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March 2019 Blog Archives    

Sunday, March 31    

8:20 AM I love the Good News Bible. But you already knew that. Even the introduction is ingenious.

Here are a few examples:

1. Notice the words The Gospel according to Mark. Not "The Gospel of Mark." There is only one Gospel, in four different versions.

2. The introduction continues: "...begins with the statement that it is 'the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.'" I love that the translators bring out the force of the objective genitive: "about Jesus Christ" instead of "of Jesus Christ." Well done!

3. "Jesus is pictured as a man of action and authority." Yep. Remember this: Actions count. And remember this too: Jesus has the ultimate authority, not us. Our authority as leaders, if we can claim such, is always a derivative of His. I have great confidence in some human leaders, but I have every confidence in Jesus. He's always the wisest mentor and strongest mile marker. He's the best example. So let's give our children and our grandchildren Jesus.

4. "The two endings to the Gospel, which are enclosed in brackets, are generally regarded as written by someone other than the author of Mark." This is brilliant. The translators are not arguing for or against the longer (or shorter) ending of Mark. They're just stating a fact. I also liked the fact that the footnote to verse 1 states "Some manuscripts do not have the Son of God." Not, "Some manuscripts add" or "Some manuscripts omit." Footnotes should be neutral.

Having read the excellent intro, I began reading According to Mark in English. I didn't need the Greek text in front of me because I practically have it memorized. Here are a few passages that jumped out at me:

1:12: "At once the Spirit made him go into the desert...." This handles the Greek verb ekballō quite nicely. "Compelled him" might even be better.

1:14: "Jesus went into Galilee." Instead of "came." The Greek permits both renderings but only one can be true. It all depends on your viewpoint as the reader. Are you in Galilee? Then Jesus comes into Galilee. Are you outside of Galilee? Then Jesus goes into Galilee. Incidentally, the Greek has the Galilee. This isn't surprising. The Hebrew is also Ha Galil -- the Galilee. Hence the question: Should we use the definitive article "the" when referring to Galilee? If you think the use of a simple three-letter word in front of a place name is insignificant, think back to Barack Obama's famous faux pas when he referred to the Ukraine in a speech in 2014. Former U.S. ambassador to that country, William Taylor, said, "The Ukraine is the way the Russians referred to that part of the country during Soviet times.... Now that it is a country, a nation, and a recognized state, it is just Ukraine. And it is incorrect to refer to the Ukraine, even though a lot of people do it."

Sidebar: I was born and raised on an island in the Pacific. The common word we use for this island is Oahu. But the modern spelling (which is actually more accurate) is O'ahu, which uses what it called an 'okina or glottal stop (like the sound between "oh-oh"). This is not a name change but a spelling correction. However, both Hawaii and Hawai'i are "correct" -- for now.

1:16: "Lake Galilee." Nice touch.

1:17: "Come with me, and I will teach you to catch men." I like this better than "fishers of men." Of course, Jesus meant "men and women," but the GNB was published before people thought much about using gender-inclusive in Bible translations.

1:40: "A man suffering from a dreaded skin disease came to Jesus ...." Biblical leprosy was probably a much broader illness than the leprosy (Hansen's Disease) we know today.

1:41: "Jesus was filled with pity ...." The footnote reads, "some manuscripts have anger." Bill Mounce discusses this variant here. "Anger" is found in only one Greek manuscript and a few Latin manuscripts!

I need to get back to my reading. Listen, just because you know Greek doesn't mean you can't read your English versions. Don't you love the Good News Bible? The NLT? Obviously, no translation is perfect. No surprises there. So let's use the translations God's given us, but use them wisely.

Yes, I do write in my Greek New Testament.

5:44 AM What a rich time in God's Word I'm having this morning. I've been reading According to Mark. (Yes, that's its title. More on that in my next post.) But before I share with you some of the gems I've been reading, a brief excursus on this verse from Proverbs:

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

That's the NLT. The Message is even better:

A prudent person sees trouble coming and ducks; a simpleton walks in blindly and is clobbered.

Even Jesus talked about "the prudent" (Matt. 11:25). What is meant?

Prudent people exercise self-awareness. They don't walk blindly into trouble. Prudence is the opposite of clueless. It's the student who sizes up his or her ability realistically before applying to college. It's the mom who follows her gut instincts and ignores "what everyone else is saying." It's the young person who confronts face-on the landmines and trapdoors in life. It's the athlete (you knew I'd be getting here) who makes sensible choices about where to run and for how long. And it's the Greek prof who is honest enough to admit that he can't do it all.

  • Cook at home? Can't live without it.

  • Answer emails from everyone who wants to pick my brain? Sorry.

  • Have lunch with friends and colleagues? A must.

  • Repair leaking faucets? That's what sons-in-law are for.

The lesson Jesus is driving home to me during my burdensome and baffling bout with bronchitis? Stop trying to be amazing and instead be wise. The lifestyle choices you make today will affect you for the rest of your life. Use your common sense, for crying out loud. And when you run out of discernment, you can trust God's. Folks, it isn't our mental deficiencies that make us fools. It's our inability to make sensible judgments.

So here was my prayer this morning. Maybe you can identify with it.

Some people are so dumb, Lord! And I lead the pack. Help me to be honest with my own struggles when I have to learn something. Give me wisdom and discernment that pairs judgment with understanding. Help me to see my current situation correctly and respond with faith. Show me through Your Word and through Christian counsel what I should do going forward. Take away the pride that keeps me from getting help. Encourage and strengthen me through Your Holy Spirit so that I can be a source of encouragement and strength to others. Amen.

Saturday, March 30    

12:24 PM It's hard to believe, but it's been 31 years since I published my Novum Testamentum essay on the text of Matt. 5:22. I'll tell you this: Researching and writing that article was one of the most enjoyable things I think I've done in my entire 43-year career as a Greek teacher. In some ways, textual criticism is the story of my heart, the arc that I often find most revenant and vital in a good number of Scripture texts. I suppose, in the name of fairness, I should clarify that I am by no means an expert in this field, even if I have (*cough, cough*) written the definitive 79-page book on the subject. My point is, while textual criticism can't occupy all of our mental space, it's not an unimportant topic.

If you live in the greater Lynchburg area, I'll be reprising this variant next Friday during the regional ETS meeting at Liberty University. Looking backward, I think I can better identify the tension that lurks at the edges of this saying of Jesus about human anger. After all, anger is one of the seven Deadly Sins. So it's important to know: Did Jesus, or did He not, forbid all anger or only "causeless" anger? And does what He say here affect our understanding of Paul's and James's pronouncements on this subject?

So anger is totally in my head these days. And Jesus. All all the New Testament writers. Because the thing is, these are all saying the same thing. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus rolled out a whole new teaching. We have a new life and a different life and a unique orientation linked to the way Jesus lived and died. I know, you're probably one click away from going "Blah, bah, bah," but it is remarkable to witness the revival of interest in all things text-critical among my students these days. It takes a lot of work to study and teach the New Testament. I want to embrace the adventure, don't you?

I'll forever remain grateful to Harry Sturz at Biola, who introduced me to the art and science of textual criticism in 1976. He worked his fingers to the bone trying to get his students to leave the class with an absurd enthusiasm for the subject matter. It was his teaching and example that kept me going. And now I get to pass on the joy. 

6:12 AM I can't articulate my gratitude about the fact that I'm feeling oh, so much better this morning. Lately, Jesus has been wrecking my comfortable Christianity, and one of the ways He does this is by sending me on a journey that brings me to the end of myself. It will be good to start the week without a constant cough, Lord willing. If you had to throw off every weight that besets you, how long would it take before you could run again? James commands us to submit ourselves to God and draw near to Him. If you are plagued with a nagging illness or a difficult relationship or a financial hurdle, get down on your knees and thank God. He has blessed you with this conflict. You and I may be content with checking boxes as we go through life, but He isn't. So expect changes to occur. Regularly. They are part of life. The good news is that God is there, right in the midst of all of our changes. We can follow Jesus into all the dark, scary places of our life because He is a good Savior and we can always trust Him.

As I think back on this past several days of bed rest, I'm reminded that I'll still on a journey and that I'm still in the process of becoming what God wants me to become 56 years after I first met Him. As with my running, I'm learning that the finish line is not the destination but the journey itself. I'm dead serious about getting this Christianity thing right. I am a bumbling, awkward sojourner, but I'm willing to wade through some murky waters if that's what it takes to become a man who is driven by God's vision of the world.

Friday, March 29    

10:14 AM You'd be super proud of me. I'm here at my computer sipping green tea. Yep, tea. I used to hate tea. Now I love it. It's all part of my new "diet." No, I'm not talking about the "diets" you and I normally think about when we use that word. Diets like that simply don't work, as this book I read yesterday reminded me.

I'm referring to the kind of diet that allows you to eat healthy foods and that makes you a better athlete. But first, let's talk about all the things I've cut out of my diet. Fast food. Soda. Donuts. Desserts. Popcorn. Chips. Fruit juice. And as much processed food as possible, which is hard when the only local grocery store isn't Whole Foods or Sprouts! This is what I prepared for supper last night: butter chicken curry with jasmine rice.

And today I went grocery shopping and brought fresh corn, Brussels sprouts, and two jars of roasted cashews for snacks. (Nuts are fatty but not fattening.) I've been adding more and more of these super foods to my diet. My kids have been giving me great encouragement, too. I'm just trying to east wisely and well, to eat foods in their most basic form, and to eat more often and smaller portions.

I'm feeling much better today, by the way. I think my bronchitis is finally winding down as a result of the constant bed rest I've been getting. Of course, rest, for me, has never been easy. I'm trying, however, to make it a long term commitment. Same with eating. It's more about the quality of the food we eat than the quantity. I'm not a vegan so I do eat meat. But very little red meat any more. All about balance, you know! And I allow my sleep pattern to be a normal one (no alarm clocks). This means I'm usually asleep by 9:00 pm and wide awake at 5:00 every morning.

Sorry, I have to have my morning coffee. Two cups in fact. And I do love a good sirloin from time to time. But I don't want it grain-fed. When we raised Angus we never "finished" our beef. They were grass-fed only. In fact, when I would cook hamburger meat made from one of our beef cattle, I would have to add oil to the frying pan because the meat was so lean. I consider myself healthy in the general sense but I struggle with moderation (both in terms of exercising and eating) and with eating the right kinds of food. As a single man, it's really hard to avoid the temptation to eat out at every meal time. It makes me sick to think of all the people where I live who don't even think about what they put into their mouths. Of course, I do allow for special eating "excursions" (like at birthday parties), because I'm not a robot.

The most important lesson I think I've learned on my health quest is that exercise has only marginal benefits in terms of weight loss. It must be used as an adjunct to dietary change. I thought that, because I was so active, I could pretty much eat anything I wanted to. What was happening was that I was undoing the caloric deficit induced by a 30 minute run by eating chips and dip that evening. That said, I'd call myself a "flexitarian" when it comes to diet. I prefer to eat plant-based foods, but if you put a lobster dipped in an ungodly amount of butter in front of me, I'll eat it. By the way, my new cookbook, The Runner's Guide to Healthy Eating, should be out by May 1. Just kidding. Please don't take anything I say about diet as gospel truth because I'm not -- meh -- a doctor. I do know I need to lose some weight. I also know I can stand to eat better. It's hard altering one's eating habits.

My biggest, most humongous goal for 2019? Return to injury-free status and stay there. I have a lot to live for, not least my precious grandson Chesley.

6:12 AM This morning I opened my eyes and, before getting out of bed, grabbed my favorite Bible translation of all time. It's the Bible I used when, at the age of 16, I "fell in love" with the Scriptures for the first time. (Remember when that happened to you?) The Good News Bible had just come out. Three things about this translation struck me. It was readable. It had nifty line drawings (I've always enjoyed good art). And it had a glossary of terms.

My text this morning was Galatians 6, and here I saw an interesting connection between v. 2 and v. 9. See it?

When we help each other, we obey the law of Christ. And when we do good (for others), we reap the harvest of eternal life. In Basel, theology was divided into two parts: dogmatics and ethics. The Germans might say Glaubenslehre and Sittenlehre, what we believe and how we live. Christianity involves knowing the good, but it always involves more than knowing. Ethical theory is quite worthless without ethical practice. The Christian life involves knowledge and action. Can Jesus be Savior and not be Lord? Those who think so need not bother themselves with ethics.

God's Word is a songbook. Did you know that? His mandates are melodies. Today's church suffers from a double malady. Some of us have the statutes without the song. Others of us have the song without the statutes. But we must have both words and music. Joe Aldrich used to tell his evangelism students at Biola, "Don't say the words without playing the music." I grew up in a church that prided itself on its strict orthodoxy. But it didn't sing. The joy of one's salvation, the first love, the sacrificial caring for others -- these were scarcely evident. There were statutes but no songs. Other churches in Kailua tried to sing the song without the words. To be sure, they could whip up a synthetic joy, a simulated happiness, but it wasn't grounded in God's Word. After all, truth doesn't matter as long as we feel good, right?

A true Christian will always have the right music and the right words. Evangelicals who care about social justice aren't becoming liberals. They're simply trying to be faithful to their biblical heritage. A frustrating thing about God's character is that He always expects us to act on what we know fairly quickly. He first captures our hearts, but soon after He captures our hands, as James puts it. You see a need? You can't just say "Best of luck!" Roughly two-thirds of unchurched adults were formerly churched. They're not necessary anti-church. They just see the church as irrelevant to the real, hurting world in which they live.

Please hear me. I'm not saying "Go Right!" or "Go Left!" Today, American politics is utterly bankrupt. And it always nets zero converts. Did you read the news this morning? I did. Our politicians are willing to kill with words and insults. I came to Christ at the age of 8 not only because of the truth of the Gospel but because a man named Rudy Ulrich was willing to lay down his life for me. No one cared about me more than my pastor. As for me, I'm going to gamble on the fact that Jesus is calling me to do the same. Yes, I'm a truth-lover. I've even written a few books about the Bible. But if I'm going to err, I'll err on the side of mercy and let Jesus sort it all out on that Day.

Maybe it's because I grew up at the bottom (socially, economically, emotionally) that I have a bias toward people at the bottom. In his book Simplicity, Richard Rohr says "We cannot think our way into a new kind of living. We must live our way into a new kind of thinking." Too many of us have become hyphenated Christians who build a false wedge between evangelism and social action. James makes it unmistakable that if a person is a Christian he or she will be something else too. We're not talking about perfect Christians. There are no such Christians, but there can be no avoiding our responsibility to the least of these.

I think it was F. F. Bruce who conjectured that the word "Christians" was derived, not from Christos (Christ) but rather from the very similar-sounding chrestos, "good/kind." (Both words may have been pronounced identically in the first century.) Followers of Jesus were known (and mocked) for being "Goody-goodies." This is how serious the Gospel challenge is. "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me" (Matt. 25:40). If our God could set aside privilege and power for the love of humanity, can't we?

I truly believe that the evangelical church can stand on truth and at the same time share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a hurting world regardless of social status, political affiliation, and ethnicity. The unchurched want both the words and the music. 

Thank you, Father, for all those who have shared good with me so sacrificially through the years. Thank you especially for those special friends, loved ones, and family members who give without question or hesitation. Please help me to do the same. Amen.

Thursday, March 28    

11:24 AM If you've been running for any length of time, you know the feeling. You are injured. Something has gone whacko in your body. Just what that "thing" is doesn't matter. You are sidelined. You are back-shelved. You're an athlete who can't exercise. You miss the endorphins. You become a research freak and spend all of your time on sites like WebMD. You want to find that elusive "cure."

In short, you want to crawl into a hole. 

As I sit here writing this post, I think I'm injured. I can't put my finger on the problem. I'm seeing our local cardiologist next week and a Duke sport's physiologist the week after that. When I first started to run marathons almost 3 years ago, instead of trying moderation, I went full bore. But running can be hard on your body. Extreme long distance endurance races can put extreme demands on your cardiovascular system. When the heart endures extreme stress over and over again, you face the prospect of the scarring of the heart. Here's the irony, my friends. At the same time that you're building stamina, strength, and muscles, you are increasing your risk of decreased maximal heart rate, decreased stroke volume and cardiac output, fewer blood capillaries, decrease in your maximal oxygen uptake (V02 max), decreased muscle mass, and changes to nerve functioning. There's not a lot that aging runners like me can do about decreased V02 max. That's pretty much inevitable. But there are plenty of things I can do to manage the risks of endurance running. My next marathon is in Cincy in five weeks. Between now and then, I am going to try and get some perspective on my running. In addition to having another stress test (I had one when I first started running 4 years ago; I had a treadmill stress test which, praise God, I passed with flying colors), I want to try and do other things such as:

  • Have a cardiac MRI to be sure there aren't any underlying health issues causing my slowdown.

  • Balance my running days with weight training, cycling, and plain old-fashioned walking.

  • Take all the rest days my body tells me to take.

  • Strive for quality over quantity.

  • Consider working with a running coach who understands my goals and limitations as a 66-year old runner (soon to be 67).

  • Make sure my future races have long cut-off times so I don't feel pressured to run too hard or too fast.

I read recently about a cardiologist whose heart convinced him to stop running after finishing his 54th marathon. He had decided that the risk of injury to his heart was just too high, due to anywhere from 3-5 hours of volume overload on both the atrium and ventricle. I do understand that there's a fine line between exercising too much and exercising too little. But the truth is, I think I've lost the objectivity to know what's best for me at this stage of my running life. I've been in this situation before. A couple of years ago I developed a bad case of planter fasciitis. It hurt like the dickens. I had to back way off of my running and I began to see a sport's therapist. Eventually the problem resolved itself, as do so many of our aches and pains. Being injured reminded me that running isn't my life. It isn't even the biggest part of my life. Being focused on one thing is stupid. There are many others ways to keep active -- swimming, cycling, walking, etc. My value is more than the number of marathon races I've completed. One thing about life you just have to get used to is the fact that it's constantly changing. If you don't like your current normal, a "new normal" is just around the bend.

So I know I'll be fine. My body just needs some time off. As in weeks. Or months. After my last marathon I stopped running. At all. I haven't run in 11 days. I think my body is reacting to running two marathons practically back to back, plus teaching 3 weeks of J-term, plus teaching 5 classes this semester, plus teaching from 8-5 every day for a week during spring break. I just need to be patient. "Do less to go farther" sounds a bit oxymoronish to me, but it's true. I truly believe the Lord is trying to teach me, among other things, to slow down. And wisdom. And that it's okay to miss a race or two. Clearly, I still have some work to do in these areas. But through the prayers and advice of my family (thank you, everyone!), and through getting some good medical attention, I hope to be able to plot out a strategy for my running that will allow my body to react properly to all the changes I'm asking of it. In all of the uncertainties of life, I've found that running is a great stress reliever. But it can also cause stress. You've got to pull back to make progress. My goal now is to be healthy enough to exercise without hurting my body. Moderate activity should leave me free to carry out my other responsibilities in life. I think I just need to allow my body time to catch up. One thing I have definitely learned is that everything in life requires patience. Even if I have to stop running for several weeks, this doesn't mean I'll lose fitness. There's always the gym, or a walk on the track.

I have never been one to have a pity party when things in life didn't go my way. As long as I keep my eyes on the Lord -- and on the big picture -- I can remain optimistic. Most running injuries are temporary. In the meantime, I'll try to focus on those things in my life that are outside of running, like eating better and resting more. Hopefully, this current episode will be nothing but a blip when I'm 80. 

If you're currently injured or facing a significant health challenge (boo hoo), here's to a quick recovery. But don't try to rush your rebound. You rest to become stronger. (Said the pot to the kettle.)

8:50 AM The sun shines brightly this morning, and Sheba and I have been enjoying the sunshine while sitting on the porch.

Being sick is a good time to reflect on the goodness of God. Jesus reverses everything. For Him, the first is last and the last first. I used to think that the best years of my life were the first ones. College and seminary degrees, with a doctorate thrown in for good measure. Marriage. First child. First book in print. But God saves the best for last. "You have kept the best wine until now," said the steward while the bridegroom looked on. The last wine can be the most exhilarating. One example. In exactly one month, a conference that I have worked hard to organize (along with my colleague Ben Merkle) will take place. I will savor that wine. It will probably be the best of the four conferences I've had the honor and joy of organizing on campus. Whether it comes early or late in life, the most essential thing is Christian love -- serving others in the name of Jesus. It's easier to grow older if you are neither boring nor bored. If we take time to look inward, we may well be surprised at our own creativity. What rebirth of creativity does God have planned for you? What newfound gifts are you enjoying? What latent or buried talents is He rekindling? Many find in old age the creative person they always knew they were. How old are you? Instead of revealing your age in terms of years, let your life, your creativity, your service to others, show your real age. We count our years not by how long we've lived by how well we've lived. Isn't that how the Psalmist viewed life? "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." David wasn't a young man when he wrote Psalm 23. But looking back on his days as a shepherd, he had a positive attitude toward the future. When people look at me they see gray hair and wrinkles. But "God does not see as human beings see; they look at appearances but Yahweh looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7, NJB).

When my children and grandchildren remember me after I'm gone, what matters is how I lived, not what I acquired or did. 

Wednesday, March 27    

5:40 PM Right now I sound as if I smoke 40 packs a day. On Monday I was diagnosed with bronchitis and that has now turned into a full-blown chest cold. (Try not to be jealous.) I just sat on the front porch to enjoy the sunshine. It felt good to be outdoors. But there'll be no exercising for me in the near future. If you're facing health issues today, don't be discouraged. You're still healing. Just give yourself some time, at least a week. I'll try and do the same. I find that down times are good opportunities to "clean out the attic" and dejunk my life, getting rid of waste material that's been slowing me down. We need to realize that rethinking our priorities has spiritual value. When Jesus sent out His first disciples He told them, "Take nothing for your journey." Travel light, in other words. Don't let things encumber you. True life doesn't consist in "the abundance of possessions." It consists of who we are, our character.

Dear Lord, help me to be so wise that I realize that all we take out of this old world are our spiritual values and the person we've become. Life is more than things or even good health. Make me to be like the widow of the Gospels who gave everything she had for the kingdom. Amen. 

Monday, March 25    

7:20 AM Odds and (some really weird) ends .... 

1) Would Jesus Have Written a Book?

2) The gentleman on my left is speaking in my NT class this Wednesday. He's written the book on rite and passage in home and church. Oddly enough, the book is called Rite of Passage in Home and Church. (Go figure.) I wore this suit just for you, Kevin.

3) The dude on the left and I took Greek together at Biola. Now he's some highfalutin world-class interviewer out in So-Cal. We had a blast together. If you're fighting insomnia, you can access all of my interviews here.

4) When you become old like me, you become nostalgic, like for the times when you used to play pickup ball in Watts. Those were the days....

5) So glad winter is over. It IS over, isn't it?

6) By the way, my devotional They Will Run and Not Grow Weary needs a good "athletic" cover picture. I'm sending the publisher this one. Who would have thunk that yours truly was already a world class cyclist at the age of 3?

Make it a great week!

Sunday, March 24    

8:48 PM "A Picardy Third! No way! He actually ended on a Picardy Third! How about that!!??" I tried to rein in my excitement as the organ concert at Duke Chapel came to a close this evening.

But I couldn't believe my ears. Bach's famous Prelude and Fugue in C Minor actually ended in a major chord. I was expecting the same minor chord that his even more famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor ends with. But I was delightfully wrong. Here, by the way, was my view.

You say, "But where's the organist?" You can't see him. He's actually playing behind the congregation. Ingenious! And you might also notice that the pulpit is off to the side, in deference to the altar. Whatever may be the problems with the doctrines of transubstantiation and consubstantiation (and there are many problems with both), you can't say that the very architecture of a cathedral is not Christocentric! Incidentally, you music lovers might want to know what else was on tonight's program. The theme was "J. S. Bach and His Predecessors," the latter being none other than Frescobaldi, Pachelbel, Böhm, de Gigny, and, of course, Dieterich Buxtehude. "Dieterich, who?" Buxtehude was the church organist in the German city of Lübeck. He was the most prominent figure to emerge from the 17th century northern German organ tradition. When Buxtehude was in his 70s and Bach was in his early 20s, Bach walked more than 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear the venerable Buxtehude play the organ. He ended up staying there for 3 months to observe the aging master. Some have said that there would have been no Bach had there been no Buxtehude. That's what I love about Buxtehude's organ compositions. In every line you can hear Bach in utero. Bach took what Buxtehude had developed and made it famous. That's why you've heard of Bach but never heard of Buxtehude. I like to think of myself as Buxtehude and my students as the Bachs. In a few years I will be all but forgotten. That's how it should be. But maybe there will be some vestige of me that lives on in my students, whose lights will far outshine mine!

Prior to the concert I visited with my old friends at the Abyssinia in Raleigh and enjoyed some delicious kai wat in memory of Becky (that was her favorite Ethiopian dish).

Before that, Sheba took me for a long walk on the farm.

I simply can't believe how green everything is. Why, in just a few weeks we'll be getting up hay. Can't wait. Yes, I know, come December, I will be sick and tired of haying. But right now I am gladly anticipating picking up bale after bale this spring.

So it was a good day. But the best part wasn't anything I've already mentioned. While Sheba and I were chillaxing on the front porch and enjoying a nice, warm afternoon, I grabbed a book from my shelf that I hadn't read in a very long time.

It's a Christian classic. If I mention the author I bet you'll know which book I'm referring to. James Packer. Well, I "just happened" to turn to the chapter called "Those Inward Trials," where I read these beautiful words:

When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, both mentally and morally, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught up in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him. And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing, so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him.

Take heart, my friend. You are of great value to God. He put you in your present position to perform a task that demands your keenest moral and spiritual abilities. But what the Lord requires, He also supplies. He is the giver of every good gift, the healer of our humanity. To Him be the glory in His temples, our bodies, and in His people, forever.

9:10 AM In the past few weeks, several students have asked me for advice about where they should do their doctoral studies. As everyone knows, I think we have an excellent Ph.D. program at Southeastern. And I have had the honor and joy of mentoring not a few students through it. I'm struck by the caliber of men and women who have graduated from our school with their doctorates. But you are probably also aware that I think there are certain advantages to getting a university doctorate over a seminary one.

Several years ago, during one of my 3 visits to Armenia, I was asked to lecture at the Baptist seminary there. The students came quite literally from all over Armenia, and many of them had made tremendous sacrifices to be there. At the same time, when word got out that I was in the country, I was invited to speak at the local university in Yerevan as well as the Orthodox seminary. My lecture at the university was held in the department of linguistics.

I was profoundly impressed by the students' determination to learn. Of course, at the Orthodox seminary I was able to delve more deeply into spiritual matters.

I well recall how stern the students' demeanor seemed to me at the time. Yes, Orthodox seminarians are serious people! Nevertheless, during our breaks I remember them being keen to have fun and ask questions.

I dare say that these invitations to speak came to me largely because of my doctorate from Basel -- a so-called "secular" institution of higher learning. If you've read my book It's All Greek to Me, you'll know how I struggled with my decision as to where to get my doctorate. I finally decided on Basel because it was there that Bo Reicke taught. I have never regretted my decision. Another attraction at Basel was its emphasis on pure scholarship rather than on the "busy work" that so often accompanies the work one does here in the States. Professors did not have offices on campus in Basel. If you met with your Doktorvater, you met with him in his home. While there, Becky and I also met many expats who made a marvelous set of colleagues. We enjoyed each other's company tremendously. It seemed as though we were a family, each with our own "Vater." The library was an enormous magnet too. Remember, this was before computers came into widespread use. Above all, it was clear to me that Basel placed a giant emphasis on a student's ability to be a self-starter.

One thing my Basel diploma has, without question, done for me is that it has enabled me to pursue my calling as a missionary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in places that I would otherwise have not been able to minister in. Studying abroad will also test your faith. You have to be willing to take huge risks, trusting God for the big things, including large sums of money needed to live and study abroad. All this and more was invaluable. My studies in Basel were a time of fresh thinking and innovation, and it is always a joy for me to share about my experiences there whenever I'm asked about it by one of my students.

It should not be a surprise, then, that if you should ask me "Where should I study?" I will insist that you do not put God in a box in any way, shape, or form. Lay all your cards on the table and then let Him show you where you should study and, more importantly, under whom. Pursuing a doctorate is demanding and often frustrating work. But it offers rewards of tremendous joy and fulfillment to those who throw themselves into it with faith, prayer, and vision. 

Saturday, March 23    

1:20 PM I received this book not two days ago and I've already finished it.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

You do the best you can and don't let the setbacks defeat you.

Whether you're having a good or a bad day, get to the finish line as best you can.

Running -- and life -- is never a solo project.

The way you go about achieving your goals will likely change, but the value of pursuing them doesn't have to.

I was able to keep my career going at that point by listening to rather than fighting my body. I knew I needed to make some changes in my approach to account for the effects of aging. That's not giving in, that's being smart.

Marathoning and life aren't binary. You can juggle multiple goals and still accomplish a lot.

Do what you can to minimize exposure to risks, but also accept that some things are out of your control.

Meb emerged from each of his 26 marathons a smarter runner and a better person. I think I can say the same thing about my 14 marathons. Every race had its challenges and triumphs that created a unique learning experience. Thanks be to God.

Here's my favorite quote from the book:

We're ultimately responsible for our results, on the race course and elsewhere, but we owe so much to others for their support in allowing us to do what we do.

My family has been there for me for my entire marathon journey. Thank you.

7:45 AM "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). This verse might well be the motto for our upcoming Linguistics and New Testament Greek conference. I realize that in its original context this proverb is about individuals. But it's also true, I believe, about biblical exegesis and linguistics. Each method is a challenge to the other, for better or for worse. Simply put, there seems to be a strong correlation between the Bible and science, between Greek and linguistics. During the so-called Enlightenment, many abandoned the Bible for science altogether. But in recent years, the Bible and science have moved closer together. It became apparent that Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic were, in fact, languages just like any other human languages, even though God had used them to inscripturate His divine truth. If it is true that Koine Greek is a language, then the science of linguistics has much to commend it. The main alternative -- viewing the Greek of the New Testament as sui generis, as a kind of Holy Ghost language -- has in my opinion little evidence for it compared with biblical linguistics.

In the past several decades, the study of New Testament Greek has moved from viewing Greek as a special field of study to viewing it as a part of the broader science of how languages work. The shift began well before I published my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek in 1988. It was essentially based on the groundbreaking work of 19th- and early 20th century scholars such as Moulton, Blass, Winer, and A. T. Robertson. Since then, biblical scholars have split over whether or not exegesis allows for the full integration of linguistics into biblical studies. Some evangelicals have felt threatened by this new approach to the study of the Greek of the New Testament. However, since we evangelicals believe that God is the unifier of the cosmos, we shouldn't feel threatened by the various models of linguistic research that have become available over the past century. Among the branches of linguistics, historical-comparative linguistics proved to be the most interesting to biblical scholars of the past century. Robertson's A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research -- affectionately known to students as his "Big Grammar" -- moved biblical studies in this direction like no other work that preceded it. Then discoveries in the field of semantics began to inform our discipline, resulting in groundbreaking works like Moisés Silva's Biblical Words and Their Meanings and Johannes Louw's Semantics of New Testament Greek. Currently it looks like the field has begun to burgeon far beyond anyone's wildest imaginations, owing in large part to the tireless work of scholars like Stan Porter, Steve Runge, and Stephen Levinsohn. If we take semantics as a trustworthy approach, books like Biblical Words and Their Meaning become indispensable. Clearly our discipline could do without such exegetical fallacies as illegitimate totality transfer, etymologizing, and anachronism. With the rise of the field of biblical linguistics, evidence that the Greek of the New Testament is in fact not sui generis has risen dramatically, putting even more pressure on the claim that the New Testament is comprised of Holy Ghost Greek.

With this brief summary, we see that the field of New Testament Greek linguistics has made a number of discoveries that challenge evangelicals' traditional approach to hermeneutics. It has also made others that challenge the methodological certainty of the scientific community. Unfortunately, evangelicals have not found as much common ground as we would like for a unified response to modern linguistic science. Yet all can (and do) agree that the Bible is God's inspired Word, and that it is crucial that people recognize this. However, there is as of yet no agreement on the detailed model of linguistics that should prevail in our schools and seminaries. How is New Testament Greek to be pronounced? How many aspects are there in the Greek verb system (two or three) and what should we call them? Is the term deponency to be used any more? What is the unmarked word order in Koine Greek? These are basic and central matters that should not be overlooked in the midst of our intramural disputes.

The speakers at our conference hardly agree among themselves on many of these topics. We should not be surprised to find such disagreement. After all, evangelicals are not united in many other areas of interpretation, including the mode of baptism, the biblical form of church government, eschatology, and whether or not miraculous gifts are valid today. Despite our disagreements, however, we should not throw in the towel but should continue to seek solutions in all of these areas. In our conference, we hope that the papers will give us some helpful suggestions for making progress in relating the New Testament to the science of linguistics. For an evangelical, both nature and Scripture are sources of information about God. But because both have fallible human interpreters, we often fail to see what is there. Ideally, scientists (whether secular or evangelical) should favor the data over their pet theories. Hence we have asked each of our speakers to be as fair and judicious in the way they handle disagreements in their assigned subjects.

Many pastors and even New Testament professors in our schools do not think they are exegeting God's revelation in nature when they do exegesis. But that doesn't mean they aren't. This is not to say that New Testament Greek linguistics has solved all the problems of relating biblical and scientific data. It has not. Further investigation and reflection, long after this conference is over, will be needed in this area. Our desire in organizing this conference is that, far from treating science as an enemy, we should all realize that science is simply the process of studying general revelation. Our hope is that God will continue to reveal Himself to us as long as we do not rule out divine inspiration in the process.

Linguistics is, of course, a large subject. No one can ever hope to master its entire scope. Nevertheless, it is obvious that students of New Testament Greek can and should have a working knowledge of linguistics – the science of language.

One thing seems clear as we anticipate our conference. We who study and teach New Testament Greek cannot be satisfied with superficial answers. We must carefully scrutinize the pages of general revelation and consider how they may influence our current approach to Greek exegesis. If we need to be cautious in our handling of the scientific data, we also need to be hopeful and optimistic.

Friday, March 22    

12:18 PM I just got back from the track. Although I haven't been doing any running or cycling since my marathon, I've been walking for 1 hour each day. Yesterday I had to use the treadmill at the Y because it was raining, but today the weather was perfect for a slow walk around the track. But exercise isn't all we can do for our health. "You are what you eat" is the old saying. But honestly, I'm often guilty of only giving lip service to that truth. Sadly, habits of poor eating are hard to break, especially if we've fallen prey to the Standard American Diet, also known by its acronym:


So today I rummaged through my kitchen and threw away everything I know is unhealthy for me. This included my comfort foods: potato chips and Doritos. Those bags now reside happily in my trash can. My philosophy is a simple one: You can't eat what you don't see. You see, without attention to one's diet, an exercise program will not result in optimum health. I support, therefore, any call for healthy eating ("clean" eating). It's just that I'm not very good at it.

I know. I can't expect to be in great shape simply because I'm on a good diet. But I can expect to have subpar health if I'm on a poor one.

8:18 AM Here's a fascinating study of house churches in the early years of Christianity.

The author Roger Gehring often cites the work of R. Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. Krautheimer suggests 4 periods of architectural development in the early church:

Phase 1: Christians meet for worship in private homes of wealthy members.

Phase 2: Some Christians begin to modify their homes for use either in part or exclusively for Christian gatherings.

Phase 3: A gradual transition toward larger buildings and meeting halls becomes apparent.

Phase 4: With the Constantian revolution comes the introduction of the Lateran Basilica.

Krautheimer also distinguishes between the "house church" (a private house that remained architecturally unaltered) and the "church house" (a private domestic structure that was adapted in order to meet the social or religious needs of the group). 

Gehring then discusses:

  • The Use of Houses before Easter.

  • The Post-Easter Use of Houses in the Primitive Jerusalem Church.

  • The Use of Houses in Pauline Missional Outreach.

  • The Continuing Influence of Oikos Structures.

  • The Ecclesiological and Missional Function and Significance of House Churches.

Needless to say, this is a fascinating doctoral dissertation (accepted by the Protestant Faculty at Tübingen). Honestly, many of us need to take a good hard look at why we have church buildings and the purposes for which they are used. At the risk of oversimplifying things, I think the house church model is still relevant especially in places like Egypt and China. There are, of course, genuine limitations to the house church model (these are discussed in detail on pages 302-311 of the book). Despite these weaknesses, however, Gehring concludes: "By no means should the house church model be overlooked today as a viable option for church growth; it is a tried and tested approach" (p. 309).

Excellent book. Take up and read!

7:28 AM Heard of the Alameda Seven? Seems that back in the 1970s, researchers discovered that people living in Alameda County, California, lived long, happy, and productive lives.

Here are the 7 "rules" these researchers published:

1. Exercise regularly.

2. Eat a good breakfast.

3. Don't eat between meals.

4. Maintain weight.

5. Don't smoke.

6. If you drink, drink moderately.

7. Get a good night's sleep.

People who follow 6 of these 7 rules live significantly longer than those who follow only 1 or 2 of them. Not only do they live longer, they're less likely to be hospitalized and they're more energetic as well. I'll add my 2 cents. I see good physical health as based on a triad of:

1/3 = Exercise.

1/3 = Diet.

1/3 = Rest.

In other words: Balance.

So how to get into shape? Following the Alameda Seven is a good place to start. Be sure to get plenty of rest and to eat wisely, and that includes a good breakfast every day

6:22 AM Here are my top 10 misconceptions about missions:

1) Missions requires manmade methods. Missions is not a method but a Person: Jesus Christ. Never let your method harden into a system.

2) Missions is an extra option for Christians who enjoy that sort of thing. Missions is the duty and privilege of every follower of Jesus. Three alternatives exist for the relationship of a Christian to missions: Either they are involved and passionate about missions in some manner; or they are not living out who God has made them to be in Christ Jesus; or they are not a Christian.

3) Missions is either proclamation or presence alone. The Gospel must be proclaimed and lived out or it will ring false and achieve nothing. Love is crucial.

4) Missions is a chore. Not so. When we are truly filled with the Spirit, we will inevitably participate in what the Spirit is doing, namely, missions. If the Spirit of God indwells and controls the believer, and if the Spirit of God is associated with missions (see Ezek. 36:24–2; Col 1:24–29), why would the believer not participate in God's mission?

5) Missions is easy. The opposite may well be true. The earliest Christians faced persecution, danger, and death. The modern world hates the Gospel just as much.

6) Missions is evangelism only. This is like saying that all that matters is birth. Post-natal care is as vital as birth. Moreover, it is like saying that the goal of missions is salvation from hell rather than similarity to Christ, the King. A great deal of modern missions is pathetically weak in follow-up and growth into the likeness of the Son.

7) Missions requires that the missionary be supported. Such support is often needed. But something is wrong when we do not even consider the possibility of becoming tentmakers.

8) Missions requires formal training. But a degree in missions is not required to be a missionary. In fact, no human book can teach us missions. We must look to the writings of the Old and New Testaments as authoritative in a way that no man-produced book is authoritative. We must learn from the prophets, Jesus, Paul, and the apostles not only why we should do missionary work but also how. The basis, mandate, and model for missions emanate from God and must be patterned after the example of Jesus Christ. Our desire, therefore, should be to follow the Scriptures, which stress the power of the Holy Spirit in God’s plan to gather his people and in the life of the church – not organizations, methods, programs, or personalities.

9) Missions is a Western phenomenon. Wrong again. The shift of the majority of Christians from Europe and North America to the Majority World (Asia, Africa, Latin America) has more than numerical significance. As Western missionary forces are shrinking in numbers (and influence), the role of Western missions will undergo a dramatic shift away from leadership to a more modest (and healthier) goal of assisting local churches in foreign countries.

10) Missions means going "over there." From the perspective of churches in America, doing missions means traveling to another nation. But any individual among the nations is the goal of missions. Reaching Caucasians in Virginia is missions, reaching Hispanics in North Carolina is missions, reaching Italians in New Jersey is missions, reaching Jews in New York or Israel is missions. The list goes on almost endlessly, including those areas and nations often associated with missions. The mission field is anywhere in the world, including right where you live. The unnamed believers who took the Gospel to Antioch (Acts 11) were simply living out their Christianity in the midst of their daily existence. What better way to be a witness? What better way to be salt and light than to become enmeshed in the fabric of society by working alongside locals? We need to learn to view our employees, our co-workers, our fellow students as our mission field.


Thursday, March 21    

7:55 PM I just now finished reading a book about running. It concluded with a quote from Irenaeus, an early church father:

The glory of God is man fully functioning.

This has also been translated, "The glory of God is man fully alive." This quote seems to be a fitting conclusion to a book that calls us to perfect our minds/souls/bodies, to enjoy the magical benefits of running, to not merely survive but succeed in life, to live to a fit and healthy old age. Still, I wondered, is that what Irenaeus was talking about? I love studying the church fathers. But I'm often guilty of being content to read them in English without looking at the original Greek or Latin, of even quoting them out of context. But that's the lazy person's way out. We have to look at the quotation in its original context -- and in its original language. Simple but not easy, I know.

So what does the Latin say here? "Gloria Dei est vivens homo." Irenaeus didn't really write "man fully alive." The literal translation of the Latin is simply "living man." In his book Irenaeus of Lyons, John Behr renders this as "For the glory of God is a living human being." Here's the quote in its context:

For the glory of God is a living human being; and the life of the human consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word give life to those who see God (Against Heresies 4.20.7).

Irenaeus is not describing "living life to its fullest" or "going for the gusto." He's describing the life that God gives to humans, and he insists that the goal of this life is not to be found in the perfecting of our minds/souls/bodies or in enjoying the pursuits and pleasures of this life but rather in contemplating the majesty of God. Such a full life can be experienced by us whether we're active or confined to a wheelchair. Paul puts it like this in Philippians: "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, if somehow I may arrive at the resurrection from the dead. I press on, hoping to take hold of that for which Christ once took hold of me. Forgetting what is behind me, and reaching out for what lies ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize that is God's call to the life above in Christ Jesus." As the old hymn puts it, "Christ is the path, and Christ the prize." So adequate is God in this sense that in knowing Him we find ourselves fully alive, fully satisfied, needing nothing more than Christ. The focus of Irenaeus's quote is not on the existential angst of becoming physically fit through exercise but on what Paul and Silas experienced as they sat in chains in the Philippian jail and began to sing.

This truth is so profound I hardly know how to do it justice. It's as though Jesus Himself were whispering in my ear, "Dave, this is how I want you to live, constantly exulting in My adequacy in the face of your fears and any deprivations you may face. Those who know the Father through Me have found the secret of true living and true man- and womanhood. Here's how you'll know: service for Me will never again fall in the 'have to' category. It will be your joy and delight." 

I'll not always be able to run and cycle and swim and race and climb. But true life doesn't consist in any of those things. I have passed from death to life. There ought to be enough about that to keep my focus on Jesus. When the crowd came to see Lazarus, who'd just been raised from the dead (John 12:9), they didn't find him giving a lecture on his sepulcher experience. He was simply standing there, a man once dead but now fully living -- a vivens homo. That is what every born-again Christian is, and it ought to draw people to the Healer Himself. 

6:24 AM I've decided it's time to have another full body exam (including another stress test) in order to reevaluate my physical condition post-4 years of running. Being active as much as I am is like taking a car that normally drives to the grocery store on a trip to California. When you're on the road you don't want unexpected mechanical surprises from previously hidden problems. Training properly is essential. The fact is, you can become involved in the sport of running and never once think about its risks to your cardiovascular system, for example. Which is odd when you think about it. There are about 100 million total runners in the U.S. today (of all levels and abilities). 94 percent of us are college educated. And yet we can train, exercise, and compete and at the same time lose aerobic health. We never think about scaling back, going slower, or running just for the fun of it. We like to "conquer." Running for us is a personal challenge. And there's nothing in the world wrong with that. The problem is that we don't always run wisely. For example, my tendency at the end of a marathon is to sprint the last half mile to the finish line. That's actually one of the worst things you can do. Ever heard of the word "syncope"? Syncope is the medical term for blackout. When you run, your blood pools in your lower extremities. The blood vessels in your legs have to open up in order to carry oxygen-rich blood to your leg muscles. And if you push too hard at the end of a race or fail to keep walking after you cross the finish line, the blood collected in your legs means less blood available to your brain. The result can be "exercise-associated collapse." Not good. Here's another example. During several marathons I would take two Ibuprofen tablets about midway during the race. Little did I know that anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, Ibuprofen, and Aleve have proven to be a risk factor for hyponatremia -- low sodium level and high cellular water level. Another big no-no.

Like many of you, I've always been an ambitious goal-setter. I thrive on accomplishing difficult tasks and using Big Hairy Audacious Goals as stepping stones to another. But marathoners need to be grounded in reality. As I've often said, the Greek ideal was moderation. (The Greek saying is "Nothing in excess.") It means adhering to a workout and exercise program that's the best possible one for you. And the appropriate regimen is something that only you can figure out for yourself. Our fetish for fitness in America can lead to unwanted consequences. As with Aesop's famous story about the tortoise and the hare, it's all about being "slow" and "steady." Runners may be fit, but we're not invulnerable. Running injuries are not due to running. They're due to subtle structural anomalies in your body. That's why it's time for me to do another round of testing. Are there structural weaknesses in my body that I've overlooked? Have I fallen prey to the overuse syndrome? Seeing a sports physiologist can help me answer the age-old question: How fast should I go and how frequently should the activity be performed? Exercise can guarantee fitness but it can't guarantee good health. We can stay healthy only if we take care of our body as we would the cars we drive every day.

I've discovered I'm a risk-taker, perhaps too much so. Yes, I need to be challenged. I need to find out how much effort I can put out, what I can endure, if I measure up. But if a fitness program is to succeed, it must promote good health.

Wednesday, March 20    

5:20 PM This afternoon I attended a funeral in our local community. Carl was 93. He and his wife Myrtle welcomed us with open arms when Becky and I moved into this rural farming community some 15 years ago. Carl's farm had been in his family for generations. He took us -- fledging farmers -- under his wings. Carl's homegoing celebration was a reminder to me: Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. Do it every day the Lord gives you health and breath. Do it joyfully. Do it with thanksgiving in your heart.

I am so thankful for the community in which I live. For 27 years Becky and I lived in La Mirada, CA. We had lots of neighbors but little sense of community. Our close friends lived elsewhere. Here, people live far apart (farms are just laid out that way), but we know each other, help each other, rejoice and grieve with each other. The local funeral home also took care of Becky's service when she passed. Around here the ethos is: Be kind, smile, and help your neighbor.

Carl was a wonderful gift to our community. He was a fellow Southern Baptist. Even more importantly, he was a true Christian. A World War II veteran, he lived a remarkable life. Thank you so much, Carl, for all you meant to me and my family.

Gone, but not forgotten.

Sunday, March 17    

6:55 PM Roger Bannister once wrote, "The marathon is the acme of athletic heroism." Heroism? Either that or stupidity. Either way, people run marathons, and they actually enjoy doing so. Today I finished number 14. An ordinary person doing an extraordinary thing. Pretty cool medal too.

But my favorite event of the weekend was Saturday's running in Ella's Race, which I've told you about many times before. Ella would have been 16 years old this year -- hence the 16 balloons released into the sky in her memory by a group of young women her age.

Very touching. The best part of the event for me was talking with Ella's mom and dad. Here's Renee and Mark, along with Chris, the owner and operator of the local Chick-fil-A, who sponsors the race.

All three are strong believers. This is the eight year of this event. Thus far over $225,000 has been raised for the Pediatric Brain Aneurism Foundation. May the event grow and prosper in the years ahead.

Today's marathon in Cary was, like all the marathons I've done, challenging. By about mile 20 the legs are pretty much gone. You have to keep on pushing the throttle or you'll never finish. Your supreme goal is to keep running, however slowly. "Just get 'er done."

This was my second year in a row running the Tobacco Road Marathon. I found this year's event to be, well, pretty monotonous. After all, it's an out-and-back. In fact, it's 2 out-and-backs put together. There's nothing I enjoy less that an out-and-back course, where you have to watch the same scenery twice. Then too, the course is a trail and there are absolutely no crowds. The silence is, in fact, deafening. The last stages of a marathon like this are, therefore, filled with a prolonged sense of doom. You have to train your mind to keep active or you're a goner. Today I tried out a new "mantra." Since my beginning Greek textbook has 26 chapters, I began reciting the names of the chapters as I reached a new mile marker. Let's see ... mile 3? That's the present and future active indicative. Mile 9? Pronouns. Mile 10? The perfect tense. Mile 20? The participle. Mile 25, the penultimate mile? Mi-verbs. As in:

Mi want to be done with this race so bad!

Crossing the finish line is the exonerating act, like taking (and passing) your Greek final. You did it! Thank heavens I've done this race twice. This means I'll have never to do it again. Not that it wasn't fun or anything like that.

How did I do? As well as I could. The most demanding of all judges -- myself -- gives me a B. I put myself through purgatory and am feeling the effects tonight. But tomorrow I'll be back to normal. I'll feed the animals and teach my classes and go about my life as if nothing of significance happened over the weekend.

Except for countless acts of athletic heroism.

P.S. Jeff Galloway's seminar was awesome and yes, I did get a selfie with the man himself.

Saturday, March 16    

5:12 AM When the Roman poet Cicero had grown old, he wrote, "My soul seemed to understand that its true life would only begin after my death." Since Becky passed away 5 years ago, I've begun to understand what the ancient poet was trying to say. To lose one's wife after 37 years of marriage involves a death to self, to all the dreams you had of growing old together, to the intimate fellowship you enjoyed not only as husband and wife but as brother and sister in Christ. Her passing forced me to confront my fears and sense of helplessness. But it also enabled me to see the presence of God in that place of loneliness and sorrow. It is He and not running that has erased my grief and given me peace. But running, in small ways at least, has been and will remain a large part of my recovery. I'm not even sure how it all works. God simply uses the stuff of ordinary life to mold me into the man He wants me to become. Three changes come to mind.

First of all, I am more dedicated to taking care of the temple God allows me to live in day in and day out. Life is, or should be, a struggle against complacency and self-indulgence. Neither a high income nor a college degree is required to adopt a healthy lifestyle. You just have to stay active. When I run, I join the athletes of ancient Greece who found their creativity in similar if not identical circumstances. I'm able to say with the apostle Paul, as it were, "No sloughing off for me. I have a race to run, and I'm going to do my best to finish it."

Secondly, I haven't stopped loving. I have too wonderful a family for me to ever do that. Honestly, despite the pain of separation from Becky, I have found immense joy in taking care of my family as a single father. I hope to become better at it as the years go by.

Finally, by taking up the sport of running, I've been reminded that all of us are here on this earth for a purpose. Have I fulfilled mine? A race is a litmus test for life. Judging from my upcoming race schedule, I apparently still have a lot of living to do.

Off to the races,


Friday, March 15    

5:58 PM Today I had a fantastic workout at the Y and then an enjoyable 5-mile run at the Tobacco Heritage Trail in South Boston. When I run my mind is always working overtime. Today, as I wended my way along the path, jumping over turtles and snakes, my thoughts were focused on a series of lectures I'm scheduled to give next month at a university in Winston-Salem. My first talk is on the subject of the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19-20 and how to best understand its more controversial parts. One issue is what to do with the first participle: poreuthentes. Some argue that it's a participle of attendant circumstance and should be all means be rendered as an imperative: "Go!" Others think that such a translation robs the passage's only explicit command ("Make disciples of all the nations") of its unique significance and is best rendered "As you go." Who's right? Both are. Yes, the participle here carries imperatival force. After all, when the Lord Jesus assumes we are going, we had better be going! But, conversely, rendering poreuthentes as a command can't help but detract, at least to a degree, from the force of Jesus' main command, which is to disciple the people from every nation. Personally, in my talk I will focus on something else in this whole debate. I will talk about the "Essentials of Going," and they are twofold:

1) The first essential of going is what I'm calling the open door of opportunity. For unless Jesus Christ, the sovereign Lord, takes the key that is His hand and opens the door of opportunity, the church cannot even begin to evangelize. A key is a symbol of power and authority. And it is Jesus Himself who opens the door for us to share His love with others.

2) The second essential of going is a church that is immersed in secular society, a church that refuses to become insulated from the world all around it. For if the church loses contact with ordinary people, with non-Christians, then it has no audience.

So firstly, as far as this matter of "going" is concerned, Jesus must open the door for us. It is He who determines where we go. Yet in the second place, even when Jesus opens the door of opportunity, still the church cannot evangelize unless there are people who are ready to listen to the Gospel. The church is meant to be in such close, personal contact with the non-Christian world that there are people whose ears and hearts and minds are open and who are prepared to listen. In reality, the church is a community within a community. It is a Christian community within a secular community. The church has been given to Christ out of the world, and yet it continues to live in the world out of which it has been taken. Thus the church is to be distinct but not socially segregated from the world. It is both holy and worldly at the same time. And it fails in its duty when it forgets its double identity either by withdrawing from the world into a comfortable insularity, or by becoming so immersed in the world that it becomes assimilated to the world and so loses its distinctiveness. Jesus never denied the Father by becoming assimilated to the world, but equally He never denied the world by a false pietistic devotion to the Father.

So, are we to go? Absolutely! We are to be a church immersed in secular society, a church serving secular society. Like Jesus, we are to heal the sick and feed the hungry and comfort the sorrowing and give ourselves in service and proclaim the Good News by life and lip. We are always to be on guard against becoming "ecclesiasticalized," cutting ourselves off from the very world in which we are supposed to be immersed. In my own life, I have seen these two essentials at work. I have generally followed an "open door policy." As Jesus opens a door of opportunity for me, my desire is to walk through it obediently. The "place" is totally up to Him. It might be here or it might be abroad. But only the Lord has the power to open the door. I have also sought to become less insulated from the world, becoming one with people in their need without losing my distinct Christian identity. I have, in fact, drawn considerable encouragement from people I know who are doing just that, like the student I know who graduated with his M.Div. and then opened a bike shop, where he pursues "fulltime Christian ministry."

So .... are you going where the Lord sends you? Are you seeking to meet secular people where they're at? We can argue about participles until we're blue in the face, but we, the church, are to be a community within a community, sent by the risen Lord on a secular mission into the world. And we can surely depend on Him to show us the "where."

Well, as you can see, I like to make running fun. It's a time for me to be alone with the Lord and to enjoy His creation. But it's also a good time to think about things He's laid upon my heart. I can't promise that any of this will become true of you if you should decide to take up running. But who knows -- it might!

Thursday, March 14    

7:50 PM Quick note on a busy day. Today I did a "Bike-A-Marathon." 26.2 miles, thanks be to God.

And the weather was perfect for a long ride.

In fact, it was so warm I had to turn on the air conditioning in my van on the drive home from Richmond. I hadn't used the AC since last year.

Right now I'm deep into taxes. It feels good to be getting an early start this year, at least early for me!

6:55 AM I love the book Running Until You're 100, by Jeff Galloway. Here are a few quotes:

  • If exercise were a controlled medication, it would be the most heavily prescribed on record.

  • Running stimulates your body to improve overall physical and mental capacity.

  • I want you to take control of your running enjoyment and fatigue while staying injury free.

  • Unfortunately, many people over the age of 50 believe that they cannot, or should not, increase their level of exercise.

  • The evidence is growing that running and walking will bring quality to your life, increase longevity and will not harm your joints—when done correctly.

  • Older runners can improve faster than younger runners.

  • One of the fastest growing age groups in many parts of the running world is the 80+ division.

  • In many ways, running is more important to older runners.

  • Many veterans find that they run faster while covering fewer miles per week, especially fewer days per week.

  • Walk breaks let you erase fatigue and damage to the legs and body.

  • Our bodies are designed to improve through a series of challenges.

  • Stress + Rest = Improvement.

All of these things seem so obvious to me now. Just a few years ago, it was all Greek to me. But life involves continual expansion. We learn to discharge what is latent within us. And each stage is an achievement.

Achieve well, my friends. When you reach a plateau, consider what you learned from that stage of life. And then unflaggingly pursue the next one with excellence!

Wednesday, March 13    

7:56 PM My stars, what a beautiful evening it is. Got home from school, had a bite to eat, went grocery shopping, and now I'm ready to sit on the front porch with my puppy and do nothing but watch the goats grazing in the pasture.

It was a super busy time on campus this week, what with my four 3-hour classes, plus more meetings than you can shake a stick at. I enjoyed every one of them, but I'm glad to be back on the farm. This week I was able to get in one short bike ride -- 7.2 miles -- because everywhere you went the greenway was flooded.

Still, I'm so thankful to God that I could at least do that. Tomorrow, Lord willing, and by His grace, and if He gives me the strength, I plan to do a long bike before working on miscellaneous farm chores, then on Friday it's back to the Y for another weight training session. Saturday morning I'll be in Raleigh running in one of my all-time favorite fundraisers called Ella's Race, Ella being a girl who died from Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma in 2012.

This will be my fourth year participating in this race to raise money for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Instead of doing the 10K as I normally do, I picked the 5K since I have the Tobacco Road Marathon on Sunday. On Saturday, after Ella's race, I'll pick up my bib at the host hotel in Cary and attend a 3-hour seminar on running with the one and only Jeff Galloway, who's in town to run the marathon. Jeff Galloway is a former Olympian whose run/walk/run method has helped some 350,000 runners and walkers achieve their racing goals. I'll hopefully be able to put some of his tips to good use in Sunday's race. I'll report back to you with what he said during his seminar. I may even try to grab a selfie with him if I can muster up the courage. I am a huuuuuge fan of the man and am planning on asking him to sign his books that I've purchased through the years.

But enough about running. Time to chillax on the porch and enjoy the "good" tired that only a few days on campus can produce.

Monday, March 11    

6:54 AM Today starts my final week of training for this weekend's Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary. Unlike courses in college, you can't cram for a marathon. During your last week you should, in fact, be tapering. Strangely, the more I run, the more I'm willing to accept that things aren't always going to go my way and that I can't always train as hard as I want to before a race. About a mile into the marathon this weekend I'll settle into my slow, childlike pace. Nothing of significance hangs in the balance because I'm out there running. Runners run because they are runners. It's as simple as that. If everything works and I'm blessed enough to get to the starting line of this weekend's race, my goal that morning will be to finish my 14th marathon by running one step at a time for 26.2 miles. In the end, there's a peace that comes with running. There's a quiet confidence that you've done the best you can. That happens every time I pin on a race number. Like the Greek warriors at Marathon, you stand there, ready to face the enemy, and that enemy is yourself. Alone, yet together with your fellow athletes, you confront your demons and defiantly prove to yourself that you can still overcome, despite your age. On that day, running will be about one thing and only one thing: giving into the joy of the moment as you push the body God gave you to its limits.

I realize that most of you are probably bored to tears whenever you read my posts about running. I also realize that I need to write about this part of my life if for no other reason than to remind myself how much running has changed my life. Each race, each competition, each finish line, is a chapter in the book that is my life. Out there, somewhere, I know there is a finish line. Out there, I know that yet another chapter of my life will come to an end like all the other chapters that preceded it. Some ended happily. Others didn't end so well. But as I stand at the starting line of this weekend's race I'll know beyond the shadow of any doubt that there IS a finish line awaiting me in life and that, on that Day, I will win, no matter how fast or how slow I ran my race.

6:22 AM "The Imperfect Paul." This is what we might entitle Phil. 3:12-16. I recall us having quite a discussion about these verses in last week's Greek class. Here Paul seems to be employing a play on words. The Greek same word translated "perfect" in 3:12 is rendered "mature" in 3:15. His point? One can be mature without being perfect. All of us, however, must keep running straight toward the goal of perfection.

Bo Lane once asked, Why Do So Many Pastors Leave the Ministry? Leaders are so incredibly human. 90 percent of pastors work between 55 and 75 hours a week. 80 percent believe that ministry has negatively affected their families. 70 percent don't have one close friend. 50 percent are are so discouraged they would abandon the pastorate if they had another career option. If pastors struggle with burnout, it's only because they are human.

So what's Paul getting at here? Be real. Be transparent. Paul was. We can be too. I've never met a perfect person. But I know plenty of folks who are on their way to wholeness. They make me and everybody who knows them want to love God more. They are honest people, struggling with truth and error, with reality and self-delusion, people whose love is not contrived but genuine. Paul, a mature and whole man, wants us to become mature and whole people. I told the class, "I won't follow anybody who doesn't have a limp." Pastor friend, lead us not into the temptation of superstardomism, but deliver us from game-playing and phony living, so that together we may exalt the One who calls us to the life above. Under God, you are responsible to give us that kind of leadership. And under God, we are responsible to follow that kind of leadership. May we together, both leaders and led, want what God wants for us -- to keep on striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won us to Himself.

Sunday, March 10    

6:54 PM In our Philippians class, each student was asked to write both a literal translation and a paraphrase of every paragraph in the letter. I think doing this can be revealing. I'll give you an example. In Phil. 2:3, are we told to consider others as "better" or "more important" than ourselves? Hitler was probably not a "better" person than most. Neither was Stalin. Paul apparently means "more important." Humility in no way involves a denial of our authentic personhood. It is merely the absence of ego-centricity. It is seeing ourselves and others from God's point of view. It is the attitude that motivates us to set aside our self-centered ambitions in deference to God's work both in our own lives and in the lives of others. A strong sense of personhood comes from selflessness rather than self-absorption. The very definition of neurosis is when the focus of our thoughts and activities is on ourselves. "Losing" ourselves is simply setting aside our rights, including our ontological equality with each other, in favor of becoming expendable for the sake of the kingdom. "I am among you as one who serves," said our Lord. Servanthood. A beautiful, redemptive word. And we can only serve with selflessness when we see ourselves as agents of Christ's own activity in and through us.

P.S. Exactly 271 years ago, on March 10, 1748, John Newton was converted. He would later write the hymn Amazing Grace.

His testimony was, "By the grace of God I am what I am." The Father needs only the consent of our will to release the flow of His grace through us, making us adequate for every contingency of life.

7:20 AM Imagine a coffee shop and bakery in Cary that will employ folks with disabilities who otherwise would have a very hard time finding employment. That's exactly what my sister-in-law is planning to open this year! This new non-profit is called Esteamed Coffee.

Now that's a classic name! And get this: On Saturday, June 15, Fit & Able Productions is hosting a Charity Distance Festival that is allowing local charities to use their services for free. You simply pick your distance -- either 1 mile, 5K, or 8K -- and then choose the charity you want to support. It's just that simple. The venue is the WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. This is a fantastic cross country course. It's actually where I ran my very first 5K race 5 years ago.

So here, at the beginning of a new running season, I'm challenging you to get involved, however the Lord leads you. Living life together in our communities is so liberating. So go to the Esteamed Coffee website and rummage around. The founders have an unbelievable vision. What a gift it will be to the town of Cary!

Saturday, March 9    

5:38 PM This week in Greek we're studying the formation and nature of the participle. I'm so thankful for participles. What would we do without them?

In Greek, they sometimes hold the key to the interpretation of a passage we're studying. I think this is true of the warning passage in Heb. 6:4-6.

Then too, participles have given many interpreters a Charlie Horse between the ears. Think of the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19-20. Did Jesus say "Go" or "Going"? Honestly, I'm not sure this isn't much ado about nothing. Take a snapshot of the life of any person you know who is missional, and you'll see they're always talking about where they're going to share Jesus' love. Every conversation about the participles in the Great Commission should start with asking ourselves, "Where has God placed me to be on mission for Him?" In my own life, I've always adopted an open-door policy. If God opens the door, I go. And yes, from time to time that means going to the nations. I have many friends and colleagues who do the same. We come alongside the believers who live there and listen to them. After all, we're the outsiders. We learn about what needs they have and how we might be able to meet those needs. From my experience, one of the greatest needs is for training in the biblical languages. The danger in missions is always to go a mile wide and an inch deep. I am suggesting this: Training the people from every nation to follow Jesus in obedience and love will take team work. There may even be a time when you need to bench yourself. That's because our lives and our ministries for Jesus go through phases. Allow yourself to be human and God to be God. Let Him direct your steps. He'll take care of the "going" part. Pick your "location" and invest with all your passion. Listen to local leaders with humility. And remember that ministry according to the New Testament is essentially from local church to local church. Battle every thought of "one and done." Establish long-term goals. But remember that ministry is never stagnant and requires constant prayer and reevaluation. I'll try to do the same.

Shabat shalom!

12:42 PM My training for next weekend's marathon is going BLAH. I spent most of the week teaching, and then on Thursday I had a malaria flare up. Thankfully, today I woke up feeling 100 percent so I did an hour at the gym and then biked 10 miles between LaCrosse and Brodnax.

Even the locals don't know where this is.

I keep forgetting to duck when I bike this section of the trail.

I have plenty more miles to put on this old bod of mine this coming week. I just hope I don't bonk next weekend. To be honest, the last 6 miles of a marathon are crazy hard. I don't think that "slow" runners like me ruin a marathon for everyone else, but at the same time, we plodders have goals too. There's a certain amount of tenacity that you need to finish a 26.2 mile race. But we all have our own speeds. One person's "slow" pace is another person's PR. Running is not about pace. It's about accomplishing a big goal. We all have to start somewhere. Saying that slow runners shouldn't compete is kinda like saying people shouldn't go to college because they're not as smart as others. The more people participate in races, the more people will be healthy in America. I'm slow but I'm fine with it. I just don't like to go into a race unprepared. But sometimes life gets in the way of training. Thankfully, I don't need to go fast next weekend to be satisfied. The joy is in the journey.

Time for a power nap. Later!

6:44 AM In our study of Philippians this week we were reminded that of all the examples of selflessness Paul gives us in this book, none can match that of Jesus Christ Himself. We might even call Phil. 2:1-30 "The Imitation of Christ." Of course, anyone who reads that title will see the allusion to a classic book from the 15th century written by an Augustinian monk, Thomas à Kempis.

It's been in print for over 600 years. It's been regarded as a Christian classic, and next to the Bible many people say that it has been the most important book about Christianity in the history of Christendom. The emphasis in it on suffering is a good reminder that adversity is the rule and not the exception of Christian living. In today's feel-good culture, this is a helpful reminder I think. There are many things I don't agree with in this book, but the main theme of dying to oneself is an incontrovertible truth of the Jesus Way. The so-called holiness of the cloister aside, this book urges a devotion to Christ that utterly ruins our over-love for self. I think that there's perhaps a special blessing that comes from reading the works of authors from decades or even centuries past. Here I'm thinking of Barth and Bonhoeffer, Brunner and Cullmann, Zwingli and Calvin, Augustine and Origen. You needn't read this book from beginning to end. But every Christian should read it, along with Pilgrim's Progress. I can't agree with the author's view of the monastic life, but I fear that many of us have erred in the opposite direction. We are to imitate Christ, first in His humility, then in His generosity, and finally in His mission. For you see, we cannot live the Christ-life in splendid isolation from the world. We are to do with the body of Christ what Christ did with His own body -- give it away.

This book is a treasure and contains some of the most beautiful words about Christ you will ever read. The prose is often beautiful. More beautiful still is the picture of God presented in it. Here's one quote:

Thou art none the holier if thou art praised, nor the viler if thou art reproached. Thou art what thou art; and thou canst not be better than God pronounceth you to be. 

But be forewarned: this book will make you uncomfortable as you read what following Christ really involves. It contains golden nuggets that will take days to absorb.

Friday, March 8    

7:02 PM When I was a kid in Hawaii, I dreamed about being able to travel someday. After all, there's not much you can do on an island that's only 44 miles long and 30 miles wide. I did, of course, make trips to the Outer Islands (as we called them), but still, most of the traveling I did was of the imaginary type. Today I consider travel a normal part of my life. I'm the type who enjoys carefully planning my latest escapade. Almost every week I'm dreaming about my next trip. One of the most important lessons traveling has taught me is just how amazing this planet is. There's a whole new world out there just waiting for us. I recently had a fantastic stay in the Phoenix area. I loved seeing the desert again. I loved being able to speak my incredibly poor Spanish again. I loved meeting new people at Mercy Hill Church and Phoenix Seminary. I've managed to make some great friends through my travels.

My Greek class at Windward Baptist Church in my home town of Kailua.

I love the sense that every day is a new adventure. More than anything, I think I love to travel because I love learning. Traveling allows me to see the world as maybe God sees it, in all its diversity and variety. Travel, they say, lasts forever, at least in your memory. I'm not sure how many more years of travel God will allow me to enjoy. But travel sure does keep life interesting.

My travel calendar for 2019 is filling up with good stuff. Where are traveling to this year? God willing, here's my itinerary:

March 17, Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, NC.

April 5-6, reading a paper at the ETS Regional Meeting in Lynchburg, VA.

April 11-12, speaking at Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem, NC.

April 17-22, visiting with my kids in Birmingham, AL and Fort Benning, GA.

May 3-6, Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, OH.

May 11-14, Dallas, TX, for the world premier of For All the Saints.

June 29, Farmville, VA, for the Night Train 50K race.

August 5-12, surfing in Hawaii.

October 11-14, Chicago Marathon.

I think my favorite travel quote of all time is: "We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us." It's amazing how powerful travel can be.

5:05 PM I am so excited. I just booked my flight to Dallas for the premier of a new arrangement of "For All the Saints" on May 12, which is both Mother's Day and Becky's birthday. Becky's parents and I commissioned the piece last year. And now the world premier is almost upon us. For All the Saints is one of the greatest pieces of church music ever written. I am filled with joy whenever I hear it performed. I still tear up when I listen to it, just like I did after Becky went Home. The premier will include full choir and orchestra. Can't wait!

4:40 PM "Jesus, I want so deeply to be like You." I think every man who left our Philippians class today after a week of study left with that prayer on his lips.

I want to thank these guys -- hard-working, dreamers, visionaries, thinkers -- for being champions all week. They are the best and the brightest. This week the Holy Spirit leveled us and laid our motives bare. He grafted His genuine love in our hearts for the least of these. Something marvelous is happening in our churches, my friends. It's a movement of defectors from the American Dream. Their dream is now, "God reign over me until there is only You. Give me a heart to expand Your glory and Your kingdom through anyone, anywhere." We can simply stop spending so much on ourselves and use what we have to help people in need, while "holding forth the life-giving word." It takes true grit to push back against the culture. But I sense that my students are more and more willing to say yes to Jesus. If the only thing that really matters is living as citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel (Phil. 1:27), then this is what we ought to do, no ifs, ands, or buts. My stars, Philippians is so wonderful! How we were able to cover it only one week I'll never know. I love what I do. I loved seeing this view every morning when I arrived on campus.

I love verbal aspect and discourse analysis and paronomasia and a million other things about Philippians. I'm just beginning to embrace the freedom that Paul talks about in this short letter, where I have nothing but Christ to cling to, where I leave the past behind (both my successes and my failures) and run the race of self-abnegation set before me. Read this epistle, and you'll also be drawn into a thrilling chapter that God is writing in the American church, with both new and old themes. Because when Paul says "the only thing that matters," he means "the only thing that matters."

Monday, March 4    

5:12 AM Spring Break has officially sprung! Yours truly feels like a child about to start first grade. I am a child wading on the shore of a limitless ocean. The New Testament is so wide and so deep, how can anyone plumb its breadth and depth? So what do we do in a weeklong course on Philippians? We consider attitude before action. We seek counsel from one another. We meditate upon God's word. Psalm 104:34 says this is pleasing to God. The wrong attitude here is a prideful arrogance, that attitude that we are so important that we can do as we please. Adults are sometimes no better than little children. We fight and backbite and it leaves deep teeth marks. Euodia and Syntyche, are you listening? We can't protect ourselves from God's judgment when we act like this. "Be of the same mind, church!" How precious are those Christians who love each other in the bad times as well as the good times. Philippians is all about working together for something much bigger than ourselves. With the writer of Ecclesiastes we can say, "Two are better than one.... If one falls down, his friend can help him up." It is not mental deficiency that makes a person a fool. It's their inability to make sensible judgments and the refusal to base all of life's decisions upon the wisdom of God's word. Philippians has much to say about how we should live for others. And we are to do this together. Each of us is but a link in a chain that binds us to each other and one generation to the next. Philippians is a test of our priorities. God doesn't test us so that we should fail. He tests us so that when we are under trial we can sort out the precious things of life from the worthless. In the choices of life, He wants us to choose wisely.

Father, I've been to school, and I realize that oftentimes without tests I'd never be motivated to learn. Thank you for the test we'll encounter in the book of Philippians, which teaches us to choose what is best. Refine us, that we made be purged of impurities and truly live as good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel of Christ. This I ask and pray for Jesus' sake. Amen.

P.S. For your reading pleasure:

Sunday, March 3    

6:44 PM Tonight, as part of meal preparation for a long week on campus, I went grocery shopping and then got gas at Sheetz. While there, a guy at the next pump asked me, "Is your license plate the old hymn?" The plate reads:


"Yes," I said. "It was my wife's choice when she came down with cancer."

Few of us have probably seen an actual battlefield. Christians do have wars to fight, however. The battle might be against heresy or for better and more equitable law enforcement or against an illness like cancer. When we fight our battles, we're obligated to learn all we can about the enemy, and know how to fight him so we get results. But the victory all depends on the Lord. It is to Him and to Him alone that we must look for strength and wisdom. And in the end, the praise and the glory for victory goes only to Him.

In one sense, Becky lost her battle with cancer. But in another, greater sense, cancer was the loser. She never trusted in herself or credited the doctors with the victory. She honored the Lord with her lips and with her heart. And in the end, the joy and peace He gave her brought victory. Her confidence in her God grew quieter but stronger by the day. Grace was transforming her, and not only her. All who knew her were touched by her life. Becky's suffering was undeserved, but so is His redemption. I have never felt more fragile and vulnerable as I do now, after Becky's death. But through our cancer journey I found a source of love I could never find in myself. Truly, "It is well with my soul."

9:12 AM Today at the Nerdy Language Majors Facebook page, the question was raised: Is the idiom to "cut a covenant" restricted to ancient Hebrew? The answer is found here. (See esp. p. 403.)

8:25 AM This morning I slept in until 6:30. I never do that. Must be a bit tired. Not just physically but mentally. Here's the deal: Did you know that mental fatigue and physical fatigue are related? Studies have shown that performing mentally fatiguing tasks prior to exercise causes participants to reach exhaustion more quickly than when they did the same exercise when rested mentally. (See this study.) As you know, I'm teaching 5 classes this semester plus finishing up a book for publication, and while none of this seems to be too mentally challenging, just the number of hours I put into my work every week must be taking a toll. So this morning I am just resting and doing "light" mental work (like blogging). After all, this week (Spring Break) I have to teach Monday through Friday from 8:00-5:00. Overworking is for idiots. Sometimes, of course, you have to, but rest is as essential as exercise.

So this morning I whipped out my Good News Bible and read Philippians 1 just for the sheer pleasure of it.

It was pretty awesome. So many good takeaways (all of them non-mentally-fatiguing, I assure you):

1:1 "From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus." I love how the great apostle lowers himself to Timothy's level (either that or he elevates Timothy to his). Paul delighted in receding into the group, to work as a team. Why shouldn't we?

1:1 "To all God's people in Philippi." "God's people" is so much better than "saints." Plus you'll notice how Paul is writing to all of them, including whatever factions might exist within the congregation (see 4:2). Paul is an equal opportunity greeter.

1:1 "Including the church leaders and helpers." Pastors/elders/overseers are extensions of the church, not over it. In other words, shepherds are also sheep, though their spiritual gifts involve leadership.

1:3-5 "I thank my God ... because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now." That's it! The theme of Philippians! Christian unity in the cause of the Gospel!

1:12 "I want you to know, my brothers, that the things that have happened to me have really helped the progress of the gospel." There's Paul being selfless again. "Yes, I'm in prison. But the Gospel isn't chained. As long as the Gospel is making progress, I'm happy!"

1:21 "For what is life? To me, it is Christ. Death, then, will bring more." What a tremendous way to look at life. Do you know of anyone who has that attitude? I know several. One was my wife Becky. (Read her cancer essay: Life + Christ = Fine.)

1:27 "Now the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires, so that ... I will hear that you are standing firm with one common purpose and that with only one desire you are fighting together for the faith of the gospel." The Gospel! The Gospel! The Gospel!

1:30 "Now you can take part with me in the battle. It is the same battle you saw me fighting in the past, and as you hear, the one I am still fighting." Notice how Paul describes Epaphroditus in 2:25: "brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier." In other words, old Ep had shared the life, shared the work, and shared the danger. I love people like that.

When I began studying Philippians it was one of those times when my mission in life became very clear, very concentrated, very focused, very unambiguous. It's almost like Paul meant to say, "Dave, why have you been living for things that will pass away when you can be spending your time loving others, stocking their kitchen cabinets, repairing their homes, and sharing with them the life-changing Gospel?" But there I go again, off on another tangent, imagining that when Paul said "the only thing that matters" (1:27 he actually meant "the only thing that matters" is living for others!

P.S. You Greek students will have fun with this. How would you answer these questions? They're all taken from Will Varner's commentary on Philippians.

1) In the Hellenistic period, the standard opening of a letter would contain the name of the addressee(s) in the _______________ case.






2) "Paul and Timothy" (1:1) represent what use of the nominative?

subject nominative

nominative absolute

predicate nominative

nominative for vocative

3) In 1:7, which word is most likely to be functioning as the subject of the infinitive echein?





4) In the prepositional phrase en tē kardia (1:7), the definite article is functioning as a

generic article

personal pronoun

relative pronoun

possessive pronoun

5) True or False: In Philippians 1:9, the hina introduces a clause denoting purpose.  T   F

Saturday, March 2    

6:02 PM Today in Durham the annual Florence Forth 5K/10K race for charity was held. All proceeds went to an organization that was new to me.

With AE, the immune system actually attacks the brain. Ouch. I'd guess about 1,000 of us came out to support the cause. I left the house at 6:00 am for an 8:00 am race start. I picked up my bib and then sat in an idling car to stay warm. Even though I just ran a marathon 3 weeks ago I'm most certainly not in 10K shape.

In a 10K (or any "short" distance race for that matter) your mind kicks into overdrive and you run faster than you should. Anyhoo, I finished with a 1:14 time (11:50 pace), which is pretty normal for me.

It was great weather for running, but as soon as I crossed the finish line I started to get cold again.

I didn't mean to stick around for long but I ended up staying for another 30 minutes in order to cheer for an 80-year old runner named Sharon as she crossed the finish line. Apparently she's pretty well known in the North Carolina running community. There was a large crowd on hand to clap for her and give her high fives when she completed the 10K, and I was again reminded of why I love running so much -- watching someone unknown to me but who feels like a long-lost relative. We runners are high achievers who always focus on doing our personal best. Sharon proves that an 80-year old can outperform a sedentary 40-year old. When President George H. W. Bush was jogging one day, he noticed he had an irregular heartbeat (it was atrial fibrillation). Senators suggested that perhaps Bush should learn to act his age. As a matter of fact, he was. Bush was doing what any fit 66-year old can and should do: exercise. He was bent on getting the most out of his 66-year old body. I can attest to the above. Running makes me feel better in every way. When I run I'm at the edge of all I can do. I run near the back of the pack with people who have never gotten a trophy and never will. Yet all of them are trying as desperately as I am to "win" their race. They are known as "runners" only to their closest friends and family members, and they're okay with that. It doesn't matter to us where we finish or how fast we are. Winning means doing our best -- and that's true whether we're parenting or husbanding or studying Greek. I am just glad to be racing again.

Well, that's all I've got for now. Tschüss!

Friday, March 1    

2:38 PM Odds and ends:

1) Just before our SEBTS linguistics conference, Dr. William Varner of the Masters University will be on our campus speaking on the topic, "How Discourse Analysis Changed My Approach to Scripture."

The date is April 26. To sign up for his lecture, go here. We're really looking forward to having Dr. Varner on our campus. (I'm using his Philippians commentary in my Greek class next week, by the way. It's an excellent work.)

2) Today my Baker Academic catalog arrived and it features two forthcoming books by my colleagues Ben Merkle and Chip Hardy.

Kudos, gents. Eager to get my hands on these books!

3) Just signed up for Ella's Race.

Ella was diagnosed April 29, 2008 with a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. This is a rare, aggressive, non-operable tumor located in the pons area of the brainstem. The prognosis for this type of tumor is extremely grim. There is no cure, no known effective treatment except for radiation-which, for some, provides only temporary relief of the symptoms. Ella saw the face of Jesus on Wednesday, February 8th 2012, while at home with her family.

I believe this will be my 4th time running this super race for a great cause. PLEASE consider joining us. You can do either a 5K or a 10K.

4) I wasn't going to bike today but the rain let up for a couple of hours and so off I went. From the moment I got on my road bike I was relaxed. There's something about cycling that's so restorative. Plus, it's always good to be out in nature. I grabbed some KFC on the drive home and then stopped by the Verizon store to see if I was eligible for the new iPhone X. Yessiree. Seriously, though, this phone isn't a whole lot different from the one I have now. Big deal if it has face recognition and animated emojis. I'll probably pass. Rituals of non-consumption can be just as fun as purchasing the latest everything that comes on the market!

Well there ya go. My latest update. Peace out.

7:58 AM I'm sure you've all seen the Movie Everest. Here's something we never learned by watching that movie. It's detailed in Lou Kasischke's book After the Wind. Kasischke was there. He survived because he turned back just before the summit.

At noon that day, 28 climbers were on or near the South Summit of Everest -- a mere 279 vertical feet from the main summit.

They were more than 2 hours behind schedule for reaching the top. Rob Clark had planned to reach the summit by 11:00 am. But precious time had been wasted in fixing ropes. And now, they were all bunched together. Within a few minutes, all of the climbers pictured below would have to negotiate the Hillary Step, a natural chokepoint that stalls climbing traffic even further.

Below, ominous clouds were forming. According to Kasischke, "So many climbers had never before been jammed together on Everest so high and so late." Rob had set a 1:00 pm turnaround time, not only because of the danger of descending in darkness, but also because all of the climbers would almost certainly be out of oxygen. The time to turn around was right then -- at 12 noon. They were out of time.

The year before, in 1995, Rob had done just that -- turned his team around at the South Summit at 12:30 pm because the margin for safety needed to get back down had evaporated. But this was 1996. The forces for Rob to keep going were powerful: the competition with Scott Fischer's team; the vying for future clients; the recognition and fame for setting a personal world record for ascents; expected magazine publicity. Three experienced climbers on Rob's team had already turned back, including Lou Kasischke, who had already completed 6 of the famed "Seven Summits." They were not under the same pressure of business competition. From Camp 2, veteran Everest climber Ed Viesturs asked, "Why aren't they turning around? It's going to be 3 or 4 pm before they get to the summit. Guys, turn around, turn around."

They kept going.

When I climbed the Matterhorn two summers ago, I never summited. The weather was turning bad, and my feet were hurting badly. My guide agreed: It's time to go back down the mountain. Two weeks later, two 67-year old Brits were caught out on the Matterhorn and forced to spend the night in the open. They weren't prepared for the cold and froze to death. Neither had a mountain guide to tell them to turn back.

There is an old saying that truth hurts. Yet sometimes love requires us to speak the truth. Scripture, in fact, equates truth with love (see Ephesians 4). Life takes much wisdom and knowledge. A novice mountain climber like myself dare not go it alone. For every day I climbed the Alps in 2017, the cost to me was $640.00. Was my guide worth it? Every penny. I had promised my family that I wouldn't take unnecessary risks. And I kept my promise.

There probably would have been no 1996 Everest disaster had everyone turned around at noon. If I had continued my Matterhorn climb I might not be here today. Life is like a jigsaw puzzle. First you assemble the outside frame -- a relatively easy task. But then the puzzle becomes more difficult. Maybe you are at a confusing crossroads in your life, my friend. Take heart. Friends and counselors are a gift from the Lord. "It's not good to have zeal without knowledge or to be hasty and miss the way" (Prov. 19:2). The proverb warns us against making hasty decisions. Over and again in the New Testament we are told that we are part of a body whose members should have equal concern for each other (see, for example, 1 Cor. 12:25). It's within the body of Christ that we should seek advice about life. The counsel we seek is to be used for steering our situation. We have to take into account the various factors that can influence our decision for good or for ill.

"We need to go back," I told my mountain guide. We returned to Zermatt, leaving me feeling defeated. But I was still alive. And the mountain will be there next year and the year after that and the year after that.

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