January 2018 Blog Archives
Wednesday, January 31
9:45 PM 12 days ago I was privileged and blessed to climb the NRocks Via Ferrata in Circleville, WV. It was a beautiful Saturday with sunshine and clear air. I wasn't sure what to expect, even though I had climbed one other Via Ferrata in Zermatt two summers ago. It was definitely going to be a new challenge. Along with my guide Matthew, we put on our helmets and climbing harnesses and hooked onto the safety cable with our carabiners. It doesn't take very long before you get into a routine: fix onto the steel cable, climb a little bit, and then transfer to the next section by rehooking. The route was mostly a vertical cliff. After I finished, my Garmin indicated an elevation gain of 2,327 feet. Climbing became increasingly more and more difficult. At times I found it very hard to find a good place to step or to stand while reattaching my carabiners. Every so often we paused for a brief water break. I'm so glad I brought 2 liters of water with me because the climb made me very thirsty. Mostly, though, it's all about concentration. Vertical rock climbing requires you to stay in the moment and not let your mind wander. Fortunately, I felt pretty strong the whole way and was thrilled when we finally made it to the top and began our descent down a mountain path. It sure was an adrenalin kick. I was glad I was able to take my GoPro camera with me, mounted on my climbing helmet. This climb is a "must do" for anyone who enjoys a challenge. By far the best part was climbing with an experienced mountain guide who kept me on track and never let me get discouraged. A Via Ferrata allows you to experience the mountains in a unique way. It takes a combination of strength and balance to make it to the amazing views at the top. But be forewarned: You use a completely different set of muscles than you do when running. It was days before my calves had fully recovered from the climb. The reward comes with confronting your fatigue and going to the edges of your abilities and experience. It's not like I climb because I have a special gift for this sport. For me, a great climb is one that I finish. A vertical rock face is not to be taken lightly. But with preparation, persistence, a little bit of courage, a good guide, and the Lord's help, you can cross that "finish line," which in this case meant returning safely to the HQ building. A fist bump -- and the experience of a lifetime was over. In any case, here's a GoPro YouTube I put together today should you like to make the climb with me.
Upward ho, ya'll!
Monday, January 29
6:32 AM Another great quote from Roland Allen (Spontaneous, pp. 53-54).
6:25 AM You can throw out your old bathroom scale now. Instead of just focusing on pounds, the new Shapa approaches your health in a more holistic way.
5:55 AM Good morning friends! I've been wide-eyed and bushy-tailed since 4:00, putting some last-minute touches on my classes for this week. In Greek 4, we talk about a lot more than Greek. In 1 Thess. 1:2-5, we find Paul's "method" (if you can call it that) of church planting. When the church in Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul, it never intended their missionaries to set up a chain of institutions to be kept under the control of the sending church. Whatever churches were planted would be deeply rooted in their host countries. They would be "home grown" congregations, integrally identified with those people who would both lead and follow in those churches. As a church planter, Paul never intended to become the pastor of the work at Corinth or elsewhere. He facilitated the work of others who would be appointed by the Holy Spirit for leadership there. We make a very grave mistake, I believe, when we think expatriates such as Timothy and Titus were the "pastors" of the churches they were involved with in Ephesus or Crete. Their ministry, as Paul's personal representatives, was the selection and training of local responsible brothers to lead the work.
In all of this, Paul's servant attitude comes forcefully into play. He took as his model for ministry the kenosis pattern of Jesus Christ, a model of other-orientation and costly servanthood (Phil. 2:5-11). Paul consistently labored in the best interests of others rather than himself. Even as an apostle, Paul refused to arrogate to himself exclusive powers. He eagerly sought to train others who would carry on his pioneer ministry.
In Antioch, Barnabas and Saul worked side by side in discipling the church in the ways of Jesus. Little wonder that the church at Antioch, once it had been well established in the teachings of Jesus, had a burden for the nations. Barnabas and Saul went on to be commissioned by the church for the work of church planting. Within 10 years, Paul had gone on to plant churches in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achaia. In all of these places, the perpetuation of the Gospel ministry was predicated upon members of the local congregations becoming leaders of the churches among them. Ministry training was accomplished through local training, not by sending church leaders away from their homes and communities. John Frame ("Proposals for a New North American Model," Missions and Theological Education in World Perspective, p. 377) proposes a "Christian Community where teachers, ministerial candidates and their families live together, eat together, work together" (p. 379). Today, forms of distance learning include seminars, guided self-study, internet chat rooms, Skype, and interactive video links via satellite to widely dispersed students, allowing them to study without interrupting and disrupting their customary lifestyle. My own Greek DVD series is being used all over the world to provide instruction in beginning Greek to pastors who otherwise would have no access to such training. Discipleship thus takes place in a living local church context. It is people-related rather than textbook- or professor-related.
When the church in the book of Acts became centralized in Jerusalem, God scattered it through persecution. Without decentralization, the church could not reach its maximum potential as a witnessing community. But scattered, the church preached wherever it went, carrying out the Great Commission. Within these scattered congregations, God provided leaders directly. In Acts we read, "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust" (Acts 14:23-24). Nationalization is an act of trust: trust in God to further His church on earth according to biblical principles, and trust in believers to whom the leadership of these local churches is to be entrusted.
By insisting on control (or leadership) of national institutions, as some missionary organizations seem to do today, expat missionaries belie their professed commitment to servanthood. The apostle Paul pioneered the local ministry model. It deserves emulating today. Wherever I travel, my goal is to come alongside the national churches, both leaders and led, and assist them to the best of my (limited) abilities. My approach is intentionally cooperative. I seek to take no leadership role. I am there to serve, not to be served. It is this true "partnership in the Gospel" (Phil. 1:5) that makes missionary service so rewarding for me.
So this is just a taste of what we'll be talking about in class this week. Great students = happy teacher!
Sunday, January 28
10:05 AM Markus Barth's classic commentary on Paul's letter to the Ephesians is well worth your hard-earned bucks. I'm blown away by the author's astuteness, brilliance even. His section on Eph. 4:11-13 deserves a reading by every Christian.
Let me try to summarize it for you. Remember, Markus Barth was no conservative evangelical. He wasn't a Southern Baptist. He was a professor in a Reformed university in Basel. Yet above all he was a biblicist. At some point, you and I are going to have to become the same thing. But to my summary:
1) Barth argues that Eph. 4:11-13 is a locus classicus on the church -- its order, origin, design, etc.
2) By separating "the equipping of the saints" and "the work of the ministry" by a comma (as in the KJV), we miss Paul's point completely. This leads to an aristocratic and ecclesiastical interpretation that falsely distinguishes between the mass of "saints" and the superior class of "clergy" who are distinct from them. In this view, laypeople are only the beneficiaries of the work of the ministry; they may benefit from it, but only official ministers can carry it out.
3) The ministries of verse 11 are given to the church so that God's people can become equipped to carry out works of service and thus allow the light of God's goodness to shine in a dark world. "All the saints (and among them, each saint) are enabled by the four or five types of servants enumerated in 4:11 to fulfill the ministry given to them, so that the whole church is taken into Christ's service and given missionary substance, purpose, and structure."
4) Barth thus challenges the prevailing "aristocratic-clerical and the triumphalistic-ecclesiastical" interpretation of 4:11-13. These interpretations are nothing less than "arbitrary distortions of the text."
5) There is, therefore, no biblical distinction between clergy and laity. "Rather, the whole church, the community of all the saints together, is the clergy appointed by God for a ministry to and for the world." This means, among other things, that we can't reduce church members "to the rank of mere consumers of spiritual gifts," nor can we view the church as turned in on itself.
6) Each one of the saints is a recipient of grace from on High. They should also be dispensers of grace. Even the weakest members of the body are indispensable.
7) What, then, of the special call to "the" ministry? "There is but one calling or vocation valid in the church: the call of God into his kingdom."
8) This is not to undermine the necessity for special ministers. "Their place is not above but below the great number of saints who are not adorned by resounding titles. Every one of the special ministers is a servus servorum Dei [a servant of the servants of God]."
9) This means that the main ministry of the gathered church is mutual edification. "There are needy people inside the church -- and 'the lonely men at the top' may well belong among them."
10) As for honorific titles, Barth argues against their use. "Divers books of the NT show that all 'clerical' titles available from Israel's history and literature have been conferred upon Jesus Christ and comprehended in him."
I love Barth. I loved him when I sat in his lectures and seminars in Basel and I love him now. He never treated faith in an abstract, theoretical way.
Yes, the church needs specialized and gifted leaders. Paul says as much in our text. But the call of God to fulltime Christian service comes to every believer who has ears to hear. We are all "joints" in the body of Christ and connected to each other. We may therefore choose to either edify or ignore our calling. Will I abdicate my responsibility to the leaders or will I build up the body by building up this brother or that sister? The special ministers of the church may model equipping for us, but we can never delegate this work completely to them.
How to flesh this out? Perhaps we could begin with our church's marquee:
Name: Local Baptist Church
Senior Pastor: Jesus Christ
Ministers: Every Member
Assistants to the Ministers: [Your Elders' Names]
I know this looks radical, but that's what the church is supposed to look like. I think you'd have the most interesting church marquee in town. And the glory would all go to Jesus. And even non-believers might be curious enough to darken your doorsteps. And the kingdom of God would advance.
9:55 AM And another one (Roland Allen, The Case for Voluntary Clergy, p. 128):
This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Thess. 1:5: "You know exactly what kind of men we were when we lived among you, doing everything for your own good and not our own."
9:45 AM Here's a great quote from missionary Roland Allen (Spontaneous, p. 112):
Have you ever read anything truer?
8:15 AM In just two weeks my students and I will be discussing the so-called Synoptic Problem in our NT 1 class. I've summarized the leading "solutions" to this problem in a Power Point. Although I espouse Matthean priority, I feel it's my duty as a teacher to expose my students to the major views held by New Testament scholars today. Still, my dream is that my students might see the occasional nature of the documents we call "Gospels." Recently the journal New Testament Studies kindly allowed access to several of its online essays for free. I've been reading Graham Stanton's "The Fourfold Gospel" with great interest, since I'm a proponent of the "Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis." Stanton's essay, of course, assumes a commitment to the Markan Priority Hypothesis.
I appreciate Professor Stanton's tireless work in Gospel studies. As I've tried to show in my book, however, to understand how the fourfold Gospel got to us, one needs to forget virtually everything that has been previously accepted as fact about the Synoptic Problem. The Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis does not allow readers to acquire a new idea that can be applied to their existing solution to the problem. Simply put, students of the Gospels cannot hold to the traditional solution of Markan Priority and accept the concepts that are put forth in my Why Four Gospels? Here's why:
1) The Markan Priority Hypothesis -- which is the "affirmed" interpretation of history based almost exclusively on the internal evidence -- is fatally flawed when one takes into account the writings of the earliest Christian fathers. Regrettably, any theory of New Testament interpretation, once it is established, becomes nearly impossible to dislodge, even if new (and seemingly contradictory) evidence is produced. Any new interpretation of the events, if it is to be accepted, must be built around the old consensus even at the expense of logic. An example of this is the Farrer Hypothesis, which dispenses with "Q" while insisting on Markan Priority. Indeed, so embedded is the popular view in the public consciousness that it is nearly impossible to dismiss it. The story is "safe," and the matter is not really open to debate. In my opinion, New Testament scholarship has become so preoccupied with maintaining the status quo that it has neglected to explore the external evidence.
2) As noted above, the accepted version of the story focuses on the internal evidence. If, however, one were to seriously investigate the external evidence -- the evidence provided by the patristic testimony -- it would become evident that current explanations are incongruent and incompatible with the opinions of the fathers. Why, for example, did Clement of Alexandria insist that the Gospels "containing the genealogies" (i.e., Matthew and Luke) were written first? And why is Matthew always listed as the first Gospel? Why is Mark's Gospel consistently described not as an independent work of Mark but as a record of the words of the apostle Peter? In light of this evidence, it seems illogical to believe that our earliest Gospel was written by Mark, a non-eyewitness.
3) Ensconced deeply in the affirmed version is the notion that Mark contains inferior grammar to that found in Matthew and Luke. Some Markan priorists have even gone so far as to claim that Mark contains "errors" that were subsequently "corrected" by Matthew and Luke. Yet each of these supposed "errors" allows for a plausible alternative explanation that does not require Markan priority (as I have attempted to show here). If the New Testament student desires a complete understanding of the factors that led up to the writing of the Gospels, the internal evidence alone simply does not provide it. The external evidence keeps getting in the way of the affirmed version.
I can't help but ask: why are the fathers so adamant that Matthew came first? Why did Clement aver that Matthew and Luke came before Mark? Why do the fathers go to great lengths to show that Mark never set out to write a Gospel but simply recorded the words of Peter as they were spoken before his Roman audience? What has prevented proponents of the affirmed view from asking these vital questions? The answer, in my opinion, is that the consensus view is falsely shackled to a misguided preference for the internal evidence. In fact, as long as the patristic testimony is ignored, the internal evidence, which by its very nature is subjective, will continue to reign supreme. And as long as the traditional view is anchored in the minds of scholars, the solution will remind hidden.
So what is the simplest explanation of the facts -- all the facts? To discover that, one must be bold. The missing pieces of the puzzle must be included if we are to assemble the whole puzzle rather than leaving them out because they do not seem to fit. Taking the external evidence into account will have serious repercussions. The answer to the Synoptic Problem will remain incomplete until a central piece of the puzzle is in place.
6:14 AM So what are most of us doing today? Attending a "worship service." This way of thinking has been challenged by Vaughan Roberts in a delightful little book called True Worship.
Interested? Here's my summary.
Enjoy this day that the Lord has made!
Saturday, January 27
5:55 PM Since Karen and her new hubby live in Arlington (just outside of DC), we thought it would be fun to run the Four Courts Four Miler together on Saturday morning, March 10. If you survive the uphill climb to the finish, you're treated to a pint of beer (I'll pass, thank you) as well as live music and Irish dancers jigging to the tunes.
The other option was to run the DC Half Marathon that day but since I've got a full marathon in Raleigh the next weekend I thought that would be a wee bit too much, sure and begorrah. (Sorry for the English disguised as Gaelic there.)
5:02 PM Today Sheba took me for a long walk in the woods to check up on the work our forestry consultant has been doing as he prepares the pine/hardwood tree stands for harvesting.
This year I'm cutting around 85 acres.
Each will be replanted in fast-growing loblollies. What do you think of this amazing grapevine?
It's almost as big as the surrounding trees. It will be preserved from cutting, of course, since one day it will qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records. What I should have done today (and was hoping to do) is run 10 miles. Of course, it might have helped had I not killed myself at the gym yesterday. Anyway, I still have a week to get in my pre-half long run so I'm not too worried. With the flu season being as bad as it is this year, today I listened to my body and stayed home. One thing running does is help me live in the moment. I've stopped thinking about the races that eluded me in the past and the victories that may or may not be there for me in the future. There's plenty of reasons to concentrate on living this day. The only time I have is now, which is why I spent basically the whole afternoon on the front porch reading several books about 1 Thessalonians. The end result is that my body is feeling great but my mind feels like wilted lettuce. At least I got way ahead on my reading. Yay for that, I guess. I'm still waiting to be unwussed enough to climb another Via Ferrata, like this one in Quebec.
Or this one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Or this one in British Columbia.
I don't think you can beat this last one for pure awesomeness. Anyway, a vigorous training workout awaits me this week and I'm sure it will have me couched on my sofa before 9:00 pm. Now I'm off to tend to the animals one last time and make sure they're tucked in for the night.
10:08 AM One of the essays we're covering in next week's Greek 4 class is by W. Weiss and is called "Glaube -- Liebe -- Hoffnung. Zu der Trias bei Paulus" ("Faith -- Love -- Hope. On the Triad in Paul"). It's just plain beautiful how Paul uses the "rule of three" so often in 1 Thessalonians, beginning in 1:2-5:
Ferdinand Hahn, in his Theologie des Neuen Testaments, notes: "Glaube, Liebe und Hoffnung sind für ihn die entscheidenden Kennzeichen für das Christsein " (p. 307). We see this most clearly, of course, in 1 Cor. 13:13, where faith, hope, and love are prominent ideals for the Christian. In his essay, Weiss notes that the trio "faith, love, and hope" occurs elsewhere in Paul in 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 3:10; Eph. 1:3ff.15-18; Col. 1:4f.; and Heb. 10:22-24. I can't imagine that Weiss was ever a proponent of the Pauline authorship of Hebrews, but his reference to Heb. 10:22-24 is a reminder that the number of parallels between Paul and Hebrews should give us pause before rejecting the Paulinity of Hebrews purely on the basis of the internal evidence.
Evidence like this, coupled with the external evidence drawn from the church fathers, is a challenge to the modern-day consensus opinio that Paul could not have been the author of a letter that always circulated among the Pauline Corpus in the early church. It would perhaps not be too sardonic to say that the external evidence is all too easily ignored in our day. Perhaps it's time for another lusty debate over the matter. And perhaps my own booklet on the subject will help in clarifying these issues. I'm a little chary about jettisoning the testimony of the early church fathers. Conversely, a look at the internal evidence shows that the contents of Hebrews are at least sui generis with that of the authentic Paulines.
Perhaps, above all, it's imperative that we are humble over such contentious issues.
Time for chores.
8:54 AM Sermon Audio is one of the best things to hit the internet. This morning I listened to messages in both French and German. Here's a German series I found on "The Marks of a Christian."
What are the indications in our lives that a seed has sprouted and a new life has truly begun? Here the speaker asks, "What are the marks of a Christian? What makes a Christian a Christian? What are the necessary signs of a true believer?" He points us, of course, to the Scriptures, which contain several several marks of a genuine follower of Jesus, including service (der Dienst).
A Christian is simply a servant of God. The first passage referenced, unsurprisingly, is 1 Thess. 1:9:
Christians serve God. This is how our faith becomes visible. As Spirit-filled Christians, we should be the world's greatest servants. Our love for God can be measured by the amount of time we serve others in His name and for His glory. This transformation from selfish people to selfless people occurs from the inside out. It's best seen not in a fish design on our automobiles but by the ways in which we love others. "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples," said Jesus (John 13:35). Francis Schaeffer called love for others the greatest mark of a Christian. (Read his book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century.) Christianity isn't for idlers and goof-offs -- a point Paul makes in both First and Second Thessalonians. The stories we read in the Gospels often pertain to the ways in which our Lord served others. Serving was indeed "serious business" with Christ. And if we're filled with His Spirit, we ought also to be in the business of serving others.
How has your understanding of service changed through the years? As radically as mine has? For years, "missions" for me was placing an offering in the collection plate to support all those "missionaries" out there. Trouble is, there's a big difference between supporting missions and becoming a missionary yourself. Take some time to develop a list of the 10 biggest obstacles that hold you back from living a life of service. Write them down, and then ask God to help you whittle them down. Every genuine born-again Christian is a missionary. We are, every one of us, in "fulltime Christian service" to God and others. That's why Paul said his life was an example to us (1 Thess. 1:6). By following that example and being faithful to that pattern, others are bound to see Christ in us.
I once wrote a little book called Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? On the last page is a place you can sign your life away on the dotted line. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like a copy. I am absolutely sure that the person you'd swap your life for is worth it.
7:20 AM Good Saturday morning, readers! Next Tuesday in Greek 4, we'll be discussing 1 Thess. 1:2-5. This paragraph underlines Paul's entire approach to missions. When the lost are confronted squarely with what Christ has done for them, a response can be expected. Paul therefore sees the evangelistic preaching of the "word" as fundamentally tied to a subsequent changed life on the part of the receiver. He was certainly not afraid to mention the consequences of God's election. We tend to view election as something in the past. Paul, however, is not afraid to point out the present evidence of a past election. An attitude of humble obedience, selfless sacrifice, and unshakable hope characterize both church and evangelist when they are at their best.
This colon (which is one long sentence in Greek) can be outlined as follows.
The main independent finite verb "We give thanks" is modified by three participial extensions:
Mention of Paul's prayer for his readers leads him to draw the veil aside for a moment on the threefold evidence of their conversation. We have to realize that without fruit there is probably little or no root. In the case of the Thessalonian believers, they were known for three things:
These are but a few of the ways we cooperate with a God who shines into our hearts against a god who blinds our minds (2 Cor. 4:4-6). They are ways by which we "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). They are part and parcel of the "good works" that God foreordained that His sons and daughters "should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
The Thessalonians' fruitfulness is matched only by the missionaries' commitment. Paul and his fellow preachers were resolved to preach not only the word. Coming to Christ involved far more than the intellect. Preaching must also include power, the Holy Spirit, and complete conviction of its truth. As a Greek teacher, this is an important reminder to me that the classroom must do more than disseminate information. I think we can safely assume that an effective classroom teacher will also be known for his or her passion. Good Bible teachers are utterly and irrevocably convinced that what they are teaching has the potential to unlock the door to a lifetime of Scripture study and growth in grace. So Paul goes on to consider how the Gospel came to the Thessalonians. He hopes that they will see from his own earnestness that the Gospel is a vital matter of spiritual life and death. If we are to have an effective Gospel ministry, we have to come to terms with the spiritual battle raging all around us. A satanic force is utterly opposed to the Gospel and will do whatever it can to hinder its spread at every turn. How dare, then, we think that we can come "with word only" when the opposition is so stark? Paul saw himself as deeply imbued with power from on High. His endurance of suffering was the result of a constant inner strength supplied by the Holy Spirit. He knew his message was true, and so he saw himself as an ambassador for Christ. Paul was "gripped" with his message, as the original of Acts 18:5 puts it. Once we find Christ, we simply have to tell others.
It's obviously possibly to take Paul's teaching here too far and make works a requirement for salvation. This will not do. "He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal" (Rom. 2:28-29). Works never saved anyone. Nevertheless, faith and works belong together in the purpose of God. They jointly form "the Way" of Jesus. We are heading for trouble when we confuse decisions with discipleship. Salvation means justification, but it also means sanctification. They stand or fall together.
So here is what I see when I read a passage like 1 Thess. 1:2-5. I see a church -- a bride if you will -- that is loved and beautiful. She is laughing at her troubles. She is shaking off the apathy of her former life and throwing open the doors of service to others, service that requires a brimful of sweat. She is secure in the love of her Savior. And therefore, she loves.
Could these Thessalonian believers have loved unless they were first loved? Could they have learned how to live sacrificially had not Paul sacrificially brought the Good News to them with power, the Holy Spirit, and complete conviction of its truth? Someday I hope to become an evangelist like Paul and Silas and Timothy. Friend, we can experience this bonfire today. We -- you and I -- can post a few signs in the direction of the kingdom, weak though we are. The kingdom of God won't be established through our own efforts, including taking a class on 1 Thessalonians. The kingdom of God shows up when we experience God's love and then love each other well. The kingdom of God is in the check we send for disaster relief. It's in opening our homes to strangers. It's in making space for the outcasts. Paul is clear on this: the kingdom of God starts in our own hearts and lives. God may call you (as He did Paul) to lead the charge. Or He may use you in ways that will never be acknowledged until you get to glory. He leads, and we follow. It's as simple as that. From God's point of view, what matters is not only that we receive His Holy Spirit, but that we experience the presence and power of the Spirit moment by moment and day by day. To waste away one's life while claiming to have been saved is sheer presumption. There's a far better way, and it's the one Paul is showing us here. Praise be to God.
Friday, January 26
5:50 PM Nate and Jess were here just now getting some more hay. Which means I got to see "THE BOYS" -- all 5 of them.
Love my grandkids. In exactly two weeks I'll get to see the Glasses and their five kiddos in Birmingham. "In awful and surprising truth," wrote Lewis in The Problem of Pain, "we are objects of His love. You asked for a loving God; you have one...." (p. 35). God has given me the gift of widowerhood, but I am never alone, praise be.
12:45 PM I got a decent run in today at a 5.2 mile per hour pace.
I didn't do the 10 miles I was hoping to but I'll make up for it tomorrow, I promise. Before the run I spent an hour at the Y working on curls and other upper body strengthening exercises, since Mont Blanc promises to be pretty brutal on its more vertical sections.
At the Y, I ran into a former student of mine who now pastors a nearby congregation. That was pretty cool, though I will admit that it's definitely NOT possible to get a good workout when you're talking shop the whole time. Before I worked out I helped Nate load his trailer for a hay delivery.
It was cold out there. The cold air never fails to clear my mind.
Check out this barn that we built from scratch about 15 years ago.
I think our only expenses were the nails since we are the ultimate scroungers. I'll leave you with one last picture: Sheba and me on the front porch early this morning.
I was sipping coffee and getting caught up my reading while she was carefully guarding her territory. I won't go into any details, but I find the indoors so boring.
P.S. I just ordered my next pair of running shoes. New Balance 880s.
I love everything about these shoes, including the fact that they come in double wide and NEVER give me blisters (except when I'm running 26.2 miles on pure concrete the whole distance!).
6:55 AM In my NT class this Wednesday I showed the first few minutes of this video clip by Bart Ehrman, who insists that we can't just accept tradition about the Gospels but must think, use our brains, evaluate the evidence for ourselves.
He couldn't be more correct. But does the critical study of Scripture necessarily lead to skepticism about the historicity of the Gospels? I would answer that question with a resounding no. Ehrman's evangelical faith was undermined by critical scholarship. Mine was validated by it. In class on Wednesday, I mentioned this work by Mark Noll of Wheaton College.
In a sense, it's a history of evangelical scholarship in the last century. Noll shows how believing critics have dealt with critical issues in the Bible and how they have attempted to integrate higher-critical scholarship into their faith journey. This is a book that should be read by every evangelical even though it's dated. My goal in teaching NT 1 this semester is to help my students consider how they might contribute to evangelical scholarship and to suggest some steps going forward. Anti-intellectualism is unfortunately still prevalent in certain evangelical circles today. As genuine Christianity becomes just another worldview in American society, perhaps this generation of evangelicals has an opportunity. Many of my students are pursuing advanced degrees at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. They are concluding, as I did many years ago, that the dichotomy between faith and reason is a false one. As Noll points out in his book, it's no longer a question of faith or reason. It's a question of a reasonable faith versus a faithless reason. We should be seeking an appropriate and God-honoring synthesis of faith and reason, of Scripture and the natural sciences. "The emergence of a class of learned evangelical Bible scholars is a remarkable development of the last half century," writes Noll (p. 9). "The effects of that emergence in the evangelical community have been no less worthy of attention." In his conclusion, he writes: "If evangelical Bible scholars are to flourish, they must be wise as serpents with respect to the world of thought, [and] as innocent as doves with respect to the gospel" (p.197).
Frankly, I'm not sure that most younger evangelical scholars are nimble enough to do this. Still, the "life of the mind" is well worth pursuing. As Francis Schaeffer put it when a group of us students heard him lecture in Switzerland in the 1980s (I'm paraphrasing him), "When you become a Christian you don't have to put your brain in park or neutral. Christianity is a historical faith and requires no 'leap of faith' to claim that the Gospels are historically trustworthy." As an evangelical who, like Bart Ehrman, was trained in a fundamentalist college and then went on to study in a secular university, there is much in this perspective that I agree with. Brothers and sisters, let's worship the Lord Christ not only with all of our hearts but with all of our minds.
Thursday, January 25
6:44 PM Gordon Fee's 1992 SBL paper "On Text and Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians" is outstanding.
We reviewed it briefly in our Greek 4 class on Tuesday night. Fee bemoans the fact "that contemporary English language commentaries evidence impoverishment regarding their textual questions-- except for the most notable issues -- thus leaving their users with an inadequate awareness of this dimension of the exegetical task" (p. 165). He urges the following (p. 168).
Fee is unhappy that so many discussions of textual variation seem to be limited to a brief citation from Metzger and that's that. I ran across an example of this very thing while reading through Keown's new commentary on Philippians today. On p. 95 he discusses the variant sunepiskopois ("fellow-overseers") versus episkopois ("overseers"). The former reading, he asserts, "can be rejected, as Paul elsewhere never calls himself or Timothy an [episkopos], and the variant is clearly a theologically or ecclesiastically motivated addition (Metzger, 544)." The arguments both pro et contra sunepiskopois seem to me to be rather inadequately presented. Metzger evidently believed that the reading was "theologically or ecclesiastically motivated." But why should I believe that? No reasons are stated. Fee's solution to such inadequate discussion of variant readings is twofold:
1) Use extensive footnotes in which variant readings can be discussed as completely as possible.
2) Incorporate a discussion of textual variation into the exposition itself.
Next week in my NT 2 class we're devoting the entire 3 hours to issues of New Testament textual criticism and the Gospels, and Fee's essay will be discussed in some detail. My greatest concern is not what goes on inside the halls of academia but about how pastors will teach on such important places of variation as John 7:53-8:11 and Mark 16:9-20. Despite frequent denials, there appears to be considerable prejudice against incorporating questions of textual criticism into the exegetical process. I would prefer to see just the opposite: pastors and church teachers sufficiently demonstrating their capacity to handle the 2,000 or so major variant units in the New Testament with their audiences.
8:24 AM Yo, folks. I'm all set for the ETS Southwest regional meeting in Houston on March 2-3 -- flights, hotel, and car all reserved. Lord willing, I'll be reading a paper on Heb. 1:1-4. This week I'm going over in great detail a book sent to me (autographed, no less) by a friend of mine, Walter Uebelacker.
He begins with a discussion of the "Rätsel" (riddle) of the epistle to the Hebrews, including its literary character and the various approaches to its structure and theme. In Part 2 he lays the groundwork for later chapters through a thorough analysis of "Strukturale Textsemantik," especially the approach popularized by J. A. Greimas. Part 3 is his analysis of 1:1-4 "als Exordium im rhetorischen Sinne." The final two chapters treat 1:5-2:18 "als theologisches und paränetisches Fundament (chapter 4) and "Der Abschluss des Hebräerbrief als Rückblick" (chapter 5). The concern of my paper is to show how the author (Paul, in my opinion) emphasizes the place of the Old Testament in the establishment of the New Covenant (Jer. 31; Heb. 8). No doubt I'll carry over many of Walter's suggestions into my Power Point presentation in Houston. The opening paragraph of Hebrews shapes our understanding of the entire book. The person of Jesus Christ has always been the most compelling argument for our churches to live according to the New Covenant, in which fraternal instruction comes to the fore, instead of a top-down "priesthood-type" of leadership model.
Meanwhile, I find myself writing regularly on the discourse structure of 1 Thessalonians, and it you'd like to follow along you can go to a Power Point that my able assistant has been updating on a weekly basis. Also this week, I plan to delve into two works I just received.
I plan on spending about two hours in my NT 1 class this semester discussing marriage, divorce, and remarriage -- adding into the mix, of course, a lengthy word about singleness and celibacy. As for this new commentary on Philippians, I've already perused the first volume and I frankly came away a bit disappointed.
The author believes that the letter has no overriding theme but instead pursues 9 "key elements" that are "threaded through each section of the letter" (pp. 80-81):
Part of the effectiveness of discourse analysis is the meticulous care devoted to recovering a text's linguistic "macrostructure" or overall theme. I would prefer to see an outline that reflects this concern. But obviously these observations are premature. I may or may not publish a complete review of this work later, once I've had a chance to digest its contents.
Today I need to do farm chores, clean the kitchen, do my banking, go to the Post Office, do some lifting at the Y, and then meet with a forestry consultant. And take Sheba for a long walk, of course. It's gorgeous out there. There are a hundred good reasons to get outdoors today if you can.
Wednesday, January 24
7:04 PM Life goes through various periods, but occasionally you encounter an exclamation point. I had such an "exclamation point" moment today. When I got back to the farm, guess what was waiting for me in my mailbox? Not one, but two translations. On the left is the Russian edition of The Myth of Adolescence. On the right is Learn to Read New Testament Greek in Mandarin. The first was published in Ukraine; the second in Shanghai.
Both books look fantastic.
My sincere thanks to all who worked so tirelessly to make these translations possible. I've been privileged to have been given the gift of 42 years, no less, in a Christian writing ministry. I have found every step to be an exciting adventure of faith. And now to see two more translations of my books appear in public leaves me speechless. As we discussed in our New Testament class today, evangelism is no good without proper follow up. May our God be pleased to use these translations to provide something nurturing for Christians. The only thing that could match my joy at receiving these books was the sunset I witnessed on my drive home.
Loving God, it's hard for me to put into words what I'm feeling right now. Even as I grow older, You grant me something useful to do. As the years come and go, I do not wish to find a fountain of youth. What I pray is that I may stay vital and creative as long as I last. For those friends who made these translations possible, I give You thanks, dearest Lord. In the communion of saints, they will always live on in my heart, even though I may never see them again in the flesh. Help me, dear God, to be like the widow in the Gospels, who gave everything she had for the sake of the kingdom. And help us all to realize that the life of the mind is the service of God, and that we learn and grow as long as we live. Amen.
Peace and love to you on your journeys, my friends.
Monday, January 22
9:02 AM Auf "Los" geht's los! That's right. Tomorrow night at 6:30 we begin our study of 1 Thessalonians. Sheba and I were on the front porch this morning listening to some audio files of 1 Thessalonians in German. (Sheba is bilingual.) When we got to 3:10, I said "Bingo!" (Das ist es!) Here's 3:10 in German:
And here's the same verse in a different translation:
I can't explain my excitement when I heard the words "etwas fehlt" and "etwas mangelt." Now let's be clear. Paul has a lot of good things to say about the Thessalonian congregation. Lots. However, there's more to the story than that. Thanks to chapters 4-5, we realize that there were several things "lacking" in their faith. Just like in our own lives. Let's be honest. If it were not for the intervention of God in our lives, we'd all probably end up on Jerry Springer. In many, many ways, I am really immature in my faith. My closeness with God suffers not for lack of desire but for lack of commitment. But God is teaching me slowly to walk humbly as He continues to train me for acting justly and loving mercy. The thing I really love about the apostle Paul is that he was never content with the level of spirituality to which he had attained. Ditto for his followers. "I don't have to tell you how to love one another," he says in 4:9-12. "You've been taught by God Himself how to do that. But guess what? It's possible for a church love too much. Your love can become mere sentimentally if you're not really careful. Just look at yourselves -- you're allowing people to mooch off of the charity of the church. Can't do that. Tell these bothers and sisters to, well, get back to work."
So when I say that 3:10 holds a vital key to the interpretation of 1 Thessalonians, what I mean is that this verse is the pivot point, the hinge upon which all else rests. The community can't tolerate certain behaviors. We all need to do some growing up. Thankfully, we can be patient with each other while God works on our transformation. Paul is saying to this church, "I love you. In fact, I love you so much I'm not going to allow you to become complacent and apathetic." Call it tough love if you will. But it's love just the same.
6:58 AM This is Sheba last night. Her eyes are telling me, "I see you have muffins. I have no muffins. Everybody needs muffins, right?"
Here's the back story. Last night while I was fixing my meals for the week, I decided to bake some muffins for my breakfasts but I just couldn't muster up the energy to do it. My climb on Saturday really did a number on me. I texted one of my daughters, "I want to cook muffins tonight but I'm too tired." To another I wrote, "Since last May I've done 7 marathons, but what I did on Saturday was harder than all 7 of those races combined." So I sat down to read a book. Then I saw Sheba's eyes. Shelties are unique doggies, or at least I think so. They're very smart and always need to have their minds and bodies occupied. They're also hyper-sensitive to the moods of their owners. They sense when we are happy or sad, tired or energetic. Once you have a Sheltie, they become your closest companion. Their middle name is loyalty, and they will run around with you all day. I'm pretty sure that Sheba has understood every word I've ever said to her. So here I am, "dog" tired, watching Sheba melt my heart. She was like, "Daddy, you always bake muffins on Sunday night, remember?" If you've never owned a Sheltie, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. But every Sheltie owner understands. Our dogs are so cute it's almost criminal. So off I went with my little buddy to bake "our" muffins.
If you want to see something cute, watch the expression on the face of a Sheltie who's munching on a freshly baked muffin. Sheba's the first thing to put a smile on my face every morning. She loves to bark when she sees me, as if she were saying, "Good morning, Daddy! It's a beautiful day!" Shelties crave interaction with their owners. Wherever I go, it seems that Sheba is always talking to me. When I'm about to take her out for a walk on the farm, I simply start putting on my jacket and she immediately knows -- "It's walk time!" Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark. And how she can tell when I'm about to feed her a cookie that's hidden in my jacket pocket -- I'll never be able to figure that one out.
Most of us, I suppose, have sensed great solitude upon losing a loved one or saying goodbye when a child moves out of the house. The world offers poor substitutes for loneliness. It was the love of God that brought Adam's companion into being, a refuge for his lonesomeness. To Becky I owe a deep consciousness of God as my Provider. Now, in her absence, He still provides for those who are alone. He teaches the widower to see, hear, smell, feel, taste, and perhaps even bake muffins, and if He also gives you a furry companion to "help" you bake them, so much the better. Sometimes we see God's tenderness in the most unexpected places, even in the smile of a pet.
Sunday, January 21
4:08 PM Photo update:
1) Today I finished reading Heinrich Baltensweiler's classis essay on 1 Thess. 4:3-8, in which he argues that Paul's topic is not immorality in general but the custom of obtaining a divorce so that a male relative might marry a daughter who inherits her father's property when the latter has no surviving sons.
I took classes, by the way, under Professor Baltensweiler when I was a student in Basel in the early 80s. He was a wonderful lecturer and the second reader on my dissertation.
2) The latest issue of JETS arrived last week.
Gregory Goswell, in his essay "Authorship and Anonymity in the New Testament Writings," argues generally that "The attribution of authorship to a biblical book is hermeneutically relevant" (p. 748) and specifically that "Timothy is a link between Paul and the author of Hebrews" (p. 748).
3) This book was sitting on my bookshelf. Glad I dusted it off.
The author suggests that John Buford and his cavalry might well be considered the heroes of Gettysburg by putting up a successful defense against all odds and holding the high ground on Cemetery Ridge until the Union infantry arrived, thus forcing Lee into offensive action against a well-fortified enemy.
4) John 1:1-5 contains so many interesting questions of exegesis that it's impossible to know where to stop listing them. Why in the Greek is there no "the" before "beginning"? Why does the Greek say, "And the Word was with the God"? Why is theos in the third clause anarthrous (without a Greek article)? Indeed, what does the word "word" mean in this context anyway? And then there's the threefold repetition of the Greek verb en-- "was." People often assume that this verb (the most common word for "being" in the New Testament) means the same thing in all three instances. I assumed as much as well until I happened upon this Spanish rendering. Here the same Greek verb is rendered by "existía," "estaba," and "era." Fascinating!
5) Finally, folks, I think I've found the perfect waist pack for my summer running.
Time to cook my meals for the week. My first class kicks off tomorrow night at 6:30!
7:42 AM Hey folks! Here are some random reflections on my climb yesterday in West Virginia.
1) Friday dawned cold but clear. The farm had just gotten 8 inches of snow, but thankfully I had little trouble getting to the road from my house.
2) My goal was to arrive at my hotel in Harrisonburg at 3:00 pm. The roads in southern Virginia were good. I encountered very little traffic, though in Charlotte County I did see this Amish buggy.
3) Yesterday morning I was up at 5:00, had breakfast, and then headed to Circleville, WV for my climb. I arrived right on time for my 9:00 am appointment. Here's the HQ building for NRocks.
As you know, my goal was to climb their famous Via Ferrata. "Via Ferrata" is Italian for "Iron Road." It's a climbing route where you're secured to the rock face by a cable and iron rungs in the steepest sections. It's a method of climbing that's been around in Europe for centuries. This may well be the ultimate activity for people wanting to challenge themselves in a safe environment. You constantly have to clip yourself into the cable by means of two carabiners. The internal locking system makes it virtually impossible to clip out of both at the same time. The course is easy to follow and allows you to tackle otherwise impassible cliffs and ledges, with effort, of course.
4) The Via Ferratas in the States are usually climbed during the summer months. I wanted to go earlier in the year to avoid the crowds. Here's my guide Matthew.
When I took this selfie he said, "Let's look serious." Actually, Matt's a very cheerful and humorous guy. There are hundreds of free Via Ferrata in Europe, and none of them require a guide. Here in the States it's different. Most if not all of the Via Ferratas in the U.S. are commercial operations where the land is privately owned. They all require you to be guided. I just happened to come on a day when no one else was climbing, so I had a guide all to myself.
5) Most Via Ferratas, whether here or in Europe, have only one set route that takes you from start to finish. Some of them, however, offer escape routes at various points along the course. This was the case with the NRocks course. Every so often Matt would turn to me and ask, "There's an exit here. Do you want to go back or keep on going?" I think he's required to say that to all of his clients.
6) There were basically three sections on this particular Via Ferrata. They seemed to increase in difficulty -- or maybe I was just getting more tired the farther we went. Look precarious at all?
When I climbed the Via Ferrata in Zermatt two summers ago, the route had three levels of difficulty, from A to C. When we completed Part B, my guide Walter asked me if I wanted to keep on going. He told me that Part C was very steep and rocky and that you needed to be in excellent condition to do it. Progress is possible only by very small steps and slab climbing. I told him I didn't come all this way to stop now, and by the grace of God I was able to finish that portion of the climb. It took me about 6 hours to climb only 1,800 vertical feet, but having the right guide definitely played an important role in me being able to persevere.
7) Likewise, during yesterday's climb Matt was always coaching me, advising me where to place my feet, and just generally being a great encouragement. For him, safety was the end-all and be-all of the climb. On a Via Ferrata you have to go carefully and constantly and avoid rock slides at all costs.
8) By far my favorite part of the climb was the cable bridge that crosses a 200-foot high gorge. According to Matt, it's here that a good many climbers say "I'm done" and avail themselves of the nearby escape route. Matthew, of course, scrambled across in no time.
9) It took me considerably longer to get from one end of the bridge to the other. To say I was frightened would be an understatement, but I never felt terrified to the point that I couldn't proceed. I mean, once you get on a bridge like this, you have no option but to continue.
10) Finally we reached the summit, where I was able to take this panoramic photo.
The joy of summiting a mountain for the first time is indescribable. I think I pushed the limits a little bit by insisting on making it to the top, and my legs are definitely hurting today. But it was totally worth the effort to be able to see the Eastern Continental Divide. So much of life is like mountaineering. Ingrid Bergman once said, "Getting old is like climbing a mountain. You get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!" C. K. Chesterton once quipped, "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered." Finally, Nelson Mandela's wise words come to mind: "After climbing a great hill, one finds that there are only many more hills to climb." Now you know why I like to climb.
11) When Matthew and I arrived back at HQ, I texted the family to let them know I was okay and sent along a few pics. One of my daughters texted me, "My arms are hurting just looking at you. What a wild ride!" I replied, "2,327 vertical feet. No wonder your arms are hurting!!!" It took me almost 4 hours to hike a distance of only 3.36 miles. That means my climbing pace was less than one minute per mile. I laughed out loud when I saw that stat. It's a new record for me for sure. :-)
If you're ever in West Virginia, why not give the Via Ferrata a try? Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones is a great excuse not only for exercise but also for personal growth. Taking that first step is the hardest part. But that's life, right?
Thanks for visiting,
Friday, January 19
6:45 AM In our Greek 3 class last semester, I emphasized that the theme of Philippians -- its rhetorical "macrostructure" if you will -- is "Unity in the Cause of the Gospel." But what is the theme of 1 Thessalonians? The letter as a whole has an opening (1:1), a body (1:2-5:24), and a closing (5:25-28). The body can be divided into two parts:
The letter moves from personal thoughts to practical instructions. The theme of Part 1 is goodwill and thanksgiving. It contains multiple expressions of Paul's love and concern for his readers. In Part 2, the focus shifts from encouragement and commendation to exhortation and correction. If Part 1 has a predominantly approbatory function, Part 2 has a predominantly admonitory function. Here the major text-sequences all deal with growth in the Christian life. But what was the precise rhetorical exigence that led Paul to write the letter in the first place? It can only have been the topic reflected specifically in 4:13-5:11 and in the entire letter generally: the serious potential for the Thessalonian believers to question not only the sincerity of Paul's preaching but even the reliability of the Gospel itself. In light of this, it's perfectly understandable why Paul would spend so much time in Part 1 defending his integrity and in Part 2 defending the need for eschatological suffering. Doubt over the eschatological status of those who had died (quite possible due to persecution) only led to questions about the eschatological status of those who remained. The letter therefore has an apologetic function. I consider it to be perhaps the clearest rationale for Christian suffering in the whole of the New Testament (see 3:3). But while suffering is to be expected, it's a mere precursor of the messianic banquet, the marriage supper of the Lamb with His bride, the time when we the church will be united with Him in joy forever. Little wonder the earliest believers cried out to Jesus, their only hope in this life,
"O Lord, come!!"
It is to this suffering yet exemplary congregation that Paul writes 1 Thessalonians. In teaching this book in Greek 4, I want to stimulate my students to examine for themselves this remarkable record of the relations between the world's greatest church planter and one of the most beloved congregations he founded and cared for. Suffering is the rule, not the exception, of Christian living, insists the apostle. This is a lesson Paul himself learned painfully and reluctantly through his missionary journeys. This is why he never complains about his sufferings but considers them a badge of honor and the greatest proof of his apostolic authority. As always, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. We ourselves are likely to learn the deep truths of Christianity only through suffering. If you haven't yet had a "severe mercy" (C. S. Lewis) in your life, cheer up. You will. Our extremity is God's opportunity. As the Thessalonians will be reminded again and again, suffering teaches us Christlikeness perhaps better than any thing else in life. As Paul puts it in 2 Cor. 4:10-12: "We always carry in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we are alive we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. The result is that death is at work in us, but life in you." If suffering is inevitable, it is also invaluable. This view of pain is rather uncommon in some of our churches. I certainly wasn't taught it growing up in Hawaii. But the fact is that we all live between the first and second comings of Christ. This world passes away, and so do our lives. This consideration must influence our behavior. It did Paul's. In Philippians he says he's turned all his assets and liabilities over to Christ. He found peace in the midst of trial and strength in the midst of weakness. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is no less adamant that the Christian life is not necessarily one of wealth and ease. There is nothing triumphalistic about a truly New Testament church, regardless of its polity or denomination. Like our Master, who was killed, we are not concerned with glory. Instead, we are concerned about submitting to suffering, just as He did. People will not be drawn to Christ through our arrogance and pride. We have no right to preach the Gospel if we do not reflect the death of Christ in our individual and congregational lives.
Brothers and sisters, as we go through the book of 1 Thessalonians this semester, I want to invite you to join us. If you know Greek, you can follow along in that language. If you have a favorite English Bible version, use a different one for the sake of variety. There are many advantages in studying the Bible using as many different English versions as possible. 1 Thessalonians has an enormous amount to say to our contemporary situation. It's theme is "Suffering for the Sake of The Gospel." In short, this letter was written for us. Open its pages and be transformed from the inside out.
5:55 AM On this day in history ....
That's right, the roads are plowed, the weather has turned warm(er), and the sun is shining brightly. Yesterday I was able to clear enough snow from the driveway to get my car to the road, so I think we're good to go today. I'll spend the night in Harrisonburg then wend my way over the mountains to Circleville, WV for tomorrow's rock-face climb.
My GoPro is charged and ready. My strength is up. Hopefully, the climb will be a rousing success. You never know how you'll do until you get on the mountain. While basically meaningless in the grand scheme of things, these little adventures of mine keep me active and excited about life. I have to admit to a strong case of Wanderlust in my soul. The older I get, the less active I'll become, so it makes sense to have as much fun as you can while you can. "Fun" meaning doing things that are both incredibly stressful and exhilarating. I can say that I'm just a little bit antsy to find out what I'm made of tomorrow.
Thursday, January 18
9:38 AM You know you're getting old when you mention "Earle Ellis" and your students go, "Who?" Edward Earle Ellis served for many years at my sister seminary, SWBTS, as Research Professor of Theology.
He was born in 1926 and went home to heaven on March 2, 2010. I didn't know him well but I considered him a dear colleague. When I was praying about studying overseas for my doctorate, Ellis (and a few others) were my inspiration to take the plunge (his Ph.D. was from Edinburgh). When I was in seminary, his books Paul's Use of the Old Testament and Paul and His Recent Interpreters were required reading. He also founded the Institute for Biblical Research (IBR), a society I once belonged to before it became too much for me to belong to ETS, SBL, IBR, and SNTS, all at the same time.
This morning I read (and took copious notes on) Ellis's essay in New Testament Studies called "Paul and His Co-Workers." Although I've never served in the role of local church elder (1 Tim. 3:1 simply doesn't apply to me), I've always felt that leadership is essential to the vitality of a local congregation, if only because most of us who are not in leadership rarely rise above the quality of our leaders. Leaders can create a lot of problems. This happened in Corinth and the church to which 3 John was written. Sometimes leaders attempt to impose their will on the congregation, as if their authority lay in their "office" rather than in their example and teaching (Heb. 13:7). Sometimes "elder-led" churches are actually "elder-ruled." The opposite can also be true. We can wrongly minimize the importance of the leaders that God has put in our midst. Christian leadership is essential to healthy-functioning churches. Paul was such a leader, as were many of his friends and co-laborers. In this essay, Ellis explores in some detail those leadership qualities that seemed extraordinarily attractive to the apostle Paul. Here are a few Cliff Notes for your consideration:
1) Paul had no formal "disciples" (Greek: mathetai).
2) But he did have many associates.
3) When we combine Acts with the Pauline writings, some 100 names are associated with Paul's ministry.
4) Most of these are his colleagues and co-workers.
5) Some he identifies by their "titles" (Ellis uses quotation marks to indicate he's using the term loosely).
6) Three periods seem to be discernible in Paul's ministry and, concomitantly, in the work he did with his colleagues: The Antiochean Stage (Mark and Titus), the Second Missionary Journey (Timothy, Prisca, Aquila, Aristarchus, Luke, and Erastus), and his Mission Based in Rome (Demas, Tychicus, and Trophimus).
7) Nine of these co-workers remained in close association with Paul to the end of his life.
8) "In summary, the picture that emerges is that of a missionary with a large number of associates. Paul is scarcely ever found without companions" (p. 439).
9) The most common terms used by Paul to describe his associates (in descending frequency) are co-worker, brother, servant, and apostle.
10) The term co-worker (Greek: sunergos) mostly refers to Paul's fellow itinerant workers.
11) Paul uses "brothers" (Greek: adelphoi) fairly consistently to refer to "a relatively limited group of workers" (p. 447).
12) Paul and his colleagues eschewed titles of eminence such as "teacher" or "leader" even though were teachers and leaders. "With reference to their task they are the workers, the servants, the special messengers; with reference to one another they are the brothers" (p. 451).
13) Finally, Ellis suggests that "Paul's associates also may have had a literary role" in terms of assisting him with his writing projects (p. 452).
Dear church leaders: You are very special to us, your followers. We know your schedules are over-loaded. We know you're aware of the shift going on among millennials, who are less dependent on programming and also less dependent upon pastors for their spiritual growth. Perhaps Paul would ask, "Who are your colleagues? Your co-workers? The special 'brothers' with whom you form a team?" The danger of going it alone is a grave one in the modern church. Clearly, the plurals that Paul uses in 1 Cor. 3:5-6 stress that leadership includes cooperation to a very high degree. Solitary leadership in any church is bad for the leader and bad for the people. Our theology of leadership must reflect Jesus. We have one Teacher, and we are all brothers. To quote Ellis again (and please let this sink in) regarding church leaders:
No church has a Senior Pastor other than Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 5:4). Church leaders are "fellow elders" (1 Pet. 5:1). If we followed Paul's teaching and changed our title to "Servant Pastor," would that free us up at all -- free us up, perhaps, from our congregation's unrealistic expectations, from the heavy self-imposed burden we carry, from the danger of arrogance? The gift of discernment is essential for a leader (1 Cor. 2:15). Is humility a characteristic of most modern clergy? Do we rely more on our eloquence and degrees than on the Holy Spirit of God? Paul, a top rabbi from the University of Tarsus, is constantly receding into the group, constantly praising his co-workers and brothers, constantly stressing the importance of team effort. I don't think for a moment that Paul is denigrating his own authority as an apostle. But precisely because he was an apostle, it's all the more impressive to find him stressing the need for mutual ministry. A seminary degree or title has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Church leaders are regular church members who are vetted and then entrusted with spiritual discernment and leadership. We recognize them by their humility, their integrity, and their sense of personal responsibility before God to lead their people through Scripture and example.
Ellis deserves the final word, however. He notes how Paul, having established a local church, would appoint men into leadership roles. "For these workers ... charism doubtless preceded religious function" (p. 451).
Elders are workers and servants, for whom worldly titles and structures are subservient. I couldn't have said it better.
Blessings on y'all,
7:58 AM "Morning has broken...." Love the sunshine!
The big question is: Has VDOT plowed the tertiary roads yet? If not, I'll be stuck here for a while. Not to mention the long gravel driveway I have to negotiate to get to the road, and in a vehicle that rides very low to the ground. Once the primary roads are passable, crews work 12-hour shifts to clear the secondary roads. I'm afraid my neighborhood doesn't make that list. But they will get here eventually. Even after the sun has done its work, crews still work to push ice and slush off the roads. These guys and gals are amazing. A huge "Thank you!" to VDOT and their wonderful snow removal crews.
Wednesday, January 17
5:56 PM This post is dedicated to my good friend Kevin, who I think is enjoying the snow as much as I am!
5:44 PM While cooking supper this evening -- Korean bulgogi over rice -- I listened to All Things Considered as Mary Louise Kelly interviewed author Daniel Pink about his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. It's now at #148 at Amazon.
The author asks: How does the time of day affect our work and decision-making? Pink verbalized for me something I've always felt to be true intuitively. Our day can be divided into three basic phases: peak, trough, and rebound. The key is to align the task with the time. I do most of my best writing in the morning. I take a daily nap during my "trough" period. And then I do more work in the evening. He suggests that students take their exams in the morning, that you schedule your surgeries before the noon hour, etc.
I'm on board, generally speaking, with this way of thinking. When I send students home with a take-home exam (they usually have a week to work on it), I'm going to be more intentional about suggesting they take it in the morning. Here's another takeaway from the interview: "Most people think that amateurs take breaks and professionals never do. The opposite is true. Professionals take breaks and amateurs almost never do." It's important for me to schedule in rest times and not feel guilty for taking time off to let my body and mind recover. It's hard to believe that inactivity is a vital part of an active lifestyle but it is. I'm learning how to be as serious about rest as I am about working out. Especially after a hard race or the completion of a major writing project, the worst mistake I can make -- both physically and mentally -- is not giving myself time to recover.
I haven't purchased the book. But I'm grateful for the interview I heard. Its basic thesis rings true for me, and it might for you as well.
4:35 PM 6 hours later .... 5 inches of snow.
9:14 AM So the President is 1 pound short of being obese. So what's new. According to this report by the NIDDK, more than 2 in 3 American adults (70.2 percent) are considered to be either overweight or obese. Honestly, I've struggled with lack of exercise as much as anybody. I've said "Lord, Lord" without simply doing the will of my Father -- taking care of the body He's entrusted to me. The doctrine of surrendering our "bodies" as living sacrifices to God (Rom. 12:1) is meaningless until it becomes more than words. As long as our lives are marked by unhealthy diets and apathy about physical exercise, no matter how we much claim to be obedient followers of Jesus we're only clanging cymbals. Thankfully, failure in this area is not a deal-breaker with God. It's never too late to start exercising. There are no secrets, no gimmicks. It's just you and your body becoming active. Some time ago I wrote an essay called Taking Care of Your Temple. It tells the story of how I put my dreams into action. It doesn't matter if you've been active for years or this is your first day to exercise ever. We need to spend less time talking about the problem and more time doing something about it. Let's stop deciding if we are going to get fit and start deciding when we are going to get fit. Millions of active Americans have gone before you. Each of them faced the same fears and anxieties that you're facing. And each has learned, as you will, the joy of exercise.
8:30 AM A gentle snow has begun falling in the Piedmont. Up to 6 inches is expected before the weather system moves out this afternoon.
This may put Friday's rock climbing plans in West Virginia on hold. We'll wait and see. Right now I'm going over my calendar for the next few months and making sure I'm well prepared for any eventualities. My next full marathon is in exactly 2 months. It will be a "local" race (anything in Raleigh I consider to be "local") and boasts of being Fast, Flat, and Fun. This will be my first attempt to run the Tobacco Road Marathon. The full marathon has 22 miles on the American Tobacco Trail -- a crushed gravel surface that is much more to my liking than the concrete I ran on 3 weeks ago in the New Years Double Marathon in Texas. The race usually sells out every year (the limit is 1,500 full marathon and 2,500 half marathon participants), so I made sure I registered early. The time limit is a very generous 7 hours. I plan to run with the 6:00 pace group. Also on my calendar is a concert I'm really looking forward to. It involves a return trip to the Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh for a performance called In the Mood, featuring big-band style music from the 40s. Here's a sampling of what I can expect.
(Think there are a few ballrooms stashed among those mansions in heaven?) I'm also finalizing plans to attend the Southwest Regional ETS meeting on March 2-3. When I saw that the meeting was going to be held at Southwestern Seminary, I immediately assumed the reference was to the Fort Worth campus, but it turns out I was wrong. The venue is actually Houston. While there I hope to get caught up with my good friends at HBU. Today I've got a stack of journal articles to leaf through, including an essay by B. Orchard called "Thessalonians and the Synoptic Gospels." Orchard argues that Paul had a copy of the scroll of Matthew with him when he wrote to the Thessalonians on his second missionary journey. "For in the Matthean and Pauline accounts [of the Parousia] we find the same Greek words used in the same way and in similar contexts" (p. 37). Matthew's Olivet Discourse provides the "only appropriate background" for understanding Paul's teaching on the Parousia, he claims. Ouch. This claim goes against everything proposed by the so-called Markan Priority Hypothesis and suggests that Matthew, not Mark, is our earliest written Gospel. Orchard, of course, went on to argue for Matthean priority in his later works. Interestingly, after years of study, I came to the same conclusion. Now the question is: What do the church fathers say?
So yes, the snow is falling and I may not be able to get out of the farm for a couple of days. Maybe I need the rest time here more than I need the strain of a difficult ascent. The Lord knows!
5:55 AM Gratitude:
I hope this will inspire you to make a list of your own.
Tuesday, January 16
4:02 PM I've got the rice cooking for supper and I've got a few minutes to spare, so what shall I blog about? Obviously you're tired of me blogging so much (and so humbly) about my publications, so let's try the subject of "hoarding" on for size. Hoarding? Yes. As in, "Why in the world did I keep my upright piano for so many years when I knew someone would play it a LOT more than I do?" Let's be honest. I said goodbye to my piano today for one reason. I didn't need it. A couple of weeks ago I went through my dresser drawers and closets, filling gignormous bags with the results of my consumerism. I mean, did I really need 12 pairs of running shoes? Well, I just did a quick recheck, and there's about 50 pounds of stuff I can still get rid of. Do I actually need all of these suits?
Or these dumbbells? (You never use them, Dave; you go to the gym, remember?)
Or why do I still have two pairs of climbing boots, one of which doesn't even fit me any more?
"When I was a child," to paraphrase Paul, "I used to spend like a child, on ME." The Paul of my imagination then added, "But when I became a grown-up, I visited Goodwill Industries and gave away half of it." Like you, I have an overabundance of things. You know that compulsion to have, have, have? Maybe we should stop being the packrats we are and literally carry the Gospel to others -- or, as in the case of my piano, hire someone else to carry it for you. And hey, if anyone needs a set of never-used copper pots and pans or an electric recliner that's never been used, I know this guy who lives in Southern Virginia....
9:22 AM Said goodbye to my piano today. One of my daughters will be putting it to very good use.
I prefer playing my clavinova anyway. "Without music, life would be a mistake" (Friedrich Nietzsche). Amen to that.
8:42 AM Take something away, and you're often better off for it. I stopped watching TV years ago. I get my news online. Even there I'm pretty selective since I try to avoid time-wasting and sophomoric sites. But every now and then I run across something so powerful I just have to press the pause button. An elder of a church in an ethnically-diverse part of the nation recently posted something about the race war that is ridiculously well-written. I've largely uninvited myself from the media party going on in our culture today. But sometimes you're forced to dig deep. Our social norms are changing before our very eyes. Some think it's for the better. I have my doubts. I rest in the knowledge that, ultimately, it's God who's moving the chess pieces around. That said, when a pastor with tons of street cred speaks out, maybe it's time to pay attention. He might just have a point. He speaks of the ethnic diversity in his congregation. (He himself is non-Anglo.) He is concerned about racial bias -- and racial barbs. About bigotry and animus. About the direction in which the immigration debate in our country is going. I realize the novelty of not linking to his essay, but my point here is not to quote what others are saying but to ask, "What are we thinking and doing about it?" You? Me? I am uptohere with books and online essays and videos about the culture war we Americans are facing. What I see lacking are faith communities that embrace the grave challenges of the Gospel. Happy exceptions do come along, however, and in that I rejoice. Every person has a voice. Speak out if that's how the Lord is leading you. But going public with your views isn't necessary to make a difference. Turns out I'm confronted with my own unconscious bias on a daily basis. I can either ignore it and hope it will vanish, or I can confront it head on. We live in a day when evangelical Christianity is being redefined. If we're not very careful, what started out as the turning of a blind eye can turn into a way of life. I wonder where we get our disregard of the immigrant? It's certainly not from the Gospel. If we truly follow Jesus, then someday we'll need to make the transition from advocate to neighbor. The Gospel brings us together, regardless of our race and national origin. I know this because I grew up as an ethnic minority. What if we tried to solve this problem together? Maybe the solution is right under our noses. Maybe we don't recognize justice because it's disguised as simple acts of other-kindness.
These thoughts burden me constantly. Trouble is, I can always make the problem someone else's. Listen lambs, when life becomes more about us than the marginalized, we have a problem. What is happening in American society today is a golden opportunity. This is our chance to become what we believe. This is a chance for us Americans to become who we know we are in our heart of hearts. We are better than bigotry. If not in the culture at large, then at the very least in the body of Christ.
6:58 AM According to my "definitive" (yes, that is a joke) 79-page introduction to textual criticism, there are about 2,000 significant textual variants in the New Testament. (Ehrman seems to think there are about 400,000; Wallace about 4,000.) A "significant" variant, in my humble opinion, is one that affects both translation and (therefore) interpretation. The most famous of these are treated in two books I've been privileged to edit:
I became interested in the subject in 1975, when I took a course in textual criticism from Dr. Harry Sturz of Biola University's Greek Department. Few teachers have made such a significant impact on my life. We read, we translated, we parsed, we collated. By the time I finished seminary I had fallen in love with the discipline and had even written my master's thesis on the famous textual variant in Eph. 1:1. I consider the art and science of textual criticism so important that I even included it as 1 of 10 steps in my book Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. The kindest thing you can do for your Greek students is to at least expose them to the usefulness of this discipline.
In 1 Thess. 2:7, we encounter what I would call a "first-class textual variant" or a "textual variant of the first order." Much has been written about it, including this essay I'm having my Greek 4 students read this semester.
What did Paul write here?
"But we became babies among you...."
"But we became gentle among you ...."
The article I cited above argues for the latter reading. Delobel, its author, considers the reading "babies" to be "almost a lectio impossibilis" -- an "impossible reading" (p. 131). Cut to my primer. There I argue that the most geographically widespread reading is most likely to be the original one. This tips the scales in favor of "babies" over "gentle." But is "babies" a nonsense reading, an impossibility? Depends on who you read. "Babies" is possibly due to the repetition of the final letter of the word that comes right before it in Greek (this process is called dittography, "writing twice"). Here's "babies" in Greek:
And here's NEPIOI combined with EGENETHEMEN ("We became"), the word that precedes it:
The question for exegetes is this: Should we read one "N" or two? If we read only one, then we end up with "gentle" (EPIOI). If we read two, then we have "babies" (NEPIOI). I would argue that we can't settle the case one way or the other on the basis of the internal evidence since the error could have gone in either direction. (If dittography can occur in manuscripts of the New Testament, so can haplography -- the inadvertent omission of a letter or letters in writing). The old story illustrates this well:
Atheist Teacher: GODISNOWHERE. (God is nowhere.)
Christian Student: GODISNOWHERE. (God is now here.)
What then do we make of the sudden shift of metaphors -- from "babies" to "nursing mother" -- in the very same breath? In his Textual Commentary (p.p. 629-630), Bruce Metzger notes that "though the shift of metaphor from that of babe to that of mother-nurse is admittedly a violent one, it is characteristically Pauline and no more startling than the sudden shift of metaphor in Ga. 4:19." Hmm. Sounds good to me. But hear this: I don't think God wants a war of words over this. On the other hand, don't underestimate the importance of being able to think intelligently about this subject.
How do I summarize a topic that is so vast? Back to that 79-page book I mentioned above. A major theme of my primer is that anybody can learn the rudiments of New Testament textual criticism. No Bible degree required. Even a guy with your typical Hawaiian laid-back-whatevah-attitude sees the value in this discipline. So grab yourself a copy of New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide and have at it. I promise you that all proceeds from the sale of the book will go directly to needy children.
Monday, January 15
10:15 AM It's 19 degrees.
Sheba and I have been on the porch enjoying the brilliant sunshine.
I've been listening to 1A on NPR. It's a very disturbing program about injustice but one I need to hear. I'll save my run for when the weather warms up.
8:45 AM As a kid growing up in Hawaii, I cut my eyeteeth on the old King James Version Bible. Even today, when I quote a verse of Scripture, the first rendering that comes to mind is the KJV. One such verse is 1 Thess. 5:19:
Most of us doth not speaketh this way anymore, so you'll find more colloquial renderings of this verse, such as:
1 Thessalonians has an enormous amount to say to our contemporary church situation, not least in the area of Christian living. That's one of the reasons I chose it as the focus of our Greek 4 class. The way in which Paul handles the "stifling of the Spirit" in Thessalonica has a curiously modern ring to it. Here I think of books like Strange Fire and its response Strangers to Fire. Both of these books call us to reexamine some longstanding assumptions about church life and the role of the Spirit in our daily lives. I want my students to examine for themselves the role that charismatic Christianity plays in today's world. Hopefully we won't duck out of the more controversial issues Paul seems to be dealing with in 1 Thessalonians 5. We are far too prone to view the Holy Spirit as a doctrine to be discussed. Alas, He is far more than that. We need constantly, as Paul reminds us in 1 Thess. 5:19, to examine ourselves and check up on our relationship with the Spirit, otherwise for all our preaching and teaching we ourselves might prove to be reprobates. It if could happen in Thessalonica, it can happen in Raleigh and Roxboro and in your hometown. The one lesson from 1 Thessalonians we must all take away is that the Christian life is one of suffering. Holy Spirit power is not always displayed in the miraculous. More often than not, "We have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not of us." This is Paul's famous "power-perfected-in-weakness" doctrine, a topic I studied in some detail in one of my books.
The Master suffered. So will we. We are not called to be successes. We are called to obedience. Heirs of the age to come, we are still heirs to all the fallennness and frailty of the present age. I suspect that the young church at Thessalonica struggled with this doctrine, as do some of us today. But a truly apostolic church is nothing if it isn't a church that carries with it the dying of the Lord Jesus. It's authenticity is drawn from its identification with the poor and downtrodden, from suffering, from enduring mockery and persecution. That's why when someone this week belittled the African nation in which my wife grew up, my mind instantly went to a time when someone said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" What a ridiculous idea that the Gospel produces weaklings! Many of us grew up "on the other side of the tracks." But through His Spirit, Christ makes His followers strong, regardless of the place of their birth or their background. The power of His name is available through faith to all who call upon Him. We read in Hebrews of those who "out of weakness were made strong" (Heb. 11:34). A sickly Christian is subnormal. We can be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
The apostles of the New Testament provided the norms of doctrine. A writing such as 1 Thessalonians shows us how newborn Christians sometimes need a bottle. Eventually, however, they also need to be fed meat and to begin to discern the mind of God for themselves through the indwelling presence of the Spirit and through the Scriptures. It is to that measure of maturity that Paul was calling the Thessalonians. And it is to that measure of maturity that he is calling the church of today. There is, perhaps, no higher calling in all the world.
Sunday, January 14
8:42 PM Well, I decided to make a reservation at the NRocks Via Ferrata in West Virginia for later this week. This has got to be one of North America's best kept secrets.
Europe has a gazillion of these "iron roads." I climbed one in Zermatt a couple of summers ago and let me tell you, it wasn't easy. It took me several hours to climb only 1,800 vertical feet. Here's my GoPro from that climb should you be interested in seeing what it's like.
The trip to the Via Ferrata in West Virginia will be a three-day affair. I'll need to drive up to Harrisonburg the night before, climb the next day, then rest up back in H-Burg before my long drive home. But it sounds like the perfect adventure to help me celebrate my last few days of vacation before school starts again. The temps will be a bit on the cold side (in the 30s) but the forecast is calling for sunny skies. Being that it's off-season, I got a great rate for my climb, and it looks like I'll be the only climber that day so it's almost like a private tour. Of course, I'll take my GoPro with me and see if I can capture any exciting views. You're clipped into a safety system the whole way comprised of steel rungs and ladders. This year, as you probably know, I'm trying to ramp up my climbing time, distance, and elevation in the hopes of summiting Mont Blanc this summer -- which, from what I hear, requires an almost super-human level of fitness. Am I up for it? Training climbs like the Via Ferrata will hopefully help me sort things out in my brain. The rigors of a three-day expedition to a high altitude summit like Mont Blanc is a serious undertaking. A strong body, especially a strong core, is essential. I'm trying to take my training one day at a time, because, honestly, the whole enterprise seems rather daunting. But even if I never make it to Mont Blanc, climbing is still good for me.
What, if anything, are you doing to make your life what you want it to be right now? Be careful about your choices. We can't do everything we want to do. Just make each day count.
9:50 AM Who cares about restrictive versus non-restrictive clauses? I do! Note the difference between:
In the first sentence, "which is in the garage" is not an essential clause. However, in the second sentence, "that is in the garage" is an essential clause. It specifies a certain mower and sets it apart from the others. In other words, "that" is being used in a restrictive sense and therefore lacks a comma before it.
In 1 Thess. 2:13-16, a great debate has been raging over this very issue.
Did Paul assign blame for the death of Jesus to all of the Jews or only to those Jews who actually had him put to death? Compare the NASB and the ISV:
The ISV clearly takes the clause "who killed ..." as restrictive. Hence the absence of a comma. Weima notes (p. 170), "The ... clause deals with the role that some Jews played in the death of Jesus and the prophets...." (italics added). Bruce adds (p.p. 46-47), " ... even in Acts the responsibility is limited to the Jerusalemites and their rulers (Acts 2:23, 36; 3:13-17; 7:52; 13:27, 28)."
Improve your foreign language skills. Improve your English language skills. It's just that simple.
So what are you waiting for?
8:46 AM It's been quite a week ...
But the news is not all bad. Did you read the amazing story about a teacher in upstate New York who'll be running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents this month and teaching her students about geography while doing it? Hope she finishes. As for our concert last night, words fail. Not only was "Pictures at an Exhibition" performed flawlessly, the conductor was a real trip to watch as he jogged across the stage and jumped up and down while conducting.
His name is Rune Bergmann and he hails from Norway. Currently he's the Music Director at Calgary's Philharmonic Orchestra. My favorite NC Symphony conductor is, of course, Grant Llewellyn, but if you're going to have a substitute, might as well make the evening interesting! The standing ovation that he and the entire orchestra received was well deserved for sure.
"Pictures" is one of the most exhilarating pieces ever written. The brass section's performance was brilliant. And to think that the entire piece was composed to honor a friend who had died. Praise be to God!
Saturday, January 13
12:12 PM It was a beautiful day for a run. I got in 5 miles at the local rails-to-trail course at a 13 min./mi. pace.
The swamp was eerie-looking to say the least.
I'm home now devouring some cream of broccoli soup, a fresh chicken salad sandwich with lettuce, and a glorious sweet pickle!
Like the majority of runners, I'm a heel striker. That's not a good thing, and it's a problem I'm really working on resolving in 2018. When you land on your heel, your ankles and knees suffer the impact. When you land mid-foot (where you should be landing), your calves can act as much-needed shock absorbers. Heel striking has been compared to hitting the brakes every time you try to drive your car somewhere. So today I focused on landing mid-foot. The nice thing is that a mid-foot strike doesn't make me feel all out of whack. It's almost as though my body is saying, "Oh, Dave, this feels so much better." I just hope I don't give up on the concept. My other goal is to increase my pace and reduce my stride. I'm becoming really good at that. Anyways, I'm hooked on this sport. Sure, it involves hours and hours of training. For me, every new day is another starting line in life. Every day I'm asked to face myself with honesty. And every day I discovery the joy of running anew. Every time I run, I'm grateful to those runners who silently beckoned me to join them.
How about you?
7:50 AM A few random reflections before I head out to the Y:
1) Yesterday the high was 70. Today the high will be 45, and on Sunday 34. As long as it stays above 0, I'm good.
2) This evening is the event I've been looking forward to for such a very long time. Accompanied by three of my kids, Lord willing I'll be attending the NC Symphony's performance of Mussorgsky's fabulous Pictures at an Exhibition. A few of us saw this same performance a few months after Becky passed away. I'm sure memories will flood my mind tonight. No words can describe the jubilation I felt when the orchestra played the victorious final movement. It's almost as though I could see Becky entering the gates of heaven and being greeted by the Master she served so long and so well. That evening was a pure gift of God to me. Tonight my story will continue to unfold. I have a sense that the story will be good. In fact, because of the mercy and grace of the Lord, my whole life is turning out to be what appears to be a very happy book. Grateful.
Care to watch the concert online? There's no better performance than this one. If you're pressed for time, begin the video at 29:25. You won't be disappointed.
3) Just for fun, I decided to list the marathon times of a few people we all know.
The latter stat is a bit interesting. Previously, in an interview while he was a candidate for vice president, Mr. Ryan remembered his marathon time as being around 2:50. That's under 3 hours -- quite a feat! This led to no little controversy. Later, a student at Harvard developed the Paul Ryan Time Calculator. I'm not making this up, folks.
No word about President Trump's time ....
4) Along with my coffee every morning, I'm reading through a different English translation of 1 Thessalonians.
Upside: You get to see how Bible scholars have rendered the book. Downside: You keep scratching your head wondering how they got that from the Greek. 1 Thessalonians has five chapters, right? And they all end with a reference to the second coming of Christ, right? That's a priceless observation. I heard it as early as my Sunday School classes in Hawaii. Journey with me on a quick sidebar if you will: Who decided on where to make the chapter divisions? They aren't in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. Everyone I've read agrees that 1 Thess. 2:17-3:10 belongs together as a major unit within the body of the letter. "Chapter 2," then, should probably have ended in 2:16. But then we'd have a chapter that didn't end with a reference to the Parousia. Please, don't miss this. Before we can study a book of the New Testament, we need to discover the distinct literary units it contains. Then we need to put them all together into a whole. A good commentary will always have a section called "literary analysis" or "structure of the book." It's just not right for us to exegete a New Testament letter like 1 Thessalonians without understanding something about its discourse structure. The fertile soil of discourse analysis is where exegesis forms roots and actually bears fruit. We ignore it at our peril.
5) Finally, Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon 50 years ago, shares her 2018 running goal. She'll be running the London Marathon for the first time. You go, lady Kathrine! I love how the article ends:
I get it. I totally get it!
Friday, January 12
7:42 PM Making more muffins tonight. Seems like this is becoming a weekly tradition. They're really fun to bake.
Even Sheba enjoys it (she's now licking the bowl). They are super versatile and I take them with me wherever I go, including the gym.
Is that the timer I hear?
7:08 PM My heart was deeply saddened today to read about the death of 68-year old Linda Evans, who was killed by a driver under the influence of drugs while she was out for a run near her home in Columbus, Ohio. This leaves me sick to my stomach. What a tragedy. For 37 years in a row, Linda had never missed her daily run. Every year she ran the Columbus Marathon since its inception in 1980. The 2017 race would have marked her 68th marathon. "It's hard now without her, but I've got six grandkids that I love dearly," said her husband Gary. "I'm hoping that they will grow up like Linda." I get pretty choked up just reading that.
When I began running a few years ago, I would run on the roads near the farm. Not any more. Honestly, rural Virginia is not a very safe place to run because of the way people drive. We're simply not looking out for runners. Today I do all of my runs either at the track or on the trail. Even then I run "defensively." I listen for bikes. I keep a close eye on my environment. I don't take shortcuts through the woods. If someone looks shady to me, I avoid them if I can. I always take my phone with me in case I get into trouble. I always run alone simply because I don't have any running friends where I live. I always run with an ID and emergency contact information. But I want to start doing a better job of letting my kids know when/where I'm running/biking/climbing that day.
Gary, I know you're probably not reading this, but if you are, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I don't have much to offer except to say, enjoy those grandchildren of yours. They will never replace your wife's presence, but they are reminders that the future is always bright. Like you said, your wife's influence will live on in them.
8:30 AM Don't go low. Go high. Donate today to an aid organization in Haiti or Africa. I recommend the Haiti Relief Fund. Channel your shock, anger, disappointment, displeasure, vexation, stupefaction (or whatever you're feeling) to good (Rom. 12:21).
6:25 AM Was Paul a "tentmaker" or a "leatherworker"? That's the question asked by Karl Paul Donfried in his chapter titled "Paul as [Skenopoios] and the Use of the Codex in Early Christianity" (pp. 293-304 of his book Paul, Thessalonica, and Early Christianity). He's discussing 2 Tim. 4:13:
The "books" are obviously scrolls made of papyrus containing portions of the Old Testament. Paul wants to have several of these scrolls at his disposal -- hence the plural "books."
Donfried suggests that the "cloak" here is not a coat but a "cloth for wrapping" -- a "carrying case," if you will, for the scrolls. The major debate here has to do with the meaning of tas membranas -- "the parchments." And bam, right in the middle of his chapter, Donfried comes up with a brilliant suggestion. These "parchments" were made of leather. Not only that. The term membranas also "seems clearly connected with the codex, the technical term for a leaf book" (p. 296). The codex was the earliest form of the modern "book." It eventually replaced papyrus and wax tablets as writing materials. It's main advantage, of course, was that it could be opened at once to any passage in a text.
Donfried goes on to establish that Paul was more than a tentmaker. He agrees with Meyer, Jeremias, Lake and others that the correct rendering of skenopoios should be "leatherworker." Paul likely used these parchments, which he himself had probably produced, to collect the necessary reference texts he would use in his evangelism. Moreover, Paul could have used them for the first-draft writing of his letters, since parchment was easily erasable.
My takeaways from this fascinating chapter?
1) Was Paul personally responsible, at least partly, for the development of the codex form of the book as early as the first century? Donfried seems to think so. "It is thus quite appropriate to speak of the apostle Paul as the most instrumental factor in the shaping of the book as we know it today, that is, in the form of a codex rather than a scroll" (p. 304).
2) Even though Paul is in prison awaiting execution at the hands of the Roman government, he's still eager to evangelize and perhaps even to continue his writing ministry until the Lord calls him home. In other words, even at the end of his life, Paul's mission was concentrated and unambiguous. My land, do I have far to go! My distractions are too numerous to count. But Paul kept his eye on "the only thing that matters" (Phil. 1:27).
3) I'm now in 1 Thessalonians, so what's the relevance of this chapter to my study? Back to Donfried. He takes Acts 17:1-3 as an example. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, he went into the synagogue ("as was his custom") and for three weeks argued with the Jews "from the Scriptures" that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. As Donfried notes, it's unlikely that Paul would be rolling and unrolling many feet of papyrus scrolls to locate his Old Testament passages. "The membrana is precisely that vehicle which would allow Paul to collect the necessary reference texts which he would require for these discussions" (p. 302).
I would add a fourth takeaway but then I would be accused of meddling: Y'all might could learn you some Greek!
Thursday, January 11
7:34 PM Here's one last nod back to 2017, "by the numbers." My thanks to all of you for your support, love, and prayers.
57. The number of years I've followed Jesus.
11. The number of classes I taught.
41. The number of years I've been teaching.
2. The number of my Ph.D. students who graduated.
65. The number of birthdays I've had.
1,139. The number of miles I put on my Map My Run app.
151,000. The number of calories I burned.
2. The number of grandbabies God added to our family.
1. The number of trips to Hawaii I made.
2. The number of triathlons I finished.
4. The number of half marathons I ran in.
6. The number of marathons I completed.
365. The number of days God was good to me and people were kind to me.
1:04 PM Today was a great break from running. Professionals call this "cross training," which basically means that you've discovered other ways than running to keep you fit and active. My days of pounding out 40 mile weeks of running are long gone. I'm finding that my old body responds best to a combination of running and other forms of exercise such as weight lifting, which I did today. My normal regiment includes bench press, incline flye, barbell high pull, lateral raise, and dumbbell biceps curl. The goal is not to lift weights. The goal is to become a better and stronger runner and mountaineer. I try to strength train at least twice a week. Weight lifting has definitely become a regular part of my fitness program.
In other news, I'm so excited that this book came today.
Fire and Fury will definitely have to take a back seat to it! In traditional exegesis, discourse analysis (textlinguistics) is often a forgotten handmaiden. Moreover, traditional exegesis often misses the point because it's so caught up in the trees and ignores the forest. The situation has changed today, and for the better. It's impossible to study a text today without being at least partly aware of the place of discourse analysis in the exegetical process. This requires three things: (1) competent training in the discipline, (2) a willingness on the part of the student of Scripture to take a back seat to the text, and (3) a willingness on the part of congregations to be content with nothing less than exposition that takes into account larger discourse units when interpreting, teaching, and preaching a passage of Scripture. Exegesis is never easy, but discourse analysis can lead to a very fruitful outcome. I have enormous admiration for Bruce Johanson and his contemporaries for applying the basic principles of discourse analysis to specific texts of the New Testament. I see this same commitment in many of my students. They are orthodox through and through theologically, but they are also immensely sharp intellectually. I wish I could ask all of them to read this book but sadly it's out of the print and the current price is prohibitive. I've edited a book that might be useful called Linguistics and New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Discourse Analysis.
How much good this book has done I have no earthly idea, but I was glad to edit it. It might make a good entree into the field for anyone curious enough to want to try their hand at the method.
Time to check on the animals!
8:12 AM Et voilà! Care to take a walk with me through a beautiful Greek garden? Here's my colon analysis of 1 Thess. 2:9-12. (Main clauses to the left; subordinate clauses to the right!)
Μνημονεύετε γάρ, ἀδελφοί, τὸν κόπον ἡμῶν καὶ τὸν μόχθον
ἐκηρύξαμεν εἰς ὑμᾶς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ
νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ἐργαζόμενοι πρὸς
τὸ μὴ ἐπιβαρῆσαί τινα ὑμῶν
ὑμεῖς [ἐστε] μάρτυρες καὶ [ἐστιν] ὁ θεός
ὡς ὁσίως καὶ δικαίως καὶ ἀμέμπτως ὑμῖν τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἐγενήθημεν
ὡς [ἐγενήθημεν ἐν ὑμῖν] ἕνα ἕκαστον ὑμῶν ὡς πατὴρ τέκνα ἑαυτοῦ
εἰς τὸ περιπατεῖν ὑμᾶς ἀξίως τοῦ θεοῦ
τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν ἑαυτοῦ βασιλείαν καὶ δόξαν
To get the flow, let me provide a translation:
For you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how we worked and toiled!
We proclaimed to you the Good News from God
while working night and day
so as not to be a burden to any of you.
You are our witnesses -- and so is God --
how pure, honest, and blameless we were to you believers,
just as you know how we treated you like a father treats his own children.
We were constantly encouraging you, comforting you, and urging you
to live your lives in a way that is worthy of God,
who calls you to share in His own kingdom and glory.
The passage clearly emphasizes Paul's "self-sufficient labor" (Weima, p. 149). As a general rule, he and his co-workers paid their own way while doing their missionary work. Paul then uses a father-child metaphor because he is, in a very real sense, their father in the faith. There's so much here for parents, and especially dads. The three verbs Paul uses to describe a father's actions are telling:
Dads, think about that. Are we living up to our responsibilities? Children require more from us parents than we could ever have imagined. There's just so much to do. But we can't forget the ultimate goal. I love this passage because it rings so true. Jesus is the only stability they'll ever know. Paul was constantly pointing his readers to the Lord. His kingdom is the only one that will endure.
Of course, Paul paints with the brush of idealism. There's no magic formula to raising kids. They can walk away. We can fail them. But when they are questioning (and we are gasping for air), there He is. The way we call our children to follow God's priorities (and not our own) and to seek His glory (and not their own) is a big deal to Jesus. If we're too busy to remind our kids of these truths, then we're too busy. Today, as a dad, I'm still working on these things. A perfect parent? Hardly. Humble, moldable, dependent, a useful vessel for God -- these are the qualities our kids will never acquire unless we parents acquire them first. If you haven't been a great parent in the past, Satan will tell you you're all washed up. That is a lie. The wisest parent is secure enough to reach out for help. Don't waste your time grieving over what is past. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It will grow slowly, imperceptivity, but grow it will.
Wednesday, January 10
7:58 PM For the two of you who might be interested, here's the course map of the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham, which my son Jon and I are running next month. The marathon course is exactly the same: you just run the course twice. As you can see, it has a good many turns.
It's also hilly. I mean, the elevation is greater than Diamond Head in Hawaii, which itself is a pretty good climb.
Hills are always a challenge!
This is, if I've counted correctly, my tenth half marathon. My fastest half was in Petersburg, VA, where I finished right around the 2:27 mark (I usually come in somewhere between 2:45 and 2:50). However, my "best" half marathon was my first half marathon, which I ran in Raleigh. The thrill of finishing your first half marathon is simply indescribable. But getting back to Birmingham .... I'm not a huge fan of hilly, curvy courses. My idea of a great course is the St. George Marathon in Utah, which I ran last October. Other than Veyo (the largest mountain on the course), you're mainly going downhill. There aren't really any turns on this course. You're on one road the whole way until about mile 24, and even then the turns are few and far between. I finished that race with a time of 5:41:40, which was (and still is) a PR. The Birmingham half will be an altogether different kind of beast, I think. This will by Jon's first long distance race. Usually when people are training for their first half marathon, they'll train by doing a 5K, then a 10K, then a 10-miler. Hardly anybody recommends that you run the entire 13.1 miles before race day; your adrenaline can be expected to carry you the last 3 miles to the finish. If I had any advice for newcomers to distance running it would be this: listen to your body more than you look at your watch. If you are in tune with your body, you will probably know when it's time to speed up and slow down, when it's to run and take a walk break, when it's time to drink and eat along the course. However, even if you listen to your body during the race, by the time you cross the finish line you will be sore, guaranteed. A half marathon is such a popular race in America partly, I believe, because it really pushes you physically and at the same time is a good test of your mental fortitude. That's why, when training for a half, respecting your body is such an important step. Learning to work with the body God has given you (and not necessarily the body you might have wanted) and learning to allow it to improve on its own terms is essential to your success as a runner. I noticed that the Birmingham event is limited to 4,000 runners for the half marathon and 1,000 runners for the full. This is good as it will limit the jostling that inevitably occurs at some of your larger races. The half also has a very generous time limit of 4 hours. The only question Jon and I need to work out is our pace -- do we want to finish together and, if so, how fast do we want to run? Of course, it will be totally up to Jon if he wants to stay together. I imagine him sprinting past me at some point in the course! I don't have a runner's body and I'm just not very fast. But what I can work on is developing a runner's soul. It isn't a bib number that makes you a runner. It's running. It's the challenge of facing your own limitations and pushing through them. That's the difference between a runner and someone who just runs. My hope that by running the Birmingham half marathon, Jon will discover (and I will rediscover) the joy of long distance running. I imagine we will share the joy of each other's victory long after the race is over.
Tomorrow I'm taking the day off from running and will work out at the gym instead. I've found it best to weight train at least twice a week if possible. Then on Friday I hope to get in a 10 mile run.
So what are your race/training goals for 2018?
1:40 PM Continuing my half marathon and marathon training program ....
Today I did a 10K run at the Tobacco Heritage Trail, beginning in LaCrosse and running to Brodnax, where I turned around and ran back to home base.
My runs nowadays are fairly slow affairs. As proof, here's my average pace: 14:25/mi. And my average speed: 4.2 mph. It's less than a month until the Birmingham half, so I still need to go 9-10 miles and then finish up with a 13.1 mile run before tapering. Today was not my best run but not my worst. Anyhow, it was a good training day, and I'm feeling like I'm preparing as well as I can for the race. It's been 10 days since the Allen marathon and I must say that I'm feeling fully recovered, praise the Lord.
Wait a minute. Did I just say I ran 6.2 miles today to help me recovery from a marathon? Runners are some crazy dudes.
8:08 AM Here's a quick update today on my attempt to write (again) a complete colon analysis of 1 Thessalonians. Here's 2:1-8.
I know you can't read that picture; it's too small. But you get the gist. Here's a more detailed look at the first two colons.
Paul's train of thought?
1) You yourselves know, dear brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not a waste of time.
2) In fact, we were bold in our God to speak to you the Gospel of God in the midst of much conflict, despite the fact that we had suffered before and been mistreated in Philippi, as you well know.
No matter where we are in life, no matter where life takes us, it's important that we don't waste our time doing things that don't really count. Time is finite. Paul was keenly aware that one day he would stand before God and be judged for everything he did in his body. There was work for him to do, work that only he could do. That's why he's relieved to be able to say to his readers, "My visit to you wasn't in vain. God accomplished what He was wanting to accomplish." The old cliché is true: Less is, in fact, more. Yet we so easily succumb to the more is more mentality. I live with this fear all of the time, fear that I'm going to become too distracted to live well and a little more wisely. I don't want to have this fear but it's there all the same. Perhaps the key is to begin each new day, each new undertaking, with God. We can't get off to a good start without Him. How foolish of us to run off to work without breakfast, and yet how much greater is the danger of running off to work without bringing our day under the scrutiny of His all-seeing eye and the guidance of His loving hands. Begin the day with God. It will not only sanctity you for tomorrow, it will prepare you for today.
7:10 AM The movie Farther Than the Eye Can See tells the story of a blind athlete named Erick Weihenmayer and his successful summit of Mount Everest. The movie had its share of platitudes about overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you, but the clichés were more than offset by the amazing cinematography and the incredible courage of Erik and his team.
What impressed me most about Erik was his modesty and optimism. As humbly as he knew how, he was going to conquer Everest. I've always been a soul that seeks adventure, driven by some unexplained urge to challenge the parameters of my world. I suppose my attitude toward mountain climbing is the same attitude I had toward surfing when I was younger. You must learn to face danger and be responsible for yourself. Everything in mountaineering is ultimately your decision. When I come back home from a climb or a marathon, I feel totally renewed as a human being – stronger and more capable of facing life's unpredictable terms. By climbing the Alps this summer I hoped to inspire my children and grandchildren to take a closer look at their own lives and to consider whether God might still have some dreams for them to live.
Each person faces a choice in life. When we face grief or loss, we can quit or we can have the courage to persevere, even if in the end we fail to reach our goals. In Erik's story I found inspiration to continue to test my own limits. If we never test our limits, we will never know what they are. I would like to believe that the roads in life we choose depend less on external circumstances and more on internal longings that compel us as humans to reach the heights of whatever mountains we are facing in life. Successful people take what they have and make something of it. But you can't be passive. You have to grasp the opportunities as they come along and, through hard work, stir up that tiny ember that burns within you.
I realize that the battle to become a mountaineer is won or lost through my weekly training program – those unglamorous times in the morning when you don't want to get out of your warm bed to run 10 miles or work out at the gym. It's just another one of the universe's hidden truths: without training, there can be no success. Tentative doesn't cut it. When I climbed the Alps two summers ago, I went for it 100 percent.
Total commitment. Heart and soul. So today, I'm learning to embrace the hard work of preparation. Without it, there can be no meaningful achievement. I talked about this at length when I had dinner last night with two very close friends, both elders. How do you accomplish an audacious goal? One step at a time.
If anything, Erik's story is a reminder that summits in life don't come easy. You have to be willing to go through pain to reach your goal. As Erik proves, never underestimate the power of perseverance. Pick your goals carefully, think clearly about it – then act decisively, suppressing your fears. I see these qualities in Erik and, to a much lesser degree, in my own soul. But the more I do with the little I have, the more opportunities will gravitate towards me.
Tuesday, January 9
12:26 PM Today I'm booking my flights to attend the ETS Southwest Regional Meeting in Fort Worth, March 2-3. The venue is Southwestern Seminary. I attend this conference every year because it allows me to spend time with mom and dad in Dallas as well as usually get a paper in. The theme of this year's conference is "New in the Old and Old in the New." Greg Beale is the plenary speaker. Should be great. My paper proposal reads as follows:
How does that work for "technicaleze"? LOL! The working title is: "Colon Analysis of the Greek New Testament: With Special Reference to Heb. 1:1-4 and the Author's Emphasis on the Old Testament as Prophecy."
12:04 PM I just finished writing a training plan for my next two big races: The Mercedes Birmingham Half Marathon on February 11, and the Tobacco Road Marathon in Raleigh on March 18. Woohoo! Today I did a 5K at the track.
I have two more runs scheduled this week: One for 9 miles, and the other for 13. Crazy? Yes. But I like crazy. It's pretty exciting and scary!
8:44 AM Hi folks,
I've been arguing on this blog for some time that Paul was eager to show genuine affection for his readers, despite his superordinate position as an apostle. Hats off to Trevor Burke for his brilliant essay in the Tyndale Bulletin called "Pauline Paternity in 1 Thessalonians."
It's been on my stack of journal articles to read this week and I finally got around to perusing (devouring is more like it) the essay. Burke writes, "...Paul's patriarchal role undergirds everything he is and does for the Thessalonians" (p. 76). Just what does this role look like? Concern. Love. Provision. Dads in the ancient world "... loved their children above and beyond that of their offspring's love for them" (p. 77). And don't miss the note of tenderness, insists Burke. Paul likens his separation from his beloved friends in Thessalonica as a "bereavement," like that of death. He is anxious for them and grieves their separation. Finally, "... Paul, rather than making financial demands of his spiritual children, chooses instead to be self-supporting, thereby displaying his kindly feelings and love for them" (p. 79).
I rest my case.
I have to say that the best part of this essay is Burke's exegesis of the Greek text. The most insightful observation, I thought, was when he discussed Paul's use aporphanisthentes in 2:17 -- a word that goes beyond the mere idea of being "orphaned" but "... applies also to parents bereft of their offspring" (p. 78, n. 55). That's a very wonderful (and woeful) sentiment and one I've felt on many occasions.
During this season of life when my children are grown and gone, I would do well to remember how Paul treated his "kids." Jesus operates beyond the black-and-white boundaries of books on parenting. An incredibly useful resource for parents would be to read -- duh! -- a book like 1 Thessalonians. Our children need in us spiritual mentors that will point them away from us and to the word of God as the only reliable guide to life. If they are to learn how to love Jesus beyond the four walls of our homes, we need to give them something to stick to in the real world.
On another note (but still related to 1 Thessalonians), last night I read Ralph Martin's discussion of the Thessalonian Epistles in his New Testament introduction.
I dare say nobody uses this book as a classroom text today, though it was very popular when I was in seminary. (Dave, you can expect the same with your tomes!) I knew Ralph quite well when I was teaching at Biola (and he at Fuller). He was the first modern scholar to quote extensively from my doctoral dissertation (Paul, Apostle of Weakness) in his outstanding commentary on 2 Corinthians. We disagreed on many issues -- he thought I held to a narrowly infallibilistic view of Scripture, for example -- but I was always struck by the high caliber of his work as a scholar and his affability as a person. His introduction to the New Testament (in 2 volumes) is well worth your time. Chapter 13 of volume 2 is entitled "Persecution and Parousia in the Thessalonian Letters." I'm not saying this chapter will resolve all the controversies in these two letters, but it will go a long ways towards it.
Finally (and totally unrelated to 1 Thessalonians), I have now lost water in my entire house. This can't be due to frozen water lines because yesterday it got into the 40s and today it will be 55. Since I am a complete Doofus, I've sent for the reinforcements: two of my kids. It feels good to have experts in all things mechanical in the family. I'm filled with gratitude.
I'm off to the gym and the track. It's too gorgeous of a day to stay indoors for very long.
Monday, January 8
6:02 PM Today was a glorious day spent at the office in Wake Forest then seeing my physical therapist, who stretched my legs and massaged my calves. Ono-licious, as we would say in Hawaii. The high temp today was 44 degrees but it never got warm enough to thaw out the pond, so when I got home I carried a bucket of water out to the goats, which I've been doing daily until the pond melts.
It's such a joy to provide for these beautiful and carefree animals.
Reminds me of how tenderly my Good Shepherd always cares for me. Tending to the land and the animals. I love my life.
Remember to close the gate on the way out.
7:06 AM In 1 Thess. 2:1-12, Paul reviews and defends his ministry among the Thessalonians. Just like in 1:2-10, there's a noticeable movement here from the activity of Paul and his fellow missionaries to the response of the Thessalonians. Paul does two things specifically in this passage: he shows how he came to them in a spirit of love, and he denies that he had been wrongly motivated. As in Galatians and 2 Corinthians, Paul becomes very personal and transparent in this text. His message and his personal integrity can't be separated. The life he lived before God and before the Thessalonians is proof that his ministry was based on love. He was ready to share with them not only the Good News but his own life. "You are our witnesses, and so is God, that our conduct toward you was pure, right, and without fault" (2:12). I'd probably label a sermon on this passage something like, "Christlikeness as the Missionary Strategy." I'd explain how missions is like midwifery: For God to birth new life in people, He must use our lives, our work, our humility, our obedience, our faith, our prayers, our sacrifice. Throughout the New Testament, we see this principle at work. "As you go, train the people from every nation how to follow me in obedience and love." And one way this is accomplished, generation after generation, is through our modeling for others the downward path of Jesus. Upward mobility? Take a hike. It's all about downward mobility. For instance, instead of "Do for me," it's "I'll do for others" (Phil. 2:3-4). Jesus often modeled this principle for us in the Gospels. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." He was right.
Is this principle, this way of living, too idealistic? Comedian George Carlin once said, "Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist." I grew up an idealist about the church. That is, until my church fired our pastor. I was about 12 years old at the time. Our elderly pastor had suffered a minor stroke and his speech became slurred. Yet he remained the same godly, gentle shepherd he had always been. "He's too difficult to listen to," people complained. So off he went. Since then I've become deeply distrustful of religion. Isn't God's power perfected in our weaknesses? Didn't Paul boast in his stake in the flesh? "Well, Dave, a preacher has got to be easy to listen to." That doesn't cut it for me, friend. I could understand him perfectly. You see, the message he brought Sunday after Sunday was more than words. I'm reminded of one of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. On one of these trips, one of our elders came with Becky and me. This was in fact his third trip with us to Ethiopia. On his first two visits he had taught the Scriptures daily to the church elders. Indeed, the man's a wonderfully gifted Bible teacher. But on his third trip he did nothing of the kind. He had heard that our health clinic needed painting, so he volunteered to head up the paint crew. For two weeks, all he did was slap paint on the walls of our clinic buildings. I once told this story in a seminar I was giving on church leadership. Afterwards two young pastors-in-the-making came up to me and said. "It was wrong of your pastor to have painted. His gift is pastor-teacher. He should have been teaching." I replied, as gently as I could, "Don't you see? He was teaching." He pastored that painting project, even if no one would call it pastoring. In him I saw Jesus with a towel and a basin.
I am drawn toward this kind of lifestyle. I want my "ministry" to encompass all of human life. The more I repent of my own sin and blindness, the more the Lord nudges me beyond my missing-the-point leadership principles. At yesterday's 5K, I showed people that a Baptist cared about the death of an Episcopalian teenage who died in an alcohol-related car accident. The funds raised at the race will go toward driver education in the Raleigh school system. Maybe, just maybe, one less family will go through the unspeakable grief of losing their son or daughter in an avoidable car wreck. When my pastor was let go many years ago, it broke my child's heart. Yet the experience was a gift to me in every way. I see that now. A new truth. I see this truth in Paul's "I came to you in weakness, fear, and trembling" theology. I see it in the Christ hymn of Phil. 2:5-11. And I see it in Paul and his fellow missionaries in 1 Thess. 2:1-12. "We were gentle among, like a mother taking care of her children" (2:7). I am suggesting this, pastors: Bang the drum for vulnerability. You are more than a disseminator of information. You are also a fellow believer, and the family needs you to be tender with us and with yourself. I know you're trying to get this church thing right. We all are. Perhaps it starts with 1 Thess. 2:1-12: coming into our communities and our lives without impure motives, without flattering talk, without words used to cover up greed. Instead, please be gentle among us, like a loving mother and an encouraging father. "You were so dear to us," wrote Paul (2:8). We love you too. Together, we can make our faith communities beautiful again.
Sunday, January 7
7:02 PM A 5K race in beautiful downtown Raleigh on a sunny day? Don't mind if I do! The temp was 27 but that's nothing compared to my race in Dallas last Monday. It's definitely still winter in North Carolina though. The race was sponsored by Christ Church, Raleigh.
It's located right across the street from the state capitol.
At 2:00 pm we were off.
The race was a simple out and back through the historic district of Raleigh. All kinds of architecture kept me fascinated. Here's the Baptist church.
And the Methodist church.
We turned around at one of the city's most well-known landmarks, the bell tower on the campus of NC State. The race, to say the least, was a bit hilly.
But I'm pleased with my consistent pace. The vitals stats:
My time was 32:07, not very fast but good enough for a first place in my age group.
At the end of the race my lungs were on fire but I recovered quickly. The bling was fantastic. This represents 40 bucks worth of goodies!
Afterwards I celebrated Ethiopian New Years at the Abyssinia with these wonderful believers.
What's not to like about genuine Ethiopian fresh-roasted coffee?
I came, I ran, I froze, I ate! (Apologies to Caesar.) Time to watch a good movie and go to bed!
9:20 AM The current issue of Biola Magazine came in the mail yesterday. (I'm a two-time alum of Biola -- '75 and '80.) Among other things, it features a report on the new "Center for the Study of the Work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit Today," directed by Oscar Merlo.
The goal is fourfold, according to the report:
To quote the director:
Why do I find this so attractive? Because I'm 100 percent sure that it's time to put sinew into the words "Spirit" and "spiritual." When I was an undergrad at Biola, we were required to read He That Is Spiritual by Chafer. Today's generation would do well to get their hands on Gordon Fee's books on the Holy Spirit. As Fee has often said, theology can't pay mere lip service to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was certainly one of the key features in Paul's letters, as we'll see in our study of 1 Thessalonians. I grew up immersed in a fairly non- or even anti-charismatic Christian culture with heavy emphasis on linear thinking and dogma. Eventually I embraced listening. It seems clear to me that the whole matter of the work of the Spirit in our daily lives transcends "charismatic" versus "non-charismatic" categories. Believe it or not, our students are craving something more than knowledge. Let's put the Spirit in front of them. Let's teach them how to be filled with the Spirit and care about the world beyond their iPhones. The best we can do is give them the word balanced by "power, the Holy Spirit, and full conviction" (1 Thess. 1:5).
Saturday, January 6
5:14 PM Tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 pm is the annual Run for Young in downtown Raleigh. The race is held in memory of a young man who was killed as a passenger in an alcohol related accident in 2007. I've run this 5K twice in the past. I went ahead and registered for the race, although I'm not sure I'll be up to another cold-weather event so soon after Dallas. On the other hand, a drive to Raleigh is always a good excuse to eat Ethiopian food. Either way, my registration fee and donation will go to a great cause: safe driving education programs.
4:56 PM The low tonight will be 2 degrees. Folks, don't forget the three "p"s: people, pets, and pipes.
4:48 PM Just stumbled across this: Marathon Investigation. The idea is to catch people who are trying to cheat their way into the Boston Marathon. Oh my.
4:25 PM Here are the readings for the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians (our Greek 4 class), in case you were wondering:
This stuff is so rich it should get its own tax bracket. Heartfelt thanks to my assistant, Noah Kelley, for his help in compiling our bibliography for the semester.
12:08 PM Yes, yes, YES! Awesome workout at the Y this morning. I absolutely love the gym. Weight training requires equal amounts of physical and mental strength. The goal is not to become merely physically stronger as the weeks go by but mentally stronger as well. Today I feel like I could run another marathon tomorrow. (Don't worry: I won't. Maybe a 5K but that's it.) Words can't describe how thrilling it is to run a marathon. It's definitely something that ought to be at the top of everyone's bucket list. Thank you, Lord, for the strength and health to be up and about!
Speaking of health, it's probably time for a nap. Must. Sleep. Now. Bye!
6:50 AM This morning I was up at 5:00 am thinking about my goals for 2018. Last year my big goal was to slow down a little bit and focus on what's really important in life. It was a year of quiet weekends, lots of time with family, and less stress. The one thing I can't believe is how quickly the years have passed. Can you believe I've been blogging since November 2003? That's 14 years. I think I have written the most boring collection of blog posts known to man. What's more, in November I commemorated 4 years without Becky. And just think: I'm in my 42nd year of teaching. Amazing. I simply can't fathom that.
Last year I tried out some new activities and enjoyed several major accomplishments. Many of them were a team effort, relying on a myriad of factors including help from my assistant and the encouragement of publishers. But running a marathon was different. This was a goal that could be accomplished only by one person committing to it fully: me. There's no way to describe walking back to my hotel after the Flying Pig Marathon in May and hearing complete strangers say, "Congratulations." For the most part, my emotions were a combination of relief, joy, pride, and gratitude to the One who gave me the wherewithal to finish the race.
In June I celebrated turning 65. My family put on a surprise Hawaiian luau for me. There are no words to describe what that meant to me. 2018 is now here and who knows where it will go? I know that most of us are longing for God to do something new in our lives. Maybe there's something I can't see. And that's my prayer for the new year: that I will be able to see something I couldn't see before, and that I would trust Him to grant me the eyes to see it. A tiny part of that is seeking ways to lead the students in my 4 classes this semester to move beyond knowledge and see the world God created, to see how full of beauty and mystery it is, to see a world around them that awaits discovery each and every day. I want them to be fully aware and alive. I want them to see that life is fully lived only when the whole system -- body, soul, and spirit -- works together. (Sometimes the most spiritual things in life are the most physical. When we become physically active, we honor our bodies and the God who created them.) I want them to learn how to celebrate dark places, to believe that what is empty can be filled, to allow God to walk them through brokenness. I want them to step back and discover new rhythms and sounds in their lives. Above all, I want them to think of the well-being and happiness of others first. That's the work of the Gospel, isn't it? Like Paul in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:5), the energy we expend on kingdom building is done on behalf of others.
So what does 2018 hold for me? I have no idea. But I know that He will guide me. "When it's over," wrote Mary Oliver in When Death Comes, "I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms." That's my prayer for you, dear reader. Never stop dreaming. Don't fear your humanness. If you feel stuck, open your eyes to the hidden things of God in your life. Drive to the mountains or to the ocean. A new vantage point may be just what you need to see the new thing God has in store for you. But wherever you find it, remember that it's always a gift.
Friday, January 5
6:45 PM Last month, BBC Travel published a fascinating article called How the South Korean Language was designed to unify. There seems to be more "we" and "our" in Korean than "I" and "my." Of the 6 trips I've been blessed to make to South Korea to teach, I remember learning this lesson on my second visit to Seoul. When asked to show someone a picture of my dogs, I produced a photo of my two Shelties and then asked, "How do you say 'my two dogs' in Korean?" The response was (and here I'm back-translating into English), "Our two dogs." The term "uri" (our) kept coming up over and over again. It totally made sense to me. After all, the dogs belonged to both Becky and me. Which got me thinking about 1 Thess. 1:2. Here Paul (the author of 1 Thessalonians) uses the plural "we" and then continues to use this pronoun throughout the letter (the 3 exceptions being 2:18; 3:5; and 5:27). The plural is a reminder to the Thessalonians "that all three of them [Paul, Silas, and Timothy] were in that original ministry together" (Fee, p. 20).
Once again, I like that about Paul. He's got no problem receding into the group. Of course, he doesn't always do that. I do it even less. I use "I" most of the time when I write. This wasn't always the case. In seminary, if you were caught using the first person pronoun in a paper (whether "I" or "we") you were immediately sent to the Russian Front. "The author" was the only self-respecting way to refer to yourself. Better yet, we were told to use the passive voice. Today I choose to use "I" because I think it connects better with my readers. I also tend to use "you" instead of "one." I could go on and on: "I found that" is better than "It was found that." Of course, I haven't really addressed the question of whether I might want to use "we" in my writing more often than I do. Actually, I haven't thought about the matter all that much. But I will say this: I think maintaining a simple, informal blog -- where you use "I" or "we" and even contractions like "I'm" and "we're" -- is a great way to improve one's -- er -- your writing skills.
5:52 PM Best wishes to Robert Siegel as he signs off today for the last time on NPR. I've been a Siegel fan for a long, long time, so his voice will be missed. All Things Considered is a well-written show, always has been. His gifted colleagues will carry on. If I had one piece of advice: "Lose yourself in the service of others" sounds like a good way to spend one's retirement years. Blessings on you, Robert, as you discover your encore career.
1:22 PM Our second class session in Greek 4 will include a discussion and analysis of 1 Thess. 1:2-5, in which Aristotle's "rhetorical triangle" comes into sharp focus. When Paul visited the Thessalonians, he came "not with word (logos) only." His message was balanced by both pathos and ethos -- spiritual power/passion and credibility.
Fist bump! Paul got all three right. He brought the message. He brought it with power and passion. And he brought it by living among the people and doing everything for their benefit, not his own. You want to share the Good News with someone? Then live and work and breathe the air of their community. I am floored by Paul's priorities. His goal was to effect long-term benefits among the Thessalonians, not put on a puppet show. Whether knowingly or unconsciously, Paul embodied the Aristotelian triangle perfectly.
I am suggesting this, friends: To have the greatest persuasive effect, logical appeal must be accompanied by both emotional appeal and ethical appeal. I don't mean to minimize the message. Sloppy exegesis is sloppy exegesis. Don't hear me say, "Content is not important." But when the message is accompanied by passion and especially by the speaker's selfless attitude toward his or her hearers, the Gospel can become the powerful thing Jesus dreamed up. It really can.
12:40 PM Darkest Hour was a magnificent film. Churchill was one of the twentieth century's greatest figures. What wasn't he? He was a bricklayer, painter, cavalry officer, orator, and for 55 of his 90 years a member of the British Parliament, 8 of those as prime minister. I loved how the movie told the story of Churchill's first days in office, how he was a lonely voice warning his people of the dangers of Nazism. I thought the best part of the film was the dénouement, in which what is perhaps Churchill's greatest speech is put on full display, the one ending with these immortal words:
Never has a speech had a more awe-inspiring peroration. Despite his many shortcomings, Churchill was a master orator and had the tenacity of a bulldog. I give the movie four out of five stars. If you would like to meet "Winston," this film is one way to start. But be forewarned: The movie serves only as an apéritif to wanting more and more. What strikes me most about Churchill is his resilience. When he failed or was defeated, he got back up again. At a time when so many of our leaders are shallow, childish, and even vindictive, it's encouraging to witness a man who was the polar opposite. "There is nothing more draining and exhausting than hatred," he once said. Wise words for today, I should think.
8:10 AM Yo folks. I hope you're enjoying the cold weather. I'm having a great time but I feel a little scattered. I'm having to back burner some things and front burner others. What's occupying most of my time right now is reading through all of the essays I'm asking my Greek 4 students to read. Each essay has something to do, either directly or indirectly, with the book of 1 Thessalonians -- the book I use in Greek 4 as a model for exegesis. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me because I absolutely love doing this. What I find frustrating is not being able to communicate to you, my blog readers, the many gems I'm picking up along the way. Guess you'll all just have to take my class! For example, take Fee's essay I mentioned yesterday. It's intended to be a comprehensive overview of Paul's teaching about leadership in the New Testament. The essay is very good and I'd recommend you read it. Fee's main point is that, when you read the New Testament in the light of Jesus (which all of us must do), you come away with a vastly different view of church leadership than if you follow Old Testament models. It's true that under the Old Covenant the role of leadership was often delegated to the king and priests in particular, who were recognized as having an existence apart from the "people" (laos) of God. "It is precisely this model of leadership that breaks down altogether in the New Testament," writes Fee (p. 130). And why should this be the case? Fee is clear: "The basic reason for this is the Lordship of Christ himself.... As head of his church, all others, including leaders, function as parts of the body both sustained by Christ and growing up into him (Eph. 4:1-16)" (p. 130).
Two other points in Fee's excellent essay are worth mentioning. First, Fee rightly points out that the people of God in the New Testament are thought of corporately. "[Believers] are addressed individually only as they are members of the community" (p. 134). God views each member of the His body as equally valuable and important to the proper functioning of the whole. It is very unfortunate, notes Fee, that texts that Paul intended to be taken corporately have been individualized, thus losing their original force and impact. These include texts that have to do with the exercise of church discipline.
Secondly, Fee has a superb section on the question of whether church leadership should be singular or plural.
It's Fee's "guess" (p. 142) that the model of a single pastor emerged from a sort of "role transference," in which there arose a permanent single leader based (incorrectly) on the model of the itinerate apostle.
Fee then adds:
This "pride of place" may crop up in the most unexpected of places. Do you think that maybe this space could be used for the elderly, families with small kids, people with disabilities ...?
Fee concludes by urging his readers to recapture "the New Testament view of the church itself" (p. 143). The irony, of course, is that hundreds if not thousands of local congregations are running away from this concept of leadership instead of embracing it. Some churches even allow their kingdom message to be co-opted by politics (whether on the right or the left) because of the political views of their senior pastor.
I am deeply humbled and honored to belong to the same academic community that Fee belongs to. My prayer is that God will use essays like his to prepare our local congregations for the vital role they have to play in the kingdom movement He's inspiring in our time.
By the way, when I was in Dallas I saw Darkest Hour with mom and dad. Time permitting, I'll share a few thoughts with you later about that movie and what I think it says about leadership and especially about the power of words.
Thanks for stopping by!
Thursday, January 4
11:25 AM What do you love about winter? I love frozen ponds.
I love old houses freshly dusted with the white stuff.
I love watching my dog making fresh tracks in the snow.
I love stacking 100 bales of hay for delivery.
When I'm bored, restless, or just annoyed, walking in the winter wonderland is just what the doctor ordered.
11:12 AM This weekend's race was truly a great event. The worst racing conditions brought out the best in each runner. If this had been any other event I might have given up. But hey, Texans are tough, and I wanted to prove to them that this Hawaiian dude could pass muster. Seriously, this was top notch fun. And what could be better than free pics? That's right, these photos arrived today in my inbox, compliments of The Active Joe. You guys are Aw- Sum! Here I am at the start of the race, when I could still run. Looking sharp, eh?
This guy behind me is actually smiling. He must be from Alaska. Actually, I saw lots of high fives and encouraging smiles on the course.
Here's the look of pure pain as I approached the finish line, barely ambulatory. As they say: the agony of de feet ...
And the thrill of victory.
Thankfully, I'm healing up nicely. One thing I'm very thankful for is the ability to bounce back after injuries. Happily my blister is almost entirely healed. My plan is to see my PT next week and then get back into training. So, yeah, I already have much to be grateful for this year. I hope you do too.
8:54 AM Today I'm reading Gordon Fee's "Laos and Leadership under the New Covenant: Some Exegetical and Hermeneutical Observations on Church Order." The focus is on structure and ministry in the New Testament. And by "ministry" Fee is not referring solely to people we might call "ministers"! This essay will be required reading in my Greek 4 class this semester.
8:30 AM Winter weather advisory .... 10-mile long traffic jam in Moore County ... temps in the teens ... the water lines are frozen at my house ... but the dusting we got last night is so pretty.
Meanwhile, in Dallas I ordered two books from Amazon Prime.
It's dated (1987) but not as ancient as some of my books. Here's the second tome.
I just hope it comes with a photo of the button.
Since we're talking about bragging, I suppose it's okay for me to flaunt my first place finish in my age division in Monday's marathon. I know, I was the only one running in the male 65-69 age group, but it's still an incredible victory when you consider all the guys I could have beaten. My average pace, by the way, was 15/mile. A pace of 15 minutes? I think my Garmin must be broken. As many a good lawyer has said, "Facts only obscure the truth."
Today I'm writing the good people at the Mercedes Birmingham Marathon in the great state of Alabama to let them know I've just made a brilliant decision. This is my "February race," in case you'd forgotten. I'm moving from the full marathon to the half marathon because my son Jon who lives in Birmingham is running the half and I don't want him to be lonely. As the African proverb says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." (I think the other half of the proverb says, "But don't go with guys named Jon.") I've observed that runners are more prone to succeed when they know someone who's already been there and done that. (They also tend to be more "prone," period.) Okay. The real reason I'm moving to the half is because I'm done with 6-hour time limits. I'm dumb but I'm not stupid. 6 hours puts too much pressure on world class athletes like myself. So from now on it's 6.5 to 7 hours or nothing. Why, the Honolulu Marathon doesn't even have a time limit. Now, before the good people of my home state get insulted thinking I'm disparaging their race, let me be clear: Hawaii, you're a laid back culture. I know. If I tried running from Ala Moana to Hawaii Kai and back and didn't stop to cool off in the Pacific, I'd be crazy too.
I'm left with no choice, then, but to revise my running schedule. Lord willing, my next big race will be the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, NC, on March 18. I'm running in honor of the former owner of my farm, who use to grow cigga-weed back in the day. Like everyone else, he overfarmed the soil. Today I grow hay on the same land. That doesn't mean people don't smoke where I live. They do, even Baptists (don't tell anyone I said that). I'm against the habit but that's no excuse to miss out on a marathon that's practically in my back yard. After Bacci Road, my next marathon will be the Flying Pig in Cincy -- yes, the city where it all started last May. It was in Cincinnati that I discovered hundreds of people my age who were into marathoning. This isn't your typical group of old codgers, like folks who still use DOS and have AOL email addresses. They are super heroes, though their quest focuses more on tenacity than talent. Between now and my race in Birmingham next month I'll be doing some world class loafing. The worst mistake you can make after a long race -- and I've made it over and over again -- is not giving yourself enough time to recover. Having ice and snow covering your roads helps.
Finally, I wanted you to see the kind of food people eat in Texas. This is called barbeque.
As in real barbeque. As is beef barbeque. The abbreviation is BBQ -- which is about the closest I'll ever come to a BQ (Boston Qualifying time).
Wednesday, January 3
6:40 PM Let's see ... words emanating from my computer can only mean one thing: the race in Texas didn't kill me. For the 3 people who still read this boring blog, you may remember me talking about this event (ad nauseum). The long and short of it is that I toughed out another marathon, though it left me seriously questioning my sanity (which I question pretty much every day). With extreme weather alerts on tap for the greater Dallas region all weekend long, I kept a close eye on my weather app. For the "News Years Double," you could run either on Sunday (New Years Eve) or Monday (New Years Day) or both -- hence "New Years Double." I had chosen to do only the New Years day race. The weather on the last day of December was heartbreaking for anyone wanting to run outdoors. There was a thin layer of ice everywhere, with the low temps hovering in the single digits. Unbelievably, the race went on as planned. A total of 800 runners had registered for Sunday's race, either for the half or for the full marathon. On race day, 281 stalwart (i.e., crazy) runners actually showed up for the race. Kudos to each and every one of them, and especially to the volunteers manning the water stations and handing out the race medals while literally freezing. That afternoon the skies cleared and the ice disappeared. When I woke up at 4:00 am on Monday (New Years Day), it didn't take me very long to decide I was going to try and run the race that day. I had come all this distance and I wasn't about to chicken out now. I knew that if I dressed in lots of layers I'd be fine. I wore long johns under running pants on the bottom, and two tech shirts plus a sweatshirt plus a racing jacket plus a windbreaker on top, not to mention a fleece neck warmer (which I covered my nose with), North Face gloves, and 3 hoods over my running cap.
I arrived at Celebration Park in Allen, TX at 7:30 am and checked my weather app. The "real feel" temp was exactly 1 degree Fahrenheit. You read that correctly. ONE degree. That's like 31 degrees below freezing, if my math serves me right. Like everyone else, I picked up my race bib then sat in my warm car until race time. 700 participants had signed up for Monday's races (including the half and the full marathon). 220 of us showed up. (I don't blame anyone for staying at home.) Despite the cold, the morning was sunny and the people around me were electric with positive energy. Physically, I knew I would be fine. The question, as always, would boil down to mental toughness.
The race was run entirely on a concrete sidewalk that ambled through the subdivisions of Allen.
Thankfully, the course was completely dry without a trace of ice. Once I started moving I was able to keep warm. Given that I was doing a full marathon, I decided to run at an easy 13-minute/mile pace. I had shin splints for the first two miles or so, but they quickly cleared up. But the concrete running surface was beginning to takes its toll. I had never run a race on concrete before, only asphalt, crushed gravel, and dirt trails. By mile 12 my feet were killing me, and by mile 18 I had developed a horrific blood blister on the bottom of my left foot. When I stopped to check on it (there were no aid stations on the course -- one of the disadvantages of small races), I began freezing. I had to laugh out loud. I had started the race thinking it would be a breeze. The course was entirely flat, and I'd gotten some solid training runs in. I'd had feet issues while running before, and I knew I could push through the pain if I had to. But this was different. From mile 18 on I couldn't run at all. It was all I could do to walk without hobbling. My stride was reduced to the pace of a turtle. What happened? I'm sure it was the running surface. I had read that running on concrete is 10 times harder on your feet and legs than running on asphalt. It slowly dawned on me that I was now paying the price for running on this surface. It was beyond frustrating that my body wouldn't cooperate with my mind. I began to be engulfed by negative thoughts and emotions. I never wanted a race to end so quickly! My feet were driving me absolutely crazy. After a while, I realized I had bitten off way more than I could chew. Worst case scenario, I could simply drop out of the race. Nobody would blame me. Everyone gets a DNF (did not finish) at least once in their racing career. But Monday was not to be that day. Not if I had any say about it. I had to do this. I had to finish. On the very first day of the new year, I was forced by circumstances to take my own advice. Stop thinking and keep moving, Dave. Call me nuts, but that's just what I did for the last 8 miles of the race. The only thing on my mind was my reason for running these races in the first place. A marathon is the ultimate metaphor for any major undertaking in life. Does it hurt? Yes. Does it require time, effort, and commitment? Yes. But the payoff is out of this world. It doesn't matter what your goal is. Marathoner. Healthy eater. Patient mom. Writer. More diligent student. Divorce survivor. Whatever. You've got to push out of your self-imposed boundaries and never look back. This year, as you know, I'm trying to cut back on processed foods. I'm not going to lie. I'm already making excuses. Life isn't as simple as saying, "I'm going to eat clean this year." Just deal with it. Take a deep breath and take it one step at a time. Remember that you have weaknesses just like everybody else. So I said a prayer, mustered up what little courage I had left, and waddled along to the end of the course. Only 43 marathoners finished the race that day. I was no. 42. The volunteers were absolutely amazing. While we runners could keep warm through activity, the volunteers must have been frozen. They were the heroes of this event, not us.
When I got back to my car I revved up the engine, turned on the heater, and guzzled down two bottles of chocolate milk that mom had sent with me. (She is so thoughtful!) Eventually I arrived back at the Lapsleys' house. The minute I stepped out of the car I began shaking uncontrollably. I was nearly overcome by the cold just walking from the car to the house. After a congratulatory word from mom and dad, I took the most amazing hot shower of my life, then a two-hour nap. In the evening we went out and celebrated at the local Outback. It was the perfect capstone to a wonderful day. Prior to this race, my coldest event was the Richmond Marathon at 27 degrees. Now that seems warm. Cliché as it sounds, there is so much value in sucking it up and just keeping on going. When we have to, we can all do hard things. In the end, I made it. Of course I did. 26.2 miles may have taken me 6 and a half hours to finish (6:38:31 to be exact), but I fought hard for my medal and I earned it.
I will never ever run another marathon on concrete, that's for sure. But I will always treasure this race. It was my hardest marathon of the seven I've completed. It was my slowest marathon. And it was my most satisfying marathon. All in all, it was the perfect way to ring in a new year of heart-stopping adventures.
So, Happy New Year to you! The best of everything in 2018!
P.S. Love you, mom and dad. What a great time we had together.