Monday, January 27
6:44 AM Out the door and off to school. Ready to make the most of my 44th year of teaching. I'm ready to get back to hard work. I have some big personal and professional goals for 2020. I will line up and chase after them with everything I have. It's just going to take daily commitment. My ultimate desire is to be content in every situation. God doesn't promise me a floodlight to illuminate the entire road. He promises a lamp for my feet. So I'm going to be thankful for what I have. In every situation. Abounding or abased. Up or down. Well fed or hungry. In plenty or in want. In good health or in bad health.
Have a great week y'all.
Sunday, January 26
3:34 PM Nice afternoon to clean the kitchen, sweep the floors, and take the dog for a long walk. Did I mention there's a new kid in town?
So much to be thankful for on a Sunday before the new semester kicks off.
P.S. "Greek for Everyone" starts in just two weeks from tonight at Clearview Church. I hope you will consider joining us.
6:48 AM More from von Siebenthal on verbal aspect (p. 317). Here he includes a section called "Important points relevant to text interpretation." There are three of them:
These points have been confirmed by, among others, the recent scholarship of my colleague Ben Merkle (see, e.g., his essay "The Abused Aspect: Neglecting the Influence of a Verb's Lexical Meaning on Tense-Form Choice," BBR 26  57-74).
Once again, nothing much new here. And that's perhaps a good thing. No need to pursue novelty for the sake of novelty. I hope everyone can see, however, just how careful the author is with his summaries and how committed he is to the exegetical task.
5:52 AM Oh my. The Pipeline is perfect! And yes, I once broke a board there.
5:42 AM So, does von Siebenthal "lay aside" deponency? It's hard to say. The matter is only discussed in the fine print on p. 89. A summary:
That's basically it, though I also checked out his discussion of the middle voice on pp. 300-302. For von Siebenthal, the middle voice indicates "greater subject-affectedness." But nothing more is said about deponency per se. For what it's worth, in the final chapter of my grammar I summarize the voices as follows:
5:12 AM Just added the English version of von Siebenthal to my power point on Verbal Aspect. If there's another grammar you'd like included, let me know. Thus far we have:
Eventually I will be able to add the beginning grammars by Merkle/Plummer (B & H) and Harris (Zondervan).
Saturday, January 25
7:26 PM Consider how Paul describes Epaphroditus in Phil. 2:25:
Paul loved the "rule of three," as did the New Testament writers in general. There was a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son. There were three temptations in the desert. There were three denials of Peter. We have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the culture at large, triads weren't unknown either. "I came, I saw, I conquered." The following facts seem involved in Paul's threefold way of describing the Philippians' messenger named Epaphroditus:
1) In the first place, Epaphroditus was Paul's fellow Christian. He shared the same life, as do siblings from the same womb. Christians call themselves "brothers" and "sisters." Both terms could loosely be translated as "fellow believers." When envy and strife tear at family harmony (as was happening in Philippi), it would do us good to remember that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. As such, we encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), love one another (John 13:34), pray for one another (James 5:16), speak truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:25), sacrifice our very lives for one another (John 15:13), forgive one another (Col. 3:13), and put one another first (Phil. 2:3).
2) In the second place, Epaphroditus was Paul's fellow worker. Not only did he share life with Paul, he shared the work. Our walk should square with our talk. If we do not help and serve one another, how can we truly call ourselves brothers and sisters? Some Christians come perilously close to adopting such an attitude. But it's not enough to say, "Go in peace. Be warm and well fed." If we don't actually meet the physical needs of others, "What good is that?" asks James (James 2:16). Epaphroditus not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.
3) Finally, Epaphroditus was Paul's fellow soldier. As Christians we are not called to instant success and glory. We live between the ages. Thus we are heirs to all the frailties and fallennness of this age. The dying of the Lord Jesus is reflected in individual suffering if not also in corporate suffering. I know. I've been there. I have seen this wretched persecution up close and personal in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. If a church cannot endure hardship, it has no divine right to exist. "A worker must needs be a warrior...," writes Hendricksen in his outstanding commentary on Philippians (p. 139). Epaphroditus was glad to make any sacrifice necessary for the sake of others. Am I?
Beloved, we are fellow Christians who share the same God-given life. Praise be to God. But how many of us share the work -- and the danger? As brothers and sisters in Christ, may we give ourselves to the work of the Gospel as never before, and, yes, be willing to share whatever dangers come our way in our service to the Master, who gave His all for us.
12:54 PM Just back from feeding the animals. I see we have a new baby goat. How sweet! Before that I did an easy 5 mile run at the trail. Tomorrow, weather permitting and Lord willing, I hope to get in my weekly long run in Farmville, though probably not as long as last week's 26.2 mile training run. Earlier I worked out at the Y, which ended up giving me two workouts for the day.
Got my eyes squarely fixed on my June marathon! In addition, I'm working on a new power point for my NT 1 class on "The Church According to the NT." A foundational verse is Rom. 12:5: "We are one body in union with Christ," and "We are all joined to each other as different parts of one body."
I already have several pages of detailed notes. Here are a few preliminary thoughts on the subject:
Much, much more, of course, to say. Hope to have this up and running next week. In the meantime, back to reviewing von Siebenthal, both for my blog and as a review article for a major New Testament journal.
7:15 AM You guys, here's another reason why you absolutely must get a copy of Heinrich von Siebenthal's new grammar. You wouldn't even know this section of the book existed unless you looked very hard for it. But it is most certainly there. I'm referring to pages 551-567. This section is a home run. It skims the fat from the stock, removes the meat, then shreds it into bite-sized chunks. Keep simmering until you're ready to serve. The topic, you ask? Stylistic devices in Koine Greek. Also known as "rhetorical devices." Or you can refer to them by their umbrella term, "figures of speech." These I discuss in some detail in my little primer on linguistics and in this Power Point. But no one can arrange things like Herr Professor von Siebenthal can. Here's a rough sketch:
1) Figures involving word or clause order. Here we find anastrophe, prolepsis, hyperbaton, parenthesis, and anacoluthon.
2) Figures involving omissions. Included here are ellipsis, zeugma, asyndesis, and aposiopesis.
3) Figures involving repetition and amplification. Think of alliteration, homoiokatarkton, homoioteleuton, paronomasia, figura etymologica, wordplay, leitmotif, germination, anaphora, epiphora, ploce, symploce, inclusio, synonymy, hendiadys, pleonasm, parallelism, and chiasmus.
4) Tropes. The following are discussed: metaphor, allegory, simile, pictorial saying, metonymy, synecdoche, metalepsis, hyperbole, enallage, personification, symbol, ideogram, catachresis, and expanded metaphor.
5) Figures involving paraphrasing, veiling, and unveiling. The author mentions antonomasia (including the "divine passive"), kenning, euphemism, dysphemism, amphibole, litotes, irony, sarcasm, and paradox.
There you have it. Is all this stuff necessary in order to do careful exegesis? Yep. For one thing, figures of speech reveal the limitless plasticity of language itself. You and I can use language to accomplish practically anything we want. The figures of speech in Koine Greek help us see how the New Testament writers wanted us to understand their message. In addition, you will notice that most of the terms used here are ancient. A couple of thousand years ago, there was logic, and there was rhetoric. How something was said was often considered to be as important as what was said. Hence we have these figures of speech. Some of these devices are rare birds, only glimpsed occasionally in the writings of the New Testament. And yet maybe we miss many of them because we read through the text too quickly. If you'd like to bore yourself for about 15 minutes, you can examine one of my published essays on this or that New Testament text that reveals some pretty amazing rhetorical devices (a good place to start might be Literary Artistry in the Epistle to the Hebrews or The Pauline Love Command: Structure, Style, and Ethics in Rom. 12:9-21).
As I said, von Siebenthal's new Koine grammar is likely to become the standard go-to reference for years to come. I imagine those who are tasked with it in a doctoral program will want to burn it as soon as they have graduated. And I guess many others would consider this a dry subject or part of an outdated scholastic curriculum. Maybe I'm just a linguistic masochist, but I think you'll be making a very serious mistake if you overlook this invaluable resource. An exegete should be aware of the tools in their toolbox. And know how to use them. Believe me, it's a pleasure to encounter figurative language in the Greek New Testament. If you're looking for a short introduction to these figures of speech, look no further. The author is unpretentious and lays down no grand claims, but gives a splendid overview of the rhetoric of the New Testament. Methinks it's well worth the money, time, and shelf space.
Friday, January 24
8:20 PM Richard Halverson (chaplain to the U.S. Senate):
9:10 AM Been reading through von Siebenthal's grammar. The work and effort that have gone into this book are amazing. It's less than half the size of Robertson's' "Big Grammar" but covers the same ground much more efficiently. That said, no one (including myself) is likely to read it word for word in its entirety. The book is designed as a reference grammar and should be used that way. Still, certain sections will draw you in. Of the book's 4 parts -- (1) Writing System and Phonology, (2) Structure of Words -- Morphology, (3) Syntax, and (4) Textgrammar -- the latter is an exhaustive resource for anyone wanting to become familiar with discourse analysis/textlinguistics in New Testament studies. I simply can't put the book down in this section. The content is laid out in such a way as to make for easy reading, and the author provides a plethora of examples. In short, while much of the first 3 parts of the book repeat what other Greek reference grammars have done, the section on textgrammar is quite unique.
The book's Scripture and Subject Indexes are indispensable. I used both this morning to check out what the author had to say about the "Go" (Ben Merkle) versus "Going" (Stan Porter) debate in the Gospel Commission of Matt. 28:19. The result was a bit less helpful than what I had hoped for. The Greek Index for poreuomai had nothing that pertained to my quest. The Scripture Index for Matt. 28:19 listed only two pages (196, 480), neither of which dealt with the participle poreuthentes. (The subject matter in both places had to do with uses of the adjective pas.) So I looked up "participle of attendant circumstance." Nothing. Then I tried "adverbial participle" (pages 386-399). But there was nothing here about Matt. 28:19. I decided to keep on reading and was finally rewarded for my efforts. On page 407 the author speaks about what he calls the "graphic" participle.
What follows are several NT examples, including this very helpful one:
Here the Greek has the aorist participle poreuthentes followed by the aorist imperative mathete. It seems, then, that von Siebenthal would agree with those who translate Matt. 28:19 as "Go, therefore, and make disciples" instead of as "Going, therefore, make disciples." At this point, perhaps the best advice I can give users of this grammar is (1) be prepared to do some extra hunting for what you're looking for, and (2) expect to find what may be unfamiliar grammatical categories to you (such as "graphic" participles).
Up next: How von Siebenthal handles figures of speech. (Hint: superbly!).
7:20 AM Saw 1917 again last night. I knew it would be the last time I could watch it on the big screen and couldn't resist. What can I say? It is a superbly crafted masterpiece. The cinematography was utter perfection. The one continuous shot keeps you spellbound for the entire 2 hours. You gotta to hand it to the rigmasters -- they are the true unsung heroes of the film.
The story is a simple one: Get from point A to point B. Two soldiers have to carry a message that will save the lives of 1,600 of their comrades. Simple story but one that will have you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Just when you think the soldiers are out of danger -- wham! Yet somehow their message gets though. The day is saved. An ordinary mission is completed under extraordinary circumstances. A lot like life, which has its terrifying moments for sure.
No doubt the best cinematographic achievement of my lifetime. The flare shots alone are worth the price of the movie. 1917 could completely change filmmaking in my humble opinion.
Thursday, January 23
12:22 PM Easy recovery run today after my marathon on Sunday.
Just digging the aerobic well, ladies and gentlemen. Today, during my run, my average heart rate was 109 bpm, well under my 125 maximum. Low heart rate training helps me live a more centered, balanced running life. I try to run at or below my aerobic threshold, and when I do, the enjoyment is amazing. I am hoping to build my mileage to about 30-40 miles a week. I just want to stay injury-free and arrive at the starting line of June's marathon fit and fresh. My goal this weekend? Another long run, weather permitting (rain is coming).
6:54 AM If you've had a year of Greek, how do you maintain and increase your vocabulary? Well, in my Greek 3 class I use Metzger's Lexical Aids, and it's a very useful tool indeed. But for me, the best way to learn vocab is by learning words in context. That's why in Greek 3 we work, not through selected portions of the Greek New Testament, but through one book of the New Testament from start to finish, in this case Paul's letter to the Philippians -- 4 fairly easy chapters but a book whose theme is off the charts great. Also, this semester (spring 2020) I will teach 1 Thessalonians for one week during spring break -- again, a great chance to learn vocabulary by studying one book of the New Testament at a time. My goal is for students to come to appreciate Greek as an enjoyable vehicle for their daily devotional Bible reading.
Which New Testament book are you now reading in Greek?
Do you find learning vocabulary is easier when done in context?
6:32 AM A word or two about von Siebenthal's position on verbal aspect. The pages in question are 304-317. The author argues for 3 (not 2) aspects, which he calls:
The aorist aspect is to be regarded "as the basically inconspicuous or 'unmarked' aspect; this also ties in with its use" (p. 308).
The author is aware of the trend today to call the aorist aspect "perfective" but demurs, writing in a footnote on p. 310:
Bingo! As for resultative aspect,
This is pretty cool stuff and it nicely comports with what I write in the final chapter of my own grammar:
Stay tuned for more ....
5:55 AM Whether you're 8 or 80, it's never too early or too late to start learning Greek. The benefits will begin the very first day. But where should you start? That's a question only you can answer. Some people need assistance from a classroom instructor. Others can teach themselves from a book or video series. Either way, Greek should be fun. If it's a chore, something probably isn't right. Knowing that you're doing something right and good for yourself is a reward in itself. And when Greek is fun, you will tend to be consistent rather than starting and stopping. Check out my Teaching and Learning Greek page if you'd like some tips on how to get started. Make a choice to appreciate all that life offers you every day. Living a mindful life has many meanings, but on the most basic level it means being conscious of our need for the Bible in our everyday lives. That's why it's important to learn how to study the Scriptures on our own. Meanwhile, I'll continue to offer you the tools to make this journey all that you dreamed, and much, much more.
Wednesday, January 22
2:15 PM It has arrived. Preliminary thoughts soon.
In addition, both Baker and Zondervan are publishing new beginning grammars this year. You guys, this is exactly why I love Greek. We never outgrow our need for new books and approaches to the study of the language. Well done, scholarly world!
2:05 PM J-term Greek, cya! What a crazy 12 days it's been. Ever grateful for the lessons learned about how to read our Greek New Testaments. Only 13 more chapters to go, which will start next week. Excited to continue the good work of Greek instruction to eager students. Onward and upward!
Tuesday, January 21
5:55 AM A good reminder from John Stott (The Living Church, p. 103):
One more reason to teach Greek to the flock!
5:45 AM Meditating this morning on these beautiful words by Henri Nouwen:
Monday, January 20
5:50 PM Sheba and I have been out enjoying the sunset. God's creation never gets boring.
3:32 PM What better way to spend a holiday than at the movie theater? I just saw 1917. You should too. It is absolutely amazing. Incredible filming and editing!
10:42 AM I've been so busy lately I've had a hard time remembering to check my monthly stats. There are 3 principles of training with the low heart rate method I'm trying to observe religiously:
1) Scale back your long runs.
2) Rest and recovery are essential.
3) Slow down and focus on your love for the sport.
Here's my Map My Run data for the past 30 days.
As you can see, I've tried to incorporate rest days after my long runs. As I've often said, as you get older recovery takes longer and becomes more and more important. The goal is not just to exercise but to stay healthy and uninjured. I'm a believer in embracing aging but you have to do so wisely.
I hope I can run for many, many more years.
9:12 AM I recently read that the fastest growing group of marathoners in the nation are people over 50. That's because there are so many health benefits to having an active lifestyle as we age. The flip side is that aging runners need to be extra careful about their running routine. When I started running marathons 4 years ago I pushed myself way too hard. Now my goal is to cross each finish with a big smile on my face. I simply want to enjoy and appreciate being able to run. I focus on getting enough rest, paying attention to my running form, and doing as much cross training as I can. I'm going to continue to work on getting smarter about my training. I will never be fast enough to BQ but I wouldn't trade in my running shoes for anything. I'm listening to my body and, so far, it seems to be working. Running isn't the only part of my life but it's a big part. I love it that some of my running peeps are 40 years younger than I am.
Friend, the most important advice I can give you is this: LISTEN to your body. America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity. Overeating is simply not considered much of a vice these days. I have been very careless in this regard. In 2020 I've made a commitment before God to eat more fruits and veggies and drink more water throughout the day. Of course, this has to be a long-term commitment. Although I don't follow a strict diet, I try to eat clean and cook from scratch whenever I can. I no longer eat Crisco straight out of the can (kidding). I hate to admit it, but I occasionally have a fast food disaster. Giving up soda pop has been the hardest. Sorry, I have to have my coffee.
Again, I think it's important to listen to your body and what it's craving. For me, it's becoming more and more important to know where my food came from and how it was grown.
What do you think?
How is your diet?
Are you as active as you should be?
Have you made resolutions this year involving lifestyle changes?
8:10 AM The Greek New Testament has architectural precision, as seen in the passage I was reading this morning.
My students get tired of me saying it but it's true. Here's 1 Thess. 1:2-5.
It contains 5 finite verbs. But only one of them (marked in blue) is an independent finite verb -- that is, it can stand on its own. Hence the "main idea" of this paragraph: "We thank God always for all of you." What follows are 3 participles (Greek loves participles!) that expand this idea:
1) The WHEN -- as we mention you in our prayers.
2) The WHAT -- for your (a) work of faith, (b) labor of love, and (c) steadfastness of hope.
3) The WHY -- because of the way our Gospel came to you (in power, the Holy Spirit, and full conviction of its truth).
Here, then, is the early church in microcosm. It's a perfect example of the Spirit of God at work. The church at Thessalonica was only a few months old, yet Paul could write such complimentary words about them. Why? They had given themselves totally to Jesus! The church there had maybe 45 people -- all of them serving, working, evangelizing. In short, their faith was active. The Gospel, truly, is the world's greatest love story. A story not only told about but seen in the lives of people. The Lord has big-time plans for those who put their faith into practice, whose love makes them work so hard, and whose hope in the Lord Jesus is firm.
By the way, what I did above is called colon analysis (no jokes please). It's what I teach my students in my Greek 3 classes. There is absolutely no reason to do English-style sentence diagramming when you can do this. Your teaching outline practically jumps off the page!
Sunday, January 19
8:06 PM After church today I decided to try and apply my SHR/LSD (Slow Heart Rate/Long Slow Distance) running philosophy at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville.
My goal was to do a long run in honor of my daughter who is currently in South Asia on a mission trip with her church in Alabama. I figured if she could live for a week in difficult circumstances, maybe I could run 26.2 miles as a way of showing my support for her. I'm not fast or very athletic, but I possess a spirit of gratitude for the good health God has given me that enables me to go the distance.
My slowest marathon time in history, but it wasn't speed I was after.
I called today's run a "prayer run" because I spent most of the time praying for my daughter, her husband who's keeping their five kids and "holding the rope," and the 30 church members who are doing house to house evangelism all week. They have divided themselves into 5 teams. The goal of each team is to visit 30 homes each day. Now that's ambitious!
Helen Keller once said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." I have become a big fan of pursuing audacious goals, whether that be on the trail or in a faraway country. As I said, I was slow today, but that was intentional on my part. But finish time doesn't matter anyway. I am happy. I had run for an amazing cause and for a girl who is going to make memories for a lifetime. Glory to God!
7:12 AM Good Sunday morning! I've been wide-eyed and bushy-tailed since 4:00, putting a few last-minute touches on my classes for this week as well as for my Greek class that starts at Clearview Church next month. Why teach Greek in a local church?
In 1 Thess. 1:2-5, we find Paul's "method" (if you can call it that) of church planting. When the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul, it never intended their missionaries to set up a chain of institutions to be kept under the control of the sending church. Whatever churches were planted would be deeply rooted in their host countries. They would be "home grown" congregations, integrally identified with those people who would both lead and follow in those churches. As a church planter, Paul never intended to become the pastor of the work at Corinth or elsewhere. He facilitated the work of others who would be appointed by the Holy Spirit for leadership there. We make a very grave mistake, I believe, when we think that expatriates such as Timothy and Titus were the "pastors" of the churches they were involved with in Ephesus or Crete. Their ministry, as Paul's personal representatives, was the selection and training of local responsible brothers to lead the work.
In Antioch, Barnabas and Saul worked side by side in discipling the church in the ways of Jesus. Little wonder the church at Antioch, once it had been well established in the teachings of Jesus, had a burden for the nations. Barnabas and Saul went on to be commissioned by the church for the work of church planting. Within 10 years, Paul had gone on to plant churches in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. In all of these places, the perpetuation of the Gospel ministry was predicated upon members of the local congregations becoming leaders of the churches among them. Ministry training was accomplished through local training, not by sending church leaders away from their homes and communities. John Frame ("Proposals for a New North American Model," Missions and Theological Education in World Perspective, p. 377) proposes a "Christian Community where teachers, ministerial candidates and their families live together, eat together, work together" (p. 379). Today, forms of distance learning include seminars, guided self-study, internet chat rooms, Skype, and interactive video links via satellite to widely dispersed students, allowing them to study without interrupting and disrupting their customary lifestyle. Praise be to God, my own Greek DVD series is being used all over the world to provide instruction in beginning Greek to pastors who otherwise would have no access to such training. Discipleship thus takes place in a living local church context. It is people-related rather than textbook- or professor-related.
When the church in Acts became centralized in Jerusalem, God scattered it through persecution. Without decentralization, the church could not reach its maximum potential as a witnessing community. But scattered, the church preached wherever it went, carrying out the Great Commission. Within these scattered congregations, God provided leaders directly. In Acts we read, "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust" (Acts 14:23-24). Nationalization is an act of trust: trust in God to further His church on earth according to biblical principles, and trust in believers to whom the leadership of these local churches is to be entrusted.
By insisting on control (or leadership) of national institutions, as some missionary organizations seem to do today, expat missionaries belie their professed commitment to servanthood. The apostle Paul pioneered the local ministry model. It deserves emulating today. Wherever I travel, my goal is to come alongside the national churches, both leaders and led, and assist them to the best of my abilities. My approach is intentionally cooperative. I seek to take no leadership role. I am there to serve, not to be served. It is this true "partnership in the Gospel" (Phil. 1:5) that makes missionary service so rewarding for me.
Saturday, January 18
5:40 PM Recently I had lunch in town at a restaurant that Becky and I often frequented. It holds many happy memories for me. When I go there, everything looks, sounds, and feels the same. Even the food hasn't changed much in 6 years (though the owners are new). However, when I was there the other day I had the sense that everything was, in fact, new. I wasn't just retracing the same old steps I walked hundreds of times when I covered the same ground with Bec. The things I've experienced in the past 6 years -- all the good and the not so good -- are experiences that combine to change the way I interact with my environment. The old and familiar is now new and unfamiliar ground. The dissonance we feel between the past and the present is inevitable and even healthy.
It's been said that spouses never die. They live on in our psyche forever. I don't suppose I will ever think of this restaurant as anything other than the place where Becky and I spent so many happy hours together deep in conversation. But it will also be a reminder to me -- like so many other places I visit in town -- that we Christians face a fallen world in all of its loathsome, wicked power and have to submit to a painful process of dismantling the old ways. When we face loss, God wants to invade our hearts at a level deeper than our pain. Remember: We are not the point. Despite the challenging times of life, our goal remains spiritual maturity and Christlikeness. Our focus is drawn more and more to Him. And slowly we begin to change from the inside out.
I sometimes wonder if trust -- trust toward God, trust toward others -- becomes more authentic when it grows out of brokenness. Since Becky died I have never felt more vulnerable or powerless. But my loss joined brokenness and trust together. The final word is more than life on this planet. It includes life in heaven as well, where Becky and all the blood-bought saints will be. Life on this planet is not the end. Meanwhile, on this earth we experience the joy of watching others made happy and fulfilled in Christ. We receive the enrichment of their relationships with us. We may even be rewarded with seeing souls saved. This is becoming wise: Jesus as the framework, Scripture as the foundation, and growth and service as the goal. These things together determine our world-and-life view.
I'll probably revisit that quaint old restaurant before too long. I do enjoy its food and ambience. Will I just be retracing old steps? I don't think so. I've come to embrace the truth that life is not a series of linear steps. No, life is full of twists and turns that keep prodding us on toward the finish line.
4:56 PM Sheba, guardian of the old home place :-)
9:34 AM Today is as good as any to tell you about the email I received this week from India. For many years Becky and I have supported the Peniel Gospel Team's efforts to evangelize northern India along the Sikkim, Nepal, and Bangladesh borders. Brother Mammen Joseph reports that a very successful VBS program was just concluded in 3 different villages with an average of 220 children present in each location.
The majority were non-Christians and the seed of the Gospel was sown in their hearts.
The older I get, the more I enjoy supporting such ministries. Missions is noble, necessary work. May we all come alongside the church worldwide and simply ask "How can we help?" as we partner with local missionaries, leaders, and organizations that are vested in their town or country.
For more, see How We Do Missions.
8:55 AM Reading an interesting commentary on Matthew this morning. The author insists that Mark came before Mathew, who also used Q. Though he does mention Chapman, Farmer, and Butler, all of whom argued for Matthean priority, "hardly anybody else is persuaded." Later he writes, "This is not the place to mount a detailed defence [sic] of the priority of Mark: suffice it to say that only a tiny handful of scholars doubt it."
I'll be challenging this consensus in my NT 1 class starting in two weeks. But not without first giving my students the arguments in support of the other leading views. My responsibility, I feel, is to give the class the major options and then let them decide for themselves. Here is the truth: some things in life are complicated. Do you know how often I've made decisions about this or that simply on the basis of what others think? That's the irony of it. We think of ourselves as living self-assured lives while we often slink around in group think. What keeps you from studying a subject on your own? Show up. Do your own work. Listen to others. Then go with the strongest evidence, not the number of scholars holding to your position.
P.S. Here are the major views on the relationships of the Synoptic Gospels.
7:12 AM It's official. Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia and Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya will both run in this year's London Marathon on April 26. It's already being called the match race of the century. Their records are so close it would take a DNA test to differentiate them. Bekele has a marathon PR of 2:01:41. Kipchoge's is 2:01:39. Here's hoping for good health for both runners.
But here's the deal. Both superstars are nearing the end of their careers. They are both in the later stages of their physical prowess. The lessons for me? Dave, don't let getting older stop you from pursuing your spiritual, personal, academic, and professional goals. My message to you? Run your race. Continue to chase the dream that's in your heart. God made you good at something for a reason. You've been given gifts by the best Giver of all, so use them. Make us proud of you, even as you age. Don't wait for the timing to be just right. That will never happen. Do the best with what you've got and be willing to start off on shaky legs if necessary. I don't like it when people minimize their gifts and opportunities. "I could never learn Greek. I could never go to Oxford. I could never ...." Look at yourself. What are you good at? What gets your pulse going? Think of being a part of the piano keyboard of life. Play your note.
Bekele and Kipchoge. Two men gifted with running DNA. Two men giving it their all. Two men telling us, "Don't bury your gifts!"
Friday, January 17
6:06 PM Two weeks of Greek down, only two days next week to go! Students, keep up the excellent work. Your work ethic is amazing. Patience, my friends ... it works. Once you start seeing some improvements in your skills and abilities, it is very motivating to keep doing what you're doing. Patience and consistency is the absolute key for this work. Once you leave your ego at the door, you can turn your frustrations into a mental challenge for you to take on.
My own week was enjoyably busy. The goats were getting out so I had to do some fence mending on the farm, but I was able to finish an essay for an encyclopedia.
I also managed two workouts at the Y in Wake Forest as well as a 6 mile run at a local park there.
I got back home today pretty well smashed after a busy week of work but instead of resting I went for a 5 mile run at the local trail and took the time to enjoy every step.
This weekend I hope to run between 13 and 20 miles with the overall goal of averaging 30 miles of running each week (= 120 miles each month). It's important, when training for a marathon, to maintain your distance base, so you can't totally back off on your LSD (Long Slow Distance) runs. It seems I have gotten to the point where I can comfortably run at least 3 days per week. My workouts are beginning to feel like a ritual that I perform with regularity and consistency.
My body tells me when it wants to go out for a run and my mind seems ever more willing to listen. As my running stride falls more and more into a groove, I seem to relax even more to the point where my training pace feels easy and sustainable. I plan to keep training at a comfortable aerobic pace. My ultimate goal is to be able to run with a perceived rate of exertion that stays within a narrow range no matter what speed I'm running. What a joy it is to discover new and better ways to economize my motion and increase my joy in running!
So there you have it. Lots more to come this weekend I hope.
Monday, January 13
6:10 AM Week 2 of J-term Greek! What should I talk about this morning? Cue the opening lines of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina:
You can say basically the same thing about Greek learners. Each of us has our strengths (that make us happy). And each of us has our own personal weaknesses (that leave us a bit on the frustrated side). Is there one, universal trait that a student needs in order to grasp the Greek of the New Testament? Probably not. But in my own experience, I've found there are three skills that I personally have needed in order to make any kind of significant progress.
1) Time management skills.
2) A disciplined life.
3) Language aptitude.
I've been terrible at all three.
1) Hawai'i has no time, remember? It's all Shaka and "Hang loose bruddah!" Time managements skills? Are you kidding?
2) I grew up as a very undisciplined person. Unless surfing was involved. Then I could make plans like you couldn't believe. But when it came time to study, I was like, "Surf's too good today for that."
3) I wish I had some language aptitude. Even a little. Alas, languages have always come hard for me.
These three disastrous forces combined in my life just like the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers merge together to form Pittsburgh. I think perhaps the best way to handle Greek is to approach your textbook like you would a complex recipe. Scan it all the way through to get the big picture, then start with chapter 1 and follow the chapters in order. The information contained therein is cumulative and progressive. This week, for example, we need to cover chapters 7-11. Do-able? Yet bet, as long as we go one lesson at a time and proceed methodically. Don't get hung up on perfection before moving to the next lesson. Mastery is enough. Most importantly, always remember that you are on the path of something BIG. Your greatest reward will be a lifetime of joyful study of one of the world's greatest books, the Greek New Testament.
As for my running schedule this week.... We'll see. It's raining cats and dogs right now and the skies won't be clearing for several days, and you know how I feel about dreadmills.
Sunday, January 12
7:48 PM Let's face it. I'm a goal setter, and I'm sure you are too. So, when I prayed about where to run today and how far, I decided I would try the impossible. My goal today?
Run 20 miles without walking.
That's right. 20 miles without a single step of walking. This is something you slowly build up to folks. I remember when I could finally run a 5K without stopping. I was in hog heaven. Then I could run a 10K. Then 10 miles. Then a half marathon, consisting of 13.1 miles sans marcher. But that was it. Was I done? Someone has said, "Goals that aren't frightening aren't worth having." Truth be told, my goal someday is to be able to run all 26.2 miles of a marathon without bonking (as I usually do) at around mile 18.
So there was no getting around it. The day was simply too beautiful to pass up this chance to dream the impossible dream.
And so it was. After church, I, a modern day Cervantes, drove to the High Bridge Trail to see if I could accomplish the impossible dream. Did I succeed? I knew going into this that I needed to do at least three things if I had any chance of pulling it off.
1) I would need to maintain a low heart rate. You know, focus on body fat for fuel instead just on carbohydrates (glucose). And save your strength for the finish.
2) I would have to relax. No need to expend energy on stresses I can't do anything about anyway.
3) I would have to listen to my body. No ear buds today. Just "body sensing" the whole way.
I almost didn't get my little experiment off the ground. Seems the "dog patrol" was out in force today.
Dog: What are you doing on MY trail?
Me: Just thought I'd go for a little run if that's okay.
Dog: Well, maybe just this once. Next time you'd better ask!
I could go on and on but I know what you're waiting for. Yes, I did succeed, all glory to God!
I am, I have to admit, a bit giddy about this.
Maybe the "train slow, race fast" (at a low heart rate) philosophy has something to it after all.
We'll see come marathon day in July. But for now, all I need to do is keep training, keep improving, and keep ignoring the logic of this ridiculous thesis.
Keep your ize on the prize,
6:55 AM The Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh was packed to the gills last night for a performance of Gustav Holst's symphonic blockbuster The Planets.
My favorite planet? Definitely Mars. Think early Star Wars music.
This music will never be forgotten as the years pass.
By the way, Holst left out Pluto in his masterpiece. The planet hadn't been discovered yet. Maybe he knew something we didn't, as today Pluto is no longer considered a planet but merely a "dwarf planet"!
Saturday, January 11
1:40 PM Greatly convicted this afternoon by what Paul writes in 1 Thess. 5:12-13:
The formula is: Sincere appreciation + sincere affection = happy congregation.
No more nit-picking with our pastors, folks. Quit being so critical. So what if he preaches too long. So what if he's boring on occasion. So what if his illustrations miss the mark (in our "humble" opinion, of course). So what if he speaks in a monotone. It takes only one negative comment to overcome about 100 positive ones. At least that's what it feels like if you are a public speaker.
Tomorrow, after the service, and for the rest of 2020, I'm going to make it a point to tell the speaker I sincerely appreciated his message, and mean it. No more off the cuff suggestions under the guise of "constructive criticism." He has poured his soul into his work. He deserves, says Paul, not just esteem but the "highest possible esteem" (the Greek huperekperissou is a very strong term). I'm not talking about flattering or fawning over our leaders. Nor am I saying that negative feedback isn't important. But it has its place and its time. Leaders in the Lord's work are not meant to be lightening rods for criticism.
God Most High, have mercy on me. I am the greatest sinner in this regard. I want to do better. I need to do better.
12:24 PM Pictures tell a story way better than my writing. So here are a few scenes from the 7K trail run I did in Orange County, NC this morning. Here's the start of the race. Per usual, yours truly started out near the back of the pack.
Before long you're leaving the road and entering the woods.
A few minutes later and you're on a single track.
This is where the real race starts as you begin to see who you can reel in and pass.
Toward the end of the race your adrenaline begins to pump and you can't help pushing your speed a little bit. This leaves you a bit on the pooped out side when you cross the finish line.
Fight the good fight, finish the race, keep the faith.
One of my favorite parts of an event: The awards ceremony. A race can unite people from every gender, race, ability level, and age group.
Did you like the pictures? If I didn't make so much money blogging I'd become a professional photographer. :-)
6:45 AM 1 Pet. 5:1-5 was part of my reading this morning. I'd like to chat with you briefly from it regarding pastoral (and, by extension, a professor's teaching) ministry.
The first word in the Greek text is "elders." These aren't merely older men. We might call them "church elders." Some today who see every member as a minister press the body analogy too far and insist that there can be no identifiable leadership in the church whatsoever. I do not espouse that extreme position. The Risen Christ has delegated pastor-teachers to the church and given them the privilege of teaching and leading the flock.
Next we find "elders among you." It seems that leadership was mostly home grown in New Testament times. Paul appointed elders in every church, we read. He did not ask them to be parachuted into the communities in which they were to serve. I am hearing more and more today of churches that are raising up leadership from within. It's a practice that goes right back to the example of the earliest church.
Next, Peter says two things about his earthly experience with Jesus: "I witnessed His sufferings, and I will share in the glory that will be revealed." Suffering and glory. Hold on to this balance, dear believer. Never think for a moment that your life will become any easier. Just keep taking your struggles to Jesus. And never forget that it's all a prelude to glory. "Wrestle," as someone has said, "face forward."
Peter then says "I appeal to you." Pastoral care is parental care. Parents would rather appeal, tenderly and affectionately, with their children to do what is right. Of course, the fact that Peter "appeals" to us does not lessen our responsibility to do what he says.
"Be shepherds of the flock that God gave you." "Be shepherds" is a metaphor for the work leaders are to do among the congregation. Shepherds don't drive, they lead. Shepherds know their sheep and call them by name. Shepherds are willing to give their lives for the sheep. (See John 10.) To local church "shepherds" has been entrusted pastoral care, including teaching and admonition, and they are expected to work hard in serving the flock. The emphasis is not on their rank or authority but on their efforts for the well-being of their charges. This is in keeping with Jesus' own teaching that leaders are to be the chief slaves.
"Take care of the flock willingly and not unwillingly, as God wants you to." Happy is the church whose leaders (and whose seminary professors) exercise their ministries with eagerness and joy!
"Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve." There is nothing wrong in being remunerated for one's service as an elder. But being financially supported is not an essential part of the calling to pastoral ministry. If God is calling you to serve as a local church elder and there is no financial support from the body, do not go around asking for support. Scripture gives a clear mandate to go and do the work.
"Do not try to rule over those who have been put in your care, but be examples to the flock." The best leaders lead by example. That's because, as Jesus instructed us in Luke 6:40, Christian education is essentially likeness education. Like father, like son. Like pulpit, like pew. We become like those we follow. In the margin of my Greek New Testament at Hebrews 13, I've written these words by Tony Merida: "Leadership is not lordship. It's setting an example and inviting others to follow you."
"When the Chief Shepherd appears." Peter is referring to the church's Senior Pastor. His name is Jesus Christ, and in all things (even our church titles and nomenclature) He is to have the preeminence (Col. 1:18). His appearance is sooner now than it's ever been. For all these years He's been preparing a place for us, and I imagine it's going to be quite a place.
"You will receive the glorious crown that will never lose its brightness." Christian work without the hope of future reward is the worst kind of drudgery. My friends, let's not grovel in despair over our thorn in the flesh but move on to the daily anticipation of His coming.
A final thought comes to mind. God may not call all His people to pastoral ministry, but He does call all His people to ministry. To quote John Stott (The Living Church, p. 74):
If I were a pastor, I imagine it would be helpful for me to reflect from time to time on 3 truths:
There's no point is saying "Every member is a minister" if the structures in our churches say the opposite.
Friday, January 10
5:14 PM When I first took Greek, I lasted exactly 3 weeks. I vainly tried to keep up with what the professor was teaching me. I could, to be sure, memorize everything I needed to learn by heart, but understanding -- ah, understanding was way beyond me. I was brought to my knees when I thought I was never going to learn Greek. And somewhere in the midst of all that, God met me in my weakness. It took me by complete surprise. One minute I was despairing, and the next minute I was reveling in Greek.
Tonight, as I sit in front of the fireplace, savoring the Greek class I began teaching this week, I have time to stop and reflect. All I can see is that foundation, that crazy call which 44 years ago made me forsake everything to be where I am today. And now, here I am, blogging about Greek classes and about writing essays on Greek morphology and about reading Greek grammars. Oh the wild joys of the Christian life. I can't fathom it. I can't wrap my head around God's sovereign leading of His children. I watch in amazement as I see the light go on in a student's eyes. I see the same love for Greek that I once discovered so many years ago. It is marvelous.
Tonight, I rest. It is tiring to teach for 5 days straight. The weekend is a much-needed break. I keep praying for God to fill me back up again, with strength and with wisdom and especially with love, so that I can return to the classroom and pour myself out again. What if it ever gets easy? What if it ever stops being hard? What if I simply begin to coast through my classes? That's the day I'll hang up my teacher's robes and walk away from my profession. It's supposed to be hard. These are real people, with real needs, joys, challenges, dreams. They deserve only my best.
I'm not one for too much introspection. But here I sit, conscious of being held in the same hands that threw the stars into space. My heart is pieced back together by a Carpenter who uses the same nails that pinned Him between heaven and earth. Yes, next week is going to be wonderful, as wonderful as this week was. We are going to meet God there, all of us, part of this awesome privilege of sitting in the front row of His kingdom work on earth.
We're all excited to see how this is going to turn out. I'll keep you posted.
2:18 PM Hey folks! Welcome to this little corner of the internet. I love to blog but when you've been teaching all week you kind of go on hiatus. First off a big thanks to my assistant for getting everything ready for class so well this week. Second, a shout out to all my Greek 1 students. Hope you nail this weekend's take-home exam! Third, I did managed to get in a few training runs this week. Here's what I did yesterday, all at a very slow heart rate.
See my heart rate zones? Proud of me? I am stoked!
Fourthly, this book was on my front porch when I arrived home.
Can't wait to dig into it tonight. Never saw a Greek grammar I didn't love! Finally, been working on an encyclopedia article on Greek derivational morphemes. Need to finish that next week.
Woven into all of this were two visits to the YMCA in Wake Forest. Confession: I love to work out, although the gym can be a bit annoying this time of the year when everybody seems to be exercising at the same time of day (i.e., when I'm there). Still, I'm glad to see so many new people at the Y, the products of new year's resolutions no doubt, but even if so, I give them a lot of credit. True fact: Thinking about going to the gym burns between 0 and 0 calories.
What else? Thinking about doing a trail run tomorrow depending on the weather. Then I'm rereading this book in preparation for my NT 1 class.
Oh, Lord willing, I will be attending the NC Symphony tomorrow night to hear Gustav Holst's The Planets. I am a huge fan of classical music and this piece is too good to pass up.
Okay, that's all I've got in the way of new experiences this week.
Monday, January 6
6:05 AM Off to teach. 22 years at Biola. 22 years at SEBTS (thus far). Teaching is a lifelong process that never stops. A word to my students: At heart, I love teaching more than anything I've ever done. I am excited and happy to offer you Greek 1 in J-term. You know, the lessons of Greek translate into lessons of life. So have fun with the class. Don't worry about pace. Interact with your fellow students along the way. Make it as much about the experience as about the knowledge. Make at least one new friend in the class. It's really all about people in the end. You know, I've run hundreds of races, up to and beyond the marathon distance. But my favorite race was a 5K. That's right. A 5K. I ran it with my daughter. Please note as well: With Greek you can't cheat yourself or take shortcuts. You have to pay your dues. There are moments when you will struggle and will need to look for special help. My door is always open.
Before I go, a few quotes. Said Einstein:
Joy. Light. Inspiration. My motto this year as an educator? "Listen to everyone; follow no one except Jesus."
Y'all have a great week.
Sunday, January 5
7:34 PM Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Oh my, I have so much to be grateful for, such as living only an hour and 15 minutes from one of the greatest running trails in all of North America.
You even get to cross a historic railroad bridge over the famous Appomattox River.
Since tomorrow I have the awesome privilege of introducing new students to the greatest language in the world and of challenging them to pursue their mastery of Greek with unflagging zeal and determination, I decided I would challenge myself to run a half marathon in their honor at the High Bridge Trail.
I ran the whole distance, using the low heart rate method and as a result I finished the race without any tiredness or soreness whatsoever, which enabled me to clean the kitchen and prepare my meals for the week when I got home without even showering or resting up first. What a wonderful energy surges through your body when you move well. You savor the sensations. And then you take that energy with you into the next activity in your day.
It's not all perfect, please. I've gotten bitten in life, lots of times, and it hurts. What I want to tell you is that I have so many undeserved blessings that I can't even count them. Just when it couldn't get any better, on my drive today I happened to pass through a town in the middle of nowhere called Crewe, where Lottie Moon, the famous Southern Baptist missionary, is buried.
"Faithful unto Death." (Little secret: I aspire to such an epitaph.)
Anyway, I had a wonderful day. I feel I did something. It felt significant yet hard to describe. It felt good and solid. Tomorrow I will go to campus to support my school, my students, and my community. I will go to find comfort with and connection in people. But I will never forget where I was today -- on a trail by myself surrounded by the beauty of my God.
8:04 AM Starting a foreign language and you're over 30? Age is just a number. "It's harder as an adult" is a myth. Yes, children and adults learn language differently. Children learn spontaneously. Adults learn more systematically. But don't let that difference deter you. Anyone, at any age, can learn a new language. All you need are the right tools, proper motivation, and a little effort. (Okay, a lot of effort, but you get my drift.) When William Adams arrived in Japan four centuries years ago, he learned Japanese. And he was considered "old" for his time (35). All astronauts going to the International Space Station have to learn Russian in case they need to communicate with their Russian counterparts. The bottom line: If you believe you're "over the hill," you probably are!
P.S. Our "Greek for Everybody" class starts Sunday, February 9, at 6:00 in Henderson, NC. Attendance is free. Don't let age keep you from learning how to read New Testament Greek!
7:20 AM Starting school? Read What I Learned During My First Semester in Seminary.
Saturday, January 4
5:24 PM Tonight's sunset.
1:42 PM Just back from a 30 minute swim and a 1 hour run. While at the track my mind meditated upon Acts 2. The earliest believers "met constantly to hear the apostles teach" (Acts 2:42, REB). On the Day of Pentecost, God established the first theological seminary in the world. It was called the local church. The first seminary in Jerusalem had 3,000 students. I may have 3. It doesn't matter. Followers of Jesus are always eager to learn all they can. I know I was when I was a teenager in Kailua. Despite the anti-intellectualism that characterized some of my peers, I knew that the Holy Spirit was a "Spirit of truth" and that wherever the Spirit is at work, truth matters. In those days, we Jesus Freaks got most of our formal instruction from the good people at International Baptist Church in Honolulu. They taught us a living church is always a learning church. How our hearts burned as Christ opened the Scriptures to us! Eloquent reason! Scholarship on fire! Still today my greatest thrill is to hear of local churches that are both thoughtful and passionate and that combine faith and reason. Would that every local congregation of believers was like this. All Christians are called to be truth lovers. All are called to be Bereans who dig into the word for themselves. Let, then, the church do all it can to promote learning and, through learning, obedience.
6:20 AM The word of the day is "ulterior." As in, "existing beyond what is obvious or admitted; intentionally hidden." You know, like the time you hung out at the library just to have a conversation with your crush. As I think about language, and about the books I've written on language, I've discovered what might be an ulterior motive behind practically everything I've produced. Sure, you'll find lots of information about grammar and syntax, participles and infinitives. But in the end, these books are out there to entice you to get interested in linguistics (one of my books even admits this). From a content and structure perspective, my books are designed, I suppose, as a kind of tease. I essentially "dabble" in subjects that can have (and have had) entire books written about them. If I'm guilty of surface-skimming, it's because my goal is simply to provide a foundational understanding of how language works. Language per se is a concept that, despite being frequently discussed, is rarely given the thought or time it deserves.
When I began writing books about Greek some 36 years ago, I picked up every work on linguistics I could get my hands on. The value of most of those books today is about that of an ancient Greek ruin. But they are no less readable for that reason. The face of the Sphinx is disfigured, yet Rilke still managed to meditate in grateful silence before it. So too we may appreciate the work of a lost time.
To that time my books will soon belong. But that's not the point. I was not writing to develop a new discipline. I was writing to develop discipline itself, a kind of discipline that makes us want to "take up and read" works about one of God's most spectacular creations, human language. When all is said and done (and written), I hope I may have ushered my readers into the very awareness animating all students of language that human speech is a truly wondrous thing in and of itself.
Friday, January 3
6:18 PM Reading The Hound of the Baskervilles on a cold, windy, dark winter night. One of my favorites to this day.
5:40 PM Did another 5 mile run today using the LSD (Long Slow Distance) method and while running it occurred to me that the LSD approach to running has two main goals: to make running as efficient and enjoyable as possible, and to prevent injury. This stuff really makes sense to me. I am actually enjoying running more because it feels good! I can feel my quick cadence and light steps. Clearly, I still have a long ways to go but I'm making steady progress. I'm not a fast runner but it sure makes the sport fun and enjoyable.
I see a parallel, by the way, between this method of running and the study of New Testament Greek. (You saw this coming, didn't you?) The goal of my Greek teaching is also twofold: to make learning as efficient and enjoyable as possible, and to prevent my students from making mistakes ("injuries") when they use Greek in ministry. If you're not enjoying your study of Greek, then the method you're using is backwards! And if you do learn Greek and then go out and commit one of the many exegetical fallacies we've taught you to avoid, that's on you! Just the other week I was visiting a church where the speaker both mispronounced the Greek words he used in his sermon and misinterpreted them. I'm a firm believer that Greek isn't the Abracadabra or the Open Sesame of New Testament interpretation. That said, a reading knowledge of the language can make our exegetical study all the more enjoyable and accurate. A knowledge of Greek can also be prophylactic in the sense that it will hopefully keep us from repeating the same mistakes our forebears made over and over from the pulpit (i.e., confusing word and concept, etymologizing, illegitimate totally transfer, etc.).
When I first started running I told one of my kids that my goal was to "learn" how to run a 5K. They said, "Learn to run? You just do it!" Truth is, good running form just doesn't come naturally to me. It's nice to know there are resources out there to help me run more efficiently and reduce my risk of injury.
Interesting stuff. We are always learning, aren't we?
9:15 AM Don't know if you're a goal setter or not. I am. I not only write down my goals, I blog about them! Of course, as soon as I write them down they disappear under a stack of books. Does that still count?
Seriously, I love writing down my goals and reviewing them every day. They make me feel like I'm getting somewhere. I just added a new goal to my list yesterday: "Find a Spanish tutor and begin meeting with them next week." So if you know someone who can tutor me in Spanish who lives in the Wake Forest area, kindly let me know. Tell them I am a wonderful student and am not afraid to make mistakes (for which I am famous). In addition to writing down goals, I'm a major to-do list maker. Research shows that the writing down of goals and/or tasks makes them infinitely more likely that we will achieve them. Your goals can focus on anything: getting chores done more consistently, working out, eating better, cutting down on credit card debt, saving money, landing a new job, starting a business, reading a new book every week, traveling more, learning a language, becoming a better parent. The point is, set yourself up to be successful. Here are two more goals I recently added to my list for 2020:
1) Run at 170 strides per minute. Almost there, judging from the 5K I did yesterday at the track. I'm trying really hard not to bite off more than I can chew.
2) Maintain a lower heart rate. Looks like I might be on the right track here.
So there you have it. In the bleakness of winter I've got my eye set on the prize(s). Of course, I have to remind myself that there's more to life than watching my heart rate or strides. There will always and forever be goals I will never reach, and that's okay too.
7:55 AM Greek class starts on Monday. But can you learn to read Koine Greek on your own? Most definitely! Formal classroom instruction is not indispensable -- and I say this as a Greek teacher. Most of the languages I know I learned on own. Some I've learned quite well. Others not so well. But if the desire is there, you will learn. The bottom line: if you really want to learn Koine Greek, you will. If don't, you won't.
For suggestions on learning Greek (including some excellent "living language" approaches), go here.
Thursday, January 2
7:14 PM Time and again I have read 1 Cor. 13. We often hear it said that in place of the word "love" we could substitute the name of Jesus. You know: Jesus is patient. Jesus is kind. And so on. But I wonder. Maybe we should substitute our own name.
Again and again and again I have said, Forgive me, Lord. But please, oh please: do this work in me.
A new year is perhaps a good opportunity to take a personal inventory to determine how much of the fruit of the Spirit is grown in our lives. Christianity is not a fish on our car or hands held high in a church building. It is love -- love for God, love for others, and even love for ourselves, a recognition that you are a unique creation of God and a person He wants to love and use despite your scars, your inadequacies, your idiosyncrasies. As Chief Physician, Jesus has diagnosed us all with a terminal illness called self. But, thanks be to God, He has established a hospital for sinners. It's high time, don't you think, that we checked ourselves in.
8:14 AM Guidance. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's the word of the day here at DBO. "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light to guide my path" (Psa. 119:105). As Christians, we have a guidance system -- a best-selling collection of 66 books that guides our feet and illuminates our path forward. These books are collectively called the Bible, but the Bible is actually one book in two volumes, and the first volume is especially replete with testaments from men and women who trusted God completely as well as people who completely disregarded Him. The Old Testament tells it like it is, warts and all. But the overriding message is a simple one: God desires us to experience a full and rich life, and He will guide us out of whatever dark space we happen to find ourselves in, whether it's our fears of what the future holds or our tears over a broken relationship. The Bible, however, is not the only guidance system out there. As we've often said on this blog, Christian biographies can come alongside the Bible and give us example after example of how God indeed has a magnificent plan for our lives that exceeds our wildest imaginings. Bruce Metzger's memoir is a good example of this.
It takes the reader from his childhood in Amish Country to the hallowed halls of Princeton University. I was drawn to this book because in some ways the career of Bruce Metzger and my own have coincided with each other. As I began the book, I wondered to myself, "How did Metzger end up becoming a Greek teacher?" The answer is found on p. 22. It was the 1938-39 academic year. One day Metzger just "happened" to be sitting next to John MacKay, the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, during a train ride. At some point in the conversation the president asked Metzger if he would be willing assume the post of teaching fellow at the seminary while he was pursuing his doctorate at the university. He would be employed by the seminary to teach entering students the grammar of the New Testament. "Of course I gladly accepted the invitation," wrote Metzger. "In the autumn of 1938, therefore, I began the first of my forty-six years of teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary." Metzger was only 24 years old at the time.
Fast forward 38 years. It was the fall of 1976. A need arose in the Greek Department at Biola for an adjunct instructor in Classical and Koine Greek. The head of the Greek Department at the time was Dr. Harry Sturz, whose impact on my life was incalculable. (I've recounted that impact here.) For some reason that mantle fell upon my shoulders. That fall I began what, thus far, has turned out to be a 44-year career of teaching. The odd thing is that neither of us sought out that opportunity. It was simply God directing our paths.
Incidentally, I was 24 at the time.
Where are you today, my friend, on the path of discovering God's plan for your life? When we become a Christian, the thought of being used by God to make a difference in other people's live can be paralyzing. But what we feel incapable of doing, God is able to do. He knows what school we will attend and who we will marry and how many children we will have and where we will work and when we will retire. He is with us now, and He will be with us through eternity.
One of the most important lessons we can learn is that life is never stagnant. Things will constantly be changing. With that said, I think the life of Bruce Manning Metzger embodies a lot of what this blog is all about -- challenging yourself to keep moving forward no matter what and being open to whatever the Lord has in store for you. The Christian life is demanding and often frustrating, but it offers the rewards of great joy and fulfillment to those who throw themselves into it with prayer, abandonment, and love.
Wednesday, January 1
5:58 PM I just took this picture -- my first sunset of the new year and a very nice symbolic turning of the page, don't you think?
Happy New Year to all of you out there and a question: are you looking forward to and/or dreaming of something big in 2020? I am, starting with a new race schedule. I just added this event to my 2020 race schedule.
That's right, a 5K on an active runway in Lynchburg. Go here to sign up if you're interested in this unique event, but be forewarned: The site just went live today and there are only 281 spots (out of 300) left the last time I checked, so you had better hurry. I've signed up ...so how about you?
Earlier today I ran my first 5K of 2022.
It was a small, family-oriented event, maybe a total of 80 runners. I enjoyed it immensely. Here's the view from the middle of the pack.
It's always nice to be in a race where everything seems to fall into place. No wind. No snow. Your stride felt great. No muscle or tendon aches. So thankful! It was nice to check off a box on my bucket list for the new year. Now all I have left are AT LEAST one 10K, one 10-miler, one half marathon, one full marathon, one ultramarathon, and one triathlon. I am not contemplating measurable goals in any of these races other than finishing. The common theme just seems to be giving myself permission to say yes to the things I'm passionate about. One of those things is teaching, of course, and it was a wonderful New Year's surprise to be able to have lunch today in Lynchburg with one of my former students.
Ben took Greek with me years ago and eventually went off to the UK for his doctorate. He now teaches New Testament and Greek fulltime at Liberty. How cool is that? For me, the icing on the cake was when he invited me to speak in his NT class in February on my approach to the synoptic problem. I didn't realize this until today, but Ben actually shares my view that Matthew is our earliest Gospel. (Always nice to meet another obscurantist.) Anyway, it was great to chat with Ben and get caught up. He loves to run as well, and I'm hoping he can join me on the tarmac in April.
Time to wind down for the night. Before I sign off, let me reiterate: my main goal for 2020 is to stay centered in Jesus. He's the new life that surges into our lives, shredding off the old and making room for the new. That is to say, He helps us in our Christian walk and picks us up again if we fall. When we give Christ what little we have, He multiplies it and the result is abundantly beyond all we can ask or think. Praise be to God.
6:22 AM I'm sometimes asked, "Which foreign languages are the most difficult for English speakers to learn?" Before I answer that question, a quick observation or two. First, language difficulty is always relative to a learner's native language, in my case, English. Secondly, one's ability to learn a foreign language is, I think, less a matter of one's intelligence than a matter of one's interest in the language and its culture. Becky and I met many Americans living in Basel who couldn't speak a word of German. It wasn't because they weren't smart enough to learn the language. It was because they had no friends who made it worth their time to acquire German. By way of contrast, all of our closest friends were German speakers. In fact Becky, who didn't know any German prior to her arrival in Switzerland, developed a surprisingly high level of fluency in the language within a year because she had immersed herself in the culture.
As for the question of language difficulty, the U. S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has come up with several categories. Some websites I've seen have 5 categories, other have 4. Here I'm using the 4-tiered system. From least difficult to most difficult, these are (1) languages closely related to English (such as French or Spanish), (2) languages similar to English (such as German), (3) languages with linguistic and/or cultural differences from English (such as Greek and Hebrew), and (4) languages with significant linguistic and/or cultural differences from English (such as Arabic and Cantonese). The FSI refers to the latter as "super-hard languages." The game changer, in my opinion, is the teacher. By showing that the subject is fun, interesting, and important, language teachers can transfer their positivity to their students. My Hebrew teacher in seminary was like that. His approach to language instruction was to be simple without being simplistic. Learning Hebrew was a joy.
Incidentally, I heard this joke recently. What's the most important sentence you can learn in a foreign language? It's "Where's the bathroom," right?
Nope. It's "My friend is going to pay."
"Dos enchiladas, por favor. Mi amigo va pagar."
Languages are such fun. :-)
Onward and upward to a new year and to new adventures on this earth!
Tuesday, December 31
1:55 PM I fell in love for the first time in the 5th grade. I recall it was the first day of the new school year at Kainalu Elementary School. My social studies teacher entered the classroom and uttered this utterly incomprehensible sentence: "Cómo está usted?" I was intoxicated. It was love at first sight. That day I learned there were languages other than English and Hawaiian Pidgin.
As it happened, Spanish and I broke up after the 5th grade. No Spanish was offered in the 6th grade, and in fact no foreign languages were required at my intermediate and high schools. The next language I fell in love with was Greek. By then I was a student at Biola, and my 4 semesters of Greek were the beginning of a lifetime obsession with foreign languages. As I got older I began to teach myself languages in earnest, beginning with those languages that one was expected to know prior to arriving in Basel for doctoral studies -- for me this meant French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Latin, and, of course, German. Eventually it dawned on me that anything can be said in about 6,000 other ways, with completely different words and grammar. It's not an accident that the science of linguistics caught my attention in those days. Human language is a vast ocean of discovery. Today, my aim in teaching Greek is to help my students see just how fascinating language study is -- how languages change, how they mix, how they process thought. Languages are like cloud formations, inherently transitory. A few hundred years ago, double negatives were considered good grammar in English, "silly" meant "innocent," and verbs were fully conjugated (the way they still are in Spanish and German). English started out like Greek and Latin with noun cases and verb endings but eventually said "Enough is enough." When I began my studies in Basel in 1980, I thought I knew German. I quickly found out that, as soon as I stepped outside the classroom, I couldn't understand a word anybody said. They were speaking German of course -- or at least what they called German. In fact, there is no default "German," just like there is no default English. The Pidgin we grew up speaking in Hawai'i -- despite all of its "mistakes" -- stands equal to any other language in the qualitative sense. Once you understand this, the difficulties disappear. In Basel German, it's as simple as leaning Mir gange for Wir gehen. In Hawaiian Pidgin, it's basically the same thing. Dey stay run means They are running. "Stay" is simply a preverbal marker indicating progressive action, which is marked in English by the "-ing" suffix. 'A'ole pilikia! (No problem.)
If you think about it, my Greek students are learning so much more than Greek. Today's Greek is tomorrow's Spanish or German or Russian or Mandarin. By studying one language you begin to develop a grid for the study of other languages. So, in addition to German German, I had to learn Basel German when I lived in Switzerland. And yet even Basel German is not used by all German-speaking Swiss. Living in Basel, you just got accustomed to speaking both the standard dialect and the non-standard one. Linguists call this being diglossic. Ditto for when I'm in Hawai'i. I just switch to Pidgin.
I've often noticed how German seems to be much more "transparent" than English. "Succession" is "Row-following" (Reihenfolge), "vocabulary" is "Word-treasury" (Wortschatz), and "pork" is "Pig-flesh" (Schweinfleisch). Then again, German can be deceptive: the German noun Gift means "poison" in English. In Spanish, the infinitive is one word -- comer -- not two like in English ("to eat"). Germans say "I know that he a good student is," but in English this is somewhat of a Yoda-ism. Even "Denglisch" -- German plus English -- retains its German original. "Mein Leben ist eine awesome-story" makes sense only when you realize that the feminine article "eine" is used because the German word for "story" (Geschichte) is feminine. Or how about this? In English we say "I'm bathing," but in French or German you must mark the reflexive overtly ("Je me lave," "Ich wasche mich").
I could go on and on about language learning and language loving. Next Monday I'll begin my 44th year of teaching Greek. Who knows what will happen. Maybe, like that boy in the 5th grade, somebody will fall in love for the first time.
9:22 AM Good advice for those who deliver messages Sunday after Sunday after Sunday:
1) Cut out the chatty introductions. There's no time for that. Just as people use their clickers to change TV stations, so people come to church with a clicker in their hands. If you don't earn the right to be heard at the beginning of your talk, people will (justifiably) "change stations."
2) Pay close attention to your method of delivery. "I think we talk with an audience more than we talk to them and certainly more than we talk at them." And: "I think this stand up and holler at your audience -- you may feel like doing that as a preacher, but you ought not do it."
3) "A good sermon has a sense of unity, a sense of order, and a sense of progress."
Please note the absence of any notes. Typical Haddon Robinson. He has perfected the art of public speaking with constant eye contact and engagement with his audience. Masterful, simply masterful.
7:20 AM What are your goals for the new year? Yes, cheers to a great 2019. But it's time to start prepping for a new decade, new racing, new blogging, new travels. I have been my Heavenly Father's son for 59 years. For this I am incredibly grateful. Not every moment in our relationship has been perfect, but they have all led to today. And now, together, we walk into a new year.
I'm a huge believer in keeping life fresh by trying new things. Everyone is different and what works for you might not work for me. But in order to know the difference, you have to try new things. One thing I learned in 2019 is that you have to listen not only to your body but to your soul. Running -- and living -- takes patience. It takes time to build up your physical and spiritual endurance. Like you, I'll face tough times in 2020. Will I be prepared to meet trouble when it comes? Time will tell. We can test our level of endurance only by running the race and not by talking about it.
The start of a new year reminds me of new beginnings and it always makes me want a fresh start. In terms of running, I think going all aerobic this year, at slow paces, will make a huge difference in my health and fitness. Most runners get injured due to overtraining. They think the "no pain, no gain" philosophy is valid, which it isn't. Hence they end up with leg and feet injuries that could otherwise be avoided -- tendonitis, runner's knee, hamstring issues, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, and stress fractures. Are you struggling with any of the above injuries? Chances are you are training too much at too high a level. For some of us, we don't really know the value of rest and recovery. We keep coming up with excuses to justify our overtraining. We know it's unhealthy but we do it anyway. I'm curious. What is something you've been putting off? Why haven't you taken the first step? Maybe 2020 will be your year to chart a different course. I have many faults. But lack of passion isn't one of them. In fact, I tend to be too passionate about things. I hard-headedly rush into things without really thinking them through. For some reason I have no tolerance for making excuses. Just do it! is my motto. My greatest piece of advice for you is to engage your brain and not just your heart in 2020. Think and pray about what the Lord wants you to do in the new year. And when something derails your plans, accept it and move on.
There are countless ways to be renewed. Some find it in climbing 14,000 foot peaks. Others discover it in trying out a new job. Many of us find it in ever deepening relationships. What matters is that we find it, whatever the "it" might be. Your job in 2020 is to be the best you that you can possibly be. The life you have is exactly the one meant for you. If you count your blessings and stop thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, then you will be happy and have the greatest life of all. Just make sure you do what you love. Don't lose sight of the fact that you're only here for a season. Don't rush through your days. Remember the little things, those small graces scattered throughout the day. Take time to bury your nose in a good book. Take time to snuggle up with the one you love. Take time to tickle your grandkids. Take time to tell someone they're doing a great job. Let's storm heaven on behalf of someone who's struggling. Pour out your soul for the hungry and clothe those who go without. Share the Gospel with someone who needs Jesus. God places us exactly where He needs us. We are called to do the work He has set out for us.
I just finished reading Bruce Metzger's Reminiscences of an Octogenarian. He concludes the book with a postscript in which he lists some of his favorite axioms and quotes. It goes without saying that it was a blessing to read them. As we begin a new year, I thought I'd share a few of them with you for your edification:
Thanks so much for reading the blog in 2019. There's such peace in knowing that, no matter what happens in the new year, I'm among people who are looking to God for guidance and strength and who are supporting me in prayer.
Monday, December 30
6:12 PM Today was my final workout of 2019 -- an easy 5 mile run at the high school track. I'll take tomorrow off in preparation for Wednesday's 5K in Lynchburg. Looking back over the past 12 months it seems unbelievable to me that I totaled 1,287 miles. Here's the monthly breakdown (can you tell which month I was injured?):
Every race I ran in 2019 was partly about competition but mostly about celebration. My, how good God was to me! As you get older, you train all those miles to slow your rate of decline. Everything changes when you decide to become active. Your goals change. Your lifestyle changes. Your risks change. Eventually your rewards even change. Just as when you build your own house, you will encounter factors you didn't plan for. These are things that are out of your control. You're even tempted to push your training to the point of burnout or injury. Your training ultimately becomes a reflection of you. But in the end, how long it takes someone else to accomplish a goal doesn't matter. You are running your race, one month at a time, one week at a time, one day at a time. Did I always train wisely in 2019? Not on your life. Lessons learned? Many. For example: Knowing your limits is much more valuable than exceeding them. And: Sometimes enthusiasm is your biggest asset and at other times it's your greatest liability. It doesn't matter. Live and learn. Everyone is welcome in the running community no matter how many mistakes you make.
I'd like to thank all of my 2019 running buddies. Your kindness and encouragement nourished my spirit. My life has been enhanced by your courage, determination, and joy. If you're ready for 2020, let's do it!
7:20 AM Morning friends! Here are few running lessons I learned in 2019:
1) Fitness and health are not the same thing. An athlete can be fit but unhealthy. Fitness refers to the ability to perform a specific task. Health refers to a state of well-being. In early 2019 I pushed myself beyond a point of appropriate system stress. This led to neuromuscular distress. Now that I've fully recovered, I hope to avoid making the same mistake in 2020. My goal is to be fit and healthy. Lord willing, I will alleviate the overtraining syndrome by lowering my training intensity.
2) What your body can do is more important than what your body looks like. Performance comes first and appearance follows. I want to keep this principle in mind throughout 2020.
3) Avoid cookie cutter approaches to exercise and diet. I need to decide what is best for me. My goal in 2020 is to reconnect with my intuition and take control of my diet, sleep cycle, health, and fitness.
4) Move it or lose it. This includes not only a structured training schedule but getting enough movement through the course of the rest of day. My goal in 2020 is to sit at my desk less and get up and move more.
5) The need to develop an aerobic base. Perhaps this is the most importance lesson I learned in 2019. My goal in 2020 is to build a strong aerobic base by training exclusively aerobically.
6) The importance of walking. Athletes can use easy walking as an alternative to activity to maintain body motion. In 2020 I hope to incorporate walking into my regular training routine more often than I did in 2019.
7) Give yourself time to recover from a big race. Running a marathon is like being in a car accident. Your body has taken a severe beating and it's going to take time to get back to normal. The finish line is not the end. Crossing the finish line only gives you permission to recover. No more back to back marathons in 2020!
What are your exercise goals for 2020? Remember: There is no such thing as a perfect exercise strategy. Be prepared to change your goals as the year unfolds. You say, "But I don't have an exercise plan for 2020." My response: No plan is worse than a bad plan. You gotta start somewhere. Relying on an "I'll exercise if and when I feel like it" approach is like believing in Santa Claus.
There is no right strategy. There is only your strategy. Take some time today or tomorrow and prayerfully give some thought to developing your personal health and fitness goals for 2020. I think it will be well worth your time.
As always, thanks for reading.
Sunday, December 29
3:50 PM Just signed up for the Vision 2020 New Years Day 5K in Lynchburg this Wednesday. Lord willing, this will be my first race of 2020! All proceeds will go to help rebuild the Blackwater Creek Trail in Lynchburg that was devastated by the floods of 2018. Great city! Great race! Great cause! Hope to see many of my friends from Liberty University there.
1:50 PM Do you ever just sit and stare at language in utter amazement? I did this morning during the message from John 1:1. As usual, I took copious notes, this morning limiting myself to writing my notes in either Greek, Spanish, or German -- no English allowed! And, because I have a million different Bible translations on my phone, I could easily compare and contrast the Greek text with any other language I wanted to. Here's John 1:1 in Latin. You'll notice the verb erat ("was") is used 3 times to render the Greek verb ēn.
Then there's the Spanish we find in the Reina Valera version. Again, you'll notice the triple use of era ("was"):
Of course, every student of Spanish knows that it contains several different words for "was," all stemming from different vocabulary words. You can see this brought out in the Spanish edition of the NIV:
Here we find:
All three verbs are used to translate the one Greek verb ēn. The first verb, existía, is clear enough: "The Word existed in the beginning." As for the next two verbs, Spanish generally distinguishes between the verb estar and the verb ser. Ser refers to more or less permanent traits of someone or something, while estar refers more to or less transient conditions. You use ser to talk about what something is (a condition), and estar to talk about how something is (states such as location or emotions). For example, you can say "María es alta" (Maria is tall) but you would say "María está confudida" (Maria is confused). Hence in John 1:1 we find "El verbo estaba [from estar] con Dios" but "El verbo era [from ser] Dios." I'm no expert in Spanish, but perhaps the idea here is that while the Word was in the condition of being in the very presence of God (i.e., in the presence of the Father, see 1:18), the Word was also God as to His divine essence. In other words, the Word that is with God can be God at the very same time. Not saying you can't get this meaning from the Greek or the English. You most certainly can. I just think it's neat how the Nueva Versión Internacional attempts to bring this out.
In his wonderful essay Someone Needs Your Second Language, Nick Whitehead writes, "God confused language because men sought to steal from his glory. We learn languages, with God's help, to give him the glory he deserves until he is praised in every language." Amen and amen!
7:48 AM The last Sunday of the year. How shall I spend it after church?
1) Rest. I literally slept for 12 hours last night. Rest is so essential for athletes or for anybody who is active. Rest is when our bodies improve. It's during sleep that your body secretes the highest amounts of growth hormone. Without rest, our bodies remain stressed. The formula is simple: Rest your body and it will grow stronger. Rob your body of rest and you'll grow weaker and eventually get sick and even injured.
2) Reading. There's only thing I enjoy more than writing and that's reading a good book. Here are some titles that are currently on my reading list:
In terms of Bible reading, I'm currently working my way through Romans in the New English Bible and enjoying many of its renderings. Reading is a comfort to me, an escape from the grind of life. One of my New Year's resolutions is to branch out with my reading interests in 2020. I'll still read books on running but I also want to read more biographies and maybe even dabble with historical fiction of the Michael Shaara variety. Right now I'm waiting for Heinrich von Siebenthal's Ancient Greek Grammar for the Study of the New Testament to arrive via Amazon. Did I tell you it's only 740 pages long??!!
3) Walking the dog. I love dogs. Amazing how pets become part of the family. For some reason I've always had Shelties as pets. And even though Sheba is about 100 years old in human terms and is completely deaf, she still romps gleefully whenever we go out for a walk.
So that's my Sunday. What does yours look like?
Saturday, December 28
5:40 PM There are two kinds of people in this world: those who enjoy the changing seasons, and those who don't. Personally I like living in a weather zone where the seasons change right before your eyes. I also love it when, like today, you're suddenly hit with summer-like weather in the middle of winter. I mean, we had temps approaching 70 degrees today. Well, an odd weather day calls for a long run, don't you think, as in 15 miles.
It took me just over 3 and a half hours to complete it but remember, I'm using the MAF method of running, which stands for Maximum Aerobic Function. The key is to watch your heart rate. You want to keep it in the middle heart rate zone, at least for most of your training run.
Here's how I looked today and how I dressed on this unseasonably warm day.
No need to call the fitness magazines wanting to submit this picture of me. I'm way too busy for that. (JK.) But if I were interviewed in Runner's World, my message would be a very simple one. Get outdoors on a nice day. Do something active with your body. Be sensible in how fast you go. Wear clothing appropriate to the temperature. And be sure to say hi to all the nice people on the trail. Here's John.
He's one of the park rangers at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. The dude is amazing. Although disabled, he's competed 3 times in the Marine Corps Marathon in the wheelchair division. The guy just won't take no for an answer. Yet another runner triumphing over adversity and moving beyond their personal struggles. A reminder to me that each and every one of us has to work within our abilities to achieve our goals. Life is never easy, but hardships are temporary, and for that I am truly grateful to God. The point is not to totally avoid suffering. It's what to do with it when it comes.
Time to cozy up in front of the fireplace and read!
9:28 AM German lovers, I think you will enjoy this message on the Second Coming. Can't imagine anyone speaking more clearly. Great practice if you're learning the language.
The Christ who came is the Christ who is coming. His return will occur as suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief in the night -- "in a moment, in the blink of an eye." Christ never told us when that would happen, but He did instruct us to live in anticipation of it at all times. The homecoming date might even be in 2020! Think about that the next time you feel like you're being swallowed up by the great big world you're supposed to have by the tail.
The Lord is saving His best for last.
Friday, December 27
7:14 PM Would you also consider not being so hard on yourself in 2020? This is the principle of gradual progress. Runners know it well. Not forcing your body to change fast but letting progress happen gradually from little to more. No pressure to have a quick change. Continual practice and effort and eventually your body gets it. What's true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual. I am learning to be a patient and grateful runner. Someone has said, "Running is a gift from God and I never want to take it for granted." What a blessing to be able to keep moving forward. Life is like running a marathon. You have to say to yourself: "You're not going to run 26 miles. You're going to run 1 mile 26 times."
3:20 PM Would you also consider spending more time outdoors in 2020? How much time have you spent outside today? Be honest. The average American spends about 93 percent of their time indoors either in buildings or in vehicles. Now more than ever it's important to get outdoors, breathe in some fresh air, enjoy some sunshine, and revel in God's creation.
2:22 PM Here's a lesson from running that I think is applicable to the body of Christ. When I first started running 4 years ago, I thought that running involved simply pushing off with your legs and that's all. I thought, "We push our body forward with our legs and feet." But that's simply not true. If you look at where most running injuries occur, they're from the knees down -- in the legs and feet. That's because we often forget to use all of those strong core muscles that are above the knees, muscles that are actually built for moving our legs forward. Why on earth would we want to use only the tail end of the body to do what the entire body should be doing? That's neither safe nor efficient. Nowadays, I'm trying to work more from my core by engaging my upper body when I run (as in getting my arm swing to cooperate with my legs). The result is a very pleasant upper-lower body synchronicity. Just look at Eliud Kipchoge.
When your running is balanced, when every part of your body is playing its proportionate role, there's no part that overworks. "Each according to its ability," is the way the apostle Paul might have put it. This means that how I hold my hands can make a real difference in running. Ditto for how I hold my head (which is 15 percent of a person's body weight). Running should be a whole body effort. That's why in the church I want to see the abolition of the laity. Not the clergy, but the laity. All the people of God -- every single member of Christ's body, both the so-called clergy and the so-called laity -- must be elevated to their true dignity as ministers of Jesus Christ. This is not anticlericalism. It is simply liberating all God's people to be all that He is calling them to be and to do.
Oh, the genius of God in how He created both the human body and the body of Christ!
1:12 PM Would you also consider not comparing yourself to anyone else in 2020? We look at other people and think we want to be like them without realizing all the effort it took for them to get where they are. The married couple that looks so happy? They've probably worked their tails off trying to make things work and may have even gone through a period when their marriage was on the rocks. That person who's successful in their career? You don't see how hard they worked in the off hours paying their dues. Nothing that's worth having comes easily. I don't know anyone who's achieved their goals effortlessly.
12:45 PM A 30 minute swim and a 5K walk are in the books. Tomorrow? A 20 mile (or more) bike, Lord willing. Trying to remember that more isn't always better.
9:25 AM Excellent description of church eldership from J. D. Payne's Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers (p. 101):
8:45 AM It's that time of the year again. Time to do something new with our lives in 2020. The end of a year brings not only tender memories of things past but a realization that time is fleeting. Just as we need to spend our money more carefully when we have less of it, so we need to wisely invest what remains of our days. Would you consider beginning every day in 2020 with God? We will never get off to a good start without Him. John Stott once described how he started every day. He would swing his legs over the side of the bed and, before taking his first step, offer a Trinitarian prayer:
How foolish of us to ever start anything without Him! Whatever the new day may hold, make sure of this one thing: "In the beginning, God" (Gen. 1:1).
Thursday, December 26
2:20 PM What a beautiful day for running. Warm and sunny. Today I began a 6-month training block for my marathon in June. I am using the MAF Method (Maximum Aerobic Function) that emphasizes the importance of slow heart rate training at a slow pace. This past year my training routine called for alternating easy and hard days. Not any more. In the sport of rowing they use the term "steady state" to describe what I'm taking about. The majority of training is done at a low heart rate and only occasionally do you go anaerobic. The key is knowing your body type and your racing goals. I will never be a fast runner, of that I am sure. My body just isn't made for it. That said, while I have very few fast twitch muscles, I seem to have been blessed with a good number of slow twitch muscles. This means that I'm a lousy sprinter but have the potential to be a good endurance runner. I may not be fast but my body has been able to complete 22 half marathons, 16 full marathons, and one 31-mile trail race all well under the course time limits. Some have complained that "Long slow distance running makes for slow runners." But since I'm never going to be competitive, and since my goal is to run for general health, that's no concern of mine. The MAF Method seems perfect for people like me who want to handle higher training volume, recover faster from their workouts, and stay injury free. This means that I will be running at a much lower intensity than most runners out there. Can't wait to see the results. Today I maintained an average heart rate of 117 beats per minute for 5 miles, which is right on target.
The key is to stay slow and relaxed, and then rest and recover.
My plan is to stick with the MAR Method for 4 months and then add in some speed work, all the while continuing to do cross training (swimming and cycling) on my off days. It seems to me that too many people are running too hard too often and therefore become prone to injury. I know, because that was me in 2019. So I'm a believer, I'm a believer, folks. As I've often said on this blog, I love the half marathon distance. I can actually run the entire 13.1 miles if I go out slow and remain relaxed. Will I ever be able to do that in a 26.2 mile marathon? Time will tell. For now, I just want to get really good at running slow. As for eating, I'm not a vegetarian but I do eat more vegetables than meat and I try to cook all my meals from scratch. When I do cook with meat it's usually organic. I am eating more fruits and vegetables than at any other time in my life. And I allow my sleep to follow a natural rhythm (no alarm clocks). Of course, I do allow for special eating excursions if you know what I mean. After all, I'm not a robot!
Time for a long rest and then back to writing. I'm enjoying my time off from teaching immensely but I still have a hankering to get back into the classroom. Boy, do I have a hankering. I miss it!
7:45 AM I've been finding Tim Grass's F. F. Bruce: A Life stimulating reading over the winter break. The book opens a window into the some of the reasons Bruce's life and ministry have had such a global impact, especially on evangelical scholarship. It is impossible to read it without learning a lot about the teaching profession. Tim Grass paints a compelling portrait filled with valuable lessons for any who would aspire to be servant leaders in Christ's church.
In 1992 I had the honor of publishing a Festschrift in honor of New Testament scholar Harold Greenlee.
Contributors included (among others) Gordon Fee, Moisés Silva, Keith Elliott, Sakae Kubo, Bruce Metzger, and F. F. Bruce. Bruce's chapter was entitled "Textual Problems in the Epistle to the Hebrews." I still have in my possession the typescript of the essay he sent me. Yes, I said typescript, including white out markings! It turned out to be one of the last contributions from Bruce's prolific pen and, in fact, was published posthumously. As a lover of all things Hebrews, I was keenly interested to see what Bruce had to say about these textual variants.
I have learned much from F. F. Bruce, just as I have from the other contributors to the Festschrift. I admired Bruce for his swift grasp of an issue. I admired him for his massive learning. I admired him for the way he wrote books that were utterly scholarly on the one hand and utterly lucid on the other. I admired him for his passion for evangelism and for his example of full involvement in the local church. These and many other qualities in Bruce's life are admirably pointed out in Grass's book. In the coming days I hope to call our attention to a few of them. I hope my thoughts may attract a new generation of New Testament students to appreciate the life and work of this humble scholar and churchman.
Wednesday, December 25
12:35 PM Yes, I've really done it. I've committed myself to teaching Koine Greek again in a local church setting. Wrapped up the planning for it last night at Clearview Church. I imagine people who take the class (which starts in February) will fall into two groups: Either they've had some Greek before but have forgotten it, or they have never studied the language. There may also be a third category of people. I'll call them language nerds. You know who they are. They sit around arguing over whether "In principio erat verbum" (John 1:1) should be pronounced in classical Latin or church Latin, whether Hawaiian Creole is a dialect of English or a language in its own right, and why some languages have grammatical gender and others don't. They're people who love ordering Mexican food in (often faulty) Spanish and who read instruction manuals not only in English but French and German. They not only know what cognates are but go out of their way looking for them, people whose idea of a good time is getting out the Scrabble board.
Which category you fall into depends on your tolerance to pain and your eagerness to learn an inflected language (which Greek is). My class will be predicated on several assumptions, the first being that Koine Greek is not really all that hard to learn. It's just a matter of a little self-discipline and time management. Second, it's not boring. After all, the New Testament was written in it. So was the Septuagint. So you're certainly not wasting your time becoming acquainted with it. Third, Greek has had an influence on the English we all speak, given that many English words derive from their ancient Greek counterparts. Finally, master Greek and you will likely be able to learn other Indo-European languages like French and German with much greater ease.
Not too shabby a deal for 9 or 10 months' worth of study.
What will you learn by the end of the course? Well, you won't be able to speak Koine Greek. Sorry about that. Practically nobody learns Koine Greek to speak it. Not saying that's right or wrong; it's just a reality. What you will learn in our class is how to conjugate and decline Greek words, how to translate simple sentences into English, and how Greek can help you better understand the New Testament. The course is organized so that you can jump in without any previous language experience at all. Zero, zilch, nada.
So what's preventing you from learning Greek? If you're intimidated because you've never studied an ancient language before, or bewildered by beginning Greek grammars that are just too dense and verbose, or just don't know where to begin, then our course Greek for Everyone is just for you. Our book Learn to Read New Testament Greek is designed to overcome just these obstacles. It's divided into 26 simple chapters that explain the fundamentals of Greek grammar in a way that anyone can grasp. New concepts are introduced in a gradual and systematic way. And you immediately apply what you've learned by translating simple sentences at the end of every chapter. (The sentences include only vocabulary covered to that point.) For additional help and instruction, we have a 24-set DVD series that teaches through every chapter of the book. No cartoon animals, just grammar presented as simply as possible.
The study of Greek is addictive. I was "bit" by the language bug when I took Greek in college. In fact, I was so excited to discover that I could learn a foreign language that I've studied several others since then. I always look for textbooks that are easy to read and that cut to the chase without extraneous material. I look for books that move me along slowly and methodically without rushing me. I look for practice exercises that are repetitious because constant repetition makes things more understandable. I feel confident that the study of Greek will help set you up for success when you begin to study other languages. I'm just relearning Spanish and I'm loving the simple textbooks I've acquired.
Is Greek a good language to learn in 2020? Yes, I'd say so. I once heard someone say, "Life's too short to study a foreign language." They have a point. To learn to read New Testament Greek depends on how determined you are and how clear your goals are. I will just say this: If you have clear goals, nothing will be able to stop you. The best way to learn a new language is to jump right in!
Tuesday, December 24
9:34 AM This morning I'm continuing to prep for my spring classes. In Greek 2 this coming semester we will begin our translation of the book of 1 John. It's a little book that promotes holiness, deepens fellowship among believers, informs worship, inspires hope, and stimulates sound doctrine. John is emphatically not a pragmatist. He is first and foremost a truth lover who is concerned to allow his beliefs to determine his actions. Again and again he refers to the foundational truths of Christianity, that Christ is God in the flesh, that He died for our sins, and that He was raised and is coming back. In other words, if it is the church that spreads the gospel, it is the gospel that shapes the church. The theme of 1 John is perhaps: How the church must live according to the gospel. This is so essential in a day of politicized evangelicalism. We have become known more as people who preach the gospel than as people who live and adorn it. To our current neglect of Christian ethics, 1 John presents a striking contrast. What John teaches is not only the essence of the good news but also the essence of the good life. And right from the beginning converts are told that the new life in Christ is a holy life.
I just thank God that each of us, regardless of our political affiliations, stands equal before God. And someday soon, all of us will be asked to give an account for our lives. The question will not be, How did you measure up to God's standards? It will be, how did I?
9:10 AM So few churches have Christmas Eve services nowadays. So if you're looking for a place to attend this evening, please consider joining me at Clearview Church in Henderson, NC. Service starts at 8:00 pm. Communion will be served.
7:44 AM Disclaimer right up front: I love to read the Gospels in Hebrew, especially According to Matthew. Read 3 chapters this morning.
Not seldom does God bring to mind the truth that Yeshua was and is the Mashiach of Yisra'el. Not saying that Matthew (Mattai) was originally written in Hebrew (though some believe this), just saying that there's a strong Semitic substratum in this Gospel that enriches my understanding of the text. In my Gospels class next semester I look forward to bringing out some of these, including names like Yosef, Miryam, Yirmeyah, Mitzrayim, Hordos, Yehudah, Beit-Lechem, Yehudim, Yochanan, Prushim, Avraham, Kefar Nachum, etc. Matthew was written during the Jerusalem phase of the church (Acts 1-12) under the leadership of Peter. The other phases are:
I think there's strong evidence that the scroll of Matthew was in existence within 10 years of the resurrection and that Paul had a copy of Matthew with him on his missionary journeys. (He seems to quote from Matthew in his earliest letter, 1 Thessalonians.) What more reason do we need than to study Matthew in depth? Y'all look at what he writes about the birth narrative of Yeshua.
Some of us (mainly me) get pretty excited about stuff like this. Deeply honored to be able to teach this Gospel in just a few weeks.
Rejoicing with you in our Savior's birth!
Monday, December 23
7:55 PM Two weeks from today our Greek 1 class begins. It will run for 3 weeks. I think this must be the 15th time I've done J-Term Greek since I began teaching at the seminary 21 years ago. I've always enjoyed this class. I see we've got 32 students enrolled so far. I love teaching Greek, in case you haven't noticed. I love to watch inspiring students give their best and work hard toward their goals. I enjoy teaching any student who is eager to learn. And students who sign up for an intensive tend to do very well. There's not a great deal of research into the value of intensive courses over semester-long courses, but from what I've read, the evidence seems to indicate that compressed-format courses are as good as semester-long courses. (One study concluded that compressed courses even led to greater academic success.) Personally speaking, I would rather take one class every 3 weeks than take 5 classes every 15 weeks. But that's just me. I like to concentrate on one thing at a time. I also think that teachers and students form closer relationships in compressed courses than in traditional ones. Learning a new subject is a never-ending task. But just because learning is long doesn't mean it has to be slow. An intensive course means that you're constantly engaged with the language, and this immersion method can power up your skills and confidence for when you begin Greek 2 in the spring. If you're looking for something to rocket launch your Greek skills, a Greek intensive might be just the thing. It's not for everyone, of course. But for those who want to put in that extra push, it's a great way to accumulate credits.
2:56 PM Excellent marathon training day here in Southside Virginia. I'm encouraged by a 1 hour workout at the Y followed by a 5 mile run at the track.
Excited to get some rest and then do some writing this evening.
The marathon journey continues to progress at the end of 2019 and into 2020.
We must stay patient in pursuit of the Jackson River Trail Marathon in June. I will talk more soon about marathon training and workouts in the days ahead.
8:12 AM This is the week. The week to soak up every minute with people who make your heart smile. Be present with them this week. They are enough just the way they are. More than enough. No, family is never ever what we expect. Still, I could not have dreamed up a life that's better than the one I have now. Blessing after blessing after blessing. It's all about perspective. Making the most of it. Not sweating the irrelevant. Rolling with the punches when things don't go as planned.
I wish you a wonderful, spectacular Christmas week. Reminder: Turn off your phone. Honor the little stuff. No politics allowed. Stay centered in Jesus.
Merry Christmas my friends!
Sunday, December 22
9:38 PM Friend: "Ich bin lernen Deutsch." Me: "Obviously."
9:04 PM Today I've been working on my race schedule for 2020. Yes, folks, it's that time of the year when we look ahead to fresh adventures. Did I mention that I've decided on my 2020 marathon race? I'm really excited about it. I decided it would be a race I haven't run before (for variety's sake) and it would be between April and October (to avoid the cold weather) and it would be on a good running surface (crushed gravel preferably) and it would be scenic and in a place I've never been before. And the winner is ...
The Jackson River Scenic Trail Marathon!
The date is Saturday, June 27, which means it comes after my 6-week summer school session is over. Perfect timing. The location is a place called Covington, which is about a 4-hour drive away in the scenic Allegheny highlands of Virginia. It's held in conjunction with -- get this -- the Covington Cork and Pork Festival BBQ Competition. Can you believe it? Everyone knows that my main spiritual gift is eating. The trail, I'm told, is mostly flat with a few small hills, and it's all on crushed gravel.
Watcha think? Nice, eh?
This will be my biggie race for the new year and the one I will be training for. Part of me just hopes for a strong finish but another part of me wants a new marathon PR (I got my last one at the St. George Marathon in Utah 2 years ago). Today I'm also penciling in a few lesser-distance races. I am only picking goals I am extremely excited about. No "shoulds." I'm liking the idea of doing another ultra-marathon in the summer or fall and, as I said before, I'm definitely going to add in some triathlons, for sure the one they hold in Wake Forest every year. I'm still very much on the fence about adding a second marathon for 2020, but I don't want to overcommit, especially in view of a heavy teaching load this coming summer and fall.
Speaking of running, I'm about to lose another toenail. I work hard, folks, to get my feet looking so ugly!
Finally, as you know, I'm a sucker for inspiration. Tonight I dusted off this book.
Sure, it's a biography of John Stott, but it's so much more. It's fascinating to me that Stott's story closely parallels the story of global evangelization in the past century. At All Souls Church in London it was Stott who gave the lead to the many-textured form of evangelism we're so used to in the 21st century. When I was in college, there was a good deal of emphasis on technique. Today there's a lot more relational evangelism taking place, which is all to the good when you realize that personal relationships have always been more important than methods. The best thing so far is that this book reminds me of the importance of prayer when it comes to evangelism. Nothing of substance can be achieved without it. Stott believed that an evangelizing church is always a praying church if for no other reason than the fact that God alone is the evangelist. In what ways can I be more of an effective prayer warrior in 2020? Be honest. Do you pray for your lost friends as much as you should? I know what the answer is for me and I don't like it.
Stay tuned for more on this subject later.
7:46 AM In Romans 15 this morning. Reminded that Paul's ministry went through stages. This happens to us as well. We all grow. We all mature. We all develop. We all move from one stage of life to another. In Romans 15, Paul looks back on his ministry and, in effect, says, "I have fully proclaimed the gospel in the East. It's now time to finish the great task of planting the gospel in the remainder of the Roman Empire, that is, as far as Spain." There are two principles of life that occur to me:
1) Paul was being true to himself. Paul wasn't a local church pastor. Paul was a missionary/church planter, a trail-blazer for the gospel. If he has planted, let others water! I must move on! Paul had one and only one ambition in life: to establish new congregations, not to build on someone else's foundation.
2) What enabled Paul to say that it was time for him to move on? It was the fact that he could entrust his previous work into the hands of helpers like Epaphras (who established the church in Colosse) and others. Paul left no orphans behind!
I spent many minutes in prayer this morning asking the Lord to make clear to me His path in the coming years. As I write this blog post I am planning my international travel for the next two years. To the Greek mind, time was a circle imprisoning life until the soul was released through death. To the Hebrew (and Christian) mind, however, life was more of a line from past to present, the line of God's redemptive purposes. Life was therefore meaningful. God has always been beside us on the road and is even now in charge of the route.
Of one thing I am sure. God leads His dear children along, as the old song puts it. Since 2004 Becky and I were involved in ministry in Ethiopia, where she was raised as an MK. This meant 14 trips for her and 17 for me. It's been several years since I've been back. This was not unintentional. If Becky's parents planted, Becky and I watered. Our work in Ethiopia was a most wonderful thing. But our work there is now completed. It's time for others to carry it forward. Our ministry there will either rise like the Phoenix or go down in flames but we leave that in the hands of God.
In recent years I've made 13 trips to Asia to assist in the training of pastors. It was an unavoidable call. As we all know, in much of the world there has been much numerical growth without very much depth. There hasn't been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth in members. Into this situation I found myself teaching Greek. I saw myself as a clay pot -- common stuff, replaceable, but holding a priceless treasure that I was eager to pass on to others. That has now been done, and I sense it is time to pass the baton.
What's the next place in God's plan for my international ministry? What is my "place," after all? What was our Lord's place? It was that of a servant. A lowly slave. Can it be any different for those of us who claim to follow Him? Christ's servants must be humble enough to be flexible. Paul certainly was. His obedience to the Father enabled him to do anything, go anywhere the Spirit sent him. No wonder he wrote, "There must be no room for rivalry and personal vanity among you, but you must humbly reckon others more important than yourselves. Look to each other's interest and not merely to your own." If we think of others before ourselves, everything else will fall into place. God will never disappoint us. He has a good purpose for every one of His children. Is there any joy more exhilarating than the joy of knowing He will help you maneuver through the stages of life? He cares about these things and more. You've got His word on it.
Saturday, December 21
7:26 PM Next marathon chosen! Can't wait to tell you! More info soon.
2:22 PM Watch till the end.
2:04 PM Just fed hay to all the animals, having earlier gotten in a 20-mile bike at the trail between LaCrosse and Brodnax, VA.
The sun was out but there was absolutely no warmth in it.
My feet still haven't thawed. The shivering didn't stop until I took a hot shower and downed some spicy ramen soup. Every year when it gets cold I turn into an idiot. I forget that I'm supposed to dress warmly. Maybe one day I'll learn. I enjoy the summer months so much that I forget that it will get cold again. Not exactly the perfect way to begin your day but I wouldn't change it for the world. We exercise nuts do these crazy things for the experience. We do them to make memories. We do them because life would be so boring if we didn't do them. And to think: People in Florida are still wearing tank tops and shorts. Maybe this winter I'll invest in some tech wool underwear.
Off for a long (warm) nap.
8:55 AM The 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters ended yesterday at the famous Banzai Pipeline. The waves were the definition of perfection. Enjoy some unbelievable rides from my home state.
7:20 AM I just ordered on Amazon the biographies of F. F. Bruce and Bruce Manning Metzger. Will make excellent reading over the break. I already have Bruce's autobiography, Reminiscences of an Octogenarian. In it he writes these thoughtful words.
I grew up in a church culture where transparent preaching was an oxymoron. The church, after all, needed to remain churchy. Something as marvelous as God's family must remain mysterious. Since then I've discovered that Christian leaders are just ordinary people who have the same struggles I have and sometimes act Christianly and sometimes don't. Today, at the age of 67, the curtain has become much thinner than when I was 16. Ironically, the grave danger of being transparent with people is being overly transparent. So everyone keeps pretending.
I will just say this. I agree with the author who once said that in even the happiest of Christian lives there are deep pockets of incurable pain. That's true of all of us. Perhaps that's why James instructs us to confess our faults one to another and to pray for each other so that we might be healed. A good example of this openness, of this transparency, of this vulnerability, is the biography of a former missionary to China. It's called Behind the Ranges: The Life-Changing Story of J. O. Fraser.
It's been called one of the greatest biographies in the history of Christian missions. It was required reading in my Acts class back at Biola. Here was a man who told the truth about what it's like to be broken and hurting. Fraser discovered that operating out of self-protection only took him further and further away from the life of the Spirit. His was a tough battle against self. But God gave shocking grace. Fraser's story reminds me that God delights in using ordinary tools in our lives to change us -- confession, humility, truth, and especially prayer.
I'd encourage you over the holidays to read a good Christian biography if you're able to. You will be glad you did. Think of biographies as mentors at a distance. Allow yourself to get a glimpse into the lives of those who've gone before you. A good biography can help give you context for the decisions we all face. Not every biography is about a giant of the faith, but many are. I look forward to the lessons I will glean from the lives of Fred Bruce and Bruce Metzger over the Christmas break.
Friday, December 20
7:58 PM Tonight was a good time to take my foot off the pedal and slow down a little. Always fun to dine with family, including 5 grandsons. :-)
This is the first time in a long time I'll not be traveling over the holidays so I'm looking forward to many more times like tonight. Christmas is so special. It made salvation possible. Eternal life is simply the gift of God and we are saved through simple faith that receives Jesus as Savior and confesses Him as Lord. Let's never confuse saving faith with cheap believism or false receivism. Salvation involves coming to Christ but it also requires coming after Christ. Believeship must also be discipleship. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for You!
Hope you're enjoying this Christmas season with family. Grateful for you all taking a moment to stop by. See you tomorrow.
12:44 PM Today I did a short run at a new venue -- a nature park in rural Orange County, NC.
This was a familiarization run before next month's trail race there.
I was the only one on the trailhead.
The conditions were easy but that's because the trail was fairly dry.
I'd hate to run it after there was a heavy rain or snow. The trail was so steep and rocky that I almost stumbled and fell several times.
I realize that if I'm going to run this race I'll have to be extra careful. This evening I'm heading out to meet some family for dinner. Other than that, the only other interesting part of my day was a visit to Becky's graveside.
What precious memories of a life well lived. I still feel very much alone, but I'm not lonely. I have found solace in solitude. Truly the words of Isaiah have come true: "Your light will rise like the dawn out of darkness ... and the Lord will satisfy your needs."
It was so peaceful out there today, not only on the trail but at the gravesite. All in all, not a bad way to spend one's morning.
5:30 AM This morning, as usual, I was wide awake and out of bed by 5:00 am. For some reason the word "discipline" is on my mind this morning. When you think about it, discipline is what Christian discipleship is all about. In a way, it defines the very essence of our life as Jesus followers. Which raises a question: How disciplined am I? As a runner, very much so. I've already plotted out where I will run today and for how long and at what pace. Runners realize that hard work and discipline always pay off. They have acquired tons of patience and endurance by daily disciplining their lives. They understand that we are all stronger than we think. They learn that just because you are old doesn't mean that you should stop pushing yourself or setting new goals.
Spiritual discipline, of course, is vastly more important than physical discipline. Being disciplined is different for everyone, so I can only tell you what works for me. I never start a day without spending time with the Lord, in His presence, in His word. Discipline is a wholehearted yes to God at the beginning of your day. It's knowing yourself to be called, known, taken possession of by the Master. You have heard His voice, and you put yourself anew at His disposal. You value a strong body but you realize that's not what life is all about. Discipline is dealing with failure/heartache/challenges and still getting back on your feet to try again. I think your discipline, drive, determination speaks a lot about your Christianity. Life is about today. There might not be a tomorrow. So we must exercise discipline now. To whatever He says, the answer must be yes.
Do you think this is easy or convenient? Do you think this is effortless? No. It takes discipline. St. John of the Cross put it this way: "Strive to choose, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult. Do not deprive your soul of the agility which it needs to mount up to Him." From His wounded hands come the gifts of love, acceptance, forgiveness, fullness of joy. When discipline becomes a glad surrender to Him, He offers life and utter bliss to those who will follow in His way.
My friend, just because it's hard doesn't mean you should stop. Problem solve and keep moving forward.
Thursday, December 19
5:54 PM Great book here. It's written by one of our chapel speakers a couple of weeks ago.
When I heard him speak I just had to get his book. A few quotes:
What an encouraging book! On our own, we're helpless against sin. Only Jesus can help us off the merry-go-round. All we have to do is take His outstretched hand. But time, my friends, it will take time.
8:10 AM After my 10 mile run yesterday I took a hot shower and began to jot down a few thoughts about what I don't like about this running thing. That's right. I'm usually super positive here about runners and running. But there's something that's been stewing in my brain for a while that I need to talk about with all of you. Hear me out.
When you boil it all down, running is for many (if not most) of us a safe space. It's a place to find the courage we need to keep on running the race of life. It encourages good health and stress relief. It's a place where we find wonderful community. Now don't get me wrong. These are all good things. And they are all reasons why I run. But there's a danger here as well, at least for me. The desire to run, to overcome, to face down big challenges, is a passion that all too often springs from a desire to make our lives better rather than finding God in our problems and living for a better hope. We turn to running to improve our present lives without any thought of eternity. Citizens of this world have two objectives in life: (1) to find happiness, and (2) to influence others to cooperate in that pursuit. Beneath all of our acts of courage and selflessness (we run for charities, right?) all too often lies the motive of self-service that destroys their moral value. We are desperate to make our lives less painful and we will do whatever it takes to reach this goal. Christians, on the other hand, are citizens of another world. In this world we exist as nothing more than pilgrims and strangers -- "resident aliens," as some have put it. Our distinguishing mark is not the pursuit of personal pleasure or happiness but passion for God and His kingdom. We endure hardships not to gratify ourselves but because we belong to Him and are confident of His promises. As a runner, I am constantly tempted to have a worldly perspective on why I run. But when I read the apostle Paul, for example, I see that personal fulfillment is not the highest value, and that individual well-being is not as important as the glory of God. The historic church taught that the end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. For true Christians, nothing matters more than finding, knowing, and loving this God.
That's why I believe running can only take us so far. It is uni-directional, if you will. It focuses on immediate, earthly satisfaction and a consuming desire to succeed personally or professionally. And nothing is wrong with this unless we feel no deeper passion in life. In a sense, running (like any activity that promotes self-actualization) is merely an appetizer for the spiritual. Nothing less than intimacy with Christ can delight our souls with "the richest of fare" (Isa. 55:2 NIV; "the finest food," NLT). Our approach to running must be multi-directional if it is to be eternally satisfying. No, I'm not trying to be a Gnostic and pit the flesh against the spirit or ephemeral beauty against the eternal beauty of heaven. We should absolutely enjoy the good things in this life. God is a God "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Tim. 6:17). But this is merely the milk. The meat is developing a priority for the things of Christ. And to develop this hunger and thirst for Christ, we have to face our worldly hedonism head-on and consider both its source and deficiencies. We have to recognize that no pleasure can completely satisfy us on this earth. The deepest satisfactions in life -- including running -- don't satisfy, they merely point us forward. The path to genuine joy is not in recovering from our wounds but in identifying and repenting of our desire to advance our own well-being more than the glory of God. In other words, neither our personal pain nor the struggle to overcome can serve as the organizing principle of our lives. Unless and until we realize this, running will remain an activity that is merely this-worldly. Yes, it can help, but only so far.
As a runner, I am ever-so-slowly learning to be less desperate for solutions from my pain and more desperate for fellowship with my Lord and Savior in the midst of my pain. I am slowly beginning to realize that nothing I do -- not my running, my racing, my teaching, my writing, my farming, my parenting and grand-parenting -- will provide me with what my soul yearns for the most. I desperately long for God. One moment I'm running a marathon victoriously and the next moment I'm lying face down on the ground, powerless to improve my own life. Then, as it always does, the peace of Christ returns. Once again, my heart is lifted up along with my body and I sing and shout for joy. And slowly I begin to change into the image of the One who alone can satisfy.
The lesson in all of this? Surrender. To the pain. To the unmet dreams. To the grief. To the fear. And then? Trust. Have faith. Keep looking forward. Stay centered in Christ. Onward AND upward. Horizontal AND vertical. This life AND the next. Folks, I have a long way to go before I get there. My spiritual life seems like it's barely begun. It's three steps forward and two steps backwards. So will I stop? Not on your life. Not until my spiritual journey is over.
Happy Friday, and run on my friends!
Wednesday, December 18
6:08 PM Somebody please hit me with the stupid stick. For years I've taught about the Synoptic Problem. I even put together a Power Power of the leading solutions to said problem. But it wasn't until today that I added this slide.
This is a view that deserves much more attention than it's gotten. I know about it because of a man named Robert Lindsey. For many years Lindsey was the pastor of the Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem. (I attended Narkis Street when I was studying in Jerusalem in 1985.) His view is sort of a Lukan priority position. That's right, I said Lukan. Most scholars espouse some form of the Markan priority hypothesis. A few of us (very few I'm afraid) espouse Matthean priority. But Lukan priority? Yep. And the man to read is Robert Lindsey. For more about his view, go here. And remember: All of these scenarios are hypothetical. Which is the more likely? Ah, that's for you to decide.
2:20 PM For some reason today I felt like getting in a 10 mile run while listening to sacred choral and brass music recorded at Westminster Cathedral in England.
What a magnificent combo! This got me to thinking about how richly God has blessed us humans with not only the beauty of nature but the beauty of artistic expression. Sometimes the most enjoyable part of a run has nothing to do with running but everything to do with your senses as they are practically assaulted by the beauty all around you. I could literally feel myself begin to shed all my worries and stressors as the miles unfolded before me. Every single run is like this for me. Every single run brings joy of one sort or another. And the further you progress in running, the more "fun" the hard parts become. What I am enjoying is the endurance that age brings (I knew there was an advantage to getting older!) and of course the side benefit of being able to eat like a 16-year old.
Before I seriously started running I hated it. Now I can hardly live without it :-)
9:02 AM Am sending this email to my J-Term Greek class today:
I wish all of you could be in one of my Greek classes! Come to think of it, maybe you can. Don't forget the Greek class I'm starting at Clearview Church in Henderson on Sunday evening, February 9. Class is free of charge. More details to come!
8:20 AM Mike Bird links to a series of videos made at last year's Markus Barth symposium at Princeton. He also includes a link to some of Barth's audio lectures in English. This is a gold mine. My thanks to Mike for posting it, and my sympathies to him when he bemoans the fact that he never had the good fortune to meet Prof. Barth in person. When I arrived in Basel, Barth had recently succeeded Oscar Cullmann in NT at the university. I got to know both men quite well. My first apartment in that renowned city on the Rhine was on the Birmannsgasse, just a few houses away from Prof. Cullman's home. I have many happy memories of afternoons spent with Dr. Cullmann in the privacy of his personal library. Then, when the winter semester of 1980 began, I had my first class with Prof. Barth, on the Gospel of Mark in fact. After that I spent one evening a week in the Theologisches Seminar on the Nadelberg attending Barth's colloquium. That class was limited to doctoral students, and as I recall it, everyone smoked a pipe except for yours truly. Those were exhilarating -- and terrifying -- times, especially when Barth called on you to respond to something he had just said. Barth and his wife would even take time to host Becky and me in their home in Riehen on the German border. He was a captivating lecturer. In listening to him I often felt like I was reading his father's Church Dogmatics -- one line of text, fifteen lines of detailed footnotes. Even today, his 2-volume commentary on Ephesians is never far from my fingertips. Some academics don't enjoy teaching. Barth wasn't one of them. He used his great knowledge to explain the Bible simply and clearly. He was by all accounts one of the most important and engaging New Testament scholars of the twentieth century and was genuinely respected even by those who disagreed with him. His legacy is indeed a lasting one.
Tuesday, December 17
2:20 PM Heartwarming Christmas sermon here.
(A word or two. One, this man knows how to connect with his audience. Two, if you're learning German, listen carefully to his tone and cadence. Fantastic.)
1:15 PM In 2020 I'm planning on doing 2 sprint triathlons. This will be my 6th and 7th times doing this race. I love this event because:
Most triathletes are competent in each leg of the race but tend to excel in one or two legs over the other. My weakest leg is definitely swimming, which sounds crazy since I was raised in Hawai'i and worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor in California. So today it was back to the pool for a 30-minute swim. I last swam back in September so it felt great to get back into the water. The trainer at the Y was a great encouragement to me today as I worked on the breast stroke. I can swim, sure, but I don't swim well or as efficiently as I could. Let me tell you, the swimmers I've met at a tri are ridiculously fast. I cannot even tell you how helpful it was to be told today what I was doing incorrectly. Here are a couple of action shots.
Things to work on:
I don't know that I'll ever be a super fast swimmer but I do believe I can cut off some time in my races. Getting these pictures is amazingly helpful. Those eureka moments when you get to see how you're doing something wrong or inefficiently is priceless!
9:58 AM Deeply appreciate church history. One of my favorite classes at Basel was on Augustinian theology. In fact, the university even has an entire department devoted to the study of the development of Christian doctrine (they call it Dogmengeschichte).
Back to the Gospels for a minute. Jesus said, "I do not give to you as the world gives." This applies to the titles we use (or should use) in our churches. I won't belabor the point here. But I just have to share with you a little factlet from church history I just discovered. Gregory the First (540-604) was the first monk to become pope. It was he who sent a man named Augustine and a few others to take the Gospel to Britain. At first, Augustine was seized with terror. After all, he was going to a nation known for its paganism and barbarity. Besides, he couldn't speak their language. In a letter, Augustine implored the pope to let him and his companions return home. Gregory wrote back these powerful words:
The pope signed the letter:
There is much talk today about the lead or senior pastor being the first among equals (primus inter pares). If that's true, how did Jesus define "first"? The answer is clear: Lowest, least, last, the servant of all. Maybe we could even say "Servant of the servants of God" or "Minister to the ministers of God." We're trained by the world to want titles of dignity and honor. "Not so among you," said Someone who understood a thing or two about serving. Our way back to wholeness as a church is simply to make ourselves wholly vulnerable to Him and His teaching.
9:36 AM This morning I began a study of the Sermon on the Mount (SOM) in Matthew 5-7.
Not only in the Greek but in the NEB and the Hebrew translation of Delitzsch.
Drain Amazon dry of every book ever written on Christian living and not one of them can begin to compete with these 3 chapters from the Bible. This portion of Scripture is perfectly suited to the New Testament 1 class I'm teaching in the spring. After all, Jesus told us to obey all that "I" have commanded you. Not saying that Jesus' teaching isn't found outside of the 4 Gospels. But Jesus makes sense best when we study His own words. We must waive the lecturing and embrace the listening. Real teachers say, "Don't ignore the Gospels." They say that because they are preparing their students to become disciples.
Love God and follow Him. That's the essence of the SOM. Really, in the end, nothing else matters. If you're ever unsure of what to do, read the SOM. Jesus is the best teacher you will ever hear. But be forewarned. This is not an easy path. But it's the life you want, believe me, this Jesus way of living. I can't imagine a day without Jesus. Without Him my life for sure would be a train wreck. No one is safer. No one loves you more. No one has bigger dreams for you. Not like you wish perhaps. But if you truly make it your habit to follow Jesus, everything else will fall into place. We don't have to be awesome, just faithful.
Monday, December 16
6:22 PM I recently had the opportunity to visit our local cathedral in Durham, NC.
It's part of the research I'm doing for my book Godworld. In part 2 of the book, I'm examining different contemporary expressions of Christendom and even the architectural styles/functions of their church buildings. The gothic cathedral is a magnificent example of functional architecture. New building techniques (such as flying buttresses) enabled architects to spread the weight of the structure.
Church buildings could now, literally, scale new heights and even reach into heaven as it were. Stain glass was used to bring light and color into the building and to illustrate biblical stories for the largely illiterate parishioners.
Gothic cathedrals got their start in the 12th century when French kings, allied with the local bishops, wanted to build new cathedrals as monuments to their power, wealth, and faith. The pulpit, rather than being at the center of the front of the church (as in many Reformed and Evangelical denominations today), is placed to the side of the altar or communion table. This is to symbolize the mass (or communion) as the central focus of weekly worship. The choir members also sit off to the side to avoid the appearance of theatrical exhibition, who otherwise would attract the gaze of the congregation (or "audience").
Lessons here for modern church gatherings? Many indeed, which I'll explore in my book. What applications to modern worship do you see?
1:34 PM For the record, even though I still don't know which marathon I'm running in 2020, I am not being idle in terms of training. I am very grateful that my body lets me do the ridiculous things I ask of it. This morning I spent almost an hour at the Y working on my upper body strength.
Then it was off to the trail to get in an easy 5 mile run.
This is called cross training and I love it.
When all you do is run, you only use certain muscles, so adding in weight training (or swimming or cycling) creates muscle tone and strength in other areas of your body. Of course, all of this training makes me ravenous, and I'm eating much more than I normally would. Many days it's very tempting to eat the entire refrigerator, but balanced nutrition is just as important as getting in all those miles. If I gain a few pounds -- big deal. I'm not training for a marathon to lose weight anyway. I'm carefully watching what I eat so that I can be sure I'm getting enough carbs and protein to fuel my runs and repair my muscles afterwards. I run and train hard, eat well most of the time, and enjoy the muscles I'm developing in the process. Some extra carb stores are okay by me. So I am happy with my weight. You heard that right. I am probably in the minority when I say that. But as long as I'm exercising regularly, I'll let the Lord regulate my body weight, if you get my drift.
Honestly, I miss my old friend the marathon. I need to get one on the calendar soon because I work best when I have a target I'm training for. It will be marathon #17 for me. Can't believe it. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the challenge of the other race distances. Frankly, it just feels good to be doing something with this 67-year old body of mine.
Have you ever done cross training?
Do you enjoy it?
8:20 AM New at our home page: Verbal Aspect in Greek.
7:12 AM Where did 2019 go? Didn't it start just yesterday? Yes, my friend, suddenly the year is drawing to a close. This past year has been somewhat of a blur. I know I've covered a lot of ground, but I'm having trouble remembering the details. Good thing I blog! :-) If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough, I see a year full of growth and some missed opportunities. What have I learned in 2019?
Well, I tried Panera Bread for the first time and learned I love their broccoli-cheese soup. I learned that anything you say about politics will be interpreted as biased, so it's best just to keep your mouth shut. I learned that Phoenix is cold in February. I've learned the value of a VO2 Max test. Just don't ask me to do it again. I've learned that neck massages at RDU are the cat's meow. I've learned who I am -- flawed and beautiful and eager to forgo a life of mediocrity. I've learned to live and love with reckless abandon. I've learned to wear the scars of life proudly. I learned that running the Chicago Marathon for a cancer charity was more fulfilling than if I had just run it for myself. I learned the anguish of waiting upon the Lord as I watched someone I love destroy their life. I've learned that a complicated subject like Greek doesn't have to be dull or boring. I've learned that when you give up one dietary vice (like drinking a Coke every other day) you usually replace it with another. I learned that my day job as a teacher is more rewarding and amazing than I often give it credit for. When I think of 2019, I think of the students I met at Phoenix Seminary, the sunrises I experienced in Hawai'i, the joy of lecturing at Piedmont University, the fantastic linguistics conference God gave us in April, the Flying Pig Marathon in May, the Canon Conference at Clearview Church in Henderson, and celebrating what would have been my 43rd wedding anniversary.
Things I still need to learn? Where do I even begin? I need to learn how to achieve balance in life. Actually, scratch that. I'd rather go a little overboard in life than do too little. I need to learn how to let go. Of relationships. Of self-pity. Of good health (not yet, but that day will come). I need to learn how to speak better Spanish (and French). I need to focus more on what Christ has done for me, not on what I've done. I need to turn the pain of loneliness into prayer. I need to relearn that although to love is to be vulnerable, it's a bazillion times better to get hurt than to live your life constantly mistrusting others.
Who knows what 2020 will hold? Oh, He does of course. Thanks for reading my blog this year. I hope you'll stick with me on my 2020 adventures. Can't wait to see what happens next.
Sunday, December 15
7:05 PM Here are 12 things I'm reminding myself of going into 2020.
1) Do what scares you. Life ain't waiting. Take a risk. You'll be glad you did. Don't listen to others who tell you you can't, because you can.
2) Be a giving person with a humble spirit. Focus on doing for others. To have a good friend you must be a good friend.
3) Be grateful for what you have. If you count your blessings and appreciate what you have, you will have a great life.
4) Find your voice and use it. Don't be someone else. Be the best Dave you can be. Always do and say what is true for you.
5) Don't sweat the small stuff. Let your "bigheartedness" be known to all. Cut people some slack. They will make mistakes and hurt you. That's just part of life.
6) Stay yoked to Jesus. His yoke, so burdensome if borne all alone, is easy.
7) Don't worry about tomorrow. Things never go as planned. Get used to it. Do your best to enjoy what God has in store for you in 2020.
8) If you hurt somebody, say you're sorry. Don't make excuses.
9) Love your students. All of them. Especially the ones who get on your nerves. Your profs did that for you in seminary, remember?
10) Never lose sight of the simple things that make you happy. Make sure you enjoy these things each and every day.
11) Obedience to God is always possible. Christ's purpose in coming to this earth was to do His Father's will. Carrying it out, however, wasn't easy. But He did. My love for God is shown through obedience. Spirit-enabled obedience, to be sure, but obedience nonetheless.
12) If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. Any ordinary task in any ordinary place provides ample opportunity to do this. That said, being perfect is so over-rated. Paul's writings are so powerful partly because he was so transparent. It is always so.
Your aspirations for the New Year?
7:52 AM Throwback Sunday: Oh, the Beauty of Scripture!
7:34 AM Today is the day for the Gathering. Let's never forget that the gathering exists for the going. We are people gathered by the love of Christ, who scatter to be His witnesses. We inhale Christ's life in order to exhale it in the world. Gathering and going, inhaling and exhaling, inspiration and expiration, blessing and sending, edification and proclamation. We can worship for more than an hour today. We can worship while driving home, taking out the trash, cooking supper, doing the dishes, checking up on a neighbor, praying for the lost. Christianity is not just being converted to Christ. It is also allowing ourselves to be converted to a right relationship with the world all around us.
None of us, alone, is adequate for the task. Together, as the body of Christ, we are.
Saturday, December 14
8:48 PM I really didn't know what to expect going in to tonight's Deck the Hills 5K in Alta Vista, VA.
So you bet I was happy with third place in my division and 56th place out of 283 registered runners.
The race was smooth sailing. I paced well and averaged a 10.42 minute/mile on a hilly course.
Another great day in Southern Virginia. Anyone else race this weekend?
12:50 PM Just back from the gym. At my age? Yes, at my age. Psychologist Erik Erikson -- whom I quote in my book The Myth of Adolescence -- once characterized the over-60s crowd as "waiting for death." Well, I just put the terms "exercise for men over 60" into Google search and came up with 263 million results. Back when Erikson wrote, the idea that aging might be a source of personal growth and maturation was either unknown or regarded as icing on the cake if and when it happened. Things have changed drastically in the past 40 years, and even my own parents would have been amazed at the concept of aging today. Our lengthy lifespans and careers require lifestyle choices that we have to consciously make. Baby boomers are reinventing themselves in the search for an identity and purpose that give meaning to their lives. This is the fluid context of life in which I live and move and have my being. It involves a renewed willingness to embrace what God is doing and offers a way of living missionally that is truly transformative. I used to view missional living (that is, living for others) as essentially a human activity that needed to enlist God's help through prayer. Today I see missional living as a divine activity that invites our collaboration as humans. If missional living is something we do, then we can stay in control of things. But if God is the instigator of missional living, when knows where this might lead us and what the results might be? That's why I stopped preaching "revivals" years ago. The vast majority of American church-goers have no idea at all of genuine Christianity. You can't call people back to something they never had. Better to call revivals "Bible conferences" in which we ask people to explore the factual basis of discipleship. Being a "Great Commission Christian" is not just a fancy theological construct but is really true. God actually is at work in the world. Hence the ability to do work of any kind is a pure gift. Becky's death after an agonizing process made me unutterably grateful to God for plain, ordinary chores like washing the dishes or sweeping the floors. The work is there, and by the grace of God I do it. Then, on top of it all, He grants me the unspeakable privilege of equipping students with this wonderful exegetical tool we call Greek. Paul said, "Whatever you are doing, put your whole heart into it, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men, knowing there's a Master who will give you your heritage as a reward for your service." Our age matters not to Him. Baby boomers need not "wait for death." There is work to be done with single-mindedness, out of reverence for the Lord.
My friend, don't ever say, "God has given me nothing to do." He has and He will. All we have to do is, well, do it!
7:20 AM Favorite restaurant anybody? Mine has to be the Seoul Garden in Raleigh, where I celebrated the end of the semester yesterday by wolfing down some delicious spicy stir-fried squid.
If you like both spicy and seafood, this dish is for you. Everything is fresh -- both the squid and the vegetables. Seoul Garden, you are simply the best. My favorite restaurant in Raleigh used to to be the Abyssinia, but it's now closed. It's too bad because it was the best of the three Ethiopian restaurants in the Triangle and had the most authentic food. I suppose the other two restaurants have survived because they've "Americanized" their venues but nothing can beat authentic Ethiopian cuisine and service. As for Korean food, it not only tastes good but is healthy. In fact, Kimchi is one of the healthiest foods in the world, containing plenty of vitamins and minerals. It also aids digestion. I used to quip that the only reason I've made 6 trips to S. Korea was to get my digestive track working properly again. I especially like how Korean food is served without any carb-heavy sides. I can get my carbs elsewhere!
6:55 AM No ultra today for me, as I didn't make the final cut. I'm good with that. In life's hierarchy of needs, food, water, shelter, and health come before a race. It's still raining cats and dogs out there and I imagine the trail conditions will be something less than stellar. Even if I had made it off the waiting list it would have been a tough call. All the best to today's runners. The High Bridge Trail is an awesome venue for an ultra. These ultras are funny things. I mean, who thought, "Let's run 32 miles in the rain and mud and no one will die"? Hope everybody makes it to the finish line without injury.
Today I plan to do some weights at the Y and then a 5K this evening in Alta Vista, VA. The skies should be clear by then. I'll let you know how it goes. I'll nap in between. I have been working on getting more sleep and pushing away from junk miles to more structured miles. Still planning out my race calendar for 2020. I usually plan the bigger races in advance and just sprinkle in the smaller ones as they come. I sign up early out of cheapness (I dunno, it might also be a sense of stewardship). We runners are driven, and sometimes we need to take a step back and rethink our priorities. Life requires striking that happy balance between all of the responsibilities we face on a daily basis. With the semester over, my work as a New Testament prof doesn't slow down. There are book reviews to write, my spring classes to prepare for, an ETS paper in March in Dallas to write, and Godworld won't get written by me just thinking about it. My job as a parent doesn't slow down either. And there's a farm and two big houses to care for. Into this matrix of life we need to blend exercise. When I get in a good workout in the morning, I feel more productive for the rest of the day and you have a "good tired" to look forward to when you go to bed at night, if you know what I mean. And then there are the curveballs life throws at you. Oh my, the curveballs. We march on, folks, we work hard, we love each other. Daily living, that is what it's all about. I would argue that we can find purpose even in "boring" stuff. "The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children" (G. K. Chesterton). Today I'm going to try and make the ordinary extraordinary. I need to clean the house and declutter. That's my "ordinary" for this day. What's yours? I wish you nothing but success as you turn the ordinary into something extraordinary!
Friday, December 13
6:50 PM So excited for our graduates as they begin writing a new chapter in life.
I remember the day I received my M.Div. from Talbot in 1980.
Life was an endless highway back then for us grads and our dreams were out of this world. The sky was the limit! Nothing can really hold you back when it comes to accomplishing the goals you believe the Lord has set before you. Thank you, Becky, for being willing to travel all the way to Switzerland in 1980 for the next leg in our journey together as a married couple. What fun and exciting days those were as we made many new German-speaking friends.
Graduation from Basel meant more teaching and the beginning of a writing career. I would argue that the dilemma is real, ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to quantity versus quality of writing. Yes, I get it, it's very easy to get published today, maybe even a bit too easy. The question we have to ask ourselves is: are we producing quality content? I'm truly grateful that I've been able to meet my writing goals since I graduated from Basel, and lots of good self-discipline was built up in the process. But looking forward to 2020, I'm asking God to give me goals that meet genuine needs out there in the reading world. Quality need not be sacrificed on the altar of quantity if you know what I mean. Graduates, now that you've accomplish the goal of graduation, it's time to set new goals for post-graduation success.
Goals that produce good work, not just much work. When I graduated with my M.Div., I knew I needed to set some challenging and motivating long-term goals. When I woke up every morning, I wanted to work toward accomplishing those goals. Graduates, I encourage you to do the same. Set your sights high. You'll never reach higher. Deal positively and joyfully with setbacks as they arise, as surely they will. That's how God makes us stronger. I'm sure I'm a better man today because I'm a widower than I would have been otherwise. What God calls us to do is always impossible anyway, without His help that is. Our part is simply to say, "Here am I, Lord, send me." Offer up all that you have to Him. Long to know and serve Christ. Discipleship is the utter abandonment of all our rights to the Master. God always honors such an obedient faith. Seek until you find your place of service within the community of God's people. And never forget that God is in the business of taking earthen jars of clay and displaying His power in and through them.
6:12 AM Commencement this morning. Nothing like kicking off the Christmas season with good friends and good cheer at the end of a great semester. Then my holiday officially begins. Here's wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy "Newness" (Rom. 6:4) Year. May the joy of the Lord be yours this day and, yea, henceforth and forevermore. Live like a race, one step at a time!
Best. Christmas. Flash. Mob. Ever.
Thursday, December 12
6:04 PM Time to embrace the winter running, folks, because winter has arrived with a bang.
Today I put in some solid miles on the trail rejoicing that my foot aches were gone. It was a shock to leave the warmth of the Y for the trail, but four layers of outerwear did the job. I love to strive to live a life of activity even during those long winter days where a part of you would prefer to stay indoors enjoying a cup of coffee.
And yes, a hot drink at the local Amish bakery does wonders for your spirits after a long workout and a run in frigid temperatures.
While enjoying my coffee I was able to knock out the reading of a doctoral dissertation prospectus on the text of the book of Acts. No better place to work than a cozy bakery! The art of "wintering" is the art of creating coziness wherever you are, folks. I'm very excited to be moving into the 2020 racing season, which will include one or two marathons, a couple of half marathons, and perhaps another ultra when the weather warms up again. Meanwhile, winter running is here, and it's a fascinating reality all of us have to deal with, especially those of us who grew up in warmer climates.
Winter, I love you!
P.S. Just started this book. It was originally published in 1611!
Wednesday, December 11
3:44 PM To race or not to race, that is the question. Yes indeed, the ultramarathon is upon us this Saturday. But the question marks, oh the question marks. In the first place, I still haven't made it off of the waiting list and into the starting lineup. I remain in fourth place – closer than where I was a week ago but still falling short. Secondly, they're calling for heavy rain all day Friday and Saturday. Finally, I've had a few aches and pains pop up since I last spoke with you on Monday. One pesky issue is the bone on the top of my right foot. It started hurting on Monday night, without any apparent reason. It's probably temporary and nothing major, but you never know in the world of athletics. I have never known a runner who hasn't had to deal with running injuries of some kind. Now is the time for figuring out just what is happening, asking the why and how today so that I can run injury free in the future. In the meantime, it was time to purchase new running shoes at the New Balance store in Durham.
Very pleased with the service there. I plan to do some walking in these new 860s tomorrow. Onward and upward to rise above those pesky little setbacks that we all encounter in life!
3:10 PM The winter break is upon us. How will we stay on top of our Greek during the holidays? Persistence, my friends, persistence. 43 years as a classroom teacher and it was definitely persistence that got me to this point in life. I started teaching in 1976 with no office and an old mimeograph machine for my quizzes and exams. Wouldn't trade those memories for the world. When I think of God's gracious gift of persistence throughout my life I want to sob. Running has been a big part of that. Running is teaching me persistence. I've been running for 4 years and nothing keeps me from running 3 days a week unless my body is telling me to take a break. What a journey life has been. Never easy but very rewarding. I hope you stay focused on your studies even during the holidays. Use or lose it is more than a trite saying. The Christmas break is a time to get back to the grindstone.
My hard-working Greek students attending a pre-exam review in my (crowded) office.
By the way, the registrar just added a second section of beginning Greek to my spring schedule to accommodate those students who are taking me for J-term Greek. You now have a Monday night as well as a Tuesday afternoon option for Greek 2. Meanwhile, my stack of books to read keeps growing. This came this week via ILL.
My oh my, what a great volume it is. I've long admired the work of Albert Vanhoye. He's been writing about the book of Hebrews for his entire career. In fact, when he gave his presidential speech at the Society for New Testament Studies annual meeting several years ago, he quipped that the society, by appointing him president, must have desired to honor the epistle to the Hebrews! If you're even faintly interested in a brief digest of his views on the magnificent structure of Hebrews, I've written this piece. Keep coming back to the blog to see what I have to say about this volume of essays when I'm done reading it.
During the break I'll be house cleaning. As in what Becky used to call "deep cleaning." I'm challenging myself to throw away at least three things! Organization and efficiency, that's the name of the game in this thing we call life. Also, no purchasing Christmas presents this year. I'm supporting a ministry in India instead. Let's all fight together to keep our priorities in the proper order when it comes to finances and life in the New Year.
2020, we're coming for you!
Monday, December 9
6:30 AM Want to do well in Greek? There is no substitute for review and more review. I'll be holding two review sessions in my office today and tomorrow for anyone who wishes to work on translation, parsing, and pronunciation. We'll start at 11:00. Bring your questions. The goal is to finish well and I truly believe a solid hidden ingredient is review on a consistent basis within your daily study regimen. Exciting week for sure out here on the marathon of Greek studies!
Sunday, December 8
6:56 PM Ultra marathon training rolls on, literally out there on the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. 7 days to go until the 50K challenge! So excited for this moment in time when the semester is winding down and one last race is left for the 2019 season. Feels good to have 7.7 miles under my belt on my way to race day.
I'm eager to put down more training miles this week with a bit less intensity toward the end of the week. Stay tuned!
7:45 AM What are your writing goals for 2020? How are you planning to find balance between your writing and your life? What things can you reasonably expect to accomplish next year? It's time, folks, to ply our craft of writing again, this time in a new year. The only way we're going to become writers is by writing. In other words, you can't publish it if you don't write it.
My writing goals for 2020 are slowly taking shape. What do I need to write? What do I want to write? How can I become a better writer in 2020? Those are tough questions, ladies and gentlemen. For me, the bottom line is: What will be the most fulfilling use of my creativity as a writer in 2020? I sincerely believe that everything we want to accomplish in our writing careers is possible, but we have to want to succeed. The recipe for success is simply finding the people who want to read what you write. Nobody owes us their attention. Edifying, encouraging, and challenging your readers makes you a good writer (1 Cor. 14:3).
Someone once called my writing style "minimalistic." That's pretty accurate, I suppose. I hate wasting my readers' time. They just want you to get to the point. In fact, there's nothing I enjoy more than reading a book that's simple without being simplistic. Ditto for sermons. 30 minutes is ample time to to get your point across -- if you're succinct. As a classroom teacher, nothing has done me more good than putting my views "out in the open" as it were. When you publish a defense of Matthean priority or the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, you feel a bit vulnerable. Yet some of the most frequent emails I get today are from people wanting to thank me for challenging them to think outside of the box. In the end, people don't buy a book. They buy the author. I will read anything Packer has written. Or Stott. Or Ellul. Or Swindoll. Or Carson. You're probably the same way.
Today after church I plan on taking a very long walk. Ideas often come to our minds when they're empty. That's why it's important to schedule time just to be. My writing fuels my purpose in life but it doesn't define my existence. The moment I lose my love for writing is the moment I will stop. The best writers I know are real people. They're funny, and they never take themselves too seriously. They have learned the secret of this.
Onward and upward!
Saturday, December 7
6:58 PM 78 years ago, bombs began to fall on Pearl Harbor. "We all did our job and tried to get over it," one survivor said. Tonight, as I always do on Dec. 7, I'll be watching a movie about the attack called Tora! Tora! Tora! It's a classic and very factual and historically accurate, unlike the more recent Pearl Harbor with Ben Affleck. Growing up on O'ahu, I can confirm that the action shots in Tora! are as factually correct as possible. In fact, I grew up right next door to the Kaneohe Marine Corps Naval Air Station, which was also attacked that fateful day, meaning I grew up in a former war zone! This has got to be one of the best WW II movies of all time because it not only shows the attack but also what was going on in the Pacific that made the attack almost inevitable. A huge number of first-class actors are in this movie, far too many to mention here, but every one of them does a masterful job, including the Japanese actors. Incidentally, the leader of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, became a born-again Christian after the war and travelled the world sharing the gospel of the Prince of Peace. You can read his incredible testimony here. Just another reminder that God's love is ferocious and the only cure for the sin and hatred within us. Parents, please consider sharing it with your children. We live in a fallen world where terrible things happen, but we also live in a world filled with redemption, beauty, miracles, wholeness, and healing.
Off to make popcorn ....
11:06 AM Today's Frosty Run 10K in Wake Forest is in the books. This race is without doubt one of the most colorful I've ever participated in. Lots of Santa Clauses and rein deer out there if you know what I mean. I'm overall very pleased with my results and with a time of 1:04:51 I'm hungry already for more racing in the near future. Still on the waiting list for next weekend's ultra in Farmville but the good news is that I've gone up from #12 to #5. Putting together a race schedule is simply a dance between time and creativity, and "knowing thyself" as Socrates said. Practice makes perfect!
Friday, December 6
7:46 PM Today, while reading 1 Thessalonians 5, I saw something I had never seen before, or if I had, it had never registered before. In 1 Thess. 5:10, Paul says that Christ died for us "so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him." Christ didn't die for us so that we might be forgiven. Christ died for us so that, once forgiven, we might share in His life. And that life is nothing less than unending self-giving for others. As all of my students know, this is a constant theme in my teaching. I can hear some of them perhaps saying, "That Dr. Black. Always insisting on dragging sacrificial service into every discussion. It's a positive obsession with him." And they would not be wrong. For what good is all of our head knowledge without practical obedience? I have no time for emotional Christianity that has little or no intellectual content. On the other hand, I have an equal determination in my teaching to reach both the head and the heart (and the hands and the feet as well). Little wonder the early church gave the utmost attention to good works. God hasn't called us to live in the first century. We must struggle to understand -- and flesh out our Christianity -- in the contemporary scene. My wish is that my students both live under the truth of the Gospel and communicate it in such a way that its meaning and contemporary relevance are made clear. I once heard a story about that great Cambridge Greek scholar B. F. Westcott. Once, while traveling by bus, he was asked if he was saved. With a twinkle in his eye he replied, "Well, it depends on what you mean. Do you mean sōzomenos or sesōsmenos or sōthēsomenos?", using the present, perfect, and future tense of the verb "I save," sōzō. Our past salvation frees us from guilt. Our present salvation frees us from the bondage to our old self-centered nature, so that we can love God and serve others. And our future salvation frees us from all fear of God's eternal punishment. When we receive Christ into our hearts as our Savior, we put Him in the center of our lives and move ourselves out to the circumference. We now find our freedom in loving and serving others. This is what Paul means by "we may live together with Him." It is the selfless Christ-life, in and through us. Christ not only taught this. He lived it. His own life was spent demonstrating the value He put on people.
To sum it up in a single sentence: He who claims to be both our Savior and Lord now stands before us offering, if only we come to Him, freedom to live daily in His presence and to share His love with others. Love, indeed, is what life is all about.
1:08 PM Hey folks! Today I again combined strength training (weight lifting) with a good old fashioned run.
It feels good to be doing something different than just run all the time.
Exercise is not meant to be torture or to make your life miserable. We do this for fun, remember? Sure, I want to be able to run faster, but even more than that I want to be able run well into my 80s. You can't do that if you're always beating your body up. I'm also trying to be wise about my weight. I train hard, eat well most of the time, and I love the muscles I'm developing in the process, but I'm also not losing any weight. However, a couple of extra pounds for carb-storing are okay. I don't train to lose weight, but it's nice when it happens. Personally I think putting on some weight before a big race is a good thing because it's hard to go into a run where you may burn 2,000 calories if you haven't been taking in enough calories. I have finally accepted the fact that when I train for a really long race I won't lose any weight because I have to refuel constantly. As long as my clothes continue to fit I'm happy. This, for example, was my lunch today after my workout.
Oh my, nothing tastes better than a cheeseburger from Dairy Dell in South Boston, VA. Now, if I put on 20 pounds while I'm training -- that's another story. The moral here? Strive to maintain a good perspective on every moment.
7:56 AM The one and only John Stott presents a clear and classic case for Gospel living in this wonderful commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, which I'm requiring in Greek 4 (exegesis of 1 Thessalonians) during Spring Break, 2020.
Yes, I've begun preparing for that class even though it's still several months away. Can never be too prepared! This is a landmark commentary that everyone in the world should read both for its profound insights and its conciseness. I'm not exaggerating. Students don't need to buy books for classes unless those books are classics. Stott has a very direct way of explaining his points and backs up each claim with parallel Scripture references. When reading a section, I often have to stop and process what he is saying for a few seconds and look up all the helpful cross-references.
It's one of those books in which you can almost feel Jesus speaking to you in its pages, so pastoral is the author's tone and message. This morning I was working through 1 Thess. 4:1-8, underlining a good many statements of Stott's such as:
As I said, this is an excellent commentary in every way. Clear, winsome, and surprisingly comprehensive. Though it's a bit dated, it still must be one of the go-to books for anyone wanting an introduction to the Thessalonian epistles. Reading it is a lot like listening to a well-constructed sermon. It would be excellent to use to ground a new believer but also as a refresher for mature believers. There is also a workbook at the end with study questions. Stott, by the way, was a representative of the older evangelicalism in which I was raised, which combined theological conservatism with an openness to the broader culture and to the sciences without at the same time seeking political power. In Stott you will find no trace of the political assertiveness that so often accompanies modern evangelical writers. Stott's tone is always warm and friendly. He has an easy to understand writing style and yet he never dumbs down the fundamental truths of the faith. 1 Thessalonians is the first book I recommend for someone who is trying to understand basic Christianity. It is an absolute Christian essential. And Stott's brief introduction is the perfect entrée because it so clearly explains who Christ is and how we can live for Him. Stott's section on "the teaching of ethics" alone is worth the price of the book. Let's be honest: Most Christians pick up their theology and ethics the way most dogs pick up fleas. Wouldn't it be better to get the facts up front?
Can't wait to use this book in class!
Thursday, December 5
6:42 PM It's time. To race again that is. This Saturday I've registered for the Frosty Run 10K in Wake Forest, NC. The race is a fundraising event for a great cause -- the Tri-Area Ministry Food Pantry. Then, a week later, I've signed up for the Freight Train 50K in Farmville, VA -- a 31 mile-race on the historic High River Bridge Trail. Actually, I'm one of 12 applicants on the waiting list to get into this race. I'm hoping Ill be given a spot even though finishing an ultramarathon is about as easy as getting body-slammed by Hulk Hogan. My last 31-mile trail run took me almost 8 hours to complete. My ears were the only parts of my body that weren't hurting. Either way, I'm ready to end 2019 with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. You better believe I'll be thinking about the undeserved blessings of the past year. "Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours" (2 Cor. 4:10). Which reminds me: I'm doing this for a reason -- to shake up my routine and to shake off the sloth. No longer can I default to normal, mindless, thoughtless living. "Strive to choose, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult," wrote St. John of the Cross. "Do not deprive your soul of the agility which it needs to mount up to Him." The knowledge that our bodies will one day be raised as spiritual bodies should give us pause and spur us on to think of the use God can make of them in this world, even though flesh and blood can never inherit the kingdom. The ability to walk, run, or simply to move is a miracle of God's grace. Let's never imagine it is anything less. Let us dream together as we gaze toward the heavens, especially with 2020 on the horizon. Don't forget to dream, folks, don't ever forget to dream.
4:40 PM Nice day on campus today for meetings and writing. Also for planning out my writing schedule for 2020, which includes reviewing this book.
Don't get me started on how much I love the book of Hebrews. That said, it's almost impossible to keep up with all of the books being written about Hebrews nowadays, so I just try to tackle one book at a time. Looking forward to reading it this weekend and then writing up my review next week. Stay tuned for my other writing goals for 2020.
Wednesday, December 4
7:22 PM I love foreign languages. I love learning their vocabulary. I love learning their grammar. I love speaking them. I love comparing them, like I did in chapel yesterday. The text was Col. 2:1-5, and I had with me my Greek, Hebrew, German, French, and Spanish Bibles -- all hard copies. Language learning should be a joy but sometimes it can become a drag. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Do you always read only your English Bible in church or chapel? Try taking along the Bible in a foreign language you're studying. Note important phrases and vocabulary in that language during the sermon. It's an easy routine that I follow and I draw tremendous benefits from it. If you focus on making a little progress every day, you'll get where you want to be eventually. By the way, the verse I'm analyzing in the picture below is Col. 2:3: "In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
For me, it was amazing to compare the Greek with the French, Spanish, and German. Can you figure out what the French word for "knowledge" is? It might surprise you.
Folks, we need to stop trying to "learn" languages and start the enjoyable work of "acquiring" them.
6:45 PM Towel and basin ministry reports in NT 2 class today and, oh my, they were a blessing to hear. Also prepped my Greek 1 class for their final next week. Can you believe we're half way through our beginning Greek grammar? The hay is almost in the barn! Overall I am very pleased with the way this semester is winding down. Being a student is a lot like being a runner -- miles of suffering mixed with pure bliss. I will walk away from this fall semester with many happy memories of being with my students inside and outside of class. Glad you could come along for the journey.
Not sure what my December travel plans are but a trip to Dallas to visit mom and dad is not out of the picture. I might also do another ultra marathon a week from Saturday depending on my freshness and the weather. The goal of running is always to get to the starting line as fresh and as fit as possible. Wrestling with this prospect of closing out the running year with an ultra is a vexing proposition at this point in time. Waiting upon the Lord to show me the way. 32 miles is a long way to run. Ultra racing is about 80 percent physical and 80 percent mental, if you know what I mean. So we will see. Right now it's time to recover (active recovery) from three days of teaching. Time to keep fighting for excellence in life as a teacher and a person.
Monday, December 2
6:45 AM Do modern Greeks who've studied ancient Greek remember what they've studied? The answer is here:
If speakers of modern Greek tend to forget everything they learned in school, how much more likely is this to happen to those of us non-Greeks who've studied Koine? I think we'd be well advised to remember two facts of life. First, despite the claims made by some today, relatively little is known about how to achieve language retention when it comes to the biblical languages. Second, much of what is known will not work. If taken seriously, these two comments should discourage us from attempting to study Greek in the first place. The alternative, however, is even more unacceptable.
I think we forget our Greek for two main reasons: We stop studying it, and we stop using it. This is true of everything in life. How much do you remember of high school calculus? So what to do? Tips abound. Maintain a set schedule of when you will refresh your Greek. Read books or watch videos about Greek. Hire a tutor for occasional checkups. Read Greek daily. Accept the fact that learning a language is a lifelong process.
Good advice, for sure. But none of them holds the key to language retention in my opinion. Want to retain your Greek? Then you have to fall in love with the language. The languages I've loved I've retained. The languages I haven't loved I've forgotten. It's as simple as that. In short, Greek is my very best friend. I love to look for tiny technicalities in the text. I love to discover differences in how the text is translated into English. I am fascinated by what linguists are saying about how Greek works. I just enjoy the whole process of studying Greek.
Learning a language is like falling in love. It's amazing to see the myriads of similarities between having affection for a person and having affection for a language. This has been my approach to learning (and retaining) languages. If you study a language without loving it, you will probably never improve. So if at all possible, choose to study a language you love. Growing up in polyglot Hawai'i, it was almost impossible for me not to take an interest in, fall in love with, and then dedicate the rest of my life to language learning. But it was Harry Sturz, my Greek teacher at Biola, who truly inspired me to love Greek. I am forever grateful to have inherited an appreciation for languages from him.
Blessed art thou if you have a Harry Sturz in your life!
Sunday, December 1
6:12 PM Ever, ever grateful to God for the joy of teaching Greek. I could not be more grateful, not only for the privilege of teaching in a formal classroom setting but also in local churches. Mark your calendars now for our new Greek class beginning Sunday, February 9. Yes, we're calling it "Greek for Everybody" and we will go from 6:00-7:30 pm. All are welcome to join us, there is no charge. The venue is Clearview Church in Henderson, NC, which makes the class accessible to you good folks living in Henderson as well as in Oxford, NC and South Hill, VA. Class materials will be provided. Just bring yourself and a desire to LEARN! More details later. Looking forward to seeing you in class.
Below: Clearview pastor Abidan Shah and his wife Nicole. I've known them for many many years. Abidan used to be my assistant and he will be receiving his Ph.D. in New Testament textual criticism from SEBTS in 2 weeks.
7:56 AM Just started this book. I had forgotten about it until it resurfaced the other day.
Hagner asks, "How new is the New Testament?" His answer? "Not altogether new, but newer than you think."
I've appreciated Don's friendship through the years and consider him an expert on this difficult and sensitive topic (continuity versus discontinuity).
6:50 AM Good morning, internet family!!! A new month is a good time to reflect on what I'm trying to accomplish on this little ol' blog of mine. Every time I upload a post I'm reminded that it's not about the hundreds or maybe thousands of people who visit the blog on a regular basis but about that one person (you) out there who is on a journey, striving to chase down your dreams and your God-given goals as together we journey toward becoming more Christlike in this life. Many of us (yes, myself included) have faced difficulties in the past that have tried to keep us down and hold us back. Remember, my friend, that what seems like a failure or an obstacle in the short term is often essential to our ability to make long-term gains. Any long-term progression in the Christian life contains inevitable periods of regression, setbacks, and plateaus. Advancing on the path of obedience to Christ requires patience, oh does it require patience. But if we think of our goal as a direction and not a destination, then failures and setbacks should be embraced. Paul says in Phil. 1:19 that Christians are privileged to do two things: believe in Christ and suffer for him. We humans generally want to avoid suffering. But if anything, we should start treating suffering as a valuable asset, a competitive advantage. Through suffering we learn how to exercise patience, a trait that's becoming exceedingly rare in today's world. Our modern society is conditioning us to be less and less patient and instead we want immediate gratification, instantaneously and without effort. Perhaps we need to worry less about being the best and strive to be the best at getting better. The story of my life in the past 6 years has been one of patiently sticking with something. Patience is not only a virtue but a life skill that has to be learned over time. In Philippians 3, Paul says he's experiencing a special kind of joy, a joy that comes from the process of growing into Christlikeness. The ultimate goal is to get stronger, wiser, kinder, less selfish. "Better" is about how the practice of patience transforms us as we focus on the process and not on the results. Yes, we should set goals for ourselves, but it's just as important to focus on the steps that are within our control to accomplish those goals. For me, those steps involve daily Bible reading, prayer, meditation on God's word, physical exercise, healthy eating, hard work, and interaction with others (including mentors) through visiting their websites, reading their Twitter feeds, listening to their sermon podcasts, or speaking with them personally. In a sense, my blog symbolizes who I am: my personality, my dreams, my successes, my failures. I talk about everything from my highest hopes to my biggest hurts. After Becky's death, the "big" questions -- who am I? What happens after death? Is God sovereign? -- drew me closer to God. I decided to let God take control of my life. I slowly noticed that Christ was working on me from the inside out to give me new purpose, new values, and a new pattern for life -- "the downward path of Jesus." When I sit down to write books, I sit down to write, not to sell books. When I teach a class, I teach it to make a meaningful contribution, not to get a compliment. When I train for a race, I do so to get better, not to win awards. When I love other people, I do so to nurture a special relationship, not because I fear losing them. I've discovered that God's love is unconditional. I'm loved because I am His child. Nothing, said Paul, can ever separate me from His love. When you realize you're loved like that, you can begin loving others in the same way.
My message on this blog is a very simple one. God has a good plan for your life. But that plan doesn't just happen. We discover it as we draw closer to Him each and every day. It's only as we get to know Him better that His plan for our life will be made clear. On a day-to-day basis, I'm more awestruck than ever by the daily miracles God works in our lives. I'm so awestruck I can't help writing about it. God is our refuge and strength, yes even in a storm-tossed vessel. I hope you're reminded of that every time you visit DBO.
Saturday, November 30
5:24 PM This afternoon, after a workout at the Y, I did what I often do. I watched YouTube videos in the languages I've learned and want to maintain. Foreign language retention is what it's all about, folks, and that largely comes down to a mixture of listening to Spanish, say, on a regular basis and then reviewing the language structure and vocabulary. And, of course, doing these things on a regular basis. Be sure to choose YouTube channels you are truly interested in because it's easy to get bored and lose focus if you don't. I know that some of you are eager to learn how to speak Koine Greek. I absolutely admire that goal, but learning to speak it in a realistic setting (and with a native speaker) is the problem. As I said, I'm giving Spanish a go now but it's so much harder even though I try to speak the language whenever I can. Grammar is one thing, speaking is another. I listen to the Bible in Spanish. I talk to my server in Spanish. That looks funny to others but I think it can help. Often I'm just too afraid to speak Spanish in public because I'm not very good at it. "Jeder Anfang ist schwer," as the Germans would say. Being able to comprehend when all you have done is listened and studied is totally different than speaking if you don't have someone to talk to. German especially is a technical language. Following the grammatical rules is difficult in a free-flowing dialogue. My German is still not perfect, and I'm probably too critical of myself, but at some point you simply have to let go of your insecurities and start speaking the language or you never will.
Think of your own friends who are learning English as a second language. Do their mistakes get in the way of your talking with them? Do you think less of them for mixing up pronouns? Neither will your German-speaking friends shun you when you get an article wrong. (Yes, there are 24 words for "the" in German.) What I'd really like to do is live in Spain for 3 months and practice chatting with people. Of course, the problem sometimes is that your Spanish-speaking friend will switch to English when speaking with you because they want to practice themselves!
I know I'm rambling, but my point is that anyone can learn to speak a foreign language. It's just a matter of repeated effort and refusing to speak English when you could speak, say, French. As Tim Ferriss (the 4-hour chef) says, "Good follow-through doesn't depend on the right intentions. It depends on the right incentives."
8:36 AM Finished: The schedule for my J Term Greek 1 class. Only 12 days to cover what we normally cover in 14! I certainly remember taking Greek for the first time years ago, and frankly I have not forgotten the anxiety you get before class starts. Learning a foreign language is no joke for those of us who lack language aptitude. At the end of the day, language learning is a task that is beyond our human ability and requires leaning into God each and every step of the way. J Term students, eager to meet you as we begin this marathon of learning Greek together!
Friday, November 29
6:35 PM "Writing" is our word of the day, ladies and gentlemen. I spent most of the day gettin' 'er done, roughing out another chapter in my book on kingdom living (Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk). Eager to finish the book -- maybe in 2020??? Today's topic: Leadership in the new society of Jesus.
I call this, not servant leadership, but service leadership. Subtle difference, I know, but we're not talking about being a servant (title) but actually serving others. The insignia of Christian leaders are not thrones, robes, or titles, but aprons and basins. Yes, we should respect our leaders. Yes, we should value them very, very highly for their work's sake. But the distinctive mark of a Christian leader is not authority but humility.
Here's hoping that everything I publish in 2020 (whether a book or a blog post) fulfills the threefold goal of 1 Cor. 14:3: edification, encouragement, and comfort.
My key verse as a writer, for certain. As I look back over my writing in 2019 I simply rest in that peaceful presence of knowing that I fought the good fight. I'm excited to see what lessons the Lord has in store for me in 2020 and sharing those with you here on the blog.
Meanwhile, live in the moment, my friend, live in the moment.
8:34 AM Preparation, a key ingredient for all of us teachers to consider as we wind down the fall semester. Only two weeks left but the last week is for finals so, really, there's only one week left of teaching. It's time to press the envelope for sure. In my NT 2 class, each student will give a "towel and basin ministry" report to the rest of the class. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in a course on "New Testament Introduction" students have to perform the "attractive works" Paul talks about in his letters to Timothy and Titus. If I have time, I'll close with a devotional on Gal. 5:13-15, which I studied this morning in my Bible time here at Bradford Hall.
The paragraph speaks so relevantly into our contemporary church scene.
Here Paul speaks of (1) our duty to ourselves, (2) our duty to our neighbor, and (3) our duty to God. Christian freedom is freedom not to indulge our sinful human nature but to control it. It is freedom not to exploit our neighbors but to serve them. And it is freedom not to disregard God's eternal law but to fulfill it. This is the meaning of liberty and this is the meaning of love. If we love God we will serve our neighbors. It's as simple as that. And who is my neighbor? Hendriksen says it is "anyone whom we can assist in any way, even though he hates us and is in that sense our 'enemy' (Matt. 5:43-48)." Everyone who has been set free by Christ exercises their liberty in these three ways: in self-control, in loving service to their neighbor, and in glad obedience to the law of God.
Surely this is far better than "biting and devouring one another." Writes Calvin, "How distressing, how mad it is that we, who are members of the same body, should be leagued together, of our own accord, for mutual destruction." Such "conduct is more fitting for wild animals than to brothers in Christ" (Stott).
Stay tuned for a report next week of the "towel and basin ministries" my students performed for a grade, yes, but also because this is the freedom to which Christ has called them.
P.S. My view every evening. Enjoying it tremendously.
Thursday, November 28
7:22 PM "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to the one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help" (Eccl. 4:9-10). I always seem to get a little sentimental on holidays. Thanksgiving is no exception. And why shouldn't I be sentimental? For 36 years I celebrated this holiday with Becky by my side. We supported each other and "lifted each other up" in many ways over the years. It felt comforting to have a partner who was there to lift me up when I was down. It's all well and good to rejoice in the wife of your youth, but somehow it seems a little weird to me that I should feel so un-lonely today. Except it's not weird. It's the rightest thing in the world. God made me. He knows me better than I know myself. He knows what I need and when I need it. Most importantly, He knows, so much better than I do, what I can handle. I'm not trying to sound super-spiritual here, but one of the most ordinary lessons I've learned since Becky died 6 years ago this month is that aloneness and loneliness are not the same thing. Yes, my aloneness is sometimes accompanied by pain -- and then it's loneliness. But more often than not, like today, my aloneness is simply an experience of solitude. Overall, solitude can be a healthy thing. It's often a necessary counterbalance to our busy and hectic social world. Since I am an introvert (you wouldn't have known that, huh) I've always valued my alone time, even when I was married. Today, solitude allows me time for self-reflection, for peace and quiet, and for pursuing personal interests like travel and exercise. I don't know about you, but I tend to sense my solitude in an especially poignant way when I'm experiencing the grandeur of creation -- a hike through a National Park or a climb to the top of a Swiss Alp or a roaring wave crashing down upon me in Hawai'i. Nature can be terrifying or comforting. It all depends on our relationship with the Creator. Without His presence in the midst of His creation, hiking or climbing or surfing become merely another refuge for our loneliness.
Overall, I've found solitude to be a valuable thing. Loneliness can't be "cured." But we can coexist with loneliness by harnessing its creative force and finding value in our solitude. It's been a good 6 years. Hard. But good. And now a new year stretches out in front of me like a rainbow. I will go to sleep with tears of gratitude in my eyes tonight, overwhelmed by a deep sense of gratitude for the blessings I so often take for granted.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
5:58 PM My organist son sent me this link.
Passion, my friends, life is all about passion. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." As one commenter put it, the organist isn't playing with music. He's playing with his heart. "Wherever you are, be all there all, and live to the hilt whatever you know is God's will for your life" (Jim Elliott). Rarely is passion something we stumble upon. It has to be discovered and cultivated. Passion is a wonderful gift, as long we handle it well. When an idea interests you, give yourself the freedom to pursue it. Don't be constrained by your past story. Overcome the resistance that says "I couldn't possibly do this." Remember, nearly all great musicians began as people merely following their passions. Never let perfection become the enemy of the good. We musicians can become perfectionists if we are not very careful. Make passion a bigger part of your life, incrementally.
Thanks be to God, this Thanksgiving Day, for the gift of passion.
1:32 PM The 2019 Inside-Out Sports Turkey Trot is now in the books. It's an incredible race as long as you don't mind some elevation gain and loss. The course is certainly difficult, so I felt pretty good about sustaining just under an 11-minute mile pace for the entire course. Overall I'm very pleased with my effort today among some real competition. I came in 602nd out of 958 runners and 7th of 14 in my age group (65-69). I feel like I'm starting to get the feel of the 8K distance really well. My legs still struggle a little bit on the hills, but the only way to improve your ability to run up and down hills is, well, to run up and down hills. I saw a lot of families out there on the course today getting some exercise before indulging in turkey and dressing. I would highly recommend this race for all of you who live in the greater Raleigh area!
Lining up midway in the pack before the race starts.
Still maintaining my "middle-of-the-pack" status halfway into the race.
Did I mention that the course was "hilly"?
The vital stats:
Of course, what would a race in North Carolina be like without Krispy Kreme donuts?
Wednesday, November 27
5:20 PM What a joyful time celebrating Thanksgiving a day early with loved ones. The reality of 2019 coming to an end is still settling in. Where has all the time gone? Wrapping your head around all the blessings of the past year is always difficult. Thank you, family, for being behind me every step of the way in 2019 and Happy Thanksgiving. Tomorrow it's back to the races, literally. Doing a Turkey Trot (8K) in Cary, NC, tomorrow morning. Getting ready, prepping for what is predicted to be a beautiful sunny day. Just a Hawai'i native trying to pursue excellence and live a "balanced" life with passion, making changes when necessary and trying to marry enthusiasm with equally strong self-awareness.
Thanks for tuning in!
8:38 AM Yesterday Michael Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary, wrote a very touching tribute to his Doktorvater Larry Hurtado, who passed away after a long fight with cancer. I was very moved by Kruger's words. It seems that Prof. Hurtado was everything one could hope for in a major professor. He was a model of scholarship. He was friendly. He was accessible. He was fair and even-handed with the evidence. He was willing to push back against views with which he disagreed. All these traits I could also apply to my own Doktorvater in Basel, Bo Reicke. As a doctoral advisor myself, I'm reminded that these same virtues should be found in me. May we all inspire to such exemplary scholarship.
7:55 AM Guten Morgen! Ich freue mich auf eine Reise in die Schweiz in 2020. Wie höflich sind die Schweizer? Sehr, würde ich sagen. Mindestens in Basel sind die meisten Leute sehr sehr offen. Die sind keineswegs ausländerfeindlich. Meiner Meinung nach sind die Schweizer in ihrer Kommunikation viel höflicher als die Deutsche und Amerikaner. In Basel hört man nie "Ich kriege einen Kaffee" sondern immer "Ich hätte gern einen Kaffee" oder "Einen Kaffee, bitte." Ich habe also hauptsächlich positive Eindrücke von Basel, vielleicht weil Basel nah an Deutschland liegt. Ich habe auch den Eindruck, dass die Deutsche recht freundlich sind. Becky und ich hatten keine Schwierigkeiten in der Schweiz Freunde zu machen. Aber wenn man in einem anderen Land lebt, ist man immer ein Aussenseiter. Die Freunde die ich über deise Zeitspanne gamacht habe kann ich an einer Hand zählen.
Sorry for the German, folks, but I'm considering a return to Switzerland in 2020 and I needed the practice. Here I'm talking about how polite and open the Swiss are. On the other hand, they make friendships a lot slower than we do. As someone told me when I first arrived in Basel, "We have fewer friendships here but they are deeper ones." Anyway, I hope to get reacquainted with some old friends while I'm in that beautiful city on the Rhine.
Vorwärts und aufwärts!
Tuesday, November 26
7:02 PM Here is E. Power Biggs demonstrating why he will always be known as one of the world's great organists. This is breathtaking!
The clarity and crispness is amazing. Biggs brings a pacing to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor that I've never heard from anyone else. To top things off, his hands were severely deformed from arthritis. Bach's organs works will always stand the test time. Sad they are not more well known and appreciated in our churches. So much of our church music today is theologically and musically vapid and maudlin, in my opinion. A great work on a great instrument always sums up the frisson of encountering the numinous and the spiritual almost without noticing it. Yes, I am totally biased in favor of organ music, even though I also love contemporary Christian music. But hey, it's hard enough to find a good organist. At the end of the day, whatever musical style is chosen it needs to be done well. Again, just my humble opinion.
6:05 PM History is so rich and, yes, even your own local history. Simply incredible day visiting the home of our 5th president James Monroe. I couldn't wait to visit it because I just finished reading a book about him.
Here's the long driveway to the house, which is located not too far from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.
I'm so stoked to have so much American history within a 3 hour drive of the farm. This building isn't the original house, which was burned down in the early 1830s.
But you can really get a feel for the lavish taste of President Monroe from his guest house. Remember, it was Monroe who arranged for the Louisiana Purchase and whose "Monroe Doctrine" signaled to the world that the United States was now a geopolitical power. While up that way I also got in a bike ride at the Rivanna River Trail.
The scenery took my breath away.
And guess what? There was actually a Salvadorian restaurant in the area and I couldn't resist.
The pupusa was out of this world.
I believe pupusa is a flatbread that is unique to El Salvador. Mine was stuffed with pork. I also had a great time getting to know my Salvadorian server named Eduardo and saw to it that he got a copy of Becky's book in Spanish.
Okay. Back to reality. Got to clean the house for my grandkids who are visiting tomorrow. And you know how much I like to clean the house!
7:45 AM Several years ago the publisher was kind enough to send me a copy of Heinrich von Siebenthal's Griechische Grammatik zum Neuen Testament. It's a wonderful work. Very detailed as you might imagine.
I love comparing how different Greek grammars treat various topics in New Testament studies, an example being verbal aspect. For von Siebenthal, there are three aspects called Durativ, Aorist, and Resultativ. (Go here for a comparison of the leading grammars.) It'll be interesting to see how the English translation of his grammar treats this subject. A copy is on its way, and I plan to write a review essay on it as soon as it arrives. Beyond excited to get that done. Let me know where you think I should publish it. We New Testament Greek geeks are driven, and sometimes we need to take the foot off the pedal and slow down a little bit to get caught up with all the good, God things that are happening in our little world of scholarship. A good place to do this, by the way, is the Nerdy Language Majors Facebook page, which always has something for someone, whether you're studying Greek, Hebrew, German, or Latin. I get a chuckle out of its discussion sometimes, like this morning when I read a mini-debate about the use of Greek-English interlinears. My own opinion is to use any and every tool out there that will get you to think about the language you're studying. I did that when teaching myself Latin back in the day. I acquired a wonderful little interlinear of Caesar's Gallic War -- you know, the book that starts out with "Gallia omnis divisa est in tres partes." Of course, I wouldn't have needed an interlinear if books like this one were available back in the late 1970s. My philosophy about using interlinears can be summarize in a quote from my Using New Testament Greek in Ministry: Halitosis is better than no breath at all. Also check out when you can our New Testament Greek Portal for What's New -- especially if authors like Steve Runge and James Snapp interest you. Snapp's recent interview in which he defends "equitable eclecticism" resonates with me on several levels, as I've argued in my New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide. The key question, of course, is whether Hort's theory of a Lucianic recension can be falsified. James and I both say yes, and so I always ask my students to work through the question of what to do with the Byzantine text.
Excited to continue the pursuit of excellence in my studies in 2020. How will we as fathers, husbands, athletes, students, employees, church members find the right priorities in life? Discernment, my friends, discernment. May God grant that gift to us all in the New Year.
Monday, November 25
7:36 PM Been watching an excellent YouTube by Scott Hartwig, a senior historian at the Gettysburg National Battlefield, and something he said made me sit up and go, "Say what?" Hartwig is describing the fighting on the first day of battle, when the Union First Corps is being pushed back to Seminary Ridge just west of town. The First Corps artillery commander, a Colonel Wainright, is under the impression that he's been ordered to hold Seminary Ridge at all costs. Seminary Ridge is the last obstacle standing between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Federal forces that are reforming on Cemetery Ridge to the southeast of town. This misunderstand is based on a literal error of language. The overall Union commander in Gettysburg at the time, General Oliver Otis Howard, had sent a German staff member (remember, a fourth of the Union Army was foreign born) with an order for Colonel Wainright to defend Cemetery Ridge at all hazards. Somehow, however, the order came out as "Seminary" Ridge. My head is spinning. In all my study of the American Civil War, I had never heard that anecdote, but it reminded me of the importance of language and how often something as simple as a single word can have serious consequences. Honestly, I don't see how anyone can learn English as a second language. Our spelling system is atrocious (pronounce "colonel" and then spell it phonetically). Of course, it's natural to simplify the pronunciation of words. Who says the "t" in Christmas? (This is called syncope.) Wasp used to be waps. (This is called metathesis.) For folk, talk, and walk we say fowk, tawk, and wawk. (This is called velarisation.) I recall once ordering (in German) a "pepperoni" pizza for Becky and me when we were traveling in northern Germany. Eventually we were served a pizza -- smothered with red peppers. So many German words are spelled the same in English that it's easy to make a mistake ("Gift" means poison in German). "There is a problem" isn't "Da ist ein Problem" but "Es gibt ein Problem" -- which literally means "It gives a problem." (Err!!) And please, I beg you, never say "Ich warte auf dem Bus."
It's "auf den Bus."
One last thought. As a teacher I know how important it is to correctly pronounce my students' names. It's so easy to stumble when saying an unfamiliar name. To my shame, I've done this more times than I'd like to admit. But when we pronounce our students' names correctly we make them feel valued, honored, and respected. If you don't know how to pronounce someone's name correctly it's okay to ask for help. I've had to do this muchas veces. Spell the name phonetically if you have to.
For years I had no idea that badminton had an "n" in it. Honestly. I thought it was badmitton. And I'm supposed to be a language teacher!
Chow! (That's Ciao for those in the know.)
1:42 PM Hmm. Gotta decide about my 2020 marathon schedule but boy is it hard, folks, it's hard. I'm really tempted to do the Flying Pig in Cincinnati again, for the 4th time in fact. This is the race that got me started running marathons 4 years ago. If you're a newbie and want to have a fantastic first marathon experience, I cannot recommended this race too highly. I wish every race was like this one. The course is fairly flat except for Mount Adams. But what makes this the marathon of choice for your first 26.2 race is the organization and the world class volunteers. You'll find an aid station every mile, and half way into the race you will begin to munch on bacon, cookies, gummy bears, and fruit. Considering that the entry is the cheapest for any major marathon, the amenities are great. I've recommended this race to anyone who will listen. The course is absolutely beautiful and the runners are some of the nicest I have ever had the pleasure of running with. This event is worth every penny. Do it!
12:40 PM What a day it's been so far. Got in a great workout at the Y and then did a 5K run at the track. Afterwards I treated myself to a burger and then finished my pre-Thanksgiving grocery shopping. I need to get on my A game when it comes to this cooking thing. I am truly grateful for the ability to run today; my legs are feeling much stronger than I thought they would. Onward we go, ladies and gentlemen, onward we go.
8:38 AM So I just went online to check out the 2020 marathons here in the good U.S. of A. Yes, it will be a busy year for me as I teach J-term and then 4 classes in the spring semester and 2 summer school classes, but there's always time to run a 26.2 miler if you know what I mean. We humans desire to be better. It's in our DNA. Health is often at the top of a person's New Years wish list, as it should be. Taking care of our human body actually affects our lives in so many other ways, including the emotional, mental, and spiritual. The key is to have a sound racing and training plan, and that's what I'm working on this week. I strongly encourage every one of you to think about why, why are you treating your body the way you do. It really is a fascinating topic to discuss as Christians whose bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Anyhow, the question remains: Which marathon shall I sign up for in 2020? Should I stay local or travel? Should I repeat a marathon I've run in the past or try something new? Should I try an "easy" (flat) course or a more "challenging" (hilly) one? So far I've added the following races to my list of potential races in 2020. Most I've never done before.
Feel free to email me with your suggestions. Onward and upward as we enter a new year of fitness and health to the glory of God!
7:55 AM I'm humbled to announce the publication of my magnum opus.
All of your questions have now been answered definitively in what is sure to become the go-to reference work. Everything is explained in easy-to-read language -- the shape of the skateboard, the size of the wheels, how to pull off a successful Olie, how to raise $30,000 to cover your medical bills, etc. One reviewer has said, "Reading Black on skateboarding and surfing is like reading Hemingway on bullfighting." In this massive 8,000-page tome, you can learn how to live life through the gloss resin of a skateboard or a surfboard. Entries include:
In the words of professional surfer Kelly Slater, "Elegantly written and structured, Black's Encyclopedia of Surfing and Skateboarding is more than a reference work. It's an intellectual autobiography." The introductory price is a mere $299.00, and all proceeds from book sales will go to needy children (my own).
Sunday, November 24
12:48 PM Time to give some serious and sustained thought to the giving of thanks. "Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door." So wrote Emily Dickenson. Today I've been thinking, thinking about my grief-challenged yet glorious life. I tap away at the keyboard not knowing what I will write, except that Jesus is worth it. If there's anything I've learned since that fateful day in November 6 years ago, it's that the dawn sneaks up on us when we're least expecting it. I see the dawn in the faces of my children and grandchildren. I see it in the imperfect community we call church. I see it when the kingdom makes ordinary things sacred -- a head cold, a death, a race, feasting on Thanksgiving ham, marriage, singleness. There is more to this life that is still to come, many other dawns that await us, many doors to open still. Pay attention, Dave! Don't miss it!
There's an awful lot for me to be thankful for this week, no doubt about it. What makes my daily life sacred and holy isn't the books I've written or the classes I've taught but the way God shows up when I put the dishes in the dishwasher or sweep the floors or clean the toilets or pick up the mess after Sheba's had an accident or work through a difficult relationship or see my entire life as vocation. Grief recovery isn't a pat formula. It's a mystery. Grief can be healthy. It's a reminder that when we make ourselves vulnerable in this life it sometimes means getting hurt. The thing about grief is that it's relational. You never grieve alone. First, there's Jesus. We can always tell Him the truth. Then there's family. They offer grace. And then there are the Gatherings. Church is very simple: we gather, even in our suffering and loss, to remember God. I have admired, deeply, the way C. S. Lewis handled the death of his wife. That was a metaphor for me. You simply go on. Like the pastor who labors long and hard over a message knowing he will deliver it to five people. Or the mother who homeschools her kids in absolute anonymity. No single act of love and selflessness is ever forgotten by Jesus. You can't put the Dove in a cave. Realize this, and you cannot help but exhale praise and thanksgiving.
When I think about Thanksgiving, Nora Ephron's definition of family comes to mind: "A family is a group of people who eat the same thing for dinner." The earliest followers of Jesus "devoted themselves to the breaking of bread." That was long before the Eucharist was infused with pomp and circumstance. They were too busy celebrating the Real Presence. In many parts and in many ways, I witnessed that Presence today at church. I experience it every time I get together with my own family. Being family together is a way of speaking to each other and, sometimes without words, saying "You matter to me. I love you." Just as there is often plenty of leftover bread after a communion service, so there's always enough and more when we feast at the Table of God.
It's been a scary thing, this opening up of your heart to those you love, this vulnerability of being rejected, this unclenching of fists. But there is power in connecting. I can be open and unsheltered with my family. Imagine if every home was a place where we told each other the truth. No family is perfect, but I love mine with all the love I can muster. When Becky was alive, it never occurred to me how much I would need their presence one day. They have helped me see God in the stuff of everyday life again. We might not get together often, but we know we are always there for each other.
I think about Becky every single day. 37 years is a long time to be with someone. And we were just getting to know each other. This Thanksgiving post is for you, Becky Lynn. And for the family you and I created together.
We are family. Not me first, but you first. Blessed be God, both now and forevermore.
8:55 AM Good Sunday morning, internet family! Today I plan to go for either a long walk or a bike ride. It's beautiful outside. As for my next marathon, I'm still trying to decide. Why would someone with as little talent as me want to do another marathon? I'm not sure I have the answer. I keep coming back to the finish line. Have you ever stood at the finish line of a marathon? I mean, the pure unmitigated joy you see on the faces of the runners. Even as you watch their bodies giving in to fatigue, you witness their souls as the realty of their accomplishment dawns on them. There's nothing like it in the world. It's a joy you can see, feel, believe in. It doesn't matter what you look like or what position you come in at the finish. The joy is in the act of running. It's in the joy of accomplishing a goal. It's in knowing you're not stuck somewhere in life but moving forward. I suppose that's why I keep on running. If I had known this would happen, I would have started running years before I did.
Greek students, you are in a marathon of sorts by taking beginning Greek. Here is some encouragement for you from John Stott, who wrote these words in his book The Living Church (p. 103).
He then concludes:
Paul often uses the images of milk and meat when he describes Christian growth and maturity. Babies in Christ need the bottle. But very soon afterwards they need to consume meat so that they can begin to discern the mind of God for themselves. It is to that high measure of independence that Christian teachers need to bring their charges. I love teaching. It's what I do. But I'm learning that enabling and equipping is just as important to my teaching ministry as is lecturing. I see a generation of Christians who are overly dependent on others for their spiritual growth. Yes, we need each other. But nothing can compare with a personal encounter with the God of the Bible!
Saturday, November 23
6:30 PM The 10th Annual Camp Chestnut Ridge Trail Race went down today in Efland, NC -- about a 2-hour drive from the farm in the heart of the North Carolina Piedmont. This race is certainly not for the weak of heart. It's run entirely on trails and camp roads (dirt and gravel). It features rolling hills that surround a 10-acre lake. The race was superbly organized but rather sparsely attended I thought, no doubt because of the heavy rain that was predicted to begin about an hour into the race. You could sign up for either the 4-mile or the 10-mile version of the race. I went for the longer distance. I'll just say that, whew, this was probably the hardest run of my life. I finished WAY over my goal of 2 hours.
I started out feeling in control, but at mile 3 the wheels were definitely starting to fall off the bus.
I do believe my legs were holding up fine until the rain started, turning the single track path into what looked like a water slide at Disney World. I wanted to take a picture to show you the trail conditions but I was so wet and cold I couldn't unlock my iPhone. Keep in mind, as always I'm trying to race hard and, yes, to finish the race with the best time possible. It's not really in my DNA to sit back and take it easy during a race of any kind, but today I was forced to throttle back for fear of slipping on the course and breaking something. Again, this was by far one of the hardest races of my life. It was at least as hard as the Allen, TX, Marathon I did on New Year's Day 2 years ago, where the temperature was literally 1 degree Fahrenheit and stayed that way throughout the race. Today's race was pure torture. So much vertical!
So much rain! So many roots and rocks and low-hanging tree branches! Thankfully, I stayed hydrated the whole distance because of some pretty awesome people crewing the aid stations along the way. I was the last to cross the finish line but the entire race staff had waited for me. Can't thank you guys enough! The race director snapped this picture of one very wet but very happy noodle. On a scale from A to F, I give myself a G for GRIT.
In short, I'm not sure I'll be back next year but I am SO glad I ran this year. Camp Chestnut Ridge Trail Race, you did not disappoint when it comes to hosting a race with extreme vertical and difficult footing really the entire way. Excited to be able to continue to learn from these events and press ahead for better racing in 2020!
Friday, November 22
5:08 PM How do we achieve balance in life when we are so busy? I like to approach each day with simple priorities. My main goal today was to chillax after a grueling week of teaching and farm work. Not that I was idle mind you. Relaxation is the goal, not necessarily idleness. So I walked for an hour at the high school track before completing the errands I had to run today. After that I basically just read. I started a book that just arrived from Amazon.
I ordered it because I had watched the movie Operation Finale in Georgia last week starring the one and only Ben Kingsley as Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for orchestrating some of the worst crimes of the Holocaust. The movie was so pulse-pounding that I had to order the book. After the war, Eichmann managed to escape to Argentina. His capture by Israeli agents is a thriller for sure. Obviously, I love history of all eras. I absolutely loved history in school. Biographies, ancient histories, war stories, you name it, I read it. Reading allows you to see how history so often repeats itself though often in slightly different ways. Studying the past influences your thinking today, right now. As we move forward in life may history remind us where we have been and inspire us to where we want to go.
7:30 AM Fiona Hill's testimony yesterday was what the perfect delivery of one's thoughts should look like. Would that we all could speak with such clarity.
As a student of language and linguistics, I want to say something about her Northumbrian accent. In her opening remarks she mentioned that she felt discriminated against in Great Britain simply because of the way she spoke English. Linguists refer to this as the "standard language ideology," in which the dialect with the highest social prestige is thought to be the only correct and, therefore, valid form of the language. I once read that workers from the north of England (where Ms. Hill was born and raised) are pressured to tone down their accent in order to improve their job prospects. Studies have also shown that we make snap judgments about the kind of person you are simply by hearing your accent. Without even realizing it, we engage in linguistic discrimination. When I arrived in California in 1971 after 19 years of living in Hawai'i, some people claimed they had a difficult time understanding my English. I'm not surprised. Hawai'i is a melting pot of ethnicities and languages, and the state even has its own second official language after English -- Hawaiian Creole (aka, Pidgin English). Even today, when I visit the islands, I lapse into my familiar mother tongue and accent. This is called "code-switching." But I wouldn't think of using it in lecturing in North Carolina. Of course, the idea of "standard" English is an abstraction at best. I think some accents and dialects of English are more appealing to my ears than others, but that is merely a matter of esthetics. Personally, I enjoyed listening to Ms. Hill's Northumbrian accent, which, to my ears, seemed to border on Scottish. But my main takeaway from her accent was the reminder that dialect discrimination is alive and well, not only in Great Britain but here in the U.S. Dialects that vary from Standard English are often stigmatized, even among people who would normally champion equality in other social domains of life. Language is cultural capital. Hence it's likely that languages like Hawaiian Creole will continue to be considered "Broken English" for some time to come. But such linguistic snobbery has its price. Locals in Hawai'i speak Pidgin. And visitors to the islands, or those considering permanent residence, will eventually have to come to terms with that fact.
Don't have time to develop this idea here, but during the time of Jesus there were apparently two dialects of Aramaic in use: a Galilean-Aramaic dialect and a Judean-Aramaic dialect. The former dialect seems to be mentioned twice in the Gospels, first when Peter is identified as a Galilean merely by his accent (Matt. 26:73), and second when Jesus' followers are identified as Galileans on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:7), again simply because of their accent. In his book Herod Antipas (p. 63), Harold Hoehner suggested that "the defective pronunciation of gutturals" characterized the Galilean dialect. Regional differences shouldn't surprise us. In Switzerland people speak "Swiss German." More specifically, in Basel you speak Basel German, in Bern you speak Bern German, in Zürich you speak Zürich German, etc. When I moved to Basel in 1980 I could speak Standard German well enough, but I soon realized that if I wanted to communicate with the older people in my church I would have to purchase a Basel German grammar. And, while I normally preached in Standard German, on my last Sunday in Basel I attempted to preach in Basel German -- much to the delight of some and the consternation of others.
Have you ever thought about language discrimination?
Do you speak English with an accent?
Have you ever felt stigmatized simply because of the way you speak?
By the way, the differences between Standard German and Swiss German are discussed in this delightful YouTube interview with the Swiss ambassador to Germany. Viel Spass!
Thursday, November 21
6:36 PM Back to the track today after running errands in town. Could not be more grateful.
The question of the day: How quickly do you bounce back after a cold? After my workout I had farm chores to do, including putting a new tire on the farm truck.
My reading this evening is in Estep's magnificent The Anabaptist Story.
On pages 82-83 he summarizes the teaching of Balthasar Hubmaier. Here's a sampling:
But right now it's time to scarf down some dinner. Yes, I like pepper on my food!
9:10 AM During my run today I'll be working on my running form or "body mechanics." After 4 years of running it's time to improve my posture.
I'm excited to hone in on some small changes in my running mechanics in preparation for the 2020 running reason. Folks, we never outgrow our need to improve regardless of our age. We all have weaknesses we need to overcome. Thankfully, there's so much help on YouTube these days. Run tall. Look toward the horizon. Keep the ball of your foot and your heel level. Lean in like giving a kiss. I feel we should all take strides to improve something in our lives so we can all be better persons.
8:50 AM Folks, there is something undeniably special about reading. I was an avid reader of books growing up in Hawai'i. I especially loved the Hardy Boys series. I was able to visit secret hiding places, mysterious coves, and pine forests on the Eastern Seaboard of America without ever leaving my bedroom in Kailua. The wonderful feeling of refreshment that I experience each and every day of the week is simply indescribable. Novels. Historical fiction. Bible commentaries. Books in foreign languages. What I especially enjoy about reading is the way it challenges your perspective. Reading allows you to encounter diverse angles on life. Reading helps us persevere through tough places. It's been a friend in time of need. I love to physically explore the world, but when I can't, reading will take me there anyway. Through reading, I've discovered love. Love of God. Love of people. Love of this beautiful world God created. Sometimes when I read I even imagine I'm in the story. Here are some books that arrived yesterday. Yes, Becky's My Life Story is available in English, Mandarin, and Spanish.
Just think: People all over the world can read her autobiography in their own language. We're talking here about the 3 most widely spoken languages in the world. Chinese has 1.3 billion native speakers. Spanish has 460 million. And you, my friend, are one of the 379 million native English speakers on the planet, or one of the 753 million people who speak English as a second language. You also see that my little book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church was just published in French.
Amazingly enough, it's already available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. And just this week I spoke with someone about having it translated into Farsi as well.
I want to say a big "Thank you!" to every author I have ever read. You have enriched my life beyond words. You've taught me new words and turns of phrases. Because of you I've enjoyed a well-played literary pun. I have changed and grown with you. And let's not forget journals. This one arrived this week.
I've already devoured it, especially this essay on the style of Mark.
A book is a promise of untold intrigue. And yes, I may skim a downloadable PDF, but a good book is meant to be held in your hands. It's no wonder, friends, that when a book is laid flat, its pages curve into the shape of a heart.
Folks, we were made to read!
7:46 AM The word of the day is "kindred spirit." I've never met Peter Wick. But he's a kindred spirit for sure. He's the Chair of New Testament Studies at the University of Bochum in Germany. I just got a copy of his book Der Philipperbrief: Der formale Aufbau des Briefs als Schlüssel zum Verständis seines Inhalts. I suppose the English would read something like: "The Letter to the Philippians: The Formal Structure as Key to the Understanding of its Contents." Not able to afford the book (it's a "mere" 280 Euros), I got it through that wonderful service called interlibrary loan. Throughout his book, Wick asks what's distinctive about Paul's letter to the Philippians and shows how each paragraph contributes to the writer's overall argument. Oddly, he and I agree perfectly -- which is amazing since neither of us was able to consult each other's work because we were both writing at the same time (my essay in Novum Testamentum was published in 1995, his book was published in 1994). This kind of work is exegetical. If you can't follow the arguments based on the original language, Wick's book isn't for you. But if you can, and if you want to try, and if you want to see a master exegete show how to substantiate the full meaning of a New Testament book by appealing to the salient nuances within the text, this is an excellent work. Wick calls Philippians a "literary masterpiece" ("ein literarisches Meisterwerk," p. 13), and so it is. I could say a lot more about this great book. Exegesis is the supreme means by which Jesus invites us to learn about Him through His word. It drives us to our knees as we recognize the failures on our part to ever do justice to the biblical text. It elicits in our hearts profound gratitude for what the Holy Spirit has done in inscripturating the Bible. The message of Philippians is a simple one: We are called to live in harmony with each other and in usefulness to our Lord, especially to His call to reach the nations with His love. One of the ways I seek most intentionally to build up young Christians is through the classes in exegesis I offer them. We have abundant resources to teach them. In due course, they will take responsibility for the process. Such is the aim of every aspect of my teaching ministry: "to present everyone mature in Christ" (Col. 1:28). Wick's book, unfortunately, is available only in German. But the presentation is brilliant and the material magnificently packaged.
So grateful for a "kindred spirit"!
Wednesday, November 20
8:02 PM I can't believe I'll actually be running again tomorrow, Lord willing! I started out the week with some congestion but I'm strong again and my legs are just aching to get back into action. I've got lots to tell you about -- new books I've received, my racing plans for the future, writing projects I'm praying about, etc. I'm even thinking and praying about doing a trail race this Saturday. But right now I'm going to turn in on the early side. What a glorious day it's going to be tomorrow, what with sunshine and warmer temps. It will be a good time to run errands and enjoy the great outdoors. Overall, stay positive folks when it comes to the daily grind of life. At the end of the day, life boils down to simply walking and talking with Jesus.
Monday, November 18
6:58 AM "Life's best teachers are those who are getting up in years and have known pain. Often the more years and the deeper the pain, the better the teaching. Out comes, not information, but wisdom." -- Chuck Swindoll.
This week we're studying the book of Revelation together in our NT 2 class. I like to think of John, the author of this book, as a seasoned follower of Jesus. He was likely in his 90s when he penned this prophecy, and I'm sure he had known pain in his life. Hence, out comes not mere information. Out comes wisdom. As Christians, we need more than facts. We need insight. Insight especially into God -- who He is, how He works, and what He's about in this old world of ours. I have zero interest in trying to figure out what each and every symbol in the book of Revelation stands for. But I am keenly interested in finding out what this book can tell us about the nature and work of God. For starters, there's nothing that God cannot do. "All God's acts are done without effort" (A. W. Tozer). God needs no help from anyone. He possesses unlimited might, strength, and power. He is never surprised by the future. Moreover, God sustains life for as long as He wants. The universe too. He is not "almost" sovereign. That's like saying you're "almost" married. No, nothing can frustrate, hinder, or stop His purposes. Finally, God's ways are beyond our understanding. They are too deep for explanation. Paul wrote, "How unsearchable! How unfathomable!" Can you explain every detail in the book of Revelation? Neither can I. God doesn't have to explain Himself. We don't need to know everything that's going on. We just need to know the One who does know.
When will all of this happen? It's been over 2,000 years since Christ promised that He would return. Notice that He didn't tell us when that would happen. He just told us to live in anticipation of it 24/7. I personally hope that He returns soon. I didn't always think that way. No, a younger Dave might have said, "Lord, I hope You come back soon, but please wait until after I graduate from college and get married and have children and grandchildren." Now all of that has changed. True, I still have goals and ambitions and aspirations and dreams. What has changed aren't my goals. What has changed is the intensity of my desire to be with Christ and to see the world made right.
So what does the future hold? A face to face encounter with Christ, with whom we will live and reign forever in the new heavens and the new earth. That's the promise of an aged apostle filled with insight. It's also the teaching of our Lord. The book of Revelation was not given to frighten us. It was written to remind us that God will win in the end, that good will triumph over evil, that suffering and pain and tears will one day be no more. This God dwells with His people even today. When our Lord walked on the water He did not say to His disciples, "There is no storm." He did not say, "The storm will blow over eventually, so be of good cheer." He said, "It is I." Trouble is a reality in this world. But we can be cheerful because He has overcome everything this world can throw at us. The Lamb indeed makes all the difference in the world.
Sunday, November 17
5:02 PM My quick trip to Georgia is all wrapped up and my what a great weekend it was. The rain came in on Thursday and Friday but it didn't hang around and, yes, we did make it to a jazz club on Friday night. Time now to get over the chest cold I've gotten and focus on the week ahead, where the biggest challenge will be prepping my Greek 1 class for their second take-home exam of the semester. I do think we will focus mostly on parsing and try to absorb as much as we can from chapters 7-11 before the exam. With a diligent class of hard-working students, I am most grateful. I feel it will be a week of Greek goodness. Sure it's hard. But thankfully God knows everything about us. He is completely aware of all the personal struggles that threaten to undo us, including trying to prepare for an exam. All He says to us is "Christ." There's nothing more to say. So to all of my students this week: Let us believe Christ (faith), let us wait for Christ (hope), and let us serve Christ (love). We won't get anywhere without depending on Him. Let's reconnect to the supernatural this week and yield ourselves to no higher purpose than to know Christ and experience Him moment by moment!
Thursday, November 14
7:36 AM More often than not, on my days off from teaching I'm reading books. Many of them. My Bible reading this morning was in the Hebrew version of Matthew.
On my flight today I hope to devour this commentary by the one and only John Stott. Stott is always hard to put down.
Then, while in the Fort Benning area, I plan to peruse a couple of books that I own but have never read.
As you can see, I like to read widely. I like to begin with the Scriptures. Then I enjoy authors with whom I agree. Finally, I like to tackle books by writers with whom I might disagree. I'm always in the middle of a few books at once. Books. Can't live without 'em!
What's on your night stand or in your secret drawer?
Off to the races!
Wednesday, November 13
8:28 PM It's that time of the year, when the weather is no longer as welcoming and yet you have to keep on training for your next race. Cold or not, you just keep on going, pushing through to the next level of personal fitness. So far this week I was able to get in double workouts on Monday and then again this morning. Here are Monday's stats:
And these are from today.
Guess what, you really can do back to back workouts if you begin with cardio/weights in the gym and then hit the trails. I'm not saying that I'm an expert, but I do think it makes sense to balance weight training with slow running, especially as we all get a bit older. And the irony is, as we exercise the body, the mind is the beneficiary. Among other writing projects I had on my plate this week was finishing this book review, which I just sent to the publisher.
I also finished and posted the syllabi to two of my upcoming spring classes. Meanwhile, it was back to chapel yesterday, where we heard a splendid message from Phil. 3. As I often do, I took along not only my Greek New Testament but also my German and French New Testaments. It's always fun to see how other translations handle exegetical issues. Sometimes you find something pretty interesting, like the way the French renders 3:3: "The circumcision -- it's us!"
Keeping up with the languages is so key for all you exegetes out there, and what better way to do this than by taking along your foreign language Bibles when you attend chapel or a church gathering. And, might I add, if the message is from the Old Testament, it's a sure thing you'll find the LXX useful.
Meanwhile, packing for my trip to Georgia tomorrow is now in progress. I like to pack the night before in order to feel less rushed on the day I fly. Plans are to attend a jazz concert on Friday night with my daughter and her husband and then run a race with them on Saturday. Best rest for me is getting away for a few days and spending some quality time with family.
Been a good week so far, been good! Looking forward to sharing some pictures from my trip with you.
Monday, November 11
6:48 AM As today is Veteran's Day, I decided to see Midway last night. Yes, "courage" is our word of the day, ladies and gentlemen. A movie like Midway brings to mind old-fashioned words like fortitude, strength of character, and plain old-fashioned guts.
I think the writers of the New Testament knew what courage was like. That's why, in talking about the Christian walk, they used tough words like "race," "struggle," and "battle." The battle against the world, flesh, and devil is just that -- an endless battle. When attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, the United States had the courage to continue. Likewise, when we're attacked, when we face adverse times, Christ's own strength moves in on our weaknesses. "When you look back and see just one pair of footprints," says the Lord, "it was then that I carried you." And that's what grace is all about. I haven't gotten over it yet.
Happy Veterans Day to all you vets out there. We salute your bravery and are thankful for your service.
Sunday, November 10
7:55 AM The topic for tomorrow night's Advanced Greek Grammar class? That's right, discourse analysis. Oh my, how to approach this gignormous topic? I'm a little bit of a mad scientist right now, thinking up all kinds of elixirs to help my students fathom the depths of the subject. To be right up front with you, we're using essays that I personally feel were helpful for me when I was beginning to dig deep into the topic. These include Parunak's "Dimensions of Discourse Structure: A Multidimensional Analysis of the Components and Transitions of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians," as well as two chapters by Porter:
I feel confident that these writings will give the class a good basic overview of the discipline. Then next week we will be looking at two additional essays, one by Longacre ("Towards an Exegesis of 1 John Based on the Discourse Analysis of the Greek Text") and the other by Osburn ("Discourse Analysis and Jewish Apocalyptic in the Epistle of Jude"). Do not fret, this topic can be understood and even mastered, but it takes time, folks, it takes time. Speaking of time, if there's enough time tomorrow night after the student presentations, I think I'll walk the class through my own study of the discourse structure of Philippians.
Over all, let's stay positive when it comes to learning new methods and approaches in New Testament studies. They are JUST methods, and at the end of the day it's not the method that matters but the resulting understanding of the text.
Saturday, November 9
12:42 PM Hey folks, I thought you might enjoy these aphorisms on teaching and writing by Albert Einstein:
Einstein once said, "I am the acoustic type. I learn by ear and give by word." He wrote the way he would have spoken. It is said that he heard the words before he wrote them. He adopted a "conversational" style in his writing.
Here's the HOW of conversational writing:
Here's the WHAT of conversational writing:
Bottom line? If you want to connect with your readers, treat them like friends. Good advice, if you ask me!
P.S. What got me started on this topic? Watching sermons on YouTube by Lloyd Ogilvie and Haddon Robinson. Neither used notes (eye contact, eye contact, eye contact!), and both used simple language. An example from Haddon Robinson.
10:10 AM Exegesis, thankfully, is not all that hard when you pay close attention to details. All you need to do is stay close to the Greek text, and that is a beautiful thing. The sun is shining brightly this morning in Southern Virginia -- a good day to sit on the front porch and begin writing the syllabus for my spring break course on 1 Thessalonians. I'm reading the letter in the Greek, of course.
Various English versions (including Today's English Version) round things out.
My first item of business this morning was to decide if I was going to adopt Zondervan's Life Application Commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians. I know for a fact that this is an excellent commentary in many ways. But it has its "niggles" (as we say in the running community). I noticed, for example, a troublesome inconsistency. Note how the author divides 1:2-10 into two paragraphs (1:2-3 and 1:4-10) in his outline:
But then note how the same author actually treats chapter 1 in the commentary proper. Now all of a sudden we find 1:2-6 as the first major paragraph after the opening greeting (1:1).
Not sure how to explain this disconnect between the author's outline of 1 Thessalonians and his discussion of chapter 1. Therefore, it was back to the Greek syntax.
Here we see how 1:2-5 is structured. The main verb "We give thanks" is modified by three participles (a not uncommon practice in Paul, who loves the "rule of three"):
This is called text-based teaching or preaching. You can find my power point on the subject here. I am excited to let you know that my essay on the structure of 1 Thessalonians is available online as a PDF in case you ever decide to study this wonderful letter on your own. Pretty amazing to see how the paragraphs in the letter hold together and cohere. Time to keep pursuing text-based Bible study!
How's your Bible study going today?
Which book are you in?
What English versions do you enjoy using in your daily Bible reading?
8:18 AM The new year is knocking on our door. What are your goals for 2020? Lots to think about for sure. In life we tend to either burn out or rust out. Rusting out happens when you stagnate and never try anything new. Burning out happens when you continue to do and never stop to rest. I have decided that, by God's grace, I never want to rust out. I never want to stop giving the energy and discipline to trying something new. I want to chase my God-given dreams until the day I die. Do not get rusty, my friend. Use negative experiences as motivation to keep pushing forward. Failure should never frighten us. Keep trying again and again and again until you succeed.
This month and next I'll be prayerfully working on my goals for 2020. Looking forward to sharing them with my blog family. If we rest, we rust, folks. Life is about moving forward regardless of your age or circumstances. To me, there are no other options. We're not here to burn out OR rust out. Let's remind ourselves of that as we enter the new year.
P. S. In case you're interested, our new power point called Who Are the Evangelicals? It's based on Stott's magnificent book Evangelical Truth. You will notice that at the end of the power point Stott lists 12 areas of disagreement among evangelicals, ranging from baptism to the Lord's Supper and beyond. Worship style also comes up for discussion. My opinion, as a musician? Let's welcome the new styles in worship music because they are ways in which the younger generation want to express their love for God. Will the new songs last? Not many of them, I fear. The musicality? Often lacking. But I've also heard some pretty poor organ music in church. The point Stott makes is that we all must be willing to subordinate our preferences to what best serves the entire community of believers. "Unity in diversity" ought to be our hallmark. At the same time, let's be sure our church music is biblically based and theologically sound. And in the midst of it all, let love and mutual consideration continue. "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement," writes Paul, "give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:5-6).
Friday, November 8
6:46 PM This is Veterans Day weekend. To all who have served, thank you.
6:08 PM The word of the day, ladies and gentlemen, is "avocation." What's an avocation? Let's think of it as anything other than our "vocation." I'm a Greek professor, as you all know. That's my vocation. But today I barely touched my Greek at all. John Calvin said a lot about work but also about leisure (he allowed for recreation and sports). Avocation differs from vocation in that it's something you do alongside of your vocation. It's doing an activity you have a burning desire for. It's usually a side interest over which you exercise complete control. Life is a balancing act, folks. You can't always be pursuing your main line of action. Blessed is the man or woman with some hobby or interest aside from their main line of work. Today I dabbled in history -- World War II history to be exact. I find history to be endlessly fascinating. I read a lot of history just because I want to learn more. I remember my first visit to Kaiser Augst in Basel -- the ancient Roman ruins there. I was astonished to discover that the Roman legions had an outpost in Basel 2,000 years ago. I think experiences like that made me a history buff. I was blessed to have taken 2 outstanding courses in American history when I was a student at the University of Hawai'i. I am not content to die in ignorance of my own history. What's your avocation? The goal is to do what excites you. And the possibilities are endless.
P.S. My first glass of eggnog this season. Cheers!
12:32 PM It may be fall but it sure feels like winter. The right clothing is essential. Today I nearly froze to death while biking because I had underdressed with only 2 sweatshirts and one windbreaker. I had to stop after 20 miles because the cold was starting to penetrate to my bones.
I'm grateful for the summer months of wearing tank tops and shorts, but those days are over. Time to winterize, folks, and embrace the cold! We in the northern hemisphere are about to take the plunge, so be prepared.
7:14 AM Okay, gotta ask: How much lettuce is there in the New Testament?
6:22 AM It's official. I'm teaching Intermediate Greek Grammar during our semester break next spring. The dates are March 9-13. It'll be a marathon folks -- we meet from 8:00 - 5:00 daily. We can do this! Which book of the New Testament will we be exegeting? Clue below.
It's maybe the 8th time I've taught this New Testament epistle. The big question: Which commentary will I require for the class? I've been looking at the Life Application Commentary series. It is definitely intriguing. I'm not excited and I'm not disappointed, just intrigued you might say. I will keep you all informed.
As an FYI, my other upcoming classes include:
What an honor it is to engage the mind with students in learning Greek. Scary road? Not any more, and even back in seminary, Harry Sturz was a great role model for me when I was a fledging Greek professor. Excited to read about your academic goals and achievements on your websites!
Thursday, November 7
7:02 PM Fun time this morning at the local coffee shop getting my fill of Colombian brew as well as rereading one of the books that "got it all started" for me -- that is, got me interested in Greek linguistics way back in 1982 when I was still a student in Basel.
At that time, Greek linguistics was what we might call a "niche" field of study. This was before there were any books by Runge or Porter, back when few people were actually even talking about Greek discourse analysis or textlinguistics or verbal aspect, etc. Indeed, if New Testament Greek is a niche field of study, New Testament Greek linguistics is an even more niche field, but back then there were very few books you could read on the subject. At that time I was writing my dissertation and dabbling with this or that linguistic school (Erhardt Gütgemanns of Bonn comes to mind), but writing an entire book on Greek linguistics (as I was fortunate to have done in 1988) wasn't at all on my radar. Later I would become friends with Johannes Louw (a South African), and even today I feel like I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for the way his little book provided something to nurture my fledgling interest in Greek linguistics. I could not help being impressed with his ability to take profound concepts and explain them in terms I could understand. Over the years, his book has led many people into the study of linguistics and semantics. Some years later I was able to convince the author to write the opening chapter in my Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation, which is still in print. In the marketplace of ideas, few books have influenced me as much as Semantics of New Testament Greek has. I have been enormously helped in my understanding of how the Greek language works by the writing ministry of Johannes Louw. His scholarship is a constant challenge to the introversion of the guild. Anyway, onward and upward to the next challenge in the study of New Testament Greek.
2:48 PM Believe it or not, I have decided not to race this weekend. Running can wear us all down after a while. Walking that fine line between exercise and rest is always a work of art. That said, I'm not going to be inactive. Today I worked out for an hour at the gym and then got in an easy 5K run at the track. After all, the day was too beautiful to stay indoors. The sky especially seemed to take on an unusual texture as I was running.
My legs are beginning to feel rested again, and I know if I treat them the way they deserve to be treated, I'll be ready for my next race, which is next weekend in the great state of Georgia. Running is a wonderful thing but it always has to be balanced with rest and days of recovery. Last month (October) I managed to do 23 workouts for a total of 115 total miles, averaging 4 workouts a week, which is just about where I like things to be. Hoping all this training keeps me in good shape to be able to continue to pour my heart and soul into teaching and writing!
Wednesday, November 6
7:02 PM I'll never forget my days of surfing the Pipeline. The world's most perfect wave that is for sure. Enjoy this montage of the North Shore of O'ahu set to some very relaxing music.
6:54 PM Wonderful days on campus this week seeking that ever-elusive excellence in classroom teaching. We are not giving up. This is our moment, ladies and gentlemen, to make our mark in this world. Time to hold each other accountable and nudge each other on to fresh ideas, fresh goals, and fresh dreams for our lives. Be not afraid to fail, my friends, in your pursuit of your life endeavors. If you need a fresh start with new hopes and dreams, take it. I hope this blog will help motivate you to strive to get them. What a journey 2019 has been thus far, and it isn't over yet. Let's finish strong and enjoy the Lord in all of it. Let's soar into the New Year with Heaven's wind at our backs!
Monday, November 4
6:50 AM Today's key word is "précis." A précis is a summary or an abstract of a text or speech. Not many books have a précis. But the other night I did notice one tome on my bookshelf that had a précis. It is the second volume of Winston Churchill's classic The Second World War.
This volume is called "Their Finest Hour" -- the "Their" referring, of course, to the British people who, for a long time, stood alone against the fury of Hitler's Germany. Here's the précis to this volume.
The back-story: The Battle of France had been lost, the Battle of Britain begun. Could the British Isles hold out long enough until the wealth and might of the United States came to their aid?
I thought to myself, "What if every New Testament book had a précis like this? Written by the author himself?" My oh my. That might very well have clarified to all the main purpose and theme of that writing -- especially in books whose main idea seems a bit opaque. Philippians, I have argued, is not really about joy, which is always a byproduct of living for others. Paul's main concern in Philippians is to see that a divided church deals head-on with the divisions in its midst lest their gospel witness be hindered or even blotted out. The précis to Philippians might perhaps have read:
How the people of God,
by having the humble mind of Christ,
can set aside matters of secondary importance
and joyfully "contend with one soul for the faith of the gospel" (1:27).
We all know how divided our evangelical churches are today. Is unity possible? Is it even desirable? It all depends on what you mean by unity. Stott helpfully writes (Evangelical Truth, p. 116):
Yes! "You all are of Christ" is our true status as believers, of which "I am of Paul, I am of Peter, I am of Apollos" is a perversion. True unity is never found in a uniformity engineered by us, but in Jesus Christ. The very worst way to combat sectarianism is by starting another ism that flies in the face of the Lord Christ at the masthead. As Stott puts it, "Our disunity remains a major hindrance to our evangelism." This week in NT 2 we will be talking about how we can discern between the essentials that cannot be compromised and the adiaphora ("indifferent matters") that are of secondary importance. My hope is that we can all grow not only in our understanding but in our agreement.
Sunday, November 3
5:24 PM I'm simply at a loss for words after today's activities. What a glorious day! It all began with the City of Oaks Half Marathon at 7:00 sharp in downtown Raleigh.
As you can see, the field was a crowded one, which became obvious to me as we walked toward the starting line.
My 22nd half marathon is now official.
No, I didn't set a new PR or anything like that. Me legs were simply too tired, coming off of almost back-to-back races in Richmond and (before that) in Chicago. But overall, I was pleased with my effort today. Not anywhere near my half marathon PR of 2:27 but I'll take it, folks, I'll take it.
The best part of all was making a small contribution to UNC Cancer Hospital in Becky's memory. UNC was the host of today's half and I couldn't be prouder of that amazing organization for the way they treat their patients. Of course, life isn't only about sports. There are chores to be done, indeed many of them if you live alone on a farm with two houses. This week I'm expecting a gaggle of guests at Maple Ridge (our guest home), so I couldn't let my post-race tiredness get me down. Nope, there were lawns to mow -- which I always love doing.
Best of all is when you mow around an outbuilding constructed in the year 1790 (yes, that was even before I was born).
Then I "cleaned" Maple Ridge for our guests. I say "cleaned" in quotes because it's a single man speaking here, folks, and a man who knows next to nothing about house cleaning. This meant sweeping the floors and the stairwell.
It also meant wiping down counters and wall hangings.
Yep, a good day to strike that sometimes elusive balance between hobbies and responsibilities. Does life get any better?
Rosewood Farm, you are a beautiful place. I wouldn't trade you for the world.
Saturday, November 2
2:50 PM It hath been done as the Lord hath commanded. The bib hath been picked up.
And the Ethiopian food hath been eaten.
I'm behind in my farm chores so ... see ya!
8:56 AM Here's a fascinating lecture on the life and theology of Ulrich Zwingli. Armin Mauerhofer is one of Switzerland's most beloved theologians. He received his doctorate from the University of Bern with a dissertation on the rise of the free evangelical churches in Switzerland.
A few takeaways:
I love his teaching style, don't you? A good lecturer is oh-so-much more than just an expert in his or her subject. A good lecturer does more than convey facts. Professor Mauerhofer's enthusiasm and constant looking at his audience is truly inspiring. I'm not sure that running an entire class in lecture format is always the best thing for students, but lectures do have their place, and when we give them, let's aim for a delivery that is characterized by clarity, good organization, and rhetorical skill.
7:14 AM The UNC Half Marathon is tomorrow! Lots of rest and recovery today that is for sure. It is going to be an incredible race. The half is my all-time favorite distance in running. I'm beyond excited to toe the line and especially happy to be running in memory of Becky and to raise funds for UNC Health Care. Looks like the weather is going to hold out nicely though it will be COLD. We just keep breathing and moving forward in this world.
6:15 AM If you would, please join me in praying for pastor Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and his wife Lois. Treatment is no longer an option for her cancer, and she has been released from the hospital for home care.
"Even though chemotherapy and radiation are no longer options," writes Tony, "we still have total confidence in God's ability to supernaturally intervene and do what man is unable to do."
I am not unfamiliar with Tony and Lois's plight. When your wife is facing down a terminal illness, you do the only thing you can think of: You tell God you need help. You thank Him that He knows exactly what is going on in your wife's body and you ask him to ease your anxieties. You remember His promise, "I will never fail you. I will never abandon you." You repeat daily, "The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear." You call the church elders to pray over the afflicted. You humbly ask others for their intercession.
Above all, you submit to God's kind providence. Sometimes it feels like He's not there. But He's always there. For a reason known only to Him, He sometimes chooses to intervene directly in our daily affairs, and sometimes He chooses not to do so. He saved the three men who walked in fire. But He didn't save Jesus on the cross. In my case, He took Becky home to be with Him. Yet even at the moment of death, He was there. Yes, even at the death bed of a spouse, He is there -- maybe especially there. "God is our refuge and strength. He's always ready to help in times of trouble" (Psalm 46:12).
Love and good wishes, brother Tony and sister Lois. I'm joining you in praying for healing. God is able. And may these adverse moments be enormously and outrageously hopeful for you. You can trust Him to help you fight off discouragement. For it's in these very moments that His strength moves in on our weakness.
Friday, November 1
12:38 PM Momentum is a key in life, ladies and gentlemen, and momentum is what I'm striving for as I think back on the 6 years I've lived without Becky. This is where inner strength comes into play a little bit, yes that inner virtue in our lives that allows us to accomplish our daily tasks. Momentum allows us to integrate hope into our lives in order to ease some of the pain we experience as we go through hard times of loss and sorrow. There's no sense in responding to a tragedy in such a way that only exacerbates the evil you've already experienced. In choosing to face your pain head on, you are taking your first tiny steps toward the sunrise. The pain I'm feeling this weekend at the loss of my wife reflects the joy and pleasure I felt in knowing her. Odd, isn't it, how the soul can feel both pain and joy at the same time? That's because the pain you're feeling demonstrates the supreme value of what was lost. Not that I have achieved perfect contentment or perfect momentum. I will never get there, that's for sure. What matters, as with running, is the forward movement. Death and loss require new adjustments and continued growth. We can learn to be content whether we are widowed or divorced or unemployed or even dying. We really must live this way. There is no other option. "Even the saddest things," wrote Frederick Buechner, "can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey ahead." God does not erase the loss or remove the pain altogether. Becky's death to cancer will always be bad. But grace takes an evil and turns it into something that results in good.
That, today, is my story folks. Tomorrow, as I commemorate Becky's homegoing, I will love and serve God with all my heart and strength. He has filled my life with bounty, even as I continue to feel the loss. God has given me more than I deserve, even in my suffering. How will I celebrate? I will go to Raleigh and pick up my race bib and then enjoy Ethiopian food in memory of my girl from Abyssinia. To anyone who will listen, I will proclaim the comfort I have experienced knowing that the sovereign God who is in control of everything is the same God who has experienced every ounce of my pain. He is not aloof from our suffering. He is acquainted with grief. He feels the sorrow of the whole world.
Friend, as you perhaps continue to experience pain in your own life, remember that the pain will eventually subside. Today it may be shouting. But someday it will become a faint whisper. You might think this is impossible. You might think that the pain will always be unbearable. But I am here to tell you, hope will return to replace the despair. Will you ever be able to move on with your life? Yes, a thousand times, yes.
6:55 AM This Sunday, while I'm running a half marathon in Raleigh, almost 50,000 runners will be participating in the New York City Marathon, and one of them -- Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa -- will be targeting the course record if the weather cooperates.
Right now the forecast calls for near-perfect conditions on race day -- sunny skies with a high of 52 and manageable winds (6 mph). The current course record is 2:05:06. The key that everyone is talking about? The Nike Vaporfly Next Percent shoes. I will be watching with interest! I'm a huge goal setter and I love watching other people trying to reach theirs. As runners we know how important it is to set goals. They not only help us track our progress but keep us dedicated. But to find true satisfaction in running (and in life in general), our goals must be based on our own ability, not on someone else's. And we have to become experts at adjusting our goals whenever that becomes necessary. Examine your goals. Why did you pick them? Are they realistic? Are they too low or too lofty? If you fail to meet them, what is your backup plan? Remember: A goal is merely something to work toward. But it's the process of moving toward the goal that's most important. When I graduated from Basel in 1983, I set a goal of publishing 1 book every 5 years and 1 journal article or book chapter every year. That's still my goal today as an academic. On the one hand, friends, it makes no sense to set unrealistically high goals. But it also makes no sense to underestimate your God-given abilities. The one thing we must do is set our own goals. Learning to set reasonable and achievable goals has been one of the most difficult things I've had to do in life. That's one reason I love running so much. Running makes us stop and consider our goals for today, our goals for our life, our goals for ourselves. All athletes have good and bad days. When we can accept both, we are well on our way to running the race of life successfully. My strategy in life, no matter how corny it sounds, it to shoot for the stars and see just how high I can reach. And I'm beyond excited to see what the Lord has in store for me yet in life.
Cheers everyone, and thanks for joining the journey.