October 2015 Blog Archives
Saturday, October 31
6:12 PM Had a great time at the 5K in Raleigh. I run to find myself. I run to achieve my personal best. The struggle is for the prize which is myself. Running is always a means to an end. This day was spent putting that into focus. The course was one of the most grueling and competitive I've ever seen. If there is one word to describe it, it is brutal. It challenged me to the max. And not only me. That stony strength was in all of us today. We were all heroes. Nothing is as challenging to me as running. Everyone who has joined this sport knows this. My course time today wasn't my best but it was the best I could achieve today, and I am well-satisfied. I was surrounded by people who know more, do more, and achieve more. And I loved every second of it. They are my inspiration. Today I made the effort, and effort equals excellence in my book. I'm not yet a good runner, but I'm trying, and that's what makes the difference. Having run the race, I am more than I was than when I started it.
If I didn't run for finish lines today, what did I run for? Perhaps I should have asked, "Who did I run for?" This is 16-year old Anna.
She has struggled with you name it -- anxiety, depression, anorexia, suicidal thoughts. She and her family had the courage to go public with her illness to raise awareness about the role your brain plays in terms of mental health.
Anna served as master of ceremonies for today's race. Rarely have I seen a young lady comport herself with such grace and poise. Her message was: "There is help out there." She's absolutely right. One of the booths I saw there was that of NAMI -- the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
It reminded me that when it comes to helping others, we should always start with the local community we wish to serve. I praise God for groups like this one. No, this is not a "Christian" organization per se. I wish it were. Newsflash: Christians aren't the only ones who care about brokenness. The mentally ill are worthy of basic human respect just because they are alive. No one should ever demean, despise, or mock them. That is not the way of simple human courtesy, and it is not the way of Christ. As I stood there and watched the crowd of runners gather prior to the start, I thought to myself: These are my precious friends.
I don't know any of them, but they care. When I assess my own recent blessings, good mental health is one of the uppermost. I've been able to give myself permission to grieve without going crazy at the same time. No one can retire from the daily battle of living. Real life is demanding. But if it's difficult, it's also rewarding. Jesus is my mental and emotional Rock. As I have often said, I could not make it through a single day without Him. And slowly -- ever so slowly -- I am becoming the man the Creator had in mind the day I was born.
It's horrific to confront the realities of mental illness in our society. When I think of how the mentally ill are stigmatized, I am broken. I'm broken for the misuse of resources when so many are struggling from this disease. To do so is horribly unfair. A person suffering from bi-polar disorder is no more responsible for his or her illness as was Becky for her cancer. An illness is an illness, be it mental or physical. If the problem is spiritual, let's own our failings and confess our sins. But not all illness stems from personal sin. We should not accept a world that marginalizes its mentally ill any more than we should accept the excuses of medical doctors who allow us to weigh more and have a high cholesterol because we are "too old" for it to matter. Health matters. Yours does. Mine does. And to God as well. The first requirement for escape to reality? Knowledge, of course. Today I learned tons. And with this knowledge comes an opportunity to act on it.
I won't lie: I love 5Ks. They have connected me, reconnected me, and introduced me to some of the funniest and most wonderful people on earth, and their pets as well.
I also love it when my family joins me on one of these escapades. Here's Jon and Matthea with Katherine and Carter, who obviously must think today is Halloween (wink).
Today Matthea and Carter competed in their very first timed 5K race. (Side note: Running is for everybody.) Carter pulled right to the front of the pack. And he's only 9. Be well, my sweet family. Glad to see you coming out to the races. But I'm warning you: it can be addicting. Thanks for taking responsibility for your own health. Let's cheer each other on to be our best for Jesus. We can do this. Together.
8:54 AM Henri Nouwen wrote: "[A blessing] is more than a word of praise or appreciation; it is more than pointing out someone's talents or good deeds; it is more than putting someone in the light. To give a blessing is to affirm, to say 'yes' to a person's Belovedness." This weekend we have the privilege of speaking truth into our lives, of calling forth the example Becky left behind for all of us. This is the season to say "yes." "Yes" to Becky's belovedness. "Yes" to the memories that fill this house. "Yes" to the precious wife and mother she was. "Yes" to the crazy, unpredictable, extreme treasure we call marriage. "Yes" to the weird discovery of the blessings of singleness. "Yes" to releasing Becky back to the God who loaned her to me. "Yes" to a kingdom that frees us from the bondage of materialism. "Yes" to the power of God that can resurrect a marriage, a life, a family, a church. "Yes" to drinking from Jesus and never being thirsty again. "Yes" to the "me" buried under the "Dave." "Yes" to returning to a normal routine. "Yes" to prayer and reflection. "Yes" to equilibrium and peace. "Yes" to the joy of learning how to function as a single dad. "Yes" to so much more.
I've received precious emails from so many, too many to publish all of them in fact. I consider it a great privilege and honor to hear from you. Becky's loss was devastating to me. Yet I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that my life has been blessed since her death from cancer. I can only describe it as pure grace. This blog really has nothing to with me or Becky. The supreme challenge to anyone who has faced loss is to allow God to transform the pain into gratitude and vitality. This challenge is met when we allow the loss to expand us and lead us back to Him. Now I have my own life to live out. Much of who I am today is the product of my 37-year marriage to Becky. But not all of it. I want to live out the rest of my story well. Thank you for being there with me.
In a strange sort of way, I wish that all of you could experience what I have experienced, except for the acute suffering. "Even the saddest things can become," wrote Frederick Buechner, "once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead."
I have made peace with Becky's death.
Now it's on to the journey that still lies ahead.
Friday, October 30
8:20 PM What thoughtful words.
8:02 PM So glad my doggies are clean again. Isn't Dayda cute?
I'm sitting next to a warm fire reading my new book Pacific, an ocean that is anything but pacific. My friend, as you face the heartaches in your life -- perhaps the results of your finite poor judgment -- who knows what gains may come because of your daily losses? God always honors an obedient faith. He too walked this lonely valley. He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. You see, this is why I've made a shameless appeal for celebration when it comes to remembering Becky's life. I need hope in the midst of despair and anxiety. We all do. Let's act and celebrate as if we really did believe there is a future and a plan for our lives. Let's desire to learn of Him in the midst of it all. Satan's question is: "Will he (or she) keep on trusting?" There is only one answer of faith, and that is yes. We simply take up our crosses and die to ourselves. This is not the same thing as giving up or capitulating to our circumstances. We may still have some difficult choices to make. Acceptance of loss is rather the utter abandonment of ourselves to the Master. Believe me, brothers and sisters, God can oil our pain with joy and gladness. I have found it so recently. All He is asking from us is the willingness to accept the relatively small discipline of loneliness.
6:38 PM Check out these sales at Eisenbrauns (including a book edited by yours truly).
6:24 PM Steve Jobs (founder of Apple, Inc.) once said, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect the dots looking backwards." Thanks to all of you who have written (or will write) to me connecting the dots between you and my wife. Here are three more of your testimonies:
1) From an adopted son who remembers "porch time" with "Mom":
2) From a dear church friend:
3) From a woman who met Becky only once. I had no idea this conversation took place. What a blessing to read about it now.
Thank you for sharing these notes with me, friends. May this be a time for deepening your faith and mine, and for enlarging as well our experience of human love.
1:16 PM Okay, folks, you're making me cry.
1:02 PM Grooming day. I wonder what they would look like with mousse?
12:54 PM Grateful for this testimony from one of Becky's (and my) adopted daughters:
Can I tell you that this blessed my heart?
12:44 PM Opening in New Testament at Wheaton.
12:28 PM Tomorrow is Saturday ... which means it's RACE DAY in Raleigh. Read this:
Want to help a good cause and have tons of fun (and exercise) at the same time? Go here and register. Race starts at 2:00 pm. Afterwards I'm doing Ethiopian food in honor of Becky. So come out and run or just watch me stumble across the finish line as people gape at me with open mouths, wondering if the punishment fits the crime. It so does!
11:40 AM Just back from the Occoneechee State Park, a 2698-acre park in nearby Clarkesville, VA.
I decided to do my cardio here instead of at the track since the day is so drop dead gorgeous.
The visitor's center is certainly worth a visit.
Here they have a complete display of the history and culture of the Occoneechee Indians who used to inhabit these environs.
Since it had been raining I started out along the paved road.
But when I saw the sign for the Tutelo Birding Trial, I couldn't resist the temptation to take a detour.
Glad I did. The terrain was beautiful.
That's about it. Oh, I got this in the mail today.
It's amazing to think that my first walk was on May 18 of this year. I traveled a whopping 0.36 miles, and it took me all of 5 minutes and 20 seconds. Shocking, just shocking.
8:48 AM Don't tell me the age of miracles is over! Woohoo! Praise God!
8:25 AM A couple of random reflections on this beautiful fall morning:
1) As you know, it was two years ago Monday that Becky went home to be with the One she loved so much and served so well. I just wanted to thank you for standing with me and mine both before, during, and after that day. I will be posting on my blog brief testimonials about the impact Becky's life and example had in other people's lives. If the Spirit so moves you and you would like to send me a note, I will be happy to post it (without your name if that is your desire).
2) Last night I watched Woodlawn, a movie set in the epoch called the "Jesus Movement." Its message? "You can expect amazing things to happen when Jesus shows up."
You and your family simply must see this amazing movie. Jesus is exalted in every frame. Plus -- and this is a big plus -- the movie doesn't feel like a "Christian" movie. Hand to the heavens, I thought it was made in Hollywood, the cinematography and acting were just that professional. Anyhow, it's terrific. My generation came up during the Jesus Movement. I wore my hair super long and even wore mariachi sandals (just like Jesus did, of course). "Jesus Is Just All Right By Me" made the hit parade when I was in high school, and all of us Jesus Freaks indulged in the ridiculous mercy God spoiled us with. To a 16-year old who had a lot of baggage, this Jesus meant everything. I consider this film a brave (and successful) attempt to capture the ethos of those days. We had the right stuff. We pointed each other to God regardless of what anybody looked like or what anybody wore. We realized that we were more than our past because God held our future in His hands. Our hang-ups became the foundation for future success and future faithfulness for His glory, our joy, and the benefit of our broken world. We made His-Story, including the front page of Time Magazine (as is highlighted in the movie). God, I'm so thankful for this great movie. You met us where we were and redeemed every one of our failures and used them to bring the best of Jesus out of us. I pray that many will see this film and be saved. Maybe even Christians, dear Lord, brokenhearted and feeling like failures, will see it and come away thinking, "Amazing things happen when Jesus shows up." God, you dumbfounded the world in the 60s and 70s and transformed the course of history through "losers" like me. Do it again, Lord. Do it again.
3) I just ordered Simon Winchester's book Pacific from Amazon. It's a goodie judging from his interview yesterday on the Diane Rehm Show.
The author argues that the next epoch in world history will unfold on either side of the Pacific Rim. My gut tells me he's right. Most of my recent trips have been to Asia or Hawaii. Indeed, Asian and Hawaiian cultures are inextricable intertwined. Take age, for example. In Asia, elders are valued and respected. It's an elder-led culture in contrast to America's cult of youth. Another example: the importance Asians place on the family, including the extended family. These are great values but not necessarily "Western" values. The old saying is true: "The Mediterranean is the ocean of the past, the Atlantic is the ocean of the present, and the Pacific is the ocean of the future." America and China are now vying with each other for the title of world's largest economy. At the same time, Asian economies are growth factories whether we're talking technology, markets, or investment. Even Vietnam is witnessing a growing middle class of capitalists (and is currently negotiating with the U.S. to reopen Cam Ranh Bay as a U.S. naval base, if you can believe that). But in the Pacific, China and the U.S. are the major players, and the relationship is a complex one. Recently the tension has spilled over into the South China Sea. It's clear that both nations see the Pacific as a test of their influence in the region if not also in the world. It's also clear that China is demanding a larger say in its own backyard.
The Pacific Ocean covers 28 percent of the world's surface, and more than 60 percent of the world's fish catch comes from this ocean. Of even greater significance is the question of how the church will respond to the growing need to evangelize the Pacific nations. I noted with pleasure that when Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary moved from its Mill Valley campus to Southern California, it also changed its name to Gateway Seminary -- a move that seems to reflect a renewed focus on the Pacific and Asia. Surely this seminary is well positioned to get the job done. Run your race, Gateway! Invest your gifts and personnel in this amazing part of the world. Opening an extension campus in Honolulu -- the center of the Pacific -- would help in my opinion. As for me, I'll continue to work with Pacific islanders on Oahu for however long God opens that door. I deeply believe that Jesus is doing a great work in the islands. We need each other -- both locals and mainlanders. Let's grab each other's hands and practice the wholehearted discipleship we were created for. As God grants me strength, I promise to do my part.
Thursday, October 29
1:16 PM Thank God for the beautiful weather He's given us today. Amen and hallelujah. Ain't nobody gonna stop me from getting outdoors on a day like today. After a workout at the Y, I did my 5K and then treated myself to Mexican food before going grocery shopping.
I feel like Mr. Mom. Just another patronizing, pitying thought I have to battle against. But I have a To-Do List just like you have, and when things have to get done, they have to get done. That's the problem with ol' Jeb. As Rush pointed out today, his heart's just not in the job. He looks like a man who really doesn't want to win. And when you don't really want something, it probably ain't gonna happen -- no matter how much coaching you get, no matter how many cheerleaders you have. Take weight loss for example. Unless you are passionate about it, unless you are really serious about getting fit, it's likely not going to happen -- despite your gym memberships and the latest diet craze you just subscribed to. I spoke with a student recently about him attending Oxford for his Ph.D. He looked at me as though I had ten heads. "Why not?" I asked. Oh, may God give us eyes to see what's possible and not to minimize His ability to do "exceedingly far beyond what we could ask or even imagine." Thank you, Harry Sturz, for telling me "You can do it, Dave!" Newsflash: That's what people need to hear from us today. It is so aggravating to me when I see lost potential. Life is hard enough without shooting ourselves in the foot. In relationships, there's a time to stick with it and a time to walk away. When something is toxic there's very little chance you're going to be able to change it. Only God can do that. No. I am not talking about divorce. I am talking about not enabling consistent immaturity on the part of our spouses. People let things go on too long. Becky and I prayed together every evening, not least for the sake of our sanity as a married couple. When you pray together daily it's pretty hard to sweep the issues under the carpet. Jesus was compassionate toward the hurting but He didn't coddle people or baby-talk them into healthy choices. Maybe it's time you flipped a switch, Jeb. Start acting like you really want the job and maybe people will begin listening to you. Passion in life literally changes everything. I have a pastor friend who is so passionate when speaking that it blows me away. He blogs like that too. Writes like that too. Talks like that too. He's such a relief in a world of namby-pamby talkers. Remember this: No matter what others are telling you, you are God's child. And He is incredibly resourceful. So let's trust Him to lead us, even if we don't think it's possible. Let's give Him our best. Our passion is so crucial, we shouldn't be going through life without it. We must waive the negativity and embrace Jesus, who really does have "a wonderful plan for your life." (Thank you, Four Spiritual Laws.)
P.S. Can you believe the gas prices here?
9:42 AM Quote of the day:
She wrote these words on July 7, 2013, 4 months before she would go Home.
8:52 AM A few quick thank you notes ...
1) Thank you, "moisture-wicking" technology. I will never wear cotton again.
2) Thank you, Hawaii. Without a doubt, you are the most relaxing place on earth.
3) Thank you, Harris Teeter. I almost ingest your sushi even before I buy it.
4) Thank you, puppies. But do you have to shed so much?
5) Thank you, Amazon Prime. I've always wanted to be a lazy shopper.
6) Thank you, Kona. You have the best coffee beans in the world. (Yes, that includes Ethiopia.)
7) Thank you, students. You keep me humble and passionate.
8) Thank you, HTML. You allow little fishes like me to swim upstream.
9) Thank you, gym. You keep me dialed into fitness.
10) Thank you, 5Ks. Not only do I know how slow I am, but I also know how hard work pays off.
11) Thank you, church leaders. You have the toughest job in the world. I love you.
12) Thank you, church folks. It can be messy at times, but there's nothing like the body.
13) Thank you, Jesus Movement (1960s). You (a) convinced me that people want more from church than the church was ever intended to provide and (b) rescued me from tradition.
14) Thank you, Karl Barth. Your Dogmatics are delicious.
15) Thank you, Spam. You kept me alive when I was young.
16) Thank you, Gospel. Surely not one human being ever stood before God having deserved that honor.
17) Thank you, fellow grievers. You are smart and wise and strong and capable. You are so Jesus to me.
18) Thank you, farm. L'Abri can't hold a candle to you.
19) Thank you, cheerers. You stand at the finish line and cheer me on and call forth the best in me.
20) Thank you, life. You're the only one I've got. Let's go for it!
21) Thank you, presidential candidates. When I need a good laugh, I watch you on YouTube.
22) Thank you, privacy. At some level, my business is really others' business. But not always.
23) Thank you, Amish. Your practice of living in community is breathtaking. You also consider the sick and the dying to be gifts to the community because they call forth others' kindness.
24) Thank you, leave-taking. You give us permission to say our goodbyes, knowing we will see them again in some new, freed form of being, and there will be laughter and rejoicing again.
25) Thank you, Scriptures. You have sustained me.
26) Thank you, ceremony. I'm realizing I do care about funerals.
27) Thank you, music. You have an importance in my life I never noticed before.
28) Thank you, pain. You're what I have to offer now, and I don't want to waste this chance to be generous.
29) Thank you, body. You're still my home, until I move on to a new one.
30) Thank you, bad days. I now know what to hope for.
Wednesday, October 28
7:34 PM So glad to see Moncy Mammen again. Moncy graduated from SEBTS five years ago and then returned to his home in northeast India to serve with his parents, Mammen and Alice Joseph, in a wonderful ministry called the Peniel Gospel Team. We had lunch together at Red Robin along with my son-in-law Joel Brasher.
Joel has been to India several times to assist in this work. Praise God! Then Moncy shared for about 20 minutes in my Greek class. How sweet it was. I tell you, Jesus is doing a great thing on campus, not the least of which is wrecking our comfortable Christianity.
Of the many pictures Moncy showed, this one was my favorite.
Here my adopted Indian daughter Neeli meets the Pope in Rome representing her brother who was kidnapped and forced into child labor. I was sent this picture last December, along with this note from Mammen Joseph:
It is now my joy and privilege to support Neeli through college. We do this all for the sake of the Gospel. This is the mission to which we are all called. The only question is: Will you help? Please do pray about how you might get personally involved in the work of PGT in India. You can support an orphan, as Becky and I have done. You can support an evangelist/church planter. (The Peniel Gospel Team has planted over 400 churches in 40 years.) You could volunteer to teach in their seminary or day school. Today I'm sharing in the blessings of the Gospel more than I have ever done in my life. It is so exciting. It's what the whole world is waiting for. If we're going to advance the kingdom together, let's do whatever it takes!
6:06 PM Growing up in Hawaii I never thought too much about waves. I just rode them on a regular basis. (I must honestly add that in Hawaii I did not do much thinking about anything!) But when I was sitting on the beach in Hawaii a few weeks ago it occurred to me that waves are perhaps the ultimate metaphor for grief. Just like waves do, grief comes and goes. Both are the natural outflow of something much greater than they are. And there is energy associated with the breaking of a wave as the water hits the beach. Waves are so powerful they can easily knock you off your feet. Grief is just as powerful.
At first, when Becky died holding my hand, the waves came endlessly, without reprieve. Nowadays I'm getting a little bit better at anticipating their arrival. I can see a wave on the horizon now. It's at least 100 feet tall and it's heading straight for me. I've already shed tears, not tears of sadness or hopelessness but tears of joy and hope and thanksgiving. When you grieve, you don't really have to let go of the person you are grieving over. You keep the memories you can and transform your life with what remains. Above all, you rejoice that your loved one is now with Jesus. C. S. Lewis expressed my own heart when he wrote:
Becky's death was sacred and beautiful and imbued with something lovely -- every bit as lovely as she was. But I still have to face the future -- to be ready for that wave that is about to strike. I also know that after it knocks me over I'll get up again and find my footing and be stronger for it in the end. Some of you are my fellow grievers. You are the ones I can count on to understand. I know you'd never discount my feelings or try to push "grief recovery" down my throat. Yes, I recognize that you can't save me from my grief. But I do thank you for being on my team.
A loss serves a good purpose. It takes you back to the fundamentals. What's more, for all the sadness and sorrow accompanying grief, there is also much joy and many blessings, however unsought after, to be found too. The grand prize that accompanies grief is wisdom. It's not necessarily a gift you were seeking, but as long as it's landed on your doorstep you'd be a fool to refuse it. You see, as frightening as the pain of loss is, God has made us human beings resilient. In a sense, bereavement is a normal human experience, something we're wired for. Millions of caretakers lose their spouses each year. And, more often than not, it's laughter and smiling and new hobbies that lead to quicker recovery than "working through" our grief. You get used to the day-to-day mood fluctuations. You stop comparing yourself with others who are grieving (grief is a very private journey). To suffer a loved one's death from cancer is not to experience one sudden blow but to suffer a thousand little deaths. My faith in Christ has been my anchor through all of it. As someone who has written a book on weakness but doesn't necessarily like to admit to being weak, I've had a pretty hard time learning that it's okay to grieve and it's okay to grieve for years. Normally, I cope by losing myself in routine. But on special occasions -- like this weekend -- I find myself wanting to spend time each day in a private sanctuary or a protected place where I can grieve fully. I no longer think it terms of "total" recovery, whatever that is supposed to mean. Instead, my goal is to continue to integrate Becky's death and move forward in baby steps, this time without the presence of someone I leaned on for solace and encouragement. Grief is a transformer. It allows us to become reinvolved in life in new ways and at our own pace. Already, I've met new people and have found that life can be satisfying and exciting, even if I'm alone.
One year was a huge event for me. Now it's been two. I'm looking forward to discovering what I will do with the rest of my life. I want to do something significant and challenging but I'm not exactly sure what that looks like yet. I've noticed many positive changes in my health and diet. I'm beginning to relinquish old roles and establish new ones. Still, I miss Becky Lynn. She wasn't only my wife. She was also the one who told me if my socks matched, or if I needed a haircut, or if I was over-working. She was the one who remembered all the birthdays and prepared the meals for special occasions, and all I had to do was sign the cards and eat. Becky was good at all the things I'm not very good at. She was the yin to my yang, the chili to my cheese, the rubber to my road, the glove to my hand. By complementing me, she made me more whole. I still love her. A huge part of me is missing. So I find myself blogging. And grieving. Writing. And grieving. Traveling. And grieving. Thinking. And grieving. And yet I think I can say with some confidence: This too shall pass. Jonathan Safran Foer once wrote:
Then he went on to say:
How true. Want to hear something interesting? Becky was sure I would remarry. She told several of my daughters as much. Well, my apologies, honey, but that's not going to happen. Still, Becky and I agreed fully on one thing: the best way to honor a loved one who has died is to live a life full of friends and even new love. I know this weekend is going to be brutal. That's a gigantic wave out there. But I will be fine. I will not run from that wave. I will face it standing tall. I will take time to express my feelings. I will cry (a lot). I will lean on friends and family (yes, _________, I will probably call you). I will also set aside time for prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, as well as time to think about Becky's death and try to put things into perspective. As time goes on, I will experience a "new normal" -- again. I'll continue to try things I've never done before. God willing, I'll live my life to its potential.
Friend, if you're grieving some loss today, remember that God loves you very much and that He is there even when you're too hurt or tired to reach out to Him. He understands your loneliness and grief and is more than willing to meet each and every one of your needs as you move through this dark valley. My prayer is that you will sense His presence, know His peace, and feel His healing power. Embrace your emotions. Make small changes in your life. Connect spiritually with others. Take care of your body. Seek support from people you trust. Take one day at a time. Little by little, you will find the pain lessens as you remember your loss, and the days ahead will look bright again. And, when there is renewal in your heart, you will be able to say with Jesus, "I came not to be served but to serve." You will come to the place where you have a greater need to love than to be loved. Fellow grievers, let's get dirty for His sake! Let's sizzle in His name! Let's dance with the Trinity and let our lives speak those words that God uttered in the beginning: "It is good"!
Tuesday, October 27
9:38 AM Someone sent this along. The premise is simple enough: Use a double entendre and see where it leads.
I'll wear it if you do.
9:18 AM For what it's worth, I jotted down a few reflections on life in general as I sat in various airports over the weekend. I wouldn't blame you one bit if you just ignored them. But just in case, be prepared for some candid admissions.
1) When Becky died, life tanked. But Jesus held me fast. No one loves me more.
2) I work out -- a lot. Not only pumping iron but also pumping out books and blog words.
3) I refuse to be ashamed to say it: I love 60s and 70s rock. Like, love it. Reelin' in the Years anyone? Also, I have a strange fixation for anything conducted by Leonard Slatkin.
4) I don't like it when people give me advice about things they themselves aren't doing.
5) I over-accessorize my running hobby.
6) I do not plan on cutting off my beard or coloring my hair. Gray is the new beautiful.
7) I'm settled. This is the life I want to live. I know who I am, what I value, and what I love (and don't love). If you want to try and change me, good luck.
8) I've developed resilience. Finally.
9) I'm not apologetic about my views on the church. If Christ isn't first, then our ecclesiology is just plain horrible.
10) I'm shocked to find that so many young people today are hamstrung by low expectations. It's just wrong when people minimize their gifts.
11) Sometimes I walk around the house looking for my reading glasses, which are planted squarely on my nose.
12) An afternoon nap is God's good and perfect gift.
13) No one will make important choices for me.
14) I'd rather work from home.
15) It doesn't seem like much, but I love to write and hate to type.
16) There is no end to learning.
17) I ignore both praise and criticism. (I ought to clarify: I listen, but I don't pay much attention.)
18) I love my kids and grandkids with my entire heart.
19) SEBTS? I'm so grateful to be a horse in your stable.
20) I want to give it all away before I die.
21) 5Ks are my Everest. Aargh.
22) I've long since given my failures to Jesus. (Jesus covered them all. As in ALL.)
23) The Holy Spirit is an incredible leader. So why do we have "pastors of vision"?
24) "You can do this" is something I will say to someone at least once a week.
25) There has never been a better time to be a global Christian.
26) Coping with Becky's death was way bigger than me. But I had a big God to help me through it.
27) I love academics, but sometimes New Testament scholarship gives me a migraine.
28) I love diving into my blog posts of a decade ago. (Did I really say that?)
29) My checkpoints for a local church leader: a heart full of Jesus, humility, teachability, transparency, genuine compassion, discernment, good knowledge of the word. (Notice what I left out: M.Div., publications, impressive job resume, has spoken in chapel, etc.)
30) Bad sermons give me indigestion. (I've preached a few myself.)
31) You can't go a mile wide without going an inch deep.
32) When I travel internationally, I prefer to partner only with local leaders and organizations who live and work in their communities. (The world is so done with missions voyeurism.)
33) I don't trust Siri.
34) I shop at Target (instead of Wal-Mart) and Harris Teeter (instead of Food Lion).
35) I am an incurable infracaninophile. (I use "infracaninophile" because I'm a creative writer.)
36) Life is so easy. (Yeah. Right.)
37) I am a weirdo. As in super quirky. (You had no idea!)
38) There's about a 100 percent chance I'll post pictures on my blog every day.
39) I can't stand watercress. I mean, I puke-hate-it.
40) When I teach Greek, anyone can learn it. You'd better do your best or die trying.
41) Jesus is the best pastor you'll ever know.
42) I don't trust anyone who doesn't have a limp.
So here's my invitation to you, dear fellow-blogger: How about giving us a minute of transparency? We know you have quirks. We also know you struggle. So there's no need to pretend otherwise. Confess your humanity to us and we will love you. Be you, be gracious, and love God. Really, little else matters in life.
Monday, October 26
9:50 PM Evening, blogging buds! I had a super time in New York and it's literally impossible for me to know what to share with you here on the blog tonight. I tell you, there's something magic about the southern Adirondacks. The beauty is breathtaking. To add to it, I was treated like royalty the whole time I was there. Liz was in classic form; she's a fantastic homemaker and hostess and she pampered her Papa B to the hilt. Since Saturday was Matt's birthday -- Happy 37th Matt! Only three years to go until you hit your midlife crisis at 40! -- he and I decided to do a hike together on Saturday. We arrived safely at the summit of Good Luck Cliffs though I wasn't at all prepared for the steepness of the climb. Photos to follow. Liz prepared the most scrumptious stuffed cabbages for supper and then I took a long nap. That evening I was privileged to share my Ethiopia pix with some of Matt and Liz's good friends. I also passed out several gratis copies of Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? and a few other books that I had dragged along on the trip. I got outdoors as much as I could even though it turned a bit rainy yesterday. But all in all it was a superb trip. Liz and Matt, thank you so much for this incredible blessing. I love your home, your family, and just everything about you. I commend you to the One whose love never runs dry and whose mercy is new every single day, no matter how chaotic life may become at times. I love you so much, Dad.
P.S. I've been struck with the Gettysburg virus again, along with a secondary infection called Eastern Battlefield Mania. I hope to get back there before the end of the year. My goal is to study Culp's Hill and the engagement between Stuart and Custer on the third day. Today the controversy still rages over whether Stuart was a major cause of Lee's defeat at Gettysburg. As is so often the case, no unanimity of opinion exists on the matter. It seems clear to me that Lee is to be blamed, at least partly, for allowing Stuart entirely too much discretion before the battle. After all, Stuart was still smarting after his cavalry stalemate with the Federal forces at Brandy Station on June 9. Besides, Lee had other cavalry at his disposal had he properly deployed them. In any case, most agree that Stuart was guilty of poor judgment by burdening his command with a Federal wagon train he had gathered near Rockville, Maryland. That said, Stuart was no villain. "It's all my fault," said Lee as the survivors of Pickett's Charge stumbled back toward Seminary Ridge on the third and final day of the battle. "I thought my soldiers were invincible." Lee may have underestimated the battle-worthiness of his opponent, but at least he had the moral courage to take on his shoulders the full responsibility for the failure of his second and final invasion of the North. The Myth of Southern Invincibility was finally shattered at Gettysburg, and two years later America's disunited federated states were cemented into the united nation we know and love today. Gettysburg was the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere. Of the 170,000 men (North and South) who fought there, nearly one-third suffered wounds or were killed. That the battle was a victory for the North perhaps impacted the future of America and the world as no other event did in the history of these United States.
Now for the pix of my trip:
1) Manhattan and the One World Trade Center from 30,000 feet.
2) After meeting up at the airport in Albany, Matt, Liz, and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner together at the Olive Garden.
3) Here's their comfy house on the outskirts of the village of Canoga.
4) One big happy family.
5) Their acreage is generously wooded -- which is a good thing as they burn wood for heat during the winter.
6) Here's Caleb cooking pancakes for his dad's birthday breakfast. They tasted scrumptious, Caleb!
7) The climbers atop Good Luck Cliffs.
8) The view was incredible.
9) Sharing about global missions.
10) Waiting to enjoy Matt's birthday cake.
11) Call 911!
12) Sunday morning breakfast at a nearby eatery.
13) A typical view.
14) I did a 10K on this deserted highway.
15) Game time!
16) Goodbye Caroga! Can't wait to return!
Friday, October 23
6:48 AM Hey folks! Ran across this great quote:
While driving I sometimes listen to BBN (the Bible Broadcasting Network). Usually the Bible teaching is excellent, but sometimes you've got to be prepared for a Charlie Horse between the ears. Someone was once introducing the Gospel of Luke. In the opening verses he made special note of the words "eyewitnesses" and "ministers" of the word. Of the former he noted that the word in Greek is autoptai from which, he said, we get the word "autopsy." Luke, he insisted, being the physician that he was, had done a spiritual "autopsy" on the life of Jesus in his Gospel. The next word in Greek is hyperetai, which the speaker interpreted as a nautical term referring to the rower in a boat, a lowly position best represented in English, he said, by yet another medical term: "intern." Luke, the man pointed out, was glad to be nothing but an "intern" of "the Great Physician."
How we use words matters, folks. Word study fallacies, including the examples seen above, are all too common in our nation's pulpits. Unless we do our homework, our study of the text can actually lead to eisegesis instead of exegesis. All elders/pastors need to read Carson's Exegetical Fallacies at least once in their lifetime -- and then put its teaching into practice.
(An aside: Today I'm heading to upstate New York to spend a few days with my daughter and her family. Eager to see their new home and maybe even do some hiking in the Adirondacks. I've got lots of pots on the fire so it will be good to get away and take a break. One manuscript I have to take with me consists of the page proofs for The Pericope of the Adulteress in Contemporary Research, which is a massive and detailed work. It's due out next April. I also hope to get a chapter written for my book Godworld while sitting in airports. I don't expect you to feel sorry for me because I love every bit of this! Ciao!)
Thursday, October 22
5:16 PM Well, today was another first. I made my first visit to see a dermatologist. My doctor had referred me to her after discovering three suspicious growths on my leg. Turns out they are harmless and completely benign. (The technical term, I believe, is seborrheic keratoses.) According to the literature the dermatologist gave me, SKs are "more common with age." She wants to see me annually -- especially after she discovered that I had been exposed to the sun on a daily basis while growing up in Hawaii. So this evening I find myself reading a pamphlet prepared by the Skin Cancer Foundation called "A Guide to Skin Cancers & Precancers." Makes me feel so old even though I am sooooo young (wink)! Means I get to experience yet another first in my life. First 5K. First hike in many years. First gym membership. And now first cancer scare. Frankly, I wasn't too concerned about it. At 63, I'm more comfortable with uncertainty. Health never lasts. But influence can outlast one's earthly life. If you're in the third act of life as I am, you've got to develop the resilience to absorb life's shocks without blaming others or bitterness or self-destructive behaviors. You have to learn to roll with the punches. You also have to become engaged, useful, and active. Sometimes you'll even begin to pursue new passions.
So, I'm grateful. Grateful for my new dermatologist. Grateful that even the uncertainties of life are wrapped in God's mercy. Thankfully that even when we suffer God screens the suffering and filters it through the fingers of His love. Friend, even if you are single or widowed, you never suffer alone because you have a family -- the body of Christ. Praise be to Him!
1:06 PM Today I introduced a new workout into my routine, namely diagonal dumbbell curls. The goal is to work the inner biceps.
I'm going light to begin with. Eventually I'll add more weight to the routine. I love learning new things! Then I had lunch with a good friend of mine from church. He's been a major source of encouragement and inspiration to me through the years. We agreed that it's a day for a radical transformation of the whole people of God into a ministering people. We also agreed that an age-integrated approach to ministry is optimum. Above all, we just talked about Jesus. It is He, after all, who makes ministers -- which is a great relief to us and a fresh incentive for us to join Him in the task of equipping.
Gotta pack for New York!
9:02 AM In just 11 days, November 2 will be upon us, the day Jesus took Becky home to heaven. As I think of that event, I reflect on the significance of that day in my life, especially how God has used pain and suffering in my life to reveal more of Himself to me. This isn't a new theme for me. Those of you who read my first book, Paul, Apostle of Weakness, will remember my academic attempt to summarize Paul's profound strength-in-weakness theology, found especially in 2 Corinthians.
In writing that book, I shared some general ideas about God's purposes in suffering. Never would I have imagined at the time -- I was 32 years old when my dissertation was published -- that I would one day face loss and loneliness. At first I was overwhelmed by the experience. Then I was reminded of the many people I know who themselves are puzzling over the "whys" of their own suffering. The seeds that were planted in my life through my dissertation decades ago began to bear fruit.
As we saw in our Greek class Tuesday night, when Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, He called them to walk the way of the cross. If they were to share His life, they must share His pain as well. The apostle Paul experienced the entire gamut of suffering -- physical pain, mental and emotional pain, even spiritual grief. Is it then surprising that a modern follower of Jesus should suffer? The more we love and serve Jesus, the more we come to feel His great heart of love, His overwhelming burden and unceasing anguish for the lost. Later on, as you know, I wrote a book called The Jesus Paradigm.
This book was written that we may see again what it means to follow Jesus and learn how we may help others to do the same. God still wants His church to be a sanctifying force in the world. That is what discipleship is all about. "When Christ calls a man," wrote Bonhoeffer, "he bids him come and die." This is the radical nature of Christian discipleship. Some (as in Syria today) are called to literal martyrdom. But every one of us is called to all-out committed discipleship, whatever the personal cost may be. Sin in our hearts, by making us self-centered and devious, foments apathy, but Jesus promised us the Spirit, who reverses the process and makes us increasingly childlike in our life with God. We begin to open our hearts, take off our masks, and become real and honest with others. We become, as Paul put it, "weak" -- forced back to total dependence on the incarnate Christ. We begin to lay aside our rights, making ourselves vulnerable and weak toward others. We may very well get hurt in the process. Marry, and one of you will become widowed at some point. Ouch! But this is how the strength of Jesus and God's glory will be seen in our lives. "Whoever wants to be first must be last. He must be the servant of all" (Mark 9:35). Those are Jesus' terms of discipleship. They may seem severe, but Jesus can't afford to have half-hearted disciples.
This morning, as I reflect deeply on Becky's glorious homegoing two years ago, I thank God for her life and example. As a good disciple of Jesus Christ, she was prepared to accept the path of obedience, the way of the cross, and the pain of human relationships. She lived like Jesus lived -- setting her face like flint, doing always what pleased the Father. As we follow Jesus like that, we too can bring salvation to this poor, wretched world.
Wednesday, October 21
5:55 PM Odds and ends ....
1) The campus was as beautiful as ever when I arrived yesterday to teach my classes.
I knew that special representatives of Wycliffe Bible Translators would be on campus this week, so I arranged to have lunch with them today and then had them speak in my Greek class. A seminary should be a place that cultivates the integration of faith and learning. This is why I love being on campus so much. I am always learning new things, always being challenged to raise the bar in my own walk with the Lord, always confronted with facts that are undeniable. When Andy Ott and Mary Morgan presented the case for Bible translation among the world's 6,500 spoken languages in the world, you could have heard a pin drop.
There are millions of people in the world who still do not have the Scriptures in their heart language. Wycliffe believes that Bible translation into all of the remaining 2,200 languages used by some 350 million people is possible by the year 2025.
Bible study is valuable both for personal growth and corporately. God speaks to us through His word not primarily to impart to us information but to guide our choices in life and to change us continually into the image of Christ. Praise God for what Wycliffe is doing! The harvest is ready but the laborers are few. For ways to get involved with Wycliffe, go here. I am really looking forward to speaking in their chapel service on Dec. 4 in Dallas. I am deeply humbled by that honor. In the meantime, let's cherish the word! Not in a prideful sort of way of course, but simply as a precious gift that God has given His church.
2) My interview with Henry Neufeld about my book Why Four Gospels? is now on YouTube.
3) Finally, last night I jotted down a few additional thoughts about fitness and exercise. My prayer is that God will use my occasional posts on the subject to prepare us to fulfill the vital role He has for all of us in the kingdom movement He's inspiring in our day. My new life motto is "Easy isn't for the Christian." Let me explain.
When you gain control of your body, you gain control of your life. When you let go of your body, you let go of yourself. Just read the testimonies of out-of-shape couch potatoes who accepted the challenge to get physically fit. Their risk of heart disease (the number one killer in America) was drastically reduced, as well as other illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. Beyond that, they reported dramatic changes in their psychological and emotional well-being. They discovered that taking control of their bodies gave them more strength and energy than they had had in their entire life. They can hardly describe how wonderful it was to see fat go and muscle grow.
I think one reason physical fitness is so exciting is because you can actually see and measure progress, whereas this is a lot harder to do with one's spiritual life. But both the physical and the spiritual have something in common, and that is this principle: There is a world of difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Everyone has the potential to make dramatic changes in their body and life – not by stocking up on the latest miracle pill, or by buying a new set of Sunday School curriculum – but by starting on the inside, by starting with the decision to change. Like the apostle Paul, we need to focus on our future goals (Phil. 3:17-21). I tend to spend a lot of time focusing on "the good old days" rather than accepting new ideas or opportunities. People who are future oriented are constantly taking on new and bigger challenges. They don't ignore or deny what happened to them in their past. Instead, they seek to leverage those experiences to help them get where they believe God would have them to go.
Which brings me to the word "bodies" in Rom. 12:1. If we present our bodies to God to be used in His service, then everything else – our hearts, our minds, our wills – will follow automatically. Eugene Peterson puts it this way: "Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering." And why should we do this? "Because of everything God has done for us.” I've heard thousands of sermons in my 55 years as a follower of Jesus but I've never heard a single message on God's view of our bodies. It seems the church has no theology of the temple. Perhaps this is due to an overreaction to our culture, which is obsessed with health and beauty. Or maybe it's due to a Gnostic view of the human body, which makes the body evil and subservient to the soul of man. I think there needs to be a balance here. The Bible teaches that we should neither adore nor ignore our bodies. But that's a difficult balance to attain!
We live in the most prosperous country in the world, but even this blessing has its downside because it allows many of us to abuse our bodies through over-eating or eating all kinds of junk food. The Bible says we are to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). So how should Christians view their bodies? I should view my body as a temple that exists to glorify God. That's it in a nutshell. Paul calls the body a "temple" for a reason. It is the place where the Spirit of God dwells each and every day of our lives. It is therefore a place where God desires to be worshipped and honored. Moreover, the owner of this temple is God, not us. He bought it with a price. This means that we can no longer be careless with our bodies. We can no longer say, "My stomach belongs to me. I'll therefore eat whatever I like," or, "My mouth is mine. I can stuff whatever I like into it." Most Christians have no clue what they're doing to themselves with the food they normally eat. Nor are most of us aware of how much better we would feel and look if we stopped feeding ourselves accidentally. The old saying is true: "We are what we eat" (German: “Man ist was er isst.”). Quality nutrition is just as important as exercise. Without both, there can be no lasting results.
Good nutrition has become a priority with me. I've cut out all fast foods, soda, and desserts. Instead of soda I drink water. I know that I'll have more energy to do the things God calls me to do when I'm filling the temple with protein, vegetables, good fats, and plenty of water. I work out at the gym three days a week, incorporating a workout plan that includes the three major muscle groups: legs, back, and chest. My goal is a proportional, balanced, and lean body to work with. I also do at least 40 minutes of cardio three times a week, including an official 5K race almost every Saturday. I fear that some Christians shy away from participating in 5Ks because these events tend to focus on "secular" causes such as cancer research. I look at running as an opportunity to be a light to others. My motto is: "Run for a good cause, and run for Jesus."
So we should view our bodies, first and foremost, as God's marvelous creation and, just as importantly, as a temple where He lives. But there is more. If your body is a temple where God lives, then it is also a tool that He desires to use. We are to utilize our bodies to honor and glorify God. Caring for our bodies, then, is not just a physical priority but a spiritual priority. God has integrated our minds and emotions with our bodies. This means that our physical health will have an impact on our mental and emotional health and vice versa. Our main purpose in life is to love God more than anything else. Nothing is to take precedence over that priority. We are to love and serve Him with all of our strength. I am not a perfect example of this. Far from it. But neglecting my body is no longer an option for me.
Perhaps some people will think I've gone overboard with exercise. But let me ask you: Why should having an active lifestyle be considered extreme? We bathe regularly, sleep regularly, and eat regularly. None of these activities need become an obsession. They are simply part and parcel of normal life. So why should we fall victim to the notion that fitness is only for athletes or fashion models? As I've said before, I don't consider myself a model of physical fitness. I'm a rank novice. But I do believe it was the Spirit of God who prompted me to embark on this mission of proper eating and regular exercise. Christ is the center of my life, not fitness. There is no way to hide this fact, even when I'm doing a 5K. To disguise the fact that Jesus is the source of my strength is to hide the truth. I can't have a discussion with my fellow racers without pointing to Him. I give credit to God for whatever I've accomplished. Weight training in the gym is yet another platform to proclaim my faith. I hope that my fitness story motivates others to be healthy – not just physically but mentally and spiritually as well. God has inspired me to live my life for others. He's given me opportunities to travel the world to share His love and truth. Christ is clear in His word that we are to use our blessings to bless others. But I could never endure the rigors of travel if I neglected to take care of my body. Staying strong and healthy helps me to be a better teacher, a better farmer, a better father and grandfather, and a better servant.
Anything in life worth doing is worth doing well. That usually takes a lot of work. As Tom Hanks said in the movie A League of Their Own, "It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it good.” Exercise (both physical and spiritual) is hard work but it's also rewarding both throughout the process and in the end. Paul's "encouraging message" in Acts 14:22 was essentially, "Easy isn't for the Christian." Building physical strength isn't easy. Building spiritual strength is even harder. But in the process we can learn to grow and get closer to God. As Christians, we can let God transform our weaknesses into strengths. The Bible commands us to run the race well. It doesn't say that we will run faster than our neighbor. Because each of us has different gifts there is no need to waste time comparing ourselves to others. The focus must be on reaching our own God-given potential. When our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, we will be able to run our own race well.
Tuesday, October 20
7:52 AM In tonight's According to Mark class, we'll be doing more English to Greek composition. Composition is an essential step in the learning process. It is an individual act. Grammar is we, but art is I. It is in composition that the grammarian becomes the artist. By composing, we create. I'm hoping my students will eventually take this skill and turn it toward a lifetime of writing and publishing (most of them are going on for doctorates). My mentors in Basel, Reicke and Barth, were writers as well as thinkers. There is more to scholarship than writing, of course. But write you must if you ever hope to become a scholar.
It's similar, I suppose, to becoming a hiker. Hikers, like writers, are always climbing mountains (in my case, literally and figuratively). The Adirondack Mountain Club, for example, lists not only their weekly hikes but the degree of difficulty. Hikers choose the outing that will best test their limits. Likewise, writers in seminary should start out small -- the occasional book review, the term paper, the Greek composition assignment. From there one moves ever forward. It's really a game of inches, with disaster never more than a hand's span away.
Writing, I've learned, is like golf. It humbles you. And if you want to know the truth, that's not a bad outcome for any activity.
7:38 AM As everyone knows, I love my puppies. They're my constant companions and friends. They're great teachers, too. Here's an example. As I was munching down a bowl of cereal last night the dogs looked on expectantly, hoping to lick the bowl when I was done.
I pondered the question of the ages: Are my dogs interested in me, or only in what they can get from me? On the other hand, try this. Sit on the library sofa and start reading a good book and within seconds the dogs will curl up at your feet without expecting a morsel. (Apparently dogs don't eat books.) They just want to be with you. And therein lies the lesson. It's a "parable of prayer." Prayer keeps us trusting God for our daily needs. But it also opens the way for us to simply enjoy His company. When I pray, I sometimes conjure up a picture in my mind of God sitting in the library and me curled up securely at His feet. This involves nothing but silence on my part -- being still -- knowing that God is God and that Daddy is dependable. This is what the ancient prayer mystics used to call the "intimacy of communing" or "perpetual intercourse with God." My dogs don't realize it, but I am far more willing to give them bowls to lick than they are to beg for them. I'm sure my puppies don't understand all my ways and workings. As theologians we might think we understand God. But a God we could understand wouldn't be a God worth believing in. Just as my dogs can't understand me, so I can't understand God. But even when we do not understand Him we are profoundly aware of His love.
Today there's a growing concern for the health of the church. I share that concern. But if we neglect prayer -- if we fail to seek the face of our loving Master or fail to rest at the Father's feet or fail to bask in the sunshine of the Spirit's love --- all our labors will be in vain.
Monday, October 19
6:20 PM Slatkin conducts Copland's Appalachian Spring. Utter perfection.
12:40 PM Is your ecclesiology "shelf" ecclesiology or "practical" ecclesiology? In other words, is your church willing to change in obedience to truth? Henry Neufeld has a weighty response to this question in his latest post called Seven Marks: Excursus on Change. Henry suggests seven reasons why we avoid doing what we know we ought to be doing. He uses weight loss as an example. I love his reasons! They are all impeccably logical. But, as Henry notes, they are excuses nonetheless.
This leads me to add perhaps one more element into the discussion. A new lifestyle requires new people. Most of us are locked into a routine because the people all around us are locked into the same routine. Up until a few months ago I was locked into a routine that utilized only a small percentage of my muscles. I was imprisoned in a physical and professional and social existence that cared little for health and fitness. Then I began to associate with people who were health-conscious. No, they weren't preachy about it, but the clear message they kept sending to me was: We as human beings are body, mind, and spirit. We can't stress one function of the self to the detriment of the others. I thus began to engage in exercises intended to get the most out of the human machine and the body/mind complex.
Most of us already have this "knowledge." But, as Henry points out, knowledge doesn't suffice. It never has. The rules for physical fitness are well established. They haven't changed much over the centuries. Consult any textbook or website and you'll find the do's and don'ts of fitness. What we need are models, people who show us, "Here is what you can become." We need new relationships that are uncontaminated by the old guilt and unhealthy lifestyles. As I began to associate with people who were committed to physical fitness, I found a new strength in me. My new associations revived resolutions, long since dormant, and made me set my face like flint. That quality -- that ability to motivate others by your own example -- is what is all too often lacking today. So you believe in elders? Even, let's say, non-stipendiary elders? Name two or three churches that practice that today. Alas, there are so few examples. But life isn't about thinking good thoughts. Joy is always connected with action.
So, what's on your "change agenda" for today? Maybe you were fit once but don't exercise anymore. Maybe you are just getting started. Maybe your church is on the verge of taking a significant step of obedience. We humans are constantly resetting goals. We are always in process. Indeed, change is a good test of normalcy. The normal human being is always striving for some ideal self.
The excuse of not enough time is just that -- an excuse. Never will you have enough time to do everything you want to do. You've got to make a choice. You have to decide what things are presumably better than all the other things in your life. But here's what I'm discovering. Exercise may take time but it creates time as well. The more energy expended the more energy added to your machine. Likewise, when a church takes a baby step of obedience, it finds that the next step is a little bit easier to take. Above all, let's remember that action is always impelled by some good we want to attain. The 30-some-odd books I've written or edited didn't just happen. I wrote or edited them because I thought I had something of value to say to people. Fitness programs follow this line of reasoning. The long-term benefits always come from denying our present desire to enjoy ourselves this minute. Drives may push us, but desires pull us. Until you are motivated, you will never be willing to attack the problem head-on.
Thank you, Henry, for your very provocative post. Let's all get started in the race to which Henry is calling us. When I run a 5K, I am completely unconcerned about what others are doing. I don't care if I'm at the back of the pack. For these few moments, I am making the effort to act, and in that sense I become the equal of anyone on this earth.
11:54 AM Just back from Lowe's. I see that the Christmas season has already begun.
Today is maintenance day in both houses. Lots to do but I love my work.
8:24 AM Enjoyed reading this book last night.
It begins with these words: "I am a United States Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism." The author's argument is that these wars were lost not because of the forces on the ground, whom he calls the world's best-trained, best equipped military. Rather, "Our primary failing in the war involved generalship. If you prefer the war college lexicon, we --guys like me -- demonstrated poor strategic and operational leadership" (p. xv). In essence, he says, the U.S. got both wrong, especially the operational plan. "We have been trained and educated all our lives on how to fight and win. This was our war to lose, and we did."
Meanwhile, this is shaping up to be another über-busy week. I'm meeting with my colleague Chip Hardy (Old Testament) to begin mapping out our new Ph.D. course in the Septuagint, which we're offering in the spring. Then I've got meetings with the fine people from Wycliffe Bible Translators who are on campus this week doing recruiting work and speaking in classes. I've got dissertation chapters to read as well as new prospectuses to prospect. Then on Friday I leave for New York. In the meantime I've got 123 acres to care for (we may be getting up the last of our hay this week) and two large houses that need constant attention. Little wonder I have no time for watching sports on TV. Underneath it all is the shock of experiencing death up close for the first time two years ago and facing the fact that there is a downside to life, a backside to the mountain of existence. The 60s usher in a deadline decade. You either get serious about life now or you don't. It's that simple. I write this as a guy who at one time was huge into football. Like many, I lived vicariously through these godlike super heroes who were performing feats that you could almost feel you were doing. Today I guess I'm forging a new masculine ideal in which men are champions at something far less ephemeral. Still, I love sports because of the metaphors it provides. If ever there were a metaphor for facing what appears to be insurmountable in life, it is the underdog taking on the colossus. I think of a Saeed Abedini in Iran, taking blow after blow and yet still standing. Here is a follower of Christ proving his manhood and reverting to an old, pre-Rambo form. He's on the ropes but he's still on his feet. How he can do this is to me beyond all human comprehension. God must be his Sustainer. I smile when I'm told I need to "Take back America" or Take back leadership" or "Take back biblical values" when all I am trying to do is nurture my kids and grandkids, and the church as well. Men my age move from success to significance. The new manhood ideal is simply being a servant. This is why male friendships have become vitally important to me since Becky's death. This bonding as brothers offers both support and solace. It also helps us men unlearn the negative socialization that forced us to keep our feelings locked up inside.
I share all of this with you on my blog because a blog is the way I keep a personal journal. Our journals can become, as Emerson once said, a history of our evolution. The practice actually goes back to the ancient Greeks and their hypomnemata -- copy books that contained little scraps of information such as conversations, events, or readings. Writing blog posts can help us accomplish the same task -- if we create them. Most of us don't because we hate to be ourselves. Don't be too honest. Never use the first person singular. It's no wonder we are reluctant to blog. For me, there are no "rules." A blog is a record of a conversation with the self. They are not simply diaries -- factual and boring. They should reveal, not obscure. Of course, blogging is a constant learning experience. The greatest danger is becoming preoccupied with things and events rather than ideas. Another danger is that of straining to be relevant. The correct sequence is obvious: You think a thought and store it away, and then place it in your blog. And when you're honest, I mean really honest, truth radiates out of every word. Just take a look at Thoreau's journals. But the real joy is not in the product but in the imagining. As with running a 5K, we must glory in the process and not in the victory.
Time now to type up Tuesday night's quiz over Mark 9 and then hit the gym and track. It's funny how I've become such a creature of habit. I get up. I brush my teeth. I lift. I run. Habits of life. Ingrained. Salutary. Perhaps even "manly" too. :-)
Sunday, October 18
7:12 PM What a zany day. I mowed the yard for the last time this year. It was 50 degrees outside! I still plan to run outdoors but my coach tells me I need to get thermal gear. I had no idea the clothing business was so heavily involved in the sport. But if that's the price you have to pay to stay healthy, okay. I just know one thing: I'm committed to getting into the shape of my life. I refuse to accept the old lie that says that aging and physical decline are inseparable. I refuse, by God's grace, to go hobbling off into old age. By the way, I weighed myself this weekend and I'm down to 200. The reason? As far as I can tell, it's one thing: I've foresworn my Pepsi addiction. Soft drinks are the number one source of calories in the average American's diet, accounting for nearly one in every 10 calories consumed. So come on folks. Come on over to the "other side," to the dark side if you will, the cola-less side. That one single step may well make a huge difference in your weight and appearance.
By the way, I sure enjoyed the waves in Hawaii. Surfing was a huge part of my youth. As I surfed during my recent trip I relived the glory days of old. Forget about people your age, I told myself. Dave, you can take on anyone in the water. What I did not remember was that this 16-year old soul lives in the body of a 63-year old. Which brings me to another one of my journal entries from my Hawaii trip (in case anybody's interested).
8:52 AM Even at 5:00 am this morning I could tell that today promised to be one of those perfect fall days. There was no trace of cloud in the sky, and all the trees and every blade of grass was covered with a silver crust of frozen fog.
The temperature hovered around freezing as I jumped into the car and headed out to my favorite eatery in South Hill, where I was treated to a most wonderful breakfast.
This was time, too, for Bible study -- Mark 9 -- in preparation for Tuesday's class. Here Jesus defines for us true greatness. He invites us into a journey of downward mobility. He wants us to become least. I had to smile when I read that. The whole ecclesiastical engine is designed to honor top feeders. It's a place where the chaos of ego and pride rules. I dream of a church where Jesus alone is Senior Pastor, a church that is called great by the world not because of its great leaders or great programs but because our good works cannot be denied. You see, when you live at the bottom, everything changes. The people you seek out are different. The leaders you choose to follow are different. Lowly people are invited to speak in chapel services. A paradigm shift takes place in your life. The pastor label is no longer central. We do ministry in community. The church is not its leaders. It is people. It is you. It is me. It is a new way of living. Life is too short to waste on anything else. Imagine what would happen if we took Jesus' teaching in Mark 9 seriously? The Gospel is not a time slot on Sunday. It's simply following the way of Jesus. It's a call to do hard things for Christ. It's a subversive path into the kingdom. "Our destiny," wrote Aquinas, "is to run to the edge of the world and beyond, off into the darkness." There are some days when I do this. I run to the edges, thinking I can find the center there. But Jesus is not there. Jesus is the most centered Person you will even know. He was also very different, un-normal if you will. He never fit in. I ask you humbly: Can Jesus be considered to have the preeminence when our titles and church structures place a man at the head? There are 150 million children in the world who are orphans. That's the equivalent to more than half of the population of the United States. Are you supporting one? Native evangelists in places like India are ready to go two by two into their surrounding villages. Yet American missionaries live in excess beyond imagination. Gandhi once famously put it this way: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Jesus' message in Mark 9 is not anti-church. It's pro-church. It's pro the type of church Jesus would attend if He were here, the type of church He died for. Why were the earliest followers of Jesus called "Christians"? Because they were identified with a Person, not merely with a principle or a philosophy or a program. They weren't perfect people but they were different. They did not try to save civilization. The ship was already wrecked, but they could rescue some of the passengers. Friends, His business is our business as Christians. We have no other business. It is a heavenly calling and we may miss Christ because we are too busy attending to our own businesses. Never has American evangelical Christianity needed the message of Mark 9 as today. Do you recall the book burning in Ephesus? A mighty book burning is in order today -- a break with church-as-usual. There must be a radical following of Christ. "I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back."
Believer, your life is too important to waste on becoming "great." Jesus is calling us not to greatness but to smallness. Imagine what would happen if we all chose the latter.
5:32 AM More pix from Oahu:
1) Like this sunrise?
2) I think you'll like this even more:
3) Jesse, the school principal. My new bodyguard.
4) Presenting a copy of It's All Greek to Me: Confessions of an Unlikely Academic to my elementary school principal.
5) Pastor Kevin (left) and pastor Mike. Both lead drug addiction ministries. Kevin's is called RAM. You can read about it here.
6) Ate lots of healthy Korean food!
Saturday, October 17
6:12 PM In case anyone is wondering, I did in fact participate in the Ellie Helton Memorial 5K and Fun Run today in Cary. As soon as I arrived it was completely obvious to me that this would be one of the larger races I had attended since I launched my "racing career" (haha) a few months ago. In fact, according to the final stats, there were exactly 185 registered participants. We were all there for one reason: to learn the risks and warning signs of brain aneurysms and to support the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. But it wasn't just all statistics and medical mumbo-jumbo. It was up-close and very personal. For you see, Todd and Karen Helton lost their 14-year sweetheart Ellie last July to a brain aneurysm, and that's really why I was there this morning. To stand with Ellie's mom and dad and try and make a difference. It will come down to what I did. What you did. What we did together.
Of course, all I can do is make the tiniest ripple in the ocean, but add tiny ripples together and, well, the results are impossible to quantify. I just know personally that I will never look at brain aneurysms again in the same way. The facts:
With all the kids and grandkids I've got, these are good things to know. Mind ... heart ... hands. That's really what this 5K was about. Alone, there's not much we can do. Together, we can change the world.
Todd and Karen chose one of my favorite verses from one of my favorite New Testament books as their theme verse for the race: "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Heb. 12:1). Today I witnessed genuine Christian community at work. The church, someone once said, should consist of communities of loving defiance. That's how Ellie's parents are facing their sorrow. Yes, they experienced loss. Yes, someone they loved dearly died. But that doesn't mean that God's plan has been ruined. He knows each of us by name. He has a personal love for each and every one of us. When He cried "Zaccheus," here at last we saw a man who really cared for people as individual persons. It is equally significant that Jesus calls us into community. We live in an age of great individuality, but today Todd and Karen took their grief public, so to speak, hoping to leverage their tragedy for good. It's not surprising that followers of Jesus are often eager to do this. Every particle of this world has been polluted by the sin of man and is under the hand of the Evil One. Yet Christ has ushered in a new creation -- "creation healed," in the memorable words of theologian Hans Küng. Ellie is now in heaven, but perhaps God can use her death as a means of helping other children in households all across America and the world. I've been praying really hard that this event will reach its goal of being able to fund the Chair of Research in Honor of Ellie Helton. I do pray it did.
As for me, I'm so glad I came today. It was a joy to meet and speak with Todd and Karen. It's obvious that both of them are relying on a Power greater than themselves to give them the strength and resolve needed to overcome their loss. Running these 5Ks has taught me so much about myself. They've taught me that I can go farther than I ever thought I could. Running has equipped me with the resolve and endurance I've needed to rebuild my broken life after Becky's death that had me in its grip. Of course, the race wasn't easy -- it never is when it's held at my all-time nemesis venue: The WakeMed Soccer Park. During the race my legs kept begging for rest, but their cries fell on deaf ears. Even if it meant crawling over the finish line, I wasn't going to stop and rest. Indeed, the race came down to what Heb. 12:1 says the Christian life comes down to: perseverance.
And that's a lesson we can all learn.
Below: Here I am with a picture of Ellie, remembered for being a "vibrant, loving 14-year old."
Todd and Karen. True culture warriors in my book.
A good turnout on a crispy fall morning.
My third place finish in the Methuselah category.
Of the 185 participants I came in at the halfway mark, number 90 to be specific. In other words, I stink as a 5K racer. But that's fine with me. I don't want to be known as a great runner. I want the church to be great because we feed hungry babies and care for our widows and battle poverty with our own hands and hearts and not just the government's and come alongside parents who lose a child.
Friday, October 16
7:20 PM Had a wonderful evening. Nate and Nolan stopped by on the way to their farm, pulling yet another load of hay with them of course. Nate's been cutting a neighbor's fields.
He and I hope to get up our third cutting soon, maybe even this week. It's such a nice thing to see Nolan working with his daddy. It's an odd feeling. It's as if I was watching myself with Nathan 35 years ago.
Tomorrow's another 5K so I had better turn in early. This is such a crazy hobby. Seven months ago I didn't even know what a 5K was. Now it seems I AM one. It's like God prodding me toward the edge of the plank and then telling me to keep on walking. What an adventure.
Talk to you tomorrow, God willing.
12:22 PM Full day this morning: post office, bank, workout, filling the farm gas cans. Diane Rehm and her Friday World News Roundup kept me company while driving. She concluded today's program with the words, "What a poor world we live in." One of her guests chimed in: "Yes, the world seems to be getting darker and darker." The fact is, the world is being prepared for Antichrist, the final embodiment of all that is opposed to Christ. People are being prepared for the final delusion. As a result, they choose what is false and God permits them to reap the consequences. We might as well face it. We live in a very poor world indeed, and it's getting darker all the time. But halleluiah anyway. If we cannot transform the grim facts we can transcend them. We can trust even when we cannot understand. Even in this dark world we can experience quickenings of heaven. We taste "the world to come" when we are filled with the Spirit, when we share our faith, when we enjoy the fellowship of God's people, when we suffer with those are suffering and weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Christians have tasted of the Lord and have found Him precious beyond description. However, the best we can experience here is merely a foretaste, a down payment on what we will experience when we come into our full inheritance.
Until then, chins up and knees down!
11:04 AM My assistant was kind enough to update my publications list, which is something I've needed to get done for a very long time now. I feel like a midget among giants. Agatha Christie wrote 69 novels and 19 plays. Andrew Murray had 240 published works, Isaac Asimov 506, and Jacob Neusner a mere 950. I remember graduating from Basel in 1983 and telling myself that I needed to publish at least one journal article every year and one book every five years. I must have taken myself seriously! It's interesting to see how my publications have changed through the years of writing. At one point I basically said goodbye to writing journal articles. Same with published book reviews. Interests change and develop. So do priorities. These days, I start to feel a slight sense of panic as I begin heading into my retirement years. How did it all go by so fast? I'm so blessed and thankful that I've been able to publish at all. I enjoy sharing my thoughts with others. I know a lot of you think what I write is crazy, but you wouldn't be the first to think that way. I'm okay with that. Let's continue to sharpen each other. The thing I love the most about publishing is watching the younger generation as it comes along and proves that it can be just as prolific as its elders. And so life comes full circle. Author succeeds author, just as wave succeeds wave and generation succeeds generation. That's exactly how it should be. We are all in the process of learning what it means to follow hard after Jesus. May it never stop until we see Him face to face.
Thursday, October 15
6:50 PM It happened this morning. I left the house at 6:30 feeling a little sheepish at how much I was really looking forward to hiking Flat Top Mountain in the Peaks of Otter Range near Bedford, VA. Here you can see that Flat Top (right) is slightly higher than its twin, Sharp Top (left), which I hiked a few weeks ago.
Hiking Flat Top was a completely different experience from climbing Sharp Top: no crowds, no steps, and not nearly as steep. I would rank Sharp Top as a moderate-difficult climb but Flat Top as an easy-moderate hike. You can access the trail to Flat Top from either the Peaks of Otter Park or the 83-mile marker on the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of the Peaks of Otter Lodge.
I chose the latter route. The trail starts out easy but gets gradually steeper and more difficult.
At this bench begins a series of switchbacks that eventually lead you to the summit.
Here's what my Map-Your-Run app looked like after I had reached the summit. Talk about zigzagging!
At about the 2.1 marker there's an outcropping that many hikers stop to rest at. It's called the Cross Rock Junction or the Pinnacle.
Since I was doing the hike to get my cardio in for the day as well as to time my ascent, I decided to forego all of the "rest stops" along the trail. Actually, the descent was far more difficult than the ascent since the trail is comprised of small rocks hidden by fallen leaves. On the descent I slowed down and walked cautiously; a sprained ankle was definitely not on my agenda for today. As I said, as you ascend, the trail gets steeper and rockier, as this picture shows.
It was a great feeling when I eventually made it to the top.
The views were simply spectacular. Here's looking north.
And here's Sharp Top to the south.
Truly a picture-perfect day! This was true not only from the top but also from the Pinnacle (where I stopped to take pictures on the way down). Here's a view of Apple Orchard Mountain (looking northwest).
During my hike I saw not another soul save an elderly couple from Germany whom I met just as I was about to finish my hike.
I was pleased with my time on the ascent: 1:05:33. My total gain in elevation was 1,391 feet. Let's compare that with the Lemosho trail at Kilimanjaro. Climbers there spend anywhere from 3-6 hours hiking daily, averaging about 5 miles each day. The total elevation gain is 15,807 feet. That's about a 2,000-foot elevation gain per day. Well, today I hiked to the summit of Flat Top (around 3 miles) in about an hour, making an ascent of 1,391 feet. Not anything to write home about for sure, and I definitely need to do a lot more hiking before I'm ready for Kili. But one has to start somewhere!
So there you have it. I would highly recommend this hike for families. It's a lot easier than Sharp Top and the views are almost as gorgeous. The thing I hated the most today was that Becky was not here to enjoy the hike with me. We loved taking long walks at the Grand Canyon or at Bryce and Zion. Still, I have no complaints. Life is good, so good. Whenever I'm on the top of a mountain I'm simply amazed at the God who created all of this magnificence. It's a reminder that some day He'll make everything whole again, even aging and diseased bodies. I sit on a rock outcropping and hear God speaking to my heart and realize that, for the umpteenth time, there's no possible way I will ever be able to fathom how much Daddy loves me.
If you do decide to climb Flat Top, I imagine doing so in the next couple of weeks would be optimum since the fall foliage will be at its brightest. Keep your eye on your footing while descending, though! Thankfully I didn't slip and fall but I did have a few close calls. It helps if you take your walking stick with you.
Wednesday, October 14
7:04 PM It's hard to know what to say right now, how to explain how I'm feeling knowing that in just a little over two weeks I'll be commemorating the second anniversary of Becky's homegoing. I find my mind traversing in a million different directions. I feel like I've come a long ways, yet at the very same time I feel as though I have a long ways to go. I find myself struggling to describe what's in my heart right now so I think I'll wait until Nov. 2 to explain what's going on in my life. I do know that in the past two years I've changed in some very fundamental ways.
My days on campus were, well, splendid as usual. One of the highlights was watching my assistant and current Ph.D. student teach both sections of Greek 1 this week.
Noah did a fabulous job. Mentoring students is a highlight of my week, so much so that it defies my best efforts to describe. Let's just say it's the pinnacle of a professor's work to see his students eagerly grabbing hold of the baton. More on that later. For now, I hope it's okay if I turn in a little early as I am bushed!
Tuesday, October 13
9:12 AM Great education quotes here (Albert Einstein):
Example isn't another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.
It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
Monday, October 12
2:16 PM This morning I woke up thinking I would drive for two and a half hours to Bedford, Virginia to hike to the summit of Flat Top Mountain in the Peaks of Otter range. My body had other ideas, however. It disobediently refused to climb to an elevation of 4,000 feet but, thankfully, was willing to compromise with a shorter hike, as long as the venue was close to home. So off we went, my body and I, to the local Y, where I did some very light weight lifting (all the while pampering my left triceps muscles, which I somehow managed to injure while surfing last week) before driving through the deserted back roads of Halifax and Charlotte Counties.
My destination was the Staunton River Battlefield State Park.
It was here that a ragtag group of old men and boys held off an assault by Union forces on a bridge of strategic importance to Lee's army encamped around Petersburg.
The only route available to Lee for resupplying his army lay along the Danville to Richmond railroad. In June of 1864 the forces clashed. The bridge would be saved, only to be burned by the retreating Confederates the next year. This was not my first visit to this site. I recall doing a reenactment here just after moving to the East Coast in 1998. The amazing thing about that reenactment was that it was allowed to take place on the actual battlefield (a rarity, believe me).
When you arrive at the park your first stop is the visitors' center, which details your options.
These are basically twofold: a .07 mile nature trail, and a 1.2 mile battlefield trail.
I decided to do the latter first. As you can see, it was a very easy hike along a spacious and well-kept gravel road.
Immediately you encounter the Confederate breastworks that are remarkably well-preserved for a battle that took place over 150 years ago.
Eventually you come to the 1902 railroad bridge.
I paused on top to enjoy the scenic Staunton River as it flowed gently beneath me.
Finally you arrive at the small town of Randolph, where you turn around and retrace your steps.
I found the Edgewood Trail to be a delightful trek through assorted pines and hardwoods.
From the amount of leaves on the ground you quickly realize that fall has arrived in the Virginia Piedmont.
Eventually you arrive at a wooden wildlife tower overlooking a marshy area. I stayed here for a few minutes but didn't see anything.
All in all, these two trails afforded my jet-lagged body a delightful little jaunt on a picture-perfect day. If you're ever in the area you might want to consider a short drive over to this state park. It's a mere 18 miles east of the city of South Boston.
Now it's time for me to get to work. Today, in preparation for my According to Mark class, I need to translate Mark 8. I think I'll produce my translation in German this time rather than English. That will be fun!
9:44 AM Trying to get over jet lag. Pretty futile effort so far.
Sunday, October 11
9:22 PM So here's my very brief review of Vaughan Roberts' True Worship, which you can purchase here. The book has six chapters:
1. The Foundations of Christian Worship
2. The Nature of Christian Worship
3. The End of Religion
4. The Purpose of Christian Meetings
5. The Place of Music and Singing
6. Understanding the Lord's Supper
In chapter 1, Roberts' main point is that true worship is all about Jesus. Where can He be found? The surprising answer is that we can meet Him anywhere -- be it Jerusalem, a mountain in Gerizim, or even a church building. During my teen years, as part of the so-called Jesus Movement, I met with him while surfing in Waikiki just as much as when I paddled in for an hour of "worship" at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel. True worship is always possible because it doesn't involve going to a special place, writes Roberts. You simply go to Jesus.
While reading chapter 2, I was reminded of the saying, "Enter to worship, and depart to serve." Somehow we've gotten the very mistaken idea that worship focuses exclusively on Christian meetings. Roberts responds: We are called to worship at all times. "Worship involves an obedience to God's will in all parts of life" (p. 22). Thus one cannot judge a church's "worship" by what happens on Sunday morning! "The real test is how its members behave during the rest of the week" (p. 30). Roberts then offers a "worship checklist" (pp. 31-34) that I thought was fabulous. He probes 5 areas of life:
Worship, for Roberts, defines the whole of life. To use his analogy, you would no sooner say "I'm going to bed to breathe for a while" than you would say "I'm going to church to worship."
In chapter 3 Roberts correctly notes that the New Testament never refers to "morning worship" or "evening service." He explores the different Greek words for worship (proskuneo, leitourgeo, sebomai, and latreuo), concluding that Christians do not go to church to worship. Quoting F. F. Bruce (p. 40):
Roberts thinks the problem is that we're muddled down in Old Testament concepts and patterns of worship, where "holy" people do "holy" things in "holy" places. "Jesus," he notes, "brought the whole temple system to an end" (p. 43). This is clearly taught in the book of Hebrews. Thus Roberts concludes (p. 55):
Up to this point our author has been making a largely negative argument. Now, in chapter 4, he turns to the positive New Testament teaching concerning the purpose for the gathering of the church. Christians are to meet with one another for encouragement (Heb. 10:24-25) and edification (1 Cor. 14:26). Thus "... in our meetings we are directing ourselves primarily towards one another rather than toward God...." (p. 60). It is still God, of course, who ultimately provides the encouragement and edification we need. This He does largely through His word. But take note! Lest you think that Roberts is pointing exclusively to a pulpit ministry, he adds: "The sharing of God's word was the responsibility of all church members" (p. 63). Of course, this does not minimize the importance and significance of elder-teachers in the church. But Christians should not abdicate their responsibility to know God's word to their "ministers." "Again and again the New Testament exhorts all church members to be involved in ministering to one another" (p. 71). Church leaders have an important role to play, but it is one of becoming catalysts enabling others to do their part. I saw this truth in action when I was visiting Windward Baptist Church last weekend. At the end of one of the services pastor Kevin asked, "Before we leave does anyone have a word of encouragement?" Several such "words" ensued, and they were wonderful. For Roberts, then, the church is a Christian family, and good family members always "spur each other on in the Christian life. And the more we do that, the better we will worship God -- not just on Sunday, but with the whole of our lives" (p. 83). Or, in the words of Howard Marshall (quoted on p. 81):
Chapter 5 points out the very grave danger of viewing "worship" as essentially a time of singing through which we are draw close to God. For Roberts, these dangers can lead to a situation in which:
Positively, Roberts insists that we should indeed still sing, for two reasons: to praise God, and to encourage one another. He encourages both "God-focused songs" and "God-focused singing." And always pay careful attention to the words we sing!
Chapter 6 hearkens back to the original setting of the Lord's Supper as a fellowship meal. For Roberts, communion is a time to look back (remembrance), look up (communion), look around (edification), and look forward (hope).
What Roberts does in this short book is nothing less than earth-shaking. I know some folks will think that his views are inherently anti-church. But I don't see why this should be the case at all. In John 4, Jesus was very specific about worship. He wasn't trying to duck the Samaritan woman's question! With the coming of the Messiah, He said, everything was about to change. He would introduce a completely new way of engaging with God the Father, one that depended on "Spirit and truth" rather than on any place, person, or posture. I'll end with the reflection that books like this one (along with, say, David Croteau's excellent work on tithing) are game changers for the church. So, folks, we seem to have a problem in the evangelical church in America. We need to face it. If you're willing to go back to the (New Testament) drawing board, Roberts' book would be a good place to start. No longer can we think of a church building as a sanctuary or as "the house of God." I know my insistence on this is going to disappoint some, but I'm convinced it's the truth. Now the question is: How do I implement this truth in my local church, and how do you implement it in yours? I need to work on that, and I encourage you to do the same.
Blessings on you all,
3:24 PM William Temple once confessed to praying, "God who made me simple, make me simpler yet." As you know, since Becky's death I've been trying to simplify my life. Out with the unneeded and unwholesome stressors, in with single-minded faithfulness. What has God called me to do? Surely not everything. And just as surely, not a lot. Just a few simple tasks: teach Greek faithfully, serve the body of Christ internationally, love my family, share Jesus' love with others, and take care of the temple. I really need to learn discipline in this last area. It's one thing to exercise; it's another thing to exercise regularly. Here's a chart of my cardio for the last 30 days, courtesy of the free app called "Map My Run":
I'd like to try and maintain this goal monthly: 50 miles. But it takes planning. Lots of it. When I was in Hawaii I think I must have done at least 6 5Ks as well as several hikes. I hiked Diamond Head again and boy was it a thrill. I'm learning to love hiking as much as I love running. These activities have a lot in common. Both require effort. Both are pleasurable. Both are healthy. Both involve two legs. But they are not the same. Running is a sport. It means keeping score. It's about establishing your time and rank and place. There are winners in running -- and losers. Hiking is not a sport. It has nothing to do with competition. It's simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Both running and hiking provide what I call "detachments" -- little breaks in one's life. Both take place outdoors, in the fresh air. Like you, I lead two lives: one indoors, and one outdoors. When I'm indoors writing or blogging, the outdoors hardly exists. Conversely, when I'm outdoors, my life is turned inside out and upside down. When you're outdoors, you find yourself with the wind blowing in your face and surrounded by a landscape of colors and scents unfamiliar to your indoors self. I love it! I nearly always hike alone. Being in the company of others forces you to walk at their speed. With hiking, it's essential that you find your own rhythm and stick with it. To be alone in nature is breathtaking. The whole world greets you -- flowers, trees, boulders, animals. In that sense, it's impossible to be alone when hiking. The whole world is yours. In addition, when I'm hiking my thoughts keep me company. I never think so much as when I'm hiking. Hiking tests not only the sureness of your footing but your mental and emotional fitness.
For me, hiking is a reminder that life on earth is a pilgrimage -- the makeshift existence of a man without a country except for the one he has in heaven. There's nothing better for regaining a proper perspective on the brevity of life than a long walk in nature. A pilgrimage is an act of faith. So is a hike. Often, when I'm hiking, I've never been "there" before. Every step is an acceptance of the uncertainty of this life. Each step underscores my mortality. People didn't talk about "hiking" in the first century, but substitute Paul's "walk" for "hike" and a beautiful picture of the Christian life emerges. But before a walk can occur, there has to be a crucifixion. To be crucified with Christ means no looking back. To be crucified with Christ means you have no plans of your own. To be crucified with Christ is to place yourself totally and completely in God's hands.
That's how I want to live my life -- with sincerity and straightforwardness and transparency and single-minded fidelity, both physically and spiritually. This lifestyle was seen supremely in Jesus who, by the way, did an awful lot of walking. If you ever meet a truly holy person, he or she will be marked by that same kind of simplicity.
Below: Diamond Head (and rainbow) from its crest.
A brief panorama for your viewing pleasure:
1:10 PM Windward Baptist Church is involved in the community in many ways, not least by hosting Kahuluu Christian School (K-12). I loved teaching in swimming shorts and flip flops.
Which brings to mind a delightful little anecdote in Vaughan Roberts' book True Worship (p. 5):
Folks, there are no more holy places, pure and simple (John 4:19-24). True worship is a person, not a place or an attire. Hallelujah!
12:30 PM I slept for 16 hours straight last night. Still feeling a little groggy. The airplane food did a number on my stomach so I've got that little issue to deal with. In a fallen world you can't expect everything to be perfect. But overall, I feel great. I just finished reading a new book (well, new for me at any rate) called True Worship by Vaughan Roberts. I honestly think the whole book was simply fantastic. I felt it captured the essence of what I've been trying to say about "worship" for years. I forget who mentioned to me that I should get this book, but whoever you are -- thank you! There are several lessons from this great book that I'll share with you later, once my frazzled brain gets back to semi- "normal." Right now I'm putting together my grocery list (the fridge is bare) and getting caught up with personal and farm finances. As all of you know, I'm sure, my travels won't stop with this jaunt to Hawaii. Lord willing, later this month I'm in New York, then I'll be in South Carolina and Asia in November, then back to Dallas in December. Somewhere along the way I'd like to make a hiking trip to Bryce and Zion National Parks -- two of my favorite spots on the planet. My next 5K will be in Cary next Saturday, Oct. 17. It's called the Ellie Helton Memorial 5K and Fun Run. Ellie died of a brain aneurism at the age of 14. This year's event will raise funds to help the Brain Aneurism Foundation raise awareness of the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of this condition. The venue is the (dreaded) WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary -- "dreaded" because of all the hills. The 5K begins at 9:30. I keep inviting you to run with me but seems like most of you are just a bunch of flakes. Seriously, why not come out and support a good cause -- and get some good exercise while you're at it?
Our leaves have begun to change color here. Simply beautiful. Fall is here, and with it a reminder that winter is coming. The world system is quickly passing away. Jesus is coming back, but our work is not yet done. Along with privilege goes responsibility. Where much is given, much is required. God has given me so much. I dare not regard the privilege lightly. Every Christian should be an agitator, working with God to move men and women heavenward!
Saturday, October 10
7:58 PM From my trip journal (#1):
Saturday, October 3
Today I hiked to the top of Koko Head. I felt like I could touch heaven even though I was still bound to earth on a giant volcanic mound.
It was a brutal hike. Each step became more difficult than the last as the grade seemed to steepen. I inched my way up the mountain. Each step was agonizing. I had overestimated my ability and underestimated the difficulty of the hike. Stride by stride I kept moving until I finally made it to the summit.
I laughed in disbelief that an old fossil like me could have accomplished such a feat. I climbed atop the pillbox and saw rays of Hawaiian sunshine wash over the rugged terrain below. I could not have chosen a better morning for my hike. From here you could see Makapuu, Hanauma Bay, Hawaii Kai, Diamond Head, and the Koolau Range.
I ended my summit attempt with a prayer of thanksgiving and began to descend. By now my knees were like rubber and I made painfully slow progress so as not to trip on the irregularly-spaced railroad ties.
When I arrived in the parking lot and located my rental car, I pondered the thought that one day I might make a hiker after all. All I needed was to rediscover the risk-taking person I was in my youth, someone with an indomitable faith that anything was possible. In a sense, every one of these hikes is a foretaste of Kilimanjaro. If the Lord leads me to climb Kili next year, I would love to make it to the summit, just as I did today at Koko Head. But my health and safety are very important to me, and if I'm unable to summit I'll still be very proud of my efforts and know that I gave it my best.
In the meantime, the best preparation for Kilimanjaro is regular hiking to build up my leg muscles, along with good general aerobics. Whether it's surfing, hiking, or running a 5K, it's not about the competition for me. It's about challenging myself -- to try and find something in life that's really hard and try to do it. That's the most gratifying thing of all. Overcoming the trauma of Becky's death was a good first step. But I have a sneaking suspicion that there are more mountains yet to climb.
12:54 PM Hi folks,
I hope you are doing well. Just got back from the trip of a lifetime. I mostly relaxed and read and hiked and surfed and slept and ate and wrote and ran and lifted and surfed some more. Other than my teaching sessions I had no tight schedules, no busy agendas. When I did teach, my constant emphasis was on formation, not information. Followers of Jesus must be formed and not simply informed. I emphasized repeatedly, "The Bible was not given for our information but for our transformation." My talks centered on how radically different a Jesus-centered church is from our traditional churches. I loved the warmth and hospitality of Windward Baptist Church. I think my talks were well received. Churchianity in Hawaii is dying a slow death (hallelujah!). I kept emphasizing that not only must we be about formation, but that we must do so in community. True Christian maturity is more caught than taught. As we gather, we "spur" one another on to love and good deeds. So, while I don't minimize for a moment the enormous value of biblical teaching in the church at every level, we need Christian leaders who will come alongside the people and meet them at the place where they live and work. I tell you, it was great to be with "my" people again, people with whom I enjoy a natural affinity based on a common language, culture, and upbringing. For me, Hawaii holds many memories, not all of them pleasant. Yet, as I look back, God overcame evil with good at each and every turn. In fact, I discovered on this trip a beauty in Christ I had not known before. The weather was both pleasant and stormy. Which reminded me: Knowing God in the sunshine is one thing; trusting (and serving!) Him in the storm is another. I spoke 3 times on Sunday and 3 times on Wednesday, and with each audience my overall message was pretty much the same: Today Jesus is looking for people who will follow Him at any cost. This kind of costly discipleship comes through biblical instruction, but only partly. We will not become obedient and passionate disciples until after the dynamite of the Holy Spirit has exploded in our souls, as it did on the Day of Pentecost. I can tell you that important things are happening in the Islands. I see more and more humble leaders working in complete obscurity to help build a body, a church, a community of Jesus freaks who exist entirely to be God's change agents for the healing of the whole creation. There can be no half measures with Christ. The Spirit of God is always seeking a fellowship of men and women so united in faith and so filled with divine love that He can work in them and through them without hindrance. Pastor Kevin is ruthlessly straightforward in facing up to the Bible's oftentimes upsetting and anti-status-quo practical challenges. That's how it is with anyone who takes God at His word.
Although I wasn't blogging while I was gone, I was still writing. Every evening I would write in my trip diary to my heart's content. In the coming days I'll share with you a few of my entries -- and I guarantee you'll be mightily bored! May these posts encourage you to follow hard after Jesus. A big mahalo and thank you to pastor Kevin and pastor Mark and all the bruddas and sistas at WBC for giving me the chance to contrast the Jesus of the New Testament with the accommodated Jesus of far too much of American evangelicalism.
Aloha, and thank all of you for your prayers.
Thursday, October 1
5:50 AM Well, I want to thank all of you for your readership over the years. Once again, however, it's time to say goodbye to you -- and to blogging -- for a few days. I'm off to the island of my birth and youth, the "Capital Isle" of Oahu. Others call it the "Contradiction Isle" because it's a rare combination of tranquil beaches and traffic jams that remind you of Los Angeles during rush hour. I remember it mostly for its amazing beaches -- not only the world famous spots like the Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach but also for lesser-known spots like Queens, Ala Moana, and Makapuu. A visit to Hawaii is an invitation to sun, stroll, and swim, all of which I plan to do -- and more. A huge tropical storm just skirted the islands and I'm told that the waves in Kailua are huge. I plan to surf the minute I arrive this afternoon. I also plan to lift weights at the local gym, swim my laps at the town's Olympic-size pool, run daily 5Ks along the plumeria-scented roads of Kailua, and hike. For me, Hawaii has never been paradise. My upbringing hardly qualifies for the term. Oahu is a place with real people with real problems (not just the traffic) and, most importantly, real spiritual needs. Many have asked me how it was that I came to be convinced that Jesus was the answer to my sin problem. It was because of a man from the mainland named Rudy Ulrich who established a small congregation on the windward side and who showed me that it is by identifying myself with Christ, by accepting His death of my behalf, by becoming completely absorbed in His teaching, and by living out the drama of His life with Him that I could be reborn to become a new Dave Black. It's now my turn to return the favor to the islands -- to come back to the land I love so much and proclaim the kingdom of Light, a kingdom whose fulfillment we await with confidence. I hope it will also be a time of rest and restoration; my mind and emotions have gone through the paces lately, and there is nothing like strolling down miles-long stretches of lightly-used beaches with sand as fine as powder to reinvigorate a tired soul.
Don't worry -- I'll take plenty of pictures and bore you silly with stories of my trip when I return. I'd especially appreciate your prayers as I share ministry with the brothers and sisters at Windward Baptist Church, including this weekend's myth of adolescence conference. It never gets old -- these trips to Hawaii. This is now my fourth visit since Becky's death and you know what? I return energized partly by her energy, more ready than ever to pour out my life for the people of Oahu. Today I am very thankful for the memories of a life lived on these shores many years ago, of a honeymoon there, of high school fights and nasty cases of bronchitis and building my own surfboards -- and thankful, too, that God orchestrated every step of my ways. I have no reason to think that He'll stop now.
So if it's going quiet here at DBO for a few days, it's because I'll be watching God work as He uses a broken and unworthy vessel. On these trips so much is the same and so much is different. Yet I can always rest in the knowledge that God made me, and He doesn't make mistakes. Hawaii is going to be absolutely amazing because it is God's creation, and I am honored and humbled to be a part of it.
Aloha oe, until we meet again ....
P.S. I see that Henry Neufeld has just published the second of his videotaped interviews with yours truly, this time featuring It's All Greek to Me, a book describing my academic journal from Hawaii to Basel. I do pray it is a blessing.