December 2015 Blog Archives
Thursday, December 31
5:34 PM A picture from every hike and trail ride in 2015:
1) March: Randolph Farm (Virginia).
2) March: Pickett's Charge (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania).
3) March: Mount Vernon (Virginia).
4) April: Pamplin Historical Park (Virginia).
5) May: Shangri-La Guest Ranch (Virginia).
6) May: Lanikai Cliffs (Hawaii).
7) May: Diamond Head (Hawaii).
8) September: Sharp Top Mountain (Virginia).
9) October: Occoneechee State Park (Virginia).
10) October: Lucky Cliffs (New York).
11) October: Flat Top Mountain (Virginia).
12) October: Staunton River State Park (Virginia).
13) October: Koko Head (Hawaii).
14) November: McAfee Knob (Virginia).
15) November: The Round Tops (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania).
16) December: Umstead State Park (North Carolina).
17) December: Pilot Mountain (North Carolina).
What fun. Hope to do even more this year.
12:38 PM Worked out. Did a 5K at the Tobacco Heritage Trail.
The first of my 2016 hikes (yes, I started a day early). Only 51 to go. It is wet out there.
Back to writing ....
8:54 AM Yo folks!
There's good news and there's bad news on the weather front. The good news is that the sun will start shining again after a week of rain. The bad news is that the weather will turn cold, as in tomorrow's high of 51. I'm still hoping to participate in Saturday's 5K in Cary but since my lungs are sensitive to the cold air I may sit it out or just walk instead of run (the temp at race time is going to be a very cold 37). But that's not what is occupying most of my time. The project that occupies most of my passion these days is Running My Race, and I just finished writing the third chapter. This stuff is serious fun! In addition, I'm excited to announce that a Greek class will begin at Windward Baptist Church in Kaneohe in February. More details to come. Needless to say, I am deeply humbled and honored that they will be using my beginning Greek textbook and DVDs. My prayer is that God will use this class to prepare God's people in Windward Oahu to fulfill the vital role God has for them in the great kingdom movement He is inspiring in the Islands these days.
On a different note, yesterday I ran across these two essays:
I loved them! A lynch-pin in my thesis 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.
Finally, just want to say thanks for your emails this past year and wish you a very Happy Newness Year (Rom. 6:4). As a young student of the New Testament I met a Greek scholar named Harry Sturz who profoundly influenced my life and ministry. I would not be teaching Greek today had it not been for his sizable investment in my life at Biola. His combination of academic scholarship and evangelistic passion has been an inspiration and a guiding light for me during all these years. I hope and pray that my writing and example might bear fruit for the kingdom in the year to come, and that you will be encouraged, challenged, and inspired every time you stop by DBO and pay us a visit. Harry Sturz set an example for me. Who was the Harry Sturz in your life? Let's mimic their profound learning and evangelistic zeal in 2016, to the glory and praise of God!
Wednesday, December 30
11:22 AM Everyone matters. (Kleenexes out.)
9:12 AM Getting older bonus: Some songs from the 60s just seem to make more sense. To wit:
Yep. This June 9, I'll turn 64. Come near, dear one and listen: age can be a powerful tool in your hands. It can motivate you to be more than you ever were before. There's no need to lose that sprightliness in your step, the bloom on your cheek, the life in your day, the gleam in your eye. Necessity dictates that you either become active or you decay. Ronald Reagan's fitness program is an example we can all follow. He stated an eternal truth about exercise when he said, "I have found that one key to exercise is to find something you enjoy." The fact is, unless you enjoy what you're doing, you will never persist in it. "The other key," added Reagan, "is to keep exercise varied." Even duffers like me vary their training routes and run different distances and with different intensity. Reagan also felt that exercise is best done outdoors. I agree heartily. Yesterday, after weight training at the Y, I couldn't bring myself to run on the treadmill. "I'll wait for a break in the weather," I told myself. Indoor exercise is at best a poor substitute for the great outdoors.
No matter how old I get, being active remains one of life's most rewarding experiences. It's about getting the most out of what I have (which, admittedly, isn't very much). It doesn't matter. I usually finish a 5K in the middle of the pack. But I like to remind myself of what one runner once said: "All runners are equal; only their times are different."
I am suggesting this, friends: Find out who you are, and run your race. Not all pastors are alike. Not all teachers are the same. Thank God for the differences! I can say with some confidence: If you find God's will for your life, you will be happy and content. Then you can begin to work with other happy and contented people to accomplish something great for Jesus. Church, we are all on the same team. That includes you house churchers and you traditional churchers. That includes evangelical Baptists and evangelical Methodists. We are cross-cultural and cross-denominational. We are intentional about overcoming the effects of consumerism (nothing turns off a millennial as much as a preoccupation with our church). The church is not central because it was not meant to be. (The Greek word for "church" is best rendered "community." Now I can go for that!). We resist partisan identification as Democrats or Republicans because discipleship requires an abstinence from ego, greed, and selfishness. Pastors stop being caricatures of their real selves and become real and transparent. We may even begin to change the way we think and act (instead of "Halloween is evil" we start alternative observances in order to leverage the holiday for the Gospel). We lead with love, not with doctrine (yes, I love doctrine, but love comes first according to 1 Cor. 13:13). A Christian gets a tattoo or nose ring and we compliment them and let it go. Enough of church-speak and condescending stares. A missional approach to life puts other people first.
Folks, don't let your church get crabby. We still need old, traditional, aging churches. But we've become flabby and out of shape. We're sleeping while our communities are floundering. We've become homogeneous Christian packs. No wonder the world often maligns and rejects the church.
I agree with the 17th century English poet John Dryden that "none of us would live past years again." Today and tomorrow hold the key to becoming better and becoming more. The past is simply the beginning of the process -- whether we're talking about physical fitness or spiritual fitness. You can't get younger. But you can, by the grace of God, get better.
P.S. Paul McCartney wrote this fabulous song when he was just 16.
Tuesday, December 29
11:08 AM Just back from the gym, where I tried out my new selfie stick for the first time.
Exercise is crazy work but it's good work. Today I'm ordering the accessories to my GoPro camera. Listen, just to be able to get up and around at my age, I feel myself blessed beyond what language can express.
8:52 AM Reader, brace yourself: I think I'm getting serious about this hiking business. Ironically, the more I take responsibility for my spiritual development and growth, the more interested I become in taking care of the old bod. It really is simple: setting goals for yourself that are just a little bit out of reach, trying your hardest to reach them, and then resetting those goals just a little bit farther. So I've decided to join the 2016 52 Hike Challenge -- which basically means you try to accomplish 52 walks/hikes/climbs in 2016, and the length or elevation or size doesn't really matter.
As it turns out, I was wanting to get more into hiking this year anyway, so why not give this a go? I've also downloaded a really cool app called AllTrails that allows you to access basic information (location, distance, elevation) about all of the major (and some minor) hiking trails in the U.S. The app will be very useful, I think, and will at least allow me to maintain the façade that I am cool and smart and really athletic. (Please don't tell anyone I said that.)
As you might guess, the next hike I'd like to do is the Hanging Rock Trail. It's actually located pretty close to the last hike I made -- Pilot Mountain. My weather app is showing a break in the rainy weather this weekend. So we'll see. The fine people over at Ultimate Kilimanjaro recommended that I get a few major climbs under my belt before trying for Kili, and that makes good sense to me. I'll start small and take baby steps. So my goals are shifting a bit. I think this year Kili is out but a Mount Hood climb is a good possibility. That, of course, would come after the Grand Canyon and Bryce and Zion. Honestly, I don't know where all this will lead. And I really don't care too much. I'm just having the time of my life doing it.
Oh, I've signed up for my next 5K. It's scheduled for this Saturday in Cary, NC. I stared blankly at its name: Run to Change the World.
First obvious question: Isn't that a bit audacious? Which brings me back to why I do these crazy events. I really do want to change the world. Cancer is terrifying. So is arthritis. You can't go through life being entirely apathetic. The best I can do is play my part, give what I can, and tell others there's no Savior as good as Jesus. He's the only constant in life, the only One who's held things together through the ages. He can do the same for me and you.
Enough for now.
Monday, December 28
9:18 AM I've become a huge fan of adventure, mountaineering, and extreme sports. An armchair fan, of course. Which means I read anything I can get my hands on about the Everest Disaster of 1996, in which 8 climbers lost their lives on a single day. For anyone not familiar with this tragedy, Lou Kasischke's After the Wind marks a fine entrée.
Those who died were climbing far too late in the day, became immobile, and were in no condition to make it back to the safety of High Camp. One of the expedition leaders, Rob Hall, was still climbing for 17 of the 18-hour planned round trip to the summit and back. Beck Weathers was left at the Balcony, blind and alone. And at 4:30, assistant guide Andy Harris was still at the South Summit, far from safety.
Five of the eight climbers on Hall's team did the right thing. They made the decision, independent of their leader, that it was unwise and unsafe to continue. They said no to Rob. Had the other climbers stuck to their agreed-upon turnaround time of 1:00, they too would have been saved.
Those who survived were independent, self-reliant thinkers.
At noon on May 10, still hours from the summit, Rob Hall faced a dilemma: Keep going, or turn around? He kept going, ignoring his own (literal) deadline. He was under the influence of huge and powerful forces -- the head-to-head competition with Scott Fischer's team (amazingly, both teams decided to summit on the same day, causing a huge bottleneck at the Hillary Step, as seen in the new movie Everest), ego and pride, the personal recognition from setting a world recent for ascents of Everest, the anticipated magazine publicity (a journalist had been embedded in Rob's team), and the competition for future expedition climbers.
The only correct and ethical course of action was to turn around no later than 1:00 so as to remain faithful to the agreed-upon team turnaround time and as a matter of mountaineering safety.
A final thing: Rob led his climbers from behind instead of out in front, where he should have been, especially since he had untested assistants that year. Andy Harris, who was then in the lead, had never been on Everest before, whereas Rob had had seven previous Everest expedition experiences.
Life is all about choices. Sometimes the most important choice is to say no. "Not today. I'm turning around." Sadly, not only heroism and self-sacrifice, but obsessive ambition and raw rivalry, were on display that day in 1996.
If you are an armchair adventurer like me, you'll love this book. It's Lou Kasischke's farewell to Everest -- and to climbing. (He never climbed again.) Whether you plan to visit the Himalaya region or get winded simply going up a flight of stairs, you'll love this tale of adventure -- and true wisdom.
P.S. I spent a few days in Birmingham visiting Matthea and her family. Jon is now pastoring there. Their new home is beautiful, and the kids were, as always, a delight to be with it. I even had the honor to share about missions on Sunday. We had a little excitement when, on Christmas Day, a tornado struck Birmingham. Three houses were flattened but, thankfully, no one was injured fatally. Trust you had a safe and enjoyable Christmas wherever you spent it.
Thursday, December 24
7:58 AM Time for a blogging break. Let's continue to open our hands and point each other toward God and call out our blessedness. Merry Christmas!
Wednesday, December 23
4:28 PM I have no idea how people do it -- come up with book titles. Before I settled on Running My Race, here were a few ideas I jotted down on my ever-present yellow note pad. Zany, huh?
Some I underlined, others I highlighted, and eventually I crossed them all out. Aren't you glad?
Back to writing!
2:08 PM Hey there, internet warriors!
You'll notice a dearth of blog posts here at DBO about politics of late. That's pretty intentional on my part. Oh, I peruse the same political websites you do and I watch the debates and I read the daily news. But honestly, so little of what you read nowadays is trustworthy. Take this headline I saw today: "US blocks UK Muslim family from boarding plane to Disneyland." Okaaaay. Last time I checked, there is an airport in L.A. and an airport in Orange County and an airport in Ontario, but not one in Disneyland. As for the reason, it was never stated in the article, though one MP in Great Britain is trying to blame it on The Donald. Who knows what went down in the airport? Maybe one of the family members is not a U.K. citizen and didn't have a visa to enter the U.S. (U.K. citizens don't need a visa to fly to America.) Maybe one of them is on the no-fly list. That happens, folks. (Senator Ted Kennedy was once stopped for being on the no-fly list by mistake.) Maybe airport security knew something we don't know. Who knows! This I do know. Every nation I've ever visited (and that's a ton of nations) is a sovereign country and as such can allow or deny me entrance at the drop of a hat and without any explanation. And why blame it on Trump? You'd think that maybe president Obama made Trump acting president while on vacation in Hawaii. That's just insane. At the same time, let's say real discrimination was involved. In that case, I would hope that someone would get into trouble, big time. But folks, I can't with integrity say who's right and who's wrong in this case and neither can you. For my two cents, I can't see how politics and Christianity are compatible. The church is set apart precisely because it's not a part of the world system. At the same time, I grant that immigration is indeed a question of justice. But whose view of justice are you talking about: the left's or the right's? The Christian "cultural revolution," it seems, is backfiring. Let me ask you: During the Reformation, whose view of justice was at work when Christians of all stripes were literally killing their enemies, including their fellow Christians? I'd like you to consider something else too. As Christians we have an obligation to distinguish between what is a kingdom issue and what is not. The Anabaptists refused to recognize a state church and, as a result, were sent to their deaths by the thousands (without fighting back, mind you -- except for a loony who thought he was ushering in the Last Days). Paul's "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20) is not wishful thinking on his part or an outlandish platitude. The context here is the key. Paul is contrasting those who set their minds on earthly things (3:19) with those who focus their attention on their heavenly citizenship (3:20). As Christians, our executive authority is not on earth but in heaven. We are nothing but resident aliens here on earth, from which "we eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (3:20). Now that will preach at Christmas! "Caesar Augustus is our savior," boasted the Romans. Christians, however, have experienced a radical change in allegiance. Listen to Rush or Shawn and will you hear that message? Not on your life. You see, if your hope is based on an earthy agenda, you look to Caesar (government). But if your hope is based on your heavenly citizenship, you'll look for the coming Savior from heaven. The essential difference between the risen Christ and all those who would "save" us is Christ's unrivaled sovereignty, authority, and power. Christ, not Caesar, controls all things. Christ, not Caesar, displays the power of God. To Christ, and not to Caesar, are subjected all things. Therefore, Jesus Christ alone deserves acclamation as "Lord." It's just that simple.
Then what about justice? Notice how Jesus Himself protested against injustice when He was here on earth -- not by advising Caesar (or Pilate) but by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of government. Please don't misunderstand me. I most certainly do believe in human rights and political freedom (democracy). But I do so not because I'm a Christian but because I'm an American. So let Christians continue to debate the virtues of this or that candidate. Let's celebrate and be grateful for the religious liberty we enjoy in the U.S. But did you know there are probably more born-again Christians in China than in any other country, including the U.S.? Most of them are meeting in illegal home churches. For the most part, they have no church buildings, no sanctuaries, no religious freedom. Are they missing out on something important? Of course not. Naturally, if you do have freedom and the right to build church buildings, then give thanks to God. Let's just be careful about investing any of these blessings with Christian significance. Actually, God does not live in our buildings. It would so helpful if we could avoid using terminology that implies that He does. Christ has brought an end to religion. So let's not go back to the old covenant. The New Testament's emphasis is always on one thing: Let the followers of Jesus Christ imitate His selfless love to all people and at all times.
There's my "political" reflection for the day.
11:10 AM Good Day, folks! I've spent all morning writing. I tell you, writing a book is easy. But writing a good book is as hard as trying to break iron with your bare hands. Part of the challenge is maintaining a high level of creativity. The other nasty part is managing your time. At this stage, I'm just sitting here at the computer pounding out a first draft. This stage of the game is incredibly fun and exciting but it's also tiring and I need to take a break at least every two hours. I keep telling myself, "Take your time, Dave. Enjoy the ride." I finished one entire chapter this morning and hope to complete a second this afternoon. The book is not so much about my life as it is about life. I hope there's enough challenge and hope and adventure in the book for all of us to benefit from. I am writing for people who love to read. And I am writing as your friend. I'm really committed to transparency as an author, but in this book I'm doing more than what I did in It's All Greek to Me (my academic biography); I'm trying to mix things up -- a little dash of theology here, a little scoop of confession here. I want to explore lots of topics but I want to hang them on one clothes line: running the race that God has set before each one of us. It's about the crazy and strange and scary and scared things that happen to us when we follow hard after Jesus. I hope it will be a funny and tender story. But you'll have to make that call. Though people often challenge my diagnosis, I am an introvert, so sitting here alone at my computer desk suits me fine. Trust me, the book won't be perfect. But I'm giving it my best, as I have with my other books. Writing is important work, a sacred trust from the Father. So thank you, yellow note pads and HTML and people who write me encouraging notes and those of you who are praying for me. Oh my stars, I am enjoying this!
P.S. Here's the crowd that attended last year's Society for New Testament Studies meeting in Amsterdam.
Because of my schedule I am able to attend this year's meeting in Montreal -- the first time in a while as I will actually not be on a mission trip during the first week of August this year. Of the 15 seminars being offered at SNTS this year, I've chosen to participate in "The Greek of the New Testament" (led by J. Voelz, J. Pelaez, and P. Danove). As for other trips in 2016, I've finalized my trips to Asia (March), regional ETS at Dallas Seminary (beginning of April), Hawaii (end of April), and my Grand Canyon hike (July). Still in the planning stages: return visits to India and Ethiopia, a second trip to Asia, and, of course, Tanzania (Lord willing, and I'm really not sure if the Lord is willing!). It sounds creepy to put that in print, but it's hard enough for to decide what life is offering at this moment so why should it be easy for me to determine what God wants me to do 12 months from now? Today's the only day I have to sizzle and pop in His name, so stop your dithering and get back to work, Dave!
Tuesday, December 22
12:32 PM It's the holidays, but that doesn't mean you can stop eating healthy food. Here are some great Holiday Food Swaps from My Fitness Pal.
11:58 AM Good article: The Benefits of Winter Running. Great advice here:
Now if only I could slow down enough to heed it.
11:35 AM You'll never ever ever guess what Fed Ex just brought me! It's from someone who loves me very much and whom I love very much. Unbelievable! Mind-blowing! Amazing! I have no words! Blessed my socks off! Can't wait to take it with me to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Monday, December 21
4:55 PM Hello bloggers,
I spent the weekend writing. Now comes the hard part -- the compulsory self-mutilation, the painful deleting of unnecessary sentences, the obliteration of phrases, the tossing out of useless adjectives. I just rewrote practically everything I wrote yesterday. All in a day's work.
I've shelved Godworld for the holidays. I felt I needed a short break from this 10-20 (or 30!) year project in order to work on another, shorter book I'm calling Running My Race: Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and 40 Years of Christian Ministry. Well, it's supposed to be shorter but it's already up to around 300 pages. It's basically a prequel of sorts to Godworld but much less exegetical in nature. Many of you have asked me to write something about how I coped with Becky's death and what it's like being a widower, and those subjects will be a big part of the book. At any rate, here's the working table of contents. As I said, I've been working on and off on this project for a long time and I hope to get most of it done this January since I'm not teaching J-term Greek in who knows how many years.
Running My Race:
Reflections on Life, Loss, Aging, and 40 Years of Christian Ministry
Very Important Up-Front Stuff
Part 1: Lists
New Year’s Resolutions
Signs You’ve Entered Your 60s
My Favorite Things about Living on a Farm
Some Fun Facts about Me
If I Had My Life to Do Over Again
The Ten Commandments of TED Talks
My Top 20 Songs of the 70s
25 Books You Need in Your Library
My Favorite Towns in Europe
Similarities between Studying Greek and Running a 5K
Convictions about the Local Church
A Few “Thank Yous”
Part 2: Teaching
Gone But Not Forgotten
Choosing a Doctoral Program
Why Do We Ignore the Fathers?
Advice for Seminarians
Laptops in the Classroom?
Lessons from the Life of F. F. Bruce
On Being a “Pauline Scholar”
Do I Really Need German?
The Message of Mark
How to Debate a Liberal
Mark Twain on Education
Cessationist or Continuationist?
The Purpose of Scholarship
Part 3: Marriage
How I Met My Valentine
Why Did I Marry Becky?
Becky from A to Z
How to Thank Your Wife
The Seasons of a Marriage
When Your Spouse Gets Cancer
The Importance of Remembrance
One Month Later …
My First Easter without Becky
Lessons at 6 Months
One Year Later …
“But She Died So Young!”
I Will Laugh Again
Part 4: Grief
The Night Before She Died
Surprised by Joy
The Murdered Child’s Club
Choosing to Love
God Does Not Owe Us a Spouse
That Blank Space Next to You
A Prayer for Becky
"The Lost Chord"
A Trapeze Moment
Ambassador for Christ
Requiem for a Wife
Part 5: The Church
Let’s Think about Church for a Minute
Everyone Gets to Play
The Church No One Wanted to Join
The Gift of Giving
Seek First the Kingdom of God
"Let the Little Children Come to Me"
The Lord’s Snack?
Truth from an Orchestra
The Company of the Committed
The Church in 10 Years
Part 6: Missions
The Purpose of the Church
The Gathering Exists for the Going
Missions Paul's Way
The Fallacy of Paul the Theologian
Three Convictions about Missions
"The Church and Evangelism"
Short Term or Long Term?
How We Build
Love Your Enemies!
How to Change the World
Part 7: Growing Older
The American Dream
Taking Care of Your Temple
Easy Isn’t for the Christian
The Importance of Mentoring
On Being an Anabaptist (Sort of)
Now That You've Read This Book ...
In the meantime, I got the tractor tires replaced and made some headway on prepping Maple Ridge for our retreatants next month. Tonight I'm going to start reading these interesting-looking books that arrived in today's mail.
Don't you just love Amazon Prime?
See ya later!
Sunday, December 20
2:52 PM Today has been a day of recollection and introspection. It's also been a day of reflection on the future. Gail Sheehy, author of the book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, was interviewed recently on NPR. Sheehy's book traced the "passages" of life through the age of 55 only, so I was intrigued when she was asked, "Now that you're 70, what have you learned about life after 55?" Her answer both surprised and delighted me. In essence, her response was that people go through a "second adulthood" once they get past 55, and the chief mark of this passage is that they no longer have to "have it all" but have learned to be content with "enough."
I can attest to that.
Reaching mid-life was indeed a bit of a crisis for me, partly because I was never taught about coping with transition by my elders and partly because the so-called "mid-life crisis" is often joked about but rarely discussed. But I like Sheehy's distinction between "all" and "enough." I once read that men and women who live to their 65th birthday usually end up living to 85 and, if they become widowed, can actually learn to enjoy their independence. Sheehy, who (like me) watched her spouse die a slow death, seems content to be single at 70, and is still productive -- still writing, still interviewing, still living. To put a spiritual twist on things, for me aging has meant operating in life from a completely different motive I had when I was younger. Verses like Eph. 6:6 -- "As the servants of Christ, conscientiously do what you believe to be the will of God for you" -- take on new meaning. No, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the kind of ambition I had when I was in my twenties, but the nature and focus of one's ambitions can make all the difference in the world. The older I get, the more I realize just how much we are made out of dust and how we need lots of grace. And this grace is something that God supplies plenteously, sufficiently, and at times even abundantly. I've known that grace. I've experienced it time and again. I know that kind of love because I know that kind of a God.
Really, folks, I don't mind getting older. The closer I get to glory, the better I can see the Unseen. Friend, don't fear old age. Find an older person whom you can follow because they display God's beauty -- someone like Becky whose faith was as radiant as a summer sunrise despite being trapped in a body withered by cancer. Despite her disease, her smiles were bigger and her praises louder than anybody I ever knew. Not a day goes by when I do not thank God for her testimony and ask Him to make me like that. The amazing thing is that it's within our power to decide how we will face life.
Saturday, December 19
7:28 PM Tonight I'm studying Phil. 2:1-4, Paul's prescription for unity in the church. Remember that the Philippian congregation was undergoing disunity of the worst kind, and the back-biting was beginning to leave deep teeth marks. Paul's approach to this problem is so un-cool it's downright cool. "Listen up, folks! God hates division. So get your act together, and do it now!" Well, maybe I'd have written it that way. But not Paul. He was much too wise for that approach. Before he got down to the commands -- and believe you me, there are some very specific and some very straightforward commands for unity in the second half of the letter (see 4:2-3) -- Paul first seeks to engage our prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that helps us make good decisions.
At the age of 15, I could have cared less about my prefrontal cortex. I was blasé about the local church. I felt trapped in the little Baptist church I was attending. Too many hypocrites there. Too many know-it-alls too. (Ever meet someone with orthodox theology who was totally screwed up in their personality?) "Besides," I opined, "what about all those verses in the Gospels picturing Jesus as having long hair and wearing mariachi sandals and saying things like, 'Yo dudes, surf's up!'" (15-year olds aren't known for their mastery of Scripture.) Why, the Marines in our church were even trying to convince my mother to make me cut my hair. I so wanted to be like Jesus -- always on the go, moving from place to place like the wind. "It's ridiculous, this church stuff," I kept telling myself. "Why does the hymn leader have to flap his arms like that? Besides, he looks silly in those box-framed glasses!" My church was the great outdoors. Worship meant catching a few big ones for Jesus. Hawaii was hipster heaven, man. Who needed to put up with "church" with all its politics and squabbles? "Hang loose, brah!"
Fast forward 50 years ....
Today I'm probably the most committed church guy you'll find anywhere on the planet. It's not that the church has changed. Remember that thing called the prefrontal cortex? Yep. I started using it. It allowed me to learn some pretty awesome truths -- such as: the church that binds me to Christ is also the church that binds me to an imperfect people. Sure enough. God was beginning to take my head down a size or two. So back I went. Of course, I knew I was taking a huge risk. I knew that by plugging back into my little Baptist church I could get screwed. But ... there's that truth again! Jesus loves His bride. Ain't no simpler way to put it. And that one truth -- that one picture of unconditional love -- hit me square between the eyes. Jesus loves us? But we're so lame! We're so "righteous"! Our families are so dysfunctional! Still, He loves us. "God," I would tell myself, "You really do love in mysterious ways."
I hope that during this Christmas season the world sees in your church family and mine a community that can't stop belly-laughing because Jesus loves us and has saved us -- despite all the "despites." Yes, we can be an argumentative bunch at times. Smug too. Did I mention divisive? The local church is the biggest mess around, but clearly I belong here because every Christian does.
So, then, how does Paul deal with the disunity he sees in the Philippian congregation? More on that later....
1:00 PM Arrived at the track today intending to do nothing more than a 5K but the weather was so invigorating I ended up doing a 10K. Total miles to date: 295.7.
Just ate this.
Yes, I prepared it myself. Not bad for a guy who loves to cook but only Chinese stirfry.
Back to house cleaning.
9:50 AM Good morning folks! Hope you're having a great Christmas so far. In case we've missed the point:
Remember, this is the Jesus who says ... "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you .... Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:27-29; 35-36).
It's been a crazy few days for me. The tractor now has not one but two flat tires ... just bought a new printer for my home office but can't figure out how to install it (Dr. Google -- help!) ... read a chapter in a dissertation ... began cleaning the house ... looked online for a GoPro ... finished the schedule for Greek 2 for next semester. In the midst of all of this I've been on the phone. A lot. I love what I do but I'm ready for a break. I finished Jon Krakauer's terrifying book about climbing Everest last night. I think he is profoundly right about the way mountaineering has become commercialized to the point where it is shooting itself in the foot. Not only this, but there's the modern concept that, given enough time and money, one is free to do what whatever one wants to do in life without any consideration for the feelings of others -- a view of life that I passionately reject. The bottom line is that sports and hubris are often a fatal combination. I found Krakauer's book a compelling demonstration of this truth. I heartily recommend you read it even if your plans for hiking go no further than climbing the stairs to your bedroom at night.
Now on to something slightly more important.
Yesterday I had a long talk with a friend of mine about self-supporting elders. It's a very complex and ambiguous topic, but I recommend Gerald Hawthorne's commentary on Philippians, especially his discussion of 4:10-20. Here he makes the following points about the passage:
1) Although Paul championed the right to be supported by those to whom he preached, he preferred to support himself by manual labor.
2) He insisted on doing this for three reasons (cf. 1 Cor. 9): He wanted to offer the Gospel free of charge. He wanted to ward off any accusations that his mission was a pretext for greed. He wanted to set the proper example for others.
3) Paul never hesitated to ask for money -- for others!
4) The Philippians' gifts to Paul were unsolicited and violated Paul's strict principles.
5) Paul, therefore, must insist on his own financial independence even as he gratefully acknowledges their generosity towards him.
6) Paul is "self-sufficient" (the Greek is autarkes) -- completely independent of external circumstances, people, and things.
7) His self-sufficiency is relative, however. He can face any circumstance only because he is "in union with the One who infuses me with strength" (4:13).
It's pretty evident that receiving gifts from others was a very sensitive issue for Paul. It was a matter that required both firmness and tact. Hence he thanks the Philippians without really thanking them. (Some have called Phil. 4:10-20 Paul's "thankless thanks.") The value of their gift was primarily as an expression of the work of Christ in them. Paul is, I suppose, the classic example of a tentmaking missionary. He does not seem to have been concerned about his finances. The Lord had indicated to him that he should work for his own living -- something he is eager to exhort his fellow believers to do as well (Eph. 4:26; 1 Thess. 4:11-12). Yet he was humble enough to graciously receive unsolicited gifts. The only thing he would not do is ask for money for himself.
Most of us find conversations about Christian finances difficult, as did Paul. We, like the Philippians, must be in vital touch with the Lord when we give. We must be prayerfully open to sensing His leading towards the individual He wants us to help or bless financially. I am certain that I have missed many opportunities because I have been too distracted by my own agenda. Serving Jesus is costly. The Philippians knew this well. So did Paul. During the day he preached; during the night he plied his trade. The truth of the matter is that Paul, united with Christ, was able to face life confidently, irrespective of the aid of others. He was "untroubled by the vicissitudes of life" (Hawthorne). He lacked nothing. And this is true partly because he was willing to support himself. And yet at the very same time the Philippians went out of their way to help him. Their motive was nothing other than pure love for the man. Beautiful.
I find that this principle is perfectly practical in today's world. And I am quite certain that the combination of a high work ethic with a generous spirit of giving (and receiving!) is a great attraction in proclaiming and demonstrating the Good News. So think about it: Who perhaps needs a special gift or blessing from you this Christmas? Okay, let me be more specific. Would this not be a good time to honor your leaders who serve so sacrificially with a token of appreciation? I'm not talking about that mega-church superstar who is wealthy. Most of our pastors lead fairly normal lives and live in fairly normal circumstances. I love pastors. They give so much of themselves. For Pete's sake, they probably give too much of themselves to their ministries. (Some of them are learning how to share the burden, thank God.) But the fact is, many of our churches are staff-led and program-driven, and this slowly builds a culture of overextended workers. I am suggesting this: we are a family, brothers and sisters. If you see a need and can meet it, do it -- regardless of who the recipient is. That's what I love about church. It's all so basic. Because they were precious to each other, everyone pulled weight, pitched in, gave so that others might be blessed, and lived ordinary lives with Gospel intentionality. Also? Church leaders, at least the ones I know best, own their place. So be lavish with your appreciation towards them. Even a card saying "Thank you" goes a very long way. But the main thing is that we learn to live with a ridiculous "others first" mentality that only those who are secure in the love of Christ can pull off.
Merry Christmas, and happy giving!
Friday, December 18
4:36 PM I was emailed recently with an interesting question: "What do you think about the New Testament in Hawaiian Pidgin?" Seems there's a discussion taking place somewhere out there in cyberspace about the usefulness and even legitimacy of this version of the Bible. My opinion? "Ain't no big ting, bruddah." I'm not an apologist ("I have all the answers and so can you") and so I don't feel the need to defend a Bible in my heart language. Sure, it's more of a paraphrase than a translation (like The Message), but I read it with ease and pleasure (as I do The Message). I'm glad to see that an attempt is underway in Hawaii to de-stigmatize my mother tongue. (Go here.) This is an important issue that deserves consideration. However, I can tell you, most of us local folks aren't really into the politics of Pidgin. We just enjoy speaking it in certain situations (like when you're ordering a meal in a Chinese or Korean restaurant in Kailua). Actually, we Pidgin speakers are completely bilingual. For us, Standard English is no pilikia. If you didn't grow up in the Hawaiian subculture, this problem makes zero sense to you. Listen. Any yahoo can criticize this or that Bible translation or paraphrase. (To this day I get emails about the ISV New Testament, even though I haven't served as its New Testament editor for many years now.) I'll tell you why I love the Pidgin Bible. It fosters community. Of course, other Bible translations do the same thing. There's the KJV crowd, for example, and on campus the ESV is the version of choice. So let's not overcomplicate matters. Are there people who speak Hawaiian Pidgin/Creole? (Yes, there's a bunch of us.) Do they find the Pidgin Bible helpful? (Apparently, many of us do.) Do they rely on it as their primary study Bible? (Very few of us do, I dare say.) You guys, can we meet somewhere in the middle? There isn't anything wrong with the Pidgin Bible. Or with the KJV. Or with the ESV. But each is optional. I mean, each is a result of its own culture. So if you want to get to know local Hawaiian culture, you'll need to become familiar with Pidgin. But let's not begin with a lopsided equation by assuming that our favorite translation is best or has the most to offer.
Actually, we should all learn New Testament Greek and be done with it.
9:58 AM As I'm doing my research into the Kili trip for next year, I've noticed that many amateur mountaineers are doctors. That sort of makes sense. People who've earned a doctorate tend to be overachievers anyway. They also tend to go overboard with new hobbies. Consider for a moment the physical and emotional demands running a simple 5K places on you. Life is like a race. The Bible says as much (Heb. 12:1). If doctors want to excel in life, they must be competitive. I've come to discover that every one of my fellow racers is striving for his or her personal best. And my personal best is completely different and separate from your personal best. This is running in its purest form -- we're simply trying to discover our physical and emotional capabilities. I'm trying to be the best Dave Black I can possibly be, win or lose. Becoming an athlete is a lifelong task. We are forever occupied with expressing what is latent within us. To do that we have to be very good choosers. By this I mean that we are constantly faced with choices that lead to wholeness and fulfillment. If we are followers of Jesus, a similar thing happens to us. Paul says as much in Phil. 1:10 when he prays that the Philippians "might prove the things that differ" (so the Greek). This strange construction is usually rendered "might know how to make the best choices (in life)," and rightly so. It is no great feat to distinguish between things that are different. But extensive perception is needed to decide with certainty what things in life are really excellent and worthy of our support. Is that cause worthy? Is that person worthy? As Barth puts it, "small things should as small be seen, and great things great to us should seem."
This ability to choose the things in life that really matter is essential for successful Christian living. There are causes I once supported and people I once trusted and aided but not any longer. The time, energy, effort, and expense are no longer worth the investment. Again, the ability to discern this is a gift from God. It is something we cannot rely on the flesh to accomplish. God alone is the source of all goodness and truth, knowledge and wisdom. The gist of what Paul is praying in Phil. 1:9-11 might be summarized as follows: "I pray that your love for one another might not only be an ever-increasing love but a discriminating love. True love is never mere sentimentality. It is always accompanied by those twin virtues of knowledge and understanding -- intellectual and moral insight. The result is the ability to recognize and then choose the truly essential things in life so that through our lives Jesus Christ is allowed to generate all kinds of good deeds that bring honor and praise to the Father." Such spiritual growth, my friend, never happens in a haphazard way. We must always be trying to make what is potential and latent within us a reality. We proceed through stages. In terms of racing: we walk, then we jog, then we run, and finally we participate in that 5K. Each stage is an achievement in itself. None of them is easy. Growth -- whether as an athlete or as a Christian -- is a lifelong struggle. We can't assume that at any particular stage we will "arrive." No, says Paul. Love must be ever-increasing. And it increases through discernment.
Incidentally, in this "race" for spiritual maturity, everyone can be a winner. Life is a game anyone can play and play well. But the labor must be done in the right way. There are physical laws that govern our physical bodies and spiritual laws that govern our spiritual growth. We must unflaggingly pursue excellence in both of these areas. For models of physical fitness, we look to those athletes who are at their physical best. Likewise, in the church we are to follow the examples set forth by those who serve Christ humbly and sacrificially. Timothy and Epaphroditus are two models the Philippians should mimic (Phil. 2:19-30). Such true servants of Christ must be held in highest esteem because of what they have done for the cause of Christ and for their self-renouncing motivations. Had not Epaphroditus nearly died doing what the Philippians themselves wanted to do but were unable to do? "Continue to join with one another in imitating me, my brothers and sisters," writes Paul (Phil. 3:17). "Keep your eyes constantly on those who live according to the pattern I gave you." Like a well-trained athlete, Paul lived life to its fullest. "Forgetting what is behind me, and stretching forward to what lies ahead, I keep running toward the goal marker -- the prize to which God calls us in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14). Here Paul pictures the entire Christian life as a race and as a runner who is pressing on to reach the goal and win the prize. Every part of his existence -- body, soul, mind, spirit, emotions -- are thrust entirely into the contest. Every true Christian knows what this is like. We are put here to run in the race of life. And everyone from the gold medalist to the last finisher can rejoice in a personal victory. We become great by doing our best. We are all heroes, but in our own ways. Everyone who has competed in a 5K knows that feeling. We have no other wish, no other thought, than to finish the race. We are constantly striving for our ideal self.
Dear friend, the question becomes: Are we as followers of Jesus Christ pursuing excellence, giving ourselves to Christ and His kingdom wholeheartedly? For me, running and hiking have narrowed the distance between what I am and what I can be. I think I'm finally learning how to play this game of life -- with lots of help from my friends, of course. Physical exercise makes us athletes in all areas of life. We're being trained in the basics of living and are ready for whatever comes, able to live one day at a time and to grapple with the challenges as they come our way.
So there it is -- why I exercise. My life, in all its aspects, depends on it. Clearly my body benefits, but so does my emotional stability and psychological health. My running, like my doctorate, enables me to compete in a highly competitive society. Exercise is a laboratory in which we learn firsthand such things as sacrifice and courage, perseverance and self-denial. When I exercise, I am able to distinguish the necessary from the optional, what must be done from what can (and often) should be put aside.
Thursday, December 17
4:42 PM One of the things I noticed as we studied Mark's Gospel last semester is the way in which Jesus patterned His ministry. Activity was followed by reflection. Work was followed by rest. Labor flowed into leisure. Markan scholars have called this phenomenon an advance-retreat pattern. Both Jesus and His disciples actively engaged in significant ministry. But at times they withdrew for reflection and evaluation. As you probably know, for years Becky and I have opened the farm to retreatants. In January, I look forward to welcoming 8 married couples from a Baptist church in North Carolina. This will be their second retreat at the farm. Have you discovered the joy of a retreat? On a retreat we move from our usual responsibilities to a new environment, hopefully one that is free from distractions so that we can return to our normal lives with renewed vision and purpose. Elders have retreated here, as have married couples, individuals, missionaries on home assignment, etc. I have more than a little sympathy for those who are trying to find the right balance between work and rest. God knows I've struggled with this myself through the years. Perhaps you need to get away before the New Year and rethink your priorities. Maybe you and your wife need to get away. You probably would have plenty to talk about. The whole focus of Genesis 1-2 is on the rest of God. Ideally, we find rest in our work. But even our work can become an idol. God graciously challenges us to spend time with Him alone. We can't neglect rest for the sake of work. Ministry requires both. Even Jesus did not make Himself continuously available to people. When necessary, He dismissed the crowds (Mark 6:45). Friend, being busy for the Lord is a good thing. But the wrong kind of busyness is, well, wrong. Like Mary, let's faithfully heed the call to sit at Jesus' feet this New Years and do the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42).
12:24 PM Quote of the day (Danny Akin at last week's commencement):
12:16 PM Another reason to drink coffee.
9:40 AM This amazing book came in the mail yesterday.
It's the story of Jon Krakauer's unforgettable (in a horrible sense) ascent of Mt. Everest in 1996. I've watched YouTubes of Jon and if there's one line you keep hearing over and again it's this one: "Climbing Everest was the biggest mistake I ever made." The PTSD is still with him. Kinda makes you wonder about the wisdom of trying to climb a 19,000 foot mountain when you are 64! I guess one of the lessons I'm learning about life is that you have to take life one day at a time. Know yourself, don't try to be all things to all men (except where the Gospel is in view) and, above all, know what your limitations are. "Give us this day our daily bread." Every stage of life has its struggles, but one of the greatest issues facing those of us who are aging is achieving that elusive balance between present realities and future dreams and aspirations. For example, I have urgent requests from both India and Ethiopia to make a return visit in 2016. That's in addition to all the work I do in Asia. Listen: I can't do it all, and neither can you. (As I typed that, I thought of the PTSD Mr. Krakauer is living with.) Reading the Gospels transformed my idea of greatness. It's not about being popular or becoming famous or getting the credit for doing something amazing. It has nothing to do with my titles or my degrees or my accomplishments or my publications. True greatness is found only in daily faithfulness. Like Jesus, we deliberately choose to be "servant" to others, including those in our own family. This is not the same thing as being subservient. When we do things for family members that they could be doing for themselves, we are not serving them well. We are allowing them to abdicate their responsibilities. The same applies in the local church. Serving others doesn't always mean we "go along to get along." Don't forget how often Jesus had to call out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. A church that stubbornly adheres to tradition (rather than to the Scriptures) needs to read and reread Mark 7. Jesus (who is The Truth) is the only stability a church will ever find. No matter how long you have wandered from the truth, dear local church, come back to Jesus. He creates the peace that can only come from Him. But I will tell you: unity without truth is no unity at all. We have to learn to give up our front row seats to Jesus. When Christ gave Himself to us, He gave us everything. Now He asks for everything in return. No holding back. No disclaimers ("But we've always done it this way!"). No escape clauses.
And so here I am, reading a book about a man who destroyed his life because of false ambition and pride and wondering, "Dave, be careful. You are not above making the same mistake." Remember the story Jesus told about a king who had an army of 10,000? "Can he face an enemy coming against him with 20,000?" asks Jesus. Whatever you and I are planning for 2016, let's be sure to first calculate our forces. The tower you want to build comes at an outrageous cost. The enemy coming out to meet you means business. Get to know yourself so well that you won't even flirt with unrealistic goals. Only in the sure knowledge that we are obliged to do the impossible are we ready to perform the task.
Don't be surprised, dear friend, as you travel 2016 with Christ, if you make some mid-stride adjustments. We are then in the position to receive grace. When I talk about "going all out for Jesus," I'm not talking about taking stupid or unnecessary risks. Even more importantly, as long as we see ourselves as competent to do anything, we do not qualify to follow Jesus. Because of their pride, people today are headed for trouble. There is no hope for any of us unless we confess, "Without You, I am nothing. I can do nothing. I will make an utter fool of myself and even destroy myself unless I lean into You each and every day."
And so I press on. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a gigantic void, unable to see the future. Sometimes I even find myself second-guessing my interpretation of Scripture as it might apply to specific circumstances in my life. Nevertheless, the one ray of hope that pierces through the darkness is God's unwavering love for me. If His lordship is really established over me, it makes no difference whether I live or die, whether I am healthy or sickly, whether I have all of my "goals" met or not. God has a future and a plan for me. This is my hope. I am not sure that God wants me to do everything that I have planned for 2016, but I am absolutely sure that He honors an obedient faith.
Wednesday, December 16
5:50 PM Evenin' pards! Let me tell you about the best kept secret in Raleigh, North Carolina. It's the Wm. B. Umstead Park just south of RDU and north of Crabtree Mall.
Yes, an oasis in the middle of civilization. The park boasts 20 miles of hiking trails in the most scenic and secluded areas of the park. Today I chose to hike the longest trail called the Sycamore Trail. It took me just a smidgen over 2 hours to cover its 7.2 miles.
If you want to enjoy the trails here, you know the routine: first stop off at the ranger station for maps and guides.
And then ... start walking! As you can see, the trail was deserted (as in: everyone's gone Christmas shopping).
I especially liked this bubbling brook and watching a deer family make their way merrily through the trees.
So this makes back-to-back hikes for me, and it's a routine I need to get used to if I want to do Kili next year. As a self-declared lifelong learner, learning to hike has been both fun and challenging at the same time. There's so much preparation to be done on so many levels. On the physical side of things, my constant weight is now 205 pounds (down from 245 only 8 months ago). I'm strong but certainly not in any shape for the rigors of a 19,000 foot mountain. Mentally and emotionally, I'm operating on a few different planes as you all know. But I believe hiking -- whether or not I ever hike Kili -- will keep me busy physically, mentally, and emotionally. I think my heart and lungs are in pretty good shape. My main concern are my legs and knees. Hence the goal of hiking more frequently and longer distances. The Lemosho Trail at Kilimanjaro involves a gradual ascent averaged out as follows: 4 miles on day 1; 5 miles on day 2; 6.2 miles on day 3; 6.8 miles on day 4; 3 miles on day 5; 2.5 miles on day 6; then comes the killer: 10.5 miles on day 7 (summit day); and finally, 6.2 miles on day 8. Of course, this doesn't take into account the rise in elevation. It's a giant aspiration to be sure. And my progress seems so slow at times. Facing anything like that in your life? Let me assure you: God is not intimated by our weaknesses. As a matter of fact, He is attracted to broken, damaged, struggling lives. You are a trophy of God's grace. Just take it one day at a time. Never wallow in self pity. Instead, soak in the warmth of His soul-healing love. Jesus walks before you, beside you, and in you. Amen!
Tuesday, December 15
6:48 PM Today, as promised, I hiked to the summit of Pilot Mountain State Park. (Not to the summit of Pilot Mountain itself; that is forbidden.) I drove for 6 hours total and put 285 miles on my car but it was worth it. Anyone who travels at all in North Carolina has seen this famous landmark. It rises 1,400 feet above the surrounding countryside and has served as a "pilot" or guide to Native Americans and early European settlers.
I reached it by taking US-52 north until I saw the exit for the Pilot Mountain State Park. Then I simply followed the signs into the park. To get your bearings, the park is about 15 miles north of Winston-Salem and 15 miles south of Mount Airy. The closest towns are Pinnacle and Pilot Mountain itself. Before beginning your hike, be sure to stop by the visitor center and get a map and guidebook to all of the park's trails.
There is also an excellent display of local flora and fauna.
The history of the mountain will also enthrall you. It was first mapped by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, the latter being the father of our third president. I chose the Grindstone Trail for my day's exercise. Be sure to follow the blue blazes or I guarantee that you will get lost up there.
The trail starts right across the street from the visitor center. My goal was to maintain a rigorous pace all the way up. I'd say I got my money's worth for sure. It was tough but very invigorating at the same time. I would rate the trail as moderate to strenuous. It gets steeper the closer you get to the summit.
Once you reach the summit of the park you are a bit let down when you encounter asphalt and automobiles again.
But who's complaining? You've arrived!
As I said, no one is permitted to climb "Big Pinnacle," but you can take a .80 mile trail that rings the mountain.
This is as close as you will ever get to summiting the pinnacle unless you want to break the law (rock climbing here is a misdemeanor). But at least you can see just how daunting a climb it would be to the top.
If you decide to take the hard way to the top instead of driving, congratulations. You've achieved something notable. The climb is not technically difficult and you don't have to be anything like a professional hiker to do it. My goal was to do the three miles in one hour. As you can see, I just barely made it.
On the way down, I decided to jog along the park's access road. It took me 18 minutes to descend two miles. I really pushed the cardio going up as well as going down. When I got home this afternoon I weighed myself and discovered that I was 10 pounds lighter than when I got on the scales this morning.
Again, Pilot Mountain is the place to be. I'd say it's probably one of the most accessible mountains for novices like myself. Thousands have climbed to the summit of the park trail, and so can you. The views are worth the effort.
Dump it in your bucket-list and you won't be disappointed!
Monday, December 14
6:14 PM Check out the forecast for Mount Airy, NC tomorrow. 66 and sunny!
Looks like a good day to hike Pilot Mountain. I think I'll try the Grindstone Trail.
5:52 PM Need a little Christmas cheer? Watch as this child signs to her parents during her school's Christmas concert.
The child herself enjoys all 5 senses. Her deaf parents, Lori and Tom, were understandably blown away!
4:48 PM So I see the trees I bush hogged yesterday have gotten their revenge.
11:46 AM Howard Marshall is now with the Lord. He was 81.
Read more here. Thank you, Professor Marshall, for being the ultimate proof that one can be a New Testament scholar and a fully committed Christian at the same time.
11:42 AM Just back from my daily workout (lifting, 5K). Total miles to date: 276.5. Thankful for good health. It's an undeserved gift from God, pure and simple.
9:18 AM Good morning, bloggerdom! Greek teachers love to debate the marks of a good sermon. Some say it's perfectly okay to use Greek from the pulpit. Others (myself included) think it's quite unnecessary. Sproul's famous dictum ("A great preacher is like an iceberg: you see only 10 percent, but underneath you sense the 90 percent") suffices for me. Last night I was listening to a sermon on the radio. As the speaker began to use Greek in his sermon, he excused himself by saying, "Greek is far more expressive than English" (which it is not). At one point he "corrected" the translation he was reading from, noting that "here the Greek has 'He emptied Himself'" -- which is precisely what many English versions have as well. Unreflective use of Greek can emasculate the message to the point of ineffectiveness. It can make you look foolish and pedantic, and can lead people to distrust the usefulness of their own English Bible translations. Not long ago I served as the editor (along with my colleague Allan Bevere) of a book called "In the Original Text It Says." The publisher's blurb reads as follows:
I could write at length about all of the exegetical fallacies unearthed in this marvelous little guide to exegesis. I must also mention the ground-breaking work by my friend Moisés Silva called Biblical Words and Their Meaning. Incidentally, such books can be marvelous ways to nurture younger Christians. But one thing is sure: Those who may know very little about the Christian faith will not be helped very much by over-exegesis.
Sunday, December 13
1:58 PM Greek 2 students, as we prepare to exegete the book of Philippians next semester, please acquaint yourself with some of the literature surrounding the question of local church leadership (see Phil. 1:1). Here's an excellent essay from Desiring God called What is the role of an elder?. Take note:
I might also point you to an essay I wrote called Church Leadership According to Philippians 1:1. Here's an excerpt:
Finally, please read How Many Shepherds Does a Church Need? Here Thabiti Anyabwile asks two further questions: 1) "How Do You Get More Elders?" and 2) "What Do You Do When You Think You Have a Potential Elder?"
As will be apparent from all this, leadership exists to equip the saints for their God-given work of service in the church and in the world. To be sure, pastoral work can be demanding and frustrating. But it offers great rewards to those who throw themselves into it with prayer, humility, and vision. As you probably know, I am not a pastor/elder/overseer. God has never given me the desire to exercise oversight in a local church setting. But I have great respect for pastors, and I count it a great privilege to hail many as close personal friends. Good leadership is vital in any local church. We will see this as we begin our study of the wonderful little book called Philippians.
10:12 AM One of my doctoral students is working on Paul's understanding of the Greek word for "body." The image is a gripping one. The body of Christ requires independence and harmony. It means unity in the midst of very great diversity. It involves mutual respect between its various members. It implies constant growth in stature and usefulness. When each part is working properly, says Paul, the body grows in depth, numbers, and maturity.
Is your body healthy? Is it growing?
I once belonged to the so-called Jesus Movement of the 1960s. It was a thrilling time to be a Christian. For us, the church was not a building, nor was it something you tagged on at the end of a busy week. It was the body of Christ. Did we have our problems? In droves. Like any body, we had our ailments. These included fractures (we often fell out with each other), amputation (we sometimes cut ourselves off from the gatherings), atrophy (we often sat and soaked instead of served), and elephantitis (some members were given far more prominence than they should have been given). The trouble with us Jesus Freaks was that at times we became smug and tended to look down on our less informed friends. We had found the true church, after all.
Today, the body still has its aches and pains. Is it time for another renewal movement? This past week I blogged about two aspects of the renewal movement that have provided challenges to the way we tend to do things in our evangelical churches. In the first place, the renewal movement is a challenge to our intellectualism. There is more to Christianity than knowledge -- so much more! Let's be careful not to intellectualize the Christian faith. In the second place, the renewal movement is a challenge to our one-person-leadership-model. One of the prime evidences of the Lordship of Christ in any congregation is when we realize that Christ offer His gifts to every member and equips them for service. Call it what you will -- shared leadership, a fellowship of leadership, mutual ministry, every-member ministry -- but this is one of the most important movements the church has known in its 2,000-year history.
If I were to add another way in which the renewal movement is challenging our current church structures it would be its challenge to institutionalism. A case in point is the church business meeting with its inevitable "vote." If monarchy is bad for Christian leadership, so is democracy. The church is a theocracy, under the rule of its Head, Jesus Christ. Decision-making should therefore drive us to prayer. Corporate prayer binds us with other communicants as members of the body of Christ. It is one of the great means by which Jesus pours Himself into our lives and grants us unity, amity, and mutuality. We vote and leave a disgruntled minority. The early church prayed and then did "as seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit." It is overwhelming to see Jesus build consensus among a congregation, even without voting. I witnessed it many times in a Quaker congregation in Southern California, where Becky and I attended briefly. This is a humbling reflection. We are far too prone to see decision-making as something that belongs to us. The early church made herculean efforts to avoid schism and dissention. Spiritual leadership is not natural leadership. I firmly believe that God gives all the necessary resources to every local church to discover the mind of Christ. Of course, there will be disagreements and perhaps some galling gaffes. But if members of a congregation are maturing in love and in positive self-criticism, these problems can be ironed out. Good decisions always come out of good relationships. Too often we are so divided as congregations that we are incapacitated. We do not bring God into the mundane affairs of church life. We fail to make serious efforts to think and act scripturally. We are drowning in a sea of individualism. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we should feel the need to bring everything to a vote. Here, as everywhere, the Spirit of the Lord makes all the difference. He cannot be tamed or intellectualized. And His is a charismatic leadership -- that is, He leads through all whom He has sovereignly given a charisma, which means all of us.
Much has been written on this subject, of course. One author has said:
The discussion continues here (see especially the comments section). I'm not sure the vote per se is the real issue here. It is our lack of consensus building. It is really possible for us to have the mind of Christ as congregations? I believe it is. We must expect it, pray for it, and welcome it when it comes. As I said, prayer seems to be the atmosphere most conducive to unanimity and consensus building. If you are going to take a vote on an issue of substance, perhaps anyone who votes should be asked to be present at a day-long prayer meeting beforehand. When our eyes are fixed on the Lord in corporate prayer, it is easy for Him to speak.
Saturday, December 12
7:38 PM Stop the presses! Peyton now has two toofies! Woohoo!
Which reminded me of this Christmas classic ...
7:26 PM I'm out of eggnog. Yes, I'm whining.
5:28 PM Farm update #2:
This is the last of our hay yield until next year. I can just see all the happy horses in Virginia and North Carolina who will be munching on the Blacks' fescue this winter!
Right now I'm cooking Chinese stir fry for supper. With my ultra-secret ingredient, of course. Then it's back to The Hound of the Baskervilles.
2:22 PM Farm update:
1) You know you live on a farm when you park the car on the side of the house and the tractor in the front yard.
2) Today I had to run down to the Valley to do some long-overdue bush hogging.
3) Now this field will be ready for haying next year. Yay!
4) Speaking of fields, it's December 12 and we're still getting up hay. Praise the Lord for the three cuttings He so graciously granted us this year!
10:32 AM Good Saturday morning to all of you! My life is very simple. I take it pretty much day by day. This present moment is what I live in. To make my point, at this very moment I'm sitting at my keyboard oblivious to all other activities. This activity will gradually and naturally lead into the next. It's obvious that I didn't participate in today's 5K in Durham. My body told me no. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said it best: "Let what appears best to you be an inviolable law." Yesterday I developed a slight cough, and the last thing a body wants is to push its lungs to the max when it might be fighting a chest cold. So right now I am writing. Writing this blog post isn't competing with anything else in my life right now. I eagerly await the words and phrases that will come out through my fingers. I do today what can be done today.
So what's on my mind this morning? Recently I've been doing a lot of guidance counseling with Millennials about their vocational goals and aspirations. Scripture is shot through with admonitions about the Christian's work, though we often forget to look for them. The next time you read Philippians -- our "textbook" for Greek exegesis next semester -- take a few minutes picking out what Paul says about work in chapter 1. Once you discover that God indeed has significant work for you to accomplish, everything else will fall into place. For example, notice that Paul had a very high view of his life's work. He knows he's facing the real possibility of execution at the hands of the Romans, but he accepts the prospect of his death as "gain" -- something far better than continuing to live on in the flesh. At the very same time, Paul realizes that if God should spare his life (which he suspects is what God is going to do), he will remain in the body in order to serve the needs of others, including the Philippians. Paul was therefore willing to postpone his own goal of "departing and being with Christ, which is better by far" so that he could do whatever was necessary for his friends in Philippi and elsewhere. As he so eloquently puts it, remaining in his physical body is more necessary than departing and being with Christ precisely because it will produce "progress and joy" in the lives of the Philippians. If, as I have argued in my Novum Testamentum essay, the theme of Philippians is working together for the sake of something bigger than ourselves, that is, working for the Gospel, then we see in Paul nothing less than the same self-emptying, self-humbling character of Christ (Phil. 2:5-11). And mark my words: The Philippians needed to experience spiritual progress and joy in the faith. Paul was convinced that he could make a real difference in their lives and a positive contribution to that end. When Paul thought about the possibility that he might indeed continue to live on in the flesh, he could only conclude that God still had "fruitful work" for him to do. Here Paul uses an agricultural metaphor. He thinks of the fruit that is produced by work. In Virginia one sees vineyards everywhere. Farmers know the cycle well: fruit, harvest, profit -- and all of it dependent upon physical toil and labor.
It's exciting for me to watch Paul develop his argument here. He was convinced that it was necessary for him to be reunited with the Christians at Philippi so that he could serve them and so that they in turn might bear more fruit for the kingdom. Life, for Paul, meant Christ -- fellowship with Christ and service for Christ. Thus, to go on living would mean for him continuous productive work in general and the meeting of the needs of the Philippians in particular. That's a win-win situation if ever I saw one. Now, the phrase "fruit of labor" (so the Greek) is ambiguous. It's a bit like, "I know a little German." The context here seems to imply that Paul had his missionary labors in view (cf. Rom. 15:18; 2 Cor. 10:11; Phil. 2:30). The idea seems to be, "Well, as long as I'm alive in this old body of mine there's good work for me to do for the sake of others, including helping you all grow in your walk with Christ and to experience the joy that a life of trusting God produces."
So, then, what is the work to which God has called (or is calling) you? What fruit does He hope to bear in and through your life? I am suggesting this, my friend: God has a special, unique work just for you. Teachers, mentors, counselors, friends -- these can help point you forward. But only you can know for sure in your heart of hearts. Please, I am not talking about making a "sacred" calling more important than a "secular" calling. Motherhood is no less a divine vocation than pastoring. And here's the deal: God completely understands your circumstances, your giftedness, your seasons of life, your foibles, indeed everything about you, and still He has a vested interest in directing your life path. Just go wherever God says you should go and do whatever God says you should do. Let Jesus wreck your comfortable life. Don't just assume that He wants you, for example, in the pastorate just because you've been to seminary. The stats are not on your side: 90 percent of pastors work between 55 and 75 hours per week; 70 percent of them fight depression; 80 percent of them believe that the pastorate has negatively affected their family life; and 70 percent of them don't have a single close friend. (See the survey I mentioned yesterday.) Listen: we are all called to be fulltime ministers regardless of our vocation and location! Find something that grabs you. Feel His pleasure as you do it. And if you do become a pastor, share the load. Not some but all are called to serve. Not some but all have a ministry to perform for Christ. This revolutionary call to every-member ministry and shared leadership is incomparably important in a day when so many pastors are burning out and changing churches every 3-5 years. But can it be done? Just ask the elders in my local church. Just ask our "lay" ministers who outnumber our elders by 10 to 1. The church is nothing less than people who are alive with the Holy Spirit. And I am persuaded that He is still willing to equip each and every one of us for service today. Don't deny your faults. Accept them. The way to lessen the impact of a fault is by developing a strength. And, honestly, knowing who you are -- knowing your own strengths and weaknesses -- is the beginning of wisdom.
I wish you well as you discover the person God made you to be. The main thing is not to quit on yourself. And if you run across someone who is genuinely struggling with the question "Who am I?", the word is empathy.
Friday, December 11
6:30 PM Here are two Christian responses to militant Islam. Each is worth your time, believe me.
As a church, we have not yet resolved this matter. Especially in an election year it's very difficult for us to get our bearings. I am no expert on this subject and I await further light on it. It is clear that much of what we hear on talk radio today is sheer froth. It can be safely said, however, that the two men I linked to above are writing honestly as they see things. It is also clear that these men are not all that far apart. I play no significant role in the debate, but I am open to being instructed by my peers. Of course, Christians should shun xenophobia. They should also remember Jesus' teachings about loving one's enemies. But they should also keep in mind that it was God who ordained human government. Whenever evangelicalism has been at its best, it has led to a widespread renewal of Gospel preaching. At its worst, it becomes a shrill for this or that political party. In my opinion, Christians on both the right and the left are allowing their kingdom message to get co-opted by their politics. My Christian brothers and sisters, only sacrificial love is the centerpiece of what it means to follow Jesus. At the same time, we can't pretend for a moment that government has no right to bear the sword, establish (and enforce) laws, etc. Again, I'm not denying the priority of the Gospel. Nor am I joining the ranks of those who are castigating certain politicians for raising concerns about insecure borders, the threat of terrorism, etc. But I am nonetheless very concerned that in the middle of the political debates we forget Jesus' radical teachings about loving our enemies. So, whatever else is at stake in the debate over immigration and borders, our picture of God should not be. We are told to fix our eyes on Jesus, not on any politician or even church leader (Heb. 12:2). So let's do our best to come to terms with the problems that are facing our nation, but for God's sake (literally) let's not leverage our faith on the outcome of any legislation that might be forthcoming.
5:40 PM The Lord gave us perfect 70-degree weather for today's commencement service on campus.
Again, I was impressed by the number of doctoral students (Ed.D., D.Min., Ph.D.) that graduated today (first several rows).
As Danny Akin said, this speaks highly of our faculty (my great colleagues!). I have several degrees, but I became a student by mistake. I ended up at Biola only because I wanted to study the Bible, not because I was a good student. The classes I took at Biola were precursors of many more at Talbot and Basel. Arguably, an ivory tower is not the best place to educate Christian leaders. But we can supplement the work of apprenticeship that local churches can and should be doing. I suppose Southern Baptist seminaries have attracted a good deal of scorn at times from those who feel us too conservative. But I can say without any hesitation that SEBTS is academically strong enough to hold its head high anywhere in the academic world, and its doctrinal basis is an enormous appeal to orthodox Christians of several denominational stripes. The greatest of all strengths that a seminary can have (in my opinion) is its unwavering commitment to the Great Commission. As President Akin puts it so often, "Jesus' last words were meant to be lasting words." Evangelism is in my blood and has been ever since I rededicated my life to Christ at the age of 16. Our graduates were reminded today in Danny's message that evangelism is always costly, for it springs from personal involvement and sacrifice. Just think of Christ's own costly self-giving for others! Today there is great suspicion over mass evangelism and even personal evangelism. The academic guild is largely dominated by post-Enlightenment thinking and postmodernism. No worries. The Gospel can handle all of that, and much more. Reason need not be pitted against faith. At least I have never considered reason to be a pitfall in studying theology. Once we open ourselves up to God the Holy Spirit, we cannot help but share the love of Jesus with others. The motto of Saint John's College in Nottingham is, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel." I want to keep sharing my faith until God takes away my last breath. Looking out at our graduating class today, I thought to myself, "Might we dare to hope for a move of God's Spirit in our nation?" I for one cherish that hope.
7:48 AM Pardon the cheese factor here, but today is graduation day and I'm pinching myself that it all went by so fast. I've just finished my 39th year of teaching if you can believe it. And now, in my sixties, I'm well aware that I've yet to reach my peak. The calendar tells me I'm 63 but my body has a calendar of its own and it tells me I'm no particular age. Honestly, sometimes I'm just too busy to notice that I'm growing old. My goal is to do something with the person God has molded through the past 6 decades. Age is held at bay through activity. Emerson said, "It is the old trees that have all the beauty and grandeur." Well, I'm not too sure about that, but I do know that when the world says "You've earned your rest" my mind says "Your life is only beginning, buddy." Everything I now am has been latent within me. I am still discovering what my body and mind can do. My life is so changed by regular exercise that if I don't get in my 3 miles every other day I feel miserable. The outdoors is the daily bread of life. And while I enjoy the company of others, I don't mind walking or running or hiking alone. I am no man's disciple. Enough will happen to me this very day that an entire book could be written about it if only I paid attention to it.
Alas, so many of our students go to school to learn what others think rather than to become thinkers. 19 out of 20 new textbooks say nothing new. Authors allow other people to do the thinking for them (and sometimes the writing too). We don't need Freud to tell us that many of us lead mediocre, dependent, inadequate lives. Fulfillment is indeed an elusive butterfly. My prayer for our grads today -- literally, as I will be giving the benediction during today's commencement -- is to remember that while they may be educated, wisdom comes only from God. Let's be honest: knowledge puffs up. I think it's a bit dishonest for anyone to call him- or herself a "scholar" when all of us know so little. Jesus told us to have the faith of a child. Children don't know, so they ask. They wonder. It's called curiosity. I believe the Spirit welcomes our questions -- questions about the church, questions about our theology, questions about our purpose in life, questions about our marriages and our families. That's one reason I like to read paraphrases of the Bible like The Message because they use words that are less familiar and cause us to think about what we're reading. See, I'm in agreement with those who say that the purpose of an education is to teach a person to think and to think critically. "Education is not the filling of a pail," wrote Yeats, "but the lighting of a fire." And education need not be limited to the classroom. Learning comes in different sizes and shapes. It's all around us. I aspire to be constantly learning and growing.
Why isn't this a reality for so many? Perhaps it's because we feel safer when we simply confirm others' positions. It's difficult to face our own blind spots. I don't mean to minimize the benefits of a formal education. I'm a huge proponent of schooling. But I'm convinced that an education can only take us so far. It's the first, not the last, step. We abdicate the quest for truth to the "experts" at our own peril. You, my friend, are capable of thinking on your own. The apostle John says that you have an "anointing" from God and have no need that any man should teach you. We are already equipped, enabled, positioned for the great journey. We have the keys! I trust no leader who comes across as a know-it-all or one who lacks a limp. Arrogance alienates Millennials as much as humility attracts them. There comes a time when you must become your own teacher, graduates. If we keep asking others "Who am I?" we will never enjoy the adventure of self-discovery. Do not worship your teachers, even if they've been teaching for 39 years. Develop a healthy distrust of the experts. Education will never replace experience and the wisdom that follows from it.
I am not yet "educated" but I'm trying to be -- and that's what makes the difference.
Off to school!
Thursday, December 10
12:52 PM I just love my Map My Run app!
They're always sending me little notes of encouragement based on my personal stats.
I'm here to tell you: encouragement like this pays rich dividends.
Know someone who's struggling to get into shape? Send them a note of encouragement. Today. Give them three cheers for making the effort. Better yet, work out with them. Lead by example, not just talk. Okay, maybe it would more true to say "Do your best" to lead by example. None of us is perfect. We all stumble. But our culture is horrifically out of shape. I'm so over it.
9:28 AM This and that ...
1) SBL 2015 best selling books.
(Note: Why aren't the smaller publishing houses represented?)
2) Henry Neufeld on anti-Muslim prejudice.
3) Here's this Saturday's 5K race in Durham.
The cause? Duke Children's Heart Program. Come and cheer on the old dude with Bib #416.
4) Do pastors really want to quit? The survey is in.
5) 21 indispensable writing tips. Loved this one: "When in doubt, cut it out."
7:38 PM Yo folks! Got time for a few pix? This was a year of change -- a rollercoaster ride with God right smack dab in the middle of it all. I hope you enjoy my pictorial "Year-in-Review." In 2015 I became a learner all over again. This year brought a whole new level of honesty with God and, I believe, a new intimacy and freedom between Him and me. I learned many new lessons. Some were as noisy as a sledgehammer. Others came as simple gifts, as soft as the fall of an autumn leaf. I still have very dark days. Late at night especially. I sometimes wonder if my theology is too small. But I won't worry about that. Anxiety profits nothing. Change has become an almost daily reality in my life, but God is doing a good thing. Even pain and loss can be blessings because through them we experience God's fresh redemption in new ways. I am so grateful for you, that you have been here every step of the way. May 2016 see Him enter our lives in even greater ways and be made famous through His presence. This is what the world is waiting for. May we make every day an offering.
And now... the pix!
1) Celebrated my 39th anniversary. Woohoo!
2) 2015 saw me get back into riding.
3) God blessed us with several cuttings of hay this year. Thank you Jesus!
4) Attended J. Harold Greenlee's memorial service in Florida. A superb Greek scholar and missionary!
5) Got back to Kailua Beach for some R & R.
6) Did lots of teaching while I was there, including the chapel service in this private Christian school.
7) I welcomed my newest grandson into the world. Hey, Mr. Peyton!
8) Enjoying the Glass family. Jon is now pastoring in Birmingham. Man, do I miss you guys!
9) Spoke at the Evangelical Ethiopian Church in Dallas. Bedilu is one of our esteemed alums.
10) More haying!
11) Love my grandsons!
12) Caught the fitness bug this year in a big way.
13) Giving a lectureship at Mid-America Baptist Seminary in Memphis. What great folks!
14) With Liz and her wonderful family up in New York.
15) Got the news that The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research will be published by T & T Clark.
16) Enjoying Ethiopian food with Henry Neufeld (of Energion Publications) at the Queen of Sheba in Chapel Hill.
17) The winter saw plenty of snow!
18) My diet changed radically in 2015. Out with MacDonald's and in with avocados!
19) Summiting Koko Head.
20) Attending a requiem at the Duke Chapel.
21) The Spanish version of Learn to Read New Testament Greek makes its debut.
22) Joined the Y.
23) Rejoiced in the dedication of the "Becky Black Building" in Bagdogra, India.
24) Had the privilege of speaking in Pete Link's class at Charleston Southern University.
25) The India Team spent a day on the farm. What a great bunch of Great Commission fanatics!
26) Climbed several Virginia peaks, including Sharp Top Mountain.
27) Another Ph.D. student passes his comps. Way to go, Calvin!
28) Speaking in Pensacola.
So there you have it -- the year in review. You know, I've been finding God in the oddest places. Not 3 days ago the snot was flying as I sobbed my heart out at mom and dad's house. Blessed are the doubters with the courage to live with their questions. I am living out my faith, in a real way, an honest way, engaging in life with other people who are just as weird and imperfect as I am and enjoying every moment of it. I pray for you. I pray for a small handful of serendipities to come your way. I pray for authenticity and honesty. I pray for the Holy One to invade your life daily. I pray that in 2016 something new will be born in the hearts and minds and souls and lives of us all, the body of Christ.
Tuesday, December 8
8:28 AM It's getting easier, this end-of-the-semester-routine of giving and grading exams and then calculating final grades and then undergoing severe withdrawal symptoms until the new semester finally begins and I can return to the place where I will always belong the most, the classroom. I have changed in some fundamental ways in the past 2 years of grieving, enough that I feel like I'm watching the stars retreat as the sky grows lighter. It is all so incredibly satisfying and fearful at the same time. You know how it feels, right, when you're in a jet and you hit rough air and the only thing you can do is sit there with your seatbelt firmly fastened about you? It seems completely unbelievable that it's that time of the year when Becky and I would be traveling to Africa, skipping Christmas and eggnog and yuletide as the Wind disinherited our possessions. Okay, so you know I'm a missionary, a person who loves to head out into the great unknown during his vacations and who isn't afraid of flying for 15 hours and who spends entire days thinking up ways to help the emerging church. I could sit here and write for hours. Give me a megaphone and I would scream, Can't you see that the Gospel changes everything! "The least of these," says the Christ: "Do it to them, and you do it to Me." That saying of Jesus changed my life forever. I'm broken when I see the evidence of my greed, when I see how I often I have put my needs over the demands of the world. I'm not endorsing skepticism, but Jesus did say "Unless you hate your father and mother...." That's no small requirement for discipleship. Know what? I think that if we truly loved Jesus more than anyone else, we would all become better fathers and mothers and children and sisters and brothers. And yes, I realize that for many of you, serving others means staying at home with the babies and teaching the children to respect authority and being in the kitchen morning, noon, and night. Meaning, of course, that we can serve Jesus by serving others regardless of our location and vocation -- right in our homes, where we're often too busy to read the Bible and too exhausted to pray. No worries. God understands perfectly. As a single parent, I have to choose to allow the kingdom to shape my values and how I spend my time, money, and energy. This is the kind of kingdom father and kingdom grandfather I want to be and the kind of kingdom children and kingdom grandchildren I want to raise. Believe it or not, we don't have to get caught up in the consumer vortex at Christmas. Oddly, the more we Americans have, the more we need. Maybe just once we could set aside cultural expectations and love each other wisely and not only well, saying with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" -- always, together, selflessly, with a kingdom-shaped heart.
That's how Becky and I tried to live our lives. The fact that she's gone should not change one whit the way I live my life today. We suffer needlessly when we allow one loss to lead to another. The death of a spouse is one thing. The death of a spirit is another thing altogether.
So here I am, alone in my big house, trying to make Christmas plans without Becky. When Bec died she left a huge hole, but it's not as though her gracious, caring, giving spirit went anywhere. For one month I lived in Basel without Becky while I was finding an apartment for us to live in, opening our bank account, and setting up our health insurance. The separation was painful but it helped eased the transition to life in Switzerland. One day I received a long letter from Becky. Sitting alone in my room, tears began washing my cheeks. We were miles apart, but together in heart. There I was: man -- the left ventricle of the married heart -- still attached to his woman, the right ventricle. And the man Adam knew that his lady Eve loved him. The loss of a spouse puts a sudden halt to all this, to business as usual, but it can also lead to transformation if we view it as an opportunity to see ourselves for who we are. My soul may be continuously sorrowful, but I wake up each day glad to be alive and eager to see what the new day will bring me. In a sense, Becky and I are still serving the Lord together, just in different venues. In many ways, "my" story is still "our" story. The memory of Becky will continue to play an important role in our family. And I will continue to stumble along, learning as much as I can from the experience. My life is as rich as any person I know. If nothing else, Becky's death is a reminder of the contingency of earthly life. I cling to Wendell Berry's observation, "Love changes, and in change is true." The way I love others, and the way others love me, has to change. May God help us all to accept these changes with grace and kindness.
Monday, December 7
7:55 PM There is too much to share.
I spent the weekend happily ensconced in Murphy, TX. Unfortunately, these were also tough days. Life is such a strange paradox at times. I love my life. I love my work. I loved speaking at Wycliffe/GIAL. Yet I hate public speaking because I'm expected to have my act together. My heart cried the entire weekend. The sobs came in waves. What on earth is wrong, Dave? It's not like I can fake it. I never want to get numb about losing Becky. She was both loved and lovely. At the end of the trip it finally dawned on me what was actually going on. After the Vocal Majority concert on Sunday, I found this on YouTube:
The Vocal Majority had sung it during their concert. I played the song over and over again, the tears falling like rain. Needless to say, it was cathartic. Once again, I came to the end of myself. I looked past the scars and saw the Lamb, who asks me to be content in every situation. It's not the easiest thing to do, of course. But amidst the darkness, a light is shining. I said goodbye to Becky again. And, once again, things made sense. God's been preparing you, Dave, all along for Heaven. You see, spilling out of the raw hurt is a defiant joy. The tears I'm shedding are a privilege. They mean that my heart is still soft; that when my world quietly crumbles around me, He remains solid; that when I feel like I've slipped out of His hands, His promise remains: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." So here I am, stuck in a God-sized rut like a broken down old car, but one that keeps on chugging and chugging, knowing that God has something momentous in store for me and for all who would learn to be quiet long enough to listen to Him speak.
Changing the subject ....
Last Wednesday I wrote about the need for leadership in the world and church. This weekend I saw what bold, visionary leadership looks like up close and personal. The venue was the city park in downtown Fort Worth, TX, where this year's "Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis" took place. The city recently launched "The Fort Worth Way Initiative" -- a grassroots public-private partnership determined to solve the city's problems collaboratively. The Fort Worth Way in turn launched the "FitWorth City Initiative" to increase public awareness about physical fitness and healthy food choices. Celebrity sports figures such as DeMarcus Ware have stepped in to help, as have many of the city's chefs. But everyone acknowledges that the success of the program is due largely to a committed and involved mayor, who has motivated PE teachers across the Fort Worth Independent School District with his 10-week program called "The Mayor's Challenge." PE teachers help their students track their fruit and vegetable consumption as well as monitor their physical activities. Mayor Price himself makes special appearances at FitWorth events, like this weekend's 5K. This is bold leadership at its best and has already produced results. Just 3 years after its launch, FitWorth has shown a 3 percent improvement in reducing the number of obese children. The work is also spearheaded by Fort Worth's "First Lady of Fitness," Betsy Price, herself an avid fitness enthusiast and triathlete. This kind of civic leadership is absolutely priceless. Example is a vital part of leadership. I admire the mayor's boldness: boldness in seizing the initiative, boldness in doing the unconventional, boldness in calling for change, boldness in standing up for sensible eating and exercise. If the trumpet gives an uncertain call, who will heed it? Nobody will, and nobody should.
1) At the Graduate Institute for Applied Linguistics.
2) Ron Smith (left) teaches their Greek classes and David Ross (right) is the president of GIAL.
3) Speaking in chapel.
4) Such a worthy cause!
5) The place was jam packed with runners.
6) The course was very scenic -- right through downtown Fort Worth!
7) Mayor Price himself awarded each winner his or her medallion.
8) Enjoying Ethiopian food with mom and dad.
9) Mom's flute choir ("The Flutes of the Spirit") in concert at a local Methodist church on Sunday morning.
Mom has now directed the choir for 17 years. Congratulations mom!
10) At the Vocal Majority concert in Richardson.
11) Here are some of the Bibles that Wycliffe has produced over the years in various languages. And yet there is still much work to be done.
12) I love Fort Worth's entrepreneurial spirit!
Thursday, December 3
8:42 AM Morning folks!
The ministry of Billy Graham has had an incalculable impact on many of us Baby Boomers. As a lad in Hawaii I recall singing in the 1,000-voice choir during Graham's crusade at the Blaisedell Arena. Initially, our local church was critical of the idea of a crusade, but few could deny that Graham had an incredible gift of precipitating decisions for Christ. In the mid-1950s, when Billy Graham's fame was just emerging, he held a crusade in London (and, I'm told, ran daily in Hyde Park for exercise!). What struck the Brits the most about the young evangelical from North Carolina was his freshness and his emphasis on Scripture. Homileticians love to debate the marks of a great preacher, but I've always maintained that when one is filled with the Holy Spirit everything else takes care of itself. It is the indwelling Christ who equips us for service and missions. The word of the Lord and the Spirit of the Lord always go together. It is as simple as that.
Today, as you know, I leave for Dallas, where I have the honor of speaking at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics/Wycliffe Bible Translators -- once in their chapel, and once to their beginning Greek students. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to fuel Christians for missions. He still is today. Surely I can't say anything edifying to these people without the Spirit's enabling. To that end, maybe I could ask you to pray for me. Like Billy Graham, I have a story to tell. It humbles me that I have such a special chance to address dozens of people who understand the essential meaning of the Gospel. I truly believe that this is a kairos moment in history. As never before in my travels, I sense a hunger among God's people for new approaches and new lessons in courage. In fact, the theme in chapel this year at GIAL is "Unafraid of the Dark." The institute is raising up a new generation of scholar-missionaries who understand both linguistics and the Bible. Let us thank God for them, and pray for them.
During this trip I'll also try to write another chapter in my book Godworld, which I hope will be a careful, biblical, and contemporary examination of the New Testament's teaching about the kingdom of God. I've found this to be the most difficult book I've ever tried to write. (I'm told C. S. Lewis said the same thing about The Screwtape Letters.) The book is designed to build up Christian believers in the understanding of what true Christianity implies and to handle some of the difficult issues that keep coming up. My thoughts arise mostly from my devotional life and center on New Testament spirituality -- a topic on which I am hardly an expert. I dare to hope to finish the book, if the Lord tarries, before He calls me Home. I have no sabbatical coming up in the immediate future so I write a bit here and a bit there (often in airports). Writing books about Greek is one thing. Writing a book on biblical theology is quite another. It has taken me years to get this far. I'm not proud of that fact. But the passion hasn't left me, so what else can I do? Again, your prayers are greatly appreciated.
Finally, this may come as a surprise to some of you, but I'm still in the season of grieving. I think of Becky all the time. I long to see her again. The good news is that, in the infinite mercy of God, the resurrection awaits Becky and all of us who know Christ. This is why the apostle Paul never complained about suffering but realized that suffering was a privilege and a means of drawing closer to God. He could rejoice in his circumstances, knowing that the Lord had a purpose in them. I once wrote a book on this subject -- how Paul found Christ's strength perfected in his weakness -- but everyone knows it is easier to write about something that it is to practice what you preach. Becky's death hurt. It still does. It hurts most of all when I am with her parents, as I will be this weekend in Dallas. What provocation to self-pity! Yet if Paul could discover Christ's power in his weakness, perhaps I can do the same. The 5K race in Fort Worth that I'll be participating in on Saturday night will, in my mind, be run in memory of Becky. There are few afflictions that can't be turned into something good. I run as a sufferer enabled to draw on God's comfort so that perhaps my suffering might be a blessing to others. My only hope lies in the God who raises the dead. What a difference He makes to the way we live and the way we view death and loss. As always, the way of the cross is the way of new life. The seed dies and the plant emerges from the soil, and it blossoms not for its own benefit but for others. The plant is always looking to the sun -- or is that the Son? Either way, the truth of the resurrection is a powerfully liberating one, and I would ask -- again -- that you would pray that the flower of my life might have a sweet scent wherever I go this weekend.
Wednesday, December 2
5:12 PM A few random reflections at the end of a great day....
1) I've been reading Ephesians 5 about marriage. Know what? I think I'll start translating agapao by "treasure." "Husbands, treasure your wives, just as Christ also treasured the church and gave Himself up for her." I'm no longer a husband, but I have a good many friends who are. Friend, your role isn't complicated. You need to show your limitless love for your wife in such a way that it shows the world the kind of love Christ has for you. Is this how you're loving your wife? It's easier to hide behind a façade when you're both struggling merely to hang in there. Can it be that the Lord wants you, as the husband, to confess your failure to lay the groundwork for domestic harmony in the relationship? You are the one who should be cultivating an in-depth partnership with your spouse. I know your work at the office is much more glamorous and ego-satisfying, but it is imperative that you fight your tendency to be passive in matters pertaining to the family. Guys, do you know your wife? I mean, do you really understand her? Her expectations, her dreams, her fears, her secrets, her disappointments, her expectations? Your wife longs to be known by you and to know that you understand her. You can treasure your wife by assigning her a place of honor in the home.
Friend, if you haven't been doing this, admission of a problem is the first step toward solving it. Learning more truth about marriage by attending marriage seminars is no substitute for putting into action the truth you already know. There was a time in my marriage when I gave Becky everything but my time, attention, and an ear to listen as she spoke. She needed to be noticed, appreciated, and given time to share and to hear her husband respond to what she was saying. I lacked the tenderness that a deeply satisfying intimacy required. If this is the case with your marriage, verbally and openly admit your guilt (as I did with Becky) and seek her full forgiveness. God always honors such repentance. Start today, not tomorrow. Please do not put it off. Unless you consciously guard yourself against your selfish nature, you'll begin to search for a way out of your marital problems instead of a way through. You vowed to "love, honor, and cherish her" – even if she loses all her hair because of cancer. Now do it!
2) Thanks, Map My Run folks!
3) Allan Bevere interviewed Will Willimon, whom he quotes as saying:
This is so right on!
4) The office is "beginning to look a lot like Christmas"!
5) The Air Asia crash report is out and it doesn't look good for the flight crew. The crash was apparently caused, at least partly, by the pilots following a non-authorized reset procedure and then being too incompetent to fly the aircraft when it ended up being on alternate law (instead of auto-pilot). Even more disturbing to me is the fact that the captain and the first officer were both controlling the side stick on their Airbus at the same time. It boggles the mind. When the event began to unfold, the first officer panicked. Then the captain instructed him to "Pull down." "Pull down" is a contradictory order: you "pull" to go up and "push" to go down. At no point was there a "Push down" command. Moreover, the captain never states that he is taking control of the airplane. Confusion ensues. The plane reaches 38,000 feet before stalling and then begins falling at an amazing rate of 12,000 feet per minute. Like the AF447 crash, this fiasco goes on for three and a half minutes. I doubt this accident would have happened on a Boeing where the controls are interconnected and plainly visible to both pilots. Good grief -- the captain didn't even say "My controls"! Air Asia's pilots effectively ended up wrestling with each at the A320's controls. This is just basic airmanship. And basic leadership. Leadership is vital in any organization, including the local church. Often there is little actual leadership at all, or incompetent leadership at best. Sometimes church leaders form rival factions and wrestle with each other for control of the "side stick." False leaders can creep into any church. How important, then, is leadership. Danger lurks just around the corner. Leaders, please lead us well and competently!
Tuesday, December 1
9:04 AM If you are planning on taking the LXX Ph.D. seminar in the spring, no worries. Dr. Hardy and I are meeting this week to finalize the syllabus. It should be posted to Moodle sometime next week. I think the class is gonna be great fun!
8:48 AM Today is our annual Christmas offering in chapel. All for missions. True giving is the overflow of hearts that have been warmed by God's love. God has plenty of money laid away in the pockets of His people. Why should our giving be cheap? Look at the impoverished Macedonians. They begged Paul earnestly for the favor of taking part in the collection for the poor saints in Judea. A congregation that is deeply in love with Jesus will give sacrificially and gladly.
8:36 AM A few thank you notes on the first day after Thanksgiving Break:
1) Thank you, Jesus. You taught me how to love other people.
2) Thank you, dogs. I love you despite the pee-pee carpet.
3) Thank you, plain old church family. You help me to figure out all over again what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
4) Thank you, Greek New Testament. You not only feed my soul, you've given me a job. No kidding.
5) Thank you, Becky. I learned everything important from you.
6) Thank you, family. You are the family of my dreams. (Well, most of the time.)
7) Thank you, creation. You are the wind beneath my wings.
8) Thank you, timing chips. Without you I wouldn't know how slowly I've run my 5K race.
9) Thank you, publishers. You are risk takers, and I salute you.
10) Thank you, coffee. You keep me alive.
11) Thank you, fifth-grade teacher. Your first sentence in Spanish was enough to hook me on languages for life.
12) Thank you, Pastor Rudy. If you hadn't started a church in Kailua I wouldn't have met you -- or Christ.
13) Thank you, cardio. You allow me to stay active and complete the marathon called life.
14) Thank you, People Who Ask How I'm Doing. Thanks for allowing me to be honest.
15) Thank you, students. I love you. I'm sure folks wonder how I can still teach Greek after 39 years of same-old same-old. Whatever. You guys make it all worthwhile.
16) Thank you daughters especially. You constantly put up me while I'm trying to figure out this business called daddyhood.
17) Thank you, Autocorrect (*sarcasm*). You make my life miserable when I'm texting.
18) Thank you, church elders at The Hill. You validate nontraditional ministry and empower others for ministry. You don't know how unique that is.
19) Thank you, YouTube. Yesterday I climbed Kilimanjaro via you.
20) Thank you, eggnog. You are my passion.
21) Thank you, Person Who Puts His Seat Back Into My Knees On A Long Flight. Thanks for helping me grow in contentment.
22) Thank you Timothy, Titus, Silas, Mark, and Epaphroditus. Your example of humbly serving others in complete obscurity is amazing.
23) Thank you, Anabaptists, my spiritual forebears. I suppose you could have named your movement after one of your leaders (The Hubmaierists), but you were content to be called a dirty word.
24) Thank you, Athanasius. I love your Trinitarian Creed.
25) Thank you, University of Basel. You ignited in me a zeal and passion for learning unlike any other institution of higher education I attended.
26) Thank you, Peter and John. Leaders without any formal training in Scripture? Yep.
27) Thank you, credentials. You've gotten me into some pretty fantastic places in this world.
28) Thank you, Father Time. You are truly a healer. The house is beginning to smell fresh again, a bright light is shining in, and I'm beginning to feel like I belong here.
29) Thank you, loss. You've taught me to weep with those who weep and to take their sadness into my own soul.
30) Thank you, Aramaic. You taught me that God is my tender Daddy.
31) Thank you, authenticity. Can't we just let the posturing go?
32) Thank you, Ellul and Eller. You are two voices about which the church continues to hesitate, quite wrongly so.
33) Thank you, bread and cup. You are battle rations for Christian warriors, not dessert for slothful parishioners.
34) Thank you, mothers everywhere. Your work is no triviality. You sustain the lives of your children even while fighting it out at the gumball machine at the supermarket entrance. Never forget that your calling demands self-sacrifice and humility, but it is the route to glory, as it was with Jesus (Phil. 2:5-11).
35) Thank you, farm. I need the stillness you provide, the break from the "drooling mélange" (Muggeridge) of Muzak and the blaring TVs in restaurants. I am sure that every great book I've ever read has been produced in silence.
36) Thank you, "THANK YOU." As I hike through the fragrance of winter woods and meadows, I hear it from the rocks and birds and forests and streams: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Gratitude is the spirit of nature. May thanksgiving to God also be the habit of my heart.