Thursday, January 17
6:20 AM Today I'm giving this book to my horse-loving granddaughter, whose family has both a horse and a pony on their farm.
This book is an all-time children's classic. I found it while rummaging around in my office this week. It's narrated by Black Beauty himself so we get to see the world from the perspective of a horse. The author, Anna Sewell, said she wrote the book to awaken love and sympathy for animals. Although the book depicts the cruelty of man, the story has a happy ending. Throughout his struggles, Black Beauty maintains a positive and persevering spirit. I love how the author tries to get into the mind of her animals. I'm pretty sure that's what I've done with the goats and sheep and horses and donkeys and cattle and dogs I've owned through the years. I actually try to see life from their point of view.
As an equestrian and an educator, I can say that this book is truly an amazing work of fiction. But here's what struck me the most. This was the only book Anna Sewell ever wrote. And she composed it while she was an invalid and could hardly get out of bed. She died a mere 5 months after it was published but providentially was able to see its success. Today, over 50 million copies of her book have been sold worldwide. Heartrending and educational, it's one of those books I think most every child could benefit from by reading it. It preaches without being preachy, if you know what I mean. I hope it will have pride of place on my granddaughter's bookshelf for many years to come.
P.S. A movie was made based on this book.
Wednesday, January 16
7:25 PM Random musings after a very full 3 days of teaching:
1) This was my view this evening as I completed a 5-mile run at the Tobacco Heritage Trail in South Boston, VA.
And this was my view as I completed a 12-mile bike yesterday at the Neuse River Greenway in Raleigh, NC.
I am slowly introducing my body back into marathon training and it's going surprisingly well. I've enjoyed some really peppy workouts and anticipate a few more before I leave for Phoenix in 3 weeks. The concept is simple. Get outdoors and enjoy this great big world that God created for us to enjoy. As for tomorrow ... well, I hope to lift at the Y, have lunch with my daughter and her family, and then rest up before attempting a 26.2 mile bike on Friday.
2) After I ran this evening I decided to eat at a Mexican restaurant that Becky and I used to frequent before she got too sick to dine out. I hadn't eaten here in over 5 years, but I decided that tonight was going to the night to rectify that omission. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, memories swept over me. I could visualize myself opening the car door for Becky and I could see us, hand in hand, walking into the restaurant. She would order what she always ordered -- chimichangas -- and I would usually order arroz con pollo -- which, by the way, just "happened" to be tonight's special.
Becky loved Mexican food, and she would often cook burritos and tacos at home. I think she drew inspiration from her Texas background. Odd isn't it, how food soothes our souls. Tonight, as I ate alone (no -- the Lord was with me), I felt a sense of peace sweep over me, touching the anguish of my soul and giving me comfort and rest. I was reminded of how Becky's death changed the trajectory of life in so many ways. It's not surprising to anyone who's experienced a painful loss to find themselves inspired by that loss to dedicate themselves to some worthy cause or greater purpose. I'd have never climbed the Alps for charity or started running for various causes had I not experienced the loss of my wife. I find myself thinking more than ever about what the new heavens and the new earth will look like -- how life will be for the whole creation when Jesus comes back and sets everything in order again. In the meantime, you and I have our own stories to live out, our own traditions of faith and virtue to pass down to our children and grandchildren. We find meaning in loss even as we affirm life in the midst of death. All this -- and much more -- occurred to me while I chomped down on my rice and chicken. Hope is so much more than a passing feeling. It's the light in the deepest darkness, the unwavering promise that no matter how bleak things may appear to be, He is always near. Is it any wonder Jesus calls Himself the light of the world?
3) This book came today.
It's an absolute treasure. This particular edition is extremely attractive.
The Hebrew text was translated by the great Hebrew scholar F. Delitzsche, and a new English translation has been provided that is a vast improvement over the version that used to accompany the Hebrew text.
I always find it interesting to compare the Hebrew with the Greek, especially when I'm in the Gospels. Don't you?
So there you have it. Right now I have nothing else to say but a prayer of thanks to God for giving me such a fantastic Greek class for J-term. Students, you were terrific. It's a privilege to be truth-telling and to do some exegetical rabble-rousing with each of you.
I am so grateful.
See you next week!
Monday, January 14
5:10 AM N. T. Wright addresses the issue of church and state (i.e., the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms of this world) in this YouTube. I link to it because much is being said these days about why evangelicals should become involved in political activism. I am not against activism per se. I do have some concerns, however. I will probably not support a so-called "conservative Christian" political agenda if its proponents:
1) Give the impression that they are more "moral" than other people. If Paul could consider himself "the very worst of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), it will not help your cause if you pit "moral people" (like us) against "immoral people" (like homosexuals, prostitutes, and abortionists, etc.). Jesus' holiness did not repel sinners. He did not go around promoting "faith, family, and freedom." He attracted tax collectors and prostitutes while the Pharisees kept their distance.
2) Think it will "bring America back to God." America has never been a Christian nation.
3) Identify the church with any human institution or political party. God is not a Republican or a Democrat. Please do not suggest that agreeing with your particular political position is a precondition to belonging to the kingdom of God. It is not.
4) Fail to submit to God's reign in every area of life, including Jesus' command to love sinners. Nonconformity to the world means more than opposing social evils such as abortion; it includes a humble, peacemaking, servant-like, self-sacrificial love. It means revolting against everything in our lives that is inconsistent with God’s kingdom, including the temptation to grab Caesar-like political power.
5) Claim that their position is the only "Christian" position out there. We must always be on guard against the seductive lure of a kind of hubris that implies that all "sincere" and "godly" evangelicals share the same view about controversial political actions. They don't.
6) Imply that "inalienable rights" and "the pursuit of happiness" are biblical concepts. They are not. I love democracy. I'd much rather live in a democracy than in a dictatorship. But nowhere is democracy or political freedom elevated to a virtue in the New Testament.
The Gospel is a beautiful and powerful grassroots kingdom movement. No, it does not rule out political activism. But the truth is that the kingdom does not look like the thousands of social movements abroad in the land today. The heart of Christianity is simply imitating Jesus. What is needed, then, is to develop a Christian mind on these matters and that means informing ourselves about contemporary issues, pouring over the Scriptures, voting in elections (as the Lord leads us), sharing in the public debate (to the degree, again, that we are led to do so), giving ourselves to public service if that is our divine calling, etc. At times the church may be led to go beyond teaching and deeds of mercy and take corporate political action of some kind, but we must not do so without making every effort to study an issue thoroughly and seeking to reach a common Christian mind.
Sunday, January 13
5:30 PM I've got the rice boiling while I prepare my dinners for the next few days on campus. My body is here in Virginia but my mind is in Phoenix, where I'll be running in a marathon in less than a month. I truly believe that there's hardly a person on Planet Earth who couldn't run a half or a full marathon if they decided to do it. Every person is already a potential long-distance athlete. It comes down to tenacity more than talent. I should know. Entering my first 5K as a 63 year old male was a turning point in my life. I had switched from running for recreation to running as a racer. I took whatever God-given talent I had (not very much), trained as hard as I could, and then went out and raced. At first, 3.1 miles seemed impossible. Since then, every new distance has seemed like a milestone. 6.2 miles. Then 10 miles. Then 13.1 miles. Then 26.2 miles. Then 31 miles. The marathon has become one of my top life experiences. It has challenged me like nothing else. Of course, I've had a lot of encouragement along the way. (Thank you, family.) But when you get to the starting line, you're on your own. Nobody else can take one step for you. It is you and you alone who has to make up your mind to keep on going. Like Greek scholars, long-distance athletes are made, not born. When I completed my first marathon, I walked away from the finish line knowing that I could accomplish anything in life. I've learned that with everything in life, tenacity is more important than talent. I see that same tenacity in my Greek students. Some have an aptitude for languages, others don't. Yet there they are -- mastering a very difficult language in a very short period of time. Everyone can learn Greek, and everyone can become a long-distance runner. For me, racing is not about setting new PRs. It's about starting a race and then finishing it, knowing that it was the Lord who gave me the strength to do both. Let's face it. I'm just hard-headed. But without determination, how can you accomplish anything that's worthwhile in life? Like studying Greek, you've got to be all in, dude.
And so it goes. I've got a marathon to run in 3 weeks. My students have a Greek class to finish in 3 days. I think most people -- runners and students alike -- would say they do what they do in order to become better people, people who can make a positive contribution to this old world of ours. We like the sense of accomplishment it gives us when we finish a tough race or ace a Greek exam. Whenever I think to myself, "Dave, you're crazy to run in marathons," I remember that running has made mentally tougher, more determined, and so grateful to God for the blessings He gives me each and every day.
If you have a passion like that in your life, thank God for it. It's a pure gift from Him.
1:44 PM Just did my weekly grocery shopping at Food Lion. The weather has improved greatly even though the ice storm just to the north and west of the farm caused numerous power outages, as you can see from this outage map.
The trees in South Boston were covered with ice, but ours were ice-free. The difference a mile or two can make! Because of the good road conditions, I was able to get to church and hear a message from Luke 3 on the baptism of Jesus. Again, I noted a first-class textual variant. Did the Father say "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased," or "You are My Son, today I have become Your Father"?
Thankfully, I had immediate access to Wieland Willker's online textual commentary and so I could read what Augustine had to say about this variant. The rest of this afternoon I've been making preparations to visit a couple of my kids and their families during Easter break. Matthea's husband is pastoring to the east of Birmingham and Karen's husband is stationed at Fort Benning, so I know I can make this work. This means that so far in 2019 I've booked trips to Phoenix, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Honolulu. I'm also working on another mission trip internationally. My motto whenever I travel is "Pack lightly and keep it simple stupid." I love running when I travel. It's great to run in a new place with new scenery. And the food? I'm definitely looking forward to having some excellent sushi in Phoenix!
7:45 AM Here's a picture of our weather conditions in Southside Virginia and North Carolina.
In Raleigh they're getting rain, while we're experiencing freezing rain and further north they're getting snow. These conditions are supposed to last until late today and even into the wee hours of Monday morning. So today, other than reading and studying my Bible, I'll be trying to get some writing done, beginning with this blog post. I just realized that although I've often spoken to you about why I think studying overseas is such a great experience, I've never described the cultural differences you encounter when living in, say, Germany or Switzerland. Since I lived in the former country for 3 months and in the latter country for a much longer period of time, I'm hoping I can offer a few insights for any of you who might be thinking about doing your doctoral studies in Europe.
People often refer to "culture shock" when living in a strange and foreign land. After living abroad, I think the term "shock" may be a bit of an exaggeration. The first thing you must realize when you travel abroad is this: When you live in a foreign country you can't expect everything to be just like it is at home. A different country is just that: a different country. Some things you will like very much. Other things you will not like so much. But I was never "shocked" by what I saw or experienced while living in Europe. In fact, I would say that one of the strongest reasons Becky and I decided to live abroad was because of the differences we knew we would encounter. We would sometimes tell our Swiss friends that we wanted to live in their country "um Land und Leute besser kennenzulernen" (to get to know your country and people better). Now I hasten to add that if you live in Basel you can find plenty of opportunity to spend all of your time with American expats. You can speak English, attend an English-speaking church, and associate with people who are (for the most) just like you. I suppose this is what it's like if you are stationed on an American military base in Germany, for example. In Basel, I met several Americans who didn't even try to learn German. They didn't need to. Becky and I decided our approach would be the opposite. Yes, we had American friends with whom we spoke English. But the great majority of our friends and acquaintances were German-speaking Swiss. We faithfully attended, week in and week out, die Baptistengemeinde Basel (the Baptist Church of Basel), and there I was privileged to preach in German on several occasions. At the university, German was the official language, and all lectures were held in that language. Of course, even if you're able to speak quite good German, this doesn't guarantee an ability to detect all of the subtle nuances that are hidden in a language. For me, this meant that I was always learning how to improve my spoken German, not just my High German but my Swiss German as well. Americans are often considered arrogant by Europeans, and I think there's some truth to that perception. The philosophy that Becky and I adopted went something like this: We need to try and fit into the country where we're living and not the other way around. Because of that philosophy, I can say that our stay in Basel was, for the most part, a joy and a delight. We were stretched to the max culturally, of course, but that's one of the reasons we wanted to live there in the first place.
So now on to the things we noticed about life in Basel:
1) You'll do a lot more walking than you do here in the States. The entire infrastructure is designed for pedestrians and cyclists. Becky and I would maybe take the train or the tram or the bus when we needed to go long distances, but mostly we would walk to church, to the uni, etc.
2) We found that most supermarkets close early in the evening and are closed completely on Sundays, though this was not universally true. If you needed something, you could go to the SBB (train station). But as a rule of thumb, stores closed early so that people could go home and rest and be with their families. Also, the stores are very small as compared to our grocery stores, but this is perfectly understandable when you realize that the Swiss generally buy their food fresh and almost daily. As for shopping bags, we discovered that there aren't any free ones, but you could usually purchase a shopping bag from Migros when you shopped there. Then you simply reused that bag on your next visit. I would say that food quality was higher in Switzerland than in the U.S., at least when we lived there. But that was back when we didn't have Whole Foods or Sprouts.
3) I recall that Basel was basically a cash economy and that we hardly ever used a credit card when we shopped or dined out. I think, though, that this has changed. When I spent 8 days in Zermatt two summers ago, I used my credit card to pay for everything, from my hotel to my meals to my lift tickets. Still, it's probably a good idea to carry a wad of cash wherever you go.
4) When we lived in Basel, I remember that there was a lot more cigarette smoking than what we were used to. It was tough to adjust to that, especially when you had to endure secondhand smoke in restaurants and even in my seminars at the uni. I well recall taking a seminar with Markus Barth. I'm sure I was the only non-pipe smoker in the room!
5) No refills on your coffee, and you can forget about getting ice with your soft drink. Free water is definitely not the norm, though if you begged and pleaded for "Leitungswasser" (tap water) your waiter might be kind enough to indulge you. I got so used to going without ice that even today I ask my server to "hold the ice" when ordering a soft drink. By the way, eating out was much less common in Basel than it was in California (where B and I were living at the time). Dining in a restaurant was considered something of a luxury (prices were very high), and the fast food craze had not yet caught on (there was only one fast food eatery in Basel and it was the MacDonald's on Barfusserplatz in the middle of the city).
If you do eat out in Europe, don't expect your server to hover over you. It was expected that if you wanted something, you'd call your server who was never far away. Otherwise, I think the idea was, "Let's leave diners alone to enjoy their meal and their conversation."
6) Public politeness was pretty much taken for granted in Basel. Before engaging with someone you would usually say "Hello" rather than just blurting out whatever you wanted.
7) Most people behaved as though they lived in a very safe environment. I don't remember there being much of a drug problem in Basel at the time, and schools were completely open and the children were free to leave campus and take their lunch breaks at home. Becky and I also noticed how independent the kids were and how friendly they were. We would often see them playing with each other with no parents in sight.
8) Loud conversations did not take place in public. Children were expected to be controlled. Even in restaurants you couldn't hear the conversation taking place at the table next to you.
9) What about housing? As I recall, about 99 percent of our friends in Basel lived in apartments (Wohnungen). There was only one family at our church who could afford to live in the country (he was an engineer). Becky and I were stretched financially so that at the time we could only afford a one-room apartment. We couldn't control the heat for our room (it was controlled by the landlord). We weren't permitted (by city ordinance) to take showers or baths after 10:00 pm. We had a teeny tiny bathroom and an even smaller kitchenette. But our happiness didn't depend on physical furnishings. We had youth and we had vigor. Most of all we had the Lord. Of course, my professors enjoyed a lifestyle commensurate with their status. The first month I lived in Basel I stayed in the three-story house of my Doktorvater Bo Reicke while I was looking for an apartment for Becky and me to live in (she was still in California at that time). I felt like I was living in a mansion. Why, they even had a "garden." At first I thought they grew their own vegetables, but the German "Garten" simply means back yard. When the Reickes spent a week at their chalet in the Alps, I was asked to mow the "Garten" with their electric lawnmower (the Swiss have always been pretty green).
10) What else? Oh, cleanliness. The Swiss must sweep their streets 40 times a day. You will never see trash ever. That's a huge contrast to where I live currently.
Okay, I should stop for now. I hope you have a better idea of what it's like living abroad when you're earning your doctorate. Of course, just because I lived in Basel doesn't mean I understand what it's like to live in Switzerland at large. It's like someone saying "I know German culture because I know Bavarian culture." You couldn't be more wrong. Or it's like saying "I know America because I've lived in New York." The one thing I'd like you to take away from this blog post is this: Don't be afraid to live in a different culture. Sure, there will be differences, some of them huge, like when I ate donkey meat in China or dog meat in Korea. Generally speaking, however, what we call "culture shock" is usually just bad preparation. With Dr. Google, all the information you need is at your finger tips.
The young Doktorand and his bride in 1980 in front of the city cathedral.
Saturday, January 12
4:26 PM Interested in questions of Bible translation? Here's the page from our Greek Portal on that topic. This essay caught my eye: Why the English Standard Version (ESV) Should not become the standard English Version.
11:45 AM There are no excuses not to exercise. You're never too busy. You're never too overweight. You're never too old. It's never too cold or too hot. Then again, there are always exceptions. Today I planned on biking 20 miles but quit after 10.
Both my hands and my feet were frozen solid, plus my circulation had stopped. It's not that I hadn't dressed appropriately: two caps, four layers of uppers, heavy pants, wool stockings, inner and outer gloves, and a thick fleece neck warmer. The problem was the temperature. The cold literally penetrated to my bones. I feel proud and grateful for pushing through to 10 miles but I feel like a wimp for quitting before reaching my goal of 20 miles. Suffice it to say, the weather beat me today. Hawaii/California guy here so I guess that should be expected from time to time.
Here's how dismal everything looks.
The ice is expected shortly, followed by snow and rain. I do hope I can make it to campus on Monday. That might be wishful thinking at this point, however.
Stay warm and dry wherever you are.
7:48 AM Sweet, sweet time in Gal. 5:13-15 this morning.
I read the text. Then I meditated on it. Then I consulted Stott's commentary.
He outlines the paragraph as follows:
As usual, his summary hits the nail on the head. The freedom for which Christ has set us free (5:1) "is freedom not to indulge the flesh, but to control the flesh; freedom not to exploit our neighbor, but to serve our neighbor; freedom not to disregard the law, but to fulfill the law." As for me and my house, we will try and put this into practice.
Off to bike in the cold. Yes, I can be slightly insane.
6:12 AM Haddon Robinson was one of my favorite preachers. He wrote "the" textbook on homiletics as far as I'm concerned. (Only John Stott's Between Two Worlds can match it.) I heard Haddon Robinson preach many times in Dallas at Grace Bible Church, where Becky and I were married in 1976. He is famous for asking, "Some people preach for an hour and it feels like twenty minutes, and some preach for twenty minutes and it seems like an hour. I wonder what the difference is?"
Well, I think Dr. Robinson answers his own question in this commencement address he gave at DTS.
His words have a glow to them. Clarity and crispness are in every sentence. It is a fine-honed masterpiece of conciseness. He makes every second of his sermon count. Clearly, Haddon Robinson had mastered the art of delivering truth in a creative and compelling way.
I once heard a homiletics professor say that the three greatest sins of preaching are lack of truth, lack of content, and lack of interest. Even if you're sinless in the first two, you can still drop the ball in the third. I get so tired of hearing myself and others making excuses for our boring sermons. Preaching, like anything else, is a decision. If you're going to do it, do it well.
Sermons to put you to sleep?
Friday, January 11
7:10 PM What a crazy week it was. I taught two chapters from my grammar today. Ditto for yesterday. This is the new reality -- an 11-day J-term instead of the 15-day session I'm used to. Still, the students seem to be handling it well and I'm so proud of them. Then, the registrar asked me to add another section of beginning Greek to my schedule for the new semester that starts on Thursday. That means I'm teaching 3 sections of baby Greek in the same semester -- something I haven't done in a very long time. That makes my total course load for the spring semester 5 classes, which of course I'm happy to teach. I love researching and writing, but my heart is in the classroom.
After I had returned to the farm and done my chores, I drove into town to get in a workout at the Y and a run at the track. There were long lines to get gas and groceries -- yes, we're expecting another snow/sleet/ice event this weekend. It was a frosty 36 degrees while I was running this afternoon and I had to really layer up. Admit it, you think of a warm fireplace when you're out braving the frigid temps. Is it spring yet???!!! Tomorrow I'm bound and determined to get in a long bike before the weather sours. You know: heart racing, legs burning, sweat dripping. The wind in your face. The sun beating down. This is what I live for. To be out there enjoying the great Creator's handiwork. I have never done a run or a bike and regretted doing it. I can even put up with my ugly toes because I know I'm working on a goal that I will never attain. But if you know me (as I think you do), you know that I'm not one to give up very easily. I am nothing if not persistent. I am thrilled beyond words to be an amateur athlete. I hope you will join me on this journey! There's no substitute in life for hard work, as I told a student I had lunch with today. Pick the hardest Ph.D. program out there, not the easiest. Study in a foreign language if you can. Yes, your fears might say "no," but you can't entertain that thought. You can and will do this. And He will be with you every step of the way.
Thursday, January 10
5:05 AM Here's a question being asked: How long should a sermon be? The question, I think, is irrelevant. If you're an interesting speaker, people won't even look at their watches. But you've got to know your stuff. Which means speaking without notes and maintaining eye contact with your audience.
Wednesday, January 9
6:30 PM My doctoral students can take heart from this statistic:
Unbelievable. I completed my doctorate in 3 years, but that was B.C. (before children). Still, I don't think I could have lasted 13 years. In fact, I know I couldn't have lasted 13 years.
2:22 PM Chores are done. Helped Nathan load a trailer. How much fun. #threegenerationsoffarmers.
12:52 PM Did you hear about the race between a lettuce and a tomato? The lettuce was ahead and the tomato was always trying to play catch up. Bad, I know. Fact is, I've got racing on my mind again, mostly because in exactly 30 days I'll be running in the Phoenix Marathon, Lord willing.
The course, as you can see, is mostly downhill, which means a lot of people will qualify for Boston.
I won't be among them, but I'm still hoping for a good finish time. For training, I biked 15 miles yesterday at the Neuse River Greenway in Raleigh.
(Disclaimer: I am a slow cyclist. An average speed of 13 mph on a bike is nothing compared to "real" cyclists. In fact, I was passed numerous times. I'm also a slow runner. Personally, I don't think "slow" runners ruin marathons. But I also don't think there shouldn't be cut off times. Most marathons have a generous 6.5-7 hour cut off time. Phoenix has a 6. I'm a plodder, but I'm going to do my best. I don't care if you run, walk, or crawl, if you finish the race within the cut off time, you're a marathoner in my book. I'm 100 percent behind anybody who wants to participate. Honestly, I would probably drop dead of shock if I did a sub-5 hour marathon.)
This will be my 13th marathon in the past 3 years. I'll let you know how it goes. Unbelievably, the temp yesterday was 68 degrees. And they're calling for snow this weekend. Go figure. Right now I have to get caught up on my farm chores.
Monday, January 7
5:55 AM Henry Neufeld has written a thoughtful post called Why Not to Tithe. Henry says he's always been against tithing in a legalistic sense, even before he published David Croteau's book on the subject. (Croteau is a Ph.D. graduate of SEBTS.) Yet he was afraid to tell others he didn't believe in tithing. He was afraid that people would give less than 10 percent if he did. As it turns out, I share that fear. If I were to teach pure grace (as I indeed do teach), people might assume that I didn't think giving was all that important. Actually, grace giving ought to be the easiest type of giving of all, but instead it can be the most difficult. It takes maturity to know when to give, how much to give, to whom to give. Giving is an abstract subject. There is no black and white. For when Christ enters a person's life, it is always on the level of grace and never on the level of legalistic morality. Tithing reduces all decisions to one simple decision, and there is no struggling with the Holy Spirit. When, however, we come to understand and accept the place of grace in our lives and love relationships, it becomes easier for us to grasp the theological doctrine of grace giving. Somehow we must learn to love as God loves and give as He gives. Our giving should be watered with tears and bedecked with affection. For now is the time to give, now is the time to be generous, before the opportunities have passed and it is no longer an option.
5:46 AM Three quotes for your reading pleasure:
"The Bible was never intended to be a book for scholars and specialists only. From the very beginning its was intended to be everybody's book, and that is what it continues to be." F. F. Bruce.
"Missions is ravenous in its hunger to please God. It knows no other purpose for its existence. It lives for the single pleasure of hearing God say, 'Well done, good and faithful slave' (Mt 25:21). You have told the truth in a false world, you have turned the iron key of liberty in the steel door of hell, and the captives are freed (Lk 4:18)! For this liberation you have been called 'missionary.'" Calvin Miller.
"My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed." Anne Sullivan, referring to her student Helen Keller.
Sunday, January 6
5:42 PM From time to time I'll visit churches pastored by former students. Today I was at Clearview Church in Henderson, NC, where my former personal assistant, Abidan Shah, pastors.
His message was titled "Resolved" and it was based on the story of Caleb in Josh. 14:10-12.
You'll recall that Caleb was the 85-year old who refused to believe he was old. "I'm just as strong today as when I was 40," he exclaimed with a heart full of faith. Abidan brought out three points:
Have you ever asked yourself the question: In a world without mirrors, would I be old? I am as young as I ever was.
It's only when I look in a mirror that I feel old. Regardless of chronology, we can still serve the Lord, we can still pray, we can still be active, we can still develop our physical strength. My health has never been better. Even more importantly, I have a new zest for living. As Abidan put it, "Don't let your children tell you you're old!" (I won't, and they don't.) The body I have, whatever length of time it's spent on this earth, can still push and coast, reach for new peaks and lie down in peace and security. Whether you're 6, 16, or 66, you can't live your life backwards. If we are to outwit old age, we've got to learn how to outwit youth and middle age as well.
Afterwards I got in a 20-mile bike.
By doing so, I am slowing the toll on my body taken by time. By how many years? Only the Lord knows. But daily I demand performance of myself. And not only physically. My brain is no more a passive instrument of God's grace than my body. "I never knew an old man," wrote Cicero, "who forgets where his money is hidden." We put our effort into what we value. At the Bible Hub website there's a sermon by A. Maclaren called "Caleb -- Youth in Old Age." Maclaren says of Caleb's life four things. It
"The buoyancy, carelessness, hopefulness, cheerfulness of youth," he writes, "are not far away from the aged heart, which lives by faith, and therefore dwells at ease, and is glad and secure, though the shadows of evening be falling."
Sometimes we older people say, "We've earned this rest. Let others do the fighting." Caleb said, "I've earned my spurs. I'm still a warrior to be reckoned with. Don't even think of mustering me out of the ranks." The major campaigns in our lives aren't over with yet, regardless of one's age. We have yet to face many of them.
At the age of 60, British author John Powys wrote, "My life's about to begin." Today and tomorrow hold the opportunity to be better and become more. We only need the faith of Caleb -- and His God.
6:12 AM Sorry for another language-y post this morning. This one concerns the so-called Semitisms/Septuagintalisms in the Greek of the New Testament. These include:
Generally speaking, the more foreign a form is to Greek, the more difficult the expression will be to translate. At times, a word-for-word rendering of the Greek original can misrepresent the meaning of the underlying Semitic idiom. In this case, it's appropriate to translate the Semitic idiom into a suitable idiom in the receptor language (as NEB's "He began to address them" for "He opened His mouth" in Matt. 5:2; cf. my essay The translation of Matthew 5.2). At other times it may be best to leave certain words or expressions untranslated, as with the introductory "and" (kai) in narrative discourse, where it simply indicates the beginning of a new sentence (much like the capital letter with which an English sentence begins). But we must be careful. Frequently the verb archomai ("I begin") is used redundantly in the New Testament (e.g., Mark 1:45; 5:17; 6:7), but it's clearly not redundant in a passage like Acts 1:1 (the book of Acts continues what Jesus literally began to do and teach).
It should be obvious that a translator with a knowledge of the biblical languages, including Hebrew, has an advantage over one who has no training in Hebrew or Greek. That's why I encourage even my students who concentrate their efforts on the New Testament to study Hebrew. Some excellent Hebrew grammars are:
If I were teaching Hebrew, I'd probably use the latter textbook. But I'm not smart enough to teach Hebrew.
P.S. I own two Hebrew New Testaments which I purchased when I was studying in Israel. This one is by Delitzsche. Which reminds me: I need to read Philippians again in Hebrew.
Saturday, January 5
5:50 PM Here's why I don't ask students to memorize the vocative case in Greek.
The vocative is almost invariably set off by commas in our Greek New Testaments. Examples include, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you" and "Teacher, what should we do?" I see no need to memorize a form that is obvious. Besides, with many Greek nouns, the forms of the vocative and the nominative are identical. So when it comes to teaching grammar, sometimes less (memorization) is more. Here's another example. If you're learning the present and future tenses in Greek, you may as well learn them side by side.
I never ask students to memorize the future of luō for the obvious reason that the only difference between the present and future tenses is the future time morpheme sigma. This is just another example that if we are deliberate, we can accomplish more with less. The German expression is:
"Less, but better."
Working harder isn't always the best way to go about learning a foreign language. Working smarter always is.
2:14 PM Today I drove to LaCrosse, VA, to get in a 10-mile run.
It was a beautiful morning. This is what my drive there looked like.
And here's the lovely trail.
However, my body was not itself today. I had a cramp in my left calf almost the whole time. I never have cramps and I don't recommend it. I get impatient when something messes with my running, but I think my body was trying to tell me to slow down a little bit. Today a cramp may have derailed my ambitious plans, but that's okay. I'll be fine tomorrow. A bad run is still better than no run at all.
Of course, I didn't run the whole way; walking was a necessity for part of the distance. Yesterday I brought this book home from the office.
I think I bought it in 1987 but I hadn't read anything in it in years. The book "just happened" to feature an essay by Robert Banks called "'Walking' as a Metaphor of the Christian Life: The Origins of a Significant Pauline Usage." Straight up: This is a great essay. Banks calls Paul the "walkabout missionary" and concludes that Paul's use of "walk" to describe the Christian life is more than a sidelong glance at Jewish Halakah terminology. To wit:
Like Paul, I do a lot of walking. And not just down memory lane either. I use walking as part of my cross training. And I use walking as a break when I'm running a race. Many runners report significantly faster times when they take walk breaks during their races. When you shift back and forth between walking and running, you distribute your work load over a variety of different muscles, not just the same ones. I often tell myself during an event, "Only one mile to go until your next walk break," though I'm not usually locked into a specific ratio of walk breaks. I adjust as needed and usually discover that I recover more quickly that way.
People should never feel guilty about taking walk breaks. Never. I think the same thing can be said about the Christian life. Sometimes life is a stand. Sometimes it's a walk. At other times it's a run. We stand in grace and in the liberty with which Christ has set us free (Rom. 5:2; Gal. 5:1). We walk in newness of life and in a manner worthy of our calling (Rom. 6:4; Col. 1:10). And we run the race that is set before us so that we may obtain the prize (Heb. 12:1; 1 Cor. 9:24). I'm just beginning to embrace the liberation that only exists in knowing when to stand, walk, and run. It doesn't matter how slow or how fast you are. Be as patient with yourself as God is. The one thing you and I must never do is become complacent. I need to obey God when He says press on, stay the course, never give up to discouragement, and never give in to sin. All told, Paul's concept of "walk" offers a pretty good perspective on life. If we're not careful, we can miss the metaphor by translating the Greek term "walk" (peripateō) as though Paul had used the word zaō ("live") instead.
So for now, I'm going to kick my feet up and take a nap and then get back to my daily walk with the Lord. Correction: Napping and resting is part of my daily walk with the Lord. And I hope that I've learned that the daily victories and defeats I have out there on the trail are only as important as I make them out to be.
7:02 AM 5 eyes. 5 arms. 4 legs.
Welcome to Congress, gentlemen.
6:20 AM Did you know that some ski slopes in Switzerland now have speed limits? The hope is to reduce the number of skiing accidents (some 60,000 each year).
However, I'm a bit confused. "Keep the speed of 30 km/h" is not exactly the same as "Versuche 30 km/h zu fahren."
Both languages imply that the speed limit is 30 kilometers per hour, but neither language actually uses the word "limit." In fact, you could also interpret the sign as meaning, "30 km/h is the minimum speed limit on this slope." As a skier might put it, "Wenn alle gleigh schnell fahren ist der Verkehr am Flüssigsten."
All of this goes to show just how difficult translation can be. That's why I politely turn down requests like this: "Dr. Black, will you please give me the Greek words for _________ for my new tattoo?" I well recall the story of NBA star Shawn Marion. He thought his Chinese tattoo spelled out "The Matrix." It actually means "Demon Bird Moth Balls." Not good. Automated translation software is hardly the answer.
Yesterday in Greek class we discussed the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19-20. How should we translate the Greek for "Make disciples" (mathēteusate)? Does the participle "Going" (poreuthentes) carry imperatival force? And how about the idiom "All the days" (pasas tas hēmeras), normally rendered "always"? The teacher's fallback line "The context will decide" very often works, but not always. Genuine ambiguity can slow down or even disrupt the translation process. An English example might be "Flying planes can be dangerous." I'm not saying that we can't know what a speaker means. Any American who's studied German knows exactly what is meant when a native German speaker says to his waiter in English, "I am here since an hour. When do I become a fish?" I do wonder, though, whether we as Bible translators should work harder at recreating the ambiguity in the original text. An example might be "You can learn writing." The question here is a basic one of grammar: Is "writing" a gerund or a participle? Is the idea "You can learn to write" or "You can learn while writing"? A New Testament example might be the adverb anōthen in John 3. Did Jesus mean "You must be born again" or "You must be born from above"? Clearly Nick heard it as the former. Was Jesus being intentionally ambiguous here? In fact, was He even speaking in Greek at all? If not, does the word play work in Aramaic? Personally, I struggle to make my own translations properly ambiguous. (Can you spot the ambiguity in that statement? It was intentional on my part -- in which case it's called equivocal language.)
These kinds of questions about translation can help keep your Greek classes fun and interesting. After all, why take the plaisir out of language learning? Why not let yourself enjoy the learning process? If you go at your own pace and saveur every moment, you'll probably find yourself wanting to spend more temps with the language, whether it's French or German or Spanish or even Greek.
Happy language learning!
5:55 AM Enter a drawing to win a free copy of Wheelock's Latin grammar. Please send me your mailing address when you write. I'll contact the winner tomorrow at 6:00 pm.
Friday, January 4
5:50 PM I haven't done any exercise for 3 days and I'm feeling it. Lethargic. Energyless. Apathetic. I feel like a couch potato, you know, the kind who says "Running isn't good for your body" or "You can die doing a marathon." In fact, fit men are half as likely to die of a heart attack than unfit men. I think what we're really saying is "Exercise is too hard" while we're filling our shopping carts with sodas and processed foods. I hate excuses for anything in life. Anyhoo, it's back to running for me tomorrow if the rain ever stops. The biggest risk in running is doing too much -- a problem I haven't had in the past few days. The tradeoff has been the joy of teaching these wonderful students, shown here taking their quiz over the present and future active indicative.
Wow, they're doing good. I told them that learning Greek is like running a marathon. I said, "Set your goal to finish and take the time to enjoy every step." Each step they take is new. But if I can go the distance, so can they. It's like anything in life. Aim to progress gradually and you will attain your goals.
I'm not going to blog in depth now because I have too many chores to get caught up on, but I did want to confess that this week I darkened the doors of a Panera Bread restaurant for the first time ever and discovered -- Man, I've really been missing some great food. I decided to try it out because someone had sent me a gift card, and I've already been twice. I will forever be grateful to that friend. I had two of the Pick Two combos.
The service was superb and the place was super clean. The staff was friendly and the food came out hot and tasty.
There was a little bit of a wait but that's because I was there at the height of the lunch hour rush. Let me reiterate: I'm not a health food junkie. You will never hear me talk about the latest fad diet. I don't think my diet is too bad but I can always do better. Plus, what's not to like about homemade soup and fresh sandwiches? Problem is, I also have a sweet tooth, and Panera looks like they've got some amazing pastries. I really need to try that awesome looking Bear Claw.
Tonight I'm rereading this little book I got in Basel years ago.
It's amazing how a book written in 1675 can be so relevant today. I'm finding it to be an easy read and super well organized. Spener isn't interested in winning arguments. Like all Pietists, he emphasized a personal (rather than merely a scholastic) relationship with God and evangelism of the lost. The emphasis on missions has a resounding echo in my own heart.
This is awesome.
So what's in your secret book drawer?
Do you like to read books on Pietism?
Would you rather watch TV or read?
Wednesday, January 2
5:58 AM As I begin a new Greek class this week, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts about education. You should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who's looking for the "Seven Keys" to successful teaching. Jesus alone is the Master Teacher. But, for what they're worth, here are the rules of the road I strive to follow.
Christian education is likeness education. We teachers impact our students more by our character than by our communication. Isn't it true? People learn best by example, not by direct instruction. "Actions speak louder than words." This is how the Savior taught – He chose 12 men to "be with Him," then He poured His life into them. As a teacher I must move from being a mere dispenser of information to a mentor and organizer of the learning process.
My job is to serve my students, not vice versa. My goal is to meet my students' needs, not for them to meet mine. Effective teachers understand their pupils and discern what causes their difficulties. Now this has several important implications, not least that we should be more student-oriented than subject-oriented. Classes must be interesting – each and every one of them. As someone once put it, "There's no such thing as a boring teacher. If he or she is boring, they're not a teacher." Students have a right to want to come to class, to be dismissed on time, to have their papers graded by their prof (and not by a proxy), to get their work back promptly, to be trusted with take-home exams, and to have teachers with open door policies.
Strive for life change, not just knowledge. The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation – every word, everywhere. Let's focus on learning and not just on teaching.
Less is more. How true this is! We can "talk much" and "teach little." If this is so, why not concentrate on the essentials? Far too many of us teachers engage in "content dump." Even Jesus said, "I have many more things to say to you, but they are too much for you now" (John 16:12).
Emphasize relevance over rote memory. Much of my studying in seminary had one goal: to pass the next test. As soon as the test was over, the information I had "learned" was quickly forgotten, of course. There's nothing a student hates more than busywork.
Challenge students to think for themselves. The fill-in-the-blank approach to learning tends to produce students with simplistic answers to complex questions. In my own college and seminary experience I was, more often than not, taught what to think rather than challenged to think for myself. A wise teacher gives students the tools necessary for their own personal reading and study of the Scriptures.
Above all, students need to see in us "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:1). The key to effective teaching is an incarnational model, based on Phil. 2:5-11. May we let Christ's mind be our own and in humility count others as more important than ourselves. Whenever we teach let's keep in the forefront of our minds the infinite worth of our students and the tremendous privilege it is to serve them.
The Magi said, "We have seen His star." But they also did something about it. They came to where He was. Likewise, we must come to Him – all of us, whether teacher or student – in repentance and faith and love. Just as the Wise Men worshipped Him, so we must bow down before Him and confess Him as Lord and give Him our very best gifts – academic and otherwise.
Tuesday, January 1
6:24 PM Got to see 9 of my grandkids today. #happygrandpa. Off to bite into my burrito.
6:55 AM Remember when you decided to do something really simple like replace the air filters in your house and, voila, they're done? No problem. I wish everything in life was that simple. Tomorrow it's back to the classroom for me, the Greek classroom of course, where I've been busy teaching nouns and participles for some 42 years now. What I've realized after all these years is that there's nothing easy about teaching -- or learning -- Greek. Sure, the subject matter is relatively straightforward, depending on your teacher and textbook. Greek makes sense. It's absolutely logical. The grammar has mathematical precision, as do all languages. Even the exceptions have explanations. (Why does the future of echo have the rough breathing mark? Easy!). The challenge is how to meet all those unexpected twists and turns you encounter along the way. You know, like how the Greek verb works. (Hint: It doesn't work like an English verb works.) Or how about third declension nouns? (Torturous, to say the least.) And whatcha think about that crazy learning curve, which just seems to get curvier and curvier? Fortunately, a good textbook (and a few extra hours of study) are usually sufficient to overcome despair. Still, no matter how much you "plan," there will always be seemingly impossible hurdles to overcome. There are so many factors at play when you're trying to learn a foreign language. I recall arriving in Basel in 1980 thinking, "Good thing I already know German." Ahem. High German, yes, but except in the classroom everyone was speaking a completely different language called, well, German. (Swiss German.) Who woulda thunk? This is the point at which you go to a local bookstore and buy a Basel German grammar (which I did). "Nicht mehr" becomes "nümm," while "etwas" becomes "öbbis." Rather than saying "Ich ging," Swiss German has "Ich bi gange" or even "I bi gange." Oh, did I mention that German (both High and Swiss ) has two completely different ways of speaking depending on whether you're talking to someone you know well or someone you don't know so well? ("Thanks, don't mind if I 'Du'!") And did I tell you that German has a singular "you" and a plural "you"? (Hey y'all!) Then there are some verbs that have a vowel change when you make a command (the stem of essen is ess- but the command is Iss!).
But back to my subject. Once you know you are really interested in learning how to read New Testament Greek, you don't just start shoving information into your brain haphazardly. You eat an elephant one bite at a time. (I made that up but I'm sure it's true.) Whatever your big audacious goal is, you have to break it up into chunks. In my textbook, we have 26 chapters. (Think of a marathon.) That's 13 chapters per semester. We do, on average, a single lesson each week. After a while you get into the rhythm. But it takes time. "I can do it quick." "I can do it well." Which one do you want? Now, I'm not saying that my textbook is for everyone and for every situation. What I'm talking about is facing something you think is overwhelming with a systematic plan of action. Proceeding methodically will make things go much quicker and more efficiently. It's pretty simple. Just cut the elephant into big chunks.
Students, as we begin our Greek studies tomorrow, may I ask you to please take time to pray? Ask God to help you. For many Greek students, things go well for a few days or weeks. But as soon as a little difficulty comes our way we say, "Forget it. This is impossible." That's when we need to go to God in prayer. John wrote, "This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him" (1 John 5:14-15). Prayer is our lifeline to God and our only source of strength. So let's take advantage of it. Those of us who want to master the Greek language must grow constantly in our knowledge of grammar. If we're going to learn Greek we're going to have become a perpetual student of the language. I'm sorry, but there simply aren't any shortcuts, no easy solutions. We can't skip third grade and go right into high school. To master Greek means to be patient with yourself. You put one foot in front of the other. It's a steady gait, not a sprint. As I said above, the only way to get the job done is to stick with it.
I know that Greek can be tough. If anyone ever experienced a sinking feeling while studying this language, it was me. I dropped out of my beginning Greek class at Biola after only 3 weeks. (Sometimes life just knocks the wind out of you.) Thankfully I went on to take Moody Bible Institute's correspondence Greek course and, by God's grace, aced it. I needed an awful lot of help, and guess what? God supplied it.
Remember what Peter's problem was when he was walking on the water? He took his eyes off the Lord. And that just about says it all.
To all: Happy New Year, and Happy Greek Study!
Monday, December 31
1:16 PM This and that ....
1) The epitome of contentment.
2) Sure hope my classes aren't this boring.
4) On the last day of December I review my stats for the year.
I must confess I'm so grateful to God for this year's results. My total mileage in 2018 (1,512 miles) is up from 2017 (1,139 miles) and 2016 (1,022 miles). That includes the run I did today in the rain. This had to be about the perfect year in terms of exercise. No, it wasn't easy. Life wasn't meant to be easy. There was plenty of hardship. I let myself down many times. But each time I fought back. I'm still working on this running thing and probably always will. Finding the right balance between exercise and rest takes discipline. I know one thing, however. If I'm to climb the Alps again this summer, I had better be well trained. Bottom line: Only God knows the future. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't exercise wisdom. I'm not afraid to back off if and when I need to. Moderation is the key to all of life but it's so easy to talk about and so hard to do. Right now, though, I'm content to be a mediocre runner.
Keep on keeping on everyone (and I will too).
7:36 AM Hello, blog family. Hope your Christmas went well. Mine was great, though I missed Becky. Being with family made all the difference in the world. Imagine for a moment that you're a small drop of water in a very large river. You've been bubbling along innocently when lo and behold you go over a gigantic waterfall and the massive river is suddenly on top of you, pounding you under. That's what these past 5 years have been like for me. And that's why spending so much time with family these last 2 weeks was so important. I feel like I've finally transitioned into the slow quiet at the bottom of the waterfall. "I will never forget this awful time as I grieve over my loss," wrote Jeremiah (Lam. 3:20). "Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends. His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness!" When I married Becky 42 years ago, I vowed to love her no matter what. I promised to "have and to hold till death do us part." She pledged the same thing to me. We didn't know what would lie ahead for us. But we knew that our vows would bridge the bad times, the lean times, the ill times until we were parted in death. If you've ever wanted to know why God created the institution of marriage, a look into the eyes of a widower will give you a pretty good idea. How I look forward to the day when I will embrace her again and together we will celebrate the goodness of the God who redeemed us. Because of Christmas (and Good Friday and Easter), I will see Becky again, and I'll never have to say goodbye again. I know that she is happy where she is, and I'd never want her back again. She is now healed, and every last tear has been wiped from her eyes. Yet some days I'd give anything to be able to talk with her again. I suppose God knows how I'm feeling. After all, Christmas is not just about a baby laid in a feeding trough. It is the Heavenly Father saying goodbye to His Son. So, until I see Jesus face to face, I must accept what I cannot change and be content with what I do have (which is plenty).
As 2019 dawns, I've written down a few thoughts. They're not really New Year's resolutions. Maybe we could just call them "un-resolutions."
1) I will talk less about what it means to live as an obedient follower of Christ and by God's grace will actually start living like one.
2) I will not expect perfection. When I fail, I will confess my sins to God, remembering the words of C. S. Lewis: "You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a very long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again."
3) I will make every effort to keep my writings simple. (Albert Einstein: "Keep everything as simple as possible, without being too simple.")
4) I will make sure that when I teach or preach from my Greek New Testament, no one knows I'm doing so.
5) I will be more understanding toward others, especially those who don't see things like I do.
6) When it comes to giving parenting advice to my children (who are now raising their own kids), I'm going to zip my lips, knowing that nobody cares as much about raising good kids as their own parents. At the same time, I will not confuse grandchildren with angels.
7) By God's grace, I'm going to do something really crazy this year, like climb the Pollux or Castor in the Swiss Alps.
8) As much as I love and appreciate them, I will not abdicate my personal responsibility for global evangelism to professional missionaries.
9) Like Jabez of old (1 Chron. 4:9-10), I will ask God for bigger challenges and greater opportunities to serve Him in 2019, believing that I will get them.
10) I will do at least one magnanimous act every day.
11) I will say "I love you" to my family members more often.
12) I will pass out 100 free copies of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? this year. As the saying goes, it only takes a spark to get a fire going.
13) I will not be anything but myself. I will enjoy my own special God-given personality and temperament. I will feel free to weep, to express my fears and doubts, to laugh until I cry. I will not wear a mask and try to appear controlled when I am freaking out. God made me -- down to the last scar.
14) I will seek out deeper friendships. (Dolly Madison: "Friendship doubles our joy and halves our grief.") Of course, friends are humans too and will let you down from time to time. That's just part of life. And it's always okay to let old friendships go if you feel you have to.
15) I will be more generous in 2019 than I was in 2018. (John Wesley: "Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.")
Okay, that's all I've got by way of un-resolutions. Hope they give you some food for thought as you begin 2019. Heb. 12:1-2 (The Message) says: "We'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running -- and never quit! No extra fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in."
That's it in a nutshell.
Happy Newness Year (Rom. 6:4)!
6:55 AM Quote of the day (Conrad Grebel):
This was Grebel's response when he was asked where he found his new view of the Christian church. I love Zwingli and have studied his life. I've profited from his writings. I've been to his birthplace and the battlefield where he died in Switzerland. But the Anabaptists were right: The clear teaching of the New Testament was more important than the teachings of their earthly teacher. Please, fellow students of the Word, let's never put the writings of our favorite Bible scholars above the Bible itself.
6:04 AM So here are the hymns I listened to before my feet touched the floor this morning.
Renewal in this world begins in our own hearts. Jesus was clear about this. We need to stare at the plank in our own eyes before we strain at the splinters in the eyes of others.
As a chorister I stand in awe of this rendition. It does not get any better than this in choral music. What Bach does here is simply staggering. It's the most beautiful hymn arrangement harmonized by Bach, ever. Für mich ist dieses alte Kirchenlied das tiefgreifenste das in der deutscher Sprache existiert. Ineffably glorious! You should learn German if for no other reason than to be able to listen to this piece in the original.
I know I'm showing my bias here, but many modern praise choruses bear little of the spiritual depth of these old hymns and, maybe even more importantly, their texts. Can they be revived? Hope so!
P. S. Speaking of hymns, here's a rendering of He Is Lord in Koine Greek. Both words and music are fabulous (though the word "Christ" was left out of the last stanza). For more songs and hymns in Koine Greek, go here.
Sunday, December 30
8:18 AM Kevin Brown (a good pastor-friend who's been to Ethiopia with me many times) writes Why We Go? Talk about partnering in the Gospel!
7:15 AM I simply can't get enough of Guthrie's New Testament Theology. Since you have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning (right?), can I tell you what he wrote about the Great Commission on pages 715-716?
Read this again:
Ironically, when I was in college I attended a church that practically ignored the Gospels. Sermons were mostly from the epistles, except maybe at Christmas. The Gospels, I guess, were considered merely as simple stories, whereas the epistles -- now there you'll find some meat! The Anabaptists thought otherwise. They recognized that the core of the Gospel was to be found, well, in the Gospels and in the teaching of Jesus Himself. Hence obedience to the Great Commission was a core tenet of their theology and praxis. In fact, the Great Commission was the most quoted text by the non-resistance Anabaptists. So much did they take Jesus' words seriously that they were ready to die for their convictions (but never prepared to kill for them). Guthrie states (p. 716):
So what does a healthy Jesus community look like? We prioritize the world, not the church. We recognize gladly that "the gathering exists for the going." We partner with local and international ministries that are grounded in other local churches. Mission trips prioritize long-term partnerships. A healthy church begins with its leaders who are eager to live simple lives on mission, loving both God and their neighbors. They assemble the church not only for renewal and teaching but to equip all of God's people to be on mission 24/7. They say, in essence, "You have the Bible and the Holy Spirit. You have a heart full of Jesus. There is your neighbor. You are capable of ministry without us telling you how to do everything."
I yearn for the day when evangelism will be seen not so much as the function of the preacher so much as of the living community. There is unquestionably a movement in this direction among the students I'm privileged to serve. Instead of expecting people to come to church, they are being driven back to how the first followers of Jesus spread the Gospel among the lost by operating on their turf and not ours. These young Christians are, in short, acting like the incarnational Jesus.
Evangelism always springs from personal involvement and costly self-giving. What a joy it is to participate in mobilizing the church for the cause of the Gospel.
Saturday, December 29
7:10 PM I went a-cycling today in Farmville and planned to do about 20 miles but the day was so beautiful that I just couldn't stop until I had completed a full marathon. There's no magic in getting motivated to do a long bike or a long run. Ya just do it. Here was my bike today.
There's nothing like biking the High Bridge Trail. And to see so many people out biking or running or even horseback riding, well, the day was gorgeous so I'm not surprised. The key is not to watch your Garmin the whole time, because if you do that, the miles drag on and on. Just relax and enjoy the ride. That will make the whole experience easier (note that I did not say "easy"). Tonight I'm reading Donald Guthrie's New Testament Theology. He was a super gifted writer. It's a tough book to get through but very rewarding. This is one of the hugest books I have. Reading it helps me learn theology and weight train at the same time. How cool is that?
Have fun wherever you are!
7:24 AM I suspect that some of you are interested in questions of textual transmission and Bible translation. So let's get the show on the road. Here's a pic of my master's thesis.
I wrote it in 1980 when I was a student at Talbot. At that time, a thesis was optional in the M.Div. program at Talbot. Previously, all M.Div. students were required to write a master's thesis. Nobody seemed happy with that arrangement. Many students were disinclined to write a thesis, and most professors felt overworked by having to read umpteen theses every May. A happy medium was arrived at, I guess, when the seminary made the thesis optional. Of course, I opted to write one since I knew I wanted to pursue a doctorate in New Testament and had, in fact, already been accepted at Basel.
My thesis was a fresh look at the textual variant in Eph. 1:1. I dare say that, when I am dead and gone, this work may seem an insignificant part of my career, but at the time it was the longest paper I had written. In fact, I published a condensed version of my thesis in what was at the time an esteemed publication called the Grace Theological Journal. (I will never forget getting the page proofs in Basel. You'd probably be excited too if you saw the proofs of your first ever published essay.)
In my thesis I concluded, based mostly on the external evidence, that the disputed words "in Ephesus" (Greek: en Ephesō) were original. My thesis advisor was none too happy with that judgment, but what can I say -- that's where the evidence had led me. Here I'd like to talk about one of the appendices found in the thesis, namely the question of how to translate Eph. 1:1 without a place designation.
I concluded the following:
Thus Joachim Gnilka, in his German commentary (Der Epheserbrief, p. 2), can write:
Hence my conclusion:
Textual criticism is in my blood. I think it has been ever since I made the discovery in my life, back in the 1970s, that many places of interpretation depended on the satisfactory solution to questions of the text. What fun it was to study the text of Eph. 1:1! Textual criticism, too, had a real role to play in several of my subsequent publications. Yes indeed, the bottom half of our Greek New Testaments can be immensely attractive, and even in my beginning Greek classes I include a lecture on textual criticism and have my students read a little treatise I wrote on the subject. "Textual criticism matters" is one of the emphases in my teaching, and I trust in yours!
Eph. 1:1-3 in p46 (ca. 175-225). Note the absence of a place designation.
5:20 AM How were foot races conducted in the ancient world? Glad you asked.
As you run your race, what are your personal goals for this coming year? Yeah, I know how easy it is to overcommit. I'm pretty much an expert at that. So here's what you can do: Pick goals you are super-excited about. And be sure to write them down. Once I get an idea in my head, I write it down. (That's the difference between a goal and a wish.) I love the fact that goals need to be challenging. Am I crazy? Or just goal-oriented? Or both? Believe it not, the more I age, the more goals I set for myself. Individual goals. Family goals. Writing goals. Travel goals. I try to be realistic. People tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in a short period of time. Still, I love writing down my goals and reviewing them every so often (like about once a week, like on Monday mornings).
So have you written down your goals for 2019? Visualize exactly the person God wants you to be. Your success depends on complete dependence on Him, and then following through with His plans for you.
Friday, December 28
6:10 PM More often than not, I'm sitting down reading. These were my 10 favorite non-religious books of 2018.
Boston Strong by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge. We all know about the Boston Marathon Bombing. This is the story of how the city recovered after the attack and how its citizens came together as perhaps never before.
Two women who lost limbs in the 2013 bombing finish the Boston Marathon in 2016.
Marathon: A Novel by Hal Hidgon. Not to be confused with Marathon Man, whose movie version creeped me out. I'm a voracious reader of anything written by marathoner Hal Higdon, but this is the first novel he wrote and boy was it a doozy. You will never guess how it ends.
Russian Roulette by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. Guess what? I do read about politics, even if I don't like to blog about the subject.
Race Everything by Bart Yasso. Bart has run in every major marathon in the U.S. He's built his life around the sport, not least as "chief running officer" at Runner's World magazine. His 3 most memorable tips are: (1) Start slowly, (2) build endurance, and (3) make it fun.
The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Big Horn by Nathaniel Philbrick. I love me some historical non-fiction, and this book is as good as it gets. Besides, who can ever forget their first visit to that historic battlefield?
Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers by Simon Winchester. The world's longest book title has 1,022 words in it. This book must come in second place. Despite its garrulousness, I loved this book, mainly because I grew up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Columbus: The Four Voyages 1492-1504 by Laurence Bergreen. Ah, the man who went looking for China and discovered "India" instead, thus plotting a new course for the future. Since I don't sail anymore, the next best thing is to read about it.
Touching My Father's Soul by Jamling Tenzing Norgay. I give this book two thumbs up. Jamling is the son of Tenzing Norgay who, along with Sir Edmund Hillary, were the first climbers to summit Mount Everest in 1953, a year after I was born. The book's a lesson in perseverance and humility, two worthy traits we can all strive to emulate.
Color Me Vegan by Colleen Patrick-Gourdeau. I'm not a vegan, but I am interested in eating cleaner than I currently do. You can find a lot of healthy recipes in this book. If you follow a plant-based diet, leave a comment below and share with us a recipe or two. (Actually, I don't have comments so I guess that won't work.)
Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles by Don Felder (1974-2001). I love reading books about rock bands, and this one tops the list because the Eagles were, well, maybe the best rock band ever produced in the States (tied with the Beach Boys). Felder is best known for having written the music to Hotel California, a song we'll be listening to in 500 years.
So there you have it. The ultimate list of must-read books of 2018. Well, at least my version of it.
What were your favorite reads of 2018?
7:22 AM Ward Powers has written a fine introduction to New Testament Greek. He introduces the middle voice on p. 71 by writing:
Powers emphasizes that these two usages can "shade into each other," though many examples can be given where two distinct usages are obvious, as with:
I find it interesting that the example Powers focuses on in his ensuing discussion is the verb phulasso. As he puts it, "Thus Matthew and Luke use the active voice of phulasso in a passage where it is appropriate for the middle to be used, whereas in this passage Mark does use the middle:
This was precisely the evidence I used when I sought to respond to Robert Stein's argument for Markan Priority based on this very construction. Stein, however, chose to take the evidence in a different direction. He argued that Mark used an incorrect form of the verb phulasso (the middle), and that this incorrect form was corrected by both Matthew and Luke into the active voice. I argued, in response, that I did not think there was anything inherently incorrect about Mark's use of the middle here, especially when you take into consideration the use of the middle voice of phulasso in the LXX in contexts dealing with keeping the commandments of God. (See Some Dissenting Notes on R. Stein's The Synoptic Problem and Markan "Errors.") This is merely a small slice of the relevance of linguistic study to the interpretation of New Testament texts.
Lately it's become clear to me that the question concerning correctness and incorrectness in language is not as much a linguistic one as it is a sociolinguistic one. In other words, it is people who determine what is correct and incorrect in language, not textbooks. In a sense, then, if everybody says "It's me," then this construction is correct. (One "should" say "It is I.") I have the happiest memories of debating this issue with my fellow students while in Basel, as even then I had begun to question the Markan Priority Hypothesis and especially the so-called linguistic arguments for the posteriority of Matthew and Luke. I determined then and there that one day I would study the matter in greater detail, since my own teachers at Talbot had all espoused the consensus view regarding Synoptic origins. It was fascinating contrasting the arguments put forward by Stein and others with the statements of the church fathers. What struck me most, however, was the need to rethink the primary linguistic data in the texts themselves. I must also mention the work of William Farmer, who once invited me to spend a week in Dallas with his working group on the Synoptic Problem. It is a remarkable privilege, this process of thinking and rethinking one's views about this and that. My task as a Greek teacher now is not to try and convince my students that I am right and someone else is wrong but rather to equip them with a tool (Greek) that will help them all become better Berean Christians.
6:24 AM This morning I updated my essay Ten Best Books for Studying New Testament Greek. Added were:
This latter work is especially important. For one thing, Porter's presentation is brilliant and the material magnificently packaged. He offers a refresher on essentials that will bring into focus disparate elements of linguistics that readers may or may not have partially grasped previously. One example is his treatment of the participle "going" in the Great Commission. "The Great Commission is developed around a relatively straightforward grammatical construction in Matthew 28:19-20...." (p. 252). Porter emphasizes that the idea of going, "rather than being grammatically prominent, is the background to the primary clause" (p. 253). The translation logically follows: "Going, therefore, make disciples of all the nations...." This rendering can, of course, be challenged, but no one should deny that it is a possibility. You will want to read Porter's chapter on the subject to know why.
I could mention so much more:
Of course, there is much more to Greek linguistics than all this. Nevertheless, the foundational importance of linguistics to our discipline cannot be doubted.
I've been privileged to know Stan Porter for my entire academic career. He will be the opening speaker at our upcoming linguistics conference in April. Having been involved in organizing three previous conferences on campus, I anticipate that this will be the best one yet.
P.S. My Power Point on Matt. 28:19-20 may be found here. For a rebuttal (yes, Stan and I may be wrong!), see the excellent essay by my friend and colleague Ben Merkle in the latest issue of the Southeastern Theological Review.
Thursday, December 27
5:50 PM Tonight I'm putting the finishing touches on my Greek 1 class that begins next Wednesday. This is maybe the thousandth time I've taught J-term Greek and it's always been a great class. For students who are self-starters, intensives are a good way to get ahead on one's degree program. When the spring semester begins mid-January, I'm scheduled to teach 4 classes: Two sections of Greek 1, NT 1, and Greek Exegesis of Philippians during spring break. Then I'll teach 6 weeks of Greek 1-2 during summer school. Several of these classes are "overloads" which I like to teach because they keep me busy even though they do involve a lot of travel to and from the farm. If there's one thing I've learned about teaching Greek throughout the years, it's that all learning is self-learning. We listen selectively, we remember selectively, we retain selectively. Another way of putting this is: Learning is not method-dependent. A person can learn how to read Greek regardless of the method. There's simply no single method of teaching Greek that works for everyone. On the other hand, learning can take place no matter what method is used -- the traditional approach, the living language approach, or a combination of the two. No method can guarantee learning. The same holds true for textbooks and teachers.
This means that there's no magic "key" to Greek pedagogy. There aren't any "five easy steps." No gimmick works to ensure that our students "get it." Without the motivation to acquire and retain a language, nothing of lasting value ever happens. The only reason I've maintained my Greek or my German (or whatever other language) is because I have an intrinsic desire -- a God-given passion even -- for languages. Sometimes people will say, "Well, languages come easy for you, right?" Not at all. I have no special language aptitude. Language acquisition is hard work for me. Always has been. But it has been joyful work, so joyful in fact that it has never really seemed like work at all. I take no credit for this. God is the one who grants us both the desire and ability to do anything (Phil. 2:13). So if you have learned a foreign language, thank God for it. It is a gift from Him.
If you love something, if you're passionate about what you're doing, you'll get it done. It's called perseverance. "Find what you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life." That has been true for me. But it is the blessing of God. Yes, language acquisition comes at a price. But only the Lord can put a love in your heart for Greek. If you discover such a passion residing deep in your heart, thank Him for it. Of course, if your passion lies elsewhere, thank Him for that too.
8:30 AM My view early this morning. I never tire of it.
7:52 AM Five years ago Becky and I were still together. I sometimes ask myself: "What did we learn in 37 years of married life together?" Here are a few random answers to that question. I hope these reflections help you in your own marriage.
1) Contentment. "There is great gain in godliness with contentment," wrote Paul (1 Tim. 6:6). Becky and I knew what contentment was. We had learned to live with things we knew we couldn't change. We had learned that no matter how hard we tried, some relationships were never going to be healed. We had learned not to squabble over little things. We had learned not to expect too much from life. Contentment does not negate a commitment to caring. We cared about people, a lot. But life does have its limits. There are only so many things you can do, so many places you can travel to, so many people you can help. And contented people are okay with that.
2) Discernment. "Be very careful how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16). Five years ago Becky and I were 60 and 61 respectively. People over 60 don't believe in "killing time." They realize that life flies by. Time is a precious possession. Becky and I spent much time in prayer, seeking to discover God's will for our time, energy, and resources. Discernment led us to let go of certain pursuits and ministries. But it also led us in new directions in our work for Jesus. Both of us felt that even greater demands awaited us in the Lord's service. We were working harder than ever for the kingdom. We had learned to work wiser and not only harder. We rarely felt nostalgia for days gone by. Life needed to be lived in the "now." Wrote William Barclay, "The fault of age is that it has come to a stage when it prefers things as they are." What a shame. Jesus was always forward-looking. And that's how Becky and I wanted to spend the rest of our married life together.
3) Faith. I love Acts 2:17: "Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." As Becky and I entered the winter of our married life together, we continued to expand our horizons. We felt that our last years could be our best years -- a grace-filled period in which we leveraged our wisdom and experience for the Gospel. Though we both keenly sensed our heavenly citizenship, we knew we were here on earth with a heavy responsibility to return the gifts we had received. One of Becky's final dreams was to help a ministry in India establish a school that would make their ministry self-supporting and less dependent on funds from the West. We were always looking for new directions to stretch our faith. Growing older was simply a new leg on life's journey. We knew that God still had work for us to do if we only had the eyes of faith to see it.
4) Vulnerability. "The Lord said to me, "My grace is sufficient, because My power is made perfect in weakness '" (2 Cor. 12:9). Isn't there a touch of the Savior in being vulnerable? The older Becky and I got, the more committed we became to transparency, both in our writings and whenever we counseled with people. Our weaknesses and struggles could become places of healing and power for others. Have you noticed? There are some people you know who seem to be able to rebound from one loss after the other. They seem to have a deeper acceptance of life that carries them through life's sorrows. They don't have fewer problems than the rest of us. But they have a gusto for life that amazes you. Becky and I wanted to be like that. We shared honestly with others so that maybe they could learn how to rebound from their losses. Becky's book My Life Story is a reminder that she experienced pain in her journey. Scars are road maps that tell our life stories. What is important is what we do with those scars. Becky was a person who made even the bad things count for Christ.
5) Acceptance. About a year before Becky died we both came to the realization that we would not grow old together, that God was calling one of us Home to be with Him. We thought we had perhaps 12 months to say our goodbyes. We would often sit on the front porch recalling earlier days, memories of life together in California or Switzerland or Ethiopia. At other times we would sit there without saying a word, carefree and happy, old in body but young in spirit. We could not turn back the clock of years, but we could relish His Presence and anticipate a future Easter.
In his book How We Die, Sherwin Nuland says the aged and diseased "do not succumb to disease -- they implode their way into eternity." I smile whenever I read that, because that's exactly how Becky entered heaven. She died leaning forward. For her, entering eternity was merely the next crazy venture that God had in store for her. I want my final goodbye on this earth to be like that. I want it to come with a blessing -- and a nudge in the direction of heaven. "Goodbyes are part of every single day," wrote Joyce Rupp.
Becky lived her last chapter with amazing courage and love. She never wanted to be the object of pity. She left a closet-full of unfinished projects and to-do lists, but I don't worry about that now. I didn't choose to say goodbye to Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. We had much work for the kingdom left to do together. But perhaps incompletion is itself a blessing. Perhaps it is a small closure that I need to accept. Possibly what is unfinished will remain unfinished. As John Milton put it so long ago, "God does not need man's work or his own gifts." One thing I do know, however. I know that on November 2, 2013, the God who began a good work in the life of Becky Black brought it to completion. If it is His will, God will carry through to completion all the acts and intentions that Becky left unaccomplished. And when I die, God will perfect what I leave imperfect. What I want now is to travel with grace over every new pathway, across every new threshold of life. Now, as I await the day when Becky and I will be reunited, I am aware that old things have already passed away, and all things are being made new.
6:48 AM I'm out of eggnog. Yes I'm whining.
6:40 AM Here are 21 indispensable writing tips. One of the best is: "When in doubt, cut it out."
6:15 AM Have you seen these two essays yet?
In the first essay the author writes: "These subscriptions are included for each of the Pauline epistles (Hebrews included), but no such appendices accompany the General Epistles (James, 1-2 Peter, 1-2-3 John, Jude)." He then adds, "The inclusion of a subscription for Hebrews (and it lacks of an inscription) in the tradional text indicates that it was considered part of the Pauline corpus."
A lynchpin in my argument that Paul is the author of Hebrews lies in the fact that this letter always circulated as part of the Pauline Corpus. There are, in any case, many advantages in studying the Pauline letters as a collection of writings instead of simply as individual documents. The Pauline correspondence throbs with life and love, and I want to stimulate people to examine for themselves this remarkable record of relations between the greatest church planter the world has ever known and the communities he either founded or cared for.
6:04 AM Today I hope to get in another bike. Yesterday I managed to eke out a 5K run. My next big race isn't until February so the tendency is to become lazy about training. If all I had to do every day was train, that would be one thing. But I have a fulltime job plus a farm to take care of as well. And I'm sure my kids would like to see me once in a while. I'm grateful that my body allows me to do the ridiculous things I ask of it, but I supposedly do this for fun, and when it stops being fun I think you've gone too far with the sport. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't need to take myself or my races so seriously. Sometimes we need to focus on other activities. Walk the dog. Bottle feed a baby goat. Put together a plastic model with your grandson. Write an encouraging email. Learn a new language. Take up knitting. (I put that one in there to see if you're still reading.) If all else fails, take a long break from running if you don't find joy in the hobby anymore. After a hiatus you'll probably be ready to get back into it. But be sure to take care of burnout while its still in its infancy phase because it can only get worse if you don't deal with it. Remember: When it fails to be fun, there's no point in doing it. On the other hand, we all think the grass is greener "on the other side." Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. Probably it isn't. Take a good look around you. Life is pretty good, isn't it? It is for me. Focusing on what you have rather than on what you don't have is one of the best ways to keep yourself sane and happy and to appreciate God's blessings.
Wednesday, December 26
6:58 AM Had a wonderful day yesterday Face-Timing with family and getting in a 10-mile bike. Otherwise I just gelled on the farm and bemoaned the inescapable fact that calories burned by running = calories consumed in eggnog, sweets, etc. But if you can't cheat at Christmas, when can you? While cycling I thought about 2018. It wasn't a perfect year by any means. But for every setback there were 10 blessings. You just have to know where to find them.
I'm excited about what 2019 holds. Yesterday I purchased my plane tickets for Cincinnati (Flying Pig Marathon in May) and Hawai'i (surfing in August). This morning I've been rereading some of my blog posts from 2018. I blog because I want to remember every single detail of what transpired in my life during the year. Now, as I read back through my posts, I either laugh or squirm. I sort of suspect that nobody reads my blog but I love it. The left side of my brain keeps narrating my life journey and always will. I've come to realize that life is always in process. There's always more to come. Things are never finished. But if you commit yourself to enjoying the trip, there's a lot less stress.
Yesterday National Review published its Top Ten Best Movies of 2018. I only saw two of them. (I must live under a rock.) But I agree with the author that the movie First Man deserves to be number one on the list. "It's what's going on in the background, and in Armstrong's psyche, that gives the film such resonance." Exactly. I must confess: I've always been enchanted by space. As a kid I used to look through our telescopes at the planets and constellations. (My favorite was Pleiades.) Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were household names. That's why watching a movie that chronicles man's first walk on the moon was so thrilling for me. That kind of dogged determination has always appealed to me. But the movie was about so much more than Apollo 11. It was the characters' personal lives that really spoke to me, especially the reunion of Armstrong and his wife at the end of the film.
The distance to the moon was matched only by the distance between husband and wife. Their marriage was far from perfect, but they seemed to accept that fact, as least in the movie. (Sadly, I learned later that they divorced after 38 years of marriage.) I guess perseverance is easier to talk about than to practice. The one thing First Man will do is get you thinking about your own relationships and what's holding you back from making them work. The apostle Paul was determined to keep on going instead of giving up. He kept his eye on the prize and was off and running, and he wasn't about to turn back.
If you've never thought much about setting goals in your relationships, consider making time for that as you prepare for 2019. I know for me, I sometimes don't reach my goals either because I don't pursue them with enough passion or else I ditch the effort partway through. I guess that's why I enjoy the challenge of the marathon so much. I don't even come close to finishing first in my age division. In fact, thousands of other runners finish long before I do. That's what happened at the Marine Corps Marathon this year. Still, I won my race because I finished. I went the distance. When things get tough, you just regain your footing and take another step.
So best wishes, my friends, not only in your future successes but in your future misfortunes and setbacks. May 2019 be extravagantly and outrageously joyful for you, even during the adverse times. For when we are weak, He is strong.
Tuesday, December 25
7:10 AM Lord willing, my next surf-cation will be in August. (I've been doing this annually since Becky passed away.) Not all surfing trips to Hawaii are successes. The waves can be flat, or the weather can be too stormy to catch anything but slop. That said, surfers are the most optimistic people I've ever met. Even if the ocean is completely flat, as in snorkeling conditions, we'll sit on our boards and wait ... and wait ... and wait. Even if a wave never arrives, we still say we "surfed" that day. Who knows, maybe we should have waited just a little bit longer?
The world waited millennia for the Savior to arrive in the form of a baby boy. But the time had to be just right before the Father sent Him (Gal. 4:4). God works patiently. Patience is part of His character. So it's not surprising to read that the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of patience in our lives (Gal. 5:22).
Jesus is coming back again. He promised us as much (John 14:2-3). But He never said when that date would be. Honestly, I can become a bit impatient waiting for Him. But He will return only when the time is right. In the meantime, I'm to bear the fruit of patience, enduring hardship and personal struggles without griping or rambling on about "the good old days." The Lord's brother James knew something about patience. "You see farmers do this all the time," he wrote, "waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong" (James 5:7-8).
Perhaps Christmas Day is a good time to ask God to help us practice patience. Take a few minutes to think about ways in which He's revealed His patience toward you. Perhaps knowing how patient God is with us will help us to make "allowances for each other's faults because of your love" (Eph. 4:12).
Happy Christmas Day! May our Lord fill you with an abundance of hope, peace, and patience this day.
Monday, December 24
6:20 PM Liebe deutchsprachige Leser,
Heute Abend, als ich über Weihnachten und über den Frieden, den Jesus der Welt gibt, nachgedacht, habe ich das Thema "Auschwitz" gegoogelt, und hab' dieses Videoclip gefunden. Solch eine bewegende Geschichte!
Ich bin sehr sehr bewegt. Einfach unfassbar was dort passiert ist. Deiser Mann bekommt meinen größten Respekt. Was er erleben musste bricht mir das Herz. Ich hoffe, daß seine Geschichte und die der vielen anderen uns zum nachdenken anregt. Sowas darf sich einfach nie wiederholen. Übrigens hat die ehemalige Gefangene Corrie ten Boon uns bewiesen, daß die Vergebung möglich ist, aber nur durch Gottes Hilfe (siehe Corrie ten Boom on Forgiveness). Jesus Christus allein ist unser Frieden.
Frohe Weihnachten, und Frieden auf Erden!
P.S. To my English-speaking readers: This YouTube is called "Only the Dead Can Forgive." The interviewee is a survivor of Auschwitz. His story is very moving. I ended my German post with a reference to Corrie ten Boom, who barely survived the holocaust and whom I once heard speak in a Biola chapel service. Her testimony (see the link above) is a tribute to the power of the Gospel to change lives. My friend, if there are people in your life who've done you wrong, ask God to help you to forgive them during this Christmas season. I'll try and do the same. After all, that's one of the reasons Jesus came to this earth and died for us.
9:15 AM Only 18 weeks to go until our Greek linguistics conference. Before then, in the next issue of Filologia Neotestamentaria (now published by Herder) an essay by Stan Porter will appear that I'm sure everyone will be interested in.
Our conference will contribute to Greek studies only if it succeeds in stimulating informed discussion. To that end, I hope many of you will plan to attend.
Today I'm having brunch with family and then doing a bike. My monthly totals this year look like this:
As for this month, I've gotten only 72 miles of training in so far. It's obvious that I do most of my training during the warmer months of summer. I'm already loving the thought of summer running again (shorts! tank tops!). I've raced a lot this year. Don't think I can keep up the pace in 2019. We'll see. It's important to remember that for most of my adult life I was an expert in non-running. Since then I've learned that running isn't only for the young and fit. For whatever reason(s), I continue to run. Make no mistake about it, I'm still very slow. But, thank God, I was there at the beginning and the end of every race I've registered for -- as the retired running shoes cluttering my bedroom floor attest. In 2018, I took yet another step by signing up for my first ultra. More than once during the race I felt like quitting, but 31 miles later I received the same finisher's medal that the winner got. Friend, forget how old you are. Forget how slow you've become. Just get outdoors and stay outdoors for the rest of your life. Do whatever you can to stay active, but always keep moving. If things get too hard, you can slow down but don't ever stop.
Sermon over :-)
Merry Christmas Eve!
Sunday, December 23
5:02 PM Burying a newborn goat makes you think about death. Questions regarding the whys of this death are met with silence in the Bible. What we do know is that all of creation groans under the weight of its mortality. It's because of human disobedience that evil exists in the world, and so all of us will face the hurts of life. That's why I was so glad I attended church this morning with my daughter and her husband. Joel brought a wonderful message from Acts 3 in which I was reminded that, very soon now, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, a universe without a trace of death or weeping or suffering. God, as Joel reminded us in Acts 3, has promised us "times of refreshing."
Every tear will be dried, every sorrow assuaged. The future will be an age of refreshment. It will be like that carton of cold chocolate milk I'm handed after a marathon. All tragedy, all futility will be gone. This is why Jesus came to earth. "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Jesus came to restore all that had been lost and corrupted and disfigured in the Fall. I think that's why this text spoke so clearly to me this morning. One day "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay" (Rom. 8:21). The entire creation, and you and I in fact, will be restored to what God intended it (and us) to be.
Friend, I hope Christ returns very soon. It's not that I don't have any goals or ambitions left in my life. I do! I simply desire to see Christ face to face. I've grown weary of the daily battle with pride and loss and a million nagging habits. Above the din of life, my ear is cocked toward heaven, listening for that trumpet to sound. Until then, please dear God help me to make the most of every opportunity that lies in front of me at home, work, family, church, and every area of my life, whether physical, emotional, social, or spiritual. Allow me, O Lord, to be faithful within my present circumstances, using the abilities and gifts You have given me. Help me to go the distance and finish my race well. Because of Your promises, because I know that "times of refreshing" are coming, I can endure through every trial, temptation, and bout of discouragement. Thank you, Jesus of the Incarnation!
The Christ of Christmas is the new and abundant life that surges into our lives. He knew that He had to visit our planet to make it possible for us to experience life in all its fullness. When we give Christ whatever little we have, He will take it and multiply it.
8:20 AM With a baby bottle in one hand and a baby goat in the other, it's easy to think about what took place at the incarnation. When God became man He didn't do so as a king, aloof and invincible. "He became a little baby thing/that made a woman cry" (George MacDonald). Christ took our nature and accepted our limitations, exposing Himself to our temptations and experiencing the full bitterness of our sorrows. He lived our life and died our death. A newborn goat can't rise to your heights. You must stoop to its depths. And that's precisely what Christmas -- our "Incarnation Festival" -- represents. Jesus became one of us without any loss of His own identity. He descended fully into our human reality. He who had been the Creator of the universe became a creature. He who threw the stars into space was now wrapped so tightly in swaddling clothes He couldn't even move His own arms. He who was the Word of God was now speechless except for the cries of a newborn infant. And He on whom all things depended was now dependent upon His earthly mother and father. Then, when He grew up and matured into manhood, He changed the rules of the game forever by insisting that He was the only way to God. And so He demanded from His followers their total allegiance and even promised them that such allegiance could cost them everything, even separation from their earthly families. The baby that was born to two Jews in a stinky barn eventually grew up to become my Savior and my Lord, and, I hope, yours too.
Today churches will be filled to capacity with people who've come to hear the Christmas story again. I will be among them. But I must never forget that the baby grew up, and that today He does more than drool and coo.
Saturday, December 22
7:52 PM Howdy yall! Today I was finally able to get in a 10 mile run in Farmville at a very comfortable pace.
Here's the outbound leg.
And the inbound.
Perfect weather, as you can see. I listened to sermons and meditated on Psalm 104 and its wonderful teaching about animals. As I said, I wasn't in any hurry. I mostly wanted to imbibe the atmosphere of being out in nature. Besides, slow is good. Especially in marathons, you have to go out slow. Your body needs at least 2-3 miles to warm up properly. If you go out too fast, you'll use up an inordinate amount of glycogen while accumulating lactic acid. Sure, it feels funny, with everybody passing you. You just need to get over your ego and run your race at your pace. Hey, at least I'm faster than everybody who won't get out there! Some Greek students study a mere 1-2 hours outside of class every week and are able to master the lesson that way. Other students need to take 5-8 hours to master the same material. The time doesn't matter. Mastery is what counts, that is, "mastery" to the best of your ability (and not someone else's). Make sense?
What's the next big goal in your life that you're scared to death to do?
6:30 AM My Greek DVDs are heading to Millersville, PA today. Thanks to everyone who submitted their names for the drawing and, again, a very Merry Christmas to all!
Friday, December 21
5:33 PM A huge "Thank you!" to my daughter for helping me deep clean the kitchen today and to her husband for trouble shooting a plumbing issue I've been having in the crawl space. I fed the kids their favorite -- sloppy joes.
Then we took care of these sweet guys.
Rachel took to bottle feeding like a bug to a rug.
Then it was off to feed the donks their daily carrot.
What an amazing and inspirational day.
Remember: A winner for my DVDs will be drawn at random tomorrow morning so send in your name tonight.
6:34 AM Dear reader,
I'm a very proud recipient of the UNC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Annual Report. The latest issue arrived yesterday in the mail.
I see it features the work of none other than my friend Vickie Bae-Jump.
Vickie is researching the possible connections between obesity, race, and endometrial cancer. (Becky, you may recall, had this form of cancer and was treated for 4 years at UNC.) I'm a huge fan of Vickie's work, so much so that I held a fund-raiser for her two years ago when I climbed the Alps.
It's for this same reason that I'm praying about returning to Zermatt this summer and having another go at the beautiful mountains there.
Also, I have a lifelong goal of raising awareness of the importance of physical fitness. Adult-onset athletes are made, not born. Most activities don't require an overabundance of muscle. They require only the desire to move our bodies and the wisdom to accept the difference between what we can do and what we can't. I wish to make it clear that I'm not employed by UNC or any of the other ministries I support. Their inclusion in my blog is because they have been a significant part of my life. Indeed, I can never thank God enough for bringing UNC into our lives when he did. Becky could not have received better care. I pray that today, no matter what your calling and giftedness is, you will walk in the knowledge of the sacredness of all of life and that you would never forget that Abba cares for you with an everlasting love.
5:45 AM Good morning! Just bottle fed the baby goats. (Yes, I used the plural. Mama ended up having triplets!) Only 4 shopping days to go until Christmas. Today I'm giving away a copy of my Greek DVDs. All you have to do is email me at email@example.com before 6:00 am tomorrow morning. At that time I'll draw the winner's name and then get the videos in the mail. Please include your mailing address when you write.
Whether you're a lifer or a recent devotee to New Testament Greek, I hope that these videos will help you in your studies.
Merry Christmas to all!
Thursday, December 20
6:02 PM Once upon a time, there was a couple who used to enjoy eating Chinese food at the Great Wall Restaurant in their "fair city." Becky especially enjoyed the chow mein noodles. When we got married right out of college, we were too poor to eat out. Even in recent years, we rarely dined out since we were usually pinching pennies for our next trip to Ethiopia. But the Great Wall? No better food to be had, especially after you've been working all day and are too tired to cook. The place is run by Shirley and Kent and tonight I had the great honor of giving them a copy of Becky's autobiography in Mandarin.
This is my life these days. Passing out Becky's book to people she knew and loved. I still have no idea why God took her away from me at the young age of 60, but my hands are opening. I know my next phase of life isn't going to be anything like the previous one.
While in town I stopped by Food Lion to buy another baby bottle. You might say it's been a few years since I did that. Since I'm on call every 3 hours I had better be prepared. My oh my, the life of a baby goat. Eat and sleep, eat and sleep. All very orderly. Kudos, God, for figuring all of this out. While at Food Lion I also bought some goodies for tomorrow's lunch, when I'll be entertaining family. The last time I tried to feed them was an epic fail. (The mashed potatoes were soggy, the peas overcooked.) Hope to do better tomorrow. Thankfully, they love me anyway. One day there'll be a feast in heaven, and thank you God for it. On that day He will no longer see our imperfections and failures. We will stand safely behind the Savior. By all means enjoy the cuisine of the holidays, my friend, but as sons and daughters of heaven I think we all have something much greater to look forward to.
What's that I hear? Feeding time!
4:16 PM What to do on a dreary rainy day? Sit on the porch reading Voelz on Mark 1:9-13, "Jesus' Baptism and Temptation."
This is awesome stuff. I especially appreciated his comments about the new creation. The same God who designed 60,000 miles of blood vessels in the human body designed hummingbirds and goats. Creation is so extraordinary that it's no wonder the Lord spent 5 of 6 days on it. A horse can walk within an hour of its birth. A newborn baboon can cling to its mother's hair as they swing through the trees. A human baby needs a full year before starting to walk. (Today I learned this is called altriciality.) A snail can sleep for 3 years. A shrimp's heart is found in its head. The horn of a rhino is made up of hair. Giraffes have no vocal cords. As certainly as God created man in His image, He created these wonderful animals. God loves all animals. He values the life of a sparrow enough to be moved by its death. And one day we will all be together enjoying our Creator.
I grew up without any pets. Now I'm bottle feeding a goat.
How I love His creation!
10:34 AM "You have to forget your last marathon before trying another. Your mind can't know what's coming." -- Frank Shorter (the only American to win two medals in the Olympic marathon).
8:44 AM I didn't know this. Jim Voelz, in his Mark commentary, espouses Matthean priority. He writes (p. 88):
This is similar to my own view. Voelz likes to quote my Doktorvater Bo Reicke favorably (p. 87 n. 10):
Voelz would assign to orality a large place in the high degree of similarity in the Synoptics, as would Reicke. Still, he rejects Markan Priority. I realize that about 99.99 percent of the world doesn't see it this way. I do, however, find a bit of encouragement in knowing I'm not alone.
I recall writing my dissertation on Paul under Professor Reicke. It never occurred to me at the time that I would write on anything else. The Synoptic Problem had not yet landed on my radar. I regret that I never took the time to discuss the matter with my major professor, as he was no doubt a leading player in the field. His philosophy of mentoring was: let the students go where they are being led to go and pursue the topic of their choice. I loved taking his lectures. I also loved debating theology with my fellow Doktoranden in the local coffee shops after those lectures. I was happy to let the conversation roam wherever it wanted to, but I constantly tried to draw the discussion back to the exegesis of specific texts rather than theological presuppositions. The Scripture has a power of its own to convince, even when we don't profess to believe it. My peers were by and large Barthians when it came to their doctrine of Scripture, so talking to an evangelical inerrantist was a bit of a new experience for many of them. Of course, there was always time for laughter as well. Each of us knew we had plunged into a strange new world and that we needed each other's encouragement.
What about you? What do you remember about your doctoral program? What were the highs and the lows? Did you find that the Bible was a book that spoke to your human condition, or did it become (as it sometimes did for me unfortunately) just another analyzable datum of linguistic investigation? In due course my teaching will pass away, but the principles behind it, I hope, will not: read the text, be true to the author's intent, and always try to balance the silent and the verbal, the individual and the corporate, contemplation and adoration.
P.S. In honor of Bo Reicke I once wrote a little essay called The Importance of Mentoring. Without him, my academic career would not have been possible.
Wednesday, December 19
6:58 PM You know what I just realized? Today I biked the Virginia Capital Trail for the fourth time. I never thought I'd do it more than once. I'm feeling a bit saucy as a result. Here's me at the halfway point grabbing a cup of hot chocolate in Charles City before turning around and cycling back to my car.
The day couldn't have been nicer.
And voila -- here are my biking stats from yesterday and today.
Yesterday's ride was a mere warm-up for today. The amazing thing is that my hands are feeling normal, without the tingling feeling I often get after a long ride. My padded gloves must be working.
When I got home I discovered that my nanny goat had given birth to twins. I named them Snowball and Cocoa. Unfortunately, Snowball lived for only a couple of hours. Cocoa is doing fine but right now his mama is too weak to nurse him so "daddy" had to step in. Thankfully Cocoa took his colostrum bottle well, once he discovered his sucking reflex. I'll need to give him kid starter every few hours until he can connect with his nanny. For now he's staying with me in our nice warm library. His nanny is safely ensconced in her cozy barn and I added some electrolytes to her water this evening. Right now the main thing is to keep Cocoa warm and well fed. Thankfully, the weather is much warmer than it was even a week ago. And none of this, of course, is happening outside of the shelter of God's hand.
This, by the way, is Cocoa. Welcome to the world, little buddy!
6:55 AM This morning I invite you to compare Phil. 4:6 ("Do not be anxious about anything"):
With Matt. 6:25 ("Do not be anxious").
The exact same Greek verb is used in both places. Is Paul quoting Matthew here? Alluding to Matthew? Does his language "echo" that of Matthew's? (On the difference between a quotation, allusion, and echo, go here.) As you guys know, I've argued that Paul had a copy of the scroll of Matthew with him on his earliest missionary journey, from which he seems to quote in the eschatological portion of 1 Thessalonians. Is this even possible? Could that have really happened? Methinks so!
While we're in Phil. 4, here's another question I have. What's the best way to translate epieikes in 4:5? Varner likes "gentle spirit." "Forbearing spirit" and "gentleness" receive honorable mentions. My favorite rendering comes from William Hendriksen's commentary: "Big-heartedness." You know. Don't sweat the small stuff. Be willing to meet people halfway. Stop insisting on having things your way. Give grace. By the way, I highly recommend you get Hendricksen's commentaries on the New Testament. Hendricksen had the almost unique ability to treat complicated subject matter with amazingly simple clarity. His works remind me of a cross between a devotional commentary (he writes like a pastor) and an introductory commentary written on a scholarly level. His writings, you might say, are mini-sermons. And even though he uses Greek, his books are among the most accessible out there. I know there are some who don't even know who William Hendricksen was. (Trivia: His dissertation was the first book ever published by Baker Book House.) He had an amazing grasp on the New Testament. His works are easy to read and hard to put down. Check out his commentaries sometime. You won't regret it.
P.S. In keeping with the spirit of the season, I'm giving away this book.
It's brand new and still in its wrapper. It will go to the first person who emails me at firstname.lastname@example.org. North America only. Please include your mailing address when you write.
Tuesday, December 18
5:28 PM The gym this morning was completely dead. So was I.
Tired? Me tired?
I LOVED my workout though it was hard. I didn't see any "New Year's resolutioners" -- too early for that. Now that I'm on semester break I can strength train 3 times a week. Afterwards I ate at one of our finest local diners.
"Frie" is not a typo.
At some point in my life I realized that hot dogs served all-the-way will be in heaven so why not enjoy them in the here-and-now? Right now I'm cooking tacos for supper. I haven't made tacos in years, maybe never. This is serious eating, folks. I must be a chef.
More from the kitchen soon!
7:12 AM I first took Greek as a graduating senior at Biola. Fast forward two years and -- I'm a Greek teacher. Brace yourself: I'm not the brightest bulb in the box. But once I quit panicking and buckled down, I became the Greek lover I am today. Greek is always there for me, ensuring that I will never be without something interesting to read and digest. Like this morning. I was up early (per usual) and I listened to Phil. 1:21-26. (Files here.)
Let me begin with a caveat. As you can see (hear), I use the so-called Erasmian pronunciation.
Folks, let's make a distinction between reading Greek for conversation and reading Greek for comprehension. I'm not against using Modern Greek pronunciation or any form of "restored" pronunciation system. But the beast most of us are battling is not learning how to order a burrito in Athens. I'd love to speak Koine Greek, I really would. But we are severely limited. The fact is, there is no native speaker of Koine Greek alive today. That's not a problem with German, of course. If you're a Ph.D. student and have to learn that language for your program, you should approach the language conversationally, because you may well find yourself on the Baltic in the village of Kalifornien (yes, the place actually exists) ordering a pizza in German because no one knew English (as Becky and I once did). Speaking Koine Greek, however, floats down a different river, if you get my drift. (This can of worms will, of course, by opened at our upcoming conference on linguistics, hopefully without mixing as many metaphors as I just did).
Back to the text. Have you ever noticed how many prepositional prefixes Paul uses here? Let's see. You've got:
Did I miss any in this paragraph? ("Para" graph. Get it?) In one verse alone (1:25), the prefix makes a world of difference. Notice how Paul first writes meno and then quickly adds parameno. Varner renders this: "I will remain and continue with you all." He then notes how the construction may be using repetition to reinforce the idea that Paul will not only come to them but remain with them. In other words, for Paul, letter writing was at best a substitute for his personal presence. Being absent from the people we love for any length of time is rarely a good thing. If we're not careful, TV can become a substitute for presence. Facebook and Twitter can become this. Even email can become this. The dangerous part of social media it not that it exists but what it distracts us from. We have to confront rather than ignore the desensitizing attention we give to media. Don't get me wrong. The Internet is a necessary tool. But what if we actually tried to get together? Yesterday I could have held my meetings by phone instead of taking the time to drive to Wake Forest. I suspect my students preferred the office visit. You see, the why of our relationships matters, but so does the what. In Romans, Paul makes this crystal clear. In Rom. 16:30-32, he requests prayer for himself. What does he ask for?
That I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea.
That my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.
That by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.
Did you see that? He asks the Roman believers to pray that he might be able to visit them after his trip to Jerusalem because he knew that he'd be in need of joy and refreshment! Earlier (1:10) he prayed that "the way may be opened" for him to come to them. So you can see how much Paul desired to be with the Romans and the Philippians and with the people he loved.
What does all this mean for us? Christianity is epically transformative. I sense God is preparing me for more time with people in 2019 than ever before. I feel less attached to things. My kids need me and I need them. And that includes those who live in Alabama and Georgia. Unless I get a trip on the calendar and actually buy my plane tickets, these trips ain't gonna happen. (Read: Plan ahead.) I serve a Savior who delighted in being with His disciples. (Okay, He did disappear into the hills a few times to get away from them, but that wasn't the norm.) We each meet unique needs when we are there for each other. I'm not saying that the "there" can't assume the form of a text message or an email. But it can't be reduced to that either. I can't explain why I didn't visit with family more in 2018. I guess it's laziness.
So here's the word of the day. Presence. Parousia in Greek. Para + ousia. "Being with." (Yes, I just etymologized.) Did Paul ever make it back to Philippi? We don't know. Church history is silent. What we do know is that he sought quality time with his friends there.
Time is wasting. Are we willing to be all there?
Monday, December 17
7:16 PM No matter how you slice it, today was a great day. Regardless of what the conditions are, I live in a beautiful part of the country. Today I went to my office in Wake Forest for some meetings and then drove to North Hills Mall to run some errands. Almost couldn't find a place to park. The good news is that I have no other shopping trips to make before Christmas. It was a lovely day. In fact, it was almost warm outside. Hopefully, no rain for the next few days. Definitely a run or a bike tomorrow after the Y. If things do dry out we might be able to get up more hay before we park the tractors for the year.
Meanwhile, I've been trying to do some research about Phoenix since I'll be spending 5 days of my life there in February. Between the marathon on Saturday, speaking on Sunday, and then spending Monday afternoon and evening at Phoenix Seminary, I hope to do some sightseeing. I hear there are lots of great hiking trails near Tempe and a huge cactus garden (somewhere). For food, everyone seems to be recommending the Montis Steakhouse. Shoot me your suggestions if you live in the Phoenix area.
Can you tell I'm eager to run in Phoenix? I love races. I love flying. I love meeting new people. I love speaking in churches. I love talking to students. Running is so much more than physical. It's about facing challenges with determination. I guess that's what I've been doing all of my life. So have you, my friend. Running helps me center my life in Jesus. When you run, you have to distinguish the important from the unimportant. You have to decide what is essential and what is optional. Running is tough, tedious, tiring, and sometimes painful. But so is life. Courage and determination, self-discipline and perseverance -- these are all necessary for running the race of life. Even though I finish a race at the middle or the back of the pack, I get the same finisher's medal that the first-place winner gets. The main thing is not to quit on yourself, regardless of age and chronology. Look honestly at what you can do, then, by God's grace, set out to do more.
Okay, time to let Sheba out before we close up shop here at the farm. Thanks for reading about my journey. More from here tomorrow if I'm not too busy laying around enjoying the holidays.
6:22 AM Paul's exhortation to unity in Phil. 2:2 is based on the 4 realities found in 2:1:
Note: These are current realities, not just future realities. Writes Varner, "First class conditional clauses assume the reality of the condition, not merely its possibility (Boyer 1981, 106)." Varner adds, however, that we should still use "if" to translate these clauses. "Since" goes too far since it "weakens the rhetorical force of the passage" (quoting Silva).
The longer you're a Christian, the more you realize that you have everything. I mean everything. Encouragement in Christ. Consolation from His love. Sharing in the Spirit. Affection and mercy. Let's go farther. Has God provided for your needs? If you make $50,000 annually, you're in the top 1 percent of wealth in the world. Let that marinate in your mind. And so Paul, before pleading with the Philippians to be unified, in essence goes:
Jesus Christ encouraged you when you were faced with discouragement, despair, and even the old-fashioned dumps, right? Right???
His love comforted you when you were troubled and rocked by life's trials, right? Am I right???
Ditto for fellowship, kindness, and compassion!
Honestly evaluate your own life today. What most accurately describes your response to stress and hassles? Begin working with God to make His "peace plan" more visible in you. Jesus frequently confronted religious people who had forgotten all that God had done for them. Their misery was infectious. But if we're filled with the Spirit, we should also be filled with His joy. You can love and accept yourself because God has first loved and accepted you. In the Beloved, we enjoy every spiritual blessing (and a whole lot of material blessings too).
As Spirit-filled Christians, we should be the world's most unified and selfless people!
Sunday, December 16
3:50 PM I've gotten some great Christmas gifts this year, including these homemade cookies from one of my daughters. (Yeah, guys, ono-licious!)
Among my projects today was negotiating the flooded roads near Farmville to get to the High Bridge Trail. Here's the Appomattox River at flood stage.
Not good. Part of the trail remains washed out. My goal today was to bike 10 miles but I actually managed 12.
The trail conditions were lousy but I'm just thankful I could get in a bike today. I loved every second of it. By the way, winter (the Winter Solstice to be exact) officially begins this Friday, which means we can begin to emerge out of the darkness and our days will gradually become longer. Why is it that I'm already craving the heat and humidity of summer!!??
Oh, today I booked my flights to Phoenix and my Airbnb for the marathon on Feb. 9. I'll be staying at this house in Tempe that comes with a keypad entry, my own private entrance, high-speed wireless internet, and a private bath, all for a mere $30.00 per night.
The neighborhood is a quiet cul-de-sac and only 10 minutes from the Tempe Market Place. Scottsdale (Phoenix Seminary, where I'm speaking on the 11th) is only 20 minutes away. Since the house is near ASU, I imagine there's an abundance of eateries. Any of you running in Phoenix that weekend, let me know.
That's it for now.
6:58 AM I haven't been exercising as much as I've wanted to, but yesterday I got in a 5K run at the local track (while it was sprinkling) and today I plan on doing a 10 mile bike in Farmville after church. Having done 3 marathons, 2 half marathons, and 1 ultra marathon in the past few months I feel like I'm still in the recovery phase. My problem is that although I exercise several times a week and eat a good diet, I still don't lose weight. I think the majority of the calories I "burn" during exercise are from carbohydrates rather than from fat. In other words, caloric expenditure doesn't necessarily equal metabolic utilization. (Do I sound like an athlete or what?) Age could also be a factor. (There: I said it -- the "A" word.) I also need to do more crosstraining such as trail runs, cycling, and swimming than I currently do. I don't know about you, but I can easily becoming a victim to overtraining for a race. We runners can be awfully hard on ourselves. So I think I need to readjust my expectations in 2019 from running a new PR to just running for fun and exercise. I have never been completely and totally obsessed with my race goals and will probably do okay in my next race (the Phoenix Marathon in February). Once again, life is all about balance. You can't be too easy on yourself or else you'll never get out of bed in the morning at an unearthly hour to go for a run, but you also can't be too hard on yourself or you'll sacrifice your health.
Does anyone else have this struggle?
Moving on, I've been piddling around with my book on the kingdom (Godworld: Enter at Your own Risk) and for some reason keep coming back to the Anabaptists of the 16th century. You'll recall that they were a bunch of nobodies (can you name even one of them?) who insisted on placing the Bible above church tradition. Loyalty to the New Testament was more important than practically anything for them. To that authority the church must always bow. Would that it did! The only ecclesiastical patterns and polities that can be pleasing to God and beneficial to the church are those that distinguish between manmade traditions and apostolic traditions and subject the former to the latter. Obviously this calls for a great deal of discernment and wisdom on the part not only of the leaders but of the whole congregation (I do not believe in elder-rule but in elder-led congregationalism). Deafened by the cacophony of voices in the contemporary church, who are we to follow? The answer is the same in every generation. We have to test the voices by the teaching of the apostles of Jesus Christ. That's why studying and knowing the New Testament is so important.
Meanwhile, this morning I was up early working through the book of Philippians again, this time focusing on the homiletical features of the text and asking myself, "What is the dominant thought of this paragraph?" In fact, in our Philippians class this spring, we will not be content to exegete the syntax of the passage under consideration. We must persevere in meditation until the main theme of each paragraph emerges. The other day on this blog I talked to you about the first two verses of the letter. It comprises the epistle's "opening greeting." But where does the emphasis lie? For every passage has a main theme. We need to resist the temptation to give the passage an emphasis of our own. I like to illustrate this from 1 John 2:15-17. It would be so easy, wouldn't it, to preach a 3-point message on "the lust of the flesh," "the lust of the eyes," and "the boastful pride of life"? The problem is that none of these expressions is marked syntactically as being on the main line of the argument. John's point is simply, "We have to stop loving the world, okay?" He follows his command with two reasons: (1) the love of the world and the love of the Father are mutually exclusive, and (2) the world is passing away (and its lusts). The fact is, when we preach, people won't remember the details of our message, and we shouldn't expect them to. But they should come away with the dominant thought.
Back to Phil. 1:1-2. I've been reading and rereading this paragraph this morning, turning it over and over in my mind, probing it, like a humming bird a flower. I'm still not sure I can isolate the dominant thought of the text. As things stand today, I'm inclined to give it a title like "Saints Who Serve" -- drawing on the words douloi and hagioi. "Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves," is the way Paul puts it a bit later in the letter before launching into a wonderful description of how Christ did much the same thing when He vacated heaven to live on earth. Paul and his co-worker Timothy are happy to become slaves (douloi) of Christ Jesus. Some 2,000 years later that choice still stands. Jesus demands a verdict. Is He Lord or am I? That is to say, He helps us in our walk with Him to live more selflessly for the benefit of others, and even grants us eternal life to boot. Paul will not allow the "saints" (hagioi) to sit on the fence. Will we become, like Paul and Timothy and even Jesus (who is called a slave/doulos in 2:8), Christians who serve others? Every person has to choose. The one impossibility is what some of the Philippians were attempting, namely to live selfishly and call Jesus their Lord at the same time. No, Paul insists: "Self" and "Christ" are mutually exclusive.
Be honest. Do you study Scripture this way? Do you try your best to be faithful to the text? No doubt interpreting the Bible correctly involves determination, motivation, and putting an element of pressure on ourselves. I believe there's a way to push ourselves hard enough without despairing or throwing up our arms and giving up. Bottom line: read the Bible not just for enjoyment but for edification. And I'll try and do the same.
Now that was a long blog post! Later this week I'll share with you more about what I'm learning from my fresh study of Philippians.
Saturday, December 15
11:52 AM Do you ever struggle with balancing contentment and ambition?
Contentment: A state of happiness and satisfaction.
Ambition: A strong desire to do or achieve something, typically requiring dedication and hard work.
This morning I've been working on my 2019 schedule -- you know, classes, mission trips, races, writing projects, international travel. And I'm struggling. Am I being too ambitious? Do I lack contentment? Or am I becoming complacent in my outlook on life? The Scriptures are clear: I am to be content in all things. "Be content with what you have." "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it. If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." At the same time, I'm told to keep on striving for what lies ahead. Even Jabez, whose cameo appearance in 1 Chronicles 4 has resulted in entire books being written about a mere two verses, asked God to give him bigger challenges and to expand his territory. Jabez (whose name rhymes with the Hebrew word for pain) wanted to have more opportunity and he got it. So, we're told, our problem is that we're not ambitious enough, we're too content in our little ruts, when all we have to do is ask God and He will enlarge our horizons.
Mind you, I'm no fan of "The Prayer of Jabez." But I know for me, contentment can easily become complacency. "I'm too old." "I could never do that." "Let the young people take over; my time is up." Sometimes I feel guilty in knowing I haven't pursued spiritual goals with the same determination and passion that I've had in pursuing athletic or academic goals. Ever feel that way? It's a sweaty struggle, this trying to balance contentment and ambition. In the book of Romans, Paul tells us that the purpose of our election is so that we might become like Jesus. And how did Jesus live? If anything, His life was proof that we are all to be dedicated to something bigger than ourselves, dedicated to helping others achieve their dreams. Easy for Jesus! My predicament is like the person in a horror movie who bolts the door to keep the monster outside and then turns around only to find that the monster is already inside the house. For the sake of the Gospel and the evangelization of the lost, nothing can be more important than that we, the church, become God's new society, a servant people, ministering actively but humbly according to the gifts God has given us. Sometimes we Christians can be consciously lacking in godly ambition. At the same time, I thank God for the increasing number of Jesus followers who, in seeking to honor Christ, are also seeking the church's radical renewal. We are not to use people as things to serve us but we are to give ourselves to serve them. Through love we become each other's slaves, sacrificing our good for theirs. In New Testament terminology, we are to "bear each other's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Everyone who has truly been set free by Christ expresses that liberty in the loving service of his or her neighbor.
This doesn't mean that I can't run races or climb mountains or enjoy dining out. The enjoyment of life is not incompatible with the service of God and others. Both materialism and asceticism are to be avoided. As Christians we rejoice in the Creator's gifts, but at the same time we hate greed and waste, especially in ourselves. We pray with the Philosopher, "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread" (Prov. 30:8). If you are training for a race, leverage that event for a charitable cause. If you're enjoying a good meal at a nice restaurant, be super kind to your server -- and leave a generous tip. For me, there is something very satisfying and refreshing about combining "I" things with "other" things, remembering that, as with so many things in life, more is not necessarily better (though ice cream is an exception).
So, as I head into 2019, I'll be remembering to try and balance contentment and ambition. In the end, I want to be absolutely sure the person I swapped my life for was worth it -- and Jesus is! Some people think that growing old is life's greatest tragedy. I can't speak to that (since I'm not old!), but I do know that all of us, at whatever age, can think more Christianly about the world around us and take action to make our lives more pleasing to God. What I find is that I am infinitely happier if I embrace where I am in life and be the best dad, granddad, teacher, missionary, runner, or writer I can be. The point is that whatever we do let's do it 100 percent for the glory of God. Love whatever God has called you to do, and do it well in His strength and for His pleasure.
6:48 AM In recent years I've become part of a group of people known simply as the "running community." The similarities between this community and the "church" are legion. As soon as I began running competitively, I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race, this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice—where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race.
Being part of this community helps each of us become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners. We are a celebration of men and women, boys and girls, who are striving to be the best and healthiest versions of ourselves through running and fitness. We are forever occupied with growth, with exposing and developing what is latent with us. Each race is an enactment of a lifelong struggle for advancement and perfection.
I am not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: "I'm looking for a Bible for my mother, but I'm not sure who the author is." A non-runner asks you, "How far is your next 5K race?" As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn. We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain.
During a recent 5K race I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race at about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I'll never forget. He said, "Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran." I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him "The World’s Greatest Runner Award" that day.
Friends, the Christian life is a race we run together. It's no different in the running community. "Hey guys. I've got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?" Or (in the church), "As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?"
The point is: We are there for each other.
Friday, December 14
8:45 PM Europe isn't the only place that has Via Ferrata. Check out this one in West Virginia. Challenging but certainly do-able!
1:18 PM A miserable day outdoors.
But lunch with family brings Christmas cheer!
9:08 AM "... because I know that by means of your prayers and the help which comes from the Spirit I shall be set free" (Phil. 1:19, GNT). Varner rightly emphasizes the link between our "prayers" and the Spirit's "help." As Paul puts it in Ephesians, the ability of God to work beyond our prayers and even our dreams is "by the power at work within us," that is, the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:21). Paul is convinced that the prayers of the Philippians on his behalf will in some mysterious way release the power of the Holy Spirit in his circumstances. Conversely, the implication is that unless the Philippians pray, the Holy Spirit will not work. To crib a thought from James, "You wouldn't just think of asking for it, would you?" (James 4:2, The Message).
I got a wonderful text this morning.
How can I thank God enough for a family that prays for me? Maybe that's one reason Paul tells us to "pray continually" (1 Thess. 5:17). Prayer releases the power of the Spirit in our lives. Together, we ask Jesus to bless our hands, inviting the Holy Spirit to "carry us along to maturity" (Heb. 6:1). The biblical concept of prayer is whispering in my ears, "You're ignoring me." And I am. But I want to do better.
How simple and uncomplicated.
All it takes is talking to the Father. And then watching Him work.
6:55 AM While reading Philippians this morning in the Good News Translation, the topic of verbal aspect kept swimming around in my brain. "Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation" (Phil. 2:12, GNT). Is this an over-translation? Does the present tense of the imperative allow or require a rendering like "Keep on working"? Ditto for Eph. 5:18: "Be filled" or "Go on being filled"? Verbal aspect arguments are irrelevant unless they affect translation or at least our understanding. The same holds true for deponency. We can argue to "lay aside" (deponere) the term, but if you do take these verbs as true middles (with subject markedness), how does that affect translation? One of the reasons I'm using Will Varner's commentary in my Philippians exegesis course this spring is because of his discussion of "Verbal Aspect and Aktionsart" (pp. 9-11). "Imperfective aspect," he writes, "views action 'up close,' from within it, and is often used to present an action as unfolding or in progress without reference to the whole action" (p. 10). He quickly adds, however, that lexical and contextual features are also important. Thus, for example, in treating Paul's use of the present tense verb hegoumai in 3:8, he writes: "The imperfective aspect with the adverbial kai and contrasted with the perfect tense form of this verb in v. 7 conveys a continuous Aktionsart. The aspect of the present tense is 'continue to consider' (O'Brien 1991, 386)." There's little doubt that Paul's shift from the perfect tense to the present is exegetically significant. It also affects (or should affect) translation. So verse 8 is in fact a transition verse, forming a bridge between Paul's past life and his present way of living.
Or, to return to Eph. 5:18 and the command to be filled with Spirit. Stott, in his Ephesians commentary, writes:
This is not over-exegesis in my opinion. Stott seems merely to be bringing out the implication of the Greek tense form along with contextual and lexical features. In both passages -- Phil. 3:8 and Eph. 5:18 -- the implication seems clear. Paul would say that we are to thank God for how far we have come as Christians. But we do not say we have arrived. There is much more working out of the Christian life than we have experienced thus far.
Perhaps this is why a conference on Greek linguistics is so needed today. Some scholars have entirely different outlooks on verbal aspect. Oftentimes the subject is ignored altogether. Moreover, before we can even remotely deal with the serious issues, somebody has to outline for us the contours of the debate. There is no stencil we can all trace into our lives (and Greek grammars) with perfect unison. But there is hope. I realize some of you may be hoping for juicy Twitter sound bites to come out of the conference. You know, every debated issue resolved. I can assure you, that's not going to happen. Still, we all know something new is coming. The winds of change are too strong to ignore. I have no idea how God might use this conference. But I'm excited about its prospects. At the very least, maybe the conference will help all of us to slowly break up with some of our outdated ideas.
In the meantime, we can all take advantage of books like Varner's, books that make an honest attempt to correctly shape our understanding of the Greek text before us.
P.S. Noah Kelley, in case you didn't know, has a webpage filled with helpful essays on all things Greek, including a Power Point called "Verbal Aspect Theory: An Introduction to the Debate and Its Use in One Major Commentary." The work he references is the Pillar commentary on 1 Corinthians by Rosner and Ciampa.
Thursday, December 13
12:04 PM This and that ...
1) The publisher accepted my devotional on running. Endless gratitude.
2) I'm rereading this wonderful book on Hebrews:
Sadly, it's much neglected. The "Methodological Considerations" section alone is worth the price of the book.
3) To continue our discussion of the Lord's Supper, in my opinion Vernard Eller (d. 2007) was one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. He is also almost completely unknown today. His book Christian Anarchy is a classic work of theology and should be required reading by seminarians. In a wonderful little essay Eller addresses the problem of using the term "sacrament" to describe the Lord's Supper. He writes:
I agree completely with this point of view. The human tendency is to sacralize our faith and transform it into something the Founder of our faith never envisioned. I've often smiled at the funereal ambiance in so many of our Supper observances: you have the pall bearers solemnly removing the shroud that covers the deceased's remains, etc. As Eller notes: "The word 'sacrament' ... is a bad one; it says all the wrong things -- although the tragedy is not simply that it's a poor word but that the word all too accurately describes the current practice of the church."
What word, then, shall we use? Ah, that's the rest of the essay. You can read it here.
4) What are the main barriers to running? You might be surprised at the answer.
5) Paul Himes reviews a new commentary on the Pastoral Epistles.
8:14 AM I see I have some storm clean up to do.
But the donks are happy.
What a beautiful morning!
6:22 AM The motto of my teaching might be, "Get into the text!" (And stay there.) My philosophy can be neatly summarize in this super duper power point my assistant made for me:
Since I'm reading Philippians nowadays, let's apply this principle to that letter. According to my Novum Testamentum essay, Philippians has 24 basic thought units (also called pericopes or paragraphs or text-sequences).
Some of these, of course, have more salience (prominence, valiance) than others. How to know that? By the art and science of discourse analysis. Paul leaves no doubt as to the theme of his letter.
And this theme is pursued consistently throughout the book, even in the opening greeting.
Paul plunges, right at the beginning, into a statement of his and Timothy's humility and the unity of all believers in Christ. He will elaborate on these themes later in the epistle, but notice three things:
So, if we understand the linguistic macrostructure of the letter, we have grasped the two main subjects of the Philippian epistle right off the bat: unity through humility. A double asterisk applies here:
Asterisk 1: Don't get sidetracked by how you should translate episkopois kai diakonois. Bishops and deacons? Overseers and servers? Overseers who serve? Leaders and helpers? Paul's main point is to show how the shepherds are still sheep and, in fact, are "extensions of the church and not over it."
Asterisk 2: Don't miss the emphasis on "peace." Paul could have written "Grace and peace to you." In writing, "Grace to you -- and peace," the latter term is highlighted. And which local congregation does not need peace and harmony, especially when the church is divided around two of its leaders (4:2)? God sent the Prince of Peace to soothe those tumultuous waters. That is so for all God's people.
I'm eager to teach Philippians this fall. In a single week during the semester we all get to focus on this wonderful little letter. The title Paul uses for himself and Timothy in the opening verse is telling. We all want to be Big Kahunas, to be honored and esteemed, to wield a little power. The Bible, however, has a different emphasis. "Be humble. Like slaves. Think of others as better than yourselves. Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." The rub? If we follow Jesus, we're following a man whose humility got Him killed.
One last point before I brave the cold to feed the animals. Remember that there's nothing hocus-pocus about discourse analysis. It deals, very simply, with three things:
Cohesion means that all the parts fit together.
Coherence means that the parts, fitted together, make sense.
Prominence means that not all the parts have the same semantic weight.
For example, when we look at a human being, we look at the head. This only makes sense. The head is the most prominent part of the body. Then, when we look at the head, we naturally look at the eyes. That's because the eyes are the most prominent part of the human face. If you're trying to draw somebody's portrait and get the eyes wrong, well, you might as well start all over again. The eyes are everything.
Folks, it's just too easy to skim through a New Testament letter without letting its structure take root in our consciousness. The purpose of my course on Philippians is to help my students genuinely grapple with not only the text of the letter but with the message of Philippians and think about how its teaching is relevant to them today. I'm asking them even now to be praying that the Holy Spirit will bring this ancient letter to life and speak to them through it.
Wednesday, December 12
6:46 PM Since I'm requiring my spring break Greek students to read through the book of Philippians five times in as many translations, I began that process today, devouring the Hawaiian Pidgin version of the book. (Man, da kine was broke da mout ono!) Next up: Latin, French, German, and Spanish. I love Greek. I love teaching Greek. I've dedicated more than 40 years of my life to helping others learn how to read this language. I've taught Greek on several continents. The subject is inexhaustible. For those of us who aren't naturally gifted in languages, Greek can be a mystery. How to get a handle on Greek? In one sense, Greek cannot be taught. It has to be learned. By that I mean that all learning is self-learning in the end. And so great teachers are great, not because of their intellectual powers, but because of their ability to empower others. Top level teachers change the lives of the people they teach. They create legacy in what they do. And, every generation of Christians produces their own set of Greek teachers. My Greek teacher at Biola had a great personal touch. Like all good teachers, Harry Sturz had a clear picture of what kind of a student he wanted to produce. He realized, I think, that a teacher's lasting value is in the legacy he or she leaves. Success is measured by succession. If you want to develop people, you have to help them discover and realize their full potential in Christ. Helping others to develop their strengths is the only way to leave behind a lasting legacy. I'm sorry to admit that I've occasionally lost focus in my own teaching. Teaching should always be about others, not about the teacher. To be an effective teacher, teachers must always be learning. We can never arrive; we can only get better. And we get better by helping others get better. We must believe in their worth. We must value their aspirations. We must believe that they are worth our time, energy, effort, and resources.
With gratitude and humility, we can lift up as many teachers-in-the-making as possible, and extend our influence long after we are gone. Do this, and you will become a one-in-a-thousand teacher.
7:55 AM I am not a liturgist nor the son of a liturgist. My church does not observe the liturgical year. Yet even Baptists agree that it's not a bad thing to remember two great Gospel events in a special way every year: Easter and Christmas. Somehow we are attracted to the rhythmic, ceremonial return to the familiar. Maybe that explains why I am so joyous this Christmas season, caught up in all the tinsel and decorations, the manger scenes I see as I drive through town, the fabulous music (Christmas hymns are incredibly powerful, aren't they?). Who is not moved by this season? Christmas asks us to ponder anew Christ's willingness to take on human flesh, a decision that led slowly toward that most dreadful of all events, the cross. Here we see the principle of "incarnation" quite vividly. And we ask ourselves, "Am I living like that? What am I willing to surrender up to God so that others may live?" Maybe this is why I feel so strongly -- and have for quite some time -- that a return to the Lord's Supper as a weekly observance is a desideratum. The loss of its centrality is nothing less than a calamity. The idea that this is "much too frequent" (as I heard not long ago from the pulpit when I was visiting another church) is wholly at odds with the testimony of those who return to the table week after week. In Hawai'i, I grew up in a faith tradition that observed the Lord's Supper once a quarter as an addendum to the "preaching service." It is an irony of ironies that the early church seemed to have no such practice (see, for example, Acts 20:7 and also see I. Howard Marshall's Some Considerations Concerning the Lord's Supper Today). There's a profound mystery at work here. Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 10:16-17 when he writes that the bread that we break not only symbolizes our unity but, in effect, creates it. The Lord's Day is a weekly feast of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. That's why the Lord's Supper needs to be revivified. It needs to be revivified not because it has dwindled in significance, but because we have dwindled in our capacity to keep Christ preeminent "in all things" (Col. 1:18). Church all too easily becomes pulpit, not table. It becomes anthropocentric and not Christocentric. We forget that we are invited to feed on the body of Christ, not just hear about it. Jesus didn't say, "Take notes." He said, "Take, eat."
I love good Bible teaching on Sunday mornings. I love taking notes. I love the cognitive aspects to Christianity. I stand in very great debt to the many good sermons I've heard through the years. Much of my career has been spent in training pastors to rightly divide the word of truth. But pitting word against ordinance does violence to the truth of the Gospel. The Lord's Supper is nothing less than the church "walking through" the Gospel with her Lord. It's a time when we, collectively, cry out "Eucharist!" ("Thank You!"). It's a time to remember that even as Christ's body was given for the life of the world, so too we must give our lives away in service to others in His name.
The Lord's Supper can never be demoted to an addendum. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast. If that makes us liturgists, so be it.
P.S. This morning's sunrise. How glorious is our Creator!
Tuesday, December 11
8:45 PM "On the twelfth day of Christmas, I ran a marathon...."
Yep. Marathon number 12 is in the books. (I'm definitely not one and done.) And what a great race weekend I had! I almost didn't make it home tonight, however. While I was in Texas, the farm was hit with a major snowstorm that caused widespread power outages. But can you believe it? When I arrived at RDU this evening at 5:00 pm, both the primary and secondary roads were in great shape, and even my tertiary road was drivable -- though I did have to park at the beginning of my driveway because my van can't negotiate a foot and a half of snow and ice. Walking to the house in the snow with my luggage was a bit of a challenge for a bone-tired runner, but hey -- good practice for the Alps, right? But I'm getting ahead of myself....
On Saturday I landed at DFW, picked up my rental car, and made a beeline for the expo in downtown Dallas. I didn't stay like I normally do because I wanted to get to mom and dad's house in time to take them out for dinner. I called it a night at about 8:00 because my plan was to leave their house in Murphy/Plano no later than 5:00 in the morning in order to find a parking place near the starting line. Turns out I could have slept in. There was no traffic at all and no problem with parking either. Count on the Dallasites to have a super organized race. Thankfully, the rain on Saturday had departed and the day turned out to have "picture perfect" conditions for the 16,000 runners who participated. The pre-race programming was your usual fare of speeches and special guests. Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings gave everybody a very warm Texas welcome, and then Britney Holmes (American Idol's season 16 champion) sang a powerful rendition of the National Anthem with pyrotechnics synchronized to the words "the bombs bursting in air." Admit it, you get goosebumps when that happens! After that, a Scottish Rite Hospital patient named Sam Strain urged us to run the race of a lifetime. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, my corral began the race.
I like to say, "The real challenge is getting to the starting line. The next 26.2 miles is the victory lap." I felt great the entire race, even when my feet started aching palpably. I'm so glad I found a pedicurist at RDU who was able to perform successful major surgery on my toenails. The highlight of the day was when Iraq war veteran John Walding crossed the finish line running on his prosthetic blade while waving a giant American flag. As is true with most of us runners I suppose, the real story is less about running and more about the emotional, mental, and spiritual components that are part and parcel of each runner's personal quest to accomplish some big hairy audacious goal in their life. As Confucius (or somebody said), nothing worth doing comes easily.
Today I'm glad my 66-year old body can still run a marathon. That my 67-year old body will run the Chicago Marathon in October. That I can climb the Alps this summer. That maybe, just maybe, I can summit Mount Elbert in the Rockies. I think running and climbing stretches me. Calls me higher. Challenges me to do the impossible. This isn't news to you, of course. My guess is that you're a lot like me.
So I'm home again, with nothing major on my plate until Winter-Term Greek starts on January 2. I'm going to take a day or two to recover from the race and from "marathon toe." Stay tuned as I continue the highs and lows of training, and be sure to never stop working for a goal that's unattainable.
A few pics:
1) This woman deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor.
2) My parking attendants at the expo. Betam amasagenalo!
3) I fell in with the 2:50 half marathon pacers until the halfers split off from the marathoners around mile 9.
4) Yes, that's the Texas School Book Depository we're running past.
5) Mid-race finds you running around a Dallas landmark: White Rock Lake.
6) This is where I proposed to Becky 42 years ago. On this spot (to the best of my recollection).
7) As is always the case at the BMW Dallas Marathon, the crowd support was amazing. The linguist in me loved this sign.
8) With only one more medal I can put together the entire Dallas skyline.
9) Enjoying Ethiopian food with mom and dad.
10) While the cat (Papa B) is away, the mice (my grandkids) will play. Here's Peyton.
11) And Chesley.
Well, it's time to cook supper. My body has taken a beating but I am super glad I went to Dallas. It truly felt like a celebration of life. And what a great trip down memory lane was White Rock Lake.
Thank you, Lord!
Saturday, December 8
6:44 AM Tomorrow is my twelfth marathon in the past three years. My "thrilling" marathon history includes the Marine Corps, the St. George, the Richmond (twice), the Baltimore, the Flying Pig (twice), and a few in Raleigh and other locales. What's not to love about running 26.2 miles in either heat and humidity or freezing temperatures! Still on my bucket list: Athens, Chicago, and New York. I'm already registered for Chicago. New York is the lottery system. And Athens? Maybe I'll wait until I'm 70 for that one. I mean, that would be the ultimate race, don't you think? (Pheidippedes ain't got nothing on me.)
Am I ready for Sunday? Runners never feel 100 percent ready for anything. You certainly have to respect the distance. Race conditions are still said to be good on race day -- cold, clear, and breezy. Mom and dad have allowed me to stay with them again. They must really like me. Or hoping I'll take them out for Ethiopian food. After this race I have nothing big on the agenda until Phoenix in February. I'm glad the race in Phoenix is on a Saturday because that will allow me time to speak at a church on Sunday and at Phoenix Seminary on Monday. Tomorrow I'll be running, as usual, alone. Me, myself, and I. Thinking about so many things. Including the brevity of life and the fleeting nature of health. You run one day and you can be injured or ill the next. It's a reminder, my friend, that we need to live in the moment, be present with people, support, love, and cherish them while we still can, and live in such a way that when we're gone people will miss us (like we are missing George H. W.). We need to say "I love you" more.
I finished the manuscript to They Will Run and Not Grow Weary this week and it's been sent to a prospective publisher. We'll see what they say. (Who am I? A mediocre writer, that's what!) I feel kinda drained. I don't really recommend finishing a book during finals week, but I wanted closure before going to Dallas and beginning the Christmas holidays, when I want to spend more time with family and less time in my study. (Famous last words.) My family is such a gift to the world. They bless my socks off. I thank God every day He's given these gifts to me. I loved seeing my 5 grand boys last night. I'll love being with mom and dad this weekend. But I'll miss my puppy and even the goats and donks.
Okay, time to prep the house and the animals for my trip. I'm a bit nervous about the race. As the old saying goes, "It doesn't get easier; you just get used to it." It's amazing how your body can adapt and adjust when you push it. Life sure is an amazing adventure. Thanks for joining me on the journey, you guys.
Friday, December 7
7:56 PM In the life of me -- Dave -- here's what's currently happening.
1) The sunrise this morning as I drove to campus.
2) The sunset this evening as I got up hay.
3) In between, we had our fall commencement.
4) And applauded our graduates.
5) Then we finished "the" field.
6) And got up 3 trailer loads.
Don't even get me started about how fabulous this weekend is going to be, what with the Dallas Marathon on Sunday and spending 4 days with Becky's parents (and mine too). It was a year ago that I did exactly the same thing. I love me a challenging race and time with family.
And tonight? I finished Escape from Colditz and now I'm reading Free As a Running Fox. What is it about escape books that appeals to me? Maybe I'm an escapist? Escaper? Escapee? What can a man with an insatiable appetite for WWII escape books do? The bravery, the stubbornness, the ups and downs, the subterfuges. What more can you ask for? It's amazing to see the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the POWs. Their perseverance is beyond belief. These books are non-fiction yet they read like novels. Plenty of "comedy moments" too. My friend, if you've never tried out this genre of literature, you should.
By the way: Never -- and I mean never -- try to drive home from work while listening to a eulogy, especially a eulogy like the one George W. Bush gave his father. You'll find your eyes welling up with tears that make it well nigh impossible to see where you're going. Bush 43 never once rambled. He focused on specific qualities he admired in his dad -- humor, character, loyalty to his wife of 73 years, self-deprecation, "unconditional love" for his kids, and on and on I could go. The eulogy was personal, positive, and conversational. His dad's last words on earth were, "I love you too." That's how I'd like to live and die. As Dubya spoke, I felt the same grief he was feeling, the nation was feeling, the world was feeling. For one brief moment I felt we were all Americans again, regardless of our politics, social status, and ethnicity.
Deepest appreciation, George W. Bush. Delivering a eulogy is hard enough in the best of times. Your speech was touching and honest. You helped us remember every important aspect of your father. My heart was touched. Thank you.
(This eulogy has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times. If you haven't seen it yet, I can't commend it enough.)
Thursday, December 6
7:02 PM Did a workout, napped, then got up hay. The story of my life. And it was freezing out there tonight. Yes, we worked well after dark, again. We had a gigantic field to get up.
The temps were in the mid-30s.
Hope to finish the field tomorrow before I leave for Texas. They're calling for snow here on Sunday.
It's going to be an interesting weekend.
7:40 AM Yesterday, Map My Run sent me an article about how marathoners can actually gain weight while training instead of losing unwanted pounds. Why? We tend to consume more calories than we burn. We develop a mindset that tells us, "You just trained super hard and you deserve that post-workout smoothie." I can't tell you how many times I've self-justified eating at a buffet restaurant because, after all, I have an active lifestyle. Does hard work deserve on occasional treat? Absolutely. The problem is that late-night trip to the refrigerator (like I did last night). I admit that I still hope to lose weight during my training for marathons. But I can only focus on one goal at a time. Right now that's getting into shape for Sunday's race. I'm certainly not in any danger of under-fueling. Still, I recognize the need to develop better eating habits to make sure the calories going in are better aligned with the calories I'm burning up. Here are some things I'm going to try:
1) Stop thinking that I need to finish everything on my plate when I go out for a meal. Portion sizes in the restaurant business are way too big to be considered healthy. The problem is, I enjoy the meal so much I can't stop eating. It takes a lot of self-discipline to ask for a takeout box. I did this last Sunday when we went out for Mexican and I actually got three meals out of one. I need to do this more regularly.
2) Eat healthier snacks. Yes, I'm talking about my addiction to things like Doritos. Lately I've started swapping crackers for oranges and avocadoes.
3) Limit my juice intake.
4) Slow down while I eat (I'm terrible at this!).
5) Develop a healthier menu.
6) Drink more water with my meals.
7) Avoid processed foods as much as possible. (I struggle so much with eating the "right" kinds of food.)
I think all of these steps make sense and promote healthy eating habits. Of course, drawing up lists like this one do absolutely nothing unless I get on board with the program. This simply has to be a long-term commitment. With my ridiculously busy schedule, this isn't easy. Healthy eating is a lifestyle change, not a fad. I really need to work on eating more raw veggies and weaning myself from processed foods. (Cook fresh, Dave!) I don't drink a lot of soda because I find it harder to maintain my weight when I do. I'm not vegan and I love meat, but I could probably eat less red meat than I do.
This morning I decided to have a hearty breakfast because I'm planning on working out at the Y today. Here you can see that I prepared more French Toast than I probably should have.
My conscious pricked, I ended up giving about a third to Sheba, who loves people food because she thinks she's a human being.
Then I consumed this entire jar of water.
For lunch I'll probably enjoy some Mexican food ($5.00 arroz con pollo special). My dinners really vary. Tonight I'll prepare Chinese stir fry using mostly fresh veggies and very little meat (chicken). It's after dinner when things begin to go downhill. You can tell I'm big on nighttime snacks. Snacks feed my soul. I need to drastically reduce my calorie consumption at night (think: apple slices or baby carrot sticks). I also need to stop mainlining Starbucks.
How about you? Do you eat clean? Have you converted to a plant-base diet? What do you do when you crave a snack at night? Do you eat desserts? Do you drink enough water?
If only I could hire a "personal chef"!
P.S. I'm keeping my eye on this storm that's passing through the South.
The good news is that it looks like the rain will have moved out of Dallas by race day on Sunday.
Of course, I'd run the marathon even in the rain. I'm not bragging. That's just what I do. Besides, if you're paying all that money to register for a race, not to mention your airfare, you might as well get the most out of your investment. On the other hand, it's always nice to see sunshine in the forecast. The temps should be hover in the 35-40 degree range for most of the race, which for me is cold. Which is another reason to lose weight. The fattest parts of the body are the parts that get the coldest because fat doesn't generate heat. Wind, by the way, is my biggest enemy. If it's both cold and windy, I can expect to suffer, big time. It makes running almost unbearable.
Wednesday, December 5
4:20 PM A little of this and a little of that ....
1) Haven't seen these gas prices in years.
2) Lunch today at the Seoul Garden with one of our Korean students.
3) The real heroes of every race? The selfless volunteers. I thank each and every one I meet.
4) Speaking of races, the Dallas Marathon is this weekend. Deena Kastor is known for giving pre-race speeches in Dallas and she once recommended that runners think of 3 things they're thankful for during the race.
She says that every marathon will have good times and not-so-good times. When the hard times come, we need to remember our blessings. This Sunday I'll be thankful for 3 things in my life:
1. My wonderful family.
2. My good health.
3. My Best Friend (Jesus).
5) Lastly, why is it that when the grass dies, the weeds stay nice and green?
There's a spiritual lesson here, but I'm too famished to say anything about it now. Need to get supper cooking.
Monday, December 3
8:50 AM Let's pretend we're hanging out on my front porch sipping eggnog. Here's a few topics that might come up in our conversation.
1) Aren't you glad the rain has stopped? Should be a beautiful week. Maybe we can get up more hay before I leave for the Big D on Saturday.
2) My goats are happy. They love their cuisine.
3) I suppose I deserve this for living in the middle of Nowhere, but it seems I need to drive long distances to get anywhere. Here's what I saw when I pulled out of my driveway yesterday on my way to meet my daughter and her fam for church in Roxboro.
My map said exactly 26.2 miles. Who in their right mind would walk or run from my farm to Roxboro? That's what cars are for. But put on a race bib, and everything changes. There's a folly about marathons that's obvious to everyone except those who try to run them.
4) Before church I stopped at MacDonald's to get some of their scrumptious hot chocolate and work on a lecture over Philippians.
5) During yesterday's message, I was impressed (again) with how many significant textual variants there are in the Christmas story. Did the angel say to Mary, "The Lord is with you!" or "The Lord is with you! How blessed are you among women!"?
6) Mexican with family afterwards. Delicioso!
7) Enjoyed a performance of Handel's Messiah last night at St. Paul's in Cary. The Cary Community Choir did a masterful job. Over 28 churches were represented in this vocal group last night. Well done!
8) Of course, when in Raleigh you have to enjoy Ethiopian for dinner.
Off to school. Finals week! Remember: Take time to appreciate all the good things of the season. We never know what's around the corner, so live in the present.
Cheers (lifting my glass of eggnog)!
Sunday, December 2
7:45 AM Watched a YouTube this morning of an interview with Robin Meade, who went skydiving with George H. W. Bush when he turned 85. She remembered him for being "humorous, compassionate, funny, smart, and engaging."
George Bernard Shaw once quipped that youth is wasted on the young. If that's true, then I wonder how much of aging is wasted on the elderly. Ignore or reject aging people, and you risk missing out on an awful lot of wisdom, skill, and talent. I love how G. H. W. was active until the end of his life. God, I believe, wants us to "hoe until the end of the row." The only other option (and this is really NOT an option) is to sit down in the middle of the furrow and indulge in self-pity. Ironically, I feel more alive today in my 66th year than when I was younger. I am my own person -- in ways more than ever before. I have plans for myself! I have goals!
Let's get realistic. We all grow older. But age is a state of mind. Just ask Robin Meade. She witnessed a man who had the freedom to explore his dreams. Old age is simply redirection. We may slow down a bit, but we can be just as active and involved as ever before. I suspect that President Bush viewed retirement as filled with opportunity, not as a curse. You never know what adventures lie ahead when you move out in faith. I am not content to mark the end of my days in inactivity. I know I've told you many times, but I desire to run to my grave if God will allow it. Over the years I've neglected my body, and now I'm playing catch up. Recovery takes longer after each race. So you make adjustments and continue on. I've noticed a few more creaks and aches, but then again, I didn't start running until I was 62. Even though I'm less resilient, I'm in the best shape of my life. I have more confidence, and I'm more in tune with what makes me happy and what doesn't. "We are a new breed of old people," wrote Maggie Kuhn. "There are more of us alive today than at any other time in history. We are better educated, healthier, with more at stake in this society. We are redefining goals, taking stock of our skills and experience, looking to the future." You don't sit on the sofa and cry when you turn 66. You simply listen to your body more.
When the Israelites conquered the land, 85-year old Caleb claimed the promised hill country. Old age can be a time of great fulfillment. The hymn "Now Thank We All Our God" says it perfectly: "Who, from our mother's arms,/ has blessed us on our way/ with countless gifts of love,/ and still is ours today." With Paul I can affirm, "By the grace of God I am what I am." I've grown through my experiences and matured through my struggles. That's why I would never want to go back to my youth. No, we aging people celebrate our age and affirm our experience. It's even possible for the elderly to rediscover the child in them in what Henri Nouwen once called "a second playfulness." To skydive at the age of 85 is not crazy. It's not a regression to a childish state but a celebration of a second innocence. "Just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner," said Bush on his 85th birthday. "Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life."
President Bush, you will be missed. Thank you for a life well lived. Pablo Picasso once said, "It takes a long time to become young." Well, you showed us that becoming young again is possible. Thanks be to God. My prayers are with your family.
Saturday, December 1
1:05 PM Today I had a 50-minute workout at the Y. It felt pretty good on my muscles. I worked, per usual, on my upper body "strength," if you can call it that. It was a tough workout. Maybe I'm getting old after all. Let's see, how much is that assisted living home down the street? Once I finished, however, I felt fine. I wondered to myself: Will I ever be able to climb another mountain in the Alps? Oh, not a 14er in the Rockies. Anybody who's in fairly good shape can hike to the summit of a 14,000-foot peak like Huron or Bierstadt. I'm talking about the Jungfrau or the Mönch, or maybe even the Eiger -- not the infamous North Face, mind you, but the "Normal Route" that "normal" people can do in a day or two. For me, it's a tossup between the Bernese Oberland and the Monte Rosa (which I climbed last time). There's just something about being in the Swiss Alps. It's funny how even the cheese seems tastier in the mountains. Maybe I'll try to do the Jungfrau/Mönch combo in 3 days. Both offer genuine climbing experiences without being exceedingly difficult. They are climbed from the same base, the Mönchsjochhutte, a hut situated at 3,650 meters.
I'm told the summits offer a panorama from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. For those who love mountains, a trip to the Alps is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Add the delicious food and the warm hospitality of the Swiss, and it makes for quite an adventure. That said, I know I won't be able to climb unless I'm as fit as I can be. So here's what I'll do. I'll continue to weight train at an easy pace and see if I'm ready for another big climb this summer. I say "easy pace" because I'm a weakling and am susceptible to lower back issues so I have to be careful. At my age, I'm concentrating more on finesse than on brute strength in my workouts. My goal is not to have nice muscle cuts. I just want to be strong enough to make it to the summit -- and back down again. Only time will tell. I would love to say I've seen lots of progress but, alas, I think I'm genetically predisposed to carrying some extra weight.
From left to right: The Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.
Me climbing the Zermatt Klettersteig with my guide Walter.
9:20 AM In his Philippians: A Linguistic Commentary -- the textbook I'm requiring in my Philippians class this spring -- Will Varner suggests that Paul may have had three purposes in mind when writing: 1) to thank the congregation for their monetary gift, 2) to warn the church about false teachers, and 3) "to loving [sic] exhort the church to live out their visible unity" (p. 3).
Perhaps no passage in Philippians explains this as well as the verses written by Paul to describe what unity looks like in 2:1-4. Read them over and over again. If you're up to the challenge, commit them to memory. (My exegesis students will be required to learn those verses by heart in Greek and recite them to me orally.) Through Jesus Christ, who died for us sinners and who was raised to life, God is creating something brand new in this universe -- not just a new way of living for individuals but a new society. Paul's vision of a new humanity manufactured out of a fractured humanity is stunning. This new society, of course, has new standards that are expected from it. Its unity has certain implications for everyday living. If I understand Paul correctly, he's arguing in Philippians that unity is utterly impossible without tapeinophrosune -- lowliness of mind (humility) -- the humble recognition of the worth and value of other people, indeed the humble mind that was in Christ Jesus and that led Him to "empty Himself" by becoming a slave. Humility is essential to unity. Harmony in God's new society is impossible if we are motivated by personal vanity. But when a church is built upon the strong base of Christian unity and harmony, then there is good hope that it can fulfill its evangelistic responsibility to be a light shining in the darkness while holding forth the life-giving word. Paul states the matter boldly and dogmatically: There can be no effective Gospel witness by a divided church. We are to demonstrate to the world that the unity we affirm in our doctrinal statements is in fact a realty.
Once you take seriously this idea of unity in the cause of something far greater than anything we each think is important individually, you tend to see all of life through that prism. As you know, I've been reading Pat Reid's classic WW II story called Escape from Colditz.
Colditz Castle was supposedly "escape-proof." Had not the Germans said so? And yet more successful escapes were made from this prison per capita than from any other Stalag in Germany during the war. Why? Because there is nothing that can stop a group of men regardless of their nationality, race, creed, or color from achieving their goal once they agree as to what that goal is.
Pat Reid is the third from the left.
In essence, Escape from Colditz is the story of how a group of men of diverse personalities, cultures, and temperaments triumphed over the impossible. I think that story proves something important. Despite the difference of conviction we have among us as believers, we should all be eager for some visible expression of Christian unity provided that we do not sacrifice fundamental Christian truth. And there's no better way for us to be united than in our pursuit of the Gospel Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unity is not unity for its own sake. Paul makes it abundantly clear that the unity of which he speaks is unity for the sake of the Gospel (1:27-30).
If a group of ragged, vernimous strangers could escape from an "escape-proof" castle, what do you think would happen if we, the people of God, with humility of mind, worked together on fulfilling our Lord's final command to us?
7:25 AM The blueberry muffins are in the oven so it's time to get caught up on this blog.
I woke up to the sound of rain and therefore opted out of the race this morning. A 10K is hard enough in good running conditions let alone in inclement weather. I'm discovering that being active is as much about brain as it is about brawn. Today's a great day for me to sit back and analyze my training program. After the Dallas Marathon next weekend, my running season will be officially over until the Phoenix Marathon in February. It's time to take a break. I mean, two half marathons, two full marathons, and one ultramarathon in the past two months has taken its toll. This is the time of the year when the threat of burnout is the greatest. You've become so used to fatigue after your races -- both physical and mental -- that you aren't even aware of it. A bit of R & R is needed for rejuvenation. I tend to push my body and mind to the limit and then pay a hefty price for it afterwards. Doing so is a sure-fire way to end up burned-out or injured. I won't stop working out completely, of course. But I will have no plan or agenda other than to do some light weight lifting today. I will work out for the pure enjoyment of it. Fun rather than fitness will be my goal. More biking riding, less running. More mountain climbing and less swimming. Hey, I might even take an aerobics class at the Y. By taking a break, I'll also have more time to plan for the upcoming year. What are my goals? What are my limits? Right now, though, it's time to err on the side of resting. It'll be nice to reset after a busy week. After all, ya gotta let your body repair your muscles before you beat them up again.
Well, the muffins are cooling off and then will be summarily consumed.
Hope your weekend goes well. Mine couldn't be getting off to a better start.
Friday, November 30
6:36 PM I just started to reread this wonderful little book that, in a sense, got it all started for me.
It piqued my interest in all things linguistic back in the day when Greek teachers weren't all that linguistically inclined (or declined or conjugated). I'm really never happier than when I have a full stomach (pork chops and mashed potatoes), a warm fireplace, and a good book to read. My problem is that I'll read a little of this book and then go right back to my book about Colditz and its escapers. I always have at least two books going at the same time. I try to learn something new every day. The more I read, the more I realize I never knew what I never knew.
That's all I've got for now. Bon weekend (as the French would say)!
3:02 PM Sometimes, such as on a day like today, you just don't want to get outdoors and get any exercise. The ground is too wet, the temps too cold, the overcast sky too threatening, the leaves too mushy.
I'm sure people must think I'm crazy for going out in such conditions. Today I decided to tough it out and bike in less-than--ideal conditions. I feel proud for pushing through and getting in a solid 10 miles. I don't like biking in such lousy conditions, but I do like the feeling of accomplishment it gives me. My face was pretty frozen when it was all over though. I've only run once in a torrential downpour and that's because it wasn't expected and came out of the blue. Needless to say, I'm scared to death of getting zapped by lightening. Also, ice is most definitely a deal-breaker. I'll try to tough out most anything, but ice is going one step (or slip) too far. Bottom line: It takes a lot of self-discipline to get outside when the weather conditions aren't ideal. The key is to get going before your brain figures out what you're doing. Procrastination usually gets you nowhere (literally).
10:12 AM Did you know that ...
If you're not sick of me yet and want to read about how you can help out this awesome ministry, go here and, even better, show up tomorrow in Wake Forest with your canned goods. A current list of needs is available on this page. The event is the Frosty Run 10K/5K.
The race begins at 8:00 tomorrow morning, and Lord willing I'll be there. The running community is awesome and I love how we support our local communities. 'Tis the season to be jolly -- and generous, right?
7:38 AM I have a reading problem. I read everything I can get my hands on. That includes Greek grammars, one of which I recently ordered from Amazon.
Yesterday I finally had an excuse to read it and its workbook over a cup of coffee and two fleshly baked glazed donuts at my favorite Amish bakery.
I've written up a review of sorts that I may or may not publish, but meanwhile I am finished with these tomes and would like to offer them to anyone who is sincerely interested in studying Greek but isn't able to attend a class. Just write me and they are yours. I will assume that if you request them you are fully committed to covering their contents from beginning to end. North American readers only. My email is email@example.com.
Meanwhile, my life right now in a nutshell:
What I'm reading: Escape from Colditz.
Listening to: The rain.
Watching: The "Surf's Up" Beach Boys tribute band on YouTube. They are so good. Thanks for the memories, dudes.
Promoting: Our linguistics conference. I see I'm not the only one. (Thanks, Will Varner and Rob Plummer.) Remember: Registration fees go up Feb. 1. Right now, for only $50, you get two meals and a snack, plus you get to hear all the major players.
Avoiding: Pulling off my rotten toenails.
Anticipating: Being with mom and dad in Dallas for 5 days.
Working on: The final draft of They Shall Run and Not Grow Weary.
Cooking: Eggs and corned beef hash.
Wishing: I could run in shorts and a tank top instead of 7 layers.
Procrastinating: Cleaning out the inside of my car.
Considering: Running the Athens Marathon in 2019.
Praying for: The ability to let life's ebbs and flows wash over me, arms open wide to receive the pain as well as the joy.
Thankful for: That God's put me in the place where He wants me to live out the love He's given me to share.
Dreaming: Of climbing the Alps again. How 'bout Castor and Pollux this time?
Thursday, November 29
5:42 PM This is what I looked like while Nate was changing out trailers today.
I like laying around. In fact, the only thing I like more than laying around is working. And boy did we work today.
We had a gignormous field to get up but thankfully the day was perfect for haying and I had an absolute blast working with Nate and Jess.
Some days are like that.
Contrast last weekend, when we practically froze to death. There will be "it" days and there will be "grit" days. I don't know about you, but I always sleep much better at night after a long day's work. Even my sore toes didn't hold me back today. This is my best effort to look like a real farmer.
And how do you like my little buddy Mr. Chesley?
It's hard to tell from the picture, but he's excited because he just saw his daddy. Earlier today, I went to the gym. As you can see, it was pretty empty.
I suppose that's due to all the Christmas shopping going on. The only time the gym is emptier is in February. Oh, there are plenty of people there in January. You can hardly find a place to park. Then it's all over by February. (We Americans are terrible at follow through.) Today I broke one of my cardinal rules. I used my phone in the gym. However, I had a very good reason to do so. Whereas the gym itself was practically empty, the lounge was filled with people drinking eggnog and otherwise having a good time chatting away. I figured I'd disturb less people in the gym than in the social chamber. I would also add that wandering around in the gym just sipping water all the time doesn't count as a workout. On the other hand, to all of you people who are TRYING to get into a workout routine and are wanting to make a difference in your health, kudos to you. My only advice is: It doesn't matter how great you look in your gym clothes, unless they get sweaty they aren't doing you a whole lot of good. Actually, I don't belong in a gym. The outdoors is where it's at for moi. But the Y is a necessary evil because otherwise I would have to buy 50 million weights and I really don't want to do that.
Once again, I'm thankful for my health. I'm thankful I can exercise and pick up hay and drive a tractor and lie down in a field and laze. Being outdoors is special for me. It makes me feel alive and helps heal me.
Lord, You are beautiful. Thank You for Your beautiful creation.
6:10 AM Odds and ends ....
1) Was up bright and early per usual. My goal for the day is to get back to the gym and get in a good long workout. I pretty much abandon my workouts Monday through Wednesday. Too busy. This week has been insane. I am super excited about tonight because I have to get up more hay. Someone once said, "Choose your ruts carefully. You'll be in them for a long time." I actually enjoy my ruts!
2) I'm now requiring Scripture memorization as part of all my exegesis courses.
3) Best. Christmas. Flash. Mob. Ever.
4) Quiz time. What are the top 10 New Year's resolutions? Answer here. Look familiar? In 2019, I've resolved to stop blogging. I mean that. I really don't want to, but "all good things must come to an end," if you know what I mean.
P.S. My New Year's resolutions never last more than a day, so I might as well resolve to stop doing something I don't plan to stop doing.
Wednesday, November 28
8:25 PM 10 days till Dallas according to my snazzy day planner. Really? Where has this year gone? I was going to post some pictures of last year's race but I can't find them. Anyhoo, I'm ready to curl up on the sofa and dig into my weekend reading.
Before I do, here's a shout out to Dawit, who recently arrived from Ethiopia. I ran into him last night while dining at the Abyssinia in Raleigh.
Whoosh! How's that for a long blog post?
Happy miles, everyone!
Monday, November 26
6:10 AM Last night I listened (and relistened) to Gabrielli's Sonata pian et forte. A brilliant performance. Absolutely perfect. Gabrielli himself would be proud. I only wish I could have heard it live.
In my younger days, I played the trumpet (first chair, first trumpet in Hawaii's All State Band as a senior in High School). I am so so so so grateful for Gabrielli. This is probably the most influential piece that inspired me to audition for Greater Europe Mission's Eurocorps brass team in 1978. I will never ever forget playing on this fabulous octet throughout Germany for 3 months with my bride Becky by my side.
Playing in an open-air evangelistic concert on the Baltic in Northern Germany, July, 1978.
By the way, it was preparing for this trip that I decided to teach myself German so that I could share my testimony during our concerts. That was also the summer that I began looking into doctoral programs in Europe and was fortunate enough to have been able to visit several universities in both Germany and Switzerland, two of which (Tübingen and Basel) accepted me as a doctoral student by my prospective major professors. As you probably know, I ended up in Basel as a student under Prof. Bo Reicke, perhaps the doyen of New Testament studies in those days.
What an amazing genius Gabrielli was. I've waited years to hear a rendition like this. Utterly brilliant without allowing any of the usual show-offy "Let's see how fast we can play this" approach all too common these days. I love how the audience responds. You should always wait to clap until you hear no sound, because many of us like to hear the reverberation and enjoy a moment of silent awe. The pause allows me to absorb and fully appreciate the beauty of Gabrielli's creation. When you recall that Gabrielli's music was written sola Deo gloria (much like Bach's music), it's a reminder that church music doesn't have to be the dull pabulum it so often is nowadays. Someone has said, "When the angels in heaven play for themselves, they play Mozart. When they play for God, they play Bach." I could feel the power of this piece even through my headphones. Great tone and resonance. It's like reading the Bible. I have listened to this piece several times and each time leaves me wishing I could hear more of the nuance that I know is there. Thanks so much YouTube for sharing it with all of us. Without question, one of Gabrielli's greatest works. I hope you can listen to it and enjoy it.
P.S. Happiness is a choice, what we elect to focus on. I know for me, this means a lot more of some things and a lot less of other things. A lot more listening to good music and a lot less listening to CNN. A lot more face time with family and a lot less texting. A lot more running by feel and a lot less running by my Garmin. A lot more praying and a lot less griping. A lot more telling my story honestly and a lot less hiding behind a facade. A lot more giving and a lot less taking. A lot more growing up and a lot less giving up. A lot more apologies and a lot less rationalizations. A lot more saying no and a lot less saying yes to everything that comes my way. A lot more time with people who make me feel good and a lot less time with toxic relationships. Life is a lot like childbirth -- incredibly painful and yet gloriously wonderful. You take the good with the bad. If death is real, so is rebirth.
Much peace and happiness from my house to yours during this holiday season ....
Sunday, November 25
6:35 AM Despite writing a blog where I try to pass myself off as an athlete, I enjoy passive activities as well. Yesterday it was raining so I spent my time immersed in reading. The Kid Who Climbed Everest was a fascinating tale. So was this article in JETS (Dec. 2017): "Authorship and Anonymity in the New Testament Writings." Here are 3 takeaways:
The author of the JETS essay concludes:
In the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament, this fact is obscured by the placement of Hebrews after Philemon -- a decision that goes against not only the majuscules used in producing their edition but against Tregelles' own placement of Hebrews after the Thessalonian epistles. As far as I know, nowhere is this decision explained. In the early canon of the New Testament, Hebrews had a close connection to Paul. This is an example of how canonical order can inform our understanding of how biblical books were interpreted in the early church. In canonical terms, placing Hebrews anywhere other than after 2 Thessalonians belies this fact.
Today after church I plan to run for the first time since last Thursday's half. Man, it's going to be gorgeous today. I still have a ways to recover from my race but I should be good for about 6 miles. I'm in decent shape. I just have to maintain it. I do belong out there. As long as long as I'm out in nature, I'm good. I know my last several blog posts have been pretty sappy. I'm a Hallmark card apparently. I did enjoy hosting some of my family for Thanksgiving dinner. Seeing everybody laughing launched my holiday season on a high note. I'm pretty sure everyone enjoyed themselves. I would say that I had the best time of all though. Now it's time to increase my bandwidth for other pursuits -- like prepping my students to finish out the semester (only two weeks to go). I'm thankful I have interests that keep driving me forward and that keep my mind stimulated and my body active. I'm not above being lazy, though. Fall is ideal for sitting in front of the hearth and doing nothing but gel. This year I've only got one more major race on my calendar. The Dallas Marathon is a tough one. Training for a marathon is like preparing for a summer hurricane to hit. Dallas will be my twelfth 26.2 mile race. By God's grace, I've never not finished a marathon, though the one I did in Allen, TX, on New Years Day almost killed me. No need to think about that now. I'm committed to running Dallas and that's that. Then it's time to teach J-term Greek. I get so excited just thinking about introducing a new generation of students to the joys of Greek. Meanwhile, I'm trying to put the finishing touches on my book They Shall Run and Not Grow Weary: Devotions to Lighten Your Running Load. Absolutely satisfying use of my time and a nice way to end the semester break. Who knows, I might share a chapter or two with you on the blog. Nothing better than being motivated by your work.
Looking forward to a good week. Blessings on you!
Saturday, November 24
5:20 AM "Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door" (Emily Dickenson). It's early, and I've been awake thinking. Thinking mostly about my grief-challenged yet glorious life. I patter away at the keyboard not really knowing what I will write. Except that Jesus is worth it. If there's anything I've learned since that day in November 5 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, 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 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 really 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 life. 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.
Our family time yesterday was intentionally centered around a meal. 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 yesterday. I saw Jesus when my son and grandson assembled my new book shelves. I saw it when my daughters held their babies. I saw it when the kids laughed and played together. I saw it when the girls volunteered to help with the cleanup. I felt joy as I drove a tractor through the bumpy hay fields and nearly froze to death. Being family together is a way of speaking to each other and, without words, saying "You matter to me. I love you." Just as there was plenty of leftover ham yesterday, 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.
We are family. Not me first, but you first. Blessed be God, both now and forevermore.
Friday, November 23
7:38 PM Four hours of haying have left me cold and hungry. Every year when it turns cold I'm an idiot and forget to layer. I hate being cold so much that when I get indoors I have to take the longest shower I can and then warm up next to a cozy fireplace. My hands were feeling frostbitten after being out in sub-freezing temps for so long. I've become a cold weather wimp as I've gotten older. The worst part is the frozen snot. How do they do it on Mt. Everest???!!!! Still, I'd far rather run in the cold than in the hot. The thought of a warm reward at the end is always nice as well. Hot chocolate. Hot soup. Hot tea. Hot sauce. Whatever's hot. I've learned to embrace the cold, but it's been a long process of hit and miss. And the snot? That's what those expensive fleece gloves are for, right?
Now to eat supper and then chillax in front of this fireplace.
2:04 PM For the beauty of the earth,/For the glory of the skies,/For the love which from our birth,/over and around us lies:/Christ, our God, to Thee we raise/This our hymn of grateful praise.
6:10 AM This year I'm giving thanks for so many things. I am truly grateful that some of my kids and grandkids can come over for Thanksgiving dinner today. I'm cooking ham, mashed potatoes, green peas, and crescent rolls. Desserts will be provided by others. I know that a lot of people get stressed out over holiday cooking -- getting the table set just right, staying on top of meal preparation, washing the dishes. Me? I'm going to enjoy the day. I'll set out the food, pray, say "Bilu!" (Amharic for "Dig in!"), and then sit back and cherish my family. My life is far from perfect, but there are about a gazillion things to be thankful for. You value what you notice, and I try to be aware of God's blessings every day.
Happy Thanksgiving (again) to all of you!
Thursday, November 22
7:16 PM I just got home after getting up hay all afternoon and evening with Nate and Jess. What fun! There's only one thing better than a Massie Ferguson tractor, and that is TWO Massie Ferguson tractors.
It was dark and a frigid 30 degrees by the time we finished. I took a half-hour-long shower just to thaw out. Today Nate and Jess had to do most of the work as my legs were pretty much shot after the race. Jessie can do it all -- rake, tedder, pick up, and bale.
I always enjoy working with them.
Earlier I had a blast at the race in Wake Forest. My last several half marathons have been just under the 3:00 hour mark, so today I thought I would challenge myself. I fell in with the 2:45 pacers and promised myself I would try to stick with them until the race ended.
What to say about this event? Only that it was one of the best half marathons I've ever run. Not that the course was easy. It wasn't. You were either going uphill or downhill the entire time, and the grades were steep. But the weather could not have been better -- in the mid-to-high 30s with plenty of sun. I had an amazing time. At about mile 9, I suddenly felt a burst of energy (where did that come from?) and passed the pacers. I never looked back. Words can't express my gratitude to my pacers. Thank you Liz and Amanda!
I actually came in at a reputable (for me) 2:41.
I got my medal and waited for the award ceremony to begin, hoping that I had taken first place in my division -- and therefore could take home the much coveted turkey. Alas, it was not to be. I was second (out of three). So I'll serve ham tomorrow for dinner. I will admit that I'm a teeny weenie bit disappointed that I didn't win my division, but I have no regrets about this race. I gave it my best and left absolutely nothing out there on the course.
For me, the best combination in life is family + enjoyable work + travel + running. To put all of these together in one single day is more than astonishing. My thanks to the Giver of all good gifts!
So, half #17 is in the books. I can't wait for the Dallas Marathon in only 2 weeks.
4:45 AM Do you love old pictures as much as I do?
No better reason to run a race on Thanksgiving Day than to do it in grateful memory of the love of your life.
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 one's for you, Becky Lynn.
Wednesday, November 21
5:02 PM It's kinda odd. Here I have a whole week off from teaching and about the only think I can think about is, well, teaching. I miss the classroom and can hardly wait to get back to school next Monday. As you may know, I'm in my 42nd year of teaching. What does that mean? What have I learned in all these years, if anything? As I've pondered these questions, I've come up with a few answers:
So much for my musings, which probably sound a bit idyllic. I admit that many of my ideas about teaching are more idealistic than realistic. But I am an optimist. I suppose the best thing about my work is that it's never boring. My workplace is a dynamic environment, and I can't wait to face a challenging task that constantly requires new ideas and a fresh outlook. Teaching is a passion for me and so I never feel really out of place in the classroom. My goal is to provide a healthy learning environment for every student that enters my classroom. Thankfully, when I was a student I had teachers who modeled what a good classroom should look like, and I suppose my own teaching is a thank-you to them. Above all, I love learning, and I always hope to remain a student myself.
My thanks and love to the thousands of students I've had in my classrooms through the years, to my colleagues who are always uplifting and encouraging, and to my Lord who gave me this passion for teaching and learning. I feel very blessed and grateful on this Thanksgiving Eve.
4:40 PM Heard about this exercise for people over 65?
1) Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side. With a 5-lb potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax. Each day you'll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer.
2) After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-lb potato bags.
3) Then try 50-lb potato bags and eventually try to get to where you can lift a 100-lb potato bag in each hand and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute.
4) After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag.
8:46 AM Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks. But thankfulness doesn't always come easily. Here are some ways I've found to revive an attitude of gratitude.
1) Don't compare yourself to anyone else. When we do that, there will always be someone who seems more polished, more spiritual, more mature, more whatever. Remember, God's work in your life is a process that lasts a lifetime. So be patient. When we're not, it's easy to forget to be grateful.
2) Spend time with your loved ones. When Becky graduated from Biola, she returned to Texas. We exchanged letters for a few weeks. Eventually my "Regards, Dave" became "Love, Dave." I couldn't wait to get on a plane and propose marriage. The U.S. Postal Service back then (or email today) can take a relationship only so far. I needed to actually see her -- her freckled face, her ear poking out, her beautiful smile. Who do you need to see today? Visit them and I bet that will put a smile on your face and gratitude in your heart.
3) Enjoy the colder weather. God made seasons for a reason. After every fall comes winter, and after every winter comes the spring. What is barren suddenly bursts forth with tiny green emblems of life. Every year we're reminded that a similar miracle awaits those who know Christ as Savior. Our bodies will be transformed, He will dry up all of our tears, and we will finally stand face-to-face with our Lord. If that truth doesn't light your fire, your wood is all wet.
4) Do something for others. Stop thinking about yourself long enough to write that email of thanks or send that encouraging text. When we do for others, gratitude will eventually come creeping back into our souls. After all, God's calling card is spelled LOVE.
5) Be quirky. Go to a concert. Watch a movie. Fill up a bird feeder. Read some poetry. Watch the clouds roll by. Give your dog a tummy rub. Smile at a stranger. Climb a tree. Take a bubble bath. Watch the sun set. While you're at it, thank God for all these things and more: grandkids, fireflies, popcorn ....
6) Take a minute and name three people who have had the biggest impact on your life and give thanks for them. Go ahead, stop what you're doing and just focus on those three names. Now go and be that friend to someone else today.
7) Give praise to God. Not just at church. He's all around us in nature. "By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: his eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being" (Rom. 1:20). Spread before you from horizon to horizon are glimpses of God in the light of the sun or the power of a storm or the scent of a rose petal.
Life is tough sometimes, but it's infinitively easier if you see beyond the hurt and become grateful for the good. When it comes right down to it, most of us aren't grateful for the things in our lives as much as we are grateful for the people in our lives. The lesson is not to take anyone or anything for granted. The lesson is to enjoy past memories. The lesson is to live fearlessly in the now. Let's change our attitude from "I have to" to "I get to." Life is a precious gift from God. Let's thank Him for it. As John Hall once put it:
Is a single heart rejoicing over what you did or said?
Does one whose hopes were fading now with courage look ahead?
Did you waste the day or lose it? Was it well or poorly spent?
Did you leave a trail of kindness or a scar of discontent?
Now go and do something you're terrified of doing and BECOME ALIVE!
Tuesday, November 20
7:36 PM Can you handle one last post tonight about running? Got an email today from the race organizers for Thursday's half. It says, "The first place winner of each age group of the half marathon will receive a free turkey." My motivation meter just went off the charts.
Just because you're Methuselah doesn't mean you're non-competitive.
6:48 PM This morning I had a nice long workout at the Y, focusing on my upper body strength. Afterwards I intended to run about 6 miles. Then my body spoke to me. "Go take a long nap!" it was telling me.
Listening to your body means listening to all the cues it's giving you. The more you listen, the better you become at deciphering these signals. Today the message was loud and clear: You need a rest, Dave.
Sometimes it's just not your day. Take a break. Tomorrow will be here soon enough.
6:04 PM Introducing:
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Run for any length of time and the constant banging against the front of your shoes will cause your toenails to go wacko. (This can also happen if you drop something on your toe, though bragging rights drop off precipitously if this is the cause of black toe.) The only solution is to let nature take its course. If you're desperate enough, I'm told that a doctor can poke a hole in your nail to relieve the pressure and pain. This is called trephination. Being a Greek teacher and all that, I know what that word means. Not that it helps. I could, I imagine, just stop running. But that's as likely as me not eating Doritos.
Life is a vicious cycle, ain't it?
8:12 AM Did You Know? Some amazing statistics about texting and driving, including the fact that distracted driving is the number one killer of teens. I'm pretty impressed with the Just Think First program. It was founded after losing 7 Wakefield High School students in just 24 months. My half marathon this Thursday at Wakefield HS is a fundraiser for that organization. I'm happy to see that already hundreds of runners have signed up for the races (which include a kids fun run, a 5K, a 10K, and a half). You can also walk the 5K. I hope you will consider coming out and supporting this event. The whole family can get some exercise and do so for a worthy cause. Go here to sign up. If there's anything the running community is, it's a community of support. To all the people who volunteer at races: I can't thank you enough. If you're a runner, take time to say thank you to the people at the aid stations. It means so much to them. One of the absolutely coolest things about runners is that we like to give back. We rally for each other. We do hundreds of charity races each year around the world while doing something we love. Running motivates. Running encourages. Running unites. I can't to wait to bring my grandkids with me to races. I'd love to do a fun run with them.
Want to run for a charity? Find yours here. On a personal note, I did apply to run in Boston in 2019 as a charity runner for cancer. After quite a lengthy process of applying, my application was ultimately turned down because my fundraising target goal ($10,000) wasn't high enough. I'm fine with that. There are plenty of other charity races I can help out at, like the Chicago Marathon in October 2019, which I'm running for Lungevity. Never think you can't run for a charity. Spirit of the Marathon is such an inspiring movie. I watched it a few weeks before running my first marathon in Cincy. The result was $7,000 raised for UNC Cancer Hospital, where Bec was treated. Yes, my friends, if an old geezer like me can do this, so can you.
Keep it up runners!
Monday, November 19
6:34 PM Let me tell you, there's nothing like trying out a new bike trail for the first time. Today I chose to bike the "Art to Heart Trail" in Raleigh, some 10 miles of it to be exact.
It starts out in the parking lot of the North Carolina Museum of Art (where both parking and admission are free, but sadly the museum is closed on Mondays, unbeknownst to yours truly).
It ends up 5 miles away in the heart of downtown Raleigh, after cutting through Meredith College and NC State University.
The trail starts out looking like this.
But then the real workout begins. One website I was on said that the trail is "relatively flat." Well, everything's relative I guess. I definitely felt the course was relatively hilly, as in kill-your-quads-hilly. Somehow I managed to plod along at a decent clip. At one junction the course takes you onto Western Boulevard, at which point I issued a polite "no thank you" and turned around, as I absolutely refuse to bike on a roadway unless I'm competing in a triathlon, and even then I don't like it.
So today was a great day, praise the Lord. I have come to accept the fact that getting outdoors regularly is a big part of who I am. I want to be the healthiest version of myself possible, though exercise has to fit into my lifestyle without getting me off balance. On the drive home I stopped by Nate and Jessie's farm and had a blast with my five grandsons. They love their Papa B and he loves them!
6:40 AM Last night I enjoyed reading portions of John Stott's commentary on Romans in the Bible Speaks Today series published by IVP.
How to describe Stott's prose? For indeed, his is excellent in every way. He has in common with all good writers several virtues: As for clarity, he is always lucid and articulate. If it's brevity we're talking about, his commentaries are both economical and succinct. As for manner of writing (style), I would say his language is always eloquent but not so flowery as to break the flow of thought or to call attention to itself. A literary artisan, Stott is someone worth emulating. The object of writing is to inform the reader and ultimately to delight the recipient of that information. Here Stott succeeds magnificently. I might give the following as an example from Stott's Romans. In his "Preliminary Essay," Stott discusses the so-called new perspective on Paul. Students are often confused and burdened by this subject. But Stott navigates the treacherous waters brilliantly. While expressing gratitude to Sanders and Dunn, Stott is wary of their thesis.
Polite but to the point.
Here Stott badly mixes his metaphors, but does so intentionally I'm quite sure. In the end:
Don't you love Stott's "tone" -- clear, concise, confident, courteous, and perhaps we might even say courageous. Stott always seems to be in good spirits. He seems uncannily able to distill complex thoughts into simple language that's easily understood by others. All of the commentaries in the Bible Speaks Today series are like this. They accomplish what I have vainly tried to do in my writing career: tackle even the hardest subject matter and break it down into digestible chunks.
If you read this post and felt like you could improve some of the qualities mentioned here, there's no better time to start than today.
Sunday, November 18
5:20 PM In just 21 days I'll be running the Dallas Marathon for the second year in a row. It's crazy to think about. I love this course because it takes me right past the place where I proposed to Becky in 1976 (White Rock Lake). That's a memory that will stay with me forever. She may not be there in person, but she'll be there in my heart. I'm not sure there is any one secret to having longevity in marriage. But I do think that having similar interests helps. Our trips together to Ethiopia, perhaps more than anything, gave us something to talk about and helped us to laugh (and cry) together. It definitely was a great connection between the two of us. However, I think that each couple has to find the right mix to keep things harmonious and happy: doing things together as well as developing one's own hobbies and interests. Would she have enjoyed running with me? Probably not. Now, one thing Becky most definitely wasn't was a couch potato. But her arthritis would have kept her on the sidelines. As for walks in the woods -- we did plenty of those together!
Odd to think about it, but we would have celebrated 42 years of marriage this year. She was smart, funny, adventurous, and oh so kind and generous. Doing things together for other people kept us aligned, sane, and connected. It will be so much fun when all those memories bubble up to the surface when I run past "that spot" in 3 weeks. Can't wait.
Saturday, November 17
4:50 PM Had a nice 8 mile run today at the High Bridge Trail breaking in my shoes. Care to tag along for a bit?
You can't hear it because I'm wearing my ear buds, but I'm listening to the Beach Boys, Gabrielli, and the Haven of Rest Quartet. As you can see, my pace was slow. That was intentional on my part. Yes, I do things gradually.
Like anything, you get into a groove and the miles seem to fly by. I need to keep up my training regiment because I have a half this week and a full in 3 weeks. I'm very glad my body lets me do the crazy things I demand of it. To be honest, I miss my good friend, the marathon. Now that's a pretty taxing race! Afterwards I went grocery shopping.
Aren't I a healthy eater? (All the junk food is hidden in the shopping basket.) Then I cooked Teriyaki Chicken using my mother's recipe. Never has food tasted better. Sheba even enjoyed it. Be honest. It shore looks good, eh?
Now it's time to chillax on the front porch with my puppy and my book about Stott. Oh, I peeked ahead at the next chapter and what I saw didn't look pretty. Divisions never are. I'm sorry if you get tired of me talking so much about Stott and his experiences. It's just that when you get to my age you tend to appreciate those who have gone before you. I have to say, the man led a pretty exemplary life, so that's what comes out on the blog.
I close with a photo of the High Bridge Trail. Lovely!
Now it's your turn.
What exercises do you enjoy?
Where do you like to run/walk/cycle?
Want to know my secret recipe for Teriyaki Chicken?
Don't take your good health for granted!
6:40 AM What a teacher, that John Stott. I was reminded again last night that we are to treat those with whom we disagree with respect, compassion, and appreciation. Here's the setting:
Stott had a colleague at All Souls in London who claimed to be "baptized in the Spirit." This led the staff of the church to begin a reexamination of the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Stott was worried about a possible division in the church. Some claimed that speaking in tongues was a special gift of God. Others were dubious. John was asked for his opinion. "I don't know," he replied. He felt he needed a chance to study and reflect in depth on the issues being raised by the Charismatic Movement in England.
After two years of study, Stott was ready to declare his mind on the subject. The setting was a conference themed "The Individual Christian and the Fullness of the Holy Spirit." A crowd of about a thousand came to hear Stott speak. Here's what John Stott did -- and in so doing, he has set for us a good example, I think, of how we should handle difficult situations as they arise in our churches.
1) He began be making it absolutely clear that he was not throwing down a gauntlet or issuing a personal confrontation to charismatics. "We are brethren," he said. "We love one another. We are concerned to know God's will in order to embrace it ourselves and commend it to others, not in order to score cheap points off one another in theological debate."
2) Then he offered his opinion, based on his exegesis of the Bible. He denied politely but firmly that there was any such thing as a post-conversion Spirit-baptism. The baptism of the Spirit, he insisted, is a once-and-for-all experience that always accompanies conversion. "As an initiatory event, the baptism is not repeatable and cannot be lost." But the filling can be repeated and needs careful maintenance. As for tongues, "We must assert that neither the baptism nor the fullness of the Spirit need be accompanied by spectacular signs. The initial baptism of the Spirit may be quiet and unsensational while the continuing fullness of the Spirit manifests itself in moral qualities rather than in miraculous phenomena."
Stott's talk was eventually published under the title The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit. It's still in print today.
The whole ministry of John Stott can't be found in this one example. It's tempting to sit back and say, "You see, John Stott opposed tongues-speaking, and so shall I." Perhaps, just perhaps, we should, as did Stott, read the Scriptures for ourselves. It may take several years of study before we can form an intelligent and gracious opinion on the subject, but isn't that better than a knee-jerk reaction? At the very least, maybe we can learn to forego slippery slope rhetoric to excuse our own prideful laziness. The Spirit takes pleasure in the flowering of truth. But not in an arrogant sort of way. This takes practice. But the life of John Stott shows that it is possible.
Next up: Stott and Lloyd-Jones have a falling out.
Friday, November 16
6:10 PM I'm sitting here with a full stomach having just pigged out on the most delicious Chinese stir-fry and rice I've ever cooked. What are you doing?
Suffice it to say, the mere fact that I'm blogging so late in the day means either that I've been in a lazy stupor all day or else I've been out somewhere gallivanting. Actually, it's been a very busy day. I woke up this morning with a bad case of Wanderlust. If you're constantly daydreaming about seeing the world, if you feel unsettled, if your suitcase is always half packed, then you can identify. Maybe I have the Wanderlust Gene. Who knows? At any rate, I woke up early, and when it was light enough I went outdoors and guess what I saw? The brightest sun shining in the bluest sky. Typically I'd go for a run on a gorgeous day like today, but my brain revolted. It told me in no uncertain terms that I was going back to Bedford, VA, and would climb to the summit of Sharp Top for the umpteenth time. So off I went -- having no idea, mind you, what the conditions on the mountain were except that I knew Bedford had gotten tons of rain in the past two days just like we had. This is what I figured. I'd drive to the trail head and assess the conditions and then make up my mind whether or not to climb. Two and a half hours later, I was peeping up into the sky with eyes glued to the tops of Sharp Top and her sister peak, Flat Top. They seemed to have hair that had turned white. What is that? It doesn't look like snow. I can handle snow. But the one thing I can't handle is ... Oh NO! It's not snow. It's ICE! At that moment, what struck me the most was how unprepared I was for hiking. I was wearing my regular hiking shoes. I had barely enough outer clothing to keep me warm. I left behind anything that might have helped me to negotiate ice. Yes, I had been guilty of getting caught up in the moment and having a one-track mind.
I sent off a quick text to one of my daughters telling her I was about to climb Sharp Top in the ice and that if she didn't hear from me by 4:00 pm she was to call the local police and report a missing crazy person. I set off to see if I could get all the way to the top, first taking the trail, and then taking the access road they use for the shuttles. After about 2 hours of climbing I finally conceded defeat. I turned around and tried to make it down to the car without breaking my tailbone. That's the crazy thing about sports. Sometimes you surprise yourself and have the run/bike/climb of your life. You are victorious. You are on top of the world. Sometimes, however, try though you may, you see your goal slipping farther and farther away. Your heart sinks. You feel defeated.
Did I do the right thing in turning around? Absolutely. Safety comes first, and always will. As my mountain guide in the Alps would often remind me, "Dave, it's okay if we have to turn around. The mountain will still be there tomorrow." I shrugged my shoulders. There were now two possible attitudes going forward. Go home and sulk. Or dust yourself off, get back in the car, and try something else, accepting your defeat with grace and dignity.
Mountaineers have a saying: "You don't conquer a mountain. The mountain lets you climb it." Today, Sharp Top wanted her privacy, and she got it. After my trek back to the car, I learned an important lesson: If God closes a door, He opens a window. Off I went to Lynchburg and had a fantastic bike ride. To be perfectly honest, I'm not all that disappointed I didn't make it to the summit of Sharp Top today. After all, I had an awesome time enjoying nature (creation). I got tons of exercise. I reveled in the sunshine. I am amazingly proud of the way my knees held up. I absolutely loved today. A little detour is what we need sometimes to help us appreciate all the times when we did achieve our goals.
A few pix:
What's that gray stuff up there on the summit? Dandruff? Hoarfrost?
Mine was the only car in the parking lot at the trail head. Normally, not a good sign.
If I had brought my ice axe and crampons with me, I might have had a chance.
I got in over 6 and a half miles today on my road bike in Lynchburg. Sunny and brisk!
Afterwards, I rewarded myself. (The slaw dog is the official meal of southern Virginia.)
Oh! My new shoes arrived today! Light weight, with a wide toe box for my "unique" nails.
Thumbs up, New Balance.
Thursday, November 15
7:16 PM Odds and sods ....
1) Women outperform men in the marathon. Here's why.
2) Summiting Mount Sinai. Now that's an idea!
3) Use your crock pot to cook Thanksgiving dinner.
4) Free online New Testament Greek audio.
5) Fun guide to American accents.
2:10 PM The sky continues to open up and my workouts are beginning to get more challenging. Today I couldn't run outdoors so I worked out for about 30 minutes at the Y before driving to the doctor's office to get my annual flu shot. I would not be surprised if there's flooding again like we had when Hurricane Michael passed through our area a month ago. Thankfully, the road to my farm hasn't washed out -- yet. In South Boston, one of the highways crossing the Dan River is closed. Things seem to be going from bad to worse. Crazy. I'll never forget what a California earthquake feels like. Or waking up at 2:00 in the morning in Hawaii and evacuating to higher ground because of a tsunami warning. Folks, stay safe out there. My heart is breaking for all those affected. Our poor area!
On a happier note, I have now officially signed up for the Skinny Turkey Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day in Wake Forest. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that the half marathon is my favorite race distance. Is it just me or does 13.1 miles seem just the right distance? I truly don't know if any or all of this matters, but I do know that now that I'm 66 I approach life differently than I did even 5 years ago. One thing I'm learning is to not get so focused on my pace that I forget to enjoy the race and the scenery. We live in a time and day that allows for almost unlimited opportunities to become fit and stay active. We're also aware that the only reason to try out a new sport (like running) is to enjoy it and because we expect it to be fun. I am so looking forward to this race. The neighborhood we'll be running through is awesome. Plus, so far I'm the only guy over 65 who's running the half -- which means that the odds of me placing first in my age division have skyrocketed. SCORE!
Any other tips for running a half?
Do Doritos count as running fuel?
I can't wait to run a 5K with my grandkids!
6:15 AM I am so enjoying reading Basic Christian -- John Stott's biography. I especially loved this quote on p. 82:
Then he adds:
Finally, he concludes:
Then there's this story on p. 115. At the end of a two-month speaking tour in Australia, Stott suddenly came down with laryngitis. That night he was scheduled to speak one last time. With his throat raw, he whispered a prayer: "I beg you to take it away from me." The Lord seemed to reply: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Stott saw that a thousand students had shown up to hear him. He stood up and began to speak softly, unable to modulate his otherwise sonorous voice or convey his personality, all the while praying "Fulfill your promise to perfect your power through my weakness!" At the end of his address, Stott issued an invitation for the students to surrender their lives to Christ. The response was immediate. Later someone told him, "Do you remember that final service of the 1958 mission in the University Great Hall when you lost your voice? I came to Christ that night."
Suppose you were in the same situation. And suppose your response was, "Lord, I don't want this laryngitis. I know Your power is perfected in weakness, but I'll forgo that honor for now, thank You very much. I can't stand not being able to talk. Please just take it away!" What is this person saying? My will be done. I'll serve You Lord, but on my conditions.
That happened to me once when I was living in Basel. I had been asked to give a lecture on Ephesians at the Bibelschule Walzenhausen on Lake Constance, and when I boarded my train in Basel I lost my voice. Thus began the "mental skirmishing" -- me filled with resentment and self-pity, while the Lord was calling me close to His side. "Will you also go away," I could almost hear Him say, "or will you come with Me?" To be a Christian is to follow Christ unconditionally. And when we make those choices with the freedom of the will that God gives us, we find, as did Stott, joy and peace in serving Him. What if we say No? We forfeit the grace of God and become a sulking child. I've been there more times than I'd like to admit. I'm slowly learning to accept my infirmities and to thank God for whatever aspects of my weaknesses I can honestly thank Him for, including His unfailing love and presence.
The next chapter in the book: Stott confronts the excesses of the Charismatic Movement.
5:10 AM A few thoughts on publishing in response to some graduate students:
1) If it's worth writing, it's worth publishing. This includes your master's thesis and doctoral dissertation. I know that some might disagree. They feel that a student's writing should "mature" before he or she publishes. I'm not so sure. My first journal article was based on my master's thesis. My first book was my doctoral dissertation. I encourage my students to begin publishing while in school -- and many do.
2) Review, review, review. Books, that is. It's the easiest way to get into print, and you get a free book besides. I began writing book reviews for journals such as the Grace Theological Journal, Criswell Theological Review, and JETS. I did this while I was a doctoral student. Later my reviews appeared in JBL and Novum Testamentum. At our school I ask my students to consider writing one review each year.
3) Set goals. When I graduated from Basel in 1983, I prayerfully set the following goals: One book review every year, and one book every 5 years. If you aim at nothing you'll hit it every time. Don't be afraid to set goals -- and to set them high.
4) Respect the scholarly guild, but don't fear it. Go where angels fear to tread. My second book was on the integration of linguistics and New Testament Greek. It is still in print in a second edition. What right did I have to write a book on linguistics? None whatsoever. But nobody else had written a book on New Testament Greek linguistics, I needed one for my classes, so I gave it a whack. It seemed to open the floodgates for others, more competent than myself, to write their own books on the subject.
5) Shoot for the stars. That is, send your articles to the better known journals. Why not? The worst they can say is No. That's how you get published in Biblica, New Testament Studies, and Novum Testamentum. If you think you can't, you won't.
6) Consider publishing your own website. It's by far the cheapest and easiest way to get your ideas out to a wide audience -- literally overnight.
In short, if you are called to scholarship, you are called to writing. Of course, the least important thing you will ever write is your dissertation. It's merely the launching pad for a lifetime of research and writing.
4:50 AM Woke up this morning with these words on my lips: "O Master let me walk with Thee, in lowly paths of service free."
Monday, November 12
8:20 AM My daughter Kim is a horse-lady. They own two steeds. Yesterday after lunch we got to talking about all of our crazy horse-related experiences, including the times we had "unplanned dismounts." Can any of you out there identify? Why do we expose ourselves to such punishment? Only because the horse is probably the most wonderful animal to come from our Creator's hands. I so miss my horses Cody (Arabian) and Traveler (Thoroughbred). Traveler used to race in California. He knew only one speed. Wow. What a unique creature.
Have you read about "Beautiful Jim Key"? He was known as the smartest horse on earth. He could cite Bible verses, tell you the time of day, and even spell words. He and his owner William Key performed before astonished audiences between 1897 and 1906. His owner was a former slave who advocated for the gentle treatment of horses. Children by the millions joined the "Jim Key Band of Mercy" and pledged "I promise to be kind to animals." I never had to use a whip on either of my horses. You see, the goal of good horsemanship is to become a partner with your steed. And when you attain that goal, there's nothing like it in the world. I don't ride much anymore. It's not that I'm too old to ride. It's that I'm too old to fall! But I will never forget all those years riding cross country on my wonderful horses.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of the horse.
7:24 AM So, what to blog about? Yesterday I jotted down a brief introduction to the book of Philippians. I try to do this for every book I teach. Despite attending Bible-believing and Bible-teaching churches, many of us have difficulty grasping and explaining the big picture. I am an unashamed "fan" of having our students be able to write out in a single paragraph the message of the book they're studying. Is there a unified focus? Is there one overriding theme? What is the "linguistic macrostructure" of the writing? How would you finish this sentence: "Mark's is the Gospel of _________"? Or, "What is the message of Luke?" Studying the New Testament requires seeing both the forest and the trees. There's both forest-work and tree-work to be performed. So, for what it's worth, here's what I've come up with for Philippians:
This summary is based on my detailed examination of Philippians published years ago in Novum Testamentum. I've also put together a Power Point on the subject. As for my class on Philippians next semester, I've begun brainstorming assignments. What can I do that is new? What will best help my students master not only the message of Philippians but better understand the language of the New Testament? Thus far I've come up with a few ideas. See if you like them.
Incidentally, I've taken a stab at practical application here:
Of course, many of you are Greek geeks, and I'd love to get your ideas as well. Send me an email and let me know your thoughts.
The motto over the entrance to Plato's Academy reads:
Ἀγεωμέτρητος μηδεὶς εἰσίτω
This might be rendered, "Let no one without a knowledge of geometry enter." I recall that at the University of Basel it was just assumed that students had a working knowledge of numerous subjects, including Greek and Latin. It's wonderful to see so many students on our campus eager to learn the languages. Many have had to overcome severe deficiencies in their previous schooling. To all of my pupils who are working so diligently this semester, hang in there and do well. I hope many of you get the 110 Award on your next exam!
P.S. Today on campus is the memorial service for one of my former colleagues. Logan Carson was a good friend and a wonderful mentor to so many. He is now in the presence of the One he served so faithfully!
Sunday, November 11
7:24 PM After attending church today with my daughter and her family, we decided to dine at one of those all-you-can-eat-buffets in town. If the restaurant's purpose was to fill the customer's belly as cheaply and quickly as possible, it certainly succeeded today. I'm here now to tell you that I am dealing with major toenail trauma.
No, this is not a picture of ET (from the movies).
I'm going to lose this nail eventually. I'm too big of a wimp to pull it off, but I read somewhere that if I soak it I can expect to be rid of it sooner rather than later. Got the tub water running now. Meanwhile, let's play the toenail game:
T: Toenail -- why you doin' this to me??!!
O: One day you will fall off.
E: Egads! That can't happen soon enough!
N: Non-runners: do y'all know how bad I'm hurtin' right now?
I: If I need to, I'll have my doctor pull you off! (Marshall Ulrich actually did this.)
L: Later I'll frame you for posterity.
Oh, and did I mention that my other toenails look just as bad? My other toes are so callused that you can't tell the nail from the callus. But hey, long as I can run, I'm good. Pretty feet are overrated anyway.
Let's not start talking about bunions.
7:40 AM With Thanksgiving approaching, did you know that Becky was a descendent of Governor William Bradford? This is one reason we named our home Bradford Hall. (Her dad is named Bradford as well.) Did you also know that William Bradford loved the Hebrew language and that Hebrew almost became the official language of America? Note the inscription in Hebrew on his tomb. It says, "The Lord is the help of my life."
What a blessed ancestry. I've only just begun researching my family tree on my father's side. I've gotten as far back as the Miller family who, during the Civil War, farmed along a creek in western Maryland called the Antietam.
5:30 AM I'm taking the day off from running. In fact, I'm taking the whole week off. It's not that I'm feeling bad. In fact, just the opposite. Other than an achy toenail, my body has recovered nicely from yesterday's exertions. So today it will be church and then lunch with family. This is going to be a busy week on campus, but next week is Thanksgiving Break. I'm toying with the idea of doing a half marathon on Thanksgiving Day. It's called the Skinny Turkey Half Marathon and the course takes you through the scenic Wakefield Plantation in Wake Forest. The race is a fundraiser for the "Just Think First" program that tries to raise awareness on topics that affect teens such as gangs, alcohol, drugs, and peer pressure. Somewhere I read that the average American consumes about 2,000 calories during Thanksgiving dinner -- which is like eating two and a half double quarter pounders in one sitting. So pounding the pavement before dinner on Thanksgiving Day might not be a bad idea. You know, hobble then gobble. By the way, shout outs to those running the Athens Marathon today. Can you imagine running the original marathon course?
This morning I was wide awake at 4:00 am. That's what happens when you are fast asleep by 7:30 pm. I'm in the book of Philippians this morning. Paul's message is a very simple one: A life of love and service to others is far more important than a comfortable life. Christ emptied Himself for the sake of others, and so should we. This is all, of course, a work of God's grace (1:6). And yet it raises many practical questions. Am I helping others fulfill the Great Commission? With whom am I partnering in the cause of evangelism and church planting? Am I putting first things first (1:10)? What are my priorities? In what do I rejoice the most? Paul had been "put" by God in prison to serve Him. Where have I been put so that I can be involved in other people's lives? Are there situations in which I am the only person around who can help meet a need? Do I expect, like Paul, that God can use me in any situation? How did Christ's relation to His Father shape His willingness to look our for the interests of others and not just His own? Why do I grumble and complain so much when I'm specifically commanded not to (2:14)? How well am I holding forth the life-giving word? What does it mean to "put no confidence in the flesh"? Paul saw his credentials as a "loss." Do I? Do I really know Christ and the power of His resurrection? We often talk about ourselves as "having been saved." But what aspects of our salvation are still pending? What does it mean to "agree in the Lord" (4:2)? Why is Paul so serious about us showing our "reasonableness" to others? What does it look like for the "peace of God" to be present in my life? Paul doesn't rejoice because he was in need and things suddenly made a turn for the better when the Philippians sent him some money. He rejoices because their gift proves that their faith is genuine. Do I remember this principle when I give to others? Is my ultimate motive to please God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift?
Paul's little letter to the church in Philippi should challenge all of us to renounce covetousness, materialism, and luxury, and to care sacrificially for others in need. I, Dave Black, have to choose today between God and mammon. I can't have both a good life and a good conscience simultaneously. Affluence is not sinful, but we cannot keep it without smothering our conscience. To the wealthy, Paul commanded, "Do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share" (1 Tim. 6:18). He doesn't tell the wealthy to become poor. But he doesn't allow them to stay rich either. As pilgrims on this earth, we should travel light and live simply. Do I do this? Nope. But I want to learn how. I want to be free of anything that would distract me from serving God and others. Our God is a generous God. If His love dwells in us, as it did in the Philippians, we will take action when we see a genuine need we can help meet, to the degree we are able.
May God help us all to grow in generosity and live in contentment!
Saturday, November 10
6:25 PM Hey folks! Marathon #11 is now in the books. (Or at least it's on my blog.) Next stop: The Dallas Marathon in exactly 4 weeks. Care for some trivia? The country with the slowest average marathon time is India (5:00:34). When I saw that statistic, I realized I was from India. How could my parents and birth certificate have lied to me? Here's another fact: I am the best slow runner I know how to be. Every time I run, I give it my all. And I hope you will too. Because it's late and I'm not a little tired (litotes -- like it?), I close with a few random pics from today's record-breaking marathon in Richmond. (I'm sure somebody broke a record, even if it wasn't me.)
Lance Armstrong swallowed more than 13 energy gels when he ran the New York Marathon in 2006. Since I can't stand energy gels, I opted to get my carbs the night before.
Recognize this place? It's the state capitol building. I wanted to stop in and say hello to Gov. Northam, but I was running a bit behind schedule.
Since I had accidentally lined up with the half-marathoners about a half mile away from where I was supposed to be, I had to make a mad dash to get to my corral. Here I am having just fallen in at the very back of the last corral. To be fair, I probably would have started out here anyway.
As you can see, the weather was perfect for running.
"First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."
The James River in all her beauty.
I couldn't agree more, sir.
Finished! (That's a double entendre, hehe.)
Finally, let's play the "Guess the Seminary" game. Bet you can't guess it!
Friday, November 9
7:45 PM Random musings ....
1) News alert: Tomorrow's weather is predicted to be perfect for a marathon. (Except for the wind.)
Fall and spring are always iffy seasons for runners. You have to be prepared for anything. At April's Boston Marathon, the weather was miserably cold and rainy. I imagine every runner contemplated dropping out. Several elite runners did. The rest looked like the wounded after a battle, slogging along in a death shuffle. That's all I'm going to say about that. Except that if I do ever write a book about running, it will be called: How Runners Weather the Weather. Be sure to check back here tomorrow for my post-race report -- if and when I regain consciousness.
2) Have I convinced you to attend our linguistics conference next April? This is the BIG DOG. A half century of relative neglect has put us New Testament guys and gals far behind in this area. We have a long ways to catch up. I confess I felt very foolish when I published my book on linguistics 30 years ago. I am in no sense a specialist in the field into which I trespassed. Thankfully, our speakers are anything but novices. Moreover, each topic we'll be discussing is complex and has in every case attracted an extensive literature. One or two topics are even, one might say, explosive.
I'm extremely grateful to my colleague Ben Merkle for the immense amount of time and energy he's invested in helping me prepare for this event, and to all those in our PR department who have assisted us. Our prayerful hope is that the conference will stimulate a new generation of Greek students to think more linguistically about some of the big issues in New Testament Greek studies today.
Go here for the speakers' lineup and registration. See you in April.
3) If you're a Greek student, be sure to avail yourself of all the bells and whistles at our New Testament Greek Portal, which is very professionally managed by my assistant Noah Kelley. There comes a point, no matter how proficient you've become in your Greek studies, when you sort of want to give up. At our Greek Portal, I do my best to remind you that when the going gets tough, the tough get going (I just made that up).
4) While in Richmond today I might visit of a couple of the museums there. After all, other than the expo, I'll have plenty of time to kill. One place I've always wanted to visit is the Edgar Alan Poe Museum on Main Street. Poe ("Master of the Macabre") created the short story genre, or so I'm told (I know nothing about him). I also understand a black cat named Edgar roams the property. If so, that's so Poesome.
That's all folks! Have a great weekend!
Thursday, November 8
5:58 PM And then there was one .... Yep, only one day to go to the Anthem Richmond Marathon -- Richmond being about as close to "my home town" as I suppose it can get. I'm excited for another run and especially another long run. I remember running this race last year. I felt good for the first 18 miles or so, but the last few miles were pure torture. Every part of my body was hurting. You want to stop and just sit down. But I could feel the finish line reeling me in. The crowds cheering. The grandstand seating. The long finisher chute. Hearing the announcer. Being caught up in the pure emotions of the runners all around you. You realize you have just completed a marathon! It was, in a word, fantastic. It was, in two words, really fantastic.
After all this running, I might actually start to think of myself as a runner.
11:46 AM Marathon training is going well, thanks for asking. This is not me, by the way.
After working out at the Y, I had a great 5 mile run. My toenail held up quite nicely, so it looks like I might be good to go on race day. The fall scenery was beautiful, as always.
Afterwards I enjoyed some Arroz con Pollo in South Boston. Hey, for only 5 bucks, you can't pass up such a good deal.
Up next: Begin writing the syllabus for my Philippians course in the spring. I love having goals propel me.
What are you working on?
7:44 AM One of the hardest things in life is saying no. But there are times when it's the right thing to do, and the sooner we make up our minds, the better. I'm going to try a 5 mile run today to see how my toenail holds up. If it gives me problems I think I may have to bow out of the Richmond Marathon this weekend. I'll find another trough to put my snout in. It's not that I don't want to run in the race on Saturday. I love marathons. I love the death shuffle that begins around mile 20. I love the degree of preparation it takes to participate in a race of that distance. I love accomplishing goals, especially when they are hard-earned ones. (They say the degree of discomfort experienced after 20 miles in the marathon is the worst that most men, and most women outside of childbirth, will ever experience.)
When I was in high school, I rarely studied. I must have attended high school (I have a diploma, right?), but mostly I surfed. When I got to Biola in 1971, I knew I was in for a gignormous challenge. I had to actually study -- or I would lose my scholarship. When I had to drop out of my beginning Greek class because I couldn't understand a word the prof was saying, I was so discouraged I even thought about dropping out of school. After all, the heart and soul of being a student is pushing hard, being determined, and fighting through adversities. Dropping Greek was devastating. On the "College Embarrassment Scale" of 1 to 10, I'd rate that moment a 52. I was incredibly demoralized and discouraged. But even then, God was preparing me to be a Greek teacher. At the very least, I can listen sympathetically when a student tells me how they are struggling with the language. It was also a lesson in pedagogy: Keep everything on the bottom shelf, and never assume your students know anything about how languages work.
Thankfully, God intervened in the nick of time. Someone told me that Moody Bible Institute in Chicago had a cassette tape Greek class replete with proctored quizzes and exams based on a super-simple textbook by a man named Ray Summers. The rest, as they say, is history. I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that Greek could actually be so much fun. I was treated like the dumb stupid novice that I was when it comes to languages, and I aced both Greek 1 and 2 before taking my second year of Greek at Biola. A year later, I was hired to teach Greek there. My shock and surprise swelled to an astronomical level. That moment was the beginning of so many amazing experiences that have come to my life because I am a Greek teacher. I can't begin to imagine how different my life would have been if I had given up on Greek after my first sour experience at Biola. I didn't recognize it at the time, but I actually was capable of learning this language. How much are each of us capable of what we don't realize yet? You know, folks, every so often you have those moments in life that end up shaping the person you become. This was one of those moments for me.
In the past two weeks I've had several students meet with me to discuss their future academic goals. Many want to go on for doctorates in New Testament and Greek. Some of them have well-meaning friends who have told them, in essence, "You're crazy. It's more likely to give birth to a baby elephant named Hannibal than to go to graduate school and expect to get a job teaching Greek afterwards." The problem is: These students have fallen head-over-heels with Greek. It's in their DNA. I remind them that there are countless people just like them who went on to earn doctorates (some from prestigious European universities) and are now teaching New Testament and Greek fulltime. They had the courage to jump off the proverbial cliff, and then proceeded to soar. I made that leap of faith when I moved to Basel in 1980. So my message for these students is a very simple one. If something is worth doing, do it now. Don't wait. You never know what tomorrow will hold. Live your life to the fullest each and every day. Live it full of faith and in a way that you won't look back with regrets, thinking about all the things you wish you would have done. That's one reason I want so much to run the marathon this weekend. As many runners can attest, your first 5K race is merely a planted seed that later blooms into a 10K, a 10-miler, a half marathon, and then marathons. What I find so inspiring at a marathon is the mentality of the runners. Everyone is amazingly positive despite the adversity and exhaustion. A marathon has a way of challenging you to your core. All of your outside protective layers are peeled away like an onion, and you are left alone with your doubts and fears. But step after grueling step, you finally make it to the finish line.
Student friend, don't minimize the will of God for your life in any way, shape, or form. Don't put God in a box ("Well, I could never study at Cambridge." Oh really? Many people just like you have.) Expect that you will have to dig deep toward the end of the race. But when you get there -- oh my, here's nothing like it. Have faith that you have what it takes to succeed. Ignore the naysayers. The important trait you need to have is a willingness to follow God's will for your life (as you best understand it) and a willingness to do whatever it takes to finish.
Just ask any marathoner.
P.S. A copy of It's All Greek to Me: Confessions of an Unlikely Academic to the first 3 people to email me.
Wednesday, November 7
5:55 AM Which is more beautiful? This rainbow I saw last night....
Or this passage from Philippians 3....
This is obviously a trick question. One picture can be no more beautiful than the other any more than I can love one of my grandchildren more than I love the others. The beauty of the rainbow is obvious. But what about these verses from Philippians? Do you see what I see? The alliteration? The assonance? The asyndeton? The irony? The paronomasia? The lexical repetition? Before I studied Greek, I never viewed the Bible as a collection of texts written by master word-artisans. Reading Adele Berlin and Gene Nida was like being struck by lightening. They (and others) opened a whole new world of understanding for me. My main takeaway? The Bible was not given for our information and transformation only but also for our reading pleasure. It is filled with hyperbole, imagery, sarcasm, symbolism, etc. Often I am so preoccupied with hermeneutical questions that I overlook the literary richness of the Bible. I have taught the book of Philippians many times and have still not lost the sensation and sweet taste of the author's prose (and, in places, poetry). That's the reason, perhaps, behind my decision to teach rhetorical analysis to my exegesis students. Like a good modern author, Paul always has his readers in mind when writing. He is far from being artistic for artistry's sake. And that is always appreciated. This morning, as I read Philippians 3 again, there was magic again, words with great power, like Poe's The Purloined Letter. We students of the Bible have the key to the door, to the richness of the text. And we owe it to people like Berlin to remind us where we had left the keys.
Tuesday, November 6
4:48 PM I just got the link to my granddaughter's chorale as it performed on Friday night. Go here to watch some pretty incredible music. #proudgranddad.
1:54 PM So what to do? I've got another marathon scheduled for this Saturday. But there's just one hitch. The big toe on my left foot is causing problems. UGH. The toenail there is about 3 times the normal size of a toenail. In fact, I think my normal toenail gave birth to triplets. The resultant monstrosity is big enough to warrant a birth certificate. It feels like somebody is jabbing an ice pick into my toe. Having cruddy toes is a normal part of running long distance races. Your feet are sore for several days and your toes look like sausage links. But toenail issues are another matter altogether. You might remember that both of my big toenails fell off last year. I'm hoping they will do the same. And soon.
NOTE: No photos. You're welcome.
12:18 PM So you think you can't run a marathon? Here are 4 inspiring stories of last place finishers. Now go. And do.
12:14 PM Jon and Matthea sent me the recipe to "Slow Cooker Bottom Round Beef Roast." I just put it in the crock pot. Please wish me success. This is the first roast I've ever tried to cook.
9:20 AM I arrived at RDU yesterday at 3:00 pm and then taught my night class at school before driving home this morning to vote. The weekend with family was just what I needed. Why did it go so well? First of all, I refused to be alone. Was that easy? No way! When I arrived in Birmingham I had retreated so deeply into my emotional protective cocoon that I felt like a turtle about to be hit by a car. But slowly I began to crawl out of my shell. I know that my tendency is to "be tough" and handle all of my troubles by myself. This is precisely why I forced myself to be with family over the weekend. I knew I needed interaction. I needed to surround myself with people who love me. There is nothing heroic about grief. It is just plain hard work. Your emotions are frozen, and motion in any direction feels like the world is covered with solid ice. But we don't need to weep in silence. It helps to deal with your pain by being in community. If grief is a statement that you loved somebody, it's also a statement that you are loved by somebody. When we're grieving, we need to find someone to listen to us, talk to us, hold our hand, even cry with us. I experienced all of this and more over the weekend. But it wouldn't have happened had I remained curled up in a fetal position.
Other things I did right:
1) Music. For me, listening to music gives my feelings and thoughts shape and meaning. With such a jumbled array of feelings, I find it therapeutic to bask in song and artistic beauty. The day I arrived in Birmingham I attended my granddaughter's chorale concert at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. It was a marvelously uplifting performance. Later we sat in my daughter's living room and watched YouTubes of great music like Gabrielli's Aria della Battaglia and Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium. Becky and I always loved to attend the NC Symphony together. Music meant so much to her. When we grieve, God doesn't want us to forget the past. He doesn't want us to forget the good times, the hard times, the joys and sorrows you shared with your loved one. I will always feel connected to Becky through music and the arts.
2) Running. Grief has a tremendous mental and emotional component to it, but the physical aspect of grieving can't be overlooked. Knowing that I would be visiting with them, and knowing how much I loved to run, my daughter Matthea and her husband Jon arranged for us to do a 10K in downtown Birmingham on Saturday morning. We were slow, but we had so much fun running together. The weather turned out to be ideal for a race. Running has taught me so much about grieving. I've come to realize that my body will go only as far as it needs to go. If I'm running a marathon, my body is done after 26.2 miles. If I'm running a 5K, it calls it quits after mile 3.1. The same thing happened in my 31-mile ultra. Despite the fact that I am a slow runner, I have a great deal of tenacity and even stubbornness. Another thing about running: It involves suffering. Through running, I've learned how to embrace suffering. A race tells you it's possible to suffer and keep going. Even at the aid stations, you don't hang around. You get in, get your fluid, and get out. Running is all about forward motion. So is life.
3) Smiling. Yes, I said smiling. Research has proven that endorphins and serotonin are released into your body when you smile. Endorphins are natural pain relievers. And serotonin creates a natural high. When I arrived in Alabama, I was grumpy and quiet. But you try spending 4 days with 5 rambunctious and happy grandkids without breaking out in joyous laughter. Not possible!
4) Feeding my face. Call it comfort food if you like, but it works. I can't tell you how many times we went out for a meal -- Mexican, hot dogs, even Ethiopian. Of course, my daughter also cooked at home. For me, the dinner table is a place of community. I find eating alone alienating. In many countries like Ethiopia, mealtime is considered sacred. It's incredible how uplifting these meals with my family were. "Day by day," says Acts 2,"they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts." God created meal-time as a unique experience designed to foster fellowship.
5) Rest. I spent every afternoon sleeping. I needed it too. Fatigue is easy to spot. It shows on our faces and in our demeanor. Therefore, adequate sleep is essential when you're grieving. And I had plenty of it -- thanks to the boys for giving Papa B their room for the weekend.
6) Dogs. The Glasses have two of them. I cherished every moment with them. It's amazing how pets become part of our families. My heart still aches over the dogs I've lost through the years. I could never imagine life without them. Being social creatures, they help you cope with loneliness. Jon and Matthea's dogs are so cute. They have a Corky and a Sheltie. Both are hearty, spunky, determined breeds. "Without dogs, our houses are cold receptacles for things. Dogs make a fire warmer with their curled presence. They wake us, greet us, protect us, and ultimately carve a place in our hearts and history. Our reflection, our lives, are often referenced in parts defined by the all-too-short lives of our dogs" (Paul Fersen, In the Presence of Dogs). Amen to that.
In short, this weekend was a challenging, inspiring, and rewarding adventure. I tried to imagine what Becky's reaction would have been had she been there watching me. I think she would have been proud of me. There were incredibly difficult parts of the weekend, but I was happy that I coped so well with my grief. My soul was filled with happiness by being with family. I'm consistently amazed at how much my kids love me. On weekends like this, my mind never truly shuts down. Even though I came through the experience stronger than when I went in, I'm still in the middle of a race. Though I may not be moving very fast, I'm proud of myself for still being out there on the "course," as it were. I'm consistently surprised at what can be accomplished when you just keep moving forward and don't give up. Of course, it's all God's grace. If you are a Christian, grieving for you is different. It's always infused with hope. And the foundation for this hope is found in only one place: The Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of loss. He is the Lord of comfort. He is the Lord of suffering. And He is the Lord of restoration. I have made the choice to follow this Lord. You and me -- we are kingdom people, following this matchless Savior along the downward path of brokenness and humility. I pray you would never forget what a friend you have in Jesus. I close with a few photos. God bless!
This is Galana. She's my Sheba's daughter. What a sweet puppy.
Three people who don't know how not to be runners.
Race day was bright and sunny.
This is perhaps the best Ethiopian restaurant in town.
Their food was so delicious. On our platter, I made sure we had Becky's favorite dish, kai wat.
Matthea is a marvelous cook. Here we are enjoying a scrumptious pot roast.
On Sunday morning we sang "It Is Well" just before Jon got up to give the message. Coincidentally, that was perhaps Becky's favorite hymn.
Everyone, meet Karis Lynn. Isn't she the most precious baby you've ever seen? All of my grandkids are like that, of course.
Matthea's fabulous art gallery. Such amazing talent. More here.
A visit to Gus's Hot Dogs makes everything right.
Friday, November 2
7:45 AM I woke up tired this morning, physically drained. And why not? Four weeks ago -- a half marathon. Three weeks ago -- an ultramarathon. Two weeks ago -- a 52-mile bike. One week ago -- a marathon. And this weekend? You know when you have a tough day coming and you dread it? It has to take place, but you still lose sleep over it. Loss is just plain tough. It's hard to understand, deal with, work through, endure. God allows it for a reason but does that lessen its pain? If you ever feel the need to pour out your grief before Him, believe me, I understand. This morning, at 5:00 am, sitting on my front porch in the dark, I read the last chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes. Holy cow. What can we learn from this?
Exactly five years ago this morning, to use the words of the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes 12, the silver chain snapped, the golden lamp fell and broke, the rope of the well came apart and the water jar was shattered. A body returned to the dust of the earth, and the breath of life went back to God, who gave it to her. A major part of our lives was ripped from us, and just as it takes time to heal from surgery, it takes time to heal from loss. But no matter what our loss may be, the words of the Bible remain true:
Let me mention four things that have helped me cope with grief through the years. Maybe they can help you cope with your own losses as they come to you in life:
Be yourself. Others may try to "fix" you, but you don't need fixing. Embrace your grief and learn from it. It is a great teacher.
Expect to be overwhelmed from time to time. Grief is like that giant wave that pummeled me at Sunset Beach years ago. When waves break, they smother you, and you struggle to survive. But waves eventually run out of energy. They expend their power and calm returns. Struggling against a wave is an exercise in futility. You must yield, accept, and even embrace it. The quicker you do that, the more you will recover.
Force yourself to look to the future. Turn your heart and mind to what God still has in store for you. I am grateful my kids helped me to see the importance of doing this. "Daddy, why not start running?" "Daddy, why not go back to Hawaii and surf again?" "Daddy, we'd like you to come and visit us for Thanksgiving." By forcing ourselves to look to the future, we begin, little by little, to cope with the past.
Help others. One way God carries our burdens as His children is by sending someone into our lives who's experienced something similar to what we have experienced. All around us are people who are hurting, who have needs (spiritual or financial), and when we reach out to them, we help not only them but ourselves.
Suffering is one of the hardest parts of our faith. But beauty after ashes is possible. Becky died with her family by her side. We wept over her still-warm body. Then we sang a hymn and prayed, expressing our gratitude to God for her life and that finally she was in pain no longer. I quietly asked everyone to leave the room. I caressed Becky's hand one last time, reluctant to let her go. I wept as I said a final goodbye to my beloved friend and partner. Then I left the room to plan her memorial service. Becky would have been surprised at how many people attended her homegoing celebration on campus. But I wasn't surprised. Becky was an honest and decent human being whom everybody admired.
I have many more special memories to offer, but this is not the place or the time. I miss you so much, my darling Becky. I wish you could be here to enjoy your grandchildren like I can. But I bet you're watching everything from above and smiling. I grieve for my adulthood without you, but I accept it. I'm so glad we were always together, perhaps in sickness even more than in health. I have no right to feel self pity. Your life was a pure blessing to me. You taught me about so many things and I will hold on to every one of those truths. I can't imagine having another intimate relationship. At this point in my life, I have plenty to do just keeping up with our kids and grandkids. I know that your spirit of love and generosity lives on in their hearts, and for that I am grateful. I hope that someday I can learn to trust God like you did. Deep down, I know that losing you will help me to discover who I am, now that I am on my own. I love you, sweetheart. I hope you can hear/see/feel that.
This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Becky Lynn Black.
Thursday, November 1
8:54 PM What a fantastic day. Had lunch with some seminary friends then got up hay with Nate and Jess late into the night (and into the rain that appeared out of nowhere). I'm sopping wet and have never been happier. Tomorrow's the big day (Year 5!) and man am I missing her. Number of times I counted my blessings today: 10,340. Some of my clearest and fondest memories of Becky happened here on the farm. What a wild ride we had establishing Rosewood! You know, sometimes the best memories are created when not everything goes quite right, when you have to step outside of your comfort zone, when you are trying to do something you've never done before -- like farming. Like yin and yang, we were misfits, but happily married misfits. On the other hand, we were so much alike. She was an adventurer, like me. She was deeply caring, like me. She loved life, like me. Not every moment we had together was perfect, but they all contributed to the man I am today. There are many good memories. I love you, Becky. I shall cherish the moments we had together forever.
7:12 AM As I sit here writing this blog post I'm thrilled out of my gourd. We just added an exegesis course to our spring 2019 lineup at the seminary. It will be a study of Philippians. I will be the teacher. The class will be offered during Spring Break, the week of March 4-9 from 8:00 to 5:00. The evidence is pretty conclusive: when students take 4 or 5 courses over a 15-week period, the completion rates are lower than when they take a weeklong intensive. I wish I could have taken intensives in seminary but back then courses were taught 3 times a week for 15 weeks ONLY. I am far from being an expert in Greek pedagogy, but I've taught enough summer and J-term Greek classes to know that immersion courses lead to some of the best results that seminary language programs can offer. Besides, I'm a Baptist. ("Immersion" courses. Get it?) Of course, intensive classes are by definition, well, intense. The schedule is punishing. But just think: After 5:00 pm you get the rest of the day off. On the other hand, you just might find the evening hours boring. After all, you live, study, and do practically everything else with your teacher and classmates for 8 hours each and every day for a week. This is highly conducive to relationship building. So, intensive classes are great -- if you are a passionate, dedicated, and ambitious language learner. Thankfully, we have tons of students like this at Southeastern.
As I prepare the course syllabus, I have to make a major decision: Which textbooks to require? I've used Hawthorne in the past but this time around I almost certain will use Will Varner's Philippians: A Linguistic Commentary.
Let's talk about how good this book is.
In every way, Will Varner's commentary on Philippians is one of the best you can find today. The approach is conservative without being obscurantist, instructive without being pedantic. For example, this is the bottom of p. 15.
Here the author discusses in detail Codex Vaticanus in Phil. 1:1. He points out such interesting features as the itacism of "Timothy," the dieresis in the right margin (indicating a variant reading), and the attempted "correction" of a later scribe who attached the letter nu to the left margin. This is genius. And it's super easy to follow. What else? How about paragraph summaries. I wish more commentaries did this. (This is a strength of Hawthorne's work.) How about constant reference to the Septuagint. How about the attention the author gives to discourse markers such as conjunctions. If you want a more detailed and professional review, you'll have to go elsewhere. I don't have time to do that here.
By the way, it's so good to be back on the farm. This was my view this morning from the porch.
I never tire of my little refuge. The most peaceful place in the world is on the seat of a Massie Ferguson 135. When Becky and I moved here 16 years ago, it was the right time. I said, "This is the last stop. This is where I belong."
Chore time :)
Wednesday, October 31
8:15 PM I so love it when we have guest speakers in my classes. This week featured two of my favorite colleagues and dearest friends: Matt Mullins, who teaches English, and Ronjour Locke, who teaches preaching. Dr. Mullins spoke to us about how we should read the Bible as literature.
Dr. Locke talked about "James and Justice."
Both lectures opened the door to some wonderful discussions. How many times have you heard a really interesting lecture and just couldn't wait to ask a question or make a comment? So a thousand thanks to these dear friends of mine for spending some of their uber-precious time with my students.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (as they say) ....
I'm prepping for my trip to the great state of Alabama to visit family. On this, the fifth anniversary of Becky's passing, I just couldn't stay at home. I have no doubt that while my body will be in Birmingham my mind will very much be here at Bradford Hall, thinking about Becky and the 37 years we spent together as husband and wife. This has been a very lengthy time of adjustment for me, and while I'm still failing at aspects of it I think I've make good progress. I've noticed the following changes in my life:
Mentally: I can concentrate again. I'm more focused and can get tasks done quicker than the time right after Becky's death. I've recovered my intellectual curiosity and have even been doing quite a bit of writing lately. I'm learning to use my brain power more efficiently again and to rest my mind when I need to by getting outdoors and losing myself in creation.
Physically: At age 66, I think I'm more aware than ever of the unused capabilities resident in my body. I feel like I haven't yet reached my peak as a runner and athlete. My health has never been better. Unfortunately, I'm carrying more weight than I want to, but at least I have no double chin -- yet.
Emotionally: I'm happier than I've been in a very long time. I still struggle with grief and sadness, but I believe I smile more than I have in a while and I find myself laughing out loud at funny things. I love having a lot of people in my life with whom I can share my feelings, and I spend every day trying to think up ways I can better love and serve them. I treasure the support system God has given me in my family and I enjoy showing them how much I love and appreciate them.
Spiritually: This is a hard one. Needless to say, I've learned a lot in the past five years about myself. I believe my life has changed for the better. The struggle in my soul is still not fully resolved, but God's loving sovereignty is no longer a mere abstraction to me. I thank Him every night that He has answered my prayers for relief from those difficult days right after Becky died. While suffering has in one sense made my belief in God more difficult, and while I haven't found an explanation for the loss that befell our family, I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that God is real and that He came all the way from heaven to earth to live among us and share our pain. I have made peace with God's sovereignty, and I know He was there to welcome Becky into heaven. As strange as it may sound, I believe that today I am experiencing greater joy than I've ever had before, even in my sorrow. I've even had people tell me how grateful they were to find genuine community in the midst of their suffering because of something I said or wrote. I am terrified to think that my words might have that kind of effect, yet I cannot imagine not writing about my experiences. I've found in the body of Christ genuine community and great fellowship among others who are trying to make sense of their loss. It is very moving to me to hear their stories, and their testimony is a reminder that God delights to create and sustain community for broken people like me. I believe with the 17th century English poet John Dryden that "none would live past years again." For me, the past isn't all doom and gloom. My life has been pleasant and overall quite joyful. But I have no desire to live in the past because today and tomorrow hold the opportunity to become better and to become more. If aging brings problems, it also brings solutions. If I can't remain young, I can remain fresh. In the September of my life, I am all that the past has taught me, and every year has become an asset. I may never be 36 years old again, but it no longer matters because I've learned that age doesn't matter, it's running your race that counts. Each one of us is unique in the eyes of God. Thus we make every day count for Him. To have a death worth dying, you must have a life worth living. Even at my age, I know there's another chapter to be written, one that will not only allow me to do things that will bring me personal satisfaction but will also be of help to others. Whether it's teaching my classes or fundraising to combat some disease or being supportive of my kids and grandkids, I know the Lord will show me ways to stay involved with the world and find a place of continued usefulness. Becky would have expected that of me, and that's exactly what I expect of myself. The one thing I won't do is sit at home and brood. The realization that the fifth anniversary of Becky's death is here won't keep me from celebrating the life she lived or from concentrating on so much in my life that is good. This is the message I hope to convey to anyone who reads my blog: Yes, Becky's death has left a huge emptiness in my life, but I am strong, and as I continue to move through the stages of grief I hope that my life will give strength to others.
Monday, October 29
11:54 AM Hey folks! Got time for a brief race report? As you know (if you keep track of all the stuff I do), I spent the weekend up in the DC area for the Marine Corps Marathon. I ran my first marathon in 2016. Before then I had done about 8 or 9 half marathons. But marathons have a certain appeal about them that halfs don't. The event itself was seamless and pretty chill. As is my habit, I took the back roads to DC on Saturday morning. The weather was cold and overcast but that didn't dampen my spirits. After all, I was about to run the Marine Corps Marathon! On the way up I stopped at numerous roadside historical markers. When I arrived in Port Royal on the Rappahannock I had lunch at the quaintest diner you will ever see. I got to the expo at Harbor City at around 2:00 pm. I was expecting the parking to be a nightmare but it was the opposite. I got in and grabbed my race bib then headed to Springfield and my hotel room and dinner (Mexican -- scrumptious). Parking Sunday morning in Chrystal City went off without a hitch and I boarded a bus for the race start at the Pentagon. The gun (a howitzer, no less) goes off and we start running. Had I had a notepad with me, I imagine I would have jotted down thoughts like:
This climbing is killing me. The race is actually starting with a brutal uphill from mile 1 to 2!
Check out the crowd support. I can't even begin to describe how amazing you guys are.
Mile 4 and my legs are still cooperating with me.
My goodness, the weather is PURFECT!
I love running. Who ever said running is hard?
Mile 6 and the course is still packed. I've never been in such a crowded race. I'm loving this!
Mile 10 and I'm still calm and laid back. This is FUN!
Mile 13.1, the halfway point in the race. I'm welling up with gratitude to be doing this.
Oh no. The Blue Mile. Picture after picture of the fallen. I slow down and read each picture, noting the names and dates of death. Too many young faces in these photos. Run strong, Dave, for those who can't.
Is that really the Washington Monument?
The sun is now out. Most beautiful thing I've seen all day.
I am gulping down water. Seems I can't enough of the stuff.
Mile 20. Can this please be over? Who ever said that running is easy?
Miles 21-25. Okay, one last push to the finish. You can do this, Dave.
Mile 26. So close! Going uphill again. Do not stop now. Do. Not. Stop. Why in the world do people run marathons?
I want to finish as strong as I can. I cross the line with head held high. I don't beat Oprah's time, but I'll take what I got.
The Marines can't wait to place a medal around my neck. I ask for a photo.
So, marathon #10 has come and gone and it's time to move on. My feet hurt and I feel exhausted just typing that. They say that about 1 in every 100,000 people actually die while running a marathon. In a race with 30,000 people, this meant that about one third of a person died. That third of a person were my legs. In all honesty, there were some pretty hard parts to the course. Then again, the monuments were amazing. Not to mention the cheering crowds. I gave it 100 percent. I am at peace with the world.
Pix (of course):
Oh, the traffic in rural Virginia! And to think: I could have been stuck on the interstate.
Why we run. Lots of great and worthy causes out there.
The energy at the start of this race was so amazing. I was overcome by nerves by this time. Can I actually do this? The MCM was on my bucket list for some time. It was finally time to experience it!
Happy runners. There were 7,981 first time marathoners. Obviously, suffering loves company.
The Blue Mile -- a highly emotional section of the course commemorating fallen service members.
Smile for the camera!
Oorah!!! Hundreds of volunteers holding American flags. At this point in the race you're beaming with pride, chest puffed out a little.
I finished! Coolest medal ever. These guys and gals kept me going. At every aid station, they served with the devotion of a NASCAR pit crew.
The Lord provided this restaurant not 10 minutes from my hotel. The food, service, ambience -- everything was outstanding.
I left them a copy of Becky's book. I hope it will be a blessing to them!
Thanks again for joining me on my journey. I'm sore and stiff but it was worth every mile. What an experience!
Saturday, October 27
8:40 AM Alright. Marathon #10 is in sight. Oorah! Have I trained hard enough? How will the weather affect me? Will my toes hold up? Can I stay focused on hydration and fueling? Will I spread my energy evenly throughout the race? Folks, if you're taking the risk of doing something as crazy as running a marathon, things aren't always going to go your way. It's inevitable. That's why I love marathons. You never know how you're going to do until mile 20. At that stage in the race, you have to focus on the mile you're running at that very moment, and not how many more you still have to go. You will have to dig deep toward the end of the race. You'll have to look into your soul for a level of perseverance you've never had to call on before. But it's there. It's all about relentless forward progress. The weird thing is, for everybody you ask out there on the course "How ya doing?", the answer is always amazingly the same. "Great!" That's because they're focusing only on what is going right and not on what is going wrong. Optimism is prevalent, even rampant. Nobody is making us do this. It's our choice to suffer. All races -- including the race of life -- have one thing in common: the finish line. All of us begin at the starting line, and each step takes us closer to home. Running a marathon is a crash course in gratitude, stamina, patience, suffering, and the rewarding feeling of knowing that, with God's help, you've pushed through impenetrable walls and come out victorious on the other side. The point is, there's no way to lose a marathon. Everyone who runs one wins. The medal they'll put around my neck will be the same medal they'll put around 30,000 other necks. Even if you don't read my name in the news tomorrow after the race, it won't mean that I didn't win.
Thanks so much for following my journey. You also running the MCM tomorrow? If so, I'll see you at the back of the pack, Lord willing!
Friday, October 26
12:42 PM This Sunday is not only the Marine Corps Marathon but, just as importantly for a language nerd like me, the birthday of Erasmus of Rotterdam, who in 1536 was buried with great fanfare in Basel. (If you're ever in Basel, you can visit his grave in the city's famous Cathedral.) I'll never forget, as a New Testament student in Basel, being taken to the subbasement in the university library and having Erasmus's Novum Instrumentum Omne placed in my hands for examination up close and personal.
This was the very first Greek New Testament to be published. The year was 1516, and the place was Basel. With its second edition, the name was changed to Novum Testamentum Omne. With the third edition, the (in)famous "Heavenly Witnesses" passage of 1 John 5:7-8 was included. The Erasmus Greek New Testament formed the basis for most of the translations of the New Testament in subsequent centuries until it was replaced by other texts. In 2016, Houston Baptist University celebrated the 500th anniversary of the publication of Erasmus's Greek New Testament with a special conference on their campus.
I've been particularly blessed to have been allowed to teach New Testament Greek for 42 years. During these past 4 decades, I've seen a great deal of change in the fabric of our society, including evangelicalism. It's been an exciting adventure of faith. Perhaps the most thrilling part of my ministry is teaching Greek overseas. I'm very grateful for the work Erasmus (and his publisher Froben) did in seeing to it that the Greek New Testament was available to a wide reading audience. Most of all, I want to thank God for Erasmus's successors in the field of New Testament textual criticism, who have worked tirelessly to see to it that students have at their fingertips the very words of the New Testament, disagreements as to which words are original and which aren't notwithstanding. Having myself been a student in Basel is perhaps why I have a special fascination with all things Erasmus. Situated in a historic university city, I began to develop a deep love for the language of the New Testament that has never left me. I thank God for my professors there and the gracious way they treated a fledging scholar. To equip and then send students into a lifetime of service for Christ and their fellows is one of the most treasured privileges that has come my way in all my years on this earth. Soli Deo gloria.
11:30 AM This article in the New York Times made me smile. More and more aging Americans are entering marathons. To be honest with you, I want to run into my grave. So what if I'm an "older" runner? I'm actually just getting started. I enjoy and appreciate being able to run. I would love to keep running into my golden years. Actually, I'd like to run until I'm 100 if I can keep the injuries at bay. That way I can rack up the medals just be outlasting the competition! Yesterday one of my daughters and her 4 kids were here helping me clean the house. One of the kids asked me if she could put on my race medals. When I saw her with all those medallions I practically fell over.
For the love of Pheidippedes! Maybe I should join a heavy metal band.
So why do I run?
Sustained exercise is the single most important thing you can do for your health as you age. Activity, not speed, is what counts. My race goal is simply to finish each race with a smile on my face. If I feel lousy, I don't push it. After all, I didn't start running until I was 62. Is that "old"? I don't think so. After all, "Old is always 10 years older than you are now." Even if I'm not very fast, my marathon times are extremely consistent. The other men in my age group massacre me at every race. That's fine by me. I just want to age "race-fully." This will sound boring, but on Sunday I'll go out there and compete against the guys in my age group, and it will be a reminder to me that no matter how old we are chronologically, we are only as old as we feel. The 60s definitely bring a new perspective on life. Your goal is to see and do as much as you can, while you can. Plus make better choices than you did in the past and not let things stress you out as much. While running, I love the outlet of being within yourself, smelling the fresh air, and just thinking about your next step. I always feel better after a run. Always. If I can run, I can do anything. Running is cathartic and makes me feel free. I keep running because it's therapeutic.
I love the words on this shirt. It's true.
Running has made me more mentally strong and made me appreciate life so much more. I run to feel the wind on my face and to unwind and to remind myself that I have a great Creator God who made the beauty I see all around me when I'm running. Plus it's a good excuse not to spend so much time in front of the computer. Running is now a part of who I am, like my balding scalp and my gray hair and my crooked teeth and my ugly toenails and my super outgoing personality (hehe). Running makes me very, very happy! My kids have run a few races themselves, which is super awesome. I continue running because I just can't stop. I guess it's in my blood. I've come to think of running as a gift from God. I especially like running because it's hard, and I like hard. I learn a little more about myself every race. Running helps improve your life. I know that from experience. I had a great experience running my first marathon in Cincy to raise money for cancer research. Every marathon since then has been a great experience. Right now I am in misery until race start on Sunday. That is the power of the marathon.
No matter how much you think you may hate exercise, my friend, start out slowly and you will gradually realize how much it can improve your life. Always be grateful for every step the Lord allows you to take, even when it's crazy hard and miserable and you want to keel over. The key is to keep moving!
9:20 AM I sometimes find myself regretting that I grew up on the windward side of O'ahu. The weather there was always predictable.
Daily temps, year-round, averaged 75. And unlike the leeward side of the island, where Honolulu is, it never got hot. You could expect a daily rain shower or two, but then the sun would return just as quickly as it departed. Sometimes it would rain while the sun was shining (we called this "liquid sunshine"). Even the "rainy season" (January to March) never got too wet. Plus, when it rained, the ocean got smooth and glassy, and the surf was magnificent. The weather here in Virginia is anything but predictable. You might call it wild and weird. It defies patterns and forecast models. Take a look at the daily historic temps and you'll see what I mean. Sometimes there's a 50 degree difference between record highs and lows. I have seen 80 in December. Last year we were getting up hay well into that month. NOVA is especially unpredictable. The weather for the race on Sunday is now predicted to be rainless, but I'm not holding my breath. A nor'-easter is brewing and who knows when it will be over. Again, there's very little "normal" weather around here.
One thing I do know is that I'll be driving up to the race expo tomorrow in the rain. Why they hold the expo so far from the race venue is anybody's guess. It's not near the start, finish, or any other part of the race. Packet pickup is being hosted by the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Harbor City. If you're staying in Arlington you can take a shuttle to the expo from selected metro stations. Since I won't be driving up there until tomorrow, I've decided to drive directly to Harbor City via I-85/I-95 and then catch Hwy. 301 north of Richmond, a drive that will take me through a very historic part of Maryland, including the sites where John Wilkes Booth stayed during his flight from the authorities in April of 1865. Once I pick up my packet in Harbor City, I'll cross the Potomac on I-95 and find my way to my hotel room in Springfield. On race day my current plan is to drive to Arlington early Sunday morning and hopefully find a place to park near the Pentagon, where the race begins. I plan to give myself plenty of time to park and pass through security.
In other news, a week from today (Nov. 2) will be the five-year-aversay of Becky's homegoing, and I plan to commemorate it in Alabama with my daughter and her family. While there we'll attend my granddaughter's chorale concert and do a 10K race together. It's hard to believe it's been five years. Five years ago I said goodbye to my wife of 37 years. Five years ago I ventured into the scary new world of widowerhood. Five years ago I was trying to sort through the good and the bad and the just-plain-confusing world I found myself suddenly thrust into. I could write forever about my feelings and experiences and emotions on that day and I still wouldn't be able to properly convey to you how good the Lord was to me that day and every day since. Miracles don't always look like a dead man coming out of a tomb or dozens of fish jumping into a boat. A miracle can be gazing into the future and seeing nothing but darkness and still believing that grace is available to you. It can be family and friends and neighbors and colleagues coming to a memorial service in Wake Forest to help you adjust to a severe trauma that swept over you like a tidal wave. It can be the realization that the death of a loved one can become grace discovered and grace experienced in the unfolding aftermath of that loss. Five years ago I knew that God was listening to my prayers. I knew that His heart was breaking with mine, and I knew He could do the miracle we all were praying for. My life, it seems, has come full circle. I've spent the past five years getting my feet under me again, learning the ropes of being a bachelor, gaining in confidence and even becoming comfortable with my new life. And while I hated to lose Becky to cancer, I'm holding on to the fact that healing doesn't always occur in this life. I have found the courage to go on. Like the weather in Virginia, my emotions change on a dime. I have no power to control the circumstances that changed my life forever. But I can decide to trust God. And, as it turned out, I've found a new life that's truly good.
I am now, more than ever, thankful.
Thursday, October 25
8:45 AM Hear about this? An island in the Hawaiian archipelago has disappeared after being devastated by Hurricane Walaka. This is what East Island used to look like.
Not anymore. It's gone. Then there's this: A new island has formed off the Big Island of Hawai'i due to Kilauea's recent eruption. Hilton will have to wait -- the island is only 30 feet wide -- but I guess in the island-making business, you lose some and you win some.
By the way, the name of the island that's disappeared is Papahānaumokuākea. Why this name? Go here to read its interesting history. Did you know that Hawai'i is the only state to have two official languages -- Hawaiian and English? Pidgin (which I can speak) is a third "unofficial" language. I love the Hawaiian language even though I am a rank beginner when it comes to its mastery. The language has only 8 consonants and 5 vowels. In addition, you'll often see two special symbols when reading Hawaiian words: the 'okina and the kahakō. The 'okina looks like our apostrophe and functions as a glottal stop. So if you're ever asked "How are you?" in Hawaiian ("Pehea 'oe?"), the answer will be "Maika'i, mahalo." Older books on the Hawaiian language would sometimes write the word maika'i as maikai, but saying "my kai" is incorrect. It's "my ka eee." The kahakō (macron) indicates a long vowel, as in kāne (kaa nay), meaning "male" or "man," as opposed to kane (ka nay), which means "skin disease." Today, there's a great revival of interest in learning Hawaiian in the Islands. If I had more time, I'd love to master it. In the meantime, however, I'm content with Pidgin. Here's a sampler from the Hawaiian Creole New Testament -- just for fun! ("Puka" means "hole," and "pau" means "finished.")
7:50 AM Good Thursday morning! How do I summarize the Charismatic Movement, a topic so large that massive tomes continue to be written about it? My takeaways are so vast, I can't find the words to bring my thoughts together. After reviewing the four major positions (see below), I asked my NT class, "What to do?" I realize some of you are hoping for a simple answer to a complicated question, something with aplomb, but that's not where I am. Here are five suggestions I offered my students yesterday:
1) Try to locate yourself on the spectrum.
2) Be respectful of those who are at different places on the continuum.
3) Pray for greater unanimity among these four groups.
4) Seek to live more explicitly supernatural lives.
5) Read widely in this area of theology.
I offered the following short bibliography of works I think would be beneficial to anyone interested in this subject. At least one is written by a cessationist. Others by continuationists.
I might add this book to the list.
It grew out of a conference held at TEDS in 1989 in which representatives from among evangelical scholarship were asked to pour over a wide range of theological viewpoints. Robert Saucy represented Biola/Talbot. I came from Grace West in Long Beach. It was great to reconnect with many old friends: Bruce Demarest, Millard Erickson, Vernon Grounds, Wayne Grudem, Stan Gundry, Kent Hughes, Roger Nicole, Stan Porter, Ron Sider, Moisés Silva, Robert Thomas, Harold O. J. Brown, Harold Hoehner, Don Carson, and others. The purpose of this working consultation was to unite evangelicals in their commitment to the great truths of our faith. As I recall, the meetings were bathed in constant prayer for greater unity and amity in the body of Christ. We asked, "What can we affirm despite the many things that divide us?" Believe me, it was a joy to watch evangelical scholars of various stripes -- dispensationalists and covenant theologians, charismatics and non-charismatics, Arminians and Calvinists -- amicably discuss their differences and then unite around a commitment to evangelism, discipleship, and sacrificial service to a needy world. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is everything.
I wonder if such a conference might be helpful in today's divisive climate.
Wednesday, October 24
7:40 PM Odds and ends ....
1) We read Jason Meyer's Confessions of a Functional Cessationist in our NT class today while discussing the history and theology of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement. Using Wayne Grudem's helpful spectrum, we pondered the four major positions (Cessationist, Open But Cautious, Third Wave, Pentecostal/Charismatic). We also discussed Paul's teaching about tongues in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The church at Corinth still has a lot to teach us about our contemporary church situation, that's for sure. There are, I think, many advantages to espousing Jason's view, including the corrective he issues in his essay. Read it and see if you don't agree.
2) Yesterday I enjoyed lunch with a Korean student at the Seoul Garden in Raleigh and we chatted endlessly about the church in Korea.
Did you know?
I've taught 6 times in Korea and can't wait to get back someday.
3) Trivia: Neil Armstrong's sons Rick and Mark have cameo roles in the movie First Man starring Ryan Gosling. See if you can spot 'em at Mission Control.
4) Today was the perfect day for a run or a bike but I was too busy to do either. (Raise your hand if you use the "I'm too busy" excuse too.) Try not to be too jealous of my sloth, however, for tomorrow I shall verily make all things right again. In the meantime, I think I'm a bit obsessive about this weekend's weather. Okay, I'm very obsessive about it. Yesterday the meteorologist in DC was telling everyone we'd have rain on race day (i.e., Sunday). Today they're a little more optimistic that the sun will peek through the clouds. I've lived in Virginia long enough to know that the weather can change on a dime. Right now I'm planning on running in cool (and possibly rainy) weather. Here's the current weather map for Arlington, VA.
Let's see what they say tomorrow. And on Friday.
5) #25888. That's my bib number for Sunday's marathon. Not that anyone is even faintly interested.
So, how's your week going?
Monday, October 22
6:45 AM I had just arrived in Basel. The year was 1980. I went to look for my major professor, Herr Professor Dr. Bo Reicke, in the library archives. We greeted each other warmly, exchanged some small talk, and then he said he'd like to go out for a cup of coffee. "Darf ich Ihnen begleiten?" I asked. "Darf ich Sie begleiten?" came the gentle correction, and off we went to sip coffee in one of those wonderful coffee houses overlooking the Rhine.
That little encounter reminded me that:
German was the mother tongue of neither my professor nor me. Yet we spoke German with each other during my sojourn in Basel because it was the official language of the university. When I contemplated my mistake that morning, I asked myself, "How could you have made such an obvious faux pas? You know full well that begleiten takes the accusative case and not the dative for its direct object." Then it dawned on me. I was speaking German but thinking in Koine Greek, in which the verb "follow/accompany" takes the dative. It's just one of those "irregularities" of language you have to get used to. So when I saw that Rod Decker had published a list of the most common verbs in the New Testament that take the dative for their direct object, I knew I had to link to it here.
I'd like to state the obvious. To learn a foreign language, you have to swallow your pride. You have to be willing to make mistakes. In public. And be corrected. In public. To quote an expert on the subject of making mistakes in public (me):
My hugest, biggest, most gignormous mistake in learning foreign languages? Being too much of a coward to try them out in public for fear of being corrected. Pussy cat! Why does anybody worry about something as silly as that? I say, I'm glad I'm trying to learn foreign languages. The thrill has been in the journey to get there. And know what? You never arrive. You will always be making mistakes. And hopefully learning from them.
6:04 AM "For me."
With these words on my mind, I awoke this morning. They're from one of my favorite verses in the New Testament:
Of all the names and titles of Christ --
"The One who gave Himself for me" may just be my favorite. As I lay on my bed praying this morning, I knew that Christ had ruined my life forever. He changed the rules of the game by saying He was the only way to God, and that anyone who follows Him would reciprocate His love and self-giving. "You know, Dave," I said to myself, "Jesus loved you and gave Himself for you so that you might love Him this day and give yourself for Him."
There's no tremendously deep point to be made from this. If you have the faintest doubt that Jesus loves you, don't. Christ was ridiculed, beaten, mocked, and killed -- on your behalf. Knowing that my sin prompted such sacrifice and that Jesus feels the pain when I hurt others or fail to serve Him sacrificially, I am trying to adopt a more intentional attitude in my waking hours. "Lord Jesus, You're at my side every step of the way. Your faithfulness knows no end. Without Your cross, I would get exactly what I deserve, a one-way ticket to hell. Your love is not based on feelings. It's based on the historical fact You died for my sins, were buried, and three days later were resurrected. That's the definition of true love. Because of the cross I can know that Your love will last with me always. Now please, Spirit of Christ, enable me this day to provide an inkling of what that love looks like to others. When it comes right down to it, I'm pretty lousy at loving others. Please allow me to love others at least as much as I love myself."
You want something new? I'll give you something new: Before you get out of bed in the morning, talk to God. Don't just jabber off a few bless me's. Worship the One who gave Himself FOR YOU.
Sunday, October 21
7:16 PM One of the reasons I enjoy studying Greek so much is the way I keep learning new things about the language. So ... cue to Granville Sharp!
Anyone who has had a couple of semesters of Greek knows that name. His "rule" helped to affirm the teaching about the deity of Christ found in the New Testament. But Granville Sharp was much more than a grammarian -- a fact I should have realized because Dan Wallace published an entire essay on this subject many years ago. Sharp is best known as being a prime force behind the abolitionist movement in England. In other words, as a Christian, he had a strong sense of social responsibility. I have always felt that the Gospel Commission of our Lord Jesus must remain primary in all we do as followers of Christ. Yet it's just as evident that the Jesus of the Great Commission is the Jesus of social compassion. The One who went about "teaching and preaching" (Matt. 4:23; 9:35) also went about "doing good and healing" (Acts 10:38). Our God wants us to love not only justly but to get our hands dirty in the service of the Gospel. In the past century and more, the commitment of evangelicals to social action has grown exponentially. Jesus' kingdom, while not of this world, was and is a radically different social organization whose values challenge the political status quo. He expects us to get out into the world, which is the arena in which we are to witness and serve, suffer and die if need be for the sake of the Gospel. Just because I feel myself called to a teaching and writing ministry doesn't mean I can claim to have no social responsibility. That's one reason I love to run marathons for charity. Perhaps that's also why our Lord emphasized the role of servant leadership and equated greatness with service. If all people are created in the image of God, then they must be served and not exploited. Herein lies one of the greatness dangers, in my view, of academic study and programs. People take precedent over projects and programs. We are to serve not our own interests but the interests of others. Although He was Lord of all, Jesus put on the apron of servitude. No study of Greek is authentically Christlike that isn't marked by this same spirit of humble service. I find myself crying out to God to give me this vision. I pray that the Lord would give me eyes not only to see the billions of people who have never heard of Jesus but the further billions who are oppressed, alienated, poor, hungry, disadvantaged, those who are suffering from illnesses that might be curable if we all banded together and worked hard enough to find a cure, those whose babies are dying for lack of basic obstetric care, and so forth. Our Christian documents tell us that God wants His people to be enriched by their service to others. "But the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). May God help us to grow in generosity and live in service to others in His name as did Granville Sharp.
8:10 AM Confession: Yesterday's ride was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I felt about 80 percent instead of my normal 100 percent. It was a lot rainier than I had anticipated. My legs were tired and sore. But despite the rain, a flat, and riding in the dark, we pushed through and completed 52.6 miles before pigging out on Ethiopian cuisine.
The trailhead in Jamestown (Mile Zero).
Right now I'm chillaxing and getting caught up on my reading. One site I check somewhat regularly is Nerdy Language Majors. If you want to keep up-to-date on what they are saying about Greek, this is your clearing house. I notice there's been a lot of discussion lately about such matters as verbal aspect, deponency, and pronunciation. This is as it should be. Each of these areas (and many more) is hotly debated today. One of the most notable movements in Greek studies in the past four or five decades has been the recovery of a linguistic perspective on the language of the New Testament. By now most of us are convinced that linguistics is not a threat but as asset to New Testament studies. Yet our historical neglect has put us far behind, and there's a lot of catching up to do. My own contribution to the debate was my 1988 publication Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek (Baker), which I was presumptuous to write if for no other reason than I hardly consider myself a linguist. Thankfully, the Lord seemed to use that book as an impetus to get other much more qualified voices into the debate. Since 1988, many people have assisted me in my thinking, including my friends Johannes Louw, Stan Porter, Randall Buth, Thomas Hudgins, and Stephen Levinsohn. All these -- and several others (Michael Halcomb, Rob Plummer, Con Campbell, Jonathan Pennington, Mike Aubrey, Steve Runge, and Nicholas Ellis) -- were invited by Ben Merkle and myself to participate in a conference on our campus next April called Linguistics and New Testament Greek: Key Issues in the Current Debate.
Need for this conference should be obvious. Topics to be discussed include verbal aspect, voice (including deponency), pronunciation, word order, the perfect tense, and discourse analysis. I express my cordial thanks to each of these scholars for agreeing to produce a paper for our conference. Ben and I will collect these essays and include them in a book designed for third semester Greek (the publisher is Baker). Throughout the book a distinction will be made between an author's setting the scene and their own reflection and analysis. We thus hope that the need for a current overview of the field will be filled. You are cordially invited to attend the conference on April 26-27 (Friday evening to Saturday at 1:00 pm). To register you can go here. Both dinner and breakfast are included, and there will be plenty of time to meet and greet the speakers.
I'm not going to blog in-death about it now, but the subject of mediocrity has been on my mind lately. Not sure why. Maybe because we're halfway through the semester and students (and teachers) are getting tired. Once again, as we slogged out the miles on our bikes yesterday, I was reminded that God gives strength to the weary and that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. It's only as we stand in the shadow of the cross that we can keep our inner fires burning brightly. It seems to me that we need to repent of our mediocrity because it dishonors God and is incompatible with our Christian faith. To be sure, we can't excel at everything. We are all well aware of our limitations and shortcomings. But we also believe in the power of God to change us. When I was in seminary, I had a prof who once told us, "Don't ever settle for anything less than your God-given potential. Allow Him to stretch you in your service for Him and others." We need, then, to seek His face and do His will with all the passion and energy He gives us. Only then can we expect to hear those most coveted of all words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." I am forever grateful to that prof in seminary. He not only talked about excellence with his students, he modeled it. I want to do better at this. With God's help, I will.
P.S. My toes have now been officially declared a Disaster Area. Federal funding is on the way. They look like they got into a fight with a lawnmower. Even the pedicurist can't clip my toenails. They say they need a chainsaw. Missing toenails. Black toenails. Bunions. My feet are a mess. If I don't do something and do it now, I will inevitably pierce the inside of another toe with a sharp nail during the marathon next weekend.
At any rate, my feet are apparently entertaining.
Saturday, October 20
9:45 AM For some reason I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning. But it's nothing a good cuppa can't solve.
My friend Jason and I are still on for today's ride from Jamestown to Richmond. Here's the current weather.
All that should change by the time we start -- partly sunny skies with only a small chance of rain. However, rain or shine, here we come. We've already paid for the shuttle anyhow. (I can pretty much concoct a good excuse for almost anything I do.) Right now I have to prepare for myself a hearty breakfast. On tap are eggs, potatoes, toast, and corned beef hash. I can't live without my eggs. So satisfying and nutritious. That will be our last meal until we arrive in Richmond, where we hope to dine on some authentic Ethiopian fare before driving home.
Last night I reread this fantastic study of the "faithful sayings" in the so-called Pastoral Epistles. It was published in 1979, a year before Becky and I arrived in Basel.
At that time I was reading every doctoral dissertation I could get my hands on. When I ended up doing a study of Pauline lexicography, it was partly due to the influence of George Knight's work. Just out of curiosity. Have you read his commentary on the PE? I hear it is very good (co-authored as it was with Howard Marshall).
My calves are cramping just thinking about biking 51 miles. Wish us well!
Friday, October 19
8:24 PM Just had a great time with Nate and Jessie getting up hay. We worked long after dark. Now it's time for dinner and then a nice long sleep before I try to bike 51 miles tomorrow. Tonight my back is a little tight. Probably picked up too many bales. I have never had chronic back trouble and I don't plan to start any time soon. For some reason, God's blessed me with a fairly strong back. But it's not invincible. Gradually, I'm learning to take care of my whole body. I keep it together by getting lots of rest, eating pretty well, and running my races at a reasonable pace. Huge believer in balance here. But I also don't think you should pamper your body all the time. I can't and won't exist that way. Doing no exercise is bad for you. Doing too much exercise is bad for you. The same could well be said about anything else in life. Most of us are on the doing too little side of the equation. I suspect that "extreme exercise" isn't a problem for many Americans. That said, a lot of injuries are overuse injuries. I may have overdone it a bit tonight. I need to do a better job of listening to my body. But in the end, I'll take the risk of performing hard physical activity over a sedentary lifestyle any day.
No doubt, however, that it was a gorgeous evening to get up hay.
12:20 PM Today was going to be a rest day but that's gone out the window, but I'm not complaining (much). Driving into town to run errands, I couldn't help but take this picture of my neighborhood.
Love it! The scene set a wonderful tone for my whole day. It reminded me of why I enjoy country life so much. My first love is doing "city" kinds of thing like teaching and writing and running races. But there's a country boy side to me that often surprises me. It's like living in two worlds, if you will -- the Food Lion culture and the Harris Teeter culture. And, to be honest, I also miss the climes of the island I was born on. (Kailua, we need to get reacquainted soon.) My advice for you is to try and live in both worlds as much as you can. Both have a lot to offer, and each needs the other (in my humble opinion). If you're anything like me, you're often too busy to stop and smell the hay. Pick a destination, be it a park or a mountain, and go for it. Life is far too short not to. When I get so busy that I can't enjoy a view like the one I saw this morning, then I'm simply too busy.
9:40 AM Sheba and I just enjoyed a walk on the farm on a crispy fall morning. The donks were so happy to see me! (Or maybe it was the carrots?)
Before going for a run I just have to say thank you to a few very special people:
1) My colleague Brent Aucoin, who lectured on "Race Relations" in our NT class on Wednesday. (We were studying Philemon and slavery.)
2) My OT colleague Mark Rooker, who spoke to our Hebrews class on the significance of Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8.
3) Alex Stewart, who's visiting us for a semester from Tyndale Seminary in the Netherlands, who spoke in our Hebrews class on perseverance and the place of good works in the Christian life. (Alex is the author of an excellent book called Perseverance and Salvation.)
4) My publisher at Energion for sending me copies of Becky's book in Mandarin, which I'm giving away to practically every Chinese speaker I know.
5) The cooks at the Seoul Garden in Raleigh, whose squid dish almost made me call 911 it was so deliciously hot.
6) To my buddy Rob, with whom I've worked for many years. Your legacy is more far-reaching than you will ever know, my friend.
Thanks to all but thanks especially to Jesus for walking with me, always.
8:04 AM "Not because they are easy, but because they are hard." With these words of JFK, the movie First Man ends.
As we saw last week in our Hebrews exegesis class, to live the Christian life is to choose "hard." As in H-A-R-D. No one can expect to live a lifetime entirely free of disappointment and suffering, much less the one who chooses to follow the downward path of Jesus. You will have to endure the bad you do not deserve. But you will also experience undeserved grace. God gives life, even in the midst of the hard. I will say that in the past 5 years I have never had to dig so deep in my entire life. But I never once thought about quitting. I realized that pain and suffering aren't reasons to give up but reasons to keep on going. Not just during an ultramarathon but in life. In a lot of ways, running mirrors life for me. It makes you stronger. When Becky died, death screamed at me. The pain was so great because it demonstrated the supreme value of what you lost. You wondered, "Will I ever hear any sound other than that scream of death?"
Today, that scream has become a whisper. But I never want to forget that scream of pain. God uses pain to reclaim us as His own, no matter how lost or lonely we may feel. This is the goal set before me as a blogger. I want you to read my words with your own life in mind. No matter what you're experiencing, you are not beyond God's reach. During the storm last week, many trees were blown over. But others remained standing, weathered and beautiful, alive in their newly-tested strength. Eternal life isn't just something "up there." It's grace revealed in the here and now, in the storms of life.
My story -- our story -- is being gradually transformed into a weather-beaten and graceful tree. We keep going, not because life is easy, but because it's hard.
6:55 AM Yesterday was a busy one, with trips to the post office, bank, store, gym, family, and the theater in Raleigh to watch First Man. I thought Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy did a stellar job of portraying Neil and Janet Armstrong.
I've read reviews that say the movie depicts both as too cold, their relationship as taking up too much precious film time. I couldn't disagree more. The stresses on marriage today are the same as they've always been: selfishness, bitterness, unforgiveness, misunderstanding of each other's motives. Nor can one bring back the dead to life (they lost their daughter Karen to cancer -- a thread that is the most heart-breaking one in the film) -- or recover the marital bliss perhaps you once had. As an astronaut family, once you make the decision to fly into space, there is no going back. You either face the future together or you don't. Neil and Janet Armstrong reminded me that, however difficult it may be, marriage is one of the greatest blessings of the Lord.
The wordless ending to the film will leave you speechless as well -- and shedding a few tears if not many. There is nothing like looking your spouse in the eye and, in silent communication, telling him or her you love them. This film is far more than a movie about our landing on the moon. It's more than just impeccable cinematography. It's an emotional gut-punch. See it as a married couple if at all possible, but see it you must. Films like this one truly remind me of just how much our nation (and families) are capable of when we put our minds and souls into something. I was 17 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I've been trying to walk on my "moons" ever since, thanks in part to the inspiration I've drawn from men and women like him.
P.S. Jason Clarke as Ed White was magnificent. I kept asking myself, "Is this same the actor who played Ron Hall in Everest?" How can an Aussie have such a perfect American accent?! I guess that's why they call them actors.
Thursday, October 18
7:44 AM It feels soooooooo good to be back on the farm after having lived either on campus or in a hotel room for the past 11 days. Today I've got "normal" work to get caught up on -- banking, grocery shopping (had to throw everything in my freezer and refrigerator away), post office, gym, check van tires, etc. Tomorrow we're getting up hay, and then on Saturday a friend and I are biking the 51 miles of the Virginia Capital Trail. I've done this once before and it was super fun. You start out in Richmond, take a shuttle to Jamestown, and then cycle back to your car in Richmond, traveling through 400 years of history along the way. We may even stop at a couple of the plantations on our way. Next weekend, of course, is the historic Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington. This will be my first time running the MCM. I'll be using the Galloway Method as I've done in the past: run and then walk, to a ratio of about 3:1. I know this race isn't going to be a PR for me. It's too hilly. But Phoenix might be (all downhill). However, in both races, I'll run for the love of the sport and not for a record. At the MCM, you might even want to slow down at the famous Blue Mile. If I can finish proud and happy I'll be satisfied. (Semper Fi!) Meanwhile, I've booked my hotel room for the Richmond Marathon in November and my flights for the Dallas Marathon in December, where I'll be staying with mom and dad in Murphy (just outside of Plano). Between now and then I've got a race in Birmingham, AL, in which I'll be joined by my daughter and her husband. It's "just" a 10K (ahem).
Well, gotta go. I must be boring you something crazy.
P.S. What? Not bored enough? This will certainly do it!
Wednesday, October 17
8:08 PM Hello everyone. It's been a while. This blog has pretty much bitten the dust but not because I haven't wanted to write an update. First, I was on campus teaching all last week. And second, we were without power from last Thursday night until yesterday. Hurricane Michael paid us an unwanted visit, and at least 7 tornadoes ripped through our area causing significant damage with pockets of catastrophic damage. 600,000 customers were left without service. Kudos to Dominion Virginia Energy for working tirelessly to restore power since Thursday. These guys and gals are heroes.
So, let's start where I last left this blog....
As you know, the High Bridge Ultramarathon was my A-race for this fall. And on Saturday I ran it – and finished.
An epic, epic, epic race! I'm so happy and grateful to God. My ultramarathon experience actually started many years ago, when I knew I had to keep active after Becky passed away. So I signed up for the race and I'm glad I did. I parked in Pamplin and got on the bus and was driven 31 miles to the trail head in Burkeville.
Before I knew it, the race had started.
I found that there were two things going through my head when I began to get tired during the race. "Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." Boy did I need that verse. The other was, "There's pizza at the end." By the end of the race, I just kept telling myself, "You can make it one more mile, Dave. Just take it one mile at a time." Unfortunately, right before the end there's a long hill you have to climb. My legs started to cramp up on me. At this point I was just trying to finish. But I knew that if I was going to reach my race goal, I couldn't slow down. All of a sudden there was a crowd of people shouting wildly. They were rooting FOR ME. I crossed the finish line so grateful to be done. (I could finally get that pizza I'd been dreaming about.) I was ecstatic with the outcome, despite the harsh trail conditions I experienced (remember, we'd just had a major storm and there were leaves and branches all over the trail).
I felt an immense sense of gratitude to God. After all, it was He who gave me the strength and will-power to finish. I drove home with the satisfaction that I ran the best race I could. It reflected the training I had put in and the level of fitness I'm in. Above all, I was uninjured. The weather was perfect. The race organization was superb. Whenever I experienced a really low moment, I would inevitably come to an aid station where the volunteers were bending over backwards to help you refill your water bottles and prepare a PBJ for you to refuel with.
I learned to be mentally tough and to keep going. In the end, I think I executed the best ultramarathon that was in my body. Thanks to all my friends who were sending me texts and emails during the race. Thank you, family, for your love and support. And thank you, Becky, for inspiring me to take up running. I may have been there physically running without you, but you were always there in spirit.
Overall, the High Bridge Ultra was a fairly flat and easy course for my first ultramarathon experience and I would recommend it to anyone. Do you have to be fast? Most emphatically, no! I'm not a fast runner. In fact, I do not even consider myself to be an ultramarathoner. Or a marathoner. Then why do I do these races? We live in a country where we are constantly being reminded of how unhealthy we are – our love for fast food, our laziness, and inactivity, etc. So if something comes your way that will help you to make your life better, why not try it? Running a marathon or an ultra is the ultimate "Take a hike!" to being unhealthy. Some of my family members have just started this journey to better health, and they're discovering they can do more than they ever thought they could. At least they're getting out there and trying. And that's what this sport is all about. Yes, I suppose there are some runners who assume that marathons and ultras are to be run and not walked. What do I care? The last time I checked, you just have to cover the distance. And that's true whether you're running your first 5K (3.1 miles) or your first 50K ultramarathon (31 miles). I knew there was a cutoff time (and it only makes sense to have one), and yes, I knew I could be asked to stop running by the race director. But that's just a chance you have to take. You're a big boy. You can handle failure and disappointment. Thankfully, when I hit the 19-mile cutoff point, I was an hour and 40 minutes early. Sure, when I finally did finish the race, most everyone else had been dining on pizza and veggie burgers long beyond I arrived at the refreshment table. Nobody cared in the least. There's plenty of room in the running community for slow runners like me. Run, walk, crawl – I'll do whatever it takes, folks.
On Saturday, when I crossed the finish line of the toughest race I've ever been in, the race director couldn't wait to personally congratulate me. He knew that every person who started the race that day had their own personal goals and the mere fact that you crossed the finish line later than others didn't change that fact in the least. Your "fast" is probably someone else's "slow" anyway. For me, running has never been about pace. It's about covering the distance in the allotted time, accomplishing a big hairy audacious goal, and finishing the race upright and under your own power. In Saturday's race, the last-place finisher came in at 9:39. That's two hours slower than when I crossed the finish line. It's all about personal achievement and individual goals. My goal was to finish in under 8 hours.
Maybe someone else's was to finish in under 10. So what? I'm doing MY thing, not anyone else's. The fact is, I'm friends with some really fast runners, and not one of them has ever been anything but encouraging to me. I think everyone who wants to try an ultra or a marathon should do so. Even if you fast-walk it. That's far more exercise than most people get in a week. You know, there's a moment right before water boils and water freezes. It's an infinitesimal point at which a seismic change is about to take place, yet it still lies dormant, just below the surface. It's a point at which you have one last chance to change things, for better or worse. So I think it's wonderful that so many people want to experience a long distance race. I say to all, go for it!
In gratitude to God, who made my race possible, I made a donation to help fight lung cancer. It's part of my fundraising page for the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon this month. If you'd like to join me in this effort, my LUNGEVITY page is here. I've almost reached my goal!
Speaking of marathons, I've put together my marathon schedule for 2018-2019. My philosophy? If there's a race you know you really want to do, you better do it now before life gets in the way. I used to think my goal was to run 8-10 marathons every year. All that has changed. I probably would get burned out mentally or injured physically if I tried that. My goal now is a more modest one. I'm not interested in most of the "marathon majors" like Berlin or Paris or London. I've been to Europe many times and I don't feel the need to return. Instead, my heart is set on competing in a few races that everyone raves about. So here's my lineup (in its "current manifestation," that is).
I love marathons. Each time I line for up for a race I think of the many times I've stood there before. No matter how many lows I go through I know I'll eventually come out on the other side. Each marathon I run shapes me into a better person, just as my many travels mold me. Whenever I run, I want to run because I love to run, because I love the challenge, and because I know God is granting me the strength. I know that one day I may never feel like running again. That will be okay too. Even if I never take another step, I will always have happy memories of my races. I expect that running will always be a part of my life, but even if it isn't, I’ll always be a runner.
On a (somewhat) related note, here's my "Greek Exegesis of Hebrews" class from last week, just after we had enjoyed lunch together at the Forks Cafeteria in downtown Wake Forest, thus culminating a fun (and arduous) "marathon" of study from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm every day, Monday through Friday.
If there's one thing I took away from our study of Hebrews it's the need to be constantly encouraging one another in the body of Christ, as Heb. 3:13 reminds us ("Encourage one another"). Especially when we see a fellow believer struggling to hold on to his or her faith, we need to come alongside them to support one another in the race of life. As we saw in class, Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that we need to give (and receive) encouragement from other Christians. And this is to be a habit of life, not something we do occasionally. See this couple?
I fell in with them during Saturday's race and they paced me for several miles. Sometimes I would take the lead, sometimes they would. But we drew strength and encouragement from the mere presence of each other's company. And as an added side benefit, you experience more clearly the "team" nature of the sport. Although each of us runs an individual race, in another sense we all run it together. My prayer for myself after teaching Hebrews for a week is that I will stop being so focused on myself and learn how I can become an encourager to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Who do you know who needs strength today? Encourage them! After all, Paul clearly says in Rom. 15:14, "You have all the knowledge you need and are able to instruct one another."
Well, I know I've gone on way too long in this blog post. I'm really not one to yak forever about my running with the people I meet every day. Nobody has ever told me I talk too much about running. And if they should ever do so, that's fine. I'll talk to them about Greek instead. That will clear the room like nobody's business.
Monday, October 8
4:52 AM Yes, it's really 4:52 am. It's also a new week, which means it's time to write down my weekly goals. Not just think about them. Research reveals that you are infinitely more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. I learned this lesson late in life. Let's face it. I'm a guy who grew up in Kailua, Hawaii. Nuff said. Shaka bruddah and all that. Time doesn't exist in the Islands (the Hawaiian Islands, that is; Manhattan, Staten, and Ellis are different stories). Since then, however, I've become a huge fan of goal-setting. When you write down your goals, be sure they are realistic, challenging, and specific. Don't just say "I want to run 2 marathons in 2019." Write, "I want to run Boston and Chicago in 2019." Doing this could actually change your life. Here are some of my goals for the week:
By the way, I have a phenomenal book to give away. It'll go to the first person who requests it. Or, if you don't like book giveaways, you can go ahead and buy it yourself ($11.99 paperback, $1.99 Kindle). U.S. residents only.
Sunday, October 7
4:42 PM Man alive. It's only 6 days until my first ultramarathon. I'm getting oh-so-close. I hope I've got the momentum I need to carry me through. By now, it's hard not to believe that I was once a spectator and not a participant in sports. The best advice I ever got after Becky died was, "Keep active, Dave." Early on, that became my philosophy. Keep calm and plow ahead. Run your race. Stay the course. Don't look back.
Running for a cause bigger than yourself is one of the sport's greatest gifts to us runners. When I ran my first marathon that raised $7,000 for UNC Cancer Hospital, I thought to myself, "Now that wasn't so hard." This month I'm running the Marine Corps Marathon to raise funds to help beat back the awful scourge of lung cancer. I've never heard anybody say anything negative about charity runners, except perhaps those who run at Boston. Even then, you criticize a charity runner at Boston, you're in the minority. Those of us who changed our lives for the better through running understand the need to run for a cause. No, I'm not running to change the world. (Only Jesus can do that.) I'm not running to heal the sickness in our political system that is broken perhaps beyond repair. This month I'm running to maybe, just maybe, ensure that a family might not have to go through what my family went through when Becky was diagnosed with cancer.
And so this month has become sort of a watershed for me. It's the month I will attempt the impossible. So if you see me on the High Bridge Trail this coming weekend, plodding along at the back of the pack, digging deep to make it just one more mile, don't be surprised at my persistence. For those of us who started running later in life, the sport of running transcends any single race. As runners we approach all of life with a new perspective and accept the demands and challenges of the sport as opportunities to become a better person. Moreover, if you're a Christian runner, you can ask Christ to fill the empty place in your life and He will. What's impossible for us is possible for Him. As Heb. 1:1-4 reminds us, He created a stunning universe and bathes it in His love. And now He whispers in our ears, "With my help and strength, all things are possible."
12:40 PM Hebrews, Hebrews, Hebrews. Been eating, drinking, and sleeping this writing for the past several days. I simply can't get enough of this book -- the only letter in the New Testament that is technically a "word of exhortation," or a homily. By the way, have you ever read Hebrews in one sitting? Or listened to it all the way through as an audio file? I have. It takes about 45 minutes to listen to it in its entirety. Which, for you pastors out there who are constantly been told to limit your Sunday morning messages to 30 minutes, you now have indisputable and unassailable proof for the 45-minute sermon!
So then, I woke up early this morning with one thing on my mind -- Hebrews, what else? -- but I also had an insatiable craving for two of those marvelous pancakes you can only get at Denny's, so I drove to Henderson in the great state of North Carolina where I inhaled my hotcakes in about two minutes and then put the final touches on my lectures over Hebrews for the week. Our course is not based on the English Bible but (as you might have guessed) completely on the Greek text of Hebrews, which means that rather than jumping head first into the exegesis of the text I'm going to ask my students to translate some practice Greek sentences into English for me as a sort of pre-test to see where they stand in terms of their proficiency in the language. This is necessary because everyone has had different beginning Greek teachers and textbooks and you can't exactly assume that everybody has attained the same general level of proficiency. I'll be focusing on participles for the simple reason that the New Testament in general and Hebrews in particular is, we might say, "participle-loving." In other words, before delving into the text of Hebrews this week (which is the equivalent of running a marathon), we're going to do some warm-up exercises and some "stretching" if you will. The book of Hebrews itself says we are to "train" our senses in order to move on to perfection (5:14), and in 6:1-3 the author doesn't say "Let's leave aside all the difficult subject matter and return to the basics." On the contrary, he moves in the exact opposite direction. No more milk, y'all! Let's go on to the meat! Take them Children's Menus away! It's time to order from the Adult Menu!
In addition, I want to remind my students that in class we'll be taking a linguistic approach to the Greek language, even though I am hardly an expert in Greek linguistics, having never taken a a course on the subject. But I've learned tons from linguists and consider linguistics an absolutely indispensable tool to add to our toolbox as exegetes of the New Testament. Not all agree with me, of course, perhaps the most notable example being a dear friend of mine who used to teach in California. However, I agree with Moisés Silva that linguistics can and should be integrated with the so-called "secular" science of linguistics and that such integration works to our advantage and not to our disadvantage. Interestingly, the church father Clement of Alexandria, in discussing Heb. 1:1 ("God spoke in many forms and in many ways"), took this to mean that God has not only spoken through the Old Testament but also through philosophy (Platonism especially), although he did insist that Scripture is always to be the final criterion for truth. The following is taken from Clement's Stromata, Book 1, chapter 5 (titled "Philosophy the Handmaid of Philosophy"). First the Greek:
And here's the English:
Now let's be clear about something. Being a linguist doesn't mean that you speak many different languages. People who can do that are called polyglots. All polyglots are, in some sense, linguists, but not all linguists are polyglots. Linguistics is indispensable because it can help us speak and think more logically and systematically about how language works -- all languages, including the Greek of the New Testament. That's why, in addition to parsing verbs and looking up words in a Greek dictionary, we'll be discussing such matters as verbal aspect, word order, rhetorical devices like paronomasia and alliteration, and the discourse structure of Hebrews. The use of linguistics in seminaries is continuing to grow, and is often cross-disciplinary in scope. Are all the questions about Greek linguistics answered? Of course not. But fear ye not: we're holding a major conference on this subject in April of next year, to which all of my beloved readers are most cordially invited.
Commentaries will also help us negotiate the waters of Hebrews this week. I've already mentioned my favorite commentaries on Hebrews. But each of them needs to be read with caution. Much of scholarship nowadays is simply repeating arguments that we may have picked up from another scholar or in seminary. In one major evangelical commentary on Hebrews I read this morning, I noted that the writer dismissed the Pauline authorship of Hebrews in a single footnote by citing such "evidence" as "the author uses different formulae to introduce quotes from the Old Testament" -- an assertion that's easily refuted (see p. 5 of my book The Authorship of Hebrews):
In other words, the use of "he says" would not be expected so much in a "letter" per se as it would be in a "sermon" that was delivered by Paul and perhaps recorded and published as a written text by Luke, as argued by Pitts and Walker ("The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship," Paul and His Social Relations, eds. Stanley Porter and Christopher D. Land [Leiden: Brill, 2013] 143-84).
So why am I telling you any of this? There's a 100 percent chance you won't post this to Instagram. I'll tell you why I love Hebrews. Because it challenges me to grow up in my thinking. If Jesus is the heart of the new community, people are its building blocks, and the church can only be as strong as each individual member of the building is. Of course, this is holy territory. It takes more than linguistics and rethinking age-old arguments to make Hebrews come alive in the twenty-first century. But don't let that stop you from trying. There is no alternative to careful study of the text. We may be imperfect, but we have a perfect Teacher and a perfect Textbook, thank goodness.
P.S. This morning I noticed that it was 32 miles from Denny's back to my farm.
That's the distance some crazy people will try to run next Saturday in an event called an ultra. Oh my. Don't these people have any sense at all?
Saturday, October 6
1:44 PM Three years ago I ran my first half marathon. Today I completed my 16th. That's an average of one half marathon every 2.25 months. The crazy adventures I've had while running halfs keep me coming back for more. Whenever I start feeling lazy, or that I'm tired of all this running business, I remember how great it feels to finish a grueling 13.1 race. Plus, sometimes in addition to the finisher's medal you get an accessory that says you won first place in your division. I am living proof that it really is possible to reach a big goal like running half marathons without being super fit, super athletic, or super fast. That's when you realize what this running thing means in your life. Finishing a half marathon reminds you that you can finish what you start, to be strong, to not whine, and that God can make your personal dreams come true. Moral of the story: Even if you never liked to run growing up, running will embrace you anyway if you give it a try. And, once you start, you'll be coming back for more. Just lace up and go.
A few pix:
1) At the starting line on a cool fall morning.
2) Now here are some really athletic-looking runners.
3) The first of two bridges over the historic Appomattox River.
4) I hadn't gone 4 miles when the winner of the race comes flying by me. Everyone was cheering him on loudly.
5) Mile 12. Still pushing hard.
6) Nice swag.
To sum up: Overall I had a great morning and a reminder that:
I really had to dig deep during this race but I feel it was the perfect "long run" for me to do before I face the challenge of next weekend's 31-miler. If you're looking for a fun local race with gorgeous weather, this is the one for you.
Time to nap before getting up hay. :-)
5:00 AM Off to the races. "For in Him we live and move and have our being."
Friday, October 5
7:32 PM This panorama captures only about half of the field we've been baling the past three days and we're still not finished.
If it doesn't rain tonight we can try and complete this cutting tomorrow. Then it's off to the next field. Grateful for dry days after a long wet spell. Right now I need to grab some supper then turn in early since I've got to leave the house early in the morning.
Enjoy your weekend!
10:58 AM I just spent about 3 hours in Hebrews and 1 hour weight lifting. And I'm starved, even though I had a huge breakfast this morning. I have neither brain fatigue nor tired muscles, but I do have an insatiable hunger. Funny how mental exercise is as taxing on you as physical exercise is.
Off to mow. After lunch, that is :-)
6:10 AM The weather at start time (7:30 am) for tomorrow's half marathon is predicted to be 70 degrees with overcast skies but without rain. Winds will be light and variable. Dry conditions will prevail in our region until Thursday, which means we're getting up hay every evening from now until the Second Coming. Bottom line is: Nobody really knows what the weather will be like save One. Runners run in all kinds of weather, including freezing rain (as in April's Boston Marathon). Am I a little obsessive about the weather? Probably. You have to be when you spend so much time outdoors. Sometimes I'll run a race in lousy weather, as I did on New Year's Day 2018 in Allen, TX, where the temp was 1 degree. It was definitely my least favorite race but one I'll talk about forever.
The guy behind me is actually smiling.
I try not to use weather as an excuse not to run, though if the humidity is too high I might bow out of an event. The St. George (Utah) Marathon was hot but the humidity was practically nil. Lightening is another thing altogether. That's a no-no. I am actually terrified of it -- and we get lots of it in the summer. Any weather but thunderstorms. Otherwise, I run in every type of weather and will even run in the rain. Oh, one other surface I won't run on is ice. It's just not worth the injury. It's pretty rare around here but we do get ice occasionally. I know some people who run in icy conditions and I just have to roll my eyes because that is dumb. My motto for the fall and winter is: "The temps may drop but my running won't stop." You just have to get out the front door before your brain knows what you're doing.
The moral of the story is simple and basic: Don't stop going outdoors just because the weather isn't perfect. I'm ready for cool temperatures. One big tip would be, wear a hat. You won't believe how it keeps your whole body warm.
Four additional thoughts for now:
1) Here's another great quote from John Stott's biography. Stott once wrote:
I hope that encourages you. It does me.
2) From Craig Keener's commentary (on Heb. 1:1-4, p. 93):
I'll have much more to say about this in class on Monday.
3) Here are some of the "towel-and-basin" ministries my NT students are performing this semester as part of their grade.
Note: These are all voluntary ministries for no pay. I could say a lot more of why I'm requiring these works of service. It's through serving the Lord that we develop our spiritual muscles. And there are as many types of service as there are tastes and abilities. The main thing is to show our love for the Lord by giving ourselves in service to Him. All Christians are called to fulltime Christian service. Without service there can be no growth into Christian maturity.
4) Finally, look what was published this week.
I am soooo blessed! God gives His people a special capacity to cope with their problems. He clearly did with this Becky. God may be seemingly not there, but He is actually always there, even at the moment of death.
To order Becky's book in either English, Spanish, and (now) Mandarin, go here.
Thursday, October 4
7:50 PM Today I had the joy of having lunch in town with one of my sons (meat-lovers pizza no less).
Then I got up hay with another.
Those of us who live in the country may have our fast food restaurants and our fast cars, but everything else moves slowly, as in crawling. Even filling up the gas tank takes forever. This has to be the slowest gas pump in the state of Virginia.
But who cares? No one is in a hurry. When the truck battery died out in the field, I drove my car into town to get a new one and the guy at the register? My next door neighbor. We chewed the fat (of course) and then I drove back to the farm. And didn't see another car. Think about that for a moment.
Life in the slow lane.
Living in rural Virginia is teaching me how to be happily unproductive, to embrace quality over quantity, to spend time with people, to slow down and enjoy life. Rural living is not just a lifestyle but a Weltanschauung. It's where we live, to be sure, but it's also the place we call home. Space between mail boxes. Actually seeing the stars. Crops growing right up to the front steps. Petunias planted in tractor tires. Slowing down for horse-drawn buggies. Goofing off with your grandkids.
Most of us wouldn't trade it for the world.
8:42 AM Next Monday we'll be covering Heb. 1:1-4, Heb. 2:1-4, and Heb. 3:1-6 in our Hebrews class. Here are the commentaries I've been reading in preparation for class (these also happen to be my fave commentaries on the book):
It's this latter volume I'm requiring my students to purchase for the course. I like Attridge's commentary because it's:
I'm amazed at the author's scholarly ability and his mind for this sort of work. Not everyone can (or should) write a New Testament commentary. I've passed up offers in the past to write commentaries on both Hebrews and Philippians. I'm just not cut out for the job. But I'm thankful that others are. Be forewarned, however: Attridge is not loathe to use technical terms in abundance (salvific, protological, exordium, paraenetically, alliteration, assonance, pejorative, catena, Sitz im Leben, misconstrual, periphrasis, a fortiori, etc.). No doubt, as we read Attridge, we'll be learning English in addition to Greek.
P.S. Below is the opening of Hebrews in Codex B (Vaticanus). For "bearing" (pheron) in 1:3, the original hand of B reads "revealing" (phaneron).
This reading was later "corrected" by some scribe. As you can see in the margin (barely -- sorry for the small photo), a third scribe rebuked the earlier "corrector" with the words, "You ignorant and wicked man, leave the original alone; don't change it!" (or perhaps more literally, "You unlearned troublemaker, forgive the ancient one; don't convert him!").
Note, too, the placement in Codex B (and in our earliest manuscripts in general) of Hebrews right after 2 Thessalonians -- the position Hebrews, I believe, should have had in the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament but doesn't. Instead, Hebrews is placed at the end of the Pauline epistles. The Tyndale House Greek New Testament is supposedly based on Tregelles, but the latter placed Hebrews after 2 Thessalonians.
6:40 AM Yesterday in our NT class I began a discussion of the history and theology of the Pentecostal Movement, beginning with Montanism and then moving forward through church history (Wesley, Revivalism, the Holiness Movement, Pentecostalism, Neo-Pentecostalism, the Third Wave, etc.). When we meet again after the break, I hope to lead the class in an in-depth look at 1 Corinthians 12-14. In doing my research and exegesis, I've been helped by those who've gone before me, especially Carson, Blomberg, Donald Gee ("the historian of the Pentecostal Movement"), R. A. Torrey, D. L. Moody, Bruner, John MacArthur, J. P. Moreland, and Craig Keener. I'll be encouraging my students to read both Strange Fire and its response, Strangers to Fire. Michael Green's I Believe in the Holy Spirit is also very helpful. If the current evangelical renewal in our churches is to have a lasting impact, then there has to be much explicit attention given to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the issue of tongues has divided us. Some nod their assent. Others turn away in disgust. However, wherever the Holy Spirit is at work, truth matters. I don't hesitate to say that anti-intellectualism and Scripture study are mutually incompatible. The Spirit is "the Spirit of Truth." Yet if Acts 2:42 can refer to the teaching of the apostles, Acts 2:43 can refer to their many signs and wonders. What is the application of all of this to us? How much continuity and discontinuity is there between the book of Acts and the church of today? Wherever we end up on the spectrum of beliefs, one thing will be clear: The Spirit of God always leads the people of God to honor of the word of God. And He does so in a most loving manner. Neither the "tongues" person nor the "knowledge" person" nor the "faith" person (1 Cor. 13:1-2) can do without love. They will never make others feel small or unwelcome. This is because theological knowledge without Christ's love is a poverty-stricken distraction. "Love is not irritable" (1 Cor. 13:5) -- a truth that the divisive Corinthians needed to be reminded of. Today, this very day, regardless of our theological persuasions, we can do no better than to ask the Spirit of God to shed His love in our hearts and overflow to God, to our brothers and sisters in the church, and to outsiders (Rom. 5:5).
P.S. From 1971 to 1998, I lived in Southern California, which at the time might have been the world center of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, so I got to see the debate firsthand. Polemics on both sides were rife. The teachers at my largely non-Charismatic school (Biola/Talbot) asked us students to keep an open mind and to keep the Scriptures front-and-center in our thinking. I am glad they did so, and I will forever be grateful to them.
Wednesday, October 3
8:40 PM I have a mostly healthy relationship with food, but tonight I splurged and had a hot fudge sundae at the MacDonald's in town after I went grocery shopping. It tasted sooooo goooood. I really can't ever imagine going through life without chocolate. I've pretty much disregarded the scale at this point :-) I've got 4 busy weekends of activity and I don't plan on not enjoying food during my training. I'm working out, resting, and eating a fairly decent diet, so I don't really care what the scale says. I eat to live instead of live to eat -- except, of course, when I get a craving for sundaes. Then, all bets are off. My body is a temple and I want to