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Wednesday, April 17    

5:10 AM I've been reading a very interesting book on leadership. It's not a "Christian" book per se but still it has some good principles. One chapter is devoted to the leader's family. In it the author says that our family relationships are the most important sources of happiness in our lives. We draw strength and encouragement from the love of our kin. But, he says, we have to be very careful not to be lulled into thinking that our efforts to sustain these relationships can be put on the back burner. Even when we think our relationships are healthy, we still can't take them for granted. This means that the most important time to invest in building strong families is, paradoxically, when on the surface it appears that it's not necessary.

I've often told you that I feel family-rich. And I am. But we make a sincere effort to invest in each others' lives. Solid relationships happen to people who are diligent, careful, loving, and attentive to the needs of others. No one is immune from a souring relationship. We've all been there. If you haven't, just wait a little longer.

My kids have been with me through thick and thin. They've helped me adjust to life as a single parent. They've given me invaluable advice about how to manage the houses and land. We spent hundreds of hours on the phone together that first year after Becky died. They  grieved with me and not merely for me. I have indeed experienced family at its best. When I have a need, they rally to my side.

Today I leave to visit my kids who live in Alabama and Georgia. I love these visits. They provide familiarity and security in a world that sometimes seems out of kilter. They also remind me of the past that I had lost -- but in a good sort of way. I recognize that my children will respond to the tragedies in their lives in part on how I cared for them as their father. Still, I realize that all relationships are fragile. They require nurturing. We need to be present in each others' lives. Becky's death drove me to find a source of love that I couldn't find in myself, and to a large degree I found it in family. My family reminds me every day that I'm not alone as I face the future. They challenge me to believe and inspire me to serve. I'm grateful that I can keep their company and learn from them. I will forever be discovering and experiencing new dimensions of what it means to be a father and a grandfather. I want to preserve the heritage Becky bequeathed to us. But we also have our own story to live out, our own destiny to fulfill.

My soul has grown because of the love and grace extended to me by my family. God is growing me through them, making my life fuller and larger and filling it with Himself. I couldn't be more thankful to God.

Tuesday, April 16    

5:30 PM Since you asked about my running (wait -- did you ask?), let me bring you up to speed. As you know, I've been running for 4 years now. My first ever marathon was almost exactly 3 years ago in Cincinnati -- the Flying Pig. Since that race, I've been pushing pretty hard -- 17 half marathons, 14 full marathons, 4 triathlons, one 31-mile ultra, and countless 5Ks and 10Ks. In all of these races my body felt like you always want it to feel -- like a sponge. Your body should be able to absorb all the training and races you do, and (hopefully) you find yourself slowly getting stronger and better. But my last two marathons -- one 10 weeks ago and the other only 4 weeks ago -- took me in the opposite direction. I felt extremely fatigued after each race, and during the marathon I did a month ago I even experienced mid-race something I had never felt before -- my heart fluttering wildly. This was a first for me, and right then and there I knew that something must be amiss. The only wise thing for me to do was to stop running altogether and seek the advice of a good cardiologist, which I am now doing. Yesterday I had both an echo cardiogram and a treadmill stress test. I felt they both went well. In fact, the techs told me they saw absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. But they're not the doctor. I meet with him next week Thursday after I get back from vacationing with my kids and teaching my 4 classes on campus. I am asking God for the wisdom and strength I need to endure the trial I'm facing. I'll be honest. I want to run again, badly. But the truth is, for now all I can do is walk and then only if I can keep my BPM (beats per minute) below 80 percent of my maximum heart rate. Here's the thing, though. As I walk -- as I do each and every day -- I'm finding myself relaxing in the knowledge that God knows all about my struggles and is in the furnace with me. Deena Kastor, of the movie Spirit of the Marathon fame, once said that runners go through both good and bad patches, and when you go through a bad patch you will eventually come out on the other side. I know that it is true because I have seen it time and again in my own life. I truly believe with all my heart that I can get "back into the race" -- though the "race" might need some redefining at this stage of the game. If so, I'm good with that. I really am.

The Christian attitude toward suffering and affliction is truly revolutionary. I try to imagine what life would be like without Jesus and I simply can't fathom it. "Do not be afraid, man greatly beloved. All will be well with you. Be strong, be strong" was the angel's message to Daniel when his strength was about to fail him in the lion's den. I saw how God sustained Becky through 4 years of suffering. Like Jesus, she was in anguish of soul as she pursued the course of her Father. Yet she was never a victim of her sufferings. She never once said, "Woe is me." Hannah Whitehall Smith, in her book Religious Fanaticism, wrote:

A quiet steadfast holding of the human will to the will of God and a peaceful resting in His love and care is of infinitely greater value in the religious life than the most intense emotions of the most wonderful experiences that have ever been known by the greatest mystic of them all.

Becky was an overcomer because she had her hope fixed on the grace that was to be hers when Jesus Christ is revealed. By God's grace, I know I can too. Meanwhile, I'm so grateful to Him for:

  • The ability to exercise every day even if at a slower pace than I'm used to.

  • The excellent health care I enjoy as a result of my employer's generous health insurance plan.

  • The desire to make small changes in my eating habits that will pay rich dividends in time.

  • The God-given ability to embrace the discomfort and to know that life is always filled with ups and downs.

  • The pleasure of cooking my own meals and not dying from food poisoning when I'm finished.

  • The happiness of rediscovering the joy of great music.

  • The realization that I am nothing but a clay pot -- common stuff, easily replaceable, but holding a precious treasure.

Did you know that very few records are broken at the Boston Marathon? That's because there are two kinds of marathon races. The first is called a paced race that has a designated number of runners whose job is to set a fast pace and allow the other runners to tuck in behind them, protected from the wind. The other kind is the non-paced race. When records are set, it's always in paced races like Chicago. At Boston, which doesn't have pacers, there are usually slower times because most runners hate running out in front and serving as a windbreaker.

In just 3 weeks the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy will be upon us. At this point I have no idea idea if I will be strong enough to participate in it. But if I do, my goal will be a very simple one: to get the very best out of the body God has given me and to realize my full potential as a runner who is 66 years of age. If I do make it to Cincy, and if I do cross the finish line, I know I will feel as happy as if I had won the race. And I know that I will draw so much encouragement from all those runners ahead of me who are setting the pace and breaking the wind so that I can run the race I'm capable of. I love how the book of Hebrews calls us to run our race with endurance by "fixing our eyes on Jesus." Our attitude toward our struggles arises out of our life with Him. Though an old pot, my body holds a priceless treasure because it holds Him. Yes, the race is always hard. But Jesus always supplies what we need to complete it. Blogging friend, my body has found in running (and now walking) all it needs to know or do. I am not disappointed that it has so few other skills. As such, the body is not to be profaned. 

Remember: Right now, somewhere in the world, someone is planning their day tomorrow without realizing they're going to die before then. It's what we do today that counts. It's not the achievement but the unremitting effort to achieve that marks the successful life.

7:04 AM Boston 2019 is now history. The Kenyans and Ethiopians excelled as usual. Go East Africa!

The weather forecast called for rain and a serious head wind. But as things turned out, the weather ended up being beautiful if a bit on the humid side. For many runners yesterday, the race wasn't about winning or a new PR. It wasn't about time. It wasn't about age group ratings. It was about stepping over the finish line of their very first Boston Marathon. It was about chasing a dream and seeing it come to pass. If you've ever been involved in sports, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I like what Pope John Paul once said about athletics:

Every type of sport carries within itself a rich patrimony of values, which must always be kept present in order to be realized.

The training in reflection, the proper commitment of one's own energies, the education of will, the control of sensitivity, the methodical preparation, perseverance, resistance, the endurance of fatigue and wounds, the domination of one's own faculties, the sense of joy, the acceptance of rules, the spirit of solidarity, loyalty to commitment, generosity toward the winners, serenity in defeat, patience towards all -- these are a complex of moral realties which demand a true asceticism and validly contribute to forming the human being and the Christian.

On the high school track where I live the football team has already begun training. Can you believe it? "I am my body's sternest master," wrote Paul. After all, bodily exercise does bring about limited benefits -- that is, benefits limited to the schema of this age. The Baptist subculture to which I belong jokes about our self-indulgence and our failure to exercise any kind of self-discipline when it comes to what we put in our mouths. Sure, some of us are overweight due to physiological reasons. But I imagine the vast majority simply are guilty of eating too much and eating the wrong things. I suppose a great many don't do any form of regular exercise. But the bodies we are given are meant to be cared for. Paul calls them a "tent" in which we live temporarily until we die. Even then, that's not the end of our tent. One day we will be clothed again and will spend eternity praising God for the good gift that came to us when we were clothed with our tent. Sadly, we have come to imagine that caring for the tent is somehow an "extra" for the Christian. Nothing could be further from the spirit of discipleship. A body needs care, just like your pets do.

So how's your tent today? For we all have one. In my case, the tent is tall (6 feet 4), half Romanian and half Scots-Welsh, oldish (66), male, with blue eyes, crooked teeth, and a heavy bone structure. I wasn't given a choice about any of these things when I was born. But I have a choice about how I use them today. "There's a time for every activity under heaven," wrote the Philosopher. We are given only the present in which to choose whom we will serve and how we will serve Him.

Why do people run Boston? For some, it's the prize money for sure. But for most, it's a symbol of hard work, determination, and the pursuit of personal fitness and health. I personally will never run Boston but I understand why people do. It's a measurable goal. To tell you the truth, I'm just happy that I can still be up and about every day. Any day I can get out of bed and enjoy God's beautiful creation is a win for me. I keep craving that next challenge. I'll be happy if I can stay in good enough shape to do 1 marathon a year. When I run, I'm a 5-year old with sneakers. How about you? Whether it's running Boston or eating clean or writing your first book or climbing your first 14er in the Rockies or sticking it out in an unfulfilling marriage, if that's your goal I'm your #1 cheerleader. Whatever goal you're pursuing, you should be proud of yourself. Good for you. The goal of every true disciple is to please God. But remember: It's not all Spirit-control. Self-control is needed too. Paul willingly disciplined himself. But only the will that is surrendered to God can do this.

Sunday, April 14    

7:20 PM "Strive to choose, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult. Do not deprive your soul of the agility which it needs to mount up to Him." These are the famous words of St. John of the Cross, and perhaps the motto of my life. I think back to my last year of college. As a Bible major, I was required to take 2 years of Greek. I enrolled in Greek 1 and dropped out after a mere 3 weeks. I wanted to give up. Maybe I should have given up. But I was determined to graduate with a Bible major (and not one in Christian Education) and so I pressed on doggedly until I found a Greek course that I could understand (Moody Bible Institute). It was then that I learned something I hadn't learned in all my years of schooling in Hawaii. God desires that we love Him with our minds. Up to that point, to say that I had an idle mind would be no exaggeration. "There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking," wrote Joshua Reynolds. How many times did I swallow, gullibly, what I was being spoon fed at church and on Christian talk radio? How many times did I use surfing as an escape from reason, a chance to lose myself in creation without ever contemplating the Creator?

Today I'm not sure things are much improved. My mind wanders in a thousand directions (as you can probably tell already from reading this post). It's almost like being back in Hawaii, knowing little besides waves and wipeouts. And then I recall men like Harry Sturz of Biola or Bo Reicke of Basel. They were thinkers. As I got to know them, I began to realize that my problem was that I never truly thought. Not in any depth at least. Holiness is vastly more than adopting a certain lifestyle. It engages in the most dangerous form of behavior of all. It actually thinks. It is repelled by its blindness. It abhors the self-indulgence that passes for scholarship. From time to time I've found it necessary to reevaluate everything I believe in and hope for. How many of my values are based on the wisdom of this world and not on the kingdom of God? Just because we're "thinking" doesn't mean we're thinking Christ's thoughts after Him. "May the mind of Christ my Savior/Live in me from day to day" becomes my constant prayer. But setting one's mind on heavenly things is never easy. The natural mind prefers to go with the flow. It prefers argument to obedience. There's no end of conformities we are capable of substituting for thinking. If we truly wanted to rethink current events, would we not find the teaching of Scripture absolutely revolutionary? Truth that contradicts the Bible is not truth at all. If I am to love the Lord my God with all my mind, I must give it over to Him.

Our great model in this, as in all of life, is Jesus. He did nothing apart from the Father. And thus He honored the Father. No wonder Paul wrote that we are to set our minds, not on earthly things, but on heavenly things. Worldly wisdom always exalts itself against God. Forward progress is always made through a very narrow gate. But what is the alternative?

"Strive to choose, not that which is easiest, but that which is most difficult." The minute I think that I no longer have to make that choice is the day when I stop being a true Christian.

6:14 PM Well, it looks like the weather will be a challenge for the Boston Marathon tomorrow. Rainfall's a lock in the morning, though the temps will be milder than last year. Still, that's crummy weather two years in a row.

The dirtiest word for a runner isn't rain, however. It's heat. Which goes to show: We runners obsess about the weather. A few months ago it was too cold. Now it's too warm. Call it cyclical whining, but it's real. On a warm day, it's important to take in 6 ounces of water every 15 minutes. You might even have to adjust your pace. (I know that from sad experience.) Speaking of running, I haven't been doing any. But walk I can, and my goal is to walk at least 1 hour every day.

And eat clean. The 10 pounds I've lost so far are due, I think, to not eating out so much and to cutting out fatty snacks, including soda and fruit drinks. (Minute Maid lemonade actually has more calories than a Coke.) My dinner tonight was fairly simple: Curry chicken with jasmine rice and fresh corn on the cob. And a glass of delicious well water.

I know this looks like a lot of food, but earlier I biked 10 miles and worked up a hefty appetite. I hope to get back into running next week if my doctor gives me the go-ahead. The Flying Pig is 3 weeks away so there's no time to lose in training. Like I've said, if I have to walk the entire race I can but I'm really hoping I can run/walk like I normally do. The weather will play a big role. I'm a huge wuss about heat. But I promise not to whine ... much.

7:12 AM At the end of his biography, Malcolm Muggeridge writes something truly profound. He's talking about the British government but his words, I think, apply to the current political situation in the U.S.

The Apostle Paul, as usual, was right when he told the early Christians that all earthly authority must be accepted since it could only exist to the degree that it was acceptable to God -- that is to say, appropriate. When it ceased to be so, it would collapse.

Think about this. Instead of inviting the polarizing ambiguity of politics into our kingdom fellowships and fighting over what we think Caesar should do (and, of course, our side knows better than your side what government should do), we could stop blaming government for what it is or isn't doing and partner with whatever other churches are willing to mimic Jesus, forsake privilege and power, and advance the Jesus-looking kingdom. In the spiritual realm, it seems to me that we're spending a lot of time treating symptoms instead of the disease. An aspirin may remove the symptom but there may well be a more serious cause of the headache. This doesn't mean we shouldn't call attention to symptoms. But the basic trouble is the old self-life that doesn't consent to identification with Christ.

A lot more could be said (and needs to be said -- see my aforementioned book if you're interested), but this post is already longer than I wanted it to be.

Saturday, April 13    

5:18 PM This afternoon I've been watching YouTubes of Malcolm Muggeridge, and one of them merits at least a very brief comment. In it, Muggeridge opines:

To identify Christian hopes with an earthly cause, however ostensibly noble, is disastrous, because all earthly causes end in total disappointment.

It was my reading of Muggeridge (as well as Jacque Ellul) that launched a path that ended up in my book Christian Archy.

Muggeridge (and Ellul) taught me a powerful lesson about God's work in the world. Participating in political causes as Christians inevitably requires unacceptable compromise. That's not to say that Christians shouldn't be involved in government or politics. But it's most certainly not their duty to do so. The most important part of Christian initiation is the new birth, for without the new life that comes to us through conversion, we simply have not begun living out the kingdom of God. Being a Republican or a Democrat has nothing to do with it. What would happen if the church took the words of Muggeridge to heart? What if Christians did what Jesus called them and empowered them to do? I submit we would do more than the combined efforts of all the world's governments and political parties put together. Sadly, a secular world looks at the church and concludes that the only kind of power most Christians think makes an actual difference is political power. But our job is to manifest God's scandalous love by using our time, talents, and resources to serve the world.

The one thing I like most about Muggeridge is his call to regeneration. There must always be a surrender to the claims of Jesus. And consequently, there must always be a lifestyle change. Without the new birth, we have good reason to doubt that Christian discipleship has begun. The older I get, the surer I am that this message of Muggeridge's -- this message of the New Testament -- needs to be at the very center of our proclamation as followers of Jesus Christ. The new birth is crucial, but it is often muted or absent in churches that are into the maintenance of the chairs on the Titanic. Christianity begins with conversion, a personal encounter with the risen Christ. I thank God that I heard this call to conversion when I was 8 years old. I am well aware that not all are so fortunate.  

Watch for yourself:

Blessings,

Dave

7:50 AM I'm mentally TOAST this morning. Maybe I'm trying to pack too much into my life (I don't think I told you, but this weekend I have to finish grading a master's thesis and then read a 378-page manuscript a friend from South Africa sent me for an endorsement). I am still a bit tired after the exertions of the past two days but not too tired to exercise. Sometimes I find that exercise is just what my body needs to rejuvenate itself. One of my points in this post (and I just realized it) is that being mentally tired can actually make us physically tired. I find that I'm at my worst physically when I'm worn down mentally. All of that to say that I'm not going to touch anything mentally rigorous until I've had a chance to restore vitality to my body. Then I'm going to rest up and pamper myself.

It's raining today so my workout will be at the Y. If you've been been reading this blog for a while, you know that I prefer the track or the trail to the treadmill any day. Still, the treadmill can give you a satisfying workout. I love my workouts. And I love my sleep. Everything in-between is icing on the cake., What is your schedule today? Think (but don't obsess) about what you are doing and why. Are you doing too much? Are your activities imbalanced (either too much mental activity or too much physical activity)? Are you sleep deprived? This happens to the best of us. Some days are just tougher than others.

Health is truly a privilege and a gift. Don't abuse it.

Friday, April 12    

7:38 PM Hello blogging buds. Hope your week was wonderful. Mine was exhaustingly delightful. So, you're wondering, how was Winston-Salem?

Splendid! The university was kind enough to put me up in the historic Brookstown Inn (ca. 1837).

I imagine these rafters are original to the building.

For meals, I hung out with their faculty.

Or ate with their awesome students.

I lectured in chapel.

I spoke at a luncheon.

And I sat in on two of their Greek classes.

Of course, none of this matters much to you. You've been busy pursuing your own ways of serving Jesus. Whatever we do, however, it's nice to be able to share it with others, don't you think? I loved being with my new friends at Piedmont. To equip and send students into a lifetime of service for Christ and their fellow human beings is one of the most treasured privileges that has ever come my way. The harmony on campus was beautiful to behold. The worship music left me open-mouthed. Its content and musicality was as much a delightful surprise as was the person using sign language to lead their deaf students in praise and worship. I had several more surprises -- meeting former students, signing books, listening to the president share with me his heart for missions and global education. I have come away time and time again from lectureships like this one with the conviction that God is doing a new work today in Christian higher education.

Thanks again for all your prayers, by the way. I'm feeling much better. I'm still a little worn out after my last marathon, but I managed to get in an hour of exercise both yesterday and today. Overall, lots of good, God things are happening in my life right now, and I can't tell you how excited I am to be able to visit my kids and their families next week in Alabama and Georgia. But let me conclude by saying thank you to Piedmont for hosting me and letting me be part of their annual lecture series. I hope I wasn't too boring!

Thursday, April 11    

7:15 AM I'm no expert on world missions, but by God's providence I've been around the globe a few times. It has been an enormous privilege to minister in many countries. It humbles me to think that I've had a front row seat to see the workings of God in many parts of the world. It began in 1978, when Becky and I spent 3 months in West Germany. Some aspects of that trip were ludicrous: I thought I could speak German, but frequently made a fool of myself. I was often corrected ruthlessly. Still, I was privileged to see the Lord's hand in the work our brass octet did as we traveled the length of breadth of that nation. Even in those early days, I realized that God can take any talent we have and use it for His service. The very evening we arrived in Seeheim after 24 hours of travel, I was asked to usher for a crusade being given in town by Joni Earickson. All I wanted to do was sleep. But I was young, and besides, who could pass up an opportunity to hear Joni speak? Her talk was electric. Such were some of the excitements of ministry in the early days of my life as a missionary of Christ.

Later I began traveling to South Korea to teach. I've made 6 such trips. This was my first real exposure to Asian Christianity, and I was fascinated to see the appeal of Jesus to the students I taught. At first I thought I was an abject failure. The students would never look at me when when I lectured. Later I was told that this was a mark of respect in that culture. You learn something new every day. My trips to Korea reinforced my determination to make Christ known wherever in the world I went and as long as I could travel internationally.

I have the happiest of memories of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. Simply to see where Becky grew up made an enormous impression on me. Today, during my lectureship at Piedmont International University, I plan on sharing some stories of our visits to Africa. Our repeated visits to Ethiopia were not without costs: malaria for me, and unspeakable disappoints for Becky. I began turning my attention more to Europe, especially the countries that were once in the Soviet Union. I can't always recall why I was initially invited to visit Romania or Ukraine, but I was, and I delighted in the fellowship I enjoyed with my brothers and sisters there. I remember well a lectureship I gave for a week in Romania. It began in Oradea and finished up in Bucharest. Midweek I happened to be in Cluj, which my mother's family of 12 left in 1916 in order to make its way to the U.S. It was a bit embarrassing for me not to be able to speak a word of the language, even though I am half Romanian. But it was wonderful to see the dedication and commitment of young people with had practically nothing, except a deep love for Jesus. When later I returned to Asia (13 further trips), what struck me was the way the new generation of Christians were taking risks for God and seeing fruit. I felt a sense of shame that we in the West are sometimes ignorant of the persecution of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, and I found myself praying that God would fan into flame the small fires of renewal to be found in churches where I live and work in North Carolina and Virginia.

I can't help but wonder how different how things might have been for me had Becky and I not taken that first trip to West Germany. It's remarkable to see what the Lord is doing all over the world. And it is remarkable to see more and more North Americans becoming intentional about missions both at home and abroad. This speaks eloquently of the free grace of Christ that lies at the heart of the Gospel.

All this, and more, will be on my heart and mind as I travel to speak at Piedmont. We need Christian centers like this, ready and willing to send forth students into the harvest. There is nothing gimmicky about the Gospel. You just follow King Jesus in obedience and love. I'm convinced that the churches in the Majority World have far more to teach us than we have to teach them. The future of the universal church now lies with them. The growth of the church in Asia, Africa, and Latin America totally eclipses anything in the West. Today I hope to share some of the lessons I've learned through my travels to these places. I'll have the opportunity to pass out complimentary copies of my booklet Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? My appeal to my audience will be as basic as ABC:

  • Ask God to show you the needs of the people you hope to reach.

  • Be practical and sacrificial in responding to them.

  • Commit yourself to action.

There is nothing iconoclastic about the Great Commission. Partnership is the key word. We have a long way to go in our churches in America, but the job can be done provided we are prepared to make sacrifices of our time, prayer, finances, and commitment.

Thanks for reading,

Dave

Radu Gheorghita, a Romanian-American who teaches New Testament at Midwestern Seminary, served as my translator during my lectureship in Romania.

Here I'm trying to give my best impression of Count Dracula since we're standing in front of his castle in Transylvania. 

Wednesday, April 10    

8:12 PM Update:

1) I got in a 1-hour walk every day this week at Joyner Park in the heart of Wake Forest. The weather could not have been more perfect. I am feeling fit and strong. Seriously, God is good.

2) The great joy: Going through 1 John 1:5-10 with my Greek classes. Fun and extremely satisfying.

3) This came today.

I hesitate to open it lest I spend all night reading it. One quote from Muggeridge and only one (for now):

Of all the distortions of scripture -- and heaven knows there have plenty of them in our time -- the most disastrous is surely to suggest that when our Lord insisted that his Kingdom was not of this world, he meant that it was.

That is so good it hurts. The simple fact is that people who share the same faith can disagree fundamentally about politics. The one thing we can't do is allow someone other than Jesus to be Lord.

Well, I gotta boogie and get ready for my trip to Winston-Salem tomorrow. By the way, my talk (and its Power Point) at Liberty U. is now online should you need a sedative tonight.

Monday, April 8    

7:45 AM For any of my Greek students who may be reading my blog this morning, let me congratulate you. This week we begin our study of the book of 1 John, and you will now be translating directly from your Greek New Testaments. (Quiet! Did you hear that? My students breathing a deep sigh of relief that they are no longer translating my silly made-up Greek sentences or short excerpts from the Greek New Testament.) In all seriousness, this is a landmark week for us. And where shall we begin? None other than 1 John 1. Here we read much about sin and confession and forgiveness, but the theme of this passage is something altogether different. Anyone care to guess what it is? It is koinōnia, the Greek word most often translated "fellowship" in our English versions. Our passage is perhaps the classic New Testament passage on the theme of fellowship in the entire Bible.

What can be said about it?

1) The basis for Christian fellowship is the fellowship we enjoy with God. Note the 4 occurrences of koinonia in this chapter. The reference is either to our fellowship with God or to our fellowship with one another. The former is the basis for the latter. "Our fellowship," writes John, "is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." Now, to have "fellowship" with something is to have a share in it. John says that we all share the same Father. That's what every Christian has in common with other Christians. And because God is our Father, we are all brothers and sisters. Then, John writes, our fellowship is with Jesus Christ. If God is our Father, Jesus Christ is our Savior, the propitiation for our sins, the means by which God's wrath had been satisfied, thus bringing about reconciliation between us and God (2:1). Finally, we have fellowship with God's Spirit. Although this truth is not enunciated here in chapter 1, later John writes, "This is how we know we live in Him and He in us: He has given us His Spirit" (4:13). Thus the Christian has fellowship with God as Father, with Christ as Savior, and with the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier, the one who leads us into all truth and holiness (2:20-27). This fellowship with God is the basis for all human fellowship we enjoy in the body of Christ. In other words, our fellowship with one another is dependent on our fellowship with God. If we have anything in common with each other, it is only because we have something in common with God. And we do. We all possess the same Father, we all possess the same Son, and we all possess the same Spirit.

So then, fellowship with God is the basis of our Christian fellowship and unity. There is no other basis. And all our differences, and differences we have galore, are eclipsed by the brightness of our common inheritance. Take, for instance, the color of our skin. Why on earth does it matter if our skin happens to be a certain color? What does it matter what language we speak or what accent we have? What does it matter what schools we attended or didn't attend? What does it matter how much money we earn? What does it matter what political affiliation we espouse or whether we home school or government school our children? All these differences are so superficial as to be almost irrelevant in comparison with what unites us. However great our differences may seem to be, we have this in common: We have the same Father, the same Savior, and the same indwelling Sanctifier, and how I wish the church would demonstrate this. The more interracial and international and intersocial our Christian fellowship is the better. For the more diversity we have, the easier it will be able to prove to the world the truth about Christian fellowship, which is based not on external similarities but on our common participation in God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2) Now look at verses 6 and 7 of I John 1. Here John writes that fellowship with God, and therefore fellowship with each other, is impossible if we are walking in darkness -- in ungodliness and untruthfulness. But if we walk in the light as opposed to the darkness -- in the light of holiness and in the light of truth -- then we have fellowship not only with God but with one another. Here John is talking not about the basis of Christian fellowship but about the obligations of Christian fellowship. If fellowship with God puts us into fellowship with one another (and it does), what will this mutual fellowship look like? Well, it will always look like a meaningful one-another relationship. Fellowship with God puts us into inescapable reciprocal obligations. In Greek class last week we talked about the reciprocal pronoun allēlous, "one another." The word describes an obligation that is reciprocal. It isn't a one-sided but a two-sided relationship: Me to you and you to me. Christian fellowship is, we might say, one-anotherness. The church is not a train car where people sit together and go in the same direction but have no meaningful relationships. It is more like a fireside, where the family meets together and where we all share common pursuits and common interests and converse with one another. Our common relationship binds us all together in a warm bond of love. A biblical illustration, and one that Paul frequently uses, is that of the human body. As Christians, we are all members of the body of Christ. That is, we are members of one another, whether we like it nor not. We belong to one another. And because we're all members of the same body, we each have a duty to care for that body. We are to love one another, serve one another, provoke one another to love and good works, pray for one another, admonish one another, bear one another's burdens, etc. Incidentally, at the root of the Greek word koinōnia is the adjective koinos, "common." Christians share things in common, or should. So it shouldn't surprise us that in Acts 2, one of the ways Christian fellowship was exhibited was by the fact the believers in Jerusalem had all things in common. As a result, no one had a need. Not a single person! Here in 1 John, the writer asserts that we cannot simply stand by when we see a need without doing anything about it. "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can God's love be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with mere words or speech but with actions and with truth" (3:17-18). If God so loved us that He gave His Son to die for us, we ought also to love one another. This is the basic obligation we have as Christians to one another. We are to receive one another as Christ has received us without judging one another. This is Paul's teaching in Romans 14-15. We are to forbear one another. We are to submit to one another. We are to receive one another into our homes. And it's always a characteristic of love to serve the other. This is what Jesus did when He took a towel and washed His disciples' feet. We serve each other by caring for one another and by building one another up. We seek to help one another by exercising our spiritual gifts for the benefit of one another. We encourage one another and comfort one another. And if we fail to do this, we are walking in darkness. We are sinning against the truth.

Are we fixed on this kind of one-anothering? Or are we leading sinful, self-centered lives? Let's beware of a religious aloofness that is the hallmark of Pharisaism. Nothing develops our own spiritual life as sharing our blessings with others. I personally know many Christians who are outstanding examples of this truth. They are constantly giving and sacrificing for others. They not only believe the Gospel but practice it. Here is a grace that can be practiced anywhere and by any Christian. There is nothing weak or effeminate about love. Anyone can be selfish. Only great souls are truly caring.

Reminder: Don't just translate a Greek passage to get its meaning. Find its message for today. You never know how God might speak to you through the passage you're translating, so soak it up and be PRESENT.

Sunday, April 7    

7:20 PM Well, it's April, and I'm reminded of a scene in Elizabeth and Her German Garden. In case you haven't heard of this book, it's a semi-autobiographical look into the life of a British woman who marries a German and moves to her wealthy husband's estate in Germany. Visitors come and go, even when she wishes they wouldn't. Elizabeth can be snarky at times, but she's always honest. I love this quote about "New Year's resolutions" made by one of her visitors:

I find my resolutions carry me very nicely into the spring. I revise them at the end of each month, and strike out the unnecessary ones. By the end of April they have been so severely revised that there are none left.

Did you make any New Year's resolutions for 2019? If so, what's their status as of April 7? Someone once said (probably George Washington or Beyonce) that the trouble with our "resolutions" in the plural is that we lack "resolution" in the singular. We lack the determination and the motivation to carry them out. So we struggle to make our resolutions more resolute, if you will.

Well, there's one resolution I made in the New Year and, though I've only been partially successful at keeping it, I'm trying to make it a daily habit. It's based on Rom. 12:1-2 and it involves doing 3 things every morning before getting out of bed:

1) Thank God for His mercies. Paul writes, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God's many mercies to us, to present your body as a living sacrifice unto God." The mercy Paul has in mind is the culmination of 11 chapters of argument. These 11 chapters describe both our need for God's mercy and His provision of mercy. Here Paul demonstrates our sin and our guilt, and then he shows us how God has made provision for our sin by sending His Son to identity with our sin and guilt. In this Jesus, this God-man, God condemned sin when He took our flesh. He bore our condemnation, became our substitute, and paid the penalty for us. That's the very essence of the Gospel: Jesus died in our place. And if we run to Jesus and put our trust in Him as the only refuge there is for sinners, God pronounces us righteous and adopts us into His family. Not only that, He begins to transform us into the likeness of Christ. All we have in Christ is the result of the mercies of God, and these undeserved blessings from the hand of God should motivate us to live our lives day by day for Him and not for ourselves. Could it be that our resolutions are so quickly abandoned because we have forgotten the mercies of God? No wonder we're so irresolute. But it's God's mercy that draws out our commitment to Him.

2) Present my body unto God. Not only my "spirit" or my "heart." God wants the whole of me, including my body. The New Testament knows nothing of the Greek disparaging of the human body. We are embodied spirits, and our bodies are vehicles through which we love and serve and find our pleasure in God in the midst of all our earthiness and physicality. God has given us feet to go places. He's given us hands that can create and paint and caress and serve and cook and clean and play musical instruments with. And even if our hands can't paint a beautiful picture, our teeth can.

God has given us ears by which we enjoy music and listen sympathetically to one another and find pleasure in the sounds of nature and the cooing of a newborn baby. God's given us eyes with which to see His handiwork in creation and in each other's faces. And I am to present it all to God for His direction, blessing, and control. Have you ever done this? Have you ever examined your bodily parts and asked God to direct, bless, and control each one? When and if we learn to do this, it will result, says Paul, in the true worship of God. The question is, "What am I going to do with this body of mine today?"

3) Pray that God would help me not to be conformed to this world but to be more and more transfigured into the likeness of Christ. The fashion of the world never loses its allure. It will always pull us away from God and seek to direct our lives. Will we live according to the will of God or according to the pull of the world? This question presses upon us every day. The world says, "Get." God says, "Give." The world says, "Get even." God says, "Do not repay evil for evil." The world says, "Seek to be first." God says, "If you want to be first, you must become the slave of all." The world says, "Greatness is measured by one's accomplishments." God says, "Greatness is measured by one's service." The world says, "Don't let anybody push you around." God says, "The meek will inherit the earth." We have to choose. None of us can serve two masters.

So there you have it. Each morning my desire is to 1) thank God for His mercies, 2) come to Him in prayer and present my body to Him and say "Take all of me as a living sacrifice," and 3) ask Him to protect me from a world that is determined to squeeze me into its mold. I know this sounds simple. And it is, in theory at least. It's putting it into practice that gets tough. As I wrote this morning, I believe the greatest work of God in our lives is not in the occasional burst of the miraculous but in the day-in and day-out testimony of Christian living in the mediocre and mundane and monotonous. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to make all this possible, every day of our lives. The Bible teaches that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked and that our carnal minds are in rebellion against God. Hence we must seek His grace if we are to see His power released in our lives.

In Rom. 12:1-2, Paul begged his readers in Rome: Present your bodies to God and allow yourselves to be transformed by a renewed mind. Thomas Schreiner believes that these verses encapsulate the themes of all of chapters 12-15: "If all the exhortations contained here could be boiled down to their essence, they would be reduced to the words: Give yourselves wholly to God; do not be shaped by the old world order, but let new thought patterns transform your life" (Romans, p. 640).

The Holy Spirit dwells within but we have the power of choice. We can obey or disobey Him. But if we obey Him, there is not bondage but glorious liberty. The Christian who accepts Christ's daily control is under no cold dictatorship. For our God is also our loving Father.

1:12 PM Last week in Greek class we learned some additional pronouns, including the possessive pronoun/adjective emos. This word is perhaps the most emphatic way of saying "my" in Greek.

Here's an example from our textbook. 

The speaker is Jesus. Not only does He use a form of emos here, but He postpositions it, which tends to add even more emphasis. We had lots of fun in class trying to come up with a way of translating this nuance into English. "It is My judgment that is just" came in a close second. But the class's favorite was, "It is My judgment, and Mine alone, that is just."

I thought of this during our communion service today. Here's the text of the Lord's Supper from 1 Corinthians 11.

Notice how Jesus uses an emphatic form of emos when He refers to eating and drinking "in remembrance of Me." Hence my scribble, "Jesus is the focus!"

Friend, we don't come to the Lord's table to remember our sins. We come to remember our Savior. We come to remember His mercies. I say this because I grew up in a church in Hawaii that asked everyone to examine themselves before the Supper to see if they were "worthy" that day to partake of the bread and the cup. But Jesus never invited anyone to His table. The word "Do" in the expression "Do this" is in the imperative mood. Besides, no one is worthy to take the elements. That should go without saying. What Paul is referring to here is eating and drinking in an unworthy manner -- in this case, eating and drinking before the whole body has assembled, including the poorer members.

Could not our Lord's Supper observances -- where Christ is front and center -- be a weekly occurrence in our churches, as they apparently were in the churches of the New Testament (see Acts 20:7)? When Paul insisted that Christ have the preeminence "in all things" (Col. 1:18), I wonder if that included the times when the church was gathered. Our Lord certainly deserves to have the preeminence, but He is a gentleman and will not demand it of us. We must offer it to Him willingly. Are our churches eagerly granting Him the "first place" when we gather as His body? We can and we should.

7:45 AM Happy Sunday! Let's sit down over a cup of coffee and get caught up. I think we all have a tendency to see life in polar opposites. We are either weak or strong, healthy or ill, rich or poor, successes or failures, etc. We often look at the person with the largest portfolio or the biggest church or the most publications or the bulging muscles as a hero. I'm beginning to think that the opposite is true. I believe weakness is our greatest asset in life. Let me explain.

Not too long ago I was invulnerable. Nothing could slow me down. I was able to schedule dozens of races every year, and I never once had a DNS (Did Not Start) or a DNF (Did Not Finish). I won some age group awards and took home lots of prizes. Running brought me joy and pleasure, even though it wasn't (and still isn't) the biggest part of my life.

Then I was struck down with an infirmity after my last marathon. I still don't exactly know what the problem is, but I'm almost positive it's an overuse injury. I've had to cut back on my running. In fact, right now I can only engage in walking until my body begins to restore itself through rest and healthy eating. What once brought me so much enjoyment is now a source of frustration.

An injury will humble you. It will make you realize that you're not invulnerable. It will force you to look inside for a source of strength you realize you don't possess. You begin to understand what Paul meant when he said, "When I am weak, then I am strong."

Last week, in our NT class, we talked about miracles. I suggested to the class that God's primary means of displaying His power in this age is not through the overtly miraculous (although He's certainly capable of healing us miraculously) but through perfecting His strength in the midst of our weaknesses and infirmities. Rather than focusing on the external, it is far better to cultivate inner strength. The thought occurred to me that right now, this very moment, I have everything I need to handle whatever life throws at me because I have Jesus. My strength is nothing less than my vulnerability.

I recall Joni Earickson Tada once being interviewed on a Christian TV show. The interviewer asked her, "Why are you still in your wheelchair? Don't you have enough faith to be healed?" I wanted to scream, "You fool! Can't you see a miracle even when it's staring you in the face? Which is more miraculous -- Joni standing up and walking, or that big smile on her face while sitting in her wheelchair?"

My friend, you have that same strength inside of you right now. You don't have to wait until you're injured or broken to experience it. Going through times of testing and divine discipline make us stronger. Alas, that's a truth I need to relearn time and time again. You would think that as a New Testament professor I should know better, right? I am ever so human, but residing within me is all the strength and hope that I could ever need. Vulnerability and humility are two traits I don't want to live without in my senior years. If we could only see what setbacks are giving us, we would appreciate them more.

As you know, I've been working hard at eating decently. I've recently made several gignormous changes, including cutting out all junk food and unhealthy sacks. No donuts, no burgers, no fries, no chips, no cookies. For snacks I eat veggies. I have no huge plans for weight loss, but the doctor did suggest I lose 10 pounds to attain my optimum BMI. In a couple of weeks I'm going in for a treadmill stress test so that I can have a better idea of what my VO2Max is before I start running again. I'm trying not to eat out, but when I do dine in a restaurant I try to pick healthy food choices like Korean. I fully understand that if I want a permanent change in my body I have to make permanent changes in my attitude. It's a long, steady process, but I've already seen movement down the scale. "Slow and steady" is my motto for sure. I started my exercise journey just after Becky died 5 years ago, but I still have a long ways to go.

Some things grow mellow just before they spoil. I don't want to make that mistake as I grow older. Paul kept fighting the good fight of faith to the finish. We should grow easier to live with as time goes by, but we must not mistake gentleness for apathy. It's so easy to say, "I've had my day. Let the younger generation take care of everything." But I have not "had my day" until my day is over. No Christian is retired from duty to God and others as long as he or she is still on planet earth.

For me, Paul is the best example of this truth. He did not live for fame, pleasure, or success. He sought the "Well done" of his Master. A true Christian is conformed and not merely non-conformed. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds to prove the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Let me say this again: Don't be afraid of your vulnerability. Thank God for the crisis of faith you are now going through. Suffering does not allow us the luxury of self-pity. Continue believing in God. Even if suffering makes belief in God more difficult, at least for a time, it can give us the security of knowing that He is in control, even when we are not.

Saturday, April 6    

8:12 PM I am slowly putting together my agenda and weekly worksheets for my next race. Today I walked as part of my marathon training. This morning I walked for 1 hour, and this evening I walked for 3/4 of an hour. I plan to walk 1 hour every day for the next 30 days. Today I listened to the Monkees while walking. Their music is so timeless. You start listening to A Pleasant Valley Sunday or Daydream Believer and before you know it your hour is up. Walking has been proven to:

  • Reduce excess weight.

  • Improve balance and coordination.

  • Reduce body fat.

  • Increase your lifespan.

  • Boost your immune system.

  • Improve your memory.

  • Increase your lung function.

  • Improve blood lipid levels.

  • Reduce your risk of cancer.

  • Improve respiration.

  • Increase your HDL (i.e., good) cholesterol.

  • Improve your circulation.

  • Trim your waistline.

  • Manage high blood pressure.

Clearly, I enjoy running. But I'm coming back from a pretty nasty bout with bronchitis, so I'm going to begin by walking regularly. Overall, it's a plan my doctor would be proud of.

Do you enjoy walking?

Do you listen to music when you walk?

Do you vary your walking routine?

Just had to add this:

 

7:45 AM The theme of my lectureship at Piedmont International University next week is "Proclaiming the Faith." This was the theme given to me by the administration, and I'm utterly delighted with it. I'm determined to stay within the 30-minute time limit I have for the Thursday and Friday sessions, though I do have an entire hour to speak over the lunch break on Thursday. In due course I'll post my Power Points here. I think one of the best ways we can nurture young Christians is through missions training. It enables them to share in the spreading of the Good News and see it take deep root in their own lives. But it needs to be modeled in their own churches and in the lives of their pastors. All Christians are called to serve the Lord, whether in the land of their birth or in ministry overseas (or both). It's in serving the Lord through serving others that we develop spiritual muscles. We can serve Him through deeds of compassion or cheerful acts of helpfulness in the workplace or through undaunted witness but mostly, I think, through conforming our lives to His. Love shows itself in a myriad of ways. But if it's going to attract anybody to the Master, it must embody that practical care for others that characterized the life of Jesus.

Just a brief word about my lecture last week in my NT class, which centered on the history and theology of Pentecostalism and the question of the sign gifts and their use (or nonuse) today. As I mentioned in class, I'm not fond of the term "Charismatic Movement" for the simple reason that all evangelicals -- whether Charismatic with a capital "C" or not -- are or ought to be charismatic in the sense that we all believe the Holy Spirit is given to equip us for service and mission, for love and worship. The Holy Spirit can't be muzzled or contained. He blows where He wills. And we should celebrate that. The Charismatic Movement is a challenge to unbelief and intellectualism in the church. A true movement of the Holy Spirit always combines intellect and charism, knowledge and power. Not some but all are called to serve. We all have a ministry to perform. And, as the Book of Acts shows, the Spirit is given primarily for witness-bearing. All Christians have a story to tell, and the Holy Spirit is given to fuel our story-telling until we become enthusiastic witness-bearers. Even if we believe, as I do, that the "baptism with the Holy Spirit" refers to our initial encounter with the life-giving Spirit of God, we still need His love and power for continued witness and service. I know from sad personal experience that it's possible to possess the Spirit of God and not be led by the same Spirit. One example will suffice, and that is prayer. Prayer is the believer's lifeline to God, but prayer is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Rom. 8:26-27). We can't achieve anything in the service of God unless we are open to the living God acting and working in our lives, and yet how abysmal is my prayer life so often. I don't know about you, but at least once a day I have to invite the Holy Spirit to full me afresh with His power for holiness and service. Any believer who does not do that regularly is doomed to powerlessness and ineffectiveness. I fear that much of our trouble goes back to over-intellectualism in our classrooms. A radical reform of theological education is one of the most urgent tasks of the church if it is to provide leaders whom people are willing to follow. 

Meanwhile, I don't plan to kill myself training for my next marathon. I want to be sensible, and that means an easy workout today. I simply don't want to find myself not being able to run ever again. I figure I can make good progress if I can remember to 1) exercise no more than 4 times a week, 2) get adequate rest/recovery, 3) listen to my body, and 4) get a massage every day (I wish!). Plus, if I can continue to avoid junk food and cook for myself, I should be good to go come race day. I feel like I'm firming up everywhere and I know I'm getting stronger. So we'll see. 

Happy Saturday!

Friday, April 5    

8:10 PM A few pics from the ETS meeting at Liberty:

1) The university's Scriptorium didn't disappoint.

2) Greg Lamb, who's finishing his Ph.D. at Southeastern, speaking on the pneumatology of Philippians.

3) Nathan Ridlehoover lecturing on the structure of Matt. 6:19-7:12.

4) Chuck Quarles delivering his keynote address.

5) Me doing what I like best.

All in all, an amazing time.

P.S. My Power Point is here in case you have nothing better to do than click on some boring slides.

9:20 AM I've got some time before I have to leave for Lynchburg, so what should I blog about?

Here's the heart rate chart from my Garmin for my last marathon. It's crazy.

Pushing so hard at the end is just plain stupid, but, you know, sometimes stupid is my middle name. I'm competitive by nature, so it's hard for me to hang back when everyone at the finish line is cheering for you. Seems I always want more. Seems I am never satisfied with my effort. This annoys me no end but it's just my temperament. But the truth is, I have to change my running habits if I'm going to be fit and healthy at the same time. If you haven't done a marathon, you may not realize just how competitive it is. And even though you're 66, you push yourself because you feel like you're 40. (You know the old saying: "Old is always 10 years older than I am now.") Soon I'll begin my 67th trip around the planet. Hopefully I'll keep running. And swimming. And climbing. And cycling. I keep telling myself that speed is not everything. I know what running does for my mental health, so I'll be out there (Lord willing) regardless of what pace I go at or how far I go. I just have to learn not to be so hard on myself. You get what you give to your body!

On a completely unrelated note, I got a news article in my inbox this morning about the mass of people who are leaving Hawaii because of the high cost of living. I'm not surprised in the least. Many young people of my generation left Hawaii for the mainland ("The Big Big Island") and still live here. A couple of years ago my cousin who owned a medium-sized house in Kailua sold it for a million dollars and moved to Oregon, where he could buy a mansion for half that price. Housing costs, cost of living, food and gasoline costs, and lack of good paying jobs are forcing people to say "aloha" to their home state. And don't get me started on the traffic congestion. I once thought about buying a condo in Kailua because I travel there every year but I was shocked at the prices. Studio apartments started at $750,000. The other day I watched "Seattle Is Dying" on YouTube. There are many similarities with Honolulu. One study published last month says that Hawaii is ranked as the worst place for doctors to practice. That's right. Hawaii is expensive even for well-paid professionals. People are being priced out of paradise.

I'm glad I grew up in Hawaii. Back then I could surf to my heart's content. Beaches like Pupukea and Pipeline weren't crowded or territorial. Single-income families could make it financially. Much of that has changed. Today, many residents need to have two jobs, or even three, to make ends meet. Of course, Hawaii is still considered to be the happiest of the 50 states, despite the cost of eggs and milk. So if you live there, congratulations. I'll have to be content with an occasional visit.

With one of my pastor buddies in Kaneohe.

And on that note, I need to leave for Lynchburg. Let's see if I can make it through my presentation without a couching spell.

Thursday, April 4    

9:20 AM Big news. I just pulled the plug on Netflix. As in, cancelled it. Haven't watched it in months and when I did watch Netflix it was mostly a big waste of time. I never once watched House of Cards (whatever that's about). Plus, I was I got agetting ads from them daily via email. If I want to watch a movie, I'll stick with Amazon Prime.

6:35 AM Since no one reads blogs before driving to work, hello to all two of you. Here are some random musings on what's going to be a knock-dead gorgeous April day in sunny Southside Virginia.

1) Here's this weekend's ETS Eastern Region program.

The venue is Liberty University's Rawlings School of Divinity. My colleague Chuck Quarles is one of the keynote speakers. Eager to hear him. (If you can't make it to my session, I'll post the Power Point here as soon as it's finalized.)

2) Easter plans? I'm flying to Birmingham to visit my daughter and her family then driving to Fort Benning to visit with another daughter and her husband. I get to witness his promotion to sergeant. Pretty cool.

3) I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but nothing is more interesting to me than reading the Gospels in Hebrew.

Right now I'm in Markos. That's right. You gotta get used to some different spellings: Ya'akov, Yochanan, Shim'on, Andrai, Sons of Zavdai, Yeshua, Yerushalayim, Mashiach, Notzri, Chalfai (Alpheus), Shabbat, Prushim (Pharisees), Galil, Benei Regosh (Sons of Thunder), Ba'al Zevul, etc.

4) So grateful this morning for my health, the ability to make a living, my family, my farm, etc. I don't take good health for granted any more. I am SO thankful that 4 years ago I began being active.

5) The link between Facebook and depression. (FYI: The main danger is one of constantly comparing ourselves to other people.)

6) Enjoyed lunch on Tuesday with one of our visiting scholars.

Steve Booth is dean and professor of New Testament at the Canadian Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He's an expert on all things Johannine and will be the guest lecturer in our NT class in 2 weeks, when the theme is The Gospel According to John.

7) Do you even care what I'm reading right now? Probably not. But in case you do: The Killer Angels, The Great Omission, Knowing God, Growing in the Spirit, and Evangelical Is Not Enough.

8) As you know, I've cut out all sodas from my diet. All. That's a new habit for me. Someone has said that creating a new habit takes 21 days. Sounds simple, but really, it can be tough. What does eating healthy mean to you? Do you have a new fitness goal? If not, why not start with ridding yourself of soda pop? You have to make a conscious effort to do it, of course, but it will eventually become a habit. You'll feel a lot better and it will also help you lose weight.

P.S. Another habit I'm trying to establish? Doing things in moderation. I'm pretty terrible at this. I do everything 110 percent, even getting sick. The key, I think, is making very small changes. I'm starting with eating smaller portions at mealtime. This goal is basic, manageable, and simple. The trick is not to get side-railed.

9) We started translating 1 John in my Greek classes this week. What's the theme of this epistle, you ask? "Doing the Truth by Living in Love." The letter is predicated on two attributes of God: He is light, and He is love. More here if you're interested.

10) Less than 2 weeks to the Boston Marathon. No, I won't be there. But I'll be watching. Boston is a symbol of hard work and determination. My hat's off to everyone racing that day. As a solid pack-of-the-packer, I'll never get in, but I appreciate the joy of those who do. Hope the weather is better this year than last.

Wednesday, April 3    

7:30 PM Well, it's definitely the sick season. Some of my kids and grandkids are sick. Many of my students are sick. I'm still sick. Be interesting to hear what the doc says tomorrow. I think once I get over this bout of bronchitis I will know how much it has set me back in terms of my training. Personally, one thing I will never do again are back to back marathons. It's been so hard to recover. When it all comes down to it, you've got to know your body and what it's capable of doing. Listen to your body. Take care of yourself. Lay off of running for a while if you need to. There are always other races. It's been two weeks since I've run and I don't really plan on running any time soon. It's disappointing and frustrating. But I truly am grateful for the strength God gave me this week to teach my 4 classes. Right now, more than anything, I'd like to take a long walk. That's right. A walk. Not a run. Not a bike. Just a simple walk to experience the freedom that comes from walking, even if it's a short stroll, throwing off the cares of life. Walking is such a simple joy. Walking mean being outdoors in the fresh air. "Outside" is no longer a transition between house and car but a destination in and of itself. Outdoors is my element. One foot in front of the other, finding your rhythm, being a pedestrian, nothing more. I love to walk alone, buried in nature, where everything talks to you -- trees, flowers, steams, the wildlife.

Well, hopefully this weekend. Or maybe next week. No running for a while, but walking? I'm so ready for it. The body is made for this movement.

Monday, April 1    

6:12 AM According to Mark continues to speak powerful to me. It's awesome. I'm in chapter 5.

1) A man with evil spirits is healed by Savior (that's the name I'm using for "Jesus" in this blog post; the name "Jesus" means "The Lord is salvation" or, more simply, "Savior"). This miracle took place on the eastern shore of Lake Galilee. Becky and  I once stood on this very spot, as I know many of you have (our guide called it the place where "The First Swine Dive in History" occurred). The demons enter the pigs. The pigs drown. The man is healed and is "clothed and in his right mind." The people of the region ask Savior to leave. As He is getting into the boat, the man who had had the demons begs him, "Let me go with you!" Savior replies:

Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind He has been to you.

This might well be the first instance of the Great Commission in the ministry of Savior. The man did as he was told. He went through the Ten Towns and told everyone what Savior had done for him. And all who heard it were amazed.

Someone has said that Faith stands for "Forsaking All I Take Him." We are to let go of ourselves, our sins, everything, and rest in Savior for salvation and all that goes with it. We must 1) lay hold on eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12), because salvation is not ours until we take it. We must 2) hold fast to what we have received (Rev. 3:11), lest we lose our testimony and our reward. And we must 3) hold forth the life-giving word (Phil. 2:16), because the Good News is not something to be hoarded but to be heralded.

2) A synagogue official named Jairus begs Savior to heal, not his "daughter" (so Matthew and Luke), but his "little daughter." Remember, According to Mark is comprised of the words of Peter, an eyewitness of all that Savior had said and done. "Little daughter" is known as a diminutive. In Greek 3, we study diminutives. Donald Swanson, in his JBL article "Diminutives in the Greek New Testament," shows how rare diminutives were in Attic prose. But in Koine Greek they were widely developed. In High German there are two diminutive suffixes: -hoch and -lein. If Tisch means "table," Tischlein means "little table." The Swiss, instead, use the suffix -li, and boy do they use it a a lot. The German Heftchen ("little book") becomes Heftli. Very sonorous. Sometimes -li isn't a diminutive suffix at all. It's an expression of endearment. Both of our pet parakeets in Basel had names ending in -li, and everyone who's lived in Switzerland calls their spouse Schätzeli ("precious treasure"). Hence Jairus's words:

My precious daughter is sick.

Powerful. To add even more pathos to the scene, the girl is described as being 12 years of age. Can you imagine the emotion the readers would have felt at this point? A girl on the verge of womanhood!

This, I believe, is the heart of the Christian experience. Dead in our trespasses and sins, we are now made alive with Christ to walk in newness of life. We go down to go up. Savior meets us in our infirmities (whether physical or spiritual or both) and we are changed in a moment. I think of General Booth of the Salvation Army with his single worn-out uniform but living a thousand lives in the souls he rescued.

People today are looking for another Savior, another Messiah to set their hopes on. There will indeed be another. He is called Antichrist, and many will believe his lies. Modern political rallies that work up mere optimism and positive thinking only further deceive us. Sin is our trouble, and we are left in a worse state than ever when we are given less then the cure -- a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Our tender Lord dealt with the sick and sinful immediately and compassionately. This is the message I'm taking away this morning from According to Mark. It's easier, I think, to write a check to send the Gospel across the sea than to take it across the street. While we are helping to send missionaries, let's be sure we are one to the needy all around us. I am stunned by the goodness of Savior. Today, may we embrace His Gospel over infighting and God's glory over our own.

Sunday, March 31    

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

Here are a few examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I do write in my Greek New Testament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Have lunch with friends and colleagues? A must.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 30    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 29    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 28    

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

In short, you want to crawl into a hole. 

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

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

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

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

  • Strive for quality over quantity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 27    

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

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

Monday, March 25    

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

1) Would Jesus Have Written a Book?

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

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

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

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

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

Make it a great week!

Sunday, March 24    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 23    

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

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's my favorite quote from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 22    

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

SAD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gehring then discusses:

  • The Use of Houses before Easter.

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

  • The Use of Houses in Pauline Missional Outreach.

  • The Continuing Influence of Oikos Structures.

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

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

Excellent book. Take up and read!

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

Here are the 7 "rules" these researchers published:

1. Exercise regularly.

2. Eat a good breakfast.

3. Don't eat between meals.

4. Maintain weight.

5. Don't smoke.

6. If you drink, drink moderately.

7. Get a good night's sleep.

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

1/3 = Exercise.

1/3 = Diet.

1/3 = Rest.

In other words: Balance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thursday, March 21    

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

The glory of God is man fully functioning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 20    

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

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

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

Gone, but not forgotten.

Sunday, March 17    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mi want to be done with this race so bad!

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

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

Except for countless acts of athletic heroism.

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

Saturday, March 16    

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

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

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

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

Off to the races,

Dave

Friday, March 15    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 14    

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

And the weather was perfect for a long ride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Older runners can improve faster than younger runners.

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

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

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

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

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

  • Stress + Rest = Improvement.

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

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

Wednesday, March 13    

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 11    

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 10    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 9    

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

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

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

Shabat shalom!

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

Even the locals don't know where this is.

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

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

Time for a power nap. Later!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 8    

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

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

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

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

March 17, Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, NC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 5-12, surfing in Hawaii.

October 11-14, Chicago Marathon.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 4    

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

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

P.S. For your reading pleasure:

Sunday, March 3    

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

ITIZWEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nominative

genitive

dative

accusative

vocative

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

subject nominative

nominative absolute

predicate nominative

nominative for vocative

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

dikaion

touto

me

humas

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

generic article

personal pronoun

relative pronoun

possessive pronoun

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

Saturday, March 2    

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 1    

2:38 PM Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

3) Just signed up for Ella's Race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They kept going.

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 28    

5:56 PM Yesterday I had lunch with a good friend who teaches Old Testament and Hebrew at the seminary. He had me for Greek years ago. Now we are colleagues. We are alike in so many ways, but we are also different in our age, background, and research focus. I had asked him to lunch not only for the fellowship but also for some teaching tips. "What are you doing in your classes that can make me a better teacher in mine?" We had a great time as we discussed each other's pedagogy. I was reminded of the old maxim that says if two people are exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary. We need the presence of opposites in our lives. Becky and I were like yin and yang. I imagine the same could be said about Priscilla and Aquila. As a married couple, you begin with what you have in common as believers in Christ. Then you allow God to use your different personalities and skill sets to accomplish your team goals.

Monday begins our weeklong study of Philippians. From the get-go, Paul exalts diversity in the midst of unity. "Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus." No two people were perhaps more dissimilar. Think of Paul -- strong, tireless, older, mature. And then there's Timothy, who was known for his "years, fears, and tears" (see 2 Timothy 1). Yet they interacted deeply with each other. And together they became individually and corporately more effective.

One of the things I like to do in meetings is watch the Holy Spirit at work in a group of people with sometimes totally different ideas about how to do something, and see them all eventually come to one mind. We need people in our lives who are different from us. We need to be open to change. "Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships." So it is in all of life. Cooperation is vital because it helps people achieve a common goal. If we all contribute something to the project, we can accomplish something bigger than ourselves.

An artist's conception of Paul and Timothy.

11:58 AM I may live in the middle of Nowhere-land but I've got civilization within a 20 minute drive of my house. Here's my home-away-from-home in South Boston.

The Y has everything that a fancy health club has with a fraction of the cost. But note: Membership at the Y burns between 0 and 0 calories. You actually have to use it. Then it was off to the local high school track for a 5K run.

And no, you don't have to check in with the main office. Everyone is fine with runners using the track, and that includes the local police department. How cool is that? Whether you're 9 or 90, exercise can enhance your physical and emotional health. Why not give it a shot?

P.S. We have a leadership retreat going on at the farm right now. Peace and serenity reign here. So glad they're able to enjoy Maple Ridge, our guest house. A retreat is a place where you pull back from the world and retool. I pray the retreatants leave this place more rested and clearer in their vision.

6:45 AM This week a bunch of us met up at the Neuse River Greenway for a ride but the trail conditions were not so good.

We made it though this section but turned back after we encountered 2 feet of standing water. I ended up returning to Wake Forest and got in 9 miles at a new trail (new for me, at least).

It's the called the Dunn Creek Trail.

To access it you have go under Hwy. 98.

After that, the bike path becomes a pure delight.

Eventually it will connect with the Neuse River Greenway via the yet-to-be-completed Smith Creek Greenway.

I was amazed to find the daffodils in bloom, but it's almost spring, right?

Finally, this was my view Tuesday morning as I walked to my class.

I never tire of the beauty of God's creation.

P.S. Check out our linguistics conference web page. We just added the daily schedule of speakers. It kicks off in exactly two months. You won't want to miss it.

Monday, February 25    

7:35 AM News alert: We finally made it to contract verbs in Greek class.

They really aren't all that bad. And thank God the vocabulary is arranged according to paradigm type.

I need to thank the author sometime.  Here are some of the sentences we're translating this week. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Now I'm back to training. The sun is shining and the sky is Carolina blue. Typically after a marathon I take lots of time to recover. But it's been two weeks already. I plan to get in a ride today if my schedule permits. I plan to get hot and sweaty all in the name of fun.

That's all folks. Have a great week.

Sunday, February 24    

7:18 PM Starting a week from tomorrow, my Philippians students, one by one, will be walking the class through each paragraph of that magnificent book. Every time I teach an advanced course in Greek it's a fascinating experience. I think we teachers get the best of it. Not only do we get to guide our students through the steps of exegesis, we watch them grow in their ability to handle the biblical text. My book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church stressed the fact that all Christians, not just some, are called by God to serve, and that there is no distinction between clergy and laity in their standing before God, although there are differences in their areas of ministry. Likewise, I think my Greek students are perfectly capable of tackling difficult tasks. Arguably, lectures and books are not the best way to produce Christian leaders. The New Testament method of apprenticeship has much to commend it as an aid to learning. There is real value in guiding our charges and giving them practical experience. After all, their fruitfulness in ministry is not going to be determined by how well they did on their exams but on how well they will relate what they learn to the actual training of the people in their Christian communities. The essence of our learning is that it must be shared with others. Having taught Greek in 3 different institutions the last 42 years, I've noticed some changes in the steps outlined below. I now consider a paraphrase of the text to be essential. I love the emphasis on units of meaning larger than words. And why should exegesis stop with interpretation? Shouldn't it go on to application? Any attempt at exegesis that does not do that is doomed to irrelevance.

Here, then, are the 10 steps we will use. What are yours?

1. After reading the Greek text aloud, provide for us a literal translation of your paragraph.

2. Discuss any significant textual variants in your passage. Which reading is most likely to be original, and why?

3. Words are the basic building blocks of your paragraph. Do a lexical analysis of any words you consider to be significant or ambiguous.

4. Discuss the syntax of your text, especially ambiguous constructions. Which interpretation do you prefer, and why? Don’t forget such matters as verbal aspect, word order, the presence of absence of the definite article, and special uses of the cases.

5. The clause structure of your text is very important for interpretation. Provide the class with a structural display (in Greek) of your paragraph and walk us through it.

6. Discuss any significant rhetorical features in your paragraph, where the “medium is the message.”

7. Tradition analysis is next. What sources (Old Testament or otherwise) did the author use in this passage? Does he quote from, allude to, or “echo” another writer? Discuss any parallels your text might have with other New Testament writings.

8. Now you are ready to provide an extended paraphrase in English of your paragraph that brings out, to the best of your ability and understanding, the meaning of your passage.

9. Offer suggestions as to how the text can be applied to modern life. Be specific.

10. Finally, provide at least three teaching/preaching outlines of your paragraph. These may be original with you or may be cited from other works.

6:38 PM If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that bad weather doesn't usually stop me from running. Clouds and a light rain aren't a problem. Ice? That's another story. Today, after attending church, I got in a run at the High Bridge Trail, the scene of much past (and future) suffering, aka, ultramarathons.

Stop whining, Dave. You get to do this. Be grateful you can still get out there at your age. Even if the river is at flood stage.

Even if the roads are barely passable.

Even though you can't dump the fence debris in the burn pile.

Be grateful you get to run in the cold and the rain. Be grateful for your new fence. (Ain't she a beaut?)

Tomorrow's gonna be bright and sunshiny. I dare you, Dave, to get in a long bike before you teach your night class. Double dare!

8:20 AM I don't know how I missed it, but I read today that Michael Green passed away on Feb. 6 at the age of 88. As an actor yearns to play Hamlet, so I have sought to emulate the life and ministry of Michael Green in so many ways. Here was a high church Anglican who believed both in shared leadership and every-member ministry. Here was a prolific author whose main objective in writing was to equip "lay people" in their grasp of the simple truths of the Gospel. When I attended Biola in the 1970s, it was his book Evangelism in the Early Church that first got me thinking about the role that personal evangelism might play in my own life and ministry. Green loved both the church and the academy. For some reason he was able to navigate both spheres of ministry without becoming imbalanced in one direction or the other. It is said today that the Anglican church both in England and in the U.S. is stronger because of his life and work. When he was co-rector of the Anglican congregation in Raleigh, he worked tirelessly to "to clear the barnacles off of the Episcopal Ship and get rid of traditions that do not help." Above all, he called the church back to its commitment to missions and evangelism. "Gospel preaching with love and joy is dynamic .... Who will step up to the plate?"

These things matter to me very deeply. It's too soon to assess the value of my life's work, but if anything good has come out of it I owe it in large measure to the influence of men like Michael Green. The ethos of a New Testament church is quite simple. It can be summarized under two headings: 1) ministry to one another through the Scriptures and the proper exercise of spiritual gifts, and 2) ministry to not-yet Christians through verbal witness and a sacrificial lifestyle. If all this seems too radical for traditional Baptists, let us learn from an Anglican churchman whose missionary heart was unsurpassed. I remember how amazed I was when I began reading his books or when I listened to him speak in chapel services. It would be a grave mistake to think that just because Michael Green could communicate to ordinary lay people he was a sloppy thinker. I have come away time and time again from his writings with a greater appreciation of the Great Commission and a deeper commitment to opening myself up to the powerful work of the Holy Spirit and to expect Him to be active in and through the lives of ordinary believers. We need more people like Michael Green in our churches and theological colleges. He was a brilliant theologian who always magnified the uniqueness and supremacy of Jesus Christ. He spoke widely and deeply in the world. I admired him for his passion for lost people and for his example of full involvement both in the church and the scholarly guild. Much of his life's work was done here in North America, and for that we all can be grateful. All I can say is that it has been a great privilege to have known such a great Christian and humble man of God.

Saturday, February 23    

7:38 PM Looking forward to my Philippians exegesis class in just two weeks. The book of Philippians changed my life forever. My study of it, published in Novum Testamentum, showed me what Paul lived for, and what the Christian is to live for. It is our privilege to stand together in one spirit and contend as one person for the faith of the Gospel (1:27-30). Paul's language pictures an athletic team in which every team member has a job to do -- a joint effort, not an individual one. It is a life of selflessness, of giving rather than getting. And it is costly. Kingdom service involves sacrifice. In the words of Corrie ten Boom, "I learned to hold everything with a loose grip because it hurt when God had to pull my fingers away." Salvation involves more than accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. It must include a commitment to becoming servants in the world. The church of the New Testament does not merely "do missions" or "send" missionaries. It is missions. If we are to be the church we must go to all nations. Please do not learn this lesson as late in life as I did.

7:20 PM Just over a year ago, on New Years Day, 2018, I ran the New Years Double Marathon in Allen, TX. I had run the Dallas Marathon just three weeks prior to that. The course in Allen was interesting. It was paved concrete the entire distance. I had heard horror stories about running on concrete instead of asphalt, like we did in Dallas. Concrete is a very hard surface. That's why so few races are run on it. Plus, when the race started, the temperature was a mere 1 degree Fahrenheit. Little wonder so few of the registrants showed up for the race. Out of only 44 runners who finished the marathon that day, I came in at number 43.

When I think back on race day, the one thing that stands out to me is not the soreness or the blisters or the cold. The one thing that stands out to me is the way I was applauded as I crossed the finish line.

I will never forget watching a volunteer come up to me and place my medal around my neck. It's as though he was putting the cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae. I have never seen a bigger smile. My finish time was the slowest I had ever run a marathon in: 6:38:21. The winner's time was 3:00:38. But for both of us the dictum was true: Winning is being able to say, "I didn't quit." Each of us did our very best that cold winter's day in Texas. I was no different from the winner in terms of pain, effort, fatigue, shortness of breath, and joy. In every respect, everyone who ran that day was a hero. This is why every finisher warrants applause, perhaps especially those who are the farthest back. And this is why, when my race is done, I stand at the finish line cheering on my fellow runners. Not one of them has done less than their best.

My friend, what has God created you to be and to do? A teacher? Writer? Publisher? Mechanic? Farmer? Entrepreneur? "Let each of you discover," says the head of Caius College, Cambridge, to the incoming students in the movie Chariots of Fire, "where your chance for greatness lies. Seize that chance, and let no power on earth deter you." Eric Liddell was a missionary statesman. But he was also fast and claimed, "When I run, I feel His pleasure."

What are you doing with your life that causes you to feel God's pleasure? My prayer is that you will find it so that, in this short life, you can accomplish your task, fulfill your unique vision, bear your own distinctive fruit, and proclaim your own exceptional message.

12:15 PM Today I started something I should have started years ago. With the help of my personal trainer, I began using the lat machines at the Y. I don't know why I avoided them for so long. Guess I was just used to the old-fashioned lat pulley system that gyms once had. Can you see it? Wow, I have a long ways to go. Talk about lopsidedness!

Frankly, there's no sense in even thinking about climbing the Alps again this summer unless my upper body is in pretty good shape. So let's just say I turned over a new leaf today.

On the drive there and back it did nothing but rain. I'm afraid the rivers and creeks are about to overflow their banks again, which means the roads will start washing out unless there's a reprieve in the weather. Nate and I talked about the need to fertilize the fields but it ain't gonna happen until everything dries out, which may take some time. Even if we pulled our equipment with the tractors, their wheels would likely get stuck. In years past, this would also be the time of year for me to get Becky's garden beds ready for planting. Becky loved to garden. It all started when we lived in La Mirada, CA, where she rented a garden plot in the community garden. Then we bought a house on a third of an acre and began growing all of our own vegetables and canning our own fruit (we had 21 fruit trees). Today, one in three U.S. households grows food either in a garden or in a community garden bed. From patio tomatoes to raised garden beds, Americans are into gardening. I remember Becky getting up early during the summer months to weed her garden beds. And when harvest time came, we began picking. We discovered that August and September was the time of the year when yields were the heaviest. Canning had to be done immediately or not at all. Regular picking was also a routine around here. If not picked, our zucchini would go from slender cylinders to giant footballs within a few days. "He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son," says the Bible (Prov. 10:5). When you and I neglect the garden of our lives, they began to sprout weeds. I wish I could get my gardens back to working order again, but my kids live too far away to use them, and I'm traveling too much to be able to care for them properly. That said, there are plenty of other "gardens" in my life I can tend to. Help me, Lord, to keep my part of the family garden in good condition, and make me the faithful gardener I need to be from spring planting to summer harvesting.

P.S. Becky once wrote about her garden in her poignant post called Going for the Deeper Joy.

7:32 AM This morning, in the midst of my chores and tasks, I paused to read a couple of sonnets written by George MacDonald, assembled for us in a magnificent booked called Diary of an Old Soul.

This one seemed particularly fitting to my circumstances:

Lord, what I once had done with youthful might,/Had I been from the first true to the truth,/Grant me, now old, to do -- with better sight,/And humbler heart, if not the brain of youth;/So wilt thou, in thy gentleness and truth,/Lead back thy old soul, by the path of pain,/Round to his heart -- young eyes and heart and brain.

Beautiful. Wonderful. I imagine even better if we could hear it in the author's rough Scottish brogue, with all of its passion and faith. 

6:20 AM Random musings ....

1) Not everyone agrees that all of the Prison Epistles were written from Rome. For a minority perspective, see Bo Reicke's Caesarea, Rome, and the Captivity Epistles. Reicke was my Doktorvater in Basel.

2) We owe John Anderson a great debt for his sound advice on applying to Ph.D. programs. 

3) Looks like I live in the gluttony capital of America.

4) This weekend I'm rereading a great book in German. It's called Englisch für Fortgeschrittene (English for the Advanced). A great way to learn a foreign language is to study it backwards.

5) Check out Lee Iron's Tips for Reading the Greek New Testament.

6) The best hiking trails in Virginia. #1 is still my favorite.

7) What's in a president's name?

8) A 360 degree view of the Breithorn summit in the Alps. Incredible. I stood on this peak not too long ago.

9) Should you start with internal or external evidence when evaluating a New Testament textual variant? The discussion continues here.

10) Quote of the day:

Our primary concern must be with the grammar of the original language, not the English translation, and for this we need to know the original Biblical language. A text simply CANNOT mean what the grammar of that text does not support.

Read (or watch) 7 Reasons to Study Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek.

Friday, February 22    

7:55 PM I just registered for the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary on March 17. I ran this marathon last year as well. That race was my 8th marathon since I began running marathons 8 months prior to that. That was an AWESOME weekend. I wasn't super happy with my race performance, but it was a blast running in a "local" race. The course was fast and flat but I couldn't really take advantage of that after I bonked at mile 20. I seriously think those last 6 miles mentally lasted as long, if not longer, than the first 20. This year's Tobacco Road will be my 14th marathon and should be a good warm-up to the Flying Pig in Cincy (#15, Lord willing). For now, however, I'm taking it one day at a time and one run at a time.

6:54 PM Lunch with my daughter and her family, and dinner with my son and his family. I like my family -- how we relate to each other, and how we're there when we need each other. Now I'm off to read a new book about running. The rain is still falling here big time, so it's fun to cozy up to a good read. Things are pretty simple at home these days. Love God. Love your family. Love others. The grandkids still talk about Mama B. "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal" (from a headstone in Ireland). That, my friend, is a beautiful thing.

10:34 AM The rain today has given me the chance to get caught up on my reading. Thus far I've finished Muggeridge's classic The End of Christendom -- which is really a paean to Pascal's Pensées -- and Stott's no less classic Christian Mission in the Modern World.

Muggeridge's book is actually the Pascal Lecture on Christianity at Waterloo University in Canada. And the first thing he says is to pick up a copy of Pascal's Pensées and read it -- in French! -- which is exactly what I did.

The first thing which will strike you about Pascal, and in French even more than in translation, is the extraordinary skill and beauty of his language, the luminosity of his words, as he attempts the task of producing an apologia for the Christian faith.

Then it was back to Stott's magisterial work on what missions is from a biblical perspective. His main task is to tear down the wall between evangelism and social action, between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, between serving in word and serving in deed. Stott sees a "synthesis between evangelism and social action" (p. 39). Social action, he writes, is a partner of evangelism. "Both are expressions of unfeigned love" (p. 43).

Our neighbor is neither a bodiless soul that we should love only his soul, nor a soulless body that we should care for its welfare alone, nor even a soul-body isolated from society.

He goes even further. Who is a missionary? The foreign missionary? Yes of course. The pastor who supports foreign missions? Yes indeed. But there's more.

It seems to me urgent to gain a truer perspective in this matter of vocation. Jesus Christ calls all his disciples to "ministry," that is, to service.

Indeed, "if we are Christians we must spend our lives in the service of God and man." In two months, my daughter's husband will be going to India on a short-term mission trip. He's been there numerous times. Mind you, he's not a professional missionary. He runs his own business in the secular world. But he is no less a missionary than the foreign missionaries we support through our offerings every year. The same is true of his wife, who will stay home and "hold the ropes" while freeing her husband to serve Christ in that faraway land. And who is to say that her "ministry" of taking care of their four children is any less a Gospel work than the ministry of her husband in Bagdogra? We are -- those of us who follow Jesus in obedience -- fulltime missionaries and in fulltime ministry. I love that sign over a kitchen sink: "Divine services performed here three times daily." In the words of Stott,

To sum up, we are sent into the world, like Jesus, to serve.

And that means all of us. "The only difference between us lies in the nature of the service we are called to render" (p. 47).

I deeply believe this is one lesson the church needs to relearn today. Our generation is so hamstrung with the notion of professionalization that we no longer recognize God's good gifts staring us in the face. What a loss. We very much underestimate the potential of the pew. Professionalizing ministry sets us up for short-term success but long-term failure. So I guess that means that each of us has to step up to the plate and join the cause of global missions. My kiddos get this. Such self-sacrificing service attracts their generation as much as arrogance alienates them. Trust in the Holy Spirit can't be used as an excuse for personal apathy. What is forbidden us is self-reliance. Joel will go to India relying upon the Holy Spirit. And Kim will stay at home relying upon the Holy Spirit. That's because mission includes both evangelism and social action, both going and staying, both preaching the Gospel and washing dishes.

Mission is simply the loving service that God sends all of us into the world to render.

8:12 AM Imagine someone who's used to biking several dozen miles each week but can't bike because of the rain. That's me. This week I got in only 10 miles on Monday. Yes, I'm feeling withdrawal symptoms. Like with anything in life, you tend to get into a groove. Consistency is everything. Just think about the things you do every day. My list would include:

  • Waking up early.

  • Putting first things first.

  • Tidying up my bedroom.

  • Reading.

  • Exercising.

  • Eating well.

  • Visualizing my day.

  • Writing my list of things to do.

  • Checking the news and weather.

  • Blogging.

  • Feeding the animals.

  • Connecting with the outdoors.

  • Texting with family.

  • Answering emails.

  • Getting my work done.

  • Winding down.

  • Going to sleep at a reasonable time.

Biking's not on the list, though if I could, I would bike each and every day. I love the sport. My body adapts quicker to cycling than to running. Running involves only certain muscle groups. But when you bike, you begin to create muscle tone in the most unexpected places. I have two triathlons scheduled for 2019, so cycling also falls under the "training" rubric. By the way, in 2018, I totaled 4,207 miles on my Map My Run app. That's the distance between New York and Rome.

My weekly averages were:

  • Distance: 22.4 miles.

  • Time: 4 hours 9 minutes.

  • Workouts: 4.

  • Calories burned: 2,540.

About a third of those miles involved biking. I suppose nearly all of my rides have taken place at one of three trails: The Neuse River Greenway in Raleigh, the High Bridge Trail in Farmville, and the Tobacco Heritage Trail in LaCrosse. I'm so grateful to God for these trails. I never, as in NEVER, bike on roads. I may be dumb but I'm not stupid. The truth is, I'm scared to death of how people drive nowadays.

What else?

In about a month or so I'll start gearing up for my next marathon, the Flying Pig in Cincy. The big day is May 5. It takes me about 3 months to train for a marathon. That includes weight training. Running requires upper body strength as well as strong legs. That's because a big part of running involves pumping your arms. And in Cincy, your arms really have to chug-chug-chug when climbing Mount Everest (that's what I call the 2.5-mile climb to Eden Hill). There is definitely a spectrum of difficulty with every race you run, but the Pig is famous for its sharp incline at around mile 6. All of this simply means that I will have to train harder and smarter if I'm going to PR. The greatest lesson I've learned through running is that you don't have to be afraid of anything. That's why a marathon is more than a bucket list project for me. It's my way of giving myself an opportunity to take a giant leap into the unknown. While my body is running in one direction, my mind is sprinting in another. A race is one of the best ways to test your personal limits of ability. In life, no one knows exactly what the future holds or what is going to be needed to make it to the finish line. Running makes us athletes in all areas of our lives, trained in the basics of living and therefore hopefully ready for whatever comes our way.

Of course, life is far more than exercising. Everything in moderation, right?

Hang in there.

Dave

Thursday, February 21    

7:55 AM Although it's reductionist, I categorize most books as being either repetitive or novel. Last night I began reading Eugene Petersen's Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best. Already its tone troubles me. He begins with a rather lengthy (and pessimistic) quote by Robert McNamara.

My grievance with contemporary society is with its decrepitude. There are few towering pleasures to allure me, almost no beauty to bewitch me, nothing erotic to arouse me, no intellectual circles or positions to challenge or provoke me, no burgeoning philosophies or theologies and no new art to catch my attention or engage my mind, no arousing political, social, or religious movements to stimulate or excite me.

He adds:

There are no free men to lead me. No saints to inspire me. No sinners sinful enough to either impress me or share my plight. No one human enough to validate the "going" lifestyle. It is hard to linger in that dull world without being dulled.

For the love of Job! Sisters and brothers, may I inject some opinions here? I might actually believe what McNamara was saying if in fact my own existence bore it out.

  • No towering pleasures to allure me?

  • No beauty to bewitch me?

  • No intellectual circles or positions to challenge or provoke me?

  • No new art to catch my attention?

  • No religious movements to stimulate me?

  • No free men to lead me?

  • No saints to inspire me?

  • No sinners to share my plight?

  • No one validating the "going" lifestyle?

Bless my heart. Here is the truth. There is plenty of this all around us, if only we had the eyes to see it.

  • Towering pleasure: The Alps.

  • Beauty: Kailua Beach.

  • Intellectual circles: My faculty colleagues.

  • New art: Brian Piper's arrangement of For All the Saints in memory of Becky.

  • Religious movements: Anabaptism.

  • Free men to lead me: Jacque Ellul and Vernard Eller.

  • Sinners to share my plight: Paul (Romans 7).

  • The "going" lifestyle: Too many friends and family members to list here.

What keeps me from pessimism is reality, the reality of God's blatant goodness in our fallen world, the doggone irony of how our dull, monotonous lives are so often "surprised by joy" (C. S. Lewis). We invent a worst-case scenario and it muffles us. If stepping outside your mind to self-observe the highway of grace is impossible for you, come to my house and see the new fence my kids built for me out of pure love. Because that's WJWD.

Yes, life can be mind-numbingly hard. Yet somehow, against all odds, we just keep plowing ahead, eyes fixed firmly on Jesus. It is possible to bend the universe too sharply toward our own fears and anxieties? Anyone who focuses on the world's "decrepitude" is bound to become decrepit. A son showing sacrificial love toward his aging dad, a student struggling through failure to pass the course, a divorcee adapting to a new environment, hard work, failure, simplicity, gratitude, perseverance -- there are too many virtues awash in our fallen world to even begin to list here. God's faithfulness ought to melt our hearts and dampen our eyes. His goodness should lead us to repent of our morose thoughts about life. The passions of youth may subside, but we can't spend our days by the casket of things past. There is a new day to be greeted and a new chapter to write. Indeed, if you take eternity into account, we are merely on the Introduction!

Wednesday, February 20    

7:45 PM This and that (in pictures):

Having Mexican for lunch with some colleagues. Guys, your friendship is so appreciated.

A doctoral student of mine teaching my Greek students Tuesday night. Huss, you did a great job.

Thank you, Amazon Prime. 'Nuf said.

While I was on campus, my son and his wife stopped by the farm and replaced my old cedar fence.

Thank you, Nate and Jess. It looks beautiful.

The boys helped, of course, especially by taking good care of Sheba.

Need I say more? This is exactly my life, and I love it. Seriously, my thanks to all who have made my week so special.

Bring on the next race!

Monday, February 18    

8:42 AM Does running in one ultramarathon make you an ultramarathoner? If it does, well then, I guess I'm an ultra runner. Barely. My 50K ultra last year was the longest, hardest, and most challenging race of my life.

I definitely started out faster than I should have. After the 16 mile halfway point people started passing me. And passing me. I was feeling great for a while and then reality set in. The second half was much harder than the first. Plus the trail conditions weren't all that great. Still, it was an INCREDIBLE experience. Although I contemplated quitting on several occasions, the Lord kept allowing me to muster energy from somewhere. The final road to the finish was a slight uphill. I ran with all my heart to get there. When I finally crossed the finish line the race director himself was there to shake my hand. That had never happened before. I couldn't wait to hang out at the refreshment table with my fellow runners and bask in the sense of accomplishment we were all feeling.

The question today is: Should I try and do another ultra this year? Upon reflection, I've learned that ultras tax your strength and endurance to the limit. Only my stamina and hardheadedness got me through. But my lack of raw physical strength really held me back. Still, I'm insanely grateful to God for the experience. The ultra runners welcomed me with open arms. It's the humans you connect with along the way that make running so worthwhile. At the end of the race you're tired, but it's a good tired if you know what I mean. It's like how I feel after getting up hay bales. Farming is hard work but it's good work. It puts you to bed at night with a good tired. So right now I'm in uncertainty mode. I still need to find balance between my running life and the other lives I live. An ultra is all about survival. It's all about moving forward. Run if you can. Walk or crawl if you must. I want to do this. I love watching people push themselves beyond their limits. There are two races I'm looking into as both are fairly close to the farm. The first is held at the Tobacco Heritage Trail between LaCrosse and Lawrenceville, VA. It's called the Thoroughbred Races. The second race is held on the same trail where I ran my ultra last year: the High Bridge Trail in Farmville. In this race you run at night, hence the name Night Train 50K and Half Marathon. Both seem to be very well organized. This is not to say I won't be doing road marathons this year. On deck are the Flying Pig in May and the Chicago in October. But I would like to do another long run this year.

Any advice?

That's all I've got for now. Time to put on my teacher's hat!

8:04 AM This is a great book.

Someone needs to translate it into English. (Not me.)

Sunday, February 17    

7:10 PM I'm warning you: This post is long and boring and I won't be offended in the least if you leave now. In the Greek classes I teach we discuss words and how they take on meaning. It's all part of an effort to make classes practical and motivational. At the same time, there's nothing easy about lexical analysis. Much of it is undoing damage. Take the well-known and much-discussed fallacy of etymologizing — determining a word's meaning by its parts. For example, some insist that a New Testament church is "called out" from the world — separate, if you will — based on the etymology of the Greek word ekklesia, which is comprised of two parts—ek, "out of," and kaleō, "I call." Hence the church is a "called out" organism. It is to be different from the world. And believers are to separate themselves from the world.

In New Testament usage, however, the word ekklesia never quite had this meaning of "called out ones." Normally it was used to describe a group of people that had something in common. At times this group met, and then it was an ekklesia. At other times it wasn't meeting per se, but even then it was an ekklesia. This term was used in contrast to ochlos — a term that describes a group of people that have come together and have nothing in common. Ochlos is often glossed as "crowd" in English, and that is indeed a very good rendering. How, then, should we translate ekklesia into English? When I pose this question in my classes, I usually get several excellent responses: "gathering," "assembly," "congregation," and the like. All of these are fine, but none of them in my opinion captures the essence of what a New Testament ekklesia is. I prefer the term "community." Church is not simply a group of just any people, and it is most certainly not a building. Instead, I like to think of a church as a space in which all of us are ministering, praying, preaching, teaching, singing, caring, loving — a family if you will. Our motto might be: "We're all in this together. So let's do it together." This is the community to which we, as followers of Jesus, are giving ourselves with our whole hearts. This is our "church" — a diverse, global, caring paean of praise to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, Master, and only true Senior Pastor.

As you know, in recent years I've become part of a similar community, one known simply as the "running community." The similarities between this community and the "church" are legion. As soon as I began running competitively, I knew I had joined the ranks of hundreds and thousands of other runners. From my very first race this sense of community became instilled deep within my psyche. Even as a novice runner, I knew I was not alone. Every experienced runner remembers when they were a beginner just like you, and so they are eager to reach out to the newbies among them. You soon have a group of running friends you look to for advice — where to buy the best running shoes, how to train properly, how to avoid injuries, how to handle anxiety before a big race. Being part of this community helps each of us become a better runner. As runners, we value what we can become and not simply what we look like. We are not defined by our age, our t-shirt size, our weight, or our medallions (or lack of them). We are all fiercely independent and pursue individual goals, and yet paradoxically we truly believe that we are all in this together, and it shows. Just show up to any race and observe the runners.

I'm not in the least surprised, therefore, to find similarities between a running community and a community that defines itself on the basis of the traditional creedal values of faith, hope, and love. Both runners and Christians have a lot in common. For one thing, we both ask silly questions. A Christian in a bookstore asks the salesperson: "I'm looking for a Bible for my mother, but I'm not sure who the author is." A novice runner asks you, "How far is your next 5K race?" As you can see, both novice runners and novice Christians have a lot to learn. We are people who pursue excellence and who seek to be dedicated to something wholeheartedly and to give ourselves to some project without any reservations whatsoever. Our actions are always impelled by some good we want to attain. And to achieve our goals, we often have to endure suffering and pain. An athletic race is a place where we discover strength and faith and courage we never knew we possessed. We are runners. It doesn't matter how fast we run or how far we run. It doesn't matter whether we are running in our very first race or have been running for fifty years. During a recent 5K race I met an athletic-looking young man who was pushing his infant child in a stroller. We had finished the race about the same time. I knew he could have run much faster had he not been pushing a baby carriage. He told me something I'll never forget. He said, "Sometimes having the best time at a race has nothing to do with how fast you ran." I will remember that until the day I die. I wish I could have given him "The World’s Greatest Runner Award" that day. Folks, the Christian life is a race we run together. It's no different in the running community. "Hey guys. I've got a hip labral tear. Anybody had any experience with this?" Or (in the church), "As a mom, I have a tremendous sense of responsibility to teach my children about truth and grace and God. Should I make my children read the Bible? What do you think?" The point is: We are there for each other.

As I've gotten older, I've found my priorities changing. I find myself wanting richer, more intimate and complex relationships with my family and friends. Like women, men have a primal need for closeness. We were created for relationships. Men discover that as they move into middle and older age they also move from competition to connecting. The best corporate managers are those who foster networks of connectivity. The best professors, too, prize being hands-on guides and mentors to their students, and not only disseminators of information. Before Becky died, she was the one who did most of the connecting with our kids on an emotional level. But as I've come into my own as a widower, I've come to a realization that emotionally connecting with my kids and grandkids is deeply enriching. One of the things that my loss of Becky did for me personally was to make me value and cherish my family more. It's like taking the barnacles off. Now is the time in life to enjoy my family. The real ideal of manhood here is "servant-leader" in which we men discover our nurturing side. The apostle Paul had a lot to say about love. He knew that love is not blind. Nobody is perfect, least of all those closest to us. What is necessary in love is the ability to see others as God sees us. And to love others correctly, we must first love ourselves. The self must first be strong and whole before we can offer true and lasting love to others. Love is a positive sum game where both sides can and should win.

Which brings me back to the notion of community. An athletic team has goals that far surpass the aspirations of its individual players. And that's true of all of life. As I look forward to the winter of my life, I want to be a man who joins the "I" to the "we," whether that's in my family, my church, my profession, my mission work, and even my hobbies. Saying I want to do this is quite easy. Becoming the self I want to become is quite difficult. But every healthy relationship at least makes an attempt to meld the "I" with the "we."

Well, that's the end of my ridiculously long blog post. If you're not bored to tears, then clearly you're a blog junky like me. If you made it to the end, you deserve a cookie!

5:14 PM William Varner (Philippians, p. 38) on Paul's "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain":

This is Paul's soliloquy as he faces either martyrdom or further missionary labors. Paul weighs blessings against blessings and chooses the lesser blessings in pure unselfishness. While the aged apostle would rather die than live because he will be with the Lord, he would also rather live than die before his work for the Lord is done.

Spoken beautifully.

8:58 AM In just 3 weeks my Greek course on Philippians begins. I've asked the class to listen to the entire book using my audio files. Why not listen along?

By the way, I use the so-called Erasmian pronunciation. Other pronunciation schemes are used nowadays as well. Which is the best? So hotly debated is this question that we've asked Randall Buth to lecture on "Pronunciation" at our upcoming Linguistics and New Testament Greek conference. Randall is flying all the way from Israel to join us. I hope you can join us too.

Speaking of Greek, I'm sure you're all familiar with the legend of Pheidippedes. He was the runner who announced to the Athenians that the Greeks were victorious over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The distance between Marathon and Athens was about 25 miles.

As the legend goes, upon arriving in Athens, Pheidippedes announced

and then promptly died. My question for you: How would you translate this Greek verb?

  • "We have won!"

  • "We are victorious!"

  • "We win!"

Alas, this goes to the heart of the debate today over the significance of the perfect tense in Koine Greek. Addressing this topic at our linguistics conference will be none other than Mike Aubrey, who edits the website Koine Greek. Yet another good reason to attend.

P.S. On the tomb of the Athenians in Marathon is an epigram by Simonides:

Do you like the English rendering? To me, the second line is somewhat of a loose paraphrase. How would you render the Greek?

Saturday, February 16    

5:02 PM Phil. 1:27-29 in the Dave Black Version:

Now the only thing that matters is that you become established as leading evangelical scholars, so that, whether or not I'm able to go and see you, I will hear that you are standing firm with one common purpose to advance your academic careers and that with only one desire you are fighting together for your particular solution to the Synoptic Problem. Don't be afraid of liberals; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they will lose their Amazon rankings and that you will win, because it is God who grants you such popularity. For you have been given the privilege, on behalf of Christ, not only of acquiring doctorates from prestigious European universities but also of being invited to give scholarly lectures throughout the world.

What Paul really wrote:

Now the only thing that matters is that you live as good citizens of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel of Christ, so that, whether or not I'm able to go and see you, I will hear that you are standing firm with one common purpose and that with only one desire you are fighting together for the faith of the Gospel. Don't be afraid of your enemies; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they are going to be destroyed and that you are going to be saved, because it is God who grants you the victory. For you have been given the privilege, on behalf of Christ, not only of believing in Him but also of suffering for Him.  

Lord, forgive me. The head should not grow when the hands and feet shrink.

11:32 AM I recall once reading about a church in Africa that baptizes new converts in the ocean. The candidate is literally thrown into a wave "in the name of the Father," at which point he or she is washed back to shore. (Can't you just picture that?) But it gets even better. The church leaders quickly pick up the now drenched convert and throw him or her into another wave "in the name of the Son." This is repeated a third time, "in the name of the Spirit." (Interestingly, as a lifelong surfer I've noticed that waves often come in sets of three.) The point apparently is not simply to emphasize the name of the Triune God. In baptizing people this way, converts are given a tactile baptismal experience that initiates them into the struggle of the Christian faith. "Hey, follow Jesus if you want to, but man, it's going to cost you!" I'm reminded of Paul’s famous "encouraging message" to the believers in Asia Minor. After urging them to stick with their new-found faith and not give up, he said, "Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through hard times" (Acts 14:22).

I can't resist the temptation to draw yet another analogy to running in a race. In many ways, that first race was your easiest. After all, that's where you got your very first PR (Personal Record). Now that you are a "runner," however, the real struggle begins. Some days you just can't get out of bed to do it. You struggle with willpower, with sore feet, with aching quads, with lack of motivation. I'm not proud to admit it, but I have these struggles almost every day. As Unknown once said, "My sweatpants smell like give up." Life can be hard. Actually, life is hard. On race day my legs often feel like they weigh 200 pounds each. You have to learn to push the doubts aside and just keep on going. And I will. Because I'm hooked. Even with all my self-doubts and infirmities, I am a dedicated runner. My race times might not make salacious headlines, but for me they are symbols of victory. I'm overwhelmed by the joy of it all, despite all the "hard times." Racing, like life, is just plain tough work. But the task is made easier when I consider that everything I have is a gift from God, freely bestowed, so I should freely give it back in return (Matt. 10:8). I never want to back off from doing something because it looks too hard or because I don't want to "fail." Fact is, Jesus helps us in our Christian walk, and He's always there to pick us up should we fall.

Baptism means death. It means, "Hello! Ready for a fight? Ready to face temptations that blitz you daily? Ready to be a Christian in a non-Christian world? Ready to love your neighbor as you love yourself? Ready to exercise love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — the marks of a true Christian?" No one is ever ready to do that. But you have to start somewhere. You get saved, you get wet. Baptism is your public pledge of total and complete allegiance to your Lord and Master and Savior and Redeemer and Best Friend. And, as a Spirit-filled Christian, you should be able to keep on running your race to the glory of God.

Awaiting baptism at Kailua Beach at the age of 8.

8:42 AM To continue our discussion of internal evidence. This morning I was studying Mark's account of Jesus' temptation. As everyone knows, Mark uses an unusual verb to describe the way the Spirit "sends" (ekballei) Jesus into the wilderness.

Some have latched onto this verb as evidence for Markan priority. They call ekballei a cruder term than Matthew's "Jesus was led" or Luke's "the Spirit led Him." Then they ask: If Mark came after Matthew and Luke, why would Mark have taken perfectly normal diction and changed it into a cruder form of expression? My own sense is that Mark's ekballei is vivid rather than crude. Note also the fact that it's in the present tense. Mark loves the historical present. In other words, I see nothing in Mark's language to suggest that his account is either prior or posterior to the accounts of Matthew and Luke. Mark's language is simply different.

Yes, the verb ekballei is a very strong one, but there's nothing crude or inferior about it. That translators have difficulty in rendering the verb into English is no argument for its priority either. Every Gospel writer has his own idiolect. (Take John's habit of using synonymous words synonymously, as with agapaō and phileō). I had two translations open before me this morning. The Good News Bible renders ekballei as follows:

And here's the new Delitzsche translation:

I think both miss the point. For ekballō I might prefer "thrust." Or perhaps "compel." One thing I value greatly about my Greek students is their willingness to grapple with really difficult issues of translation. Too much in our American educational system is based on lectures and final exams. There's not a lot in the way of reading texts as texts and then struggling with the best way to translate these ancient texts into understandable and idiomatic English. I find that our system of education does not encourage independence of thought as much as the system I was used to in Basel. There's a large gap between classroom and church. That's one reason I began a Greek class in a local church in my home town of Kailua a couple of years ago. I also hope to do the same in Phoenix shortly. I want my students to see how utterly practical Greek is for their understanding of everything about the Christian life, including our understanding of something as basic as the Great Commission. (This subject will comprise one of the three talks I'll be giving at Piedmont University in April.) Today, I am intrigued to note that there is a movement toward returning biblical education to the local church, the place where I suppose it all began two thousand years ago. The essence of the Christian Gospel is that it establishes local communities of Jesus followers who contend intelligently for the faith. No one can become a medical doctor without clinical experience. The preparation of Jesus-missioners languishes a long way behind because practical training is often discounted in favor of a more formalized education. That's one reason I'm so excited when one of my Greek students tells me he or she is teaching Greek in their local church. The goal is to take what we learn in seminary and pass it on to others. I call it hands-on Christianity.

The remarkable thing about my time in the Word this morning was how simple it was. You just grab your Bible(s) and a cup of coffee and go to work.

Any of us can do this. Call it a "devotion" if you want to. But getting to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings is a goal that will keep us occupied from here on out!

Friday, February 15    

6:40 PM Today I read a delightful essay called Writing on the Tough Days. The author is very insightful. I really didn't want to write today, but here I was, making one last pass through my latest book before sending it off to the publisher.

Michael Green once called himself a writer by mistake. I could say the same thing about myself. My first passion is the classroom. I hit the ground running in 1976 and it really took off. Books, however, occupy a good deal of my time. Mostly reading them. Sometimes I write them. Not many. And not necessarily the books I set out to write. My beginning grammar and my second year grammar, for example, were invitations from the publishers. Later on I wrote even more textbooks. At first I wrote as though I was writing. Nowadays I write like I speak. With all of my books, the publishers did a splendid job. Me? I'm an okay writer I guess. If there's one discernable theme in my writing, I suppose its simply the attempt to write for normal, everyday people who want to address serious scholarly issues but who feel intimidated by scholarship. This latest book of mine almost wrote itself. I don't expect it will have a far-reaching circulation. I wrote the book mostly because I needed the encouragement as a runner. They Will Run and Not Grow Weary stresses the fact that we, as Christian runners, are called to serve the Lord through our running. Running is an act of worship, since worship, according to the New Testament, is something we do 24/7 and not just on Sunday (see Rom. 12:1-2). Running, therefore, is a ministry for me -- an attempt to care for the temple the Lord has given me. The temple, by the way, is feeling a wee bit run down today. Nothing major -- just a few sniffles and some sneezing. Trying to run with cold symptoms is usually not a very good idea. I'm not (too) disheartened. I know I will heal up. I'm just fatigued. Which is why I went out for dinner tonight. I just couldn't bring myself to cook. Besides, they're running a special on arroz con pollo.

This was my way of rewarding myself for the accomplishments of the past week -- and for buttoning down and getting some writing done today. If I'm actually sick, I'm probably not going to run or bike for a few days. I can't "push through everything" like I once did when I was younger. I know this is the time of the year for colds. If you're suffering from one of those colds, I hope you're on the mend soon.

Okay. Time for another Airborne ... and a good movie.

9:15 AM In one of my talks at Phoenix Seminary I quoted the Scottish proverb that says, "Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place, but it's not at the head of the cross, where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Jesus." Oh, I do hope the message came through loud and clear. Seminaries do not exist for scholarship. Yes, we need to study the Bible, and study it carefully. But the goal of the careful study of the Bible is not the careful study of the Bible. The goal is to become obedient Jesus-followers who feed the poor and open our homes to strangers and share Jesus with the lost and live lives characterized by scandalous love for our enemies. Show me a New Testament teacher off mission, and I'll show you somebody who has no concept of what the New Testament is all about.

8:45 AM There is something wonderful going on the world of New Testament textual criticism these days. I was reminded of that fact this morning when I found myself perusing these websites:

One name you will often see in these sites is that of Peter Gurry, a scholar I had the honor of meeting last weekend in Phoenix. Peter, it seems to me, represents a growing trend of those who are willing to acknowledge the value of the Byzantine text even while questioning some of the tenets of the Byzantine Priority Theory. In his essay The All-or-Nothing Problem with Byzantine Priority, he puts into words a concern I've had for a very long time, namely, the highly subjective nature of arguments for or against a certain reading based on the internal evidence. For me, the internal evidence -- be it when we are discussing textual criticism or the Synoptic Problem or the authorship of a New Testament writing such as Hebrews -- is not probative but corroborative. I emphasized that point last week in my NT class when we were discussing the Four-fold Gospel Hypothesis that I espouse. Matthean priority, in my view, is based solidly on the external evidence, but it can also be corroborated by the internal evidence (for example, the "zigzagging" effect caused by Peter's following now the scroll of Matthew, now the scroll of Luke). Likewise, as far as textual criticism is concerned, I argued in my little book on the subject that the reading "in the prophets" in Mark 1:2 is unlikely to be original because it is found in only one of the three major text types. Here the Western and Alexandrian texts ("in Isaiah the prophet") combine against the Byzantine. One could argue additionally that the internal evidence supports the reading "in Isaiah the prophet." I've heard it said that since the passage actually quotes two prophets, Isaiah and Malachi, the change to "in the prophets" makes perfectly good sense. A Byzantine priorist, however, might demur by arguing that "in the prophets" was original but was changed to "in Isaiah the prophet" because, in actuality, there's only one direct quote in the passage (from Isaiah); the Malachi text is only alluded to. I get that argument. It seems unlikely to me, but that's a possible reading of the internal evidence.

Peter Gurry argues that the Byzantine Priority position would be "more consistent if it said that 'transmission considerations' (i.e., external evidence) is decisive and that the internal evidence is only needed secondarily for large splits in the Byzantine witnesses." He adds:

Byzantine manuscripts are very good overall. But that doesn't mean they're always right.

My own view is very close to Dr. Gurry's. Hence I've argued for the originality of Byzantine readings in places like Eph. 1:1, Matt. 5:22, Mark 6:20, and John 3:13, not because they are Byzantine readings per se, but rather because these readings enjoy a greater geographical distribution than their competitors. To return to the tune I've been playing: To me, the external evidence seems to be probative in almost every instance, while the internal evidence seems to be corroborative.

Anyhow, I hope you'll bookmark the three websites I linked to above. Each takes a stuffy, somewhat complicated subject like textual criticism and makes it palatable.

P.S. In my book on the kingdom (Godworld), I'm having to work through a first-class textual variant in Matt 6:13. Do the words "For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever, amen" belong in the text? I'm finding Jonathan Borland's essay very helpful!

Thursday, February 14    

1:14 PM Goats are always full of surprises. Anyone who owns goats will tell you that they are incredibly smart. They're always looking for greener grass too. Goats will go over, under, or through at the drop of a hat. Here's the view I had as I was driving down my driveway this morning.

"Lookie here! We've escaped! Yay!"

Goats rub on fences and buildings, and today my goats managed to open a hole in the barn siding. Out they merrily went! I kid you not. (Awful, I know.) Ya gotta give 'em credit, though. They did manage to escape. However, here at Rosewood Farm we have a non-escape policy for all of our animals, including the Boers. Needless to say, it took a bit of coaxing to get them back into the pasture, but my persistence eventually paid off.

People raise goats for all kinds of reasons. Some for their meat (we did this for many years). Some for their milk (we never had milk goats). And some just because they make wonderful pets (except when they're in escape-mode). In case you've never noticed, I love animals. As in really, really love them. Who needs TV when you can watch the goats and your other farm animals doing their thing? But I don't want them getting out and walking down to the road, where they could cause havoc (as some goats did recently in an Idaho suburb). Plus, I'd really like to remain on good terms with my neighbors.

I'll close with some (lame) goat jokes.

  • What do you call a lazy goat? Billy Idle.

  • Why was the farmer angry? Because someone got his goat.

  • Why did the ram run over the cliff? Because he didn't see the ewe turn.

  • What do you call an outlaw goat? Billy the Kid.

Say whaaaat!!???

8:30 AM When was the last time you had a good, long rest? My mind is fried from teaching and speaking so much and my body is tired from being on the go for so many days in a row. I just sit here at my desk with a wild smirk on my face that resembles one of those "You're weird" emojis. I can't help but laugh at myself. "Remember, Dave, you did this to yourself." This morning I got out my old Good News Bible (oh, do I love this translation) and read John's Upper Room Discourse.

The Greek is even more interesting, of course. Many questions arise. In 14:1, does the Greek mean "Believe in God; believe also in Me" or "You believe in God; believe also in Me"?

In 14:14, does Jesus say, "If you ask Me for anything in My name" or "If you ask for anything in My name"?

In 14:17, does Jesus say about the Spirit, "He remains with you and is in you" or "He remains with you and will be in you"?

See how relevant Greek is? But what struck me the most from my reading this morning was the use of the so-called "first class condition" in 15:18: "If the world hates you [and IT REALLY DOES!], just remember that it hated Me first."

Hear this: Persecution is alive and well on this old planet of ours. Just this week I received news of extreme persecution in a country I've visited 17 times. Tumultuous waters are everywhere. Opposition to Christ is a stream that has become a current that is turning into a raging flood. At the same time, the body of Christ is mobilizing in unprecedented numbers to deal with the crisis, not through military might but by fearlessly proclaiming liberty to the captives. I think that the sooner we untether from the American Dream and the trap of "more," we as a church in America will truly be able to speak truth to power and overcome evil through loving deeds of towel and basin ministries. As I hear stories of courage in the face of enormous persecution, I applaud my brothers and sister in these lands. Honestly, no one can be sure what the future of the church in America will look like. But our baseline as a community of Jesus-followers never changes: Love God, love others. This is everything.

Today, as I "rest," I've got a long list of tasks to complete, including reading a Ph.D. prospectus, working on the quizzes for my Philippians class (which starts in a couple of weeks), and working on my 2018 taxes. My next marathon isn't until May (this race) so I'm going to take a long break from marathon training because it's such a huge time commitment. Right now my body feels like rubber, and I'm not good for anything except to lie around the house munching on donuts. I also want to start incorporating recovery weeks into my training schedule, not just recovery days. I want to do as much cross training as I do running, and I want to manage my life better. I have no idea what living out the kingdom might look like for you. You have an entirely different set of factors in your life. There isn't a list we all have to follow. I just want to say, I'm on your team. I'm pulling for you every bit as much as those dear folks along the sideline at last Saturday's marathon were cheering us runners on. We can rest in Him without becoming lazy or unproductive. The goal is to cultivate a quiet heart in the midst of a crazy world.

Rest. Recover. Carry on.

Wednesday, February 13    

7:10 PM Wowsers. This has got to be the longest I've ever gone without blogging. Well, probably not. But it feels like the longest. Why? Because I've got so much to share with y'all. Where should I start? I don't really know. So I'll let my pictures do the talking. Sorry for the photo dump, but be grateful you aren't being treated to all 5 million pictures I took on my trip to Arizona.

1) Welcome to the definition of urban sprawl, aka Phoenix. This was my view as I landed at Sky Harbor Airport last Friday afternoon. Get the picture?

Recently Phoenix edged out Philly to become the fifth largest city in the U.S. and the quickest-growing city in the nation. The end results are swaths of brown homes fading into the brown desert -- plus highways that are moving parking lots.

2) After landing I picked up my rental car and headed straight to the race expo at Riverview Park in Mesa.

Note: My Airbnb was in Tempe, the race was in Mesa, I preached on Sunday in Phoenix, and I taught on Monday in Scottsdale. Not that you would know you were in four different cities. Like I said, the Greater Phoenix Area is now one huge megalopolis, much like L.A. is (and I don't mean Lower Alabama). At the expo I was a bit shocked to find out that they had somehow misplaced my race registration and so there wasn't a race bib waiting for me. Not exactly a good way to start your marathon experience. Thankfully, the race director personally made everything right (that you, Darrell!), and I finally got a race number, which was a very close call because the event had sold out a week before I arrived in Phoenix.

3) By now I was starving and needed to fill my tank before heading to my home-away-from-home to get to bed on the early side. After all, I had to get up at 3:00 am the next morning. Fuel is a key ingredient for a successful run. Like gas is to your car engine, so food is to your body. I decided to stop by the Olive Garden and fuel up with some high-octane gas.

I needed to replenish my stores of carbohydrates, and I find that spaghetti almost always fits the bill. 

4) The next morning I devoured two pancakes and downed two cups of coffee at Dennys before driving back to Riverview to catch a bus to the starting line. The Phoenix Marathon is a point to point race with no runner drop-offs at the race start, so everyone has to ride the bus. Traffic, parking, and the lines for the busses were nightmares, so I'm glad I got there early. I stood in this line for 50 minutes before finally boarding my bus.

5) Upon arriving at the start 45 minutes later, there was another long line for the porta-potties, but after 35 minutes or so, I was finally ready to head to my place in the pack.

6) At 6:30 sharp we were off.

The weather was perfect for a marathon -- in the 40s with overcast skies. I probably didn't need to wear as many layers as I did, since your body temperature increases while moving, but I knew that I could always throw off a layer or two along the course if I needed to (and thus help Goodwill at the same time).

7) Once you get going you really come alive and your heart is beating and your legs are churning and you are beginning to enjoy the race and the natural beauty all around you.

Despite the overall downhill nature of the course, I wasn't expecting to accomplish anything memorable at this race. My goal was to finish well under 6 hours, and to do this I adopted a run-walk strategy of 1:1 (30 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking). I didn't want to run continually as I normally do for the first half of a marathon. By using the walk-run method, I was able to endure the impact of the constant jarring on my knees and to complete the race without pain. I discovered that alternating running and walking made the time go by quickly.

8) I began to really enjoy the "feel" of the Arizona desert and the sense of accomplishment that marathoners have when they find themselves out there on the course.

9) I managed to get to mile 13.1 (the halfway point) without any cramping and discomfort in my feet. I was pleased with my first half split even though I had taken time to get fluids into my body at every aid station.

10) At one point I began to wonder if I would ever complete the whole distance. During every marathon you reach the place where you think running 26.2 miles is impossible. The key is to break the distance down into bite-sized chunks. When you do that, the race doesn't seem so hard. In the end, the goal for every racer is to take that one last step across the finish line.

11) As a volunteer hangs a medal around your neck, you realize that you actually accomplished your objective of finishing the race strong and unassisted.

As I sit here tapping at the keys of my computer, thinking about my first marathon only two and a half years ago, I can feel the hair on my arms stand up. In one single step across the finish line at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in 2017, my life changed forever. I may not be in the top tier of my age group, but I am fitter, better trained, and more disciplined than I was three years ago. Somewhere along the way, the Lord allowed me to discover the joy of running, and I haven't looked back.

12) Sunday morning arrived early for me (there's a two hour time difference between the East Coast and Arizona), so I decided to attend two different church services before I was scheduled to speak at Mercy Hill Church. As you know, I'm writing a book called Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk, which is about what the kingdom of God should look like as well as about various manifestations of the kingdom through church history and in different expressions of Christendom. I started my day at the local Episcopal Cathedral, and then I stopped by New City Church. Eventually I made my way to Mercy Hill where I met up with some of the finest elders you'll ever know.

13) My message to the congregation was a simple one: We're in this kingdom thing together. It's time we as followers of Jesus minister, disciple, preach, pray, teach, evangelize, love, care, sing, and sacrifice together.

I was preaching to the choir! Mercy Hill (in cooperation with St. Mary's Food Bank) distributes food to over 1,500 people every week, and its affordable housing units offer 20 apartments for seniors and others in need of transitional housing. What is there to do, church, but to open our doors to the needy all around us? It was such a great honor for me to have met the people at Mercy Hill. I like being with these kinds of people because they are following so closely to Jesus and that's simply contagious.

14) That evening I was eager to meet the owners of the Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant in Tempe. The food was incredible, and I was able to leave a copy of Becky's book with their daughter Fasika.

15) Arizona, oh Arizona. What would you be like without cactus? Before I flew out on Tuesday I made sure I got in a good long walk in one of the state's many desert parks. 

16) Arizona has a wide diversity of plant and animal life, including more than 11,000 insects, 4,000 plants, 475 birds, and 90 reptiles. Vegetation alone consists of Joshua trees, creosote bushes, barrel cactus, prickly pear, agave, and saguaros. Suffice it to say you really need to visit this place.

17) After my hike it was time to drive to Scottsdale where I had been invited to speak at Phoenix Seminary.

18) Here's Phoenix's Dynamic Duo -- John Meade (Old Testament) and Peter Gurry (New Testament).

19) Peter was so gracious to give up an hour in both his Greek class and his New Testament class for me to speak. Just an amazing group of students.

So there you have it. My Arizona adventure. I get asked a lot: How do have time and energy to do all you do? My answer is always the same. Stop being a baby. Don't overthink everything. Just get out there and DO. I realize that I'm the type of person who always likes to be active. But I'm not always the wisest in knowing what to do and when. The bottom line is that I'm committed to being as healthy as I can be for as long as the Lord allows it. I think the absolute worst thing is to just not do anything. So, while I do have aches and pains from all of the exercising I do, I keep my eye on the prize: the ability to maintain enough strength and stamina to teach and write and travel and do all the things I believe God wants me to do before He's done with me.

Friend, I hope you do something you love every day. No, it may not be running. It may be something else. But we all need to do something to keep ourselves active and engaged.

Great rest of the week to you all!

Friday, February 8    

4:58 AM Off to run the Phoenix Marathon tomorrow, Lord willing. It'll be a piece of cake. (Sarcasm.) Sunday I preach. Monday I lecture at Phoenix Seminary. Busy, busy, busy. And yet I crave activity. There is nothing like it. Getting to the starting line of a marathon takes a lot of planning and preparation. But the actual race is always a shot in the dark. My philosophy? Be kind to yourself on race day. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the event. Give it your best effort. And if you don't achieve your goals, it doesn't mean that your race was a failure. In the end, the race matters only to yourself. Sure, your family and friends are supportive. But they'll be proud of you regardless of when (or even whether) you cross the finish line.

Thursday, February 7    

12:15 PM Just finished my final pre-race run. Tomorrow I'll give the old legs a break. I'm eager to start the marathon. This is one activity I LOVE.

P.S. Running is good for you. Who knew?

6:45 AM Did Jesus forbid all anger, or only unrighteous anger? Common sense tells us that what Jesus says should trump what we think about the matter. Let's discuss this today, just like we did in my NT class yesterday. Our text is Matt. 5:22. Either Jesus is saying," If anyone gets angry with their brother or sister, they will be liable to judgment," or "If anyone gets angry with their brother or sister without a good reason, they will be liable to judgment."   See those words "without a good reason"? The Greek here is actually a single word, eikē. The former rendering has a kick-you-in-the-teeth quality about it. "Anger? Never!" The latter reading has a bit more nuance to it, wouldn't you say? "If you do get angry, make sure you have a very good reason for doing so."

Let's examine the evidence for and against this little adverb eikē. Newsflash! There's no consensus today among New Testament scholars as to the best way of resolving textual variants. I'm exhausted just thinking about the possibilities! I personally like the approach that asks us to examine both the external evidence and the internal evidence. So let's start with the external evidence, that is, the evidence provided by the Greek manuscripts, the ancient versions, and the early church fathers. Take a look-see:

I've got two takeaways here:

1. Both readings are early.

2. The disputed word eikē has greater geographical distribution. I might summarize the evidence as follows:

As for the internal evidence, that is, the evidence provided by considering such matters as an author's style or a scribe's propensities, here's what Bruce Metzger wrote in his Textual Commentary:

Metzger's conclusion has been followed by a great many commentators, including Don Carson (in both his book on the Sermon on the Mount and his Matthew commentary). Do I agree with them? Yes and no. I agree in the sense that the word eikē could have been added in order to soften Jesus' statement. But here's the problem I have with that suggestion. A change in the exact opposite direction is also possible. If so, then why isn't this second alternative mentioned? It most certainly should be. Let's assume for the moment that the word eikē is in fact original. How then would we account for its omission? This is a no brainer. A scribe could have easily omitted the word because it made Jesus appear to be too soft on anger. In other words:

After a 45-minute discussion, I felt I could make the following argument with my class:

1. Examine the textual evidence for yourself.

2. Even if you do conclude that the shorter reading is more likely to be original here, be aware that some people in your congregation might be using an English translation (e.g., NKJV) that includes "without cause" in this verse.

3. Be thankful that we haven't lost a single word of the New Testament. It's just that we're not always sure whether the original reading is printed above the line in our Greek New Testament or below it (i.e., related to the textual apparatus).

4. Finally, if a Bible translation is going to refer to textual variants in its footnotes, it might be helpful to the reader to use less question-begging language. Saying "Some manuscripts insert" or "Other mss add" prejudices the reader against the longer reading here. In my opinion, it's far better to say simply, "Other mss read" or "Some mss have."

Let me close with a caveat: Despite the plethora of new books being published today on New Testament textual criticism, I don't think we're any closer to arriving at a consensus among scholars as to the best method for resolving textual variants. I am adopting the proverbial "We'll see" (or, for the Christian, "We'll pray about it") before concluding that the latest fad in textual criticism is really going to help the church. Exegesis, however, floats down a different river. My friend, you can't avoid textual criticism when you study the New Testament. Merely adopting the reading of whatever English Bible you happen to be using is so very un-Berean. For the love of Moses, get into the text yourself. If you need some help getting started, read my primer. If you'd like to go deeper into the text of Matt. 5:22, read my Novum Testamentum article. This means --brace yourself -- no more merely quoting an expert but actually digging into the text for yourself. My land, do we have far to go! But it's worth the effort. Why? Because God has given us His spectacular word, and we value it.

P.S. The answer to yesterday's question: Which step of exegesis is missing in each of these textbooks? Here's your answer.

Wednesday, February 6    

7:52 PM Which step of exegesis is missing in each of these textbooks? Answer tomorrow!

7:45 PM The three steps in mastering a foreign language:

1. Learn the language.

2. Use it.

3. Keep on using it.

That's it. Simple but not easy.

7:34 PM I did it. I managed to get in a long (20-mile) bike yesterday. The weather was absolutely perfect. Who would have thought you could take a bike ride in early February in 70 degree temperatures?

I should have worn my snazzy cycling shorts.

Truth be told, I was in hog heaven. I mean, you could not have asked for a better day to get in some training. I really pushed myself, which I both hate and love at the same time. I hate not being able to breath. I love it when I look at my Garmin afterwards. What else did I do? Taught my four classes. Had a Bible Area faculty meeting. Had lunch with the director of our East Asia Leadership Initiative. Packed up some of my books to give away in a drawing at Phoenix Seminary on Monday.

 

Tomorrow I'll do a medium run to shake out my legs before flying to Arizona on Friday. I'm not sure what's harder on your body: running in a marathon or flying in airplanes. So now, it's on to my biggest race of 2019 thus far. I'm ready to get this thing started.

Oh, did I tell you the temp tomorrow here in Southern Virginia is supposed to be 76 degrees? This is crazy.

Monday, February 4    

7:55 AM Please tell me I'm not the only one who obsesses about the weather before a race. Here's the forecast for Phoenix for the rest of the week, including race day (Saturday).

The Lord's been working overtime on the weather, as you can see. Conditions on race day are perfect for a marathon. I haven't seen what the humidity is supposed to be but, come on, this is Phoenix, right? Dry heat and all that. This week in the Forest of Wake conditions are just as pleasant.

Which means that I should be able to get in another training workout tomorrow. (Today is rest day.) I still pinch myself whenever I think that I'm actually doing this. What motivated you to start exercising? Why did you get involved in running, or biking, or mountain climbing, or hiking? I started running because I was looking for something to do to get my mind off of other things. I loved the challenged it posed, and I loved how great I felt afterwards. Running is me time, God time, time to enjoy fresh air and to work through stress. I keep running because I'm amazed at what this old body can do. Running has helped me to stay in shape. It's provided an avenue to help out some charities. Granted, I'm slower now than I used to be, but I can still go long. Fauja Singh ran the Toronto Marathon at the age of 100. He took up running when, at the age of 83, he watched his son be decapitated in a freak accident. He ran for the mental health of it.

I love the fact that anybody can be a runner. At almost every big marathon you see them: people of every size, shape, and talent level. They are part of the "second running boom," the first being limited to elite racers. Everyone is welcome today. Just hang out at a race and see for yourself who is running, walking, and crawling across the finish line. This Saturday will be no exception. There's nothing quite like the feeling of lining up at the starting line of a 26.2 mile race with no other goal than to make it to the finish line. Every mile that ticks away on your Garmin watch is another giant "No!" to all the "I can'ts" in your life. Don't believe me? Try it. Running doesn't define me. There are more important things in life. But running has built up my perseverance and reminds me that I don't have to fit into anybody's caricature of aging.

That is why I run. You?

Sunday, February 3    

5:35 PM This week begins my taper before Saturday's marathon. However, that doesn't mean I'm idle. After church I drove to Charles City, hopped on my bike, and set off for a long training session. Unbelievably, the day was so warm I could actually wear a tank top.

The Virginia Capital Trail is nothing new to all of you. I've reported on it several times. It's mostly flat and fast. The conditions today were pretty good when you consider how badly hit this part of Virginia was during December's flooding. For the most part, things looked like this.

But there were some wet spots.

And in some places, the pines had fallen across the trail and had to be cut up.

Kudos to whoever takes such good care of the trail. I ended up doing 26.2 miles today. My goal was to try and beat 2 hours for biking that distance. That had never happened before, until today. I managed it, but barely.

That's all I've got time for right now since I have to cook my meals for the week. I am tired and a bit saddle sore but nothing a good night's sleep can't cure. In less than a week I have to run the same distance I biked today. I feel ready for it. All I have to do is keep on training and ignoring the logic of this ridiculous sport.

7:46 AM In his book A Touch of Life, Arthur Gordon writes about the time he stumbled upon an ancient cemetery in an oak grove in the Deep South. One of the gravestones marked the resting place of somebody's wife who had died of a fever in 1865. Beneath her name were these words:

Ever she sought the best, ever found it.

Gordon writes:

Eight words. I stood there with my fingers on the cool stone.... A century ago this woman had been living through a hideous war. Perhaps it took her husband away from her, perhaps her sons. When it ended her country was beaten, broken, impoverished. She must have known humiliation, tasted despair. Yet someone who knew her had written that she had always looked for the best, and always found it.

The process of grief recovery begins when we realize that nothing can reverse what has happened. No one can bring our loved one back from the grave. What has happened has happened. So you simply move ahead. You let God be God so that you can be normal again and learn that He is there even in the dark times.

As I look back now, I see that all of my bewilderment after Becky's passing was pushing me inexorably toward God. At the same time, I can never forget what a blessing it was to have known Becky Lynn Black. Occasionally memorializing her life is something I'd like to do until I myself go the way of all flesh. Therefore, last year I commissioned a world class pianist and musical director to compose an arrangement of one of my favorite hymns -- For All the Saints -- in memory of Becky and in honor of the Savior she loved and served. Anybody who knew Becky will attest to one thing: She always sought the best, and more often than not found it. In the words of the hymn:

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;/Thou, Lord, their Captain, in the well-fought fight;/Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light --/Alleluia! Alleluia!

Last night I got the exciting news that the world premier of this hymn arrangement is set for May 12 in Dallas. I could not think of a more appropriate day for this event seeing that it's both Mother's Day and Becky's birthday. What a day of celebration it will be. My prayer is that it will fill all who attend with hope and gratitude. I want to preserve the heritage Becky passed down to her children and grandchildren and strengthen that heritage if I can. Since her passing I have found a life that is truly wholesome and good. I know that would make her happy. Indeed, her memory continues to play an important role in our family. Becky's death will always remain a dark chapter in my life. But I have a sense that the whole book will be a very good one in the end.

P.S. Here's the powerful version of For All the Saints that I listened to countless times after Becky went Home. If nothing else, it dares us to trust God and offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices. Speakers up!

Saturday, February 2    

6:20 PM I spent the morning at my daughter's house watching the boys put together an M1A1 tank model. Two thumbs up, guys!

Then I helped Nate and Jess load up another hay delivery before cooking supper.

Nice day for working outdoors.

As always, I labored under the watchful eye of Sheba.

Most Shelties have two floppy ears. Sheba has only one. No conformist is Miss Sheba!

Bruce Cameron once wrote, "When we adopt a dog or any pet, we know it is going to end with us having to say goodbye, but we still do it. And we do it for a very good reason. They bring so much joy and optimism and happiness. They attack every moment of every day with that attitude." I grew up in a world without dogs or cats or pets of any kind. Then I married Becky Lynn Lapsley. Before I knew it, I was caring for horses and donkeys and chickens and goats and sheep and angus. The dog is different, however. There are 900 million of them worldwide, 80 million of whom live in the U.S. One of them makes her home with me. If you've ever become best friends with a canine, you know how gratifying it can be. A walk with a dog makes the world seem right.

There you have it. Psychology 101. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to fill up Sheba's water bowl.

7:45 AM Already this month I've read four books. Two of them were good but two of them were meh. You can't win 'em all. Today I'm reading this massive tome (592) pages.

It's the author's doctoral dissertation at Macquarie University in Sydney. His goal is to unravel "the vexed question of the funding of Paul's mission." So far I'm enjoying it. I'll eventually turn my reading pleasure into a book review for Filologia Neotestamentaria. Every once in a while I remember to step back and count my blessings. This morning was one of those times. It's so easy to miss all of the blessings that are right before our eyes because we're so distracted by the gazillion things we have to do today. Giving thanks should be a regular part of our life. And I mean giving thanks even when the world is a jet plane in a massive uncontrolled dive. There are two ways to read a novel. You can either read the whole story from beginning to end, or you can turn to the last chapter and find out how the perpetrator is unmasked. The Scriptures predict a departure from faith in the last days. "They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn to fables." Everything is being leveled in preparation for the revealing of the man of sin. A comfortable lethargy is an outstanding mark of this age. It's even possible to be doctrinally sound and sound asleep. The only answer to our apathy is an awakening, and this will not happen until we seek Him with the whole heart. I am the worst of sinners in this regard. How often do I honor Him with my lips but my heart is far from Him. How many times have I payed Him formal respect on Sunday only to live the rest of the week in my own way. How can I enjoy His creation without due regard for His nature? God despises ritual without reality. Profanity isn't just cussing. It's entering God's presence with a backslapping familiarity. During my days in the Jesus Movement (1960s), Jesus was our buddy and our pal. We called Him Jesus, not Lord. Then I read the Gospels. There I discovered that the people closest to Him never once called Him Jesus. For us Jesus freaks, the good (acceptance of Jesus as our Savior and Friend) became the enemy of the best (following Him in obedience and love). We majored on the minors when all along He was exhorting us to put first things first. Friends, let's not let the good become the enemy of the best. Conversely, let's not let the best become the enemy of the good. There's no perfection in this life. Like you, I have my ideas of what the church should look like. I call it my paper perfect church. But the fact is, it's a dangerous thing to move only in the abstract. We can't rejoice in the ideal church and not serve the local church. If we wait to join the perfect church before we do His will, we'll never do His will. God's will is done perfectly in heaven. But it's done imperfectly down here. So let's cut each other some slack. This is no excuse for not doing better, but we don't start out serving the Lord perfectly.

I'm so ready for Jesus to come back. Only the return of our Lord will make things right. Until then, let's be clear. Politics holds no hope. Neither does religion. You can't carve a brotherhood of man out of the putrid wood of unregenerate humanity. Let's "fight the good faith, finish the race, keep the faith" (2 Tim. 4:6). Paul wrote those words and then walked out to his execution on the Appian Way. Let's keep sowing good seed. Then, in due time, we will reap.

I know I'm a broken record. But the Lord's soon return should remind us not to waste time. Let's make sure we're loving and caring for those around us, starting with our families. If you see a need, help out if you can. Make things right with others if you need to. Major in the majors, like doing small acts of kindness every day. Call Him Jesus, yes, but don't forget to make Him Lord as well. Coming to Jesus makes the believer. Yielding to Him makes the disciple. We are not true Christians if the first step fails to become a daily walk.

I'm sorry for this unbelievably disjointed post. When I started this blog back in 2003, it was kind of on a whim. I thought I'd have fun with it for a few years. When Becky died, the blog became my therapy. Today I'm not really sure what it's morphed into. So thank you for reading it even when it doesn't make any sense.

Friday, February 1    

7:20 PM Any time I go some place new I do tons of research beforehand because I don't want to miss out on something good. So after my 10-mile bike this morning I came home and began researching cool places to visit while I'm in Phoenix. It's not like I'm completely unfamiliar with this city. I must have been in Phoenix at least 10 times in my life. As for the State of Arizona, I know it pretty well since Becky and I lived next door in California for all those years and we'd often take our vacations in the Grand Canyon State. In case you might be making a trip there someday, I list here my 10 favorite places to visit in the great State of Arizona.

10. Lake Powell. This lake serves as water storage for several states, including California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. Camping on the shore is wonderful because when the weather gets hot you can always "go jump in the lake."

9. Hoover Dam. Be sure to take the tour of the inside of this concrete dam located on the Colorado River.

8. Canyon de Chelley (pronounced Canyon duh shay) is probably the least known State Park in Arizona but it was always fun to camp here, though you do have to watch out for flash floods in the valley.

7. Petrified Forest National Park. This park is famous for its petrified wood. I can think of no more beautiful and colorful park in Arizona except for the Grand Canyon.

6. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. This is a great place to camp during the summer because of its elevation. Be sure to explore its cinder cone.

5. Tombstone. Yes, that Tombstone. The original courthouse is now a museum. 

4. Kaibab National Forest. We always camped here when visiting the Grand Canyon. If you're willing to rough it, primitive camping is allowed. 

3. Winslow. This ghost town is located on historic Route 66. We stopped here every time we drove through Arizona to get a feel for what the old days must have been like (and because it's mentioned in the Eagles' song Take It Easy). Be sure to eat at the Falcon Restaurant.

2. Meteor Crater National Natural Landmark. This park is privately owned but is open to the public. Take a tour and explore its rim.

1. Grand Canyon. No words can describe your first visit to this mother of all National Parks. Both rims offer lodging options.

As you can see, Arizona is chockablock full of interesting places to visit with strange names (my spell check just went bonkers). Who other than a Creator could have been responsible for all of this natural beauty? You may ask, "What's it like to live in Arizona? How do people handle the heat from May to October?" I don't know since I've never lived there. Overall, though, I love this State. I've even got the Rim-to-Rim run at the Grand Canyon on my bucket list!

7:44 AM Today, what with the warmer weather, I'm going to try and get in a long bike. What do I think about when I'm cycling for miles and miles? What do you think about when you're exercising? I usually think about my short terms goals (write the introduction to our collection of papers from the linguistics conference, read a doctoral prospectus, pack for Arizona, check up on my sick grandson) and about my longer term goals (plan my trip to the Alps, arrange another fund raiser for UNC Cancer Hospital, plan my race schedule). This year I'll see my 67th birthday Lord willing. It will be a time to look ahead to what God has in store for me in the future. This week someone asked me, "Dave, where do you see yourself five years from now?" I replied without skipping a beat, "Teaching, if that's what God wants." But birthdays are also times to look back, for deep introspection. The last thing I want to do is become so focused on the future that I forget all of the blessings of yesteryear. Life offers so many rich and varied seasons. So, for what it's worth, I'm going to sit here at my pooter and try and give you a succinct account of the seasons of life that God has allowed me to experience in my teaching career. I know, succinct I am not, but I'll try.

As I look back on my teaching ministry, the one thing that stands out is the way I have always sought to find new channels to express my passion. I've discovered a "new self" through the years. These years have witnessed, perhaps, three major phases.

The first began when I graduated with my D.Theol. What I loved most about being a freshly minted doctor from Basel was serving the academy. I began doing all the things young scholars are expected to do -- write book reviews, publish journal articles, and produce books. Becky was my greatest cheerleader.

With the enthusiastic backing of my mentor at Biola (Harry Sturz), I published my first journal article in the Grace Theological Journal in 1983, the year I graduated from Basel. That led me to begin writing for other evangelical journals (JETS, CTR, WTJ, etc.). Then I began pushing into a new culture, that of the international peer-reviewed journals such as Novum Testamentum, New Testament Studies, and Biblica. That was an exhilarating change for me: I had neither planned not precipitated it. It was, I suppose, my preemptive strike against sameness and burnout, breaking out into the broader scholarly world without leaving, of course, my evangelical roots. If you continually introduce new learning situations into your life and put yourself at some risk, even mid-career scholars can sprout new foliage and make new connections. What's more, if you're going to be invited to lecture here and abroad, it's probably a good idea to reach out and make new friends. And so I became ever more attentive to ways I could serve the scholarly community, whether by writing, lecturing (Oxford, Leeds), or being involved in scholarly societies (ETS, SNTS).

Gradually, something happened to my life. I seemed to be entering a new phase of my teaching career. The older I grew, the more passionate I became about identifying and shaping young talent. As I told my friend the other day, this is one of the reasons I went to SEBTS in 1998. Becky and I weren't unhappy living in La Mirada, CA. I had, in fact, made my residence there for 27 years. I was content teaching at Biola/Talbot. Eventually, however, a couple of east coast institutions began contacting me about joining their faculties, and I began to ask myself, "If I'm going to make a move, where do I really want to go?" I learned that the president of Southeastern wanted me to come out and explore the possibility of teaching there. What attracted me to SEBTS, at least initially, was the fact that it had just started a Ph.D. program. This was important to me because I had decided that if I ever left Biola it would have to be to teach in a seminary where I could mentor doctoral students. (At that time Biola did not have a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies). And so off we went to the tobacco fields of Granville County, NC, bringing the horses and goats to our new ranch near Oxford. My days were full of firsts again. I felt young. And I noticed something else. I noticed that the focus of my publications was beginning to change. I was writing less for the academy and more for the classroom. I began to be approached by publishers to write textbooks. This started a whole secondary line of publications, including a beginning Greek grammar, an intermediate grammar, an introduction to Greek exegesis, a "solution" to the Synoptic Problem, a primer on New Testament textual criticism, and two books I co-edited with David Dockery on how to interpret the New Testament. I noticed something else too. My books were becoming shorter. Anyone who's published a book knows that writing goes through stages, from the amoeba stage to the bloated manuscript that needs shrinking until it says what it was meant to say without any unnecessary verbiage. I am indebted to my editors at Baker Academic for allowing me to put my thoughts on the bottom shelf for my students. Thus the road I had begun at Biola had turned a sharp 90 degrees. Of course, transitional periods are often unsettling, and there were some bumps in the road to be sure. But eventually I settled into my new life as teacher-mentor to hundreds of students and, thankfully, I never felt that my batteries were wearing out.

That brings me to the third and final phase of my teaching career. If the first stage focused on the academy, and the second focused on the classroom, I believe the third stage can best be described as an attempt to impact global Christianity. A crevice seemed to fall open, one that I could not get out of. And that was the happy crevice of serving Christ's worldwide church. A new model of personal existence -- post-American man -- was in the process of forming. It's not that I hadn't already travelled fairly widely in my thirties and forties. But invitations began coming my way from the most unexpected of places. Youthful exuberance was being replaced by the conviviality of shared experience. I began to tap into springs of meaning, love, and self-sacrifice. I was making a leap into 21st century discipleship -- a global partnership with the church universal. This is my serving zone, I said to myself. How could I pass up offers to teach in South Korea (6 trips), East Asia (13 trips), Ethiopia (17 trips), Ukraine (3 trips), Armenia (3 trips) and so forth when the churches there felt I had something to contribute to their life and growth? I readily admit, I didn't always have this global perspective. My own identity as a Great Commission Christian was shaky at best. But when I realized that I could serve beyond the borders of the U.S., I discovered a real passion.

As I've gone through these three phases of my teaching career, I've come to realize that much of life is learning how to exercise parts of yourself that were ignored earlier. It's absolutely essential that we assume the humble role of learner if we are going to retrofit ourselves as the years go by. Perhaps the best approach is not to cut yourself loose suddenly from the previous stages but rather to open a parallel track as you develop new roles that allow you to contribute to the church and to society. Since Becky died, I've had to ask myself, "What new projects and activities could replace the challenges and satisfactions of marriage?" I don't want someone to give me a higher handicap just because I'm stepping onto the 16th green. No one has the right to smother someone else's passion. As I previously stated, the secret in negotiating the passages of life is finding your passion and pursuing it. The more you let go of the past, and the more you let your imagination soar, the easier it will be to find satisfaction in the changes that come with aging. When I started running four years ago, I had no idea that today I would have finished 12 marathons, 17 half marathons, 4 triathlons, and a 31-mile ultra. For me, aging has released a new energy along with a renewed commitment to improving my health for the long haul. When I lost Becky, the sadness was so searing that it took months before I could sleep though the night. I was brokenhearted. But Becky had given me the kindest of gifts. "After I'm gone," she said, "you'll still have someone to care for: our children and grandchildren." She was so right. Life today is full and secure. I follow the same disciplined work ethic as always, but I am intentional about spending time with family. Personal disappointment cannot deprive me of purpose.

Jonathan Swift once wrote, "Every man desires to live long, but no man would be old." Today, at the age of 66, my mission is to explore every new frontier God places before me. Americans today are living well past 70, and more and more of them are remaining healthy, frisky, and optimistic enough to face the trials of life with resilience and a stalwart faith in God. If and when I "retire," I don't want to be comfortable. I want to be active, useful, engaged, and thinking about how to pursue my passions tomorrow. I will continue to write because God has called me to this ministry, but writing is not, in fact, something I place as the highest priority in my life. Man does not live by brains alone. Each human being is imbued by the Creator with a soul that has a unique ability to relate to other souls. My mentoring responsibilities are not done. Neither are my duties as a father and grandfather. To me, life as a 66-year old means integrating all the serial identities that have served me so well through the years of early and middle adulthood. I am who I am. And so are you. It's never too late to pour new meaning into your life.

Paul said, "To me, to go on living is Christ." I could not have expressed it as well as he did, but I share his confidence as I look to all the tomorrows of my own life.

Thursday, January 31    

7:04 PM A year ago I did this Via Ferrata climb in West Virginia.

You should try it. One can never have too many fun challenges in life. This was only the second Via Ferrata I've done, the first being in the Alps in 2016. It took me about 3 hours to finish. I'm not great at vertical rock climbing but quitting is never an option. I enjoy challenging myself physically and mentally. I have a dream of doing this into my 80s. If I get enough recovery and rest days, I just might be able to.

P.S. I hired a mountain guide through NROCKS Outdoor Adventures. I'm sure glad I did. They were great. 

12:10 PM Hey folks. Just helped Nate and Jess load the hay trailer.

Before that I had a great workout at the gym. Right now I'm washing and ironing my clothes. Then it's Chinese stir fry for lunch. I might get a run in this afternoon if it gets over 30 degrees. Trust me, I need the exercise.

6:55 AM Odds and ends ....

1) My thanks to Stan, Stephen, Randall, Thomas, Mike, Rob, Con, Jonathan, Michael, Nicholas, and Steven for their willingness to participate in our April conference and open several cans of worms at once. Incidentally, the conference fee goes up tomorrow (from $50.00 to $75.00), so register today.

2) Shout out to my hardworking Greek 2 students. This week they finished the indicative mood. Next week we'll have a thorough review. Then it's on to the participle, infinitive, subjunctive, imperative, etc.

One of my three sections of Greek 2 taking their weekly quiz.

3) My training stats for January:

Not exactly earth shattering, I know. But praise the Lord, I still managed to get in over 100 hours. I wanted to run today but it's too cold outside. So the Y will have to do.

4) Lord willing, a week from tomorrow I fly to Phoenix. My cynosure right now is the marathon there. I'm using this time as an excuse to eat. Which is fine as long as you maintain a proper ratio (protein/carbs/fat). While there, I'm scheduled to speak here:

And here:

Really looking forward to getting back to the desert of Arizona. My hugest, biggest, most gignormous goal for the marathon? To return home healthy and injury free.

5) Quote of the day (Peter Gurry):

6) Lunch yesterday with two of the best encouragers you'll ever meet.

That's it for now. I'm a schedule kind of guy, and on my schedule right now is to eat breakfast and then get in a workout. After that, who knows. In the meantime, I'm setting manageable life goals and working my tail off to achieve them. One of those is to tell at least one person each day what I appreciate about them. Another is to not sweat the small stuff in life.

What are your goals for 2019?

Monday, January 28    

6:10 AM I woke up this morning to the soft lowing of the neighbor's cattle. I can't translate "moo" into English, but it sounded to me like a mama was looking for her baby. That's right. Mama cows and their babies can recognize each other's voices. I thought to myself, "God's creation sure is full of wonderful surprises." Birds communicate through calls and songs. Foxes have 20 different vocalizations. A gibbon's system of communication has 3 subsystems, one for signaling danger on the ground, another for signaling danger in the sky, and a third for signaling danger in a tree. The animal kingdom turns out to be a noisy place indeed. Just ask my donkeys, who bray every time they see me with a carrot in my hand. We humans have roughly 6,500 spoken languages. (The most widely-spoken is Mandarin Chinese.) I happen to teach one of those languages, and this week will be a watershed in my classes because we will finish the entire active voice in the indicative verb. That's right: unlike most Greek classes, we cover the entire indicative mood before touching any of other moods in Greek. We also cover the entire active verb before dabbling in the middle and passive. We study the second declension before the first declension because it's easier and because most New Testament nouns belong to the second declension. Make sense? This week we've only got one new morpheme to learn. I call it the passive voice morpheme and it's marked in dark yellow in the paradigm below:

Let's look at the first person plural form, eluthēmen. This word has four morphemes (just like "unfriendliness" is comprised of un, friend, li, and ness). 

  • e = past time morpheme.

  • lu = lexical morpheme.

  • thē = passive voice morpheme.

  • men = person-number morpheme.

Hence the translation, "We were loosed." Easy cheesy!

The one thing my beginning students must absolutely come to grips with is the fact that the word is not the minimal unit of meaning in language. The morpheme is. That's why I think it's valuable to teach basic morphology even in a beginning Greek class. I find that when you understand how something works, it stays with you longer. When I was trying to learn Mandarin a few years ago, I was told "Ni hau ma" meant "How are you?" Okay. Got it. But the way my mind works, I wanted to know what every word/morpheme in that sentence meant. And here's what I learned:

  • Ni = You.

  • Hau = Good.

  • Ma = Question indicator.

"You good?"

This became very helpful to me when I encountered the word "good" (hau) in other contexts. If you're learning Spanish, breaking a word down into its morphemes can be very helpful. For example, nouns that end in -dad tend to be feminine (e.g., felicidad).  In German, on the other hand, feminine nouns tend to end in -heit, -keit, -schaft, and -tät. Of course, German nouns resist being grouped into neat little categories. Still, patterns do emerge.

Ditto for Greek nouns. For example, the case-number suffix -os is frequently masculine in Greek (as in nomos, Christos, apostolos), but hodos and erēmos are feminine. That's why it's vital to learn the article (the word "the") with every noun you're learning in Greek so that you can tell its gender (ho nomos versus hē hodos).

When speaking German, I sometimes have to think about a noun's gender before saying it. That never stops me, of course, from conversing in the language. After all, I've got a one-in-three chance of getting it right. I tell my students who are learning French or German for their doctoral programs: Learn to speak, not just read, the language. Sure, you'll make plenty of mistakes. But you'll learn from your mistakes (Germans are happy to help you out and correct your grammar). Who knows, maybe in time German nouns will become standardized (as they are in English) and grammatical gender will become a thing of the past. Until then, be sure to learn the gender of your nouns.

And never forget your morphology! 

Sunday, January 27    

1:45 PM Been a great day so far. Church. Grocery shopping. And a nice long walk on the Ringgold Rail Trail -- a 25-acre trail system built on an abandoned railroad bed.

A red caboose sits at the western end of the trail.

I had to drive about 45 minutes west on Hwy. 58 to get there. As you can see, the trail was real crowded today.

I used to bike this trail, but that was a few years ago. Today I noticed several improvements. One is that the trail now has mile markers.

Another are these historical markers every mile or so.

Be aware that parts of the trail are in disrepair owing to the major flooding we had last year in Southern Virginia. This was an especially bad part of the trail.

Otherwise, we're talking about a safe, seamless, and scenic pathway through some of the most beautiful parts of Virginia.

There's only 13 days left until Phoenix and I've got to keep putting miles on these old legs of mine if I want to do well in the marathon. I plan to do 60 miles of training this week, including walking, biking, and running. Not bad for a skinny kid from Hawaii who used to do no exercise at all except for surfing.

Wish me well!

6:10 AM Good day to you, fellow Jesus freaks. My study this morning was in Gal. 5:16-25, "The Works of the Flesh Versus the Fruit of the Spirit."

Here in Galatians, Paul has been teaching Christian liberty. But he's aware of the tendency to exchange true liberty either for legalism (5:1) or for license (5:13). The question is: How can we avoid fleshly living? And the answer is the Holy Spirit, who enables us both to fulfill the Law of God on the one hand and who causes the fruit of righteousness to grow in our lives on the other. When Paul refers to the "lusts of the flesh," he's not referring to sexual sins alone. Here "flesh" refers to the fallen and rebellious sin nature we inherited from Adam that is perpetually antagonistic toward the Holy Spirit. Paul then lists the "works of the flesh." I might paraphrase them as follows:

What our human nature does is obvious to everyone. It reveals itself when people are immoral, filthy, and indecent, when people worship idols and engage in sorcery and witchcraft, when people become envious and fight with each other, when people become jealous, angry, and ambitious, when people divide into parties and cliques, when people become envious and murderous, and when people get drunk and have orgies and do other things like these.

The nine-fold fruit of the Spirit then follows. What struck me today was the non-inclusion in most of our English versions of the word I translated "murderous" in my above translation. The word is spelled phonoi in Greek. The word just before it is spelled very similarly: phthonoi. So the question is: Was "murderous" part of the original/initial text of the New Testament or not? I think most New Testament scholars would answer no. One author writes:

Although it is easy to see how a few Alexandrian copyists might have overlooked "murder" when their eyes jumped from the end of "envy" to the end of "murder," a majority of the UBS Textual Committee felt that "murder" might have been borrowed by other copyists from Romans 1:29.

You'll notice that the reasoning here seems to be based mostly on what scholars call internal evidence, that is, matters having to do what a scribe would more likely have done with the text. But we also have to look at the so-called external evidence, that is, the evidence provided for us by the Greek manuscripts, the ancient versions (e.g., Latin, Coptic, and Syriac), and the early church fathers. And here, it seems to me, the preponderance of the evidence clearly favors the inclusion of the disputed word phonoi, unless one is inclined to automatically follow the early majuscules Aleph and B. As for the internal evidence, the omission of phonoi can probably best be accounted for by what scholars call parablepsis -- a jump from one set of letters to similar (or identical) letters further along in the text.

So why am I mentioning this? For two reasons. In the first place, we'll be discussing the art and science of textual criticism in all of my classes this semester. As we can see here in Gal. 5:21, this step in exegesis can't be avoided if we are to teach the Word with integrity and credibility. Secondly, I think that this verse is a good example of the two basic approaches to textual criticism among evangelicals today. On the one hand, we can speak of the Alexandrian Priority view. This is the approach followed in the standard Greek New Testaments in use today, including the UBS5 and the NA28. (Here I would also include the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament since its text is largely the same as the text found in the standard texts.) On the other hand, we have what might be called the Byzantine Priority view, one of the chief defenders of which is my colleague Maurice Robinson. You'll notice that here in Gal. 5:21, the shorter reading is an Alexandrian reading, whereas the longer reading is a Byzantine reading.

There's a third view I'll expose my students to, since it happens to be my own. I'm not persuaded that we should follow either the Alexandrian text or the Byzantine when deciding between variant readings. I tend to move more in the Sturz circle. Harry Sturz was my teacher and eventually my colleague in the Greek Department at Biola. (You can read about Harry Sturz here.) He believed that both the Alexandrian text and the Byzantine text pushed into the second century, arguing that the latter text was unedited in the Westcott-Hort sense. He therefore preferred the reading that was the more geographically widespread. Moreover, he often found that the Byzantine text least often stood alone. It usually sided with the Western text against the Alexandrian text, or else it sided with the Alexandrian text against the Western. Gal. 5:21 is a good example of this. Personally, I don't prefer the longer reading here because it's supported by the Byzantine text per se. In other words, I am not a Byzantine priorist. It's the consensus of witnesses -- the Greek manuscripts, the ancient versions, and the patristic evidence -- that has me convinced that the longer reading is probably the original/initial text.

The key question (or at least a key question) today, therefore, is this: How shall we treat the Byzantine text? And that question will occupy a good deal of our time in Greek class this semester. I hope you'll follow our discussion on this blog in the coming months. In the meantime, here's one of the Power Points I'll be using in class. I hope you find it interesting.

P.S. Southern Seminary's Rob Plummer, who is one of the speakers at our linguistics conference in April, has posted an excellent review of the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament. I hope you'll watch it. Rob recommends that you acquire this Greek text and use it alongside your UBS/NA Greek New Testament. Also, Dirk Jongkind's An Introduction to the Greek New Testament: Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge will prove to be extremely helpful when it's published in May. (I just wrote a strong endorsement of the book for Crossway.)

Saturday, January 26    

6:12 PM It was 7:00 am this morning. I needed to make up my mind. I had paid good money to compete in today's 5-mile trail run. Would I cash in on it? Good grief. The morning was freezing. "Don't think, Dave. Just do it." So I drank the Kool-Aid and figured, "Why not just go for it?" I made it to the race venue about 10 minutes before the 9:00 am race time. I found myself surrounded by a bunch of ridiculously fit people telling stories of their races. Then we were off.

I said to myself, "I'm not nearly as experienced as these guys but that's not going to hold me back. I'll run as hard as I can." Did I say "run"? How about slip, slide, slosh, slither, skid, and slink. I finally got into a rhythm at about mile 2, where I fell in behind some 30-somethings who paced me to the finish.

By having them do the pacing and me the running, I could keep my eyes on the trail without having to find every odd turn as the course meandered through the forest. The last mile was brutal. But finally, the finish.

Truth be told, I'm kinda glad the trail was muddy.

I'm trying to learn to take whatever the course throws at me. Still, it's really hard climbing on a single track with tons of people. You're either passing or being passed, sometimes by the same runners. But I'm so thankful that I finished the race without any major incidents (or accidents). Once I left the house this morning, I knew I would push through to the end. It's my temperament, I guess. The most important thing was to keep moving forward without losing your concentration.

So, another race in the books. Thanks for joining me, you guys. Now go and sign up for a trail run near you.

P.S. Finishing times out of 195 runners:

  • First place: 37:23.

  • Last place: 2:08:33.

  • Me: 1:19:21.

6:44 AM This week in NT 1 (my Gospels class) we're slated to begin our discussion of New Testament Christology as a subset of the doctrine of the Trinity (or, better, "Trinunity," German: Dreieinigkeit; Korean: sam-wi ilche).

I'll begin with a question: Is our theology balanced? Specifically, if we have a doctrine of the Son (Christology), and if we have a doctrine of the Spirit (Pneumatology), why isn't there a doctrine of the Father? We can't use the word Patrology because that term is used for the study of the church fathers. Some have suggested "Paterology." I like that term even though it really doesn't work because the formation needs to be based on the genitive (not nominative) of patēr. Nomenclature aside, I propose that we stop viewing Paterology as an afterthought. It deserves a category of its own instead of being subsumed under "Theology Proper." Here's one attempt to do just that. I think it's a very interesting approach.

P.S. I love this quote from Bonhoeffer:

The child asks of the Father whom he knows. Thus, the essence of Christian prayer is not general adoration, but definite, concrete petition. The right way to approach God is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.

6:20 AM Martin Luther:

Ein Christenmensch ist ein freier Herr über alle Dinge und niemand untertan. Ein Christenmensch ist ein dienstbarer Knecht aller Dinge und jedermann untertan.

I can think of nothing truer. Its meaning is unpacked here. So this is my dream for my students. Follow God, not man. Serve others sacrificially. That's about it. If you follow God and His word and love and serve other people in His name, everything else will fall into place. Students, I believe in you. I am so excited to watch how God will use you this semester. When I am 90 years old I will look back on my teaching years and say, "I had such a good time."