Friday, December 2
9:05 AM This and that ...
1) Our book winners are Abraham in Indiana, Adam in North Carolina, and Michael in Indiana. Books will go out next week. Cograts to all three!
2) Just signed for up for the annual Run for the Roses 5K in Raleigh, to be held Feb. 12 at the Dorothea Dix Center. I'm doing it for Canines for Service and, of course, for my sweet Valentine. The course is brutally hilly. I should know: I ran it last year.
Would somebody please design an all-downhill 5K? Please?
3) Tomorrow's the great 5K in Allen, Texas. Wish me well! It will be raining (ugh).
4) Just finished reading this book.
Plenty of practical information here. If you're going to "preach," preach well, my friend. Inform us, yes, but also inspire us. And parishioner, hold your preacher accountable. There is no excuse whatsoever for boring, trite, and predictable talks from the pulpit. Ideas are currency. Preacher friend, make people want to buy. Dump your power point. Don't read your sermon. Look at your audience in the eyes. Tell stories. Be you. Embrace your weirdness. Be enthusiastic. Have a cause. And keep it simple.
A few quotes from this magnificent book:
Find this book and buy it. And remember: There's no such thing as a boring teacher. If they're boring, they're not teachers.
5) A prayer for anyone who has experienced loss recently.
Thursday, December 1
5:28 PM I'm so over trying to figure life out. I suppose that's why I've spent so much time with Sheba today. Dayda was Sheba's daughter, her very own offspring. Yet Sheba seems to be doing okay. Dayda isn't home anymore, and that's the way it is. On the other hand, Sheba is constantly at my side. She wants to go everywhere with me.
She seems to know that I am sad, seems sensitive to my body language and tone of voice, seems anxious whenever I get choked up. I know she'll bounce back -- probably whenever I do. All of our hearts are totally broken to have had to say goodbye to Dayda today. Dogs are incredible pets. They know what's going on in our lives. They have feelings too. Regardless of their age, it tears our hearts out when we lose them. Now all we can do is remember them in our hearts and minds. I am happy to still have Sheba. Now it's the two of us in this big house. When I am away she will be lonely I'm sure. I know someone will say, "Can dogs really feel loneliness?" Why are we even asking that question? Why wouldn't an animal experience grief or loneliness or unhappiness? So one of the best things I can do right now is to share Sheba's loneliness with her. In the final months of his life, Saint Francis of Assisi prayed these remarkable words:
Jesus knew all about sorrow and death. When we, in turn, become broken enough and tired enough and discouraged enough -- when are just done -- then grace is lavished on us like never before. So come along, my grieving canine companion, and let's walk side by side. It doesn't matter who seems to have it together. Let's walk and explore and be amazed at the One who does the molding and the shaping in His creatures great and small. God is everywhere, at all times. He has to be. He's omnipresent. But it's at times of death -- at the cross -- where we really know that God is with us and that the gates of hell cannot stand against us.
He is our peace.
He is our comforter.
He is our rock.
He is our companion.
When life's a stinker, God is good.
1:42 PM Just buried one of my dogs. You loved us well, Dayda. You will be sorely missed.
8:10 AM Good morning, friends.
Life is messy. It's weird. At times it's painful. And frustrating. A friend of mine just lost his brother. Marriages I know of are desperate for intimacy. Dear colleagues have loved ones suffering from stage 4 cancer. I was blown away yesterday when our provost asked me to say a few words about my new book Running My Race in our faculty meeting. I realized all over again: I'm still dealing with grief over Becky's passing 3 years ago. (There, I said it.) Today I'm okay. I'm thankful for a friend's letter. Another sent me an email out of the blue. My kids love me. My students bring me oh so much joy. I'm feeling strong physically. I'm grateful for my blessings. Then I think of Becky and I begin to feel sad. Sad that I won't spend the last years of my life with her. Sad that she can't hold her grandchildren. God has a good plan in all the hard. I know that. But today I'm just plain struggling. I'm trying to pray about what God is trying to show me in this. Trying best to follow Jesus with all my heart. Trying to be a good dad and teacher and mentor and friend. I'm not okay but I am. Because God comforts me. Because He is always good. Because He is always my Friend. I might say of Jesus what Roberta Flack once sang about a singer she heard:
The error of Christmas is the notion -- popularized in Bruce Wilkinson's book The Prayer of Jabez -- that God has a storehouse of goodies ("blessings") just waiting for us to back up our Ford 150s and load them. Coming to Christ isn't the resolution to our problems but often is the conveyor of a whole set of new problems (just read Lewis's The Problem of Pain). In the movie Steel Magnolias, a young mother named Shelby has died at the age of 27, leaving behind a young son. After the burial, Shelby's mother (played by Sally Fields) lingers beside the grave. Her friends try to comfort her. One of them says, "It should make you feel a lot better that Shelby is with her king. We should all be rejoicing." Shelby's mother replies, "Well, you go ahead. I'm sorry if I don't feel like it. I guess I'm kinda selfish. I'd rather have her here." Hollywood has seldom captured such raw emotion. "No. No! NO! It's not supposed to happen this way! I'm supposed to go first!"
The Holy Spirit tells me it's okay to be transparent. Just writing this I'm feeling refreshed. Our culture glorifies busy-ness. We put too much pressure on ourselves. And we don't have to. Ahh it's alright to do nothing. God's got me. He's good no matter what. So in the waiting, in the grieving, in the stillness, I'm okay. I'm in this FOR THE WIN.
P.S. Today I'm giving away my book Running My Race to three winners. Just send me an email at email@example.com. The first three people to email me will get a copy. Be sure to include your mailing address. I hope this book will encourage you to stay at it through the mundaneness of life, help you breath a little lighter, and cause you to reflect and know that you're not alone out there. So much thanks to Henry and Jody Neufeld for publishing it. You are impacting lives for the kingdom, and I'm grateful. Also, I was interviewed recently about the book. Here's the audio in case you're interested.
Joyful and free (hard fought),
Tuesday, November 29
8:58 AM Look what I finally found! A real New Testament church! And in Indiana of all places!
8:46 AM Just read Darrel Bock's thoughtful piece Recalibrating the Culture War in 2016. He nails it. This is a big week on campus with the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. In Greek we're discussing verbal aspect and deponency, and in New Testament the Johannine epistles. My outline of 1 John is adapted from Gary Burge's NIV Application Bible Commentary. John is making two major points: (1) true saving faith is manifested through practicing the truth, and (2) true saving faith is manifested in those who possess a genuine love for other believers. In other words, the theme is Simple Obedience + Sacrificial Love. As 1 John 3:7 puts it: "It's the person who acts right who is right." We are to be "doing the truth through love." Incidentally, as Burge notes, this theme is predicated on two key attributes of God: the fact that He is light, and the fact that He is love. "This is the message that we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light" (1:5). "This is the message that you heard from the beginning: We should love one another" (3:11). So ... TRUTH PLUS LOVE! We need both. We always have. Love without truth is sentimentalism. Truth without love is bitter, harsh orthodoxy. You may have well-reasoned apologetics, but without love no one will listen to you. Love is the mark of the church (see Schaeffer's The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century). As Darrell Bock points out in his essay, the kingdom of God is not some new and improved version of worldly government. 1 John is a blueprint of what the church is to be about. It is about what Jesus was about: expanding the rule of God by reflecting God's character in contrast to the world. When we surrender ourselves wholly to this kind of Calvary-love, we are truly the people of God.
But of course, you already knew all of this :-)
Monday, November 28
6:38 PM Who needs TV when you can eat lunch with family -- and then get hay up at dusk?
1:22 PM The best book I know about speaking is The Essentials of Public Speaking by Sims Wyeth. I quoted it the other day with reference to Mr. Trump. Here are a few more quotes from the book:
If you're a serious student of public speaking, find this book. Above all, put away those silly notes. There's a very popular pastor in Durham, NC, who reads from his notes constantly. He even reads his jokes. Haha. Can you spell "booooooring"?
P.S. It's another cold day in Southside.
But not too cold to jog 8 miles.
Can you do it? You'll never know until you try.
9:04 AM There were many highlights of my trip to Indiana via Cincinnati. I had never toured Cincy before, so I was impressed for sure. There's great Ethiopian food (try the Elephant Walk; I saw the Bengals' and Reds' new stadiums, as well as the P & G Towers (impressive); we drove through many quaint urban neighborhoods; and, of course, the mighty Ohio River is as mighty as everyone says it is. On my bucket list for later visits: the Cincinnati Art Museum, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Cincinnati Zoo, and the Newport Aquarium. And, golly gee, I'll be back there before you know it. Yes, folks, I've finally decided which marathon I want to compete in before I vanish into senility -- Cincinnati's own Flying Pig Marathon, to be held Sunday, May 7.
The timing couldn't be better: Becky's birthday is on May 11 (she's my honoree at the race), and the weather promises to be perfect in terms of temps and humidity. I had thought about doing the Raleigh Marathon but their time limit is a mere 5 hours, whereas in Cincinnati I have a full 7 hours to complete the race (and I know I will need every minute of it). The term "Flying Pig" originates in the city's reputation as "Porkopolis" because of its stockyards and meat processing industries. The course is said to be "gently rolling" and "pretty flat" -- except for a 300-foot climb between miles 6-9. If Teiichi Igarashi could climb Mt. Fuji at 99, and John Glenn could go into space at 77, I can (maybe?) do a marathon at 64. Remember: Success is not about what you do. It's about who you are. And only you know the full potential of what you can become!
Sunday, November 27
4:32 PM What kind of music do you like? I enjoy all kinds of music, from rock to techno to classical to reggae to soul. I love soundtracks -- Out of Africa, Gettysburg, North by Northwest, the Great Escape, Saving Private Ryan. I went through my teen years with obsessions, including the Tijuana Brass, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Cream, Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, and Credence Clearwater Revival. In the 70s and 80s there were the Eagles, Queen, and Chicago. Feel-good hits were a dime a dozen: American Pie, Dancing Queen, If You Leave Me Now, Kissing Me Softly with His Song, My Eyes Adored You, Sister Golden Hair, We Just Disagree, Our House, You've Got a Friend, Do You Do You, Glory of Love, Sailing, Time After Time, Reelin' in the Years, In Too Deep, Africa, Philadelphia Freedom, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Someone Saved My Life, No Time Left for You. Not a single one of these hits is forgotten today and a good many of them are used in commercials and movies. My favorite rock composer of all time is Paul McCartney. I've been a Paul fan since I was 12 years old. I love the fact that he's still doing concerts at 74. His voice is not the same, but who cares? Paul neither looks nor sounds 74. Amazing. Does over 40 songs. That's 2.5 hours. Wish he would tour with Ringo, though. As a former bass player myself -- our college group was called "Joyous Creed" -- I've always marveled at Paul's variety of rhythms as he added harmonious complements to songs like Lovely Rita, With a Little Help From My Friends, and Lucie in the Sky with Diamonds. At other times he could play a simple base line with a light, playful feel (When I'm Sixty-Four). And who can ever forget the bass rift in Come Together? Paired with Ringo's most unforgettable drum part, Paul's base part proved once again just how versatile the Beatles were. Check out this Beatle tribute band if you want to hear and see the bass at its finest. Songs like Penny Lane and Rain leave me breathless. Headphones on!
4:10 PM My assistant and I are currently working on the syllabus for New Testament Introduction 1 for next semester. The course covers the four Gospels. In addition to arranging a guest lecturer for each class period, I am finalizing my own lecture topics and my bucket list is beginning to take shape. Care to see what's currently on it?
The focus throughout will be on the New Covenant that God established through the blood of His Son. His plan was to "bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth through Christ." What a teaching! If my students get this, they will get everything else. We will see churches that are less dependant on programming and more dependent on unconventional servants. Pastors will be as honest with their problems as their people are. After all, Jesus delights in the weak. And this evangelical superstardomism. What a nightmare. The early church was so basic and ordinary. Each follower of Jesus was asked to be faithful. It's as simple as that. What a beautiful hope we have in Christ! What a great way to change the world!
1:42 PM The Rudolph 1-Mile and 5K Run in Allen, Texas will take place at 8:30 next Saturday morning.
I'll be there Lord willing, as I've decided to fly back to Texas to attend the Vocal Majority concert with mom and dad on Sunday afternoon. Allen, TX, is located just north of where mom and dad live, so it will be a convenient venue. The course sure looks like fun.
1:18 PM It's really hard to believe. But in just 7 months I'm planning on returning to the Alps. And yes, I know: Success won't come without training, and lots of it. My focus on my last trip to Switzerland was endurance: just finish. It didn't matter how fast or slow I climbed. And that's been fun, but it's not going to work for the climbs my guide and I have planned for next July. So for the next 6 months I'm going to push myself harder than I ever have pushed myself before. This means more races and even my first marathon in 2017. (I stand by my declaration that I much prefer walking to running.) My choice to climb the Alps was the most terrifying and yet satisfying decision I've ever made. I'm not really sure what possessed me to hire a guide and actually do it. Sure, there was the Becky Black Memorial Fund that I wanted to raise funds for. But there was something else nudging me -- something deeper: the need to try something big and lofty. And now that I've started, it's really hard to stop. It's like jumping off a cliff -- it's a bit too late to change your mind. This is completely random, but last night I dreamed that I free climbed El Cap. Certainly bizarre, but makes me wonder what my subconscious mind is up to these days as I train for my first marathon. I have to learn to pace myself, since patience is not one of my strongest virtues. Oooh I'm excited. It looks like the next few months are going to be exciting and action-packed, as long as I stay healthy. 26.2 miles. Yikes. The Pollux. Yikes. I'm so looking forward to writing blog posts about everything.
12:46 PM To all you guys out there: I have found the perfect diet plan. There, I said it. You can eat whenever you're hungry and still not put on weight. And you don't have to buy a book to get started. No food supplements either. Besides, it works. I can eat anything and stay at my optimum weight. I never have to fast. Only two steps are necessary. Interested? Go here.
11:50 AM Hello, wonderful world of the internet. Hope everyone had a great Black Friday. (Once upon a time, there was a holiday between Halloween and Christmas called Thanksgiving.) Lots to report on. First off, I had a delightful time in Indiana with Liz, Matt, and four of my grandkids-- Caleb, Isaac, Micah, and Mercy Magdalene (I kid you not, that's her real name. Ain't it beautiful?). I guess if celebrities can break the two-kid barrier, so can some some of us lesser lights. (For the record: This grandfather has nothing against big broods.) Here's Miss Mercy at breakfast on Wednesday.
And here's Isaac showing me his latest artwork.
Leaving the local Mexican restaurant.
Not all of our meals were taken in restaurants, however. Take a gander at the Thanksgiving feast Liz prepared.
On Thursday, Matt and I ran in the "Turkey Trot" at the local Y. Gobble gobble.
Here I am with the race coordinator. Yours truly had a personal best (25:19). Geezers of the world arise!
Matt is pastoring the Sunman Community Church.
The congregation loves him and his family.
What? A duckbilled platypus?
Out for Kaffee und Kuchen.
In line at Dairy Queen. (Yes, I tend to spoil my grandkids.)
Nothing like having hot chocolate with Papa B.
A stop on the Underground Railroad. Very historic site.
The blessing of a family meal.
To the Rondeau family and to all of my kids and grandkids:
I'm thankful for each and every one of you. I'm thankfully for the community we've built. I'm thankful that we're supportive of each other. I want all of you to know that you are amazing just the way you are. May your days be filled with turkey leftovers, few meltdowns, and a gazillion blessings. Love, Dad
In the second place (drum roll, please), the toenail on my injured big toe fell off right after Thursday's race -- which means that the toe can now begin to heal. Yippy! Can't wait to wear my mountaineering boots again. A good pair of boots will cost you about a week's wages but they are most definitely worth it. Now all I need is for some snow to arrive in Southside Virginia to try them out again.
Finally, I picked up a great book at the RDU airport called The Essentials of Persuasive Publish Speaking. The one individual I thought of as I read it? Donald Trump. If the president-to-be (he's not "president-elect" yet since the electoral college hasn't voted) is anything, it's a powerful public orator. Which is one reason I'm not fretting this election cycle. As a pundit put it recently, "Donald Trump is not going to blow up the world." He's not going turn America into a fascist state nor is he going to doom minorities to a life of hatred and despair. And the reason is because Donald Trump is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. As everyone knows, he once donated heavily to Democratic causes, was pro-choice, praised universal health care, and even registered to vote as a Democrat. He will do what it takes to get the "deal" done. And the reality is that, in Washington, closing the deal requires compromise. Since the election, Trump has changed his mind about prosecuting Hillary Clinton, about the connection between human activity and climate change, about repealing Obamacare, about waterboarding, even about the New York Times (that "corrupt" mouthpiece of liberalism is now a "great, great American jewel"). His flexible political ideology has been on display for all to see. In other words, the populist has become just another plutocrat, cleaning the swamp only to refill it with Washington insiders. I opine that all of this began when he started using a teleprompter, i.e., when the wild, freewheeling candidate became a scripted speechmaker. You will recall this is the same Trump who once castigated Hillary Clinton for using a teleprompter. No problem now, however. The man has "pivoted."
In his book The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking, author Sims Wyeth writes, "I am tired of expert speakers with expert opinions. Everyone is an expert at something. I want a wise speaker" (p. 7). He adds, "We put our trust in experts and they've often proved wrong. Enough already with experts. How about some wisdom?" (p. 7). Trump, the populist, was once perceived to be a man of uncommon wisdom. He was, in the words of Wyeth, " ... a dramatist capable of capturing and holding attention by tickling, then soothing audience anxiety" (p. 5). Not anymore. Here's another quote from this marvelous little book: "Speech that authentically reveals the personality of the speaker, and is addressed to and about an individual or defined group ... is far more memorable than a message from a corporation meant for a demographic" (p. 4). The same man who once alienated women voters, Muslims, Hispanics, the disabled, etc. now has to appear presidential, and that, in my opinion, is a good thing. Mr. Trump is not being a hypocrite; he's simply being the politician he has always claimed he would never become. He has now entered "public service," and yes, he will listen to his generals, cross the aisle, and work with our allies -- and continue to use teleprompters when giving speeches.
Wednesday, November 23
3:44 AM Being hopelessly nostalgic, I just can't bring myself to leave without a public word of thanksgiving for my wife of 37 years. Even though she is no longer physically beside me, I still love her. My wedding ring remains on the third finger of my left hand, and I know I will never take it off. It remains a symbol of the love, respect, and affection I've had for Becky all these years. Now I am truly a widower, but a blessed one. My body is still healthy, and I have many goals yet to accomplish and many mountains still to climb. Loss is an excellent learning laboratory. The curriculum is strenuous, to say the least. I'm not sure I can say I've enjoyed every course I've taken, but my experience has made me a better person. What else can I say? I love you Becky Lynn Black. You were so incredibly important to me. I'll never forget how you would fall asleep in my arms, the woman I loved, a precious gift of God, a sister in Christ whom I will join when my time comes. In the example you set for me and others, you will always live on. I shall cherish the memory of you forever. Happy Thanksgiving, darling.
Tuesday, November 22
7:10 PM Time for a change of pace. Tomorrow morning I'm heading out to the great state of Indiana (via Cincy) to spend some time with one of my daughters and her family. As I said, I've got a 5K "Turkey Trot" (what a name) on Thanksgiving morning, and I signed up for it because I'm really a very lazy person at heart, and it always helps when there's something to motivate me to get outdoors. Ooh, I'm excited. Sweatiness is so cool. Otherwise, for the next couple of days I'm going to do nothing but eat and sleep and laze and gab. A short and sweet break. I'm not sure that a marathon justifies my laziness but, hey, I'm having a mid-life crisis. Plus, I'm still dealing with a big toe that refuses to heal. I feel like it's never going to get better, and get this: I won't be able to see a podiatrist until Dec. 12. I basically have been facing down this nasty toe since I summited Mount Bierstadt in Colorado a month and a half ago. Funny how that happened. It was mortifying. But I'm fully convinced that time heals all wounds and I will one day (soon?) be doing the happy dance again.
Before I forget, I want to congratulate Thomas Hudgins on his interview with Mike Heiser over at the Naked Bible website. I would just say that not EVERYBODY teaches Greek the way he describes! Meanwhile, I've made plans to attend the Vocal Majority concert in Dallas with mom and dad on Dec. 4. Their repertoire ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime. The group's diction and tonality are unbelievable. Goosebumps every time I hear them.
Oh my goodness -- I just realized I have to leave the house at 4:00 am! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
12:10 PM Newsflash. I will run a 5K Thanksgiving morning. #NoGuiltFromOvereating.
12:04 PM Yes. I. Am. Spoiled.
10:32 AM My Honda Odyssey is the coolest car I've ever owned. At least I can fit my mountain bike in it without removing the front tire. It's got 200,000 miles on it and today's the first day I'll have it in the shop (ignition cylinder went bust).
About 100,000 of those miles were driven since Becky died. Is that Wanderlust or what?
8:14 AM Continuing our discussion of Paul As Missionary ....
James Thompson's essay is called "Paul as Missionary Pastor" (pp. 25-36). Thompson argues that "missionary pastor" is not an oxymoron. One can be in pastoral ministry without being a "pastor." So what kind of pastoral ministry did Paul have among his churches? Thompson argues that the most pervasive image of the church that Paul uses is the family. His epistles were sent to and first read by house churches. This family is a supernatural one. It is to be a loving environment and a "safe place." Brotherly love (philadelphia) is to mark everything. Family love demands that members take care of each other. Paul appeals to brotherly love to resolve the dispute between Philemon and Onesimus. Brother may not take brother to court. A brother may not defraud his brother. Brothers may not cause other brothers to stumble. Siblings should not be guilty of such "family" sins as jealousy, envy, strife, and quarrelling.
This was an excellent essay. I don't know your feelings about church, but what if we took seriously Paul's exhortation to accept one another in the body of Christ? The early church had the same kinds of squabbles that we have today. The strong looked down on the weak, and vice versa. Today, many in our churches are struggling with acceptance. The early church wasn't impressive, but it managed to confront its divisiveness head-on. I don't mean to minimize doctrine. But no church supersedes the command to love one another as brothers and sisters. When church is less like a family and more like a business, its people act less like participants and more like spectators. Let's own our place in the body. Let's start where we should always start: with the brothers and sisters we are called to serve. Let's practice empathy each and every day. Church life is messy and complicated. All the more reason to "walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us" (Eph. 5:2).
Speaking of family love, it's that time of the year when we sit around a table and gorge ourselves on turkey. This year ...
I am thankful for the strength not to fall in the day of adversity.
I am thankful that the God of the universe has spoken and that I can believe what He says.
I am thankful for difficult climbs that remind me that the best things in life are worth fighting for.
I am thankful for family and friends who allow me to be me.
I am thankful for the gift of self-respect.
I am thankful for the courage to try new things.
I am thankful that suffering is a mercy, affording an opportunity to repent and grow.
I am thankful that I follow a Master who relinquished all rights and chose death.
I am thankful for fellow believers who take their stand on the word.
I am thankful for publishers and authors.
I am thankful for naptimes.
I am thankful for coffee.
I am thankful for dogs who show me what pure and unconditional love looks like.
I am thankful to be a parent and grandparent.
I am thankful that I'm not good at a lot of things.
I am thankful that Becky and I fought a battle with cancer and won.
I am thankful for a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head.
I am thankful that whatever successes I've had in life are little more than temporary blessings.
I am thankful that I can hike for miles and not get tired.
I am thankful that if age brings problems, it also brings solutions.
I am thankful to have reached the October of life.
I am thankful for loyal and precious friends.
I am thankful for Mexican food.
I am thankful for Ibuprofen.
I am thankful for Netflix.
I am thankful for daughters who demonstrate the truth of the Gospel through the daily labor of parenting.
I am thankful that I can celebrate others' victories without becoming jealous.
I am thankful that I can live the Ordinary Good Hard Life on my farm.
I am thankful that I am a beloved member of the church.
I am thankful for an internet that allows me to blog.
I am thankful for church leaders who have shed their masks.
I am thankful for my vocation and calling.
I am thankful that I know how to cook for myself (well, it's only one dish, but that's enough).
I am thankful that the Greek New Testament still captures my imagination.
I am thankful that God has made me an adventurer.
I am thankful for a life worth living.
I am thankful for abundance.
I am thankful that my life matters.
I am thankful for reading glasses.
I am thankful that one day I will throw my arms around Jesus.
I am thankful for tears.
I am thankful for the confidence to fly.
I am thankful for you.
Monday, November 21
7:40 PM Hey folks. We were picking up bales well into the darkness tonight.
Thankfully we were able to finish.
When I got back home I discovered that the ignition switch in my Honda Odyssey is broken, so I am grounded until I get that fixed. Tonight I'll look at YouTubes to see if it's something I can fiddle with.
In the meantime, I thought I'd continue my review of Paul As Missionary (Bloomsbury, 2011). Daniel Hays' essay "Paul and the Multi-Ethnic First-Century World: Ethnicity and Christian Identity" (pp. 76-87) may be the most important essay in the book. He argues that the early church developed in a multicultural setting. The world of the first century was comprised of a multitude of ethnic groups (ethne). So Paul is not just breaking down barriers between "Jews" and "Gentiles."
As Christians, therefore, we have a brand new ethnic identity. Both Jews and Gentiles are members of the kingdom of God, with Abraham as their common ancestor. Hence "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20) is a highly political statement. Paul lived in a very ethnically diverse world. So do we. People tend to identify themselves ethnically -- i.e., in terms of social, cultural, religious, territorial, and linguistic features. All of these elements, taken together, define one's self-identity. When Paul calls for unity he does so along these very lines of ethnic markers.
This sense of heavenly citizenship " ... is a radical restructuring of their primary identity" (p. 87). Hays is adamant: If Christians continue to see themselves first and foremost as Americans or Chinese or Korean or Hispanic or African-American, they will end up "... relegating their identity in Christ to a secondary and subservient identity," and "there will be disunity and ethnic division in the Church" (p. 87).
Let's let that sink in. These reflections take us a long ways in understanding the distinctive emphasis of the New Testament. If the social ethics of the kingdom of God seem to be dramatically different from those of the world and the nation-state, it's because they're supposed to! Hays expresses a growing conviction I've had for several years now, namely that our only duty and allegiance as Christians is to God and His kingdom. It is out of our duty to God that we obey the civil laws and pay our taxes and pray for those in authority over us in the political realm. At the same time, it is also out of our duty to God that we inveigh against any practice or social norm that is inconsistent with His rule. This means that there never has been nor ever be will a distinctly "Christian" position on politics. Good evangelical Christians voted for Trump. Good evangelical Christians voted for Clinton. Good evangelical Christians voted third party. And good evangelical Christians didn't vote at all. Pastor friend, if you're going to wave pompoms for Trump, please remember that there are probably people in your congregation who didn't vote for him. Good and decent people disagree about politics! If we focus our time and energy on politics, we will never experience a unified church. Instead, our focus and energy must be expended on replicating the self-sacrificing love of Jesus to all people. The church, as Hays argues (and as the apostle Paul argued), is a new ethnos -- a new nation whose only loyalty is to God, who sovereignly uses our Calvary-acts of love to transform the world into a domain in which He and He alone rules. Confessing "Jesus as Lord" automatically rules out an allegiance to any other person or thing!
To sum up:
God's people need to be what they are -- ambassadors pleading with men and women to be reconciled to God. Blessed are those saints who can see beyond their political, national, and ethnic differences. We followers of Jesus will always be a minority in a pagan world. We do not have to bow to political compromise to win the world. The only way to usher in the kingdom is by the cross.
1:20 PM Just back from Hickory, NC, where I had the honor of speaking Saturday and Sunday night and Sunday morning at First Baptist Icard and Blackburn Baptist. Notice I wore a tie on Sunday morning, even though I wasn't asked to.
This was quite a step for me as I triple hate wearing anything around my neck. (P.S. There will be no ties in heaven. Guaranteed.) On Saturday and Sunday night I was one of three speakers at Icard's annual revival services. (Note the casual dress.)
And here I'm having lunch with Micheal and Rachel Pardue and their 7 kids. Total fun.
Micheal is an Ed.D. grad of our seminary. His dissertation focused on the benefits and challenges of online education. He told me the title but I promptly forgot it. Sorry! Finally, here's the librarian at Blackburn.
I had just donated copies of Becky's autobiography My Life Story to the church library, along with a copy of Running My Race. I've always loved church libraries. A library is a great way to support a church's ministries.
I did a lot of driving this weekend. Oh my gosh I love the Southeast in the fall! Of course, it's a bummer that I couldn't climb Mt. Mitchell, but the mountain ain't goin' nowhere no how. Road trips are always a blast. Well, sometimes I hate them, but usually I love them. I often sing my heart out before I reach my destination. While I was in Hickory my car key stopped working and a good buddy was kind enough to drive a spare to me. (A million thanks, Jason!). In the afternoons, during my down times, I usually get caught up on my blog reading as well as reading books I've been neglecting for far too long. While in Hickory I was able to use the hotel's weight room, plus I got in several miles of jogging. My next big race in Dec. 10 -- Race 13.1 in Durham, NC. Looks like I'll need to break out my winter running gear. The official charity of the race is the Heart 2 Heart Collaborative, which support's Duke's Children's Heart Program.
I'll be back later with a wrap-up of the reading I did this weekend, but right now I'm going to take a short rest. Believe it not, the weather has allowed us to cut yet another field, so it looks like I'll be picking up bales this evening.
Saturday, November 19
9:40 AM Wow. 153 years ago today. Watch "Lincoln" give the Gettysburg Address.
9:10 AM Happiness is getting a new picture of your grandson.
9:02 AM Well, it's almost Thanksgiving (even though the stores are already playing Christmas music -- go figure). So today I'm going to begin a series of blog posts about what I'm most thankful for. Two weeks ago, on the third anniversary of Becky's death, my friend Kevin Brown drove 3 hours to spend time with me and to lecture in my New Testament class. I couldn't be more grateful for his friendship. He is the closest of brothers and an actual, real-life disciple of Jesus. I'm incredibly thankful to labor alongside such beautiful believers. Two days ago I passed out to each member of my New Testament class two of Kevin's books -- Rite of Passage for the Home and Church, and To Date or Not to Date -- gifts from the author. Folks, these are the kinds of friends I have. I love the way they serve, build, love, reimagine, evaluate, restart. I love the way that as leaders they stand beside (and not above) their people. They could care less about titles and offices. They are fully alive, fully human, and fully in love with the church.
I've been rereading Escape from Colditz and I don't think that any of the escapees from this maximum security POW camp in Germany could have escaped on their own. One of the reasons we Christians need church is our desire for community. The best relationships in life are reciprocal. "The only way we can be absolutely sure that we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters." It is sobering to realize that I am living out the end of my years in the company of such saints. Together, I want to grow. Together, I want to seek and obey truth. Together, I want to live with open-hearted love for others. Together.
Kevin is as good as it gets. I can still see him teaching a group of church elders in Alaba, Ethiopia. I can still remember all the times Becky and I enjoyed the hospitality of Kevin and his dear wife Pam in their home in Wilkesboro. I want to learn more of what it means to love like that. I want to find God as much in my Christian family as I do in His creation. I sense the Spirit trying to build something new in my heart. I find myself craving human companionship -- the joy of being with people who refuse to follow a political leader and are content to be apprentices of Jesus. I am an exile in a very broken world, but the good news is that I don't have to travel alone. Neither do you, my friend.
So, beginning today, and for all of our days, let's pray with and for each other. No, the bride of Christ isn't perfect, but she's beautiful. And here's the secret: the more we grow closer to Jesus, the more we grow closer to one another. So thank you, Kevin, for being much more than a brother to me. Thank you for being one of the best friends a person could have. I can't imagine being where I am today without the faithful friendship and prayers of people like you. And Lord, I pray for that person who is reading my blog right now and needs a friend. I pray that You would grant them the desires of their heart. Because today we can do this crazy thing called discipleship. Together.
8:10 AM Today (okay, always) I've been wanderlusting for a high peak and was all stoked to climb Mount Mitchell on Monday but, come to find out, the park is closed because the rangers are off somewhere fighting fires. So today I'll drive to the mountains in the hopes of finding a couple of greenways near Hickory where I can get wild and wooly on my trusty mountain bike. The endless summer days of long hikes are just about ancient history, so I want to take advantage of the warm weather the Lord has sent our way. (I'm also yakking three times in Hickory.) That being said, for those of you who like reading my books, I'm humbled to announce (finally!) the publication of my magnum opus.
I know what you're thinking: How can a board with four wheels on it be exciting? Well, all of your questions have now been answered definitively in what is sure to become the go-to reference work. Everything is explained in easy-to-read language -- the shape of the board, the size of the wheels, how to pull off a successful Olie, how to raise $30,000 to cover your medical bills, etc. One reviewer has said, "Reading Black on skateboarding and surfing is like reading Hemingway on bullfighting." In this massive 8,000-page tome, you can learn how to live life through the gloss resin of a surfboard. Entries include:
In the words of professional surfer Kelly Slater, "Elegantly written and structured, Black's Encyclopedia of Surfing and Skateboarding is more than a reference work. It's an intellectual autobiography." The introductory price is a mere $299.00, and all proceeds from book sales will go to The Dave Black Needy Children (and Grandchildren) Fund (lest they forget that their dad/granddad was once a surfer duuuuuuude).
Finally (for now), the haying season is drawing to a close. I'm very thankful for the three cuttings we were able to get up this year. But it taxed our farm resources to the max.
We're all ready for a break I think.
Friday, November 18
8:20 AM Prayer really does change things. God is looking for those who will "stand in the breech." Prayer can move mountains. This morning I prayed again for our president-elect. We are supposed to honor and pray for those in leadership (and pay our taxes, too!). Romans 12 is especially helpful in this regard. Here Paul teaches at length about what sincere love looks like: love among Christians (12:3-8), love for all people (12:9-13), and love for our enemies, with an additional exhortation that we are to to live in peace with all people (12:14-21). Paul can summarize his teaching about love in 13:8-10: we are to do no wrong to others. Tucked away in between these passages about love is the passage on authorities. Paul is reminding his readers that the authorities are also people whom they must respect and honor. Paul is saying in effect that the Christian must pray for all people. No one can be excluded from our intercession, our appeal that God would bless them. Certainly our prayer will not be for their destruction. Nor will it be a prayer that they win political victories or stay in power or defeat their adversaries. It will be a prayer for their salvation (if we think they need to be converted), that they tell the truth, that they renounce injustice, etc. As someone has said, we pray for them and not against them. We thus have to remind each other that though we may be revolted by certain actions and attitudes of our leaders, and even though we might be ready to protest, we are to pray for them. Pray that they will govern with wisdom for the "welfare of the city" (Jer. 29:7). Pray that God would accomplish His purposes through them. Pray for their health and safety. Pray for our divided nation. Pray for racial reconciliation in our communities. Pray that we would stop looking with contempt on those on the other side. Pray for the victims of bigotry and racism. Pray for an end to disrespect for law enforcement and for an end to police mistreatment of citizens. Pray that the president would have an open mind and listening ears. Above all, pray that God's kingdom would come, that His will would be done, on earth -- in our neighborhoods, our cities, and our nation -- as it is in heaven.
People, whether in government or not, know when they are being deceived or fooled by sham or pretense. They know when someone really cares about them, bears with their shortcomings (which may be considerable), ministers to their needs, and prays for them consistently. Faith and hope are magnificent virtues. But the greatest of these is love. Love is the first word and the last word in politics. Love never fails.
8:02 AM Steve Walton, who teaches New Testament and Greek at London School of Theology, holds views about leadership that aren't necessarily new but they suffer from neglect. I recently bought this book.
(Yes, I still buy books but most of them will end up on someone else's bookshelf.) It contains a superb essay by Steve Walton called "Paul, Patronage and Pay: What Do We Know about the Apostle's Financial Support?" On the one hand, he says, Paul refused to accept financial support from others. But another portrait of Paul we find in the New Testament has him accepting such support. "Can we find a larger framework which holds together our two sets of evidence...?" asks Walton (p. 231). Is Paul being a hypocrite? The answer, he says, may well lie on the one hand in Paul's concern that the gospel message be free to all, and on the other hand in Paul's understanding of the church as a new community in which all social hierarchy is abolished and mutuality of concern for one another is the watchword. "As a general policy, Paul did not wish to be under any human individual's patronage, for that might limit his gospel ministry" (p. 232). On the other hand, and significantly, Paul understood himself to be in a partnership with the churches he had founded -- which meant he was free to accept their gifts as coming from God himself (the meaning of Phil. 4:13 in context). "This radical understanding of equality implied mutuality of concern for one another in submission to God" (p. 232). Need I go on? I have often said that I am not trying to keep anyone involved in missionary work from accepting gifts from fellow believers. I have done so myself. We must not equate support with anti-Christianity. Nor would I adopt a view that rejects deputation that is required for deployment abroad. I simply desire it to be stated that there is a general orientation in Paul that is perfectly clear -- on the one side, the need to work with our hands and not mooch off the charity of others; and on the other hand the counterweight of a Christianity that blesses and praises mutuality and amity. "Paul ... re-drew the map of human relationships offered by the patronage system by placing God in Christ at the center, rather than the emperor -- the gospel reshaped his understanding of the way the world is meant to be" (p. 232). Our Savior told us to lay up treasures in heaven. Paul says, "Set your affections on things above" (Col. 3:2). Are we fixed on this kind of "overhead"? Have we invested everything down here and so have no other resources for heavenly purposes? Are we occupied so much with "right" and "left" that we fail to distinguish between "above" and "below"? So often when we older adults look back on our lives we have many regrets, if not remorse. But it's never too late to develop an "other" orientation in life. I for one want to live like Paul (and Jesus). Travel light. Don't be encumbered with possessions and things. "Take nothing for your journey" (Luke 9:3). True life consists not of the abundance of possessions but of who we are, our character. Maybe the later years are a good time to clear out the clutter and begin to give things away -- to family, to friends, to charities, to evangelists in foreign lands, to the needy all around us. Maybe it's not too late to learn how to center on life's true priorities instead of on life's incidentals.
Thursday, November 17
6:20 PM Hey folks. Here's a quick update for today. I promise to blog more tomorrow. This afternoon I've been doing lots of reading about hiking in North Carolina. In fact, Lord willing I'd like to try my hand at Mount Mitchell this coming Monday. The Mount Mitchell Trail is a strenuous 11-mile hike with an elevation gain of 3,689 feet. I'm told the trail conditions are very tough but that the rewards of standing at the summit are out of this world. After all, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, with an elevation of 6,684 feet. I hope to combine this hike with a couple of speaking engagements I have in Hickory, NC, this weekend. To try and keep in good shape for my climbing, earlier today I did a 5-mile sprint on my mountain bike and averaged almost 13 miles per hour.
I tell you, just sitting on my bike gets my adrenaline flowing. The surge hits even harder when I get into speed clips, gathering velocity rapidly. I love biking because of the contrast it poses to walking, running, and climbing. With bikes, very little is required of the cyclist. You just keep peddling. Of course, because we live in an injury-prone world, I never ride without my helmet. And, as with mountaineering, I'm pretty much a rank novice when it comes to biking -- which always reminds me of Mark Twain's delightful essay about his initial attempt at cycling.
In other news, today I reread C. H. Dodd's classic book The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development. Dodd notes that there's a sharp distinction in the New Testament between preaching and teaching. The former addresses non-believers, while the latter is directed toward believers. The former involves evangelism and church planting, while the latter is intended for the pastoral needs of established churches. If we are to fulfill the Great Commission, therefore, our responsibility is not only to make converts but to ensure (to the degree that are we able) that these converts complete the journey toward transformation into Christ-likeness that begins at the moment of conversion. I thought about this because earlier today I met for coffee and donuts with one of my doctoral students named Joshua.
Together we've been working through my book Interpreting the New Testament and so far have covered such topics as hermeneutics and authority, textual criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, literary criticism, and sociological criticism. Today we also exegeted the Great Commission of Matt. 28:19-20 from the Greek text. As we began, my prayer was that the Holy Spirit would sweep into our lives, upending any pride and presuppositions about the text we might have.
I prayed that this passage would become like that annoying woman in Jesus' parable, pestering us until we were moved out of ignorance and apathy. The more Joshua and I studied and dissected and critically discussed this passage, the more deeply convinced we became of Christ's all-encompassing authority. I thought to myself: This is who we are -- brothers quietly doing the hard work of the kingdom in an Amish bakery, asking ourselves such questions as
You see, friends, the kingdom of heaven is nouns and verbs and participles and conjunctions and adverbs and imperatives and subordinate clauses. It's a flame that consumes you and purifies you and sets everything in your life aglow. The church is missional because it has a missional God who gave us a missional word that can only be understood through His missional Spirit. Discipleship can therefore never be only about book learning. As we see in our text, Jesus doesn't say, "Teach them all I have commanded you." He said, "Teach them to observe all I have commanded you." I tell you: that is not the same thing. This is why Greek is so important to me. My study of the Greek text has changed the trajectory of my entire life. It has exposed areas of my life where I was either apathetic or downright disobedient. Folks, it's going to take all of God's people obeying all of Christ's commands to rise above the narrow prejudices of our politics and attract people to the glorious mercy of Jesus. But how can we obey without knowing what those commands are? We can't. We need to help each other see those commands. Sharing my love of the word with others is the delightful work I've been commissioned to do. And watching my students learn to stand on their own two feet is my greatest reward.
What makes the gospel such good news is not only the concept of "gospel" but the real-life people who have been changed by it. And that, in fact, is what Jesus is teaching us in Matt. 28:19-20. "As you go, train the people of every nation how to become my obedient followers, immersing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember: I am with you, day after day after day, until the end of the age."
Friends, our lives are too important to waste them away on anything less than being people who live on mission together, obediently pursuing the downward path of Jesus, performing small acts of love and giant feats of courage, living in solidarity with the "nothings" of this world, loving the forsaken and remembering the forgotten, caring for "the least of these," and extending grace and healing to others. It's so maddening to me that Christians just don't seem to get the Great Commission. We go into church with empty notebooks and come out with full ones. But the world is increasingly uninterested in our knowledge. Our shame grenades and condescending stares are just not compelling. Jesus has a better approach. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." When He tells us to take the lowest place, we do so gladly. When He strips away our titles, we release them with joy. We are no longer enslaved by our idols of greed and status. We embrace the truth of His kingdom -- that the only way the kingdom can be strong is through weakness and vulnerability. Jesus' command, "Love your enemies," now begins to make sense. Because for all of our self-proclaimed love of the stranger, we realize that what we really love is "our" kind. And so we cry out, "God, wreck my life on the shoals of your word!"
Yes, it all begins with the word. That's what I'm teaching my students. Because that's my job and my greatest joy. Church, may the truth of the word be unleashed in our hearts and reign over our pride. May we read the word, study the word, and obey the word. A New Testament church values biblical knowledge. God's word transcends time and culture. But it's only by obeying its truths that people will be drawn to the beauty of Jesus.
8:28 AM Yesterday, as Tate Cockrell walked us through the stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance -- I bowed in gratitude for the cup the Father has given me, a cup no more bitter than the one He gave His Son, and I wondered: Shall I refuse it, or shall I grasp it with both hands through trustful acceptance? That's basically the question Jody Neufeld is asking in her new book, Grief: Coping with Holidays.
Grief is heightened during holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the question we have to ask ourselves is, "Will we drink the cup of sorrow, thus allowing our suffering to become the substance of sacrifice -- a love-offering to God, saying with Paul, 'All I care about is knowing Christ -- to experience the power of His resurrection and to share in His sufferings, in growing conformity with His death'?" This question is not academic for me. God has brought a severe mercy into my life, as He may have done in yours. His purpose is to deepen our awareness of the need to seek Him. It's not wrong for us to grieve. But God matters more. He invites us, in the middle of our sorrow, to find Him, and in the process of finding Him we'll find ourselves.
I read this book in one sitting last night. It was a great encouragement. The book is written in honesty (Jody lost a son to cancer) and will help you move towards a better way of life. This book is not only for people experiencing grief but also for everyone, because all of us will one day walk the same path of sorrow. It's a short read but very thoughtful. As I continue to confront Becky's death and my own mortality, books like this one help me to grapple with loss. Grief, as Jody points out, is the intense emotional response to loss. It is natural that we should grieve. In short, I needed this book at this time. You too may find it very powerful and comforting.
Wednesday, November 16
7:08 PM Check out this awesome video. My face hurts from smiling. Talk about achieving a goal!
6:34 PM Got time for an update?
1) My hard-working Greek students taking their practice exam yesterday. The real one was sent home with them. Only two chapters to go. Yay!!!
2) This was my final lunch meeting with Dr.-to-be Wesley Davey, who graduates next month.
Congratulations, young man, and all best wishes to you as you launch out into the deep.
3) What a great treat to have my colleague Tate Cockrell (counseling prof) stop by our New Testament class today to lecture on hope in the midst of suffering from 1 Peter.
He shared five steps we can take when we share hope with sufferers: presence, silence, prayer, Scripture, and faithfulness. Folks, the best we can give sufferers is Jesus. No lectures, no entertainment, no clichés. He is the best, isn't He?
4) Happiness is a new granddaughter.
Happy Birthday, Karis Lynn!
5) Kudos to Antonio Piñero and Thomas Hudgins on the release of their latest book.
6) I love libraries, and SEBTS has one of the finest in the country. In Basel I spent countless hours in dimly lit rooms roving the stacks. The idea of speaking in a library was as illicit as listening to your iPod in church. One day my first book (Paul, Apostle of Weakness) appeared in the card catalog. Talk about dying and going to heaven. I spend a lot of time in our library on campus. At my beck and call are countless wonders.
The library allows me to stay up-to-date with current scholarship in my field while also providing me with a sense of community. Here's a tome I checked out yesterday. I'm eager to read it this weekend.
This week I also brushed up on my journals – New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum, Theologische Zeitschrift, and the like. Lots of good stuff, including:
One article in particular caught my eye. In the latest issue of Trinity Journal, Stan Porter asks (in essence), "Whatever happed to brevity?" His essay is titled, "Big Enough Is Big Enough." He's reviewing Craig Keener's monumental 4-volume commentary on Acts (Baker).
Porter seems to think that commentators should stick "closer to the Greek text" than Keener has (p. 45). In addition, Keener's work, at 4,640 pages, is deemed too comprehensive in scope – what Porter calls "mission creep" (p. 35). Porter also seems to think that commentaries should be primarily exegetical in nature. "Scholars who have innovative ideas about related historical, theological, and other issues – and I hope that there are still some who do – should use monographs and journal articles for such major and significant contributions" (p. 45).
There's a lot of truth to what Porter is saying here – at least when it comes to book size. Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "The only art is to omit." If it's a choice between succinctness and verbosity, I'll take the aphorist any day. "Bigger is better" may be a mantra among church planters and pastors, but too many writers seem to be afflicted by the disease of gigantism. Today's writers bore on for far too long – including me (my book The New Testament: Its Background and Message tops out at a whopping 672 pages). So I'm not sure that Keener is the only one guilty of overwriting. In the menagerie of overweight books, one could perhaps include the most recently published "beginning" Greek grammars, including Porter's Fundamentals of New Testament Greek, which consists of 492 pages. Rod Decker's has even more: 704. Note that these are self-styled beginning grammars. Part of the problem is what I call "Got-To-Say-Everything-I-Know-About-the-Subject-Itis." The result is often three books in one: a beginning grammar, an intermediate grammar, and a textbook on either textual criticism or linguistics. Keener, of course, is keenly aware of the breadth of his 4-volume commentary. In his own defense he writes (vol. 1, p. xv):
This statement is almost prescient: Keener seems to be anticipating Porter's suggestion that scholars "use monographs and journal articles for such major and significant contributions." Keener also directly addresses the issue of length when he writes (p. xv):
That Keener combines exegetical insights with observations about theology, history, etc., should not surprise us. Keener is a self-confessed "generalist scholar" (p. 4, note 2) who grapples not only with the text but with sociohistorical questions as well. As he explains (p. 5), "While seeking to provide a commentary of some general value, I have concentrated on areas where I believe my own researcher's contributions will be most useful." His work therefore "…does not focus as much attention on lexical or grammatical details (a matter treated adequately by a number of other works)." In short, Keener views his work as "sociorhetorical" (p. 25), pure and simple. I therefore fail to see how one can fault him for not being "exegetical" enough when he himself makes it clear that he doesn't deal simply with Greek exegesis. In short, I agree with N. T. Wright:
I for one have benefited greatly from Keener's insights into the text of Acts. It's one of the first commentaries I turn to whenever I need help in interpreting Luke's history of the church. Keener does a fantastic job of explaining the text in a way that's easy to understand. Used alongside the "Four Bs" (Barrett, Bock, Bruce, and Ben [Witherington]), I think you'll find Keener's work to be a rich source of information about Acts. Sociorhetorical analysis is Keener's area of specialty and it shows. You would have to buy several commentaries on Acts to cover this much ground. Also worth noting is the fact that both Jimmy Dunn and Richard Bauckham have endorsed this commentary. Indeed, so did Stan Porter (at the Amazon site):
I can't recommend Keener's works enough. That goes for all of his books. Ditto for Stan Porter. His books are always extremely well-researched. We might disagree in terms of Greek pedagogy (there's much to be said for brevity), but when grammatical issues arise, Porter's voice is always a good one to take into account.
Tuesday, November 15
8:02 AM Potpourri ....
1) Check out the "What's New?" section of our Greek Portal. We're always adding goodies such as Daniel Streett's "The Great Greek Pronunciation Debate."
2) Honesty in the pulpit? Allen Bevere says yes -- sort of. Read In Preaching, There Is a Fine Line Between Disclosure and Exposure. My two cents? Pastors are incredibly human. Yet how often do we hear this from the pulpit? According to Bo Lane ("Why Do So Many Pastors Leave the Ministry?"), 70 percent of pastors fight depression; 80 percent believe ministry negatively affects their families; 70 percent don't have a single close friend; and 90 percent work between 55 and 75 hours per week. Pastor friend, your people are broken. So are you. Be more than a leader. Be a brother to us. Be real. Be human. No need for flowery speech, by the way. Just talk to us. And when the pressure gets to be too much ("I can't do it all!"), why not try sharing the load with other qualified leaders, thus enjoying a "fellowship of leadership" (Michael Green)?
3) Bridges or walls? The choice is ours.
4) Going to AAR/SBL? Here's some good advice on how to behave.
5) Trump won. Deal with it.
Monday, November 14
8:34 PM Yo yo yo! I'm back. So many good, God things to report about. On my flight from Dallas tonight I began putting together the final touches to my return trip to Zermatt and the Alps next July. What fun. I am never happier, more at peace, more inspired, and more aware of my Creator than when I find myself in a natural setting not much different from the way He made it. There's a special pleasure not only in these moments of planning a trip but also in my thoughts months before and afterwards. When I was a boy in Hawaii I read all about the places I wanted to visit. But reading is never enough. There is nothing like being there. In every one of my trips I don't remember a single dull or unenjoyable moment. Even when there's an element of difficulty and even danger, there are unknown regions and new adventures to be enjoyed. When I look at how lovely creation is, I can understand what led Henry David Thoreau to write, "The earth was the most glorious instrument, and I was audience to its strains."
Zermatt is one of the most magical places in the world. It has a clear view of some of the region's highest mountains, including the Breithorn, the Oberrothorn, and yes, the Matterhorn.
It was here that I first summited a 4,000-meter peak. I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie novel. Everywhere I looked I saw mountain peaks that attracted climbers from all over the world. I was sobered by these reminders of human courage and the danger of high altitude climbing. Perhaps for the first time in my life I understood what "breathtaking" literally meant. Knowing nothing about the technical aspects of climbing, I was of course dependent on my faithful guide. Once, as we scrambled up the Klettersteig, I could not imagine how I had ever gotten myself into such a predicament. It took me 4 hours to climb 1,800 vertical feet. Far below us sat the village of Zermatt. I had no time to think about what I was doing. The climb was steep and treacherous, demanding one's full concentration. But eventually the ascent was over. I had set for myself a formable goal and reached it. And I did it without ever allowing myself to doubt myself or my abilities. By the end of the day I wanted to kill myself for having the idea of climbing the Klettersteig, but every terrifying step was worth it and more.
Afterwards I looked forward to more adventures in the mountains. My visit to the Swiss Alps was more wonderful -- and arduous -- than I ever envisioned in all my months of planning. Here, in the middle of Europe, everything I had seen was as different as possible from my life growing up in the Islands. I would never have imagined, as a boy surfing at Kailua Beach, that I'd climb the Alps -- except in a dream. I'm inspired by the saints of Hebrews 11 -- each one a giant of the faith, yet each a part of the gallant crew manning the oars of the same ship of faith. What they all had in common was the fact that they finished the race. When I think of finishing well, I think of my doctoral students, including Wesley who passed his orals last Friday with flying colors. Here's Dr. Merkle during the exam.
And here's yours truly.
Our responsibilities were simple: check Wesley's work for accuracy, readability, and scholarship; examine the author with all the benevolence of the Spanish Inquisition; and blend appreciation with fatherly advice. There's a kind of joy that comes only when we finish something. When I ran my first half marathon (13.1 miles), I saw runners dropping out of the race. For whatever reason, they failed to finish. For me, no matter how much I ached, especially after 10 miles, quitting was not an option. When I stepped up to the starting line my goal was to experience the joy of crossing the finish line. Finishing a Ph.D. is a huge accomplishment. Nothing beats the feeling of pure exhilaration that you have. At first it's a surreal experience. And even when you get used to being called a "doctor," you quickly realize that your Ph.D. is really only a starting point in the high stakes situations you'll encounter throughout life.
So what's your dream? What's your purpose in life? Who are you at your core? What is your personal mission for the next season of your life? There are at least 7 steps in goal-setting.
1) Decide what you want to do.
2) Write it down, making sure it's specific.
3) Share it with someone.
4) Plan your first step, and then the next one, and then the next.
7) Decide on your next goal.
This weekend I had the goal of beating the magical 30-minute mark during Saturday's 5K at Whitt Elementary School. Last year I finished with a time of 2:48 at this event. This year's course was a lot hillier, however, and the best I could do was 32:00. But I did my best, and that's what always counts the most.
I also wanted to spend some quality time with mom and dad. My goal was to love on them and remind them that they are special to me.
Wherever I go, I always have goals. As Zig Ziglar puts it, "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." And the secret to achieving your goals is starting. I may not always reach my goals, but I never regret the effort I put into them.
Right now my goal is to cook supper and eat. I'm famished.
Bye for now,
Friday, November 11
6:58 AM Time to fly from RDU to DFW. It'll be a long flight, but it could be worse. I could be flying to Sioux City (SUX) or Helsinki (HEL) or Damascus (DAM). In case you ever do fly into one of those cities, you might want to avoid using their acronyms. I'll be off the grid for a while, soaking up the Texas sun. I LOVE Dallas. The only thing I'm freaking out about? Over-eating. (Less politely: Gluttony.) Thankfully, Murphy has a green belt that is perfect for jogging. Between busy farm work and teaching, it'll be good to take a break. Wish the old man well on tomorrow's race!
Thursday, November 10
9:14 PM I'm very jazzed. Just received an email from the Heltons reporting how their fund-raiser went. You may recall the event: The Ellie Helton Memorial 5K and Fun Run in Cary, NC. It was held on October 15. The report I just received is full of good news. There were a gaggle of participants in the race (422 walkers and runners). Participants came from 3 countries and 27 states (including, ahem, Virginia). More than 70 volunteers helped with the event. (Can't do anything without them.) And the best news of all: Over $56,000 was raised for the Brain Aneurism Foundation. That's a 20 percent increase over 2015! The email even included professionally-taken pix of the event, including one of this guy.
And here's the Helton family.
I want to thank the Heltons for deciding to honor the memory of their daughter in such a fabulous way. I didn't understand what this was all about before Becky died. Now I do. Keep doing what you're doing, folks. So much love to your entire team!
5:58 PM Hey folks! After an oral dissertation defense meeting on campus tomorrow morning, I'm off to the Big D for a few days. I'm going to eat beef ribs at Spring Creek Barbeque. Then too, I always enjoy Sheba's Ethiopian Kitchen. Saturday I've got a 5K. But my main goal is to spend time with mom and dad. (Note: They are Becky's parents but I don't call them my in-laws. They are my mom and dad, and I'm right proud of it.) While I'm on the plane, I'll be working up a new book proposal. It has do with Greek, of all things. I love Greek. It's what I do. I love helping people understand it, read it, and use it -- properly. Believe it nor not, there's a lot of abuse out there. It's what I call "evangelical Greek." (That's when I'm in a good mood. Otherwise the name for it is "philological voodoo.") So part of my job as a Greek teacher is prophylactic: helping people avoid misusing the language. "So what's your book project?" The working title is Ask the Greek Prof. You know, questions such as "Is Greek really necessary to understand the New Testament?" (The short answer is no. The longer answer is a bit trickier.) Or, "When my pastor says, 'The word in the Greek means ...,' can I trust him?" Or, "My Bible has many footnotes with alternative renderings of words. What's going on here?" Or, "I've noticed that the NKJV has 'without a cause' in Matt. 5:22, while my NIV lacks these words. Which reading is original? Did Jesus forbid all anger or only anger 'without a cause'? How can I know for sure?"
This is going to be so fun. If you'd like to suggest a question, feel free to send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The question can be general ("How can I learn Greek?") or specific ("What does Paul mean by 'I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man' in 1 Tim. 2:12?"). I'm hesitant to say the idea will ever get off the ground (is there a publisher out there crazy enough to want to tackle a book like this?), but I thought I'd give it a whack. At worst, it will make for some interesting blog posts.
1:12 PM Just heard from India. Mammen Joseph reports that the Becky Black Building in Bagdogra continues to be put to very good use. An additional 500 students are being enrolled in the day school, and they currently have 42 students enrolled in their evening Bible School. Here are the Bible School students in front of the BBB:
It's been my joy to have partnered with Mammen and his son Moncy (a former student of mine) for many years now. Local leaders who are capable of long-term leadership in their communities are essential to the mission work I do.
1:06 PM I'm really sorry to hear that Diane Rehm is leaving NPR. She's 79, however. Since 1998 she's suffered from spasmodic symphonia -- involuntary muscle spasms of the vocal cords. Still, she carried on, and I appreciated that, though not everyone did. Here she rebukes Rush Limbaugh's despicable mockery of Michael J. Fox's disability. (Rush has also been known to mock Diane.)
My stars! Who in the world do we think we are when we think we can mock the disabled among us? Meanwhile, I'm curious to see who NPR chooses as Diane's successor. I hope it's someone known for his or her uninhibited questioning style and refined sense of humor -- two qualities that were on display for all to hear whenever Diane Rehm spoke. Diane truly had something special about her.
You will be missed, Mrs. Rehm.
9:30 AM John Stemberger poses 3 questions evangelicals should pose about Donald Trump. His essay first appeared on January 6 of this year but I think the questions are still relevant today. If fact, maybe they are even more relevant today than before the election.
8:40 AM Good morning, internet peeps. I'm feeling tons better today, thanks to a good night's sleep and a couple of Airbornes. It's been a long time since I've "enjoyed" a full-blown head cold. I think this is partly due to being fit. Just as importantly, I'm learning to listen to my body. At my age, when you begin to sneeze and cough you can't just "push through." Your body is saying, "Dave, you need to slow down and stop. Immediately. Rest up and together we can beat this thing." We should not accept the generosity of medical professionals who allow us to weigh more than we should and have an unhealthy lifestyle because we are "too old" for it to matter. It always matters. The extent that we function is the extent that we live. And function comes from movement. It's the result of a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a healthy diet, and avoidance of stress. I am 64. The average life expectancy for me is 13.4 years. But the average active life expectancy is only 9.3 years. Translation: I can expect to spend about 40 percent of my remaining years in a state of dependency, needing someone to take care of me. I think that's appalling. Clearly what is needed is an active program of exercise and activity for the aging. Prolonged senescence? Not for me, if I can avoid it. Science can keep us alive. But fitness allows us to live.
By the way, I see that President Obama is meeting with our president-elect today. If the American experience is anything, it's the peaceful transference of power. Democratic elections change office holders. It's as simple as that. We thereby avoid civil war. Without this, true democracy doesn't exist or is, at best, incomplete. For our part, American citizens can continue to uphold high standards both for ourselves and for our elected officials. Every democracy on earth is an emerging democracy in the sense that democracies are always in danger of sinking into apathy and fascism. So while it's important for political parties to remain focused on their platforms and agendas, it's also important that they remain parties of principle. I guess what I'm saying is that we can be sincere partisans but what's even more important is democracy itself. So I'm glad for what's happening at the White House today. Believe me, I've been in countries where this would be unthinkable. Meanwhile, as Christians we can and must take Paul's words seriously: "First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people -- for kings and those in authority -- so that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior." And guess what? I don't think Paul meant praying for their demise.
To change the subject, this morning I began reading this book.
Aviation safety has always fascinated me, partly because I fly so much. Airplanes have always crashed -- including Icarus, who plummeted to death because of "equipment malfunction." Still, flying is the safest form of transportation. I'm much more likely to get into an accident on a bus or a train than on an airplane. Plane disasters, however, get more press. I'm old enough to remember the Tenerife Disaster, where 583 people lost their lives. Often, pilot error is involved (think Air France 447). Anyhow, this will be a good book to take with me on my flight to Dallas tomorrow (hehe).
On a completely different note, this week in our Ph.D. seminar on Advanced Greek Grammar the topic was rhetorical criticism in New Testament studies, and I was again struck by my love for the Greek language. Of course, you'd expect that a man who's written a number of books on New Testament Greek would be passionate about his subject. I can't remember not loving Greek, or language in general for that matter. Ask almost anyone who teaches Greek where their love for the language began, and the answer will invariably be early childhood. To this day I can recall coming to my 5th grade classroom at Kainalu Elementary School and hearing my teacher say, "Cómo está usted?" The result was a lifelong obsession with languages. In college I was enthralled by my beginning Greek textbook (Summers). I spent hours cloistered in my dorm room reading it, immersed in a kind of linguistic swamp. It was here that I learned to love nouns and verbs and vocabulary and principal parts. When I was eventually asked to write my own beginning grammar, it was pretty exciting. And thus began a life-long career in writing books that I hope are accessible to the general public. I did not write for those with a professional interest in the subject. Even in the 1980s, I realized something about writing, namely that technical discussions are guaranteed to be tedious and boring -- especially to me. In writing Greek textbooks, you're not just teaching. You're inspiring. (Aren't they the same thing?) For most pastors, Greek is a necessary evil. It was probably required in their masters programs. Can't we authors have pity on them and at least try to make our textbooks interesting? To be clear, I'm not extolling simplicity for simplicity's sake. But rest assured that language learning can be fun, even if the process is sometimes aggravating. I've learned never to underestimate the potential of my students. Most are eager to do well in my classes. Isn't their eagerness worth being compensated by easy-to-read books? Next time you're on Amazon, check out the beginning Greek grammars being written these days. I know I'll be chided for saying it, but what in the world ever happened to succinctness? And why can't the books be eye-appealing? Your typical coffee table tomes, with their erudite melding of left- and right-brain sensibilities, are good examples of what I'm talking about.
Let me use an analogy from air travel. I fly. A lot. Thus I'm familiar with many different types of aircraft. Now, Boeing has designed an attractive fleet of airliners, but none is more distinctive -- or as "beautiful" if I can use that word -- as the 747.
I took my first ride on the Big Bird in 1971 when I flew from Honolulu to LAX. It's hard to look at a 747 without being impressed. The plane looks less like an airliner and more like an ocean vessel in the Cutty Sark mold or maybe a sleek, stylish yacht. No other aircraft can arouse such admiration. On the other side of the pond, however, Airbus engineers have moved in a different direction. Witness the Airbus 380 -- the largest, most expensive, most fuel efficient, and arguably the most uninspiring aircraft being manufactured today.
This disregard for esthetics, we're told, is due to concerns for efficiency and economy. So what. I think the plane is downright ugly. The 747 is my kind of aircraft. The upper deck reminds me of being in the narthex of a great cathedral. The plane is just gorgeous. Clearly, the engineers at Boeing understood art. Can't we Greek authors do the same?
Just wondering ....
Wednesday, November 9
5:18 PM Hello blogging friends,
I trust you're doing well. I’m sitting here nursing a head cold and trying to grasp the significance of what our nation just experienced. But first of all I want to join President Obama and Secretary Clinton in congratulating Mr. Trump on his election victory. I also promise to pray for him as he begins his term of office. As President Obama put it today, "We're all rooting for his success."
As you can probably figure out, I'm pretty much a conscientious objector when it comes to the Left/Right political wars. I guess I'm a self-described "misfit." I call myself neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Unlike some of my fellow evangelicals, I came out neither for nor against Mr. Trump. This kind of politicization within evangelicalism is nothing new. On the Right we hear that we are to vote for the platform and not the person. But on the Right we also hear that we are to vote on issues of personal morality and not merely on pragmatic ones. Hence the dichotomy: some evangelical Republicans were enthusiastically supportive of Trump, while others were adamantly opposed to him. Growing up, I was taught that Republican is always right and Democrat is always evil. That, to me, is a distinction without a difference. I think Russ Moore nails it when he says that, after yesterday's election, we evangelicals are "to maintain a prophetic clarity that is willing to call to repentance everything that is unjust and anti-Christ, whether that is the abortion culture, the divorce culture, or the racism/nativism culture." In other words, be an equal-opportunity offender. He adds:
He's right. How can we defend a so-called "Christian" America that is hypocritical, homophobic, anti-immigrant, sexist, and bigoted? We can't. Nor can we invoke a social gospel that ignores the personal gospel of faith in Christ. I believe that Left or Right, there's an awful lot of corruption in politics. And the best way of addressing these issues, as my colleague Chuck Lawless put it today in his essay 10 Reflections on Today's Election, is to acknowledge:
I'll add this. As far as I can see, I don't think that past political dichotomies such as "Left" and "Right" matter that much to the students I teach. Younger evangelicals find themselves operating more and more outside of the traditional evangelical apparatus. For instance, younger evangelicals are more likely to have a gay friend than their parents and therefore tend to be more sympathetic to the gay rights movement even as they reject homosexuality as a sin. Ditto for issues of creation care and economic justice. They're willing to probe theological and cultural issues that tend to be unwelcome in more established and traditional churches. They're watching movies like Hate Rising. This means that at times they feel out of touch with the evangelical establishment. As I see it, this is a positive development. What we are seeing is the development of ordinary, rag-tag radicals who fear that both the Christian Right and the Christian Left have been allowed to pervert the gospel message and are determined to speak up about it. "Vote for so-and-so because he believes in Jesus as his personal Savior and supports 'our' values" no longer cuts it for them. They view such language as overly-politicized. And they're not the only ones. Our evangelical "elders" have also struggled to make sense of the current scene in American politics – witness Wayne Grudem's initial support of Trump as a "morally good choice," then his taking a 180 degree turn from that position, and then finally expressing his support for Trump's policies. This sense of uncertainty and ambivalence is dramatically reshaping the evangelical political agenda in the U.S. In such situations, the church may have an opportunity. To quote Moore again:
Moore insists that such language "is not worthy of a church that is already triumphant in heaven…."
I couldn't have said it any better myself. The good news is that one day Jesus will win, not only all 50 states, but every tribe and nation. I for one am looking forward to that day. Meanwhile, having shattered the monopoly of the mainstream media and the political establishment in Washington, Donald Trump has revolutionized our entire view of evangelicalism. His "revolution" has shown that the old guard's influence on the evangelical political agenda is still alive and well. This may well lead to new and profound changes in the way we American evangelicals conceptualize our role in society. I doubt, however, that younger evangelicals, the "ordinary radicals," will be deterred in their efforts to develop a kinder, gentler form of evangelicalism. After all, they have begun traveling the downward path of Jesus. They've also begun reading their Bibles. And that is a very dangerous thing to do.
Staying centered in Jesus,
Monday, November 7
5:05 PM If you take a picture of yourself when voting in North Carolina, you can expect to be in legal trouble. We Virginians, of course, are much more laissez faire. To see if your state allows selfies while voting, click here.
4:48 PM Today I got three books about running in the mail. Woooohoooo! Each book is written for rank beginners like me. I dare say these books could not have been written 40 or 50 years ago. During the running boom of the 1960s and 1970s, running was pretty much an elite club. Few newcomers were welcome. All that has changed today. A new wave began in the 1990s. Now everybody is welcome, regardless of who you are, how much you weigh, your motives for running, etc. As one book states, "You already have everything you need to be a long-distance runner. It's mind-set -- not miles -- that separates those who do from those who dream." I like that. They add: "We haven't found a mortal who couldn't run a half- or full marathon." Hmm. I'm not so sure about that. Still, for many things in life, it's tenacity that counts, not talent. I'll never forget my first race. It was a 5K in Raleigh. The only thing I wanted to do was finish. And guess what? I finished, and I didn't even come in last place. Fast forward about a year. Since I was beginning to find my inner long-distance runner, I decided to compete in my first half marathon, again in the City of Oaks. I'd have to say that running that half was one of the best experiences of my life, ranking right up there with my wedding day and my graduation from the University of Basel. As I crossed the finish line I couldn't believe how many people were there, cheering me on. Here I am at the very end of the race. Happy much?
Nowadays my goal is to run longer, a bit faster, and especially smarter. Earlier today I mentioned the 10K I want to compete in next month. "Why not another half?" you ask? Believe me, I thought about it. But one of the biggest mistakes new runners make is over-estimating their ability and readiness. I made that mistake when I did my first marathon (unofficial) a week ago. As one of the books states, "Goals can never be too high, but expectations can." Last week I got a good taste of humble pie. When I finished I could not have taken another step. Literally. But as with mountaineering, I'm learning as I go along. One lesson I've already learned? Hitting a wall and learning to climb it. Patience is a runner's most important training tool. So I'll do a 10K and see how that goes. Then a couple more halfs. I've already picked a tentative date in the future when I'd like to try my first chip-timed marathon. But I'm not signing up.
Back to my reading ....
11:40 AM Hey running friends! I just signed up for Race 13.1 in Durham, NC. The date is Saturday, December 10. The goal is to raise funds for the Heart to Heart Collaborative, an organization that seeks to improve the care conditions for patients who have pediatric cardiac and congenital heart conditions. You can either do a half marathon, a 10K, or a 5K. I've entered my first ever 10K race. Tell your friends about it and help me promote this great event.
9:54 AM Morning, folks! Hope you're off to a great start this week. Here's a snippet of my life. This week I teach both Hebrews and James in my New Testament class. I've asked my students to read a good book on the topic (*wink, wink*), The Jesus Paradigm. Both Paul and James were writing to people who found themselves in month 13 of prolonged adversity. Neither author will allow their readers to view life's adversities through rose-colored glasses. Christianity is no Pollyanna religion. We Christians often find ourselves long on suffering but short on hope. Both writings tell us how to face adversity head on without growing weak in our spiritual walk. I won't have time to go through either of these letters verse-by-verse or line-by-line. But I hope we will learn ways that we can remain resilient and effective, especially during times of extreme trial. This week I'll also be meeting with a colleague of mine as we put one of my doctoral students through his dissertation oral defense -- sometimes referred to as the "great tribulation." Actually, it's never that bad. But it is indeed a time of testing, a time for grave deliberation. Beyond this, in two weeks I'm speaking three times in Hickory, NC, and I need to prepare for those talks. Plus I leave for Dallas this Friday to spend time with mom and dad. In addition, I hope to climb Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, during my stay in western North Carolina. With this I (finally!) transition to the point of this blog post. I believe that another national election means another opportunity to rethink our priorities as the church. The church in America seems distracted to me. But God's worthies throughout the centuries have always been tireless Nehemiahs who stayed focused, who struggled to build through the discouraging and the unlovely until they got the job done. They did not come down to argue with Sanballat. Today the church is exhorted to sign a truce with the world. "When they say 'Peace and safety'...." This is the promise of politicians. But notice: "When they say 'Peace and safety,' then comes sudden destruction." Politics holds no hope. And the reason it holds no hope is because it tries to carve a brotherhood of man out of the decaying wood of unregenerate humanity. Grandiose schemes and slogans are trying to build the kingdom without the King. But it's never going to work. Only the return of our Lord will set things right. All other hopes are blasted, not blessed, hopes. Certainly, this is no time for the church to waste its substance, as the prodigal did. Yet has there ever been so much distraction and careless living, so much squandering of our wealth and time and resources on what is passing away, as we find today? The trouble, I submit, are our misplaced priorities. In the book of Philippians, Paul wrote about those who "glory in their shame." Their god, he says, is their lower nature, their pride and hubris. Don't we hear this on the air and see it advertized on the web, and doesn't it flaunt itself in our living rooms through television? Then Paul goes on to say this: "But our citizenship is in heaven, from where we await a Savior ...." The world's glory is in its shame. But the Christian's glory is in Christ's shame, the reproach of the old rugged cross, the death He endured for us.
I could make my point this way. I've been doing a lot of reading these days. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, should vote for Trump. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, can't vote for Trump. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, should vote for Hillary. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical who opposes abortion, should vote for Trump. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical who opposes abortion, can still vote for Hillary. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, should vote third party. And I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, should abstain from voting. All this brings me back to what I've said many times before on this blog. Vote for whichever candidate you think stands for what you stand for. Vote your conscience, and I'll vote mine (or not vote at all). "But," as my friend and colleague Edgar Aponte writes, "please do not question the character of your brothers and sisters who have decided to vote for X or Y or Z." Moreover, let's remember what our primary purpose on this earth is. If our mission in life is not the Great Commission, then we're living for the wrong mission. And by "Great Commission" I'm speaking not only about our talk but also about our walk. The true test of my commitment is not how much I give or even what I believe, but how I live. God is not just asking us to give our money to missions but to make missions the core of our lives, the central passion in all we do. Christ meant for His church to be a missionary organism. It is the living presence of a God whose heart throbs with love for the lost and a passion for dying souls. The church is Christ's body, but it is a body He gave for the world. I therefore ask you to consider: Are you willing, as was Jesus, to let everything go for the sake of lost souls and for the 1.6 billion unreached people in this world, to give your life to recapture just one inch of territory from darkness and bring it into the light? If and when the Great Commission becomes more than just another option for gathered believers, it is there that I believe I will be able to recognize the true church.
To sum up, I've been talking about what our commitment to Christ ought to look like in an election year. The answer is that it should look just like Jesus. We are to mimic His attitude and behavior, even toward those with whom we disagree. We're never to retaliate or use violence or insults but instead are to express sacrificial love to all. In The Jesus Paradigm, I take neither a liberal nor a conservative approach to Christian ethics simply because I do not believe that Jesus can be claimed by either the Old Left or the New Right. To me, Gal. 5:14 says it all: We are to enslave ourselves to one another through love. In particular, I resonate with Paul's statement in Gal. 2:20 that I am crucified with Christ and live only as He lives through me, so that I might become His hands and feet in the world. "Jesus is Lord," far from being a meaningless catchphrase, is a radical claim. For the earliest Christians, Christianity was incompatible with allegiance to other authorities, be they political, cultural, ethnic, or even ecclesiastical. Christianity transcends all boundaries -- cultural, racial, political, geographical, natural, even national. Hence radical disciples of Jesus will always embrace those on the other side of the dividing walls of hostility, including our so-called political "enemies."
Even as we go to the polls tomorrow, I encourage us to put our trust in no country, including our own, and to reprioritize the Gospel. There is no security, no "peace and safety," apart from Christ. Let's imitate God, not as He's revealed in partisan politics, but as He's revealed in Jesus (Eph. 5:2-3).
Sunday, November 6
5:44 PM Last night I began rereading the book Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, and so I thought it a curious coincidence that today I should get the following picture from my Map My Run app.
As you can see, I jogged from the Gettysburg Visitor Center to Big Round Top. That was one year ago today. The weather, as I recall, was cloudy but warm.
For me, the allure of Gettysburg is addictive. The rich history of that famous site is filled with "what ifs." The best part of visiting Gettysburg is realizing that, for a brief moment in time, you've become part of such a noteworthy piece of our nation's history. Really, I can't wait to get back. This time I'd like to bike it.
12:40 PM This and that...
1) Missions in reverse:
2) Looking forward to Running with the Pack this Saturday in Murphy, Texas, in support of Whitt Elementary School. I'll be in Murphy visiting Becky's mom and dad and enjoying real barbeque.
3) Here are 15 Fun, Fast and Beginner-Friendly Marathons.
4) If you like to climb, this is a must read website.
5) Are supersonic airplanes back in the offing?
10:02 AM Well, my week of commemorating Becky has come to an end. And what a great week it's been. I mean, the Cubs win and I get to sleep in an extra hour. Life don't get any better. As I said below, my heart has always aligned itself with the apostle Paul. That's one reason I fully support, not the new perspective on Paul, but Paul's new perspective. So I think it's entirely appropriate that I refer to myself as a recovering New Testament scholar. Until we can untangle the lie of educationism, it's hard to receive the truth of Scripture. That's one reason I use paraphrases like The Message (as I did below) to make a point. I have a very high view of the Bible as God's word, but I still think that our Bible translations ought to communicate in language that everyone can understand. Why write "distributing to the needs of the saints" when you can write "sharing what you have with God's people who are in need"? The Bible is worth reading because it always has a point to make. Becky and I would be the first to admit that we did not always read the Bible. I for one was too busy writing my books about the Bible, or too busy homeschooling, or too busy advancing the agrarian lifestyle. How unfortunate to use the Bible to support one's own preconceived conclusions. We want all our ducks in a row, so we fall for the lie that "Dr. So-and-so" has it all figured out. Oh, I long for the text to do its work in my life! Jesus is a Savior for real people. It strikes me as funny that we tend to create Jesus in our image (He is a Calvinist or a Home Schooler or a Farmer, etc.). Perhaps Jesus is much more than this. For me, Christ has become the new center. The purpose of life is to fall in step with Him, even if it means changing courses big time. Widowerhood wasn't anything I sought, believe you me. When Becky died I would cry and cry and cry. Singleness was a novelty for me. But at some point, all of that changed. I am still thirsty for love, for human affection, for the companionship that only a spouse can bring. Yet I am growing more and more comfortable with where I am in life. Because for everyone like me who's been crushed by loss, there is someone who's been healed, set free. Of course, time will tell if I ever fully recover from Becky's passing. Who would have thunk that the Christian life was not something big and bold and audacious but small and hidden and quiet? I believe in making progress in life. But I also believe that God accepts me just where I am, with all of my foibles and disbelief. Do you struggle like I do? It sounds boldfaced to say it, but that's okay. You still belong. You still are His. You still matter. Friend, even in the ordinary rhythm of life, we can find God. First death, then resurrection. That's the secret of living the Christian life. God meets us in our silence and darkness. But He won't leave us there. Trust me on this.
9:04 AM I recently became a supporter of the North Carolina Symphony. Along with my support came season tickets (with third row seats). As a musician, I know what I like and what I don't like, and I can tell you that I absolutely love this orchestra and its venue. The Meymandi Concert Hall is simply spectacular. The sound carries beautifully. And last night's performance of uniquely "American" orchestral music was one of the most glorious and impassioned performances I've been privileged to attend.
What can be more "American" than the works of Samuel Barber, John Williams, and of course the great and good Aaron Copland? Last night's exhilarating performance marked the Meymandi premier of conductor Teddy Abrams, whose wild gesturing left the audience breathless. On this pre-election weekend, the concert was just the tonic I was hoping for -- a reprise from the ugliness of American politics and a sidelong glance at all that is truly wonderful about our great country as heard, for example, through the compositions of a Russian Jewish immigrant (Aaron Copland). America, if it is anything, is an ideal. It's a nation of possibilities, inclusiveness, and straightforwardness. It's a place where a kid from a broken home who did nothing but surf all his childhood and young adulthood could become a professor of an ancient language. Truly, "American" music is music for the common man -- as we heard when the orchestra performed Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. As Copland himself put it, he felt "...an increasing dissatisfaction with the relation of the music-loving public and the living composer." In order to reach a wider audience he began to simplify his style, "... making it more accessible, but without sacrificing artistic value." The work premiered in March, 1943, in the middle of a titanic struggle called World War II. The composer wrote that the piece "... honors the man who did no deeds of heroism on the battlefield, but shared the labors, sorrows, and hopes of those who strove for victory." I'll tell you what, folks: this is what the church was meant to be, a place in which everyone, including the "common man" (and woman), gets to play. Our current way of doing church often forgets this fact. One of the greatest surprises you get from reading the New Testament is learning that there is a place for you. In order to play, you don't have to go to school or read a book or understand everything there is to know about God. People, I believe we have much to learn from ordinary folk, from the people who stand on the margins, from people whose definition of greatness has nothing to do with degrees or publications or fashion styles. Yes, I realize that God used learned men and women throughout Scripture. And yet it wasn't their learning that made them useful to God. One of these brilliant scholars, Paul the apostle, could write, "The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash -- along with everything else I used to take credit for. Why? Because of Christ. Yes, all these things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant -- dog dung." God expired His word (2 Tim. 3:16-17) so that each one of us -- each and every man and woman of God -- might be fully equipped for every good work.
Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man reminds me that I can be simple without being boring or simplistic. In fact, I've tried to accomplish as much in my writings, many of which were written for common followers of Jesus. I write for the average person who usually goes throughout life without a lot of bells and whistles. They too need to be honored. After all, they "share the labors" and so share the victory.
Friends, as we face perhaps the most important election since the Civil War, let's not forget what makes America great. It's the common man. The man who rises from the dust like an ancient phoenix. It's the land of hard working immigrants like my grandparents and greater opportunities than you will find in any other country on earth. I'm grateful to be an American, to be alive in the time in which I live -- despite the fact that we Americans are physically fighting each other at political rallies and taunting one another with schoolyard rhetoric. Still, the fact remains: America is a place where everybody has the opportunity to share their views, however noble or odious. I hope and pray it can remain that way.
Saturday, November 5
1:25 PM As I write this, I am riding high. Two of my daughters blessed me with a visit today. They prepared a scrumptious brunch, we sat around and talked, the kids fed the donkeys, and off we went to Becky's grave to lay some flowers, read Scripture (Psalm 23, one of Becky's faves), and pray. I think we all got a bit teary-eyed (I know I did), but mostly we were smiling and having a good time. I'm not a perfect father, but I do love my kids and grandkids. They bring me moments of laughter and connection. I know I can be real with them -- no more masks, no more hiding my journey, my struggles, my questions. "I came to give you life and life more abundant," says Jesus. I think my family is a big part of this abundance that God promises us. I am an exile in a fallen world, yet even in the right now God is establishing His kingdom. Just like Becky's death stained everything, so my family brings renewal and wholeness to my life. I've been thinking how blessed I am. This is life in a post-Becky world, and it is good.
9:12 AM Odds and sods ....
1) Jonathan Bernier asks Who Wrote Hebrews? His answer might surprise you.
2) Ben Witherington reviews the new movie Hacksaw Ridge.
3) Warren Throckmorton is voting for an independent candidate for president and tells us why.
4) Here are some of the best sermons on the web (by Elizabeth Elliot).
Friday, November 4
5:40 PM This is the only way I'll ever climb Everest.
5:10 PM Picture time, now that the animals have been fed (and their owner has been, too).
1) Nice thank-you note from the Heltons. For sure I will be back next year!
2) Tonight I'm exegeting (again) 1 Cor. 14:34-35. Grateful for books like these.
This passage has given countless exegetes a Charley Horse between the ears. Exegesis is crazy work but it is good work.
3) One day I'd love to do this:
88 stories tall. No fence, no guard rails. Just plenty of guts.
11:18 AM As you all know, I began running 5K races about a year and a half ago, even though I had never done anything like that in my life. I began running for a number of reasons, I guess. I've found it therapeutic. (What better way to run away from your problems than to, well, run away from your problems.) It's humbled me. (I once forgot to lock the door at the porta potty.) You begin to question your sanity -- which, from time to time, is probably a good thing. (During a race I talk to myself like crazy: "You're halfway there, buddy. That dog is soooo cute. Get out of my way, cop! What, another hill? Ouch, ouch, ouch. I hate running. I know I'm coming in dead last. I just know it. There's the finish line. It's about time!")
And now the moment has finally come to plan for my first ever official marathon. I realize that if I can finish a marathon, I can probably finish anything. Here are two books I ordered yesterday.
Yes, I am like your typical beginning Greek student -- thinking that the more books on the subject I buy, the quicker I'll learn. Yeah right. But hey -- deciding to do a marathon is a terrifying thing, especially when I'm still trying to develop my base. I really don't want to learn what "pace" means in the middle of my first marathon. I'm like a dog learning new tricks. For one thing, when I ran my first half marathon (13.1 miles), I played mind games with myself along the way. I split the race up into manageable chunks -- four 5Ks to be exact (with a few feet of leftovers). That really helped. I suppose I can do the same thing when running a marathon. I also used the energy of my fellow racers to help propel me forward. I kept telling myself, "If these people can do it, so can I."
Now the question is: what marathon should I sign up for? It's pretty much "pay your money and take your choice." Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up at the Honolulu Marathon not only because of its mostly flat course, but also because it welcomes racers of all abilities and has no cut-off time. Can you imagine going past Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head and Koko Crater? Wowsers.
Meanwhile, I've already set a definitive goal: Not to fall into the comparison trap. Friend, I don't give a hoot how fast you can run a marathon. I am me. A very happy me. I will do my best, and that will be good enough.
Wish me well, will you?
10:08 AM Thomas Hudgins reminds us why we should always provide our own translation of the Greek when we are preparing to teach. For example, he renders Gal. 1:6 as, "I am completely blown away at how quickly you are turning away ...." A flabbergasting suggestion, if I do say so myself. I am weirdly protective of such renderings because I have produced a few of these myself in the ISV. At the end of the day, it just doesn't work to argue that "blown away" is wrong because it isn't a "literal rendering of the Greek." For Pete's sake, translation is not only faithfulness. It's communication. As Thomas says,
Thomas also addresses the issue of ambiguity in language. The old view that a Greek word must be translated by the same English gloss (which is regarded as its "proper" meaning) is closely related to the fallacy called etymologizing. It is often assumed that there is some "real" or "mysterious" meaning behind a Greek word, a meaning that can be known only if the "real" meaning is revealed. But to always assign one meaning to one word is incorrect since it denies the basic fact of polysemy -- the notion that words do not have meaning but meanings, only one of which is its semantic contribution to any passage in which it occurs. In other words, a word has a specific meaning in a specific context. This is a helpful principle to remember when examining, for example, the diction of Donald Trump. In his essay Understanding Trump's Use of Language, George Lakoff shows how The Donald, far from been fast and loose with words, is a master of ambiguity. "His words and his use of grammar are carefully chosen, and put together artfully, automatically, and quickly." Check it out and you'll see what he "means."
The whole point of my post is that there is no one-to-one relationships between words and meanings, and that semantics embraces far more than merely the so-called meaning of a word. I have more thoughts on this in my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek in case you're interested. Sure, for many of us, linguistics is just too difficult of a subject to tackle. Ironically, the more responsibility people take for their spiritual development and their neighbor, the more incumbent it is for them to be less reliant on pastors and teachers and less resentful of studying Greek on their own. Reading the text for yourself could be profoundly good for you and your people. If you are afraid of the subject, join the club. But if a boy raised at Kailua Beach can learn to read Greek, I suppose anybody can.
9:18 AM Several years ago in our faculty workshop I was asked to speak on the priority of excellence in all we do as scholars. I hope the world sees in us a community with wide-open arms, a community that is determined to get to the bottom of things, a faculty that chases down the primary data and not just the secondary literature, a group of researchers that has great discernment and does not just glibly follow the latest current or trend in scholarship. May we show courage to challenge long-entrenched views when the evidence points us in other directions. May we, by our scholarship, earn the right to be heard, not merely by own own kind (conservative evangelicals), but also by the academic guild as a whole. Yesterday I spoke of a man named Harry Sturz. I once described him as follows:
In my latest book, Running My Race, I ask, "Why do we ignore the fathers when it comes to the synoptic problem?" You see, it is dangerous for young scholars to read the primary data and to translate for themselves the writings of the fathers, for these writers were unanimous that our earliest Gospel was Matthew's. In fact, the Markan priority hypothesis -- which is the "affirmed" interpretation of history based almost exclusively on the internal evidence -- is fatally flawed when one takes into account the writings of the earliest fathers. Regrettably, I have found that any theory of New Testament interpretation, once it is established, becomes nearly impossible to dislodge, even if new (and seemingly contradictory) evidence is produced. Any new interpretation of the events, if it is to be accepted, must be built around the old consensus and incorporated into it, even at the expense of logic. An example of this (in my opinion) is the Farrer hypothesis, which dispenses with "Q" while insisting on Markan priority. Indeed, so embedded is the popular view in the public consciousness that it is nearly impossible to dismiss it. The story is "safe," and the matter is not really open to debate. If, however, one were to seriously investigate the external evidence -- the evidence provided by the patristic testimony -- it would become evident that current explanations are incongruent and incompatible with the opinions of the fathers. Why, for example, did Clement of Alexandria insist that the Gospels "containing the genealogies" (Matthew and Luke) were written first? And why is Matthew always listed as the first Gospel? Why is Mark's Gospel consistently described not as an independent work of Mark but as a record of the words of the apostle Peter? In light of this evidence, it seems illogical to believe that our earliest Gospel was written by Mark, a non-eyewitness. Some Markan priorists have even gone so far as to claim that Mark contains "errors" that were subsequently "corrected" by Matthew and Luke. Yet each of these supposed "errors" allows for a plausible alternative explanation that does not require Markan priority. If the New Testament student desires a complete understanding of the factors that led up to the writing of the Gospels, the internal evidence alone simply does not provide it. The external evidence keeps getting in the way of the affirmed version.
So what is the simplest explanation of the facts -- all the facts? To discover that, one must be bold. The missing pieces of the puzzle must be included if we are to assemble the whole puzzle rather than leaving them out because they do not seem to fit. Taking the external evidence into account will have serious repercussions. The answer to the synoptic problem will remain incomplete until a central piece of the puzzle is in place.
Thursday, November 3
5:56 PM Three years ago today we held a memorial service for Becky on campus. At the end, we showed a powerful video clip from Kevin Brown.
As I watched it today, I enjoyed those moments in quiet reflection and meditation. As the days speed dizzily by, sometimes it's good to be reminded.
Gracious God, it's hard to realize that it's been three years since You took Becky to be with You. Sometimes I feel life is passing me by more quickly than I thought. Show me ways I can reach out to other people and make a difference in someone's life today, just as Becky would do so often. Thank You, Helper of the helpless, for my scars. They tell my story. They reveal who I am and what life has brought me. May I rejoice in them today and all the days of my life. Amen.
5:44 PM What a crazy day it's been. I lifted at the Y and then did a 5K at the local track.
The temperature was 82 degrees. And it's November, for crying out loud. Afterwards, my body asked for arroz con pollo, and my mind gladly acquiesced. (I am so co-dependent.)
Then it was back to haying.
All day long I felt like a 30-year old.
No sense wasting time pining for my youth or wishing I could relive the years. I am celebrating my age, and it sure feels good, don't it, Ishi?
11:06 AM Is your church up to doing a marathon? A marathon is 26.2 miles. It's a slugfest. But you finish by taking one step at a time. So here are 26.2 ideas to get you started and maybe even keep you going to the end.
1) If you are a pastor, I might suggest that you stop training for "chief ministry provider" and start training for "chief ministry developer."
2) Let us rid ourselves of the "consumerism" mentality once and for all. It stands opposite to the "body ministry" as described in the New Testament.
3) As leaders, let's commit ourselves to discovering and employing the untapped potential that exists in our churches.
4) The shift from the "ministry of the clergy" to the "ministry of the laity" is one of the most important decisions facing the church today. Let's make it.
5) Let's self-identify first and foremost as a servant. Only one class of people exists within the church, servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Within that class there will always be different functions, but servanthood is incumbent upon all of us.
6) Realize that the under-utilization of our members is the primary reason why the mission of God is not being fully realized in the world and the reason why there is a dearth of servant-leadership in the church. (Side note: You might read my essay The Future of Southern Baptist Missions.)
7) The "laity" in your congregation is the most bountiful leadership resource available. Use it.
8) The role of the seminary is to come alongside local churches in training men and women for God-called ministries. This resource is useful so take advantage of it. But it can never become a substitute for in-house apprenticeship training.
9) If you are a leader, be willing to step aside and allow gift-based ministry to occur. Your people must be given freedom and authority for this to happen. Clergy must view the laity as equal in importance, as authentic ministers of the Gospel.
10) Recover the spirit of volunteerism in which every member is valued and equipped to pursue their ministry.
11) Let's stop minimizing the importance of the local church for identifying, selecting, and developing leaders. As much as possible, indigenous leadership is our goal.
12) The most effective churches today are those that are developing a team-based approach to leadership. Collaborative team fellowship is essential to a healthy church. Since all are to be involved in ministry, team ministry will help to flatten hierarchies and reinforce the notion that there is no such thing as a passive Christian. If at all possible, let's all avoid doing ministry alone.
13) We've got to set an example. The process of homegrown leadership is best done within an environment of mentoring and coaching. Seeing how something is done, rather than just hearing how it is done, is liberating. Let's focus less on telling and more on coaching. Relationships comprise the chalkboard on which God explains Himself.
14) Share openly with your congregation about the mentors in your own life. The first mentor in my life was Dr. Harry Sturz of Biola University. He taught me the life skills of the classroom, diligence, what good scholarship looked like, and devotion to my students. He stood by me, encouraged me, prayed for and with me, and wouldn't let me give up on my dreams of earning a doctorate. To him I owe an eternal debt of love, gratitude, and devotion.
15) Provide a biblical foundation for all you do. The book of Acts is a good place to start.
16) Don't wait to begin this process of empowering ministry to others. Jesus was keen to pass the baton of leadership early in His ministry. If you wait for "perfection," it will never happen.
17) Be patient with yourself and others. The empowerment model of ministry is laborious and time-consuming. Remember: You're running a marathon, not a sprint.
18) Memorize key New Testament texts and pass them on to others. I would begin with 2 Tim. 2:2 (Paul's goal was to train, teach, and empower capable followers who in turn could train, teach, and empower their own followers); Eph. 4:11-13 (Paul taught that equipping people for ministry ["works of service"] is God's plan for the pastoral care of His people); and 1 Cor. 12:12-26 (where Paul teaches that God's Spirit equips the church with a host of ministry functions that result in an empowered body capable of adequately fulfilling the mission of God in the world).
19) Remember that even if you only duplicate your heart and passion in one other leader, you have doubled the effectiveness of your ministry.
20) If you have a dependency model in your church, remember that it always comes from a climate of disempowerment.
21) Always emphasize the work of the triune God when it comes to spiritual gifts. This is the clear teaching of 1 Cor. 12:4-6, where Paul says that the Spirit grants gifts to all members, the Son assigns places of service, and God the Father grants us the outworkings or results of our ministries. So there are three steps in this process: discovering our gifts, discovering the place where we can best exercise those gifts, and discovering what God wants to accomplish through us as we exercise those gifts in the place of His appointment.
22) We must take the Great Commission seriously. The church is not only a community of those who learn of Christ but who witness to others and proclaim in word and deed the Lord Jesus and His salvation to anyone who will listen. The whole life of a local church is to be one of service and sacrifice and witness.
23) Let's remember that the goal of all Christian education (whether it be in the local church or in the seminary) is to incorporate the mission thrust of Jesus into all of our students. The goal is for each local church to "offer the message of life" (Phil. 2:16) in a way that people will know why and how they should turn to this new Lord Jesus Christ.
24) Let's work hard to see to it that "missions" means more than sending money to support missionaries and missions programs. All Christians are missionaries, and all are to be involved personally in service to the world. That's why I sometimes introduce myself to people, not as a professor of Greek, but as a fulltime missionary. According to the New Testament, missional service is not the prerogative of an elite corpus but the function of the whole people of God.
25) Let us teach, preach, and model the truth that the gathering exists for the going. It is exactly by going outside itself that the church is itself.
26) Let our priority become being the Master's messengers in the world and let our churches be satellite offices of the kingdom of God. Let every member of the body see him- or herself as a strategic player in missionary work as both salt and light.
26.2) Finally, remember that there is no "magic formula" for getting any of this done -- including lists like this one. There is no such thing as "26.2 steps to becoming a New Testament church." Living in obedience to Christ means, above all, living in daily communion and fellowship with His Spirit. There's no better leader than He. Believer, your pastor or your church cannot do the ministry God has given you to perform. Following Jesus is a journey that requires honesty, vulnerability, and commitment. The New Covenant is not an idea to consider but a life to be lived. As I look back, I am convinced that God was profoundly placing me under the mentorship of some of the most godly and humble men on the planet. I am convinced that He has such mentors for you, people who will take your hand and work alongside of you for the glory of God and for the good of His church. I sense there's a movement bubbling up in our churches today that goes beyond a "seven-easy-steps-approach" and celebrates a completely new way of living. I thank God for the millennials among us who aren't just complaining about the church but are dreaming of what it might become. Each of us has the privilege of serving Jesus every time we exercise our spiritual gift in His power and for His glory, every time we feed the hungry, every time we acknowledge the value and dignity of the strangers in our midst, every time we love the forsaken and remember the prisoners. Empowerment is giving people permission to become engaged in a meaningful way in the work Christ is doing in the world today.
On your mark, get set,
Wednesday, November 2
7:38 PM What restores a grieving widower's soul? The very same thing that restores anyone's soul: hard work, and the joy of Christian fellowship. When Naomi suffered devastating losses, she was comforted by the birth of her grandson Obed. Her friends said to her, "He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age" (Ruth 4:15). On the one hand, I got home just in time to get up hay before the sun set.
Nothing brings me more joy than the joy of working outdoors with my own hands.
On the other hand, this week I've felt the sheer unadulterated joy of watching others perform their duties and perform them well, as did Noah Kelley in our Greek seminar last night.
His subject was the synoptic problem. If you don't know what that is, don't ask. It's an extremely complicated subject, as you can see.
And there are probably more "solutions" to the synoptic problem than there are New Testament scholars. I have so much more to say about this but I've pretty much said all I'm going to say in one of my books. Today, in our New Testament Introduction class, I blubbered in front of 30 some-odd students as I tried to relate to them what this day means to me. I'll repeat to you what I said to them: I am so grateful to God for entrusting Becky to me for 37 years. Her death wasn't the end but the beginning. Death is the fertile soil where the Gospel forms roots. For it is when we die that we live. That's how I've survived the past three years. Once again, God is asking me to rest in Him, even when nothing seems normal. As I began class today my heart was in my throat. I think about her and I'm undone. I know I keep talking about this, and it's getting old. Yet the amazing thing is that God still loves me. It never frustrates Him. I made it through the opening of class and then introduced our guest speaker, who was none other than my good friend Kevin Brown, one of three elders at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Wilkesboro, NC.
We had lunch together (where he allowed me to cry on his shoulder) and then he spoke for two and a half hours to the class.
Honestly, this is a pastor who gets it. I mean, Kevin shows how God can take a very traditional church and lead it along so that it takes baby steps of obedience. Yes, I know. "Church" is a complicated conversation. I graciously invite you into the conversation because I know how much faithfulness means to you and how willing you are to expose yourself to humble self-examination. I have much hope for the church, even as it sometimes drives me crazy. The one thing I love about Kevin is that he's not afraid to be transparent. Healthy churches have healthy leaders -- not perfect leaders, but leaders who will ask the hard questions, such as "Are we committed to making disciples or mere consumers?" It really is simple -- this kingdom way of doing church. Every church can make process if it allows God to be God and people to be human. Here are the topics Kevin discussed today.
Two and a half hours of stunned silence were broken by some very intelligent questions. And then the class was over, just like that. Kevin showed us today something I have been trying to teach for 40 years -- that the study of the word of God has a specific goal, but that goal is not the study of the word of God. If the Bible is truly the word of God (as we evangelicals claim), then it will surely change the trajectories of our lives, our marriages, our homes, our churches. You develop an entirely different set of priorities. I have no idea what this might look like in your marriage or in your church. It's God's job to know that, not mine. But are you open? So thank you, Kevin. You are a visionary and a dreamer and a thinker and a disciple and a true shepherd. Thank you for your sermons, thank you for your books, thank you for your lectures, and thank you for your courage. You are touching lives for Jesus. Keep doing what you're doing. It matters.
Tuesday, November 1
8:58 AM Yesterday morning I took one of the biggest steps of my life. In honor of Becky's memory, I decided to do something really challenging: a marathon. That's 26.2 miles. So off I went to the High Bridge River Trail in Farmville.
And guess what?
I did it.
Of course, this wasn't a "real" marathon, you know with chip-timing and all. I plan to do that next year. But hey -- 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles. And my time? It sucks. The average marathon time is 4 and a half hours. The fastest is 2 hours. But ya gotta start somewhere. In reality, I'm a lousy runner. I do it, but I don't really enjoy it that much. So I may end up walking the race next year. I felt good about yesterday's adventure. My quads held up like champs, and today I feel no after-effects except for a small blister on the sole of my right foot.
"Was it hard?" Yes and no. Based on my absolute lack of preparation, I wasn't very optimistic that it would be a comfortable experience. The first half was mostly mind over matter. Until I got to the turnaround spot, the battle was 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental. I kept having to cajole my body to keep on going. "Dave, you've done 6 miles. Great. Now let's make that 8." "Hey, you just did 8 miles. Way to go. Now let's make that 10." This went on for 13.1 miles.
As soon as I turned around, everything changed. Now the battle was 10 percent mental and 90 percent physical. Here's what I told my body: "You're doing real good, Dave. You're half way there. Congratulations. Now you've got to get back to the starting line. And really, you have no choice but to keep on going. Ain't no one gonna pick you up in a golf cart and give you a ride back to the car." I had to really push myself but eventually I made it.
My next step is to do another 5K in Dallas on the 12th. Then I'll try a couple of halfs before biting the big bullet. Until then I'll do some easy biking as well as continue my weight training regiment. Thankfully, my body is responding well to all the exercise it's been getting. I really love listening to my body. It always tells me when to work and when to rest.
Today it's a rest day for sure. Tomorrow, of course, is the anniversary. A year ago around this time I was in Hawaii. For the most part all I did was relax. I surfed and hiked and slept. I had no schedules, no agenda, nothing was pressing me to get done. But a lot got accomplished during this completely uncharted time. I journaled about Becky. Now and then I would read old blog posts. I read Scripture. Gradually, as I read and pondered and remembered, I began to gain a new confidence to step out into uncharted territory. It occurred to me that by accepting Becky's death and by attempting to share my experience of loss with others, I had found a kind of fundamental happiness and contentment that I'd never known before. That said, as tomorrow approaches, the old fears have begun to return, like you're travelling to the horizon and thinking you're going to drop off the end of the world. When I climbed the Klettersteig last summer I struggled against a similar fear. We often think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that we all fear the unknown. This is where faith comes in. When things frighten us, when we face risk and uncertainty, we realize that we are on the verge of something important. As I faced the Klettersteig I remember thinking, "Now every moment is precious to me. My family is precious to me. My life itself means so much to me." At that moment, something had changed. A thing that was scary and horrifying had turned into a gift.
Life without a spouse is like that. Is losing your wife bad or good? Really, we just don't know. Thinking that we can find lasting joy and avoid pain in this life is a pipe dream. Loss is inevitable for all of us. In fact, the times when we really know what life is all about is when the rug has been pulled out from under our feet and we haven't got the foggiest idea where we're going to land. In that very instant of fear is the seed of hope. Life is a good teacher. As humans, we are always living in transition. But as we stay with the uncertainty -- as we live with a broken heart -- we will find the path of true awakening. When things get edgy, we need to ask ourselves, "Am I going to open up or shut down?" We don't need to try and create these situations. They will present themselves to us with clockwork regularity. And when they do, we have no choice except to embrace what's happening or push back against it. Underneath our ordinary lives -- underneath all the teaching I do, all the travelling I do, all that's in my mind -- there is a fundamental groundlessness that can only be grounded in Christ. Christ is like the Klettersteig. A lot happens to a mountain. The rain hits it. The wind howls. It snows. Clouds cross it. People climb it. Many things happen to the mountain. But it just sits there. When we see who we are in Christ, when we refuse to find our identity in anything or anyone else, there is a grounding like a mountain.
So here is my invitation to you. Deal with whatever you have to deal it. Approach it head on. Face down your fears. Your place in Christ is secure. And His Holy Spirit is an unbelievable healer. Give your losses to Jesus. He can do something positive with them, I tell you. You can cross the finish line. And never forget that we are running this race together.
Sunday, October 30
5:06 PM #MacAfeeKnob.
Saturday, October 29
4:40 PM Yo, folks! Beginning today, I've decreed the next seven days to be a week of celebration and commemoration. This Wednesday, Nov. 2, it will be exactly three years since Becky finished her race and the Lord called her Home. I think she did a fantastic job, don't you? Do I miss her? Are there horses in Texas? She was more precious to me than life itself. I've got people in my life whom I'm grateful for, but there was no one like Becky. Immolated into one another for 37 years, she's now gone, and there's no sense in trying to turn the clock back. Marriage, as with our Christianity, is not a project to be worked on but something to be marveled at with humility and gratitude.
So how will I celebrate? For starters, this morning I ran a 5K in Wake Forest. What a wonderful, joy-filled experience. Tomorrow I'm hiking MacAfee Knob with a good friend. On Monday I hope to run/jog/walk/crawl 26.2 miles. This Wednesday I'm having lunch with an old and trusted buddy of mine. Next weekend I'm going to Becky's grave with family members. We'll finish things off on Saturday night with a concert at the NC Symphony. They're playing one of my all-time favorite pieces: Copland's Appalachian Spring. It will be the perfect way to end an amazing week.
To all of you who have sent me words of encouragement during the past three years: Words will never be enough to express what your texts and emails have meant to me. I know it might sound pretty strange to say it, but I wish that all of you could experience what I've experienced these past three years, though without the pain and the suffering. God has been good to me. When I look back now, I see nothing but grace revealed, experienced, lavished upon me, whereas three years ago practically all I saw was darkness and death. So much of my life with Becky Lynn was lovely and holy. But those days are gone forever. I will carry the vivid memory of her to my grave, as I know many of you will. But on that Day, when all of life is healed and restored, I'll gaze again upon her beautiful, freckled face -- no longer "bone of my bones," no longer my wife, but my sister in Christ for ever and ever. In the meantime, the tale of my own life will continue to unfold. I have a sense that God still has a story to write, and that the story will be good. I will never forget my bride. Her death will always remain a horrific experience that left huge, gaping wounds of unspeakable grief. But that experience has now become part of a greater whole, and I know that God is growing my soul, making it bigger and better and fuller with Himself. I'm eager to climb new mountains, cross new rivers, face new adventures. "Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door" (Emily Dickenson). Even today, in the dark, God is making my life -- and yours -- into something beautiful, His "masterpiece" if you will (Eph. 2:10, ISV). All we have to do is open the door. Healing is either around the next corner or a thousand years away. Either way, let's find out together.
I love you.
1) Today's race began and finished at the historic birthplace of Wake Forest College on Main St.
2) The weather was great, and a good crowd turned out for the race.
3) Our goal today was to raise funds for the Franklin County Humane Society. They are doing a fantastic work in the community. Already this year they've placed over 400 dogs or cats.
4) Never saw this breed before.
5) As you know, whenever I run a 5K I always try to beat the magical 30-minute mark. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I arrived and someone asked me if I had heard about "Killer Hill." Ugh.
6) It's pretty obvious that the second mile was all uphill.
Oh well, there's always next time.
Friday, October 28
6:04 PM Nijay Gupta just linked to 4 recently published commentaries on the New Testament. He likes them all. One of them he commends because it pays attention to the "early reception of Colossians." Ding! That struck a bell. "Early reception" is another way of saying how a text has been studied and received throughout church history. In some countries this is, in fact, a separate division of study -- Dogmengeschichte it was called when I studied in Basel. The professor of Dogmengeschichte was none other than Martin Anton Schmidt, the son of Karl Ludwig Schmidt -- the well-known progenitor of New Testament form criticism.
I recall taking a course from him on the history of the interpretation of Romans. Yes, history is totally in my head. I love the subject. And I am being lured back into the field. I'd kinda forgotten just how important it is. That said, I'm not holding my breath that seminary departments will start adding degrees in the history of dogma. But they should! I recall spending a week at Ealing Abbey in West London translating the church fathers from the Greek and the Latin. I wanted to know what they had to say about the historical origins of the Gospels. Flabbergasted is not a strong enough word to describe my reaction. We can't ignore church history and expect to understand our Bibles very well. I am here to tell you: Dogmengeschichte is a wonderful subject.
Hmm. I wonder if it's too late to get a second doctorate?
12:32 PM The weather is purr-fect today. Time for us to get caught up on a few farm chores such as mowing and cleaning up the Valley Road.
Lots of trees are down due to recent storm damage.
Nothing a chain saw can't handle, however.
Time to prepare lunch. Tuna sandwiches with avocadoes. Nummy.
10:58 AM Speaking of Abidan Shaw, in a previous interview he asked me about the views of my former colleague at Biola University, Harry Sturz. To listen to this interview, click here. Abidan himself is completing a doctoral dissertation at SEBTS on the subject of New Testament textual criticism. Now, obviously I espouse the view put forth by Dr. Sturz, but I wonder how many students of the New Testament have even been exposed to that perspective? That's why I've begun to require my Ph.D. students to read both Sturz's dissertation (The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism) as well as the book he seeks to refute, Hort's famous introduction to the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament. I am convinced that many people do not espouse Sturz's view simply because they have never worked through these two books. This puts everything in danger -- both leaders in our churches and the people. I won't lie; I love church history. And, to a large degree, this issue of textual criticism is largely a question of history. It's an incredibly interesting story -- and a very complicated one. Here are two books that will help us to become better students of the New Testament.
9:34 AM Yesterday's interview was a delight. Abidan asked me many interesting questions, not the least of which was, "So tell me, why did you get involved in weight training?" Let me camp out on the word "training" for a minute. Exercise is physical activity performed for its own immediate value. But training is exercise performed to help you accomplish a long-range goal of some kind. For example, yesterday's 5-mile run was training for tomorrow's 5K in Wake Forest. Tomorrow's 5K will be training for my next half marathon. And my next half marathon will be training for the first marathon I hope to run in 2017. (Well, I'll probably walk most of it.) If you're someone who struggles to get adequate exercise, it might just be because you think of exercise as being done for its own sake. Improvement for a long-term goal is the objective of training. If you've outgrown "exercise," training may well be the next step for you. My ultimate goal is to be fit enough to climb some really steep and hard mountains in the Alps next July, even harder than the peaks I climbed there last summer. Daily exercise helps me to judge where I am along the spectrum of preparation.
Here's my challenge to you. (This is the "Took" from yesterday's discussion -- hehe.) Simple weight training exercises can be a great way to achieve your long-term goals. They allow you to combine cardio and strength training. You end up burning fat -- fast. You'll gain better posture and improve your overall performance. And, because there are so many exercises you can do, you'll never get bored.
Above all, explore your motivations. Why am I exercising? To feel better? To achieve weight loss? To reduce my blood pressure? To run a 5K or a marathon? To raise money for a charity? To reduce my cardiovascular risk? A combination of the above? Whatever your goals are, I hope you will make muscle training exercises a part of your workout schedule. It's so easy to let our bodies "go." No one intends this. It just happens. But it's never too late to turn the ship around.
Thursday, October 27
7:30 PM A day in the life ...
1) Met with Joshua, one of my doctoral students, for mentorship this morning at the local Amish bakery.
2) Going through Harry Sturz's The Byzantine Text-Type and New Testament Textual Criticism.
3) Then off to the Y to lift.
4) Followed by a 5 mile run.
5) Care to join me?
6) Next ... did another interview with my former assistant Abidan Shaw for his Hoi Polloi podcasts.
7) The topic? My new book, Running My Race.
8) Then dinner with the Blacks at our favorite seafood restaurant in Henderson, NC.
9) It's called "220," and the trout is out of this world.
10) Peyton cuddling with his Papa B.
11) Graham's turn.
12) Tonight I gave Peyton the rabbit Nate had when he was Peyton's age. He's called Nala -- "Alan" spelled backwards (Nathan's middle name is Alan).
So it turned out to be another typical (i.e., busy) day in my life. I loved every minute of it. Good night, all!
8:12 AM Lawrence Richards, longtime professor at Wheaton, has died at the age of 85. For the story, go here. His Creative Bible Teaching was required reading when I was in seminary. Each lesson, he said, should have four stages: Hook, Book, Look, and Took. I had mixed feelings about the book. I don't think that sermons can always be reduced to pithy titles or that they need to have only one main point. I do agree with one of his main points, however: To be effective, a public speech (such as as sermon) needs to have an introduction ("Hook") that commands attention and awakens needs. Relevance ("Took") must also be present. I'd recommend this book for anyone wanting to improve their speaking skills.
7:48 AM "Who I am is who I am in Christ." Spoken in chapel yesterday.
7:12 AM Good morning, world!
Wednesday, October 26
8:24 PM Greetings virtual friends! How 'bout a picture potpourri of fantastic fotos?
1) My assistant teaching yesterday's baby Greek class. Way to go, Noah!
2) One of my doctoral students discussing textual criticism in last night's Ph.D. seminar. Fantastic job, Huss!
3) Lunch today with our librarian. His wedding took place on Oct. 1. Congratulations, Jason and Dawn!
4) My esteemed colleague Denise O'Donoghue speaking in our New Testament class today.
5) Her topic was "Discipleship of Women in Titus." Outstanding!
6) Got back to the farm just in time to get up hay.
7) Three trailer loads!
8) Too tired to cook, so ....
9) Yesterday I read the Festschrift for John Lee called Biblical Greek in Context. (A Festschrift can be defined as "a collection of writings published in honor of a scholar.")
John Lee is a deliberate writer. His works are never scintillating. He writes simply, clearly, and dispassionately. This volume contains creative responses to Lee's works, primarily in the area of Greek lexicography. It contains enough homage, imitation, and criticism to excite even the dullest reader. As a physical object, the book is very attractive. (Obviously I'm not a huge fan of e-books.) The paper quality is excellent, and a beautiful font is used throughout. Some of the essays are surprisingly adventurous. In fact, I took copious notes when reading this book. There are 15 pieces here, inspired by Lee's own writings. Here are just two takeaways of mine:
I enjoy immensely reading Festschriften like this one. The most recent one to arrive on my desk was published to honor a dear friend and colleague of mine, Prof. Antonio Piñero of the Complutensian University in Spain.
I've got a pithy piece of pious prattle in it. I have placed this book on an altar and daily prostrate myself before its erudition. All Festschriften are a mixed bag – a bit of hit and miss. But Lee's is nevertheless quite good. If you've ever read any of Lee's writings, you'll see why this act of recognition is so well-deserved. I heartily recommend reading it.
Tuesday, October 25
8:45 AM Mike Glenn writes:
This from my essay What Does a New Testament Church Look Like? Read the New Testament and Jesus will upset your comfortable Christianity. The new generation is on the right track, folks. They are done with spectatorism. They care about the right things. Their actions are beginning to align with the Scriptures.
Come, Lord Jesus. We are Yours. Use us as You wish. You have given each of us gifts of grace. Have your way with us, especially with the new generation.
Monday, October 24
7:12 PM Love our hay.
We serve up great quality, high nutrient bales. Perfect for horses, donks, and goats.
Green Acres is the life for me!
4:32 PM I just finished reading The Greek Verb Revisited from cover to cover. The book gives lengthy explanations and examples, so be sure to pace yourself. It's a difficult book to review and I don't intend to write one. In my opinion, the book is not nearly as eye-opening as the endorsements would seem to imply. Overall, I think it does a pretty good job of explicating where things stand today in terms of New Testament Greek linguistics. But a streamlined and accessible overview of a very complicated subject it is not. Here's a sample:
I have to agree with contributor Buist Fanning of Dallas Seminary, who writes (p. 11), "Please! Pick up a hammer and chisel and work away at this -- with my blessings and gratitude." Kudos are rightly given to James Barr's Semantics of Biblical Language, which is perhaps the most seminal work in the field even today. Among the conclusions this book reaches: verbal aspect is central to our understanding of the Greek of the New Testament; in the non-indicative moods, the so-called "tenses" do not encode tense at all but rather aspect; and there exists no consensus among New Testament scholars as to what is actually meant by "aspect." Most interesting to me was the fact that Randall Buth defends, not two aspects in Koine Greek, but three, which he calls "perfective," "imperfective," and "perfect." I tend to agree, although I would stick with the traditional nomenclature (I still call today's "perfective" aspect "aoristic aspect"). But the real problem with this book is that it is too stodgy for my tastes. It's almost impossible to read it without losing one's way. On the other hand, as an amateur linguist, I appreciate what the editors were trying to do: bring the field up-to-date. In this, they have largely succeeded. Linguistics is a vitally important field of study. When it comes to language, I am neither a purist nor a prescriptionist. But pedantry is not very helpful. It's abundantly clear that New Testament scholars are still divided on many of the issues discussed in this book. One such area is pedagogy, with Buth arguing that "learning Greek to second-language fluency must also become part of the wider academia if we value true access to the original languages" (p. 428). I would heartily agree with his assessment on one condition: I would personally work very hard at speaking Koine Greek if I could find one native speaker. But I think Buth's overall point is a valid one: Greek must be internalized to a certain degree if we are to interpret the New Testament correctly. I'm thankful for the contribution this work makes to New Testament Greek linguistics. But it will probably take others to produce an updated overview to the field that is not disjointed, uneven, and at times confusing.
11:58 AM Perfect day for riding. I'm filing this under #PeekAboo.
8:30 AM Goin' on a "Bike Ride."
Sunday, October 23
9:32 PM "Why me, God?" I asked myself this question as I waited for my luggage at the baggage carousel tonight at RDU. "Why me, God?"
"Why do I have such good health when so many suffer?"
"Why do I have the ability to walk, drive, talk?"
"Why have You blessed me financially?"
"Why are You so good to me?"
"What have I done to deserve this?"
I pondered these questions as tears began to roll down my cheeks. There at the carousel was a man half my age with two crippled legs. As he walked, he drifted from side to side like a drunken sailor. "Lord, forgive me for taking my health for granted!" Last night at the banquet, a young man with autism was there helping and serving, doing menial tasks with a gignormous smile on his face. "Lord, if only I could serve You with half that amount of joy!" Once again, people are changing my heart in ways I haven't started to understand yet. "Why me, God?" I have no answers. I am torn. So much of what I do is a pure, unadulterated, undeserved blessing. There's something so wonderful about watching people who have been wounded live as though they didn't have a care in the world. It defies my efforts to describe it. "Why me, God?" And then His voice speaks in my silence: I knit you together in your mother's womb. Every moment of your life I have planned. I know every feeling, every hair on your head, every sorrow. Chose to believe in Me despite all the evidence to the contrary. Be grateful and joyful. Yes, I have blessed you. Abundantly. And because of who I am, you can rise above living as a mere victim. You can transcend your circumstances. You can overcome evil with good. So ... keep on walking and driving and talking. It is I who have given you these gifts.
Tonight I am overcome by the goodness of God. Life is too wonderful to me. And all of it is so ... undeserved. "Who am I?" asked Bonhoeffer. "They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!"
1) Brother Jamie's been here 7 years. I'm blessed to know such a wonderful shepherd.
2) Church leaders.
Jamie is second from left. Dave (second from right and recently widowed) graciously opened his home to me.
3) Ladies at our banquet last night.
4) Jamie addressing the folks after I spoke. All of them widowed.
5) Love this young man. What a blessing to the body of Christ!
Saturday, October 22
6:45 AM "Be of good cheer. It is I. Don't be afraid" (Matt. 14:27). Troubled in spirit? No need to deny the existence of evil and sin and death and loss and sorrow. Our Lord recognized all these and more. He met the sorrows of life not with a things-will-get-better-someday philosophy. He met them with Himself. "It is I." Trouble is a reality, but we can be of good cheer because He has overcome everything the world can throw at us. That, in essence, will be my message tonight. He makes the difference.
Off and running!
Friday, October 21
7:44 PM #HappyGranddad.
4:58 PM Now that I'm an expert mountaineer (thanks for playing along), I've begun to use plenty of climbing metaphors in my writing. God wants us to be victorious as we face our "mountains" in life. And He uses the "climb" to display His marvelous grace. I've had to learn this truth the hard way. But true it is: We never climb alone.
"But," you say, "you climbed the Rockies by yourself, didn't you? How wise was that?" Okay. You've got me there. When climbing a 14,000 foot mountain it's probably helpful to have a companion, especially if he or she is more experienced than you are. Here's my mountain guide in Switzerland.
He was constantly encouraging me and summoning me toward the top. The Alps are steep. You don't want to climb them alone. In Colorado, however, I had no climbing companion, no guide, no one to call back to me to encourage me to keep climbing. I wish I had, but some climbs you simply have to make by yourself. When I arrived in Denver I had two options. I could stay in the foothills and stare up at the mountains wondering what it would be like to climb them. Or I could gear up and start the ascent. But here's the deal. Even though I was climbing by myself, I was never alone. God was there, supporting me. Likewise, since Becky's death I've been on a solitary journey. To be sure, family and friends provide constant encouragement, but the mountain of widowerhood is a heavy burden of pain that you can't share with others. I'm in a place I've never been before, clinging to total reliance on God even when no one else, not even those who are closest to me, understands. To shift the metaphor a bit: losing a spouse is like a heavy backpack that makes the climb seem steeper and more difficult. In that case, I guess you just keep climbing! Nowadays my adjustment and healing process continues. My emotions are definitely scarred. My life has been drastically altered. But I continue to heal daily. I have a new mountain to climb -- a "new normal" -- but that doesn't mean I curl up into a little ball. I'm very busy with my students and my family and love to serve others. It's not only when we're young that God can use us. Even in sickness and weakness we can honor God by using our skills. God's obviously not finished with me yet. He is making me whole again. I love that. I know that all the battles I face have a divine purpose. So I face my mountains one day at a time and keep on climbing so that perhaps God will be glorified and others will feel encouraged to keep climbing when their own mountains get steep.
I remember as a child looking at pictures of the Alps and never imagining that one day I would climb one. I could only dream about the sense of accomplishment that represented. Now that God has allowed me to make a few summits, I know that the harder the climb, the more He is there. "The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength" (2 Tim. 4:17). Even when you feel like you can't take another step, even when it seems like there is no end in sight, even when it doesn't seem like you're moving, His plan is still taking shape.
I know all of this sounds ridiculously simplistic, my friend. I have no earthly idea just how difficult your climb is. But I do know that God will always give the needed strength to climb. There's no better Guide than He. Let's allow Him to be our companion on the mountain. And when the trail is especially rocky and steep, let's hold His hand more tightly than ever.
3:10 PM This and that ...
1) Read Why weight loss requires strength training, even in women and seniors. (Warning: hobby horse.) Come near, guys and gals: Diets don't work. People on diets may lose weight, but most of this weight will be water and muscle tissue. Not fat. That's why I'm a proponent of weight training. Before I began lifting, I weighed 245 pounds. Now I'm a steady 210. You see, I wasn't overweight. I was overfat. The problem with most diets is that they cause you to lose the most energy-hungry tissues in the body: your muscles. Weight training causes you to increase them. It's that simple. I'm not against all diets. But they're not the answer. Dieting may allow you to win a few battles but you'll lose the war. A person doing 30 minutes of muscular activity 3 times a week will inevitably become fit. The simplest way to preserve your health is to exercise. Exercise = health. Period. Yes, most of us need to do a better job of watching what we put into our mouths. But we don't need new "diets" to become fit and healthy. What is needed is already known. I'm not as fit as I want to be, but I'm trying -- and that's what makes the difference.
2) These books came via FedEx today from Amazon.
Louw's Semantics of New Testament Greek is a replacement copy. (I loaned out my copy and never got it back.) Louw's book literally changed my life when I first read it back in the early 1980s. The moment I finished reading it I became a huge fan of linguistics. Anyone who can read and understand basic New Testament Greek should invest some time with this book. Despite its small size (only 166 pages), Louw packs more helpful information into less space than you can imagine. I just wish other books on New Testament linguistics would recognize this. This easily belongs in the Must Read list for pastors. Louw uses short but rich sentences. He puts a lot of the more jumbled and less eloquently expressed phrases of the experts into digestible chunks. Today, some 34 years after its initial publication, it's still timely, thorough, and practical. I appreciate Louw's logical ways of approaching the subject, drawing on tangible examples from the New Testament to explain obtuse ideas. But what I love best about this book is a trait that's sorely lacking in many books on Greek linguistics being published these days -- accessibility. You literally glide through the text. This book made me think more seriously about language than any book I read during my doctoral studies. I know you've got lots of books to read, but I hope you'll make time for this one.
3) Mark Love thinks we should shift the center of worship from sermon to table. I marvel why more of us don't practice this. There is no evidence that the New Testament church was pulpit-centric. There's plenty of evidence that it was Christocentric, as yours truly argues in chapter 5 of his book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church ("Christ-Centered Gatherings"). None of us means to, but it's just so easy to make our meetings anthropocentric. I love Acts 20:7, because it's so informative. The church gathered to break bread (the telic infinitive is used here), not to hear Paul preach until midnight. The "Christ" in our gatherings is so vital, central, important. Hang on to Him, folks. Give Him first place (Col. 1:18). Take and eat.
4) Do your kids know these 20 great hymns?
5) The top ten signs you're broke.
7:50 AM B. F. Westcott:
Thursday, October 20
5:48 PM Someone has said, "There is no agony like baring an untold story inside of you." So did I "bare it all" in my book Running My Race? Hardly. A person is so much more than their books. Honestly, I swept a lot under the carpet. I have been injured, and although Jesus can turn tragedy into triumph, I still grieve. True love always misses a spouse. It compels us to remember. It steals our innocence. You are in a season of life that seems never-ending. The chaos of coping can leave you frazzled and stressed. Guys and gals, as disciples, Jesus is telling us, "There is a cost to marriage. Will you be able to trust Me when your spouse dies? Can you accept your loss as a gift?" Letting go of my "right" to be married is a constant battle. There is no biblical prototype for what a grieving husband looks like. You know how Jesus felt about Lazarus. He wept at his grave. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He claimed to be the resurrection and the life. His friends needed to hear that. Jesus pushes us to trust in Him when there is death, when we take a front row seat at a funeral. He wins us over, not only by His tears but by His question, "You'll still trust Me, won't you?" I'm getting on a plane this Saturday. I'm booked at an event for widows and widowers. Why me? I'm still working on this grief thingy. Does that surprise anyone? There is simply no end that grief requires. And what makes it even worse is when I try to remember what it was like to be married. How can it feel like it was 50 million years ago?
So what's the point of this post? Nothing, really. I'm just emoting, venting, baring, confessing. (Griping?) "It's not good for man to be alone." Sheesh. I know. And because I know, I can be honest with my audience. What matters, fellow grievers, is not that our prayers sound pretty. What matters is that the Spirit pleads on our behalf. We are never alone, least of all when we pray. So if you would, could you please pray with me as I try to minister this weekend? I love being deliberate with you. Your prayers have meant everything to me. I have made the choice to accept my widowerhood. I have a deep and abiding love for my Savior. But I'm also glad, really glad, to have praying friends like you.
12:26 PM Just ordered:
10:30 AM C. S. Lewis:
9:58 AM One of the hallmarks of the Last Days is perplexity -- the condition of having lost one's way. Jesus put it this way in Luke 21:25-28:
You only have to read the news (or watch last night's debate) to observe the plight the nation finds itself in. Even Christians can be bewildered in such a time. Like Abraham, we do not always know where we are going. And there is no greater nuisance than the cheery politician who thinks he or she has all the answers.
Paul himself could admit that he was "greatly perplexed" (2 Cor. 4:8). But he quickly added, "... but not in despair." That's pretty much my attitude these days. I may not know what is ahead but I absolutely know Who is ahead. There's plenty of fog in the harbor, but the Pilot knows exactly what He is doing. "Up on your feet!" He says to His people. "Stand tall with your heads high!"
It's hard to imagine where our country will be in 10 years. But ours is not the perplexity of this age. We haven't been left stranded. "Help is on the way!" True freedom is not found in anything engineered by man, but in Jesus Christ. "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose" need not be caught unprepared. The blessed Holy Spirit, the one who comes alongside to help, will sustain us with His sufficient grace.
Church, as we witness the shambles of our culture, let's seek first the kingdom of God. The Christian life is not merely lived by Christ's help. It is Christ.
P. S. Pix from yesterday:
1) The B-Area planning next fall's schedule in Old and New Testament.
These are some smart dudes. They keep me humble.
2) Scott Hildreth making Philippians come alive in our New Testament Intro class.
His emphasis on "partnering" in the Gospel as first and foremost a partnership of prayer was very convicting. I am conditioned to minimize prayer and overemphasize activity. Prayer counts.
3) Another lame, boring, and possibly aggravating pic of me haying yesterday.
4) Deal with it.
Tuesday, October 18
8:28 AM Quote of the day (source):
8:25 AM Allain de Botton's essay Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person caused quite a stir on yesterday's The Diane Rehm Show. (I should confess that I listen to Diane's show a lot, especially when I'm driving.) His basic point is that whomever you end up marrying will be full of imperfections, just like you are. Deal with it. I think there's a good deal of truth here. Personal self-fulfillment simply isn't the language of the New Testament when it comes to marriage. The kingdom of God allows imperfections, and we can accept each other, right where we are, right now. Husband and wife: you are beautiful. Your Father delights in you. You both have equal worth and value. You matter to God. Make space for each other's wisdom and failures. Care for others in tangible ways, putting your marriage at the service of the world. And remember: When Christ begins a work, He finishes it. We may occasionally find ourselves in the place of utter despair. That's okay too. We are called, as married couples, to the difficult, unsexy work of doing what is right. And part of doing what is right is, well, acceptance. "I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out," wrote Nora Ephron in her screenplay of When Harry Met Sally. "I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night."
I know this sounds crazy. But isn't this how real life works? Light is greater than darkness. And when we drag the darkness into the light, the process is innately healing. You just need to tell your spouse: "I am here with you as your best friend. We'll work it out, together." But sincerity is crucial. You can't fake love. Not in marriage. Husbands, love your wives. Like, love her. Boundaries may be necessary. But they come after grace.
So read the essay I linked to above and see what you think. I am no expert on marriage. Like you, I am a repentant learner. But we can all learn something.
(Side note: I'm posting here a pic of Becky and me 4 years into our 37-year marriage. We were living in Basel at the time. At that time I thought I knew everything about marriage. After all, people perceived me as an expert in other areas. Ugh! Dear friends, I am so terribly human. Still, I am capable, as you are, of being filled with the Spirit and living selflessly. Marriage really is that simple. We are accomplishing an extraordinary task through supernatural means. But perhaps it all starts with releasing each other to be who they are meant to be. Let's unshackle each other a little bit, shall we?
While I'm at it, let me thank Becky for putting up with me for all those years. I know she probably can't hear me. But honey, it was quite a ride wasn't it? I wouldn't have traded it for anything.)
Monday, October 17
6:45 PM Yes!
9:40 AM Okay. I've got Becky on my mind these days. Have you noticed? Nov. 2 will be here before we know it. What will I do on that day? I have no idea. Maybe I'll write a post about "biblical womanhood." You know, women like Priscilla, who was a powerhouse in the early church. Becky was like that. Or how about Anna, a longtime widow? Dare I mention Lydia or Mary or Martha or Chloe or Euodia or Syntyche or Junia (yes, it's a woman's name)? How about Corrie ten Boom or Elizabeth Elliott? I assure you, there was nothing weak about any of these women.
So I can't keep quiet. No one can take away what I know about Becky -- her sacrifice, her love, her sense of humor. I think God created Becky to show us all what it means to be truly human. That's why I love her testimony (My Life Story). And that's why I love this audio clip of her teaching about finances many, many years ago. Someone happened to record it and then gave it to me. (Thank you!). At one time, Becky was a very successful financial planner. She freely helped pastors and missionaries with their finances. Many can testify to how God blessed them through Becky's help and advice. So let me pass on to you this audio recording. Becky was not a "seven-steps-to-financial-success" person. Instead, she walked us through 2 Corinthians 8-9. Her exegesis is pretty great. Hope you enjoy it.
9:14 AM Can you believe it? This Saturday night I'm speaking at a banquet in South Carolina for widows and widowers. Boy, if that won't keep you humble. I've never done anything even close to this before. But since it's my "village," I'll give it my best shot. Understanding the stats is incredibly helpful. Each year 800,000 women are widowed in the U.S. There are currently more than 13.6 MILLION widows in America. According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, the death of a spouse scores a solid 100 percent. Moreover, according to the American Public Health Journal, widowhood increase the survivor's risk of dying dramatically. (Interesting, but don't expect me to start saying goodbye.) In the U.S., half of the women over 65 are widows. Is there hope for widows and widowers? How can we best love people in this situation? I have much hope for those who have lost their spouse, mainly because we are precious to the Lord. Widowed people serve and lift, give and encourage -- or we can. And because of the beautiful thing we call the Body, no tragedy is ever weathered alone.
So what will I talk about? The crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 3). What seems impossible for man is possible with God. You think crossing a river at flood stage is easy? It's downright impossible! But there IS a way (John 14:6), the "ark of the covenant" being one of the greatest types of Christ in the Old Testament. I don't really care a whit about the statistics I cited above. There is hope for stressed-out people! Widowed people need to know that they're not a burden to Jesus. He can fill up your tank, and mine. And church, let's be prepared to prioritize ministry to widows and widowers. They are people, not statistics. That is true of all single people in the church. Yes, they are broken and hurting, but so are you. How incredibly important is a healthy faith community! I hope the world sees us welcoming the bereaved with wide-open arms. And I hope they find those of us who are widowed to be kind and generous. What a church that would be!
8:36 AM Well, this will be an exceedingly important week on campus. For some time now I've been convinced of the absolute usefulness of discourse analysis for New Testament interpretation. It compels us to rethink the role of word study in exegesis ("The word in the Greek means ....") and move beyond -- far beyond -- the word to broader discourse units such as the paragraph and the section. Johannes Louw's The Semantics of New Testament Greek is a critically important work and a must read for everyone in the church who seeks to be faithful to the text as a whole. If you are a shepherd-teacher, you know how rich the Scriptures are. Now go and minister, heal, love, and teach -- not from the canteen of Saturday night, but from a reservoir of deep Bible knowledge. Stop waiting for someone else to tell you what the text is saying. I pray for messy studies, for late nights of study, for an insatiable hunger to draw out of the text what the Holy Spirit put into it. May your soul long for prayer and for the Scriptures. When others are preaching sermonettes, live counter culturally. It matters whether you are faithful. Accuracy is not easy but it is simple. Allow the text to be its own interpreter. Dig deep. Formal teaching can be simple without being simplistic. It really can.
Thank you, young twentysomethings, for reminding the church that boring messages are unacceptable. Thank you, scholars like Steve Runge and Stan Porter and Con Campbell and Don Carson and Moisés Silva, for never being content to do word studies only. Thank you for giving us eyes to see the forest and not just the trees and tiny little saplings. Thank you for creating a passion for entire texts. Thank you, students in my New Testament class, for working so diligently all semester long, for allowing me the joy of listening to your papers as you wrestle with the biblical text. You've helped me understand the urgency of what I do as a professor.
And so this is the week to move beyond word-bound exegesis, both in my New Testament class and in my Ph.D. seminar, where the topic is "discourse analysis." I wish all of you could attend. Trust me, I'm no expert on the subject. But I love the text. Look at it. It is gorgeous. It has architectural precision. The Bible is so good you can't believe it. Dear reader, nothing would make me happier than your own study of the text. Somewhere amidst all the commentaries out there is the defiant act of sitting down with the Scriptures opened in front of you -- the best kind of alchemy. Millennials can sniff out a fake a mile away. Pastor friend, be you, but be your best you. May I suggest a starting place? Struggling with the text. You are smart and capable. Do the hard thing. Reclaim your mantle. Do I always do this consistently? Are you kidding? But if you want to see what I'm talking about, go here. Better yet, study Philippians on your own. You will never trot out that tired cliché again -- "The theme of Philippians is joy in the Lord." Guess what? Joy is at best the by-product of doing what Paul commands us to do in 1:27. (No, I'm not going to tell you what that is. You'll have to discover it for yourself.) Meanwhile, please pray for my students this week. So few of us actually struggle with the text. We often feel so inadequate for the task. But inadequacy is a terrible reason to stay uninformed. Scripture tells us plainly that it is God-breathed. Let's go ahead and address this "stuff," shall we?
P.S. My thanks to my friend and colleague Scott Hildreth for blessing us this Wednesday with a special lecture on "Ecclesial Cooperation in Paul's Letter to the Philippians." Maybe we'll record it. And, if you're interested in how Becky and I did missions together, go here. I tell you, she was some gal.
Sunday, October 16
5:34 PM Got time for some pix?
1) Grateful for a beautiful fall day in Southside Virginia.
2) My buddy Jason and I decided to try and do a bike marathon.
4) Later I was treated to a lecture on "The History of Hebron Christian Church." This is where Nathan has been serving since 2008. It was a spellbinding talk.
5) The current building was constructed in 1880.
6) Facilities, anyone? Hehe.
7) This is my grandson Peyton, yall. He is getting so big!
8) Always love a good organ recital.
8:25 AM Read Why Boomers Are Having Trouble Convincing X-ers to Vote for Trump. Well, this Boomer is listening. Misguided hierarchies have no place in the kingdom of the heavens. Me? I will vote my conscience. Meanwhile, the Bridegroom is coming. Can't you sense that? In the chaos and confusion of our fallen world, it's little wonder we long for that push-back-the-darkness Day.
P.S. Please continue to pray for the Ben Merkle family. Ben is a dear friend and colleague of mine at SEBTS. The Brandon Merkle Memorial Fund is still open in case you'd like to give.
8:15 AM On Friday a friend asked me how hard it is to climb a 14er. I suppose it's something you just have to prepare for the best you can. Like yesterday's 5K. Normally, when I run, I am in no hurry. I settle myself in and let everything take care of itself. Yesterday I tackled a really difficult course in 32 minutes. I did well. I was strong enough. As with most of my races these days, at the finish line I feel fulfilled. I am simply happy.
When I climbed Huron Peak two weeks ago there were only a handful of other climbers on the mountain that day. I summited alone. Then a few others joined me on the top. They were all young bucks. We exchanged high fives and snapped photos. Then I started down. Before long I was overtaken by the rest of the group. Within half an hour I was completely alone on a 14,000 foot mountain. I was close to exhaustion but I wasn't despairing.
No stopping now. I'm on the train and I'm not gettin' off.
Most people, when they're in a similar situation, discover they are capable of a lot more than they thought they were.
From now on, Dave, it's exclusively your physical strength as well as your psychological stamina that will get you back to your truck.
There's an axiom among climbers that's inviolable: "You are 1,000 percent responsible for yourself. Others may or may not be around to help you. You need to be independent." It seems that, the more I climb, the more I realize how true this is. And this axiom applies to all of life. Because God has blessed me with good health, I can be fairly independent. I face life on my own, including its challenges. Huron Peak -- vast, unmanipulable, potentially deadly, profoundly rewarding -- is just like life anywhere. I believe that life is meant to be lived to its fullest. Don't wait for some future time to fulfill your dreams and innermost aspirations. Pursue your God-given goals, even in the face of past failures. Draw inspiration from others (Hebrews 11). Above all, be willing to expand your life in new ways. How else will you know what you're capable of?
Saturday, October 15
5:52 PM I know it sounds crazy, but with the anniversary of Becky's home-going coming up on Nov. 2, I've been übernostalgic these days. As I look back some three years later, a lot has happened in my life, but mainly I've come to realize (through this hard head of mine) that Becky's death was actually less significant than what God was planning on doing with it. That's why I could run today's 5K with such joy and exuberance, realizing that my pain and loss was no different from that of the Helton family who lost their 14-year old daughter two years ago. I wish you could have seen the joy on their faces. Theirs was an ordinary life, as mine was, until tragedy struck, but in the end our sufferings as human beings are more about God than they are about us. Our joy is rooted in the paradox we call Christianity, where up is down, sorrow is joy, defeat is victory. When I married Becky 40 years ago, little did I realize how mysterious and wonderful marriage would be, how glorious and harsh, how happy and sorrowful, how peaceful and tumultuous. I still sometimes look back on the day she died, but most often these days I turn my gaze forward and outward, believing that in the midst of a spouse's cancer and a child's brain aneurism there is grace available -- though a grace disguised as pain and suffering. Ellie's parents had a choice how to face their loss, and their faith allowed them to choose God. Today's race, you might say, was a "celebration" of so many things -- the legacy that Ellie left behind of a young lady known for her faith and laughter; the wonderful truth that, in Christ, God suffers with us; and the knowledge that God's tears are always mixed with ours. As for the race itself, I tried to run the best race I could, which is the only trophy I want or hope for. This is the prize we all seek in life -- the prize of becoming a person we can all be proud of. Not to be the best on the team, but to be the best you. Now that death has entered the picture, we join hands with others with similar experiences, share our feelings and memories, our joys and woes, and we do what we can to leverage our loss for good.
Today I competed in Ellie's memory, with Becky (as it were) by my side, and to the glory of God -- strangers brought together for a greater good, all heading for a Shore as though we were the last swimmers in the race, enlarged by our loss and experiencing greater joy and peace because of it. I wish you could have been there to see it.
1) Remembering their daughter. Honoring their Savior.
2) Yours truly got a second place medal among the Antediluvians.
3) Let's see, which nearby restaurant has scrumptious food?
4) Never been happier.
5) Kai wat in honor of you know who.
Friday, October 14
8:38 PM Great dinner tonight with good friends.
Love these brothers!
1:18 PM Please read the following about tomorrow's 5K race and then consider making a donation to a very worthy cause.
12:52 PM "They seek for themselves," wrote Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, "a house in the country, seashore, and the mountains. But this is altogether the mark of the common man, for it is in thy power whenever you shall choose to retire within thyself." My biking trails become that retreat. (Here's today's route.)
But then again, so do my mountains and my seashores, not to mention "a house in the country." Tomorrow, for a brief 30 minutes, I will have the freedom just to be me, without censure or praise, as I run a 5K for the Brain Aneurism Foundation. I am, for those 30-some-odd minutes, my own new Adam, the only one in my universe. The person that I am is expressed in the race and, when I run, my entire personality participates. My body allows this to happen. Moreover, as I run, the sights and sounds, pains and pleasures of life, become available to me in a unique way. Exercise should not be looked at as a game plan for successful living. It is successful living. I am never more alive than when I am climbing a really difficult mountain or riding a really big wave. Today, biking took me away from my disturbed circumference to the center of my being. Words fail to describe what the outdoors does to me. Almost always, the complete experience becomes timeless, selfless, beyond history or anxiety -- I could almost say a "mystical" experience. Health is not the product of this activity but a process -- an ongoing, continual, continuous state of becoming self-disciplined. It's largely our decision whether we are healthy or unhealthy, lean or overweight -- and I say this because each and every one of our habitual behaviors is adopted by personal choice. Exercise deficiency is a self-inflicted wound.
So today it was biking. Tomorrow, Lord willing, it will be running. On Saturday or Sunday it will be getting up hay.
And folks, anybody can do it.
All it takes is sweat.
Thursday, October 13
6:08 PM Today I started reading a wonderful little book called The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, who is perhaps the doyen of American history among evangelicals today. It is masterfully written and brilliantly argued.
Noll tries to show how mid-19th century American Christians (both North and South) generally agreed that the Bible was authoritative but they differed on how that Bible should be understood. Not only this, but he shows how "the Book that made the nation was destroying the nation; the nation that had taken to the Book was rescued not by the Book but by the force of arms" (p. 8). He is so right about this! Indeed, how apropos to today's political climate in the United States. Biblical interpretation in America today, even biblical interpretation by conservative evangelicals, has perhaps never been so divided and chaotic. Just as the American Civil War generated a first-order theological crisis over how to interpret the Bible, so this year's presidential election is generating a first-order theological crisis over how to understand the work of God in our nation. The church of today has to a large degree become more or less subject to the controlling influence of public opinion rather than shapers of public opinion. The parallels with the 1860s are obvious. "Had white protestants been following the Bible as carefully as they claimed, they could not have so casually dismissed the biblical interpretations advanced by Pendleton and Fee and mentioned by Lincoln. The inability to propose a biblical scheme of slavery that would take in all races reveals that factors others than simple fidelity to Scripture were exerting great influence as well" (p. 56). I suspect that many Christians reading Noll's book would be nodding their heads in agreement. I'm finding this book a compelling demonstration of this truth. That's why today you will find leading evangelicals both defending Donald Trump and excoriating him, with both sides using the Bible to defend their actions. For my two cents, I cannot understand how anyone can defend Trump's candidacy. Yet I want to end by saying that this doesn't mean that I or anyone else has the right to condemn those who support Trump based on their own interpretation of "forgiveness," "the God of a second chance," "the sanctity of life," etc. I thus have no right to judge my Christian brother or sister in these matters. But neither can I with integrity claim to understand how they can reconcile their views with the teachings of the New Testament. All of this suggests, I believe, that each of us has to wrestle with how to reconcile the facts of this year's political cycle with the Scriptures. Above all, I hope we can all remember that we do not fight as the world fights -- that is, by hatred and violence (2 Cor. 10:3-4). Instead, we are called to fight this battle by displaying God's love to all people, including those with whom we might strongly disagree politically. My point is not that we shouldn't have strong convictions about whether so-and-so is qualified to be president of the United States. My point rather is that we need to constantly distinguish between the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and the kingdom of this world. And to do this, we must be more about giving other people Jesus Christ -- not rules, not entertainment, not partisan rhetoric. I have no confidence in the political system but I have every confidence in Jesus.
I encourage us all to keep the Gospel first. It really is a big deal!
1:26 PM Just as I summited Mt. Bierstadt last week I had one of the those "ohmygoodnessIthinkI'mdead" moments. I knew I had smashed my big toe but I wasn't sure if it was broken or merely sprained. Well, today I went to see the doc, who assured me it's only a bad sprain and I should be fine.
So no more activity for me -- at least until this Saturday, when I have a 5K in Cary. While at the doc's I also got my annual flu shot. This year the big threats, I'm told, are the California, Hong Kong, and Brisbane flu viruses. Earlier I met with one of my Ph.D. students over breakfast in South Boston for our bi-monthly mentorship.
The idea of a mentorship is to facilitate effective learning relationships. Actually, mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship where both mentor and mentee grow in knowledge and self-awareness. Today we talked about two major topics in New Testament studies: textual criticism, and source criticism (primarily the synoptic problem). The goal is to see that my students are well-prepared for their upcoming comprehensive exams, where they are expected to be very familiar with practically every aspect of New Testament studies. (Ah yes, that exam.) Obviously, this can't be achieved overnight -- which is why we do this over the course of two semesters. Good mentors have three basic qualities: they remember what it was like when they were just starting out in their field; they are eager to share with their students their knowledge, skills, and expertise; and they are willing to accept the mentee where he or she is. I also use mentorship to try and help my students avoid the mistakes I've made and to learn from my good decisions. Good reader, I hope you have a mentor in your life. All of us are called to this work, and it might not seem like much, but if you play your note and I play mine, together perhaps, just perhaps, we can make some beautiful music for the kingdom of heaven.
Wednesday, October 12
6:10 PM L. R. Knost once wrote:
Life is amazing.
So how's my awful, amazing, ordinary life going? A few vignettes:
1) Nic Muteti (pastor of Forestville Baptist Church) stopped by and we chatted about African-American relationships and explored ways in which I could better serve that community.
2) Diagramming Rom. 1:1-7 in our Greek class last night.
3) This just arrived in our library.
4) Here my friend and colleague Brent Aucoin (Ph.D. in American History) lectures on "Race Relations" in my New Testament class (we're studying Philemon).
5) Brent's latest publication.
Jones was a governor of Alabama and a staunch defender of African-American civil rights. Thank you for the gift copy, Brent!
Meanwhile, it looks like it's going to be an awesome weekend. Hope to do some climbing, run a 5K, and get up hay. Also looking forward to reading Brent's book and doing some more thinking about his lecture topic, racial reconciliation. As the book I mentioned above (Remix: Transitioning Your Church to Living Color) points out, racism is a spiritual problem and requires a spiritual solution. Political "solutions" simply don't work. Consequently, no kingdom-citizen can ever place confidence in a political ideology or party, simply because the kingdom that Jesus is ushering isn't a "new-and-improved" version of the kingdom of this world. I think it's time we as Christians began leaning into the "already" and not just the "not yet" of the kingdom of God. But to do this we have to cling to the Bible and depend on the Spirit more than we have ever done in the past. I hope we can all live like we are equally loved by God. I pray for healing, healing in our nation and healing among the races. God's heart for us is peace -- total, complete, unbroken shalom. Jesus can do this. May we all be true believers!
Tuesday, October 11
8:24 AM This and that ....
1) Grandsons are great. Now I know where I got my love for climbing.
2) Life begins every day.
3) "I felt more alive as my seventy-fourth birthday rolled by than I had when I was young. Increasingly, I saw new possibilities, uninhibited confidence surged in me again. I was my own woman -- in some ways more than ever before." Sarah-Patton Boyle.
4) "To do missions is to love." Thus spoke Steve Chang at the Greensboro Chinese Christian Church on Sunday. I can think of no better definition of missions than this one. Just love people. My favorite book of Francis Schaeffer is his The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, in which talks about "the mark of a Christian." We are to love others as Jesus loved us. The love He exhibited on the cross and exhibits daily in our lives is to be our standard. "The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture" (p. 136). Amen and amen!
5) "Do not look at the faces in the illustrated papers. Look at the faces in the street." G. K. Chesterton.
Monday, October 10
7:58 PM Much appreciation to my former doctoral student Mel Winstead who now teaches at Southern Evangelical Seminary. Tonight he interviewed me via Face Time for his New Testament Intro class in Charlotte.
The topic? My book Why Four Gospels? Easier to ask the question than to answer it, right? But I took a stab at it anyhow. What a delightful class. They asked me some great questions. Once I held to Markan priority. Not any more. The external evidence in support of Matthean priority is just too solid, but you have to read a lot of the Fathers and even peek into the corners. At any rate, it was great fun, and I'm so glad to have gotten reconnected with a former student. Thanks, Mel, and congratulations on your new teaching post!
5:06 PM Free copy of Running My Race to the first three people who write and ask for it. My email is email@example.com. No strings attached. Offer good through 7:00 am tomorrow.
Whew! This weekend has flown by!
Needless to say, I'm still in a state of ecstasy after my trip to
Colorado. Here are a few more reflections about my journey to the
2. Be prepared to hallucinate. No, it won't be because of Acute Mountain Sickness. It's just that your eyes don't work anymore. No matter how long you've hiked, the peak NEVER seems any closer. And it's like this all the way to the top. (Yes. Eventually you DO top out.)
3. Be prepared to stop and rest.
Frequently. Even if you're in great shape. At about 12,000 feet on my
descent I met a young medical doctor just sitting on a rock. She
couldn't take another step it seemed on her ascent. Though she was young
and super fit, I think she may have had AMS. I made sure she had plenty
of water, offered her some ibuprofen for her headache, then continued
the long slog down the mountain. Last I saw her she was walking --
P.S. My toe is still recovering but it's a long process.
The fault in my plan is that I hadn't done my homework and was unaware of the rocks I'd face nearing the summit of both Bierstadt and Huron. I have so much more to learn about climbing. The first requisite of climbing is knowledge. Know that it can be done. Know how to get it done. Then put your knowledge into practice.
Gotta cook my meals for the week!
Sunday, October 9
4:22 PM Author Stephen Covey once talked about the clock and the compass. The clock represents our schedules, goals, etc., while the compass represents our vision, our mission, our purpose and direction in life -- what we deem most important and how we lead our lives in view of that conviction. It's a matter of prioritizing our schedules in order to maximize our life's dreams. The ancient Greeks distinguished between time as measured sequentially and time as "appropriate" or "quality" time. Too often, urgency controls our lives when we should be guided by conviction. We seem to go from one crisis to another. But, says Covey, "the main thing is to keep the main the main thing." The key to a quality Christian life is our compass -- the choices we make every day to prioritize God's mission in our lives. That was my message this morning at the Greensboro Chinese Christian Church. I asked, "What's most important in your life?" "What gives ultimate meaning to your life?" "What do you want to do with your life?" My book Have You Joined the Cause of Global Missions? takes an in-depth look at these questions. It asks us to reconnect with the things that are most important to God. It's vital, folks, to recognize that "missions" is not a distinct "department" of life. It forms an interrelated whole. What we're talking about here is not simply a statement about belief, but a deep energy that comes from a thoroughly integrated sense of purpose. An integrated life-purpose prompts us to set realistic goals and helps us to stick with these no matter what. For example, to me one of the greatest benefits of physical exercise is not physical at all. Physical exercise can increase one's mental, social, and even spiritual dimensions as well. Also? Church as we know it all too often focuses on us. Every church can fall into this trap. But the gathering exists for the going. Always has, always will. I'm not trying to minimize the importance of association with a healthy local body. Find one that fits the bill for you theologically, and then love it with all the grace and selflessness you can muster. But guess what? You can live missionally without constant church management. We can all do this -- if we believe that the main thing is the main thing. The world is alive, crying out to us from every corner. We can hear its voice, but only if we are willing to bend low and put our ear to the ground and listen.
Many thanks to the staff of GCCC for showing me such hospitality this weekend. In so many ways you are modeling what "every member ministry" looks like, and for that I am truly grateful. Allen and Joanne Lo opened their beautiful home to me and allowed me time both for fellowship and for quiet rest. Thank you. What a blessed man I am to have such friends among the Chinese Christian community. Finally, pastor Steve Chang once had the audacity to take me for Greek, and it was he who asked me to come and participate in their month-long missionary conference. Steve is smart and capable, strong and wise. I am proud to call him my student and friend.
1) My home-away-from-home this weekend.
2) Allen and Joanne, the hosts with the most.
3) Enjoying Chinese food last night at the Lo house.
4) Welcome to GCCC!
5) Love these dear brothers!
6) The church at prayer.
Saturday, October 8
9:15 AM Last night a friend and I were sitting in my home library, talking about climbing, and he asked me if I had ever gone snowboarding. For me, that would be throwing caution to the wind. It's like when I gave up horseback riding about 10 years ago. As I would tell people, "I'm not too old to ride. I'm too old to fall." At 64, one feels a literal brittleness to one's bones that one never had in their 50s.
Now, cross-country skiing is another idea ....
I am getting older. I talk about that in my new book. As much as I enjoy sports and being active, I also have latent talents and goals in terms of writing and teaching that can't be ignored. And however I might end up using my talents and abilities in the years to come, my goal remains to "hoe to the end of my row," and to do so without self-pity in the middle of the furrow. I want to grow spiritually and age gracefully. I am all too aware that this book of mine only scratches the surface of what it means to age. But I trust that my reflections will make your aging years less fearful and more graceful.
As I've often said, this was a hard book to write, so I am all the more grateful to Henry and Jody Neufeld, who worked overtime making "the rough places plain." My basic premise is that it is possible to grow older without growing old. As long as we keep active, as long as we keep our hopes and dreams alive, as long as we stay engaged with life, God will renew our spirits. When Jeremiah went down to the potter's house, the potter did not discard the old clay. With great care and infinite patience he gave it back its dignity. The old clay took on a new and more beautiful shape. Today, I am clay in God's hands. Remember that, Dave. By His grace my sins are all forgiven; in His mercy even my failures are being redeemed.
Psychologists often advise older people to explore some other aspect of themselves. In case you haven't noticed, I've given myself freedom to change my lifestyle, to find new hobbies and priorities, even to seek new directions in life. I'm trying to see if I have left anything undone, perhaps an interest or latent talent that got covered or buried through the years. I am enjoying the quest. I still feel that God is calling me to some incredible journey of faith. I need to be challenged, to have something useful to do. I suppose that's why I accepted a speaking engagement this weekend in Greensboro and next weekend in South Carolina. In fact, when I'm in the Palmetto State I've been asked to speak at a widow/widower's banquet. Now that's a first! Widows (and widowers) are not "senior citizens." We are the "elders," and we are still maturing. We are redefining goals, taking renewed stock of our skills ands abilities, and looking to the future. My message to these fine people will be, in essence, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Old age can be a time of great fulfillment, a time when the loose ends of life can all be gathered up into one bundle.
May God help me today to reclaim my legitimate rights as a child of God without anger or apology. And may I show my gratitude to Him today by the way I bless my children and grandchildren, and all those I serve. May I celebrate my age, affirm my aches and pains, and perhaps even release the child within me that is full of spontaneity and fun.
Friday, October 7
6:56 PM Last week it sure was fun doing some peakbagging in the Rockies, but now that the weather is turning pretty sloppy I think I'm giving up tall peaks for the season and will wait until next July in the Alps to try anything too difficult again. The peaks I hiked in Colorado aren't as technically challenging as they are high -- but that fact made the hikes all the more worthwhile. I've had a great year of hiking and climbing. Climbing brings so much joy to my soul. The joy of being in a natural setting. The joy of self-discovery ("Can I really do this?"). The joy of exploring new territory. The beauty of a climb. When I started climbing a year and a half ago, I didn't have many expectations but more of a need to do something different with my life. I had grown accustomed to the rhythms of single life and work life. I was, if you will, rusting out a bit. Steve Jobs once said, "I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I'm about to do today?" There are so many different kinds of climbing. I am far from being an "all-rounder" who enjoys all the various forms of this sport. I like heights. I like steepness. I am such a masochist! I don't like bouldering or free climbing. But I do enjoy rock scrambling. I like exploring remote parts of the earth.
For now, however, this Wanderlust of mine is taking a little hiatus. Climbing is not just a hobby. It's not just a sport. It's a way of life. And it's a community. Much like the church is, in fact. Why climb? Why explore places where very few other people have been? Aside from the pure pain and pleasure of the climb itself, I think the main reason I climb is because it allows me to enjoy God's creation to the fullest. When you stand on top of a 14,000 foot peak, you have a new perspective of the world. Do you remember the first time you climbed a tree? That's exactly the way I feel nowadays. You know, we can travel the globe in an airplane but never grasp the scale of God's marvelous handiwork. There's nothing like a tall mountain for a fresh perspective. And when you return to earth, you feel revitalized in both body and soul.
Maybe it's time we all climbed a little higher in our lives. The next time you see a mountain or even a hill, remember to stop and look up. Try climbing it if you can. You just might rediscover those instincts you had as a child.
Here's the GoPro I promised:
P.S. My books arrived while I was gone.
I tried to write it with honesty and passion. I'm still looking for an authentic Christian faith, and I am still not exactly sure what that looks like. So in this book I try to model what perhaps many Christians are afraid to voice. Hope you enjoy it.
Thursday, October 6
7:10 PM Today I flew back from Denver, which is a great place to get a "Rocky Mountain High." (No, not that kind of high.) As you know, my goal was to see whether or not I could actually make it to the top of one of Colorado's 14,000 foot peaks. Call it a "sufferfest" if you will. The altitude was a killer. "Altitude" has three official categories: high altitude (5,000-11,500 feet), very high altitude (11,500-18,000 feet), and extreme altitude (over 18,000 feet). So what does it mean to climb at "very high altitude"? For one thing, the lack of oxygen causes an increase in breathing rate (hyperventilation). As a result, your heart beats faster and faster. This means you have to be willing to endure hardship, and lots of it. You just have to be psyched to deal with it. Suck it up and climb! It's okay that it's hard. Climbing at very high altitude isn't child's play. You need experience, skill, and tons of confidence. This trip was easily the craziest and most difficulty undertaking I've ever done. Harder than the Alps even. The main danger is going too high too fast. The key is ascending sloooooowly. When I was climbing, I took a breath, then a step. Yes, I was that slow! I took deliberate breaks. I stayed hydrated. And by the pure grace of God, I summited both of the peaks I attempted: Mount Bierstadt at 14,065 feet, and Huron Peak at 14,003 feet. Woohoo! As I put it in an email:
See what I mean about climbing 14ers? Don't expect to hop off the sofa and onto the trail. You'll need a base level of fitness equal to running a 5K. Also, keep in mind that the Rockies are, well, rocky. As you approach the summit, the trail ends and you find yourself picking your way through innumerable rocks and boulders. And there are no "short" climbs. The average 14er is at least 5 miles round trip. (Huron Peak was a whopping 11 miles.) So plan to go slower than you think you need to. Even if you're in excellent shape, the thin air will wind nearly everybody. High-SFP sunscreen and lip protection are essential. And because you'll be on your feet for a very long time, make sure your hiking boots/shoes are ultracomfortable. In addition, I took along a lightweight rain jacket. I needed it, too. On Bierstadt, it both snowed and rained periodically during my climb. Above all, use hiking poles. They're great stabilizers and take a huge load off your knees. Finally, don't forget your trail etiquette. Uphill hikers always have the right of way because they have the momentum.
14ers are fantastic. They are definitely "hard" but in a good sense of the word. I'm horribly clumsy and tripped approximately a gazillion times. Both climbs were long and exhausting. But my trip to Colorado was never about comfort. It was about testing my ability and stamina, about climbing some of the world's highest mountains, about making new acquaintances along the way. The view from atop Huron Peak was by far my favorite memory from the trip. I had great weather (mostly), met wonderful people, and enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery in all of North America. I can't wait to go back and bag another 14er!
1) The Airbnb I rented in Golden. I had the entire basement suite to myself. Fabulous.
2) The start of the Bierstadt trail. Gorgeous.
3) Almost to the summit.
4) Made it!
5) The view from the top.
6) At the summit of Bierstadt I sprained my big toe, which had a very long toenail. So here I am getting my toenails operated on. It almost required a chain saw.
7) My next goal: Huron Peak.
8) See what I mean by "rocky"?
9) My second 14er!
10) Rocks, boulders, and peaks everywhere you look.
11) If you want to see what climbing a 14er is like, watch this vid. I took it as soon as I summited (whereas normally I wait a few minutes to let my breathing return to normal). This is what it's like when you've just climbed to 14,003 feet after an elevation gain of a staggering 3,800 feet.
12) Since I am now officially a "14er," I thought I deserved to eat yak stew at the Sherpa House Restaurant in Golden. Namaste!
13) Tuesday night I had the honor of speaking at Summit Church Denver. Andy and Bryan (both founding elders of the church) are former Greek students of mine. Proud of these two young men!
14) It was a great time of mutual edification.
15) Yesterday I was hoping to bag my third 14er (Mount Elbert) but it was snowing in the mountains, so I did some rock climbing in the local hills.
16) What fun!
17) Dinner last night at the Abyssinia Restaurant in downtown Denver. I had kai wat in honor of Becky. What a great way to end a great vacation!
This is my life, and I love it. Lord willing, I'll post a GoPro later. Time to unpack!