Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Terms Papers on 3 John

Getting ready for paper presentations in Advanced Greek today. They are based on 3 John. Topics include:

  • The meaning of ekklesia.
  • 3 John 2 and the prosperity gospel.
  • The idiom "mouth to mouth."
  • Verbal aspect in 3 John.
  • The Old Testament background to 3 John.
  • The discourse structure of 3 John.

Confession: This is the best part of teaching -- watching your students present their original research. The thrill has been the journey to get there. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Monday Morning Update

Just zoomed with UNC's Lineberger Cancer Center about possibly organizing a 5K race for endometrial cancer. More on that later. 

But the majority of my time this morning has been studying the Greek and Hebrew text of 1 John in preparation for tonight's class. 

Here the Greek has, "And darkness is not in him -- none." However, the Hebrew reads, "And all darkness is not in him." I thought I was maybe misreading the Hebrew so I consulted with two of my Hebrew colleagues. 

The consensus is that the Hebrew probably means something like "Every bit of darkness does not exist in him," which is exactly what the Greek seems to be saying as well. Interestingly, Luther simply has, "in ihm ist keine Finsternis" ("in him is no darkness"), whereas the New Geneva Version has "bei ihm gibt es nicht die geringste Spur von Finsternis" -- "in him there's not as much as a trace of darkness." I think the latter rendering is far more emphatic, don't you? 

Onward and upward! 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

So Much To Be Thankful For

A final Thanksgiving-week bike today.

So much to be grateful for. It was a wonderful holiday. 

Like you, I enjoyed family and friends. 

And I'm grateful for the memory of the lives of those who have passed on. I will never forget the joy of my time with them in years gone by. 

So much to be thankful for. 

Thank you, Lord. 


You did it, class, you did it! Tomorrow night you will arrive at mile 25 of your 26-chapter Greek marathon. 

Your overcoming challenges without giving up is truly inspiring. Great job on the tenacity it takes to finish something you started, and I'm so glad this journey has led you to this point. Congrats again on the beginning of your Greek reading career, which obviously has already been rewarding to you. Never forget the 7 laws of tenacity:

1. Expect it to be hard.

2. Set immediate and long-term goals. 

3. Don't dwell on the negative.

4. Accept your weaknesses. 

5. Be kind to yourself.

6. Know that there will be an end.

7. Never give up. 

Move through each challenge with faith and courage, even when you doubt you have the tenacity to do so. 

Love you all! See ya in class tomorrow night! 

Saturday, November 27, 2021


"Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously." G. K. Chesterton. 


"When you pray, 'Lead us not into temptation,' what you're really praying is, 'Lord, when I've got the inclination to sin, keep me from the opportunity, and when I have the opportunity to sin, keep me from the inclination.'" Haddon Robinson. 

What Do Weight Lifting and Bible Study Have to Do with Each Other?

I was naughty yesterday and ate more than I should have, so it will come as no surprise to anyone that I was back at the Y today getting in an hour-long workout. 

Like my pose? I'm sucking in to hide my fat tummy.

I love weight training at the Y so much it hurts. One of the things I enjoy about the Y is the accountability if affords. Both the trainer and your buddies are there to encourage you. I would guess I'm probably the oldest guy around. Which reminds me of the old truism that everyone loses muscle as they age. I'm told the loss begins around 30 and continues for the rest of your life. That's certainly been true of me, and I really don't believe that a 69-year old will be able to reverse that trend. That said, you just can't ignore your muscles. Muscle is what allows you to move. So there's a real connection between running and weight training. 

Now to be honest, I don't consider myself much of a lifter. I'm simply after a bit more muscle definition here and there (especially there). Most of my lifting has to do with upper body training since I could use some real improvement in my posture while running. The goal is what is called "core functional fitness," a level of fitness that allows you to pursue your primary activity.

As a Greek teacher, I think are some parallels between what I do in the gym and what I do in the classroom. I am trying to develop my students' "core functional fitness" so that they can do accurate exegesis of the biblical text. Why is this important? It's important because the Bible is "sufficient." It tells us everything we need to know about life. That's why we need to read it for ourselves and study it for ourselves. The main requirement in learning to study the Bible is the commitment to look really hard at what the Bible is saying. This may sound like a simple procedure, but it might be the most difficult part of the process. Interpretation answers the question, "What did this passage mean in its original context?", and the basis for accurate interpretation is always careful observation. If we rush into application without first laying the vital foundation of interpretation, we will be left with either what we think the text is saying or else what other people have said. In my teaching, I want my students to be able to recover the original meaning of the text in its own historical context. To do this, we pay careful attention to what is called "authorial intent." Only when we understand what a passage was intended to mean by its original author can we put it into practice in our own lives. 

As with developing a healthy and fit body, none of this happens overnight. It happens by observation of the text over and over again, until careful observation becomes almost an unconscious habit. This is not to say that we don't use helps such as lexicons and commentaries to check our conclusions. But first and foremost, our goal is let Scripture interpret Scripture. Thankfully, because of the great doctrine of the perspicuity or "clarity" of Scripture, we can know what God is saying to us through his word. The message of the book we are studying will always be the same regardless of your gender or race or what century you happen to live in. The Bible is truth -- absolutes on which we can stake our very lives. If we maintain a prayerful, teachable spirit as we read and study the text, we will find that the Holy Spirit will use his word to reveal to us precious treasures of truth. 

Ultimately the goal of weight lifting is a transformed body. Ultimately the goal of Bible study is a transformed life and a deep and growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Through it we are changed from glory unto glory into the image of Jesus. Never forget that Bible study leads not merely to information but to transformation. Go for it! 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Full Steam Ahead!

Training continued today with an easy 5K run at the track.

I am beyond excited to be preparing for my 4th Flying Pig Marathon. But I fully realize that the stepping stones along the way to Cincy are just as important as the race itself. Do you ever stop, look yourself in the mirror, and ask, "Am I honestly doing everything in my life to achieve the outcomes I want?" Full steam ahead from this point on! 

Good Vibes Family Blog

A little family time makes it into the blog today. Amazing food and fun. Two thumbs up and a five-star rating. 

Now it's back to writing. Another chapter is finished! 

Cessasionist or Continuationalist?

I'm sometimes asked if I am a cessasionist or a continuationalist. I want to go on record as affirming the latter:

1. I believe we should continue the pattern of simple lifestyle evangelism begun in the book of Acts.

2. I believe we ought to get out of our cozy churches and put Christ on display in the world's darkness where we are needed. 

3. I believe we should continue the emphasis in the New Testament on every-member ministry since we are all priests of the Most High God. 

4. I believer we ought to follow the example of the apostle Paul and eschew the excellence of human oratory and any appeal to human wisdom. 

5. I believe we ought to continue the example of the early church and reject position and power as measuring sticks of success. 

Bottom line? Like the earliest believers, I want to be like Jesus. I want to be a passionate lover of God and others. I want to be a man who takes the way of Jesus seriously. I want to be willing to risk my life if necessary for the sake of the gospel. I am tired of talking and am ready to live. The satisfaction of normalcy and conformity has died. 

An Invitation for You to Study _________ ?

Ladies and gentlemen. The new year is almost upon us. It's time to ask ourselves the question, "What am I going to do to be a better person in the new year?" Yes, in 2022. I didn't always make New Years' resolutions, but I started doing so in the last few years and, yes, I do believe it's helped me to reflect on the past year and to discern what God's will for me might look like in the coming year. We look to the past to prepare for the future, as someone has said. Listen, I've got a lot of work to do on this earth before the Lord calls me home, and so do you. So, in the coming days I will be sharing some thoughts with you about my goals for 2022 to keep me accountable and maybe inspire you to consider what you can do in the coming year to be a more well-rounded person. Thus far, I am working on discerning my goals in 4 areas of my life:

1. The blog.

2. My teaching.

3. My travels, especially internationally. 

4. My running.

For example, I want to qualify for Boston. That's right. I know that sounds like a huge goal. Impossible even. But I love shooting for goals that are perhaps unreachable now but reachable in the future with effort and dedication. Another goal? To try and help as many people as possible to consider studying the Bible on a regular basis. That's why I've been working this morning on my book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! 

That leads me to the reason for my blog post this morning. I have an invitation to make to all of you. Two things happened to me when I was a student at Biola that utterly shocked me. First, I dropped out of my beginning Greek class after only three weeks. Second, a year later I was hired by Dr. Harry Sturz, the head of the Greek Department, to teach 11 units of Classical Greek at Biola. I’ve been teaching Greek ever since. (God has an incredible sense of humor.)

As a result, I want to ask you a question. Have you ever considered taking a basic course in Greek grammar? Just before Covid hit, I taught Greek in one of our local churches. We had about 50 lay people coming out every Sunday night to study Greek with me for 2 hours. (They lasted more than three weeks, I might add!) I long to communicate to every Christian I can possibly reach that the living God has arranged a way to make it possible for us to learn how to read our New Testament in Greek. Are you willing? If so, I’ve produced a series of tools that will not only get you started but will take you as far as you want to go. It’s never too late to start, either. When Benjamin Rice retired as a missionary with the China Inland Mission, he decided to learn Greek at the age of 80. It is said that he kept a well-worn copy of his Greek New Testament in his pocket while waiting for public transportation. How about you? If a surfer from Hawaii like me could learn Greek, anyone can. Here are some resources to get you going:

1.      Learn to Read New Testament Greek. This is my grammar for beginners. It doesn’t get any more basic than this. This book is short and to the point, and you don’t need to buy an additional workbook. I’ve provided an answer key in the back of the book for all of the exercises. Furthermore, on my Greek Portal, you will find an abundance of free materials to help you get started. 

2.      It’s Still Greek to Me. So you’ve laid the foundation of beginning Greek. Now it’s time to build on that foundation. This intermediate-level grammar will keep the Greek fires burning. You may even enjoy the silly puns in it.

3.      Using New Testament Greek in Ministry. This book contains my easy-to-use approach to go from text to teaching.

4.      My Greek DVDs. This professionally-edited set of 24 videos was recorded in a seminary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Don’t worry: everything is in English. The instruction is based on my beginning grammar. You can view all of these videos for free on YouTube

I strongly urge all of you to really think through why you want to learn Greek. If this is something the Lord is putting on your heart, I am here to help. Feel free to email me with your questions. Onward and upward to accomplishing our 2022 goals for the glory of God! 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

"My" Work

Thanksgiving plans? Well, I don't really have any. Our family dinner is tomorrow at one of my kid's homes. This morning I was signed up to do a Turkey Trot in Raleigh but my body told me it didn't exactly want to get up at 5:00 am and run in 30-degree temps, so I slept in. I may go for a run later today if things warm up. 

One thing I will definitely thank God for today is my work. I love the work I do immensely. Of course, work cannot provide ultimate fulfillment. I am God's child. In that fact lies my identity. But no task that glorifies him, no matter how menial, is to be despised.

Jesus proved this when he washed his disciples' feet. There need be no division between Mary and Martha, between the contemplative and the active life. 

My running is as much an opportunity for devotion as is my academic study of the text. Even my "creative" work belongs first and foremost to God, who grants the inspiration. "God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us" (1 Cor. 12:6). My own productivity (be it agricultural or intellectual) is merely a response to God's creative work in me.

One test of our work is how it enhances or undermines the glory of God. Good work is always his creative work in us. He delights in using fragile pots of clay because "this makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves" (2 Cor. 4:7). "My work" is therefore an oxymoron. The paradox is that we choose to take credit for what we think we have done, and this attitude always breeds disastrous results. 

This view of work is not without its mystery, of course, but it's not the mystery of why God would have us work. The mystery is how we, as frail and  fallen human beings, can participate in the work of God on this earth. 

And so, on this Thanksgiving Day 2021, I rejoice in my Savior, who has given me work to do. I may plant and water, but only he can make things grow. Glory to God. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Beauty of God in Nature and Music

 In nature (tonight's sunset) …

... and in music (an upcoming organ concert in Richmond). 

The great Jonathan Edwards once remarked that beauty is, more than any other thing, what defines God's divinity. "To become a Christian is to become alive to beauty." It's too bad I'm a low-church evangelical. How I would enjoy meeting with God in a great cathedral like the ones Becky and I used to visit in Europe. 

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting." Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

Wednesday Wanderings

1) Did an upper body workout at the Y this morning. Nothing too heavy. Just trying to maintain the old metabolism. 

2) While lifting I listened to this press interview with Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady. 

By the way, did you see him thread the needle time after time during Monday night's game against the Giants? The man is a phenom. Not to mention his 11-yard carry. But here's what I wanted to share with you. During the interview, Brady said very little about himself. In fact, he did the opposite. Here's what he had to say about his team:

We all gotta do it. Everyone's gotta do it. I think everyone's gotta do what they're asked to do and do it on a consistent basis. Every job is important.... That's the thing about football. There's not one position that's unimportant, and everyone's gotta be coordinated, everyone's gotta to do the right thing on every play or the play's not successful.


Will our churches ever get this? Just look at your church's website. Under "Ministry Team" you'll find the equivalent of a quarterback and maybe a halfback and possibly a wide receiver. Hmm. Tom Brady would be the last person to make himself out to be the "leader" on the Bucs. Imagine a church website that had this page:

Head of Our Church: Jesus Christ and him alone. 

Ministers: Every single one of us. Our entire congregation is active in ministry. This ministry is given to all of us by God and is exercised through the spontaneous use of special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our elders do not perform ministry while others watch, but help to stir up the ministry of all the members. There is no other way. Christ continues his ministry through his people, all of his people. Hence we do not equate "ministry" with clergy-status. 

Elders: What we said above does not call into question that the risen Christ has placed teachers in the church as under-shepherds to lead and to facilitate the deployment of the whole congregation for the fuller exercise of every Christian's God-given priesthood. Our elders are [here you would place the names of your elders, without any distinction between staff and lay, salaried or voluntary, senior or junior, fulltime or part-time]. 

I think it highly unlikely that we ever see such a webpage for the simple reason that we really do not believe what we say we believe. 

3) After my workout I was able to get to CVS for my booster shot. So far no side-effects. 

4) Finally, John Galantis of Clearview Church was kind enough to send me a link to the podcast interview I did with Abidan Shah a couple of weeks ago. I honestly don't remember me being so passionate about a subject in a very long time. Oh wait. I can't open it! Let me work on that :-) 

A Thanksgiving Meditation

I don't think it's a coincidence that November marks two significant events in my life. It was 18 years ago this month that I began publishing my musings on this blog. And it was 8 years ago that I said goodbye to my wife of 37 years. I thought about this yesterday during my run. I was listening to David Payne's one-man play called C. S. Lewis: My Life's Journey. In this play, Lewis recounts the story of his childhood and youth, his education at Oxford, his military service in both World Wars, his books. At the end of his monologue, he talks about his marriage. Joy Gresham was an American who captured his heart and soul, just as Becky had captured mine. When Joy contracted cancer, Lewis married her on her deathbed. Then God performed a miracle. She lived for another three years, during which husband and wife reveled in all the bliss of wedded life. The end came suddenly. Says Lewis,

I was with her when she died. Warnie [my brother] and I were plunged into despair....  He did as he had always done in a crisis. He turned to drink. I did as I had always done in a crisis. I picked up my pen and wrote. 

Thus was written one of the most powerful books I have ever read, A Grief Observed. Lewis goes on, 

[G]radually my grief subsided. And I came to realize that I was looking at my situation from the wrong perspective. Before this it was all about what we hadn't had rather than what we had. And I remembered that when we got married, ... and when she came home, we expected maybe to have a few weeks, no more than a few months. And we had been given three years. And I came to realize that he was the Giver, and she was the gift. And what a gift. 

And so, like Lewis, when my wife died, I turned to my pen. Either I would suffocate under the weight of grief and heartache, or else I would learn here and now to breathe the air of grace, to appreciate the years God had given us together rather than focus on his choice to take her home, to see the four years  we fought cancer together as precious. The miracle of marriage had been stripped of its vigor, but our love for each other had not died. And in my heart I knew he was right, that nothing in this world coheres apart from him, that he lovingly gives and takes away, and that nothing makes sense unless heaven actually does exist. 

To be frank, I hate it when bad things happen to people. I suppose, if I were being completely frank, I really mean I hate it when bad things happen to me. We can't make sense of it, but we can learn the lessons. The lesson that we are all going to die someday. The lesson that amidst all the difficulties of married life you stayed together till death did you part. The lesson that only the gospel frees the heart to accept the will of God as something good, perfect, and pleasing. The lesson that we have to think about how we lead our lives and what memories we want to leave after we are gone. Losing a spouse proves to you how adversity can make you better and stronger. You pull through even when you think you can't, and the next time you're up against adversity you tap into that strength. 

I suppose my point is this. Be thankful for what you do have. Never take it for granted that you have been given the blessing of waking up with a woman lying next to you, bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh. And as the shadow of death crosses her face, or yours, you will remember that he, too, died and that you both are one with him, and so it will be for all eternity. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Today's Run

 Here are the stats: 

I ran to the bridge and back. 

And almost froze in the process. Please remind me to use my buff the next time I run in the cold.  

How to Achieve Emphasis in Bible Translation

I woke up this morning only to find out that it is colder in Virginia than it is in Colorado. The temp this morning is 25 degrees. Brrrr. But it's nothing a mug of brew can't handle, especially when it comes in your favorite cup from Kailua, Hawaii.  

I've got 5 months to train for the Flying Pig Marathon, so today I plan to get in a run after the sun warms things up a bit. I'm trying to get the message across that unathletic people like me can still enjoy the great outdoors. The key is starting out slowly and pacing yourself properly. The vast majority of people would be great runners once they got into it. It's mostly the mental hurdles you have to get over. 

Anyways, in my Bible reading this morning I was using one of my two favorite translations -- the Good News Bible -- and noticed how they rendered 2 Cor. 4:5:

For it is not ourselves that we preach; we preach Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.

Other versions simply have "We do not preach ourselves" -- which entirely misses the emphasis in the Greek text, where the word "ourselves" comes first. As you know, the other day I listened to C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity on audio book, and in his preface he mentions his struggle with the use of italics when writing the book. You will recall that Mere Christianity is based on a number of public talks Lewis gave on the BBC during the Second World War. Now, in his talks he used conversational language, and in his book he wanted to retain that flavor -- using, for example, contractions like "can't" instead of "cannot." But, he asked himself, should I use italics in the book or not? You see, in speaking, italics simply aren't available to indicate emphasis. That task must be accomplished by tone of voice or word order. 

It seems to me that Bible translators face the exact same dilemma. Use italics, and people will think that the italicized words have been added to the text -- "These words aren't in the Greek but we've added them here for clarity." That, unfortunately, is what italics mean in our modern English Bibles. Then how we do indicate emphasis? Let's go back to 2 Cor. 4:5 for the answer: word order. Surely "It is not ourselves that we preach" is much more emphatic than "We do not preach ourselves." 

I wish Bible translators would do this more often. This passage comes to mind:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and it was God that the Word was" (John 1:1). 

Now, the third clause here reads as follows in the Greek: kai theos en ho logos. The subject is clearly logos, so we cannot render this clause as "God was the Word" because "God" is not the subject. We must resort to a bit of a paraphrase at this point to accomplish our goal. Here's another example that comes to mind:

"If we say we do not have sin, it is only ourselves we are deceiving" (1 John 1:8). 

I memorized this as "we deceive ourselves." But in the Greek text, the word "ourselves" is clearly marked out for emphasis. The fact is, if we say we have no sin, the only people we are misleading is ourselves. Everyone else knows our claim to be false. 

Here is a very useful little summary by Corey Keating of how Koine Greek accomplishes emphasis. It's based largely on my beginning grammar. It will give you a feel for what we're talking about. You might also want to avail yourselves of a good Greek-English interlinear. 

Oh, do be sure to get outdoors today if you can. Don't miss all the beauty right in front you because you're annoyed by the distractions of life and by the million and a half things on your to-do list. Take it all in and give thanks. Life is way too short to live any other way.  

Monday, November 22, 2021

More Plans for the Future (Lord Willing)

More plans for December 2021 and for 2022:

1) I just got my ticket for the annual Christmas concert at the Chapel on the campus of Duke University. The date is Dec. 19, and the concert is titled And on Earth, Peace.  

The concert will feature John Rutter's magnificent Gloria, which Becky and I had the good fortune of performing when we were members of the Northeast Piedmont Chorale. Here's the first movement of this worship-inspiring piece:

This is undoubtedly one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. The composition is only 50 years old but feels as classical as ever. I still tear up just listening to it. Gloria in excelsis!

2) My teaching schedule for 2020 has now been set. I will teach a Greek class in the spring, two Greek classes in the summer, and finally a Greek class in the fall. I have agreed to teach 4 classes a year, as long as they are in person. (I like to state the obvious.) My summer classes will be held between May and June, thus allowing me time to (hopefully) resume my international travels in July and August. 

3) I've already mentioned that my two peak races for 2020 are the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in May and the St. George Marathon in Utah in October. For me, running marathons is symbolic of hard work, determination, and following through on things I start. I suppose that's why I take them so seriously. 

4) My biggest, hugest, most cyclopean goal for 2022? Staying healthy and injury free so that I can continue to teach and travel in the hopes of accomplishing the work the Lord has given me to do. If you know me, which I think you do, you know that I am stubbornly determined to give everything I do 100 percent. If there is any chance in heaven that I can do this, I will do it. I simply can't back down. 

I leave you with the best flash mob ever. 

More on the Lord's Prayer

Yesterday we talked about the way textual criticism helps us to understand the Lord's Prayer. For example, should we pray "Father," or should we pray "Our Father in heaven"? Now, if the latter is the original text, then there are three things to say. 

First, Jesus is teaching us to address God as "Father." Clearly this term emphasizes the character of God as perfect love. The term "Father" implies that the God we pray to is a compassionate God. God is just as much a Father as our earthly fathers were, in fact more so. He never disappoints; he is never too harsh on the one hand or too indulgent on the other. 

But secondly, if the original text indeed reads "Our Father in heaven," then we realize that the one we address in prayer is not only compassionate but all-powerful. "In heaven" denotes not so much where God abides but the authority and power he possesses as Creator and Ruler of all. That is, God's fatherly love is combined with his heavenly power, so that when his love directs us to take a certain course of action, his power is what enables us to perform it.

Thirdly, the word "Our" is not to be overlooked. We Christians are part of a family of believers. Of course, we may always approach the Father individually. But we may never approach him as individualists, for since God is our Father, he is concerned with the welfare of all his children. In a previous blog post I linked to a powerful sermon by Haddon Robinson on Luke 11:1-4 in which he said (my paraphrase), "When we pray 'Give us this day our daily bread,' we are not only praying for ourselves. So if God should give me two loaves, I should not take that to mean that I have one loaf to eat and another to save. No, if we truly pray that God would provide for our daily bread, then if he gives me two loaves, and our brother or sister has none, then one is for eating and the other is for sharing."

Thus Jesus is always calling his followers to remember three things when they begin to pray. He emphasizes that God is not only ultimate love but ultimate power, and that when we pray we are to think of others as much as we think of ourselves. With God's help, I can learn to bring all my needs and cares to this one who loves me, helps me, and enables me to bless others in his name. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Stepson of C. S. Lewis Speaks Out

Tonight I've been working on a future blog post about C. S. Lewis's book A Grief Observed, which I believe was, in part at least, a pastiche of two of his earlier books, The Problem of Pain and The Four Loves, except that this time around the problems Lewis was tackling weren't merely intellectual problems but extremely practical ones after his wife of 4 years had perished from cancer. As a side note, I found this interview with Lewis's stepson Douglas Gresham to be both enjoyable and highly informative. 

Toward the end Gresham says this in answer to a question: 

He [Lewis] found most churches to be insubstantial and probably not very accurate. Our own priest in the church that we used to attend was what we called a high church Anglican, that is, he teetered on the edge of Roman Catholicism. And Jack, of course, was born and bred in Ireland, in Northern Ireland, and was a Church of Ireland man. And although he loved the priest -- he was a very good man and we all loved him enormously; he was a terrific guy -- but his interests was (a) in lots of robes and waving of incense and stuff, and also of course he was a man who was fascinated by church history. And he would give a sermon going for about a half an hour about church history. Quite frankly, who needs it? We don't need to know what churches used to do; we need to know what churches are doing now and whether we should get the heck out of them. In some cases we should. I no longer attend a church at the moment because I can't find one that teaches Christianity. Many churches today are filled with Christianists who make a big deal of trying to pretend to be Christians, Churchians who worship the church instead of Christ, and people of that nature. And for me that doesn't work. 

I agree with much of what he is saying. Our "churchianity" and "religiosity" have turned people away from the Lord. The fact is, if our Christianity isn't relevant, contagious even, it probably is contaminated, perhaps beyond recovery. This is a disgrace. Earnestness is not unction. Just because a pastor enjoys delivering his message is not a sign that God is in it. Unless the wind is the Spirit, our oratory blows in vain. 

More later. But for now, please do watch the entire interview to get the context of Mr. Gresham's final remarks. 

The Joy of Walking (and a Brief Hebrew Lesson)

Okay, about this time on Sunday I'm usually giving you a report of my latest run or bike. As you know, I am slowly getting back into training after last weekend's marathon. Today, however, instead of pressing the "run" or "bike" options on my Garmin, I pressed "walk." 

Now, you know me. You know that I like to be a little more active than simply taking walks. I run (not walk) for the same reason I don't golf or play chess -- I need to be active. But there are many good reasons to include walking as part of your cross-training routine. First, walking allows you to enjoy views like this one on the River Walk in Danville. 

(Well, you could also get this view while running or cycling, but you get my drift.) Second, slowing down enough to walk allows you to travel off the beaten path when you see a sign like this one: 

Finally, the Bible has a lot to say about our "walk," doesn't it? But here's the interesting thing about that. When in the New Testament we read about "running" or "racing," it's usually Paul who writes about such things. In general, the Jews didn't think very much about athletic competition. They had no Olympic Games. They had no foot races (except when the enemy was after you). These are all what we might call uniquely Hellenistic concepts. But what the Jews did talk about was their halakha, or their walk. This term is used metaphorically to describe the direction and tenor of one's entire life and being. That's why I have a bit of a problem when the NIV renders Eph. 4:1 as "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." Of course, this is what Paul means. But it's not how he said it. That's why other translations use the word "walk" instead of "live." Here, for example, is the NASB:

I ... urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.

I prefer this rendering, not because it's necessarily more "literal," but because it retains the Semitic idea behind Paul's use of "walk." If I may be permitted to quote one of my Basel professors, Markus Barth (Ephesians, vol. 2, p. 427):

... in Pauline letters the Greek verb "to walk" ... suggests something different from a casual promenade: it means to follow a prescribed way in a fixed order, comparable to the march of Israel under God's guidance in the wilderness.

Paul then goes on in Ephesians to describe this "walk" as humble and gentle, patient and loving, etc. This is the essence, if you will, of God's calling on our lives as believers. And note: This calling involves not a step or a brief series of steps, but a long drawn-out walk. 

Most of my walks, like today's, are at my normal walking pace with little to no focus on time and pace. These periods of walking are used to recover from the brisker pace of jogging or running. The object is endurance, not speed. 

For me, walking is essentially rest. Rest is a good 4-letter word that let's your body rebuild itself and get stronger. Walkers land with a force equivalent to only about 1.5 times your body weight, which is much less than a runner whose landing force is equivalent to 3-4 times your body weight. This reduces the stress on bones and joints and therefore also reduces the risk of injury. As you get faster as a walker, your stride length decreases but your stride rate (also called your "turnover" rate) increases. But to walk, all you need are two legs. And when you are walking, there is only one thing that counts: the beauty of the landscape. Walking has ruined me that way. 

Well, I doubt that anything more needs to be said on this subject. There's just something about walking. I know you get it. 

The Textual Basis of the Lord's Prayer -- Does It Matter?

When it comes to English Bible translations, there's something we don't often think about. This may surprise you, but the biggest difference between English translations of the New Testament is not the English at all. It's the underlying Greek text. Not all major English translations of the New Testament use the same textual basis. I've discussed this in detail in my chapter on textual criticism in my forthcoming book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! Suffice it to say here that the two most widely used Greek texts are those representing (1) the Alexandrian text on the one hand, and (2) the Byzantine text on the other. If you want to see how these Greek texts differ in English, just compare the ESV with the NKJV. In places where the Greek manuscripts differ among themselves, the ESV and the NKJV usually end up on completely opposite sides. The good news is that both translations are usually careful to put the other reading in a footnote, thus informing their readers that textual variation has occurred in the passage.

A good example of this is the passage I was studying this morning in my personal Bible time. It's the version of the "Lord's Prayer" we find in Luke 11:1-4. 

This version of the prayer differs considerably from the one in Matthew that we are more familiar with. Luke's version (based on the standard "critical" Greek New Testament) reads as follows in the ESV:

Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

Here's the NKJV's rendering of the very same prayer but based on a different underlying Greek text (I've bolded and underlined the major textual differences):

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us day by day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, 

for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And do not lead us into temptation,

But deliver us from the evil one.

Now, some of the differences between the ESV and the NKJV have nothing to do with textual variation. They are simply a matter of the translator's preference -- as for example, the ESV's "each day" versus the NKJV's "day by day." But the vast majority of the differences have to do with the base Greek text used. Now, as I look at the textual evidence, I believe a fairly strong case can be made for the wording found in the NKJV. It's readings have broader geographical attestation and are as early as those found in the ESV. But right now that's neither here nor there. My point is that it's unlikely that we can arrive at a sound understanding of modern Bible translations without at least a basic knowledge of the art and science of textual criticism. I have already written a couple of books on this subject, but I'm not the only one of course. What you need is a basic overview of the subject, not a dissertation. From there you can go on to more advanced works if you feel led. 

But what we can't do is remain oblivious to these differences in our English Bibles. They are too significant to allow us to do that.  

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Marathon Training Has Begun!

Today I put in 30 miles at the High Bridge Trail. My goal was to bike from Farmville to the end of the trail near Burkeville, then turn around and hightail it back to Farmville. 

Just as I reached the end of the trail who should I run across but a couple from the Mid-West. I turned off my Garmin watch and we began to gab. What interesting people! 

Their goal is to bike as many rail trails in the U.S. as they can -- which brought them to Virginia. We yakked about our love of the outdoors, our addiction to adventure, and even about someone we knew in common (how unlikely is that?). Eventually I got back on the trail and before long they came sailing past me (they were super fast) and yelled, "Let's meet up in town for lunch!" And so the gabbing continued for another 45 minutes. It was a beautiful day, perfect, really, for cycling. 

But when you're enjoying the day with people who share your passion for the outdoors, it's even more enjoyable. Furthermore, they've made as many trips to Africa as I have, simply to do whatever they can to help the people there. My kind of people exactly. (Note to self: Always take time to say hey to strangers you meet on the trail. You never know what you might have in common with them.) 

There you have it -- the start of my new marathon training block. I'm signing off for now to cook up a delicious dinner of sausage, ham, baked potatoes, and cheese. Can you tell I once lived in Europe? 

P.S. Live Christmas music in downtown Farmville. 

Thank you, gents, for your contribution to the Christmas spirit! 

Fresh Start Just Ahead!

How would you finish this sentence?

I've been putting if off for months, but the time has come for me to try to ___________________.

W. A. Criswell once said, "Christianity is the land of beginning again." Every new year can be a time of new beginnings. 

BUT ...

We must begin with God. We'll never get off to a good start unless we begin with him. After all, the universe began with him. Salvation began with him. Final judgment will begin with him. 

Begin your new year's goals with him. You have two resources to help you: the word and prayer. So bring your life under the all-knowing and all-loving eyes of God. All that remains for us to possess, all that is ours in Christ, all the acts of service that remain for us to do -- let's reach for these things while forgetting the past. Only Jesus can help us off failure's merry-go-round. 

No matter how badly things may be going, every January offers a fresh start. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Race Planning for 2022

It's that time of the year, when we humans are looking forward to a new year and desiring to improve ourselves, even if it's only by a little. Runners are no different. Because guess what, you will hit nothing every time unless you have a target in front of you. It really is a fascinating process, this planning your running schedule for the coming year. I hope to be able to run two marathons in 2022. Here are the ones I'm considering:


Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, OH.

Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, VA. 

Blue Ridge Marathon in Roanoke, VA. 

Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, NC.


St. George Marathon in St. George, UT.

Chicago Marathon in Chicago, IL.

Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. 

Honolulu Marathon in Honolulu, HI. 

So far I've already run the Flying Pig three times and the Tobacco Road, St. George, Chicago, and Marine Corps once. As of today, I'm leaning towards the Flying Pig and the St. George as being my marathons for 2022. For starters, the Pig was my very first marathon and will always hold a special place in my heart. Furthermore, the course is net downhill, though you do have to negotiate Mount Adams in the first half of the race. 

The St. George Marathon was where I got my marathon PR prior to this month's Richmond Marathon. Again, the course is a downhill race, Mount Veyo (pictured below) being everyone's major nemesis. 

So that's the marathon distance. The ultramarathon I'm looking into for 2022 is the Night Train 50K in Farmville, VA. I've already run 50K on this course twice, but this particular race is run at night with head lamps. Doesn't that sound like fun?

So that's where my planning is as of today. I share it with you because I don't want you to think I'm a complete nut job. I seriously consider and pray about every race I sign up for. Ultimately, personal exercise is one area of life where we all get to make choices. Our decisions make a difference. Sure there will be setbacks. Hopefully, they are temporary, whereas the benefits of being active extend over an entire lifetime. Lord willing, I will turn 70 in 2022. The point is that I can still move by the grace of God. Embrace the changes in your life. Don't give up dreaming, hoping, planning. Don't let your age limit or define you. Don't stand still. Keep moving forward. 

So Much to Cherish

Here was today's run. 

During it I thought a lot about Thanksgiving. 

It's hard to imagine a nation more blessed than ours. 

I love this holiday. I think I love it mainly because it's so low key. Nobody feels like they have to give others gifts. There's very little fanfare. We don't exchange cards. No office parties. Just football and lots of food. 

It's simply a day to relish and be thankful to God for the blessings we have -- things good and maybe even things no-so good. 

You value what you notice. Be sure to take note of those little things in your life that call for gratitude. I have never before had in my life so much to cherish. Thank you, Lord.