Wednesday, May 23
5:40 PM Hey guys, and welcome back to my blog. It's mid-week and I'm back on the farm to do farm chores and get caught up on all the animals. I also had a great lunch today in Wake Forest with one of our librarians. Libraries and librarians have always had a very special place in my heart and research. Speaking about eating out, on Monday my assistant and I made a visit to Duke Hospital to check on one of our students who just had surgery and before then I treated Noah to Ethiopian for the first time.
That was a lot of fun. He really thought it was tasty.
Well, it's been a while since I sat down and really gave you an update on where I'm headed this year with my running. But I have at long last finalized my race schedule for the year and thought I'd share it with you. I'm feeling super motivated, having just done both a full and a half marathon. I have been going back and forth on whether I should sign up for more than two marathons for the rest of this year, and for now I've come to the conclusion that in 2018 I don't think I'll be able to run as many marathons as I did in 2017 because I don't think I'll be able to dedicate as much time to training as I did last year, although I did get in a nice 5K run this morning in beautiful Joyner Park in Wake Forest. (Here's my view at sunrise.)
So here are the races I've signed up for in 2018 that I am so looking forward to running:
I may also be signing up for other shorter 5K races as the year goes on. But the big race that I've officially signed up for is the 31-mile High Bridge Ultra in October. You might be thinking, wow, that is a while away, and it is, but I've already started my training for it and I definitely foresee much of my training to be at the actual course because this is where I like to run and bike anyway. Also this summer, I hope to get back to the West. My plan, after finishing summer Greek, is to fly into either Billings, Montana or Rapid City, South Dakota, with my aim being to revisit Mount Rushmore, the Custer National Battlefield, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons. So be on the lookout for more details about these upcoming events. Right now I'm trying to rebuild my base by running and biking consistently. I am enjoying every day of it. I really need to get back into endurance training if I'm going to have a chance of completing the 50K race in October. I'm also trying really hard to eat better but that's a constant struggle when you are traveling as much as I do. Yesterday I had Korean Bulgogi for lunch, but as you know, in Korean cuisine meat is not so much a main course as it is a condiment, so along with the Bulgogi I enjoyed tons of Kimchi, Seaweed, and Bab (rice). I've been going to the gym regularly (as I did this afternoon) and I'm gradually working on building my upper body strength for the climbing in the Tetons and the Rockies that I plan to do this year and next. In short, I'm going to make my ultra my main race goal of 2018 without neglecting my other goals. I am so, so, so excited about trying out an ultramarathon. I really like races that allow me to get out in nature and enjoy God's beautiful creation as well as races that make me push myself to the max.
Other than that, our summer school Greek class is going very well and the students are really hanging in there despite our grueling schedule. I think most of them are suffering from PTSD having been introduced to the imperfect and the aorist on Monday, but tomorrow I'm going to hold another study hall in my office after class and we'll try to help those who need a little assistance to get over this speedbump. It's so much a cliché because we hear it every day, but it's really true: Live each day as though it were your last or as if your health will be taken away from you tomorrow. So two thumbs up to all of you who are trying so hard to pursue God's will for your life with a passion, because really, there's no other way to live our lives.
The last thing I have to say is that I was finally able to get a pedicure today, a much-needed one I might add. I had intended to cut my toenails before last weekend's race but I forgot all about it, so today I had a professional take care of it for me. My nails are now officially "healed"!
That's it for now. Thanks, as always, for visiting.
Monday, May 21
6:42 AM If you're a follower of Jesus, God has hard-wired you to serve others in His name. Here's a picture of a team from Lifepoint Church in Fredericksburg. In accordance with Scripture, they were passing out cups of *gummy bears* in Jesus' name during yesterday's race.
They had a corner on the market too, since there were plenty of other volunteers blessing us with cups of cold water. Believe me, at mile 8, these bearers of energy were just what the doctor ordered. But I have to ask myself: In all of my running, this is the first time I've seen an evangelical church out on a race course. It can only be done when we begin to realize that the gathering exists for the going. I have a special empathy for people trying to find their place in the body of Christ. But let's not forget to consider simple, towel-and-basin ministries such as this one. Simply put, serving others in Jesus' name is what you do with who you are in Christ. Every believer has been called to serve in the kingdom of God. Markus Barth reminds us that the entire church "is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world" (Ephesians, p. 479). This is the highest calling possible. Paul says that the body grows into the Head through every joint or connection point. How different it would be to runners if they saw church after church doing such simple acts of service. They would welcome the God-given concern being expressed. This is why, significantly, the goal of leadership in the church is to get every member of the body relating to the Head for himself or herself. The leading servants will do this primarily in the context of exercising their own spiritual gifts. The church needs these specially gifted leaders, but the call of God also comes to every believer who has ears to hear -- even if this means that they stand in the oppressive heat and humidity passing out jelly beans in the name of their King.
Church, I believe we can do better. Can I tell you the dream for my life and teaching? I hope you get to the end of your life and breathe a huge sigh of relief and thanksgiving. You discovered that God is good at being God. You discovered that He was willing to use you in normal, everyday circumstances to be a blessing to others in His name. We don't have to be superstars. We're probably better at just being normal folk anyway.
Sunday, May 20
5:44 PM You hear it long before you see it. Crowds cheering. Horns blaring. Loved ones screaming for their sons and daughters or husbands or wives. As the finish line of the Marine Corps Historic Half approached, I could almost have wept with joy. This is where it all started exactly 3 years ago when my daughter invited me to cheer her on during her race. It's been a long journey getting here -- 12 previous halfs and 9 full marathons -- but none of this would have happened without the inspiration of that one person. The result has been 3 wonderful years of training, running, sacrifice, frustration, growth, and victories. To God be the glory! This race was truly "historic" for me. There isn't any way to adequately describe how grateful I am to Karen for spurring me on to become a runner. All the blood, sweat, and tears required to get to this place were inspired by my family. There's nothing like the deep-seated feeling of fulfillment you get when you work so hard for something and all your hard work finally pays off. I didn't get a PR today but I am more than pleased with my results. After all, I survived Hospital Hill! I'll leave you with a few pix.
1) Here's my hotel in Fredericksburg.
I chose it because it was located right at the start and finish lines. The staff couldn't have been more friendly or helpful. They even closed breakfast late today to accommodate all of us runners. Thank you, Homewood Suites!
2) Here's a word you heard lots this weekend.
3) The race started at 7:00 am sharp. I mosied to the back of the pack. Even there you could see that the crowd of runners was huge.
4) The first 3 miles are all downhill. As you can see, as the sun rose the clouds began to drift away, leaving the runners to deal the best they could with the heat and humidity.
5) Eventually the course veers away from the main roads and you begin running through some nice neighborhoods with many historic homes.
6) Like my downhill form? As lithe as a gazelle, eh? Haha!
7) Before you know you it, you start the long climb up Hospital Hill at mile 11.
8) At the top, the meds are looking the runners up and down to make sure they haven't had a heart attack or heat stroke.
9) A few minutes later you see the finish line. I took all the high fives I could get. You are about to become a Historic Half Marathoner!
10) This was neither my fastest nor my slowest half.
11) I did conquer the Beast, however!
12) Wow. My first ever Marine Corps Historic Half medal. I somehow don't think it will be my last.
13) A big Oorah for all the Marines who have served our country so faithfully through the years. Good to see so many of you out there on the course today. God speed and stay safe. Let's all just take a minute and remember those who didn't make it back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
To wrap things up, this race was so much fun. I'm so proud of everyone who ran today. The whole thing was so awesomely crazy. The good news is that despite a few minor aches and pains my body is feeling really good. It stiffened up on the long drive home today but nothing too serious. I'm raring to get back on the Greenway as soon as I can this week.
Thanks so much for stopping by.
Saturday, May 19
7:50 AM Taking this book with me to FBurg.
7:10 AM One of my kids asked me this morning if I enjoyed running in the rain. I told him I don't mind the rain. It's the humidity that gets to me. There are all kinds of less-than-ideal weather situations, so you just take them as they come. On January 1st of this year I ran a marathon. I wore 4 thick layers, three hats, fleece-lined pants under my running pants, and heavy gloves. If I kept moving I stayed warm, but once I stopped (for any reason) I began to freeze. The temp that day was literally 1 degree. But you know what? Your mindset is more important than your clothing. Stop being a crybaby. Lace up and go. We "get" to run, remember? It's never something we have to do. My mantra is, "This isn't going to kill you, you wimp." Running, like anything in life, is a decision. You either decide to make running a part of your life or you don't. Ditto for all things academic. Growing up, I always admired smart people. Since I never had their cachet, I figured I could be a mediocre student in high school. But when I got to college, all of that changed. I had become a "student." Let's get real. Not everyone in school is a student. They're more interested in a degree than in learning. What makes the difference between someone who's just going through motions and someone who's committed to a lifetime of learning? It's motivation. Yes. I said it. The M word.
Each of us is driven farther and faster when we do something we love. Harnessing the power of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic remuneration is thoroughly satisfying and infinitely more rewarding. Carrots and sticks (often) don't work. I say "often" because sometimes we have to use extrinsic motivation to nudge ourselves along. In class yesterday, I had a pop Spelling B. The first 6 students to the board could vie for a much-coveted award: one of my books (hehe). I gave them an English word (say, "law") and they had to give me the Greek nomos. It was sudden death. They did so well I had to start choosing really hard words. Eventually one of them walked away with a copy of The Myth of Adolescence to the applause of the other students. This weekend, as they do their take-home exam, I've promised everyone who gets a perfect score a free copy of one of my books. As I said, carrots and sticks aren't all that bad. But an operating system centered around rewards and punishment can only do so much. The starting point, of course, is to fall back on extrinsic motivators only when absolutely necessary. I give quizzes and exams. In Basel, that would have been unthinkable. A quiz over the reading material? Ridiculous. I'm reading the book because that's what I love to do. But here in the States, the game we play is called the tyranny of the urgent. I do only as much as I'm expected to do because I have little to no time to do anything else. If we want to strengthen our academic institutions, get beyond our underachievement, and address the problem of mediocrity in our lives, our businesses, and our world, we need to move from Type X behaviors (X-trinsic) to Type I behaviors (I-ntrinsic). Of course, none of us ever truly exhibits purely intrinsic behavior every waking moment. I know I don't. A publisher sets a deadline for my manuscript. Whether I feel like it or not, I have to meet that deadline. But in the long run, I believe that Type I people outperform Type X people. No, we don't disdain money or recognition. But we're motivated by something more lasting than that. For the follower of Jesus, that motivation is pleasing Him. So we have a choice. We can cling to our old habits or craft a new approach to help ourselves work a little smarter and a little better. Getting an A in Greek is a performance goal. But being able to use Greek once you've graduated is a learning goal. Both goals can fuel achievement, but only one leads to mastery.
Thanks for hanging with me.
Friday, May 18
7:44 PM This came from this weekend's race director:
Grrrr. Looks like another humid race. I've said this 5 million times on this blog, but if there's one thing I hate, it's running in humidity. Even before you begin running you're sweating copiously. We runners can get obsessed about certain things. It's such a hugely important part of our lives that we can take running (and ourselves) too seriously. Then again, heat stroke is no joke. So I need to remind myself to keep perspective. With my 66th birthday just around the corner, I'm not getting any younger. On the other hand, I'm reminded of the saying: "When you want to, you'll find a reason. When you don't, you'll find an excuse."
7:32 PM Over time I've discovered something very interesting about myself. I love America. I mean, I get teary-eyed over the most inconsequential things at times, including songs like Neal Diamond's "They're Coming to America." I suppose this is partly due to the fact that exactly 100 years ago my maternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Cluj, Romania. They had 10 kids, all of whom were born in the old country except for their youngest, my mother. I can see them now, gazing open-mouthed at the Statue of Liberty as they passed through the immigration center at Ellis Island. When Becky and I visited these sites in 2001, I tried to imagine what my ancestors must have felt. Joy. Fear. Relief to have finally arrived in the land of their dreams. They ended up moving to Youngtown, Ohio, and settling in the large Romanian community there alongside the Italians, Greeks, Germans, etc. I'm reminded that we're a nation of immigrants -- which is one reason I find the rants of a certain lawyer (now viral on YouTube) so detestable. "This is America. Speak English, not Spanish!" Oh really? Don't you know that the U.S. has no "official" language"? Don't you know that neither English nor Spanish are "native" to this land? Don't you know that Spanish (not to mention German, French, Mandarin, etc.) are taught in public schools all across the nation? Actually, if he had told me to stop speaking Spanish in public I'd have probably done so because my Spanish is so malísimo. Then again, I'm pretty mulish. I actually thrive on embarrassing myself in various tongues. The only way to improve one's Spanish or French is by speaking it, for crying out loud. So don't be surprised to find me talking, say, German with German tourists, or Pidgin with the mokes in Kailua.
I mention all this because July 4th is coming up and I've decided to spend the holiday in Dallas. I've signed up for the 33rd annual Liberty 10K at Stewart Creek Park in The Colony. I've done this race once before on the 4th and all I can remember is how humid it was that day. But the proceeds all go to a local charity, and it's one way I can give back to a nation that's provided me with so many opportunities to pursue my own dreams. Of course, I'll be visiting mom and dad while I'm there. Which means real Texas barbeque. And Ethiopian food. And Cheddars ....
6:55 PM I might as well share with you the course map for Sunday's race.
Fredericksburg was once the home of George Washington and James Monroe. It was also the scene of one of the largest battles of the American Civil War. In fact, part of the course follows the historic Sunken Road. Running can be boring. But my guess is that this course will be super interesting. If there's one thing I've learned about running it's that there's always something amazing along the course if you've got your eyes open.
Now go and run your best!
5:24 PM Odds and ends ....
1) My students have now completed 6 out of 26 chapters in our beginning grammar and are to be heartily congratulated. I lasted only 5 chapters when I first took Greek at Biola back in the day. Today I sent them home with their first take home exam. Honor system.
2) I read this fine book yesterday.
3) My official finish photo came from the Flying Pig Marathon today. I can't believe I'm actually smiling.
4) Scot McKnight's brand new commentary on Colossians is out.
I love what he writes about 3:16:
5) Enjoyed lunch today with my friend and colleague Chuck Quarles at the Olive Garden in the Forest of Wake.
6) The elevation chart for this Sunday's half in Fredericksburg:
That final uphill portion of the race is called "Hospital Hill." I think I'll hire a Sherpa.
7) I'm purposely keeping this blog report short. I've got dinner to cook and the house to clean before I leave for the race tomorrow. I was going to go for a run this evening but it's raining again. I'm okay with that. In the past 30 days I've put in exactly 135.4 miles of training. Suffice it to say I think I'm ready, but one never knows until race time.
Thursday, May 17
6:55 AM Since I won't be climbing Mont Blanc this summer, this conference looks more interesting than ever.
I'm definitely planning on Marburg in 2019, but maybe I should attend the Athens conference this year as well. Jean Zumstein's presidential address looks very interesting: "Mémoire, histoire et fiction dans la littérature johannique." I usually attend "The Greek of the New Testament" seminar, and I note that this year my friend Paul Danove is reading a paper called "The Grammaticalization of Communication by New Testament Verbs and Nouns." Then there's Brad McLean's paper "The Semiology of Louw and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon and the Semiotic Theory of Louis Hjelmslev." Wow. Papers in other sessions feature Richard Hays, Dieter Sänger, Mark Seifrid, Alan Culpepper, John Collins, Jenifer Knust, Klaus Wachtel, and Loveday Alexander. Need to think about it and commit it to prayer.
Meanwhile, back to Greek!
Wednesday, May 16
7:50 PM Two years ago, on June 4, 2016, I ran my very first half marathon. Prior to that race, I had been running shorter distances for about a year. The event was called Race 13.1 and was held in Raleigh. My time was 2:49. If you had told me that 2 years later I'd be running in my 13th half marathon, I'd have crawled into a cave and assumed the fetal position. Although I enjoyed my first half immensely, it was too hard for me to imagine doing it 13 times. Why am I so in love with the half marathon distance? In my mind, the half is the ideal race. It's short enough that you don't need to spend days and weeks to recovery, but it's long enough to give you a challenging and fun running experience. Race 13.1 Raleigh is famous for its beautiful scenery. Most of it is run on a greenway. God willing, I'm running it again on June 2. This weekend's race is the Marine Corps Historic Half in Fredericksburg. It attracts those who want to test their mettle against the infamous Hospital Hill. Training for this race has been fun. On Monday, I ran 6 miles at the Neuse River Greenway in Raleigh. Then yesterday I biked 13.1 miles. On Friday I hope to get a long run in, if the weather allows (we've been having a lot of rain). The true wonder of the half marathon is that it's a milestone you remember forever. Without a successful half (or two) under your belt, it's highly unlikely you'll ever have the courage to attempt a full marathon. No doubt about it: Running a half is the best training for running a full. Little wonder that the half marathon is the fastest growing race distance in the U.S. It's neither too long nor too short but just right. It's not an easy distance, of course. You can fake a 5K; you have to train diligently for a 13.1 mile race. But the excitement of crossing the finish line for the first time, along with the ongoing dedication toward the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, makes it all worthwhile.
In other (and completely unrelated) news, our Greek class is going very well. We introduced the students to the first declension today. Tomorrow it's adjectives, and then on Friday I send them home with their first review exam. As usual, yours truly is never content with just talking about Greek nouns and verbs. Just today we exegeted the Great Commission passage found in Matt. 28:19-20. Yesterday we talked about pastoring and how the goal of pastors is to "equip God's people for works of service" (Eph. 4:11-12). Only a generation before Becky and I started ministering in her native Ethiopia, the North American church sent people overseas with the authority to lead, control, and command. Today we send people overseas to come alongside national leaders and ask, "How can we help you?" It's my conviction that we are long overdue for this change to occur at home as well. God is in the business or ordaining the ordinary. And church leaders need to be committed to developing others' gifts so that the body of Christ will grow into all of it variegated beauty. It's my prayer that our Greek class will do far more than equip students with a tool that will enable them to get deep into the Word for themselves and help them check the accuracy of their commentaries and Bible translations. It's my prayer that our course in Greek will get all of us thinking about becoming fulltime ministers of the Gospel -- both church leaders and so-called laypeople. Both need to be challenged on this matter. It is a day for a radical transformation of the whole people of God into a ministering body. Nothing short of this will enable followers of Jesus to serve the church and obey the Great Commission.
P.S. I don't have my students learn the Greek vocative case since the vocative is easily recognizable by being set off with commas in our Greek New Testaments. To help make my point, I shared with them this cartoon. Too funny!
Sunday, May 13
8:12 PM Happy Mother's Day one and all. I hope you men treated your wives to a delicious meal today. I had a cheese sandwich. But not to pity: I'm about to cook me some scrumptious stir fry. We just finished getting up two trailer loads of beautiful hay. As you can see, it was hot hot hot.
But the real killer was the humidity. It was at least 200 percent I would guess. Earlier I ran 5 miles at the Tobacco Heritage Trail and then biked the same distance.
My emotions did surprisingly well today. Yesterday morning you would have needed a bucket to catch my tears. It's funny, this grief thing. Each of us mourns in a different way I reckon. Some days you might weep. Other days you remain at least outwardly controlled. Either way, loss is extremely personal. Nobody else can understand you, really. And that's fine. Those who experience loss have to heal in their own way.
I want to say "Thank You" to the Lord for giving my such a wonderful weekend. In some ways I'm jealous of one of my kids and his family, who leave for the beach tomorrow. On the other hand, I wouldn't trade teaching for anything.
Have a great week,
6:55 AM Last night was such a blessing from the Lord. What precious memories of singing in this chorale together. The concert's theme was "Seasons," and it began with a beautiful rendition of "There Is a Season" by Greg Gilpin, with words based on Eccl. 3:1-11. Grief is difficult, and special occasions like birthdays and Mother's Day can be the hardest of all, but when they activate a flood of happy memories you simply thank God for them and move on. (By the way, maybe it's the runner in me, but doesn't the blue backdrop remind you of those portajons you see at races?)
Before the concert I pigged out at our favorite seafood restaurant in Henderson. This is some of the greatest, unhealthiest, and most delicious food you will ever taste. My motto in life is: Eat clean, but don't overdo it.
Today I'm prepping for my summer Greek class that begins tomorrow. Can you believe I get to teach 6 weeks of the most wonderful language on the planet to the best students in the world? At graduation on Friday I had complete strangers come up to me and say that they were using my grammar to teach themselves Greek. Several of my students are planning on teaching Greek in their local churches this year. I'm hoping we can start another Greek class in Hawaii this fall.
In 1971, when I went to the mainland for college, it was to Biola University in California. There I became captivated by the biblical languages, the wisdom of the church fathers, the skepticism of the skeptics, and the theology of the theologians. My Greek professor in college, of course, did his best to weed me out, but little did he know that I was destined (divine passive!) to be a lifelong student of New Testament Greek. At any rate, he eventually hired me to teach 11 units of Greek at Biola, which meant that I could indulge in my favorite pastime and even get paid for it. That was 42 years ago. Unbelievable.
If you're doing in life what you love to do, thank God for it. It's all grace.
Saturday, May 12
12:12 PM Was running errands today in South Boston when I saw that St. Luke Apostle Church was having a car wash to raise money for a youth mission trip.
I've known their pastor, brother Harry, for several years now since we work out together at the local Y. He, his pastoral staff, and their deacons were doing the work. I love church leaders. Especially when they serve. And the vast majority of them do. I have much hope for the church when its leaders get sweaty for the cause of Christ.
Off to cut grass before tonight's concert in Henderson.
6:44 AM We tell ourselves stories in order to live. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
-- Joan Didion, The White Album
Happy Birthday, sweetheart. Since you went Home to heaven, my life has changed completely. I no longer live in time. I live in moments. Like watching the sunrise this morning while sitting on the front porch. This is where you and I would perch for hours, talking about life. I wish I could talk to you today. I wish I could tell you again how sorry I am for all the times I was less than the husband you deserved. I wish I could tell you again how much I love you. I wish I could tell you what I'm doing these days. I think you'd be proud of me. I was powerless to control the events that altered the course of our lives forever. Your death was an act of Providence that changed everything. I had the power to choose how I would respond. As it happened, I have found that the God whom we served together for 37 years is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Today I am writing a new story. But it is still our story. I could no sooner forget you than I could stop breathing. You left a huge hole, and all of us are feeling it today. But your spirit will always live on in our hearts and minds. You died with dignity and in faith. Both your life and your death will live on as a testimony to a life lived for your Lord and for others. One thing I know: the shifting phantasmagoria which is my actual experience will one day be no more. "The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end" (Isa. 60:20). I am beginning to experience life again. I am beginning to build new relationships. I am finding things to be grateful for. Already, by God's grace, there are more smiles than frowns. I am discovering that healthy balance between holding on and letting go. If there's one thing your passing has done, it's been to make me more sensitive to the loved ones I still have. I've found a new depth of relationship with our children and grandchildren. They too are learning to say goodbye.
Becky, on this, your 65th birthday, I release you to your loving Savior. The God in whose presence you now dwell promises to hold me close and fill my emptiness. I may not have you any longer by my side, but I have our history together, our memories together, and a richer life because of you. And even though I'm letting you go for the millionth time, I will never leave you. You will never be forgotten.
I miss you. I love you. Thank you.
Friday, May 11
7:55 PM So much fun getting up hay tonight, just before the rain arrived. God is good!
6:30 PM Below are a few pictures from today's graduation service. What a wonderful day it was indeed. Beautiful music, great teaching, superb fellowship, and lots of laughter and hugs. "More and more," wrote Henri Nouwen in his book The Inner Voice of Love, "the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them." He adds, "It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence."
That's what today was. The simple ministry of presence. Together -- administration, faculty, staff, students, and families -- we celebrated God's great goodness. Praise be to Him.
6:15 AM A weird thought occurred to me this week. As we put the finishing touches on my Greek 2 classes, I realized that my beginning grammar has 26 chapters -- the exact number of miles in a marathon. I never intended this. It's just one of those freak coincidences. I congratulated my students on having completed their "Greek studies marathon." But know what? Runners are never satisfied. They are always in process. That is their "normal." Is there anyone out there who's had a year or two of Greek but never used it? I imagine there's quite a few. Maybe you're one of them. So I encouraged my "marathoners" to keep up their Greek by joining a fabulous club. I call it the "5-Minute Greek Club." There's two things you need to know about my club. One, we never meet, and two, there are no dues. Here's what membership involves: You commit to translating two verses every day, Monday through Friday, throughout the summer, and if you do this I promise you a copy of one of my books for free come fall.
You see, that's what running has taught me. Driven by the need to do our best, we make the effort and we make it more often. All around us are people engaged in the same struggle. Each one of us is capable of the ideal. Some will do more, some less, but we are all capable of achieving our personal potential. As I crossed the finish line last Sunday I thought to myself, I think I'm finally learning how to play this game. All it takes is persistence -- and love for what you're doing. Student, if you don't love Greek, don't try and drum up the feeling. That never works. Ask God to give you a love for the language. And He will. He delights in giving good gifts to His children.
P.S. Yesterday I was reading George Guthrie's fine commentary on Hebrews. But on Heb. 12:1 he says this:
I get the gist of what he's saying, but it's based on a false premise. There was no such thing as a marathon in ancient Greece. The longest foot race they had was about 3-4 kilometers. The modern marathon started in 1896, when Athens hosted the first modern Olympics.
Thursday, May 10
6:02 PM The summer's first thunderstorm just barreled by with the sound of a train locomotive.
It's now gone eastward and thankfully we still have power. These storms are always both terrifying and exciting.
12:55 PM Yesterday I received my bib number for my race in two weeks.
Meanwhile, I lifted at the Y and then put in 5 miles at the Tobacco Heritage Trail. Almost stepped on this little guy. Ain't he cute?
Afterwards I rewarded myself with lunch at Mexico Viejo. Arroz con Pollo for only $5.50.
Time for a short nap before getting up hay.
Enjoy your day!
7:58 AM Good morning, tribe! Better grab a cuppa, cause this is gonna be long. Where do I start? How about on the front porch? Can you believe I haven't sat on my porch for 6 whole days? Talk about going through severe withdrawals. I learn things on my porch that I don't seem to be able to learn anywhere else. First, I'm reminded of the beauty of my Creator. Here's today's sunrise.
Then I open His word. As you know, I don't have "daily devotions." I'm too undisciplined for that. I just read the Bible. All the time. And try to listen to what God is saying to me. These days He's been reminding me that I was once married to a wonderful woman whose 65th birthday I'll be celebrating on Saturday. In fact, the party began on Tuesday when I had Ethiopian food with some friends in Cary. This Saturday night it'll continue when I attend the Spring concert of the Northeast Piedmont Chorale in Henderson, NC. (Becky and I once sang in this wonderful choral group.)
Today, sitting on the porch, I was drawn to a passage from Hebrews that we talked about in Greek class this week. It's Heb. 12:1-2.
Now, I have to admit that I've written an excruciatingly boring, long-winded, pedantic, and obfuscatory essay on this passage that I don't expect any of you to actually read unless you're into suffering big time. So I'll try to give a cook's tour of the kitchen here and hopefully inspire you to get into this passage yourself sometime. You know, it truly is a masterpiece. (I'm teaching Hebrews in the fall and can't wait to get to this passage as well as Heb. 1:1-4.) The text begins with a very strong Greek transitional marker -- toigaroun -- which is found only here and 1 Thess. 4:8 in the entire New Testament. It's a "therefore," but a strong "therefore." The reason Paul uses it here, I believe, is that before he calls on his readers to run their race, he wants to be sure they reflect deeply on the Old Testament personages he's already pointed out in chapter 11. The application for us today might be this: as you run your race, who are those people in your lives, now in heaven, who set an example for you in terms of running with endurance? And this is just where Becky Lynn Lapsley Black comes into play. If there was anybody I know who bore a consistent testimony to the faithfulness of God in her life, it was Becky. She lived her life of faith, and she lived it well. And now, Paul says, it's my turn. It's time for me to remain firm in faith through the sufferings I face.
So how do I do that? Notice the structure of this passage. There's one main command here and only one: "Let us keep on running with endurance the race set before us." If your Bible has more than one "let us" (the NASB and ESV have two, the NIV three), sorry, folks, but that's too much lettuce. Here's how the text unpacks itself:
Therefore, let us keep on running with endurance the race set before us
The words highlighted in green are all participles in Greek, telling us HOW we are to keep on running with endurance. We can thus (toigaroun!) immediately see the author's main point – running our race with endurance – as well as his qualifications of the "race":
Teaching this text? Here's a possible outline:
I am here to tell you: There is a way to run our race successfully. First, there's nothing quite like drawing encouragement from those who have already completed their race. Remember them. Recall their example. Emulate the outcome of their faith (see Heb. 13:7). Be intentional about it. Stop by their graveside and read Scripture that reminds you of them. Speak of them often to your kids and grandkids. The heroes of Hebrews 11 are the life and breath and strength of the church. The kingdom advances in small feats of courage performed by people who've simply been faithful where they were planted.
Secondly, your life is too precious to waste on pettiness, greed, selfishness, pride, sloth -- or anything "that hinders us." The voyage into the kingdom of God is a grand but difficult adventure. It's like running a marathon. Imagine what would happen if you had to tackle a marathon dressed in a coat of armor? Last Sunday I began the race with a tank top, a t-shirt, and a jacket. I ended with the race with my tank top only. Strip it away! says Paul. And that includes the sin(s) in our lives that give us a great big Charlie Horse between the ears. As the song says, ch-ch-changes are always possible through the Christ who indwells us.
Finally, and ultimately, our race is not about the cloud of witnesses or our easily-entangling sins. It's about a Person, a safe place to be sequestered, a soul-Lover who understands the journey because He completed it Himself. I grew up looking to men. I respected and loved my pastors and leaders immensely, maybe too much. You see, there comes a time when we have to take responsibility for our own spiritual development. I am suggesting this: listen to sermons, yes, but study the Bible for yourself more. Healthy people do not blindly follow men. They reject the whole pedestal thing. What they look for in their leaders is humility and transparency. Because, honestly, no matter who we look at, we will ultimately be disappointed. Corrie ten Boom, one of my favorite theologians, put it this way:
Becky Lynn, I'll be remembering you this week. But you know what? I'll allow you to be human and God to be God. You never achieved evangelical superstardom this side of heaven, and for that I am deeply grateful. But you were a star in my eyes. Thank you for helping to make me the man I am today. Thank you for pouring your life into the lives of our children. Thank you for being secure enough in your identity in Christ that you never allowed others to manipulate you. What an insane privilege it was for all of us to have known you. I hope the world sees in me what it once saw in you: a warm, caring, wide-open-arms kind of person who was determined to build others up at the cost of my own comfort and ease. May the world see in our family a thankful, committed group of ordinary people who can't get enough of Jesus and one another. Until we meet you again in heaven, we're grabbing each other's hands and running our races and laughing out loud that God loves us despite our many flaws. May we all live the example of Christ even as you did so well, sweetheart. May we all care as passionately about the poor as you did, honey. May we all be as bold and visionary as you were, darling. And may we value the Bible as much as you did.
If you, my friend, are facing the silent scream of pain today, or if you've lost a spouse (or are about to), or if you're just tired of running your race, please, please remember that, though terrors in this life surely await us, life is still worth living -- celebrating even -- if we keep our focus on Jesus.
Wednesday, May 9
7:58 PM This slow-motion video is amazing. Speakers up.
5:26 PM Hey there. I'm sitting here loafing. What are you doing?
As you know, along with 27,000 other people, I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy last weekend.
It was a grueling battle between me and my body. Crossing the finish line of a marathon for the ninth time was like nothing I've ever experienced before. Since this was the 20th anniversary of the Pig, I thought I'd share with you 20 random ideas about marathoning.
1) You don't have to be a natural athlete to enjoy running a marathon.
2) Train but don't neglect a balanced lifestyle. Running isn't everything.
3) Good running shoes are worth every penny you spend on them.
4) Sleep more than you think you need to when training for a marathon.
5) Don't forget to hydrate on the course.
6) Just think about each step as it's happening.
7) Be prepared to fight for your goals.
8) Remember that anything bad can happen at any time.
9) Make yourself push through the pain.
10) The sense of achievement after you finish will stay with you for the rest of your life.
11) Your last marathon is just the start. Your greatest achievement is always your next one.
12) Running a marathon will change you as a person forever.
13) Kindness matters. Be sure to thank the police at the intersections and the fans alongside the road.
14) You can always go farther than you think possible.
15) Everybody wants you to succeed even if they are bored sick with your tales of running.
16) Be honest about your fitness and adjust your pace accordingly.
17) Plan for at least one thing to go wrong.
18) Don't even think about running a marathon without doing some serious training beforehand.
19) Always carry your ID with you when you run.
So there you have it – a few random musings about marathoning. I know I still have countless lessons to learn. Whether you're considering signing up for your first marathon or your first 5K, I hope this helps you with things to do and things not to do. I want to be a simple vessel of God's love in this world, to work where I have the most potential for good, and to have the passion to make a difference in somebody's life. Thanks so much for following my story. As you run your own race, I'm pulling for you.
I hope you and your family have a wonderful rest of the week.
P. S. A few pix from the weekend:
1) The city of Cincy really knows how to roll out the red carpet.
2) I stayed in the host hotel.
3) The expo was huuuuuge.
4) I putzed around but didn't buy anything because I didn't need anything -- except for my race bib.
5) Dave McGillivray, the race director of the Boston Marathon, gave an inspiring talk on Saturday. Dave has competed in a whopping 155 marathons.
6) I woke up at 4:00 on Sunday morning, eager to start my day. Had a bite to eat then made my way to the race start at the Paul Brown Stadium near the river.
7) My corral ("pig pen") was indeed crowded!
8) The day I'd been looking forward to for so long had finally arrived.
9) It was a good 30 minutes after the initial wave of elite runners started that my group crossed the starting line.
10) First item of business: Cross over the Ohio River into Kentucky.
11) Then you made your way back into downtown Cincinnati.
12) Musical groups were everywhere. This blue grass band was my personal fave.
13) At mile 7 you began the long climb up Mount Adams through Eden Park until you came to the river overlook, where your efforts were well repaid with views like this one.
14) I have to admit, I was so happy to have conquered Mount Adams that I even enjoyed faux-Elvis belting out 60s hits.
15) By this time I was getting tired, but remember: smile!
16) At this point the half marathoners split off from the full marathoners. I began to feel very alone.
17) This was the loneliest stretch of the course as you began the long downhill back into Cincy proper.
You can see very little shade here. By this time, dozens of people had fallen out of the race with heat stroke. Thankfully, the medical personnel were everywhere with cups of ice and wet towels to put around your neck. Life savers!
18) Finally, you reached mile 25. The Finish Swine was just around the bend.
19) I love love love this year's medal. It may be my favorite marathon medallion of all.
20) The "vital stats." I was hoping for a sub-6 race but the heat made that impossible.
In short, it was a great race for me. I'm pleased with my time considering the hills and the heat. As with last year, the volunteers ("grunts") made the race the success it was. Looking forward to doing this race next year with two of my kids!
Friday, May 4
7:52 PM About to get up our second load of hay. Ain't it a purdy evenin'?
Earlier, I "trained" for my race.
Time to cook supper and pack. Super excited.
5:32 PM Today I made one of the most important decisions of my life. I think it may have literally been a life or death decision.
As you know, for the past year I've been praying about doing another fundraiser for UNC Cancer Hospital, where Becky was treated for 4 years. My trip to the Alps two summers ago, and the climbs associated with it, resulted in a $25,000 check to UNC for endometrial cancer research. You will recall that it was endometrial cancer that took Becky's life.
My idea was to return to Europe this summer and attempt to climb the highest of the Alps, Mont Blanc, in France. The guide I used in Zermatt two years ago was familiar with this mountain and its challenges, but thought I could manage it. Our planned ascent would take us along the famous Gouter Route. For the first time in two years, I've been actively engaged in a decision directly affecting my life. Climbing Mont Blanc would be a formidable challenge, one greater than even the ascents I made in Switzerland. Back and forth I went in my struggle: to climb or not to climb?
When mountain climbers think of risks, their minds usually go to avalanches, crevasses, storms, and altitude sickness. But Mont Blanc poses an additional risk, one that I did not encounter two summers ago in Zermatt: rock falls. Here I'm thinking especially of the notorious Grand Couloir, a section of the route that is as dangerous as it is unavoidable. And then there are the crowds. Each day during the summer about 200 people attempt to summit Mont Blanc, causing overcrowding and long lines on the route. I've read that around 50 people die each year on the Mont Blanc Massif. Almost always the cause is climber error. Even what might at first appear to be an act of nature can be traced back to a mistake in the decision-making process that unnecessarily exposed the climber to nature's dangers. Most of the deaths on the Matterhorn, for example, happen when people try to climb the mountain without a guide. They get lost and get "caught out," forced to spend the night on the mountain in freezing temperatures. Mountain climbing is not only about getting to the summit. It's about getting back down safely. The summit is only the halfway spot. If you make a mistake, you can die. The question for me was: Can I take added risks in my life and also honor my promise to my family not to expose myself to unreasonable dangers? Physical toughness is not the issue. I think I have the physical stamina to make the climb. But my decision is firm.
I've decided not to climb.
This was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made, but I know it's the right one. Life is all about making choices, and some of those choices involve risks. Sometimes the hardest choice in life is to say no. I've spent many enjoyable moments on top of mountains. But climbing Mont Blanc, in my view, is Russian Roulette. I won't give up climbing, of course. I hope to climb Mount Elbert in Colorado either this fall or next. At 14,439 feet, it's the tallest mountain in the Rockies and the second tallest in the lower 48. Like the other 14,000 foot peaks I've climbed in Colorado, it's a big hike but one that almost any fit person can tackle. I have a friend in Denver who'll climb it with me, so that's an added bonus. Yet it too can be a dangerous mountain and deserves respect. You never climb when there's a possibility of a thunderstorm. You never climb without adequate hydration. You must have the right climbing gear and the right footwear. As far as fitness is concerned, you'll want to be prepared for a 4,700 foot gain in elevation.
The bottom line is that climbing a mountain at high elevation involves managing risks and maintaining a high level of conservative thinking. If the conditions are too dangerous, you turn around or don't even start. It's as simple as that.
12:12 PM I just realized that although a 5K run is said to add 30 minutes to one's life it takes 30 minutes to run, so I guess running is futile after all. :-)
10:24 AM Just did an upper body workout at the local Y. Last year we paved the parking lot. This year we planted a beautiful flower garden out in front.
I'm a huge supporter of the YMCA and it's so good to see the parking lot almost always full. Meanwhile I had to go to Tractor Supply to get some worming feed for the goats and then to Goodwill to buy a sweatshirt for Sunday's race. It cost me a total of 4 bucks. Once things warm up out there on the course I'll dispose of it and it will be collected and end up back at Goodwill. Right now I'm enjoying another sunny day here on the farm and I'm about to mow and then we'll get up more hay this evening. I am, of course, excited out of my mind about the race on Sunday. But the journey that got me there is just as important. Like most things in life, there's usually a yin to the yang.
Enjoy the journey, friends!
Thursday, May 3
7:56 PM Another perfect day for getting up hay.
With that done, I can turn my attention to something every runner obsesses about: the weather on race day. Here's the latest from Cincinnati:
75 degrees is a little warm for a marathon. The ideal temp is somewhere in the mid-40s. But I'll take sunny weather any day over the kind of weather they had in Boston two weeks ago.
Am I ready? I'm a bit on the tired side because of my hay fever. But I'll spend tomorrow recovering and, despite an early flight out of RDU on Saturday (6:30 am), I hope to get some good rest in Cincy before race day on Sunday. Hydration during the race shouldn't be an issue. As I said, the course has aid stations every mile, and I am religious about drinking at each station. Missing a water stop is never a good idea. If it's hot and humid, I'll adjust my pace. Last year they handed out wet towels during the race and that made a huge difference. Right now, my focus is on eating right and getting mentally prepared for the race. I also need to figure out what clothing I'll be wearing on race day. Like last year, I'm running to raise funds for cancer research at UNC, so that's an added motivation to stay strong and focused. Running a marathon is mostly a mental game. You have to constantly push back against the No in you. In that sense, a race is a microcosm of life, which is one of the reasons I love racing so much!
1:12 PM The local vegetable stand has reopened!
My selection du jour.
And what can I say about my first mater sandwich of the summer? Nummy!
Finally, I see that Becky's rose bush is blooming. They'll go on my dining room table.
Off to mow!
7:34 AM This is going to be a crazy day. I've got a plate load for sure. First off, it's time to take the van in for an oil change and a recall (something about one of the back seats not working properly). Then it's banking, grocery shopping, Ace Hardware, mowing, and a long walk before it gets too hot. Then more haying this afternoon. All the while, I need to get some solid rest this afternoon in preparation for Sunday's race. The Flying Pig is unique in so many ways, not least because everything is pig-themed:
For me, the best part of the race is the crowd support. Sometimes they're two or three deep. And the signs? So funny!
Not to mention all the people waiting at the aid stations eager to give you water or Gatorade or feed you "pig newtons" or lavish you with Vaseline at the "grease stop." The best treat of all is the famous "bacon stop" at mile 15, where you're handed a cup with three strips of bacon cooked to perfection. By then, you're ready for some real food!
Are you caught up in some wonderful new adventure? Grab it by the horns and hold on for dear life. And remember: Keep up the pace or that lady might hit you with her cane.
Wednesday, May 2
7:48 PM It's only been since Monday, but it feels like a year since I last updated my website. My blog is essentially an online journal of my life, so I wanted to fill you in on what I've been doing. This was the last week of the semester prior to exam week. I still can't believe it. How did the semester go by so fast? As always, my students were absolutely fantastic. They are reconciling their faith with their practice. They are embracing the glorious kaleidoscope of God at work in this world. They are praying for and with each other. They've come to realize that someone preaching to thousands is of no more value to God than a mother who stays at home with her three kids. They are intent on seeing God's kingdom come and His will be done. For the sake of the Gospel, they endure countless hours in the classroom. Something is happening here, folks. And it's something good. Jesus was clear about this: Our only responsibility as Christians is to follow in His footsteps, and I think our students are doing this exceptionally well. I'm so proud of them. That's the work of the Gospel, no?
I arrived back on the farm just in time to get up the first bales of our new haying season. Just think: If the Lord wills, we'll be baling until December.
I love what I do. I love from the center who I am. And here's what's beautiful about it all: It's all a free gift from God, none of it deserved, but all of it appreciated. Long ago I learned to stop holding my breath for God to work everything out in my life so that I could be used by Him. No, He delights in taking earthen jars of clay and displaying His power through them. Even the physical strength I had to pick up bales today came directly from His hand. My soul longs for Him, no matter what I'm doing -- whether I'm in a field or in the classroom. My ministry, my work, is not mine. Every solid acre of this farm belongs to Him. Every blade of grass is His. Every class I teach is a stewardship. Most of all, I am His, and I'm so glad for that. From nothing to something. From rejected to accepted. His mission is now my mission. We are apprenticed to the Master. We walk in the footsteps of our Father. "The Kingdom of God is where we belong," wrote Frederick Buechner. "It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it."
So I'm sitting here tonight with a full heart, and a grateful one too. Sheba has been pampered. The goats have been checked on.
The donkeys are munching on carrots. The rice is cooking. What can I say? I don't watch TV, so this is how I have fun.
God comes to those who ask Him. And we can see Him even in a harvested hay field.
Monday, April 30
7:12 AM I'm planning a trip back to Hawaii this summer. They've been using my beginning grammar to teach Greek there to pastors and others. The Pacific Ocean covers 28 percent of the world's surface, and more than 60 percent of the world's fish catch comes from this ocean. Of even greater significance is the question of how the church will respond to the growing need to disciple the Pacific nations. I noted with pleasure that when Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary moved from its Mill Valley campus to Southern California, it also changed its name to Gateway Seminary -- a move that seems to reflect a renewed focus on the Pacific Rim and Asia. Surely this seminary is well positioned to get the job done. Run your race, Gateway! Invest your gifts and personnel in this amazing part of the world. Opening an extension campus in Honolulu -- the center of the Pacific -- would help in my opinion. As for me, I'll continue to work with Pacific islanders on Oahu for however long God opens that door. I deeply believe that Jesus is doing a great work in the islands. We need each other -- both locals and mainlanders. Let's grab each other's hands and practice the wholehearted discipleship we were created for. As God grants me strength, I promise to do my part.
Sunday, April 29
7:12 PM You can't fake a marathon. That's why you have to train for it. So this afternoon I went for my long run. My goal was to run 20 miles, but at mile 11, I ran out of water, and by mile 13, I was beginning to feel dehydrated, so I stopped at mile 15.
The nice thing about the High Bridge Trail in Farmville is that it's flat and smooth. You run on crushed gravel, one of the best surfaces for running. Plus, every 5 miles or so there are portajons in case you need them. But the one thing that's lacking is potable water. There's none on the course. None. So when you run out of water, you run out of water, period. Still, I'm satisfied with today's run. Going into Sunday's marathon, I've got these training runs under my belt:
That's a total of 73 miles. So I feel I'm prepared for Sunday's race in Cincy. Of course, I'm well aware that anything can go wrong during the race. I could not do well, and possibly not even finish the race. But if that happens it won't be because I haven't prepared for the race. Now I've entered the "tapering" (i.e., resting) portion of my marathon program, which is just as much "training" as is running. To a natural sloth like me (remember my Hawaiian beach bum roots?), this shouldn't be too difficult to accomplish. It's also time to carbo-load, and if there's anything I love it's spaghetti.
My toes, of course, are in terrible shape. Don't look at the following picture unless you have a very strong stomach.
I would go and get a pedicure but most businesses don't have a chain saw. So I'm cutting them myself. Maybe that's why they look so, um, death-defying. By the way, if you're dating a marathoner, be sure to have them remove their socks before you propose. Just sayin'.
Time to cook my meals for the week. Well, there's actually only one meal I know how to cook. I call it Chinese food but, of course, it has nothing to do with food one gets in China.
Bye for now.
7:20 AM Yo folks! Before heading off to church and then for a run I thought I'd reflect a bit more on the Flying Pig Marathon, scheduled for one week from today in beautiful Cincinnati.
What's not to like about this race? It has the best race organization I've ever seen. Not only that, it has the best volunteers, the best water stops (every mile!), the community is involved, you get to run in two states, the swag is superb, I had the perfect race strategy (finish), my hotel was right across the street from the expo, and the course is fun but challenging. In short, I love this city and I love this race. Last year the weather was perfect. It started out cold but by 10:30 the sun was shining and it actually became warm. I went out slow, trying to save my energy for Mt. Adams (aka Everest). Between miles 4-5 you run through downtown Cincinnati, where the crowd support is amazing. From there you move through Eden Park (and its 400 foot elevation gain), Hyde Park (one of the quaintest neighborhoods in Cincy), through the lovely village of Mariemont, then onto the most boring stretch of the race -- Hwy 50 -- before turning down Riverside Drive, which is a straight shot back to the starting line. Mt. Adams, by the way, is definitely no joke.
By mile 13, I was pretty jaded, but the spectators were still great and they carry you through to the finish line. Once I got to mile 24, I was somehow able to muster up a bit of renewed energy, and mile 25 was my fastest mile on the course that day. My time wasn't spectacular, but I had beaten 6 hours and was so thankful to the Lord. By His grace I had done something I had thought was impossible. Since that day I've viewed my marathoning as something I would do for the rest of my life. Last year I trained feverishly for the race, averaging over 100 miles of training per month. This year I've tried to get away from a focus on miles to a focus on enjoyment. New Testament scholars might call this the "already-not-yet" paradox. You're already a runner, and yet it seems like you're always adjusting your standards and goals, trying to become the runner you want to be. Your success is of little consequence to anybody but you. Eventually, your joy isn't that of a rugged athlete. It's the joy children feel when they run through a lawn sprinkler on a hot summer day. Entering a race is such a great experience. You will never, ever forget the first time you cross a finish line. You realize that your best is good enough, even if you finish dead last. It's being a runner that matters, not how fast or how far you can run. The road is there, right in front of you, inviting you to enjoy all the miracles it holds. Next Sunday I will have zero chance of winning the race but ample opportunities to be victorious. My goal will be very simple: Take that one final step across the finish line. Friends, every step in life takes us closer to where we want to go. With every step you discover something new about God's will for your life. It's as though the act of running drives something buried beep within us. It is knowing that we have accepted and rejected the limitations of life, and that makes all of us winners.
Weather on race day this year is predicted to be sunny with a high of 74. I might take my GoPro with me this time. My family has been incredibly supportive of me during this time of training. Of course, they also think I'm crazy. One of my grandsons recently said to his dad, "Why doesn't Papa B just ride his bike during the race? It's much faster than running!" When you think about it logically, a marathon makes absolutely no sense. Why would anybody run 26.2 miles? That's what cars are for. Especially when you end up where you started. Sort of reminds me of when I played basketball growing up in Hawaii. I knew I stunk at it, but I liked being out there on the court and occasionally I actually made a newsworthy layup. I've always been bad at sports (except for surfing, maybe). But I love sports anyway. I'm sometimes surprised by how competitive I can get. If I'm competing for 3,450th place in a race, you can bet your bottom dollar I'll do everything I can to avoid coming in 3,451st. And to think: only one year ago, Marathon Man was a Hollywood movie, not a guy named Dave.
Enough for now. Whatever the reason, I've become a marathoner, and I guess you folks are just stuck with my reports. My sincerest sympathies. If you end up hating my blog, my response will probably be, "What took you so long?"
Keep running your race,
Saturday, April 28
7:54 PM Ah, the farm at dusk...
... where lips smile and eyes laugh.
5:28 PM One thought, one glorious thought, kept ping-ponging around in my head as I trained yesterday and today. "When Christ, who is our life ...." The very weaknesses of growing older may be the very place of healing and growth. If nothing else, they remind us of what is important in life. Paul puts it this way in Philippians: "For to me to go on living is Christ, and to die is gain." No matter what happens, we can always depend on Him. "The eternal God is your resting place" (Deut. 33:27).
Christ, OUR LIFE.
He's the one who makes all of life worth living. The day I came to Christ when I was 8 was only the beginning. Since then, He's been transforming me, and each new day is a new beginning in yielding to the presence of Christ's fullness in me. Think for a moment of what your life would be like without Him. Unless I miss my guess, you probably would say that you couldn't face a single day without Him in your life. Every day He is stretching you to grow as a person and are stronger because of the mountains of adversity you succeeded in climbing. Or, think of the times Jesus helped you through grief. That's why we are to keep on being filled with the Spirit. The disciples who were filled at Pentecost experienced fresh infillings. We can't store up the Holy Spirit as if we were holding tanks. We need a fresh anointing every day.
It's Christ who makes the difference. He is our life. The indefatigable joy of the Holy Spirit enables us to sing a new song throughout the day. You and I are called upon to make Him our life this very day. This isn't just Paul's idea or mine. It's the Lord's own plan for enjoying Him.
P.S. I got in 15 miles today. I'm hoping for 20 tomorrow. Different routes, different sights, different times of day: All these help keep my interest in the sport alive. Before I know it, it will be time to go to Cincy.
7:55 AM They were betrothed, and all was going swimmingly well. Until she visited her cousin. When she returned, she was showing. What was Joseph to do? He was on the horns of a dilemma. He could have her publicly stoned to death for adultery. Or he could divorce her privately before two witnesses. Thankfully, Joseph was "a righteous man" (Matt. 1:19). Being righteous, according to the Bible, doesn't mean being holier-than-thou. It doesn't mean being self-righteous, self-deceived, or self-victimized. A "righteous person" is one who simply does what is right. You made a mistake? Do the right thing. Set it right. Being a Christian doesn't mean we can't sin. It just means we can't sin and enjoy it.
So Joseph did the "right" thing and showed mercy to his beloved. The divorce would take place privately. This wouldn't have surprised anybody who was steeped in the Jewish law. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Many people are afraid to draw near to God because of their past failures. Maybe you feel this way too. Maybe it's time we entered the sunshine of God's grace and mercy.
Recently I discovered a YouTube series called "Caught in Providence." Judge Caprio is a modern-day Solomon. God has given him an amazing heart to match his brilliant mind. Providence, RI, is very fortunate to have him as a judge. While never forgetting about justice, he exhibits the kind of humanity, consideration, understanding, and compassion that Joseph exhibited 2,000 years ago. May his tribe increase.
Watch and be blessed.
Friday, April 27
2:32 PM Well, in a week, Lord willing, I'll fly to Cincinnati for the Big Event. I doubt that you are all that interested, unless you're drawn to masochism. My marathon training program is proceeding apace, despite having a sore knee earlier this week. Today I put 10 miles on these old legs of mine and, by God's grace, my knee was just fine and dandy. This weekend I need to do my 20-mile run and then I'll begin my taper. The main reason I put myself through all of this torture is because I'm addicted to beef ribs and a lot of other fatty food. Let's just say eating allows you to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise. I wish I could explain why I'm so drawn to the Flying Pig in Cincy. Is it the mountain the size of Everest at mile 7? Or the downhill at the end? I attribute it to the fact that this was my very first 26.2 mile race exactly one year ago. You know, the equivalent of graduating from high school or getting married. Even if I run a thousand marathons, there will never be another race like the Pig for me. A 26.2 mile race is for people not satisfied with 10Ks and half marathons. All that's required is dedication, stamina, and hupomone. (For a definition of hupomone, see my never-to-be-published Greek to English lexicon.) Cincy 2017 was a race I will never forget. You run your heart out. You cross the finish line. Someone puts a medal around your neck. You take two Ibuprofen. The next day I was picking up bales on the farm. (That is not meant to sound conceited. I was as surprised as anyone that I had recovered so quickly.) The race was, in a word, fantastic. It was, in two words, absolutely fantastic. My emails were filled with congratulations (along with one advertising Maytag Month). Even though I finished deep in the back of the pack, there's no way anyone can lose a marathon. I had averaged only a 13:36-minute mile pace. But, as some sage has said, a 13:36-minute mile is just as far as a 6-minute mile. I finished number 3,050 out of 3,350 runners. This year I hope to finish 300 spots closer to first place. At this rate, I'm only 10 marathons away from winning one.
In the end, the only reason to run is to run. Runners refer to it as a high. Once you've experienced it, you'll never want to go back to being a couch potato again. Each of us is on an individual odyssey. An odyssey is simply a challenge you've accepted. It's the will to overcome. It's the quiet confidence that you can do all things in union with your Creator. What a change He makes in our lives. Our memories are those we are creating today. When I flew to Cincy last year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I'm not fast, but I'm not lazy either. If you're thinking of running a marathon some day, let me assure you. You can. Running a marathon will make you more prone to think you can accomplish well-nigh anything in life. (It will also make you more prone, period.)
"If Dave can do it, maybe I can too."
I'm hoping that thought will occur to at least one of my readers.
8:05 AM Okay, so I just finished a time of prayer. You know how it goes. I never pray enough. Maybe you don't either. So I'm expanding my prayer times to include praying while jogging or praying while driving or praying while washing the dishes or praying while listening to a boring sermon (tell it not in Gath!). Here's what I prayed this morning.
I prayed that God would fill all of my kids (and me) anew with His Spirit. You see, reading Eph. 5:15-21 developed a whole new interest in prayer for me. No longer does prayer seem like something I "have" to do. In fact, praying is impossible unless we're filled with God's Spirit.
I think this is what Paul meant when he said in Eph. 6:18 that we are to "pray at all times in the Spirit." Prayer is simply an attitude of staying in tune (or in touch) with God all day long. Paul reminds us in Rom. 8:26-27 that we can't pray as we ought. Prayer, then, is something the Holy Spirit has to do in and through us. In this sense, prayer is ultimately an inner-trinitarian process of God speaking to Himself through us. In other words, we can't pray as we ought. So the Spirit needs to pray for us. At the same time, the Holy Spirit will not pray unless we're praying. Sound like a paradox? Yup! But the Christian life is full of paradoxes.
"Prayer," wrote Alan Redpath, "is not merely prattle." It's not noise and talk. It's remaining in constant communion with God throughout the day. And He can be found as easily at the kitchen sink as in a cathedral.
6:20 AM I doubt that the apostle Paul was a runner or that he even knew about New Balance or Hoka shoes. But he knew enough about athletics to write these words:
Then he added:
I know, I know. My posts about running are the most boring texts ever known to mankind. The purists in the running world would laugh at my amateurish words. Regardless, even I, your ultimate non-runner-turned-runner, can find myself caught up in the same passion that Paul expressed in 1 Cor. 9:24-27. Did he train hard? So do I. Did he run hard for the finish line? Moi aussi. Did he stay in top condition? Ummm ..... But you get my drift. There are sooooo many reasons we Christians give for quitting the race we're in. Our obstacles range from bad habits to lousy attitudes to fear or a tendency to be untransparent. There will be times when we will want to give up or slacken the pace. As Paul says, we can get caught napping. While telling everyone else how to have a successful life, we fail to have one ourselves. That's why Jesus said His life is an example for us. He persevered to the very end.
So how can we have the "life" of Christ on a daily basis? There is no simple answer. Remember, we are all real people with real weaknesses who fall short of God's standards on almost a daily basis. I pondered this question as I sat on the front porch this morning with Sheba.
No kidding, the Lord taught me a lesson from my dog. Though she is independent and autonomous (she could run off any time she liked), she's learned that I can be trusted to care for her needs (food, water, shelter, attention). In a word, she trusts me. I find that learning to trust God is just like that. In the midst of agonizing over our insecurities and uncertainties, God is there to support those who trust in Him. "Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run [there's that word again!] and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint" (Isa 40:31). "Yes," He says. "I will love you completely, no strings attached, even when you're unable to love back." I know this isn't a particularly cosmic observation. But this morning I realized again: when our horizontal relationships seem to be going off the rails, there's probably something missing in our vertical relationship. In a nutshell, lack of trust is at the root of so many of our problems. Moving mountains isn't something we can do on our own. But we've got every chance in the world if we trust God to do it.
It's one thing to start a race and quit. It's another thing altogether to go the distance and finish it. Let's "run to win," shall we?
Thursday, April 26
1:28 PM Today I opened the sunroof and took a leisurely 20-mile drive through the countryside and then walked 5 miles on the secluded Tobacco Heritage Trail, putting body and soul back together again after a fantastic time on campus.
When I'm alone there are no arguments, discussions, disputes, my body and mind need no direction. The elements of the outdoors are all there: repose, contemplation, peace, leisure. It's where I go inside of myself and examine myself and the world around me. Time stands still and you live completely in the present. I'm deep in thought, and all my senses are heightened. Occasionally, a new insight will dawn on me, like a researcher who finally catches the drift of all of the laboratory data he's collected. William Wordsworth, a prolific walker, once called this "emotion recollected in tranquility."
You, and I, have this chance offered to us every day of our lives.
8:26 AM Dawn this morning was a time for me to pull out my book on Oecolampadius.
What can I learn from this tome that I didn't already know? Johannes Hausshein ("House Lamp" -- hence his Greek/Latin name) was born in Weinsberg, Germany, in 1482. As a child, he was trained in the humanist revival of the day, including reading the classics in their original languages. After university studies in Germany he was invited by Erasmus to labor with him in Basel on a Greek New Testament. At this time, Basel had about 10,000 inhabitants. Here's Nadelberg 10, the so-called Theologisches Seminar ("theological seminary") where I spent so many happy days back in the early 1980s. The house dates back to the 13th century.
Johannes graduated from Basel with his doctorate in 1518 at the age of 36 (I was 31 when I graduated). He entered a monastery and began his lifelong work of translating John Chrysostom's homilies. But "God did not want him comfortable but crucified" (p. 10). He ended up back in Basel, which by now had become a center of humanism and Reformation publications. Simultaneously, he became vicar of St. Martin's Church, where he broke with tradition and began reading Scripture in German. Before long he was teaching at the university. Eventually he was elevated to senior professor of theology, adding both Hebrew and Greek to the curriculum. As a result, the Reformation in Basel began to pick up steam. Johannes was married and had three children -- Eusebius ("Godliness"), Irene ("Peace"), and Aletheia ("Truth"). He died in Basel at the age of 49. His epitaph in the Basel Cathedral reads as follows:
Christ's house-lamp in Basel was no more, but his influence would live on in succeeding generations of students who came to Basel to study, including a young man from Hawaii and his wife.
Wednesday, April 25
8:25 PM A week from this Saturday I'm scheduled to fly to Cincinnati to run in my 9th marathon. Below I've posted the best YouTube of the Flying Pig Marathon ever made. Boy, it doesn't get any better than this. Reminds me of something long-distance runner Dave Bedford once said: "Running is a lot like life. Only 10 percent is excitement. 90 percent is slog and drudge." I hope this video inspires you as much as it inspired me. If someone who is legally blind can complete a marathon, so can you. Last year I finished in just under 6 hours and I'm so thankful to the Lord for that time. Nothing of value in life comes easy. We slay our challenges one dragon at a time. Thank you, dear God, for the gift of running. And thank You for the inspiration we can draw from others in the race of life.
Click on the video below and be blessed.
5:40 PM A few thank you notes.
1) Thank you, Southeastern, for having an Ed.D. program and such excellent students as David Miller, who successfully defended his dissertation on Monday.
2) Thank you, Diane Poythress, for writing a book about my favorite Reformer, Oecolampadius.
3) Thank you, Maurice Robinson, for speaking in my NT class today.
Your defense of the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11 was brilliant. But my greatest takeaway was what you said about Greek professors with beards. So true!
Monday, April 23
6:55 AM Magnificent views this morning. Always reminds me of God's faithfulness. What an inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration, wasn't that an incredible Boston Marathon last Monday? Talk about running within adversity. Freezing rain. 20 mph winds. Hypothermia. Many of the elite runners, including Galen Rupp, dropped out. Sarah Sellers, a complete unknown, who was running only her second marathon and works as a fulltime nurse, placed second and took home $75,000 for the effort.
The men's winner, Yuki Kawauchi, is a high school administrator in Japan.
So two of the top spots went to amateurs this year. Love it. I'm ecstatic, of course, for Des Linden, the first American woman to win Boston in 33 years.
By mile 6, Des was convinced she was going to drop out. But sometimes dedication means doing what you don't want to do. The best elite runners are not only disciplined but dedicated. And that's something we can all strive for. Dedicated to your spouse. To your kids. To your studies. To exercise. To achieving a God-given goal. It's important to understand that where you start isn't as important as where you're headed. You're progress won't always conform to a strict time-table. Progress comes gradually, over time. In fact, all of life is like that -- full of mystery -- and it's this mystery that keeps us going. "What's around that next bend?" we ask ourselves. It might surprise you. It might even be the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and you, yes you, are about to break the tape.
Sunday, April 22
7:15 PM Almost forgot. Happy Earth Day. I know that sounds strange. Conservatives don't believe in Earth Day. That's for loony libs. Then there's me. I'm less Mother Nature and more Creator God. I can't waste time fussing over the global warming wars. I'm too busy trying to be a good steward of the resources God has given me. Remember, this is the God who thinks the world is good and asks us to take good care of it. I suppose for Becky and me this began when we bought our first home in La Mirada in Los Angeles County (where Biola is). Because the property was zoned R-1, we could have animals on it. And boy did we ever. It all started with a chicken coop, where we enjoyed our own "farm" (aka city) fresh eggs. Then we got a donkey. Then goats. Then we got traditional and got some Shelties. Oh, did I mention my two horses? We had 21 fruit trees and a garden in which we grew and canned our own vegetables. For us, God's creation was like a trip to Disneyland. When we moved to North Carolina in 1998, very little changed. Garden. Animals. Nature. Then we bought the farm (literally speaking, mind you) in Virginia. Living in the country means appreciating nature, even if you are in remedial kindergarten when it comes to farming. Today I frequent the local farmer's market. I am in foodie heaven whenever I can get a fresh tomato. For years we fertilized our pastures with, well, let's just call it skubala. I fully remember spending countless hours shoveling the stuff, trailer load after trailer load. Becky planted and harvested, then canned. Living off the land taught us something about God. He really is at the center of things. He really does call the shots when it comes to making things grow. Because that's true, we sought to become good caretakers of creation regardless of our politics. We simply wanted to do the right thing by the land. And by its Maker. I keep thinking about slaughtering and butchering our first cow. My land, did we have a lot to learn. And not only about beef cattle. How about forestry? Or land management? We were clueless when we first moved to the country. In many ways, I still am.
How will I answer for my choices when God confronts me with them one day? Am I a steward or a mere consumer? The real issue is not whether or not you own a farm. It's about changing the paradigm from ownership to stewardship. You simply make one ordinary change and then another. "Oh Lord, you preserve both man and beast," wrote the Psalmist (in Psalm 36, I think). The Gospel is so liberating. It's like winning the lottery every day. God gives, and we manage. My goodness. Oh the blessings of living on Planet Earth -- whether or not one celebrates "Earth Day."
What now, American church? Stewardship of God's creation is hard work but it's good work. It's time to pray and learn and turn our affections anew to the Creator. Amen?
So two cheers for Earth Day! But only the Creator gets three.
6:02 PM Was a perfect day for mowing.
I've never seen the farm looking prettier.
A freshly cut hayfield. Ain't nothin' like it.
Right now I'm prepping my meals for the week. Earlier I made muffins for Sheba and me.
Blueberry cheesecake. Oh my goodness.
God is good.
7:10 AM At Barbara Bush's funeral, one of her granddaughters read this beautiful passage from 2 Corinthians. Listen, and let it move you.
When we age, we're generally unaware of it. We keep on thinking, "I'm the same person I've always been." Even when we look in the morning mirror and reflect on our wrinkles and ageing spots, once we leave the bathroom, what we saw in that mirror is soon forgotten. Today I will live in the same body that took me to Kainalu Elementary School or to Sunset Beach or to Basel or to the race yesterday. Daily I wake up with the same body I was given 65 years ago. The book we are writing with our lives is a record of how we have grown and changed through the years in terms of our inner and outer lives. I think that was Paul's point in the passage from 2 Corinthians that was read on Saturday. As we grow older, we become more aware of the inexorable passing of time. We also become aware of the unused capabilities and potentialities in our bodies. We may even begin to regret all the years we wasted in mistreating our minds and bodies. On the other hand, even though our "outer man" is decaying, there's a very real sense that even older people can develop their minds and bodies to levels they have never reached. Aging is inevitable; inactivity is not. The body I have, the body God has given me, the body I will take with me to my death, is the same body that Jesus will someday raise from death. You don't need to be old like me to recognize this -- to see that the body you have is a precious gift from God, one that He cares about so much that He will raise it up on that day. Psychologists often talk about the two greatest dangers of growing older. One is the tendency to live in the past or in sadness for the people we've lost. The other danger is thinking that by associating with younger people we can reclaim our lost youth. I imagine that Paul would say such endeavors are both self-defeating and counterproductive. "We groan as long as we are in this tent," said he. But that doesn't mean the inner man isn't being renewed. Nor does it mean that we give up on taking care of the outer man. I expect no less from the 65-year old Dave Black than I expected from the 28-year old Dave Black who was writing his doctoral dissertation. The forests of Virginia or the Alps of Switzerland awaken the same feelings in me today that the beaches of Hawaii did when I was a youth. Unlike the half marathon I ran yesterday, the race of life doesn't come to an end until God calls us home. In the meantime, our bodies are not passive instruments any more than our minds are. "Use it or lose it" applies just as validly to Greek students as it does to septuagenarians. Your dreams keep on building. George H. W. Bush will not stop living just because his wife of 73 years has gone home to be with the Lord. I'm quite sure, like me, he has both short term and long term goals. Dreams? Boy, do I have them. And I'm not alone. Not by a long shot. Everest at 65? That's Ranulph Fiennes. Completing an around-the-world-air-race? That's 72-year old aviatrix Margaret Regensberg. Writing Robinson Crusoe at the age of 60? Thank you, Daniel Defoe. At 77, John Glenn went back into space. How about climbing Mount Fuji at the age of 99? Don't tell Teiichi Igarashi it can't be done. The mind, you see, has a body of its own. You may face issues of mental fitness and physical fitness when you get older, but guess what? All of us can fight back.
You and I are no different from Barbara Bush. One day we too shall leave this tent and be clothed from on high. As we heard over and over again during the funeral, for every measurable loss there is an immeasurable gain. Glory is something we look forward to, but not in a macabre sort of way. The best way to play the aging game is by never conceding anything. When your body tells you it's time for a respite from daily activity, say "Rubbish!" When your mind decides it's too late to learn anything new, say "Balderdash!" People are doing us no favors when they kill us with kindness and allow us to take it easy. When the big sleep comes, we'll sleep. But not a moment before. Life is the greatest game. And as with every game in life, it's not who wins or loses that matters. It's how we play that counts.
Jesus, I want so much to be like You. You lived so lightly on this earth. You weathered the storms of life so well. When knocked down, You got right back up (literally!). The terror of death was surrounded by the mysterious purposes of Your Father. Most of all, You never stopped living. You had perspective. You were (and are) the epitome of goodness, kindness, selflessness, and honesty. My life is full of bounty because of You. Your grace is transforming me, even as I continue to feel the pain of loss. More than anything, You covet my love in response to Yours. You do not erase my grief completely. But You have given me peace. May I be like Barbara Bush's precious family, who so willingly accepted life's mortality. They did not want to lose their wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Still, through their tears, they testified to a watching world that death does not have the last word. Your resurrection guarantees that. Please be with them and console them in their loss. And remind them, and us, that when we lose a loved one, one day, maybe sooner than any of us thinks, all the tears and sorrow will be swallowed up in everlasting joy.
Saturday, April 21
7:06 PM Today I completed the Petersburg Half Marathon. This was my last scheduled race before running the Flying Pig Marathon on May 6. The race is legendary to local runners. Since it was going to be an early start, I stayed overnight in Fort Lee, just across the Appomattox from Petersburg.
The hotel staff was kind enough to give me a generous race day discount. It was cold in the morning, cold enough in fact to have a layer of ice on my car when I drove off to the event site.
Thankfully, once in Petersburg the event organizers had an indoor shelter for us to wait in before the race.
Half the route went through the city while the other half took you through some of the most scenic places in all of Southside. Here we are leaving Petersburg on our way to the Petersburg National Battlefield.
The battlefield itself is quite hilly, and it was here that I began to take a few walk breaks.
After all, I wasn't running to set a PR but simply to put some miles on my legs before the race in Cincinnati. Once you emerge from the battlefield you run past Blandford, Virginia's largest cemetery apart from Arlington.
Across the street is, of course, the famous Blandford House.
By now you are back in Petersburg proper, where historic buildings jump out at you from all angles, including Folly's Castle.
The name has an interesting origin, don't you think?
Eventually I was back where I started and crossed the finish line with a time of 2:47:24.
This wasn't my best time in Petersburg but it was good enough for a 3rd place award in my age group.
All in all, it was a glorious day. It was basically a fun little jog with friends through some of the prettiest parts of Virginia. I saw some unbelievable sights and met lots of nice people. Other than that, I suppose there's really no point to this blog post!
P.S. The weather has been incredibly nice here, so much so that Nathan's already begun cutting hay. Which means that we may begin baling as early as tomorrow. Haying in April? Yup!
Friday, April 20
9:30 AM I'm a fairly early riser, and now that spring has arrived and the weather is warming up I like to take a cup of coffee onto the front porch and get a feel for what the day is going to look like, while Sheba marks her territory. This farm is so beautiful that it nearly brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it 13 years ago. I feel very much the same way today. I have long since let the garden go. I have neither the time for it nor the need for it. But I haven't given up on taking long walks on the many farm paths one finds here, thankful that I live in a temperate climate. This morning my main thought was: What should I wear in tomorrow's race? The temp at starting time (7:00 am) will be a cool 39, but with the sun shining, it won't be long before the thermometer's showing at least a 10-15 degree rise. This race will, unbelievably, mark my 12th half marathon since I started running three years ago. It's taken a while for me to build to this level of endurance and confidence. I've adopted a simplified philosophy of running these days. Get to the finish line. Step by step by step. And root for the underdogs. There are always underdogs. Tomorrow's course is a gritty one, with a few hills as you run through the Petersburg National Battlefield. The only way to get up these slopes is to adopt a measured cadence. Let your legs carry you through. Above all, enjoy the ride. These are moments you will never forget. Whether I will succeed or not I cannot predict. But what I can predict with absolute certainty is that what will carry me along is the same thing that has always carried men and women along through life: persistence. We are all half marathon runners, you and me. What is a fast pace for one is a slow pace for another. But the one thing we all have in common in this race of life is that when we run, we are truly alive.
Thursday, April 19
6:44 PM Great day for visiting the grandkids ...
and for eating KFC ...
and for new bikes ...
and for ice cream sundaes.
Meanwhile, I've got a bad fever. Hay fever, that is. It's time for allergy sufferers everywhere to begin their annual suffering from sniffling and sneezing. Pollen covers everything, including my poor sinus cavities. In Southern Virginia, the main culprits are generally timothy, oak, beech, cedar, elm, birch, and poplar. Looks like runny noses and itchy eyes are here to stay, for a while at least.
Time to cook my supper and then take a long walk among the oak, the birch, the cedars, etc.
5:55 AM Odds and ends ...
1) Yesterday Sheba and I chillaxed on the porch for a couple of hours, doing absolutely nothing but enjoy the 83-degree weather.
You see, resting is as much a part of a good training program as running is, or so I'm told. So today I'll exercise a bit but then I'll match that with more rest as I prepare for Saturday's half. I've set no time goal for the race at all. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another training run for the big event in May. Besides, to be perfectly honest, nobody reading this blog cares that much about my PRs. To be sure, they want me to be happy and healthy, and to that end they send me texts and emails. But really, does anybody remember what my marathon PR is? When I talk to people who used to run but have since stopped for whatever reason (usually lack of interest or commitment), it makes me really sad to hear them say they were frustrated by their lack of progress. Never compare your running with anyone else's. Dedication is a personal thing. It means when you start something, you carry it through to its conclusion. It means not giving up and not giving in. It means making every run and every race a mystery. My advice to them would be: Give yourself permission to relax. You might get more enjoyment out of the sport that way. After running now for three years, I'm blessed to say that I never feel that running is an obligation. I look forward to my walks/runs/climbs/races. Learn to respect your body. Is it telling you to exercise? Then go out the door and get busy. There's so much to enjoy along the way, from improved fitness to better health. Enjoy each new experience that comes your way. Enjoy being the athlete you're becoming.
But never forget to loaf.
2) I wonder how George H. W. is feeling today. Well, I think I know. Friend, if you're married, there's about a 50/50 chance of standing in our shoes. I still tear up when I think of Becky. That's a byproduct of loss. God is good. I hurt. Both are true. "I have not found hope in Christ to be mutually exclusive to the feeling of bereavement," wrote Lewis in A Grief Observed. Mr. President, grief is normal. Yes, it weighs us down. Yes, we're hurt, confused, and perhaps frightened. Grief is never comfortable. But it's a great teacher. You will learn from it, as I have. As you allow the truth of the Scriptures to be your companion, I pray that you will experience God's comfort.
3) Apropos Monday's Boston Marathon: This is my favorite picture from the event.
It took 85-year old Katherine Beiers of Santa Cruz, California, 7 hours and 50 minutes to finish the race, in a pouring rain no less. And we say we have excuses? The truth is, every step of a marathon takes us closer to where we want to be. At the very least it sets us free from a life of sedentary confinement. Ain't no one gonna steal my joy as long as I'm movin'.
Wednesday, April 18
5:44 PM Hey folks! So many good things to report.
1) On Monday morning in Dallas, mom, dad, and I had a hugely successful meeting with a world-renowned Dallas-based Christian composer/arranger who's agreed to do an arrangement of "For All the Saints" in memory of Becky and in honor of her Savior.
It will be arranged for SATB choir with piano accompaniment so that any vocal group can perform it, although for the world premiere the plan is to have the piece fully orchestrated. Can't wait.
2) A major publisher has agreed to publish the papers from our Linguistics and New Testament Greek conference to be held next April. I couldn't be more grateful. Both Ben Merkle and I have published numerous books with this company and know their quality. The book will be intended for use by students who've had a year of Greek instruction.
3) Last Saturday I decided to run a 5K called Running 4 Clean Water in Garland, Texas. The proceeds went to dig wells in Sierra Leone. It was cold – maybe more like a spring thaw than a winter chill – but cold nonetheless. My thanks to these ladies for providing us with a cup of hot coffee before the race.
After the start, the crowd thinned out quickly and I found my rhythm.
I saw a guy about my age in front of me and I let him pull just a little ahead to set the pace. I felt like I was already running at a good speed. I debated whether to pass him now or keep tucked in behind him. I knew I could probably hold on to him, but could I pass him later on? I decided to pass now and worry later. I knew then that I had a chance to place in my age group. I began to close in on the distance between me and the next group of runners. I was gradually picking up speed and even passing a few people. I could see the final turn and decided to pass the last guy that I thought was in my age group. When I saw the results I walked around in a happy daze. I had somehow managed to come in 39th place overall and 3rd in my age division.
4) I was saddened to hear about the passing of Barbara Bush. Today I sent this letter to her husband:
5) Our guest lecturer in today's NT class was my dear friend and colleague Ronjour Locke, who spoke on "Luke and Justice." It was an incredible talk. The tax collector in Luke reminds us that the Gospel is only for sinners. May we all cry out to God for mercy.
6) This Saturday is the Petersburg half marathon – number 12 for me. It's going to be a training run for the Flying Pig on May 6. The course is awesome. Speaking of running, did you know that if you're always getting injured on one side of your body it may be due to your breathing? It's easy to fall into a pattern, say, of always exhaling when you step with your left foot. The result is that your core becomes less stable on that side and you end up becoming more injury prone on your left side. Man, this running thing can be downright complicated!
7) This book just arrived. I've read mixed reviews.
8) As always, it was great seeing mom and dad.
We ate and yakked and attended the Vocal Majority concert together. As you can see, I think they allow only seasoned citizens to attend.
9) Finally ...
I believe we are in the midst of a great awakening in the body of Christ. God is doing something new again. It will take great humility for God to breathe new energy into His church. I hope you share the gift of frustration with me. May God use it to nudge us all forward.
Friday, April 13
7:40 AM No long story here. Just a shout out to mom and dad whom (Lord willing) I'll be seeing in a few hours. What will we do? Number one on my list is eating. In the state of Texas it's actually illegal to visit Dallas without dining at Spring Creek Barbeque. Then it's Ethiopian food tomorrow night. Then Grace Bible Church on Sunday. Oh, did I mention the Vocal Majority concert tomorrow afternoon? Whew. I'm getting tired just thinking about keeping up with mom and dad. As for the races, we'll see. I really really love racing because of the comradery and the chance to spend time with some really fabulous people. If I do run, I won't keep track of pace. Per usual, I'll try to focus on one mile at a time, remembering the old adage, "Running is simply a jaunt from one aid station to the next."
Peace and love,
Thursday, April 12
6:12 PM Hey folks! What an awesome day. Got all my business taken care of, including finalizing my tax returns (all 4 of them). I'm looking forward to seeing mom and dad again this weekend in the Big D. I may even run a race (either a 5K or a half marathon -- I've signed up for both) on Saturday if I'm feeling up to it. I'm so excited to be meeting in Dallas on Monday with a world-class composer and music director to see about commissioning a choir piece in memory of Becky. If there was anything that stood out about Becky, it was her ministry to the church worldwide, even though she was not "in the ministry," if you will. We talked about this in my classes this week. The New Testament knows nothing about "ordained" and "ordinary." Quite the opposite. Today, in fact, there's an exciting grassroots movement taking place where God is moving in our churches to "ordain the ordinary." The traditional idea is that the so-called laypeople were the pastor's helpers. But the new and truly Scriptural idea is that the pastor is the helper of the ordinary members in the performance of their daily "ministries" in the midst of their "secular" lives. The way to resolve the false dichotomy between ordained and ordinary is not to exclude professionals from ministry but to include all in ministry. And this is exactly what Becky stood for. She was a volunteer, an unpaid helper making a radical difference in the entire Christian enterprise. In other words, the idea of "every-member ministry" has no real life, no "bite," until every member actually begins to minister in accordance with the gifts God has given them. The hard truth is that this all too rarely happens. And as always, the problem has theological roots in our inadequate ecclesiology. In other words, we can't have a genuine universal ministry simply by announcing it. Pastors must make it clear to their congregations that they are in an "equipping ministry" (Eph. 4:12). We might as well face the fact that this concept of equipping is easy to talk about but much harder to implement. Everyone who is a genuine member of Christ's body is in fulltime service to the Lord. And the surprising part is that most of them engage in ministries that are inconspicuous. They are making a significant impact for the kingdom of God perhaps without even knowing it.
That's why I'm wanting someone to compose a choral piece based on that great old hymn of the faith, "For All the Saints." We don't have to wait to go to Bible school or seminary to serve the King. This may be a new concept to some, but it is re-emerging. Indeed, there can be no genuine renewal in the life of the church (for which I have been fervently praying) unless the principle of every-member ministry is accepted without reservation. Millions claim to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus, but it's is not a relationship that includes involvement. If there is anything that can be said about Becky, she was involved. Her ministry involved all places, all times, and all people, male and female, young and old, American and Ethiopian.
Hers was as much a fulltime Christian witness as it was an ordinary one. For her, the climax was not what happened on Sunday morning. The church is never an end in itself. The gathering always exists for the going, as Kevin Brown has just reminded us (see his latest post, Gather for the Going). I like to call the church a launching pad, a place from which we are propelled into the world. In some ways, this was what Becky was most famous for. The vitality of her service for Christ didn't occur primarily while the group was meeting but occurred after the meeting was over. Her motto might well have been, "For All the Saints." This is truly a mark of the church. God ordaining the ordinary. In such a church there is enlistment, commitment, participation, witness, sacrifice, and caring. If the church is genuine, it will always express itself in selfless acts of agape.
Thanks for reading,
7:55 AM Today I'll be in Roanoke on business. I love western Virginia, especially the mountains. If I was feeling better, I'd climb MacAfee Knob again. The trail head is only a few minutes from the city of Roanoke. For some reason, I feel deeply connected in the mountains. I know I am seen, heard, and valued by the Creator. Even though climbing can be scary, I feel strengthened and fulfilled after a difficult ascent. I love the connection it begets. All of us are wired for connection. Connection with God, connection with each other. It's impossible to practice compassion from a distance. Sometimes we think we're connected when we're really not. Technology can easily become a substitute for connection. Let me give you an example. As you know, we're studying 1 Thessalonians in my Greek 4 class this semester. We are now in that great paragraph about the death of a loved one, about comfort and hope in the midst of pain and grief. 1 Thess. 4:13-18 surprised me. Did you know that it contains the letter's very first command? (See Imperatives in 1 Thessalonians.) Which means -- if indeed 1 Thessalonians is Paul's earliest surviving epistle -- that this is the first command in all of Paul's writings. And what was it?
None of the above. It's simply this:
You see, loss teaches you so many things about the Christian life. It teaches you, for one thing, to let go of the myth of self-sufficiency. It's easy to divide the world between people who offer help and people who need help. The truth is that we are both. For years I placed value on being the helper in the family. I was always happy to help others but would rarely call on someone in the family to help me. I derived my self-worth from not needing help but instead always making it a habit to dispense it. Some of us are very good at extending help to others but very poor at asking for help when we need it ourselves. But giving and receiving always belong together. We encourage one another. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised that the first command in Paul's writings deals with mutual encouragement. You can't separate the concepts of helping and needing. 1 Thessalonians is pressing me to think about the difference between professing Christian love and practicing it. We don't need encouragement from everyone in our lives but we need it from at least one person. If we are willing to give encouragement, then we have to be willing to receive encouragement.
Sometimes encouragement comes to us in the most surprising shapes. Last night, as I lay in bed, I listened to this piece.
This is perfect music, music that comes to you straight from the hand of God. I can't even explain to you how much I was encouraged by listening to this piece. O Magnum Mysterium. O Great Mystery. Lord, You bring me to tears, You are so beautiful. This is why, for all of my adult years, I've been in love with choral music, good choral music, listening to it through my tears and thanking God for the gift He has given to us to be able to compose and perform and listen to music like this. Such music helps me to cope with my loss and sorrow. The memories I hold most sacred are the ordinary, everyday moments Becky and I spent together. As human beings, we need both sorrow and joy. But we always need to live from a place of gratitude. Gratitude isn't a novice's virtue. It comes as the culmination.
Now I get it. To someone who's spent most of his life trying to outrun vulnerability, I'm finally cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Yes, I love closure, resolution, and clarity, like many of you do. But why then would we need faith? Faith is essential when we make the decision to live and love with our whole hearts and risk becoming vulnerable again. Love and pain might sound like two different words. But I've learned they are the same and we need both.
Wednesday, April 11
9:25 PM "Your Eustachian tube is infected." The doctor glanced at me with a sympathetic look. "Let's drain your ear and get you on antibiotics ASAP." That was yesterday morning at 8:00 am. Since then, despite the Z PAC and the pain meds, my whole right side from my neck to my scalp has been throbbing with pain. I feel so small, so helpless, so utterly insignificant in the face of it all. It's hard being sick sometimes.
On my drive home from the seminary today I drove past the ranch near Oxford where Becky and I lived when we moved the horses from California to North Carolina. My eyes filled with tears. Right now I have nothing to say but a prayer of thanksgiving to God. I've been so blessed by His love, by His grace, and by the memories of my life with the most unique Christian I've ever known. As much as I could wish that my heart wasn't broken right now, I'm so thankful that I knew her. When you see your spouse tonight, be sure to give them a big hug and tell them you love them. Healing will always happen for the Christian, but it doesn't always happen in this life. We have all lost someone dear to us. Let us count it a joy that our hearts feel their absence. It means that our lives were blessed by their presence. And we must live the rest of our lives in light of that blessing.
Tuesday, April 10
6:50 AM The light barely breaks through the trees. The sky dances. The sound of chirping begins.
You are bathed in the glory of Creation, in the presence of the Creator. Suddenly you begin to sing praises, not for the enjoyment of others but for your own pleasure and for the glory of God. That's the Christian life. Spontaneous worship is just that. It's worship that breaks out any time, any place, like when I washed the dishes this morning or wrote a check to someone or published the blog post you read earlier today. He surrounds us with evidence of His glory and love 24 hours a day, and so we never ever reserve "worship" for an hour on Sunday morning. Open your eyes and He is there, right there, in a sunrise or at the kitchen sink or in your office. A church building can no more confine Him than the entire universe. "God cannot be expressed but only experienced," wrote Frederick Buechner. "In the last analysis, you can't pontificate but only point."
6:05 AM When I crossed the finish line of my first marathon in Cincinnati almost a year ago, I didn't know what was in store for me. This past year of running has been a wild ride. If I'm able to run in Cincy again next month, it will be my 9th marathon. Would I have been the same person had I never started running? I can't answer that question. But what I can say is this: I am as excited today about the Flying Pig Marathon on May 6 as I was when I ran there last year. Like everything linked to the body, the desire to run and finish a race is linked with the urge God gives all of us to push through grueling and challenging times in our lives. What I've learned is that, unless we are truly motivated to keep on going, the temptation is very strong to stop running. This has been a wild ride for me. Thankfully, I still find enjoyment in the sport, otherwise I'm not sure I could continue to run. I've learned to appreciate the little things along the way -- the importance of good shoes, the need for rest, the value of training. Ask any marathoner (and I only qualify for that title by the most generous of terms), and all of us run for the same reason. Because it's fun. What could be better than challenging your body to go 26.2 miles in every conceivable kind of weather conditions? The most exciting thing is not the race but the comradery. If you don't know what I mean, just stand at the end of a marathon and watch people crossing the finish line. Not just the elite athletes. But those who finish 5, 6, 7, or even 8 hours after the race begins. I keep saying that nothing is impossible is you're willing to pay the price for your dream. That's true whether you're looking to start a doctoral program or are wanting to raise a family. Sometimes people look at you like you're crazy, but I'd rather be a crazy, happy man than someone who has stopped dreaming.
Right now I'm struggling with my health. My earache has only gotten worse and I'm scheduled to see the doctor this morning. Even though what happens between now and this weekend's half marathon in Dallas is up for grabs, it's nice to know that even if I don't make it to the destination I'm still enjoying the ride. It's the journey that matters in the end.
I hope the road you're on today will take you where you want to be, my friend.
Monday, April 9
7:45 AM This week we're in 1 Thess. 4:9-12. But first let's review the logical propositions we find in 4:1-8. Here are Paul's main points:
1) You learned from us how you should live in order to please God.
2) This is the way you've been living all along.
3) Now we are asking you and urging you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more.
4) You know the commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
5) Specifically, God wants you to be holy:
6) We told you this before and strongly warned you that the Lord will punish all those who do that.
7) God didn't call us to live in immorality but in holiness.
8) The logical and necessary consequence is that whoever rejects this teaching is not rejecting a mere human being but the God who gives you His Spirit -- His holy Spirit.
Paul's point? It's time, folks, to choose obedience over disobedience. And just when we're covering our mouth in horror -- who in the world can possibly live a holy life like that? -- he reminds us that if obedience is required for the Christian, it is also enabled. You need holiness? How 'bout relying on the Spirit that God continually gives you for enablement and empowerment? Paul isn't saying, "Ya'll better get your act together." He's saying, "This lifestyle is not from you. It's not from me. What you have is not yours. It's all the provision of God." Jesus poured out His blood for people who would take advantage of their freedom in Christ to live immoral lives, yet His grace is theirs for the asking until they draw their very last breath.
Now Paul segues by saying, in effect, "Here's yet another way we can please God." The logical propositions we find in 4:9-12 proceed as follows:
1) There's no need for me to write you about love for your fellow believers.
2) You yourselves have been taught by God how you should love one another.
3) You have, in fact, behaved like this toward all the Christians in all of Macedonia.
4) Now we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do even more.
5) Specifically, make it your aim to:
6) We told you all this before when we were with you.
7) In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need.
Once again, Paul gives the skeleton, and then hangs some meat on the bones. Did you notice the connections between these two paragraphs (4:1-8 and 4:9-12)?
1) In both, Paul moves from commendation to correction. "You're doing great! Yahoo! But you can still do better, okay?"
2) In both passages he bases His exhortations on the love command of Jesus:
3) Human need is matched by God's provision:
4) Finally, in neither passage does Paul directly command his readers to do anything. His appeals are based on logic and reason. "Since this is true, then this ought to be true."
What's new here in 4:9-12 is Paul's emphasis on evangelism and "soul-winning" (dare I used that expression today?). Our goal isn't to engage in a battle of words with non-believers and "win." Not if "win" means beating them over the head with the Bible. Yes, there should be biblical content in our proclamation. But that content is enhanced and enriched by our lifestyles, including the way go about our own business and provide for our needs through work. When non-believers see us being responsible in our jobs, they'll be attracted to the Gospel. When they hear the music, they'll want to hear the words. As we faithfully go about our business, being responsible to pay our way and being generous to others who can't, we win the respect of outsiders, says Paul. In other words, seeing is believing.
My friend, I can't tell you how important it is for us to do this. When I was in college, I had a friend who went to Japan as a missionary. His job was to reach Japanese businessmen for Christ. He didn't get very far. He would ask them, "What do you do for a living?" They would relate to him their occupations and talk about how diligently they worked in order to be successful. Then they would ask him, "And what kind of work do you do?" Embarrassed, my friend would answer, "My job is to tell you about Jesus." After four fruitless years, my friend returned to the States and resigned from the mission board. Then he went right back to Japan, married a Japanese girl, got a "secular" job teaching English to Japanese businessmen, and within a few months had started a church in his home.
I'm not saying we shouldn't support fulltime missionaries. I do. However, the missing link in becoming a fully actualized, redemptive person may be a proper vision of God's strategy about work. If you want to effectively reach your friends and neighbors for Christ, Paul has some guidelines. Live a quiet, unobtrusive life. Stop being busybodies but mind your own business. Earn your own living unless circumstances don't allow you to do so. To reach men and women for Christ, we can't just shout the good news to them from a safe and respectable distance. We must voluntarily lay aside the temptation to be detached from the unsaved. I think that's Paul main point, regardless of how you or I pay our bills. If you are in step with God's Spirit, He will show you the appropriate manner and means by which to make the Gospel plain to your friends.
Sunday, April 8
9:10 AM I'm sitting here nursing a sore throat and an earache, relieved that I decided not to run in today's 50K and just reading Scripture and pondering anew the goodness of the Lord. For some silly reason I'm missing Becky this morning, I mean really missing her. I think it's because of the conversation I had with the young seminary couple I hosted for lunch yesterday. As we chatted about their future career and family goals, my mind went back to the time when Becky and I were about the same age, making those exact same decisions, becoming increasingly restless, wanting to have everything settled. Human wisdom alone is insufficient for those tasks. Today I still face many important decisions in my life -- decisions about my work, my lifestyle, my diet, my finances, my kids, etc. -- and occasionally I begin to feel a tremor inside myself deep down in my soul. When people lose a spouse they often have trouble concentrating, and even what would normally be "easy" decisions can become debilitating. The problem is exacerbated by telling virtually no one about your struggles. It's during times like this that all you want to do is hear from God. Picking up my Bible this morning, I read Psalm 91. The passage that struck me was this one:
What struck me is that this is not a promise made to all believers. Only those who love the Lord and who call on Him in faith are afforded the promises made in Psalm 91. This is the secret of the one "who goes to the Lord for safety, who remains under the protection of the Almighty" (v. 1).
At the very core of loss is the realization of one's finiteness and complete dependence on God. We are nothing but earthen jars of clay. If there is any power in our lives, it comes from God. All worldly props are removed. You are left utterly helpless except for the Lord.
The responsibilities of a widower's life demand a great deal but they also bring great joy. I am as excited about my future today as I was when Becky and I got married or when we moved to Basel or when we had our first child. Frederick Buechner once said, "Maybe the most sacred function of memory is just that: to render the distinction between past, present, and future ultimately meaningless; to enable us at some level of our being to inhabit that same eternity which is said that God himself inhabits." Suffering forces us to think about God's character, His very nature. Is He really good? Is He really in control of all things? Can He really be trusted? When we experience loss, these questions are no longer mere abstractions. Loss enables us to see the presence and protection of the Almighty. If that thought doesn't give us a measure of peace, nothing will.
Saturday, April 7
11:12 AM I see we're only two weeks away from the Petersburg Half Marathon. Petersburg has very special memories for me because it was in Petersburg that I got my half marathon PR of 2:27. I'm usually no better than 2:50 or so. It's a pretty neat course. You run right through the Petersburg National Battlefield and even get to witness a mini-reenactment while there. Once again, the race features pace teams (always a big help where you're trying for a new PR). By the way, last year I got this "official" photo from the race organizers.
Don't be fooled by the clock. That's the gun time, not the chip time. I had to pay for the picture, of course. That's why I'm showing it here for the second time. I'm a cheapskate and want to get my money's worth out of my investment.
In two weeks I'll use a different picture. I promise.
10:08 AM If you live in or near Dallas, here are 10 reasons why you should register for the Fairview Half Marathon next Saturday:
I just signed up. The race is only a 10 minute drive from mom and dad's house in Murphy. This will be my 12th half. The 15-year old me is jealous of the 65-year old me, I'm sure.
9:35 AM So I'm having lunch guests today. And the funny thing is, I think I've spent more time prepping my puppy for them than the house. Sure, I picked up and vacuumed, cleaned the kitchen and whatnot, but I spent a good half hour grooming Sheba and picking up her dog hair lest anyone think Sheba is that kind of a doggie. Having a dog is a little like living on another planet. You find yourself doing all kinds of strange and weird things, like speaking to your puppy in the third person ("Yes, Sheba, Daddy wuvs you, you sweet girl") or feeling guilty every time you have to put her in the backyard because you're going out of town. And does anyone understand me like Sheba does? How is it that she knows when I'm happy and when I'm sad? The dog is the only animal that intentionally seeks out eye contact with people or that runs to its human when it's pleased to see us. Whenever we go for a walk, the first thing Sheba does is acknowledge my presence. It's only when she gets a telling nod from me that she turns around and begins exploring on her own, always careful to eyeball me to see where I am. No, Sheba is not a little human. Still, she's an amazing creation of God -- a loving, warm, sentient creature with whom I've formed a strong and resilient bond. I thank God for her every day of my life.
6:02 AM Hey blog readers. What a week it's been. Hail in Dallas. An earthquake in Los Angeles. Tornados in Shreveport. And here? Nothing but pouring rain. It started last night and kept going all night long. Today is more of the same, except that the rain will turn to snow at 9:00 pm. (Wait. I thought it was spring?) The fowl weather means two things:
1) I cancelled our Student Work Day that was scheduled for today, much to the disappointment of many.
2) I've made the obvious decision not to participate in tomorrow's ultra marathon in Raleigh. I've done two 10K trail runs, one in Virginia and one in Texas, both in perfect conditions. They were not easy. I can't imagine trying to complete a 50K race in what I know will be terrible (and possibly dangerous) conditions. I've hiked enough to know that trails either go up or down, and when the trail turns to mud you tend to slip and slide in both directions. Sigh. I was really looking forward to the comradery. Well ... acceptance. Equanimity. Another day, another ultra for me. But I don't mind being alone. I think it was Sartre who said, if you're lonely when you're alone, you're in poor company. Let's see what other adventures the Lord has for me today. One thing's for sure: Life is never boring. Tomorrow morning I'll put on my running shoes again. Except this time I won't double tie the shoelaces. I won't need chafing cream. I won't set my Garmin to "Run Outdoors." Disappointments. Yes, they really do build character.
Keep seeking the road less travelled,
Friday, April 6
4:18 PM I emailed the ultra race director and she says, "Trails might be soft, but not too soggy. We're not expecting enough rain to wash anything out." I get the point. Not ideal conditions but not terrible conditions either. Bottom line: With running (as with everything in life), you're either green and growing or ripe and rotting. Am I still planning on running? Yes. On the other hand, today I developed a mild sore throat, and I'm not too happy about that. All I know is that I've been running long enough (3 years) that the novelty has worn off and I need to take it to another level if I'm going to enjoy the sport. I'll make my final decision tomorrow. In the meantime, it's the simple things of life that count the most. They really do.
9:40 AM Five reasons I love living in the middle of nowhere:
1) Everyone knows everyone. That's generally a good thing, though we have our share of backstabbers. It means that wherever you go, you do a lot of talking with people. Which is fine. Nobody's in a hurry.
2) We take care of each other. In other words, when you move to the boonies you'll feel like you're living "in community." Take the little cow that constantly gets out. You'll find her snipping grass at the side of the same road day in and day out. Everyone has tried to get her to stay in her pasture but she always finds a way of escape. Had a long talk about her in our local Food Lion the other day. The guy I was speaking with actually lives on the same country road that the cow lives on and has given her the name Roady. "Oh yeah," he told me, "Roady's out again." And no, we don't call the cops. Nobody from out of town drives here anyways. But if you visit my farm, you'll probably see her.
3) Necessities are not hard to find. Clarkesville ("My fair city") has a bank, a post office, both Chinese and Mexican restaurants (which are pretty good), an automated car wash, a CVS, and a grocery store -- all within a 10-minute drive. But don't expect to see more than a car or two on the way there.
4) The nature is incredible. An invasion of lady bugs. A parade of caterpillars. Dogs and cats and chickens and rogue roosters and cattle and donkeys and horses and bats and goats and snakes and spring peepers and indigo buntings and bees and farms and welcoming habitats for birds. A-mazing beauty.
5) Finally, there's the solitude. I loved living here when Becky and I were together, madly in love, having surrendered to sweet dreams of farm and country, and I love living here as a left-behind husband making a new life for himself and his kiddos. You can spend hours in the woods and fields, observing and learning from God's creation all around you. When I'm searching for serenity, my search usually ends right here at the farm. Just visualize me and Sheba out for our daily walk and you'll know why. We've had our share of severe mercies (who hasn't?) and a few tough winters, but nothing that God -- and watching the redbud and the dogwood blossoming together -- can't cure.
Ah, Rosewood. Born of dreams. Tracing the seasons. Bucolic bliss. Waking up, day after day, thinking, "Here is the life I have created. Thanks be to God."
Thursday, April 5
7:20 PM Today I had my interview with Abidan Shah of the Hoi Polloi podcast.
We talked about my book The Authorship of Hebrews: Why Nobody Really Cares. No, that's not its real title but I wanted to know if you actually read my blog. Yes, I realize you're probably not interested in reading a defense of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, but somebody had to write it.
I'm incredibly blessed because of moments like this, and I hope I never forget that.
P.S. Abidan says the interview should be up in a couple of weeks. Not that anybody's holding their breath.
9:50 AM "In your opinion, what's the best book on spiritual gifts?" A student asked me this question after my NT class yesterday. That's easy. Kenneth Hemphill's Spiritual Gifts: Empowering the New Testament Church. That said, I cautioned my student to be aware of two things: (1) the lists of NT gifts are not exhaustive, and (2) none of the gifts is defined per se. Then I asked him this question: "What, in your thinking, is the difference between a 'natural ability' and a 'spiritual gift'?" I had a reason for asking him that question. You see, in the end I think there's very little difference between a so-called natural ability and a spiritual gift. When you become a follower of Jesus, two things happen. First, you acknowledge that every one of your so-called "natural abilities" is really a gift from the gracious hand of God. And secondly, you now employ those gifts in His service and for His glory alone. One of the gravest dangers of doing a spiritual gifts inventory on people is that it can all too often produce carbon copies of a stereotypical archetype. Instead, let's ask people, "What do you love to do? What is your passion in life? What is it that you do that causes you to feel God's pleasure?" Psychologists call this "self-discernment," but for Christians, self-discernment is always connected to our relationship with God. The more we become like Jesus, the more we become authentically ourselves. What incredibly important theology. The path to self-fulfillment is simply discovering who our Creator designed us to be. (Side note. Here's a quick test to determine if you're doing the right thing with your life and not merely a good thing. Do the satisfactions of your work outweigh the stresses? If your vocation is born out of a relationship with Jesus, then it will be a pleasure both for you and for others. After all, Jesus said, "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." So what are we complaining about?)
Our chapel speaker on Tuesday drove this point home. "Don't waste your life! Don't bury your God-given talents!" It's simply too costly. So let's give people the freedom to be what God wants them to be. The best we can do is give them Jesus, not a book about spiritual gifts. I have no confidence in Dave Black but I have every confidence in my Savior. He is utterly dependable, and if we look to Him, He will guide us in the right path for our lives. Trust me, no one wants to follow a fraud. Be who you are, the real you, the person God created you to be. The church is for real people with real families who lead real lives. And always remember the theology: Our true self emerges only from our uniqueness in Christ.
8:44 AM Maybe the best movie ever made about the 1970s Watergate scandal and the resignation of a U.S. president is All the President's Men. In that film, Hal Holbrook portrayed "Deep Throat," the insider whistleblower whose clandestine meetings with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein gave the Washington Post scoop after scoop. Last night on Amazon Prime I watched Liam Neeson portray the same character in the film Mark Felt -- The Man Who Brought Down a President.
This time, however, the focus is not so much on Woodward and Bernstein. Watergate was a story about much more than newsrooms and reporters. It was the tale of a failed system, of presidential abuse of power, and while newspaper reporters contributed to Nixon's resignation, in the end the president shot himself in the foot by trying to shut down a federal investigation and dismantle the FBI. This led to a constitutional crisis but one that the American people ultimately overcame. It seems there are negative consequences when a U.S. president tries to make the FBI a tool of his own criminality.
This may be Neeson's best performance since Shindler's List. He succeeds in making "Deep Throat" come alive (the real Felt died in 2008), though the intrigue on display in Mark Felt -- The Man Who Brought Down a President can't seem to match the drama played out in a story about two dogged reporters. In fact, because the film relies so heavily on one's prior knowledge of the Watergate cover-up, I think it would be a very good idea to see All the President's Men before renting this film.
Wednesday, April 4
6:56 PM It was a beautiful 3 days on campus.
Spring has definitely sprung.
Here's my home-away-from-home, the Bostwick Dorm. When I'm not in my office I'm here writing.
Meanwhile, prepping to teach 1 Thess. 4:1-8 in my office...
... and discussing the text of 1 Thessalonians with Maurice Robinson, our resident textual critic.
The Byzantine text is a sticking point with a lot of scholars but not with Mo -- which is one of the things I like about him.
On a completely unrelated theme ...
I've come to the realization that I might not be able to run the ultra this weekend after all. The weather gurus are calling for rain and possibly snow/sleet all day Saturday, which would make the course a challenge for any runner but especially for the guy who was always picked last in gym class and is a complete klutz. I don't want to whine, but I was soooo looking forward to this race and would be bummed if I had to bow out at the last minute. I'm sure the race will go on rain or shine (or snow or sleet), but really, a novice has no business trying to compete in such conditions. If there's something my New Year's Day marathon in Dallas taught me is that it's generally not a good idea to run when the temperature is literally 1 degree Fahrenheit. I mean, it was the worst possible conditions and of the 700 people who registered for the race, only 43 of us finished it, and I was no. 42. I should really not complain; nobody forced me to compete in that kind of lousy weather. But I can become seriously competitive at times, and January 1st was one of those days. I was in Dallas to run and I was sure as shootin' gonna finish that marathon. To sum up, I'll wait until Saturday to make my final decision. Everything will work out okay, I'm sure.
Before I sign off (for now) I'll leave you with this photo.
These books arrived in today's mail. Both Paul and Alex are my former doctoral students. Well done, you guys. For the record, I'm proud of both of you.
Monday, April 2
7:54 AM This and that before my real work starts....
1) I finished reading this book yesterday, paying close attention to what the authors say about the position of Hebrews in the early canon lists of the NT.
Hebrews follows Romans in p46, and it follows 2 Thessalonians in our earliest uncials. This should have been the position of Hebrews in the newly minted Tyndale House Greek New Testament (for reviews of this work, go here). The Paulinity of Hebrews is thus amply supported by the canonical testimony.
2) It's one space at the end of sentences, folks, not two.
3) In the absolutely-nobody-will-care-category, I'm put the finishing touches on my marathon schedule for the year. Thus far these are set in Quikrete:
Still praying about the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 9, but who enjoys running 26.2 miles in 100 percent humidity?
4) Best. Church. Name. Ever.
5) In case you can't afford that wedding ring ....
Sunday, April 1
8:22 PM Here's my dog Sheba.
I just got finished explaining to her that April is National Canine Fitness Month.
P.S. This is also National Humor Month, National Garden Month, National Occupational Therapy Month, National Soft Pretzel Month, National Soy Foods Month, National Welding Month, National Fresh Celery Month, National Fair Housing Month, and National Safe Digging Month. Don't say I never told you.
1:14 PM So. It was a fantastic morning. Decided to fellowship with one of my kids and their family today. Was blessed to witness 5 baptisms. In two instances, dads baptized their own sons.
Not only that, both dads spoke Spanish. How cool is that? I am A-Okay with "lay people" baptizing. After all, I wrote this:
It's from my book Siete marcas de una iglesia neotestamentaria. Bottom line: Everyone wins! Then I drove home and noticed something green. As in, very green.
Did you know it's almost time to cut hay again? Incredible. Increíble! Finally, I'm one week away from my ultra (as if you didn't know that already). I'm 50 percent excited and 80 percent terrified. (And still lousy at math.)
Bring. It. On.
Off to check on the animals. Bye.
8:12 AM I know, I know. Some of you are probably thinking it's sacrilegious to internet (yes, that's a verb) on such a sacred day as Easter Sunday morning but then again, there was no Easter Sunday in the early church and in fact they didn't celebrate Christmas either and if they did it probably wouldn't have been in the month of December and Dave's getting carried away again -- but I think you get the point. A frustrating trait about the Bible is that it tends to upset all of the apple carts in our lives. We attach the label "holy days" to only certain days as if all the other days were somehow less than holy. Yes, I have friends who follow the liturgical calendar and who truly believe that this day is somehow more of a holy day than yesterday was, and I'm fine with that because that's what Paul teaches us to be in Rom. 14-15. Then again, if we have to label today as a special day, maybe we should call it Resurrection Sunday (as I know many of you already do). But then we're faced with yet another dilemma: In the early church, every Sunday was Resurrection Sunday, a celebration of Jesus' life-after-death, and then they memorialized that fact with a big hoopla filled with music and laughter and lots of food. (Remember: it's the Lord's Supper, not the Lord's Snack.) And somehow in the midst of all their celebrating they were able to maintain a focus on the dais. I'm kidding, of course. The center of their gathering wasn't an altar or a platform but an ordinary table at which they sat and ate and remembered their risen, ruling, and returning Lord of glory. "I can't party with you now," Jesus told them before He ascended to heaven, "but yall go ahead and feast in remembrance of Me until that Day when we're all seated together again around a table." When I was growing up, this wasn't quite the focus. Think Easter egg hunts (at church even) and a choir cantata. And somehow this notion that Easter, this Resurrection Sunday, was a once-a-year event wended its way into my subconscious, my questions, my wonderings, but I never quite forgot that God sees each day as equally necessary and important and, in fact, He sees all of us in His body as equally important and necessary and with potential to worship Him and do His work 24/7/365. That realization changed my life. Pretty much the second God convinces us to move off of square 1, we're supposed to shift. God shifts our story, until we are obedient in the little things of life and not just the big things. In addition to church life, we've been given a new "it," and that "it" includes the normal, mundane, "non-holy-days" of our existence. Our only hope as a church is to get back out there in the world and follow the example of Jesus who gave His body for others with scandalous love and a lifestyle that caused them to sit up and pay attention. This is our high calling as followers of King Jesus: not only to find Him on Easter Sunday in our cathedrals and sanctuaries and liturgies and non-liturgical services and home churches but in the school gym and at the kitchen sink. This is who we are. This is what we do as Resurrection-celebrants. God's endgame is resurrection every day of our lives. The shadows of the trees have only made the sunlight more brilliant. So ... tomorrow (a "normal" Monday) when I get to campus I'm going to greet people with:
"He is risen!"
"He is risen indeed!"
Like a marriage ceremony, Resurrection Sunday defies tidy church services and elaborate celebrations. It breathes new life into everything.
Saturday, March 31
7:15 PM Do you realize that tomorrow is April 1st? As in April Fools Day? It's also Resurrection Sunday (Happy Easter everyone!) and only one week away from my first-ever-why-in-the-world-would-I-do-such-a-crazy-thing-ultramarathon. One. Week. I know, half of you are thinking, "What's the big deal, Davey ol' boy," and the other half are thinking, "Boy oh boy Dave, you da man," and the other half are thinking, "Dave can't do math." Anyway, if I were you I'd prolly just stop reading this blog for a couple of weeks because I'm about to freak out. Anyways .... Tonight I went out for dinner. No, not just to any old restaurant, but to one Becky and I used to frequent. You see, I've been in a really nostalgic mood lately, so I thought it would be fun to resurrect (get the pun? resurrect?) old habits. Long story short, I ordered what I always order from the same server who always served us. Naturally, she had completely forgotten who Becky was, so I tried to remind her but gave up because, well, I just did. Fact is, sometimes we all just need a reminder. Loss is real. And nobody ever really "gets over it." I don't always feel the way I'm feeling tonight, but when I feel nostalgic I affirm my feelings because I am a human being and that's how human beings feel. You still miss her, Dave. And that's okay. For many of us, mortality is no longer an abstract concept. Loss breaks us. Mostly of bad habits. Thank God I don't know what accidents or losses are still looming ahead. Feeling knocked down, Dave? Love again. Work again. Hope again. Give again. Weep again. Laugh again. Live again. Go out to dinner again. I guess that's my Easter message to you all. You have to look through the rain to see the rainbow.
I remember you, Becky. You echo in me. You have (present tense) a beautiful heart and soul. Thank you so much for your life. Your memory is a gift.
3:34 PM Today I'm pondering the opening verses of the book of Romans, a letter often called the "Cathedral of Christianity," and for good reason. The structure of the entire book is amazing, and it all starts with 1:1-7.
I think I've managed to unpack the discourse structure of this passage. Strike up the band. Plus, I'm unpacking the theology contained in these verses. Honestly, Easter would be nothing had not Jesus been raised from the dead. Jesus teaches us to say, "Not my will but Yours be done." I mean, how much lower can God stoop than to become a human being, a baby laid in a feeding trough? As Max Lucado often reminds us, we can't take the manure out of the manage. We can't pretend that "no crying He made." At the incarnation, God became a real man with a heart and two lungs and a navel and legs that grew and a beard that sprouted and a Son who learned obedience through the things that He suffered (Heb. 5:8). And then He died in disgrace. My riches aren't mine. They are all pure gifts from the nail-pierced hands of this God-man Jesus.
And then -- He arose! Even if you call it a hoax, you still have to explain the empty tomb. "The disciples stole the body." They why were they martyred for their faith? "The authorities stole the body." Then why didn't they parade His corpse through the streets? Only one explanation adequately explains the mystery of the empty tomb. "He was powerfully declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection of the dead," our passage tells us.
The pierced hands of Jesus are the ultimate expression of God's love. And the resurrection of our Savior is the ultimate guarantee that we too will rise someday. We can stake our everything on it.
11:32 AM I went. I ran. I rumbled. (Sincere apologies to Caesar.) Here we are at the starting line of today's 5K.
The course was basically a loop that you ran twice. You start out going downhill, then you run under Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and across 4 boardwalks before turning around.
You climb back up the hill and then do it all over again. At the finish line, everyone hangs out and yaks until the last person is done.
It was a fun course. I didn't do so bad for such a hilly course. What's neat about these results is the column on the right showing your "road age standard." The tables establish a performance level for each gender and each age for most standardized distances (like the 5K).
As you can see, I come in at 51.70 percent! Woohoo! I'm TOTALLY AVERAGE for my age and gender! Yay!!!! (Running tip: Comparing is fun, but you can compare too much. Never base your worth on what others are doing. Compare yourself only to yourself.) Props to the race organizers for putting on such a fun event. I had amazing support from all of my fellow runners. Afterwards I enjoyed a big cup of coffee and a Danish at a quaint little coffee shop in Durham called the Saladelia Cafe.
Nice ambiance, wouldn't ya say?
Ok, I think I'm going to stop here. We runners tend to think everybody else is interested in our running reports when they're really just rolling their eyes and putting up with our bloviating. Folks, ya gotta know when to say when.
5:30 AM It's official. Today I participate in my first ever Durham NC Parkrun. It's probably something like my 1,000th 5K. As I run, I'll think back to all the people who motivated me to get here, and all the obstacles, self-doubt, and despair that tried to stop me. These are all my companions on the road race of life. They are old friends come to bid me adieu.
This is the first day of the rest of my life.
Friday, March 30
8:04 PM Okay dokey. I got all of my errands taken care of. I'm finished with supper. I'm getting ready for next month. Wow, only one day left in March. April is going to be crazy. I'm registered for 3 races:
In addition, while in Dallas I'll be going to see the Vocal Majority men's chorus on April 14 with mom and dad. And oh, on April 5, I have another interview with Abidan Shaw for his Hoi Polloi podcast. (I've already done 3 with him.) Then there's Student Day on Saturday April 7.
Oh my. Talk about a fun month. Speaking of fun, on Sunday April 22, Duke Chapel is holding yet another organ concert. And did I mention the doctoral defense I'm leading or the trip to the NC Zoo with my kids and grandkids or the gazillion emails I have to answer or all the meal preparation I have to do for the month? I think I need to have a little talk with Jesus about my schedule. Down time comes hard for me. I marvel at the schedule I keep. I have friends who are even busier. Regardless, I'm content. Jesus is slowly teaching me healthy ways of living. He's reminding me I need to press the pause button from time to time. And yet. I love doing. And I say that as someone who tends to be as contemplative as Aristotle, who loves to read, who enjoys nothing as much as chillaxing on the front porch with my dog. And please don't get me started on ice cream sandwiches.
Here, again, running is teaching me how to live. You don't get bonus points for overtraining as an athlete. Even as you find enjoyment in moving your body, you learn to find satisfaction in taking it easy. Rest days are as important as training days. Do I find this kind of balancing act easy? I don't think so. But I'll tell you this: God designed me not only to do but also to be. Thank You, Lord. You're so smart.
10:55 AM My Garmin keeps telling me to "Move!" so I guess I had better get outdoors. Been cramped up in the house all morning long doing finances and other office things. Early it rained but the rain has long since stopped and the weather is so pleasant that no one in their right mind would stay indoors all day. I've been getting so many Greek DVD requests that I had to place an order for another 25 today. The latest request is from Australia. So, there's lots to keep me indoors. But I can't stop enjoying the glory of God's nature. Just can't. My goal is to live a long life filled with service to Jesus, vibrant family activity, and lots of fun and adventure. I don't really care how fast I run or how high I climb. Most people rust out due to inactivity rather than burn out due to being overly active. A vigorous lifestyle can have a powerful influence on keeping old age and poor performance at bay. So ... it's off to the post office, bank, and grocery story, and then I plan to get in a nice, long, slow walk. Yup, I'm untying those "nots" in my life and hope you're doing the same!
Thursday, March 29
5:26 PM Today I ran 10 miles in Farmville because I felt I needed to get in a long race. The route was a very familiar one -- the High Bridge Trail. I came in first place if you can believe it. I was also the only one running, so I guess I also finished last. With only one weekend away from my ultra, I thought it would be good to try and get in a couple of long training runs before then. The run felt great. I did what's called interval training. After getting started and warmed up, you begin to put a few "pickups" into your run. These don't have to be very strenuous, but they should be long and hard enough that you feel like you've really pushed your body.
Today I alternated between a 4.4 mph pace and a 7.8 mph pace. In other words, the idea is to run slowly for a while and then run fast for a few minutes, alternating the slow and fast paces throughout your run. I'm learning that I can only do so much at my age and with my genetics. But I do feel like I can be better and run faster. As you see here, my overall pace today was a solid 12:30.
I almost completed 10 miles in under 2 hours, which was my goal. I run with my head high, greeting everyone I see. I want to tell them, "Hey, you're doing fantastic! Keep it up!" Today there were actually several other runners/bikers on the trail. I think everyone's getting the race bug again after the winter hiatus. Tomorrow I'm taking the day off from running, then on Saturday I have my 5K race in Durham. Sunday, of course, is Easter, but I'm shooting for another run that afternoon. Then it's back to school, teaching, exams, quizzes, grading, meetings, etc. It's funny how time flies. It seems like it was months ago when I signed up for my 50K race, and now it's only 10 days away. It's true that my training program is lagging behind the schedule I set for myself, but I think I'll be ready to run on the 8th. It's all pretty exciting and scary.
Thanks for reading!
7:58 AM This and that ....
1) I'm beginning to obsess about my 50K run in two weeks. At the race website we read these "encouraging" words:
I see the race is limited to 100 runners. I'm looking forward to working this trail with the other 99. This is the first time in 3 years that I've signed up for an ultra. My instinct tells me it's the right thing to do. But my fears are there just the same. Yet all things are possible, are they not?
2) In case you were wondering what I enjoy for breakfast ....
3) 78 degrees today. Seventy-Eight. Well, hello Spring.
4) Starting on my 2017 taxes....
5) Love this book.
A few quotes:
All of these things seem so obvious to me today. Just 3 years ago, it was all Greek to me. But life involves continual expansion. We learn to discharge what is latent within us. And each stage is an achievement.
Achieve well today, my friends. When you reach a plateau, consider what you learned from that stage of life. And then unflaggingly pursue the next one with excellence.
Wednesday, March 28
5:16 PM Spent the day re-baling loose hay bales. Fun but tiring.
Don't you love these periwinkles?
Gonna spend the evening on the front porch reading.
10:20 AM *Warning: Squishy post ahead.*
But before I get to my themette, I just have to wax elephant about the weather. Have you ever seen the sun shine more beautifully than today? And check this out:
I'm so ready for warmer weather I can hardly contain myself. On Saturday, by the way, I'm trying something brand new, or at least brand new to me. Seems that in Durham every Saturday there's a weekly timed 5K run hosted by the "Durham NC Parkrun." Had no idea. So I've signed up to do my first ever run with these folks. The event is free, and afterwards everyone hangs out at a local coffee shop. So bam, right in the middle of my Easter break, the Lord is treating me to something new. Thank you, Jesus!
But back to my themette. Listening to Keith Getty last night was really pretty incredible. One thing he kept mentioning over and again was the word "stewardship." How can we steward the gifts God's given us, be they musical or academic or whatever? Folks, the idea of standing before the Lord on THAT DAY and being held accountable for the way we've stewarded His gifts is a gigantic motivator. It motivated me to pick up a book I read last year. It's Billy Graham's final book called Nearing Home.
I noticed that I had done some scribbling on page 38. This is where Graham writes these sobering thoughts:
This is one of those quotes where your mission becomes very clear. We can't allow ourselves to be distracted from the main point. And this is precisely where I so often fail. As Keith Getty puts it in his interview (this is my paraphrase of what he said): There are many good things in life, and they are easy. But there are only a few great things in life, and they are always hard. In other words, the Gospel is epically transformative. It changes everything. The story of the Gospel is comprised of billions of little moments where average Joe-or-Jane-Doe Christian carries on despite loss and pain. Graham is a good example of that. Writing a book when you're 92? Why not? Rather than fearing growing older, shouldn't we instead keep our hopes and dreams alive as long as God allows us to live? We should live as long as we last. Growing older is fine, but we should never grow old.
I can't deny my wish to find a fountain of youth. (You're not over 60 so you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. Just wait.) That's a pipe dream. But what I can do is stay vital and (to use Keith Getty's word) creative as long as I last. If we're not careful, we can carry a lot of negative attitudes into old age. We can try to cling to our lost youth like barnacles to a ship's hull. But nothing can stop the aging process. Who cares? Billy Graham didn't. So what if we're old, marred clay? In Jeremiah, the potter didn't discard the old clay. He began to rework it on the potter's wheel. He gave it back its dignity. What greater gift can older people give to the church than a life that is mobilized and energized for action in the kingdom? Even our failures can be redeemed. We may slow down, but we can still be as active and involved as we ever were.
So my prayer today is a simple one.
The unofficial motto of my state is "Virginia Is For Lovers." That's a supremely bizarre state motto, if you ask me. But there's some truth to it. As a citizen of Virginia, I want to do my part. I should fulfill my calling to be a lover of others regardless of my age or health. My vocation is not contingent on age. My calling simply depends on my identity as God's image-bearer.
My kids are watching to see how well I age. Time is wasting. It's time to open my eyes to what is going on around me, as Graham said. "We can reject the opportunity to be used by God, or we can seize opportunities to impact others as a testimony to Him."
Now that sounds like a great philosophy of aging.
8:08 AM Interesting study here released by Barna yesterday.
When churchgoers were asked, "Have you heard of the Great Commission?", 17 percent said "Yes, and it means ...," 25 percent said "Yes, but I can't recall the exact meaning ...," 6 percent said "I'm not sure," and a whopping 51 percent said, "No." Two results of the survey will surprise nobody:
1) Age makes a difference in whether or not churchgoers recognize the Great Commission -- older people score higher than younger people.
2) "Evangelicals are the most likely churchgoing group to state that they have heard of the Great Commission ...."
I'll note 3 things:
1) Knowledge of a term (and an extra-biblical one at that) shouldn't be conflated with an assessment of a person's commitment to a missional mindset. I have a friend who belongs to a mainline denomination who is as fully committed to living and sharing the Gospel as anybody I know but who prefers the term "Gospel Commission" to the more familiar "Great Commission."
2) Today's Millennials and Gen-Xers may not know the correct Christian rhetoric but for them words are meaningless until they become more than words. They tend to embrace a more wholistic approach to the Christian life and are less comfortable with cultural Christianity.
3) Finally, it goes without saying that the "Great Commission" passage in this survey was the one from Matthew 28:19-20. This is because Mark 16:15 has been marginalized in recent years by a well-meaning but (in my view) misguided approach to textual criticism. A very strong case can be made for the originality of the last twelve verses of Mark and, honestly, I wish we as a church would still quote Jesus' words: "Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to every creature."
But the real question is: Are we obeying Jesus' Gospel Commission? The great irony is that we can state what the Great Commission is but fall short of actually fulfilling it. Sharing the love of Jesus with others requires way more emotional energy (and time, and expense, etc.) than we expected. So, one Great Commission. But a billion little Great Commissioners. The challenge of discipling the nations still lies before us. The ability to penetrate every people group on the planet is greater today than at any other point in history. Yet I've discovered in my own life that increased talk about the Great Commission doesn't necessarily equal increased participation in it. So yes, knowing what the Great Commission is and means is a good place to start. But maybe this isn't just another slogan to wear us out. Perhaps God designed this as a gift, not an obligation.
I'll wrap things up with a prayer of Henri Nouwen:
Tuesday, March 27
9:22 PM You all know that I love church music. I'm also someone who's concerned about the level of mediocrity and homogeneity I see in church music today. Thus it was a blessing that tonight God allowed me to stumble upon this interview with Keith Getty, composer of "In Christ Alone."
His interview moves beyond the shouting matches going on between traditionalists and contemporarians today. He does, however, address what he sees as the worship-team-driven approach to church music. While excellent musicians are seated passively in the pews, poor musicians are on stage. Nor he is reacting against contemporary worship styles. Instead, he wants to refocus church music, see it move away from the superficial toward an authentic encounter with God moved by the beauty of music and especially by lyrics that lead to what he calls "deep faith." Please hear his passion. Feel his soul literally grieving a contemporary church that sings seven songs that all sound the same. Where is the doctrine? Where are the laments as in the Psalms? Getty believes the arts should be carefully stewarded by Christians. The arts should be used to remind us of the invisible, things that we dream with our inner eyes and ears, things that reveal a window into the beauty and glory of the eternal kingdom. I once heard of a church that shut off all its lights during the singing except for one that was shining on a huge cross. The focus was not on the musicians up front but on intimacy with Jesus. The congregation was invited to lift their hands or kneel or bow or do anything other than just sit and watch.
I grew up in a church that was artistically deprived. We weren't hostile toward the arts. We were just indifferent. Keith Getty rejects any kind of churchy "art" that lacks depth and breadth. He has an incredible vision for the arts. He wants Christian artists to be all they can be and especially he wants their music to reflect good theology. I think he might be fighting un uphill battle. But it's a battle worth fighting, don't you think?
6:40 PM Since I can't physically be in Gettysburg this week, I figured the next best thing would be to travel there in my mind. And what better way to mind travel than to resurrect this novel about the battle that took place there in the summer of 1863?
I'm a speed reader. I have to be in my business. But some books you just have to savor. I like that word, savor. "It is like swishing the experience around ... in your mind," writes Fred Bryant, author of Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience. Savoring is the capacity not only to live life but to enjoy its pleasures. And is there any experience more pleasurable than reading a good novel? There I am, at the Lutheran Seminary, a Union lookout in the copula, watching A. P. Hill's soldiers fan out for the attack. Will we be outmarched and outsmarted? Again? Or there I am, a private in Longstreet's assault on the third day, double-quicking across "that deadly space." Oh wait. Pickett's Charge never happened. Lee has changed his mind. Instead of a frontal attack, he decides to launch a bold flanking movement to assault the enemy's supply depot at Westminster, MD.
I definitely look forward to reading this book again. It's historical fiction, pure and simple -- unlike Jeff Shaara's book about Gettysburg, Killer Angels. If you do read it, I suggest not taking it too seriously. Just savor it.
6:22 PM I got a kick out of this. Here are the results from last Saturday's 10K in Raleigh:
As you can see, yours truly placed second in the Male 65-69 Division (the "Moseses"). But I was bested by both of the runners in the Male 70-74 Division (the "Methuselahs"). And by at least 6 full minutes. All's fair in love and peace I guess.
Tread lightly along this journey, my friends.
8:12 AM Have you ever wondered what makes a peak like the one I climbed yesterday so special? What makes it stand out? What makes summiting it such a glorious experience?
A peak stands out for one simple reason. It's surrounded by deep valleys and canyons.
When I first started running and mountain climbing, I did it for survival. I needed an avocation to keep my mind from dwelling on the loss and the pain. My running and climbing is different now. I'm not running away from anything. I'm not running toward anything. I run because it's me. It's become an important part of my daily ritual, like washing the dishes or picking up Sheba's dog hair. Life today is calm and peaceful. I don't know, however, if I would have ever reached this point had it not been for the valleys. Becky's death has given me a new perspective on life and has broadened my understanding of the sovereignty of God. I've discovered that His sovereignty not only encompasses the tragedies in our lives but also our responses. It assures us that He is bigger than our problems and that indeed He leverages those problems to make our lives better. If Becky's passing made me mourn, it also helped me grow. I've been assigned a role (widower) for which I did not audition. Yet I, like many of you, have chosen to believe that God is working all of this toward some ultimate purpose.
Suffering cleanses the soul. Through suffering I am the phoenix, reborn. And I will keep being reborn until I can soar no more.
Monday, March 26
8:04 PM As you know, I'm in training not only for my ultra next month but also (Lord willing) for the Alps again in July. (That's a big "Lord willing," by the way. I'm still praying about that one.) Today the weather was perfect for a hearty hike, so I hopped in the van and drove to Hanging Rock State Park, which is located just north of Winston-Salem, NC.
The last time I hiked here it was hot and dry. Today it was cold and wet. At least the ground was wet, what with the recent snows we had. It took me two and a half hours to get there but the drive was worth it. The Blue Ridge features a chain of heights known as the Sauratown Mountains, the highest point of which is Moore's Knob, which is the peak I climbed today. From the top you can clearly see Hanging Rock (for which the park is named) as well as many other topographical features of this region, including Pilot Mountain. Here's the Hanging Rock formation as it looked as I drove to the site.
Your hike begins at the visitor center, where you pick up your map and ask about trail conditions.
Then a short drive takes you to the swimming center beside the lake. The lake and its various buildings were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. From here the summit of Moore's Knob is clearly visible (see the exact center of this photo).
A quick check of your backpack and you're ready to climb. The first mile of the hike is relatively flat.
Today the most challenging aspect of the climb involved the wood-planked boardwalks put there to protect the environment. Slippery they were!
Eventually you make your way past the lake and begin your ascent. The trail gets steeper and steeper the longer you hike. Foot placement here is essential, as the last thing you want to do is sprain an ankle tripping over a rock or a tree root.
After 2.20 miles you reach the crest of the ridge and the going gets a bit easier. It's here that you'll also begin to see some pretty interesting rock formations.
The climb is officially rated moderate-to-strenuous, but today there was nothing moderate about it. But hard work always pays off, and eventually you reach Moore's Knob and Lookout Tower.
Here are some pictures I took from the summit. Can you spot Hanging Rock?
And Pilot Mountain?
You are now standing at 2,579 feet and enjoying a 360 degree view in each direction. You can even see the lake where you started your hike.
Cell phone connection is great, so I sent a few pictures and videos to friends and family. I especially enjoyed looking down at all the quaint farms this area has. They reminded me so much of my cozy little homestead.
From here on out it's all downhill for 1.2 miles. The going is easy since there are rock steps the whole way down.
The entire hike comes in just under 5 miles.
Even though you feel like you've climbed a big mountain, the elevation gain is only 954 feet. Compare that to my summits in the Rocky Mountains:
I saw maybe 5 people during my hike today. One of them was kind enough to snap this picture.
She was a local who climbs this trail several times a year. This was only my third time. If you're gonna hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway side of Grandfather Mountain, then you simply must climb Moore's Knob. Access is easy. The effort to view ratio is 10 out of 10. And the trail is a nice challenge physically. By the way, there are some good eateries in nearby Stuart, VA. I scarfed down a delicious homemade hamburger and some awesome fries at the Stuart Family Restaurant.
Hiking to the top of Moore's Knob is nothing short of an adventure and one you're not likely to forget.
7:46 AM I was planning on spending a few days in Gettysburg this week but I cancelled my hotel reservation because of the rain that's in the forecast. This will allow me to get caught up on some farm projects I've had on my list of things to do for a while. Thing is, when I got up this morning, I was eager to hit the road. I've always suffered from a bad case of Wanderlust. I can't tell you how many times I looked up and saw it: the Virginia Monument, or the exact spot on Little Round Top where the 20th Maine made its stand, or the Eastern Battlefield where Custer went head to head with Stuart. Really, all this is in my own backyard, so to speak, within a day's drive for sure. The window opens, just enough for truth to seep in. The images, the memories, all connect the dots between my past and my present -- the Great Wall or the Pyramids of Egypt or Nahum's Tomb in Iraq or the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela in the Ethiopian Highlands. When we travel, we see things revealed to us that have always been there. If there's one thing I've learned along the road of life, it's to keep your eyes wide open. You never know what's around the next bend in the road -- maybe an Alp or a wave in Hawaii or a plate of dog meat in Seoul. The window opens, and you do more than look. You gaze. This really happened? Here? Visualization. It's the key to enjoying this great big world God created. I tend to learn things the hard way. That's perhaps why I love history so much. History is said to be a great teacher. But you have to attend class.
I guess maybe all this Wanderlust will pay off eventually. I travel because I love it. And because, wherever I go, the next thing I know, I find what I've been chasing.
Sunday, March 25
8:04 PM I just got back from the great city of Durham, NC, which boasts two of my favorite places: an Ethiopian restaurant, and the Duke Chapel.
Since the snow had melted away, I decided to have a little adventure this evening -- after grading my exams, that is. Yes, they are DONE. Anyhow, I had heard that a new Ethiopian restaurant had opened in Durham and I was anxious to visit it on my way to an organ concert at Duke. It's called the Goorsha and everything about the place was wonderful, from the service to the ambiance to the location to the food.
I ordered the doro wat (chicken stew) platter, but the owner Zewditu insisted on serving me a sample platter as well. I literally couldn't finish everything, there was so much food! Here I am with Zewditu, who's holding a copy of Becky's book.
Zewditu, thank you so much for your gracious hospitality tonight. You can be sure I'll be back!
Tonight's organ concert was at the one and only Duke Chapel.
It featured University Organist Robert Parkins on the Kathleen McClendon Organ (one of three outstanding pipe organs the chapel boasts).
You probably can't read it, but the program highlighted 20th-century composers both from Europe and the U.S.
In fact, we, the audience, had the high honor of hearing the world premier of Dan Locklair's "Noel's Psalm: A Sonata for Organ." I must say, Bach would have approved! The performance was both crisp and clean.
My favorite composition this evening was Locklair's "In Memory -- H. H. L." It was originally composed for string orchestra and Locklair wrote it in memory of his mother, Hester Helms Locklair (1918-2005). It has been described as a "short, single movement elegiac composition." Its cadence has sometimes been referred to as the "amen cadence," which is often associated with the close of hymns. The piece seemed to take me back in time and moved me to tears. Afterwards I had an opportunity to thank the composer personally.
So there you have it -- a simply stellar evening. Duke Chapel is unquestionably the best place to listen to organ music in the greater Raleigh-Durham area. That I was able to attend the concert tonight was serendipitous indeed. It amazes me time and time again just how powerful music can be. It's such a pity that great organ music is almost a thing of the past in so many of our communities.
Stay musical, my friends. And never forget to stop for a moment and remember.
8:55 AM The farm looks so beautiful this morning. We got a couple inches of snow last night and I won't be driving anywhere, at least until we have a thaw. But this doesn't mean I can't take a walk and enjoy God's wonderful creation.
Being snowed in is a good time to work on my essay exams. Nope. Still not done grading them. It takes time. I read every word before assigning a grade. Sometimes I have to read an answer twice before I get the gist of what the student is trying to say. I feel they deserve as much. Being stuck indoors is also a good time for reflection and evaluation. Map My Run sent me this today:
Them's a lot of miles for one week. And miles do take their toll. To wit:
Yup, that's my big toenail coming off. The other toes don't look so great either. That's the angst and ecstasy of running. Given the fact that you are always on your feet, there's very little you can do to avoid runner's toes. Athletes leverage stress to become better. Through training they learn that everything matters -- nothing is neutral. If you put miles on your feet every week, there's a price to pay. If you memorize Greek vocabulary, you'll be a better and more efficient reader of your Greek New Testament. If you study hard before the essay exam, you will likely get a good grade. The Greeks called this askesis (training) and they believed that all of us must become "athletes" in every sense of the word: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I believe the next breakthrough in medicine won't be due to a surgeon devising a new method of surgery. It will be the individual patient -- you and I -- taking responsibility for our own health. This can occur every morning in your kitchen. "Man isst was er ist," say the Germans. "You are what you eat." That goes for the spiritual too. Not just what you hear from the pulpit on Sunday morning, but what you read each and every day from God's word, can produce astonishing new levels of spiritual health and fitness. The one thing physicians are doing more today than ever before is focusing not on pathology but on the patient. One aspect of disease that I can control is my diet and level of daily exercise. I don't drink enough water every day. I need to change that. Soda is not good for me. I can cut out soft drinks. Fast food is junk food. So why give in to the convenience? Diets don't work. Then why I am trying out that new fad diet?
Incidentally, in my field of study, the New Testament, we can also get sidetracked with "new" approaches that promise the moon but fail to deliver. Not long ago, redaction criticism was all the fad. We were told to read the Gospels vertically, not horizontally. Today there's a brand new edition of the Greek New Testament that omits any mention of the fathers or the versions. Translation: We can resolve textual difficulties on the basis of the Greek evidence alone. I'm not convinced. Recently on our Greek Portal we linked to several reviews of this Greek New Testament. The most helpful one, in my opinion, is the one that calls into serious question the absence of patristic and versional evidence. The answer: A holistic approach to textual variation -- treating all of the evidence and not only part of it.
It's not that I'm against innovation. After yesterday's 10K, the good people of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation were passing out leaflets announcing their next race on Saturday, Sept. 29. And guess what? It won't be held at 8:00 in the morning, the time races are normally held. The race begins at 5:30 in the evening. After the run, we will honor local children who are facing brain tumors by lighting a lantern in their honor. Most of us runners think the time of day is relatively unimportant from a physiological point of view. But our circadian rhythms tend to make our bodies more flexible and efficient in the afternoon, so exercise (and competition) at that time is generally more enjoyable and less-risk prone. The evidence supports afternoon races. So why don't we do them at that time of day?
A week ago today, as I watched the marathon leaders running past me in the other direction, it hit me. Not the proverbial wall. I discovered the truth. Regardless of my finish time, I was a marathoner. I was one of "them." If they were running at their limit, so was I. If they were straining to finish the race, so was I. Back-of-the-packers like me are no less runners than the elite racers. Occasionally I hear runners complain that age has robbed them of their speed. I have to laugh. I'll never "look back" at my speed because I never had it. Even when I come in second to last (as I did on Jan. 1 at the Allen, TX marathon, where it was 1 degree on race day and only 44 runners finished the race out of 700 registrants), I felt the enormous pleasure that comes from giving it your all. This happens to me every time I pin on a race number. I doubt that any Roman legionnaire felt any prouder. Girded with the latest style of running shoes and Body Glide to protect those "sensitive" parts of the anatomy, you make your way to the starting line, ready to do battle. The veterans gather around and give support as you take your place at the rear echelon. Running produces fitness of muscle, but it also produces another kind of fitness, a fitness that goes way beyond the physical. Life is a game that's played on more than the physical plane. And frankly, I wouldn't want to play the game in any other way. Mind, body, and spirit -- all cooperating, each showing you where you fit in the grand scheme of things. Ultimately, when you run, you explore the limits of your whole person. We have to prepare for life in much the same way that an athlete trains for a big race. The same basic skills are involved. There are no tricks or gimmicks here, no new edition of the Greek New Testament that we can depend on for our answers. To play the game of life well, we have to be involved individually. Running helps to develop that discipline -- and, of course, any other form of exercise you might prefer over running.
There is a place in life for the sedentary, like sitting at a table grading essay exams. But we can't go through life as though we were simply intellectual animals. The best we can do is be prepared, live each day as it comes to us, fill each hour with love, and grapple with the mystery of living.
Saturday, March 24
5:02 PM I'm finishing up a pretty mundane week I guess you could say. I got in a few training runs but not very many. So I was pretty excited to get back into the swing of things, race wise. Today's 10K turned out to be a really good run. I had three goals going into the event:
I accomplished all three goals.
This was the 7th annual running of Ella's Race and my fourth time running it. I didn't run my best race (too hilly!), but considering that, some 7 hours after the race, I have absolutely no soreness, I must have run at a pretty reasonable pace. The race started right across the street from the local Chick-Fil-A, which was hosting the event. Chris, the owner/manager, and his team put on a well-organized race, as always. The highlight for me is always spending a few minutes chatting with Ella's mom and dad, Mark and Rene Newmiller. I'm glad I can run this race because I know it's an encouragement to them. Meanwhile, the countdown starts today for my next race, my 31-mile ultra. It's in exactly 15 days, if you can believe it. I'm going to go out there and try my best. I'm not going to obsess about my time. I'm going to enjoy the experience. And if all goes well, I'll have enough oomph left over to run the Flying Pig Marathon a month later.
Here are a few pix from today's event:
1) Ella's Race is always a run you feel good about. It's for a great cause (the Brain Aneurysm Foundation) and its greatest cheerleaders are Ella's parents. Here they are with their adopted kids from Haiti.
2) I'm usually a solitary runner, but I always enjoy running with other people I know. Today one of my Greek students joined me for Ella's Race, although Ben did the 5K while I did the 10K, so we only saw each before and after the race. Later we ran into a couple more seminarians, two of whom were running their first 5K ever. I told you folks -- it's never too late to start.
3) This comes from my Garmin so it's unofficial.
The official results should be posted online tomorrow. I'm always curious to see how I did in the geriatric age bracket.
4) As you can see, the official course t-shirts were purple.
Here we are running down one of the many hills in the race. In fact, I don't recall there ever being level ground. You were either ascending or descending the entire time. The volunteers along the course were amazing, as usual.
5) The post-race amenities were awesome. I scarfed down a chicken sandwich and a cup of yogurt in no time.
6) I am going to get a little philosophical here, but out here while I'm running I realize that the most important people in my life don't care how fast I run or whether or not I PR an event.
To them, I'm just "Dad" or "Papa B." They don't associate who I am with my running, and you know what, that gives me grace to do the same thing. Each one of them is doing just what I'm doing, only with a different focus -- maybe trying to be the best parent, or the best at their career, or the best whatever. The neat thing is that we all can (and do) support each other. Thank you so much, family, for being there for me and for putting up with the weird things I do. You are my biggest fans and cheerleaders, and I hope I am the same in your lives. Today I gave it 100 percent, just as do you on a daily basis, and we both can be content with that. I love you.
Friday, March 23
10:20 PM I've been grading essay exams from my NT class and just have to say how grateful I am for my students. They put a lot of effort into this test. You all are the best. Thank you. I've also been working on the list of things to do for our Student Work Day on April 7 here at the farm. It will be so much fun working on various farm chores together. This evening I was rereading Will Varner's excellent linguistic commentary on Philippians. Commenting on 2:5-11, he writes, "Paul has just exhorted his readers to not think about themselves but to give up themselves for others. Here he offers the first exemplar of that self-giving, Jesus' giving up His glory for us" (p. 58). I am so grateful for those teachers in my life who were Christ to me in that way, always willing to give of themselves so that I could make progress in holiness and pursue my life's dreams and aspirations. They patted me on the back -- and occasionally gave me a swift kick in the pants when I needed it. If you have such teachers in your life, thank God for them. It's heartening to know that there are so many teachers like that out there in the world today. Marriage is like that too. Whenever I think back on my life with Becky, I can't believe how supportive she was and how joyful it was to live for King Jesus together. She was the type of friend that I had longed for. It was a joy to serve her and to be a support to her in her various ministries. Above all, we realized that whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. That knowledge means freedom. All that we are, all that we have, is placed in His hands. Years have gone by since we last sat on the front porch together, dreaming about our next mission trip together. Yet -- and here is the point -- God has never shut up His tender mercies toward me. He too has walked the path of loneliness. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He gives new heart to the humble. His pleasure is in those who fear Him. May I learn to fear Him. May I learn to honor Him with an obedient faith. May He make me more gracious than I am, more loving, more kind, more tender, more selfless. May I offer my time, my work, my joys, my sorrows, yes, my sufferings, to Him. Widowerhood is not something to be tolerated. It's a gift that we can offer back to God. "Now I long to know Christ" is how Paul put it. What are you facing today, my friend? Offer it up. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. "Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." The choice is ours.
Well, the race tomorrow morning starts at 8:00. The temp at starting time is expected to be around 32. Cold but manageable. Hope it raises lots of dough for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
1:10 PM Anyone feel up to a 5 mile run on a beautiful day in Southern Virginia? Count me in!
This is part of the Tobacco Heritage Trail. It's a 5-mile out-and-back that ends up taking you to the Dan River. As you can see, the recent rains have filled the Dan almost to flood stage.
And we're expecting more inclement weather tomorrow, including a good chance of more snow. Thankfully, the skies should be clear (but cold) at race time tomorrow morning in Raleigh. While I was in South Boston I had to go to Food Lion, which is adjacent to an awesome Mexican restaurant. Fajitas for 6 bucks? Can't beat that.
Back to grading papers. Love my work!
8:58 AM A good Friday morning to you. I see April 8th's 50K Mountains-to-Sea Trail Run at Falls Lake is now sold out. According to the list of participants, there are only two of us over 60 who are running it. Oh my. What have I gotten myself into? I can't even figure out the course map.
Is this supposed to be a Rorschach Test? Can I do this? I can still see it today. I am descending a 4,000 meter peak in the Alps. I look like a drunken sailor. More than once I slip and fall. Thankfully I'm short-roped to my mountain guide. Two thoughts are going through my brain and only two. Will I make it down safely? Will it have been worth it? Have you ever had moments like that? Moments when you question your sanity? Moments that make you wonder why a grown man over 60 would attempt something as ridiculously difficult as climbing the Alps? Moments when you are confronted with a seemingly impossible task and yet somehow you push through? Did I make it down? Yes, thanks to my guide and the One who created the Alps. Was it worth it? $25,000 was raised for UNC Cancer Hospital. Yes, I'd say it was worth it.
The question you must ask yourself is, in the midst of your personal journey on this planet, is God calling you to do something impossible? Is He asking you to find a challenge and then go for it, even if you fail in the end? My heart yearns for adventure and mystery. Life is too short to live a dull, mundane life. I love stepping into the great unknown and finding out what's there. Past adventures are just that -- past. It's time for me to move on from outworn memories and pursue the next goal. You know, running can get routine at times. It's time to try something new. Do you remember what it was like to start college or get married? The butterflies and the curiosity? A year ago I was prepping for my first marathon. Now, 8 marathons later, I'm training for my first 31-mile run. I'll reach down and touch my soul, like I did when I found the Lord, or welcomed my firstborn into the world, or summited my first 14,000-er in the Rockies, or published my first book, or finished my 17th mission trip to Ethiopia. In any event, I'm eager for this new adventure to begin. I'm enticed by its distance and difficulty. I'm anxious to see how well I'll do. Need a new adventure, my friend? Just step outside. But make sure you've got your running or climbing shoes on.
Below: Arriving at the top of Huron Peak in the Rockies. Hope you enjoy this vid because I really enjoyed taking it (while panting!).
Thursday, March 22
2:12 PM Been a whirlwind of a morning. Got my timber sold, then Nate and Jess invited me out to lunch with MY BOYZ.
Nice break from grading. Right now I'm eyeballing the weather for next week. I think I might drive up to PA and spend some time at the Gettysburg National Battlefield. Of course, if the weather turns bad (again) there's no sense in going. I'm not going to lie. I love U.S. history. It feels good to have a sense of one's past. That includes my paternal great-great-grandparents (the Millers) who just happened to live on a creek in western Maryland (the Antietam) and who just happened to have a major battle of the Civil War take place near their farm (the Battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam). History helps us better understand the world around us today. The present requires a study of the past. Just ask anybody who's trying to understand why the aforementioned battle has two names. It's the most normal thing for people to want to know where they came from, about their heritage and their cultural traditions. History is all about context. When I was a doctoral student in Basel, we not only studied doctrine/theology, we studied the history of doctrine (Dogmengeschichte). I could go on and on but I think you see my point. It's important that we take our children to the historical landmarks in the U.S. that helped define who we are as a people today. Our past is long, complex, partly ugly, and partly wonderful. My own state of Hawai'i has had some pretty interesting historical twists and turns. Just look at our state flag. As a teacher, I also enjoy the history of education. I think everyone who teaches needs to be truly sui generis, outstanding in their own way. Learning about the great teachers of the past can help us do just that, I believe. Simply put, learning your past is very useful for your future.
Well, a big glass of chocolate milk is calling. See ya!
9:25 AM Grading NT essay exams. So far they're great!
6:38 AM Awesome quote from F. F. Bruce:
I am overjoyed to see the progress my students are making in knowledge and grace. "Now we truly live, if you stand fast in the Lord" (1 Thess. 3:8)!
5:58 AM Scattershooting ....
1) I'm in! I'm officially registered for the Marine Corps Marathon in October! I'm still pinching myself. Registration opened at exactly 9:00 am yesterday morning. I was on the website at that exact moment and, by the sheer goodness of God, was able to register before the lottery began. The Marine Corps Marathon has got to be one of the premier marathons in the world. I've heard it compared to the Flying Pig in Cincinnati, which I'm scheduled to run in May for the second time. It is the "People's Marathon" par excellence. Marines are at all the aid stations and at the finish. In fact, all of America's armed forces are represented. One section of the race even honors the fallen.
Plus, the diversity you see in DC is absolutely amazing. I'll meet all kinds of people from perhaps every nation in the world. Typically, the race sees about 25,000 finishers. I really can't wait for this race. I'm even looking forward to the hills at the end.
2) On Monday I took a student and his wife out to the Olive Garden for lunch and lo and behold, who do I find enjoying a meal there?
They were celebrating Nate's 35th birthday. Woohoo!
3) Here's Bruce Little giving his retirement lecture yesterday.
Two names featured prominently in his talk? Francis Schaeffer and Jacques Ellul, both of whom are near and dear to my heart. Au revoir, Bruce, and enjoy your retirement in Maine.
4) Love my students.
5) I started this book last night and I've already read half of it. A real page turner.
6) Last Sunday's race results are out. Yours truly placed third to last in his age group (65-69).
The winner in my age bracket finished in under 4 hours. He's "only" 67. How amazing. Nice going, Joe. The years of sedentary confinement have left my body slow and unwieldy. Running for me is intentional. I don't have the luxury of being fast. But I can be consistently slow!
Monday, March 19
9:36 AM Last Sunday afternoon, as I was strolling through DC with Karen and Tino, Karen asked me if I recognized this building.
"No, honey. What is it?" "The FBI Building." The architecture itself seems to say, "You don't want to mess with us." Oh, I pre-ordered this book today. It'll go into my "marked to-read" stack.
9:12 AM It's going to be a big week. This Saturday is Ella's Race. I'm a huge fan of this event. Ella's parents decided to host this race after their daughter died from an inoperable brain tumor.
This will be, I think, my fourth time running it. You can do a 10K, a 5K, or a 1-mile run. I usually do the 10K. I've actually met several of my students at this race. Hope to see some of you there this time around too. Then this Friday I have 81 acres of timber going up for bid. Bids will be unsealed at 11:00 am on the farm. Otherwise I have lunches scheduled with students or colleagues each day of the week it seems. Plus a visit to my physical therapist for stretching. All of you are probably wondering how I'm feeling today. (Well, all one of you at least.) I am barely ambulatory. Stiff as a board, in fact. Not. I'm feeling great, all glory to God. A marathon never fails to invigorate me. What would your life be like if you said to yourself:
Huh? What are your personal goals for 2018? Are you meeting them? Have you given up? Yeah, I know how easy it is to overcommit. I'm pretty much an expert at that. So here's what you can do: Pick goals you are super-excited about. Two of my hard-working kids are starting back to school today. They couldn't wait to text me this morning to remind me. (Oh, they're not spring chickens either. They're just ramping up their career goals.) Another one of my daughters has just begun writing her very first book. And boy is she a good writer. By the way, be sure to write down your goals. That's the difference between a goal and a wish. Once I get an idea in my head, I usually write it down. That's one of the reasons I blog, you see? It's like putting your life on the line. I love the fact that goals need to be challenging. Next month I'm registered to do 31-mile jaunt around Falls Lake. Am I crazy? Or just goal-oriented? Or both? Believe it not, the more I age, the more goals I set for myself. Individual goals. Family goals. Writing goals. Travel goals. I try to be realistic. People tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in a short period of time. Still, I love writing down my goals and reviewing them every so often (like about once a week, like on Monday mornings, in fact). So have you written down your goals? Visualize exactly the person God wants you to be. Your success depends on complete dependence on Him, and then following through with His plans for you.
P.S. Don't forget about Saturday's race in Raleigh. It's for a really great cause, plus you get to meet Ella's parents.
Sunday, March 18
7:52 PM Today I finished my 8th marathon since I began marathoning 10 months ago. One thing I love about marathoning is that, regardless of how well prepared you are for the race, you never know what your body will do at mile 20 or so. Usually, the higher the number of training runs before the race, the better your pace will be during those final 6 miles. But as you know, I was just coming back from several weeks of dealing with head congestion and sneezing. Honestly, I'm not as fast or as fit I was 10 months ago when I attempted to run my first marathon in Cincinnati. Today I knew it would be hard to come in under 6 hours (which I normally do), but I also knew that, either way, I was going to enjoy this race tremendously, which I did. Let's get started on the race report before I forget all the details, seeing that I am old and senile and all that. It all started yesterday when I drove to the race expo in Cary.
For a medium size race, I thought the expo was a little on the smallish size.
I got my race bib, had a 20-minute massage and stretch session, then left to grab some dinner.
I ended up at one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants and had some delicious doro (chicken) wat.
From there it was a 10-minute drive to my hotel.
I was in bed with the lights out at 7:30 pm in anticipation of a 4-o'clock wake-up time.
I got up right at 4:00, packed my bags, and then drove to Thomas Brooks Park, where I grabbed a cup of coffee and then waited in line for the potty.
At the start, I fell in with the 6:00 pace team (they are in green) and was in a completely comfortable head space.
I waited and warmed up and then we were off and running. I stayed with the pace team through miles 1-3 and then let my body run at a nice, 12 min./mile pace, staying ahead of the pacers until about mile 20.
I wanted to run at this steady pace for as long as I felt comfortable and then really fight for it when my legs started telling me to quit.
I hit the half marathon mark (13.1 miles) right at 2:47. This was exactly where I wanted to be at this point in the race.
I had been hydrating and fueling well for the first half of the race, and I was doing great cardiovascularly. My legs, however, began to rebel against my pace. And sure enough, right around mile 20, the pace team passed me and never looked back.
With every subsequent mile, my legs were feeling heavier and heavier. The pain was real. When I finally crossed the finish line at 6:11, my average pace was 14 min./mile. I never worked so hard to keep my legs moving. When I finished, I received this beautiful race medal.
The race director himself was there placing the medals over the heads of the finishers. How cool is that!
I thanked him profusely for organizing such a great event and then I had my picture taken with Greg, a 61-year old who basically paced me for the last 6 miles.
He was running with one of his sons (you gotta love that!), and we would take turns passing each other. After his son took this picture I saw something I hadn't noticed before. His bib number was exactly 262 -- quite appropriate for a marathon, don't you think?
As I said, this wasn't my fastest marathon by any means. But I fought as hard for my medal today as I did at any of the other 7 marathons I've run. That makes me feel great. As usual, the race challenged me both mentally and physically. The most important thing was not to run so fast that you bonked. The terrain wasn't technical at all. There were a few muddy places and a couple of hilly sections, but most of the time we ran through a beautiful section of Cary. The aid stations were stocked with practically anything you could want: gummy bears, pretzels, muffins, goo-bars, water, Gatorade, sodas, bacon slices, even wine for those who were so inclined. All in all, a 5-star race!
So there you have it. To think that I am a marathoner x 8! Once again, running has made me better and stronger. It's amazing how a 65-year old body can continue to adapt and improve. All glory to God!
Thanks for joining me on the journey, you guys. Now go and sign up for a 5K. You know you want to. :-)
Saturday, March 17
1:04 PM My daughter and her husband came over today to help me with a few projects. Which meant I got to see two of my grandkids. Yes, I'm a happy man.
Off to the races.
8:22 AM Morning, guys! While watching the sunrise this morning, I reviewed my running schedule for 2018.
These are the races I'm already registered for.
Other races on my 2018 bucket list which I haven't signed up for yet include:
Of course, this coming Wednesday I'll be trying to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon in DC, that is, try to get on their waiting list. I hear this is an incredible event. You get to run past some of the most iconic monuments in the country along with about 40,000 other runners. This is the quintessential big marathon, rivaled only by Chicago and New York. Check out the race medal. Only an ultra belt buckle can beat it.
I'll put my name in the lottery and see what happens. The only negative is that you finish on a hill. Well, it's called the Marine Corps Marathon, right?
Going into tomorrow's race I feel confident but not-overconfident. I'm healthy and my training has gone pretty well, so I'm hoping to meet my goals. I'm falling in with the 6 hour pace team and will see how I do. If I have anything left after 23 miles I'll try and push myself to finish under 6 hours. Today my mind is relaxed. I'm focused. I know it's going to be hard. So you just keep going. I only hope and pray that when I see the finish line there'll be some finish left in me. Being able to do these races is much more than I ever deserved. Even the toughest days can be one of the best experiences of your life. That's what happened on Jan. 1 in Dallas. To run a marathon, all you have to be willing to do is face your true self and accept who you are after peeling back multiple layers of the onion. Nothin' to it, really!
Friday, March 16
8:35 PM Hey folks. It's been a good day. I have two things to share before I dig back into my novel about the Battle of Gettysburg. For one thing: I'm done training for this Sunday's marathon. I have basically one day, tomorrow, to taper. Today I ran 10 miles at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. Not exactly crowded, wouldn't you agree?
It was much colder today than I anticipated. The sun was out but there wasn't much warmth in it. I felt a bit chilly, but things got nice and warm once I started. No one else was out and about. But God's creation was beautiful.
It was so still and quiet, with just my breathing and the sound of my shoes hitting the crushed gravel. So, you see, it wasn't all that bad. It was the longest run I've had in two weeks if you can believe that. It'll have to do. I like this route because it's all trail and it's fast and flat -- much like the course we're all obsessing about for Sunday. Today I tried to mostly run without walking, though on occasion I'd back it down to a Greek professor power walk (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds good). Hey, if power walking is an Olympic event, I'm sure nobody will mind if I walk out there on Sunday's course. After all, I'm competing only against myself and I needn't compare, nor judge, nor let others shape my sense of accomplishment. (Ego. Take a hike.) Here are my mile splits. Slow but steady.
Tomorrow is a rest day -- the whole day. A couple of my kids are visiting me here on the farm in the morning, then my only plans are to check into my Cary hotel, attend the expo to pick up my race bib and parking pass, grab some carbs at a local restaurant, and then get into bed nice and early. More often than not, it seems I go into a race these days more unprepared than well-prepared, but my schedule has been, well, hectic the past few weeks.
Number two: Praise the Lord, my new shoes worked like a charm. They felt amazing. There's just nothing like New Balance. (If I keep saying that enough, they'll sponsor me for sure.) At mile 5 or so I did begin to develop a blister on my right heel, but the solution was to tighten my shoe laces. So I think I'll try and wear my new shoes (with plenty of rubber on the soles) instead of my old shoes (that resemble pancakes even though they are worn in perfectly). I'll make that decision on race day. Otherwise, I'm wearing the same old outfit you've seen in a million racing pictures, including the same old Nike cap I've worn my whole life. And yes, I'll have my iPhone with me so you can expect bucket loads of photos when the race is over.
I close with a pic of me in Kailua last summer with a pastor buddy of mine. What a tale of two worlds. He's Hawaiian by blood and I'm Welsh-Romanian.
But we were both born and raised on O'ahu and we both have been transformed by the grace of God and we both love the sacred, transforming story of what God does in the human heart when it becomes flat and lifeless. I can't wait to get back home this summer after teaching summer school Greek. Maybe I'll start another Greek class while I'm on Windward O'ahu -- while not surfing, that is. You know that I still surf, right? This picture was taken while Becky and I were vacationing in Kailua one year.
I'm wearing my ugly California lifeguard "short" shorts. They look ridiculous today, but in Hawaii, nobody notices things like that.
8:45 AM This and that ....
1) Kudos to Hawaii Rep. Coleen Hanabusa for her classy comeback in yesterday's hearings. Ms. Hanabusa reminded her audience that her grandfather, a U.S. citizen, was interned during WW II simply because of his Japanese ancestry. She mentioned he was interned on Oahu of all places (rather than on the mainland), which until yesterday I knew nothing about despite the fact that I'm from Oahu. Just 15 miles from Pearl Harbor, in an overgrown gulch, lie the ruins of Hawaii's largest and longest running internment camp.
It had 175 buildings and 14 guard towers. 73 years after the site was abandoned, artifacts remain, and in 2015 it was designated as the Honouliuli National Monument. It won't be open to the public for a few years, but if and when it does open (the hearing yesterday was about funding), I definitely want to be there. The site is an important part of Hawaii's history. For more information, please go to the National Park Service's official webpage.
2) My thanks to Travis Bohlinger of the Logos Academic Blog for calling attention to our linguistics conference coming up in April of 2019.
3) I like this logic.
4) How to fuel for a run.
5) As of today, I'm officially registered for the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon in Fredericksburg, VA, on May 20.
This is the race that started it all. Once I watched my daughter complete it, she had me hooked on running. The event has only rave reviews, despite the brutality of Hospital Hill at the finish.
What fun it will be!
What are you grateful for today?
Thursday, March 15
9:28 PM Tonight I reread a book I bought when I attended Biola College. It was a required textbook in our geology class, taught by Henry Morris, co-author (with John Whitcomb) of The Genesis Flood.
We met every Thursday night for 4 hours. Dr. Morris would drive up to La Mirada from San Diego to teach the class. It was an unforgettable experience. The perspective of the course was, of course, young earth creationism, which I espoused then and still do. My term paper for the course was one I will never forget: "The Formation of the Hawaiian Archipelago from a Flood Geology Perspective." It even included aerial and underwater photos I had shot of the various secondary and tertiary tectonic earth movements involved in the formation of Oahu (where I was born and raised). At any rate, The Genesis Flood has a brief section about the magnificent Matterhorn in the Alps, which I assaulted two summers ago, along with the Breithorn, the Oberrothorn, and the Klettersteig. Here you can clearly see the different layers of rock.
The lower part is sedimentary rock (it's brown in the picture). The middle part consists of oceanic crust (the grayish rock). The peak is gneiss, said to have originated in the African continent. According to uniformitarian geology, the rocks on the top of the mountain are many years older than the rocks below them. Uniformitarian scientists call this overthrusting. For them, the Matterhorn was created when the Apulian Plate broke from Gondwana (containing Africa) and moved toward the European Continent. The oceanic crust was subducted, thus forming the Matterhorn's upper layer out of (older) African rock. (I hope I stated that correctly.) Whitcomb and Morris, of course, reject the whole notion of overthrusting, at least when applied on the scale of a mountain like the Matterhorn.
They argue instead that large overthrusts would only be physically possible "during or soon after the Deluge, when the strata were still relatively soft and plastic in their mechanical behavior and when the great forces necessary for overthrusting were at least feasible in terms of the post-Flood geologic adjustments that must have occurred" (p. 200).
Though Henry Morris is now with the Lord, I want to thank him for being a thinker who guided me through the maze of geology many years ago. I didn't understand half of what he was saying then, and I still don't today. I have a personality that likes to have everything figured out and placed into neat little boxes. However, cosmogony is a field I will never understand. I'm just not smart enough. I value the writings of both YECers and OECers. Either way, when we think about Creation, we're invited into a story that begins with God and ends with God. He not only created the heavens and the earth, He upholds all things by His powerful word (Heb. 1:3). My trip to the Alps was so much fun. I've fallen in love with these mountains. It's like being in mountain heaven. I couldn't stop taking pictures. I hope to go back this summer. I'd go back every year if I could.
12:12 PM Just back from lifting at the Y and doing a 5K training run at the track. While I was running I got 3 emails from the marathon organizers, one with my bib number (266), another informing me to be sure to ring the bell at the finish line, and a third telling me that I had been awarded a coveted parking spot at the race venue, which means I can avoid parking off site and taking the shuttle. I feel very blessed to have gotten a parking pass because there were only 900 spots available for 4,000 runners. Now it's time to walk the dog and take a nap!
7:55 AM As you know, last Saturday my son and daughter took me to the National Portrait Gallery to see the paintings of our presidents. Below are the pictures I took of the presidents who served during my lifetime (I was born in 1952). Each portrait is, needless to say, striking in its own way. Crowds are thick at the gallery, but don't let that stop you from visiting.
7:42 AM Odds and ends ....
1) Reread this last night. It's an excellent tome.
As John Howard Yoder writes on the back cover:
Don't be surprised if you get to the end of this book and immediately want to start all over again.
2) Lord willing, in less than 2 months I'll be back in Cincy for the Flying Pig Marathon. The race has sold out (per usual). This year's marathon is shaping up to be the largest in its 20 year history. It's a bucket list race for sure.
3) Finally found a pair of running shoes that fit, praise the Lord! Not sure if I can break them in before Sunday's race. But they sure fit well. I feel like I'm walking on air. My thanks to the staff at the New Balance store in Raleigh for their great service.
5) Tips on learning Greek:
Wednesday, March 14
6:55 PM Hey! Happy Pi Day! (As a Greek prof, I think I'm supposed to say that.) I'm back on the farm and just cooked myself the most delicious supper I've had all day. (That's not saying much.) Speaking of eating, today I took a good friend out to lunch.
Bruce Little is retiring from SEBTS this year at the ripe young age of 72. He came to the seminary about the same time I joined the faculty. There are very few Christian philosophers I respect more. He and his wife will be moving back to their home state of Maine in May. He won't stop mentoring doctoral students, of course, and as always he'll spend much of his summer abroad teaching pastors, mostly in Eastern Europe. (He's truly a man after my own heart.) Otherwise, my week has been pretty normal -- teaching, meeting with students, writing, and chatting with colleagues about various and sundry. By the way, congrats to our visiting prof John Meade for his outstanding essay in the latest issue of Didaktikos called "Currents in Old Testament Studies: Is There a 'Septuagint Canon'?"
The pull quote?
Which means, I guess, that the next time I co-teach the LXX class, we'll have to call the course simply "The Old Testament"! You'll notice that this issue also features a fine essay by Ben Witherington titled "On Serving through Scholarship."
What? What? That's exactly a theme I've been harping on for years! There's an elaborate conspiracy among NT scholars these days to do "everything in the service of Christ and the church" (p. 24). Don't worry. I'm on to it. Receiving my copy of Didaktikos is one of the best things that happens to me in my office, and I hope you can somehow avail yourself of a copy. It's published by Faithlife.
Oh, I survived Snowmaggedon on Monday. Things got so scary that they closed the campus on Monday afternoon, and my 6:30 Greek 2 class had to be canceled. By Tuesday, however, most of the snow had melted.
Like you, I take learning seriously, so I asked my assistant to make several YouTube videos available for the class to peruse as they work on the participle for next week's quiz.
In other (boring) news, my eighth marathon is coming up this weekend in Raleigh/Cary. Reader, allow me to explain the seriousness that is running in North Carolina. Raleigh has been named the healthiest city for men in many different publications. Raleighites love running like Greek geeks love participles. I have like zero opportunities to run where I live. The novelty of running has never worn off around my farm because it never wore on in the first place. That said, I still hope we can offer a 5K at the local Y this May. Walkers to the right. Runners to the left. All very orderly and fun. Kudos to us if we can get this thing off the ground. Anyway, I'm eager to do another marathon, because the last one I did almost killed me. Yes, folks, runners are kinda crazy in that way. We love suffering. I know in the big scheme of things, running a foot race is not headline news, but I gotta to tell you, it forces you to dig deep. As every Greek student knows, dedication sometimes means doing things that a part of you really doesn't want to do. Some may think I'm a very disciplined person. Hogwash. I'm the laziest surfer dude from Hawaii you'll ever meet. Self-discipline has never been my strong suit. There is no "secret" to being a runner. To become a runner, all you have to do is, well, run. And by "run," I don't necessarily mean to literally "run." I've yet to run an entire marathon. I probably never will. Still, there's nothing quite like standing at the start of a 26.2 mile race and asking your body to do more than it's used to doing. Plus, what's not to enjoy? From improved cardiovascular fitness to better health, there's so much benefit from participating in this crazy sport. I am proud of my finishing times, even when I'm slower than everybody else in my age group. A clock is never reflective of the kind of person you are. Great races can be had by all, even the slowest among us. You'll find that learning how to run a race, like learning how to read Greek, is mostly about putting forth an honest effort. When it's over, the only question you to need to ask yourself is, "Did I do my best?" The truth is that every race takes me a little bit closer to where I want to be in life. Your goals are just that -- your goals, not somebody else's. So find something you enjoy doing, and just get out there and do it. Go ahead. Test your limits. Make no mistake: Living life to the fullest is something each one of us can do, with God's help.
Monday, March 12
8:34 AM As I was perusing various and sundry New Testament websites last night, I was impressed at how much of what is being said nowadays is based on what people are against. I don't want to be known for being primarily against anything. My own thinking as a New Testament teacher has changed so much through the years that I wouldn't know where to start describing to you how often new thoughts usurped old ones. Change in our discipline is inevitable and to be encouraged. For example, the Evangelical Textual Criticism website is promoting (via a book giveaway) a new book by Tommy Wasserman and Peter Gurry called A New Approach to Textual Criticism.
I'm regretting not having this book available when I last taught textual criticism at SEBTS. There's just too much good, God things going on in our discipline that it's sometimes hard to keep up with current research. I realize that a few of you might be expecting a bit of pushback from someone who has long called into question the scholarly guild's preference for the Alexandrian text type. However, after publishing several works on the topic, I've discovered my appetites have changed. I have no idea what reading this book might do in your life, but there's no cookie cutter that defines evangelical textual critics. I prefer Sturz's view of text types, you don't. But here is our baseline:
I'm sure a few of you are just getting started in the field. Others are lifetimers. Probably most of you have read Parker's An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts, Metzger's The Text of the New Testament, Kurt and Barbara Aland's The Text of the New Testament, and, since you're reading this, you might have read my New Testament Textual Criticism. Some of you may be considering textual criticism as your life's work. (Don't laugh. It's actually happened.) The fact is that the field of evangelical New Testament textual criticism is expanding in unprecedented ways among younger scholars. When I was in college in the 1970s, I recall Harry Sturz telling his Greek students, "The field is white unto harvest, but the laborers are few." My guess is that this statement is still true today. One of Tommy and Peter's reviewers refers to the "tectonic shifts" talking place in the field. I imagine sooner or later an earthquake of seismic proportions will occur. But for now, it's works like Tommy and Peter's that will keep the movement alive. Theirs is not the definitive word, of course. They're building the scaffolding, however. The real construction, I suspect, is still ahead.
Sunday, March 11
3:48 PM Yesterday dawned cold and clear. Tino made us coffee and some cinnamon rolls before we headed out to the race. When we arrived at the Four Courts Restaurant in Arlington, we got our race bibs, downed some more coffee, and then just soaked up the atmosphere. I was thrilled (as always) to be around people who choose to be active. We are all different sizes and shapes, and we all have greatly varying abilities and goals. But we all have one thing in common: When we run, we feel alive.
The night before, Tino and I had discussed our race strategy, which basically boiled down to him setting the pace and me trying to keep up. Although he hasn't run a lot of races, Tino trains regularly in connection with his work at Fort Myer and is in really great shape, so I knew I would be in for a big challenge on race day. I couldn't wait for the race to start. The guy playing the bag pipes only added to our excitement.
Tino and I lined up at the back of the pack.
And then the horn sounded. I very much realize it's a gigantic faux pas to go out too fast at the start of a race, but the first mile was all downhill and Tino was really killing it. My job (remember?) was to keep up with him at all costs.
My other goals were to (1) avoid hitting the wall at mile 3 and (2) complete the race without doing any walking at all. I was still struggling with a runny nose, but thankfully I've perfected the art of the snot rocket. (Nothing says "Real runner" quite like a projectile coming out of your nostrils.) After a while, the pace began to slow and I could settle into a rhythm. Despite being pushed to the max by Tino, I was enjoying the race immensely, waving to the leaders as they passed us going the other way, and soaking up the scenery along the Potomac (including great views of Arlington National Cemetery).
In the end, we made it. Of course we did. Four miles took us about 45 minutes to run, but we both fought hard for it, and the victory was sweet. Karen was at the finish line to take our pictures, congratulate us, and bring us more cinnamon rolls.
I just love this post-race photo!
Here are our mile splits:
An 11 min./mile pace is not too shabby! As I said, the weather was gorgeous, though a little on the cold side. I ended up wearing 4 layers, and for most of the race I never felt cold. After it was over I was soaked to the core. I wish I could describe all the thoughts and feelings I had during the race, not only because I enjoy sharing such details with you but so I can revisit them when they've become hazy. The race was definitely something new for me. Usually I'm the one who's pushing someone else to run hard and be strong. This time around, I was the pushee instead of the pushor. The course was a place where I became continually aware of my pace, my effort, my heart rate, my everything. I knew that Tino was going to push me relentlessly, but I also knew that I would eventually have to slow down to a pace I was comfortable with. When I did, Tino was right there beside me. We had an awesome time running together, and I was proud and pleased that I was able to keep up a constant strong pace for the entire race, even through the final uphill portion. Not once did I walk. I felt strong the whole time, even though I started sneezing again after we crossed the finish line. My body wasn't sore at all, just sleepy and famished. When we got back to Karen and Tino's place, I showered while Karen prepared a delicious brunch, then we all took a nap before going out to see the DC sights.
Yesterday's race taught me a lot about myself and how much grit I can push out of myself when I want/need to. I loved running with Tino, I loved the course, I loved the challenge, I loved the community. My first order of business now is to get completely over my head cold because I've got a week of teaching coming up plus my marathon next Sunday. But it was so much fun being out there racing again. With the trees budding, the daffodils blossoming, and my allergies going crazy, it's the perfect time of the year to be a part of the family of runners.
Thank you, Karen and Tino, for the joy and honor of being in your beautiful home. Thanks for all the surprises, like going to the Kennedy Center for a concert ...
... or the Smithsonian to see the presidential portraits ...
... or famous sites like Ford's Theater ...
... or even the new Hawaiian Poke restaurant in town.
You guys thought of everything. Thank you! I love you!
Friday, March 9
9:14 AM I love my New Balance shoes. Problem is, I can't seem to be able to replace the pair I have. My size is 13 extra wide, but every time I try one on the fit is too small. Are my feet growing? Are they making this shoe smaller? I'm getting desperate. My current pair is on its last leg. Somehow I need to find running shoes that are of high quality and can provide the right kind of support for my feet, legs, and back. I reckon I have 2 long races left on the pair I'm currently wearing. Maybe I can find some shoes in Northern Virginia this weekend.
At any rate, it's race time. Talk to you later, Lord willing. Wish us well!
8:50 AM I see that John Meade is offering a talk this month on campus. The topic is the Hexapla. Go here for more.
John is currently a visiting scholar at SEBTS. He teaches at Phoenix Seminary.
8:12 AM For all you runners out there, I thought I'd show you the promo video for tomorrow's race in Arlington, VA. That final hill looks BRUTAL.
Well, I've always liked a good challenge. Latest weather is showing sunny skies and a temp of 35 at race time. Poifect! Did I mention the cause yet? (I may have, but I'm too lazy to go back and check the blog.) It benefits the brewery at Arlington's favorite pub, Ireland's own Four Courts. Well, not really. It benefits the Arlington County Police Friends and Family Fund. I have no idea what that is, but it sounds good. I don't really celebrate Saint Paddy's Day so I won't be wearing green tomorrow, but I imagine some folks will. The post-race finish is full of beers but that's not why I'm running. (Two Guinesses before 9 am? What are you people thinking?) I'm meeting up with my son and we're going to RACE. Will the luck of the Irish be with us? Just praying that I don't get passed by the much-feared leprechaun, who starts 15 minutes after the gun goes off. So, how does this race compare with the dozens of 5Ks I've run? Harder course, longer too, and probably a slower pace. I'm considering this weekend's race as a warm-up for next Sunday's Tobacco Road Marathon in Raleigh. This will be marathon # 8 for me. I've fallen off on my training because of the sniffles but I'll do my best on race day. This course is flat and fast and a PR maker (many runners get to ring the PR bell), but I'll be happy if I can just finish in under 6 hours. Everyone raves about the incredible course and the fun experience. Having done mostly road races when it comes to marathons, I know this course will be a nice change of pace. The trail is mostly a compacted dirt surface, though the first and last 2.5 miles are on the road. It's a 7:00 am gun start, which means that I'll either have to spend Saturday night somewhere in Raleigh, or else I'll have to get up very early on Sunday morning. For me, running involves trying to find that elusive balance between running too fast and running too slow. By mile 15, I'm just hanging on for dear life. There's nothing really horrible about a marathon, but you do feel it.
By the way, these days I'm getting beaucoup offers from complete strangers to publish one of their essays on my site or else to offer ads. These emails go straight into my blocked emails folder. I sometimes visit sites that offer ads and I simply detest it. They look -- stupid! They are truly self-defeating. It's obvious that ads have one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to draw your readers' attention away from your content to their ads. You want to do that, you go right ahead. But for me to offer ads would go completely against my goals in blogging. I want to communicate something of value to people, and therefore I don't want anything to distract from my content. I think ads frankly discourage people from visiting your blog. (Are you listening, Patheos?) Besides, you have no control over the ads that your ad platform puts up on your blog. Besides #2, does anybody make money off of ads anyway? I doubt it. Then why literally sell your product for mere pennies on the dollar? Honestly, it makes you look foolish. Someone has said, "Ads are like kicking your visitors goodbye." Yep. Exactly. Folks, we don't need to monetize everything, do we?
Thursday, March 8
6:54 PM Just had dinner with Jessie, Nathan, and the boys. You bring me such joy!
Happy, happy granddaddy!
11:58 AM Been a great day so far. We're about to make some horse lovers in Durham very happy.
Then there's this new sign at the Y. Pretty cool.
I was too hungry to drive home to eat. The local buffet works just fine, thank you.
Right now I'm working with the good people at the South Boston Y on organizing our first-ever 5K walk/run in May. We'll offer a training program (Couch to 5K) and try to help newbies learn what they can expect during their first race. There are still a lot of tasks to complete, including registration, insurance, water stations, volunteers, awards, and, of course, the ubiquitous race t-shirt. The big challenge right now is finding someone local who can do the chip timing. We hope to get the town's Boy Scout club involved with the aid stations and course monitoring. Our thinking is to use the local Tobacco Heritage Trail as the venue. It would be a flat and easy out-and-back course. This is very exciting for me, needless to say. Anyway, hope your day is going well. I get to take read, write, take a walk, and then join 5 grandsons for dinner. Woohoo!
Thursday, March 8
8:45 AM Interested in how to do a Greek word study? And to avoid fallacies while you're at it? Here are three resources you can use today to get you started:
7:48 AM Since March is Women's History Month, I thought I'd talk to you about the woman I was married to for 37 years.
Our society tells us that marriage is an end in itself, that marital happiness is a goal to be pursued at all costs. I'm not against happiness in marriage, but that can't be your goal if you're a married person. Joy is always the by-product of having Christ in our lives and in our marriages. As He becomes more and more the center of our relationship, His "fruit" becomes more and more of our daily experience: His love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The marriage I'm describing is one that says, with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
The beauty of a married couple – hand in hand, living together for Christ insofar as that is possible in this fallen world – is marvelous. It involves the "new horizons" and "new doors" that C. S. Lewis described in his essay "Christian Marriage":
"New thrills." "All the time." Exactly. Note how the ancient church father Tertullian described a Christian husband and wife (Ad Uxorum 2.9):
Tertullian didn't mean that gender differences disappear in a Christian marriage. That would be an absurdity. His description merely emphasizes that both genders can and must be involved in spiritual activities together, with each person contributing his or her own unique talents and abilities. Each enriches the other. The result is true teamwork, a unity that puts God's needs and desires first rather than their own. Thus, not only do Christian couples seek to please each other, they willingly and actively seek to be faithful to the ultimate goal of reflecting God's glory and grace in the world all around them.
As Becky and I studied the New Testament together, we were surprised to discover that it talks so much about the way women participated in the ministry of the early church. We know that the wives of the apostles accompanied their husbands on their evangelistic journeys (1 Cor. 9:5). Commenting on this verse, Clement of Alexandria concluded that the apostles' wives were "fellow ministers," that is, co-laborers with their husbands as they ministered to others. We also know that women in the early church opened their homes for church meetings. It's interesting to note that Scripture gives us the names of the women in whose homes these churches met more than the names of the men (see Acts 12:12; 16:40; Rom. 16:3-5; Col. 4:15). Moreover, we know that Priscilla (Rom. 16:3), as well as Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3), were Paul's "co-workers." The latter duo went so far as to share Paul's "struggle in the cause of the Gospel," possibly meaning that they were exposed to the same suffering and opposition that the apostle Paul faced. Paul describes Phoebe as "a helper of many, myself included" (Rom. 16:2). The Greek term for "helper" (prostatis) is defined by Doug Moo as "one who came to the aid of others, especially foreigners, by providing housing and financial aid and by representing their interests before the local authorities." Moo thinks Phoebe was "a woman of high social standing and some wealth, who put her status, resources, and time at the service of traveling Christians, like Paul, who needed help and support" (Romans, p. 916). When I first read that description I thought to myself, "He's describing my wife!" Becky and I were glad to be a team (though a frail and imperfect one) in the work the Lord appointed us to. Together we sought to serve both in the practical ministry of meeting the physical and material needs of people as well as in the ministry of the Word. Together we were involved in church planting and evangelism. Together we hosted visitors in our home on a regular basis. The key word is together. We were "co-workers" for Christ – and that without any diminution of our masculinity or femininity.
It's been 4 years and 5 months since the Lord took Becky home. Ironically, during this time I've discovered that loss can also make us more. Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, after his son died in a mountain climbing accident, write a book called Lament for a Son. It includes these powerful words (pp. 96-97):
When Becky died, I felt like I was losing who I was. Since part of me was dying in addition to losing Becky, I grieved for myself as well. Today, God has graciously delivered me from that "valley of suffering." Today, I can say with the Psalmist, "I cried out to the Lord in my suffering, and He heard me. He set me free from all my fears" (Psa. 34:6).
This is the way of grief. As you continue to remember, the pain subsides. Your grief is infused with hope. You carry a smile instead of a frown. I wrote this post because I wanted you to know what Becky meant to me and how I miss it all -- her smile, her beauty, her laughter, her stubbornness, her wisdom, her partnership in the Gospel. I miss the future we won't have together. Now I'm letting it go -- for the umpteen millionth time -- to live life again, a life that will always be filled with memories of our life together.
I love you, Becky.
Thank you being such a wonderful wife.
You will never be forgotten.
Wednesday, March 7
5:14 PM Right now I'm listening to an amazing sermon by Nathaniel Armisen called "Kennzeichen Jüngerschaft." Deutlich und klar!
5:02 PM Just back from a long walk on the farm with Sheba. Even though she's deaf and partially blind she still insists on leading the way. My favorite part about farm life? The animals. I will always be amazed at their beauty. Their simplicity. Their loyalty. Even the donkeys bray and the goats baaa when they see me. I am an Alpha Mensch I guess. I know Sheba will eventually leave me, but I'm oh so not ready for that day.
11:44 AM Free book in mint condition. Yours for the asking. Email me at email@example.com. If I get more than one request I'll pick a name out of my kepi. I'll contact the winner this evening at 5:00, so be sure to get your request in before then.
11:24 AM My land, how spoiled we are in America. Much of the world suffers from broken infrastructures, lack of food and water, poverty, and economic injustice. We can indeed help, and help we should. So when I bought my tickets to Dallas for an April visit with mom and dad, I looked for a 5K with a cause, and boy did I find one. It's called Running 4 Clean Water and will be held only a few miles from where I'm staying in Murphy.
The race is a fundraiser for the good people of Sierra Leone. Proceeds will go to clean water projects in that nation. Now, some of my readers may not even know where Sierra Leone is. That's okay. I'm a humble and repentant learner too.
And listen, even if you can't participate in the race, you can still make a contribution (as small as you like -- it don't matter!) by going here.
Go ahead, and make the Old Man proud.
10:22 AM I want to think with you about the arts for a moment. (You thought I was maybe going to bring up politics, eh? No way. You don't come here for my political opinions. Not that I don't have any. Oh, brothers and sisters, do I ever.) As you know, there are seven "liberal" arts:
Then there are the "traditional" arts:
Are you an artist? You probably are, in one of these ways. I've never been good at the "hard" sciences if you know what I mean. But I've always been an art lover. My visit to the Louvre was unforgettable. Or how about seeing the Parthenon for the first time? Or listening to a live concerto? I've dabbled in drawing and painting. See if you can recognize any of these people.
Then there's music. I grew up playing the piano, guitar, trumpet, and -- last but not least! -- the ukulele.
Lately I've been rereading Art & the Bible by Francis Schaeffer. It's a small book you can read in one sitting.
On p. 7, Schaeffer writes:
Oh, how blind we are to this truth! He goes on to say:
Oh my. That is so true. May I suggest a starting point to rectify this? How about our "worship" music? (Yes, I'm going to inject some opinion here.) I have some tips for performers. Actually, they're not my tips. I'm taking them from Schaeffer. I have three of them:
1) "God is interested in beauty" (p. 15). Have you ever heard Van Halen's Jump? Or Chicago's Baby What a Big Surprise? Or Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor? Or any of the Maranatha Singers' music? Here's a sample called As the Deer.
Notice how this song has what is called "musicality" -- the quality or state of being musical. It includes such qualities as harmoniousness and melodiousness. Anybody trained in pitch, rhythm, and harmony is drawn to such music. In a word, the music is, well, beautiful. I'm not at all surprised. "God is interested in beauty."
2) "The factor that makes art Christian is not that it necessarily deals with religious subject matter" (p. 19). Now that's a powerful statement! Contemporary Christian worship music generally has acceptable lyrics. But musicality involves more than lyrics. Every time I turn on the radio I can immediately tell if a music station is "Christian." That is not meant as a compliment. Writes Schaeffer (p. 31), "Christ is the Lord of our whole life and the Christian life should produce not only truth -- flaming truth -- but also beauty" (emphasis mine). Later on he writes (p. 34), "A work of art has a value in itself." Really? Yep. "For some this principle may seem too obvious [Yessiree, I'm one of those people!], but for many Christians it is unthinkable" (p. 34). He goes on to state that the purpose of art is not just to communicate content. Art is something that God created us to enjoy. In other words, " ... creativity as creativity is a good thing as such" (p. 35). Hence we can't reduce Gospel music to a tract or to an intellectual statement.
3) Finally, "The fact that something is a work of art does not make it sacred" (p. 41). Again, spot on. But I think the obverse is true as well: The fact that something is sacred doesn't necessarily make it a work of art. How, then, can we judge whether something is a work of art? Schaeffer lists four basic standards (p. 41).
Read those again.
Christian artists, you were made to excel. So excel (wink). Let your medium match your message. Please stop giving us all light and begin giving us salt too. To the best of your ability. (Perfection not required.) Some say that worship music is acceptable if the words are acceptable. I'm not buying it. Messages are more than words. Hand to the heavens, I'll still love you if you have the nerve to get on stage and try your best to lead me in singing. Thank you! But nothing would make me happier than a growing commitment to musicality. Don't underestimate its magic. Art is not just content; it's holy, sacred ground. (I almost wrote scared.)
I'll give the last word to Schaeffer (p. 63):
8:18 AM Hey folks! Yesterday was quite a day. After getting my van inspected, I drove to the Honda dealer in South Hill to get it detailed. My appointment was at 10:00 and they were finished at 12:00 noon. I was antsy to get to Wake Forest as I had several pressing jobs waiting for me there. But they couldn't hand me my car keys. Seems that the employee who did the detailing had inadvertently gone off to Rocky Mount, NC, with my keys in his pocket and wouldn't be back for another 4 hours. The Honda dealer graciously let me use a loaner to get to work, and when I eventually picked up my van, they charged me nothing for the job.
Last week in Houston I stopped at a Cheddar's for lunch. After a good 25 minutes of waiting for my meal to be served, the manager approached my table with a sheepish look on her face. "The chef completed your meal but dropped the plate. He's working on it again. Please forgive us for making you wait so long for your meal. It will be out shortly." Sure enough, 5 minutes later I was enjoying a delicious chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes. While I was dining the chef himself came out and apologized for his mistake. I sensed that he was being genuine rather than making a forced apology. Finally, before I finished my meal, the restaurant manager returned to my table and asked me how I had enjoyed my meal. Then she apologized a second time and informed me that my lunch was on them.
The lesson? When you make a mistake, make it right. I have to give the dealership and the restaurant a lot of credit for doing just that. You both just made me a customer for life!
One of the qualifications for leadership in the church is "blameless." Obviously this can't mean that Christians never do anything wrong. We do. It just means that when do something wrong, we do what we can to make it right. Of course, it's not always possible to do this. There are some relationships that are so toxic that we have to give ourselves the freedom to walk away. Still, we prioritize peace and reconciliation over disharmony.
To think we can find perfection in anyone, including our leaders, is a pipe dream. Bo Lane, in his book Why Pastors Quit (summarized here), notes the following:
Which is one reason I look for vulnerability and transparency in my leaders. If you're struggling, say it. If you've made a mistake, admit it and make it right. Bench yourself if you need to. We will love you no less. Matthea Glass asks:
Jesus modeled humble behavior. Church leaders and church people alike are regular old sinners. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Our response to our own failures can either drive us further from God or bring us closer to Him. God prefers the latter. Scripture makes it clear that all we have to do is admit our guilt and trust Him with the rest, including how to "make it right."
Tuesday, March 6
8:20 AM Here's our "word of the day":
Yep, I heard that term at the ETS conference last Friday. Greg Beale used it to refer to the grammar of the book of Revelation. (Actually, first he said that "Everybody agrees that Revelation contains grammatical errors." Cough. But then he immediately added that these "errors" are intentional allusions to the OT, or, if you will "solecisms.") Our word solecism has a tortuous history:
But wait. There's more. Some say that the Greeks were speaking about the people of Soloi, a Greek colony in Cilicia (modern-day Turkey) whose dialect the Greeks considered to be barbarous. (To the ancient Greeks, barbarians were people who couldn't speak Greek correctly.) But back to the book of Revelation. What's going on here? Incorrect grammar? Solecisms? Barbarisms? And does the author use these constructions intentionally or not? And if his use of "incorrect grammar" is intentional, can he still be accused of bad grammar?
And then there's the question of linguistic snobbery. In German-speaking Switzerland, where I got my doctorate, Swiss German was once considered a dialect of German that was to be avoided at all costs. Why? Because it wasn't "German German." Today, Swiss German is used in universities and even in Parliament (as it rightly should be). My native language is Hawaiian Creole ("Pidgin English"), a dialect of Standard English. When I moved to the mainland at the age of 19, people had a hard time understanding my English. But "English" it most certainly was, even if nobody knew what "I'm pau" meant. Today, when I'm in Hawaii, if I speak Hawaiian Creole instead of Standard English, its because I want to. People say that my native dialect sounds like someone is being lazy. Linguists would call this "economy of effort." (You do the same thing when you pronounce "victuals" as "vittles.") For example, in Hawaii we say, "Cute, da baby." Nobody in the Islands has any difficulty understanding exactly what is meant. The background is simple. The Hawaiian for "The baby is cute" is "Nani ka pēpē" -- "Cute, the baby." Generally, we omit the verb "to be" in such sentences. When we want to use a verb of being, the word we usually use is "stay," as in "Wea you stay?," meaning "Where are you?" For the past tense, we use "wen," as in "Jesu wen cry" for "Jesus wept" (see John 11:35), and for the future we use "goin," as in "God goin do plenny kine good stuff fo him" for "God is going to do a lot of good things for him" (see Mark 11:9).
When I was in Basel I spoke High German. It was the only German I knew. But since most of my friends were Swiss, I tried to learn their dialect. I even purchased a Basel German grammar in a local bookstore. Guess what I discovered? That Basel German is as much a fully formed, "rule-bound" language as is Standard (High) German. I try to teach my Greek students that correctness and incorrectness in language is not a matter of linguistics per se but instead a matter of sociolinguistics. What I mean is that people ultimately determine the "rules" of writing and speaking, not grammar books. If everyone says "It's me," then "It's me" is correct (even if the textbooks insist on "It is I"). In fact, in my book It's Still Greek to Me, the chapter on pronouns is called "Woe Is I." Have I made my point?
Monday, March 5
5:18 PM So here's another blog post that is guaranteed to bore you to death or at least put you to sleep. (So what's new, eh?) This afternoon I was sitting in my home library reading Ephesians 4 when I "just happened" (= divine providence no doubt) to come upon a literary device that Paul uses in verse 8. Friend, if you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know this is how my mind works. I try to fill in the blanks, sometimes even where no blanks exist. Anyhow, this is what I was reading:
In verse 8 you can see that Paul introduces an OT quote with the words "he says," meaning "God says." We're going to look closely at this for just a few minutes. You see, one of the main arguments against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews is said to be the way the author of Hebrews introduces his OT quotations. Here's a screen shot of an article I found online:
Certainly this distorts things a bit, don't you think? It's an overgeneralization, and an inexact one at that. How do I know? Because I once took the time to compare Hebrews with the 13 authentic Paulines and even wrote a little book on the subject called The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul. So I grabbed my book off the shelf and, lo and behold, I was reminded that I had actually discussed this matter, to wit:
So then I grabbed my favorite commentary on Ephesians (written by my former Basel prof Markus Barth) and discovered that he, too, agreed that the words "he says" are Pauline. Here are his exact words (pp. 430-431):
Oh my. Barth goes on to cite Paul's use of the same (or a very similar) introductory formula in Eph. 5:14, Gal. 3:16, 1 Cor. 6:16, 2 Cor. 6:2, and Rom. 15:10. In other words, he cites the same examples I cite in my book, and even added one I didn't include (Rom. 15:10). The point Barth's trying to make is that, by using this method of quoting the OT, Paul is making it clear to his audience that he's not quoting "a hymn or perhaps a Targum, rather than a Scripture text" (p. 431).
Again, the evidence seems plain: Paul does indeed use "he says" to introduce quotes from the OT. The facts are obvious. Consequently the argument that Paul introduced OT quotes in one way and the author of Hebrews did so in a completely different way is an argument that fails the smell test. So evidently, we have to throw out that argument. And I haven't even discussed the other internal arguments against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, because honestly?
Listen, this is a one finger pointed at you and three fingers pointing back at me scenario. I haven't always been right. If fact, I've been wrong about a good many things in my 42-year teaching career. This is why the body of Christ is so essential. To keep us thinking. And honest with the data. And true to our (better) selves. I am determined to address my failings, my faux pas (that can be a plural in French too, right?), my eisegesis. And yes, I realize this is a third-tier issue. God gave us a spectacular writing called Hebrews, and we all value it, whatever our position on authorship is.
But if Paul were the author ....
11:10 AM The countdown has begun. Only 5 days to go until my next race, the Four Courts Four Miler in Arlington, VA, just across the Potomac from DC. And the best part is that I get to run it with my new son Tino, who's stationed at Fort Myer in Arlington. I'm planning on spending the weekend with him and Karen in their new digs. Karen is a fantastic chef and, boy, am I ready for some home-cooked food. Here's the course map.
Hmm. Not bad at all. And here's the elevation chart.
Lord have mercy. An uphill at the finish? You've got to be kidding. Finally, here's a picture from last year's race.
Looks colorful -- and crowded. Just the way I like races to be. Weather at race time on Saturday morning is predicted to be a cool 32 degrees with winds out of the Southwest at 8 mph and 68 percent humidity. Nice!
Resting up today so that I can be in good shape for the big match race between Tino and the Old Man.
10:48 AM Well, it's official. I've set the date for our annual Student Work Day at Rosewood Farm. It's Saturday, April 7, from 10:00 to 4:00. Families and friends are invited to attend as well. I've got a list of jobs a mile long if you're inclined and able to help. If not, you are welcome to enjoy the farm trails and fishing in the stocked pond (bass, anyone?). Chores will include cleaning out the water troughs and refilling them with fresh water (like I did with this one today).
What fun it will be!
9:50 AM So what's not to like about the weather? I absolutely love the springtime. It's my favoritest season of the year for sure. Here are some pix to prove it. But before I post them, let me give a shout out to the Lord for being so good to me. I woke up this morning feeling 1,000 percent better. Amazing what Airborne, some cough medicine, and a good night's sleep will do for a tired body. So thank you, Jesus. I really appreciate it.
Sheba and I were gelling on the porch this morning when I heard Nate pull up to the gambrel barn at Maple Ridge for some hay. It took us only about a half an hour to load the trailer but it was so much fun. Afterwards I just had to take some photographs of Maple Ridge and its environs. This is where we lived when we were building Bradford Hall and it has many pleasant memories for me. So I'll post a few pictures with brief captions, but I can guarantee you that they will fail to capture the beauty of God's amazing creation.
1) Maple Ridge (ca. 1811) in all her glory.
2) Trailer (pre-loading).
3) Trailer (post-loading).
4) Trailer loaders!
5) Picking up branches after the weekend windstorm.
6) Starting up the mower for the first time since fall.
7) Love this old building (ca. 1790).
8) Cherry trees in blossom.
9) This red maple is about 150 years old.
10) It, too, is full of buds.
11) Daffodils everywhere.
12) Japonica. Don't you love the red on white?
13) Breath of spring.
14) Heading home on the mower.
15) Breakfast of champions!
Sunday, March 4
4:20 PM Life is one continual expansion. We are forever occupied with growing up, growing wiser, growing stronger. But this growth doesn't happen in a haphazard way. Life proceeds through stages. In the text from 1 Thessalonians that we'll be going over in two weeks (when we get back from our semester break), 1 Thess. 3:1-5, the emphasis is on one of life's stages -- learning to accept suffering.
What it takes to win over suffering are the virtues and values that Paul passed down to us through the ages. Life is a contact sport. But it's a game anyone can play and play well. Our energies must be directed toward the reshaping of our minds. We must unflaggingly pursue the kingdom way, in the midst of our suffering. Note the reference to Acts 14:22 in my Greek New Testament.
This is the only "sermon" in Acts that is directed toward believers. Every other sermon has non-believers as its audience. In this verse, Paul undoubtedly astonished his audience with his "encouraging message." And what was that? "It is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God."
Welcome to reality.
Now let's be clear. Suffering doesn't take God by surprise. As we said earlier, most of us are uptohere in troubles of one sort or another. That's just a fact. But in this passage, Paul clears things up for us. As I studied this text today, I came away with four or five thoughts about what Paul has to say to us in 1 Thess. 3:1-5. I've given them below (in no particular order). But first, our text:
1) The importance of after-care. It's just not natural to give birth and not love the child you sired. One thing I've discovered about ministry is that, when it's done right, there's always follow up. The ways we connect with each other are usually quite typical -- emails, visits, Facebook, phone calls, or sending people in our place. But regardless of the means, we are there for each other. When Paul's churches needed him, he didn't withdraw or pull inward. It takes intentional discipleship to nurture our converts. Paul did this, and he did it well.
2) The glory of teamwork. I often run races and climb mountains alone. But I'm always happiest when I'm doing it with a friend or a family member. I believe that the work of the ministry (to which we are all called, not just so-called "ministers"), is often misunderstood as a solitary pursuit. I hope we can change that notion. I hope we can push back against the Lone Ranger mentality, or the Senior Pastor model. Elders enjoy, as Michael Green has put it, a "fellowship of leadership" -- or at least they can. I love the church because the church has so wonderfully loved me. I love working with my fellow believers in a life of mutuality. It's a choice to lay down our own way and embrace the team. Notice how Timothy and Paul served the Thessalonians -- together. They were partners, if you will. We move toward each other in the body of Christ, like an ellipse, standing together for the sake of the Gospel.
3) We work for God. This truth has always haunted me. Scripture teaches us that, while we serve each other, we are ultimately servants of God first and foremost. Jesus said as much. "I do the will of My Father." At times in my life, I've had the wrong idea of ministry. It was my work. And in a sense it was. But now I realize that "my" work is really the work of God in and through me. I work His works, at least I do when I'm walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh. This means so much to me. For one thing, it means that there's only one Person I have to please in life. For another thing, I never have to compare myself with anyone else because it's "God who works all things in all people" (1 Cor. 12:6). I'm both thrilled and terrified by that notion. "What if I'm careless about God's work? What if I fail to meet His standards?" Questions like these aren't bad things. I think they help us to acknowledge just how dependent we are on God to accomplish His will in our lives. And note: the "work" of God is more than vocational ministry. Your work as a housewife or a truck driver might not be big or audacious or obvious or acclaimed but it's no less "sacred work" than that of a fulltime pastor. Please never think otherwise.
4) Suffering is normal. Yep, this is life sometimes. We can't ignore or placate it. Historically, we've always known that God uses suffering to grow His people. Callous hearts require breaking. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the church in Ethiopia grew the most (both numerically and spiritually) when the Marxists took over the government in the 1970s and expelled the missionaries. A Holy Spirit awakening is just that: God disrupts our normal lives so that we wouldn't live "normally" any longer. Today, the story of the church in China or Iran is a story of persecution and great suffering. They are facing the same challenges that the Thessalonian believers faced. I've come to believe that the church in America will one day face the same kind of persecution. If so, my prayer is that the Holy Spirit would remind us that God is upending our greed and selfishness for a reason.
5) Finally, our work can be a waste of time. That's what Paul says. So you think you're an instrument of God's justice and mercy? Is there fruit that lasts? Are your converts acting justly and walking humbly and loving mercy? Plenty of people claim devotion to Christ. But what begins with a simple act must turn into a way of life. The world is watching. Time is flying by.
Is my work in vain?
8:34 AM What I know now that I wish I'd known then ....
1) That less is more. Books tend to be much too long. I know. I used to be an expert in flaunting the rule of brevity. Samuel Johnson once said, "Was there ever yet anything written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers, excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and The Pilgrim's Progress?" Overwriting is a curse. Which is one reason my books are getting shorter and shorter.
Now, blog posts are another story ....
2) That there are no Abra Cadabras in the Christian life. Gimmicks simply don't work. I'm so done with platitudes and worn-out clichés. There are no "secrets" to walking in the Spirit -- except perhaps for actually walking in the Spirit. Oh my, the days I wasted attending that seminar or reading that book. Each guaranteed me the Promised Land. I think my discovery of the difference between books about the Bible and the Bible itself -- a discovery which, by the way, shouldn't have been a discovery at all -- has changed my whole outlook on life. I tend to agree with those who say that sermons have a proper place but we can't become dependent on them for our knowledge of God's word. At best, they are a supplement.
3) That the kingdom of God is the work of each and every believer. That helps me to understand why I am placed on this earth. I can leverage every gift God has blessed me with in service to Jesus and others, whether it's a musical talent, an artistic bent, or a teaching ability. When we begin to see all of life as sacred, then we begin to embody God's greatest dreams for us.
4) That my body is a temple. I doubt it's possible to overstate this truth. The reality is that there are no shortcuts to caring for the temple. You have to deal with the body you have, not the body you want. And in the search for health, there's always something new to learn or some new goal to struggle after. As Christians, we don't view the body as the Gnostics did. We see the body as Paul did -- clean and wholesome, a twin sister to the soul. Our goal is to make the parts a whole, and to do that we have to make good choices. The real contest is within.
5) That living requires dogged endurance. I guess that's why I love marathons so much. They are tough, tedious, painful, and tiring -- but they draw us again and again to escape our ordinary humdrum lives and reach out for something new. Life consists of setting goals and striving to reach them by the sheer grace of God. All of that is there in the marathon.
6) That only Jesus can heal a broken heart. And whose heart isn't broken? I know that everyone has a very different story when it comes to suffering pain and loss. But loss occurs to all. That's why after Becky's death I began to reorient my life around the only person who I know really understands my light and darkness, my hope and despair. I want to see more of His light. He grows lovelier to me with each passing day. I don't need to wait for the sweet by and by for healing, at least partial healing. Jesus' presence in our lives allows us to live out our faith in a real way, in real life, and with real people.
7) That life is a celebration of the goodness of our God. God's heart for us is happiness. He desires shalom for us, a deep and abiding joy. In fact, loss and pain only deepen that joy. We now hold to things loosely. Jesus is our satisfaction. His love always wins in the end.
7:45 AM I was hoping to get in a good long walk this afternoon. Instead, I'm sitting here nursing a head cold. Later I'll go outdoors and bask in the sunshine. It's a gorgeous day here in Southside. If you want big city life, you can have it. Northern Virginia is one of the fastest growing regions of the nation. But I'll settle for my local neighborhood where life is slower but every bit as rich. If you live here I'm not telling you anything you don't know. I've noticed the recent influx of residents exchanging the heat of Phoenix and the humidity of Florida for the green forests of Southern Virginia. Welcome to one and all. Sure, our winters can get cold and our summers can get hot. But the spring and the fall? Makes everything else worth it. The only problem is that once you get used to not seeing another car on the road for 15 minutes, you can't drive in Raleigh any more. Right now I'm planning another "Student Work Day" on the farm. We'll probably have it in April. I've got a list of farm repairs as long as my arm. Plus I've stocked the pond. These events are for the entire family and are always great fun. Of course, I'm happy to serve lunch to everybody.
So today I just plainly need a day off, a day to rejuvenate my body, especially after the comical outing I had the past few days. Some days it's good to be active. Some days it's good to be a spectator.
Saturday, March 3
8:50 PM Hey folks! Long time no talk. Well, it's actually only been two days, but it seems like a lifetime. I have to admit that this was one of the most "interesting" trips I've ever made -- a comedy of errors, in many ways. Not that there weren't lots of good times. There were. So I'll try and describe for you the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY.
The conference was phenomenally well organized and each paper I heard was outstanding. The venue was the Houston campus of SWBTS.
Texas must be an open carry state because I saw at least two guys packing heat on their right hip. Anyways, here the keynote speaker Greg Beale takes us on a tour of the use of the Old Testament in the New, a topic about which he is eminently qualified to speak.
My favorite paper may have been the one given by my buddy Boyd Luter.
Boyd and I go way back, in fact all the way back to our Talbot days together.
At the time, I was teaching New Testament while he was in the CE department. He's just one of several good friends I enjoy catching up with at these meetings. Here we have, from left to right, Charles Savelle (OT prof at SWBTS), Boyd (who currently teaches at the King's University in Dallas), and Craig Price (NT prof at NOBTS). Great guys all.
I thought my paper went well. It was an honor and joy to give it.
Finally, I got to speak German with a couple who were visiting Houston from Frankfurt. I think that made their day. I know it did mine.
Okay, things happen in life you have no control over. Like sitting next to two drunks on my flight from Raleigh to Houston who talked (yelled) at each other the whole way. Like the hotel I was booked into that was literally yards from the Interstate and left me in a sleepless stupor for most of the trip. Like the classy (*sarcasm*) dude or dude-ess in South Houston who decided to walk off with the rear view mirror of my rental car while it was parked overnight in the hotel lot.
Or like the broken vent on my flight home today that blew cold air on my head for three hours straight (yes, I'm sniffling again). So what am I saying? Life is never what we expect. The good news is that just as we can't anticipate the sad stuff, we can't anticipate the happy stuff either. Personally, I like my trips to be go better than this one did, but the good made up for the bad. As usual, I just try to make the most of life and, honestly, we can't always expect that everything's going to be perfect. I need to remember how blessed I am more often than I do.
AND THE UGLY:
While I was reporting the theft to the hotel manager, a guy comes up to me and volunteers: "I'm not surprised this happened to you. Houston of full of [N word] and wet backs." Boy did that make me angry. I have zero sympathy for people who talk like that. Some people need to think before they speak. There are bigger problems in this world than stolen mirrors. Funny thing, we talked about anger in our Greek class just last week (the subject comes up when you're discussing the textual variant in Matt. 5:22). God's not incapable of righteous anger and neither are we. But if we're honest with ourselves, we easily fall prey to unrighteous anger and just plain "lose our cool." Someone has defined righteous indignation as becoming angry about God's will being violated. Unrighteous indignation is becoming angry because our will is being violated. Just think of all the people in the Bible who got angry and regretted it, including Cain, Moses, Balaam, Ahab, Haman, Esau, and Absalom. Anyhow, I let it go. Chances are, I wouldn't have gotten very far with this gentleman anyway. By the way, my thanks to officer Mesa of the Houston Police Department for his outstanding job of taking my report. A pleasure to meet you, sir.
Looks like I'll be back in Texas in April to visit with mom and dad and do a 5K race in Garland. We'll also plan on attending the annual spring concert of the bestest barbershop men's chorus in the world, the Vocal Majority. The theme this year is "There's No Business Like Show Business." Can't wait for the show. And for more real barbeque.
Thursday, March 1
10:40 AM Okay. I have my plan all set. Arrive in Houston around dinner time. Grab a bite to eat. Read my paper tomorrow, then have dinner with friends at a rib joint. Listen to papers Saturday morning then jump on a plane and head home. I'm really looking forward to getting caught up with my pals. Now, hopefully, I will overcome whatever ails me and rock my next step. Wish me well!
8:15 AM Morning friends! So how am I feeling today? I'm feeling a good deal better than I felt yesterday. I actually slept in to 7:00 am this morning, which I never do. Giving up control of our bodies to the Lord is about as difficult as starting to eat clean. We prefer status quo and security. But even if you've only scanned the New Testament, you know that's not God's priority. And so I'm learning, gradually, to trust Him with my body. Just as we have our children for a season ("They're young and then they're grown"), so we have our earthly bodies for a limited time. I only have one body, one heart, one set of skin. My body is God's miracle gift to me -- not only in the Sonic-boom moments of life but also when my body takes out the trash or pulls weeds or stands in a classroom or sniffles with a head cold. I will carry this body with me for the rest of my days, so I guess I had better learn how to take good care of it. Anyway, I'm still flying to Houston today and am really looking forward to seeing many old friends there.
Speaking of Houston, Amy Walker's tour of American accents brought a big smile to my face. I think she nails the Southern patois. Funny thing, Becky pretty much lost her Texas accent after she moved to California to attend Biola. But get that pretty Southern belle back to Texas and she would unconsciously slip into her beautiful accent.
Also speaking about Houston, I'm rereading Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas, who is writer-in-residence at Second Baptist Houston.
Here are a few takeaways:
Totally agree! We should all pursue good health to the extent we are able. For me, this isn't merely a physical or biological move, but a kingdom action. Through exercise we'll never overturn the curse of the fall. In fact, good health can sometimes get in the way of seeing God's grace and the need for Him. We can get so busy with exercise that it's easy to forget or ignore the beauty that God wants to create in our inner being. How to obtain this balance? Don't ask me, because I don't have the foggiest idea. I'm still trying to figure this one out. But one thing is clear: if I'm to continue to travel for kingdom work, I need to stay in good physical condition. On the the hand, let me state emphatically: our wounds (spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, etc.) do not disqualify us from ministry. In fact, God often uses our weaknesses to display His overarching power. Why, I believe I once wrote a book on that subject.
Incidentally, yesterday I mentioned that I was blessed out of my (stinking running) socks by Tuesday's chapel message by James Merritt.
He reminded us that Jesus was full of grace and truth. Jesus was, in other words, perfectly balanced. How can you tell if your church is imbalanced? Churches that make you feel condemned all the time are imbalanced. Churches that make you feel comfortable all the time are imbalanced. "Jesus," said Merritt, "did not offend all of the people all of the time, but He did offend some of the people some of time." If we're full of Jesus, we'll be full of grace and truth. If our churches are full of Jesus, they'll be full of grace and truth. Most of us, said Merritt, are imbalanced toward either being a Gracer or a Truther. We err either on the grace side or on the truth side. Then he got into the meat of his message and made three points:
1) We need the compassion of grace.
2) We need the conviction of truth.
3) We need the combination of grace and truth.
To quote Merritt:
Now that's the truth! I want to lived a more balanced life. How about you? Are you more a Gracer than a Truther? Or vice versa? We either err on one side or the other. You can (and should!) listen to this marvelous message here.
Finally (for now), here's a screen shot of a page from A. T. Robertson's "Big Grammar" that we read in our Greek 4 class this week.
Note the word in parentheses: Sesquipedalian. In his Ars Poetica, Horace warned his students not to use sesquipedalian verba, or "foot and a half long words." As others have pointed out, by using such a verbal monstrosity, Horace was nicely illustrating the very thing he was criticizing.
Ya gotta love languages!