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August 2020 Blog Archives 

Monday, August 31

6:44 AM This weekend it occurred to me that between surfing (which I've done all my life) and running there are many similarities. For one thing, in both sports you're able to participate completely alone. There are no rules, no teams, no coaches. Both activities bring you into direct contact with the supreme beauty and power of nature. Both teach you who you are and, obversely, who you are not. I recall surfing the North Shore during the wild 60s. No crowds, no turf wars, nothing to detract from your enjoyment of the stinging spray of a giant wave in your eyes. Each and every time I surfed I knew it was good to be alive and vigorous, at one with God's creation. This August I would have been back on O'ahu, frolicking in the waves as I do every year at this time. An even greater joy was starting not one but two Greek classes on the Windward side for pastors who otherwise would never have had a chance to study the language. We used my DVDs and I made "cameo" appearances!

It's my hope that these blog posts of mine might teach my readers to invest their time in worthwhile endeavors, to do hard things with their lives, and then to enjoy a reward. I never want you to stop challenging yourselves. Your physical and mental health will improve hand-in-hand. The farther you push yourself, the better you feel. Running, like surfing, is magical. It is tough and it throws curveballs when you least expect them. Helen Keller once said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Life is both ecstasy and insanity. We don't have to change the world dramatically to improve it. It's good enough to help sweeten it a little.

With a pastor friend on Windward O'ahu.

Yours truly last summer.

Sunday, August 30

6:05 PM In the Greek New Testament there are about 5,500 words, 3,600 of which occur 4 times or less. This means you will encounter each of these low-frequency words only once in about 160 pages of the New Testament. On the other hand, 1,100 words occur 10 times or more. These are the words you should learn by heart. The other 4,400 will be available in a good lexicon. A working vocabulary of the Greek New Testament is indispensable! 

P. S. For vocabulary aids to my beginning grammar, go here.

5:42 PM Life is busy, but the piano is my hobby and I want to protect it. 10 minute daily sessions bring me so much joy.

I play mostly by ear. Occasionally I teach myself a new piece. Right now I'm working on "My Love Is Song Unknown." I don't practice until I get it right. I practice until I can't get it wrong. My goal is to create lovely sounds and beautiful tones for the Lord. If playing the piano were easy, everyone would be doing it. Ditto for learning Greek or running a marathon. But I don't mind the challenge. The right brain doesn't care about "easy." I enjoy challenges that are not too easy and not too hard. I try to balance accuracy with expression. I want my playing to be both fluent and expressive.

Do you play the piano? Make sure your goals are your goals. When a certain piece isn't a good fit, move on. Play what you want, when you want, and how you want. In other words: Be you!

8:48 AM I love how Mark Twain spoofs the confusion caused by German grammatical gender when he translates a conversation in a German book as:

Gretchen: Wilhelm, where is the turnip?

Wilhelm: She has gone to the kitchen.

Gretchen: Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?

Wilhelm: It has gone to the opera.

Greek works in exactly the same way: time is masculine, day is feminine, and year is neuter. Remember, friends: Grammatical gender has nothing -- and I mean nothing -- to do with gender in the sexual sense.

Languages? Gotta love 'em!

8:38 AM This week in Greek 3 we're in Phil. 1:3-11. Wow. I cling more to the New Testament than I've ever done in the past. In it we have the very words of the apostles. It is here that we can sit at the feet of Jesus. I am challenged and changed in ways I never was when I used to read the Bible casually and haphazardly. Here in Phil. 1:3-11 I see the heart of Paul for the gospel. "I pray with joy," he writes, "because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now." Then he adds, "I pray that your love will keep growing more and more together with true knowledge and perfect discernment, so that you will be able to choose what is best." And what is best? Living for the sake of the gospel. Why on earth would we want to live for anything else? Page after page of Philippians, word after word, the message of this letter is settling down into my very bones. This is the dance of the Spirit in me. I find it exciting, exhilarating. Don't you?

7:58 AM I don't know how to start so I'm just going to start. Last night I ran my second race of the day, this one a 5K trail run in the mountains of Central Virginia. My oh my. I probably won't ever have to run a trail race again because nothing can probably top what I experienced yesterday -- the mother of all trail races. I drove just over two hours to arrive at the base of the famous "Peaks of Otter." These peaks are comprised of two mountains I've climbed countless times -- Sharp Top and Flat Top. Just getting my first glimpse of Sharp Top made my heart stop. What a gorgeous peak!

The race venue was a farm called Johnson's Orchards.

They were hosting this event to help raise funds for Bedford's YMCA Cancer Program, which provides financial aid to cancer patients and their families. The weather was perfect for a mountain trail race and I arrived pumped let me tell you. My morning 3.5 mile race was merely the prelude to what I hoped would be my "peak" race of the day. This time I would come off the starting line with my afterburners blazing. My goal was to run as far and as fast as I possible could, remembering my motto: "Train slow to race fast." In other words, some races are to be enjoyed by running at your regular pace. Others, however, are meant to be a wee bit more competitive! As I expected, the course was curvy and hilly. There were bridges and streams to cross and lots of farm animals to see in the pastures. I took a picture just about every half mile or so. Here's the start of the race.

Here's mile 1.

Here's mile 1.5.

Here's mile 2.5.

And here's the last hill you climb before the finish line.

When I finished I couldn't wait to check my time. Boy was I surprised!

Afterwards there was a chili cook-off contest.

My favorite? Covid Chicken Chili. Rumor had it that it was so good it took your breath away.

Believe it or not, yours truly finished the race in 34th place out of 73 runners. I also got first place out of 4 runners in my age division. Glory to God!

But the best part of my day was getting this picture of my granddaughter wearing her Chick-fil-A uniform and sitting in her new (used) car. Such a responsible young lady. So proud of you!

Yes, I am an author and teacher and blogger and farmer. But I'm mostly a dad and a granddad. What joy!

Well, I wish all of you a very happy Lord's Day. No one offers to do for us what Jesus does. Let's love him good today, shall we?

Saturday, August 29

12:30 PM This morning's 3.5 mile race has come and gone. 'Twas an easy hour drive down to Vance County, NC, to run in a missions fundraiser for a local Baptist church. I had two goals today:

1. Go out slow and easy.

2. Maintain an 11-minute pace throughout the race.

I almost failed on both counts. The temptation to go out too fast was almost overwhelming. And then the temptation to "reel" in someone who's ahead of you was just as menacing. I was beyond excited to see that somehow today I had the courage to resist both temptations. Basically, after being a runner for 4 years, I think I'm beginning to learn self-discipline.

Oh, and I did reel in a number of runners.

Oh, and I did maintain an 11-minute pace for the entire race.

I know I pretty much suck at this running thing. But I try. Never has the old adage been more true -- "Comparison is the thief of joy." So what if others are running faster than you are. So what if they're much younger. So what if they look like runners and you don't. Don't even go there. It's your life. It's your race. It's your journey. Yes, others will be smarter and faster and better looking and stronger. Just be you. Ditto for you Greek students out there. So what if you have to study for 4 hours outside of class every week while your friend only has to study for 1 measly hour to grasp the same information. Let them be them. You be you.

Got it?

Friday, August 28

7:42 PM "What do you believe is the state of preaching today?" Hear John Stott's surprising answer here. I couldn't agree more.


7:38 PM "It is an undeniable fact that the earliest Christians thought that baptism was a vital part of the Christian life, so much so that baptism was administered as soon as possible after a person had come to faith in Christ. Lack of instruction did not stop them." Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, pp. 9-10.

6:12 PM "Leadership is only worthy of allegiance when the led freely grant it to the leader in response to the leader's servant posture." Donald Kraybill.

2:38 PM "The Christianity of the New Testament presents not simply a more demanding ethic but rather a cross that means the death of our desire for prosperity and power. I therefore view my participation in the culture wars not in terms of calling for a macro-political utopia but in terms of the church's calling to be the conscience and critic of culture." The Jesus Paradigm, pp. 4-5.

2:10 PM Butter my bread, butter my bread. Nothing I enjoy more than mowing.

1:40 PM "It is very difficult for many American Christians even to conceive the possibility that American civilization is profoundly anti-Christian, precisely in those very places where it is most pious, patriotic, and full of noble sentiment." Michael Novak.

12:06 PM "The established church is far more dangerous to Christianity than any heresy or schism. We play at Christianity. We use all the orthodox Christian terminology -- but everything, everything without character .... There is something frightful in the fact that the most dangerous thing of all, playing at Christianity, is never included in the list of heresies or schisms." Kierkegaard. 

11:52 AM Today's been a good day. Because my Honda Ridgeline had such a huge trade-in value, I decided to trade it in for a 2020 Odyssey.

(Yes, folks, I am secure enough in my manhood to exchange a rugged truck for a family van.) Now I can just toss my bike into the back of the van -- plus I have tons of seats for the grandkids. Aren't I akamai? While in South Hill I got in another bike.

Afterwards I grabbed my favorite Subway sandwich -- Black Forest Ham.

Reminds me of the time I was flying home from Germany. I had just visited the Black Forest and purchased about 10 pounds of Schwarzwaldschinken. I was told it would easily pass through U.S. customs in New York. Boy was I wrong. A rather portly looking customs agent took one look at it and confiscated it. All I can say is that I sorely missed biting into that slab of the world's tastiest ham. No other news to report for now except that I need to mow the grass -- again. I can hardly keep with up with the lawns!

6:58 AM "Power has ruined America. Not only on the liberal left. Now it seems to have done the same for the religious right. The right has a large clientele. When it takes a wrong turn it turns all its followers in the wrong direction.... There is only one small light left in the darkness, and it is the pure Word of God." The Jesus Paradigm, p. 1.

Thursday, August 27

7:55 PM What's not to like about grandsons?

5:45 PM "Don't bite off more than you can chew." Who says? I totally recommend you bite off more than you can chew if it's your favorite cake. Well, this week I indulged in some of my favorite things (oh, the frosting on the cake!) -- biking, running, teaching, chapel. I did it all willingly and with gusto! Right now I'm back on the farm scarfing down some chicken and pasta in preparation for tomorrow's bike and Saturday's 5K. Blessings all around. Thank you, students. You made the week on campus a success and I loved meeting all of you! 

One of my four classes.

My home away from home.

Joyner Park -- where I do my running.

Tuesday's workouts.

Chapel on the green.

Yesterday's workouts.

Monday, August 24

9:34 AM The theme for this month (well, it's almost next month, so the theme is for September) is: Gelassenheit. That's a German word that means something like chilling out, not sweating the small stuff, being at peace with yourself and your circumstances, or we even might say letting go.

Gelassenheit doesn't mean giving up. It doesn't mean giving in. It's not about lying down and passively living out the rest of your days. It's not about stoicism and it's most certainly not about apathy. It's about acceptance and letting go, of accepting the hand life has dealt you and getting on with it. I don't need to try and control something that is out of my control. I need to accept where I am, not where I think things ought to be. Gelassenheit means surrendering or yielding yourself to God's will for your life. It was a core value of the 16th century Anabaptists.

Case in point. I can't run as fast as I used to. This means I might not be able to register for races that have a really strict cutoff time. This is super frustrating for me because I've never had to face this issue before. I could easily finish a marathon in under the 6 hour time limit and a half in under the 3 hour time limit. The fact is, I am running slower because I need to for health reasons. But I'm still a runner. I'm still competing. I'm still getting to the starting line. No one who has ever trained for a long distance race is ever the same person. You must confront a multitude of obstacles. You are tempted to quit many times. How you train isn't as important as the fact that you do train. I am an average recreational runner. I run for the fun of it. I don't need to win to be successful. Yes, I am slower, but once I accepted that fact it was a breakthrough somehow. I can live with that. Not only do my runs feel really good, but I am feeling more refreshed afterwards.

Friend, be kind to yourself, especially as you age or as your life circumstances change. Be willing to let go of your expectations if you need to. Embrace the challenge. Realize that everybody, and I mean everybody, is facing the same issues. Having been injured this summer, I am happy and grateful just to be able to run. I love where I am and all that I get to do. We have to take whatever talent we have, train as well as we can, and then get out there and see what happens. Our reward isn't always a faster time or a farther distance. Sometimes it's merely knowing that we tried.

Life is a giant unknown. But getting to the starting line each and every day is something we can control. Keep your expectations realistic, my friend, and then go for the gusto!

Sunday, August 23

4:04 PM Thank you,, for making people like me think they can cook. Your recipe for Kimchi Fried Rice pleased at least one person in my household. God bless.

11:15 AM I'm sitting here waiting for my online worship service to begin. I will attend not to worship but as a worshiper who spent the entire morning in worship, not least while running 5 miles on the local foot path.

It was just me and Jesus -- if you don't include the trees in the fields that were clapping their hands or the hills breaking forth into singing (Isa 55:12). I especially enjoyed worshiping along with this guy. Hope you made it safely across, little buddy!

Why do I run so much? What do I get out of it? The answer's a mixed bag. On the one hand, I run to prove to myself that I'm not too old to face down mortality or to discipline myself. But on the other hand, my running is a reflection of who I am -- a man with a love of the outdoors, a high work ethic, a love of personal challenges. I tire of being told that adventure isn't for old guys like me. I'm not buying it. Running has helped me stay strong throughout an avalanche of adversity. I believe in living life to its fullest. Yes, there may be suffering -- actually it's certain there will be suffering -- but the suffering only heightens the joy. And of all the things I'm thankful for right now, the restored connection between suffering and joy might be at the top of the list. We've made it through -- you and I -- to a better place. God is much bigger and wilder than we can imagine. And he enjoys the worship we give him be it on the trails or in a virtual worship service. For this moment of worship, and for every day of worship, I'm thankful.

7:16 AM Most of you know that I was born and raised in Hawai'i. You know that because I shove that bit of trivia down your throat every chance I get. It wasn't until I went off to California that I began my language studies. Learning to read New Testament Greek is mentally tough. Humbling is the correct word. You know you have many strenuous weeks of study ahead of you. You stare at the course assignments and feel tired. You fear failure. You have goals but you question if you can meet them. One thing I'm learning about teaching Greek is that our students need confidence more than perhaps anything else. They need to believe that, with God's grace, they will be up to the challenge. But can we trust him? There's only one way to find out, and that's by launching out into the deep. Greek student, set your eyes on Jesus this semester as never before. In him you'll find everything you need to succeed. I did. After dropping out of my beginning Greek class at Biola I retook the course through Moody Bible Institute's correspondence school. I discovered a miracle-working God who walks alongside me and lifts me out of my storms. Don't, for heaven's sake, leave him out of the equation. Self-reliance will get you nowhere. You're only a prayer away from his help! 

6:55 AM Good Sunday morning, my dear friend. Did you know that "God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him"? Could you use a reminder of his great love for you today? Then why not listen to this matchless hymn of days gone by?


I did as I sat on my porch this morning watching God's sun rise. I can't listen to it without tears. Were ever words so sweetly wed to music? "My love is song unknown." This hymn, usually sung on Good Friday, is especially relevant in August, 2020. In the midst of all of our angst and uncertainty, God's love is genuine and unchanging. This is one hymn I will never get over. It is performed with great beauty and simplicity. Such hymns used to be part of our lives. Sadly no longer. It is said that the composer, John Ireland, wrote the hymn tune over lunch. I wonder what he could have done over a long supper.

Thank you, God, for loving us so deeply.



Saturday, August 22

3:05 PM I had business in Raleigh today so I thought I'd get in a bike on the Neuse River Greenway while I was down there.

What a beautiful trail.

Now I'm back home getting ready to teach beginning Greek Monday night. Did I say "teach"? The word is a misnomer. I do not "teach" Greek. I facilitate it. Now is your time, my friend. Believe. Become. Try. Don't get stuck in the past. Launch into a future you haven't experienced yet. It will be worth it. I promise.

7:10 AM I'm so grateful this morning because I can say I have Christ in my life, and at the early age of eight I gave my heart to Jesus. I never wanted to be in "fulltime teaching ministry," but nevertheless the Lord kept talking to me, and once the Lord puts a hook in your jaw you can't escape. I remember being a new seminary student and the Lord opening up the opportunity to teach 11 units of Greek at Biola University, and I remember being so grateful for his leading because from that moment on I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I am so thankful for the gift of teaching and how he touched my heart and my life. I remember thinking how neat it would be if I could just tell other people about Jesus. Since then I've discovered that life is a lot about loss and how to cope with change in our lives. It's about being comfortable where God has placed us now, while opening our hearts for what he has for us in the future. Last night, as I lay in bed, my mind went to a scene not all that long ago of a man and a woman holding hands in the front pew of a church. No one sitting behind them could see how they gently squeezed each other's hand, tears rolling down their cheeks, as the song leader led the congregation in a hymn, one of whose stanzas said, "Till he returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I'll stand." Next month would have been our 44th wedding anniversary. As I think of her I think of the words of that now-forgotten hymn, "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear." For 60 years he's been my Friend -- a safe refuge and someone who keeps giving to me unconditionally, light, if you will, for the darkness, the God who hides in plain sight in our lives. When I look at his ministry -- as we will in our NT 1 class -- I realize just how short I fall of his wisdom, his heart. As I was writing my first book, Paul, Apostle of Weakness, I began to fall in love with Paul, but it was only much later that I became convinced of the utter centrality of the Gospels and their portrayal of the matchless Christ. I now have a higher view of Christology than ever before -- the God-man, a teacher with a tender father-heart, a broken and humble servant. There's no way we will be able to plumb the depths of his life in our class this semester, but I'm so glad that the Spirit can breath through the weakest of vessels and remind all of us that God has good plans for us and that we have hope.

So this is my learned spiritual discipline: I join with God in co-creating a new kingdom on this earth, following and loving Jesus together with you, living on earth as he would live -- sacrificially and even scandalously. I am an exile in a fallen and sinful world, but I have been placed here to prepare that world for the time when it will be renewed and restored. If my teaching New Testament and Greek can contribute something, no matter how small, to that end, I am happy to give it my best and enter into the center of it all with furious love and extravagant boldness.

Friday, August 21

4:58 PM Nice ride today out in God's beautiful creation.

The animals were abundant. "O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all. The earth is full of your creatures!" (Psa. 104:24).

Thursday, August 20

7:02 PM Two big shout outs before I collapse on the porch. First to Bobby, who sold me this Honda Ridgeline this morning.

These vehicles don't last long on the lot. This one arrived only yesterday, so I hastened to get it while I could. It replaces the Odyssey I had for three years. But with all the mountaineering I hope to be doing in the next few years, I needed something a little more rugged without sacrificing the quality or the excellent gas mileage that Hondas are famous for. The ride is so smooth and quiet it's out of this world. Plus, I like the color, don't you?

Second, thank you, NT students, for crushing your first quiz today.

Sorry to make you memorize so many factlets, but ya done good, ya done good! I'd also like to thank my assistant for helping me with Panopto and with reminding me that when I go to the little boys' room during the break I need to turn off my lapel mike. Please keep this just between us, okay?

What's the most stupid thing you've done lately?

Favorite class you're taking this semester?

The car you've been saving up for?

7:34 AM From my morning Bible time:

It is God himself, in his mercy, who has given us this wonderful work, and so we never give up. We do not try to trick people into believing -- we are not interested in fooling anyone. We never try to get anyone to believe that the Bible teaches what it doesn't. All such shameful methods we forego. We stand in the presence of God as we speak and so we tell the truth, as all who know us will agree.

Encouraging words to start out a new semester with! That's right, my NT 1 class begins at 12:30 today. How exciting! How relevant! The church of Jesus Christ has been marginalized in the United States. Have you noticed? But it is precisely from this position of marginality that the church is best able to bear witness to the truth. Things we once thought were "gains" have now become regarded as "loss." We once thought that it was only from the center of culture that we could reach the world. Now we preach out of humility and weakness. I think the church is one of the weirdest ideas. It's never really been merely a social club, though it appears that way to outsiders. As Paul wrote above, I think one of the best moves we can make as a believing community is to shift from a church-centered view of our ministries to a God-centered view of everything. "We stand in the presence of God and so we tell the truth." Just as the Father sent the Son into the world and the Father and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Holy Trinity sends us into the world. This is, writes Paul, a "wonderful work." We are sent forth to continue the life and ministry of Jesus. This means that we cannot build the kingdom and then ask God to bless our efforts. No, we must work to establish the kingdom through the means God has ordained. This will involve constant self-evaluation and, if need be, changing the structures of our churches to help people become more fully the church as God intended it to be. Paul emphasizes that for us to be able to do this we have to strip off all pretence and get rid of our masks. We minister within imperfect structures. Still, I love the church. She has been good to me. She has loved and nurtured me. And I hope we can all live like we are loved. It's a matter of foregoing all shameful practices, wrote Paul. It's a matter of choosing a life of love and mutuality, of giving up our own rights and entwining our lives with our local communities. This is something I can do. I can go small. I can be transparent. I can choose others over self. I can "speak in the presence of God."

Richard Halverson, former U. S. Senate Chaplain, once wrote, "In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise." That's why, as never before, we in the church need to re-apprentice ourselves to Jesus and his way of life. God is so much at work in every corner of the world today. He is working in new and beautiful ways. The people of God's kingdom are coming back to him. They are listening before speaking, learning before teaching, pursuing the downward path of Jesus instead of upward mobility. After the years go by I want my NT students to look back at this semester and think, "So that's what Jesus and Paul and Peter and John were talking about!"

This semester is but a very small stone in that foundation. I can't build the entire edifice. But I can humbly offer my one small stone to Jesus.

Wednesday, August 19

6:06 PM Finally, the farmyards look manicured again, as I was able to get almost all of my mowing done this afternoon. Now it's time to rest on the front porch with my doggie and a tall glass of ice cold apple juice.

I love the beauty of the outdoors. Running in races all over North America has enamored me of my great country, and of its people. Yes, it's all about people. I used to find strength by looking into my wife's beautiful eyes or feeling her hand on my cheek. Today my legacy resides in my children and the memory of those who are now gone from our daily lives but remain vivid in our memories. Life is as it should be. Mine -- and yours -- is a story of perseverance as we push on in our awkward ways, and as we make meaningful progress by learning from those who've traveled before us.

People of any age can endure trials, overcome obstacles, and put up with pain to realize their dreams. Glory be to God.

11:38 PM I couldn't keep myself away from the high school track this morning. The day was too beautiful not to run.

Afterwards I tried to get caught up on yard cleanup after the recent storms, but I'm still behind.

Hopefully the ground will be dry enough this afternoon for me to make some significant headway.

I will say, though, that right now I have all kinds of excuses to be outdoors in this gorgeous weather.

What's next, you might ask (or you might not ask because you don't really care)? Final prep for tomorrow's NT 1 class. Do not use me as your role model. I sometimes wait until the last minute to put the final touches on my lectures. That's because I'm a lazy beach bum from the Islands. It's not the most uplifting thought, but it's da truf.

In other exciting news ....

Well, I can't think of anything right now.


7:30 AM I think it's been 12 years since these pics were taken. I was on one of my three mission trips to Armenia. On this occasion I had been invited to teach at the Baptist Seminary there. Labels can be helpful. I was known as a Greek scholar, and I guess that's why I was also asked to lecture at the Orthodox Seminary.

Then, much to my surprise, off I went to give a lecture in the Linguistics Department at Yerevan University, a completely secular school. Here I'm talking (among other things) about the word order of John 1:1 ("the word was God") and the concept of linguistic salience, weaving into the lecture a discussion of the Deity of Jesus Christ.

The students, many of them Iranians, seemed to enjoy it.

I'm telling you this because I want you to see that you can leverage anything in your life for the gospel. Fact is, I do not refer to myself as a scholar of Greek (or of anything for that manner). I am a student of the Greek language, as much a student as anybody I know. Not only do I know what I do not know about Greek, but I also know that students are so savvy these days that I often feel like I'm only an hour ahead of the hounds. But those two graduate degrees, along with that list of publications -- those are things that can open doors for you that might otherwise remain closed. I don't care a whit about degrees. As the old saw puts it, "Ever meet someone who was educated beyond their intelligence?" Yep. Aplenty. I make it clear to my students that they aren't to believe anything I say merely because I have some alphabet soup after my name. Honestly, I would worry if they did. But when I was in seminary, I recall one of my missions profs telling his charges, "Education is very highly valued in the secular world. So use your degrees for the gospel." Which is one reason I wanted to get my doctorate from a secular university in Europe. "Hmm. Maybe that will open doors," I told myself. And it did.

This is a complicated conversation, I know. But I graciously invite you to engage this world on its terms. Let's start where we should always start: Not with our ability, but with our availability. This should not be an afterthought. The why of our education matters as much as the what. And then use/leverage your education and training and degrees and publications in whatever way God allows. Use them for the gospel.

Really, nothing else matters.

Tuesday, August 18

5:32 PM Today was one of those days when you say to yourself, "Did you really have to run all of those errands in one day?" I mean, I left the house at 9:30 and didn't get back home until 5:00. Right now I've got my supper cooking on the stove (tikka masala with jasmine rice) while I'm finally getting a chance to chillax by reading this commentary on that great book of Ephesians.

When Don Hagner referred to it as a "tour de force," that might just be one of the great understatements of all time. I know of no one besides Hoehner who was a more passionate and articulate exegete of Ephesians, unless that be Barth. We need such creative people to write commentaries that don't merely rehash what everybody else is saying or pontificate with an air of authority they don't possess. That never appeals to me. The good exegete must also be self-critical, and that includes welcoming and weighing criticisms from others. Perhaps one of the most uncommon and yet essential aspects of Hoehner's commentary is boldness -- boldness in doing the unconventional thing, boldness in standing up for minority positions, boldness in challenging even his own presuppositions. I prize boldness as a Christlike gift imparted by the Holy Spirit to his church. Here you will find no trumpet giving an uncertain voice. Hoehner dives deep and then shows us the way forward. Curiously enough, many commentators do not. Thanks be to God for Harold Hoehner! To read my tribute to his life and influence, go here.

9:02 AM Off to get the oil changed in the van and then get in a bike ride. What interesting times we live in. Even though this is a tough season everyone is going through, I believe we are all here on this earth for a reason. Live in the moment, my friend, and enjoy the beauty all around you. I think it's fascinating to see how we humans are always looking for the secret to motivation. We buy self-help books, visit blogs, watch other people. But the solution is pretty simple. Stop looking for motivation outside of yourself. Christ's presence is all we need. When we stay centered in him, we find it possible to engage in life with people who are just as imperfect and weird as we are. It's a different kind of motivation, one that comes from the Real Presence, from the Lord himself, who is changing us daily to be more like himself. I like that. I like to think that everything I need is in a Person -- all of it.

My biggest challenge this week is getting caught up on farm work now that the ground is finally drying out. It takes a lot of self-discipline and, frankly, blood, sweat, and tears. Ever have that sensation? What's your "Just get it done" thing this week? What is it, and what's stopping you? Today I hope to be a better person than I was yesterday. I will live from my core and not from the periphery of my life. I will see the gifts all around me and not take the precious people in my life for granted. I'm happy to say that at 68 I'm at a good place physically, emotionally, and vocationally. It just takes time and perseverance, and looking to him, the Author and Perfecter of faith. I'm learning to live a lot more slowly and maybe, just maybe, see God do a new thing in my life. Mundane or mountain top, whatever the experience is, Lord help me to accept it as from your hand.

Be blessed!


Monday, August 17

6:50 PM And now a word to my beginning Greek students. Did you know there are two types of "fun"? Type 1 fun is known simply as, well, fun. Hands down, it's just plain enjoyable. Type 2 fun, on the other hand, is hard work while it's happening. In fact, you can be absolutely miserable while "enjoying" type 2 fun. Type 1 fun is like watching a movie in the comfort of your living room. You're deriving joy from watching someone else do something. That's great. I do that all the time. But type 2 fun is different. In type 2 fun, you're in the movie. You're the star of the show, in fact. You've gone from being a spectator to being a participant. And here's the deal: You participate without any guarantee that what you do will work. This could be climbing a mountain.

It could be running a marathon.

Or it could be trying to learn a foreign language. It's called type 2 fun because it hurts. Because it requires effort. Because there are no guarantees that you will succeed. But get this. When you pursue type 2 fun, the feeling of accomplishment is real. I'd say it's even out of this world.

Friend, you already have everything you need to become a type 2 fun kind of person. It's a mind-set that separates those who do from those who don't. I haven't found a mortal who couldn't learn how to read New Testament Greek. You already have everything you need to do it. You see, once you decide to move from being a spectator to being a participant, your quest centers much more on tenacity than on talent. That's why you won't find a panacea in my book Learn to Read New Testament Greek. Instead, you'll find training tools, lots of helpful hints, and the wisdom of 44 years of teaching. But you won't find any easy formulas. You'll find only strategies that will help you discover your own course to the finish line.

It doesn't matter where you're coming from. It doesn't matter how un-divine your language skills are. It doesn't matter how low you feel in the ranks of mortals. You can and will become a reader of Greek. I promise. I've seen it happen thousands and thousands of time. I've seen mortals of every age cross the Greek marathon finish line (there are, coincidentally, 26 chapters in my textbook). But let me say: The ability to read your Greek New Testament is just window dressing in comparison to what you will have really learned about yourself. You will have learned that you have the patience, the grit, the tenacity to accomplish something that's hard. But to do that, you will have to take whatever God-given talent you have, work as tenaciously as you can, and then go out and see what happens. Yes, it can be boring. Yes, it will be time-consuming. Yes, it's inconvenient. And it's almost always uncomfortable. But it will reveal in you a dedication and focus you didn't think you possessed. The only question is: How badly do you want it? It may feel horrible while you're doing it. But it feels totally worth it once you're done.     

5:56 PM Praise the Lord, this morning I was able to attend an excellent workshop on campus on how to use Panopto to record my classes. In fact, all of the classes taught on campus this semester will be recorded in case students have to miss class because of the coronavirus. There's so much I'd like to tell you about the coming semester and why I am so excited about it. I want my students to know how much I truly love them. Most of them I don't know from Adam, but I know the journey they're on because I stood in their shoes many years ago. I'm sure they are nervous and excited about their classes this semester. I've dropped tears all over my keyboard as God assured me of his presence and work in all of our lives this school year. If we come to class this fall with broken and contrite and teachable hearts, he will do his part. He will be exalted, his people will be served, the broken will be cared for, his fame will spread. If we truly understand the gospel, service in his name will never again fall into the "have to" category. I'm asking the Lord to shine his light on the parts of our lives that need to be bent to his kingdom values. I'm praying for wisdom for each of my students as they discover their niche in life. God is counting on us to make the most of this precious thing we call Christian higher education. I think my discovery of the difference between "Christian" and "disciple" has changed me deeply and has given me renewed hope for my classes. I tend to agree with those who say that "kingdom of God" is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the church today. The kingdom is such a central part of Jesus' teaching! As we love and follow him, we live here on earth as he would live among us. No, the kingdom is not the church, but if we understand the kingdom aright, it will draw us back to the church with greater commitment than ever before. I know it did that for me when I was a teenager in Hawai'i. I was able to reengage the church, as imperfect as I was (and it was), because God had begun to change me to be more like the Jesus I loved so wildly as part of the Jesus Movement. So I've done my best in recent years to figure out the essence of the church. And at its heart is the understanding that unless and until we shift away from a church-centered view of ourselves and toward a kingdom-centered view, the church will never be as missional as God intended for it to be. The purpose of a biblical education is to equip us to be sent out into the world and to participate in the kingdom of God fully. And let's be honest: doing this is almost certain to put us at odds with what is called "evangelicalism" today. So be it. Jesus provocatively challenges the status quo. Which means we must be open to struggles and conflicts. Some may even experience a major paradigm shift in how they view the Christian life. In my book The Jesus Paradigm, I've written about what this shift looked like in my own life -- about how I reclaimed my passion for Jesus after finding the parts of my life that for some reason had been neglected for far too long. Today, I am still fascinated with this Jesus. I am also growing more and more disenchanted with Christendom. There are many of us out there doing the same thing, sorting things out. Maybe we can light the path for each other. The way we "do" church matters, folks. It really does. No matter how trapped we have become to human traditions, we can be set free. And the one whom the Son of Man makes free, he or she is free indeed!

What does the Lord Jesus need to reveal to you today that will set you free?

What did he mean by "worship in truth"?

What, if anything, keeps you from taking radical steps of obedience in your walk with him?

Sunday, August 16

8:22 PM I believe God wants our journey on this earth to be as fun as it is authentic. That thought occurred to me this evening as I was reading one of my favorite books about the 1996 Everest Disaster.

The author, Jon Krakauer, in describing the various local names for Everest, uses a word I had never seen before: mellifluous.

A sustained neglect of any of these neologisms would drive me crazy, so I normally reach for my dictionary (on my iPhone, of course) at this point. Then I said to myself, "Don't force the drama if you don't have to. You can figure this out." The key was the morpheme melli -- which I guessed had something to do with "sweet." After all, the Greek word for "honey" is meli (John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey [meli]).

Hence the word probably had a meaning like "sweet flowing" or, less literally, "melodious." Was I right? Yep.

Finally, all of my years of language study paid off!

12:48 PM What does Paul teach about "clericalism" in Eph. 4:11-12? Hear the words of one of my Basel profs, Markus Barth (Ephesians, p. 481):

In summary, the task of the special ministers mentioned in Eph. 4:11 is to be servants in that ministry which is entrusted to the whole church. Their place is not above but below the great number of saints who are not adorned by resounding titles. Every one of the special ministers is a servus servorum Dei ["servant of the servants of God"]. He is a "pastor" of God's flock, who understands himself as a minister to ministers.

And again:

In turn, the task of the whole church and of every saint is to carry out a work of service for the praise of God and the benefit of all who need it.

And finally:

Divers [i.e., different] books of the NT show that all "clerical" titles available from Israel's history and literature have been conferred upon Jesus Christ and comprehended in him. If after Christ's coming and under his rulership any legitimate clergymen are left in the world, then all the saints and the whole church are these clergymen of God, installed for the benefit of those as yet unaware of the Messianic peace.

Words of an anti-clerical house churcher? Hardly. Barth was a staunch high church Presbyterian who taught fulltime in a Reformed university.

But as an expositor of Ephesians, his task was clear: to reveal Paul's teaching that pastors are enlisted and installed in the church for the purpose of equipping all the saints for works of service. This is in stark contrast to the popular notion that "laymen" are ultimately only beneficiaries of ministry, not performers of it. "Rather," writes Barth (p. 479), "the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world."

He is so right about this!

12:06 PM Nice day for a recovery walk.

5 simply delightful miles.

Now I'm attending church (virtually) in Frisco, Texas. Life is good.

8:36 AM Oh what a beautiful morning! Nice and cool. I'm sitting here reflecting on yesterday's 5K. I think I'm back after my injury. My body feels good. I am getting stronger. Thanks to the Lord, I have made tons of progress. It felt good to race again. I love races. I love the energy. I love being out there supporting the local running community and the charity it's sponsoring. I love pouring myself into what I do 110 percent.

I feel the same way about the classroom, in case you didn't know. This Thursday things kick off with my NT 2 class, which covers Acts through Revelation. (Actually, if I plan things just right, we will run out of time before we get to the Apocalypse -- har-har.) We'll start by reading my book The Jesus Paradigm, then move on to my Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, and then read Roland Allen's classic Missionary Methods: St. Paul's Or Ours? Cans of worms aplenty there are to open, folks. How in the world did our churches get so far removed from the simplicity of the New Testament? How did we ever allow clergyism to develop? Or the observance of the Lord's Supper (= Snack) once a quarter as an addendum to the preaching service? Or the proud titles we use? Or thinking "the" ministry is pastoring? I'm not pointing the finger at you, my friend. Goodness knows, I have made so many false starts on this whole ecclesiology thing it boggles the mind. It's a confusing journey God puts us on. Here's the trick: those muscles called brains must be exercised constantly, otherwise they atrophy. Thankfully, we're not alone. Do you think the concept of "first among equals" is unbiblical? You're in good company (see Alexander Strauch's Biblical Eldership). Do you think the Lord's Supper should be celebrated weekly as a full meal? I. Howard Marshall agrees. I could go on and on. Every small piece of wisdom God offers us counts, even if the results are invisible for a while. You might not see a single thing work for a very long time. I have a pastor friend who patiently sowed the seed for 7 years before his church decided to vote to have elders (the vote was 98 percent in favor, by the way). My only chance at my pipe dream of church restoration is to challenge my students to love Jesus and be passionate about his kingdom. It's only out of a genuine relationship to God that any sense of purpose or mission is going to come. "Innocent shrewdness" -- that's what I want to see developed in them. When I began to study the New Testament, truly study the New Testament, Jesus transformed my idea of what it means to be "great." True greatness has nothing to do with status in the church. It comes through the back door of serving others. That's why one of our requirements in NT 2 this semester is what I am calling "Towel and Basin Ministries." Don't tell me you're a Christian. Show me. Find a thankless, unglamorous job and pour your heart and soul into it. You + Jesus + Service. Now that is thrice wonderful!

Folks, I'm 68. "The days are long but the years are short," says the creator of the Happiness Project. There's not a lot I'm scared of. But you know what? I'm scared to death of frittering the years away. It's horrifying to confront one's own mortality. Thankfully, the kingdom allows us to spend our time, money, and energy on eternal, unfailing treasures. That's the kind of kingdom man I want to be and the kind of kingdom students I want to raise up.

Jesus, walk into my classes this semester and teach us by your example. Ask us discerning questions. Treat us like jerks if you have to. Examine our hearts. Press on until we're transformed. Save us, dear Lord, from ourselves. Save us from our Churchianity. In your name I pray, amen.

Saturday, August 15

12:26 PM I'm sitting here listening to the rain and yawning. What are you doing?

This morning I participated in a delightful 5K race in Central Virginia. I think I crushed it. No, I didn't come in first. But I gave it my all, and that, in itself, is a victory. The cause was a very worthy one. All proceeds benefited the Cancer Treatment Center at Southside Regional Medical Center. The vast majority of runners you meet are very nice people who enjoy helping others. Hence the popularity of fundraisers. Wallet open and ready to pay, we love supporting causes. There are times when I prefer to run alone. And then there are times when it isn't the miles but the people who are the most important part of your run. The joy we feel when we run together multiplies as we share it. Not that we become any less competitive, of course. I started out the race in the middle of the pack. One mile into the 5K, the crowd of racers began to thin out.

At mile 2.5, this is what I saw.

I never did "reel in" that guy. Oh well. We all were having the time of our life. Some won their age group. Others, like me, came in 4th out of 6 in their division. Some finished the race in well under 20 minutes. Others, like yours truly, barely managed to stay under 33 minutes. But for each of us, it was all about having fun. After all, if it isn't fun, why do it? For me, running comes down to equal parts of dedication, perspiration, and celebration. And with each race, we are adding to the mosaic of who we are. As you can see, I still run in the "rear echelon" of the field of runners (56th out of 88 runners).

But I like the middle/back of the pack. It's the ultimate melting pot of sizes, shapes, and ages. All are welcome. And on those rare (pre-Covid) occasions when you find someone who's willing to run at your pace, a bond develops that reaches beyond age and ability. For this one moment in time, you are together.

Suffice it to say, I could ramble on and on. But I'll spare you. Besides, I can't stop yawning, which means it's time for a nap. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- one of the best things about running is the way we runners come together for a cause greater than ourselves. Southside Medical Center, here's to you!

Friday, August 14

7:25 PM Tonight I'm watching the Beatles on YouTube while the rain comes down. Paul was the one who always seemed to write the more melodic songs in the band. Most of the songs we know from the Beatles, at least in tune form, were Paul's. John, of course, was an equal but opposite genius. John used to sneer a bit at what he called Paul's "saccharine stuff." He preferred songs that were more on the edgy side. But together they were magic. Think of the yin and yang of marriage. Becky and I were complete opposites. She was the eldest of 6. I was the youngest of 4. She was super organized. Me? "Hang loose, bruddah!" Becky was a night owl, I was the morning lark. But because the Holy Spirit lived within both of us, he could direct our paths in such a way that we were able to walk together through the ups and downs of married life.

Yes, this was taken during the disco-dancing 70s.

On a lesser scale, God does that in the church too. The New Testament is one massive testimony to unity within great diversity. Christianity is more a conversation than a movement. That's why we need to listen attentively to one another. Traditionalists (and I am one of them) need to acknowledge that what we deem tradional today was at one time radical. On the other hand, advocates of the emerging church should be careful not to love novelty simply for the sake of novelty. The point I'm trying to make is, we all need to be less dismissive of each other. I am absolutely committed to personal evangelism. But the church has to look beyond evangelism to the power of the gospel to transform society. It's not only the liberal who should be concerned about poverty or justice. If I am to be like Christ in his mission, I am to be like him in his service, his love, his concern for the marginalized. Likewise, I'm all for church growth. But there can be growth without depth. That's why most of my trips to Asia and Africa have been to teach believers how to study their Bibles and grow in Christ. To obey God's will we have to understand his word. Our calling is to be both faithful and relevant. Yin and yang. Paul and John. Dave and Becky. Excessive tolerance is to be avoided on the one hand, excessive dogmatism on the other. Above all, we evangelicals need to give each other liberty in areas in which Scripture is not absolutely clear or plain.

The bottom line? We need each other. Studying in Basel absolutely ruined my life. It so expanded my understanding of the Christian faith and so increased my love for born again Christians of different denominations that I couldn't just sit happily in church "doing my own thing." I had to find out how God wanted me to get involved in the worldwide movement of his kingdom. Yes, we are Bible people. And yes, we are also caring people. In the end what matters the most is not that I carry the label "evangelical" or that I believe the gospel, but that I put it into practice as well.

6:22 PM The ancient Greeks had a saying: "Moderation is best in all things" (also rendered "Nothing in excess"). But is moderation a good quality? Can you imagine being too generous or too faithful? There's a fine line between moderation and indifference, isn't there? On the other hand, aren't some things to be completely avoided (= Twinkies, haha)?

This subject has been on my mind lately as I've begun to moderate my efforts in my long runs. Here, moderation is essential if you are to be able to run fast in a race. It's the way to build a strong aerobic base that will allow you to run hard later. If you will, the goal of moderation is to become anything but moderate! Otherwise, self-restraint might become an excuse for apathy. To climb a mountain, for example, you have to be pushy but not too pushy. The dilemma you face is to be ambitious without being greedy, bold without being reckless, confident without being arrogant. Continue to climb when you know you should turn around, and there's a good chance of injury or even death.

On the infamous Klettersteig in Zermatt.

Believer, if there's one thing God desires of us, it's our wholehearted love and service. But really now, can we give him anything wholeheartedly? This is one of the questions I have for God when I get to heaven. Did I work hard enough to please you? Did I fail you too many times? Were you satisfied with my paltry efforts? So much has happened in my life that just doesn't make sense and cannot be understood down here. You're probably the same way. There are many puzzling questions we put into our little notebook to ask when we see Jesus. And yet I have an idea that we will not be there five minutes until we throw the notebook away and forget all of our questions. Between now and then, we are not to be just depositories of God's grace but dispensers of it. We are to be his stewards and witnesses. We can't just enjoy the gospel. We have to share it. His business is our business as Christians. We have no other. 

Is there something God has asked of you that he's still waiting for?

If you are willing and able, commit yourself today to radical obedience to the will of God to the best of your ability.

11:40 AM Got in a 13.1-mile bike today -- a half marathon distance.

These miles were then added to my weekly stats: 

God's grace! I've missed running but I've really been enjoying cycling.

How about you? What form of exercise do you enjoy the most? 

8:05 AM My thanks to whoever left this in my box yesterday on campus. It's the new grammar by Merkle and Plummer.

It's definitely different from the other grammars out there. Thank goodness for our different styles and ministries in the body of Christ. We'd reach a lot less students if we all had the same approach to Greek pedagogy. Some grammars have a less-is-more mentality. Others include everything except the kitchen sink. It's all important because we all need Jesus and the ability to read his word with greater accuracy. Every grammar has its strengths -- and weaknesses. But the more options available, the better. And you know why, right? God created us different. Imagine how he feels as he looks down from heaven and finds his children living their dreams and writing their textbooks and teaching their classes and mentoring their Greek students. The Psalmist said, "The Lord has done great things for them" (Psalm 126:2). He sure has.

Ben and Rob, again, congrats on your new book. May it run into the arms of countless students. May they sow in tears to reap a harvest. God doesn't have time to waste, so he seeks the faithful.

Thursday, August 13

7:48 PM Talking today about the very end of your Ph.D. journey, ladies and gentlemen, and that, of course, is the dissertation defense. If you've done your work well, the defense should go rather smoothly. After all, nobody knows your subject better than you do. This is a crucial part of your Ph.D. pilgrimage. I well recall my own dissertation defense in Basel. I started it really nervous, but once I got calmer everything went smoothly. A special event it most certainly was. Today I had the joy of supervising the dissertation defence of one of my own doctoral students, Mr. Noah Kelley. His dissertation is titled The Theme and Structure of the Didache: A Study in Discourse Analysis. Both I and the second reader -- my esteemed NT colleague and friend Dr. Charles Quarles -- thought Noah did exceptionally well in answering our questions. In fact, I'd say he hit it out of the ballpark.

Congratulations, Noah, on finishing your doctoral studies. You did an amazing job, and I can't wait to see your dissertation in print. It's the best feeling to be done, isn't it?

Believer, look at your life. What is that you have worked really hard to accomplish? Wasn't it worth your time and effort? It was definitely worth God's. This side of heaven, there's nothing sweeter than accomplishing a task to which the Father has called us. May your experiences always confirm indeed that "we have this treasure in earthen pots of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not of us"!

4:58 AM "The whole concern of Reformation theology was to justify restructuring the organized church without shaking its foundations." John Howard Yoder. 

Wednesday, August 12

5:24 PM Training is ramping up again. Today I did an easy 3.5 miles at the high school track. My goal was to keep my heart rate below my MAF maximum of 112 bpm. I ended up with an average of 109 bpm.

Ever tried long, slow running? I've been running slowly in foundational work for my next marathon and have really been enjoying low heart rate/intensity runs. Now I do a lot of my training at an easy pace. Good, consistent miles, with less chance of injury. So far I really like the method and have great confidence in further improvements. MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) is a great way to get a lot of volume without the fatigue associated with hard training runs. Steady runs that are well below race pace are essential for beginning runners like me. While running today, I listened to/watched this podcast by one of my favorite You Tubers, Floris Gierman.

Today he was interviewing a runner named Albert Shank, who lives in the greater Phoenix area. The guy is amazing. Today he trained in 126 degree temps! Albert, by the way, just happens to be a foreign language teacher (Spanish) like yours truly, and in the interview he said something truly profound:

I have to remember that my students are beginners. They don't know. I have all this experience and so I have to teach them and I have to be patient with them and guide them along. 

That's the key right there, folks, to successful teaching. Never, ever assume your students know what you know. Be patient with them. Start where they are, not where you think they should be. Then lead them along at a slow pace so that those who are lagging behind can catch up to the pack. Let your students know you're there for them and that your goal is to serve them, not the other way around. Continue to challenge and support them. Email your classes to remind them that you are praying for them. Above all, teach on their level. Explain concepts as simply as possible without sacrificing accuracy or content. The key, of course, is to make sure you are a teacher who knows your learners. You have to believe that all of your students can be successful as you propel them closer and closer to mastery.

Pretty obvious I've got my mind on the classroom, eh? Can't wait! I want to end by saying that I don't think I will ever live up to my aspirations as a teacher. But neither can I with honesty say to you that the goal is unreachable. Keep striving, my friend, after that which God has called you to do and to be. Like a good teacher, the Lord is patient with all of us. And, through his word, he "emails" us constantly with remainders of just how much he loves us. What a Savior! 

Be blessed,


12:44 PM Wow, did I have a great time at the beach. It was quite an experience returning to the Atlantic with my board. It was all a bit surreal. Here are a few pix to bore you with:

My view every morning. Poor me.

My view every evening. Feeling sorry for me yet?

My view biking 8 miles into town for my morning brew.

Doing a deep dive into the Greek text of Philippians.

Then I surfed every evening at sunset.

The waves weren't exactly huge, but who cares?

I have to say, I've returned home feeling refreshed and eager to get back into the classroom. Tomorrow is our faculty workshop and then in a week my classes kick off. At the same time, I'm behind on my farm jobs, so never a dull moment. Right now I need to get in a run. After all, I've got my next 5K this Saturday, Lord willing. There's only 90 runners signed up so it will be easy to socially distance during the event.

Hope you all have a great rest of your week!

Sunday, August 9

6:30 AM Good morning, bloggers of the world! Time to get on the road. Emerald Island, NC, is a good three and a half hour drive from the farm, so I can't doddle this morning. I plan to spend the next few days at a beach condo surfing, swimming, biking, and running. When I'm not reading, that is. Even if the waves aren't huge, it will be good to sit on my board again. That bad boy has been around the block a few times, including all the major beaches on O'ahu -- Pipeline, Pupukea, Sunset Beach, Haleiwa, Makaha, Ala Moana -- and several in Southern California -- mostly Huntington and Seal Beaches. Last year I took it to Virginia Beach when there was a swell there. All of this simply means that I will have one more chance to experience the joy of riding waves. To be honest, most of surfing is pretty boring. In that way, it's a metaphor for life. Catching a good wave is like getting your driver's license or graduating from college or getting married or having your first child or getting that dream job. The rest of life is the paddling out and the waiting -- cooking, cleaning, driving to work, paying bills, taking out the trash, driving the kids to soccer practice. As a child growing up at Kailua Beach, I did not consider, even momentarily, not surfing. That's just what you did in Kailua (our high school teams were called the "Surfriders"). Now, a land lubber, the joy is particularly intense whenever I can make it back to the beach. Something physiologically and mentally powerful always happens to me when I do. Actually, I was supposed to be in Hawai'i this week. But the Atlantic will do just fine. It's all a gift of nature -- meaning of God -- anyway. Bottom line: I am committed to starting every semester as fresh and as fit as I can be. Friends, I am not in this just to get by. I am in this so that I can be ministering God's word to people when I'm 85 and wearing Depends instead of swimming shorts.

Think about it. If God can create the ocean and the waves, can't he make good out of the chaos of our day? The wonders above and the wonders within us testify to his love. Whatever mess you're facing, God will get you through. But there's no shortcut. Deepening our relationship with the Lord comes at a cost. This vacation time will focus on knowing God deeper. I'm so tired of boxing in his voice or reducing it to a trite wall motto. I just want to listen. Listening means looking forward to heaven through tears and thanking God for his wonderful ability to produce light out of darkness. I can thank him even for the hard times. That's what God is listening for.

Believer, put on humility before God and watch his mercy wash over you like a cool wave on a hot day. Keep your pride in check and he can do wondrous things out of the ashes.

So much love,


Saturday, August 8

8:02 PM Got the running shoes, bike, and board loaded up. What more could a man ask for?

Well, maybe some waves that are over ankle height, but ya can't have everything. I'm taking a box load of books, of course, since I love reading, as in Really Love Reading. My job requires me to read just about every day, and that includes "fun" reading that has nothing to do with Greek. Here's a tome I just got and I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to diving into it.

I've got to say, I have enjoyed every book Gordon MacDonald has written, and there have been a great many of them. This book, as you can see, is called A Resilient Life. The subtitle is: Finish What You Start, Persevere in Adversity, Push Yourself to Your Potential. Little did I know that the good pastor is also a runner. "It makes little difference," he says, "how fast you can run 100 meters when the race is 400 meters long. Life is not a sprint; it is a distance run, and it demands the kind of conditioning that enables people to go the distance." In case you didn't know, Gordon MacDonald is Chancellor of Denver Seminary and Pastor Emeritus of Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA. Though I've never met him, I sense in him a real kindred spirit.

7:14 PM "The New Testament contains full instructions, not only about what we are to believe but what we are to do and how we are to go about doing it. Any deviation from those instructions is a denial of the Lordship of Christ. I say the answer is simple, but it is not easy for it requires that we obey God rather than man, and that brings down the wrath of the religious majority. It is not a question of knowing what to do; we can easily learn that from the Scripture. It is a question of whether or not we have the courage to do it." -- A. W. Tozer.

4:56 PM Hello again, everyone. Hope you're having a good day. Mine's been exhaustingly delightful. I was able to get in a pleasant 2-hour workout this morning before hitting the books.

Per usual, I'm reading Philippians. I have this thing about reading a book of the New Testament in as many different English versions as I can. I love doing this. Having worked on a NT translation myself, I know the effort that goes into making these translations. There's always something we can learn from them, right? Notice how The Living Bible renders Phil. 1:1:

FROM: Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ.

So far, so good. Now comes this:

To: The pastors and deacons and all the Christians in the city of Philippi.

Wait a second. I'm not so sure that was what Paul was trying to communicate to his audience. The Good News Bible says this:

From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus -- To all God's people in Philippi who are in union with Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and helpers.

This is much closer to the Greek of verse 1. In fact, The Living Bible has actually transposed "the greeted," as if Paul first addressed the church leaders and only then did he mention the other members of the congregation. This is precisely the opposite of what he did. Now, I think I understand why The Living Bible did what it did. It's because that's how we would address a letter today to a church. We would greet Pastor So-and-So and then the members. Here's what strikes me. Not only is Phil. 1:1 the only opening greeting in any of Paul's letters that mentions church leaders of any kind, the mention of "overseers and deacons" after the "saints" seems to be his way of making a point. The church is a community of people in which all are gifted and all have ministry. Yes, churches have leaders. But note: The way they are mentioned here indicates that they're not over the church but rather extensions of the church. The shepherds are themselves sheep! In addition, the New Testament generally seems to emphasize task rather than title. It tends to lay stress on functions, not offices. Interestingly, here in Phil. 1:1 the absence of the article "the" in Greek before "overseers and deacons" has led some commentators to suggest the rendering "those who oversee and serve" in order to make it clear that function is in view rather than office. Finally, it almost goes without saying that the early apostles established a pattern of plural oversight within the churches they planted. Thus Paul writes, not to "the" pastor/overseer of the church at Philippi, but to its pastors/overseers (plural).

So what does this mean for us? Pay attention to the text. Read your passage in as many different translations as you can. Think too of the larger context of Scripture when you read any individual passage. This feels a little tricky, doesn't it? I mean, how am I supposed to be able to pick up on these nuances in the text? By reading, reading, and more reading. A healthy biblical diet will ramp up your ability to make sound exegetical choices as you study God's word. Here's an observation we can make right away: Judging from the way Paul opens his letters, he places the burden of his subsequent teaching in the letter on the shoulders of the whole church. James, Peter, John, and Jude write in the same strain.   

Before you open your Bible again, ask God to do something for you. Just pray a simple little prayer. "God, may your Holy Spirit reveal truth to me. What do you want to say to me today? Not yesterday, not last year, but today?" The Bible is our personal love letter from God. A love letter that we can take to heart, that we can read, then reread, then reread again.

The ball is now in our court.

8:44 AM Well, I've decided to do it. The "it" is waxing down my surfboard (love them Beach Boys lyrics!) and heading down to the beach tomorrow for a few days of surfing. I heard that the waves at Emerald Island were breaking 10-12.



The thing about us surfers is that we're the ultimate optimists. "I know a huge swell is just over the horizon" we say after sitting on our boards for hours watching the ripples break on shore. You see where this is this going, right? God expects us to be hopeful about this life of ours. It's a crazy journey to be sure, and we never quite know what's around the bend. One thing I love about the apostle Paul is that he was the ultimate optimist. He knew he couldn't rest on his laurels and live in the rear view mirror. My friend, for every step forward we take, for every time we humbly submit to the plan of the Creator, it is returned to us a hundredfold in fellowship with him and with blessings beyond our wildest dreams. Is there anything more we could ask for? So, what keeps us from moving forward, wind in our hair and sea salt in our eyes? For me, it's often invitations to "kingdom" work that tempt my boundaries. Let me tell you, if you say "No" from time to time it won't kill you. This summer I was asked to teach Greek 1-2 for six weeks live and in person. I LOVE teaching summer Greek! Covid changed all that. It would now have to be completely online. "Would you still like to teach those two classes?" I politely turned it down. Others are much more suited to do online instruction than I am. So it stands to reason that there are going to be things in our life that aren't good or bad in themselves but are perhaps just distractions. They are options from which we have to choose. Outside of God and my family, there's nothing that brings me more joy than the classroom. The act of teaching leaves me breathless. Listen, friend, God knows best. Let's simply move forward in faith, saying "No" when we have to, asking God to show us any weak areas, giving him the chance to show himself faithful. This is not the time or place to stop moving forward or inventing our own route. Go wherever he sends you. This is the walk of faith. There ARE waves out there. You just have to keep believing.

Jesus said, "Follow me." That's the Christian life in a nutshell. He has a good plan for your life. And he has asked you to be his disciple. Thank him for that. Then spend some time praying about what you need to leave behind and for the courage to follow Jesus wherever he leads you. By the way, one way to judge your level of commitment as a disciple of Jesus is the amount of time you spend with him in his word. He teaches us through the pages of the Bible. So open the Scriptures and invite the Holy Spirit to meet you there. Then, as you go through your day, follow Jesus with abandon. Remember, you will never "arrive" this side of heaven. There is always more to learn, more steps to take, more obedience to pursue, more patience to exercise as we wait for the waves. Paul nailed it: "The only thing I want is to know Christ -- to experience the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings, in growing conformity with his death." I desperately want to be able to echo Paul's words. But I fall so short. Yet this I know: Jesus isn't only my friend, he's my best friend. He's not just my hope, he's my only hope. He's not just my joy, he's my only joy.

I may not know everything I need to know to succeed in this Christian life thing, but I have a great Teacher.

Friday, August 7

5:12 PM Care to join me on today's bike?

It was a weird-shaped route.

With lots of bridges.

And an island in the middle of the river.

The mighty James is no joke. 

Don't know where this name comes from. The water was brown, not black.

Crowded, eh?


I'm wearing a mask but you can't see it cause it's camouflaged.

Not a bad workout.

From the moment I set off from the farm this morning I was relaxed. I loved taking it all in. I can only imagine what this place looks like in the fall with all the leaves turning color. Sorry y'all can't be here.

Okay. Supper time. Ciao!

Thursday, August 6

2:04 PM This just arrived. Can't wait to do a deep dive into it.

Contributors include Oscar Cullmann, C. K. Barrett, Matthew Black, F. F. Bruce, G. B. Caird, W. D. Davies, William Farmer, Reginald Fuller, A. F. J. Klijn, I. Howard Marshall, Otto Michel, Leon Morris, J. B. Orchard, T. F. Torrance, Albert Vanhoye, Rudolf Schnackenburg, and many others. Below is the Theologisches Seminar where I spent so many happy months researching my dissertation in Basel and where I attended seminars with Professors Reicke and Barth. Reicke loved his Doktoranden, and we loved him.

Precious memories. Becky and I were as poor as church mice but were so happy to be living in Basel!

1:40 PM Currently FREE as an eBook. Don't know how long it will last.

12:25 PM This has been a very tough 24 hours for my neighbors and for my county. A gignormous thunderstorm landed on us for several terrifying hours last night, leaving 3 inches of rain, hail, flooding, road closures, power outages, and general misery.

For a few moments I thought the house was going to be blown away by the gale force winds. It feels so surreal when something like this happens right on your door step.

Thankfully there seems to be no major damage to structures and everybody I know is safe. The skies have cleared, the power has been restored, and we're all hoping for NO REPEAT of last night's storm. This morning, after checking the farm and the neighborhood, I grabbed some coffee and headed out to town to get in a short run.

I want to share with you a thought that went through my mind while I was running. Do you remember that passage in Philippians where Paul says, in essence, "Church, if all you do is bicker and complain, the corrupt and sinful world all around you will never be able to recognize you as the innocent and pure children of God that you are. So stop that! Instead, you must shine among them like stars lighting up the night sky as you offer them the life-giving message of the gospel. If you do this, then and ONLY then will I have a reason to be proud when I stand before Christ, because it will show that all of my work will not have been wasted and my race will not have been run in vain" (Phil. 2:14-16).

The implication of what Paul says here is extraordinary! He says that on the Day when he will have to give an account of his life and ministry before the risen Christ, if on that Day the Philippians were not holding forth the word of life and offering it to their friends and neighbors, Paul would regard his own ministry among them as having been completely wasted. He will have "run his race in vain." I think the point he's trying to make is a very simple yet profound one: We can't be satisfied with winning people to Christ. Paul certainly wasn't. No, his goal was to win others to Christ who would themselves win others to Christ who would themselves win others to Christ, ad infinitem. I imagine if Paul were to have written a book on soul winning, it might have been entitled, Every Soul Won a Soul Winner. And if those he had won for Christ did not themselves reach others for Christ, he would have regarded his own race and his own labor to have been wasted.

And who is to do this work of evangelism? Only those with the gift of evangelism? I don't believe so. Paul calls the body as a whole to do this together. We as followers of the Lord Jesus are not to remain in a state of passive dependence on others (fulltime evangelists). The task of bearing God's image and proclaiming his gospel was not given only to the apostle Paul. It was given to us as well. The church is a community in which all have the ministry of reconciliation. That's Paul's message here in Phil. 2:14-16.

Good stuff, eh? In any event, as you can see, I'm still learning many valuable lessons from the book of Philippians. I'm going to be praying about what all of this means for my teaching this semester. I've got to admit it, I love Paul's Letter to the Philippians. Yes, happiness is a choice, and it comes from putting others before ourselves. It's the result of our outlook and what we choose to prioritize in our lives. As Mother Teresa once put it, "It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love put into them that matters." That's exactly how Paul lived. He lived for the honor and glory of Christ alone and to share Christ's love with others sacrificially. Friends, we have only one life to live, and if we will model our assignment after Paul's, we won't be too far off the mark. I sure don't want to be like the student who received the following remarks on his book report:

Excellent bibliography!

Outstanding research!

Impeccable spelling!

Grade: "F."

Wrong Assignment!

Wednesday, August 5

5:44 PM Been translating 1 Thessalonians today. Oh my, what a book! It's actually the first Pauline epistle we'll be studying in NT 2 class this semester since I walk my students through Paul's letters from his earliest writings to his final letters. One of the key words here in chapter 5 is adelphoi. Paul wants us to view the church as a family of "brothers and sisters" in Christ. You see, the word adelphoi clearly includes both sexes -- men and women -- who together comprise one adelphotēs -- brotherhood. Sly and the Family Stone got it right -- WE ARE FAMILY! I might paraphrase verse 12 as follows:

Now we urge you, sisters and brothers, to pay proper respect to those who labor and toil so hard among you, who guide and lead you in the ways of the Lord, and who instruct and admonish you should you veer from the proper path.

The verb I translated as "labor and toil so hard" is kopiaō, which was often used to describe the work of a farmer. Some of us can identify for sure. There's something so wonderful about being hot, sweaty, AND stinky!

Thankfully, Papa B has lots of help.

Thomas Edison once said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls [edit: He meant tank tops and shorts] and looks like work." Pastoral ministry is hard work! Any kind of ministry is. If we take God seriously, we also ought to take our work seriously. Most of all, realize that when God made you, he was pleased. He created you in such a way as to experience incredible satisfaction that comes from a job well done. Christians should make the best employees. Jesus worked hard. Paul worked hard. The Thessalonian leaders worked hard. Hence the theme of work is woven thickly into the fabric of both 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Aren't you glad you are called to work to the degree you're able? When I was a teenager, I was so grateful for those who set a good example for me by modeling a high work ethic. The apostle Paul didn't care about having a life of ease. And you know, I believe he really enjoyed his work! I want to as well.

4:12 PM Question of the day, ladies and gentlemen. I've asked it before but I wanted to bring it home again if ya don't mind. In my beginning grammar, which I am in the process of revising, how can I bring you more value? How can I better serve you, the reader? What do you want me to talk about?

I think I have a pretty comprehensive analysis of Greek grammar -- all the various factors that belong in a beginning textbook -- but if you can think of one that is just not on my radar, let me know at So again, how can I bring you more value? That's the question of the day. Thanks for reading and thanks very much for the input I've already gotten.

P.S. Before I go, I might add one more factor, and that is what I am calling the "cringe test." When you're reading my grammar, is there anything that just makes you cringe? It's like, "I can't believe he wrote that!" or "That makes absolutely no sense at all!" Pass those on to me if you would. I promise to give your suggestions serious consideration and turn them to the improvement of the book. Thank you!

12:26 PM Here's your English lesson for the day:

  • Verb: Scavenge.

  • Gerund/participle: Scavenging.

  • Definition: To search for and collect anything useful from discarded waste.

I thought of this old-fashioned word while mowing the back 40 today. See these outbuildings?

How much did they cost us? Not a dime. We scavenged them from our neighbors. In essence, they said, "You take it off my property, you get if for free." What a deal. Number one: We wanted all our outbuildings to look old. Number two, every cent we saved we used to pay for our trips to Ethiopia (17 trips for me, 14 for Becky). As the old cliché says, "A penny saved is a penny earned." There is something so liberating about taking someone else's "junk" and turning it into something that's valuable to you. Is there a less traveled path than this? Hmm, maybe bartering, but who does that nowadays? I have the sweetest memories of erecting these buildings with my son. There were some hilarious moments that I shall go to the grave with under threat of death.

If one-sixth of the world's population claims to be Christian, then how do you account for all the poverty and suffering? Abstinence, restraint, reduction, going without, scavenging, bartering, saving -- these words are anathema to us baby boomers. Friend, you and I decide where each of our dollars goes. The world is waiting. The Lord is watching. What are we going to do? I can do better. I must do better.

11:05 AM Nice, easy bike today.

Explored new territory. Like this road.

Never been on it before. What is it about people always wanting newness? By the way, are you a goal setter? Recently I've been thinking about my goals for the next 10 years or so. These include my writing goals and my running goals. Let's start with the latter, shall we? I think I would state my 10-year goals for running as follows:

  • Stay healthy and still be running 10 years from now and beyond.

  • Have at least two more marathons in the books.

  • Break the four minute mile. (Kidding.)

  • Run another 50K trail race.

  • Start running with my grandkids.

  • Run competitively in my age division.

  • Continue building overall endurance and strength.

  • Make more friends within the running community.

  • Participate in as many fundraisers as I can.

Speaking of fundraisers, my next 5K race is a week from this Saturday. It's called the "Race for the Cause 5K." The "cause" is certainly a very worthy one in my book: "All proceeds go toward cancer education, detection, and treatment." Yes indeed, we are a community of support. As for my writing goals, they will have to wait. I need to get out and mow the jungle (aka yards).

Planning ahead,


Tuesday, August 4

8:46 PM When the MacDonald's on the lake lured me in for an ice cream cone this evening, I had no idea I would also be treated to this.

2:54 PM Just finished a Zoom call with the media team at the seminary as they prepare to do a video about my book They Will Run and Not Grow Weary.

They asked me if I could summarize the main point of the book in a sentence or two. Boy was that hard! I think the main goal of the book is to correct a distortion about the gospel that I think some of us in the church have fallen prey to. The distorted gospel says come to Jesus and be happy. The true gospel of the New Testament says come to Jesus and prepare to begin a life of strenuous pilgrimage. The distorted gospel says becoming a Christian is a guarantee of prosperity. The true gospel of the Bible says becoming a Christian is the guarantee of adversity. In short, friends, the Christian life is a fight, it's a struggle, it's a lifelong race, and to live it involves blood, sweat, tears, and toil. It's frankly absurd to think that we can run the race of life without self-discipline. No athlete competes without a strict regimen of training. The only path to glory is suffering, and "it is through many tribulations that we must inherit the kingdom of heaven" (Acts 14:22). So yes, when we come to Christ, God showers us with enormous blessings -- forgiveness of sin, relief from shame and guilt, and a million other benefits, including "joy unspeakable and full of glory." Just as importantly, however, out of his unfathomable love, this same God calls us to surrender our lives to Christ, and we owe it to everybody, Greek and barbarian, wise and unwise, to make Christ known by life and by lip. We owe it to the Lord Jesus to be faithful and to glory in his cross alone. Like an athlete in training, there's only one thing to do with the flesh. It's not to be coddled but crucified. "We'd better get on with it," the writer of Hebrews says (12:1-2). "Strip down, start running -- and never quit!" The rewards of running the Christian life are worth the perseverance and endurance it takes to develop them.

Let's get on with it, then. Just do it (with apologies to Nike)!

11:46 AM Yes, ladies and gentlemen, developing an aerobic base is the key to producing long term fitness and stamina for anyone doing long distance races. Today, in beautiful weather I might note (Isaias moved along after dropping two inches of rain), we managed a 6 mile run, trying to lay down capillary beds in the lungs, which can only happen through long and steady runs.

Blue skies and cooler weather. Thank you, Lord!

This week my training schedule is backwards. For some reason, I biked yesterday when I normally run on Mondays. This means my running will take place this week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Doesn't matter! Go get it, ladies and gentlemen, whatever the Lord has planned for you this day or this week. Be smart, but don't hold back. Work hard on and off the track, and don't be afraid to push the limits just a little bit. This also goes for your Bible study, friends. This blog is all about becoming independent thinkers, Berean Christians if you will, people who are willing to ask whether the word of God really does have free rein among us and whether it is not after all bound and fettered by the traditions of man. "A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed," wrote Dresden James. "It wasn't the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn't flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic."

Dresden James, British novelist and scriptwriter.

Does this sound too radical? It wasn't for Bill Farmer. In the preface to his book The Synoptic Problem, he stated:

This book seeks to demonstrate that the idea of Marcan priority is highly questionable. The fact that an idea which is highly questionable is nevertheless widely believed or assented to is not new. What may be new to some is the demonstrable fact that ideas which could be grossly false can gain acceptance and credence in the highest intellectual circles and councils of the modern West, under the guise of being the assured results of criticism.

I couldn't agree more! For years I've been sharing various arguments in favor of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, the priority of Matthew, the usefulness of the Byzantine text type, etc, and much of what I have written is directly based on the writings of the early fathers of the church. These early theologians weren't inspired, of course, and thus what they say can't hold a candle to the authority of the Bible. At the same time, their proximity to the events described in the New Testament gives their teachings considerable weight. Much more can be said about this, but I need not detain you with the evidence since I have pretty much done that already in my various books. I know there are still a good number of questions that need to be worked out. I also know that several of you are working on these problems and have indicated a willingness to engage me in discussion. I, for one, am very much looking forward to this!

More to come. Stay tuned, and have a great day!

Monday, August 3

3:14 PM Have you ever read a book that changed the way you thought about a certain subject? Here's a book that played that role in my life many years ago.

I got it in the mail today. I still can't believe I hadn't purchased it previously. But now it will have pride of place in Bradford Hall's library. All books affect readers in different ways. Some of the so-called "classics" had absolutely no impact on my life despite having read them. These include, I would say, Plato's The Republic, Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto, Paine's Common Sense, Smith's The Wealth of Nations, and Dante's Divine Comedy. But others were life-changing reads: Orwell's 1984, Huxley' Brave New World, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Goethe's Faust, and Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl -- to name a few. These kinds of books are often more difficult to read. You can't rush through them. They require patience and deliberate, independent thinking. The same is true of Farmer's The Synoptic Problem. If you have enjoyed or liked anything I've had to say or write about the synoptic problem, you can partly blame Bill Farmer for it. I was particularly privileged to have known him for many years. And I will never forget his visit to campus during our Symposium on New Testament Studies in 2,000. The greatest of all strengths of The Synoptic Problem is its attention to the Fathers. The book was a genuine and successful attempt to come to grips with the patristic testimony, so frequently ignored. There is really nothing quite like it in the annals of Gospels research. May I commend it to you?

2:20 PM Hey there! Hope you're all having a wonderful day. I managed to get in a 14 mile bike this morning before it started to rain. We're looking at a flood watch this evening through Wednesday, but it's rain that we've badly needed. I'm taking a much-needed break from working on Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk to do some last minute prep for my classes, one of which, Greek 3, has us going verse by verse through Paul's wonderful little letter to the Philippians. In a nutshell, I'll argue that Paul's theme in this book is working together to advance the gospel, and that all other goals in life must be subordinated to that one, overriding purpose. Undoubtedly the verses in which this theme is most clearly seen in chapter 1 of Philippians are 1:21 and 1:27, where Paul says, "For to me to live is Christ" and "The only thing that matters is that you live as good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the gospel." Let me just say this about Paul's perspective here in Philippians 1. His one goal in life was to advance the glory, honor, and mission of Jesus Christ. Nothing else mattered. Hence he could endure imprisonment, slander, and even death if that meant the advance of the gospel. And so, rather than complaining about his chains, he welcomed them because they had emboldened the believers in Rome to preach the word of God more fearlessly than before. He could endure slander and the jealously of others because, whatever their motives, the Good News about Christ was being preached. And he could endure a martyr's death as long as Christ was glorified in his body, whether it was a dead body or a living one. Life or death? That wasn't the question for Paul. The only question was whether Christ would be magnified in and through him, because "to me to live is Christ."

What Paul says here is truly magnificent. If only I could live like that myself. In my flesh I would give almost anything to avoid sorrow and sickness and death. But not Paul. He had lost his freedom through house arrest. He had lost his reputation through the slander of jealous preachers. And he would eventually lose his life at the hands of a tyrannical dictator named Nero. None of this mattered to Paul. He had gotten his priorities right.

This morning, as I read this passage, I felt great conviction because of Paul's Christ-centered ambition. Too often I'm consumed with self-centered ambitions. I want my freedom, freedom to do what I please, when I please. To be completely honest with you, I resent the coronavirus. I resent that I'm not able to travel as I please. I resent that I couldn't teach my students face to face last semester. I resent that my first ever invitation to lecture at Princeton University was swept away by the virus. I resent that my annual vacation to Hawai'i was postponed. I resent not being able to see my friends there or go surfing or climb Mount Olomana or start another Greek class on O'ahu. I resent that I couldn't run my marathon in June. Can I really say, "To me to live is Christ"? Or is my motto, "To me to live is ... ME"?

In any event, it seems to me that I still have very much to learn from this short epistle. For 14 weeks we'll have the chance to take a closer look at these four chapters. And we'll have the opportunity to take a personal inventory to determine how much of our life is based on Christ-centered ambition and how much of it is based on self-centered ambition. Our challenges are much the same as Paul's. Yet he overcame because of one thing: He gave Jesus the place of preeminence in his heart. Christ himself is the new life that surges into our lives, pushing off the old and making room for the new. Is Jesus King of kings or not? His claim still demands a verdict. And we've got the deciding vote. Thank you, Paul, for helping me think through this.

So, now it's your turn. Is there something in your life that's keeping you from saying, "To me to live is Christ"? Jesus had to visit our planet to make it possible for us to experience life in all its fullness. Are you experiencing that abundant life? That's possible only when we are living for the honor, glory, and mission of the Savior.

Sunday, August 2

7:26 PM I know it will sound crazy, but I just drove to Raleigh to buy some Ethiopian food. Today I was feeling nostalgic for Becky. Seems every place I drove by brought back happy memories of the times we spent together establishing the farm. There's the restaurant we enjoyed so much. There's the antique store where we bought our huge front door frame. There's the Lowe's where we bought our supplies to build our new house. I could literally go on and on. Now here I am and it's been almost 8 years since I said goodbye to Becky. It felt so good to be able to eat some Ethiopian food in her memory. I'd obviously be lying if I said I didn't still miss her. I suppose I always will. Missing a loved one is kind of like having to take a detour off the main highway every so often because of construction. You're still heading in basically the same direction, but you end up going through little towns you weren't really expecting to travel through. Eventually you end up getting back on the main road. Today was one of those little detours. I wasn't expecting to feel so nostalgic. But there was a smile instead of a frown. There was calmness instead of worry. You're no longer holding on to the pain to stay connected to your loved one. Somehow you've achieved that elusive balance between holding on and letting go. So, today I said goodbye to Becky again. I'm told that's one of the most significant steps in the grieving process. It begins with accepting the reality of the loss and then moves on to reinvesting your love elsewhere. You let go to live life again. Eating Ethiopian tonight was me saying to Becky, "I'm letting you go again, but I will always miss you. I love you. You are never forgotten."

Thanks for joining me on the journey, guys.

12:52 PM "It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

9:16 AM "Today the dependence of Matthew and Luke upon Mark and the unknown document called Q is accepted by innumerable theologians and lay people of every nationality and confession. It is generally taken for granted without any discussion." -- Bo Reicke, The Roots of the Synoptic Problem, p. 6. Wish it were otherwise!

8:25 AM My Bible reading this morning was in 1 Corinthians and in particular that wonderful first chapter, where Paul writes: 

I beg you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so that there won't be splits in the church.

Some of you are saying, "I am a follower of Paul"; and others say that they are for Apollos or Peter; and some that they alone are the true followers of Christ. And so, in effect, you have broken Christ into many pieces.

I am so thankful now that I didn't baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius. For now no one can think that I have been trying to start something new, beginning a "Church of Paul."

Paul's teaching here could revolutionize the world. The church as it is today is not the church as God intended it to be. There's only one body of Christ because there is only one Holy Spirit, quickening and animating the one body of Christ. The one Spirit animates the one body. Moreover, there's only one Lord Jesus Christ who is the object of our faith. And there is only one Christian family embracing us all because there is only one God and Father of us all. In short, there can only be one Christian family, one faith, and one body precisely because there's only one God. We can no more multiply churches than we can multiply Gods. The unity of the church is as indestructible as the unity of God himself. Paul says you can no more split the church than you can split the Godhead. Then why are there masses of churches today in competition with one another? Christian people all over the world are one. God says so. But we must be eager to maintain the unity of the church in visible manifestations, in visible relationships. No, let me rephrase that:

It is I who must be willing to do this.

Maybe it can start with little acts of kindness, like refraining from saying something I have every right to say, or showing compassion to others in very ordinary yet tangible ways, or letting someone else go first in line, or holding no grudges, or offering a word of praise, or listening to someone with whom I disagree. Maybe it's allowing Christ to work through me to touch lives in seemingly inconsequential ways. Trouble is, unity can't be measured only by the outward things we do. The inward thing we are matters too. It is that inner quality rather than a particular set of actions that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 1.

Is pursuing unity a Christian characteristic you would mention in a list of essential virtues? There is nothing we can do to create unity. We are one in Christ. However, the values we live by now are the values others will remember us by later. The ability to foster unity in the midst of all of our diversity is not some special mystical power that belongs only to those who have memorized Romans or who can read the Gospels in Greek. It belongs to us.

Saturday, August 1

8:38 PM The Lord just said, "Good night everyone." 

8:22 PM Hi again, folks. I've been very impressed with this book.

The author does a really good job of fleshing out why the digital church exists and what we should do about it. Here's a great quote:

If we are not in the room, standing in the very midst of the people to whom the sermon is being delivered, if we cannot see their faces, hear their singing, feel their palpable anticipation, need, or yearning, then how can we possibly preach in ways that can be heard?

In other words, why show up when I can just stay at home and listen from the comfort of my bedroom or living room? The author is adamant: social media and other digital spaces "always fall short and leave us wanting." When told to remember to always look into the camera so his other campuses would feel connected to him, he did as he was told but "something about it felt off." Elsewhere he bemoans the temptation of the digital age "to pursue relevance at any cost."

I'm not versed enough in this subject to have anything to add at this point. I'm neither pro nor con the digital church. I do know I feel very uncomfortable with all the gloss and hype of the digital world. I'm sort of anti-trendy in that way. Yes, churches should use digital technologies, but not as a replacement for a deeply rich communal life. I well remember the first time I watched a live service of a church that was broadcasting the message to its satellite campuses. I thought, "Why in the world is the speaker looking at me and not at the real live human beings sitting right there in front of him? I wonder how connected they feel to him?" Because I sure didn't. I hope this book gives me a clearer understanding of how technology has changed the church for better and for worse. I can already think of a handful of friends I want to pass it along to.

Keep growing and thinking!


5:40 PM Hey friends! You should have seen all the volunteers at today's race, allowing us runners to pursue our goals and dreams in 2020, even through a pandemic. Here's a big shout out to everyone who gave of their time to facilitate us runners today on the course. Absolutely inspiring. Interestingly, at the beginning of 2020, I had all my big races planned out. I really hoped to complete my 17th marathon on June 18th. But that's just gonna have to wait until 2021. However ... because of the pandemic, because I haven't been able to have a "normal" racing schedule, what has been happening? We've been learning about all kinds of local races that are exciting, well-organized, and, well, just gobs of fun. Today's event -- the GUTS, GRAVEL, GLORY 10K at the Pocahontas State Park near Richmond, did not disappoint.

I could not believe I got to toe the line with some awesome runners at today's race.

I haven't been on the starting line of a 10K in a very long time it seems. My goal today was a very simple one: I wanted to finish the race feeling so good that I could run it again if I wanted to.

And I wanted to smile the whole time, even at the finish line.

I truly forgot just how challenging trail races are. Anyhoo, a fun and adventurous day. And yes, I came in dead last. Success!

Even though I am what many people consider to be "retirement" age, I have no intention of giving up the energy and vibrant good health that running has brought me for nearly 5 years. I can't be content just to sit back and rock. I want to walk and run and surf and swim and bike. I want to feel my arms and legs and lungs and heart working in perfect harmony. I want to get sweaty and hot and cherish and nurture the body God's given me. Those of us who are over 50 know that life is short and that we need to embrace every day the Lord gives us. Running isn't just a sport for us. It's a way of life. It flows through our veins like our blood does. As long as God gives me good health I'll keep on doing what I'm doing because I love it. I'm not fast but I am dogged. It's my only talent. I can put one foot in front of the other and keep going, slowly. Thanks for coming along on this crazy journey with me. I'm just trying to live in the moment, enjoy the moment, even have fun with the moment, if you know what I mean.

Since I'm too lazy to mow, this evening I'm just going to chillax on the porch with my doggie and read this book that came in yesterday's mail.

I read it when it first came out in 1986 but somehow misplaced my copy, so I thought I should right that wrong and purchase another one. In case you didn't know, Professor Reicke was my "Doctor Father" in Basel, and a fabulous one was he. I still remember warmly the times he and Ingalisa Reicke had me and Becky in their home for dinner. There are many disasters that can occur in Ph.D. programs. I have known some students who stopped their work midstream because they couldn't work with their major professor. How sad and unfortunate. Blessed are thou if you have a supervisor with whom it's a delight to work. There's nothing quite like that relationship in the world!

Well, that's all, folks. That's enough, right? I appreciate you reading this not-so-short report. But if I can run for over an hour, you can read this whole thing!

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