November 2016 Blog Archives
Tuesday, November 29
8:58 AM Look what I finally found! A real New Testament church! And in Indiana of all places!
8:46 AM Just read Darrel Bock's thoughtful piece Recalibrating the Culture War in 2016. He nails it. This is a big week on campus with the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. In Greek we're discussing verbal aspect and deponency, and in New Testament the Johannine epistles. My outline of 1 John is adapted from Gary Burge's NIV Application Bible Commentary. John is making two major points: (1) true saving faith is manifested through practicing the truth, and (2) true saving faith is manifested in those who possess a genuine love for other believers. In other words, the theme is Simple Obedience + Sacrificial Love. As 1 John 3:7 puts it: "It's the person who acts right who is right." We are to be "doing the truth through love." Incidentally, as Burge notes, this theme is predicated on two key attributes of God: the fact that He is light, and the fact that He is love. "This is the message that we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light" (1:5). "This is the message that you heard from the beginning: We should love one another" (3:11). So ... TRUTH PLUS LOVE! We need both. We always have. Love without truth is sentimentalism. Truth without love is bitter, harsh orthodoxy. You may have well-reasoned apologetics, but without love no one will listen to you. Love is the mark of the church (see Schaeffer's The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century). As Darrell Bock points out in his essay, the kingdom of God is not some new and improved version of worldly government. 1 John is a blueprint of what the church is to be about. It is about what Jesus was about: expanding the rule of God by reflecting God's character in contrast to the world. When we surrender ourselves wholly to this kind of Calvary-love, we are truly the people of God.
But of course, you already knew all of this :-)
Monday, November 28
6:38 PM Who needs TV when you can eat lunch with family -- and then get hay up at dusk?
1:22 PM The best book I know about speaking is The Essentials of Public Speaking by Sims Wyeth. I quoted it the other day with reference to Mr. Trump. Here are a few more quotes from the book:
If you're a serious student of public speaking, find this book. Above all, put away those silly notes. There's a very popular pastor in Durham, NC, who reads from his notes constantly. He even reads his jokes. Haha. Can you spell "booooooring"?
P.S. It's another cold day in Southside.
But not too cold to jog 8 miles.
Can you do it? You'll never know until you try.
9:04 AM There were many highlights of my trip to Indiana via Cincinnati. I had never toured Cincy before, so I was impressed for sure. There's great Ethiopian food (try the Elephant Walk; I saw the Bengals' and Reds' new stadiums, as well as the P & G Towers (impressive); we drove through many quaint urban neighborhoods; and, of course, the mighty Ohio River is as mighty as everyone says it is. On my bucket list for later visits: the Cincinnati Art Museum, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Cincinnati Zoo, and the Newport Aquarium. And, golly gee, I'll be back there before you know it. Yes, folks, I've finally decided which marathon I want to compete in before I vanish into senility -- Cincinnati's own Flying Pig Marathon, to be held Sunday, May 7.
The timing couldn't be better: Becky's birthday is on May 11 (she's my honoree at the race), and the weather promises to be perfect in terms of temps and humidity. I had thought about doing the Raleigh Marathon but their time limit is a mere 5 hours, whereas in Cincinnati I have a full 7 hours to complete the race (and I know I will need every minute of it). The term "Flying Pig" originates in the city's reputation as "Porkopolis" because of its stockyards and meat processing industries. The course is said to be "gently rolling" and "pretty flat" -- except for a 300-foot climb between miles 6-9. If Teiichi Igarashi could climb Mt. Fuji at 99, and John Glenn could go into space at 77, I can (maybe?) do a marathon at 64. Remember: Success is not about what you do. It's about who you are. And only you know the full potential of what you can become!
Sunday, November 27
4:32 PM What kind of music do you like? I enjoy all kinds of music, from rock to techno to classical to reggae to soul. I love soundtracks -- Out of Africa, Gettysburg, North by Northwest, the Great Escape, Saving Private Ryan. I went through my teen years with obsessions, including the Tijuana Brass, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Cream, Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, and Credence Clearwater Revival. In the 70s and 80s there were the Eagles, Queen, and Chicago. Feel-good hits were a dime a dozen: American Pie, Dancing Queen, If You Leave Me Now, Kissing Me Softly with His Song, My Eyes Adored You, Sister Golden Hair, We Just Disagree, Our House, You've Got a Friend, Do You Do You, Glory of Love, Sailing, Time After Time, Reelin' in the Years, In Too Deep, Africa, Philadelphia Freedom, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Someone Saved My Life, No Time Left for You. Not a single one of these hits is forgotten today and a good many of them are used in commercials and movies. My favorite rock composer of all time is Paul McCartney. I've been a Paul fan since I was 12 years old. I love the fact that he's still doing concerts at 74. His voice is not the same, but who cares? Paul neither looks nor sounds 74. Amazing. Does over 40 songs. That's 2.5 hours. Wish he would tour with Ringo, though. As a former bass player myself -- our college group was called "Joyous Creed" -- I've always marveled at Paul's variety of rhythms as he added harmonious complements to songs like Lovely Rita, With a Little Help From My Friends, and Lucie in the Sky with Diamonds. At other times he could play a simple base line with a light, playful feel (When I'm Sixty-Four). And who can ever forget the bass rift in Come Together? Paired with Ringo's most unforgettable drum part, Paul's base part proved once again just how versatile the Beatles were. Check out this Beatle tribute band if you want to hear and see the bass at its finest. Songs like Penny Lane and Rain leave me breathless. Headphones on!
4:10 PM My assistant and I are currently working on the syllabus for New Testament Introduction 1 for next semester. The course covers the four Gospels. In addition to arranging a guest lecturer for each class period, I am finalizing my own lecture topics and my bucket list is beginning to take shape. Care to see what's currently on it?
The focus throughout will be on the New Covenant that God established through the blood of His Son. His plan was to "bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth through Christ." What a teaching! If my students get this, they will get everything else. We will see churches that are less dependant on programming and more dependent on unconventional servants. Pastors will be as honest with their problems as their people are. After all, Jesus delights in the weak. And this evangelical superstardomism. What a nightmare. The early church was so basic and ordinary. Each follower of Jesus was asked to be faithful. It's as simple as that. What a beautiful hope we have in Christ! What a great way to change the world!
1:42 PM The Rudolph 1-Mile and 5K Run in Allen, Texas will take place at 8:30 next Saturday morning.
I'll be there Lord willing, as I've decided to fly back to Texas to attend the Vocal Majority concert with mom and dad on Sunday afternoon. Allen, TX, is located just north of where mom and dad live, so it will be a convenient venue. The course sure looks like fun.
1:18 PM It's really hard to believe. But in just 7 months I'm planning on returning to the Alps. And yes, I know: Success won't come without training, and lots of it. My focus on my last trip to Switzerland was endurance: just finish. It didn't matter how fast or slow I climbed. And that's been fun, but it's not going to work for the climbs my guide and I have planned for next July. So for the next 6 months I'm going to push myself harder than I ever have pushed myself before. This means more races and even my first marathon in 2017. (I stand by my declaration that I much prefer walking to running.) My choice to climb the Alps was the most terrifying and yet satisfying decision I've ever made. I'm not really sure what possessed me to hire a guide and actually do it. Sure, there was the Becky Black Memorial Fund that I wanted to raise funds for. But there was something else nudging me -- something deeper: the need to try something big and lofty. And now that I've started, it's really hard to stop. It's like jumping off a cliff -- it's a bit too late to change your mind. This is completely random, but last night I dreamed that I free climbed El Cap. Certainly bizarre, but makes me wonder what my subconscious mind is up to these days as I train for my first marathon. I have to learn to pace myself, since patience is not one of my strongest virtues. Oooh I'm excited. It looks like the next few months are going to be exciting and action-packed, as long as I stay healthy. 26.2 miles. Yikes. The Pollux. Yikes. I'm so looking forward to writing blog posts about everything.
12:46 PM To all you guys out there: I have found the perfect diet plan. There, I said it. You can eat whenever you're hungry and still not put on weight. And you don't have to buy a book to get started. No food supplements either. Besides, it works. I can eat anything and stay at my optimum weight. I never have to fast. Only two steps are necessary. Interested? Go here.
11:50 AM Hello, wonderful world of the internet. Hope everyone had a great Black Friday. (Once upon a time, there was a holiday between Halloween and Christmas called Thanksgiving.) Lots to report on. First off, I had a delightful time in Indiana with Liz, Matt, and four of my grandkids-- Caleb, Isaac, Micah, and Mercy Magdalene (I kid you not, that's her real name. Ain't it beautiful?). I guess if celebrities can break the two-kid barrier, so can some some of us lesser lights. (For the record: This grandfather has nothing against big broods.) Here's Miss Mercy at breakfast on Wednesday.
And here's Isaac showing me his latest artwork.
Leaving the local Mexican restaurant.
Not all of our meals were taken in restaurants, however. Take a gander at the Thanksgiving feast Liz prepared.
On Thursday, Matt and I ran in the "Turkey Trot" at the local Y. Gobble gobble.
Here I am with the race coordinator. Yours truly had a personal best (25:19). Geezers of the world arise!
Matt is pastoring the Sunman Community Church.
The congregation loves him and his family.
What? A duckbilled platypus?
Out for Kaffee und Kuchen.
In line at Dairy Queen. (Yes, I tend to spoil my grandkids.)
Nothing like having hot chocolate with Papa B.
A stop on the Underground Railroad. Very historic site.
The blessing of a family meal.
To the Rondeau family and to all of my kids and grandkids:
I'm thankful for each and every one of you. I'm thankfully for the community we've built. I'm thankful that we're supportive of each other. I want all of you to know that you are amazing just the way you are. May your days be filled with turkey leftovers, few meltdowns, and a gazillion blessings. Love, Dad
In the second place (drum roll, please), the toenail on my injured big toe fell off right after Thursday's race -- which means that the toe can now begin to heal. Yippy! Can't wait to wear my mountaineering boots again. A good pair of boots will cost you about a week's wages but they are most definitely worth it. Now all I need is for some snow to arrive in Southside Virginia to try them out again.
Finally, I picked up a great book at the RDU airport called The Essentials of Persuasive Publish Speaking. The one individual I thought of as I read it? Donald Trump. If the president-to-be (he's not "president-elect" yet since the electoral college hasn't voted) is anything, it's a powerful public orator. Which is one reason I'm not fretting this election cycle. As a pundit put it recently, "Donald Trump is not going to blow up the world." He's not going turn America into a fascist state nor is he going to doom minorities to a life of hatred and despair. And the reason is because Donald Trump is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. As everyone knows, he once donated heavily to Democratic causes, was pro-choice, praised universal health care, and even registered to vote as a Democrat. He will do what it takes to get the "deal" done. And the reality is that, in Washington, closing the deal requires compromise. Since the election, Trump has changed his mind about prosecuting Hillary Clinton, about the connection between human activity and climate change, about repealing Obamacare, about waterboarding, even about the New York Times (that "corrupt" mouthpiece of liberalism is now a "great, great American jewel"). His flexible political ideology has been on display for all to see. In other words, the populist has become just another plutocrat, cleaning the swamp only to refill it with Washington insiders. I opine that all of this began when he started using a teleprompter, i.e., when the wild, freewheeling candidate became a scripted speechmaker. You will recall this is the same Trump who once castigated Hillary Clinton for using a teleprompter. No problem now, however. The man has "pivoted."
In his book The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking, author Sims Wyeth writes, "I am tired of expert speakers with expert opinions. Everyone is an expert at something. I want a wise speaker" (p. 7). He adds, "We put our trust in experts and they've often proved wrong. Enough already with experts. How about some wisdom?" (p. 7). Trump, the populist, was once perceived to be a man of uncommon wisdom. He was, in the words of Wyeth, " ... a dramatist capable of capturing and holding attention by tickling, then soothing audience anxiety" (p. 5). Not anymore. Here's another quote from this marvelous little book: "Speech that authentically reveals the personality of the speaker, and is addressed to and about an individual or defined group ... is far more memorable than a message from a corporation meant for a demographic" (p. 4). The same man who once alienated women voters, Muslims, Hispanics, the disabled, etc. now has to appear presidential, and that, in my opinion, is a good thing. Mr. Trump is not being a hypocrite; he's simply being the politician he has always claimed he would never become. He has now entered "public service," and yes, he will listen to his generals, cross the aisle, and work with our allies -- and continue to use teleprompters when giving speeches.
Wednesday, November 23
3:44 AM Being hopelessly nostalgic, I just can't bring myself to leave without a public word of thanksgiving for my wife of 37 years. Even though she is no longer physically beside me, I still love her. My wedding ring remains on the third finger of my left hand, and I know I will never take it off. It remains a symbol of the love, respect, and affection I've had for Becky all these years. Now I am truly a widower, but a blessed one. My body is still healthy, and I have many goals yet to accomplish and many mountains still to climb. Loss is an excellent learning laboratory. The curriculum is strenuous, to say the least. I'm not sure I can say I've enjoyed every course I've taken, but my experience has made me a better person. What else can I say? I love you Becky Lynn Black. You were so incredibly important to me. I'll never forget how you would fall asleep in my arms, the woman I loved, a precious gift of God, a sister in Christ whom I will join when my time comes. In the example you set for me and others, you will always live on. I shall cherish the memory of you forever. Happy Thanksgiving, darling.
Tuesday, November 22
7:10 PM Time for a change of pace. Tomorrow morning I'm heading out to the great state of Indiana (via Cincy) to spend some time with one of my daughters and her family. As I said, I've got a 5K "Turkey Trot" (what a name) on Thanksgiving morning, and I signed up for it because I'm really a very lazy person at heart, and it always helps when there's something to motivate me to get outdoors. Ooh, I'm excited. Sweatiness is so cool. Otherwise, for the next couple of days I'm going to do nothing but eat and sleep and laze and gab. A short and sweet break. I'm not sure that a marathon justifies my laziness but, hey, I'm having a mid-life crisis. Plus, I'm still dealing with a big toe that refuses to heal. I feel like it's never going to get better, and get this: I won't be able to see a podiatrist until Dec. 12. I basically have been facing down this nasty toe since I summited Mount Bierstadt in Colorado a month and a half ago. Funny how that happened. It was mortifying. But I'm fully convinced that time heals all wounds and I will one day (soon?) be doing the happy dance again.
Before I forget, I want to congratulate Thomas Hudgins on his interview with Mike Heiser over at the Naked Bible website. I would just say that not EVERYBODY teaches Greek the way he describes! Meanwhile, I've made plans to attend the Vocal Majority concert in Dallas with mom and dad on Dec. 4. Their repertoire ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime. The group's diction and tonality are unbelievable. Goosebumps every time I hear them.
Oh my goodness -- I just realized I have to leave the house at 4:00 am! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
12:10 PM Newsflash. I will run a 5K Thanksgiving morning. #NoGuiltFromOvereating.
12:04 PM Yes. I. Am. Spoiled.
10:32 AM My Honda Odyssey is the coolest car I've ever owned. At least I can fit my mountain bike in it without removing the front tire. It's got 200,000 miles on it and today's the first day I'll have it in the shop (ignition cylinder went bust).
About 100,000 of those miles were driven since Becky died. Is that Wanderlust or what?
8:14 AM Continuing our discussion of Paul As Missionary ....
James Thompson's essay is called "Paul as Missionary Pastor" (pp. 25-36). Thompson argues that "missionary pastor" is not an oxymoron. One can be in pastoral ministry without being a "pastor." So what kind of pastoral ministry did Paul have among his churches? Thompson argues that the most pervasive image of the church that Paul uses is the family. His epistles were sent to and first read by house churches. This family is a supernatural one. It is to be a loving environment and a "safe place." Brotherly love (philadelphia) is to mark everything. Family love demands that members take care of each other. Paul appeals to brotherly love to resolve the dispute between Philemon and Onesimus. Brother may not take brother to court. A brother may not defraud his brother. Brothers may not cause other brothers to stumble. Siblings should not be guilty of such "family" sins as jealousy, envy, strife, and quarrelling.
This was an excellent essay. I don't know your feelings about church, but what if we took seriously Paul's exhortation to accept one another in the body of Christ? The early church had the same kinds of squabbles that we have today. The strong looked down on the weak, and vice versa. Today, many in our churches are struggling with acceptance. The early church wasn't impressive, but it managed to confront its divisiveness head-on. I don't mean to minimize doctrine. But no church supersedes the command to love one another as brothers and sisters. When church is less like a family and more like a business, its people act less like participants and more like spectators. Let's own our place in the body. Let's start where we should always start: with the brothers and sisters we are called to serve. Let's practice empathy each and every day. Church life is messy and complicated. All the more reason to "walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us" (Eph. 5:2).
Speaking of family love, it's that time of the year when we sit around a table and gorge ourselves on turkey. This year ...
I am thankful for the strength not to fall in the day of adversity.
I am thankful that the God of the universe has spoken and that I can believe what He says.
I am thankful for difficult climbs that remind me that the best things in life are worth fighting for.
I am thankful for family and friends who allow me to be me.
I am thankful for the gift of self-respect.
I am thankful for the courage to try new things.
I am thankful that suffering is a mercy, affording an opportunity to repent and grow.
I am thankful that I follow a Master who relinquished all rights and chose death.
I am thankful for fellow believers who take their stand on the word.
I am thankful for publishers and authors.
I am thankful for naptimes.
I am thankful for coffee.
I am thankful for dogs who show me what pure and unconditional love looks like.
I am thankful to be a parent and grandparent.
I am thankful that I'm not good at a lot of things.
I am thankful that Becky and I fought a battle with cancer and won.
I am thankful for a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head.
I am thankful that whatever successes I've had in life are little more than temporary blessings.
I am thankful that I can hike for miles and not get tired.
I am thankful that if age brings problems, it also brings solutions.
I am thankful to have reached the October of life.
I am thankful for loyal and precious friends.
I am thankful for Mexican food.
I am thankful for Ibuprofen.
I am thankful for Netflix.
I am thankful for daughters who demonstrate the truth of the Gospel through the daily labor of parenting.
I am thankful that I can celebrate others' victories without becoming jealous.
I am thankful that I can live the Ordinary Good Hard Life on my farm.
I am thankful that I am a beloved member of the church.
I am thankful for an internet that allows me to blog.
I am thankful for church leaders who have shed their masks.
I am thankful for my vocation and calling.
I am thankful that I know how to cook for myself (well, it's only one dish, but that's enough).
I am thankful that the Greek New Testament still captures my imagination.
I am thankful that God has made me an adventurer.
I am thankful for a life worth living.
I am thankful for abundance.
I am thankful that my life matters.
I am thankful for reading glasses.
I am thankful that one day I will throw my arms around Jesus.
I am thankful for tears.
I am thankful for the confidence to fly.
I am thankful for you.
Monday, November 21
7:40 PM Hey folks. We were picking up bales well into the darkness tonight.
Thankfully we were able to finish.
When I got back home I discovered that the ignition switch in my Honda Odyssey is broken, so I am grounded until I get that fixed. Tonight I'll look at YouTubes to see if it's something I can fiddle with.
In the meantime, I thought I'd continue my review of Paul As Missionary (Bloomsbury, 2011). Daniel Hays' essay "Paul and the Multi-Ethnic First-Century World: Ethnicity and Christian Identity" (pp. 76-87) may be the most important essay in the book. He argues that the early church developed in a multicultural setting. The world of the first century was comprised of a multitude of ethnic groups (ethne). So Paul is not just breaking down barriers between "Jews" and "Gentiles."
As Christians, therefore, we have a brand new ethnic identity. Both Jews and Gentiles are members of the kingdom of God, with Abraham as their common ancestor. Hence "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20) is a highly political statement. Paul lived in a very ethnically diverse world. So do we. People tend to identify themselves ethnically -- i.e., in terms of social, cultural, religious, territorial, and linguistic features. All of these elements, taken together, define one's self-identity. When Paul calls for unity he does so along these very lines of ethnic markers.
This sense of heavenly citizenship " ... is a radical restructuring of their primary identity" (p. 87). Hays is adamant: If Christians continue to see themselves first and foremost as Americans or Chinese or Korean or Hispanic or African-American, they will end up "... relegating their identity in Christ to a secondary and subservient identity," and "there will be disunity and ethnic division in the Church" (p. 87).
Let's let that sink in. These reflections take us a long ways in understanding the distinctive emphasis of the New Testament. If the social ethics of the kingdom of God seem to be dramatically different from those of the world and the nation-state, it's because they're supposed to! Hays expresses a growing conviction I've had for several years now, namely that our only duty and allegiance as Christians is to God and His kingdom. It is out of our duty to God that we obey the civil laws and pay our taxes and pray for those in authority over us in the political realm. At the same time, it is also out of our duty to God that we inveigh against any practice or social norm that is inconsistent with His rule. This means that there never has been nor ever be will a distinctly "Christian" position on politics. Good evangelical Christians voted for Trump. Good evangelical Christians voted for Clinton. Good evangelical Christians voted third party. And good evangelical Christians didn't vote at all. Pastor friend, if you're going to wave pompoms for Trump, please remember that there are probably people in your congregation who didn't vote for him. Good and decent people disagree about politics! If we focus our time and energy on politics, we will never experience a unified church. Instead, our focus and energy must be expended on replicating the self-sacrificing love of Jesus to all people. The church, as Hays argues (and as the apostle Paul argued), is a new ethnos -- a new nation whose only loyalty is to God, who sovereignly uses our Calvary-acts of love to transform the world into a domain in which He and He alone rules. Confessing "Jesus as Lord" automatically rules out an allegiance to any other person or thing!
To sum up:
God's people need to be what they are -- ambassadors pleading with men and women to be reconciled to God. Blessed are those saints who can see beyond their political, national, and ethnic differences. We followers of Jesus will always be a minority in a pagan world. We do not have to bow to political compromise to win the world. The only way to usher in the kingdom is by the cross.
1:20 PM Just back from Hickory, NC, where I had the honor of speaking Saturday and Sunday night and Sunday morning at First Baptist Icard and Blackburn Baptist. Notice I wore a tie on Sunday morning, even though I wasn't asked to.
This was quite a step for me as I triple hate wearing anything around my neck. (P.S. There will be no ties in heaven. Guaranteed.) On Saturday and Sunday night I was one of three speakers at Icard's annual revival services. (Note the casual dress.)
And here I'm having lunch with Micheal and Rachel Pardue and their 7 kids. Total fun.
Micheal is an Ed.D. grad of our seminary. His dissertation focused on the benefits and challenges of online education. He told me the title but I promptly forgot it. Sorry! Finally, here's the librarian at Blackburn.
I had just donated copies of Becky's autobiography My Life Story to the church library, along with a copy of Running My Race. I've always loved church libraries. A library is a great way to support a church's ministries.
I did a lot of driving this weekend. Oh my gosh I love the Southeast in the fall! Of course, it's a bummer that I couldn't climb Mt. Mitchell, but the mountain ain't goin' nowhere no how. Road trips are always a blast. Well, sometimes I hate them, but usually I love them. I often sing my heart out before I reach my destination. While I was in Hickory my car key stopped working and a good buddy was kind enough to drive a spare to me. (A million thanks, Jason!). In the afternoons, during my down times, I usually get caught up on my blog reading as well as reading books I've been neglecting for far too long. While in Hickory I was able to use the hotel's weight room, plus I got in several miles of jogging. My next big race in Dec. 10 -- Race 13.1 in Durham, NC. Looks like I'll need to break out my winter running gear. The official charity of the race is the Heart 2 Heart Collaborative, which support's Duke's Children's Heart Program.
I'll be back later with a wrap-up of the reading I did this weekend, but right now I'm going to take a short rest. Believe it not, the weather has allowed us to cut yet another field, so it looks like I'll be picking up bales this evening.
Saturday, November 19
9:40 AM Wow. 153 years ago today. Watch "Lincoln" give the Gettysburg Address.
9:10 AM Happiness is getting a new picture of your grandson.
9:02 AM Well, it's almost Thanksgiving (even though the stores are already playing Christmas music -- go figure). So today I'm going to begin a series of blog posts about what I'm most thankful for. Two weeks ago, on the third anniversary of Becky's death, my friend Kevin Brown drove 3 hours to spend time with me and to lecture in my New Testament class. I couldn't be more grateful for his friendship. He is the closest of brothers and an actual, real-life disciple of Jesus. I'm incredibly thankful to labor alongside such beautiful believers. Two days ago I passed out to each member of my New Testament class two of Kevin's books -- Rite of Passage for the Home and Church, and To Date or Not to Date -- gifts from the author. Folks, these are the kinds of friends I have. I love the way they serve, build, love, reimagine, evaluate, restart. I love the way that as leaders they stand beside (and not above) their people. They could care less about titles and offices. They are fully alive, fully human, and fully in love with the church.
I've been rereading Escape from Colditz and I don't think that any of the escapees from this maximum security POW camp in Germany could have escaped on their own. One of the reasons we Christians need church is our desire for community. The best relationships in life are reciprocal. "The only way we can be absolutely sure that we've been transferred from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters." It is sobering to realize that I am living out the end of my years in the company of such saints. Together, I want to grow. Together, I want to seek and obey truth. Together, I want to live with open-hearted love for others. Together.
Kevin is as good as it gets. I can still see him teaching a group of church elders in Alaba, Ethiopia. I can still remember all the times Becky and I enjoyed the hospitality of Kevin and his dear wife Pam in their home in Wilkesboro. I want to learn more of what it means to love like that. I want to find God as much in my Christian family as I do in His creation. I sense the Spirit trying to build something new in my heart. I find myself craving human companionship -- the joy of being with people who refuse to follow a political leader and are content to be apprentices of Jesus. I am an exile in a very broken world, but the good news is that I don't have to travel alone. Neither do you, my friend.
So, beginning today, and for all of our days, let's pray with and for each other. No, the bride of Christ isn't perfect, but she's beautiful. And here's the secret: the more we grow closer to Jesus, the more we grow closer to one another. So thank you, Kevin, for being much more than a brother to me. Thank you for being one of the best friends a person could have. I can't imagine being where I am today without the faithful friendship and prayers of people like you. And Lord, I pray for that person who is reading my blog right now and needs a friend. I pray that You would grant them the desires of their heart. Because today we can do this crazy thing called discipleship. Together.
8:10 AM Today (okay, always) I've been wanderlusting for a high peak and was all stoked to climb Mount Mitchell on Monday but, come to find out, the park is closed because the rangers are off somewhere fighting fires. So today I'll drive to the mountains in the hopes of finding a couple of greenways near Hickory where I can get wild and wooly on my trusty mountain bike. The endless summer days of long hikes are just about ancient history, so I want to take advantage of the warm weather the Lord has sent our way. (I'm also yakking three times in Hickory.) That being said, for those of you who like reading my books, I'm humbled to announce (finally!) the publication of my magnum opus.
I know what you're thinking: How can a board with four wheels on it be exciting? Well, all of your questions have now been answered definitively in what is sure to become the go-to reference work. Everything is explained in easy-to-read language -- the shape of the board, the size of the wheels, how to pull off a successful Olie, how to raise $30,000 to cover your medical bills, etc. One reviewer has said, "Reading Black on skateboarding and surfing is like reading Hemingway on bullfighting." In this massive 8,000-page tome, you can learn how to live life through the gloss resin of a surfboard. Entries include:
In the words of professional surfer Kelly Slater, "Elegantly written and structured, Black's Encyclopedia of Surfing and Skateboarding is more than a reference work. It's an intellectual autobiography." The introductory price is a mere $299.00, and all proceeds from book sales will go to The Dave Black Needy Children (and Grandchildren) Fund (lest they forget that their dad/granddad was once a surfer duuuuuuude).
Finally (for now), the haying season is drawing to a close. I'm very thankful for the three cuttings we were able to get up this year. But it taxed our farm resources to the max.
We're all ready for a break I think.
Friday, November 18
8:20 AM Prayer really does change things. God is looking for those who will "stand in the breech." Prayer can move mountains. This morning I prayed again for our president-elect. We are supposed to honor and pray for those in leadership (and pay our taxes, too!). Romans 12 is especially helpful in this regard. Here Paul teaches at length about what sincere love looks like: love among Christians (12:3-8), love for all people (12:9-13), and love for our enemies, with an additional exhortation that we are to to live in peace with all people (12:14-21). Paul can summarize his teaching about love in 13:8-10: we are to do no wrong to others. Tucked away in between these passages about love is the passage on authorities. Paul is reminding his readers that the authorities are also people whom they must respect and honor. Paul is saying in effect that the Christian must pray for all people. No one can be excluded from our intercession, our appeal that God would bless them. Certainly our prayer will not be for their destruction. Nor will it be a prayer that they win political victories or stay in power or defeat their adversaries. It will be a prayer for their salvation (if we think they need to be converted), that they tell the truth, that they renounce injustice, etc. As someone has said, we pray for them and not against them. We thus have to remind each other that though we may be revolted by certain actions and attitudes of our leaders, and even though we might be ready to protest, we are to pray for them. Pray that they will govern with wisdom for the "welfare of the city" (Jer. 29:7). Pray that God would accomplish His purposes through them. Pray for their health and safety. Pray for our divided nation. Pray for racial reconciliation in our communities. Pray that we would stop looking with contempt on those on the other side. Pray for the victims of bigotry and racism. Pray for an end to disrespect for law enforcement and for an end to police mistreatment of citizens. Pray that the president would have an open mind and listening ears. Above all, pray that God's kingdom would come, that His will would be done, on earth -- in our neighborhoods, our cities, and our nation -- as it is in heaven.
People, whether in government or not, know when they are being deceived or fooled by sham or pretense. They know when someone really cares about them, bears with their shortcomings (which may be considerable), ministers to their needs, and prays for them consistently. Faith and hope are magnificent virtues. But the greatest of these is love. Love is the first word and the last word in politics. Love never fails.
8:02 AM Steve Walton, who teaches New Testament and Greek at London School of Theology, holds views about leadership that aren't necessarily new but they suffer from neglect. I recently bought this book.
(Yes, I still buy books but most of them will end up on someone else's bookshelf.) It contains a superb essay by Steve Walton called "Paul, Patronage and Pay: What Do We Know about the Apostle's Financial Support?" On the one hand, he says, Paul refused to accept financial support from others. But another portrait of Paul we find in the New Testament has him accepting such support. "Can we find a larger framework which holds together our two sets of evidence...?" asks Walton (p. 231). Is Paul being a hypocrite? The answer, he says, may well lie on the one hand in Paul's concern that the gospel message be free to all, and on the other hand in Paul's understanding of the church as a new community in which all social hierarchy is abolished and mutuality of concern for one another is the watchword. "As a general policy, Paul did not wish to be under any human individual's patronage, for that might limit his gospel ministry" (p. 232). On the other hand, and significantly, Paul understood himself to be in a partnership with the churches he had founded -- which meant he was free to accept their gifts as coming from God himself (the meaning of Phil. 4:13 in context). "This radical understanding of equality implied mutuality of concern for one another in submission to God" (p. 232). Need I go on? I have often said that I am not trying to keep anyone involved in missionary work from accepting gifts from fellow believers. I have done so myself. We must not equate support with anti-Christianity. Nor would I adopt a view that rejects deputation that is required for deployment abroad. I simply desire it to be stated that there is a general orientation in Paul that is perfectly clear -- on the one side, the need to work with our hands and not mooch off the charity of others; and on the other hand the counterweight of a Christianity that blesses and praises mutuality and amity. "Paul ... re-drew the map of human relationships offered by the patronage system by placing God in Christ at the center, rather than the emperor -- the gospel reshaped his understanding of the way the world is meant to be" (p. 232). Our Savior told us to lay up treasures in heaven. Paul says, "Set your affections on things above" (Col. 3:2). Are we fixed on this kind of "overhead"? Have we invested everything down here and so have no other resources for heavenly purposes? Are we occupied so much with "right" and "left" that we fail to distinguish between "above" and "below"? So often when we older adults look back on our lives we have many regrets, if not remorse. But it's never too late to develop an "other" orientation in life. I for one want to live like Paul (and Jesus). Travel light. Don't be encumbered with possessions and things. "Take nothing for your journey" (Luke 9:3). True life consists not of the abundance of possessions but of who we are, our character. Maybe the later years are a good time to clear out the clutter and begin to give things away -- to family, to friends, to charities, to evangelists in foreign lands, to the needy all around us. Maybe it's not too late to learn how to center on life's true priorities instead of on life's incidentals.
Thursday, November 17
6:20 PM Hey folks. Here's a quick update for today. I promise to blog more tomorrow. This afternoon I've been doing lots of reading about hiking in North Carolina. In fact, Lord willing I'd like to try my hand at Mount Mitchell this coming Monday. The Mount Mitchell Trail is a strenuous 11-mile hike with an elevation gain of 3,689 feet. I'm told the trail conditions are very tough but that the rewards of standing at the summit are out of this world. After all, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, with an elevation of 6,684 feet. I hope to combine this hike with a couple of speaking engagements I have in Hickory, NC, this weekend. To try and keep in good shape for my climbing, earlier today I did a 5-mile sprint on my mountain bike and averaged almost 13 miles per hour.
I tell you, just sitting on my bike gets my adrenaline flowing. The surge hits even harder when I get into speed clips, gathering velocity rapidly. I love biking because of the contrast it poses to walking, running, and climbing. With bikes, very little is required of the cyclist. You just keep peddling. Of course, because we live in an injury-prone world, I never ride without my helmet. And, as with mountaineering, I'm pretty much a rank novice when it comes to biking -- which always reminds me of Mark Twain's delightful essay about his initial attempt at cycling.
In other news, today I reread C. H. Dodd's classic book The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development. Dodd notes that there's a sharp distinction in the New Testament between preaching and teaching. The former addresses non-believers, while the latter is directed toward believers. The former involves evangelism and church planting, while the latter is intended for the pastoral needs of established churches. If we are to fulfill the Great Commission, therefore, our responsibility is not only to make converts but to ensure (to the degree that are we able) that these converts complete the journey toward transformation into Christ-likeness that begins at the moment of conversion. I thought about this because earlier today I met for coffee and donuts with one of my doctoral students named Joshua.
Together we've been working through my book Interpreting the New Testament and so far have covered such topics as hermeneutics and authority, textual criticism, source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, literary criticism, and sociological criticism. Today we also exegeted the Great Commission of Matt. 28:19-20 from the Greek text. As we began, my prayer was that the Holy Spirit would sweep into our lives, upending any pride and presuppositions about the text we might have.
I prayed that this passage would become like that annoying woman in Jesus' parable, pestering us until we were moved out of ignorance and apathy. The more Joshua and I studied and dissected and critically discussed this passage, the more deeply convinced we became of Christ's all-encompassing authority. I thought to myself: This is who we are -- brothers quietly doing the hard work of the kingdom in an Amish bakery, asking ourselves such questions as
You see, friends, the kingdom of heaven is nouns and verbs and participles and conjunctions and adverbs and imperatives and subordinate clauses. It's a flame that consumes you and purifies you and sets everything in your life aglow. The church is missional because it has a missional God who gave us a missional word that can only be understood through His missional Spirit. Discipleship can therefore never be only about book learning. As we see in our text, Jesus doesn't say, "Teach them all I have commanded you." He said, "Teach them to observe all I have commanded you." I tell you: that is not the same thing. This is why Greek is so important to me. My study of the Greek text has changed the trajectory of my entire life. It has exposed areas of my life where I was either apathetic or downright disobedient. Folks, it's going to take all of God's people obeying all of Christ's commands to rise above the narrow prejudices of our politics and attract people to the glorious mercy of Jesus. But how can we obey without knowing what those commands are? We can't. We need to help each other see those commands. Sharing my love of the word with others is the delightful work I've been commissioned to do. And watching my students learn to stand on their own two feet is my greatest reward.
What makes the gospel such good news is not only the concept of "gospel" but the real-life people who have been changed by it. And that, in fact, is what Jesus is teaching us in Matt. 28:19-20. "As you go, train the people of every nation how to become my obedient followers, immersing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember: I am with you, day after day after day, until the end of the age."
Friends, our lives are too important to waste them away on anything less than being people who live on mission together, obediently pursuing the downward path of Jesus, performing small acts of love and giant feats of courage, living in solidarity with the "nothings" of this world, loving the forsaken and remembering the forgotten, caring for "the least of these," and extending grace and healing to others. It's so maddening to me that Christians just don't seem to get the Great Commission. We go into church with empty notebooks and come out with full ones. But the world is increasingly uninterested in our knowledge. Our shame grenades and condescending stares are just not compelling. Jesus has a better approach. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." When He tells us to take the lowest place, we do so gladly. When He strips away our titles, we release them with joy. We are no longer enslaved by our idols of greed and status. We embrace the truth of His kingdom -- that the only way the kingdom can be strong is through weakness and vulnerability. Jesus' command, "Love your enemies," now begins to make sense. Because for all of our self-proclaimed love of the stranger, we realize that what we really love is "our" kind. And so we cry out, "God, wreck my life on the shoals of your word!"
Yes, it all begins with the word. That's what I'm teaching my students. Because that's my job and my greatest joy. Church, may the truth of the word be unleashed in our hearts and reign over our pride. May we read the word, study the word, and obey the word. A New Testament church values biblical knowledge. God's word transcends time and culture. But it's only by obeying its truths that people will be drawn to the beauty of Jesus.
8:28 AM Yesterday, as Tate Cockrell walked us through the stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance -- I bowed in gratitude for the cup the Father has given me, a cup no more bitter than the one He gave His Son, and I wondered: Shall I refuse it, or shall I grasp it with both hands through trustful acceptance? That's basically the question Jody Neufeld is asking in her new book, Grief: Coping with Holidays.
Grief is heightened during holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the question we have to ask ourselves is, "Will we drink the cup of sorrow, thus allowing our suffering to become the substance of sacrifice -- a love-offering to God, saying with Paul, 'All I care about is knowing Christ -- to experience the power of His resurrection and to share in His sufferings, in growing conformity with His death'?" This question is not academic for me. God has brought a severe mercy into my life, as He may have done in yours. His purpose is to deepen our awareness of the need to seek Him. It's not wrong for us to grieve. But God matters more. He invites us, in the middle of our sorrow, to find Him, and in the process of finding Him we'll find ourselves.
I read this book in one sitting last night. It was a great encouragement. The book is written in honesty (Jody lost a son to cancer) and will help you move towards a better way of life. This book is not only for people experiencing grief but also for everyone, because all of us will one day walk the same path of sorrow. It's a short read but very thoughtful. As I continue to confront Becky's death and my own mortality, books like this one help me to grapple with loss. Grief, as Jody points out, is the intense emotional response to loss. It is natural that we should grieve. In short, I needed this book at this time. You too may find it very powerful and comforting.
Wednesday, November 16
7:08 PM Check out this awesome video. My face hurts from smiling. Talk about achieving a goal!
6:34 PM Got time for an update?
1) My hard-working Greek students taking their practice exam yesterday. The real one was sent home with them. Only two chapters to go. Yay!!!
2) This was my final lunch meeting with Dr.-to-be Wesley Davey, who graduates next month.
Congratulations, young man, and all best wishes to you as you launch out into the deep.
3) What a great treat to have my colleague Tate Cockrell (counseling prof) stop by our New Testament class today to lecture on hope in the midst of suffering from 1 Peter.
He shared five steps we can take when we share hope with sufferers: presence, silence, prayer, Scripture, and faithfulness. Folks, the best we can give sufferers is Jesus. No lectures, no entertainment, no clichés. He is the best, isn't He?
4) Happiness is a new granddaughter.
Happy Birthday, Karis Lynn!
5) Kudos to Antonio Piñero and Thomas Hudgins on the release of their latest book.
6) I love libraries, and SEBTS has one of the finest in the country. In Basel I spent countless hours in dimly lit rooms roving the stacks. The idea of speaking in a library was as illicit as listening to your iPod in church. One day my first book (Paul, Apostle of Weakness) appeared in the card catalog. Talk about dying and going to heaven. I spend a lot of time in our library on campus. At my beck and call are countless wonders.
The library allows me to stay up-to-date with current scholarship in my field while also providing me with a sense of community. Here's a tome I checked out yesterday. I'm eager to read it this weekend.
This week I also brushed up on my journals – New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum, Theologische Zeitschrift, and the like. Lots of good stuff, including:
One article in particular caught my eye. In the latest issue of Trinity Journal, Stan Porter asks (in essence), "Whatever happed to brevity?" His essay is titled, "Big Enough Is Big Enough." He's reviewing Craig Keener's monumental 4-volume commentary on Acts (Baker).
Porter seems to think that commentators should stick "closer to the Greek text" than Keener has (p. 45). In addition, Keener's work, at 4,640 pages, is deemed too comprehensive in scope – what Porter calls "mission creep" (p. 35). Porter also seems to think that commentaries should be primarily exegetical in nature. "Scholars who have innovative ideas about related historical, theological, and other issues – and I hope that there are still some who do – should use monographs and journal articles for such major and significant contributions" (p. 45).
There's a lot of truth to what Porter is saying here – at least when it comes to book size. Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "The only art is to omit." If it's a choice between succinctness and verbosity, I'll take the aphorist any day. "Bigger is better" may be a mantra among church planters and pastors, but too many writers seem to be afflicted by the disease of gigantism. Today's writers bore on for far too long – including me (my book The New Testament: Its Background and Message tops out at a whopping 672 pages). So I'm not sure that Keener is the only one guilty of overwriting. In the menagerie of overweight books, one could perhaps include the most recently published "beginning" Greek grammars, including Porter's Fundamentals of New Testament Greek, which consists of 492 pages. Rod Decker's has even more: 704. Note that these are self-styled beginning grammars. Part of the problem is what I call "Got-To-Say-Everything-I-Know-About-the-Subject-Itis." The result is often three books in one: a beginning grammar, an intermediate grammar, and a textbook on either textual criticism or linguistics. Keener, of course, is keenly aware of the breadth of his 4-volume commentary. In his own defense he writes (vol. 1, p. xv):
This statement is almost prescient: Keener seems to be anticipating Porter's suggestion that scholars "use monographs and journal articles for such major and significant contributions." Keener also directly addresses the issue of length when he writes (p. xv):
That Keener combines exegetical insights with observations about theology, history, etc., should not surprise us. Keener is a self-confessed "generalist scholar" (p. 4, note 2) who grapples not only with the text but with sociohistorical questions as well. As he explains (p. 5), "While seeking to provide a commentary of some general value, I have concentrated on areas where I believe my own researcher's contributions will be most useful." His work therefore "…does not focus as much attention on lexical or grammatical details (a matter treated adequately by a number of other works)." In short, Keener views his work as "sociorhetorical" (p. 25), pure and simple. I therefore fail to see how one can fault him for not being "exegetical" enough when he himself makes it clear that he doesn't deal simply with Greek exegesis. In short, I agree with N. T. Wright:
I for one have benefited greatly from Keener's insights into the text of Acts. It's one of the first commentaries I turn to whenever I need help in interpreting Luke's history of the church. Keener does a fantastic job of explaining the text in a way that's easy to understand. Used alongside the "Four Bs" (Barrett, Bock, Bruce, and Ben [Witherington]), I think you'll find Keener's work to be a rich source of information about Acts. Sociorhetorical analysis is Keener's area of specialty and it shows. You would have to buy several commentaries on Acts to cover this much ground. Also worth noting is the fact that both Jimmy Dunn and Richard Bauckham have endorsed this commentary. Indeed, so did Stan Porter (at the Amazon site):
I can't recommend Keener's works enough. That goes for all of his books. Ditto for Stan Porter. His books are always extremely well-researched. We might disagree in terms of Greek pedagogy (there's much to be said for brevity), but when grammatical issues arise, Porter's voice is always a good one to take into account.
Tuesday, November 15
8:02 AM Potpourri ....
1) Check out the "What's New?" section of our Greek Portal. We're always adding goodies such as Daniel Streett's "The Great Greek Pronunciation Debate."
2) Honesty in the pulpit? Allen Bevere says yes -- sort of. Read In Preaching, There Is a Fine Line Between Disclosure and Exposure. My two cents? Pastors are incredibly human. Yet how often do we hear this from the pulpit? According to Bo Lane ("Why Do So Many Pastors Leave the Ministry?"), 70 percent of pastors fight depression; 80 percent believe ministry negatively affects their families; 70 percent don't have a single close friend; and 90 percent work between 55 and 75 hours per week. Pastor friend, your people are broken. So are you. Be more than a leader. Be a brother to us. Be real. Be human. No need for flowery speech, by the way. Just talk to us. And when the pressure gets to be too much ("I can't do it all!"), why not try sharing the load with other qualified leaders, thus enjoying a "fellowship of leadership" (Michael Green)?
3) Bridges or walls? The choice is ours.
4) Going to AAR/SBL? Here's some good advice on how to behave.
5) Trump won. Deal with it.
Monday, November 14
8:34 PM Yo yo yo! I'm back. So many good, God things to report about. On my flight from Dallas tonight I began putting together the final touches to my return trip to Zermatt and the Alps next July. What fun. I am never happier, more at peace, more inspired, and more aware of my Creator than when I find myself in a natural setting not much different from the way He made it. There's a special pleasure not only in these moments of planning a trip but also in my thoughts months before and afterwards. When I was a boy in Hawaii I read all about the places I wanted to visit. But reading is never enough. There is nothing like being there. In every one of my trips I don't remember a single dull or unenjoyable moment. Even when there's an element of difficulty and even danger, there are unknown regions and new adventures to be enjoyed. When I look at how lovely creation is, I can understand what led Henry David Thoreau to write, "The earth was the most glorious instrument, and I was audience to its strains."
Zermatt is one of the most magical places in the world. It has a clear view of some of the region's highest mountains, including the Breithorn, the Oberrothorn, and yes, the Matterhorn.
It was here that I first summited a 4,000-meter peak. I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie novel. Everywhere I looked I saw mountain peaks that attracted climbers from all over the world. I was sobered by these reminders of human courage and the danger of high altitude climbing. Perhaps for the first time in my life I understood what "breathtaking" literally meant. Knowing nothing about the technical aspects of climbing, I was of course dependent on my faithful guide. Once, as we scrambled up the Klettersteig, I could not imagine how I had ever gotten myself into such a predicament. It took me 4 hours to climb 1,800 vertical feet. Far below us sat the village of Zermatt. I had no time to think about what I was doing. The climb was steep and treacherous, demanding one's full concentration. But eventually the ascent was over. I had set for myself a formable goal and reached it. And I did it without ever allowing myself to doubt myself or my abilities. By the end of the day I wanted to kill myself for having the idea of climbing the Klettersteig, but every terrifying step was worth it and more.
Afterwards I looked forward to more adventures in the mountains. My visit to the Swiss Alps was more wonderful -- and arduous -- than I ever envisioned in all my months of planning. Here, in the middle of Europe, everything I had seen was as different as possible from my life growing up in the Islands. I would never have imagined, as a boy surfing at Kailua Beach, that I'd climb the Alps -- except in a dream. I'm inspired by the saints of Hebrews 11 -- each one a giant of the faith, yet each a part of the gallant crew manning the oars of the same ship of faith. What they all had in common was the fact that they finished the race. When I think of finishing well, I think of my doctoral students, including Wesley who passed his orals last Friday with flying colors. Here's Dr. Merkle during the exam.
And here's yours truly.
Our responsibilities were simple: check Wesley's work for accuracy, readability, and scholarship; examine the author with all the benevolence of the Spanish Inquisition; and blend appreciation with fatherly advice. There's a kind of joy that comes only when we finish something. When I ran my first half marathon (13.1 miles), I saw runners dropping out of the race. For whatever reason, they failed to finish. For me, no matter how much I ached, especially after 10 miles, quitting was not an option. When I stepped up to the starting line my goal was to experience the joy of crossing the finish line. Finishing a Ph.D. is a huge accomplishment. Nothing beats the feeling of pure exhilaration that you have. At first it's a surreal experience. And even when you get used to being called a "doctor," you quickly realize that your Ph.D. is really only a starting point in the high stakes situations you'll encounter throughout life.
So what's your dream? What's your purpose in life? Who are you at your core? What is your personal mission for the next season of your life? There are at least 7 steps in goal-setting.
1) Decide what you want to do.
2) Write it down, making sure it's specific.
3) Share it with someone.
4) Plan your first step, and then the next one, and then the next.
7) Decide on your next goal.
This weekend I had the goal of beating the magical 30-minute mark during Saturday's 5K at Whitt Elementary School. Last year I finished with a time of 2:48 at this event. This year's course was a lot hillier, however, and the best I could do was 32:00. But I did my best, and that's what always counts the most.
I also wanted to spend some quality time with mom and dad. My goal was to love on them and remind them that they are special to me.
Wherever I go, I always have goals. As Zig Ziglar puts it, "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." And the secret to achieving your goals is starting. I may not always reach my goals, but I never regret the effort I put into them.
Right now my goal is to cook supper and eat. I'm famished.
Bye for now,
Friday, November 11
6:58 AM Time to fly from RDU to DFW. It'll be a long flight, but it could be worse. I could be flying to Sioux City (SUX) or Helsinki (HEL) or Damascus (DAM). In case you ever do fly into one of those cities, you might want to avoid using their acronyms. I'll be off the grid for a while, soaking up the Texas sun. I LOVE Dallas. The only thing I'm freaking out about? Over-eating. (Less politely: Gluttony.) Thankfully, Murphy has a green belt that is perfect for jogging. Between busy farm work and teaching, it'll be good to take a break. Wish the old man well on tomorrow's race!
Thursday, November 10
9:14 PM I'm very jazzed. Just received an email from the Heltons reporting how their fund-raiser went. You may recall the event: The Ellie Helton Memorial 5K and Fun Run in Cary, NC. It was held on October 15. The report I just received is full of good news. There were a gaggle of participants in the race (422 walkers and runners). Participants came from 3 countries and 27 states (including, ahem, Virginia). More than 70 volunteers helped with the event. (Can't do anything without them.) And the best news of all: Over $56,000 was raised for the Brain Aneurism Foundation. That's a 20 percent increase over 2015! The email even included professionally-taken pix of the event, including one of this guy.
And here's the Helton family.
I want to thank the Heltons for deciding to honor the memory of their daughter in such a fabulous way. I didn't understand what this was all about before Becky died. Now I do. Keep doing what you're doing, folks. So much love to your entire team!
5:58 PM Hey folks! After an oral dissertation defense meeting on campus tomorrow morning, I'm off to the Big D for a few days. I'm going to eat beef ribs at Spring Creek Barbeque. Then too, I always enjoy Sheba's Ethiopian Kitchen. Saturday I've got a 5K. But my main goal is to spend time with mom and dad. (Note: They are Becky's parents but I don't call them my in-laws. They are my mom and dad, and I'm right proud of it.) While I'm on the plane, I'll be working up a new book proposal. It has do with Greek, of all things. I love Greek. It's what I do. I love helping people understand it, read it, and use it -- properly. Believe it nor not, there's a lot of abuse out there. It's what I call "evangelical Greek." (That's when I'm in a good mood. Otherwise the name for it is "philological voodoo.") So part of my job as a Greek teacher is prophylactic: helping people avoid misusing the language. "So what's your book project?" The working title is Ask the Greek Prof. You know, questions such as "Is Greek really necessary to understand the New Testament?" (The short answer is no. The longer answer is a bit trickier.) Or, "When my pastor says, 'The word in the Greek means ...,' can I trust him?" Or, "My Bible has many footnotes with alternative renderings of words. What's going on here?" Or, "I've noticed that the NKJV has 'without a cause' in Matt. 5:22, while my NIV lacks these words. Which reading is original? Did Jesus forbid all anger or only anger 'without a cause'? How can I know for sure?"
This is going to be so fun. If you'd like to suggest a question, feel free to send it to me at email@example.com. The question can be general ("How can I learn Greek?") or specific ("What does Paul mean by 'I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man' in 1 Tim. 2:12?"). I'm hesitant to say the idea will ever get off the ground (is there a publisher out there crazy enough to want to tackle a book like this?), but I thought I'd give it a whack. At worst, it will make for some interesting blog posts.
1:12 PM Just heard from India. Mammen Joseph reports that the Becky Black Building in Bagdogra continues to be put to very good use. An additional 500 students are being enrolled in the day school, and they currently have 42 students enrolled in their evening Bible School. Here are the Bible School students in front of the BBB:
It's been my joy to have partnered with Mammen and his son Moncy (a former student of mine) for many years now. Local leaders who are capable of long-term leadership in their communities are essential to the mission work I do.
1:06 PM I'm really sorry to hear that Diane Rehm is leaving NPR. She's 79, however. Since 1998 she's suffered from spasmodic symphonia -- involuntary muscle spasms of the vocal cords. Still, she carried on, and I appreciated that, though not everyone did. Here she rebukes Rush Limbaugh's despicable mockery of Michael J. Fox's disability. (Rush has also been known to mock Diane.)
My stars! Who in the world do we think we are when we think we can mock the disabled among us? Meanwhile, I'm curious to see who NPR chooses as Diane's successor. I hope it's someone known for his or her uninhibited questioning style and refined sense of humor -- two qualities that were on display for all to hear whenever Diane Rehm spoke. Diane truly had something special about her.
You will be missed, Mrs. Rehm.
9:30 AM John Stemberger poses 3 questions evangelicals should pose about Donald Trump. His essay first appeared on January 6 of this year but I think the questions are still relevant today. If fact, maybe they are even more relevant today than before the election.
8:40 AM Good morning, internet peeps. I'm feeling tons better today, thanks to a good night's sleep and a couple of Airbornes. It's been a long time since I've "enjoyed" a full-blown head cold. I think this is partly due to being fit. Just as importantly, I'm learning to listen to my body. At my age, when you begin to sneeze and cough you can't just "push through." Your body is saying, "Dave, you need to slow down and stop. Immediately. Rest up and together we can beat this thing." We should not accept the generosity of medical professionals who allow us to weigh more than we should and have an unhealthy lifestyle because we are "too old" for it to matter. It always matters. The extent that we function is the extent that we live. And function comes from movement. It's the result of a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a healthy diet, and avoidance of stress. I am 64. The average life expectancy for me is 13.4 years. But the average active life expectancy is only 9.3 years. Translation: I can expect to spend about 40 percent of my remaining years in a state of dependency, needing someone to take care of me. I think that's appalling. Clearly what is needed is an active program of exercise and activity for the aging. Prolonged senescence? Not for me, if I can avoid it. Science can keep us alive. But fitness allows us to live.
By the way, I see that President Obama is meeting with our president-elect today. If the American experience is anything, it's the peaceful transference of power. Democratic elections change office holders. It's as simple as that. We thereby avoid civil war. Without this, true democracy doesn't exist or is, at best, incomplete. For our part, American citizens can continue to uphold high standards both for ourselves and for our elected officials. Every democracy on earth is an emerging democracy in the sense that democracies are always in danger of sinking into apathy and fascism. So while it's important for political parties to remain focused on their platforms and agendas, it's also important that they remain parties of principle. I guess what I'm saying is that we can be sincere partisans but what's even more important is democracy itself. So I'm glad for what's happening at the White House today. Believe me, I've been in countries where this would be unthinkable. Meanwhile, as Christians we can and must take Paul's words seriously: "First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people -- for kings and those in authority -- so that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior." And guess what? I don't think Paul meant praying for their demise.
To change the subject, this morning I began reading this book.
Aviation safety has always fascinated me, partly because I fly so much. Airplanes have always crashed -- including Icarus, who plummeted to death because of "equipment malfunction." Still, flying is the safest form of transportation. I'm much more likely to get into an accident on a bus or a train than on an airplane. Plane disasters, however, get more press. I'm old enough to remember the Tenerife Disaster, where 583 people lost their lives. Often, pilot error is involved (think Air France 447). Anyhow, this will be a good book to take with me on my flight to Dallas tomorrow (hehe).
On a completely different note, this week in our Ph.D. seminar on Advanced Greek Grammar the topic was rhetorical criticism in New Testament studies, and I was again struck by my love for the Greek language. Of course, you'd expect that a man who's written a number of books on New Testament Greek would be passionate about his subject. I can't remember not loving Greek, or language in general for that matter. Ask almost anyone who teaches Greek where their love for the language began, and the answer will invariably be early childhood. To this day I can recall coming to my 5th grade classroom at Kainalu Elementary School and hearing my teacher say, "Cómo está usted?" The result was a lifelong obsession with languages. In college I was enthralled by my beginning Greek textbook (Summers). I spent hours cloistered in my dorm room reading it, immersed in a kind of linguistic swamp. It was here that I learned to love nouns and verbs and vocabulary and principal parts. When I was eventually asked to write my own beginning grammar, it was pretty exciting. And thus began a life-long career in writing books that I hope are accessible to the general public. I did not write for those with a professional interest in the subject. Even in the 1980s, I realized something about writing, namely that technical discussions are guaranteed to be tedious and boring -- especially to me. In writing Greek textbooks, you're not just teaching. You're inspiring. (Aren't they the same thing?) For most pastors, Greek is a necessary evil. It was probably required in their masters programs. Can't we authors have pity on them and at least try to make our textbooks interesting? To be clear, I'm not extolling simplicity for simplicity's sake. But rest assured that language learning can be fun, even if the process is sometimes aggravating. I've learned never to underestimate the potential of my students. Most are eager to do well in my classes. Isn't their eagerness worth being compensated by easy-to-read books? Next time you're on Amazon, check out the beginning Greek grammars being written these days. I know I'll be chided for saying it, but what in the world ever happened to succinctness? And why can't the books be eye-appealing? Your typical coffee table tomes, with their erudite melding of left- and right-brain sensibilities, are good examples of what I'm talking about.
Let me use an analogy from air travel. I fly. A lot. Thus I'm familiar with many different types of aircraft. Now, Boeing has designed an attractive fleet of airliners, but none is more distinctive -- or as "beautiful" if I can use that word -- as the 747.
I took my first ride on the Big Bird in 1971 when I flew from Honolulu to LAX. It's hard to look at a 747 without being impressed. The plane looks less like an airliner and more like an ocean vessel in the Cutty Sark mold or maybe a sleek, stylish yacht. No other aircraft can arouse such admiration. On the other side of the pond, however, Airbus engineers have moved in a different direction. Witness the Airbus 380 -- the largest, most expensive, most fuel efficient, and arguably the most uninspiring aircraft being manufactured today.
This disregard for esthetics, we're told, is due to concerns for efficiency and economy. So what. I think the plane is downright ugly. The 747 is my kind of aircraft. The upper deck reminds me of being in the narthex of a great cathedral. The plane is just gorgeous. Clearly, the engineers at Boeing understood art. Can't we Greek authors do the same?
Just wondering ....
Wednesday, November 9
5:18 PM Hello blogging friends,
I trust you're doing well. I’m sitting here nursing a head cold and trying to grasp the significance of what our nation just experienced. But first of all I want to join President Obama and Secretary Clinton in congratulating Mr. Trump on his election victory. I also promise to pray for him as he begins his term of office. As President Obama put it today, "We're all rooting for his success."
As you can probably figure out, I'm pretty much a conscientious objector when it comes to the Left/Right political wars. I guess I'm a self-described "misfit." I call myself neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Unlike some of my fellow evangelicals, I came out neither for nor against Mr. Trump. This kind of politicization within evangelicalism is nothing new. On the Right we hear that we are to vote for the platform and not the person. But on the Right we also hear that we are to vote on issues of personal morality and not merely on pragmatic ones. Hence the dichotomy: some evangelical Republicans were enthusiastically supportive of Trump, while others were adamantly opposed to him. Growing up, I was taught that Republican is always right and Democrat is always evil. That, to me, is a distinction without a difference. I think Russ Moore nails it when he says that, after yesterday's election, we evangelicals are "to maintain a prophetic clarity that is willing to call to repentance everything that is unjust and anti-Christ, whether that is the abortion culture, the divorce culture, or the racism/nativism culture." In other words, be an equal-opportunity offender. He adds:
He's right. How can we defend a so-called "Christian" America that is hypocritical, homophobic, anti-immigrant, sexist, and bigoted? We can't. Nor can we invoke a social gospel that ignores the personal gospel of faith in Christ. I believe that Left or Right, there's an awful lot of corruption in politics. And the best way of addressing these issues, as my colleague Chuck Lawless put it today in his essay 10 Reflections on Today's Election, is to acknowledge:
I'll add this. As far as I can see, I don't think that past political dichotomies such as "Left" and "Right" matter that much to the students I teach. Younger evangelicals find themselves operating more and more outside of the traditional evangelical apparatus. For instance, younger evangelicals are more likely to have a gay friend than their parents and therefore tend to be more sympathetic to the gay rights movement even as they reject homosexuality as a sin. Ditto for issues of creation care and economic justice. They're willing to probe theological and cultural issues that tend to be unwelcome in more established and traditional churches. They're watching movies like Hate Rising. This means that at times they feel out of touch with the evangelical establishment. As I see it, this is a positive development. What we are seeing is the development of ordinary, rag-tag radicals who fear that both the Christian Right and the Christian Left have been allowed to pervert the gospel message and are determined to speak up about it. "Vote for so-and-so because he believes in Jesus as his personal Savior and supports 'our' values" no longer cuts it for them. They view such language as overly-politicized. And they're not the only ones. Our evangelical "elders" have also struggled to make sense of the current scene in American politics – witness Wayne Grudem's initial support of Trump as a "morally good choice," then his taking a 180 degree turn from that position, and then finally expressing his support for Trump's policies. This sense of uncertainty and ambivalence is dramatically reshaping the evangelical political agenda in the U.S. In such situations, the church may have an opportunity. To quote Moore again:
Moore insists that such language "is not worthy of a church that is already triumphant in heaven…."
I couldn't have said it any better myself. The good news is that one day Jesus will win, not only all 50 states, but every tribe and nation. I for one am looking forward to that day. Meanwhile, having shattered the monopoly of the mainstream media and the political establishment in Washington, Donald Trump has revolutionized our entire view of evangelicalism. His "revolution" has shown that the old guard's influence on the evangelical political agenda is still alive and well. This may well lead to new and profound changes in the way we American evangelicals conceptualize our role in society. I doubt, however, that younger evangelicals, the "ordinary radicals," will be deterred in their efforts to develop a kinder, gentler form of evangelicalism. After all, they have begun traveling the downward path of Jesus. They've also begun reading their Bibles. And that is a very dangerous thing to do.
Staying centered in Jesus,
Monday, November 7
5:05 PM If you take a picture of yourself when voting in North Carolina, you can expect to be in legal trouble. We Virginians, of course, are much more laissez faire. To see if your state allows selfies while voting, click here.
4:48 PM Today I got three books about running in the mail. Woooohoooo! Each book is written for rank beginners like me. I dare say these books could not have been written 40 or 50 years ago. During the running boom of the 1960s and 1970s, running was pretty much an elite club. Few newcomers were welcome. All that has changed today. A new wave began in the 1990s. Now everybody is welcome, regardless of who you are, how much you weigh, your motives for running, etc. As one book states, "You already have everything you need to be a long-distance runner. It's mind-set -- not miles -- that separates those who do from those who dream." I like that. They add: "We haven't found a mortal who couldn't run a half- or full marathon." Hmm. I'm not so sure about that. Still, for many things in life, it's tenacity that counts, not talent. I'll never forget my first race. It was a 5K in Raleigh. The only thing I wanted to do was finish. And guess what? I finished, and I didn't even come in last place. Fast forward about a year. Since I was beginning to find my inner long-distance runner, I decided to compete in my first half marathon, again in the City of Oaks. I'd have to say that running that half was one of the best experiences of my life, ranking right up there with my wedding day and my graduation from the University of Basel. As I crossed the finish line I couldn't believe how many people were there, cheering me on. Here I am at the very end of the race. Happy much?
Nowadays my goal is to run longer, a bit faster, and especially smarter. Earlier today I mentioned the 10K I want to compete in next month. "Why not another half?" you ask? Believe me, I thought about it. But one of the biggest mistakes new runners make is over-estimating their ability and readiness. I made that mistake when I did my first marathon (unofficial) a week ago. As one of the books states, "Goals can never be too high, but expectations can." Last week I got a good taste of humble pie. When I finished I could not have taken another step. Literally. But as with mountaineering, I'm learning as I go along. One lesson I've already learned? Hitting a wall and learning to climb it. Patience is a runner's most important training tool. So I'll do a 10K and see how that goes. Then a couple more halfs. I've already picked a tentative date in the future when I'd like to try my first chip-timed marathon. But I'm not signing up.
Back to my reading ....
11:40 AM Hey running friends! I just signed up for Race 13.1 in Durham, NC. The date is Saturday, December 10. The goal is to raise funds for the Heart to Heart Collaborative, an organization that seeks to improve the care conditions for patients who have pediatric cardiac and congenital heart conditions. You can either do a half marathon, a 10K, or a 5K. I've entered my first ever 10K race. Tell your friends about it and help me promote this great event.
9:54 AM Morning, folks! Hope you're off to a great start this week. Here's a snippet of my life. This week I teach both Hebrews and James in my New Testament class. I've asked my students to read a good book on the topic (*wink, wink*), The Jesus Paradigm. Both Paul and James were writing to people who found themselves in month 13 of prolonged adversity. Neither author will allow their readers to view life's adversities through rose-colored glasses. Christianity is no Pollyanna religion. We Christians often find ourselves long on suffering but short on hope. Both writings tell us how to face adversity head on without growing weak in our spiritual walk. I won't have time to go through either of these letters verse-by-verse or line-by-line. But I hope we will learn ways that we can remain resilient and effective, especially during times of extreme trial. This week I'll also be meeting with a colleague of mine as we put one of my doctoral students through his dissertation oral defense -- sometimes referred to as the "great tribulation." Actually, it's never that bad. But it is indeed a time of testing, a time for grave deliberation. Beyond this, in two weeks I'm speaking three times in Hickory, NC, and I need to prepare for those talks. Plus I leave for Dallas this Friday to spend time with mom and dad. In addition, I hope to climb Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi, during my stay in western North Carolina. With this I (finally!) transition to the point of this blog post. I believe that another national election means another opportunity to rethink our priorities as the church. The church in America seems distracted to me. But God's worthies throughout the centuries have always been tireless Nehemiahs who stayed focused, who struggled to build through the discouraging and the unlovely until they got the job done. They did not come down to argue with Sanballat. Today the church is exhorted to sign a truce with the world. "When they say 'Peace and safety'...." This is the promise of politicians. But notice: "When they say 'Peace and safety,' then comes sudden destruction." Politics holds no hope. And the reason it holds no hope is because it tries to carve a brotherhood of man out of the decaying wood of unregenerate humanity. Grandiose schemes and slogans are trying to build the kingdom without the King. But it's never going to work. Only the return of our Lord will set things right. All other hopes are blasted, not blessed, hopes. Certainly, this is no time for the church to waste its substance, as the prodigal did. Yet has there ever been so much distraction and careless living, so much squandering of our wealth and time and resources on what is passing away, as we find today? The trouble, I submit, are our misplaced priorities. In the book of Philippians, Paul wrote about those who "glory in their shame." Their god, he says, is their lower nature, their pride and hubris. Don't we hear this on the air and see it advertized on the web, and doesn't it flaunt itself in our living rooms through television? Then Paul goes on to say this: "But our citizenship is in heaven, from where we await a Savior ...." The world's glory is in its shame. But the Christian's glory is in Christ's shame, the reproach of the old rugged cross, the death He endured for us.
I could make my point this way. I've been doing a lot of reading these days. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, should vote for Trump. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, can't vote for Trump. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, should vote for Hillary. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical who opposes abortion, should vote for Trump. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical who opposes abortion, can still vote for Hillary. I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, should vote third party. And I have read your arguments why I, as an evangelical, should abstain from voting. All this brings me back to what I've said many times before on this blog. Vote for whichever candidate you think stands for what you stand for. Vote your conscience, and I'll vote mine (or not vote at all). "But," as my friend and colleague Edgar Aponte writes, "please do not question the character of your brothers and sisters who have decided to vote for X or Y or Z." Moreover, let's remember what our primary purpose on this earth is. If our mission in life is not the Great Commission, then we're living for the wrong mission. And by "Great Commission" I'm speaking not only about our talk but also about our walk. The true test of my commitment is not how much I give or even what I believe, but how I live. God is not just asking us to give our money to missions but to make missions the core of our lives, the central passion in all we do. Christ meant for His church to be a missionary organism. It is the living presence of a God whose heart throbs with love for the lost and a passion for dying souls. The church is Christ's body, but it is a body He gave for the world. I therefore ask you to consider: Are you willing, as was Jesus, to let everything go for the sake of lost souls and for the 1.6 billion unreached people in this world, to give your life to recapture just one inch of territory from darkness and bring it into the light? If and when the Great Commission becomes more than just another option for gathered believers, it is there that I believe I will be able to recognize the true church.
To sum up, I've been talking about what our commitment to Christ ought to look like in an election year. The answer is that it should look just like Jesus. We are to mimic His attitude and behavior, even toward those with whom we disagree. We're never to retaliate or use violence or insults but instead are to express sacrificial love to all. In The Jesus Paradigm, I take neither a liberal nor a conservative approach to Christian ethics simply because I do not believe that Jesus can be claimed by either the Old Left or the New Right. To me, Gal. 5:14 says it all: We are to enslave ourselves to one another through love. In particular, I resonate with Paul's statement in Gal. 2:20 that I am crucified with Christ and live only as He lives through me, so that I might become His hands and feet in the world. "Jesus is Lord," far from being a meaningless catchphrase, is a radical claim. For the earliest Christians, Christianity was incompatible with allegiance to other authorities, be they political, cultural, ethnic, or even ecclesiastical. Christianity transcends all boundaries -- cultural, racial, political, geographical, natural, even national. Hence radical disciples of Jesus will always embrace those on the other side of the dividing walls of hostility, including our so-called political "enemies."
Even as we go to the polls tomorrow, I encourage us to put our trust in no country, including our own, and to reprioritize the Gospel. There is no security, no "peace and safety," apart from Christ. Let's imitate God, not as He's revealed in partisan politics, but as He's revealed in Jesus (Eph. 5:2-3).
Sunday, November 6
5:44 PM Last night I began rereading the book Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, and so I thought it a curious coincidence that today I should get the following picture from my Map My Run app.
As you can see, I jogged from the Gettysburg Visitor Center to Big Round Top. That was one year ago today. The weather, as I recall, was cloudy but warm.
For me, the allure of Gettysburg is addictive. The rich history of that famous site is filled with "what ifs." The best part of visiting Gettysburg is realizing that, for a brief moment in time, you've become part of such a noteworthy piece of our nation's history. Really, I can't wait to get back. This time I'd like to bike it.
12:40 PM This and that...
1) Missions in reverse:
2) Looking forward to Running with the Pack this Saturday in Murphy, Texas, in support of Whitt Elementary School. I'll be in Murphy visiting Becky's mom and dad and enjoying real barbeque.
3) Here are 15 Fun, Fast and Beginner-Friendly Marathons.
4) If you like to climb, this is a must read website.
5) Are supersonic airplanes back in the offing?
10:02 AM Well, my week of commemorating Becky has come to an end. And what a great week it's been. I mean, the Cubs win and I get to sleep in an extra hour. Life don't get any better. As I said below, my heart has always aligned itself with the apostle Paul. That's one reason I fully support, not the new perspective on Paul, but Paul's new perspective. So I think it's entirely appropriate that I refer to myself as a recovering New Testament scholar. Until we can untangle the lie of educationism, it's hard to receive the truth of Scripture. That's one reason I use paraphrases like The Message (as I did below) to make a point. I have a very high view of the Bible as God's word, but I still think that our Bible translations ought to communicate in language that everyone can understand. Why write "distributing to the needs of the saints" when you can write "sharing what you have with God's people who are in need"? The Bible is worth reading because it always has a point to make. Becky and I would be the first to admit that we did not always read the Bible. I for one was too busy writing my books about the Bible, or too busy homeschooling, or too busy advancing the agrarian lifestyle. How unfortunate to use the Bible to support one's own preconceived conclusions. We want all our ducks in a row, so we fall for the lie that "Dr. So-and-so" has it all figured out. Oh, I long for the text to do its work in my life! Jesus is a Savior for real people. It strikes me as funny that we tend to create Jesus in our image (He is a Calvinist or a Home Schooler or a Farmer, etc.). Perhaps Jesus is much more than this. For me, Christ has become the new center. The purpose of life is to fall in step with Him, even if it means changing courses big time. Widowerhood wasn't anything I sought, believe you me. When Becky died I would cry and cry and cry. Singleness was a novelty for me. But at some point, all of that changed. I am still thirsty for love, for human affection, for the companionship that only a spouse can bring. Yet I am growing more and more comfortable with where I am in life. Because for everyone like me who's been crushed by loss, there is someone who's been healed, set free. Of course, time will tell if I ever fully recover from Becky's passing. Who would have thunk that the Christian life was not something big and bold and audacious but small and hidden and quiet? I believe in making progress in life. But I also believe that God accepts me just where I am, with all of my foibles and disbelief. Do you struggle like I do? It sounds boldfaced to say it, but that's okay. You still belong. You still are His. You still matter. Friend, even in the ordinary rhythm of life, we can find God. First death, then resurrection. That's the secret of living the Christian life. God meets us in our silence and darkness. But He won't leave us there. Trust me on this.
9:04 AM I recently became a supporter of the North Carolina Symphony. Along with my support came season tickets (with third row seats). As a musician, I know what I like and what I don't like, and I can tell you that I absolutely love this orchestra and its venue. The Meymandi Concert Hall is simply spectacular. The sound carries beautifully. And last night's performance of uniquely "American" orchestral music was one of the most glorious and impassioned performances I've been privileged to attend.
What can be more "American" than the works of Samuel Barber, John Williams, and of course the great and good Aaron Copland? Last night's exhilarating performance marked the Meymandi premier of conductor Teddy Abrams, whose wild gesturing left the audience breathless. On this pre-election weekend, the concert was just the tonic I was hoping for -- a reprise from the ugliness of American politics and a sidelong glance at all that is truly wonderful about our great country as heard, for example, through the compositions of a Russian Jewish immigrant (Aaron Copland). America, if it is anything, is an ideal. It's a nation of possibilities, inclusiveness, and straightforwardness. It's a place where a kid from a broken home who did nothing but surf all his childhood and young adulthood could become a professor of an ancient language. Truly, "American" music is music for the common man -- as we heard when the orchestra performed Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. As Copland himself put it, he felt "...an increasing dissatisfaction with the relation of the music-loving public and the living composer." In order to reach a wider audience he began to simplify his style, "... making it more accessible, but without sacrificing artistic value." The work premiered in March, 1943, in the middle of a titanic struggle called World War II. The composer wrote that the piece "... honors the man who did no deeds of heroism on the battlefield, but shared the labors, sorrows, and hopes of those who strove for victory." I'll tell you what, folks: this is what the church was meant to be, a place in which everyone, including the "common man" (and woman), gets to play. Our current way of doing church often forgets this fact. One of the greatest surprises you get from reading the New Testament is learning that there is a place for you. In order to play, you don't have to go to school or read a book or understand everything there is to know about God. People, I believe we have much to learn from ordinary folk, from the people who stand on the margins, from people whose definition of greatness has nothing to do with degrees or publications or fashion styles. Yes, I realize that God used learned men and women throughout Scripture. And yet it wasn't their learning that made them useful to God. One of these brilliant scholars, Paul the apostle, could write, "The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash -- along with everything else I used to take credit for. Why? Because of Christ. Yes, all these things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant -- dog dung." God expired His word (2 Tim. 3:16-17) so that each one of us -- each and every man and woman of God -- might be fully equipped for every good work.
Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man reminds me that I can be simple without being boring or simplistic. In fact, I've tried to accomplish as much in my writings, many of which were written for common followers of Jesus. I write for the average person who usually goes throughout life without a lot of bells and whistles. They too need to be honored. After all, they "share the labors" and so share the victory.
Friends, as we face perhaps the most important election since the Civil War, let's not forget what makes America great. It's the common man. The man who rises from the dust like an ancient phoenix. It's the land of hard working immigrants like my grandparents and greater opportunities than you will find in any other country on earth. I'm grateful to be an American, to be alive in the time in which I live -- despite the fact that we Americans are physically fighting each other at political rallies and taunting one another with schoolyard rhetoric. Still, the fact remains: America is a place where everybody has the opportunity to share their views, however noble or odious. I hope and pray it can remain that way.
Saturday, November 5
1:25 PM As I write this, I am riding high. Two of my daughters blessed me with a visit today. They prepared a scrumptious brunch, we sat around and talked, the kids fed the donkeys, and off we went to Becky's grave to lay some flowers, read Scripture (Psalm 23, one of Becky's faves), and pray. I think we all got a bit teary-eyed (I know I did), but mostly we were smiling and having a good time. I'm not a perfect father, but I do love my kids and grandkids. They bring me moments of laughter and connection. I know I can be real with them -- no more masks, no more hiding my journey, my struggles, my questions. "I came to give you life and life more abundant," says Jesus. I think my family is a big part of this abundance that God promises us. I am an exile in a fallen world, yet even in the right now God is establishing His kingdom. Just like Becky's death stained everything, so my family brings renewal and wholeness to my life. I've been thinking how blessed I am. This is life in a post-Becky world, and it is good.
9:12 AM Odds and sods ....
1) Jonathan Bernier asks Who Wrote Hebrews? His answer might surprise you.
2) Ben Witherington reviews the new movie Hacksaw Ridge.
3) Warren Throckmorton is voting for an independent candidate for president and tells us why.
4) Here are some of the best sermons on the web (by Elizabeth Elliot).
Friday, November 4
5:40 PM This is the only way I'll ever climb Everest.
5:10 PM Picture time, now that the animals have been fed (and their owner has been, too).
1) Nice thank-you note from the Heltons. For sure I will be back next year!
2) Tonight I'm exegeting (again) 1 Cor. 14:34-35. Grateful for books like these.
This passage has given countless exegetes a Charley Horse between the ears. Exegesis is crazy work but it is good work.
3) One day I'd love to do this:
88 stories tall. No fence, no guard rails. Just plenty of guts.
11:18 AM As you all know, I began running 5K races about a year and a half ago, even though I had never done anything like that in my life. I began running for a number of reasons, I guess. I've found it therapeutic. (What better way to run away from your problems than to, well, run away from your problems.) It's humbled me. (I once forgot to lock the door at the porta potty.) You begin to question your sanity -- which, from time to time, is probably a good thing. (During a race I talk to myself like crazy: "You're halfway there, buddy. That dog is soooo cute. Get out of my way, cop! What, another hill? Ouch, ouch, ouch. I hate running. I know I'm coming in dead last. I just know it. There's the finish line. It's about time!")
And now the moment has finally come to plan for my first ever official marathon. I realize that if I can finish a marathon, I can probably finish anything. Here are two books I ordered yesterday.
Yes, I am like your typical beginning Greek student -- thinking that the more books on the subject I buy, the quicker I'll learn. Yeah right. But hey -- deciding to do a marathon is a terrifying thing, especially when I'm still trying to develop my base. I really don't want to learn what "pace" means in the middle of my first marathon. I'm like a dog learning new tricks. For one thing, when I ran my first half marathon (13.1 miles), I played mind games with myself along the way. I split the race up into manageable chunks -- four 5Ks to be exact (with a few feet of leftovers). That really helped. I suppose I can do the same thing when running a marathon. I also used the energy of my fellow racers to help propel me forward. I kept telling myself, "If these people can do it, so can I."
Now the question is: what marathon should I sign up for? It's pretty much "pay your money and take your choice." Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up at the Honolulu Marathon not only because of its mostly flat course, but also because it welcomes racers of all abilities and has no cut-off time. Can you imagine going past Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head and Koko Crater? Wowsers.
Meanwhile, I've already set a definitive goal: Not to fall into the comparison trap. Friend, I don't give a hoot how fast you can run a marathon. I am me. A very happy me. I will do my best, and that will be good enough.
Wish me well, will you?
10:08 AM Thomas Hudgins reminds us why we should always provide our own translation of the Greek when we are preparing to teach. For example, he renders Gal. 1:6 as, "I am completely blown away at how quickly you are turning away ...." A flabbergasting suggestion, if I do say so myself. I am weirdly protective of such renderings because I have produced a few of these myself in the ISV. At the end of the day, it just doesn't work to argue that "blown away" is wrong because it isn't a "literal rendering of the Greek." For Pete's sake, translation is not only faithfulness. It's communication. As Thomas says,
Thomas also addresses the issue of ambiguity in language. The old view that a Greek word must be translated by the same English gloss (which is regarded as its "proper" meaning) is closely related to the fallacy called etymologizing. It is often assumed that there is some "real" or "mysterious" meaning behind a Greek word, a meaning that can be known only if the "real" meaning is revealed. But to always assign one meaning to one word is incorrect since it denies the basic fact of polysemy -- the notion that words do not have meaning but meanings, only one of which is its semantic contribution to any passage in which it occurs. In other words, a word has a specific meaning in a specific context. This is a helpful principle to remember when examining, for example, the diction of Donald Trump. In his essay Understanding Trump's Use of Language, George Lakoff shows how The Donald, far from been fast and loose with words, is a master of ambiguity. "His words and his use of grammar are carefully chosen, and put together artfully, automatically, and quickly." Check it out and you'll see what he "means."
The whole point of my post is that there is no one-to-one relationships between words and meanings, and that semantics embraces far more than merely the so-called meaning of a word. I have more thoughts on this in my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek in case you're interested. Sure, for many of us, linguistics is just too difficult of a subject to tackle. Ironically, the more responsibility people take for their spiritual development and their neighbor, the more incumbent it is for them to be less reliant on pastors and teachers and less resentful of studying Greek on their own. Reading the text for yourself could be profoundly good for you and your people. If you are afraid of the subject, join the club. But if a boy raised at Kailua Beach can learn to read Greek, I suppose anybody can.
9:18 AM Several years ago in our faculty workshop I was asked to speak on the priority of excellence in all we do as scholars. I hope the world sees in us a community with wide-open arms, a community that is determined to get to the bottom of things, a faculty that chases down the primary data and not just the secondary literature, a group of researchers that has great discernment and does not just glibly follow the latest current or trend in scholarship. May we show courage to challenge long-entrenched views when the evidence points us in other directions. May we, by our scholarship, earn the right to be heard, not merely by own own kind (conservative evangelicals), but also by the academic guild as a whole. Yesterday I spoke of a man named Harry Sturz. I once described him as follows:
In my latest book, Running My Race, I ask, "Why do we ignore the fathers when it comes to the synoptic problem?" You see, it is dangerous for young scholars to read the primary data and to translate for themselves the writings of the fathers, for these writers were unanimous that our earliest Gospel was Matthew's. In fact, 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 fathers. Regrettably, I have found that 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 and incorporated into it, even at the expense of logic. An example of this (in my opinion) 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. 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" (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. 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. 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.
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.
Thursday, November 3
5:56 PM Three years ago today we held a memorial service for Becky on campus. At the end, we showed a powerful video clip from Kevin Brown.
As I watched it today, I enjoyed those moments in quiet reflection and meditation. As the days speed dizzily by, sometimes it's good to be reminded.
Gracious God, it's hard to realize that it's been three years since You took Becky to be with You. Sometimes I feel life is passing me by more quickly than I thought. Show me ways I can reach out to other people and make a difference in someone's life today, just as Becky would do so often. Thank You, Helper of the helpless, for my scars. They tell my story. They reveal who I am and what life has brought me. May I rejoice in them today and all the days of my life. Amen.
5:44 PM What a crazy day it's been. I lifted at the Y and then did a 5K at the local track.
The temperature was 82 degrees. And it's November, for crying out loud. Afterwards, my body asked for arroz con pollo, and my mind gladly acquiesced. (I am so co-dependent.)
Then it was back to haying.
All day long I felt like a 30-year old.
No sense wasting time pining for my youth or wishing I could relive the years. I am celebrating my age, and it sure feels good, don't it, Ishi?
11:06 AM Is your church up to doing a marathon? A marathon is 26.2 miles. It's a slugfest. But you finish by taking one step at a time. So here are 26.2 ideas to get you started and maybe even keep you going to the end.
1) If you are a pastor, I might suggest that you stop training for "chief ministry provider" and start training for "chief ministry developer."
2) Let us rid ourselves of the "consumerism" mentality once and for all. It stands opposite to the "body ministry" as described in the New Testament.
3) As leaders, let's commit ourselves to discovering and employing the untapped potential that exists in our churches.
4) The shift from the "ministry of the clergy" to the "ministry of the laity" is one of the most important decisions facing the church today. Let's make it.
5) Let's self-identify first and foremost as a servant. Only one class of people exists within the church, servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Within that class there will always be different functions, but servanthood is incumbent upon all of us.
6) Realize that the under-utilization of our members is the primary reason why the mission of God is not being fully realized in the world and the reason why there is a dearth of servant-leadership in the church. (Side note: You might read my essay The Future of Southern Baptist Missions.)
7) The "laity" in your congregation is the most bountiful leadership resource available. Use it.
8) The role of the seminary is to come alongside local churches in training men and women for God-called ministries. This resource is useful so take advantage of it. But it can never become a substitute for in-house apprenticeship training.
9) If you are a leader, be willing to step aside and allow gift-based ministry to occur. Your people must be given freedom and authority for this to happen. Clergy must view the laity as equal in importance, as authentic ministers of the Gospel.
10) Recover the spirit of volunteerism in which every member is valued and equipped to pursue their ministry.
11) Let's stop minimizing the importance of the local church for identifying, selecting, and developing leaders. As much as possible, indigenous leadership is our goal.
12) The most effective churches today are those that are developing a team-based approach to leadership. Collaborative team fellowship is essential to a healthy church. Since all are to be involved in ministry, team ministry will help to flatten hierarchies and reinforce the notion that there is no such thing as a passive Christian. If at all possible, let's all avoid doing ministry alone.
13) We've got to set an example. The process of homegrown leadership is best done within an environment of mentoring and coaching. Seeing how something is done, rather than just hearing how it is done, is liberating. Let's focus less on telling and more on coaching. Relationships comprise the chalkboard on which God explains Himself.
14) Share openly with your congregation about the mentors in your own life. The first mentor in my life was Dr. Harry Sturz of Biola University. He taught me the life skills of the classroom, diligence, what good scholarship looked like, and devotion to my students. He stood by me, encouraged me, prayed for and with me, and wouldn't let me give up on my dreams of earning a doctorate. To him I owe an eternal debt of love, gratitude, and devotion.
15) Provide a biblical foundation for all you do. The book of Acts is a good place to start.
16) Don't wait to begin this process of empowering ministry to others. Jesus was keen to pass the baton of leadership early in His ministry. If you wait for "perfection," it will never happen.
17) Be patient with yourself and others. The empowerment model of ministry is laborious and time-consuming. Remember: You're running a marathon, not a sprint.
18) Memorize key New Testament texts and pass them on to others. I would begin with 2 Tim. 2:2 (Paul's goal was to train, teach, and empower capable followers who in turn could train, teach, and empower their own followers); Eph. 4:11-13 (Paul taught that equipping people for ministry ["works of service"] is God's plan for the pastoral care of His people); and 1 Cor. 12:12-26 (where Paul teaches that God's Spirit equips the church with a host of ministry functions that result in an empowered body capable of adequately fulfilling the mission of God in the world).
19) Remember that even if you only duplicate your heart and passion in one other leader, you have doubled the effectiveness of your ministry.
20) If you have a dependency model in your church, remember that it always comes from a climate of disempowerment.
21) Always emphasize the work of the triune God when it comes to spiritual gifts. This is the clear teaching of 1 Cor. 12:4-6, where Paul says that the Spirit grants gifts to all members, the Son assigns places of service, and God the Father grants us the outworkings or results of our ministries. So there are three steps in this process: discovering our gifts, discovering the place where we can best exercise those gifts, and discovering what God wants to accomplish through us as we exercise those gifts in the place of His appointment.
22) We must take the Great Commission seriously. The church is not only a community of those who learn of Christ but who witness to others and proclaim in word and deed the Lord Jesus and His salvation to anyone who will listen. The whole life of a local church is to be one of service and sacrifice and witness.
23) Let's remember that the goal of all Christian education (whether it be in the local church or in the seminary) is to incorporate the mission thrust of Jesus into all of our students. The goal is for each local church to "offer the message of life" (Phil. 2:16) in a way that people will know why and how they should turn to this new Lord Jesus Christ.
24) Let's work hard to see to it that "missions" means more than sending money to support missionaries and missions programs. All Christians are missionaries, and all are to be involved personally in service to the world. That's why I sometimes introduce myself to people, not as a professor of Greek, but as a fulltime missionary. According to the New Testament, missional service is not the prerogative of an elite corpus but the function of the whole people of God.
25) Let us teach, preach, and model the truth that the gathering exists for the going. It is exactly by going outside itself that the church is itself.
26) Let our priority become being the Master's messengers in the world and let our churches be satellite offices of the kingdom of God. Let every member of the body see him- or herself as a strategic player in missionary work as both salt and light.
26.2) Finally, remember that there is no "magic formula" for getting any of this done -- including lists like this one. There is no such thing as "26.2 steps to becoming a New Testament church." Living in obedience to Christ means, above all, living in daily communion and fellowship with His Spirit. There's no better leader than He. Believer, your pastor or your church cannot do the ministry God has given you to perform. Following Jesus is a journey that requires honesty, vulnerability, and commitment. The New Covenant is not an idea to consider but a life to be lived. As I look back, I am convinced that God was profoundly placing me under the mentorship of some of the most godly and humble men on the planet. I am convinced that He has such mentors for you, people who will take your hand and work alongside of you for the glory of God and for the good of His church. I sense there's a movement bubbling up in our churches today that goes beyond a "seven-easy-steps-approach" and celebrates a completely new way of living. I thank God for the millennials among us who aren't just complaining about the church but are dreaming of what it might become. Each of us has the privilege of serving Jesus every time we exercise our spiritual gift in His power and for His glory, every time we feed the hungry, every time we acknowledge the value and dignity of the strangers in our midst, every time we love the forsaken and remember the prisoners. Empowerment is giving people permission to become engaged in a meaningful way in the work Christ is doing in the world today.
On your mark, get set,
Wednesday, November 2
7:38 PM What restores a grieving widower's soul? The very same thing that restores anyone's soul: hard work, and the joy of Christian fellowship. When Naomi suffered devastating losses, she was comforted by the birth of her grandson Obed. Her friends said to her, "He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age" (Ruth 4:15). On the one hand, I got home just in time to get up hay before the sun set.
Nothing brings me more joy than the joy of working outdoors with my own hands.
On the other hand, this week I've felt the sheer unadulterated joy of watching others perform their duties and perform them well, as did Noah Kelley in our Greek seminar last night.
His subject was the synoptic problem. If you don't know what that is, don't ask. It's an extremely complicated subject, as you can see.
And there are probably more "solutions" to the synoptic problem than there are New Testament scholars. I have so much more to say about this but I've pretty much said all I'm going to say in one of my books. Today, in our New Testament Introduction class, I blubbered in front of 30 some-odd students as I tried to relate to them what this day means to me. I'll repeat to you what I said to them: I am so grateful to God for entrusting Becky to me for 37 years. Her death wasn't the end but the beginning. Death is the fertile soil where the Gospel forms roots. For it is when we die that we live. That's how I've survived the past three years. Once again, God is asking me to rest in Him, even when nothing seems normal. As I began class today my heart was in my throat. I think about her and I'm undone. I know I keep talking about this, and it's getting old. Yet the amazing thing is that God still loves me. It never frustrates Him. I made it through the opening of class and then introduced our guest speaker, who was none other than my good friend Kevin Brown, one of three elders at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Wilkesboro, NC.
We had lunch together (where he allowed me to cry on his shoulder) and then he spoke for two and a half hours to the class.
Honestly, this is a pastor who gets it. I mean, Kevin shows how God can take a very traditional church and lead it along so that it takes baby steps of obedience. Yes, I know. "Church" is a complicated conversation. I graciously invite you into the conversation because I know how much faithfulness means to you and how willing you are to expose yourself to humble self-examination. I have much hope for the church, even as it sometimes drives me crazy. The one thing I love about Kevin is that he's not afraid to be transparent. Healthy churches have healthy leaders -- not perfect leaders, but leaders who will ask the hard questions, such as "Are we committed to making disciples or mere consumers?" It really is simple -- this kingdom way of doing church. Every church can make process if it allows God to be God and people to be human. Here are the topics Kevin discussed today.
Two and a half hours of stunned silence were broken by some very intelligent questions. And then the class was over, just like that. Kevin showed us today something I have been trying to teach for 40 years -- that the study of the word of God has a specific goal, but that goal is not the study of the word of God. If the Bible is truly the word of God (as we evangelicals claim), then it will surely change the trajectories of our lives, our marriages, our homes, our churches. You develop an entirely different set of priorities. I have no idea what this might look like in your marriage or in your church. It's God's job to know that, not mine. But are you open? So thank you, Kevin. You are a visionary and a dreamer and a thinker and a disciple and a true shepherd. Thank you for your sermons, thank you for your books, thank you for your lectures, and thank you for your courage. You are touching lives for Jesus. Keep doing what you're doing. It matters.
Tuesday, November 1
8:58 AM Yesterday morning I took one of the biggest steps of my life. In honor of Becky's memory, I decided to do something really challenging: a marathon. That's 26.2 miles. So off I went to the High Bridge River Trail in Farmville.
And guess what?
I did it.
Of course, this wasn't a "real" marathon, you know with chip-timing and all. I plan to do that next year. But hey -- 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles. And my time? It sucks. The average marathon time is 4 and a half hours. The fastest is 2 hours. But ya gotta start somewhere. In reality, I'm a lousy runner. I do it, but I don't really enjoy it that much. So I may end up walking the race next year. I felt good about yesterday's adventure. My quads held up like champs, and today I feel no after-effects except for a small blister on the sole of my right foot.
"Was it hard?" Yes and no. Based on my absolute lack of preparation, I wasn't very optimistic that it would be a comfortable experience. The first half was mostly mind over matter. Until I got to the turnaround spot, the battle was 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental. I kept having to cajole my body to keep on going. "Dave, you've done 6 miles. Great. Now let's make that 8." "Hey, you just did 8 miles. Way to go. Now let's make that 10." This went on for 13.1 miles.
As soon as I turned around, everything changed. Now the battle was 10 percent mental and 90 percent physical. Here's what I told my body: "You're doing real good, Dave. You're half way there. Congratulations. Now you've got to get back to the starting line. And really, you have no choice but to keep on going. Ain't no one gonna pick you up in a golf cart and give you a ride back to the car." I had to really push myself but eventually I made it.
My next step is to do another 5K in Dallas on the 12th. Then I'll try a couple of halfs before biting the big bullet. Until then I'll do some easy biking as well as continue my weight training regiment. Thankfully, my body is responding well to all the exercise it's been getting. I really love listening to my body. It always tells me when to work and when to rest.
Today it's a rest day for sure. Tomorrow, of course, is the anniversary. A year ago around this time I was in Hawaii. For the most part all I did was relax. I surfed and hiked and slept. I had no schedules, no agenda, nothing was pressing me to get done. But a lot got accomplished during this completely uncharted time. I journaled about Becky. Now and then I would read old blog posts. I read Scripture. Gradually, as I read and pondered and remembered, I began to gain a new confidence to step out into uncharted territory. It occurred to me that by accepting Becky's death and by attempting to share my experience of loss with others, I had found a kind of fundamental happiness and contentment that I'd never known before. That said, as tomorrow approaches, the old fears have begun to return, like you're travelling to the horizon and thinking you're going to drop off the end of the world. When I climbed the Klettersteig last summer I struggled against a similar fear. We often think that brave people have no fear. The truth is that we all fear the unknown. This is where faith comes in. When things frighten us, when we face risk and uncertainty, we realize that we are on the verge of something important. As I faced the Klettersteig I remember thinking, "Now every moment is precious to me. My family is precious to me. My life itself means so much to me." At that moment, something had changed. A thing that was scary and horrifying had turned into a gift.
Life without a spouse is like that. Is losing your wife bad or good? Really, we just don't know. Thinking that we can find lasting joy and avoid pain in this life is a pipe dream. Loss is inevitable for all of us. In fact, the times when we really know what life is all about is when the rug has been pulled out from under our feet and we haven't got the foggiest idea where we're going to land. In that very instant of fear is the seed of hope. Life is a good teacher. As humans, we are always living in transition. But as we stay with the uncertainty -- as we live with a broken heart -- we will find the path of true awakening. When things get edgy, we need to ask ourselves, "Am I going to open up or shut down?" We don't need to try and create these situations. They will present themselves to us with clockwork regularity. And when they do, we have no choice except to embrace what's happening or push back against it. Underneath our ordinary lives -- underneath all the teaching I do, all the travelling I do, all that's in my mind -- there is a fundamental groundlessness that can only be grounded in Christ. Christ is like the Klettersteig. A lot happens to a mountain. The rain hits it. The wind howls. It snows. Clouds cross it. People climb it. Many things happen to the mountain. But it just sits there. When we see who we are in Christ, when we refuse to find our identity in anything or anyone else, there is a grounding like a mountain.
So here is my invitation to you. Deal with whatever you have to deal it. Approach it head on. Face down your fears. Your place in Christ is secure. And His Holy Spirit is an unbelievable healer. Give your losses to Jesus. He can do something positive with them, I tell you. You can cross the finish line. And never forget that we are running this race together.