September 2015 Blog Archives
Wednesday, September 30
4:34 PM Tomorrow, as you know, begins a much-needed break from teaching and writing. Today was another story. I felt like I was in brain surgery all day. Undoubtedly this was one of the busiest days I've ever experienced on campus. It wasn't all work though. Here one of my colleagues is showing off his can of spam-flavored macadamia nuts which he picked up in Hawaii a few months ago.
No. I'm not kidding. Ugh. But you have to understand that spam is very popular in Hawaii, always has been. Hawaiians love spam so much that they consume more of it than the people of any other state in the Union -- some 7 million cans a year. That averages to about 6 cans a year for every man, woman, and child in the Islands. President Obama loves spam musubi (pictured here).
For my part, I can't stand the stuff. I grew up eating it all the time and I absolutely refuse to even look at it today. Let me just say that Bradford Hall is a spam-free zone, guaranteed!
Today was hectic for many reasons -- meeting with students, teaching Greek, answering a billion emails, corresponding with current and prospective doctoral students, reading a Ph.D. prospectus, plus (of course) doing my gym work in the morning and running a 5K through the lovely streets of Wake Forest. Right now I'm cooking supper for myself, and then I need to start packing for my trip to Hawaii, which begins tomorrow. Before returning to the kitchen, I need to remind everyone that Henry Neufeld is continuing his series of blog posts based on the interview he did with me on my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I have to tell you one thing about Henry. He's an excellent interviewer. He knows how to bring the very best out of you. And he's truly interested in the subject matter. Contrast that with the secular press. I can tell you one thing: If you are ever interviewed by the press's talking heads, I can assure you that the interviewer isn't interesting in anything you have to say. They could care less about what you think or feel about a subject. Their only purpose is to pursue their pre-conceived agenda and to get as many sound bites as possible for click-bait later. Rush mentioned that on his program this afternoon, as have many others. The so-called "Republican Presidential Debates" were a classic example of what I'm talking about. And it got me to thinking that the interviews I've had have been anything but like that, for which I am very grateful indeed. So let me again thank Henry and his videographer Kyle for following proper etiquette and for the complete absence of anything that could even faintly be called rudeness or arrogance. Henry's blog post is called Seven Marks: Apostolic Teaching. And if you'd like to peruse some of the other interviews I've been honored to give through the years, a section of the Greek Portal is devoted to them. (Go here and scroll down.) More later, but for now:
Long live the anti-spam revolution!
Tuesday, September 29
6:05 AM The church (there I go using that term again!) is a counterculture. Wrote Jim Elliott:
Ray Stedman, of Peninsula Bible Church and author of Body Life, once said, "Today's evangelical churches have drifted farther than they realize from the biblical pattern they espouse -- and the drift has been toward dullness and ineffectiveness."
What about your congregation? Mine? A biblical concept of the church is insufficient. There must be an incarnation of biblical reality into our fellowships. These two essays may well be helpful as you think on these things.
Grace and peace,
Monday, September 28
5:42 PM As I mentioned to my Mark students last Tuesday night, there is one particular Greek term in Mark 7 that will most certainly give them a Charlie Horse between their ears, and that is the term pugme in 7:3. The RSV even refused to translate it, basically admitting, "We have no earthly idea what this word means." The term is literally translated "with a fist." Is this a metaphor for "thoroughly"? Is it a gesture (as in "shaking one's fist")? Others have suggested that the term refers to the cupping of the hand so as not to waste water -- i.e., "with a fistful of water." We'll also discuss the main theme of the chapter, which is that while the Jewish leaders appeared to be law-abiding they were actually elevating their human traditions above God's law. This requires Jesus to explain that "impurity" does not come from dirty hands or from putting the "wrong" kind of food inside one's body. Jesus authoritatively cleanses all foods. Jesus, I've found, doesn't let us rest very long in our self-deceived states. He is always challenging us to rethink the wineskins -- and so we will do in class tomorrow. Should make for an interesting discussion.
5:20 PM "Are you still praying about climbing Kilimanjaro?" The answer is yes. But I've got a lot of due diligence to take care of first. At the top of my bucket list was my doctor's approval. Well, her letter arrived in today's mail. Two thumbs up.
Then I'm reading everything I can get my hands on. These two tomes arrived today and should make for pleasurable reading during my flights to Oahu.
As circumstances would have it, or God intended it, I found a report online that dispels any thought that summiting the mountain is going to be easy even for fit climbers. It's called The Other Side of the Mountain and is required reading for anybody crazy enough even to contemplate the trek. The author takes to task the recent IMAX film called "Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa" (which I watched last night on Amazon) for underestimating the dangers of climbing Africa's highest mountain. She writes that "... the experience portrayed in the film is far from typical. As I learned the hard way, climbing Kilimanjaro is much more treacherous than the brochures and an IMAX film will allow you to imagine." Spoil alert: At the summit she found an experienced climber in her death throes.
Finally, I'm looking into teaching at a Christian university in the nearby city of Arusha while I'm in Tanzania. Maybe I'm just trying to justify the expense of it all. Maybe I'll just go and teach at the university and admire the mountain from a safe distance (and do a safari instead). I really don't know yet. But I have a good year of hiking to do before I'll be ready anyway.
Due diligence -- that's what I'm back to. The Greeks said, "Know thyself." I think it's good to know the other as well.
4:40 PM Craving junk food? That's okay. Just don't eat it.
12:15 PM Loved this from Henry Neufeld:
Read Thinking Things Will Make You Stupid Will Make You Stupid. (Henry is also creative with blog post titles.)
11:58 AM Here's a great essay called A Beginner's Guide To Gym Equipment And Workout Accessories. Today I began a new workout using what is called the cable machine. This particular exercise works the biceps. My friend Abraham from Egypt coached me on it and was kind enough to snap this photo. (Thank you, Abraham!)
I plan to incorporate it into my weekly workout routine. Afterwards I did a 5K at the local track and was very pleased with (1) the fact that I was able to run the whole distance, and (2) that my split times increased the longer I ran. My average split pace was 11:54 -- not as fast as I would like it to be but, hey, I'm getting there.
Right now I need to translate According to Mark 7 afresh and anew. But let me leave you with a reminder: By definition, health is total physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. It cannot be said too often that physical fitness alone does not make you healthy. Here's something else that bothers me. So many of us think we can lose unwanted weight solely by watching our diet or doing cardio. Let me emphasize: Eating clean alone will not do it. Doing cardio (walking, jogging, even running regularly) will not do it. The missing component -- the absolutely essential ingredient -- is basic weight training. Weight lifting is the only way to sufficiently increase your metabolism so that your body literally becomes a lean mean calorie-eating machine. I have lost 35 pounds since I started exercising 4 months ago. I can assure you that every one of those pounds was a pound of fat. Unwanted fat. But here's the deal. I never set out to "lose weight." I never set out to go from 245 pounds to 210 pounds. Please remember that, those of you who are overweight and want to lose unwanted pounds. Some of you are eating clean and walking/running regularly but you are still not losing weight. I would encourage you to add weight training into the mix. You will not regret it. Weight training maximizes two desired results: the burning of fat and the development of endurance. 20-30 minutes of weight training three times a week will do the trick. Join the Y or the local gym. Ask the trainer to help you get started. I truly believe that a person following this regiment for three months will invariably become fit. Notice I did not say "will lose weight." Become fit, and the weight will take care of itself.
The message: You can do it! Start out by making a solemn pledge that you will cut out all fast/fat food. No more Wendy's or MacDonald's or Bojangles for me! If you need a burger, you can get a fresh one at Red Robin (and cut it in half: I do and get two meals out of it). Then begin cardio and weight training and I think you will begin to see extraordinary things happen. A proper attitude is essential. "I'm too old for this" doesn't cut it. Confidence is the key. "I can do this, with God's help."
Are you content with the total person you are right now? If this were your last day on earth would you be satisfied that you reached your potential?
Think about it -- and blessings on your health to the glory of God!
7:20 AM How well do you handle stress?
This question came up during my doctor's visit on Thursday. Based on her past experience with me, she told me she was confident I could handle the stress of a mountain climb. She's watched me deal with a couple of stressful situations in the past. One was particularly difficult. Thankfully, I was able to determine exactly what the stressor was. So how did I cope with it? "Coping" comes from the French word meaning "blow"(coup). Coping involves striking back. It's the opposite of retreating. A defensive mindset it is not. To cope is take charge of the situation, and that's exactly what I did. I rid myself of the stressor and was stress free again. My blood pressure returned to normal.
Stress is inevitable in our lives. But don't think of it as a permanent guest. Stress is an unwanted visitor who will eventually depart -- after a swift kick in the pants. We fail to cope when we fail to take mastery of the situation and allow ourselves to play the victim. There is absolutely no need for that.
When it comes to mountains, I suppose stress is a relative thing. Algonquin is considered a tall mountain in New York state. Algonquin Peak is 5,115 feet. Sounds high until you consider that people in Denver live at that altitude (5,280). I've made 17 trips to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The elevation of Addis is 7,500 feet. Actually, I've been on a mountain that measures 30,085 feet. That's taller than Everest (29,029). But of course, Mauna Loa doesn't count because we're measuring its height from the ocean floor.
Today, you and I need protection from stress. We need a shield from things that would needlessly drain away our limited energy. "You, O Lord, are a shield about me." As I drove to ch -- um, the fellowship -- yesterday, I passed a sign along the country road I was traveling on. It read "Slow: Funeral." A few yards down the road another sign read, "Thank you: Watkins, Cooper, Lyon Funeral Home." I started to cry. This was the funeral home that had handled Becky's death. Those same signs had appeared along my driveway. I needed time to go inward, to find my balance again, to go back to my Shield and confront my fears.
How about you? Stressors are with us every day. They are inevitable. But if we let them, perhaps they can lead us back toward God, who meets us even in our Sheols.
You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Be my refuge and strength this day and every day. I lack nothing if I am Yours. Amen.
Sunday, September 27
2:40 PM When I arrived at ch -- the meeting hall -- today, I had no idea I was in for such a treat. I tell you, the presence of the Spirit in our midst was physically palpable. The music was fabulous. As we sang "From life's first cry, to final breath" I couldn't help but tear up. I remembered all the times Becky and I used to sing those words together, arm in arm as we sat in the second pew, knowing that her final breath was just a few months or perhaps a few weeks away. We began a study in 1 John today: obedience proves love, and love opens the heart to obedience. The message was even better than the steak I just devoured.
We covered 1:1-4 today and I noticed for the umpteenth time that John opens his letter with a neuter pronoun -- not the expected masculine pronoun -- to refer to Jesus.
It's like someone saying, "I saw John the other day. It was looking good and in a happy mood." It? All that to say this: A free copy of The Jesus Paradigm to the person who comes up with the best explanation of this linguistic irregularity. Contest closes tomorrow evening at 6:00 pm. You can write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include your mailing address.
2:02 PM Thomas Aquinas once wrote, "Our destiny is to run to the edge of the world and beyond, off into the darkness." Well, today was one of those days for me. I got home from the fellowship (I'm trying not to use the word "church" any more) only to be left with the impulsive feeling that I just needed to get out and walk/run a 5K, despite the slow drizzle. So off I went.
As you can see, I increased my pace from a walk to a jog during the last third of the 5K. I am putting the fruits of contemplation into action, if you will. Let me explain. Two weeks ago, as I mentioned previously, I had the chance to talk to the winner of that Saturday's race. We swapped stories about how we each trained, and then I admitted to him, "I do okay on the flat, but the hills are killing me. They're costing me at least two minutes of time. How does one train for hills?" His reply was brilliant in its simplicity. "Dave," he said patiently, "the way you learn how to run uphill is by ... running uphill." So that's what I did today. I was favoring my right thigh, as you know, so I decided I would simply walk unless I could push through the pain and, indeed, before I knew it the pain in my thigh was completely gone. Thus, when I got to the uphill portion of my neighborhood course, I decided to break into a jog. Brutal but effective.
It's odd, this running business. When I'm running I always have my Map-My-Run app with me to help me know my pace and splits. And yet when I am running I am totally and completely in the present. It's as though time had stood still. I am completely absorbed in the joy, the sheer pleasure, of exercise. I step out of time into my NOW. If this makes no sense to you, join the club, because it makes no sense to me either. One more thing. When I got home from the meeting today (see, I'm really trying hard to avoid the word "church"), I was hungry but I knew I would be enjoying a steak for dinner today so I tricked my body into thinking, "No running, no steak." In other words: use food as a reward for exercising. It works!
Off to cook my rib eye. :-)
9:23 AM This weekend marks the third anniversary of the imprisonment of Saeed Abedini in Iran. I know that the Spirit who meets us at our point of need is near and ready to help. Please consider adding his photo to your frig door and join me in praying that the God of all comfort will protect him and his family and, if it be His will, deliver our brother from prison.
9:08 AM I see 53 intrepid runners competed in yesterday's 5K race in Cary. In the rain no less. Heartiest congratulations to the first place winners: Chadley Barnes (20:18) and Lauren Bullard (23:24). Chadley had an incredible split time of 6:32.
9:02 AM Cooking eggs-in-a-hole and listening to a Te Deum from St. Paul's Cathedral in London. How crazy is that?
8:32 AM The ballet was, well, impressive. The dancers were incredibly synchronized. The entire performance blended exquisite elegance and delicate grace. Mars and Jupiter were simply breathtaking. But Earth has no song?
Last night I watched one of the most inspiring YouTubes I have ever seen. The speaker is none other than John Wooden of UCLA fame. Here he is as a retired Solon speaking truth into the lives of his listeners. Listen to how he describes the difference between success and winning and how he was able to draw the greatest potential out of his players.
I've been told that people can function adequately in life while using only 10 percent of their potential. We need to find what we do best and then pour ourselves into it. My history will not be your history. God is in the business of making each of His children a unique person, and a fulfilled one too. But for every one of us, the normal Christian life is one of continued growth. We are forever working on expressing what is latent within us. And by "us" I mean the whole self -- body, mind, and spirit. If we stress one function of the self to the detriment of the others, we become imbalanced. As God would have it, my body has found in running and weight training all it needs to know and do. When I lift weights there is no legalistic quibbling between mind and body. Resistance training, for me, has been the ultimate exercise for the body and the greatest relaxation for the mind. Of course, like all of you, I have built-in limitations due to my genetics and age. But regardless of our physiological makeup, we can still put everything into achieving our God-given goals. We can give ourselves wholeheartedly. The present fitness craze in America is a response to this consciousness of the need for physical training and the development of the body. A sedentary life produces a sedentary level of fitness. Our excuse is usually that we don't have enough time for exercise, but it's actually a matter of priorities. In order to lift weights three mornings a week, I have to get up earlier. In order to do cardio, I have to drive myself to the track or to the 5K venue. I could, of course, do most of this at home or in my neighborhood, but I find the Y absolutely essential to my fitness program because it makes exercising fun. Physical fitness should be play, not work. Fit people enjoy company. For one thing, our own desire for fitness is boosted when we see other people doing the same thing. For another thing, training requires knowledge, and who better to ask for advice than the experienced exerciser? Of course, I will never win the Boston Marathon or a body building competition. I most certainly will never win the Pulitzer Prize in writing. It matters not. What matters, as John Wooden said, is that I am running and writing at the peak of my potential. The bottom line is that a healthy, productive lifestyle doesn't cost a penny. All it requires is motivation.
The point is that we don't need more information about how to become fit and healthy. We must have deeper reasons: to be the best we can be. 5K runners embrace that mentality. They are drawn to the race itself, not only to the finish line. When you exercise, your body determines your weight, not some diet fad. Regular exercise is now a part of my life. In only 4 months I have achieved, with the Lord's help, a very low percentage of body fat and am beginning to grow muscle. And so it goes. Exercise should have been a part of my life years ago. A sound body is a fit body. And you can attain a sound body regardless of your age. Age can be held at bay by being active. Unfortunately for me, my profession as a teacher requires little in the way of physical activity. Thankfully, I have an avocation (farming) that complements my vocation. Things usually go better for my writing and teaching when I'm exercising. My exercising helps me to compete in a highly competitive profession where publishing is expected and required.
So there it is -- my why of exercise, my reasons for running and lifting. Just more words from an aging Greek prof? Perhaps. But exercise has in fact helped me to center my life in the Lord. I am quite sure it can do the same for you.
Saturday, September 26
9:34 AM Today is The Planets at the Carolina Ballet. Jupiter is my favorite but Mars ranks a close second. Shades of Star Wars!
8:52 AM I'm not at today's 5K because it's raining, but that doesn't mean I'm not missing the race. I feel, in fact, like I'm experiencing withdrawal symptoms in an odd sort of way. I say "odd" because running a 5K race is perhaps one of the most appalling voluntary activities a human being can undertake. You have to force yourself to continue, and when you're finished you're exhausted. Yet almost as soon as you cross the finish line the memory of what you just endured is somehow expurgated. (I suppose women go through a similar experience when they give birth.) So this morning I'm sitting in front of a warm fire and praying as the Lord lays names and needs on my heart.
It seems today that I'm praying for healing more than anything else. Healing for bodies. Healing for souls. Healing for relationships. Healing for marriages. No, I don't have the gift of prayer for healing. But I can pray for the healing of needs. I need healing too. The most important preparation for aging is inner work. As I pray for others -- praying they would be set free from anxiety and fear -- I also find myself thinking of my own anxieties and fears. To take but one example, the more I read about Kilimanjaro, the more I realize it isn't a walk in the park. A.M.S. (acute mountain sickness) strikes indiscriminately. Age, fitness, and even experience are no safeguard. I read yesterday that tennis star Martina Navratilova lost to the mountain and was hospitalized in Kenya with an accumulation of fluid on her lungs after suffering H.A.P.E. (high altitude pulmonary edema). Knowing this helps me to think of these days as a season of preparation for the next phrase of my life post-retirement, and to enter the new season remembering that we never really know what we're preparing for. None of us is indispensable to the work of God. I could die and the world would still go trundling along. Today, my prayer for myself, and for those on my prayer list, is very simple:
God, whose power is perfected in our weakness, carry through to completion those acts and intentions and goals and dreams that we leave unaccomplished. Turn our puny human efforts to Your divine purposes, and let us receive each remaining moment of life as a reminder of the newness of life You promise.
Today I can live in courage because I have been raised up and given the honor and privilege of sitting together with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). Odd isn't it? While I am on earth in my library I am also sitting on a heavenly throne. From it I can see what Christ wants me to accomplish in life and accept the daring authority He entrusts to me to move into action.
Friday, September 25
9:45 PM If you haven't seen Everest yet, a movie depicting the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster in which 8 people died during their summit attempt, I highly recommend it. It's your typical tale of man versus nature, with nature getting the best of it.
As a surfer who's wiped out many times on big waves, I can identify. Tall mountains, like huge waves, have their own agenda. They don't necessarily "feel the love" we have for them. In the movie, the climbers are swallowed up by the grim forces of nature. And, while the character development in the movie was weak at best, the flick did cause me to ask the question, "Why in the world do people do crazy things like climb mountains?" Not to get overly theological with you, I think the answer might have something to do with our inner desire to live for something bigger than just our normal day-to-day existence. I know that's true for me. I am always, it seems, looking for new adventures, fresh challenges, for fear I will grow stale and flabby. The technical prowess of the film is really something to behold. I mean, you are there on Everest. Even a brief scene with howling winds and blowing snow will leave you breathless. This is as close to real mountaineering danger as I ever want to come.
I had fun with Everest, but I kept thinking that movies based on supposed "true stories" have seen their better days. But in the end, I felt strangely uplifted and challenged by this film. "We die with the dying," wrote T. S. Elliot, and so I believe I do. Because of medical advances, people live longer today than ever before, and many of us will die more slowly too. "So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). I am glad Everest offered no pious clichés, no irritating sermons. The measure of a life's value doesn't lie in its duration. Even our euphemisms like "untimely death" betray a lack of understanding. For our times are in God's hands, and "due time" is only to be defined as He defines it.
My prayer as I left the theater was: Lord, all I am and have are Yours. Do with me as You please. Let me live in gratitude on good days and bad days, and in everything give thanks. Amen.
10:55 AM I see that someone is very happy about getting a new puppy. Here I am sitting at my writing desk and there is a never a second when my puppies are not at my side.
Will we see our pets in heaven? A lady once asked Dr. Harry Ironside of Moody Church whether her dog (which had just died) would be able to enjoy heaven with her. "Madam," replied Ironside, "if when you get to heaven you want your little white dog, I can assure you that he will be there."
10:44 AM I drove through a pouring rainstorm to get to the Y this morning and was so sorry to hear of the twister that hit Charleston yesterday. Life is like that -- so unpredictable. Whenever I'm running or lifting I'm always consciously aware that I could twist an ankle or pull a muscle at any time. In fact, yesterday while I was walking the trail in South Boston I became aware of muscle pain in my right thigh -- the rectus femoris to be exact.
It didn't feel like a pull or a tear, just discomfort. So today I woke up thinking, "Should I run in tomorrow's 5K or rest my leg?" Well, the Lord provided the answer by sending the rain. Call me a wimp if you like, but I don't plan on running in the rain and risking wet shoes (and the possibility of blisters). At any rate, here was the gym today. It's usually about this crowded on a weekday morning. (Weekends are another story!)
Today I worked out with Ken who pastors a nearby church. He's been helping me with my form as I try to perfect my workout routine. Here I'm doing dumbbell curls to work my biceps.
It's a great exercise but it's easy to get carried away with and lift too much weight. As you can see, being the duffer I am I'm using the barbell by itself without any additional weights, which about maxes me out after 10 reps. My workout, as usual, was high intensity, which meant that when I got home I was very hungry, but even bachelors know how to cook when they have to.
A couple of other notes then it's back to my writing:
1) There's an opening in New Testament at Moody in case any of you are interested in applying. Your Ph.D. must be in hand by July of next year. The listing is here.
2) Tomorrow is the concert/ballet in Raleigh featuring The Planets by Holst. Tickets are available at the Carolina Ballet website. Listening is a God-given ability, and listening to great music has always been a huge part of my life. Since Becky's death I have listened a little more carefully perhaps, a little more slowly and contemplatively. Even as I find North Carolina junk food less and less appealing, so I find increased spiritual nourishment in music, art, and literature. I hope God will grant me ears to hear and eyes to see tomorrow. I don't want to miss a single beat or step.
8:36 AM A week from this Sunday I will have the joy and honor of speaking at Windward Baptist Church in Kahuluu near Kailua where I was raised. Both towns are on the windward side of Oahu where opportunities for discipleship abound. Pastor Kevin is a great brudda in the Lord. Here's a picture from the church website.
I love "my" people so much it hurts. As Paul writes in Romans 12 ("Fo Da Rome Peope 12." Hey, go head. Try read um):
"No go tink dat ony you da one dass smart." I love Hawaiian Pidgin, my heart language. I think it beats "Be not wise in your own estimation" by miles. Paul is saying that we need to get over our infatuation with ourselves. We're not the only ones that are smart. All Christians have something to share with other Christians, and all Christians have something to learn from other Christians. What a contrast to Archie Bunker, who said, "I'm not prejudiced. I love all those inferior people." Well, these are my people. They are some of the greatest people on earth.
In short, "No ack high makamaka!"
Speaking of teamwork, I'll get to resume my place as "Number Three" in my outrigger canoe with the Windward Kai Canoe Club, which I joined last May. I had always wanted to paddle and so I jumped on it when I was offered the opportunity.
Few activities lead to team-building like paddling does. Practices start at 5:00 pm daily. I am on a 6-team crew. And we are worked to the bone. Success at canoeing doesn't just "happen." It comes with training -- learning the fundamentals of paddling and perfecting them with the help and encouragement of a good coach. I will never forget our coach Pali saying, over and over and over, "Stay togeda!" Good advice for the church today, I think :)
Mahalo and plenny aloha,
7:56 AM In his book The Island Within, Richard Nelson writes, "What makes a place special is the way it buries itself in the heart, not whether it is flat or rugged, rich or austere, wet or arid, gentle or harsh, warm or cold, wild or tame."
Where is that special place in your life?
Lord willing, in a week I will have moved into my beach cottage in Kailua and have set up temporary residence in my "heart" home. I'll hop a flight from RDU to Atlanta and then fly from Atlanta to Honolulu International Airport, rent a car, and be surfing that very same afternoon. For me, Hawaii is more than a destination. It's a place to reconnect to places that left a deep mental and emotional imprint on my life. Ah, Hawaii, a place of endless memories, many of which I shared with the wife of my youth.
As you can imagine, I especially love the ocean in Hawaii. It always reminds me of God's aloha. In Eph. 3:17-19, Paul speaks of the four dimensions of God's aloha:
In Christ I am offered nothing less than the fullness of God -- Christ and His aloha with me, in me, under me, all around me. He repeatedly invites me to discover His aloha. I have found the Land of Aloha to be a good place to do just that. It is the place where God seeks to invade my soul with the vision of what He can do by His power and grace in and through me.
So here I am, returning to the land of my birth and my youth. Pain is no respecter of places. I sob as much in Hawaii as I do in Virginia. But, oh, thank God that He is my rock and my covering and my security and my aloha. Even though I should be stripped of everything else, I would still have Him, and because He is enough, I am enough.
Thursday, September 24
7:22 PM Can anyone climb Mount Kilimanjaro? Watch the story of Kyle Maynard.
Warning: Be prepared to lose it. Then ask yourself, "Lord, what will You give me today to offer back to You?"
3:02 PM So the doctor said ...
But first the facts:
And now here are the facts about yours truly:
The result is that my doctor gave me a clean bill of health and two thumbs up to make the climb. (Bless her heart.) Of course, nobody knows whether they will be able to acclimatize. A 19,340-foot height challenges every climber who makes the attempt. The question now is: Should I try? Is it worth the time (two weeks) and the expense (around $5-6,000)? There are many choices to be made, but at least I feel like I'm asking the right questions. I have my doctor's blessing. The Lord will have to show me the rest.
P.S. Got my flu and pneumonia shots today.
Have you gotten yours yet?
2:45 PM On my list of things to do this morning was to hike the Eno River Trail in Durham. Instead, I spent most of the morning working on various household chores. But our God is a serendipitous God. Instead of the Eno River hike I did the Tobacco Heritage Trail in the nearby town of South Boston.
This has got to be the best-kept secret in all of southern Virginia. It is 2.5 miles one way and so a total of 5 miles. It takes you along the Dan River and through some of the prettiest countryside in all of the South.
As you can see, the weather was perfect today for a hike.
I managed to complete it in just over an hour -- which mean my walking pace was just under 5 miles per hour.
I will definitely do it again.
9:30 AM Morning folks! Got time for a few random reflections on aging? I hope to devote an entire chapter to the subject in my book Godworld. Let me start by saying that I am really eager to read this book.
I checked it out from our library yesterday. Chapters include:
I'm thinking of calling my chapter "I'm Really Enjoying Getting Old (Well, Most of the Time)." The fact is, I'm well past mid-life and I've come to terms with it. Well, "most of the time." I can confidently assert that there's no wool over my eyes when it comes to aging. Life is gradually slipping away, but at the same time I'm excited about living the rest of my days as productively as possible. Actually, I've found that aging has its advantages. You're not as naive about relationships as you once were. You find it easy to say no. You know your capabilities -- and your limits. You're less likely to make a complete fool of yourself (don't quote me on that). I'm in the seventh inning of life and I want to do more than just avoid getting "beaned by the ball." Jung called this stage of life the twilight hours, but he was wrong. The Son is just getting brighter and brighter. I grow more and more certain that my life is packed chock full of great opportunities for growth and maturity.
When I recently decided to blog about my fitness challenge and my attempt to come to terms with my aging body, I realized that I couldn't write as someone who has seen it all, because I haven't. But I can write from my personal experience. Life is a drama -- a series of events large and small that confront us with change. At every act in the drama, life etches upon us a new identify. As I've aged I've discovered many new truths about life, not least that our ability to cope with our physiological changes determines our health to a great degree. I deeply believe that for those of us in the fourth quarter of the game the most profound growth still lies ahead of us. My flag isn't flying at half-mast. I refuse to brood over the tragedies that God has allowed to be woven into the fabric of my life. I feel optimistic and positive about the future. As Paul wrote, "For me, living means opportunities for Christ, and dying -- well, that's better yet!" (Phil. 1:21). You never ever see Paul complaining about old age!
As the mountains of old age loom on the horizon, I'm taking a whole new look at those peaks. One of the reasons I enjoy 5Ks so much is because there are always runners who are older than me showing me that it can be done. They remind me that it's actually possible to stop looking backward. Instead, we can charge into the future because our God is a God of dramas. If Becky proved anything by her life, it is that Christians who surrender control of their daily lives have nothing to lose when they die. For the Christian, then, aging is not just a terminal event but an integral part of living. Look at your body in the mirror. You are responsible for it. Of course, no one can avoid aging. But for many of us, we can cooperate with the process that God apparently intends to naturally happen to us. We should study the aging process and learn from it. We should know something, for example, of the futility of weight loss programs, of the value of resistance training, of the benefits of healthy eating, etc. If you feel a bit uncomfortable about all this health talk, let me assure you that I do too. The health and wealth "gospel" goes to great extremes to deceive us. In some cases we've been sold an outright lie. Deep in my mind, however, I know that God desires for me to take care of my "temple." He also prefers for me to live on the basis of practical knowledge and wisdom. Even in our 60s, all sorts of possibilities for change exist. But our decisions determine a large part of where our future will take us.
Today I'm seeing my doctor who (hopefully) will give me a green light to hike Kilimanjaro. If there are any waves in Hawaii next weekend, I'll be riding them. When I return from the Islands I plan to hike Flat Top. Then it's off to New York, South Carolina, Asia, and Dallas -- all before the end of the year. All the while, relationships need to be tended to. Here, too, there are constant changes. As you age you find yourself saying "goodbye" as people once close to you alter the relationship by leaving you. Conversely, you find yourself saying "hello" as other significant relationships take on a deeper meaning in your life. The key word is release -- let go! You can't assume responsibility for other people's lives. I'm reminded of Robert Frost's famous poem: "Two roads diverged into a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
Aging baby boomers experience the awareness of closing doors and sagging vitality. Each new stage of life, each new challenge, requires the values of our entire life. If you're new to running, as I am, you quickly learn that you don't compete for the trophy or the award. The important thing is not to excel against others but against yourself. It's the same thing in the Greek classroom. Teachers coach their students to excel, and students desire tangible evidence of that excellence -- good grades. But the best prize of all is yourself. The real trophy is within us. I am trying to be the best possible 5K runner I can be. Win or lose, that is the trophy. We must constantly be seeking excellence in all we do. For models, we can look to Scripture. We can look at men like the apostle Paul who were never content to sit on their laurels. Like a good runner, Paul forgot what lay behind him and stretched forward toward the prize. Life is a game, a competition. And everyone -- from the first place winner to the last person to cross the finish line -- can rejoice in a personal victory. Great men and women have a drive to do their best with what they've got. They have a need to achieve what they were sent here to do. Bill Bradley, the great basketball player turned politician, once said, "I might lose because I wasn't tall enough. I might lose because I wasn't fast enough. But I wasn't going to lose because I wasn't ready." If you are trying your very best, it matters little whether you finish a 5K race in the top three or come in dead last. Each race is a drama, challenging us to be our best. What counts is the running, not the winning.
Many people my age have already run up the white flag. They're attending their own wake. Truth is, it's hard to run the 5K of life. You have to count on all your reserves to make it to the finish line. Each of us has a race to run and, as Yogi Berra (who finished his race yesterday) famously put it, "It ain't over till it's over." The older you get, the more you must keep your body in motion. It's not about life expectancy but active life expectancy. The best way to play the game is by moving. The goal is not just to stay alive but to live. Aging is due more to inactivity than to loss of capacity. A sedentary 30-year old is actually 60 years old in terms of fitness and stamina. Conversely, an active 60-year old can have the same physical capacity as an inactive 30-year old. And where does fitness come from? It comes from a lifestyle of exercise and healthy eating. I can't remain young but I can remain fresh. "Use it or lose it" applies to bodies as much as it applies to foreign languages. Studies have shown at least two major cycles of creativity, the first occurring at age 38 and the second in the early 60s. At 63, I am developing my strength to a level it has never reached. My doctor once asked me, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" I may look old but I feel like a young man. For the first time in my life I am listening to my body. It tells me how often to train and how fast to run (or walk). It tells when to work and when to rest. Through training, I have a new zest for life. I'm still discovering what my body can do. I look in the mirror and see a tremendous change for the better. Whenever I run a 5K, I am eager to do battle in my age group (60-69). If I am fated to be a late-comer to the sport, I'd better be the best late-comer I can be.
This Saturday is race day again. I plan to operate on full throttle. Whenever I race these days I no longer feel like a novice. I know that winning doesn't matter; it never did. It's the running that counts. Still, I expect a great deal of myself when I race. William James once said, "Effort is the measure of a man." For me, the 30-minute club passes that test. I haven't joined yet but I haven't stopped trying. Either way, I'll run my race. I'll plod along, lungs burning, legs heavy. And when I get to the finish line I'll have absolutely nothing left.
I hope my life plays out the same way.
Wednesday, September 23
5:02 PM While driving home from campus this afternoon I was reminded again of just how blessed a man I am. I mean, really, who gets to do what I do and even get paid for it? Here are a few highlights of the past two days:
1) We were greatly honored and privileged to have Tom Schreiner of SBTS on campus yesterday. He spoke in chapel and then at a special luncheon in his honor. Here he is taking questions from our Provost and then from our doctoral students. What a great brother and colleague in the Lord!
2) Today I spent time in my favorite building on campus, the library, where my good friend Steve Frary works. Just exactly what did two language nuts talk about? Greek and Hebrew lexicography. Verbal aspect theory. Deponency. Even the best hiking trails in Virginia. He told me all about the Virginia Creeper Trail that boasts 47 train trestles. I can't wait to hike it. I have always found librarians to be irresistible conversation partners. Steve is no exception.
3) As you know, this week I'm sending my Greek students home with their first take home exam of the semester, and in preparation for it I had them work on a sample/mock exam in class. For as long as I can remember I have felt that students work best when they work together, so here they are plowing through the translations together in small groups.
4) Here are a few of the sentence they were working on. Pretty easy stuff -- unless you've only been studying Greek for 5 weeks!
5) This morning I had a very strenuous workout with weights, so when I got home this afternoon I decided I deserved a t-bone steak with all the fixings. I confess that I ate a little faster than an erudite person who holds a chair in New Testament should, but I was really starving. My late wife would tell me to chew my food more slowly and I am, in fact, trying to slow down, but let's just say I wasn't a very patient diner tonight. (Note, by the way, the water. No more sodas for me.)
6) Finally, many of you have written me about how you've been motivated to begin exercising (again). What a blessing! Remember: The goal of training and exercise is not to look better or to lose weight. The goal is to condition yourself for functional movement. Exercise will make you quicker, stronger, and faster. You'll also have greater flexibility and be able to generate more energy throughout your body. In other words, you'll have strength that God can use. Through regular exercise I've regained movement that I was convinced was gone forever. I've enjoyed increased energy and mental power. Exercise will help you to maximize performance and maintain a high quality of life. Along the way you will lose body fat, stabilize your joints, and become more resistant to injury. So the goal is not a leaner physique. A leaner physique is at best a by-product of becoming stronger. I believe you'll find, as I have, that you're literally gliding through life with a spring in your step. If you're someone who hasn't been working out, now is the perfect time to start. Think of strength as the accumulation of potential to accomplish your God-assigned goals in life. The greatest goal, of course, is lifting others up.
Tomorrow I hope to hike the Eno River Trail, run a practice 5K, and then see my doctor who (I hope) will give me a green light to climb Kilimanjaro. Then on Friday it's back to the weights and Saturday I return to Cary for another race. In the meantime I'm writing a chapter on aging for my book on kingdom living. I might share a sneak peak with you tomorrow. But right now it's time to gel!
Tuesday, September 22
7:48 AM As you know Greek students, our first review exam this semester will cover chapters 3-6, dealing with the present and future tenses, the first and second declensions, and the adjective. Duck soup. Below is a video by Jacob Cerone that you'll find extremely useful as you review.
Believe me, if you haven't seen the light yet, you will now!
My thanks to Jacob for his stellar efforts and to all of you for your hard work and diligence to this point. See you in class.
Monday, September 21
7:02 PM This and that ...
1) Just finished translating (again!) Mark 6 for Tuesday night's According to Mark class. What an eventful chapter as Jesus begins to close the door on His Galilean ministry.
2) I also reviewed an essay I wrote years ago for New Testament Studies defending the minority reading in Mark 6:20. I'll have the class work through it with me tomorrow.
3) Finally, the dogs checked up on the donks, filled their water trough, and tucked them in for the night. (Well, at least they said "goodnight" to each other.)
It was a great weekend but I'm ready to get back into the classroom. This week is our first take-home exam in Greek 1. Here's hoping a ton of you will get the 110 Award. My books are practically begging to be given away!
10:55 AM So you've just pulled off at exit 60, heading on to the next stretch of your journey on life's interstate. You've survived high school and the terrible sixties and long hair and mariachi sandals and your mid-life crisis. Financially, you've had good days and bad days, seen stock market booms and busts, and your heart has been broken (and healed) many times by now. But what about your body? Did you know that you can live leaner, stronger, and longer, no matter how old you are? But you've got to be smarter than you used to be. You need to take control of your physical health. There is absolutely no reason why you can't be fitter today than you were 10 years ago, even if you're an ancient geezer like me. That's what makes the 60s your most crucial decade. It's your choice as to whether you will spend the next 10-20 years feeling and looking your best or going on a long, slow downhill ride. New to the game? No worries. So am I. But once you experience the joy that eating right and exercise can bring to your body, you'll have plenty of motivation to keep at it. Here I am at the Y this morning, working on a new exercise -- the lateral dumbbell raise.
("Dumbbell" refers to the piece of equipment, in case you were wondering). Even as I was doing this exercise my body was building new capillaries in my brain, heart, and muscles. Exercise improves oxygen transport and reduces stress on the heart and arteries. Studies have proven that even the elderly can build muscle and ramp up their metabolism through basic weight training. How's that for good news?
In other good news, I see that Henry Neufeld has released the first of the interviews I was privileged to do with him in Pensacola a couple of weeks ago.
The topic was my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I think you'll enjoy the discussion. Frankly, I hope it raises more questions than it answers. In addition, Henry has begun a series of blog posts about the book -- the first being on the subject of church pews (of all things). But I think he's right. Pews are a good witness -- to our lack of fellowship. They are designed to make it well-nigh impossible for us to see directly the faces of our brothers and sisters. The problem here, of course, lies much deeper than architecture -- a subject that we get into in the interview. But pews are a witness that something is perhaps amiss. At any rate, check out what Henry has to say but remember that he is completely biased as the publisher of my book.
Blessings and good health,
Sunday, September 20
3:08 PM I just had the workout of the century. Got up this morning at 6:00 and packed my water bottle and energy bars then headed out through the deserted back roads of the Virginia Piedmont to the quaint village of Bedford. As I drove I sang songs unto the Lord:
From Bedford it was but a mere 10 minute drive to the base of the Peaks of Otter, and it was from there that I planned to hike to the top of one of its three famous peaks, Sharp Top. Apparently I arrived at the mountain "between shifts" as it were. The hikers who had climbed the mountain during the darkness in order to see the sunrise had just arrived back at the parking lot, and the next group of day hikers were not expected to arrive for another half hour or so. (By the way, it seems everyone I met were students at Liberty University. This must be the place for a hot date!) I decided to get my cardio on the ascent. According to Map My Run app, I finished the 1.55 mile hike in 37 minutes. If I were to rank Sharp Top, I'd say it is a moderate to strenuous hike, depending on how fit you are. It is certainly a hike and not a walk. I really pushed myself on the ascent but rested every half mile to catch my breath. When I arrived at the summit there was only one other person there and he was just about to descend. He was kind enough to snap my picture atop the tallest boulder on the mountain. After that, I had the summit all to myself for about a half an hour, during which time I just worshipped and praised my Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and soon-coming King! I praised Him for His greatness and His goodness and His creative genius, and all the while I was accompanied by the greatest "praise band" alive - the thrush and the mountain bluebirds and the kingbirds and the warblers. I thought a lot about Becky, and I wept.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, that even though grief is like a terminal illness, You understand me perfectly. Thank you for allowing me to admit the weakness of my own human nature, for reminding me how meaningful and wonderful life can be even as a single man, that as horrible and puzzling Becky's death was to me I can still celebrate the 37 years you gave us together, that though our relationship was anything but perfect, as all relationships are, it was nevertheless vital and growing, that her death did not leave me without joyful responsibilities, a good job, and plenty of family and friends to watch after me, that even when I want to pray but have no idea what to say, You still hear me, thank you that I am strong enough to run and hike and surf -- Your good gifts to me -- that You have given me the grace to survive and even grow through Becky's loss, that I can find ways of transcending suffering, and finally that the memory of that fateful day is now an integral part of a larger, lovely whole.
After I descended, I was so hyped up I decided to go for a run (am I crazy or what?) whose distance was 2.31 miles and I completed it in 22 minutes (for a pace of 9:36). And then it struck me. What struck me? What I am trying to say in my chapter on Christian praise bands. You see, it dawned on me that the issue is not about music at all. It is more fundamental than that. There is only one problem, but it is a huge one. We call "worship' what we should call "edification." The latter is the real reason why the body gathers on Sunday. Just read 1 Cor. 14:26 if you don't believe me. Folks, how easy it is for us to get this wrong! Even churches with worship centers and worship teams and worship pastors miss it here. We do not gather to worship. We gather as worshippers! In fact, Paul clearly tells us as much in those famous verses we love to quote: Rom. 12:1-2. Daily sacrificial living is our "reasonable act of worship." Thus I worship God no less when I pick up a bale of hay than when I sing a hymn in church. I worshipped Him when I ran my 5K yesterday, because every single breath I took came from Him and my every step was my way of thanking and honoring Him. Married couples worship God when they wash the dishes together or make love or go on vacation. In my book The Jesus Paradigm there's a section called "Enter to Serve and Depart to Worship." Many people have told that I got it backwards. After all, we've all seen signs in church parking lots with the words "Enter to Worship, Depart to Serve." It's a nice saying but it's unscriptural. The average church in North America has a completely deficient and dysfunctional understanding of the word gathering. When believers gathered in the early church they did so, not to look at the back of other people's heads for an hour. Gatherings were highly participatory, with the believers engaging in "one anothering." Worship was something that wasn't reserved for an hour on Sunday morning. Perhaps there is no teaching more needed today than the New Testament teaching about spiritual gifts. Each believer has been called into service, and when I came to the place of identifying my own spiritual gifts it seemed like my life suddenly fell into place. Somehow if I realize I have a gift, then I can no longer sit back and "hang loose." It is impossible to obey in the abstract any more. Commitment to every-member ministry means that I must give up being a spectator or a straddler. My commitment gives me an identity in the body of Christ.
So the real question is not about music at all. It's not even about musicality or about the appalling lack of professionalism and excellence I see in modern praise music (not to mention its narcissism). If the church is to know the mind of Christ, it must start here. Among many other things, this means that the expected pattern for our congregational gatherings is best seen not in the ministry of the few but in the ministry of every saint as he or she is giving utterance by the Spirit. This is the horizontal perspective in which the Bible sees the church. The church is, by definition, participatory. It is the community of all God's people. And it is always to be Christocentric. I often think back to my time living in Switzerland. The cathedrals there all had great organs and superbly trained organists, but you never saw them. They were intentionally positioned above and behind the congregation so that the "performers" could do nothing to distract from the focus of the music, and that was God Himself.
I'll have more to say about all of this in my new chapter, which I hope to complete this week. In the meantime, let's remember that true worship doesn't take place (only) when we gather. Worship is simply responding with praise in our hearts and perhaps a song on our lips -- and most certainly in our daily attitudes, actions, thoughts, and words -- for all that God is. Music is but one way that we express this worship. Weekly rituals -- externals such as "worship time" -- just don't cut it. As Jesus told the women in John 4, the externals don't matter one bit. True worship is what is offered to God in spirit/Spirit and in truth. If I'm not growing in my daily life as a worshipper of God, it matters not in the least what I do on Sunday morning. At the very least, can we please stop equating worship with singing songs in church? Worship is a life response to a worthy object. And so this morning I worshipped God. Worship is any act that is designed to give God pleasure and joy. Obedience to truth with a right spirit is what Jesus is calling for.
Well, I really gotta stop now. I am tired, as in dog tired, and I promised the Lord I would take the rest of the day to chillax (that's Greek for loaf). But I must say that this day was one of the most phenomenal days of my life. The hike was truly beautiful -- the trees sculpted into countless shapes, the rocks carved like the aging face of a farmer, the mountain full of years and character. Reaching the peak of Sharp Top was for me a work of completion -- a reminder that God wants to make my grizzled old life into something extraordinarily beautiful whether or not I am married, or dissatisfied with my circumstances, or discouraged. Look up at the mountains. They have never been beyond God's creative and redemptive reach. And neither are you.
1) Ready to race to the top!
2) As you can see, there's another hike I'd like to do, this time to Flat Top. I think I'll wait a few weeks though until the leaves have started to change their color.
3) At the top of the world! He is Lord!
4) Like this pano? On the right is Flat Top.
5) My "pew" during my "worship service."
6) You must do this hike!
7:32 PM The organizers of today's race just sent all the participants a very nice email replete with professional photos of the event as well as the final results. Here I am (far right) at the start of the race. Note the happy smile.
Here I am at about the two mile marker. Where's your smile now, Davey Ol' Boy?
And here are the results for my age group:
I'm just glad they didn't add another "6" to my overall placement number or I'd be in deep trouble. There were a total of 200 participants in today's race, which is a new record for this event -- Yahoo! I plan to be back next year for sure. Great location. Great people. Great cause.
P.S. You know how I love to mix. The first guy I went up to after the race I asked, casually, "So how'd you do?" "I won," was his reply. The winner's name is Sean Pereira (his winning time was an amazing 16:53) and he was so helpful in giving me advice about doing 5Ks. Thank you Sean. Hope to see you next Saturday.
6:32 PM Next week's 5K is also in Cary.
Proceeds go to "Brown Bag Ministry," providing meals to the homeless and hungry in the Triangle. That's in the morning. In the afternoon -- The Planets! Woohoo!
6:24 PM #I love farming.
1) Dave the bush-hogger.
2) Nate the baler.
3) Redneck weight lifting :)
4:40 PM I'm sitting here at the computer wondering what to say. I'm a little tired, I'm a little sore, and I will never forget this day. I love the place I'm in. I love being fit. I love weighing only 210 pounds. I love the challenge of a competitive 5K.
I drove to Cary this morning thinking I'd do the race and then head back home. But I actually got to meet and talk to Sgt. Payne.
Judging by his smile you'd never know he lost both legs to an IED. He gave a little speech before the race. It was amazingly simple. Thank you. Thank God. Your gesture of kindness came at just the right time in my life. I was feeling pretty low. But your love carried me. Thank you for my new house. If that wasn't reason enough to drive an hour and 45 minutes to attend today's event, the race results were. I ran my best race ever. You can see that by my splits:
I ran the first two miles under 10 minutes per mile. The last mile was uphill, though, and it pushed my total time above the magical 30-minute mark. Still, I feel I performed exceptionally well for being a Methuselah. Some days, God just gives extra grace. To wounded vets. And to old men. I wouldn't have traded today for anything.
Time to pick up more bales :-)
6:34 AM Why I'm running today:
Friday, September 18
8:58 PM Spent the morning with my grandsons and the afternoon/evening baling. Special thanks to John Carter for coming over to lend a hand with the haying. He is a freshly minted SEBTS student who used to live in Southern California, where Becky and I spent 27 wonderful years. What a delight it was to have dinner with his family here at Bradford Hall. Right now it's off to get some rest before tomorrow's run. 5Ks are great. They might serve purposes I don't even imagine.
7:56 AM This and that before heading to the gym ....
1) Really pumped up about tomorrow's 5K race in Cary. Please note: I run as fast as everyone else. It just takes me longer to get there.
2) Got practically no sleep last night. The dog on my neighbor's farm barked all night. It desperately needs to be treated for arf-ritis.
3) Please join me in praying for the Christians in Nepal, where violent protests are targeting churches. For more on the persecuted church worldwide, go here.
4) Got tickets for me and one of my kids to attend The Planets at the Carolina Ballet.
I've never been a fan of ballet. But I've got to admit: Their athleticism is something else. On the other hand, I think there's tons I can learn about life from watching ballet dancers. Here are a few choice ballet quotes. See if you don't agree:
Thursday, September 17
5:46 PM Love the smell of freshly cut hay. We'll be baling tomorrow.
Today I worked a bit on my manuscript but spent most of my time reading and cogitating. There really is a lot to think about! Here's where I'm going so far. Church music is and ought to be a performance. This is true regardless of whether you attend a high church or a low church. But the performance I'm talking about is not, I repeat not, a performance of a few talented people or professional musicians in order to satisfy or entertain the many, but rather a performance by all God's gathered people for (1) the edification of the entire body, and (2) the glory of God. This implies that there are no active and passive participants in the production and appreciation of church music. Every single person is involved -- some perhaps playing an instrument, some singing, some listening perhaps, but the focus is not, I repeat not, on certain musically gifted people exhibiting their skills but instead on corporate edification. Just as we are the body of Christ and individually members thereof, so we are the band of Christ and individually instrumentalists or vocalists within it. Get my drift? I'm so glad I'm doing this. Much more to come. Meanwhile, this weekend I'm thinking about hiking the Peaks of Otter near Lynchburg, VA. I just have this feeling I want to get involved in hiking in addition to running, and who knows how many gazillions of hiking trails North America has. I eventually want to work my way out west and hike the various trails in Bryce and Zion National Parks (which we visited frequently when we lived in California). But before I start I need your advice. I'm going to REI in Raleigh after Saturday's 5K to buy my hiking boots. I'm told that Keen is a great brand. Your thoughts? Also, would you say I should get a walking stick or not? As you can see, I'm a complete novice and need all the advice I can get. My email is email@example.com.
This is my life. Seems there is always a new adventure waiting for me just around the next bend in the road.
I love it.
12:58 PM I was really, really pleased with my 5K today. I jogged the whole way.
It's not the best time but my pace was just what I was hoping for. I am slowly gearing up to run (not just jog) an entire 5K and eventually I'd like to complete it in less than 30 minutes. Sounds impossible, but then again ....
I've been researching 5Ks and learned yet another "secret" of the hobby. Research shows that running the first part of the race at a slightly faster-than-normal pace actually results in a shorter overall time. I think I'll try this out on Saturday.
12:42 PM I don't know about you but I love to watch people performing. Not long ago I watched a man give a stellar speech. It was actually called a sermon but I could see right through it: it was a performance through and through, all show and very little substance, which is one reason I disliked it so much. Last night I studied the debate not so much for its political content (I am fairly apolitical, as you know) as for its showmanship and performance value. There is no doubt in my mind that the winner of last night's debate was Carly simply because she performed so well. In fact, she had to. She had practically begged to be on the main stage with the big boys, and once CNN gave her the green light the expectations for her skyrocketed. She didn't disappoint. Now I'm not a prophet, but I think I can predict with a certain degree of accuracy that Carly's poll numbers are going to go up significantly as a result of her stellar performance last night. What was her main goal going into the debate? In my mind the answer is obvious: He goal was to trump Trump.
And not merely to trump Trump but to smash him in three specific areas: foreign policy, social issues, and the women's vote. She succeeded brilliantly in all three areas in my opinion. Her stance vis-à-vis Iran and Putin was as manly and even as neo-conservative as was that of anyone else on stage. She really trumped Trump here. And her statement in favor of life and against abortion? It was to me the most powerful moment in an otherwise much-too-mundane-and-long debate (3 hours). Trump got trumped again. Finally, I believe her (well-rehearsed) one line comeback to Trump's asinine, demeaning, and misogynistic "Look at that face" comment was brilliant. One simple sentence -- and Trump was trumped again, like totally. I have no doubt that Republican women will begin to flock from the camp of Ben and The Donald to the "I'm proud of every wrinkle" juggernaut.
Really, somebody should pass out a higher handicap to men as they step onto the second green of their political career. And the sand traps and pitfalls are only going to increase the closer we get to the election. A new and vibrant energy was released in last night's performance, which will make the remaining acts gobs of fun to watch.
9:25 AM I'm glad that age was left out of the debate last night. Ronald Reagan was the oldest person ever to be elected president at the age of 69. If Sanders should take office, he will be 75 on inauguration day. Trump would be 70. You know what? Older people can be totally healthy and on top of things! There's a huge difference between feeling old and being old, as this study proved.
To which I say a hearty Amen!
There's also a difference between chronological age and physiological age, says Sanjay Gupta. I know what he means. I may look like a fossil but I feel young. I'm ready to tackle new challenges, mental and physical. No, I don't pray the "Prayer of Jabez" three times a day (this was once a fad in the U.S. if you can believe it). But God expects His people to keep going. I truly believe that the Father would give us so much more if we had faith to ask Him for it. Caleb asked for a mountain. Jabez asked for an enlarged coast. Hezekiah even asked for an extension of life -- and got it. Folks, we need to keep on pushing out our borders in life. Do you have a big request? God may grant it! You'll never know if you never ask. I see many men my age who are junked prematurely. Studies have shown that orchestra conductors enjoy greater longevity than most ordinary people (think Leopold Stokowski or Arthur Fielder). The reason is not simply because they're waving their arms all the time. It's because that are in total command. They spend their lives organizing orchestras, training apprentice conductors, launching the careers of musicians, and maintaining an active lifestyle. Men who work past the age of 65 (even when they don't need to) do so because they believe it keeps them physically healthy and mentally alert. Strom Thurmond was reelected to Congress at the age of 93. Norman Mailer was 74 when he completed his thirtieth book. Compared to these dudes I feel like a pup at 63. I love Prov. 22:13. Here we have an idle man who thinks there's a lion outside and he'll be "killed in the streets" if he ventures outdoors, so he stays in bed all day. Talk about an idle excuse! Don't fear an imaginary lion my aging friend. What silly alibis we offer God for our laziness. Get off your duff, for if we're not active for the Lord we're active for Satan. Alibis do not exempt us from duty. You don't need excuses. But you will need resiliency to bounce back from setbacks. You'll need to learn how to roll with the punches (as Carly did so beautifully last night). By the age of 60 you should have enough inner resources to survive setbacks time and time again. It helps if you have (as I do) a pool of people who offer prayer and emotional support. Either way, there's still time for you to do something great for God. There's still time to leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren. If you want a satisfying third act, you need something to live for -- an internal mission. "I don't have one" you say. Then ask God for one. Open a parallel track in your life to that of your career. Gain some new experiences doing things you've never done before. Indulge a new grandchild (I'm an expert at this!) or commit to improving your physical health for the long haul.
Age is just a number. I think Trump learned that lesson last night. Have you?
Wednesday, September 16
8:04 PM While here it's the golden crackle of fall, in Hawaii it's sweet bread time as well as time to hit the waves on the Windward side. Love both!
7:20 PM I had a great couple of days on campus this week teaching my classes, making new friends, and working out. I came home a little on the early side today since I had come down with one of my patented sinus headaches, but I was able to get some medicine on board and I'm beginning to feel much better. Here's the exercise room at the Hampton Inn in Wake Forest where I stayed last night.
Small but adequate. I did some major resistance training before heading back to campus to work on yet another chapter in my book on the kingdom called Godworld. For lunch I met with John and Pam Hurtgen who were on campus today for a conference. John is the dean of the school of theology at Campbellsville University in Kentucky. I invited them to Red Robin and we had a great time focusing on missions and how we're each taking responsibility where we're able. He also teaches beginning Greek using my textbook so you just know he's a really great guy.
Then it was back to the classroom and thence to the library to check out these books.
In preparation for the work I'm doing for my chapter on worship I'm tapping into the research others have already done on the plusses and minuses of contemporary praise music. Let me just say this about the topic -- it fascinates me no end. What's more, I have many unresolved questions! I want to be clear that I'm not writing as a composer or as a scholar of music but rather as a performer. As you know, I played trumpet since fifth grade and was first trumpet, first chair in the all-state band during my senior year of high school in Hawaii. On Oahu I played the trumpet professionally before leaving for college in California. While at Biola I played the bass guitar for four years in a group called "Joyous Creed" and we were known for our original music. I'm also a paint and sketch artist and can play the guitar and the piano. Thus what concerns me the most is not just how music is played in our churches but the means by which music is grasped or understood, regardless of the nature of our involvement in it. Stated briefly, I want to explore the artistic nature of contemporary church music -- what composers ask, and what the music demands of the listener. Our responses as hearers can vary quite a bit. "That's striking," we say, or "That song was so moving," or even "Well, that was interesting." What has happened in my own thinking is that I have arrived at a point where I have a great deal of trouble listening to much of what calls itself Christian praise music. I often find it tedious and repetitious. In his essay The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music, David Gordon lists his reasons why he believes that contemporary praise music will eventually decline. Among other things, David notes how the best-known contemporary hymns/songs have been over-used to the point that we have become tired of them. He notes that the church has reached a certain "tipping point" in which contemporary worship no longer marks a church as hip or as emerging. The genre is now commonplace, so much so that "it is no longer a competitive advantage." Once the novelty wears off, David goes on to note, "what is left often seems somewhat empty." Furthermore, he calls our attention to the confusion between whether praise teams are participants in the congregation or performers for the congregation. Let me add here that I am not antagonistic to contemporary church music per se. One can get used to practically any style of music given time. But what then? I am "used" to a great deal of music that I find dull, trivial, and boring. As a musician, my ear is always in the state of discovery. The results may be trivial, profound, or fortuitous; but music will always be a focus of my interests. In music, it is always quality and character that count. This seems so obvious as to scarcely need pointing out, yet both of these attributes of music often fall completely flat and seem stale to our ears when it comes to praise music. The analogy with verbal discourse is an obvious one. I need not belabor the mundane character of what passes for "expository preaching" today or the equal lack of excellent instruction in the classroom. One often hears today that criteria, regarding both the musical arts and the verbal arts, have ceased to exist. I disagree completely and profoundly with this notion. Criteria are as real today as they ever were in the past. What seemed a radical break with tradition 10 or 15 years ago appears now as much a phase of tradition as was, for instance, the introduction of guitars in the 1960s. The crux of the matter, in my opinion, is: a willing ear does not mean an undiscriminating ear. Nothing can be sillier than the opinion that "This is right because this is the direction praise music is going." The issue for me is more and more a choice between the genuinely creative and productive and the merely modern and conformist. In our day there has been a tendency, I think, to make a fetish of "contemporary" praise music. In music, however, and in the other arts as well, choices must be made constantly in terms of value. In other words, music must be both decisive and unequivocal. The problem with "contemporary" pursued for its own sake is that it can quickly degenerate into a cliché. I can think of two more words that seem to me important. One is substance, and the other is excellence. Substance is what remains once the initial novelty has worn off, while excellence is the essential but elusive characteristic of all great sacred music. The contrary of substance is contrived, and the contrary of excellence is mediocre. My own efforts, both as a musician and as a public speaker, are as subject to these qualifications as is anyone else's. It would be brash of me to think that anything I say in my chapter on praise music will exhaust everything that can be said on this topic. But I do think God invites us to think and act responsibly in the area of worship, praise, and liturgical music if we are to give glory to God and bring about his Godworld through our music when we gather as Christians. I want to respectfully acknowledge the contribution that praise music artists have made to the contemporary church, but I also want to revolt against all that is mundane and ephemeral. In any event, I'm sure the books I pictured above will get me thinking. In a sense, music is an unfathomable mystery, and whatever I make of this mystery will, in the end, only imperfectly reflect the way in which God desires to receive our worship as His children. If you're willing to pray for me as I write this chapter, would you tell me in an email? I'll be sure to keep you updated as I progress. Thanks!
Tuesday, September 15
8:08 AM Kevin Brown is a home-grown church elder and doesn't mess around when it comes to being passionate about Christ and His people. His local paper featured some of the goings-on at his congregation. Note the philosophy of age-integration -- which is not surprising for the author of Rite of Passage for the Home and Church.
7:54 AM It's great to see Rob Martin blogging again. You were sorely missed, friend! Check out his website Abnormal Anabaptist. You won't regret it.
P.S. In this interview with publisher Henry Neufeld, Rob discusses how he cared for his wife during their cancer journey. It's an outstanding interview.
7:40 AM Odds and sods ....
1) It's great weather for haying this week. Third cutting of the summer. God is so gracious to me!
2) I've posted an essay call Taking Care of Your Temple. It's a summary of my fitness journey over the past few months and makes my blog thoughts a bit more linkable.
3) My friend Michael Kennedy (and SEBTS grad) sent me this book yesterday.
Amazon lists it here. Mike is a pastor/elder in Georgia. I read the book in one sitting last night and it was amazing.
4) Allan Bevere's post on marriage licenses will get you thinking.
5) Man am I ready to teach Greek adjectives this week!
Monday, September 14
4:44 PM It's been exactly 4 months since I drove up to Fredericksburg to watch Karen compete in her half marathon race. The result was the daughter challenge of the century. She dubbed it "Operation Getfit" and started me out with walking. The goal was one day to be able to do a 5K race together. On Saturday, the idea became a reality. I feel like a teenager for saying it, but every month I've been documenting my progress from an out-of-shape 245-pounder to my current weight of 212.
Life is really crazy. Four months ago I was on the edge, peering over the side into the unknown, almost too frightened to move ahead. Today I feel like I've been doing this all of my life. Karen has coached me every step of the way, and to her I owe a huge debt of gratitude. My life has become a shameless appeal for abandon. Let go. Try something new. Celebrate the health the Lord has given you and try and improve upon it. Life, I love you. Dive into me. Wear me out. Discover me. Throw me for a loop. Take me to new heights.
Why did I get started? I had nothing to lose. And potentially, I had lots to gain. And now I have a new set of stories to tell my grandkids, my own experiences and mistakes and even a few successes as a 5Ker. It feels like an important place to be in life, but what do I know? I'm a complete novice at all this. But what I'm learning is so much fun. You really ought to try it.
11:02 AM Did you hear what happened at the U.S. Open over the weekend? They're calling it the upset of the century. Roberta Vinci defeated Serena Williams in the semifinals. Roberta was a 300-1 underdog in the match. Here's the post-match interview:
Powerful stuff. In essence, this was Roberta's message: "Don't think about Serena. Forget who you're playing against. Just keep your eye on the ball and the ball in the court."
When I heard that I said, "That's it!" That's the key to victorious Christian living! Whenever you face tempestuous times, don't focus on the storm. And certainly don't you dare focus on your opponent, the evil one, who is trying to defeat and even destroy you. Keep your eye on the ball and the ball on the court. Face your storms in the authority of your Christ. The tempest may be demonic but we have a Name that defeats the devil. No storm of life is ever too much for Him. "What kind of man is this that even the wind and waves obey Him? Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?" Like an intimidated athlete, even a Christian can grow panicky. But we have no need to be frightened. Dave, you have no reason to be intimidated by whatever the evil one throws at you. Keep your eye on Jesus. Take your mind off the storm and put it on the Savior. If you don't, well might He rebuke you too for being of little faith!
By the way, want to hear something funny? I mean, please don't laugh when I say it. But today, after my workout at the gym and after running my 5K, I thought of myself as an "athlete" for the first time in my life. Yes, I said the word athlete. You say, "But haven't you always been athletic?" Well, yes. I played tons of basketball in high school. Volleyball too. I surfed every day. But for us kids growing up in Hawaii, that was pretty normal stuff. Everyone was athletic. But now, as an old(er) man, I feel I deserve the title. I train regularly. I compete regularly. I'm not very good at it. But I try my hardest. Life is a breath of fresh air ever since I started training. And you know what? It doesn't matter in the least that I can't run faster than maybe an average of 12.5 miles an hour. Do I want to improve this time? Of course. Will I? I may or I may not. I'll work hard at it, but folks, I'm running my race, not yours or anyone else's. When you are running past me during the 5K race, I won't even notice. I'm focused on the space in front of me, period. One step at a time, Dave. Run your race, Dave. Stay within yourself. Keep your eye on the ball and the ball on the court. Now please don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of the race winners. I clap as hard and as long as anyone else for the winners during the award ceremony. But I also hang around and clap for the 70-year old duffer who at least got off his rear end that morning and attempted the impossible. If churchianity is a curse, so is what I call gymnianity -- an expensive membership in a health club that you may attend once or maybe twice a year. I've learned what it means to be at peace with my (very limited) athletic abilities because I know I'm trying my dead level best to go all out in life.
So that's that. I'm an athlete. No, not ATHLETE or even a capital-A Athlete. All lower case will work fine, thank you: athlete.
P.S. It was a brisk 42 degrees when I left the house this morning. Love it!
P.P.S. Check this out.
This is very good news since I still hope to drive up to Gettysburg later this month.
That's all for now! Ciao!
7:26 AM Good morning thoughtful bloggers of the world! This morning I have "practicality" on my mind. When William F. Buckley Jr. was asked what one book he would take with him to a desert island, he replied, "A book on shipbuilding." Pragmatism is vital. Useful things are important, very important. People share practical information with me all the time, often through YouTube. For example, I'm toying with the idea of climbing Kilimanjaro in the next year or so. Hiking is a good way to get away from it all and escape the routine of life. No traffic, no internet, just you and nature. So what's it like to climb the tallest mountain in Africa? No sweat. YouTube will give you a virtual tour, several times over.
When I was in Pensacola last weekend someone shared with me some cooking recipes. Two weeks ago I met with a friend who is an expert in financial planning. At its core, sharing practical information is about valuing others. We share because we care. If you're like me, you read a lot of books. But they are not all good. Like most 63-year olds, I'm not really into scholarship for scholarship' sake. Been there, done that. I want to read books that start discussions. Like Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation. Or Eller's Christian Anarchy. Imagine writing a book that others felt was truly practical. Life-changing books are more likely to be emailed or Facebooked. People may even start a series of blog posts on the subject. But, more important, lives might be changed.
So would you please pray for me? You know that I'm working on a project called Godworld, and I want it to be a practical book. People aren't inspired by facts. They are inspired when confronted with something greater than themselves -- something truthful and beautiful, all at the same time. When I wrote books like Using New Testament Greek in Ministry: A Practical Guide for Students and Pastors and Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications, my intuition was right: Students like books that trigger responses. Please don't tell anyone, but I detest much of what passes for scholarship today. Too many academic books come off as snooty and standoffish. I'll bet you know a book like that. In fact, I bet you know several books like that. Maybe, just maybe, God can preserve me from that curse. The hard part of writing is cutting through the clutter and focusing on what is essential. Authors need to highlight the incredible "value" of their offings. We need to make it clear why our book (or our Facebook page or our blog) is so useful to people that they just have to spread the word.
"News you can use" has become a slogan today. But it's true. Authors -- be advised accordingly!
Sunday, September 13
8:52 PM A few final fantastic family fotos:
1) May I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Brad and Rachael Lang, married yesterday in a beautiful and God-honoring service in Wake Forest. I had the honor of reading Scripture during the ceremony. Congratulations and much happiness to you both as you serve the Lord together!
2) This was their wedding registration "book." How cool is that?
3) Then today, Karen cooked this delicious meal for me and even made enough for me to take to work this week. Home-cooked meals are not my forte so this was a very welcome surprise.
4) This evening I attended a visitation at the funeral home in Roxboro and then decided to drive into South Hill and celebrate my 39th.
What an amazing woman Becky was. She still lives on in our hearts and memories. Remember dear friend: It is not our circumstances that change us. On the contrary. It is always and only our response to those circumstances that can change us either for ill or for good. Thanks be to God.
9:46 AM Just signed up for next week's race in Cary, NC. It's called the Race for Our Heroes 5K and the proceeds will go to support Operation: Coming Home, a charity that constructs new homes for wounded vets. How awesome is that. The race starts at 9:00 am -- which means I can wake up at 6:00 instead of 5:00. Go here to sign up. Join me! I double dare you. :)
8:08 AM You gotta love Carly. "Ladies, look at this face. This is the face of a 61-year old woman. I am proud of every year and every wrinkle."
And so you ought to be, Carly. I am proud of my age. I am proud of the wisdom God has given me. I am proud of my long experience as a teacher. And I am proud of every gray hair of mine (though they are getting fewer). Carly, you are so right! "Let no man despise thy age!" (DBV, Dave Black Version).
7:58 AM If you love classical music as much as I do you probably absolutely love Holst's The Planets. Well guess what? The Planets are coming to Raleigh and not only that, the Carolina Ballet will choreograph the music! Performances begin Sept. 24. I wouldn't miss this for anything. Details here.
7:42 AM The geese that fly past my house have a regular pattern. Sometimes they will land in the pond but usually they overfly the farm looking majestic and beautiful. Nowadays the church seems to be flying pretty low. Sure, we're still flying, but is it in the right direction? Henry Neufeld has begun a series of blog posts about what a New Testament church should look like, not simply generically but in his own denomination. "You've got to be kidding" I can hear someone saying. "More posts about the church?" I'd be crazy to tell anybody to read Henry's posts unless I really believed they were genuinely worth pondering. And they are. Friends, at what point will we begin to take the Bible seriously? God is God. That is the surprising lesson I had to learn when Becky died. I either would deny the faith or trust Him implicitly. Can't perhaps the body of Christ do the same? That we haven't done so is perhaps due to the fact that we haven't experienced a "severe mercy" yet. Cheer up. Persecution is coming. Honestly, I would rather meet in the catacombs with an obedient church than in a cathedral with incorrigible obstinacy.
But that's just me :)
7:20 AM I once heard the story about a grandpa who would take his grandkids for walks by the creek. He always told them to look for something shiny in the water because "You never know, there could be coins there." The funny thing is that, every time the kids did this, they came home with pennies, dimes, and even quarters in their pockets. They would show them to grandpa, who was always pleasantly surprised at their bounty. It took them years to figure out that grandpa had been walking ahead of them, secretly throwing change into the creek.
On this Grandparents' Day, what do you recall about your grandma and grandpa? (Notice: grandma always comes first.) The memories may be happy or they may be sad. They are probably mixed. I am faced with only one question today: How good of a grandpa am I to my grandkids? How will they remember me when I'm gone? Grandkids are special aren't they? Racket, din, pandemonium, cacophony, laughter, love, family. I enjoy my grandchildren. Nearly always it is possible for us grandparents, with effort and planning and aforethought and just the will to do it, to set aside time for our grandkids. Is she singing in a choir concert? Plan to attend. Is he graduating? Show up. Birthdays? Why not send a card? I have tried, since Becky died, to be a good grandfather, with many lapses and failures. But today is a good day to reflect upon what it means to be a granddad to my grandchildren. Each is a unique gift from the Lord. And I am thankful for every single one of them.
Saturday, September 12
5:44 PM I've been wanting to tell you about something that happened yesterday but wasn't sure how to go about it. I should have seen it coming. Anniversaries and birthdays are the hardest days. I anticipated as much, but it's still a bit overwhelming when you're hit by a 2 by 4 upside the head and sent reeling. I've been so used to handling my grief lately that I had grown accustomed to all days being fairly even-keeled. Yet yesterday and today were both disasters for me emotionally. I had no sleep last night and almost bowed out of today's 5K but didn't feel like I could let Karen and Jon down. (Matthea's husband Jon decided to join us at the last minute.)
I'm so glad I went and ran. Please, when you see me blogging cheerfully, sometimes it's partly a façade. I feel like those of you who have kept up with this blog need to know the truth about what's going on with me. It turns out that I am very normal. Theologian Nicholas Wolterstoff lost his son to a climbing accident. Afterwards he wrote, "Why insist on never outwarding the inward when that inward is bleeding? Does enduring not require as much strength as never crying? Must we always mask our suffering? May we sometimes not allow people to see and enter it?" Becky's death subtracted from me a huge part of who I was. And even though I'm taking baby steps moving from the old to the new, I'm still me. The only thing I can promise you is that I will face grief head-on. I will let it do its work and learn from it, and then move on. And don't you fret: I will never worry about doing my grief "right." I am me, and I will heal in time. I'm in no hurry. In the meantime, I'll tell you what means a lot to me. Close friendships. People who make an investment in me in terms of love, time, affection, vulnerability, and trust. All of these wonderful virtues I enjoyed in great quantities today, and for that I am truly grateful. As for the race, Karen ran circles around Jon and me (as I predicted). Still, I was quite pleased with my split time of 10:43. In fact, I ran the first mile (downhill) in 9.31 minutes. It was going back uphill that killed me. Oh well, there's always a "next time." The highlight for me today was getting to know some really fine people. Here I am with the president and vice-president of the Jack and Jill chapter in Raleigh.
And here are some of their supporters before the race.
I'd really like to sit here and write for hours. God has been so good to me! But right now I've got to spend some time trying to digest everything God's been trying to teach me these past two days. Then, as usual, I'll pick up the pieces and keep on trucking.
5:35 AM Race day has arrived.
All in support of a very worthy cause: The Jack and Jill of America Foundation, headquartered in Washington., DC., whose goals include "improving academic test scores, raising literacy and mathematical competencies, encouraging cultural consciousness, and instilling moral and social responsibility in America's youth."
Friday, September 11
5:12 PM This just has to be my next 5K!
4:56 PM NPR's Storycorps has the touching tale of a man whose wife died on 9/11. It's called At a Brooklyn Cemetery. Thank you, Mr. Feliciano, for telling your story. I miss my wife too.
10:22 AM Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings is here performed in tribute of 9/11. It is soulful yet absolutely beautiful. Please, listen to it and remember (music along with pictures) what transpired on this day 14 years ago. It will be the best 10 minutes you spend today.
8:15 AM It's killing me not to be able to share photos with you of my wedding day 39 years ago. But they didn't have cameras back then. (Kidding.) Seriously, there are just too many pix I could post, and you'd be completely bored after the first three or four. This morning, as I woke up to the realization that I am a widower on my anniversary, a day I honestly thought would never come (Becky would surely outlive me by years), I just happened to remember the first time I met that young Texan in the cafeteria line at Biola -- how she smiled when I gave her a macadamia nut, how we chatted in the breakfast hall before she had to run off to class, how I thought to myself, Who in the world did I just meet? She was a true African American. Her body was in California but her mind was in a faraway village in Ethiopia. In time, I came to love this girl with all my heart, and when she went to be with Jesus a part of me went with her. I like this picture because it shows how scared I was on my wedding day, filled with the uncertainty of a man who was raised without an earthly father, a man who doubted his ability to be a man let alone be a husband and a father.
That day 39 years ago was so huge, so momentous, and flat-out scary. I feel clichéd saying this, but I can't think of another way to describe what it feels like to get married other than riding a 25-footer at Sunset Beach. You're awed by the size of the challenge but you wouldn't be doing anything else at that moment. When Becky died, nothing seemed normal, nothing felt familiar. Then I read Isaiah chapter 58: "If you pour out your heart...." That was enough for me. Immediately I was reminded of God's unwavering love. Yes, I'm still working through all of this, and I'm positive that I don't yet have it all worked out. Every night before going to sleep Becky and I would talk together. We talked about God's love and we held hands and prayed. And now she's gone. Dave Black, the missionary to the world, intent on saving mankind, would have been content with saving her. Remember: I'm a lover of stability. Change doesn't come easily for me. And yet, in the midst of all this disequilibrium, there's another, crazy realization, overwhelming the raw hurt and pain. I realize as I sit here and sob over the death of Becky that the pain I'm experiencing is nothing less than an honor and a privilege. I count it a joy that I was able to love her. Through her God poured grace upon grace into my life. And some days, like today, He just pours extra grace into your life. I don't want to forget a single moment of our life together. Things like chasing Becky's sister and her groom throughout Dallas after their wedding. Climbing the pyramids in Egypt together. Eating okra in an Athens restaurant. Attending die Baptistengemeinde in Basel. Her typing my dissertation on a German typewriter and not being able to find the exclamation point. Getting lost in Paris. Waking up on the beach during our honeymoon in Hawaii and seeing the waves crashing on the shore. The sheer joy of watching our grandkids come along. Eating a Danish in Denmark, a hamburger in Hamburg, and a frankfurter in Frankfurt. Screwing up our courage to walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem. Late night talks about how many kids we wanted. Becky planting her first garden in La Mirada. Waking up every morning and realizing that we were still in love despite all of our foibles and differences. As Julie Andrews might have said, "These are a few of our favorite things." I remember so vividly getting into the car after our wedding reception and thinking, "This is it!"
The "it" turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life. Now all that's left are the memories and the anticipation of a glorious reunion. I honestly can't thank you enough for your emails and texts (they've already started coming in) on this, my anniversary.
What to do now?
I'll do what any self-respecting widower would do. I'll lift weights and then go for a run.
Grateful for grace,
Thursday, September 10
8:14 PM Sheba just loves her new iPad.
"Daddy, can we please paint together tonight? Pleeeease? Arf arf!"
4:44 PM It may be time to dust off your high school French textbook.
4:36 PM If there ever was a day of cheap imitations -- of Christians out-boasting each other as to who loves "God and the Bible" more -- it is now. The result all too often is pseudo-Christianity and simulated piety, and why? All for the evangelical vote. That concerns me. I suspect the reason why many if not most American Christians default to politics is because the church has failed to be the conscience of society so badly that the lust for political power makes sense. My deepest worry is always that God's people will forget who they are -- heavenly colonials, a Master's minority in a pagan, demonically-inspired world. Multitudes fell away from Jesus because they wanted political power and prosperity but had no appetite for Jesus' real message and mission. And guess what? He let them go.
One thing is very certain: If we Americans choose the false, God will let us reap the consequences of our choice.
11:52 AM In honor of Grandparents' Day (this Sunday):
10:58 AM Interesting news: China honors Eric Liddell.
10:12 AM This and that ....
1) Now here's something crazy. As I was doing my 5K this morning at the high school track there were two people ambling along, all the while eating fried chicken and depositing the bones on the track within reach of the trash bins. Too funny! I guess it proves the old adage: You can indeed have your cake and eat it too.
2) Anyways, here's my walk/run for today.
You can see that I ran the final mile. Tomorrow I will run two miles. And on Saturday (The MATCH RACE OF THE CENTURY) I will try and run the entire race. Actually, my real goal is simply to finish! :)
3) I leave for Oahu in exactly three weeks, Deo volente. Glad to see there's a gym there with a good sized weight room.
4) Henry Neufeld publishes this book and was kind enough to give me a copy last weekend.
I plan to read it today -- that is, after I finish translating Mark 5 in preparation for next week's Mark class.
5) Divorce and remarriage. What a difficult subject! As I look back on my own marriage I realize how much God has given me and how much yet will be required of me as a single man. We all know of Christian marriages that are toying with a breakup. I believe God answers prayer. He is answering my prayers for several of these marriages right now. But He is not finished. We must see things clearly, and an author who (I believe) can help us do that is the author of this book. He was recently interviewed here:
When the impact of life seems about to break us, where else can we turn but to God and His word? "Here is one last piece of advice," wrote Paul to the Philippians. "If you really value goodness and the approval of God, fix your minds on whatever is true and honorable and just and pure and praiseworthy. Model your lives after what you have learned from me -- what I have told you and shown you -- and then you will find that the peace of God will be with you." Brothers and sisters, our thinking about marriage must be trained by practice and taught by the Spirit to make sharp distinctions so necessary in the Christian life. At any rate, I heartily commend this YouTube to you.
7:44 AM Nomenclature matters. As you know, I've begun to refer to the "Gospel of Mark" as "According to Mark." "Church" for me is now "community." "Old Testament" is best rendered "First Testament" (see Hebrews 8-9). And what are we to do with "saints"? The term is not the superlative we've made it out to be ("Now he was a real saint!").
According to Paul, sainthood is not a sign of perfection or achievement, nor is it an epithet reserved for super-Christians. A saint is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Saints" is therefore best rendered, in my view, as "God's people." When you became a Christian you became a saint. We are saints because the Father has chosen us and separated us unto Himself. This means that as saints -- as "God's people" -- we are to care for each other as fellow members of the family of God. "Share what you have with God's people who are in need" (Rom. 12:13 -- my life verse). We are also to be living out our "separateness" in the world. So press on, fellow saints! This is Easter every hour -- a constant intravenous feeding of love from the Father's heart to our own.
Wednesday, September 9
5:05 PM I've been reading Philippians in Greek. Care to listen in?
4:48 PM "Life is a lively process of becoming. If you haven't added to your interest during the past year; if you think the same thoughts, relating the same personal experiences, having the same predictable reactions -- rigor mortis of the personality has set in." -- General Douglas MacArthur.
As you know, this Friday I'll be celebrating my 39th wedding anniversary. So how has my thinking changed since Becky's passing 19 months ago? Psychologists agree that men harbor a strong need for complementation. This applies to both physical as well as psychological needs. There is no greater earthly relationship than marriage. For 37 years I was joined to Becky -- the left ventricle of the marital heart attached to the right. The man Adam knew that the lady Eve loved him. But love is not just a feeling. It involves positive actions.
The longer I was married the more I realized the importance of the "little things." Becky and I had widely divergent tastes and interests. Togetherness doesn't mean that you enjoy all the same things to the same degree. Still, we worked hard at improving our marriage. Once, when the wine seemed to run out, Jesus was there to supply what was needed, just as He had done in Cana. As we began to serve Jesus together we discovered a new quality of life, a "royal wine" that flowed freely between us. The one thing we both agreed on was that most people are seeking too much from marriage. Marriage is something that must be worked out, and even then there are many needs that are not going to be met by your spouse. The love that Christ brings into the relationship fully recognizes the difficulties and heartaches of marriage. This means that every marriage requires the miracle of God's grace. Grace is the glue that provides the means by which two completely different people can adhere to each other in joyful faithfulness. Francis de Salas put it this way: "If the glue is good, two pieces of wood glued together will cleave so fast to each other that they can be more easily broken in any other place than where they were joined."
Am I still a man now that the wood has been split apart? To be a man is to possess the strength to love others even when he finds himself alone and lonely. To be a man is to possess the courage to accept one's circumstances without complaining. To be a man is to refuse to value oneself by position or possessions or marital status. It is to be free to give love and to accept love. And so I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I will see Becky again. Glorious day! But in the meantime I am free to grow toward personal maturity, and I am eager to see Christ formed in me (Gal. 4:19-20). Life for me is life shared -- no longer with Becky's presence but certainly with her memory. I am fully convinced that this remarkable life is precisely the life God wants me to live.
Tuesday, September 8
7:52 AM Ignacio is bringing some pretty nice waves to Hawaii.
Hope it lasts for another three weeks until I get there.
7:44 AM Beginning Greek student, do you feel like you're going around in circles and getting nowhere fast?
Tutorial help is available. Just email or text me.
See you in class!
7:36 AM Education quote of the day (G. K. Chesterton):
Monday, September 7
6:02 PM Here is an excellent YouTube on a hotly debated topic. Readers may find it interesting. I sure did!
12:40 PM Had a great workout this morning and a great 5K walk/run. "Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability." Thus said the great and good John Wooden. I'm always rethinking (and restating) my personal fitness goals. Here are the latest:
1) Get the majority of my calories from healthy foods like avocados, sweet potatoes, eggs, almonds and peanuts, salmon and tuna, lean beef and lamb, chicken and turkey, and lentils and peas.
2) Drink at least 5 glasses of water every day. (The human body is 75 percent water.)
3) Eat whole fruits instead of drinking fruit juices.
4) Eat whole grain breads.
5) Eat raw vegetables instead of chips for snacks.
6) Avoid fast food restaurants like the plague. (Today a Big Mac is as appealing to me as airline food.)
7) Eat every 3-4 hours if at all possible.
8) An occasional cheat meal is okay.
9) Never forget the ultimate value of eating well and doing exercise: longevity, vitality, disease-free living, high energy levels, and enough strength to face the rigors of international travel.
10) Gain 10 pounds of muscle in the next year.
11) Keep my workouts high intensity.
12) Do cardio (5K) at least 3 times a week.
13) Measure my progress. (My current weight is 212.)
14) Remember my mission: To motivate others to get fit through proper nutrition and exercise.
15) Don't work out when tired.
16) Always set new goals and be looking to improve.
Friend, I'm positive that if you set your own personal goals you too can dramatically transform your physique without hating your diet or knocking yourself out in the gym. You absolutely, positively can lose unwanted weight!
12:14 PM Now hear this! Important announcement! It's on! The
Match Race of the Century!
Daughter versus Daddy!
Where? This Saturday in Morrisville. When? 8:00 am. Folks, you don't want to miss this exciting event! It will be the mother of all 5ks! Prize? Exclusive bragging rights until the next race! :)
9:22 AM Hey everybody! Just back from the land of peanuts and cotton. (Did I mention humidity?) I had long anticipated my series of interviews with Henry Neufeld, though I had no idea how long they would last or what specific questions he would ask. Thank you, Henry, for giving me the chance to voice what's been on my heart and mind these days. I appreciate you never letting me lose sight of the big picture. And what is that?
Church renewal doesn't begin in your local congregation. It begins in your own mind and life.
Each of us has to rediscover New Testament polity for ourselves. All Christians are equally involved in mission and ministry. All Christians are sent forth to fulfill the Great Commission. All Christians are in "fulltime Christian service." All Christians form a witnessing team, not only by what they say but by what they do.
It is positively perilous for Christians to hear sermons and attend Bible studies unless accompanying it all is an outlet for their faith. Should you ask me what is the single most important thing I do in life, the answer would not be teaching or writing or even evangelism. The single most important thing I do in life is recruiting. It is in the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers that we have the only prescription for our modern malady. Every-member ministry is the greatest single hope for fulfilling the Great Commission in our generation. Building a local church into a "company of the committed" will not be easy but it is essential.
That, in a nutshell, was my message during these interviews. How did they go? Well, I suppose you could say I was blunt and compassionate, honest and provocative, soft-spoken yet perhaps even crude at times. In every one of these interviews with Henry I had but one goal: to summon the body of Christ back to the scandalous purity of the gospel. No, not the top-heavy gospel so popular today. Not the in-crowd gospel. Not the megachurch gospel. The greatest need in the church today is passion without emotionalism, intelligence without Gnosticism, and discernment without judgmentalism. Fidelity to the word of God will take us on unimaginably new paths -- especially the path of downward mobility. To be like Christ is to lose one's life for others. That is the heart of Christianity. We are called to listen attentively to God's word even if it inconveniences us, even if it seems like a straightjacket or calls us to uncomfortable places. Christianity means falling in love with Jesus all over again. He invites us not simply to believe in Him but to surrender to Him. Faith is not merely a belief system but a way of living. The church in North America has trivialized this message. Self-serving preachers have created more havoc in the body of Christ than all of the world's heretics put together. For Paul, any Christianity that denies the cross is utterly devoid of truth and power. In the interviews I said as forcefully as I could: No one is to blame but ourselves for the mundane, solipsistic churches we find ourselves in. Christianity per se is not discipleship. In fact, Christianity may be nothing more than a substitute for the radical lifestyle espoused by Jesus. So central is Jesus' teaching on serving others as the essence of discipleship that at the Final Judgment He Himself will be recognized only in the lost, lonely, and broken. "You did it to them? Not really. You did it to Me." Jacque Ellul has influenced my life as few people ever have. In my book Christian Archy I concluded that the only authentic discipleship is, as Ellul himself argued over and over again, a life of love lived unpretentiously for others. "If you love Me, feed My sheep." Everything is in confusion until we get this right. Discipleship means nothing less than being ready to obey Christ unconditionally as the first disciples did.
Please pray for me. I don't stand above you. I stand beside you. Together, people need to see Jesus in us. It's hard for me to put into words the impact Christ-like people have had in my life. Becky, you were one of them. I love and miss you so much. I'm so grateful for the 37 years we shared together. Daughters, thank you for loving your dad. Let's continue to serve Jesus (and others) together. Sons, I want to be just like you when I grow up. Family: I am comforted to know that we will be by each other's side every step of the way. To my students. You've encouraged me over the years to be the best I could possibly be. I can only hope that I've inspired you half as much as you've inspired me. There is definitely not enough room here to heap praise on my overseas missionary partners. You know who you are. I can't wait for our next adventure together. To Henry and Jody Neufeld, you are a blessing to me. I get a kick out of our conversations. Thank you. I once thought of writing a book for you about my cancer journey with Becky. I've put that idea aside for good. Cancer was an important chapter in my life. I learned a lot from it, especially from watching a beautiful woman face death with courage and joy. But it was only one chapter in my life, and it will not be the last. My big dream is to keep on teaching and serving long after "retirement." Until then, I ask God every day for grace. Grace to be thankful. Grace to see all the good things around me. Grace to be tough when I need to. Grace is a conscious decision to rest in God's infinite mercy and love. A positive outlook is a big part of it. To my fellow grievers I say: Choose the kind of grief you have. You can leverage it for good, or you can allow it to become debilitating. "Joyful grief" is an oxymoron to be sure, but I'm convinced it is a possibility for followers of Christ. Life is all about making choices. I can't predict what tomorrow will bring into my life. But I can live in the moment. And you know what? When tomorrow does come, there will be grace enough for that day too.
Grace and peace,
1) With Jody and Henry.
2) One of about 18,000 cotton farms in the U.S.
One bale of cotton can produce 1,200 men's t-shirts.
3) Peanuts everywhere!
4) I think I may have over-dressed on Sunday.
5) Doing what I love to do: bringing a very simple word from God's word.
6) Weekly Lord's Supper. Yay!
7) With Henry at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. Henry, a former airman himself, is a walking encyclopedia.
8) My gracious hosts Dan and Melinda who opened their home to me during my visit.
Thursday, September 3
8:30 AM Allen Bevere asks Can a Christian Politician Campaign as a Christian? It's a question worth pondering don't you think?
8:15 AM Caution: I'm taking my yellow note pad with me on this trip. Hope to get another chapter written in my book Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk. (I wish I could explain how excited I am to tell you this.) I plan to have a chapter devoted exclusively to the local church. Don't be too surprised if you see some of the following ideas incorporated into this part of the book:
The fundamental premise upon which I operate is that each believer in the church needs to be equipped for his or her own ministry both in the church and in the world. If the church is to become what God intended it to be as He extends His reign on this earth, it must become a ministerium of all who have placed their faith in Christ. The whole people of God must be transformed into a ministering people. Nothing short of this will restore the church to its proper role in the kingdom of God ("Godworld").
By the way, on the eleventh of this month I'll be celebrating my 39th wedding anniversary. There's something so wonderful about celebrations. That day I'm going to do a back flip. That day is also going to break my heart. You see, I'm still a bit" lost" without her. Of course, I will dine in "our" favorite restaurant. Then I'll go to Jesus. I'll spill my guts to Him. I'll also give Him thanks. Profusely. Every day and every moment of my life was planned by Him. Have you ever known Him to make a mistake? And He'll laugh and say "You're welcome, Dave." And I will smile again.
My thanks to Nate for watching over the farm while I'm gone. We hope to get up more hay when I get back. It's gonna be a busy weekend, so thanks for your prayers.
Wednesday, September 2
7:38 PM Hello blogging buds! I'm still here in the great state of Virginia but I'm eager to get back to Florida tomorrow. My days on campus were spectacular as always. I love the intellectual stimulation. I love the passion and eagerness of the students. I enjoy meeting new people every day. In the gym yesterday I met a young philosophy student. Really smart guy. After I worked out I did a 5K through the streets of Wake Forest (mostly deserted at that hour thankfully). It is truly a beautiful city.
Here are a few other highlights of my week so far:
1) This week I've sent out at least three copies of Larry Crabb's book Finding God to people I thought needed to read it. Larry does a great job of fleshing out what healing looks like after a Christian experiences a trauma. Prior to writing this book, Larry assumed that God's normal modus operandi was to help us through our problems, but as a result of a severe mercy in his own life he came to realize that the real purpose of his counseling ministry was to help people find God in the midst of their pain and heartache. I know some people think this is inherently an anti-faith perspective. "You're still grieving? Where's your faith?" But I (along with Larry and C. S. Lewis and others) don't see why the Lord is under any obligation at all to take away our burdens. Instead, He lays them on His shoulders so that we can bear them together. I personally feel that struggles only add grandeur and significance to our life of faith. Obviously, for Larry this constituted a major revisioning of his thinking about suffering. Jesus is our companion regardless of our circumstances. He is Lord over the good and Lord over the bad. This is why we can pursue 1 Cor. 10:31 at all times and even do it joyfully.
2) Moving on, this Friday and Saturday Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications will be interviewing me in Pensacola for his YouTube channel. Here are some of the topics we'll be discussing (including books I've published with Energion): Why Four Gospels?, The Jesus Paradigm, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, missions, keys to being a good student of the Bible, and the current state biblical scholarship. We plan to work every morning and then gallivant every afternoon. I myself have been looking forward to this trip for a long time. Henry and Jody are two of the nicest people I've ever been privileged to meet. And besides -- they like the books I write.
3) Here's a picture of last night's Mark class.
The students were back-translating Mark 3 from English into Greek and then putting the results of the board.
My deepest worry with all of my Greek students is that they will stop with a mere passive knowledge of the language and not be able to think in the language (to a certain degree). I suspect the devil loves it when we have seminary grads with heads full of facts who can't put those facts to good use -- or to any use for that matter. We had a wonderful time last night and we're still finding it hard to get out on time.
4) Someone asked me the other day what I thought of The Donald. My answer? How you vote in 2016 isn't going to change the world. How you live in 2016 will. When did Jesus ever get involved in politics like we do today? Besides, who needs further division in the church? Talk politics and you're practically begging to see the polarization of your congregation. Don't need that!
5) Finally, here's a pic of my beginning Greek students. Cool, eh?
They're working on this week's translation assignments in groups of two. Three chapters down, and only 23 to go.
Tuesday, September 1
6:58 AM The other day a new student dropped by my office. "Is this your library?" he asked, incredulously. I told him I don't keep many books, would prefer that Bible colleges in the Majority World get them, that I actually prefer to use libraries because I think that's better stewardship of my resources. There are books and then there are BOOKS, tomes you really can't live without, but I think their number isn't as high as some people think. I love books as much as the next guy (both reading them and writing them), but I especially love reading the text of Scripture. It totally makes my day, and I believe my life would be better if I read the Book a whole lot more than I do. I teach my students Ad fontes! I suppose it would help if I practiced what I preached.
Thank you, God, for books, for beautiful movies, for powerful songs, but thank you especially for the Book of books. I'm a bit embarrassed that I don't spend more time lavishing in this treasure (O, I so love reading books!), but I'm realizing more and more the need to hold my own eggs in my own basket. After three decades of teaching the Bible, it seems the Bible is striking back in strange new ways and for that I am grateful. God of truth, help me and those I teach today to face what is true. Teach us to love Your word so that we may receive life from Your hand. Amen.