Saturday, October 24
1:24 PM As y'all know, I'm a huge fan of fundraisers. After Becky died in 2013, I went to Zermatt to do some high altitude climbing in the Alps to see if I could raise funds for UNC Chapel Hill Women's Cancer Hospital. My dream came through when I was able to present the hospital a check for $25,000. Two years later I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati -- my very first 26.2 mile race -- in order to add to that sum if possible. The race was perfect, exactly how I always imagined it would be. It was overwhelming! I'll never forget those cheering faces encouraging us runners to keep going. A month later UNC got another check, this time for $7,000. For today's 10K trail run, I decided that if I could finish under one and a half hours, I would donate $400 to UNC -- $100 for every year Becky was treated there. I apologize that I didn't get any pictures of the race itself since all of us were either going uphill or downhill as fast as we could. We had chosen to push ourselves and take on a challenge. We had chosen to do something outside of our comfort zone in order to feel more alive. When I crossed the finish line, I let out a strangled scream. I had beaten the clock! Now the tears really poured -- by God's grace, another fundraising goal achieved! It is my hope that my running will teach my grandkids to invest their time in worthwhile endeavors, to do hard things, and then to enjoy a reward. I never want them to stop challenging themselves. Runners run for many reasons. I began running to cope with a broken heart after Becky's death. With every step, through the sweat and the tears, I began to heal. Running has been my medicine. It's even a way I can pay back the people who worked tirelessly to try and save Becky's life. Running has a new meaning -- a new purpose for me. Now I train and run to be strong for my kids and grandkids when they need me. Running is how I lean into God, how I call myself back to him. I don't have to run away anymore. All I have to do is breathe. A few pix:
My trip to the Alps was unforgettable. My professional mountain guide cost me $640 per day. But he was worth every penny. After all, I came home safely.
This photo was taken at the starting line of the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy. Mile after mile I fell in step with new friends. We talked about our favorite music and restaurants and exchanged funny stories about our children. We leaned on each other emotionally to get through the race.
I love how the race organizers today made everything as Covid-safe as possible. Masks were required, as was physical distancing. As you can see, we began running in waves of 6 runners. After one minute, the next wave would start.
The race was both brutal and beautiful. I had no idea it would be so hilly. I was even more surprised that I could run the uphills. When I first started running several years ago, I had no end of difficulty going uphill. One day I asked an experienced runner, "How do you learn how to run uphill?" His two-word answer made so much sense: "Run uphill"!
There's one thing I know for sure: The Lord was very good to me today to allow me to finish in under one and a half hours. I came in 48th out of 62 runners. My thanks to Susan and Laura for pacing me the whole way on an unfamiliar course!
In conclusion, I really do enjoy trail racing. It's my new love! I find that the up-and-down of the trails is surprisingly easier on my body than the hours on end you spend running on paved roads. Of course, you're always concerned about all the rocks and roots that you encounter on trails. But if you slow down a bit and be careful, you should do okay. Listen, hard days and slow miles come to all of us. But if we draw on the people around us, and especially on the Lord, we can all finish strong!
Friday, October 23
1:12 PM My good friend Mary Jacobs went home to be with the Lord this week. Here she is on one of her two trips with us to Ethiopia.
In case you didn't know, Becky and I partnered only with local churches in Ethiopia. Our goal was to connect local churches in the U.S. with local churches in Ethiopia. The partnership, we felt, should be long-term. Because of this philosophy of doing missions, we felt that relationships were critical. We simply came alongside the folks who lived there as humble servants, asking, "How can we best serve you?" Mary Jacobs was 80 years of age when she made her first trip to Africa with us. I clearly remember the Ethiopians saying to Becky and me, "Now we really know that you love us because you have sent us your very best."
Remember, in some places (like Ethiopia), age is valued, not youth. Even though Mary couldn't speak a word of Amharic, the people knew she had made a huge sacrifice of her time and energy to travel almost to Kenya just to love on the people there. She traveled with us on a bus and ate the food without a single complaint.
This was maybe the most unforgettable of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. There was much work to do, but we had plenty of co-laborers for the task.
We lived and worked among the people. I can only be thankful God's grace erased any cultural differences between us. Becky especially was an Ethiopian at heart.
For Pete's sake, she was raised there. Look at this picture.
It is gorgeous. This is missions, folks. Missions is not a program or a strategy or a method. Missions is simply people.
Just love people.
These were literally life-changing trips for all of us. Because no matter what skills and abilities you bring with you, the best we can give others is Jesus. Not rules. Not entertainment. Not money. Mary led with her life, not just her lips. She taught all of us to serve and to care about the world beyond the shores of "safe" America. I am grasping for words right now to describe what Jesus followers like Miss Mary meant to me. The next generation is screaming for role models like her.
Missions is crazy work, but it is good work. There is no coasting; you have to labor. Some parts of a trip are easier than others. Even when you face unimaginable hurdles, you fight your way back from disintegration and create something stronger than before -- with scars, of course. I hold myself supremely blessed to have known women like Mary and, yes, Becky. Theirs was not an easy path. But they were the Lord's. Like Jesus, they went to hard places and did hard things. Above all, they loved like him.
Church, love each other. That's about it. Do that and everything else will fall into place.
7:10 AM The map for tomorrow's 10K trail race near Richmond.
I like it. It looks challenging. It's like the first date you had with your future spouse -- exciting, exhilarating, and frightening. I spent most of my life thinking runners were lunatics. Now I am one. I've become just as crazy as they are. And just as content. Running is for everybody -- including lazy, quirky, opinionated people like me. Get's you out of your comfort zone, that's for sure. Do have to be talented to run? Are you kidding? Look at me. But the neat thing about being really bad at something is that you improve without hardly any work at all. With each step forward it becomes more difficult not to become a runner. Just try it and see for yourself. I'll never have a runner's body, no matter how many miles I run. Who cares? I'd rather have a runner's soul.
Gotta get this day started. Later!
Thursday, October 22
7:32 PM What's your favorite genre of books to read? Mine are autobiographies and books about how to study the New Testament. These two books came this week and I can't wait to dig into them this weekend.
I know books are getting a little archaic these days but I still believe we can get information from books and, more importantly, the inspiration and motivation to keep on running the race God has set before us. As for training, the Lord allowed me to get in two really good days of activity while I was in Wake Forest. One day I did a bike.
And the next day I did a run.
Today was a rest day. I'm a big fan of training -- and then resting at the right time during a training block. Training, like anything worthwhile in life, is incredibly fun to experiment with. The challenge is figuring out what works best for you and your body. One size most certainly doesn't fit all. We run hard, we rest, and then we pick up again. My long run this weekend is going to be another trail race, this time along the James River near the great city of Richmond. There's no luck in this sport, ladies and gentlemen. It's all about hard work and discipline and, yes, an off the chart work ethic. I'm a big fan of putting your head down and tuning out the noise when it comes to chasing down your dreams, figuring out your career path, and, yes, chasing down racing goals. Distance running has taught me to keep pushing my limits when things get tough. I always appreciate the outcome and the lessons running teaches me. This has crossover value to the whole of my life. The reward comes when, for example, you get the copies of your latest book in the mail, representing many, many hours of time and energy invested in a project.
Yes, folks, we work hard, and we also play hard -- like treating yourself to Ethiopian dinner after a long day of work.
Ever grateful, each and every day, to be able to get up in the morning and give it my all during the day, whether it's teaching or running. As far as the latter is concerned, proper shoes make a big difference. Running shoes that are affordable are difficult to find sometimes. I still seem to go through a pair of running shoes every 3 months, which means that it's always a good idea to have new shoes on hand.
Years ago I pulled the trigger on the New Balance brand and have never looked back. So far I have nothing bad to say about them. Even the price point seems reasonable. For me they are just the perfect shoe -- great cushion and not over-stabilizing. They provide the support that's needed and feel great on your feet. Every time I put on my running shoes I'm different in some way than the day before. Which means I'm really looking forward to tomorrow.
Anyhoo, it's been a good week thus far. I hope and pray it's been good for you too. My "flesh" may be tired but my mind and spirit are soaring.
Keep thinking, growing, and loving!
Monday, October 19
8:50 AM Back to campus. On deck this week:
1) Grade exam over chapters 3-6 in Greek 1. Pass out a free copy of one of my books to everyone who got a perfect 110 on the exam. Introduce the aorist and imperfect active indicative and discuss the three Greek aspects: aoristic, imperfective, and perfective. (Yes, you up-and-coming-teachers of Greek: it's okay to use traditional nomenclature; see von Siebenthal.)
2) Translate Phil. 2:19-30 in Greek 3 class -- two Christlike men who lived for the sake of the gospel. Interestingly, more shrift is spent on Epaphroditus than on Timothy. We will also go over my Lasting Lessons from Philippians 2 in class and the chapter on semantics in my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek.
3) In NT 2, we will cover the Prison Epistles of Paul -- we'll focus on the discourse structure of Philippians, the destination of Ephesians, and legalism in Colosse and its solution (with special application to the Amish of North America and to our own situation as evangelicals).
4) In NT 1, we're in Matthew all week -- the church's initial gospel written by an eye and ear witness of the Savior.
5) I'm also meeting with my OT colleague Chip Hardy to finalize the syllabus for our LXX offering in the spring. Yes, we've decided to do Jonah. Super excited about that.
I've been spending the weekend prepping for all of this, though I probably could have spent more time on it than I did. Sometimes on the weekends I lose focus. So what? Do we always have to be crazy overachievers with a flawless plan in place? Besides, I have all day today to put the finish touches on my classes for the week. That's plenty of time to make sure I'm as ready as I can possibly be to enter the classroom. As for my training/exercise plan for the week, it's pretty much what I always do. I will strive to get in two long bikes and one long run while in Wake Forest. If I miss a day, no sweat. It's not like I'm training for the Olympic Track Team or anything. The next race on my calendar is a 10K in Fredericksburg on Nov. 8, followed by another half marathon in Lynchburg on Nov. 21. Still undecided which full marathon I should sign up for in 2021. Actually, many of them are still cancelled, so looks like I will have to wait a couple more months before deciding. I can't wait to do another marathon. But gone are the days when I did 4 in one year. The real challenge is trying to fit in training in the midst of an incredibly busy schedule of teaching and writing. My guess is that many of you are more hard core balancers than I am. If you've got any tips for balancing work/home/training, feel free to send them my way. As I tell my students, if you want it to happen badly enough, it will happen. Just do your best with the time that you have. But be prepared to move out of your comfort zone to make it happen.
Trust you're off to a great start this week. Blessings on you as you wage the war of the love against everything that opposes it (including so many aspects of politics)!
Sunday, October 18
6:24 PM In two weeks I will commemorate the homegoing of Becky. There's nothing that can prepare you for the death of a spouse. Nothing. There's nothing that can prepare you for the way you will feel when you hold her hand for the last time and watch her take her final breath on earth. Nothing. There's nothing that can keep you from feeling torn apart and wondering if you'll be able to carry on. Nothing. Nothing except a family who loves you and cares for you and makes sure you're okay. Nothing except for the community of God's people who lift you up night and day in prayer. Nothing but friends and even strangers who send you emails and text messages telling you that you're going to be alright. Nothing except for the One who is weaving together the strands of your story and who will not rest until all things work together for your good and his glory, the One who allows you to take the loss into yourself and be enlarged by it, so that your capacity to live and to love and to know him intimately increases, the One who will continue to be present with you until the end of your life and into all eternity, the One who will one day wipe away your tears and heal your brokenness. Nothing but that. Nothing but everything.
8:54 AM Very excited to see this book in print.
Abidan was my former assistant and has been a pastor for many years in Henderson, NC. On the back cover I wrote:
Heartiest congratulations Abidan on the publication of your first book. You can go here to order it from Amazon.
6:58 AM "Hallelujah! I want to express publicly before his people my heartfelt thanks to God for his mighty miracles. All who are thankful should ponder them with me. For his miracles demonstrate his honor, majesty, and eternal goodness." Ah, the magnificent words of my morning devotional, Psalm 11:1-3. As I ran yesterday, I poured out my heart to God. Despite all the hardships and disappointments of my life, there's so much to give thanks for. I thought a lot about gratitude and how it relates to both attitude and altitude. For one, they rhyme. For another, they allow us to invent worn out clichés -- "Do you have an attitude of gratitude?" But practicing gratitude goes back to the Bible. "Give thanks in all circumstances" writes Paul. Remember that the next time you're feeling crabby. Here's where I found gratitude as I slogged up and down the hills yesterday:
I am thankful for my health.
I am thankful for my job.
I am thankful for my family and friends.
I am thankful for a mind that can think logically.
I am thankful for foreign languages.
I thankful for the farm and animals.
I am thankful for the ability to run, because running is an analogy for life.
Whenever we think we've got the bull by the horns, it's a good idea to remember that none of our blessings are forever except for our salvation. Someday life will bite us in the behind in all of these areas. We value what we notice, folks. Yesterday I seemed to notice more than usual, and rightly so. This is the season of Thanksgiving. It's a reminder of something we should be doing each and every day. When was the last time you "expressed publicly before his people my heartfelt thanks to God for his mighty miracles"?
Speaking of gratitude, below is a book on Bible study that a friend of mine and I are writing. I am grateful for his partnership in this project. Our goal is to be simple without being simplistic. With this book, we believe that any Christian can become a careful and prayerful student of the New Testament. Once it's published we hope it will be the first of several books we will use in holding classes in local churches. My co-author is already a local church pastor who holds a doctorate in New Testament. We both are convinced that interpreting the New Testament is for every Christian. The secret is that there is no secret. The answers you are looking for when you study the New Testament lie somewhere between inspiration and perspiration. You just have to be willing to see where you are, decide where you want to be, and figure out how you want to get there. Don't misunderstand. Studying the New Testament is simple but it's not easy. You just need to know the rules of the road. Here's the book title and its table of contents:
How to Study the New Testament with All Your Heart and Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the New Testament
Introduction: The Importance of Prayer in Studying the New Testament
Part 1: Before We Start
Part 2: Fleshing Out the Rules
Part 3: Where Do We Go from Here?
Speaking of books, here's one I am thoroughly enjoying.
The author is Greg Thornbury, a young evangelical with the good sense to appreciate evangelicals of a previous generation. When he was at Union University, Thornbury organized a conference to consider the Henry legacy and invited several well-known speakers to help interpret that legacy. Henry was the first of his generation to move outside the narrow circles of fundamentalism. Rather than getting a seminary doctorate he chose to complete a Ph.D. in philosophy at Boston University. He helped establish a leading evangelical magazine called Christianity Today that was to be transcontinental, interdenominational, theologically affirmative, socially aggressive, and irenic. As Thornbury notes, "If Billy Graham was the heart of evangelicalism, Carl. F. H. Henry was its head."
In 1989 Henry organized a major 2-week conference at Wheaton called "Evangelical Affirmations." I was privileged to have been invited to attend. In those days, students were reading Henry plus a plethora of other authors: E. J. Carnell, Kenneth Kantzer, Colin Brown, Donald Bloesch, Gordon Lewis, Bruce Demarest, Norma Geisler, Millard Erickson, J. I. Packer, and John Stott. Rarely do I hear those names mentioned today, to our great loss as a church. So far I am enjoying this book tremendously. Reading it makes me want to read Henry again. In his book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Henry wrote:
Well said, Dr. Henry, well said indeed. Finally (for now), have you seen this book by my friend Jim Voelz of Concordia Seminary? It's his magnum opus.
I'll be using it shortly in one of my Greek classes. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. Here Jim covers such topics as the basic characteristics of Mark's Greek, Semitic features, Hellenic features, complexity, sophistication, present tense verb forms to convey past historical events, asyndeton, patterning, scene setting, aspect, tense, voice, and vocabulary. I've gotten a wealth of information from this book and appreciate the author's devotional tone throughout. I think it will serve as an excellent resource for our class. If you're a Greek student, you'll want a copy for sure.
A concluding reminder: When you're going through a tough time, gently whisper (or scream), "Thank you!" I truly believe gratitude is something that can change our attitude in a split second.
Hope you all have a great Lord's Day.
Saturday, October 17
5:32 PM Well, folks, I probably won't ever have to run a half marathon trail race again because I have experienced the true Nirvana of running, and nothing can top what I did on a beautiful Saturday morning in October. Okay, I'll stop being so melodramatic. But it was something special. Yesterday I drove to the heart of Virginia. It's called the Blue Ridge. If you've never been there, you don't know what you're missing. There's even a Parkway you can use to drive right through the middle of it. I stayed in a quaint little motel last night. It's called the Village Inn and it's in the hamlet of Lovingston, along Hwy 29. What's not to love about a place that charges only 75 bucks for a quiet night's sleep? This was my view this morning as I left the motel.
Not very promising. Mostly fog and misty rain. But as soon as the sun popped into the sky, everything changed.
I knew the day would be perfect for running after all. As for the race itself, this is the only chart you need in order to understand it.
The race started at the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway and then ascended up to an FAA tower, at which point you turned around and descended 2,200 feet to the 6.5 mile turnaround. This means you also had to go back up 2,200 feet, making a grand total of 4,400 feet of vertical gain and loss. Was I ready for this challenge? I went into the race with three race strategies. My Plan A -- you know, the one that depends completely on a miraculous intervention by God -- would be to finish the race in under 3 hours. Plan B -- the goal that's most likely to happen on race day -- was to finish in under 3 and a half hours. Plan C -- aka the "Doomsday Scenario" -- was simply to finish the race within the time limits. Long distance races are always a big mystery to me. Every new mile offers a new challenge. Goals are simply points in your brain to help you take the next step and eventually take that last step over the finish line. I truly had no idea what to expect during the race. So I threw caution to the wind and embraced the unknown. I went into the event knowing I would give it my very best. I may not be the fastest sexagenarian out there, but I DO NOT GIVE UP. Here are a few race shots to keep you utterly bored:
The start, with me (as always) bringing up the Covid-caution-induced rear.
The terrain was lovely.
Running past the vineyards.
Eventually you reached a gravel road, where you ran a good two-thirds of the race.
But the landscape made it all worth it.
The last hill you have to climb before you see the ...
Post-race brisket burger and fries in Lynchburg. (Don't tell my kids about the Coke.)
After the race I felt like a kid again. Boy was that fun! I didn't come in first, but I didn't come in dead last either (like I thought I would). My time ended up being a respectable 3:06:43. I missed my Plan A goal by less than 7 minutes. Of course, when the race is over, the only question you need to ask yourself is, "Did I do my best?" Races are great places to find the best in yourself, the best in others, and the best in the sport of running. Because of Covid there weren't any post-race refreshments or awards, but I left the event savoring the experience. The miles I run in life are some of the most trusted companions I have. They remind me to find that as-yet untapped source of energy and enthusiasm within. Being a finisher simply means making peace with how far you've come and yet how far you still have to go.
Can't wait for my next trail race!
P.S. During the race I spent most of the time praying. Well, giving thanks actually. Psalm 118 -- which I read early this morning -- was on my mind the whole time. God has been so good to me.
P.P.S. Later I'll tell you some more "stuff" I've been up to these days, including a new book project. Stay tuned.
Thursday, October 15
6:20 PM Curiosity, writes New York Times best-selling author Martin Dugard in his book The Explorers, is the first step in exploring the world beyond ourselves. It "beats within all of us, for mankind is innately inquisitive."
His illustrations come from explorers like Gaspar de Portola, James Bruce, Daniel Boone, and James Cook, who discovered the islands where I was born and raised (the "Sandwich Islands"). "These were ordinary men doing extraordinary things, putting one foot in front of the other in the name of exploration." He adds that they "were insatiable in their desire to know all there was about the world around them." Curiosity was "the unscratched itch" in their lives. And for us lesser mortals today, it is vital to success in life.
As a teacher, I for one agree. We are there in the classroom not only to provide direct instruction about our subject matter. We are there to develop epistemic curiosity in our students -- knowledge that turns their curiosity on, which then triggers more curiosity. We often see it brimming over at the beginning of the semester. But then it begins to wane. Sadly, for some students it becomes extinct. They are there only for a diploma. Information drives out curiosity.
As a youth, I suffered from insatiable curiosity. How is the Bible the word of God? How was the island of Oahu formed? Can sand sharks kill? Is the Vietnam War just? After I moved to California the questions changed. Now I was asking life-changing questions like who should I marry or what field should I pursue for my career? Basel only notched things up. I need to write a dissertation but on what? And who will publish it when I'm done? Will I ever master Swiss German? Ah, learning a foreign language -- one of the greatest curiosity killers if only because we are too proud to speak the language and make mistakes in public.
I think what Dugard is suggesting is that in order to become curious we have to be aware of gaps in our current knowledge in the first place. The trouble is, it's so easy to go around thinking we know everything. But part of personal growth is being prepared to be curious. I look for curiosity in my prospective doctoral students as much as any other trait. But being curious all the way through life is even better. All of the great books in New Testament studies today (and these are very few and far between) are written by people who have stretched their curiosity to a maximum. They remind us that there's always more to learn and that our minds and imaginations are here to be astonished, wowed, and awed. Dr. Harry Sturz at Biola did that for me. Dr. Reicke did that for me in Basel. I hope, in a small measure, I do that for my students. While reading this chapter I kept saying to myself, "Yes!" and "Me too!" It's rekindled my own passion to be more aware of my own curiosity levels. A perfect place to start is by identifying simple clues in my life that point to true north.
Especially in an uncertain political climate, Dugard inspire his readers to rise above their self-doubts and make bold moves to change their lives. His advice is motivational and practical.
On to the next chapter -- Hope!
2:20 PM Just back from a very comfortable 8 mile workout to keep the legs fresh before Saturday's race. Every runner is different. I frankly do not have all the answers as to why we runners enjoy running alone. I think the joy of exercise is part of it. I think the fun we have is another. But at the end of the day, it's our love of the outdoors.
On days like today you feel like you have wings on your feet and the steps feel effortless. Loneliness does not creep in when you're at peace with yourself.
Marathon training is on the doorstep, ladies and gentlemen, and I am beyond excited to dig deep as I strive to chase down goals and dreams. Stay tough out there, y'all. You're going to need it to make it through the rest of 2020. And thank you for engaging with this blog on such a consistent basis. I will do my best to bring you valuable content as the Lord enables. Have a great day here on the internet and everywhere else!
9:12 AM Imagine a trail race in October next to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Now imagine a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. Add into the mix running at 4,400 feet of elevation. Put it all together and you get the annual 12 Ridges Vineyard 50K/Marathon/Half Marathon race this Saturday. Races are limited to 100 entrants for all three events. Somehow I managed to get an entry. Can't wait to experience the cool weather, the low humidity, and the post-race chardonnay (um, just kidding). Covid restrictions are firmly in place, meaning the event is cupless and masks are required at the start and finish (and even on the course if insufficiently distanced). I'm trying to be wise, so I signed up for the half only, though to be honest I was tempted to do the full marathon. I simply can't imagine running in a more beautiful setting. Thank you, Lord. You're so good to me!
The course map.
Meanwhile, I've been devouring this book.
I love reading books by non-Christians. Yes, they exalt the human spirit without acknowledging God, but they are no less readable (and interesting) for that reason. Here the author asks, "What are the traits of successful explorers? And can any of us use these traits in our own walk of life?" The quest to explore "spans the centuries," writes Dugard. "It is the link between Christopher Columbus and Steve Jobs." And you. And me. It's simply part of our human nature to want to show ourselves that we can do something we think is impossible. The author finds 7 traits common to all explorers. They are:
Explorers, he says, don't just display these traits. They display them in this order. Moreover, take one away -- any of them -- and an expedition is doomed to failure.
This book involves one of my passions -- understanding what drives us, all of us, to excel in life. What makes us step outside of our comfort zones? What draws people into the magnetic pull of new places, persons, things, rituals, and vistas? I just started this book and can't put it down. I'm so glad Chuck Swindoll quoted it in one of his sermons, otherwise I'd have never known about it. Thus far the book is an informative and eye-opening read. My plan is to comment on these 7 traits, one by one, in the days ahead. I love, love, love to read. I actually enjoy re-reading books I've already read because I notice all kinds of things I didn't notice the first time (or maybe I'm just forgetting a lot). I tend to read too fast and don't absorb. Not with this book. It's so good. John Stott once said that we Christians need to develop more opportunities for what he called "creative leisure." Even if unpaid, this is an authentic form of "work." For me, reading books is a good example of this.
Off to the bank and to get some exercise!
Wednesday, October 14
7:25 PM Yet another YouTuber using my grammar. Thank you, Abidan!
7:22 PM Ya gotta love this.
Oh for the days when our politicians could laugh at themselves!
6:10 PM Quick update because I'm tired.
I don't know about you, but I'm planning on exercising until I die. I'll build a track around the nursing home with a Depends changing station. I will also allow walkers (not people but those walking thingies) on the course. Until then, this course will do.
Tuesday? A 10-mile bike.
Yesterday? A 10 mile run.
The whole idea is to stay young as you age. Notice, I said as "you" age. Me? I'm just a kid at heart. I'm just gettin' going. Wowza!
By the way #1, these books came today:
I'm especially looking forward to doing a deep dive into Greg Thornbury's Why Should the Devil have All the Good Music? By the way #2, this was my view this morning as I walked from my dorm room to my office.
Have you ever seen a more beautiful campus? I haven't.
Whether music or architecture, I enjoy excellence. Beethoven's 5th is every bit as sacred as Handel's Messiah. The same God gave each composer his talents. Praise be to God!
Up next for moi? A 15 mile run. Yep, always pushing myself. As you know, there's a fine line between pushing yourself and accepting yourself. I still haven't found it. Keeps me young at least!
Monday, October 12
9:20 AM While growing up in Hawai'i, I never knew I lived on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere until my first trip to the mainland (the "Big" Big Island, as we used to call it). I was six, and man what a trip that was. We spent two weeks with my mother's Romanian family in Campbell, Ohio. My grandmother ran a convenience store on the first floor of her home, and everybody slept upstairs. Next door was the Romanian Community/Dance hall. During that time we squeezed every ounce of happiness we could out of the trip. We laughed until we died. We danced until we were sick. To be honest, I never knew being Romanian could be so much fun.
My next trip to the mainland was when I was 16. At the time, Greyhound Bus was offering a special deal for those who lived in Hawai'i and Alaska. It was called "99 Dollars for 99 Days." For three months we could go anywhere Greyhound travelled in the contiguous 48. As I recall, we started out in the Pacific Northwest and went all the way to Connecticut. When I returned to Kailua, I was a little wiser. I had seen things, I tell you. I would never again be content with my cozy island lifestyle. My new mantra was -- Show me something new. I was moving forward, adding layers, changing and growing. When I left for Biola in 1971, I never looked back.
Everything in life is a journey from A to B. Take Greek. This week we're having our first exam in Greek 1. I think my students are beginning to realize that studying a foreign language is more like a marathon than a sprint. It's a long process that takes lots and lots of time and effort. I wish I could clap twice and make a magic carpet descend from heaven to transport my charges from beginners to masters of the language. But life never works that way. That's why we chose this path called Christianity. We knew coming to Christ wouldn't be easy. He himself told us we'd have to count the cost. But for every sacrifice we make, it is returned a hundredfold in fellowship with our Maker.
This morning I'm leaving for Henderson, NC, for an interview on a podcast. The topic today is my little book Christian Archy. The book begins this way:
As you know, the first and most important step on every journey is to pick your road. Where are you starting out from? Where do you want to end up? There are infinite possibilities out there, a road for every human thought and desire. But for Jesus, there is only one road. It is a very narrow road, and to enter it you must go through a very narrow gate. But it's the only road that leads to life. There is no place on this road for distractions. On the contrary, it's a revolutionary journey, this road we're on. On this journey our identity is no longer wrapped up in politics or the American Dream. No, Jesus strips all that away and replaces it with his kingdom (= archy) priorities. The great need of the hour is to understand the church as a Spirit-endowed organism that is cross-culturally and trans-nationally valid, not as an institution modeled after the world. Once this distinction is made, the normal growth and witness of the church can be planned for, and various structures of the church can be used effectively.
Each age of church history is unique but not in every way. We can learn much from the past, and especially is this true at a time when we are living under the pressure of the future in a way that has perhaps never before been true on planet Earth. I believe there are few movements in church history that are more relevant for today than the 16th century Anabaptists. The purpose of the body of Christ, they insisted, is to make Jesus visible in the world. In fact, in the present age, the church is uniquely the instrument of the kingdom of God in the world. Thus, service to the kingdom means service to the world through missional activity. Our priority must be to become the King's servants in the world. Local churches must begin to see themselves as satellite offices of the kingdom of God. Churches must get out of their salt shakers -- out of their self-centered fellowships that negate the very reason for their existence.
It all boils down to priorities. We must ask ourselves, "How would God have us use the resources he's given us to have the greatest possible impact on the kingdom?" What would happen if 90 million evangelicals in America would follow Jesus' example of unconditional love? It is the way of the cross (via crucis) that the disciple of Jesus must follow with no other motive than that the Master requires it. It was he who refused to conquer the kingdoms of the world by the means proposed by the Tempter. To limit Christianity to social activism would be to betray Jesus because he never placed his spirituality in the service of an immediate political end. The kingdom of heaven belongs not to the powerful and religious, but to the poor and childlike. It is only when we become active in obedience to the Suffering Servant that the ministry of reconciliation is seen in its true meaning and has its full freedom of operation.
Whether we accept it or not, whether the church makes it central or not, whether it seems true or not, Jesus taught that powerless love is the only basis on which to build his kingdom. There is no other "road" to follow if we are to see God (Matt. 5:8). Beloved, let's not use intellectual excuses to evade our responsibilities as disciples of King Jesus. In him we find a true Revolutionary who is quite capable of saving the world without using coercion of any kind.
Sunday, October 11
8:22 PM Right at this time yesterday I kept thinking, Will this rain never end? You know me. You know how I get when I can't run for 4 or 5 days. Antsy, to put it mildly. So this evening, when the rain stopped (or slowed to a sprinkle), I got in a run at the track. I managed 4 miles before it started raining again.
I was hoping that the rain would stop altogether but it didn't. I always do this "hoping" on runs. I hope I can do whatever I want to do. Once again, I was stymied. Why? Because God knew I didn't need a run longer than 4 miles! Finally I told him, Okay. You're the boss, not me. Which only made sense since one of my pastors in his virtual sermon was "encouraging" (aka chiding) me while I ran to remember that God designs the race we're running, not us (Heb. 12:1-3). True, we have to run it, but we don't have any say in how long it lasts, how much elevation gain (or loss) there is, or what the rules are. That's God's job. Our job? The speaker said three things:
1) Get rid of every weight that's holding you back. You know, innocent things. For me that's mostly having pity parties.
2) Deal with the sin that so easily besets you. The "sin" in this context (see chapter 11) is undoubtedly the sin of unbelief. "So Dave, what do you do when you encounter a fight, a struggle, a race (the word is agōn in Greek)? Do you trust me to get you through? Or do you crawl into the corner and sit there whimpering?" Folks, no matter how much we "plan," it's always tough to predict what will occur out there on the track or during the race itself. In other words, have a plan, but for the sake of all that is holy, be flexible! And that's definitely one thing I'm not! I don't like surprises!
3) Focus on Jesus. Here the Greek word seems to mean, not merely "look unto Jesus," but "look away from everything that would distract you and fix your gaze upon Jesus." Why? For crying out loud, he's the one who both designed the course and finished running it! This is the endurance element of any successful training program. At this stage, the "Coach" is telling you that you need to work on a better aerobic base, stronger legs, less fatigue, and better fat burning. Your goals, strategies, and objectives have to work together. You have to be prepared to change your goals after the race has started. You have to keep your objectives firmly in mind. A bad strategy is worse than no strategy. Folks, after years of running, I've learned that true long-distance success is more about tenacity than talent. The older theologians had a special term for this: perseverance. And that's the word Paul uses -- "Let's run with perseverance the race that God has set before us." In other words: Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone! Effort is the key! Don't wuss out!
Friends, we are given the choice, day by day, to choose to run this way or not. Feelings will not help us very much. More often than not, it will call for principle over impulse. We have to be honest enough to recognize our feelings and to reject them when they are wrong. What constitutes a "successful" race? Where does it begin? Always with humility. Not in being served, but in serving. Not in self-actualization, but in self-surrender.
So it was back to the old drawing board for me tonight as I ran my measly 4 miles. I once heard an old saying that guaranteed the absence of boredom in life:
1) Have something to do.
2) Have someone to love.
We have both of these in Christ. He's given us work to do this week and people to love on. I never realized the pure therapeutic value of loving others until I lost Becky to cancer. Honestly, I don't think I could get through a single day without having someone to love. At least there is always Christ to love. And then there are our sisters and brothers in Christ. Finally, there are the lost. Whatever we do this week, whoever we love, let's put our whole heart into it, okay? Let's do it as though we are doing it for the Lord and not people, because we really do have a Master who will give us our heritage as a reward for our service.
Christ, be my Master this week.
Let me serve and love thee as I ought.
In your name, Amen.
10:20 AM If you're thinking about doing Ph.D. work in New Testament, you must absolutely get this book.
I used it when writing my master's thesis at Talbot ("The Address of the Ephesian Epistle" -- see my summary here) and I had it constantly before me when I began my own doctoral studies in Basel in 1980. Gamble's work is a model of academic research. Besides, he hits the nail on the head when he offers an explanation as to why Romans has come down to us in three versions: a 14-chapter version, a 15-chapter version, and a 16-chapter version. The shorter versions of Romans are all attempts to transform the letter into a catholic epistle meant to be read by all Christians everywhere and not only in Rome. This explains the omission of the words "in Rome" in Rom. 1:7, 15 in some manuscripts. Ditto for the omission of "in Ephesus" in 1:1. It is amazing to discover that all of the letters in the New Testament, though they may have very particular addressees, were ultimately intended to be read by all Christians everywhere. This is why you and I can read Philemon today without blushing or thinking, "I can't do this. I'm reading someone else's mail!" But in the earliest church, before the process of canonization had kicked in, the way you transformed Romans into a universal letter was by mechanically removing the place designations in its opening chapter and by omitting all the names in the last chapter.
Are you glad you know this?
9:10 AM In teaching Greek, it's always helpful to go from the known (English) to the unknown (Greek). I try to do this in my Learn to Read New Testament Greek. Sometimes, however, I will use illustrations from other Indo-European languages -- especially Spanish -- to make a point. That's because students, if they've learned a foreign language in high school, are more likely to have been exposed to Spanish than any other IE language. As we can see below, Spanish indicates the person who is doing the action by changes in the verb itself, which makes pronoun use optional. French, on the other hand, uses both verb endings and pronouns to get the point across -- much like a man who wears both suspenders and a belt. German does much the same thing as French. This means that a knowledge of Spanish, even a rudimentary one, can be very helpful when trying to master the Greek verb system, where pronouns are optional as well.
In linguistics, Spanish is known as a "pro-drop language." All this means is that pronouns can be dropped when they are grammatically inferable. Thus for tengo in Spanish (one word) we have I have in English (two words) and Ich habe in German (two words). We might say that English and German are "non-pro-drop languages" because they require the pronoun, though not in all instances. For example, instead of saying "I'm going home now. Do you want to come with me?" we could also say, "Going home now. Want to come with me?" This is very common in informal spoken English. Often it's the first person singular pronoun ("I") that's dropped. This is known as "conversational deletion," though sometimes a speaker will use it in more formal settings. A famous example is George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention:
When speaking English, I'm constantly dropping pronouns in the first person singular -- "Gonna," "Need to," "Should've." Here's a couple of German examples:
But you will rarely find this in formal contexts. Which other languages are "pro-drop" like Spanish? Here's a partial listing:
English is not one of these! And this takes some getting used to when you're just learning Greek.
Why am I boring you with this? I want to emphasize something about language -- the fact that it has architectural precision. Even the exceptions have "rules" behind them. In linguistics, morphology is the study of words, including how they are formed. That's why a good beginning grammar of Greek will always try and help the student understand the internal structure of verbs. Consider these the "rules of the road," much like when you were taking driver's ed and learning that "Yield" means that you have to yield and that a blinking red light is not an optional stop after all. You learned that signs have purposes that are best appreciated when you don't ignore them. Sure, learning to drive, like learning a new language, can be intimating. But don't let your fears hold you back. Just begin. Eventually you will love the word of God as never before!
P.S. In my NT 2 class this week we will see that Paul wrote Romans, among other things, in order to enlist the church's help in his mission to Spain. My question is: Was Spanish spoken in Spain in the first century? Answer on Wednesday!
Saturday, October 10
12:42 PM Rom. 1:1-7 is a really neat passage. It's actually the longest opening greeting in all of Paul's writings. And it's written to a congregation Paul had never met! Why, then, its length? Where is Paul going with his run-on sentences?
This is where a careful analysis of the structure of a text can help us. No, I'm not talking about English-based sentence analysis, though I'm sure this has its place.
Instead, I love a method developed by my friend Johannes Louw of the University of Pretoria. He called it "colon analysis" (no, not that colon) based on a term actually used by the ancient Greeks. The idea is to identify all of the independent main verbs (even when they are merely implied) and then see how the writer expands on them. Since we'll be walking through this passage in class on Wednesday, I thought I'd share my own analysis with you. This is what exegesis looks like through the lens of colon analysis! What's not to love, I ask you? I haven't found a mortal who couldn't do this after a year of Greek instruction. I invite you to experience the joy that many of us experience when we do a deep dive into a text!
11:06 AM Years ago I began working on a journal article but let it lapse when I got busy farming. Today I resurrected the matter. The impetus for my research came from a remarkable footnote in the RSV that I had never seen before in any Bible translation. On Mark 7:3, the translators of the RSV write:
Say what? How can this be? How can a Greek word not even be within reach of an educated guess? The word under discussion is pugmē. Here's the verse in Greek.
The RSV left pugmē out when it rendered the verse as follow:
Apparently, at least from what I can gather by reading the Greek text, the dative noun pugmē is trying to tell us how the Jews washed their hands. All the Greek has is "with a fist." Here are some other English versions:
Whatcha think? Purty interesting eh? Are you ready to head down this rabbit trail me? Stay tuned!
8:40 AM There's a fascinating new series on YouTube discussing the Amish and their history. It's called Breaking the Silence. I've watched all 6 parts and can tell you: This is a thorough critique of the Amish way of life, including their beliefs about salvation. In addition, the cinematography and editing are superb. The series delivers what I believe is an exceptionally hopeful and visionary picture of what the Amish can and should be. If we are indeed on the cusp of the next major reformation of the church in America, as I believe we are today, then our own churches have to come to grips with our slavish adherence to the traditions of men rather than the word of God. As the great A. W. Tozer once said, "The New Testament contains full instructions, not only about what we are to believe but what we are to do and how we are to go about doing it. Any deviation from those instructions is a denial of the Lordship of Christ." I found this series to be a compelling demonstration of this truth. I heartily recommend watching it.
8:22 AM Weekly interaction papers, yes weekly papers, ladies and gentlemen! That's what my wonderful NT 2 students write for me week in and week out. This coming week their paper is on the book of Romans. Their assignment reads as follow:
That's right, folks. It's always best to read an entire NT epistle from beginning to end in one sitting if possible. That's how the original recipients would have done it. Notice, too, how Paul emphasizes the Christian faith as a way of living. For eleven chapters he's been unfolding God's great plan of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for sinners and was raised to life. Through Christ the Father is creating a new society -- a new humanity. Now the apostle moves on from the creation of the new society to the new standards that are expected of it. So he turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative) to what we must do and be in Christ (in the imperative). The shift is from doctrine to duty or, as Simpson puts it, "from the credenda ... to the agenda" -- from things to be believed to things to be done.
What's so interesting to me is that the majority of commands in Rom. 12:9-21 are not in the imperative mood at all. Paul uses the participle, the infinitive, and even adjectives to issue his injunctions in this passage. Why is that? And what does he hope to accomplish by "mitigating" his commands in that fashion? Come to class and find out! If you can't make it, here's a sneak preview.
I have a dream that my students will come away from this class session with a new appreciation of the church as God's new society and that they will begin to flesh out the New Testament reality that the church is a living organism and not an institutional organization. Let's make Jesus Christ the Head of the church again, folks, not in pious rhetoric but in living reality. May his supremacy be the mainstay, the focus, the pursuit of every Christian and every church. May every local church be transformed into spiritual families where the members know one another intimately, care for each other deeply, and rejoice with each other unfailingly, as we are instructed to do in Rom. 12:9-21!
Friday, October 9
8:04 PM These are fresh out of the oven -- blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry muffins for Sheba.
She practically inhales them. I'm glad she still has an appetite for certain foods. It hasn't been easy for me watching her age. Thankfully we have Becky's handicap ramp for her to get up and down the porch from. She gets weaker by the day. She is now incontinent. That's okay. I want her to eat and drink everything she can put down. For 17 years we've been inseparable. I have hardly known a day in this house without this sweet puppy. When I'm in my office and sitting at the computer, as I am now, she comes up to me and asks to be scratched. She is a fighter. Selfishly I want her to stay with me forever. What to do? One day at a time. Having pets is great but this part stinks.
Y'all know that writing is like therapy for me. So thanks for reading my words and allowing this platform for me to express my thoughts and emotions. Amazing how pets are part of the family. Letting go will be like losing a dear friend and companion. Thankfully that day hasn't come ... yet.
I love you Sheba girl. Thank you for loving me back.
7:30 PM Question for ya. We have Christology (the study of Christ). We have Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit). Why not Patrology (the study of the Father)? Is our theology balanced? The study of the Father is usually subsumed under "Theology Proper." But why?
7:08 PM "A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn't the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn't flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic." Dresden James.
2:23 PM Okay, who is busier than I am? This morning I got a B12 shot, then ran 5 miles, then sent off an essay on Christmas for publication. Right now I need to go to the bank and then put the final touches on my lectures on 1 Corinthians for my NT 2 class next week. That same day we also have to talk about the book of Romans, aka The Cathedral of Christianity. This month I may have completely bitten off more than I can chew. But I have done it willingly and with gusto. Life is very full these days. Mt latest project? Answering interview questions for an upcoming issue of the Southeastern Theological Review. It's a special issue on "The Bible as Literature," and I've been asked to talk about my own philosophy of Bible translation and why we attempted to translate the poetry of the Greek New Testament as poetry in the ISV. This is keeping me very busy. I am disintegrating a bit, but I will persevere. I have the hardest time saying no and keeping myself from over-committing. I'm not so sure I would want it any other way though. Still, it's good to pause, take a deep breath, and enjoy the slow pace here on the farm. You see, if you want it to happen, it will happen. It may not be easy, but it's better than the alternative (doing nothing). Listen fellow whiners, we get to do what we do. And it won't last forever. Ask God how, what, and where to move forward in your life. Ask him to reveal to you any weak areas (like over-doing things!). He'll meet you at the next step and show himself faithful. My journey of faith is mine and yours is yours, but let's never stop moving or invent our own way. You don't want to miss out on his best. And neither do I!
8:58 AM I think there might be a spiritual lesson in this picture I took yesterday at the Antietam National Battlefield.
If you were a soldier on the field of battle that day, this is just about all you saw. The common soldier sees very little of the general engagement. It's impossible to see everything that's going on around you. You have your own part to play, and that task absorbs your entire attention. Add to the mix the billow of smoke expelled by thousands of muskets, and you can judge the direction of the battle only by sound.
Someone has said that the battlefield is the loneliest place that men share together. Isn't life like that, my friend? Isn't it easy to get so lost in the details of our lives that we fail to see God's big picture? Maybe you're struggling with God not wanting you to have something you feel is indispensable to your life and happiness. Maybe he has removed someone from your life and you don't understand why. Isn't it wonderful that God sees our beginning and end all at once? 2020 has been a year of change for all of us. I know it's been that for me. I see only the cornfield around me. But I'm trusting that God sees and knows the big picture. When one chapter in my life ends, another will take its place. Life will go on.
I pray for strength for us all as we face the changes in our lives. Remember that you are not alone. Thank God daily for the people in your life who pray for you and love you. Please pray for me too as I face change this year and next. Change is a part of life, but God always sees the bigger picture.
Lord, help me to trust you today with complete abandonment!
Thursday, October 8
7:48 PM Evening, guys! It seems like everyone has their nightmare story. I just added a couple more to my list, like getting a parking ticket in Shepherdstown, MD when I stopped for lunch in a local eatery and accidentally parked in the university parking lot (it sure looked like a municipal lot to me), or forgetting my Garmin battery recharger at home, or ending up with a noisy hotel room, or getting lost in Frederick. It may not be as bad as landing on the Hudson, but chances are you have had your own nightmare stories. Thankfully, the good things far outnumbered the bad. I'm happy to say that I accomplished my goal of hiking both the Monocacy and Antietam Battlefields (without getting lost once).
Suffice it to say that being on the actual field of battle gives you a brand new appreciation for what those men endured 150 years go. I can only wonder what it must have felt like to watch cannon balls emerge from the smoke or the strain of going into battle after being forced marched for 17 miles. At any rate, here are some additional pix of my trip before I get some much needed rest:
It took me only about 4 miles to cover the entire Monocacy Battlefield.
The Worthington House, much as it looked on the day of battle.
Switching now to Antietam, the battle began on the Poffenberger Farm.
As the fighting moved south, the soldiers entered the Miller cornfield.
They fought here for hours. I know I've mentioned this before, but I am a descendent of David Miller on my paternal grandmother's side (she was a Miller). Sorry to keep mentioning this, but it's my only claim to fame.
The famous Sunken Road.
And the even more famous Burnside Bridge.
Here's my favorite monument on the Antietam battlefield. After the Union soldiers had crossed the bridge, they were able to enjoy a brief break in the fighting.
This monument commemorates a young soldier whose sole duty that day was to carry hot coffee to his comrades. Nobody would have remembered him had he not become president of the United States and then the victim of an assassin's bullet.
Someone may say, "A monument for something as insignificant as serving coffee?" I imagine the men who received the coffee would have never asked that question.
The final battle that day took place here.
You can knock out a hike of the entire Antietam Battlefield in about 8 miles and 3 hours of walking.
Oh, did I mention that fall is very much in the air in Maryland?
When I got back to the farm, I saw that the kids had been busy getting up hay.
Hope they enjoy my little treat for them. Thank you for working so hard!
So there you have it, folks. I've said it before. One of the best things about living in the good old U.S. of A. is that there's always a new adventure right around the corner. It never, ever gets boring. If I'm lacking challenge and excitement in other areas of my life, I know I can find it with exploring history.
P.S. I tried hiking the C & O Canal tow path but oh my goodness it was sooooo boring. Maybe I should have tried doing that hike first.
Wednesday, October 7
7:55 AM Good morning folks! My Bible time this morning was in Phil. 2:12-18, the passage we're studying next week in Greek 3. Oh my, what a passage! When I was a new struggling believer, I read this passage over and over again. I needed to be reminded that obedience in the Christian life is not only required but enabled. Not surprisingly, this went against the grain of the "throw a stick on the fire at the end of summer camp and rededicate your life once and for all to Jesus" philosophy of the day. Anyway, at some point I came to acknowledge that if I were to make progress in this thing called Christian living I would have to learn how to be filled with the Spirit. It's the only way to true wholeness, the abundant life that Jesus promised, and profound joy. This is what kingdom living is all about -- living in the way of Jesus, by his strength and according to his Spirit. I also have to add: we do this in community. My contention is that when Paul writes "God is always at work in you both to give you the desire and the ability to do what pleases him," the words "in you" are better rendered "among you." Yes, it's true that the Christian life is an individual matter between us and our God. However, we have to carefully guard ourselves against a lone ranger mentality that says, in essence, "I don't need you." We're called to imitate the Jesus who always went about with a group of men and women with whom he did ministry. And, in case we missed it, his commands "Love your enemies" and "Do good to others" and "Bless those who curse you" are in the plural. In Christ, God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters. In fact, the metaphor for the church that dominates the New Testament is the family. In contrast, the dominating metaphor in many of our churches today is the corporation, where you have a pastor (CEO), staff (upper management), and the people (employees). We give glib assent to the church as family but the very architecture of our worship centers encourages individual spectatorism. Recall what Paul says in this passage about the Philippians "doing all things without grumbling and complaining." Paul's passion for genuine community is contagious, and if your church family is healthy, you know your fellow brethren to the point where it's instinctive to show them affection and grace. By contrast, a dysfunctional church family shows little affection toward its members. There is no experience of verbal or nonverbal expressions of love. Are we really being honest to call our church a "family" when its members hardly even know each other?
The one thing I believe Paul is emphasizing in this passage is that only when we are genuinely unified as a church body can our witness to the world be effective. Paul envisions a people who shine like stars lighting up the sky in the midst of a world of corrupt and sinful people, whom we offer the message of life. Again, the way we do "one-anothering" makes all the difference!
This whole passage in Philippians has a prophetic quality about it that I hadn't anticipated -- calling believers back to their beautiful, biblical, core identity as the family of God. I leave on my trip today excited, eager to dig deeper into this text in the days ahead. But it also leaves me profoundly unsettled, seeing mostly hostility and bitterness in the Christian Twitterworld. (Yes, there are exceptions!) I'm going to be praying about what all of this means for my own teaching and writing.
Blessings on you!
Tuesday, October 6
7:18 PM Today was a day for decisions. My friend can't climb tomorrow due to his work schedule so I've decided to forego Sharp Top and proceed into the great commonwealth (or is it state?) of Maryland to hike the battlefields I mentioned earlier. Let's see, the Monocacy Battlefield has the Ford Loop Trail and the Thomas Farm Loop Trail, while good old Antietam has the Union Advance Trail, the Battlefield Forest Creek Loop Trail, the Snavely's Ford Trail, the Final Attack Trail, the National Battlefield Trail, and the Burnside Bridge Loop Trail. Then it's off to the Point of Rocks parking lot where I hope to pick up the C & O tow path. No biking, no running, just walking. It's a great season of the year to be outdoors! You know me. Always up for the next adventure. The next tale to tell. The next story to blog about. And the next book to read, of course -- which tonight means anything about either of these two battles I can get my hands on. People growing up on the East Coast may take their history for granted, but I don't. Are you a history buff? When I was a kid I couldn't get enough of WW II history. Those were the days of the Rat Patrol and Combat! on TV.
Defending my home in Kailua against all her enemies, real or imagined.
When we lived in Basel it just wasn't possible for me to travel enough to visit historic sites such as Kaiser August (Caesar Augustus's HQ on the Rhine) or the Kappel Battlefield where Zwingli the Protestant was killed while fighting the Catholics. Does it matter how people in other times and places thought? Isn't history more of a problem than a solution? All Christians need to know at least church history. We need these earlier Christians. We can learn a great deal both from their insights and blind spots. We can grow by allowing them to instruct us. I take this trip hoping it will stimulate my study of history and allow me to expand, nuance, confirm, or correct my own convictions and assumptions about the past and the present. Historical thinking can relieve us of our narcissism. It can cultivate humility and love for truth. It might even help transform our lives more fully into the image of Jesus Christ.
Trips like these always give me much to ponder and ruminate over. Friends, during this time of Covid, we have to adjust our expectations and do what we can do. But we can never give ourselves permission to check out and eat donuts all day. Keep looking up and do the best you can!
2:04 PM U.S. Hwy. 58 runs for 508 miles between Virginia Beach, VA, and Harrogate, TN. It's pretty much my link to civilization. From it I can get to the Food Lion in Clarksville or my dentist's office in South Boston.
If you see more than 4 cars on Hwy. 58, it's considered a traffic jam.
This is the heart of Southside Virginia. Natives here like the open spaces. We have wonderful fishing, superb hunting, and the nicest people you will ever find. I had no idea that the land would claim me when I moved here with Becky 20 years ago. It gets in the blood. You are a caregiver. You husband the land the same way you take care of your children because it's in your care. The best part of living here is that you don't need a passport to enjoy an excursion to the Tobacco Heritage Trail. Today my plan was to do a recovery walk of 5 miles out and back, which actually turned into 7.8.
Seems they decided to open the newest part of the trail, thus extending the trail by 1.4 miles each way. A shout out to the Roanoke River Rails to Trail board of directors for maintaining this wonderful hiking/biking/horseback riding trail. Eventually it will total 160 miles and connect the counties of Brunswick, Charlotte, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Halifax. This section of the trail follows what was once the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which later became part of Norfolk Southern.
The new trail terminus. I do hope they extend it a few more miles.
They thought of everything, including picnic tables ...
... and hitching posts for your horses.
You see fields everywhere along the trail. These soy beans are ready for harvesting.
This region of Virginia is also noted for its hiking trails. Tomorrow a friend of mine and I are heading to Bedford to climb Sharp Top. The Peaks of Otter are among the most notable peaks in Virginia's Blue Ridge. Sharp Top is the most accessible and even has a shuttle you can take to the summit and back. Truly, Virginia is a hiker's paradise! As for the rest of the week, I'm still hoping to head north for some more hiking. The plan now is for me to hike both the Monocacy and Antietam Battlefields before getting in a few miles on the C & O tow path. We'll see!
7:45 AM Value, value, value, that's what it's all about ladies and gentlemen. Are you getting value from reading this daily blog? As you know, I blog only from my home computer, which is why you don't hear from me while I'm staying on campus teaching my classes. But when I'm home, I'm blogging. I do so from the place I know best -- a few acres of Virginia piedmont on which I am encamped for a few years in my wanderings through this thing called life. In fact, were I to summarize the goal of this blog, it would be to remind you of two vital facts:
1) We are all disciples of the Lord. As you know, the term mathētēs in Greek is a reminder that we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our Master, Jesus Christ. We are always and ever in a growing-learning relationship with him. We are students, not in an academic sense, as though we were sitting in a classroom at the seminary, but rather in the sense of being on a worksite, learning a craft from a master builder. Our goal is not merely to acquire information but skills.
2) We are all pilgrims on this earth. The Greek word for "pilgrim" (parepidēmos) reminds us that we are people who are going somewhere. We're on a pilgrimage to God, and the path is none other than Jesus himself, who said "I am the Road" (John 14:6). None of us can get to the Father apart from him.
So there you have it in a nutshell -- why I keep this blog a-comin' atcha day in and day out. Jesus is alive and well, winking at us, inviting us to get up and dance to his music. Learn of me, discover me, dive into me, let me change your life, he says to us. Let me make the tiny corners of your daily life amazing. Let me show you the way ahead. Quit stewing about the past and begin kicking up your heels in the sunshine of my love and forgiveness.
As always, thanks for stopping by, expecting to find something of value here. I hope to never disappoint you. The longer we laugh and cry together, the stronger the journey gets!
Monday, October 5
8:08 PM Organizing my life -- that's what this day has been about. Overall, I'm ecstatic with the results. I was getting a little stressed by the disorganization in the house, and not having a woman here to whip everything in shape only added to the burden, if you know what I mean. Next step in getting organized is looking under all the beds! Of course, today my mind often went to Becky. If I'm being completely honest, I don't dwell on her every day. Life is so busy that sometimes I go a while without thinking about Becky. But today I was thrust back into all the emotions I experienced when I lost her 7 years ago. When she died, I realized that I faced a choice. I could either let her death ruin me, or else I could, as much as possible, learn and grow from it. I decided on the latter option. Here are some ways my life has been different:
1) I appreciate just how demanding house work is. If you don't stay on top of things, everything can get messy real soon.
2) I think it increased my empathy. I think I can understand people better today. I try to support and encourage my students who are going through tough times. I still have lots of room for improvement, but I'm trying.
3) It put things in perspective for me. I've learned how to turn my solitude into prayer. I've begun to know the strange peace that the world doesn't understand. I think I've even come to accept the gift of widowerhood that God has given me. Lord, is this the cake you need from me? Then I'll bake it for you. As well as I can, I lay all my desire before him to whom all desire is known and from whom no secrets are hidden.
I know that some of you have experienced a significant loss in your own life. Your temptations, and mine, are common to man. I believe God wants us to be happy, but in a much deeper sense than we can imagine. A loving hand is behind it all, a great tenderness even in the mist of the loneliness (and the messy house). All in all I'm satisfied with this "how to organize my life and thought processes" that I'm going through right now. I'm grateful for family and for peace. And with your prayers, I will continue to rest in him.
1:18 PM Time to clean house again if you know what I mean. Here's the deal. Three things -- today I'm going to throw out at least three things I haven't used in over a year. I'm going to start with my collection of empty book boxes.
Organization and efficiency is the name of the game, ladies and gentlemen. I'm challenging you to do the same. I don't care if it's a paper clip or your old TV set. Come on, let's get it done!
12:40 PM Just back from the post office and bank. Also got in an easy 5K walk on the local trail.
I believe this is called "active recovery." Running alone isn't enough to get you into shape. Just move and you will improve. And the perfect movement is walking.
Meanwhile, I'm still researching my races for 2021. Depending on what happens with Covid, there could be a huge number of marathons (and marathon PRs) next year. If you're like me, then you've got to have a race on the calendar at all times. I'm considering races in my area, of course, but I'm also casting a wistful eye on maybe running the Phoenix-Mesa Marathon again or even the Flying Pig in Cincy for the 4th time. However, there's no sense in actually registering for a race yet because of the high possibility of them being cancelled. So I'm stuck in no-man's land when it comes to my 2021 race schedule. I'm a goal person, always have been. I do like to have goals and expectations for myself of what I think I'm capable of doing. That said, I don't get super hung up on wanting to have everything planned in advance. Of course, no one but God knows what 2021 will hold for any of us. But barring anything major happening, I plan to get in another half marathon or two and at least one full marathon in 2021. I want to become a good runner, but I'm also a realist, especially at my age. Friend, no matter what your speed, it's your drive, your dedication, and so much more that aging can't take away from you that matters. Things hurt, it takes longer to recover, and there are so many other things that can be discouraging as well. You just gotta keep being active -- regardless of how fast or slow you are. As Amby Burfoot says, "Don't judge your running by your speed."
Life is never linear. It has so many ups and downs and plateaus. If only we could coast through and be done! But God has a better way. We need to disregard the naysayers. As they shout, "You can't!" God is whispering, "With my strength, all things are possible." Remember that, my friend. And remember that he is just a prayer away.
8:30 AM USA! USA! Sara Hall finished second in yesterday's London Marathon! In terrible conditions (severe weather issues, no crowd support due to Covid, etc.) I might add. She was the first American in 14 years to stand on the podium in London. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, at 37 she's still throwin' it down. Awesome job, Sara! Being a Jesus follower, note how she gives glory to God. Ya gotta love it!
As I near the end of my formal academic career, I desire to do the same. Maybe you recall Jesus' parable in Luke 17 about the servant who has just come back from the field. Does his master invite him to sit down and dine with him? Hardly. He says, instead, "Prepare my supper and wait on me while I have my meal. You can have yours afterwards." So with you, Jesus says. When you have carried out your master's orders, you should say, "We are merely servants and deserve no credit. We have only done our duty."
The world system has it all wrong in this regard, folks. We take credit for what we have done. Success is my accomplishment, not God's or anyone else's. We fail to recognize that all of our accomplishments are gifts of grace rather than the product of our own efforts or wisdom. I have now taught Greek for some 44 years. I have preached and taught in many foreign countries. I have published approximately 1 book every 2 years. My publishers have invested thousands of dollars in these books. Even more surprisingly, people have invested money in buying them. But when I get to glory, Jesus will not say to me, "Look at all you have accomplished, Dave!" No, he will say (I do earnestly hope and pray), "You were faithful, Dave. That's all that is important to me."
Success is a worldly word. Have I been successful in my career? Have you? Yes, I believe that God called me to the task of teaching and writing. But I am under no illusion that I have made any essential contribution to the kingdom. I will be forgotten, just as my own professors in seminary and grad school are forgotten today. The fact is, life is not about success. It's only about being faithful to what God has called us to be and to do. I think most of us would have to acknowledge that not much of what we have done with our lives can count as accomplishments before God, let alone before the world. We freely confess our own unworthiness. Jesus is on point (as he always is): it's not about getting credit. It's only about doing our duty. We are unprofitable servants.
As you know, yesterday I ran a half marathon. The challenge seemed staggering. You face the temptation to give up and drop out. It's one thing to fight for a while and then quit. It's quite another to go the distance and finish. The apostle Paul endured through every temptation, trial, and bout with discouragement and despair. Just before he was killed he wrote, "I've run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that's left now is the shouting -- God's applause! Depend on it, he's an honest judge. He'll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming" (2 Tim. 4:6-8, The Message). Paul had never heard about Nike or New Balance, but he knew enough about track and field to realize that he needed to run hard if he was going to finish the race. He could say, "I'm giving it everything I've got!"
Is the "fruit of faithfulness" lacking in your life, my friend? Perhaps you could take some time today to identity the obstacles that are holding you back. Ask God to help you overcome them. He's on your side. He's rooting for you to finish your race. How better can we witness to his grace in our lives than to say, "It wasn't my doing. It was all his doing. And he did it even despite me!"
Sunday, October 4
7:14 PM Evening walk.
5:44 PM Hi. It's me again. Let's get going on this race report, shall we, before I forget everything, being as old and senile as I am.
Now what was I saying?
I'm still learning how to be a runner, folks, so I love to share what I'm learning with you guys. The big news is that today's 13.1 mile half marathon is in the books. I feel privileged to have now run 23 half marathons, 16 full marathons, 5 triathlons, and one 32-mile ultra. Running a race longer than 5K involves overall health, smart training, discipline, and the blessing of the Lord for sure. After all, running a half takes over 25,000 steps.
Above all, I smile and try to enjoy the experience. The greatest marathoner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, says: "A smile is what actually ignites my mind to forget about the pain. That's the beauty of a smile." About 2 million runners entered half marathons in 2019 -- about 4 times the number of runners that finished a marathon. Generally speaking, the half marathon is safer than the marathon because there's less chance of injury from repetitive movements. Sure, I'm not fast, but as Abe Lincoln once put it, "I may walk slow, but I don't walk backwards." There's no need to hurry. After all, I'm training, not just for a race, but for the rest of my life. Here are a couple more pix of today's trail adventure:
The starting line. I began dead last as per usual.
These two ladies paced me for the first 3 miles. I eventually passed them and never saw them again.
Vigilance is required every step of the way. If a rock doesn't get you, a root will. I tripped a couple of times but, thankfully, never face planted.
The scenery. I can't even.
Hills? Nobody said there'd be hills!
Is this Switzerland or what?
Well, thanks for putting up with all the pictures and babbling. I was very pleased with my results today. I finished in 3:12 -- a fairly respectable time for such a demanding course. In all honesty I loved every minute of the race. The most important thing was to keep moving forward without bonking or getting injured. The weird thing is, after mile 6 things got easier, or at least they didn't get any harder. Maybe all this training is paying off after all. The plan now is to give my legs two days off and then climb either MacAfee Knob or Sharp Top with a friend on Wednesday. If the nice weather holds, I'm praying about hiking the C & O Canal towpath later in the week. The towpath covers 185 miles along the Potomac River. I'm told it's one of the flattest trails imaginable and very well kept. If I do go there, I will probably try to hike at least 26.2 miles.
Thanks for joining me on this journey, guys!
Saturday, October 3
5:32 PM The Pocahontas Trail Festival is going down tomorrow. This is an annual race that takes place at the Pocahontas State Park near Chesterfield, VA, about 2 hours from the farm.
Distances include the full marathon, the half marathon, a 10K race, and a marathon relay (4 teammates). I've signed up for the half. I have never done a trail half marathon and I can't wait. A demanding race in awesome weather? Perfection. Trail runs are the best. Running on trails is harder than running on roads in some ways, but spending a couple of hours in the woods is my idea of heaven. They even offer PBJs and cookies at the aid stations. I love our state parks. I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by such beauty. Lord willing, I'll report back tomorrow with an after-race blog post, ladies and gentlemen!
1:58 PM Just finished grading my NT 2 exams. You guys crushed it. Thanks to each and every one of you!
12:05 PM So thankful to God for the ability to do a 13.1 mile bike ride on a very beautiful morning.
Daily living, that's what it's all about, folks. The "ordinary" things we do in our lives are all part of the "extraordinary" that God has planned for us. Everyday "mundane" stuff (like biking or mowing the grass) is where we can and, I would argue, should find our fulfillment. We should never, ever, be bored, and no day should ever be merely "mundane." So yes, I'm trying to make the ordinary extraordinary here on my blog. As Chesterton once said, "The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children"!
Love you and thanks for stopping by!
7:48 AM "Be joyful always." That was my main takeaway this morning as I read the book of 1 Thessalonians in one sitting. Paul is so upbeat in this letter. And why shouldn't he be? Jesus is coming back. Segue to today. What space and time do we find ourselves in? I believe we are moving into a society that is qualitatively different from anything yet experienced by Americans. Although this time of upheaval is similar to the situation of the first-century Graeco-Roman world of the New Testament, circumstances are bringing us to an unprecedented history. We find ourselves in a substantially different world from even a year ago. The empirical evidence is undeniable. And the rate of cultural disintegration only accelerates. This means that unless there is a major intervention by God to stop this downward spiral, we are in for a very rough time. It's as though all of the political, social, scientific, and religious revolutions of the past 100 years have been crowded into one short span of time.
Enter the book of 1 Thessalonians. Paul is clear about the way God's hand has reached through the darkness in each of our lives. Even persecution can become a shard of hope in his hands. How Pollyanna it all sounds, but it's true. 1 Thessalonians is all about the way God redeems darkness and pain and brings something beautiful out of something horrible. Thank God I was wrong about everything when Becky died 7 years ago. Thank God that he used that experience as a preparation for a good thing in my life. And with growth comes great hope. We -- you and I -- are living "in the interim" between Christ's first and second comings. And if we're honest, we feel the ache of the "meantime" deeply. I really learned to pray when Becky passed away, out of necessity and fear. But now I get it. I believe in God because I have to. There is a particular beauty to this season of darkness in America. You feel trapped by the pain and the darkness, but there is something always calling you past the heartbreak, past the curse, past the despair, past the turmoil, and that thing is the joy of the Lord.
Paul was a spiritual father to the Thessalonians. They were his dear children. "We dealt with you one by one, as a father deals with his children, appealing to you by encouragement, as well as by solemn inunctions, to live lives worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory." I don't live for any worldly kingdom. I live for God's kingdom and glory. And that kingdom is about to break into the darkness. Our job is the prepare the way of the Lord, to build the landing strip, and to invite as many people we can to join us. Despite the disintegration of our day, Jesus is still in the business of making new men and women. He died that we might no longer live for ourselves. He wants to live his life in and though us, and thus to make us conduits of his peace. He will dispel the darkness, as soon as he can, but not before. The fear, the uncertainty, the pains of this life are a part of the process he is at work on. If we understand that, we will never become bitter about it. This fractured world will one day be exchanged for wholeness. This is why, with Paul, we can "be joyful always."
Friday, October 2
2:10 PM I am a fall fanatic. I love coming home to a warm house, lighting a fire in the fireplace, and settling down to an evening of reading. I love being able to get outdoors when the temps are cooler, like today. Here's my 5 mile run.
What a picturesque view. I love hot soup and crusty rolls. I love watching the deer rutting. I love knowing that Christmas music is right around the corner. I love pulling out my sweaters. I love watching the trees shed their leaves, a reminder that I too have to let go and open the door to a new season, and with it new opportunities.
I am a fall fanatic.
8:35 AM Shots fired ...
7:55 AM Hello bloggerites. If you've recently joined my readership, you'll think I'm a man obsessed with Bible study. That's because I am. This morning I was in Phil. 2:1-11 -- the heart of the epistle.
And what a wonderful passage it is in every way. Unity in the church is so needed today. But unity without humility is impossible. Knowledge never travels alone. It always has to be accompanied by love. Knowledge apart from love leads only to spiritual pride. Fellowship in the church should be a very close kind of fellowship. Having an inner disposition of harmony is fundamental. It is a oneness in love and aim. And it took a humble cross-bearer to show us the way. I wish every Christian would memorize Phil. 2:1-11 so as to be reminded day in and day out that oneness in the body of Christ cannot be achieved without lowliness of mind.
Of course, the Bible is not the only book I read. This came in the mail yesterday and I am eager to give it a look-see.
As you know, I weigh in on the side of grammars that are much more succinct than this one is, but hey, to each his (or her) own.
Finally, this week I met with my Old Testament colleague Chip Hardy to finalize the syllabus for our LXX course in the spring. Yes, it's going to be a study (in both Hebrew and Greek) of the great book of Jonah! I'm trying to think of some creative way to end this blog post, but all I can think of is to mention the book we'll be using for the class, written by one of my former students who is now completing his doctorate in New Testament in Germany.
Here he is reciting a passage from Ruth when he took my LXX class years ago.
God, out of his passionate love for the lost, is calling all of us to become Jonahs to a lost and dying world. The missional life is the only way to true wholeness, profound joy, and an abundant life. Why, then, instead of taking Christ to the world, do we prefer to argue about everything? This was the way paradise was lost. Yet Jesus still faithfully calls to life and to utter bliss those who follow his downward path. It is the way of the cross, but the only way that leads to resurrection.
Revolutionaries, live in the way of Jesus.
Thursday, October 1
8:02 PM Hello my intellectual internet friends. Just spent a wonderful week on campus teaching my classes and attending meetings. Did I mention having lunch with friends? Now it's time to switch gears. We're off all next week and the weather is supposed to be perfect for being outdoors. What to do? Well, races are coming back! So I've signed up for a half marathon trail run this weekend. As slow as I am at running, I keep doing it because I enjoy it. Then next week I'm trying to talk a couple of friends into climbing a Via Ferrata in West Virginia -- the same one I did a couple of years ago. Here's my GoPro in case you'd like to see what it's like.
What else? I'm toying with the idea of doing a longish bike ride of maybe 50 miles, though I don't know where yet. For me, cross-training on my bike brings many benefits. It improves my running performance, reduces the strain on my limbs, increases my overall fitness, reduces my risk of injury, and, well, makes my happy. Biking allows me to add variety to my training to avoid boredom and burnout. This Tuesday I ran 5 miles, on Wednesday I biked 14 miles, and then yesterday I ran 6 miles. I took today off as a recovery day. A change of pace and a change of place each week does wonders for me. How you cross train isn't as important as just getting out there and doing it. The good news is that if you use the same muscles over and over again (without overtraining them), they eventually get stronger. As it happens, a little less running and a little more cycling is actually making me a better and more efficient runner. Of course, racing is where the real fun begins. As I think about the half marathon trail race this weekend, I'm filled with terror, excitement, joy, calm, and panic. If you think about completing the whole journey in one bite, it will seem completely impossible. So you take it one mile at a time, breaking the race down into bite-sized chunks so it doesn't seem so hard. During a half marathon everybody gets a good taste of reality pie. Fast or slow, it's not a distance to underestimate, especially if you're going to be running on mountain trails. You have to take whatever talent you have and then go out and see what happens. Besides the training, this week I've got a dissertation chapter to read, a journal article to finish, and essay exams that require grading, not to mention farm work. So you see, there's a lot of variety coming up during the semester break. On the one hand, it's a time of rest and relaxation, but on the other hand, I will be as busy as ever (hopefully, in a productive way). Push yourself through too many hours of work and your brain starts to push back. You need to give yourself and your brain some rest. I tend to be a person who works around the clock simply because I can. Not very wise. One Harvard study showed that PTO (Predicable Time Off) was nothing short of miraculous in restoring one's mental health. Talking time off will actually help you to thrive in your life and your career. Even a Stay-Vaca can help.
In these days of chaos on the national scene and stress on the local scene due to Covid, it's so wonderful to be able to cock an ear toward heaven and, above the drone and din of the humdrum, listen for God's gentle voice calling your name. In times of trouble, our lifeline is Jesus. Grab on tight, my friend, and then pray like crazy!
That's all for now. Thanks for blogging in.
Monday, September 28
6:45 AM I love to run. You all know that. But read these words:
That's pretty much life in a nutshell. Wherever I am, whether in the calmness of the farm or the hustle and bustle of Wake Forest, I should be running towards my Savior. That's the only place I'll find sure footing.
Meanwhile, I plead with you: Do not get distracted by politics. Keep your eye on the ball. Be kingdom people. Never offer even as much as a pinch of incense to Caesar. Walk in love as Christ loved us. Ask God to bless your enemies. Pray earnestly. Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from him. Reject Laodicean self-sufficiency and complacency. Chose not fleeting fame. Look to Jesus for everything. Combine eager anticipation of his coming with faithful service until his appearance. Refrain your tongue from speaking evil. Hold forth the word of life. Make room in your life for miracles. Translate doctrine into duty. Do not surrender to defeatism. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Rejoice in the mundane and perfunctory. Check your motives. Face sin and deal with it. Love the truth. When problems come, Hallelujah anyway! One day we will "bring forth the royal diadem and crown him Lord of all." David's Son will yet reign where'er the sun doth its successive journeys run. But first he must be King in our hearts.
Today is all we've got. Let's make it a good one and finish what we start.
Sunday, September 27
6:52 PM How's your weekend going? Mine's been crazy. So while you were out doing your thing, I was in Charles City County doing mine. To be exact, I did a bike ride today as part of my marathon training. I figured the distance was a no-brainer.
Still not digging how slow I am on a bike, but again, it's what I love to do and that makes everything okay. Tomorrow I'll rest up after a weekend of some pretty strenuous activity. Rest is actually the most important part of physical training! Before heading back to campus tomorrow I've got some last minute touches to do tonight on my week's lectures. And then it will time for a good book. Yep, always got time for that.
Anything great happen to you this weekend?
9:20 AM My friend Stephen Eccher reminded me that this month celebrates the publication of Martin Luther's "September New Testament" in 1522. Luther then continued translating the Old Testament. By 1534, the world would have the entire Bible in the German language. Up until this point, the Scriptures were available only to scholars who could read the original languages. Luther knew that the Reformation would get nowhere without a common language Bible. Luther is also said to have reformed and ennobled the German language. For 100s of years, Germans learned to read and write from the Luther Bible.
My friend, God has placed the Scriptures in our lap. Like the Savior to which they attest, the Scriptures are meek and lowly in heart. They do not force themselves upon us. Luther's confidence was not in the interpreters of the Bible but in the Bible itself as the word of God. If you really want to be "in the Spirit," there's nothing like Bible reading to put you there. The times in my life when I have been closest to God have been times when I have gotten absorbed in his word for an hour or more. As I read God's promises to me I have no other choice than to worship him to the fullest extent of my being. This morning I was in 2 Corinthians 8-9. I thought of how sacrificial the Macedonians were despite their poverty. I thought of how they begged Paul for the privilege of having a part in helping God's people in Judea. I thought of the grace of the Lord Jesus who through his poverty made us rich. I thought of how Paul desired for there to be equity between the churches that had plenty and the churches that had little. I thought of Paul's command that we should give as we have decided in our hearts, not with regret or out of a sense of duty, for God loves the one who gives gladly. Is it any wonder, then, that Paul concludes these chapters with the words, "But thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!"
Yes, there's a lot about the Bible I don't understand. Isn't it wonderful that we have an Anointing to help us understand it? God tells each one of us how to have an exciting Christian life, if we will just open the Book and hear what he has to say. The most neglected area in the lives of the "defeated" is probably Bible reading. It shouldn't be! This should be the most exciting part of our day. Jesus and James and John and Peter and Paul will all come alive and romp across the pages of your Bible, just like they walk through mine.
I'm so grateful for Luther and his German translation of the Bible. And I'm grateful for each and every English translation I have on my shelves.
The answer to the problem of Bible reading lies in how much we want to read our Bibles. The Bible, in any language, is nothing but a bunch of words printed on plain old paper until God's Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us. The Holy Spirit is the only person who can reveal the truth of Scripture to us! I hope you and I will never open the Bible without first asking for the Spirit's guidance. Just pray a simple little prayer: "Father, I thank you for your word in my language. May your Holy Spirit reveal its truth to me. What do you have to say to me today? Not yesterday, not last year, but today?"
The Bible is God's personal love letter to us. A love letter where you can just wallow in his goodness as you realize that at that very moment he's talking to you personally and not to anyone else in the entire world. He's given us such a simple plan to follow. I pray right now that every person who reads my blog today may have a renewed determination to spend more time in God's love letter to them. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for what you're doing in the heart of every person who reads your word!
Saturday, September 26
4:58 PM Running can be effortless. At least that's the way running is supposed to be. If you're always huffing and puffing, you're doing it wrong. Nowadays I try to make my running effortless and fun. I want to feel like I could keep on running at the end of a race or training block. Of course, I am neither fast nor genetically gifted as a runner. I am, however, stubborn. I can't run fast but I can run far if I pace myself. Today my primary goal was to run (without any walking) 13.1 miles -- the distance of a half marathon. My second goal was to run in such a manner as not to push myself in a way that overtaxed my body's resources. When I finished I felt great. The route I chose started (as usual) in Farmville.
But instead of heading east like I normally do, I decided to head west, where far fewer people run or bike. If the trail looked familiar to me, it should have.
This was where I ran my first 32-mile ultramarathon a couple of years ago. Today I used the age-old method called long slow distance (LSD) running. My only concern was whether or not I would be able to finish in under 3 and a half hours -- the normal cutoff time in a real half marathon race. As I ran, I listened to my body. I didn't go too fast. I enjoyed myself. I kept up a conversational pace. So when I looked at my watch at the end I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had beaten the 3:30 cutoff time by over 15 minutes without even trying. Praise God!
All in all, I'd say today's run ranks right up there with the top three or four halfs I've done. The trail was in perfect condition, the scenery was lovely, and the weather was nice and cool. I was even able to snap this selfie at the end of the run as I returned to Farmville. Aren't I savvy?
A day of pure perfection if you ask me.
How is your weekend going?
Are you training for a race?
What do you think your next big goal should be?
What's happened lately that's made you feel young again?
8:16 AM Everyone knows how much I love my job of teaching. It's what I do. Next week is our last week before the semester break. What will I be doing during my week off? I'll be thinking, "Can't wait for school to start again!" Solomon once said that God created us with a hunger for work (Prov. 16:26). God himself gives us an appetite for our passion. He blesses us with mental acumen, physical strength, and love for the people with/for whom we work. Work is God's idea, not ours.
My friend, what work has God called you to do? I want you to know that he values the hard work you do every day, even after you "retire" (I use quotes because I do not believe retirement is a biblical concept.) We need to remember that although all employment is work, not all work is employment. I am not paid for caring for the farm and two houses. Becky and I were not paid for homeschooling our children. Adam was not paid for working in the garden. I am not paid for the mission trips I take. I think what demoralizes people who retire is not so much lack of employment (that is, they are no longer being paid) as lack of work (that is, they don't feel that they are using their God-given abilities and energies in service to others). Being able to do creative work is an essential part of our Godlike humanness. If we become idle we deny, in effect, our own humanity. "There is nothing better than that a man should find enjoyment in his work" (Eccl. 2:24). I have several good friends who are employers. I love watching them. They do their utmost to make sure their employees' working conditions are as enjoyable and psychologically satisfying as possible. God has so ordered life on earth. Whatever the work, that kind of care and compassion for their employees glorifies him.
The older I get, the more I realize just how precious, how wonderful work is. I live with a constant awareness that teaching is what God created me to be and to do. We have this short season with our employment, and believe me, it flies by. But although these years of employment seem few, they are, each one of them, critical. We are building habits (good or bad) that will determine how we live the rest of our years. We need to remain teachable, flexible, adaptable, moldable, humble, and dependent. Did you catch that last word? We can go through life thinking we are self-sufficient, but that's our choice (a wrong one, mind you). To be stripped of our self-sufficiency and pride doesn't bring disgrace. It simply offers Jesus the chance to clothe us with godliness and honor in our old age.
It is urgent for us in these days to recover a biblical understanding of work and employment. The Fall certainly turned our work (or part of it) into drudgery. You don't need to tell a farmer that the earth is cursed with thorns and thistles or that farm work is done by the sweat of one's brow.
Work, however, preceded the Fall. It is the result of God's creation, not Adam's sin. When he created man as male and female, he created them to be workers too. No, we don't need to idolize our work. Still, let's never forget that we cannot truly serve God if we are idle.
Serve him well, dear friend, and your house will stand.
Friday, September 25
7:38 PM Nice walk this evening on a very soggy farm.
My legs are craving for a run. I do hope to get back to the High Bridge Trail in Farmville this weekend for another long run. I love the challenge of long runs. One of the most wonderful things about running is how it tests you physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. I have always looked at my long run as life in a day. You experience all of the trials and tribulations of life in a single day. I have no intention of accomplishing anything massive this weekend. It will be just another run. Yet I can't think of a better way to celebrate the Lord and his creation. As always, I will be tested in ways that only a long run can give you, and it is facing those tests that keep me coming back for more. It's like hitting the refresh button. That's primarily because it helps to clear everything out of your brain. It also helps you connect to something bigger than yourself and your problems. Invariably, during my long run I think of the day when I will no longer be able to run -- which makes the experience all the sweeter. You see, if I'm content with life for too long, I get stale. I always want a little more from myself. It's been said that we can't put our foot in the same river twice. Like life, a river is in constant motion. The river I crossed 44 years ago when I first entered the classroom is long gone. Ditto for that new job, that new baby, that new publication. In short, you can't do the same thing twice. And you can't run the same long run twice. Each strike of your foot carries you forward. And every day you live you are a different person than the one you were the day before.
Do your best every day. Let the little things go. Try to be open to the mystery of life. Keep crossing those rivers.
12:36 PM Two proofs that you're a farmer:
1) You park the hay under the barn and your tractor in the rain.
2) You haven't bought eggs in years.
9:18 AM Mark Keown's two-volume commentary on Philippians is amazing. I mean, where does someone find the time to write something so massive?
When my online world has gone off the rails and the internet squabbling has become too much for me, I turn to books like this one for comfort. Keown's discussion of 1:27-30 (the paragraph we studied Tuesday in our Greek 3 class) is a hot commodity. "The central notion of the passage, citizenship," writes Keown, "is rhetorically powerful, as Paul writes from the center of the Roman world to the center of a Roman colony to a people who, before meeting Christ, were self-consciously Roman citizens above all." The language, as Keown notes, "is a subtle challenge to Rome's power (cf. 1:12-14)."
The concern that seems to be driving Keown's exegesis is that our evangelical priorities seem to be threatened by our man-made political loyalties. I think Keown (if I'm not misreading him) is profoundly right. Just look at your Twitter feed. There are the cultural evangelicals. Then there are the anti-cultural evangelicals. Then there are the anti-anti-cultural evangelicals. For me, the bottom line is that the kingdom and politics simply don't mix. History is clear: The mixing of religion and politics is disastrous (just ask the Anabaptists). We who follow Jesus are called to do one thing: follow him! (duh). The command to love, even our enemies, is the greatest command in the New Testament. It encompasses all the others. Nothing in the kingdom has any value apart from this love. In this light, we have to ask, are we willing to imitate the Jesus who washes his enemies feet, dies for them, and in so doing prays for their very forgiveness? This is the kind of power our Omnipotent God uses to change the world.
I was so refreshed while reading Keown's commentary. My "flesh" may be fatigued after four hyper-busy days on campus, but my mind and spirit are soaring. Philippians "is an appeal to live as heavenly citizens in the midst of the hostile Roman world in submission to Christ's Lordship and in conformity to this pattern of life of humility and service as they live and share the gospel." Humility? Service? You mean instead of bickering and backbiting? You mean instead of tweeting and re-tweeting venom? Our society is in a whole lot of pain nowadays. When in pain it's hard to think of anything but pain. But even as we are confronted with the depth of human helplessness and weakness, we can turn to our "strong tower" and be faithful to his promises. The gospel is the good news of life out of death, a gospel for every need, for every individual, for every hopeless and helpless situation. This one thought has been stamped indelibly on my mind as a result of our study of Phil. 1:27-30 on Tuesday.
This is good stuff. I'm going to be praying about what all of this means for my blogging and teaching.
And now, on a totally unrelated note: Did you see this report about the farmer who suffered a heart attack and then 60 of his neighbors pitched in to help him with his harvest? It's so true! I lived in crowded La Mirada, California for 27 years. At no time did I feel like I belonged to a "community." Then I move to a farm in the middle of Nowhere and lo and behold -- I'm living in community for the first time in my life. Where I live, we help each other. That's just the way things work around these heah pahts. Oh Lord, make that my one goal in life -- to spend and be spent for others, to measure my life by loss and not by gain, to be bread broken and wine poured out. It is a merciful Father who strips us when we need to be stripped of self-sufficiency, just as the trees need to be stripped of their leaves every fall. He is not finished with me yet, no matter what the loss is that I suffer. And as I loosen my hold on things that are visible, the invisible will become more and more precious!
7:44 AM Very exciting learning experiences going on these days on campus, ladies and gentlemen. This includes Wednesday's NT 2 class, where we discussed biblical eldership. We're not just observing vulnerabilities in our thinking but rather chains breaking, truth by truth. This morning, for what it's worth, I'd like to share with all of you some of the resources I have found to be most helpful when studying the topic of church leadership. I begin with this wonderful panel discussion that took place here at the seminary. Please watch the whole thing if you can. Not every moment is big-ticket, but I am sure you will find something useful.
Secondly, the best single book out there, in my view, is still Strauch's Biblical Eldership. Strauch argues that biblical eldership is always (1) pastoral, (2) shared, (3) male, (4) qualified, and (5) servant. The other half of this excellent book deals with specific texts in the NT dealing with leadership. Don't be surprised if you get to the end of this book and want to start all over again.
Thirdly, my colleague Ben Merkle has produced a prodigious amount of resources on the topic. Perhaps his most accessible book on eldership is Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members. Here are its 4 chapters:
1) It is the Pattern of the New Testament Church
2) It Provides Help and Accountability for a Pastor
3) It Produces a Healthier Church
4) It Promotes the Biblical Role of Deacons
This short book (about 100 pages) is just what church members need if they are looking for a succinct overview of biblical eldership.
Fourthly, Mark Dever's Elders in Baptist Life keeps us all brutally on the hook. Read it and you will be better off for it.
These resources might help you to rediscover the delight of what Michael Green once called the "fellowship of leadership" that Jesus envisioned for his church.
So here is my invitation for you to establish your own thinking on the subject. Of course, not every evangelical is of one mind on this subject. All the more reason for you to be convinced in your own mind of what the Bible teaches and then hold your views in love!
Thursday, September 24
7:55 PM This week I settled back into moderate training. I ran 3 miles on Monday, biked 14 miles on Tuesday, and ran 6 miles yesterday. Nothing too crazy. Which means: I hope to get in a really long run this weekend, if the weather cooperates. Right now we are getting more rain (which is much needed -- I'm just thankful my kids were able to get up all the hay yesterday before the rain started). Otherwise, I am chillaxing now that I'm back home again. What a whirlwind this week has been. Can you say "hectic"? In addition to teaching my 4 classes, I met with many of my faculty colleagues over the water cooler and just yakked about what a crazy semester it is for all of us. There are changes in the air that are hard to describe. Change is scary, hard, and downright emotional. There are times when I want to talk about it and then there are times when I get all introspective and just want to be a fly on the wall. Retirement brings up identity issues. Am I still valuable as a person? Do I still matter? I know that "once a teacher always a teacher," but the role you play changes. I'm so thankful, therefore, to be able to hang around my colleagues who provide me with so much laughter, relief, and binding. All this to say -- everything is going to be okay. I just know it. Someone once said this about running: "It doesn't get easier. You just get used to it." Likewise, life's circumstances are designed by God to make us better and stronger. It's amazing how you adapt. You pull through even when you think you can't, and the next time you face adversity you tap into that strength. Ironically, one of the constants in my life is change. But oh, his voice speaks into the silence of my confusion. I know every hair, he reminds me. I have numbered your days. Every day and every moment of every day, I planned it all. Have I ever made a mistake? I will never give you more than you can handle. I love you.
I believe that God has a good and perfect will for the life of every Christian. But faith isn't worth much unless it's tested. When things happened in my life that were worst-case scenarios (like Becky's death 7 years ago), it was so reassuring to see God on the other side. Life happens, and it's up to us to see God's will during the wonderful times and the terrible times. Friend, if your faith is being tested these days, I hope you will be strengthened with every trial, and that no matter what comes your way you will have the peace that passes all understanding. Somehow our suffering helps us to keep our humanity so that we can empathize with and help others in need. God never stops loving us. And we'll keep on loving him back. He is calling all of us to spiritual poverty, a total stripping away from all this world has to offer. And eventually we learn to thank him for things we would never have thanked him for without the suffering itself.
No, we are not given explanations. But to hearts that are open to receive it, he gives a more precious revelation, a revelation of his very own heart.
Monday, September 21
7:45 AM My goal this week as we study Galatians and 1-2 Corinthians? To help my students see that the church is the one institution that loves authority. It's a group of people who actually love having a King (Jesus!) and love having his commands to guide them forward. It's people who talk about the sermon they heard on Sunday but more often discuss what they've discovered in their daily Bible reading. For them, time in the Bible has become normative. They take time to seek the Lord. They even embrace suffering for the glory of Christ. They do the hard things he requires. If I asked you to watch a marathon on TV with me, I'd probably get a lot of takers. But if I asked you to run a marathon with me, the number would probably drop precipitously. God has always championed the doer over the hearer. The church is not for consumers but for servants. In the words of David Platt, "I am ... struck by our reliance upon having just the right speaker and just the right musician who can attract the most people to a worship service. But what if the church itself -- the people of God gathered in one place -- is intended to be the attraction, regardless of who is teaching or singing that day?" (Radical Together, pp. 59-60).
This week on campus is dedicated to the remarkable company of men and women I have in my classes. I've never known people who work so hard at their assignments and who care so much about the things of the Lord. I can't imagine a single day without them in my life. Thank you, Jesus, for giving me another week with them. You are the standard to which we all aspire. May you be exalted in our classroom this week!
Sunday, September 20
6:38 PM Beautiful day for farming.
2:20 PM Don't you love the fall? Personally, I wouldn't want to live where you couldn't experience the seasons. I love everything about fall -- the cooler temperatures, the falling leaves, the changing landscapes. I'd get bored if the temperature every day was 75 degrees. (Wait a minute. That's Hawaii!) Today I attended church virtually (I am still a little antsy about attending in person) and watched the message being live-streamed from the local trail.
The message was from Psalm 119 on the power of redemptive suffering. Oh my, it was good. Then I watched my son-in-law (who lives in Alabama) deliver a powerful message from Eph. 2:1-10.
And to think that the same Lord who created me to walk in good works (Eph. 2:10) also created this drop dead gorgeous day.
I was tempted to run (instead of walk) the 5 miles I got in today, but I've promised myself that I wouldn't run on consecutive days. As for this coming week, my training schedule is now set. I know this will interest only a few of you, but here goes:
On Friday my plan is to return to the Peaks of Otter and, Lord willing, do a rapid ascent of Sharp Top. I actually thought about doing that today, but with the beautiful weather and it being a Sunday afternoon I knew the trail would be uber-crowded and it would be well-nigh impossible to keep socially distanced at the summit. My goal is to try and keep a running average of about 200 miles of training each month.
After my walk today, I grabbed a cheeseburger in town and am now comfortably ensconced on the farm putting the final touches on my course plans for the week. As I begin another week of teaching, I do so with the words of the great A. W. Tozer on my heart: "Our most pressing obligation today is to do all in our power to obtain a revival that will result in a reformed, revitalized, purified church. It is of far greater importance that we have better Christians than we have more of them." He's obviously exaggerating to make a point (I'm sure Tozer believed in evangelizing the lost). But teaching our students to obey Jesus' teachings is essential. They have to learn to give up their front row seat. They have to willingly choose last place. They need to find honor through the back door of humility. We must teach our students who Jesus is anyway we can. He alone defines greatness!
Ok. Gotta check on the animals. Thank you, Jesus, for being so astonishing!
9:30 AM At long last, in Greek 3 this week we will reach the heart of Paul's letter to the Philippians (1:27-2:11). The first paragraph in this section, 1:27-30, is an exhortation to unity and fearlessness. This is obvious from the clausal structure of the text. Below is my power point, which I just finished.
Paul wants his readers to live out their heavenly citizenship by standing together for the gospel. Nothing else matters by comparison!
Clearly, the gospel brings with it certain responsibilities. The Philippians' attitude toward each other must be one of unity and harmony. And their attitude toward their opponents must be one of fearlessness and tenacity. They are to struggle side by side for Jesus, like gladiators, against a common foe. Let them never forget that suffering on behalf of Christ is a privilege, and that Paul himself shares with them in their suffering!
The final step in exegesis, of course, is going from text to teaching outline. Simple! Just follow the text!
Incidentally, the letter's first imperative occurs here in 1:27. It is politeuesthe -- "live as good citizens!" In other words, "The Lord Jesus and his gospel above all things!" The Philippians are to be united in the gospel even if they should be punished for violating Roman custom. This will ultimately yield vindication by God. This passage demonstrates how the gospel brings us together despite our many differences. It is the glue that binds us together. If we're too busy to cooperate for the sake of the gospel, then we're too busy. "You must love one another," said Jesus. You must!
P.S. Paul loves imperatives in Philippians. Compare Philippians with some of Paul's other letters:
Wow! How rich is Bible study!
8:44 AM 2020 is the year no one will ever forget. Will the madness ever end? Covid 19. Kenosha. Fires. Racism. And those terrible political ads. How do you cope? How do you keep the horror from affecting you? For me, in addition to the "big" things of life like daily Bible reading, prayer, teaching, and farm work, there are a number of "little" things I can do right now to maintain my sanity. The main thing I do is get outdoors. You don't know how restorative running and cycling is to me. If you're not a runner or a cyclist, that's fine. Find some other activity you can do outdoors that will make your life a little more manageable and enjoyable. Here are some other outlets I take advantage of:
1) Hiking. The really neat thing is to watch all the families hitting the trails these days. The amount of people who've started hiking has about tripled since the Covid demon struck. So fantastic to watch.
2) Feeding the donkeys. Watching those sweet faces as they come running toward me to see what treat I have for them is priceless.
3) Writing new power points. I love this pastime!
4) Baking. I made these blueberry muffins last night. Yummy.
5) Watching the Aravaipa Running Channel on YouTube. Whether it's the Black Canyon Race or the Copper Corridor Ultra or the Javalina Jundred, I feel as though I am running those famous courses myself vicariously. Well worth the binge!
6) Coffee. Nuf said.
7) Spoiling my puppy. Sheba is about 100 years old in human terms and needs a lot of TLC. She will always be my baby!
8) Casual reading. (As you know, I'm currently reading Bob Woodward's Rage. It's actually quite good.)
9) Texting with my kids and grandkids. Covid has given me more time to stop and remember what really matters. For my family I am truly grateful.
10) Doing small acts of kindness for others.
The Bible says that "It is through many troubles that we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). To live the Christian life takes prayer and obedience and right living and love and patience. How are your coping mechanisms doing? Do you work at it, so that you might not stumble or cause others to stumble? The Scriptures portray the times in which we live as desperate, like an emergency that calls for urgency (see Rom. 13:11), but Christians need not be alarmed at evil tidings. Instead, our hearts can be fixed, trusting in the Lord. Even advancing years shouldn't cause us to settle for less than his best. Let's learn to appreciate the little things God gives us to help us cope with this age. We just have to notice them and decide to appreciate them!
Saturday, September 19
3:25 PM It's the weekend, so you know what that means. Long runs. The irony, of course, is that to learn to run far you have to learn to run slow. Running farther is simply a matter of consuming the energy you have available to you and stretching it out over a longer period of time. Today for my long run I ended up going 10 miles at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville, doing an out and back.
My pace was casual, my conversation with the Lord (I use my long runs as times for prayer) lively, and the experience most satisfying.
Of course, the real goal of today's run was lunch at a fabulous Mexican restaurant in Farmville.
I love these times with the Lord.
They are reminders that he promised he would never leave me nor forsake me and that I would never run the race of life all by myself. Do you have such an outlet in your life? I hope so, my friend!
7:30 AM Good morning, bloggers and bloggerettes of the world! I actually had to put on a sweater this morning when I sat on the front porch for my Bible time. Yes, fall is officially here, and I for one think it's about time! So what shall I blog about before I leave for my long run? How about a question I got this week in one of my classes? "Does ekklēsia mean 'called out'?" I love getting questions like this. My answer was a simple one. We never want to define a word on the basis of its etymology alone. Yes, the word ekklēsia is a combination of ek ("out of") and kaleō ("I call"), but the term simply refers to a group of people that have come together and have something in common as opposed to a group of people that have come together and have nothing in common. The term used in the NT for the latter group is ochlos -- "crowd" or "multitude." My favorite English rendering for ekklēsia, as everyone knows, is "community." The church is God's new community -- a new society where Christ himself is present through his Spirit. And what are its chief marks? These are not hard to find. At the very least, they are 7 (see Acts 2:37-47):
1) A commitment to the faithful evangelistic preaching of the gospel through word and deed.
2) A commitment to baptism as the believer's first act of obedience to the Lord whom he or she now wants to follow wholeheartedly.
3) A commitment to the word of God as found in the apostles' teaching (today that is the New Testament itself).
4) A commitment to building genuine relationships with each other (koinōnia).
5) A commitment to the frequent (weekly) observance of the Lord's Supper so that Christ might have the preeminence in all things, even our gatherings.
6) A commitment to praying for one another and for the world.
7) A commitment to living sacrificially and even scandalously on behalf of each other and the lost.
Dear Church People. This is not complicated. These 7 marks should not be afterthoughts. These are the ordinary tools that God has always used to build his church: redemption, commitment, truth, interdependence, Christocentricity, prayer, love. Rather than freaking themselves out over a thousand different endeavors, the earliest Christians devoted themselves to a few. And it changed the world. The modern church needs to learn from their example. In many places in the world (the U.S. included), churches are being led by men with fulltime jobs. They can work and pastor at the same time because they share the load. The result? Less money spent on salaries and more on the needy. In many churches the members are considered fulltime ministers. See this YouTube by the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (begin at 4:58).
Someone has called this the Airbnb-ing of the church. Airbnb has far more rooms than a giant chain like Hyatt. That's because Airbnb put the hotel industry into the hands of ordinary people like you and me. That's just one example of what I'm talking about when I say that the church is God's new community. Here's another. I recall once reading about a congregation where the elders were going to start a series on the book of Revelation. They began by reading the entire book aloud from beginning to end, with different people taking turns reading one chapter at a time until all 22 chapters were read. The word itself did something no sermon could ever do. God bless those elders. They not only knew that God promises a special blessing to the one who reads the book out loud and to those who hear and heed its message (Rev. 1:3). But they took obedience a step further when they actually did this, with Paul's exhortation in 1 Tim. 4:13 in mind ("Devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture").
What a teacher, that Jesus. As you can see, church is a long-term investment. Look no further than the book of Acts to find encouragement. Resolve to obey your Senior Pastor today. It begins with reading his word. Yes, Bible study is demanding work. But better now than in 20 years when it may too late. If you ask for understanding, God won't give you exasperation. He'll allow you to get close to his heart. He is jealous for our growth and potential. He loves us so much!
Gotta stop here. I just thought I'd pop in randomly and say hey. What I want for us is not to give up on church. Don't let its messiness be an excuse for you to whimper in the corner. Do what you can and enjoy what you do!
Friday, September 18
5:10 PM I see my grandson has discovered a very practical use for books.
5:04 PM Easy bike this afternoon.
Eager for my long run tomorrow. How long? Probably between 6 and 12 miles. We'll see. Regardless of the distance, there will still be a journey, a journey called life that is filled with wild adventures and lessons learned. So whether you're trying to tackle a new challenge, taking on a new relationship, or simply trying to figure out the next step, remember that it's not so much the finish line that matters but the journey.
12:34 PM I can't tell you how many times this past week someone asked me about studying New Testament Greek. They're curious but scared by the challenge. I don't blame them in the least. I lasted 3 weeks in my first Greek class, remember? The Dave Black 101 of learning Greek goes something like this. One, you don't have to be good at languages to start learning Greek. You just do it. Two, if it's miserable, change your teacher or textbook. Three, well, I'm not sure there's a three, but if there were it would be to persevere. If you keep on studying, you'll eventually master the subject. Think of the act of sharpening a chain saw by hand. It takes a lot of time. It can seem tedious and mundane. But if you persist, the chain eventually gets sharp again. The same is true with Greek. When the chainsaw begins to fail, don't get rid of it. Instead, face the struggle, one tooth at a time. Exchange the tedious now for a sharper edge later.
"But," you say, "I'm too old to learn Greek." Yes, there are challenges as we age. But there's also more wisdom. The other day I read about a new Greek grammar that will be published this month. It's 600 pages and it calls itself an "introduction." You're kidding, right? The older I get, the more I realize that less is more. Beginning students don't need to learn everything you know about Greek.
I love watching my newbies learning Greek every Monday night. I can identify with their nervousness. I think of my own "career" as a runner. While teaching is my safe spot, running isn't. I figure me running is kinda like one of my students taking Greek for the first time. It's just plain hard work but oh so satisfying once you begin to get the hang of it.
Should you study Greek? Yes. Can you learn the language? Absolutely. So what's holding you back?
12:34 PM Oh, the joy and angst of teaching! Angst? Yep. Especially when it comes to praying and deciding each week what I will discuss in my NT classes. As you know, the Gospels are selective accounts of the life of Christ. John noted that the whole world couldn't contain the books that would be necessary to record everything Jesus did and said. Each Gospel writer had the freedom to choose and arrange his materials in order to make his own theological points.
Likewise, every week I set goals for myself before entering the classroom. I consider all the possible content topics I could choose from, and then I try and answer the question, "What topics can I use to best achieve my goals for this week's class and for the overarching goals of the course?" The choice of specific content topics then drives my decisions about what I will cover that week in class, what power points I need to produce for those classes, and how many topics I can cover manageably during a 3-hour session. One thing I do not do is cover material that can be covered in one fourth the time by reading our textbooks. That is, even a survey course can be content-rich if one combines the best of your textbook and the relevant topics you choose to concentrate on that week in your lectures. The topics I cover in class generally follow the contents of our textbook. But topic coverage does not always have to be linear. Non-linearity may, in fact, be desirable. Often I will revisit a topic covered previously. This provides an opportunity to build the complexity of ideas and applications over time. By Monday at the latest I have settled on what content I will concentrate on for that week.
I once it heard it said that teachers innately know what to teach. It ain't that easy. Just because you want to talk about something doesn't mean that it is what the students need to help them advance in their academic journey. It's vital to communicate with them why you are teaching on a particular subject. The choices we make in course content week after week have a substantial impact on a student's sense of belonging and success. Course planning is a continual process and requires constant evaluation. Do assignments reflect and achieve your course goals? How about your exams and quizzes? Will the students have the opportunity to practice the skills that are required for their exams and/or written assignments? What types of teaching methods best achieve your goals?
These questions make teaching fun. It's always an adventure for me to discover what I believe the Lord is leading me to focus on week by week!
8:25 AM What all happened on campus this week? Good grief, where do I begin? Here are just a few of the highlights:
1) In Greek 1 class we discussed the verb pherōmetha in Heb. 6:1 to illustrate a point: Make sure you check your English translations against the Greek. No, the author is not telling us to "press on to maturity." When you take the lexical form into consideration, when you take the voice into account, and when you consider the verbal aspect, you arrive at a very different idea. In the ISV we rendered it as "Let us continue to be carried along to maturity." This is a nautical metaphor: "Let us raise our sails, as it were, and allow the Spirit of God to take us from where we are to where we ought to be." Or, as the writer of Hebrews puts it in verse 3, "This we will do, IF GOD PERMITS." Friend, the ability to make progress in holiness and Christlikeness is a gift of God. Don't try to do it on your own. You will fail every time. Just as the prophets of old spoke "as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21), so we must be carried forward by a Power greater than ourselves. I once wrote an article on this metaphor. Go here if you'd like to read it.
2) Yesterday in NT 1 we talked about the myth of adolescence and I was fortunate enough to have stumbled across an article that appeared in Scientific American called "The Myth of the Teen Brain." What an eye-opener. Its contents have been summarized in a new power point my assistant Rodolfo made for me. Check it out. Believe it or not, our kids crave responsibility. We also looked at a wonderful essay written by John Piper and his wife Noël. It's called The Family: Together in God's Presence. A breath of fresh air, believe me!
3) Also in my NT 1 class we watched a message delivered by one of my best friends. Kevin Brown is an elder at a church in Wilkesboro, NC. Several years ago he wrote a book called Rite of Passage for the Home and Church. I highly recommend it. Kevin's sermon is a call to action and an invitation for us to let the church off the hook so that we as parents can get real about living and loving and training our kids. Watch Freedom to Expect Great Things. You won't be disappointed. I love Kevin Brown. I love his passion for the Bible. Most of all I am floored by his love for people. So obvious and real.
4) In my NT 2 class on Wednesday we discussed 1 Thessalonians and, of course, we had to talk about Paul's high work ethic. Friend, there is no such thing as Christian work. Any kind of work, from washing dishes to giving a Sunday message (as Kevin did), is Christian if it is offered to God. This means, among other things, that no Christian is excluded from serving God. For Paul, this service found natural expression in being self-supported. This was the line of duty God had marked out for him. What are the implications of that for ministry today? Read 1-2 Thessalonians and decide for yourself.
5) Finally, I was so blessed to watch this short video clip of Charles Stanley. Last Sunday he announced to his congregation that he would be stepping down as senior pastor at the age of 88. What he says about Christians "retiring" is so right! God bless you, sir.
And God bless you, dear reader!
7:42 AM There is a secret place where the believer dwells. It is in the shadow of the Almighty. I spent many wonderful minutes in that place this morning, as I know you did. There transactions took place that are known only to you and God. My reading this morning was in one of my favorite Psalms. I read Psalm 34 over and over again when I was laid up this summer from a running injury. I couldn't run, train, or even walk, but I could be a receiver of God's grace and a responder to him in gratitude. "I will always praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace!" So wrote the Psalmist when he was experiencing sorrow and affliction. "I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. For I cried to him and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Oh, put the Lord to test and see how good he is! See for yourself the way his mercies shower down on all who trust him."
Many times in my life God asked me to wait patiently for him during times of suffering. I like to see healing. I like to see progress. I like to see normalcy. It's hard to wait -- but God knows that. When I come to him via his word, I realize there is a refuge for my loneliness. For God cares. He sees. He acts even when I cannot see it. A God who watches over the birds of the air -- how could he overlook one of his hurting children?
What will you do with your pain and loneliness, my friend? Paul says, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Live each hour of every day with him. He is more than mere kindness. He is love. That knowledge is freedom. I have no cares about tomorrow, for all that I have and all that I am and all that I suffer and every fear that I face have been joyfully surrendered to him. He can do anything he wants with me and still love me in the deepest and most inexorable sense.
The heart that has no agenda but God's is a heart at peace with itself. Its emptiness is filled with his goodness. Its loneliness can be turned to delight.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Thursday, September 17
8:15 PM Ok, you guys. It's me again. Yes, it's been a while, but I've been teaching. Which means blogging will be erratic at best. Right now we're getting a ton of rain but earlier in the week the weather could not have been better. I got in a couple of runs at Joyner Park in Wake Forest as well as a bike ride in Cary. In a weird sort of way I feel connected to this place because Becky's brother and his wife live in Cary. I decided to try out a new trail -- well, new for me, a place I'd driven past hundreds of times and briefly took note of but at the same time hardly noticed -- you know, it's all just part of the landscape.
When I got there I discovered that the bike trail went beside the local lake for a mile or so before turning into the woods.
The lake was a gorgeous sight to my eyes.
This is a popular biking route, or so I am told, but I actually saw very few cyclists out there probably because the trail ended up been extremely rutted. It was like biking over a washboard. While I had originally wanted to bike at least 15-20 miles, I ended up completing far fewer miles than anticipated.
But all's well that ends well. It "just so happened" that one of the local Ethiopian restaurants is a stone's throw from the trailhead and I made up an excuse to visit it for dinner.
Never did injera b'wat taste better. I know I'm blessed to have the kind of schedule that allows me to take long bike rides during the afternoon. I took a rest day today and tried to get my act together after 4 straight days of teaching and meeting with students on campus. My legs want to go on a long run so badly. Maybe on Saturday after the rain is gone. Right now the farm is soaked and am I NOT complaining -- the fields needed the moisture. The crazy weather is teaching me to be flexible and creative when it comes to exercise. Besides, I have bigger fish to fry right now, like reading Bob Woodward's new book that came today in the mail. Exhale, my friend. No, I'm not going to begin blogging about politics. I read Woodward mostly because of the fond memory I have of him back in the days when I watched the Watergate hearings on TV in the early 70s. Besides, he's a phenomenal writer. What I won't be doing over the next few days is stressing out over the election.
So there ya have it. Erratic blogging at best, but blogging nonetheless. Thanks for stopping by.
Monday, September 14
7:34 AM What is it about us humans that we love to stand before the grandeur of nature, be it a roaring wave or a mountain peak? To my parents I owe a deep consciousness of God as Creator. After all, it was because of them I was born and raised in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I cannot remember a day when I was not acutely aware of God's creative genius growing up in Kailua. I could see, hear, smell, feel, taste it all. Nature itself seemed to point to the One who is "the effulgence of God's spendour and the stamp of God's very being" (Heb. 1:3 NEB). Is it any wonder that when I saw the sunrise this morning I had to share it with you?
I love all of God's glorious outdoors, because I see in it overwhelming evidence of his power and love. I am so grateful to be alive, here, in this place, at this time, in our generation. Cup overfloweth.
Sunday, September 13
5:50 PM I knew it would be a good day for a bike ride as soon as I left Clarksville-by-the-Lake.
The plan was to start out at Charles City Court House.
From there I would ride to Jamestown and back. A friend of mine and two of his amazing kids joined me for the adventure.
Jason's been to Ethiopia 5 times with Becky and me. They paced me and let me draft behind them whenever I got tired.
Here's one of the highlights: crossing the bridge over the mighty Chickahominy River.
In Jamestown you reach the start of the Virginia Capital Trail (mile zero).
I have cycled all 52 miles from Jamestown to Richmond twice, once with Jason. It's a fabulous experience. Seeing as I was celebrating what would have been my 44th wedding anniversary, I thought it might be appropriate to bike 44 miles.
Does that sound sentimental? Yep, guilty! Happy memories of 37 years together with Becky are still ping-ponging around in my head. There is something so precious, so wonderful about marriage. I live with a constant awareness that God was exceedingly kind to us. You have a short season with your spouse, and the years fly by. Anyway, it was a good weekend of remembrance. Seriously, I thought about Becky every minute. I know, I'm hopeless.
Hope your weekend was splendid as well!
6:58 AM Many don't know that Becky was an accomplished pianist. She would often play pieces for me on my birthday. Once, in Basel, she surprised me with all three movements of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Here's a piece I loved hearing her play. Enjoy!
Saturday, September 12
7:25 PM My anniversary celebration continues ....
1) Comida mexicana esta noche en memoria de mi esposa.
2) Becky genoss immer einen frisch gemähten Garten.
3) Ce soir, je lis un vieux livre et je grignote des buiscuits, je me souviens des moments où Becky et moi nous sommes assis ensemble sur le porche.
3:10 PM Did a short bike today in honor of Becky -- a precursor to a wee bit longer ride I plan to do tomorrow with some friends. Should be great fun.
Today I'm prepping for my Greek 1 class this Monday night. Students will take a quiz over the present and future active indicative. Then I get to introduce them to the Greek noun system. Two big hurdles for sure -- the Greek verb and the Greek noun! But I love doing this. I am a teacher. For me, that description is on a par with I am a man and I am right-handed. I didn't sit down one day and decide, "Oh, I think I will go into teaching because I have an insane love for students." I just do. Which, at the end of the day, is why I love what I do. In my Bible time this morning I was in 1 Corinthians 9. Here Paul says, "I have no right to boast because I preach the gospel. After all, I am under orders to do it. And how terrible it would be for me if I didn't preach the gospel!" He then adds the punch line: "If I did my work as a matter of free choice, then I could expect to be paid. But I do it as a matter of duty, because God has entrusted me with this task."
I keep telling my students, "Find out who you are. Find out what God created you to do with your life -- what he has entrusted to you. Find out what it is you would be doing even if weren't being paid to do it." Ultimately, you won't know what you love to do until you bite the bullet and actually do it. As they say, "You never know until you try."
I'm so grateful I found my passion. It's a confusing journey the Lord puts us on sometimes. No worries. He's still a Good Shepherd. He will lead you as long as you are willing to follow.
9:34 AM After Becky and I got married in Dallas -- all true Christians get married in the Big D, and in a church with the word "Bible" in it -- we drove to our apartment in La Mirada, California before boarding our flight to Honolulu for our honeymoon (all loving husbands take their bride to Hawaii for their honeymoon, right?).
Thus began 37 years of wedded life together. Did I say "together"? Never have two persons been more unlike. Compatible? How about unlikely misfits? The eldest of 6 (she) married the youngest of 4 (moi). Southern Grace, let me introduce you to Hawaiian Shaka. And because I'm so mature, I thought my way was the best way. I learned very quickly that, in marriage, either you suffocate under unhealthy expectations or you learn to breathe in the air of grace. It's staggering to think that God can take yin and yang and make them one. But he can, and he did. Right this moment, my mind is filled with memories of a woman beside me in bed, hundreds of times, waking up to spend her life with a man with whom she wanted to become totally and unconditionally identified with. I tell you, it can be mighty humbling, this person who wants to share life with you. As with electricity, it took two poles to keep the whole thing running. Don't think that I'm talking about Becky as being one pole and me being the other. No, we were the one pole, and God was the other. Isn't it odd how intimacy with your spouse always seems to be in direct proportion to your intimacy with him? Becky and I outran divorce not because we had so much in common but because we both worshipped the same God. When we prayed together (as we did every night) we were both drawing from the same well.
Nothing in this world is so difficult or vulnerable as marriage. This is because it's a living and breathing and growing demonstration of the intimacy into which God wants to draw his children. The more perfect our intimacy with him, the more perfect our intimacy with each other as a couple. If you are married, I don't need to be telling you any of this. But it may help from time to time to be reminded of what makes a marriage last, what keeps it healthy and growing. Everything comes down to a realization of truth. "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." A bride and a bridegroom are one, even as Christ and his bride are one. The only question is: Will we live as one or go our own way? It's not how good we are that counts (we all fall so desperately short!), but how truthful we are about how good we aren't. Only then can Jesus get busy developing us into the redeemed oneness we already experience in union with him.
Our honeymoon in Hawaii was wonderful. We returned to California -- she to her nursing and me to my teaching -- seeking to "flesh out" our essential oneness. The act of sex by itself can only go so far in achieving this goal. A better solution is, well, being married -- two persons not as two separate individuals but as a union. It took us 37 years to perfect this union (kidding, of course; we never perfected it). But we did learn that love must borrow from something greater than itself if it is to last. It's not that we were fooled into thinking that our partner was a perfect person. Not at all. Rather, we began to see the other as the perfect person for me. For this is what is always and inevitably involved in the making of a lasting marriage. A wedding ceremony may be what brought you together, but love is the glue that binds you together.
Friends, by golly (actually, by the grace of God) you can do this.
Friday, September 11
2:38 PM I was married 44 years ago today.
It seems like yesterday. I'll be celebrating all weekend, beginning with a long run.
It was so good to take my mask off and just breathe in the wonderful country air. Like my running career, grief recovery is never a smooth, straightforward path. It's a forward-backward dance. Becky left a giant hole in my life, that's clear enough. And like so many other areas of life, what occurs requires both courage and perseverance on your part. Ironic as it may sound, losing Becky made God seem both closer and more terrifying at the same time. If I were to survive her loss, I would have to come to grips with his divine sovereignty. Those who lose a loved one through death or divorce move forward and become more aware than ever of the goodness and grace of the Lord. Many find new purpose in their life and even a deeper walk with God. I know I have. Grief has become a refinement. More than ever, I love the Giver (and Taker) of life. Perhaps you're grieving today. You've lost someone you loved. Please allow yourself time to grieve. There will be many good-byes. But along the journey, God gives strength. From time to time invite that person back into your life. Say "I'm sorry" if you have to. Tell them you love them. Then let them go -- again and again and again. Never will I achieve perfect contentment and happiness in this regard. But what matters is that I keep moving forward. I hope and pray you will do the same, my precious grieving friend.
9:22 AM Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot tell you how impressed I am with Zondervan's new Latin grammar. The very texture of the pages attracts me to the book.
Crisp, clean pages make me want to keep reading. New books are heavenly. And boy does Zondervan know how to publish them. If you've never studied Ecclesiastical Latin, why not pick up this book and teach yourself? The first pages of a language textbook are like stepping into undiscovered territory, like the first crest on a trail overlooking a beautiful, unexplored valley.
Come on! What's stopping you?
8:28 AM My Bible time this morning was in the book of James.
I have a few thoughts about this. James, as you know, was the Lord's brother. And yet in his letter he never mentions that fact. He never tells us what we would so much like to know -- what it was like to grow up with the Savior of the world. When James does talk about his brother in 2:1, he calls him "Lord." And in the opening of his letter, who can miss the import of the words, "From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ"?
I can't imagine how challenging it must have been to grow up with Jesus. And I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for James when Jesus left the household to receive baptism at the hands of John in the Jordan. And how difficult it must have been for Jesus himself, now the head of his deceased father's family, to leave behind his childhood home in Nazareth in order to begin his work of teaching, preaching, and healing. Am I willing to risk misunderstanding and alienation from those who are closest to me in order to follow God's will for my life? It's clear that none of Jesus' own brothers and sisters were his disciples during his three and a half year ministry on earth. Could it be that they were angry and bitter toward their brother for "shirking" his duties as the eldest son to care for their mother and for the family business? Was James in particular grieved when that responsibility fell to him after Jesus left the household? And when James, now gloriously converted, eventually writes his letter, I wonder if he has his brother Jesus in mind when he addresses such topics as riches and poverty, good conduct, prejudice, faith and works, the use of the tongue, wisdom, quarrelling, pride and humility, judging others, patience, and prayer. What an example Jesus must have set in all of these areas of life while he was growing up in Nazareth.
We talked about some of these things in my New Testament class yesterday while discussing "Jesus and the Age 30 Transition." Fellow students, let's press on together. God gave us Jesus to show us exactly how to progress. And he gave us James his brother. And Peter his disciple. And Paul his servant. The Holy Spirit makes sure we don't run on empty. The word is there for us, in all of its inscrutableness. Please believe me. The way of Jesus is the most excellent way. His life propels ours. And when we all pull our share of the load, the church becomes the extension of God's hands. Today, let's serve him. Let's drape a towel around our arms and get busy living and serving others with the strength this Jesus provides because he lives within us. We have explicit directions in the New Testament -- including a book written by our Lord's brother James -- on how to serve. Let's not leave class thinking, "Oh, that was interesting," but rather "My, that was life-changing." We are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing more. We are all Jameses, abandoning pride for reverence and pleasure for worship. The day is coming when we will sit at the table with that Lord. But that's after we've done our part.
Have you opened the Book today? Why not do so now? Jesus is saying to us, "Pull up a chair and sit a spell." He is saying to all of us, "I have chosen you. You are redeemed and forgiven. You are loved. Now let's get to work." Close by writing out one or two ways Jesus is leading you to greater obedience. And then bravely ask him to keep your identity Jesus-centered rather than you-centered throughout the day.
Thursday, September 10
7:58 PM Whew! What a week on campus. Busy but good. Time now to hunker down with a book that arrived today.
I love reading brand new grammars. When it comes to language books, my pump never needs priming!
Tuesday, September 8
7:12 AM My writing goal for the week? To stop producing lengthy run-on sentences that are redundant, pleonastic, and superfluous and that use more words than are absolutely necessary or crucial to say what I want or need to say. On the other hand, I will continue to put off doing what I know I should be doing because I lack the self-discipline to do it.
Monday, September 7
6:52 PM Yesterday I listened to Chuck Swindoll's sermon at Stonebriar in Frisco, Texas. No, I didn't actually attend in person, though I have been to Stonebriar once along with my father-in-law. As I watched Chuck speak, taking in his message -- a sermon on Hebrews 11 called "From Aging Fathers to a Newborn Son" -- I was caught off guard by something he said at the conclusion of his message. Reflecting on his 4 children, 10 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren, he said:
After 60 years of being a Christian, sermonizing has just about worn me out. Words don't inspire me much anymore. Handling life does. Obedience does. Humility does. Servanthood does. Radical love does. Teaching by example does. Chuck, whose messages I love listening to, is right. He will be remembered for how he lived and loved and served and cared for his own.
This is what we are here on this earth for. In body or in spirit, in sickness or in health, by life or by death, famous or obscure, wealthy or poor, married or single, we are to glorify God by what we do and by what we do not do. Friend, are you ready to pray, not, "Lord, bless me" but "Lord, glorify yourself in me, whatever it takes, whatever happens to me"? Our business as followers of Jesus is to glorify God. It is by grace, God's unmerited favor, that we can do this. Nothing under the sun can be as dry and tedious and flat as a sermon without the Spirit. Christian work without a life backing it up is the worst form of drudgery. It neither glorifies God nor helps anyone. Without a life of loving, sacrificial service, preachers are shorn Samsons on a treadmill.
Thank you, Chuck, for the reminder.
Start at 1:33:06. Better yet, enjoy the entire service.
5:52 PM Have you ever lived abroad? I mean, actually lived for a period of time in another culture, speaking their language and trying to come to terms with the gap between your own culture and theirs? It wasn't until I lived in Basel that I began to see the difference between the gospel and the American version of the gospel. For me, the two had always been one and the same. But then I discovered that the gospel is, in a very real sense, weird. It really doesn't make any sense when you try to understand it through the lens of American exceptionalism. The gospel is true everywhere or it isn't true anywhere. That's why I love teaching through the book of Acts so much. Here we see that the church has certain essential marks that will always characterize it as an authentic church regardless of where you and I live. Above all, the church is God's new community, conceived in eternity past but now being worked out in history. I long to see this church continually being reformed and renewed by (1) the word and (2) the Spirit. What is God's (not our) vision for the church? What are the marks that must characterize it? How can we remain committed to the church even when we become dissatisfied and even disillusioned by aspects of it? Is it possible to romanticize the church and speak of it as if it had no blemishes? In short, what does a New Testament church look like? What we need to do is humble ourselves before God and seek the direction and power of the Spirit. According to John 14:21, Jesus reveals himself only to those who love him. Am I his lover? Are you? Singing songs in church or listening respectfully to a sermon do not prove anything. Those who truly love Jesus are those who obey his commandants. Oh my dear students, the test of love is not knowledge but obedience! And if we both love and obey King Jesus, then the reward is the self-manifestation of him in our lives. And remember: There is no passivity in the attainment of holiness. The Philippians had to work hard at completing their salvation. They couldn't just sit there and expect God to do all the heavy lifting. No, it is obedience to which we are called. But here's the deal: This obedience is not only required, it is enabled under the New Covenant established through the death of Christ. So Paul says to the Philippians, in effect, that they are to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling because God has already worked it into them and given them both the desire and the ability to do what pleases him. So let us offer ourselves to God as agents of change this semester. Let's not excuse ourselves by developing a pessimist outlook that says change cannot happen. Christ calls us to a nobler ambition. Let's enter the week committed to loving each other and stretching each other in healthy ways, okay? Let's practice empathy and humility each and every day we are on campus. Let's make our faith communities beautiful again using the ordinary tools God used to grow his church in the first century: prayer, humility, transparency, truth, love. We can do this!
1:38 PM Just back from an easy 3 mile walk. (I think they call this active recovery. Whatever they call it, my body needed to get outdoors. After all, it's a lovely fall day.) This brought my 30-day total to 207 miles. I think of it as playtime.
Of course, now it's time for a long nap!
9:50 AM Today my plan was to bike about 20 miles but that's not going to happen. Stick a fork in me, ladies and gentlemen, I'm done. Today will be a much-needed rest day before I resume marathon training tomorrow in Wake Forest. I love this time of year. Everyone is glad to be back in class. The animals on the farm seem to be enjoying the cooler weather. A festive, cheery attitude finds you where're you go. People just seem to be in a good mood. Christmas will soon be here - a time when people begin to think of giving gifts to others. It's easy to get so inwardly focused that all we do is think about ourselves. Meanwhile I'm cranking up the teaching machine. Yep, getting ready for Greek 3 tomorrow and NT 2 and NT 1 later in the week. (No Greek 1 class tonight.) This week in Greek 3 (aka the-most-difficult-class-you-will-have-in-seminary-but-you-will-really-know-Greek-when-you're-done) we're reading my chapter on phonology (yes, I still use my over-30 year old book Linguistics for Students of NT Greek) and then discussing the fact that the New Testament was intended to be heard and not merely read. And wow -- I cannot tell you how much I love the rhetorical level of language. There's tons of poetry in the New Testament but you'd never know it. There are New Testament hymns to Christ that we never sing in our churches. There are 5 "faithful sayings" in the so-called Pastoral Epistles that we should know by heart but we don't. Another cool thing? The New Testament writers often used sounds to make a point. So, in the life of me -- one Dave Black -- that's what's currently up. I cannot get enough of Bible study these days. Seriously, the word is so delicious I can't put it down.
Final reminder: On this Labor Day weekend, take in every moment of time with people who make your heart smile. You never know what's around the corner (e.g., retirement!), so live in the present. No regrets!
9:22 AM Saw this billboard while driving through South Boston the other day. It features an ad for MacDonald's alongside an ad for the local hospital's cardiovascular services.
All of us, not least us Baptists, need to watch our weight during a holiday. It's no laughing matter, as this article notes:
As someone who's always struggled with keeping my weight off, I can identify. The joggers and cyclists you see out there really represent only a very small proportion of the American public. The dropout rate in fitness programs is appalling. The fact is, exercise should be fun. Go out and play. Fitness and health are bound to follow. Nobody should have to apologize for finding running or cycling boring. Just find an activity you enjoy and stick with it. It's so odd. Many of us wouldn't go outside without our mask, yet we ignore the long-term consequences of our lifestyles. You say, "But I don't have time for exercise." That doesn't make any sense. Regular physical activity actually gives you additional time. Again, my friend, try and find an activity that you really enjoy. If it fulfills your needs, you'll want to do it for the rest of your life.
Well, just some "food for thought" on a day when most of us (myself included) will likely be eating more than we plan to.
8:46 AM Good morning, bloggers and bloggerettes! As we celebrate Labor Day, I have a question for you. Are you resting in the Lord?
The New Testament speaks of two kinds of rest. There's katapausis rest, and then there's anapausis rest. The word katapausis is used in Hebrews 4 to describe the rest we as believers will enjoy when we get to heaven. At that time we will "rest" from our earthly labors. This rest is never really a present reality for those of us still living in this world. It is offered only to those who work diligently in the here and now to enter that heavenly rest (Heb. 4:11).
The rest (anapausis) Jesus offers us in Matt. 11:29-30 is not ceasing from all activity. No, Jesus tells us to work for the night is coming, when we can no longer work. He says, "Keep busy until I come." I like to put it this way: We come to Jesus not to rest from our work but to rest in our work. This is possible only when we yoke ourselves to him. Coming to Jesus doesn't mean rest in the sense of ceasing my labors for him. It means walking next to him in harmonious agreement. Jesus "rests" us, not by taking away our heavy responsibilities, but by allowing us to join our harness to his. Paul puts is this way: "Don't be lazy as you serve the Lord" (Rom. 12:11). God intends for us neither to burn out nor to rust out!
If there's one thing I remember about my wife, it was that she was a woman co-yoked with Christ. She neither burned out nor rusted out. We might say she lived the "co-yoked life" -- the life that makes one's burdens not only bearable but enjoyable, the life that enables one to keep on serving Jesus ungrudgingly and uncomplainingly. The service Becky rendered was service in the strength that God had supplied. Such an attitude preserved her from both pride and sloth.
Are you resting in Christ today, my friend? That is, are you laboring tirelessly and uncomplainingly for the gospel, with Jesus at your side, lightening your load until he ushers you into that eternal katapausis promised in the book of Hebrews?
Sunday, September 6
7:44 PM As I think about this coming week and the classes I'll get to teach, I can't help but reflect on all the good, God things I witnessed this past week on campus. In every class, we discussed what the early church looked like. It was a church that grew like wildfire. And get this: The same Spirit who started the church on the DOP is the same Spirit who carries on the work today. Just read Acts 2:37-47. As you can see, this was some church. This is what the church is supposed to look like -- a church that wasn't ashamed to share Jesus, to baptize immediately upon profession of faith, that sat at Jesus' feet (through the teaching of the apostles), that took great pains to build genuine relationships with one another, whose weekly observance of the Lord's Supper ensured that their gatherings were Christ-centered, who prayed constantly, and who went out of their way to meet each other's practical needs. What's not to admire about a church like this? This brand of church can be ours, dear friend. It really can. This week I'm asking the Spirit to fill us up with the power of his love. I'm asking him to move us forward from the stereotypes that have come to define us and to use his fascinating word to show us exactly how to make progress. Fellow students of the word, let's worship at the feet of Jesus this week and learn the secret of doing church -- becoming close friends with the Holy Spirit. Let's have a long conversation with him. Let's quit ignoring him. Let's listen when he tugs on our hearts. Let's welcome his voice. A church that exudes Christ awaits us. Our King has made it possible.
5:06 PM It's so much fun teaching NT 2. We get to talk about all kinds of interesting things. Was Paul the author of the so-called Pastoral Epistles? Some doubt it. Did he send Ephesians to the (wink, wink) Ephesians? Hmm. Did he visit North or South Galatia? Much of what I do in class boils down to two things: (1) Look at the evidence, and (2) go wherever the evidence points. As much as it depends on you, do you own homework, then follow your gut. Both of my professors in Basel, Bo Reicke and Markus Barth, were shining examples of this. They used their gifts for God's glory and lived with integrity.
Evidence. Yep, it matters.
I once produced a power point with the following title:
I was curious. Where did our earliest Greek manuscripts place the book of Hebrews? Does the following order surprise you?
It shouldn't. Hebrews never circulated as one of the General Epistles, even when it was placed after Philemon. It often astonishes me that I did not see the significance of this when I was in seminary. I still marvel at the data today. No, we must consider the evidence, all of the evidence, ponder it, and apply it to our studies. It could be that Paul actually authored Hebrews. Plus, by the fourth century, both the Eastern and the Western Churches acknowledged 14 letters of Paul. So what. Does it really matter? Only if understanding the background of a NT writing can make us better interpreters of it.
Two suggestions before I go and make supper (shoyu chicken over jasmine rice):
1) Accept the invitation to be good students of the word with abandon.
2) Immerse yourself in church history.
Simple but not easy, I know. But that's our calling. Leaders, nurture inquisitiveness. Create a learning environment where students are free to question. Make opportunities for challenging shibboleths. The better we do this, and do this together, the stronger our journey of learning gets.
2:34 PM Years ago, one of my kids gave me this book.
Last night I was rereading it as I sat on the porch enjoying the wonderful fall-like weather. The book mentioned a park in Virginia I hadn't heard of before. But it seemed like it might be worth a visit. So this morning, before the beginning of my virtual service, I decided to mosey on up to the James River State Park and check it out.
The park is incredible. It has more than 1,300 acres of rolling farmland along with about 3 miles of frontage along the mighty James. Facilities include cabins, lodges, primitive and electric campsites, horse facilities, 7 picnic areas, and group camping. Oh, did I mention it also has 15 miles of hiking trails? This morning my goal was to run at least two of them in preparation for my trail race next Saturday. I chose the River Trail and the Cabell Trail. The trails seemed deserted. I could tell I was only one around today by all of the spider webs I ran into. Here are a few pix:
Quite diverse views, don't you think? Oh, and it seems I wasn't alone after all.
While running, I spent most of the time just communing with my Creator. God often initiates conversation with his children. Have you noticed that? He has spoken to me while driving, awakened at 2:00 am, scarfing down a PBJ, and countless other times. But he seems to never keep silent when I am outdoors. All of life is a sacred space. Worship is not encapsulated in a place we attend on Sunday. In the constant presence of our wonderful God, let's long to be in fellowship with him.
May he meet you and speak to you today, my friend!
P.S. I got in just over 6 miles.
Saturday, September 5
7:45 PM Baled today.
Nothing like the smell of fresh hay.
12:40 PM Fall weather has finally arrived! Yahoo! I am so ready. Fall is wonderful. The next few months are my favorite time of the year. Those crisp mornings will soon be here. And the freshness in the twilight air. Soaking up the scents, sounds, and beauty. Fall is definitely the most clear, crisp season. Plus it's nice not to have the heat or AC on. And did I mention Pumpkin Spice Latte? Or curling up beside the fireplace with a good book?
Today was a perfectly lovely fall day. As part of my marathon preparation I decided to do a marathon on my bike.
Something about biking in the fall gives me new zest. I just love it!
I look forward to making the most of these beautiful fall days before winter sets in. At least I know that the hot, humid days are almost done!
Friday, September 4
7:34 PM Nice evening walk.
My kids left me with these. Awesome.
Gobus is growing up so well. Such a cutie!
The farm was (and still is) one of the joys of my life.
6:40 PM Do you suffer from mumpsimus? Let me explain what I mean by taking you into my classroom. My poor students -- they sit there so patiently as I wax elephant about the Pauline authorship of Hebrews or Matthean priority or Christ-centered (rather than pulpit-centered) gatherings or the usefulness of the Byzantine text type (rather that either its primacy or secondariness) or the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper (see Acts 20:7). To me, Markan priority, to take one example, is a clear instance of mumpsimus -- the migration of error from textbook to textbook.
Mumpsimus originally referred to those changes in church liturgy that were inserted without authority or good reason and then passed down from one group to another to become accepted dogma, never to be challenged. Mumpsimus is based on the story of an illiterate priest who lived during the Middle Ages. Seems he had learned to recite the Latin Mass incorrectly. Instead of saying sumpsimus (Latin for "we have taken") he said mumpsimus, which is not a Latin word at all. When somebody finally told him he was wrong, he reared up on his haunches and insisted he would never exchange his mumpsimus for their sumpsimus. Not only did he refuse to change. He refused to agree that he was wrong.
Evangelical group think -- let's not engage in it, okay folks? Jesus did not teach primus inter pares -- first among equals. He did not allow us the use of honorific titles. He never entrusted leadership of a local church to one man. And the list goes on and on. If you will allow me to paraphrase Jesus, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone addicted to tradition to enter the kingdom of God." Now that's you, and that's me. The more educated we are, the harder it is to accept the simple teachings of our Savior. It's almost as if Jesus knew we would claim exalted titles for ourselves in the church. It's almost as if he knew that the secret of church leadership awaited us at the bottom. Oh wait, that's exactly what he knew. I can tell you from sad experience, with every step down the rung, the stripping away process becomes more excruciating. I had no earthly idea how tightly I had clung to tradition. Like that priest of old, I will follow my way of doing things and let the truth be confounded!
There's a better way. I hope together with my students we will find it this semester.
1:22 PM Since this month is my anniversary, I thought I'd visit Becky's grave.
I'm so grateful for her example and the way it impacted me and so many others. Since her death I have never felt so fragile and vulnerable, yet at the same time I've never felt so whole. We know that loss increases our capacity to love, and I so desperately want to love well now that Becky is gone. Afterwards I did a 5 mile run at the local trail.
It was a beautiful morning to be outdoors.
Makes you feel young! Emerson, age 62, once wrote in his journal, "I look inside and don't see wrinkles or a tired heart, I see an unspent youth." I am doing something every American my age should be doing -- exercising regularly at something you enjoy. My playlist included:
"The glory of God," wrote Irenaeus, "is man fully functioning." To that I would add, "And listening to great rock music from the 70s and 80s!"
7:24 AM "Think quality, not quantity." That thought keeps going through my brain this morning. Each of us is born with a 70-year warranty. But few of us read the instruction manual. It is our own decision to be active or not. To rust out or not. To burn out or not. Individual behavior determines individual health -- physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. It doesn't matter where you live or what you do for a living or at what age you retire. "Am I giving it my all?" is what matters. Doing your absolute best becomes the criterion.
"I am writing the best I can," said the author of a best-selling novel. "If I could write any better, I would. This is the peak of my powers." You see, it doesn't matter that she is at the peak of her powers. What matters is that she is doing it with all of her might.
I have never been content with contentment. In last Saturday's trail run, all around me were runners engaged in the same struggle. We were all pushing ourselves, at the middle of the pack, as if our lives depended on it. For the winners, the race was over. But not for us. We were driven simply by the need to do our best, to make the effort, and to make it more often. If you come in last place, it is still worth the effort. After all, you beat all those people who didn't show up.
Maximum effort is always rewarded. Chuck Swindoll is 85 and preaches twice every Sunday. Anthony Fauci is 79. Betty White is 97. Queen Elizabeth II is 92. Morgan Freeman is 81. Clint Eastwood is 88. Harrison Ford is 76. Christopher Plummer is 89. I'm a mere 68. Viewed this way, the saying that age is but a number is more than a cliché. It becomes an actual fact. If every person is charged with giving the maximum and does, the criterion is no longer how many years you lived but whether you stuck to it.
In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, the Olympic champion runner, tells his sister that he will be returning to China, the country where his parents served as missionaries. But before then, he had more immediate plans.
God is pleased when his children use the gifts he's given them. What is your gift? Mine is teaching. For however long he desires. Wherever he desires. I have been given this as a gift, pure and simple. To disregard it would be to hold God in contempt.
Thursday, September 3
7:58 PM My evening reading.
6:52 PM Well, the cat is officially out of the bag. I'm already getting emails and well wishes. "For what?" you ask. This will be my last year of fulltime teaching at Southeastern!!!! Can you believe it? What an amazing journey it's been! A million thanks to all who made this a dream job, including the administration, my faculty colleagues, and the many students I've taught since 1998. My little world was made big by your love. I promise to give you my very best during the 2020-2021 school year!
If you want to know more, see my latest essay, I Never Dreamed.
Monday, August 31
6:44 AM This weekend it occurred to me that between surfing (which I've done all my life) and running there are many similarities. For one thing, in both sports you're able to participate completely alone. There are no rules, no teams, no coaches. Both activities bring you into direct contact with the supreme beauty and power of nature. Both teach you who you are and, obversely, who you are not. I recall surfing the North Shore during the wild 60s. No crowds, no turf wars, nothing to detract from your enjoyment of the stinging spray of a giant wave in your eyes. Each and every time I surfed I knew it was good to be alive and vigorous, at one with God's creation. This August I would have been back on O'ahu, frolicking in the waves as I do every year at this time. An even greater joy was starting not one but two Greek classes on the Windward side for pastors who otherwise would never have had a chance to study the language. We used my DVDs and I made "cameo" appearances!
It's my hope that these blog posts of mine might teach my readers to invest their time in worthwhile endeavors, to do hard things with their lives, and then to enjoy a reward. I never want you to stop challenging yourselves. Your physical and mental health will improve hand-in-hand. The farther you push yourself, the better you feel. Running, like surfing, is magical. It is tough and it throws curveballs when you least expect them. Helen Keller once said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Life is both ecstasy and insanity. We don't have to change the world dramatically to improve it. It's good enough to help sweeten it a little.
With a pastor friend on Windward O'ahu.
Yours truly last summer.
Sunday, August 30
6:05 PM In the Greek New Testament there are about 5,500 words, 3,600 of which occur 4 times or less. This means you will encounter each of these low-frequency words only once in about 160 pages of the New Testament. On the other hand, 1,100 words occur 10 times or more. These are the words you should learn by heart. The other 4,400 will be available in a good lexicon. A working vocabulary of the Greek New Testament is indispensable!
P. S. For vocabulary aids to my beginning grammar, go here.
5:42 PM Life is busy, but the piano is my hobby and I want to protect it. 10 minute daily sessions bring me so much joy.
I play mostly by ear. Occasionally I teach myself a new piece. Right now I'm working on "My Love Is Song Unknown." I don't practice until I get it right. I practice until I can't get it wrong. My goal is to create lovely sounds and beautiful tones for the Lord. If playing the piano were easy, everyone would be doing it. Ditto for learning Greek or running a marathon. But I don't mind the challenge. The right brain doesn't care about "easy." I enjoy challenges that are not too easy and not too hard. I try to balance accuracy with expression. I want my playing to be both fluent and expressive.
Do you play the piano? Make sure your goals are your goals. When a certain piece isn't a good fit, move on. Play what you want, when you want, and how you want. In other words: Be you!
8:48 AM I love how Mark Twain spoofs the confusion caused by German grammatical gender when he translates a conversation in a German book as:
Greek works in exactly the same way: time is masculine, day is feminine, and year is neuter. Remember, friends: Grammatical gender has nothing -- and I mean nothing -- to do with gender in the sexual sense.
Languages? Gotta love 'em!
8:38 AM This week in Greek 3 we're in Phil. 1:3-11. Wow. I cling more to the New Testament than I've ever done in the past. In it we have the very words of the apostles. It is here that we can sit at the feet of Jesus. I am challenged and changed in ways I never was when I used to read the Bible casually and haphazardly. Here in Phil. 1:3-11 I see the heart of Paul for the gospel. "I pray with joy," he writes, "because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now." Then he adds, "I pray that your love will keep growing more and more together with true knowledge and perfect discernment, so that you will be able to choose what is best." And what is best? Living for the sake of the gospel. Why on earth would we want to live for anything else? Page after page of Philippians, word after word, the message of this letter is settling down into my very bones. This is the dance of the Spirit in me. I find it exciting, exhilarating. Don't you?
7:58 AM I don't know how to start so I'm just going to start. Last night I ran my second race of the day, this one a 5K trail run in the mountains of Central Virginia. My oh my. I probably won't ever have to run a trail race again because nothing can probably top what I experienced yesterday -- the mother of all trail races. I drove just over two hours to arrive at the base of the famous "Peaks of Otter." These peaks are comprised of two mountains I've climbed countless times -- Sharp Top and Flat Top. Just getting my first glimpse of Sharp Top made my heart stop. What a gorgeous peak!
The race venue was a farm called Johnson's Orchards.
They were hosting this event to help raise funds for Bedford's YMCA Cancer Program, which provides financial aid to cancer patients and their families. The weather was perfect for a mountain trail race and I arrived pumped let me tell you. My morning 3.5 mile race was merely the prelude to what I hoped would be my "peak" race of the day. This time I would come off the starting line with my afterburners blazing. My goal was to run as far and as fast as I possible could, remembering my motto: "Train slow to race fast." In other words, some races are to be enjoyed by running at your regular pace. Others, however, are meant to be a wee bit more competitive! As I expected, the course was curvy and hilly. There were bridges and streams to cross and lots of farm animals to see in the pastures. I took a picture just about every half mile or so. Here's the start of the race.
Here's mile 1.
Here's mile 1.5.
Here's mile 2.5.
And here's the last hill you climb before the finish line.
When I finished I couldn't wait to check my time. Boy was I surprised!
Afterwards there was a chili cook-off contest.
My favorite? Covid Chicken Chili. Rumor had it that it was so good it took your breath away.
Believe it or not, yours truly finished the race in 34th place out of 73 runners. I also got first place out of 4 runners in my age division. Glory to God!
But the best part of my day was getting this picture of my granddaughter wearing her Chick-fil-A uniform and sitting in her new (used) car. Such a responsible young lady. So proud of you!
Yes, I am an author and teacher and blogger and farmer. But I'm mostly a dad and a granddad. What joy!
Well, I wish all of you a very happy Lord's Day. No one offers to do for us what Jesus does. Let's love him good today, shall we?
Saturday, August 29
12:30 PM This morning's 3.5 mile race has come and gone. 'Twas an easy hour drive down to Vance County, NC, to run in a missions fundraiser for a local Baptist church. I had two goals today:
1. Go out slow and easy.
2. Maintain an 11-minute pace throughout the race.
I almost failed on both counts. The temptation to go out too fast was almost overwhelming. And then the temptation to "reel" in someone who's ahead of you was just as menacing. I was beyond excited to see that somehow today I had the courage to resist both temptations. Basically, after being a runner for 4 years, I think I'm beginning to learn self-discipline.
Oh, and I did reel in a number of runners.
Oh, and I did maintain an 11-minute pace for the entire race.
I know I pretty much suck at this running thing. But I try. Never has the old adage been more true -- "Comparison is the thief of joy." So what if others are running faster than you are. So what if they're much younger. So what if they look like runners and you don't. Don't even go there. It's your life. It's your race. It's your journey. Yes, others will be smarter and faster and better looking and stronger. Just be you. Ditto for you Greek students out there. So what if you have to study for 4 hours outside of class every week while your friend only has to study for 1 measly hour to grasp the same information. Let them be them. You be you.
Friday, August 28
7:42 PM "What do you believe is the state of preaching today?" Hear John Stott's surprising answer here. I couldn't agree more.
7:38 PM "It is an undeniable fact that the earliest Christians thought that baptism was a vital part of the Christian life, so much so that baptism was administered as soon as possible after a person had come to faith in Christ. Lack of instruction did not stop them." Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, pp. 9-10.
6:12 PM "Leadership is only worthy of allegiance when the led freely grant it to the leader in response to the leader's servant posture." Donald Kraybill.
2:38 PM "The Christianity of the New Testament presents not simply a more demanding ethic but rather a cross that means the death of our desire for prosperity and power. I therefore view my participation in the culture wars not in terms of calling for a macro-political utopia but in terms of the church's calling to be the conscience and critic of culture." The Jesus Paradigm, pp. 4-5.
2:10 PM Butter my bread, butter my bread. Nothing I enjoy more than mowing.
1:40 PM "It is very difficult for many American Christians even to conceive the possibility that American civilization is profoundly anti-Christian, precisely in those very places where it is most pious, patriotic, and full of noble sentiment." Michael Novak.
12:06 PM "The established church is far more dangerous to Christianity than any heresy or schism. We play at Christianity. We use all the orthodox Christian terminology -- but everything, everything without character .... There is something frightful in the fact that the most dangerous thing of all, playing at Christianity, is never included in the list of heresies or schisms." Kierkegaard.
11:52 AM Today's been a good day. Because my Honda Ridgeline had such a huge trade-in value, I decided to trade it in for a 2020 Odyssey.
(Yes, folks, I am secure enough in my manhood to exchange a rugged truck for a family van.) Now I can just toss my bike into the back of the van -- plus I have tons of seats for the grandkids. Aren't I akamai? While in South Hill I got in another bike.
Afterwards I grabbed my favorite Subway sandwich -- Black Forest Ham.
Reminds me of the time I was flying home from Germany. I had just visited the Black Forest and purchased about 10 pounds of Schwarzwaldschinken. I was told it would easily pass through U.S. customs in New York. Boy was I wrong. A rather portly looking customs agent took one look at it and confiscated it. All I can say is that I sorely missed biting into that slab of the world's tastiest ham. No other news to report for now except that I need to mow the grass -- again. I can hardly keep with up with the lawns!
6:58 AM "Power has ruined America. Not only on the liberal left. Now it seems to have done the same for the religious right. The right has a large clientele. When it takes a wrong turn it turns all its followers in the wrong direction.... There is only one small light left in the darkness, and it is the pure Word of God." The Jesus Paradigm, p. 1.
Thursday, August 27
7:55 PM What's not to like about grandsons?
5:45 PM "Don't bite off more than you can chew." Who says? I totally recommend you bite off more than you can chew if it's your favorite cake. Well, this week I indulged in some of my favorite things (oh, the frosting on the cake!) -- biking, running, teaching, chapel. I did it all willingly and with gusto! Right now I'm back on the farm scarfing down some chicken and pasta in preparation for tomorrow's bike and Saturday's 5K. Blessings all around. Thank you, students. You made the week on campus a success and I loved meeting all of you!
One of my four classes.
My home away from home.
Joyner Park -- where I do my running.
Chapel on the green.
Monday, August 24
9:34 AM The theme for this month (well, it's almost next month, so the theme is for September) is: Gelassenheit. That's a German word that means something like chilling out, not sweating the small stuff, being at peace with yourself and your circumstances, or we even might say letting go.
Gelassenheit doesn't mean giving up. It doesn't mean giving in. It's not about lying down and passively living out the rest of your days. It's not about stoicism and it's most certainly not about apathy. It's about acceptance and letting go, of accepting the hand life has dealt you and getting on with it. I don't need to try and control something that is out of my control. I need to accept where I am, not where I think things ought to be. Gelassenheit means surrendering or yielding yourself to God's will for your life. It was a core value of the 16th century Anabaptists.
Case in point. I can't run as fast as I used to. This means I might not be able to register for races that have a really strict cutoff time. This is super frustrating for me because I've never had to face this issue before. I could easily finish a marathon in under the 6 hour time limit and a half in under the 3 hour time limit. The fact is, I am running slower because I need to for health reasons. But I'm still a runner. I'm still competing. I'm still getting to the starting line. No one who has ever trained for a long distance race is ever the same person. You must confront a multitude of obstacles. You are tempted to quit many times. How you train isn't as important as the fact that you do train. I am an average recreational runner. I run for the fun of it. I don't need to win to be successful. Yes, I am slower, but once I accepted that fact it was a breakthrough somehow. I can live with that. Not only do my runs feel really good, but I am feeling more refreshed afterwards.
Friend, be kind to yourself, especially as you age or as your life circumstances change. Be willing to let go of your expectations if you need to. Embrace the challenge. Realize that everybody, and I mean everybody, is facing the same issues. Having been injured this summer, I am happy and grateful just to be able to run. I love where I am and all that I get to do. We have to take whatever talent we have, train as well as we can, and then get out there and see what happens. Our reward isn't always a faster time or a farther distance. Sometimes it's merely knowing that we tried.
Life is a giant unknown. But getting to the starting line each and every day is something we can control. Keep your expectations realistic, my friend, and then go for the gusto!
Sunday, August 23
4:04 PM Thank you, mykoreankitchen.com, for making people like me think they can cook. Your recipe for Kimchi Fried Rice pleased at least one person in my household. God bless.
11:15 AM I'm sitting here waiting for my online worship service to begin. I will attend not to worship but as a worshiper who spent the entire morning in worship, not least while running 5 miles on the local foot path.
It was just me and Jesus -- if you don't include the trees in the fields that were clapping their hands or the hills breaking forth into singing (Isa 55:12). I especially enjoyed worshiping along with this guy. Hope you made it safely across, little buddy!
Why do I run so much? What do I get out of it? The answer's a mixed bag. On the one hand, I run to prove to myself that I'm not too old to face down mortality or to discipline myself. But on the other hand, my running is a reflection of who I am -- a man with a love of the outdoors, a high work ethic, a love of personal challenges. I tire of being told that adventure isn't for old guys like me. I'm not buying it. Running has helped me stay strong throughout an avalanche of adversity. I believe in living life to its fullest. Yes, there may be suffering -- actually it's certain there will be suffering -- but the suffering only heightens the joy. And of all the things I'm thankful for right now, the restored connection between suffering and joy might be at the top of the list. We've made it through -- you and I -- to a better place. God is much bigger and wilder than we can imagine. And he enjoys the worship we give him be it on the trails or in a virtual worship service. For this moment of worship, and for every day of worship, I'm thankful.
7:16 AM Most of you know that I was born and raised in Hawai'i. You know that because I shove that bit of trivia down your throat every chance I get. It wasn't until I went off to California that I began my language studies. Learning to read New Testament Greek is mentally tough. Humbling is the correct word. You know you have many strenuous weeks of study ahead of you. You stare at the course assignments and feel tired. You fear failure. You have goals but you question if you can meet them. One thing I'm learning about teaching Greek is that our students need confidence more than perhaps anything else. They need to believe that, with God's grace, they will be up to the challenge. But can we trust him? There's only one way to find out, and that's by launching out into the deep. Greek student, set your eyes on Jesus this semester as never before. In him you'll find everything you need to succeed. I did. After dropping out of my beginning Greek class at Biola I retook the course through Moody Bible Institute's correspondence school. I discovered a miracle-working God who walks alongside me and lifts me out of my storms. Don't, for heaven's sake, leave him out of the equation. Self-reliance will get you nowhere. You're only a prayer away from his help!
6:55 AM Good Sunday morning, my dear friend. Did you know that "God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him"? Could you use a reminder of his great love for you today? Then why not listen to this matchless hymn of days gone by?
I did as I sat on my porch this morning watching God's sun rise. I can't listen to it without tears. Were ever words so sweetly wed to music? "My love is song unknown." This hymn, usually sung on Good Friday, is especially relevant in August, 2020. In the midst of all of our angst and uncertainty, God's love is genuine and unchanging. This is one hymn I will never get over. It is performed with great beauty and simplicity. Such hymns used to be part of our lives. Sadly no longer. It is said that the composer, John Ireland, wrote the hymn tune over lunch. I wonder what he could have done over a long supper.
Thank you, God, for loving us so deeply.
Saturday, August 22
3:05 PM I had business in Raleigh today so I thought I'd get in a bike on the Neuse River Greenway while I was down there.
What a beautiful trail.
Now I'm back home getting ready to teach beginning Greek Monday night. Did I say "teach"? The word is a misnomer. I do not "teach" Greek. I facilitate it. Now is your time, my friend. Believe. Become. Try. Don't get stuck in the past. Launch into a future you haven't experienced yet. It will be worth it. I promise.
7:10 AM I'm so grateful this morning because I can say I have Christ in my life, and at the early age of eight I gave my heart to Jesus. I never wanted to be in "fulltime teaching ministry," but nevertheless the Lord kept talking to me, and once the Lord puts a hook in your jaw you can't escape. I remember being a new seminary student and the Lord opening up the opportunity to teach 11 units of Greek at Biola University, and I remember being so grateful for his leading because from that moment on I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I am so thankful for the gift of teaching and how he touched my heart and my life. I remember thinking how neat it would be if I could just tell other people about Jesus. Since then I've discovered that life is a lot about loss and how to cope with change in our lives. It's about being comfortable where God has placed us now, while opening our hearts for what he has for us in the future. Last night, as I lay in bed, my mind went to a scene not all that long ago of a man and a woman holding hands in the front pew of a church. No one sitting behind them could see how they gently squeezed each other's hand, tears rolling down their cheeks, as the song leader led the congregation in a hymn, one of whose stanzas said, "Till he returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I'll stand." Next month would have been our 44th wedding anniversary. As I think of her I think of the words of that now-forgotten hymn, "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear." For 60 years he's been my Friend -- a safe refuge and someone who keeps giving to me unconditionally, light, if you will, for the darkness, the God who hides in plain sight in our lives. When I look at his ministry -- as we will in our NT 1 class -- I realize just how short I fall of his wisdom, his heart. As I was writing my first book, Paul, Apostle of Weakness, I began to fall in love with Paul, but it was only much later that I became convinced of the utter centrality of the Gospels and their portrayal of the matchless Christ. I now have a higher view of Christology than ever before -- the God-man, a teacher with a tender father-heart, a broken and humble servant. There's no way we will be able to plumb the depths of his life in our class this semester, but I'm so glad that the Spirit can breath through the weakest of vessels and remind all of us that God has good plans for us and that we have hope.
So this is my learned spiritual discipline: I join with God in co-creating a new kingdom on this earth, following and loving Jesus together with you, living on earth as he would live -- sacrificially and even scandalously. I am an exile in a fallen and sinful world, but I have been placed here to prepare that world for the time when it will be renewed and restored. If my teaching New Testament and Greek can contribute something, no matter how small, to that end, I am happy to give it my best and enter into the center of it all with furious love and extravagant boldness.
Friday, August 21
4:58 PM Nice ride today out in God's beautiful creation.
The animals were abundant. "O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all. The earth is full of your creatures!" (Psa. 104:24).
Thursday, August 20
7:02 PM Two big shout outs before I collapse on the porch. First to Bobby, who sold me this Honda Ridgeline this morning.
These vehicles don't last long on the lot. This one arrived only yesterday, so I hastened to get it while I could. It replaces the Odyssey I had for three years. But with all the mountaineering I hope to be doing in the next few years, I needed something a little more rugged without sacrificing the quality or the excellent gas mileage that Hondas are famous for. The ride is so smooth and quiet it's out of this world. Plus, I like the color, don't you?
Second, thank you, NT students, for crushing your first quiz today.
Sorry to make you memorize so many factlets, but ya done good, ya done good! I'd also like to thank my assistant for helping me with Panopto and with reminding me that when I go to the little boys' room during the break I need to turn off my lapel mike. Please keep this just between us, okay?
What's the most stupid thing you've done lately?
Favorite class you're taking this semester?
The car you've been saving up for?
7:34 AM From my morning Bible time:
Encouraging words to start out a new semester with! That's right, my NT 1 class begins at 12:30 today. How exciting! How relevant! The church of Jesus Christ has been marginalized in the United States. Have you noticed? But it is precisely from this position of marginality that the church is best able to bear witness to the truth. Things we once thought were "gains" have now become regarded as "loss." We once thought that it was only from the center of culture that we could reach the world. Now we preach out of humility and weakness. I think the church is one of the weirdest ideas. It's never really been merely a social club, though it appears that way to outsiders. As Paul wrote above, I think one of the best moves we can make as a believing community is to shift from a church-centered view of our ministries to a God-centered view of everything. "We stand in the presence of God and so we tell the truth." Just as the Father sent the Son into the world and the Father and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Holy Trinity sends us into the world. This is, writes Paul, a "wonderful work." We are sent forth to continue the life and ministry of Jesus. This means that we cannot build the kingdom and then ask God to bless our efforts. No, we must work to establish the kingdom through the means God has ordained. This will involve constant self-evaluation and, if need be, changing the structures of our churches to help people become more fully the church as God intended it to be. Paul emphasizes that for us to be able to do this we have to strip off all pretence and get rid of our masks. We minister within imperfect structures. Still, I love the church. She has been good to me. She has loved and nurtured me. And I hope we can all live like we are loved. It's a matter of foregoing all shameful practices, wrote Paul. It's a matter of choosing a life of love and mutuality, of giving up our own rights and entwining our lives with our local communities. This is something I can do. I can go small. I can be transparent. I can choose others over self. I can "speak in the presence of God."
Richard Halverson, former U. S. Senate Chaplain, once wrote, "In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise." That's why, as never before, we in the church need to re-apprentice ourselves to Jesus and his way of life. God is so much at work in every corner of the world today. He is working in new and beautiful ways. The people of God's kingdom are coming back to him. They are listening before speaking, learning before teaching, pursuing the downward path of Jesus instead of upward mobility. After the years go by I want my NT students to look back at this semester and think, "So that's what Jesus and Paul and Peter and John were talking about!"
This semester is but a very small stone in that foundation. I can't build the entire edifice. But I can humbly offer my one small stone to Jesus.
Wednesday, August 19
6:06 PM Finally, the farmyards look manicured again, as I was able to get almost all of my mowing done this afternoon. Now it's time to rest on the front porch with my doggie and a tall glass of ice cold apple juice.
I love the beauty of the outdoors. Running in races all over North America has enamored me of my great country, and of its people. Yes, it's all about people. I used to find strength by looking into my wife's beautiful eyes or feeling her hand on my cheek. Today my legacy resides in my children and the memory of those who are now gone from our daily lives but remain vivid in our memories. Life is as it should be. Mine -- and yours -- is a story of perseverance as we push on in our awkward ways, and as we make meaningful progress by learning from those who've traveled before us.
People of any age can endure trials, overcome obstacles, and put up with pain to realize their dreams. Glory be to God.
11:38 PM I couldn't keep myself away from the high school track this morning. The day was too beautiful not to run.
Afterwards I tried to get caught up on yard cleanup after the recent storms, but I'm still behind.
Hopefully the ground will be dry enough this afternoon for me to make some significant headway.
I will say, though, that right now I have all kinds of excuses to be outdoors in this gorgeous weather.
What's next, you might ask (or you might not ask because you don't really care)? Final prep for tomorrow's NT 1 class. Do not use me as your role model. I sometimes wait until the last minute to put the final touches on my lectures. That's because I'm a lazy beach bum from the Islands. It's not the most uplifting thought, but it's da truf.
In other exciting news ....
Well, I can't think of anything right now.
7:30 AM I think it's been 12 years since these pics were taken. I was on one of my three mission trips to Armenia. On this occasion I had been invited to teach at the Baptist Seminary there. Labels can be helpful. I was known as a Greek scholar, and I guess that's why I was also asked to lecture at the Orthodox Seminary.
Then, much to my surprise, off I went to give a lecture in the Linguistics Department at Yerevan University, a completely secular school. Here I'm talking (among other things) about the word order of John 1:1 ("the word was God") and the concept of linguistic salience, weaving into the lecture a discussion of the Deity of Jesus Christ.
The students, many of them Iranians, seemed to enjoy it.
I'm telling you this because I want you to see that you can leverage anything in your life for the gospel. Fact is, I do not refer to myself as a scholar of Greek (or of anything for that manner). I am a student of the Greek language, as much a student as anybody I know. Not only do I know what I do not know about Greek, but I also know that students are so savvy these days that I often feel like I'm only an hour ahead of the hounds. But those two graduate degrees, along with that list of publications -- those are things that can open doors for you that might otherwise remain closed. I don't care a whit about degrees. As the old saw puts it, "Ever meet someone who was educated beyond their intelligence?" Yep. Aplenty. I make it clear to my students that they aren't to believe anything I say merely because I have some alphabet soup after my name. Honestly, I would worry if they did. But when I was in seminary, I recall one of my missions profs telling his charges, "Education is very highly valued in the secular world. So use your degrees for the gospel." Which is one reason I wanted to get my doctorate from a secular university in Europe. "Hmm. Maybe that will open doors," I told myself. And it did.
This is a complicated conversation, I know. But I graciously invite you to engage this world on its terms. Let's start where we should always start: Not with our ability, but with our availability. This should not be an afterthought. The why of our education matters as much as the what. And then use/leverage your education and training and degrees and publications in whatever way God allows. Use them for the gospel.
Really, nothing else matters.
Tuesday, August 18
5:32 PM Today was one of those days when you say to yourself, "Did you really have to run all of those errands in one day?" I mean, I left the house at 9:30 and didn't get back home until 5:00. Right now I've got my supper cooking on the stove (tikka masala with jasmine rice) while I'm finally getting a chance to chillax by reading this commentary on that great book of Ephesians.
When Don Hagner referred to it as a "tour de force," that might just be one of the great understatements of all time. I know of no one besides Hoehner who was a more passionate and articulate exegete of Ephesians, unless that be Barth. We need such creative people to write commentaries that don't merely rehash what everybody else is saying or pontificate with an air of authority they don't possess. That never appeals to me. The good exegete must also be self-critical, and that includes welcoming and weighing criticisms from others. Perhaps one of the most uncommon and yet essential aspects of Hoehner's commentary is boldness -- boldness in doing the unconventional thing, boldness in standing up for minority positions, boldness in challenging even his own presuppositions. I prize boldness as a Christlike gift imparted by the Holy Spirit to his church. Here you will find no trumpet giving an uncertain voice. Hoehner dives deep and then shows us the way forward. Curiously enough, many commentators do not. Thanks be to God for Harold Hoehner! To read my tribute to his life and influence, go here.
9:02 AM Off to get the oil changed in the van and then get in a bike ride. What interesting times we live in. Even though this is a tough season everyone is going through, I believe we are all here on this earth for a reason. Live in the moment, my friend, and enjoy the beauty all around you. I think it's fascinating to see how we humans are always looking for the secret to motivation. We buy self-help books, visit blogs, watch other people. But the solution is pretty simple. Stop looking for motivation outside of yourself. Christ's presence is all we need. When we stay centered in him, we find it possible to engage in life with people who are just as imperfect and weird as we are. It's a different kind of motivation, one that comes from the Real Presence, from the Lord himself, who is changing us daily to be more like himself. I like that. I like to think that everything I need is in a Person -- all of it.
My biggest challenge this week is getting caught up on farm work now that the ground is finally drying out. It takes a lot of self-discipline and, frankly, blood, sweat, and tears. Ever have that sensation? What's your "Just get it done" thing this week? What is it, and what's stopping you? Today I hope to be a better person than I was yesterday. I will live from my core and not from the periphery of my life. I will see the gifts all around me and not take the precious people in my life for granted. I'm happy to say that at 68 I'm at a good place physically, emotionally, and vocationally. It just takes time and perseverance, and looking to him, the Author and Perfecter of faith. I'm learning to live a lot more slowly and maybe, just maybe, see God do a new thing in my life. Mundane or mountain top, whatever the experience is, Lord help me to accept it as from your hand.
Monday, August 17
6:50 PM And now a word to my beginning Greek students. Did you know there are two types of "fun"? Type 1 fun is known simply as, well, fun. Hands down, it's just plain enjoyable. Type 2 fun, on the other hand, is hard work while it's happening. In fact, you can be absolutely miserable while "enjoying" type 2 fun. Type 1 fun is like watching a movie in the comfort of your living room. You're deriving joy from watching someone else do something. That's great. I do that all the time. But type 2 fun is different. In type 2 fun, you're in the movie. You're the star of the show, in fact. You've gone from being a spectator to being a participant. And here's the deal: You participate without any guarantee that what you do will work. This could be climbing a mountain.
It could be running a marathon.
Or it could be trying to learn a foreign language. It's called type 2 fun because it hurts. Because it requires effort. Because there are no guarantees that you will succeed. But get this. When you pursue type 2 fun, the feeling of accomplishment is real. I'd say it's even out of this world.
Friend, you already have everything you need to become a type 2 fun kind of person. It's a mind-set that separates those who do from those who don't. I haven't found a mortal who couldn't learn how to read New Testament Greek. You already have everything you need to do it. You see, once you decide to move from being a spectator to being a participant, your quest centers much more on tenacity than on talent. That's why you won't find a panacea in my book Learn to Read New Testament Greek. Instead, you'll find training tools, lots of helpful hints, and the wisdom of 44 years of teaching. But you won't find any easy formulas. You'll find only strategies that will help you discover your own course to the finish line.
It doesn't matter where you're coming from. It doesn't matter how un-divine your language skills are. It doesn't matter how low you feel in the ranks of mortals. You can and will become a reader of Greek. I promise. I've seen it happen thousands and thousands of time. I've seen mortals of every age cross the Greek marathon finish line (there are, coincidentally, 26 chapters in my textbook). But let me say: The ability to read your Greek New Testament is just window dressing in comparison to what you will have really learned about yourself. You will have learned that you have the patience, the grit, the tenacity to accomplish something that's hard. But to do that, you will have to take whatever God-given talent you have, work as tenaciously as you can, and then go out and see what happens. Yes, it can be boring. Yes, it will be time-consuming. Yes, it's inconvenient. And it's almost always uncomfortable. But it will reveal in you a dedication and focus you didn't think you possessed. The only question is: How badly do you want it? It may feel horrible while you're doing it. But it feels totally worth it once you're done.
5:56 PM Praise the Lord, this morning I was able to attend an excellent workshop on campus on how to use Panopto to record my classes. In fact, all of the classes taught on campus this semester will be recorded in case students have to miss class because of the coronavirus. There's so much I'd like to tell you about the coming semester and why I am so excited about it. I want my students to know how much I truly love them. Most of them I don't know from Adam, but I know the journey they're on because I stood in their shoes many years ago. I'm sure they are nervous and excited about their classes this semester. I've dropped tears all over my keyboard as God assured me of his presence and work in all of our lives this school year. If we come to class this fall with broken and contrite and teachable hearts, he will do his part. He will be exalted, his people will be served, the broken will be cared for, his fame will spread. If we truly understand the gospel, service in his name will never again fall into the "have to" category. I'm asking the Lord to shine his light on the parts of our lives that need to be bent to his kingdom values. I'm praying for wisdom for each of my students as they discover their niche in life. God is counting on us to make the most of this precious thing we call Christian higher education. I think my discovery of the difference between "Christian" and "disciple" has changed me deeply and has given me renewed hope for my classes. I tend to agree with those who say that "kingdom of God" is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the church today. The kingdom is such a central part of Jesus' teaching! As we love and follow him, we live here on earth as he would live among us. No, the kingdom is not the church, but if we understand the kingdom aright, it will draw us back to the church with greater commitment than ever before. I know it did that for me when I was a teenager in Hawai'i. I was able to reengage the church, as imperfect as I was (and it was), because God had begun to change me to be more like the Jesus I loved so wildly as part of the Jesus Movement. So I've done my best in recent years to figure out the essence of the church. And at its heart is the understanding that unless and until we shift away from a church-centered view of ourselves and toward a kingdom-centered view, the church will never be as missional as God intended for it to be. The purpose of a biblical education is to equip us to be sent out into the world and to participate in the kingdom of God fully. And let's be honest: doing this is almost certain to put us at odds with what is called "evangelicalism" today. So be it. Jesus provocatively challenges the status quo. Which means we must be open to struggles and conflicts. Some may even experience a major paradigm shift in how they view the Christian life. In my book The Jesus Paradigm, I've written about what this shift looked like in my own life -- about how I reclaimed my passion for Jesus after finding the parts of my life that for some reason had been neglected for far too long. Today, I am still fascinated with this Jesus. I am also growing more and more disenchanted with Christendom. There are many of us out there doing the same thing, sorting things out. Maybe we can light the path for each other. The way we "do" church matters, folks. It really does. No matter how trapped we have become to human traditions, we can be set free. And the one whom the Son of Man makes free, he or she is free indeed!
What does the Lord Jesus need to reveal to you today that will set you free?
What did he mean by "worship in truth"?
What, if anything, keeps you from taking radical steps of obedience in your walk with him?
Sunday, August 16
8:22 PM I believe God wants our journey on this earth to be as fun as it is authentic. That thought occurred to me this evening as I was reading one of my favorite books about the 1996 Everest Disaster.
The author, Jon Krakauer, in describing the various local names for Everest, uses a word I had never seen before: mellifluous.
A sustained neglect of any of these neologisms would drive me crazy, so I normally reach for my dictionary (on my iPhone, of course) at this point. Then I said to myself, "Don't force the drama if you don't have to. You can figure this out." The key was the morpheme melli -- which I guessed had something to do with "sweet." After all, the Greek word for "honey" is meli (John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey [meli]).
Hence the word probably had a meaning like "sweet flowing" or, less literally, "melodious." Was I right? Yep.
Finally, all of my years of language study paid off!
12:48 PM What does Paul teach about "clericalism" in Eph. 4:11-12? Hear the words of one of my Basel profs, Markus Barth (Ephesians, p. 481):
Words of an anti-clerical house churcher? Hardly. Barth was a staunch high church Presbyterian who taught fulltime in a Reformed university.
But as an expositor of Ephesians, his task was clear: to reveal Paul's teaching that pastors are enlisted and installed in the church for the purpose of equipping all the saints for works of service. This is in stark contrast to the popular notion that "laymen" are ultimately only beneficiaries of ministry, not performers of it. "Rather," writes Barth (p. 479), "the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world."
He is so right about this!
12:06 PM Nice day for a recovery walk.
5 simply delightful miles.
Now I'm attending church (virtually) in Frisco, Texas. Life is good.
8:36 AM Oh what a beautiful morning! Nice and cool. I'm sitting here reflecting on yesterday's 5K. I think I'm back after my injury. My body feels good. I am getting stronger. Thanks to the Lord, I have made tons of progress. It felt good to race again. I love races. I love the energy. I love being out there supporting the local running community and the charity it's sponsoring. I love pouring myself into what I do 110 percent.
I feel the same way about the classroom, in case you didn't know. This Thursday things kick off with my NT 2 class, which covers Acts through Revelation. (Actually, if I plan things just right, we will run out of time before we get to the Apocalypse -- har-har.) We'll start by reading my book The Jesus Paradigm, then move on to my Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and then read Roland Allen's classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul's Or Ours? Cans of worms aplenty there are to open, folks. How in the world did our churches get so far removed from the simplicity of the New Testament? How did we ever allow clergyism to develop? Or the observance of the Lord's Supper (= Snack) once a quarter as an addendum to the preaching service? Or the proud titles we use? Or thinking "the" ministry is pastoring? I'm not pointing the finger at you, my friend. Goodness knows, I have made so many false starts on this whole ecclesiology thing it boggles the mind. It's a confusing journey God puts us on. Here's the trick: those muscles called brains must be exercised constantly, otherwise they atrophy. Thankfully, we're not alone. Do you think the concept of "first among equals" is unbiblical? You're in good company (see Alexander Strauch's Biblical Eldership). Do you think the Lord's Supper should be celebrated weekly as a full meal? I. Howard Marshall agrees. I could go on and on. Every small piece of wisdom God offers us counts, even if the results are invisible for a while. You might not see a single thing work for a very long time. I have a pastor friend who patiently sowed the seed for 7 years before his church decided to vote to have elders (the vote was 98 percent in favor, by the way). My only chance at my pipe dream of church restoration is to challenge my students to love Jesus and be passionate about his kingdom. It's only out of a genuine relationship to God that any sense of purpose or mission is going to come. "Innocent shrewdness" -- that's what I want to see developed in them. When I began to study the New Testament, truly study the New Testament, Jesus transformed my idea of what it means to be "great." True greatness has nothing to do with status in the church. It comes through the back door of serving others. That's why one of our requirements in NT 2 this semester is what I am calling "Towel and Basin Ministries." Don't tell me you're a Christian. Show me. Find a thankless, unglamorous job and pour your heart and soul into it. You + Jesus + Service. Now that is thrice wonderful!
Folks, I'm 68. "The days are long but the years are short," says the creator of the Happiness Project. There's not a lot I'm scared of. But you know what? I'm scared to death of frittering the years away. It's horrifying to confront one's own mortality. Thankfully, the kingdom allows us to spend our time, money, and energy on eternal, unfailing treasures. That's the kind of kingdom man I want to be and the kind of kingdom students I want to raise up.
Jesus, walk into my classes this semester and teach us by your example. Ask us discerning questions. Treat us like jerks if you have to. Examine our hearts. Press on until we're transformed. Save us, dear Lord, from ourselves. Save us from our Churchianity. In your name I pray, amen.
Saturday, August 15
12:26 PM I'm sitting here listening to the rain and yawning. What are you doing?
This morning I participated in a delightful 5K race in Central Virginia. I think I crushed it. No, I didn't come in first. But I gave it my all, and that, in itself, is a victory. The cause was a very worthy one. All proceeds benefited the Cancer Treatment Center at Southside Regional Medical Center. The vast majority of runners you meet are very nice people who enjoy helping others. Hence the popularity of fundraisers. Wallet open and ready to pay, we love supporting causes. There are times when I prefer to run alone. And then there are times when it isn't the miles but the people who are the most important part of your run. The joy we feel when we run together multiplies as we share it. Not that we become any less competitive, of course. I started out the race in the middle of the pack. One mile into the 5K, the crowd of racers began to thin out.
At mile 2.5, this is what I saw.
I never did "reel in" that guy. Oh well. We all were having the time of our life. Some won their age group. Others, like me, came in 4th out of 6 in their division. Some finished the race in well under 20 minutes. Others, like yours truly, barely managed to stay under 33 minutes. But for each of us, it was all about having fun. After all, if it isn't fun, why do it? For me, running comes down to equal parts of dedication, perspiration, and celebration. And with each race, we are adding to the mosaic of who we are. As you can see, I still run in the "rear echelon" of the field of runners (56th out of 88 runners).
But I like the middle/back of the pack. It's the ultimate melting pot of sizes, shapes, and ages. All are welcome. And on those rare (pre-Covid) occasions when you find someone who's willing to run at your pace, a bond develops that reaches beyond age and ability. For this one moment in time, you are together.
Suffice it to say, I could ramble on and on. But I'll spare you. Besides, I can't stop yawning, which means it's time for a nap. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- one of the best things about running is the way we runners come together for a cause greater than ourselves. Southside Medical Center, here's to you!
Friday, August 14
7:25 PM Tonight I'm watching the Beatles on YouTube while the rain comes down. Paul was the one who always seemed to write the more melodic songs in the band. Most of the songs we know from the Beatles, at least in tune form, were Paul's. John, of course, was an equal but opposite genius. John used to sneer a bit at what he called Paul's "saccharine stuff." He preferred songs that were more on the edgy side. But together they were magic. Think of the yin and yang of marriage. Becky and I were complete opposites. She was the eldest of 6. I was the youngest of 4. She was super organized. Me? "Hang loose, bruddah!" Becky was a night owl, I was the morning lark. But because the Holy Spirit lived within both of us, he could direct our paths in such a way that we were able to walk together through the ups and downs of married life.
Yes, this was taken during the disco-dancing 70s.
On a lesser scale, God does that in the church too. The New Testament is one massive testimony to unity within great diversity. Christianity is more a conversation than a movement. That's why we need to listen attentively to one another. Traditionalists (and I am one of them) need to acknowledge that what we deem tradional today was at one time radical. On the other hand, advocates of the emerging church should be careful not to love novelty simply for the sake of novelty. The point I'm trying to make is, we all need to be less dismissive of each other. I am absolutely committed to personal evangelism. But the church has to look beyond evangelism to the power of the gospel to transform society. It's not only the liberal who should be concerned about poverty or justice. If I am to be like Christ in his mission, I am to be like him in his service, his love, his concern for the marginalized. Likewise, I'm all for church growth. But there can be growth without depth. That's why most of my trips to Asia and Africa have been to teach believers how to study their Bibles and grow in Christ. To obey God's will we have to understand his word. Our calling is to be both faithful and relevant. Yin and yang. Paul and John. Dave and Becky. Excessive tolerance is to be avoided on the one hand, excessive dogmatism on the other. Above all, we evangelicals need to give each other liberty in areas in which Scripture is not absolutely clear or plain.
The bottom line? We need each other. Studying in Basel absolutely ruined my life. It so expanded my understanding of the Christian faith and so increased my love for born again Christians of different denominations that I couldn't just sit happily in church "doing my own thing." I had to find out how God wanted me to get involved in the worldwide movement of his kingdom. Yes, we are Bible people. And yes, we are also caring people. In the end what matters the most is not that I carry the label "evangelical" or that I believe the gospel, but that I put it into practice as well.
6:22 PM The ancient Greeks had a saying: "Moderation is best in all things" (also rendered "Nothing in excess"). But is moderation a good quality? Can you imagine being too generous or too faithful? There's a fine line between moderation and indifference, isn't there? On the other hand, aren't some things to be completely avoided (= Twinkies, haha)?
This subject has been on my mind lately as I've begun to moderate my efforts in my long runs. Here, moderation is essential if you are to be able to run fast in a race. It's the way to build a strong aerobic base that will allow you to run hard later. If you will, the goal of moderation is to become anything but moderate! Otherwise, self-restraint might become an excuse for apathy. To climb a mountain, for example, you have to be pushy but not too pushy. The dilemma you face is to be ambitious without being greedy, bold without being reckless, confident without being arrogant. Continue to climb when you know you should turn around, and there's a good chance of injury or even death.
On the infamous Klettersteig in Zermatt.
Believer, if there's one thing God desires of us, it's our wholehearted love and service. But really now, can we give him anything wholeheartedly? This is one of the questions I have for God when I get to heaven. Did I work hard enough to please you? Did I fail you too many times? Were you satisfied with my paltry efforts? So much has happened in my life that just doesn't make sense and cannot be understood down here. You're probably the same way. There are many puzzling questions we put into our little notebook to ask when we see Jesus. And yet I have an idea that we will not be there five minutes until we throw the notebook away and forget all of our questions. Between now and then, we are not to be just depositories of God's grace but dispensers of it. We are to be his stewards and witnesses. We can't just enjoy the gospel. We have to share it. His business is our business as Christians. We have no other.
Is there something God has asked of you that he's still waiting for?
If you are willing and able, commit yourself today to radical obedience to the will of God to the best of your ability.
11:40 AM Got in a 13.1-mile bike today -- a half marathon distance.
These miles were then added to my weekly stats:
God's grace! I've missed running but I've really been enjoying cycling.
How about you? What form of exercise do you enjoy the most?
8:05 AM My thanks to whoever left this in my box yesterday on campus. It's the new grammar by Merkle and Plummer.
It's definitely different from the other grammars out there. Thank goodness for our different styles and ministries in the body of Christ. We'd reach a lot less students if we all had the same approach to Greek pedagogy. Some grammars have a less-is-more mentality. Others include everything except the kitchen sink. It's all important because we all need Jesus and the ability to read his word with greater accuracy. Every grammar has its strengths -- and weaknesses. But the more options available, the better. And you know why, right? God created us different. Imagine how he feels as he looks down from heaven and finds his children living their dreams and writing their textbooks and teaching their classes and mentoring their Greek students. The Psalmist said, "The Lord has done great things for them" (Psalm 126:2). He sure has.
Ben and Rob, again, congrats on your new book. May it run into the arms of countless students. May they sow in tears to reap a harvest. God doesn't have time to waste, so he seeks the faithful.
Thursday, August 13
7:48 PM Talking today about the very end of your Ph.D. journey, ladies and gentlemen, and that, of course, is the dissertation defense. If you've done your work well, the defense should go rather smoothly. After all, nobody knows your subject better than you do. This is a crucial part of your Ph.D. pilgrimage. I well recall my own dissertation defense in Basel. I started it really nervous, but once I got calmer everything went smoothly. A special event it most certainly was. Today I had the joy of supervising the dissertation defence of one of my own doctoral students, Mr. Noah Kelley. His dissertation is titled The Theme and Structure of the Didache: A Study in Discourse Analysis. Both I and the second reader -- my esteemed NT colleague and friend Dr. Charles Quarles -- thought Noah did exceptionally well in answering our questions. In fact, I'd say he hit it out of the ballpark.
Congratulations, Noah, on finishing your doctoral studies. You did an amazing job, and I can't wait to see your dissertation in print. It's the best feeling to be done, isn't it?
Believer, look at your life. What is that you have worked really hard to accomplish? Wasn't it worth your time and effort? It was definitely worth God's. This side of heaven, there's nothing sweeter than accomplishing a task to which the Father has called us. May your experiences always confirm indeed that "we have this treasure in earthen pots of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not of us"!
4:58 AM "The whole concern of Reformation theology was to justify restructuring the organized church without shaking its foundations." John Howard Yoder.
Wednesday, August 12
5:24 PM Training is ramping up again. Today I did an easy 3.5 miles at the high school track. My goal was to keep my heart rate below my MAF maximum of 112 bpm. I ended up with an average of 109 bpm.
Ever tried long, slow running? I've been running slowly in foundational work for my next marathon and have really been enjoying low heart rate/intensity runs. Now I do a lot of my training at an easy pace. Good, consistent miles, with less chance of injury. So far I really like the method and have great confidence in further improvements. MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) is a great way to get a lot of volume without the fatigue associated with hard training runs. Steady runs that are well below race pace are essential for beginning runners like me. While running today, I listened to/watched this podcast by one of my favorite You Tubers, Floris Gierman.
Today he was interviewing a runner named Albert Shank, who lives in the greater Phoenix area. The guy is amazing. Today he trained in 126 degree temps! Albert, by the way, just happens to be a foreign language teacher (Spanish) like yours truly, and in the interview he said something truly profound:
That's the key right there, folks, to successful teaching. Never, ever assume your students know what you know. Be patient with them. Start where they are, not where you think they should be. Then lead them along at a slow pace so that those who are lagging behind can catch up to the pack. Let your students know you're there for them and that your goal is to serve them, not the other way around. Continue to challenge and support them. Email your classes to remind them that you are praying for them. Above all, teach on their level. Explain concepts as simply as possible without sacrificing accuracy or content. The key, of course, is to make sure you are a teacher who knows your learners. You have to believe that all of your students can be successful as you propel them closer and closer to mastery.
Pretty obvious I've got my mind on the classroom, eh? Can't wait! I want to end by saying that I don't think I will ever live up to my aspirations as a teacher. But neither can I with honesty say to you that the goal is unreachable. Keep striving, my friend, after that which God has called you to do and to be. Like a good teacher, the Lord is patient with all of us. And, through his word, he "emails" us constantly with remainders of just how much he loves us. What a Savior!
12:44 PM Wow, did I have a great time at the beach. It was quite an experience returning to the Atlantic with my board. It was all a bit surreal. Here are a few pix to bore you with:
My view every morning. Poor me.
My view every evening. Feeling sorry for me yet?
My view biking 8 miles into town for my morning brew.
Doing a deep dive into the Greek text of Philippians.
Then I surfed every evening at sunset.
The waves weren't exactly huge, but who cares?
I have to say, I've returned home feeling refreshed and eager to get back into the classroom. Tomorrow is our faculty workshop and then in a week my classes kick off. At the same time, I'm behind on my farm jobs, so never a dull moment. Right now I need to get in a run. After all, I've got my next 5K this Saturday, Lord willing. There's only 90 runners signed up so it will be easy to socially distance during the event.
Hope you all have a great rest of your week!
Sunday, August 9
6:30 AM Good morning, bloggers of the world! Time to get on the road. Emerald Island, NC, is a good three and a half hour drive from the farm, so I can't doddle this morning. I plan to spend the next few days at a beach condo surfing, swimming, biking, and running. When I'm not reading, that is. Even if the waves aren't huge, it will be good to sit on my board again. That bad boy has been around the block a few times, including all the major beaches on O'ahu -- Pipeline, Pupukea, Sunset Beach, Haleiwa, Makaha, Ala Moana -- and several in Southern California -- mostly Huntington and Seal Beaches. Last year I took it to Virginia Beach when there was a swell there. All of this simply means that I will have one more chance to experience the joy of riding waves. To be honest, most of surfing is pretty boring. In that way, it's a metaphor for life. Catching a good wave is like getting your driver's license or graduating from college or getting married or having your first child or getting that dream job. The rest of life is the paddling out and the waiting -- cooking, cleaning, driving to work, paying bills, taking out the trash, driving the kids to soccer practice. As a child growing up at Kailua Beach, I did not consider, even momentarily, not surfing. That's just what you did in Kailua (our high school teams were called the "Surfriders"). Now, a land lubber, the joy is particularly intense whenever I can make it back to the beach. Something physiologically and mentally powerful always happens to me when I do. Actually, I was supposed to be in Hawai'i this week. But the Atlantic will do just fine. It's all a gift of nature -- meaning of God -- anyway. Bottom line: I am committed to starting every semester as fresh and as fit as I can be. Friends, I am not in this just to get by. I am in this so that I can be ministering God's word to people when I'm 85 and wearing Depends instead of swimming shorts.
Think about it. If God can create the ocean and the waves, can't he make good out of the chaos of our day? The wonders above and the wonders within us testify to his love. Whatever mess you're facing, God will get you through. But there's no shortcut. Deepening our relationship with the Lord comes at a cost. This vacation time will focus on knowing God deeper. I'm so tired of boxing in his voice or reducing it to a trite wall motto. I just want to listen. Listening means looking forward to heaven through tears and thanking God for his wonderful ability to produce light out of darkness. I can thank him even for the hard times. That's what God is listening for.
Believer, put on humility before God and watch his mercy wash over you like a cool wave on a hot day. Keep your pride in check and he can do wondrous things out of the ashes.
So much love,
Saturday, August 8
8:02 PM Got the running shoes, bike, and board loaded up. What more could a man ask for?
Well, maybe some waves that are over ankle height, but ya can't have everything. I'm taking a box load of books, of course, since I love reading, as in Really Love Reading. My job requires me to read just about every day, and that includes "fun" reading that has nothing to do with Greek. Here's a tome I just got and I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to diving into it.
I've got to say, I have enjoyed every book Gordon MacDonald has written, and there have been a great many of them. This book, as you can see, is called A Resilient Life. The subtitle is: Finish What You Start, Persevere in Adversity, Push Yourself to Your Potential. Little did I know that the good pastor is also a runner. "It makes little difference," he says, "how fast you can run 100 meters when the race is 400 meters long. Life is not a sprint; it is a distance run, and it demands the kind of conditioning that enables people to go the distance." In case you didn't know, Gordon MacDonald is Chancellor of Denver Seminary and Pastor Emeritus of Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA. Though I've never met him, I sense in him a real kindred spirit.
7:14 PM "The New Testament contains full instructions, not only about what we are to believe but what we are to do and how we are to go about doing it. Any deviation from those instructions is a denial of the Lordship of Christ. I say the answer is simple, but it is not easy for it requires that we obey God rather than man, and that brings down the wrath of the religious majority. It is not a question of knowing what to do; we can easily learn that from the Scripture. It is a question of whether or not we have the courage to do it." -- A. W. Tozer.
4:56 PM Hello again, everyone. Hope you're having a good day. Mine's been exhaustingly delightful. I was able to get in a pleasant 2-hour workout this morning before hitting the books.
Per usual, I'm reading Philippians. I have this thing about reading a book of the New Testament in as many different English versions as I can. I love doing this. Having worked on a NT translation myself, I know the effort that goes into making these translations. There's always something we can learn from them, right? Notice how The Living Bible renders Phil. 1:1:
So far, so good. Now comes this:
Wait a second. I'm not so sure that was what Paul was trying to communicate to his audience. The Good News Bible says this:
This is much closer to the Greek of verse 1. In fact, The Living Bible has actually transposed "the greeted," as if Paul first addressed the church leaders and only then did he mention the other members of the congregation. This is precisely the opposite of what he did. Now, I think I understand why The Living Bible did what it did. It's because that's how we would address a letter today to a church. We would greet Pastor So-and-So and then the members. Here's what strikes me. Not only is Phil. 1:1 the only opening greeting in any of Paul's letters that mentions church leaders of any kind, the mention of "overseers and deacons" after the "saints" seems to be his way of making a point. The church is a community of people in which all are gifted and all have ministry. Yes, churches have leaders. But note: The way they are mentioned here indicates that they're not over the church but rather extensions of the church. The shepherds are themselves sheep! In addition, the New Testament generally seems to emphasize task rather than title. It tends to lay stress on functions, not offices. Interestingly, here in Phil. 1:1 the absence of the article "the" in Greek before "overseers and deacons" has led some commentators to suggest the rendering "those who oversee and serve" in order to make it clear that function is in view rather than office. Finally, it almost goes without saying that the early apostles established a pattern of plural oversight within the churches they planted. Thus Paul writes, not to "the" pastor/overseer of the church at Philippi, but to its pastors/overseers (plural).
So what does this mean for us? Pay attention to the text. Read your passage in as many different translations as you can. Think too of the larger context of Scripture when you read any individual passage. This feels a little tricky, doesn't it? I mean, how am I supposed to be able to pick up on these nuances in the text? By reading, reading, and more reading. A healthy biblical diet will ramp up your ability to make sound exegetical choices as you study God's word. Here's an observation we can make right away: Judging from the way Paul opens his letters, he places the burden of his subsequent teaching in the letter on the shoulders of the whole church. James, Peter, John, and Jude write in the same strain.
Before you open your Bible again, ask God to do something for you. Just pray a simple little prayer. "God, may your Holy Spirit reveal truth to me. What do you want to say to me today? Not yesterday, not last year, but today?" The Bible is our personal love letter from God. A love letter that we can take to heart, that we can read, then reread, then reread again.
The ball is now in our court.
8:44 AM Well, I've decided to do it. The "it" is waxing down my surfboard (love them Beach Boys lyrics!) and heading down to the beach tomorrow for a few days of surfing. I heard that the waves at Emerald Island were breaking 10-12.
The thing about us surfers is that we're the ultimate optimists. "I know a huge swell is just over the horizon" we say after sitting on our boards for hours watching the ripples break on shore. You see where this is this going, right? God expects us to be hopeful about this life of ours. It's a crazy journey to be sure, and we never quite know what's around the bend. One thing I love about the apostle Paul is that he was the ultimate optimist. He knew he couldn't rest on his laurels and live in the rear view mirror. My friend, for every step forward we take, for every time we humbly submit to the plan of the Creator, it is returned to us a hundredfold in fellowship with him and with blessings beyond our wildest dreams. Is there anything more we could ask for? So, what keeps us from moving forward, wind in our hair and sea salt in our eyes? For me, it's often invitations to "kingdom" work that tempt my boundaries. Let me tell you, if you say "No" from time to time it won't kill you. This summer I was asked to teach Greek 1-2 for six weeks live and in person. I LOVE teaching summer Greek! Covid changed all that. It would now have to be completely online. "Would you still like to teach those two classes?" I politely turned it down. Others are much more suited to do online instruction than I am. So it stands to reason that there are going to be things in our life that aren't good or bad in themselves but are perhaps just distractions. They are options from which we have to choose. Outside of God and my family, there's nothing that brings me more joy than the classroom. The act of teaching leaves me breathless. Listen, friend, God knows best. Let's simply move forward in faith, saying "No" when we have to, asking God to show us any weak areas, giving him the chance to show himself faithful. This is not the time or place to stop moving forward or inventing our own route. Go wherever he sends you. This is the walk of faith. There ARE waves out there. You just have to keep believing.
Jesus said, "Follow me." That's the Christian life in a nutshell. He has a good plan for your life. And he has asked you to be his disciple. Thank him for that. Then spend some time praying about what you need to leave behind and for the courage to follow Jesus wherever he leads you. By the way, one way to judge your level of commitment as a disciple of Jesus is the amount of time you spend with him in his word. He teaches us through the pages of the Bible. So open the Scriptures and invite the Holy Spirit to meet you there. Then, as you go through your day, follow Jesus with abandon. Remember, you will never "arrive" this side of heaven. There is always more to learn, more steps to take, more obedience to pursue, more patience to exercise as we wait for the waves. Paul nailed it: "The only thing I want is to know Christ -- to experience the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings, in growing conformity with his death." I desperately want to be able to echo Paul's words. But I fall so short. Yet this I know: Jesus isn't only my friend, he's my best friend. He's not just my hope, he's my only hope. He's not just my joy, he's my only joy.
I may not know everything I need to know to succeed in this Christian life thing, but I have a great Teacher.
Friday, August 7
5:12 PM Care to join me on today's bike?
It was a weird-shaped route.
With lots of bridges.
And an island in the middle of the river.
The mighty James is no joke.
Don't know where this name comes from. The water was brown, not black.
I'm wearing a mask but you can't see it cause it's camouflaged.
Not a bad workout.
From the moment I set off from the farm this morning I was relaxed. I loved taking it all in. I can only imagine what this place looks like in the fall with all the leaves turning color. Sorry y'all can't be here.
Okay. Supper time. Ciao!
Thursday, August 6
2:04 PM This just arrived. Can't wait to do a deep dive into it.
Contributors include Oscar Cullmann, C. K. Barrett, Matthew Black, F. F. Bruce, G. B. Caird, W. D. Davies, William Farmer, Reginald Fuller, A. F. J. Klijn, I. Howard Marshall, Otto Michel, Leon Morris, J. B. Orchard, T. F. Torrance, Albert Vanhoye, Rudolf Schnackenburg, and many others. Below is the Theologisches Seminar where I spent so many happy months researching my dissertation in Basel and where I attended seminars with Professors Reicke and Barth. Reicke loved his Doktoranden, and we loved him.
Precious memories. Becky and I were as poor as church mice but were so happy to be living in Basel!
1:40 PM Currently FREE as an eBook. Don't know how long it will last.
12:25 PM This has been a very tough 24 hours for my neighbors and for my county. A gignormous thunderstorm landed on us for several terrifying hours last night, leaving 3 inches of rain, hail, flooding, road closures, power outages, and general misery.
For a few moments I thought the house was going to be blown away by the gale force winds. It feels so surreal when something like this happens right on your door step.
Thankfully there seems to be no major damage to structures and everybody I know is safe. The skies have cleared, the power has been restored, and we're all hoping for NO REPEAT of last night's storm. This morning, after checking the farm and the neighborhood, I grabbed some coffee and headed out to town to get in a short run.
I want to share with you a thought that went through my mind while I was running. Do you remember that passage in Philippians where Paul says, in essence, "Church, if all you do is bicker and complain, the corrupt and sinful world all around you will never be able to recognize you as the innocent and pure children of God that you are. So stop that! Instead, you must shine among them like stars lighting up the night sky as you offer them the life-giving message of the gospel. If you do this, then and ONLY then will I have a reason to be proud when I stand before Christ, because it will show that all of my work will not have been wasted and my race will not have been run in vain" (Phil. 2:14-16).
The implication of what Paul says here is extraordinary! He says that on the Day when he will have to give an account of his life and ministry before the risen Christ, if on that Day the Philippians were not holding forth the word of life and offering it to their friends and neighbors, Paul would regard his own ministry among them as having been completely wasted. He will have "run his race in vain." I think the point he's trying to make is a very simple yet profound one: We can't be satisfied with winning people to Christ. Paul certainly wasn't. No, his goal was to win others to Christ who would themselves win others to Christ who would themselves win others to Christ, ad infinitem. I imagine if Paul were to have written a book on soul winning, it might have been entitled, Every Soul Won a Soul Winner. And if those he had won for Christ did not themselves reach others for Christ, he would have regarded his own race and his own labor to have been wasted.
And who is to do this work of evangelism? Only those with the gift of evangelism? I don't believe so. Paul calls the body as a whole to do this together. We as followers of the Lord Jesus are not to remain in a state of passive dependence on others (fulltime evangelists). The task of bearing God's image and proclaiming his gospel was not given only to the apostle Paul. It was given to us as well. The church is a community in which all have the ministry of reconciliation. That's Paul's message here in Phil. 2:14-16.
Good stuff, eh? In any event, as you can see, I'm still learning many valuable lessons from the book of Philippians. I'm going to be praying about what all of this means for my teaching this semester. I've got to admit it, I love Paul's Letter to the Philippians. Yes, happiness is a choice, and it comes from putting others before ourselves. It's the result of our outlook and what we choose to prioritize in our lives. As Mother Teresa once put it, "It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love put into them that matters." That's exactly how Paul lived. He lived for the honor and glory of Christ alone and to share Christ's love with others sacrificially. Friends, we have only one life to live, and if we will model our assignment after Paul's, we won't be too far off the mark. I sure don't want to be like the student who received the following remarks on his book report:
Wednesday, August 5
5:44 PM Been translating 1 Thessalonians today. Oh my, what a book! It's actually the first Pauline epistle we'll be studying in NT 2 class this semester since I walk my students through Paul's letters from his earliest writings to his final letters. One of the key words here in chapter 5 is adelphoi. Paul wants us to view the church as a family of "brothers and sisters" in Christ. You see, the word adelphoi clearly includes both sexes -- men and women -- who together comprise one adelphotēs -- brotherhood. Sly and the Family Stone got it right -- WE ARE FAMILY! I might paraphrase verse 12 as follows:
The verb I translated as "labor and toil so hard" is kopiaō, which was often used to describe the work of a farmer. Some of us can identify for sure. There's something so wonderful about being hot, sweaty, AND stinky!
Thankfully, Papa B has lots of help.
Thomas Edison once said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls [edit: He meant tank tops and shorts] and looks like work." Pastoral ministry is hard work! Any kind of ministry is. If we take God seriously, we also ought to take our work seriously. Most of all, realize that when God made you, he was pleased. He created you in such a way as to experience incredible satisfaction that comes from a job well done. Christians should make the best employees. Jesus worked hard. Paul worked hard. The Thessalonian leaders worked hard. Hence the theme of work is woven thickly into the fabric of both 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
Aren't you glad you are called to work to the degree you're able? When I was a teenager, I was so grateful for those who set a good example for me by modeling a high work ethic. The apostle Paul didn't care about having a life of ease. And you know, I believe he really enjoyed his work! I want to as well.
4:12 PM Question of the day, ladies and gentlemen. I've asked it before but I wanted to bring it home again if ya don't mind. In my beginning grammar, which I am in the process of revising, how can I bring you more value? How can I better serve you, the reader? What do you want me to talk about?
I think I have a pretty comprehensive analysis of Greek grammar -- all the various factors that belong in a beginning textbook -- but if you can think of one that is just not on my radar, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. So again, how can I bring you more value? That's the question of the day. Thanks for reading and thanks very much for the input I've already gotten.
P.S. Before I go, I might add one more factor, and that is what I am calling the "cringe test." When you're reading my grammar, is there anything that just makes you cringe? It's like, "I can't believe he wrote that!" or "That makes absolutely no sense at all!" Pass those on to me if you would. I promise to give your suggestions serious consideration and turn them to the improvement of the book. Thank you!
12:26 PM Here's your English lesson for the day:
I thought of this old-fashioned word while mowing the back 40 today. See these outbuildings?
How much did they cost us? Not a dime. We scavenged them from our neighbors. In essence, they said, "You take it off my property, you get if for free." What a deal. Number one: We wanted all our outbuildings to look old. Number two, every cent we saved we used to pay for our trips to Ethiopia (17 trips for me, 14 for Becky). As the old cliché says, "A penny saved is a penny earned." There is something so liberating about taking someone else's "junk" and turning it into something that's valuable to you. Is there a less traveled path than this? Hmm, maybe bartering, but who does that nowadays? I have the sweetest memories of erecting these buildings with my son. There were some hilarious moments that I shall go to the grave with under threat of death.
If one-sixth of the world's population claims to be Christian, then how do you account for all the poverty and suffering? Abstinence, restraint, reduction, going without, scavenging, bartering, saving -- these words are anathema to us baby boomers. Friend, you and I decide where each of our dollars goes. The world is waiting. The Lord is watching. What are we going to do? I can do better. I must do better.
11:05 AM Nice, easy bike today.
Explored new territory. Like this road.
Never been on it before. What is it about people always wanting newness? By the way, are you a goal setter? Recently I've been thinking about my goals for the next 10 years or so. These include my writing goals and my running goals. Let's start with the latter, shall we? I think I would state my 10-year goals for running as follows:
Speaking of fundraisers, my next 5K race is a week from this Saturday. It's called the "Race for the Cause 5K." The "cause" is certainly a very worthy one in my book: "All proceeds go toward cancer education, detection, and treatment." Yes indeed, we are a community of support. As for my writing goals, they will have to wait. I need to get out and mow the jungle (aka yards).
Tuesday, August 4
8:46 PM When the MacDonald's on the lake lured me in for an ice cream cone this evening, I had no idea I would also be treated to this.
2:54 PM Just finished a Zoom call with the media team at the seminary as they prepare to do a video about my book They Will Run and Not Grow Weary.
They asked me if I could summarize the main point of the book in a sentence or two. Boy was that hard! I think the main goal of the book is to correct a distortion about the gospel that I think some of us in the church have fallen prey to. The distorted gospel says come to Jesus and be happy. The true gospel of the New Testament says come to Jesus and prepare to begin a life of strenuous pilgrimage. The distorted gospel says becoming a Christian is a guarantee of prosperity. The true gospel of the Bible says becoming a Christian is the guarantee of adversity. In short, friends, the Christian life is a fight, it's a struggle, it's a lifelong race, and to live it involves blood, sweat, tears, and toil. It's frankly absurd to think that we can run the race of life without self-discipline. No athlete competes without a strict regimen of training. The only path to glory is suffering, and "it is through many tribulations that we must inherit the kingdom of heaven" (Acts 14:22). So yes, when we come to Christ, God showers us with enormous blessings -- forgiveness of sin, relief from shame and guilt, and a million other benefits, including "joy unspeakable and full of glory." Just as importantly, however, out of his unfathomable love, this same God calls us to surrender our lives to Christ, and we owe it to everybody, Greek and barbarian, wise and unwise, to make Christ known by life and by lip. We owe it to the Lord Jesus to be faithful and to glory in his cross alone. Like an athlete in training, there's only one thing to do with the flesh. It's not to be coddled but crucified. "We'd better get on with it," the writer of Hebrews says (12:1-2). "Strip down, start running -- and never quit!" The rewards of running the Christian life are worth the perseverance and endurance it takes to develop them.
Let's get on with it, then. Just do it (with apologies to Nike)!
11:46 AM Yes, ladies and gentlemen, developing an aerobic base is the key to producing long term fitness and stamina for anyone doing long distance races. Today, in beautiful weather I might note (Isaias moved along after dropping two inches of rain), we managed a 6 mile run, trying to lay down capillary beds in the lungs, which can only happen through long and steady runs.
Blue skies and cooler weather. Thank you, Lord!
This week my training schedule is backwards. For some reason, I biked yesterday when I normally run on Mondays. This means my running will take place this week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Doesn't matter! Go get it, ladies and gentlemen, whatever the Lord has planned for you this day or this week. Be smart, but don't hold back. Work hard on and off the track, and don't be afraid to push the limits just a little bit. This also goes for your Bible study, friends. This blog is all about becoming independent thinkers, Berean Christians if you will, people who are willing to ask whether the word of God really does have free rein among us and whether it is not after all bound and fettered by the traditions of man. "A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed," wrote Dresden James. "It wasn't the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn't flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic."
Dresden James, British novelist and scriptwriter.
Does this sound too radical? It wasn't for Bill Farmer. In the preface to his book The Synoptic Problem, he stated:
I couldn't agree more! For years I've been sharing various arguments in favor of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, the priority of Matthew, the usefulness of the Byzantine text type, etc, and much of what I have written is directly based on the writings of the early fathers of the church. These early theologians weren't inspired, of course, and thus what they say can't hold a candle to the authority of the Bible. At the same time, their proximity to the events described in the New Testament gives their teachings considerable weight. Much more can be said about this, but I need not detain you with the evidence since I have pretty much done that already in my various books. I know there are still a good number of questions that need to be worked out. I also know that several of you are working on these problems and have indicated a willingness to engage me in discussion. I, for one, am very much looking forward to this!
More to come. Stay tuned, and have a great day!
Monday, August 3
3:14 PM Have you ever read a book that changed the way you thought about a certain subject? Here's a book that played that role in my life many years ago.
I got it in the mail today. I still can't believe I hadn't purchased it previously. But now it will have pride of place in Bradford Hall's library. All books affect readers in different ways. Some of the so-called "classics" had absolutely no impact on my life despite having read them. These include, I would say, Plato's The Republic, Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto, Paine's Common Sense, Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and Dante's Divine Comedy. But others were life-changing reads: Orwell's 1984, Huxley' Brave New World, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Goethe's Faust, and Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl -- to name a few. These kinds of books are often more difficult to read. You can't rush through them. They require patience and deliberate, independent thinking. The same is true of Farmer's The Synoptic Problem. If you have enjoyed or liked anything I've had to say or write about the synoptic problem, you can partly blame Bill Farmer for it. I was particularly privileged to have known him for many years. And I will never forget his visit to campus during our Symposium on New Testament Studies in 2,000. The greatest of all strengths of The Synoptic Problem is its attention to the Fathers. The book was a genuine and successful attempt to come to grips with the patristic testimony, so frequently ignored. There is really nothing quite like it in the annals of Gospels research. May I commend it to you?
2:20 PM Hey there! Hope you're all having a wonderful day. I managed to get in a 14 mile bike this morning before it started to rain. We're looking at a flood watch this evening through Wednesday, but it's rain that we've badly needed. I'm taking a much-needed break from working on Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk to do some last minute prep for my classes, one of which, Greek 3, has us going verse by verse through Paul's wonderful little letter to the Philippians. In a nutshell, I'll argue that Paul's theme in this book is working together to advance the gospel, and that all other goals in life must be subordinated to that one, overriding purpose. Undoubtedly the verses in which this theme is most clearly seen in chapter 1 of Philippians are 1:21 and 1:27, where Paul says, "For to me to live is Christ" and "The only thing that matters is that you live as good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the gospel." Let me just say this about Paul's perspective here in Philippians 1. His one goal in life was to advance the glory, honor, and mission of Jesus Christ. Nothing else mattered. Hence he could endure imprisonment, slander, and even death if that meant the advance of the gospel. And so, rather than complaining about his chains, he welcomed them because they had emboldened the believers in Rome to preach the word of God more fearlessly than before. He could endure slander and the jealously of others because, whatever their motives, the Good News about Christ was being preached. And he could endure a martyr's death as long as Christ was glorified in his body, whether it was a dead body or a living one. Life or death? That wasn't the question for Paul. The only question was whether Christ would be magnified in and through him, because "to me to live is Christ."
What Paul says here is truly magnificent. If only I could live like that myself. In my flesh I would give almost anything to avoid sorrow and sickness and death. But not Paul. He had lost his freedom through house arrest. He had lost his reputation through the slander of jealous preachers. And he would eventually lose his life at the hands of a tyrannical dictator named Nero. None of this mattered to Paul. He had gotten his priorities right.
This morning, as I read this passage, I felt great conviction because of Paul's Christ-centered ambition. Too often I'm consumed with self-centered ambitions. I want my freedom, freedom to do what I please, when I please. To be completely honest with you, I resent the coronavirus. I resent that I'm not able to travel as I please. I resent that I couldn't teach my students face to face last semester. I resent that my first ever invitation to lecture at Princeton University was swept away by the virus. I resent that my annual vacation to Hawai'i was postponed. I resent not being able to see my friends there or go surfing or climb Mount Olomana or start another Greek class on O'ahu. I resent that I couldn't run my marathon in June. Can I really say, "To me to live is Christ"? Or is my motto, "To me to live is ... ME"?
In any event, it seems to me that I still have very much to learn from this short epistle. For 14 weeks we'll have the chance to take a closer look at these four chapters. And we'll have the opportunity to take a personal inventory to determine how much of our life is based on Christ-centered ambition and how much of it is based on self-centered ambition. Our challenges are much the same as Paul's. Yet he overcame because of one thing: He gave Jesus the place of preeminence in his heart. Christ himself is the new life that surges into our lives, pushing off the old and making room for the new. Is Jesus King of kings or not? His claim still demands a verdict. And we've got the deciding vote. Thank you, Paul, for helping me think through this.
So, now it's your turn. Is there something in your life that's keeping you from saying, "To me to live is Christ"? Jesus had to visit our planet to make it possible for us to experience life in all its fullness. Are you experiencing that abundant life? That's possible only when we are living for the honor, glory, and mission of the Savior.
Sunday, August 2
7:26 PM I know it will sound crazy, but I just drove to Raleigh to buy some Ethiopian food. Today I was feeling nostalgic for Becky. Seems every place I drove by brought back happy memories of the times we spent together establishing the farm. There's the restaurant we enjoyed so much. There's the antique store where we bought our huge front door frame. There's the Lowe's where we bought our supplies to build our new house. I could literally go on and on. Now here I am and it's been almost 8 years since I said goodbye to Becky. It felt so good to be able to eat some Ethiopian food in her memory. I'd obviously be lying if I said I didn't still miss her. I suppose I always will. Missing a loved one is kind of like having to take a detour off the main highway every so often because of construction. You're still heading in basically the same direction, but you end up going through little towns you weren't really expecting to travel through. Eventually you end up getting back on the main road. Today was one of those little detours. I wasn't expecting to feel so nostalgic. But there was a smile instead of a frown. There was calmness instead of worry. You're no longer holding on to the pain to stay connected to your loved one. Somehow you've achieved that elusive balance between holding on and letting go. So, today I said goodbye to Becky again. I'm told that's one of the most significant steps in the grieving process. It begins with accepting the reality of the loss and then moves on to reinvesting your love elsewhere. You let go to live life again. Eating Ethiopian tonight was me saying to Becky, "I'm letting you go again, but I will always miss you. I love you. You are never forgotten."
Thanks for joining me on the journey, guys.
12:52 PM "It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
9:16 AM "Today the dependence of Matthew and Luke upon Mark and the unknown document called Q is accepted by innumerable theologians and lay people of every nationality and confession. It is generally taken for granted without any discussion." -- Bo Reicke, The Roots of the Synoptic Problem, p. 6. Wish it were otherwise!
8:25 AM My Bible reading this morning was in 1 Corinthians and in particular that wonderful first chapter, where Paul writes:
Paul's teaching here could revolutionize the world. The church as it is today is not the church as God intended it to be. There's only one body of Christ because there is only one Holy Spirit, quickening and animating the one body of Christ. The one Spirit animates the one body. Moreover, there's only one Lord Jesus Christ who is the object of our faith. And there is only one Christian family embracing us all because there is only one God and Father of us all. In short, there can only be one Christian family, one faith, and one body precisely because there's only one God. We can no more multiply churches than we can multiply Gods. The unity of the church is as indestructible as the unity of God himself. Paul says you can no more split the church than you can split the Godhead. Then why are there masses of churches today in competition with one another? Christian people all over the world are one. God says so. But we must be eager to maintain the unity of the church in visible manifestations, in visible relationships. No, let me rephrase that:
It is I who must be willing to do this.
Maybe it can start with little acts of kindness, like refraining from saying something I have every right to say, or showing compassion to others in very ordinary yet tangible ways, or letting someone else go first in line, or holding no grudges, or offering a word of praise, or listening to someone with whom I disagree. Maybe it's allowing Christ to work through me to touch lives in seemingly inconsequential ways. Trouble is, unity can't be measured only by the outward things we do. The inward thing we are matters too. It is that inner quality rather than a particular set of actions that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 1.
Is pursuing unity a Christian characteristic you would mention in a list of essential virtues? There is nothing we can do to create unity. We are one in Christ. However, the values we live by now are the values others will remember us by later. The ability to foster unity in the midst of all of our diversity is not some special mystical power that belongs only to those who have memorized Romans or who can read the Gospels in Greek. It belongs to us.
Saturday, August 1
8:38 PM The Lord just said, "Good night everyone."
8:22 PM Hi again, folks. I've been very impressed with this book.
The author does a really good job of fleshing out why the digital church exists and what we should do about it. Here's a great quote:
In other words, why show up when I can just stay at home and listen from the comfort of my bedroom or living room? The author is adamant: social media and other digital spaces "always fall short and leave us wanting." When told to remember to always look into the camera so his other campuses would feel connected to him, he did as he was told but "something about it felt off." Elsewhere he bemoans the temptation of the digital age "to pursue relevance at any cost."
I'm not versed enough in this subject to have anything to add at this point. I'm neither pro nor con the digital church. I do know I feel very uncomfortable with all the gloss and hype of the digital world. I'm sort of anti-trendy in that way. Yes, churches should use digital technologies, but not as a replacement for a deeply rich communal life. I well remember the first time I watched a live service of a church that was broadcasting the message to its satellite campuses. I thought, "Why in the world is the speaker looking at me and not at the real live human beings sitting right there in front of him? I wonder how connected they feel to him?" Because I sure didn't. I hope this book gives me a clearer understanding of how technology has changed the church for better and for worse. I can already think of a handful of friends I want to pass it along to.
Keep growing and thinking!
5:40 PM Hey friends! You should have seen all the volunteers at today's race, allowing us runners to pursue our goals and dreams in 2020, even through a pandemic. Here's a big shout out to everyone who gave of their time to facilitate us runners today on the course. Absolutely inspiring. Interestingly, at the beginning of 2020, I had all my big races planned out. I really hoped to complete my 17th marathon on June 18th. But that's just gonna have to wait until 2021. However ... because of the pandemic, because I haven't been able to have a "normal" racing schedule, what has been happening? We've been learning about all kinds of local races that are exciting, well-organized, and, well, just gobs of fun. Today's event -- the GUTS, GRAVEL, GLORY 10K at the Pocahontas State Park near Richmond, did not disappoint.
I could not believe I got to toe the line with some awesome runners at today's race.
I haven't been on the starting line of a 10K in a very long time it seems. My goal today was a very simple one: I wanted to finish the race feeling so good that I could run it again if I wanted to.
And I wanted to smile the whole time, even at the finish line.
I truly forgot just how challenging trail races are. Anyhoo, a fun and adventurous day. And yes, I came in dead last. Success!
Even though I am what many people consider to be "retirement" age, I have no intention of giving up the energy and vibrant good health that running has brought me for nearly 5 years. I can't be content just to sit back and rock. I want to walk and run and surf and swim and bike. I want to feel my arms and legs and lungs and heart working in perfect harmony. I want to get sweaty and hot and cherish and nurture the body God's given me. Those of us who are over 50 know that life is short and that we need to embrace every day the Lord gives us. Running isn't just a sport for us. It's a way of life. It flows through our veins like our blood does. As long as God gives me good health I'll keep on doing what I'm doing because I love it. I'm not fast but I am dogged. It's my only talent. I can put one foot in front of the other and keep going, slowly. Thanks for coming along on this crazy journey with me. I'm just trying to live in the moment, enjoy the moment, even have fun with the moment, if you know what I mean.
Since I'm too lazy to mow, this evening I'm just going to chillax on the porch with my doggie and read this book that came in yesterday's mail.
I read it when it first came out in 1986 but somehow misplaced my copy, so I thought I should right that wrong and purchase another one. In case you didn't know, Professor Reicke was my "Doctor Father" in Basel, and a fabulous one was he. I still remember warmly the times he and Ingalisa Reicke had me and Becky in their home for dinner. There are many disasters that can occur in Ph.D. programs. I have known some students who stopped their work midstream because they couldn't work with their major professor. How sad and unfortunate. Blessed are thou if you have a supervisor with whom it's a delight to work. There's nothing quite like that relationship in the world!
Well, that's all, folks. That's enough, right? I appreciate you reading this not-so-short report. But if I can run for over an hour, you can read this whole thing!
Friday, July 31
12:55 PM Good Friday afternoon to you, Internet Family! There are so many good, God things happening right now I don't know where to start. Okay, let's start with my Bible time in Ephesians 4 this morning. Oh my, talk about rich! I have myself read about 30 commentaries on this chapter of Ephesians, not to mention numerous other works that relate to it, but nothing -- I dare say nothing -- can even begin to compare with settling down into the text yourself and letting the word into your heart and mind. Here Paul addresses his audience with an eloquent appeal based on chapters 1-3. He calls both for the consecration of our bodies to God and for the renewal and transformation of our minds. He sets before the church the stark alternative of conforming to the pattern of the world or being transformed by God. Marvelous!
What next? Well, feeling a bit stuck in a rut, this morning I decided to travel an hour and a half to a region in Virginia just east of me called Brunswick County, yes, home of the world famous "Brunswick Stew" you see at church cookouts and fire department fund raisers.
My favorite thing about today's 16-mile ride was being out in the countryside and beholding all the marvels of rural Virginia. Then too, it sure didn't hurt that there's so little traffic out here in the boonies.
I have never seen so many calves in one pasture. They actually came up to me when I called them. Dave, the cow whisperer.
As for crops, looks like soy beans were on everybody's mind this year.
Tobacco, though, is still grown in these parts despite a large government buyout a few years ago.
As I was riding along a thought had been forming in my subconscious mind and now I let it surface and examined it. One of the things I really want to emphasize in my classes this year is independent thinking. Tell me, do you have a mind of your own so that you reach your own mature, Christian convictions? Or are you like the persons described in Ephesians 4 who are tossed unsteadily about by the strange doctrines of others and whose opinion is always that of the last person they spoke to or the last book they read? You don't know what you believe or why you believe what you do believe. I strongly believe that all of us need to develop a holy discontentment with the ecclesiastical status quo.
Most of us are too conservative, too complacent, too content to parrot what others are saying. We are content with our church practices and polities even when there is no scriptural support for them. The end result is a dull, mindless, conformity. But Paul teaches that the church should be constantly growing into maturity in Christ. I don't know the way through to the other side on this one, folks, but I do know that I don't want to be ruled by ravenous groupthink anymore. Full life is lived when we have a personal encounter with the living God through his word, and when the mind and heart work together to discover and practice the truth. Coming back to a tired old cliché, less is more. Less commentaries, more Bible. Less podcasts, more listening to the Holy Spirit. In my life, I'm a more kind of guy, and I struggle with making this transition. But if I don't make it, how can I turn around and ask my students to do the same? It would be a dreadful thing to be deluded in this matter -- to think that we are pleasing God with our minds when we are not. The only way to avoid this error is to find out what God wants by turning to his word, the Bible. This is what I will doing in my four classes this fall, and my five in the spring. Holy discontentment will be an emphasis in my teaching this year because I am concerned that much of our thinking about the church is confused and often unbiblical. Don't take my word for it. Make up your own mind to study the Scriptures to see what God says about this important subject!
In other news, I think I've got my running mojo back. I'm even toying with the idea of running a 10K trail race tomorrow. It's conditioned, of course, on whether or not stringent Covid safety guidelines are in place (check), the race has a staggered start (check), and there's a limited number of runners (check -- only 24 runners finished this race last year). If I do run it, I plan to start dead last and stay there. I will give myself permission to walk if I need to. After all, 6.2 miles is not exactly child's play when you've been away from competition for so long. It takes time to create stamina and create a new foundation. Sometimes I forget how blessed and privileged I am to run at all. Not today. I am overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving that God has allowed my body to recover and to return to a normal state. Like most runners over 60, I just want to stay active and healthy, run for fun, and not hang out the "just retired" sign. If this means less speed, less intensity, less training, and more rest time, so be it. The cliché that age is only a number might be beaten to death but it's so true. We older runners cheer as loudly for the last-place finisher as we do for the first-place finisher. And why shouldn't we? Both are winners!
I'm going to stop my incessant yakking now and go find something to eat.
P.S. Kudos and mega-congrats to my dear friends and colleagues Ben Merkel and Rob Plummer on the release of their new grammar. Anything these two guys touch turns to pure gold. You can order your copy here.
Thursday, July 30
5:25 PM The eulogies at John Lewis's funeral today brought tears to my eyes, especially the one delivered by President Bush.
This is the United States of America I know and love.
I am so proud, and humbled, to be an American today.
2:35 PM The word of the day is "ardour." My text is Rom. 12:11, which the NEB translates:
Call it what you will -- ardour, fervor, passion, zeal -- it's required of us, all of us. The opposite is apathy, lethargy, sloth, indifference. Okay, maybe that's not realistic. I don't always feel great passion and energy for my days. I can fall into a funk like the best of 'em. Some days it feels like I'm trudging through quicksand toward an unknown destination. Here's the thing. It's natural that we feel this way. It's normal to feel like you're stuck in a rut. What's important, however, is that we don't stay stuck.
So how to get "unstuck"? Go back to the word "spirit." The Greek would also allow the translation "Spirit" with a capital "S." If, in fact, Paul is referring, not to the human spirit but to the Holy Spirit here, then the meaning changes drastically. In other words, it's not enough to serve the Lord with our human energy and zeal. We are, instead, to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). To do this, there is no book about passion to buy or technique to learn. The filling of the Spirit -- and thus the filling of our lives with passion -- is a privilege to be renewed continuously by simple appropriation.
The moral of the story is: Don't stay stuck in your rut. Deal with your loss of passion by returning to the true source of ardour, God's Spirit. Thank God for all he has given us in the Spirit!
10:34 AM Last night: 4 mile walk. This morning: 4 mile run. Tomorrow: A long bike. Saturday: A 10K race, Lord willing.
By the way, I've been greatly blessed of the Lord to have made 6 trips to South Korea. Each time I went there it was ostensibly to teach Greek and New Testament at Chong Shin (Presbyterian) University. But -- shhh, don't tell anyone! -- the real reason I went was to get my digestive system working again. There is NO healthier food on Planet Earth than Korean cuisine, bar none! And the mother of all dishes is Kimchi. Sadly, the kind that is sold in Food Lion is, let's say, a bit lacking. That's why I was surprised (and pleased) when I got a call from my dentist's office yesterday to say that they had a surprise waiting for me. You see, Dr. Kim hails from Korea, and every 6 months when I have my teeth cleaned and the hygienist is done, he comes into the room to do a final check over, at which point I chide him, "Well, Dr. Kim, I see you have still forgotten to bring me my Kimchi!" All in jest of course. But today he actually came through. (Some people will do anything to expand their client base.)
Let's see -- I think it needs a taste test, don't you? Here goes nothing ....
Oh. My. Goodness. I'm healed!
P.S. Becky, who was not a fan of lacto-fermentation, would never let me keep Kimchi in the house. It had to be kept in the back porch refrigerator. It was either that or a divorce. :-)
Wednesday, July 29
2:38 PM In case you were curious, these were in the packages:
In case you're really perceptive, you saw the Loeb Classical Series tomes in the green and red in the background. The green are Greek books, but as you can see from the red volume, I couldn't resist ordering Books 1-2 of Augustine's Confessions in Latin.
Last but not least, my new Garmin watch came today.
As if Garmin didn't have a good enough reason already to get their website up and running again!
2:24 PM Since I'm trapped indoors by the heat (again), I thought I would revamp a lecture I've done on that wonderful section of Romans 12 where Paul describes for us what agapē love looks like. There are 12 qualities:
It's the last one that stood out to me today for some reason. Paul writes, "Don't be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position." Then he adds, as if to drive his point home: "Don't be conceited." The Living Bible (as opposed to The Dead Bible) nails it here:
In short, what Paul is saying is that to be a Christ follower, you don't have to come across as "perfect." Just be a normal human being with all of your flaws and imperfections. I once had a prof in seminary tell me, "Dave, don't take yourself too seriously. No one else does." He was right. Folks, there is no "perfect" out there. Trying to come off as better than others is self-defeating. It's isolating. It's annoying. And it takes too much work to be worth it. If you are so smart and pretty and popular and athletic, then good luck to you trying to preserve that image. Speaking personally, today could not have been a more imperfect day. I wouldn't even know how to cope with "perfect." When I was in high school, I spent a lot of time hating myself for being "less than perfect" than the people around me. I am such a big klutz I could fall going UP the stairs. I kid you not. I have recently come to accept some of my imperfections. I'm "perfectly" good with them. Perfect is just so boring and fake. The perfect person just really doesn't even exist and if they think they are they are only fooling themselves. I'm with Paul here. Let's drop the air of superiority. I have no desire to be above other people. I just want to be happy inside my own skin and loving and real with others. In fact, I love not being perfect!
Now, if you will excuse me, FedEx just arrived.
1:20 PM I've linked to this performance before but I've been listening to it nonstop and just couldn't resist sharing it with you again. Hope you don't mind.
I have always had an obsession with high church choral music. Choirs like this one are the reason for my deep love of choir music. When the choir sings I almost begin to cry because I am so happy and stunned and somehow sad at the same time that so few churches and so few Christ followers have the opportunity to hear such beautiful music these days. I don't mean to be judgy, but folks, there really is music other than praise and worship songs. This piece is often sung so fast that you can't savor all of the consonants and vowels. But this choir is absolutely impeccable. They truly sing as one unit and it's flawless. Morten Lauridsen would be quite proud of their performance!
Clearly this is music that comes from God and that captures the concept of "harmony" so perfectly with the colors of their voices. If you're like me, you will be immobilized listening to this piece.
10:15 AM I've missed the running community. I've also missed competing. I've noticed that people are more prone to believe they can do something if they see other people doing it first. The impossible suddenly seems possible. I think that's why so many runners enjoy pinning on a race bib.
From the depth of my ineptitude, I find inspiration in watching other people achieving their goals. During my 4 mile run this morning I actually felt like a runner. There are times when testing my own limits means everything to me. This is especially true during a racing event. I can still feel the pleasure that came from giving a total effort at last Saturday's 3.5 mile race. These are the days when I focus on just completing the race. As Einstein once said, time is relative. I'm rebuilding my future one minute at a time. Am I still competitive? Are there cows in Texas? But each race has to be run one step at a time. It all depends on how you are feeling that day. But this I know: Healthy competition is always going to be a part of my life.
Did you know that Christ followers are to compete with each other as well? Paul writes in Rom. 12:10 that we are to "Outdo one another in showing honor." Note the element of competition. We are competing, as it were, with each other to show honor and respect to one another. Let me ask you a question: Do other people in the body of Christ with whom you come in contact feel deeply honored because of you? None of us can be satisfied that we are honoring one another enough. Take time today to ask God to show you people in your life to have the gold in them called out through you. It may be a spouse, a child, a co-worker, or a sibling. Paul lays down a challenge for us to make it our constant ambition to excel over others in showing honor.
I loves races because they provide me with finish lines and with opportunities for personal victories on a regular basis. Like every other runner out there, I am straining against my many limitations. I am pushing to the edge of my abilities. The reward for winning isn't a trophy but the pleasure and pure satisfaction of accomplishing a goal. Some day I hope I can learn how to be as competitive in showing honor to my fellow believers as I am on race day.
Tuesday, July 28
2:38 PM It sounds unbelievable, but the real feel right now is 107 in certain parts of Virginia. Believe me, I'd be outdoors were it not for the heat. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't enjoy sitting in an air-conditioned house getting some reading and writing done. But nothing brings me more joy than being out in God's beautiful creation. That's all of us, right? RIGHT? I'm spicing up my day by finding a new recipe for tonight's Chinese stir fry. I know y'all are holding your breath to know what it is. Sorry, I'm too worn out from the heat to tell you.
What are you doing to cope with the heat wave and preserve your sense of humor?
2:26 PM Famous NT and Greek scholar J. Gresham Machen was born this day in 1881.
I have yet to find anybody who could pronounce both his name ("Gresham") and the "Ayn" in Ayn Rand correctly. Care to try some more?
9:52 AM I was on the bike for two hours this morning, thankfully before it got too hot.
One of the benefits of cycling is that it gives you plenty of time to think. In fact, once I get into the steady rhythm of cycling, I find that I do some of my best thinking while alone on my bike. Well, maybe I should call it daydreaming. Thinking is deliberate, but daydreaming is more of a random activity. Today my mind wandered to a topic that I personally spend a lot of time thinking about, and that is the art and craft of teaching. I don't think it's uncommon for professional teachers like me to think a lot about their vocation. I have some pretty wonderful colleagues who set a great example for me of what good teaching looks like. I have the utmost respect for all of them, but essentially I feel like I just have to look after my own backyard as they say. I live for the classroom each year. Teaching is such a challenging profession you gotta take it one semester at a time and absolutely devote and obsess everything you have towards it. I'm committed to giving 100 percent of my energy to doing well and to fulfilling my potential. When I started teaching in the 1970s, my motivation was to be the best teacher I could be, and that's still my motivation today. I made a commitment not to be one of those people who has regrets at the end of their career, so I think that's reflected in the way I prepare for each school year and each semester. I think I leave no stone unturned and I do everything I can possibly do to prepare myself mentally and spiritually for the task at hand. The motivation is purely personal. Obviously it's great to hold a chair in my field and it's great to be a published author, but I don't teach for those reasons. I don't teach to get name recognition. It's personal. I teach for myself and for my God, and my motivation comes from within. It's not about winning or losing. It's about maximizing your potential. I want to be like Katherine Beiers, the 85-year old who completed the Boston Marathon in 7 hours and 50 minutes despite the horrific conditions.
She was the oldest of 29,978 athletes who ran that day. Just as much grit as any of the heroes of faith found in Hebrews 11 to be sure. Bottom line: Know thyself. Know who you are and what God created you to be and to do. Then give it everything you have. It may get tough -- it WILL get tough -- but that's no excuse for not living your dream.
Monday, July 27
11:11 AM A word of advice if I may: Stop watching the news, pet your dog, and go for a walk.
9:24 AM Feeling good, feeling good, ladies and gentlemen, after a 3.5 mile run at the high school this morning.
Yes, it's time to hit the reset button and get back into shape. And to think that only 2 months ago I couldn't run or train. Have you noticed? Everything in your life is changing. Everything is either a new path you planned for yourself or a surprise. Nowadays life has this twisty-turny feeling about it. Life with Jesus is always an adventure, isn't it? He keeps moving us from where we are to where he knows we ought to be. But with each surprise comes great hope -- hope that, though we are never arriving, we are always becoming. I can't tell you how many times I got wrong about what I had planned for my life. Thank God. I would have never seen the things I've seen or experienced the things I've experienced or ended up in the places I've ended up in. Right now it's time to start planning for the future post-Covid and working toward my next goals. One lesson I've learned from past training blocks is that this whole running thing is something to be enjoyed -- it's time to have fun! THIS is the moment, friends! Time to hold each other accountable for our goals. Time to create fresh ideas, fresh goals, and fresh dreams for our lives. Time to look back and reflect and time to look forward and dream. Be not afraid to fail, ladies and gentlemen. Share your goals with others so they can encourage you and motivate you and push you to strive to achieve them. I have many goals for the next 12 months. Here are some of them:
1. I want to teach my heart out this school year at the seminary, teach like I've never taught before.
2. I want to get strong enough to run my 17th marathon.
3. I want to revise my beginning grammar.
4. I want to start another Greek class in a local church (maybe in Hawai'i again).
5. I want to slow down enough to see all the good things that are unfolding all around me, especially the tiny, beautiful surprises God has for me even in the midst of the utter wreckage and ugliness of our society.
6. I want to continue to explore what happens when evangelicals place the kingdom of God over political loyalties and how community unfolds in all kinds of different ways (this is all part of my forthcoming book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk).
7. I want to continue to take personal retreats at the Prayer Center in North Carolina.
8. I want to continue to produce a blog that affects people emotionally, a place that when they read it they feel like they have met a friend.
These goals should keep me highly motivated to pursue a daily walk with God as never before. Life doesn't stand still, folks, regardless of the coronavirus. Many many "files" lost that will never be recovered, but life moves on, just like in running. We march on, we work hard, we appreciate the beauty all around us, we celebrate memories, we explore new options, we write naked, bold things on our blogs, we draw people in with our honesty, we watch some friendships deepen and others die, we say "Get lost" to Christian superstardomism, we choose to honor and support the neglected and suffering in our society, we live purposefully, we fight against group think, we live in a way that shows how much we appreciate God's good gifts, we dance when all we see is doom, we swim upstream, and we love the life he has given us -- the daily gift of just breathing in and out. The curveballs of life are real. We must learn to roll with them. If you haven't failed, you haven't tried!
Sunday, July 26
6:56 PM Guess what 79-year old exercises regularly, even during Covid?
Why, he once ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 3:37. (No, I won't tell you my MCM time. But it was a lot slower than Fauci's, I assure you.) If a man who works 17-hour days can find time to hit the pavement, hmm, ya think we could too? Just don't overdo it. Your immune system is already under enough stress because of a virus that's affecting every single aspect of our lives. Keep it slow and remember: Exercise is medicine.
The point is: Every active minute counts. Even when throwing a baseball (right, Dr. Fauci?)
6:40 PM I hate Power Points. That is, when I'm not loving them. Come on, people. Most presentations are just as boring with or without visual aids. It is YOU that makes the difference, not the tools you use. In short, Power Point might not be the best tool for the job. Still, I use them. Lots of them. Hundreds of them. Below is a sampling of my own PPs I'll be using in my classes this fall. So let's play a little game, shall we? See if you can answer my questions below. If you'd care to share with me the results of your careful deliberations on the matter (or else your guess work), feel free to send me an email.
1) Why is the last word in red?
2) What's my main point here?
3) What creed is this?
4) What is this triangle called?
5) What's the last word in line 1 in this letter from a son to his father, and what does it illustrate?
6) Which group was most receptive to the gospel, and why?
Don't have TOO much fun!
4:45 PM "Garmigeddon" they're calling it. That's right, the Garmin website is still down, a suspected ransom-ware attack. When their system fails, so does ours. The question is, Will they pay? After all, 33 percent of companies don't get their files back when they do. The saga shows no sign of abating.
Here's Garmin when the whole world begins uploading their running data again.
12:36 PM One of my grandsons turns 3 this weekend. Happy Bornday, Chesley!
Our Father, we pray for our kids and grandkids. We pray you will give us a sense of divine duty as we spend time with these young lives. May we realize and recall continually that you are going to use them in ways we cannot know or even imagine. May you use our training to shape them for the plans you have for them. We place all of our children and grandchildren before you right now and ask that you be with them for the rest of their days. We pray that they may come to know and experience your love in a very personal way. Thank you in advance, Father, for the joy and privilege of mentoring them, and loving them. We pray that their joy will not come from their circumstances but rather from you living within them. These things we ask and pray in the name of Christ, and for his sake. Amen.
10:30 AM I'm still in Rom. 12:1-2, folks, and I am still captivated by those words "by the mercies of God." I'm sure you've heard of Count Nikolas von Zinzendorf. He was born in 1700 into the Austrian nobility. After he had become a committed Christian he devoted his life to worldwide evangelization. When he was 19 years of age he had a spiritual crisis. He was in the city of Düsseldorf when he happened upon the famous art gallery there. He was arrested by a masterly painting of Jesus Christ by Dominico Fete, the famous Italian artist. The picture was titled "Ecce Homo." It was a picture of Christ as Pontius Pilate presented him to the people and said to them, "Behold the man!" -- the "man" being clothed in a mock imperial robe, his wrists tied by cords, a crown of thorns on his head. The eyes of Jesus Christ, Zinzendorf later said, seemed to penetrate his heart. Zinzendorf stood there before the picture utterly transfixed. The words of Christ, written in Latin beneath the painting, seemed to be spoken to him alone: "This I have suffered for you. Now what have you done for me?"
There and then the young 19-year old count committed himself to Christ and asked for the privilege of sharing in Christ's sufferings and of serving him for the rest of his life.
When was the last time you considered that question of Jesus? I can't help but think of how my marriage vows and my commitment to Christ were similar. When I made the decision to follow Jesus Christ as a youth I didn't know what lay ahead. But I vowed to love and serve him with all of my heart. The difference, of course, is that with Christ there's no "till death do us part." Our bond with him lasts forever. And one day we will meet the Bridegroom face to face.
We just can't ignore this Jesus. If we really love him with everything we are and with everything we have, there's really no room for competing loves. If he is truly Lord, then there's no one with whom he will share his throne. A tough decision? Yes. But it's a decision he demands we make.
9:10 AM Although most big races have been cancelled, a few of the smaller running events are coming back, especially those that have a smaller field of participants. I ran in one of those last night. The venue was a small community college in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, VA. The race was an easy 3.5 miles and started (thankfully) at 7:15 pm. Strict Covid measures were in place (staggered start, facial coverings required, social distancing enforced).
It's easy to social distance when the event has only 100 runners.
I started at the very back of the pack and remained there for the entire race. Seems that every time I put on my running shoes I am different in some way than I was before. This is especially true when I put on a race bib. I am living out a dream, folks. From a 5K to a marathon, I am living in a world that God has created out of brokenness and heartache. For me the consuming passion as a child was becoming an overcomer. That dream is alive and well in me today. I may have gotten off to a late start, but I ain't gonna give up the dream now.
Saturday, July 25
1:26 PM Have you heard about "Team Hoyt"? I'm talking about Rick Hoyt and his dad Dick. They've raced together. A lot. 72 marathons. 255 triathlons, 6 of those at Iron Man distance. 218 10K runs. Since 1975 they've crossed nearly 1,000 finish lines together. They even crossed the United States of America. Team Hoyt loves to race, but only half of Team Hoyt can run. The dad can. But Rick's leg don't work, nor does his speech. At birth, his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and stole oxygen from his body. The doctors gave him no hope. But his parents, Dick and Judy, disagreed. They knew their son was limited but they also knew he was bright. He couldn't bathe or dress or feed himself but he could think. So they enrolled him in school. In fact, he graduated from both high school and college.
At the age of 15, Rick asked his dad if they could enter a 5 mile benefit race. Now, Dick was not a runner. But he was a father. So he loaded his son in a 3-wheeled chair and off they went. Their partnership hasn't stopped since.
Like us and our Heavenly Father, Rick relies on his dad to do everything for him -- to lift him, to push him, to tow him, to peddle him. But Rick still crosses the finish line. You see, he depends entirely on his dad -- the love of his dad, the strength of his dad, the perseverance of his dad. God wants to do the same for us.
Be comforted, struggling Christian. Between you and your Father, you are perfectly cared for. You are not alone in your race. Can you hear the Spirit speaking to you? Come to your Dad. Come to his strength and love. Come to his rest and liberation. Come to that place where his power is perfected in your weakness. God knows how often I'd had to do this. If anyone needs the Lord, it's me. I will never forget the day Becky died. To this day it's tattooed on my brain. I like to think of these experiences as pearls. Pearls are not made by accident. They're made when a grain of sand imbeds itself in the soft inner folds of an oyster, which then soothes the irritant with a bodily fluid that eventually forms a smooth, hard surface. Being a Christian doesn't guarantee you freedom from hardships. For some of us, it seems to ensure it. But in the midst of these difficulties, the Father is there. Know something, friend? It's when I dwell on my problems, my troubles seem to grow. But when I dwell on my Dad, my troubles seem to go. How about you? Somehow, in the midst of all the heartache and hurt, he gives us the ability to cope.
Have you found that to be so? If you have, thank God for it. Our heavenly Father will never let us down.
11:38 AM Hello everyone again, and welcome back to the blog. Wherever you are, whatever you're facing, may God give you strength this day. May he lift you up, especially those of you who feel like your heart is running on empty. May I give you some hope? My reading this morning was in Romans chapter 12, a passage that seems to speak to me like no other these days.
It is wonderful to see how Paul presses the great doctrine of salvation into the service of practical, everyday Christian living. He always seems to mix doctrine with duty, creed with conduct, exposition with exhortation, and justification with sanctification. I especially want you to notice the play on words in verse 3. The fourfold repetition of the Greek root phron ("think") is too obvious to be accidental. I've circled it in green below.
A literal rendering of this verse might read like this:
I believe Paul is saying is that, if we are to arrive at a just estimate of ourselves, we must always remember that everything we have is a gift from God. His gifts are always summons to humility. So let us not be proud of our talents. Instead, my friend, let's try to employ our gifts this day humbly, conscious of our many shortcomings. Read the Bible, and you will see that it's filled with stories of men and women with real weaknesses. Even those who were most used by God fell far short of his holy expectations. "Be humble," writes Paul to the Philippians, "thinking of others as more important than yourselves," adding, "You must have the same humble attitude that Christ Jesus had" (Phil. 2:3,5). The secret of the early church is simply that it had the humble mind of Christ. Are we so in love with our plans that we are unwilling to bow to his? Are we prepared to throw our project into File 13 if he decrees otherwise? Would we accept revival if it broke out in some other denomination than our own? Would we say "Amen" when another Greek grammar is published that will compete directly with your own? (Yes, I would!) Would you be happy if God started a great awakening in some country other than "Christian America"? (He already has.) Dear friend, you are not bound by your weaknesses and mistakes. They don't dictate your future. It's not your job to make yourself worthy of serving God; that's Jesus' work. In fact, he excels in that job. He is a powerful healer, but you can't get out of your destructive cycle when you're still chained to pride. Cut it loose, and you will be free. You'll have a fresh slate to fill you with joy, love, laughter, and hope. Your testimony will be, "The Mighty has done great things for me!" (Luke 1:49). Come to the Lord in humility and he will leave you healed and healthy.
After my Bible study this morning I drove over to South Hill to get in a nice country ride on the other end of my county of Mecklenburg. My route took me through the hamlet of Brodnax, around the Mecklenburg County Airport, and then through another small town called La Crosse. I love living in Flyover Country: fields that never end ... trees instead of buildings ... hearing birds instead of people ... smelling fleshly cut hay instead of car fumes. Of course, living in Podunk has its downsides, but I've grown to love the countryside and it's something I would definitely miss if I lived in Raleigh or Wake Forest. Here I am about to bike through La Crosse. Don't blink!
Folks, I've lived in both city and country. I like to think that I understand both sides. At the end of the day, I think it's all about putting in time and effort to fit into the community where God has placed you. I have found that once you invest in a place emotionally, it will start giving back to you no matter where you live. I must emphasize, however, that if you do decide to live in the country, be prepared to share your land -- and sometimes the road -- with all of the local critters. Why, just this morning the neighborhood swallows had the audacity to dive-bomb me. I suppose they think the front porch belongs to them because they have a nest in the rafters. Wrong. You guys need to buzz off or I will call Animal Control. Tell you what. I'll make you a deal: You respect my space, and I'll respect yours.
Compromise: Such is country living at its best!
Friday, July 24
1:06 PM In his autobiography, Bruce Metzger recounts the story of how he began his career as a Greek teacher. While traveling on a local commuter train, Metzger happened to sit next to the then-president of Princeton University, Dr. John MacKay. Mackay asked Metzger if he'd be willing to fill an opening at the university while he was working on his doctorate. "Of course I gladly accepted the invitation," wrote Metzger. "In the autumn of 1938, therefore, I began the first of my forty-six years of teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary." Metzger was 24 years of age.
In the fall of 1976, 38 years later, the head of Biola's Greek Department, Dr. Harry Sturz, asked me to teach 11 units of Greek at the university. I too was 24 at the time. The interesting thing is that neither of us sought the opportunity to teach. It was simply God directing our paths.
Friend, the important thing in life is to keep moving no matter what and to be open to whatever the Lord has in store for you. He already knows what schools you will attend and who you will marry and how many children you will have and the books you will write and the year you will retire. How foolish of us to attempt anything without him! Begin any new undertaking with God. Bring your future under the careful scrutiny of his all-seeing eye. We may not know what is ahead but we know who is ahead. We may become temporarily confused and may have to wait for the fog to clear, but we are in the hands of a Harbor Pilot who already knows the destination. Our supreme business is to be faithful to whatever he calls us to!
10:12 AM Good Friday morning, my friends, wherever you are and however you are. May God lift your spirit and strengthen you and bless you as you run the race he has set before you this day. May you turn to him and follow him and find strength in his word, like the verse I read in my Bible time this morning:
We're facing so many fears and uncertainties these days that we need the certainty of Jesus as perhaps never before. May something you read on my blog today bring encouragement to your soul and call you back to Jesus Christ. There is none other like him. He's the one and only Son of God, and he loves you so much that he invites you and he invites me to come to him and find rest for our souls. This life is so difficult and so brief. What matters is the decision we make every day that has to do with Jesus Christ. Dismiss him or believe him? Ignore him or spend time with him daily in his word? Let's respond positively to his invitation, shall we?
Speaking of strength, I needed to lean on Jesus yesterday and today as I continued my marathon training block. Yesterday he blessed me with a 13 mile bike, and today he allowed me to complete a 7 mile run. Was it easy? Not on your life. Sure, the skies this morning were overcast, and there was a light breeze blowing, but the humidity was off the charts. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but too much moisture in the air can actually interfere with your body's natural cooling mechanisms and leave you dehydrated. Eventually the loss of water, salt, and minerals can leave you overheated and struggling to maintain your normal bodily functions. If you're thinking about going outdoors for exercise, here are a few tips I try to keep in mind before leaving the house for a run or a bike:
1) Adjust your pace to the hotter weather. Dial it back a bit. Nobody can perform at their very best in hot weather.
2) Be sure to take in electrolytes because of all the salt you're losing.
3) Don't go downing gallons and gallons of water before and during your run. Just drink to need. When you're thirsty, have some water or Gatorade.
4) Wear a hat to keep the sun out of your face.
5) Try to find a shady place to run or cycle if you can. That's gonna feel a whole lot better than running in the sun since asphalt reflects the heat quite a lot.
6) Dress right. This means wearing technical clothing that wicks off the moisture as you run. In addition, size up a little if you can. If it's a little bit baggy you'll stay a little bit cooler.
7) Finally, head out as early in the morning as you can. It's usually the coolest part of the day. But remember: Even if the thermometer reads 88, if the relative humidity is 75 percent, it will feel like a sizzling 103 degrees, and your body will start to work overtime to cool you down.
This was the LOW (!) temperature in one Middle Eastern country I visited a few years ago.
I absolutely want to enjoy every minute of this season of my life. Which is one reason I love to race so much. Those who have never stood at the starting line and faced the uncertainty of the next 30 minutes or 6 hours have never really lived in my humble opinion. Even at my age, it's still worth chasing down those moments of joy you know are still out there.
Start whenever you can. Just keep going!
Thursday, July 23
6:42 PM Lookie here. We're finally getting some rain.
Drought conditions are only worsening here in southern Virginia. It's currently classified as a "short term drought," meaning that the main impacts are to the surface soil and vegetation. That's a pretty dig deal, however, when your main crop is hay. The combination of heat and minimal rainfall is a concern to many of my neighbors. High evapotranspiration depletes the topsoil moisture in no time. The result? Stressed crops. No sign of a major pattern shift in the immediate forecast. But, as we used to say in Ethiopia, "Exhiabiher awocal" -- God knows!
5:58 PM This can't be happening. The Garmin website is down.
How are we supposed to brag about our bike/run/swim??? What's the point in exercising if you can't get kudos? I don't even know how many hours of sleep I got last night. How in the world am I supposed to know whether I'm tired or not?
12:25 PM I snapped this pic while I was driving to La Crosse, VA, to do a bike this morning.
I'm crossing the bridge over Kerr Lake -- the largest reservoir in the state of Virginia in terms of surface area. In the summer months, boaters and swimmers abound. It's also a fisherman's paradise. I live only 8 minutes away. You'd think that growing up in Hawai'i I'd be into water sports here in a big way but I'm not. I'm thinking that may change. I'm not interested in fishing, but I have toyed with the idea of buying a jet ski. It's a sport I really enjoy.
Wednesday, July 22
7:24 PM How to give your Yoplait blueberry yogurt some extra pizzazz.
Step 1: Walk out to the blueberry bushes.
Step 2: Pick blueberries.
Step 3: Et voilà!
6:30 PM In exactly one month I'll begin my 44th year of teaching. Hardly seems possible. It's important to remember that I had no plans of becoming a Greek teacher when I entered college. I was absolutely certain that God wanted me to become a fulltime musician. I was a music major at the University of Hawai'i and enjoying every minute of it. I took piano lessons, continued to take trumpet lessons, and sang in the university choir. But when I transferred to Biola University as a Biblical Studies major, I knew God had other plans for my life. I've enjoyed being a part of the scholarly guild for all these years. But my passion was, and is, people. It's you, the reader. It's the person sitting on the sofa wondering if the Bible is relevant to their life. My passion is to share the extraordinary transformation of mind and spirit that happens when you start to follow Jesus with your whole heart and mind. Whether through my writing, speaking, or teaching, my goal has been to show people that they are, each and every one of them, capable of much more than they think are and that they can study the Bible on their own. And so this continues now into its 44th year of Greek instruction. I want to remind you of the words that have changed thousands of lives and that ring as true today as when they were first written 2,000 years ago:
At one time, running was only for the elite athletes. Today, everyone is welcome, even slowpokes like me. It doesn't matter where you come from. It doesn't matter how "uneducated" you may be. It doesn't matter how you feel you rank among the ranks of mortals. Likewise with becoming a student of the Bible. You can become a lover of the word. Why, you can even learn to read the New Testament part of it in Greek. I've seen it happen. I've seen mortals of every background "take up and read." You can be one of them. I invite you to experience the joy that many of us find by reading our New Testament in the original language. There are many of us teachers who are eager to help you get started.
You can never be more than you can imagine you to be.
3:56 PM It's a good day when your interview about the Gospels goes live on YouTube. Even when you sound like a broken record!
10:08 AM Good morning, readers! Greetings from my home to yours, and from my heart to yours. During these difficult days, I hope you're finding strength in the Bible, as I am. How great it would be if we could sit here together on my front porch sharing a glass of tea and just chatting about all that God is doing in our lives. Well, I can't do that with you, but I can send you my love, and I can remind you of this beautiful Scripture: "Let's not get drunk with wine, in which is excess, but instead let's allow ourselves to be gently controlled by the Spirit.'' Never has mankind more needed a stimulant to keep it going. And -- thank God! -- he has provided a stimulant for his people, a Person who prepares us for the daily grind and also fires us up with unusual strength for the special task. One day he will quicken our mortal bodies, but even before then he will energize the bodies we have now for all that God wants us to do. He is the blessed Holy Spirit, the one called alongside to help us bear all that God allows in our lives. Yes, troubles will come our way, but along with them will come his sufficient grace. I hope you are experiencing that grace afresh and anew this day, my friend. How we need the Lord's wisdom and direction these days!
This morning I was able to get in a delightful 6 mile training run at our local high school.
I say "delightful" because a cool breeze was blowing the entire time. Now if that isn't a blessing of the Lord!
I'm back home now enjoying a hearty breakfast that includes the official meat of the Hawaiian Islands.
I'm referring to SPAM, of course. What would life be like without it, right?
I am currently training for my next race. So here's a question every runner asks him or herself before a race. It's an extremely important question. It goes like this:
That's right -- "running" versus "racing." The difference is like night and day. If I'm running in the event, it doesn't matter what my finish time is. I simply want to complete the race and enjoy the event. But if I'm racing, my goal is not simply to finish the race but to pursue a goal such as a personal best or placing in the top three in my age group. The decision you make prior to the event will to a very large degree determine the outcome of the event. Day by day, moment by moment, we are constantly making a choice between running and racing. Perhaps I could give you an illustration from my life as a teacher, since it's the only vocation I've ever really known. When you're just starting out in the classroom, you tend to be very goal oriented. There are courses you want to prep for (after all, you do want students to take your classes, right?), there are books and journal articles you want to write, there are annual meetings you want to attend, and so forth. You are goal driven. You're ready to race, not simply to run. There are tunnels to dig through and mountains to climb and big hairy audacious goals to achieve. You have morphed into a gladiator. At some point, however, things change. You will find that you are content merely to run the race. You have found that you have already accomplished most of your goals as a teacher, writer, and scholar. You are content. In fact, your main goal now is to train up the next generation of teachers and help them pursue their goals. It's not that you've rusted out -- God forbid! It's just that your pace has slowed down a bit. You're no less a runner than the elites who compete for first place. It's just that you begin to spend more time accepting what you've become by God's grace. You have learned the lesson of "living in the moment" as a runner. You have learned that each race is unique and that each step must be taken one at a time and at its own pace.
Running is a great teacher. It teaches us to keep moving forward no what the obstacles ahead of us are. It teaches us to truly enjoy each moment in life and to concentrate on living in this chapter of our lives. It teaches us that the only "today" we have is, well, today; the moments we don't enjoy today are lost to us forever. For us seasoned citizens, we have gotten older, and maybe wiser. We have gotten better at seeing the difference between running and competing. All of these lessons -- and more -- I've learned in spite of myself. It was only through the example of more experienced runners who taught me by their example that I came to embrace the joy of running for the sake of running.
As you think about the privileges you enjoy and the responsibilities you face today, have you asked the question: "Am I running, or am I racing?" Let's not try to conquer something in our lives that requires accepting, or accept something that requires conquering. When you run to compete, it's you against the world. When you run simply to run, you are part of a community of runners and share in the joy of victory, whether it's yours or someone else's.
Blessings on you as you keep on running your race,
Tuesday, July 21
7:40 PM Howdy virtual friends! So much is happening it's hard to know where to start. Can you believe we're more than half way through 2020? What a crazy year it's been, and it promises to get even crazier the closer we get to election day. I'm reminded of what Paul said about not dabbling in a thousand things. Instead, he said, "This one thing I do." That's how I want to live my life during these days of coronavirus. All of Paul was heading in the same direction. I so desire to do the same. I desire to stay focused on the ministry God's given me for 44 years, that of helping others to better understand and obey God's word. The final invitation of the Bible is, "Let the one who is thirsty come." Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God, for the living God, for they shall be filled. Beware, my friends, for there are broken cisterns aplenty that promise relief from thirst but can't deliver. The only one who can satisfy our thirst is the one who called himself the Living Water. I spent the day on campus today reflecting on him and how to best present him in my classes this fall. How rewarding! I also had the privilege of being interviewed by Ryan Hiebert of the Meet Jesus YouTube channel. We discussed my book Why Four Gospels? I believe Ryan is profoundly right in thinking this is a vitally important topic today. We who pledge our lives to follow Jesus must come to know who he is, and there is no place other than the Gospels that can give us this portrait of the Savior. We're called to mimic his selfless love for others. We're not called to pretend we know the answers to all of the questions surrounding the background and origins of the Gospel writings. That said, it's fun to discuss various hypotheses about that topic, and I had a wonderful time doing just that with Ryan today. I'll post a link to the interview as soon as it's published. After that I had my annual eye exam in Wake Forest and then decided that since I was near Raleigh I would boogie on down to NC State and grab some Ethiopian take home.
Yes, folks, Ethiopian food will be in heaven. Guaranteed. I had hoped to get some cycling done while I was near the Neuse River Greenway but, alas, time failed me. It was a crazy day for me! Tonight I'm going to start on these books again.
Good stuff here! Today my flesh may be fatigued but my mind is soaring. I love authors like Jacobson and Chan who are calling the church back to its beautiful, biblical, core convictions. So much of what they say I can passionately embrace. At the same time, they leave me a bit unsettled, seeing that so few people seem to grasp the inherent meaning of the church. I'm going to pray about what all of this means for my life and teaching. Finally, I have to say I'm impressed with David Kuo's book Tempting Faith, which is a call to build a completely different kind of kingdom than the one that combines faith and politics. Just think: If the American church wasn't divided into so many political factions, maybe we'd be able to get around to doing the one thing we're supposed to be doing, and that is imitating Jesus' sacrificial love to all people, at all times, and in all circumstances. Whatever "Christianity" means, it certainly means that!
Well, it's time to feed the donks their nightly carrot. Bye again!
Monday, July 20
5:32 PM The Marine Corps Marathon was cancelled today for the first time in its history. Only makes sense when you have tens of thousands of runners grouped together. Wasn't going to run it again this year but still .... Thankfully runners can defer to next year's race. If you're a marathoner, this is one event you don't want to miss.
11:05 AM Good Monday morning everyone! Let's talk running in the heat. This morning I was up and at 'em at 5:30, hoping to get in my morning run before the sun got too high in the sky. I put on the coffee, let Sheba out, enjoyed an Activa and a banana, had my morning Bible reading and prayer time, then hopped in the van to head out to the high school track/parking lot for a 5 mile run. As I left the farm the sun was already rising.
When I finished my run the heat was borderline unbearable.
I was just able to knock out my 5 miles.
My heart rate zone was just where I wanted it too.
By the way, here's a quirk I have. Whenever I finish cycling or running, the first thing I do is take off my shoes.
Must be a hangover from my Hawai'i days, but I really can't stand wearing shoes any longer than I absolutely have to. Just give me my Hawaiian slippahs!
I'd love to spend the rest of the day outdoors but today is not going to be one of those days. Instead, it's time to work on fall semester prep and to get caught up on emails. So far it has been a blessed day. I'm reminded of a quote by Elizabeth Barrett Browning: "God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame." I'm not sure who EBB is, but she really nailed it with this quote. I think it means that we underestimate what God can and will do in our lives if we only let him. As I was running today, I noticed a woman whose entire right side seemed to be paralyzed. She could barely manage a walk, yet there she was, getting in her workout with a huge smile on her face. I tell you, seeing people dig down to the deepest corners of their souls to knock out a track workout gives me chills. It makes me cry. It makes me want to get out there and give it my all in life. Church, we are an army of ordinary people. Jesus used regular, untrained people to reach the world. Each of us, regardless of how many "handicaps" we have, is meant to take part. 500 years ago the Reformation occurred when the Bible was put into the hands of ordinary people. Imagine what would happen today if ordinary people like you and me were released into "ministry." Not only the church but this nation would transformed. You just have to be willing to see where you are, decide where you want to be, and figure out how you want to get there. Sadly, most of us have no clue of what we are really capable of. The point is that God is doing some pretty incredible, life-changing work today. It's not rocket science. All it takes is faith and a bit of courage on our part.
More to come ....
Sunday, July 19
4:12 PM Man is it hot. And tomorrow will be even hotter. What are some tips for running in hot weather? According to the Team Oregon website:
My goal this week will be to run in the morning before it gets too hot but, honestly, having a heat wave doesn't help. The humidity is so high you think you're swimming, not running. I'll have to make sure I stay well hydrated. I have never succumbed to heat exhaustion though there's always a first time. These days are going to be a real slog fest for sure. The key is not to overestimate how well you can cope with the heat, even if you are a very experienced runner.
Stay safe everyone!
1:04 PM Today Chuck Swindoll began a series of messages on the heroes of faith from the book of Hebrews. His sermon today covered selections from Hebrews 10-12, finishing with Heb. 12:1-2. I was reminded that we runners are to strip off every weight that slows us down. At the same time, the Christian race isn't a sprint. You can't go full out and expect to make it to the end. That requires "endurance." If you're anything like me, you get into a groove when you run. For me, that's a pretty slow groove. Running at less than 115 bpm has slowed me down. But that's a good thing. I was never meant to run all out, full bore, at 110 percent. That may work in a 5K race, but not in a marathon or an ultra. You have to pace yourself. And when you do, everything changes. Running has become fun again. I don't get tired any more. Yes, it's still hard, but it's a good kind of hard. I can recover quickly after a run. I can slow down and smell the roses. I have very few aches and pains. Injuries seem less likely. (Not saying they won't happen.) Running at a logical, slow pace makes me feel in charge of my life. It is totally tailored to where I am physically and mentally. The words perseverance and endurance appear frequently enough in the New Testament to know that, where living the Christian life is concerned, attitude is essential. "We'd better get on with it," says the author of Hebrews. "Strip down, start running -- and never quit!" He then adds:
Perseverance -- no matter how slowly you run -- enables you to complete the difficult race we call life. So get on with it, my friend. Just do it. There will be bad times when you don't feel you can take another step. There will be temptations to drop out of the race and take a DNF. But where perseverance exists, you'll have your eyes fixed on Jesus, not on your weaknesses. However, if you are to complete the race, no matter how fast or slow you are, you must work on it with all of your might. You can't be allergic to sweat. After all the training and pre-race prep, you have to hit the track and run like the wind if you want to receive the prize.
Well, I hope this was helpful. I learn so much from the messages of Chuck Swindoll. How about you? What is God teaching you about running your race? I'm not getting much faster, but my endurance is better. Don't let the quest for speed ruin your life. Are you running too hard? Not enough? (Yes, a Goldilocks reference.)
Running my first 32-mile ultramarathon. Remember when I did this?
I had to walk the last few miles but I finished. I'm not fast, but I have learned how to plod.
7:20 AM This morning I'm back in the book of Romans -- Romans 12, verses 1-2 to be exact. By the way, there will be no workouts today. I'm taking the day off to recover. Besides, it's already too hot to be outdoors. But back to Romans. As you can see, I'm armed with my Greek New Testament.
I'm also reading some of my favorite English versions, including the New English Bible, the Williams New Testament, and The Living Bible. These two verses are all about worship, if you ask me. So that's where I want to start today. All true worship, ladies and gentlemen, begins the same way -- with Christ's perfect sacrifice for us. His death alone makes it possible for us to become acceptable worshippers of God. His was the ultimate "pleasant, pleasing, and perfect" sacrifice. The only appropriate response, says Paul, is to offer our worship to God. True worship is the offering of all we have and are in gratitude for Christ's offering of himself for us. We should go to every church gathering thinking not just "What can I get out of it?" but "What can I offer to God?" The more we do that the better we will worship God not only on Sundays but also during the rest of the week. As I like to say, "We don't come to church to worship. We come as worshippers." We do not meet so much to worship God for one hour as much as to encourage and equip each other so that we might worship God better with the entirely of our lives. Our meetings should serve that end. If we grasp this truth, then we will better understated why the New Testament never says that we come together for worship. The New Testament makes clear that we are to worship God with our whole lives. To truly worship God, I need to change the whole direction of my life. The NEB puts it this way: "Adapt yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world, but let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed. Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect." The church is who we are 24/7. It is not a place to go or an event to attend. It is a group of Jesus followers relating to him and each other in everyday life. This kind of worship can't be confined to a building on Sunday morning.
True worship never begins at 10:30 am on Sunday. But it sure can continue then!
Saturday, July 18
7:50 PM Remember how I told you in my book It's Still Greek to Me that Greek grammar should be taught in a manner that is lively, challenging, and even fun? I don't. But I went back and reread the book, wrote a scathing review of it for Amazon, and then remembered that I had not only written that, but actually try to practice it in my Greek 3 class -- which, by the way, begins in just over a month from today. In that class we are going to be using two basic textbooks: It's Still Greek to Me, and Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. People sometimes ask me why I've written so many books on Greek. I'm not sure I know the answer. But it might have something to do with coffee. Sometimes I think I'm like the guy who couldn't find a good cup of coffee and then opened his own coffee shop. At any rate, I hope my students find these books lively, challenging, and even fun. But they are beside the point. Instead, our focus will be on the book of Philippians, using it as a sort of exemplar to help us learn how to do sound and practical Greek exegesis. The theme of Philippians, by the way, isn't joy. That's not to say that joy was not important to Paul. Joy is serious business with Christ. You want joy? Paul says, "Then live for something bigger than yourself. Live for the gospel. Live for others. Love them more than you love yourself. And love them completely and sacrificially -- no strings attached." Without sacrifice, there is no true discipleship. Sacrifice says, "I will relinquish my rights if need be to see you come to know Christ." It's all about the downward path of Jesus. That is the true message of Philippians. And that will be the theme of our class: Partnership in the cause of the gospel, because nothing else is more important.
Philippians is at once a letter, a love story, an autobiography, a poetry anthology (see 2:5-11), an apologia for suffering, and a how-to manual for local churches. It's Paul calling us to step out of the shadows and make Christ known. It tells us exactly what he is like, what he expects of us, and why things aren't the way they ought to be (mostly because of our own selfishness and pride). As we study this letter together, we'll discover that God wants to be the center of our lives, even when we are overwhelmed by the chaos all around us. He knows how fragile we feel. He understands and cares about the most intimate details of our lives. We can come to him with every need we have and expect to be heard. And slowly we begin to notice that Christ is working on us from the inside out to give us new purpose, new values, new direction, new priorities, and a new pattern for life.
So that, in essence, is my Greek 3 class. Can't wait to get started.
2:20 PM Welcome back, folks! I had the best time this morning. Up early, I scarfed down a Danish and two cups of delicious Dunkin' Donuts coffee and drove myself to the trailhead near Charles City Court House for today's cycling adventure. Heard of Jamestown? It served as the colonial capital of Virginia from 1616 to 1699. That was my destination this morning for another marathon training ride. I had to bike a mere 13 miles to reach the Jamestown Visitor Center. As you can see, the day was knock dead gorgeous and the views along the way simply spectacular.
Round trip, I ended up cycling a total of 30 miles today, all at a very low heart rate.
In my previous life as an adult-onset athlete, I would go all out on a day like today, trying to set a new Personal Best for this leg of the Virginia Capital Trail. The problem was that I was exerting myself too much without even realizing it. I am positive this set me up for injury. "Over-training" doesn't always mean you're training too much. More often than not, it means you're training at a pace that's not beneficial to your overall health and fitness. As you can see, I averaged between a very reasonable 11 and 13 miles per hour on my ride today. I stayed mostly in heart rate zone 2, though I did creep up into zone 3 for a couple of miles while climbing hills. I'm no expert on this subject, but for people like me who like to run and bike on all 8 cylinders, staying at an aerobic level is completely tailored to producing incredible results in terms of endurance. Both running and cycling have become fun again, I recover quickly after a workout, and going slower has enabled me to work on my form. I'm already seeing progress. The frustrating part is being passed all the time by other cyclists, but hey, I used to do that too. Right now, however, I'm more more focused on form and relaxation than speed. As a result, I am a happier, less stressed runner/cyclist. I think that speed is overrated. Just because you're able to go faster doesn't mean you should. People need to pay more attention to heart rate. I know I need to. It's nice to able to function the rest of the day after a long bike or run. Monitoring my heart rate has kept me from training too hard and too fast for what my body is capable of doing at this point. Today was just the best pace my body could do for my workout, and I am so fine with that!
Okay, I'll stop, but not before posting a few more pix for your amusement. As always, thank you for visiting.
1) A guy from Brazil took this picture of me with his camera at the beginning of the Virginia Capital Trail in Jamestown. (We stayed at least 12 feet apart.) Do you like the "skinny" new me?
To reach Richmond you have to bike from mile marker 0 to mile marker 52. By God's grace, I've completed that distance twice.
2) The magnificent bridge over the Chickahominy.
3) Nice day for boating!
4) So much history.
5) Here's what the "isthmus" looks like today.
Friday, July 17
11:06 AM Nothing much to report here except that I bought a new broom and I've begun a deep clean of the downstairs. Long overdue! I also enjoyed a relaxed run this morning in the great city of South Boston, VA.
Tomorrow I hope to bike the Virginia Capital Trail again, but this time I would like to do a different segment of it. The big news is that my beginning Greek grammar is going to be translated into modern Hebrew and I'm Zooming with the translator in Israel in an hour or so. This is one of the most exciting things to happen in my otherwise unexciting life, as you would know if you could contrast all the exciting things with all the unexciting ones (how many times can I use "exciting" in one sentence?). To celebrate, I am giving away a copy of my beginning grammar in English. The only caveat is that I'd like to see it go to a person who perhaps otherwise couldn't afford to purchase a copy (and, yes, we've all been in that position!). Send your name and address to email@example.com before 6:00 pm tomorrow and I'll get the book out in next week's mail. If more than one person requests the book, I'll cast lots to see who gets it. The other ***exciting*** news around here is that we are planning on being back in the classroom this fall, which means my classes are in full preparation mode. Let me tell you, I have missed seeing my students in person. Of course, physical distancing, mask wearing, etc. will be in place, but being able to teach in a real life setting will be so rewarding.
Time to stop procrastinating and do some actual work. Cya!
Thursday, July 16
2:55 PM Another bike today and it was all about building confidence -- so key throughout a marathon training block. Today's adventure began with a drive to Raleigh and to Shelley Lake Park in particular.
I ran around this beautiful lake a couple of years ago when I did the Raleigh Half Marathon.
The race starts and finishes at the North Hills Mall, and most of it is run on the Raleigh Greenway Trail System. Runners loop around Shelley Lake for miles 3 and 4 before crossing Hwy. 70 and heading towards the Crabtree Valley Mall. Today I wanted to revisit Shelley Lake, bike the loop trail that skirts it, and then see if I could find my way to the Crabtree Creek Trail.
This map shows you where I ended up riding. I think you'd agree that I got to see a lot of Raleigh!
The nice thing about cycling is that it strengthens the quadriceps, the very muscles you need for good knee health. In addition, you get a high quality cardiovascular workout without straining your lower joints.
As for the trail itself, it's truly in excellent condition. Some of it was shaded.
But I still had to spend more time out in the hot sun than I wanted to.
Sunshine or shade, however, it was a great ride. Made me smile the whole time. Thank you, Lord, for the inspiration!
P.S. I'm a data type of guy. If it's quantifiable, I want to know.
But the most important thing about these stats is that I did each of these workouts at a low heart rate. The idea is to work out without feeling like you're working out. You're just savoring each moment. You magically enter a different world. Most importantly, your health and fitness are gradually moving forward instead of backward. The highlight of your day becomes the moments you're outdoors enjoying God's beautiful creation. My hope is that you will find something in these daily blog posts that will help you find your own path to health, both physical and spiritual.
Onward and upward!
7:34 AM From one day to the next, the news doesn't change very much. As the world turned again, people awoke to more grim news about their world. I thought about this during my reading in Galatians 6 this morning on my creaky old front porch.
It's the duty of Christians to bear each other's burdens, writes Paul. "We listen," wrote John Stott in the introduction to his book The Contemporary Christian: An Urgent Plea for Double Listening, "to the Word with humble reverence, anxious to understand it, and determined to believe and obey what we have come to understand. We listen to the world with critical alertness, anxious to understand it too, and determined not necessarily to believe and obey it, but to sympathize with it and to seek grace to discover how the gospel relates to it." Our calling, he says, is to be both faithful and relevant. My own practice is, after I have read the Bible, to read the news so as to better understand the modern dilemmas, fears, and frustrations people the world over are facing. Hopefully this "double reading" will help equip me to restate the fundamental truths of Christianity for the contemporary world. People are asking today, "What does Christianity have to offer us?" On days when all we can do is hold on by our teeth, our only lifeline is Jesus Christ. We need to grab on tight and then pray like crazy.
On a completely unrelated note, I hope to try out a new riding path down in Raleigh today. I don't feel good unless I move, if ya know what I mean. Yes, it's a bit of a drive, but if you love what you do, you will put up with a lot. I see a parallel between exercise and the study of Greek. On the one hand, I've discovered that some people simply do not enjoy exercise. They may start out with good intentions, but eventually they just give up. Likewise with Greek. Let me put it plainly: If you don't like Greek, you'll never stay with it. My feeling is that people who stay with it discover that after the initial pain they're starting to like it. I mean, what is the driving motivation for you to learn Greek -- or to exercise for that matter? I think people should find out what they like. I have students who love Greek from the very first day. They love it so much that they stay with it. That's why I tell my students on the very first day of class, "My purpose is not to disseminate information. You can get that in one fourth the time by reading our textbook. My goal is to hopefully motivate you to fall in love with the language so that this year of study will be nothing less than the foundation of a lifetime of using Greek in your life and ministry." I just can't imagine people missing out on the blessing of being able to read Greek! But everyone reacts to everything differently. We see colors differently. We taste things differently. We smell things differently. And I guess we react to both exercise and the study of Greek differently. At first I didn't really enjoy triathlons. My cycling was too slow. But when I got a custom road bike, it changed my life. It was like I suddenly realized what cycling was all about. The problem with triathlons is that you have to be devoted. I am to a certain degree. I try to train for one every year. But I don't devote the time to it that I devote to running. I just discover that I have this joy and love of distance running.
Friend, what do you love to do? Do it with all your heart. The amazing thing is that it's often within our power to decide what we love to do.
Wednesday, July 15
5:36 PM Isn't this a beautiful grape orchard?
It's right down the road from me. The local dentist planted it on his farm a couple of years ago. Over the past few decades, Virginia has emerged as one of the leading states in wine production. As of 2019 there were 250 vineyards and wineries in the Commonwealth. The state calls the area where I live the "Southern Virginia Wine Region." I don't think the dentist has named his vineyard yet but I wouldn't be surprised to see a sign go up soon. What piques my curiosity every time I drive by it is to see whether or not I can find any grapes growing on the vines. Thus far I haven't seen any. I once read that there usually isn't a large amount of grapes until the third or fourth year. Farmers just have to be patient. Likewise, we believers are God's vineyard, but as yet we're incomplete projects. Some grow faster than others. And at times we need to be pruned. We're still a work in progress. God is well aware of this. And we can be confident that the God who began a good work in our lives will bring it to a flourishing finish. He is a gentle craftsman. He doesn't just sit there and pound away with a chisel. He works delicately and often slowly. Remember, his work is a process, one that is completed only over a long period of time. So like a good farmer, we too must be patient. God is shaping each of us until every aspect of our lives reflects his artistry. My predicament is that too often I try to change myself. That's going about it the wrong way. But as I allow God to take over the maturation process, that's when true change occurs.
One day I'd like to plant a small vineyard on the farm for grape juice production. I think it would teach me so much about the Christian life (John 15 comes to mind). We are God's special farm project, and each of us is at a different stage of completion. Take a few minutes to think about the ways in which God has been patient toward you. What areas still need work? Well, I'd like to write more but it's time to cook pizza for supper. I'm famished. Ran 4 miles this morning and just got back from a swim.
Have hope, be kind, and smile.
2:32 PM The first mater sandwich of the summer is always the tastiest.
2:18 PM "Status quo, you know, is Latin for 'the mess we're in.'" Ronald Reagan.
11:10 AM The word of the day, folks, is "competition." If I'm really honest with myself, I'd have to say I've got a very competitive spirit. When I line up for a race, I'm doing more than going out for just another jog. I'm there to race. In fact, if challenged by someone in my age group, you may well find me digging deep to summon all of my energy and to put it all on the line, if you know what I mean! Hey -- why finish the Chicago Marathon in 12,435th place when you can finish it in 12,434th place? Those of us in the back of the pack are no less competitive than the elite runners out in front. Competition makes us all better runners. In fact, I think this is true in all areas of life. Let me give you an example. As you know, I've written a ton of books about Greek. This includes a first year grammar, a second year grammar, an introduction to Greek textual criticism, an introduction to Greek linguistics, a textbook on Greek exegesis, and so on and so forth. But I love it whenever an author comes out with another book on any of these topics because I love the friendly "competition" it engenders. When another beginning Greek grammar comes out, I purchase it and read it with an open mind. I will seek to learn from it in any way that I think will improve my teaching. I assure you, having this kind of "competition" will bring a better Dave Black to the classroom in 2020. That's why I'm so opposed to the "second place is the first loser" mentality. You may not win the race, my friend, but that doesn't mean you're not a winner. There's a huge difference between a win and a victory. It's a victory when you rise to meet a challenge. It's a victory when you test your limits. The time on your watch is not a reflection of the kind of runner you are. It's merely the time it took you to go from point A to point B, no more and no less. I'm proud of everyone who crosses that finish line, whether they finish in front of me or behind me. I don't look at other runners as people who are preventing me from winning but rather as people who are going to help me be victorious. At least you put yourself "in the arena." I've seen almost every movie about running out there, but none will ever come close to the impact Spirit of the Marathon has made on me. In addition to featuring the runner who would eventually end up winning the Chicago Marathon that year, it also featured normal everyday people like you and me who will never have a chance to win a race but who will have ample opportunities to be victorious in life. As you set new goals and overcome new fears, you become a new person as well. You find that, almost without realizing it, you're not afraid to learn, to grow, to mature, to change. You learn to look at competition as something that increases your own discipline and dedication. It becomes the tool with which you build the person you want to be. Even if you're overweight, even if you're a klutz, even if you were always the last kid picked in gym class, you can still become a competitive athlete.
Today I challenge you to write down all the reasons you can't exercise, can't become fit, can't possible become a runner, and then throw the list in the trash. You can do it. You only have to want to.
Tuesday, July 14
5:04 PM So very grateful for a good follow-up appointment with the doc today. She gives me two thumbs up and says I am good to go training-wise. When I got home the USPS blessed me with these:
I'll start on them tonight. I am still basking in the undeserved happiness of doing a 5 mile run yesterday. Thank you, Lord! Recovery for me so far has consisted mostly of walks and bike rides, lots of bed rest, and plenty of reading. I think I've turned the corner, though. Anyhoo, I'm feeling 100 percent and am ready to hit the ground running again, literally. I did hear something on the news that disturbed me, though, while I was driving into town. Seems science and scientists are getting a lot of pushback these days. That's very sad. I am not a science teacher, but I do teach critical thinking in all of my classes. I am a huge proponent of the scientific (i.e., linguistic) approach to New Testament Greek exegesis and think anti-intellectualism is a very dangerous mindset to have. Our faith is a reasonable faith. If the spiritual life needs nourishment, so does the intellectual life. Sound exegetical skills are especially important in a day and age when people are increasingly allergic to the hard work of digging into the Bible themselves. John Wesley once wrote, "It is fundamental with us that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false." Folks, God has created us as rational beings. Anti-intellectualism is therefore a serious threat to a balanced Christianity. Let's strive, shall we, for a combination of intellect and emotion. God, the source and goal of all knowledge, will, I believe, shine his light on us more and more if we use all of the resources he's given us to know his mind until we arrive at an outlook informed by Christ himself.
P.S. It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway): Abuse of the intellect in the pursuit of truth is just as dangerous to the Christian life as anti-intellectualism. The Lord is clear about this: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart" (1 Cor. 1:19). Both an overemphasis and an underemphasis on the intellect are to be avoided.
12:44 PM What a beautiful field of corn.
I could watch corn grow all day long. If we didn't grow hay on our farm I would definitely plant our fields in corn. How can it be a farm without maize? I snapped that picture while I was biking the East Coast Greenway this morning.
Got in 20 miles before it got too hot to ride any more.
Here I'm about to pump up my tires before my ride.
They need to be topped off every two days or so. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but just as tires need air on a regular basis, so we believers need a fresh filling of the Spirit from time to time. The Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier who alone can subdue the flesh. Which means that the enjoyment of the Christian life depends on the Holy Spirit. Without His sanctifying work in our lives, our liberty is bound to degenerate into license. If, on the other hand, we walk in the Spirit, we will certainly not gratify the desires of the flesh. We will still experience them but we won't indulge them. Instead, people will see in us the fruit of the Spirit. This victory is within reach of every one of us, because every Christian has the Spirit. So when we need a fresh filling, let's not hesitate to ask for one, okay? For me, that's at least once or twice a day.
Tomorrow I hope to get in an early run, then on Thursday the plan is to do a long bike. As in 40 miles maybe. I think you could say I'm hooked. I guess being a cycling junkie is better than being a junkie junkie.
8:06 AM I know I'm crazy, but I love comparing translations with the original, even book titles. Can I give you an example? Gerhard Lohfink once wrote an excellent book called Jesus and Community.
But that's not its original German title. The original has Wie hat Jesus die Gemeinde gewollt? I'd render this perhaps as "How die Jesus want the church [to act]?" Oh my. The English is not even close to the German. Here's another one. Who hasn't heard of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque? The original German title is Im Westen nichts Neues -- Nothing New in the West. Close, but no cigar. One last example if I may (hope you're not becoming too bored but I am going somewhere with this). My review of Heinrich von Siebenthal's grammar will shortly appear in the journal Filologia Neotestamentaria. The English title of his work is Ancient Greek Grammar for the Study of the New Testament. The original German, in English, is simply Greek Grammar of [lit. "to"] the New Testament.
I've been blessed to have had several of my books translated into other languages. I'm not really sure, but I do believe these languages include at least French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Korean. How well did the translators do? I have no earthly idea! I know none of these languages well enough to be able to make that judgment. This is where trust and verification come in. Notice I said trust AND verification. On the one hand, you have to trust that your translator did a good job. On the other hand, it's never wrong to have his or her work checked by others. The more minds involved, the better the final product. The application? When you are reading an English Bible, always ask yourself, "Is this the work of a committee or of an individual?" We need to ask this question because it will affect our confidence level in the version we're reading. This weekend I had a talk with someone about The Message. We both agreed that sometimes it hits it out of the ballpark, and at other times it misses it by a mile. But when you realize that The Message is really a commentary by one person, that will maybe help you to see why so many of its renderings seem a bit eccentric. If you want to pursue this question in greater detail, I'd recommend Henry Neufeld's The Potential Arrogance of Critiquing Bible Translations. Since, admit it or not, we all read Scripture through our own cultural lens, we must learn more about how the process of Bible translation works and the settings in which a particular version arose. More than that, we need wisdom and insight. We need the Holy Spirit. The truth of God is not what you or I think it is or even what the church teaches. It is what the Spirit is saying to the church through the word. Whatever Bible version you end up using, the greatest need will always be for readers to humbly submit to its authority and prayerful seek to receive it and conform their lives to its teachings.
Well, that will do it for now meine Damen und Herren! Gotta get in a bike before it gets too hot. As always, thanks for stopping by. And remember:
7:20 AM Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Let's see: where to start? How about with my Bible time this morning? Isaiah 42 did the trick, folks, it did the trick.
All about the Servant of the Lord in whom God delights, the one who will reveal justice to the nations of the world, who will be gentle, who will never shout or quarrel in the streets, who will not break the bruised reed (I love that metaphor!) or quench the dimly burning flame, who will encourage the fainthearted, who will see FULL justice given to all who have been wronged, the one who won't be satisfied until truth and righteousness prevail throughout the earth, not until distant lands have put their trust in him (Isa. 42:1-4). Oh my, wouldn't you want to love and serve a God like that? This world, my friends, is in such a mess. But that's a sign the Lord is at work! It's not a massage we need, folks, it's shock treatment. He's blasting us loose from our earthly moorings into a venture of real faith. Once again, we're having to turn from earth's trash to heaven's treasure. We've needed shock treatment to bring us to a clear-cut yes or no. We're either with him or against him. There is no middle seat in this airplane. An aspirin pill of religion won't help. We don't need a lullaby but a reveille. Our churches are filled with babies that need to grow up. I know, because I'm one of them. I come to Christ but do I come after him? I gladly accept his offer of rest but do I take his yoke upon me? I need to get my eyes off my faith because it's the object of my faith that makes the difference. I must begin "off-looking unto Jesus" (so the lovely Greek of Heb. 12:2). Faith is a means to an end, and that end is himself.
Folks, it's time to shed our skin, rise up like the phoenix from the ashes, and break out of our cocoon like a beautiful new butterfly. May it begin in my heart, may it begin in my heart!
Monday, July 13
11:14 AM "Rebuilding the body for the next road marathon" might be a good title for today's blog post. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, I've decided on my next marathon in 2021, which I will announce at the end of this post. Right now, though, it's time to up my game when it comes to endurance, strength, flexibility, and many other areas of running maintenance.
Overall I am pretty happy with my heart rate today and how I was able to keep myself in zone 2 for most of my run.
It did not help that it was hot and humid this morning even before 9:00 am. Let's just say that the earlier I get out there the better. Thankfully, the local high school has practically no traffic at all.
Its roads and parking lots are the perfect venue for training.
I felt incredibly strong during today's run, very encouraging for the future. I am excited to keep digging and fighting for training runs that fuel my competitive spirit. I've been humbled to say the least by recent months of not being able to train. We live and learn, right? But I keep telling myself, "Now I know better." Again, my general thesis is that the more you run at a slow heart rate, the faster you will be able to run on race day. A marathon in 2021 is definitely on the horizon, and hopefully many shorter distance races as well. We are going to keep praying, training, resting, eating well, and trusting the Lord for the future.
My next marathon, you ask? The Flying Pig in Cincinnati in May, 2021. If God should allow me to run in that event it would be my 4th time doing the Pig, which, in fact, was my very first marathon. My daily training is only getting started, ladies and gentlemen, and frankly, I think my resurrected running career is just getting started too. Onward and upward to the next race -- with thanksgiving to God on my lips!
Sunday, July 12
5:38 PM Interesting book here.
Do you agree with this?
If not, why not?
12:34 PM Jesus. He's calling me to follow him again. I got saved and grew up as part of the Jesus Movement. We wanted to follow Jesus, period. He wasn't a doctrine or a political party or a sermon or a denomination. He was the Center of everything. It struck me as odd this weekend, as I retreated with the Lord, that my faith started out with a childlike love for him that morphed into an intellectual understanding of Jesus that did yet another 180 and led me back to where it all started: being in love with Jesus.
And the best part is this: Everyone can love and serve him. This is one reason I love marathons so much. There's something special about a bunch of rank amateurs competing on the same course as the world's most elite runners. You won't find this in football or baseball or basketball. We amateurs may not be as dedicated or skilled or fast as the professionals, but my, oh my, do we love the sport. Likewise, in Jesus' kingdom, everybody gets to do ministry. Moreover, everyone is a theologian, grappling with questions. Write your books if you want to, but it's the Bible that informs my life. Paul looked at everything that at one time was so important to him and said, "I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him." God isn't impressed with our books. Nor is he threatened by our questions. Maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit is more an Anointing than we think he is. We may not have the answers but he does. On weekends like this one, I'm relearning how to take the Bible seriously, how to let it be everything it was meant to be in my life.
It shows me how to think right, get right, stay right, and do right (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible can be trusted. It's the tool God uses to point us to deeper trust in him. The Bible exists to equip us to know God, to participate fully in eternal life now, and then to be sent out into the world to proclaim the kingdom of God. When I struggle with God's direction in my life, when I lose someone important to me (like Becky), when I am confused or angry or afraid, I return to the simple words of Scripture for encouragement and, if necessary, a course correction. I open my Bible and read and ponder and think and write stuff down, my heart fixed and established on Jesus. I cling more to the Bible than I used to. I'm challenged in ways I never was when I was in seminary or grad school. I may be a teacher of the New Testament by profession, but that's not my identity. I am my Father's son and Jesus' brother, walking wherever he walks and following the scent of his presence. I find God now in the most ordinary rhythms of life. I see the entire world as God's and as redeemable.
I've replaced the word "Christian" with "obedient and joyful follower of Jesus." Every aspect of my daily work -- farming, teaching, blogging -- is his work. I'm ashamed at how I used to think that only my preaching and teaching were spiritual acts. Nowadays I find myself serving and worshipping God when I go out for a jog or when I wash the dishes. The only interest is in being obedient. However, to be obedient to Jesus is to invite him into your life over and over again. When you do this, you have no idea what the outcome will be. The Lord may choose to do something very different with your life. No one can say what obedience will bring. But it certainly will be an adventure!
Stay centered in his love,
Friday, July 10
2:00 PM The van has 4 new tires.
And I have 4 new running miles in my training log.
Now I'm off to a Friday-Sunday retreat with the Lord. Have a great weekend y'all!
8:08 AM One of my resolutions this year was to read more. Where do you do your daily reading? This is where I do a lot of my reading -- on the front porch before the sun rises and the heat becomes sweltering.
I have my Greek New Testament (first and foremost!) with me and maybe a handful of commentaries but always my iPhone that allows me to access practically every Bible version in existence. When I start reading I can't stop. I love the Scriptures! And then I always have to go back to a passage I've already studied because I know, I just know, I've missed something important. Ever get that feeling? Allow me to bore you with three examples from Galatians.
1) Overlooked truth #1 is what Paul writes in 2:10:
Imagine that. Paul has just described one of the most important church councils in history where justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, was agreed on for both Jew and Gentile, and then we read that the summation of that meeting was -- don't forget to help the poor! Say what? Why, that would be like holding a three day Bible conference at your church with famous Bible teachers and then dismissing the conference so that these same speakers could serve at an inner city food pantry for three days. Somehow I think that scenario is bit unlikely though it shouldn't be. By the way, I noticed that recently I wrote something on this subject. I forgot this essay existed but here it is in case you'd like to peek at it: The Christian and Generosity. The main idea is that helping the poor in our midst should be the regular practice of the church. The question for us is: Are we eager to do this? Do we take pains to help them? Do we engage in this kind of ministry with all the vigor we can muster? The greatest passage of all in this regard is 2 Cor. 8:9!!
2) Overlooked truth #2 is what Paul says about the leaders of the Jerusalem church. In an odd sort of way, he refers to them as "those of repute" and those who were "reputed to be pillars." I'm sure he meant them no disrespect. After all, we're talking about no less persons than James, Peter, and John! Were they great leaders? In every way. But that's not Paul's point. He seems to be saying, "The great leaders of the church in Jerusalem added nothing to what I was preaching. By the way, the fact that they are great leaders made no real difference to me, for all are the same to God." (See Gal. 2:6.) Stott says this about the expressions "those of repute" and "those who are reputed to be pillars":
I can go for that, ladies and gentlemen, I can go for that! Perhaps a good example today might be the titles we grant our leaders such as "lead" pastor or "senior" pastor. Some churches, in fact, distinguish between pastors and elders, or between senior pastor and associate pastor, or between staff elders and lay elders. The fact is, all are equally elders. An elder is a pastor is an overseer. Let me add that even if you hold to the "first among equals" idea, I still think you would be hard pressed to make distinctions among your leaders by the use of different titles. Even Alexander Strauch, who holds to a "primus inter pares" (first among equals) concept, is not happy with the title "senior pastor" (go here if you're interested).
3) Overlooked truth #3 is Paul's mention of miracles in 3:5:
Notice how casually Paul mentions the existence of miracles among the Galatian churches. And why not? Craig Keener's two-volume study called Miracles represents the most detailed defense of the credibility of the miracle stories in the Gospels and Acts, but note: he also suggests that many miracle accounts (not all!) throughout history are also credible. Keener took on David Hume and beat him fair and square!
So here are three things I overlooked in my daily reading of Galatians thus far. Have you ever done that? Do you ever have to reread a book or an essay thinking, "Hmm, I may have missed something the first go-around!" Please tell me you have done this!
P.S. Here are two great books. Read them if you haven't already. Reread them if you have.
Off to get new tires on my van!
Thursday, July 9
5:10 PM I spent the morning on campus going over my newly installed desktop and also being interviewed by Matt Whitman of "The Ten Minute Bible Hour" about my book arguing for the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Not too long ago Matt interviewed me about the synoptic problem.
It's sort of ironic, but a guy as conservative as me seems to always be coming up with off-the-wall views. Let's be honest. The affirmed view is that Paul could not have possibly authored Hebrews. This has, in effect, become a dogma of New Testament scholarship (in my humble opinion). Regrettably, once established, a dogma becomes nearly impossible to dismiss -- even if new and seemingly contradictory evidence is discovered. This, I believe, is precisely what has happened to this issue. The "affirmed view" is now deeply embedded within the public consciousness. And once a consensus has been reached, the story becomes indelibly fixed.
At any rate, folks, I thought Matt and I had a really good time discussing Paul as a possible author of Hebrews, and I hope you will too. Matt tells me the program will air sometime in August. I want to end by saying that this doesn't mean I think I'm right and everyone else is wrong. But neither can I with integrity ignore (1) the strong external evidence in favor of Pauline authorship (see, for example, the placement of Hebrews in our early manuscripts here) and (2) the powerful internal evidence that seems to corroborate the external evidence. So when asked, I feel obliged to help kingdom people wrestle with the available evidence.
I encourage you to look at all the evidence. It really is a big deal!
P.S. My bike today in Wake Forest. Gotta love me some cycling!
Wednesday, July 8
12:38 PM Let me first say that I'm loving this book.
The author is one of my faves. I admit, I have no idea why more people aren't familiar with him. Ditto for Jacque Ellul. This weekend I'm planning on going on another weekend personal retreat to my favorite prayer center in North Carolina and you can be sure I'm taking these authors with me. In this book, the author contrasts the "Royal Vienna String Quartet" type of church with a "Barbershop Foursome" type of church. Both are dedicated to making music, but they exist for different ends and can be evaluated by different criteria. The purpose of a professional string quarter is to produce music of the highest possible quality for the enjoyment of the audience. The purpose of an amateur barbershop quartet is to have the satisfying experience of singing, not for the sake of an audience, but for their own benefit. The contrast is between "Nothing but the best" and "Do it yourself."
I'll stop here because I really want you to read this book for yourself. But I gotta tell you how the author closes his book. He writes:
Then he adds:
Be honest. Isn't he making a good point?
12:24 PM The Maffetone heart rate method is very simple. You subtract your age from 180 to find your MAF (maximum aerobic function). To be on the safe side, many will also subtract another 5 or 10 points from that number so that you are doing the great majority of your training runs in a very low heart rate zone. Since I am 68, my MAF is 112 beats per minute, and so my training heart rate should fall anywhere between 102 and 112 bpm. Here's today's 4 mile run at our local high school.
Actually, I ran for 3/4 of a mile and then walked for 1/4 of a mile, and did this 4 times. Today I did my run on the road because the track had too many people on it (which is a good thing, to be sure, but I do NOT like to run in a crowd during a pandemic).
The idea was to run at a low-intensity pace that never spikes your heart rate over your aerobic maximum. So how did I do?
Not too shabby! There is something very pure and simple about doing your training this way. It allows your body to adapt to the increased training hours. Now that I'm fully back into running (very short distances, mind you, and at a very low heart rate) it seems that my physical and mental well being is spot on. I run enough to get that runner's release and yet I also enjoy the balance that biking, swimming, and walking give me. It feels good to be challenging myself in this way.
Folks, what's your exercise philosophy? You may never achieve all of your goals. But that's no reason not to achieve some of them.
12:08 PM Hello virtual friends of the internet! My Bible study today was in Gal. 2:17-21. Here are Stott's four conclusions:
I also love how TLB translates verse 21:
Paul could not put it more plainly. Love Galatians!
Tuesday, July 7
1:25 PM Hey folks! This was my view on a gorgeous day in Southside Virginia.
I did an easy 5 mile walk today, at a low heart rate.
To be honest, I wanted to break out into a run. Chances are that, if I did that, I would fall back into the habit of overtraining. I'm glad I talked myself into walking (only) today. The whole idea behind low heart rate training is to build your aerobic base without getting injured. It completely rejects the "no pain, no gain" philosophy of running. Sure, it's not easy to transition from the mindset of always running hard to slowing down pretty significantly or taking a different approach to running altogether. I've decided to run no more than three times a week and to integrate more (not less) walking into my training routine. It is very important to learn how to walk before you run. I think people underestimate the importance of walking. People run the way they walk, and they walk the way they stand, so if your basic posture is wrong when you're just standing still, your running mechanics will be off as well. So why not take the opportunity to practice good posture when you're just now getting back into running? I mean, you could sit at your desk, as I'm doing now, and still be working on your "running."
If you have good technique running slowly, you will be able to run fast eventually without pushing harder. I am convinced of that. In fact, you can exercise all the same muscles going slower during your run. I've kinda figured out that right at about a 14-minute pace is where I need to be in order to rebuild my aerobic base. I say that as someone who used to go all out whenever I ran. If I could have done it over again, I would have appreciated the real value of what easy running can do for your body. A fast finish time is not an objective for every runner. There are many runners out there who care more about becoming a stronger, healthier, and happier athlete. Today I definitely fall into that category. I also believe that a healthy athlete will compete better, without injury, for longer periods. So it's a win-win proposition whenever I get out there and walk, as I did today.
My friend, if you are one of those millions of runners out there who are slow, as in really slow, it's okay. Don't ever try to keep up with other runners. It's not worth it. Running is a balance between accepting and rejecting the limitations of our running -- and of our lives.
7:22 AM A good Tuesday morning to you all, and I hope you're doing well. So much to say about today's passage from Galatians -- 2:11-16 -- but I've got a dentist appointment this morning and then I'm going to try to get outdoors and get in a workout before it gets too hot. The temps are going to be in the high 80s all week here in southern Virginia, but the real feel is, of course, much higher than that. At any rate, I was very impressed with Paul's line of argument here in Gal. 2:11-6, and his courage as well, in confronting Cephas face to face and in public. I can only imagine how tense and dramatic the original scene was there in Syrian Antioch. It's not every day we see two apostles of Christ in open conflict! The issue here, of course, is one of hypocrisy. Peter's withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentiles wasn't prompted by theological considerations but by fear of a special interest group. But Judaizers aren't the only ones with a corner on the market of snooty pride and vile legalism. The same traits are all around us -- and in us -- today. As I spent time in prayer this morning I tried to identify any Pharisee-like qualities I find in myself. Actually, it's been quite some time since I've thought about hypocrisy, but there's enough of it in my own life to consume most of my attention. No, God doesn't want us to be blind about the sin and hypocrisy all around us, but it's too easy for me to focus my binoculars on others' sin and hypocrisy when I have trouble seeing the same thing in the mirror.
Ok, maybe more on this later. Gotta boogie!
Monday, July 6
1:05 PM Are you done getting better? You say, "Better at doing what?" It doesn't matter. Are you getting better at whatever God has called you to do with your life? Now is the time to seize the day, to take the next step if you will. Don't put off to tomorrow what you can do today. My 5 miles today was a little shot in the arm for my future running.
I ran 3 of those miles nonstop at a comfortable pace and loved every minute of it. This is the first time I've run 3 miles in weeks!
I asked myself, "Dave, are you done getting better? Can you still make little daily improvements in your running?" And the answer came back a resounding "Yes!" We march on, folks, we fight on for good health (both physical and spiritual), we run on toward all our lofty goals because, no, we are not done getting better on this earth. I think the key is just sticking with it. Next month I'll teach a new Greek class consisting of 45 beginning students. My goals for them are twofold. On the one hand, since they signed up to learn how to read Greek with me, I want to see each and every one of them gain the ability to read their Greek New Testament with the use of a lexicon. But secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, I want to see them gain a lifelong love for the Greek language. I want them to use their Greek every single day for the rest of their lives. Every day we read our Greek New Testament is a good day. Every day we exercise is a good day. That's life, my friends, that's life. One day at a time. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Moving forward and hoping your priorities will help you navigate the future more wisely.
7:45 AM A few years ago I asked, "Why are there four gospels in our New Testament and not, say, three or five?"
But as I read Gal. 2:1-10 this morning -- the next paragraph in my study of this marvelous letter -- I can see how my question might be a bit misleading. Paul has much to say about this subject in our passage. To read these verses is to derive one conclusion and one conclusion only: There is only one gospel. And it is through this gospel that Jews and Gentiles alike are accepted by God on the same terms -- through faith in Jesus Christ. Now if there is only one gospel for the apostle Paul and for the Jerusalem apostles, shouldn't there be only one gospel for us? How, then, can we speak of four "gospels"?
The reason is simple: the term "gospel" (euangelion) originally referred only to a message. Thus in the New Testament, euangelion never refers to a book. Later, the term was broadened in meaning to include what we today call the written "gospels" of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So in one sense, there is only one gospel in the New Testament, and there is only one gospel for the church. This gospel message hasn't changed in two millennia. Whether it is proclaimed to young or old, Jew or Gentile, cultured or uncultured, its substance never changes. Peter and Paul preached the same gospel, and so must we.
One way, I think, to overcome the apparent contradiction between this "one gospel" and the "four gospels" is to refer to the latter, as I do in my book Why Four Gospels?, as the "fourfold gospel." This is, in fact, how the early church referred to them. In addition, when these four accounts of the life of Christ were originally published, their titles were not "The Gospel of Matthew," "The Gospel of Mark," etc. They were, instead, "The Gospel according to Matthew," "The Gospel according to Mark," and so forth. This is without a doubt the best way to refer to them today, and I myself have tried to do so in my teaching and writing, though I often lapse back into "The Gospel of Matthew." Certainly, there are differences of style between these four accounts. There are also differences of emphasis. All this I point out in my book. But their substance is the same, and the early church was at pains to emphasize this. This matter is of importance to us today because there are some who want to pit Matthew against Mark, for example, or John against Luke. They openly allege that the gospels contradict one another. Therefore, they can't be trusted. That there are apparent contradictions between the written gospels, no one will deny. But they are capable of explanations that do not require us to sacrifice the inspiration and inerrancy on the altar of scholarship. Each gospel writer, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, had to select and arrange the material in his book. This material will naturally vary from gospel to gospel. And this is one reason we must study these accounts horizontally -- using a harmony of the gospels or a Greek synopsis to do so. Not only that, each gospel has a different purpose. Matthew wrote to accomplish one thing, Mark another, Luke another, and John yet another. And so we must read each gospel vertically (from beginning to end) if we are to understand its unique emphasis. The lesson that stands out for me in this paragraph from Galatians is that there is only one true gospel message, the gospel of grace, of God's free and unmerited favor. To turn from that gospel is to turn from the grace of Christ. In this sense, the church does not have more than one gospel. Both Paul and Peter had been entrusted with the same gospel. And that gospel it our common message today.
Hope this made sense!
Sunday, July 5
5:58 PM I ran no miles today. Instead, my focus was on active rest, as in taking an hour nap and then going outdoors to mow the yards. I also harvested my first squash of the summer.
You'd think that as a farmer anything I planted would bear fruit, but I am always astounded that everything I plant doesn't just die in the ground. This little guy will end up in my Chinese stir fry tomorrow night.
In other exciting news ...
I've dusted off all of my running books, including this one by Danny Dreyer, the guru of Chi Running.
No, you don't have to become a marshal arts expert to follow this training program. The basic idea of Chi Running is that all running should be done at a comfortable aerobic pace that feels easy and sustainable. The goal is to develop balanced body mechanics for an injury-free life. Did you say, "Injury free"? Count me in. I am trying not to panic about my training. I'm going to assume that each day I'll get a little bit stronger. I know getting back into shape can take a very long time so I have to be patient (not my strong suit) and just enjoy the process. The finish line is fine, but getting there is half the fun. You simply find whatever trick works for you to get you to do your workouts. My life is not perfect, but there are a gazillion things to thankful for, and one of them is getting outdoors and enjoying God's wonderful creation on a regular basis. I've found that when I've learned to be disciplined in one area of my life it spills over into the rest of my life.
Anyhow, I hope you have a great week. Mine will be busy. Maybe I'll even get in a 3 mile run this week!
12:40 PM The topic of today's in-person message was repentance and revival. Then I watched my son-in-law's sermon from Alabama. The topic? Repentance and revival. And if that's not enough, right now I'm watching a sermon about the fall of Jerusalem. No fair, gentlemen. That's "piling on"! As Christians, we seldom truly wrestle with personal sin as we should. I know I don't. Is it too late to learn how to repent, to change? Never. Christ stands at the door of my heart and knocks. I opened the door once. Will I open it to him again?
Jesus, I need you every day. Every hour. Every moment of every hour. I need you to protect me. I need you to show me where I've taken that slow, downhill slide from you. I need you to show me where I'm in hot water. I need you to warn me. I need you to renew my joy. I need you if I am to experience anything like that full, rich, abundant life you promise those who love you. I need you to guide me out of darkness. Help me, O Lord, as I learn how to maneuver through every difficulty of life, whether it's my fears about next month or my tears over that relationship I care so deeply about. Lord, what I can't do, you can do. Deep inside of me is an urge to know you and love you and obey you more fully, to have regular , audible conversations together. I want to see you close up, face to face. Lord, I come to you today in repentance and faith. Please rekindle Christ's spark within me. Enlighten my path and show me that you're in control and will eventually work bad circumstances into positive results. I ask and pray all this for your glory alone. Amen.
7:58 AM I was in Gal. 1:11-24 this morning. The use of the imperfect tense here is remarkable. This includes the periphrastic imperfect constructions in verses 22 and 23. Then there's a major textual variant in verse 15. Should we read "He was pleased" or "God was pleased"? The latter's external support is much stronger than the former's. I also noticed Paul's use of the passive voice in verse 11. He doesn't say "I preached the gospel" but "the gospel that was preached by me." The passive calls attention to the grammatical subject very effectively I think. Finally, just think of the irony of God making Paul a preacher of the very gospel he had so bitterly opposed.
Is it realistic to think that a person exegeting and then teaching this passage should be able to recognize such details in the text? Are we being too idealistic? But think of the alternative. If we do not let the text speak for itself, we may well end up with nothing but our own preconceived notions about what the text means. That's why in producing a sermon we have to spend time reading the text repeatedly in the original language and then use English translations as further supplements to see how others have rendered our text. We should avail ourselves of every opportunity to check and double-check our opinions about the text before sharing them with others. Bible versions and commentaries are essential "conversation partners." Exegesis always takes more time and effort than eisegesis. But it's worth it, my friends, it's worth it! Language is a coherent and complex system. In Greek, for example, little language particles can carry a heavier load of meaning than many of us would imagine possible. Verb tenses (and verbal aspect as well) also function in extremely important ways. In short, languages are messy. They require quite a bit from us. What I discussed above is just a sampling. It is, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg. That's why it's so much fun to do a deep drive into the passage we're reading. Obviously, only careful exegesis does justice to the text. But we're willing to pay that price, right? Galatians is a wonderful example of a text that needs both exegesis and theology to be working at full speed. And there is every reason to believe that the rest of the New Testament deserves the same treatment.
Saturday, July 4
9:38 PM Our family cookout was great, and the live fireworks on PBS's A Capitol Fourth were amazing. I'm home now, falling on my knees and praying, "God bless America." My life is as rich as any person I know, and a big part of that wealth is belonging to this great nation. "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, yes, I have a goodly heritage." None of this is deserved. And it is not just my story. It is our story, my fellow citizens. To be sure, these are challenging days for our nation, the most challenging we have faced in a very long time. These challenges are met when we learn to confront them head on and allow ourselves to be enlarged by them, so that our capacity to live up to our great potential as Americans increases. It all depends on the choices we make and the grace we receive and the grace we are willing to extend to others. This difficult time can lead us to God, the only one who has the desire and the power to give us life.
As long as I remain alive I will be a proud American. I want to live out that heritage as joyfully, purposefully, and productively as I can. My heritage has set a standard for me, and I feel honored to uphold it. Heaven is my real home, where I have always longed to be, but perhaps there are still contributions I can make to a more just and kind society. Who knows how this crisis through which we are now living can set in motion a chain of events that will bless future generations of Americans? Today's chaos may appear to be random, but that doesn't mean that it is. It may fit into a scheme that far surpasses what our imaginations can even dare to think.
God bless you all. And God bless America.
4:18 PM Just a couple of days ago I stood here -- the site of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."
What, I wonder, would it have been like to have heard the original address? Oh my, what a speech! Did you notice these rhetorical devices?
1) Synonymy -- the use of synonyms, as in "dedicate," "consecrate," and "hallow."
2) Antithesis -- "what we say here" versus "what they did here."
3) Polyptoton -- using a term with varying permutations, as in "of the people," "by the people," and "for the people."
4) Repetition -- "here" is used seven times to dwell on the immediacy of the setting.
5) Triads -- this is the "rule of three," as in "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground."
6) Anaphora -- "we cannot ... we cannot ... we cannot"
7) Brevity -- the speech is a mere 250 words. It was over in two minutes.
8) Allusion -- "Fourscore and seven years ago" is an allusion to the Bible's "Threescore years and ten."
9) Change in voice. I especially love this one. Notice how the speech moves from the active "we cannot dedicate" to the passive "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here."
10) Euphemism -- Lincoln calls a place that had been a slaughterhouse a "final resting place."
11) Metaphor -- "a new birth of freedom."
12) General structure -- the speech is a typical funeral oration, moving from epainesis ("praise of the dead" ) to parainesis ("advice to the living").
You can hear the entire address here as recited by actor Jeff Daniels. I'm off to celebrate with family and a barbeque. Have a great evening!
1:32 PM Despite today's heat and humidity, I was glad to be able to get to the Tobacco Heritage Trail.
I managed to get in a 5 mile walk today.
Actually, I incorporated into my walk -- are you ready?????? -- a 2 mile run! "Run" probably isn't the most appropriate term, considering that I could have sipped tea at the speed I was going -- a mere 12-minute mile pace. But run I did, and I am so happy! I was encouraged by my low heart rate during my run, and when I finished I felt like I could almost burst into tears. So often in life, things have so much more meaning to you when you've had to do without them for a while. That's when you realize it's what the thing represents that makes the biggest impact. My brief "run" today represents my ability to be strong, to not whine about what I can't do, to finish what I start, and to keep chasing down your personal dreams. I'm proof that running is welcoming to even the least athletically inclined among us, but it's also like a drug that keeps you coming back for more. Even with all the doubts and struggles, I guess I am still a runner after all. Yeah, I'm slow. Yeah, running is hard. But life can be hard for all of us. I don't want to be somebody who only thinks they can do such and such. "Considering" doing something doesn't feel like enough. It's when I actually push myself that I can look myself in the mirror with respect. Even if I never run 2 miles again for the rest of my life, running has taught me that I can persevere.
All of this means that I will begin to incorporate running into my weekly training schedule. Also, one of the things I like to do is sign up for a race you have to get ready for. Now you and your heart have a reason to train until then, because there are dollars on the line. I have already decided on what my first post-Covid race will be and will announce it shortly. I am a runner who needs to have a goal to pursue. That's just who I am. I certainly do not "regret" going for it today. Onward and upward to rise above those pesky running injuries!
8:15 AM Good morning, and Happy Independence Day! What better way to spend the morning than by reading and meditating upon Paul's Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, the book of Galatians! My study focused on the letter's second paragraph, namely 1:6-10. This morning I chose as my base English text the Good News Bible, comparing it carefully it with my Greek New Testament.
I was again reminded of just how difficult it is to translate from one language into another. Choices, choices, choices! The GNB's "I am surprised" could have also been rendered "I am shocked" or "I am amazed." The GNB's "you are deserting" could have also been rendered "you are turning away from" or "you are transferring your allegiance from." The GNB's "there are some people who are upsetting you" could have also been rendered "there are some people who are agitating you" or "there are some people who are troubling you." The GNB's "trying to change the gospel of Christ" could have also been rendered "trying to pervert the gospel of Christ" or even "trying to reverse the gospel of Christ." The GNB's "may he be condemned to hell" could have also been rendered "may he be accursed" or even "may he be anathema."
The list goes on and on. How does one decide which meaning is correct or best suits the context? That, alas, is the question of the ages for anyone seeking to exegete a biblical text! That's how this works, ladies and gentlemen, that's how this works. You labor and struggle and ponder and compare and review options until you come to your own understanding of what this or that passage is actually saying. That said, Paul's point here is clear:
To turn away from Christ and embrace another gospel is to desert the only true gospel. We cannot finish, by our obedience, what Christ has begun. We cannot add our works to the work of Christ. Salvation is by grace alone. To add human works to the finished work of Christ is to introduce confusion and error into the church. But God will not stand for that. The Greek word translated "accursed" is anathema. Paul wants God's eternal judgment to fall upon the false teachers. Why, to imply that Christ's work was somehow incomplete is to make his cross redundant! There's only one gospel and it must be kept pure at any cost. This is the message of Galatians in a nutshell.
Friend, whenever I think of Christianity as a set of external actions, as a way I have to look or act, I tend to fall into the trap of legalism. But I can't push and shove my way closer to God. True spirituality isn't primarily a matter of works and human willpower. It is all God's grace. He simply draws us to himself and we're overcome by a sense of awe and reverence, gratitude and humility. Legalism, on the other hand, is a game nobody ever wins.
I don't know why I'll telling you this, dear reader. Nothing I just wrote is new to any of you. I think Gal. 1:6-10 just reminds me of how Paul seems to be saying, "Dave, on this Fourth of July, do not forget what was purchased for you on the cross of Calvary. Stand fast in that liberty from both legalism and license by which Christ has set you free. God did not pay such a price merely to shine you up a bit and add his righteousness to your own. It is by God's grace, his unmerited favor, that you are saved. As you live looking to him for every need of body, mind, and spirit, enjoy the freedom from fear and worry and all the evils that would enslave you." I think it was Phillips Brooks who said, "Grace stands for Great Redemption at Christ's Expense." Whoever it was, that's what it is.
Independence Day is a beautiful day for the people of the USA. Let us celebrate every year with grateful hearts, beautiful fireworks, and food aplenty. Happy Fourth of July!
Friday, July 3
5:52 PM My training goal today was to bike from Richmond to Deep Bottom Park and Four Mile Creek on the historic James River.
This was my view as I biked today. Oh my. Breath-taking.
Not gonna lie. I love trips like this when it's just you and the countryside. Sure, there are benefits to biking with a group. Not long ago a friend and I completed all 52 miles of the Virginia Capital Trail together. But the advantages of riding alone are there too. No one is pushing the pace. (In a group, I tend to be the slowest cyclist.) You do exactly what your body can do. Solo trips are also a great chance to improve your biking form and breathing techniques. It also means that when you finish a really difficult or long bike, you can't give credit to anyone else (other than the Lord) for "getting you through." Finally, I do some of my best thinking and praying when I'm out there alone on my road bike. On the other hand, sometimes I will "zone out" and not think about anything and wonder, "Where did all those miles go?"
The trip turned out to be about 30 miles.
According to my Map My Run app, I've somehow managed to log a grand total of 214.6 training miles in the last 30 days.
I'm sitting here scratching my head. Where did all those miles come from? The answer is: from doing those little daily habits that eventually add up. If all you do is walk one mile three times a week, I'm your greatest cheerleader, folks. Although you may not be the fastest or even the most dedicated person out there, it doesn't matter. Not one bit! Running (or biking, or walking, or swimming, or racing) will embrace you anyway. Exercise will offer you rewards beyond your expectations. What about injuries? It's inevitable that we will get injured one way or another. Some injuries are annoying, while others are serious. What we need to do when we get injured is to remember that more often than not it's the regular maintenance of the body that prevents injuries -- eating unprocessed foods, taking vitamin supplements (especially Vitamin D and B12), and getting sufficient rest. Today's bike ride was just another step toward becoming fit again and maybe even getting into good enough condition to run a 10 miler in the next couple of months. Listen, I am not a medical doctor. I am not an expert. I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. But I do know how to ask the right questions (usually -- sometimes I get blindsided!) to the people out there who know health much better than I do. Above all, God is the owner of our bodies. We are vessels carrying precious cargo. How well are you taking care of the vessel? You are in charge of what and how much you eat, how much sleep and rest you get, how much time you spend in the word daily, how much you exercise your body as well as your soul. Don't shortchange God -- or yourself!
Anyhoo, hoping all this cross-training makes it possible for me to race again soon. We will see, we will see! It's all in the Lord's hands!
7:45 AM This morning during my Bible time I did a deep dive into the opening paragraph of Galatians. Here Paul gives us an overview of the contents of his letter. Gal. 1:1-5 reads like the table of contents you would you find in a modern book.
Here Paul raises two main subjects -- two themes he will constantly return to in his letter. These themes are apostleship and the gospel. The emphasis is both on Paul's credentials as an apostle and on his message of salvation (and sanctification) by grace through faith in Christ alone. For me, trying to study Galatians without understanding this broad view of its contents would be like reading a book without starting with the author's introduction or preface. Some call this a bird's eye view. Paul does the same thing in Romans (see 1:1-7). Here we see Paul's message to the Romans from 30,000 feet.
Which reminds me: I really miss flying. I had to cancel two flights when Covid hit. And my annual trip to Hawai'i in August is off. When I fly, I always get a window seat. There's something unique about looking out the fishbowl window and seeing the world from 5 miles above sea level. Last August I took this photo of Kailua Beach from my seat aboard a United 777.
This is where I spent the first 19 years of my life. Oh, the rich memories of those days. Looking back, I can see how everything that transpired during those years had a purpose and made me who I am today.
God sees my life like that. Call it a heavenly perspective if you like. He sees my life totally, from beginning to end, from horizon to horizon so to speak. He sees where I've come from and where I'm going. He sees the valleys I must walk through and the mountains I must traverse. He knows each and every detour ahead of me. In fact, God doesn't just watch my life. He directs it.
Dear reader, when you're traveling through this life, remember that God sees it all, from beginning to end. Maybe that thought will give you courage to continue to run your race with endurance. The daily frustrations we want off our backs are perhaps the very things God is using to help us grow spiritually.
We're going to make it through this everyone. Pray hard. Stay in the word. Eat well. Sleep well. Exercise regularly. Wash hands. And stay calm always.
Thursday, July 2
3:28 PM Just named the little guy.
I'm calling him Gobus -- Amharic for "Fantastic!"
Brother: Ishi ("Sure!")
Mother: Tinish Koi ("Wait a while")
Dad: Tolo Tolo ("Hurry up!")
12:26 PM The latest issue of "Talbot" arrived and contains a fascinating essay on the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 70s. It's called "The Lasting Legacy of the Jesus People."
The authors are Ed Stetzer and Andrew MacDonald, both of whom work at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Since you may not have access to this article, allow me to summarize it for you:
1) The focus of the Jesus Movement lay in its devotion to the Bible.
2) It emphasized both the authority of Scripture and its accessibility to all believers.
3) Many of its leaders adopted a simple, verse-by-verse hermeneutic.
4) Their zeal for evangelism was famous.
5) They focused on reinventing religious space (think: coffee houses).
6) All were welcome.
A funny anecdote from the essay. When Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA, exploded with hippy converts, the elders put up a sign saying "No Bare Feet Allowed in the Church" to protect the new carpet. Smith told them that if they turned away one person because of their bare feet or dirty clothes he would personally rip up the carpet and remove the pews.
Reminds me of when I raced the St. George Marathon in Utah a couple of years ago. The race was on a Saturday and I was scheduled to fly out Sunday afternoon. As is my custom, I attended church on Sunday, two churches actually. In one I was welcomed warmly, given a cup of coffee, and told I could take my coffee into the service that was about to begin. In the second church, I was also given coffee, but it was made very clear that coffee was not to be taken into the "sanctuary." The one congregation had the feel of a family; the other of a religious sect. As someone who was converted and raised in the Jesus Movement of the 1960s, I can see how we Jesus Freaks were a challenge to the introversion of the church. The church is for insiders, not for the whole world. And our sanctuaries are to be kept holy. Huh? To be sure, there were excesses in the Jesus Movement, but one thing I'll never forget is its challenge to institutionalism. Too often we see the church as a building, even a ghetto of people who like nice carpets and comfortable pews. But the church is people, people who may smell on the outside but who are alive with the Holy Spirit. It's totally immaterial where they meet. In Hawai'i, we met every Sunday evening at the Waikiki Beach Chaplaincy atop a hotel. On Sunday mornings we gathered in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel and then paddled out and surfed. I guess you could call us underenthusiastic about the institutionalized church and overenthusiastic about Jesus. Not some but all can have intimacy with God. Not some but all are called to serve and witness. This emphasis alone has rendered the Jesus People one of the most important movements the church has ever known.
9:22 AM Hey folks. Me again. Before folding the clothes I just had to share this picture with you. I forget which state I took it in.
This is a great description of a New Testament church, ain't it?
1) "Our citizenship is in heaven," writes Paul (Phil. 3:20). Therefore we are to "live as good citizens in a manner required by the Gospel" (Phil. 1:27).
2) The times in which we live resemble a dire emergency. Not only nationally and politically. Paul says concerning preachers of a different Gospel: "Let them be accursed!" That's strong language. Much of our potential service to God is lost because we fail to see just how desperate the times are.
3) "Crew" is a great word to describe the church too! "Crew" is defined as "a group of people who work closely together." The very fact that we can ask each other, "How was church today?" reveals that we think of church not as a participatory gathering but rather as a place to go with programs to be evaluated. The New Testament view of church is the exact opposite. For Paul, it was place where we as individuals help the entire church grow into the kind of relational and missionary community God intends for it to be. For Paul, a strong community mindset was the nonnegotiable starting point for "doing church."
How ya doing, fellow crew member? Let me encourage you, as a fellow missionary, to find purpose in life by joyfully and sacrificially embracing the most honorable and meaningful task imaginable: bringing God to a hurting people, and bringing hurting people to God. And let's do this in community, okay? -- as members of God's emergency life-saving crew!
8:35 AM Good morning one and all! I'm really surprised that I'm not as sore as I thought I would be this morning. I was expecting a full-blown attack of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) today. But it seems like my tired legs awoke with fresh vigor after being stretched and rolled yesterday. In fact, I feel so exuberant I'm washing clothes and cleaning the kitchen! Before I forget: The answer to yesterday's question of the day -- how do locals pronounce "Gettysburg"? -- is very simple. Just pronounce the "Gettys" part of the word as you would "lettuce" and you've got it. But you probably already figured that out.
As I said yesterday, my trip on Tuesday and Wednesday took me through central and northern Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I had three main goals -- three things I wanted to check off my bucket list. The first was to visit the site of my great-great-great-great-grandfather's farm on the Antietam Battlefield in Maryland.
As you can see, it was a gorgeous and sunny day. The Miller Farmhouse is an important battlefield marker. The troops began the attack by marching through the Miller cornfield with its head-high stalks ripe for harvest. Later the battle moved southward toward the Dunker Church. My ancestors were German Baptist Brethren, and they met in this building (actually, this is a recreation of the real building, which collapsed in 1921).
The term "Dunker" originated from the fact that the Brethren practiced baptism by immersion. One of the greatest ironies of the battle was that it took place adjacent to a building in which pacifists worshipped.
Then it was off to Gettysburg to see if I had what it takes to bike the entire park in one shot. I got an early start. I parked at the northwest corner of the park near the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, which was dedicated in 1933.
As you can see, the place was basically deserted, which is exactly the way I wanted it.
My ride totaled just under 2 hours and covered almost 17 and a half miles.
The red line above shows you my route. For those of you who might be considering doing this ride in the future, here's the itinerary I took. I rode south on Buford Ave. to Reynolds Ave., crossing the railroad cut and the Chambersburg Pike. Then I rode along McPherson Ridge to the Fairfield Rd. Turning northeast, I rode until I reached Seminary Ridge. There I regained a southerly direction, passing the Pizter Woods and eventually crossing the Emmitsburg Rd. At Warfield Ridge I turned eastward and rode over the Big and Little Round Tops along Sykes Ave. Descending Little Round Top, I then turned left onto Ayers Ave., passing the Wheatfield and the Peach Orchard via Sickles Ave. A right turn onto United States Ave. brought me past Plum Run to Hancock Ave., where I turned north toward Gettysburg. From there I rode through the Visitor Center's parking lot to the Baltimore Pike and thence eastward into the Culp's Hill section of the park before turning north to ride through town. On Lincoln Ave (the heart of Gettysburg) my course took another northeast turn along Harrisburg St. to Barlow Knoll and then westward along Howard Ave. and Doubleday Ave. to end up where I started. Here are a few scenes I saw along the way. Can you name the sites?
Hopefully this gives you a little insight into my attempt to bike Gettysburg. I learned so much through this experience, not least just how hilly this course is. At one or two points I literally had to dismount and walk my bike because the grade was so severe.
Now on to the next challenge!
It seems like our great national parks have a special attraction for me. You name it, I've probably been there. But in my very own backyard lies a national park I had never visited. On this trip I was eager to rectify this oversight. This map will give you an idea where the Shenandoah National Park is.
There are several entrances to the park, including this one.
I never did enter the park, however. They were charging a whopping $30.00 for entrance, even if all you wanted to do was a quick hike. So I made a U-turn at the kiosk and drove back down the mountain until I came to one of those pull-offs you so often see along the highway.
Just as I pulled in, a hiker was emerging from the woods. He was very kind and told me that you can hike almost any trail in the park without having to actually enter it through one of the park entrances. Here's the difference: Inside the park proper, you begin your hike on Skyline Drive and then hike down before hiking back up again. Conversely, you can begin your hike at the bottom of the trail where we were, hike upward, and then descend back to where you parked your car -- and it's all perfectly legal and free. The trail at this particular location was called the Buck Hollow Trail.
It was 6 and a half miles long with just over 2,000 feet of elevation gain and loss.
In other words, perfect. It's your typical Virginia trail with plenty of rocks and roots to watch out for. (Trekking poles are a must.)
But the waterfalls were spectacular. I counted at least 7 like this one along the course.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed coming along with me on my latest little adventure. Today, as I said, is a rest day. Ya gotta know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Today is a fold the cards kind of a day for sure.
Onward and upward -- and restward!
Wednesday, July 1
9:16 PM We runners, bikers, and hikers put our bodies and especially our legs through a ton of work, on all kinds of surfaces. It's time to pursue active rest after having just driven to Pennsylvania and back to bike the Gettysburg National Military Park. A hike in the beautiful Shenandoah State Park was icing on the cake. Time for stretching and foam rolling. Active people must remain vigilant of how our bodies feel and listen to them when we are either going too hard or too easy in our training. I can just say that today's bike and hike were out of this world. I can't wait to recap them for you. Lord willing, I'll have a full report of my trip for you tomorrow morning, with pics of course. Tonight let me leave you with a trivia question:
Bet ya don't know! Answer tomorrow.