Saturday, December 31, 2022
This morning I was greatly blessed by this sermon of Spurgeon's.
His creative mind and skilful messages have been of inestimable value in assisting me as I have honed my teaching skills. My gratitude for this gifted man knows no bounds.
Below is the Hebrew original of the famous verse Spurgeon is expositing. Maybe the word order will surprise you as much as it did me.
As you know, ambiguity involves uncertainty about the meaning of a word or sentence. Some cases of ambiguity are easier to decipher than others:
Easy: "Call me an Uber, please." Here you're not asking to be called an Uber but for someone to call an Uber for you.
Harder: "I saw someone on the hill with a telescope." Hmm. Was the person on the hill holding a telescope when you saw him, or did you use a telescope to see the person on the hill?
Hardest: "Do you believe in clubs for young people?" Someone once asked comedian W. C. Fields this question. "Only when kindness fails," he replied. Here "clubs" is ambiguous: Are "clubs" nightclubs or wooden bats? Similarly, Groucho Marx once quipped, "I shot an elephant in my pajamas." Of course, neither interpretation -- "I shot an elephant while I was wearing pajamas" and "I shot an elephant that somehow got into my pajamas" -- makes any sense, but that's precisely the point of comedy.
Here's a New Testament example of ambiguity. I ran across it while reading through Colossians yesterday in The Living Bible.
The Greek word douleuete is ambiguous. It can either be an indicative statement or an imperative command. Is Paul saying, "You serve the Lord Christ," or is he saying, "Serve the Lord Christ!"? Most English Bibles go with the former rendering (NIV, NLT, ESV, KJV, NASB, CSB, NRSV, etc.). Interestingly, however, I found two English translations that preferred the imperative here: Dan Wallace's NET Bible and the new Legacy Standard Bible. In Spanish, the LBLA has "You serve," while the Reina Valera 2015 has "Serve!" As for German Bibles, both Luther and Schlachter 2000 have "You serve," but the NGU and the Schlachter 1951 preferred "Serve!"
All of this is perhaps a good reminder of three things:
1) Always try and read several translations when studying a passage of Scripture. They will often make you aware of issues caused by ambiguity.
2) Also take advantage of the exegetical commentaries, keeping in mind that their purpose is not to do the hard work of exegesis for you but to serve as a wise guide on how to weigh the options.
3) Keep in mind that authors sometimes use ambiguity to allow readers to draw their own conclusions. An example that has tormented New Testament scholars for ages is the "faith of Christ" debate.
Ya gotta love ambiguity!
Friday, December 30, 2022
When I write a sentence, the word sentence has no gender and the verb write has no conjugational ending. This is one reason English and Greek differ. It's why those of you who know some Spanish or German have an advantage over the rest of us. That said, learning to read the Greek New Testament is always possible with hard work. Why not consider it in 2023?
Is there a fitness habit you want to master in 2023?
- Getting more sleep
- Being more consistent with exercising
- Eating fewer processed foods
- Tracking your calories and macros
- Lifting more regularly
One of my goals is to experiment with new exercises at the Y. Today I tried out a "narrow bar" lat pulldown. This was my first time doing it. I normally use the wider bar for my pulldowns. Let me know how I can improve my form!
Thursday, December 29, 2022
I know this sounds pretty silly, but at the end of the year I'm truly grateful that I was able to meet my goal of daily flossing in 2022. It actually was not as hard as I thought it would be. Lots of good discipline was built up in the process. What new goals (large or small) are you setting for yourself in 2023? I'm now praying through mine and will let you know soon!
I'm slowly reintroducing my body back to running and it's going surprisingly well. It seems I'm getting back into the groove. My tendonitis is gone and it's starting to feel like spring (today it's a "warm" 45 degrees).
If you'll are considering getting (back) into running, now is as good a time to do it as ever. Today I've been on the phone trying to talk a couple of my kids into running the Flying Pig with me in May. Not the full marathon, of course. But if they start training now they can do the half. Wouldn't that be fun?
I know what you're thinking: "Dave, you're 100 years old. You need to be kicking back and watching the grass grow. You should be sitting in your warm living room, not out there running in the cold." But, see, that's the point! We dinosaurs run because it takes us out of our comfort zones and into the wild world around us. That's exactly why I love all these adventures I do. My advice to you -- don't ever stop stretching yourself. There's still a lot of adventure awaiting you. You will hate moments of it but you will love most of it, I guarantee you.
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Seen this book yet?
It's a delightful read, though you won't agree with everything in it. The "legends" the author refers to include:
- Jesus was a carpenter
- All giving must be done in secret
- Hell referred to as a garbage dump near Jerusalem
- Repent means "to change your mind"
- Paul was a tentmaker
- The gospel is dynamite
- Money is evil
- A pastor's children must be saved
- Christians must be commanded to tithe
This last one doesn't surprise me. The author has published quite a lot on the subject of tithing!
Quiet! Did you hear that? It's the sound of Y members ooh-ing and aw-ing at my prodigious lifting skills.
This is called a "waiter curl." Only if you've ever waited tables are you permitted to perform it. Since I once waited tables in Waikiki, I qualify. I know what you're thinking: That's only a 25 pound dumbbell. Judgy much? It's not like I want to become the next "Rock," you know.
If there's one thing I love more than lifting it's Bible study, and since I am still rummaging through the book of Acts maybe I can share with you another surprising thing I ran across today. It's from Paul's speech to the Ephesian
senior pastor elders.
Observe the underlined term. The KJV -- the Bible I grew up with -- renders it as "feed the church of God." "Feed" represents poimainein, to "tend as a shepherd." See the metaphor? The translators of the NASB and the CSB did: "shepherd the church of God." You could also say, "be shepherds of the church of God" (NIV/GNT). Ask any farmer: the idea of "shepherding" involves more than feeding. Add in the notions of tending, guiding, caring for, and protecting, and you get the idea. Hence, in my opinion, both the KJV and the ESV ("care for") are a bit guilty of under-translation here. And, since Paul is describing the work of pastors/elders/overseers here, I might add the idea of hard work. In fact, the verb Paul uses in 1 Thess. 5:12 to describe pastoral leadership (kopiaō) "conjures up pictures of rippling muscles and pouring sweat" (Stott, The Message of 1-2 Thessalonians, 119). I'm not sure about the "rippling muscles" part, but I do know that farming (and pastoring) is hard work. The Greek term can even refer to backbreaking labor.
Anyhoo, I'd like to see the metaphor of "shepherding" retained in our translations if possible. You know, like we find in Hawaiian Pidgin:
You guys gotta take care da church guys jalike one sheep farma take care his sheeps.
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
This morning was very special. I was able to do something I hadn't been able to do for a while.
Whoever said patience is a virtue definitely knew what it was like to live with a running injury. I suspect my pace today was just above that of a snail, but still, it felt so good to get in 3 miles and to do it in reasonably warm weather for a change (40 degrees). All's right with the world again.
Earlier this morning I began a new Bible study leading into the new year. I've decided to read through the book of Acts all week. I've already seen something I'd never seen before. I know you all get what I mean. You read through a book of the Bible a million times and briefly take note of this or that, but at the same you barely notice a hundred other important details. The verse I'm referring to is Acts 10:42:
Here's what shocked me. This is the ONLY reference to the Great Commission in the entire book of Acts! That surprises me. Matthew's Gospel ends with Christ's command to his disciples to go and disciple all nations (Matt. 28:19). Likewise, Mark 16:15 (yes, this verse is original!) records Jesus' words telling us to go everywhere and tell everyone the Good News. But Acts? Never in the book of Acts do we find a direct reference to a command of Christ to preach the gospel except in the incidental reference in Peter's address to Cornelius in 10:42. Here Peter reports that Christ "commanded us to preach the gospel to the people." Otherwise, so far as I can tell Luke's emphasis in Acts is not on Christ's command but rather on his promise of the Spirit (1:4). All the efforts and labors of his disciples will be due to the influence of that Spirit. It is with this promise that Luke deals in Acts. His point is that what Jesus began in his flesh he now continues in his body (the church) through his Spirit. Just as Jesus was baptized with the Holy Spirit for his ministry, so his followers were to be baptized with the Holy Spirit for theirs. Acts is thus the record of the events that followed the gift of the Holy Spirit. So instead of the title "The Acts of the Apostles" (so the Greek), maybe we should think: "The Activities of the Spirit-Filled Followers of Jesus!"
Here are some takeaways I jotted down in my spiritual journal:
- The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit.
- Except for Paul's speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts, the sermons in Acts are all missionary sermons.
- It is the missionary Spirit of God in us who labors for the salvation of men everywhere.
- The disciples in Acts were guided solely by their sense of the Holy Spirit.
- To be the church means: All Spirit-filled Christians are sent to our age to infect all of society with the liberating, saving, ministering power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, forming a witnessing team not only by what they say but by what they are.
This is God's basic missionary strategy for New Covenant churches. We, the chosen people of God, must implement it. It is literally a matter of life and breath (pneuma/Spirit)!
Monday, December 26, 2022
Today I want to talk about something I don't think I've discussed much before, and that is the subject of effort. This topic came to mind this morning while working out at the Y. When you walk into any gym, you will find two basic kinds of people. I'm not talking about the obvious differences such as age or gender. I'm talking about the effort people put into their workouts. Here I am this morning.
I lift three days a week, and in every single one of these sessions I go all out and give it 100 percent. I'm not alone of course. I'd guess that about half of the people you see in the gym put in maximum effort when they lift, while the other half doesn't. Many people are there mostly for the socialization that occurs. Others are basically happy with their bodies and simply want to maintain their current level of fitness. Still others want to make gains but only minor ones. And that's perfectly fine. You get what you give. In the gym, I want to give it my all every time I'm there. But in many other areas of life it's the opposite. In these areas I am mediocre at best. Take technology. There is no one on the planet who is more klutzy about technology than I am. I am an idiot when it comes to anything having to do with computers or technology of any kind. I have always been this way, even with household chores. Just ask my kids. I need directions on how to change a light bulb.
Or take Spanish. As you know I've been trying to teach myself Spanish for several years now. I am absolutely mediocre at it. On the one hand, I realize that if I were to put in several hours each week working on Spanish, I could probably achieve fluency in a matter of months. But honestly, I really don't care that much. I know just enough Spanish to get by in a Mexican restaurant and I am content with that. Mastering Spanish just isn't a priority for me right now.
I'm telling you this because we are on the cusp of a new semester and I will be teaching 4 Greek classes this year. As in the gym, so in the classroom -- there are two basic types of students. There are some who always give it 100 percent, who study really, really, REALLY hard, and who make an "A" on practically every quiz and exam. Then are those who obviously spend considerably less effort in learning the language, for whatever reason. When I see students trying to compare themselves with others in the class I always tell them to KNOCK IT OFF. It does absolutely no good. Your race is YOURS and nobody else's. When I run a marathon, I tell myself the only thing that matters after I cross the finish line is that I met MY goals for that race, not somebody else's. In most instances, this means knowing I gave it all my all and, if I didn't, having to live with that and it won't be pretty. But in other races, my goal that day might be to run as slowly as possible and go out of my way to stop and thank the aid station volunteers or take photos of the landscape along the course. One goal is not better than the other; they are just different.
When I was in college, I worked hard and got mostly A's in my classes. The exceptions were any classes that had to do with science. I think I had to take Algebra II twice in high school before I could pass it, such a moron I am with it comes to thinking scientifically. I just didn't have a knack for it, and I was okay with that. Likewise, if you want to get an "A" in my Greek classes, I will do everything I can to help you succeed. But if you're content with a "C," that's totally fine as long as you have no regrets about your level of effort and dedication. Get my drift? We should never let how we feel about ourselves or our performance be dictated by our need to compare ourselves with others.
So let's get real. In all the talk these days about the need for excellence -- and I talk as much about this as anyone does -- let's not pretend that all of us give 100 percent to everything we do all the time. That's impossible. In some areas of life, our goal is to excel. In other areas, our goal is to get by. Just be sure you know which is which.
To return to my original thought. There are countless reasons people love to hang out at the gym.
Some do it simply for the company of other people. Some feel that, since they paid a bucket load of money to join the gym, they might as well try and get their money's worth out of it. (Why pay for a membership you never use, right?) Others are gym rats who love to work out and who, for the most part, have some pretty ambitious health and fitness goals. I am thankful and consider myself blessed to have a gym nearby and one that I can afford. Unless your goal is to look like a top-tier professional bodybuilder, then I think your average gym is all you need to reach your goals. My goals have changed over time, but I've always tried to ensure that I know where I'm going and why. Chances are you will greatly benefit by doing the same.
Sunday, December 25, 2022
Saturday, December 24, 2022
I just placed an order for some new mountaineering boots yesterday. I sure hope they fit.
This is the La Sportiva Nepal EVO. It's supposed to fit feet that are on the wider side. My last pair of mountain boots practically killed me when I was in the Alps. They were much too narrow for my flat feet (due to my barefoot upbringing in the Islands). Did you know that flat feet used to be a disqualifier for the military? That's pretty serious stuff, dude.
Now, when it comes to running shoes, I have no problem finding a pair that fits. Every running shoe company out there has the good sense to offer shoes in wider sizes. In fact, one company even specializes in wide toe boxes (Altra). So what does the mountaineering community have against climbers with flat feet? Not one pair of shoes comes in wide sizes. None! So what did I do? I called the nation's premier mountaineering company (REI) and talked to the "boot guy" (technical term) at their flagship store in Denver. As a result, I ordered the shoes you see above.
Feet can be an amazingly beautiful part of the anatomy when they are soft and well-formed. Runner's feet are notoriously the opposite. But no one cares. All we want to do is engage in our favorite pastime without killing our knees.
There you have it. A clear case of discrimination against climbers with stupid pancakes for feet, wouldn't you agree? Truth be told, I see no reason to try and climb the Allalinhorn this summer if I can't find a comfortable pair of climbing boots. Wish me well!
Recently I've been struggling with a case of Achilles tendonitis in my right foot. I think it was caused by, let's say, overuse to a degree, in that since last June I've completed 3 triathlons, 3 half marathons, two 10-mile races, one 32-mile ultramarathon, and the Richmond Marathon a month ago.
Have you ever had tendonitis in your foot? It's not pleasant. You feel a distinct knife-like stabbing pain in your heel especially first thing in the morning.
Now here's the interesting thing. Most of the time the real problem lies not in your Achilles tendon but in your calf muscles. If you test the calf flexibility on the side of the pain and determine that you have calf tightness, then you definitely want to fix it since that is almost always the root cause of your pain. The pain is coming from the inability of your foot to maintain a rigid position at the time you lift your heel off the ground to propel your body. This results in an enormous amount of stress being shifted to the fascia to do something it is not equipped to do. Simply put, your tight calves are creating a timing issue. A couple of weeks ago I began calf stretches and they have done wonders, so much so that today I was able to walk pain-free for the first time in months. I am blown away by how fast you can feel the difference in such a short amount of time. But you have to know what to strengthen.
Now, will you allow me to use this as an analogy to a problem we have in the church today, in particular the cancer of disunity? The solution is definitely NOT to be found in unity for unity's sake. This is the mistake of ecclesial ecumenism. If I can return to the book of Philippians for a moment, the case of Euodia and Syntyche (4:2) clearly shows that only where there is agreement on what the gospel is can Paul tell the church there is no room for personal disagreement. The most fundamental form of Christian unity is agreement on the gospel. This is because, for Paul, the most fundamental oneness is based on whether or not your name is written in the "Book of Life" (4:3). Only those who are "in Christ Jesus" in the heavenly realm can practice unity here on this earth.
This is precisely where ecumenism fails. Ecumenism always involves compromise with the gospel for the sake of greater unity. This is completely contrary to the apostolic mind. It is, in fact, a denial of the gospel. Paul describes as "dogs" those who add works in their teaching about salvation (3:2). He is being deliberately rude. Beware, says Paul. No one may detract from the sole sufficiency of Christ with impunity.
Those who corrupt the gospel are still with us today. I am referring to the pathetic multitude whose only confidence is in social justice and creation care. Where is propitiation? Where is sin? Where is repentance? Where is evangelical faith? Where is the repudiation of a works-based soteriology? In researching my book on the church/kingdom (Godworld: Enter at Your Own Risk), I did a study of modern ecclesiastical expressions of Christendom, including mainline liberal denominations. One of them recently held a conference on "evangelism." I watched the resultant YouTube where I discovered that this major U.S. denomination defines "evangelism" as "finding Christ in everyone you meet." This obviously constitutes a denial of the gospel, which itself is the only basis for ecclesial unity. The gospel is the Good News, and our salvation is built on the historic fact that Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification. We are saved when we trust a Person, the Savior, and confess him as Lord. This is precisely where some denominations make a fatal mistake. They give intellectual credence to the facts but they never commit themselves to the Person the gospel is all about. Men minimize false doctrine and try to see the good in what God calls evil under a mistaken notion of grace and tolerance. The love of God has been preached but not his holiness. However, striving to produce unity when the gospel you preach is a false one is simply trying to cure tendonitis without stretching your calf muscles. The age of "togetherness" is mired up in "compromise."
Paul and Silas were accused of troubling Philippi (Acts 16:20). What city in America today does not need to be troubled by the gospel of Jesus Christ? Only where there is such commotion will there be earthquakes at midnight and jailers converted.
Friday, December 23, 2022
So how's my day been going? (I'm sure with Christmas upon us and everything else you have going on, that's all you've been thinking about.) Well, it's cold, as in literally freezing. The sun is out but there's no warmth in it.
The high tomorrow will be 24 degrees, so, yes, I guess you could say that winter has formally arrived. More often than not, I am always thinking of reasons to get outdoors, but man, it is COLD out there!
Instead, this morning I settled into a warm Bojangles and dug into the Scriptures. Had a wonderful time in Philippians 2!
Isn't it beautiful to know that because of God's kindness I can "work out" my salvation because he is "working in" the very same thing? Isn't it exciting to know that required obedience is also enabled obedience? Yes, I am responsible for my spiritual growth. Yes, I am responsible to live up to my privileges in Christ. But the other side of the coin is that my obedience is ultimately a response to God's inner working of transformation and renewal. And -- get this! -- Paul says that nothing can stop this ongoing divine work. As Motyer says in his commentary (p. 101), "With our daily catalogue of failure and our not infrequent despair of ourselves, what unspeakable comfort lies in this truth!" Indeed!
Another reason I'm smiling? This morning I had one of the best workouts I've ever had. It was tough as all get out but I sincerely enjoyed every second of it.
The simple sensation of lifting a weight. The sound of my breath as I begin to strain under the tension. The subtle taste of another Alp in my future (if I work hard enough). It felt like hope.
I love this time of the year called winter. It means we'll soon be emerging out of the darkness. The days will become longer, the nights shorter. One of the greatest feelings in life has to be working towards some future goal, giving it your all, feeling the struggle of the journey, but persevering and reaching your destination. Next thing you know, you're planning your marathon schedule for next year. I've chosen to do two -- the Flying Pig in Cincy in May and the St. George Marathon (Utah) in October. This would be my fourth time doing the Cincinnati Marathon, which was my very first 26.2 mile race. I know it's kind of odd for me to want to do this race for a fourth time, but nostalgia is a very powerful emotion. Today I am giving a huge shoutout to Cincy Photography for making such great videos about this race. Here's my fave:
I have to admit, every time I watch this I get goosebumps. If you've been reading this blog for a while you know I'm a sucker for inspiration. I'll take it wherever I can get it. I definitely get the best dose of inspiration from watching people just like myself not being afraid to fail. Most of us live our lives without even coming close to our limits. I'm a huge believer that we are capable of doing way more than we think we can. Always be willing to see the small achievement in everything you do, even if it does not turn out exactly like you planned. Don't procrastinate on goals. If you don't believe you can reach them you won't. I have many faults -- we all know that! But one of them isn't making excuses or complaining and playing the victim. For some reason I have zero tolerance for not honoring commitments.
So many people my age decide that their best experiences are all in the past and settle down to wait for death. But the opposite ought to be the case. The accumulated wisdom of the years ought to make us most valuable in our last days. Despite his advanced years, Caleb asked God for a mountain. He didn't ask for a pension and an easy chair. And he didn't ask for a hillside either. He asked for a mountain. He claimed God's promises and relied on the Promiser as never before.
We honor God by asking him for mountains in our old age. Let's not settle for less than his best. My apologies to General MacArthur, but God's old soldiers never die and they never just fade away!
Thursday, December 22, 2022
In 2023 I will begin my 47th year of teaching. I've never been more concerned about the state of education in North America. Today we have millions of people who believe "their" truth and "their" lived experience is all that matters. You must cater to them, let them skip out on life and responsibility, and give them what they want when they stamp their feet. They have worked themselves into an ideological corner that is indefensible.
Student, beware. Professors who take the objectivity out of truth destroy the very concept of education. Truth is objective. It transcends identity. It is never contingent. If all truth claims are relative and equally valid, then knowledge itself ceases to exist. Never be afraid to debunk the "truth" lie. The fundamental quality of truth is that it transcends the subjective observer. That's one reason to study New Testament Greek. Absolute relativists will never admit that the New Testament can be discussed objectively. Prove them wrong.
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Elsewhere I have tried to show that unity within the fellowship is the major theme of Philippians. Paul sees disunity as a sin that destroys the church's witness and renders it impotent. I find it interesting and instructive that Paul's second missionary journey -- during which the Philippian church was founded by Paul -- was itself born out of heartbreaking division. The great partnership of Paul and Barnabas had come to an unhappy end. Of course, God used it for good, as he always does. But it is surely no wonder that a church in which Paul saw major divisions should have concerned him.
Notice something else. During Paul's second journey he sought and received the guidance of God in the form of a vision. However, Paul takes no direct action on his own. He submits the vision to his team, and only when unanimity has been reached do they set out for Europe. Paul's cautious reaction to the divine vision suggests to me a sensitivity to unity and cooperation that perhaps was missing at the beginning of the trip.
Unity is not really a choice but a command. Just read Phil. 1:27-30. And the extent to which we obey probably says more about us and our Christianity than anything else.
Monday, December 19, 2022
I love Greek. Has anyone noticed? I absolutely love this language! Notice what John does in 1 John 3 when describing the believer's relationship with sin:
- In verse 6 he says that the believer "does not sin."
- In verse 9a he says the believer "does not do sin."
- And in verse 9b he says the believer "is not able to sin."
In each of these places, the Greek tense implies continuous or habitual action. This is brought out very nicely in the ESV:
keeps on sinning
will continue to sin
cannot go on sinning
Contrast this with the CSB's:
does not sin
does not sin
is not able to sin
However, the idea is one of making a practice of sinning. That's because the new birth involves a radical transformation of life. Thus, in John's theology at least, for a Christian to "go on sinning" would indicate he's never been born again. This is, in fact, what verse 10 clearly says: "Anyone who does not practice what it right is not a child of God."
No, John is not teaching sinless perfection. No, he is not saying that the Christian is impeccable. Instead, "the Christian's supernatural birth from God keeps him from habitual sin" (Stott, 133).
Now do you see why the ESV's rendering is so much more helpful than the CSB's? It's the same difference in Spanish between "no peca" and "no practica el pecado." In French we would say, "ne pratique pas le péché."
Of course, my favorite is the Hawaiian Pidgin Bible: "no stay do bad kine stuff"!
Just back from the Y.
While lifting I listened to a lecture by Jordan Peterson on postmodernism, specifically where postmodernism gets it wrong. Postmodernism teaches that there is an infinite number of interpretations. This may be true, says Peterson. But there isn't an infinite number of viable interpretations. There is only a finite number of viable interpretations. Having taught hermeneutics for many years, I agree wholeheartedly with that observation.
As for those who would have us read the New Testament through their own ethnic lense, using, say, an "African" hermeneutic or an "Asian" hermeneutic or a Latinamente hermeneutic, Peterson points out something that is simply profound. In fact, I can think of no other modern thinker who elucidates this point as clearly as he does. And just what is that notion?
There are more differences within the groups than between the groups.
My thoughts exactly. Let's say we want to pursue an "African" hermeneutic. Well, if you think about this logically, you would have to conclude that this is an utter impossibility because there are an infinite number of potential interpretations. There is absolutely nothing monolithic about "African" anything. And just whose African hermeneutic do you want to use? That's an important question, especially in light of the fact that there are over 1.2 billion people living on the African continent today, all of whom I suppose could be considered "African" in one sense of the term.
Let's take it a step further. If I have counted correctly, there are currently 54 nations in Africa. Which of these nations do you have in mind when you are speaking of an "African" hermeneutic? Libya? Zimbabwe? Congo? Egypt? All of them? Most of them? East Africa? West Africa? Now let's take just one of those 54 nations for a minute. I'll use Ethiopia as an example because this is where my wife was from and I've been there 17 times. I am told that within Ethiopia there exist some 90 major people groups, each with their own language and culture. My wife and I had the good fortune of working among a number of them, including the Amhara, the Oromo, the Hadiya, the Alaba, and the Burji. These peoples speak, respectively, Amarinya, Orominya, Hadinya, Alabinya, and Burjinya. Keep in mind I am only talking about linguistic subcultures. I've said nothing about religion, even though in any of these people groups you are likely to find Evangelicals, Muslims, and Orthodox, three groups that have very little in common with each other in terms of their worldview. Add politics (local and national) into the equation, and the situation in Ethiopia becomes even more incredibly complicated.
In the end, I do agree that we all read Scripture through our own cultural lenses. But I see this fact more of a corrective than anything else. This is not to say that culture is not important in studying the Scriptures. But in a grammatical-historical approach to the Bible (the method I teach), we are primarily seeking to understand what the author meant to his original readers in light of first-century culture, not our own. To place my own lenses at the beginning of the hermeneutical process instead of at the end (applicational phase) of the process is, in my opinion, not helpful. It is to put the cart before the horse.
Sunday, December 18, 2022
Saturday, December 17, 2022
How's your Saturday going? Mine's been fantastic. Here's what I had for lunch today -- homemade soup with homemade bread, courtesy of my daughter. Thank you!
I am finally fully healed up after a week-long head cold. Which meant ... drum roll please ... that I could get back to the gym today for an upper body workout. Probably the easiest workout of my life but I was out there and happy as all get out.
Earlier still I spent time in 1 John. In chapters 1-2, John has been dealing with a delicate subject: the sinning Christian. In 2:1, he tells us that the whole purpose of his writing this letter is to keep his readers from sinning. The full forgiveness of the believer's sins through the blood of Christ (1:9) should not allow him to think lightly of them. The Christian is not to sin, and yet sinning is inevitable, is it not? And it is these two concepts that John is trying to balance here. Christians can either become too lenient or too severe toward sin. Being too lenient encourages sinning because we can always "1 John 1:9 it," right? On the other hand, we can be guilty of the other extreme, which either denies the possibility of a Christian sinning or else refuses him forgiveness when he does.
In 1 John 2:15-16, John seems to give us a summary of what he considers, let's say, to be the essential marks of a sinful life. He mentions "the lust of the flesh," "the lust of the eyes," and "the boastful pride of life." The first describes sins that result from our fallen, sinful nature. These sins derive from within. The second indicates sins that assault us from the outside -- from what our eyes find pleasing or attractive. An obvious example is David's desire for Bathsheba. But is that all? Could this temptation also be an inordinate attraction to things that are truly good and beautiful? Robert Law, in his commentary on 1 John called The Tests of Life, thought so and spoke of "the love of beauty divorced from the love of goodness." As I have discussed elsewhere, there's a very fine line between appreciating nature and inordinately loving it (Enjoying Nature Without Worshipping It). Could John here be implicitly issuing a warning against the love of nature? In my own life I think it's too easy to enjoy nature almost to the point of allowing God's creation to become a substitute for him in my affections. It becomes one of the "gods" I spoke about yesterday. The key, I think, is to approach all encounters with creation mindfully and prayerfully. "Thank you, God, for this beauty," I often say when I'm outdoors on a run or a hike. I say this because it's so easy to go outdoors and not experience God's presence at all. We take his creation for granted.
If for no other reason, we need to spend time outdoors for the opportunity to worship the Creator while enjoying his creation. Try that today. Take a stroll through creation's art gallery and praise the Artist as you go. Worship only him, but do not feel guilty because you are blown away by the work of his hands.
Friday, December 16, 2022
A big part of farming is, of course, checking up on your flocks and herds and making sure they are safe, as I did this evening.
I thought about that when I came to the final verse of the book of 1 John. In one sense, it seems very much out of place. I mean, the letter is all about eternal life based on the finished work of Christ, and that we can know that we know God if we keep his commands, and that we are to love our sisters and brothers and keep believing in Jesus, etc. I'd expect at least a fond "grace and peace to you" or "greet everyone for me," but instead we find:
Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
End of letter.
At first, it didn't make sense to me. But notice this: John has just talked about how Jesus Christ is "the true God and eternal life," and that we may perceive and know him experientially. The charge "Keep yourselves from idols" seems, then, to follow quite naturally. Knowledge of, and communion with, the one true God is completely incompatible with any and all God-substitutes, be they actual physical idols or any untrue mental image we might have of God. "Dear children," writes Eugene Peterson in The Message, "be on guard against all clever facsimiles." Similarly the Latin Vulgate reads, "Filioli, custodite vos a simulacris." I even like how my Hawaiian Pidgin Bible renders the verse: "Eh you guys! You jalike my own kids! So, stay away from da idol kine gods." But surely the Oscar goes to The Living Bible:
Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts.
But what does this have to do with farming? The verb that John uses here for "keep" is not tēreō (as in verse 18) but phulassō -- the verb that's used of the shepherds who were guarding their flock by night when Jesus was born (Luke 2:8). Believe me, farmers can never grow lax in this duty. There is too much at stake. Likewise, the book of 1 John is a reminder that until the Lord's promised return we must wage a constant battle against worldly desires (1 John 2:15). We can lust for popularity. We can lust for money. We can lust for automobiles. As Augustine once said, the City of God is often overpowered by the call of the City of Man.
Stop it, says John. Don't go there. Today, as always, we are not to replace the one true God with our little "gods." We are not to entangle ourselves with the affairs of this world if we are to please our Commander-in-Chief. Jesus isn't merely item number 1 on the program. He is the program. And that's what John seems to be emphasizing as he concludes his letter.
Jesus Christ is God. He has the first word and the last word and every word in-between. What matters is stewardship, and it is required of servants that they be found faithful, not only until death but unto death if necessary.
For the holidays I'm doing a deep dive into the little letter of 1 John.
This book is all about the incarnate Jesus Christ, his unique divine-human person, and how he forms the foundation of our Christian lives. These are very appropriate themes to explore during Christmas.
Thursday, December 15, 2022
I have to be honest. This video thrilled me to the core.
My hugest, biggest, most daunting and ginormous goal for 2023? Climb the Allalinhorn. This will involve massive training and staying healthy and injury free. I suppose there is a part of me that feels like conquering another peak in Switzerland somehow defines me as a person. Of course, it doesn't. In my heart of hearts I know that's true, but there is another part of me that needs constantly to be challenged. For me, attempting to climb another Alp is symbolic of hard work, determination, and doing what I said I would do. People say there are better, cheaper, and safer ways of pushing one's boundaries. True. But I'm still glad I'm going to try. The challenge of getting there is hugely motivating in part because of the summit itself and in part because of what it takes to get there. For me, it's all about the challenge to achieve something that's just beyond reach. So why not? I may even organize another Becky Black Memorial Fund to Fight Endometrial Cancer. Now wouldn't that be fun?
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Today my devotions were in Acts 17, where Luke is describing Paul's encounter with the philosophers of Athens. In verse 18, they ask an interesting question. Here's how the NASB renders it:
What would this idle babbler wish to say?
Compare this with Phillips' rendering:
What is this cock-sparrow trying to say?
Are you as confused as I am?
I've mentioned this again and again, but we English speakers are incredibly blessed to have such a variety of translations and paraphrases of Scripture. I rarely study a passage of Scripture without comparing these versions. This includes reading languages other than English.
So what is behind the expression "idle babbler" -- or "cock-sparrow"? The CSB reads "ignorant show-off." Its predecessor (the HCSB) has "pseudo-intellect." Young's Literal Translation has "seed picker."
How about this one?
Was will eigentlich dieser sonderbare Vogel mit seinen aufgepickten Weisheiten?
Here the Neue Genfer Bibel nicely captures the imagery of the Greek word spermologos. In English, this reads:
What does this strange bird actually want with the wisdom it has picked up?
The idea is of a person who randomly collects bits of information from others and then passes them on frivolously like a gossiper. BDAG even uses the gloss "scrapmonger." Thus, Paul is apparently being accused of being an impertinent show off, passing on ideas he's picked up here and there as though they were his own. This is why so many translations (in both English and French) use the word "charlatan" in rendering spermologos. That said, I think I'll go with the CSB here: "ignorant show-off." Either that or the DAV's "self-promoting grandstander" (Dave's Authorized Version).* Either way, this is obviously rather severe language!
Isn't Bible study a blast?
*The Cambridge English Dictionary defines "grandstander" as "someone who acts or speaks in a way that is intended to attract attention and impress people watching."
For their final exam, my students had to translate selected verses from 1 John 1:5-2:14. We could only go so deep in class, so now's the time to chew on every word. For example, let's take one part of 1 John 2:1:
If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, one who is righteous.
Note a couple of details:
1. "If anyone." John didn't specify new Christian versus old Christian or educated Christian versus uneducated Christian, etc. Anyone!
2. John says, "If anyone sins." He didn't say sin in word or deed, or sin in attitude or action, or whether it's a sin of omission or commission. He just said "sins"!
3. "We have an advocate with the Father," that is, someone who pleads on our behalf. Where is he? In the intimate presence of (pros) the Father. Who is he? He is "Jesus" (his human name), and because he is a man, in him we have a Great High Priest who is not able not to sympathize with us! He is also "Christ," emphasizing his kingly authority and power to accomplish whatever he desires. Finally, he is "one who is righteous." He doesn't need an advocate of his own!
Here's your teaching outline:
- The breath of the promise.
- The scope of the sin.
- The greatness of the provision.
There is no limit to the amount of detail an observant reader of Scripture can uncover. And we can practice these skills on any type of biblical material -- a verse, a paragraph, a section, or even an entire book.
There's probably no tool of exegesis more powerful than observation. You must not only learn how to read Greek, you must learn what to look for.
The most neglected area in the lives of most "defeated" Christians is probably Bible reading. This should be the most exciting part of the day and it can be when you realize that it's GOD'S word we're reading. If you want to end up a theologian or a biblical scholar, that's great. Study it that way, but I'll let you in on a little secret. Some of the godliest and most knowledgeable Christians I know have had no formal biblical education.
There is a world of difference in just reading the Scriptures and letting them come alive in your life.
"Ministry" in the New Testament means all of God's people exercising their spiritual priesthood every day of the week wherever they are -- in their jobs, in formal and informal associations with other people, and in all contacts of daily life. The elevation of the pastorate into "the" ministry utterly fails to acknowledge the fact that every Christian is to be a minister to everyone else. I repented of referring to "the" ministry years ago and invite you to join me. If we would take this biblical principle to heart, the focus of so many of our churches -- pastors performing while others watch -- would be radically altered.
Believer: You are a minister. Fulfill your ministry!
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
It has never been more important to reject a Christian faith that is superficial or a merely sociological type. The Christian faith is grounded in the historicity and divinity of Christ and the mission of the church he founded. It's time to reject the headlong rush of the church to embrace secular causes and to incorporate into the church the latest fads of secular research such as standpoint epistemology.
Monday, December 12, 2022
It's interesting to see how painters have depicted the room in which Lincoln died. As time goes by, it seems that more and more people are squeezed into the scene. Here's Alonzo Chapel's "The Last Hours of Lincoln." A grand total of 47 people have been shoehorned into the tiny room.
In artistic terms, this is called embellishment. In the movie The Great Escape, which tells the story of allied airmen who escaped from a German POW camp during WWII, a number of American pilots are included in the escape. Of course, not a single American flyer participated. But no American audience is going to be all that interested in a bunch of Brits, so the producers included men like Steve McQueen and James Garner.
I remember when it was popular among scholars to apply "redaction criticism" to the New Testament. Scholars asserted that the Gospel writers not only arranged and organized the materials in their Gospels but also created material out of whole cloth. To get back to the "real" Jesus, we supposedly have to strip away all of these accretions. Thankfully, I don't see that kind of radical redaction criticism too much these days. There is no need for us to ever think that the Gospel writers embellished their accounts. Thus, while the four Gospels are not "biographies" (bioi) in the strict sense of the word, they most certainly are biographical and historically accurate and trustworthy down to the smallest detail. That my students may come to see this is exactly my prayer for the second edition of Why Four Gospels? There is life-giving power in the Bible precisely because it leads us directly and truthfully to the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Sunday, December 11, 2022
The Bible is unlike any other book you've ever read. For example, recently I've been reading this book by Neil Cole. Neil was a Greek student of mine years ago when I lived in Southern California.
It's the second time I've read it. I feel that if I've read a book on, say, church leadership two or three times, I've basically got its message. It will sit on my shelf for years and I will probably never read it again. That is never true of the Bible. You can read it over and over again and its message will never become old to you. You'll see things you've never seen before.
Are you convinced of the value of repeated Bible reading? Something to think about as we enter a new year.
Saturday, December 10, 2022
Sir Christopher Wren was a British architect who lived in the eighteenth century. He lies buried at Saint Paul's Cathedral, the great edifice that was designed by his own genius. On his tombstone is written this simple inscription:
If you seek his monument, look around.
A man is known by his works. The question is: What have you done with your life? Have you been faithful to the call of God in your life? What one thing has God called you to do with your life? Believe me, the enemy doesn't want you to discover it. He wants you to go about living your life on your own.
Student, your entire life is ahead of you. Don't just drift through the empty motions of Churchianity. Find something that grips you and reaches deep within. I urge you to pause long enough to ask yourself, "Am I doing only a good thing with my life but not the right thing?" Then submit yourself, first and foremost, to Christ and his cross.
The condition of your heart will determine the destiny of your life.
Friday, December 9, 2022
Thursday, December 8, 2022
There are at least two things that Paul did in Acts 17 that teachers of ancient Greek can emulate. He started where his listeners were, and he used what was familiar to introduce what was unfamiliar. "So you've got an 'Unknown God'? Well, he's not only knowable, he's available. Let me tell you about him."
Can we do this with Greek? Absolutely. Move from the known to the unknown, from "This is how it works in English" to "This is how it works in Greek." "I teach" is the active voice in English. "I am being taught" is the passive voice in English. "I'm shaving" is the middle voice in English (note that the word "myself" is assumed in English, as it is in Greek).
By the way, just because your students may have had courses in English in high school, don't assume that they will automatically understand grammatical concepts. It's been truly said that we don't understand how our own language works until we study a foreign language. That's when concepts like tense and voice begin to make sense.
In other words: If you study Greek, you will also learn English. That's two languages for the price of one!
Another challenging workout at the Y this morning.
This holiday season invest in yourself and your health with a gym membership. There you will learn to incorporate healthy habits into your daily routine and overcome the challenges that come with getting older. You owe it to your grandkids.
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
My father was born on Oahu in 1918. In November of 1941, he was inducted into the U.S. Army. Two weeks later, he witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which occurred 81 years ago today. I was born on Oahu eleven years after Pearl Harbor, but you can't grow up in Hawaii and not feel like Pearl Harbor is part of your DNA. December 7, 1941 was our 9-11.
The attack should never have happened. Oahu was the strongest military fortress in the world. U.S. intelligence simply could not conceive of the type of attack the Japanese actually launched -- an airstrike aimed at destroying the U.S. Pacific Fleet, with no intention of planting one Japanese boot on Hawaiian soil. Yet that's exactly what happened.
How does one account for the fact that we were caught napping on a balmy Sunday morning 81 years ago? Who was to blame? As Gordon Prange noted in his definitive treatment of the attack -- At Dawn We Slept -- "Pearl Harbor resulted from a vast combination of interrelated, complicated, and strange historical facts: on the one hand, bountiful human errors of great variety, false assumptions, fallacious views, a vast storehouse of intelligence badly handled; on the other, precise planning, tireless training, fanatical dedication, iron determination, technical know-how, tactical excellence, clever deception measures, intelligence well gathered and effectively disseminated, plain guts -- and uncommon luck" (p. xvi). That just about says it all.
Few events in human history so demonstrate the importance of vigilance as Pearl Harbor. Humans have great capacity for brilliance, but all are fallible and capable of mistakes. The Scriptures have a lot to say about complacency. Our adversary loves to use it against us.
It is a great mistake to underestimate the power of one's enemies. We are not to be terrified by them as the ten spies were and become as grasshoppers in their sight. But neither are we to blithely ignore their existence. Just read Lewis's Screwtape Letters. Our business as Christians is to glorify God in body or in spirit, in sickness or in health, by life or by death. But it is a mistaken notion that being true to God will bring about earthly success. It cost John the Baptizer his head, Jonathan Edwards his pulpit, and Corrie ten Boom the loss of her sister and other family members. You may or may not succeed. But that is incidental. Faithfulness is what the Lord requires of us. He put it this way:
"Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes" (Luke 12:35-40 ESV).
Jesus knows better than we do our inadequacy. Thankfully, he is with us "all the days" (so the Greek of Matt. 28:20), even unto the end of of the age. The situation may be desperate but the saints are not.
Do you see it? The arrow on the FedEx truck logo?
Look again. See it now?
If you're saying What arrow?, look between the e and the x. Once you see it, you will be looking for it every time you see a FedEx truck!
The Bible is a veritable feast for the eyes. It starts with observation. That's the first step in Bible study. Begin with a simple prayer: "Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law" (Psalm 119:18). Ask God to remove the blindness from your eyes so that you might see with a depth of insight you would not otherwise have on your own.
Here's what I suggest you do every time you open God's word. Try this and see if it doesn't work. I want you to look for one thing in the text you have never seen there before. In other words, don't just look at the text. Observe it. Develop an eagle eye for detail. And do this with every passage you are studying, even "familiar" passages. You'll soon realize there's a vast difference between merely seeing and carefully observing. Keep looking until you find that elusive "arrow" in the text!
Care to try it?