April 2018 Blog Archives
Monday, April 30
7:12 AM I'm planning a trip back to Hawaii this summer. They've been using my beginning grammar to teach Greek there to pastors and others. The Pacific Ocean covers 28 percent of the world's surface, and more than 60 percent of the world's fish catch comes from this ocean. Of even greater significance is the question of how the church will respond to the growing need to disciple the Pacific nations. I noted with pleasure that when Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary moved from its Mill Valley campus to Southern California, it also changed its name to Gateway Seminary -- a move that seems to reflect a renewed focus on the Pacific Rim and Asia. Surely this seminary is well positioned to get the job done. Run your race, Gateway! Invest your gifts and personnel in this amazing part of the world. Opening an extension campus in Honolulu -- the center of the Pacific -- would help in my opinion. As for me, I'll continue to work with Pacific islanders on Oahu for however long God opens that door. I deeply believe that Jesus is doing a great work in the islands. We need each other -- both locals and mainlanders. Let's grab each other's hands and practice the wholehearted discipleship we were created for. As God grants me strength, I promise to do my part.
Sunday, April 29
7:12 PM You can't fake a marathon. That's why you have to train for it. So this afternoon I went for my long run. My goal was to run 20 miles, but at mile 11, I ran out of water, and by mile 13, I was beginning to feel dehydrated, so I stopped at mile 15.
The nice thing about the High Bridge Trail in Farmville is that it's flat and smooth. You run on crushed gravel, one of the best surfaces for running. Plus, every 5 miles or so there are portajons in case you need them. But the one thing that's lacking is potable water. There's none on the course. None. So when you run out of water, you run out of water, period. Still, I'm satisfied with today's run. Going into Sunday's marathon, I've got these training runs under my belt:
That's a total of 73 miles. So I feel I'm prepared for Sunday's race in Cincy. Of course, I'm well aware that anything can go wrong during the race. I could not do well, and possibly not even finish the race. But if that happens it won't be because I haven't prepared for the race. Now I've entered the "tapering" (i.e., resting) portion of my marathon program, which is just as much "training" as is running. To a natural sloth like me (remember my Hawaiian beach bum roots?), this shouldn't be too difficult to accomplish. It's also time to carbo-load, and if there's anything I love it's spaghetti.
My toes, of course, are in terrible shape. Don't look at the following picture unless you have a very strong stomach.
I would go and get a pedicure but most businesses don't have a chain saw. So I'm cutting them myself. Maybe that's why they look so, um, death-defying. By the way, if you're dating a marathoner, be sure to have them remove their socks before you propose. Just sayin'.
Time to cook my meals for the week. Well, there's actually only one meal I know how to cook. I call it Chinese food but, of course, it has nothing to do with food one gets in China.
Bye for now.
7:20 AM Yo folks! Before heading off to church and then for a run I thought I'd reflect a bit more on the Flying Pig Marathon, scheduled for one week from today in beautiful Cincinnati.
What's not to like about this race? It has the best race organization I've ever seen. Not only that, it has the best volunteers, the best water stops (every mile!), the community is involved, you get to run in two states, the swag is superb, I had the perfect race strategy (finish), my hotel was right across the street from the expo, and the course is fun but challenging. In short, I love this city and I love this race. Last year the weather was perfect. It started out cold but by 10:30 the sun was shining and it actually became warm. I went out slow, trying to save my energy for Mt. Adams (aka Everest). Between miles 4-5 you run through downtown Cincinnati, where the crowd support is amazing. From there you move through Eden Park (and its 400 foot elevation gain), Hyde Park (one of the quaintest neighborhoods in Cincy), through the lovely village of Mariemont, then onto the most boring stretch of the race -- Hwy 50 -- before turning down Riverside Drive, which is a straight shot back to the starting line. Mt. Adams, by the way, is definitely no joke.
By mile 13, I was pretty jaded, but the spectators were still great and they carry you through to the finish line. Once I got to mile 24, I was somehow able to muster up a bit of renewed energy, and mile 25 was my fastest mile on the course that day. My time wasn't spectacular, but I had beaten 6 hours and was so thankful to the Lord. By His grace I had done something I had thought was impossible. Since that day I've viewed my marathoning as something I would do for the rest of my life. Last year I trained feverishly for the race, averaging over 100 miles of training per month. This year I've tried to get away from a focus on miles to a focus on enjoyment. New Testament scholars might call this the "already-not-yet" paradox. You're already a runner, and yet it seems like you're always adjusting your standards and goals, trying to become the runner you want to be. Your success is of little consequence to anybody but you. Eventually, your joy isn't that of a rugged athlete. It's the joy children feel when they run through a lawn sprinkler on a hot summer day. Entering a race is such a great experience. You will never, ever forget the first time you cross a finish line. You realize that your best is good enough, even if you finish dead last. It's being a runner that matters, not how fast or how far you can run. The road is there, right in front of you, inviting you to enjoy all the miracles it holds. Next Sunday I will have zero chance of winning the race but ample opportunities to be victorious. My goal will be very simple: Take that one final step across the finish line. Friends, every step in life takes us closer to where we want to go. With every step you discover something new about God's will for your life. It's as though the act of running drives something buried beep within us. It is knowing that we have accepted and rejected the limitations of life, and that makes all of us winners.
Weather on race day this year is predicted to be sunny with a high of 74. I might take my GoPro with me this time. My family has been incredibly supportive of me during this time of training. Of course, they also think I'm crazy. One of my grandsons recently said to his dad, "Why doesn't Papa B just ride his bike during the race? It's much faster than running!" When you think about it logically, a marathon makes absolutely no sense. Why would anybody run 26.2 miles? That's what cars are for. Especially when you end up where you started. Sort of reminds me of when I played basketball growing up in Hawaii. I knew I stunk at it, but I liked being out there on the court and occasionally I actually made a newsworthy layup. I've always been bad at sports (except for surfing, maybe). But I love sports anyway. I'm sometimes surprised by how competitive I can get. If I'm competing for 3,450th place in a race, you can bet your bottom dollar I'll do everything I can to avoid coming in 3,451st. And to think: only one year ago, Marathon Man was a Hollywood movie, not a guy named Dave.
Enough for now. Whatever the reason, I've become a marathoner, and I guess you folks are just stuck with my reports. My sincerest sympathies. If you end up hating my blog, my response will probably be, "What took you so long?"
Keep running your race,
Saturday, April 28
7:54 PM Ah, the farm at dusk...
... where lips smile and eyes laugh.
5:28 PM One thought, one glorious thought, kept ping-ponging around in my head as I trained yesterday and today. "When Christ, who is our life ...." The very weaknesses of growing older may be the very place of healing and growth. If nothing else, they remind us of what is important in life. Paul puts it this way in Philippians: "For to me to go on living is Christ, and to die is gain." No matter what happens, we can always depend on Him. "The eternal God is your resting place" (Deut. 33:27).
Christ, OUR LIFE.
He's the one who makes all of life worth living. The day I came to Christ when I was 8 was only the beginning. Since then, He's been transforming me, and each new day is a new beginning in yielding to the presence of Christ's fullness in me. Think for a moment of what your life would be like without Him. Unless I miss my guess, you probably would say that you couldn't face a single day without Him in your life. Every day He is stretching you to grow as a person and are stronger because of the mountains of adversity you succeeded in climbing. Or, think of the times Jesus helped you through grief. That's why we are to keep on being filled with the Spirit. The disciples who were filled at Pentecost experienced fresh infillings. We can't store up the Holy Spirit as if we were holding tanks. We need a fresh anointing every day.
It's Christ who makes the difference. He is our life. The indefatigable joy of the Holy Spirit enables us to sing a new song throughout the day. You and I are called upon to make Him our life this very day. This isn't just Paul's idea or mine. It's the Lord's own plan for enjoying Him.
P.S. I got in 15 miles today. I'm hoping for 20 tomorrow. Different routes, different sights, different times of day: All these help keep my interest in the sport alive. Before I know it, it will be time to go to Cincy.
7:55 AM They were betrothed, and all was going swimmingly well. Until she visited her cousin. When she returned, she was showing. What was Joseph to do? He was on the horns of a dilemma. He could have her publicly stoned to death for adultery. Or he could divorce her privately before two witnesses. Thankfully, Joseph was "a righteous man" (Matt. 1:19). Being righteous, according to the Bible, doesn't mean being holier-than-thou. It doesn't mean being self-righteous, self-deceived, or self-victimized. A "righteous person" is one who simply does what is right. You made a mistake? Do the right thing. Set it right. Being a Christian doesn't mean we can't sin. It just means we can't sin and enjoy it.
So Joseph did the "right" thing and showed mercy to his beloved. The divorce would take place privately. This wouldn't have surprised anybody who was steeped in the Jewish law. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Many people are afraid to draw near to God because of their past failures. Maybe you feel this way too. Maybe it's time we entered the sunshine of God's grace and mercy.
Recently I discovered a YouTube series called "Caught in Providence." Judge Caprio is a modern-day Solomon. God has given him an amazing heart to match his brilliant mind. Providence, RI, is very fortunate to have him as a judge. While never forgetting about justice, he exhibits the kind of humanity, consideration, understanding, and compassion that Joseph exhibited 2,000 years ago. May his tribe increase.
Watch and be blessed.
Friday, April 27
2:32 PM Well, in a week, Lord willing, I'll fly to Cincinnati for the Big Event. I doubt that you are all that interested, unless you're drawn to masochism. My marathon training program is proceeding apace, despite having a sore knee earlier this week. Today I put 10 miles on these old legs of mine and, by God's grace, my knee was just fine and dandy. This weekend I need to do my 20-mile run and then I'll begin my taper. The main reason I put myself through all of this torture is because I'm addicted to beef ribs and a lot of other fatty food. Let's just say eating allows you to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise. I wish I could explain why I'm so drawn to the Flying Pig in Cincy. Is it the mountain the size of Everest at mile 7? Or the downhill at the end? I attribute it to the fact that this was my very first 26.2 mile race exactly one year ago. You know, the equivalent of graduating from high school or getting married. Even if I run a thousand marathons, there will never be another race like the Pig for me. A 26.2 mile race is for people not satisfied with 10Ks and half marathons. All that's required is dedication, stamina, and hupomone. (For a definition of hupomone, see my never-to-be-published Greek to English lexicon.) Cincy 2017 was a race I will never forget. You run your heart out. You cross the finish line. Someone puts a medal around your neck. You take two Ibuprofen. The next day I was picking up bales on the farm. (That is not meant to sound conceited. I was as surprised as anyone that I had recovered so quickly.) The race was, in a word, fantastic. It was, in two words, absolutely fantastic. My emails were filled with congratulations (along with one advertising Maytag Month). Even though I finished deep in the back of the pack, there's no way anyone can lose a marathon. I had averaged only a 13:36-minute mile pace. But, as some sage has said, a 13:36-minute mile is just as far as a 6-minute mile. I finished number 3,050 out of 3,350 runners. This year I hope to finish 300 spots closer to first place. At this rate, I'm only 10 marathons away from winning one.
In the end, the only reason to run is to run. Runners refer to it as a high. Once you've experienced it, you'll never want to go back to being a couch potato again. Each of us is on an individual odyssey. An odyssey is simply a challenge you've accepted. It's the will to overcome. It's the quiet confidence that you can do all things in union with your Creator. What a change He makes in our lives. Our memories are those we are creating today. When I flew to Cincy last year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I'm not fast, but I'm not lazy either. If you're thinking of running a marathon some day, let me assure you. You can. Running a marathon will make you more prone to think you can accomplish well-nigh anything in life. (It will also make you more prone, period.)
"If Dave can do it, maybe I can too."
I'm hoping that thought will occur to at least one of my readers.
8:05 AM Okay, so I just finished a time of prayer. You know how it goes. I never pray enough. Maybe you don't either. So I'm expanding my prayer times to include praying while jogging or praying while driving or praying while washing the dishes or praying while listening to a boring sermon (tell it not in Gath!). Here's what I prayed this morning.
I prayed that God would fill all of my kids (and me) anew with His Spirit. You see, reading Eph. 5:15-21 developed a whole new interest in prayer for me. No longer does prayer seem like something I "have" to do. In fact, praying is impossible unless we're filled with God's Spirit.
I think this is what Paul meant when he said in Eph. 6:18 that we are to "pray at all times in the Spirit." Prayer is simply an attitude of staying in tune (or in touch) with God all day long. Paul reminds us in Rom. 8:26-27 that we can't pray as we ought. Prayer, then, is something the Holy Spirit has to do in and through us. In this sense, prayer is ultimately an inner-trinitarian process of God speaking to Himself through us. In other words, we can't pray as we ought. So the Spirit needs to pray for us. At the same time, the Holy Spirit will not pray unless we're praying. Sound like a paradox? Yup! But the Christian life is full of paradoxes.
"Prayer," wrote Alan Redpath, "is not merely prattle." It's not noise and talk. It's remaining in constant communion with God throughout the day. And He can be found as easily at the kitchen sink as in a cathedral.
6:20 AM I doubt that the apostle Paul was a runner or that he even knew about New Balance or Hoka shoes. But he knew enough about athletics to write these words:
Then he added:
I know, I know. My posts about running are the most boring texts ever known to mankind. The purists in the running world would laugh at my amateurish words. Regardless, even I, your ultimate non-runner-turned-runner, can find myself caught up in the same passion that Paul expressed in 1 Cor. 9:24-27. Did he train hard? So do I. Did he run hard for the finish line? Moi aussi. Did he stay in top condition? Ummm ..... But you get my drift. There are sooooo many reasons we Christians give for quitting the race we're in. Our obstacles range from bad habits to lousy attitudes to fear or a tendency to be untransparent. There will be times when we will want to give up or slacken the pace. As Paul says, we can get caught napping. While telling everyone else how to have a successful life, we fail to have one ourselves. That's why Jesus said His life is an example for us. He persevered to the very end.
So how can we have the "life" of Christ on a daily basis? There is no simple answer. Remember, we are all real people with real weaknesses who fall short of God's standards on almost a daily basis. I pondered this question as I sat on the front porch this morning with Sheba.
No kidding, the Lord taught me a lesson from my dog. Though she is independent and autonomous (she could run off any time she liked), she's learned that I can be trusted to care for her needs (food, water, shelter, attention). In a word, she trusts me. I find that learning to trust God is just like that. In the midst of agonizing over our insecurities and uncertainties, God is there to support those who trust in Him. "Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run [there's that word again!] and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint" (Isa 40:31). "Yes," He says. "I will love you completely, no strings attached, even when you're unable to love back." I know this isn't a particularly cosmic observation. But this morning I realized again: when our horizontal relationships seem to be going off the rails, there's probably something missing in our vertical relationship. In a nutshell, lack of trust is at the root of so many of our problems. Moving mountains isn't something we can do on our own. But we've got every chance in the world if we trust God to do it.
It's one thing to start a race and quit. It's another thing altogether to go the distance and finish it. Let's "run to win," shall we?
Thursday, April 26
1:28 PM Today I opened the sunroof and took a leisurely 20-mile drive through the countryside and then walked 5 miles on the secluded Tobacco Heritage Trail, putting body and soul back together again after a fantastic time on campus.
When I'm alone there are no arguments, discussions, disputes, my body and mind need no direction. The elements of the outdoors are all there: repose, contemplation, peace, leisure. It's where I go inside of myself and examine myself and the world around me. Time stands still and you live completely in the present. I'm deep in thought, and all my senses are heightened. Occasionally, a new insight will dawn on me, like a researcher who finally catches the drift of all of the laboratory data he's collected. William Wordsworth, a prolific walker, once called this "emotion recollected in tranquility."
You, and I, have this chance offered to us every day of our lives.
8:26 AM Dawn this morning was a time for me to pull out my book on Oecolampadius.
What can I learn from this tome that I didn't already know? Johannes Hausshein ("House Lamp" -- hence his Greek/Latin name) was born in Weinsberg, Germany, in 1482. As a child, he was trained in the humanist revival of the day, including reading the classics in their original languages. After university studies in Germany he was invited by Erasmus to labor with him in Basel on a Greek New Testament. At this time, Basel had about 10,000 inhabitants. Here's Nadelberg 10, the so-called Theologisches Seminar ("theological seminary") where I spent so many happy days back in the early 1980s. The house dates back to the 13th century.
Johannes graduated from Basel with his doctorate in 1518 at the age of 36 (I was 31 when I graduated). He entered a monastery and began his lifelong work of translating John Chrysostom's homilies. But "God did not want him comfortable but crucified" (p. 10). He ended up back in Basel, which by now had become a center of humanism and Reformation publications. Simultaneously, he became vicar of St. Martin's Church, where he broke with tradition and began reading Scripture in German. Before long he was teaching at the university. Eventually he was elevated to senior professor of theology, adding both Hebrew and Greek to the curriculum. As a result, the Reformation in Basel began to pick up steam. Johannes was married and had three children -- Eusebius ("Godliness"), Irene ("Peace"), and Aletheia ("Truth"). He died in Basel at the age of 49. His epitaph in the Basel Cathedral reads as follows:
Christ's house-lamp in Basel was no more, but his influence would live on in succeeding generations of students who came to Basel to study, including a young man from Hawaii and his wife.
Wednesday, April 25
8:25 PM A week from this Saturday I'm scheduled to fly to Cincinnati to run in my 9th marathon. Below I've posted the best YouTube of the Flying Pig Marathon ever made. Boy, it doesn't get any better than this. Reminds me of something long-distance runner Dave Bedford once said: "Running is a lot like life. Only 10 percent is excitement. 90 percent is slog and drudge." I hope this video inspires you as much as it inspired me. If someone who is legally blind can complete a marathon, so can you. Last year I finished in just under 6 hours and I'm so thankful to the Lord for that time. Nothing of value in life comes easy. We slay our challenges one dragon at a time. Thank you, dear God, for the gift of running. And thank You for the inspiration we can draw from others in the race of life.
Click on the video below and be blessed.
5:40 PM A few thank you notes.
1) Thank you, Southeastern, for having an Ed.D. program and such excellent students as David Miller, who successfully defended his dissertation on Monday.
2) Thank you, Diane Poythress, for writing a book about my favorite Reformer, Oecolampadius.
3) Thank you, Maurice Robinson, for speaking in my NT class today.
Your defense of the authenticity of John 7:53-8:11 was brilliant. But my greatest takeaway was what you said about Greek professors with beards. So true!
Monday, April 23
6:55 AM Magnificent views this morning. Always reminds me of God's faithfulness. What an inspiration.
Speaking of inspiration, wasn't that an incredible Boston Marathon last Monday? Talk about running within adversity. Freezing rain. 20 mph winds. Hypothermia. Many of the elite runners, including Galen Rupp, dropped out. Sarah Sellers, a complete unknown, who was running only her second marathon and works as a fulltime nurse, placed second and took home $75,000 for the effort.
The men's winner, Yuki Kawauchi, is a high school administrator in Japan.
So two of the top spots went to amateurs this year. Love it. I'm ecstatic, of course, for Des Linden, the first American woman to win Boston in 33 years.
By mile 6, Des was convinced she was going to drop out. But sometimes dedication means doing what you don't want to do. The best elite runners are not only disciplined but dedicated. And that's something we can all strive for. Dedicated to your spouse. To your kids. To your studies. To exercise. To achieving a God-given goal. It's important to understand that where you start isn't as important as where you're headed. You're progress won't always conform to a strict time-table. Progress comes gradually, over time. In fact, all of life is like that -- full of mystery -- and it's this mystery that keeps us going. "What's around that next bend?" we ask ourselves. It might surprise you. It might even be the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and you, yes you, are about to break the tape.
Sunday, April 22
7:15 PM Almost forgot. Happy Earth Day. I know that sounds strange. Conservatives don't believe in Earth Day. That's for loony libs. Then there's me. I'm less Mother Nature and more Creator God. I can't waste time fussing over the global warming wars. I'm too busy trying to be a good steward of the resources God has given me. Remember, this is the God who thinks the world is good and asks us to take good care of it. I suppose for Becky and me this began when we bought our first home in La Mirada in Los Angeles County (where Biola is). Because the property was zoned R-1, we could have animals on it. And boy did we ever. It all started with a chicken coop, where we enjoyed our own "farm" (aka city) fresh eggs. Then we got a donkey. Then goats. Then we got traditional and got some Shelties. Oh, did I mention my two horses? We had 21 fruit trees and a garden in which we grew and canned our own vegetables. For us, God's creation was like a trip to Disneyland. When we moved to North Carolina in 1998, very little changed. Garden. Animals. Nature. Then we bought the farm (literally speaking, mind you) in Virginia. Living in the country means appreciating nature, even if you are in remedial kindergarten when it comes to farming. Today I frequent the local farmer's market. I am in foodie heaven whenever I can get a fresh tomato. For years we fertilized our pastures with, well, let's just call it skubala. I fully remember spending countless hours shoveling the stuff, trailer load after trailer load. Becky planted and harvested, then canned. Living off the land taught us something about God. He really is at the center of things. He really does call the shots when it comes to making things grow. Because that's true, we sought to become good caretakers of creation regardless of our politics. We simply wanted to do the right thing by the land. And by its Maker. I keep thinking about slaughtering and butchering our first cow. My land, did we have a lot to learn. And not only about beef cattle. How about forestry? Or land management? We were clueless when we first moved to the country. In many ways, I still am.
How will I answer for my choices when God confronts me with them one day? Am I a steward or a mere consumer? The real issue is not whether or not you own a farm. It's about changing the paradigm from ownership to stewardship. You simply make one ordinary change and then another. "Oh Lord, you preserve both man and beast," wrote the Psalmist (in Psalm 36, I think). The Gospel is so liberating. It's like winning the lottery every day. God gives, and we manage. My goodness. Oh the blessings of living on Planet Earth -- whether or not one celebrates "Earth Day."
What now, American church? Stewardship of God's creation is hard work but it's good work. It's time to pray and learn and turn our affections anew to the Creator. Amen?
So two cheers for Earth Day! But only the Creator gets three.
6:02 PM Was a perfect day for mowing.
I've never seen the farm looking prettier.
A freshly cut hayfield. Ain't nothin' like it.
Right now I'm prepping my meals for the week. Earlier I made muffins for Sheba and me.
Blueberry cheesecake. Oh my goodness.
God is good.
7:10 AM At Barbara Bush's funeral, one of her granddaughters read this beautiful passage from 2 Corinthians. Listen, and let it move you.
When we age, we're generally unaware of it. We keep on thinking, "I'm the same person I've always been." Even when we look in the morning mirror and reflect on our wrinkles and ageing spots, once we leave the bathroom, what we saw in that mirror is soon forgotten. Today I will live in the same body that took me to Kainalu Elementary School or to Sunset Beach or to Basel or to the race yesterday. Daily I wake up with the same body I was given 65 years ago. The book we are writing with our lives is a record of how we have grown and changed through the years in terms of our inner and outer lives. I think that was Paul's point in the passage from 2 Corinthians that was read on Saturday. As we grow older, we become more aware of the inexorable passing of time. We also become aware of the unused capabilities and potentialities in our bodies. We may even begin to regret all the years we wasted in mistreating our minds and bodies. On the other hand, even though our "outer man" is decaying, there's a very real sense that even older people can develop their minds and bodies to levels they have never reached. Aging is inevitable; inactivity is not. The body I have, the body God has given me, the body I will take with me to my death, is the same body that Jesus will someday raise from death. You don't need to be old like me to recognize this -- to see that the body you have is a precious gift from God, one that He cares about so much that He will raise it up on that day. Psychologists often talk about the two greatest dangers of growing older. One is the tendency to live in the past or in sadness for the people we've lost. The other danger is thinking that by associating with younger people we can reclaim our lost youth. I imagine that Paul would say such endeavors are both self-defeating and counterproductive. "We groan as long as we are in this tent," said he. But that doesn't mean the inner man isn't being renewed. Nor does it mean that we give up on taking care of the outer man. I expect no less from the 65-year old Dave Black than I expected from the 28-year old Dave Black who was writing his doctoral dissertation. The forests of Virginia or the Alps of Switzerland awaken the same feelings in me today that the beaches of Hawaii did when I was a youth. Unlike the half marathon I ran yesterday, the race of life doesn't come to an end until God calls us home. In the meantime, our bodies are not passive instruments any more than our minds are. "Use it or lose it" applies just as validly to Greek students as it does to septuagenarians. Your dreams keep on building. George H. W. Bush will not stop living just because his wife of 73 years has gone home to be with the Lord. I'm quite sure, like me, he has both short term and long term goals. Dreams? Boy, do I have them. And I'm not alone. Not by a long shot. Everest at 65? That's Ranulph Fiennes. Completing an around-the-world-air-race? That's 72-year old aviatrix Margaret Regensberg. Writing Robinson Crusoe at the age of 60? Thank you, Daniel Defoe. At 77, John Glenn went back into space. How about climbing Mount Fuji at the age of 99? Don't tell Teiichi Igarashi it can't be done. The mind, you see, has a body of its own. You may face issues of mental fitness and physical fitness when you get older, but guess what? All of us can fight back.
You and I are no different from Barbara Bush. One day we too shall leave this tent and be clothed from on high. As we heard over and over again during the funeral, for every measurable loss there is an immeasurable gain. Glory is something we look forward to, but not in a macabre sort of way. The best way to play the aging game is by never conceding anything. When your body tells you it's time for a respite from daily activity, say "Rubbish!" When your mind decides it's too late to learn anything new, say "Balderdash!" People are doing us no favors when they kill us with kindness and allow us to take it easy. When the big sleep comes, we'll sleep. But not a moment before. Life is the greatest game. And as with every game in life, it's not who wins or loses that matters. It's how we play that counts.
Jesus, I want so much to be like You. You lived so lightly on this earth. You weathered the storms of life so well. When knocked down, You got right back up (literally!). The terror of death was surrounded by the mysterious purposes of Your Father. Most of all, You never stopped living. You had perspective. You were (and are) the epitome of goodness, kindness, selflessness, and honesty. My life is full of bounty because of You. Your grace is transforming me, even as I continue to feel the pain of loss. More than anything, You covet my love in response to Yours. You do not erase my grief completely. But You have given me peace. May I be like Barbara Bush's precious family, who so willingly accepted life's mortality. They did not want to lose their wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Still, through their tears, they testified to a watching world that death does not have the last word. Your resurrection guarantees that. Please be with them and console them in their loss. And remind them, and us, that when we lose a loved one, one day, maybe sooner than any of us thinks, all the tears and sorrow will be swallowed up in everlasting joy.
Saturday, April 21
7:06 PM Today I completed the Petersburg Half Marathon. This was my last scheduled race before running the Flying Pig Marathon on May 6. The race is legendary to local runners. Since it was going to be an early start, I stayed overnight in Fort Lee, just across the Appomattox from Petersburg.
The hotel staff was kind enough to give me a generous race day discount. It was cold in the morning, cold enough in fact to have a layer of ice on my car when I drove off to the event site.
Thankfully, once in Petersburg the event organizers had an indoor shelter for us to wait in before the race.
Half the route went through the city while the other half took you through some of the most scenic places in all of Southside. Here we are leaving Petersburg on our way to the Petersburg National Battlefield.
The battlefield itself is quite hilly, and it was here that I began to take a few walk breaks.
After all, I wasn't running to set a PR but simply to put some miles on my legs before the race in Cincinnati. Once you emerge from the battlefield you run past Blandford, Virginia's largest cemetery apart from Arlington.
Across the street is, of course, the famous Blandford House.
By now you are back in Petersburg proper, where historic buildings jump out at you from all angles, including Folly's Castle.
The name has an interesting origin, don't you think?
Eventually I was back where I started and crossed the finish line with a time of 2:47:24.
This wasn't my best time in Petersburg but it was good enough for a 3rd place award in my age group.
All in all, it was a glorious day. It was basically a fun little jog with friends through some of the prettiest parts of Virginia. I saw some unbelievable sights and met lots of nice people. Other than that, I suppose there's really no point to this blog post!
P.S. The weather has been incredibly nice here, so much so that Nathan's already begun cutting hay. Which means that we may begin baling as early as tomorrow. Haying in April? Yup!
Friday, April 20
9:30 AM I'm a fairly early riser, and now that spring has arrived and the weather is warming up I like to take a cup of coffee onto the front porch and get a feel for what the day is going to look like, while Sheba marks her territory. This farm is so beautiful that it nearly brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it 13 years ago. I feel very much the same way today. I have long since let the garden go. I have neither the time for it nor the need for it. But I haven't given up on taking long walks on the many farm paths one finds here, thankful that I live in a temperate climate. This morning my main thought was: What should I wear in tomorrow's race? The temp at starting time (7:00 am) will be a cool 39, but with the sun shining, it won't be long before the thermometer's showing at least a 10-15 degree rise. This race will, unbelievably, mark my 12th half marathon since I started running three years ago. It's taken a while for me to build to this level of endurance and confidence. I've adopted a simplified philosophy of running these days. Get to the finish line. Step by step by step. And root for the underdogs. There are always underdogs. Tomorrow's course is a gritty one, with a few hills as you run through the Petersburg National Battlefield. The only way to get up these slopes is to adopt a measured cadence. Let your legs carry you through. Above all, enjoy the ride. These are moments you will never forget. Whether I will succeed or not I cannot predict. But what I can predict with absolute certainty is that what will carry me along is the same thing that has always carried men and women along through life: persistence. We are all half marathon runners, you and me. What is a fast pace for one is a slow pace for another. But the one thing we all have in common in this race of life is that when we run, we are truly alive.
Thursday, April 19
6:44 PM Great day for visiting the grandkids ...
and for eating KFC ...
and for new bikes ...
and for ice cream sundaes.
Meanwhile, I've got a bad fever. Hay fever, that is. It's time for allergy sufferers everywhere to begin their annual suffering from sniffling and sneezing. Pollen covers everything, including my poor sinus cavities. In Southern Virginia, the main culprits are generally timothy, oak, beech, cedar, elm, birch, and poplar. Looks like runny noses and itchy eyes are here to stay, for a while at least.
Time to cook my supper and then take a long walk among the oak, the birch, the cedars, etc.
5:55 AM Odds and ends ...
1) Yesterday Sheba and I chillaxed on the porch for a couple of hours, doing absolutely nothing but enjoy the 83-degree weather.
You see, resting is as much a part of a good training program as running is, or so I'm told. So today I'll exercise a bit but then I'll match that with more rest as I prepare for Saturday's half. I've set no time goal for the race at all. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another training run for the big event in May. Besides, to be perfectly honest, nobody reading this blog cares that much about my PRs. To be sure, they want me to be happy and healthy, and to that end they send me texts and emails. But really, does anybody remember what my marathon PR is? When I talk to people who used to run but have since stopped for whatever reason (usually lack of interest or commitment), it makes me really sad to hear them say they were frustrated by their lack of progress. Never compare your running with anyone else's. Dedication is a personal thing. It means when you start something, you carry it through to its conclusion. It means not giving up and not giving in. It means making every run and every race a mystery. My advice to them would be: Give yourself permission to relax. You might get more enjoyment out of the sport that way. After running now for three years, I'm blessed to say that I never feel that running is an obligation. I look forward to my walks/runs/climbs/races. Learn to respect your body. Is it telling you to exercise? Then go out the door and get busy. There's so much to enjoy along the way, from improved fitness to better health. Enjoy each new experience that comes your way. Enjoy being the athlete you're becoming.
But never forget to loaf.
2) I wonder how George H. W. is feeling today. Well, I think I know. Friend, if you're married, there's about a 50/50 chance of standing in our shoes. I still tear up when I think of Becky. That's a byproduct of loss. God is good. I hurt. Both are true. "I have not found hope in Christ to be mutually exclusive to the feeling of bereavement," wrote Lewis in A Grief Observed. Mr. President, grief is normal. Yes, it weighs us down. Yes, we're hurt, confused, and perhaps frightened. Grief is never comfortable. But it's a great teacher. You will learn from it, as I have. As you allow the truth of the Scriptures to be your companion, I pray that you will experience God's comfort.
3) Apropos Monday's Boston Marathon: This is my favorite picture from the event.
It took 85-year old Katherine Beiers of Santa Cruz, California, 7 hours and 50 minutes to finish the race, in a pouring rain no less. And we say we have excuses? The truth is, every step of a marathon takes us closer to where we want to be. At the very least it sets us free from a life of sedentary confinement. Ain't no one gonna steal my joy as long as I'm movin'.
Wednesday, April 18
5:44 PM Hey folks! So many good things to report.
1) On Monday morning in Dallas, mom, dad, and I had a hugely successful meeting with a world-renowned Dallas-based Christian composer/arranger who's agreed to do an arrangement of "For All the Saints" in memory of Becky and in honor of her Savior.
It will be arranged for SATB choir with piano accompaniment so that any vocal group can perform it, although for the world premiere the plan is to have the piece fully orchestrated. Can't wait.
2) A major publisher has agreed to publish the papers from our Linguistics and New Testament Greek conference to be held next April. I couldn't be more grateful. Both Ben Merkle and I have published numerous books with this company and know their quality. The book will be intended for use by students who've had a year of Greek instruction.
3) Last Saturday I decided to run a 5K called Running 4 Clean Water in Garland, Texas. The proceeds went to dig wells in Sierra Leone. It was cold – maybe more like a spring thaw than a winter chill – but cold nonetheless. My thanks to these ladies for providing us with a cup of hot coffee before the race.
After the start, the crowd thinned out quickly and I found my rhythm.
I saw a guy about my age in front of me and I let him pull just a little ahead to set the pace. I felt like I was already running at a good speed. I debated whether to pass him now or keep tucked in behind him. I knew I could probably hold on to him, but could I pass him later on? I decided to pass now and worry later. I knew then that I had a chance to place in my age group. I began to close in on the distance between me and the next group of runners. I was gradually picking up speed and even passing a few people. I could see the final turn and decided to pass the last guy that I thought was in my age group. When I saw the results I walked around in a happy daze. I had somehow managed to come in 39th place overall and 3rd in my age division.
4) I was saddened to hear about the passing of Barbara Bush. Today I sent this letter to her husband:
5) Our guest lecturer in today's NT class was my dear friend and colleague Ronjour Locke, who spoke on "Luke and Justice." It was an incredible talk. The tax collector in Luke reminds us that the Gospel is only for sinners. May we all cry out to God for mercy.
6) This Saturday is the Petersburg half marathon – number 12 for me. It's going to be a training run for the Flying Pig on May 6. The course is awesome. Speaking of running, did you know that if you're always getting injured on one side of your body it may be due to your breathing? It's easy to fall into a pattern, say, of always exhaling when you step with your left foot. The result is that your core becomes less stable on that side and you end up becoming more injury prone on your left side. Man, this running thing can be downright complicated!
7) This book just arrived. I've read mixed reviews.
8) As always, it was great seeing mom and dad.
We ate and yakked and attended the Vocal Majority concert together. As you can see, I think they allow only seasoned citizens to attend.
9) Finally ...
I believe we are in the midst of a great awakening in the body of Christ. God is doing something new again. It will take great humility for God to breathe new energy into His church. I hope you share the gift of frustration with me. May God use it to nudge us all forward.
Friday, April 13
7:40 AM No long story here. Just a shout out to mom and dad whom (Lord willing) I'll be seeing in a few hours. What will we do? Number one on my list is eating. In the state of Texas it's actually illegal to visit Dallas without dining at Spring Creek Barbeque. Then it's Ethiopian food tomorrow night. Then Grace Bible Church on Sunday. Oh, did I mention the Vocal Majority concert tomorrow afternoon? Whew. I'm getting tired just thinking about keeping up with mom and dad. As for the races, we'll see. I really really love racing because of the comradery and the chance to spend time with some really fabulous people. If I do run, I won't keep track of pace. Per usual, I'll try to focus on one mile at a time, remembering the old adage, "Running is simply a jaunt from one aid station to the next."
Peace and love,
Thursday, April 12
6:12 PM Hey folks! What an awesome day. Got all my business taken care of, including finalizing my tax returns (all 4 of them). I'm looking forward to seeing mom and dad again this weekend in the Big D. I may even run a race (either a 5K or a half marathon -- I've signed up for both) on Saturday if I'm feeling up to it. I'm so excited to be meeting in Dallas on Monday with a world-class composer and music director to see about commissioning a choir piece in memory of Becky. If there was anything that stood out about Becky, it was her ministry to the church worldwide, even though she was not "in the ministry," if you will. We talked about this in my classes this week. The New Testament knows nothing about "ordained" and "ordinary." Quite the opposite. Today, in fact, there's an exciting grassroots movement taking place where God is moving in our churches to "ordain the ordinary." The traditional idea is that the so-called laypeople were the pastor's helpers. But the new and truly Scriptural idea is that the pastor is the helper of the ordinary members in the performance of their daily "ministries" in the midst of their "secular" lives. The way to resolve the false dichotomy between ordained and ordinary is not to exclude professionals from ministry but to include all in ministry. And this is exactly what Becky stood for. She was a volunteer, an unpaid helper making a radical difference in the entire Christian enterprise. In other words, the idea of "every-member ministry" has no real life, no "bite," until every member actually begins to minister in accordance with the gifts God has given them. The hard truth is that this all too rarely happens. And as always, the problem has theological roots in our inadequate ecclesiology. In other words, we can't have a genuine universal ministry simply by announcing it. Pastors must make it clear to their congregations that they are in an "equipping ministry" (Eph. 4:12). We might as well face the fact that this concept of equipping is easy to talk about but much harder to implement. Everyone who is a genuine member of Christ's body is in fulltime service to the Lord. And the surprising part is that most of them engage in ministries that are inconspicuous. They are making a significant impact for the kingdom of God perhaps without even knowing it.
That's why I'm wanting someone to compose a choral piece based on that great old hymn of the faith, "For All the Saints." We don't have to wait to go to Bible school or seminary to serve the King. This may be a new concept to some, but it is re-emerging. Indeed, there can be no genuine renewal in the life of the church (for which I have been fervently praying) unless the principle of every-member ministry is accepted without reservation. Millions claim to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus, but it's is not a relationship that includes involvement. If there is anything that can be said about Becky, she was involved. Her ministry involved all places, all times, and all people, male and female, young and old, American and Ethiopian.
Hers was as much a fulltime Christian witness as it was an ordinary one. For her, the climax was not what happened on Sunday morning. The church is never an end in itself. The gathering always exists for the going, as Kevin Brown has just reminded us (see his latest post, Gather for the Going). I like to call the church a launching pad, a place from which we are propelled into the world. In some ways, this was what Becky was most famous for. The vitality of her service for Christ didn't occur primarily while the group was meeting but occurred after the meeting was over. Her motto might well have been, "For All the Saints." This is truly a mark of the church. God ordaining the ordinary. In such a church there is enlistment, commitment, participation, witness, sacrifice, and caring. If the church is genuine, it will always express itself in selfless acts of agape.
Thanks for reading,
7:55 AM Today I'll be in Roanoke on business. I love western Virginia, especially the mountains. If I was feeling better, I'd climb MacAfee Knob again. The trail head is only a few minutes from the city of Roanoke. For some reason, I feel deeply connected in the mountains. I know I am seen, heard, and valued by the Creator. Even though climbing can be scary, I feel strengthened and fulfilled after a difficult ascent. I love the connection it begets. All of us are wired for connection. Connection with God, connection with each other. It's impossible to practice compassion from a distance. Sometimes we think we're connected when we're really not. Technology can easily become a substitute for connection. Let me give you an example. As you know, we're studying 1 Thessalonians in my Greek 4 class this semester. We are now in that great paragraph about the death of a loved one, about comfort and hope in the midst of pain and grief. 1 Thess. 4:13-18 surprised me. Did you know that it contains the letter's very first command? (See Imperatives in 1 Thessalonians.) Which means -- if indeed 1 Thessalonians is Paul's earliest surviving epistle -- that this is the first command in all of Paul's writings. And what was it?
None of the above. It's simply this:
You see, loss teaches you so many things about the Christian life. It teaches you, for one thing, to let go of the myth of self-sufficiency. It's easy to divide the world between people who offer help and people who need help. The truth is that we are both. For years I placed value on being the helper in the family. I was always happy to help others but would rarely call on someone in the family to help me. I derived my self-worth from not needing help but instead always making it a habit to dispense it. Some of us are very good at extending help to others but very poor at asking for help when we need it ourselves. But giving and receiving always belong together. We encourage one another. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised that the first command in Paul's writings deals with mutual encouragement. You can't separate the concepts of helping and needing. 1 Thessalonians is pressing me to think about the difference between professing Christian love and practicing it. We don't need encouragement from everyone in our lives but we need it from at least one person. If we are willing to give encouragement, then we have to be willing to receive encouragement.
Sometimes encouragement comes to us in the most surprising shapes. Last night, as I lay in bed, I listened to this piece.
This is perfect music, music that comes to you straight from the hand of God. I can't even explain to you how much I was encouraged by listening to this piece. O Magnum Mysterium. O Great Mystery. Lord, You bring me to tears, You are so beautiful. This is why, for all of my adult years, I've been in love with choral music, good choral music, listening to it through my tears and thanking God for the gift He has given to us to be able to compose and perform and listen to music like this. Such music helps me to cope with my loss and sorrow. The memories I hold most sacred are the ordinary, everyday moments Becky and I spent together. As human beings, we need both sorrow and joy. But we always need to live from a place of gratitude. Gratitude isn't a novice's virtue. It comes as the culmination.
Now I get it. To someone who's spent most of his life trying to outrun vulnerability, I'm finally cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Yes, I love closure, resolution, and clarity, like many of you do. But why then would we need faith? Faith is essential when we make the decision to live and love with our whole hearts and risk becoming vulnerable again. Love and pain might sound like two different words. But I've learned they are the same and we need both.
Wednesday, April 11
9:25 PM "Your Eustachian tube is infected." The doctor glanced at me with a sympathetic look. "Let's drain your ear and get you on antibiotics ASAP." That was yesterday morning at 8:00 am. Since then, despite the Z PAC and the pain meds, my whole right side from my neck to my scalp has been throbbing with pain. I feel so small, so helpless, so utterly insignificant in the face of it all. It's hard being sick sometimes.
On my drive home from the seminary today I drove past the ranch near Oxford where Becky and I lived when we moved the horses from California to North Carolina. My eyes filled with tears. Right now I have nothing to say but a prayer of thanksgiving to God. I've been so blessed by His love, by His grace, and by the memories of my life with the most unique Christian I've ever known. As much as I could wish that my heart wasn't broken right now, I'm so thankful that I knew her. When you see your spouse tonight, be sure to give them a big hug and tell them you love them. Healing will always happen for the Christian, but it doesn't always happen in this life. We have all lost someone dear to us. Let us count it a joy that our hearts feel their absence. It means that our lives were blessed by their presence. And we must live the rest of our lives in light of that blessing.
Tuesday, April 10
6:50 AM The light barely breaks through the trees. The sky dances. The sound of chirping begins.
You are bathed in the glory of Creation, in the presence of the Creator. Suddenly you begin to sing praises, not for the enjoyment of others but for your own pleasure and for the glory of God. That's the Christian life. Spontaneous worship is just that. It's worship that breaks out any time, any place, like when I washed the dishes this morning or wrote a check to someone or published the blog post you read earlier today. He surrounds us with evidence of His glory and love 24 hours a day, and so we never ever reserve "worship" for an hour on Sunday morning. Open your eyes and He is there, right there, in a sunrise or at the kitchen sink or in your office. A church building can no more confine Him than the entire universe. "God cannot be expressed but only experienced," wrote Frederick Buechner. "In the last analysis, you can't pontificate but only point."
6:05 AM When I crossed the finish line of my first marathon in Cincinnati almost a year ago, I didn't know what was in store for me. This past year of running has been a wild ride. If I'm able to run in Cincy again next month, it will be my 9th marathon. Would I have been the same person had I never started running? I can't answer that question. But what I can say is this: I am as excited today about the Flying Pig Marathon on May 6 as I was when I ran there last year. Like everything linked to the body, the desire to run and finish a race is linked with the urge God gives all of us to push through grueling and challenging times in our lives. What I've learned is that, unless we are truly motivated to keep on going, the temptation is very strong to stop running. This has been a wild ride for me. Thankfully, I still find enjoyment in the sport, otherwise I'm not sure I could continue to run. I've learned to appreciate the little things along the way -- the importance of good shoes, the need for rest, the value of training. Ask any marathoner (and I only qualify for that title by the most generous of terms), and all of us run for the same reason. Because it's fun. What could be better than challenging your body to go 26.2 miles in every conceivable kind of weather conditions? The most exciting thing is not the race but the comradery. If you don't know what I mean, just stand at the end of a marathon and watch people crossing the finish line. Not just the elite athletes. But those who finish 5, 6, 7, or even 8 hours after the race begins. I keep saying that nothing is impossible is you're willing to pay the price for your dream. That's true whether you're looking to start a doctoral program or are wanting to raise a family. Sometimes people look at you like you're crazy, but I'd rather be a crazy, happy man than someone who has stopped dreaming.
Right now I'm struggling with my health. My earache has only gotten worse and I'm scheduled to see the doctor this morning. Even though what happens between now and this weekend's half marathon in Dallas is up for grabs, it's nice to know that even if I don't make it to the destination I'm still enjoying the ride. It's the journey that matters in the end.
I hope the road you're on today will take you where you want to be, my friend.
Monday, April 9
7:45 AM This week we're in 1 Thess. 4:9-12. But first let's review the logical propositions we find in 4:1-8. Here are Paul's main points:
1) You learned from us how you should live in order to please God.
2) This is the way you've been living all along.
3) Now we are asking you and urging you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more.
4) You know the commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
5) Specifically, God wants you to be holy:
6) We told you this before and strongly warned you that the Lord will punish all those who do that.
7) God didn't call us to live in immorality but in holiness.
8) The logical and necessary consequence is that whoever rejects this teaching is not rejecting a mere human being but the God who gives you His Spirit -- His holy Spirit.
Paul's point? It's time, folks, to choose obedience over disobedience. And just when we're covering our mouth in horror -- who in the world can possibly live a holy life like that? -- he reminds us that if obedience is required for the Christian, it is also enabled. You need holiness? How 'bout relying on the Spirit that God continually gives you for enablement and empowerment? Paul isn't saying, "Ya'll better get your act together." He's saying, "This lifestyle is not from you. It's not from me. What you have is not yours. It's all the provision of God." Jesus poured out His blood for people who would take advantage of their freedom in Christ to live immoral lives, yet His grace is theirs for the asking until they draw their very last breath.
Now Paul segues by saying, in effect, "Here's yet another way we can please God." The logical propositions we find in 4:9-12 proceed as follows:
1) There's no need for me to write you about love for your fellow believers.
2) You yourselves have been taught by God how you should love one another.
3) You have, in fact, behaved like this toward all the Christians in all of Macedonia.
4) Now we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do even more.
5) Specifically, make it your aim to:
6) We told you all this before when we were with you.
7) In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need.
Once again, Paul gives the skeleton, and then hangs some meat on the bones. Did you notice the connections between these two paragraphs (4:1-8 and 4:9-12)?
1) In both, Paul moves from commendation to correction. "You're doing great! Yahoo! But you can still do better, okay?"
2) In both passages he bases His exhortations on the love command of Jesus:
3) Human need is matched by God's provision:
4) Finally, in neither passage does Paul directly command his readers to do anything. His appeals are based on logic and reason. "Since this is true, then this ought to be true."
What's new here in 4:9-12 is Paul's emphasis on evangelism and "soul-winning" (dare I used that expression today?). Our goal isn't to engage in a battle of words with non-believers and "win." Not if "win" means beating them over the head with the Bible. Yes, there should be biblical content in our proclamation. But that content is enhanced and enriched by our lifestyles, including the way go about our own business and provide for our needs through work. When non-believers see us being responsible in our jobs, they'll be attracted to the Gospel. When they hear the music, they'll want to hear the words. As we faithfully go about our business, being responsible to pay our way and being generous to others who can't, we win the respect of outsiders, says Paul. In other words, seeing is believing.
My friend, I can't tell you how important it is for us to do this. When I was in college, I had a friend who went to Japan as a missionary. His job was to reach Japanese businessmen for Christ. He didn't get very far. He would ask them, "What do you do for a living?" They would relate to him their occupations and talk about how diligently they worked in order to be successful. Then they would ask him, "And what kind of work do you do?" Embarrassed, my friend would answer, "My job is to tell you about Jesus." After four fruitless years, my friend returned to the States and resigned from the mission board. Then he went right back to Japan, married a Japanese girl, got a "secular" job teaching English to Japanese businessmen, and within a few months had started a church in his home.
I'm not saying we shouldn't support fulltime missionaries. I do. However, the missing link in becoming a fully actualized, redemptive person may be a proper vision of God's strategy about work. If you want to effectively reach your friends and neighbors for Christ, Paul has some guidelines. Live a quiet, unobtrusive life. Stop being busybodies but mind your own business. Earn your own living unless circumstances don't allow you to do so. To reach men and women for Christ, we can't just shout the good news to them from a safe and respectable distance. We must voluntarily lay aside the temptation to be detached from the unsaved. I think that's Paul main point, regardless of how you or I pay our bills. If you are in step with God's Spirit, He will show you the appropriate manner and means by which to make the Gospel plain to your friends.
Sunday, April 8
9:10 AM I'm sitting here nursing a sore throat and an earache, relieved that I decided not to run in today's 50K and just reading Scripture and pondering anew the goodness of the Lord. For some silly reason I'm missing Becky this morning, I mean really missing her. I think it's because of the conversation I had with the young seminary couple I hosted for lunch yesterday. As we chatted about their future career and family goals, my mind went back to the time when Becky and I were about the same age, making those exact same decisions, becoming increasingly restless, wanting to have everything settled. Human wisdom alone is insufficient for those tasks. Today I still face many important decisions in my life -- decisions about my work, my lifestyle, my diet, my finances, my kids, etc. -- and occasionally I begin to feel a tremor inside myself deep down in my soul. When people lose a spouse they often have trouble concentrating, and even what would normally be "easy" decisions can become debilitating. The problem is exacerbated by telling virtually no one about your struggles. It's during times like this that all you want to do is hear from God. Picking up my Bible this morning, I read Psalm 91. The passage that struck me was this one:
What struck me is that this is not a promise made to all believers. Only those who love the Lord and who call on Him in faith are afforded the promises made in Psalm 91. This is the secret of the one "who goes to the Lord for safety, who remains under the protection of the Almighty" (v. 1).
At the very core of loss is the realization of one's finiteness and complete dependence on God. We are nothing but earthen jars of clay. If there is any power in our lives, it comes from God. All worldly props are removed. You are left utterly helpless except for the Lord.
The responsibilities of a widower's life demand a great deal but they also bring great joy. I am as excited about my future today as I was when Becky and I got married or when we moved to Basel or when we had our first child. Frederick Buechner once said, "Maybe the most sacred function of memory is just that: to render the distinction between past, present, and future ultimately meaningless; to enable us at some level of our being to inhabit that same eternity which is said that God himself inhabits." Suffering forces us to think about God's character, His very nature. Is He really good? Is He really in control of all things? Can He really be trusted? When we experience loss, these questions are no longer mere abstractions. Loss enables us to see the presence and protection of the Almighty. If that thought doesn't give us a measure of peace, nothing will.
Saturday, April 7
11:12 AM I see we're only two weeks away from the Petersburg Half Marathon. Petersburg has very special memories for me because it was in Petersburg that I got my half marathon PR of 2:27. I'm usually no better than 2:50 or so. It's a pretty neat course. You run right through the Petersburg National Battlefield and even get to witness a mini-reenactment while there. Once again, the race features pace teams (always a big help where you're trying for a new PR). By the way, last year I got this "official" photo from the race organizers.
Don't be fooled by the clock. That's the gun time, not the chip time. I had to pay for the picture, of course. That's why I'm showing it here for the second time. I'm a cheapskate and want to get my money's worth out of my investment.
In two weeks I'll use a different picture. I promise.
10:08 AM If you live in or near Dallas, here are 10 reasons why you should register for the Fairview Half Marathon next Saturday:
I just signed up. The race is only a 10 minute drive from mom and dad's house in Murphy. This will be my 12th half. The 15-year old me is jealous of the 65-year old me, I'm sure.
9:35 AM So I'm having lunch guests today. And the funny thing is, I think I've spent more time prepping my puppy for them than the house. Sure, I picked up and vacuumed, cleaned the kitchen and whatnot, but I spent a good half hour grooming Sheba and picking up her dog hair lest anyone think Sheba is that kind of a doggie. Having a dog is a little like living on another planet. You find yourself doing all kinds of strange and weird things, like speaking to your puppy in the third person ("Yes, Sheba, Daddy wuvs you, you sweet girl") or feeling guilty every time you have to put her in the backyard because you're going out of town. And does anyone understand me like Sheba does? How is it that she knows when I'm happy and when I'm sad? The dog is the only animal that intentionally seeks out eye contact with people or that runs to its human when it's pleased to see us. Whenever we go for a walk, the first thing Sheba does is acknowledge my presence. It's only when she gets a telling nod from me that she turns around and begins exploring on her own, always careful to eyeball me to see where I am. No, Sheba is not a little human. Still, she's an amazing creation of God -- a loving, warm, sentient creature with whom I've formed a strong and resilient bond. I thank God for her every day of my life.
6:02 AM Hey blog readers. What a week it's been. Hail in Dallas. An earthquake in Los Angeles. Tornados in Shreveport. And here? Nothing but pouring rain. It started last night and kept going all night long. Today is more of the same, except that the rain will turn to snow at 9:00 pm. (Wait. I thought it was spring?) The fowl weather means two things:
1) I cancelled our Student Work Day that was scheduled for today, much to the disappointment of many.
2) I've made the obvious decision not to participate in tomorrow's ultra marathon in Raleigh. I've done two 10K trail runs, one in Virginia and one in Texas, both in perfect conditions. They were not easy. I can't imagine trying to complete a 50K race in what I know will be terrible (and possibly dangerous) conditions. I've hiked enough to know that trails either go up or down, and when the trail turns to mud you tend to slip and slide in both directions. Sigh. I was really looking forward to the comradery. Well ... acceptance. Equanimity. Another day, another ultra for me. But I don't mind being alone. I think it was Sartre who said, if you're lonely when you're alone, you're in poor company. Let's see what other adventures the Lord has for me today. One thing's for sure: Life is never boring. Tomorrow morning I'll put on my running shoes again. Except this time I won't double tie the shoelaces. I won't need chafing cream. I won't set my Garmin to "Run Outdoors." Disappointments. Yes, they really do build character.
Keep seeking the road less travelled,
Friday, April 6
4:18 PM I emailed the ultra race director and she says, "Trails might be soft, but not too soggy. We're not expecting enough rain to wash anything out." I get the point. Not ideal conditions but not terrible conditions either. Bottom line: With running (as with everything in life), you're either green and growing or ripe and rotting. Am I still planning on running? Yes. On the other hand, today I developed a mild sore throat, and I'm not too happy about that. All I know is that I've been running long enough (3 years) that the novelty has worn off and I need to take it to another level if I'm going to enjoy the sport. I'll make my final decision tomorrow. In the meantime, it's the simple things of life that count the most. They really do.
9:40 AM Five reasons I love living in the middle of nowhere:
1) Everyone knows everyone. That's generally a good thing, though we have our share of backstabbers. It means that wherever you go, you do a lot of talking with people. Which is fine. Nobody's in a hurry.
2) We take care of each other. In other words, when you move to the boonies you'll feel like you're living "in community." Take the little cow that constantly gets out. You'll find her snipping grass at the side of the same road day in and day out. Everyone has tried to get her to stay in her pasture but she always finds a way of escape. Had a long talk about her in our local Food Lion the other day. The guy I was speaking with actually lives on the same country road that the cow lives on and has given her the name Roady. "Oh yeah," he told me, "Roady's out again." And no, we don't call the cops. Nobody from out of town drives here anyways. But if you visit my farm, you'll probably see her.
3) Necessities are not hard to find. Clarkesville ("My fair city") has a bank, a post office, both Chinese and Mexican restaurants (which are pretty good), an automated car wash, a CVS, and a grocery store -- all within a 10-minute drive. But don't expect to see more than a car or two on the way there.
4) The nature is incredible. An invasion of lady bugs. A parade of caterpillars. Dogs and cats and chickens and rogue roosters and cattle and donkeys and horses and bats and goats and snakes and spring peepers and indigo buntings and bees and farms and welcoming habitats for birds. A-mazing beauty.
5) Finally, there's the solitude. I loved living here when Becky and I were together, madly in love, having surrendered to sweet dreams of farm and country, and I love living here as a left-behind husband making a new life for himself and his kiddos. You can spend hours in the woods and fields, observing and learning from God's creation all around you. When I'm searching for serenity, my search usually ends right here at the farm. Just visualize me and Sheba out for our daily walk and you'll know why. We've had our share of severe mercies (who hasn't?) and a few tough winters, but nothing that God -- and watching the redbud and the dogwood blossoming together -- can't cure.
Ah, Rosewood. Born of dreams. Tracing the seasons. Bucolic bliss. Waking up, day after day, thinking, "Here is the life I have created. Thanks be to God."
Thursday, April 5
7:20 PM Today I had my interview with Abidan Shah of the Hoi Polloi podcast.
We talked about my book The Authorship of Hebrews: Why Nobody Really Cares. No, that's not its real title but I wanted to know if you actually read my blog. Yes, I realize you're probably not interested in reading a defense of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, but somebody had to write it.
I'm incredibly blessed because of moments like this, and I hope I never forget that.
P.S. Abidan says the interview should be up in a couple of weeks. Not that anybody's holding their breath.
9:50 AM "In your opinion, what's the best book on spiritual gifts?" A student asked me this question after my NT class yesterday. That's easy. Kenneth Hemphill's Spiritual Gifts: Empowering the New Testament Church. That said, I cautioned my student to be aware of two things: (1) the lists of NT gifts are not exhaustive, and (2) none of the gifts is defined per se. Then I asked him this question: "What, in your thinking, is the difference between a 'natural ability' and a 'spiritual gift'?" I had a reason for asking him that question. You see, in the end I think there's very little difference between a so-called natural ability and a spiritual gift. When you become a follower of Jesus, two things happen. First, you acknowledge that every one of your so-called "natural abilities" is really a gift from the gracious hand of God. And secondly, you now employ those gifts in His service and for His glory alone. One of the gravest dangers of doing a spiritual gifts inventory on people is that it can all too often produce carbon copies of a stereotypical archetype. Instead, let's ask people, "What do you love to do? What is your passion in life? What is it that you do that causes you to feel God's pleasure?" Psychologists call this "self-discernment," but for Christians, self-discernment is always connected to our relationship with God. The more we become like Jesus, the more we become authentically ourselves. What incredibly important theology. The path to self-fulfillment is simply discovering who our Creator designed us to be. (Side note. Here's a quick test to determine if you're doing the right thing with your life and not merely a good thing. Do the satisfactions of your work outweigh the stresses? If your vocation is born out of a relationship with Jesus, then it will be a pleasure both for you and for others. After all, Jesus said, "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." So what are we complaining about?)
Our chapel speaker on Tuesday drove this point home. "Don't waste your life! Don't bury your God-given talents!" It's simply too costly. So let's give people the freedom to be what God wants them to be. The best we can do is give them Jesus, not a book about spiritual gifts. I have no confidence in Dave Black but I have every confidence in my Savior. He is utterly dependable, and if we look to Him, He will guide us in the right path for our lives. Trust me, no one wants to follow a fraud. Be who you are, the real you, the person God created you to be. The church is for real people with real families who lead real lives. And always remember the theology: Our true self emerges only from our uniqueness in Christ.
8:44 AM Maybe the best movie ever made about the 1970s Watergate scandal and the resignation of a U.S. president is All the President's Men. In that film, Hal Holbrook portrayed "Deep Throat," the insider whistleblower whose clandestine meetings with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein gave the Washington Post scoop after scoop. Last night on Amazon Prime I watched Liam Neeson portray the same character in the film Mark Felt -- The Man Who Brought Down a President.
This time, however, the focus is not so much on Woodward and Bernstein. Watergate was a story about much more than newsrooms and reporters. It was the tale of a failed system, of presidential abuse of power, and while newspaper reporters contributed to Nixon's resignation, in the end the president shot himself in the foot by trying to shut down a federal investigation and dismantle the FBI. This led to a constitutional crisis but one that the American people ultimately overcame. It seems there are negative consequences when a U.S. president tries to make the FBI a tool of his own criminality.
This may be Neeson's best performance since Shindler's List. He succeeds in making "Deep Throat" come alive (the real Felt died in 2008), though the intrigue on display in Mark Felt -- The Man Who Brought Down a President can't seem to match the drama played out in a story about two dogged reporters. In fact, because the film relies so heavily on one's prior knowledge of the Watergate cover-up, I think it would be a very good idea to see All the President's Men before renting this film.
Wednesday, April 4
6:56 PM It was a beautiful 3 days on campus.
Spring has definitely sprung.
Here's my home-away-from-home, the Bostwick Dorm. When I'm not in my office I'm here writing.
Meanwhile, prepping to teach 1 Thess. 4:1-8 in my office...
... and discussing the text of 1 Thessalonians with Maurice Robinson, our resident textual critic.
The Byzantine text is a sticking point with a lot of scholars but not with Mo -- which is one of the things I like about him.
On a completely unrelated theme ...
I've come to the realization that I might not be able to run the ultra this weekend after all. The weather gurus are calling for rain and possibly snow/sleet all day Saturday, which would make the course a challenge for any runner but especially for the guy who was always picked last in gym class and is a complete klutz. I don't want to whine, but I was soooo looking forward to this race and would be bummed if I had to bow out at the last minute. I'm sure the race will go on rain or shine (or snow or sleet), but really, a novice has no business trying to compete in such conditions. If there's something my New Year's Day marathon in Dallas taught me is that it's generally not a good idea to run when the temperature is literally 1 degree Fahrenheit. I mean, it was the worst possible conditions and of the 700 people who registered for the race, only 43 of us finished it, and I was no. 42. I should really not complain; nobody forced me to compete in that kind of lousy weather. But I can become seriously competitive at times, and January 1st was one of those days. I was in Dallas to run and I was sure as shootin' gonna finish that marathon. To sum up, I'll wait until Saturday to make my final decision. Everything will work out okay, I'm sure.
Before I sign off (for now) I'll leave you with this photo.
These books arrived in today's mail. Both Paul and Alex are my former doctoral students. Well done, you guys. For the record, I'm proud of both of you.
Monday, April 2
7:54 AM This and that before my real work starts....
1) I finished reading this book yesterday, paying close attention to what the authors say about the position of Hebrews in the early canon lists of the NT.
Hebrews follows Romans in p46, and it follows 2 Thessalonians in our earliest uncials. This should have been the position of Hebrews in the newly minted Tyndale House Greek New Testament (for reviews of this work, go here). The Paulinity of Hebrews is thus amply supported by the canonical testimony.
2) It's one space at the end of sentences, folks, not two.
3) In the absolutely-nobody-will-care-category, I'm put the finishing touches on my marathon schedule for the year. Thus far these are set in Quikrete:
Still praying about the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 9, but who enjoys running 26.2 miles in 100 percent humidity?
4) Best. Church. Name. Ever.
5) In case you can't afford that wedding ring ....
Sunday, April 1
8:22 PM Here's my dog Sheba.
I just got finished explaining to her that April is National Canine Fitness Month.
P.S. This is also National Humor Month, National Garden Month, National Occupational Therapy Month, National Soft Pretzel Month, National Soy Foods Month, National Welding Month, National Fresh Celery Month, National Fair Housing Month, and National Safe Digging Month. Don't say I never told you.
1:14 PM So. It was a fantastic morning. Decided to fellowship with one of my kids and their family today. Was blessed to witness 5 baptisms. In two instances, dads baptized their own sons.
Not only that, both dads spoke Spanish. How cool is that? I am A-Okay with "lay people" baptizing. After all, I wrote this:
It's from my book Siete marcas de una iglesia neotestamentaria. Bottom line: Everyone wins! Then I drove home and noticed something green. As in, very green.
Did you know it's almost time to cut hay again? Incredible. Increíble! Finally, I'm one week away from my ultra (as if you didn't know that already). I'm 50 percent excited and 80 percent terrified. (And still lousy at math.)
Bring. It. On.
Off to check on the animals. Bye.
8:12 AM I know, I know. Some of you are probably thinking it's sacrilegious to internet (yes, that's a verb) on such a sacred day as Easter Sunday morning but then again, there was no Easter Sunday in the early church and in fact they didn't celebrate Christmas either and if they did it probably wouldn't have been in the month of December and Dave's getting carried away again -- but I think you get the point. A frustrating trait about the Bible is that it tends to upset all of the apple carts in our lives. We attach the label "holy days" to only certain days as if all the other days were somehow less than holy. Yes, I have friends who follow the liturgical calendar and who truly believe that this day is somehow more of a holy day than yesterday was, and I'm fine with that because that's what Paul teaches us to be in Rom. 14-15. Then again, if we have to label today as a special day, maybe we should call it Resurrection Sunday (as I know many of you already do). But then we're faced with yet another dilemma: In the early church, every Sunday was Resurrection Sunday, a celebration of Jesus' life-after-death, and then they memorialized that fact with a big hoopla filled with music and laughter and lots of food. (Remember: it's the Lord's Supper, not the Lord's Snack.) And somehow in the midst of all their celebrating they were able to maintain a focus on the dais. I'm kidding, of course. The center of their gathering wasn't an altar or a platform but an ordinary table at which they sat and ate and remembered their risen, ruling, and returning Lord of glory. "I can't party with you now," Jesus told them before He ascended to heaven, "but yall go ahead and feast in remembrance of Me until that Day when we're all seated together again around a table." When I was growing up, this wasn't quite the focus. Think Easter egg hunts (at church even) and a choir cantata. And somehow this notion that Easter, this Resurrection Sunday, was a once-a-year event wended its way into my subconscious, my questions, my wonderings, but I never quite forgot that God sees each day as equally necessary and important and, in fact, He sees all of us in His body as equally important and necessary and with potential to worship Him and do His work 24/7/365. That realization changed my life. Pretty much the second God convinces us to move off of square 1, we're supposed to shift. God shifts our story, until we are obedient in the little things of life and not just the big things. In addition to church life, we've been given a new "it," and that "it" includes the normal, mundane, "non-holy-days" of our existence. Our only hope as a church is to get back out there in the world and follow the example of Jesus who gave His body for others with scandalous love and a lifestyle that caused them to sit up and pay attention. This is our high calling as followers of King Jesus: not only to find Him on Easter Sunday in our cathedrals and sanctuaries and liturgies and non-liturgical services and home churches but in the school gym and at the kitchen sink. This is who we are. This is what we do as Resurrection-celebrants. God's endgame is resurrection every day of our lives. The shadows of the trees have only made the sunlight more brilliant. So ... tomorrow (a "normal" Monday) when I get to campus I'm going to greet people with:
"He is risen!"
"He is risen indeed!"
Like a marriage ceremony, Resurrection Sunday defies tidy church services and elaborate celebrations. It breathes new life into everything.