Monday, August 3
6:58 AM Hi folks,
As a 10-year old boy growing up in Hawaii, I clearly remember the day our pastor was fired. He was a gentle, elderly saint -- an exceptional shepherd and a good Bible expositor. And then he suffered a stroke. His willingness to persevere in the midst of his weaknesses and debilities left me gasping. What an example of power-in-weakness, I thought to myself, little knowing that 20 years later I would write my doctoral dissertation in Basel on the very same topic (Paul, Apostle of Weakness). Suddenly, he was gone. The adults kept saying, "It's too hard listening to him talk," or "He was ready for retirement anyway," or "We were losing our youth because of him." "Merciful heavens!" I cried out. "Is this how the church is to treat its pastors?"
Jesus faced a similar struggle with His new disciples. From the experts in the Jewish law, they had learned a distorted view of leadership. Knowing this, Jesus redefined their concepts of power and spiritual leadership. That redefinition was so profound that we are still talking about it 2,000 years later. As I begin to teach through According to Mark in 2 weeks. it's my job to make sure my students get it.
It is generally agreed that According to Mark is our earliest Gospel. There are many reasons for questioning this conclusion (see my Why Four Gospels?). Mark's Gospel is really comprised of the eye-witness testimony of the apostle Peter, an "elder" who witnessed the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 5:1). Mark is his "son" in the faith (5:13), and the patristic evidence is clear that Peter used Mark as his stenographer in composing According to Mark just as He used Silvanus as his amanuensis in writing 1 Peter (5:12).
Recent scholarship has suggested that According to Mark is a "passion narrative with an extended introduction" -- a witty yet accurate description. As I have attempted to show in Why Four Gospels?, According to Mark directs our attention to two major themes, one dealing with Christology, the other dealing with ecclesiology. Of primary importance is the Christological theme. According to Mark introduces Jesus as the Son of God who accepts suffering and death at the hands of the same Jewish leaders who were responsible for the death of Jesus' predecessor, John the Baptist. (There are actually two "passion narratives" in According to Mark: John's and Jesus'.) Thus Mark's Gospel is a Gospel of paradox from the very beginning. Jesus, the Son of God, not only commended but exemplified the lowly attitude that contrasts with the world's sense of self-importance. Jesus' mission was not to rule in earthly triumph but to suffer and be rejected by His own. Some scholars (most notable Ralph Martin in his book Mark: Evangelist and Theologian) have suggested that According to Mark was written for a church that faced the danger of misunderstanding Paul's message, particularly the latter's theologia crucis, his "theology of the cross." For both Peter (=Mark) and Paul, Jesus achieved glory only by way of rejection and the cross -- cf. the divine parabola in Phil. 2:5-11, about which I have written considerably in my book The Jesus Paradigm.
This theme of suffering and rejection is then carried forward in According to Mark by means of a magnificent rhetorical ploy. If the Messiah will experience suffering rather than triumph and rejection rather than popularity, how much more will His followers expect the same treatment (8:34-38; 13:9-13)? "Mark campaigns against balcony-type Christians who are too high for the mission and discipleship that in Mark's terms necessarily involves cross-bearing and self-sacrifice" (H. Anderson, The Gospel of Mark, p. 55). Therefore, any person or thing or human tie or affection that might stand in the way of a disciple's commitment to the kingdom of God must be dealt with decisively and be broken. The cross is not a religious symbol but an instrument of death. And "taking it up" requires the death of self, all personal ambition, and any form of selfish attainment, no matter how noble it may seem to others. True discipleship is a treasure worth more than all other earthy possessions. It is a pearl of great price and will cost a person everything he or she has. Moreover, According to Mark makes it absolutely clear that discipleship cannot be carried out in the abstract. Words must be matched by deeds, and because this is true, According to Mark strikes the reader as a Gospel of action, not of speculative theology. Likewise, in our day and time there is no possibility of a genuine renewal of the life of the church unless the principle of suffering is accepted without reservation.
Here, then, is the fundamental message of According to Mark as I see it. It is the message of personal involvement and it applies to all persons, male and female, clerical and lay, old and young. All Christians must be in the business of cross-bearing whatever their occupations might be, because the non-obedient follower of Christ is a contradiction in terms. Millions of back-seat and back-slidden Christians are content to be willing observers of a performance staged by professionals, and not a few of our clergy class are content to glory in the contrast between their exalted status and the lowly status of the ordinary Christian. Their attitude seems a far cry from that of Jesus when He washed the feet of His disciples.
So you see, our task in studying According to Mark is far more than exegetical. It is to try and see the entire problem of ministry in biblical perspective. "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many." The only kind of exegesis that is worth encouraging is that which makes a radical difference in the entire Christian enterprise. We may as well face the fact that the message of According to Mark -- this theologia crucis -- is bound to be an unwelcome word in a church that fails to understand the concept of commitment. But what Jesus sought to produce is not a fellowship of the self-righteous but a fellowship of men and women who, though recognizing themselves as inadequate and unworthy, nevertheless are absolutely committed to becoming personally involved in the effort to "go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to every creature" (16:15). The churches that are succeeding best at this are are those in which every-member ministry is most nearly complete. The sooner you and I acknowledge the role we play in this universal task, the quicker the forces arrayed against Christianity in the modern world will realize that Christ's cause is something worth paying attention to.
Sunday, August 2
7:44 PM Hmm. I wonder. What would happen if I shaved my beard?
7:08 AM I am one developmental stage ahead of most of you, dear readers. I'm also single again. Here's a slice of my morning: woke up early to enjoy the 58 degree temps, a gorgeous sunrise, and the wisdom of Paul about singleness (1 Cor. 7):
You might not see a single thing here that is applicable to your own life. But the kingdom thinking embedded in these verses is remarkable. In my immature moments when I think I know God's will for my life better than He does, I squirm under His teaching in this chapter. And then it occurs to me: Paul wrote this chapter for me. And he was right (and so was Jesus): Singleness is truly a gift of God. It's the work of His mercy and compassion. Because life is not about us but about the work of caring and sharing and loving, regardless of what our marital status might be.
So thanks, Paul. I always appreciate wise words coming from a guy who's been there and done that. And thank you, God. The sunrise you allowed me to enjoy this morning was a blessing.
Saturday, August 1
7:25 PM Concert note:
More info here. Just think -- Rutter himself! And the Edenton Street Church is a fabulous venue for great sacred music. I know; I've been there many times. Woohoo!
7:06 PM 37.55. That was my world-record shattering time from today's 5K in Cary. [Lie detector blinking!!!!!] Ok, so it wasn't anything special -- except to me. This was my fourth 5K in as many weeks and when it was over I felt really good about myself because (1) I decided to race even though I had some pain in my left knee, (2) I worked through the pain, and (3) I was able to run (and not just walk) the last half of the competition completely pain free.
Actually, I felt stronger and more refreshed after the race than before it. Moreover, I think my brain actually told me something like this today: "I get this." I felt something new in my legs. I could literally feel it for the first time. They want to run. That is so cool. So we'll see what happens during next week's race (also in Cary). I'm praying about running the entire 3.1 miles this time around, going as slowly as necessary. My goal is to eventually enter the elusive under-30 minute club. At any rate, it was a fun race with a cool and shady course and plenty of fun and food afterwards. A huge shout out to Small Hands Big Hearts United for organizing such a fantastic event. Here I am with Anita Pease, executive director.
I also want to thank Young and Associates who have organized all four of these races and have done an uber-professional job, so much so that I'm thinking of organizing a race with them in Becky's memory next year in the Raleigh area. I'll call it "Run for Your Cancer Hero" (or something like that) and the proceeds would go to women's cancer research. In the meantime, you can check out their race schedule here and maybe even come out to an event.
6:24 PM Well, tomorrow it will be exactly 20 months since Becky died and I haven't given you an update in a while. I'll start with the basics. I miss Becky more today than the day she passed away. I still love her. I still wear the wedding band she placed on my finger 39 years ago come September. I miss her tons and tons and tons. Her absence has introduced me to several big changes.
1) Becky was the link to certain important relationships we enjoyed together. Now that the link is gone, it's only natural that some of these relationships have begun to fade. Even though I mourn the loss of these relationships, I'm good with that. It's to be expected. Oddly enough, though, some of these relationships are even closer than before. Either way, I'm enormously grateful to all of you who stood by me during the period right after Becky's death. I could not have made it as well as I did without your compassion and understanding.
2) Occasionally I still live in the past, thinking about what Becky and I would be doing on a nice day like today, or what countries we'd be visiting, or what new adventures we sensed the Lord was taking us on together. But mostly I live in the present with a deep sense of gratitude not only to God but also for the grief, which is a great teacher. I'm still madly in love with my profession and its variety -- teaching, mentoring, writing, publishing, blogging, traveling, and speaking in churches. Who knows, one day I may get good at it. I never in a million years anticipated closing out my teaching career without Becky. When I married her in 1976, I made this very clear to her when I proposed with these words: "Honey, I'm teaching at Biola in the fall and I don't want to begin my career without you by my side." Becky was absolutely thrilled that I found so much fulfillment in my profession. How many people on this planet can say that they absolutely love their jobs? It's a rare blessing to wake up each morning eager to engage my mind and soul in something as satisfying as teaching. It is wonderful to contemplate that in heaven Becky is meeting all the great teachers of the faith, from Paul to Peter to James and to moderns like James Boice (who also studied for his doctorate at Basel).
3) The Lord has been so tender to me through this entire ordeal. It wasn't too long ago when I felt like the solid footing I had before Becky died was completely gone. Yet the instability of yesterday's emotions have begun to give way to feelings of settledness, peace, and trust. You can't make your grief get better, but God can.
4) It has helped to deal with my pain a little bit at a time. At first I tried to accomplished too much. I allowed grief to get in the way of making good decisions and to cloud some relationships. At the same time, I found myself tolerating criticism and behaviors from certain quarters that can only be described as abusive. I don't know how many times I've had to ask God to give me a clear mind and the wisdom to know which relationships to invest in with openness, trust, vulnerability, and warmth. I cannot begin to guess what Becky would think of all of this. Oh how I wish she were here to share her insights and woman's intuition with me! I am so naive; she could cut through a person with a knife. But I do know that if she were here she would be touched beyond words at the lavish outpouring of love I've experienced from my church family to my seminary administration and colleagues to my students and to my children and even to complete strangers who have cried with me.
5) I guess you could say that my life has settled into a "new" routine. Like most of you, I work fulltime (two jobs in fact), stay involved in the lives of my kids and grandkids, and continue to pursue the crazy, adventurous role God has for me this side of heaven. Part of my new normal is something I've brought over from my old normal, and I'm referring to this blog of course. I thank you for reading DBO up to this point, and I hope you will continue to benefit from reading the sequel too. I am so thankful that God allowed Becky to complete her autobiography, which, by the way, is now available in the world's three most widely spoken languages (English, Spanish, and Chinese). I continue to write, and people have been very kind to get my books into print. I feel I am the most blessed man on the planet. I still have significant and satisfying work to do. I still enjoy thinking outside the box. I'm in better physical shape today than I have been in a very long time. I'm dreaming new dreams and setting new goals. Becky's death remains now, as it has always been, a painful memory that follows me day after day after day. That fateful morning in November 2013 will remain a traumatic chapter in my life story for as long as I live. But on the whole, hope has returned to replace despair, and more often than not there is a smile instead of a frown, there is calmness instead of panic, trust instead of doubt. The ache in my heart is gradually going away and I'm beginning to discover new personal growth through my loss.
6) In short, I still miss Becky. I miss her singing in the morning and her joy as she gardened and the days we traveled together and the songs we cherished and the delights of marriage we enjoyed and the relationships we nurtured together. I mourn these losses deeply but not in such a way as to interfere with the new life of singleness to which God has graciously called me. Thank you for traveling this road with me. Time and again I've read and reread your emails and texts and I simply will never be able to thank you enough for your love and support.
Sorry about the length of this update. I'll stop here and pray that as you consider your own departed loved ones, God might enable you to adjust to life without them, working through your pain, renewing your emotional energy, glorying in God's "new normal" for you, and successfully transforming the relationship with your departed loved one from joyful presence to happy memory.
To God alone be all the glory.
"For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest"
the saints who from their labors rest,
wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
communion, fellowship divine,
the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
there breaks a yet more glorious day;
Friday, July 31
7:06 PM My new living room arrangement. Like it?
6:48 PM Reports of church buildings and crosses being torn down overseas are disturbing indeed. We will make great strides, however, only when we come to view church buildings (or even house churches) not as holy places but as bases from which the servants of the cross deploy. Jesus says the fruit is the world, and this is where we as Christians are to focus. A church building of any kind is dangerous if the members are satisfied to make the gathering an end in itself. The test of both the validity and the vitality of a local church does not occur during the weekly meeting but after the meeting is over. The earliest Christians had good reason not to own buildings of their own: they were far too busy turning their world upside for Christ to build monuments to themselves. And who can deny this temptation of ours to build Christian shrines? I love architectural beauty so much that I would rather gather in a great cathedral on Sunday morning than in a simple brick edifice. But I am speaking in my flesh. The Brethren had their meeting halls that emphasized simplicity and functionality rather than grandeur and ostentation. What good is it to have a fantastic building in which the brethren gather to meet maybe only two or three times a week? But where we meet is really beside the point. The church is not a building but a society of people characterized by commitment, witness, and penetration into the world. The central task of the church is to be a continual reminder of what the main thing is, and the main thing is love for God and, flowing from that, a loving concern for one another and for all people, in the sense of a burning concern for the welfare of those who are not adherents at all. What is truly wonderful and amazing is that the church has the potential to become this kind of community regardless of the type of structure we meet in. If we are to take seriously the transformation of the church into a genuine society of Christ's brothers and friends, we must be ready to voluntarily accept any deprivations that come from without, including the destruction of our edifices and symbols.
7:35 AM What I'm clicking:
3) Did Jesus Laugh?.
5) GOP Debate: Real News Or a Reality Show? The debate will be enormously entertaining. Some viewers will make up their minds from the opening statements alone. Me? I'll wait until at least after the swimsuit competition.
Thursday, July 30
1:02 PM Just announced:
Release date: April, 2016. Time now for a nap. I think I deserve it: 3 mile walk, 5 mile bike ride, then lap swimming.
7:35 AM Good Thursday morning fellow bloggers of the world!
I've always hated running. Especially in high school and college. It hurt, it was boring, and it was a complete waste of my time. It wasn't that I was against exercise. I've never been a couch potato. All my life I've been active -- swimming, surfing, sailing, snorkeling, playing basketball and volleyball, riding horses. Why then this interest in 5Ks? It all started several months ago when one of my daughters invited me to watch her race in her first half-marathon. She quipped, "Dad, we need to do a 5K together some time." And thus began what she called "Operation Getfit." I began walking regularly, and I went online to see if there were any 5Ks in the greater Raleigh area. And then it all started. At the same time, I joined the Y to map out some new goals for my aging body. Aging involves a change of gears. It's partly ego of course. "I'm not 63!" my brain protests. But for me, it's mostly a sense of stewardship (there's that word again). "You either are or you're not in shape, Dave. You actually just can't talk about fitness any longer. You have to take action to develop a body of your own." Okay. I get it. It's not a game, it's not a joke, it's not just a sport. At my age, exercise means fitness, and fitness means power -- the power to do what you need to do in life. At 63 you feel the breath of mortality on your back. It all begins when the grandkids come along. "Hey, I'm not young anymore!" Then you lose a spouse and become vulnerable to loneliness. You're unable to transfer from First to Second Adulthood. And then something begins to drag you out of your isolation. I've reconnected with former friends and colleagues from years gone by. You learn to be totally honest with yourself and with others. The idea is to develop new interests and dream new dreams.
For me, 5Ks are the process of discovering the multiple selves upon which I am building the last decades of my life. So I bought my running shoes and signed up for races. I haven't run a complete race yet but that's my goal. (Walking is okay.) But you know what? It's not about competition anyway. It's about community. It doesn't matter whether you're a rank novice like me or a medallion winning racer. "Real" runners don't care about how old you are, how you look, how you feel, or how fast you walk or run. I've run in three 5Ks now and I have never once felt embarrassed or out of place. To be a runner, all you have to do is lace up and go. If you're out there and moving, you're a winner. So it's not about finishing first. It's about keeping your arms and legs moving despite your mind and body screaming at you to stop. You literally take one step at a time. Slow down if you need to. But keep heading in the right direction. It really doesn't matter that much what your pace is or what your split time is, as long as you are moving forward.
My first love in life will always be nurturing -- nurturing my students, my children, my blog readers, a devoted circle of friends. And now this includes doing a better job of nurturing the body Jesus entrusted to my care. Physical fitness is something you need to start thinking about when you hit 50. But once you get in the groove, being active will become part of your normal daily routine, like brushing your teeth or deciding what clothes to wear that day.
It's funny, but I always have my eye on those who are older than me during a 5K. There's a lot I can learn from them, not least how to age gracefully. If you have any doubt that older men and women today are in the process of a dramatic transformation, just attend a weekend 5k race.
Wednesday, July 29
6:45 PM Been through a cancer journey or know someone who is? This video is for you.
6:02 PM Want to know what a good pastor is like? Just read John 10. That's what I tell my students. The "Pastoral Epistles" were not written for pastors but John 10 was. And guess what -- a good pastor looks just like Jesus, the Good Shepherd/Pastor. One thing I question about the modern pastorate is the vocal transformation some people undergo when they begin to "preach." It's like, here's a normal guy I was just speaking to a few minutes ago, and all of a sudden he's become an orator, a pulpiteer, a homiletician -- call it what you may, but I've always thought it very odd. An analogy: Do you really think that radio announcers talk that way at home? Oh yes, that's my other pet peeve, "announcer voice." It really gets under my skin. Please, PBS, have some mercy on your poor listeners and have your readers just talk with a normal cadence if that's still possible. But back to Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus talking to sheep? Calling them by name? Leading them in and out? I can. I've led sheep. And goats. And cattle. My dogs too. I never need to use pastor-speaker with any of my animals because they know me and understand my natural tone of voice perfectly. If I were a sheep in the body of Christ (what? -- I am!), I'd ask my pastor friends: "Could you please talk to me in the language I'm fluent in? The language called Sheep, not Shepherd." I've heard one sermonizer whose breath becomes so, well, breathy when he's behind the pulpit that it's impossible for me to follow him. Let's not perpetuate this trend. Talk to us like I imagine Jesus talked to His sheep. No other-worldly accent is needed. No halo either. There's nothing wrong with your normal voice. There really isn't. Your natural voice was quite sufficient when you visited Joe's aunt in the hospital. Your natural voice was a huge hit at the wedding you spoke at the other day. Your natural voice works just fine during small group. It was said of John Wesley, "His attitude in the pulpit was graceful and easy; his action calm and natural." Earlier today I ran across an ancient book on homiletics called Homiletical and Pastoral Lectures: Delivered in St. Paul's Cathedral Before the Church Homiletical Society. On p. 57 we read these delightful words:
I realize this is a sticky topic, but I think there are at least five goals we can all strive for when we engage in public speaking:
1) Consistent eye contact. (Preach without notes, pleeeeease!)
2) A kind facial expression.
3) A warm (and natural) voice.
4) A relaxed speaking rate.
To which might be added, 5) shorter messages.
I am terrible at the last two of these: I usually speak much too fast and much too long. So am I myself guilty of "pulpit voice"? I might be. But I'm ready to repent.
7:30 AM Much appreciation to Henry Neufeld for hosting an interesting and thought-provoking discussion about Christian stewardship last night on Google Hangout. You can watch the whole thing below.
It's horrifying to confront my own lack of stewardship. "Sell all of your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor." K-thanks-goodbye. Jesus mocks our materialism, at least He does mine. Yet as Steve Kindle pointed out in the discussion, stewardship doesn't begin with the question of "How much should I give?" Instead, the right question is "How much is mine?" -- to which the answer is nothing. Hence, as David Croteau noted -- David has now written three books on why tithing is not for Christians -- the church still doesn't get it. The consumer vortex that most evangelicals are (unwittingly perhaps) sucked into is just ignored. Well, David confronts it head on. The New Testament doesn't require the tithe? Nope, and it never did. I stare blankly at David's impeccable logic. "Love each other well and your needs will be met." For me, the largest takeaway from last night's Hangout was the reminder that Jesus came to set us free. He sees much deeper than what we see. He realizes that everything we have belongs to Him. 100 percent in fact. And so we have to make a choice. We can either draw people to a calculator or lead them to Christ. Jesus, You are the standard to which we all aspire. Teach us to love, to lead, to trust, to obey -- and to give (back).
Tuesday, July 28
6:46 PM Read Hope in the Face of Intractable Racism.
6:22 PM Tonight I've been setting my race goals for the year. I've already scheduled 5Ks for the next two Saturdays. And then out of the blue, I run across the Richmond Marathon.
It's being held on November 14 and features the beautiful fall foliage of the state's capital. I can hear you now, pooh-poohing the thought of me running a marathon. And you're right. I'll be participating in my first ever 8K run that starts a half hour before the marathon. I'm eager to see how well I will do in my age class, now that I'll be up against the "pros." Beware my fellow geezers! The "ancient of daze" is on his way north!
5:44 PM My poor doggies hate thunderstorms. "Where's daaaaaaad?"
11:45 AM Got a text recently from a former Greek student of mine who is now teaching Greek to a group of pastors in the evening. He writes: "Too excited after class. Can't sleep now." I know the feeling brother!
11:02 AM I've already walked my 3.1 miles in preparation for Saturday's 5K in Cary. Now it's time to do some mental exercise and get some serious writing done. Before then, however, I'd like to pass on to you a great word from Gary Thomas in his book Every Body Matters (which, by the way, is going out in today's mail to Brian in North Carolina). There are so many good elements of this book I could mention to you but I only have time to summarize my favorite chapter called "Meet My Friend Morty: Our Ongoing Battle against Sin" -- the "sin" he has in mind being mostly sloth and laziness (which are the sworn enemies of physical exercise). So whatever temptations you might be facing today -- sloth, a bad temper, a secret habit -- Gary's message is that you can't stop fighting, and I agree totally with that encouragement. Gary says you have to "go on the offensive" when it comes to temptation and offers 6 suggestion on how to do this:
1) Taste the bitterness of your sin.
2) Examine the deceit behind the sin.
3) Consider the circumstances of your sin.
4) Use the exposure that sin provides to gain a more accurate view of the condition of your soul.
5) Consider the strength of your sin.
6) Find a holy substitute.
There is simply nothing to add here except an amen. One thing I find so helpful is to try and identify the circumstances of sin and anticipate them if possible. This way I can try and ease the pressure before I get there. Make sense? Also, I agree with Gary that sin has its (potentially) "good" side if we allow it to usher us into a new transparency both with ourselves and with others. We need to be honest with our sin and allow constant confession to deal with it. What we sometimes fail to remember is that the Jesus who raises God's moral standards is the same Jesus who reaches out to the biggest violators of God's love. You and I have a gracious and merciful God who will forgive us every time we fall short if we only come to him in sincere repentance. Jesus is our "holy substitute," as Gary says. Honestly, when I'm communing with Him I have far less time for pity parties!
Monday, July 27
7:36 PM Just finished baling again. At one point Nate called out to me as he was driving by, "Looking good, dad! You might make a farmer yet!" -- or words to that effect. Wise guy. But I love him anyway.
12:05 PM I have a few inherited traits that were indelibly marked into my DNA from birth. For example, I tend to go all out and give 1,000 percent to whatever I happen to be doing at the time. (I include the category of "loafing" here!) It's genetics plus environment I suppose. I see a slice of this tenacity whenever I work out. I love going to the Y and lifting. And, as a beginner/intermediate when it comes to resistance training, I see plenty of parallels between what I do in the gym and what my Greek students are about to be doing when the semester begins in a couple of weeks. Let me mention three here:
1) With resistance training, your muscles grow when they encounter resistance. It's just that simple. In terms of weight lifting, this means that we have to lift weights that are heavy enough to make the exercise difficult (and therefore beneficial). So it is with Greek. We are constantly having to adding more "resistance" (knowledge) to our training in the language if we are going to reach our goal. This requires constant vigilance and discipline. In fact, I'd say that the amount of discipline that training requires is unfathomable. If we don't carefully monitor our progress, we will plateau. And that's a big no-no whether you are weight training or learning to read the New Testament in Greek. As with weight training, Greek is progressive. You grow best when you add a little weight at a time. Too much too soon is a sure recipe for disaster.
2) Rest is an important factor in training of any kind. Our muscles actually grow not when they're being trained but when they are resting and recovering afterwards. That's why my beginning Greek grammar has built-in times of rest and review. I also try to introduce any new material in manageable chucks.
3) Finally, as with any scientific endeavor, it's helpful to know the technical jargon. Weight lifters talk about reps, sets, pecs, lats, traps, and quads. Greek profs talk about morphemes, verbal aspect, and discourse structure. The practical payoff of demystifying this jargon is that you're better prepared to read the more technical exegetical commentaries one day.
At 63 years of age I'm not interested in doing bodybuilding competitions. I simply want to maintain (and, if I can, improve) my current weight level and maximize my overall strength, stamina, and health. Since beginning my weight training and aerobics regiment my strength has skyrocketed. I'm discovering what it takes to build a great physique to the glory of God. Being so tall, I'm what is called a "tough gainer," meaning that I put on muscle slowly. But I'm committed into getting into good shape, thereby making exercise, healthy eating, and good sleeping long-term habits.
Here's a brief video I taped today at the Y. (Thanks to my trainer Adrian for serving as my videographer!) I apologize for the poor sound quality but I'm just a rank novice at this kind of stuff. Hope you enjoy it.
Sunday, July 26
3:24 PM Odds and sods ....
1) Thought you might like to know that today, at the age of 103, Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. gave his closing message for the traditional service at Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, NC. He and his family are celebrating 80 years of faithful ministry. In May of 2012 yours truly was installed as the Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament Studies at SEBTS. It was such a huge surprise that I am still suffering from whiplash. Even today I am deeply humbled and honored, and my profound thanks goes to Dr. Owens, his family, and the good people of Parkwood Baptist Church for their generosity toward the seminary and my family. Thank you, Dr. Owens.
2) Had a delightful lunch today in Oxford with Matthea and Jon Glass.
3) Here's the obligatory "Grandkids with Papa B" picture. Love it!
4) Finally, if you would like to have my (unmarked) copy of Every Body Matters it's yours for the asking. Just tell me why you want it. If more than one of you requests it, I'll draw straws in the morning. God wants out of the closet in every area of our lives. And He wants to be free to affect every part of our lives, our bodies included. If you think this book could help you, just let me know: email@example.com.
10:30 AM I just finished reading a really good book called Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas (writer in residence at Second Baptist Houston).
Here are a few of my personal takeaways:
I agree with Gary that we should all pursue good health to the extent we are able. For me, this is not merely a physical or biological move, but rather a kingdom action. Through exercise we will never overturn the curse of the fall. In fact, good health can sometimes get in the way of seeing God's grace and the need for Him. We can get so busy with exercise that it's easy to forget or ignore the beauty that God wants to create in our inner beings. How to obtain this balance? Don't ask me! I don't have the foggiest idea. I'm still trying to figure it out. But one thing is clear: if I am to continue to travel for kingdom work I need to stay in good physical condition. But let me conclude by stating emphatically: our wounds (spiritual, emotional, psychological, and even physical) do not disqualify us from ministry. In fact, God often uses our weaknesses to display His overarching power. Why, I believe I wrote a book about that.
9:42 AM I loved it. I really did. I loved it when I saw the host church's name yesterday at the 5K: Hatcher Grove Christian Community. I loved it because it was a reminder to me that the body of Christ is made up of all of the followers of Christ and not just the church staff or a church building. Ask any body builder. They will tell you that the body is made up of many different muscle groups, and that each group is vital to the correct functioning of the body. The church is about people, not the building or the leadership. Please, please, please -- wherever you attend today, ask yourself about your place in the body. Ask God to help you find the best place for the use of your God-given gifts for the good of all. Don't by shy. Contact the church staff/leadership and let them know what you're thinking. We are called to be one body where every member does its part. No part is better than another; no part is superior to another. Even the idea of church leadership is radicalized when we consider Eph. 4:11-12. You see, in a "church" the idea is that we pool up a certain amount of money so that the staff can do the work of the ministry. This is how it has worked for many many centuries in North America. The paradox is that when we operate like this, much less ministry gets done. The more I work out at the Y, the more I realize that God has an amazing plan for the human body. But He has an even more amazing plan for the church. Having strong leg muscles does no good without a strong heart and strong lungs. Just try running a 5K. We need each other! True Christian "community" allows God to show up on any given Sunday and grant permission for every member of the body to function as God has designed them to do.
A healthy dependence on one another is so important folks. The other day I slightly pulled a lower back muscle when lifting. Believe me, "When one member of the body suffers, all the other members suffer with it"! Gradually I allowed my other muscle groups to step forward and pick up the slack while I told the strained muscle to chillax. This is proper and healthy interdependence. So again I ask: What part of the body are you? What role has God designed for you to play in the functioning of the body? How do you express godly and healthy interdependence? Or are you overly dependent on others? Or, conversely, do you need "time out" because of a trauma? It is our inter-connectedness with each other that makes a "church" a "community" or even a "body."
9:06 AM Honestly, I'm a bit anxious about starting a new semester of teaching Greek this fall. I believe the largest factor in education has little to do with your professor's expertise or the course's curriculum. Jesus said, "Make disciples," and the word He uses goes far beyond classroom learning. Discipleship means living. I've been a Greek teacher for some 39 years now. I've taught baby Greek thousands of times. But as I begin another semester, a thought engulfs me: "God, let us here at SEBTS encounter Jesus in such a way that transformation interrupts our entire lives." Scripture clearly talks about the fullness that comes only through obedience. Isn't that what we're looking for? It's hard to grasp; it's a paradox -- those who come to Christ by simple grace through faith become insatiably hungry to serve Him. Someone emailed me the other day to suggest that, in lieu of the final exam in Mark, I allow the students to serve at an inner-city soup kitchen to share the love of Jesus. How could that be? Because it's the heart of what Jesus teaches us in the Gospel. He washed the feet of others and then said to His followers, "No servant is greater than his Master. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." Pastors, that begins by serving your wife and children more than the church. As for us educators, the classroom just doesn't cut it anymore. We're trying to fill the void in our lives with something (in this case knowledge) that will never be sufficient. I can never dispense enough knowledge in Greek class to produce lives that reflect the heart of Christ or students who will serve Him selflessly. If we are going to educate people, let's educate them! Let's do whatever it takes -- within the boundaries of school policy -- to show our students what it means to share our lives with others. If the Gospel is good news at all, then it is not just a degree to procure or an idea to consider or a box to check. It's a life to be lived.
Like every other Greek prof out there, I love what I do. Through the years I've seen students exchange suits for jeans and chapel services substitute bands for organs. None of that really matters, because the world is unimpressed by our "worship" services. So is God. We can't ignore or neglect "humility of mind" and expect to maintain His favor. This is probably the most important lesson we Greek teachers need to impart to our students. I shudder to imagine how often I've failed to insist upon this. Student, if somehow I fail to tell you what the cost of discipleship is when I'm teaching you Greek this semester, serve anyway. Go anyway. Sacrifice anyway. Be the real deal. And be sure to serve scandalously. As for me, I'm going to try harder than ever to challenge you to seek service at the bottom (without honorific titles), because (as Jesus says) if all we do is talk theology and smile at the forsaken all around us and say, "Blessings on you!" -- what good is that?
Saturday, July 25
8:55 PM In case you couldn't guess, we were baling and stacking hay this evening on the farm.
Here's more proof:
Yes, folks, it takes a village (thanks, uh, Hillary). I can't do everything on the farm by myself, so today Nate and I put our shoulders to the plow (it's a mixed metaphor, I know) and got 'er done.
Boy did we work hard. I hate selfies (they're so, well, self-centered), so here's the only selfie I'll ever post on DBO. That's one sweaty dude.
Afterwards I was too jaded to cook (or even warm up leftovers in the microwave) so I went to a Mexican place for comida.
In the process I left copies of Becky's book (one in English and one in Spanish) for the servers and management. Sweet.
On the drive hope I had to marvel that the same Lord who had treated me to a marvelous sunrise this morning was now letting me in on an incredible sunset. How groovy it is that?
Well, I reckon that's all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Tomorrow's the Lord's Day. Hope you make it a good one.
Below: The only other selfie I'll ever post at DBO :-)
4:22 PM Hello, folks!
Giving up control of our bodies to the Lord is about as difficult as starting a diet in December. We prefer status quo and security -- but even if you've only read the first chapter of Mark's Gospel you know that's not God's priority. And so I'm learning, gradually, to trust Him with my body. Just as we have our children for a season ("They're young and then they're grown"), so we have our earthly bodies for a limited time. Did you know that kingdom living and the human body make a formidable team? And guess what else? You only have one body, one heart, one set of skin. My body is God's miracle gift to me -- not only in the Sonic-boom moments of life but also when my body takes out the trash or pulls weeds or stands in a classroom teaching. I will carry this body with me for the rest of my days.
Today I looked on my calendar and saw that my body was booked to be in Morrisville, NC, for a 5K race and by golly at 4:30 this morning my body said to me, "Okay, Dave, it's time to get up and at 'em. Let's get 'er done, old man!" I can't hide my pleasure at today's race. First of all, it was for a very good cause. The goal was to raise funds for African American students to be able to go to college. The sponsoring church was Hatcher Grove Christian Community. What a great group of people. Secondly, I came in 88th out of 159 registered runners and third place (again!) in my age group (we call ourselves the "moth-eaten marathoners"). I also topped my personal 5K best with a new record split time of 11:43. Nothing earth shattering for you, maybe, but for me it felt like I had just climbed K-2. It was challenging to stay the course, not least because the last half of it was uphill (I detest that word!). But just when you think you're gonna quit, you see the finish line and hear the shouting and watch the other runners completing the race to deafening applause and your body says to you, "Okay, now, steady as she goes, Dave. Keep on going. Don't you dare give up now. You're almost there!" I tell, you, this 5K stuff can become addicting it's so much fun. God is a good Father ain't He? If you ask Him for fitness, He won't give you exasperation. If you beg Him for endurance, don't expect to quit. He is all that we need. "I know what you need and I'm delighted to give it to you." That's His promise.
Humble, simple, determined: 5K runners are, I think, closer to the kingdom than some of us are. If they can push through exhaustion and move past boundaries, so can we. Besides, exercise is the ultimate de-stressor. Endomorphs and a "good" sense of tiredness can be super relaxants!
1) The early bird gets the sunrise.
2) Ready to start my third 5K race.
3) The pastor and principal of Hatcher Grove. Proud of them. Their students have a 100 percent college placement rate.
4) The women of Hatchers Grove serving the community. Bless you ladies! You are the greatest!
Next week: The Java Jive 5K/10K in Raleigh with proceeds going to Small Hands Big Hearts ("Nurturing our children's' compassion.") I double, no, triple dare you to join me!!!!
Friday, July 24
1:30 PM Not that anybody in the world is even faintly interested, but my weekly workout routine is three days resistance training and three days cardio. (I take Sundays off.) Which means that it was back to the weight room this morning for a monster workout. Afterwards I came home, did some writing and editing, wrote emails, mowed the yards, than went grocery shopping. As you can see, I'm trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.
My doc says my optimum weight for my age and height is 220 and I'm 225 so I'm not too concerned about obesity but I really, really want to teach my brain to hate junk food. In fact, I am announcing today ("officially," ahem) that I am hereby renouncing MacDonald's and Burger King and I'm also starting to remove the junk food from my house. Tonight for supper I'm having fresh corn and two juicy pieces of pork chops, with a side of avocado. Every time I eat at MacDonald's I regret it. Every single time. So I'm calling it quits, folks. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye -- and good riddance!
Time now for a power nap :-)
Thursday, July 23
6:22 PM Only in America!
5:36 PM The only stat that truly matters in the race for the Republican nomination for president:
I'm talking about Facebook likes of course.
5:20 PM Have you ever had friends who let you down? In Mark 2 we read about a paralytic who was let down through the roof of the house where Jesus was staying. Nothing could stand in the way of these four men who were determined to help their friend. I'd like to make an application here if I may. I believe all of us need to have at least four friends who will always "let us down" -- people who will not allow anything to prevent them from helping us and pointing us to Jesus. Since Becky's death, it has been my privilege to walk through my loss with at least four of these devoted friends. Even when they don't know what to say, should they see me suffering they encircle me with encouragement, prayer, help, and love. Closeness is a biblical idea. Even Jesus had closer relationships with some of His disciples than He did with others, although He loved them all deeply. As long as life lasts, we need confidantes, people with whom we can reveal our anxieties, our prayer requests, our practical concerns. I suppose I am more needy than some. Widowerhood means you no longer have your best friend and confidant by your side. I don't want to become overly-dependent on others. Nor do I want to become a rescuer, always focusing on others and never being able to look at myself honestly. I need friends, but I need friends who will help me rise up and lift whatever burdens I can lift. These days I feel like I need to reclaim my life in those terms. I am like that half-finished drawing I've been working on for years. Perhaps it will remain unfinished forever, but perhaps incompletion isn't a bad thing. Maybe incompletion is a blessing to those (like me) who need to be reminded that only Christ can complete them. These days I don't have much energy for superficial relationships. Life is too busy for that. It's also too short to play games with one's emotions. These days I pray a lot for grace. I pray for the grace of compassion, but I also pray for the grace of discernment. I can afford fewer friends if they are deeper friends.
I don't really know how all of this will look like 5 or 10 years from now. But I do know the value of a good friend. I'd like to be one of those, reaching out with open ears and open hands toward those who need me. Even as I exercise my body daily, I pray for the grace of a sharpened appetite for the things of the Spirit. I remember pouring out my heart recently to one of my dearest friends. Such memories are painful but valuable. They are a reminder that some of those who are dearest to me really care. There is deep comfort in that -- to know there are people in your life who will "let you down" if that's what it takes to get you to Jesus.
10:24 AM Yesterday the NTSB released its preliminary report on the crash two weeks ago between an Air Force F-16 and a small Cessna near Charlotte. The two people aboard the Cessna were killed but fortunately the pilot was able to eject safely. It was a terrible accident any way you look at it. Reading the report is frightening. Some 30 seconds before the crash, ATC contacted the Air Force pilot about some traffic that was straight ahead. Then, 15 seconds before the crash, the controller instructed the pilot to "turn left immediately." From what limited knowledge of ATC policy I have, the word "immediately" is not used very often and thus carries with it an emphatic connotation. What happened next isn't clear and won't be known until the NTSB investigation is completed, but many are speculating that the F-16 pilot's response was too little too late. Also puzzling to me is why the F-16's radar would not have alerted the plot to any other aircraft in its vicinity. At any rate, it seems pretty clear that human error was involved somewhere along the line, though mechanical failure of some sort can't be ruled out.
As I read the NTSB report I thought of the word "immediacy." As you know, in Mark's record of the life of Christ the word "immediately" occurs very frequently. Mark emphasizes action, immediacy, the potential to do something with your life and then getting on with it. "The Pharisees went out and immediately discussed with the Herodians how they might destroy Jesus." No time here for committee meetings. When Jesus called His disciples, they left their nets immediately. As someone has said, after reading Mark you feel exhausted. All of this stuff about immediacy is, of course, very true in Mark's Gospel, but it also sounds very formal and stiff, like just another "literary device" that only scholars talk about. And yet the older I get, the greater a sense of immediacy I have. I agree with Chesterton:
As Christians we are called to set the world on fire until Jesus returns. Paul advised Timothy to rekindle the flame of God within him. Alas, it's so easy to move from fire to frost. Christianity becomes old, mundane, ritualistic. A little preaching, a little music, a little singing, a little fellowship -- the church itself becomes very worldly. Of course, we keep up a good front (I am an expert at this), but inside our spiritual lives are wasting away. I grow stale in my walk with the Lord. I seek satisfaction in things that cannot satisfy. Are you there today? If so, don't spend time in your theological library trying to work out a theory. Go to Jesus. You have the Bible, you have Him, and you have the Holy Spirit. These three always agree. Bring your emptiness and doubts to Him with all the simplicity and faith of a little child. And please, don't try to imitate anyone else's experience. You are yourself, and no one else can become the blueprint for your experience. You are free to be you. With Him you are always welcome, and He will never cast you out.
Lord, today will You renew within me a spirit of immediacy? In You I am both a pauper and a plutocrat. I have nothing and yet I have everything. All that I have belongs to You and I am only the steward. The world's glory is in its shame. Let my glory be in Your shame, the reproach of the old rugged cross. May I hold all earthy relationships and temporal concerns loosely in view of Your soon return. As our nation faces its hardest winter, and as the carcass is being made ready for the vultures, let me remember that I am a pilgrim and stranger, that my home is not nor ever has been down here, that the darker the days, the sooner Your return.
Friends, one real encounter with God may take care of a host of problems we may never settle one at a time.
Wednesday, July 22
5:06 PM A bit of good news in the case of Asia Bibi. Let's keep praying!
4:46 PM Just back from my annual physical. Doc says I'm as fit as a (63-year-old) fiddle. I'm grateful to you, Jesus, for my health.
11:54 AM Just back from a great workout. Which means a blog update:
1) Glad to announce that Gary Burge (Ph.D. Aberdeen) of Wheaton College has agreed to write the foreword to our forthcoming book The Pericope of the Adulteress in Current Research (T & T Clark). Gary is a world-class Johannine scholar and the author of dozens of books and articles, including one on the PA.
2) Enjoyed watching Jody and Henry Neufeld discuss Christian publishing last night on Google Hangouts. Can't wait to visit them in September. I've been so inspired by their story of wanting to disciple the church in America with books that make people think. Thank you. Your ministry has mattered. And thanks for welcoming me into the family.
3) Ron Hale asks, "Where have all the Jesus freaks gone?" Well, one of them is blogging at DBO.
Cowabunga for sure! It was during my sojourn as part of the Jesus Movement that God first began to pluck me out of comfortable, complacent Christianity and drop me into the deep end. The Jesus Movement is nothing other than the story of how Jesus got into the lives of messed up people and changed them forever. Come, Lord Jesus. Please have Your way with the current generation of young people.
4) I am often interviewed by pastoral search committees. No, I'm not seeking a pastorate. My name is often given out as a reference. When contacted, I think I ask as many questions as I answer. Here's the problem (or at least a big part of the problem): We've been sold a bill of goods. No single man could ever meet let alone exceed the unrealistic expectations of your typical local church. On one such interview I was told, in essence, that the church was looking for (1) a great preacher, (2) an outstanding administrator, and (3) a man with excellent pastoral and people skills. This is certifiable insanity. No one person can be all of that. The only thing worse than the unrealistic standards we set is when pastors actually believe that such perfection is possible. Disaster is then sure to ensue. Pastor friend, when a church asks you to be all things to all people, perhaps you could simply and calmly say, "No. I cannot do it all or master it all." Which brings me to this essay I stumbled across today: Musings on the 'One Guy' Leadership Model. The money quote:
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. If we could only get back to the New Testament pattern of shared leadership -- what Michael Green calls a "fellowship of leadership." But alas, that goes against the Diotrephes in each and every of us.
5) Which Greek New Testament is best for you? Go here for some ideas.
Tuesday, July 21
3:58 PM You have got to read this PBS story called Colorado Springs Evangelicals. The head of Focus on the Family is interviewed in depth. His goal? To engage the culture without becoming "wrapped around the axle of politics." He is so right about this. The bottom line is simply that politics and religion don't mix. We are called to follow Jesus and advance His kingdom, which is "not of this world." It's also important to remember that the earliest Christians loved and supported their communities. They did not look down on lost sinners. It's a beautiful thing when you begin to hear people admit that it was a mistake to become cultural warriors. The truth is that our activism has been a loud gong that has drowned out quiet voices, so that the culture has lost interest in anything we have to say. The people who have changed the world have always been risk-takers who climbed down through torn up roofs while the rest of the world slammed doors. I was a stranger at first to this kind of thinking, but my reading of the Gospels completely changed all that. I don't believe God needs an advocate in DC or a faith-based organization to promote His kingdom. So I urge us all to be careful to whom we pledge our allegiance. Let's be careful to raise the banner of the cross high above all other flags. Please do check out this interview. It should make all of us very uncomfortable. But the more we read the Gospels, the more our comfortable lives will be interrupted.
3:46 PM Just finalized my air travel for the remainder of 2015:
Meanwhile, I have a closet full of unfinished projects and a list of things-to-do that is a mile long. God gives us work in this world to do, and for that I am deeply grateful.
12:24 PM Hay donation today for a very worthy equestrian ministry.
11:38 AM Our contest winner is Richard in Elmira, NY. The answer, of course, was Harry Reasoner.
11:28 AM Please join me in praying for Tom Elliff (former president of the IMB) whose wife Jeannie just went Home after a long fight with cancer. What faithful servants of the Lord. Our loss is heaven's gain. I know Tom is missing her terribly.
10:58 AM Just met with my personal trainer at the Y.
Here's the regiment we've come up with (3 sets of 10-15 reps):
I can do these either at the gym or at home. He says that average body fat is around 20-25 percent of your body weight, whereas 25-30 means you're overweight and 30 plus means you're obese. He estimated my body fat to be between 20-25. Eventually I would like to have underwater weighing, but this will do for now. In North Carolina, two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. North Carolina is also fifth worst in the nation for childhood obesity. Lord willing, this Saturday I'll be participating in the annual Run with Heart 5K in Morrisville, NC (near RDU). The race starts at 7:45. It's for a very worthy cause. Join me at the starting line if you can. There's also a kids fun run.
8:04 AM Name the Face Game! Free copy of Why Four Gospels? to the first person to correctly identify this (formerly) famous American: