November 2017 Blog Archives
Thursday, November 30
1:25 PM Just back from the Y and the track. Lifted for about an hour and then did a 10K (6.2 mile) walk. Very thankful that I can move my body with my own two feet. As we age, we learn to accept our limitations, but we're also less fearful about fueling the engine of self-discovery. So it was a really fun morning.
Meanwhile, I'm really enjoying my book about April of 1865. Which got me to thinking about my favorite book titles, one of them being A Stillness at Appomattox, which deals with much the same subject. Here are some other book titles I really love (though I might not like the contents so much):
The titles of all my books are unoriginal and banal. Sigh.
7:34 AM There are a few things I'd like to tell you about my study of 1 Thessalonians. I've been utterly transfixed by this book. I look on in horror because my faith is nothing like the Thessalonians'. This is why I need to read and study and internalize and then practice this letter. Simple but not easy, I know. Are you spending time praying about your spiritual journey? Is God leading you into truth? Yesterday's accomplishments don't count for today. There is never, ever a point where we "arrive."
As you may know, I outline the letter as follows, dividing it into two main sections:
Imagine for a moment that you're a newbie to the sport of long-distance running (like I am). You'll need a lot of encouragement from others to keep on going. That's why I read so many books about running. There I find inspirational advice from people like me, people who not only see running as an activity but also as a medium for exploring their potential as a human being. I've discovered that runners are by nature encouraging, funny, and a bit quirky. They love to help!
The flip side to the coin: They are also incredibly helpful as guides and advisors. They will help you with your running form, which shoes to buy, how to avoid injuries, how to complement your running program with other pursuits (this is called "cross-training" -- the Gospel implication of that expression hasn't escaped me!), how to run farther and faster. They'll freely share their insights with you, and if they see an improvement you can make they're not shy to tell you about it. (Yes, runners can be opinionated!).
I think Paul's doing something similar in 1 Thessalonians. There's much about this church that he finds commendable. They adore and honor Christ. They are bold and confident evangelists. Their deep faith is just as deeply lived. Then again, there were deficiencies in their faith. Hence in chapter 4 Paul moves from commendation to correction, from thanksgiving and reassurance to counsel and exhortations. Can't we identify with this? At times we need a good pat on the back. At other times we need a swift kick in the pants. In a very simple and brotherly way, Paul reminds his readers that God isn't done with them yet.
He ain't done with me, either. Let's start with the intellectual. Interpretive debates abound in this letter. A classic problem is the variant nepioi/epioi in 2:7. Then what do you make of skeuos in 4:4? Who are the ataktoi of 4:9-12? And please don't get me started on the Parousia of 4:13-5:11. (I tell my students that if the rapture occurs, my colleagues will have to teach my classes because I'll be gone. On the other hand, if I do end up in the tribulation, I'll be the first to change my view.) For all these reasons, I've started reading this book, which I was able to get through inter-library-loan.
As a former musician, I love putting together lists of "greatest hits." Well, this book is high on my list of "greatest books" ever written on 1 Thessalonians. Chapters include:
Ray Collins was a scholar who immersed himself in Scripture and could expound its theological significance in a historical context. I'm eager to get started. The farm is the perfect place for reflection. I love, love, love this place and every nook and cranny of it. No parking garage, no traffic, only the sounds of silence (except when the hunters find a deer). Perhaps this is obvious, but having a place to "retreat" is so necessary in our day and age. Now please don't think that I'm an apologist for agrarian living, because I'm not. There is no salvation in that. The question: How and where can we get unplugged? The silence here is awesome. Honestly, I could watch animals all day. Most of us spend half our lives listening to someone talk about God. But getting into the word yourself -- ah, there's nothing quite like it.
So Mr. Paul, author of this letter to the "community of the Thessalonians," have at it. These believers inspire me. For them, "well said" was never a substitute for "well done." I'd really like to learn how to live like that.
6:20 AM As I was listening to the "towel and basin ministry" reports yesterday, my mind kept going back to Paul's famous expression in 1 Thess. 1:3 -- "your labor of love." Loving is just plain hard work. Just the idea of rolling up our shirt sleeves and getting down to kingdom-serving-serious-God-work is an exhausting thought. So let me hit a couple of highlights:
Are you getting the picture? It's not what happens on Sunday morning that matters. Which is why Paul is adamant to Titus: "Remind them to be ready for every good deed" (Tit. 3:1).This is how the Holy Spirit keeps the church healthy. Without giving, we become spiritually constipated. I am gifted. You are gifted. But the same God works in all of us (1 Cor. 12:6). As so many of my student iterated yesterday, knowledge can't substitute for obedience. God is smart. He designed His church to be a fully functioning serving machine. Just read 1 Cor. 12, Rom. 12, and Eph. 4 if you don't believe me. What a church! When each of us does our part, the church becomes God's hands and feet in the world.
Pick up a towel, my friend. Pour some water into a basin. The church needs you, it needs me, it needs all of us.
Wednesday, November 29
6:18 PM I realize that Thanksgiving is past, but I'm still thankful for sooooo many things. I know I keep thanking the same people over and over again -- my family, my friends, my students, my colleagues. To all of them, I am eternally grateful. They continue to make me look and sound smarter than I'll ever be, and each has helped make me a better person. But let's get specific, shall we?
1) A hearty "Thank you" to my personal assistant, Noah Kelley, for working so hard to prepare for his written and oral Ph.D. comps. He passed this Monday with flying colors. Thanks also to my good friends and colleagues Dave Beck and Ben Merkel for serving as co-examiners.
2) A hearty "Thank you" to my doctoral student Calvin Morris and his wife Devra for working so hard on his dissertation, which he successfully defended yesterday. Thanks also to Danny and Charlotte Akin for the wonderful way they support their faculty and students.
3) A hearty "Thank you" to Kevin Ezell of the North American Mission Board for bringing such a marvelous chapel message this week. If you have a half hour to spare, you will not want to miss it. Kevin is one of the most sincere, humble, kindly, and passionate speakers you will ever listen to.
4) A hearty "Thank you" to my Greek students who volunteered to present their papers in Tuesday night's class. Each hit a home run.
5) A hearty "Thank you" to my NT 2 students for opening their hearts and allowing to see how the Lord is working in their lives as they shared their "Towel and Basin Ministry" reports with their fellow students in class today.
In case you aren't aware of what this is, here's the first page of my course syllabus.
And here's what I'm calling the "hermeneutical triangle."
Notice that our study doesn't end with knowledge. It only begins there.
Hence each of my NT students was required to do a "towel and basin ministry" this semester. Like good musicians, each is playing their note, and the result is a breath-taking symphony of service.
6) Finally, a hearty "Thank you" to my daughter Jessie for sending along a pic of one of my handsome grandsons. I am so spoiled!
Friends, let's call forth the blessedness in each other. This is a long-term investment. But the payoff can be incredible.
Monday, November 27
7:25 AM Hello virtual friends of the amazing cybernetic highway. Hope you all had an amazing Thanksgiving. Mine was exhaustingly wonderful. Here are a few musings before I go off to work:
1) My thoughts on Cyber Monday.
2) Be sure to check out our What's New? page at the Greek Portal. One recent entry: "Why Pastors Should Use a Different Greek Text." (Added as click bait, of course.)
3) I stayed up late last night reading my new book, April 1865. Vicksburg, the Hampton Roads Peace Conference, Sharpsburg, the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Richmond, Washington, Lee, Grant, Lincoln, Petersburg, exhaustion, despair, debate, emancipation, victory, defeat, a small red brick house in a tiny Virginia crossroads village, even the Founding Fathers -- it's all here. "April 1865 is a month that could have unraveled the American nation. Instead, it saved it" (p. x). There's quite a story to be told here, and the author tells it masterfully. I heartily recommend reading it.
4) Only 14 more days until the Dallas Marathon. Lining up with a number pinned on your chest? Ain't nothin' like it.
5) "From you the word of the Lord trumpeted forth" (1 Thess. 1:8). When we receive the Good News, we can't keep it to ourselves. Let our refusal to engage in political debate be proof to a watching world that we belong to a kingdom that is not of this world.
Sunday, November 26
6:32 PM Photo update:
1) Snapped this on my way to the fellowship this morning.
These flags were flying in a church parking. Interesting message about loyalties, to say the least.
2) Later on I decided to get in a walk at my favorite state park in Farmville.
3) I ended up going 7 miles without any trouble. Walking, of course. No running yet.
4) The place was deserted, which is unusual for a Sunday afternoon. Christmas shopping you think?
5) Hallowed ground indeed.
6) I was only 30 minutes away from Appomattox, so what the hey?
7) The famous court house.
8) And the even more famous McLean House, where the surrender took place.
This is the not-so-often-photographed backside of the building.
9) This structure was built in 1792. It now houses the bookstore, where I bought ...
10) ... this tome.
As you'd expect from a New Testament professor, I only read the Bible. Except when I read other books. I'll start it tonight.
Once I wash the dinner dishes, that is. :-)
8:15 AM If you've been reading my blog for about 5 minutes you know that I'm a lousy cook. In fact, just about the only dish I know how to serve up is Chinese stir-fry and rice. Honestly, I'm going to try and eat cleaner in 2018. But that's tough here in the good-old-US-of-A. In Switzerland I'm used to eating freshly baked bread along with some good local cheese. In France there was a croissant (made with local butter) and coffee. People go grocery shopping daily so that their food is always fresh. The USA is somewhat unique in terms of the industrialization of food. There really is something majorly amiss with the US food supply chain. Even in Ethiopia fast food places are springing up in the cities. I much prefer eating down country when I'm there, enjoying amazingly fresh produce and spicy stews. Here at home, I've become stuck on the sweetness of everything and the enormous portion sizes. My favorite country for eating is Korea, which I've had the blessing of visiting 6 times. Every time I visit I eat incredibly well. Have you ever had Korean soup? My oh my! And talk about fresh vegetables! Meat is not the focus of your meal but an accompaniment. Plus, the meat is either grilled or boiled rather than cooked in fatty oils. Gotta love that cuisine. I get the sense that industrialized food is just not acceptable in that culture.
Unfortunately, eating well in the USA is expensive, though it shouldn't be. No, I don't want or need to go on a diet. I just want to adjust my nutrition. I've already cut back on sodas (as in maybe one a month). Right now I want to devote more time and energy to crafting my own meal plans. My current diet is like Kryptonite. The problem is that right now I'm very unmotivated and can't get past the "I need to eat cleaner" stage. Thankfully, my intake is more than offset by my output, exercise-wise. I'm beginning to realize that eating healthy takes a lot of hard, daily effort. My living situation is my biggest challenge. I'm a bachelor and so I don't like to cook. Plus I'm on the road a lot. If you've got any food for thought (pardon the pun) you'd like to share with me, please feel free. I just want to live and eat responsibly. Thankfully I've got family members who are thinking the same way as I do. I need to invest more in organization and planning. I'm not there yet but I'm on my way!
7:40 AM A few random musings on a Sunday morning:
1) For some reason, perhaps due to an undetected carbon monoxide leak in my house, I overscheduled myself this week. Tomorrow I'm chairing a Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam. On Tuesday I'm chairing a Ph.D. Dissertation Defense. On Wednesday we have our monthly faculty meeting. Plus I'm teaching four classes and grading exams. Who knows what other surprises the week will hold? Ask God what, where, and how He wants you to move forward in faith this week. Submit to this portion of the trip He has you on. Rest assured, He knows what He's doing. (That lecture was more for me than for you.)
2) I'm enjoying the book reviews in JETS. Yesterday I read Isaac Blois' review of Joe Hellerman's Philippians commentary in the EGGNT series (JETS 59/3, pp. 639-41). Isaac's summary is worth quoting, as it should describe every commentary out there:
I'll be curious to see whether Will Varner's revised commentary on James will meet this "paradigmatic" standard, though I highly suspect it will.
3) This morning on my front porch (bundled up against the cold) I continued my personal journey through 1 Thessalonians. These forays into the text are well worth my time. Remember: The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. And in God's word we have a fascinating guidebook and runner's manual to show us the way forward. What is also amazing is that God had provided for us so many other useful tools to guide us. One of my very favorites is Gordon Fee's 1-2 Thessalonians commentary.
It's a splendid book that combines insightful comment and graceful writing. It's a wise companion to one's study of these letters. (I'm requiring it in Greek 4 next semester.)
4) I apologize to my readers for mentioning my analysis of Heb. 6:4-6 but never actually showing it to you.
Keep in mind that incredibly smart and resourceful people have interpreted these verses in ways that differ from my own interpretation. But I think at least we can all agree that being able to differentiate between substantival participles and adverbial participles matters.
(P.S. A thousand thanks to my assistant, Noah Kelley, for putting together this Power Point slide for me. It's amazing what people can do with computers these days.)
5) I think I'll try walking again today for training. Foot, I'm throwing down the gauntlet. That dude huffing and puffing above you may well be me.
Saturday, November 25
6:28 PM It was so much fun working outdoors this evening. We got up two trailer loads before it got dark on us.
At one point I had to laugh out loud. I mean, how many farmers do you know who listen to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings while they're getting up hay?
Right now I've got the rice cooking in the rice cooker, and the stir-fry is is about to be stirred and fried, so I gotta run. Make it a great week!
1:12 PM Being an athlete -- an awfully klutzy one, to be sure, but an athlete nonetheless -- requires constant training. Today I had more fun than I've had in a long time. It all started at the Y, where I did some weight training for about an hour.
Next up? I returned to the track for the first time in what seems like ages.
Much to my amazement and amusement I was able to walk 2 miles without any pain whatsoever in my left foot -- or anywhere for that matter. That it took me 48 minutes to walk 2 miles will give you an indication of the speed of my recovery. I know it's not much of a start, but it IS a start. John Bingham once wrote a book called No Need for Speed. I once pooh-poohed it. Not any more.
I'm back on the farm again, enjoying some leftover turkey and ham my daughter sent home with me. I don't know about you, but I need constant reminders of why I do what I do. So I stuck this post-it-note on my refrigerator today.
It's the world's shortest TED Talk but it gets the job done. Right now I'm finalizing my marathon schedule for the next few months. Here's what it looks like in its current incarnation:
The Flying Pig was my first marathon and I loved it. You actually run in Kentucky for a bit before going back through downtown Cincy. This is a pretty level course except for miles 7-10, where you encounter an actual mountain. This year I think I'll hire a Sherpa.
I'll plan my summer races later. No two marathons are ever the same. But each one teaches you lessons, if you're willing to learn. Right now I'm so under-trained it hurts. It would be funny if it weren't so sad. Right now I'll try to stay in shape by lifting, biking, and walking. At this point in my life, not running at all is the way for me to the best runner I can be.
9:15 AM Happy Saturday, one and all! In case you were wondering, I recently took climbing Mount Everest off my bucket list. (Kidding. It was never on my bucket list to begin with. I may be dumb but I'm not stupid.) Instead, I've got my sights set squarely on Mont Blanc in France, the highest Alp at 4,810 meters (or, for us 'Muricans, 15,780 feet). I hope to climb the Gouter Route and the expected time is a full 2 days. The plan is to start with a training ascent of the Allalinhorn in Switzerland. This climb will bring me to a crossroads: to climb Mont Blanc or not? Watching the movie Everest was an eye-opener for me. The film provided an unparalleled example of leadership -- or, better, lack of leadership. Neither Rob Hall nor Scott Fischer had any business climbing past their agreed-upon turnaround times. There would have been no 1996 Everest Disaster had all the climbers turned around by 2:00 pm. At the South Summit, the decision by John Taske, Stuart Hutchinson, and Lou Kasischke to turn around literally saved their lives. The fact is, if both teams had followed their own safety rules, nobody would have perished. The rivalry between Hall and Fischer only added to a situation in which the leaders were already making suboptimal decisions.
Maybe there's a lesson here?
Sometimes life is all about saying no.
John Lennon once famously said, "Life is about what happens when you're busy making other plans." For me, climbing is at best an avocation. The Mont Blanc climb, like my climb two summers ago in the Alps, will be a fundraiser for UNC -- if it happens. My guide and I will have to decide that after he sees how well I do on the Allalinhorn. Life is a collection of thousands and thousands of little choices. But strung together through all of these little decisions, like beads on a string, is the foundation on which you're building your life. For me, this foundation is very clearly stated in a passage I read early this morning on my front porch as I watched the sun rise and the frost melt. The verse is Col. 3:16, which might well function as a life verse for me. "Christ's message in all its fullness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom." I want every student who has a class with me to go away thinking, "This class was more about Christ than about anything else." This is a "must," says Paul. Christ's message has to live in our hearts. It's not an option. The verb here is in the mood of command -- the imperative mood. Translating it as "Let Christ's message live in your hearts" is much too bland. It makes it sound like Paul is making a suggestion. "If you want to, let it happen." Nope. It's got to happen. But how does it happen? That's the rest of the verse: As we "teach and instruct one another with all wisdom." This is it. We help each other to grow into Christ. As I continue to run, I am amazed at just how much a "community" this running thingy is. Now that running is an integral part of my life, I draw more and more insights from the sport into my essential self. These insights are perhaps less dramatic than those I find in the Bible, but they are no less profound. Running has taught me, and continues to teach me, that there is joy in watching others succeed and in helping them make progress, just as they are willing and able to help me succeed and make progress.
This truth came home to me this morning when I opened the New York Times. (The online edition, of course. Do people still read newspapers?) The essay was called How the 'Shalane Flanagan Effect' Works. Remember how Shalane won the New York City Marathon?
She was the first American woman to win New York in 40 years. Here's the money quote from the essay:
You serve as a rocket booster for those who work alongside you.
Flanagan discovered that the more she pushed her younger colleagues to improve, the more they pushed her to improve. That's what makes this such a great sport. The glory belongs not only to those runners at the front of the pack. It belongs to all of us, regardless of whether we've ever stood on the awards podium. In other words, if you run your best, you can be beaten but you can never be defeated. Through running I've become something bigger than myself -- part of a community. The struggles you have are the same struggles that everyone else has too. That's one of the greatest lessons I've learned in life. Being a runner has made me a more naturally caring person. I discovered that the running community is made up of everyday people who are all willing to help me. You see, what binds us together as runners is far more powerful than what separates us. Shalane Flanagan understood this. She knew that there was no better way for her to become a better runner than by enabling others to become better runners themselves.
And so, Paul says, "Christ's message has to settle down and make its home in our hearts." And the way this happens is when we "teach and instruct one another with all wisdom." I don't want or need to be the teacher all the time. I want and need to be taught. I believe that if we as Christians cultivate a spirit of true fraternal instruction (as is taught in Hebrews 8), we will find the effort more than worth it. I love and respect pastors immensely. But some of the responsibilities they try to care for are well beyond their capacity. Little wonder they grow weary in trying to keep all the plates spinning. I suggest this: develop a church culture in which discipleship is measured not by attendance but by participation. Decide, dear pastor friend, if you want to produce disciples or consumers. It was never God's intent that pastors should bear all the weight of responsibility for the spiritual growth of their flocks. Prepare your people to shepherd. Delegate more. Grant opportunities for teaching and instructing. If you haven't read it yet, grab a copy of my colleagues' book With: A Practical Guide to Informal Mentoring and Intentional Disciple Making. They write:
Yes, I realize that "discipleship" is a buzzword today. It's all the fad. But it's actually been around for millennia. Jesus "just happened" to believe it in Himself.
Thank You, God, for the blessing of community. I thank You, as a runner, that You released me from sedentary confinement and introduced me to a group of people who truly care about each other. Thank You for teaching me, both through the running community and through Your body, the church, that being part of something great is better than being great. Thank You that the dream of raising up a new generation of Greek scholars still burns strongly in my soul. Help all of us, as Paul constantly teaches us, to work together as a team for the sake of the Gospel. Help us to realize that we are both players and cheerleaders. It shouldn't be any other way.
Friday, November 24
5:16 PM "Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you've never been hurt and live like it's heaven on Earth" (Mark Twain). Here I am crossing the finish line at the St. George Marathon in Utah, setting a new PR.
Nothing inspires me more than people who risk feeling vulnerable by trying something new. For me, that something new this year was marathoning. I'm inspired by everyone who is brave with their lives so that others can be brave with theirs. Life is not the path of least resistance. My friend, what is the "new" God is calling you today? To practice courage is to look at life and say, "I'm all in."
12:30 PM I offer a couple of "Thank You" notes before doing my farm chores:
1) Thank you, Inexpensive Domains, for being such a great web host for the past 17 years. (And sorry for using Front Page.)
2) Thank you, legs, for taking me to so many awesome places in the past four years since Becky died: the Matterhorn, a race in Utah, the summits of two 14ers in the Rockies, the paths on my farm, etc.
3) Thank you, Jeff Galloway, for reminding me that walking is okay during a marathon.
4) Thank you, Word of God, for not allowing me to run on empty. (I've dripped tears all over your pages this year, but somehow I think you're okay with that.)
5) Thank you, iPhone, for taking such great pictures.
6) Thank you, eyeglasses, for allowing me to read.
7) Thank you, students, for burning with passion for your studies.
8) Thank you, Holy Spirit, for holding me tight.
9) Thank you, YMCA, for giving me a place to work out and meet some great people.
10) Thank you, Philippians, for reminding me that it's possible to tap into contentment in any circumstance.
11) Thank you, Awazé and Abyssinia, for serving up such great Ethiopian food.
12) Thank you, Ibuprofen, for making my life so much easier.
13) Thank you, Amazon Prime, for great videos like "Spirit of the Marathon."
14) Thank you, tech clothes, for allowing me to be comfortable all day.
15) Thank you, Honda, for inventing the Odyssey. Well done.
16) Thank you to my tribe -- you know who you are -- for writing me constantly and keeping me accountable.
17) Thank you, Sheba, for being such a great puppy.
18) Thank you, Spell-Check, for maximizing my time on the keyboard.
19) Thank you, Jesus, for wrecking my life.
20) Thank you, mom and dad in Dallas, for your prayers and love.
21) Thank you, National Park Service, for preserving our national treasures.
22) Thank you, metabolism, for letting me eat as much as I want.
23) Thank you, Yoshitada Minami, for inventing the rice cooker.
24) Thank you, my seminary colleagues, for being kind, generous, committed, and loyal.
25) Thank you, movie Everest, for reminding me that turnaround times matter.
26) Thank you, Kailua Beach, for all the gorgeous sunrises.
27) Thank you, UNC Hospital, for your work on endometrial cancer research. (Hope to do another fund raiser for you next July in the Alps.)
28) Thank you, kids and grandkids, for being so amazing.
29) Thank you, Father, for being enough. No one loves me more.
30) Thank you, marvelous body of Christ, for being big enough to embrace teenage guys with earrings and tattoos and old men with practically no hair.
May the world see in Dave Black a man who is a thankful, normal guy who wouldn't have the slightest idea how to live had it not been for Jesus.
9:05 AM A few thoughts about 1 Thess. 1:1-5.
There's no mention of Paul's apostolic authority. He does have to defend his motives, however (see 2:1-12).
Paul works as a team with others (Silas and Timothy).
The word ekklesia is not a technical term. It has to be modified in three ways: (1) "of the Thessalonians" (this is where the ekklesia meets), (2) "in union with God the Father" (which makes this ekklesia distinct from a pagan assembly), and (3) "in union with the Lord Jesus Christ" (which makes it distinct from a Jewish assembly). What, then, is a "church"? I think 1:3 contains a great definition. The church is simply a group of Jesus-followers who put their faith into practice through sacrificial deeds of love on behalf of others, all the while placing their hope exclusively in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving isn't thanksgiving unless it's expressed.
Paul "always" prays for others. Intercessory prayer was his constant habit.
I have so much to say about this verse. What Paul writes here is pure genius. The evidence of the Thessalonians' election is not found in their lives but in the lives of Paul and his co-workers. (This is something you probably didn't learn in seminary about "election.") Notice that the Gospel came to the Thessalonians in more than words. We over-focus on the words today. Diction. Outline. Message. So let's make a distinction between talking and walking, as Paul does here. This means that the Gospel is preached with more than words. I well remember when I left the local church as a teenager in Hawaii and joined the Jesus Movement. Did pastors actually think they could get away with preaching timeless truths without a lifestyle of radical obedience? Like it or not, we are more than cognitive beings. The medium is the message. So when Paul brought the word to Thessalonica, he also brought power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. Fee notes, "…the message of the gospel is truth accompanied by experienced reality" (p. 32). Hear this: I don't think God wants us to minimize the message or its contents. We're no good to Him if we're guilty of faulty exegesis. I value truth desperately, as I know you do. But I also applaud speakers who are unmistakably passionate. Their message is more than mere words. Why? Because God has filled them with a huge dose of Holy Ghost power. Their teaching is full of conviction. Teaching requires tons of emotional energy, more, in fact, than I ever expected it would. Sure, I emphasize the content. But I'm always asking the question: Am I connecting with my hearers? A great message is something to behold. We are drawn in by its simplicity, and then transformed by its power. We're invited into a story that can't be passively received. Remember 1 Cor. 4:20: "The kingdom of God is not in word but in power!"
"You know perfectly well how we lived among you. We did everything for your sakes." Paul, some were saying, was motivated by greed in his ministry. As Fee notes, Paul's probably hinting at "some slanderous accusations against him" (p. 37). Not so, says the apostle. "We never wore masks to cover up greed!" (2:5). It's such a cliché nowadays – people don't care how much we know until they know how much we care. Did Paul speak this word specifically for our over-professionalized "ministries," for churches where pastors are parachuted in (and then out again) every 3-4 years, where over-the-top prosperity preachers have had a field day with gullible believers?
I'm having fun with 1 Thessalonians!
8:02 AM During the Thanksgiving Break I'm taking a personal retreat, celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life, dropping down into a life set on cruise control, remaining (mostly) unplugged from social media while prehoarding large chunks of Scripture. The Lord has led me to a personal study of the book of 1 Thessalonians – and to cease and desist from the banter of NPR and the news. This adventure in relearning the essentials of the faith may call for the occasional blog post like this one. (Warning: Impeding high horse.) I will be studying and not merely reading 1 Thessalonians. The reason, as I've often said, is that I've never been able to divorce my academic life from my devotional life. Which is why I've never really had "daily devotions." Now, I have no dog in this hunt. If you read the Bible and pray for 30 minutes every morning from 5:30-6:00, I'm your biggest cheerleader. Actually, I'm a bit jealous of your self-discipline. I tend to talk to Jesus more in the margins, like when I'm biking or climbing or doing a trash run. The goal is not to get know more about Him. The goal of all Bible study should be aligning ourselves correctly, with His humble ministry of serving. Jesus sits on a throne but He got there through a cross. Is a servant above his Master in this regard? Incidentally, as I begin my study of Paul's earliest writing (yes, even earlier than Galatians), I'll be heeding my own advice and reading the book it its entirety before attempting to peek at its trees and tiny saps. The idea is to let the book be its own interpreter. Next, I'm going to work my way through the letter paragraph by paragraph because the paragraph (not the verse) is the basic thought unit. It's almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Sure, I'll read commentaries and the like. I'll sit at Fee’s feet for sure. But exegesis is waaaay bigger than verb tenses and noun cases. This is exactly the moment for me to do what I've been telling my students in my Greek 3 class to do as they their write exegetical term papers this semester: pay attention to as many levels of meaning as you can, including the rhetorical level. I'm also a firm believer that the structure of a passage is as inspired by God the Holy Spirit as the words are. I think all the drama surrounding the interpretation of Heb. 6:4-6 would be considerably ameliorated by observing the shift from the 5 aorist tense participles to the 2 present tense participles. I'd gladly kiss structural diagrams goodbye forever but the fact is that I can't, and neither can you. Still another area that's – how shall I say this nicely? – overlooked is textual criticism. I consider textual criticism to be one of the indispensable 10 steps in my approach from going to text to teaching outline. I say this because some textbooks omit this step altogether. It sure is a good thing we have an apparatus in our Greek New Testaments. It tells us which readings are possible. But – and this is a big "but" – no small amount of work on our part is required if we're going to be able to decide between variants for ourselves. Today much is being made of the new Tyndale Greek New Testament. It's been reviewed by Wallace and others. But I agree with Snapp's assessment at the New Testament Textual Criticism Facebook page:
So I'm sticking with my UBS, thank you very much. With no small amount of disappointment, I see that the early Alexandrian uncials are still being promoted as the "best" text (in the Westcott-Hort sense) in certain circles. I giggle to imagine what the field would look like if we ever came to the place of reestablishing the Byzantine text type to a place of real usefulness. I want to use all the evidence God has given us. And if the Byzantine text is in fact unedited in the Westcott-Hort sense, then let's give its readings their due consideration. Sturz argued, in fact, that one's view of the Byzantine text would color, shape, and direct their view of the field as a whole. I think he was right. Having been weaned on Bruce Metzger's introduction to textual criticism, I almost came undone when I read Sturz's defense of the usefulness (but not primacy) of the Byzantine text. Exercised strategically, this view would mean that we would take the Byzantine text into consideration when we are trying to decide which reading, for example, is the most geographically widespread – something I've tried to do in my text-critical essays on Matt. 5:22, Mark 6:20, John 3:13, and Eph. 1:1. (My journal articles can be found online here.) Certainly, when it comes to New Testament textual criticism, we have a feast of evidence, and thank you, God, for it.
My vigil continues today. I'm going to admit something to you: I'm not a very good vigil-er. I love the Bible, but meditation isn't my strong suit. I'm just too active of a guy. But you know, sometimes vigils are good for more than prayer and meditation. Sometimes they're meant to teach us self-discipline.
We're making peace, the vigil and I.
Thursday, November 23
10:12 PM This and that ....
1) Can you believe we're still getting up hay in mid-November?
2) You know you live in the country when the local greasy spoon has this sign on their wall.
3) You gotta love their honesty.
4) Did a "short" 26-mile bike ride this week. If you can't run you can always cycle.
5) Hurray for our local Y! We finally got our pot-holed parking lot paved. I had the joy of helping to raise funds for the project.
My next goal: Help organize a local 5K walk/run race at the Y.
6) The latest addition to Rosewood. Too cute!
7) The Blacks had me over for a delicious egg and pancake breakfast yesterday, so I got to see all 5 of my grandsons at one time. #Happiness.
8) That Chesley is growing!
9) Today the Bradshers had me over for the most wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Thank you, Joel and Kimberly!
10) Love you, Mr. Gabe!
Off to bed. Been a long but good day.
Oh Lord, we bow in gratitude for our Savior's willingness to take the cup of suffering on our behalf, and we gladly offer Him a sacrifice of praise. May our ambition to know Christ be as radical as was Paul's (Phil. 3:10).
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
9:30 PM For what it's worth: I haven't been able to run since the Richmond Marathon. I've got a case of tendonitis on the top of my left foot. The only cure is rest. This is hard folks, as in I-want-to-bang-my-head-against-the-wall-kind-of-hard. It all started at the finish line. I caved into the cheering crowd and finished the race at a sprint. After all, it was straight downhill at that point. I got exactly what I deserve for being so knuckle-headed. I've always said that no experience is without its teaching value. No setback is without a purpose. Today I feel more motivated than ever to listen to my body when I run, especially when peer pressure is telling me to do something that puts me way past my threshold. That doesn't mean I've given up running. The Dallas Marathon is still on my calendar for Dec. 10, and somehow I need to train for it. Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can. That saying pretty much sums up my running life right now. In addition, I have an amazing family who keeps me in line when my whining becomes too obvious or when the pity party gets out of hand. The thing is, I know that runners have hiccups all the time. You try to take precautions against injury. But marathons are unpredictable. They suck the breath right out of you. The road marathon has been likened to a 10K race with a 20-mile warm-up that requires you to run to the very edge of disaster. Don't get me wrong. I love marathons. These events have given me massive amounts of pleasure and have provided some decent preparation for the climbing I hope to do in the Alps next summer. But this injury has honestly scared me. It scares me to think of what I'm capable of doing to my body (and my fragile ego). I feel remorse for pushing myself too hard at the end of the race. It's amusing to me, really, how easily we can find our happiness in beating some self-imposed time limit. Arbitrary goals can justify almost anything. Throughout the race I had paced myself well. My quads were feeling no worse for the wear, and my feet were hurting no more than usual. I seriously had no business doing 25 miles at a 13-minute mile pace and the last mile at a 7-minute mile pace. The last mile of a marathon is always the most challenging because you can see the finish line and you sooooo want it to be done. So right now it's time for me to be a good patient and treat my injury with the respect it deserves. I won't lie. I don't like setbacks, especially when they come where you're facing "life stuff" and other things you can't control. In reality, running a marathon is a fairly selfish act. You do it in the hope to take something away from the experience. I know I'm not a professional athlete. But running means a lot to me. Races are reminders that we can do really hard things and, by the grace of God, dreams can really come true. I couldn't be more grateful. God has been so good to me. I've had an incredibly satisfying running year in 2017, even if I can't run in Dallas (to be determined). Every one of us has our own race to run. Sometimes we run outside of our comfort zone. Sometimes we're sidelined. Sometimes we lose interest in the race. Then we remember what running is all about – what it's like to do hard things, to push through one more obstacle, to learn again what your body's and mind's limits are. Lord willing I hope to do a lot more running next year. For me, there's no better way to achieve perspective in life. So it's – forge ahead! Trust the Lord for the results. And remember that everything's going to be okay because of that little word "hope" and the remembrance of an incredible 2017 when the Savior held me firmly in His hands.
8:26 PM I can't believe it's been a week since I last wrote on this blog but, then again, I can. So let me start by saying: Yes, I still have a blog. Barely.
As you, my dear readers, well know, I love blogging, so when my blog went down unannounced a week ago, you knew there was a probable explanation. Short version: Just over a week ago I went to update my blog and had copied and pasted a quote from a NT scholar's Facebook page into my Front Page (yes, I know Front Page is a dinosaur!) then, when I uploaded my blog to my server using FileZilla, I discovered that I had unwittingly copied over from that Facebook page its background (some ugly uncial script) that in turn made my blog completely unreadable, so I tried restoring my website to a previous date, only to find out that I had 16,781 files on my host's server (they average 1,024 per customer) and we decided I needed to migrate my website to a VPS (virtual private server) in order to avoid a "net violation" blah blah blah. And that's the short version. Oh the trauma! I feel terrible. How did any of you survive without knowing that I made stir-fry for dinner last night or that I've got ants in my kitchen again? What if something monumental happened, like I bench-pressed 125 pounds (please don't laugh out loud). Blogging is soooooo weird. The internet is driven by one thing: consumerism. And guess what? I'm part of this crazy, wild, unpredictable game. So when I found out that I wouldn't be able to blog for a whole week I nearly freaked out. Hmm, time to have a good long talk with Jesus, you spose? Blogging, like anything in life, can be addictive. Through the years I've convinced myself that my blog is a "ministry" intended to encourage people in their walk with Christ, but to be perfectly honest with you, it's mostly a personal outlet, a cathartic exercise, a tool that, frankly, horrifies me. If I'm being honest with myself, this is a terrifying cycle. With my genuine needs met by Christ (and only by Him), why do I need a blog? This question burdens me constantly. The trouble is that I'm really good at rationalizing an answer. But on the emotional level, I'm stuck in what psychologists call a "co-dependent" relationship. I mean, seriously, is this a runaway train?
My life is so much more than the rituals I perform on a daily basis. That includes blogging. In a nutshell, I guess I'd say that my life's work is training Jesus-followers to, well, follow Jesus. But my mission is so easily clouded by a thousand competing loyalties. In so many ways I'm a good example of the opposite of Jesus' lifestyle and ministry. Rather than calling the hordes to Himself, He tried to cull out the hangers-on, to thin out the crowd. He ended up with eleven. Codependent? Hardly. Admittedly, I'm not Jesus. (I have a good friend in Spain named Jesus and he's not Jesus either.) However, I am called to imitate Him. And I fail at this – constantly.
What will the Spirit do now that I'm (hopefully) blogging again? I have no idea. It's up to Him. As one of my kids told me the other day, "Dad, you reach a lot more people through your blog than you do in the classroom.” I'm a writer, folks. Always have been, always will be. Can't help it. I feel productive when I'm journaling or blogging. But God is teaching me that I'm not indispensable. This is a precious truth. Perhaps that's why He urges us to release, let go, submit, offer, yield. I really want to learn how to do this. Blogging, in and of itself, is so futile. It's like opening a treasure chest and finding it empty. The fact is, I am an alien. I am an exile on this earth. I realized this before Becky died, but it was only when she passed away that I knew, deep in my heart, that something wasn't right in my life. We are all pilgrims and strangers in this world. Sure, in our blogs and Facebook pages we look and sound like we're happy earthlings but that's only because we've perfected the art of setting up smokescreens. We write about all the good stuff going on in our lives – our sweet pets, our near-perfect kids, our new houses – in an attempt to convince everybody that we're fine, that we "fit," but we've known the whole time that we were created for another world. It takes a bright light to reveal that truth to us. I recall reading The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and coming across the story of when Gen. James Longstreet lost his children to yellow fever in 1862.
"But nobody knew it."
Dear reader, I hope always to be honest and transparent with you (hopefully without "over-sharing" or becoming creepy). I've always been attracted to blogs that are committed to honesty, that try to weave together moments of real life and biblical truth. There are plenty of good "devotionals" out there. I get them by the bucket loads every day by email. They provide great information, but I usually don't read them. I really, really care about conversations about life, real life, life that is both beautiful and horrifying, life that is both hopeful and hopeless. I want people to read my blog and go away thinking, "Maybe I'm not so crazy after all." It's rebellious, in a way, to choose to act out of that reality, to wear's one's weaknesses proudly, shamelessly, day after day. And if, for whatever reason, you've stopped believing because of the swirling pain and confusion all around you, I would be so pleased to think that maybe God's Spirit would lead you in ways you never considered possible because of something you read here. This is the thing: We believe in God because we have to, because we have no one else to turn to, because our brains would explode if we couldn't entrust ourselves or our families to Him for safekeeping. The thing that keeps me going is living this way of life, always pushing toward something bigger, wider, more beautiful, of telling God's story and, in so doing, discovering my own.
This is my prayer for us, that we give and receive a holy and merciful God in the midst of what sometimes feels like a raging storm. I'm not an expert on anything, certainly not on living the Christian life, but I'm here to tell you that God makes life worth living, every day, one day at a time, as long as we shall live.
Wednesday, November 15
6:44 PM Here's a shot from our beginning grammar. It's from the chapter on demonstrative pronouns, which, as you can see, contains examples from the New Testament.
The verse from Acts 9 hit me like a ton of bricks. I asked myself, "Who is Luke describing as 'full of good works'?" The answer, of course, is Dorcas. What a beautiful name. It means Doe or Fawn. Note: Dorcas wasn't only known for her good "words." She was known for her good "works." Which reminds me: One reason I'm sorta tired of sermons is because I've heard so many messages but haven't seen them. Dorcas wasn't someone who just talked about loving other people. She's the lady who did it. When we only talk about the Gospel but fail to act on it, were putting ourselves into some pretty dangerous territory.
The text goes on to to say, "She was sick and died." Oh my. If that didn't bring back memories. You see, I knew a woman who wasn't only full of good words; she was full of good works. Like Dorcas, "She was removed by divine Providence in the midst of her usefulness," as one commentary puts it. Unlike Mrs. Fawn, however, my Becky wasn't raised from the dead. Not yet, that is. So I repent today, repent of my self-pity and wallowing in the past. I could spend forever complaining about what transpired 4 years ago. That would be baggage I don't need. Neither do you, my friend. What could the Spirit do in our lives if we truly trusted "divine Providence"? We all suffer loss. But here's what we have to willingly give up: security. Relationships, all relationships, are fragile. They will change. If Jesus lived lightly on this earth, so can we. Our response to loss is the key.
Today, may you and I experience the wondrous feeling of letting it go, one tiny loss at a time. Yieldedness (German: Gelassenheit) relaxes all the spiritual muscles we've been clenching for so long.
P.S. I love the NLT's rendering of 1 Tim. 2:10: "Women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive ...
Now here's the part that might surprise you:
... by the good things they do." If that describes your wife, you, sir, are a mightily blessed man.
6:10 PM Hey guys! Trying to find something interesting to say about my week on campus because it felt so "ordinary" and yet no time spent at school is very ordinary when you have such fantastic students.
I read and graded a doctoral dissertation (my own student's). I read and graded a Ph.D. comprehensive exam (my own student's). I got caught up on my reading, including an essay in this fine book I checked out from our library:
I was especially intrigued (no telling why!) by an essay written by Bradley Arnold called "The Presence and Function of Athletic Imagery in Philippians 1:27-30." I also pulled this book off my shelf -- the first time since I purchased it in Basel in 1983.
I reread a piece I had read many years ago. It's by Ernst Haenchen and titled "Quellenanalyse und Kompositionsanalyse in Act 15." (By the way: you know you're getting old when you say "Ernst Haenchen" or "Joachim Jeremias" to students and they give you a strange look.) Right now I'm sitting here day-dreaming about the Dallas marathon. I for one am looking forward to a flat race and seeing how it goes. My main priority right now is just enjoying myself when I race. I'm so "over" PRs. At the end of the day, racing is all about pushing through and not beating yourself up when you do poorly. Right now I'm both mentally and physically tired after last weekend's race in Richmond. That's always a sign that it's time to back off. Dallas will be my last big race of the year and it's time to see what this old dude has got left in him. So right now it's forging ahead with training as planned and seeing how events unfold.
One thing is sure. Summer is most definitely over and done with. I think it was John Steinbeck who said, "What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?" Looking back over 2017, I am pleased with my races. In many ways, running is great therapy. It shows you your strengths, makes you aware of your weaknesses, and gives you the confidence to face the rest of your life with a smile on your face and hope in your heart. Right now my body is, as I said, weak, as is the case whenever you push it beyond its threshold. But I feel thoroughly satisfied with what the Lord allowed me to accomplish this year. No burn out (yet!). Just a sense of humble undeservedness. I love the feel of a race. I love the community. I love the sense of over-the-top commitment that running asks of you. Yes, I've needed this sport. Marathons are brutally hard. You can't just get out and run 26.2 miles without training, even if your only goal is to finish the race standing up. All week I've been encouraging my students to persevere in their studies until the end of the semester, which (unbelievably!) is just right around the next bend in the road. I keep thinking of a line from Alice in Wonderland: "Begin at the beginning and go till you come to the end. Then stop." Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has tracked me, cheered me on, or shouted my name on the course. As I've said a thousand times, I'm so thankful for this journey God has given me and for the passion and ability to get outdoors and be active with my body. It's even more amazing to think that He's using me to encourage others to dream big dreams with their lives. Although in some ways 2017 has been a tough year for me emotionally, I have nothing to complain about. I've been blessed with strong legs and a healthy heart, blessings I certainly do not deserve nor do I take them for granted. I'm even happy to report that my ugly toenails are doing great. I'm taking a mandatory week off from doing any running at all because there's much less chance of injury to your body when it rebuilds slowly. That doesn't mean I can't cycle though.
Okay, long enough post so I'll close for now – with a link to this great YouTube.
I feel sooooo incredibly thankful that I discovered this sport. My cup doth overfloweth. Most of all, I'm overwhelmed by all of your support. Thank you.
Monday, November 13
8:24 AM Odds and sods ....
1) Greek students, don't forget to read Nerdy Language Majors. (Is Latin really necessary? Should you buy the new Tyndale Greek New Testament? What's the best book on comparative philology?)
2) The new Siri on my iPhone map now uses "announcer voice." TURN left onto White HOUSE road." Oh my, how we love false inflection these days.
3) I made some really dumb puns in the final chapters of our Greek 3 textbook. "Up the Greek without a paddle." "To Koine phrase." I'm sorry.
4) This athlete ran the NYC Marathon -- backwards. And with a time of 6:06:51. Egads. I barely finished my Richmond race in 6:01. I am telling you, that is 'mazing!
5) Do Nike's new marathon shoes actually make you run faster? Wired has the answer. (Gah, I know you're thinking, "Who cares?")
7:48 AM One takeaway from Phil. 4:10-23. I don't see Paul suffering from regret. I don't see him envying the young. Why would the elderly envy them anyway? They have so much to learn, so many disappointments to face, so many obstacles to overcome. At least, if we're blessed, we older folk have grown through our struggles. I once knew another man named Paul. He was from Germany. He and his wife emigrated to the U.S. after WWII. For a year they lived under an overturned army vehicle in Schleswig-Holstein. When they finally settled down in Anaheim, CA, Paul became the pastor of a small Lutheran Brethren church there. It was one of the only German-speaking congregations in the area and, since I was teaching myself German, I availed myself of its Sunday morning services. I began meeting weekly with Herr Mittmann for practice in German conversation, and before I left for Basel I had preached in his church several times. He rarely spoke about the past, about the war or about the lack of food or about how they nearly froze to death during the winter of 44-45. One day in 1945 his wife served up a specialty for supper -- "bread soup." Dear Lord. How can people be so content in You? In the Mittmanns I caught a glimpse of the old Puritan work ethic: set your mind on what needs to be done, and don't complain. The later years of life are times to clear out the junk in our mental attics. It's time to center on our real priorities and not on our incidentals. When Joseph named his firstborn son "Manasseh," he said, "For God has made me forget all my hardship" (Gen. 41:51). We need to forget all the wounds of the past. We need to forget the old resentments. We need to forget the bitterness. You say you can't do this? "God has made me forget." I can just see the apostle Paul, sitting there in jail, thinking to himself, "God can help me forget what I need to forget." Folks, we can't do it on our own. We rightly treasure our past, but those experiences don't define our existence. Who I am today depends on the spiritual manna that God gives for each day. Like the apostle, we can sing the Lord's song in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. When Paul says "I am content" he doesn't mean we should fold our hands and resign ourselves to life. Paul was always "going further." Sometimes all we have to eat is bread soup. That's okay. That's just life. I'm living life in the now, keeping my face forward as I climb the hill of God.
With that in mind, the next two weeks will be a time of concentrated focus on reading and maybe even some writing. I originally had an international trip planned for the Thanksgiving break but that has been postponed, so I will take this time for a personal retreat, for quiet reflection and meditation. I'll spend time with my aging parents in Dallas. I'll ask God to show me ways how I can reach out to others in ministry and make a difference in someone's life, all the while taking courage from the example of the apostle Paul in Philippians and others like Becky who have gone before us.
The words of that great hymn, For All the Saints.
God of hope and joy, help me to walk by faith and not by sight. Give me courage and grace to be content in life. Help me to be open to Your life-giving Spirit. Help me to make the last years the best years. Amen.
Sunday, November 12
6:44 PM Here's the passage for Tuesday night's class. It's Phil. 4:10-23. I've been reading it over and over again.
Ἐχάρην δὲ ἐν κυρίῳ μεγάλως ὅτι ἤδη ποτὲ ἀνεθάλετε τὸ ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ φρονεῖν, ἐφ’ ᾧ καὶ ἐφρονεῖτε ἠκαιρεῖσθε δέ. οὐχ ὅτι καθ’ ὑστέρησιν λέγω, ἐγὼ γὰρ ἔμαθον ἐν οἷς εἰμι αὐτάρκης εἶναι· οἶδα καὶ ταπεινοῦσθαι, οἶδα καὶ περισσεύειν· ἐν παντὶ καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν μεμύημαι, καὶ χορτάζεσθαι καὶ πεινᾶν, καὶ περισσεύειν καὶ ὑστερεῖσθαι· πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με. πλὴν καλῶς ἐποιήσατε συγκοινωνήσαντές μου τῇ θλίψει.
Οἴδατε δὲ καὶ ὑμεῖς, Φιλιππήσιοι, ὅτι ἐν ἀρχῇ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, ὅτε ἐξῆλθον ἀπὸ Μακεδονίας, οὐδεμία μοι ἐκκλησία ἐκοινώνησεν εἰς λόγον δόσεως καὶ λήμψεως εἰ μὴ ὑμεῖς μόνοι, ὅτι καὶ ἐν Θεσσαλονίκῃ καὶ ἅπαξ καὶ δὶς εἰς τὴν χρείαν μοι ἐπέμψατε. οὐχ ὅτι ἐπιζητῶ τὸ δόμα, ἀλλὰ ἐπιζητῶ τὸν καρπὸν τὸν πλεονάζοντα εἰς λόγον ὑμῶν. ἀπέχω δὲ πάντα καὶ περισσεύω· πεπλήρωμαι δεξάμενος παρὰ Ἐπαφροδίτου τὰ παρ’ ὑμῶν, ὀσμὴν εὐωδίας, θυσίαν δεκτήν, εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ. ὁ δὲ θεός μου πληρώσει πᾶσαν χρείαν ὑμῶν κατὰ τὸ πλοῦτος αὐτοῦ ἐν δόξῃ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. τῷ δὲ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ ἡμῶν ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.
Ἀσπάσασθε πάντα ἅγιον ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς οἱ σὺν ἐμοὶ ἀδελφοί. ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι, μάλιστα δὲ οἱ ἐκ τῆς Καίσαρος οἰκίας. ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν.
Bam, right at the end of his letter, Paul cuts to the quick. I have so far to go. The American Dream seems like such a sad substitute for the kind of living Paul describes here. This is the church Jesus was willing to die for, a church that would die to power, accumulation, greed, self-preservation. A church that would live for brotherhood, kindness, generosity. I ask myself, "What are you missing, Dave?" I squander so much of the Lord's resources. Today, Nov. 12, is "National Pizza with the Works Except Anchovies Day." (I kid you not. Google it.) Ouch. I'm neck deep in prosperity, and so are you. Is it really possible to purchase fewer things, cheaper things? Why don't we take care of the poor as much as we take of our own bodies? I, for one, don't see Paul as someone who's always gobbling up the goodies. He wasn't a killjoy either, of course. But "being content" is so, well, un-American. Spending our money unnecessarily is just plain fun. Believe me, I'm still addicted to abundance. Watching the beggars in Richmond stirred me. I gave without even questioning. Evidently, Jesus said "Give to everyone who asks you" for a reason. God, now give me the courage to be as generous with myself. Allow me to give myself the best gift of all: the ability to act boldly in Your service.
For most American Christians, Phil. 4:10-23 will sound like it was written by a space alien. Paul's not lecturing us, however. Jesus has already said all that needs to be said. Our job is simply to live it.
3:54 PM I've discovered that there are many reasons to run. The finish line is only one of them. I started running because I thought the sport could help ease the pain of living. Now I run mostly for health and fitness. Many of us come to running because we've experienced a loss in our lives. Running just seems to make the loss a little more bearable. Yesterday in Richmond I can't tell you how many times I saw photos of someone's loved one pinned onto the back of their race jersey. "Now why didn't I think of that?" I mused. Each of us can find the act of running a meaningful gesture in our lives. In Dallas in exactly one month I'll get to stand at the starting line again. The course is pretty typical but has the unique feature of taking you around White Rock Lake.
Like other races, the Dallas Marathon will feature a host of elite runners who have a real chance of winning the race that day. They'll be at the front of the pack on race day. Then there are runners from the local area who are pretty fast and who'll try to earn a PR. Standing around will also be runners like me -- people who are, generally speaking, running not to compete in the race but simply to complete it, people who have come to Dallas because it was a convenient race for them to run that weekend, or because they had business in the Big D and decided to kill two birds with the same stone, or because they're trying to complete the 50-state marathon challenge. I'm the guy who'll be there for sentimental reasons. You see, I'm the 24-year old who flew from Los Angeles to Dallas in the summer of 1976 to propose to a pretty young lady.
She said "Yes" on the shores of White Rock Lake, and I know the exact spot along the course where that proposal took place.
I honestly don't know what will happen when I get to that spot. Will I stop and weep? Will I smile and laugh? After all, in 1976 we were both so young and naive. Back then, all traffic lights were green. The sky was the limit. The young surfer from Hawaii was about to begin his teaching career in California and she said yes to becoming his lifelong partner. Now if that wasn't a miracle of God.
If I do stop running, I doubt if anyone will notice. Each runner is pursuing their own tangible "finish" -- to something. It's hard to imagine, as I look in the mirror of life, that Becky and I were married 41 years ago. As I continue to race, I realize that every person on the course has had to conquer something in their past that might have kept them from running. Sooner or later I'll no longer be able to run, so I want to enjoy my races for as long as I can. The look of determination on our faces must tell you something. We are running because of memories, past memories for sure, but also to build new memories. My memories are the ones I'm creating today.
I don't know if any of you will be participating in the Dallas Marathon on Dec. 10. But if you do run and see a guy with a sign on his back ("In Loving Memory of My Wife of 37 Years") stopped beside White Rock Lake crying his heart out, please don't call the medical staff. He's okay. He's just remembering, and giving thanks.
9:06 AM Howdy, folks! Had a wonderful time in Richmond. If you think you can't run a marathon, remember that there are people 20 years older than you running in their umpteenth marathon race. "Good grief" probably isn't the most appropriate term to use right now, but being stubborn does have its advantages. A few pix:
1) My hotel in downtown Richmond (the "Omni").
2) The view from my 14th story room (with the white capitol building dwarfed in the center of the picture).
3) Over 7,000 runners participated in the marathon. Still others ran either a 8K or a half marathon. Here's my view from the starting line.
4) Crossing the bridge to the south side of the James.
5) About to make the turn onto the James River Greenway.
6) The vistas there were beautiful.
7) Crossing back into Richmond.
8) The last 3 miles were a nice downhill stretch. Let me tell you, when you hear the cheering from the finish line, you can't help but pick up your pace.
9) Marathon #5 is now in the books.
10) I'm pleased with my overall results.
By mile 20 my legs were stiff and sore. It's sorta odd, but I kept saying to myself, "Lord, why am I doing this?" and then in the next breath, "Lord, thank You for letting me do this. It's so much fun!" Running is paradoxical in that way. I pushed hard all the way to the finish. There was nothing particularly difficult about this race. Yet I struggled to finish it, as I do with all of my marathons. They're not easy, that's for sure. I suppose that's why people do them. I'm definitely going back next year!
Friday, November 10
7:46 AM Yesterday was quite a day. It was all Doug Bookman's fault. It was he who invited me to speak to his NT students at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary. "Go wherever you like in your talk," he told me, though I knew he really wanted to speak about "errors" in Markan diction, which I did. (There are none, by the way.)
Let me sum it up: Reading the church fathers really messed me up. I can no longer hold to Markan priority because then I'd have to shelve the patristic testimony. Sorry for the brief summation (but my book Why Four Gospels? will walk you through the thrilling account of God inspiring our four Gospel accounts of the life of Christ). Before you speak for two hours it's always a good idea to get some grub, and Aseb and Eden at the Awazé restaurant in Cary were only too happy to oblige.
I got kai wat again (I'm stuck in a rut), topped off by some Ethiopian popcorn and a milk/coffee/sugar combo. Delicious. I really love food and take every opportunity I can to enjoy the benefits of exercise. I'm not sure whether my talk last night changed anybody's mind. Hopefully it will at least start the engine. So thanks to Doug (right) and Andy (who also teaches New Testament there) for being such gracious hosts.
This was I think my third or fourth visit to STS and I had so much fun it was downright embarrassing. So with that I begin my weekend adventures, culminating in tomorrow's slug fest. I'll be dealing with really cold weather, so I tucked away in my suitcase my high altitude climbing gloves. Can I also run with a bottle of hot chocolate? We'll see.
Thursday, November 9
10:25 AM I am so ready for Saturday's race. Thankfully, they're calling for partly sunny skies. The bad news is that the temperature at starting time will be about 24 degrees.
Knowing what to wear on cold days will always be a struggle for me. I get anxious about running and not being able to stay warm. I think for this race I'll definitely wear one of my ski caps and a parka to protect myself against the wind when we run over the James River bridges. Even after all these years of running (three, to be exact), races still intimidate me. Mostly because I'm not super fast, but also because I'm still such a newbie at this whole sport. I'm not proud to admit it, but I'm pretty much a wimp when it comes to suffering, especially knowing that you could be at home in your warm slippers. That said, it feels undeniably good to stand there at the starting line waiting for the horn to sound, knowing that your former self would definitely not have chosen to be there on race day. Then, after the race starts, you are amazed at the willpower of your fellow sufferers: people in wheel chairs, people who have a prosthesis, people who are blind and running with a guide. How can they do that? Instead of having a pity party ("Why me?"), they ask, "Okay, so I've got issues. What new possibilities can I strive for?" That's the great thing about racing. For this one race, for this one time, we can scream our hearts out and encourage each other. We're not only cheering for others but for ourselves. If that doesn't fire you up, your wood's all wet. Some of you need to stop "adulting" all the time. You need to try something new and jump in without knowing or worrying about the how part later. Running is like a caramel macchiato at Starbucks. It'll keep you coming back for more, and more.
Wanna try it?
9:50 AM So here's the last verse of Philippians.
This verse is safely bubble wrapped in our English versions. But the word "spirit" is singular while the word "your" is plural. Sure enough, the final word is one of unity in a book that is all about unity in the cause of the Good News. For the love of pronouns! What a great truth. Remember, I'm a guy who reads Greek when I get up and then runs off to feed hay to the animals, all the while pondering what he just read (and preparing his next blog post). Our unity is caused by the Spirit. Hence it's something not to be attained but maintained. We just have to embrace it. Love is called the bond that unites us despite all of our differences (Col. 3:14). Ours is the initiative, church!
7:18 AM As I mentioned yesterday, Noah Kelley has produced a slide show on Greek verbal aspect. Go here and scroll down to access it. Here's just one screen shot of Noah's excellent presentation.
Yeah, we all know that verbal aspect is all the fad these days. So we need to ask, "How has this theory influenced the writing of New Testament commentaries, if at all?" It's just here that Noah's slide show makes a unique contribution to the discussion. He has carefully examined a recent commentary on 1 Corinthians and found its use of verbal aspect theory to be both satisfying and (in some ways) lacking.
Today I'm uptohere with errands. So evidently, the blog will suffer. I hope to be back atcha later with some comments on the closing verses of Philippians. As a matter of fact, Paul's "thankless thanks" might well be the most relevant passage in the letter when it comes to the question of missionary support. And then there's the closing salutation. Brilliant.
It's raining today but the skies should be clearing for this weekend's race. Well, I'd probably run it in the rain anyway.
Wednesday, November 8
6:20 PM So I'm finally back home again. My stars, but this has been a busy week. Humor me: What if you discovered a gorgeous pattern of commands in Rom. 12? You’d produce a Power Point on it, right? That's me. When I see a need, I go for it. My study was based on a wonderful essay by Neva Miller that appeared in a book I edited many moons ago.
The book resulted from a 2-week conference at SIL's headquarters in Dallas where we brought together field translators, Ph.Ds. in linguistics, and Greek profs from all around the world. What a great time we all had. Neva saw fertile soil in Rom. 12 and decided to plant and harvest. Here's the upshot of her essay. She noted how Paul used the imperative mood for some of his commands (as you would expect), but he also used adjectives, participles, and even infinitives imperativally. The way he "mitigates" (softens) his commands is a lesson in tact. I've tried to bring this out in the following translation. Note: Adjectives are in green; participles are in blue; infinitives are in yellow; and straight-up imperatives are in red.
Tomorrow I have another speaking engagement before heading off for the Richmond marathon this weekend. I'll be returning to the Shepherd's Seminary. There is something so marvelous about the idea of academic cross-fertilization. We too have visiting faculty on our campus all the time. It's a brilliant way to expose our students to scholars they normally don't get to hear. Not only that, but I get to speak on one of my favorite topics again, the synoptic problem. It will be awesome. (A quick insert: The students were required to read Why Four Gospels? so they pretty well know what I'm going to say.)
Rewind to last night. First, our Greek 3 class divided into two groups to translate participles (led by Tyler) ...
... and infinitives (led by Taman).
Then Andrew walked us through the text of Phil. 4:1-9.
Ahem. This means no more needless worrying. No more always asserting my own rights. Severely limiting the time I don't pray. Having a "let's work together" perspective on the Great Commission. Who wouldn't want to live this way? Next, Noah (my able assistant and Ph.D. student) spoke to the class about the current conundrum called verbal aspect.
Why, we don't even agree on the number of aspects let alone what to call them. Newsflash: I think somebody needs to hold a major conference on Greek linguistics on their campus, don't you? On the positive side, today I took my NT 2 class through Heb. 6:4-6, the infamous "warning passage" that everyone obsesses over. Never has a text been more hotly debated. It's so easy to overlook the shift from the 5 aorist tense participles to the 2 present tense participles. For those who have both personally and publically repudiated Christ, there's hope as long as they don't persist in their behavior. (Peter denied Christ, remember? But he went out and wept bitterly.)
We're learning so much.
Oh, I got a copy of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament in the mail this week. Many thanks to the editors for their kindness.
This tome claims to be a revision of Tregelles' Greek New Testament, which "has been undeservedly ignored …." (p. 505). Primacy of place seems to have been given to Greek witnesses that predate the fifth century. With no small amount of disappointment I noted that they placed Hebrews at the end of the Pauline corpus. As if to anticipate criticism in this regard, the editors note (p. 512):
I'll say! I went online and reread William Hatch's classic essay "The Position of Hebrews in the Canon of the New Testament." This essay appeared in the Harvard Theological Review way back in 1936, when a loaf of bread cost a mere 8 cents. Hatch reminded me that a very strong case can be made for placing Hebrews after 2 Thessalonians (that is, after the Pauline epistles that were addressed to churches) rather than after Philemon (that is, at the end of the Pauline corpus). Hatch discusses in detail the custom of placing Hebrews after Philemon, a custom he says was followed by Mills (1707), Wettstein (1751-1752), and Griesbach (1805). Why? "[T]hey were interested in collecting variant readings and editing the text rather than in the order of the books of the New Testament. In this matter they simply followed the tradition which had prevailed since the time of the earliest printed editions of the Greek text" (p. 150). Hatch goes on to note something of great importance, namely that Lachmann (1831) abandoned this established custom and instead followed the earliest Alexandrian uncials in placing Hebrews after Paul's church letters and before 1 Timothy. Lachmann's example was followed by Westcott and Hort (1881), Tischendorf (1869-1872), B. Weiss (1894-1900), von Soden (1902-1913), and even Tregelles himself (1857-1872). So for now I'll continue to peruse this new edition of the Greek text as time allows and hope for a more detailed explanation from the editors as to why they departed from excellent precedence!
Finally, having thrown myself back into the marathon arena, I thought I'd read this book by world class runner and CRO (Chief Running Officer) of Runner's World magazine, Bart Yasso, who, by the way, will be book signing this weekend in Richmond.
He even talks about the "Antarctica Marathon" in the book. Now that's a thought. As for me and my house, we will not be afraid to do crazy things!
Monday, November 6
7:12 AM This is the beautiful passage we're looking at this week in Greek 3. It's Phil. 4:1-9.
Ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοὶ καὶ ἐπιπόθητοι, χαρὰ καὶ στέφανός μου, οὕτως στήκετε ἐν κυρίῳ, ἀγαπητοί. Εὐοδίαν παρακαλῶ καὶ Συντύχην παρακαλῶ τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν ἐν κυρίῳ. ναὶ ἐρωτῶ καὶ σέ, γνήσιε σύζυγε, συλλαμβάνου αὐταῖς, αἵτινες ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ συνήθλησάν μοι μετὰ καὶ Κλήμεντος καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν συνεργῶν μου, ὧν τὰ ὀνόματα ἐν βίβλῳ ζωῆς.
Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε.
τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν γνωσθήτω πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις. ὁ κύριος ἐγγύς.
μηδὲν μεριμνᾶτε, ἀλλ’ ἐν παντὶ τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ τῇ δεήσει μετὰ εὐχαριστίας τὰ αἰτήματα ὑμῶν γνωριζέσθω πρὸς τὸν θεόν. καὶ ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ ὑπερέχουσα πάντα νοῦν φρουρήσει τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ νοήματα ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.
Τὸ λοιπόν, ἀδελφοί, ὅσα ἐστὶν ἀληθῆ, ὅσα σεμνά, ὅσα δίκαια, ὅσα ἁγνά, ὅσα προσφιλῆ, ὅσα εὔφημα, εἴ τις ἀρετὴ καὶ εἴ τις ἔπαινος, ταῦτα λογίζεσθε· ἃ καὶ ἐμάθετε καὶ παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε καὶ εἴδετε ἐν ἐμοί, ταῦτα πράσσετε· καὶ ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης ἔσται μεθ’ ὑμῶν.
This is why, on groggy mornings, often my first thought is, "Come, Lord Jesus." For 2,000 years He's been preparing a place for us, and His return is something He promised during His final days on earth. "The Lord is near" has two senses, I reckon. He's nearby spacially to help us in our daily battle with pride and lust and greed and laziness and jealousy and other nagging habits. And He's nearby temporally because any day now we'll be hearing the trumpet blow. I wonder what that will sound like. When anybody drives into the farm, the donkeys bray. They are the best watch dogs. No one can make a "surprise" visit" to Rosewood. But in the Bible, Christ's return is described like a thief who comes at night. And it will be quick -- as fast as the blink of an eye. Sometimes, when I'm writing or teaching, I imagine all of it going up in smoke as wood, hay, and stubble. Who knows if my work or any part of it will count for eternity? The Day will reveal it. Every day matters. The Gospel Commission is big, important work. What else is there to do? Euodia and Syntyche must be of the same mind in the Lord so that can continue to work side by side for the sake of the Good News. This is my prayer nowadays: Dear God, thank You, thank You, thank You for making me a Great Commission Christian. And dear God, please, please, please make me more of one. Right now I'm planning the first of 3 international trips to help the suffering church. I'm grateful that at the age of 65 I'm still able to travel. My body might not look like much on the outside, but I would absolutely like to keep it busy until the Lord returns. Today, life feels a like a rare gift. I feel like I've been ground to dust and God is putting me back together again. I start to get tiny glimpses of what heaven must look like. I can feel the candle in my fragile soul getting brighter. Thank God. I don't want to waste my life. Every day counts -- every conversation, every class I teach, every student I counsel, every meal, every meeting. That "thing" I've been waiting for is already here. It's in the person of Jesus. Wear me out, Lord. Use me up. Let me be busy until You return.
Friend, may your life this day explode with His energy and grace. May you know unity, joy, and peace, as Paul wishes for the Philippians in this passage. For with pain comes great hope.
6:24 AM Congratulations, Shalane Flanagan!
6:20 AM I know that yesterday I was only supposed to set the clock back 1 hour and not 20 years. But yesterday, when I read Jonathan Aigner's piece 3 Reasons Contemporary Worship IS Declining and What We Can Do to Help the Church Move On, I was reminded of the music that I love to listen to these days, music that was "contemporary" 20 years ago but today is so "passé." What I like about the Maranatha Singers is their vocalism, musicality, and depth. See if you don't agree. Wouldn't mind singing these "old" songs again sometime.
Sunday, November 5
7:18 PM Today I ran the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh, NC. This was my fourth marathon in 7 months. I hadn't planned on this event but as I was Googling possible 5Ks for Saturday morning, I noticed that this annual marathon was being run this weekend. Since online registration had already closed, I drove into Raleigh yesterday to see if I could still get a race number and, sure enough, I did. I left the house this morning at 4:00 am in order to have my ritual breakfast at Denny's -- two cups of their delicious coffee along with two scrumptious pancakes. Then I drove to Raleigh and parked in Cameron Village for the short walk to the bell tower on the campus of North Carolina State University. This was a smallish event. Most people were running either the 5K or the 10K. Fewer were running the half marathon and still fewer the full marathon. I was SO pumped up for this race. Then we were off like a herd of turtles. The course took us through the heart of the downtown area, where we were treated to views of several historic buildings. Each aid station had Gatorade and water, but at mile 13 the key word was nutrition. Never did cookies and bananas taste so good. The last three miles were all uphill and pretty taxing, but eventually you made your way to the finish line. This wasn't my best marathon in terms of timing but it also wasn't my worst. Running is kinda like winning an Oscar. You get a really cool medal, and for the rest of your life you can say you're a marathoner. The key for me today was staying hydrated. The weather also helped -- a perfect 52 degrees with overcast skies. Running is a lot like learning a foreign language such as Greek. No one can run a single step for you. Most long-distance athletes are not born, they're made. I think that's true of language learners as well. Only you can put in the miles -- or memorize the vocabulary. I enjoyed today's race immensely. I enjoyed it because it was extremely challenging to me -- both physically and mentally. In fact, the last 6 miles were a pure mental struggle. You have to will you legs to keep moving or else they will stop. But as soon as I crossed the finish line I felt rewarded for the hard work I put into the race today. I wish everyone could experience what it's like. You don't have to be a professional athlete to accomplish great things with your body. Your biggest danger is not the course or the distance. Your biggest danger will be your unwillingness to accept the challenge. But you can't finish what you don't start. And when you do start something, it's always a good idea to finish it if that's possible. To be honest, my legs were trashed long before mile 20. I had two choices: cave in, or keep running. The first option was certainly the easier of the two. But, like you, I have to live with myself. What voice do you hear in your head? Or better, what voice in your head do you listen to? Each race becomes its own reward. I liked today's race because I was challenged to the max in every way. I pleaded with the Lord to grant me enough strength to finish, and He came through. Sometimes the things that challenge us the most define us. The surprising thing is that at my age I'm still taking on new challenges. Running has changed me from my own worst critic to my own best fan. Running is one of the best places to discover the best of yourself, and the best of others.
A few pix:
1) My runner's breakfast.
2) The NC State campus at dawn.
3) The anticipation builds for the 7:00 start.
4) Ready or not!
5) The gun sounds.
6) The State Capitol in the heart of the city.
6) One of Raleigh's most famous colleges.
7) Food spells happiness.
8) Finally, the finish line.
9) I'm pleased with my average pace.
10) Swag city!
Next weekend, Lord willing: The Richmond Marathon.
Saturday, November 4
9:15 AM Morning, one and all! So we've arrived at the final chapter of Philippians, and boy does Paul start with a bang. I've often said that the theme of Philippians has nothing to do with joy, except as joy is a byproduct of living for the sake of others and serving them as Christ would have served them (with towel and basin ministries). (Note: I don't use language like "live for the sake of the Gospel" any more because that phrase is meaningless. Living for the Gospel means living a Gospel-formed lifestyle of selflessness and self-sacrifice with Jesus'-like humility.) That said, Paul does speak about joy here, not once, but twice, as if to emphasize in his conclusion that joy is always and only found in union with the Lord and in advancing His cause. "Rejoice in what the Lord is doing in your lives and not in what you may have so proudly accomplished" might be a way of paraphrasing Paul's thought here. My book Godworld is about the emerging generation of younger evangelicals and how and why their vision of church and ministry will differ from that of their parents. They are becoming more and more convinced that what needs changing is not the faith itself but the wineskins in which the church is communicated. They are no less "people of the book" than my generation is, but they are moved toward a more pragmatic interpretation of Christianity than many of us are. For them, intellectualism no longer defines evangelicalism. They seek to become the most socially active Christian community in the world. Their bywords are "real," "genuine," "relational," rather than "big," "entertaining," "flashy." They are committed to racial justice and to the plight of the poor. They reject the individualism and me-ism of their forefathers. This shift among younger evangelicals might well be summarized by what Paul writes in Phil. 2:1-11. It's a shift from beating our breasts about all of our successes to being in touch with God and in community with others. I've seen this, up close and personal, in my classes. In fact, in my NT 2 class, the final assignment this semester is not an exam but what I'm calling "towel and basin ministries," where each student realizes that truth is not so much understood but loved and lived. One student is serving a widower in his church by washing his windows. Another is staying home one night a week with the kids while his wife goes out and has some personal time. I've made this distinction between thinkers and practitioners intentional in this class. I want my students to see that the so-called "academic" disciplines are no less practical than their "pastoral ministry" courses. When I was in school, "New Testament" was seen as an academic discipline. In the postmodern world of the younger evangelicals, practical theology is seen as the natural concomitant of Bible study. This shift isn't happening overnight. But I'm finding that it's there waiting for us in the most unexpected places, like in the seminary classroom. In an evangelical subculture wracked by loneliness and ravaged by superstardomism, this is no small movement.
On another note, I successfully negotiated the "big anniversary." God has been so good to me. Life keeps getting a little bit easier and easier, and I tend not to cry as often. Thankfully, blessedly, this anniversary feels different from past ones. Four years ago I was adrift in a sea of grief and loneliness. I didn't know who I was or any other way of doing life. I'm now one of those people who keeps surprising his relatives with his latest hobby. I'm trying to set a good example for the next generation of young men who are watching me closely. No games. No fairy tales. No play acting. Just life. Real life. The clichés are gone. I'm emerging into life after death.
Make it a great weekend.
Friday, November 3
7:02 PM "Work, for the night is coming."
1:48 PM The highest I've climbed so far is 14,600 feet. If I'm going to summit Mont Blanc next summer, I'll need to get my climbing legs back into shape. Mont Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps at 15,744 feet. Today I topped out at a whopping (!) 3,862 feet. The elevation change was a mere 1,340 feet. But the views from Sharp Top were amazing. I took tons of pics but I'll only bore you with a couple.
1) The trail head.
2) The climb is pretty strenuous.
3) My goal was to summit in under an hour.
4) An empty cabin near the summit. A former concession stand?
5) Abbott Lake from Sharp Top.
6) My sixth summit of Sharp Top. That's Flat Top in the background.
7) Like a kid, I just had to scramble up to the highest point. A visitor from Shanghai (of all places) snapped these photos.
8) Had Mexican in Bedford afterwards and gave my server a copy of Becky's book in Spanish. I love doing that.
Right now I need to rest up. More baling this afternoon.
6:04 AM High fives all around during last night's dinner celebration.
Our family is learning to go above and beyond our loss. I felt overwhelmed at the outpouring of their love and affection. Thank God for family -- and for books that speak truth and comfort to those who need it most, like Markus Barth's magisterial commentary on Ephesians, which I was perusing at 5:00 this morning. The section called "Husband and Wife" is titled, simply, "Love Her! Love Her!"
I have experienced marriage at its best, and its worst -- as have some of you. Today, it has become my calling to serve the believing community as an interpreter of my experience as a widower. It isn't something I would have chosen for myself. I've told people many times that the only way to learn from loss is to love even more deeply than ever before. Even while we are married we need to begin releasing our loved one. Love means acceptance -- that we are getting older, that we will fall ill, that some day one of us will pass on to glory. Love means acceptance, not mere capitulation. Change is a sacrament. It is a visible sign that our invisible God is at work in our lives. That is a wonderfully comforting concept to me. Becky's death did not take Him by surprise. Oh, did I mention that He also had a good purpose in it, as He does in all things? Hardship is indispensable to holiness. Hence to marry is to be vulnerable. It's either that or play it "safe." 41 years ago, Becky and I opened ourselves to the power of pain when we said our "I dos." We surrendered our rights to the Master, and we accepted the hand each of us was eventually dealt. When Simeon said to Mary, "A sword shall pierce your own soul," he knew what many newlyweds don't know simply because they can't know it at that stage in their relationship: Life, in all cases, means pain. No doubt I'm still learning that lesson. But celebrations like last night's ease the burden. No one has contributed more to my healing than my family. To each I say, "Thank you." It's a rare and wonderful thing to have this large of a support group. I will feel their love for the rest of my life.
Thursday, November 2
1:34 PM Just back from a training run.
Can't believe how gorgeous it is today. Can you imagine: it's November and 78 degrees outdoors?
Time to get some studying done.
9:12 AM The latest issue of Christianity Today has a piece called Why Critics Are Wrong to Scold Evangelicals for Historical Rootlessness. It's left its mark on my thinking. Why, just this past week in class we talked about the need to study early church history as part of our task as exegetes of the New Testament. One example: The early church celebrated the Lord's Supper weekly, as a full meal. Does your church do that? Does mine? Writes the author of this essay:
Read that again:
The Lord's Supper is central to God's magnificence. It's a key to help prevent the pulpit-centricity that sometimes plagues our evangelical churches. In my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, I called my chapter on the Lord's Supper "Christ-Centered Gatherings." Friends, look over that quote again. Why is this so hard for us to see? On the journey of discipleship, the first step is biblical knowledge. Then comes the more difficult step: obedience. How convinced are you that a quarterly observance of the Lord's Supper as an addendum to the "preaching service" is really biblical or healthy?
This essay was a great read. It's a call for evangelicals to go, grow, move. We simply can't be satisfied with the status quo any more.
8:44 AM Four years ago today I began my path of loneliness. But with the grace of God and the passage of time ("Time heals all wounds," said the ancient Greeks), I've become used to this new world in which I live. When Becky and I got married in 1976, marriage was an uncharted course for us. No less uncharted is widowerhood. Obedience in the face of loss is part of love's burden. It's a burden I'm learning to gladly share. I miss Becky. The house in which we lived together seems empty and cold. I am learning daily to make the sacrifice of surrender. It's heartening to know that others bear the same cross. Their emails prove it. When you're feeling weak and vulnerable, it's time to put your faith on the line. What flower may blossom from this thicket of thorns?
To commemorate Becky's homegoing this week we'll be meeting as a family for dinner. There's something so special about grandchildren. Their antics are hilarious, their laughter contagious. When Naomi held little Obed in her arms, the knowledge of continuity must have renewed her soul. Then I think I'll head up into the mountains, where I always feel God's presence. Climbing seems to help me conquer my personal Everests. After all, hasn't the Creator given me the greatest gift of all -- Himself? The more I focus on the bigness of God, the smaller my fears become. Meanwhile, I sat on my porch this morning and meditated on the words of Phil. 4:1-9, the passage we'll be studying in Greek 3 next week. I know it sounds cheesy, but I found myself paraphrasing the text with Becky in mind. Please don't think this sacrilegious, but here goes:
No one is more grateful than me for the life and testimony of Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. Where would I have been had it not been for her? Years have now passed since that fateful night of Nov. 2, 2013. A very dark night it was. But would I be the man I am today had it not happened? Today, then, is a milestone. It's a place to look back from where I came, and it's a place to look forward to where I'm going. How many more birthdays? How many more mountains? How many more races? How many more tragedies? I'm not the least bit bashful to tell you I can get a bit anxious about the future. But when I remember that life is Christ and death is gain, I can't be sorry for what has transpired in my life to this point. I'm reconciled to Becky's death -- and to God's wonderful plan for my future. It's like climbing to the Hornli Hut on the Matterhorn. The trail is never straight. You meander hither and thither. Still, the hut never escapes your view. But you get there only by following the torturous curves and slopes. I've found music to be incredibly healing during this time. That's why I'm looking forward to returning to Duke Chapel on Sunday. In honor of All Saint's Sunday, the Duke Evensong Singers will be performing Maurice Duruflé's Requiem Opus 9. I find myself inexplicably drawn to such music. If it turns out like I expect, it will be a time when I'm reminded in word and music that we "do not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." A requiem is a celebration, a visible sign of those glorious invisible realties that we believe with all our hearts.
I want to thank all of you for your emails and texts. One email I received today said, "I remember Becky today and thank God for her life and influence for Christ. You are on my mind and prayers today." This is deep theology. The writer sees in Becky's death winter grace. Loving God, please give me Your grace to do the same.
Grateful for your friendship on this day,
Wednesday, November 1
8:48 PM I'm now back on the farm, having taught my classes and attended my meetings and did my doings. Here on the farm I've finished my chores and have had supper so I thought I'd spend some time with you all. I hoped to meet God on campus this week, and He did not disappoint. I felt the first sign of regeneration when I went to my office on Monday morning and noticed (again) just how beautiful our campus is. Fall has exploded in all kinds of colored foliage. The leaves are putting themselves to bed until their rebirth in the spring. But my special treasure was my copy of Hawthorne's commentary on Philippians, which reminded me that the goal of the race called sanctification is not merely intimacy with Christ but participation in His resurrection-power via the only means possible: fellowshipping with His sufferings. Yes, thank God, I would have guidance coming back to school. I fell to my knees, first giving thanks, then laughing out loud. No surprise there. When you think about it, it's the stuff of comedy: Me, a complete Doofus without Becky, and yet a widower for 4 long years, and years and years still to go if the Lord tarries, a tiny blip on the oscilloscope of time. "I know I can do this," I told myself, "but first you'll have to stop playing God." In other words: always speak the truth about how you're doing, even if your name is on the cover of the textbooks the students are using. The holy practice of laughing at ourselves is the road to serenity. My anxiety ceased. Sure, some days still seem black with despair. Others seem almost heavenly. You simply keep coming up for air. Recovering from loss requires going out into the real world over and over again. Your actions can be large or small as long as you move. My comeback has been a long and happy period, including climbing some pretty tall mountains -- "That was huge!" -- and getting into this happy hobby called running, often for worthy causes. My natural gift for helping others now has a creative new outlet. It is all wonderfully healing. Mine is a Kafkaesque world. Blogging is much more than a cathartic exercise. It means writing the next chapter in my "play." The Cancer Wars are over, but the memory of its victim are still real and vivid -- she who gave me 37 wonderful years of marriage, with scars, of course. Remember this, Dave: You are not responsible for the attitude of anyone but yourself. When the waves swell and become overpowering (as they will tomorrow), let God take charge. For me, running a marathon becomes a powerful metaphor. It grows my understanding of the physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological demands one needs to make it through life. I have so much to learn, not only to become a fearless advocate for cancer research but also to take good care of my loved ones at the same time. Every widower feels more or less the same way. When your expertly balanced world is turned upside down, you build a solid friendship network with people you love and trust. You become busy making your new life happen. Doing for others becomes your transport to joy. You engineer your return to life and a new dream for yourself. Jesus was right: Those who come to Him find rest. If you beg God for strength, don't expect Him to give you more weariness. Daddy knows what we need, when we need it.
These, I know, are simple truths, truths perhaps unworthy of an educated person who holds a doctorate from a European university. Michael Green (I love that author!) once wrote that, in the early church, Christianity usually "appealed to the simple, unlettered lower classes" (Evangelism in the Early Church, p. 44). Tertullian, in the second century, mused, "The uneducated are always a majority with us." The lack of a formal education is no barrier to genuine spiritual growth. Contrary to popular myth, being educated doesn't make you less susceptible to doubt or faithlessness. No, education is not the key to overcoming grief. It's horrifying to confront my own lack of belief in this regard. Oh, knowledge there is -- aplenty. But persistence is the true mark of a Christian. Being a widower is mind-numbingly difficult. I haven't perfected it yet. Hardly. This is such a challenge, you have no idea. I keep thinking of Becky. She was really, really good at relationships. I have to work at it. But it's never occurred to me to settle for anything less. I'm 100 hundred percent positive that this won't be the last "difficult" anniversary of Becky's death. But still, I will find a way to have another goodbye moment. Tomorrow I'll say goodbye with a sense of sadness, but also with a grateful nod to the Giver of life and all good things. I will cry buckets of tears, and then I will let her go again (and again and again). Recovery from grief doesn't mean you forget your loved one. You simply learn how to mourn in such a way that it doesn't interfere with your "new normal." In spite of lingering questions, you still worship your Savior. You let your extended family know you're doing okay. You gather together if you can, an event that usually activates a flood of memories. And then the anniversary passes, and you let her go (for the millionth time) and move on. Letting go means that you leave the person you lost in such a way that allows you to embrace the new life God has given you even as you look forward to being reunited again some day. In the hands of God, pain can be transformed into prosperity.
Do you need to remember this, friend? Have you committed your pain to God recently? His hand of favor is upon us. Together, let's ask Him for guidance, shall we?
Can we ever move on with our lives? The answer is yes, a thousand times yes.
Monday, October 30
8:32 AM The Anthem Richmond Marathon will be here in only 12 days. Been checking out the swag.
Pretty cool stuff, eh? But the best part is the course itself. Finally a reasonable elevation!
I'm eager to stand at the starting line and feel the nervousness of the crowd. I'm eager to run and fight for every inch of ground. I've run 3 marathons and I still don't have the faintest idea of how to run one "correctly." I do know this: Each one of us has to have a mountain, a race, a meaningful goal, a reason for engaging in this thing called life. I'm not saying that anything less than a full marathon counts. Right now, however, that distance defines the ultimate challenge for me. Friend, why not try something you think yourself incapable of doing? Something you've never tried before. Last summer I went parasailing for the first time. I participated in two triathlons. I surfed. These were all tangible symbols of my life right now -- taking one step at a time and keeping my eyes on the goal of finishing life well. The consensus is clear: The only way to become fit is through exercise. Even at my age, it's safer to exercise than not to exercise. I have to give our president lots of credit. At the age of 71 he's not in the best of shape (that's pretty obvious), but at least he's exercising regularly at something he enjoys doing. When I run, I'm running myself into health. When I run, I feel better about myself in every way. The physical and the mental become one. When I need to get over the dumps, I take to the road and enjoy being out in God's beautiful creation. Running, if it's taught me anything, has shown me how to deal with aging. I am not and will never be 40 again. I am, at best, a back-of-the-pack runner. Yet all the people around me are working just as desperately as I am to try their hardest. A race asks you for what it has always asked: your best. Stewardship is like that. We don't own our bodies. They belong to God. One day I'll answer for my dietary and lifestyle choices. I won't be asked about your irresponsible eating habits but only about my own. Just because we can eat something doesn't mean we should. How is it okay to stuff our faces with fast food that is completely worthless? But what if? What if we actually did something about our obesity and unhealthy diets? I'm exhausted just talking about this. No one struggles more with self-discipline than I do. So when I'm preaching to you, I'm only preaching to myself. I've told my kids, "I want to be around to see my grandchildren graduate from college and get married." So when I get out there and run, I'm doing it for selfish reasons. My goodness, the blessings and benefits of exercise!
So yes, I'm eager for the big day to get here. I feel I haven't achieved all that I can. Running is a place where you can commune between God and yourself. For me, it's being in the right place at the right time.
6:55 AM Throughout the book of Philippians, Paul's pointed to self-giving love as perhaps the mark of a Christian. His prayer in 1:9-11 tell us that our love for one another should always be abounding. He commends those in Rome who preach the Good News motivated by love (1:16). The Philippians themselves, having been comforted by Christ's love, are to have that same love for one another (2:1-2). Jesus Himself, of course, is the ultimate example of self-giving love (2:5-11).
If we truly want to understand Philippians (or Christianality for that matter), we have to understand the anatomy of love. We might even say that love is the 6th "sola" of the Reformation. In 1 Cor. 8:1, Paul speaks of love and knowledge as polar opposites. Knowledge (doctrine) is futile without love. Paul has modeled this truth to us throughout Philippians. He has shown us by example that love is most deeply seen and known when it is vulnerable and powerless. Although in prison, Paul focuses more on the Gospel than on his own circumstances. For him, the Gospel mattered more than anything else. And because the Gospel is being advanced in prison, Paul rejoices. This is what genuine love looks like: it puts the needs of others first. Hence sola fide, sola scriptura, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria are incomplete without sola caritas. Our motto might well be "Keep Love First." Love is the goal of all of Paul's instruction (1 Tim. 1:5). It's the capstone of all the other Christian virtues (Col. 3:12-14). Without love, even spiritual gifts are meaningless (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
We also have to understand the stuff that gets in the way of love. This is, in fact, Paul's twofold strategy in Philippians. First he shows us what genuine love looks like (chapters 1-2). Then he shows us what the opposite of love looks like, what selfishness and pride resemble (chapters 3-4). Fact is, there's a darker side to love. Love should never become a license to hurt or injure. We are under no obligation to endure injurious relationships, though for a season we may choose to do so. In 1 Thess. 4:9-12, Paul shows us that a church can love too much. It can too easily tolerate the recalcitrant behavior of others. Is he saying there's a tipping point with love? I think so. Paul said as much in Phil. 1:9 when he wrote that our love should be instructed by knowledge and discernment. Love, to be love, needs to speak truthfully. Jesus modeled such love when He told His disciples to shake the dust off their feet when encountering hostile individuals (Matt. 10:14). Allowing people to reap what they sow is not an unloving thing to do. Healthy boundaries are good for everybody. I've seen this truth in Romans as well. When Paul tells us to let our love be sincere, he immediately calls upon us to abstain from evil and cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9). Obviously, this means that when we're dealing with people, some sort of moral discernment is called for. It means that we have permission to walk away from toxic relationships. But even if it should come to this point, we will do so with respect for the basic dignity of the other person.
I'm 65 and I thought I had all this love business figured out, but I don't. It's easy to see how difficult it is to love wisely and well. If you're like me, practicing authentic love can feel like a daunting choice. There's always risk involved when you put your true self out there into the world. But in the end, being true to ourselves and our convictions is the best gift we can give to others.
Be kind. Love Jesus. Love others.
And be as wise as a serpent.
I'm cheering you on.
Sunday, October 29
7:15 PM Within the framework of Philippians, 3:12-18 holds a special place in my heart. After all, here Paul uses a running analogy. Throughout Paul's writings we see people running races. Paul calls the church -- men and women -- to be athletes for Jesus. Knowing Christ (Phil. 3:1-11) involves a daily discipline of pressing toward the goal (3:12-18). Even Paul hasn't arrived yet. He's still running his race, pursuing Christ with everything he's got. He describes this as "straining on toward what's ahead." Yep. Paul must have been a distance runner. I'm still learning from him what it means to run the race of faith. I'm learning not to avoid the race or complain about it. Let me pass on a few other lessons as well:
1) Learn to set reasonable and achievable goals. This is one of the most difficult things for runners to do. But it's one of the most important lessons running teaches us. Realize that your running goals are just that -- your goals and not somebody else's. Paul had his goals. You have yours. I have mine. But each goal has to be based on some standard. For Paul, that standard was attaining Christ. Of course, we don't arrive at that goal all at once. The best goals are those that allow us to build a pattern of success. Remember: a goal is simply something to aim for. It's something to be dedicated to. It's a process as much as it's an end.
2) Listen to your body more than you listen to your well-meaning friends. Every one of us runners needs to make our own decisions, including the decision to accept our limitations. It felt so good when I broke the 30-minute barrier for the first time during a 5K race. It had taken numerous attempts. I've broken 30 minutes only twice since then. Looking back, I realize now that I'm not a 30-minute 5Ker. If I really wanted to run sub-30 every time I raced, I'd run myself into the ground. "Know yourself," said the ancients. By any standard, the apostle Paul was way out ahead of most of us when it came to knowing Christ. But I'm not running against Paul; I'm running with him.
3) Stay the course. Keep going. Continue racing. When I see people stop running because they're feeling frustrated by lack of progress, I feel badly for them. Your pace really doesn't matter in the end. What matters is that you never give up and never give in. What matters is that you listen to your body and never push it past its limits. Your running should conform to nobody's timetable but you're own.
4) Be patient with yourself, especially when you're tempted to look back -- either to wallow in self-pity or to rest on the laurels of past achievements. Faith is not a past reality. It's a present requirement. Don't rush the process. Accept setbacks as they come. I've met runners who think they can go from a 5K to a marathon within a few months. The result is either burnout or injury. We gradually build up our endurance.
5) Our future is in our own hands (or feet, to use Paul's metaphor). But it's also in God's hands. Paul chose a goal that is utterly unattainable in its entirety and perfection. "To know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings -- I can never do that!" No, I can't. At least not in my own strength. But, through the One who empowers me, I can know Christ better every day. I can experience increasingly the power of His resurrection. I can enter more and more into the fellowship of His sufferings. In other words, we arrive and keep on arriving. It's a more-than satisfying pursuit, even though we never reach it completely down here.
So there it is -- the "why" of my running, my reason for exercise. People who run stick to it for one basic reason: to become who we want to be. In so doing we discover what our limits are and how desperate we are for outside help. For the runner, the ultimate athletic experience is the marathon -- the long distance race. The marathon per se didn't exist when Paul wrote Philippians, but I imagine he was thinking more of an endurance race than a sprint when he penned the words of Phil. 3:12-18. The long-distance race is an adventure into the limits of the self. It happens in the creating and the training and the running. At times, it can be tedious, painful, and tiring. The payoff comes from reaching the goal. Friend, don't spend time in the library trying to work out a theory of running the Christian race. You have the Bible and you have Jesus. These two always agree. Bring your needs to Him with all the simplicity of a little child, for He is accessible day or night. You are always welcome. He has no favorite racers. He will coach you to the end of your journey.
1:06 PM Howdy, friends! My weekend in Arlington was phenomenal. This includes my drive home today. I left my hotel around 5:00 am, stopping briefly at Denny's for my two pancakes (for two bucks!) and then taking the back roads through Southside Virginia. Rain fell for most of my drive home but it did nothing to dampen my spirits or diminish my enjoyment of the wonderful fall foliage we're blessed with at this time of the year -- shades of red, orange, yellow, purple, pink, magenta, blue, and brown. Of course, on my drive home I listened to no radio or music, just the music of nature as I communed with its Great Creator. We talked about all sorts of things and even planned this week's schedule and events. I treasure these times alone with my Lord when I can listen to His still small voice and throw excess to the winds, all the while trying to be the response-able image bearer He created me to be. Sadly, my life often comes at the expense of some of God's best handiwork. Oh, it's there all right, but seldom noticed. Take time today, my friend, to do a little "leaf peeping" while the colors last.
The wedding was, of course, the highlight of the weekend. Karen is one of several young women Becky poured her life into, heart and soul, for months and months and in some cases years on end. Though not our flesh and blood, each is a true daughter of ours -- their husbands are our sons and their kids our grandkids. Karen entered our lives at a time when Becky needed constant care and attention, and she sacrificed countless hours ministering to my wife in body and spirit as she neared her end. I shall forever be in Karen's debt. The post wedding chapel at Fort Myer was the scene of yesterday's celebrations, overlooking the Potomac and the monuments in Washington, DC. A more beautiful and scenic venue could not have been found. Both Tino and Karen are members of Anacostia River Church, and pastor Thabiti did a wonderful job of leading us in worship as we witnessed God's joining together of this precious couple. Below I'll post some pictures of the wedding and the reception. Karen and Tino are two committed young people who seek nothing more than to be carriers of the sweet Spirit of Christ, following His leadership into servanthood and vowing to love this world like He loved it.
Oh God, may You fill Karen and Tino with hearts full of music and song, coloring their faces with the radiance of Your love. Teach them to walk humbly -- daily, quietly, simply, forgivingly, graciously, as they act justly and love mercy. Steer them away from empty fillers and turn them instead to the fullness of Your Presence. Bless them and keep them until death do them part. May they be Your servants, plain and simple, until the Day they sit at the banquet table and eat with their Savior and feast side by side with Him. Let their love bloom and grow stronger in the days and years ahead. And help them to show us how to become more like Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.
Right now it's time for me cook my meals for the week and then plan out my writing schedule and lectures. Which reminds me: Next week Thursday, Lord willing, I'll be back at the Shepherd's Seminary in Cary, NC, to speak in Doug Bookman's New Testament class. I've been asked to address the subject, "An Inerrantist Perspective on the Synoptic Problem." Things kick off at 4:00 pm with a pizza dinner for students and staff. Also, this week is our Ethiopian dinner in commemoration of Becky's homegoing 4 years ago. So yes, it will be a busy time but a week filled with blessings and happy memories of things past and anticipation of things to come. I'm rummaging around in the attic of my mind right now for something to say to the family when we gather. I have many sweet memories. My land, how will I keep it under 15 minutes?
Below are the pix I promised you. Hope you enjoy them. And Tino -- welcome to our crazy family. We love you so much!