Tuesday, August 23
8:38 AM As everyone knows, I'm a great believer in goal-setting. My goal for the next few weeks? Survive! Today I begin classes again -- Tuesdays are for Greek 1 and Advanced Greek Grammar, Wednesdays are for NT 2. Thursday and Friday we're getting up hay again. Then Saturday I drive to Wilkesboro, NC, to visit some great friends and co-workers and speak at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. There I'll be passing out 200 free copies of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? Then it's time for my Greek class in Hawaii, a speaking engagement in Birmingham, AL, then climbing the Rockies of Colorado. Today begins my 40th year of teaching. Impossible -- I'm not even that old! Every day I get emails from people who are blown away by the results they see because I've been working out. They're just as shocked as I was when I learned that you're never too old to get into shape. I'm incredibly inspired by the dedication of my readers. Glad I could be your "personal trainer"! My true love is teaching and writing, but I'll be a fitness buff until the day I die. So what are my goals for the future? I've got three major targets.
1) Climb 25 mountains that are over 10,000 feet. My bucket list includes: Allalinhorn (13,212), Mauna Kea (13,802), Mount Bierstadt (14,062), Humboldt Peak (14,065), Torreys Peak (14,268), Quandary Peak (14,272), Mount Elbert (14,442), and Mont Blanc (15,781). This is a big goal, but I think I can do it. I've already been over 10,000 feet on the Breithorn (13,665), Oberrothorn (11,201), and the Matterhorn (14,692).
2) Continue the fight against endometrial cancer. Unfortunately, this type of cancer still claims thousands of victims every year. I'd like to see more and more people supporting the cutting-edge research they're doing at UNC Chapel Hill.
3) Help my fellow Christians improve their health and physique. While I don't know everything, I know what works and what doesn't. No matter how many times you've abandoned your weight loss program, you absolutely, positively can have a leaner, healthier body, higher energy levels, and fewer aches and pains. And it's not nearly as complicated as all those health and fitness websites make it appear to be. It doesn't matter whether you're 24 or 64 like I am, you can change your body without spending hundreds of dollars every year on expensive supplements or diet plans. All you need to do is (1) perform the right exercises, (2) eat correctly, and (3) give your body sufficient rest. If you're a newbie like me, believe me, you're going to love getting into shape. Fitness will become a lifestyle. But you'll have to face the barriers to fitness honestly: lack of motivation, and lack of self-discipline. All of us wrestle with these at some point. Let's face it: Many of us are just plain lazy. That's why your fitness goals have to be motivating as well. Always set goals for yourself and be willing to improve. As coach John Wooden said, "Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability."
As for Dallas, it was so good to see mom and dad again.
And when I spoke on Friday night and Sunday morning, I had a simple question to ask: Have you become a "world Christian" yet?
I tell every committed Christian I meet, "Becky has finished her race. Please run your race for Christ -- all the way." Our God is Lord of the nations. The billions who are unreached must be a bigger priority than our own personal concerns. My prayer is that those who read my words or hear me speak may see more clearly the greatness of our supra-national God, the needs of the world, and the urgency of the task. In Dallas I had a long talk with Danny from Kenya. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament from DTS.
His vision is to return to his home to work actively at making the Great Commission central in all of the churches of Kenya. He wants his life to count strategically for Christ's global cause, especially for those beyond the reach of the Gospel. Paul says that living for the glory of God means bringing the most mundane aspects of our lives -- eating and drinking -- to bear on the advancement of the Gospel (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1). To live like this is to be a world Christian. It is to imitate Paul's missionary lifestyle (though not necessarily his vocation). The unnamed Christians who founded the church at Antioch had this lifestyle. They hatched a church without any formal biblical education. We find the same vision being played out today at a world level as non-professional missionaries are led by the Spirit into missions for the whole world. When we embrace all that Christ's lordship means, the pieces will all fall into place.
By the way, I define "missions" as the intentional, sacrificial penetration of human barriers (whether at home or abroad) through acts of Calvary-love that produce obedient followers of Jesus. In other words, all of us must work at creating within every culture communities of sons and daughters of God who will love and serve Him forever. And note: The "ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8) may be found living right next door to you as God brings the nations to America. These people represent what one missiologist has called "the great blind spot in missions today." Oswald Smith put it best when he said, "The light that shines furthest shines brightest close to home." In this definition of missions, there is no difference between "senders" and "goers." We are all sent (John 20:31), and we are all to go (Matt 28:19).
This vision needs to become the vision of every Christian and every local church. This process usually involves a two-part conversion: (1) a conversion out of the world to Christ; and (2) a conversion with Christ and others back into the world. In this process, we move from "spectator" to "participant" in God's global enterprise. Unfortunately, my second "conversion" came long after my first. If I had known from the beginning what I know today, how much more fruitful my life could have been. For me, global missions has become a very personal issue. It has involved a huge investment of time, energy, and resources. That's why "joining the cause of global missions" is such a costly commitment. The problem with American-sized Christianity is that it produces very little world vision and world outreach involvement. Our American exceptionalism is a box that keeps us from a discipleship that's big enough to fill a world-sized gap. Honestly now, how many of us have a God-sized vision for the harvest? Will I personally assume the privilege Christ has given me to serve His global cause? God is looking for people to serve not only because they love Christ but because with Christ they love the world.
So where do you stand? Will you join the cause of global missions? It's an either-or question. What if we could say with Elton Trueblood, "A Christian is a person who confesses that, amidst the manifold and confusing voices heard in the world, there is one Voice which supremely wins his full assent, uniting all his powers, intellectually and emotionally into a single pattern of self-giving. This is the Voice of Jesus Christ ..." (Company of the Committed, p. 23).
Friends, this is the calling of every one of us. Together, let's determine to make Christ's global cause the unifying cause -- the "reason for being" -- of all we are and all we do. World Christians are (in the words of Corrie ten Boom) God's tramps who have left their hiding places to roam the world with Jesus. What a high calling! Why should we settle for anything less?
Off to school! :-)
Monday, August 22
7:33 PM Hey hey hey! I'm back -- again. I loved my trip this weekend. I'd been itching to get back to Texas, and a window of opportunity opened up, so off I went. I live a dream life. Sure, traveling can be hard, but really my life is so easy comparatively speaking. I'll be forever grateful to God that I can still travel in my 60s and that I not only have the time and money to pursue my goals and dreams but also that I have been blessed (undeservedly so) with a body that is capable of traveling so much. Got lots to share with you but right now I've got to wash clothes and check up on the animals. Look for a report (and pics of course) in the morning if I have time.
Thursday, August 18
7:58 AM Here are some interesting facts:
It's so exciting to see people who are older than me making systematic progress in areas of fat reduction, leg strength, and body composition. A successful strength training program can make a world of difference between adults who have low strength levels and a sedentary lifestyle, and those who have high strength levels and enjoy a physically active lifestyle. Regardless of your age, wouldn't you rather belong to the latter group? Some local churches even have fitness centers. These function best when the pastoral staff sets a good example of regular use. But be forewarned: Training can be done improperly. Be sure to consult a fitness professional who is knowledgeable about strength training.
In our Baptist churches many people are realizing that too much fat is a serious threat. Many try to solve the problem by dieting. There are two problems with this approach: 1) even though 4 out of 10 Americans are on a diet of some kind, fewer than 5 percent will be successful in the long run; and 2) losing fat is only part of the solution. While dieting decreases the number of calories we eat every day, strength training increases the number of calories we use every day. The fact is that only strength training produces a large increase in metabolic rate during the exercise session -- unlike swimming, for example. Yesterday I swam laps at the public pool, but only after I had completed an intense workout at the Y.
As for "dieting," healthy eating is not the same as dieting. Most weight-loss programs are completely unrealistic. Many involve unnatural eating patterns and too few nutrients for optimum physical function. As a result, most dieters fail to maintain their diet plans very long and typically regain the weight they have lost soon after they stop dieting. I'm trying to change my eating habits. And boy is that tough. But I've made a 35-pound change in body composition since I began weight training a year ago. I'm trying to cut down on butter and salt. I've given up sodas (except when I fall from grace). Unbelievable as it may seem, I have gotten over my lower back issues and can pick up bales of hay with no discomfort. So it is with our spiritual growth and wellbeing. Suffering is God's choicest tool to mold and shape our character. Yes, it's a tough ordeal -- much like weight training -- but one of God's goals in our trials is to help us not only to build ourselves up but to build others up.
I Corinthians says that we believers are like a human body. The human body is, without doubt, the most incredible example of teamwork anywhere in the world. Every part needs to be working properly for the whole body to grow. When my stomach is hungry, my eyes spot the tuna fish sandwich and my hands stuff it into my mouth. Talk about synergy and cooperation! There is something so beautiful and mysterious about the link between us believers. If you're struggling with your physical weight -- and/or your spiritual condition (the two are related) -- don't be discouraged. Don't feel that your efforts to make progress are in vain. You'll never do your part perfectly but you can do it well. Most of all, pray. Ask God for help. Many unbelievers look at us praying and think that praying is a copout, a refusal to face reality, a psychological crutch. The fact is, there is a living God who understands each one of us perfectly, and He is a personal God. He proves His existence in our daily lives. In a sense, weight loss (and spiritual growth) are not up to us at all. God's power shows up best in weak people (as I show in my book Paul, Apostle of Weakness). So let's say with Paul, "When I am weak, then I am strong" -- and then get on with what we know we need to do to get into physical and spiritual shape.
P.S. I am so eager to see mom and dad again this weekend in Dallas. I get to speak at both the Ethiopian Evangelical Baptist Church and Grace Bible Church, where Becky and I were married 40 years ago. Jesus, if I had an alabaster box filled with expensive perfume, I'd smash it on my front porch. Thank You for giving me my heart's desires time and time again. It's a privilege to be a rabble rouser for Your upside-down kingdom. Thank you to Becky's parents for loving me with their whole hearts and for raising such a beautiful and godly daughter. Thank you to my kids and grandkids for taking such good care of the farm and the animals while I travel. Thank you to Becky's paternal grandparents, Grandmommee and Big Father, whose legacy is more far-reaching than they could ever know. Thank you God for writers like Ellul and Eller who wrecked my life so beautifully. Finally, thank you to all of my readers for your wisdom and your friendship. It's a privilege to know you, even if it's only in cyberspace.
Wednesday, August 17
7:38 PM Let's discuss our children for a moment. They give us grandchildren. That makes life so much fun. Like when you take the family out for Mexican food.
Beats TV any day. I'm crazy mad for my grandkids. Today was as good a day as any to tell them, "I love you."
Because I do. I joked with Nolan, "We better hurry. Your dad and grandfather have to get up the hay before the rain comes." "Ah, Papa B, you're my grandfather!" (I know this is shocking because I look so young.)
Now as for the hay .... We had to flip a switch and get into farm mode wiki wiki because just as we left the restaurant a Yuuuuuge storm hit.
When I assess my recent blessings, surely getting up hay with Nathan ranks right there at the top, but neither of us likes to have our hay rained on. And guess what? We just pushed ahead and somehow the rain seemed to skirt us, even though we could see the storm not 15 miles away in Clarkesville.
We live in a strange world. The weather patterns have become complete unpredictable. Aren't they? But we finally loaded the last trailer...
... with a few bales going into the truck.
I came away refreshed -- and sore. I was restored in body and spirit. Oh, the power of work. And family.
Back at the house, I cleaned the water trough for our donks, took a shower, and went on a walk with dogs.
But I'll always drop what I'm doing to be with family.
9:14 AM This and that ...
1) My new book Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and Forty Years of Teaching is scheduled for release on August 26. I was overwhelmed when writing this book -- especially because I was (and still am) puzzled over all the "whys" and wherefores" about my loss and how I should respond to it. But having received many dozens of emails from people who had found encouragement through something I said on my blog about Becky's death, I plowed ahead. This book is simply another step in my attempt to share my life with you -- its struggles and victories, is lessons and failures. It's the story of how I've learned to cope with the pain and aging we all experience on this earth. I hope God will use this book to encourage and build you up in your walk with the Lord. As we suffer for His sake, may we give Him all the glory.
2) Today I am producing diagrammatical analyses of 1 Thessalonians chapters 1-2 -- Paul's "apologia pro vita sua" -- his defense of his personal character in light of the attacks by others that he had ministered to the Thessalonians for monetary gain.
Paul responds by asserting his commitment to earn his own keep, so to say, even though he had the right as an apostle to demand pecuniary support from others. It's a weighty section in the letter, and if you're not grappling with the issue you might feel tempted to just skip over it. But I must say that I feel the message of these two chapters is sorely needed today.
3) Peaks that have already been recommended: Evans, Grays, Torreys, Bierstadt, Quandary, and Pikes. Any others?
4) Studies have found that strength training (weight lifting) produces faster gastrointestinal transit in middle-aged and older men. Just thought I'd mention it.
5) "No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). I want to hoe to the end of my row. One day at a time. As in TODAY.
Off to the gym!
Tuesday, August 16
6:32 PM Hey there! We just literally tied things up for the day.
Meanwhile, I've been reading your emails. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who has written me with advice about climbing in the Rockies! I simply must go. There is no ifs ands or buts about it. I have the very same feeling I had when I left for Switzerland: to get this done you simply have to squeeze every ounce of doubt from your mind so that you can get the very most out of your climbing experience. Climbing the Breithorn pushed my limits to the max. Finally fun to get 'er done. And now it's the American Rockies. Unbelievable.
I'm working with a guiding company and will have an itinerary soon. If I share it with you it's because I'd like your feedback. I know some of you are peak-baggers and have tooled around in the Rockies, so feel free to give me any advice you feel would be helpful. If Switzerland is any test, I have a feeling that some of the "easiest" climbs can be the hardest. Much depends on the weather. Training is also a key element. I could talk for hours about how important I think training is. But then again, you're probably already bored to death with this post. (Note to Dave: You're becoming way too predictable on your blog.) Okay, so I'll just bid you a fond adieu, stuff down some grub, then listen to rock and roll music while studying my Greek New Testament. (That is so cool, you have no idea.)
4:15 PM More miscellany ...
1) Eight tips to keep you cool during a summer run.
2) Mexican for lunch today. Here's my server. Los dos Davids.
3) During fall break I'd like to do some training in Colorado and maybe bag my first 14,000 foot peak in the Rockies. Maybe Harvard and Columbia or Grays and Torreys. Here's Grays at 14,268 feet (4,348 meters).
Ain't she a beaut? It also looks like some serious climbing.
Alas! Time to get up more hay and enjoy our "cooler" weather. (Today's real feel is only 106 degrees.)
9:36 AM Odds and sods ...
1) I'm sorry to tell you that YouTubes on Dave Black Online are no longer playing in Internet Explorer. Firefox and iPads and iPhones are fine. We're "working" the problem. In the meantime, when I do post a new video I will also add a hyperlink that will take you directly to YouTube.
2) A thousand thanks to my son-in-law Joel for working on my HVAC system while I was gone. The house is now MUCH cooler. Thank you!
3) Getting older bonus: See the good, ignore the bad. For more, go here.
4) Olympics = Teenagers who can DO things! Give shocking responsibility to your young people, and they will give it back.
5) Mark Twain on Hawaii:
Lord willing, in 3 weeks I'll be there teaching Greek. And doing this, of course:
Monday, August 15
7:48 PM The widowers danced this weekend.
My trip to Calvary Chapel Signal Hill was much more than an opportunity to teach the word.
I met two recent widowers who were about my age. I didn't have a chance to say much to either of them. It wasn't necessary. One by one, we saw Jesus through our tears. And our hearts danced. I shared in the sorrow and the joy, first hesitantly, then exuberantly, because I think I'm able to understand the pain that makes our lives so unbearably sweet. Thank you so much for your prayers. I felt entirely too small for what the Lord wanted to accomplish through me this weekend. It all came to a head when I woke up this morning at 3:30 to catch my flight to Atlanta. I sat on my bed and admitted:
It was a beautiful experience meeting pastor James and pastor Anthony and my fellow widowers and a young man from Ethiopia and a lady from American Samoa and a congregation that is storming heaven on behalf of a place called Signal Hill. I'm pleased to announce that over $500.00 was raised from book sales for the Becky Black Memorial Fund. Thank you. Thank you so much. Maybe, just maybe, one family will be spared the curse of this dreaded disease. Whenever I doubt God's power, He breaks through my fears and insecurities and I am suddenly and fiercely homesick for heaven. It would take hours to digest all that I experienced this weekend. I will never stop being grateful to a God who allows broken people like me to be His hands and His heart. There are many trips you just never forget. I'm pretty sure this is going to be one of them.
Saturday, August 13
8:20 AM Today I leave for Southern California -- which made me think of Tom Petty's classic ode to SoCal, Free Fallin'.
It's a powerful song full of imagination and symbolism. Tom nails it with only three simple chords that even a beginning guitarist could play. Jeff Lynne (of ELO fame) co-wrote the song with Tom and they recorded it in a mere two days. The lyrics are famous to anyone who's ever lived in the Greater Los Angeles area -- Reseda, Mulholland, Ventura Blvd., the famous "freeway runnin' through the yard" (which is the 101). In the song, Tom reflects on a childhood sweetheart he left, "breakin' her heart." Oddly, I only dated one young lady before I met Becky, and we broke up in Southern California at Biola. When you're 20, you're old enough to know what heartbreak feels like. Then I met the love of my life. We saw each other for 3 years before I proposed. Even though numerous people had told us we were "perfect for each other," I spent a lot of time praying about whether or not I should marry Becky Lynn Lapsley of Dallas, TX. Thankfully, we were both patient. Finally, in September of 1976, we wed in Dallas. The ceremony was beautiful and significant. I know I'll always remember how lovely Becky looked that day and the feeling of being in the right place at the right time. We returned to Southern California, and for many years Becky and I lived in La Mirada, in the backyard of Biola. Those were good years. One of our favorite things to do was to go camping on the coast -- Santa Barbara, Ventura, Oxnard, San Onofre. But we never felt tethered to California and we eventually relocated to the East Coast. The farm now feels like home to me. But it was in LA that Becky and I fell in love. It was there that we realized just how fun marriage could be. It was there that we also realized just how difficult marriage can be. We knew that staying married would require every last thing we had to give. And we learned that sometimes the best gifts we can give to each other are apologies. When I look back now, I see a million things I could have done differently. I don't know anyone who has an easy marriage. But what I do know is that God uses pain for our good. Still today, I believe what I've always believed: that God is good, and that the marriage covenant He created is extraordinarily good.
Today it occurs to me just how much I miss California, especially the oceans and the mountains. Becky and I were "Californians" for 27 years. I guess that's why I'm always nostalgic when I return to LA, and why I'm endlessly thankful for every chance I have to visit our old stomping grounds.
4:55 PM The great Bible teacher Matthew Henry once wrote, "Some of the greatest scholars ... have been the greatest strangers to gospel mysteries .... We must thank God that they are 'revealed to babes': that the meek and humble are beautified with this salvation; and this honor is put upon those whom the world pours contempt upon." God's not crazy. He loves the simple and the humble because they always seem most willing to learn from a gentle Savior. Today, I'm older than many of my faculty colleagues. I've travelled significantly. I've published fairly widely. But I've discovered that many of the qualities that we think are endearing us to God are often signs of spiritual infancy. That's why God constantly urges have to have the attitude of humble children. He expects us to be teachable, even if we are considered "experts" in our field. I love Jesus. He so graciously eases us into truth. Sacrifice your pride, He says. Learn of Me. Have you asked for help to do this? Have you sought the Holy Spirit's mind? This week, during our faculty workshop, we tried to do just that. And what a crazy group of Jesus followers! I'm humbled to be numbered among them. The apostle Paul is one of our best examples. He tried so hard. Yet his education and pedigree hadn't satisfied him. Then he found Jesus. This is the true power of the Gospel. God "clicked" for Paul. "I just want to know Him."
We at SEBTS are His servants, plain and simple. We're not perfect. Far from it. We have to rely upon God's strength and wisdom. We pray for enablement. But we are ready.
Is our task supernatural? You bet. So we press on. Nurturing relationships. Creating authenticity. Making connections to Jesus. Praying and laughing and crying -- together.
What a semester it's going to be.
1) Main session.
2) Pizza dinner.
3) "You da man!" "No, YOU da man!"
4) The Wacko Brigade.
5) I never tire of this campus.
6) Our first B-Area (OT/NT) meeting of the semester. What an exciting group to be a part of!
Thursday, August 11
7:04 AM This week's faculty workshop means school is back in business. I get to read great books and exercise my brain matter and form opinions -- and so do my students. But our work is to be done not in the ivory tower but in the trenches. I grapple with the question: Will students see in me a man committed to putting knowledge to good use? Peter and John (Acts 4) had no formal education but the people couldn't take their eyes off them. These two men were recognized, not as graduates of such-and-such a school, but as companions of Jesus. Look at Paul, who did have a superb education. Even he believed that credentials are no substitute for knowing Christ (Phil. 3). If any of us want to be a leader, we'll need to learn the lesson of downward mobility in the kingdom of the heavens. We rely much more on man than the Spirit. Thankfully, there's company on the journey -- other men and women who will show us how to live, show us to practice what we preach, show us what an upside-kingdom really looks like. So bring it on, God. We're ready to hop on the sled and ride it all the way to the bottom.
Wednesday, August 10
5:48 PM This and that ...
1) I added a new workout today at the Y -- one involving my wrists of all things. Of course, people don't normally go around showing off their wrists or think their wrists are all that important. But even my limited experience in the Alps has shown me that having strong wrists can be a great asset when rock scrambling.
2) After I lifted I swam laps at the pool and then sat down and got some rays. I finished re-reading an excellent book called Two Views on Women in Ministry -- which, of course, is really about women in leadership (all evangelicals agree that women can and should minister in some fashion).
The authors are Linda Belleville, Craig Blomberg, Craig Keener, and Thomas Schreiner. Craig B. and Tom argue for the view I'm most comfortable with -- complementarianism. Still, Linda and Craig K. make a strong case for their position. I agree with editor James Beck that both views are within the bounds of orthodoxy and a commitment to inerrancy. Again, be forewarned that this is not a casual read, nor should it be. The passages involved all require thorough exegesis. This is easily the best book defending both views. It will provide a wealth of information to fuel discussion in the classroom and church room. I did have to smile, though, when one of the authors, arguing against Linda Belleville's suggestion that the widows of 1 Timothy 5 (all of whom were over 60) were "elders," made this comment: "One wonders about the energy level of elders if they have to be over sixty!" (p. 107). Seriously? Speaking as someone who is 64, I would suggest that many if not most seniors over 60 are mentally and physically active and have a great deal to contribute to the life of the church!
3) I see that Allan Bevere's new commentary on Colossians and Philemon is now available.
I find this book (which I had the privilege of reading before it was published) to be a FANTASTIC complement to the more technical commentaries that are out there. It is both affordable and understandable. Kudos, Allan!
Off to cook supper. Chinese, of course. (I am hopeless.)
8:40 AM Odds and ends ...
1) One of my precious children sent me this YouTube yesterday. It sent chills down my spine to hear this amazing tribute to dads. Like something straight out of heaven. If I am ever suffering from dry eyes, I'll know where to go.
2) I am very impressed with Jim Voelz's new commentary on Mark.
If you're a pastor working through this Gospel, this rich book covers a lot of linguistic nuances that aren't normally treated in most commentaries I've looked at.
Studying Mark will truly come alive if you use the Greek text. Warning: This book is not for the beginner. The format borders on the "dry" side. But golly whiz -- it's a commentary, not entertainment! I really appreciate all the effort Jim put into this book and eagerly await the second volume. I did ask him to consider devoting a section to Mark's peculiar use of prepositional prefix morphemes with verbs, as I tried to illustrate in my response to his paper at the SNTS conference.
3) Feel free to join me at Calvary Chapel Signal Hill in LA this Sunday if you can. Lord willing, I'm speaking in both their morning and evening services.
Tuesday, August 9
1:28 PM Quote of the day (Amy Gannett):
Read How Evangelicals are Losing an Entire Generation. It's very well said. Some young evangelicals can see the Constantinian System for what it truly is and refuse to capitulate to it. Good for them. God is not mocked. And when sufficient numbers of people withdraw their consent, the powers will surely fail.
1:10 PM Two huge blessings I'd like to share with you today.
1) I'm so grateful, in the first place, for the physical strength God continues to grant me. Yesterday I ran a 5K. Today I biked a half marathon.
The outdoors is truly the daily bread of the eyes. Thankful also for the 75 degree temps and the drizzle!
2) Secondly, I'm thankful for a man named Arthur Thomas. "Arthur who?" you ask. Well, you see, a woman named Jeni Stepien got married over the weekend. She so wanted her father to walk her down the aisle. Only her father had been murdered in 2006. But he was an organ donor, and the man who got his heart was none other than -- you guessed it -- Mr. Arthur Thomas. Jeni asked Mr. Thomas if he would be willing to stand in for her late father and he said yes. "I had a life to live because of him, and his family did not," said Mr. Thomas. "It was important for me to do this very small thing for her." "It was so amazing," Jeni told the Washington Post. "I could feel his heartbeat -- it was so strong."
My friend, if there is a father in your life, remember this: he will not always be there for you. Why not send him a text today with three simple, beautiful, encouraging words? I'm sure it will make his day.
7:30 AM Well, pre-season is over and the real season/semester begins with faculty workshop this Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, I'm already in training for next year's trip to the Alps. No kidding. I'm so ready for the challenge. In my interview with UNC yesterday we talked about my need to set goals in life. Without it I'm stuck in park. Of course, it's a lot more fun (and safer) to climb with a buddy, so I'm looking forward to having Walter Rossini guide me again next year. I didn't realize just how much the Alps would grab me. I guess I just enjoy climbing. Talking specifics, I'd like to shoot for (1) the summit of the Riffelhorn, (2) the summit of the Allalinhorn, and (3) the Solvay Hut high up on the Matterhorn. I have this compulsion to go higher and higher, to push myself more and more. To accomplish my goals I'm eating 80 percent healthier (I still cheat), training consistently, maintaining a slim weight, and learning to be comfortable in my mountain boots. I can't believe that I've finally joined that group of people called mountaineers. (Okay, so what if I'm a complete novice, a 1 out of 10, at the bottom of the food chain.) It seems so counterintuitive: We should run from risk and danger, right? So what to do? Well, you prepare the best you can. My preparations?
As I said, my first goal is conquering the Riffelhorn. It's not a very tall mountain by Swiss standards. It's only 2,927 meters (9,603 feet). Still, it's 3,000 feet taller than anything we have east of the Mississippi.
It's a much sought-after peak. After all, it's easily accessible from the Gornergrad Railway, and in the summer it's completely ice-free. Anyone hoping to scamper up the slope of the Matterhorn will find the Riffelhorn a great practice run. I'm told the east ridge avoids the steeper sections and the slabby terrain of the rest of the mountain. When we were there a month ago the place was overrun with Japanese tourists, who love to photograph climbers. Even though we bypassed the Riffelhorn that day (it wasn't on our schedule), I got a hard look at the mountain. The area affords magnificent views of the Gorner Glacier and the Monta Rosa. The mountain itself is a technical climb. I hope it will be good training for my second attempt at the Big M. and my first attempt at my second 4,000-meter peak, the Allalinhorn (13,211 feet), with its magnificent panorama from Mont Blanc to the Jungfrau Massif.
I am creating my life. You see, it's not your future that determines your present. It's your present that determines your future. What I do today and the manner in which I do it determines my quality of life down the road, when I'm no longer able to summit tall mountains. I seize the day. And when tomorrow dawns, it is still today, but (I hope!) better.
P.S. Here's what climbing the Riffelhorn looks like. Enjoy!!
Monday, August 8
2:15 PM Been a great day so far. Ran errands. Had my teeth cleaned. Worked out at the Y. Got gas for the van ($1.70!). All the while I was eagerly looking forward to a phone interview with the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. They're wanting to do a big story on my trip to the Alps in order to honor the memory of Becky. The halcyon joy of talking with an expert PR person will remain in my brain for a long time to come. When asked to describe Becky, I teared up (of course). How in the world do you describe to a complete stranger a woman whose life could easily have fit into Hebrews chapter 11 -- people who trusted God in the midst of their afflictions, who obeyed Him, and who loved Him with their whole being even when their faith was stretched almost to the breaking point? The best I could do was to refer them to Becky's autobiography, with these words: "You won't believe just what a wonderful, generous, giving person Becky was." "Faith," wrote Michael Gungor, "comes from listening to the right stories." Now it's my turn to tell Becky's story -- our story -- as members of a kingdom that isn't some faraway place but a kingdom that is already present and that recognizes no geographical boundaries or political parties and that grows exponentially not through coercion but through countless acts of selflessness. Time and again I have heard the same comment: "Dave, you have no idea how Becky's life impacted me. It literally changed me." These people were changed because they saw in Becky not some super-human Joan of Arc but a normal everyday follower of Jesus who chose to bear her suffering with grace and gladness. I have no idea how the UNC piece will end up looking. But if it looks anything like Becky (who looked an awful like Jesus), I'm sure I will be pleased with it.
8:16 AM During the Montreal conference a young man asked me what I thought was my favorite of all the books I've written. I replied that I thought the question was a bit unfair -- akin to asking, "Which of your grandchildren do you love the most?" I confess to taking pleasure in each of my books, just as I love each of my grandchildren equally. I hope others have enjoyed my writings -- and not just those who were forced to read them as required textbooks! Still, the question is a fair one. Without a doubt, I believe my most important book is one that only tangentially deals with Greek. It's a book that recounts the quiet shift that happened in my heart many years ago now -- a shift from law to grace, to freedom over fear, from orthodoxy to orthopraxy (without ever sacrificing my orthodoxy), from, if you will, Paul to Jesus and the Gospels. Like an earthquake destabilizing old power structures, the life of Christ crept into my consciousness. What I had to learn was that God delights in taking messes and making them into masterpieces. He began to open my eyes and allow me to see what He sees when He looks at me -- a man forgiven and loved, God's own dwelling place, a man destined to use his whole being (including his body) as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God alone. It seems too incredible to believe, right? But that's why euangelion means Good News. Because of our union with this Lion-Lamb, we have a new identity, a new destiny, and a new purpose in life. It all comes down to the question, "Am I following Jesus with no strings attached?" Dallas Willard put it this way in his book The Great Omission:
As I peer into the past, I see now why God led me to write The Jesus Paradigm. He delights in taking damaged goods and making them into trophies of grace. And I pray that this book of mine will impact other damaged people the way it impacted my own life when I wrote it. I was no longer merely a consumer of Christianity. I realized that if I've received mercy, I needed to dispense it. Whether you are a plumber or a pastor, your calling (and mine) is a sacred vocation. God wants us to be like His Son -- motivated by His glory to worship Him as we go about doing our daily work, whatever that is. Even if we're not in what we would consider the "ideal" job, we can still do our best for His glory. Jesus fulfilled His God-given assignment with maximum effort. He gave 200 percent. His one goal was to do the Father's will by serving others.
My friend, pause for a moment and contemplate the words of Jim Elliott: "Wherever you are, be all there, and live to the hilt whatever you are convinced is the will of God for your life." And remember, as we do this -- as we follow the Jesus paradigm -- He is cheering us on.
7:32 AM Two climbers, both age 67, froze to death while descending the Matterhorn over the weekend, while a hiker fell to his death on the nearby Zinalrothorn. My sincerest condolences to both of their families.
On the other hand, congratulations to Pippa Middleton who successfully summited the Matterhorn on Saturday in honor of her fiancé's late brother, who died while descending Mount Everest in 1999. The Michael Matthews Foundation builds schools in remote areas of the world.
That seems to be the story of mountaineering: Triumph and tragedy.
Sunday, August 7
6:52 PM What are the marks of an abusive church? Go here for the answer.
6:48 PM These arrived while I was in Canada.
Did somebody just call me a book worm?
5:24 PM I'm really looking forward to a fun and exciting fall semester, not least because I'm teaching NT Intro again for the first time in several years. The course covers Acts - Revelation, which means that, if I time things just right, the semester will end before I have to discuss the Apocalypse (wink, wink)! Let me tell you how we're beginning the class. Day One consists of students reading the book of Acts and then also reading my Seven Marks of a New Testament Church -- which, I would remind you, is nothing but an exegesis of Acts 2:37-47, eleven of the most action-packed verses in the entire New Testament. Students will then produce a "reaction paper" to what they have read and I'll ask for a few volunteers to share with the rest of us what they learned. Thus, from the very first day of class, we'll be asking ourselves the question: "What does an obedient church look like?" Christian discipleship means placing ourselves under orders. It's not merely a psychological experiment in self-improvement (along with watching our weight and catching up on our Honey-Do lists). As disciples, we are not on our own. The goal is not self-actualization but obedience to the instructions of the church's Head and only Boss.
That's one reason I'm enjoying reading James Thompson's new book called The Church according to Paul: Recovering the Community Conformed to Christ. Now if that doesn't sound like an Anabaptist title!
How easily we profess a willingness to do church "God's way" but forget the first condition of obedience: understanding what the Bible teaches about the church. Thompson's book contains nine chapters, the final of which is called "Leadership Like No Other for a Community Like No Other." He argues it's time for all hands on deck. Alas, "church" for so many today means pastor-centrality rather than every-member ministry. Writes Thompson:
Bingo! Paul understood what leadership looked like: "But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children." How odd this seems in the face of our sermon-centered lives. What makes the Gospel life-changing isn't a message or a concept but the real-life person who has been radically changed by that message. As you and I enter post-Christian America and modernism, we understand that knowledge is no longer king as it was during the Enlightenment. People who don't go to church don't go for any number of reasons, but high on the list is probably the fact people no longer automatically assign authority to a building or to a man (whether he is wearing a collar or not). And I write that as someone who loves to give "sermons"! But to be a New Testament Christ-follower is to be a disciple of Jesus and not of any man. There are no two ways about it. Church can never be what its Head designed it to be without Christ assuming the role of "Commanding Officer" in my life and yours. This will involve nothing less than a transformed vision of reality that is able to see Christ as more real and more coveted and more powerful and more lovely than anyone or anything our churches can offer us. I know this is like asking my students to walk on water. But was not Peter able to do just that for those seconds when his gaze was locked on Christ's, his mind set on things above? It is a profound moment in our lives when we realize that this pilgrimage of ours isn't just about us or even our churches. My hope and prayer is that my students this semester will have the courage and obedience to launch out into the deep. Because it matters. It really matters.
10:36 AM I think you'll enjoy watching this brief video clip as much I enjoyed taking it.
9:52 AM I just looked at my calendar and -- sheesh! For the love of Barnum and Bailey, it's becoming a circus around here.
That's why I'm so grateful for this farm. If I didn't take rest days here my life would spiral down, uninterrupted. I'm reminded of all those wayside shrines I saw while trekking in Zermatt a month ago -- their presence a reminder that taking pilgrimages isn't a bad idea, but even pilgrims need a place to rest and rejuvenate. You ask, "Why did you accept all those invitations, Dave?" Honestly, the answer might surprise you. The Spirit speaks, and you obey. It's really just that simple. "The wind blows wherever it pleases," said Jesus. You can't control it. We are simply borne along (that's the image in Heb. 6:1) unto maturity by the wind of God. "Quench not the Spirit" is Paul's way of saying, "Pay attention to where the Spirit is leading you. Stay alert. Don't get lazy on Him. And when you need rest, He'll lead you beside the still waters." The Gospels often portray the Spirit as a dove. "Because You are my help," wrote the Psalmist, "I sing in the shadow of Your wings."
See that guy over there? Cooing like a pigeon? Yep. That's Dave. Paying attention. And resting from the labors of the past week.
9:16 AM I'm looking forward to teaching Romans again this fall as part of my NT 2 class. I was once asked, by a prospective student, if we had a "policy" on campus about the New Perspective on Paul. The answer is no.
Wright's works are studied and discussed to be sure, both in and out of class. For myself, it seems to me that the Scriptures are astonishingly coherent and clear about forensic justification. I also think, as Udo Schnelle once pointed out, that Lutheranism has been guilty at times of caricaturing Paul. An even bigger gap, as I see it, is the failure of students of Paul to come to grips with his historical milieu -- a point that Wright often makes. Kingdom ministry embraces sanctification, good works, and healing. It also has a strong communal element to it. All well and good. But wherever the Gospel is preached, and wherever the church is truly carrying out the work of the kingdom, there is an inner logic that places "repentance from dead works and faith toward God" (Heb. 6:1) at the forefront. In a word, personal, individual repentance and commitment to the King is required of all of us, Jew or Greek. In Christianity we have a new Law for a new people by a new Moses. And it is all by faith, from beginning to end (Rom. 1:17).
Paul's use of skubala is a most evocative image in this regard. In Phil 3:7-9 Paul writes:
As Jesus Himself put it, you cannot enter the Kingdom of the Righteous One without a righteousness even greater than that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Neither Jesus nor Paul had a quarrel with the Law and the Prophets. In fact, they validated them. But they were totally against the barrier of externalism that the scribes and the Pharisees had erected -- "scribal righteousness" it has been called. The Great Commission calls for personal faith in Christ (Mark 16:15), but a faith that eventually issues in a kingdom lifestyle and an obedience to everything Christ requires of us (Matt. 28:19). To follow Jesus demands a completely different way of living; it requires values and ambitions that are radically new and kingdom-oriented. And the good news is that this obedience, this kingdom way of living, is as much enabled as it is required. As Paul writes in Rom. 8:3-4 (verses I wish every Christian would commit to memory):
Yes, God's righteousness is imputed to us -- thanks be to God! -- but it is also to be imparted; and we are to desire the whole thing, complete righteousness, not just a part of it.
8:40 AM Here's an interesting essay called Is Canada Becoming a Post-Christian Country? The question it poses is the more difficult because fixed opinions have long since been reached on both sides. The essay won't decide the issue for anybody. For a detailed study I recommend the excellent work of Vernard Eller, whose thinking I have audaciously tried to summarized in booklet form (see my Christian Archy). As the essay here points out, the development of a nominal form of Christianity may well be an opportunity in disguise.
Now that Christianity is no longer so dominant in the U.S., it is silly on the part of Jesus-followers to cling to older notions of a "Christian nation." In the culture at large, little attention is paid to an event that occurred 2,000 years ago. In my book Christian Archy I have tried to show that it's impossible for the state or an institution to be Christian, since being Christian presupposes an act of faith. Christians seek to create another society on another foundation. What the above essay does show is that the political structure is not outside the will of God and that it can't prevent us from obeying God. Our duty as Christians is to always bear witness to the truth regardless of what it may cost us personally.
Below: I snapped this photo of a church building in Montreal that now houses a health and beauty spa.
8:02 AM When you attend a major academic conference you're surrounded by deeply gifted scholars and brilliant researchers. The great temptation is to settle into the role of a fly on the wall, certain that you have nothing to contribute. But every one of us has a story to tell. And only you can tell your story. So tell it. And if you're a scholar, seek out ways to allow other people to tell their stories. If we allow Gospel stories to be told only by certified, card-carrying academics, those stories will lose their ability to change lives. That's why on Monday night I went out for dinner, far away from the hallowed meeting halls of the conference. The best experience of eating out was meeting Lydia, my server at the Nil Bleu (Blue Nile) -- one of the best Ethiopian restaurants in all of Montréal. I was compelled by her story, as was she by mine and Becky's. You see, Becky was every bit as much an Ethiopian as Lydia is. And Becky's testimony is wisdom earned the hard way -- on the mission field as an MK. That's why telling her story was so important to Becky, and that's why it's so important to me, and that's why her final prayer was that God might allow her the time and the energy to finish telling her story before He called her Home.
I gave Lydia a copy of Becky's book, with the written reminder, "L'Exabiher, yemisano yelem!" ("With God, nothing is impossible"). Pain and disappointments are opportunities to grow and to transform our lives. God's still not done teaching me life-lessons through Becky's life and death. Her book is the kind of writing that invites all of us to grow. It's a light shining in even the blackest night. What strikes me every time I read My Life Story is that I had the unique privilege to spend time with the author as her husband -- in bed, in prayer, in Paris and Rome and Athens and Honolulu and Ethiopian villages. The best way I know how to honor the life of my wife is, I believe, to live with the same kind of prayerfulness and dedication that she lived with every day of her life. She lived simply and gave generously. Of all the things I'm thankful for in my life right now, the connection between Becky and me is right at the top of the list. Through 37 years of marriage we made it to a new, better place.
I don't know where you are in your marriage these days, my friend -- whether it's thriving or broken down -- but I can tell you that God can make it better than you ever dreamed possible. "L'Exhabiher, yemisano yelem!" The first step is to stop making an idol out of your marriage, as though God intended marriage to bring you genuine happiness. It can't and it won't. Marriage always gives us something awesome to aspire to that's bigger than ourselves. Together you begin to carve out your history, year by year, watching God meet you and use you in all sorts of places -- good and bad, hard and easy. I'll keep on celebrating Becky's life with each person I can, and I'll choose to believe that the message of her book is something that perhaps one person out there is longing for. If you're lucky enough to have a copy of it, I hope you'll soak it up. Celebrate the spouse God has given you and, together, you can grow not only older but better.
Saturday, August 6
6:38 PM Yo folks! Hello again after a weeklong hiatus in Montreal. The conference was just as I expected: it had its great parts and its not so great parts. When you've stared death in the face, I guess that kinda gives you a new perspective on life and on what really matters. During the conference I had many conversations but the ones I think I enjoyed the most were with people who spoke to me not as theologians or as scholars but as people whose hearts had been broken on the anvil of life and had been brought back to life by our amazing Savior-King Jesus. This is what I've come to believe about life: it's best lived at the edges, sipping deeply of the living water that Jesus gives to anyone, irrespective of who or what they are. By that I mean that the conference was an incredible blessing mostly because Jesus showed up in the most unexpected places. As always, tons, tons, tons of love to my grace-filled, quirky family for their texts and emails while I was gone. I'm also endlessly grateful to Southeastern Seminary for making this trip possible for me. Thank you! Finally, many friends were praying for me while I was gone and sent emails that came at critical times. (You are too many to mention by name. I love you anyway!). I'm trying hard to set a new example for a generation of young scholars who are watching us old geezers carefully to see if we are really serious about the New Testament and its message. Let's teach them by our example to be scholars who work hard to achieve their academic goals, who pay attention to the needs of others, and who give themselves to making this a better world through Calvary-acts of love.
A few pix (of course)!
1) Beautiful Montreal.
2) Here's the meeting venue on the campus of McGill University.
3) The hotel where most of us stayed.
4) A view of the city from Mount Royal.
5) The presidential address.
6) Jim Voelz of Concordia Seminary reading his paper in our Greek seminar (to which I gave a succulent response).
7) Jim with Paul Danove of Villanova University, co-conveners of our seminar.
8) Met lots of old friends, including David Moessner of Brite Divinity School. We were at Basel together in the early 80s studying under Bo Reicke.
9) The obligatory photo of me with one of my publishers.
11) This professor of New Testament in Hong Kong now has a copy of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church in Mandarin.
12) The book tables were a veritable feast of new scholarship on the New Testament.
13) I love it when publishers give away books to guys like me!
14) I loved getting to know Elkanah from Nigeria ...
15) ... and Daniel from Argentina.
Both were student helpers at the conference and both received copies of my It's All Greek to Me. I love the way books connect us with people.
During the conference I sought connection and community wherever it could be found. The body of Christ is mobilizing in fantastic ways, folks. The trumpet is blowing, and the Bridegroom is returning. So let's press on together. Just think -- we have His fascinating word to guide us all the way Home!
Centered in the Lamb,
Monday, August 1
7:14 AM As I leave on yet another trip I'm grateful to God for the remarkable family I have in my life. I've never known people who work so hard, love so deeply, and care so genuinely. Endless gratitude to Nate for taking such good care of the farm. So much love to all my grandkids, too, who I know pray for their Papa B regularly. Finally, thank you, Jesus, for your amazing grace. You teach me how to love, lead, trust, obey, and even climb. You are my all in all.