September 2020 Blog Archives
Monday, September 28
6:45 AM I love to run. You all know that. But read these words:
That's pretty much life in a nutshell. Wherever I am, whether in the calmness of the farm or the hustle and bustle of Wake Forest, I should be running towards my Savior. That's the only place I'll find sure footing.
Meanwhile, I plead with you: Do not get distracted by politics. Keep your eye on the ball. Be kingdom people. Never offer even as much as a pinch of incense to Caesar. Walk in love as Christ loved us. Ask God to bless your enemies. Pray earnestly. Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from him. Reject Laodicean self-sufficiency and complacency. Chose not fleeting fame. Look to Jesus for everything. Combine eager anticipation of his coming with faithful service until his appearance. Refrain your tongue from speaking evil. Hold forth the word of life. Make room in your life for miracles. Translate doctrine into duty. Do not surrender to defeatism. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Rejoice in the mundane and perfunctory. Check your motives. Face sin and deal with it. Love the truth. When problems come, Hallelujah anyway! One day we will "bring forth the royal diadem and crown him Lord of all." David's Son will yet reign where'er the sun doth its successive journeys run. But first he must be King in our hearts.
Today is all we've got. Let's make it a good one and finish what we start.
Sunday, September 27
6:52 PM How's your weekend going? Mine's been crazy. So while you were out doing your thing, I was in Charles City County doing mine. To be exact, I did a bike ride today as part of my marathon training. I figured the distance was a no-brainer.
Still not digging how slow I am on a bike, but again, it's what I love to do and that makes everything okay. Tomorrow I'll rest up after a weekend of some pretty strenuous activity. Rest is actually the most important part of physical training! Before heading back to campus tomorrow I've got some last minute touches to do tonight on my week's lectures. And then it will time for a good book. Yep, always got time for that.
Anything great happen to you this weekend?
9:20 AM My friend Stephen Eccher reminded me that this month celebrates the publication of Martin Luther's "September New Testament" in 1522. Luther then continued translating the Old Testament. By 1534, the world would have the entire Bible in the German language. Up until this point, the Scriptures were available only to scholars who could read the original languages. Luther knew that the Reformation would get nowhere without a common language Bible. Luther is also said to have reformed and ennobled the German language. For 100s of years, Germans learned to read and write from the Luther Bible.
My friend, God has placed the Scriptures in our lap. Like the Savior to which they attest, the Scriptures are meek and lowly in heart. They do not force themselves upon us. Luther's confidence was not in the interpreters of the Bible but in the Bible itself as the word of God. If you really want to be "in the Spirit," there's nothing like Bible reading to put you there. The times in my life when I have been closest to God have been times when I have gotten absorbed in his word for an hour or more. As I read God's promises to me I have no other choice than to worship him to the fullest extent of my being. This morning I was in 2 Corinthians 8-9. I thought of how sacrificial the Macedonians were despite their poverty. I thought of how they begged Paul for the privilege of having a part in helping God's people in Judea. I thought of the grace of the Lord Jesus who through his poverty made us rich. I thought of how Paul desired for there to be equity between the churches that had plenty and the churches that had little. I thought of Paul's command that we should give as we have decided in our hearts, not with regret or out of a sense of duty, for God loves the one who gives gladly. Is it any wonder, then, that Paul concludes these chapters with the words, "But thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!"
Yes, there's a lot about the Bible I don't understand. Isn't it wonderful that we have an Anointing to help us understand it? God tells each one of us how to have an exciting Christian life, if we will just open the Book and hear what he has to say. The most neglected area in the lives of the "defeated" is probably Bible reading. It shouldn't be! This should be the most exciting part of our day. Jesus and James and John and Peter and Paul will all come alive and romp across the pages of your Bible, just like they walk through mine.
I'm so grateful for Luther and his German translation of the Bible. And I'm grateful for each and every English translation I have on my shelves.
The answer to the problem of Bible reading lies in how much we want to read our Bibles. The Bible, in any language, is nothing but a bunch of words printed on plain old paper until God's Holy Spirit reveals the truth to us. The Holy Spirit is the only person who can reveal the truth of Scripture to us! I hope you and I will never open the Bible without first asking for the Spirit's guidance. Just pray a simple little prayer: "Father, I thank you for your word in my language. May your Holy Spirit reveal its truth to me. What do you have to say to me today? Not yesterday, not last year, but today?"
The Bible is God's personal love letter to us. A love letter where you can just wallow in his goodness as you realize that at that very moment he's talking to you personally and not to anyone else in the entire world. He's given us such a simple plan to follow. I pray right now that every person who reads my blog today may have a renewed determination to spend more time in God's love letter to them. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for what you're doing in the heart of every person who reads your word!
Saturday, September 26
4:58 PM Running can be effortless. At least that's the way running is supposed to be. If you're always huffing and puffing, you're doing it wrong. Nowadays I try to make my running effortless and fun. I want to feel like I could keep on running at the end of a race or training block. Of course, I am neither fast nor genetically gifted as a runner. I am, however, stubborn. I can't run fast but I can run far if I pace myself. Today my primary goal was to run (without any walking) 13.1 miles -- the distance of a half marathon. My second goal was to run in such a manner as not to push myself in a way that overtaxed my body's resources. When I finished I felt great. The route I chose started (as usual) in Farmville.
But instead of heading east like I normally do, I decided to head west, where far fewer people run or bike. If the trail looked familiar to me, it should have.
This was where I ran my first 32-mile ultramarathon a couple of years ago. Today I used the age-old method called long slow distance (LSD) running. My only concern was whether or not I would be able to finish in under 3 and a half hours -- the normal cutoff time in a real half marathon race. As I ran, I listened to my body. I didn't go too fast. I enjoyed myself. I kept up a conversational pace. So when I looked at my watch at the end I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had beaten the 3:30 cutoff time by over 15 minutes without even trying. Praise God!
All in all, I'd say today's run ranks right up there with the top three or four halfs I've done. The trail was in perfect condition, the scenery was lovely, and the weather was nice and cool. I was even able to snap this selfie at the end of the run as I returned to Farmville. Aren't I savvy?
A day of pure perfection if you ask me.
How is your weekend going?
Are you training for a race?
What do you think your next big goal should be?
What's happened lately that's made you feel young again?
8:16 AM Everyone knows how much I love my job of teaching. It's what I do. Next week is our last week before the semester break. What will I be doing during my week off? I'll be thinking, "Can't wait for school to start again!" Solomon once said that God created us with a hunger for work (Prov. 16:26). God himself gives us an appetite for our passion. He blesses us with mental acumen, physical strength, and love for the people with/for whom we work. Work is God's idea, not ours.
My friend, what work has God called you to do? I want you to know that he values the hard work you do every day, even after you "retire" (I use quotes because I do not believe retirement is a biblical concept.) We need to remember that although all employment is work, not all work is employment. I am not paid for caring for the farm and two houses. Becky and I were not paid for homeschooling our children. Adam was not paid for working in the garden. I am not paid for the mission trips I take. I think what demoralizes people who retire is not so much lack of employment (that is, they are no longer being paid) as lack of work (that is, they don't feel that they are using their God-given abilities and energies in service to others). Being able to do creative work is an essential part of our Godlike humanness. If we become idle we deny, in effect, our own humanity. "There is nothing better than that a man should find enjoyment in his work" (Eccl. 2:24). I have several good friends who are employers. I love watching them. They do their utmost to make sure their employees' working conditions are as enjoyable and psychologically satisfying as possible. God has so ordered life on earth. Whatever the work, that kind of care and compassion for their employees glorifies him.
The older I get, the more I realize just how precious, how wonderful work is. I live with a constant awareness that teaching is what God created me to be and to do. We have this short season with our employment, and believe me, it flies by. But although these years of employment seem few, they are, each one of them, critical. We are building habits (good or bad) that will determine how we live the rest of our years. We need to remain teachable, flexible, adaptable, moldable, humble, and dependent. Did you catch that last word? We can go through life thinking we are self-sufficient, but that's our choice (a wrong one, mind you). To be stripped of our self-sufficiency and pride doesn't bring disgrace. It simply offers Jesus the chance to clothe us with godliness and honor in our old age.
It is urgent for us in these days to recover a biblical understanding of work and employment. The Fall certainly turned our work (or part of it) into drudgery. You don't need to tell a farmer that the earth is cursed with thorns and thistles or that farm work is done by the sweat of one's brow.
Work, however, preceded the Fall. It is the result of God's creation, not Adam's sin. When he created man as male and female, he created them to be workers too. No, we don't need to idolize our work. Still, let's never forget that we cannot truly serve God if we are idle.
Serve him well, dear friend, and your house will stand.
Friday, September 25
7:38 PM Nice walk this evening on a very soggy farm.
My legs are craving for a run. I do hope to get back to the High Bridge Trail in Farmville this weekend for another long run. I love the challenge of long runs. One of the most wonderful things about running is how it tests you physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. I have always looked at my long run as life in a day. You experience all of the trials and tribulations of life in a single day. I have no intention of accomplishing anything massive this weekend. It will be just another run. Yet I can't think of a better way to celebrate the Lord and his creation. As always, I will be tested in ways that only a long run can give you, and it is facing those tests that keep me coming back for more. It's like hitting the refresh button. That's primarily because it helps to clear everything out of your brain. It also helps you connect to something bigger than yourself and your problems. Invariably, during my long run I think of the day when I will no longer be able to run -- which makes the experience all the sweeter. You see, if I'm content with life for too long, I get stale. I always want a little more from myself. It's been said that we can't put our foot in the same river twice. Like life, a river is in constant motion. The river I crossed 44 years ago when I first entered the classroom is long gone. Ditto for that new job, that new baby, that new publication. In short, you can't do the same thing twice. And you can't run the same long run twice. Each strike of your foot carries you forward. And every day you live you are a different person than the one you were the day before.
Do your best every day. Let the little things go. Try to be open to the mystery of life. Keep crossing those rivers.
12:36 PM Two proofs that you're a farmer:
1) You park the hay under the barn and your tractor in the rain.
2) You haven't bought eggs in years.
9:18 AM Mark Keown's two-volume commentary on Philippians is amazing. I mean, where does someone find the time to write something so massive?
When my online world has gone off the rails and the internet squabbling has become too much for me, I turn to books like this one for comfort. Keown's discussion of 1:27-30 (the paragraph we studied Tuesday in our Greek 3 class) is a hot commodity. "The central notion of the passage, citizenship," writes Keown, "is rhetorically powerful, as Paul writes from the center of the Roman world to the center of a Roman colony to a people who, before meeting Christ, were self-consciously Roman citizens above all." The language, as Keown notes, "is a subtle challenge to Rome's power (cf. 1:12-14)."
The concern that seems to be driving Keown's exegesis is that our evangelical priorities seem to be threatened by our man-made political loyalties. I think Keown (if I'm not misreading him) is profoundly right. Just look at your Twitter feed. There are the cultural evangelicals. Then there are the anti-cultural evangelicals. Then there are the anti-anti-cultural evangelicals. For me, the bottom line is that the kingdom and politics simply don't mix. History is clear: The mixing of religion and politics is disastrous (just ask the Anabaptists). We who follow Jesus are called to do one thing: follow him! (duh). The command to love, even our enemies, is the greatest command in the New Testament. It encompasses all the others. Nothing in the kingdom has any value apart from this love. In this light, we have to ask, are we willing to imitate the Jesus who washes his enemies feet, dies for them, and in so doing prays for their very forgiveness? This is the kind of power our Omnipotent God uses to change the world.
I was so refreshed while reading Keown's commentary. My "flesh" may be fatigued after four hyper-busy days on campus, but my mind and spirit are soaring. Philippians "is an appeal to live as heavenly citizens in the midst of the hostile Roman world in submission to Christ's Lordship and in conformity to this pattern of life of humility and service as they live and share the gospel." Humility? Service? You mean instead of bickering and backbiting? You mean instead of tweeting and re-tweeting venom? Our society is in a whole lot of pain nowadays. When in pain it's hard to think of anything but pain. But even as we are confronted with the depth of human helplessness and weakness, we can turn to our "strong tower" and be faithful to his promises. The gospel is the good news of life out of death, a gospel for every need, for every individual, for every hopeless and helpless situation. This one thought has been stamped indelibly on my mind as a result of our study of Phil. 1:27-30 on Tuesday.
This is good stuff. I'm going to be praying about what all of this means for my blogging and teaching.
And now, on a totally unrelated note: Did you see this report about the farmer who suffered a heart attack and then 60 of his neighbors pitched in to help him with his harvest? It's so true! I lived in crowded La Mirada, California for 27 years. At no time did I feel like I belonged to a "community." Then I move to a farm in the middle of Nowhere and lo and behold -- I'm living in community for the first time in my life. Where I live, we help each other. That's just the way things work around these heah pahts. Oh Lord, make that my one goal in life -- to spend and be spent for others, to measure my life by loss and not by gain, to be bread broken and wine poured out. It is a merciful Father who strips us when we need to be stripped of self-sufficiency, just as the trees need to be stripped of their leaves every fall. He is not finished with me yet, no matter what the loss is that I suffer. And as I loosen my hold on things that are visible, the invisible will become more and more precious!
7:44 AM Very exciting learning experiences going on these days on campus, ladies and gentlemen. This includes Wednesday's NT 2 class, where we discussed biblical eldership. We're not just observing vulnerabilities in our thinking but rather chains breaking, truth by truth. This morning, for what it's worth, I'd like to share with all of you some of the resources I have found to be most helpful when studying the topic of church leadership. I begin with this wonderful panel discussion that took place here at the seminary. Please watch the whole thing if you can. Not every moment is big-ticket, but I am sure you will find something useful.
Secondly, the best single book out there, in my view, is still Strauch's Biblical Eldership. Strauch argues that biblical eldership is always (1) pastoral, (2) shared, (3) male, (4) qualified, and (5) servant. The other half of this excellent book deals with specific texts in the NT dealing with leadership. Don't be surprised if you get to the end of this book and want to start all over again.
Thirdly, my colleague Ben Merkle has produced a prodigious amount of resources on the topic. Perhaps his most accessible book on eldership is Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members. Here are its 4 chapters:
1) It is the Pattern of the New Testament Church
2) It Provides Help and Accountability for a Pastor
3) It Produces a Healthier Church
4) It Promotes the Biblical Role of Deacons
This short book (about 100 pages) is just what church members need if they are looking for a succinct overview of biblical eldership.
Fourthly, Mark Dever's Elders in Baptist Life keeps us all brutally on the hook. Read it and you will be better off for it.
These resources might help you to rediscover the delight of what Michael Green once called the "fellowship of leadership" that Jesus envisioned for his church.
So here is my invitation for you to establish your own thinking on the subject. Of course, not every evangelical is of one mind on this subject. All the more reason for you to be convinced in your own mind of what the Bible teaches and then hold your views in love!
Thursday, September 24
7:55 PM This week I settled back into moderate training. I ran 3 miles on Monday, biked 14 miles on Tuesday, and ran 6 miles yesterday. Nothing too crazy. Which means: I hope to get in a really long run this weekend, if the weather cooperates. Right now we are getting more rain (which is much needed -- I'm just thankful my kids were able to get up all the hay yesterday before the rain started). Otherwise, I am chillaxing now that I'm back home again. What a whirlwind this week has been. Can you say "hectic"? In addition to teaching my 4 classes, I met with many of my faculty colleagues over the water cooler and just yakked about what a crazy semester it is for all of us. There are changes in the air that are hard to describe. Change is scary, hard, and downright emotional. There are times when I want to talk about it and then there are times when I get all introspective and just want to be a fly on the wall. Retirement brings up identity issues. Am I still valuable as a person? Do I still matter? I know that "once a teacher always a teacher," but the role you play changes. I'm so thankful, therefore, to be able to hang around my colleagues who provide me with so much laughter, relief, and binding. All this to say -- everything is going to be okay. I just know it. Someone once said this about running: "It doesn't get easier. You just get used to it." Likewise, life's circumstances are designed by God to make us better and stronger. It's amazing how you adapt. You pull through even when you think you can't, and the next time you face adversity you tap into that strength. Ironically, one of the constants in my life is change. But oh, his voice speaks into the silence of my confusion. I know every hair, he reminds me. I have numbered your days. Every day and every moment of every day, I planned it all. Have I ever made a mistake? I will never give you more than you can handle. I love you.
I believe that God has a good and perfect will for the life of every Christian. But faith isn't worth much unless it's tested. When things happened in my life that were worst-case scenarios (like Becky's death 7 years ago), it was so reassuring to see God on the other side. Life happens, and it's up to us to see God's will during the wonderful times and the terrible times. Friend, if your faith is being tested these days, I hope you will be strengthened with every trial, and that no matter what comes your way you will have the peace that passes all understanding. Somehow our suffering helps us to keep our humanity so that we can empathize with and help others in need. God never stops loving us. And we'll keep on loving him back. He is calling all of us to spiritual poverty, a total stripping away from all this world has to offer. And eventually we learn to thank him for things we would never have thanked him for without the suffering itself.
No, we are not given explanations. But to hearts that are open to receive it, he gives a more precious revelation, a revelation of his very own heart.
Monday, September 21
7:45 AM My goal this week as we study Galatians and 1-2 Corinthians? To help my students see that the church is the one institution that loves authority. It's a group of people who actually love having a King (Jesus!) and love having his commands to guide them forward. It's people who talk about the sermon they heard on Sunday but more often discuss what they've discovered in their daily Bible reading. For them, time in the Bible has become normative. They take time to seek the Lord. They even embrace suffering for the glory of Christ. They do the hard things he requires. If I asked you to watch a marathon on TV with me, I'd probably get a lot of takers. But if I asked you to run a marathon with me, the number would probably drop precipitously. God has always championed the doer over the hearer. The church is not for consumers but for servants. In the words of David Platt, "I am ... struck by our reliance upon having just the right speaker and just the right musician who can attract the most people to a worship service. But what if the church itself -- the people of God gathered in one place -- is intended to be the attraction, regardless of who is teaching or singing that day?" (Radical Together, pp. 59-60).
This week on campus is dedicated to the remarkable company of men and women I have in my classes. I've never known people who work so hard at their assignments and who care so much about the things of the Lord. I can't imagine a single day without them in my life. Thank you, Jesus, for giving me another week with them. You are the standard to which we all aspire. May you be exalted in our classroom this week!
Sunday, September 20
6:38 PM Beautiful day for farming.
2:20 PM Don't you love the fall? Personally, I wouldn't want to live where you couldn't experience the seasons. I love everything about fall -- the cooler temperatures, the falling leaves, the changing landscapes. I'd get bored if the temperature every day was 75 degrees. (Wait a minute. That's Hawaii!) Today I attended church virtually (I am still a little antsy about attending in person) and watched the message being live-streamed from the local trail.
The message was from Psalm 119 on the power of redemptive suffering. Oh my, it was good. Then I watched my son-in-law (who lives in Alabama) deliver a powerful message from Eph. 2:1-10.
And to think that the same Lord who created me to walk in good works (Eph. 2:10) also created this drop dead gorgeous day.
I was tempted to run (instead of walk) the 5 miles I got in today, but I've promised myself that I wouldn't run on consecutive days. As for this coming week, my training schedule is now set. I know this will interest only a few of you, but here goes:
On Friday my plan is to return to the Peaks of Otter and, Lord willing, do a rapid ascent of Sharp Top. I actually thought about doing that today, but with the beautiful weather and it being a Sunday afternoon I knew the trail would be uber-crowded and it would be well-nigh impossible to keep socially distanced at the summit. My goal is to try and keep a running average of about 200 miles of training each month.
After my walk today, I grabbed a cheeseburger in town and am now comfortably ensconced on the farm putting the final touches on my course plans for the week. As I begin another week of teaching, I do so with the words of the great A. W. Tozer on my heart: "Our most pressing obligation today is to do all in our power to obtain a revival that will result in a reformed, revitalized, purified church. It is of far greater importance that we have better Christians than we have more of them." He's obviously exaggerating to make a point (I'm sure Tozer believed in evangelizing the lost). But teaching our students to obey Jesus' teachings is essential. They have to learn to give up their front row seat. They have to willingly choose last place. They need to find honor through the back door of humility. We must teach our students who Jesus is anyway we can. He alone defines greatness!
Ok. Gotta check on the animals. Thank you, Jesus, for being so astonishing!
9:30 AM At long last, in Greek 3 this week we will reach the heart of Paul's letter to the Philippians (1:27-2:11). The first paragraph in this section, 1:27-30, is an exhortation to unity and fearlessness. This is obvious from the clausal structure of the text. Below is my power point, which I just finished.
Paul wants his readers to live out their heavenly citizenship by standing together for the gospel. Nothing else matters by comparison!
Clearly, the gospel brings with it certain responsibilities. The Philippians' attitude toward each other must be one of unity and harmony. And their attitude toward their opponents must be one of fearlessness and tenacity. They are to struggle side by side for Jesus, like gladiators, against a common foe. Let them never forget that suffering on behalf of Christ is a privilege, and that Paul himself shares with them in their suffering!
The final step in exegesis, of course, is going from text to teaching outline. Simple! Just follow the text!
Incidentally, the letter's first imperative occurs here in 1:27. It is politeuesthe -- "live as good citizens!" In other words, "The Lord Jesus and his gospel above all things!" The Philippians are to be united in the gospel even if they should be punished for violating Roman custom. This will ultimately yield vindication by God. This passage demonstrates how the gospel brings us together despite our many differences. It is the glue that binds us together. If we're too busy to cooperate for the sake of the gospel, then we're too busy. "You must love one another," said Jesus. You must!
P.S. Paul loves imperatives in Philippians. Compare Philippians with some of Paul's other letters:
Wow! How rich is Bible study!
8:44 AM 2020 is the year no one will ever forget. Will the madness ever end? Covid 19. Kenosha. Fires. Racism. And those terrible political ads. How do you cope? How do you keep the horror from affecting you? For me, in addition to the "big" things of life like daily Bible reading, prayer, teaching, and farm work, there are a number of "little" things I can do right now to maintain my sanity. The main thing I do is get outdoors. You don't know how restorative running and cycling is to me. If you're not a runner or a cyclist, that's fine. Find some other activity you can do outdoors that will make your life a little more manageable and enjoyable. Here are some other outlets I take advantage of:
1) Hiking. The really neat thing is to watch all the families hitting the trails these days. The amount of people who've started hiking has about tripled since the Covid demon struck. So fantastic to watch.
2) Feeding the donkeys. Watching those sweet faces as they come running toward me to see what treat I have for them is priceless.
3) Writing new power points. I love this pastime!
4) Baking. I made these blueberry muffins last night. Yummy.
5) Watching the Aravaipa Running Channel on YouTube. Whether it's the Black Canyon Race or the Copper Corridor Ultra or the Javalina Jundred, I feel as though I am running those famous courses myself vicariously. Well worth the binge!
6) Coffee. Nuf said.
7) Spoiling my puppy. Sheba is about 100 years old in human terms and needs a lot of TLC. She will always be my baby!
8) Casual reading. (As you know, I'm currently reading Bob Woodward's Rage. It's actually quite good.)
9) Texting with my kids and grandkids. Covid has given me more time to stop and remember what really matters. For my family I am truly grateful.
10) Doing small acts of kindness for others.
The Bible says that "It is through many troubles that we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). To live the Christian life takes prayer and obedience and right living and love and patience. How are your coping mechanisms doing? Do you work at it, so that you might not stumble or cause others to stumble? The Scriptures portray the times in which we live as desperate, like an emergency that calls for urgency (see Rom. 13:11), but Christians need not be alarmed at evil tidings. Instead, our hearts can be fixed, trusting in the Lord. Even advancing years shouldn't cause us to settle for less than his best. Let's learn to appreciate the little things God gives us to help us cope with this age. We just have to notice them and decide to appreciate them!
Saturday, September 19
3:25 PM It's the weekend, so you know what that means. Long runs. The irony, of course, is that to learn to run far you have to learn to run slow. Running farther is simply a matter of consuming the energy you have available to you and stretching it out over a longer period of time. Today for my long run I ended up going 10 miles at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville, doing an out and back.
My pace was casual, my conversation with the Lord (I use my long runs as times for prayer) lively, and the experience most satisfying.
Of course, the real goal of today's run was lunch at a fabulous Mexican restaurant in Farmville.
I love these times with the Lord.
They are reminders that he promised he would never leave me nor forsake me and that I would never run the race of life all by myself. Do you have such an outlet in your life? I hope so, my friend!
7:30 AM Good morning, bloggers and bloggerettes of the world! I actually had to put on a sweater this morning when I sat on the front porch for my Bible time. Yes, fall is officially here, and I for one think it's about time! So what shall I blog about before I leave for my long run? How about a question I got this week in one of my classes? "Does ekklēsia mean 'called out'?" I love getting questions like this. My answer was a simple one. We never want to define a word on the basis of its etymology alone. Yes, the word ekklēsia is a combination of ek ("out of") and kaleō ("I call"), but the term simply refers to a group of people that have come together and have something in common as opposed to a group of people that have come together and have nothing in common. The term used in the NT for the latter group is ochlos -- "crowd" or "multitude." My favorite English rendering for ekklēsia, as everyone knows, is "community." The church is God's new community -- a new society where Christ himself is present through his Spirit. And what are its chief marks? These are not hard to find. At the very least, they are 7 (see Acts 2:37-47):
1) A commitment to the faithful evangelistic preaching of the gospel through word and deed.
2) A commitment to baptism as the believer's first act of obedience to the Lord whom he or she now wants to follow wholeheartedly.
3) A commitment to the word of God as found in the apostles' teaching (today that is the New Testament itself).
4) A commitment to building genuine relationships with each other (koinōnia).
5) A commitment to the frequent (weekly) observance of the Lord's Supper so that Christ might have the preeminence in all things, even our gatherings.
6) A commitment to praying for one another and for the world.
7) A commitment to living sacrificially and even scandalously on behalf of each other and the lost.
Dear Church People. This is not complicated. These 7 marks should not be afterthoughts. These are the ordinary tools that God has always used to build his church: redemption, commitment, truth, interdependence, Christocentricity, prayer, love. Rather than freaking themselves out over a thousand different endeavors, the earliest Christians devoted themselves to a few. And it changed the world. The modern church needs to learn from their example. In many places in the world (the U.S. included), churches are being led by men with fulltime jobs. They can work and pastor at the same time because they share the load. The result? Less money spent on salaries and more on the needy. In many churches the members are considered fulltime ministers. See this YouTube by the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (begin at 4:58).
Someone has called this the Airbnb-ing of the church. Airbnb has far more rooms than a giant chain like Hyatt. That's because Airbnb put the hotel industry into the hands of ordinary people like you and me. That's just one example of what I'm talking about when I say that the church is God's new community. Here's another. I recall once reading about a congregation where the elders were going to start a series on the book of Revelation. They began by reading the entire book aloud from beginning to end, with different people taking turns reading one chapter at a time until all 22 chapters were read. The word itself did something no sermon could ever do. God bless those elders. They not only knew that God promises a special blessing to the one who reads the book out loud and to those who hear and heed its message (Rev. 1:3). But they took obedience a step further when they actually did this, with Paul's exhortation in 1 Tim. 4:13 in mind ("Devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture").
What a teacher, that Jesus. As you can see, church is a long-term investment. Look no further than the book of Acts to find encouragement. Resolve to obey your Senior Pastor today. It begins with reading his word. Yes, Bible study is demanding work. But better now than in 20 years when it may too late. If you ask for understanding, God won't give you exasperation. He'll allow you to get close to his heart. He is jealous for our growth and potential. He loves us so much!
Gotta stop here. I just thought I'd pop in randomly and say hey. What I want for us is not to give up on church. Don't let its messiness be an excuse for you to whimper in the corner. Do what you can and enjoy what you do!
Friday, September 18
5:10 PM I see my grandson has discovered a very practical use for books.
5:04 PM Easy bike this afternoon.
Eager for my long run tomorrow. How long? Probably between 6 and 12 miles. We'll see. Regardless of the distance, there will still be a journey, a journey called life that is filled with wild adventures and lessons learned. So whether you're trying to tackle a new challenge, taking on a new relationship, or simply trying to figure out the next step, remember that it's not so much the finish line that matters but the journey.
12:34 PM I can't tell you how many times this past week someone asked me about studying New Testament Greek. They're curious but scared by the challenge. I don't blame them in the least. I lasted 3 weeks in my first Greek class, remember? The Dave Black 101 of learning Greek goes something like this. One, you don't have to be good at languages to start learning Greek. You just do it. Two, if it's miserable, change your teacher or textbook. Three, well, I'm not sure there's a three, but if there were it would be to persevere. If you keep on studying, you'll eventually master the subject. Think of the act of sharpening a chain saw by hand. It takes a lot of time. It can seem tedious and mundane. But if you persist, the chain eventually gets sharp again. The same is true with Greek. When the chainsaw begins to fail, don't get rid of it. Instead, face the struggle, one tooth at a time. Exchange the tedious now for a sharper edge later.
"But," you say, "I'm too old to learn Greek." Yes, there are challenges as we age. But there's also more wisdom. The other day I read about a new Greek grammar that will be published this month. It's 600 pages and it calls itself an "introduction." You're kidding, right? The older I get, the more I realize that less is more. Beginning students don't need to learn everything you know about Greek.
I love watching my newbies learning Greek every Monday night. I can identify with their nervousness. I think of my own "career" as a runner. While teaching is my safe spot, running isn't. I figure me running is kinda like one of my students taking Greek for the first time. It's just plain hard work but oh so satisfying once you begin to get the hang of it.
Should you study Greek? Yes. Can you learn the language? Absolutely. So what's holding you back?
12:34 PM Oh, the joy and angst of teaching! Angst? Yep. Especially when it comes to praying and deciding each week what I will discuss in my NT classes. As you know, the Gospels are selective accounts of the life of Christ. John noted that the whole world couldn't contain the books that would be necessary to record everything Jesus did and said. Each Gospel writer had the freedom to choose and arrange his materials in order to make his own theological points.
Likewise, every week I set goals for myself before entering the classroom. I consider all the possible content topics I could choose from, and then I try and answer the question, "What topics can I use to best achieve my goals for this week's class and for the overarching goals of the course?" The choice of specific content topics then drives my decisions about what I will cover that week in class, what power points I need to produce for those classes, and how many topics I can cover manageably during a 3-hour session. One thing I do not do is cover material that can be covered in one fourth the time by reading our textbooks. That is, even a survey course can be content-rich if one combines the best of your textbook and the relevant topics you choose to concentrate on that week in your lectures. The topics I cover in class generally follow the contents of our textbook. But topic coverage does not always have to be linear. Non-linearity may, in fact, be desirable. Often I will revisit a topic covered previously. This provides an opportunity to build the complexity of ideas and applications over time. By Monday at the latest I have settled on what content I will concentrate on for that week.
I once it heard it said that teachers innately know what to teach. It ain't that easy. Just because you want to talk about something doesn't mean that it is what the students need to help them advance in their academic journey. It's vital to communicate with them why you are teaching on a particular subject. The choices we make in course content week after week have a substantial impact on a student's sense of belonging and success. Course planning is a continual process and requires constant evaluation. Do assignments reflect and achieve your course goals? How about your exams and quizzes? Will the students have the opportunity to practice the skills that are required for their exams and/or written assignments? What types of teaching methods best achieve your goals?
These questions make teaching fun. It's always an adventure for me to discover what I believe the Lord is leading me to focus on week by week!
8:25 AM What all happened on campus this week? Good grief, where do I begin? Here are just a few of the highlights:
1) In Greek 1 class we discussed the verb pherōmetha in Heb. 6:1 to illustrate a point: Make sure you check your English translations against the Greek. No, the author is not telling us to "press on to maturity." When you take the lexical form into consideration, when you take the voice into account, and when you consider the verbal aspect, you arrive at a very different idea. In the ISV we rendered it as "Let us continue to be carried along to maturity." This is a nautical metaphor: "Let us raise our sails, as it were, and allow the Spirit of God to take us from where we are to where we ought to be." Or, as the writer of Hebrews puts it in verse 3, "This we will do, IF GOD PERMITS." Friend, the ability to make progress in holiness and Christlikeness is a gift of God. Don't try to do it on your own. You will fail every time. Just as the prophets of old spoke "as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21), so we must be carried forward by a Power greater than ourselves. I once wrote an article on this metaphor. Go here if you'd like to read it.
2) Yesterday in NT 1 we talked about the myth of adolescence and I was fortunate enough to have stumbled across an article that appeared in Scientific American called "The Myth of the Teen Brain." What an eye-opener. Its contents have been summarized in a new power point my assistant Rodolfo made for me. Check it out. Believe it or not, our kids crave responsibility. We also looked at a wonderful essay written by John Piper and his wife Noël. It's called The Family: Together in God's Presence. A breath of fresh air, believe me!
3) Also in my NT 1 class we watched a message delivered by one of my best friends. Kevin Brown is an elder at a church in Wilkesboro, NC. Several years ago he wrote a book called Rite of Passage for the Home and Church. I highly recommend it. Kevin's sermon is a call to action and an invitation for us to let the church off the hook so that we as parents can get real about living and loving and training our kids. Watch Freedom to Expect Great Things. You won't be disappointed. I love Kevin Brown. I love his passion for the Bible. Most of all I am floored by his love for people. So obvious and real.
4) In my NT 2 class on Wednesday we discussed 1 Thessalonians and, of course, we had to talk about Paul's high work ethic. Friend, there is no such thing as Christian work. Any kind of work, from washing dishes to giving a Sunday message (as Kevin did), is Christian if it is offered to God. This means, among other things, that no Christian is excluded from serving God. For Paul, this service found natural expression in being self-supported. This was the line of duty God had marked out for him. What are the implications of that for ministry today? Read 1-2 Thessalonians and decide for yourself.
5) Finally, I was so blessed to watch this short video clip of Charles Stanley. Last Sunday he announced to his congregation that he would be stepping down as senior pastor at the age of 88. What he says about Christians "retiring" is so right! God bless you, sir.
And God bless you, dear reader!
7:42 AM There is a secret place where the believer dwells. It is in the shadow of the Almighty. I spent many wonderful minutes in that place this morning, as I know you did. There transactions took place that are known only to you and God. My reading this morning was in one of my favorite Psalms. I read Psalm 34 over and over again when I was laid up this summer from a running injury. I couldn't run, train, or even walk, but I could be a receiver of God's grace and a responder to him in gratitude. "I will always praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace!" So wrote the Psalmist when he was experiencing sorrow and affliction. "I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. For I cried to him and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Oh, put the Lord to test and see how good he is! See for yourself the way his mercies shower down on all who trust him."
Many times in my life God asked me to wait patiently for him during times of suffering. I like to see healing. I like to see progress. I like to see normalcy. It's hard to wait -- but God knows that. When I come to him via his word, I realize there is a refuge for my loneliness. For God cares. He sees. He acts even when I cannot see it. A God who watches over the birds of the air -- how could he overlook one of his hurting children?
What will you do with your pain and loneliness, my friend? Paul says, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Live each hour of every day with him. He is more than mere kindness. He is love. That knowledge is freedom. I have no cares about tomorrow, for all that I have and all that I am and all that I suffer and every fear that I face have been joyfully surrendered to him. He can do anything he wants with me and still love me in the deepest and most inexorable sense.
The heart that has no agenda but God's is a heart at peace with itself. Its emptiness is filled with his goodness. Its loneliness can be turned to delight.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Thursday, September 17
8:15 PM Ok, you guys. It's me again. Yes, it's been a while, but I've been teaching. Which means blogging will be erratic at best. Right now we're getting a ton of rain but earlier in the week the weather could not have been better. I got in a couple of runs at Joyner Park in Wake Forest as well as a bike ride in Cary. In a weird sort of way I feel connected to this place because Becky's brother and his wife live in Cary. I decided to try out a new trail -- well, new for me, a place I'd driven past hundreds of times and briefly took note of but at the same time hardly noticed -- you know, it's all just part of the landscape.
When I got there I discovered that the bike trail went beside the local lake for a mile or so before turning into the woods.
The lake was a gorgeous sight to my eyes.
This is a popular biking route, or so I am told, but I actually saw very few cyclists out there probably because the trail ended up been extremely rutted. It was like biking over a washboard. While I had originally wanted to bike at least 15-20 miles, I ended up completing far fewer miles than anticipated.
But all's well that ends well. It "just so happened" that one of the local Ethiopian restaurants is a stone's throw from the trailhead and I made up an excuse to visit it for dinner.
Never did injera b'wat taste better. I know I'm blessed to have the kind of schedule that allows me to take long bike rides during the afternoon. I took a rest day today and tried to get my act together after 4 straight days of teaching and meeting with students on campus. My legs want to go on a long run so badly. Maybe on Saturday after the rain is gone. Right now the farm is soaked and am I NOT complaining -- the fields needed the moisture. The crazy weather is teaching me to be flexible and creative when it comes to exercise. Besides, I have bigger fish to fry right now, like reading Bob Woodward's new book that came today in the mail. Exhale, my friend. No, I'm not going to begin blogging about politics. I read Woodward mostly because of the fond memory I have of him back in the days when I watched the Watergate hearings on TV in the early 70s. Besides, he's a phenomenal writer. What I won't be doing over the next few days is stressing out over the election.
So there ya have it. Erratic blogging at best, but blogging nonetheless. Thanks for stopping by.
Monday, September 14
7:34 AM What is it about us humans that we love to stand before the grandeur of nature, be it a roaring wave or a mountain peak? To my parents I owe a deep consciousness of God as Creator. After all, it was because of them I was born and raised in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I cannot remember a day when I was not acutely aware of God's creative genius growing up in Kailua. I could see, hear, smell, feel, taste it all. Nature itself seemed to point to the One who is "the effulgence of God's spendour and the stamp of God's very being" (Heb. 1:3 NEB). Is it any wonder that when I saw the sunrise this morning I had to share it with you?
I love all of God's glorious outdoors, because I see in it overwhelming evidence of his power and love. I am so grateful to be alive, here, in this place, at this time, in our generation. Cup overfloweth.
Sunday, September 13
5:50 PM I knew it would be a good day for a bike ride as soon as I left Clarksville-by-the-Lake.
The plan was to start out at Charles City Court House.
From there I would ride to Jamestown and back. A friend of mine and two of his amazing kids joined me for the adventure.
Jason's been to Ethiopia 5 times with Becky and me. They paced me and let me draft behind them whenever I got tired.
Here's one of the highlights: crossing the bridge over the mighty Chickahominy River.
In Jamestown you reach the start of the Virginia Capital Trail (mile zero).
I have cycled all 52 miles from Jamestown to Richmond twice, once with Jason. It's a fabulous experience. Seeing as I was celebrating what would have been my 44th wedding anniversary, I thought it might be appropriate to bike 44 miles.
Does that sound sentimental? Yep, guilty! Happy memories of 37 years together with Becky are still ping-ponging around in my head. There is something so precious, so wonderful about marriage. I live with a constant awareness that God was exceedingly kind to us. You have a short season with your spouse, and the years fly by. Anyway, it was a good weekend of remembrance. Seriously, I thought about Becky every minute. I know, I'm hopeless.
Hope your weekend was splendid as well!
6:58 AM Many don't know that Becky was an accomplished pianist. She would often play pieces for me on my birthday. Once, in Basel, she surprised me with all three movements of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Here's a piece I loved hearing her play. Enjoy!
Saturday, September 12
7:25 PM My anniversary celebration continues ....
1) Comida mexicana esta noche en memoria de mi esposa.
2) Becky genoss immer einen frisch gemähten Garten.
3) Ce soir, je lis un vieux livre et je grignote des buiscuits, je me souviens des moments où Becky et moi nous sommes assis ensemble sur le porche.
3:10 PM Did a short bike today in honor of Becky -- a precursor to a wee bit longer ride I plan to do tomorrow with some friends. Should be great fun.
Today I'm prepping for my Greek 1 class this Monday night. Students will take a quiz over the present and future active indicative. Then I get to introduce them to the Greek noun system. Two big hurdles for sure -- the Greek verb and the Greek noun! But I love doing this. I am a teacher. For me, that description is on a par with I am a man and I am right-handed. I didn't sit down one day and decide, "Oh, I think I will go into teaching because I have an insane love for students." I just do. Which, at the end of the day, is why I love what I do. In my Bible time this morning I was in 1 Corinthians 9. Here Paul says, "I have no right to boast because I preach the gospel. After all, I am under orders to do it. And how terrible it would be for me if I didn't preach the gospel!" He then adds the punch line: "If I did my work as a matter of free choice, then I could expect to be paid. But I do it as a matter of duty, because God has entrusted me with this task."
I keep telling my students, "Find out who you are. Find out what God created you to do with your life -- what he has entrusted to you. Find out what it is you would be doing even if weren't being paid to do it." Ultimately, you won't know what you love to do until you bite the bullet and actually do it. As they say, "You never know until you try."
I'm so grateful I found my passion. It's a confusing journey the Lord puts us on sometimes. No worries. He's still a Good Shepherd. He will lead you as long as you are willing to follow.
9:34 AM After Becky and I got married in Dallas -- all true Christians get married in the Big D, and in a church with the word "Bible" in it -- we drove to our apartment in La Mirada, California before boarding our flight to Honolulu for our honeymoon (all loving husbands take their bride to Hawaii for their honeymoon, right?).
Thus began 37 years of wedded life together. Did I say "together"? Never have two persons been more unlike. Compatible? How about unlikely misfits? The eldest of 6 (she) married the youngest of 4 (moi). Southern Grace, let me introduce you to Hawaiian Shaka. And because I'm so mature, I thought my way was the best way. I learned very quickly that, in marriage, either you suffocate under unhealthy expectations or you learn to breathe in the air of grace. It's staggering to think that God can take yin and yang and make them one. But he can, and he did. Right this moment, my mind is filled with memories of a woman beside me in bed, hundreds of times, waking up to spend her life with a man with whom she wanted to become totally and unconditionally identified with. I tell you, it can be mighty humbling, this person who wants to share life with you. As with electricity, it took two poles to keep the whole thing running. Don't think that I'm talking about Becky as being one pole and me being the other. No, we were the one pole, and God was the other. Isn't it odd how intimacy with your spouse always seems to be in direct proportion to your intimacy with him? Becky and I outran divorce not because we had so much in common but because we both worshipped the same God. When we prayed together (as we did every night) we were both drawing from the same well.
Nothing in this world is so difficult or vulnerable as marriage. This is because it's a living and breathing and growing demonstration of the intimacy into which God wants to draw his children. The more perfect our intimacy with him, the more perfect our intimacy with each other as a couple. If you are married, I don't need to be telling you any of this. But it may help from time to time to be reminded of what makes a marriage last, what keeps it healthy and growing. Everything comes down to a realization of truth. "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." A bride and a bridegroom are one, even as Christ and his bride are one. The only question is: Will we live as one or go our own way? It's not how good we are that counts (we all fall so desperately short!), but how truthful we are about how good we aren't. Only then can Jesus get busy developing us into the redeemed oneness we already experience in union with him.
Our honeymoon in Hawaii was wonderful. We returned to California -- she to her nursing and me to my teaching -- seeking to "flesh out" our essential oneness. The act of sex by itself can only go so far in achieving this goal. A better solution is, well, being married -- two persons not as two separate individuals but as a union. It took us 37 years to perfect this union (kidding, of course; we never perfected it). But we did learn that love must borrow from something greater than itself if it is to last. It's not that we were fooled into thinking that our partner was a perfect person. Not at all. Rather, we began to see the other as the perfect person for me. For this is what is always and inevitably involved in the making of a lasting marriage. A wedding ceremony may be what brought you together, but love is the glue that binds you together.
Friends, by golly (actually, by the grace of God) you can do this.
Friday, September 11
2:38 PM I was married 44 years ago today.
It seems like yesterday. I'll be celebrating all weekend, beginning with a long run.
It was so good to take my mask off and just breathe in the wonderful country air. Like my running career, grief recovery is never a smooth, straightforward path. It's a forward-backward dance. Becky left a giant hole in my life, that's clear enough. And like so many other areas of life, what occurs requires both courage and perseverance on your part. Ironic as it may sound, losing Becky made God seem both closer and more terrifying at the same time. If I were to survive her loss, I would have to come to grips with his divine sovereignty. Those who lose a loved one through death or divorce move forward and become more aware than ever of the goodness and grace of the Lord. Many find new purpose in their life and even a deeper walk with God. I know I have. Grief has become a refinement. More than ever, I love the Giver (and Taker) of life. Perhaps you're grieving today. You've lost someone you loved. Please allow yourself time to grieve. There will be many good-byes. But along the journey, God gives strength. From time to time invite that person back into your life. Say "I'm sorry" if you have to. Tell them you love them. Then let them go -- again and again and again. Never will I achieve perfect contentment and happiness in this regard. But what matters is that I keep moving forward. I hope and pray you will do the same, my precious grieving friend.
9:22 AM Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot tell you how impressed I am with Zondervan's new Latin grammar. The very texture of the pages attracts me to the book.
Crisp, clean pages make me want to keep reading. New books are heavenly. And boy does Zondervan know how to publish them. If you've never studied Ecclesiastical Latin, why not pick up this book and teach yourself? The first pages of a language textbook are like stepping into undiscovered territory, like the first crest on a trail overlooking a beautiful, unexplored valley.
Come on! What's stopping you?
8:28 AM My Bible time this morning was in the book of James.
I have a few thoughts about this. James, as you know, was the Lord's brother. And yet in his letter he never mentions that fact. He never tells us what we would so much like to know -- what it was like to grow up with the Savior of the world. When James does talk about his brother in 2:1, he calls him "Lord." And in the opening of his letter, who can miss the import of the words, "From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ"?
I can't imagine how challenging it must have been to grow up with Jesus. And I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for James when Jesus left the household to receive baptism at the hands of John in the Jordan. And how difficult it must have been for Jesus himself, now the head of his deceased father's family, to leave behind his childhood home in Nazareth in order to begin his work of teaching, preaching, and healing. Am I willing to risk misunderstanding and alienation from those who are closest to me in order to follow God's will for my life? It's clear that none of Jesus' own brothers and sisters were his disciples during his three and a half year ministry on earth. Could it be that they were angry and bitter toward their brother for "shirking" his duties as the eldest son to care for their mother and for the family business? Was James in particular grieved when that responsibility fell to him after Jesus left the household? And when James, now gloriously converted, eventually writes his letter, I wonder if he has his brother Jesus in mind when he addresses such topics as riches and poverty, good conduct, prejudice, faith and works, the use of the tongue, wisdom, quarrelling, pride and humility, judging others, patience, and prayer. What an example Jesus must have set in all of these areas of life while he was growing up in Nazareth.
We talked about some of these things in my New Testament class yesterday while discussing "Jesus and the Age 30 Transition." Fellow students, let's press on together. God gave us Jesus to show us exactly how to progress. And he gave us James his brother. And Peter his disciple. And Paul his servant. The Holy Spirit makes sure we don't run on empty. The word is there for us, in all of its inscrutableness. Please believe me. The way of Jesus is the most excellent way. His life propels ours. And when we all pull our share of the load, the church becomes the extension of God's hands. Today, let's serve him. Let's drape a towel around our arms and get busy living and serving others with the strength this Jesus provides because he lives within us. We have explicit directions in the New Testament -- including a book written by our Lord's brother James -- on how to serve. Let's not leave class thinking, "Oh, that was interesting," but rather "My, that was life-changing." We are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing more. We are all Jameses, abandoning pride for reverence and pleasure for worship. The day is coming when we will sit at the table with that Lord. But that's after we've done our part.
Have you opened the Book today? Why not do so now? Jesus is saying to us, "Pull up a chair and sit a spell." He is saying to all of us, "I have chosen you. You are redeemed and forgiven. You are loved. Now let's get to work." Close by writing out one or two ways Jesus is leading you to greater obedience. And then bravely ask him to keep your identity Jesus-centered rather than you-centered throughout the day.
Thursday, September 10
7:58 PM Whew! What a week on campus. Busy but good. Time now to hunker down with a book that arrived today.
I love reading brand new grammars. When it comes to language books, my pump never needs priming!
Tuesday, September 8
7:12 AM My writing goal for the week? To stop producing lengthy run-on sentences that are redundant, pleonastic, and superfluous and that use more words than are absolutely necessary or crucial to say what I want or need to say. On the other hand, I will continue to put off doing what I know I should be doing because I lack the self-discipline to do it.
Monday, September 7
6:52 PM Yesterday I listened to Chuck Swindoll's sermon at Stonebriar in Frisco, Texas. No, I didn't actually attend in person, though I have been to Stonebriar once along with my father-in-law. As I watched Chuck speak, taking in his message -- a sermon on Hebrews 11 called "From Aging Fathers to a Newborn Son" -- I was caught off guard by something he said at the conclusion of his message. Reflecting on his 4 children, 10 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren, he said:
After 60 years of being a Christian, sermonizing has just about worn me out. Words don't inspire me much anymore. Handling life does. Obedience does. Humility does. Servanthood does. Radical love does. Teaching by example does. Chuck, whose messages I love listening to, is right. He will be remembered for how he lived and loved and served and cared for his own.
This is what we are here on this earth for. In body or in spirit, in sickness or in health, by life or by death, famous or obscure, wealthy or poor, married or single, we are to glorify God by what we do and by what we do not do. Friend, are you ready to pray, not, "Lord, bless me" but "Lord, glorify yourself in me, whatever it takes, whatever happens to me"? Our business as followers of Jesus is to glorify God. It is by grace, God's unmerited favor, that we can do this. Nothing under the sun can be as dry and tedious and flat as a sermon without the Spirit. Christian work without a life backing it up is the worst form of drudgery. It neither glorifies God nor helps anyone. Without a life of loving, sacrificial service, preachers are shorn Samsons on a treadmill.
Thank you, Chuck, for the reminder.
Start at 1:33:06. Better yet, enjoy the entire service.
5:52 PM Have you ever lived abroad? I mean, actually lived for a period of time in another culture, speaking their language and trying to come to terms with the gap between your own culture and theirs? It wasn't until I lived in Basel that I began to see the difference between the gospel and the American version of the gospel. For me, the two had always been one and the same. But then I discovered that the gospel is, in a very real sense, weird. It really doesn't make any sense when you try to understand it through the lens of American exceptionalism. The gospel is true everywhere or it isn't true anywhere. That's why I love teaching through the book of Acts so much. Here we see that the church has certain essential marks that will always characterize it as an authentic church regardless of where you and I live. Above all, the church is God's new community, conceived in eternity past but now being worked out in history. I long to see this church continually being reformed and renewed by (1) the word and (2) the Spirit. What is God's (not our) vision for the church? What are the marks that must characterize it? How can we remain committed to the church even when we become dissatisfied and even disillusioned by aspects of it? Is it possible to romanticize the church and speak of it as if it had no blemishes? In short, what does a New Testament church look like? What we need to do is humble ourselves before God and seek the direction and power of the Spirit. According to John 14:21, Jesus reveals himself only to those who love him. Am I his lover? Are you? Singing songs in church or listening respectfully to a sermon do not prove anything. Those who truly love Jesus are those who obey his commandants. Oh my dear students, the test of love is not knowledge but obedience! And if we both love and obey King Jesus, then the reward is the self-manifestation of him in our lives. And remember: There is no passivity in the attainment of holiness. The Philippians had to work hard at completing their salvation. They couldn't just sit there and expect God to do all the heavy lifting. No, it is obedience to which we are called. But here's the deal: This obedience is not only required, it is enabled under the New Covenant established through the death of Christ. So Paul says to the Philippians, in effect, that they are to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling because God has already worked it into them and given them both the desire and the ability to do what pleases him. So let us offer ourselves to God as agents of change this semester. Let's not excuse ourselves by developing a pessimist outlook that says change cannot happen. Christ calls us to a nobler ambition. Let's enter the week committed to loving each other and stretching each other in healthy ways, okay? Let's practice empathy and humility each and every day we are on campus. Let's make our faith communities beautiful again using the ordinary tools God used to grow his church in the first century: prayer, humility, transparency, truth, love. We can do this!
1:38 PM Just back from an easy 3 mile walk. (I think they call this active recovery. Whatever they call it, my body needed to get outdoors. After all, it's a lovely fall day.) This brought my 30-day total to 207 miles. I think of it as playtime.
Of course, now it's time for a long nap!
9:50 AM Today my plan was to bike about 20 miles but that's not going to happen. Stick a fork in me, ladies and gentlemen, I'm done. Today will be a much-needed rest day before I resume marathon training tomorrow in Wake Forest. I love this time of year. Everyone is glad to be back in class. The animals on the farm seem to be enjoying the cooler weather. A festive, cheery attitude finds you where're you go. People just seem to be in a good mood. Christmas will soon be here - a time when people begin to think of giving gifts to others. It's easy to get so inwardly focused that all we do is think about ourselves. Meanwhile I'm cranking up the teaching machine. Yep, getting ready for Greek 3 tomorrow and NT 2 and NT 1 later in the week. (No Greek 1 class tonight.) This week in Greek 3 (aka the-most-difficult-class-you-will-have-in-seminary-but-you-will-really-know-Greek-when-you're-done) we're reading my chapter on phonology (yes, I still use my over-30 year old book Linguistics for Students of NT Greek) and then discussing the fact that the New Testament was intended to be heard and not merely read. And wow -- I cannot tell you how much I love the rhetorical level of language. There's tons of poetry in the New Testament but you'd never know it. There are New Testament hymns to Christ that we never sing in our churches. There are 5 "faithful sayings" in the so-called Pastoral Epistles that we should know by heart but we don't. Another cool thing? The New Testament writers often used sounds to make a point. So, in the life of me -- one Dave Black -- that's what's currently up. I cannot get enough of Bible study these days. Seriously, the word is so delicious I can't put it down.
Final reminder: On this Labor Day weekend, take in every moment of time with people who make your heart smile. You never know what's around the corner (e.g., retirement!), so live in the present. No regrets!
9:22 AM Saw this billboard while driving through South Boston the other day. It features an ad for MacDonald's alongside an ad for the local hospital's cardiovascular services.
All of us, not least us Baptists, need to watch our weight during a holiday. It's no laughing matter, as this article notes:
As someone who's always struggled with keeping my weight off, I can identify. The joggers and cyclists you see out there really represent only a very small proportion of the American public. The dropout rate in fitness programs is appalling. The fact is, exercise should be fun. Go out and play. Fitness and health are bound to follow. Nobody should have to apologize for finding running or cycling boring. Just find an activity you enjoy and stick with it. It's so odd. Many of us wouldn't go outside without our mask, yet we ignore the long-term consequences of our lifestyles. You say, "But I don't have time for exercise." That doesn't make any sense. Regular physical activity actually gives you additional time. Again, my friend, try and find an activity that you really enjoy. If it fulfills your needs, you'll want to do it for the rest of your life.
Well, just some "food for thought" on a day when most of us (myself included) will likely be eating more than we plan to.
8:46 AM Good morning, bloggers and bloggerettes! As we celebrate Labor Day, I have a question for you. Are you resting in the Lord?
The New Testament speaks of two kinds of rest. There's katapausis rest, and then there's anapausis rest. The word katapausis is used in Hebrews 4 to describe the rest we as believers will enjoy when we get to heaven. At that time we will "rest" from our earthly labors. This rest is never really a present reality for those of us still living in this world. It is offered only to those who work diligently in the here and now to enter that heavenly rest (Heb. 4:11).
The rest (anapausis) Jesus offers us in Matt. 11:29-30 is not ceasing from all activity. No, Jesus tells us to work for the night is coming, when we can no longer work. He says, "Keep busy until I come." I like to put it this way: We come to Jesus not to rest from our work but to rest in our work. This is possible only when we yoke ourselves to him. Coming to Jesus doesn't mean rest in the sense of ceasing my labors for him. It means walking next to him in harmonious agreement. Jesus "rests" us, not by taking away our heavy responsibilities, but by allowing us to join our harness to his. Paul puts is this way: "Don't be lazy as you serve the Lord" (Rom. 12:11). God intends for us neither to burn out nor to rust out!
If there's one thing I remember about my wife, it was that she was a woman co-yoked with Christ. She neither burned out nor rusted out. We might say she lived the "co-yoked life" -- the life that makes one's burdens not only bearable but enjoyable, the life that enables one to keep on serving Jesus ungrudgingly and uncomplainingly. The service Becky rendered was service in the strength that God had supplied. Such an attitude preserved her from both pride and sloth.
Are you resting in Christ today, my friend? That is, are you laboring tirelessly and uncomplainingly for the gospel, with Jesus at your side, lightening your load until he ushers you into that eternal katapausis promised in the book of Hebrews?
Sunday, September 6
7:44 PM As I think about this coming week and the classes I'll get to teach, I can't help but reflect on all the good, God things I witnessed this past week on campus. In every class, we discussed what the early church looked like. It was a church that grew like wildfire. And get this: The same Spirit who started the church on the DOP is the same Spirit who carries on the work today. Just read Acts 2:37-47. As you can see, this was some church. This is what the church is supposed to look like -- a church that wasn't ashamed to share Jesus, to baptize immediately upon profession of faith, that sat at Jesus' feet (through the teaching of the apostles), that took great pains to build genuine relationships with one another, whose weekly observance of the Lord's Supper ensured that their gatherings were Christ-centered, who prayed constantly, and who went out of their way to meet each other's practical needs. What's not to admire about a church like this? This brand of church can be ours, dear friend. It really can. This week I'm asking the Spirit to fill us up with the power of his love. I'm asking him to move us forward from the stereotypes that have come to define us and to use his fascinating word to show us exactly how to make progress. Fellow students of the word, let's worship at the feet of Jesus this week and learn the secret of doing church -- becoming close friends with the Holy Spirit. Let's have a long conversation with him. Let's quit ignoring him. Let's listen when he tugs on our hearts. Let's welcome his voice. A church that exudes Christ awaits us. Our King has made it possible.
5:06 PM It's so much fun teaching NT 2. We get to talk about all kinds of interesting things. Was Paul the author of the so-called Pastoral Epistles? Some doubt it. Did he send Ephesians to the (wink, wink) Ephesians? Hmm. Did he visit North or South Galatia? Much of what I do in class boils down to two things: (1) Look at the evidence, and (2) go wherever the evidence points. As much as it depends on you, do you own homework, then follow your gut. Both of my professors in Basel, Bo Reicke and Markus Barth, were shining examples of this. They used their gifts for God's glory and lived with integrity.
Evidence. Yep, it matters.
I once produced a power point with the following title:
I was curious. Where did our earliest Greek manuscripts place the book of Hebrews? Does the following order surprise you?
It shouldn't. Hebrews never circulated as one of the General Epistles, even when it was placed after Philemon. It often astonishes me that I did not see the significance of this when I was in seminary. I still marvel at the data today. No, we must consider the evidence, all of the evidence, ponder it, and apply it to our studies. It could be that Paul actually authored Hebrews. Plus, by the fourth century, both the Eastern and the Western Churches acknowledged 14 letters of Paul. So what. Does it really matter? Only if understanding the background of a NT writing can make us better interpreters of it.
Two suggestions before I go and make supper (shoyu chicken over jasmine rice):
1) Accept the invitation to be good students of the word with abandon.
2) Immerse yourself in church history.
Simple but not easy, I know. But that's our calling. Leaders, nurture inquisitiveness. Create a learning environment where students are free to question. Make opportunities for challenging shibboleths. The better we do this, and do this together, the stronger our journey of learning gets.
2:34 PM Years ago, one of my kids gave me this book.
Last night I was rereading it as I sat on the porch enjoying the wonderful fall-like weather. The book mentioned a park in Virginia I hadn't heard of before. But it seemed like it might be worth a visit. So this morning, before the beginning of my virtual service, I decided to mosey on up to the James River State Park and check it out.
The park is incredible. It has more than 1,300 acres of rolling farmland along with about 3 miles of frontage along the mighty James. Facilities include cabins, lodges, primitive and electric campsites, horse facilities, 7 picnic areas, and group camping. Oh, did I mention it also has 15 miles of hiking trails? This morning my goal was to run at least two of them in preparation for my trail race next Saturday. I chose the River Trail and the Cabell Trail. The trails seemed deserted. I could tell I was only one around today by all of the spider webs I ran into. Here are a few pix:
Quite diverse views, don't you think? Oh, and it seems I wasn't alone after all.
While running, I spent most of the time just communing with my Creator. God often initiates conversation with his children. Have you noticed that? He has spoken to me while driving, awakened at 2:00 am, scarfing down a PBJ, and countless other times. But he seems to never keep silent when I am outdoors. All of life is a sacred space. Worship is not encapsulated in a place we attend on Sunday. In the constant presence of our wonderful God, let's long to be in fellowship with him.
May he meet you and speak to you today, my friend!
P.S. I got in just over 6 miles.
Saturday, September 5
7:45 PM Baled today.
Nothing like the smell of fresh hay.
12:40 PM Fall weather has finally arrived! Yahoo! I am so ready. Fall is wonderful. The next few months are my favorite time of the year. Those crisp mornings will soon be here. And the freshness in the twilight air. Soaking up the scents, sounds, and beauty. Fall is definitely the most clear, crisp season. Plus it's nice not to have the heat or AC on. And did I mention Pumpkin Spice Latte? Or curling up beside the fireplace with a good book?
Today was a perfectly lovely fall day. As part of my marathon preparation I decided to do a marathon on my bike.
Something about biking in the fall gives me new zest. I just love it!
I look forward to making the most of these beautiful fall days before winter sets in. At least I know that the hot, humid days are almost done!
Friday, September 4
7:34 PM Nice evening walk.
My kids left me with these. Awesome.
Gobus is growing up so well. Such a cutie!
The farm was (and still is) one of the joys of my life.
6:40 PM Do you suffer from mumpsimus? Let me explain what I mean by taking you into my classroom. My poor students -- they sit there so patiently as I wax elephant about the Pauline authorship of Hebrews or Matthean priority or Christ-centered (rather than pulpit-centered) gatherings or the usefulness of the Byzantine text type (rather that either its primacy or secondariness) or the weekly observance of the Lord's Supper (see Acts 20:7). To me, Markan priority, to take one example, is a clear instance of mumpsimus -- the migration of error from textbook to textbook.
Mumpsimus originally referred to those changes in church liturgy that were inserted without authority or good reason and then passed down from one group to another to become accepted dogma, never to be challenged. Mumpsimus is based on the story of an illiterate priest who lived during the Middle Ages. Seems he had learned to recite the Latin Mass incorrectly. Instead of saying sumpsimus (Latin for "we have taken") he said mumpsimus, which is not a Latin word at all. When somebody finally told him he was wrong, he reared up on his haunches and insisted he would never exchange his mumpsimus for their sumpsimus. Not only did he refuse to change. He refused to agree that he was wrong.
Evangelical group think -- let's not engage in it, okay folks? Jesus did not teach primus inter pares -- first among equals. He did not allow us the use of honorific titles. He never entrusted leadership of a local church to one man. And the list goes on and on. If you will allow me to paraphrase Jesus, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone addicted to tradition to enter the kingdom of God." Now that's you, and that's me. The more educated we are, the harder it is to accept the simple teachings of our Savior. It's almost as if Jesus knew we would claim exalted titles for ourselves in the church. It's almost as if he knew that the secret of church leadership awaited us at the bottom. Oh wait, that's exactly what he knew. I can tell you from sad experience, with every step down the rung, the stripping away process becomes more excruciating. I had no earthly idea how tightly I had clung to tradition. Like that priest of old, I will follow my way of doing things and let the truth be confounded!
There's a better way. I hope together with my students we will find it this semester.
1:22 PM Since this month is my anniversary, I thought I'd visit Becky's grave.
I'm so grateful for her example and the way it impacted me and so many others. Since her death I have never felt so fragile and vulnerable, yet at the same time I've never felt so whole. We know that loss increases our capacity to love, and I so desperately want to love well now that Becky is gone. Afterwards I did a 5 mile run at the local trail.
It was a beautiful morning to be outdoors.
Makes you feel young! Emerson, age 62, once wrote in his journal, "I look inside and don't see wrinkles or a tired heart, I see an unspent youth." I am doing something every American my age should be doing -- exercising regularly at something you enjoy. My playlist included:
"The glory of God," wrote Irenaeus, "is man fully functioning." To that I would add, "And listening to great rock music from the 70s and 80s!"
7:24 AM "Think quality, not quantity." That thought keeps going through my brain this morning. Each of us is born with a 70-year warranty. But few of us read the instruction manual. It is our own decision to be active or not. To rust out or not. To burn out or not. Individual behavior determines individual health -- physical, mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. It doesn't matter where you live or what you do for a living or at what age you retire. "Am I giving it my all?" is what matters. Doing your absolute best becomes the criterion.
"I am writing the best I can," said the author of a best-selling novel. "If I could write any better, I would. This is the peak of my powers." You see, it doesn't matter that she is at the peak of her powers. What matters is that she is doing it with all of her might.
I have never been content with contentment. In last Saturday's trail run, all around me were runners engaged in the same struggle. We were all pushing ourselves, at the middle of the pack, as if our lives depended on it. For the winners, the race was over. But not for us. We were driven simply by the need to do our best, to make the effort, and to make it more often. If you come in last place, it is still worth the effort. After all, you beat all those people who didn't show up.
Maximum effort is always rewarded. Chuck Swindoll is 85 and preaches twice every Sunday. Anthony Fauci is 79. Betty White is 97. Queen Elizabeth II is 92. Morgan Freeman is 81. Clint Eastwood is 88. Harrison Ford is 76. Christopher Plummer is 89. I'm a mere 68. Viewed this way, the saying that age is but a number is more than a cliché. It becomes an actual fact. If every person is charged with giving the maximum and does, the criterion is no longer how many years you lived but whether you stuck to it.
In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, the Olympic champion runner, tells his sister that he will be returning to China, the country where his parents served as missionaries. But before then, he had more immediate plans.
God is pleased when his children use the gifts he's given them. What is your gift? Mine is teaching. For however long he desires. Wherever he desires. I have been given this as a gift, pure and simple. To disregard it would be to hold God in contempt.
Thursday, September 3
7:58 PM My evening reading.
6:52 PM Well, the cat is officially out of the bag. I'm already getting emails and well wishes. "For what?" you ask. This will be my last year of fulltime teaching at Southeastern!!!! Can you believe it? What an amazing journey it's been! A million thanks to all who made this a dream job, including the administration, my faculty colleagues, and the many students I've taught since 1998. My little world was made big by your love. I promise to give you my very best during the 2020-2021 school year!
If you want to know more, see my latest essay, I Never Dreamed.