April 2020 Blog Archives
Thursday, April 30
8:35 PM My evening reading.
If you're looking for just another book on theology, this book is not for you. Gordon Fee transcends the lines between theology and worship through his exegetical insights and pastoral heart. I wish I could put this book in the hands of every one of my students.
My drive home.
All in all, a very good day. Thank you, Jesus!
Wednesday, April 29
7:44 PM This care package arrived today from my daughter.
It contained gloves, masks, a pulse oximeter, wipes, hand sanitizer, Soft-soap, and a thermometer. Thank you, sweetheart. Heart you!
1:28 PM "Why do you read New Testament paraphrases?" Been asked that question a few times lately. Here are some renderings from the Living Bible I love (all from Luke):
Don't like it? Ken Taylor is good with that. From the preface:
1:12 PM Spending the day reading 1) a term paper on the use of Greek prepositions in the Nicene Creed and 2) a dissertation on the discourse structure of the Didache. Classico, classico.
12:58 PM Now this is a timely essay: Fear, Prayer, Trust, and Action by Energion publisher Henry Neufeld. The money quote:
Tuesday, April 28
9:50 AM On Sunday I attended three worship services. One was in Alabama. One was in North Carolina. And one -- the one below -- was in Frisco, Texas.
What a way to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing like a sermon -- or two, or three -- to prepare you for the coming week. Chuck's message is titled "Seven Insights From Job About Our God." You'll need to have your Bible open to Job 42. If it motivates you to listen in or watch, here are his seven takeaways (all of which are so true to the text and so true to life):
1) There is nothing God cannot do.
2) It is impossible to frustrate, hinder, or stop God's purposes.
3) God's ways are beyond our understanding and are too deep to explain.
4) Only by focusing on God are we able to humble ourselves and rest in His will.
5) When the day of reckoning comes, God demonstrates firm judgment mixed with great grace.
6) No one can be compared to our God when it comes to blessings.
7) Only God can fill our final years with the kind of music that frees us to live above our circumstances.
Chuck is right. We don't need more information. We need insight for living. Says he, "No one suffered like Job. Insight drips from his pen."
And, I might add, from Chuck's sermon.
9:25 AM Shelter-in-place bonus: You have plenty of time for reflection. You can expect a long blog post soon about all the Lord has been teaching me these past two months. At the top of the list has got to be a weaning from my slavish attachment to the daily news shows. Not any more. When I get up in the morning I'm now repulsed by the desire to open CNN or any other website. Great character is not grown in worldly pursuits. I don't know about you, but early in the morning my soul, as never before, is athirst for God as the hart after the water brooks. He invites me come and drink, and who can resist His invitation? And I don't mean a sip of water. I mean being drunk with the wine of His word. I mean being gorged with the satisfactions of His life. "He satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with goodness" (Psalm 107:9). The God Who Satisfies!
This wasn't me even a mere two months ago. I could hardly wait to get up in the morning to get the latest scoop on Covid. I preferred broken cisterns to the fountain of living water. But all that brought was a sour morning aftertaste. Today I will read the news but try not to obsess on it. Yes, it's hard. My generation was bred on TV and entertainment. We want to sit around and amuse ourselves. The idea of church as entertainment began with us Baby Boomers. But the early church had no desire to "make it interesting." It was interesting, but what drew the crowds wasn't entertainment but the power of God.
America needs a revival. But there will be no revival until we exchange our obsession with entertainment for amazement.
9:10 AM Big news! My essay "The Thessalonian Road to Self Support" is now available in Arabic. This is a first for us here at DBO. I'm definitely grateful to the translator. So a shout out to all my Arabic readers. More to come, God willing!
Monday, April 27
8:54 PM There's a place, a secret hiding place, where I go to spend time alone with the Lord, an oasis in the desert, a Gethsemane when my heart fails me for fear and I am so heart-conscious physically.
It is my light in a dark place, my shadow and my sunshine, where I wait for the fog to clear when I don't know what is ahead, knowing that my afflictions have not escaped His attention. It is a place where prayers are prayed and praises are sung and tears are wept. Here plots are plotted and grievances grieved over. I spend many an evening here, as I did this evening, a peaceful retreat away from the noise and the din, a place to get apart not so much to escape the pressure as to refresh the soul before I return to it.
We used to sing "Sweet Hour of Prayer," when we actually prayed only a few minutes a day, or less. But our God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. The art of meditation, it seems, is a lost art today. Blessed are we if we hunger and thirst after righteousness for we will be filled. We must come to the only One who can satisfy our thirst. To be with Christ is what makes heaven, heaven.
The honest truth: social distancing sucks. It's hard, and a lot of the time I just want it to be OVER, except I don't really think it will ever really be over. But there's one Face that pulls me out of the darkness every single time. I am enough because He is enough. I am safe because He is my Safe-ior. And so I'm forced to peel away all the facades I've erected, to set fire to the passion that lies within, and then to step back out into the night, covered in only what has survived the fire. Thank God -- O, thank God! -- that He is my covering, that He is walking through this fire with me, with us.
Now that we are stripped of everything else, we still have Him, only Him, and because He is enough, we are enough.
5:40 PM How do you spell joy? Being interviewed by your grandson for a school project.
(Can you even handle this? Ought to be a law against having so much fun. Oh, and the questions he asked!)
5:04 PM Watch. And learn what a great Christian leader looks like.
Five minutes in and you'll be hooked. What a blessed relief when a Christian leader confesses his own humanity. Leadership is no role to accept lightly. Graham hated the whole pedestal thing. This interview is so basic and lovely. An ordinary man used in extraordinary ways, all the while modeling the mind of Christ -- godly character, never self-promoting, obedient to the Spirit, serving others without any expectation of anything in return, accountable. Listen to Graham talk about his upbringing, his start in evangelistic ministry (10 years in complete obscurity), his method of planning a crusade, how he deals with suffering and persecution, his definition of "success," how he worked with his teammates, and on and on. His is an example of the truth that faithfulness is not easy but it is possible.
Godly leadership really does happen.
10:08 AM My good friend and former assistant Abidan Shah has started a new series on the book of Philippians at Clearview Church (in the parking lot no less!). Here's the church website.
Also, Abidan and his wife Nicole have produced a wonderful little devotional called 30 Days Through a Crisis, which I am thoroughly enjoying. It's free on Kindle. Thanks Nicole and Abidan for helping us navigate these stressful days!
Sunday, April 26
1:40 PM Even the goats are practicing social distancing.
9:28 AM Every spring the robins build a nest on my front porch (upper right hand corner).
The nest is the apotheosis of ornithological architecture -- perfectly rounded and expertly crafted. Every morning I watch the baby birds with their little heads and beaks resting on the rim of the nest, making tiny "I'm hungry" sounds. All day long Momma Bird flies up to feed her little ones. Thankfully, there's plenty of stuff around the farm to feed them. These baby robins need not worry about being nourished and well cared for.
Jesus said, "Look at the birds of the air. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you far more valuable to Him than they are?" When Jesus spoke of our needs, He pointed us to the birds. They have no worries. Neither should we. Of course, easier said than done, especially for worriers like me. Every morning my front porch reminds me, "Dave, God knows what you need, and He is sufficient to provide. You must put your trust in Him. All of creation is reminding you of that. Even the birds. They are telling you of God's love, God's love for you. "
So this morning I gave thanks to the God who loves me, who gives me life, who gives me each morning of my life.
How about you?
Give thanks, my friend. Yes, give thanks.
Saturday, April 25
9:38 PM The silver lining in Covid is FaceTime. Here I'm praying with my daughter and her husband in Alabama today.
Today I talked with 4 of my kids, 5 of my grandkids, and some good friends who live in North Carolina. When loneliness strikes, I get on FaceTime. I feel like I'm right there with them. Physically distant, yet socially connected.
Please, if you live alone as I do, do not allow yourself to become disconnected from those who love you. The virus may be strong, but it's not stronger than the love we share with our family and friends.
Friday, April 24
8:14 PM Greetings fellow-sheltering-in-placers! What a week it's been. The news is relentless. But in the midst of all the chaos are the constants -- people who are living selflessly for others and even risking their own health to serve the public. Today I want to say a gigantic "Thank you" to all of you in the front lines of the war against the coronavirus. You never thought in a million years that your profession could become so demanding. And yet there you are -- taking care of us as you swore an oath to do. Your courage astounds me. Your perseverance is incredible. Your dedication is exemplary. I had to stop by the office of one of you today for a check up. You and the office staff were standing tall -- constant, relentless, never giving in or folding up. Many of you in the health care profession and many of you first responders are born-again Christians. You have realized that you can't be the light of the world if your only contacts are with believers. You haven't withdrawn. Instead, you are penetrating the darkness with the light of God's love. Chesterton once said, "The Christian faith has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried." Well, you have tried it. I know that your job must get tiring. It's not easy to do what you do in today's world. Even faith is not easy. Christ talked about a faith that could move mountains. I'm sure He didn't mean an "Abracadabra" kind of faith. The faith that moves mountains always carries a pick. Thank you for shouldering that pick. You are the bright spot in many people's lives. You are lighting your own corner of the world. I'm sure you aren't the same person you were two months. None of us are. But all of us owe you a great debt of gratitude.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thursday, April 23
6:02 PM So grateful for Urban Ministries and the way they are taking care of the homeless in Durham and Wake Counties, NC. As we sit in our comfortable homes with cabin fever, let's remember to pray for those who have no place to live either because they are homeless, have been disowned by their families, or can't be physically reunited with their families due to travel restrictions.
5:56 PM Lots of great online conversations on YouTube these days. Check out this interview between my provost Bruce Ashford and the lieutenant governor of North Carolina.
4:45 PM Yesterday's chapel service was awesome. Danny Akin led us in a virtual commissioning service of our students who will be deploying to the nations. This is always my favorite chapel service of the year. Ben Quinn also brought a fabulous message from the book of James. Click here to watch. I love watching younger people growing and their passion be recognized.
As for me, sleep, sleep, and more sleep. In between sleep, plenty of liquids. That's about it whenever I get sick. Just bear with me. Generally, I keep going until it's physically impossible and then I stop because I'm forced to. For a runner, being sick is purgatory but no doubt there are lessons I need to learn about not pushing myself too hard. Meanwhile, hot showers are like heaven on earth.
Stay safe and well out there everyone.
P.S. Greek DVD orders are on hold until the governor lifts the "stay at home" order. The post office is not exactly a place I want to be right now if you know what I mean.
Wednesday, April 22
10:10 AM Becky's rose bush has erupted.
And brightened a room.
9:26 AM Blog family, just wanted to say thanks for your emails and texts. Your prayers are appreciated so very much. Paul included several prayer requests for himself in his letters. Even though he was an apostle, he knew how weak he was in himself and how utterly dependent he was upon God. So he boldly asked others to pray for him. Rom. 15:30 is one of my favorite verses in this regard: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me." God commends prayers like this. So thank you for asking God to help me in my illness. And if you have a prayer request, please don't hesitate to let me know. It would be my joy to struggle in prayer on your behalf.
8:44 AM Feeling better today, with Psalm 103 on my lips (which I can only read in the KJV for some reason!):
Tuesday, April 21
1:06 PM This finally came today. Been years since I've owned a copy. Try check 'um out when you can, bruh.
Monday, April 20
6:54 PM Precious words from Ken and Joni.
They ask: Which Bible verse have you found to be an encouragement to you during this pandemic? I have too many to mention. But near the top of my list would be Deut. 8:2:
As Christian and Hopeful were drawing near to the Celestial City, some shepherds went out to meet them. The shepherds were called Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere. They gave Christian and Hopeful hospitality, then sent them on their way with a warning that many temptations would impede their "Pilgrims Progress." For me, this time in isolation, and now of illness, has been a time of real testing and great, undeserved blessing. In a sense, trials serve to show us who a person really is. Deut. 8:2 reminds me that character is not built in a day. It doesn't pop out of a box with easy-to-read directions. It is built, day by day, crisis by crisis. Our response does matter. At some point, we need to unplug from today's propaganda machines (the news outlets) and figure out where our treasure truly resides. Character doesn't just happen. You discover it as you draw closer and closer to God each day.
Thank you, Ken and Joni, for your positivity, your balance, your encouragement, your heart of trust in God. That's what grace is all about.
12:32 PM Praying this AM via Zoom with my suite mates -- they in Wake Forest, me on the farm.
So many blessings. So many needs. What a joy to bear one another's burdens.
P.S. The doc put me on a Z Pac today for what she's calling walking pneumonia. We'll take it one day at a time.
Thank You so much, Lord, for all those who share prayer time with me. Thank You especially for these special moments with my colleagues on campus. And thank You for all who are praying for my recovery. Help me to do the same for others. Amen.
Sunday, April 19
9:40 AM How's your sojourn in Arabia going? I'm referring, of course, to the first chapter of Galatians. There we are told that Paul spent three years in Arabia. Why? Stott notes that Paul "went into Arabia for quiet and solitude .... Now he had Jesus to himself, as it were, for three years of solitude in the wilderness" (Galatians, p. 34). Hendricksen suggests that "withdrawing to Arabia for rest, prayer, and mediation was exactly what Paul needed" (Galatians, p. 56). For Paul, Arabia was a time of obscurity. It was a period of training. It was a time of digging deep into the things of God. It was a time of soul-searching. It was a time, not for activity, but for inactivity. A time to be quiet and listen. To learn.
Perhaps many of us will go deeper with Christ during this time of sheltering in place than we have ever gone before in our lives. Especially those of us who are highly driven, type A personalities like the apostle Paul, people who need to learn how to pull back and go deep. Well, now's our chance. In Arabia, Paul was alone with God. He went into Arabia to pray, not to do.
How about you?
These are strange times in which we live. We could never have predicted them. We are being tested as never before both as a society and as individuals. We are shut out and shut in, and the temptation to discouragement is enormous. But it's all part of God's plan for our lives. Don't fight it. Instead, remember the words of Isa. 30:15: "In quietness and trust is your strength."
Let me be perfectly honest with you. It's been a very long time since I've spent so much time with God as I have during these past four weeks. I mean spending hours and hours in the word and in prayer. And not just offering up prayer requests either. Not just communicating with God. But communing with Him. For hours on end. Enjoying His company. Being real. Curling up in His arms. Listening rather than talking. Probing my relationship with Him. Getting as close as I can to my heavenly Father. Addressing the things in my soul that for years have needed addressing. Releasing all my worries and cares to Him. With God's help, I am learning to let Him work things out in my life, to be the anchor in my ever-turning world.
You want to make the most out of your Arabia? Before you go to bed tonight, talk to God. Don't just mumble off a pew pious words. Really pray. Cry and carry on if you have to. Arabia is a sign that God has something far better in mind for us than we, from our finite perspective, could have possibly imagined.
So be still. Be quiet. Listen to God. Most of all, thank Him for Himself, the King of all Kings, the Author of love, the Giver of life beyond and hope for today. For these and a thousand other things offer Him your prayer of gratitude.
8:28 AM This morning's reading on the front porch was in Psalm 19: the World and the Word.
I love how the Psalmist describes the sun as (1) "a bridegroom going to his wedding" and (2) "an athlete looking forward to a race." Can a groom ever forget his wedding day?
Can an athlete ever forget anticipating the start of the Chicago Marathon?
No one thinks much about the sun, but if it fails to shine for several days we long for it. No one gives much thought to the word of God when they are preoccupied with their own lives. How we take both the world and the word for granted!
Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Thank You, Lord, for the marvel of creation and for the majesty of Your word!
Saturday, April 18
4:22 PM More often than not I'm way behind on my reading. An example is this three-volume set.
I just unpacked it today. Might seem boring to some, but I absolutely love theology. I read these books back when they first came out. In fact, were I to teach theology, this is the textbook I would use. It's approach is absolutely unique. Lewis and Demarest (Denver Seminary) are out-of-the-box thinkers to the Nth degree. What you will find in their textbook is theology on steroids. For example, let's say you're wanting to study the doctrine of Christ (Christology). Here's how Lewis and Demarest would approach the subject. First, you'll study how that doctrine was treated throughout church history, from the early fathers all the way to contemporary theologians. (In German-speaking Europe, where I studied, this is called Dogmengeschichte -- the history of doctrine -- and in fact some universities have entire departments devoted to that subject.) Second, you will study everything the Bible has to say about Christ, beginning in the Old Testament and going right up to the book of Revelation. Third, the authors attempt to systematize their findings about Christology based on their previous research. Finally, they ask, "So what? What are the implications of this doctrine for practical Christian living?" The sequence is:
Needless to say, many if not most theology textbooks in use today say nothing about the first and last of these subjects. In addition, as icing on the cake, the authors throw in a section on Apologetic Theology, in other words, how to use this doctrine to defend Christianity against her detractors. Today I've been working through the section on the church in volume three.
I have no hesitation at all in calling Christians of every theological persuasion to use these volumes as a great starting place for understanding the things of our faith. It is a solid introduction to theology.
10:20 AM "We err when we think of the church as a storehouse for converts instead of as a distribution plant." Read The Church Is a Granary.
10:15 AM How nice to have kids who supply you with farm fresh eggs from their own chickens.
Friday, April 17
5:50 PM Every time I wash my bedding I think of Becky. Whenever we made the bed together we had a competition to see who could put the pillow cases on the pillows faster. She inevitably beat me. She volunteered to teach me her method, but I refused. I'm sure she thought I was being stubborn. Actually, I secretly looked forward to the competition every time we made the beds.
Every second of every day the world is changing. Today someone is getting married. Today someone else is watching their marriage end. Nothing is predicable, except for change. Grace is the calm both before and after the storm. It's what holds us together when everything else seems to be falling part. It's the sun through the dark clouds. It's the promise that, no matter how great the test, God provides a way through it.
Have you traveled the path of grief? Recovery does not mean you forget your loved one or the life you shared. It doesn't mean you'll forget those little, seemingly insignificant moments of memory-building, like changing the bedding together. God doesn't want us to forget the past. There will always be a small core of memory that emerges at the most surprising times. Missing someone you love isn't weird. In fact, it's the rightest thing in the world. God knows you much better than you do. He knows the trauma of having to say goodbye. The God who will wipe away our tears tomorrow will hold us close today.
Becky, I love you. I miss you. You are never forgotten.
10:10 AM You'll find Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, just north of Dallas. Chuck Swindoll is its senior pastor. When you visit the church's website, here's the first thing you see.
I love it. I've only been to Stonebriar once. It was for the funeral of Howard Hendricks, long-time professor at Dallas Seminary. I attended along with Becky's mom and dad. I recall dad and Chuck Swindoll out in the lobby swapping stories just before the service began. Chuck got his start as the youth pastor at the church where Becky and her family had been attending in Dallas. As I watched dad and Chuck chatter away, the one thing I remember was how approachable and good-natured the senior pastor of Stonebriar was. The church had, well, a family atmosphere about it, of which there was no mistaking.
The New Testament uses several metaphors to depict the church. The church is a building. It's a bride. It's a body. It's a flock of sheep. It's a temple. It's a group of branches in a vineyard. But the most predominant picture of the church in the New Testament is "family." God is our Father. We are all brothers and sisters. We are the oikos, the family of God. By the way, unlike the other pictures of the church in the New Testament, "family" isn't a metaphor. We really are God's family. We really are His adopted children. You, dear readers, really are my siblings. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. This is the foundation of everything we believe about the church. When you pray with someone, walk with them, carry their burden, defend them, gently confront them, that's family. That's community. That's church. And wherever you find such a family, it's always a gift.
Two takeaways for me:
1) The concept of church as family would have been a good foundation for MRI -- Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ-- a program put forth at the Anglican Conference in Toronto in 1963. Family members are neither all recipients nor all givers. The family of God is a partnership of giving and receiving. Perhaps we need to revive the idea of MRI today in our churches. Let's think of the church not as rows upon rows of spectators but rather as a circle facing each other, as though we were all sitting in a living room together, practicing the "one anothers" -- loving one another, forbearing and forgiving each other, submitting to one another, building one another up, practicing hospitality with each other, praying for one another, and bearing each other's burdens. It can scarcely be conceived what advantages we could reap from viewing our churches as families in this way.
2) If we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, then we should have no problem with calling one another by these terms. The titles we use express what we really believe about the church. The New Testament encourages us to be sibling-minded. We call each other brother and sister because we are anxious that we will exhibit the richness of our spiritual family. I've visited a country in Asia some 13 times. There it was common to call each other brother and sister. I was "brother Dave," and right glad to be so! Maybe we could work harder in our American churches to be true to our identity as the family of God, expressing the fullness of our love and care for one another even through the words we use to address each other.
This morning, during my prayer time, I prayed for some of you. I prayed for a brother whose dad is recovering from surgery and for his family. I prayed for a sister who is struggling with her faith. I thanked the Father for a brother who just passed his Ph.D. dissertation defense. I prayed for my brothers and sisters who are facing enormous persecution in a nation many miles away from the U.S. I still believe today what I have always believed: that God is our Father, that He takes good care of His children, and that His comfort is like nothing else in the world. I'm so thankful He's there when we need Him, because I've needed Him desperately this month. He asked me what I needed and I told Him without any fear that He would rebuke me for asking (James 1:5).
He is my Abba, my Dad. And He's yours too, my brother and my sister.
Thursday, April 16
2:14 PM Grateful for this beautiful day and for the God-given health and strength to get out and run. It was wonderful. Today I did about 6 miles in preparation for this Sunday's charity long run of at least 12 miles.
This weekend's charity? The Healthy Harvest Food Bank in Richmond, VA.
P.S. Yes, I had my Marine Corps Marathon buff ready to pull over my nose and mouth on those rare occasions when you encounter another runner on the trail.
8:15 AM This morning I was in Psalm 40 and in this book.
I acquired it during my sojourn in Basel some 40 years ago but, like so many other books these days, I've "resurrected" it for another pass-through. Thank you, brother Spener, for writing this little booklet ("Büchlein"). Bet you never thought you'd be helping an American get through the coronavirus.
The foreword summaries Spener's goals (his "pious longings" = pia desideria) in producing his booklet:
1) Deeper Bible study by every church member.
2) The practice of the priesthood of all believers through responsible cooperation of the laity within the fellowship.
3) The realization of a convincing Christianity not only through words but through deeds.
4) The reform of theological study with a view toward service in the church.
5) Equipping people for proclamation both in terms of missions and counseling.
So far my favorite section of the book is the part called "Erziehung der Prediger auf den Universitäten" ("The education of preachers in the universities"). Reader, brace yourself. Here Spener discusses:
1) The example of the professors (Das Vorbild der Professoren).
2) Study and practical Christianity belong together (Studieren und Christentum der Tat gehören zusammen).
3) Theology is a habitus practicus (Theologie ist ein habitus practicus).
4) The Holy Spirit is the true and only teacher (Der Heilige Geist ist der wahre und einzige Lehrmeister).
5) Theology is not a mere science (Theologie ist nicht ein blosses Wissenschaft).
6) It's not about a philosophy of religion but about the study of theology (Es geht nicht um eine Religionsphilosophie, sondern um das Theologiestudium).
7) Professors should not make demands merely of the students' talent (Die Professoren sollen nicht allein der Begabung die Studenten födern).
8) Disputations ought to take place also in the German language so that one can learn how to make oneself understandable in the church (Es möchten Disputationen auch in deutscher Sprache gehalten werden, um lernen, wie man zu einer Gemeinde verständlich spricht).
9) The prospective student needs a true mentor (Der angehende Student bedarf eines truen Mentors).
10) All of theology takes us back to apostolic simplicity (Die ganze Theologie wieder zur apostolischen Schlichtheit bringen).
Now do you see why I love Spener?
Budding theologians are conditioned to assess their studies through the eyes of learning alone. We don't mean to do this; it's just the nature of being involved in an educational institution. In doing so, we unintentionally drive a wedge between knowledge and practice. In contrast, take a snapshot of the German Lutheran Pietists of whom Spener was the first:
I realize that Pietism is multifaceted and deserves a more thorough analysis than what I've provided here. The whole topic is way bigger than me. But I wonder if we couldn't learn a thing or two from these men and women who sought to be known as people living simple lives on mission for Christ and who loved God and neighbor. Truth, mutuality, confession, humility, prayer, sacrifice, practical obedience -- these are the unsexy, ordinary tools God has always used to make His faith communities beautiful.
Let's go ahead and address this "stuff" in our own churches if we need to. It is noble, necessary work.
Wednesday, April 15
8:40 PM Tonight's walk at one of my favorite state parks.
Perfect end to a wonderful day with the Lord.
12:52 PM Seems I wasn't the only one on the trail today after all.
8:40 AM My reading this morning was in what is probably my favorite letter in the New Testament. Perhaps no human being is less into writings that are too wordy, but the author of Hebrews doesn't waste a single syllable. His point in the final chapters of his message (a letter, true, but more of a transcript of a sermon spoken to a group of Christians audibly) is that the way we love each other, serve each other, and live our lives with each other really matters. It's a big deal to Jesus. One little snippet jumped out at me:
This reminds me very much of Rom. 12:13 (which, by the way, is my life verse):
Generosity ranks terribly high on Jesus' list of required attributes for His followers. Back to Hebrews for a moment:
The Greek here seems to be even stronger: "I will never, ever leave you, nor will I ever, ever forsake you" (5 negatives). But the promise is tied to the command: Be satisfied with what you have. Once again, I can't help but think about Paul: "Godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 6:6).
You know, friends, a person may have an abundance of things without an abundance of life. We can be poor in the midst of plenty. Has there ever been a generation who surrounded themselves with more things to make their lives enjoyable only to be the most bored and unhappy generation of all time? I remember watching the kids of rural Ethiopia playing with their toys. No, these gadgets didn't come from Wal-Mart. The kids would find scraps of discarded plastic or metal and fashion toys for themselves. These kids had practically nothing yet were the happiest kids I think I've ever seen.
Here's what I'm learning. Dave, life does not consist in the presence or absence of things. You are rich and have an abundance beyond the fluctuations of the stock market. "We have nothing and yet possess everything" wrote Paul (2 Cor. 6:10). I am both a pauper and a plutocrat! I have nothing because it all belongs to God and I am only its steward. I have everything because I am a joint-heir with Christ. I have all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of being both poor and rich.
Believe me, I'm still working on this generosity thingy. I am hardly immune to the feverish selfishness of this age. Yet the earliest Christians "had everything in common" and "gave to anyone as they had a need" (Acts 2:44-25). I've been reading a book by an author whose church gives more than half of its income to the needy. "We won't spend more on ourselves than on our poor neighbor" were the author's words. Think about that while looking at your church's budget! Bottom line: Generosity has always been a characteristic of the society of Jesus. That's because God is a generous God. And His Holy Spirit gives His people a tender conscience for the needy.
This is the kind of kingdom man I want to be and the kind of kingdom students I want to raise up. The extent of our generosity is but a whisper of our devotion to God.
Tuesday, April 14
8:02 PM Canadian geese at Kerr lake.
5:20 PM Chickpea Curry with Jasmine Rice for dinner tonight.
First time cooking with garbanzo beans. Man, they are good!
Meanwhile, I am trying to decide which New York charity to support when I do my long run this weekend. The running community is so amazing. So many good causes to support. I remember reading that just after the Boston Marathon bombing, several people who finished the race before the attack ran several more blocks to donate blood to the victims at the nearest hospital. This it the kind of humanitarianism I've come to love and appreciate in the running community as a whole. The stuff we Americans are made of that rises to the surface in such times is truly inspiring. And if you're a Christian, it's all the more sensical to support these causes. It really is simple-- a kingdom lived out in ordinary ways by ordinary people like me and you. How else can we understand God's goodness?
Now if you'll excuse me, the donks are expecting their carrot.
12:12 PM An easy shake down run this morning.
Then did my grocery shopping for the week.
During my run I listened to audio of the Living Bible (the book of James) and sermons by Church Swindoll. I have listened to thousands upon thousands of sermons since becoming a Christian 60 years ago, but I only remember a handful of them. Many of them are by Chuck Swindoll. What makes him such an effective public speaker? Is it his passion for his subject? Is it his visible enjoyment of his audience? Is it his ability to create sound clearly and accurately? Is it his ability to keep your attention? Is it his steady pace and intonation? Is it his credibility (he has a great deal of that)? Is it his ability to evoke empathy? Is it the way he avoids filler words like "um," "like," "you know"? Is it his obvious love of the Lord Jesus? Is it the way he excites, energizes, and engages his audience? Is it his openness, his honesty?
Tell you what. I'll let you decide :-) Today's message was titled When Heartbreaking Events Rock Our World. Watch it and see for yourself.
Off to do yard work on a gorgeous April day!
Monday, April 13
3:02 PM Just back from a 5 mile walk. The neighborhood has taken a hit from the storm. Y'all be careful out there.
10:34 AM Like you, I've been dusting off books I've read before and taking time to reread them. This is one of the more fascinating books I have on my shelves.
Many takeaways, but to me the most important one was a saying that came up over and over again in the book: "Never assume. Always verify." Of course, we can't help but assume some things. On the other hand, it's okay to question things. I did this with my master's thesis at Talbot. Eventually I arrived at a conclusion that went against the scholarly grain. Then there was the place of the Byzantine text. Many reject it pretty much out of hand. But why? Ditto for the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, or Markan priority. People always say "Do your own research," but that's easier said than done. If the subject matter is important enough, you will find time to do it. Acquiring detailed research from a variety of sources is not difficult. It's not rocket science. You simply make the most of what you have available, not depending on others to do your research for you. If we're constantly regurgitating unverified information because we're too "busy" to fact check, then we're just too busy. If you really want to see the opposing evidence, you'll make an effort to find it. René Descartes said all you have to do is use your brain. Someone else has said, "The ultimate ignorance is the rejection of something you know nothing about."
As a teacher, I know that sometimes it's good to step back and get re-inspired about my research. I just wish I did it more often than I do.
9:25 AM The biggest storm of the year just rumbled through the area bringing a tornado to an area about an hour south of the farm. Here in the Piedmont the weather changes fast and unpredictably. In the meantime, time to rest up. Maybe I'll do some writing today, maybe not. Just feel like chillaxing today. Thankfully the skies are clearing.
Hope you're well wherever you are.
Sunday, April 12
3:46 PM He is RISEN INDEED!
3:22 PM You are welcome in advance for me not posting a yucky picture of my sweaty face during today's run. I went 10 miles at a very slow pace (aka "recovery run") at the High Bridge Trail, which thankfully was deserted.
The run felt good. What felt even better was, during my run, being able to attend church in Alabama via the world wide web. I got to see my granddaughter lead worship.
And I got to see my daughter's husband bring a wonderful, Spirit-filled message from Matt. 28.
While I was running I had a ton of time to think about what Easter means to me. If I could summarize the message of the season it would be: "God loves us." And when we receive that love, we are able to love Him and others in return. Let me ask you a question. How do you define love? How's this?
Listening ... Overlooking ... Valuing ... and Expressing = LOVE. I once heard Chuck Swindoll define love that way and I've never forgotten it. By His death and resurrection, Jesus showed us how much God loves us. His death was a gignormous "I love you." And so I ask:
Francis Schaeffer once wrote a book called The Mark of a Christian. Very few people know about it today. I don't know why. It's one of his best books. In it he talks about the "badge of a Christian." You can be a Christian and not wear this badge, he said. But to be an obedient Christian, wearing this badge is not an option. That badge, of course, is love.
Faith is the wholehearted yes to the call of God. When I realize that I am loved by God, I have heard my Master's call. I put myself gladly at His disposal, to love as He loved. Will I do this? My fulfillment as a human being depends on my answer.
7:20 AM Happy Resurrection Sunday! Here is today's sunrise service held on my front porch.
Today's message from 1 Cor. 15:3-4 by John Stott was titled The Significance of His Resurrection. He made three points:
I love the teaching of John Stott. I have found his messages to be both easy-to-follow and thought-provoking. I found this sermon to be both stirring and practically helpful. I hope you do too.
Saturday, April 11
11:30 AM So, after my successful 10 mile run for charity the other day, I brought back in my speed work today in the form of a 5K tempo run. I maxed out at a 10-minute/mile pace while still keeping my heart rate within the moderate zone.
Is it just me, or does everybody feel challenged by tempo runs? The point of a tempo run is to push yourself to race-day pace without taking breaks while at the same time staying aerobic. Today's run began with a warm-up and was followed by a cool down. The miles in between were supposed to be run at my 10-mile pace (as in the Virginia 10-Miler). I felt good about today's workout. I think low heart rate training is definitely helping me to increase efficiency and decrease injury and fatigue. Of course, we'll never know until we enter another event. I just don't want to shuffle through my next race!
8:54 AM This morning I'm watching German sermons on YouTube. This brings back many memories of course. I remember finding German/Swiss culture so much different from my own. And that was a good thing! It makes you think about your own habits, about different points of view, etc. Many little things in American culture would never have occurred to me had I not lived abroad. For example, when you are counting with your fingers, which finger comes first? I've always started with my index/pointing finger when counting "one, two, three." In Switzerland, however, they usually start with their thumb. This is quite clever, because "one" equals a "thumb's up"! In terms of time, "Halb 12" (Half 12) is not "half past 12" but "half hour to 12." In Switzerland, 1 is the worst grade in school, 6 is the best. Oh, and in one of the YouTubes I watched someone said, "Wir haben jetzt zwei Tage nicht gepodcasted." Oh me oh my oh! I guess English isn't the only language that loves to borrow! Then too, I'll never forget someone telling me they lived on the "first floor" of their apartment. In California, "ground floor" and "first floor" of an apartment building were usually the same floor. But in Germany, first floor is one level above the ground floor. Confusing much? By the way, ever wondered which floor Eutychus fell from in Acts 20? The text says simply from "the third floor." Depending on how you count "floors," this may have actually been four stories!
Languages. Don't you love them?
7:45 AM I woke up this morning and could hardly wait to get into my Bibles!
It's Easter weekend after all. Even the secular press is talking about the death and resurrection of my Savior -- they have to! Let me tell you, Jesus is the most exciting person I've ever met. When you read the Bible, the entire Bible, read it seeking Him. This is where so many people get hung up. They think the story of Jesus is only found in the Gospels. They don't know that Jesus is on every page of the New Testament!
This morning I turned to one of my all-time favorite Easter texts in the New Testament -- 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians??? Yes indeed! In fact, it's a passage you and I know and love. This passage can revolutionize your entire life if you read it carefully. I often refer to 1 Cor. 15:1-5 as the Reader's Digest Gospel. Look at what Paul has to say about the Good News of Easter (paraphrased):
Here's the best part:
Isn't this beautiful -- the Gospel in a nutshell! Just as there are four Gospels, so the Good News has four basic parts to it:
1) The death of Christ.
2) The burial of Christ.
3) The resurrection of Christ.
4) The post-resurrection appearances of Christ.
Many forget this last one, but that is a very grave mistake. The appearances of the risen Christ are essential to the Gospel story, because no follower of Jesus actually saw Him rise from the grave. Now then, these four parts can be reduced to an irreducible minimum of two parts. Which ones? The ones accompanied by "just as the Scriptures said He would."
A) Christ died for our sins just as the Scriptures said He would.
B) Three days later He was raised from the dead just as the Scriptures said He would.
That's the HEART of the New Testament Gospel -- the death and resurrection of Christ. Then why mention His burial and appearances? Because these are the PROOFS of His death and resurrection! You don't bury someone unless they have died, and you don't see someone who has died unless they've been raised from the dead! Did you ever realize that these are the evidences for the death and resurrection of the Savior? What was God's purpose in having His Son appear to the disciples on many different occasions? So that they would know beyond the shadow of any doubt that God had raised Him from the dead! Even now, many years later, I know with absolute certainty that Jesus is alive because His own followers saw Him living and moving and breathing! New Testament scholar C. F. D Moule puts it this way:
Even the German skeptic David Strauss was forced to admit:
Just think! At the incarnation, God's grandeur was funneled into the plain package of a human being, born in the stink of a barnyard. He endured all the pain and hardships of human experience and then died in deep disgrace. But on Easter morning, God lit the fireworks! Harnessing heaven itself, Jesus burst forth from the tomb, arising victorious to light our lives for eternity. Just one more reason to praise God. Just one more reason to love Him. Just one more reason to thank Him. Just one more reason to bless Him for giving us wisdom to see clearly and really understand who Christ is and all that He has done for us.
This Easter weekend, I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the hope and the future God has called you to share. I want you to realize that you now sit with Christ in the heavenly places along with Christ, all because of what He did.
Thank You, Lord Jesus!
Friday, April 10
2:02 PM Gigantic shout out and thank you to Ohana Baptist Church in Mapunapuna for distributing over 600 pizzas to families impacted by the coronavirus on O'ahu. ("Ohana" is Hawaiian for "family.") They are starting where every church should start: the local community that want to serve. Folks, pick your mission and then invest with all your guts!
1:10 PM Every morning I wake up and give thanks that I'm still healthy. I also wake up a little sad because of all the suffering that's going on. I'm so thankful for the ability to get outdoors and run. It's just what I need and definitely the highlight of my day other than time spent in the word. I am learning to appreciate and be thankful for so much that I took for granted in the past. Even after yesterday's long run I am feeling good. I just printed out the stats for my last 30 days of running.
Man if that doesn't look like I'm trying to outrun the coronavirus! But a good, sound running plan will not run you into the ground. You have to incorporate rest days so that your body can adjust to all the stress you're putting on it. It also gives your mental state a break. It's clear to me now that I'll never be a great or even a good runner, no matter how many miles I run. Instead, I'm going to concentrate on developing a runner's soul -- a soul that sets and pursues spiritual goals with relentless determination and effort. Being a Christian in a very non-Christian world is a sweaty struggle. You have to work diligently and never let up. The difference between succeeding and failing in life is often as simple as taking another step. My hope is that you will read something on this blog that will help you find your own path to the joy of living. Trophies and ribbons don't fuel it. It's fueled by the relentless need to find that as-yet untapped strength that Jesus provides to everyone who is weary no matter who or what they are.
You may never win a race, but the years ahead can be filled with victory after victory.
8:55 AM Know what? Bad news is actually good news. That's one of the lessons of Good Friday. As the saying goes, "The Gospel isn't good news until it's first bad news" -- the news that all have sinned and are in need of a Savior. In other words, there would have been no Easter without Good Friday. No resurrection without crucifixion. No salvation without suffering. That's why bad news is good news and why we must never omit the sin problem from our Gospel presentations.
We live in a day when the truth about sin and death is often sugarcoated. We don't want to "alarm" the general public, so we tell them, "Oh, don't worry about that. It will all go away, miraculously." Likewise, spiritually we are hard of hearing. We will not open the door to Jesus because we do not hear Him knocking (Rev. 3:20). Sometimes we are up in the attic of intellectualism, too "smart" to come to Christ. Sometimes, like Martha, we are too busy in the kitchen, working away but not listening to Jesus. Sometimes we are in the bedroom asleep, inured to truth. Sometimes we are in the basement of our lower natures, and we do not hear His knock. How strange that we live in a day and age when we ignore or overlook so plain and unmistakable signs of a deadly virus. We grow a little weary of those dear souls who are always looking on the gloomy side. Jesus did not come to this earth to give everyone a pair of rose-colored glasses. His was no mission of "Just be happy!" He never painted the clouds with sunshine. He was the ultimate realist. He saw things as they were and as they would always be. He knew that the way of the cross was the way of the crown, but we want our crowns now.
The "sermons" in the book of Acts are to non-Christians. However, Luke does record for us one sermon that was given to believers. It's found in Acts 14. As Paul and Barnabas were revisiting the churches they had established in Iconium, Lystra, and Derby, the Bible says "They encouraged them to continue in the faith in spite of all the persecution, reminding them that they must enter into the kingdom of God through many tribulations." This was Paul's "encouraging message"! What? No triumph without trouble, and lots of it? Yep. That's Paul's encouraging message. And the reason it was encouraging is because it was true.
Church, beware of cheap optimism under the guise of political or religious optimism. The important thing is to be on the right side, however dark the truth. We are the light of the world. The business of light is to dispel the darkness of untruth. Christians aren't meant to be decorative candles on a birthday cake. They are meant to expose the unfruitful works of darkness. Our Lord went through the agony of the cross to reach the joy set before Him. We go through the shadow of His cross to reach the sunshine of His love. No one can follow a Galilean teacher and emulate His teaching while dodging His cross. Jesus Himself said so.
Good Friday is the darkest of days. That's the bad news. But the good news is that Jesus was on the cross but a few hours and He lives forevermore. Today, as ever, we must not entangle ourselves with the false gospel of salvation-without-atonement. We must beware of the serenity fads and the tranquility pills of false optimism. Peace without victory over sin is not peace but compromise. Only old-fashioned conviction that keeps us awake at night and makes us miserable until we get right with God will do.
Thursday, April 9
3:12 PM Today's specialty random morning thought was: I wonder what I can do to raise some money to help fight the pandemic? My mind takes these weird turns from time to time. Like most runners, my races have all been canceled, including those that were fundraisers for this or that cause. Being so random, I thought, Okay, I'll just organize my own fundraiser at the local track. The idea was to raise $10.00 for charity for every mile each participant ran. Well, the race has come and gone, and the participants (there were only three: me, myself, and I) have made a donation to the cause of their choice. ("We" chose Mount Sinai Health System in New York City.) How far did I run today? 10 miles, which means $100.00, which in turns translates into 5 protective gowns for the health care workers of NYC.
Anyway, this was so much fun I plan to do it again next week for a different charity during my long run, which I hope will be at least 12 miles. Isn't that what it's all about? Friends, do not underestimate the power of those random morning thoughts. They can be your best friend. If you're not a runner, no worries. Tons of people walk instead of run. If it's for a great cause, so much the better. Now more than ever we need each other in these here United States. Running today was the only thing I could think of doing for the city of New York, which has suffered so much during the pandemic. It reminds me of the days right after 9/11. I'd be driving down I-85 in North Carolina and I'd see a car with a New York license plate and we all sort of felt more like Americans than New Yorkers and North Carolinians. We were a community of support. We still are.
I leave you with the words of John Wesley:
9:50 AM My reading this AM:
Jesus gave us lots to work with in this thing we call Christian living. For one, through Him we have become the children of God, with all the potential for growth which that involves. Take a little baby step. Tomorrow, take another. Offer yourself the same grace you offered your children when they were small. For most of us Americans, this will begin with deconstruction. We think we are children of this world, but this has only led to a sort of war within. Sometimes we become a full-blown mess over it. But if we say we love God, if we claim Him as our Father, then we will care about acting like His children. God doesn't pull any punches here. If we are His children, then we need to act that way. A child says "Me." Adults say "We." Maturity means "staying pure," which means at the very least curbing our appetites and shifting from a me-focus to a one-another-focus. We listen to what Jesus says and obey even His littlest commands. We live in a way that shows trust in God and not in our own understanding. God asks us for everything, and until we give it to Him we don't yet understand what adoption into the family of God means.
Here's the real issue: Just because you're a Christian doesn't mean you can put your feet up and become comfortable in your relationship with Christ. If we love Him with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength, there's really no room for competing loves. If He is truly our Lord and God is truly our Father, there is no room for competing thrones. It is Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ, who gives us the power to say no to this world and to please our heavenly Father with all that is in us.
That's not a particularly brilliant thought, I know. But it's something to remember during these days when the need for us to act like obedient children of God is universally demanded.
Wednesday, April 8
9:20 PM Okay -- who else was busy today? I did survive, however. My day consisted of a 5-mile run, virtual meetings with students, grading term papers, yard work, cooking and cleaning, and answering emails. Guess what? I'm learning to love cooking. My kids are helping me make healthy, unique, and delicious recipes at home. I'm currently into Indian food. To which I can add all the healthy veggies I like. Right now I'm on a Brussels sprouts and asparagus kick. Tonight's supper was (almost) perfection. And EASY. For the record, I am not a great chef. I just have "moments" with cooking. Right now, all the moments seems to be falling into a row.
Tomorrow I hope to do a long(-ish) run, with caution and care of course. I'm religiously following the low heart rate method and beginning to see the results. I want to get fit, but more than anything I want to stay healthy. I'm sorry if you get tired with all my running reports. I have to say, training for my 17th marathon is time-consuming as well as brain monopolizing. My biggest goal for 2020? Stay injury free. This will involve balance, dietary changes, training changes, and attitude adjustments. It's not all about the mileage. It's about how you get there. It's about the quality and type of runs you're doing. It's about how you are feeling. Strong? Burned out? Sick? Frustrated? It also means not taking myself too seriously. Running is only part of my life, not my whole life. Bottom line: I am committed to becoming a balanced, healthy, and efficient person. Major kudos to those of who who have arrived. I know it couldn't have been easy to get there. My only point is that we all have to work hard at this life thing. We can love each other and practice empathy each and every day. God is big enough and good enough to lead us all.
7:50 AM FYI: We still have chapel services every Wednesday. Please join us if you can at 10:30. Today's speaker is our president Danny Akin. Love to "see" you there!
7:42 AM As you would expect from a NT prof, I read only the Greek NT. Except sometimes when I also read the Good News Bible and the New Living Translation. (Okay, and so many other NT translations it's embarrassing.)
When I came to the Lord at the age of 8, I was given a KJV Bible. It had my name embossed on the front cover. They called it the "Scofield Bible," which meant I was taught dispensationalism from day one. Later, I began seeing people walking around with a Bible with an attractive dark green leather cover. I soon discovered that this Bible was (in my circles at least) the much-detested Living Bible produced by a man named Kenneth Taylor. Eventually I acquired a copy. I felt blessed to have so many Bible translations available to me, even one that was clearly one man's paraphrase. It was perhaps the first Bible I read in its entirety. It's not a study Bible, but it's so easy to read and sometimes the translator just nails it. (Much like The Message.) This morning I read from it, along with the Good News Bible. I didn't even glance at my Greek NT, with which I think I've become too familiar in a sense. In the end, both translations and paraphrases have their usefulness. None of them is exact except for the original text, but we can learn from all of them. The Bible is God's way of stepping out of the shadows and making Himself known to us. It tells us what He's like and what He expects of us. It tells us what things are supposed to be like and why they aren't that way. In short, the Bible is God's word, even in translation -- His final word on how to experience a rich, abundant life. It's at once a love story and an owner's manual. It lights the way.
If the Bible is inspired by God (and it is), we should read all of it. Even more, we should let it permeate our lives to the point we act upon what we read. "You must do what it says," says James (James 1:22). Balanced spiritual growth doesn't happen from eating an occasional Twinkie. Dig into the word continually!
Tuesday, April 7
1:25 PM Just back from a 5 mile run at the track. "Where?" you ask. In my fair city of South Boston, VA. Not necessarily a household name, I know. But that's one reason we moved out to the boonies years ago. In my neck of the woods you don't see too many people out there exercising. In other words, most of the time you'll have the track or the trail all to yourself. Now, just to the south of me, the situation is dramatically different. Take Raleigh and environs, for example. In spite of citizens being encouraged to move and keep active, local and city governments in the RDU area are concerned about too much use of their ample trails and greenways. The concern is that since the stay-at-home recommendation was put into place, there's been a huge increase in people using paths and trails, which compromises social distancing. A friend told me that last weekend the Neuse River Greenway was clogged with people out for a walk or a run. Ugh to people who just aren't getting the social distancing thing. When I encounter someone on the track, I stay at least 6 feet away from them if not farther. I like to imagine them smoking a cigarette and that I'm trying to avoid the second hand smoke on a windy day. I would hate to see the RDU region close down their trails but that might have to happen to keep everyone apart. In normal times it would be great seeing so many people outside being active. But these are not normal times. It's frustrating to watch how some people are behaving -- or not behaving. "Social distancing is for someone else, not me. Wearing a mask is for someone else, not me." Say what???
A few years ago Forbes came out with a list of their top 10 best cities in the U.S. for runners. They were:
I've been in all these cities but I've only run in two of them (the Chicago Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon in DC). I imagine runners are going crazy in those cities trying to find a place to run where there aren't hordes of people. They'll just have to get creative I guess. When I do leave the farm it's to go to the grocery store or to run. Even when I go to the store I head out early to avoid the crowds. Thankfully, most people are wearing masks. I don't think anyone can count on getting a "mild" case of Covid, so we all need to act like it's a deadly virus. No, we can't be perfect with physical distancing, but we can try. If you're doing your part, thank you. Don't wait for someone close to you to get sick to change your behavior. My kids and my grandkids -- I love them -- but this isn't the time for interacting with each other. I get that it's hard and that we are all miserable (to one degree or another), but we'll get past this if we all work together.
Be safe and wise out there, friend. Remember: You can be physically distant without being alone or lonely. We've got Jesus -- and social media to connect with our friends and family!
8:55 AM I'm a creature of habit. I usually spend most of my prayer time in the mornings. But last night I stayed up to midnight just talking with the Lord. Of course, I had my Bible open as I usually do when I pray. This time it was the (old, not the new) Living Bible.
When reading the Bible and praying like this, I often put my own name in there.
As I've often said, my Bible is my personal love letter from God. Do you read the Bible that way? Here are a few samples from Philippians:
Last night I prayed and prayed and prayed as the Spirit brought needs and requests to mind. Then I prayed that God would fill me back up so that I could pour myself out again tomorrow. For me, prayer puts everything back in perspective. It's a chance for all of us to take one more faltering step closer to God. We are storming the gates of heaven on behalf of those who are lost in sin or suffering from disease, speaking the names of the forgotten ones in love. May heaven be fragrant today with the incense of our prayers.
Monday, April 6
6:44 PM Did you know that the Bible can become nothing more than a bunch of printed words on a page until the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to you? Before you open your Bible, ask God to do something for you. Ask Him to reveal truth to you. Ask Him to help you pay attention to what He is saying. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, for example, he began his letter with his customary greeting, you know, the kind everyone used back in the day, something like "Hello to all my dear brothers and sisters, and my aunts and uncles, and of course my nieces and nephews, and everyone who works at Wal-Mart [and so forth] ...." I used to think, "Who needs all that kind of stuff? Let's get to the meat of the letter!" I recall one day, as I started to study Galatians, I was getting ready to settle into all the meat when the still small voice of God told me to go back. So I went back, and this is all I read:
That's pretty much the way I read it, as fast as I could so that I could get into the "body" of the letter, the "meat," but again, I heard the still small voice telling me to go back and pay attention. I began to see what was really there and that every word was important to Paul's teaching in the letter. I got so excited, I put together a power point showing how the opening 5 verses of Galatians (the "Opening Greeting") is far more than an opening greeting but more akin to a table of contents of the entire book. The words I had been scrunching together began to fit into a clear pattern.
Will you make your own Bible study personal in this way? Will you study it -- all of it? Ask: What is God's purpose in these verses? How are they arranged? What message are they trying to communicate? The opening of Galatians brings a chuckle to my mind because I think of all the times when I've raced through portions of God's word without paying attention to the text. The opening of Galatians is one of the most exciting paragraphs in the Bible, or at least that's the way it appears to me.
Many of the truths of the Bible are plainly, yet gloriously stated, in the "Hello!" parts of Paul's letters. How fabulous that we love and serve a God who can put together a book with that kind of genius! Do you really think we can just rush through the "milk" of the word so that we can get to the "meat"? Gal. 1:1-5 gives so much in such few words. But then, all of the Bible does the same thing. It gives us so much so fast! Just think of what God offers you when you do your best to pay careful attention to His word. It's the best reward in the world. Praise You, Jesus!
P.S. You can find my entire power point on Gal. 1:1-5 here.
2:58 PM It felt GREAT to get in a run today. I hadn't run in days -- the pollen has had my sinuses all stopped up. However, running is one of the best ways to relieve sinus congestion, or so I am told. Cardiovascular exercise helps because the release of adrenaline makes your blood vessels contract, which in turn reduces the swelling in your sinuses. The increase in blood circulation alleviates the pressure on your sinuses and that usually makes for much easier breathing. At any rate, the 5 miles I did today were out of this world. Moreover, I was able to maintain a slow aerobic pace, as you can see.
Finally, I had the track almost to myself, which is nice in this day and age of physical distancing.
But I need to go. A huge storm is brewing, and if I don't unplug now a thunder bolt might zap my hard drive. Then where we would be!!??
11:34 AM Goal for the month: Finish reviewing these books for Filologia Neotestamentaria.
But first -- a run!
Sunday, April 5
8:14 PM Tonight's walk.
5:46 PM Some good news out of New York state on this Palm Sunday where the governor just announced that the state seems to be reaching a plateau in terms of the coronavirus. One small ray of light into what seems like impenetrable darkness. One tiny hope to hold on to. I have no wisdom, no insight, no words that can dull the razor's edge of this tragedy. "[God] is the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and for the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts" (2 Pet. 2:19, The Message). Right now I have nothing else to say but a prayer of thanks to my God.
Thank You, my Lord.
Please pray for those who are suffering, for those who have lost their loved ones. And when you see your loved ones tonight, hold them close and tell them that you love them.
6:40 AM YouTube just published an interview in which I found some really helpful comments and one of them led me to order this book today:
Apparently this author believes (as do I) that our earliest Gospel is not Mark's but Matthew's and that the Gospels are trustworthy testimonies to the life of Christ. I'm not familiar with Brian Pitre but from his bio I see that he earned his Ph.D. at Notre Dame and is a professor at the Augustine Institute. The YouTube video where I found his book was actually a recent interview I did with Matt Whitman over at The Ten Minute Bible Hour channel. If you'd like to watch us chat about the Gospels (the video is called "Everybody Says That Mark Was the First Gospel, But Was It?") go here. Matt's videos are amazing and he deals with all kinds of interesting topics from "What Is the Septuagint?" to "Who Picked What Books Went In the Bible?" Check it out when you can. And thanks, Matt, for the interview!
Saturday, April 4
8:55 PM Well, they've closed the running trail in town but thankfully the high school track is still open -- now limited to 10 people at a time while maintaining at least 6 feet of separation. Today I got in two easy workouts for a total of 8 miles.
I consider these walks a part of my marathon training (12 weeks and counting unless they postpone or cancel the event). Life is always changing isn't it? Growth in life often comes out of experiencing heartache or a personal challenge or just plain old suffering. Life is about finding self-discipline and moving towards a better, healthier, and more selfless way of living. Besides, my only excuse for not exercising is laziness!
Tonight's reading: Escape from Colditz -- Germany's "escape-proof" POW camp for allied airmen.
11:55 AM My good friend and esteemed colleague Chuck Lawless offers 10 prayers to offer during the Covid-19 crisis. Prayer is a weapon that we have in our hands if we would only use it. I beg you not to dismiss it as a pious platitude when Dr. Lawless says we should all pray more than we do. Our main weapon to defeat the enemy is prayer. I ask myself if the lack of progress we're making as a nation in combating the scourge of the coronavirus is due more than anything to the prayerlessness of the people of God. I wish we all could take intercession more seriously, both privately in our own devotions and publicly when we come together. Why God should want to listen to the prayers of such imperfect people as us I'll never know, but praise God, I don't have to know! I just have to pray, because His word tells me to, and because I know my loving heavenly Father will answer. He is able to do far more than I would ever dare to ask or dream of -- infinitely beyond my highest prayers, thoughts, aspirations, desires, and hopes. Thank You, Jesus! Thank You, Jesus!
8:16 AM "It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
7:58 AM This powerful message by Billy Graham has over a million views and rightly so.
He makes four simple points:
1) God doesn't change.
2) The Bible doesn't change.
3) The way of salvation doesn't change.
4) But WE MUST (and CAN) Change!
In this one video we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all its power and purity! It's been 60 years since I came into a personal relationship with this Jesus. Isn't it beautiful to know that because of the kindness He's showered upon me (and you, too) the very richness of His grace will lift you up above the things of this world? Isn't it exciting to know how well He understands you (and me, too) and isn't it beyond our ability to describe what it's like to have the promise that He knows what is best for me (and you) at all times? What was God's purpose in all this? Look at what His word says: "God's purpose in this was that we should praise God and give glory to Him for doing these mighty things for us, who were the first to trust Christ." Just another reason to praise You, Lord Jesus! Just another reason to worship You, Father! I was so dead and doomed by my own sins and yet His mercy was so rich and great that He gave me life again because of Jesus. And even though I am in the world, I am not of the world, so I sit in the heavenly realms day by day. Hallelujah!
Whoever thought life could be this fabulous?
Friend, watch this video and share it with your unsaved friends. Then stand back and watch the word of God do its work!
Friday, April 3
7:48 PM I'm feeling pretty spoiled right now. Long story short, today my North Carolina daughter brought over some freshly baked bread and pastries.
Then one of my Alabama daughters taught me how to cook Thai Green Curry via Face Time (mine is in the upper left).
Tasted awful good. I shared my plate with Sheba.
Isn't this what life is all about? Taking care of each other.
Well, that's all I've got. Today is all I've got. Today is all you've got too. I hope you made it a good one.
5:32 PM I wouldn't mind being quarantined on the North Shore of O'ahu.
4:50 PM Today's 5-miles.
Listened to great sacred music from the baroque period. Had a flashback to my days in Hawai'i. When I graduated from high school in 1970, I began my studies at the University of Hawai'i in music. My goal was to become a professional trumpet player. One semester I took several classes at the UH campus overlooking Pearl Harbor.
My classes that semester were, as I recall, piano, choir, and great sacred music. There, while listening to recordings of Gregorian chants in the campus library, I gazed out at the harbor where America had been attacked on a "date which will live in infamy." My dad, who was born in Honolulu in 1918 and raised in Alewa Heights just above the harbor, witnessed that attack. Later he was shipped off to Europe, courtesy of the U.S. Army, where he was wounded in Mainz, Germany in 1945.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was one of the most daring naval operations of all time and was considered by most to be a "surprise attack." In fact, Pearl Harbor was the result of a combination of related factors, not least false assumptions, a vast store of intelligence poorly handled, and a false sense of invulnerability. The fact is that we were caught napping. Our national leaders at the time were honest, hardworking, dedicated, and for the most part intelligent. But like all humans, they were capable of blunders both of omission and commission.
The U.S. had no standing Army on Dec. 7, 1941, or if it did, it was infinitesimally small. But the nation immediately declared war and went to work building what turned out to be the best military force the world had ever seen. Today, our nation is again under attack, this time by an invisible enemy but one that is no less deadly than the one that attacked us 79 years ago. Will we as a nation be able to mobilize in time to meet the threat? Or will we be so politically divided that we become too weak to defeat the foe? We read that our Lord "set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51). His servant Paul did the same later. Though he was aware of the bonds and affliction that awaited him, "None of these things move me" (Acts 20:24). He, like Jesus before him, had set his face. America, let's make up our mind to set our face like a flint, from the federal to the state to the county level!
As for the spiritual dimension of the current crisis, we are living in a scared world. People's hearts are failing them for fear. But our Lord says, "Do not be afraid. Be of good cheer." He is the First and the Last. He was there before there was anything to fear and He'll be there after all we fear has passed away. Church, we must beware of cheap optimism under the guise of religion. The important thing is to be where we ought to be -- shining out in the world's darkness where we are needed most. Our Lord said, "You are the light of the world." The business of light is to dispel darkness. As a missionary once put it, "I have but one candle to burn, and I would rather burn it out where people are dying in darkness than in a land which is flooded with light." Christians are that light. We are also the seed, and the field is this world. But the corn of wheat must die if it is to please God and bear fruit. Only a month ago, the Christian life was for many of us a sham battle. We did not grapple with realities. Not so today. As long as Christ's work is not finished ours is not finished. We are debtors to everyone to get His message of forgiveness and hope out. We owe it to Him. We owe it to them.
Churchill once said of England's airmen during WW II, "Never did so many owe so much to so few." God's goodness to His people was never meant to lead us to complacency. Our supreme business today as the church is not survival or success or self-satisfaction. It is stewardship of the manifold grace of God as members of God's kingdom. Every member of that holy nation is meant to be an ambassador beseeching others to be reconciled to God.
That's my part -- putting aside my own desires and letting God have His way. And doesn't He spell that out so easy for us to understand in His word!
8:45 AM My reading this AM.
A few quotes/takeaways from this excellent book:
I hope these quotes have done as much for you as they have done for me. Can you imagine anything more wonderful than to know that you are part of a local church that is fully committed to displaying the love of Jesus in very ordinary, everyday ways? Christ entrusted us with an assignment shortly before He returned to heaven. For 33 years He gave people a close-up look at God. For the first time in human history, God was more than a voice in heaven or a concept in a scroll. He was a man with a body, a face. Now He asks His followers, collectively and individually, to mirror His character. We are His body, His hands, His eyes, His heart.
If non-believers fail to recognize Him, could it be that we are failing to do our job?
Thursday, April 2
4:18 PM Been practicing my social distancing technique.
10:32 AM The fall 2020 schedule is out. For what it's worth, here are my classes:
It will be great teaching the NT letters again. You know, God didn't write these letters just for Paul and Peter and Timothy. He wrote them through those men for us! For me! Doesn't that give you spiritual goosebumps? My message to my students: Your Bible is God speaking directly to you. The NT letters are God's personal love letters to you. Do you read His love letters -- all of them? In Philippians, for example, He's given each one of us a personal love letter, a letter to take to heart, a letter to read and reread and reread (if we can, in the Greek). It's a love letter where we can wallow in His love and accept His guidance. In Philippians, as in every NT book, we will see Jesus, the most exciting person who ever lived. If you want adventure, follow Jesus. The Christian life is the most adventurous life there is. If you want something daring, follow Jesus. If you want the unusual, if you would dare to be different, follow this Jesus. If you want love, there's no love like the love of God as He wraps His strong arms around us (and when problems come to us He just wraps those arms of love around us a little tighter and squeezes a little harder).
This fall semester, let's give Jesus reign and see what happens. The NT is a personal counseling session with Jesus Christ. Let God instill in your heart an almost fanatical desire to read His word. I guarantee that when you do that, Paul and Peter and Timothy will all come alive and romp across the pages of your NT, just like they romp through the pages of mine. Issues explored in these letters include marriage roles (Ephesians), how to suffer successfully (1 Peter), misplaced priorities in church leadership (3 John), how to restore unity in a divided church (Philippians), care of the lonely and the outcast (Philemon), and so much more. The key to success in our classes will lie in how much we really want to spend in reading our Bible. For me it all started when I became a part of the Jesus Movement in Hawai'i and God gave me this tremendous hunger in my heart for God's word. Today, when I read the Bible, I read it seeking God, not just information. Many people can become experts in the Bible and still don't know a living Jesus. There's a world of difference in simply reading the Scriptures and letting them come alive in our own lives. This fall, when I return to the classroom, I'm asking God to reignite in my heart the same passion I had for His word when I was a teenager. I want His presence to be so real and so near and so dear to me as it was when I first became a Christian. He's given us such a simple plan to follow, folks, because all we have to do is read His word and hear what He's saying to us. That's the way to the abundant life.
Father, thank You for what You're doing in the heart of every person who reads this blog. Please help each of us to spend more time in Your love letters. Thank You that You've given to each one of us a personal love letter. The promises in Your word are really earthshaking and almost beyond the scope of the human mind to comprehend. It's beautiful to know that You know what's best for us at all times. All we've got to do is to walk with You moment by moment and the best is always ours. Not because we're smart (hallelujah!), but because Your word says so.
Wednesday, April 1
7:50 PM Tonight's walk.
7:04 PM Do you ever have Wanderlust? Is there a place on your bucket list you just have to visit? There's one state I haven't set foot in yet.
Alaska, I'm coming for you!
2:35 PM Today I took a break from working on my classes to drive into the town of South Hill in order to keep an appointment with a dermatologist. Practicing isolation and all that, I wasn't sure whether or not I should keep the appointment but the office assured me that I would be around no other patients or staff and, sure enough, when I got to the office I was put into a private room to await the doctor. My GP was a little concerned about a small growth on my right thigh -- hence the referral. It turned out to be nothing at all, but you can never be too careful about your skin. The dermatologist wants to see me annually, not because she thinks I have a genetic predisposition to skin cancer (which I don't), but simply because of my pre-history: 19 years at the beach in Hawai'i, 27 years enjoying rays in Southern California, and 23 years working in the fields or else outdoors exercising here on the East Coast. She's new to the area and I'm sure glad she was able to see me. She reminded me of Dr. Fauci -- extremely knowledgeable and yet very humble and down to earth. Afterwards I did a long bike ride in cold and windy conditions.
And to think that last Sunday I was hiking 22 miles in shorts and a tank top in 88-degree weather!
Moving on, one of my daughters has offered to give me cooking lessons via Face Time during this time of physical distancing. Here are the ingredients she sent me for lesson #1.
We plan to cook it together via Face Time -- she in Alabama, me in Virginia. Cooking is something I've struggled with over the years. It takes a miracle for everything to turn out just right. However, I'm a pretty experimental guy and I'm really looking forward to learning a few tricks. What's to lose? While I'm not overly confident on how well I'll do, I love trying out new recipes.
More to come ....
Ever take cooking lessons?
Have a favorite new recipe?