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October 2020 Blog Archives

Saturday, October 31

6:58 PM Worshipping the Lord tonight to the music of Edward Elgar.


Ah, the human voice, the first and most beautiful instrument on earth. It should be illegal for music to be this perfect. I expect to find this music in heaven. VOCES8 never disappoint. Their performance is immaculate as always. May God bless all who watch this video wherever they are in the world. Never have we needed God's perpetual light to shine upon us more than today.  

3:42 PM 'Twas a wonderful day for a run. I ran (without walking) 13.1 miles at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville.

What is so natural, so pacifying, and so nourishing to the mind and body as running? The day was cold, so the trail was empty.

Do I miss surfing? Of course I do. But that's one sport that's simply impossible for me because of where I live. But running -- ah, you can run anywhere. But let's be clear: physical endurance alone can't get you to the finish line. Only healthy conditioning of the body can. That's why I've done all of my training this year using the LSD method -- Long Slow Distance, also known as the Low Heart Rate Method or the Maffetone Method. Here running is done at very slow speeds in order to engender greater overall health and fitness. When we push our bodies to longer distances without the proper training and preparation, our chances of getting injured skyrocket. How we run is the primary culprit, not how long we run. I'm finally learning to run the correct way -- from my deep core muscles -- and letting the rest of my body relax.

What do I think about when I run? All kinds of things. Today I thought about:

  • Becky (of course!). I'm expecting a full-blown tears-down-the-face cry any day now. Listen, just because Jesus wasn't married doesn't mean he didn't fully understand widowers. Thank you Jesus!

  • My classes at the seminary. To be specific, my 4 classes this semester, my class this J-term, my 6 classes in the spring, my class next summer, and my 2 classes next fall. How can I improve my teaching? How can I better use electronic aids? How can I tweak my syllabi? So much to think about!

  • My writing. Are there any more major books the Lord wants me to write? If so, what are they?

  • My family. So much to think about. I pray that my kids and grandkids might be like clay in God's hands. I pray that God would make them teachable, flexible, and adaptable. I have this short season with them and it's flying by!

As I said, the thing I like about running is that you can do it anywhere. Just grab your shoes and your Garmin and you're off. I'm consistently amazed at what you can accomplish when you keep moving forward and don't give up. Today's run was an inspiring, challenging, and rewarding adventure. I tried to imagine what Becky's reaction would have been if she had been there watching me run. I think she would have been proud of me.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

7:30 AM One of the things I love about my NT 2 class are the "towel and basin" ministries that each student does during the semester. It's a way for us to love each other and to strengthen ourselves in healthy ways. This ministry must be (1) regular and (2) sacrificial (i.e., you are not paid to do it). Wonderful ... but don't expect it to be easy. I got the idea from my days as a student at Biola College (1971-1975). Each semester we were required to perform a "Christian service assignment" of some kind. Since the college was only about a half hour drive from Watts/South Central Los Angeles, I decided I'd play pickup basketball every Saturday.

I was strengthened in surprising ways. I discovered that people everywhere desire simply to be known and loved, to belong. Community is such a basic human need. According to Jesus, love is what it's all about (John 13:35). When I assess the effectiveness of my teaching, requiring towel and basin ministries is one of the uppermost. Honestly, it is one of my greatest joys as a teacher to read my students' reports. To my teachers at Biola: Thanks for getting me out of the library and into the world. Thanks for giving me depth. Thanks for putting the hard stuff in front of me. Thanks for reminding me that I can press extremely hard on the gospel and it will hold. Do we want to raise up disciples? Then we have to love people. The kids I worked with in Watts could smell a sham a mile away. We have to treat their concerns and needs with respect. If we fail to listen, we dismiss them from the church. If you have no idea where to start, try your own family. Begin with selfless acts of love and see what miracles happen.

6:58 AM I just cannot recommend the Psalms enough. They were used by Jesus. They were quoted by the writers of the New Testament. They were used in the worship of the early church. This morning I was in Psalm 1 before heading over to Matthew 28. Here in the first psalm we read that those whom God has blessed "find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night." My whole life has been devoted to developing materials to facilitate the serious study of the inerrant word of God. It all started in Hawaii, where I was privileged to sit at the feet of gifted Bible teachers. They made the Bible come alive with passion and interest. When I was 16, the Bible became precious to me. Every word, every jot and tittle, became crevices in which surprises were hidden. I also learned the importance of depending on the Holy Spirit of God when reading the Scriptures. The Spirit is not just the icing on the cake. He alone is the vital source of life and wisdom. I began to approach my reading of the Bible each day prayerfully. I asked the Holy Spirit to make the word come alive in my life. I also discovered some wonderful tools that make Bible study so much easier and less tedious. I especially began to read different translations in order to see how a passage can be rendered in different ways. This morning I was reading my copy of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels.

Remember that Greek participles can be translated as commands? Well, that's exactly what Delitzsch does in Matt. 28:19:

  • Go!

  • Make disciples!

  • Baptize!

  • Teach!

Of course, only "Make disciples" is in the imperative mood in Greek. But that doesn't make the other participles mere "suggestions"!

Let me issue a challenge to you today. Come up with one aspect of your life that needs to change, based on your study of God's word. Remember that the aim of all Bible study is to produce Christlike changes in our lives. Then study what the Bible has to say about that subject. Let God's Spirit begin to make that change in your life. I can assure you that God is not going to read the Bible for you. You have to decide if you really want to get into the Book, and when. As you dive into the word itself, take your time. Enjoy the experience. God's truth is there, and you will find it if you give yourself enough time.

Friday, October 30

8:20 PM Another beautiful evening.

6:22 PM Silva's book on lexical semantics is like an old friend -- you never tire of it. I grabbed it off my shelf and reread it on the porch this afternoon.

My, how things have changed since it first appeared in 1983! The bibliography cites only a handful of works available at the time: Barr, of course, and C. B. Caird, and J. P. Louw's Semantics of New Testament Greek, which appeared in 1982. I only wish I had had these works available to me when I was writing my dissertation in Basel on astheneia and its cognates in Paul.

That work was finished in 1982 and published under the title Paul, Apostle of Weakness in 1984.

I laughed out loud when I saw what I had written in Silva's work back in 1983, when I first read his book:

My study was way too narrow for a study of Paul's concept of weakness.

Here's what I'm finding: Research stands still in no field, least of all in the sciences. So thank you to Silva (and Barr and Louw et al.) for stimulating yours truly to delve a bit more deeply into the field. I'd also like to thank my colleague Ben Merkle for helping me put together this volume.

The same connective thread remains some 32 years after I published Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. There is a reason New Testament Greek students study the science of linguistics: We believe that Greek is a language and can and should be studied as such. Silva described a powerful intellectual movement I cannot quit thinking about. And today, the tools available to us are so much more than I had when I was just starting out. You have the keys, students! Do not let anything stop you from studying linguistics. Sometimes things start off a little stiff, so be patient. My best advice is just to read anything you can get your hands on and be truthful. Trust me, no will be able to master everything there is to know about Greek linguistics. But we all can make a start.

Today I cannot teach one class, not one, without thinking of the debt I owe to scholars like Silva.

12:15 PM Like I said, I've been enjoying the book The Explorers. The "seven" characteristics of an explorer are -- in case you've forgotten -- curiosity, hope, passion, courage, independence, self-discipline, and perseverance. Becky had these traits in bucket-fulls. She was never reticent to step off into the unknown. She exuded optimism and hope. Passionate? What didn't she do with passion? Courage? Nothing intimated her. She was born independent. Her tastes were never influenced by others. Her self-discipline was amazing. As for perseverance, just read her book. I won't bore you with all the nitty-gritty details. As I watched her life, I thought about why we even want to do hard things as human beings. I mean, isn't it so much easier to sit on our sofas and not even attempt to move out of our comfort zones? Yes, easier (maybe), but not better. Easy is not the point. Obedience is. Love for God and for people is the whole substance of life. There's nothing that can even begin to compare with it. Run your race my friend. Say yes to life. Work hard. Don't bury your talents. God made you good at something for a reason. Let the rest of us smile at you while you chase down your goals. Let us be inspired by your life. Forget about pleasing everybody. Just please your Lord. That's what Becky tried to do with her life. She was an explorer at heart -- curious, hopeful, passionate, courageous, independent, self-disciplined, and persevering. I don't like people who minimize their potential. What are you good at? What gets your pulse racing? Find it and do it. Play your note. We are all cheering you on.

Becky Lynn Lapsley Black, I love you. Thank you for throwing yourself into life with no apologies. You were smart and able. Even getting sick wasn't a tragedy for you. You leveraged it for good. Thank God for that. I hit the jackpot when I married you. I will never be the same. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit. As I look back over the past 7 years, I see that no matter where I turned, I kept running into God. No, he did not give me an answer to the question of why he took you home. I don't think I'll ever comprehend that. But I have made peace with his sovereignty and goodness. I know you are in a far better place. You lived life to the fullest. Glory be to God.


6:58 AM Here at DBO we're anxious to help you any way we can with your Bible study. We have hundreds of essays you can peruse. We have published all of my major journal articles (with permission); these are free to print off as needed. On our Greek Portal we are always publishing new Power Points. We are anxious to help you because we know that you are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. The Bible is the living word of God. I've discovered that I'm constantly finding something new in its pages, regardless of how many times I've read it. Each day, I believe God has something fresh for us as we place ourselves under him. With every new trip through the Scriptures there's some new treasure to be found!

If you haven't visited our Greek Portal yet, I invite you to take a look today.

We're always posting something fresh there. Here are some new Power Points we used in our teaching this week:

1) The Text of Mark 6:20.

2) Major Characteristics of Mark's Gospel.

3) Sponsoring Native Missionaries in the Majority World.

4) On (Mis)Reading 1 Timothy as a "Pastoral Epistle."

Today I'm finishing writing up my final thoughts on Martin Dugard's excellent book The Explorers. Then I need to clean the house and get a workout in. As we go through the normal routines of the day, let's keep our hearts and minds open to the truth of God's word, whatever it may be. Let's recognize our biases and prejudices for what they are -- sin. It's so easy to approach the Bible with a variety of incorrect ideas without even realizing it. One thing I have learned through the years is that any time we leave the actual text of the Bible and instead embrace our own traditions, we get into trouble. The "Pastoral" Epistles is a good example. We need to read the Bible for itself. It's one story from beginning to end, and Jesus Christ is the center of it all. When I get to heaven I'm going to give its human authors a big hug. They have given us the plain truth. What a precious heritage we have!

Thursday, October 29

8:42 PM My view.

6:46 PM Hi. It's me again. Just popping in again when you thought I was gone for good. Nope. Just been teaching away. My theme this week on campus was, "The Bible is the word of God." That's really quite a statement, isn't it? If we really believed that, it would change everything. Moreover, the Bible isn't only inspired. It's profitable! It is given to instruct us and correct us and guide us and teach us truth. It is by far the best selling book in history yet we live in a world (and nation) that is filled with deception. More than ever, we Americans need to know what the Bible says and how to obey it in our own lives. How should we study the Bible? That's the question I try to answer week in and week out on campus in my classes. As I often say to my students, don't ever accept anything just because I've said it (or even because some other Bible teacher has said it). You have a much better teacher than me (or them). Research the Bible for yourself in the power of the Holy Spirit and you will be surprised what God wants to teach you. It's my premise that you will never be able to understand (and obey) the Bible by spending 45 minutes a week listening to a sermon. Nope. Ain't gonna happen. We need to be personally involved in dedicated Bible study. My classes are nothing more than attempts to provide people with tools to help them study God's word for themselves. Of course, this is impossible without his Spirit, but he is more than willing to fill us. We just have to ask.

Anyhoo, I'm back home again and mighty thankful too. This is where my R & R occurs each and every week. Here God literally makes me lie down in green pastures. It's where he leads me beside still waters. It's where he restores my soul. Tonight I will take time simply settling in. Hopefully I'll go back to work next week refreshed and revitalized. Jesus sought solitude not when there was nothing else to do but because of the essential need to make time for prayer despite all the things that cried out for his attention. Sometimes he would spend an entire night in retreat. Do you have a special place in your life where you can get away to be with God? I hope so!

This week I've been working very hard on letting things go. The politics. The election. Becky's passing. The cancelled trips and races. That's why I will run again this weekend. Only runners get how restorative and healing running is. So I run on. And bike on. And swim on. And hike on. And walk on. Some people feel unmotivated to run right now because there are so few races. I will run because I acquire a perspective on life that I can't get any other way than by being outdoors with the Lord.

Life is never boring when you're active. Case in point: Being interviewed by a good friend for his podcast.

I mean, seriously. How can anything be so much fun?

Tomorrow I hope to get in either a run, bike, or hike. I'm tempted to go to Harper's Ferry and climb to the Maryland Lookout. I love new hiking trails. But right now I have to get the house in order and check up on all the animals. And yes, tomorrow I'll be blogging more about Becky, in case you were wondering. I'm not sure there is one secret to having longevity in a relationship, but I do think working together for the gospel gives you both something to talk about, pray about, and (hopefully) laugh about. Plus, it helps you to speak the same love language.

More anon!

Monday, October 26

7:55 AM So how to commemorate? I've already had Ethiopian food in her honor. I've already run a race in her memory. I think I'll post a few anecdotes of our life together. Would that be okay? One of my favorite memories of Becky is attending a Lutheran Brethren church together in Anaheim while I was learning German in preparation for our living in Basel. Here she is with Frau and Herr Mittmann.

Paul Mittmann had served in the Wehrmacht during World War II. Like so many vets, after the war he and his wife relocated to Southern California -- to "Anna's Home." There they started a German-speaking congregation. On Sundays I would attend regularly before my own church service in La Mirada started. Mr. Mittmann and I would also meet in his home weekly for conversation practice. Eventually I preached (in German) several times to his congregation before moving to Switzerland. Herr Mittmann spoke the most beautiful German. It was he who enabled me to hit the ground running when I arrived in Basel. I am forever in his debt. Though Becky wasn't studying German at the time, she would often tag along to our meetings. She and Frau Mittmann really hit it off. Within three months of our arrival in Switzerland, Becky was speaking the language (here we are at dinner in Basel).

We both loved living in Basel. I felt as at home there as I did in La Mirada. Pictures like these remind me of why it's such a good idea to get out of your own culture.

More stories later ....

7:05 AM Only 7 days to go till "that" day. No, not the election. But that day. Odd, I still think I should be able to wake up in the morning and enjoy a cup of coffee with her on the front porch. It still seems so strange. Stuff like this reminds me to be grateful that God is absolutely sovereign. Because on the face of it, it feels and looks like a loss, a brutal reminder of the brokenness of the world we live in. Somehow I think Jesus would have understood. I look into the Gospels and see him weeping outside of the tomb of a man he was about to raise from the dead, fully present in the moment, sharing deeply in the grief of his friends. I think of the ones who stood vigil around Becky as she drew her last breath, present in her last moments, and I know this is the way life is meant to be. Jesus got dirty and he got hurt. He could have lived in a monastery but he didn't. Instead, he lived in community with brokenness. He loved the unlovable and wept with the mourners. I don't understand why I had to lose my wife at the age of 60. But I do know that Christ has overcome death, whether I feel it or not, whether I understand it or not. Victory over death has been won. How long? How long before he speaks the word and makes the world whole again? How long do widows and widowers have to groan before this old world had groaned enough?

When you see your loved ones today, hold them close and tell them that you love them. And don't stop singing. We must never stop singing to our God.  

In Basel.

In Egypt.

In Dallas.

In Hawaii.

Forever in my heart.

Sunday, October 25

5:40 PM We had a brief break in the weather so I was able to get in a 5K recovery walk today. The weather is teaching me to be flexible.

Meanwhile I just finished putting together a power point on (mis)reading 1 Timothy as a "pastoral" epistle. I'm also texting with family. This has been a very tough time for our nation and for our families. We must do what we can to help others out, to check up on friends and family members, and to remain optimistic. When things don't go as planned, you come up with a new plan. There are no excuses not to press ahead with life. Last night I finished this book.

In places it is heartbreaking. On page 80, Henry relates the story of his dismissal from the editorship of Christianity Today.

He determined at all costs to be a Christian gentleman in the midst of his disappointment. He wrote, "Mrs. Henry and I are reconciled to dismissal, both psychologically and spiritually, although I must say the hurt is deep." The worst blow, he went on to say, wasn't the involuntary termination after 12 years of sacrificial labor. It was the nullification of the opportunity to look into constructive alternatives while still employed. Of course, there was a silver lining, as Henry went on to become a faculty member at Eastern Baptist Seminary and then lecturer-at-large for World Vision. It's true that we all handle hardships differently. Some of us wallow in self-pity. Others are more proactive. What I do know is that once we move beyond the denial/anger stage (which is totally acceptable for a time), we begin to see the big picture and can return to our old optimistic selves.

2020 has been a time of tremendous change for many of us. Let's be there for each other. Focus on the blessings in your life right now. They are still there.

9:20 AM Hey, folks. Hope you're having a great day. The weather has turned cold and dreary -- a good day to attend my three virtual services and to work on class prep for the coming week. In NT 2 on Wednesday we'll take a deep dive into the "Pastoral Epistles" -- a misnomer if ever there was one. We'll also look at the controversy over whether or not pastors should be paid a salary (1 Tim. 5:17) and the problem concerning the genuineness of these three letters (i.e., the question of authorship). I know that's a lot to cover but, hey, this is important stuff, especially given how tenuous many aspects of our current ecclesiology are today. As for "double honor" referring to financial remuneration -- Gordon Fee, for example, says Paul is referring to "the same honor afforded to others, plus a stipend" -- we will examine the positions of Carl Hoch, John Polhill, F. F. Bruce, Roland Allen, and Richard Lenski.

Good stewardship of our resources is really the issue here. Generally speaking, financial support in the New Testament is assigned to traveling evangelists or to prophets, not to settled local clergy. And that only makes sense. Just think of world missions today. Around the world the Holy Spirit is raising up thousands of dedicated men and women who are bringing the salvation story to their own people. These national Christians are taking the banner of the cross where colonial-era missionaries left off. Some call them the third wave of the modern missionary movement. The impact of this continues to grow. More and more believers in North America are learning to live more simply and creatively in order to support native missionaries. I believe this is the kind of faith and commitment it will take to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. I recall once reading about a church in North America that was building a new sanctuary for over $100 million dollars. My guess is that the same amount would be enough to practically guarantee that the gospel of Christ would be preached to an entire Indian state or among an entire people group in Ethiopia such as the Oromo or Amhara.

Years ago I had the privilege of having as a student a young man from Bagdogra, India. His parents had left Kerala in the south to begin a gospel ministry in the hard soil of northern India 4 decades ago. Today you can support a native missionary there for about one dollar a day. Years ago Becky and I got on board when we realized that the frontline work of missions in Asia has been taken over almost entirely by indigenous missionaries who are starting hundreds of new churches every week in the Two-Thirds World. These missionaries live simply, dress in the local clothing, and are able to share the Good News easily in the local language. And anyone can become involved. If each of us were to lay aside one dollar a day to help support a native missionary, I am convinced that there are enough potential sponsors to support all the native missionaries needed to evangelize the Two-Thirds World. When we look at the unfinished Great Commission and then compare it with our lavish lifestyles, how can we explain our lack of involvement? Undoubtedly the native missionary movement is the best hope for these unreached nations. In my many trips to Asia, the Middle East, and Asia, I have seen how God has called native missionaries to take the gospel into areas solidly controlled by traditional religions. When Africans share Christ with other Africans in a culturally acceptable way, the results are amazing. Six native missionaries Becky and I supported financially for three years in Northern Ethiopia planted four fully-indigenized churches in that period. If you're asking yourself, "Are native missionaries prepared to carry on cross-cultural evangelism?", the answer is a resounding yes -- and with great effectiveness. The transition is far easier than for someone coming from a Western culture. They often understand the culture, customs, lifestyle, and language much better than we do. And although social barriers continue to exist, they are much smaller and more easily overcome.

The upshot is this: Tens of thousands of native missionaries are being raised up by the Lord in all of these Two-Thirds World nations. Even more exciting is this: God is calling all of us to be part of what he's doing in these nations. We have it in our hands to make it possible for thousands of native missionaries to move out with the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. They will go to the lost if Christians in the West will only help. Missions is the primary task of the local church. If this is the case, then why should so many of our dollars stay in the U.S. to support salaries and church buildings? My exhortation this week will be: For the sake of Christ, we need to review the financial and mission polices of our local churches, with every believer reconsidering his or her own stewardship practices and submit them to the Holy Spirit's guidance in how best to support the global outreach of the Body of Christ. As Roland Allen has put it, "Foreigners can never successfully direct the propagation of any faith throughout a whole country. If the faith does not become naturalized and expand among the people by its own vital power, it exercises an alarming and hateful influence, and men fear and shun it as something alien. It is then obvious that no sound missionary policy can be based upon multiplication of missionaries and mission stations" (The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, p. 19).

Friends, we are facing a new day in missions, but it requires the cooperation of Christians in both the East and the West. I don't know about you, but I am more carefully examining each dollar I send for missions and asking, "Is there waste involved here?" During World War II, Americans proved that they could make astonishing sacrifices. They lived simply. Their gas was rationed. Factories were retooled to support the war effort. Production of durable goods like vacuum cleaners and kitchen appliances were banned until war's end. Hollywood studios went all out for the war effort. Even though the battles were fought far away, the daily lives of those on the home front were drastically changed.

Today, Christians live as peacetime soldiers. We will sacrifice to buy books, to listen to groups sing Christian songs, to travel miles to hear a Christian speaker. All the while, native missionaries are waiting to go to the next village with the gospel. Even as I write this blog post, I sense God is calling me to become a better steward of what he's given me. No doubt I can do a much better job. More than 2 billion people are waiting to hear the gospel. I want to see these people reached with the Good News. I know you do too. In India alone, nearly half a million villages remain without a Christian witness. How can native missionaries go to the lost unless someone sends them? Will we join together in ministering to them?

Saturday, October 24

1:24 PM As y'all know, I'm a huge fan of fundraisers. After Becky died in 2013, I went to Zermatt to do some high altitude climbing in the Alps to see if I could raise funds for UNC Chapel Hill Women's Cancer Hospital. My dream came through when I was able to present the hospital a check for $25,000. Two years later I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati -- my very first 26.2 mile race -- in order to add to that sum if possible. The race was perfect, exactly how I always imagined it would be. It was overwhelming! I'll never forget those cheering faces encouraging us runners to keep going. A month later UNC got another check, this time for $7,000. For today's 10K trail run, I decided that if I could finish under one and a half hours, I would donate $400 to UNC -- $100 for every year Becky was treated there. I apologize that I didn't get any pictures of the race itself since all of us were either going uphill or downhill as fast as we could. We had chosen to push ourselves and take on a challenge. We had chosen to do something outside of our comfort zone in order to feel more alive. When I crossed the finish line, I let out a strangled scream. I had beaten the clock! Now the tears really poured -- by God's grace, another fundraising goal achieved! It is my hope that my running will teach my grandkids to invest their time in worthwhile endeavors, to do hard things, and then to enjoy a reward. I never want them to stop challenging themselves. Runners run for many reasons. I began running to cope with a broken heart after Becky's death. With every step, through the sweat and the tears, I began to heal. Running has been my medicine. It's even a way I can pay back the people who worked tirelessly to try and save Becky's life. Running has a new meaning -- a new purpose for me. Now I train and run to be strong for my kids and grandkids when they need me. Running is how I lean into God, how I call myself back to him. I don't have to run away anymore. All I have to do is breathe. A few pix:

My trip to the Alps was unforgettable. My professional mountain guide cost me $640 per day. But he was worth every penny. After all, I came home safely.

This photo was taken at the starting line of the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy. Mile after mile I fell in step with new friends. We talked about our favorite music and restaurants and exchanged funny stories about our children. We leaned on each other emotionally to get through the race.

I love how the race organizers today made everything as Covid-safe as possible. Masks were required, as was physical distancing. As you can see, we began running in waves of 6 runners. After one minute, the next wave would start.

The race was both brutal and beautiful. I had no idea it would be so hilly. I was even more surprised that I could run the uphills. When I first started running several years ago, I had no end of difficulty going uphill. One day I asked an experienced runner, "How do you learn how to run uphill?" His two-word answer made so much sense: "Run uphill"!

There's one thing I know for sure: The Lord was very good to me today to allow me to finish in under one and a half hours. I came in 48th out of 62 runners. My thanks to Susan and Laura for pacing me the whole way on an unfamiliar course!

In conclusion, I really do enjoy trail racing. It's my new love! I find that the up-and-down of the trails is surprisingly easier on my body than the hours on end you spend running on paved roads. Of course, you're always concerned about all the rocks and roots that you encounter on trails. But if you slow down a bit and be careful, you should do okay. Listen, hard days and slow miles come to all of us. But if we draw on the people around us, and especially on the Lord, we can all finish strong!

Friday, October 23

1:12 PM My good friend Mary Jacobs went home to be with the Lord this week. Here she is on one of her two trips with us to Ethiopia.

In case you didn't know, Becky and I partnered only with local churches in Ethiopia. Our goal was to connect local churches in the U.S. with local churches in Ethiopia. The partnership, we felt, should be long-term. Because of this philosophy of doing missions, we felt that relationships were critical. We simply came alongside the folks who lived there as humble servants, asking, "How can we best serve you?" Mary Jacobs was 80 years of age when she made her first trip to Africa with us. I clearly remember the Ethiopians saying to Becky and me, "Now we really know that you love us because you have sent us your very best."

Remember, in some places (like Ethiopia), age is valued, not youth. Even though Mary couldn't speak a word of Amharic, the people knew she had made a huge sacrifice of her time and energy to travel almost to Kenya just to love on the people there. She traveled with us on a bus and ate the food without a single complaint.

This was maybe the most unforgettable of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. There was much work to do, but we had plenty of co-laborers for the task.

We lived and worked among the people. I can only be thankful God's grace erased any cultural differences between us. Becky especially was an Ethiopian at heart.

For Pete's sake, she was raised there. Look at this picture.

It is gorgeous. This is missions, folks. Missions is not a program or a strategy or a method. Missions is simply people.

Just love people.

These were literally life-changing trips for all of us. Because no matter what skills and abilities you bring with you, the best we can give others is Jesus. Not rules. Not entertainment. Not money. Mary led with her life, not just her lips. She taught all of us to serve and to care about the world beyond the shores of "safe" America. I am grasping for words right now to describe what Jesus followers like Miss Mary meant to me. The next generation is screaming for role models like her.

Missions is crazy work, but it is good work. There is no coasting; you have to labor. Some parts of a trip are easier than others. Even when you face unimaginable hurdles, you fight your way back from disintegration and create something stronger than before -- with scars, of course. I hold myself supremely blessed to have known women like Mary and, yes, Becky. Theirs was not an easy path. But they were the Lord's. Like Jesus, they went to hard places and did hard things. Above all, they loved like him.

Church, love each other. That's about it. Do that and everything else will fall into place.

7:10 AM The map for tomorrow's 10K trail race near Richmond.

I like it. It looks challenging. It's like the first date you had with your future spouse -- exciting, exhilarating, and frightening. I spent most of my life thinking runners were lunatics. Now I am one. I've become just as crazy as they are. And just as content. Running is for everybody -- including lazy, quirky, opinionated people like me. Get's you out of your comfort zone, that's for sure. Do have to be talented to run? Are you kidding? Look at me. But the neat thing about being really bad at something is that you improve without hardly any work at all. With each step forward it becomes more difficult not to become a runner. Just try it and see for yourself. I'll never have a runner's body, no matter how many miles I run. Who cares? I'd rather have a runner's soul.

Gotta get this day started. Later!

Thursday, October 22

7:32 PM What's your favorite genre of books to read? Mine are autobiographies and books about how to study the New Testament. These two books came this week and I can't wait to dig into them this weekend.

I know books are getting a little archaic these days but I still believe we can get information from books and, more importantly, the inspiration and motivation to keep on running the race God has set before us. As for training, the Lord allowed me to get in two really good days of activity while I was in Wake Forest. One day I did a bike.

And the next day I did a run.

Today was a rest day. I'm a big fan of training -- and then resting at the right time during a training block. Training, like anything worthwhile in life, is incredibly fun to experiment with. The challenge is figuring out what works best for you and your body. One size most certainly doesn't fit all. We run hard, we rest, and then we pick up again. My long run this weekend is going to be another trail race, this time along the James River near the great city of Richmond. There's no luck in this sport, ladies and gentlemen. It's all about hard work and discipline and, yes, an off the chart work ethic. I'm a big fan of putting your head down and tuning out the noise when it comes to chasing down your dreams, figuring out your career path, and, yes, chasing down racing goals. Distance running has taught me to keep pushing my limits when things get tough. I always appreciate the outcome and the lessons running teaches me. This has crossover value to the whole of my life. The reward comes when, for example, you get the copies of your latest book in the mail, representing many, many hours of time and energy invested in a project.

Yes, folks, we work hard, and we also play hard -- like treating yourself to Ethiopian dinner after a long day of work.

Ever grateful, each and every day, to be able to get up in the morning and give it my all during the day, whether it's teaching or running. As far as the latter is concerned, proper shoes make a big difference. Running shoes that are affordable are difficult to find sometimes. I still seem to go through a pair of running shoes every 3 months, which means that it's always a good idea to have new shoes on hand.

Years ago I pulled the trigger on the New Balance brand and have never looked back. So far I have nothing bad to say about them. Even the price point seems reasonable. For me they are just the perfect shoe -- great cushion and not over-stabilizing. They provide the support that's needed and feel great on your feet. Every time I put on my running shoes I'm different in some way than the day before. Which means I'm really looking forward to tomorrow.

Anyhoo, it's been a good week thus far. I hope and pray it's been good for you too. My "flesh" may be tired but my mind and spirit are soaring. 

Keep thinking, growing, and loving!


Monday, October 19

8:50 AM Back to campus. On deck this week:

1) Grade exam over chapters 3-6 in Greek 1. Pass out a free copy of one of my books to everyone who got a perfect 110 on the exam. Introduce the aorist and imperfect active indicative and discuss the three Greek aspects: aoristic, imperfective, and perfective. (Yes, you up-and-coming-teachers of Greek: it's okay to use traditional nomenclature; see von Siebenthal.)

2) Translate Phil. 2:19-30 in Greek 3 class -- two Christlike men who lived for the sake of the gospel. Interestingly, more shrift is spent on Epaphroditus than on Timothy. We will also go over my Lasting Lessons from Philippians 2 in class and the chapter on semantics in my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek.

3) In NT 2, we will cover the Prison Epistles of Paul -- we'll focus on the discourse structure of Philippians, the destination of Ephesians, and legalism in Colosse and its solution (with special application to the Amish of North America and to our own situation as evangelicals).

4) In NT 1, we're in Matthew all week -- the church's initial gospel written by an eye and ear witness of the Savior.

5) I'm also meeting with my OT colleague Chip Hardy to finalize the syllabus for our LXX offering in the spring. Yes, we've decided to do Jonah. Super excited about that. 

I've been spending the weekend prepping for all of this, though I probably could have spent more time on it than I did. Sometimes on the weekends I lose focus. So what? Do we always have to be crazy overachievers with a flawless plan in place? Besides, I have all day today to put the finish touches on my classes for the week. That's plenty of time to make sure I'm as ready as I can possibly be to enter the classroom. As for my training/exercise plan for the week, it's pretty much what I always do. I will strive to get in two long bikes and one long run while in Wake Forest. If I miss a day, no sweat. It's not like I'm training for the Olympic Track Team or anything. The next race on my calendar is a 10K in Fredericksburg on Nov. 8, followed by another half marathon in Lynchburg on Nov. 21. Still undecided which full marathon I should sign up for in 2021. Actually, many of them are still cancelled, so looks like I will have to wait a couple more months before deciding. I can't wait to do another marathon. But gone are the days when I did 4 in one year. The real challenge is trying to fit in training in the midst of an incredibly busy schedule of teaching and writing. My guess is that many of you are more hard core balancers than I am. If you've got any tips for balancing work/home/training, feel free to send them my way. As I tell my students, if you want it to happen badly enough, it will happen. Just do your best with the time that you have. But be prepared to move out of your comfort zone to make it happen.

Trust you're off to a great start this week. Blessings on you as you wage the war of the love against everything that opposes it (including so many aspects of politics)!

Sunday, October 18

6:24 PM In two weeks I will commemorate the homegoing of Becky. There's nothing that can prepare you for the death of a spouse. Nothing. There's nothing that can prepare you for the way you will feel when you hold her hand for the last time and watch her take her final breath on earth. Nothing. There's nothing that can keep you from feeling torn apart and wondering if you'll be able to carry on. Nothing. Nothing except a family who loves you and cares for you and makes sure you're okay. Nothing except for the community of God's people who lift you up night and day in prayer. Nothing but friends and even strangers who send you emails and text messages telling you that you're going to be alright. Nothing except for the One who is weaving together the strands of your story and who will not rest until all things work together for your good and his glory, the One who allows you to take the loss into yourself and be enlarged by it, so that your capacity to live and to love and to know him intimately increases, the One who will continue to be present with you until the end of your life and into all eternity, the One who will one day wipe away your tears and heal your brokenness. Nothing but that. Nothing but everything.

8:54 AM Very excited to see this book in print.

Abidan was my former assistant and has been a pastor for many years in Henderson, NC. On the back cover I wrote:

In this much-needed study of New Testament textual criticism, Shah offers far more than careful historical scholarship concerning one of the most vexing questions in this field. While his analysis offers a first-class treatment of the concept of 'original text,' he also rediscovers ideas that speak to the current confusion concerning the overriding goal of textual criticism. The result of Shah's work is that rare academic book that is grounded in careful research and yet speaks powerfully to the church today about the proper role and goal of New Testament textual criticism. This is a scintillating book that I believe will prove vital to the church as it seeks to be faithful to its historical documents.

Heartiest congratulations Abidan on the publication of your first book. You can go here to order it from Amazon.

6:58 AM "Hallelujah! I want to express publicly before his people my heartfelt thanks to God for his mighty miracles. All who are thankful should ponder them with me. For his miracles demonstrate his honor, majesty, and eternal goodness." Ah, the magnificent words of my morning devotional, Psalm 11:1-3. As I ran yesterday, I poured out my heart to God. Despite all the hardships and disappointments of my life, there's so much to give thanks for. I thought a lot about gratitude and how it relates to both attitude and altitude. For one, they rhyme. For another, they allow us to invent worn out clichés -- "Do you have an attitude of gratitude?" But practicing gratitude goes back to the Bible. "Give thanks in all circumstances" writes Paul. Remember that the next time you're feeling crabby. Here's where I found gratitude as I slogged up and down the hills yesterday:

I am thankful for my health.

I am thankful for my job.

I am thankful for my family and friends.

I am thankful for a mind that can think logically.

I am thankful for foreign languages.

I thankful for the farm and animals.

I am thankful for the ability to run, because running is an analogy for life.

Whenever we think we've got the bull by the horns, it's a good idea to remember that none of our blessings are forever except for our salvation. Someday life will bite us in the behind in all of these areas. We value what we notice, folks. Yesterday I seemed to notice more than usual, and rightly so. This is the season of Thanksgiving. It's a reminder of something we should be doing each and every day. When was the last time you "expressed publicly before his people my heartfelt thanks to God for his mighty miracles"?

Speaking of gratitude, below is a book on Bible study that a friend of mine and I are writing. I am grateful for his partnership in this project. Our goal is to be simple without being simplistic. With this book, we believe that any Christian can become a careful and prayerful student of the New Testament. Once it's published we hope it will be the first of several books we will use in holding classes in local churches. My co-author is already a local church pastor who holds a doctorate in New Testament. We both are convinced that interpreting the New Testament is for every Christian. The secret is that there is no secret. The answers you are looking for when you study the New Testament lie somewhere between inspiration and perspiration. You just have to be willing to see where you are, decide where you want to be, and figure out how you want to get there. Don't misunderstand. Studying the New Testament is simple but it's not easy. You just need to know the rules of the road. Here's the book title and its table of contents:

How to Study the New Testament with All Your Heart and Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the New Testament

Introduction: The Importance of Prayer in Studying the New Testament

Part 1: Before We Start

  • The Joy of Studying the New Testament

  • Who Is Qualified to Interpret the New Testament?

  • It’s All Greek to Me: The Language and Text of the New Testament

  • The KJV and Beyond: How to Choose a New Testament Translation

  • Herman Who? General Rules for Interpreting the New Testament

  • Don’t Forget Genres: The Gospels and Acts, the Epistles and Revelation

Part 2: Fleshing Out the Rules

  • Understanding the Big Picture: Historical and Literary Analysis

  • Those Pesky Variants: Handling Textual Problems

  • There’s a Word for It: How to Do a Word Study (and How Not to Do It)

  • Moving Beyond Words: Observing the Grammar and Structure of the Text

  • The Medium Is the Message: Poetry and Other Rhetorical Devices

Part 3: Where Do We Go from Here?

  • Truth That Transforms: The Power of the New Testament in Your Life

  • The Goal: Becoming Obedient Followers of Jesus

Speaking of books, here's one I am thoroughly enjoying.

The author is Greg Thornbury, a young evangelical with the good sense to appreciate evangelicals of a previous generation. When he was at Union University, Thornbury organized a conference to consider the Henry legacy and invited several well-known speakers to help interpret that legacy. Henry was the first of his generation to move outside the narrow circles of fundamentalism. Rather than getting a seminary doctorate he chose to complete a Ph.D. in philosophy at Boston University. He helped establish a leading evangelical magazine called Christianity Today that was to be transcontinental, interdenominational, theologically affirmative, socially aggressive, and irenic. As Thornbury notes, "If Billy Graham was the heart of evangelicalism, Carl. F. H. Henry was its head."

In 1989 Henry organized a major 2-week conference at Wheaton called "Evangelical Affirmations." I was privileged to have been invited to attend. In those days, students were reading Henry plus a plethora of other authors: E. J. Carnell, Kenneth Kantzer, Colin Brown, Donald Bloesch, Gordon Lewis, Bruce Demarest, Norma Geisler, Millard Erickson, J. I. Packer, and John Stott. Rarely do I hear those names mentioned today, to our great loss as a church. So far I am enjoying this book tremendously. Reading it makes me want to read Henry again. In his book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Henry wrote:

The message for a decadent modern civilization must ring with the present tense. It must confront the world now with an ethics to make it tremble, and with a dynamic to give it hope.

Well said, Dr. Henry, well said indeed. Finally (for now), have you seen this book by my friend Jim Voelz of Concordia Seminary? It's his magnum opus.

I'll be using it shortly in one of my Greek classes. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. Here Jim covers such topics as the basic characteristics of Mark's Greek, Semitic features, Hellenic features, complexity, sophistication, present tense verb forms to convey past historical events, asyndeton, patterning, scene setting, aspect, tense, voice, and vocabulary. I've gotten a wealth of information from this book and appreciate the author's devotional tone throughout. I think it will serve as an excellent resource for our class. If you're a Greek student, you'll want a copy for sure.

A concluding reminder: When you're going through a tough time, gently whisper (or scream), "Thank you!" I truly believe gratitude is something that can change our attitude in a split second.

Hope you all have a great Lord's Day.

Saturday, October 17

5:32 PM Well, folks, I probably won't ever have to run a half marathon trail race again because I have experienced the true Nirvana of running, and nothing can top what I did on a beautiful Saturday morning in October. Okay, I'll stop being so melodramatic. But it was something special. Yesterday I drove to the heart of Virginia. It's called the Blue Ridge. If you've never been there, you don't know what you're missing. There's even a Parkway you can use to drive right through the middle of it. I stayed in a quaint little motel last night. It's called the Village Inn and it's in the hamlet of Lovingston, along Hwy 29. What's not to love about a place that charges only 75 bucks for a quiet night's sleep? This was my view this morning as I left the motel.

Not very promising. Mostly fog and misty rain. But as soon as the sun popped into the sky, everything changed.

I knew the day would be perfect for running after all. As for the race itself, this is the only chart you need in order to understand it.

The race started at the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway and then ascended up to an FAA tower, at which point you turned around and descended 2,200 feet to the 6.5 mile turnaround. This means you also had to go back up 2,200 feet, making a grand total of 4,400 feet of vertical gain and loss. Was I ready for this challenge? I went into the race with three race strategies. My Plan A -- you know, the one that depends completely on a miraculous intervention by God -- would be to finish the race in under 3 hours. Plan B -- the goal that's most likely to happen on race day -- was to finish in under 3 and a half hours. Plan C -- aka the "Doomsday Scenario" -- was simply to finish the race within the time limits. Long distance races are always a big mystery to me. Every new mile offers a new challenge. Goals are simply points in your brain to help you take the next step and eventually take that last step over the finish line. I truly had no idea what to expect during the race. So I threw caution to the wind and embraced the unknown. I went into the event knowing I would give it my very best. I may not be the fastest sexagenarian out there, but I DO NOT GIVE UP.  Here are a few race shots to keep you utterly bored:

The start, with me (as always) bringing up the Covid-caution-induced rear.

The terrain was lovely.

Running past the vineyards.

Eventually you reached a gravel road, where you ran a good two-thirds of the race.

But the landscape made it all worth it.

The last hill you have to climb before you see the ...


Post-race brisket burger and fries in Lynchburg. (Don't tell my kids about the Coke.)

After the race I felt like a kid again. Boy was that fun! I didn't come in first, but I didn't come in dead last either (like I thought I would). My time ended up being a respectable 3:06:43. I missed my Plan A goal by less than 7 minutes. Of course, when the race is over, the only question you need to ask yourself is, "Did I do my best?" Races are great places to find the best in yourself, the best in others, and the best in the sport of running. Because of Covid there weren't any post-race refreshments or awards, but I left the event savoring the experience. The miles I run in life are some of the most trusted companions I have. They remind me to find that as-yet untapped source of energy and enthusiasm within. Being a finisher simply means making peace with how far you've come and yet how far you still have to go.

Can't wait for my next trail race! 

P.S. During the race I spent most of the time praying. Well, giving thanks actually. Psalm 118 -- which I read early this morning -- was on my mind the whole time. God has been so good to me.

P.P.S. Later I'll tell you some more "stuff" I've been up to these days, including a new book project. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 15

6:20 PM Curiosity, writes New York Times best-selling author Martin Dugard in his book The Explorers, is the first step in exploring the world beyond ourselves. It "beats within all of us, for mankind is innately inquisitive."

His illustrations come from explorers like Gaspar de Portola, James Bruce, Daniel Boone, and James Cook, who discovered the islands where I was born and raised (the "Sandwich Islands"). "These were ordinary men doing extraordinary things, putting one foot in front of the other in the name of exploration." He adds that they "were insatiable in their desire to know all there was about the world around them." Curiosity was "the unscratched itch" in their lives. And for us lesser mortals today, it is vital to success in life.

As a teacher, I for one agree. We are there in the classroom not only to provide direct instruction about our subject matter. We are there to develop epistemic curiosity in our students -- knowledge that turns their curiosity on, which then triggers more curiosity. We often see it brimming over at the beginning of the semester. But then it begins to wane. Sadly, for some students it becomes extinct. They are there only for a diploma. Information drives out curiosity.

As a youth, I suffered from insatiable curiosity. How is the Bible the word of God? How was the island of Oahu formed? Can sand sharks kill? Is the Vietnam War just? After I moved to California the questions changed. Now I was asking life-changing questions like who should I marry or what field should I pursue for my career? Basel only notched things up. I need to write a dissertation but on what? And who will publish it when I'm done? Will I ever master Swiss German? Ah, learning a foreign language -- one of the greatest curiosity killers if only because we are too proud to speak the language and make mistakes in public.

I think what Dugard is suggesting is that in order to become curious we have to be aware of gaps in our current knowledge in the first place. The trouble is, it's so easy to go around thinking we know everything. But part of personal growth is being prepared to be curious. I look for curiosity in my prospective doctoral students as much as any other trait. But being curious all the way through life is even better. All of the great books in New Testament studies today (and these are very few and far between) are written by people who have stretched their curiosity to a maximum. They remind us that there's always more to learn and that our minds and imaginations are here to be astonished, wowed, and awed. Dr. Harry Sturz at Biola did that for me. Dr. Reicke did that for me in Basel. I hope, in a small measure, I do that for my students. While reading this chapter I kept saying to myself, "Yes!" and "Me too!" It's rekindled my own passion to be more aware of my own curiosity levels. A perfect place to start is by identifying simple clues in my life that point to true north.

Especially in an uncertain political climate, Dugard inspire his readers to rise above their self-doubts and make bold moves to change their lives. His advice is motivational and practical.

On to the next chapter -- Hope!

2:20 PM Just back from a very comfortable 8 mile workout to keep the legs fresh before Saturday's race. Every runner is different. I frankly do not have all the answers as to why we runners enjoy running alone. I think the joy of exercise is part of it. I think the fun we have is another. But at the end of the day, it's our love of the outdoors.

On days like today you feel like you have wings on your feet and the steps feel effortless. Loneliness does not creep in when you're at peace with yourself.

Marathon training is on the doorstep, ladies and gentlemen, and I am beyond excited to dig deep as I strive to chase down goals and dreams. Stay tough out there, y'all. You're going to need it to make it through the rest of 2020. And thank you for engaging with this blog on such a consistent basis. I will do my best to bring you valuable content as the Lord enables. Have a great day here on the internet and everywhere else!

9:12 AM Imagine a trail race in October next to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Now imagine a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. Add into the mix running at 4,400 feet of elevation. Put it all together and you get the annual 12 Ridges Vineyard 50K/Marathon/Half Marathon race this Saturday. Races are limited to 100 entrants for all three events. Somehow I managed to get an entry. Can't wait to experience the cool weather, the low humidity, and the post-race chardonnay (um, just kidding). Covid restrictions are firmly in place, meaning the event is cupless and masks are required at the start and finish (and even on the course if insufficiently distanced). I'm trying to be wise, so I signed up for the half only, though to be honest I was tempted to do the full marathon. I simply can't imagine running in a more beautiful setting. Thank you, Lord. You're so good to me!

The course map.

Meanwhile, I've been devouring this book.

I love reading books by non-Christians. Yes, they exalt the human spirit without acknowledging God, but they are no less readable (and interesting) for that reason. Here the author asks, "What are the traits of successful explorers? And can any of us use these traits in our own walk of life?" The quest to explore "spans the centuries," writes Dugard. "It is the link between Christopher Columbus and Steve Jobs." And you. And me. It's simply part of our human nature to want to show ourselves that we can do something we think is impossible. The author finds 7 traits common to all explorers. They are:

  • Curiosity

  • Hope

  • Passion

  • Courage

  • Independence

  • Self-Discipline

  • Perseverance

Explorers, he says, don't just display these traits. They display them in this order. Moreover, take one away -- any of them -- and an expedition is doomed to failure.

This book involves one of my passions -- understanding what drives us, all of us, to excel in life. What makes us step outside of our comfort zones? What draws people into the magnetic pull of new places, persons, things, rituals, and vistas? I just started this book and can't put it down. I'm so glad Chuck Swindoll quoted it in one of his sermons, otherwise I'd have never known about it. Thus far the book is an informative and eye-opening read. My plan is to comment on these 7 traits, one by one, in the days ahead. I love, love, love to read. I actually enjoy re-reading books I've already read because I notice all kinds of things I didn't notice the first time (or maybe I'm just forgetting a lot). I tend to read too fast and don't absorb. Not with this book. It's so good. John Stott once said that we Christians need to develop more opportunities for what he called "creative leisure." Even if unpaid, this is an authentic form of "work." For me, reading books is a good example of this.

Off to the bank and to get some exercise!

Wednesday, October 14

7:25 PM Yet another YouTuber using my grammar. Thank you, Abidan!

7:22 PM Ya gotta love this.


Oh for the days when our politicians could laugh at themselves!

6:10 PM Quick update because I'm tired.

I don't know about you, but I'm planning on exercising until I die. I'll build a track around the nursing home with a Depends changing station. I will also allow walkers (not people but those walking thingies) on the course. Until then, this course will do.

Tuesday? A 10-mile bike.

Yesterday? A 10 mile run.

The whole idea is to stay young as you age. Notice, I said as "you" age. Me? I'm just a kid at heart. I'm just gettin' going. Wowza!

By the way #1, these books came today:

I'm especially looking forward to doing a deep dive into Greg Thornbury's Why Should the Devil have All the Good Music? By the way #2, this was my view this morning as I walked from my dorm room to my office.

Have you ever seen a more beautiful campus? I haven't.

Whether music or architecture, I enjoy excellence. Beethoven's 5th is every bit as sacred as Handel's Messiah. The same God gave each composer his talents. Praise be to God!

Up next for moi? A 15 mile run. Yep, always pushing myself. As you know, there's a fine line between pushing yourself and accepting yourself. I still haven't found it. Keeps me young at least!

Monday, October 12

9:20 AM While growing up in Hawai'i, I never knew I lived on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere until my first trip to the mainland (the "Big" Big Island, as we used to call it). I was six, and man what a trip that was. We spent two weeks with my mother's Romanian family in Campbell, Ohio. My grandmother ran a convenience store on the first floor of her home, and everybody slept upstairs. Next door was the Romanian Community/Dance hall. During that time we squeezed every ounce of happiness we could out of the trip. We laughed until we died. We danced until we were sick. To be honest, I never knew being Romanian could be so much fun.

My next trip to the mainland was when I was 16. At the time, Greyhound Bus was offering a special deal for those who lived in Hawai'i and Alaska. It was called "99 Dollars for 99 Days." For three months we could go anywhere Greyhound travelled in the contiguous 48. As I recall, we started out in the Pacific Northwest and went all the way to Connecticut. When I returned to Kailua, I was a little wiser. I had seen things, I tell you. I would never again be content with my cozy island lifestyle. My new mantra was -- Show me something new. I was moving forward, adding layers, changing and growing. When I left for Biola in 1971, I never looked back.

Everything in life is a journey from A to B. Take Greek. This week we're having our first exam in Greek 1. I think my students are beginning to realize that studying a foreign language is more like a marathon than a sprint. It's a long process that takes lots and lots of time and effort. I wish I could clap twice and make a magic carpet descend from heaven to transport my charges from beginners to masters of the language. But life never works that way. That's why we chose this path called Christianity. We knew coming to Christ wouldn't be easy. He himself told us we'd have to count the cost. But for every sacrifice we make, it is returned a hundredfold in fellowship with our Maker.

This morning I'm leaving for Henderson, NC, for an interview on a podcast. The topic today is my little book Christian Archy. The book begins this way:

There is perhaps no clearer example of the church's misguided appropriation of the world that the god of nationalism. Instead of simply following Jesus, whose kingdom is marked by powerless love, we have attempted to use Christianity to support worldly power. And this means that the church has lost its way -- a transgression that carries with it an obligation on the part of every Christian to find his or her way back to the correct path.

As you know, the first and most important step on every journey is to pick your road. Where are you starting out from? Where do you want to end up? There are infinite possibilities out there, a road for every human thought and desire. But for Jesus, there is only one road. It is a very narrow road, and to enter it you must go through a very narrow gate. But it's the only road that leads to life. There is no place on this road for distractions. On the contrary, it's a revolutionary journey, this road we're on. On this journey our identity is no longer wrapped up in politics or the American Dream. No, Jesus strips all that away and replaces it with his kingdom (= archy) priorities. The great need of the hour is to understand the church as a Spirit-endowed organism that is cross-culturally and trans-nationally valid, not as an institution modeled after the world. Once this distinction is made, the normal growth and witness of the church can be planned for, and various structures of the church can be used effectively.

Each age of church history is unique but not in every way. We can learn much from the past, and especially is this true at a time when we are living under the pressure of the future in a way that has perhaps never before been true on planet Earth. I believe there are few movements in church history that are more relevant for today than the 16th century Anabaptists. The purpose of the body of Christ, they insisted, is to make Jesus visible in the world. In fact, in the present age, the church is uniquely the instrument of the kingdom of God in the world. Thus, service to the kingdom means service to the world through missional activity. Our priority must be to become the King's servants in the world. Local churches must begin to see themselves as satellite offices of the kingdom of God. Churches must get out of their salt shakers -- out of their self-centered fellowships that negate the very reason for their existence.

It all boils down to priorities. We must ask ourselves, "How would God have us use the resources he's given us to have the greatest possible impact on the kingdom?" What would happen if 90 million evangelicals in America would follow Jesus' example of unconditional love? It is the way of the cross (via crucis) that the disciple of Jesus must follow with no other motive than that the Master requires it. It was he who refused to conquer the kingdoms of the world by the means proposed by the Tempter. To limit Christianity to social activism would be to betray Jesus because he never placed his spirituality in the service of an immediate political end. The kingdom of heaven belongs not to the powerful and religious, but to the poor and childlike. It is only when we become active in obedience to the Suffering Servant that the ministry of reconciliation is seen in its true meaning and has its full freedom of operation.

Whether we accept it or not, whether the church makes it central or not, whether it seems true or not, Jesus taught that powerless love is the only basis on which to build his kingdom. There is no other "road" to follow if we are to see God (Matt. 5:8). Beloved, let's not use intellectual excuses to evade our responsibilities as disciples of King Jesus. In him we find a true Revolutionary who is quite capable of saving the world without using coercion of any kind.

Sunday, October 11

8:22 PM Right at this time yesterday I kept thinking, Will this rain never end? You know me. You know how I get when I can't run for 4 or 5 days. Antsy, to put it mildly. So this evening, when the rain stopped (or slowed to a sprinkle), I got in a run at the track. I managed 4 miles before it started raining again.

I was hoping that the rain would stop altogether but it didn't. I always do this "hoping" on runs. I hope I can do whatever I want to do. Once again, I was stymied. Why? Because God knew I didn't need a run longer than 4 miles! Finally I told him, Okay. You're the boss, not me. Which only made sense since one of my pastors in his virtual sermon was "encouraging" (aka chiding) me while I ran to remember that God designs the race we're running, not us (Heb. 12:1-3). True, we have to run it, but we don't have any say in how long it lasts, how much elevation gain (or loss) there is, or what the rules are. That's God's job. Our job? The speaker said three things:

1) Get rid of every weight that's holding you back. You know, innocent things. For me that's mostly having pity parties.

2) Deal with the sin that so easily besets you. The "sin" in this context (see chapter 11) is undoubtedly the sin of unbelief. "So Dave, what do you do when you encounter a fight, a struggle, a race (the word is agōn in Greek)? Do you trust me to get you through? Or do you crawl into the corner and sit there whimpering?" Folks, no matter how much we "plan," it's always tough to predict what will occur out there on the track or during the race itself. In other words, have a plan, but for the sake of all that is holy, be flexible! And that's definitely one thing I'm not! I don't like surprises!  

3) Focus on Jesus. Here the Greek word seems to mean, not merely "look unto Jesus," but "look away from everything that would distract you and fix your gaze upon Jesus." Why? For crying out loud, he's the one who both designed the course and finished running it! This is the endurance element of any successful training program. At this stage, the "Coach" is telling you that you need to work on a better aerobic base, stronger legs, less fatigue, and better fat burning. Your goals, strategies, and objectives have to work together. You have to be prepared to change your goals after the race has started. You have to keep your objectives firmly in mind. A bad strategy is worse than no strategy. Folks, after years of running, I've learned that true long-distance success is more about tenacity than talent. The older theologians had a special term for this: perseverance. And that's the word Paul uses -- "Let's run with perseverance the race that God has set before us." In other words: Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone! Effort is the key! Don't wuss out!

Friends, we are given the choice, day by day, to choose to run this way or not. Feelings will not help us very much. More often than not, it will call for principle over impulse. We have to be honest enough to recognize our feelings and to reject them when they are wrong. What constitutes a "successful" race? Where does it begin? Always with humility. Not in being served, but in serving. Not in self-actualization, but in self-surrender.

So it was back to the old drawing board for me tonight as I ran my measly 4 miles. I once heard an old saying that guaranteed the absence of boredom in life:

1) Have something to do.

2) Have someone to love.

We have both of these in Christ. He's given us work to do this week and people to love on. I never realized the pure therapeutic value of loving others until I lost Becky to cancer. Honestly, I don't think I could get through a single day without having someone to love. At least there is always Christ to love. And then there are our sisters and brothers in Christ. Finally, there are the lost. Whatever we do this week, whoever we love, let's put our whole heart into it, okay? Let's do it as though we are doing it for the Lord and not people, because we really do have a Master who will give us our heritage as a reward for our service.

Christ, be my Master this week.

Let me serve and love thee as I ought.

In your name, Amen.

10:20 AM If you're thinking about doing Ph.D. work in New Testament, you must absolutely get this book.

I used it when writing my master's thesis at Talbot ("The Address of the Ephesian Epistle" -- see my summary here) and I had it constantly before me when I began my own doctoral studies in Basel in 1980. Gamble's work is a model of academic research. Besides, he hits the nail on the head when he offers an explanation as to why Romans has come down to us in three versions: a 14-chapter version, a 15-chapter version, and a 16-chapter version. The shorter versions of Romans are all attempts to transform the letter into a catholic epistle meant to be read by all Christians everywhere and not only in Rome. This explains the omission of the words "in Rome" in Rom. 1:7, 15 in some manuscripts. Ditto for the omission of "in Ephesus" in 1:1. It is amazing to discover that all of the letters in the New Testament, though they may have very particular addressees, were ultimately intended to be read by all Christians everywhere. This is why you and I can read Philemon today without blushing or thinking, "I can't do this. I'm reading someone else's mail!" But in the earliest church, before the process of canonization had kicked in, the way you transformed Romans into a universal letter was by mechanically removing the place designations in its opening chapter and by omitting all the names in the last chapter.

Are you glad you know this?

9:10 AM In teaching Greek, it's always helpful to go from the known (English) to the unknown (Greek). I try to do this in my Learn to Read New Testament Greek. Sometimes, however, I will use illustrations from other Indo-European languages -- especially Spanish -- to make a point. That's because students, if they've learned a foreign language in high school, are more likely to have been exposed to Spanish than any other IE language. As we can see below, Spanish indicates the person who is doing the action by changes in the verb itself, which makes pronoun use optional. French, on the other hand, uses both verb endings and pronouns to get the point across -- much like a man who wears both suspenders and a belt. German does much the same thing as French. This means that a knowledge of Spanish, even a rudimentary one, can be very helpful when trying to master the Greek verb system, where pronouns are optional as well.

In linguistics, Spanish is known as a "pro-drop language." All this means is that pronouns can be dropped when they are grammatically inferable. Thus for tengo in Spanish (one word) we have I have in English (two words) and Ich habe in German (two words). We might say that English and German are "non-pro-drop languages" because they require the pronoun, though not in all instances. For example, instead of saying "I'm going home now. Do you want to come with me?" we could also say, "Going home now. Want to come with me?" This is very common in informal spoken English. Often it's the first person singular pronoun ("I") that's dropped. This is known as "conversational deletion," though sometimes a speaker will use it in more formal settings. A famous example is George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention:

Those were exciting days. Lived in a little shotgun house, one room for the three of us. Worked in the oil business, started my own. Moved from the shotgun to a duplex apartment to a house. Lived the dream -- high school football on Friday night, Little League, neighborhood barbeque.

When speaking English, I'm constantly dropping pronouns in the first person singular -- "Gonna," "Need to," "Should've." Here's a couple of German examples:

  • Wie findest du das? Kommt mir komisch vor.

  • How do find that? Sounds funny to me.

  • Lese gerade ein Buch.

  • I'm reading a book.

But you will rarely find this in formal contexts. Which other languages are "pro-drop" like Spanish? Here's a partial listing:

  • Japanese

  • Korean

  • Chinese

  • Italian

  • Portuguese

  • Modern Greek

English is not one of these! And this takes some getting used to when you're just learning Greek. 

Why am I boring you with this? I want to emphasize something about language -- the fact that it has architectural precision. Even the exceptions have "rules" behind them. In linguistics, morphology is the study of words, including how they are formed. That's why a good beginning grammar of Greek will always try and help the student understand the internal structure of verbs. Consider these the "rules of the road," much like when you were taking driver's ed and learning that "Yield" means that you have to yield and that a blinking red light is not an optional stop after all. You learned that signs have purposes that are best appreciated when you don't ignore them. Sure, learning to drive, like learning a new language, can be intimating. But don't let your fears hold you back. Just begin. Eventually you will love the word of God as never before! 

P.S. In my NT 2 class this week we will see that Paul wrote Romans, among other things, in order to enlist the church's help in his mission to Spain. My question is: Was Spanish spoken in Spain in the first century? Answer on Wednesday!

Saturday, October 10

12:42 PM Rom. 1:1-7 is a really neat passage. It's actually the longest opening greeting in all of Paul's writings. And it's written to a congregation Paul had never met! Why, then, its length? Where is Paul going with his run-on sentences?

This is where a careful analysis of the structure of a text can help us. No, I'm not talking about English-based sentence analysis, though I'm sure this has its place.

Instead, I love a method developed by my friend Johannes Louw of the University of Pretoria. He called it "colon analysis" (no, not that colon) based on a term actually used by the ancient Greeks. The idea is to identify all of the independent main verbs (even when they are merely implied) and then see how the writer expands on them. Since we'll be walking through this passage in class on Wednesday, I thought I'd share my own analysis with you. This is what exegesis looks like through the lens of colon analysis! What's not to love, I ask you? I haven't found a mortal who couldn't do this after a year of Greek instruction. I invite you to experience the joy that many of us experience when we do a deep dive into a text!

11:06 AM Years ago I began working on a journal article but let it lapse when I got busy farming. Today I resurrected the matter. The impetus for my research came from a remarkable footnote in the RSV that I had never seen before in any Bible translation. On Mark 7:3, the translators of the RSV write:

One Greek word is of uncertain meaning and is not translated.

Say what? How can this be? How can a Greek word not even be within reach of an educated guess? The word under discussion is pugmē. Here's the verse in Greek.  

The RSV left pugmē out when it rendered the verse as follow:

For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders.

Apparently, at least from what I can gather by reading the Greek text, the dative noun pugmē is trying to tell us how the Jews washed their hands. All the Greek has is "with a fist." Here are some other English versions:

  • NET: "a ritual washing"

  • ASV: "wash their hands diligently"

  • Young's Literal: "wash their hands to the wrist"

  • NIV: "ceremonial washing"

  • NLT: "over their cupped hands"

  • ESV: "wash their hands properly"

  • NASB: "carefully wash their hands"

Whatcha think? Purty interesting eh? Are you ready to head down this rabbit trail me? Stay tuned!

8:40 AM There's a fascinating new series on YouTube discussing the Amish and their history. It's called Breaking the Silence. I've watched all 6 parts and can tell you: This is a thorough critique of the Amish way of life, including their beliefs about salvation. In addition, the cinematography and editing are superb. The series delivers what I believe is an exceptionally hopeful and visionary picture of what the Amish can and should be. If we are indeed on the cusp of the next major reformation of the church in America, as I believe we are today, then our own churches have to come to grips with our slavish adherence to the traditions of men rather than the word of God. As the great A. W. Tozer once said, "The New Testament contains full instructions, not only about what we are to believe but what we are to do and how we are to go about doing it. Any deviation from those instructions is a denial of the Lordship of Christ." I found this series to be a compelling demonstration of this truth. I heartily recommend watching it.

8:22 AM Weekly interaction papers, yes weekly papers, ladies and gentlemen! That's what my wonderful NT 2 students write for me week in and week out. This coming week their paper is on the book of Romans. Their assignment reads as follow:

Read Romans in its entirety. Romans 12-15 contains a host of valuable expectations for everyday Christian conduct. What does Romans 12:9-21 in particular have to say about the Christian way of life?

That's right, folks. It's always best to read an entire NT epistle from beginning to end in one sitting if possible. That's how the original recipients would have done it. Notice, too, how Paul emphasizes the Christian faith as a way of living. For eleven chapters he's been unfolding God's great plan of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for sinners and was raised to life. Through Christ the Father is creating a new society -- a new humanity. Now the apostle moves on from the creation of the new society to the new standards that are expected of it. So he turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative) to what we must do and be in Christ (in the imperative). The shift is from doctrine to duty or, as Simpson puts it, "from the credenda ... to the agenda" -- from things to be believed to things to be done.

What's so interesting to me is that the majority of commands in Rom. 12:9-21 are not in the imperative mood at all. Paul uses the participle, the infinitive, and even adjectives to issue his injunctions in this passage. Why is that? And what does he hope to accomplish by "mitigating" his commands in that fashion? Come to class and find out! If you can't make it, here's a sneak preview.

I have a dream that my students will come away from this class session with a new appreciation of the church as God's new society and that they will begin to flesh out the New Testament reality that the church is a living organism and not an institutional organization. Let's make Jesus Christ the Head of the church again, folks, not in pious rhetoric but in living reality. May his supremacy be the mainstay, the focus, the pursuit of every Christian and every church. May every local church be transformed into spiritual families where the members know one another intimately, care for each other deeply, and rejoice with each other unfailingly, as we are instructed to do in Rom. 12:9-21!

Friday, October 9

8:04 PM These are fresh out of the oven -- blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry muffins for Sheba.

She practically inhales them. I'm glad she still has an appetite for certain foods. It hasn't been easy for me watching her age. Thankfully we have Becky's handicap ramp for her to get up and down the porch from. She gets weaker by the day. She is now incontinent. That's okay. I want her to eat and drink everything she can put down. For 17 years we've been inseparable. I have hardly known a day in this house without this sweet puppy. When I'm in my office and sitting at the computer, as I am now, she comes up to me and asks to be scratched. She is a fighter. Selfishly I want her to stay with me forever. What to do? One day at a time. Having pets is great but this part stinks.

Y'all know that writing is like therapy for me. So thanks for reading my words and allowing this platform for me to express my thoughts and emotions. Amazing how pets are part of the family. Letting go will be like losing a dear friend and companion. Thankfully that day hasn't come ... yet.

I love you Sheba girl. Thank you for loving me back.

7:30 PM Question for ya. We have Christology (the study of Christ). We have Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit). Why not Patrology (the study of the Father)? Is our theology balanced? The study of the Father is usually subsumed under "Theology Proper." But why?

7:08 PM "A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn't the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn't flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic." Dresden James.

2:23 PM Okay, who is busier than I am? This morning I got a B12 shot, then ran 5 miles, then sent off an essay on Christmas for publication. Right now I need to go to the bank and then put the final touches on my lectures on 1 Corinthians for my NT 2 class next week. That same day we also have to talk about the book of Romans, aka The Cathedral of Christianity. This month I may have completely bitten off more than I can chew. But I have done it willingly and with gusto. Life is very full these days. Mt latest project? Answering interview questions for an upcoming issue of the Southeastern Theological Review. It's a special issue on "The Bible as Literature," and I've been asked to talk about my own philosophy of Bible translation and why we attempted to translate the poetry of the Greek New Testament as poetry in the ISV. This is keeping me very busy. I am disintegrating a bit, but I will persevere. I have the hardest time saying no and keeping myself from over-committing. I'm not so sure I would want it any other way though. Still, it's good to pause, take a deep breath, and enjoy the slow pace here on the farm. You see, if you want it to happen, it will happen. It may not be easy, but it's better than the alternative (doing nothing). Listen fellow whiners, we get to do what we do. And it won't last forever. Ask God how, what, and where to move forward in your life. Ask him to reveal to you any weak areas (like over-doing things!). He'll meet you at the next step and show himself faithful. My journey of faith is mine and yours is yours, but let's never stop moving or invent our own way. You don't want to miss out on his best. And neither do I!

8:58 AM I think there might be a spiritual lesson in this picture I took yesterday at the Antietam National Battlefield.

If you were a soldier on the field of battle that day, this is just about all you saw. The common soldier sees very little of the general engagement. It's impossible to see everything that's going on around you. You have your own part to play, and that task absorbs your entire attention. Add to the mix the billow of smoke expelled by thousands of muskets, and you can judge the direction of the battle only by sound.

Someone has said that the battlefield is the loneliest place that men share together. Isn't life like that, my friend? Isn't it easy to get so lost in the details of our lives that we fail to see God's big picture? Maybe you're struggling with God not wanting you to have something you feel is indispensable to your life and happiness. Maybe he has removed someone from your life and you don't understand why. Isn't it wonderful that God sees our beginning and end all at once? 2020 has been a year of change for all of us. I know it's been that for me. I see only the cornfield around me. But I'm trusting that God sees and knows the big picture. When one chapter in my life ends, another will take its place. Life will go on.

I pray for strength for us all as we face the changes in our lives. Remember that you are not alone. Thank God daily for the people in your life who pray for you and love you. Please pray for me too as I face change this year and next. Change is a part of life, but God always sees the bigger picture.

Lord, help me to trust you today with complete abandonment!

Thursday, October 8

7:48 PM Evening, guys! It seems like everyone has their nightmare story. I just added a couple more to my list, like getting a parking ticket in Shepherdstown, MD when I stopped for lunch in a local eatery and accidentally parked in the university parking lot (it sure looked like a municipal lot to me), or forgetting my Garmin battery recharger at home, or ending up with a noisy hotel room, or getting lost in Frederick. It may not be as bad as landing on the Hudson, but chances are you have had your own nightmare stories. Thankfully, the good things far outnumbered the bad. I'm happy to say that I accomplished my goal of hiking both the Monocacy and Antietam Battlefields (without getting lost once).

Suffice it to say that being on the actual field of battle gives you a brand new appreciation for what those men endured 150 years go. I can only wonder what it must have felt like to watch cannon balls emerge from the smoke or the strain of going into battle after being forced marched for 17 miles. At any rate, here are some additional pix of my trip before I get some much needed rest:

It took me only about 4 miles to cover the entire Monocacy Battlefield.

The Worthington House, much as it looked on the day of battle.

Switching now to Antietam, the battle began on the Poffenberger Farm.

As the fighting moved south, the soldiers entered the Miller cornfield.

They fought here for hours. I know I've mentioned this before, but I am a descendent of David Miller on my paternal grandmother's side (she was a Miller). Sorry to keep mentioning this, but it's my only claim to fame.

The famous Sunken Road.

And the even more famous Burnside Bridge.

Here's my favorite monument on the Antietam battlefield. After the Union soldiers had crossed the bridge, they were able to enjoy a brief break in the fighting.

This monument commemorates a young soldier whose sole duty that day was to carry hot coffee to his comrades. Nobody would have remembered him had he not become president of the United States and then the victim of an assassin's bullet.

Someone may say, "A monument for something as insignificant as serving coffee?" I imagine the men who received the coffee would have never asked that question.

The final battle that day took place here.

You can knock out a hike of the entire Antietam Battlefield in about 8 miles and 3 hours of walking.

Oh, did I mention that fall is very much in the air in Maryland?

When I got back to the farm, I saw that the kids had been busy getting up hay.

Hope they enjoy my little treat for them. Thank you for working so hard! 

So there you have it, folks. I've said it before. One of the best things about living in the good old U.S. of A. is that there's always a new adventure right around the corner. It never, ever gets boring. If I'm lacking challenge and excitement in other areas of my life, I know I can find it with exploring history.

P.S. I tried hiking the C & O Canal tow path but oh my goodness it was sooooo boring. Maybe I should have tried doing that hike first.

Wednesday, October 7

7:55 AM Good morning folks! My Bible time this morning was in Phil. 2:12-18, the passage we're studying next week in Greek 3. Oh my, what a passage! When I was a new struggling believer, I read this passage over and over again. I needed to be reminded that obedience in the Christian life is not only required but enabled. Not surprisingly, this went against the grain of the "throw a stick on the fire at the end of summer camp and rededicate your life once and for all to Jesus" philosophy of the day. Anyway, at some point I came to acknowledge that if I were to make progress in this thing called Christian living I would have to learn how to be filled with the Spirit. It's the only way to true wholeness, the abundant life that Jesus promised, and profound joy. This is what kingdom living is all about -- living in the way of Jesus, by his strength and according to his Spirit. I also have to add: we do this in community. My contention is that when Paul writes "God is always at work in you both to give you the desire and the ability to do what pleases him," the words "in you" are better rendered "among you." Yes, it's true that the Christian life is an individual matter between us and our God. However, we have to carefully guard ourselves against a lone ranger mentality that says, in essence, "I don't need you." We're called to imitate the Jesus who always went about with a group of men and women with whom he did ministry. And, in case we missed it, his commands "Love your enemies" and "Do good to others" and "Bless those who curse you" are in the plural. In Christ, God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters. In fact, the metaphor for the church that dominates the New Testament is the family. In contrast, the dominating metaphor in many of our churches today is the corporation, where you have a pastor (CEO), staff (upper management), and the people (employees). We give glib assent to the church as family but the very architecture of our worship centers encourages individual spectatorism. Recall what Paul says in this passage about the Philippians "doing all things without grumbling and complaining." Paul's passion for genuine community is contagious, and if your church family is healthy, you know your fellow brethren to the point where it's instinctive to show them affection and grace. By contrast, a dysfunctional church family shows little affection toward its members. There is no experience of verbal or nonverbal expressions of love. Are we really being honest to call our church a "family" when its members hardly even know each other?

The one thing I believe Paul is emphasizing in this passage is that only when we are genuinely unified as a church body can our witness to the world be effective. Paul envisions a people who shine like stars lighting up the sky in the midst of a world of corrupt and sinful people, whom we offer the message of life. Again, the way we do "one-anothering" makes all the difference! 

This whole passage in Philippians has a prophetic quality about it that I hadn't anticipated -- calling believers back to their beautiful, biblical, core identity as the family of God. I leave on my trip today excited, eager to dig deeper into this text in the days ahead. But it also leaves me profoundly unsettled, seeing mostly hostility and bitterness in the Christian Twitterworld. (Yes, there are exceptions!) I'm going to be praying about what all of this means for my own teaching and writing.

Blessings on you!


Tuesday, October 6

7:18 PM Today was a day for decisions. My friend can't climb tomorrow due to his work schedule so I've decided to forego Sharp Top and proceed into the great commonwealth (or is it state?) of Maryland to hike the battlefields I mentioned earlier. Let's see, the Monocacy Battlefield has the Ford Loop Trail and the Thomas Farm Loop Trail, while good old Antietam has the Union Advance Trail, the Battlefield Forest Creek Loop Trail, the Snavely's Ford Trail, the Final Attack Trail, the National Battlefield Trail, and the Burnside Bridge Loop Trail. Then it's off to the Point of Rocks parking lot where I hope to pick up the C & O tow path. No biking, no running, just walking. It's a great season of the year to be outdoors! You know me. Always up for the next adventure. The next tale to tell. The next story to blog about. And the next book to read, of course -- which tonight means anything about either of these two battles I can get my hands on. People growing up on the East Coast may take their history for granted, but I don't. Are you a history buff? When I was a kid I couldn't get enough of WW II history. Those were the days of the Rat Patrol and Combat! on TV.

Defending my home in Kailua against all her enemies, real or imagined.

When we lived in Basel it just wasn't possible for me to travel enough to visit historic sites such as Kaiser August (Caesar Augustus's HQ on the Rhine) or the Kappel Battlefield where Zwingli the Protestant was killed while fighting the Catholics. Does it matter how people in other times and places thought? Isn't history more of a problem than a solution? All Christians need to know at least church history. We need these earlier Christians. We can learn a great deal both from their insights and blind spots. We can grow by allowing them to instruct us. I take this trip hoping it will stimulate my study of history and allow me to expand, nuance, confirm, or correct my own convictions and assumptions about the past and the present. Historical thinking can relieve us of our narcissism. It can cultivate humility and love for truth. It might even help transform our lives more fully into the image of Jesus Christ.

Trips like these always give me much to ponder and ruminate over. Friends, during this time of Covid, we have to adjust our expectations and do what we can do. But we can never give ourselves permission to check out and eat donuts all day. Keep looking up and do the best you can!

2:04 PM U.S. Hwy. 58 runs for 508 miles between Virginia Beach, VA, and Harrogate, TN. It's pretty much my link to civilization. From it I can get to the Food Lion in Clarksville or my dentist's office in South Boston.

If you see more than 4 cars on Hwy. 58, it's considered a traffic jam.

This is the heart of Southside Virginia. Natives here like the open spaces. We have wonderful fishing, superb hunting, and the nicest people you will ever find. I had no idea that the land would claim me when I moved here with Becky 20 years ago. It gets in the blood. You are a caregiver. You husband the land the same way you take care of your children because it's in your care. The best part of living here is that you don't need a passport to enjoy an excursion to the Tobacco Heritage Trail. Today my plan was to do a recovery walk of 5 miles out and back, which actually turned into 7.8.

Seems they decided to open the newest part of the trail, thus extending the trail by 1.4 miles each way. A shout out to the Roanoke River Rails to Trail board of directors for maintaining this wonderful hiking/biking/horseback riding trail. Eventually it will total 160 miles and connect the counties of Brunswick, Charlotte, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Halifax. This section of the trail follows what was once the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which later became part of Norfolk Southern.

The new trail terminus. I do hope they extend it a few more miles.

They thought of everything, including picnic tables ...

... and hitching posts for your horses.

You see fields everywhere along the trail. These soy beans are ready for harvesting.

This region of Virginia is also noted for its hiking trails. Tomorrow a friend of mine and I are heading to Bedford to climb Sharp Top. The Peaks of Otter are among the most notable peaks in Virginia's Blue Ridge. Sharp Top is the most accessible and even has a shuttle you can take to the summit and back. Truly, Virginia is a hiker's paradise! As for the rest of the week, I'm still hoping to head north for some more hiking. The plan now is for me to hike both the Monocacy and Antietam Battlefields before getting in a few miles on the C & O tow path. We'll see!

7:45 AM Value, value, value, that's what it's all about ladies and gentlemen. Are you getting value from reading this daily blog? As you know, I blog only from my home computer, which is why you don't hear from me while I'm staying on campus teaching my classes. But when I'm home, I'm blogging. I do so from the place I know best -- a few acres of Virginia piedmont on which I am encamped for a few years in my wanderings through this thing called life. In fact, were I to summarize the goal of this blog, it would be to remind you of two vital facts:

1) We are all disciples of the Lord. As you know, the term mathētēs in Greek is a reminder that we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our Master, Jesus Christ. We are always and ever in a growing-learning relationship with him. We are students, not in an academic sense, as though we were sitting in a classroom at the seminary, but rather in the sense of being on a worksite, learning a craft from a master builder. Our goal is not merely to acquire information but skills.

2) We are all pilgrims on this earth. The Greek word for "pilgrim" (parepidēmos) reminds us that we are people who are going somewhere. We're on a pilgrimage to God, and the path is none other than Jesus himself, who said "I am the Road"  (John 14:6). None of us can get to the Father apart from him.

So there you have it in a nutshell -- why I keep this blog a-comin' atcha day in and day out. Jesus is alive and well, winking at us, inviting us to get up and dance to his music. Learn of me, discover me, dive into me, let me change your life, he says to us. Let me make the tiny corners of your daily life amazing. Let me show you the way ahead. Quit stewing about the past and begin kicking up your heels in the sunshine of my love and forgiveness.

As always, thanks for stopping by, expecting to find something of value here. I hope to never disappoint you. The longer we laugh and cry together, the stronger the journey gets!

Monday, October 5

8:08 PM Organizing my life -- that's what this day has been about. Overall, I'm ecstatic with the results. I was getting a little stressed by the disorganization in the house, and not having a woman here to whip everything in shape only added to the burden, if you know what I mean. Next step in getting organized is looking under all the beds! Of course, today my mind often went to Becky. If I'm being completely honest, I don't dwell on her every day. Life is so busy that sometimes I go a while without thinking about Becky. But today I was thrust back into all the emotions I experienced when I lost her 7 years ago. When she died, I realized that I faced a choice. I could either let her death ruin me, or else I could, as much as possible, learn and grow from it. I decided on the latter option. Here are some ways my life has been different:

1) I appreciate just how demanding house work is. If you don't stay on top of things, everything can get messy real soon.

2) I think it increased my empathy. I think I can understand people better today. I try to support and encourage my students who are going through tough times. I still have lots of room for improvement, but I'm trying.

3) It put things in perspective for me. I've learned how to turn my solitude into prayer. I've begun to know the strange peace that the world doesn't understand. I think I've even come to accept the gift of widowerhood that God has given me. Lord, is this the cake you need from me? Then I'll bake it for you. As well as I can, I lay all my desire before him to whom all desire is known and from whom no secrets are hidden.

I know that some of you have experienced a significant loss in your own life. Your temptations, and mine, are common to man. I believe God wants us to be happy, but in a much deeper sense than we can imagine. A loving hand is behind it all, a great tenderness even in the mist of the loneliness (and the messy house). All in all I'm satisfied with this "how to organize my life and thought processes" that I'm going through right now. I'm grateful for family and for peace. And with your prayers, I will continue to rest in him.

1:18 PM Time to clean house again if you know what I mean. Here's the deal. Three things -- today I'm going to throw out at least three things I haven't used in over a year. I'm going to start with my collection of empty book boxes.

Organization and efficiency is the name of the game, ladies and gentlemen. I'm challenging you to do the same. I don't care if it's a paper clip or your old TV set. Come on, let's get it done!

12:40 PM Just back from the post office and bank. Also got in an easy 5K walk on the local trail.

I believe this is called "active recovery." Running alone isn't enough to get you into shape. Just move and you will improve. And the perfect movement is walking.

Meanwhile, I'm still researching my races for 2021. Depending on what happens with Covid, there could be a huge number of marathons (and marathon PRs) next year. If you're like me, then you've got to have a race on the calendar at all times. I'm considering races in my area, of course, but I'm also casting a wistful eye on maybe running the Phoenix-Mesa Marathon again or even the Flying Pig in Cincy for the 4th time. However, there's no sense in actually registering for a race yet because of the high possibility of them being cancelled. So I'm stuck in no-man's land when it comes to my 2021 race schedule. I'm a goal person, always have been. I do like to have goals and expectations for myself of what I think I'm capable of doing. That said, I don't get super hung up on wanting to have everything planned in advance. Of course, no one but God knows what 2021 will hold for any of us. But barring anything major happening, I plan to get in another half marathon or two and at least one full marathon in 2021. I want to become a good runner, but I'm also a realist, especially at my age. Friend, no matter what your speed, it's your drive, your dedication, and so much more that aging can't take away from you that matters. Things hurt, it takes longer to recover, and there are so many other things that can be discouraging as well. You just gotta keep being active -- regardless of how fast or slow you are. As Amby Burfoot says, "Don't judge your running by your speed."

Life is never linear. It has so many ups and downs and plateaus. If only we could coast through and be done! But God has a better way. We need to disregard the naysayers. As they shout, "You can't!" God is whispering, "With my strength, all things are possible." Remember that, my friend. And remember that he is just a prayer away.

8:30 AM USA! USA! Sara Hall finished second in yesterday's London Marathon! In terrible conditions (severe weather issues, no crowd support due to Covid, etc.) I might add. She was the first American in 14 years to stand on the podium in London. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, at 37 she's still throwin' it down. Awesome job, Sara! Being a Jesus follower, note how she gives glory to God. Ya gotta love it!

As I near the end of my formal academic career, I desire to do the same. Maybe you recall Jesus' parable in Luke 17 about the servant who has just come back from the field. Does his master invite him to sit down and dine with him? Hardly. He says, instead, "Prepare my supper and wait on me while I have my meal. You can have yours afterwards." So with you, Jesus says. When you have carried out your master's orders, you should say, "We are merely servants and deserve no credit. We have only done our duty."

The world system has it all wrong in this regard, folks. We take credit for what we have done. Success is my accomplishment, not God's or anyone else's. We fail to recognize that all of our accomplishments are gifts of grace rather than the product of our own efforts or wisdom. I have now taught Greek for some 44 years. I have preached and taught in many foreign countries. I have published approximately 1 book every 2 years. My publishers have invested thousands of dollars in these books. Even more surprisingly, people have invested money in buying them. But when I get to glory, Jesus will not say to me, "Look at all you have accomplished, Dave!" No, he will say (I do earnestly hope and pray), "You were faithful, Dave. That's all that is important to me."

Success is a worldly word. Have I been successful in my career? Have you? Yes, I believe that God called me to the task of teaching and writing. But I am under no illusion that I have made any essential contribution to the kingdom. I will be forgotten, just as my own professors in seminary and grad school are forgotten today. The fact is, life is not about success. It's only about being faithful to what God has called us to be and to do. I think most of us would have to acknowledge that not much of what we have done with our lives can count as accomplishments before God, let alone before the world. We freely confess our own unworthiness. Jesus is on point (as he always is): it's not about getting credit. It's only about doing our duty. We are unprofitable servants.

As you know, yesterday I ran a half marathon. The challenge seemed staggering. You face the temptation to give up and drop out. It's one thing to fight for a while and then quit. It's quite another to go the distance and finish. The apostle Paul endured through every temptation, trial, and bout with discouragement and despair. Just before he was killed he wrote, "I've run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that's left now is the shouting -- God's applause! Depend on it, he's an honest judge. He'll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming" (2 Tim. 4:6-8, The Message). Paul had never heard about Nike or New Balance, but he knew enough about track and field to realize that he needed to run hard if he was going to finish the race. He could say, "I'm giving it everything I've got!"

Is the "fruit of faithfulness" lacking in your life, my friend? Perhaps you could take some time today to identity the obstacles that are holding you back. Ask God to help you overcome them. He's on your side. He's rooting for you to finish your race. How better can we witness to his grace in our lives than to say, "It wasn't my doing. It was all his doing. And he did it even despite me!"

Sunday, October 4

7:14 PM Evening walk.

5:44 PM Hi. It's me again. Let's get going on this race report, shall we, before I forget everything, being as old and senile as I am.

Now what was I saying?

I'm still learning how to be a runner, folks, so I love to share what I'm learning with you guys. The big news is that today's 13.1 mile half marathon is in the books. I feel privileged to have now run 23 half marathons, 16 full marathons, 5 triathlons, and one 32-mile ultra. Running a race longer than 5K involves overall health, smart training, discipline, and the blessing of the Lord for sure. After all, running a half takes over 25,000 steps.

Above all, I smile and try to enjoy the experience. The greatest marathoner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, says: "A smile is what actually ignites my mind to forget about the pain. That's the beauty of a smile." About 2 million runners entered half marathons in 2019 -- about 4 times the number of runners that finished a marathon. Generally speaking, the half marathon is safer than the marathon because there's less chance of injury from repetitive movements. Sure, I'm not fast, but as Abe Lincoln once put it, "I may walk slow, but I don't walk backwards." There's no need to hurry. After all, I'm training, not just for a race, but for the rest of my life. Here are a couple more pix of today's trail adventure:

The starting line. I began dead last as per usual.

These two ladies paced me for the first 3 miles. I eventually passed them and never saw them again.

Vigilance is required every step of the way. If a rock doesn't get you, a root will. I tripped a couple of times but, thankfully, never face planted.

The scenery. I can't even. 

Hills? Nobody said there'd be hills!

Is this Switzerland or what?

Well, thanks for putting up with all the pictures and babbling. I was very pleased with my results today. I finished in 3:12 -- a fairly respectable time for such a demanding course. In all honesty I loved every minute of the race. The most important thing was to keep moving forward without bonking or getting injured. The weird thing is, after mile 6 things got easier, or at least they didn't get any harder. Maybe all this training is paying off after all. The plan now is to give my legs two days off and then climb either MacAfee Knob or Sharp Top with a friend on Wednesday. If the nice weather holds, I'm praying about hiking the C & O Canal towpath later in the week. The towpath covers 185 miles along the Potomac River. I'm told it's one of the flattest trails imaginable and very well kept. If I do go there, I will probably try to hike at least 26.2 miles. 

Thanks for joining me on this journey, guys!

Saturday, October 3

5:32 PM The Pocahontas Trail Festival is going down tomorrow. This is an annual race that takes place at the Pocahontas State Park near Chesterfield, VA, about 2 hours from the farm.

Distances include the full marathon, the half marathon, a 10K race, and a marathon relay (4 teammates). I've signed up for the half. I have never done a trail half marathon and I can't wait. A demanding race in awesome weather? Perfection. Trail runs are the best. Running on trails is harder than running on roads in some ways, but spending a couple of hours in the woods is my idea of heaven. They even offer PBJs and cookies at the aid stations. I love our state parks. I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by such beauty. Lord willing, I'll report back tomorrow with an after-race blog post, ladies and gentlemen!

1:58 PM Just finished grading my NT 2 exams. You guys crushed it. Thanks to each and every one of you!

12:05 PM So thankful to God for the ability to do a 13.1 mile bike ride on a very beautiful morning.

Daily living, that's what it's all about, folks. The "ordinary" things we do in our lives are all part of the "extraordinary" that God has planned for us. Everyday "mundane" stuff (like biking or mowing the grass) is where we can and, I would argue, should find our fulfillment. We should never, ever, be bored, and no day should ever be merely "mundane." So yes, I'm trying to make the ordinary extraordinary here on my blog. As Chesterton once said, "The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children"!

Love you and thanks for stopping by!

7:48 AM "Be joyful always." That was my main takeaway this morning as I read the book of 1 Thessalonians in one sitting. Paul is so upbeat in this letter. And why shouldn't he be? Jesus is coming back. Segue to today. What space and time do we find ourselves in? I believe we are moving into a society that is qualitatively different from anything yet experienced by Americans. Although this time of upheaval is similar to the situation of the first-century Graeco-Roman world of the New Testament, circumstances are bringing us to an unprecedented history. We find ourselves in a substantially different world from even a year ago. The empirical evidence is undeniable. And the rate of cultural disintegration only accelerates. This means that unless there is a major intervention by God to stop this downward spiral, we are in for a very rough time. It's as though all of the political, social, scientific, and religious revolutions of the past 100 years have been crowded into one short span of time.

Enter the book of 1 Thessalonians. Paul is clear about the way God's hand has reached through the darkness in each of our lives. Even persecution can become a shard of hope in his hands. How Pollyanna it all sounds, but it's true. 1 Thessalonians is all about the way God redeems darkness and pain and brings something beautiful out of something horrible. Thank God I was wrong about everything when Becky died 7 years ago. Thank God that he used that experience as a preparation for a good thing in my life. And with growth comes great hope. We -- you and I -- are living "in the interim" between Christ's first and second comings. And if we're honest, we feel the ache of the "meantime" deeply. I really learned to pray when Becky passed away, out of necessity and fear. But now I get it. I believe in God because I have to. There is a particular beauty to this season of darkness in America. You feel trapped by the pain and the darkness, but there is something always calling you past the heartbreak, past the curse, past the despair, past the turmoil, and that thing is the joy of the Lord.

Paul was a spiritual father to the Thessalonians. They were his dear children. "We dealt with you one by one, as a father deals with his children, appealing to you by encouragement, as well as by solemn inunctions, to live lives worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory." I don't live for any worldly kingdom. I live for God's kingdom and glory. And that kingdom is about to break into the darkness. Our job is the prepare the way of the Lord, to build the landing strip, and to invite as many people we can to join us. Despite the disintegration of our day, Jesus is still in the business of making new men and women. He died that we might no longer live for ourselves. He wants to live his life in and though us, and thus to make us conduits of his peace. He will dispel the darkness, as soon as he can, but not before. The fear, the uncertainty, the pains of this life are a part of the process he is at work on. If we understand that, we will never become bitter about it. This fractured world will one day be exchanged for wholeness. This is why, with Paul, we can "be joyful always."

Friday, October 2

2:10 PM I am a fall fanatic. I love coming home to a warm house, lighting a fire in the fireplace, and settling down to an evening of reading. I love being able to get outdoors when the temps are cooler, like today. Here's my 5 mile run.

What a picturesque view. I love hot soup and crusty rolls. I love watching the deer rutting. I love knowing that Christmas music is right around the corner. I love pulling out my sweaters. I love watching the trees shed their leaves, a reminder that I too have to let go and open the door to a new season, and with it new opportunities.

I am a fall fanatic.

8:35 AM Shots fired ...

7:55 AM Hello bloggerites. If you've recently joined my readership, you'll think I'm a man obsessed with Bible study. That's because I am. This morning I was in Phil. 2:1-11 -- the heart of the epistle.

And what a wonderful passage it is in every way. Unity in the church is so needed today. But unity without humility is impossible. Knowledge never travels alone. It always has to be accompanied by love. Knowledge apart from love leads only to spiritual pride. Fellowship in the church should be a very close kind of fellowship. Having an inner disposition of harmony is fundamental. It is a oneness in love and aim. And it took a humble cross-bearer to show us the way. I wish every Christian would memorize Phil. 2:1-11 so as to be reminded day in and day out that oneness in the body of Christ cannot be achieved without lowliness of mind.

Of course, the Bible is not the only book I read. This came in the mail yesterday and I am eager to give it a look-see.

As you know, I weigh in on the side of grammars that are much more succinct than this one is, but hey, to each his (or her) own.

Finally, this week I met with my Old Testament colleague Chip Hardy to finalize the syllabus for our LXX course in the spring. Yes, it's going to be a study (in both Hebrew and Greek) of the great book of Jonah! I'm trying to think of some creative way to end this blog post, but all I can think of is to mention the book we'll be using for the class, written by one of my former students who is now completing his doctorate in New Testament in Germany.

Here he is reciting a passage from Ruth when he took my LXX class years ago.

God, out of his passionate love for the lost, is calling all of us to become Jonahs to a lost and dying world. The missional life is the only way to true wholeness, profound joy, and an abundant life. Why, then, instead of taking Christ to the world, do we prefer to argue about everything? This was the way paradise was lost. Yet Jesus still faithfully calls to life and to utter bliss those who follow his downward path. It is the way of the cross, but the only way that leads to resurrection.

Revolutionaries, live in the way of Jesus.



Thursday, October 1

8:02 PM Hello my intellectual internet friends. Just spent a wonderful week on campus teaching my classes and attending meetings. Did I mention having lunch with friends? Now it's time to switch gears. We're off all next week and the weather is supposed to be perfect for being outdoors. What to do? Well, races are coming back! So I've signed up for a half marathon trail run this weekend. As slow as I am at running, I keep doing it because I enjoy it. Then next week I'm trying to talk a couple of friends into climbing a Via Ferrata in West Virginia -- the same one I did a couple of years ago. Here's my GoPro in case you'd like to see what it's like.

What else? I'm toying with the idea of doing a longish bike ride of maybe 50 miles, though I don't know where yet. For me, cross-training on my bike brings many benefits. It improves my running performance, reduces the strain on my limbs, increases my overall fitness, reduces my risk of injury, and, well, makes my happy. Biking allows me to add variety to my training to avoid boredom and burnout. This Tuesday I ran 5 miles, on Wednesday I biked 14 miles, and then yesterday I ran 6 miles. I took today off as a recovery day. A change of pace and a change of place each week does wonders for me. How you cross train isn't as important as just getting out there and doing it. The good news is that if you use the same muscles over and over again (without overtraining them), they eventually get stronger. As it happens, a little less running and a little more cycling is actually making me a better and more efficient runner. Of course, racing is where the real fun begins. As I think about the half marathon trail race this weekend, I'm filled with terror, excitement, joy, calm, and panic. If you think about completing the whole journey in one bite, it will seem completely impossible. So you take it one mile at a time, breaking the race down into bite-sized chunks so it doesn't seem so hard. During a half marathon everybody gets a good taste of reality pie. Fast or slow, it's not a distance to underestimate, especially if you're going to be running on mountain trails. You have to take whatever talent you have and then go out and see what happens. Besides the training, this week I've got a dissertation chapter to read, a journal article to finish, and essay exams that require grading, not to mention farm work. So you see, there's a lot of variety coming up during the semester break. On the one hand, it's a time of rest and relaxation, but on the other hand, I will be as busy as ever (hopefully, in a productive way). Push yourself through too many hours of work and your brain starts to push back. You need to give yourself and your brain some rest. I tend to be a person who works around the clock simply because I can. Not very wise. One Harvard study showed that PTO (Predicable Time Off) was nothing short of miraculous in restoring one's mental health. Talking time off will actually help you to thrive in your life and your career. Even a Stay-Vaca can help.

In these days of chaos on the national scene and stress on the local scene due to Covid, it's so wonderful to be able to cock an ear toward heaven and, above the drone and din of the humdrum, listen for God's gentle voice calling your name. In times of trouble, our lifeline is Jesus. Grab on tight, my friend, and then pray like crazy!

That's all for now. Thanks for blogging in.

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