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May 2019 Blog Archives

Friday, May 31    

5:04 PM I tried to have a consistent workout pattern in May and here's what happened.

Total: 149 miles. I'm not acting all cool like I'm the only person who's ever done this. I realize many of you are as disciplined if not more disciplined than I am. High fives to you! I'm pleased with both the quantity and the quality of my workouts this month and so grateful to God for the strength to do them, especially when you consider I've been teaching every morning. Gotta say, there were some days when I didn't want to work out and then there were other days when I couldn't stop (two of the days in May I did a full 26.2 miles). Plus, when you're invited to have lunch at a student's house and they serve you authentic food from the Dominican Republic, you realize you had better be exercising or else.

Like you, I've got certain monthly goals. My main goal was to get my class through weeks 1-2 of baby Greek. Then I wanted to try and develop a regular exercise schedule. So, now what? Get my Greek 1 class through one more week of studies. This includes two exams. Then follow through with my June training plan which incorporates cardio (swimming, running, cycling) with strength training. Truth: I'm pretty excited about my June races, including tomorrow's 8K in Durham, a 5K in Cary on the 15th, my triathlon in Wake Forest on the 23rd, and finally my 50K trail run in Farmville, VA, on the 29th. In addition, on the 10th I have my VO2Max treadmill stress test at Duke (the one where you have to wear a mask and they push your body to its absolute limits) and on the 17th I'm seeing the orthopedist (also at Duke) about my foot neuropathy. To top it all off, I'll get a hamburger (just kidding). This is all such valuable info for me. The resulting guidelines will be specific to me. I'm told that these tests will enable me to know my precise level of cardio-respiratory fitness and how efficient my muscles are at utilizing carbohydrates. The whole thing is quite individual, and without testing we can't have real scientific parameters. So it should be an interesting month. In the meantime, I need to get plenty of sleep at night, spend time recovering from my workouts, and continue to give special attention to my diet. Hopefully, I will get wiser with age. When I turn 67 on June 9, I'll join the ranks of such (in)famous people as Mark Hamill, George Strait, Steven Seagal, Mr. T, and Ben Carson. But who cares? Age is just a number.

Wednesday, May 29    

6:15 AM I was reading a discussion online this morning about what to do when you go to church and hear the same sermon over and over again. Personally, I always take notes. Yes, I've probably heard much of the sermon before, but there is always a point the Holy Spirit seems to be driving home to me, and I want to be careful to pick up on it. So always have your notepad with you, and use it.

Christians love to debate the marks of a church. Classically, many of us have come to believe that the sermon is either the mark of a local church or one of the most important. Yet it would not be too sardonic to say that, in the earliest church, congregational participation held sway. Just as I'm sure there was formal teaching, I'm also quite sure there was plenty of one-anothering going on as well. Within our fallen human nature we tend to look to one person as our source authority in all things. Sometimes this has proven salutary, but at other times our services become so pulpit-centric that there's hardly a place for participation by the other members of the body. When you go to church, be sure to try and use your spiritual gift in some way for the edification of the body. Go to give and not just to get. And if you're a leader, beware of creating a consumer culture in which people's spiritual responsibility is transferred to the pastors.

The early church also seemed to make the table of the Lord central rather instead the sacred desk. Elsewhere I've called this "Christ-centered gatherings." A healthy church always exalts Christ first and last. And because the earliest believers apparently celebrated His death and resurrection on a weekly basis (e.g., Acts 20:7), they assembled not to hear one person speak but for renewal and togetherness and then to go out to live lives on mission, loving God and neighbor. The gathering existed for the going, as I like to say.

I think the question "What should I do when I hear the same sermon every Sunday?" is a challenge to the introversion of our churches. The church is not for us. It is for the whole world. We cannot keep the Gospel to ourselves. Evangelism and service in our communities are essential. The Holy Spirit was given on the Day of Pentecost to equip each of us for service and mission, for mutual edification and evangelism. This Spirit is neither dead nor absent in our churches. It is He who can rekindle the people of God with His gracious gifts for acts of worship both when we gather and when we go back out into the world.

5:55 AM This is a beautiful video. I watched it again last night.

"This is the day that the Lord has made" is a scriptural theme throughout the Bible. We can enjoy nature without worshipping it. The Old Testament poets delighted in describing the natural world around them. This is partly because they lived much closer to nature than most of us do today. In going about their daily tasks they observed nature's glorious manifestations, much as I do here at the farm. Not a day goes by when I do not consciously praise the Lord Jesus for a puppy that loves me, donkeys that bray when they see me, goats that gleefully butt heads together. The Psalmists likewise observed the ways of bears and badgers, the turbulent waters, the glory of nature. In enjoying the natural world they had much in common with other poets in the ancient world – with two very important differences.

In the first place, their Middle Eastern neighbors not only waxed poetic about the trees and the birds; they worshipped them. The biblical poets, on the other hand, resisted the temptation to deify the environment. They enjoyed the natural world without worshipping it. The second difference between the Psalmists and their neighbors involved the language they used to describe "nature." For them, nature was specifically "creation." This term expressed the belief that the world owes its beauty and splendor, not to its own power or genius, but to God. Read any creation Psalm and you will see that the real significance of the universe is understood only by the eye of faith. And this faith was not in some man-made deity but in the eternal God Himself. All creation depends on the Creator for birth, life, and sustenance. "You open your hand, and they are filled with good." Even death is controlled by the Sovereign God. "You take away their breath and they die and return to their dust." The point is that God has established creation, and everything God created is a gift from Him.

The Psalms teach us that we can enjoy creation without worshipping it. And we enjoy it because we first love its Creator.

Tuesday, May 28    

6:54 PM This and that ....

1) This is one of my favorite Indian concoctions. I cooked it tonight.

It's Chicken Vindaloo with carrots, asparagus, and mushrooms. Served it over Jasmine Rice. (Oh my goodness, I need counseling now.)

2) Now that I've eaten it's time to work. Here's a screen shot of the page proofs to the French edition of my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I'm slowly making my way through the book.

I spent a lot of time teaching myself French before leaving for Basel in 1980. Not that I was expecting an exam over French when I got there. No way they'd do that at the uni there. The mentality in Basel was, Well, you're working on your doctorate, right? Obviously, then, you know French, right? On outings to neighboring Alsace, French sure came in handy. Of course, I'm sorely out of practice. Weiss Du, es fehlt mir im Sprechen an Übung. Oops. Wrong language!

3) Thanks, by the way, to my ever-able assistant Mr. Noah Kelley for teaching today's class for me. They covered chapter 7 -- imperfect and aorist active indicative. In which we get to say:

And if you haven't read Frank Stagg's classic essay The Abused Aorist, what in the world are you waiting for?

5:58 PM I just spent 8 hours in the van driving to and from Gastonia. What a gorgeous day it was for a drive too. I avoided the freeways as much as I could, preferring the byways to the highways. Dr. Owens' funeral was a blessing. He was eulogized by two of his daughters. One of them said, "The greatest joy of his life was giving to others." The pagan satirist Lucian (130-200 A.D.) mocked Christians for their kindness: "The earnestness with which the people help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end. Their first lawgiver put it into their heads that they were all brethren." What a true statement. What a legacy Dr. Owens leaves his descendants and all of us. The early church constantly practiced self-denial to meet each other's needs. We don't see the New Testament church hoarding its possessions. Oh may we all become as extravagantly giving as they were! This evening I'm praising God for the life of this wonderful saint. There were some hilarious stories at his funeral balanced by touching reminiscences of a life well lived. To God be the glory!

P.S. Quoted at the funeral: "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God's help, I aim to be that man" (Dwight L. Moody). Amen!

6:10 AM I have several traits that were stamped into my DNA. One of them is hardheadedness. For example, last year I did an 50K ultramarathon. All 31 miles of it. Moreover, it was a trail run, and the conditions were less than ideal. Somehow I finished under the 8-hour time limit. It wasn't pretty. But I loved every second of it. This is my one and only body. I want to get as much out of it as I can before it returns to the dust. Of course, it doesn't look like it did 30 years ago. Still, I'm thankful for it, and when I enter a race I'm not racing anyone but myself. The spirit that drove the ancient Athenian athletes is buried deep inside me. For many of us, it's not the last step of a marathon (or an ultra) that defines us but the first step. Getting to the starting line is not the beginning of something but its culmination. The rest, as they say, is celebration.

All that to say I'm seriously praying about doing another 50K race this year. On June 29, in fact. Not only is it another 31-mile trail run, it's at night. Now doesn't that sound like fun? This time there's a very generous 9.5 hour time limit. (They must have heard I'm slowing down.) The doc says I can do anything I want to as long as I do it in moderation. So when I see him again I'll ask him about this race. We all have our strengths. Mine is that I can walk/hike forever and not get tired. (I did a lot of hiking when I climbed the Alps and the Rockies.) Of course, I realize that sometimes enthusiasm is my biggest asset and at other times my greatest liability. I stand by the fact that we all need to have our personal goals of what it means to succeed in life. That said, I haven't signed up yet for the race. I'm watching to see how my training is coming along for the tri I'm going to do. 

What are your thoughts on "pushing the limits"?

Where do you fall on the "hardheadedness" spectrum?

What do you think about ultramarathons?

Monday, May 27    

6:20 PM This Saturday is the next Running of the Bulls 8K in Durham, UK. (Not really. The other Durham.) My shoes are lined up and I'm ready to roll. 8K races are kinda rare around here. That's about 5 miles -- longer than a 5K but not as long as a 10K. I know I have a fast 8K race in me. Just not right now. Remember, "moderation" is the word nowadays. So I'll just take my sweet old time as I mosey through the revitalized neighborhoods of downtown Durham, the American Tobacco Campus, and the old Durham neighborhoods. The race ends inside the Durham Athletic Park.

Gotta go. I must be boring you something awful.

6:02 PM Just added to our website: Mark's Theology of the Cross (Korean version).

8:35 AM I hate to blog about my personal weight loss journey because the issue is so sensitive. Yet it's an important one (there are over 600,000 deaths from heart disease every year in the U.S.). I am in no way saying it's right to judge people on the basis of their outward appearance. If you or I are overweight, we know it without anyone having to tell us. However, I do believe that health is largely a choice. Health. Not necessarily weight, though weight is one factor in terms of our health. Speaking only for myself, I've made the decision to change my eating habits, and I have. That said, my body type is such that I'll always look heavy. I think we all need to practice self-care no matter what our weight is. My goal is to stay healthy and find balance. I carry more weight on me than the average runner but I eat healthy and have an active lifestyle. But in the end, fitness definitely trumps BMI.

Many people will tell you to start exercising if you want to lose fat. That's all fine and good, but an exercise program is useless unless it's balanced by healthy eating habits. In the past 3 months I've made healthy eating my number #1 health goal. I also follow an exercise/training schedule that you read about all the time on this blog. I consider myself to eat pretty healthy today. I don't calorie count but I do watch everything I put into my mouth, and I mean everything. I have lost a lot of weight but I know I won't keep it off unless I maintain healthy eating habits. For me this means:

  • Absolutely no sodas.

  • No sweets (cookies, desserts, ice cream, etc.).

  • No fast food (and boy do I love me a good cheeseburger or a pizza!).

  • No fried foods.

  • No chips or Doritos.

  • Cooking my own meals whenever I can.

  • No Starbucks specialty coffees.

  • Eating lots of fresh vegetables.

  • Eating smaller meals at more regular intervals (I try to eat a small meal at least 4 times a day).

  • Drinking plenty of water.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I don't miss some of these foods. But my body is my temple and I want to treat it right. Truth be told, I'm enjoying eating clean. I think my relationship with food is a lot healthier than it's been in a long time. We type A's strive for perfection but it's not about perfection but rather about progress. So it seems clear to me: The most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to focus on diet -- not necessarily cutting calories but eating good ones. The fact is that we can never lose weight just by exercising. We can never out-exercise our bad eating habits. The challenge is coping with all those ads we see every hour of every day (Coke, MacDonald's, Starbucks, etc.) But I would say that even if you only removed soda from your diet you'd see a drastic improvement in your weight. But it's also important to remember that we each have a limit as to how much about our looks we can change. For me, it all comes down to seeing food as fuel. It's taken me a very long time to realize this. It's taken me a long time to realize that garbage in equals garbage out. So awareness is key. When you combine a sedentary lifestyle with lousy eating habits the result is predictable. 

That's my two cents. Knowledge is power, folks. Let's make wise eating choices and let God take care of the rest.

What's your eating philosophy?

Do you think you have a healthy relationship with food?

Does exercise play a role in your life?

7:10 AM If you're taking me for Greek in the fall, Amazon is selling my beginning grammar for only $7.38.

6:48 AM This will be our second week of Greek 1-2. Think of it as miles 7-9 of a marathon. Also remember that when Christian and Hopeful were approaching the Celestial City, some shepherds offered them hospitality. Their names were Knowledge, Experience, Watchful, and Sincere. They warned the travelers of the temptations that could impede their Pilgrim's Progress. One of them was Pride. Pride makes us believe that we can do everything in our strength. It draws us away from our utter dependence on God. Students, don't mistake faithfulness for success. Pass the baton to Jesus. The sooner we acknowledge the role He plays in our progress, the easier it will be to keep moving forward. Instead of saying, "Lord, how am I going to get through this?" say, "Lord, I'm eager to see how You will get me through this."

I'll be at a funeral tomorrow so my assistant will teach the class tomorrow. See you Wednesday!

Sunday, May 26    

5:02 PM What a great day it's been. Got in a 10-mile bike before church. Then swam laps. Right now I'm cooking Indian food from scratch. That's quite an admission from someone who spent most of his life eating burgers at MacDonald's.

Moving on...

Do you find it hard sometimes to say no? I do. Recently I was asked to sit on a doctoral committee and not only read a dissertation but attend the oral defense. This would have required me to fly to another country. However, the student's field of study is one I'm familiar with but under no circumstances would I consider myself an expert in. I would have loved to have said yes. After all, who in their right mind would pass up a chance to travel (at their expense, not mine) to one of their favorite countries and help a doctoral student? When we allow pride to gain a foothold in our lives, one of the negative results is that we don't like to acknowledge personal limits. But we simply can't be all things to all people. I know I can't. Still, I find it difficult to say, "I'm limited. I'm not able to do it." But that's exactly what I said. This wasn't false humility. I really do not think I would have been the right examiner for that oral. This experience reminded me of two very important life principles:

  • Feel free to say no when that's the appropriate response.

  • Admit your personal limits when you're asked to do something that's out of your range of ability and/or expertise.

In the past decade I've passed up offers to write several major commentaries, including one on Hebrews and another on Philippians. This is not to say I wasn't tempted. I was. Everyone knows how much I love those books. But in all honesty, I really don't think I could contribute much more to the field than has already been said.

Here's a tip for when you have to say no to an invitation. Try to combine empathy with objectivity. Begin by being empathetic: "Wow, that sounds like a great opportunity. I imagine finding just the right person to do that job is going to be tricky. Thank you so much for considering me." Then you can also express your objectivity: "However, I'm not the right person to help you with this. I'm simply not familiar enough with the subject, nor does my schedule allow it."

I was once asked to teach a Greek course overseas through a translator. Once again, I would normally have jumped on an opportunity like that. But think about it: Greek is difficult enough to teach in English let alone in, say, Russian or Mandarin. Then, too, by using a translator your teaching time is cut by at least 60 percent. I say "60 percent" instead of 50 percent because translating grammatical concepts takes longer than everyday prose. This is not to say that I haven't taught Greek internationally. I taught 6 weeks of beginning Greek in Ethiopia and several semesters of Greek in Asia. But these classes were all in English.

I used to be able to go into overdrive to please people who invited me to do this or that. Too often I ran with my feelings. But I'm learning to stick with the facts as much as possible and with what is truly needed as opposed to what I or they want. So if you ask me to write a reference for you, I might pass. The reason is usually obvious: I feel someone else could write a stronger reference than I can, and that would be to your benefit.

Friend, do not buckle under pressure. Do what is right, even (and maybe especially) when the pressure rises.

7:30 AM My assistant has just posted my Advanced Greek Grammar syllabus for the fall. You know what? It's not even going to be hard. I mean, except for all the reading the students will have to do. And did I mention doing a complete discourse analysis of the book we're studying? Or reading Robertson's "Big Grammar"? Of course, between all of these assignments we'll hardly make a dent in the subject. That just seems so unfair. But ya can't do everything in one Greek class.

The book I've decided to do is 3 John. I figured I could either go "long" (e.g., Mark) or "short." The reason I like 3 John is that its discourse structure is still debated today (despite there being at least 5 major articles that have been written on the topic) and that it's easily memorizable in Greek. Moreover, each student will lead a class discussion at least once over certain über-important themes in 3 John, such as:

  • Eldership in the NT

  • The NT emphasis on hospitality

  • The concept of ekklēsia

  • Agapē love

  • Learning as imitation

  • Letter writing as a substitute for personal presence

  • The idiom "mouth to mouth"

  • What does it mean to be "first-loving"?

  • Hapax legomena in 3 John

  • Does v. 2 teach the Prosperity Gospel?

  • Verbal aspect in 3 John

  • The use of the passive voice in 3 John

  • Marked word order in 3 John

  • "Seeing God"

By the way, I'm asking my students to read books and essays by Greek scholars with whom I disagree on certain matters. I tell my students that the seminary years are good years to test your beliefs. During my seminary years I was rarely invited into the wonderful world of critical self-examination. Much of my seminary education was characterized by facts to be memorized and then regurgitated on a test. I have no objection to learning critical facts about the New Testament, nor do I object to giving (and taking) exams that require intense memory work. What I do object to is not delegating to students as much responsibility as possible. Do you remember when God created Adam and then asked him to name the animals? Here's a verse we sometimes forget: "He [God] brought them to man to see what he would name them" (2:19). Now that's delegation. God gave the responsibility of naming the animals to Adam and He wasn't going to interfere in the process. No, student-involvement is not a panacea. But it just might help us not get swept away into evangelical rationalism -- a kind of proof-texting Christianity that's nothing more than an exercise in mental gymnastics. To be honest, when I was a student I really didn't mind the "You sit still while I instill" method of instruction all that much, because I had a good memory and good ace practically every exam I took. What I did mind was being asked to agree with the teacher without any solid reasons being given.

Praying for my students? You bet I am. The course will require a lot. It will tax both the head and the heart. But scholarship and piety go hand in hand. You might even say they're co-inherent.

P.S. I hope to get in another swim this afternoon in preparation for my next sprint triathlon in Wake Forest on June 23. This will be the third time I've done this event so I'm no stranger to the course. This is a great race for many reasons, not least because this is the first triathlon many people have done. (It was my first.) It's also great because the pool is outdoors and therefore you can breath (unlike the tri I'm doing in September which is indoors and leads to massive hyperventilation). Not sure what else to say here except I hope you're enjoying the long weekend. Try not to get a sunburn!

Saturday, May 25    

4:50 PM It's happened again. Kailua Beach has been voted the #1 beach in the U.S. I lived at Kailua Beach from 1955-1971. In the years I lived there, I always knew it was a very special place. Whenever I go back there I feel right at home again. It feels so surreal to see my old schools and the beach where I surfed all those years. Someone has said, "Home is a place you want to leave when you're growing up and want to return to when you're growing old." So true. I'll be back there in August, Lord willing. Already booked my flights. There's something oh so special about going home. I guess you can take the little boy out of Hawai'i but you can never take Hawai'i out of the little boy.

I leave you with my view every morning during my stay in Kailua. The handiwork of our great Creator!


4:22 PM Just got back home. This morning I lifted for an hour, then ran for an hour, then swam laps at the county pool, and then went grocery shopping. You could argue that my life is never dull. I am really excited that swimming has entered the picture again. It's the only exercise I've done for practically my whole life. Of course, chlorine makes me cringe, and those goggles -- ugh. But I've decided to do another triathlon next month to celebrate my 67th birthday and I figure that if I can't run or bike like a bat out of Hades then I sure can swim to my arms' content. The one thing any swimmer will tell you is that it gets boring real quick. If only iPods worked in water.

Speaking of boring, in years past I've written a book (Learn to Read New Testament Greek) and have produced a video series about learning to read your Greek New Testament. As I've taught Greek through the years, my awareness of Greek pedagogy has come into sharper focus. That's why I was delighted when a young man approached me several years ago to write his doctoral dissertation on the topic of Greek pedagogy under my guidance. I genuinely believe that the time is ripe for an overhaul in the way we teach Greek to students. Perhaps this is obvious, but just because we have an earned doctorate in ancient Greek doesn't necessarily make us effective classroom teachers. Oh, the irony. No one can teach in our public high schools without being credentialed as a classroom teacher. But if the objective of education is learning, not teaching, then perhaps we need to follow the old Latin proverb "Docendo discimus" -- "We learn by teaching."  I have always learned best when the classroom is interactive and the teacher makes the subject both fun and applicable to my life. At any rate, this young man's book is now finished and it will be published by Wipf & Stock in the near future. Which reminds me, I was asked to write the foreword to the book. No hay problema. I am a book junkie, so to write a foreword to a really good book is no sweat off my back. So although maybe only one or two of you may be interested, I'll post below what I wrote. My foreword is both a thinly veiled confession and a barely disguised call for change. Meanwhile, I'm happily typing out a book review, because on a hot day like today what else is there to do? 

When David Miller asked me to write a foreword to his book, I immediately agreed. This was for two reasons. In the first place, David wrote his dissertation under my supervision, and I knew him to be one of the finest students I've had the opportunity to work with. In the second place, my own journey as a Greek teacher has been a combination of academic and practionioner and has bred certain convictions in me, not least that a revolution in Greek pedagogy is long overdue.

I began teaching Greek at Biola University in 1976. I was still years away from getting my doctorate in New Testament. But I had developed a deep love for Koine Greek, a love that has never left me. Verbs, nouns, paradigms – I was fascinated by them all. Several years later, a big change occurred. B & H Academic asked me to produce my own beginning Greek grammar. I declined. I did not regard my approach as sufficiently different from that of the textbook I was using in my classes. They asked me again. This time I said I would commit the matter to prayer. Four months later they had a completed manuscript on their desk.

Now, at that time I knew a good deal about Greek but very little about pedagogy. Thankfully, God gave me the good sense to recognize this shortcoming. In fact, the year I began teaching at Biola I also enrolled in two classes in the Christian Education Department – College Teaching Procedures, and Tests and Measurements. Both classes proved invaluable to me as I embarked on what is now a 43-year career of teaching Greek. These courses set me to thinking. I had unwittingly stumbled upon one of the most important discoveries of my academic career. Elton Trueblood, the great American Quaker scholar, put it this way in one of the books I read that semester: "Holy shoddy is still shoddy." This quote would prove to be a mantra I would follow throughout the course of my career, although I have never lived up to it. I was now convinced that pedagogy played an essential role in becoming a Greek teacher. And I realized that it all had to do with outcomes. If our students are not using what they learn, what earthly good was their instruction?

That was not all. My searchings over the next few years had convinced me that the goal of Greek instruction was exegesis, not grammar. "What are you going to do with this information?" I began asking my students. Although there was still much about Greek pedagogy I didn’t understand, the heart of the matter was now plain to me. The study of Greek would require of us far more than getting an A on the final exam. What I had discovered was that Greek needed to be applied if it was to justify its existence in our curriculum. An old Scottish proverb puts it like this: "Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it's not at the head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus." The imagery of the cross was lucid and compelling, so much so that I decided to produce a practical book called Using New Testament Greek in Ministry that outlined reasons and a methodology for using our knowledge of Greek for the edification of Christ’s church. It is not knowledge but application that matters. Curiously enough, many Greek teachers had enunciated this truth, but few had ever done any scientific research into the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of our methodologies.

Enter David Miller's book. When I took David under my wings several years ago, I had no idea that he would produce such a helpful work. This book occupied a great deal of his time, and when it was finished I strongly encouraged him to have it published. As you will see, the book is lively, contemporary, and has a somewhat racy style. The author writes compellingly about the evidence for exegesis-focused Greek instruction on the one hand, and equally compellingly about the significance that sound pedagogy has for our churches and our individual lives. Nowadays Greek teachers are wondering (some out loud) if their approach to Greek instruction could stand up to critical examination. This book has the answer to that question. It is a tract for our times, and it is being published at just the right time, combining as it does competent scholarship with a reverent attitude toward the biblical text. This book is in no sense a dogmatic manual, but sets out to start a conversation about Greek pedagogy, a conversation that, as I said above, is long overdue. I have found the book to be both provocative and edifying. After all, sound pedagogy has always been a central concern of mine. How can we teach Greek if we don’t question our methodologies? The book, therefore, has a real place in the whole of Christian education.

I do not suggest that this book will resolve all of the nagging issues that Greek teachers face. But it will go a long way toward doing that. As Greek instructors, we must be willing to submit our own preferences to what will best serve the community in which we worship and serve. This book has helped me to do just that, and I trust you will come away from reading it with the same result.

7:50 AM I was up early this morning trying to beat the heat and get my farm chores done before working out at the Y. All the bird droppings on the front porch have been ruffling my feathers. I consider myself blessed to have swallows on the farm but honestly, their poop is beginning to encroach on my personal space. Anyhoo, that mess has now been cleaned up. At least I'll have one day of blessed cleanliness. Speaking of successful damage control, later today I'll mow (again, before it gets too hot). Have you noticed how the weather has become bonkers of late? It hasn't rained in weeks and the ground is dry -- as in DRY dry -- which is a good thing because I'm currently harvesting 80 acres of timber.

I definitely would not want to have a logging truck get stuck in one of my driveways. Unbelievably, it hasn't rained a single day while the loggers have been on the property, and if the current weather holds up they should be done in about a month. Then I'll have to decide when to reseed the acreage. You knew that trees are a crop right? Well, for years I didn't. I thought trees were, well, trees. Then I found out that they need to be carefully cultivated just like any other crop. Live and learn.

Not long ago -- well, this morning actually -- I read about a brand new translation of the New Testament calling itself The Pure Word. It claims to reveal "the original Koine-Greek depths of meaning from the time of Christ using breakthroughs in monadic-based hermeneutics." It further claims that "English is an imprecise language that can easily cause misunderstanding. In contrast, one of the most complete languages that clarifies intent is Koine Greek ...." Well, I think we could use a little more information. Please tell us by name who your translators were. Please explain to us what "monadic-based hermeneutics" is. Please give us more than one verse as a sample. Please back up your assertion that "There are over 450 English New Testament translations; all riddled with inaccuracies that never referenced the original Greek scriptures" with proof. As someone who originally worked on the ISV New Testament, I think we owe as much to our readers. The field of Christian publishing is a pressure cooker. Nowhere is this truer than with Bible translations. Bible publishing is this bizarre world where we hyperventilate because another translation is trying to vie for our loyalty. This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it restricted to the world of Bible translations. (Beginning Greek grammars fall into this category.) For instance, does this rendering of John 3:16 in The Pure Bible really help us understand what the Greek is saying?

Because, God has Loved in such a manner the satan's world, so that He Gave His Son, the Only Begotten Risen Christ, in order that whoever is Continuously by his choice Committing for the Result and Purpose of Him, should not perish, but definitely should, by his choice, be Continuously Having Eternal Life.

I think not. And then there's this notion that somehow Koine Greek is ambiguity-free. I can't tell you how many times I heard it stated in college that the New Testament had to be written in Greek because Greek is the most perfect language in the history of the world. In seminary I recall reading about the days when some New Testament scholars were even promoting the idea of a special "Holy Ghost Greek" that God invented in order to inscripturate His New Testament truth -- a notion that turned out to be, by the way, a demonstrable cul-de-sac. What would be so difficult about providing us with more information? More examples? A list of the translators along with their qualifications? It is hard to produce a new Bible translation. I know. But I think we do the church a tragic disservice to publish one in relative secrecy. By the way, scanning my bookshelves I see I have dozens of English Bible translations. They do me absolutely no good unless I read them. No, you don't need to spend exactly one hour in the Word every day. But God's beautiful Word -- well, it's essential, folks, and you'll need it before the day is through, believe me. Reading the Word is how we become centered and remember that God wants to be personally involved in our lives. That's why I was kicking myself this morning for forgetting my Greek New Testament at the office. (As you would expect from a Greek teacher, I read only my Greek New Testament. Except sometimes when I also read an English Bible translation. Okay, so many English translations that it has gotten a bit embarrassing.) What I'm trying to say is this: There's simply no excuse for not being in God's Word. At the same time, no Bible translation is perfect -- which is exactly why we need so many of them for comparison.

Check out The Pure Bible for yourself. In the video clip, you'll hear how the different Greek words for "love" in John 21:15-17 are said to be crucial for our understanding of this passage. Not all would agree, of course. But like I said, check it out for yourself. Hopefully the publisher will provide us with more information shortly. I'm especially curious to know who the translators were.

Off to the Y.

Friday, May 24    

4:04 PM Can you believe it? One third of Greek 1 is done. I sent the class home today with their first exam. They have until next Tuesday to take it since Monday is a holiday. Interestingly, they've lasted longer than I did when I took Greek many years ago. I was a goner after only 3 weeks into the semester. Thankfully, none of us is bound by the failures of the past. A dropped class doesn't dictate our future, and progress can still be had through Christ. My dropping Greek, although unbeknownst to me at the time, was a precursor for His grace in my life. It was a reminder that Jesus can turn any misery into ministry, any brokenness into beauty. It's not our job to figure everything out. That's His job. Our only job is the trust and obey. Today I laugh out loud when I think about how close I came to not becoming a Greek teacher. Friend, what setback are you facing today? You can get over it. By the grace of God, you can. Look no further than the life of the apostle Paul, whom Christ turned into His choice servant despite the fact that Paul had been the enemy of Christianity. Jesus has a total grasp on the timing in your life. Trust Him for it. He won't push you into something too soon or take something away from you without replacing it with something better.

While my students are busy reviewing for their Greek exam I've been spending my spare time reading. I love, love, love to read. And not just Runners World. I borrowed this book last night from the school library.

Yes, I read the whole book last night. It tells the story of how the American missionaries and the Hawaiian ali'i (chiefs) collaborated, among other things, to develop a written Hawaiian language and establish schools that resulted in widespread literacy in the Islands. Thankfully, the book avoids both missionary hagiography on the one hand and Hawaiian victimization on the other. "There was no way that the missionaries could have caused Hawai'i to become a literate, Christian nation without the agency of the ali'i'" (p. 17). The one caveat I have about this book is the way its title is translated into English: "To cooperate." This is a paraphrase. I like the literal meaning better: "Help over there, help over here" -- meaning "We help each other wherever we are." I cannot thank the people in my life enough for making my work possible, from my secretary to my personal assistant to the library staff to my colleagues (from whom I draw encouragement and a good laugh). These people are amazing, strong, and capable. Tonight I'm going to start writing an entry for a new encyclopedia of biblical Greek language and linguistics -- a book in which writers and editors will work together to produce a whole that is much greater than its parts. Perhaps the most important cooperation of all is with the Holy Spirit. As we grant Him full sway in our lives He changes us from the inside out and we are free to soar to new heights. Cooperation is a necessity of life. "We're better together" goes the saying. That said, sometimes being together can be disastrous. Just look at this picture taken during this year's climbing season on Everest.

This is not cooperation. It's chaos. One climber died as a result of being stranded at the top of the Hillary Step for 2 hours on his descent. I grew up surfing in Hawai'i. The surfing spots were never very crowded and rarely were they territorial. (Makaha Beach on the West Shore was an exception; we still surfed there, but we were careful to respect the locals.) Today, I despise the North Shore. Too crowded, too territorial, too much hassle. (Google it.) In my life, I try to avoid both too much dependence and too much independence. Interdependence is a far better goal. An interdependent relationship is one in which we can rely on each other without surrendering our autonomous identity. The healthiest way we can interact with our family members is by being interdependent -- involved with each other without sacrificing our identities or values. Now that's a tough balancing act! We're not meant to sequester ourselves or avoid culture. But we can't be gullible either. Jesus sends us out shrewdly innocent. I think the missionaries to Hawai'i and the ali'i of the Islands maintained, for the most part, a healthy balance in their relationship. I'm sure there are a myriad of things they could have done better. As with most things in life, balance is the key. Yes, I enjoy my own identity. Yes, I have my own path in life. But that's no reason to be avoidant or independent. The ideal is to create a hybrid in which each one of us takes responsibility for our own well-being. That's the main takeaway I had from reading this book. Embrace true mutuality. Do right by it. Then let it heal you of your irresponsible codependence.

Running Update: I've been getting in at least 4 miles daily but right now I'm mostly eagerly anticipating the local pools opening on Monday so that I can get back into swimming. Like a dork I overdid it a little this week by going 20 miles without a break but thankfully I've recovered from that outing. I did watch the Boston Marathon documentary last night and it was a tear-jerker. I love how Boston came back after the terrorist attacks of 2013. Meanwhile, get ready because I've signed up for my fifth triathlon next month. In a tri you have to swim, then bike, then run. I used to hate the biking part of the race until I got my super-nifty light-weight road bike. I really don't like the swim part of the race either because the pool is waaaay too crowded for anyone to be able to swim at what you'd consider a happy pace. In fact, you're lucky if you survive without getting too many facial scratches from the toenails in front of you. Still, there's nothing like a tri! I am on strict orders by my doctor to do everything in moderation, and they've ordered a VO2Max treadmill test for me so I know they are serious. Like a good patient, I'm being super compliant, but I do miss my "go for broke" days. 

Off to get some yard work done now that it's cooled off a bit. It's been so HOT these days. What will you be doing tonight? Watch Boston: The Documentary if you can. You won't regret it. It's available on Amazon Prime.

Thursday, May 23    

6:22 AM A couple of things before I head back to campus:

1) Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. has passed away. He was 105. I will be attending his funeral in Gastonia on Tuesday. As you may know, I am privileged to hold the Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. Chair of New Testament Studies. I don't imagine any greater honor has come my way in my 43-year teaching career. It has not been unfairly pointed out that graduate theological education can get a bit stuffy at times. We can produce graduates who are educated beyond their intelligence if we're not careful. Dr. Owens' life and ministry was characterized by simple obedience and loving, humble leadership. It's an example every leader needs.

2) As crazy as it sounds, I've been asked by Jillian Ross and Jaeshill Kim of Liberty University -- both experts in linguistics -- to give a lecture on that topic on their campus in September. The date is Friday, Sept. 20. I've titled my lecture "Why Bible Students Should Be the Best Linguists Out There." Keep in mind that I'm not a linguist nor the son of a linguist and have never had a course in linguistics. So what right do I have to give a talk on this topic? None!

3) Tonight the Bull City Running Company is hosting a private showing of the new movie Boston: A Documentary.

There is nothing like being in a theater filled with hard core runners. This movie is more than the story of the Boston Marathon. It's a movie about a mindset -- a mindset that separates those who do from those who dream. You see, long distance running depends more on tenacity than talent. It doesn't matter how un-athletic you are. You can become a long-distance athlete. You can really and truly be one of them. I've seen people of every age, size, and shape cross the finish line of a marathon. Take whatever talent you have and then get out there and see what happens. I'm going to make every effort to be there for the movie tonight. I will watch any movie about running. But Boston? That's special.

Wednesday, May 22    

5:14 PM Hello again, wonderful internet! I love being spontaneous. But I also love routine -- like blogging daily. My only "rule" for blogging is honesty. And honestly, I've hated not being able to blog for 11 days. (What? You didn't even know I was gone? Thanks a lot.) I love the connection that blogging allows. I haven't gone this long without blogging in years. But all's well that ends well -- my website was successfully migrated to my new server and everything went without a hitch (thank God). The problem is, when you haven't blogged for a while, things tend to pile up, if you know what I mean. Since we last spoke I:

  • Went to Dallas.

  • Heard Becky's arrangement performed live (WOW!).

  • Spoke at a former student's ordination service.

  • Started teaching 6 weeks of summer school Greek.

  • Ran a 5K.

  • Picked up hay.

  • Met with a sports physiologist at Duke.

Here are a few pix:

Mom with Brian Piper, who arranged Becky's piece.

At Saturday's 5K in Wake Forest we raised over $5,000 for Hope House.

Laying hands on brother Shane.

J'adore my life right now. It's busy as all get out, but I wouldn't change a thing. This is who I am, a crazy mixed up guy who's hungry for the straight-up gospel and is ready to learn what it means to live on mission. For maybe the first time in my life I'm not trying to create my own opportunities but instead trying to lean on the Holy Spirit's leading day by day and even hour by hour. The gospel is bigger than me or any one of us. Imagine what would happen if we all made it a priority in our lives? I recall being a member of the so-called Jesus Movement in the 1960s. Man were we hip. But it was too easy for us to become a club for cozy insiders who wore mariachi sandals and had long hair. This is not what God intended for His church. The Holy Spirit didn't come to make us complacent and comfortable. He came to make us missionaries to our own circles of influence and beyond. I, for one, thank God for the grass roots laity movement He's raising up in our day -- a people who are keen to share in acts of generosity and witness and worship, a church which is undeniably a sign of the in-breaking kingdom -- a tiny manifestation of the way God intended people to live and act and be.

I have a million more things to say and pictures to post. But this is too much already! Suffice it to say I'm glad I got my blogging voice back. I'm feeling inspired, so you'd better watch out for what might be coming your way in the next few days. Remember: Enjoy every minute God gives you on this earth. I value you desperately, my dear readers. We serve a Savior who is bent on taking us all on a wild ride. So hop aboard and let's do it!

P.S. Here's Brian Piper's magnificent arrangement of For All the Saints. Hope you enjoy it!


Saturday, May 11    

6:38 AM There are so many good things happening in biblical studies nowadays it's hard to know where to start. Here are just two notices for you to be aware of:

1) The videos from our linguistics conference are now online.

2) IBR announces a new research group called Linguistics and the Biblical Text.

Greek grammar and syntax are the staple diet of the student, but that diet is enhanced in many ways, all of which contribute to one's development. Speaking of which, I'm taking the "books and the parchments" with me to Dallas this weekend. I've got a major term paper to grade and I've got to finalize my syllabus for Advanced Greek Grammar, plus prepare a message for next Sunday. Beyond that, I'm looking forward to warm Christian fellowship at the church Becky was raised in, Grace Bible Church. Friendships were born there that have survived to this day, and I know many of her old friends will be in attendance this Sunday morning at the 8:30 service to remember Becky's life and, more importantly, to honor her Lord. I love being with mom and dad, and I trust this weekend's events will bring them great joy and many happy memories of their eldest daughter. I hope we all come away with a fresh love for Jesus and a new openness to follow Him, wherever He should lead us. Danny Akin's card to the graduates said this: "As you graduate today, my prayer for each of you is simply this: the will of God: nothing less, nothing more and nothing else." That pretty much says it all. I have enormous appreciation for our graduates. They are determined to display their academic building blocks only when called upon to do so. There is no greater joy for them than helping someone come to faith in Christ.

I want to thank Baker Academic for allowing us to publish the conference videos. It's been a delight to work with their editors. This will be my 7th book with Baker and I've always appreciated their careful work and gracious spirit. Again, I want to thank my students (whose final semester grades are now available online) for their diligence this semester. I have found it all an exciting adventure of faith. Finally, I want to express my gratitude to God as I look back over 43 years of teaching. This journey has been both humbling and inspiring, and it was made possible because a man named Rudy Ulrich brought the Gospel to Kailua, Hawaii in 1960. The years since Jesus saved me have been a bit messy, sometimes very painful, but always exciting. For 59 years the Lord whom I've followed has kept His promise and has never failed me or forsaken me. Praise be to Him.

By the way, my website will be migrating to a different server while I'm gone. Not sure if DBO will go offline during any part of this process. If so, you'll know why.

I leave you with a pic from our wedding day at Grace waaaaay back in 1976. Bye!

Friday, May 10    

6:40 PM Today's commencement services were such an encouragement to me. Danny Akin's messages from Heb. 12:1-3 were just what I needed. It can be jarring, this race that we run as Christians. I leave for Dallas tomorrow excited beyond belief that Becky's commemorative piece will be performed on Sunday. But that's not the entire picture. Fact is, right now I'm a complicated ball of emotions. Grief is always hard, but I find it's usually hardest on holidays and special occasions such as birthdays or Mother's Day. Sunday happens to be both. These are predictable times when my grief seems to hurt more than usual. They activate a flood of memories that make me feel especially empty because of her absence. Strange, don't you think, that this weekend augurs so much blessing and yet so much pain at the same time? Maybe it's not so strange. When I look into the Gospels, I see Jesus attending a wedding party and laughing it up and then I see Him weeping outside of the tomb of a man He was about to raise from the dead. As Danny reminded us in his message today, Jesus is fully present in our "race." We're not on this earth to live our lives all by our lonesomes, but in relationship with God and in community with others. That's how Jesus lived -- not locked away in some medieval monastery, immune to the pain of the world. He got dirty and He got hurt. Observe the race that He ran: all the way to the cross (Heb. 12:2). When I feel like falling, when I'm trying to make sense of life, when I can't find a place to stand, when I don't understand why my prayers don't seem to make any difference, I do know that Christ has finished His race, and that my victory is also assured, whether I can understand everything involved with it or not. All day people have been coming up to me and asking me how I've been doing. I have been so blessed by their love, by the grace they've extended to me even when I get choked up, my heart in splinters. Again, the Voice whispers in my soul:

I penned every line in Becky's story even before she was born. I knew the days she was numbered, I knew when she would laugh and when she would cry, I knew when her heart was breaking with Mine, I knew the miracles I would perform and those I would withhold, in My loving sovereignty.

"Fix your eyes on Jesus," writes the author of Hebrews. Give voice to your precious memories. Celebrate a life well lived. Commemorate who she was and give a testimony about her. The God of strength, comfort, hope, and love, the God who promises to wipe away all tears, will hold you closer than ever before and will fill your emptiness. His presence is enough. But His presence doesn't mean that you won't feel pain again, that you won't be reminded of her by sights and sounds, that you won't mourn her again, especially on holidays and birthdays. No, God doesn't want you to forget her, David. He does not ask you to forget the years you spent together. Forget? No. Never. Move on with your life? Yes. Definitely yes. His love will fill you each time you pour yourself out. 

There's no way I could ever fathom how much my Savior loves me. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame. Tonight I'm asking this Savior, this Forerunner, this divine Pace Setter, to fill me back up again with His love and wisdom and strength, so that I can go back out tomorrow and pour myself out again.

My friend, when you lost that loved one of yours, a hole was created in your life. You might say, "I'm just not myself anymore." And that's true. You will never be the same. But as you live with the face of grief as your constant companion, remember these words (adapted from The Message):

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished the race you're in. Study how He did it. He never lost sight of where He was headed -- that exhilarating finish line with God. He therefore could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. When you find your faith flagging, go over that story again and again, item by item, that long litany of pain He plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your soul!

5:45 AM It's commencement day, friends! What is graduation anyway? It's sort of a combination of a mother robin prodding her babies to leave the nest and the completion of Navy Seal training. In celebration of this auspicious occasion, I've published a couple of essays you might (or might not) enjoy. One is called The Purpose of a Seminary. The other is titled Greek Student: Quo Vadis? (Hey, why say it in English when you can impress people with your knowledge of Latin, right?) Graduate + Celebration = Commencement. (This is about as mathematical as I get.) I am an education addict. There, Dr. Phil, I said it. I hate to admit how lost I'd be without my teaching. Of course, like all good things, that too will come to an end one day. Which reminds me of the old German joke: Alles hat ein End. Nur eine Wurst hat zwei. Lustig, eh?? ("Lustig" means "funny," by the way. This is a family blog after all.)

Are you an educator? Between the time I blog, farm, and do a dozen other things, I spend a lot of time in the classroom. That's because I believe in the power of a good education. As Gandhi once said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." That's my second favorite education quote. (My first is by Mark Twain: "I never let my schooling interfere with my education." How true that is. We all know people who are educated beyond their intelligence, right?) Since when hasn't the church needed educated people? Plenty are ordained who can't do simple exegesis. Some are utterly devoid of academic skills. Christianity transcends human reason, to be sure, but it is an eminently reasonable faith and leaders need to be able to articulate it intelligently. Looking back over 21 years of teaching at Southeastern, I'm grateful to God for raising up an institution that values high academic scholarship while not losing our evangelical stance or our evangelistic fervor. And it's a joy for me to honor our 300 graduates today. It was an extraordinarily satisfying year for me on campus, and I can't wait for summer Greek start in two weeks.

Congratulations, grads!

Thursday, May 9    

8:15 PM Got up several loads of hay this evening.

We worked until dusk.

I love this life. "Men die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They do not die of hard work" (David Ogilvy).

12:50 PM Okay -- who out there is busier than I am? In addition to working on the farm this morning, I lifted at the Y.

Than ran 5 miles.

Then visited Becky's grave.

Then enjoyed Mexican with family.

Kids take the best selfies, don't they?

Right now it's break time before getting up hay bales. I am a bit overworked but I will persevere. At least I'm not disintegrating!

6:45 AM Good morning, internet friends! This morning found me ensconced in the book of Ephesians, writhing through my translation of 4:11-12 and consulting my commentaries -- the most important of which is my former Basel professor Markus Barth's two-volume work in the Anchor Bible Series.

His rendering of the fourfold gifts in 4:11 nails it:

He [Jesus] is the one who appointed these to be apostles and those to be prophets, some to be evangelists and others to be teaching shepherds.

I noted two things:

  • The emphasis on "He is the one" (as rightly reflecting the Greek text).

  • The rendering "teaching shepherds."

"Shepherds" is, of course, a much better translation than "pastors," as the Greek word for "pastor" is always rendered "shepherd" in its other occurrences in the New Testament. Here in Eph. 4:11 it is simply a metaphor for pastoral leadership and we would de well not to remove the metaphor in our translations.

Now, what is the purpose or goal of pastoral leadership and teaching? One of the hallmarks of Jesus' upside-down kingdom is the fact that all believers are servant-ministers under the New Covenant. Pastoral leaders beckon the sheep to follow Christ, not them, and they use their influence to mobilize the resources in the church to serve the needs of others. Just as Jesus never used power for self-gain or glory, so teaching shepherds serve at the bottom of the ladder, thus defying social custom and redefining rights and expectations in the new order of God's kingdom. Although it is our human inclination to build pyramids of power, Jesus doesn't bless our human structures, not even in the church. The Holy Spirit has endowed each of us with unique gifts and abilities and we should equally esteem each contribution, whether teaching or washing windows. This is the overriding principle that I try to bring to all my classes: equipping the Christians in the congregation for the work of serving Jesus by serving others, rather than trying to do most (or all) of ministry by myself. People, especially young people, thrive on being given some task and entrusted to do it. Even among those whom God has called to lead the congregation, there is to be a "fellowship of leadership" (Michael Green), a team that will not only lead but enable each member of the church to achieve his or her full potential. You need a fellowship of leadership that models team work if you are to have a congregation that grows in maturity when it is given responsibility.

Teaching shepherds, then, are to "prepare God's people for works of service." This is in fact the work of the ministry Paul is referring to here. Regardless of their vocation or position, disciples of Jesus ask this: How can we each use our gifts and resources to serve God's kingdom and honor its Lord? It is no good saying we believe in every-member ministry if we do not practice it. The talent is there if the teaching pastors take pains to develop it.

P.S. In your church bulletin and/or website, under "ministers," why not have:

"Ministers: The entire congregation."

This might startle some but it would be decidedly biblical.

Wednesday, May 8    

10:58 AM While getting the oil changed I stumbled across a blog post that asks: Why Are You Hanging on to Mark 16:9-20?

I don't want to sound arrogant but it's virtually certain that Mark did not write that part of his Gospel.

The author concludes:

So no one should be preaching from or writing devotionals on any part of Mark 16:9-20. That someone is suggests that they did not do serious study on the passage.

But there's this, right?

7:20 AM Two book notes:

1) Here's the opening to my review of Bradley Arnold, Christ as the Telos of Life (WUNT 2.371; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014). It will appear in the next issue of Filologia Neotestamentaria.

This study is a slightly revised version of the author's doctoral thesis under David Horrell at the University of Exeter, UK. The title of his book is slightly confusing. When I first read it, my mind immediately went to Rom. 10:4, where Jesus is described as the "end (telos) of the law." Upon closer examination, however, one quickly discovers the author's main emphasis, which is to examine the rhetorical importance of athletic imagery in the book of Philippians. The author argues that the athletic metaphor employed by Paul in Phil. 3:13-14 plays a powerfully persuasive role in Paul's argumentation and encapsulates the epistle's overarching aim, namely to exhort the Philippian believers to pursue Christ as the telos of life. Since this is a picture that summarizes how the Philippians should think and live, it lies at the heart of Paul's argument in this letter.

I conclude that "... although one appreciates the author's reminder of the important role and centrality of athletics in Paul's argument in Philippians, it seems unlikely to the present writer that such imagery functions in a way envisioned by the author of this monograph."

2) I read this book last night.

It documents the rise of the born-again dirt movement in America that ostensibly springs from a biblical worldview. It calls for the rebirth of manual farming culture and argues that "the small family farm represents the ideal working relationship between people and earth" (p. 8). It documents the "Christian agrarian crusade" that is committed to the viability of the family farm. Christian agrarians see "the ultimate purpose of their reform efforts as not just the material improvement of the lives of rural people, but as the construction of the kingdom of God on earth" (p. 11).

I might publish a fuller review of this book later, but for now I'll just state that this seems to me to be yet another unnecessary and unprofitable battle in our culture wars. If anything, the church needs to more aggressively and clearly distinguish between Christian beliefs and political-economic ideologies. Agrarianism and Christianity are certainly compatible, but in my opinion one does not automatically lead to the other -- and I say this as a small farmer. The bigger question has to do with the concept of the "common good" as expressed by (among others) Thomas Aquinas. But fundamentally, where you live and what you do for a living is, at least in my mind, a question of the stewardship that God has placed in your hands. 

One final point. I live and work on a farm because I enjoy this lifestyle. In the past 15 years I have raised everything from sheep to cattle to goats to chickens. Farming is hard work but good work.

I like to say that it puts you to sleep at night with a good tired.

But if God called me to live in downtown Raleigh that's where I'd live. One subculture is not superior to the other. So if you enjoy the life of a rural farmer, that's great. Be the best farmer to the glory of God that you can possibly be. The one thing we don't want to do, in my opinion, is make this a Gospel/kingdom issue.



Tuesday, May 7    

8:02 PM I just read a report about the recently held London Marathon. One of their pacers was assigned to bring her group in under 7.5 hours. They crossed the starting line a good hour after the elite runners did. By the time they were 5K into the race, however, they were reportedly being told to move to the pavement by race officials, despite being on pace. Then apparently the cleanup crews began spraying the blue lines right in front of the runners with a messy chemical. Remember, the London Marathon asked for a 7.5 pacer in a race that has an 8-hour time limit! By the time her pace group got to around mile 22, the timing mats had been taken up, meaning her people couldn't be tracked by their families who would start to get very worried.

I know there are two sides to every story. But if what this official race pacer is saying is true, then it disturbs me no end that back-of-the-packers should be made to feel like second-class citizens. I understand that London is a busy city, but if you're going to put on a race with an 8-hour time limit then you need to support your runners, all of them, throughout the entire race. Surely if you, as a back-of-the-packer,  start a race an hour later than the official start time, then the race officials need to extend the sweepers by an hour. Honestly, I can't imagine that keeping the roads of London closed for an extra hour or two would make that big of a difference anyway. I can't thank the race organizers and marshals in Cincy enough for the way they conducted the Flying Pig Marathon on Sunday. I came in well after 6 hours and there was course support the ENTIRE way. I even got congratulations and a handshake by a smartly dressed (coat and tie) race official when I crossed the finish line. So did everyone else who finished after me. Remember: My corral didn't start until 35 minutes after the race had officially started. And yet I never felt any pressure to hurry up. Also, the spectators were amazing. They were probably standing there for hours when I went past them but they still managed to cheer us slower people and give us a huge boost. In my race, even the photographers were still furiously snapping my picture as I finished, and so efficient were they that I received my race photos in today's inbox.

Anyone who runs a marathon, fast or slow, knows that the mental battle is harder than the physical one. That's why runner support (official and unofficial) is so vital in a race. So from me, thank you, Flying Pig organizers, from the very bottom of my heart. You never let our slowness spoil our achievement. It's just such a shame that the 7.5 hour pacer in London didn't get the respect and support she deserved. It takes a huge amount of mental and physical strength to stay out there on the course for the amount of time some people do. So to all of my fellow runners who finished the London Marathon -- you are amazing for completing the 26.2 miles. I feel sad if you sense you were poorly treated during the race. This is very disappointing for an event that markets itself as "Everybody's Race." Y'all need to come over here and do the Pig next year. I mean it.

Once again, to the race organizers of the Flying Pig: on behalf of every slower runner out there on Sunday, a huge thank you for what you did to get so many to the Finish Swine.

2:22 PM This morning, when I was listing my current writing projects, I left one out. It's probably one of the most important writing assignments I've had in my life. As you know, the hymn arrangement I commissioned in memory of Becky will be performed for the first time this Sunday in Dallas by a full chorale with orchestral accompaniment. Afterwards, the sheet music -- arranged for SATB and orchestra -- will be published. The piece was written by renowned composer/arranger Brian Piper. Before it goes to press, I have to provide a two-line dedication -- a dedication that will be read wherever this music is performed. Now if that doesn't make you gulp, I don't know what will. How do you even begin to describe the life of your wife in two simple sentences? The oldest of 6, Becky was a one-of-a-kind for sure. She was always suitably independent. After her family returned from Ethiopia, she lived in a simple ranch-style house in the suburbs of Dallas. I had met Becky in the cafeteria line at Biola, where she was studying nursing and I was studying Bible. We had fallen in love quickly, proving the old adage that opposites really do attract. I was as shy as she was socially outgoing. She had beautiful eyes, an infectious smile, and a crackerjack mind. She always knew exactly what she wanted, enjoyed a good joke, and never suffered fools. After she graduated with her B.S. in nursing, she agreed to marry me. We tied the knot in the same church the ceremony will be held in this Sunday. Life seemed so full of promise. And it was. Then, as if in the twinkling of an eye, we got the devastating news that Becky had invasive endometrial cancer. Thus began the surgeries, the treatments, the hospitalizations. Life had become incomprehensively complex. We compartmentalized our life into home, work, and the medical merry-go-round we were riding. We took it one day at a time. Becky's treatments seemed to do the trick, for a while. But it eventually became clear that she would be going Home. One morning in November of 2013, I heard my 60-year-old wife take her last breath. In the days after, our family surrounded me. They gave me time to grieve, and in fact grieved with me. They reminded me how meaningful and wonderful life can be even and especially when we are suffering.

I feel honored to have been married to Becky for 37 years. My life is lonely despite my attempts to rebuild it. They say that spouses never really die; they live on in the brain forever. So how do I let go? How do I honor her memory and move on at the same time? "Why not commission an arrangement of For All the Saints?" I said to myself one day. After all, it was this hymn that, more than any other, captured both the sorrow and the hope I was feeling. It captures what Becky and I believed when we got married, what I believe now, and what I will go on believing until I go to the grave.

For all the saints/who from their labors rest./Who Thee by faith before the world confessed/Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed/Alleluia, alleluia!

Music has soothed my soul during the past 5 and a half years like nothing else. Nothing touches your anguish quite like a great hymn of the faith. Blogging has also been cathartic. If you're walking a hard road, my friend, I trust that maybe something you've read in these pages has been helpful. Our God is a God of miracles who is somehow still God even when no miracles are to be found. One thing is for certain: Life is a breath. Let's not waste it.

Well, here are the two lines I wrote today and sent to the composer:

Dedicated to the memory of Becky Lynn Lapsley Black, who passed through gates of splendor on November 2, 2013. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" (Psalm 116:15).

Nothing profound, I know. I wrote it more as a reminder to me than to you. A reminder that we can take all of our pain and put it into the hands of Someone who is strong enough for it. You are part of my journey, you who read and cheer and pray along with us, so it's only right that you celebrate with us.

Happy Mother's Day, Becky. And Happy Birthday. I love you.

8:28 AM This is exam week, which means it's a good week for writing. This week I will be getting the final page proofs to my devotional on running from the publisher: Project #1. I have another book review to write for Filologia Neotestamentaria: Project #2. And, of course, I'm still plugging away at Godworld: Project #3. That, plus farming. Plus recovering from Sunday's run. Plus getting ready for my trip to Dallas this weekend. Problem is, I'm struggling with motivation right now. Which is one reason I'm reading this book:

I've only gotten about a dozen or so pages into the book but it's already stimulated my thinking. What is motivation? How is it observed? Is there such a thing as improper motivation? How do you keep on pursuing your goals when your motivation fails? What happens when disappointment and frustration set in? Sound familiar? I have always struggled with motivation. I have good intentions, but then life gets in the way. Each one of us has barriers that keep us from pursuing our goals. What matters is how we deal with them. Life is all about seeing problems as obstacles instead of as barriers. Running, for example, needs to be about who you are. You don't have to beat yourself up to be a runner. If you do, you risk injury or overtraining. Enjoy it instead. I've had to learn (the hard way) that the measure of my running success has nothing to do with times, pace, PRs, or total mileage. It's about the scenery I enjoy and the friendships I make and the health benefits I gain and the freedom of fresh air. I'm so grateful that God can take our feelings of inadequacy and make us competent. As Paul wrote, "It's not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God" (2 Cor. 3:4-5). Jesus reminds us, "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). It's God Holy Spirit, living in me, that motivates me to obey Him. He invests every act of service with eternal significance. It's a huge mistake to measure your worth by appearance or performance. It's also a huge mistake to compare yourself with others. Can our sense of inferiority actually be pride in disguise? Absolutely! When God gives us a task to do, He always gives us the ability to do it. None of us feels confident to live the Christian life. I know I don't. But we can choose faith over inferiority. Too many of us focus on outcome measures (performance, goals, time, pace, number of books published, etc.) when in fact there are hundreds of less tangible ways of measuring success in our lives. If you're anything like me, you face self-doubt on almost a daily basis. But if we are willing to trust God to make us competent to handle life's responsibility, then He will give us the victory. I'm "confident" of that.

Till next time,

Be at peace.

Monday, May 6    

8:20 PM Becky's roses are in full bloom.

Oh, how she loved to garden. She would have been 66 this coming Sunday. This bouquet is a small birthday tribute to her.

It gives me great joy to see something she touched still flourishing after all these years.

4:18 PM Three weeks ago I was having an echocardiogram and a stress test. Thank God that He allowed me to fully recover and motivated me to train for and complete my 15th marathon yesterday.

I had the best race I could have imagined. It wasn't my fastest marathon, only my most enjoyable one. Today I feel great -- no soreness, no stiffness. Thank you to my wonderful kids for all their texts and emails before, during, and after the race. Thank you to my fellow runners and to the crowds with the signs and encouragement. Thank you especially to the course officials who patted me on the shoulder as I went by and helped me keep going. It was an experience I won't soon forget. Congratulations to all my fellow runners!

Next marathon: Chicago. Whoop whoop!!!!

Friday, May 3    

5:45 AM I read somewhere recently that 98 percent of all marathon runners are college-educated. Not sure if that's true, but I've met a good number of highly educated people in this sport. Runners have to be experts at the workings of the human body. In the past 6 weeks I've been barraged with medical terminology: oxygen debt, VO2max, glycogen, runner's paraesthesia, etc. To be a good runner, you need a working knowledge of both exercise physiology and nutrition, at the bare minimum.

Even more importantly, however, you have to listen to your own body, because your body will tell you all kinds of things that your latest echo cardiogram or MRI can't tell you. The human brain is the best biofeedback machine. And to run efficiently, you have to acquire running wisdom.

For many of us, the ultimate athletic experience is the marathon. The training, the suffering during the race, even the tranquility that comes afterwards -- these are all part of what it means to run a marathon. And it is your body that permits this to happen -- or not happen. The will to be victorious is of no use to us if we don't know how to take care of ourselves -- mind, body, and spirit. As a runner, I used to fear the course, the competition, the distance of a marathon, but now I fear myself more than anything else. I am my own worst enemy. Thus I need to know who I am. I need to know what my limits are. To live at peace with myself, I have to know how far and how fast I can go. I have never won a race. Never even come close to winning one. Sometimes I'm so far back in the pack that the awards ceremony is over before I finish. But you know what? You don't have to win a race to be victorious. This weekend in Ohio, I will write my own history. Will this be my comeback race? Or will I go down in flames? Anything is possible during a marathon. If I do start (and finish) the Pig, I will be content with whatever time I have. The time on a clock doesn't define who I am. Victories in life are all about making peace with yourself, with how far you've come, with your setbacks and limitations, with how little progress you seem to be making. The day I lined up for my first marathon in Cincinnati 3 years ago I understood this. I understood that when I pinned on a race number and stood there with thousands of other marathoners, there was less difference between us than I had thought. Not all of us have a chance to win the race but we all have have a chance to be victorious.

Do have I my doubts about this weekend's race? Galore! Oh well. Here goes. My value is more than how far or how fast I run on Sunday. That said, as I play the aging game, I am conceding nothing. Through use, the body grows young. The choice is up to us. We don't have to be a Boston Marathon winner or an Olympian to get fit. It's simply by moving that we become champions. It's this truth that keeps me going. All the way to Cincy.

Keep running your race.


Thursday, May 2    

7:32 PM Hay season has begun at Rosewood Farm. We took advantage of the warm weather to get a couple of trailers filled. So far all the equipment seems to be in good shape. Nate spent a lot of time fertilizing this spring so the fields are doing great. Right now I've got to wash clothes and get packed for my trip to Cincy tomorrow. Here are a few pix. Hope you enjoy Nolan's new pet turtle.

11:04 AM My doctor just gave me a clean bill of health and so I have her permission to run in this weekend's race. Can you tell how excited I am? I hope to run this race wiser than I have run in the past. Running doesn't have to beat your body up. The key is twofold: being sensible and doing everything in moderation. Running has changed my life, both physically and mentally. Running makes me feel good. Still, if the doctors had told me I couldn't run any more, I would have heeded their advice. I may be dumb but I'm not stupid. I have a ton of grandkids I want to see graduate from high school and get married. Running isn't bad for you. Sitting on your okole is. (Sorry for the Hawaiian. It's not a swear word. I promise.) The biggest risk with running is doing too much. Those days are behind me forever, hopefully.

If you've been praying for me, thanks. When I first started running, I was trying to cope with personal loss. But my running is different today. I'm neither running away from anything nor am I running toward anything. I run simply because I like it. When running is no longer enjoyable, I'll stop. Earlier today I worked out at the Y. My upper body strength is gradually improving. Then I stopped by Tractor Supply. I need to worm the donks and goats today. After that I'll rest up before picking up bales this evening. Meanwhile, my hope is that you'll find something in the pages of this blog that will help you find your own path to the joy of living.

6:12 AM Both Stan Porter and Mike Aubrey have commented on their time on campus during our recent linguistics conference. Thanks, guys!

5:58 AM When was the last time you devoured a book of the Bible whole? This morning I read the book of James in one sitting. It took me about 12 minutes. Very stimulating. Try it sometime with your favorite book of the Bible!

(Chart source.)

Wednesday, May 1    

8:08 PM This Sunday is the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I love this race. It was my very first marathon exactly 3 years ago this weekend. If I'm able to participate in it this weekend, it will mean that I've done the Pig 3 years in a row. If you read my last 2 reports about this race, you know that the Pig is really a lot of fun. No matter how your race turns out, the goal is to have fun and enjoy yourself. Three years ago my goal was simply to complete the race. Crossing the "Finish Swine" brought me a huge sense of euphoria. This was a gigantic mental victory for me. I didn't quit. I didn't give up. I dug deep and did what I had to do. I even finished faster than I had anticipated. What a race!

And this weekend? I'll be going to Cincy whether or not I run. My flights and hotel are nonrefundable so there's no backing down now. If I don't run, I've asked to be able to volunteer along the course somewhere. (The race director tells me I'll be needed.) On the other hand, if I do run, I promise I'll listen to my body and stay within myself.

Folks, I've learned this lesson! There is no "right" strategy. There's only your strategy.

The Flying Pig is like no other event. The supporters, the crowds, the fun along the way is unrivaled. I want to take my time and enjoy each step, even the climb up Mount Adams to Eden Park. The Pig, after all, has its own Heartbreak Hill. In fact, it's more heartbreaking than the one in Boston:

  • Boston's Heartbreak Hill: 0.5 miles and rising 88 feet at a 3.3 percent grade.

  • Cincy's Mount Adams: 0.75 miles and rising 135 feet at a 3.4 percent grade.

So take that, Boston! Once you get to Eden Park at the top, of course, the view of the city is amazing. Aside from mild neuropathy in my feet, I'm feeling pretty strong again. I got in a 4 mile run today and a 7.22 mile run on Monday.

I kept a very slow pace while enjoying the nature all around me.

I figure that even if I crawl along at 3.7 miles per hour I can still finish the race within the 7-hour cutoff time. If I get tired and go even slower than that pace, it will be still be okay. They simply move you to the sidewalk, but the race support staff stays with you until you finish the event and collect your medal. Tomorrow morning I'm meeting with my GP to get her opinion. If I'm green-lighted to run, I'll give the race my best shot on Sunday.

I'm a goal setter. You know that if you're a regular reader. I like goals because they are (a) measurable and (b) achievable. You do it, and it's done. All by God's grace. I can honestly say that I ran for the past three years 95 percent injury free. Now I'm dealing with an overuse injury but one that's manageable. I don't know how I could have prevented it. I'm a runner, after all. We are "invincible," even though we really aren't. I won't lie. I would love to run this Pig just like I did the 2 previous ones. I would love to crack 6 hours again. But not this time. It's just not in the cards. I'll decide on Saturday night whether to run or volunteer at an aid station. Either way, the weekend will be a win for me.

This will be a different kind of weekend for me. I've never before gone into a marathon not feeling 100 percent. Don't get me wrong. I couldn't be happier about being on the mend. Yet the situation is strangely paradoxical. It's completely overwhelming and wonderful at the same time. Isn't that a lot like life? Here's one of my 3 Greek classes taking their last quiz of the semester on Monday. 35 students giving it their all.

Nine months ago they were at the start of this great adventure called learning Greek. Now they're mere steps away from the finish line. How did they get there? ONE STEP AT A TIME. Ditto for running. If the Lord allows me to be out there on the course this Sunday, my mantra will be, "Run the Mile You're In." None of us will ever be more than we imagine ourselves to be. Your past is only a description of where you've been. It's not a prescription of where you're going. Your future is based on the decisions you make now. For me, that's the grand lesson to be learned from preparing for and participating in a marathon. Life comes down to taking one step at a time, one mile at a time. You play the hand you're dealt, and you do it with a smile on your face. Life is a long-distance event. You learn to acknowledge your strengths -- and your weaknesses -- without embarrassment. This is the body God has given you. So make the most of it!

By the way, I've finally gotten back into strength training. I even visited the seminary's weight room (which I hadn't seen in years).

They've revamped it nicely. I was the only one there. Only makes sense -- next week is exam week. I'm going to cycle this workout room into my regular weight training plan this summer since I'll be on campus teaching Greek 1-2 for 6 weeks.

P.S. Spicy squid for dinner last night at the Seoul Garden. I love Korean food!

7:10 PM The truth on which our linguistics conference (and its subsequent book) was based is a simple one: God's revelation is a rational revelation, and this includes both His general revelation in nature and science and His special revelation in Scripture and Christ. There is nothing mysterious about linguistics. We are able to comprehend language because we are linguistic beings. Hence Christians believe that there is a connection between rationality and Scripture. In Scripture, God has communicated to us through human language. Therefore, who should be more interested in studying how language works that the one who loves God's Word?

Christianity has always had a special place for teachers. Christianity divorced from reason is therefore impossible. I venture to say that when we fail to use our minds in the study of the Greek New Testament, we descend to the level of those who approach the Bible from a merely emotional perspective. One of the noblest aims my students can pursue is to read God's thoughts after Him both in natural revelation and special revelation. The fact that our minds are fallen is no excuse for sloppy thinking. Despite our fallennness, we are commanded to think, to reason, to use our brains. What's more, we have an inescapable duty both to think and act upon what we think and know. So if you're just completing your first year of Greek, you must realize that you have merely built the foundation for a lifetime of study. I'm not talking about arid hyper-intellectualism. I'm not pleading for an academic Christianity devoid of any passion and love for the lost. I am merely asking that we use our minds Christianly. Mindless Christianity has no place in our churches. If our devotion is not set on fire by the truth, then it is misplaced devotion. "Every thought is our prisoner, captured to be brought into obedience to Christ," is the way Paul puts it in 2 Cor. 10:5.

Beloved students, your mind matters. It matters to me. It matters to God. It matters to the church. It has been a delight to work with you this year. I am very grateful for your hard work. Most of all, I want to express gratitude to God for sustaining us through our year of Greek study together. Without Him, it would have been a very different story. 

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