Monday, October 2, 2023

"Examine Yourselves": Rethinking the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11)

I grew up in a church that always had a lengthy period of introspection before we partook of the Lord's Supper. We were asked to "examine ourselves," just as Paul had done with the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. If we felt we were not "worthy" to partake of communion that Sunday, we would pass on the elements as they were served.

Here are three terms in 1 Corinthians 11 that I think might call this practice into question. 

They should at least give us pause. First of all, nobody was ever invited to the Lord's table. The verb poieite that Paul uses here is in the imperative mood in Greek, that is, the mood of direct command. That's one reason why we call communion an "ordinance" of the church, like baptism. We are commanded to do it. In fact, NOT to partake of the supper would apparently be the violation.

Secondly, notice the word I underlined above in v. 24. This is perhaps the strongest way in Greek you can say "in remembrance of ME." We come to the table to remember, not our sins, but our Savior. Of course, if the Lord brings to your mind some sin that is in your life, the Lord's Supper is as good a time as any to repent of it and ask the Lord for forgiveness. But honestly, we believers are so permeated with sin that it is probably impossible to ever know what sin or sins remain unconfessed and unsurrendered. 

This leads me to my third observation. Notice that in v. 27 Paul uses an adverb (unworthily), not an adjective (unworthy). His warning isn't about sin in general. I used to think like this when it came to the Lord's Supper: "Let's see, on Monday I was late for work for no reason. On Tuesday I skipped my morning quiet time. On Wednesday I sped on the interstate. On Thursday I spoke an unkind word to a friend. Man, this week has been a spiritual struggle. I think I'll pass on the Lord's Supper today." 

No, the problem in Corinth was the congregation's failure to "discern the body" (v. 29). Paul was rebuking them because they were forgetting that every person in the room was family. There were, he says, divisions at the table. The greedy behavior of some -- they were eating their own meals and not sharing with others -- humiliated those with nothing to eat (vv. 21-23). This completely defeated the purpose of coming together as a church. "So you're hungry?" asks Paul. "Okay. Eat at home! But when you come together as a church, all should eat together. That way when you eat it will not be for judgment." In short, he is rebuking the Corinthians for their unloving, uncaring, and unworthy behavior at the meal, not because they were "unworthy." 

Have you ever failed to treat your brother or sister in Christ as you ought to, as family? 

A young lady was at the airport waiting for her flight when she opened a bag of cookies. After she took a cookie from the bag, a man sitting next to her did the same. This greatly irritated her. She said to herself, "How dare he?" Not wanting to create a fuss, she let it pass. But when she picked up another cookie, the man did the same. This happened time and again and she was really having to control her temper. Finally, there was only one cookie left. As she was wondering what the man would do now, he took the cookie, broke it in half, ate half of it, left the other half for her, and quietly walked off. Fuming with anger, her flight was finally called and she boarded the plane and took her seat. When she opened her carry-on to look for something to eat, she noticed that she still had her bag of cookies, untouched and unopened. Then she realized that she had been eating from the man's bag of cookies, not her own. She was ashamed of herself for faulting the man for his terrible manners. And to think that he had even shared with her his last cookie! He did not say anything but just broke the cookie in half and left.

Do you have any regrets about the way you have treated a brother or sister in Christ? Every Lord's Supper is an opportunity to choose to do better. We could probably all be a lot more loving and patient with each other. We have the opportunity every moment of every day to make a positive or negative impact on those around us. Remember: our actions reveal the kind of people we really are deep down inside. 

Sproul once said, "The Lord's Supper is for Christians, not for perfect people. That we are sinners should not keep us from taking the supper." I would add: If the Lord convicts you of an uncaring spirit on your part, do not wait until the next communion service to make things right. You can do that right now, today. 

The Synoptic Problem (2)

Here are a few points to ponder as we think about the Synoptic Problem.

1. The early church was unanimous that our earliest Gospel was not Mark's but Matthew's. 

2. Clement of Alexandria stated that the Gospels containing the genealogies (Matthew and Luke) came first. 

3. Matthew has always been the church's foundational Gospel and the most important. It was composed to meet the urgent needs of the primitive church of Jerusalem, which needed a manifesto defending its integrity and its right to exist alongside of Judaism.

4. Luke, on the other hand, was written at the request of Paul to meet the no-less urgent need of his Gentile churches to have their own manifesto to prove their full equality with Jewish Christians.

NOTE: In my book Why Four Gospels? I use the term "manifesto" intentionally. A manifesto is "a public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, especially of a political nature, proclaiming certain opinions and motives in reference to some act or course of conduct done or contemplated." Think, for example, of the Communist Manifesto or the Feminist Manifesto. Matthew and Luke were no less revolutionary. 

"Why Mark?" will be the topic of our next post. 

Alpine Training Continues

It felt so good to get back to the Y today and resume my upper body training for the Alps, including pull ups. 

I think I am currently looking at a 50-50 chance of summiting an Alpine peak next summer. I won't go back to Switzerland unless I can get that up to 75-25. There's no sense in traveling all that distance and spending all that money unless you stand a better-than-average chance of accomplishing your goal. I'll decide somewhere around next March. Which gives me 5 solid months of training left. 

As a goal setter, I've discovered that there's no use in making goals unless you have action steps and target dates for completion. Incidentally, there are three basic types of goals -- those you can live with, those that are a slight stretch, and those that are a dream. Climbing one more peak in Zermatt is in the latter category. I am trying to set myself up for being successful, but the truth is that this is a HUGE stretch for me. The main thing is that I give 100 percent to everything I do or attempt to do, and to always expect the best of myself. To do this you have to leave both self-doubt and perfection behind. You have to listen to your body. You also have to give yourself permission to fail. 

I've committed myself to the Alps, but I'm still not at the point where I believe it's actually going to happen! 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Synoptic Problem (1)

Here's the consensus view on the origins of our Gospels: 

The problem solved is stated here, our Mark did first of all appear. For Luke and Matthew used him both, but Luke and Matthew, nothing loath, to add some more used "Q" for "Quelle," and special sources "M" and "L."

Make sense? Not to me. I'll be blogging about this topic this coming week and challenging the scholarly guild. I hope you'll join me. 

Recovery Walk (and Church) in Appomattox

After getting 10 and a half hours of wonderful sleep last night, I woke up refreshed and completely recovered from yesterday's race. One thing I always like to do after a race is walk the next day just to keep the muscles in active recovery mode. Since the day had dawned with absolutely perfect fall weather, I decided to take advantage of the trails at Appomattox Court House for that purpose. I also thought I'd take the opportunity to add some pictures to my photo collection of this beautiful and historic site. Here is just a sample of the dozens of pictures I took. 

Afterwards I attended a nearby Baptist church that is really making its mark in southern Virginia. 

We sang all the old hymns accompanied by a piano, the choir brought a lovely special, and the Lord's Supper was accompanied by a young lady on the harp playing such hymns as "It Is Well with My Soul" and "Be Thou My Vision." The message from Romans 6 was excellent. I still remember its outline:

1. The picture of baptism.

2. The priority of baptism.

3. The practice of baptism.

Tomorrow it's back to the gym to continue my pull ups challenge. I also have my sports massage in Wake Forest and I plan to get in some writing while on campus. This week we have off for Fall Break. The weather is very promising for haying. We'll see what happens. 

Today I met someone at church who also did the race in Lynchburg yesterday. I'm sure we were both thinking, "I can't believe it's humanly possible to go up that hill at the end." If, 7 years ago, a prophet would have told me, "In a few years you'll be running the Virginia 10 Miler and even longer distances," I would told him he was crazy. I would have told him that I was more likely to give birth to an elephant named Dumbo than to compete in a foot race. Then I witnessed one of my kids run a half marathon. Even though you may not know it at the time, every once in a while you have those experiences in life that shape the person you become. That was one of those moments. We did a 5K together, and the rest was history. Since then, running has become a part of me. That moment was the beginning of so many amazing experiences that have come into my life because I am a runner. I can't begin to imagine how different my life would be today if I had never started running or lifting or surfing again. Each of us is capable of so much more than we realize. I know I sound like a broken record, but I hate watching people waste away their lives because they believe they have run out of untapped potential. I cannot help but run, even if I'm terrible at it. I know of no other way to live than to be active. 

You (yes, YOU!) can go out and do something awesome. Challenge yourself to go beyond the line of what is comfortable. Begin NOW. 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Virginia 10 Miler 2023 Race Report

Lynchburg, like Rome, is known as the "City of Seven Hills." That's why the hills are so difficult at the annual running of the Virginia 10 Miler. Here's an elevation map produced by one of Virginia's best cartographers (me):

One almost needs an ice pick and crampons. Remember: This course is an out and back, which means that you go from left to right on this map, turn around, and then run the course backwards. The most obvious feature of the race is the fact that it's all downhill at the start. However, what goes down must go up, and everyone dreads having to run uphill for the last mile of the race. 

When the race starts, everyone is happy and cheerful. 

I, in particular, was watching my steps. 

I didn't want to run too hard since I was coming off a chest cold. God has blessed me with a good set of bellows and I plan to keep it that way. Here we are a couple of miles into the race. 

We're still going strong. Remember: We're still going downhill. Besides, there were over 1,000 enthusiastic volunteers along the course to cheer us on. 

As far as I am concerned, these are the real heroes of the day, not the Kenyans and Ethiopians who came in first. 

I finished the race a full 7 minutes under the goal pace I had set for myself, so that was a pleasant surprise. Incidentally, sometimes Airbnb comes up with real winners, like this 1752 farmhouse I stayed in near Rustburg. Country living at its best yet only a 12 minute drive from Lynchburg. Sweet.

In short, one of the things that draws me to races is that it is chosen suffering. Even when I was plodding up Mount Everest at the end of the race, one thought kept me going: I chose this! Nobody makes you run. It is your choice. Friend, if something in your life is worth doing, do it now. Don't wait. No one knows what tomorrow will bring except the Lord. Live your life to the fullest each and every day. Try to live in such a way that you won't have to look back (too often) with regrets, thinking about all the things you were going to do but never got around to. At 71, if there is a goal I want to achieve, I want to start working towards it now. I want to nurture those relationships in my life that are important to me and let the rest go. I want to be an encouragement and support to others. Most of all, I want to love and serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And I want to do it NOW. 

Overall, I had a great morning and a reminder that
  • Not listening to your body is for idiots.
  • I don't have to put pressure on myself.
  • Not every race is easy. In fact, none are!
  • Always say thank you to the volunteers. 
  • I love Virginia. 
Thank you for reading,


Friday, September 29, 2023

Entering the Fall Season

I'm so excited about the rest of the year I can hardly stand it. It's always amazing to me that people are bored. There are people who are actually bored with life. What a terrible way to spend a year. Just sittin' around moping, waiting for something to happen. What a horrible way to live. Go out and make something happen. 

What an exciting thing it is that we can move into the fall season that is unfolding in front of us. Will you and I live it to the full? The choice is ours. 

By Means of the Spirit Keep on Walking (Gal. 5:16)

Here's yet another verse I committed to memory this morning. 

Here's my literal translation:

"But I say, by means of the Spirit keep on walking, and the lust of the flesh you will by no means fulfill."

Notice that the verb is "keep on walking." Walking is something that if you stop doing you are no longer walking, you're standing still. You've got to keep on walking. You put your right foot out in front of you, then you bring your left foot up, or you're not walking. Then you do it all over again. It's a continual, habitual thing. 

In a battle, the Christian is to stand.

In a race, the Christian is to run.

But in life, the Christian is to walk. 

Soldiers win medals. Runners receive laurels. But walkers wake up in the morning to a kitchen full of dirty dishes and a garden that needs weeding and an elderly parent that requires constant attention and papers that need grading and a child that needs to be taken to the doctor and temptations that need to be faced. The idea of walking in the Spirit is not a ride in the Space Shuttle. You're not going into orbit. Your stuck in the here and now. To do that, we need to learn to "walk in the Spirit." The whole Christian life is a walk of faith, and it is a faith that relies on the Holy Spirit of God. I once heard someone liken this to a train engineer standing on the track and trying to push the train from behind. "Why," someone asks, "don't you just get in the cab and release the throttles?" The Christian can't walk in his own strength, and he knows he can't walk in his own strength. Like a man dependent on crutches, we can't walk on our own. We must be utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit and no longer dependent on ourselves. If you didn't need to be reminded of that fact today, I certainly did!

Let me close with my paraphrase of Gal. 5:16:

"I, Paul, advise you to do this: Live your daily lives in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. He alone can enable you to do what pleases God. Take each step of your day depending completely on him, and then you won't always be doing the wrong things your old nature wants you to do."

Walk in the Spirit, and you most certainly will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Pastoral Song

Today it was finally dry enough to get out and about on the farm. First off I wanted to check on the pines I planted several years ago. 

There are 76 acres of them and I want to keep close tabs on them. 

Right now they are anywhere from 5 to 9 feet tall. This means that when they get to 12-15 feet they will reach pulpwood size and I can thin them out. 

Then I wanted to check up on the sheep and see how they were doing. Watching sheep canter is so much fun. They can't wait to say hello. 

Everyone seemed fine and dandy. 

They have to be the most gentle animals you will ever meet. 

Finally it was time to get out the lawn mower. In the process I discovered a bit of post-storm damage to some of our trees. This was mostly at Maple Ridge. 

Here at Bradford Hall, where I live, things are fine. 

Okay, this was just a really beautiful day. The lush green grass, the animals looking nothing less than majestic, the pines pushing up toward the heavens. Just the sound of the farm and your daily routine makes life so interesting and enjoyable. Thank you, Lord, for sharing this property with me. 

I respect and admire anyone who farms. 

Some Great Organ Music for Your Listening Enjoyment

With Christmas coming up, thought you'd enjoy this. The finale will amaze you. Speakers up! 

Slow Or Fast, Be Grateful

It's okay to look at your watch when you cross the finish line at a race. Some do so and then frown because they wanted to go faster. Others do so and look up at the heavens and rejoice that God allowed them to do something fantastic and soul-affirming. Be like the latter. 

Crossing the finish line at the St. George (Utah) Marathon and setting a new marathon PR in the process. 

The Goal of Biblical Interpretation

The Bible is completely divine. But it is also a human book given in human language (not the language of angels) and is intended to be understood by its readers. Every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph was recorded in written language and followed normal, grammatical meanings. This suggests that we should never go to the Bible with our preconceived notions but instead should let the Bible speak for itself. The goal of Bible interpretation is not to understand a text from a "Western" or "African" or "Latinamente" point of view, but to determine the original meaning of the text. This is called exegesis, and it is something I have the great privilege of teaching my Greek students this semester. 

It's Time to Start!

I was terrible at high school science, but I did learn enough about Newton's first law of motion to know that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion. 

Many of you haven't exercised in years. But let me assure you: once you become active again, you will want to continue working out. Activity begets activity. Inactivity begets inactivity. It's really that simple. The scientific term for this is inertia. It's human nature to resist change, but once we get started we don't want to stop. 

Where to start? With walking. All you need are shoes! 

"Paul's Letter to the Laodiceans"

Today I translated a letter of the apostle Paul that I had never translated before, if you can believe that. The letter is extant only in Latin, but the Latin is so simple a blind man could translate it. 

This letter claims to be "Paul's letter to the Laodiceans," which is mentioned in Col. 4:16. Of course, it's a forgery and seems to be mainly a series of allusions to Paul's (authentic) letter to the Philippians. Here are a couple of examples:

Est enim Deus qui operatur in nos.

For it is God who works in you.

Gaudete in Christo.

Rejoice in Christ.

Et erit vobis pax.

And peace shall be with you.

Latin is a lot of fun! 

By the way, welcome back, gym! Good to see ya again! 

Illness and exercise don't mix well. One tough thing about getting a chest cold is that you can't train. Ultimately, you have to decide for yourself when you think you're ready to get back to the Y. I still have a bit of a cough but it's nothing major. Otherwise, I feel 100 percent again, thanks be to God. Now I have to decide whether or not to run in Saturday's Virginia 10 Miler. The rule of thumb is: A chest cold requires time off, but symptoms above the neck (sneezing, runny nose) don't pose a risk to runners. I know it's a cliché, but there's always another race. If I'm still coughing, even a little bit, I'm probably not going to race. I need to save myself for other things at this stage of life. 

Just trying to making lemonade out of lemons,


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Have I Learned Contentment Yet?

This morning, during my Bible study, I committed these words from Phil. 4:11 to memory.

Paul says, "I have learned to be content, wherever the circumstances." The verb he uses here is emathon, root math. Interestingly, this root is found in the noun mathētēs, the New Testament word for "disciple." A disciple is a learner, though not a "student" in the sense of someone who sits in a classroom and listens to someone lecture. The other night I was watching The Chosen and there was a scene in which Jesus calls out to his "students." Surely there are better English words for mathētēs than that. "Apprentices" would work well. So would "trainees." (At Walmart, new employees are called trainees when they are hired. They are not "students" in a classroom but "apprentices" out on the floor while learning their craft from someone who is more experienced than they are.) Contentment, says Paul, cannot be acquired without experience. You can't get it directly from God as a gift. You have to "learn" it. And a degree in contentment ranks right up there with the rarest accomplishments of life. Discontentment, not contentment, is our natural disposition. We don't need to be taught to complain. On a farm, if you want weeds, you do nothing. But if you want a crop, you have to plow and sow. Contentment has to be cultivated. 

Yesterday my son asked me, "Dad, what are you going to do when your teaching career comes to an end?" In a roundabout way, he was asking me, "Dad, have you learned the secret of contentment? Will you submit to the will and good pleasure of God when he removes your career from you?" Spurgeon once wrote: "To hear another man praised at your own expense, to find your own virtues ignored in order to describe the superior qualities of some new rival, to be able to bear this with joy and thankfulness, and to praise God is beyond human nature." Then he added this profound statement: "There must be something nobel in the heart of a man who is able to lay down all of his honors as willingly as he took them up." 

My son, in essence, was asking me, "Dad, will you as cheerfully be humbled by the Lord as to be lifted up by him?" Paul, at the end of his life and career, had learned the art of contentment. He could face any circumstance "through the one who infuses his strength into me" (Phil. 4:13). Barclay writes, "The Stoic was self-sufficient; but Paul was God-sufficient." 

So ... to come full circle. How will I react when I enter the classroom for the last time, when speaking invitations no longer come my way, when I can no longer write and publish books? Will I have learned contentment to the degree that I will be able to say with Malcolm Muggeridge, "I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets -- that's fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue -- that's success. Furnished with money and a little fame, even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions -- that's pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time -- that's fulfillment. Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing -- less than nothing, a positive impediment -- measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are."

When that day comes, will I pass the final exam in "Contentment 101"? I honestly don't know. But I hope so. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Get Active!

In the 1960s, if you had a heart attack you were kept sedentary for up to 6 weeks. Today, heart attack patients aren't in bed half a day before they are up and moving. It's time to get active, folks. 

Enough Greek?

There's a big difference between knowing just enough Greek to be dangerous and knowing enough Greek to be helpful to the body of Christ. 

Listening to Mere Christianity

Does anyone else see the great irony in the fact that Lewis's Mere Christianity began as audio talks, then became a book, and is now being played online as an audio book, which is how I am "reading" it? 

A High Christology Is a Non-Negotiable

In 1978 I served for 3 months at the Bibelschule Bergstrasse in Seeheim, Germany. As you entered the campus you saw a large sign over the entrance that read:

In ihm sind alle Schätze der Weisheit und Erkenntnis verborgen.

No Bible college that fails to have such a lofty view of Jesus Christ can truly be called a Bible college. The totally adequate and unique superiority of Christ is a non-negotiable to a Christian educator. Jesus alone is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). In him all of God's fullness dwells (Col. 1:19). In him dwells the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Col. 2:9). By him all things were created (Col. 1:16). In him all things hold together (1:17). And "In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). 

The fundamental necessity for Christian higher education is a high Christology. It can never be compromised. 

We Are a Band of Brothers

Greek students, as we take a brief look at Philippians this semester, please do not forget: The letter is not an appeal for joy. It is an appeal for unity. It is from that purpose that there arises the great Christological paragraph in 2:5-11 that speaks of Christ's selfless humility. Only if we keep this in mind can we understand Paul's appeal to two women who had been quarreling in the church (4:2). Philippians is an appeal to maintain the unity of the church or it is nothing. Joy is merely the by-product of selfless living. 

Brethren, we are a band of brothers, bound together in one Spirit (1:27). 

Don't let the world see us fighting each other. The fact that we are all "in Christ" should keep us in unity with one another.

(For my detailed study of this topic of unity, go here.) 

20 Fall Things

20 things I'm looking forward to in the fall:

1. The Virginia 10 Miler.

2. The pace of life slowing down.

3. One more major race.

4. NFL football. 

5. Pumpkin spice latte.

6. New Testament seminar in Charlottesville.

7. Opening the windows in the house.

8. Decorating the porch with pumpkins.

9. The best sunsets.

10. Change is in the air.

11. Take a fall foliage tour ("leaf peeping").

12. Christmas with family in Kentucky.

13. Not too hot, bot too cold.

14. Crisp air.

15. Cooking chili on a chilly day.

16. Soft blankets.

17. Reading lots of books in front of the fireplace.

18. The end of Daylight Savings Time.

19. Finish our hay harvest.

20. Thanksgiving with family in Alabama.

It Didn't Pan Out

It sounded like a good idea at the time. 5 sets of 5 pull ups daily for 30 days. 

Then I went to the mountains for several days only to come down with a chest cold afterwards. But I tried. Stay tuned to see if I jump start the challenge in October. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

"American Patrol"

No wonder why we won the war. I could win one myself with this kind of music. 

It's All about Priorities

"I don't have time for that" is really "I don't want to take time for that." Friend, if you want it to happen it will happen. It doesn't mean it will be easy. But you've gotta want it. It's all about PRIORITIES. So instead of saying "I don't have time," say "It's not a priority." 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Retirees Ask ...

"What to do with all this leftover life?" Here's my answer

"I Don't Feel Like It"

The fact that you don't feel like reading God's word today is a sure sign that you need to read God's word today. 



Romans: Salvation Issues in Service!

All In

I'm either hot or cold. Lukewarm is not in my vocabulary. I'm either all in or not in at all. This fall I will have been teaching for 47 years. I can tell you, I am more passionate about the classroom than ever. This November I will have been blogging for 20 years. I can honestly say that I love blogging more today than when I first started. I have been surfing for 62 years, running for 7, mountaineering for 6. Have I lost my passion? Not on your life. 

"All in" means you accept every aspect of your life as a gift from your loving heavenly Father. It means you go through this life being yourself, but your best self. It means what Jim Elliot meant when he said, "Wherever you are, be all there." It means what John Newton meant when he wrote:

I'm not what I ought to be. I'm not what I want to be. I'm not what I hope to be in another world. But I'm not what I used to be. By the grace of God I am what I am.

It means what Paul meant when he said, "For me, to go living is Christ." 63 years ago I began my life with Christ. It was as though life began all over again. Since my conversion, there has never been a day when I have not lived in his presence. To all of his followers, Jesus gives his all-sufficient grace that is made perfect in our own weakness. If Christ were to be removed from our lives, there would be nothing left.

For Paul, each day's journey was one step closer to Home. But until then, his desire was to be ever willing and ever able to help and serve others. If we can learn to live like that, we will set such an example that unbelievers will be revolted with their way of life and will seek to possess what we possess.