Monday, March 19
9:36 AM Last Sunday afternoon, as I was strolling through DC with Karen and Tino, Karen asked me if I recognized this building.
"No, honey. What is it?" "The FBI Building." The architecture itself seems to say, "You don't want to mess with us." Oh, I pre-ordered this book today. It'll go into my "marked to-read" stack.
9:12 AM It's going to be a big week. This Saturday is Ella's Race. I'm a huge fan of this event. Ella's parents decided to host this race after their daughter died from an inoperable brain tumor.
This will be, I think, my fourth time running it. You can do a 10K, a 5K, or a 1-mile run. I usually do the 10K. I've actually met several of my students at this race. Hope to see some of you there this time around too. Then this Friday I have 81 acres of timber going up for bid. Bids will be unsealed at 11:00 am on the farm. Otherwise I have lunches scheduled with students or colleagues each day of the week it seems. Plus a visit to my physical therapist for stretching. All of you are probably wondering how I'm feeling today. (Well, all one of you at least.) I am barely ambulatory. Stiff as a board, in fact. Not. I'm feeling great, all glory to God. A marathon never fails to invigorate me. What would your life be like if you said to yourself:
Huh? What are your personal goals for 2018? Are you meeting them? Have you given up? Yeah, I know how easy it is to overcommit. I'm pretty much an expert at that. So here's what you can do: Pick goals you are super-excited about. Two of my hard-working kids are starting back to school today. They couldn't wait to text me this morning to remind me. (Oh, they're not spring chickens either. They're just ramping up their career goals.) Another one of my daughters has just begun writing her very first book. And boy is she a good writer. By the way, be sure to write down your goals. That's the difference between a goal and a wish. Once I get an idea in my head, I usually write it down. That's one of the reasons I blog, you see? It's like putting your life on the line. I love the fact that goals need to be challenging. Next month I'm registered to do 31-mile jaunt around Falls Lake. Am I crazy? Or just goal-oriented? Or both? Believe it not, the more I age, the more goals I set for myself. Individual goals. Family goals. Writing goals. Travel goals. I try to be realistic. People tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in a short period of time. Still, I love writing down my goals and reviewing them every so often (like about once a week, like on Monday mornings, in fact). So have you written down your goals? Visualize exactly the person God wants you to be. Your success depends on complete dependence on Him, and then following through with His plans for you.
P.S. Don't forget about Saturday's race in Raleigh. It's for a really great cause, plus you get to meet Ella's parents.
Sunday, March 18
7:52 PM Today I finished my 8th marathon since I began marathoning 10 months ago. One thing I love about marathoning is that, regardless of how well prepared you are for the race, you never know what your body will do at mile 20 or so. Usually, the higher the number of training runs before the race, the better your pace will be during those final 6 miles. But as you know, I was just coming back from several weeks of dealing with head congestion and sneezing. Honestly, I'm not as fast or as fit I was 10 months ago when I attempted to run my first marathon in Cincinnati. Today I knew it would be hard to come in under 6 hours (which I normally do), but I also knew that, either way, I was going to enjoy this race tremendously, which I did. Let's get started on the race report before I forget all the details, seeing that I am old and senile and all that. It all started yesterday when I drove to the race expo in Cary.
For a medium size race, I thought the expo was a little on the smallish size.
I got my race bib, had a 20-minute massage and stretch session, then left to grab some dinner.
I ended up at one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants and had some delicious doro (chicken) wat.
From there it was a 10-minute drive to my hotel.
I was in bed with the lights out at 7:30 pm in anticipation of a 4-o'clock wake-up time.
I got up right at 4:00, packed my bags, and then drove to Thomas Brooks Park, where I grabbed a cup of coffee and then waited in line for the potty.
At the start, I fell in with the 6:00 pace team (they are in green) and was in a completely comfortable head space.
I waited and warmed up and then we were off and running. I stayed with the pace team through miles 1-3 and then let my body run at a nice, 12 min./mile pace, staying ahead of the pacers until about mile 20.
I wanted to run at this steady pace for as long as I felt comfortable and then really fight for it when my legs started telling me to quit.
I hit the half marathon mark (13.1 miles) right at 2:47. This was exactly where I wanted to be at this point in the race.
I had been hydrating and fueling well for the first half of the race, and I was doing great cardiovascularly. My legs, however, began to rebel against my pace. And sure enough, right around mile 20, the pace team passed me and never looked back.
With every subsequent mile, my legs were feeling heavier and heavier. The pain was real. When I finally crossed the finish line at 6:11, my average pace was 14 min./mile. I never worked so hard to keep my legs moving. When I finished, I received this beautiful race medal.
The race director himself was there placing the medals over the heads of the finishers. How cool is that!
I thanked him profusely for organizing such a great event and then I had my picture taken with Greg, a 61-year old who basically paced me for the last 6 miles.
He was running with one of his sons (you gotta love that!), and we would take turns passing each other. After his son took this picture I saw something I hadn't noticed before. His bib number was exactly 262 -- quite appropriate for a marathon, don't you think?
As I said, this wasn't my fastest marathon by any means. But I fought as hard for my medal today as I did at any of the other 7 marathons I've run. That makes me feel great. As usual, the race challenged me both mentally and physically. The most important thing was not to run so fast that you bonked. The terrain wasn't technical at all. There were a few muddy places and a couple of hilly sections, but most of the time we ran through a beautiful section of Cary. The aid stations were stocked with practically anything you could want: gummy bears, pretzels, muffins, goo-bars, water, Gatorade, sodas, bacon slices, even wine for those who were so inclined. All in all, a 5-star race!
So there you have it. To think that I am a marathoner x 8! Once again, running has made me better and stronger. It's amazing how a 65-year old body can continue to adapt and improve. All glory to God!
Thanks for joining me on the journey, you guys. Now go and sign up for a 5K. You know you want to. :-)
Saturday, March 17
1:04 PM My daughter and her husband came over today to help me with a few projects. Which meant I got to see two of my grandkids. Yes, I'm a happy man.
Off to the races.
8:22 AM Morning, guys! While watching the sunrise this morning, I reviewed my running schedule for 2018.
These are the races I'm already registered for.
Other races on my 2018 bucket list which I haven't signed up for yet include:
Of course, this coming Wednesday I'll be trying to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon in DC, that is, try to get on their waiting list. I hear this is an incredible event. You get to run past some of the most iconic monuments in the country along with about 40,000 other runners. This is the quintessential big marathon, rivaled only by Chicago and New York. Check out the race medal. Only an ultra belt buckle can beat it.
I'll put my name in the lottery and see what happens. The only negative is that you finish on a hill. Well, it's called the Marine Corps Marathon, right?
Going into tomorrow's race I feel confident but not-overconfident. I'm healthy and my training has gone pretty well, so I'm hoping to meet my goals. I'm falling in with the 6 hour pace team and will see how I do. If I have anything left after 23 miles I'll try and push myself to finish under 6 hours. Today my mind is relaxed. I'm focused. I know it's going to be hard. So you just keep going. I only hope and pray that when I see the finish line there'll be some finish left in me. Being able to do these races is much more than I ever deserved. Even the toughest days can be one of the best experiences of your life. That's what happened on Jan. 1 in Dallas. To run a marathon, all you have to be willing to do is face your true self and accept who you are after peeling back multiple layers of the onion. Nothin' to it, really!
Friday, March 16
8:35 PM Hey folks. It's been a good day. I have two things to share before I dig back into my novel about the Battle of Gettysburg. For one thing: I'm done training for this Sunday's marathon. I have basically one day, tomorrow, to taper. Today I ran 10 miles at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. Not exactly crowded, wouldn't you agree?
It was much colder today than I anticipated. The sun was out but there wasn't much warmth in it. I felt a bit chilly, but things got nice and warm once I started. No one else was out and about. But God's creation was beautiful.
It was so still and quiet, with just my breathing and the sound of my shoes hitting the crushed gravel. So, you see, it wasn't all that bad. It was the longest run I've had in two weeks if you can believe that. It'll have to do. I like this route because it's all trail and it's fast and flat -- much like the course we're all obsessing about for Sunday. Today I tried to mostly run without walking, though on occasion I'd back it down to a Greek professor power walk (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds good). Hey, if power walking is an Olympic event, I'm sure nobody will mind if I walk out there on Sunday's course. After all, I'm competing only against myself and I needn't compare, nor judge, nor let others shape my sense of accomplishment. (Ego. Take a hike.) Here are my mile splits. Slow but steady.
Tomorrow is a rest day -- the whole day. A couple of my kids are visiting me here on the farm in the morning, then my only plans are to check into my Cary hotel, attend the expo to pick up my race bib and parking pass, grab some carbs at a local restaurant, and then get into bed nice and early. More often than not, it seems I go into a race these days more unprepared than well-prepared, but my schedule has been, well, hectic the past few weeks.
Number two: Praise the Lord, my new shoes worked like a charm. They felt amazing. There's just nothing like New Balance. (If I keep saying that enough, they'll sponsor me for sure.) At mile 5 or so I did begin to develop a blister on my right heel, but the solution was to tighten my shoe laces. So I think I'll try and wear my new shoes (with plenty of rubber on the soles) instead of my old shoes (that resemble pancakes even though they are worn in perfectly). I'll make that decision on race day. Otherwise, I'm wearing the same old outfit you've seen in a million racing pictures, including the same old Nike cap I've worn my whole life. And yes, I'll have my iPhone with me so you can expect bucket loads of photos when the race is over.
I close with a pic of me in Kailua last summer with a pastor buddy of mine. What a tale of two worlds. He's Hawaiian by blood and I'm Welsh-Romanian.
But we were both born and raised on O'ahu and we both have been transformed by the grace of God and we both love the sacred, transforming story of what God does in the human heart when it becomes flat and lifeless. I can't wait to get back home this summer after teaching summer school Greek. Maybe I'll start another Greek class while I'm on Windward O'ahu -- while not surfing, that is. You know that I still surf, right? This picture was taken while Becky and I were vacationing in Kailua one year.
I'm wearing my ugly California lifeguard "short" shorts. They look ridiculous today, but in Hawaii, nobody notices things like that.
8:45 AM This and that ....
1) Kudos to Hawaii Rep. Coleen Hanabusa for her classy comeback in yesterday's hearings. Ms. Hanabusa reminded her audience that her grandfather, a U.S. citizen, was interned during WW II simply because of his Japanese ancestry. She mentioned he was interned on Oahu of all places (rather than on the mainland), which until yesterday I knew nothing about despite the fact that I'm from Oahu. Just 15 miles from Pearl Harbor, in an overgrown gulch, lie the ruins of Hawaii's largest and longest running internment camp.
It had 175 buildings and 14 guard towers. 73 years after the site was abandoned, artifacts remain, and in 2015 it was designated as the Honouliuli National Monument. It won't be open to the public for a few years, but if and when it does open (the hearing yesterday was about funding), I definitely want to be there. The site is an important part of Hawaii's history. For more information, please go to the National Park Service's official webpage.
2) My thanks to Travis Bohlinger of the Logos Academic Blog for calling attention to our linguistics conference coming up in April of 2019.
3) I like this logic.
4) How to fuel for a run.
5) As of today, I'm officially registered for the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon in Fredericksburg, VA, on May 20.
This is the race that started it all. Once I watched my daughter complete it, she had me hooked on running. The event has only rave reviews, despite the brutality of Hospital Hill at the finish.
What fun it will be!
What are you grateful for today?
Thursday, March 15
9:28 PM Tonight I reread a book I bought when I attended Biola College. It was a required textbook in our geology class, taught by Henry Morris, co-author (with John Whitcomb) of The Genesis Flood.
We met every Thursday night for 4 hours. Dr. Morris would drive up to La Mirada from San Diego to teach the class. It was an unforgettable experience. The perspective of the course was, of course, young earth creationism, which I espoused then and still do. My term paper for the course was one I will never forget: "The Formation of the Hawaiian Archipelago from a Flood Geology Perspective." It even included aerial and underwater photos I had shot of the various secondary and tertiary tectonic earth movements involved in the formation of Oahu (where I was born and raised). At any rate, The Genesis Flood has a brief section about the magnificent Matterhorn in the Alps, which I assaulted two summers ago, along with the Breithorn, the Oberrothorn, and the Klettersteig. Here you can clearly see the different layers of rock.
The lower part is sedimentary rock (it's brown in the picture). The middle part consists of oceanic crust (the grayish rock). The peak is gneiss, said to have originated in the African continent. According to uniformitarian geology, the rocks on the top of the mountain are many years older than the rocks below them. Uniformitarian scientists call this overthrusting. For them, the Matterhorn was created when the Apulian Plate broke from Gondwana (containing Africa) and moved toward the European Continent. The oceanic crust was subducted, thus forming the Matterhorn's upper layer out of (older) African rock. (I hope I stated that correctly.) Whitcomb and Morris, of course, reject the whole notion of overthrusting, at least when applied on the scale of a mountain like the Matterhorn.
They argue instead that large overthrusts would only be physically possible "during or soon after the Deluge, when the strata were still relatively soft and plastic in their mechanical behavior and when the great forces necessary for overthrusting were at least feasible in terms of the post-Flood geologic adjustments that must have occurred" (p. 200).
Though Henry Morris is now with the Lord, I want to thank him for being a thinker who guided me through the maze of geology many years ago. I didn't understand half of what he was saying then, and I still don't today. I have a personality that likes to have everything figured out and placed into neat little boxes. However, cosmogony is a field I will never understand. I'm just not smart enough. I value the writings of both YECers and OECers. Either way, when we think about Creation, we're invited into a story that begins with God and ends with God. He not only created the heavens and the earth, He upholds all things by His powerful word (Heb. 1:3). My trip to the Alps was so much fun. I've fallen in love with these mountains. It's like being in mountain heaven. I couldn't stop taking pictures. I hope to go back this summer. I'd go back every year if I could.
12:12 PM Just back from lifting at the Y and doing a 5K training run at the track. While I was running I got 3 emails from the marathon organizers, one with my bib number (266), another informing me to be sure to ring the bell at the finish line, and a third telling me that I had been awarded a coveted parking spot at the race venue, which means I can avoid parking off site and taking the shuttle. I feel very blessed to have gotten a parking pass because there were only 900 spots available for 4,000 runners. Now it's time to walk the dog and take a nap!
7:55 AM As you know, last Saturday my son and daughter took me to the National Portrait Gallery to see the paintings of our presidents. Below are the pictures I took of the presidents who served during my lifetime (I was born in 1952). Each portrait is, needless to say, striking in its own way. Crowds are thick at the gallery, but don't let that stop you from visiting.
7:42 AM Odds and ends ....
1) Reread this last night. It's an excellent tome.
As John Howard Yoder writes on the back cover:
Don't be surprised if you get to the end of this book and immediately want to start all over again.
2) Lord willing, in less than 2 months I'll be back in Cincy for the Flying Pig Marathon. The race has sold out (per usual). This year's marathon is shaping up to be the largest in its 20 year history. It's a bucket list race for sure.
3) Finally found a pair of running shoes that fit, praise the Lord! Not sure if I can break them in before Sunday's race. But they sure fit well. I feel like I'm walking on air. My thanks to the staff at the New Balance store in Raleigh for their great service.
5) Tips on learning Greek:
Wednesday, March 14
6:55 PM Hey! Happy Pi Day! (As a Greek prof, I think I'm supposed to say that.) I'm back on the farm and just cooked myself the most delicious supper I've had all day. (That's not saying much.) Speaking of eating, today I took a good friend out to lunch.
Bruce Little is retiring from SEBTS this year at the ripe young age of 72. He came to the seminary about the same time I joined the faculty. There are very few Christian philosophers I respect more. He and his wife will be moving back to their home state of Maine in May. He won't stop mentoring doctoral students, of course, and as always he'll spend much of his summer abroad teaching pastors, mostly in Eastern Europe. (He's truly a man after my own heart.) Otherwise, my week has been pretty normal -- teaching, meeting with students, writing, and chatting with colleagues about various and sundry. By the way, congrats to our visiting prof John Meade for his outstanding essay in the latest issue of Didaktikos called "Currents in Old Testament Studies: Is There a 'Septuagint Canon'?"
The pull quote?
Which means, I guess, that the next time I co-teach the LXX class, we'll have to call the course simply "The Old Testament"! You'll notice that this issue also features a fine essay by Ben Witherington titled "On Serving through Scholarship."
What? What? That's exactly a theme I've been harping on for years! There's an elaborate conspiracy among NT scholars these days to do "everything in the service of Christ and the church" (p. 24). Don't worry. I'm on to it. Receiving my copy of Didaktikos is one of the best things that happens to me in my office, and I hope you can somehow avail yourself of a copy. It's published by Faithlife.
Oh, I survived Snowmaggedon on Monday. Things got so scary that they closed the campus on Monday afternoon, and my 6:30 Greek 2 class had to be canceled. By Tuesday, however, most of the snow had melted.
Like you, I take learning seriously, so I asked my assistant to make several YouTube videos available for the class to peruse as they work on the participle for next week's quiz.
In other (boring) news, my eighth marathon is coming up this weekend in Raleigh/Cary. Reader, allow me to explain the seriousness that is running in North Carolina. Raleigh has been named the healthiest city for men in many different publications. Raleighites love running like Greek geeks love participles. I have like zero opportunities to run where I live. The novelty of running has never worn off around my farm because it never wore on in the first place. That said, I still hope we can offer a 5K at the local Y this May. Walkers to the right. Runners to the left. All very orderly and fun. Kudos to us if we can get this thing off the ground. Anyway, I'm eager to do another marathon, because the last one I did almost killed me. Yes, folks, runners are kinda crazy in that way. We love suffering. I know in the big scheme of things, running a foot race is not headline news, but I gotta to tell you, it forces you to dig deep. As every Greek student knows, dedication sometimes means doing things that a part of you really doesn't want to do. Some may think I'm a very disciplined person. Hogwash. I'm the laziest surfer dude from Hawaii you'll ever meet. Self-discipline has never been my strong suit. There is no "secret" to being a runner. To become a runner, all you have to do is, well, run. And by "run," I don't necessarily mean to literally "run." I've yet to run an entire marathon. I probably never will. Still, there's nothing quite like standing at the start of a 26.2 mile race and asking your body to do more than it's used to doing. Plus, what's not to enjoy? From improved cardiovascular fitness to better health, there's so much benefit from participating in this crazy sport. I am proud of my finishing times, even when I'm slower than everybody else in my age group. A clock is never reflective of the kind of person you are. Great races can be had by all, even the slowest among us. You'll find that learning how to run a race, like learning how to read Greek, is mostly about putting forth an honest effort. When it's over, the only question you to need to ask yourself is, "Did I do my best?" The truth is that every race takes me a little bit closer to where I want to be in life. Your goals are just that -- your goals, not somebody else's. So find something you enjoy doing, and just get out there and do it. Go ahead. Test your limits. Make no mistake: Living life to the fullest is something each one of us can do, with God's help.
Monday, March 12
8:34 AM As I was perusing various and sundry New Testament websites last night, I was impressed at how much of what is being said nowadays is based on what people are against. I don't want to be known for being primarily against anything. My own thinking as a New Testament teacher has changed so much through the years that I wouldn't know where to start describing to you how often new thoughts usurped old ones. Change in our discipline is inevitable and to be encouraged. For example, the Evangelical Textual Criticism website is promoting (via a book giveaway) a new book by Tommy Wasserman and Peter Gurry called A New Approach to Textual Criticism.
I'm regretting not having this book available when I last taught textual criticism at SEBTS. There's just too much good, God things going on in our discipline that it's sometimes hard to keep up with current research. I realize that a few of you might be expecting a bit of pushback from someone who has long called into question the scholarly guild's preference for the Alexandrian text type. However, after publishing several works on the topic, I've discovered my appetites have changed. I have no idea what reading this book might do in your life, but there's no cookie cutter that defines evangelical textual critics. I prefer Sturz's view of text types, you don't. But here is our baseline:
I'm sure a few of you are just getting started in the field. Others are lifetimers. Probably most of you have read Parker's An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts, Metzger's The Text of the New Testament, Kurt and Barbara Aland's The Text of the New Testament, and, since you're reading this, you might have read my New Testament Textual Criticism. Some of you may be considering textual criticism as your life's work. (Don't laugh. It's actually happened.) The fact is that the field of evangelical New Testament textual criticism is expanding in unprecedented ways among younger scholars. When I was in college in the 1970s, I recall Harry Sturz telling his Greek students, "The field is white unto harvest, but the laborers are few." My guess is that this statement is still true today. One of Tommy and Peter's reviewers refers to the "tectonic shifts" talking place in the field. I imagine sooner or later an earthquake of seismic proportions will occur. But for now, it's works like Tommy and Peter's that will keep the movement alive. Theirs is not the definitive word, of course. They're building the scaffolding, however. The real construction, I suspect, is still ahead.
Sunday, March 11
3:48 PM Yesterday dawned cold and clear. Tino made us coffee and some cinnamon rolls before we headed out to the race. When we arrived at the Four Courts Restaurant in Arlington, we got our race bibs, downed some more coffee, and then just soaked up the atmosphere. I was thrilled (as always) to be around people who choose to be active. We are all different sizes and shapes, and we all have greatly varying abilities and goals. But we all have one thing in common: When we run, we feel alive.
The night before, Tino and I had discussed our race strategy, which basically boiled down to him setting the pace and me trying to keep up. Although he hasn't run a lot of races, Tino trains regularly in connection with his work at Fort Myer and is in really great shape, so I knew I would be in for a big challenge on race day. I couldn't wait for the race to start. The guy playing the bag pipes only added to our excitement.
Tino and I lined up at the back of the pack.
And then the horn sounded. I very much realize it's a gigantic faux pas to go out too fast at the start of a race, but the first mile was all downhill and Tino was really killing it. My job (remember?) was to keep up with him at all costs.
My other goals were to (1) avoid hitting the wall at mile 3 and (2) complete the race without doing any walking at all. I was still struggling with a runny nose, but thankfully I've perfected the art of the snot rocket. (Nothing says "Real runner" quite like a projectile coming out of your nostrils.) After a while, the pace began to slow and I could settle into a rhythm. Despite being pushed to the max by Tino, I was enjoying the race immensely, waving to the leaders as they passed us going the other way, and soaking up the scenery along the Potomac (including great views of Arlington National Cemetery).
In the end, we made it. Of course we did. Four miles took us about 45 minutes to run, but we both fought hard for it, and the victory was sweet. Karen was at the finish line to take our pictures, congratulate us, and bring us more cinnamon rolls.
I just love this post-race photo!
Here are our mile splits:
An 11 min./mile pace is not too shabby! As I said, the weather was gorgeous, though a little on the cold side. I ended up wearing 4 layers, and for most of the race I never felt cold. After it was over I was soaked to the core. I wish I could describe all the thoughts and feelings I had during the race, not only because I enjoy sharing such details with you but so I can revisit them when they've become hazy. The race was definitely something new for me. Usually I'm the one who's pushing someone else to run hard and be strong. This time around, I was the pushee instead of the pushor. The course was a place where I became continually aware of my pace, my effort, my heart rate, my everything. I knew that Tino was going to push me relentlessly, but I also knew that I would eventually have to slow down to a pace I was comfortable with. When I did, Tino was right there beside me. We had an awesome time running together, and I was proud and pleased that I was able to keep up a constant strong pace for the entire race, even through the final uphill portion. Not once did I walk. I felt strong the whole time, even though I started sneezing again after we crossed the finish line. My body wasn't sore at all, just sleepy and famished. When we got back to Karen and Tino's place, I showered while Karen prepared a delicious brunch, then we all took a nap before going out to see the DC sights.
Yesterday's race taught me a lot about myself and how much grit I can push out of myself when I want/need to. I loved running with Tino, I loved the course, I loved the challenge, I loved the community. My first order of business now is to get completely over my head cold because I've got a week of teaching coming up plus my marathon next Sunday. But it was so much fun being out there racing again. With the trees budding, the daffodils blossoming, and my allergies going crazy, it's the perfect time of the year to be a part of the family of runners.
Thank you, Karen and Tino, for the joy and honor of being in your beautiful home. Thanks for all the surprises, like going to the Kennedy Center for a concert ...
... or the Smithsonian to see the presidential portraits ...
... or famous sites like Ford's Theater ...
... or even the new Hawaiian Poke restaurant in town.
You guys thought of everything. Thank you! I love you!
Friday, March 9
9:14 AM I love my New Balance shoes. Problem is, I can't seem to be able to replace the pair I have. My size is 13 extra wide, but every time I try one on the fit is too small. Are my feet growing? Are they making this shoe smaller? I'm getting desperate. My current pair is on its last leg. Somehow I need to find running shoes that are of high quality and can provide the right kind of support for my feet, legs, and back. I reckon I have 2 long races left on the pair I'm currently wearing. Maybe I can find some shoes in Northern Virginia this weekend.
At any rate, it's race time. Talk to you later, Lord willing. Wish us well!
8:50 AM I see that John Meade is offering a talk this month on campus. The topic is the Hexapla. Go here for more.
John is currently a visiting scholar at SEBTS. He teaches at Phoenix Seminary.
8:12 AM For all you runners out there, I thought I'd show you the promo video for tomorrow's race in Arlington, VA. That final hill looks BRUTAL.
Well, I've always liked a good challenge. Latest weather is showing sunny skies and a temp of 35 at race time. Poifect! Did I mention the cause yet? (I may have, but I'm too lazy to go back and check the blog.) It benefits the brewery at Arlington's favorite pub, Ireland's own Four Courts. Well, not really. It benefits the Arlington County Police Friends and Family Fund. I have no idea what that is, but it sounds good. I don't really celebrate Saint Paddy's Day so I won't be wearing green tomorrow, but I imagine some folks will. The post-race finish is full of beers but that's not why I'm running. (Two Guinesses before 9 am? What are you people thinking?) I'm meeting up with my son and we're going to RACE. Will the luck of the Irish be with us? Just praying that I don't get passed by the much-feared leprechaun, who starts 15 minutes after the gun goes off. So, how does this race compare with the dozens of 5Ks I've run? Harder course, longer too, and probably a slower pace. I'm considering this weekend's race as a warm-up for next Sunday's Tobacco Road Marathon in Raleigh. This will be marathon # 8 for me. I've fallen off on my training because of the sniffles but I'll do my best on race day. This course is flat and fast and a PR maker (many runners get to ring the PR bell), but I'll be happy if I can just finish in under 6 hours. Everyone raves about the incredible course and the fun experience. Having done mostly road races when it comes to marathons, I know this course will be a nice change of pace. The trail is mostly a compacted dirt surface, though the first and last 2.5 miles are on the road. It's a 7:00 am gun start, which means that I'll either have to spend Saturday night somewhere in Raleigh, or else I'll have to get up very early on Sunday morning. For me, running involves trying to find that elusive balance between running too fast and running too slow. By mile 15, I'm just hanging on for dear life. There's nothing really horrible about a marathon, but you do feel it.
By the way, these days I'm getting beaucoup offers from complete strangers to publish one of their essays on my site or else to offer ads. These emails go straight into my blocked emails folder. I sometimes visit sites that offer ads and I simply detest it. They look -- stupid! They are truly self-defeating. It's obvious that ads have one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to draw your readers' attention away from your content to their ads. You want to do that, you go right ahead. But for me to offer ads would go completely against my goals in blogging. I want to communicate something of value to people, and therefore I don't want anything to distract from my content. I think ads frankly discourage people from visiting your blog. (Are you listening, Patheos?) Besides, you have no control over the ads that your ad platform puts up on your blog. Besides #2, does anybody make money off of ads anyway? I doubt it. Then why literally sell your product for mere pennies on the dollar? Honestly, it makes you look foolish. Someone has said, "Ads are like kicking your visitors goodbye." Yep. Exactly. Folks, we don't need to monetize everything, do we?
Thursday, March 8
6:54 PM Just had dinner with Jessie, Nathan, and the boys. You bring me such joy!
Happy, happy granddaddy!
11:58 AM Been a great day so far. We're about to make some horse lovers in Durham very happy.
Then there's this new sign at the Y. Pretty cool.
I was too hungry to drive home to eat. The local buffet works just fine, thank you.
Right now I'm working with the good people at the South Boston Y on organizing our first-ever 5K walk/run in May. We'll offer a training program (Couch to 5K) and try to help newbies learn what they can expect during their first race. There are still a lot of tasks to complete, including registration, insurance, water stations, volunteers, awards, and, of course, the ubiquitous race t-shirt. The big challenge right now is finding someone local who can do the chip timing. We hope to get the town's Boy Scout club involved with the aid stations and course monitoring. Our thinking is to use the local Tobacco Heritage Trail as the venue. It would be a flat and easy out-and-back course. This is very exciting for me, needless to say. Anyway, hope your day is going well. I get to take read, write, take a walk, and then join 5 grandsons for dinner. Woohoo!
Thursday, March 8
8:45 AM Interested in how to do a Greek word study? And to avoid fallacies while you're at it? Here are three resources you can use today to get you started:
7:48 AM Since March is Women's History Month, I thought I'd talk to you about the woman I was married to for 37 years.
Our society tells us that marriage is an end in itself, that marital happiness is a goal to be pursued at all costs. I'm not against happiness in marriage, but that can't be your goal if you're a married person. Joy is always the by-product of having Christ in our lives and in our marriages. As He becomes more and more the center of our relationship, His "fruit" becomes more and more of our daily experience: His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The marriage I'm describing is one that says, with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
The beauty of a married couple – hand in hand, living together for Christ insofar as that is possible in this fallen world – is marvelous. It involves the "new horizons" and "new doors" that C. S. Lewis described in his essay "Christian Marriage":
"New thrills." "All the time." Exactly. Note how the ancient church father Tertullian described a Christian husband and wife (Ad Uxorum 2.9):
Tertullian didn't mean that gender differences disappear in a Christian marriage. That would be an absurdity. His description merely emphasizes that both genders can and must be involved in spiritual activities together, with each person contributing his or her own unique talents and abilities. Each enriches the other. The result is true teamwork, a unity that puts God's needs and desires first rather than their own. Thus, not only do Christian couples seek to please each other, they willingly and actively seek to be faithful to the ultimate goal of reflecting God's glory and grace in the world all around them.
As Becky and I studied the New Testament together, we were surprised to discover that it talks so much about the way women participated in the ministry of the early church. We know that the wives of the apostles accompanied their husbands on their evangelistic journeys (1 Cor. 9:5). Commenting on this verse, Clement of Alexandria concluded that the apostles' wives were "fellow ministers," that is, co-laborers with their husbands as they ministered to others. We also know that women in the early church opened their homes for church meetings. It's interesting to note that Scripture gives us the names of the women in whose homes these churches met more than the names of the men (see Acts 12:12; 16:40; Rom. 16:3-5; Col. 4:15). Moreover, we know that Priscilla (Rom. 16:3), as well as Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3), were Paul's "co-workers." The latter duo went so far as to share Paul's "struggle in the cause of the Gospel," possibly meaning that they were exposed to the same suffering and opposition that the apostle Paul faced. Paul describes Phoebe as "a helper of many, myself included" (Rom. 16:2). The Greek term for "helper" (prostatis) is defined by Doug Moo as "one who came to the aid of others, especially foreigners, by providing housing and financial aid and by representing their interests before the local authorities." Moo thinks Phoebe was "a woman of high social standing and some wealth, who put her status, resources, and time at the service of traveling Christians, like Paul, who needed help and support" (Romans, p. 916). When I first read that description I thought to myself, "He's describing my wife!" Becky and I were glad to be a team (though a frail and imperfect one) in the work the Lord appointed us to. Together we sought to serve both in the practical ministry of meeting the physical and material needs of people as well as in the ministry of the Word. Together we were involved in church planting and evangelism. Together we hosted visitors in our home on a regular basis. The key word is together. We were "co-workers" for Christ – and that without any diminution of our masculinity or femininity.
It's been 4 years and 5 months since the Lord took Becky home. Ironically, during this time I've discovered that loss can also make us more. Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, after his son died in a mountain climbing accident, write a book called Lament for a Son. It includes these powerful words (pp. 96-97):
When Becky died, I felt like I was losing who I was. Since part of me was dying in addition to losing Becky, I grieved for myself as well. Today, God has graciously delivered me from that "valley of suffering." Today, I can say with the Psalmist, "I cried out to the Lord in my suffering, and He heard me. He set me free from all my fears" (Psa. 34:6).
This is the way of grief. As you continue to remember, the pain subsides. Your grief is infused with hope. You carry a smile instead of a frown. I wrote this post because I wanted you to know what Becky meant to me and how I miss it all -- her smile, her beauty, her laughter, her stubbornness, her wisdom, her partnership in the Gospel. I miss the future we won't have together. Now I'm letting it go -- for the umpteen millionth time -- to live life again, a life that will always be filled with memories of our life together.
I love you, Becky.
Thank you being such a wonderful wife.
You will never be forgotten.
Wednesday, March 7
5:14 PM Right now I'm listening to an amazing sermon by Nathaniel Armisen called "Kennzeichen Jüngerschaft." Deutlich und klar!
5:02 PM Just back from a long walk on the farm with Sheba. Even though she's deaf and partially blind she still insists on leading the way. My favorite part about farm life? The animals. I will always be amazed at their beauty. Their simplicity. Their loyalty. Even the donkeys bray and the goats baaa when they see me. I am an Alpha Mensch I guess. I know Sheba will eventually leave me, but I'm oh so not ready for that day.
11:44 AM Free book in mint condition. Yours for the asking. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I get more than one request I'll pick a name out of my kepi. I'll contact the winner this evening at 5:00, so be sure to get your request in before then.
11:24 AM My land, how spoiled we are in America. Much of the world suffers from broken infrastructures, lack of food and water, poverty, and economic injustice. We can indeed help, and help we should. So when I bought my tickets to Dallas for an April visit with mom and dad, I looked for a 5K with a cause, and boy did I find one. It's called Running 4 Clean Water and will be held only a few miles from where I'm staying in Murphy.
The race is a fundraiser for the good people of Sierra Leone. Proceeds will go to clean water projects in that nation. Now, some of my readers may not even know where Sierra Leone is. That's okay. I'm a humble and repentant learner too.
And listen, even if you can't participate in the race, you can still make a contribution (as small as you like -- it don't matter!) by going here.
Go ahead, and make the Old Man proud.
10:22 AM I want to think with you about the arts for a moment. (You thought I was maybe going to bring up politics, eh? No way. You don't come here for my political opinions. Not that I don't have any. Oh, brothers and sisters, do I ever.) As you know, there are seven "liberal" arts:
Then there are the "traditional" arts:
Are you an artist? You probably are, in one of these ways. I've never been good at the "hard" sciences if you know what I mean. But I've always been an art lover. My visit to the Louvre was unforgettable. Or how about seeing the Parthenon for the first time? Or listening to a live concerto? I've dabbled in drawing and painting. See if you can recognize any of these people.
Then there's music. I grew up playing the piano, guitar, trumpet, and -- last but not least! -- the ukulele.
Lately I've been rereading Art & the Bible by Francis Schaeffer. It's a small book you can read in one sitting.
On p. 7, Schaeffer writes:
Oh, how blind we are to this truth! He goes on to say:
Oh my. That is so true. May I suggest a starting point to rectify this? How about our "worship" music? (Yes, I'm going to inject some opinion here.) I have some tips for performers. Actually, they're not my tips. I'm taking them from Schaeffer. I have three of them:
1) "God is interested in beauty" (p. 15). Have you ever heard Van Halen's Jump? Or Chicago's Baby What a Big Surprise? Or Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor? Or any of the Maranatha Singers' music? Here's a sample called As the Deer.
Notice how this song has what is called "musicality" -- the quality or state of being musical. It includes such qualities as harmoniousness and melodiousness. Anybody trained in pitch, rhythm, and harmony is drawn to such music. In a word, the music is, well, beautiful. I'm not at all surprised. "God is interested in beauty."
2) "The factor that makes art Christian is not that it necessarily deals with religious subject matter" (p. 19). Now that's a powerful statement! Contemporary Christian worship music generally has acceptable lyrics. But musicality involves more than lyrics. Every time I turn on the radio I can immediately tell if a music station is "Christian." That is not meant as a compliment. Writes Schaeffer (p. 31), "Christ is the Lord of our whole life and the Christian life should produce not only truth -- flaming truth -- but also beauty" (emphasis mine). Later on he writes (p. 34), "A work of art has a value in itself." Really? Yep. "For some this principle may seem too obvious [Yessiree, I'm one of those people!], but for many Christians it is unthinkable" (p. 34). He goes on to state that the purpose of art is not just to communicate content. Art is something that God created us to enjoy. In other words, " ... creativity as creativity is a good thing as such" (p. 35). Hence we can't reduce Gospel music to a tract or to an intellectual statement.
3) Finally, "The fact that something is a work of art does not make it sacred" (p. 41). Again, spot on. But I think the obverse is true as well: The fact that something is sacred doesn't necessarily make it a work of art. How, then, can we judge whether something is a work of art? Schaeffer lists four basic standards (p. 41).
Read those again.
Christian artists, you were made to excel. So excel (wink). Let your medium match your message. Please stop giving us all light and begin giving us salt too. To the best of your ability. (Perfection not required.) Some say that worship music is acceptable if the words are acceptable. I'm not buying it. Messages are more than words. Hand to the heavens, I'll still love you if you have the nerve to get on stage and try your best to lead me in singing. Thank you! But nothing would make me happier than a growing commitment to musicality. Don't underestimate its magic. Art is not just content; it's holy, sacred ground. (I almost wrote scared.)
I'll give the last word to Schaeffer (p. 63):
8:18 AM Hey folks! Yesterday was quite a day. After getting my van inspected, I drove to the Honda dealer in South Hill to get it detailed. My appointment was at 10:00 and they were finished at 12:00 noon. I was antsy to get to Wake Forest as I had several pressing jobs waiting for me there. But they couldn't hand me my car keys. Seems that the employee who did the detailing had inadvertently gone off to Rocky Mount, NC, with my keys in his pocket and wouldn't be back for another 4 hours. The Honda dealer graciously let me use a loaner to get to work, and when I eventually picked up my van, they charged me nothing for the job.
Last week in Houston I stopped at a Cheddar's for lunch. After a good 25 minutes of waiting for my meal to be served, the manager approached my table with a sheepish look on her face. "The chef completed your meal but dropped the plate. He's working on it again. Please forgive us for making you wait so long for your meal. It will be out shortly." Sure enough, 5 minutes later I was enjoying a delicious chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes. While I was dining the chef himself came out and apologized for his mistake. I sensed that he was being genuine rather than making a forced apology. Finally, before I finished my meal, the restaurant manager returned to my table and asked me how I had enjoyed my meal. Then she apologized a second time and informed me that my lunch was on them.
The lesson? When you make a mistake, make it right. I have to give the dealership and the restaurant a lot of credit for doing just that. You both just made me a customer for life!
One of the qualifications for leadership in the church is "blameless." Obviously this can't mean that Christians never do anything wrong. We do. It just means that when do something wrong, we do what we can to make it right. Of course, it's not always possible to do this. There are some relationships that are so toxic that we have to give ourselves the freedom to walk away. Still, we prioritize peace and reconciliation over disharmony.
To think we can find perfection in anyone, including our leaders, is a pipe dream. Bo Lane, in his book Why Pastors Quit (summarized here), notes the following:
Which is one reason I look for vulnerability and transparency in my leaders. If you're struggling, say it. If you've made a mistake, admit it and make it right. Bench yourself if you need to. We will love you no less. Matthea Glass asks:
Jesus modeled humble behavior. Church leaders and church people alike are regular old sinners. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Our response to our own failures can either drive us further from God or bring us closer to Him. God prefers the latter. Scripture makes it clear that all we have to do is admit our guilt and trust Him with the rest, including how to "make it right."
Tuesday, March 6
8:20 AM Here's our "word of the day":
Yep, I heard that term at the ETS conference last Friday. Greg Beale used it to refer to the grammar of the book of Revelation. (Actually, first he said that "Everybody agrees that Revelation contains grammatical errors." Cough. But then he immediately added that these "errors" are intentional allusions to the OT, or, if you will "solecisms.") Our word solecism has a tortuous history:
But wait. There's more. Some say that the Greeks were speaking about the people of Soloi, a Greek colony in Cilicia (modern-day Turkey) whose dialect the Greeks considered to be barbarous. (To the ancient Greeks, barbarians were people who couldn't speak Greek correctly.) But back to the book of Revelation. What's going on here? Incorrect grammar? Solecisms? Barbarisms? And does the author use these constructions intentionally or not? And if his use of "incorrect grammar" is intentional, can he still be accused of bad grammar?
And then there's the question of linguistic snobbery. In German-speaking Switzerland, where I got my doctorate, Swiss German was once considered a dialect of German that was to be avoided at all costs. Why? Because it wasn't "German German." Today, Swiss German is used in universities and even in Parliament (as it rightly should be). My native language is Hawaiian Creole ("Pidgin English"), a dialect of Standard English. When I moved to the mainland at the age of 19, people had a hard time understanding my English. But "English" it most certainly was, even if nobody knew what "I'm pau" meant. Today, when I'm in Hawaii, if I speak Hawaiian Creole instead of Standard English, its because I want to. People say that my native dialect sounds like someone is being lazy. Linguists would call this "economy of effort." (You do the same thing when you pronounce "victuals" as "vittles.") For example, in Hawaii we say, "Cute, da baby." Nobody in the Islands has any difficulty understanding exactly what is meant. The background is simple. The Hawaiian for "The baby is cute" is "Nani ka pēpē" -- "Cute, the baby." Generally, we omit the verb "to be" in such sentences. When we want to use a verb of being, the word we usually use is "stay," as in "Wea you stay?," meaning "Where are you?" For the past tense, we use "wen," as in "Jesu wen cry" for "Jesus wept" (see John 11:35), and for the future we use "goin," as in "God goin do plenny kine good stuff fo him" for "God is going to do a lot of good things for him" (see Mark 11:9).
When I was in Basel I spoke High German. It was the only German I knew. But since most of my friends were Swiss, I tried to learn their dialect. I even purchased a Basel German grammar in a local bookstore. Guess what I discovered? That Basel German is as much a fully formed, "rule-bound" language as is Standard (High) German. I try to teach my Greek students that correctness and incorrectness in language is not a matter of linguistics per se but instead a matter of sociolinguistics. What I mean is that people ultimately determine the "rules" of writing and speaking, not grammar books. If everyone says "It's me," then "It's me" is correct (even if the textbooks insist on "It is I"). In fact, in my book It's Still Greek to Me, the chapter on pronouns is called "Woe Is I." Have I made my point?
Monday, March 5
5:18 PM So here's another blog post that is guaranteed to bore you to death or at least put you to sleep. (So what's new, eh?) This afternoon I was sitting in my home library reading Ephesians 4 when I "just happened" (= divine providence no doubt) to come upon a literary device that Paul uses in verse 8. Friend, if you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know this is how my mind works. I try to fill in the blanks, sometimes even where no blanks exist. Anyhow, this is what I was reading:
In verse 8 you can see that Paul introduces an OT quote with the words "he says," meaning "God says." We're going to look closely at this for just a few minutes. You see, one of the main arguments against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews is said to be the way the author of Hebrews introduces his OT quotations. Here's a screen shot of an article I found online:
Certainly this distorts things a bit, don't you think? It's an overgeneralization, and an inexact one at that. How do I know? Because I once took the time to compare Hebrews with the 13 authentic Paulines and even wrote a little book on the subject called The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. So I grabbed my book off the shelf and, lo and behold, I was reminded that I had actually discussed this matter, to wit:
So then I grabbed my favorite commentary on Ephesians (written by my former Basel prof Markus Barth) and discovered that he, too, agreed that the words "he says" are Pauline. Here are his exact words (pp. 430-431):
Oh my. Barth goes on to cite Paul's use of the same (or a very similar) introductory formula in Eph. 5:14, Gal. 3:16, 1 Cor. 6:16, 2 Cor. 6:2, and Rom. 15:10. In other words, he cites the same examples I cite in my book, and even added one I didn't include (Rom. 15:10). The point Barth's trying to make is that, by using this method of quoting the OT, Paul is making it clear to his audience that he's not quoting "a hymn or perhaps a Targum, rather than a Scripture text" (p. 431).
Again, the evidence seems plain: Paul does indeed use "he says" to introduce quotes from the OT. The facts are obvious. Consequently the argument that Paul introduced OT quotes in one way and the author of Hebrews did so in a completely different way is an argument that fails the smell test. So evidently, we have to throw out that argument. And I haven't even discussed the other internal arguments against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, because honestly?
Listen, this is a one finger pointed at you and three fingers pointing back at me scenario. I haven't always been right. If fact, I've been wrong about a good many things in my 42-year teaching career. This is why the body of Christ is so essential. To keep us thinking. And honest with the data. And true to our (better) selves. I am determined to address my failings, my faux pas (that can be a plural in French too, right?), my eisegesis. And yes, I realize this is a third-tier issue. God gave us a spectacular writing called Hebrews, and we all value it, whatever our position on authorship is.
But if Paul were the author ....
11:10 AM The countdown has begun. Only 5 days to go until my next race, the Four Courts Four Miler in Arlington, VA, just across the Potomac from DC. And the best part is that I get to run it with my new son Tino, who's stationed at Fort Myer in Arlington. I'm planning on spending the weekend with him and Karen in their new digs. Karen is a fantastic chef and, boy, am I ready for some home-cooked food. Here's the course map.
Hmm. Not bad at all. And here's the elevation chart.
Lord have mercy. An uphill at the finish? You've got to be kidding. Finally, here's a picture from last year's race.
Looks colorful -- and crowded. Just the way I like races to be. Weather at race time on Saturday morning is predicted to be a cool 32 degrees with winds out of the Southwest at 8 mph and 68 percent humidity. Nice!
Resting up today so that I can be in good shape for the big match race between Tino and the Old Man.
10:48 AM Well, it's official. I've set the date for our annual Student Work Day at Rosewood Farm. It's Saturday, April 7, from 10:00 to 4:00. Families and friends are invited to attend as well. I've got a list of jobs a mile long if you're inclined and able to help. If not, you are welcome to enjoy the farm trails and fishing in the stocked pond (bass, anyone?). Chores will include cleaning out the water troughs and refilling them with fresh water (like I did with this one today).
What fun it will be!
9:50 AM So what's not to like about the weather? I absolutely love the springtime. It's my favoritest season of the year for sure. Here are some pix to prove it. But before I post them, let me give a shout out to the Lord for being so good to me. I woke up this morning feeling 1,000 percent better. Amazing what Airborne, some cough medicine, and a good night's sleep will do for a tired body. So thank you, Jesus. I really appreciate it.
Sheba and I were gelling on the porch this morning when I heard Nate pull up to the gambrel barn at Maple Ridge for some hay. It took us only about a half an hour to load the trailer but it was so much fun. Afterwards I just had to take some photographs of Maple Ridge and its environs. This is where we lived when we were building Bradford Hall and it has many pleasant memories for me. So I'll post a few pictures with brief captions, but I can guarantee you that they will fail to capture the beauty of God's amazing creation.
1) Maple Ridge (ca. 1811) in all her glory.
2) Trailer (pre-loading).
3) Trailer (post-loading).
4) Trailer loaders!
5) Picking up branches after the weekend windstorm.
6) Starting up the mower for the first time since fall.
7) Love this old building (ca. 1790).
8) Cherry trees in blossom.
9) This red maple is about 150 years old.
10) It, too, is full of buds.
11) Daffodils everywhere.
12) Japonica. Don't you love the red on white?
13) Breath of spring.
14) Heading home on the mower.
15) Breakfast of champions!
Sunday, March 4
4:20 PM Life is one continual expansion. We are forever occupied with growing up, growing wiser, growing stronger. But this growth doesn't happen in a haphazard way. Life proceeds through stages. In the text from 1 Thessalonians that we'll be going over in two weeks (when we get back from our semester break), 1 Thess. 3:1-5, the emphasis is on one of life's stages -- learning to accept suffering.
What it takes to win over suffering are the virtues and values that Paul passed down to us through the ages. Life is a contact sport. But it's a game anyone can play and play well. Our energies must be directed toward the reshaping of our minds. We must unflaggingly pursue the kingdom way, in the midst of our suffering. Note the reference to Acts 14:22 in my Greek New Testament.
This is the only "sermon" in Acts that is directed toward believers. Every other sermon has non-believers as its audience. In this verse, Paul undoubtedly astonished his audience with his "encouraging message." And what was that? "It is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God."
Welcome to reality.
Now let's be clear. Suffering doesn't take God by surprise. As we said earlier, most of us are uptohere in troubles of one sort or another. That's just a fact. But in this passage, Paul clears things up for us. As I studied this text today, I came away with four or five thoughts about what Paul has to say to us in 1 Thess. 3:1-5. I've given them below (in no particular order). But first, our text:
1) The importance of after-care. It's just not natural to give birth and not love the child you sired. One thing I've discovered about ministry is that, when it's done right, there's always follow up. The ways we connect with each other are usually quite typical -- emails, visits, Facebook, phone calls, or sending people in our place. But regardless of the means, we are there for each other. When Paul's churches needed him, he didn't withdraw or pull inward. It takes intentional discipleship to nurture our converts. Paul did this, and he did it well.
2) The glory of teamwork. I often run races and climb mountains alone. But I'm always happiest when I'm doing it with a friend or a family member. I believe that the work of the ministry (to which we are all called, not just so-called "ministers"), is often misunderstood as a solitary pursuit. I hope we can change that notion. I hope we can push back against the Lone Ranger mentality, or the Senior Pastor model. Elders enjoy, as Michael Green has put it, a "fellowship of leadership" -- or at least they can. I love the church because the church has so wonderfully loved me. I love working with my fellow believers in a life of mutuality. It's a choice to lay down our own way and embrace the team. Notice how Timothy and Paul served the Thessalonians -- together. They were partners, if you will. We move toward each other in the body of Christ, like an ellipse, standing together for the sake of the Gospel.
3) We work for God. This truth has always haunted me. Scripture teaches us that, while we serve each other, we are ultimately servants of God first and foremost. Jesus said as much. "I do the will of My Father." At times in my life, I've had the wrong idea of ministry. It was my work. And in a sense it was. But now I realize that "my" work is really the work of God in and through me. I work His works, at least I do when I'm walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh. This means so much to me. For one thing, it means that there's only one Person I have to please in life. For another thing, I never have to compare myself with anyone else because it's "God who works all things in all people" (1 Cor. 12:6). I'm both thrilled and terrified by that notion. "What if I'm careless about God's work? What if I fail to meet His standards?" Questions like these aren't bad things. I think they help us to acknowledge just how dependent we are on God to accomplish His will in our lives. And note: the "work" of God is more than vocational ministry. Your work as a housewife or a truck driver might not be big or audacious or obvious or acclaimed but it's no less "sacred work" than that of a fulltime pastor. Please never think otherwise.
4) Suffering is normal. Yep, this is life sometimes. We can't ignore or placate it. Historically, we've always known that God uses suffering to grow His people. Callous hearts require breaking. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the church in Ethiopia grew the most (both numerically and spiritually) when the Marxists took over the government in the 1970s and expelled the missionaries. A Holy Spirit awakening is just that: God disrupts our normal lives so that we wouldn't live "normally" any longer. Today, the story of the church in China or Iran is a story of persecution and great suffering. They are facing the same challenges that the Thessalonian believers faced. I've come to believe that the church in America will one day face the same kind of persecution. If so, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit would remind us that God is upending our greed and selfishness for a reason.
5) Finally, our work can be a waste of time. That's what Paul says. So you think you're an instrument of God's justice and mercy? Is there fruit that lasts? Are your converts acting justly and walking humbly and loving mercy? Plenty of people claim devotion to Christ. But what begins with a simple act must turn into a way of life. The world is watching. Time is flying by.
Is my work in vain?
8:34 AM What I know now that I wish I'd known then ....
1) That less is more. Books tend to be much too long. I know. I used to be an expert in flaunting the rule of brevity. Samuel Johnson once said, "Was there ever yet anything written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers, excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and The Pilgrim's Progress?" Overwriting is a curse. Which is one reason my books are getting shorter and shorter.
Now, blog posts are another story ....
2) That there are no Abra Cadabras in the Christian life. Gimmicks simply don't work. I'm so done with platitudes and worn-out clichés. There are no "secrets" to walking in the Spirit -- except perhaps for actually walking in the Spirit. Oh my, the days I wasted attending that seminar or reading that book. Each guaranteed me the Promised Land. I think my discovery of the difference between books about the Bible and the Bible itself -- a discovery which, by the way, shouldn't have been a discovery at all -- has changed my whole outlook on life. I tend to agree with those who say that sermons have a proper place but we can't become dependent on them for our knowledge of God's word. At best, they are a supplement.
3) That the kingdom of God is the work of each and every believer. That helps me to understand why I am placed on this earth. I can leverage every gift God has blessed me with in service to Jesus and others, whether it's a musical talent, an artistic bent, or a teaching ability. When we begin to see all of life as sacred, then we begin to embody God's greatest dreams for us.
4) That my body is a temple. I doubt it's possible to overstate this truth. The reality is that there are no shortcuts to caring for the temple. You have to deal with the body you have, not the body you want. And in the search for health, there's always something new to learn or some new goal to struggle after. As Christians, we don't view the body as the Gnostics did. We see the body as Paul did -- clean and wholesome, a twin sister to the soul. Our goal is to make the parts a whole, and to do that we have to make good choices. The real contest is within.
5) That living requires dogged endurance. I guess that's why I love marathons so much. They are tough, tedious, painful, and tiring -- but they draw us again and again to escape our ordinary humdrum lives and reach out for something new. Life consists of setting goals and striving to reach them by the sheer grace of God. All of that is there in the marathon.
6) That only Jesus can heal a broken heart. And whose heart isn't broken? I know that everyone has a very different story when it comes to suffering pain and loss. But loss occurs to all. That's why after Becky's death I began to reorient my life around the only person who I know really understands my light and darkness, my hope and despair. I want to see more of His light. He grows lovelier to me with each passing day. I don't need to wait for the sweet by and by for healing, at least partial healing. Jesus' presence in our lives allows us to live out our faith in a real way, in real life, and with real people.
7) That life is a celebration of the goodness of our God. God's heart for us is happiness. He desires shalom for us, a deep and abiding joy. In fact, loss and pain only deepen that joy. We now hold to things loosely. Jesus is our satisfaction. His love always wins in the end.
7:45 AM I was hoping to get in a good long walk this afternoon. Instead, I'm sitting here nursing a head cold. Later I'll go outdoors and bask in the sunshine. It's a gorgeous day here in Southside. If you want big city life, you can have it. Northern Virginia is one of the fastest growing regions of the nation. But I'll settle for my local neighborhood where life is slower but every bit as rich. If you live here I'm not telling you anything you don't know. I've noticed the recent influx of residents exchanging the heat of Phoenix and the humidity of Florida for the green forests of Southern Virginia. Welcome to one and all. Sure, our winters can get cold and our summers can get hot. But the spring and the fall? Makes everything else worth it. The only problem is that once you get used to not seeing another car on the road for 15 minutes, you can't drive in Raleigh any more. Right now I'm planning another "Student Work Day" on the farm. We'll probably have it in April. I've got a list of farm repairs as long as my arm. Plus I've stocked the pond. These events are for the entire family and are always great fun. Of course, I'm happy to serve lunch to everybody.
So today I just plainly need a day off, a day to rejuvenate my body, especially after the comical outing I had the past few days. Some days it's good to be active. Some days it's good to be a spectator.
Saturday, March 3
8:50 PM Hey folks! Long time no talk. Well, it's actually only been two days, but it seems like a lifetime. I have to admit that this was one of the most "interesting" trips I've ever made -- a comedy of errors, in many ways. Not that there weren't lots of good times. There were. So I'll try and describe for you the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY.
The conference was phenomenally well organized and each paper I heard was outstanding. The venue was the Houston campus of SWBTS.
Texas must be an open carry state because I saw at least two guys packing heat on their right hip. Anyways, here the keynote speaker Greg Beale takes us on a tour of the use of the Old Testament in the New, a topic about which he is eminently qualified to speak.
My favorite paper may have been the one given by my buddy Boyd Luter.
Boyd and I go way back, in fact all the way back to our Talbot days together.
At the time, I was teaching New Testament while he was in the CE department. He's just one of several good friends I enjoy catching up with at these meetings. Here we have, from left to right, Charles Savelle (OT prof at SWBTS), Boyd (who currently teaches at the King's University in Dallas), and Craig Price (NT prof at NOBTS). Great guys all.
I thought my paper went well. It was an honor and joy to give it.
Finally, I got to speak German with a couple who were visiting Houston from Frankfurt. I think that made their day. I know it did mine.
Okay, things happen in life you have no control over. Like sitting next to two drunks on my flight from Raleigh to Houston who talked (yelled) at each other the whole way. Like the hotel I was booked into that was literally yards from the Interstate and left me in a sleepless stupor for most of the trip. Like the classy (*sarcasm*) dude or dude-ess in South Houston who decided to walk off with the rear view mirror of my rental car while it was parked overnight in the hotel lot.
Or like the broken vent on my flight home today that blew cold air on my head for three hours straight (yes, I'm sniffling again). So what am I saying? Life is never what we expect. The good news is that just as we can't anticipate the sad stuff, we can't anticipate the happy stuff either. Personally, I like my trips to be go better than this one did, but the good made up for the bad. As usual, I just try to make the most of life and, honestly, we can't always expect that everything's going to be perfect. I need to remember how blessed I am more often than I do.
AND THE UGLY:
While I was reporting the theft to the hotel manager, a guy comes up to me and volunteers: "I'm not surprised this happened to you. Houston of full of [N word] and wet backs." Boy did that make me angry. I have zero sympathy for people who talk like that. Some people need to think before they speak. There are bigger problems in this world than stolen mirrors. Funny thing, we talked about anger in our Greek class just last week (the subject comes up when you're discussing the textual variant in Matt. 5:22). God's not incapable of righteous anger and neither are we. But if we're honest with ourselves, we easily fall prey to unrighteous anger and just plain "lose our cool." Someone has defined righteous indignation as becoming angry about God's will being violated. Unrighteous indignation is becoming angry because our will is being violated. Just think of all the people in the Bible who got angry and regretted it, including Cain, Moses, Balaam, Ahab, Haman, Esau, and Absalom. Anyhow, I let it go. Chances are, I wouldn't have gotten very far with this gentleman anyway. By the way, my thanks to officer Mesa of the Houston Police Department for his outstanding job of taking my report. A pleasure to meet you, sir.
Looks like I'll be back in Texas in April to visit with mom and dad and do a 5K race in Garland. We'll also plan on attending the annual spring concert of the bestest barbershop men's chorus in the world, the Vocal Majority. The theme this year is "There's No Business Like Show Business." Can't wait for the show. And for more real barbeque.
Thursday, March 1
10:40 AM Okay. I have my plan all set. Arrive in Houston around dinner time. Grab a bite to eat. Read my paper tomorrow, then have dinner with friends at a rib joint. Listen to papers Saturday morning then jump on a plane and head home. I'm really looking forward to getting caught up with my pals. Now, hopefully, I will overcome whatever ails me and rock my next step. Wish me well!
8:15 AM Morning friends! So how am I feeling today? I'm feeling a good deal better than I felt yesterday. I actually slept in to 7:00 am this morning, which I never do. Giving up control of our bodies to the Lord is about as difficult as starting to eat clean. We prefer status quo and security. But even if you've only scanned the New Testament, you know that's not God's priority. And so I'm learning, gradually, to trust Him with my body. Just as we have our children for a season ("They're young and then they're grown"), so we have our earthly bodies for a limited time. I only have one body, one heart, one set of skin. My body is God's miracle gift to me -- not only in the Sonic-boom moments of life but also when my body takes out the trash or pulls weeds or stands in a classroom or sniffles with a head cold. I will carry this body with me for the rest of my days, so I guess I had better learn how to take good care of it. Anyway, I'm still flying to Houston today and am really looking forward to seeing many old friends there.
Speaking of Houston, Amy Walker's tour of American accents brought a big smile to my face. I think she nails the Southern patois. Funny thing, Becky pretty much lost her Texas accent after she moved to California to attend Biola. But get that pretty Southern belle back to Texas and she would unconsciously slip into her beautiful accent.
Also speaking about Houston, I'm rereading Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas, who is writer-in-residence at Second Baptist Houston.
Here are a few takeaways:
Totally agree! We should all pursue good health to the extent we are able. For me, this isn't merely a physical or biological move, but a kingdom action. Through exercise we'll never overturn the curse of the fall. In fact, good health can sometimes get in the way of seeing God's grace and the need for Him. We can get so busy with exercise that it's easy to forget or ignore the beauty that God wants to create in our inner being. How to obtain this balance? Don't ask me, because I don't have the foggiest idea. I'm still trying to figure this one out. But one thing is clear: if I'm to continue to travel for kingdom work, I need to stay in good physical condition. On the the hand, let me state emphatically: our wounds (spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, etc.) do not disqualify us from ministry. In fact, God often uses our weaknesses to display His overarching power. Why, I believe I once wrote a book on that subject.
Incidentally, yesterday I mentioned that I was blessed out of my (stinking running) socks by Tuesday's chapel message by James Merritt.
He reminded us that Jesus was full of grace and truth. Jesus was, in other words, perfectly balanced. How can you tell if your church is imbalanced? Churches that make you feel condemned all the time are imbalanced. Churches that make you feel comfortable all the time are imbalanced. "Jesus," said Merritt, "did not offend all of the people all of the time, but He did offend some of the people some of time." If we're full of Jesus, we'll be full of grace and truth. If our churches are full of Jesus, they'll be full of grace and truth. Most of us, said Merritt, are imbalanced toward either being a Gracer or a Truther. We err either on the grace side or on the truth side. Then he got into the meat of his message and made three points:
1) We need the compassion of grace.
2) We need the conviction of truth.
3) We need the combination of grace and truth.
To quote Merritt:
Now that's the truth! I want to lived a more balanced life. How about you? Are you more a Gracer than a Truther? Or vice versa? We either err on one side or the other. You can (and should!) listen to this marvelous message here.
Finally (for now), here's a screen shot of a page from A. T. Robertson's "Big Grammar" that we read in our Greek 4 class this week.
Note the word in parentheses: Sesquipedalian. In his Ars Poetica, Horace warned his students not to use sesquipedalian verba, or "foot and a half long words." As others have pointed out, by using such a verbal monstrosity, Horace was nicely illustrating the very thing he was criticizing.
Ya gotta love languages!
Wednesday, February 28
6:45 PM Goodbye February and hello March, aka National Celery Month, National Sleep Awareness Month, National Kidney Month, National Noodle Month, National Umbrella Month, National Peanut Month, and, of course, National Trisomy Awareness Month. (I have no idea what trisomy is.) It's also a month of travel for me -- Houston this weekend, DC next weekend, and Raleigh for the Tobacco Road Marathon the following weekend. Right now I hate being so busy. Yesterday I started to sniffle -- badly. There's lots of folks on campus with colds these days. Today my doc somehow managed to squeeze me into her busy schedule. A Z Pac and nasal spray for yours truly. Yes, I could use about two weeks of rest but that's not gonna happen and, okay, it's my own fault. So I venture out. Again and again and again. I give myself the same pep talk every time. You really do love your life, Dave. Funny thing is, I mean that. I really do love my life. I love my classes because I get to teach the best students who ever graced a seminary campus. I love my running because in my old age I've turned out to be a crazy passionate guy involved in a crazy passionate sport filled with fun characters. I love my life because I write blog posts and journal articles and lectures and books that everyone knows will make the world a better place. (That's a joke, folks.) I love the stamina and determination it takes to live the life of Dave Black. I love goals that stare you in the face and push you to become the person God meant for you to be. Life is all about perspective. And attitude. And always about seeking the best for yourself and for others. When I struggle with direction in my life, or with fatigue, or with fear of the unknown, or when the pain of loss rises up out of the ashes of my heart and screams "So I'm supposed to lean into this?", then I simply reclaim Truth. I'm grateful for the extremes of life -- and for all the moments in between. So many people expect perfect and always want more, more, more. We all need to slow down and appreciate each day we get. We all have our hurdles. It's up to us how we get past them. Right now I'm going to cook me a super healthy supper, read some Scripture, scratch my doggy's tummy, and then finish watching the movie I started last night on Amazon Prime. My body might be tired, but my spirit is jacked up. Even my body, thank the Lord, is not TIRED tired, if you know what I mean. Like the kind of tired you feel when you have -- um -- Ebola (or something like that). Tomorrow I'm sleeping in. I've found that I'm at my worst mentally when I have been physically worn down. So it's time to chillax a bit and I'm sure I'll start feeling normal again in no time. I've got so much good stuff to blog about. Even if nobody reads what I write I finding blogging so cathartic. Yesterday's chapel message really hit home and I really do need to talk about it with yall. Then there's my growing anxiety over the ultra I've signed up for in April. I'm still laughing over that one. I used to enter 5Ks and jog behind the strollers. Now I'm training for a 31-mile race. I dropped out of my first Greek class in college. Now I get to teach the language. I used to eat Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms and now I eat broccoli and carrots. I used to think that the grass was greener on the other side, but now I'm content with who I am and where I'm at. The life I have is exactly the one meant for me, and if I live it with gratitude and dependence on the Giver of all good gifts, it can be the greatest life of all. Life never goes exactly as you planned. So what? "God knows," as Becky would say. The best things in life are scary. But so worth it.
This week's been a crash course in gratitude, perseverance, and patience. I may not be the brightest light in the box or the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I am tenacious and stubborn. The satisfaction of knowing that, by the sheer grace of God, you pushed yourself way, way, way farther than you ever thought possible is way more valuable than any external reward.
Monday, February 26
6:55 AM I clearly remember the day that changed my life forever. My daughter Karen was making a huge lunge forward in her racing by competing in the prestigious Marine Corps Half Marathon in Fredericksburg, VA. The date was May 17, 2015, just a year and a half after my wife Becky died from cancer. I was just shy of my 63rd birthday. When Karen told me how far she would have to run that day -- 13.1 miles -- I was dumbfounded. How can anyone run that far? I can't even walk a mile! I drove up to the race to cheer her on. She nailed it, finishing in just under two and a half hours. Before I knew it, she was saying to me, "Dad, it would be so much fun to run a 5K together!" "What's a 5K?" I asked. I'm not kidding. I had no earthly idea what a 5K race was. That was just over 3 years ago. Since then I've finished dozens of 5Ks and 10Ks, two 10-milers, two triathlons, eleven half marathons, and seven full marathons, plus I've registered for my first ultramarathon in April.
Running never appealed to me growing up. I am a Hawaiian, born and bred. Not a native Hawaiian, mind you, but a kama'aina haole, a "local boy" you might say. My dad was born in Honolulu in 1918 and, after marrying my mother in Ohio just after the war (1945), he brought her to live with him in his home state. Although I too was born in Honolulu, us kids grew up just over the Ko'olau mountain range in a town called Kailua (famous today as former President Obama's winter white house). There I attended school -- Kainalu Elementary, Kailua Intermediate, and Kailua High. When I wasn't surfing, that is. I must have been 7 or 8 when I bought my first surfboard. It was a 10-foot long Hobie whose nose had been snapped off. Those ugly shards of exposed fiberglass didn't slow me down in the least. I knew I'd be fine as long as I remembered not to hang ten on this particular board. It cost me all of 5 bucks. Kailua is noted mostly for its splendid shore break, but there were also point breaks, a reef break, and an awesome break at the Mokulu'a Islands. Kailua was a place where every kid surfed. So much so, that our high school's nickname was the Kailua Surfriders. (Go Blue and White!) When I wasn't playing in the ocean, I was playing basketball or volleyball.
I did no running while growing up, except when I was trying to get away from the mokes on Kill Haole Day (the last day of school every year). So when Karen ask me to run a 5K with her, I had no idea what she was talking about. "It's only 3.1 miles," she said. It still sounded like a crazy idea to me. That's what public transportation or a car is for, I thought to myself. Especially since you end up where you started anyway. Over time, I came to realize the motivation behind Karen's suggestion. After Becky died, if there was one thing my kids kept telling me over and over again, it was that I needed to "keep active." So I began walking a mile every day, then two miles, then three. Occasionally I would break into a slow jog for part of that distance, but I couldn't run for very long. I kept running out of breath. I'll never forget when I ran my first mile without stopping to take a walk break. It was a month after Karen had completed her half marathon. I was vacationing in Hawaii (I had started going home to surf twice a year after Becky's death) and set out to conquer my worst fears on a sunny morning in Kailua. I knew that the distance from my beach cottage on Ulupa St. to Kainalu School (which I attended from kindergarten to sixth grade) was about a mile. Although I arrived at my former elementary school huffing and puffing, I had done so without doing any walking. When I came to a standstill, I was completely out of breath. But none of that mattered. I had run a mile! I had become an adult onset runner! The sad truth was that I didn't know the first thing about running. When I texted Karen a picture of me after the run, she said "Congrats, Dad!" and then added, "And be sure to ditch those Wal-Mart sneakers and get some real running shoes."
I spent the rest of my Hawaiian vacation surfing during the day but running every morning and evening. It took me two months of training before I was ready for my first 5K, but I knew I was getting closer and closer to my goal. The date was July 11, and the race was called the Barefoot for Kelly 5K Run. Kelly suffers from Transverse Myelitis, a debilitating condition that's left her paralyzed.
The event was sponsored by her home church to assist with providing her a handicap-accessible bathroom so that she could regain some of her independence. A portion of the proceeds was also slated to help fund the research of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. The race was located at the Dorothea Dix campus in downtown Raleigh. I came in dead last in my age group (6th out of 6) with a time of 36:51. An 80-year old beat me by 4 minutes. No matter. I was elated. As Dick Beardsley has said many times, when you cross that finish line for the first time, no matter how fast or how slow, it will change your life forever. My goal that day was a simple one. I wanted to complete the race under my own power without requiring mouth to mouth resuscitation when I was done. And I had done it -- barely. I knew from my very first race that running would be a humbling experience. But I also knew that it offered an enormous sense of pride. I can do this! That day I knew that even though I wasn't the fastest runner in the pack, running would embrace me anyway. When I finally got back to my farm in Virginia, I was tired, sweaty, and inordinately happy. So I immediately began planning for my next race.
To be continued ....
Sunday, February 25
3:36 PM Hey, here's something to think about from 1 Thess. 2:17-20 (our passage for this week in Greek 4). The word usually translated as "crown" is a metaphor drawn from the Greek athletic contests.
It "alludes to the wreath which was awarded to the victor in an athletic contest: victory in such a contest afforded the victor and all associated with him ample grounds for ... ('boasting')" (Bruce, p. 56).
Paul "looks forward to the occasion of final review and reward, when he will present his converts to the Lord who commissioned him, as evidence of the manner in which he has discharged his commission."
Have you ever thought of the people you influenced for Christ as a "wreath of victory" in whom you could rejoice? It's astonishing to me that Paul actually considered people as his reward. He's so utterly identified with his converts that he calls them his glory. I can well imagine Rudy Ulrich sitting in heaven wearing the wreath of Dave Black, whom he led to the Savior in 1960. We are the body of Christ. God uses us to reach others with His love. The good news is that He uses us in spite of ourselves. Truth is, there are some people who will never hear about Jesus unless I tell them. All that we touch, everything we bump up against in our lives, is to be offered to Him for the work of salvation. God calls us, pleads with us, to be involved. Our world is starved to see Christ's love modeled somewhere. All we need is a willingness for whatever. Paul was always moving "with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead" (phil. 3:14). But he did that with open hands -- a total stripping from all this world has to offer. The Thessalonian believers were living proof that Paul had done just that. May God show us every thread of self that still needs stripping away.
2:25 PM One of my book publishers has posted a very helpful note on how languages work, especially when it comes to lexical analysis and verbal aspect. Read Notes on Terms and Language Teaching.
9:20 AM I love this quote by F. F. Bruce in his commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians. It's his summary of 1 Thess. 5:14-22 (pp. 126-127):
1) The church is, essentially, a "community" -- a Jesus community if you will.
2) The idea of separating spiritual from social hardly occurred to these earliest Christians. They made the outworking of the love of God in their midst a top priority.
3) Early believers knew nothing of a clergy-laity distinction. Each member of the body had a part to play in the service of God. As Brunner puts it in his magisterial work The Misunderstanding of the Church (p. 50):
4) Finally, we can never be too patient with one another. It's not easy to grow in long-suffering, but patience makes us all more Christ-like.
8:30 AM I was up early again today, sitting on the front porch with Sheba and enjoying the 70-degree temps. Nature, I think, is confused. Buds adorn every hardwood, and yesterday on my drive home from Richmond I actually saw a Redbud in full bloom. I fully expect another snow storm before winter bids us a fond adieu, but for now I'm enjoying the respite from the cold. Once again, this morning I read the book of 1 Thessalonians and when I came to 5:14 I had to pause. When Paul says "Admonish the idlers," he says this not to the church leaders (whom he's just described in vv. 12-13) but to the "brothers and sisters." Paul clearly understood the body of Christ to be a pluralistic entity. All of the members have both rights and privileges. Paul's body motif cuts deeply into the hierarchal structures so prevalent in his day, as well as its symbols (e.g., Roman dress). In 1 Corinthians, Paul assumes that in the gathered community all will be allowed to speak, subject only to practical guidelines. Likewise, here in 1 Thessalonians, much of what Paul writes is nothing less than a plea for mutual edification and constructive treatment. There's no reason to think that the Jesus community in Thessalonica differed from the one in Corinth on this score.
I have to wonder if we're really paying attention when so little of our theology and praxis shifts and changes as we better understand God's teaching on this subject. Let's be honest: rethinking one's ecclesiology can be terrifying. There are consequence for Bible study. But the Spirit sometimes uses terror when He breathes into us the very changes He wants. I think this is also true as we Jesus followers engage the broader culture. Jacque Ellul once wrote (Violence, p. 160):
Now that is powerful! But Ellul's words do not apply only to heads of state. Eugene Peterson says it perfectly:
If we're going to call politicians to "well-formed maturity," don't we need to evince some of that quality ourselves? As we witness derision and hubris, men and women of state walking around with their nose in the air, we can easily get tired of engaging in the swimming-upstream work of the kingdom. Yet only Christ can deal with the root of the sin that started it all, and that work has to begin in our own lives. That's the work of the Gospel, isn't it? Not others' immaturity first, but our own. Psychologists often refer to a thing called projection: someone calls others "losers" because deep down inside they believe they are too. Maybe we evangelicals are so put off with power politics because we have forgotten in our own circles that true leadership never flows from platform or celebrity or position or prestige or stardom. In Christ's kingdom, the nobodies are loved and respected. The first are last, and the last first. Brothers and sisters admonish each other. All of our efforts are misguided unless we get this "kingdom-reversal" thing right.
It's a scary thing to confront our own evils and not just the evils of others. But, as Ellul said, we are to draw the consequences of our faith. So I say, let's be done abdicating our souls for a seat at the table. "The kingdom is where we belong," wrote Frederick Buechner. "It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all homesick for it."
Saturday, February 24
5:45 PM I'm back on the farm after a superlative day. Ran one of my best 5K races ever. Not that it was my fastest 5K. It wasn't. But you know, it's possible to achieve a big hairy audacious goal without breaking any records. Looking back on today's race, I only have good feelings about it. One, I achieved the goals I had set for this race: run at least an 11/min. mile pace and at least 5.5. mph (I ended up running a 10:43 min./mile pace and 5.6 mph). Woohoo!
Two, I had so much fun participating in the "Keep Virginia Beautiful" campaign. And three, I got to meet a lot of nice people. I left the farm at about 7:30. When I arrived in Richmond I was directed to a parking deck that cost me only 5 bucks. I was relieved to find a parking space in Richmond, where parking is a blood sport. It was clearly in downtown, as you can see.
A 10 minute walk later and I arrived at the race venue: the historic Tredegar Iron Works.
There were gobs of people running the race today. Many of us were also there to pick up trash for two hours.
Here's the post-pickup group photo. Can you find Waldo?
At 11:45 it was time to line up for the race. Of course, the fastest (or at least the youngest) lined up in front.
I staked out my territory about a third of the way from the front and awaited the announcer's "Go!"
Then we were off. There were a lot of people running today. Throughout the race I was lapping them pretty regularly.
I was maintaining my pace without ever feeling tired. About the halfway point, the crowd thinned out considerably.
I was encouraged that I was able to keep up a good pace. Soon we crossed the bridge over the James.
I was running the entire time without taking any walk breaks, just as I planned to.
Then "it" happened. Out of nowhere, a stairway appeared. I kid you not. A set of stairs that we were supposed to climb.
For crying out loud! Tell me it's not so! Am I on an obstacle course or what? Nobody told me there would be stairs! The mass of runners was reduced to a slow shuffle as we made our way up -- and then down -- those stairs.
We all stared at those stairs with unbelief. (I will not apologize for that pun.) Seriously, do the race organizers know this happened? Of course, we all survived and went through to the other side, where we encountered -- get this! -- two-way traffic!
Soon, however, everyone was happy again. We we were crossing the James back into Richmond and the sun was even shining!
I was bound and determined to finish strong. I lathered my way past several runners. Then I scrambled past a few others.
Then, for the second time today, the unthinkable happened. I got passed by
... a dog!
Man alive, they were flying! I watched indignantly as this four-footed beast ambled past me as though I was a lamppost. At least he didn't stop and do his business. And I always thought dogs loved me. Traitor. My resolve began to melt away. This was the height of indignity. A new low. Soon thereafter, I had an anticlimactic end of the event, except for having a cheesy picture taken with a couple of ersatz dinosaurs.
Even though I felt cheated out of a better time, I did love this race. It was so worth it. Even being passed by a dog was worth it. After I crossed the finish line, I hung around to watch the other runners finish their race. Running offers you so many inspiring moments. I watched overweight people finish. I watched disabled people finish. I watched more dogs finish with their masters. (Ha-ha, I beat you!) I watched people who really struggled to finish. (You guys rocked!) Friend, never let the fear of struggling through a race hold you back. We all have to start somewhere. Whenever I felt tired out there on the course it was so good to look up and see other runners being strong and supportive. I want to thank everyone who ran beside me today. You are the greatest.
Next time, though, could you please leave your pooches at home?
6:58 AM Yo folks,
It promises to get up to about 70 degrees today so I'm planning on spending a good deal of my time today outdoors. I'm feeling 100 percent (all praise to Jesus) so I've decided to participate in the Shiver in the River 5K in Richmond today. It's a pretty neat event. It's held at the historic Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond adjacent to the James River. The first two hours are called "Community Cleanup" when we collect trash along the banks of the James and adjacent neighborhoods. This is the perfect time of the year to do this because the low vegetation leaves trash and recyclables clearly visible. Then at noon we get to enjoy the beauty of the James River with a 5K that includes views of downtown and crosses the brand new Potterfield Memorial Bridge. Finally there's the "James River Jump" -- which is exactly what it sounds like: a jump into the chilly James River. (I'll pass on this part of the event.)
So what to yak about before I need to leave for Richmond? I am super excited to announce that my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church will be translated into Farsi.
It's already available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin, so, hey, what's one more language? I have so much to say about this but so little time, so let me just share with you one page from the book.
As you can see, whenever I talk about every-member ministry and a "fellowship of leadership" I am in heaven. It all started in seminary when I began to rethink the wineskins, and a huge part of my pilgrimage was due to the writings of a certain Brethren scholar named Elton Trueblood. Who's he? Only one of the most powerful intellects of the twentieth century, right up there with Jacque Ellul and Vernard Eller. Whew, what a book this is!
I reread it in one sitting on my front porch last night and I just have to share with you a couple of pull quotes. Hope you don't mind.
Oh that's good! Here's another one.
Then there's this:
Yeah, and if the church down the road can put on a better show, I'm outta here! Finally:
Or, as I've often said, the gathering exists for the going. The bottom line? Every one of us has a voice. Every one of us has a necessary part to play in what God is doing in this world.
Genius. That's what the Bible is. It nails it every time. I mean, this is a layup. Folks, we could get this right if we really wanted to. Our current concept of church focuses on performance and encourages busy-ness and constant activity on the part of our leaders. But the heart of the equipping pastor is to release others into ministry -- a ministry that is just as "fulltime" as theirs is. Evangelicalism has become shallow. We are happy but not deep. We've become soft and flabby despite all the work that is yet to be done.
As part of my equipping ministry I spend time walking my students through such critical passages as Eph. 4:11-12 and Matt. 28:19-20. Christianity is superficial because it is so often founded on books about the Bible rather than on the Bible itself. But our Lord speaks plainly. His is no hot tub religion (to cite the title of one of James Packer's books). Perhaps a good place to change this would be to send people overseas to work alongside national leaders and be their servants. At home, leaders can begin to do the hard work of equipping servants. The truth is that significant ministry in the church and the world can only come by sacrifice.
Off to the races (and cleanup)!
Friday, February 23
9:46 AM I hope you saw our announcement about our linguistics conference, slated for April, 2019. I've always found it interesting to watch how different minds tackle the same problem. Someday, praise God, we'll no longer have the need to study languages – any language. The one thing all of us teachers of Greek have in common is a love for the language and an irrepressible joy when we see our students "get it." But none of us would claim that we have the last word when it comes to grammar or even pedagogy. In the midst of all this, I'm still mulling over the matter of verbal aspect. What in the world shall we call the three (or two) aspects? This morning I want to share a few comments in the hopes of nudging the conversation forward.
First, as I reread Joshua Covert's summary of recent approaches to the problem – and the wide variety of terms used to describe the aspects – I'm more convinced than ever that this is a real problem for Greek scholars and students alike, and it's frankly beautiful to watch the discussion proceed. For our students' sake (at the very least), we need to work towards some kind of agreement or standardization, don't you think?
Secondly, I think the elephant in the room has yet to be discussed. It seems to me that a major part of the problem, if not the biggest challenge we face, is the fact that Greek teachers and linguists are often talking past each other. Each of us approaches the problem from a different set of perspectives. For the Greek teacher, for example, pedagogy is paramount. Moreover, most of us have little or no formal training in the science of linguistics. This doesn't mean that we aren't interested in what linguists are saying. We are. It's just that we don't always feel that we necessarily have to follow their explanations or terminology. Perhaps a classic example of this is what we encountered in our Greek 4 class on Tuesday night. Both of our commentaries (by Fee and Weima) expressed puzzlement over the fact that Paul used the adverb pantote ("always") with an aorist infinitive. How in the world can something that's "punctiliar" (both commentators used that word) be continual? This will not do. Ever since Frank Stagg published his essay "The Abused Aorist" in JBL (followed up later by Charles Smith's "Errant Aorist Interpreters" in GTJ), teachers have been cautioning their Greek students not to view the aorist as referring to a "punctiliar" action. Yet still today one hears statements, in both sermon and commentary, such as "The aorist here shows that Paul had in mind a once-for-all-action." Much of this confusion stems (I believe) from A. T. Robertson’s use of "punctiliar" to describe the aorist tense. Of course, Robertson never meant us to understand a "once-for-all action," yet the term "punctiliar" was easily misunderstood to mean that very thing. After all, something that is "punctiliar" has one single "Punkt" or "point," doesn't it? My point here (no pun meant) is simply this: While Greek scholars are obliged to learn as much as they can from linguists (and I, a non-linguist, have even published two books on the subject), they are not obligated to follow linguistic science blindly.
Thirdly, I’m not sure we New Testament teachers are as far apart as the evidence may seem to point. I prefer "aoristic" instead of "punctiliar" because of the way the latter term has been abused by preachers and commentators. "Aoristic" works because its very meaning is "undefined." In other words, by choosing aoristic aspect, an author is intentionally refraining from trying to describe how an action occurred. The action is a-oristos – "unlimited" or "undefined" in terms of its kind of action. This is precisely the point that was made by both Stagg and Smith in their journal articles.
Finally, let me say why I still prefer my terms. Think about how easy we make it for our students when we say that the imperfect tense has "imperfective" aspect, and that the perfect tense has "perfective" aspect, and that the aorist tense has "aoristic aspect." Now don't get me wrong. I'm willing to change my nomenclature if I can be convinced to do so. Indeed, Robert Picirilli, in a JETS essay, makes a suggestion I am almost happy with. Addressing the "issue of terminology," he writes:
"Wholistic" may well work better than "aoristic," and I'm open to using that language, though I still feel it's too confusing, from a pedagogical standpoint, to use "stative" for "perfective." Anyways, I hope you're enjoying this discussion as much as I am. I've held conferences at SEBTS to discuss the synoptic problem, textual criticism, the authorship of Hebrews, the ending of Mark, and the story of the adulteress, and I'm hoping that our gathering in 2019 will shed more light than heat on the topic of verbal aspect. As with so many other matters, "Let the discussion continue!"
8:55 AM Here are some great marathons for first time runners.
7:40 AM Morning all! I'm feeling much better this morning after taking Airborne and getting a really good night's sleep. There's a 5K in Richmond tomorrow that I'm praying about. Might not run it though, just volunteer. We'll see how I'm feeling today. Speaking of races, my son and daughter in Birmingham sent me this video of us finishing the half marathon with our hands raised over our heads like we had just won the race.
Such happy memories. Last night I was reading Hal Higdon's book Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, and on p. 44 he lists the top 11 reasons why people sign up for marathons. I found the list interesting and thought you might too.
1) Have been running shorter distances; moving up
2) For motivation: "If I can do this, I can do anything"
3) Inspired by others who ran marathons
4) To get in shape for health reasons
5) To lose weight
6) To cope with divorce or other traumatic lifestyle change
7) For the love of running
8) In memory of someone
9) Bucket list: something I always wanted to do
10) For mental health
11) To challenge myself
It's surprising that "raising money for charity" isn't on the list because that's one of the main reasons I ran my first marathon last May. By God's grace I was able to raise $7,000.00 for the hospital in Chapel Hill where Becky was treated. I think races also give us a chance to satisfy our God-given desire for wild adventure. If nothing else, races bring people together, even if it's only through sweat and a sense of shared desperation to finish.
Right now, however, I'm focused on 1 Thessalonians. I want to complete my colon analysis of 2:17-20 this morning and then work on the paper I'm reading at the ETS Southwest Region meeting in Houston a week from today. The theme is "New in the Old and Old in the New," with a plenary paper given by Greg Beale of Westminster Seminary. Here's the schedule. My paper will cover the opening paragraph of Hebrews, where God's speaking to the forefathers through the prophets is contrasted with His speaking directly to us through One who's status is Son. This topic is as accidental as my discovery of linguistics back in the early 80s. Had I never dabbled in discourse analysis I would have never even thought of writing an essay for the Westminster Theological Journal on Heb. 1:1-4. As it turned out, that essay was the first of several forays into text-linguistics. At the same time, I also stumbled across the idea of challenging the modern (really, Old Testament) conception of pastors as some kind of Protestant priests. I became possessed by the idea that pastors are not called primarily to do the work of serving others but to prepare God's people for serving others. I have become convinced that liberating the so-called laity is not merely an afterthought in the New Testament but one of its central themes. It's much like runners do when we are helping less experienced runners get ready for a race. We watch for underdeveloped powers in these novice runners, draw them out of their self-limitations, and then help them to bring potentiality into reality. That this is a self-validating task should be obvious but it isn't in many of our churches. Today is a time for radical transformation of the whole people (laos) of God into a ministering army. But only the Lord Himself can accomplish this. It is He who makes ministers. They can be developed by training but never created by it. Lord, do it today. Do it in my church and in my classrooms. First, do it in my own heart.
Thanks for reading,
Thursday, February 22
8:35 PM If you were thinking about doing the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati this May, I'm afraid it's too late to register. The Pig Pen is packed!
The full marathon has sold out, though there is a waiting list. Other races, including the half marathon, are nearing capacity. One of the best parts of racing is the comradery and the chance to spend time with other awesome runners. Runners are a very forgiving group of people. Even with our gross toenails and snot shooting from our nostrils like rockets, runners enjoy each other's company. I have gotten so much encouragement, advice, and good vibes from my fellow runners and it's meant the world to me. It'll be good to get back to Cincy. Sure, the elevation climb from mile 5 to mile 8 is intimidating, but it isn't all that bad. After that there are a lot of downhills. And the crowd support is nonstop from start to finish. Most important of all, there are aid stations every mile and so water is never an issue. It's a tough race for sure but one I'll never forget.
7:10 PM With only 16 days to go before a 10K race in Washington, DC (which I'm running with my daughter's husband), I've started to sneeze and sniffle. Today was supposed to be a training day, but instead I've found myself confined to the house except for a few walks on the farm with Sheba. Thankfully, it's not a full-blown head cold yet and maybe I still have time to nip it in the bud. I'm hoping this means that I still get in a couple of runs next week. As usual, I'm being impatient with myself. But the Lord apparently has other plans for me right now. Anyway, I just finished reading Cory Reese's book Nowhere Near First and just have to share with you what he writes in chapter 23, which is called "The Tale of the Three Unwise Men." After telling a story about going out too fast in a race, he offers his readers some tips about racing, whether you're a beginner running your first 5K or someone who's running their tenth 100-miler. I pass them on to you but I'm really listing them here for my own edification. Now if I can only heed what he says!
Here are his 9 tips:
1) Pace yourself. Cory says you have to train yourself to move at an uncomfortably slow pace at the beginning of a race so that you have enough juice to finish. He likens this to spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. Go too fast and you'll run out before reaching the end of the slice of bread. Go too slow and you'll have a big clump of peanut butter at the end. "If you're running a perfect race, your energy and effort should be spread evenly throughout the entire race."
2) Be aware of where you are at in the race. A 5K race isn't run the same way as an ultra marathon. Pace yourself and never let yourself become impatient.
3) Bank energy, not time. I think this was the tip I enjoyed the most. Again, you can't go out too fast or you'll end up doing the death shuffle at the end.
4) Be smart at aid stations. He means, when you arrive at an aid station, decide ahead of time what you'll need and grab it quickly and purposefully. "Beware the chair," he says. Amen to that. Sitting down during a long race rarely if ever makes anything better. I know. I've tried it.
5) Treat each training run and each race as an experiment. Learn from your mistakes and make needed changes for the next time around. There's always something to learn from every run and every race. Even experienced racers are always trying to figure out new things.
6) Our bodies are incredible pieces of machinery. But we need to take care of them. (Read: Dave, it's okay to rest when you have the sniffles.) He especially says we need to take care of our feet. Treating foot issues before they rear their ugly head is the key.
7) Give your pacers and crew explicit instructions before you race. Obviously this tip doesn't apply to a short race like a 5K. His point is that if you have people pacing for you, make sure you discuss with them beforehand what kind of motivation works best for you. Should they go ahead of you or behind you? Do you want to avoid conversations or to engage in them while running? Make sure they understand that dropping out is not an option for you unless there's a risk of injury.
8) Stay focused on nutrition and hydration. Again, this is something I've had to learn the hard way. It's so easy to forget about drinking during a race. Then there's the temptation of trying a new Goo at an aid station. You need to figure out what works for you and stick with that plan.
9) You (yes, YOU!), are capable of doing so much more than you know. "Go out and do something awesome," he writes. "Take a step beyond that line of what is comfortable." Yep. That's exactly right. Nothing like running a long distance race to see what you're made of. We'll never experience the depth of living without taking risks. I just hope and pray that when I jump over that proverbial cliff, I'll soar rather than fall flat.
I will say that I really enjoyed this book. Most of what I read I already knew. Still, it's always an encouragement when a running moron like me is challenged to become a better runner. Maybe I should just stop complaining about not feeling good and appreciate that I'm able to run at all. I love what running has become in my life. I love the joy at watching what I can make this old body do. Thank you, Lord!
5:45 PM I've often told my students, "A great preacher is simple without being simplistic." No one exemplified this truth more than Billy Graham. Watch his message, "Who Is Jesus?"
12:40 PM Hey there! This morning I was reading an interesting study documenting why so many teenagers are inactive.
It only makes sense. Children love playing outdoors. But by the time we reach junior high school, facts become more important than activity. Now we have supervised physical activity called PE. Play is replaced by calisthenics. When I was in intermediate school, the ocean was my playground. Surfing was non-rational. Fitness, for me, was fun. Which is why I thought my PE classes were such a waste of time.
Today, all kinds of adults are rediscovering the playfulness of their childhood. Running, hiking, mountain climbing, surfing, swimming, cycling, tennis, skiing, rowing -- all are gaining adherents who never look back. I'm one of them. Today I'm as physically active as I was when I was a child. The reason is simple: I found something I love doing. Unlike PE, which was pure drudgery, running is fun. The main thing is to keep experimenting until you find an activity you love. Maybe it will be a form of activity that never occurred to you before. The ancient Romans referred to the homo ludens -- "the human who plays." The happiest adults are those who are still children. They become a seamless union of mind, spirit, and body.
My philosophy of running? Don't do it unless you absolutely can't help it!
8:18 AM Odds and ends ....
1) 24 days to my next marathon. I can't even guesstimate how I'm going to do. I guess I'll find out. I'm trying to get my mind focused on the big race. I want to do 10 miles either today or tomorrow but that will depend on how quickly I recover from spending 3 days performing brain surgery (well, that's how teaching feels like sometimes).
2) Got a huge dose of inspiration today from reading a blog post called 8 Wake Up Calls You Need to Receive. The passing of Billy Graham reminded me that we never know when life will change and your loved one will be gone forever. If Becky were still here, I'd go over to her and give her a big hug and tell her much I love her. Friend, don't miss a chance to tell someone you love how wonderful they are and how beautiful they are inside and out. Another point the article makes is that we don't need to be afraid to fail. Even if I never finish the ultra marathon I'm running in April, I will forever be grateful (and astonished!) that I tried. "Swallow your pride; it's not fattening," someone has said. I couldn't agree more.
3) It occurred to me that I'm turning 66 this year. What's different? Not much. I feel like I'm 40, have felt like this for years. 66 is merely a number. I am at peace with myself. I know I will never qualify for Boston. I know I've reached the peak of my writing powers. Of course, I wish I could run in Boston and I wish I could writer better, but what matters even more to me is that I'm running the race of life with all my might. The person who wins the race and the person who finishes dead last are making the same effort. My goal is never happiness. Happiness is at best the by-product of striving to achieve all that God wants us to achieve in this life. There's no time for dilly-dallying, folks. Whatever is necessary, do it now. So you're getting old. So what? "There are no specific sensations of old age," wrote E. M. Glasser in the British Medical Journal. "If you are well, you are just yourself, as you have always been." I am, as far as I can tell, the same person who surfed the Pipeline when he was 16 and the same person who dated a tall Texan when he was 24 and the same person who wept at her funeral and the same person who enjoys teaching today as much as he did when he entered the classroom 42 years ago. If I cannot stay young, I can at least stay fresh. And that is my thought this day about aging.
4) The goal of our linguistics conference (see yesterday's blog) is to jumpstart a conversation. What began with a few publications (my 1988 book on linguistics included) has become something that clatters, consumes, and confuses. So let the discussion continue. I see that the conference has already generated some online discussion. Honestly, I'm not surprised. We all desire a better understanding of what this "new perspective" is all about. In one post I read, somebody wondered out loud whether the conference papers would be published. I can assure you: that is exactly the intent of Dr. Merkle and myself. In fact, we discussed this yesterday before our faculty meeting and will begin very shortly contacting a potential publisher for the book. Fast forward a few years and, Lord willing, Greek teachers will have a book they can use in their Greek classes. Incidentally, I'm overwhelmed by God's goodness, which seems to know no bounds. He is worthy of our adoration every single second of every single day. I'm hoping the conference will be a feast, a time to celebrate how the Creator made languages to work, an unmistakable shout out to the Lord of all.
5) Finally, here's a Graham quote from Jonathan Merritt's essay at the New York Times:
Then there's this:
Merritt concludes his essay with these words:
Have a blessed day,
Wednesday, February 21
8:54 PM I ran 4 miles yesterday in the fog at our local park in Wake Forest. I really wanted to run again this morning but my schedule was chockablock full. This is what the park looked like yesterday.
Afterwards I showered, got dressed, and went to the office to meet a student for lunch.
Briggs is one of the best American-style restaurants in town, and their sandwiches are out of this world. Like you, I have certain favorite places I like to eat. Briggs is my go-to place when I want a quiet conversation without television sets blaring.
So what else to report? This week we experienced a milestone in my Greek 2 classes. We began translating verses from the Greek New Testament instead of my made-up sentences. We sight-read in class and the students nailed verse after verse. I am so proud of them.
What else shall I mention? The registration page for our linguistics conference on campus went live this week. The link is found here.
The conference kicks off in April 2019. Friday's speakers include Porter, Levinsohn, Hudgins, Buth, Halcomb, and Plummer.
Saturday features Campbell, Pennington, Aubrey, Runge, and Ellis.
You can sign up any time.
Finally, Billy Graham is now in heaven. What a great soul. Everything for him was wrapped up in the Gospel. Sin, he said, is our problem, and when that problem is solved, everything else comes with it. It takes no talent to locate God's men and women. Their hearts are perfect toward Him. This doesn't mean they're sinless. But their hearts are set on pleasing God. There's nothing between their soul and the Savior. Here are two quotes by Billy Graham I just absolutely love.
Billy Graham bore the loss of his precious Ruthie with grace and nobleness. He aged well. His was not a Pollyanna life. But he met every trial with Christ. Everyone knew here was no ordinary man. Wherever he went, he left a trail of blessing. His "business" was to glorify God, and glorify Him he did. That's what we're here for as Christians. In body and in spirit, in sickness or health, by what we do and what we don't do, by life or by death, our business is to glorify God, whatever it takes. When Graham spoke in Honolulu in 1965, I sang in the choir. I was 13 years old. "I love the music that you have out here," he said. "The spirit of aloha seems to be in your music. It seems to be in your expression, in your smile. I've never been to a state or a place where everyone seems to have a certain amount of happiness." Happy or not, Hawaiians were going to hear the Gospel preached to them. Graham called for his audience to submit in uncompromising, unquestioning obedience every day of their lives.
Like the apostle Paul, Billy Graham had something to forget -- "things behind." He had things to reach toward -- "things before." There was something to press toward -- "the mark." And there was something to work for -- "the prize" -- and he worked for it (Phil. 3:13). He was kept going by Jesus. He labored in the strength of Another. This strength is not just for preachers. He will keep us going as well. "My sinful self my only shame; my glory all the cross." I'm sure Billy Graham sung that many times. He gloried in Christ's cross. He had died with Him there. And today he saw Christ face to face. Even in his death, Billy Graham is drawing people to the Savior. He knew that along with privilege goes responsibility. Where much is given, much is required. The Christian looks unto Jesus for salvation and for every need. All other "looking up" is vain. When our loved ones die, God is still on His throne. Indeed, the passing of Billy Graham is but a prelude to an endless story that will unfold throughout eternity. Thanks be to God.
Giver of peace, we work daily at the job of practicing what Paul said to the Philippians: "I've learned in whatever state I'm in to be content" (Phil. 4:11). When Your saints die, that attitude helps us to accept what cannot be changed. O God the Spirit, fill our minds at this moment with the memory of a life well lived, of a man whose witness and service for You we recall with gratitude and humility. Lord, even if we're old clay, we can still be reworked. What we pray is that we may remain faithful as long as we last. Loving Savior, for the genuine encouragement You offer us by the faithful servants of the past, we thank You. Now help us to run our race with perseverance, so that one day we too may join the community of saints. Amen.
Monday, February 19
7:34 AM Vituperation. Noun meaning abusive language, a sustained and bitter condemnation. Synonyms include invective, disparagement, vilification, scolding, condemnation, opprobrium, obloquy, castigation, attack, censure, vitriol, venom. From Latin vituperatio, from the past participle of vituperare, "disparage." Examples include:
A more negative and ungodly human trait can scarcely be imagined. I once worked for a man in California who used abusive language constantly. It was a well-paying job so I overlooked his fault until one day he turned his opprobrium on me. The next day he had my resignation on his desk. (I'm ashamed it took me so long.) We humans tend to vilify others when we disagree with them. We revel in other people's humiliation. Some of us vilify others by talking behind their backs. Others are happy to use abusive language in public. Nazi propaganda even published children's books that vilified Jews. Last year Facebook and Twitter spent much of their time cataloguing Russia-backed ad spending on their sites to vilify certain presidential candidates in the 2016 election. Someone has said, "To bake a vilification cake, just add ignorance and stir." All wrong recoils upon the vilifier. He or she finds ugliness attractive. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, "To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness." If I were to call someone "very insecure," "lightweight," "totally unhinged," "dishonest," "totally biased," "a total loser," or "sick" in public, odds are that I'd only be describing myself.
People seem to vilify others more in politics than other fields of endeavor. John Ehrlichman, a key player in the Watergate scandal, once famously said:
Ehrlichman was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy and sent to prison.
The reason I'm bringing this up? In our passage for the week, 1 Thess. 2:13-16, Paul is said by some scholars to be using vituperation/invective. One commentator, for example, refers to Paul's "attack on the Jewish people." He says that Paul and other New Testament writers used "vituperation directed at the Jewish people as a tool in the struggle," never dreaming "of the consequences of their statements on subsequent generations." Well, I'm not buying it. As Willi Marxsen has shown, an anti-Semitic interpretation of 1 Thess. 2:13-16 can be held only when these verses are disconnected from their context (Einleitung in das Neue Testament, pp. 48ff.). I've already blogged about the punctuation at the end of verse 14. The difference is between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses. So if you punctuate the text as is commonly done ("... the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus..."), I think you're missing Paul's point big time. A more accurate rendering, in my view, would be:
It's clear that Paul's words are directed at only those Jews who were hostile towards the Gospel and, indeed, his words aren't aimed at Jewish opponents alone, insofar as the readers' own countrymen (who were Gentiles) were attempting to thwart Paul's evangelistic efforts. In class Tuesday night we'll talk about this subject. We have to. A large part of exegesis comes down to observing carefully the details of a passage. It requires us to disabuse ourselves of our attachment to modern marks of punctuation (which for the most part are merely the contributions of editors). It all boils down to a close reading of the text, a willingness to consider the context, and an ability to read commentaries discerningly and even suspiciously.
Is vituperation a characteristic of the world's most loving and selfless apostle? I think not. Such a character flaw is only descriptive of small people. Very small people.
Sunday, February 18
6:45 PM So what am I doing tonight? I can tell you what I'm not doing. Reading a certain man's Twitter account filled with misspellings and profanity. Let's see. I watched a fabulous interview with Gov. John Kasich about gun laws. I perused several websites on textual criticism. And most important of all, I've been listening to the fabulous music of Gabrieli, including my all-time favorite composition of Andrea called Aria della Battaglia.
How beautiful these wind instruments! Great intonation, and I speak as a (former) trumpet player. This music is paradise. Chills all over. All I hear is the beauty of each individual's musicianship collectively playing together in an unforgettable moment in time. Would that our nation could do the same.
3:54 PM When I woke up this morning I knew it was going to be a perfect day for training. After enjoying a hearty breakfast and making sure the animals were fed and watered, I drove an hour to one of my favorite spots on Planet Earth, historic Farmville, VA. As you can see, Southside Virginia was as beautiful as ever.
First up on my agenda was to attend a Jesus community in Farmville that I've come to know and love ever since I first started training in that town for my 2015 climb in the Alps. The message today focused on Paul's arduous trip to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20-21).
More on that later. Eventually I arrived at the start of my workout.
I knew I would either be doing a 10K run or a 13.1 mile bike ride. I decided to do the half marathon distance in honor of the race I did with my kiddos exactly a week ago in Birmingham. (Wow! Was that only a week ago? Tempest fidgets, as the Romans would say!) The trail was practically deserted for a Sunday afternoon.
The Olympics you think? I did eventually bump into an older couple out for a walk and they graciously agreed to snap my photo for prosperity.
As you can witness, it took me an hour and 14 minutes to cycle 13.1 miles at an average speed of 10.6 mph -- which sounds fast until you realize that elite marathoners run 26.2 miles at a speed of 12 mph. Egads.
Then I pigged out on a wonderful Reuben's Sandwich at the local hole in the wall. Pure deliciousness!
As for today's sermon, the verse that stuck out to me during the message was Acts 20:13.
Here we read that Paul's companions sailed from Troas to Assos while Paul decided to hoof it. Paul's motives for wanting to walk to Assos while the others sailed are unknown, but my guess is that he was glad to have a couple of days of solitude. Incidentally -- and I found this factlet most interesting! -- the distance between Troas and Assos is 20 miles, which we all know is the exact distance marathoners run before tapering in preparation for race day -- which obviously means that Paul was a marathoner. Little wonder I enjoy the sport so much! Anyhoo, I'm so grateful to God for granting us such a gorgeous day after a fairly rainy week. I love where I live. I love training on deserted trails. I love the solitude, miles from the maddening crowds. No traffic. No shopping centers. Just wide open spaces. The bottom line is that cycling perfectly complements your running routine and weight training program. Without the stress of impact, you can train your cardiovascular system and bring it up to speed.
Time to dust off that old bike of yours?
7:56 AM If you're into running (even a 5K), you need to check out Strava's Running Pace Calculator. So I've got 8 hours to complete a 50K race (31 miles). If I run/walk at a 4 mph pace (= 15 min./mile), I can finish in 7:46:02 -- which is a relief, because I suspect that I'll be doing a lot of walking, especially on the hills.
Love these gadgets!
7:34 AM Phillip Long continues his two-part discussion of the warning passage in Hebrews 6 here. He argues that the passage "... is a rhetorical strategy, to describe the worst case imaginable, then show how the reader has not gone quite that far yet." That's a possible interpretation for sure. But then he uses an analogy that, I think, overstates his case:
Here's where I agree and disagree with this analogy. I'm sure all of us Greek teachers do our very best to equip our students to pass their exams. But does that guarantee they will all pass? How can we know that "none of them will fail the exam" for certain? We simply can't. There are no guarantees, despite our best efforts. I might put it this way: Learning doesn't always occur even when good teaching takes place. I'm sure my high school Algebra 2 teacher was a fantastic instructor, but I failed the class anyway. Each of us, I'm sure, would eagerly love to have a handle on this passage. But the debate is a shifting debate. This shouldn't surprise us. This is how scholarship works. Scholars put forth their arguments (with their analogies) and receive counterarguments in return. I've read both of Phillip's essays and have benefited and been enriched by them. This invites all of us, myself included, to approach this passage humbly and charitably.
7:15 AM A few quotes from Cory Reese's Nowhere Near First: Ultramarathon Adventures from the Back of the Pack.
Even if you're not a runner, I think you would enjoy this book.
6:58 AM Love unselfishly and sacrificially. Even if you get nothing in return. That's genuine love. That's Christ's love.
Love is very patient,
Nor is she conceited,
She never is resentful,
She bears up under everything,
(For more New Testament poetry, go here.)
Saturday, February 17
7:18 PM Back to our discussion of 1 Thess. 2:13-16 for a minute. Verse 13 is a real hoot in the Greek.
I confess to being a complete fanatic when it comes to rhetorical devices in the Greek New Testament. A complete weirdo, in fact. Take a look at verse 13. Here Paul writes, in effect, "when you received the word of hearing from us of God." I told you it was a hoot. I once wrote an essay called Literary Artistry in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There I noted several instances of what's called hyperbaton. Hyperbaton involves the separation of words that naturally belong together. Here are a few examples from Hebrews:
That's just crazy cool. Here in 1 Thess. 2:13 we're stuck with a conundrum. Does "of God" belong with "word" or with "hearing"? And why does Paul separate "of God" from its noun phrase? Some scholars think that the words "of God" are redundant if they refer to "word." Isn't every word preached by the apostle Paul the word "of God"? Or is "of God" being set apart for the sake of emphasis? (I tend to think so.)
I am no expert in rhetorical criticism, but boy the difference a simple rhetorical device can make!
6:28 PM Two quick thoughts about the Florida shooting:
1) In a world where a fatally wounded Devil is still active, I'm not sure there can be any easy answers. As Jacque Ellul often pointed out in his various writings, Christian participation in the political process depends on a myriad of factors and is a continuum from political engagement on the one hand to countercultural disengagement on the other. These are the two poles I personally struggle with since they allow for a broad range of roles for the church. Either way, the church should never be seen as disinterested in social justice issues, even as it doggedly refuses to define "success" as political power.
2) "Thoughts and prayers" are certainly not enough when a community is suffering. But the opposite danger is also true. To view prayer as a cop-out is simply unbiblical. As Paul often reminded his readers, prayer is action. As the very least, we can pray for the families of the dead, for those who were wounded, and for those who are suffering from PTSD. We can pray for wisdom for our government officials as we are commanded to do in the New Testament. We can pray for wisdom as our nation begins yet another gun debate. (One of the greatest acts of vulnerability and courage is to listen with the exact same amount of passion with which we want to be heard.) But pray we must. Nothing opens a window into our personal walk with Jesus quite like the role that prayer plays in our lives. So when we say that thoughts and prayers are not enough, that our nation must act, let's not think that action is a substitute for prayer, because it's not.
I just watched the powerful video of survivor Emma Gonzalez. Those teens are on a mission. It reminded me of the passion I had in high school when my surfing buddies and I spoke out against the paving of Paradise. "Save Our Surf" (SOS) can't compare, of course, to what just happened in Florida. Are we listening? I'm reminded of the words of Alvin Tofler:
I, for one, am listening to you, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I am praying for you and for our nation. I feel your pain and sorrow. May God grant you healing, and may He grant us all wisdom, for He is indeed concerned about justice, shalom, and social-cultural transformation.
12:12 PM One of my favorite things about the sport of running is not running. This morning I woke up at 5:00 am tired and, besides, the weather was just plain too lousy for me to drive all the way to Chapel Hill for a 30-minute run in the cold and rain. I don't mind missing this race. My money was already paid up front, and for a great cause too. Rest days are just as important as workout days. They allow your body to grow stronger. By resting, you give yourself permission to recover from the stress and impact of the training cycle. Running is all about listening to your body. No training or running program needs to be followed slavishly. So today I'm allowing my body to rejuvenate and grow stronger. I'm kicking my feet up and just chillaxing.
My new motto is: Work hard ... but don't forget to rest.
8:58 AM This week in Greek 4 we're going through 1 Thess. 2:13-16. What a fascinating passage!
What I find incredibly interesting about this paragraph is the way Paul switches from aorist tense participles to present tense participles.
I've seen this pattern elsewhere, except in reverse order. Here the switch is extremely important exegetically.
One of the continuing hotbeds of discussion in Pauline studies is whether or not this passage can be used to suggest that Paul was in some way anti-Semitic. I've striven hard to consider the evidence with evenhanded fairness, but I really don't think there's any way this text shows that Paul had an animus against his Jewish brethren. This debate is one of the most volatile in the church today and will merit in-depth discussion on Tuesday. I love the emphasis in 1 Thessalonians on apologetics and evangelism. I like the way students are being exposed to Paul's philosophy of ministry. I especially love exploring with them the implications of the text for teaching and praxis. Any course in exegesis that fails to do this is doomed to irrelevance.
8:06 AM From The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul:
Today, I'm intrigued to note how often exegetical arguments are based upon subjective internal evidence. Arguably, this is not the best way to approach exegetical conundrums when there is an abundance of external evidence to be considered. I would prefer that our students be exposed to all of the evidence, even data that are contrary to the consensus opinio. I fear that much of the trouble goes back to the way we do theological training. Thus one will rarely (if ever) hear that "there is strong (although not probative) internal evidence and solid external evidence for the Paulinity of the epistle [to the Hebrews]." Now, I can see some force in arguments to the contrary, but to ignore the primary data is beyond comprehension.
Friday, February 16
7:20 PM I still can't believe I'm running my first ultra marathon in only 7 weeks. If I succeed, it will be like knocking off the peak of Everest. I used to read about ultra runners, about how they would use marathons as training runs for their ultras, and now I'm doing that very thing. I just hope and pray I can get to the starting line injury-free. My first ultra. Life sure is a crazy journey and we keep learning along the way. Perhaps the greatest wisdom of all is realizing just how much wisdom you lack. Maybe the thing that's surprised me the most is how welcoming the running community is. Back in the 60s, running used to be a "member's only" club. Now a runner is someone who runs -- no matter how fast, how long, how far. We run because we love it. It's about the journey, not the end.
Run gently out there,
6:10 PM From Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek:
An organized whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That's why discourse analysis is so important in New Testament studies!
1:20 PM What a great morning it's been! Got my 5K in. Watched Nate spread fertilizer. (You know the saying: "I love work. I can watch it all day.")
Visited with my Person County grandkids.
They are so sweet!
Last but not least, what do yall think of this church sign I saw on my drive today?
Don't you love it? Reminds me of a great book Joe Hellerman wrote called When the Church Was a Family. One of the things we're trying to do in our NT 1 class is to study carefully the biblical nature of the church. My own thinking about the church has benefited immeasurably by books like Joe's. The church is a family where everyone has a role to play. But when we insist on a clergy-laity division, we exclude 90 or 95 percent of all followers of Jesus. By the way, I think I've come up with the perfect replacement for "churches." I want to start calling them Jesus communities. I know this must appear like a frivolous suggestion. But the way we talk about the church -- the speech patterns we use -- reflect and reinforce our concepts about the church, be they biblical or unbiblical. If, for example, we banned "layperson" from our vocabulary, this might force us to rethink how "ministry" should take place in our Jesus communities. Each member of the family of God is involved in "the work of the ministry" in some way or another. These small steps toward renewal don't mean that we have to reject the institutional church. But they might just help us to be honest and open to rethinking the wineskins. "The Family of God." Should this not be a mark of evangelicalism's "unity in truth"? Hope so!
7:55 AM Odds and ends ....
1) Anthony Zurcher of the BBC is correct: One side wants to talk about nothing but mental health. The other side wants to talk about nothing but gun control. And Washington will do nothing. Again. Read One Shooting, two Americas. I'm well-armed, as is everyone who operates a farm. But I see no reason whatsoever to allow a 19-year old to purchase a semiautomatic rifle when he can't even buy a can of beer. I'm horrified at the deaf ears of our leaders. To those who say that semi-automatic assault rifles should be made illegal nationwide, I say more power to you. By the way, this is simply my personal opinion. It's not a "Christian" position. And I know there is no absolute political answer to the problem. I'm just baffled when godly and sincere people are even against background checks. Our leaders can and should do better.
2) MacDonald's is taking cheeseburgers out of Happy Meals? What is this world coming to? I guess we'll have to call it an Unhappy Meal from now on.
Fact of the matter is: Eating an occasional cheeseburger won't affect your health in the least. Good health depends on your overall lifestyle and eating habits. And this is where we fail as a society. We can all do better. One step at a time. One meal at a time.
3) For you Bible geeks out there, I just posted a new Power Point called The Great Commission. It's a quasi-argument against the view that "nations" in the Gospel Commission of Jesus is referring to "people groups." (For the Power Point to work properly, be sure to download and open it before viewing.) I've also posted a collection of sermon outlines of 1 Thess. 1:6-10. There's always something new at our Greek Portal!
4) The best running apps. Yes, Map My Run is included.
5) Paul Himes asks, Can Christians eat sushi? I sure hope so!
Thursday, February 15
9:46 PM Oh. Almost forgot. Nate and Jess came over today to load up some hay. Which meant that I got to see my boys. Here I am helping Graham.
Nolan, of course, insisted on moving the bales himself.
Bradford discovered that bales could just as easily be pushed as carried.
Meanwhile, Peyton thought the goats should get the leftovers. How cute!
And Chesley? He was the supervisor.
Love them boys!
9:14 PM There are so many good, God things going on right now I hardly know where to start. First off, my daughter Matthea has been blogging again. If you've ever experienced major loss and deep, inconsolable grief, you definitely HAVE to read the essay she posted today. It's called Does God love me? A few years ago, Jon and Matthea lost their full term baby named Kai. Just writing that sentence brings tears to my eyes. I was at the hospital and held baby Kai in my arms. This was about a year after Becky had passed away. Together, Jon and Matthea and I discovered something through our pain: That it's virtually impossible to handle grief through human strength alone. Now, years later, we are able to look back on our experiences and see that the struggle in our souls was only resolved by what Matthea calls submission to truth, especially the truth that nothing, NOTHING, can separate us from the love of God. I thank God every night that He answered our prayers for spiritual healing, for giving us the assurance that He is in control even though He also assigns to us the ability to use our freedom to make good choices about how we handle grief and to remain faithful to Him even when the world all around us is screaming at us to forsake Him. Matthea's essay is a stark reminder that while God covets our love, He will never coerce us into a relationship. It's something we must choose. And we have. We have chosen to see our good God for who He is, even though we will never comprehend His sovereignty. I have made peace with the past. So have Jon and Matthea. So must you, my friend. If God is there to welcome our precious loved ones into heaven, He's also there to give us reason and courage to keep going and to continue believing.
One way people handle their grief and loss is by leveraging it for something good. This Saturday I'm registered to run in the Carolina Fever Fight Cancer 5K in Chapel Hill, on the same campus where Becky was treated for 4 long years. I've done this event twice already. I love this race. It's a way I can pay back the fine people at UNC for their tender care and aggressive treatment of Becky's endometrial cancer, which is the most common form of cancer that attacks a woman's reproductive organs. This year alone, over 63,000 new cases of endometrial cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S., and over 11,000 women will die from that disease. Becky was a woman of incomparable courage. She had a spirit of prayer far beyond the ordinary for our times. She challenged so many (me included) to serve a world that often languishes under misery. I will run this race for her and for every woman who suffers or will suffer from this terrible disease. Becky loved the people at UNC. So do I. It will be fun being back there again.
As for my "streak" running, today I got in a 5K at the Tobacco Heritage Trail in South Boston. I know that streak running has its pros and cons. But right now this is where I'm at. It doesn't mean that I'll stop cross training. Why, today I lifted at the Y for a good 45 minutes. Nor does it mean I'll go all out every day. The run streak, by the way, seems to have arisen from, basically, boredom. Marathoning is now old hat for many runners. For others who have gone on to run in ultra races, even super-long-distance races can lose their fizzle. For them, running every day gives them a good challenge to put their mind to. It's sort of like reading your Greek New Testament every day. It's actually quite fun to see whether you can keep up that pace. My goal is to mix up my running styles so that I don't grow bored of running. There are 8 basic types of running. They're called:
Today I did a tempo run where you perform at the fastest pace you can sustain for a certain period of time. At one point I was able to get up to 9 mph for a quarter of a mile -- a first for me. I did this several times, interspersing walking in between. Tomorrow I think I'll try a base run, which you do at your natural pace and which is not meant to be overly challenging. Then Saturday is race day. I really want to place in my age group but there aren't any group awards this time around. That won't stop me, of course, from running hard (I tend to overdo things in 5K races). Not gonna lie, I'm becoming quite competitive in my old age!
Finally (for now), here's a link to Tuesday's powerful and prophetic chapel message by Thabiti Anyabwile.
He asks, "Why isn't there more preaching about justice in our churches?" I agree completely. Passages such as Rom. 13:1-7 and 13:8-14 make it clear that political ethics can't be separated from the ethics of love and justice. True ethics demands charismatic responsibility. Thabiti considers it a very dangerous thing when we flatten the word "justice" to refer only to justification and imputation. He suspects that not one in a 100 pastors gets this right. "Preachers preach doctrine where the Bible is preaching duty." Duty and doctrine can't substitute one for the other, he says. Both are important. "It's like giving birth to twins and saying to the doctor, 'I only want to leave with one.'" Beginning at 48:08 he turns to the "current evangelical attachment to our president." Don't miss this part, folks. Principle, he says, has been abandoned for political power and pragmatism. I have rarely heard words so powerful. Thabiti approached his topic with wisdom, pastoral sensitivity, and love. His message is one all of us could profit from.
Well, gotta go and spend some time with Sheba. She is aging before my very eyes and some day I won't have her bark welcoming me home. "Live each day as if it were your last." What, my friend, are you doing, if anything, to make your life what you want it to become? Make each day count. I'll try to as well.
7:55 AM Last night I was so tired I couldn't blog about everything I wanted to. So I'm going to make up for it this morning before heading off to the Y. We'll call this post "potpourri."
1) The spirit of volunteerism was out in full force during Sunday's race. I loved seeing so many church groups literally passing out cups of cold water in Jesus' name. This sign stood in front of one of these church buildings.
Inspiring! By the way, I've been collecting my humble thoughts about running in a little book I've started writing. I think I'm going to call it From Side Line to Finish Line: How the Sport of Running Changed My Life Forever.
2) While in BH I had the joy of visiting Matthea's new booth at one of the local malls. She sells jewelry and natural soap made by women escaping poverty and human trafficking. Please check out Freegrance and support this fantastic ministry if you can.
3) Here is Jon and Matthea's Sheltie named Galana. She's my Sheba's daughter. Ain't she sweet?
4) Karis Lynn is almost walking. Unbelievable.
Reminds me of this quote by Mitch Alborn:
5) The owner of the Ethiopian restaurant in BH loved Becky's book.
So grateful she could finish writing it before she passed away. It continues to minister to so many! Blessed be His name.
6) One thing I've learned about running is that there's no one-to-one correlation between your finish time and the joy you experience out on the course. As you can see, I came in dead last in my age group (65-69) and am right proud of it.
I think I probably could have finished the race with a time of around 2:45, but nothing was going to keep me from running with my kids. The main differences between the three of us and the top finishers are related to genetics and priorities. Otherwise, our accomplishments were identical!
7) It may sound trite to say it, but no race can be successful without an army of volunteers and a whole host of uniformed officers keeping the streets safe for us runners. Every chance I got I tried to say a hearty "Thank you" to every volunteer I saw and to give a high five to the people standing between me and the traffic. No one who has ever run a race is ungrateful to these men and women.
8) Speaking of races, yesterday I purchased my plane tickets for my trip to Cincy in May for the Flying Pig Extravaganza.
This will mark the anniversary of my first marathon. Right now, as you read this post, there are millions of Americans who want to run a marathon but they're only dreaming. They aren't doing it. When I stood at the start of last year's race, I realized that I was trying something that 99 percent of the population has never tried. You don't dream your way into the marathon club. You earn it. Once they place that medal around your neck, it becomes a symbol of your willingness to not only dream big to act on your dream. Some people compete in marathons. Others complete marathons. But the sport is big enough to embrace us all.
9) Yesterday I started streaking. No, not that kind of streaking. I'm going to try and run every day until my marathon on March 18. I need to get more miles on these legs of mine before I attempt another long-distance race. Plus, there's my first ultra marathon to prepare for on April 8. Since I'm such a sucker for books about running, I decided to get this volume with what I thought was a super duper title. Hopefully I can pick up some good ideas about running my first 50K race.
10) This could go on forever! One more pic and I'm done! I just want to give a shout out to God for the amazing work He did in getting my Greek grammar into Spanish and now Mandarin.
To think that my beginning textbook is now available in the world's three most-widely spoken languages -- well, it blows my mind. My prayer is that God would somehow use these books to demystify Greek and show readers how mere mortals like me can learn to master a foreign language.
Wednesday, February 14
6:48 PM Hey everybody, and Happy Valentine's Day to you. As you know, last Sunday was RACE DAY! It was my 11th half marathon and Jon and Matthea's first.
Here's a brief recap:
I arrived in Birmingham on Thursday. Since I was going to be in Alabama for the race on Sunday, I wanted to spend as much time with the Glasses as possible. We even found an Ethiopian restaurant in town and had a marvelous meal together.
On Friday, Jon and I did a 5K run through a local subdivision adjacent to a gorgeous park.
The day was sunny and even a little on the warm side.
All that was about to change, however. The weekend turned out to be cloudy and rainy, but nothing could dampen our spirits. We were running a HALF MARATHON!!! We made our way to the expo in downtown Birmingham. The drive there only took half an hour. There we got our race numbers and Jon and Matthea got new stickers for their cars.
Time to replace their 10K stickers with ones that read 13.1!
The expo was on the smallish side but exciting nonetheless. On Sunday morning we woke up incredibly early because we wanted plenty of time to eat a good breakfast and find parking at the venue. The food at the Waffle House was just what the doctor ordered.
When we arrived in downtown Birmingham, we had about an hour to wait before the race began. I don't know about Matthea and Jon, but I was a bit nervous. I'm always nervous before a race. You never know how those last 3 or 4 miles will go. Eventually we found our way to the back of the pack and waited for the race to begin.
Step by step we slowly shuffled forward, a sense of excitement filling our hearts, and suddenly we were off.
We were feeling good. Our running pace was a manageable one, and we often took walk breaks to keep our legs fresh.
I didn't think the hills were all that bad. We seemed to chug up those hills just fine. As we neared the 12-mile marker the excitement began to build. We decided to run the last 100 yards or so and join hands as we finished the race. I can tell you, we put whatever power we had left in our legs to cross that finish line. There we hugged and celebrated the end of the race. "You did it!" I said to Jon and Matthea. "You really did it!" We got our medals and then I asked someone to snap our picture.
We broke no records on Sunday. In fact, we finished at the very back of the pack. Did that matter? Not in the least. We had set out to slay the Mercedes Half Marathon dragon and we had done it -- together.
After the race we went inside to the post-race party. Jon and Matthea were radiant with joy, as well they should have been. The half marathon is the most popular race in America save for the 5K. I can certainly see why. Just look at the smiles on Jon and Matthea's faces.
We ate barbeque and chips and then drove back home to shower and nap, still glowing in our runners' "high." As I rested that afternoon, it occurred to me why we ran that day. It wasn't to escape from reality. It wasn't to win a prize. It wasn't even for the gorgeous medal. We ran because we love the sport. Running has become a part of our lives. For me, the best part of the race was watching the determination on Jon and Matthea's faces as they approached the finish line. By this time, many people were walking, but not Jon and Matthea. They were going to fly across that finish line even it killed them.
"Go, go, go!" a spectator yelled. "You're almost there!" The race may have been slow and agonizing, but they kept moving forward. As is often said, running a race is a parable about life. You just keep on taking step after step after step as your legs weep quietly. Even when you begin walking, you never stop. Jon and Matthea had both gone farther than they had ever gone in training. They ran into uncharted territory like a bulldog chasing a rabbit. They stuck to their race plan, and it worked. They crossed the finish line with their heads held high and with praise in their hearts to the God who gave them the strength to run that day. The race was a gauntlet testing their bodies, their minds, and even their souls. And that's the lesson from participating in a long-distance race. You learn that life is lived in exactly the same way. One step at a time. In the end, the experience was more than any of us could have ever hoped for it to be.
Such a happy race and such a happy day in Birmingham! Jon and Matthea, I am so very very proud of you!
Thursday, February 8
7:56 AM The high in Birmingham on race day will be 67, with a 57 percent chance of rain. Yes, runners race in the rain. Raining or not, most people can run a half marathon in about 2 hours. My PR is 2:27 (Petersburg, VA). I usually finish in a little less than 3 hours. But there's 3 of us running and we'll probably want to stick together. I hope when we cross the finish line that our form will be a little bit better than this.
Whatever our finish time, it will be an incredible experience. This afternoon Jon and I will be driving the course. There are some "hills" I'm told along the route. If these "hills" are anything thing like the ones I experienced in the Cincy marathon last May, we had better hire a Sherpa. I hope we can get to the race venue early on Sunday morning. If you've never been to a big race before, it will be an awesome experience. There's so much to take in. You can feel the anticipation the moment you arrive. As you make your way to the starting line and the horn sounds, you can't help but let out out a primordial scream of excitement. You're actually running a half marathon! I still have to talk with Jon and Matthea about our pace. 13.1 miles is no joke. When I first started running half marathons, I went out of the starting block like it was the Kentucky Derby. I would hitch up with a pace team that I knew was going to run faster than I was capable of sustaining over the entire distance of the race. These days I start out much slower, usually at the back of the pack so that I'm not jostled about too much. If I can turn it up a notch as the race proceeds, I'll do it. If not, I'm happy to settle into my usual (slow) pace. The main thing to remember is not to try anything new on race day -- a rule I am sorely tempted to break since I just picked up my new running shoes in Raleigh on Tuesday. Don't worry. I'm leaving them at home. A half marathon is no place to break in new shoes. Or to try something new for breakfast. Or to try a new brand of socks. As for hydration and fueling, I usually just depend on the water stations to have everything I need. I like to run light, though I will often carry a candy bar with me just in case. My policy is to eat something nutritious about mile 8. I don't plan to run between now and race day. My goal right now is to hang up the running shoes for a couple of days and be well rested for the race.
I want to thank my family for their support of my running. In fact, they put up with every weird thing that I do. Thank you so much for being there for me. You guys rock! I especially want to thank my daughter who, 3 years ago, told me I needed to start running. See what you started, girl? Running, like love, is very simply yet very mysterious. When I finally discovered that I would run for the rest of my life, everything changed. This weekend I'll only be adding to the mosaic of my life as a runner. And every month, every weekend, every day that I run, I'm closer to heaven. I am unapologetically an advocate of running. And to think that I can run this weekend with two of my kids? The very thought makes me giddy.
For everyone looking to discover themselves, this sport is for you. More and more people are jumping on this band wagon. Maybe it's time you did too?
Wednesday, February 7
7:14 PM I'm sill ALIVE! Was another lovely but hectic stay on campus. Taught my four classes and otherwise tried to get some significant writing done. On Monday I took our visiting scholar, John Meade, out for Mexican food. He teaches Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary and is here working on a book on the Hexapla.
We debated whether California or Arizona has better Mexican cuisine and ended up agreeing it's pretty much a wash. What a great guy and what an honor to have him on campus for the semester. Also, hat's off to my Greek students for doing so well on their quiz over chapter 15 this week. I sent them home with their first exam -- a review of the entire indicative mood. Congrats, y'all, for arriving at this important juncture in your studies. I'm so proud of you!
This weekend, as you know, I'll be traveling to Birmingham to race on Sunday. My kids tell me we'll be eating Ethiopian food one night while I'm there. You heard me right. BH has more than one Ethiopian restaurant if you can believe it. Jon and Matthea are awesome, but I'm really going there to spoil my five grandkids. By the way, I have to say I feel like I'm back at the University of Hawaii in 1973 taking my two required American history courses while living through the Watergate hearings (live and direct from DC). I can't help but sense that another showdown at the OK Corral is right around the bend, pardner. Worried? Nope. Concerned? Yep. When the Ephesians turned to God from idols, the makers of the images started a riot. Today, the shrine makers to Diana are so little troubled by our "Christianity" that they stage no protest. "Go along to get along." Have we made a pact with the "Christianity" of this godless generation and agreed not to arouse its antagonism? Maybe we need more Ephesians and Philippians-like awakenings even if they land Paul and Silas in jail. As we saw in our 1 Thessalonians study this week, when Paul led a person to Christ, the devil lost a customer. Friends, it's not our main business, as Christians, to denounce this or that political party or administration official, although that certainly has its place (and I'm sorely tempted to do more of it in these pages). The fact is, we are all politicians more or less, in a mad scramble for the top seats of power and prestige in this world of ours. Jesus says, "Want the highest seats? Then be prepared for a demotion." It is a humiliating time in our history when American evangelicals should be red-faced with shame for our glory-seeking.
The only real truth is in Christ and the only way to be different is to be a real Christian. Run-of-the-mill church membership just won't cut it. A true follower of Jesus is neither conformed to this world nor merely non-conformed to this world, but is transformed by the renewing of his or her mind to prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. True Christianity is the real revolution going on in the world today, my friends. The only allegiance followers of Jesus have is to, well, Jesus. This isn't to say we can't be involved in political debates or translate our values into politics. But I'm not to be worried about any of this. As a follower of Christ, I'm commissioned to manifest the reign of God in every area of life. Our call as Christians is to be in the present what the entire world will look like in the future, when the reign of God comes to complete fruition. In the meantime, this means translating the word of God into living epistles known and read by all. No Bible translation is quite as effective as the flesh and blood edition. May we all be true translations in letter and in spirit. Faithfulness is our motivation, faithfulness in even such mundane details as taking care of farm animals and making sure they have food and water. (My forthcoming book Godworld will explore this theme in greater detail.) I take animal care seriously because I'm a follower of King Jesus, if that makes any sense. He is Lord of all creation.
Well, its time to run and do my household chores. I'm a bit behind, as usual.
Stay centered in the King!
Monday, February 5
5:55 AM Guess what? In April I'm going to try something brand spanking new. I'm "ultra" excited about it, too. Get the hint? Yessiree. I took the plunge and signed up for my first ever 50K run. It's called the Mountains-to-Sea Trail 12M and 50K Challenge and will be held on Sunday, April 8. The course follows a single track through the woods around Falls Lake in North Raleigh. Now, if this were a 50K road race on concrete, you could count me out. But a hiking trail? What's to worry about -- except logs, roots, low-hanging branches, quick turns, and water. The course has a VERY generous time limit of 8 hours. A marathon is 42.2 kilometers, and my average marathon time (based on the 7 marathons I've done) is about 6:00 hours. According to some smart doohickey I found online called Strava, I can actually calculate my potential finish time for a 50K race by inputting my average pace. If I run a 14-minute mile pace, I can expect to finish the race in about 7:15 hours. That's a 4.3 mph pace. If, on the other hand, I have to slow down to a 15-minute mile pace, my finish time should be around 7:46 at a 4 mph pace. Being the geek that I am, I decided to go online and check out last year's finishers' stats. A guy named Shan came in first place with a time of 4:16:21. (Awesome, dude!) The last place finisher's time was 8:35:02. (Good for you for hanging in there to the end!) Every runner in last year's event was under the age of 60 except for someone named David, who finished with a time of 6:58:15. (Nice, going, David!) The top female finisher had a time of 5:04:43. My goals for this race? Have fun. Don't get hurt. Finish. In that order. It would also be nice if I can stay injury free between now and then. I'm not going into this event with my eyes closed, or at least I don't think I am. I know it's going to be the hardest thing I've ever done. But actually, it's just the logical "next step" when someone becomes a runner. You go from a 5K to a 10K to a 10-Miler to a half then a full and eventually you ask yourself, "So what's next?" For me the answer is an ultra. The great thing about this event is that it's close to home and the course is fairly flat (no big mountains to climb). I know I'm being a bit hard on myself, but that's how I've always been. The toughest challenge for me will be to remain strong mentally and to give the race the respect it deserves by taking it slow and easy. Knowing me, I'll probably miss a turn somewhere on the course and get a DQ. (Ugh.) If so, I hope from that failure will come the strength and wisdom to do better the next time. I define real success as the willingness to fail. I could have DNF'd my first half or my first full. You just have no idea how well you'll do going into a long distance race. Real success is looking at yourself honestly and knowing that there are never any certainties in life. I've come to realize that, by the grace of God, I'm having the time of my life right now. The worst day I've ever had as a runner is better than the best day I had as a couch potato. So if you're still enjoying the sport, why not go for bigger challenges? Just makes sense to me. So ... why did I sign up for this race? Ultimately, to see if I can do it.
Again, this will be my first "ultra" but don't let that word fool you. As far as ultra races are concerned, this is like a 5K in comparison to all the other ultras you can run, the ultimate one probably being the Hardrock Endurance Run in Colorado. It's "only" 100 miles long. Yes, I said miles, not kilometers. (Think: 161K. Ouch.) Not only that, the average elevation is 11,000 feet. I'll post a picture of the Hardrock Run here because that's the closest I'll ever come to participating in the crazy thing. Looks beautiful, eh?
As for training, I'll need to get in at least one really long run before the ultra in April. This is already on my calendar: the Tobacco Road Marathon in Raleigh on March 18. In the meantime, I'll try and get in at least few miles on the actual course since it's not far from Wake Forest.
Am I nervous? You bet I am. Can I travel 50K in less than 8 hours on a hiking trail? We'll find out, I guess. It's like everything else in life, folks. You set a goal and then commit not to quit. An ambivalent attitude will practically guarantee a DNF.
Hmm. I kinda love it that boredom hasn't become an issue in my life.
Sunday, February 4
5:05 PM Here are a few of my Cliff Notes from Charles Wanamaker's discussion of 1 Thess. 1:6-10 in his Commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians.
Wanamaker, who has taught in South Africa, has produced a solid work on 1-2 Thessalonians. I never come to class without having first consulted it.
9:30 AM Sheba and I sat on the front porch for about an hour waiting for the snow to arrive. She busied herself with marking her territory on the grass while I read and recited 1 Thess. 1:6-10, our passage for the week.
The text raises all sorts of questions in my mind:
Questions, questions, questions! This is called "listening to the text." Our awareness is totally on the surface structure of the text at this stage. We notice what is said as well as how it is said. Then we go on to stage 2: we notice what is not being said or what is being said below the surface structure. It is when we can clearly articulate in our own words what a text is saying that we have arrived at the goal of exegesis.
Fellow student of the word: Asking good questions is so important. Read, recite, study, learn, solve exegetical problems, make decisions -- all these depend on asking the right questions. Framing questions of the text is not only a crucial first step in the exegetical process. It's something we need to do repeatedly. The questions we ask shape all of our conclusions. This is a large topic but one I hope to develop with my Greek students this semester.
7:15 AM Well hello there. The snow is heading our way again.
It's already in Lynchburg, where I ran yesterday. Looks like I'll have to postpone the 10 mile training run I had hoped to do this afternoon. The Birmingham Half Marathon is a only week from today. Do you know how far 13.1 miles is? It's a long way. There's no way I'd be doing this unless I had prepped myself on shorter courses -- 5Ks, 10Ks, 10-Milers, etc. The half is no marathon, for sure. As someone has said, "The reason why the half is so popular is that you can run a half marathon and walk the next day." Most of us who run for fun can train ourselves to run a half without too much difficulty. A half is also the perfect challenge for someone who's been running for a year and wants to step it up a bit. I know this graphic is a bit dated, but it clearly shows the rise in popularity of the half marathon in the past few years.
My first half was in 2013. I've now done a total of 10. It's a great experience with the added benefit of health. This year my daughter and son are running the race with me next weekend. They live in BH so it only makes sense. They've been training consistently for the race. The nice thing about training for a half is that you get to do long runs that aren't "too long." In March, my daughter's husband who lives in DC will be running the Four Courts Four Miler in Arlington, VA, with me. That should be a hoot. I love running in groups. And to run with family is even better. The other nice thing in running a half is that there's very little pressure to finish with a fast time. Usually you're given a very generous time limit of at least three and a half hours. Which means that the half marathon allows you to feel great about yourself without pushing yourself into aerobic distress. This may account for the fact that the average pace for the half marathon is slower than the average pace for the full marathon. Most of us who run the half are simply trying to complete the distance and have lots of fun while doing it. Many people who participate in half marathons follow Galloway's walk/run method. You'll see a lot of walk-runners in a half, including me (I've run the complete 13.1 mile distance only once). Running a half is a bucket list sort of thing for many people. For me, it only got me hooked on long-distance running. In fact, I'm hoping to do my first ultra this year -- nothing too major, perhaps a 50K race somewhere close to home. First, we'll see how I do in the marathons I've got scheduled for Raleigh in March, Arlington (TX) in April, and Cincinnati in May. One of my sons might be running the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon with me. How cool is that?
Running is a great sport. It's so satisfying and affirming. It gives you an opportunity to test how much grit you have and is literally a breath of fresh air when your work begins to suffocate you. But it can also be challenging. One of the things I'm trying to work really hard on this year is my form while running, especially my upper body position. Running form is very serious business. I've been discovering that proper arm action helps me to maintain my form, cadence, and posture when I'm beginning to feel fatigued (usually around the 9 mile mark during a half marathon). Coach Matt Rush from The Running Factory has a great video explaining correct arm motion while running.
The main areas to watch for are:
The point is: To be a good runner you have to worry about more than your leg motion. A proper arm swing balances out the momentum caused by your legs. A good arm swing balanced by a solid contact with the ground near center of mass should correct a weak core.
I know there's a spiritual lesson in there somewhere but I'm too lazy to look.
Saturday, February 3
7:02 PM Dolores Keane, Frances Black, and Sharon Shannon perform Solid Ground. Ireland's treasures. Awesome.
12:58 PM Just back from the Arctic 5K. I'm a real fan of this race. Many think it's a tough course and I'd have to concur. It doesn't help when you arrive onsite barely in time to get your bib number. As you can see below, I was the last person to cross the starting line. You all know that trail running is way out of my comfort zone. Especially the uphill portion. Eventually I ended up walking a good deal of it, though even then I was able to pass a number of people if only because I have longer legs than they do. Don't worry: they made up for it on the downhill portion! Anyway, despite the rigor of the course, I ABSOLUTELY loved it. The real challenge was on the downhill portion. I kept wanting to speed up even though leaves covered much of the course and I knew I was prone to slipping and sliding. I think my center of gravity is just way too high to be able to go any faster than 5 mph on the downhill leg. I kept asking myself, "When will this race ever end?" Then sure enough, I crossed the finish line with arms raised high. The awesome news is that aside from a few minor aches and pains, my body feels fantastic. I stiffened up a bit on the long drive home but right now I feel fully recovered. I came in 77th out of a total of 109 runners. The winner's time was an unbelievable 23:09. The last place finisher's was 1:26:47. I managed to squeak out a 45:02. Throughout the run I never forgot why I was there. To do my very best. It was as simple and as complicated as that. That's my goal in every race I run. I'm not competing against anybody except myself. A race always tests your body, mind, spirit, and endurance. That's a test I always hope to pass. I was very impressed with the organization of this race, from the registration to the course support to the after-race party (pizza, bananas, cookies, and lots more) to the awards ceremony. LU is to be commended. My day was crazy. So awesomely crazy. I've never had more fun on a run. Can't wait to run Birmingham next weekend!
5:45 AM Good (early) morning! I was up at 5:00 am today, eager and anxious for today's trail run. It will be good to get back to Camp Hydaway, the venue for today's event. The trails have some pretty funny names: Split Decision, Great Escape, Idiot's Run, Killer Bees, Dirty Ridge, and (my favorite) Psycho Path. I love running in cold weather and harsh trail conditions because it makes me a better runner. The key is having the right gear. First of all, you put on about 1,000 layers. Then you have to make sure you keep your noggin warm. And gloves? Don't leave home without 'em. Something happens to you psychologically when you run in severe conditions. You start out the race thinking you're absolutely bonkers, but after 5 minutes or so you usually want to keep on going. By the time you reach the finish line you are on cloud 9. As long as there's no lightening or ice, I'll run. Right now Nature is being seriously bipolar. We get snow and then we have a heat wave. Today, the temp at race time in Lynchburg will be a mere 21 degrees. But you warm up quickly during the race. The trail is either going up or down, giving your body a chance to vary muscle usage. I've read a ton about how to do a trail run, but nothing can beat just getting out there and doing it. For me, a difficult trail run is symbolic of hard work, determination, and just plain gratitude to God for the ability to get out there and be active.
So it's off for an hour and a half drive to suffer, er, do something I love doing. Thanks for following these ramblings about my journey and how it keeps evolving. May today you be able to find the blessings all around you.
Friday, February 2
6:58 PM Breaking News! An animal saw its shadow today, so I guess we're all stuck with six more weeks of winter. What is it about Groundhog Day that makes the news? I think it's because, if you're like me, we feel stuck in Winter and can't wait for it to be over with. Everywhere we look we see signs of death -- dried brown thickets, shriveled rose bushes, naked tree branches. Our weary eyes gaze steadily ahead, as if Spring can't arrive early enough. Everything in life can become a sort of wintry interlude. Even marriage is a death of sorts -- a launching out into deep and uncharted waters, with no escape clauses. Of course, in marriage there's also sunlight and flowers to go along with the gusts of wind and peals of thunder. It's often only after our marriages go through times of testing -- through a Winter if you will -- that we experience the wondrous beauty of the married state. Everything in life seems to go through this same dying-and-living-again cycle. The flower dies to produce fruit. The fruit dies to produce seed. The seed dies and then -- Springtime! Existence is a constant death-and-life cycle. Death is the mercy of God, though we struggle with that truth. "Can these bones live again?" "Can You please give me living water?" "Who will roll the stone away?" We add our own questions: Will I ever get over my grief? Why did You take my baby away from me? Will I ever overcome my loneliness? After Becky died, many people came to visit me. But no one person could be with me all of the time. I had entered the Winter of my soul. And yet today I can look back and see that God was doing a quiet work in my heart. My assignment was simply to keep on walking, one step at a time, left, right, left, right. This is what a cruciform life is all about. Only heaven will take away all of our tears and pain, but the possibility of heaven on earth, of Spring smack dab in the middle of Winter, remains, as the Risen Christ walks with us. Of course, the roads remain rugged, the precipices steep. But that's only because God requires of us perseverance, and it's in that perseverance that He plants the seed of His strength. Because of Becky's death, I've not only felt pain as never before, but I've also discovered the pain that God suffered for me. "Unfolding every hour;/The bud may have a bitter taste,/But sweet will be the flower" wrote William Cowper, an 18th century poet who suffered from severe mental illness. My plea, as we face the Winters of our own lives, is that we give the Divine Creator-Gardner a hearing, that we start with theology and not our circumstances, that we give the Word a first hearing, and a second and a third if need be. If we do this, our ability to endure the Winters of our lives will arise out of our life with Christ Jesus. We can't do this ourselves. He can, and He will enable us.
1:14 PM I love family!
7:45 AM Hey folks. Are there any comparisons between running a marathon and learning how to read New Testament Greek? Much, in every way.
1) Don't start anything without first examining your motives. It all begins with desire. I took Greek in college because it was required for graduation. I had no idea that I would fall in love with the language. I sort of stumbled into my career, if you will. Some of you may be like me. You were shocked when you took Greek, only to discover that you really love what you're doing. So make sure you're motivated or you'll never get past square one.
2) You need to plan and prepare. Because sooner or later it will happen. A 5K becomes routine. So does a 10K and even a half. You begin to think the unthinkable. A marathon? Am I really up to it? You can't simply go from a 5K to a marathon. A marathon is, by definition, a race that requires a training program. So it is with Greek. Are you ready to tackle a really difficult subject like Greek? Can you devote sufficient time each week for study? Have you carefully chosen your "trainer" and your "training program" -- that is, a teacher and a textbook? Not all textbooks are created equal. Teachers can be helpful but they can also get in the way. You can't be half-hearted with your planning and preparation.
3) You won't get anywhere without self-discipline. Nearly all of us find that running requires more effort than we ever thought possible. With Greek, it's easy to burn out after a couple of chapters. Some days you feel like you just can't go on. On those days the real test is not in your mind but in your soul. All you can do on those days is just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Both running and learning Greek will teach you something about yourself. Some days you're convinced that the world should make allowances for you. You want everything to be easy. You want all the traffic lights to be green. You want to be in the fastest line at the grocery store. But life doesn't always work that way. Being a runner often means going to the very edges of your ability and strength. Greek students find that small victories make all the difference in the world. You master one chapter and then the next one. You know that somewhere out there is a finish line. As you keep your eyes on the goal, somehow you're able to keep those arms pumping and legs churning.
4) Remember that you're not alone. The running community is just that -- a community of fellow runners of all sizes, shapes, and abilities who are more than willing to help you get to the finish line. In my Greek classes, students are encouraged to ask for personal tutoring if they feel they need it. Some students enjoy studying with a study partner. Having someone to share the load with you builds confidence. My story as a runner is largely a story about the people I've met along the way, people who have shared their joys with me, laughed with me, and tutored me. This is not just true of me but of everyone who runs. Even if you are studying Greek on your own, you can always reach out to the author of your textbook by email. Most Greek teachers I know would be more than happy to respond.
5) Finally, be aware of the risks. Simply having the desire to run a marathon doesn't guarantee that you'll be successful. Simply wanting to take Greek doesn't mean that you will finish the class or master the textbook. We are often "interrupted" by life. I remember when I was teaching Greek every Monday night in my local church. Becky was one of my best students. She was acing all the quizzes and exams. She had always wanted to take Greek with me and now was her chance. Then chemo kicked in and she became too weak to continue her studies. One thing I admired so much about Becky was that she never looked back at what might have been. When I first enrolled in Greek at Biola, I lasted exactly three weeks before dropping. Then I discovered that Moody Bible Institute had a Greek course that was taught on my level, and the rest, as they say, is history. If you've had a false start, that's okay. Take a break, then get back in line. If you see me running a marathon, you'll probably smile. Don't be surprised at the sight of my plodding style and persistence. And don't expect me to ever stop smiling.
I love what I do. I love my running life. I love my life as a Greek student. As slow and silly as I may look, I'm having the time of my life. Day by day, moment by moment, I'm adding to the mosaic of who I am and who I want to be. Every day I am closer to becoming the person my Creator wants me to be.
May God bless your journey!
Thursday, February 1
8:18 PM Tonight on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Garrett Graff, author of The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror. You can listen to her interview here.
The interview was an eye-opener. I had no idea that Mueller took over the reigns of the FBI just before the events of 9-11. Nor did I realize that he had led a platoon in Vietnam as a Marine officer and received the Purple Heart. I just ordered the book from Amazon. It should get here on Saturday.
I'll tell you one thing: I wouldn't want to mess with a man named Robert S. Mueller III.
6:28 PM What I'm reading ....
These are for next Tuesday's Greek 4 class as we cover 1 Thess. 1:6-10. Each essay speaks to how Paul and his missionary friends had influenced the Thessalonians. The paragraph has three colons and so makes three points:
The Second Coming is a doctrine we can stake our life on. One day we'll be face to face with Jesus. Between now and then, Jesus has entrusted us with an assignment. For three and a half years, He showed people what God looked like. Now it's our turn to do that. He asks us to serve for Him, love for Him, and speak for Him. The Thessalonians seemed to have excelled in doing all three. Now, as then, you and I are Jesus' heart and hands. Everything we do ought to mirror His character. If we're successful at this, people will recognize God in us and will want to know Him. If they fail to recognize Him, it's because we've failed to do our job.
"You imitated us and the Lord," writes Paul. Jesus has many imitators today, some good, others not so good. A celestial circus? Perhaps. The good news is that God can take every one of us common sinners and convey His message to the world through us. But we've got to be willing to turn from our idols. Go ahead and think for a moment about those people who've had the greatest impact of your life. What do you think of when you think of them? Imitation is serious business with God. Find someone who truly loves you for who you are, someone you can look up to, someone who imitates Christ (imperfectly, of course), and your life will never be the same. In a sense, Paul was in the business of making somebodies out of nobodies. In his eyes, there were no ordinary people, just people -- people like the Thessalonian believers who couldn't wait to share their newfound faith with their neighbors and friends. This is the challenge we each must face individually.
P.S. Korean bulgogi for supper. Sheba says, "It was great!"
10:42 AM On Monday one of our students from Korea and I enjoyed a wonderful meal together at the Seoul Garden Restaurant in Raleigh. Joseph is in my beginning Greek class.
Then on Tuesday, I discovered a Korean market in Cary and was finally able to purchase some much-sought-after items for my kitchen, including fresh Kimchi.
Korean food and I are old friends, stemming from all those trips I made to Korea when I lived in Southern California. Their idea of a meal is that it should be something to be enjoyed, something that will fuel the body, and something that is nourishing. To be honest, I could eat Korean food every day of the week. My ultimate goal is to learn how to cook it fresh. For the most part, I'm enjoying a healthy relationship with food these days. I feel thinner, look thinner, and can say that I've embraced the whole concept of healthy eating. I still love my puffed Cheetos and sodas, but you won't find me indulging myself in those cravings more than once or twice a month. I can't ever imagine going back to my fast food days. I know it sounds crazy, but it's a fact that you get fit in the gym but lose weight in the kitchen. I eat to live instead of live to eat now. I don't use my scales because I know that healthy eating and exercise will balance themselves out. My body is a temple and I want to fuel it right. I'm no doctor, but I mean, how hard is it to eat healthy? I advocate for this slippery slope and hope to encourage people to take up running as a great way to get into shape. But exercise will do nothing for us if we're eating junk food all the time. That being said, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I have all of this figured out. When I overeat or eat something that's really unhealthy, I can feel guilty about it. It's just a reminder that I need to keep on educating myself about diet and exercise. It's sort of like learning to read New Testament Greek: you just take it one chapter at a time, one lesson at a time, and try not to fall behind too much.
We all have unhealthy tendencies at times. What are you doing to overcome them?
8:48 AM Morning, blog. I just registered for the 7th annual Arctic 5K Trail Race this Saturday morning in Lynchburg, VA. The course is a single track trail intermixed with some forest roads.
I ran this 5K last year and I can tell you: it is brutal. Total elevation gain exceeds 450 feet.
Coming down isn't any easier, either, because you have to watch out for limbs and roots. Last year I placed 79 out of 127 runners. The next oldest racer was 56 years old. Most of the participants are college students attending nearby Liberty University. I have to admit that I've kinda lost interest in 5ks. Some people think they're too easy. I think they're too challenging. The temptation for me is to push myself too hard, whereas in any race longer than a 10K, I feel I can just be my (slow) self and take my time. My time last year was 42:51. The winner finished in 22:52, and the last place finisher's time was 1:06:46. This only confirms my semi-official status as a racer: a mid- to back-of-the-pack runner. Last year when I finished I was just glad I survived without stumbling over a root. It was a good race, a fun time, and I told myself I would definitely do it again if I felt up to it. At any rate, I think it will be a good prep run for next weekend's half in Alabama. Trail runs are cruel because they make you run, and run hard, the whole way. 3.1 miles is a long ways to race on a narrow track. And the result is what it is. You have no idea how well you'll do until you begin racing. As long I run inside of my comfort zone, I think I'll be okay.
So ... on to my first race of February. And to think -- a month ago today I was running the Allen Marathon in Texas. Wow. Life, moving at warp speed.
Wednesday, January 31
9:45 PM 12 days ago I was privileged and blessed to climb the NRocks Via Ferrata in Circleville, WV. It was a beautiful Saturday with sunshine and clear air. I wasn't sure what to expect, even though I had climbed one other Via Ferrata in Zermatt two summers ago. It was definitely going to be a new challenge. Along with my guide Matthew, we put on our helmets and climbing harnesses and hooked onto the safety cable with our carabiners. It doesn't take very long before you get into a routine: fix onto the steel cable, climb a little bit, and then transfer to the next section by rehooking. The route was mostly a vertical cliff. After I finished, my Garmin indicated an elevation gain of 2,327 feet. Climbing became increasingly more and more difficult. At times I found it very hard to find a good place to step or to stand while reattaching my carabiners. Every so often we paused for a brief water break. I'm so glad I brought 2 liters of water with me because the climb made me very thirsty. Mostly, though, it's all about concentration. Vertical rock climbing requires you to stay in the moment and not let your mind wander. Fortunately, I felt pretty strong the whole way and was thrilled when we finally made it to the top and began our descent down a mountain path. It sure was an adrenalin kick. I was glad I was able to take my GoPro camera with me, mounted on my climbing helmet. This climb is a "must do" for anyone who enjoys a challenge. By far the best part was climbing with an experienced mountain guide who kept me on track and never let me get discouraged. A Via Ferrata allows you to experience the mountains in a unique way. It takes a combination of strength and balance to make it to the amazing views at the top. But be forewarned: You use a completely different set of muscles than you do when running. It was days before my calves had fully recovered from the climb. The reward comes with confronting your fatigue and going to the edges of your abilities and experience. It's not like I climb because I have a special gift for this sport. For me, a great climb is one that I finish. A vertical rock face is not to be taken lightly. But with preparation, persistence, a little bit of courage, a good guide, and the Lord's help, you can cross that "finish line," which in this case meant returning safely to the HQ building. A fist bump -- and the experience of a lifetime was over. In any case, here's a GoPro YouTube I put together today should you like to make the climb with me.
Upward ho, ya'll!
Monday, January 29
6:32 AM Another great quote from Roland Allen (Spontaneous, pp. 53-54).
6:25 AM You can throw out your old bathroom scale now. Instead of just focusing on pounds, the new Shapa approaches your health in a more holistic way.
5:55 AM Good morning friends! I've been wide-eyed and bushy-tailed since 4:00, putting some last-minute touches on my classes for this week. In Greek 4, we talk about a lot more than Greek. In 1 Thess. 1:2-5, we find Paul's "method" (if you can call it that) of church planting. When the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul, it never intended their missionaries to set up a chain of institutions to be kept under the control of the sending church. Whatever churches were planted would be deeply rooted in their host countries. They would be "home grown" congregations, integrally identified with those people who would both lead and follow in those churches. As a church planter, Paul never intended to become the pastor of the work at Corinth or elsewhere. He facilitated the work of others who would be appointed by the Holy Spirit for leadership there. We make a very grave mistake, I believe, when we think expatriates such as Timothy and Titus were the "pastors" of the churches they were involved with in Ephesus or Crete. Their ministry, as Paul's personal representatives, was the selection and training of local responsible brothers to lead the work.
In all of this, Paul's servant attitude comes forcefully into play. He took as his model for ministry the kenosis pattern of Jesus Christ, a model of other-orientation and costly servanthood (Phil. 2:5-11). Paul consistently labored in the best interests of others rather than himself. Even as an apostle, Paul refused to arrogate to himself exclusive powers. He eagerly sought to train others who would carry on his pioneer ministry.
In Antioch, Barnabas and Saul worked side by side in discipling the church in the ways of Jesus. Little wonder that the church at Antioch, once it had been well established in the teachings of Jesus, had a burden for the nations. Barnabas and Saul went on to be commissioned by the church for the work of church planting. Within 10 years, Paul had gone on to plant churches in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. In all of these places, the perpetuation of the Gospel ministry was predicated upon members of the local congregations becoming leaders of the churches among them. Ministry training was accomplished through local training, not by sending church leaders away from their homes and communities. John Frame ("Proposals for a New North American Model," Missions and Theological Education in World Perspective, p. 377) proposes a "Christian Community where teachers, ministerial candidates and their families live together, eat together, work together" (p. 379). Today, forms of distance learning include seminars, guided self-study, internet chat rooms, Skype, and interactive video links via satellite to widely dispersed students, allowing them to study without interrupting and disrupting their customary lifestyle. My own Greek DVD series is being used all over the world to provide instruction in beginning Greek to pastors who otherwise would have no access to such training. Discipleship thus takes place in a living local church context. It is people-related rather than textbook- or professor-related.
When the church in the book of Acts became centralized in Jerusalem, God scattered it through persecution. Without decentralization, the church could not reach its maximum potential as a witnessing community. But scattered, the church preached wherever it went, carrying out the Great Commission. Within these scattered congregations, God provided leaders directly. In Acts we read, "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust" (Acts 14:23-24). Nationalization is an act of trust: trust in God to further His church on earth according to biblical principles, and trust in believers to whom the leadership of these local churches is to be entrusted.
By insisting on control (or leadership) of national institutions, as some missionary organizations seem to do today, expat missionaries belie their professed commitment to servanthood. The apostle Paul pioneered the local ministry model. It deserves emulating today. Wherever I travel, my goal is to come alongside the national churches, both leaders and led, and assist them to the best of my (limited) abilities. My approach is intentionally cooperative. I seek to take no leadership role. I am there to serve, not to be served. It is this true "partnership in the Gospel" (Phil. 1:5) that makes missionary service so rewarding for me.
So this is just a taste of what we'll be talking about in class this week. Great students = happy teacher!
Sunday, January 28
10:05 AM Markus Barth's classic commentary on Paul's letter to the Ephesians is well worth your hard-earned bucks. I'm blown away by the author's astuteness, brilliance even. His section on Eph. 4:11-13 deserves a reading by every Christian.
Let me try to summarize it for you. Remember, Markus Barth was no conservative evangelical. He wasn't a Southern Baptist. He was a professor in a Reformed university in Basel. Yet above all he was a biblicist. At some point, you and I are going to have to become the same thing. But to my summary:
1) Barth argues that Eph. 4:11-13 is a locus classicus on the church -- its order, origin, design, etc.
2) By separating "the equipping of the saints" and "the work of the ministry" by a comma (as in the KJV), we miss Paul's point completely. This leads to an aristocratic and ecclesiastical interpretation that falsely distinguishes between the mass of "saints" and the superior class of "clergy" who are distinct from them. In this view, laypeople are only the beneficiaries of the work of the ministry; they may benefit from it, but only official ministers can carry it out.
3) The ministries of verse 11 are given to the church so that God's people can become equipped to carry out works of service and thus allow the light of God's goodness to shine in a dark world. "All the saints (and among them, each saint) are enabled by the four or five types of servants enumerated in 4:11 to fulfill the ministry given to them, so that the whole church is taken into Christ's service and given missionary substance, purpose, and structure."
4) Barth thus challenges the prevailing "aristocratic-clerical and the triumphalistic-ecclesiastical" interpretation of 4:11-13. These interpretations are nothing less than "arbitrary distortions of the text."
5) There is, therefore, no biblical distinction between clergy and laity. "Rather, the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world." This means, among other things, that we can't reduce church members "to the rank of mere consumers of spiritual gifts," nor can we view the church as turned in on itself.
6) Each one of the saints is a recipient of grace from on High. They should also be dispensers of grace. Even the weakest members of the body are indispensable.
7) What, then, of the special call to "the" ministry? "There is but one calling or vocation valid in the church: the call of God into his kingdom."
8) This is not to undermine the necessity for special ministers. "Their place is not above but below the great number of saints who are not adorned by resounding titles. Every one of the special ministers is a servus servorum Dei [a servant of the servants of God]."
9) This means that the main ministry of the gathered church is mutual edification. "There are needy people inside the church -- and 'the lonely men at the top' may well belong among them."
10) As for honorific titles, Barth argues against their use. "Divers books of the NT show that all 'clerical' titles available from Israel's history and literature have been conferred upon Jesus Christ and comprehended in him."
I love Barth. I loved him when I sat in his lectures and seminars in Basel and I love him now. He never treated faith in an abstract, theoretical way.
Yes, the church needs specialized and gifted leaders. Paul says as much in our text. But the call of God to fulltime Christian service comes to every believer who has ears to hear. We are all "joints" in the body of Christ and connected to each other. We may therefore choose to either edify or ignore our calling. Will I abdicate my responsibility to the leaders or will I build up the body by building up this brother or that sister? The special ministers of the church may model equipping for us, but we can never delegate this work completely to them.
How to flesh this out? Perhaps we could begin with our church's marquee:
Name: Local Baptist Church
Senior Pastor: Jesus Christ
Ministers: Every Member
Assistants to the Ministers: [Your Elders' Names]
I know this looks radical, but that's what the church is supposed to look like. I think you'd have the most interesting church marquee in town. And the glory would all go to Jesus. And even non-believers might be curious enough to darken your doorsteps. And the kingdom of God would advance.
9:55 AM And another one (Roland Allen, The Case for Voluntary Clergy, p. 128):
This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Thess. 1:5: "You know exactly what kind of men we were when we lived among you, doing everything for your own good and not our own."
9:45 AM Here's a great quote from missionary Roland Allen (Spontaneous, p. 112):
Have you ever read anything truer?
8:15 AM In just two weeks my students and I will be discussing the so-called Synoptic Problem in our NT 1 class. I've summarized the leading "solutions" to this problem in a Power Point. Although I espouse Matthean priority, I feel it's my duty as a teacher to expose my students to the major views held by New Testament scholars today. Still, my dream is that my students might see the occasional nature of the documents we call "Gospels." Recently the journal New Testament Studies kindly allowed access to several of its online essays for free. I've been reading Graham Stanton's "The Fourfold Gospel" with great interest, since I'm a proponent of the "Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis." Stanton's essay, of course, assumes a commitment to the Markan Priority Hypothesis.
I appreciate Professor Stanton's tireless work in Gospel studies. As I've tried to show in my book, however, to understand how the fourfold Gospel got to us, one needs to forget virtually everything that has been previously accepted as fact about the Synoptic Problem. The Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis does not allow readers to acquire a new idea that can be applied to their existing solution to the problem. Simply put, students of the Gospels cannot hold to the traditional solution of Markan Priority and accept the concepts that are put forth in my Why Four Gospels? Here's why:
1) The Markan Priority Hypothesis -- which is the "affirmed" interpretation of history based almost exclusively on the internal evidence -- is fatally flawed when one takes into account the writings of the earliest Christian fathers. Regrettably, any theory of New Testament interpretation, once it is established, becomes nearly impossible to dislodge, even if new (and seemingly contradictory) evidence is produced. Any new interpretation of the events, if it is to be accepted, must be built around the old consensus even at the expense of logic. An example of this is the Farrer Hypothesis, which dispenses with "Q" while insisting on Markan Priority. Indeed, so embedded is the popular view in the public consciousness that it is nearly impossible to dismiss it. The story is "safe," and the matter is not really open to debate. In my opinion, New Testament scholarship has become so preoccupied with maintaining the status quo that it has neglected to explore the external evidence.
2) As noted above, the accepted version of the story focuses on the internal evidence. If, however, one were to seriously investigate the external evidence -- the evidence provided by the patristic testimony -- it would become evident that current explanations are incongruent and incompatible with the opinions of the fathers. Why, for example, did Clement of Alexandria insist that the Gospels "containing the genealogies" (i.e., Matthew and Luke) were written first? And why is Matthew always listed as the first Gospel? Why is Mark's Gospel consistently described not as an independent work of Mark but as a record of the words of the apostle Peter? In light of this evidence, it seems illogical to believe that our earliest Gospel was written by Mark, a non-eyewitness.
3) Ensconced deeply in the affirmed version is the notion that Mark contains inferior grammar to that found in Matthew and Luke. Some Markan priorists have even gone so far as to claim that Mark contains "errors" that were subsequently "corrected" by Matthew and Luke. Yet each of these supposed "errors" allows for a plausible alternative explanation that does not require Markan priority (as I have attempted to show here). If the New Testament student desires a complete understanding of the factors that led up to the writing of the Gospels, the internal evidence alone simply does not provide it. The external evidence keeps getting in the way of the affirmed version.
I can't help but ask: why are the fathers so adamant that Matthew came first? Why did Clement aver that Matthew and Luke came before Mark? Why do the fathers go to great lengths to show that Mark never set out to write a Gospel but simply recorded the words of Peter as they were spoken before his Roman audience? What has prevented proponents of the affirmed view from asking these vital questions? The answer, in my opinion, is that the consensus view is falsely shackled to a misguided preference for the internal evidence. In fact, as long as the patristic testimony is ignored, the internal evidence, which by its very nature is subjective, will continue to reign supreme. And as long as the traditional view is anchored in the minds of scholars, the solution will remind hidden.
So what is the simplest explanation of the facts -- all the facts? To discover that, one must be bold. The missing pieces of the puzzle must be included if we are to assemble the whole puzzle rather than leaving them out because they do not seem to fit. Taking the external evidence into account will have serious repercussions. The answer to the Synoptic Problem will remain incomplete until a central piece of the puzzle is in place.
6:14 AM So what are most of us doing today? Attending a "worship service." This way of thinking has been challenged by Vaughan Roberts in a delightful little book called True Worship.
Interested? Here's my summary.
Enjoy this day that the Lord has made!
Saturday, January 27
5:55 PM Since Karen and her new hubby live in Arlington (just outside of DC), we thought it would be fun to run the Four Courts Four Miler together on Saturday morning, March 10. If you survive the uphill climb to the finish, you're treated to a pint of beer (I'll pass, thank you) as well as live music and Irish dancers jigging to the tunes.
The other option was to run the DC Half Marathon that day but since I've got a full marathon in Raleigh the next weekend I thought that would be a wee bit too much, sure and begorrah. (Sorry for the English disguised as Gaelic there.)
5:02 PM Today Sheba took me for a long walk in the woods to check up on the work our forestry consultant has been doing as he prepares the pine/hardwood tree stands for harvesting.
This year I'm cutting around 85 acres.
Each will be replanted in fast-growing loblollies. What do you think of this amazing grapevine?
It's almost as big as the surrounding trees. It will be preserved from cutting, of course, since one day it will qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records. What I should have done today (and was hoping to do) is run 10 miles. Of course, it might have helped had I not killed myself at the gym yesterday. Anyway, I still have a week to get in my pre-half long run so I'm not too worried. With the flu season being as bad as it is this year, today I listened to my body and stayed home. One thing running does is help me live in the moment. I've stopped thinking about the races that eluded me in the past and the victories that may or may not be there for me in the future. There's plenty of reasons to concentrate on living this day. The only time I have is now, which is why I spent basically the whole afternoon on the front porch reading several books about 1 Thessalonians. The end result is that my body is feeling great but my mind feels like wilted lettuce. At least I got way ahead on my reading. Yay for that, I guess. I'm still waiting to be unwussed enough to climb another Via Ferrata, like this one in Quebec.
Or this one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Or this one in British Columbia.
I don't think you can beat this last one for pure awesomeness. Anyway, a vigorous training workout awaits me this week and I'm sure it will have me couched on my sofa before 9:00 pm. Now I'm off to tend to the animals one last time and make sure they're tucked in for the night.
10:08 AM One of the essays we're covering in next week's Greek 4 class is by W. Weiss and is called "Glaube -- Liebe -- Hoffnung. Zu der Trias bei Paulus" ("Faith -- Love -- Hope. On the Triad in Paul"). It's just plain beautiful how Paul uses the "rule of three" so often in 1 Thessalonians, beginning in 1:2-5:
Ferdinand Hahn, in his Theologie des Neuen Testaments, notes: "Glaube, Liebe und Hoffnung sind für ihn die entscheidenden Kennzeichen für das Christsein " (p. 307). We see this most clearly, of course, in 1 Cor. 13:13, where faith, hope, and love are prominent ideals for the Christian. In his essay, Weiss notes that the trio "faith, love, and hope" occurs elsewhere in Paul in 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:10; Eph. 1:3ff.15-18; Col. 1:4f.; and Heb. 10:22-24. I can't imagine that Weiss was ever a proponent of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, but his reference to Heb. 10:22-24 is a reminder that the number of parallels between Paul and Hebrews should give us pause before rejecting the Paulinity of Hebrews purely on the basis of the internal evidence.
Evidence like this, coupled with the external evidence drawn from the church fathers, is a challenge to the modern-day consensus opinio that Paul could not have been the author of a letter that always circulated among the Pauline Corpus in the early church. It would perhaps not be too sardonic to say that the external evidence is all too easily ignored in our day. Perhaps it's time for another lusty debate over the matter. And perhaps my own booklet on the subject will help in clarifying these issues. I'm a little chary about jettisoning the testimony of the early church fathers. Conversely, a look at the internal evidence shows that the contents of Hebrews are at least sui generis with that of the authentic Paulines.
Perhaps, above all, it's imperative that we are humble over such contentious issues.
Time for chores.
8:54 AM Sermon Audio is one of the best things to hit the internet. This morning I listened to messages in both French and German. Here's a German series I found on "The Marks of a Christian."
What are the indications in our lives that a seed has sprouted and a new life has truly begun? Here the speaker asks, "What are the marks of a Christian? What makes a Christian a Christian? What are the necessary signs of a true believer?" He points us, of course, to the Scriptures, which contain several several marks of a genuine follower of Jesus, including service (der Dienst).
A Christian is simply a servant of God. The first passage referenced, unsurprisingly, is 1 Thess. 1:9:
Christians serve God. This is how our faith becomes visible. As Spirit-filled Christians, we should be the world's greatest servants. Our love for God can be measured by the amount of time we serve others in His name and for His glory. This transformation from selfish people to selfless people occurs from the inside out. It's best seen not in a fish design on our automobiles but by the ways in which we love others. "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples," said Jesus (John 13:35). Francis Schaeffer called love for others the greatest mark of a Christian. (Read his book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century.) Christianity isn't for idlers and goof-offs -- a point Paul makes in both First and Second Thessalonians. The stories we read in the Gospels often pertain to the ways in which our Lord served others. Serving was indeed "serious business" with Christ. And if we're filled with His Spirit, we ought also to be in the business of serving others.
How has your understanding of service changed through the years? As radically as mine has? For years, "missions" for me was placing an offering in the collection plate to support all those "missionaries" out there. Trouble is, there's a big difference between supporting missions and becoming a missionary yourself. Take some time to develop a list of the 10 biggest obstacles that hold you back from living a life of service. Write them down, and then ask God to help you whittle them down. Every genuine born-again Christian is a missionary. We are, every one of us, in "fulltime Christian service" to God and others. That's why Paul said his life was an example to us (1 Thess. 1:6). By following that example and being faithful to that pattern, others are bound to see Christ in us.
I once wrote a little book called Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? On the last page is a place you can sign your life away on the dotted line. Email me at email@example.com if you'd like a copy. I am absolutely sure that the person you'd swap your life for is worth it.
7:20 AM Good Saturday morning, readers! Next Tuesday in Greek 4, we'll be discussing 1 Thess. 1:2-5. This paragraph underlines Paul's entire approach to missions. When the lost are confronted squarely with what Christ has done for them, a response can be expected. Paul therefore sees the evangelistic preaching of the "word" as fundamentally tied to a subsequent changed life on the part of the receiver. He was certainly not afraid to mention the consequences of God's election. We tend to view election as something in the past. Paul, however, is not afraid to point out the present evidence of a past election. An attitude of humble obedience, selfless sacrifice, and unshakable hope characterize both church and evangelist when they are at their best.
This colon (which is one long sentence in Greek) can be outlined as follows.
The main independent finite verb "We give thanks" is modified by three participial extensions:
Mention of Paul's prayer for his readers leads him to draw the veil aside for a moment on the threefold evidence of their conversation. We have to realize that without fruit there is probably little or no root. In the case of the Thessalonian believers, they were known for three things:
These are but a few of the ways we cooperate with a God who shines into our hearts against a god who blinds our minds (2 Cor. 4:4-6). They are ways by which we "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). They are part and parcel of the "good works" that God foreordained that His sons and daughters "should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
The Thessalonians' fruitfulness is matched only by the missionaries' commitment. Paul and his fellow preachers were resolved to preach not only the word. Coming to Christ involved far more than the intellect. Preaching must also include power, the Holy Spirit, and complete conviction of its truth. As a Greek teacher, this is an important reminder to me that the classroom must do more than disseminate information. I think we can safely assume that an effective classroom teacher will also be known for his or her passion. Good Bible teachers are utterly and irrevocably convinced that what they are teaching has the potential to unlock the door to a lifetime of Scripture study and growth in grace. So Paul goes on to consider how the Gospel came to the Thessalonians. He hopes that they will see from his own earnestness that the Gospel is a vital matter of spiritual life and death. If we are to have an effective Gospel ministry, we have to come to terms with the spiritual battle raging all around us. A satanic force is utterly opposed to the Gospel and will do whatever it can to hinder its spread at every turn. How dare, then, we think that we can come "with word only" when the opposition is so stark? Paul saw himself as deeply imbued with power from on High. His endurance of suffering was the result of a constant inner strength supplied by the Holy Spirit. He knew his message was true, and so he saw himself as an ambassador for Christ. Paul was "gripped" with his message, as the original of Acts 18:5 puts it. Once we find Christ, we simply have to tell others.
It's obviously possibly to take Paul's teaching here too far and make works a requirement for salvation. This will not do. "He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal" (Rom. 2:28-29). Works never saved anyone. Nevertheless, faith and works belong together in the purpose of God. They jointly form "the Way" of Jesus. We are heading for trouble when we confuse decisions with discipleship. Salvation means justification, but it also means sanctification. They stand or fall together.
So here is what I see when I read a passage like 1 Thess. 1:2-5. I see a church -- a bride if you will -- that is loved and beautiful. She is laughing at her troubles. She is shaking off the apathy of her former life and throwing open the doors of service to others, service that requires a brimful of sweat. She is secure in the love of her Savior. And therefore, she loves.
Could these Thessalonian believers have loved unless they were first loved? Could they have learned how to live sacrificially had not Paul sacrificially brought the Good News to them with power, the Holy Spirit, and complete conviction of its truth? Someday I hope to become an evangelist like Paul and Silas and Timothy. Friend, we can experience this bonfire today. We -- you and I -- can post a few signs in the direction of the kingdom, weak though we are. The kingdom of God won't be established through our own efforts, including taking a class on 1 Thessalonians. The kingdom of God shows up when we experience God's love and then love each other well. The kingdom of God is in the check we send for disaster relief. It's in opening our homes to strangers. It's in making space for the outcasts. Paul is clear on this: the kingdom of God starts in our own hearts and lives. God may call you (as He did Paul) to lead the charge. Or He may use you in ways that will never be acknowledged until you get to glory. He leads, and we follow. It's as simple as that. From God's point of view, what matters is not only that we receive His Holy Spirit, but that we experience the presence and power of the Spirit moment by moment and day by day. To waste away one's life while claiming to have been saved is sheer presumption. There's a far better way, and it's the one Paul is showing us here. Praise be to God.
Friday, January 26
5:50 PM Nate and Jess were here just now getting some more hay. Which means I got to see "THE BOYS" -- all 5 of them.
Love my grandkids. In exactly two weeks I'll get to see the Glasses and their five kiddos in Birmingham. "In awful and surprising truth," wrote Lewis in The Problem of Pain, "we are objects of His love. You asked for a loving God; you have one...." (p. 35). God has given me the gift of widowerhood, but I am never alone, praise be.
12:45 PM I got a decent run in today at a 5.2 mile per hour pace.
I didn't do the 10 miles I was hoping to but I'll make up for it tomorrow, I promise. Before the run I spent an hour at the Y working on curls and other upper body strengthening exercises, since Mont Blanc promises to be pretty brutal on its more vertical sections.
At the Y, I ran into a former student of mine who now pastors a nearby congregation. That was pretty cool, though I will admit that it's definitely NOT possible to get a good workout when you're talking shop the whole time. Before I worked out I helped Nate load his trailer for a hay delivery.
It was cold out there. The cold air never fails to clear my mind.
Check out this barn that we built from scratch about 15 years ago.
I think our only expenses were the nails since we are the ultimate scroungers. I'll leave you with one last picture: Sheba and me on the front porch early this morning.
I was sipping coffee and getting caught up my reading while she was carefully guarding her territory. I won't go into any details, but I find the indoors so boring.
P.S. I just ordered my next pair of running shoes. New Balance 880s.
I love everything about these shoes, including the fact that they come in double wide and NEVER give me blisters (except when I'm running 26.2 miles on pure concrete the whole distance!).
6:55 AM In my NT class this Wednesday I showed the first few minutes of this video clip by Bart Ehrman, who insists that we can't just accept tradition about the Gospels but must think, use our brains, evaluate the evidence for ourselves.
He couldn't be more correct. But does the critical study of Scripture necessarily lead to skepticism about the historicity of the Gospels? I would answer that question with a resounding no. Ehrman's evangelical faith was undermined by critical scholarship. Mine was validated by it. In class on Wednesday, I mentioned this work by Mark Noll of Wheaton College.
In a sense, it's a history of evangelical scholarship in the last century. Noll shows how believing critics have dealt with critical issues in the Bible and how they have attempted to integrate higher-critical scholarship into their faith journey. This is a book that should be read by every evangelical even though it's dated. My goal in teaching NT 1 this semester is to help my students consider how they might contribute to evangelical scholarship and to suggest some steps going forward. Anti-intellectualism is unfortunately still prevalent in certain evangelical circles today. As genuine Christianity becomes just another worldview in American society, perhaps this generation of evangelicals has an opportunity. Many of my students are pursuing advanced degrees at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. They are concluding, as I did many years ago, that the dichotomy between faith and reason is a false one. As Noll points out in his book, it's no longer a question of faith or reason. It's a question of a reasonable faith versus a faithless reason. We should be seeking an appropriate and God-honoring synthesis of faith and reason, of Scripture and the natural sciences. "The emergence of a class of learned evangelical Bible scholars is a remarkable development of the last half century," writes Noll (p. 9). "The effects of that emergence in the evangelical community have been no less worthy of attention." In his conclusion, he writes: "If evangelical Bible scholars are to flourish, they must be wise as serpents with respect to the world of thought, [and] as innocent as doves with respect to the gospel" (p.197).
Frankly, I'm not sure that most younger evangelical scholars are nimble enough to do this. Still, the "life of the mind" is well worth pursuing. As Francis Schaeffer put it when a group of us students heard him lecture in Switzerland in the 1980s (I'm paraphrasing him), "When you become a Christian you don't have to put your brain in park or neutral. Christianity is a historical faith and requires no 'leap of faith' to claim that the Gospels are historically trustworthy." As an evangelical who, like Bart Ehrman, was trained in a fundamentalist college and then went on to study in a secular university, there is much in this perspective that I agree with. Brothers and sisters, let's worship the Lord Christ not only with all of our hearts but with all of our minds.
Thursday, January 25
6:44 PM Gordon Fee's 1992 SBL paper "On Text and Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians" is outstanding.
We reviewed it briefly in our Greek 4 class on Tuesday night. Fee bemoans the fact "that contemporary English language commentaries evidence impoverishment regarding their textual questions-- except for the most notable issues -- thus leaving their users with an inadequate awareness of this dimension of the exegetical task" (p. 165). He urges the following (p. 168).
Fee is unhappy that so many discussions of textual variation seem to be limited to a brief citation from Metzger and that's that. I ran across an example of this very thing while reading through Keown's new commentary on Philippians today. On p. 95 he discusses the variant sunepiskopois ("fellow-overseers") versus episkopois ("overseers"). The former reading, he asserts, "can be rejected, as Paul elsewhere never calls himself or Timothy an [episkopos], and the variant is clearly a theologically or ecclesiastically motivated addition (Metzger, 544)." The arguments both pro et contra sunepiskopois seem to me to be rather inadequately presented. Metzger evidently believed that the reading was "theologically or ecclesiastically motivated." But why should I believe that? No reasons are stated. Fee's solution to such inadequate discussion of variant readings is twofold:
1) Use extensive footnotes in which variant readings can be discussed as completely as possible.
2) Incorporate a discussion of textual variation into the exposition itself.
Next week in my NT 2 class we're devoting the entire 3 hours to issues of New Testament textual criticism and the Gospels, and Fee's essay will be discussed in some detail. My greatest concern is not what goes on inside the halls of academia but about how pastors will teach on such important places of variation as John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20. Despite frequent denials, there appears to be considerable prejudice against incorporating questions of textual criticism into the exegetical process. I would prefer to see just the opposite: pastors and church teachers sufficiently demonstrating their capacity to handle the 2,000 or so major variant units in the New Testament with their audiences.
8:24 AM Yo, folks. I'm all set for the ETS Southwest regional meeting in Houston on March 2-3 -- flights, hotel, and car all reserved. Lord willing, I'll be reading a paper on Heb. 1:1-4. This week I'm going over in great detail a book sent to me (autographed, no less) by a friend of mine, Walter Uebelacker.
He begins with a discussion of the "Rätsel" (riddle) of the epistle to the Hebrews, including its literary character and the various approaches to its structure and theme. In Part 2 he lays the groundwork for later chapters through a thorough analysis of "Strukturale Textsemantik," especially the approach popularized by J. A. Greimas. Part 3 is his analysis of 1:1-4 "als Exordium im rhetorischen Sinne." The final two chapters treat 1:5-2:18 "als theologisches und paränetisches Fundament (chapter 4) and "Der Abschluss des Hebräerbrief als Rückblick" (chapter 5). The concern of my paper is to show how the author (Paul, in my opinion) emphasizes the place of the Old Testament in the establishment of the New Covenant (Jer. 31; Heb. 8). No doubt I'll carry over many of Walter's suggestions into my Power Point presentation in Houston. The opening paragraph of Hebrews shapes our understanding of the entire book. The person of Jesus Christ has always been the most compelling argument for our churches to live according to the New Covenant, in which fraternal instruction comes to the fore, instead of a top-down "priesthood-type" of leadership model.
Meanwhile, I find myself writing regularly on the discourse structure of 1 Thessalonians, and it you'd like to follow along you can go to a Power Point that my able assistant has been updating on a weekly basis. Also this week, I plan to delve into two works I just received.
I plan on spending about two hours in my NT 1 class this semester discussing marriage, divorce, and remarriage -- adding into the mix, of course, a lengthy word about singleness and celibacy. As for this new commentary on Philippians, I've already perused the first volume and I frankly came away a bit disappointed.
The author believes that the letter has no overriding theme but instead pursues 9 "key elements" that are "threaded through each section of the letter" (pp. 80-81):
Part of the effectiveness of discourse analysis is the meticulous care devoted to recovering a text's linguistic "macrostructure" or overall theme. I would prefer to see an outline that reflects this concern. But obviously these observations are premature. I may or may not publish a complete review of this work later, once I've had a chance to digest its contents.
Today I need to do farm chores, clean the kitchen, do my banking, go to the Post Office, do some lifting at the Y, and then meet with a forestry consultant. And take Sheba for a long walk, of course. It's gorgeous out there. There are a hundred good reasons to get outdoors today if you can.
Wednesday, January 24
7:04 PM Life goes through various periods, but occasionally you encounter an exclamation point. I had such an "exclamation point" moment today. When I got back to the farm, guess what was waiting for me in my mailbox? Not one, but two translations. On the left is the Russian edition of The Myth of Adolescence. On the right is Learn to Read New Testament Greek in Mandarin. The first was published in Ukraine; the second in Shanghai.
Both books look fantastic.
My sincere thanks to all who worked so tirelessly to make these translations possible. I've been privileged to have been given the gift of 42 years, no less, in a Christian writing ministry. I have found every step to be an exciting adventure of faith. And now to see two more translations of my books appear in public leaves me speechless. As we discussed in our New Testament class today, evangelism is no good without proper follow up. May our God be pleased to use these translations to provide something nurturing for Christians. The only thing that could match my joy at receiving these books was the sunset I witnessed on my drive home.
Loving God, it's hard for me to put into words what I'm feeling right now. Even as I grow older, You grant me something useful to do. As the years come and go, I do not wish to find a fountain of youth. What I pray is that I may stay vital and creative as long as I last. For those friends who made these translations possible, I give You thanks, dearest Lord. In the communion of saints, they will always live on in my heart, even though I may never see them again in the flesh. Help me, dear God, to be like the widow in the Gospels, who gave everything she had for the sake of the kingdom. And help us all to realize that the life of the mind is the service of God, and that we learn and grow as long as we live. Amen.
Peace and love to you on your journeys, my friends.
Monday, January 22
9:02 AM Auf "Los" geht's los! That's right. Tomorrow night at 6:30 we begin our study of 1 Thessalonians. Sheba and I were on the front porch this morning listening to some audio files of 1 Thessalonians in German. (Sheba is bilingual.) When we got to 3:10, I said "Bingo!" (Das ist es!) Here's 3:10 in German:
And here's the same verse in a different translation:
I can't explain my excitement when I heard the words "etwas fehlt" and "etwas mangelt." Now let's be clear. Paul has a lot of good things to say about the Thessalonian congregation. Lots. However, there's more to the story than that. Thanks to chapters 4-5, we realize that there were several things "lacking" in their faith. Just like in our own lives. Let's be honest. If it were not for the intervention of God in our lives, we'd all probably end up on Jerry Springer. In many, many ways, I am really immature in my faith. My closeness with God suffers not for lack of desire but for lack of commitment. But God is teaching me slowly to walk humbly as He continues to train me for acting justly and loving mercy. The thing I really love about the apostle Paul is that he was never content with the level of spirituality to which he had attained. Ditto for his followers. "I don't have to tell you how to love one another," he says in 4:9-12. "You've been taught by God Himself how to do that. But guess what? It's possible for a church love too much. Your love can become mere sentimentally if you're not really careful. Just look at yourselves -- you're allowing people to mooch off of the charity of the church. Can't do that. Tell these bothers and sisters to, well, get back to work."
So when I say that 3:10 holds a vital key to the interpretation of 1 Thessalonians, what I mean is that this verse is the pivot point, the hinge upon which all else rests. The community can't tolerate certain behaviors. We all need to do some growing up. Thankfully, we can be patient with each other while God works on our transformation. Paul is saying to this church, "I love you. In fact, I love you so much I'm not going to allow you to become complacent and apathetic." Call it tough love if you will. But it's love just the same.
6:58 AM This is Sheba last night. Her eyes are telling me, "I see you have muffins. I have no muffins. Everybody needs muffins, right?"
Here's the back story. Last night while I was fixing my meals for the week, I decided to bake some muffins for my breakfasts but I just couldn't muster up the energy to do it. My climb on Saturday really did a number on me. I texted one of my daughters, "I want to cook muffins tonight but I'm too tired." To another I wrote, "Since last May I've done 7 marathons, but what I did on Saturday was harder than all 7 of those races combined." So I sat down to read a book. Then I saw Sheba's eyes. Shelties are unique doggies, or at least I think so. They're very smart and always need to have their minds and bodies occupied. They're also hyper-sensitive to the moods of their owners. They sense when we are happy or sad, tired or energetic. Once you have a Sheltie, they become your closest companion. Their middle name is loyalty, and they will run around with you all day. I'm pretty sure that Sheba has understood every word I've ever said to her. So here I am, "dog" tired, watching Sheba melt my heart. She was like, "Daddy, you always bake muffins on Sunday night, remember?" If you've never owned a Sheltie, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. But every Sheltie owner understands. Our dogs are so cute it's almost criminal. So off I went with my little buddy to bake "our" muffins.
If you want to see something cute, watch the expression on the face of a Sheltie who's munching on a freshly baked muffin. Sheba's the first thing to put a smile on my face every morning. She loves to bark when she sees me, as if she were saying, "Good morning, Daddy! It's a beautiful day!" Shelties crave interaction with their owners. Wherever I go, it seems that Sheba is always talking to me. When I'm about to take her out for a walk on the farm, I simply start putting on my jacket and she immediately knows -- "It's walk time!" Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark. And how she can tell when I'm about to feed her a cookie that's hidden in my jacket pocket -- I'll never be able to figure that one out.
Most of us, I suppose, have sensed great solitude upon losing a loved one or saying goodbye when a child moves out of the house. The world offers poor substitutes for loneliness. It was the love of God that brought Adam's companion into being, a refuge for his lonesomeness. To Becky I owe a deep consciousness of God as my Provider. Now, in her absence, He still provides for those who are alone. He teaches the widower to see, hear, smell, feel, taste, and perhaps even bake muffins, and if He also gives you a furry companion to "help" you bake them, so much the better. Sometimes we see God's tenderness in the most unexpected places, even in the smile of a pet.
Sunday, January 21
4:08 PM Photo update:
1) Today I finished reading Heinrich Baltensweiler's classis essay on 1 Thess. 4:3-8, in which he argues that Paul's topic is not immorality in general but the custom of obtaining a divorce so that a male relative might marry a daughter who inherits her father's property when the latter has no surviving sons.
I took classes, by the way, under Professor Baltensweiler when I was a student in Basel in the early 80s. He was a wonderful lecturer and the second reader on my dissertation.
2) The latest issue of JETS arrived last week.
Gregory Goswell, in his essay "Authorship and Anonymity in the New Testament Writings," argues generally that "The attribution of authorship to a biblical book is hermeneutically relevant" (p. 748) and specifically that "Timothy is a link between Paul and the author of Hebrews" (p. 748).
3) This book was sitting on my bookshelf. Glad I dusted it off.
The author suggests that John Buford and his cavalry might well be considered the heroes of Gettysburg by putting up a successful defense against all odds and holding the high ground on Cemetery Ridge until the Union infantry arrived, thus forcing Lee into offensive action against a well-fortified enemy.
4) John 1:1-5 contains so many interesting questions of exegesis that it's impossible to know where to stop listing them. Why in the Greek is there no "the" before "beginning"? Why does the Greek say, "And the Word was with the God"? Why is theos in the third clause anarthrous (without a Greek article)? Indeed, what does the word "word" mean in this context anyway? And then there's the threefold repetition of the Greek verb en-- "was." People often assume that this verb (the most common word for "being" in the New Testament) means the same thing in all three instances. I assumed as much as well until I happened upon this Spanish rendering. Here the same Greek verb is rendered by "existía," "estaba," and "era." Fascinating!
5) Finally, folks, I think I've found the perfect waist pack for my summer running.
Time to cook my meals for the week. My first class kicks off tomorrow night at 6:30!
7:42 AM Hey folks! Here are some random reflections on my climb yesterday in West Virginia.
1) Friday dawned cold but clear. The farm had just gotten 8 inches of snow, but thankfully I had little trouble getting to the road from my house.
2) My goal was to arrive at my hotel in Harrisonburg at 3:00 pm. The roads in southern Virginia were good. I encountered very little traffic, though in Charlotte County I did see this Amish buggy.
3) Yesterday morning I was up at 5:00, had breakfast, and then headed to Circleville, WV for my climb. I arrived right on time for my 9:00 am appointment. Here's the HQ building for NRocks.
As you know, my goal was to climb their famous Via Ferrata. "Via Ferrata" is Italian for "Iron Road." It's a climbing route where you're secured to the rock face by a cable and iron rungs in the steepest sections. It's a method of climbing that's been around in Europe for centuries. This may well be the ultimate activity for people wanting to challenge themselves in a safe environment. You constantly have to clip yourself into the cable by means of two carabiners. The internal locking system makes it virtually impossible to clip out of both at the same time. The course is easy to follow and allows you to tackle otherwise impassible cliffs and ledges, with effort, of course.
4) The Via Ferratas in the States are usually climbed during the summer months. I wanted to go earlier in the year to avoid the crowds. Here's my guide Matthew.
When I took this selfie he said, "Let's look serious." Actually, Matt's a very cheerful and humorous guy. There are hundreds of free Via Ferrata in Europe, and none of them require a guide. Here in the States it's different. Most if not all of the Via Ferratas in the U.S. are commercial operations where the land is privately owned. They all require you to be guided. I just happened to come on a day when no one else was climbing, so I had a guide all to myself.
5) Most Via Ferratas, whether here or in Europe, have only one set route that takes you from start to finish. Some of them, however, offer escape routes at various points along the course. This was the case with the NRocks course. Every so often Matt would turn to me and ask, "There's an exit here. Do you want to go back or keep on going?" I think he's required to say that to all of his clients.
6) There were basically three sections on this particular Via Ferrata. They seemed to increase in difficulty -- or maybe I was just getting more tired the farther we went. Look precarious at all?
When I climbed the Via Ferrata in Zermatt two summers ago, the route had three levels of difficulty, from A to C. When we completed Part B, my guide Walter asked me if I wanted to keep on going. He told me that Part C was very steep and rocky and that you needed to be in excellent condition to do it. Progress is possible only by very small steps and slab climbing. I told him I didn't come all this way to stop now, and by the grace of God I was able to finish that portion of the climb. It took me about 6 hours to climb only 1,800 vertical feet, but having the right guide definitely played an important role in me being able to persevere.
7) Likewise, during yesterday's climb Matt was always coaching me, advising me where to place my feet, and just generally being a great encouragement. For him, safety was the end-all and be-all of the climb. On a Via Ferrata you have to go carefully and constantly and avoid rock slides at all costs.
8) By far my favorite part of the climb was the cable bridge that crosses a 200-foot high gorge. According to Matt, it's here that a good many climbers say "I'm done" and avail themselves of the nearby escape route. Matthew, of course, scrambled across in no time.
9) It took me considerably longer to get from one end of the bridge to the other. To say I was frightened would be an understatement, but I never felt terrified to the point that I couldn't proceed. I mean, once you get on a bridge like this, you have no option but to continue.
10) Finally we reached the summit, where I was able to take this panoramic photo.
The joy of summiting a mountain for the first time is indescribable. I think I pushed the limits a little bit by insisting on making it to the top, and my legs are definitely hurting today. But it was totally worth the effort to be able to see the Eastern Continental Divide. So much of life is like mountaineering. Ingrid Bergman once said, "Getting old is like climbing a mountain. You get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!" C. K. Chesterton once quipped, "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." Finally, Nelson Mandela's wise words come to mind: "After climbing a great hill, one finds that there are only many more hills to climb." Now you know why I like to climb.
11) When Matthew and I arrived back at HQ, I texted the family to let them know I was okay and sent along a few pics. One of my daughters texted me, "My arms are hurting just looking at you. What a wild ride!" I replied, "2,327 vertical feet. No wonder your arms are hurting!!!" It took me almost 4 hours to hike a distance of only 3.36 miles. That means my climbing pace was less than one minute per mile. I laughed out loud when I saw that stat. It's a new record for me for sure. :-)
If you're ever in West Virginia, why not give the Via Ferrata a try? Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones is a great excuse not only for exercise but also for personal growth. Taking that first step is the hardest part. But that's life, right?
Thanks for visiting,
Friday, January 19
6:45 AM In our Greek 3 class last semester, I emphasized that the theme of Philippians -- its rhetorical "macrostructure" if you will -- is "Unity in the Cause of the Gospel." But what is the theme of 1 Thessalonians? The letter as a whole has an opening (1:1), a body (1:2-5:24), and a closing (5:25-28). The body can be divided into two parts:
The letter moves from personal thoughts to practical instructions. The theme of Part 1 is goodwill and thanksgiving. It contains multiple expressions of Paul's love and concern for his readers. In Part 2, the focus shifts from encouragement and commendation to exhortation and correction. If Part 1 has a predominantly approbatory function, Part 2 has a predominantly admonitory function. Here the major text-sequences all deal with growth in the Christian life. But what was the precise rhetorical exigence that led Paul to write the letter in the first place? It can only have been the topic reflected specifically in 4:13-5:11 and in the entire letter generally: the serious potential for the Thessalonian believers to question not only the sincerity of Paul's preaching but even the reliability of the Gospel itself. In light of this, it's perfectly understandable why Paul would spend so much time in Part 1 defending his integrity and in Part 2 defending the need for eschatological suffering. Doubt over the eschatological status of those who had died (quite possible due to persecution) only led to questions about the eschatological status of those who remained. The letter therefore has an apologetic function. I consider it to be perhaps the clearest rationale for Christian suffering in the whole of the New Testament (see 3:3). But while suffering is to be expected, it's a mere precursor of the messianic banquet, the marriage supper of the Lamb with His bride, the time when we the church will be united with Him in joy forever. Little wonder the earliest believers cried out to Jesus, their only hope in this life,
"O Lord, come!!"
It is to this suffering yet exemplary congregation that Paul writes 1 Thessalonians. In teaching this book in Greek 4, I want to stimulate my students to examine for themselves this remarkable record of the relations between the world's greatest church planter and one of the most beloved congregations he founded and cared for. Suffering is the rule, not the exception, of Christian living, insists the apostle. This is a lesson Paul himself learned painfully and reluctantly through his missionary journeys. This is why he never complains about his sufferings but considers them a badge of honor and the greatest proof of his apostolic authority. As always, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. We ourselves are likely to learn the deep truths of Christianity only through suffering. If you haven't yet had a "severe mercy" (C. S. Lewis) in your life, cheer up. You will. Our extremity is God's opportunity. As the Thessalonians will be reminded again and again, suffering teaches us Christlikeness perhaps better than any thing else in life. As Paul puts it in 2 Cor. 4:10-12: "We always carry in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we are alive we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. The result is that death is at work in us, but life in you." If suffering is inevitable, it is also invaluable. This view of pain is rather uncommon in some of our churches. I certainly wasn't taught it growing up in Hawaii. But the fact is that we all live between the first and second comings of Christ. This world passes away, and so do our lives. This consideration must influence our behavior. It did Paul's. In Philippians he says he's turned all his assets and liabilities over to Christ. He found peace in the midst of trial and strength in the midst of weakness. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is no less adamant that the Christian life is not necessarily one of wealth and ease. There is nothing triumphalistic about a truly New Testament church, regardless of its polity or denomination. Like our Master, who was killed, we are not concerned with glory. Instead, we are concerned about submitting to suffering, just as He did. People will not be drawn to Christ through our arrogance and pride. We have no right to preach the Gospel if we do not reflect the death of Christ in our individual and congregational lives.
Brothers and sisters, as we go through the book of 1 Thessalonians this semester, I want to invite you to join us. If you know Greek, you can follow along in that language. If you have a favorite English Bible version, use a different one for the sake of variety. There are many advantages in studying the Bible using as many different English versions as possible. 1 Thessalonians has an enormous amount to say to our contemporary situation. It's theme is "Suffering for the Sake of The Gospel." In short, this letter was written for us. Open its pages and be transformed from the inside out.
5:55 AM On this day in history ....
That's right, the roads are plowed, the weather has turned warm(er), and the sun is shining brightly. Yesterday I was able to clear enough snow from the driveway to get my car to the road, so I think we're good to go today. I'll spend the night in Harrisonburg then wend my way over the mountains to Circleville, WV for tomorrow's rock-face climb.
My GoPro is charged and ready. My strength is up. Hopefully, the climb will be a rousing success. You never know how you'll do until you get on the mountain. While basically meaningless in the grand scheme of things, these little adventures of mine keep me active and excited about life. I have to admit to a strong case of Wanderlust in my soul. The older I get, the less active I'll become, so it makes sense to have as much fun as you can while you can. "Fun" meaning doing things that are both incredibly stressful and exhilarating. I can say that I'm just a little bit antsy to find out what I'm made of tomorrow.
Thursday, January 18
9:38 AM You know you're getting old when you mention "Earle Ellis" and your students go, "Who?" Edward Earle Ellis served for many years at my sister seminary, SWBTS, as Research Professor of Theology.
He was born in 1926 and went home to heaven on March 2, 2010. I didn't know him well but I considered him a dear colleague. When I was praying about studying overseas for my doctorate, Ellis (and a few others) were my inspiration to take the plunge (his Ph.D. was from Edinburgh). When I was in seminary, his books Paul's Use of the Old Testament and Paul and His Recent Interpreters were required reading. He also founded the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), a society I once belonged to before it became too much for me to belong to ETS, SBL, IBR, and SNTS, all at the same time.
This morning I read (and took copious notes on) Ellis's essay in New Testament Studies called "Paul and His Co-Workers." Although I've never served in the role of local church elder (1 Tim. 3:1 simply doesn't apply to me), I've always felt that leadership is essential to the vitality of a local congregation, if only because most of us who are not in leadership rarely rise above the quality of our leaders. Leaders can create a lot of problems. This happened in Corinth and the church to which 3 John was written. Sometimes leaders attempt to impose their will on the congregation, as if their authority lay in their "office" rather than in their example and teaching (Heb. 13:7). Sometimes "elder-led" churches are actually "elder-ruled." The opposite can also be true. We can wrongly minimize the importance of the leaders that God has put in our midst. Christian leadership is essential to healthy-functioning churches. Paul was such a leader, as were many of his friends and co-laborers. In this essay, Ellis explores in some detail those leadership qualities that seemed extraordinarily attractive to the apostle Paul. Here are a few Cliff Notes for your consideration:
1) Paul had no formal "disciples" (Greek: mathetai).
2) But he did have many associates.
3) When we combine Acts with the Pauline writings, some 100 names are associated with Paul's ministry.
4) Most of these are his colleagues and co-workers.
5) Some he identifies by their "titles" (Ellis uses quotation marks to indicate he's using the term loosely).
6) Three periods seem to be discernible in Paul's ministry and, concomitantly, in the work he did with his colleagues: The Antiochean Stage (Mark and Titus), the Second Missionary Journey (Timothy, Prisca, Aquila, Aristarchus, Luke, and Erastus), and his Mission Based in Rome (Demas, Tychicus, and Trophimus).
7) Nine of these co-workers remained in close association with Paul to the end of his life.
8) "In summary, the picture that emerges is that of a missionary with a large number of associates. Paul is scarcely ever found without companions" (p. 439).
9) The most common terms used by Paul to describe his associates (in descending frequency) are co-worker, brother, servant, and apostle.
10) The term co-worker (Greek: sunergos) mostly refers to Paul's fellow itinerant workers.
11) Paul uses "brothers" (Greek: adelphoi) fairly consistently to refer to "a relatively limited group of workers" (p. 447).
12) Paul and his colleagues eschewed titles of eminence such as "teacher" or "leader" even though were teachers and leaders. "With reference to their task they are the workers, the servants, the special messengers; with reference to one another they are the brothers" (p. 451).
13) Finally, Ellis suggests that "Paul's associates also may have had a literary role" in terms of assisting him with his writing projects (p. 452).
Dear church leaders: You are very special to us, your followers. We know your schedules are over-loaded. We know you're aware of the shift going on among millennials, who are less dependent on programming and also less dependent upon pastors for their spiritual growth. Perhaps Paul would ask, "Who are your colleagues? Your co-workers? The special 'brothers' with whom you form a team?" The danger of going it alone is a grave one in the modern church. Clearly, the plurals that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 3:5-6 stress that leadership includes cooperation to a very high degree. Solitary leadership in any church is bad for the leader and bad for the people. Our theology of leadership must reflect Jesus. We have one Teacher, and we are all brothers. To quote Ellis again (and please let this sink in) regarding church leaders:
No church has a Senior Pastor other than Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 5:4). Church leaders are "fellow elders" (1 Pet. 5:1). If we followed Paul's teaching and changed our title to "Servant Pastor," would that free us up at all -- free us up, perhaps, from our congregation's unrealistic expectations, from the heavy self-imposed burden we carry, from the danger of arrogance? The gift of discernment is essential for a leader (1 Cor. 2:15). Is humility a characteristic of most modern clergy? Do we rely more on our eloquence and degrees than on the Holy Spirit of God? Paul, a top rabbi from the University of Tarsus, is constantly receding into the group, constantly praising his co-workers and brothers, constantly stressing the importance of team effort. I don't think for a moment that Paul is denigrating his own authority as an apostle. But precisely because he was an apostle, it's all the more impressive to find him stressing the need for mutual ministry. A seminary degree or title has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Church leaders are regular church members who are vetted and then entrusted with spiritual discernment and leadership. We recognize them by their humility, their integrity, and their sense of personal responsibility before God to lead their people through Scripture and example.
Ellis deserves the final word, however. He notes how Paul, having established a local church, would appoint men into leadership roles. "For these workers ... charism doubtless preceded religious function" (p. 451).
Elders are workers and servants, for whom worldly titles and structures are subservient. I couldn't have said it better.
Blessings on y'all,
7:58 AM "Morning has broken...." Love the sunshine!
The big question is: Has VDOT plowed the tertiary roads yet? If not, I'll be stuck here for a while. Not to mention the long gravel driveway I have to negotiate to get to the road, and in a vehicle that rides very low to the ground. Once the primary roads are passable, crews work 12-hour shifts to clear the secondary roads. I'm afraid my neighborhood doesn't make that list. But they will get here eventually. Even after the sun has done its work, crews still work to push ice and slush off the roads. These guys and gals are amazing. A huge "Thank you!" to VDOT and their wonderful snow removal crews.
Wednesday, January 17
5:56 PM This post is dedicated to my good friend Kevin, who I think is enjoying the snow as much as I am!
5:44 PM While cooking supper this evening -- Korean bulgogi over rice -- I listened to All Things Considered as Mary Louise Kelly interviewed author Daniel Pink about his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. It's now at #148 at Amazon.
The author asks: How does the time of day affect our work and decision-making? Pink verbalized for me something I've always felt to be true intuitively. Our day can be divided into three basic phases: peak, trough, and rebound. The key is to align the task with the time. I do most of my best writing in the morning. I take a daily nap during my "trough" period. And then I do more work in the evening. He suggests that students take their exams in the morning, that you schedule your surgeries before the noon hour, etc.
I'm on board, generally speaking, with this way of thinking. When I send students home with a take-home exam (they usually have a week to work on it), I'm going to be more intentional about suggesting they take it in the morning. Here's another takeaway from the interview: "Most people think that amateurs take breaks and professionals never do. The opposite is true. Professionals take breaks and amateurs almost never do." It's important for me to schedule in rest times and not feel guilty for taking time off to let my body and mind recover. It's hard to believe that inactivity is a vital part of an active lifestyle but it is. I'm learning how to be as serious about rest as I am about working out. Especially after a hard race or the completion of a major writing project, the worst mistake I can make -- both physically and mentally -- is not giving myself time to recover.
I haven't purchased the book. But I'm grateful for the interview I heard. Its basic thesis rings true for me, and it might for you as well.
4:35 PM 6 hours later .... 5 inches of snow.
9:14 AM So the President is 1 pound short of being obese. So what's new. According to this report by the NIDDK, more than 2 in 3 American adults (70.2 percent) are considered to be either overweight or obese. Honestly, I've struggled with lack of exercise as much as anybody. I've said "Lord, Lord" without simply doing the will of my Father -- taking care of the body He's entrusted to me. The doctrine of surrendering our "bodies" as living sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1) is meaningless until it becomes more than words. As long as our lives are marked by unhealthy diets and apathy about physical exercise, no matter how we much claim to be obedient followers of Jesus we're only clanging cymbals. Thankfully, failure in this area is not a deal-breaker with God. It's never too late to start exercising. There are no secrets, no gimmicks. It's just you and your body becoming active. Some time ago I wrote an essay called Taking Care of Your Temple. It tells the story of how I put my dreams into action. It doesn't matter if you've been active for years or this is your first day to exercise ever. We need to spend less time talking about the problem and more time doing something about it. Let's stop deciding if we are going to get fit and start deciding when we are going to get fit. Millions of active Americans have gone before you. Each of them faced the same fears and anxieties that you're facing. And each has learned, as you will, the joy of exercise.
8:30 AM A gentle snow has begun falling in the Piedmont. Up to 6 inches is expected before the weather system moves out this afternoon.
This may put Friday's rock climbing plans in West Virginia on hold. We'll wait and see. Right now I'm going over my calendar for the next few months and making sure I'm well prepared for any eventualities. My next full marathon is in exactly 2 months. It will be a "local" race (anything in Raleigh I consider to be "local") and boasts of being Fast, Flat, and Fun. This will be my first attempt to run the Tobacco Road Marathon. The full marathon has 22 miles on the American Tobacco Trail -- a crushed gravel surface that is much more to my liking than the concrete I ran on 3 weeks ago in the New Years Double Marathon in Texas. The race usually sells out every year (the limit is 1,500 full marathon and 2,500 half marathon participants), so I made sure I registered early. The time limit is a very generous 7 hours. I plan to run with the 6:00 pace group. Also on my calendar is a concert I'm really looking forward to. It involves a return trip to the Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh for a performance called In the Mood, featuring big-band style music from the 40s. Here's a sampling of what I can expect.
(Think there are a few ballrooms stashed among those mansions in heaven?) I'm also finalizing plans to attend the Southwest Regional ETS meeting on March 2-3. When I saw that the meeting was going to be held at Southwestern Seminary, I immediately assumed the reference was to the Fort Worth campus, but it turns out I was wrong. The venue is actually Houston. While there I hope to get caught up with my good friends at HBU. Today I've got a stack of journal articles to leaf through, including an essay by B. Orchard called "Thessalonians and the Synoptic Gospels." Orchard argues that Paul had a copy of the scroll of Matthew with him when he wrote to the Thessalonians on his second missionary journey. "For in the Matthean and Pauline accounts [of the Parousia] we find the same Greek words used in the same way and in similar contexts" (p. 37). Matthew's Olivet Discourse provides the "only appropriate background" for understanding Paul's teaching on the Parousia, he claims. Ouch. This claim goes against everything proposed by the so-called Markan Priority Hypothesis and suggests that Matthew, not Mark, is our earliest written Gospel. Orchard, of course, went on to argue for Matthean priority in his later works. Interestingly, after years of study, I came to the same conclusion. Now the question is: What do the church fathers say?
So yes, the snow is falling and I may not be able to get out of the farm for a couple of days. Maybe I need the rest time here more than I need the strain of a difficult ascent. The Lord knows!
5:55 AM Gratitude:
I hope this will inspire you to make a list of your own.
Tuesday, January 16
4:02 PM I've got the rice cooking for supper and I've got a few minutes to spare, so what shall I blog about? Obviously you're tired of me blogging so much (and so humbly) about my publications, so let's try the subject of "hoarding" on for size. Hoarding? Yes. As in, "Why in the world did I keep my upright piano for so many years when I knew someone would play it a LOT more than I do?" Let's be honest. I said goodbye to my piano today for one reason. I didn't need it. A couple of weeks ago I went through my dresser drawers and closets, filling gignormous bags with the results of my consumerism. I mean, did I really need 12 pairs of running shoes? Well, I just did a quick recheck, and there's about 50 pounds of stuff I can still get rid of. Do I actually need all of these suits?
Or these dumbbells? (You never use them, Dave; you go to the gym, remember?)
Or why do I still have two pairs of climbing boots, one of which doesn't even fit me any more?
"When I was a child," to paraphrase Paul, "I used to spend like a child, on ME." The Paul of my imagination then added, "But when I became a grown-up, I visited Goodwill Industries and gave away half of it." Like you, I have an overabundance of things. You know that compulsion to have, have, have? Maybe we should stop being the packrats we are and literally carry the Gospel to others -- or, as in the case of my piano, hire someone else to carry it for you. And hey, if anyone needs a set of never-used copper pots and pans or an electric recliner that's never been used, I know this guy who lives in Southern Virginia....
9:22 AM Said goodbye to my piano today. One of my daughters will be putting it to very good use.
I prefer playing my clavinova anyway. "Without music, life would be a mistake" (Friedrich Nietzsche). Amen to that.
8:42 AM Take something away, and you're often better off for it. I stopped watching TV years ago. I get my news online. Even there I'm pretty selective since I try to avoid time-wasting and sophomoric sites. But every now and then I run across something so powerful I just have to press the pause button. An elder of a church in an ethnically-diverse part of the nation recently posted something about the race war that is ridiculously well-written. I've largely uninvited myself from the media party going on in our culture today. But sometimes you're forced to dig deep. Our social norms are changing before our very eyes. Some think it's for the better. I have my doubts. I rest in the knowledge that, ultimately, it's God who's moving the chess pieces around. That said, when a pastor with tons of street cred speaks out, maybe it's time to pay attention. He might just have a point. He speaks of the ethnic diversity in his congregation. (He himself is non-Anglo.) He is concerned about racial bias -- and racial barbs. About bigotry and animus. About the direction in which the immigration debate in our country is going. I realize the novelty of not linking to his essay, but my point here is not to quote what others are saying but to ask, "What are we thinking and doing about it?" You? Me? I am uptohere with books and online essays and videos about the culture war we Americans are facing. What I see lacking are faith communities that embrace the grave challenges of the Gospel. Happy exceptions do come along, however, and in that I rejoice. Every person has a voice. Speak out if that's how the Lord is leading you. But going public with your views isn't necessary to make a difference. Turns out I'm confronted with my own unconscious bias on a daily basis. I can either ignore it and hope it will vanish, or I can confront it head on. We live in a day when evangelical Christianity is being redefined. If we're not very careful, what started out as the turning of a blind eye can turn into a way of life. I wonder where we get our disregard of the immigrant? It's certainly not from the Gospel. If we truly follow Jesus, then someday we'll need to make the transition from advocate to neighbor. The Gospel brings us together, regardless of our race and national origin. I know this because I grew up as an ethnic minority. What if we tried to solve this problem together? Maybe the solution is right under our noses. Maybe we don't recognize justice because it's disguised as simple acts of other-kindness.
These thoughts burden me constantly. Trouble is, I can always make the problem someone else's. Listen lambs, when life becomes more about us than the marginalized, we have a problem. What is happening in American society today is a golden opportunity. This is our chance to become what we believe. This is a chance for us Americans to become who we know we are in our heart of hearts. We are better than bigotry. If not in the culture at large, then at the very least in the body of Christ.
6:58 AM According to my "definitive" (yes, that is a joke) 79-page introduction to textual criticism, there are about 2,000 significant textual variants in the New Testament. (Ehrman seems to think there are about 400,000; Wallace about 4,000.) A "significant" variant, in my humble opinion, is one that affects both translation and (therefore) interpretation. The most famous of these are treated in two books I've been privileged to edit:
I became interested in the subject in 1975, when I took a course in textual criticism from Dr. Harry Sturz of Biola University's Greek Department. Few teachers have made such a significant impact on my life. We read, we translated, we parsed, we collated. By the time I finished seminary I had fallen in love with the discipline and had even written my master's thesis on the famous textual variant in Eph. 1:1. I consider the art and science of textual criticism so important that I even included it as 1 of 10 steps in my book Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. The kindest thing you can do for your Greek students is to at least expose them to the usefulness of this discipline.
In 1 Thess. 2:7, we encounter what I would call a "first-class textual variant" or a "textual variant of the first order." Much has been written about it, including this essay I'm having my Greek 4 students read this semester.
What did Paul write here?
"But we became babies among you...."
"But we became gentle among you ...."
The article I cited above argues for the latter reading. Delobel, its author, considers the reading "babies" to be "almost a lectio impossibilis" -- an "impossible reading" (p. 131). Cut to my primer. There I argue that the most geographically widespread reading is most likely to be the original one. This tips the scales in favor of "babies" over "gentle." But is "babies" a nonsense reading, an impossibility? Depends on who you read. "Babies" is possibly due to the repetition of the final letter of the word that comes right before it in Greek (this process is called dittography, "writing twice"). Here's "babies" in Greek:
And here's NEPIOI combined with EGENETHEMEN ("We became"), the word that precedes it:
The question for exegetes is this: Should we read one "N" or two? If we read only one, then we end up with "gentle" (EPIOI). If we read two, then we have "babies" (NEPIOI). I would argue that we can't settle the case one way or the other on the basis of the internal evidence since the error could have gone in either direction. (If dittography can occur in manuscripts of the New Testament, so can haplography -- the inadvertent omission of a letter or letters in writing). The old story illustrates this well:
Atheist Teacher: GODISNOWHERE. (God is nowhere.)
Christian Student: GODISNOWHERE. (God is now here.)
What then do we make of the sudden shift of metaphors -- from "babies" to "nursing mother" -- in the very same breath? In his Textual Commentary (p.p. 629-630), Bruce Metzger notes that "though the shift of metaphor from that of babe to that of mother-nurse is admittedly a violent one, it is characteristically Pauline and no more startling than the sudden shift of metaphor in Ga. 4:19." Hmm. Sounds good to me. But hear this: I don't think God wants a war of words over this. On the other hand, don't underestimate the importance of being able to think intelligently about this subject.
How do I summarize a topic that is so vast? Back to that 79-page book I mentioned above. A major theme of my primer is that anybody can learn the rudiments of New Testament textual criticism. No Bible degree required. Even a guy with your typical Hawaiian laid-back-whatevah-attitude sees the value in this discipline. So grab yourself a copy of New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide and have at it. I promise you that all proceeds from the sale of the book will go directly to needy children.
Monday, January 15
10:15 AM It's 19 degrees.
Sheba and I have been on the porch enjoying the brilliant sunshine.
I've been listening to 1A on NPR. It's a very disturbing program about injustice but one I need to hear. I'll save my run for when the weather warms up.
8:45 AM As a kid growing up in Hawaii, I cut my eyeteeth on the old King James Version Bible. Even today, when I quote a verse of Scripture, the first rendering that comes to mind is the KJV. One such verse is 1 Thess. 5:19:
Most of us doth not speaketh this way anymore, so you'll find more colloquial renderings of this verse, such as:
1 Thessalonians has an enormous amount to say to our contemporary church situation, not least in the area of Christian living. That's one of the reasons I chose it as the focus of our Greek 4 class. The way in which Paul handles the "stifling of the Spirit" in Thessalonica has a curiously modern ring to it. Here I think of books like Strange Fire and its response Strangers to Fire. Both of these books call us to reexamine some longstanding assumptions about church life and the role of the Spirit in our daily lives. I want my students to examine for themselves the role that charismatic Christianity plays in today's world. Hopefully we won't duck out of the more controversial issues Paul seems to be dealing with in 1 Thessalonians 5. We are far too prone to view the Holy Spirit as a doctrine to be discussed. Alas, He is far more than that. We need constantly, as Paul reminds us in 1 Thess. 5:19, to examine ourselves and check up on our relationship with the Spirit, otherwise for all our preaching and teaching we ourselves might prove to be reprobates. It if could happen in Thessalonica, it can happen in Raleigh and Roxboro and in your hometown. The one lesson from 1 Thessalonians we must all take away is that the Christian life is one of suffering. Holy Spirit power is not always displayed in the miraculous. More often than not, "We have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not of us." This is Paul's famous "power-perfected-in-weakness" doctrine, a topic I studied in some detail in one of my books.
The Master suffered. So will we. We are not called to be successes. We are called to obedience. Heirs of the age to come, we are still heirs to all the fallennness and frailty of the present age. I suspect that the young church at Thessalonica struggled with this doctrine, as do some of us today. But a truly apostolic church is nothing if it isn't a church that carries with it the dying of the Lord Jesus. It's authenticity is drawn from its identification with the poor and downtrodden, from suffering, from enduring mockery and persecution. That's why when someone this week belittled the African nation in which my wife grew up, my mind instantly went to a time when someone said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" What a ridiculous idea that the Gospel produces weaklings! Many of us grew up "on the other side of the tracks." But through His Spirit, Christ makes His followers strong, regardless of the place of their birth or their background. The power of His name is available through faith to all who call upon Him. We read in Hebrews of those who "out of weakness were made strong" (Heb. 11:34). A sickly Christian is subnormal. We can be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
The apostles of the New Testament provided the norms of doctrine. A writing such as 1 Thessalonians shows us how newborn Christians sometimes need a bottle. Eventually, however, they also need to be fed meat and to begin to discern the mind of God for themselves through the indwelling presence of the Spirit and through the Scriptures. It is to that measure of maturity that Paul was calling the Thessalonians. And it is to that measure of maturity that he is calling the church of today. There is, perhaps, no higher calling in all the world.
Sunday, January 14
8:42 PM Well, I decided to make a reservation at the NRocks Via Ferrata in West Virginia for later this week. This has got to be one of North America's best kept secrets.
Europe has a gazillion of these "iron roads." I climbed one in Zermatt a couple of summers ago and let me tell you, it wasn't easy. It took me several hours to climb only 1,800 vertical feet. Here's my GoPro from that climb should you be interested in seeing what it's like.
The trip to the Via Ferrata in West Virginia will be a three-day affair. I'll need to drive up to Harrisonburg the night before, climb the next day, then rest up back in H-Burg before my long drive home. But it sounds like the perfect adventure to help me celebrate my last few days of vacation before school starts again. The temps will be a bit on the cold side (in the 30s) but the forecast is calling for sunny skies. Being that it's off-season, I got a great rate for my climb, and it looks like I'll be the only climber that day so it's almost like a private tour. Of course, I'll take my GoPro with me and see if I can capture any exciting views. You're clipped into a safety system the whole way comprised of steel rungs and ladders. This year, as you probably know, I'm trying to ramp up my climbing time, distance, and elevation in the hopes of summiting Mont Blanc this summer -- which, from what I hear, requires an almost super-human level of fitness. Am I up for it? Training climbs like the Via Ferrata will hopefully help me sort things out in my brain. The rigors of a three-day expedition to a high altitude summit like Mont Blanc is a serious undertaking. A strong body, especially a strong core, is essential. I'm trying to take my training one day at a time, because, honestly, the whole enterprise seems rather daunting. But even if I never make it to Mont Blanc, climbing is still good for me.
What, if anything, are you doing to make your life what you want it to be right now? Be careful about your choices. We can't do everything we want to do. Just make each day count.
9:50 AM Who cares about restrictive versus non-restrictive clauses? I do! Note the difference between:
In the first sentence, "which is in the garage" is not an essential clause. However, in the second sentence, "that is in the garage" is an essential clause. It specifies a certain mower and sets it apart from the others. In other words, "that" is being used in a restrictive sense and therefore lacks a comma before it.
In 1 Thess. 2:13-16, a great debate has been raging over this very issue.
Did Paul assign blame for the death of Jesus to all of the Jews or only to those Jews who actually had him put to death? Compare the NASB and the ISV:
The ISV clearly takes the clause "who killed ..." as restrictive. Hence the absence of a comma. Weima notes (p. 170), "The ... clause deals with the role that some Jews played in the death of Jesus and the prophets...." (italics added). Bruce adds (p.p. 46-47), " ... even in Acts the responsibility is limited to the Jerusalemites and their rulers (Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13-17; 7:52; 13:27, 28)."
Improve your foreign language skills. Improve your English language skills. It's just that simple.
So what are you waiting for?
8:46 AM It's been quite a week ...
But the news is not all bad. Did you read the amazing story about a teacher in upstate New York who'll be running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents this month and teaching her students about geography while doing it? Hope she finishes. As for our concert last night, words fail. Not only was "Pictures at an Exhibition" performed flawlessly, the conductor was a real trip to watch as he jogged across the stage and jumped up and down while conducting.
His name is Rune Bergmann and he hails from Norway. Currently he's the Music Director at Calgary's Philharmonic Orchestra. My favorite NC Symphony conductor is, of course, Grant Llewellyn, but if you're going to have a substitute, might as well make the evening interesting! The standing ovation that he and the entire orchestra received was well deserved for sure.
"Pictures" is one of the most exhilarating pieces ever written. The brass section's performance was brilliant. And to think that the entire piece was composed to honor a friend who had died. Praise be to God!
Saturday, January 13
12:12 PM It was a beautiful day for a run. I got in 5 miles at the local rails-to-trail course at a 13 min./mi. pace.
The swamp was eerie-looking to say the least.
I'm home now devouring some cream of broccoli soup, a fresh chicken salad sandwich with lettuce, and a glorious sweet pickle!
Like the majority of runners, I'm a heel striker. That's not a good thing, and it's a problem I'm really working on resolving in 2018. When you land on your heel, your ankles and knees suffer the impact. When you land mid-foot (where you should be landing), your calves can act as much-needed shock absorbers. Heel striking has been compared to hitting the brakes every time you try to drive your car somewhere. So today I focused on landing mid-foot. The nice thing is that a mid-foot strike doesn't make me feel all out of whack. It's almost as though my body is saying, "Oh, Dave, this feels so much better." I just hope I don't give up on the concept. My other goal is to increase my pace and reduce my stride. I'm becoming really good at that. Anyways, I'm hooked on this sport. Sure, it involves hours and hours of training. For me, every new day is another starting line in life. Every day I'm asked to face myself with honesty. And every day I discovery the joy of running anew. Every time I run, I'm grateful to those runners who silently beckoned me to join them.
How about you?
7:50 AM A few random reflections before I head out to the Y:
1) Yesterday the high was 70. Today the high will be 45, and on Sunday 34. As long as it stays above 0, I'm good.
2) This evening is the event I've been looking forward to for such a very long time. Accompanied by three of my kids, Lord willing I'll be attending the NC Symphony's performance of Mussorgsky's fabulous Pictures at an Exhibition. A few of us saw this same performance a few months after Becky passed away. I'm sure memories will flood my mind tonight. No words can describe the jubilation I felt when the orchestra played the victorious final movement. It's almost as though I could see Becky entering the gates of heaven and being greeted by the Master she served so long and so well. That evening was a pure gift of God to me. Tonight my story will continue to unfold. I have a sense that the story will be good. In fact, because of the mercy and grace of the Lord, my whole life is turning out to be what appears to be a very happy book. Grateful.
Care to watch the concert online? There's no better performance than this one. If you're pressed for time, begin the video at 29:25. You won't be disappointed.
3) Just for fun, I decided to list the marathon times of a few people we all know.
The latter stat is a bit interesting. Previously, in an interview while he was a candidate for vice president, Mr. Ryan remembered his marathon time as being around 2:50. That's under 3 hours -- quite a feat! This led to no little controversy. Later, a student at Harvard developed the Paul Ryan Time Calculator. I'm not making this up, folks.
No word about President Trump's time ....
4) Along with my coffee every morning, I'm reading through a different English translation of 1 Thessalonians.
Upside: You get to see how Bible scholars have rendered the book. Downside: You keep scratching your head wondering how they got that from the Greek. 1 Thessalonians has five chapters, right? And they all end with a reference to the second coming of Christ, right? That's a priceless observation. I heard it as early as my Sunday School classes in Hawaii. Journey with me on a quick sidebar if you will: Who decided on where to make the chapter divisions? They aren't in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. Everyone I've read agrees that 1 Thess. 2:17-3:10 belongs together as a major unit within the body of the letter. "Chapter 2," then, should probably have ended in 2:16. But then we'd have a chapter that didn't end with a reference to the Parousia. Please, don't miss this. Before we can study a book of the New Testament, we need to discover the distinct literary units it contains. Then we need to put them all together into a whole. A good commentary will always have a section called "literary analysis" or "structure of the book." It's just not right for us to exegete a New Testament letter like 1 Thessalonians without understanding something about its discourse structure. The fertile soil of discourse analysis is where exegesis forms roots and actually bears fruit. We ignore it at our peril.
5) Finally, Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon 50 years ago, shares her 2018 running goal. She'll be running the London Marathon for the first time. You go, lady Kathrine! I love how the article ends:
I get it. I totally get it!
Friday, January 12
7:42 PM Making more muffins tonight. Seems like this is becoming a weekly tradition. They're really fun to bake.
Even Sheba enjoys it (she's now licking the bowl). They are super versatile and I take them with me wherever I go, including the gym.
Is that the timer I hear?
7:08 PM My heart was deeply saddened today to read about the death of 68-year old Linda Evans, who was killed by a driver under the influence of drugs while she was out for a run near her home in Columbus, Ohio. This leaves me sick to my stomach. What a tragedy. For 37 years in a row, Linda had never missed her daily run. Every year she ran the Columbus Marathon since its inception in 1980. The 2017 race would have marked her 68th marathon. "It's hard now without her, but I've got six grandkids that I love dearly," said her husband Gary. "I'm hoping that they will grow up like Linda." I get pretty choked up just reading that.
When I began running a few years ago, I would run on the roads near the farm. Not any more. Honestly, rural Virginia is not a very safe place to run because of the way people drive. We're simply not looking out for runners. Today I do all of my runs either at the track or on the trail. Even then I run "defensively." I listen for bikes. I keep a close eye on my environment. I don't take shortcuts through the woods. If someone looks shady to me, I avoid them if I can. I always take my phone with me in case I get into trouble. I always run alone simply because I don't have any running friends where I live. I always run with an ID and emergency contact information. But I want to start doing a better job of letting my kids know when/where I'm running/biking/climbing that day.
Gary, I know you're probably not reading this, but if you are, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I don't have much to offer except to say, enjoy those grandchildren of yours. They will never replace your wife's presence, but they are reminders that the future is always bright. Like you said, your wife's influence will live on in them.
8:30 AM Don't go low. Go high. Donate today to an aid organization in Haiti or Africa. I recommend the Haiti Relief Fund. Channel your shock, anger, disappointment, displeasure, vexation, stupefaction (or whatever you're feeling) to good (Rom. 12:21).
6:25 AM Was Paul a "tentmaker" or a "leatherworker"? That's the question asked by Karl Paul Donfried in his chapter titled "Paul as [Skenopoios] and the Use of the Codex in Early Christianity" (pp. 293-304 of his book Paul, Thessalonica, and Early Christianity). He's discussing 2 Tim. 4:13:
The "books" are obviously scrolls made of papyrus containing portions of the Old Testament. Paul wants to have several of these scrolls at his disposal -- hence the plural "books."
Donfried suggests that the "cloak" here is not a coat but a "cloth for wrapping" -- a "carrying case," if you will, for the scrolls. The major debate here has to do with the meaning of tas membranas -- "the parchments." And bam, right in the middle of his chapter, Donfried comes up with a brilliant suggestion. These "parchments" were made of leather. Not only that. The term membranas also "seems clearly connected with the codex, the technical term for a leaf book" (p. 296). The codex was the earliest form of the modern "book." It eventually replaced papyrus and wax tablets as writing materials. It's main advantage, of course, was that it could be opened at once to any passage in a text.
Donfried goes on to establish that Paul was more than a tentmaker. He agrees with Meyer, Jeremias, Lake and others that the correct rendering of skenopoios should be "leatherworker." Paul likely used these parchments, which he himself had probably produced, to collect the necessary reference texts he would use in his evangelism. Moreover, Paul could have used them for the first-draft writing of his letters, since parchment was easily erasable.
My takeaways from this fascinating chapter?
1) Was Paul personally responsible, at least partly, for the development of the codex form of the book as early as the first century? Donfried seems to think so. "It is thus quite appropriate to speak of the apostle Paul as the most instrumental factor in the shaping of the book as we know it today, that is, in the form of a codex rather than a scroll" (p. 304).
2) Even though Paul is in prison awaiting execution at the hands of the Roman government, he's still eager to evangelize and perhaps even to continue his writing ministry until the Lord calls him home. In other words, even at the end of his life, Paul's mission was concentrated and unambiguous. My land, do I have far to go! My distractions are too numerous to count. But Paul kept his eye on "the only thing that matters" (Phil. 1:27).
3) I'm now in 1 Thessalonians, so what's the relevance of this chapter to my study? Back to Donfried. He takes Acts 17:1-3 as an example. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, he went into the synagogue ("as was his custom") and for three weeks argued with the Jews "from the Scriptures" that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. As Donfried notes, it's unlikely that Paul would be rolling and unrolling many feet of papyrus scrolls to locate his Old Testament passages. "The membrana is precisely that vehicle which would allow Paul to collect the necessary reference texts which he would require for these discussions" (p. 302).
I would add a fourth takeaway but then I would be accused of meddling: Y'all might could learn you some Greek!
Thursday, January 11
7:34 PM Here's one last nod back to 2017, "by the numbers." My thanks to all of you for your support, love, and prayers.
57. The number of years I've followed Jesus.
11. The number of classes I taught.
41. The number of years I've been teaching.
2. The number of my Ph.D. students who graduated.
65. The number of birthdays I've had.
1,139. The number of miles I put on my Map My Run app.
151,000. The number of calories I burned.
2. The number of grandbabies God added to our family.
1. The number of trips to Hawaii I made.
2. The number of triathlons I finished.
4. The number of half marathons I ran in.
6. The number of marathons I completed.
365. The number of days God was good to me and people were kind to me.
1:04 PM Today was a great break from running. Professionals call this "cross training," which basically means that you've discovered other ways than running to keep you fit and active. My days of pounding out 40 mile weeks of running are long gone. I'm finding that my old body responds best to a combination of running and other forms of exercise such as weight lifting, which I did today. My normal regiment includes bench press, incline flye, barbell high pull, lateral raise, and dumbbell biceps curl. The goal is not to lift weights. The goal is to become a better and stronger runner and mountaineer. I try to strength train at least twice a week. Weight lifting has definitely become a regular part of my fitness program.
In other news, I'm so excited that this book came today.
Fire and Fury will definitely have to take a back seat to it! In traditional exegesis, discourse analysis (textlinguistics) is often a forgotten handmaiden. Moreover, traditional exegesis often misses the point because it's so caught up in the trees and ignores the forest. The situation has changed today, and for the better. It's impossible to study a text today without being at least partly aware of the place of discourse analysis in the exegetical process. This requires three things: (1) competent training in the discipline, (2) a willingness on the part of the student of Scripture to take a back seat to the text, and (3) a willingness on the part of congregations to be content with nothing less than exposition that takes into account larger discourse units when interpreting, teaching, and preaching a passage of Scripture. Exegesis is never easy, but discourse analysis can lead to a very fruitful outcome. I have enormous admiration for Bruce Johanson and his contemporaries for applying the basic principles of discourse analysis to specific texts of the New Testament. I see this same commitment in many of my students. They are orthodox through and through theologically, but they are also immensely sharp intellectually. I wish I could ask all of them to read this book but sadly it's out of the print and the current price is prohibitive. I've edited a book that might be useful called Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis.
How much good this book has done I have no earthly idea, but I was glad to edit it. It might make a good entree into the field for anyone curious enough to want to try their hand at the method.
Time to check on the animals!
8:12 AM Et voilà! Care to take a walk with me through a beautiful Greek garden? Here's my colon analysis of 1 Thess. 2:9-12. (Main clauses to the left; subordinate clauses to the right!)
Μνημονεύετε γάρ, ἀδελφοί, τὸν κόπον ἡμῶν καὶ τὸν μόχθον
ἐκηρύξαμεν εἰς ὑμᾶς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ
νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ἐργαζόμενοι πρὸς
τὸ μὴ ἐπιβαρῆσαί τινα ὑμῶν
ὑμεῖς [ἐστε] μάρτυρες καὶ [ἐστιν] ὁ θεός
ὡς ὁσίως καὶ δικαίως καὶ ἀμέμπτως ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἐγενήθημεν
ὡς [ἐγενήθημεν ἐν ὑμῖν] ἕνα ἕκαστον ὑμῶν ὡς πατὴρ τέκνα ἑαυτοῦ
εἰς τὸ περιπατεῖν ὑμᾶς ἀξίως τοῦ θεοῦ
τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ βασιλείαν καὶ δόξαν
To get the flow, let me provide a translation:
For you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how we worked and toiled!
We proclaimed to you the Good News from God
while working night and day
so as not to be a burden to any of you.
You are our witnesses -- and so is God --
how pure, honest, and blameless we were to you believers,
just as you know how we treated you like a father treats his own children.
We were constantly encouraging you, comforting you, and urging you
to live your lives in a way that is worthy of God,
who calls you to share in His own kingdom and glory.
The passage clearly emphasizes Paul's "self-sufficient labor" (Weima, p. 149). As a general rule, he and his co-workers paid their own way while doing their missionary work. Paul then uses a father-child metaphor because he is, in a very real sense, their father in the faith. There's so much here for parents, and especially dads. The three verbs Paul uses to describe a father's actions are telling:
Dads, think about that. Are we living up to our responsibilities? Children require more from us parents than we could ever have imagined. There's just so much to do. But we can't forget the ultimate goal. I love this passage because it rings so true. Jesus is the only stability they'll ever know. Paul was constantly pointing his readers to the Lord. His kingdom is the only one that will endure.
Of course, Paul paints with the brush of idealism. There's no magic formula to raising kids. They can walk away. We can fail them. But when they are questioning (and we are gasping for air), there He is. The way we call our children to follow God's priorities (and not our own) and to seek His glory (and not their own) is a big deal to Jesus. If we're too busy to remind our kids of these truths, then we're too busy. Today, as a dad, I'm still working on these things. A perfect parent? Hardly. Humble, moldable, dependent, a useful vessel for God -- these are the qualities our kids will never acquire unless we parents acquire them first. If you haven't been a great parent in the past, Satan will tell you you're all washed up. That is a lie. The wisest parent is secure enough to reach out for help. Don't waste your time grieving over what is past. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It will grow slowly, imperceptivity, but grow it will.
Wednesday, January 10
7:58 PM For the two of you who might be interested, here's the course map of the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham, which my son Jon and I are running next month. The marathon course is exactly the same: you just run the course twice. As you can see, it has a good many turns.
It's also hilly. I mean, the elevation is greater than Diamond Head in Hawaii, which itself is a pretty good climb.
Hills are always a challenge!
This is, if I've counted correctly, my tenth half marathon. My fastest half was in Petersburg, VA, where I finished right around the 2:27 mark (I usually come in somewhere between 2:45 and 2:50). However, my "best" half marathon was my first half marathon, which I ran in Raleigh. The thrill of finishing your first half marathon is simply indescribable. But getting back to Birmingham .... I'm not a huge fan of hilly, curvy courses. My idea of a great course is the St. George Marathon in Utah, which I ran last October. Other than Veyo (the largest mountain on the course), you're mainly going downhill. There aren't really any turns on this course. You're on one road the whole way until about mile 24, and even then the turns are few and far between. I finished that race with a time of 5:41:40, which was (and still is) a PR. The Birmingham half will be an altogether different kind of beast, I think. This will by Jon's first long distance race. Usually when people are training for their first half marathon, they'll train by doing a 5K, then a 10K, then a 10-miler. Hardly anybody recommends that you run the entire 13.1 miles before race day; your adrenaline can be expected to carry you the last 3 miles to the finish. If I had any advice for newcomers to distance running it would be this: listen to your body more than you look at your watch. If you are in tune with your body, you will probably know when it's time to speed up and slow down, when it's to run and take a walk break, when it's time to drink and eat along the course. However, even if you listen to your body during the race, by the time you cross the finish line you will be sore, guaranteed. A half marathon is such a popular race in America partly, I believe, because it really pushes you physically and at the same time is a good test of your mental fortitude. That's why, when training for a half, respecting your body is such an important step. Learning to work with the body God has given you (and not necessarily the body you might have wanted) and learning to allow it to improve on its own terms is essential to your success as a runner. I noticed that the Birmingham event is limited to 4,000 runners for the half marathon and 1,000 runners for the full. This is good as it will limit the jostling that inevitably occurs at some of your larger races. The half also has a very generous time limit of 4 hours. The only question Jon and I need to work out is our pace -- do we want to finish together and, if so, how fast do we want to run? Of course, it will be totally up to Jon if he wants to stay together. I imagine him sprinting past me at some point in the course! I don't have a runner's body and I'm just not very fast. But what I can work on is developing a runner's soul. It isn't a bib number that makes you a runner. It's running. It's the challenge of facing your own limitations and pushing through them. That's the difference between a runner and someone who just runs. My hope that by running the Birmingham half marathon, Jon will discover (and I will rediscover) the joy of long distance running. I imagine we will share the joy of each other's victory long after the race is over.
Tomorrow I'm taking the day off from running and will work out at the gym instead. I've found it best to weight train at least twice a week if possible. Then on Friday I hope to get in a 10 mile run.
So what are your race/training goals for 2018?
1:40 PM Continuing my half marathon and marathon training program ....
Today I did a 10K run at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, beginning in LaCrosse and running to Brodnax, where I turned around and ran back to home base.
My runs nowadays are fairly slow affairs. As proof, here's my average pace: 14:25/mi. And my average speed: 4.2 mph. It's less than a month until the Birmingham half, so I still need to go 9-10 miles and then finish up with a 13.1 mile run before tapering. Today was not my best run but not my worst. Anyhow, it was a good training day, and I'm feeling like I'm preparing as well as I can for the race. It's been 10 days since the Allen marathon and I must say that I'm feeling fully recovered, praise the Lord.
Wait a minute. Did I just say I ran 6.2 miles today to help me recovery from a marathon? Runners are some crazy dudes.
8:08 AM Here's a quick update today on my attempt to write (again) a complete colon analysis of 1 Thessalonians. Here's 2:1-8.
I know you can't read that picture; it's too small. But you get the gist. Here's a more detailed look at the first two colons.
Paul's train of thought?
1) You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a waste of time.
2) In fact, we were bold in our God to speak to you the Gospel of God in the midst of much conflict, despite the fact that we had suffered before and been mistreated in Philippi, as you well know.
No matter where we are in life, no matter where life takes us, it's important that we don't waste our time doing things that don't really count. Time is finite. Paul was keenly aware that one day he would stand before God and be judged for everything he did in his body. There was work for him to do, work that only he could do. That's why he's relieved to be able to say to his readers, "My visit to you wasn't in vain. God accomplished what He was wanting to accomplish." The old cliché is true: Less is, in fact, more. Yet we so easily succumb to the more is more mentality. I live with this fear all of the time, fear that I'm going to become too distracted to live well and a little more wisely. I don't want to have this fear but it's there all the same. Perhaps the key is to begin each new day, each new undertaking, with God. We can't get off to a good start without Him. How foolish of us to run off to work without breakfast, and yet how much greater is the danger of running off to work without bringing our day under the scrutiny of His all-seeing eye and the guidance of His loving hands. Begin the day with God. It will not only sanctity you for tomorrow, it will prepare you for today.
7:10 AM The movie Farther Than the Eye Can See tells the story of a blind athlete named Erick Weihenmayer and his successful summit of Mount Everest. The movie had its share of platitudes about overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you, but the clichés were more than offset by the amazing cinematography and the incredible courage of Erik and his team.
What impressed me most about Erik was his modesty and optimism. As humbly as he knew how, he was going to conquer Everest. I've always been a soul that seeks adventure, driven by some unexplained urge to challenge the parameters of my world. I suppose my attitude toward mountain climbing is the same attitude I had toward surfing when I was younger. You must learn to face danger and be responsible for yourself. Everything in mountaineering is ultimately your decision. When I come back home from a climb or a marathon, I feel totally renewed as a human being – stronger and more capable of facing life's unpredictable terms. By climbing the Alps this summer I hoped to inspire my children and grandchildren to take a closer look at their own lives and to consider whether God might still have some dreams for them to live.
Each person faces a choice in life. When we face grief or loss, we can quit or we can have the courage to persevere, even if in the end we fail to reach our goals. In Erik's story I found inspiration to continue to test my own limits. If we never test our limits, we will never know what they are. I would like to believe that the roads in life we choose depend less on external circumstances and more on internal longings that compel us as humans to reach the heights of whatever mountains we are facing in life. Successful people take what they have and make something of it. But you can't be passive. You have to grasp the opportunities as they come along and, through hard work, stir up that tiny ember that burns within you.
I realize that the battle to become a mountaineer is won or lost through my weekly training program – those unglamorous times in the morning when you don't want to get out of your warm bed to run 10 miles or work out at the gym. It's just another one of the universe's hidden truths: without training, there can be no success. Tentative doesn't cut it. When I climbed the Alps two summers ago, I went for it 100 percent.
Total commitment. Heart and soul. So today, I'm learning to embrace the hard work of preparation. Without it, there can be no meaningful achievement. I talked about this at length when I had dinner last night with two very close friends, both elders. How do you accomplish an audacious goal? One step at a time.
If anything, Erik's story is a reminder that summits in life don't come easy. You have to be willing to go through pain to reach your goal. As Erik proves, never underestimate the power of perseverance. Pick your goals carefully, think clearly about it – then act decisively, suppressing your fears. I see these qualities in Erik and, to a much lesser degree, in my own soul. But the more I do with the little I have, the more opportunities will gravitate towards me.
Tuesday, January 9
12:26 PM Today I'm booking my flights to attend the ETS Southwest Regional Meeting in Fort Worth, March 2-3. The venue is Southwestern Seminary. I attend this conference every year because it allows me to spend time with mom and dad in Dallas as well as usually get a paper in. The theme of this year's conference is "New in the Old and Old in the New." Greg Beale is the plenary speaker. Should be great. My paper proposal reads as follows:
How does that work for "technicaleze"? LOL! The working title is: "Colon Analysis of the Greek New Testament: With Special Reference to Heb. 1:1-4 and the Author's Emphasis on the Old Testament as Prophecy."
12:04 PM I just finished writing a training plan for my next two big races: The Mercedes Birmingham Half Marathon on February 11, and the Tobacco Road Marathon in Raleigh on March 18. Woohoo! Today I did a 5K at the track.
I have two more runs scheduled this week: One for 9 miles, and the other for 13. Crazy? Yes. But I like crazy. It's pretty exciting and scary!
8:44 AM Hi folks,
I've been arguing on this blog for some time that Paul was eager to show genuine affection for his readers, despite his superordinate position as an apostle. Hats off to Trevor Burke for his brilliant essay in the Tyndale Bulletin called "Pauline Paternity in 1 Thessalonians."
It's been on my stack of journal articles to read this week and I finally got around to perusing (devouring is more like it) the essay. Burke writes, "...Paul's patriarchal role undergirds everything he is and does for the Thessalonians" (p. 76). Just what does this role look like? Concern. Love. Provision. Dads in the ancient world "... loved their children above and beyond that of their offspring's love for them" (p. 77). And don't miss the note of tenderness, insists Burke. Paul likens his separation from his beloved friends in Thessalonica as a "bereavement," like that of death. He is anxious for them and grieves their separation. Finally, "... Paul, rather than making financial demands of his spiritual children, chooses instead to be self-supporting, thereby displaying his kindly feelings and love for them" (p. 79).
I rest my case.
I have to say that the best part of this essay is Burke's exegesis of the Greek text. The most insightful observation, I thought, was when he discussed Paul's use aporphanisthentes in 2:17 -- a word that goes beyond the mere idea of being "orphaned" but "... applies also to parents bereft of their offspring" (p. 78, n. 55). That's a very wonderful (and woeful) sentiment and one I've felt on many occasions.
During this season of life when my children are grown and gone, I would do well to remember how Paul treated his "kids." Jesus operates beyond the black-and-white boundaries of books on parenting. An incredibly useful resource for parents would be to read -- duh! -- a book like 1 Thessalonians. Our children need in us spiritual mentors that will point them away from us and to the word of God as the only reliable guide to life. If they are to learn how to love Jesus beyond the four walls of our homes, we need to give them something to stick to in the real world.
On another note (but still related to 1 Thessalonians), last night I read Ralph Martin's discussion of the Thessalonian Epistles in his New Testament introduction.
I dare say nobody uses this book as a classroom text today, though it was very popular when I was in seminary. (Dave, you can expect the same with your tomes!) I knew Ralph quite well when I was teaching at Biola (and he at Fuller). He was the first modern scholar to quote extensively from my doctoral dissertation (Paul, Apostle of Weakness) in his outstanding commentary on 2 Corinthians. We disagreed on many issues -- he thought I held to a narrowly infallibilistic view of Scripture, for example -- but I was always struck by the high caliber of his work as a scholar and his affability as a person. His introduction to the New Testament (in 2 volumes) is well worth your time. Chapter 13 of volume 2 is entitled "Persecution and Parousia in the Thessalonian Letters." I'm not saying this chapter will resolve all the controversies in these two letters, but it will go a long ways towards it.
Finally (and totally unrelated to 1 Thessalonians), I have now lost water in my entire house. This can't be due to frozen water lines because yesterday it got into the 40s and today it will be 55. Since I am a complete Doofus, I've sent for the reinforcements: two of my kids. It feels good to have experts in all things mechanical in the family. I'm filled with gratitude.
I'm off to the gym and the track. It's too gorgeous of a day to stay indoors for very long.
Monday, January 8
6:02 PM Today was a glorious day spent at the office in Wake Forest then seeing my physical therapist, who stretched my legs and massaged my calves. Ono-licious, as we would say in Hawaii. The high temp today was 44 degrees but it never got warm enough to thaw out the pond, so when I got home I carried a bucket of water out to the goats, which I've been doing daily until the pond melts.
It's such a joy to provide for these beautiful and carefree animals.
Reminds me of how tenderly my Good Shepherd always cares for me. Tending to the land and the animals. I love my life.
Remember to close the gate on the way out.
7:06 AM In 1 Thess. 2:1-12, Paul reviews and defends his ministry among the Thessalonians. Just like in 1:2-10, there's a noticeable movement here from the activity of Paul and his fellow missionaries to the response of the Thessalonians. Paul does two things specifically in this passage: he shows how he came to them in a spirit of love, and he denies that he had been wrongly motivated. As in Galatians and 2 Corinthians, Paul becomes very personal and transparent in this text. His message and his personal integrity can't be separated. The life he lived before God and before the Thessalonians is proof that his ministry was based on love. He was ready to share with them not only the Good News but his own life. "You are our witnesses, and so is God, that our conduct toward you was pure, right, and without fault" (2:12). I'd probably label a sermon on this passage something like, "Christlikeness as the Missionary Strategy." I'd explain how missions is like midwifery: For God to birth new life in people, He must use our lives, our work, our humility, our obedience, our faith, our prayers, our sacrifice. Throughout the New Testament, we see this principle at work. "As you go, train the people from every nation how to follow me in obedience and love." And one way this is accomplished, generation after generation, is through our modeling for others the downward path of Jesus. Upward mobility? Take a hike. It's all about downward mobility. For instance, instead of "Do for me," it's "I'll do for others" (Phil. 2:3-4). Jesus often modeled this principle for us in the Gospels. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." He was right.
Is this principle, this way of living, too idealistic? Comedian George Carlin once said, "Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist." I grew up an idealist about the church. That is, until my church fired our pastor. I was about 12 years old at the time. Our elderly pastor had suffered a minor stroke and his speech became slurred. Yet he remained the same godly, gentle shepherd he had always been. "He's too difficult to listen to," people complained. So off he went. Since then I've become deeply distrustful of religion. Isn't God's power perfected in our weaknesses? Didn't Paul boast in his stake in the flesh? "Well, Dave, a preacher has got to be easy to listen to." That doesn't cut it for me, friend. I could understand him perfectly. You see, the message he brought Sunday after Sunday was more than words. I'm reminded of one of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. On one of these trips, one of our elders came with Becky and me. This was in fact his third trip with us to Ethiopia. On his first two visits he had taught the Scriptures daily to the church elders. Indeed, the man's a wonderfully gifted Bible teacher. But on his third trip he did nothing of the kind. He had heard that our health clinic needed painting, so he volunteered to head up the paint crew. For two weeks, all he did was slap paint on the walls of our clinic buildings. I once told this story in a seminar I was giving on church leadership. Afterwards two young pastors-in-the-making came up to me and said. "It was wrong of your pastor to have painted. His gift is pastor-teacher. He should have been teaching." I replied, as gently as I could, "Don't you see? He was teaching." He pastored that painting project, even if no one would call it pastoring. In him I saw Jesus with a towel and a basin.
I am drawn toward this kind of lifestyle. I want my "ministry" to encompass all of human life. The more I repent of my own sin and blindness, the more the Lord nudges me beyond my missing-the-point leadership principles. At yesterday's 5K, I showed people that a Baptist cared about the death of an Episcopalian teenage who died in an alcohol-related car accident. The funds raised at the race will go toward driver education in the Raleigh school system. Maybe, just maybe, one less family will go through the unspeakable grief of losing their son or daughter in an avoidable car wreck. When my pastor was let go many years ago, it broke my child's heart. Yet the experience was a gift to me in every way. I see that now. A new truth. I see this truth in Paul's "I came to you in weakness, fear, and trembling" theology. I see it in the Christ hymn of Phil. 2:5-11. And I see it in Paul and his fellow missionaries in 1 Thess. 2:1-12. "We were gentle among, like a mother taking care of her children" (2:7). I am suggesting this, pastors: Bang the drum for vulnerability. You are more than a disseminator of information. You are also a fellow believer, and the family needs you to be tender with us and with yourself. I know you're trying to get this church thing right. We all are. Perhaps it starts with 1 Thess. 2:1-12: coming into our communities and our lives without impure motives, without flattering talk, without words used to cover up greed. Instead, please be gentle among us, like a loving mother and an encouraging father. "You were so dear to us," wrote Paul (2:8). We love you too. Together, we can make our faith communities beautiful again.
Sunday, January 7
7:02 PM A 5K race in beautiful downtown Raleigh on a sunny day? Don't mind if I do! The temp was 27 but that's nothing compared to my race in Dallas last Monday. It's definitely still winter in North Carolina though. The race was sponsored by Christ Church, Raleigh.
It's located right across the street from the state capitol.
At 2:00 pm we were off.
The race was a simple out and back through the historic district of Raleigh. All kinds of architecture kept me fascinated. Here's the Baptist church.
And the Methodist church.
We turned around at one of the city's most well-known landmarks, the bell tower on the campus of NC State. The race, to say the least, was a bit hilly.
But I'm pleased with my consistent pace. The vitals stats:
My time was 32:07, not very fast but good enough for a first place in my age group.
At the end of the race my lungs were on fire but I recovered quickly. The bling was fantastic. This represents 40 bucks worth of goodies!
Afterwards I celebrated Ethiopian New Years at the Abyssinia with these wonderful believers.
What's not to like about genuine Ethiopian fresh-roasted coffee?
I came, I ran, I froze, I ate! (Apologies to Caesar.) Time to watch a good movie and go to bed!
9:20 AM The current issue of Biola Magazine came in the mail yesterday. (I'm a two-time alum of Biola -- '75 and '80.) Among other things, it features a report on the new "Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today," directed by Oscar Merlo.
The goal is fourfold, according to the report:
To quote the director:
Why do I find this so attractive? Because I'm 100 percent sure that it's time to put sinew into the words "Spirit" and "spiritual." When I was an undergrad at Biola, we were required to read He That Is Spiritual by Chafer. Today's generation would do well to get their hands on Gordon Fee's books on the Holy Spirit. As Fee has often said, theology can't pay mere lip service to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was certainly one of the key features in Paul's letters, as we'll see in our study of 1 Thessalonians. I grew up immersed in a fairly non- or even anti-charismatic Christian culture with heavy emphasis on linear thinking and dogma. Eventually I embraced listening. It seems clear to me that the whole matter of the work of the Spirit in our daily lives transcends "charismatic" versus "non-charismatic" categories. Believe it or not, our students are craving something more than knowledge. Let's put the Spirit in front of them. Let's teach them how to be filled with the Spirit and care about the world beyond their iPhones. The best we can do is give them the word balanced by "power, the Holy Spirit, and full conviction" (1 Thess. 1:5).
Saturday, January 6
5:14 PM Tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 pm is the annual Run for Young in downtown Raleigh. The race is held in memory of a young man who was killed as a passenger in an alcohol related accident in 2007. I've run this 5K twice in the past. I went ahead and registered for the race, although I'm not sure I'll be up to another cold-weather event so soon after Dallas. On the other hand, a drive to Raleigh is always a good excuse to eat Ethiopian food. Either way, my registration fee and donation will go to a great cause: safe driving education programs.
4:56 PM The low tonight will be 2 degrees. Folks, don't forget the three "p"s: people, pets, and pipes.
4:48 PM Just stumbled across this: Marathon Investigation. The idea is to catch people who are trying to cheat their way into the Boston Marathon. Oh my.
4:25 PM Here are the readings for the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians (our Greek 4 class), in case you were wondering:
This stuff is so rich it should get its own tax bracket. Heartfelt thanks to my assistant, Noah Kelley, for his help in compiling our bibliography for the semester.
12:08 PM Yes, yes, YES! Awesome workout at the Y this morning. I absolutely love the gym. Weight training requires equal amounts of physical and mental strength. The goal is not to become merely physically stronger as the weeks go by but mentally stronger as well. Today I feel like I could run another marathon tomorrow. (Don't worry: I won't. Maybe a 5K but that's it.) Words can't describe how thrilling it is to run a marathon. It's definitely something that ought to be at the top of everyone's bucket list. Thank you, Lord, for the strength and health to be up and about!
Speaking of health, it's probably time for a nap. Must. Sleep. Now. Bye!
6:50 AM This morning I was up at 5:00 am thinking about my goals for 2018. Last year my big goal was to slow down a little bit and focus on what's really important in life. It was a year of quiet weekends, lots of time with family, and less stress. The one thing I can't believe is how quickly the years have passed. Can you believe I've been blogging since November 2003? That's 14 years. I think I have written the most boring collection of blog posts known to man. What's more, in November I commemorated 4 years without Becky. And just think: I'm in my 42nd year of teaching. Amazing. I simply can't fathom that.
Last year I tried out some new activities and enjoyed several major accomplishments. Many of them were a team effort, relying on a myriad of factors including help from my assistant and the encouragement of publishers. But running a marathon was different. This was a goal that could be accomplished only by one person committing to it fully: me. There's no way to describe walking back to my hotel after the Flying Pig Marathon in May and hearing complete strangers say, "Congratulations." For the most part, my emotions were a combination of relief, joy, pride, and gratitude to the One who gave me the wherewithal to finish the race.
In June I celebrated turning 65. My family put on a surprise Hawaiian luau for me. There are no words to describe what that meant to me. 2018 is now here and who knows where it will go? I know that most of us are longing for God to do something new in our lives. Maybe there's something I can't see. And that's my prayer for the new year: that I will be able to see something I couldn't see before, and that I would trust Him to grant me the eyes to see it. A tiny part of that is seeking ways to lead the students in my 4 classes this semester to move beyond knowledge and see the world God created, to see how full of beauty and mystery it is, to see a world around them that awaits discovery each and every day. I want them to be fully aware and alive. I want them to see that life is fully lived only when the whole system -- body, soul, and spirit -- works together. (Sometimes the most spiritual things in life are the most physical. When we become physically active, we honor our bodies and the God who created them.) I want them to learn how to celebrate dark places, to believe that what is empty can be filled, to allow God to walk them through brokenness. I want them to step back and discover new rhythms and sounds in their lives. Above all, I want them to think of the well-being and happiness of others first. That's the work of the Gospel, isn't it? Like Paul in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:5), the energy we expend on kingdom building is done on behalf of others.
So what does 2018 hold for me? I have no idea. But I know that He will guide me. "When it's over," wrote Mary Oliver in When Death Comes, "I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms." That's my prayer for you, dear reader. Never stop dreaming. Don't fear your humanness. If you feel stuck, open your eyes to the hidden things of God in your life. Drive to the mountains or to the ocean. A new vantage point may be just what you need to see the new thing God has in store for you. But wherever you find it, remember that it's always a gift.
Friday, January 5
6:45 PM Last month, BBC Travel published a fascinating article called How the South Korean Language was designed to unify. There seems to be more "we" and "our" in Korean than "I" and "my." Of the 6 trips I've been blessed to make to South Korea to teach, I remember learning this lesson on my second visit to Seoul. When asked to show someone a picture of my dogs, I produced a photo of my two Shelties and then asked, "How do you say 'my two dogs' in Korean?" The response was (and here I'm back-translating into English), "Our two dogs." The term "uri" (our) kept coming up over and over again. It totally made sense to me. After all, the dogs belonged to both Becky and me. Which got me thinking about 1 Thess. 1:2. Here Paul (the author of 1 Thessalonians) uses the plural "we" and then continues to use this pronoun throughout the letter (the 3 exceptions being 2:18; 3:5; and 5:27). The plural is a reminder to the Thessalonians "that all three of them [Paul, Silas, and Timothy] were in that original ministry together" (Fee, p. 20).
Once again, I like that about Paul. He's got no problem receding into the group. Of course, he doesn't always do that. I do it even less. I use "I" most of the time when I write. This wasn't always the case. In seminary, if you were caught using the first person pronoun in a paper (whether "I" or "we") you were immediately sent to the Russian Front. "The author" was the only self-respecting way to refer to yourself. Better yet, we were told to use the passive voice. Today I choose to use "I" because I think it connects better with my readers. I also tend to use "you" instead of "one." I could go on and on: "I found that" is better than "It was found that." Of course, I haven't really addressed the question of whether I might want to use "we" in my writing more often than I do. Actually, I haven't thought about the matter all that much. But I will say this: I think maintaining a simple, informal blog -- where you use "I" or "we" and even contractions like "I'm" and "we're" -- is a great way to improve one's -- er -- your writing skills.
5:52 PM Best wishes to Robert Siegel as he signs off today for the last time on NPR. I've been a Siegel fan for a long, long time, so his voice will be missed. All Things Considered is a well-written show, always has been. His gifted colleagues will carry on. If I had one piece of advice: "Lose yourself in the service of others" sounds like a good way to spend one's retirement years. Blessings on you, Robert, as you discover your encore career.
1:22 PM Our second class session in Greek 4 will include a discussion and analysis of 1 Thess. 1:2-5, in which Aristotle's "rhetorical triangle" comes into sharp focus. When Paul visited the Thessalonians, he came "not with word (logos) only." His message was balanced by both pathos and ethos -- spiritual power/passion and credibility.
Fist bump! Paul got all three right. He brought the message. He brought it with power and passion. And he brought it by living among the people and doing everything for their benefit, not his own. You want to share the Good News with someone? Then live and work and breathe the air of their community. I am floored by Paul's priorities. His goal was to effect long-term benefits among the Thessalonians, not put on a puppet show. Whether knowingly or unconsciously, Paul embodied the Aristotelian triangle perfectly.
I am suggesting this, friends: To have the greatest persuasive effect, logical appeal must be accompanied by both emotional appeal and ethical appeal. I don't mean to minimize the message. Sloppy exegesis is sloppy exegesis. Don't hear me say, "Content is not important." But when the message is accompanied by passion and especially by the speaker's selfless attitude toward his or her hearers, the Gospel can become the powerful thing Jesus dreamed up. It really can.
12:40 PM Darkest Hour was a magnificent film. Churchill was one of the twentieth century's greatest figures. What wasn't he? He was a bricklayer, painter, cavalry officer, orator, and for 55 of his 90 years a member of the British Parliament, 8 of those as prime minister. I loved how the movie told the story of Churchill's first days in office, how he was a lonely voice warning his people of the dangers of Nazism. I thought the best part of the film was the dénouement, in which what is perhaps Churchill's greatest speech is put on full display, the one ending with these immortal words:
Never has a speech had a more awe-inspiring peroration. Despite his many shortcomings, Churchill was a master orator and had the tenacity of a bulldog. I give the movie four out of five stars. If you would like to meet "Winston," this film is one way to start. But be forewarned: The movie serves only as an apéritif to wanting more and more. What strikes me most about Churchill is his resilience. When he failed or was defeated, he got back up again. At a time when so many of our leaders are shallow, childish, and even vindictive, it's encouraging to witness a man who was the polar opposite. "There is nothing more draining and exhausting than hatred," he once said. Wise words for today, I should think.
8:10 AM Yo folks. I hope you're enjoying the cold weather. I'm having a great time but I feel a little scattered. I'm having to back burner some things and front burner others. What's occupying most of my time right now is reading through all of the essays I'm asking my Greek 4 students to read. Each essay has something to do, either directly or indirectly, with the book of 1 Thessalonians -- the book I use in Greek 4 as a model for exegesis. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me because I absolutely love doing this. What I find frustrating is not being able to communicate to you, my blog readers, the many gems I'm picking up along the way. Guess you'll all just have to take my class! For example, take Fee's essay I mentioned yesterday. It's intended to be a comprehensive overview of Paul's teaching about leadership in the New Testament. The essay is very good and I'd recommend you read it. Fee's main point is that, when you read the New Testament in the light of Jesus (which all of us must do), you come away with a vastly different view of church leadership than if you follow Old Testament models. It's true that under the Old Covenant the role of leadership was often delegated to the king and priests in particular, who were recognized as having an existence apart from the "people" (laos) of God. "It is precisely this model of leadership that breaks down altogether in the New Testament," writes Fee (p. 130). And why should this be the case? Fee is clear: "The basic reason for this is the Lordship of Christ himself.... As head of his church, all others, including leaders, function as parts of the body both sustained by Christ and growing up into him (Eph. 4:1-16)" (p. 130).
Two other points in Fee's excellent essay are worth mentioning. First, Fee rightly points out that the people of God in the New Testament are thought of corporately. "[Believers] are addressed individually only as they are members of the community" (p. 134). God views each member of the His body as equally valuable and important to the proper functioning of the whole. It is very unfortunate, notes Fee, that texts that Paul intended to be taken corporately have been individualized, thus losing their original force and impact. These include texts that have to do with the exercise of church discipline.
Secondly, Fee has a superb section on the question of whether church leadership should be singular or plural.
It's Fee's "guess" (p. 142) that the model of a single pastor emerged from a sort of "role transference," in which there arose a permanent single leader based (incorrectly) on the model of the itinerate apostle.
Fee then adds:
This "pride of place" may crop up in the most unexpected of places. Do you think that maybe this space could be used for the elderly, families with small kids, people with disabilities ...?
Fee concludes by urging his readers to recapture "the New Testament view of the church itself" (p. 143). The irony, of course, is that hundreds if not thousands of local congregations are running away from this concept of leadership instead of embracing it. Some churches even allow their kingdom message to be co-opted by politics (whether on the right or the left) because of the political views of their senior pastor.
I am deeply humbled and honored to belong to the same academic community that Fee belongs to. My prayer is that God will use essays like his to prepare our local congregations for the vital role they have to play in the kingdom movement He's inspiring in our time.
By the way, when I was in Dallas I saw Darkest Hour with mom and dad. Time permitting, I'll share a few thoughts with you later about that movie and what I think it says about leadership and especially about the power of words.
Thanks for stopping by!
Thursday, January 4
11:25 AM What do you love about winter? I love frozen ponds.
I love old houses freshly dusted with the white stuff.
I love watching my dog making fresh tracks in the snow.
I love stacking 100 bales of hay for delivery.
When I'm bored, restless, or just annoyed, walking in the winter wonderland is just what the doctor ordered.
11:12 AM This weekend's race was truly a great event. The worst racing conditions brought out the best in each runner. If this had been any other event I might have given up. But hey, Texans are tough, and I wanted to prove to them that this Hawaiian dude could pass muster. Seriously, this was top notch fun. And what could be better than free pics? That's right, these photos arrived today in my inbox, compliments of The Active Joe. You guys are Aw- Sum! Here I am at the start of the race, when I could still run. Looking sharp, eh?
This guy behind me is actually smiling. He must be from Alaska. Actually, I saw lots of high fives and encouraging smiles on the course.
Here's the look of pure pain as I approached the finish line, barely ambulatory. As they say: the agony of de feet ...
And the thrill of victory.
Thankfully, I'm healing up nicely. One thing I'm very thankful for is the ability to bounce back after injuries. Happily my blister is almost entirely healed. My plan is to see my PT next week and then get back into training. So, yeah, I already have much to be grateful for this year. I hope you do too.
8:54 AM Today I'm reading Gordon Fee's "Laos and Leadership under the New Covenant: Some Exegetical and Hermeneutical Observations on Church Order." The focus is on structure and ministry in the New Testament. And by "ministry" Fee is not referring solely to people we might call "ministers"! This essay will be required reading in my Greek 4 class this semester.
8:30 AM Winter weather advisory .... 10-mile long traffic jam in Moore County ... temps in the teens ... the water lines are frozen at my house ... but the dusting we got last night is so pretty.
Meanwhile, in Dallas I ordered two books from Amazon Prime.
It's dated (1987) but not as ancient as some of my books. Here's the second tome.
I just hope it comes with a photo of the button.
Since we're talking about bragging, I suppose it's okay for me to flaunt my first place finish in my age division in Monday's marathon. I know, I was the only one running in the male 65-69 age group, but it's still an incredible victory when you consider all the guys I could have beaten. My average pace, by the way, was 15/mile. A pace of 15 minutes? I think my Garmin must be broken. As many a good lawyer has said, "Facts only obscure the truth."
Today I'm writing the good people at the Mercedes Birmingham Marathon in the great state of Alabama to let them know I've just made a brilliant decision. This is my "February race," in case you'd forgotten. I'm moving from the full marathon to the half marathon because my son Jon who lives in Birmingham is running the half and I don't want him to be lonely. As the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." (I think the other half of the proverb says, "But don't go with guys named Jon.") I've observed that runners are more prone to succeed when they know someone who's already been there and done that. (They also tend to be more "prone," period.) Okay. The real reason I'm moving to the half is because I'm done with 6-hour time limits. I'm dumb but I'm not stupid. 6 hours puts too much pressure on world class athletes like myself. So from now on it's 6.5 to 7 hours or nothing. Why, the Honolulu Marathon doesn't even have a time limit. Now, before the good people of my home state get insulted thinking I'm disparaging their race, let me be clear: Hawaii, you're a laid back culture. I know. If I tried running from Ala Moana to Hawaii Kai and back and didn't stop to cool off in the Pacific, I'd be crazy too.
I'm left with no choice, then, but to revise my running schedule. Lord willing, my next big race will be the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, NC, on March 18. I'm running in honor of the former owner of my farm, who use to grow cigga-weed back in the day. Like everyone else, he overfarmed the soil. Today I grow hay on the same land. That doesn't mean people don't smoke where I live. They do, even Baptists (don't tell anyone I said that). I'm against the habit but that's no excuse to miss out on a marathon that's practically in my back yard. After Bacci Road, my next marathon will be the Flying Pig in Cincy -- yes, the city where it all started last May. It was in Cincinnati that I discovered hundreds of people my age who were into marathoning. This isn't your typical group of old codgers, like folks who still use DOS and have AOL email addresses. They are super heroes, though their quest focuses more on tenacity than talent. Between now and my race in Birmingham next month I'll be doing some world class loafing. The worst mistake you can make after a long race -- and I've made it over and over again -- is not giving yourself enough time to recover. Having ice and snow covering your roads helps.
Finally, I wanted you to see the kind of food people eat in Texas. This is called barbeque.
As in real barbeque. As is beef barbeque. The abbreviation is BBQ -- which is about the closest I'll ever come to a BQ (Boston Qualifying time).
Wednesday, January 3
6:40 PM Let's see ... words emanating from my computer can only mean one thing: the race in Texas didn't kill me. For the 3 people who still read this boring blog, you may remember me talking about this event (ad nauseum). The long and short of it is that I toughed out another marathon, though it left me seriously questioning my sanity (which I question pretty much every day). With extreme weather alerts on tap for the greater Dallas region all weekend long, I kept a close eye on my weather app. For the "News Years Double," you could run either on Sunday (New Years Eve) or Monday (New Years Day) or both -- hence "New Years Double." I had chosen to do only the New Years day race. The weather on the last day of December was heartbreaking for anyone wanting to run outdoors. There was a thin layer of ice everywhere, with the low temps hovering in the single digits. Unbelievably, the race went on as planned. A total of 800 runners had registered for Sunday's race, either for the half or for the full marathon. On race day, 281 stalwart (i.e., crazy) runners actually showed up for the race. Kudos to each and every one of them, and especially to the volunteers manning the water stations and handing out the race medals while literally freezing. That afternoon the skies cleared and the ice disappeared. When I woke up at 4:00 am on Monday (New Years Day), it didn't take me very long to decide I was going to try and run the race that day. I had come all this distance and I wasn't about to chicken out now. I knew that if I dressed in lots of layers I'd be fine. I wore long johns under running pants on the bottom, and two tech shirts plus a sweatshirt plus a racing jacket plus a windbreaker on top, not to mention a fleece neck warmer (which I covered my nose with), North Face gloves, and 3 hoods over my running cap.
I arrived at Celebration Park in Allen, TX at 7:30 am and checked my weather app. The "real feel" temp was exactly 1 degree Fahrenheit. You read that correctly. ONE degree. That's like 31 degrees below freezing, if my math serves me right. Like everyone else, I picked up my race bib then sat in my warm car until race time. 700 participants had signed up for Monday's races (including the half and the full marathon). 220 of us showed up. (I don't blame anyone for staying at home.) Despite the cold, the morning was sunny and the people around me were electric with positive energy. Physically, I knew I would be fine. The question, as always, would boil down to mental toughness.
The race was run entirely on a concrete sidewalk that ambled through the subdivisions of Allen.
Thankfully, the course was completely dry without a trace of ice. Once I started moving I was able to keep warm. Given that I was doing a full marathon, I decided to run at an easy 13-minute/mile pace. I had shin splints for the first two miles or so, but they quickly cleared up. But the concrete running surface was beginning to takes its toll. I had never run a race on concrete before, only asphalt, crushed gravel, and dirt trails. By mile 12 my feet were killing me, and by mile 18 I had developed a horrific blood blister on the bottom of my left foot. When I stopped to check on it (there were no aid stations on the course -- one of the disadvantages of small races), I began freezing. I had to laugh out loud. I had started the race thinking it would be a breeze. The course was entirely flat, and I'd gotten some solid training runs in. I'd had feet issues while running before, and I knew I could push through the pain if I had to. But this was different. From mile 18 on I couldn't run at all. It was all I could do to walk without hobbling. My stride was reduced to the pace of a turtle. What happened? I'm sure it was the running surface. I had read that running on concrete is 10 times harder on your feet and legs than running on asphalt. It slowly dawned on me that I was now paying the price for running on this surface. It was beyond frustrating that my body wouldn't cooperate with my mind. I began to be engulfed by negative thoughts and emotions. I never wanted a race to end so quickly! My feet were driving me absolutely crazy. After a while, I realized I had bitten off way more than I could chew. Worst case scenario, I could simply drop out of the race. Nobody would blame me. Everyone gets a DNF (did not finish) at least once in their racing career. But Monday was not to be that day. Not if I had any say about it. I had to do this. I had to finish. On the very first day of the new year, I was forced by circumstances to take my own advice. Stop thinking and keep moving, Dave. Call me nuts, but that's just what I did for the last 8 miles of the race. The only thing on my mind was my reason for running these races in the first place. A marathon is the ultimate metaphor for any major undertaking in life. Does it hurt? Yes. Does it require time, effort, and commitment? Yes. But the payoff is out of this world. It doesn't matter what your goal is. Marathoner. Healthy eater. Patient mom. Writer. More diligent student. Divorce survivor. Whatever. You've got to push out of your self-imposed boundaries and never look back. This year, as you know, I'm trying to cut back on processed foods. I'm not going to lie. I'm already making excuses. Life isn't as simple as saying, "I'm going to eat clean this year." Just deal with it. Take a deep breath and take it one step at a time. Remember that you have weaknesses just like everybody else. So I said a prayer, mustered up what little courage I had left, and waddled along to the end of the course. Only 43 marathoners finished the race that day. I was no. 42. The volunteers were absolutely amazing. While we runners could keep warm through activity, the volunteers must have been frozen. They were the heroes of this event, not us.
When I got back to my car I revved up the engine, turned on the heater, and guzzled down two bottles of chocolate milk that mom had sent with me. (She is so thoughtful!) Eventually I arrived back at the Lapsleys' house. The minute I stepped out of the car I began shaking uncontrollably. I was nearly overcome by the cold just walking from the car to the house. After a congratulatory word from mom and dad, I took the most amazing hot shower of my life, then a two-hour nap. In the evening we went out and celebrated at the local Outback. It was the perfect capstone to a wonderful day. Prior to this race, my coldest event was the Richmond Marathon at 27 degrees. Now that seems warm. Cliché as it sounds, there is so much value in sucking it up and just keeping on going. When we have to, we can all do hard things. In the end, I made it. Of course I did. 26.2 miles may have taken me 6 and a half hours to finish (6:38:31 to be exact), but I fought hard for my medal and I earned it.
I will never ever run another marathon on concrete, that's for sure. But I will always treasure this race. It was my hardest marathon of the seven I've completed. It was my slowest marathon. And it was my most satisfying marathon. All in all, it was the perfect way to ring in a new year of heart-stopping adventures.
So, Happy New Year to you! The best of everything in 2018!
P.S. Love you, mom and dad. What a great time we had together.