle Paul -- all hoeing to the end of their row. They never shrank from their responsibilities. They kept the faith until the end.

O God of the Ages, fill our minds today with the memory of those who have gone on before us into Your presence, whose witness we recall. May their lives serve as an inspiration to us, that we too might persevere until the fervor of this life is past and we are at home with You. Amen.

Tuesday, September 5 

6:54 AM Here's something for you to consider if you want to become a runner. You can forget about having "normal" feet, forever. I got a pedicure yesterday and, yes, I apologized when I sat down. The poor lady needed a chain saw to cut the nails on my big toes. Make that big toe. The other one doesn't have a toenail. During my race on Sunday the middle toenail on my right foot decided it was going to hurt me. I mean, as in inflicting pain. This is the nail that had another nail grow on top of it. You heard that right. I have a double-decker toenail. It took a sander to reduce it in size yesterday. Oh, did I mention blisters and calluses?

Nice-looking feet? Forget it. Of course, most runners don't give a hoot about how their feet look. They're too busy feeling like rock stars.

6:38 AM This week our study of Philippians coalesces with our study of Paul the missionary as portrayed in Acts. Paul's core convictions about Christianity include:

  • Christians are not just to study theology but are to follow the example of Jesus and live the way He lived, in selflessness and humility.

  • Followers of Jesus are to put the needs of others above their own.

  • Christianity involves ethics as much as theology.

  • Suffering is a normal part of the Christian life.

  • Believers are called to pursue a kingdom that is radically different from all versions of the kingdoms of this world.

  • This kingdom is always cross-centered and counter-cultural.

Above all, both in Philippians and Acts we see Paul the missionary, a man who lived totally for the sake of the Gospel, a man for whom believing and behaving were never disconnected, a man who was committed to following Jesus in obedience and love unreservedly and unconditionally. More and more, it is this submission to the lordship of Christ that is being recognized as the core of Paul's Gospel -- an attitude of worldly renunciation matched by an eagerness to suffer for one's faith, to death if necessary.

Paul invites all of us to embrace a more radical faith and more outwardly focused Christianity. Many years ago Jim Elliott went to Ecuador impelled by the same vision of radical discipleship. He fully embraced the Great Commission, could not keep quiet about his faith, and his legacy as a martyr continues to inspire many today to share their faith, plant new churches, and take the Gospel to the unreached and under-served nations of the world. For the most part, these radical emissaries of Jesus are ordinary, everyday Christians who have no formal theological training but who are obedient to the Spirit and not only understand the Bible but obey it. I work in the midst of a community of students and scholars where everybody is concerned with some aspect of the Christian mission, whether in North America, Africa, Asia, the Pacific, Europe, or Latin America. In such a community, everybody is a missionary. No place feels like home. The world itself beckons us. For the world's problem is sin, and it is left in a worse state than ever when it is given anything less than the cure.

So who will apply the cure? Will it be me? Will it be you? There must be a radical turn in our churches from earth's skubala (excrement, unspeakable filth) to heaven's treasure (3:8). There is no place in the will of God for a lenient attitude toward what Paul calls "the only thing that matters" (1:27). Paul was committed to one thing (3:13). He had his priorities right.

So how about it? Will you join the cause of global missions? There is a two-way movement here. As we draw close to Christ, His love in turn impels us outward toward others. We have everything in Christ. Shall we not share this blessing with others? Our Lord had no place for middle grounds or halfway stations. He expects His people to "shine like stars in the world, holding forth the life-giving message" (2:15-16).

Think about it.

Dave

Monday, September 4 

8:12 PM One of my takeaways from studying Phil. 1:12-26 this weekend was Paul's assumption that the Christian is at home in no nation. Christians are led by a Savior who was always on the move. Christians set their hearts on the kingdom of heaven before all else. This means, ultimately, a desire to depart and be with Christ, for on this earth we have no lasting kingdom. Paul was in turmoil. He yearned for death, to depart and be with Christ. Yet he was such a Gospel man that he also yearned to remain to serve others. And so he needs God to make the choice for him. As Hawthorne writes, "Need dictates direction." When Christians in Tertullian's day constructed idols and excused themselves by saying, "Everyone has to make a living," Tertullian asked them, "Must you live?" Today we make all sorts of excuses for serving our own gods. I know I do. For years I bowed to the shrine of Caesar. For years I made gilding idols out of my work and my reputation. What's wrong with that? "Must you live?" answers the great theologian of the early church. Once we bow to the spirit of this age we cannot worship in Spirit and in truth. I still have a lot of goals and dreams and ambitions I'd like to accomplish while I'm alive. At the same time, I hope Jesus returns soon. I know that any day He will come, or else He will call me home. In the meantime, like Paul, I must be willing to leave family and friends behind, must be willing to live out of a suitcase, must be willing to go anywhere and serve anyone. I've done this countless times, and "goodbyes" to family are never easy. Yet life is too short to spend it only on yourself. "The thought of eternity consoles for the shortness of life," said Luc de Clapiers. The only colors Paul knew were black and white. "Either I'll depart and be with Christ, or I'll remain here." But if he's going to remain, he's sure as shootin' gonna be useful for the kingdom.

As I read Philippians 1, I can hear some of Paul's former friends bemusing themselves at his expense. "Too bad about old Saul. He's gone off the deep end. He was once a brilliant scholar, a student of Gamaliel no less. But ever since he suffered sunstroke on the Damascus Road he's been out of his mind. Gets into trouble all the time. Even stays in jail a whole lot. What a loser!" Everything depends on your perspective, however. Today we read Paul and not his contemporaries. Many of my students are eager to pursue their PhDs. I say more power to you. But PhD may mean Phenomenal Dud. Paul was brilliant, but he had an ability to leverage his intellectual prowess for the Gospel. I admire people like that. There seem to be far too few in the church today. (Michael Green comes to mind.) Which brings us back to Philippians 1. Never has evangelical Christianity needed Paul's perspective on suffering as today. In the midst of prison, his only goal was to know Christ and make Him known. Aren't we to live for Him all the time -- for the One who grappled with the sordid problem of evil, defeated death, and left us with a Gospel and a new life, possible because He lives in us? Phil. 1:12-26, if it does nothing else, reminds us that only way we can redeem the hours of our lives is to spend them in God's service.

Dear students: Chase fleeting fame and you are known but for a moment. Scholars who serve Jesus by serving others -- these are the ones who outlive themselves.

6:56 PM Family. Time. Is. Great.

Hola, Gabe!

7:38 AM Speaking of Boston, here's a story you may have missed. It's called The Last Miles of the Marathon's Final Finisher Prove We Can Do Anything. Please read it if you can.

6:58 AM Do I have a story for you! I've decided to try and enter the Boston Marathon. I know what you're thinking. Dave could never qualify for Boston. And you're right. But there are more ways to get into Boston than one. I'm talking about charities. That's right. I've contacted the Boston Children's Hospital about enrolling in their charity program. Registration won't open for a few more weeks, but when it does I'm going to sign up. The program is called Miles for Miracles. I would be responsible for every penny of expense, from raising the funds to my airfare and hotel costs. If I am selected for the program, this would be my fifth marathon after Cincy, St. George, Richmond, and Dallas. I know my health won't hold up forever, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We'll see how the Lord leads and if I can stay healthy. I'm giving this much prayer as I consider my options for future races. I hope it's Boston 2018, but if not I'll probably give the Flying Pig another shot.

Back on the farm ...

Today I'm spending time with my yellow note pad trying to get some more writing done on Godworld. I'm trying to find new ways to say old things, if you know what I mean. Not easy. I'm also prepping for my four classes this week, where we'll be covering the Greek noun system in Greek 1, Phil. 1:12-26 in Greek 3, and finishing Acts in NT 2. In the latter class we'll be reading Roland Allen's Missionary Methods: St. Paul's Or Ours? and then I'll be lecturing on ways my students can implement these ideas in their own lives. I love Allen. Everything he wrote he wrote with refreshing honesty and engaging passion. He had the uncanny ability of being critical without being cynical. His book is for all of us wonderers who long for Jesus and distrust easy answers.

In Godworld this week, my subject is the undivided life. This is a concept that has become especially near and dear to my heart in the past four years. Let's be real. Sometimes being Christians means being less than honest with the biblical text. We draw distinctions where the Bible makes none. In my lifetime I've been an expert at compartmentalizing my life. I put some things in the sacred box and other things in the secular box. I took great pride that there seemed to be more sacred boxes than secular boxes in my life. The thesis of the current chapter I'm writing is simple. Holy work is something we can do every single day of our lives, 24/7. The guy who has a "regular" job is as much in ministry as the guy who preaches every Sunday morning. And guess what? He is as capable of doing big things for God as anyone else! To define ministry any other way is to define ministry in far too narrow terms. There simply is no distinction in the New Testament between clergy and laity. We all do ministry, and we all receive ministry. I feel called to be a teacher. I hope you feel just as called to be and do whatever God has created you to be and do with your life. Adopting the notion of the undivided life will involve a profound and jarring paradigm shift for many of us. It did for me. Leaders in the church begin to see themselves as coming from within and among rather than over or outside. They insist that ministry is the function of the whole people of God. His way of living can overflow in our lives no matter what our vocation is. And here's the really scary thing. Just because we may be doing something the church deems "sacred" doesn't make it so. If I peach a sermon but my daily life contradicts what I'm saying, what good is that? Elton Trueblood once said, "Holy shoddy is still shoddy." Paul Stevens, in his book The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, wrote (p. 32):

The New Testament opens up a world of universal giftedness, universal empowerment of the people of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit, universal ministry, and the universal experience of the call of God by all the people of God.

Indeed.

Both you and I have the privilege of serving Jesus every time we wash the kitchen dishes (as I did this morning), feed a hungry belly, give to a charity, run a road race, love, forgive, teach a Sunday School class, lead a professional workshop, or repair an HVAC unit. This is not a concept of Christianity I would have identified with in my earlier years as a professor, but since then my life has been gloriously and permanently "interrupted." Our single desire as Christians should be to find the context where we can become the best servants of King Jesus. We are asked to turn ourselves loose and let God be God. Your instincts will likely say, "This isn't real ministry." Don't listen to yourself. You can tell a better story than that.

By the way, when you see all of life as undivided, this changes even the way you talk about things. A couple of weeks ago a student asked me about my "quiet time." I had to tell him I don't have "daily devotions" per se, not do I have a "quiet time." I just spend time with Jesus. What is this life in Christ if not a daily communing with Him? I no longer "preach the Gospel" to people. I "share the love of Jesus" with them. This is "Good News" indeed.

If there's one thing I'm seeing in our Greek 3 class as we study the book of Philippians, it's that our failure to understand "what Paul really meant" is usually not our problem. Our problem goes deeper than that. Our problem is that we live in believing communities that have little or no practice of the sacred life outside of a church context. We need to admit, with Kierkegaard, that much of the Christian life today is an exercise in "playing Christianity." Moving beyond the Christian life as church-going rectitude to becoming a great movement of the Holy Spirit requires getting our priorities and loyalties straight.

Yesterday, at every aid station, there were people shouting, "You got this! You can do this! This is what you trained for! Dig deep! You'll make it!" By mile 10 you're hurting. I mean, everything is hurting. But as you listen to the cheers of the onlookers, you begin to feel like it's your job to push on and finish the race. I'm hoping Godworld can function like those cheerleaders. I can't promise you a super cool medallion when you're done. But God has something even better in store for you.

Sunday, September 3 

5:36 PM Howdy peeps! Just back from Virginia Beach. In a word, I'm jazzed. In two words, I'm super jazzed. Race day morning was pretty uneventful. I was up at 4:00 am. I packed my bags and quietly slipped out of the house. As you can see, my Airbnb room wasn't very big but it was suitable for anyone needing a good night's sleep.

At IHOP I scarfed down some grub and 3 cups of delicious coffee. The plan at this stage was to drive to the parking deck near the venue, then grab a pre-race photo. Mission accomplished! --  thanks to a very kind athlete who was carrying his phone with him.

The temp was a pleasant 71 degrees at starting time, and a cool on-shore breeze was blowing. These are well-nigh perfect conditions for this time of year. I lined up in my "corral," which happened to be number 11 out of 14. I joined the 2:45 pace team, led by two really experienced runners who knew this course like the back of their hands. Kudos to them (and to whoever thought up the idea of pace teams in the first place). You may recall that my "A" race had me coming in under 2:45, while me "B" race had me finishing under 3 hours. I kept up with the 2:45 pacers for about the first 7 miles before I began to fade. I did some mental gymnastics and concluded that I could still beat 3 hours if I worked hard. My greatest fear at that point was being overtaken by the 3:00 pace team, but they must have lingered too long at the aid stations because that never happened. At mile 7, I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to win the race. Some guy named Jeff, an elite runner, was just then finishing the race with a time of 1:05:54. Oh well. Poor me. So I lost another race. Eventually the finish line came into view and I put my legs into overdrive. I had done it. I had finished my 6th half marathon. My time was a respectable 2:49:20. It was a super fun run. I had absolutely no chafing (thank you, petroleum jelly) nor did I experience any major aches or pains. I ran my heart out -- as well as my lungs, which functioned perfectly, thank you God. As I waddled through the finishers chute I stopped briefly to have my photo taken again, this time post-race.

That was a mistake. After a 13.1 mile run, it's never a good idea to stop walking. If you do, you'll probably end up like me. I must have looked like a marionette whose puppeteer had just had an epileptic fit. Eventually I was able to jump start my ambulatory skills and grab some chocolate milk. At this point I realized just what I had accomplished. Sure, some guy named Jeff had come in exactly 4098 places ahead of me. But by the same token, I had come in 4099th place in a field of 8849, which means I had beaten 4,751 legitimate runners. (Of course, I chose to focus on them -- not on all those guys in wheel chairs who finished long before I did.) I returned to my car and retrieved my iPhone, which was exploding with texts and questions -- "How did you do?" I had no time to answer them, however, because I was in a hurry to get to First Baptist.

All in all, folks, it was a great day. The medal itself was worth the effort. How sweet she is!

So where am I going? I'M GOING TO DISNEYWORLD!! Well, how 'bout DC? That's where next weekend's 9-11 Memorial Half Marathon will be. One of my daughters will be running it with me in commemoration of what would have been my 41st wedding anniversary a week from tomorrow. Check back then for updates. My goal for that race will be to have a GOOD time and a good TIME, if you know what I mean.

Final thought. I couldn't do this alone. Having the Lord with me every step of the way makes all the difference. Thank you again, Jesus!

Saturday, September 2 

8:24 AM If you didn't already know, a half marathon involves a lot more than the race itself. First, there's the drive to the venue. Then you need to check into your hotel (or wherever you're staying). Hotel prices in Virginia Beach start at $250.00 a night and skyrocket from there. Smart little ol' me, however, rented an Airbnb instead for a whopping $48.00. After settling into your new digs, you traipse over to the expo to pick up your race bib with your official number and electronic running chip. Expos are massive. I try to spend very little time at them, which this year is at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Instead, it's time to find a good restaurant where you can begin carb loading. About 5 minutes from where I'm staying is an Olive Garden that should fit the bill perfectly. After dinner it's time to lay out your race outfit (to make sure you're not forgetting anything) and chillax. In the morning I'll wake up at about 5:00, grab a bite to eat (about 1,000 calories), stuff a Clif bar in my pocket, and then head out to the athletes' village, find a parking spot, and pick the "shortest" porta potty line. I never get tired of those pre-race butterflies. Eventually you make your way over to the corrals, take a few pix, and cross the starting line, hoping and praying your cough doesn't start up again. The course begins winding its way through Virginia Beach (including Camp Pendleton):

I absolutely love this gorgeous city! Along the way you can't forget to take care of business: water, Gatorade, and your Clif Bar about mile 7. At some point during the race you begin to struggle. You start getting passed by people wearing t-shirts like this one:

You try to push yourself as much as you can. At about mile 10 the spectators start growing in number and decibels. Occasionally someone will yell, "You're almost there!" Of course, you've still got 3 miles to go. When (or if) you make it to the finish line, you begin transitioning back to your "normal" life. Every run seems to have the potential to unlock some emotion deep within you. Sometimes it's joy, at other times you begin to weep. I once saw a running shirt that said, "Cheaper Than Therapy." Runners know just how true this it. That's the gift running gives you. I started running because something was missing in my life. Now I run to discover some secret about myself. I'm glad I had the courage to start running three years ago, but I'm also glad I have the courage to start again and again. The simple truth is that if we let our bodies go to waste, it's nobody's fault but our own. If we don't push ourselves, at least a little, we're basically saying it's okay to concede to an inevitable decline. I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet.

After the race, and if I'm still ambulatory, I plan on attending First Baptist Church Norfolk. (I like their motto: Love God, Love Others, Live on Mission.) This is where I used to teach seminary extension courses back in 2000-2004. I would drive up there from North Carolina one weekend a month. Classes would meet Friday evening and all day Saturday. It was a brutal schedule but I remember those classes as some of the best I've ever taught. The students seemed to have just a bit more passion for their studies than your typical on-campus student. Maybe it was because they were all working fulltime and treasured their weekend forays into the New Testament more than your average Joe. I'm blessed to have so many happy memories of teaching at First Baptist. I do hope I can get back there tomorrow. Confession: I'm an unapologetic fan of local-based education. After all, when all is said and done, everyone has to live out their faith in real community -- in the midst of a local congregation with all of its joys and sorrows, potential and wasted resources.

Anyhoo, it's off to the races again. I'm seriously over the moon about this event. This fall is going to be an epic season of racing for sure. Sometimes I convince myself that I write these posts because I think others will want to read them. Well, I do hope that some of you will read today's entry, but I blog mostly for my own personal motivation and reflection. My main goal right now, God willing, is to get strong and healthy again. I also want to remember that running is all about fun and fellowship, not about PRs. I know I have the support of many friends and all of my family, who not only think I'm crazy, but know I'm crazy. I could never repay any of you. Here's a prayer I prayed this morning:

Father, I pray you'll watch over all of the runners, volunteers, staff, and fans tomorrow. Keep us safe and motivated to do our very best. May we who are Your followers be winsome and attractive for the Gospel of Jesus wherever we go. May You be in my ear tomorrow to keep the fire burning inside of me. And may what this old man does bring You joy and glory.

I leave you with a final thought:

The only thing better than achieving your goals is motivating others to achieve theirs.

Make it a great weekend.

Dave

Friday, September 1 

5:38 PM We're 1 day and 16 hours away from the start of the annual Rock N Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon. Right now the weather is about as lousy as it can be, with rain and thunderstorms in the forecast for today and tomorrow. Sunday, however, is supposed to be clear and sunny. I've been spending a lot of time since I got sick thinking about why running is at least as much fun as any other sport I'm involved in. The real magic of running is how it translates into everyday life. It makes you feel like you can do this. This morning, for example, I only did a 5K but I sincerely loved every minute of it despite the weather conditions. I think I've truly fallen in love with this running thing. As I'm hopefully healed from my bout with bronchitis, I'm eager to get back to racing, black and blue toenails and all. If all goes well, I'll pick up another finisher's medal to hang on a knob near my front door. Why there? Because that's where I enter the house after a race and it's a convenient place to dump the hardware. Sure, I know it's pretty unceremonious, but I'm fine with it. The funny thing is, every time I open my front door I can hear the medals clanging against each other, like some kind of a wind chime. It's a quick reminder in the middle of my day of what the Lord has allowed me to accomplish at my age. The medals remind me just how humbling racing is. The only reason anyone can participate in a race is because of the strength the Lord has given them, even if they never give Him credit for that ability. What's more, my finisher's medals are significant in the sense that everyone who finishes a race gets the exact same medal, regardless of their times. I can tell you that the most elite runner at Sunday's race won't feel any better about receiving his or her medal than I will when I get mine. As I told my doctor yesterday, I am literally running for my life. If it's the Lord's will, I'd like to see my grandchildren grow up and get married. I'd like to be there to help them navigate the treacherous waters of young adulthood. Running is merely a mirror of my life. It's a way of life that gives you back way more than you could ever invest. And no two races are ever the same. This will be my sixth half marathon but I feel like it's my first. I know how slowly I'll be running. I realize there's no hope of me ever winning a race like this one or even being among the top 10 finishers in my age group. Still, I love the act of racing. I love the competition. I love the finish line. The reason runners run is because they are runners. That's it. Don't expect the smile to ever come off our faces.

2:45 PM Continued my training today by lifting at the Y and then doing a mile on the treadmill. One mile was all I could take. I can't stand dreadmills! The rain was letting up, so off to the track I went hoping to get in at least a 5K, which I did before the rain started up again. The temp was a perfect 63 degrees.

On my way home I drove by the Halifax County Museum of Fine Arts and History, as I've done hundreds of times before. But this time I decided to stop in and check it out. I'm so glad I did.

It's more than 15,000 square feet of exhibits, with the currently featured exhibit being "Halifax County in a World at War." My favorite displays were the Halifax County Main Room and the Pioneer Medicine Exhibit. I'm told that the next exhibit to be opened will be the Tobacco Production History of Halifax County. I don't know about you, but I love history, always have, even as a boy growing up in Hawaii. Firsthand, all across the world, I've witnessed the incredible treasures preserved within our universities, museums, libraries, and historical societies. I will never forget visiting Persepolis in Iran (burned by Alexander the Great in 330 BC), Nahum's Tomb in Iraq, the Eifel Tower in France, the British Museum in London, Luxor in Egypt, the Great Wall of China (that is, the real one, not a restaurant by that name), the rubber plantations of Kerala, India, the Roman ruins of Trier in Germany, the Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia, the Mountaineers' Cemetery in Zermatt, Switzerland, Tel Dan in Israel, the Vatican in Rome, the Costa del Sol in Spain, the Ancient Manuscripts Museum in Yerevan, Armenia, or -- closer to home -- Ford's Theater in DC. In the U.S. alone there are more than 30,000 historical societies and museums. History matters, folks. The ancient Greeks certainly had the right idea when they invented the museum ("house of muses").

There's no question in my mind that Southside Virginia is one of the best places to live in all of America. It's a peaceful location, it doesn't have the Raleigh-style traffic, and there are more cultures and languages here than you could imagine (including a growing Amish population). Also, the cost of living is pretty low compared to Dot-Com Virginia (Northern Virginia). Winters are usually mild, though summers can get pretty hot. South Boston (where this museum is) is where I go when I need to shop or bank. Plus it's got an incredible farmers market. Below are a few pix of the museum. Right now I need to get back to my writing. Today and tomorrow I'm working on my book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk -- a book I will probably never finish and hence a book that will never be published!

10:10 AM Cooked buttermilk pancakes for breakfast this morning.

Sheba, of course, always gets her own.

Off to "therapy." (The Y.)  

9:48 AM I've got a copy of The NET Bible, Second Beta Edition. It's never been used. Free for the asking. Write me at dblack@sebts.edu, and please include your mailing address.

9:40 AM As everyone knows, William Varner of the Masters University in California is going through the entire book of Philippians verse by verse. I just checked out his latest vlog on Phil. 1:16. It's excellent. I especially enjoyed how he calls our attention to a rhetorical device called chiasmus that Paul seems to use in Phil. 1:15-16. Now that's the kind of exegesis I enjoy. To those who know Paul, they know how much he enjoyed using rhetorical devices, not for their own sake, of course, but to draw his audience into the text. That's why, when I was in seminary, I began to reorient my life around not only the denotative meaning of Scripture but around its connotative meaning as well. As Will notes, poetry is not prose. I know that some students get discouraged when they see just how demanding exegesis can be. But I sort of like how deep the New Testament is. It gives me chills when I read such exquisite poetry as the Christ hymn in Phil. 2 or the ode to love in 1 Cor. 13. I don't think it's possible to overstate how much poetic language permeates the New Testament writings. Nowadays, when I read my Greek New Testament, I try to slow down. I watch. I listen. My hunger for the overtones of the text increases. I've witnessed rhetoric at work in Paul in so many places it's mind-blowing. I am a man of detail. It sounds boldfaced to say that, but there it is. I pray for eyes to see what the Holy Spirit put into the text. I feel like a small child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean. But I still want to go out into the deep, like I used to do at Sunset Beach even when I knew the waves were breaking surfboards in half. My prayer for my students (and all of us) is that the Holy Spirit would sweep into our lives with holy disruption. That He would show us things in the text that would upend our assumptions. I'd like to see a great awakening, for sure, but I'll settle for a few more of us to simply become more careful readers of Scripture.

8:58 AM Through Scripture, God speaks to us. Through it, Jesus speaks life to millions of believers every day. That's probably the reason I just can't get past Phil. 1:3-11 in my study of God's word. Because what if there are truths He's still trying to impress on me? Such as ...

1) Gratitude is not gratitude unless it's expressed. Paul didn't just think thoughts of gratitude. He expressed gratitude. Is there someone I need to say "Thank you" to today?

2) Interestingly (Paul is always interesting!), Paul expresses his gratitude for the Philippians, not to them, but to God: "I thank my God for you...." It's easy for us to thank others and then forget to thank God. I know I've been guilty of this. I've been so preoccupied with my horizontal relationships that I've disengaged my mind from the God I really need to express my thanks to more than anyone else.

3) Prayer focuses on specific needs. The word Paul uses here (Greek deesis) can imply "that which is asked with urgency based on personal need" (Louw-Nida). The needs of others should drive us to prayer. One of Becky's sisters lives in Houston. God spoke to me instantly to be praying for her. We need to balance thanksgiving with petition. Jesus demonstrated this balance in His famous Disciples' Prayer. It wasn't a one-sided prayer that focused on needs. Nor did it ignore those needs. I love that.

4) Paul prayed habitually. So did our Lord. His life was a living prayer -- unhindered communication with the Father. Both Jesus and Paul set an example for us.

5) Paul excluded no one from his prayers. Note the repetition of "all of you" in this passage. It's like a constant drum beat. Paul's love was not selective, and neither should ours be.

6) But where did Paul get his love for the Philippians? It wasn't self-derived. Not at all. Paul makes it very clear that he loved them "with the affection of Christ Jesus." Do our prayers exhibit the Lord's compassion? They can and they must.

7) Above all, Paul prays for the Philippians' love to abound. That seemed to be their greatest need at the moment. The term Paul uses for love (agape) does not necessarily refer to divine love. After all, when Demas deserted Paul, it was because he had agapoed the world (2 Tim. 4:10). There are good reasons to look to Paul himself for his definition of love, and a place to start might be Phil. 2:2-4. Here Paul contrasts love with selfish ambition. To love is to serve others humbly. It's to esteem others as more important than ourselves. It's being plain, everyday kind to one another. It's when daily courtesies become a habit. It's being "big-hearted" (Phil. 4:5). Love means going the second mile, opening your home to strangers, "doing good to each other and to all people" (1 Thess. 5:15), being willing to give your best effort even when it's inconvenient. Men, it's opening the door for ladies. It's refusing to repeat lewd jokes. It means drawing her bath. Go back to your first love in your marriage. Gentleness is not something to be ashamed about.

Friends, sometimes I wonder why we go so fast through the Bible. I still struggle with Paul's teaching in Phil. 1:1-11. I'm not ready for any more truth! I hope we all wrestle with the truth we know. I hope we look deep into our hearts and sift through our ecclesiology and our missiology and our praxis and all of it. I hope we can learn to change. I hope we can all become a bit more inclined to slow down and listen to what Jesus is saying to His church. He can speak to us anywhere -- in cathedrals and living rooms and offices and, yes, even in church buildings. But we've got to be willing to play second fiddle and embrace His plan. Remember: Anyone can pray for anyone else. So go ahead and pray for me. Go ahead. Pray that God would allow me to be a disciple of the Way and to remember whose I am and why I live this life. And I'll pray the same for all of you.

Grace and peace,

Dave

Thursday, August 31 

4:58 PM Eek! My annual physical was today and I've got good news. Apparently I'm as healthy as a butcher's dog. Though I'm an old man running to keep diseases away from me, exercise has helped to keep my blood pressure -- and my medical profile -- low. My BP today was 117/74. The EKG they ran was "perfect," to use the doctor's words. The best news of all is that my lungs are ab-so-lute-ly clear. This means the doc's given me two thumbs up for this weekend's exertions. You know, most of an annual physical isn't physical at all. The doc and I talked about everything under the sun -- my diet, my exercise routines (she knows I'm a pretty active guy), my sleep, my moods, etc. When the physical part of the examination began, it was your typical evaluation. She started north and then went south: ears, eyes, nose, throat, chest, etc. -- including one particularly uncomfortable test that shall remain nameless (and that required a "chaperone"). My doc prides herself in caring for the "whole" patient. There's no question that the more exercise you do, and the fitter you are, the more likely you are to ward off cardiovascular disease. (That's no guarantee, of course. Exercise doesn't confer immunity from disease.) Anyhoo, she said I'm where I should be for a 65-year old widower and that I should continue to exercise regularly. If you want to go somewhere, you've got to know where you are. Right now I'm following the training program that makes the most sense for me. I'm trying to be brutally honest about my abilities, goals, and dreams. I'm training my body as though it was my favorite pet, with kindness and love. For my next few races my bottom line goal is to finish and enjoy every step. It's always better to know your limits than to exceed them. Above all, you've got to know the body the Lord gave you. It's the only body you'll ever have. Only you can decide what's right for you.

Earlier today I had lunch with the Blacks at the local Mexican joint.

This is one funny dude.

The kids are so much fun.

And that little Chesley is grooooowing.

Off to make supper for myself. Tonight it's Teriyaki chicken over rice. But before I leave you I wanted to give a shout out and a hearty "congratulations" to Dr. Paola Gehrig of UNC Cancer Hospital.

She was just chosen as one of the Best Doctors in America. Paola was a great listener and a wonderful guide for Becky and me during our 4-year cancer journey. Her advice was invaluable in providing technical expertise, a solid prognosis, and common sense. Thank you, Paola, from the bottom of my heart. Thank God for those wise few who can support you through this type of experience.

Later!

Dave

8:18 AM Yo folks!

So September is almost upon us. Huzzah! The kiddos are finally back in school. The weather is turning cooler. Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Those of us who teach are back into teaching mode. This week's classes were phenomenal. I asked, "So what must we do to follow our Father's footsteps into the kingdom?" For starters ....

  • Reject manmade status symbols (like titles).

  • Embrace the flat kingdom.

  • Affirm, remember, and proclaim: THERE ARE NO HOLY PLACES.

Oooh, that last one.

Religions have their shrines, temples, mosques, and churches. Not so Christianity. We worship "in Spirit" -- that is, worship is spiritual, not material -- and "in truth" -- that is, according to what the Bible teaches and not our human traditions. Moreover, the church is a missional church. Missions is an active word. We pursue the path of the kingdom precisely because the Way of Jesus is a path of shalom for all people. Christianity is an insurgency. We throw off all those things we once considered so important and now consider them to be no more than skubala. We put our minds and energies into the service of the daily, grinding, upstream-swimming, frustrating, impossible work of overturning injustice. Why, we're even willing to put aside our legitimate rights (as Jesus did) if the time to exercise them isn't right. We do not grow weary in well doing. We show up when others need us. We set apart our days for the work of proclaiming with our hands and feet the kingdom of God. It doesn't matter if we live in India or Indiana. Together, we'll keep up the holy work, keep laying down our lives, keep worshiping, loving, making space for others. We refuse to let the lies of churchianity hold us back.

There's something exhilarating about living this way. There's something wondrous, fantastical even, about flinging open the door of simple church and exclaiming, "Bring it on, Jesus!" This was my view this morning on my front porch as I meditated on the word.

My text was Phil. 1:12-14.

Since my Bible is so messy, the text reads as follows:

Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατ’ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν, ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν, καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν.

As I thought about how Paul made the cause of the Gospel his number one priority, I wondered aloud: "How can I do that this day?" It's a lovely thing to watch men and women living kingdom lives. Their whole beings are an act of worship (not just what they do during "worship" on Sunday -- oh, how I wish we could rid ourselves of that concept!). As Paul shows us, there's no single way to be a Christian. Sometimes even in our prisons we can do life together and make our circumstances count for the Gospel. Isn't that it? We are the smell and touch of Jesus, wherever we are. God in the flesh, Word made man -- surely it matters. "One can scarcely miss the focus of Paul's concern, here and always: Christ and the gospel," writes Gordon Fee on Phil. 1:12-26 (p. 56). Paul "...intends much of this to serve as paradigm" (p. 57). As always, Paul turns the attention away from himself and his circumstances to the Gospel. I like that. I like to think that everything from my recent bouts with bronchitis to my teaching Greek to my giving to disaster relief in Houston -- all of it is a sacrament of community. Sometimes the best way for me to properly celebrate the kingdom is to answer my students' emails in a timely fashion. We can embody the kingdom by going to the nations (as we ought), but we can also embody the kingdom by an unhurried family meal or a visit to a homebound relative. I want to live out my faith, not just talk about it. I want to live it out as an embodiment of the Gospel in real places, in real contexts, and with real people.

Paul's point in Phil. 1:12-14 is a simple one: The Gospel is not bound (pardon the silly pun). It's advancing both inside and outside prison. It survives despite jerks who preach it with false motives (1:15-18). And it will survive even if God takes Paul home to heaven (1:19-26). I live in a Christian subculture that elevates the Bible to the fourth member of the Godhead. We celebrate the cult of the speaker. (Apparently you can type that sentence and not be struck by lightening.) But the real question is: Have our lives been molded by this Spirit-inspired word? The purpose of the Scriptures is to equip us and then send us out into the world. And guess what? Everyone gets to play. Seminary students do. Mothers folding diapers do. We all do. Despite our "issues." Paul's teaching us in Phil. 1:12-14 to focus simply on the Gospel. Don't let your daily problems drive you to panic. Let them drive you joyfully to leverage your circumstances for Jesus. Don't give up or give in. Patience in the midst of trials is the trademark of God's Holy Spirit in your life. And that's a good word in this aspirin age of ours.

Blessings,

Dave

Wednesday, August 30 

7:04 PM Only five weeks to go to my big race. Five weeks! I can't believe how close the St. George Marathon is. I'm very slowly getting back into running. I did 3 miles this morning. Thankfully, the weather has turned cooler. I love the fall season. It's maybe my favorite season of the year. Does anybody else feel super motivated by the change in seasons? I absolutely love throwing a hoodie on before running. Also, as the heat and humidity diminish, my racing times tend to get faster. And the fall foliage? Awesome. Meanwhile, I've set my goals for this weekend's half marathon in Virginia Beach. My "A" race would be to finish under 2:45 (2 hours and 45 minutes). (My current PR is 2:27.) My "B" race would be to finish under 3 hours. And my "C" race would be to simply finish. The race starts at 7:00 am. I'll be in the last corral. My plan is to use 2:1 run/walk intervals. My confidence level is just okay. However, I'm confident in the base foundation I've laid during the past three years and I can't wait to race on Sunday. The trick is not to overthink it. Shut up and stop making excuses. Even if you have to walk the entire race, that's better than nothing. If I don't try, I'll never know what I missed. In all of my infinite 65-year old wisdom, one thing I've learned from running is to never listen to your doubts. Let's face it. We've all had lousy weeks. So what? As Hebrews reminds us, let's allow personal setbacks to push us forward and make us stronger persons. Use personal adversity as a challenge to become a better you. Still, I'm struggling a bit at the moment. I really have to work on keeping perspective. I need to remember that I'm still out there going at it. I need to stop complaining that everything isn't "just right." It's nice to have a reality check once in a while. My biggest setbacks are when I get in my own way mentally. But thank you, Lord, for helping me stay positive. I'm happier, healthier, and sounder of mind (I think) because I exercise. This is a pure gift of God's crazy grace. I never get tired of watching the finish line at a race. Anyone can become a runner. No matter how young or old you are. No matter how fast or slow you are. No matter how in shape you are or not in shape. My advice is don't avoid the struggle. Embrace it. Exercise is making you stronger, whether it's 1 mile or 26.2. And if you're a follower of Jesus, it's helping you take better care of the temple God has entrusted to you.

A few pics from my week so far:

1) Grateful to Kregel for this gift:

2) One of our baby Greek classes taking their first quiz. I was soooooo nervous.

3) My Greek 3 student Jacob leading our class in a discussion of the discourse structure of Phil. 1:3-11. Fabulous job, Jacob.

4) My colleague Ant Greenham lecturing on Muslim evangelism in our NT class today. Thank you, kind friend.

5) Nice park in Wake Forest to workout in.

6) But what's this?

7) It's that time of the year.

Monday, August 28 

8:32 PM I think I've finally got my running mojo back. It's stressful when you've had bronchitis not once but twice in the past two months. It's even harder when you're the type of guy who loves setting big hairy audacious goals for yourself. The book of Hebrews has had a massive influence on me this year. It's theme is "hanging in there," and along with that, building habits of life that work in the long run. The Christian life, as they say, is not a sprint but a marathon. The thing that got me, though, was the emphasis in Hebrews on endurance. You can smell where this is going. Long distance races require endurance in bucket loads. For a 5K, not so much. Even a 10K. But to run a half or a full marathon, that takes perseverance. To be brutally honest with myself, that's why I like distance races so much. They are a metaphor for the race of life I'm currently running. I'm done with just futzing around with my life. There are too many God-sized goals I still want to accomplish. It's doing the hard stuff that keeps me going. And believe me, there's nothing easy about a half marathon. Will I be up for the one this weekend? Only the Lord knows. After all, I'm not exactly a running machine. But I AM a runner. Not a very fast one. Not a very stylish one. But a runner nonetheless. Jesus considers me worthy because He knows He can empower me and fill me with His Spirit so that I'll be more and more like Him, whether it's pushing through in a race or pushing through in life. I pray this week you'll be able to find the strength to journey forward on the road of faith, running your race the best you can, taking one mile at a time, just taking the next step and then the next step. It's safe to risk it. Jesus won't fail you. Ever.

Love in the Lamb,

Dave

8:05 PM This week in Greek 1 we're introducing the verb. Exciiiiiting!!!!! For 41 years I've used a morphological approach to teaching Greek and I think it's been very helpful for students. What is a morpheme, you ask? A morpheme is the smallest grammatical unit in language that carries meaning. ("Un-friend-li-ness" has four morphemes.) If we can learn how to identify these morphemes in Greek, then we can begin to break down the language and create patterns of meaning. If, for example, you learn -omen as meaning "we," you'll be discombobulated when you get to the Greek perfect tense, where the suffix is simply -men. The "o" in -omen is really a thematic/connecting vowel (I call it a neutral morpheme because it doesn't have any meaning but is adding to the stem as a kind of phonological cushion between the stem and the suffix). Greek has both bound morphemes -- morphemes that can't stand by themselves to form words but must be attached to other morphemes -- and free morphemes -- morphemes that can function as words by themselves. In Greek 1, we're concerned mostly with learning (1) inflectional morphemes like -men that tell you who is doing the action (in this case, "we"), and (2) lexical morphemes -- the lexical or dictionary meaning of the verb. Thus lueis has two morphemes: the lexical morpheme lu (meaning "loose") and the inflectional morpheme eis (meaning "you"). Thus lu + eis = "You loose."

Got it?

Allomorphs are variant forms of the same morpheme. In Greek we can use either -ousi ("they") or ousin (also "they"). The latter form is found before a word that begins with a vowel or when it's followed by a mark of punctuation. An English example is "a" and "an" (we say "a book" but "an apple"). In Greek, the prefix e- indicates past time -- hence its name "past time morpheme." Our work in first year Greek is learning how to identify these kinds of morphemes as well as learning a long list of lexical morphemes -- aka, "vocabulary."

In short, the study of morphology is not merely an option for learning Greek but a definite "must" for language students. I certainly wish I had learned Latin or Hebrew or German this way, but few grammars are onto this secret. I have found that if we understand the internal structure of words in Koine Greek, our understanding of Greek stays with us long after we've graduated from seminary.

What's been your experience?

Ciao!

Dave

Sunday, August 27 

6:40 PM It's 79 degrees with no humidity and a cool breeze blowing. Perfect day for getting up hay.

Can't complain about this view.

My daughter sent me these today. The bread is homemade and the veggies are garden fresh.

Tonight I'm carb loading. Yeah, I know the race isn't until next weekend. 

What a great summer it's been.

2:50 PM Here's my somewhat tentative rendering of Phil. 1:3-11:

I always [pantote modifies eucharisto] thank my God for you every time I think of you. Whenever I pray, I myself [middle voice] make my requests for all of you with joy because of the way you helped me in the work of the Gospel from the very first day until now. I'm convinced of this very thing -- that God, who began a good work [anarthrous construction] like this among you, will carry it through to completion on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Indeed, it's only right that I should keep on thinking [imperfective aspect] this way about all of you, since you are always in my heart. For all of you have shared with me the grace of God, whether I'm in prison or free to defend and establish the truth of the Gospel. God is my witness how I long to see all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus Himself!

It's my prayer that your love for one another will keep on growing [imperfective aspect] still more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect discernment, so that you will continue to choose [imperfective aspect] what is best and will be pure and blameless on the day of Christ's return, seeing that you are filled [stative aspect] with the good qualities that a right relationship with God brings -- qualities that come only through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God.

Take note: The theme of Philippians, as we've often said, is partnership in the Gospel. How clearly is this seen in Phil. 1:3-11! First of all, Paul explicitly thanks God for the Philippians' partnership with him in the Gospel over many years. Second, this partnership has been negatively impacted by "relational breakdowns" (Fee). Hence Paul prays for an increase in the Philippians' love for one another.

The immediate purpose of Paul's prayer is that the Philippians might continue to choose what is best (i.e., continuing to live for the Gospel), and the ultimate purpose is that they might be "pure and blameless" when Christ returns. All of this is possible because God has already filled the Philippians with the results of being rightly related to Him, including the desire and the ability to do what pleases Him (cf. 2:13).

Impeccably logical? Indeed! In fact, Paul is only being consistent with what he writes in 1 Thess. 5:16-18: Always be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Paul is being all three of these things here. The man sure practices what he preaches!

9:28 AM As we read Seven Marks of a New Testament Church for Wednesday's NT 2 class, I'm reminded of a certain churchman's quip: "I believe in one holy, catholic, apostolic church; I just don't see it anywhere." New Testament scholars love to debate the marks of a church. When I was growing up in Hawaii, a Baptist church with elders was strictly taboo. It was dubbed too "Presbyterian." This will seem astonishing to today's generation, but quite a lot was made of it in my youth. The Lord's Supper could only be administered by ordained deacons (often wearing white gloves). Today, this seems ridiculous to many. Churches nowadays even have weekly observances of the Supper, often as part of a full meal and served by "lay people." New Testament interpretation is a fascinating enterprise. We are all fallen people, and because we perceive truth very partially, controversy is inevitable. One of our Ph.D. graduates has argued (in three writings no less!) that tithing is nowhere shown in the New Testament to be a requirement for followers of Jesus. On the whole, most of the students I know embody Reformation theology and practice, and many are five-pointers, yet aren't there also those who do not espouse limited/particular atonement? I'm thankful for the wisdom and courage of the Magisterial Reformers, but I also appreciate the work of their nemesis, the Anabaptists, who refused to go along with their teachers when it came to a believer's church and believer's baptism. As I show in my Seven Marks book, one of my Basel professors, Marcus Barth, would often defend believer's baptism, and at considerable length. He was hardly alone. His famous father, Karl Barth, a Reformed theologian teaching in a Reformed institution no less, had long objected to paedobaptism and even published a book on the subject (The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism). My own Doktorvater in Basel was a Lutheran and yet he was able and willing to work with a committed Baptist. Even on the same campus it's possible to have varying interpretations of the same data (e.g., the Synoptic Problem). But both sides can continue to work together on the same team. This is one of the reasons I desire to have a conference on campus dealing with modern linguistics and its place in the study of New Testament Greek. No doubt there is a lack of consensus among scholars in many areas, and there's been some acrimony, but couldn't some progress be made if we were to gather together and ask the question, "What are the leading positions on the areas in which we disagree, and, despite our differences, can we show how linguistics makes a useful contribution to the exegesis of the New Testament?" I have seen many controversies settled during my lifetime. When I was growing up, the churches of my acquaintance were anti-Pentecostal. Now they are much less so. Even when it comes to church music, I welcome the new songs even though I'm not a huge fan of them. Today's generation enjoys a different style of singing, and their desire should not be denied them. We can have both unity and diversity in our churches as long as we are willing to "esteem others as more important than ourselves" and subordinate our own preferences to what best serves the community as a whole.

This isn't the place to examine any of these controversies in detail. What prompted this post were two verses I was reading this morning in my study time. These verses from Romans (15:5-6) were a reminder to me of the importance of prayer when it comes to unity.

May God, who gives you this endurance and encouragement, allow you to live in harmony with each other by following the example of Christ Jesus. Then, having the same goal, you will praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I'm not suggesting that we can use prayer as a sort of Abracadabra to produce unity and amity in our fellowships. Yet I am challenged by these verses -- challenged to pray more often and with ever more intensity for the unity and harmony that only the Holy Spirit can effect in our church bodies. We only have to look at Phil. 1:9-11 to see how important prayer was to the apostle Paul. The church in Acts was deliberately organized under the Word and prayer. I, for one, am committed to engaging the issues that divide us as much on my knees as by anything I may write or say. I hope you will join me.

8:08 AM Has anybody read this book by Mark Keown?

Congregational Evangelism in Philippians: The Centrality of an Appeal for Gospel Proclamation to the Fabric of Philippians. Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008.

7:35 AM Expect the unexpected. That's the theme of the movie Duel, which I watched last night for the umpteenth time. (The film, by the way, was directed by an unknown filmmaker named Steven Spielberg. When Spielberg was asked to direct Jaws at age 28, it was because he made Duel in 1971 at age 24.) Like the Gospel according to Mark, there's more action than dialogue. David Mann (played brilliantly by Dennis Weaver) makes the innocent mistake of passing a tanker truck while driving through the desert, and the rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse chase scene in which the truck tries its best to run Mann off the road.

The message is subtle but clear: Expect the unexpected. The theme of horror erupting out of normality is continued in Jaws and other Spielberg films. In Duel you'll find great editing and cinematography. The camera angles are ah-mazing, especially when you consider how restrained camera technology was in 1971. To me, the hero of the movie is Mann's red 4-door Valiant, which symbolizes the driver's wishy-washy personality. And don't miss the word-play. "Mann" becomes a "man" by the end of the film by outsmarting his nemesis.

This, to me, is Spielberg's best movie by far. Normality is interruptible. The unexpected is just around the next curve.

7:12 AM Our winner is David from Portland, OR, with the following translation:

"Remember, O Lord, your church, so as to rescue her in your love, and gather her from the four winds [or "corners of the earth"], who has been sanctified [or "...gather her who has been sanctified from the..."], into your kingdom, which you prepared for her. For to you belong the power and the glory forever."

Saturday, August 26 

8:34 PM Let's do a little Greek sight reading tonight, shall we? The following passage comes from the famous Didache.

μνήσθητι, κύριε, τς κκλησίας σου, το ύσασθαι ατν ν τ γάπ σου, κα σύναξον ατν π τν τεσσάρων νέμων, τν γιασθεσαν, ες τν σν βασιλείαν, ν τοίμασας ατ· τι σο στιν δύναμις κα δόξα ες τος αἰῶνας.

The first person to send me the correct translation (without the use of helps) wins a free copy of It's All Greek to Me, the account of my academic pilgrimage.

4:25 PM I see the "Should I bother getting a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies?" question is being bandied about again. I've always felt it was a somewhat silly question. If God wants you to do that, of course you should! Let's begin with 2 Cor. 5:17: "Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" Becoming a Christian is an acceptance of that fact. It's not an effort, not an attempt to perfectly plan out the course of your life, not a ceaseless seeking after human wisdom. When you become a Christian, you find that Christ begins working on you from the inside out, giving you new values, new goals, new purpose, and a new pattern of life. God begins to instill in you a passion for people, for serving them, loving them, and doing something with your life that can help them. He also helps you to discover something very important: that He created you for something special. You are unique. Nobody else has your DNA. Or your thumb print.

To answer the question, "Should I pursue a doctorate in Biblical Studies?", I believe you need to think about the Three Whos (or Whose, or Who's -- just what is the plural of Who anyway?).

1) The first Who is, "Who am I?" I'd say that if God created you to be a teacher, an academic, a Biblical Studies professor, you just need to go for it. Be who you are. Be who God made you to be. Of course, discovering this won't be easy. I went to Biola College to study the Bible, not having any idea what I wanted to do vocationally. Didn't matter. I pursued my passion for the Scriptures. When I began my M.Div. at Talbot, I still didn't know who I was. But when I began teaching Greek in 1977, in my second year of seminary, I began to feel it: I'm a teacher, by God. My students seemed to confirm that. So did my colleagues. Hence it was only a matter of time before I would have to begin thinking about doctoral studies.

2) "Who do I want to study with for my doctorate?" This is the second most important Who question you can ask yourself. You see, Christian education is essentially likeness education (Luke 6:40). That's why I ended up in Basel. I wanted to study under a man named Bo Reicke. Nobody knows his name today, but back in the 1980s he was considered by many to be the doyen of New Testament studies. What's more, we hit if off chemistry-wise. Now that I think about it, I don't believe I would have wanted to study under anyone else. The end result of all of this was me completing my doctorate after three wonderful years of study.

3) "Who can get you a job?" That's right. This too is a "Who" question. As everyone knows, we can't naively assume that just because we have an earned doctorate we're going to get hired anywhere. In my case, the Lord had already settled that issue when I took Greek under Dr. Harry Sturz, the head of Biola's Greek Department. Him hiring me to teach Greek seemed to happen overnight, but I know it wasn't an accident or a fluke. I haven't gotten over it yet. I can't speak for anyone else, but I know I work very diligently to help place my graduates. Each is a unique, miraculous creation of God. Their potential is out of this world. I know that. And so does God.

So, best wishes. May your life be extravagantly and outrageously joyful as you trust the Lord for your future. Wait on Him for His appointment to the vocation of His choosing. Follow the Spirit as He leads you. Let God's peace overwhelm you. Try not to worry too much. God is your refuge and strength.

11:05 AM The Virginia Beach Rock N' Roll Half Marathon is next weekend. I've registered for the event but there's no telling if I'll be ready for it. (What's that joke about making plans and God laughing?) We hear it each and every day of our lives. Life life to the fullest, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. I will never have my children at home again. I will never have Becky at my side again. I will never live in Hawaii or SoCal again. I will never be 40 again. I'm going to embrace it. Each moment, each day, matters. Our lives here on earth are very limited. I'm not assuming that I will have a tomorrow so I need to make today count.  "Life is too short to waste it" is my new motto. However long I have to live, I want to be the fittest, happiest, kindest, and most generous soul I can possibly be. I'm just hoping for decent weather on race day. It can still be HOT here in Virginia in September. But Virginia Beach is one of the most beautiful places in the country and I know the crowd support will be fantastic. But you never know what you'll encounter on a half. Will the pasta I ate the night before come back and haunt my GI tract? Will I go out too fast? Will it be too hot? I am so inexperienced with these things. Today I'm just glad my 65-year old body is still functioning. That it can hopefully run a marathon in October. That it can qualify for Boston. (Just kidding.) But without goals, folks, where will you go in life?

10:10 AM Did you know that Daily Dose of Greek is available in Portuguese?

9:42 AM Morning, folks!

Imagine this scene: You're suffering from a chest infection, and your doctor has just prescribed for you an antibiotic. "Get this filled immediately and take one tablet daily for 7 days," she says to you. Would you respond, "I approve of that course of treatment, but it's not really necessary to actually take these pills, is it?" This scenario is understandably absurd. It's not enough to approve of your doctor's remedy. You have to choose to follow through with it.

When I read Phil. 1:10 in modern translations, I notice they seem to render Paul's purpose clause -- and it is a purpose clause and not a result clause -- as "so that you may be able to discern what is best" or "so that you can decide what is best." Of course, this is a huge improvement over "so that you may distinguish the things that differ." But it doesn't go far enough. Paul is referring to the Christian who not only has the ability to discern what is best but also actually chooses the things in life that really matter. Paul is saying, in essence, "There are things in this life that really matter, and there are things in this life that don't. Can you tell the difference? And will you act on that knowledge?" I find it interesting that Paul's word for "things that differ" is diapheronta. These are opposed to what modern theologians call the adiaphora -- things that don't matter. Paul himself once had to struggle to discern the difference between the really important things in life and the things that weren't so important from an eternal perspective. All the things he once felt were so essential -- his human advantages and attainments -- he ended up repudiating in order to be right before God (see 3:3-8). All of his "gains" had become one giant "loss." They had become, not merely zeros, but less than zeros -- a Brobdingnagian minus. For the sake of Christ he had renounced all these things, had seen them for what they really were -- things that would deprive him of Christ. As the great and good former editor of Punch magazine, Malcolm Muggeridge, once put it:

I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets–that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue–that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions– that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time–that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you — and I beg you to believe me–multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing–less than nothing, a positive impediment–measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.

With this background, I scratch my head when Christians convene their holy huddles and start rambling about things like homeschooling versus public schooling or pretrib versus post or "Do I have to tithe my credit card rewards points?" Friend, actions speak louder than words. Or so it is said. Perhaps that's why my Greek students will be challenged not merely to translate the Greek text of Philippians but to begin to observe its teachings. You see, it's much easier to discuss the Greek text and sound spiritual than to be spiritual. Paul is adamant that Christians choose what is best. That was the main problem with the Pharisees, who talked a good talk but whose priority system was backwards.

With that in mind, try an experiment: See what happens when you stop just talking about what's of greatest importance and start showing others what that looks like. It can become a radical way of living.

Stay centered in the Lamb,

Dave

Friday, August 25 

5:38 PM Well, my yard looks manicured again, and the fields have been cut. We're getting up hay Sunday night hopefully. I'm feeling 80 percent, which means no exercising until I'm 100 percent. Which also meant that I had plenty of time for reading today. I got out Stan Porter's Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament and reread it in one (long) sitting. Here are some takeaways I thought worthy of passing on to a wider reading public.

  • Linguistics is essential to understanding the Greek New Testament (p. 1).

  • A linguistic approach to exegesis is the exception, not the rule, today (p. 2).

  • Theories of Aktionsart and lexical aspect should be abandoned (p. 4).

  • Porter's own beginning grammar attempts to incorporate a linguistic framework into its presentation and organization (p. 7).

  • Porter has become an ardent proponent of lexical monosemy rather than polysemy (p. 7).

  • Word and constituent order in the Greek New Testament remains an understudied field (p. 9).

  • Study of the paragraph remains woefully underdeveloped (p. 10).

  • Louw-Nida is an underutilized resource in New Testament studies (p. 12).

  • Following J. P. Louw and K. L McKay, Porter defines the Greek perfect tense-form as grammaticalizing stative aspect (p. 13).

  • The Greek New Testament by NA and UBS is probably not protectable by copyright (p.27).

  • Both the TLG and Perseus are invaluable (p. 32).

  • Open-source software is desirable (p. 46).

  • Within a given register of usage, an individual Greek lexeme will have only one meaning (p. 54).

  • BDAG occasionally gives the wrong meaning for words (p. 76).

  • Lexicographers need to discuss words by how they are semantically related (p. 73).

  • The shift from seeing tense-forms as indicating time of action to seeing them as indicating how an action is conveyed is salutary (p. 87).

  • Elements of a language must be studied, not in isolation, but in their larger linguistic and nonlinguistic contexts (p. 91).

  • Source, form, and redaction criticisms are important but second-level exegetical methods (p. 103).

  • The major shortcoming of rhetorical criticism is that it tends to equate rhetorical labeling with first-level exegesis (p. 104).

  • There is a danger that homiletics will confuse preaching with exegesis (p. 111).

  • Sociolinguistics is helpfully addressing questions asked by more traditional forms of New Testament criticism (p. 128).

  • The field of discourse analysis is large and highly complex (p. 143).

  • Metafunction provides an important component to exegesis (p. 158).

  • Rather than indicating absolute temporal distinctions (past, present, future), verbal tense-forms grammaticalize the author's subjective choice of how to conceive of a process or event (p. 161).

  • The three Greek aspects are perfective (aorist), imperfective (present/imperfect), and stative (perfect/pluperfect, p. 161).

  • Tense-forms can be used in contexts that do indeed indicate temporal reference (p. 176).

  • The augment is not temporal by the time of Homer (p. 179).

  • Verbal aspect is a semantic feature encoded by the Greek tense-forms across the various moods regardless of its relationship to temporal distinctions and Aktionsart (p. 184).

  • The choice of the perfect tense-form by a language user conceives of the verbal process as stative -- a condition or state of affairs in existence (p. 198).

  • Verbal aspect is an essential part of the Greek verbal system and not a secondary or tertiary feature that can be evoked when exegetically convenient (p. 199).

  • Most proponents of aspect theory see some type of binary relationship between the perfective and nonperfective aspects (p. 199).

  • The triaspectual structure of the Greek verbal system should not be overlooked (p. 209).

  • The perfect tense-form has material markedness as seen by its athematic root, endings, and reduplication (p. 211).

  • Stative aspect is found when the perfective tense-form is used in the indicative or in the nonindicative and whether it is found in narrative or nonnarrative (p. 213).

  • Mark 13 appears to have a number of unique features when compared with the rest of the Gospel (p. 235).

  • In Matt. 28:19-20, the initial aorist participle logically and temporally precedes the action of the main verb and, thus, rather than sharing imperatival force with the latter, performs a discourse function. It describes the necessary concomitant circumstance to the process of the primary claim (p. 251).

  • A major area where verbal aspect theory is clearly missing from the exegetical scene is that of synoptic relations (p. 256).

  • The relationships between the Synoptic Gospels are far more complex than most theories recognize and certainly more complex than most discussions are willing to admit (p. 276).

  • The shift in lexemes in John 21:15-17 between agapao and phileo is sufficient to raise questions whether these lexical items are contextually synonymous (p. 299).

  • Philemon should possibly be included within the discussion of Paul's opponents (p. 338).

  • There is good reason to believe that the adjective "holy" in 1 Tim. 2:8 describes the act of raising rather than the hands themselves (p. 346).

  • Greek word order is still an unexplored area of New Testament studies (p. 347).

  • In the New Testament, proper nouns do not form a category that is separate and distinct from common nouns (p. 376).

  • Hyponymy as a model for the Trinity suggests an early acceptance of Jesus' own consciousness of his trinitarian relation with the Father and the Spirit (p. 384).

If you haven't done so already, take the time to read this magisterial tome by one of the world's leading Greek linguists. It will pay dividends in the end.

10:14 AM Just wrote 4 pages of questions for my Greek class that meets next Tuesday night. Students, don't tell me I didn't warn you! 

Phil. 1:3-11 raises a host of vitally important (and interesting!) questions of interpretation, including:

  • The use of the middle voice with certain verbs

  • The use of eis for en

  • Ambiguity (for example, is touto in v. 3 anaphoric or cataphoric?)

  • The post-positioning of adjectives

  • The debate over the grammatical subject of echein in 1:7

  • The first use in the letter of sun- as a prepositional prefix morpheme (13 total occurrences)

  • Why does the Majority Text supply estin after mou in 1:8?

  • Why is a perfect participle used in 1:11?

I had to smile when I read Paul's words in 1:10: " ... so that you may choose what is best." I was on a "Christian Agrarianism" website the other day where the author actually stated that Christian Agrarianism is the "only answer to America's problems." Hmm .... I'm a Christian. And I'm an agrarian. But I'll leave "Christian Agrarianism" solutions to others. This morning I was also perusing websites whose authors enjoy commenting on the virtues and ills of everything from Donald Trump to the alt right to Black Lives Matter to Confederate statues. They, too, seem to think that involvement in politics will provide the solution to what ails us as a nation. The problem is that the movement Jesus came to establish -- the kingdom of God -- can't be identified with Christianity as a religion. In fact, any religion, Christian or otherwise, that doesn't look like Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and even die for them, contrasts with the kingdom of heaven. As the Anabaptists have shown us, politics and religion simply don't mix. How important is this? Read Paul's words in Phil. 1:10 again. We have to "chose what is best" in life -- and this "best," Paul says, is nothing other than living as citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel (please read 1:27). This includes the Matthews (conservatives) and the Simon the Zealots (liberals) in our midst. The problem is, once you invite politics into the kingdom realm, you introduce polarizing claims, and one thing we don't need any more of today in our fellowships is division. Maybe if we stopped blaming government for our ills and began looking to the Gospel as the only solution to our problems, we'd see some genuine change. I don't mind if you express your political beliefs on your blog. Have at it. Each of us is trying to make sense of the current political condition of our nation the best we can. But as followers of King Jesus, and as disciples in His upside-down kingdom, I don't believe that's where our time and energy is to be spent. That's aiming at the wrong bull's-eye. "I believe it's time to stop seeking God in the misguided and erroneous teachings of do-goodism, whether the source is liberalism or conservatism," I wrote in the Welcome page to my website. "Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise plaguing our families, our churches, and our society." If we as Christians would start doing what we're called to do, then maybe we would stop telling Caesar what he ought to do and just begin doing it ourselves.

8:18 AM In his outstanding commentary on Philippians, Gerald Hawthorne calls our attention to the textual variants in the Greek text of Phil. 1:9.

πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

Most manuscripts read "to the glory and praise of God." Some, however, have "to the glory and praise of me," while one papyrus manuscript (p46) reads "to the glory of God and to the praise of me." When I first saw these variants years ago, I felt a twinge of sadness in my heart. Self-praise is uniquely unbecoming to the Christian. Yet that's the same question we face every day in a myriad of ways. It's so easy for us to "esteem ourselves as better than others" (to paraphrase Paul's words in Phil. 2:3). But when we drag our pride kicking and screaming into the glorious light of the Gospel, we can see it for what it is. It is possible to bend the universe too sharply toward our own agendas and accomplishments. That's why in Pauline theology, in New Testament theology, and I dare say in biblical theology in general, there's little or no place for human pride, human accomplishment, or human achievement, apart from the sheer grace of God. Even when we work "harder than the rest," we are still what we are "by the grace of God" (1 Cor. 15:10). I suspect we very much underestimate the sin of pride in our evangelical circles. But without humility of mind, says Paul, there can be no unity (Phil. 2:3). I worry sometimes that we consider "success" to be the product of our own diligence more than God's working in our lives. "Humility" is a slippery concept. It is so tempting to go along with the crowd, to bend, to make believe our accomplishments are really ours. The truth is, "We have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God, and not of us" (2 Cor. 4:7).

To the scribe of p46: You are so funny, dude. And to my Greek students who think that the art and science of New Testament textual criticism is, well, overkill: Sorry about that. We Greek profs try not to put unreasonable "shoulds" and "should nots" on you guys. But when it comes to textual variants, we have no choice. (You can sort this out with your therapist one day.) Let me pause to acknowledge the fear button I may have just pushed. The last thing I want to do is to terrify my beloved students. But we can't decide between variants if we don't know what we're dealing with. I know this is hard stuff, but it's not impossible stuff. Just as loving parents tell their kids, "Get out of bed and do your chores," so loving Greek profs are preparing their docents to accurately handle the word of truth. Better to read a primer on New Testament textual criticism than to be entirely apathetic and blatantly hypocritical.

Thursday, August 24 

7:52 PM Just had a personal worship service listening to this performance. This is one of the best recordings of anything ever.

All I hear when I listen to this is the glory of a God who could enable people to compose such beautiful music. It is both a dirge and an ode. Aaron Copland so exquisitely captures the essence of serenity with this piece. A most wonderful performance, a most wonderful experience. When I hear this composition I see rolling hills, green pastures, and grazing animals. And I see their Creator.

What would life be like without great music? Sometimes, in the midst of the modern cacophony of what passes today for "worship" music, I forget that there still exists real music that can actually send chills all over my body. Vibrations that infiltrate the soul. Deep quiet transcending the noise of politics. Whispers of joy.

Thanks be to God.

11:25 AM Next week in Greek 3 we're in Phil. 1:3-11.

Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν, πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δεήσει μου ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος, ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν, πεποιθὼς αὐτὸ τοῦτο, ὅτι ὁ ἐναρξάμενος ἐν ὑμῖν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐπιτελέσει ἄχρι ἡμέρας Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ· Καθώς ἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς, ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου συγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας.

μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς ὡς ἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ. 

Καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ, πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

What amazing words. This section of the letter comprises the body opening. To listen to these verses being read aloud, go here and scroll down to "Philippians Audio." Perhaps I could summarize the linguistic macrostructure of these verses as follows:

I joyfully thank God because of the way you have helped me in the work of the Gospel from the first day until now, and I pray that God will enable you to know how to love one another appropriately and be able to choose what is best in life.

For Paul, there was no greater joy in the world than helping someone to come, as he puts it elsewhere, "from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God." We have much to learn in this passage about courage and taking initiative in evangelism. When I was in seminary, evangelism was often reduced to methods. Today there is (thankfully) much less emphasis on technique and a lot more emphasis on relationship-building. Evangelism is now recognized as being far too important to leave to the professionals. The Gospel is truly the world's greatest love story. It's a story that's not only written and told about, but seen. This week I'll be re-immersing myself in these verses. I'm hoping it will be a time to listen to the text, to get my bearings, and to again draw near to God. Folks, the opportunities for us to do this are pretty common. They're before us every day. Being alone with God forces us to confront ourselves. Is the Gospel really my life's priority? Am I really able to discern what's of greatest importance as a Christian? Am I truly a loving partner with others in the kingdom work Jesus is doing all over this planet? This is the message of Phil. 1:3-11, and it's one well worth remembering.

9:20 AM What's the greatest danger for Greek students when they're translating the New Testament? I talk about this in my baby Greek grammar. It's simply this: Parroting the English you're already familiar with. We end up like Google Translate. Many people fail to understand that Google Translate doesn't understand anything at all, let alone language. It's merely a machine. It can't, for example, tell the difference between idioms and literal language. Google is good at lots of things, but one thing it will never be able to do is replace human creativity. So if you're one of my Greek 3 students and are translating Philippians, try this:

1) Find a native speaker of Koine Greek who can explain the meaning to you. (Good luck with that, by the way.)

2) Always try to find idioms in your target language that use the same words with the same meaning if you can. "Target Language" (or TL) is the language you're translating into.

3) Experiment with bringing out the "deep structure" of the text you're translating. For example, the famous "Great Commission" of Jesus in Matt. 28:19-20 might be rendered as follows:

So wherever you go, train the people from every nation how to follow me in obedience and love, immersing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and instructing them in the practice of everything I've commanded you. And remember: I am with you, day after day after day, until the very end of the age.

Generally speaking, a truly genuine translation is idiomatic. Because of the many parallels between Koine Greek and English, we often fail to exploit the versatility of English as a TL. Maybe we could all work harder to bridge that gap.

Alles klar?

8:36 AM Questions, questions, questions ....

1) Does Paul use hyperbole in Phil. 1:3-7? When he says, "I thank my God for you every time I think of you," did he really mean "every time"? When he wrote, "Every time I pray for you, I pray with joy," did he mean "each and every time"? When he said, "You are always in my heart!" did he mean "always," as in all the time? If so, that's pretty remarkable. The language reveals the deep affection Paul had for the church at Philippi.

2) If you're using my beginning grammar, did you know we've produced "additional exercises" to help you along? Here's a sample page:

And another:

3) Did you know about the Biblical Greek Forum? Topics include books, software, Greek linguistics, and even a forum for beginners. Check 'er out today.

4) What are the top 6 traits of unforgettable teachers? Answer here.

5) Did you know that sloppy agape is alive and well?

Questions, questions, questions ....

Wednesday, August 23 

8:10 PM Hello, friends. I love me a new school year. So new, so bursting with opportunity. I still have a nasty cough but I think I'm gradually getting over this thing. I'm going to rest up for the next few days. I'm 65 so I deserve to take it a little bit easy with this old bod of mine. Hopefully I can begin training for the St. George Marathon next week. Gulp. Am I really going to do this? I feel like a first year Greek student on the first day of class. What was I thinking????? Hey, it's only 26.2 miles. I think I can do that. Again. Well, too late to back down now. Besides, there's still plenty of time for you to sign up and do it with me. (Har har.) Walk, run, skip, or crawl, we'll give it our best shot. Here's one for the Gipper, and all that. One thing's for sure. I'm not afraid of failing anymore. I'm not afraid of trying my best even if I don't finish the race. Quitting is just not an option for me at this point. I have 45 days of training to go. I'm terrified -- and excited.

What else?

I love giving away my books. These guys earned a gratis tome by completing the requirements for my infamous Five Minute Greek Club. Fist bump.

These first-yearers (yes, I made that word up and am right proud of it) are writing the Greek alphabet for the first time. Remember when you did that?

My Greek 3 student Tyler leading the class through the discourse structure of Philippians. He did one awesome job, that I can tell you. Bigly.

The textbooks for my NT 2 class this semester.

Yep. I use mostly my own writings. I'm not partial, or anything.

This is obviously a season in my life where I just need to rest and recover from a pretty active life the past three years. Recovery is vitally important (hear that, Dave!!???) but I feel like my little hiatus has killed my momentum. Right now I need to tread water and work to maintain some pretense of fitness. I am responsible for my own body and my own injuries. I got sick because I did something wrong. I pushed myself too hard. That's frustrating, but it's a good lesson to learn. My problem is that when it comes to doing anything, I'm Type A as all get out.

Oh, got my lawn mower back from the shop after 5 weeks. (FIVE weeks. Welcome to the country.) My grass really needs a good cutting for sure. The problem with the mower? A measly fuse that cost me a grand total of 5 measly bucks. But that little fuse "issue" kept me from mowing and hence the yard is a jungle. There's probably a lesson here somewhere. Oh yeah. It's a principle of all of life. Ready?

When you do nothing, something always happens.

Just don't mow your yard. Just don't change the oil in your car. Just don't review your Greek. Just don't walk with Jesus (see Heb. 2:1-4). When you do nothing, something always happens.

Always.

Cheers,

Dave

Monday, August 21 

8:22 AM Two closed sections of baby Greek. 30 students in each. Okay, guys and gals, let's do this. Let's get 'er done. Here's my own small offering for you. It's called My Greek Tools. Jesus made me a facilitator. It's true. That's just who I am. So if you want interactive vocabulary apps, or additional exercises to our grammar, or audio files of Greek, or a hundred other bells and whistles, we've tried our hardest to provide them for you. My study of Greek is mine alone. It is unique. But you have yours -- or you will have. Believe.

7:52 AM Today begins year number 41 for me of teaching. It was in the fall of 1976 that Dr. Harry Sturz of Biola invited me to teach 11 units of Greek. If, in all these years, I were to try and thank everyone who helped me along the way, it would require a biography. There are those who believed that I could teach long before I did. The brightest light in the firmament was, of course, Becky. My life stands as a testimony to her love and support.

I want to thank all of the literally thousands of students I've had the honor of teaching through the years. They are some of the finest people I've ever known. Finally, I want to thank the most wonderful group of people who are members of what we call the Southeastern family. They are a constant reminder to me that there will always be a reason to believe in tomorrow. For most of us who teach for a living, I suppose we are amazed that we get to do this at all. Day by day, moment by moment, we are closer to completing ourselves. It seems the harder I work at being a good teacher, the more fun I have. Teaching isn't work. It's a blast. Any classroom can provide a kind of spontaneous celebration. The joy we feel in teaching multiplies as we share it with others. Once you begin to share that joy, you may discover that the road goes on forever.

Sunday, August 20 

6:24 PM I'm learning that taking time off from running in order to keep on running is something every runner has to do. I am human. We all are. My body is susceptible to all of the dangers of overuse that everyone else's body is susceptible to. If I abuse it, it will eventually fail me.

They say there are two kinds of runners: those who compete in a race, and those who just try to complete a race. I spent the last three years or so trying to do both. My shorter races were, most certainly, competitions. I wanted to PR every time I went out on the course. In my longer races, my goal was simply to finish. I've learned that I tend to overdo things in my shorter races, like I did two weeks ago during my triathlon. I went out hard -- competitively -- in the swimming leg, and then even harder in the cycling and running legs. As a result, I think I overdid it. I was shocked. I got sick, which is something I hardly ever do nowadays. So here goes. I've decided to cut out my shorter races this year and focus only on my longer races. I'll still train three times a week, Lord willing (two short runs and one long run), but otherwise my racing goal will be to finish and take my sweet old time. I'm also going to try to take more time for recovery after races. As we age, we need more time to rest. Without rest, our bodies eventually weaken due to overuse and lack of an adequate amount of healing time. So with all that in mind, I've finalized my runs for the rest of the year (and into the beginning of 2018). Here's my list:

September 3: Virginia Beach Half Marathon

September 10: 9-11 Half Marathon (DC)

September 23: Virginia Ten-Miler (Lynchburg)

October 7: St. George Marathon (UT)

November 10: Richmond Marathon (VA)

December 10: Dallas Marathon (TX)

February 11: Birmingham Marathon (AL)

I've already coughed up the money to enter these races. And I am willing to do the work in order to finish them. I'm willing to put in the miles. But I will take one day at a time, and only one race at a time. The goal will be completion, not competition. My biggest enemy in a road race is me. So I am going to tame the competitor in me a little bit. I might even try to stay at the back at the pack. Yep. I'm throwing down the gauntlet, folks. You thought you were going to come in dead last? I'm here to tell you: I'm gonna give you a run for your money.

Saturday, August 19 

7:26 PM The most haunting soundtrack. Beautiful composition. Be sure to check out 34:32.

 

6:58 PM Here's a summary of Paul's Missionary Methods, edited by Plummer and Terry. Incidentally, all advocates of indigenous missions base their missionary strategy on Paul's missionary methods.

1) Paul was an itinerant church planter, a groundbreaker, a pioneer missionary.

2) His basic approach was to plant churches in cities from which the Gospel would penetrate the surrounding areas. Paul demonstrated a "concentration" strategy rather than a "diffusion" strategy.

3) He normally began his ministry in the local synagogue (if there was one; see Acts 13:10-15). The so-called "God-fearers" turned out to be his most receptive audience.

4) He never appealed to the church in Antioch for funds with which to support the new churches.

5) He gave local churches over to the care of local lay leaders (home grown elders) to shepherd the flock (Acts 14:23), though he would also visit them and write to them periodically.

6) He employed a team ministry. We never see him working alone.

7) He maintained close contact with his home church (Acts 14:26-18).

8) His work was Spirit-dependent. To wit:

  • The first mission from Antioch was instigated by the Spirit of God (Acts 11:28).

  • The Holy Spirit chose Paul and Barnabas as church planters (13:1-3) and then sent them out (13:4).

  • When Paul ministered on Cyprus, he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:9).

  • As the church grew, "The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52).

  • The decision of the Jerusalem elders acknowledged that it was the Holy Spirit who had encouraged them in their decision (Acts 15:28).

  • On his second missionary journey it was the Spirit who stopped him and Barnabas from going into one area and guided them to another instead (Acts 16:7-10).

  • The believers at Ephesus had to be reoriented to the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7).

  • Paul was "constrained by the Holy Spirit" to go to Jerusalem, and it was the Holy Spirit who warned him that imprisonment would await him (Acts 20:22-23).

  • The Ephesian elders are told to watch over the flock, "among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" (Acts 20:28).

You'll notice that these same methods are emphasized in Roland Allen's classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? Allen was struck by what he considered an insufficient emphasis and dependence upon the Holy Spirit to produce maturity in new believers.

You know what, guys and gals? Allen was so right. When I think about how the church relies on human methods and strategies, I'm heartbroken. I'm broken for the misuse of resources when the entire world is desperate for the Gospel. Allen has won me over, by golly. So has Paul. His wisdom has been proved right in the end. Dear friend, make sure your philosophy of ministry and missions is between you and God. The rest of us can butt out and quit criticizing your choices. Run headlong into the intoxicating simplicity of the Gospel. Let the Spirit lead and use you to minister to others, and you might be shocked how that changes your entire heart.

6:18 PM Odds and sods ....

1) The Nerdy Language Majors group (which you should read -- and join) has a post on the best way to translate "I will make you fishers of men" (Mark 1:17). It asks what we think of the NET Bible's "I will turn you into fishers of people." What do you think? My preference is "I will teach you how to catch people instead of fish," along with a footnote indicating the literal.

2) The best half marathons in the U.S.

3) Neat video introducing Ancient Greek.

4) My favorite introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin.

5) I've always said that humuhumunukunukuapu'a is the longest word for a fish in Hawaiian. Turns out I was wrong

12:02 PM I've just read through Philippians in its entirety -- again. I thought of marriage as I did so. Ah, marriage. Two flawed people trying to make a go of it. Till death do us part. And when it does separate us, the grief that ensues. Ever tried to counsel someone who's lost a spouse? That's where Phil. 2:1 comes into play. In fact, it comes into play in a way I never noticed before. Here Paul makes four assumptions about Christians. (I call them assumptions because the first class condition is used in Greek.) Here they are:

1) Because of our union with Christ, we have great encouragement.

2) His love comforts us.

3) Because of His Spirit, we are brought into fellowship with other believers. (Or, conversely, we have fellowship with the Spirit -- a less likely meaning in this context.)

4) We experience kindness and compassion from one another.

As everyone knows who's ever experienced loss, it's not the loss that becomes the defining moment in our lives. It's how we respond to that loss. Our response will, to a great extent, determine how we live the rest of our lives. Of course, we will never resume the life we lived before our loss. But we can be enlarged by that loss, even enriched by it as we reflect on what that loss has meant to us and how we have changed in its aftermath. Nothing can undo the pain of separation. You cannot avoid the grief or escape it. Loss changes your life -- forever. At the moment of loss, you begin the test of a lifetime. How will I respond?

I don't want my life to be defined by Becky's loss. I want to focus more on God than on the tragedy itself. It's also important to me, however, to be real with myself. I believe that we who have suffered the loss of a loved one have a story to tell -- a story of pain and suffering to be sure, but also a story of redemption. Here's my story today:

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for speaking to me through Paul's words in Phil. 2:1. Thank You, yes thank You, for the way You daily encourage me to carry on in the wake of that event. Thank you, oh thank You, for the comfort You give me to bear up under the sorrow. Thank You so much for the people in my life who truly care about me. Their kindness and compassion have meant everything to me.

Grief counselor, here's a verse you can use. It can be summed up in a single phrase: In Christ we have everything we need to cope with loss. And to my fellow grief-sufferers: If you are comfortable doing so, why not share on your blog or Facebook page what has been especially meaningful to you during your journey? What are the things that have kept you from embracing your suffering? What are some of the choices sufferers need to make in order to receive the comfort of Christ? Do you ever find that suffering isolates you from the believing community?

This morning, this verse from Philippians was a pure gift to me. It reminded me of the privilege and opportunity I have to be a father and grandfather who shows his family that we don't have to become emotionally distant and inaccessible just because of our loss. We overcome evil by doing good. I have had wonderful encounters with many people over the past three and a half years. With some of you I have forged deep friendships because of the losses we both have experienced. It's very moving to me to be able to hear your story -- and to share my own. This is the kind of koinonia that, I think, God has called all of us to.

8:28 AM Here's yet another takeaway from Phil. 1:1. (Yes, Dave's beating a dead horse.)

Paul greets the church and then its leaders.

Please don't overlook this, friends. Let's be real. You and I would have greeted the pastor and then the people. Not so Paul.

Often doctrine elevates the "pastorate" as the highest calling in life. This isn't true, because it omits Christian engineers and school teachers and housewives and janitors and every other "calling" in life you can think of. If non-pastors are second-class citizens in the kingdom, then you've just excluded millions from Gospel work. You know, the Gospel is proclaimed as clearly through a mother changing her baby's diaper as through the labor of preparing and delivering a sermon. But, you say, there's "the call." Yes there is. And this call, in the New Testament, is not what you might think it is. In the New Testament, one's calling encompasses far more than one's vocation (or avocation for that matter). Just read Eph. 4:1 or 2 Thess. 1:11. We can all lived called lives, Gospel lives, in every imaginable context. This includes, of course, the calling to serve your church as a loving, caring, overseer/elder/pastor/shepherd -- faithfully leading, teaching, admonishing, and loving the flock. (See John 10 for what a loving shepherd looks like.) That may involve a career/profession or it may not. We need you, pastors! But you may also serve the Lord as a teacher (as I try to do). Maybe this morning you punched a time clock. It really doesn't matter that much. The manner in which I treat my students, the way in which I prepare and deliver my lectures, the dignity with which I regard my pupils, the courtesy I extend to them by answering their emails in a timely manner, the effort I put into developing them as teachers in their own right, the example I set before them as a Christ-minded man, the way I treat my faculty colleagues -- this is the called life I am asked to pursue as a professional Greek teacher. This might not seem like much, but it is. Friend, live out your calling today. If you're one of my dear students, please remember that you don't have to wait until you graduate to begin serving King Jesus. To become a fulltime missionary you don't have to wait until you deputize and deploy. A missional life most often shows up quietly in our work places and neighborhoods (even during 5K races). My dream for you is to be exactly who you were created to be by God. My dream is to see all of us in fulltime Christian ministry. My dream is for all God's people (the "saints" of Phil. 1:1) to be smitten with Jesus, so much so that there's nothing they'd rather do than serve Him like a selfless slave, as Paul and Timothy did. But at no point should you ever think of yourself as somehow less than "called" because you are not employed by a local church. We are all God's servants, sheep and shepherds alike. Yours might seem like small work. In fact, you might not think it's Christian service at all. Let God surprise you.

May God make us all worthy of our high calling today.

7:28 AM Everybody has a stack of books they've read a billion times and they could probably recite their contents with closed eyes. I dragged one of these off my shelf last night and began rereading Jon Krakauer's masterful account of the 1996 Everest tragedy. It's called Into Thin Air, and it formed the basis for the blockbuster movie Everest. I once reviewed that movie on my blog somewhere. Anyhow, last night I got to the point where Jon finally summits. He was the second climber to top out that day, right after Anatoli Boukreev. Then I remembered: In the movie, after Anatoli summits and raises his in arms in victory, the next person to meet him is not Jon Krakauer but Andy "Harold" Harris, one of Scott Fischer's guides. They embrace, and then the scene cuts to a crowded summit. Oh, I know what Hollywood will say. Historical license. Plot development. We got the gist correct at least, right? It's like the movie The Great Escape, which featured American actors James Garner and Steve McQueen. Who can forget the latter's motorcycle antics?

The only problem, of course, is that no Americans were involved in the great escape. They had worked on the tunnel, to be sure, but had been relocated to another camp before the escape from Stalag Luft 3.

I wonder if this illustrates a larger principle. For know this: There will be people who will tell you that the Gospels get the story correct in the broader picture, but not necessarily in the details. The authors made editorial embellishments of all kinds in order to achieve some larger literary goal they had. I am often astonished to see this kind of thinking still today in primers of New Testament Introduction. As we engage the voice of God in our daily Bible reading (as I did this morning on my front porch over a cup of Kona coffee and my dog by my side), we cannot go another step without addressing this issue. Are the New Testament documents reliable? F. F. Bruce once wrote a book with the title The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

Still today, it's probably the single best book on the subject. In the first chapter he asks, "Does it matter?" Then he discusses the New Testament writings, one by one. Bruce assembles a great deal of data that point to the historical reliability of the New Testament. At the same time, he doesn't try to show the reader that Christianity is true. That wasn't his overriding objective in writing the book. But I would ask: If the New Testament isn't reliable, whey then should we become followers of its teachings? If you've ever entertained doubts about the historicity and trustworthiness of the New Testament, I would encourage you to read this short book. Bruce was Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester. His book leaves the reader with a nagging question: If, in fact, these documents are reliable, why don't you believe the account?

Note: Bruce's autobiography is one of the best. I have read it and reread it countless times both for personal enjoyment and because of its power to encourage and motivate.

Note 2: I'm not saying there aren't apparent contradictions in the Gospels. Matthew lists Jesus' temptations in the order 1-2-3. Luke lists them 1-3-2. Contradiction or difference? Matthew has a "time" word ("then") whereas Luke has "and." I've always believed that Matthew's was the chronological account, Luke's the theological.

Friday, August 18 

7:20 PM In our NT 2 class next Wednesday we'll be in the book of Acts. What better time to talk about church planting? Alan Tippett, in his book Verdict Theology in Missionary Theory, proposed a 6-fold description of an indigenous church.

1) Self-image. The local church has its own self-identity.

2) Self-functioning. It is capable of carrying on all the normal functions of a church without the assistance of ex-pat missionaries.

3) Self-determining. It makes its own decisions. It relies, not on the missionary to make their decisions for them, but on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

4) Self-supporting. It carries its own financial burdens and finances its own projects without financial assistance from abroad.

5) Self-propagating. It sees itself as responsible for fulfilling the Great Commission locally, nationally, globally, and cross-culturally.

6) Self-giving. It knows the needs of its community and endeavors to minister to those needs.

We might add a seventh mark:

7) Self-abnegating. It does not see itself as better than others. It does not develop into an exclusive social club. It does not refrain from getting its hands dirty in the muck of this world. As Roland Allen often noted, the apostle Paul never encouraged the development of a Christian subculture among his churches. Instead, members of his congregations were to be more immersed in their culture than many churches today would feel comfortable. Paul didn't insist that Christians remove themselves from heathen schools or escape from society. He taught them by teaching and example that the church is to live "sent" lives.

Oh yeah. Lots to talk about next week!

5:45 PM The discourse structure of Philippians will be on our agenda next Tuesday as we begin Greek 3. I hope we will all wrestle with the text before teaching it. I hope we will look deep into our hearts and sift through our theology, our ecclesiology, our praxis. I hope we grow. Because that's what the main imperative in the letter is all about: "Now, the one vitally important thing is that you live as good citizens of heaven as the Gospel of Christ requires." As I have gone through life, the knowledge of my purpose that I have derived from the Scriptures has been crucial. Without it, how can one know how to put the important things first? I promise my students that if they really take the time to figure out their life's purpose, they'll look back on that decision as the most important thing they will have ever learned in school. In the long run, clarity about purpose will trump the lies that our culture keeps telling us. My prayer for my class is that it will help my students find the deep happiness in life that comes only when you invest your time and talent in what counts for the Lord. Because, in the end, we will all be judged a success by the metric Paul sets forth for us in Phil. 1:27.

In other news, we are in the process of lining up the speakers for our April, 2019 conference on Greek and linguistics. I'm a firm believer in the power of sharing ideas. I recall attending conferences when I was just starting out as a teacher, being star struck as I saw and heard so many scholars whom I admired and respected. Most were very humble people, and all were eager to share their ideas with others. Who would have ever thought that one day I would be helping to organize a conference that would have that very purpose? People attend conferences for all kinds of reasons, but I think it's mostly 1) to learn, 2) to network, and 3) to be encouraged and inspired. If it's a lousy conference, we return home. It's a good conference, we return home invigorated and motivated. Sometimes location is a big draw. Our campus is, quite simply, gorgeous in the spring time. Plus, you'll leave with a good sense of what's going on in the field. And we've designed the schedule to allow for plenty of one-on-one time with your favorite scholar. Look for updates here, including the speakers' lineup, in due course. I am deeply humbled and honored to be a part of this wonderful guild.

Stay centered in Jesus' love and peace.

Dave

10:58 AM Hey again, one and all. From my home to yours: Happy Friday! Let's see...what's first up. Well, still got Philippians on my brain. Ya gotta love Fee. On p. 44 of his IVP commentary on Philippians, he writes:

Those in roles of primary leadership too easily slip into a self-understanding which pays lip service to their being slaves/servants of Christ Jesus but prefer the more honorable sense of this term found in the Old Testament to the paradigm of either Christ (in 2:6-8) or of Paul (2:17).

Lip service? Yep! Then he adds this:

Not only so, but the emphasis on all of God's holy people, together with their leaders, could use some regular dusting off so as to minimize the distance between clergy and people that too frequently exists in the church.

Ready to get out the old feather duster? Finally, note this:

All of us are in Christ Jesus, and all are in Christ Jesus in whatever "Philippi" God has placed us, since contemporary Western and westernized cultures are no more friends to grace than theirs was to these earliest believers.

Fee's message is a powerful reminder that the plurality and the cooperation of pastors is desperately needed in our churches today. This stands in stark contrast to situations -- all too common, I'm afraid --  where Christian leaders are in sole charge and are often highly individualistic. Last year I had the privilege of teaching in a church in Denver that does, I think, a very good job of modeling this pattern of leadership. They have a multiplicity of elders (some paid by the church, some not) who work as a team of equals to foster a Great Commission and Great Commandment mindset among their flock. Now, I realize that this is a very tender issue, to be handled with great care. But healthy leadership is a powerful indicator of spiritual life. It is astonishing that time after time in the New Testament the leaders are referred to in the plural, and it is just as astounding that Paul in Phil. 1:1 would use a term of horrific opprobrium to refer to himself and his faithful co-worker Timothy: slaves. Well did Jesus say, "Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That's what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served -- and then give His life away to redeem many people by ransom."

Second, I'm getting really excited about the St. George (Utah) Marathon coming up in October. My ultimate goal, of course, is to finish the race. But I would really like to come in under 6 hours again. It's an ambitious goal and I'm not sure if it's attainable. Everything will have to go right. Still, I feel compelled to go for it. My flights are already booked into the St. George airport via Atlanta, and I'm staying in an Airbnb close by. My health is the big wildcard. I need to pull back a bit, I think, from my mileage and train more for quality than quantity. Interestingly, even though I've been sick this week I've still managed to put 45 miles on Map My Run app for the month of August. Most of my training henceforth will be focused on St. George. This will be my "A" race. Since I'll be doing as much walking as running, I'll need to train for both activities. Running puts demands mostly on your upper legs, whereas walking puts more demands on your calves and shins. Meanwhile, I'm still chillaxing here on the farm.

Finally, I recently found a website that I'd highly recommend. It's called Best Commentaries and it ranks the best commentaries on every book of the Bible. I see that Grant Osborne has a new commentary on Philippians coming out. Eager to read it.

Lunch time!

8:18 AM William Varner's vlog on Phil. 1:2 has been posted. It's an excellent overview of the Greek text. A few additional observations, for what they're worth.

1) This greeting is more than mere phatic communication. "(By "phatic" I mean communication that seeks to reach out and engage someone. A handshake is such a gesture. It's more than a polite social convention but indicates an attempt to "contact" another person in a warm and personal  fashion.) The greeting here in Phil 1:1 is like every other greeting in the Pauline letters in that it points to the blessings of grace and peace, not in a general sense, but as needed by the readers.

2) Grace is mentioned first. Thus at the very beginning of his letter, Paul subtly reminds the Philippian Christians that their life in Christ is a gift of God's grace they've received through simple faith, not through obedience to the ceremonies of the Jewish law. This is key to understanding later portions of the letter in which Paul issues an invective against (apparently) Jewish Christians who promote circumcision and law-keeping among Gentile Christians (see 3:2 ff.).

3) Few seem to remark on the position of the "peace" blessing. Paul could have written "Grace and peace to you." Instead, he wrote "Grace to you, and peace." Here "peace" is set off in the Greek text, quite possibly for emphasis. There's little question that the issue of disharmony is one of Paul's major concerns in writing this brief letter. Peace is (at least) the cessation of hostilities (again, see 4:2, where Euodia and Syntyche are singled out). But peace involves much than that. If the background of Paul's use of the word here is Hebraic in nature (shalom), as Will suggests, then the idea would also include concepts of wholeness, spiritual health, vitality, and well-being. As Paul will state in 2:12, "You are, as a congregation, in your relationships with one another, to live out the salvation [Gerald Hawthorne: spiritual health] Christ has brought you." As Fee points out (p. 104), "This is therefore not a text dealing with individual salvation but an ethical text dealing with the outworking of salvation in the believing community for the sake of the world." Once again, the letter's theme is evident: Harmonious relationships in the church for the sake of the Gospel. This implication of "peace" in 1:2 should not be overlooked.

4) Finally, as Will points out, this passage is loaded with theology, and, I might add, theology that foreshadows some of the main subthemes of the letter. A rich example is Paul's use of "Lord" (kurios) to refer to Jesus. Without doubt, in a city like Philippi, which was a Roman colony where citizens took their civic duties very seriously indeed, the term "Lord" would have been a reminder for the believers there that their ultimate allegiance is not to Caesar (who loved to use the title kurios with reference to himself) but to another kurios, whose coming from heaven is now awaited with eager anticipation (3:20). It is to this Lord, who died the death of a common criminal but was raised from the dead, God gave the name that is above all names, the name of the Lord God Himself. One can scarcely miss the theological connotations.

How, then, are we to render verse 2? Wycliffe's SSA (Semantic Structural Analysis) of Philippians suggests something like this (I've modified it a bit):

We pray that God, who is our Father, and Jesus Christ, who is our Lord, will continue to act graciously toward you and will, in addition, continue to cause you to have peace/be peaceful.

Let's not forget, though, that "peace" seems to be set apart for special emphasis.

Thursday, August 17 

3:24 PM When you're sick it's so easy to fool yourself into thinking you're well when you're not. It's like you have a drive within you that finds it well-nigh impossible to quit when you absolutely need to. When that happens, you have to tell yourself in no uncertain terms, "Stop it, NOW!" I usually try to follow that inner voice correcting me.

Not today.

I forced myself out of bed and drove to campus for today's vocation. Not that anybody would have faulted me for staying at home. But I wouldn't miss Danny Akin's convocation messages for the world. Today's was no different.

His message has an enormous amount to say to our contemporary church situation, and I would encourage you to listen to it in its entirely when it's eventually posted here. (Yes, white supremacy comes up.) Danny lays out his vision for the next 10 years at the seminary in terms as passionate as they are convicting. If the church fails to meet these requirements, it will fail to embody the mission of Jesus Christ, pure and simple. We are not called to be successes. We live between the ages and are heirs to all the frailty and fallennness of this age. But we are also heirs to the power and life and love of the Master who suffered and died and rose again. Glory be to God.

In chapel today we also honored three of my esteemed faculty members. From left to right we have Sam, John, and Chip.

Sam was installed in the new chair of counseling. John and Chip were promoted to elected faculty. I am very grateful to these colleagues for their friendship and counsel through the years I've known them. Chip and I are especially close ever since we inherited the mantle of "co-persecutors" in our biannual LXX course. Blessings, guys, on you all.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm going to take time to heal up. Slurp slowly on my daughter's delicious homemade soup. Rest (as in a bed, covered by blankets). Drink fluids and take my meds like a good boy. This is not to say I'm not fighting against an overwhelming compunction to get out there and run again. But listening to my body and its incessant hacking cough is enough to keep me indoors for now. I accept it will take time. I'm just thankful I'm feeling better today. Thank you all for your texts, emails, and prayers. Pray for sweet submission to win in my heart, will you?

Wednesday, August 16 

5:44 PM Free books, yours for the asking. Each is brand new. Serious students only please. One book request per person.

  • Richard Erickson, A Beginner's Guide to New Testament Exegesis. (I like Rich. I've taught for him twice at Fuller Seattle's summer school. This is a really good book.)

  • John Welch and Daniel McKinley, Chiasmus Bibliography. (Comes with this appendix: "Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus." This is a great book because two of my essays appear it. 'Nuff said.)

  • Donald Mastronarde, Introduction to Attic Greek. (It only makes sense to learn Attic/Classical Greek if you're going to master the Koine.)

My email is dblack@sebts.edu. First come, first served.

3:38 PM What starts as a few light snow flakes soon becomes a blizzard. That's how I feel whenever I read and meditate on a passage of Scripture. More and more I am hearing the Lord saying to His church, "Come back to original Christianity." Friends, we've elevated how we do church to such a degree that it takes a professional -- in many cases, a professional team -- to pull it off. If we're really going to change the world, the process has to become a whole lot simpler. Everyone has to become a servant.

This thought came to mind as I read Phil. 1:1 this morning. Just as a reminder: My habit is to turn to a passage and read it straight through. Then I go back and work through each clause word by word. After this, I spend time pondering, praying, and journaling. Writing my thoughts down helps focus my attention and allows me time to process. You don't have to be a C. S. Lewis to do this either. (Thankfully.)

First off, here's another way of rendering the opening verse of the letter. You'll notice it differs a bit from the rendering I gave you yesterday. That's perfectly acceptable. Rarely, if ever, is there only one way to render the Greek into English. The only translation I wouldn't accept from my students is one that would be impossible in English. "Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi ...." would not past muster if only because we would never begin a letter like that. That's simply not "English." We either have to write "Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, write this letter to ..." or something like this:

This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. It is for all God's people in Philippi who are in union with Christ Jesus, including those who oversee and serve.

You may have noticed that my "including those who oversee and serve" is ambiguous, and intentionally so. Paul may be referring to two groups of people here (overseers and servers) or, by employing a figure of speech called hendiadys (Greek for "one-through-two," that is, one idea expressed through two words) he's referring to a single group: overseers who serve. In New Testament times, an overseer was someone who "looked after" or "cared for" someone else. Another sense was that of "visiting" someone to check to see how they were doing. The term always carried with it an overtone of love and affection. My daughter, for example, acted like an overseer today when she brought me some homemade soup. This was an act of "overseeing" (episkope) on her part: "oversight that naturally goes on to provide the care and attention appropriate to the 'personal visitation'" (Strong's Concordance).

Here Paul seems to be using the term "overseers" more narrowly, that is, as a reference to church leaders, and indeed, "leaders" would also be an acceptable rendering. Who, then, are the servers? In one sense, all Christians alike are servers (diakonoi). In fact, from reading the book of Ephesians, we know that one of the main responsibilities of overseers is to "equip God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:11-12). The term "servers" itself takes its name from those in the secular world who were responsible for such functions as the distribution of food and gifts. When Paul uses the term here, he's probably referring to people in the church who were especially gifted in ministering to the physical and material needs of the congregation or were involved in supervising such ministries.

When, then, of our old friend Mr. Hendiadys? I think he's still in play here. The Greek allows it, and so does the context. We've already noted that Paul and Timothy are explicitly referred to as men who serve Christ Jesus. Likewise, overseers/leaders in the church don't simply possess a status in the body of Christ. They are those who serve others by attending to their needs. They "care for God's flock with all the diligence of a shepherd" (1 Pet. 5:2, The Message). 

So this was the text I meditated on this morning. In the silence, God spoke to me as clearly as if He were sitting next me. "Dave, are you a genuine servant of Christ Jesus? Is that what people know you for? Or do you just talk about performing the duties of a slave in the service of God and His people? Could you write, 'Dave, a slave of Christ Jesus'?" We all need to become saints who serve. I do. You do. The church and the world desperately need this. The only person we can orient our life around is Jesus and His example of utter self-abnegation. Under His leadership, we are freed from self. We are free to recede into the group. We are free to serve others, no matter if it's on a job site or if it's in delivering soup to a sick and home-bound loved one. We are free to live with intention and purpose. To serve the Lord is our calling. It is our work. It is our vocation, all of us helping out in our preaching, our teaching, our labor, our play, in all the zillions of small ways our imperfect candles can shine. Let's make a transition to the model of Christianity Paul is setting forth for us in Philippians. This is the heart message of the letter: allowing God to develop the selfless mind of Christ in us so that we can bear God's image in our attitudes and actions both in the church and in the world.

This side of heaven there is nothing sweeter than communing with our Creator, whether in nature or in His word. Let's become the careful listeners He seeks. Paul's overriding concern in Philippians is the advance of the Gospel. Since this is the case, it seems obvious that we should read the letter -- including its opening salutation -- as explicitly paradigmatic. It's all well and good to point out a "nominative absolute" or a "dative of address" or a "genitive of possession" here and there, but such observations simply don't go far enough. In fact, I'd say that stopping there without considering the paradigmatic force of such constructions is to do a grave disservice to the Greek student since it implies that Greek exists for itself and not as a foundation for life-changing truth. What is being modeled in Philippians, even in the very first paragraph, is the need to live a "cruciform" life -- a mind in keeping with the Gospel. "Don't do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (2:3). By elevating Timothy's name to the same level as his own, Paul is doing exactly that. And what united Paul and Timothy was nothing less than their mutual participation in the Gospel. This is what makes Paul's admonition to Euodia and Syntyche in 4:2 all the more poignant. These women had at one time contended side by side with Paul in the cause of the Gospel, but now they needed to be entreated to agree with each other in the Lord. Paul seems to be saying that every one of us in the church needs to have the same mindset, despite our many differences. The propagation of the Gospel ever and always hangs on a unified church. But for this to happen we must sacrificially give ourselves for the sake of others, because this is what the Gospel is all about. To miss this central message in Phil. 1:1 is to miss the letter altogether and to miss the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. The Spirit never sows division and pride. The best, most joyful, and most genuine Christians I know are those who gladly serve others as slaves of Christ Jesus. Seeing this great truth being played out in the opening verse of Philippians makes the study of the Greek text all the more beautiful for me.

10:22 AM So blessed by Philippians. I'm working on typing up a few notes about church polity based on 1:1. I've already published quite a bit on this topic but want to rethink what I've written in light of my more recent study. Right now it's rest time though. Fee's commentary, by the way, has been a blessing.

9:48 AM Ten tips for when you're sick.

1) Rest. Last night I slept for 13 hours straight. Think my body needed it?

2) Appreciate the health you've enjoyed so far. I'm 65 years, two months, and five days old. For about 99 percent of that time I've enjoyed excellent health. Thank you, Jesus.

3) Read the Word. Nothing can bring you more encouragement.

4) Study the Word. That is, when you read your Bible, always be looking for hidden pearls of wisdom that you've been overlooking all these years.

5) Pray. Especially pray that God would help you practice what you're learning. I did that this morning. I prayed very specifically for several things based on the passage I had just read. (Make sense? If not, I'll try and illustrate it in another post).

6) Read a good book. Person after person said I should read James Howell's Yours Are the Hands of Christ: The Practice of Faith. I finally did. Never again will I think about my hands the same way. Christ has no hands on earth but yours and mine.

7) Put life on hold. Emails can wait. (Did I just write that sentence? I'm super fanatical about timely communication.) Ditto for the news.

8) Remember the "immune principle." During periods of activity our immune systems are constantly acting to repair the wear and tear on our muscles and joints. That's one reason we need proper rest days. If you're an athlete you might be worried about losing your performance level. Don't. It takes a good two weeks before you start losing a noticeable amount of progress.

9) Let your goal stare you in the face. Write it on a sticky note and put it on your refrigerator door. Having it stare you in the face will help you get the rest you need now.

10) Have someone wait on you. I'm really really really bad at this. I don't like to inconvenience people on my account. But when one of my daughters asked me if I needed anything, I gave in. "Some homemade vegetable soup sounds pretty good." She's delivering it today. Nummy nummy!

Up next: The lessons I learned from reading/studying/praying over Phil. 1:1-2 this morning.

Tuesday, August 15 

10:52 AM So here I am, just two days after my second Tri, and I've got either bronchitis or pneumonia. (The doc thinks it's the latter but she didn't want to do a chest x-ray because I'm feeling so weak.) I don't think I caught anything merely from being in the pool. However, the effort from swimming can lower your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections. For now, two words. Medication and rest. The doc has me on Levofloxacin 500 MG for 10 days and Prednisone 20 MG for 5 days. She also gave me some codeine cough syrup to help me sleep. I am a little shell-shocked. I thought there was a very good chance I could begin my pre-marathon training program this week. But now there's a more immediate concern. For now, I can't exercise at all. That's tough on anyone who's as goal-oriented as I am. I have a goal for everything. Not just for races. I have goals for each workout. I have goals for each class I teach. I have writing goals. Now, I have only one goal: to recover completely so I can teach my classes beginning next Monday night. It's time to put into practice Phil. 4:4-6. Let my joy be in the Lord, who works everything for good. Let me be known for my big-heartedness, sweet reasonableness, mildness, and generosity. Let there be no worrying but rather prayerful trusting in God. Let there be thankful submission to God's will, knowing that His will is always best. If I do all of these things, I am assured that the sweet peace that originates in God will mount a guard at the door of my heart and thoughts that no one can dislodge. What I can't do, God can do. He'll go with me through this trial if for no other reason than to keep me trusting in Him and not myself.

The game isn't over yet.

Monday, August 14 

3:24 PM Afternoon, dear readers, and welcome back to another installment of DBO with your host Dave Black. My point in this here post? Just how amazing the internet is. How many good, God things there are for those of us who are studying New Testament Greek. Why, just this very day I saw that Will Varner has started a vlog that will take us, verse by verse, through the book of Philippians. Thank God for placing him in our lives. As every student of Greek knows, when it comes to studying a Greek text, the distractions are limitless. The maintenance is constant. Not one day have I looked around and said to myself, "Man, I don't have anything else to do today so I think I'll study Greek." Make no mistake. I'm as busy as you are. That's why we need the Rob Plummers and Will Varners of this world. Ironically enough, I ran across Will's vlog just as I was reviewing my rather copious notes over Phil. 1:1-2 for next week's Greek class, which is a reminder that there are indeed no "coincidences" in the life of a Christian. So, for what it's worth, I offer here my thoughts in case you might find them interesting and helpful. Please don't take me too seriously. God's not impressed with a completed notebook and filled-in blanks. He wants our servant's heart. And there's no way to discover and develop that heart outside of time spent in the text yourself. We can read and ponder everything that scholars have to say about Philippians, but let's allow the Holy Spirit to lead us however He sees fit. Don't let the intricacies of Greek choke out God's voice. Above all, offer Him your willingness to obey Him. I thank God for Will's new videos. I also thank God for our different styles of teaching and roles. Life would be Dullsville if we were all the same.

So, locking arms with my dear brother, let's talk about the opening of the book of Philippians, starting with some figures of speech (which are sometimes overlooked).

Irony. Douloi is literally "slaves," but Paul uses the term here ironically with the highest sense of dignity, as Will rightly points out. ("Servant of the Lord" is hardly a term of opprobrium in the Old Testament!)

Metaphor. Douloi properly means "Those of servile condition." But Paul uses the term metaphorically to refer to Timothy and himself as those who have given themselves totally over to another's will. (Make that Another's will.) The application today for leaders? They must be people who willingly follow the rule of Christ in every area of their lives.

Hendiadys. Hawthorne famously argues that "overseers and deacons" should be rendered "overseers who serve." He may be right. But even if we disagree with him, please note that both "overseers" and "deacons" are anarthrous in Greek. They lack a definite article. Hence the emphasis seems to be on activity rather than status: "... along with those who oversee and serve."

Elision. Verse 1 is a verbless clause but only because the verb is implied. Some form of grapho seems to be expected. Hence my paraphrase: "Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, write this letter to all God's people in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, along with those who oversee and serve."

Contrast. With the exception of 1-2 Thessalonians (probably Paul's earliest writings, produced when his apostolic authority wasn't being challenged all that much) and the little personal note to Philemon, Paul begins every letter with a reference to his apostleship. Likewise, here in Phil 1:1 the title is markedly absent. There is no need for Paul to assert his official title when he writes to the Philippians since he is writing as a friend to friends.

Prominence. References to unity and equality in the body of Christ seem especially prevalence in this opening salutation:

  • "Paul and Timothy, slaves" (this is the only place where Paul allows himself and his fellow writer/sender to share the same epithet)

  • "to all God's people" (only here and in Romans does Paul feel it necessary to emphasize the all-ness of his audience, perhaps because both churches were suffering from a lack of unity).

  • "along with [instead of under] those who oversee and serve." This emphasis is not surprising given that the theme of Philippians is ecclesial unity in the cause of the Gospel.

Another note or two:

1) Notice the plurality of leadership. Paul does not write to THE pastor and the deacons. Nor does he write to the pastor, the elders/overseers, and the deacons. There was more than one overseer in the not very large believing community of Philippi. And note: No single elder was singled out as the "senior" pastor or the primus inter pares.

2) Addressees. Note that the letter is addressed more to the entire church than to its leadership. The church is superior to its leaders. Overseers are extensions of the body, not over it. (I have a whole section in my book The Jesus Paradigm on this subject in case you're interested.)

3) Let's not gloss over the names "Paul" and "Timothy." Most (if not all) names have a meaning, regardless of the language. If, for example, you name your dog "Lloyd," it might well be because its "grey-haired" (the meaning of "Lloyd" in Welsh). My own name David means "beloved," though some might want to take issue with that. That said, my guess is that most us tend to be unaware of the specific meaning of a name (unless it happens to be our own). Biblical names in both the Old and New Testaments all have a meaning in Hebrew and Greek. Philemon is Mr. Love, while Onesimus is Mr. Useful. Euodia is Ms. Prosperous Journey, while Syntyche is Ms. Lucky (and Syzygus is Mr. Yokefellow). Peter, of course, is famously "Rock." As for the name Paul, the great apostle probably had this name from birth (along with Saul). Jesus addressed Paul as "Saul" (twice) in Acts 9:4, and later Ananias did the same thing (Acts 9:17) as did the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2). The main shift from "Saul" to "Paul" happens in Acts 13:9: "But Saul, who was also called Paul ...." Being called by two names was not unusual in biblical times (cf. Joseph/Barnabas, Simeon/Niger, Thomas/Didymus). "Paul" simply seems to be the name the apostle used when he was ministering among the Gentiles. This would be in keeping with the theme of Acts, which recounts the growth of the church from a predominantly Jewish-centered movement to a Greek-centered one (see Acts 1:8). When I was in Hawaii last week, I sometimes went by my Hawaiian name Kawika (pronounced Ka-VEE-Ka), especially when I was trying to speak Hawaiian with someone:

'O wai kou inoa?

'O Kawika ko'u inoa.

What's your name?

My name is Kawika.

In Ethiopia I am Dawit, and in Korea I'm known as Pae Dae Ho. (I think that means "Tall, Dark, and Handsome," or something like that.) It may be pushing the envelope too much here, but could we talk about the meaning of Paul for a minute? The name in  Latin means "little," not so much in terms of stature but of status (think of the English word "paltry"). Could the use of this name be a sign of humility on Paul's part -- he who is less then the least of all God's people? As for Timothy, this name means (obviously) "One who honors God" -- a name undoubtedly given to him by his pious mother in the hopes that one day he would live up to the meaning of his name. Guess what? He did.

Well, as you can see, New Testament exegesis is both a wild and precious ride. Let's honor and appreciate each other's contributions. There is enough room for every exegete. Indeed, a rising tide lifts every boat in the harbor. This is what we were made for -- opening our hands and giving it all away (see Phil. 2:5-8). I am so grateful to be a student of the Bible, here, with you, on a wonderful, life-changing journey. Let's go for it, together.

Grace and peace,

Dave

11:15 AM Heartbreaking story here about Samantha Ramsey, a recently widowed University of Idaho professor who died during a freak thunderstorm on the Matterhorn. Exactly a year ago I was on the same mountain in Switzerland and can attest to the fact that the weather on the Matterhorn can turn on a dime. A year earlier, Samantha had lost her husband to brain cancer. He was only 42. They are survived by their two sons Ryan and Reider. A friend of Samantha wrote: "I would say she was more intense after [her husband's death]." Another friend said, "I will never meet anybody more active than Samantha Ramsay." The accident happened 15 days ago when Samantha and her climbing partner were just below the summit of the Matterhorn. A freak storm arrived and she was struck by lightening and killed.

I can identify with this story on so many levels. My passion for running and high altitude climbing began a mere three years ago. It started when my wife of 37 years passed away. One of my daughters was running the Marine Corps Half Marathon and invited me to watch. I did, and a few months later -- at her encouragement -- I lined up for my first 5K race. Little did I know then how much that event would change my life. Today I've participated in many dozens of races. Some people run because they feel it can help them get into shape or lose weight. My reason for running is more emotional. After I'm dead and gone, I want my children to look back and remember that their dad wasn't a quitter. When you cross the finish line of your first marathon, no matter how fast or how slow, it will change your life forever. I'll never forget the wave of emotion that passed over me when I finished my first 26.2 mile race. I thought to myself, "Dave, you old klutz, if you can do this, you can do anything." My life changed in an instant, and it was all because someone had invited me to watch her run in a race. Since then I've come into my own as an athlete. I've become a voice for late-budding runners who laugh at their age. Of course, running is only one piece of the story of who Dave Black is. It doesn't define me. It's not what gets me out of bed in the morning. I started running because I was desperate. In the midst of my grief, my kids kept telling me, "Dad, you've got to stay active." I knew nothing about running and convinced myself I could never become an athlete. Then I entered my first race and discovered how transformative running could be.

Friend, I think I get Samantha Ramsey. Life is very simple. It's about putting one foot in front of the other, again and again. Stopping simply isn't an option. Running, as well as high altitude mountain climbing, is astonishingly painful, joyful, repetitive, exciting, boring, and rewarding. Running for bragging rights is a worthless goal. I run (and climb) because the human body is a gift from God and is capable of some incredible feats. I feel like I'm wasting this precious gift if I spend all my time being idle. Running is good for the body, it's good for the soul, it's good for the head. I run because I can. I run because I need it. I run (and climb) to raise funds and awareness for endometrial cancer. I run because running challenges me physically, mentally, emotionally, and even esthetically. Running can open your eyes to so many wonderful things and make you truly appreciate the creation all around us that we so often take for granted. I'm particularly inspired to run long-distance races because of their underlying theme of resilience. The same determination required to finish the Christian race (Heb. 12:1-2) is exactly what's required to run a marathon.

Running has brought me so much love, joy, pain, and pride. It's changed me for the better. I run because there's no better way to clear my mind and feel my muscles firing. Running teaches me to fully embrace the moment. I'm so grateful to God for the ability to run. I'm grateful for the mental and physical strength He's given me. I run because it's hard. I run because no matter how crazy it might sound, you have more energy after you've run than before. On race day you put one foot in front of the other and go farther than you ever thought possible. Somewhere along the course of my first marathon I stopped doubting that I could finish and started believing that I was a runner.

This is why I run. I imagine that Samantha Ramsey climbed for the same reason. I hope our stories resonate with you.

P.S. A GoFundMe page has been set up for the family.

9:36 AM This year I'm traveling to several states to speak. In September I'll be in Athens, GA. In October you can find me in Annapolis, MD. In November I'll be in Alexandria, VA. Check back here for details. Come see us if you can. I would love to meet you in person.

9:32 AM I woke up this morning with gunk in my chest. I have no doubt the swimming leg in yesterday's race is a contributing factor. The problem is that you're sharing germs with everyone else in the pool. All it takes is swallowing one mouthful of water. I hated the fact that we swimmers were asked to swim in both directions in the same lane. I've never seen that before. Usually you swim only uni-directionally. But here was a situation where people are in the same lane going in both directions at the same time, with everyone wanting to pass everyone else. In short, pools are already health hazards. No need to make things even more dangerous. I'm not too crazy about having a cough again, but I'm trying to be a good sport about it. I've found that the best way to accommodate these setbacks is by accepting them as natural. Fighting them won't work. What a liberating thought.

9:12 AM Teaching basic linguistic principles to my Greek 3 class this fall. Here are some questions we'll be asking. See how well you do in answering them.

1) What are we after in studying linguistics?

  • To commit ourselves to memorizing a new system of rules

  • To commit ourselves to memorizing a new set of terms

  • To develop a fuller awareness and appreciation of the nature of language

  • To find the magic bullet that will slice through any exegetical difficulty

2) Linguistics can help us develop a consistent analysis, and prompt us to ask questions about the language of the text of the NT that we might have otherwise overlooked.  T   F

3) What is a polyglot?

4) The word “dogs” is an example of a

  • Simple word

  • Complex word

5) Greek is an example of a(n) ______________ language.

  • Agglutinative

  • Polysynthetic

  • Isolating

  • Inflectional

6) Language exhibits a ______________ organization.

  • Linear

  • Complex

  • Confusing

7) Greek is a relative of English.  T   F

8) From a purely objective point of view, the grammar of Revelation 1:4 (apo plus the nominative) is wrong.  T   F

9) Linguistics regards the _____________ language as primary. (Answer either "spoken" or "written.")

10) Which of the following is NOT one of the characteristics of language?

  • All languages have features in common

  • Each language is unique

  • It is linear

  • There is a direct connection between the nature of things and expressions used to represent them

  • It is conventional and systematic

  • It is composed of sounds

These questions are based on my primer on linguistics.

You can earn a free copy by correctly answering all 10 questions. Send your answers to dblack@sebts.edu. The first one to get all 10 correct wins.

P.S. I recognize this book is somewhat of a dinosaur. After all, it was produced some 30 years ago. (See Stan Porter's evaluation here.) We need a basic textbook to replace it. Will you be the one to write it?

Sunday, August 13 

4:24 PM So today was the big day. To save myself from a long morning drive, I stayed overnight in Wake Forest at the home of a seminary colleague of mine. I was so excitedly nervous that I tossed and turned until about 2:00 am, when I must have fallen into a deep sleep. But my sub-conscious mind was still alert, and I woke up at exactly 5:45. Let's see .... Get out of bed. Check. Check breathing. Normal. Get into your tri clothes. I have no tri clothes. Start drinking water. Check. Eat something. Cliff Bar. Pack your stuff and drive to venue. Check. Check weather one last time. No time for that. Grab a cup of coffee. None to be had. Recite race mantra. You don't HAVE to do this. You GET to do this. Put on body glide. Check. Get your race bib and let them write your race number on your arms (and your age on your calf). Check. Set up your bike in the transition area. Check. My bike isn't all that old but it might as well have looked like this.

Potty stop. Check. Line up for swim leg. Check. (I almost fainted from the heat inside the enclosed pool at the Rex Wellness Center. Too many people crowded into too small a space.) Wait for 245 other people to start their laps, then push off from the side and begin your crawl stroke. Check. The pool is über crowded and everyone's bumping into each other. You can forget about being Johnny Weissmuller today, Dave. Transition to the bike area. Check. Pedal as fast as your legs will take you. (Which is not very fast. I am way too slow on this dinosaur of a bike. Even the little girls were passing me. If I ever do this again, it's a road bike for me or you can forget it.) Reenter transition area, replace bike helmet with cap, and begin your 5K run. (No problem. It wasn't as though the area was crowded or anything. The winners had already finished the race.) Cross the finish line to the roar of the crowd. (Well, at least the announcer was cheering me on. "Hey, let's give it up for this old guy finishing the course!") As you can see in the picture below, I'm smiling.

That's because I set a new PR for the triathlon, shaving a full 7 minutes off of my previous time. Not bad when you seriously undertrained for this event. I did everything I could to beat my old time. As I crossed the finish line, I was surprised at how good I was feeling. The race had rejuvenated me. The only downside was coming in dead last in my age group (65-69). There were only four of us. But ain't no big thing. I consoled myself by thinking of all those other runners in my age bracket that I would have beaten had they shown up for the race.

Overall, a really fun morning. Will I do another tri? Hmm. Probably not. Then again, never say never. All in all, it was a tough race. Besides, my first love is running. It's something I want to do all the time. Swimming and biking are way down there on my list. To be honest, I miss my old friend the marathon. Can't wait for October.

Thanks to Rex Wellness for putting on a great event.

And thanks to you for reading.

Dave

Saturday, August 12 

4:30 PM Well, it's off to the races. I'd say "I'm slow, but ...," but my new running motto is NO EXCUSES. No, I don't have a tri suit, and I'm not riding one of them fancy racing cycles either. Right now I just have to figure out if tris are what I want to do. By the way, the weather at race time is supposed to be mostly cloudy (good) with a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms (not good), with temps around 78 and the humidity hovering up there at 94 percent. Visibility is 6 miles and the UV index is 0. (Yes, runners think they're meteorologists.) If I survive I'll give you a post-race report tomorrow. I don't expect you to love running like I do and I respect the fact that you may be totally bored by my posts. Actually, I'm much better in person than on my blog. I rarely talk about my races unless people ask me about them, and then I try to keep my answers under 30 minutes. The one exception is my marathon. It's actually illegal in the state of Virginia to complete a marathon and not tell 50 people a day about it for 6 months.

Have a splendid weekend!

1:15 PM Just did a 5K on the treadmill at the Y. Does anyone else do treadmills? It feels like you have to sprint just to keep up with the belt. Besides, who wants to watch CNN all morning? The treadmill is only good for when it's raining, like today. Even then, you have to put up with a lot (not only a blaring TV set, but stale air and a sense of dizziness when you step off the silly thing back onto terra firma). When running outdoors you have to push your entire body with each step. Turning corners and avoiding other people (to take just two examples) also require you to use more muscles. On a treadmill, the track just keeps on moving no matter what you're doing. Oh well. I'm thankful for the rain. And for treadmills (when you need them).

Speaking of Hawaiian (was I just speaking about Hawaiian? At any rate ...), I think I'm going to discuss verbal aspect and tense with my third semester Greek students partly by using Hawaiian sentences as illustrations. For example, if you want to say "You work," you simply say "Hana 'oe." Hana is the verb and 'oe is the pronoun. (Hawaiian is a VSO language in case you're interested.) To say "You worked" all you have to do is place the past tense marker "Ua" before the verb. Thus "You worked" would be "Ua hana 'oe." What about verbal aspect, you ask? Let's suppose you want to say, "You work at home." In Hawaiian all you need to do is use the simple present tense form that we've already discussed: "Hana 'oe i ka hale." But if you want to say "You are working at home," you need to use a construction that says "The action is going on now." Your new sentence should read "Ke hana nei 'oe i ka hale," "You are working at home." (Try reading that Hawaiian sentence out loud. It is so beautiful. Go slow at first.)

Now, let's change who the subject is. To say "I work at home" you would write, "Hana au i ka hale," and to say "I am working at home" you would write "Ke hana nei au i ka hale." Simple, right? Notice that "You" (singular) in Hawaiian is "'oe," while "I" is "au." Finally, to say "You will work," you need to use the future tense construction as follow: "E hana ana 'oe." Here the pattern is E + verb + ana + pronoun.

Quiz time! How do you say "I will work at home?" Did you say, "E hana ana au i ka hale"? Bravo! Here are a few more sample sentences:

  • Hana 'oe i ka haukapila ("Work you at the hospital").

  • Nānā ke kāne i kona lima ("The man looks at his hand").

  • Holo 'o Keola i ka hōkele ("Keola runs to the hotel").

So Hawaiian has a complete tense system just as English does. It can also indicate imperfective aspect and its opposite by using aspect markers. That's pretty awesome.

By the way, the kahakō is the long mark you see written over the vowels in some Hawaiian words (such as kahakō). In Greek transliteration, we would call this a macron. The kahakō is very important in that it lengthens the sound of the vowel over which it's written, and thus it can affect meaning. For example, "kālā" is "money," while "kalā" is "sun." In addition, as I said today in my earlier post, the 'okina should never be overlooked. In essence, it's a signal to stop your voice and then start it up again, as in "Oh-oh, the boss is coming!" When I was growing up in the Islands, the 'okina was rarely used in Hawaiian orthography. Today, the state of Hawaii (er, Hawai'i) strongly encourages its use. It can make a big difference! (Ko'u is "my," but kou" is "your").

Well, I've got to get some rest and then go to the race orientation this evening in Wake Forest. I haven't been cycling all that much so I really don't feel like I'm in my best triathlon shape. But it's now or never. 

What race are you doing this weekend?

8:10 AM Whether you're a runner or a Greek student, there's advice coming atcha from every direction. Books, blogs, fellow athletes (and Greek students), Facebook groups, online magazines. The flow is endless. For sure there's some good stuff out there. But much of it's fluff. This means that I have to be selective when it comes to the books (and blogs) I read. I do as much "fun" reading as I can without neglecting my academic reading. Here's a book I just got from Amazon.

If you're looking for a light read, pick this one up. It's a mere 51 pages. It deals with subjects such as:

  • How to get started

  • Selecting the right training program

  • Running workouts

  • Mental training tips

  • Recommend running gear

  • Nutrition and hydration basics

  • Injury prevention and recovery

  • Marathon day preparation

I dare you to try and put it down.

And speaking of books ...

I'm sooooo sorry that I could only give our recent book offerings to one person each. There seemed to have been a special interest in getting a gratis copy of my It's Still Greek to Me. So I've decided to give another copy away, but this time you'll have to earn it. Since I've got Hawaiian on my brain of late, here are some words that appear in the Hawaiian language. Each of them is a loan word from some other language -- which means you should be able to guess their meaning if you work hard enough. Keep in mind that other than the vowels a, e, i, o, and u, Hawaiian only has the consonants h, k, l, m, n, p, w, and the 'okina (glottal stop, usually written with an apostrophe). My name, David, for example, comes into Hawaiian as Kawika (here the "k" substitutes for the "d"). Also keep in mind that every Hawaiian syllable must end in a vowel. With all of that in mind, here's the list. The first person to get all of them correct wins the book.

  • nūpepa

  • kala

  • kāmelo

  • meli (think Greek here, folks)

  • 'elepani

  • kope

  • himeni

  • 'ekalekia (again, Greek will give you a hint)

Write me at dblack@sebts.edu with your answers.

P.S. Here's a video I did ages ago.

Some night be tempted to say this falls into the "fluff" category but I assure you, this is D-E-E-P stuff. Go tell your friends. Go tell your therapist. Go tell your gastroenterologist. You'll be glad you did.

Still working them wrists,

Dave

7:08 AM I am SO excited about tomorrow's race, even though it starts ridiculously early. (At least we can go to the fellowship afterwards, if we're still alive.) That said, I'm not a huge fan of triathlons. I enjoy the swimming leg, but I've never been that big of a cyclist. The toughest leg, of course, is the run at the end, because running is much harder on the joints than swimming and cycling are. Folks, it's so important that we learn to listen to our bodies. If distance running is too hard for you, that's AOK. Try walking instead. My life and priorities don't allow the luxury of trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, for example, and I'm fine with that. The secret to life management is knowing how to best allocate our limited resources. If your house is a mess, it's because you haven't made a clean house a priority. So why beat yourself up for not having a clean house when you have peace about what you've chosen to prioritize instead? A messy house is the price you pay for pursuing your dreams. Ideally, of course, it would be nice to come up with strategies to help you achieve both goals. Just like with Greek. You might want to keep up with your Greek, but right now you've got a family to raise or hospital visits to make. Reading a book on "Reviving Your Greek" might be useful, but nothing ever changes without a change in our motivation and priorities. Having said that, I'm so glad I've gotten involved in the sport of running. Completing a marathon was an exhilarating experience as I witnessed what my body could actually do (though very slowly). The main thing is that we keep active. The physical and mental benefits of exercise are amazing. At the same time, be honest with yourself and where you are now in life. If you don't have the time to train for a marathon (at least 20 hours each week), pursue less ambitious goals. Hopefully you will find a passion for something.

Speaking of passion ....

Exercise physiologists have found significant differences in motivation among three groups of people: self-motivated exercisers, fitness program dropouts, and sedentary individuals who participated in no fitness program of any kind. Self-motivated exercisers are committed to attaining health and fitness at almost any cost. After exercising, they feel energized. Moreover, they tend to really enjoy what they do. Fitness program dropouts also said they thought fitness was important but they often dreaded exercising. After working out, they felt exhausted. These fitness dropouts seemed to have to fight to keep on going. Finally, the sedentaries have any number of excuses why they shouldn't exercise. They are the exact opposites of the self-motivated exercisers. Exercise physiologists can predict fairly accurately those who will stay in their exercise programs and those who won't. People who fail to stick with an activity don't really like what they're doing. As a result, the dropout rate in fitness programs is astonishing. Up to 70 percent backslide into a sedentary lifestyle within three months of starting an exercise program. Exercise physiologists agree that in order to succeed, people must enjoy what they do and feel competent in it.

If Greek students can learn to love what they're doing, using Greek in life and ministry is bound to follow. Likewise, if you're inactive and would like to exercise regularly, select a form of exercise you enjoy doing. There's no disputing personal taste. If you really enjoy what you're doing, then it's practically guaranteed that dedication, discipline, and passion will follow. The ancient Greeks knew this well. Sports were an essential part of their educational system. The athletic experience consisted of three parts called askesis, agon, and arete. Askesis involved preparing for the race. Here, self-rule was the key. But athletics goes well beyond preparation. The race is the agon, where the athlete's prowess, courage, and expertise are put on display. There's a race to be run, a victory to be won, and a defeat to be risked. It's a matter of committing oneself to act and then accepting the consequences of one's actions. Therein lies the final aspect of the athletic experience -- arete. Arete is the transformation of the self brought about by preparation and participation. In Greek society, the goal of arete ("virtue") was to create the ideal soldier-citizen. More broadly, however, arete represented all the primitive virtues of humankind.

Just as it's our own decision to be active or sedentary, so it's our decision whether or not we will master New Testament Greek -- or, rather, allow it to master us. Prosperity has given us Americans an affluent and sedentary lifestyle. We've grown soft as a nation. Exercise improves our quality of life by making life more enjoyable. We acquire the zest to face the day and its responsibilities with more confidence and enthusiasm. Self-motivated exercisers are consumed with the idea of quality. Fitness is the basis from which they learn the art of living. Likewise, Greek can be the basis of bringing your mind and soul into concert as you seek to love and serve the Lord Christ. "The sculpture is in the stone," said the British sculptor Henry Moore. Greek student, the prize is within you.

Sculpting away,

Dave

Friday, August 11 

9:05 PM Announcing the safe arrival of my newest grandbaby, Chesley Darling Black, who joins his four brothers (who can now field a basketball team).

He is so sweeeeet. So happy about this. Thank the Lord for grandchildren (and their parents)!

8:38 PM They've now finished seeding the racers in this weekend's triathlon.

I see I'm 246 out of a total of 335 participants. That's an improvement of about 50 places since my first triathlon. At this pace, I'm only 5 triathlons away from actually winning one.

7:24 PM Aloha kakou! (That's Hawaiian for "Howdy ya'll!") When you love your job as much as I do, sometimes you need a change of pace. For me, travel is a passion, so I decided to return to my home town and nestle down in a beach cottage in Kailua. I surfed, parasailed, jet skied, ran, and swam for miles. I put the brakes on my "normal" life and just enjoyed myself. Those 8 days in Paradise were just what I needed. They helped me reflect on all the wonderful blessings in my life, renewed my sense of curiosity and wonder about the world, and also made me literarily productive. When I first arrived, I was in genuine panic mode. So much to do and so little time! I soon discovered that the key was to set a (loose) schedule for myself. I started my day by having breakfast at the Denny's in Kaneohe (usually around 4:00 am due to jet lag), then got some writing done, then ran 3-5 miles, then swam at the local pool, then had lunch, then loafed on the beach for a couple of hours. As I said, I actually got some writing done. I was even able to write with clarity and focus. Who wouldn't if you woke up to this every day?

I was living in the present, unplugged from my responsibilities in Virginia and North Carolina, enjoying the little things of life again and really connecting with the Lord and myself. For me, retreating is a way to spend focused time in worshipping a great Creator, listening to His voice, and praying over specific issues in my life and just asking Him to renew my spiritual batteries for the next season of my life post-65. I anticipated this retreat for the last several months, and I'm so eager to share with you a few pictures and stories of how God worked in my life. I return to my normal duties with a fresh sense of purpose and direction. Anyone who's taken a personal retreat recognizes the restorative power of getting away from your roles and routines and unearthing parts of yourself long buried. I don't think retreats can be measured by time, distance, or experience. Their effectiveness is gauged by restoration and growth. When we retreat, we bring ourselves to God with love and openness for Him to do a new work in our hearts. You learn (again) to rest in Him, turn your cares over to Him, and follow Him carefully and peacefully. I'm beyond grateful that the Lord allowed me to do this.

Enough back-story. Here are a few photos with accompanying text.

1) My view after a 9-hour flight from Atlanta. That's it alright -- Kailua Beach in all her glory.

2) I arrived in my home town eager to scarf down some Chinese food.

3) The good people at Denny's cared not a whit that I stayed in my little corner booth writing for hours.

4) Occasionally I'd meet a friend for breakfast. This is brother Kevin Akana, one of the leaders at Windward Baptist Church. This fall they're teaching Greek again using my fabulous DVDs (I'm so self-effacing), so get in touch with him if you're interested. A (written) standing ovation for what these guys are doing on the windward side of O'ahu.

5) Then it was time for my daily run, one hairy leg in front of the other. I'm wearing all wicking, which has nothing to do with Wiccans.

6) This was followed by lap swimming. You know, of course, that I've got another Tri this weekend. I've been looking and looking for reasons to bow out of this event but can't find any. Decision made.

Of course, a "real" triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon. (I'm getting tired just writing that last sentence.) I'm trying for a PR this weekend, by the way. And no, that's not a reference to the Puerto Rico triathlon.

7) By this time, if you are a normal human being, your hunger is off the charts. Nothing Korean kalbi can't solve, however.

8) Then it was off to the beach. This is my walk to the sands of Kailua. Poor me, having to shuffle all this way. I'm proud to say I never missed a day at the beach, despite my gargantuan efforts to get there. 

9) Lazily, I fell right back into beach bum mode. If so inclined, compare your industrious self to me, and it will leave you feeling much better about little ol' toi.

10) I'm trying to think of a way to exaggerate the size of the waves but can't. Honestly, the surf was less than accommodating to this 65-year former surfer duuuuude. The South Shore was also flat. Perfect snorkeling conditions, though.

11) Just to keep the adrenalin flowing, I decided to do some jet skiing. Note: Don't try to pass me, man. As I said, I've got tons of adrenalin.

12) Ok, so here's a three-fer. Yep, it's the first time I went parasailing. My favorite part was when the boat driver unexpectedly dunked me (while he sported a sadistic grin).

13) Let's see.... I've had Chinese and Korean food. What's next? Japanese ramen of course.

14) Here we're helping them rebuild their basketball court at Kainalu Elementary School. I know, it will take a lot of imagination on your part, but at one time I was in grade school here (K through 6).

15) Did I mention adrenalin?

This is obvious, but sometimes obvious things need to be said. I consider myself to be the most blessed person on the planet. I, a lazy bucket of lard, just keep taking one step after the other. So can anyone, I guess.

Alooooha!

Dave

(P.S. Windows just updated my computer and I notice that the two YouTubes I posted here can be viewed on my iPhone but not on my desktop. Sorry, but hopefully that will be corrected soon.)

Thursday, August 3 

4:20 AM Back to Hawaii! Oahu, my birthplace, is actually very small, a mere 44 miles long and 30 miles wide. As a child I used to think, "Honolulu is so far from Kailua!" The distance is actually under a dozen miles. You could put Oahu into the state of Connecticut 9 times. Yet despite its diminutive size, Oahu is incredibly gorgeous. It's also the most visited of all the Hawaiian Islands. To me, the best thing about Oahu is its natural beauty and perfect weather. You have no idea just how spectacular the Koolau Mountain Range (that divides Kailua from Honolulu) is until you see it. But the beaches will always be the attraction for me. I think it's accurate to say that I didn't live near the ocean as a child but in it, coming to land to eat and sleep. I was enchanted by the endless sea, some days nothing but blue and on others dancing with white caps. The town I was raised in had a quaintness factor of about 15 out of 5 stars. Growing up there I was your typical keiki (kid) -- fun-loving, curious about everything, and seemingly always getting myself hurt, from riding my bike into a moving car to getting hit on the chin with my surf board (resulting in several stitches) to getting punched out by the locals. At the age of 19, I left for Biola in California and never took up residence in Hawaii again. Since Becky's death I have felt a strong desire to return to Kailua, my home away from home. I brought Becky here for our honeymoon and several times since. Everywhere I go I see her smiling at me, a fragrant plumeria flower in her ear. That seems a long time ago now, another world. Spouses never die; they live on in the brain forever.

When I was born in the Territory of Hawaii in 1952 (before statehood), the population of the islands was a half million. Today it is one and a half million. That largely explains the horrible traffic problem the islands are experiencing, largely because the roads are under-built and not wide enough to handle the 1-million-plus vehicles registered in the state. Taxes are ridiculously high, and good-paying jobs are scarce. Disposable income is 41 percent higher in Durham, NC, than in Honolulu. A home at Kailua Beach will you cost you at least 3 million dollars -- and Kailua has plenty of people who can afford it. Grocery prices are astronomical. On the positive side, the food is off the charts. The cuisine is largely a mixture of Hawaiian, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, and Filipino. And while traffic is a headache, people are gracious and will stop to let you in their lane at the drop of a hat.

Hawaii is both beautiful and complex. Example: The Aloha State has the longest life expectancy in the U.S. (81.3 years). The people of Hawaii also consume the most spam per capita in the U.S. (You figure it out.) If you do ever visit the islands, my advice to you is very simple: be nice to everyone you meet, say "mahalo" a lot, and show respect to the locals, and there will be few tensions, if any at all. Hawaii is where I learned not to merely tolerate ethnic diversity but to love it. The most common surnames in Hawaii are Lee, Smith, Wong, Fernandez, Nguyen, and Kim. We used to joke that most people in Hawaii were "chop suey" -- half this nationality and half that. But we went to school together, played together, surfed and swam together -- and (for the most part) enjoyed each other. "Everyone is a minority in Hawaii" is more than a saying. Come to Hawaii and you'll make friends from all nationalities. My point is this: Live a life of aloha, and always remember -- you get what you give in life. But be prepared to run on "island time" (why rush?) and to enjoy the great surf, the warm sun, the golden-sand beaches, and the aloha spirit.

In a sense, Kailua will always be home for me. From the ages of 3 to 19 I lived within the gentle embrace of the Koolaus and the ocean. Kailua sits in the caldera of a great extinct volcano, the eastern edges of which have long since eroded away to form Kailua Bay. In the western sky one can see the great, brooding summit of Konahuanui, the highest point (3,150 feet) in Windward Oahu's 33-mile Koolau Range. The fluted cliffs of the Koolaus point me beyond the island, to a Home in a far better "Paradise" than Hawaii could ever be.

Wednesday, August 2 

10:18 PM We had it seemed a bazillion bales to pick up tonight but the Lord could not have given us more perfect weather for working outdoors -- overcast skies with a cool breeze blowing.

I worked from 6:00 to 10:00 pm and am just now packing for my trip tomorrow, which isn't all that hard since one wears practically nothing in the Islands (tank top and swim shorts is about it). The big decision is what books to take with me to read. I've got somebody taking care of the farm for me while I'm gone so that base is covered, but I sure will miss those sweet animals of mine, especially Sheba. But it will be good to get back home and see friends and maybe even get some paddling in along with surfing if there's waves. Not sure I'll have time to update you in the morning so, if not, take care and I'll see you on the other side of my Hawaiian holiday. Aloha!

5:45 PM Why I love Hawaii:

The beach. With or without waves. Kailua Beach is my favorite.

The surf. The North Shore during the winter. The South Shore during the summer. We'll see if Waikiki is breaking when I'm there. I hope so.

Time. Or rather, lack of it. Kailua is slower than southern Virginia even. I love it.

The weather. Imagine a place where the water temperature and the air temperature are the same. A perfect 75 degrees. That's Hawaii.

The hiking. You can start out easy (Diamond Head) or hard (Mount Olomana). But there are mountains everywhere.

Rain. In Kailua it might rain every afternoon. That's fine with me. An hour later the sun will be shining again.

Jesus. Kailua is where I found Him at the age of 8. Or rather, where He found me. He's still there. Hope to spend a lot time with Him during the next few days.

5:10 PM Just before midnight on Friday, July 7, an Air Canada jet cleared to land on runway 28 Right at San Francisco International Airport mistakenly lined up with a parallel taxiway that was filled with 5 "heavies" full of fuel and passengers waiting for takeoff. The captain of one of those taxiing aircraft warned the tower that the approaching jet was about to land on a taxiway, and air traffic control told the plane to do a go-around, possibly averting the greatest disaster in aviation history. Earlier, the crew of the Air Canada plane had asked the tower, "We see lights on the runway there. Across the runway. Can you confirm we are cleared to land?" The SFO tower replied, "Confirmed clear to land. Runway 28 Right. There's no one on 2-8 Right but you."

How did the pilots of that Air Canada jet mistake a taxiway for a runway? The answer may be found in a condition known as "confirmation bias." This occurs when people seek out evidence that confirms their expectations and ignore facts that don't align with their expectations. The pilots of the Air Canada jet thought they were lined up with the runway. They believed they were in the right place at the right time. The tower, in turn, assured them they could land, and the pilots continued on their misguided course. What they didn't "see" were the different color lights that marked the taxiway. They didn't "see" that the distinctive runway markers were missing. They also apparently didn't "see" the lights of the aircraft lined up on the taxiway. It took a pilot on the ground to warn of the pending collision before the pilots of the Air Canada plane aborted the landing. Their brains had tricked them into thinking they were landing on the runway, not the taxiway.

In New Testament studies, I wonder if we aren't guilty from time to time of the same kind of confirmation bias. Our mental model of a situation may be incorrect but we have a very difficult time changing that view even in the face of new information. This can have fairly obvious implications. There is a strong bias to view events through the lens of our own presuppositions. People need to be trained to understand the types of cognitive bias that exist and the strategies to avoid them. Sometimes even those at the pinnacle of research aren't aware that they're experiencing these biases. I can think of several fields of study where this might be true: the synoptic problem, New Testament textual criticism, and the authorship of Hebrews, to mention three. A certain "automaticity" prevails. We assume that our solutions are correctly configured even when they aren't, or might not be.

I've never felt that the goal of a seminary education is to tell students what to think. The goal is to train them how to think for themselves, even if this means they look at the evidence in ways their own professors don't. I'm ashamed to say it, but I've been an unwitting partner in the game we might call academic group think. Unfortunately, we forget that each of us -- me, you, your pastor, your professor -- is in desperate need of objectivity. It will take time to develop this skill. But the alternative could well be disastrous.

12:58 PM Brand new copy, yours for the asking:

12:38 PM Mega-kudos to Jacob Cerone for his labor of love in putting together a list of German terms that Bible/theology students will want to become familiar with. Please feel free to contact Jacob if you'd like to add terms to his list.

Side note: It might be helpful if the list of German abbreviations were not simply translated but also spelled out in full. For example (pun intended!), "z.B." is short for "zum Beispiel," which, as Jacob correctly notes, comes into English as "e.g." Just a thought.

12:30 PM Put 5 miles on my bike then 2 miles on the track, all before heading over to our local Amish bakery for a fresh bowl of vegetable soup with a half of a chicken salad sandwich. On the drive home I listened to NPR's discussion of the top 150 albums by women. Becky would have been glad that the Carpenters made the list, though I'm a bit surprised that Annie Lenox didn't. "No More I Love Yous" by Lenox has got to be my favorite song of all time performed by a woman partly because of its musicality and partly because of its haunting lyrics. "No more I loves yous, the language is leaving me." I have no idea exactly what is being referred to here though my guess is there are two possibilities: 1) You've just experienced a breakup in a relationship and therefore "I love you" isn't part of your vocabulary any more. The cause of the breakup could have been anything -- divorce, the death of a spouse, or simply the desire to get out of a toxic relationship. On the other hand, 2) the meaning may be that relationships are meant to take place at a level deeper than mere words. In essence, words are cheap, or can be. As the song puts it, "Changes are shifting outside the word." We can tell someone" I love you" but never back up our words with our actions. I recall hearing Becky tell me, after I had done something to offend her, "Honey, don't just tell me you're sorry. Show me." She was right.  In the coming week, why not experiment with kindness to see what a difference it really makes to other people -- and how good it can make you feel? Small acts of love can seem so insignificant, so inconsequential. But even a cup of cold water can pay big dividends. Just ask Jesus (Matt. 10:42).

8:06 AM Free book to the first person who emails me at dblack@sebts.edu. The book is in pristine condition.

Tuesday, August 1 

10:02 PM Looks like I'm losing another toenail. May we have a moment of silence ....

8:58 PM Wow. That dinner was good! Maybe I missed my calling after all. But to the subject at hand...

This morning on NPR Joshua Johnson was interviewing Simon Sinek and his "golden circle" theory of leadership. You can listen to the podcast here. Sinek's main point was that great companies don't just ask the "what" question; they ask the "why" question. Imagine the top brass of Microsoft sitting around discussing the future of their business. The question they'd ask, according to Sinek, is "How can we beat Apple?" Now, he said, imagine the top brass of Apple sitting around discussing their business. Their question would be, "How can we best help students and others reach their potential?" They don't worry about beating the competition. They just worry about being their best self and living up to their own ideals. Hence they ask the "why" question? "Why I am doing what I'm doing? Why, in fact, did I even bother to get out of bed this morning?" Trouble is, we often live without having a raison d'être. We go through the outward motions of being busy. We speak Christianese fluently. But though some people might be fooled, God isn't. That's why Jesus said His life was an example for us. By following that example and being faithful to that pattern (I call it the "downward path of Jesus"), others are bound to see purpose in us and perhaps even mistake us for Jesus.

As you grow older, remember that your actions, your quality of life, your everyday practical faith will speak louder than your years. God can use our lives in very extraordinary ways if we're willing to trust Him to take our ordinary lives and transform them from the inside out. The action begins when we make the first move.

7:55 PM Yo folks,

Today I was in Raleigh, so when in Raleigh you do as .... That's right, I ate. And not just any old junk food either. I treated myself again -- I never tire of this cuisine -- to  Ethiopian food at the Abyssinia. Instead of ordering my usual kai wat, today I tried their doro (chicken) wat and boy was I so not disappointed.

I honestly felt like I was back in Addis in one of the swankier restaurants you can find near the Mercato. Since business was kinda slow today I enjoyed getting to know Berhanu and Muluwork better.

Muluwork even served me some wutat b'suquar (hot milk with just a touch of sugar) after my meal, accompanied by something Ethiopia is best known for: Fandisha, or popcorn (of all things!).

Then it was off to other things. It dawned on me today that, Lord willing, I'll run my next marathon in exactly two months. The St. George (Utah) Marathon ranks as one of the "Top 20" marathons in the U.S. According to all the pictures I've seen, the course is beautiful. You start off at an elevation of 5,240 feet and then you descend 26.2 miles to an elevation of 2,680 feet. The only really steep uphill part of the course is called Veyo Hill (at about mile 7), but otherwise the course is mostly downhill. I'm told it's pretty incredible to watch your fellow racers snake through the desert in front of you.

(From my back-of-the-pack vantage point, I can almost see the pack winding down the road in front of me.) The race is on a Saturday, and since the following week is semester break from teaching I've decided to hang around a few days and see the sights. When we lived in Southern California we used to travel through these parts frequently. Here you'll find the Wasatch Range, Canyonlands National Park (a "mere" 337,500 acres), the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Arches National Park, Monument Valley, and, of course,  Zion and Bryce National Parks -- in short, some of the most beautiful and spectacular sights and places to visit in the West. I've got my sights squarely set on hiking to the top of Angel's Landing in Zion and capturing the view on my GoPro if I've got enough strength left after the race. Meanwhile, I'm trying to get everything in order around the farm so I can take a few days off for a personal retreat in my hometown of Kailua. The Kailua of today is certainly not the Kailua I grew up in. There's even a mega-Target, and for shopping there's now a Whole Foods not far from Foodland. Is Kailua destined to be the next Waikiki? I hope not. Thankfully, during the week the beach is still almost as deserted as it was when I was growing up there. (I wrote about my Kailua experience in my book Running My Race.) You should visit some time. When you're not enjoying the pristine beach you'll find yourself trying not to drive into the guard rails on the Pali Highway as you peer up at the majestic Koolau Range. And, because of jet lag, you'll wake up every morning long before anyone else does, which means you get the sunrise over the Mokulua Islands almost to yourself. But be forewarned: One you visit Kailua, you'll begin thinking about a second trip, and a third trip ....

Well, it's time to cook my supper (Chinese, of course), but before I do here's a shout out to Rob Plummer and Ben Merkle, the latter my dear colleague at the seminary. Their new book was just released, and they are just crazy enough to actually believe that Greek students can (and should) retain their knowledge of Greek and that "There is joy in the journey!" (p. 3).

If you have ever wondered what it takes to recharge your Greek batteries, this is the book for you.

Peace,

Dave

8:36 AM As you folks know, I don't accept advertising on this site for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that I find ads hugely distracting. (Patheos, are you listening?) So what I'm about to say is not because I'm getting paid by Map My Run to say it. But if you don't already have this free app, get it. Among its useful features: an interactive route-tracking tool that plots out your runs on a map so you have a record of all your personal training routes and progress. In addition, for each workout you can see a summary of your distance, speed, duration, pace, elevation, and even calories consumed. Another cool aspect of the app is your monthly summary, as seen below for the month of July.

As you can see, in July I managed to complete 24 workouts for a total of 24 hours and 124 miles -- which means I averaged one hour per workout. My total distance for the month exceeded my goals (I try to cover at least 100 miles every month). If you're just starting out in running, you will need to determine how many hours you will want to run per week as well as the distances you will want to accomplish. For long-distance races in particular, commitment and persistence are the keys. At a bare minimum, you must commit to training 3-4 hours per week to train for a half marathon and 4-6 hours per week for a marathon. These totals may seem a little daunting to you now, but eventually your lifestyle will change so drastically that you will wonder how you ever got through a week not training regularly. Please pace yourself. It's always better to do a little too little than a little too much (as I discovered this month the hard way). If you're just getting started, plan on running for a full year before running your first half marathon. Anything faster than that means that you are probably over-training. I'm not going to try and kid anybody. One of my greatest faults is pushing myself too far, too fast. Listen to your body, even if you don't really like what it's telling you. And if you're going for a long-distance race, remember that your training program must begin with a solid base. How long it takes me to train should mean nothing to you. You do whatever makes you feel most like a runner. Even when you decide not to run, you are still making that decision as a runner. You've got to work with your own body if you are going to achieve your goals. Eventually you'll find yourself running, not to reach a destination, not to be running to or away from anything in your life, but simply because you enjoy running. And on your running journey you will meet some pretty wonderful people, guaranteed. You will discover for yourself that you are part of a community of runners.

Monday, July 31 

12:48 PM Trying to find something new and interesting to say about my training but there really isn't anything that comes to mind. Training for a triathlon takes a commitment of time to build up arm strength (for swimming) and leg strength (for biking and running). Out of pure habit, at the Y today I worked mostly on my biceps and delts, when not yakking with friends or spotting for someone, that is.

Then it was off to the track where my pal Eddie snapped this pic.

Eddie is a mere 67 years young and does 13 miles each time he visits the track. Puts me to shame. I love guys like Eddie. They are heroes in my eyes. You probably don't know this about me, but I tend to be a very competitive person -- shock! Racing allows me to be around other like-minded (obsessive?) people who love to push themselves. This morning we had a beautiful bluebird sky in southern Virginia. Eddie and I ended up yakking with each other for a couple of hours as we worked out. Eddie is a fellow Jesus-follower so we had lots to talk about. I ended up putting 6 miles on my Garmin. As I said, the morning couldn't have been more beautiful. After we finished and I began driving home I was thinking about all the crazy adventures I've had this year, how far I've come in such a short time, and how wonderful this summer has been, including some wonderful surprises that I haven't shared with you yet. (Stay tuned!) I'm ready to face another school year no matter how difficult life wants to make things. But most of all, I'm learning to "live in the moment." I'm trying to take each day in its own time and in its own pace. I simply run so that every footstep is an end in itself, not a means to an end.

I'm grateful!

7:54 AM I still can't believe I'm doing my second Tri in less than two weeks. Today I'm cycling after weight lifting, and I might even add a couple of miles at the track. I feel I should know what I'm doing but honestly I have no idea. My greatest fear is that, being a rookie, I'll get in the way of other more serious racers. On the other hand, I know that I won't be the only newbie at the race. Above all, no matter how inexperienced you are, most everyone is in it for the fun and the fitness. Besides, everyone is so nice and helpful. The hardest part for me during my first Tri was the running leg that comes at the end. I just sorta cruised along, not running fast but not walking either. The goal was to just keep moving. Crossing the finish line is such a great feeling. It was one of the most physically challenging things I've ever done. This time around I'm going to refuel with an energy bar during the cycling portion of the race. I forgot to do that the first time and Gatorade just didn't cut it for me when needing calories for fuel and energy.

My advice to you is: If you've ever thought about doing a triathlon but are holding back due to fear, just go for it. All of us are physically capable of doing so much more than we give ourselves credit for. Honestly, I wish I hadn't waited so long before trying it.

Next on my bucket list?

One of those crazy mud run things!

Sunday, July 30 

9:18 PM Today was a PURR-FECT day. As in no heat and no humidity. I can't remember enjoying a day like this for a very long time. No humidity! So after church -- er, after the fellowship -- I decided to spend the afternoon at the county pool doing nothing but loafing and reading. (Odd how my normal A.D.D. got-to-get-er-done self can be so suddenly transformed into a good-for-nothing beach bum.) I sat poolside soaking in the sun and rereading Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels. (How in the world can anyone write that good?) Then I came home and, due to my "exertions," took a much-deserved two hour nap before heading into town for a seafood supper. Over dinner I ran across this piece that came out a couple of days ago on the Runner's World website: How Do You Compare to This Survey of Runners? The survey is unbelievable! I mean, were they reading my mind when they took it? Here's just one example of what I'm talking about:

This is exactly the order in which I would list my own race preferences! My favorite distance is the half marathon, while my least favorite is the 5K. Of course, let me quickly add that there's no correlation in my mind between the distance you run and the joy you will experience. No matter the distance, running means accomplishing the most that your body and mind have to offer. Yet it seems that the longer distances give many of us more of a chance to dig deeper within ourselves than the shorter races do. That said, the joy of finishing isn't connected to a watch. You are entitled to the cheers of the crowd regardless of time or distance. Some of you are 3-hour marathoners. I'm a 6-hour marathoner. But each time we cross that finish line our life changes for the better. And every possible human emotion crosses that finish line with us. I also thought this graph was pretty interesting.

It's from last night's race. You may recall that my average pace was 10:18/mile and my finish time was 32:18 -- which, when you compare that to the above chart, means I'm a pretty average guy when it comes to running, a true middle-of-the-packer. Whenever I think about that fact, the Type A personality in me threatens to freak out. But to be honest, running is a struggle for me. It will probably always be that way. If you feel the same way, then can you and I please agree on something? Can we just stuff the victim mentality and stop feeling sorry for ourselves that we can't run as long or as hard or as fast as someone else? Every race we run is another reminder that we have inside ourselves the God-given capacity to overcome so much. In races -- as in all of life -- the prize is in the journey. No matter how long it lasts or what the mileage is.

Now back to my book ....

8:44 AM Yesterday I participated in my first race since I ran a 10K in Dallas exactly 4 weeks ago. Here are the vital stats:

  • Distance: 3.1 miles

  • Elapsed time: 32.18 minutes

  • Avg. pace: 10:18 minute mile

  • Avg. heart rate: 149 bpm

  • Race intensity: 97 percent

  • Avg. speed: 5.8 mph

  • Max. speed: 8.8 mph (I went out way too fast. Adrenaline was flowing.)

  • Avg. run cadence: 152 spm

  • Calories burned: 450

The Durham Blue Moon Ride and Run wasn't an event I had considered before, mainly because I do most of my racing in the Raleigh area. But when it came time to resurrect my running life, this was really the only event I could do yesterday, so it was an easy choice to participate in it. I noticed that when I originally signed up for the race there were only 2 men registered in my age group (65-69). By race time last night there were 10. Thankfully, the conditions were excellent for a race that started at 7:45 pm: 76 degrees and overcast skies. After a race briefing, the cyclists started their 12-mile ride through the streets of Durham. Then the runners were off. It was a delight to hear the huffing and puffing and foot slapping of people all around me again. I had missed that. After the first mile I got into a groove and ran on auto pilot for the rest of the race. I was relieved to see the finish line and crossed it with nothing left in my tank. I was pretty stoked to see that I had come in second in my age division. After the race, it was time to greet other runners and then snap pics of all the post-race activities. There was more food to be had than I had seen at a race in a very long time. Then the real fun began as people started to Par-Tee!

The best news of all is that I'm back to running again. Maybe not running very fast but I'm running again. My next goal is a triathlon in Wake Forest in two weeks. Until then I'll keep on cross training with the bike and lifting weights and aim to run only twice a week for now. But I'm very happy with how everything is feeling. What has my time off from running taught me? That I need to be a better listener to my body. I'm getting better at being kind to myself, resting when I need to (like today), and trying not to think too much about the future. In Hawaii I'm going to focus on healing and strength. The major lesson I've taken away from yesterday's race is: Never take one single day of your life for granted. This is not a trite observation. It's the truth. Nothing like an illness to wake you up to the reality of how mortal our bodies are. We are vulnerable. All of us. All the time. So when we're able to get out and about, that is a huge blessing.

All in all, I'm 100 percent pleased with how the race went yesterday. I realize that I didn't do this race alone. A lot of you were rooting for me. I'm glad you did because it was a good exercise in mental toughness. This was one of those events when you remember why you love running. Watch this space for more running updates. You won't see a picture from me every single workout. (You're welcome.) What you will continue to see is a normal, everyday 65-year old man trying to juggle career, family, and sports, a man who struggles with life's questions just as much as many of you do, a man who wants others to know that if he can do this, anyone can -- in short, a man just trying to be faithful to the life God has called him to live. I hope this blog provides you with some inspiration (and maybe even a few laughs) as you run your own race.

Pix:

1) The race venue.

2) Off go the cyclists.

3) Lining up for the 5K.

4) Off we go!

5) All-you-can-eat pulled pork and slaw.

6) Two free beers for everyone. I politely refused.

7) Post-race entertainment.

Saturday, July 29 

8:34 AM I want to recommend to you the writings of a man named William Hendriksen. His commentaries on the New Testament are some of the best out there, including the one I'm currently reading.

Hendriksen is something of a modern C. S. Lewis. He has an uncanny ability to bring scholarship into the public realm. He thus is able to open the door of exegesis to a whole new generation of Christians to explore the New Testament outside of the ivory tower. One thing I can certainly say about Hendriksen is that he's consistently good to read. No hot-and-cold-blowing here. I also enjoy his books because they're written from a pastor's perspective. At the same time, he writes with the sure hand of a scholar who earned a doctorate from Princeton. He reminds us that there's no way to grapple with the New Testament -- I mean really grapple with its writings -- that can be oversimplified. His Philippians commentary is truly an amazing book. It contains so much more than "head knowledge." I come away from reading it with a deeper reverence and love for Jesus as both King and Servant and a desire to bring His kingdom on earth to greater visibility. This book will stimulate your thinking about Christ, but God will also use it to stir your affections for Jesus. I wish everyone could read his section on what Christian unity looks like (or should look like) now that Jesus is Ruler of the world. Every now and then an author comes along in this world who understands that writing is more than content. It is a marriage between knowledge and passion. Thank God for the life and work of William Hendriksen, who went home to be with his Lord in 1982 at the age of 81.

P.S. Little-known fact: When Herman Baker launched Baker Book House in 1940, the first book he published was William Hendriksen's More Than Conquerors.

Friday, July 28 

10:24 PM As a musician, I love all types of music, but this genre of music touches me the most. This is what heaven must sound like.

I feel a connection with my Lord and Savior every time I hear this great piece of music by Morten Lauridsen, a true American genius. Tonight I listened to it at my bedside on my knees, with tears in my eyes, as I worshipped the Magnificent Mystery, the incarnate Son of God. It makes my knees weak just listening to the hauntingly beautiful chord at 3:34. It felt like my ears had just gone to heaven. I realize that Psalm 150 is clear that God accepts praise regardless of the musical instrumentation, and I am a true fan of many genres of music, including Country Gospel, but I'm sorry, guitars and drums just don't cut it for me most of the time (there are exceptions). Besides, you just can't beat Latin. At times I even pray in it. And in German.

Just me being me I guess.

Night night!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Running (and Living),

Dave

Thursday, July 27 

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 26 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off to cook supper!

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 25 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24 

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

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

Pix (of course):

8:50 AM Good morning!

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

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

 

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

Dave

Sunday, July 23 

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

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

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

Nap time :-)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 22 

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

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

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

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

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

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

For by grace

are you saved

through faith,

and that not of yourselves.

It is the gift of God,

not of works,

lets any man should boast.

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

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ

and you will be saved.

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

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

Laughing, we parted ways.

Friday, July 21 

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

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

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

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

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

Your humble culinary (and film) critic,

Dave

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

You're welcome, by the way.

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

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

Thursday, July 20 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 19 

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

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

Happy reading!

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

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

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

So, is it ....

"Overseers who serve"?

Or "Watchmen and Waiters"?

You decide!

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

Onward and upward.

Tuesday, July 18 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"1 John: God of Love"

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

"Philippians: God of Joy."

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

"James: God of Trials."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Told you I was eating clean.

Saturday, July 15 

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

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

More haying tomorrow.

Night night!

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

See you soon (*cough, cough*).

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

Click here to get started.

Friday, July 14 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • November 11: Richmond Marathon, Richmond, VA.

  • December 10: Honolulu Marathon, Honolulu, HI.

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

Happy you stopped by!

Dave

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

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

Thursday, July 13 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 12 

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

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

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

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

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

2) This t-shirt describes me perfectly.

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

4) Harrumph!

Later.

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

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

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

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

Dave

Tuesday, July 11 

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

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

Monday, July 10 

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

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

 

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

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

Sunday, July 9 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 8 

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

Nothing like your first mater sandwich of the summer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday, July 7 

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

The "hook" worked.

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

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

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

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

Keep on running your race!

Dave

Thursday, July 6 

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

Pursue your goals.

I know you can do it.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Study as much grammar as I can.

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

  • Never try to speak perfectly.

  • Forget about not failing.

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

  • Watch movies in Spanish with English subtitles.

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

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

Don't say I'm not a tryer!

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

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

Oh, just ordered this book.

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

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

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

Hope all is well with you all!

Wednesday, July 5 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Jesus Paradigm (Black)

  • Seven Marks of a New Testament Church (Black)

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

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

Student learning outcomes include:

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

  • Discuss what a New Testament church looks like.

  • Outline each New Testament book from Acts to Revelation.

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

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

Then there's this:

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

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

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

I imagine my ancestors had the same kinds of memories.

The Black family moved here from Wales.

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 4 

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

  1. Workouts: 4

  2. Duration: 4.8 hours

  3. Calories: 2,901

  4. Total distance: 20.8 miles.

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

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

10:46 AM Shot this pic in Dallas.

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

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

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

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

So ....

  • Have your convictions.

  • Hold them in love.

  • Act civilly toward all.

  • Be Jesus to everyone you meet.

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

Happy Fourth!

Monday, July 3 

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

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

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

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

Keep on running!

P.S. Mom and dad send their greetings!

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