Friday, June 30, 2023

Believers Have an Unlimited Capacity to Love (Phil. 1:9-11)

Driving into town this morning I listened to a sermon on Phil. 1:9-11. The sermon's theme was discovering God's will for our lives as believers, and the speaker made two points. He said that whatever decisions we make in life must involve moral purity on our part and God's glory on his part. So when I got to Bo's I decided to do a little analysis of this paragraph. 

Its basic structure looks something like this. 

These verses all form one long sentence in Greek. Clearly there is only one main theme and that theme is love. Our love as Christians should be plentiful, Paul says. We are to "abound still more and more in love" for one another. We are to continue to love, yes, but we are to do it more and more. If you ask "How can you increase something that is already overflowing?" just leave the water hose on and walk away, like I did the other day. Not only did the donkey's water trough get filled up, the pasture got flooded. 

So that's Paul MAIN point here. Below I've circled the two points made by the speaker in this morning's message and you will see that neither of them are main clauses. Both points are important, to be sure, but they are subordinate to the passage's main idea. 

Of course, I'm pointing one finger at the speaker and three at myself here. I shudder to think how many times I've majored on the minors in a text, only to leave the main idea high and dry. At any rate, I love this passage. And I think we can all agree that love is the hallmark of the Christian life. It is the culminating virtue of the believer. And, says Paul, our love as Christians should be plentiful. Think about it. As believers we have an unlimited capacity to love. Hence we should never become content with the level of love we are currently expressing. None of my kids or grandkids should ever feel love-starved. None of my students should either. Or my friends. To be sure, Paul is not reducing love to mere sentimentality. That's the rest of the paragraph, where he shows us how love is to be discerning, love is to be pure, love is to glorify God, etc. As one of my former mentors put it, "A lump in the throat is no excuse for a hole in the head." But every other clause in this paragraph stems from the one basic idea of overflowing love. 

To close, here's my translation of Phil. 1:9-11. 

"My prayer for you is that you will keep on overflowing more and more with love for one another while growing in spiritual knowledge and depth of discernment. Then you will always be able to test and approve the things in this life that are excellent and be pure and without offense on the day when Christ returns. This is possible because you have already been filled with the fruit of your salvation -- the truly good qualities that only Jesus Christ can produce, for the glory and praise of God."

Pray for love! 

The Bosu Ball

If you know me, you know that I love to try out new things. Well, on the advice of my sports physiologist, I've begun working out with a bosu ball. 

"Bosu" stands for "both sides up." You can use the ball on either side and still get a killer workout. It's also called a stability ball and rightly so. It's a great way to engage your core while working on balance and strength. Try it the next time you're at the gym.  

Thursday, June 29, 2023

All Civil War Buffs Agree on One Thing

Civil War historians disagree on a lot of subjects. I think we can all agree that facial hair peaked during that period. 

2 Pet. 1:20-21: The Bible Is the Word of God

These are two of the most important verses in the Bible. 

Note: "Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." This is the origin of Scripture. Men's words, yes, but also God's word. 

State-of-the-art computer-generated graphic. 

The thrill for us is that we can be absolutely confident that the Bible is God's word. Why? Because the Bible is Scripture spoken from God. Hence the Bible isn't just any book. And it is certainly not "full of errors" as so many erroneously claim today. 

By the way, since the Bible is the word of God, the best thing to do is to read it, wouldn't you agree? 

Practice Makes Perfect? No, But It Does Make It Better

One of the things I try to avoid online is visiting self-improvement websites. They've almost become a cult of people who endorse toxic positivity. Pretending that everything is fun and games is simply absurd. Of course, everyone should try and improve themselves, but not in the way the culture promotes -- i.e., invalidating any other reality than a positive one. Yet it's equally horrible when we simply plateau and never make any improvements in our lives. My philosophy is: Go out and live and don't obsess with improving your life without living it. In my opinion, self improvement means growing as a human being mentally, physically, and spiritually. It's about learning to deal with the ups and downs of life and being content in your own skin. It's about seeing where you're lacking, finding solutions to it, making those changes, and building good habits. 

As a novice lifter, one of the things I am constantly doing is taking short videos of my exercises and then running them by my trainer. You learn by doing, by making mistakes. During pull ups, for example, my concentric is way too fast. 

During dumbbell curls, I can't seem to balance my right side with my left side -- one side always seems asymmetrical. That's why practice is so necessary. 

We should spend about 20 percent of our time learning and 80 percent of our time practicing what we learn. We can get so stuck in reading books by lifters or watching videos about lifting that we never actually apply the knowledge we are absorbing. Only when I was able to put more effort and time into actually doing the work instead of learning how to do it did I start to improve and find more enjoyment out of it. Basically, you should DO, not only plan. 

Appreciate the life you're living, and enjoy improving at things in it. But remember: self improvement is best suited for people who take ACTION. 

The Spirit of Volunteerism

The threat of poor air quality in Gettysburg (due to the Canadian wildfires) as well as the prediction of constant thunderstorms have combined to make me cancel my trip to Pennsylvania this weekend. No sense in traveling all that way only to have to stay indoors all the time. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm done writing posts about the Civil War. For example, did you know that the armies of both sides were largely made up of volunteers? "Volunteers" is a category of military service borrowed from the British who viewed it as a less costly way of defending the home islands without paying for a greatly expanded regular army. Likewise, American volunteers in 1861 were recruited by the state into regiments bearing state designations and carrying their state colors along with the Stars and Stripes. As citizen-volunteers, they fought in obedience to the dictates of duty, not in personal hatred toward those they called enemies.

I thought about this today when I was in Philippians chapter 1 and saw how Paul called himself a "slave of Christ Jesus." This isn't Jesus Christ oppressing Paul under his heavy hand. This is Paul voluntarily bending the knee to Jesus Christ, willingly looking to him as his Lord. To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is to acknowledge that you now belong to him. In declaring himself a slave of Christ Jesus, Paul is putting himself under the care of the most caring and kind person who ever lived. If there is one person you could trust with your life, confident that he always has your own best interest at heart, it is Jesus Christ. Who better to take care of you? Who better to take responsibility for you? Who better to lead you through all of life's battles? Paul is solely a slave to Christ Jesus, captive to no others. That didn't change when he was placed in Roman chains.

Today we have to pursue this same spirit of glad volunteerism. It is as we voluntarily bow the knee to Christ, acknowledging him as Lord, that we discover the true freedom of the Christian life. By doing that, we gladly relinquish our need to be in control, which is the source of the anxiety and worry in our lives. He is in control in a way I could never be. He has better plans for my life than I could ever have. Of course, bowing the knee is not a one-and-done thing. As we grow in our trust in this Lord, we find we can relinquish control of more and more of our lives, even those areas that today are out of bounds, in which we are resolutely holding back. (Don't pretend you don't have any of those.) Let's believe that tomorrow we will have grown enough in our love and trust to hand even those over to him. Then we will discover new joy in following Jesus. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Origen on Hebrews (Again)

Anyone who says that Origen rejected the Pauline authorship of Hebrews has never read Origen. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The Price of War

Exactly 160 years ago today, the 157th New York stepped onto Maryland soil on their way to Gettysburg. 

The men began to sing an old hymn:

We go the way that leads to God, 

The way that saints have ever trod,

So let us leave this sinful shore,

For realms where we shall die no more,

We're going home, we're going home,

We're going home to die no more.

A week later, one in six of them would do just that. 

This is the price of war. 

The Battle of Gettysburg Was Almost the Battle of Pipe Creek

It was 160 years ago tomorrow, June 28, 1863, that George Meade was appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing Joseph Hooker. 

He moved his army north on a broad front to prevent the enemy from threatening Baltimore and Washington. As he moved, he asked himself three questions:

Is his army too spread out?

Are its flanks too vulnerable to attack?

Could he force the enemy to concentrate somewhere in his front?

One thing is clear. Meade never intended to occupy an advanced position at Gettysburg. The only reason for sending the left wing of his army, under the command of General John Reynolds, was to lure the enemy into attacking him along a strong defensive line at Pipe Creek in Maryland. 

Meade had ordered Reynolds to "advance to Gettysburg" but not to defend the town. If Reynolds could cause the enemy to concentrate and deploy its forces, perhaps it could be lured into combat on the Pipe Creek line.

In essence, Reynolds' left wing (made up of the First, Eleventh, and Third Corps) comprised a "reconnaissance in force." At no point did Meade grant Reynolds the discretion to bring on a general engagement at Gettysburg. The use of an advanced force was to cause the enemy to concentrate and deploy offensively in its front and then report the enemy's position and strength to the army commander. In the face of the enemy, the commander of the advanced force must begin a withdrawal that requires the enemy to offer resistance. In military terms, Meade's overarching intent was to deploy an advanced force that would "mask" his army's defensive plans and "unmask" the enemy's position and intentions. Meade never ordered any of his army corps to defend an advanced position at any time while he was the commander of the Army of the Potomac. He certainly did not do so on June 30. Reynolds was obligated to withdraw, halting frequently to return fire, then fall back on Howard's Eleventh Corps at Emmitsburg, 10 miles to the rear. Ultimately, however, Reynolds deployed the First and Eleventh Corps in a position that was not good because both flanks were exposed and because the size of the enemy forces approaching from the west and the north made it untenable. 

Hence what we know as the Battle of Gettysburg might just have easily been known as the Battle of Pipe Creek, Maryland! 

Monday, June 26, 2023

John Buford at Gettysburg: He Said "Go" and They Went

July 1, 1863. Day 1. I actually think this is my favorite day of the 3-day Battle of Gettysburg. And it's all because of Union General John Buford. 

His role that day was featured in Ted Turner's movie Gettysburg. Sam Elliott seemed the perfect actor to play that role -- soft-spoken, contemplative, all business. 

Unlike George Custer or Jeb Stuart, John Buford never sought the limelight. At Gettysburg, he commanded two brigades of Union cavalry whose textbook delaying action protected the high ground behind the town that would soon become the world-famous Cemetery Ridge. 

That sultry July day, Buford was so wracked with arthritis that his staff had to help him into the saddle. Before the end of that year, he would be dead, killed not by a bullet but by something just as deadly, typhoid fever. Yet on that summer day of July 1, this humble Kentuckian fought off an enemy that outnumbered him until John Reynolds and the First Army Corps could arrive on the scene. Such was his bravery that his men followed him into battle without reservation, willingly risking their lives for the cause they believed in, simply because their leader said, "Go." 

Today, the work of Christ is unfinished. Yes, his work for us is finished, but his work through us is an unfinished business. We are to proclaim his finished work as we go about performing the unfinished work of the Great Commission. So when we hear the trumpet call of our Leader, we get going. We are willing even to risk our lives if necessary because of what we believe in, simply because he said, "Go." 

We learn it slowly but learn it we must: the only thing in life that matters is that we please our Commander-in-Chief. As long as his work is unfinished, ours is unfinished too. 

It All Hangs Together (The Importance of Context)

Context is king. This means that you can never be so naive as to think that you can take a word or phrase out of the Bible, isolate it from its context, and declare "Thus says the Lord." A childish illustration is Psalm 14:1: "There is no God." You cannot take those words out of their context and say that the Bible teaches atheism. What Psalm 14:1 actually says is that those who say there is no God are fools. In other words, what this verse is affirming is not atheism but the folly of atheism. 

Never forget the old spiritual:

The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone,

The thigh bone's connected to the hip bone,

The hip bone's connected to the tail bone,

Now hear the word of the Lord.

It all hangs together. 

Christians Are a Lot Like Runners (Heb. 12:1-2)

Whether or not you like to run or consider yourself a runner, Christians are a lot like runners. 

Whenever we're involved in a faith enterprise, were overextended by divine design. That's what faith involves. Faith is a response of obedience to an impossible request. Just try inviting 5,000 people to a meal prepared from a kid's lunch box. We must abandon ourselves to God's adequacy and trust him for enablement. It's an interesting paradox. We are weak when we are strong, and strong when we are weak. 

Just another reason why I love running so much.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

2023 Night Train Half Marathon (Brief!) Race Report

What? Not another race report filled with pics and boring clichés? Go ahead. Sue me. Chastise me. Unfriend me on Facebook. (Actually you can't because I don't do FB.) That said, I'm pretty sure you'll be happy with this report because I had to put my iPhone away due to the weather. (I don't like wet cameras.) You might not know this, but my least favorite pastime is running in the rain. It's even worse when you hear the sound of thunder in the distance. I did, however, get these pics:

By way of reminder, last night by God's grace I finished my 41st half marathon. This meant I got to experience once again the joy of having to walk upstairs last night backwards because I had run 13.1 miles nonstop. I say "joy" intentionally. Years ago I made a promise to myself to ditch the easy things in life. Don't pretend you haven't experienced or felt the same way. Don't act like you're always satisfied with the status quo either. Is there anything in life that excites you? If you truly want to, then do it -- despite the thunderstorm, the humidity, the bugs, the pain. Do not check in with your body and decide that you are too tired. Do not look at your calendar and decide that you are too busy. Otherwise you'll find yourself in the same old rut. Do the opposite. This is your life. Stop rushing through it. Indulge in the little God-given things that make you happy. 

By the way, one of the best ways to help yourself is by helping others. I know some churches whose motto is: Love God, Love Others. I might tweak it this way: Love God Back, Serve Others First. Live that kind of a life and you will never have any regrets. Show it to your kids. Hopefully they will thank you for it later. In church this morning we were in Ecclesiastes 3. I love the two words (both in Hebrew and Greek) for the concept of time used here. 

The idea behind kairos is "opportunity." I'm praying, perhaps as never before, that God would make me sensitive to that moment, that opportunity, when someone I meet, someone I know, or maybe someone I've never met before, will be open to the gospel and that I'll have the privilege of sharing with them the love of God. This opportunity can appear anywhere but it often does at running events, and I am very grateful for that. People need the Lord! Reach out to them in ways appropriate to your own giftedness. Love them, Jesus said. Love them until they ask you why. 

So that's my "report." My next race Lord willing is the UNC Health Sprint Triathlon in Wake Forest, then the Ashland Half Marathon, and after that the historic Virginia 10-Miler. 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Noticing the Details: Psalm 139.

This morning I was in Psalm 139. This is fast becoming my favorite chapter in the Psalter. I read the psalm in the Hebrew. A couple of things stood out to me and perhaps I could share them with you. 

First, note the emphasis in verse 8: "If I ascend into heaven, there -- YOU! And if I make my bed in hell, behold -- YOU!"

Wherever I am -- YOU!! I love that emphasis. Secondly, verse 24 reads literally: "And see if there is any way of pain in me." 

In other words, "See if there is anything in me that would cause you to grieve or require repentance on my part." 

A blessing and a challenge. The blessing is God's presence wherever I find myself. The challenge is to be sensitive to his Spirit within me as he brings conviction of sin. 

Well, as always, when I read the Bible in the original languages, I gain a renewed appreciation for men like Moses and David and Paul and Luke who wrestled God's revelation into Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They all seem to be distinguished by a belief in the power of words to bring their readers into the presence of God and to change lives. I am ever so grateful for them.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Becoming a "Missionary" Church

Here in the rural South you have a church on practically every corner. Some of these are called "Missionary" churches. 

Not exactly sure why, but my guess is that they are intentional about missions and evangelism. I sometimes wonder if the word "missionary" might not be a good word to include in all of our church names. One of the worst mistakes a church can make is to be structured for the gathering rather than for the going, for fellowship rather than for mission. Ultimately, the true church is not concerned about itself. It lives exocentrically. It intentionally turns itself outward to the world. Hence its structure should embody this dynamic rather than static outlook. 

I would love to see the day when "missionary churches" does not refer to a particular denomination or local church but to all churches everywhere. 

2023 Western States 100

The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run kicks off in California tomorrow. It's one of the biggest ultras in the US. For the past three years I've followed this race closely partly because of its distance and partly because I lived in California for 27 years. The winter snowpack in the Sierra was higher than normal this year, and the early parts of the race will be extra challenging because of that. On the other hand, in the lower elevations the temps should be cooler than normal, which should make for faster than usual race times. Hayden Hawks is my sleeper pick on the men's side, and Courtney Dauwalter on the women's. The event will be live streamed and yes, I will be watching even though I know I will never run this race (a 50K ultra is my max). Godspeed to all the runners. 

Back to Gettysburg

Somebody hit me with the stupid stick. I waited until today to make my hotel reservation for next week's 160th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. By God's grace I got the last room in the hotel. Gettysburg, by the way, is the gateway drug to the Civil War. Once you've visited the battlefield, you will be hooked for life. I'm eager to attend several talks being hosted this year by the Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center (of which I am a member). 

This is just a sample of the activities and talks you can attend. 

The Seminary Ridge Museum is located in the famous Lutheran Seminary, which saw heavy fighting on the first and last days of the battle. Its historic cupola features prominently in the movie Gettysburg. Check this out:

I've had the experience of standing in this very cupola twice. Between now and then, I'll be rereading my books on the battle. These include:

I read a lot of military history, not just about the Civil War. The books pictured above are some of the best history I have ever read. They rank right up there with Thucydides, Tacitus, and Gibbon's Rise and Fall. Their characterization of historical figures is so good that you feel like you know them intimately. Meade -- the Rodney Dangerfield of the battle -- especially gets the credit he deserves for fighting a brilliant battle.

The only downside to this year's commemoration is the news that Little Round Top is still closed due to renovation. Oh well. A reason to visit Gettysburg again next year. 

If You're Hurting, Hand It Off (James 5:13)

Summer has officially arrived! The book of Ecclesiastes describes summer as a time when farmers harvest their crops and the land is filled with abundance. For me, it's a time to revamp my Greek lectures, and this morning was no exception. Here's the verse I was looking at in my morning Bible study. It's James 5:13. 

I think it would make a great verse to talk about when we discuss the Greek imperative mood (the mood of "command") in the fall. Care to see what I came up with?

The main thing to notice is that James uses the present tense of the imperative, which calls attention to what is called verbal aspect, or kind of action. Thus, both "let him pray" and "let him sing" carry the idea of doing these things continually or habitually. I will challenge my students to try and bring this out in their translation of this verse. (I'll give you my own translation below). One question I did have was how best to render the verb kakopathei. The NIV has, "Is anyone in trouble?" The NLT says "is suffering hardship," while the ESV simply has "is suffering." Here are some other options:

CEV: having trouble

GNT: in trouble

LSV: suffering evil

Tyndale: evyll [sic] vexed

The Message: hurting ("Are you hurting? Pray.")

Luther: leidet (is suffering)

LBLA: sufre (is suffering)

JBS: afligido (is afflicted)

NBV: angustiado (is anguished)

LS: dans la souffrance (in suffering)

HWP: get trouble

Vulgate: tristatur (is sad). 

The verb kakopatheō seems to have the basic sense of "suffer evil," "be afflicted," or "endure hardship." The semantic range is somewhat broad, as you can see from my summary of the translations I discussed above, ranging all the way from "sad" to "anguished." 

Personally, I think Eugene Peterson's "hurting" is a happy compromise between these two poles. As for my own translation of the verse, here's what I came up with. What do you think?

"Is anyone among you hurting? He should keep on praying about it. Is anyone cheerful? He should continually be singing praises to the Lord."

By the way, there's an old hymn that does an excellent job of conveying James's meaning here. It's titled "From Every Stormy Wind that Blows." Here are two of its verses:

From every stormy wind that blows

From every swelling tide of woes

There is a calm, a sure retreat

'Tis found beneath the mercy seat.


Ah, whither could we flee for aid

When tempted, deserted, or dismayed

Or how the host of hell defeat

Had suffering saints no mercy seat?

Isn't that lovely? 

So there you have it. The only thing I have left to do is turn this into a power point and I think I've got a helpful illustration of how the Greek present imperative works. Oh, by the way -- if you're reading this today and are sad, anxious, afflicted, or even in anguish of soul, please don't go through the day churning. Be free of it because of your prayers. He will hear you. Answers are on the way -- in his time, and for his purposes. 

If you're hurting, hand if off. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Pronouncing Hawaiian

Have y'all been to Hawaii yet? Lord willing, I'll be back there next month. Before you visit, you will want to work on your pronunciation of Hawaiian place names, right? Try these on for size:

  • Haleiwa
  • Kaaawa
  • Likelike
  • Ewa
  • Kaahumanu
  • Ho'okele
  • Haleakala
  • Kaanapali

For guidance, use this

"Meaningless" Or "Vaporous" (Eccl. 1:2)?

Lately I've been reading the book of Ecclesiastes. Not only that, I'm translating the Hebrew for myself. Already in Eccl. 1:2, I've hit a pothole. Here's the Hebrew word that's stumping me. 

And here's how its been rendered in various translations:

  • NIV: meaningless
  • ESV: vanity
  • CSB: futility
  • GW: pointless
  • GNT: useless
  • NET: futile
  • Luther: eitel
  • SCH1951: Eitelkeit
  • SCH2000: Nichtigkeit
  • LBLA: vanidad

The NIV reads as follows:

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!"

I'm not very happy with this translation or with the other renderings either. The Hebrew word is hevel. It refers to breath or vapor. The Teacher uses it 38 times in Ecclesiastes so it's a key term. He uses it to describe human existence. Life, he says, is like a fog you're stuck in that makes it impossible for you to see clearly. It looks solid but it keeps slipping through your fingers. It's like trying to grab hold of the wind. You simply can't. My mind goes to Wile E. Coyote who never catches the Roadrunner. I feel the best English word for hevel is vaporous. Vaporous comes from the Latin adjective vaporus, "full of steam or vapor." Synonyms include:

  • cloudy
  • foggy
  • misty
  • hazy
  • murky
  • drizzly

That's what life is like, says the Teacher. It's filled with vapor. It's both fleeting and lacking in clarity. Hence my translation:

"Vaporous! Vaporous!" says the Teacher. "Utterly vaporous! Everything is vaporous!"

Stay tuned for more observations on the Hebrew text of Ecclesiastes (and mightily bored you'll be). 

June Is Men's Health Month

Happy Men's Health Month! (It's also National Safety Month, National Dairy Month, National Candy Month, National Papaya Month, and National River Month.) No better way to celebrate than at the Y, eh?

Getting older makes you appreciate the small things of life. I'm probably more comfortable in my own skin than I've ever been and would take 71 any day over the uncertainties of my teen years. Life is all about becoming. The only real tragedy is to not move at all. This is probably why so many of us men find it so hard to grow older. As we age, we morph into a caricature of what we once were. To use a mountaineering metaphor, rather than climbing higher, we find something to hang on to. This is one reason I love exercising so much. You become a lot of things when you work out, be it at the gym or in the pool or on the trails. You become fitter, stronger, faster (maybe), and healthier than you were before you became active. Of course, activity is often accompanied by discomfort. But this discomfort reminds us that we are alive. We leverage exercise to help us shake off the things in our lives that are holding us back from growing. 

If you're a man reading this blog post, maybe you can use Men's Health Month as a reason to think about your own life. As someone who is probably older than you are, my advice would be to set your sights ahead. No, don't forget where you've come from, but remember that where you are is the first step to becoming what you want to be. Each step takes you closer to your destination, but no single step does it. Find your rhythm, continue to set big goals, and work hard to achieve them. 

God bless you as you chase down your health goals! 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

One Letter Too Many? (1 Thess. 2:7)

I have to apologize for yet another language-related blog post, but that's just the way I think. A group I used to listen to a lot in Hawaii while a kid were the Young Rascals. Inspired by the Beatles, they always aspired to write their own songs. Their first hit was a song called "Good Lovin'." Then came "Groovin." By May of 1967, it had achieved "gold record" status. 

I was 15 at the time. I loved that song, though one line always confused me:

"Life will be ecstasy, you and me and Lesly."

Who in the world is Lesly? 

The lyrics, of course, were, "Life will be ecstacy, you and me endlessly." Okaaaaaay. Reminds me of something else while growing up in Hawaii. During the Lord's Supper, our pastor would always say, when we took the cup, "Drink ye all of it." I can clearly recall being sure to stick my tongue all the way into that little cup lest I leave a drop of the grape juice. Of course, what Paul actually said was, "Drink of it, all of you." 

Language can be crazy at times. To wit:

  • creak/creek
  • hole/whole
  • site/sight
  • canon/cannon
  • it's/its
  • bearing/baring
  • bolder/boulder
  • rain/reign
  • waist/waste

In the New Testament (yes, there is ALWAYS a NT application), 1 Thess. 2:7 comes to mind. This verse contains one of the most significant textual variants in the word of God. 

And the only difference between "We became babies" and "We became gentle" is not the pronunciation but that little extra "n" (greek nu) the arrow is pointing to. 

Lord knows Greek is hard enough without throwing things like this into the mix. Just goes to show, again, how crazy languages can be. That's one reason I love my Bible. It's like a beautiful mountain peak, and has the power to capture and hold a person's imagination. When your mind is pondering the Scriptures, sooner or later it's going to land on a textual variant of significance. 

Just a thought for those of you who are wondering if you should dabble in the art and science of New Testament textual criticism. Of course you should!!!!!

Why I Love Philippians

The book of Philippians is one of my favorite letters in the New Testament. Here's why

Greek Greeting Cards

I am thinking of starting a new business. I think I'm going to make Greeting Cards for Greek students. I know many of you would like to send one to someone you know. Here are a few samples I'm thinking about:

Congrats on finishing your first year of Greek. Now please stop telling us about it. 

Congrats on getting an A on your final exam. Too bad you didn't do as well on your other exams.

Congrats on using your very first Greek word in a sermon. I had no idea what you were talking about but it sure sounded impressive. 

Congrats on purchasing your first printed Greek New Testament. Sorry you didn't realize there are 7 of them on your iPhone -- free. 

Congrats on signing up for Hebrew next year. You've always been good at thinking and speaking backwards. 

Ok. So maybe I should stick with teaching Greek instead. 

Ambition: Good Or Bad?

Are you an ambitious person? I think I am. Is that a good thing? Can there be godly ambition and ungodly ambition? In English, the word can be used positively -- the pursuit of great goals, working hard to make them happen -- and negatively -- ambition as aggressive, cold, calculating, and power hungry.

I've been preparing a talk on this subject for my Greek classes, and this morning I was in Rom. 15:20. In fact, Paul uses the term "ambition" several times in his letters, both positively and negatively -- positively in places like here in Rom. 15:20, and negatively in places like Phil. 2:3-4 ("selfish ambition"). So if we ask, "Is ambition good or bad?" I suppose the answer is, "It depends." We could just as easily ask, "Is sex good or bad?" or "Is money good or bad?" or "Is power good or bad?" Like many things in life, ambition can be put to both positive and negative uses.

I think Paul is telling us what appropriate ambition looks like, not only here in Rom. 15:20, but in his entire life and ministry. What Paul is saying is, "I am controlled by an ambition to speak of Christ where he has never been named." For that reason, Paul has decided that he wants to visit Spain. I suspect that he also desired to preach the gospel in the British Isles, known as Britannia at the time. There is nowhere love won't go. Paul's life invites us to look at ourselves and our own ambitions in that light. Without ambition, the gospel is not preached, hospitals are not built, the poor are not fed, schools are not opened, political change does not happen, music is not composed, clothes are not designed, poems are not written. Without ambition, there is no excellence or creativity. In my own life, without ambition degrees would not have been earned, classes would not have been taught, books would not have been written, mission trips would not have been taken, mountains would not have been climbed, races would not have been run, exercise would not have been engaged in. The gospel allows us to become ambitious if our goal is to accomplish God's will for our lives in a way that honors him and helps others. 

Thus far I have drawn three timeless principles from my study. 

1. Holy ambition is always right and good.

2. Ambition is the joyful surrender to God's sovereign will. 

3. Ambitious work is always the most satisfying work.

C. S. Lewis put it this way: "'Ambition.' We must be careful what we mean by it. If it means a desire to get ahead of other people, then it is bad. If it means simply wanting to do a thing well, then it is good. It isn't wrong for an actor to want to act his part as well as it can possibly be acted. But the wish to have his name in bigger type than the other actors is a bad one." 

My goal, as I age, is to become more and more ambitious in the good sense of the word and, conversely, avoid becoming ambitious in the sense of pursuing my own will instead of God's. Like Paul, then, I still have many ambitious goals to pursue. 

Secular Humanism

Before I went to Basel for my doctorate, people would warn me about studying in Europe. Europe, they told me, was a post-Christian continent. And they were right. One could literally feel the spiritual oppression one finds in countries like Switzerland. Friend, secularism is the enemy of Christianity. Let's determine, if we are Christian men and women, to set ourselves with implacable antagonism against secular humanism. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Ordinary People Trying to Do Extraordinary Things

Why is it that we humans are always pushing ourselves to go further? You achieve a 5K and then you're curious about what running a 10K would be like. You then gradually progress to a half marathon, then a full marathon, then an ultra marathon. You're on an adventure and you really have no idea where it will lead you. Running (and exercise in general) is more about self-discovery than it is about the physical aspect. Here I am during a break in today's workout at the Y. 

As you know, I began lifting because I wanted to build upper body strength so that I could return to Zermatt and attempt to climb a couple more 4,000-meter peaks. I am on a journey, a quest, an adventure to discover what I'm capable of. I'm constantly managing my thoughts and emotions in that proverbial quest for the finish line. Just knowing how to face challenges with courage and with the confidence that you have been here before can be life-changing. As a teacher, I love seeing this attitude in my Greek students despite the self-doubt they often bring to the classroom. I once had a teacher say to me, "Who we are in adversity is who we are." That is a very biblical thought! Furthermore, we know over time that consistency wins, no matter what. We live in a world of facing adversity and difficulty. Adversity brings the best out of us. When you're in a marathon and hit the wall and are deep in the place of hurt, that's where you love to be because that's where you learn so much about yourself. I want to know what my God-given potential is in all aspects of life. And that can happen at any distance. For you, it might be facing down the challenge of walking for 20 minutes 3 times a week. It can be overwhelming. You're sitting there thinking, "Why am I even doing this?" That's a good place to be, because if you knew you could do it, it wouldn't bring out your best effort. Again, nothing matters more than long term consistency. Consistent small efforts trump the occasional great effort. Just ask anyone who has tried to master New Testament Greek or attempted to run an ultra marathon. Start small and stay consistent. We can do more than we think we can if we give it time and slowly build up to it. 

I love the "Who is the person I want to be one year from now?" attitude. That's the question I keep asking myself. Have I reached my God-given potential? Have any of us? Just think of all the areas in our lives, including the spiritual, that are untapped. That's one reason I love the running community so much. The focus is always on authenticity. You do what is right and true for you. It isn't about who's the fastest or most elite runner. Thank God, because I would have been ruled out years ago. It's about being ordinary people who are trying to do extraordinary things. And even if I never make it back to Switzerland and never climb another peak in the Alps, I see the training as beneficial because it makes me push harder in other areas of my life. 

Anybody else feel the same way? 

Monday, June 19, 2023

The Bible: Both Propositional and Personal

The Scriptures are both propositional and personal. Knowing God personally is not in competition with knowing about him. Never pit the devotional study of the Bible against the academic study of the Bible. 

Why You Should Do Pull Ups

It's a fact: Pull ups are the best all-around exercise when it comes to weight training. 

On Daily Bible Reading

Just the hour of solitude is reason enough to spend time in the Scriptures daily. Today. Now. 

Getting Back to Authorial Intent

Simple social media hack: Unfollow anyone who says you have to interpret the Bible based on your own cultural perspective. 

Textual Criticism Is for Everyone

Is textual criticism a subject for scholars only? I don't think so. For my bottom-shelf introduction to the art and science of textual criticism, go here

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Four Simple Truths to Live By

I admire simplicity. Always have. I love it when essentials are made as simple and brief as possible. Simplicity helps us understand the essentials. Brevity helps us remember them. The best textbooks on almost any subject are brilliant on the basics. I've discovered in my life that when things are made simple, not simplistic, when they are clearly stated in terms I can easily understand, I'm able to put them into action in my life. Below are four simple, brief truths I discovered years ago. I jotted them down to present in a sermon I gave maybe 30 years ago. They have made all the difference to me in my life, and I pass them onto you with the hope that they might do the same for you. I'll just simply list them here without comment. I think they speak for themselves. Here they are:

Love is not sex.

Wealth is not money.

Relationship is not religion.

Faithfulness is not success. 

My only regret is that I didn't learn these truths and take them to heart sooner than I did. I hope you will not make the same mistake. Think of them as Father's Day advice from a 71-year man who truly wishes all of you a wonderful, joy-filled life. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Never Give Up

Care to join me for a few seconds on my run today? 

You'll never guess where I went (haha). 

My goal was to run from the High Bridge Trail parking lot on River Rd. to just past the parking lot in Rice. This was 5 miles each way. 

At that point (midway) I hit the pause button, caught my breath, and turned around. 

There are times when a run dictated by pace might result in working you too hard or not enough. Heart rate training can give you a more accurate indication of the effort you are putting in. I ALWAYS train at a low heart rate so that come race day I can run in zones 4 and 5. 

As I step up to the starting line of next weekend's half marathon race on this same trail, there is only one thing I want to tell you. Never give up. There will be a time in the race when you will want to. Quiet that voice and instead brace yourself for the task at hand. The pain of fatigue is completely normal. If you're hurting at the end of the race, that's normal. 13.1 miles is nothing to sneeze at. But today's 10 mile training run was a gracious reminder from the Lord that I can reach impossible goals if I don't give up. 

Do not give up.

Never give up. 

Thanks for watching! 

Friday, June 16, 2023

Why Stop Laughing?

One of my granddaughters has been in Israel performing with the chorale from her university. The other day I asked her if she had gone swimming in the Sea of Galilee yet. I told her about the time Becky and I were staying at a youth hostel in Capernaum, right on the Sea of Galilee. One day there suddenly descended upon the lake a massive storm, barreling down from the Arbela Pass. Within minutes, the lake had gone from snorkeling conditions to a massive tempest. What did Becky and I do? We jumped in the water and began body-surfing! Never had frolicking in water been more enjoyable. 

By the way, I've never seen a picture of Jesus and his disciples swimming in the Sea of Galilee, have you? Why, this is the HOLY land! This is the place where Jesus walked on water and where he performed some of his greatest miracles. This is not the place for splashing around.

I'm not so sure. Can't you see Philip dunking dour old Thomas? I can. Or James diving off his brother John's shoulders? Or Jesus splashing water at Nathaniel and Nathaniel splashing him back? Not infrequently I have to tell my Greek students to lighten up a bit. I'll remind them that we're training them to be overseers, not undertakers. I remind them that Jesus was a man of unparalleled joy. In fact, Psalm 45:7 is describing Jesus when it says, "God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." Little wonder his dour, sad-faced opponents often accused him of having too much fun (Luke 7:34). 

One of my kids and I love to play pranks on each other. We both have a severe dislike for Paul McCartney's song "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time." In fact, we can't stand the song. Hence we always try to be the first to send the other a video clip of this song at Christmas time! 

We humans love to laugh. Even animals love to tease and play with each other. Just ask any farmer. If you have no problem laughing at yourself, you'll have no problem with being pranked. William Hendricksen translates Phil. 4:5 as, "Let your bigheartedness be known to all men." I love that. It's good advice for a man who's about 8/10ths done here on earth. For me, life has become one rich and varied season after the other. I am not old, just older. I have not stopped enjoying life. I have too wonderful (and funny) a family for me to ever do that. That's why I totally agree with George Bernard Shaw when he said, "You don't stop laughing when you grow old. You grow old when you stop laughing." 

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude

This morning I spent time in that wonderful prayer of Paul's in the book of Colossians -- Col. 1:9-14. 

It made me think about gratitude and how it relates to attitude. The older you get, the more grateful you're supposed to become. Supposedly you've lived long enough that you have an awful lot to be grateful for. The thing about gratitude is, it's easier said than done. We humans suffer from chronic ingratitude. G. K. Chesterton once defined man as "an ungrateful biped." Like the people of Israel in the wilderness, we grumble, gripe, murmur, and complain about everything. That's why Paul reminds us in this passage that gratitude is an attitude we should have all the time, even when we're under that cloud of doom. Life can be really tough at times, but it's infinitely easier if you're able to see past the bad and be grateful for the good. Practice gratitude even when things feel very, very hard. Stop thinking that things "should" be a certain way. Do your best to accept the way things are unfolding for you right now. Be grateful for any positive outcome that comes, no matter how small. When you tuck your kids into bed at night, discuss with them their "best thing of the day." Hopefully, you'll build gratitude into them. We value what we notice. Try to notice the little stuff every day. Never before in my life have I had so much to be grateful for. 

  • Family (they are always there for me)
  • Sunrises
  • Coffee
  • Spellcheck
  • A good book
  • Farm animals
  • My piano
  • Ethiopian food
  • Races to look forward to
  • Fresh veggies from my kids
  • Classical music
  • The beauty of language

For these things and easily a hundred thousand others, I offer a prayer of gratitude to God. In Col. 2:7, Paul says we are to be perisseuontes en eucharistia. I love how this phrase is rendered in various translations:

  • NIV: overflowing with thankfulness
  • ESV: abounding in thanksgiving
  • NASB: overflowing with gratitude
  • MSG: let your living spill over into thanksgiving
  • HWP: Everytime tank Christ plenny
  • DHH: dando siempre gracias a Dios
  • BLPH: vivan en incesante acción de gracias
  • NGH: könnt ihr ihm nicht genug danken!
  • LB: let your lives overflow with joy and thanksgiving for all he has done

Thank him not only for temporal blessings. Thank him for allowing you to share the inheritance of the saints in the light, for rescuing you from the dominion of darkness, for transferring you into the kingdom of the Son of his love (Col. 1:12-14). 

I do not always practice gratitude like this. But I want to. 

Tips for Aging Well

Here are 7 tips for aging well.

1. Growing older is not about age. It's about attitude.

2. Grow older but not colder. Keep the steam up. Stay hot for the Lord. 

3. Pay careful attention to God's word. Read it more than you read anything else.

4. Pray fervently. Pray for God's direction in your life. Don't give into worry or fear.

5. Risk doing new things. Keep having fun. Don't be a grouch. 

6. Add music to your life. 

7. Say to yourself every morning: "Since every new day is a gift from God, I will live for him wholeheartedly today." 

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Biking the Virginia Capital Trail

Hey everyone. Today was a gorgeous day for cycling, so I drove up to the Virginia Capital Trail in Richmond. The entire trail from beginning to end (Richmond to Jamestown or vice versa) is 52 miles.  

I've done that distance 3 times but today my ride wasn't that long. Here's where you start out if you begin on the Richmond side. 

I love the city's skyline. I'm familiar with it because I've run the Richmond Marathon 3 times. Richmond used to be old and dirty. Nowadays, much of that has changed. Of course, there are still ghetto areas. I mean, there are places in RVA I will not drive in. If you do move there the first thing you'll notice is all the old factory buildings that have been turned into condos. Many of them are right on the James River. For being a small city, the food scene is also good. I've eaten as much Ethiopian food here as I imagine I've eaten in any other city. Taxes are high, and so is crime. Richmond also has food taxes on top of state taxes. Housing isn't cheap, but 300K will get you into a 3 bedroom with bath. Condos are even cheaper, like these.

At any rate, this was my route today. 

I did an out-and-back that took me to a oasis called 4 Mile Park. 

Once there, I dismounted and took a brief break. As I said, it was a perfect day for cycling. 

I averaged about 13 mph. It's slower outbound than inbound because the return trip is net downhill. By the way, history is a big draw for this trail. This is just one of the many historical markers you will find while biking. 

And, if you're a farmer like me, you will enjoy all the agriculture along the way, including wheat fields like this one. 

Acres and acres of soybeans. 

And a handful of cornfields. 

All in all, it was a fun day. I got in a total of 22.5 miles and hope to get in even more miles in the weeks ahead. There's no way I am ever going to improve my triathlon bike times without training, right?