October-June Blog Archives
Friday, October 27
8:24 AM Well, folks. I have a confession to make. I'm feeling really lazy. As in Hawaiian-born-and-bred-loafing-style lazy. I intended to run 10 miles yesterday but instead lazed around the house in my flip flops. I did manage to book my flights to DFW for the Dallas Marathon on Dec. 10. I also made my reservation for the Omni Hotel in downtown Richmond for the Richmond Marathon -- which is coming up in only two weeks. (Egads.) Last night I watched the movie Everest for the umpteenth time. I still can't wrap my head around the hubris that compelled two experienced mountain guides to break their own turn-around times and keep ascending. Both lost their lives as a result. What would I have done in that situation? The temptation to keep climbing is almost irresistible, especially when you're only a few hundred feet from the summit. You see, life is a series of choices between what's important and what's essential. It's like what Paul said in the text we studied this week in Greek 3. You have to consider "everything a loss" because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and making Him known. As Eugene Petersen puts it:
Of course, this is hyperbole, pure and simple. I don't think Paul's saying that we actually have to shred our resumes and diplomas. The question is: What (or whom) do you boast in? Where do you find your identity? What tells you: "I'm in"? I've never hung my diplomas up in my office. The reason is very simple: I don't want anyone listening to what I have to say merely because I've been blessed with a formal education. Goodness -- we've all known people who were educated beyond their intelligence! I tell my students (and I really mean it too): "Don't believe anything someone says merely because they have a Ph.D. after their name." Paul is not saying that degrees and accomplishments are unimportant. Good grief -- my Basel doctorate has gotten me teaching gigs in places abroad you would not believe, places where "religion" is taught but not Christianality (no, that's not a typo; it's a good word for what we practice, don't you think?). Ultimately, Paul's saying that we had better start clinging to Christ because one day all of this "stuff" will be taken from us. In the meantime, let's leverage it for the Gospel. And by the "Gospel" I don't mean conferences about the Bible or the cult of the speaker or filling our notebooks with Greek verbs. I mean finding ways to give aid to earthquake-stricken people in the name of Jesus and being generous sons and daughters of God. "Love God and love others." This pretty much sums up the Gospel. This is what Paul tried to do and what I try to do. I have so far to go. Maybe I really should start by ripping up my diplomas. Actually, I have no idea where they are. That doesn't mean there isn't other noise and static in my life. I still have plenty of my own "kingdoms." As I said earlier, right now I'm thinking about Becky. Life is sorta tough. My emotions are wacko. I don't want to read. I don't want to write. I don't want to be productive. If I'm taking cues from many evangelicals, then I need to be out there marketing my "brand." Politically, I need to be pom-pom waving because "our guy" got into the White House. Which reminds me: the church I spoke in last Sunday had no American flag in its sanctuary. None. It seems like such a simple thing, but it spoke bucket loads to me. Perhaps this is obvious, but the longer I walk with the Lord, the less trust I put in the power and wealth of America. Seems my only security these days is in Yahweh. This is a good time to tell you I take the writing of Jacque Ellul very seriously. Kierkegaard is for mere amateurs. I love how J.E. piles up metaphors, how his thoughts are anchored in a pre-Constantinian Bible, how he doesn't have an agenda with his readers other than to get them to exalt Christ and rid themselves of their own "archys." I'm so not here to tell any of you what to do with your own gods. I have too many of my own. But I am determined to address my own failings. I will start by driving up to DC and walking my daughter down the aisle. Then I'll try and organize another fundraiser for the hospital where Becky was treated. Like it or not, I may even try and finish Godworld. With that little project in mind, I'll close with this bit of wisdom from the pen of Malcolm Muggeridge.
Yep, you got this, old Malc. Paul was anything but an epic fail. But -- thank God! -- he "succeeded" in places where it mattered. Fine. Paul could that. He was an apostle, after all. Me? Things may get worse before they get better, but it is the way of healing.
Thursday, October 26
1:58 PM After running a million errands this morning I decided to mow the grass one last time.
Funny how every spring I look forward to mowing and every fall I look forward to not mowing anymore. Yawn. I'm already boring you. But let's be honest. We all like routine. I'm acutely aware of how quickly the seasons are flying by, the years too. But I'm reconciled to it. My identity isn't in my age or my accomplishments. You know where it is. It's on a hill far away. There my Dearest and Best awaits me when my earthly labors are done. And just what IS left to do? My tires may be old but they've still got a lot of tread left on them. I've got classes to teach and books to write and mountains to climb (literally -- I haven't forgotten about Mont Blanc next summer). Seasonal changes (like not having to mow the lawn any more) help me gain perspective. I remind myself that change is not unique to my experience. Lacrae recently experienced it -- big time. My sweet daughter will experience it when she gets married on Saturday. (Hurray for Karen and Tino!) Generations of faithful Christians have gone before me and will come after me. This great cloud of witnesses knows that God can be trusted. They remind me that I'm part of a vast community of people who are learning to turn their pain into motivation to serve others. My life has been as rich as anybody I know, but the final story has yet to be written. Whatever years I have left are His. These days I find myself thinking a lot about heaven. The two hours or so I spent mowing today brought back into focus a verse I turn over and over again in my mind: "The universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality" (Rom. 5:13). Where we would be if He had not risen? Letting go of what the world calls security is our only hope. Losing ourselves for His sake -- even in a humble act like mowing the grass -- is where our safety is found. We are all Lecraes to God. He knows our dark passages. And when we turn our eyes from the frightening things to Him, miracles truly happen.
Okay. Back to my chores.
8:48 AM Becky went home to be with the Lord on Nov. 2, 2013. On Sunday, Nov. 5 of this year, I will have the joy of attending a performance of Duruflé's Requiem at Duke Chapel in Durham, NC. The composer dedicated the piece to the memory of his father. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it. This is such a beautiful masterpiece it defies description. To my fellow grievers: A wonderful thing happens when we turn to the Lord, and to great sacred music. We find, as the psalmist found, that "all things serve Thee" (Psalm 199:91). The Lord who gave us the gift of pain knows intimately every situation we're facing. Whoever is willing to obey Him will be shown the way forward.
8:32 AM Free copy of Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek to the first person to correctly identify the following figures of speech in Phil. 3:2-3a: Anaphora, paronomasia, alliteration, and asyndeton. Write me at email@example.com and kindly include your mailing address.
Βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας, βλέπετε τοὺς κακοὺς ἐργάτας, βλέπετε τὴν κατατομήν. ἡμεῖς γάρ ἐσμεν ἡ περιτομή ….
8:15 AM Hello virtual friends. This morning I've been filling Greek DVD orders. Recent orders have come from Arizona, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Washington, Nebraska, and Queensland, Australia. The vision to produce these DVDs of my Greek class in Addis was Becky's, of course. She had the uncanny ability of seeing things early and connecting the dots. "The art of the possible" may well have been her motto. Her vision made a world of difference for those around her and even for those who'll be receiving their DVDs in the mail this week.
Oh, since I lost three months' worth of blog posts, including the speaker lineup for our Greek and Linguistics Conference, I thought I'd run it by you again. You won't want to miss this event. The dates are April 26–27, 2019. Look for a registration link soon. The following papers are scheduled to be read:
Wednesday, October 25
9:32 PM The theme in school this week seems to have been skubala. If you're having trouble with your priority system and have no idea where to start, and you can't discern the next steps to take in life, begin with the skubala around you and see what miracles can happen when you consider all the religious trappings in your life to be mere "dog poop." How refreshing to see students consciously tying to transcend the clergy-laity dichotomy in our churches, focusing instead on the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and the New Testament emphasis on spiritual gifts. How refreshing to see the Gospel beginning to tear down the structures that perpetuate divisions among Christians and to see that same Gospel encourage solidarity between the races. How refreshing to encounter a living Message that provides a resounding negation to the underlying professional view of ministry so prevalent in evangelical circles today. Thank You, Lord, for students who are doing the hard work of thinking for themselves rather than merely adopting questionable principles and practices based on church tradition. Several times this week I had a kapow! moment when I looked at radical faith right in the eye and remembered what God can do if we approach Him and His word with simple faith and childlike trust. Christendom is dying a slow death, but dying it is. Gradually my students and I are developing an outlook on life informed by Christ Himself. Students do not exist to provide for the needs of their teachers. The converse is true. I, as a teacher, exist to develop the mind of Christ in my students by any and all legitimate means possible. There is nothing quite so liberating as assigning prominence of place to Scripture and supremacy to the lowly Jesus of the Gospels. The true place of the intellect is not to usurp the role of the Scriptures but to concentrate on the fear of the Lord. It takes God to reveal God. We can do no better than to ask God's Holy Spirit to liberate us from our preoccupation with our petty concerns and personal agendas. Without genuine love of the brethren, including those who differ from us, academic knowledge is a positive detriment to spiritual growth. That's why I was so thrilled to see my students teaching one another in my Greek and New Testament classes this week. Without such contributions from its members, the body atrophies. Being one body in Christ means mutual respect between its various members. It means rejecting pride and, even more so, a spirit of independence. The cross is the only corrective to a church that is consumed with instant results and status. Love receives the small person. It rejects unconscious racial bias. It listens to the other. If the spiritual know-it-alls at Corinth could not understand this, this is no excuse for us today to remain ignorant of the power of love over gnosis. In class this week I sensed that our badge was truly love. Even as the enemy seeks to divide us, the Spirit unites us all into one body. We evangelicals are finding our footing again despite the cultural mess we find ourselves in today. I don't think this is accidental. It's the work of God in our midst.
you are a gift to me.
Thank you for all you do,
but thank you especially for who you are --
beautiful human beings seeking the downward path of Jesus and reverse mobility.
Your legacy is far greater than you will ever know.
Thank you for being soul brothers and sisters,
gentle as doves,
and wise as serpents.
I love living and learning deliberately with you.
You are changing my life by your example and passion for the things that matter.
I love you.
P.S. A few pix from the week thus far:
1) Taman leading his group in Greek 3 while doing the English to Greek exercises.
2) Here's Tyler doing the same with his group.
I've found that a student-centered approach to instruction increases opportunism for student engagement that helps everyone become more successful.
3) Here my personal assistant and doctoral student Noah teaches a chapter from our Greek textbook.
4) I love watching his pedagogy-first approach to teaching.
5) Just got these in the mail today.
I was humbled and honored to have been asked to write an endorsement for my president's latest book. Danny shows how in the book of Titus Paul continually ties doctrine to good/attractive deeds. Our works show others who we really are. For Danny (as for Paul), neither sound doctrine nor sound living can stand alone. I really, really commend this book to you. At 81 pages it's ideally suited for a Sunday School class or for your small group.
6) Next week is the big event -- the 4th anniversary of Becky's victorious homegoing. I went to the Awazé Restaurant in Cary yesterday to arrange for our family celebration and while there just had to grab some authentic Ethiopian migib. Both Aseb and Eden have read Becky's book and both have told me how her life has blessed them personally.
We are all hungry -- you and I alike -- for a place to tell our stories. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Marriage isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's pretty great. It afforded two people as different as Becky and me to create a union whose tendrils reached across continents.
Please pray for me. On the outside I am fine, but on the inside I struggle with Becky's death. At the core of loss is the frightening truth that there is no going back to the past, only going ahead to the future. I so cherish life today -- perhaps as never before. I long for Becky with all my soul, but I am content to celebrate her memory because I have found her loss to be the impetus to clarify my purpose in life. Yes, I grieve, but just as I can't ignore this emotion, neither can I indulge it. A widower learns best not by denying the past but by taking ownership of it and allowing himself to be transformed by the loss. I thank God every night that I have a Savior who understands me perfectly, who feels the pain in my soul, who grants me the security of knowing that the Father is in control of everything in my life. Even as my soul increases its capacity for sadness, it increases its capacity for joy and hope. I'm so thankful that God has not allowed me to hibernate in a holier-than-thou aloofness. Aloofness was the hallmark of the Pharisees. I'm realizing that it's okay to be solitary. Of all my Christian experiences I may truly say, with the unknown author:
They are but broken gleams of Thee/And Thou, O Lord, are more than they.
I can know Him better every day, and I can experience increasingly the power of His resurrection by entering more and more into the fellowship of His sufferings. I have experienced life at its worse. I have also experienced life at its best. I have never felt more fragile and yet I have never felt more need for community. I am still the Dave who wept at Becky's deathbed 4 years ago, but I have more freedom and lightheartedness today. One thing I know: The whole of my life is becoming something good, something I never imagined it could become. I deeply believe God wants this freedom for everyone who has suffered loss. James enjoins us to live joyfully, resisting worry and casting our cares upon Him because He cares for us. I know I will never get those years back again. But my calling is today, as is yours. I have a place right now, and though it might not seem like much, God can still create a beautiful song out of loss.
Much love in the Lamb,
Monday, October 23
4:38 PM Hey folks! Guess what I did on Saturday? I ran another marathon! To run a full marathon only two weeks after completing a 26.2 mile race is not usually advisable. Then again, I "just happened" to be in Baltimore during their annual Running Festival. On Friday I taught Philippians in Annapolis.
Then I made a beeline for the race expo in downtown Baltimore and got there about 2 minutes before it closed. I think I must have gotten the last bib number for the marathon. The next morning I arrived at the course at dawn and the scenery was breathtaking.
I was feeling good! I fell in with the 5:15 pace team because that was the slowest pace they offered. I tried hanging with the group but they were just too fast for me and I eventually faded.
At mile 14 or so I thought to myself, "Man, this is really, really hard." I quickly realized that the course was extremely hilly. I would walk/jog up the hills and then, conversely, run the downhills, using gravity to help propel myself forward. If anyone wants advice on how to survive hills, send me an email. At this point I was pretty much running alone, deep in concentration. You had to really focus on the course because there were so many twists and turns.
I finished with an official time of 6:03:57, which is about 6 minutes slower than my finish at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy last May.
But I refused to quit! The first 3 miles were straight uphill but you didn't notice it because your adrenalin was kicking in. Miles 3-5 took you through the Baltimore Zoo. Miles 6-21 were more hills. Thankfully, miles 22-25 were mostly downhill. Here the crowds did a fantastic job of cheering you on. At this point I saw two runners on the ground being treated by the medical staff. I said a prayer for them and kept pushing forward. Finally -- the finish line!
I got my medal (a crazy cool one too!) and then rushed back to my hotel room to get cleaned up for the evening service at Riva Trace Baptist Church. All in all, it was a really fun race. Baltimore is a beautiful city, and the crowds were amazing. Believe me, I needed their support. There's nothing harder than challenging your body to the max. Going into the race I had no idea what to expect. I didn't have time to do my homework. I was hoping it would be an easy course. I was completely wrong. Here's the elevation per my Map My Run app.
The hills were a constant challenge, as were the dizzying number of turns. The fatigue of uphill-downhill running did a real number on me. Although this was my slowest marathon to date, I'm not in the least disappointed. In two weeks I'll be running the Richmond Marathon, Lord willing. Predictably, the jitters have set in, but I'm trying to face them head-on. Right now I've got 4 classes to teach this week -- and lots of resting to do. Attitude is everything in life. As they say, "Life's a hill. Get over it."
P.S. Special thanks to pastor Dennis Gray for his kind invitation to minster among the wonderful people at Riva Trace this weekend.
What an honor and joy! Hope to see you all again soon!
Thursday, October 19
11:36 AM I'd like to recommend my good friends' book to you: With.
On twitter yesterday Alvin Reid wrote: "For years I tho't of my influence based on the # of ppl in front of me rather than the few who walked with me." Alvin is so right. That's a huge paradigm shift for a teacher. It's so easy to be deceived by crowds on a Sunday morning or in a seminary classroom. Jesus taught us that when people face His cross and self-denial, the multitudes will thin out pretty quickly. They wanted His fish but not His flesh. What Alvin is saying is that we need to read John 6 again and realize that Jesus never softened His teaching to hold a crowd. In the end, few had an appetite for His real mission and message. "Will you go away, too?" (John 6:67)?.
Well, the books are packed, and I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be for this weekend's trip. My kids will be on the farm to watch everything and feed the animals. Again, thanks for visiting this page and don't be bashful about letting me know how I can help you.
11:06 AM Rob Plummer on Mark 16:8. Thanks for the shout out, friend!
11:02 AM Much is being made of the pulpit during Reformation month. Funny, because I just happened to run across a delightful piece about the "sacred desk." Here's an excerpt:
To read the whole essay, click here. Gimme the old oak pulpit! Gotta love it. Whenever I speak somewhere I always ask permission from the leadership to do two things if possible: sit with the congregation (instead of on the platform) before I speak, and teach from the floor. Almost always I'm granted permission to do so. I also, like this brother, teach without notes. That's just me though.
9:42 AM Hello fellow thoughtful bloggerites. Some random reflections before leaving for the great state of Maryland. I've been completely and totally swamped this week. My three days on campus felt like performing brain surgery for a straight 72 hours. And then it's back to the airport today. I can hardly keep up with my schedule. But I'm good, thank the Lord. Someone asked me in class on Tuesday how I felt the day after my marathon. I told him the next day I hiked Snow Canyon and went horseback riding, then the following day I hiked Bryce, and then the following day I climbed to 11,000 feet at Cedar Breaks. I'm so grateful for the undeserved health and strength God seems to continue to give me in the face of the pressures and opportunities of life. Next weekend it's the wedding in DC and then the following week we're commemorating the 4th anniversary of Becky's glorious homegoing, followed by the Richmond Marathon on Nov. 11. And I haven't even mentioned the "real" news I've been reading all morning long, like who said what when? ("I didn't say that," "Yes, you did!". "No, I didn't, and I can prove it!"). Oh my. What's even funnier is watching evangelicals stumbling over themselves trying to invite the ambiguity of politics into the kingdom realm. The sad truth is that while evangelicals are fighting over what Caesar should or not do, the church continues to spend at least 95 percent of its resources on ourselves. That's not giving. That's pooling. The problem isn't merely that we don't get it. The problem is that we don't know that we don't get it. It's just possible that evangelicals will come to see that we're the ones who are actually on trial in our culture. If we ever did that, we'd begin to confess our sins and guilt and really repent, step down from our places at the table, and begin washing feet. I tell you, I'm so proud of my students. They're beginning to reassess everything in order to advance a Jesus-looking kingdom. Are we imitating Jesus and obeying God? Those are the two questions I'll be posing tomorrow when I speak to this group of pastors. Those are the standards by which we should judge ourselves, and believe me, they are anything but "normal" nowadays. This is why I have resisted, and will continue to resist, the temptation to speak out directly on this blog about politics or argue about what our nation should or should not be doing. It's not my calling to resolve political problems. Sincere followers of Jesus completely disagree on many of the core issues. And why shouldn't they? There is no real "Christian" position on matters so complex and ambiguous. My focus is on ... staying focused. A lot more could be said (and will be said in my book Godworld), but I hope my main point is clear: followers of Jesus have one concern -- to be about everything Jesus was about. We need to join Him in rejecting sexism and misogyny, we can't prefer one race over another (and thereby use that to justify treating non-whites as inferior), we have to be about the Gospel Commission as never before, etc. We have a job to do and that is to keep the kingdom holy. I'm increasingly convinced that we serve Jesus best when we truly to commit to Jesus' command to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. In light of this, I see no reason to get involved in the culture wars (though I did at one time). Life is so very, very short. It's so full of wonderful things, and it's so full of opportunities for the kingdom. I want to grasp this moment in time and leverage it to the fullest if I possible can. I noticed in our passage from Philippians this week (Phil. 2:19-30) how often Paul submits his travels "to the Lord." He writes "I hope in the Lord" to do this or that. Paul was submissive to the Lord for his travel plans. Whether it had to do with Timothy or Epaphroditus or his own travel itinerary, Paul's theology taught him that God rules sovereignly, while his practice led him to accept -- with any question whatsoever -- what the Lord ordained for his life. This morning I asked the Lord to show me clearly where He is sending me next in the world. Thus far he's confirmed two international hot spots and a third is in the works. Ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, at my age I'm still eager and willing to travel 12,000 miles if need be. I, for one, am very much looking forward to these trips. Right now I'm packing for Annapolis and am asking myself which of my writings I need to take for the conference book table. I can't take all of them.
Will the pastors be interested in my Greek books? (I hope so.) Will they want a copy of Becky's book for their wives? (They better!) Will any of them be interested in my non-Greek books like The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, or It's All Greek to Me? Maybe I should take a copy of each? But then how would I be following the Lord's instructions to "travel light"? (Wink.) Anyhoo, I'll take what I can fit into one suitcase next to my clothes. By the way, if you'd like to see the power point we've put together for tomorrow, you can go here. You might especially enjoy the outlines of Philippians we've collected at the end. I used to call the theme of Philippians "Ecclesial unity in the cause of the Gospel." I've since repented of such horrible verbiage. I much prefer something like "Working together as a team to love and serve others in the name of Jesus." If a man like Bishop Wilson could pray for his tormentors in a prison camp in WW2 and then return afterwards to baptize some of them, how much more should I be able to love the enemies of the cross?
Well, I think that's all for now. Let's keep on walking in love, as Christ loved us, and keep on thinking and growing.
Wednesday, October 18
8:15 PM Hey there folks! It's been such a great week so far I don't know where to start. So I'll upload a few pix and I see if I can't come up with some captions ....
1) Tonight we had the perfect weather for haying. I mean, as in PERFECT.
2) I just had to take this selfie.
One of the verses we studied in Philippians this week was 2:22: "You know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in sharing the Good News." Yes, Paul, I understand you perfectly!
3) Here's a dear partner in the Gospel. I've made 11 overseas trips to serve with him. Great to see you again, Rob.
4) And here are some dear friends from India, along with my son Joel. Joel's on his way back there soon with a team from Person County, NC. Proud of all of you.
5) This week our campus was as beautiful as ever. This was my view while walking to class last night. Wow.
6) As I said, we were in Phil. 2 this week.
7) Here are my class notes. I covet His mind in every issue in my life.
8) This week for the Page Lectures we were blessed to have on campus Timothy George of the Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL. (Almost asked him if he'd be interesting in running the Birmingham Marathon with me next February.) Timothy's an expert in Reformation history and theology and was here to help us commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of that auspicious event.
10) He quoted Luther. A lot. Here's my favorite Luther quip, and it's a doozy.
I told you it was good!
9) Here my friend and colleague Brent Aucoin is lecturing on race relations in our NT class. We were studying Philemon and slavery. He did a phenomenal job as always.
11) Tonight I'm sorting through my race medals.
What to do with these chunks of bling? They're on a par maybe with preschool "graduation." I think the apostle Paul would have appreciated my dilemma (see 2 Tim. 2:5).
Well, that's it for the pix (for now). Tomorrow, Lord willing, I leave for Annapolis to speak to pastors on Friday and then at a church on Saturday and Sunday. But I just can't leave you without sharing a great quote I ran across while preparing my notes on Phil. 2:19-30 this week. It's by Frank Stagg. You've never heard of him, but he's one of my esteemed Southern Baptist predecessors who taught New Testament at SBTS from 1964-1978. (Who has never heard of his now classic essay in JBL called "The Abused Aorist"?) Here's what he wrote in the Broadman Bible Commentary (p. 201). He's referring to Paul's reference to Epaphroditus as the church's leitourgon whom they sent to "minister" to Paul's physical and practical needs.
I told the class: We ordain the pastor, right? Then why don't we ordain the church janitor? He or she is as much a minister (leitourgon) of the Gospel as anyone else. This is the truth Paul was so much at pains to try to instill into the minds of his followers at Rome and Corinth: No member of the body has all the gifts. This means that "ministry" is not the responsibility of the few but the prerogative of everyone. I must never limit God in the way He chooses to use other Christians. Epaphroditus took a gift to Paul in prison and then ministered to his everyday needs. That makes him a "minister." Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus -- all part of God's grand, harmonious design (1 Coir. 12:8). Yet this is something we are most reluctant to accept today.
Love and peace,
Monday, October 16
9:52 AM Read How to Choose a Bible Commentary. Great advice here. Incidentally, though I've turned down offers to write major commentaries on Hebrews and Philippians, I've decided to make my brief musings on Philippians available in book form after the current semester is over. I'm going to call the Book Philippians Is For Friends. Friendship is one of those ambiguous words we throw around all the time. In the end, friendship for me means caring enough to do anything for your friend. Friends love at all times. They are more loyal than kith and kin. They even sacrifice themselves for their friends. Embedded in Paul's letter to the Philippians is a lot of advice about friendship. Paul told the believers in Philippi to be compassionate, caring, kind, humble, forgiving, and to live at peace with each other -- willing to meet the other half way (4:5). Above all, they are to work together for something bigger than their friendship. Our best friend will always be Jesus. Thankfully, He also grants us human friendships. Without them, life would be so mundane. True friends are there for each through thick and think. Think of Timothy and Epaphroditus. They went above and beyond what was expected. I don't have a huge group of friends. My best friends are my kids. Then come my fellow workers in the Gospel. These are guys I can text any time of day or night and know they'll be there for me. They stick with me even when I've given up on myself.
Well, I hope my little book will be inspirational and uplifting. It won't replace any commentary out there. But I believe God has called me to write it, and so I'm trying to be obedient. If it ends up being dull and boring, may I be forgiven!
9:04 AM There are so many parallels between running a marathon and taking a course in Greek it's downright scary. After all, is it just a coincidence that my beginning grammar has exactly 26 chapters? This week in class we'll begin chapter 8, which means that we've covered about a fourth of the book. When the semester is done we will have reached the halfway mark: 13 out of 13 chapters. Did I say "halfway mark"? Ha-ha. As we were reminded during the clinic for last Saturday's St. George Marathon, the halfway point in a marathon isn't 13 miles. It's 20 miles. In other words, the lady below (who's run in all 41 St. Georgers) reminded us that 50 percent of a marathon runner's energy is expended during the first 20 miles. The other 50 percent is needed to finish the last 6 miles and get you across the finish line.
That doesn't sound very fair, but that's the honest-to-God truth. Last week I sent my beginning students home with their first Greek review exam. It covered chapters 3-6. In running terms, I like to think of these review exams as "mile checks." Every few miles you need to ask yourself, "How's my form? Am I standing tall or beginning to hunch over? Is my stride good or am I overstriding? Am I thirsty? Do I need more energy?" Probably the worst mistake you can make in a marathon is not drinking when you should. I'm going to take a wild guess and say that many of you got sidetracked along the way when taking your first Greek class. You began to slow down. You got careless. You fell way behind. You forgot to pace yourself. I smile whenever I see students come to class laden down with a dozen supplements to our basic grammar. It's almost as though having more books will help us make faster progress. I smile because I did this exact same thing when I was studying baby Greek. In running, you only need one pair of shoes for the entire race. Having 3 new pairs sitting in your hotel room will do absolutely nothing to help you make progress.
So what's my advice for newbie Greek scholars? Don't just think about it. Do it. Make a commitment to study hard every week. Set weekly goals for yourself. If you think you can make an A on that exam, make an A. Find a teacher who will motivate you to run to the finish. Begin reading your Greek New Testament as soon as you possibly can. And when you've finished first year Greek, the very best thing you can do at that point is to teach it to others. Teaching is the best way to master the subject matter, no matter what the subject is.
Running my race,
Sunday, October 15
9:36 AM In a mere 18 days I'll be commemorating the homegoing of my precious wife Becky. As I think back over the past 4 years (has it really been that long?), life becomes a series of small snapshots. Here's one picture from my mental photo album. In August, 2015, the Becky Black Building was dedicated to the Lord in Bagdogra, India.
Many of you helped to fund this project. Here the students are being lined up before school starts.
And here's my daughter Kimberly cutting the ribbon at the dedication service.
"Your" building houses both the Hebron English Day School and the North East Theological Seminary, which uses the facility in the afternoons.
I'm told that the seminary currently has over 80 students and the enrollment is constantly increasing. Praise God! If you'd like to teach a class there, write me and let me know. As the Head of the church, Jesus invites us all to get involved in what He is doing in this old world. He died for us, and He doesn't want us to forget that act of pure love.
Tomorrow I have the joy of having lunch with Joseph and Moncy Mammen, who are traveling stateside for a few days. This father-son team leads the ministry there. Moncy is a graduate of our seminary and was one of my best students. Their focus is on raising up and training local leaders. I say "Amen!" to that.
It's impossible for me to pack into one blog post the emotions I'm feeling right now. In every married life there are phases you go through, from dating and courtship, to the phase of jobs and careers, to the phase of having and raising children, to the empty nest phase and beyond. I used to think that the loss of one of the spouses in a marriage put a halt to all of that. I'm no longer so sure. Perhaps there's a need to talk about the post-marriage phase of life, where one's love for one's spouse, though not diminished very much, is now redirected. I've been startled by the number of people who have said to me, "Becky's spirit still lives on in my life." I sometimes weep when I'm told that. Becky was, to all who knew her, an extraordinary human being. She truly was someone who shared the life, shared the work, and shared the danger (Phil. 2:25). Like every other widower, I miss her. But I've discovered that God is good at taking our losses and somehow bringing them back upon us in the form of a blessing. Surely the Becky Black Building is just such a delightful blessing. I wonder if the school kids ever ask, "Who was Becky Black?" "Why would someone name a building after her?" Becky's death from endometrial cancer was completely beyond my control. But the way that I remember her death -- the way in which I try to honor her life and memory -- is completely within my hands. Maybe that's why this building means so much to me. When knocked down and bowled over, you just get back up. Despite all of life's hardships, life is still worth living. In fact, your loss may even fit into a scheme of things that will surpass what your imagination dares to think.
8:46 AM Consider how Paul describes Epaphroditus in Phil. 2:25:
Paul loved the "rule of three," as did the New Testament writers in general. There was a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. There were three temptations in the desert. There were three denials of Peter. We have Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the culture at large, triads weren't unknown either. "I came, I saw, I conquered." The following facts seem involved in Paul's threefold way of describing the Philippians' messenger named Epaphroditus:
1) In the first place, Epaphroditus was Paul's fellow Christian. He shared the same life, as do siblings from the same womb. Christians call themselves "brothers" and "sisters." Both terms could loosely be translated as "fellow believers." When envy and strife tear at family harmony (as was happening in Philippi), it would do us good to remember that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. As such, we encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), love one another (John 13:34), pray for one another (James 5:16), speak truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:25), sacrifice our very lives for one another (John 15:13), forgive one another (Col. 3:13), and put one another first (Phil. 2:3).
2) In the second place, Epaphroditus was Paul's fellow worker. Not only did he share life with Paul, he shared the work. Our walk should square with our talk. If we do not help and serve one another, how can we truly call ourselves brothers and sisters? Some Christians come perilously close to adopting such an attitude. But it's not enough to say, "Go in peace. Be warm and well fed." If we don't actually meet the physical needs of others, "What good is that?" asks James (James 2:16). Some today dwell at length on the negative aspects of the charismatic movement. But if there's one thing that movement brought to the awareness of the evangelical church at large, it is this: every member of Christ's body has a gift and a place of service, not only the so-called ordained clergy. This has led to an enormous increase in the effectiveness of the church compared with the one-man mentality that often prevails in its place. How could a member of the church ever be inactive? No gift is irrelevant. Not all of us are meant to be evangelists and teachers -- thank God for that! But we all have a story to tell and a work to do. Epaphroditus not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.
3) Finally, Epaphroditus was Paul's fellow soldier. As Christians we are not called to instant success and glory. We live between the ages. Thus we are heirs to all the frailties and fallennness of this age. If the Master suffered, so shall we. Contrary to what we read in the news these days about evangelicals hobnobbing in the White House, there is nothing triumphalistic about a genuinely New Testament church. Its mark of authenticity comes only from suffering -- from identifying with the poor and hungry and lost and those who are enduring mockery and persecution because of their faith. The dying of the Lord Jesus is reflected in their individual suffering if not also in their corporate suffering. I know. I have been there. I have seen this wretched persecution up close and personal in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. If a church cannot endure hardship, it has no divine right to exist. "A worker must needs be a warrior...," writes Hendricksen in his outstanding commentary on Philippians (p. 139). Epaphroditus was glad to make any sacrifice necessary for the sake of others. Am I?
Beloved, we are all fellow Christians who share the same God-given life. Praise be to God. But how many of us share the work -- and the danger? Yesterday one of my daughters had a birthday. I gave her a present -- eagerly and generously. As Christians, we can give back to our Father in a way that is cold and calculating. "How much can I keep for myself?" "How much have others given?" But a daddy who loves his children never asks those questions. "I'm your daddy. I love you. This gift is a mark of my love."
As brothers and sisters in Christ, may we give ourselves to the work of the Gospel as never before, and, yes, be willing to share whatever dangers come our way in our service to the Master, who gave His all for us.
Saturday, October 14
6:14 PM Words matter. Take Phil. 2:22.
1) Note that Timothy had "served with" Paul in the Gospel ministry -- not simply "served" Paul. Paul was not the object of Timothy's ministry; the Gospel was. The little preposition "with" is all-important. Both men were, you will recall, "slaves of Jesus Christ" together (1:1).
2) The verb Paul uses here for "serve" shares the same root with "slaves" in 1:1 and "slave" in 2:8. The NIV has "he has served with me." So does the ESV, the NASB, and the HCSB. But the metaphor seems to be a live one: "he has worked with me like a slave in the ministry of the Gospel."
Once we have been brought into the body of Christ, we all become ministers of Christ. There is diversity in gifts but unity in their purpose: to work together as God's slaves. Thus there is a subtle inter-weaving of themes in Philippians. It's seen in many ways, not least in the "slave" sub-theme. Every Christian is a slave to the Master whose commands he or she obeys. We are, as Paul puts it in Rom. 8:16, "enslaved to righteousness." We owe ourselves wholly to God. His commission becomes our commission.
Perhaps Paul is speaking a word to the church of today. I must never claim that I am the owner of my gifts and abilities. I will gladly serve in what is least in the kingdom since the Master is preparing me to take on greater responsibilities later. And I must never imagine that I can do all the work by myself. I need others in the body. Paul needed Timothy, Timothy needed Paul, and the Philippians needed both. I will remember that we are all fellow-slaves of the Lord Jesus. When Satan seeks to divide us through envy or jealousy, I will remember that the Spirit is the One who unites.
This is the way the body of Christ grows into maturity.
10:25 AM A group of church leaders from Raleigh is having a retreat on the farm this weekend. As I'm doing work in my office I can hear them having a Bible study in the library next to me. I'm loving it!
10:06 AM Okay, so here's my final trip report. On Tuesday, since Zion was out of the question due to crowding, I decided to drive an hour and a half to Cedar Breaks National Monument.
This is actually a park I'd never been to before, so I was really looking forward to the visit. After driving uphill for about 10 steady miles you eventually arrive at the cutest little visitor center.
This rustic cabin was built by the CCC in 1937. Here I found two park rangers huddled next to a warm fire. After all, the temp was 33 and there was a cool breeze blowing outside. The elevation is over 10,000 feet. I thought the views were fabulous, comparable to those at Bryce. Here's the famous Cedar Breaks amphitheater.
It's 3 miles long and more than 2,000 feet deep. There were only 4 other cars in the parking lot, and I met only one other couple on the trail who were from Australia. Their goal was to spend 6 months in the U.S. camping in every national park. We swapped cameras and enjoyed the scenery together before I traipsed back to the parking lot.
Here's a short video I took of the amphitheater. You might get a little queasy if you're afraid of heights!
This is a park you'll definitely want to visit some day. The entrance fee is only $4.00. The park is uncrowded and peaceful. A perfect day's outing!
9:28 AM Odd, but I've never run a marathon in Raleigh. Three half marathons, but no 26.2 mile race. That's about to change. This morning I signed up for the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, NC on March 18, 2018. The race starts at 7:00 am. Here's the course map and elevation chart.
No hills! Plus, the race allows for a very generous 7 hour time limit. Woohoo! There's a limit of 1,500 full marathon and 2,500 half marathon participants. Both generally sell out, so I'm getting in on the fun early. Now I'm looking for an April race. Boston maybe?
8:24 AM Here I am about to cross the finish line at last Saturday's race. I had just run 26.1 miles.
Half the fun of racing is venturing into the unknown. Testing your limits. Taking on difficult tasks. Often the people who respond to my blogging are the 50-70-year olds. Why? Because they've seen and survived the world. They've faced great challenges and understand better than most that life is all too short. Yes, a 65-year old man can finish a marathon. It may cause you to question your sanity, but so can you.
Through Christ we can endure trials and overcome obstacles. We can realize our dreams. But it will take pain. Running a marathon empties you to the point where you can find peace and strength only by looking into the eyes of Another. Each race builds more resolve, more strength, even the courage to try and fail. Hal Hidgon calls the marathon "Everyman's Everest." The marathon lets you run to the outer limits of your endurance. I believe it was Jack London who said, "I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather my sparks should burn out in a blaze than they should be stifled by dry rot." He went on to talk about the difference between "existing" and "living." "I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."
Running has made me look at life in a totally different way. I actually find myself smiling a lot. I feel good about myself and enjoy the freedom to let others be themselves. Friend, you can't finish what you don't start. It doesn't matter whether you have a 5-minute pace or a 15-minute pace. Everyone crosses the same finish line. My joy is not attached to my Garmin watch. I savor my finisher's medal because I prepared for and completed the event. I've gone farther than I ever thought possible. John Bingham says the miracle isn't that we finish but that we had the courage to start. Each race is a challenge, a drama, a stretching in one way or another. A race puts life into perspective. Every hill during last Saturday's race brought with it a little death. But with the downhill came the rebirth.
If that's not what life is like, I don't know what is.
7:22 AM In his book Luke 6:40 and the Theme of Likeness Education in the New Testament, Thomas Hudgins writes (p. 224):
In Phil. 2:19-30, Paul is putting teeth to this truth. When he talks about Timothy and Epaphroditus, he's not just talking about their itineraries -- the mission of Timothy and the return of Epaphroditus. Paul, the optimistic prisoner, is showing in masterly fashion how each of these men models the unselfishness of Christ (2:5-11). Their character, rather than their talents, are the focus. He warmly recommends them both to the church in Philippi. Their selflessness contrasts sharply with the attitude of those in Rome who were preaching Christ out of envy. Epaphroditus, in particular, had almost lost his life in service to others on Christ's behalf. Paul deeply appreciates both men. In the words of Walter Hansen (Philippians, p. 210), they were "ordinary people [who gave] themselves sacrificially to serve the needs of others as Christ did."
Admit it or not, we interpret Scripture best through the lens of example. Perhaps, just perhaps, we miss the Gospel when we focus exclusively on doctrine. We're missing the point if we think that Phil. 2:19-30 is simply a travelogue. Clearly, Paul wants us to examine deeply the lives he's setting before us. We learn most when we're seeing the Gospel lived out. We're then able to offer our "You, first" to others. Mutual submission is the key to unity in our churches. When we follow the music of the Suffering Servant, we move together, one body, co-souled, all for the sake of the Gospel.
Dear church leader: communicate to your flock what counts the most. Do less. Empower more. Teach and then delegate. Recede into the group whenever you can (and that includes the titles you use to describe yourself). The average person sits in the pew weary of talk. They seek motivation. If you have rusted out, bench yourself for a while. And please, oh please, forget the superstar thing. You're human. You struggle. Serve the Lord and others anyway. Show us what power in weakness looks like. My checkpoints for leaders have nothing to do with degrees. They are genuineness, integrity, transparency, and humility.
I'm still working on this example thing. Perhaps you are, too. Our actions really do speak louder than our words. You want people to follow you? Love others. Love them genuinely. Love them sacrificially. Love them generously. Love each other well, and the church will become the church, sweet friend.
Friday, October 13
6:02 PM My sweet donks enjoying their evening meal. Love these critters!
5:28 PM Looking ahead ...
1) Lord willing, next week I leave for Annapolis where I'm speaking at a pastors' conference on Friday and then teaching at Riva Trace Baptist Church on both Saturday and Sunday. For the conference I've been asked to speak on how to exegete and teach the book of Philippians. It will be a 6-hour long marathon. My assistant and I are currently working on a Power Point that I'll make available once we're finished. Philippians can offer some pretty significant interpretive challenges. But for now I'll continue to reduce and simplify, until I know what else to do. It doesn't matter what I think in the end. The main thing is to let the letter speak for itself, both in terms of its structure and theme.
2) Looking forward so much to my daughter's wedding in DC on Oct. 28. It will be on base at Fort Myer. Now let's see ... where did I put my tux?
3) My next big race is the Anthem Richmond Marathon on Saturday, Nov. 11. It's the 40th running of what's been called "America's Friendliest Marathon." I've already booked my Airbnb for Friday night. My goal will be simply to run a race I can be proud of and have fun.
4) The Dallas Marathon will be on Dec. 10. I'm really looking forward to this event. It'll give me a chance to visit with mom and dad, plus the course takes me right around White Rock Lake, where I proposed to Becky in 1976. (I can still see the very spot in my mind's eye!)
5) Already eager to attend the North Carolina Symphony's performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. No piece of classical is more powerful. Just after Becky's homegoing I attended this same concert in Raleigh with two of my daughters, and I was so blown away by its powerful dénouement that I could barely get out of my seat. As the orchestra played "The Great Gate of Kiev," my thoughts went to Becky's triumphant arrival at the feet of her Savior, "through gates of splendor." Makes me tear up just thinking about it.
Right now I'm prepping for my classes next week. I'm reworking my translations of Phil. 2:19-24 and 2:25-30. Do you remember when you first read about Timothy and Epaphroditus? My goodness, what examples of downward mobility. Makes me ask myself: "What kind of leadership will the current generation of evangelicals offer the church?" Hopefully they will follow the paradigms set forth by Paul in Philippians -- which will mean, I should think, eschewing self-help books, the megachurch mentality, and religious consumerism (how can we get the numbers?). We'll see ....
4:08 PM So what were my plans for Monday? Very simple. A drive through Zion National Park to Bryce, where I would hike the Navajo Trail. Then I'd drive back to Zion and attempt to scale Angel's Landing. I woke up at 4:30, had something to eat at Denny's, then made my way to Zion. I was set on getting some pictures while making my first pass through Zion but the sun was just rising and the lighting wasn't optimum. I did manage to grab a shot of Checkerboard Mesa, though.
Besides, if you want to see the main canyon you will need to park your car and take the shuttle. Bryce, on the other hand, was pretty incredible. The views are right there.
Thankfully the park wasn't very busy and I was able to find a parking spot at Inspiration Point without any difficulty. Since Becky and I had camped many times in Zion and Bryce, I was able to find my way around the park easily. The scenery at Bryce can only be described as superlative.
Many people just stop at the overlooks, but if you have the time, there are plenty of interconnected trails for you to hike. I chose the Navajo Trail partly because it's one of the most scenic and partly because it would allow me enough time to return to Zion to hike there as well.
The Navajo Trail is the park's most popular hike. It's short, steep, and (usually) crowded. The hike is actually a lollipop. Towering Douglas firs grow along the trail.
It took me about 40 minutes to complete this trail, and I wasn't rushing either. Too many photo ops for that. Care to "take a hike" with me and my GoPro?
By the time I got back to Zion, the place was a mess. Parking was available nowhere in the park. Some people were even parking 3 miles from the entrance. So I said "Goodbye" to Angel's Landing, which is the park's most challenging and rewarding hike. One ranger put it to me this way: "People are beginning to shoulder -- visit the park during the off months of April and October. These are now our busiest months." Oh well. Maybe I need to return in February!
11:42 AM The marathon was on a Saturday. On Sunday, I felt absolutely great. No pain at all, no soreness, not even any toe issues. Nothing. This is solely due to the grace of God, pure and simple. He has arranged things in such a way that we can stay healthy and live longer only if we take care of our bodies as we would our automobiles. It's up to us to avoid unnecessary illnesses. It's our own decision to be active or sedentary. Because God has allowed me to live an active life for the past three years, I am at a point where I can begin to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Running is play. I enjoy running because my body is having fun. It's adjusting itself here and tweaking itself there and telling itself to hurry up or slow down or use a different muscle group or to be sure to get its toenails clipped before a race. My body is becoming better and better at running because that's what bodies do. So on Sunday, a day after the marathon, I set out to hike Snow Canyon, which actually lies right across the marathon route on Hwy. 18. As you can see, the views are terrific.
The canyon features red and white Navajo sandstone and 38 miles of hiking trails. The Butterfly Trail is the one I chose. This path is the shortest route to the West Canyon Overlook.
It later intersects with the Lava Flow Trail a few miles away. There are no water sources along this trail so you have to bring your own water to drink. I recommend at least 2 liters.
When you enter the park you'll pay a day use fee of only $6.00. I could post many more pictures but I'm trying to be frugal!
Later that afternoon I switched gears and hired a local wrangler to take me to the top of the canyon by horseback.
The horses were quiet and my guide Mike regaled me with stories about his antics on Denali (Mt. McKinley) and Mt. Rainier while I told him about my own climbing experiences. But as dusk began to fall, the winds kicked up and the horses began to get spooky. Our normally calm mounts began to balk. Remember: Although I used to ride daily for about 15 years, I hadn't been on horseback in years. Pizarro, the Dutch warmblood I was on, began to think he was stronger than me -- which is true, of course, but that's a little secret you're not supposed to let a horse know. Normally, when a horse gets so out of control that you feel you can't control it, it's time to dismount. However, good old P and I never got to that point. The more I relaxed, the more he did. I began giving spoken commands instead of only leg and hand cues. By this time the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour and we started to head back to the ranch (about a half hour away). I once read a book called There Are No Problem Horses, Only Problem Riders. I knew that Pizarro didn't act up consistently on a trail ride. I also knew that he was afraid of the wind. (So was I.) And I knew that once we got back to home base all would be fine. But those two hours made for some interesting riding. One thing you never do is try to control your horse by the mouth. That will only make him claustrophobic. The best solution is to keep him moving forward slowly, under your control. I wish there had been space to air the horses out at a canter or gallop. But at that elevation, and with those surroundings, that was out of the question.
Mike was a great wrangler. I enjoyed myself tremendously on the ride despite the antics of my frightened horse. Like I said, it wasn't his fault. Who could have predicated a sudden wind storm?
8:14 AM I noticed two typos in yesterday's blog post.
Yep, Dave's blogging again.
So how do you begin to describe one of the most unforgettable weeks in your entire life? There's so much to report -- Saturday's marathon, my hike into Snow Canyon, my adventure on horseback (and boy was it an adventure!), not to mention my trips to Bryce and Cedar Breaks National Parks. But first, a word about blogs. Having mine go down for several days got me thinking. What is it about blogs that I like so much? And why is it that I read so few? Blogging is something most of us do for fun. Not a few blogs, however, have nothing remarkable or helpful to say. Two blogs I used to read avidly have become conduits of ugly dissatisfaction with Obama or Arminians or anyone who doesn't homeschool. The authors simply have no platform to be heard but are merely venting (and pontificating). Which means that there are only two or three sites I read on a regular basis, and these no longer include anything published at Patheos (too much click-bait for my taste). Sometimes a blog's writing is poor (too many typos, for example -- guilty!). The blogs I do read always have great content with very few exceptions. When it comes to blog design, personally I think less is more. Sidebars just don't seem very relevant to me. And pop-ups? Hate 'em. Sometimes I'm asked why I don't use a platform that allows people to link to my posts. I'm currently looking into that. The bottom line about blogging? Some people do it well. Some people don't. I want to be one of the latter. Always feel free to email me your suggestions as to how I can make DBO a better website, one that not only allows me to express my personal thoughts and feelings but also "edifies, encourages, and comforts" (1 Cor. 14:3-- my life verse as a blogger). And if I ever get too serious, please hit me over the head with an imaginary two by four. I think many of us evangelicals are still caught up in the grips of the old Puritan ethic that considers play sinful. The ancient rabbis had a saying that when a funeral procession and a wedding procession met at an intersection, the funeral procession had to give way. There's still a lot of "little child" in me, and being old doesn't mean we have to lose a healthy sense of humor.
But back to my trip to Utah ....
I left RDU Thursday afternoon at 4:15 and landed in Denver at 7:00 pm. There I missed my connection to St. George by about two minutes so I needed to get a hotel room for the night. Let's see .... How about the airport's Westin? Only $315.00 a night. Let's try the Radisson. $69.00. That's better. I managed to get on a flight the next day and finally arrived at the tiny little St. George airport at around 1:00 pm.
I loved being back in the desert. The St. George area is home to stunning red and white rock formations. The region is very hot and dry. During the summer the temps can reach 135 degrees. As I hiked, the only plants I saw were those that could survive in such harsh conditions -- cactus, sagebrush, juniper, yucca, joshua tree. It's a truly unforgettable experience to be part of this gorgeous nature. In my view, deserts are perhaps the most interesting and colorful creations on earth. The southwestern part of Utah is different from any other part of the state. It's mostly desert with low mountain ranges. Water is extremely scarce. In fact, the average total annual rainfall for St. George is only 9 inches. Many people are surprised to hear that the city boasts the longest-standing Mormon temple in all of Utah. Seventy percent of its inhabitants are Mormons. Only .34 percent are Southern Baptists. This is a far cry from Virginia and North Carolina, needless to say. I sensed the lostness there during my stay. I saw not one water table or aid station manned by an evangelical church along the entire marathon route. Not one. One Baptist church I read about was having a men's breakfast that morning. What a missed opportunity. Here you have a chance to literally share a cup of cold water in the Savior's name with 7,600 people and you're having breakfast instead? When will the church realize that the gathering only exists for the going? Remember, we're His "body." And what did Jesus do with His body? He gave it away for the world He loved.
As I said, I arrived in town on Friday and drove immediately to the race expo at the Dixie Convention Center in downtown St. George. Check-in was easy, and the weather was a pleasant 80 degrees. After purchasing the official race jacket I took advantage of their $10.00 spaghetti dinner to load up on carbs before getting back into my rental car and inspecting the course.
I drove 26 miles out of town to a little bump in the road called Central. Here the race organizers were busy setting up the starting line as well as the flags that would be flying the next morning. There were runners from 44 states and 16 foreign countries and the flags of each were proudly on display. The St. George Marathon is a point to point race. You're bused 26.2 miles to the starting line and then you have to run back into town. I began my drive back into St. George along the route I would run the next morning. As I approached the dreaded Veyo Hill I took a big gulp. There's no denying it: this "downhill" course had some pretty hefty ascents, three of them in fact. "Remember that tomorrow, Dave," I told myself. Then I checked into my Airbnb and tried to get some zzzs but a loud party next door kept me up until after midnight.
I finally got out of bed at 4:30 and checked the air temp. It was a cool 35 degrees going up to a high of 78 -- pretty nice weather for a race, I thought. I piled into my running outfit including a tech shirt and two sweatshirts that I knew I would be discarding during the race. I drove into town and caught one of the many busses they were using to ferry runners to the starting line in Central.
There we were met with hot chocolate, coffee, Clif Bars, and bonfires to provide both warmth and light (it was still pitch dark).
The place was crowded.
I decided to fall in with the 5:30 pace group even though I knew I probably wasn't going to be able to keep up with them for the entire 26.2 miles.
Sure enough, at around mile 13 I began to fall behind. My legs were beginning to feel like lead, and though I continued to run it felt like I was merely walking fast.
My goal at this point was to maintain an even effort even if I couldn't maintain an even pace. Finally the city came into view, and on one long downhill section I decided to rev it up into high gear, making mile 24 my fastest mile of the entire race.
My goal was to come in under 6 hours and beat my PR of 5:56. When I attended the newcomers clinic on Friday, I was told to run the first 10 miles with my mind, the next 10 miles with my legs, and the final 6 miles with my heart.
I dedicated 5 of the last 6 miles to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. The final mile I dedicated to Becky. When I crossed the finish line and looked at my Garmin I couldn't believe my eyes.
I had run a 5:41:40 marathon and had knocked 15 minutes off my old time in Cincinnati. I couldn't conceal my joy. Thank you, Lord! But I was hungry, very hungry. There were misters there for the runners but as I wasn't feeling all that hot I passed them to get to the grub line. Soon I was gulping down as much chocolate milk as I could handle and munching on ice cream bars. I was happy. I was feeling good. All had gone according to plan. I was on cloud nine.
Whenever I passed a race official I thanked them for their help. These were all volunteers. The race absolutely lived up to its reputation of expert organization. Everything was smooth as silk, from the expo to the bus ride to the incredible beauty along the course to the post-race amenities. Especially along the final 4 miles, the spectators turned out in droves to cheer you on -- just when you needed it the most. I drove back home, showered and changed, and then went to one of the many local Mexican restaurants for a chili relleno and all-you-can-eat chips and salsa.
I'd give the St. George Marathon two thumbs up for sure. If you're interested in running marathons, this race is an absolute must.
I want to thank my family for their undying support while I was away. Many were live-tracking me and, because I was carrying my iPhone with me, I could keep up with their texts.
Thanks especially to my wonderful daughters. You are my heart's delight. I love being your Daddy. And Jesus: If I had an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, I'd smash it. I love you.
Up next: Hiking Snow Canyon, and the mother of all horseback rides.
Thursday, October 12
8:22 PM Praise God! I think my blog is back! A million thanks to my friend Shannon who works in IT at Duke for spending hours with me tonight showing me how to use FileZilla.
Last Thursday before I left for the airport I had uploaded my blog twice, and at that time everything was working normally. When I went to make one last upload, however, everything went south, big time. The wrong "blog.htm" file uploaded, and readers were suddenly treated to "January 2014 Blog Archives"! How in the world did that happen? When I tried to make things better they actually got much much worse, and I was only able to post a brief note informing my audience (all two of you) that I would try to fix things when I returned from Utah. Well, it seems that that day has arrived, and I couldn't be more grateful. When my blog was "taken down" (by whom or by what, I will never know), I had to get down on my knees and surrender the whole matter to God. "If blogging has become a god to me," I told the Lord, "then You have my permission to take it away from me lock, stock, and barrel." Them was hard words to say for someone who loves (and perhaps even needs) blogging as much as I do, in that I find blogging not only fun but cathartic. In fact, as I told the family, I would blog even if nobody read anything I had to say. Thank you to all of my readers for your texts and emails and especially for praying for me. Your thoughts and prayers are more far-reaching and significant than you will ever know. Thank you to Shannon and to my son Joel for sacrificing time away from their families this evening to help out a complete computer dunce. And thank you, dear Lord, for websites like FileZilla and even Front Page, which I have been using since 2003. Front Page hasn't been supported for many many years and yet I was able to use it successfully (and easily) since I first started this blog 14 years ago. That it stopped working properly shouldn't have surprised me. Thanks to FileZilla, it seems I can still use my Front Page (I love its ease and design) and simply upload my files through their website. The Lord has been teaching me a lot through this experience. God's discipline doesn't come without His presence. When we ask Him to control and direct our lives, we must be willing to surrender EVERYTHING to Him -- which is much easier to talk about than to do. We need to follow our Good Shepherd to the low places as well as the high places, step by step, trusting His care and provision in each and every decision we make. I'm not saying there isn't a place for honest questions in the Christian life. I'm not saying that the prince of the power of the air doesn't attack us where we're most vulnerable. I am saying that Jesus' yoke is always easy and His burden is always light for He gives joy in the midst of sorrow and beauty for ashes. If, as appears to be the case, God is allowing me to continue to write these feeble reflections of mine, I pray that they will be found useful for anyone seeking to follow Jesus with their entire heart. When my blog went down, it struck me like lightening -- I am not indispensable! As I enjoy my 65th year of life, I am all too aware of the need for spiritual direction. I hunger now more than ever for the eternal word rather than the words of mere men (and bloggers). In some ways I feel more alive today than I had when I was in my teens. Increasingly, I see new possibilities of serving Jesus. In fact, in some ways I am my own man more than ever before. The words of Robert Browning ring true: "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be." Growing older is simply a new leg on life's long journey, and if we look hard enough, we might be surprised by the good God still has in store for us.
So thanks for caring. I know some of you have missed me, and I've missed you, too. Tomorrow, Lord willing (those words have new meaning for me), I'll begin my Utah trip reports along with some fantastic pictures and videos. You won't believe what happened at the marathon. It was more wonderful and glorious than I ever thought it could be. Blogging, for many of us, is a way of remembering events and people from our past and lets us claim and share ourselves with others. We don't merely have these memories; we are these memories.
P.S. Last Thursday I lost three months worth of blogging -- from July to early October. We've looked and looked for that file but it's just not to be found. Hence the reference below to our June 2017 blog archives. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
June 2017 Blog Archives
Thursday, June 29
7:48 AM I get to run a 10K this Saturday. Woohoo! Then again, it's only by the grace of God that I get to do ANYTHING. "What do you have that wasn't given to you? Answer that! So if you've really received it all as a sheer gift, why take the credit to yourself?" That's God's word on the matter. My taking credit for being able to run is as absurd as my taking credit for my salvation. Not only the gift of running has been given to me, but the very air I breathe while I'm running has. "All good giving, as well as every perfect gift, comes from above, from the Father." Just because God gives us things indirectly (such as the ability to work out or train or lift weights), that's no reason to forget that He's still the one giving it to us. Jesus said, "Beware of greed of every kind! Don't be like the man whose crops yielded so much that he pulled down his old barns and built bigger ones, then said to himself, 'Look at what I've done! Time to take life easy, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself, Dave old buddy old pal." You guys, this is exactly me from time to time. I'm learning, ever so slowly, to give God the credit. The one who is reluctant to acknowledge that God is the giver of all his gifts is the one who will also be reluctant to part from them. And one day we must all "part from them." Health and vitality will be gone. God may even take our possessions from us. Okay. What then? Here's Paul's answer:
Alright. I'm not there. Still, I truly believe that life and light are greater than darkness. I also believe that humility is no excuse for being anything less than God wants us to be. (Yes, He actually might want you to be active and get in shape. According to the CDC, only 20 percent of Americans fall into the "fit" category. Care to join?) Clothes, food, health, money, houses, vacations, family: all are pure gifts from His hand. "All these things the heathen run after, but not you. Your heavenly Father knows you need all of them." So there's got to be a balance. He is the Giver. I am the steward. That's about it. If we truly get this right, I believe everything else will fall into place.
Off to Dallas to visit mom and dad. Becky's parents are precious saints who brought the Gospel to Ethiopia some 65 years ago. I like the Big D. Like, love it. So much culture and fancy cuisine. And all the 5Ks and 10Ks are FLAT. But mostly I enjoy just hanging with two very special people who were responsible (obviously) that I was able to marry their eldest daughter in the first place. Maybe we start here: Call your parents today and tell them "I love you." Don't text them. No emails either. Call. Or better yet, visit. This is holy ground. "Honor your dad and your mom."
Thank you, mom and dad, for your love and prayers through the years.
I love you.
Wednesday, June 28
9:06 PM So much to be thankful for tonight. Thank You, Lord, for our hay fields.
Thank You for our barns in which to keep our hay dry.
Thank You for all You're doing in my kids' and grandkids' lives. Thank You for another grandson due in 3 weeks. Thank You for Food Lion and Siri and tractors and books to read at night. Thank You for a body that's still ticking after 65 years. Thank You for I love yous and text messages and emails and Great jobs! Thank You for aluminum tubes that allow us to fly everywhere on this planet in a mere day. Thank You for coffee and Amazon Prime. Thank You for a whole new world that is waiting for me in heaven. Thank You for the messy soil of relationships. Thank You for moving and stirring in my generation.
Thank You for most of all for YOU!
5:22 PM I'm taking the plunge -- again. Just signed up for the Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon in Wakefield, NC on August 13. This will be just two days after I fly home from my 9-day surfing vacation in Hawaii. So far it looks like I'm the second oldest participant. #LifeIsAbsurd.
5:04 PM Takeaways from Ken Coley's new book Teaching for Change:
Lots to learn about learning!
1:18 PM Inspired by last weekend's triathlon adventure/exploit/escapade/feat, I decided to drive to a state park and swim some laps this morning. Who knows -- I may do another tri soon!
P.S. If, like me, you are a newbie runner, you will be greatly encouraged by this wonderful essay: If You Run Slow, Who Cares? Of course, "slow" should be "slowly." But who cares?
8:26 AM Have you read Robert Banks' classic book on the church called Paul's Idea of Community? It's a call for believers to get our eyes off ourselves and onto Jesus, off our mission and onto His mission, to get rid of the clutter and return to the essentials. Banks is insistent: the apostle Paul did not admonish his converts to "go to church" for a "worship" service. Instead, he teaches that worship is 24/7/365 -- an entire life of giving oneself away in deeds of service, not limited to special gatherings or places (Rom. 12:1-2). Roland Allen makes the same point in his work Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? Paul did not encourage his churches to form a Christian subculture. He didn't urge them to retreat from the secular culture surrounding them. They were to live "sent" lives. "They" don't have to come to "us." We will go to them.
This is how grave the Gospel challenge is and why I'm going to harp on these truths in my classes this coming semester. There is no way around this. The gathering exists for the going. If I could, I daresay I would require my students to cancel their Sunday School classes one weekend and go and play basketball with kids in the inner city instead. Christ's disciples are characterized by self-denial and love. When we do gather, it's not to worship but to recharge our missional batteries to be sent right back out into the world. Let's call it what Paul called it: an edification service (1 Cor. 14:26).
By the way, I crunched the numbers yesterday. I've got 34 students in one section of Greek 1 and another 34 in my second section of the same course; 19 students in my Acts through Revelation class; and 30 enrolled in my Greek Syntax and Exegesis class. This latter gathering will be especially exciting. We've got the skeleton. Now it's time to hang some meat on the bones. We will go, verse by verse, through Philippians, fixating on Paul's single theme: unity in the cause of the Gospel. Nothing matters quite as much to him (1:27)! We'll work through my little book It's Still Greek to Me and even rummage around in Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. Wait, what? You're using your own textbooks? Can't help it. For better or for worse, I tell my students they're getting Dave Black in my classes. It's a grand adventure, this foray into Greek language and linguistics. But it's not about Greek in the end. It's not about church either. It's bigger than that. It's about becoming what the Greek New Testament calls us to be: people who put hands and feet to the Gospel -- our hands and feet. The Gospel is not just an idea to discuss, it's a life to live.
Can't wait to get started.
Tuesday, June 27
9:20 PM Nate's working late tonight, fertilizing the fields, while I "supervise."
Meanwhile, Sheba and I enjoyed some Hawaiian sweet bread, toasted and buttered. Growing up in the Islands, we used to call this Portuguese Sweet Bread. The Portuguese also introduced malasadas to our cuisine -- deep fried pastries that are out of this world. Of course, where we would be without that other great Portuguese invention, the ukulele. I grew up with friends named De Silva, Cravalho, and Medeiros. Love (and miss) the ethnic diversity of Hawaii.
Sheba, by the way, has decided to sleep in my upstairs bedroom. Back in the day, I had a strict no-sleeping-in-my-room policy. That went out the window as soon as the summer thunderstorms began. Sweet Sheba is scared to death of thunder and would slowly creep up the stairs and into my bedroom and I didn't have the heart to tell her no. Dogs are like people in that they are pack animals and crave companionship. Reckon there's no reason for her to be lonely at night. You'll notice that she sleeps squarely on the air conditioning vent to stay cool. How cute.
7:54 PM While scarfing down my stir-fry this evening (I am so stuck in a cuisine rut) I was listening to NPR's Fresh Air and an interesting interview with the author of a new book on the Donner Party. The author is Michael Wallis and his book is called The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny.
Only half the party survived the trek to California mainly because they were convinced to take a "shortcut" that never existed. It's not that the travelers weren't warned, however.
Students: There are no shortcuts to learning, whether the subject is Greek or anything else. It's a profound moment in our academic journey when we realize this. I suspect many of you will relate. I travel quite a bit speaking and am always amazed at how people expect a public speaker to be a prophetic voice who can answer all their questions. We are not prophets. We have opinions, as does everyone. To be sure, we try to be gentle guides. But there is no way we would think of ourselves as having the last word on any subject. That you'll have to get on your own, through grit and determination. Friends, I've been teaching for over 40 years and I've never been more aware of my own ignorance (and arrogance). I'm sure I'm not the first to tell you: Your teachers are ordinary people who struggle with the same questions you do. When you agree with us, that makes us happy. But should you disagree with us, we will humbly and gratefully enter the conversation with you.
There are indeed no shortcuts in life. In teaching Greek, I cherish the hope that maybe I can inspire people to learn and live the example of Christ. I will write books that can perhaps guide you onto the right path. Half of me is thrilled that people seem to enjoy my writings. The other half of me is scared stiff that they will regard my books as replacements for their own study. God does His heaviest lifting when we get into the word ourselves. That's one lesson I learned the hard way, but it's a lesson well worth learning.
6:50 PM Odds and sods....
1) Zach Vickery's How and Why Pastors Should Study the Biblical Languages calls us to forsake exegetical shoddiness and to interrupt anything that gets in the way. A great read. Being missional is no excuse for sloppy thinking.
2) Forthcoming book: Greek Composition: A Greek Primer with English to Greek Composition Exercises and Answers. This book is sorely need. I never teach a Greek class without doing English to Greek composition. Never.
3) Saw this at Nerdy Language Majors: "I failed Greek because of all the fake ννν." What a hoot.
4) I see I'm not the only one who's excited to be running in the Anthem Richmond Marathon this year.
5) What happens when you're running a marathon and you're stopped by a train. Hilarious.
2:45 PM Sheba just took me for a walk.
We've started cutting our "Ripple Field."
Just call me Chief Hay Inspector Clouseau.
The weather today is perfect for farming: 78 degrees and a cool breeze.
Hey Tolo Tolo!
Home again, home again!
1:58 PM Did a 5-mile training run just now. My splits were 14:45 (mile 1), 13:38 (mile 2), 12:58 (mile 3), 12:40 (mile 4), and 10:41 (mile 5). This brings my monthly total for June up to exactly 108 miles based on 25 workouts. I'm training hard because one of my sons-in-law is threatening to run with me in Birmingham and I don't want a mere 40-something showing me up. By the way, I've been really emotional today. I discovered a birthday letter Becky left me. It was somehow overlooked when I was cleaning out her desk. There's no way I could ever express to her my love and thanks. So Becky is totally in my head. And so is Jesus. I love them both soooo much.
10:32 AM I Hated Running, Then I Decided to Run. Just in case you're considering becoming a runner.
10:15 AM Just added to my race calendar: The Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, AL on Feb. 11, 2018. Sweet Home Alabama!
8:38 AM In recent years I've been inspired by saints and dreamers and visionaries. Jody and Henry Neufeld are some of the wisest and most committed Christian publishers I know. You have loved Becky and me in many tangible ways, not least through publishing our books in Spanish. It is such a privilege to work with people committed to the Gospel and passionate about evangelism. Should any of you want to read our books in Spanish, please see Henry's latest post called La traducción de tres libros en español por Energion.
8:12 AM Did you know that students at the College of Charleston can take a class called Sport Physiology and Marathon Training? Bet you'll never guess what the final exam is. You guessed exactly right. Running a marathon. I ask you humbly: How can students take "New Testament" and remain overfed, arrogant, and unconcerned? The U.S. spends more on trash bags than almost half the world spends on all goods combined. This helps me better understand Paul's teaching in 1 Tim. 1:5: "The goal of our instruction is love." I like how The Message puts it: "The whole point of what we're urging is simply love -- love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God."
I'm finally beginning to connect the dots. As an old Scottish proverb puts it: "Greek, Hebrew, and Latin have their proper place, but it's not at head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus." God is requiring from our New Testament students obedience. Not the kind that is little more than an hour of inconvenience on Sunday morning. The next time there's a Run for Nepal -- a 5K race in Morrisville, NC dedicated to raising funds to rebuild that country after its devastating 2013 earthquake -- I hope hundreds of born-again Jesus freaks will sign up with me. "Broken and poured out for you" is the way Jesus, I think, would put it. Jesus left heaven to come to the foulest place in the universe only to be betrayed by His own. When His followers are asked to do the same thing, they can only hear and obey (hearken). I once asked God to send me to a closed country. I knew it was a dangerous prayer. But I meant it. And He answered. At the very same time, it was glaringly obvious to anyone who took the time to notice that my stateside priorities were far more about me and my scholarly reputation than about God and other people. Richard Rohr writes that "... power, prestige, and possessions are the three things that prevent us from recognizing the reign of God...." (Simplicity, p. 56). The pattern of ascent is so ingrained in our circles that it may be physically painful for some of us to reject it. But if I am to "take the lowest place" (Luke 14:10), I'll need to get off my high horse.
τὸ δὲ τέλος τῆς παραγγελίας ἐστὶν ἀγάπη.
I hate this kind of simplicity. I hate asking to be countercultural, even as an academic. But that's where I am, folks. I am so over upward mobility. I'm ready to join to Jesus at the bottom. And ask my dear students to do the same.
Monday, June 26
7:54 PM Was a fun day today (except for the time I wasted in Raleigh visiting a doctor I was referred to by mistake). My assistant and I reflected on the shockingly beautiful kingdom and began making the changes to our course syllabus for NT 2 in light of the downward path of Jesus. As you know, true Christianity begins at the bottom, as Jesus (the founder of Christianity, duh) modeled for us. By the end of the course I want my students to be running toward the cross rather than avoiding it at all costs. Alas, how to motivate them? I suppose that's one reason I ordered this book today.
My friend and colleague wrote it. Ken is one of the best Christian educators I know. In many ways he exemplifies the teacher I hope to become one day. I dream of a classroom where students dream of being great not for their scholarship but because they had the humility of a servant. I want them to serve others selflessly and sacrificially. Mind ... heart .... hands. If I didn't grasp this in college, I do now. Jesus unpacks a whole new teaching linked to the way He lived and died. Oh may my students learn to love this broken world as they love themselves!
On an unrelated note, this is the map for the 10K race I plan to run in Dallas this weekend.
After the half marathon, the 10K is my favorite/preferred race distance. It's not as demanding as the half and short enough to push the speed a bit. If you've only done 5Ks, the 10K is the perfect next step. Speed + Endurance!
Time to feed the donks some carrots. (I know. What a life, right?)
7:25 AM Last night around 11:30 a wonderful thought came to me. (Occasionally my brain gets an idea.) God is devoted to us. In fact, so devoted is He that He prophesied through Ezekiel that He would actually place His Spirit within us and cause us to walk in His statutes (Ezek. 36:26-27). He would inaugurate a "better" covenant with His people. In the Old Covenant, when God's presence came, the earth shook. But when the New Covenant came, and God's people were filled with His Spirit, they were filled with joy and boldness. I deeply believe that God wants this freedom for us today. I deeply believe that He wants us to live in the power of the New Covenant, in the power of the Spirit. In the New Covenant we have an abundance of promises that we often either overlook or take for granted. Our generation is so hamstrung with Old Covenant living that we no longer realize God's gifts staring us in the face. As I labored over the syllabus for my NT 2 class this fall (Acts through Revelation), I fretted and agonized over the assignments. As I look at it now, I have to ask myself: If this class is all about New Covenant living, then why is the syllabus so heavy on extrinsic motivation to make the students get their work done? Friend, do you love the law of God? Do you delight in His word? I could cook a meal for days, but unless you want to eat it you won't get any benefit from it. Just because I have a long list of requirements (a lot of "busy work") doesn't mean you want to do them. To be honest, some of my seminary courses back in the 1970s drained me dry. If only the professor had made ruthless cuts. If only he had majored on the majors. The balance beam was too crowded. People, we learn what we love. Then we combine the best of everything we've learned and conclude: I want to be like that. Now hear me. This doesn't mean that I'm going to throw out my assignments. You will still have to learn everything you need to know about, say, the background, date, authorship, purpose, and structure of Ephesians. But the assignments for which you'll be graded will be much different than that. They will be based on living out the New Covenant-like life that God has called us to and has enabled us to live through His Spirit. Heaven help us if our students are studying class material only to get a grade. The course will still be challenging. You'll get a decent handle on all of the controversial issues surrounding New Testament studies today. But we won't look sideways as much. Our benchmarks will be simplicity and obedience -- much like it was with the Anabaptists of old. Anne Dillard was right when she wrote, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives" (The Writing Life, p. 32). This is the biblical benchmark I want to use. The New Covenant is applicable everywhere or it isn't applicable anywhere. We are called to this work of New Covenant living. It is rarely big or famous work. Most of the time it's unplanned in fact. Not only can you do hard things for the Kingdom, you can encourage others to do the same by your example.
Here is the truth of the New Covenant (or "New Testament" if you prefer): Compliance to the will of God is by inner desire, not by external compulsion. God's laws are implanted in the very hearts and minds of His people and not merely inscribed on stone. The Holy Spirit residing in each and every believer now provides the basic enlightenment for Christian living. Of course, this doesn't mean that we no longer need teachers. (I happen to be one.) Rather, we teachers at best clarify and unfold the revelation of God that the indwelling Spirit provides through the word. This knowledge is at least possessed in germ form equally by all followers of Jesus. If you're a student, may I suggest a starting place as truth seekers? Be in the word yourself. It is not your teacher's responsibility to tell you everything you need to know about God and His ways. It is not their responsibility to fix every mess or answer every question. (Side note: I recall having lectured for an hour on Philippians in South Korea when a student raised his hand. "Yes, sir, do you have a question?" To which the student replied, "Who was Cain's wife?") In other words, make your front porch (or your bedside table or whatever) an altar to God. Be a self-starter. You can trust God to help you because He has given you His Spirit. Get to know the Book of books in great detail. Commit portions to memory. That way, when you come to class, what you get from us profs will be supplements to (not replacements of) your own time in Scripture. Begin to move away from the "Come to us and we will do it all for you -- lead you, feed you, organize you" mentality of some churches. The more responsibility you take for your own spiritual growth (including growth in knowledge), the healthier you will become. Again, I don't mean to minimize the importance of formal teaching. I'll be doing plenty of that in my class. But under the New Covenant, remember always that you can live a Spirit-filled life without constant management from others.
So today I'll begin tweaking my syllabus for NT 2. It will still be imperfect, I know. And I will still expect students to acquire a large modicum of basic knowledge about the writings of the New Testament. But I'd like to think that we don't need to be babysitted. You and me -- we are New Covenant people. When Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read the words of Isaiah aloud -- "The Spirit of God is upon Me.... He sent Me to preach good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, announce freedom to all captives, pardon to all prisoners..." -- the crowd was incredulous. But that's the kind of kingdom I want to join. When we follow King Jesus, we desire to serve Him. That's because He has put His Spirit into our hearts. Glory be to God.
Sunday, June 25
6:14 PM Howdy pards! The triathlon in Wake Forest is now history, and I think I've recovered sufficiently to give you a post-race report. To say the race was grueling would be an understatement. I lost 10 pounds during the race. 10 pounds! The easiest part of the race was actually the part I had been freaking out over all week: the swim. But I should have known the old lifeguard instincts would have kicked in once I got into the water. I found myself passing swimmers in front of me at a pretty decent clip. To do this, I had to change from the crawl stroke to the breast stroke simply so that I could see who was in front of me and not stumble into them. (That's a no-no.) The cycling part of the race was, on the other hand, hell on wheels. I mean, my three-inch mountain bike tires were laughable compared to the sleek one-inch tires of the fancy road bikes everyone else seemed to be using. One thing you should know about cyclists: they ride at virtually maximum intensity. Speed, not endurance, is their game. I can't tell you how many times I got passed by cyclists half my size. Still, I gave it my very best shot on what turned out to be a pretty hilly course. Nothing broke down on my bike (I don't think I could ever learn how to fix a bike tire), I had no major injuries, and the vehicular traffic seemed to be trying to exercise caution and patience (though one or two drivers must have hailed from Los Angeles). We cycled on the road, which I NEVER do. Too many drivers fiddling with their cell phones for me to ever feel safe during a road race. The cycling part did, however, have its great moments. I found that a flat-out sprint on a bike could actually be enjoyable -- an experience in how fast I can pump the peddles and how much pain I can endure.
The last leg, the 5K run, would have been a cinch had I not already beaten my body to a pulp. Although my legs were nicely warmed up from the bike ride, they were also quite tired. To tell the truth, I was beginning to feel a little bit fatigued by that point in the race. I was, however, encouraged (in a sadistic sort of way perhaps) to see that I wasn't the only runner out there who wasn't a Lance Armstrong look-alike. Where I was running, most of us looked like everyday, normal people trying to push our limits and have fun while doing it.
My finish stats?
This made my total time 1:50:02 (including transitions 1 and 2). I guess that makes me a "triathlete." Crazy, huh?
Folks, if you want to try a triathlon, jump in. The water's warm (literally). Simply find a race labeled "sprint triathlon" and you'll be good to go. Once you've signed up (and paid the registration fee with your credit card), begin collecting your gear. Nothing fancy, mind you. All you'll need is a good swimsuit, a pair of goggles (I bought mine last night at Wal-Mart), a bike and helmet, and a good pair of running shoes. That's it. Believe me, you'll feel like a kid again. Remember all the running, biking, and swimming you used to do when you were young? Go for it!
1) Hauling a bike around can become a huge hassle unless you're prepared. As you can see, one of the main reasons I bought my new Honda Odyssey was the ample room it had for transporting my mountain bike.
2) I showed up at the race site practically before anyone else did, I was just that excited. Someone snapped this pic for me and then I went about putting up my bike and getting my race numbers.
3) Proper body markings for a tri consists of your bib number on each arm. The numbers are written vertically and as legibly as possible.
4) In addition, your age goes on your right calf. Without question the purpose of this number is to humiliate us seasoned citizens. I actually requested that they write "30" on my leg but they insisted on scribbling my "real" age. Seriously, though, there is madness to their method. If you have a strong competitive spirit, you tend to go after the athletes in your own age group. Oddly enough, I don't think I saw anyone older than me on the course, but that's probably because all the "old guys" had long since finished the race.
5) This was a fun and very well organized event, thanks largely to the phenomenal efforts of race coordinate Rebecca. The swag and t-shirts were crazy good, and the night-before-the-race clinic was indispensable for all of us newbies. Rebecca, your "You can do this!" attitude and support made such a difference for me and I'm sure for many others as well. It gave me the confidence to go out and show everyone what I was made of. I loved it all: The volunteers, the cheering crowds, the "water cannon," the super-organized transition area, and the munchies afterwards. A million kudos to you and your staff!
6) Before the race, everyone had to make sure their bikes were properly and securely placed on their assigned bike rack.
7) Some riders racked their bikes facing backward. I placed my bike facing forward with the handle bars and brake levers hooked over the bike rack. I made sure my water bottle was securely fastened to the bike and that my helmet and sunglasses were in a handy spot. It was here that I also left my Garmin during the swim portion of the race since it isn't waterproof.
8) Here's the last picture I took prior to the start of the swimming leg as I had to return my iPhone to my bike rack. Everyone sort of milled around and chatted for an hour or so before the race festivities began. It took about a good hour after the first swimmer started for yours truly to begin swimming his laps.
9) I'm almost too embarrassed to show you these stats because I feel I did REALLY poorly on the cycling leg of the course. I was very blessed that I didn't come in dead last. Swimming is a sport in which technique is supremely important. With cycling, I think you mostly just race. But at least I did get up to 22.6 MPH at one stage in the race -- a long downhill portion, probably.
10) Here are my two favorite parts of any race: the awards ceremony ....
11) ... and the sponsors' display booths. Trust me, these organizations are doing lots of good for people all over the world, and from what I heard today, a whopping $25,000 was raised today for this particular cause.
12) Well, if you've gotten this far with my post-race report, you're probably thinking, "Maybe a triathlon ain't so bad after all." If so, I'll be the first to say a hearty Amen. Perhaps for you, and for hundreds or thousands of other participants, the party is just about to begin.
Grace and peace,
Saturday, June 24
12:24 PM Love cutting grass.
Ain't nothin' like a freshly mown lawn.
Also worked on my tan for my August Hawaii trip (hehe). Now I'm off to do some training for my event tomorrow. It's a gorgeous day!
9:14 AM Just three weeks to go until I fly out to Chicago for my next half marathon. Which reminds me: I'm doing this for a reason. Not because I'm a glutton for punishment, but because of the space the Holy Spirit creates in me to keep moving forward with my life. I can no longer default to a couch-potato, mindless, thoughtless, inactive lifestyle. Not if my body is the temple. What does the Holy Spirit want to do with this aging sarx of mine? I really don't know for sure. I do believe he wants me to try and climb Mont Blanc (the tallest Alp) next summer to raise more funds for cancer research. But I'm not going to box Him in. It's one thing to make the decision to live a more healthy lifestyle. It's quite another to act on that decision month after month after month. I told my Greek students (and I really meant it): "There's only one thing worse than never having studied Greek, and that is to have studied it and then gone on to forget everything you learned." As an adult-onset athlete, I have to choose my races carefully lest I overdo it. Like this weekend's triathlon in Wake Forest. At this point I realize I have no idea what I'm getting myself into. Maybe I'll love the event. Maybe I'll hate it. I don't have the foggiest idea what a "transition area" is or what I'm supposed to do in it. (Do bikes with luggage racks count?) For the swim leg I'm starting at the very back of the pack. No doubt that's where I'll end up too. Don't matter. I feel this race is for me. I'll pin on that race number and put myself on the line for the umpteenth time. If I'm tired, I'll just have to find a way to keep on going. If I'm hot, I'll have to figure out how to cool down. I will discover my own struggles, and maybe even breath a word of encouragement to others who are sharing those same struggles. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get through the swim leg without drowning. I even took a picture of the pool yesterday so that I could study the lane configuration.
Oh boy. "Dear Hawaii: I miss you so much. Remember how you and I would swim together every day? Now it's been years since I've done the crawl stroke." It's a good time to tell you I take my limitations seriously. That's why I asked to be placed at the end of the swimming leg. Well, eighth from the end.
Which means there's a likelihood that I'll be last in the bike leg too. And the running leg. If you're there, just look for the old guy babbling uncontrollably as he waddles across the finish line.
Folks, I can't help myself. I have an inexplicable love for the sport of running. I've poured over websites, read heaps of books, celebrated the triumphs of marathon winners. Racing has become a classroom for me. I'm learning my limitations -- and maybe even my potential. So I have a clear dog in this hunt. I am literally running for my life. If my kids bury me early, it won't because I was out of shape. There is something noble about an assembly of people knocking themselves out for the sake of a cheap finisher's medallion. The rules of racing are simple: Get to the starting line and do your dead-level best to finish.
Oh say, did I tell you that the Wake Forest Triathlon was the first triathlon to benefit Smile Train -- the world's largest cleft lip and palate charity? 100 percent of the athlete registration fees go to Smile Train, which provides free care to children in over 85 developing countries. It has performed more than one million surgeries since 1999. See if you can read this story without tearing up.
There is nothing triumphalistic about this approach. Nothing arrogant. It has a simple authenticity that comes from suffering, from showing compassion to the poor, and from the generosity and involvement of donors from all the over the developed world. As Christians, our lips can't proclaim one message and our lives another. These are humbling reflections. We are far too prone to see Christianity as something we do in a church building. It is far more than that. Giving of our time and energy for a cause like this takes us to the very heart of God. Magnetized by God's great gift (2 Cor. 9:15), Christian donors joyfully do what little they can. Praise God for believers with generous hearts. The glory goes to Him. And we get the joy of honestly sharing the Gospel with others both in deed and in word.
P.S. My daughter Jessie sent me this photo earlier.
That's her eldest son at the Farmer's Market this morning. She now reports he's already sold everything and is back home. Way to go Nolan!
Friday, June 23
8:10 PM Recently I've received text messages from people who were grieving a loss. Grief is a lot of things. It's usually not a fleeting feeling that's here today and gone tomorrow. You can have outward jollity and still have grief. If you are one of these "grief-sufferers," I offer you the following letter.
Dear __________. I am so very sorry for your loss. There is no quick fix to your problem. I say this because our culture has come to expect instant solutions to our personal pressures and daily trials. Maybe sharing from my own experience will be an encouragement to you.
I desire to live my life to the fullest, even though I don't have life all sorted out. My life isn't about "easy answers" or what I call "churchianity" any more. It's all about Jesus and why I follow Him even when I can't make peace with unanswered questions, even when I wrestle daily with all the weirdness and stupidity in the church, even though Becky's passing caused the God I once knew to disappear like steam on a mirror, even as I sort through my own grief and memories. I'm under no illusion that coping with your loss will be easy for you. It will take a lot of rethinking the "promises."
As you may know, I met Jesus during the 1960s. Back then life was simple. We sat around campfires singing "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" surrounded by the waves of the beach and fellow saints attired in mariachi sandals. All of us had long hair then. After all, we wanted to "look like Jesus." Is it any wonder He loved us so much? Then at some point we grew up. Church became important to us again. The Holy Spirit was calling us back to our roots. To us Jesus Freakers, Christ was the glue that bound us together regardless of our church affiliations -- EV Free, Grace Brethren, Calvary Chapel. We gathered with the people we grew up with because we had fallen in love with them again. Our leaving the institutionalized had been an act of defiance. We were determined to become a real New Testament church. So, of course, that's exactly what we didn't become. Later in my life, I began to move into culture -- yes, the secular culture so despised by many in my evangelical subculture. I still listened to countless (mostly boring and ill-prepared) sermons in church, but I also listened to NPR and classic rock and Beethoven. I began to move into the mainstream of culture. Church became more and more of a burden to bear, a game people played, a system of professional advancement, programs to operate, superstardom to attain. There is something disturbing about watching a beautiful butterfly turn into an ugly wart. For years I elevated the Bible to being the fourth member of the Trinity. Not any more. Systematic theology can't heal a wounded soul. In my house on the farm there are boxes of letters I can't bring myself to read. There's a bedroom I can't enter. Becky's things remain untouched. It's all too much for my fragile emotions.
We Christians think that if we ignore our grief it will simply go away. Just when I think I've got my act together, Father's Day comes, or her birthday, or Mother's Day, or our anniversary. This is sacred ground -- this losing someone you love. Now I realize that because Jesus died, all of life can be seen through the cross. I now have a higher view of Scripture than ever. I see light in the darkness, His Light. And in that Light I see hope for grieving Christians -- even for grieving widowers. I have come to firmly believe that all of my life is His, including my heartaches. There is room for all of us in the house of grief. The problem is that we want answers now. We're desperate for some spiritual "fix" that will numb our pain and drive away our tears. "It's easy," you say to yourself. "I'll just read So-and-So's book. Surely that will lift the fog of depression and frustration." Yet the very things we turn to men for are the very things we ought to trust God with. He promises some day to rid the world of every tear, even of death itself. God knows and cares about you. And through your circumstances He's making Himself known. What you can't do, God will do. He'll help you grieve, help you cry, help you to keep trusting Him -- if for no other reason than He's your Daddy. Unwanted grief is a dreadful thing. But each time one of our loved ones dies, surely God cringes. Do you believe He loves you? Well, do you? "Yes" is only a word, but sometimes it makes all the difference in the world. A tough decision? Oh my! But it's a decision that He asks us to make. And whether we like it or not, it's a decision we must make daily.
Want to know what I do when I don't think I can take another step? Cry out to God. At any point God's presence can be extended to us. Unable to do anything else but reach out to this God we blindly trust, He comes to us in our pain. Only Jesus can help us bear the sorrow of loss. All we have to do is take His outstretched hand.
Your friend in Christ,
3:30 PM Hola amigos! You thought maybe the rapture had occurred, eh? Not really. I've just been busy teaching Greek. I've encountered thousands of students over 40 years of teaching, but this summer school class has been one of the best I've ever taught. Their passion and curiosity about language are contagious. In the past 6 weeks there were good patches and bad patches and on occasion nothing went according to plan. In the final analysis, I've found that all learning is ultimately self-learning. We hear, memorize, and remember selectively. We must all find the path to ourselves with our own minds. But this can happen only if we're willing to take the risk of moving off the spot we're on. So to all my summer Greek students I say: You've done it, and I'm mighty proud of you. All it took to begin was a single step. You were willing to do the work. You were willing, to use an athletic metaphor, to put in the miles, to run in the rain or the heat, to learn to run one day at a time. And I know you will keep running because you know that every step you take is a step in the right direction of becoming more and more who Jesus wants you to be. I can assure you: you're in for the race of your life.
A few pics from the week:
1) On Tuesday night some of my students invited me over for a dinner party. Imagine being offered three different kinds of rice dishes. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Thank you for the treat!
2) This morning I had a cuppa and some pastry at my colleague and friend Tracy's coffee shop in Wake Forest. It's called Back Alley Coffee. Those who know me know I'm not a connoisseur of coffee. On the other hand, I know a good cup of coffee when I taste one. This place had just what I was looking for.
3) Ben Merkle and I are now in the penultimate stages of planning our Greek and linguistics conference. I think we Greek students tend to see Greek studies as something the experts have figured out. Alas, the subject is far more frail, far less adhesive than it seems. As Paul once exhorted the Corinthians, we need to constantly examine ourselves and check up on our progress. There is nothing triumphalistic about the Greek magisterium. "Look at me. I've laid aside deponency!" It's more like a group of private detectives probing here, poking there. So stay tuned for an announcement about the when and where and who of our conference.
4) While we're talking about conferences, here's a blast from the past. It shows President Paige Patterson kneeling before the assembled sages at the first New Testament conference I ever organized on campus back in 2000. Bill Farmer and Eldon Epp are directly in front of the grand genuflector. Can you recognize any of the other scholars?
I am grateful to each of them, each in their own way, for helping me find myself. I love being a member of the academy. My life is richer, fuller, and more satisfying because of it. And the learning just gets better and better. I don't believe I've lived my last, best days. My best days are still out there somewhere, and each and every day that I am alive is an opportunity to find it. The same is true for you, my friend.
Grace to you,
Monday, June 19
7:24 AM Good Monday morning to you all! Everyone has their race to run this week. For my summer Greek class (which is in its sixth and final week), we've got the subjunctive and imperative moods to cover, plus 1 John. In addition, today we're looking at the art and science of textual criticism. As for me, the Chicago Half Marathon is only 20 days away.
My heart is singing! I could spend hours upon hours sharing my thoughts with you about this race. There's nothing more motivating for success than a huge challenge. After Saturday's race I have a new-found confidence that I'm where I need to be right now.
This weekend, by the way, was tough on me emotionally, as holidays always are without Becky by my side. Today, though, I feel fantastic, so you can put those violins away. As with running, life keeps chugging along and you take the good days with the bad ones. This weekend the Father reminded me (again) that I'm not just another insignificant 8-digit code. Rather, my name (MY NAME!) is written in His book of life. A more wonderful thought is hard to imagine.
One last note. Einstein is supposed to have said, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Here's a page from a book on the Greek perfect tense I was intending to review for publication.
I stopped when I saw what the author did with the Greek. I'm sure he must have thought, "No big deal." Well .... In a doctoral dissertation, you had better use a Greek font if you want me to read it, simply because I can't read Greek in transliteration any more than I can blog without mentioning running. Are you listening?
Sunday, June 18
4:36 PM Yesterday I ran the "Race 13.1" Half Marathon in Roanoke, VA. I thought I'd share some of my photos and thoughts from the race since so many of you can't wait for my race reports (ha-ha). Besides, this is about the only way I know how to memorialize my life for my great-great grandchildren who will be mightily bored when they read about my exploits. As you know, I started the month in terms of my marathon training by running in the Raleigh Half Marathon two weeks ago. I finished the race with a respectable time of 2:36 if I recall. Yesterday, the same outfit put on the race in Roanoke -- which meant the same set up, the same DJ, the same music, the same style of bibs and medals, etc. I drove to the venue Friday night so that I could get up early on Saturday morning in time to grab my race bib and warm up for the race. I stayed in a very nice hotel that was located directly across the street from the course, which is always convenient. The hotel staff included a Greek receptionist named Ari (short for Aristotle) who was, I think, a bit taken aback that I could speak his own language with him. The course we ran is famous for its hills and stunning scenery along the city's famous Roanoke River. It's the longest distance I've ever "run" in my life -- as in running without stopping to walk. Boy did that feel good. I couldn't have done it without two things. First, I trained for the race ahead of time. I worked like a dog to prepare my legs and lungs for the rigors of the race, and yesterday I got to enjoy the fruit of my labor. At the starting line, I took a deep breath, relaxed my muscles, let go of all of my worries and cares, and focused entirely on the race. Secondly, I ran with a group of runners that kept spurring me on. I joined the 2:45 pace team that was led by a volunteer (and Marine Corps officer) named Mac. Mac constantly encouraged us to meet our goal of 2:45. In fact, near the end of the race I had just enough zest in my legs to push ahead and beat that time, though not by very much. Mac, as I said, was a great pacer. He had run the course before and knew where every hill and turn was, when we could expect the next water stop, etc. Running with him allowed me to focus on the present and not to obsess about mile markers, timing, pacing, etc.
Here are a few takeaways from yesterday's race I thought you might enjoy reading:
1) Regular running builds discipline and character. In other words, success breeds more success. You'd be surprised to find out what you can accomplish when you take control over your mind. (Greek students take note!)
2) I can't thank the race organizers enough for arranging plenty of water stops and the post-race pizza as well. The entire event was extremely well organized and full of energy, swag, and comradery.
3) Never underestimate the value of a mini weekend vacation. It was awesome to just gel in a swanky hotel for 2 days. It felt like I was a million miles from Wake Forest and the farm. The price of the hotel even included two home-cooked breakfasts.
4) "Slow and steady finishes the race." You see, every part of my body has changed in the past few years through exercise. I've been working hard to develop muscular skills that allow me to walk, bike, hike, run, climb, surf, and even compete in long-distance races. I'm nowhere where I want to be, but I feel that yesterday's race represented an important milestone in my progress that will help me set even higher goals for myself in the future.
5) Some of the best things I've accomplished in life have happened since Becky passed away. I so wish she were here to enjoy them with me. There's a lifestyle change when you get involved in running. But the change is sweeter when it's shared with others. If you don't have an accountability partner, you will often fall victim to your own excuses, most of which are pretty lame. I've learned so much about myself through running, not least that (a) I'm a slow runner and (b) I have a hard time running in distance races (anything over a 10K). At the same time, I'm very stubborn, and being stubborn isn't all bad. This is what drove me to do my second half marathon in the span of 2 weeks. With my focus and stamina improving monthly, I think next month's Chicago Half will be a good test of my commitment.
6) Yesterday, when I woke up at an indecently early hour, I knew I was ready for the race. My finish time wasn't a PR, but still I had a great time. Going into this race I tried to use my experience of running 5 half marathons to my advantage. Thanks to YouTube, I was familiar with the course. I was expecting a long downhill in the middle of the race -- which meant, of course, that I'd be running back up that hill later. Maybe it was the cool weather and the overcast skies, but I felt better and stronger as the race went on. For the first time in my brief career as a half-marathoner I didn't feel like I was dying after mile 8. The last mile was, in fact, the fastest mile of the race. Approaching the finish line, I was actually disappointed that the race was over. I ended up completing the race with a time of 2:43.
7) Now that I have 6 halves under my belt, I think I might have some insight into how this "running" thing works. As I crossed yesterday's finish line, I thanked my heavenly Dad that on this Father's Day weekend I could reach my goal. I accepted my finisher's medal, picked up my second place medal, chatted with my fellow runners, and realized once again that there's no "secret" to long distance running, just as there's no "secret" to mastering New Testament Greek. You can only run as fast as your training allows you to. I was happy with my efforts yesterday. I know I gave it all I had. I so want to live the rest of my days that way. I know I've made many mistakes along the way, both in running and in life, but I've got plenty of things to be grateful for.
Well, if you've had the patience to read this whole thing, you're the one who deserves a medal! I close with a few pix:
1) My weekend pad.
2) Mac is da man!
3) Woohoo! Beat 2:45!
4) My mile splits. Go, Dave, go!
5) Roanoke's famous "Star."
6) The city and the distant Blue Ridge are lovely.
7) Roanoke is famous for its architecture.
8) Feels like I'm in Switzerland.
9) I attended here this morning.
10) The first hymn we sang was "For the Cause" -- which was commissioned for the Gettys by our own Danny Akin!
11) "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak" (Isa. 40:29).
Friday, June 16
4:56 PM Photo Friday:
1) One of our grads is heading back to the Philippines. Her mom and dad are here helping her pack. Hope you enjoy the books!
2) Did almost 7 miles at Umstead Park in Raleigh yesterday.
3) Beautiful place to hike!
4) Today I finally bit the bullet and got a pedicure before tomorrow's big race. As if they needed one!
Make it a great weekend!
Wednesday, June 14
7:28 AM Too funny! Too true!
Tuesday, June 13
7:48 PM I love work. I can watch it all day. Like, for example, when my assistant Noah taught our Greek class today.
Oh my! Participles! Yikes!
Or when my summer Greek student Adam helped us get up hay today.
(That was so fun.) Why, I even did some work myself today. (I need approval desperately.)
Right now it's time to settle in with a good book and chillax. Which is hard work for me.
7:25 AM Yesterday Chip Hardy and I met at Red Robin to discuss the student evaluations of our LXX course last semester and we made several (we hope) positive changes in our syllabus for the next go-around.
I love teaching this class with Chip (Ph.D., University of Chicago). We both view the classroom as an altar, a place where we can provoke one another on to careful exegesis of the biblical text. And speaking of exegesis, I just finished reading Stan Porter's marvelous chapter called "The Grammar of Obedience: Matthew 28:19-20" in his book Linguistic Analysis of the Greek New Testament and will be sharing the results of Porter's analysis with my Greek class today, where we've already argued that "Go" should probably be "Going" because this keeps the focus on the main verb, "Make disciples of all nations" and its concomitant modal participles: "baptizing" and "teaching." As Stan so eloquently puts it, "The notion of going (to make disciples), rather than being grammatically prominent, is the background to the command to make disciples, realized by the finite verb in the Predicator of the primary clauses." He then concludes: "The making of disciples involves the public witness of baptism followed by and mirrored in a life of Christian obedience" (p. 253). Think of it: In the book of Acts, you got saved and got wet. Baptism preceded instruction -- unlike some places in Africa I've been where a long period of catechism and probation precedes the waters of baptism. Thank you, Stan, for reminding us of the importance of the first step of obedience in the Christian life -- following Jesus in the waters of baptism as our public profession of faith in Him.
More on this later ....
Monday, June 12
10:04 PM We worked from 4:30 to 9:00 this evening.
A student from my summer Greek class was a HUGE help by driving the truck for us while we picked up hay. A million thanks, Brett!
If I were to pare my life down to the bare essentials, to what is good, what is beautiful, what is life-giving, I believe it would include working with my own hands. Thank you, Lord of the harvest, for this wonderful blessing.
7:12 AM Having reread Noah Kelley's excellent overview of the Greek perfect tense in recent discussion, I decided I had to purchase this hefty tome.
Now if I can just find the time to read it. Meanwhile ....
Today marks the beginning of our fifth week of Greek class. What does that mean? It means that students will be getting an earful of participles, infinitives, subjunctives, imperatives, and a healthy dose of 1 John. Phew! Here I thought that things were going to get easier! I think the class is a bit tired but we're having fun. I often think back to my own experience in Greek classes at Talbot. What I experienced had a profound influence on my life and ministry. One prof in particular was known for the combination of academic scholarship, evangelistic passion, and truly world-wide perspective. He was an inspiration and guiding light and I will never forget him. Oh to be that to my students!
This weekend my poor students were asked to read my little book called Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. I hope it will challenge them to emulate the passion of the great teachers of the church in years gone by. I have long ago lost count of the students, full of enthusiasm when they graduated, who became frustrated by a schedule that would not allow them to maintain a working knowledge of Greek. Everything is dictated by the tyranny of the urgent. This is a tendency so reprehensible and so far from the discipline required of a teacher that I have fought against it long and hard. What good, however, is it to study something and then proceed to forget it? Greek instruction is critical. But so is using Greek in one's personal life and ministry. Dedicated students set their sights on nothing less, and it is happening, though not as often as I would wish. We will see how things pan out in the next half century. Of course, I won't be here to see it!
Sunday, June 11
9:35 PM Had a nice hike today in one of my favorite state parks.
The trail was deserted except for me and the wildlife.
Do you pronounce this "Am-phee-theater" or "Am-pee-theater"?
If the latter, then welcome to Grassmann's Law! Afterwards I got up hay with Nate and then pigged out on Mexican cuisine. Now it's time to settle in with Free As a Running Fox.
7:28 AM Good morning everyone! First order of business: Report on the-best-birthday-party-I've-ever-had-in-my-65-years-of-living. It all started when two of my sons-in-law "kidnapped" me and drove me to the cemetery to visit Becky's grave. We prayed, read Scripture, and reminisced. (Okay, one of us also bawled like a baby.) Then it was back to the farm, which by now had been magically transformed into a Hawaiian beach scene with slack-key guitar music, waving palm trees, tiki torches, and leis for the bunch. I was completely taken by surprise. I felt like I was at a hukilau!
I watched while my kids and grandkids bantered and played and got caught up. I loved it. I had a lot of happy and productive chats. This morning I jotted down some life lessons that occurred to me this past year:
Well, it was quite a day yesterday, one I will not soon forget. I don't feel old. I feel like a 30-year old. I'm committed to developing my body and soul to levels they've never reached in the past. My health has never better thank the Lord. I have a new zest for living. I am the me I have always been and perhaps even a better one. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful family that loves me. It does no good to live in regrets for the past or in sadness about loved ones who have passed on. Life is the quest. We can have a rebirth no matter how old we are. My birthday this week is simply the beginning of the process -- still ongoing -- of becoming the person God wants me to be. All praise to Him!
A thousand thanks to everyone who made yesterday such a special day in my life. As I watched you cheering each other on and calling forth the best in one another, I realized, This is what families are for. We point each other to God and call out His blessedness. This is our life together. I love you so much.
Saturday, June 10
2:50 PM Greek is humbling. We've had only 4 weeks of summer Greek and already we've touched on leadership, ecclesiology, the Lord's Supper (not Snack), baptism, and a myriad of other topics. Leadership is not so much a status; it's a way of life. The church is a New Testament concept; it can't be based on concepts of holy people doing holy things in holy places. For all of our talk about the Lord's Supper, we miss its real import: to keep the gathering Christocentric (rather than pulpit-centric or anthropocentric). Paul warned the Corinthians what he warns us today: Take heed lest you fall. A truly apostolic church cares less about how to "do" church and more about obeying Jesus' simple teachings. It honors and respects His commands. Thus Greek, if correctly used, affords us an opportunity to dig deep into the text and perhaps allows us to discover some long-forgotten truth. J. I. Packer makes this wonderfully plain in a quote one of my daughters shared with me this morning:
I'm already seeing this happen in my Greek class. Little lights come on, tiny needles are discovered. My prayer is that my students will ask the Holy Spirit to show them what they need to know in order to become lowly servants in His kingdom. Let Greek play its proper role in this process.
7:45 AM Whoa ... words spewing out of my computer. Must mean I'm not exhausted yet from all the celebrating. It's been a great birthday weekend so far:
1) The haying weather was perfect last night.
2) Then a late dinner with the Glass family.
3) Oh -- please help us welcome "Chigger Yellem" ("No Problem") to the farm. (All of our donks have Ethiopian names.) He was born on my birthday.
I absolutely love everything about my life. My zany family. The perfect summer weather we're enjoying. My incredibly diverse interests. But what I'm most happy about is how the Lord gives me strength to face every new day with hope and optimism, despite some pretty hard blows in the past few years. I still sometimes reflect on Becky's passing and know my life still aches without her. If your soul aches too, my friend, I believe your sorrow can increase your capacity to live well and love well. Losing Becky wedded brokenness and love together in my life. Her life was a pure gift to me. So was her loss. "Till our grief is fled and gone, He doth sit by us and moan." These words were written by a Puritan after one of his children died. It's what I believe, and what I will continue to believe until I go to the grave.
But enough of this introspection. Sheba, let's go feed the donkeys some carrots.
Friday, June 9
4:58 PM Today's bricolage.
1) As always, it's great to be back on the farm, but it was really special to drive up and find my daughter and her family at Maple Ridge. They drove all the way from Alabama.
2) In honor of my 65th birthday (today) and Global Running Day (Wednesday), I ran 32 miles this week. (That's because I don't feel older than a 32-year old.) Of course, that's nothing compared to this: 94 Year-Old Woman Breaks Half Marathon World Record. Inspiring!
3) Here I am crossing last Saturday's half marathon finish line. The thrill of victory and the agony of de feet!
4) I like this pic even better. It shows our 2:30 pace team. I'm cracking up at all the jokes they're telling. We were running an 11-minute mile pace. Tiring but manageable. Everyone is sopping wet.
I give pace team leaders a lot of credit. They've got tons of responsibility. We depend on them to help us reach our goal. We look to them for leadership. Carrying that "2:30" sign is a badge of honor. The Chicago Half Marathon is just 5 weeks away and the big question is: Should I race with a pace group again? I had a great experience last Saturday with one. The pacers were very experienced and superb leaders. They reminded us when to prepare for an upcoming hill, when to slow down or speed up, when to take a deep relaxation breath, etc. I think this time I'll start with a pace group slower than my goal (2:45?) and use them to keep me going easy for the first 9 miles. If the pacers end up going faster than I want, I’ll just drop behind and run at my own pace. If, by mile 10, my tank is still somewhat full, I'll try and sprint to the finish line. I'll need to talk to the pacers before the race to see if they believe in even or negative splits, if they slow down and walk through the aid stations, if they've run this race before, etc.
5) Last night I read this 817-page doctoral dissertation! Ph.D. students of mine: don't you dare get any ideas!
6) Parse this verb. (Hint: It's an imperative.)
7) My friend Moisés from Santo Domingo likes our grammar in Spanish!
8) Checked this out from our library last night.
Holladay nails Hebrews. Love it. Like, LOVE IT. The dam is beginning to burst, folks. History is about to reverse itself.
9) My next surf-cation is August 3-11. Not all surfing trips to Hawaii are winners. The waves can be flat, or the weather can be too stormy to catch anything but slop. That said, surfers are the most optimistic people I've ever met. Even if the ocean is completely flat, as in snorkeling conditions, we'll sit on our boards and wait ... and wait ... and wait ....
Even if a wave never arrives we can still say we "surfed" that day. Who knows, maybe we should have waited just a little bit longer ....?
10) Haying time!
Monday, June 5
5:50 AM "This week in Greek": Finish the middle and passive voices; review the entire indicative mood; move on to the third declension (easy cheesy), participles (no problemo), and the infinitive (to study or not to study the infinitive is not an option). The biggest mistakes students make are:
Friend, if you're struggling to learn Greek, you're not alone. I lasted a mere three weeks in my beginning class at Biola before dropping. Way over my head! A year later, I was teaching 11 units of Greek at the same university. To master Greek, your brain is required to work in brand new ways, such as constructing new cognitive frameworks. Take a tip from an old geezer: Focus on your goals. Enjoy moments of fresh discovery. Get surrounded (there are many teachers who are using my grammar. Check them out on YouTube when you need a change of pace.) Make peace with your imperfections and/or lack of language aptitude. At the same time, no excuses! What matters in the long run is not aptitude but commitment!
Sunday, June 4
5:34 PM We live in a culture that provides us with a multitude of opportunities to be active. Fitness is literally a moving target. Picking up hay, like I did today, is a good example of what I'm talking about. Out in the field it's just you, your trailer, and your will. Haying is elementary, elegant in its simplicity.
And here's the funny thing. Even though I did a 13.1 mile race yesterday, my legs never felt better -- or stronger. They had no problem at all trudging from one bale to the next. That truly is the paradox of running, as every runner knows. The more you stay active, the more your body wants to be active. Of course, there are days when haying is easy and there are days when it's harder. But today was pure joy and delight. Before getting up hay, I mowed. The day was perfect for it. Here's my old mower.
But it's never worked better. And that's because I recently had new mower blades installed on it. Other people sharpen theirs. But everyone knows that unless you have sharp blades, your lawn will not look very good. At any level of life, we need to stay sharp. When we get dull, things don't go as well. Greek students know what I'm talking about. How easy it is for us to allow our Greek to fall into disrepair and disuse. No amount of money or status can compensate for sloth or inactivity. Truth is, for many of us, it's time to sharpen our "Greek blades." And there's many ways we can go about doing this. I see that Todd Scacewater's offering a Greek review course. Michael Halcomb's doing the same. Or just grab any intermediate grammar and dig in. Sooner or later, you'll get caught back up -- if you are diligent.
Well, it's time to cook supper and prepare my meals for the week. Just so you know that my life's not all work and labor, here's a picture of the classic car show that our fair city of Clarksville put on this weekend.
Can't you just see me in this red convertible roadster!
1:05 PM Do you enjoy what you're doing? You can! Read my latest essay, The Joy of Running.
8:20 AM Miscellaneous thoughts before heading out for my Sunday activities:
1) Looking forward to another great week of teaching Greek plus continuing my training for the Chicago Half Marathon. The weather this week will be lovely -- which means time for lots of yard work as well. My birthday is on Friday, and there's a rumor floating around that my family is planning on "surprising" me with a party on Saturday. WOOHOO!
2) I want to give a word of thanks to all the volunteers who staffed yesterday's race in Raleigh. These are some incredible people. The leaders of our pace team always allowed us to stop at the water tables (if for only 20 seconds) to wet our whistles and catch our breath. Badly needed, I must say! By the time we back-of-the-packers arrive, there's usually more water than anyone knows what to do with, so it's okay to take more than one cup. I always try and thank every one of the workers I can. We high-five each other as they shout encouragement. As I've continued to race, I've come to appreciate these selfless servants more and more. Thank you, volunteers!
3) Been getting gobs of requests these days for our Greek DVD series. I'm so glad God is using these videos to help self-starters learn this fabulous language. The idea of recording my lectures in Addis back in 2005 was Becky's idea, and she gets the credit. I'll be forever grateful for her and her partnership in the Gospel during 37 years of marriage.
4) My assistant and I spent an hour last week planning my new course syllabi for the fall, including a new syllabus both for my Greek Syntax and Exegesis course and for my New Testament 2 course. I like to think that I never teach the same class twice. I'm always trying to make improvements based both on student feedback and my own intuition. Noah's insights and suggestions as a current student are invaluable in this process. I think you'll enjoy the changes we've made. There's a bit less busy-work and more student participation.
5) Across the Atlantic has been featuring a discussion of the style of Matthew's Gospel and the relevance (if any) this has on the synoptic problem. Everyone who knows me knows that I believe that issues of style are moot when it comes to the synoptic problem. Mark's stylistic peculiarities, for example, prove neither this Gospel's priority nor its posteriority. It's the external evidence that's probative, friends!
6) Finally, THANK YOU for visiting my blog today. I know you didn't "have to." DBO is now in its 14th year. When we started blogging there was no Face Book or Twitter or Instagram or YouTube. My site has given me satisfaction plus lots of new friends. DBO is nothing fancy. It's just me and my thoughts. Some people complain about blogging. Not me. Yes, it's like having another part-time job. But you know the saying: Do what you like and you'll never work a day in your life. So thank you, everyone, for your readership and support, and here's to another post, and another, and another ....
Saturday, June 3
4:48 PM Just checked my Map My Run app. Here's the monthly workout summary for May:
What a crazy month it was. Many days I couldn't work out because I was haying (which is not a bad thing, of course). I also began teaching summer school. Still, I managed to get in a decent number of training hours. If I can maintain this schedule, maybe I'll be ready for Mont Blanc next July (which, Lord willing, will be my next fund-raising project). Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps and definitely one of the hardest to climb. If you'd like to watch my mountain guide, Walter Rossini, climb this peak, go here. It's a beautiful setting!
4:30 PM Yesterday I was privileged to present a check for $7,000.00 to UNC Cancer Hospital. Here's Victoria Bae-Jump (Ph.D. and M.D.), whose cutting edge research seeks to explain the relationship between obesity and endometrial cancer. She's already put last year's donation of $25,000 to good work in phase 2 of her study. What a joy to be able to leverage my Alps climb last year and my marathon this year for something so worthwhile. Go Tarheels!
4:22 PM Today I ran my fifth half marathon (since competing in my first one a year ago) and it was awesome! I trained carefully for this event by sticking to two or three running days per week. The conditions for the race could hardly have been better. We started out in about the 65 degree range at 7:15 this morning. And much of the course was shaded. In fact, everything about the event -- packet pickup, aid stations, finish line festival and food -- went smoothly and easily. As I said, my first half marathon was exactly one year ago, on this same course, so my goal today was to try and beat my course record of 2:48. After the race briefing and a warm-up, we were off. I decided to run with the 2:30 team, which was made up of mostly middle-aged women, some of whom were doing their first half. For the first couple of miles they bantered with each other (they were funny!), but eventually everyone quieted down as we knew this was serious business! I did fine until around the 10 mile marker.
At this point the 2:30 pace team began to pull away from me despite my best efforts to keep up with them. I was running just as hard as before but for some reason I simply began to slow down. At one point I started walking. Say what?? Legs, I didn't say you could walk!! Eventually I began to shuffle again. I crossed the finish line with nothing left in the tank and a new PR on this course of 2:35! I can clearly remember the last hill. Ugh. It seems I have a knack for picking races that end up being hilly. Well, running sure keeps you humble. As for the race in general, I felt pretty controlled and comfortable for most of the course. I was really happy to be part of a race group that encouraged one another. Every time I hit one of the aid stations I was ready to cool off. I would take a cup of water and pour it over my head, then take two or three cups and drink the contents. I ended up racing about four minutes slower than I had hoped for, but I'm more than okay with the end result. There's always something to be learned during a race, even on the not-so-great days. It was a grand event and definitely one I'd like to do again. Onward to my next half marathon in Chicago on July 16!
Friday, June 2
9:54 PM The headline this morning on the WRAL website read: "Decreasing humidity, clear skies lead into pleasant weekend." That's really great news! Especially because I had to get hay up this evening and I have another race in the morning. Oh, did I tell you that my very first triathlon is now on the calendar? It's in Wake Forest on June 25. I'm sure it'll be more challenging than I can imagine. I have no idea what to aim for but I'm setting the (modest) goal of finishing the same day as the race. Here's what it involves:
In order to stagger the starting times, racers have to enter their anticipated time for the swimming leg when they register. I put down the maximum time allowable: 99.99 minutes! Believe me, for my first tri I'm happy to start at the very back of the pack. It's not that I'm a terrible swimmer. Did tons of it while growing up in Hawaii and when I was a swimming instructor and lifeguard in California during my college days. But it's been years since I've done laps in a pool on a regular basis. As for the biking leg of the race, I'm a bit more confident of my ability since I've peddled 26.2 miles nonstop on two different occasions. I imagine, though, that by the time the running leg of the event begins, I'll be ready for the race to be OVER. I honestly don't know why I'm doing this race. A triathlon was never on my bucket list. I guess you could say I signed up on a whim. After all, how awful can it be? (Well ....) I've heard that your first swim in a tri is the most nerve-wracking experience ever. Thankfully this leg of the race is in a pool and not in the open water. I'm 23 days out, which means that I still have time to go to the pool and get some lap swimming in. But I'm not about to go overboard and buy a TT bike or an Aero helmet. This is just a test to see if I like this event or not. It's going to be another test of endurance for sure.
Speaking of exercise, I recently heard about a park in Wake Forest that's been there forever and yet I'm just beginning to use it for my running. It's called Joyner Park and is about a 5-minute drive from campus.
I can't imagine a more convenient or beautiful venue for doing anywhere from 3-6 miles at a pop.
In other news, I'm so thankful for these endorsements that just came in for my forthcoming book Siete marcas de una iglesia neotestamentaria:
Thanks Alex and Aida!I hope you'll tell all of your Spanish-speaking friends about this book.
Let's see ... what else shall I mention? Brain fade has set in! Oh yeah, on Tuesday I took the grandkids to Chuck E Cheese to help them celebrate their graduation from kindergarten (Caleb), first grade (Rachel), and third grade (Nathan). We all had a blast.
Well, I think that's going to have to be the extent of my update for tonight. I need to get to bed as I'm dead tired. I worked until 8:30 tonight getting up hay. And I have a half marathon in Raleigh tomorrow morning at 7:15. Running is so much fun. It's also good for you. It helps you lose weight, have a healthier lifestyle, relieve your stress, and lower your cholesterol. But mostly running is about discovering the joy you experience when you move your body with your own two feet.
Make it a great weekend!