Friday, June 24
4:24 PM Yesterday we were hit with a gignormous storm bringing hail and high winds. Being the sinner that I am, I began to worry about the animals and the outbuildings -- not to mention the two houses we have on the farm. But it wasn't too long before the Lord replaced my fear with peace, knowing that He is a good God (as well as absolutely sovereign). Of course, He is also a serendipitous God, and thanks to His mercy and grace not only our farm was spared (except for a 20-hour power outage) but, as far as I can tell, most of our neighboring farms were spared the brunt of the storm as well. I'm calling it a miracle. It was a pure gift to us, and I just want to say "Thank you" to the One who loves all of us and is the only source of love that we can't find in ourselves. Not only does He save but He sustains life for broken people like me. Becky loved the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul," and she would often say, "Honey, it is what it is" with a calm sense of assurance that all is in God's hands. She witnessed to her faith through the peace she exhibited, even during her years of suffering with cancer. Thinking about her provides me with perspective. Peter Kreeft once wrote, "There's nothing outside heaven except hell. Earth is not outside heaven; it is heaven's workshop, heaven's womb." As beautiful as creation/nature is, God will one one day redeem the whole thing and bring into being a new heaven and a new earth. I find myself thinking about that day often. There is a greater reality than this present earth. Many of my loved ones are now in heaven, living in the very presence of God and in a reality one day I too will enter, but only in God's good time. One thing is certain: I have no power to control the circumstances that can alter the very course of my life. But I do have the power to choose how I will respond and whether or not I will trust God. So do all of us, I guess.
Thursday, June 23
6:56 AM On the schedule for three weeks from today:
Today's a day for trekking (no climbing). Here's a shot of the Matterhorn from the Stellisee:
Wednesday, June 22
4:44 PM Evening, pards!
Just got back from Raleigh. I just had to see Hillary in person for myself. Actually.... I went to Raleigh to visit with my newest grandbaby Gabriel and his family.
We had lunch together and also watched the recently-released IMAX movie National Parks Adventure, narrated by none other than Robert Redford. Here's the trailer in case you haven't seen it.
Apart from the intrusive Subaru commercials, the movie was fantastic. You're taken on a grand celluloid tour of some of the nation's most beautiful national parks -- Bryce, Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Devil's Tower, the Grand Canyon, and so forth -- places I've had the blessing of visiting personally. Through archival footage the movie supplies a brief primer on how our national park system began under President Theodore Roosevelt. I knew a thing or two about Teddy before watching this film -- his service with the famous "Rough Riders," his courage during the Spanish-American War, his succession to the office of president after the assassination of President McKinley, etc. But what I didn't know until today was that Roosevelt lost both his wife and his daughter on the very same day. In his diary he wrote, "The light has gone out of my life." Roosevelt visited John Muir in Yosemite Valley, and there he began to experience the serenity that only nature affords. Later he would sign into existence 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, and 150 national forests.
I'm sure losing his wife and child was no picnic for him. That has got to be the definition of Horrible Moment. Horrible Moments are, sadly, part and parcel of human existence. But they shouldn't keep us sidelined or paralyzed with anxiety. As you know, in the past two years I have become a huge fan of God's creation -- of sunsets and surf, feathers and ferns, mountains and mushrooms, and everything in between. I have forced myself to stop what I was doing and open up my senses to the varied nuances of nature. The outdoors is full of wonderful stories that attract us when we are young and keep our attention long after we have grown old. Have you ever wondered why conifers grow taller than broad-leaved trees? Or why mammals in colder climate have shorter extremities? Or why nocturnal predators seem to have eyes that glow in the dark? I have become quite the naturalist since Becky's death, and I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that I, like Roosevelt, have found nothing quite so therapeutic as the out-of-doors. Life delivers plenty enough struggles. We don't need to go around looking for them. If God would only give us eyes to see His creative hand in every part of nature, from the largest macrocosm to the smallest microcosm. Nature is healthy. It's just that simple. So thank you, IMAX, for 45 minutes of utter, sheer pleasure and joy. Frankly, I'm not sure why people have to defend creationism. I suppose we humans remain atheists if only to escape the inevitable conclusion: there is indeed a Supreme God, Creator and Ruler of the universe. Of course, the crown of creation is humankind, with incomparable complexity of design, form, function, and thought. Just look at my grandson Gabriel. An accident of evolution? I think not.
We live on a wonderful planet, friends. Earth is not some evolutionary accident. From the grandeur of a mountaintop to the marvel of a baby's smile, we should each of us appreciate the beauty all around us.
7:05 AM This and that ...
1) To vote for Trump or not. Two views.
2) Check out Lee Iron's Tips for Reading the Greek New Testament.
3) The best island in Hawaii has been hiding in plain sight.
4)The best hiking trials in Virginia. #1 is still my favorite.
5) Ten reasons for studying Latin.
Tuesday, June 21
5:38 PM Hola, amigos!
Last night I watched the movie 13 Hours on Netflix. It's a simple narrative: how 6 American security operators fought to protect the Americans stationed in Benghazi.
I had already read the book (which was truly un-put-down-able). The story is both tragic and heroic. The movie is short on politics (thankfully) but long on bravery. What emerges is a sad tale of "what ifs?" Given the significance of the date (Sept. 11), why weren't there any other American assets available? Why was the "stand down" order given when a timely intervention by the operators probably could have saved the life of the U.S. ambassador and others? And perhaps most disturbing of all: Why was no one in the government held accountable for these apparent lapses in judgment? The movie does an excellent job of telling the story from the perspective of the boots on the ground. These men and the men they were protecting deserved much better, but Washington failed them. However, as I said, don't go looking for a smoking gun connecting the actions of Sept. 11 to Hillary Clinton. The movie is pretty much apolitical. But emotional it is, and I finished the movie with a heavy heart and was even shocked at what happened. I give it 4 (out of 5) stars.
Meanwhile, my ever-alert assistant sent along a link to a new report called Closest Thing to a Wonder Drug? Try Exercise. It's obviously a pitch for an active lifestyle. May we all be true believers. I know all this and I fret still. I worry about loved ones and friends who think exercise is optional. The sedentary remain sedentary. The unfit remain unfit. And there are many reasons for this. Education fails. Arguments fail. Persuasion fails. All of us are good at finding excuses to remain inactive. There is a way to get the most mileage out of our human bodies, but we must learn the facts and act on them. This essay will help you do just that. A year ago, I was just beginning my own exercise regiment. I was an absolute neophyte. It was horrifying to confront my own apathy and indifference toward the temple God had given me to care for. Listen, God values you and your body. And only you can decide to get started. Therefore, the rest of us can just butt out and stop criticizing you because we have never walked a day in your shoes. But if you'd like to get going, here's an essay I wrote about the subject. It's only a start. You can take it much farther. I hope you will.
As for me, my own exercises these days have focused on riding. One never forgets how to ride a bicycle. Get on a bike and all the old skills will return with a passion. The Fuji that I ride is a finely designed racing machine built for speed and distance. Now if I could only get the rider to imitate those same skills! Unlike walking or hiking, one does not meander on a mountain bike. I've been riding all-out, mostly because I need to build up my leg muscles for the challenge of climbing. I am driven by the fact that we human beings are wholes: body, soul, and spirit. The concept of lifestyle, therefore, includes our physical, mental, and spiritual lifestyle. Be assured that all are equally important. So there it is -- my why of exercising: no less than the creation of the human being I was meant to be. Life requires physical energy. And a body in motion stays in motion. (*Dave gets down off soapbox*.)
7:24 AM Scatter-shooting ...
1) The "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" is a worthless forgery.
2) What's in a president's name?
3) Three weeks from today:
4) A personal word to Everest summiteers.
5) The top 5 beaches on Oahu. (Yes, Kailua Beach is listed. But of course.)
Monday, June 20
7:15 PM As I begin typing these words it is exactly 6:35 pm EDT -- the precise moment in 2016 in which the summer solstice arrives in the Northern Hemisphere (i.e., the sun reaches its most northern point from the equator). So, "Happy Summer" to you (officially)! I love the summer season because I prefer warmth to cold, because it's when I can get the hay up, because I get to swim my laps again (the pool has reopened for the summer) -- and for many other reasons. Each season of life is its own journey and tells its own story. I share my story with you here on this blog as a witness to God's continual presence in my life regardless of what season I'm in according to the calendar. Throughout the seasons of my life I've found that writing (and blogging) is therapeutic for me. Like you, I have seasons of feeling good and of feeling bad, of valleys and mountaintops and plateaus. Life is all about the journey, even when the seasons are difficult and the climb is steep. In my case, what matters is that I use my life experience to honor Him. If, along the way, someone else is led to walk closer to Jesus, so much the better. This blog is my daily journal. The reason I share it with you is because of my conviction that a person should never try to journey alone. One way to deal with our sorry and suffering is to reach out to others in theirs. This, to me, is the great value of blogging. That's why mountain climbing is such an appropriate metaphor for life. Climbing is so much easier when we have an experienced guide and a constant companion, especially when the climb is long and difficult. And what better guide could we have than the One who "leads us beside the still waters" and even "restores our soul"? It is hard to persevere when you feel like you're climbing the mountain alone. We cry out to God in our desperation -- God, help me! God lead me! Show me Your ways! Teach me Your paths! Guide me in Your truth! It's so comforting to know that the Good Shepherd knows the way forward. Not only is He with us; He is ahead of us and already "there." Jesus is as much with me as He is with Becky. The challenge is to trust the Shepherd, that He will guide us, that He will carry us up the mountain one step at a time. "Lord, I trust in You.... You are my Rock and my Fortress" (Psalm 31:1-5).
And then there's human companionship, which all of us crave. Experienced mountain climbers know how to best lead less-experienced climbers -- especially ones who are still standing at the foot of the mountain and just beginning their climb. From those experienced climbers we draw great encouragement. They are the "great cloud of witnesses" that have gone before us. But they are not enough. They are never enough. When we are climbing the mountain of life and are just barely holding on, our only hope is to reach out to God. When I climb the Alps in three weeks, I will be tethered with a rope to a professional mountain guide who has tons of experience climbing the Alps. Similarly, I like to imagine that I am actually tethered to God as I climb the mountain of life. When I am too tired to go on, He will pull me gently forward through His love and grace and mercy and strength. "I cling to You. Your strong hand holds me securely" (Psalm 63:8). Only with Jesus as our Guide can we hope to be triumphant in the battle of life and come out on top. Remember: The battle is His to begin with, and so is the victory. He has already climbed the mountain. He knows where it is steep and where it is easy. I don't need to figure that out. All I have to do is trust Him for the next step and not worry about what's above me. He is the only one who can lead me in the way I should go. Thus, as we climb, we are to focus on Him and rely totally on His guidance. How sweet it is to know that no matter how hard or difficult the climb, God has everything under control. The Bible is full of "mountaintop experiences." The summit, of course, is heaven itself. The prize is when we finally reach "Home." In the meantime, the climb is what God uses to refine us and make us more like Jesus. We need to be careful not to ask God to remove from our lives parts of the climb that we don't like, for He is using them to grow us stronger in our faith. Praise God that He meets us in every season of life. He's with us in the valleys and He's with us on the mountains. He's with us in the summers and He's with us in the winters. This very day I know that God is with me just as He is with everyone who has placed their trust in Christ. My task is simply to trust Him daily and take up my cross and follow Him in obedience and love, with Christ as my strength.
Speaking of guidance on the mountain, here's my itinerary for Day 2 of my trip to the Alps:
I would really love to make it to the summit of the Breithorn. But I know I cannot do it on my own. I'll need the guide to guide me and my legs to carry me and my God to strengthen me. Either way, whether I summit or not, I know the experience will be on-the-job training for life. As long as I am able, I will keep on climbing. I know with assurance that I can face every circumstance in union with the One who grants me strength. Even if pain and struggle ensue, He can still be trusted. I say it again and again: the weaker we are -- the more brokenness we have -- the more God can use us. I said that in my doctoral dissertation and I hope I will say it until my final breath. In the meantime, I will serve Him as best as I can and will always give Him the glory. May all I do -- be it on this blog or in my travels -- point to Him.
6:50 AM I know a family that is currently spending a week at the beach. I don't know about you, but I always feel close to God at the ocean. There's something therapeutic about the beach. That's even been proven scientifically. Kailua Beach is perhaps my favorite spot on the planet, a place that always reminds me of God's provision, protection, and relentless love. For Jesus, I suppose His "beach" was a garden called Gethsemane. I can almost see Him pouring His heart out to the Father, time and again. At the beach I always feel I can have an honest conversation with God. His understanding is as vast as the ocean. His power is as limitless as the horizon. And sometimes His fatherly discipline is like the waves of the sea that keep rolling in and crashing on the shore. You wonder, How much more can I take? The vastness of the ocean reminds me that God is limitless in His love toward me, regardless of my circumstances. His love is as constant as the waves. "How we thank God for all this!" wrote Paul (1 Cor. 15:57). "It is He who makes us victorious through Jesus Christ our Lord!" God loves us so much. The joy I feel this morning includes the confidence that nothing on earth can ever separate me from the love of God. Remember, friend: no burden is too big for Him to handle. We must learn to look at our "ocean" with spiritual eyes instead of earthly ones. "Wide, wide as the ocean, high as the heavens above, deep, deep as the deepest sea is my Savior's love."
It is not the size of our problem that matters. It's the size of our God.
Sunday, June 19
7:52 PM Just heard from my mountain guide in Switzerland. I had asked him who his oldest client had been. He tells me his oldest client was 70 and that he summited the Matterhorn. Unbelievable. Exactly 3 weeks from today my itinerary looks like this:
Yes, the "Gornergletcher" is a glacier! The goal is to learn how to use crampons and an ice axe.
I feel like I'm in kindergarten again.
6:48 PM Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there. For about 14 years now I've called Virginia home, and it continues to amaze me how much beauty and history there is within a 2-hour driving radius of the farm. Whether you're hiking solo or with a friend, there is no shortage of beautiful parks and hiking trails. Today I returned to the Appomattox History Trail just outside of Appomattox Court House. Judging from the countless spider webs I encountered along the path, it's not exactly one of Virginia's more popular hiking trails, but it's certainly one of the best. You get there by taking Hwy 460 to the town of Appomattox then turning onto State Hwy. 24 and driving about 2 miles past the entrance to the National Historical Park. The trailhead begins at "Lee's Headquarters." The entire trail is about 12 miles long I'd say. The best park of the hike is the quiet serenity you encounter along the way, plus the historic sites. In addition, there's a short "Nature Trail" sponsored by the Society of American Foresters that is an education in and of itself. I highly recommend this nature walk for families and school groups. However, you might want to visit in the fall when the leaves are changing their colors (and when there are far fewer mosquitoes!). Unlike many hiking trails in Virginia, which are easy to get lost in, this trail is very clearly marked. It has everything, plus it's gentle and easy. I found it gorgeous and very peaceful. Here are a few pix:
1) Here's the entrance to the Historical Park, established August 3, 1935. Today the parking lot was full. I bet it made for a great Father's Day outing.
2) Eventually you arrive at the site where Lee established his headquarters in advance of his army after being cornered by Grant.
3) As you can see, the parking lot was not exactly full.
4) It's here that the History Trail begins.
5) Remember: when hiking, it's important to stay on clearly marked trails. Sadly, not all trails are as clearly marked as this one is.
6) I love hiking on trails like this one. It's such a relief from the grind of everyday living. Hiking always seems to settle my mind and allows me to collect my thoughts. How can you not worship the Creator when you are walking along paths like this one!
7) Occasionally the trail breaks out into the open, but mostly it's a shady walk through the woods.
8) As I strolled along I found myself wondering what the solders of both sides were thinking 151 years ago.
9) Here General George Armstrong Custer checked an advance by the Confederate cavalry. Lee was effectively "check-mated."
10) Most trees are easily identifiable by their leaves. For me, I need a sign!
11) Believe it or not, this is the mighty Appomattox River. I paused for a long time to enjoy its serenity.
I thought of the old hymn, "I've Got Peace Like a River," which describes the peace of God like a gently flowing river, His joy like a bubbling fountain, and His love like a wide ocean.
So there you have it. Truly, nature is a great place to worship our God. As I walked along today I pondered to myself, "Is it possible to love nature too much?" I knew I'd have to write about this when I got back home. Then I was reminded, "Dave, you goofball, you've already written an essay about enjoying nature without worshipping it." If you'd like to read what I had to say, do the el clicko thing here.
My thanks to all of my children for their cards, texts, and phone calls today. I was invited to a Father's Day dinner tonight by one of my kids but I've come down with a sore throat. Don't know what that's all about!
Saturday, June 18
7:15 PM They're blooming!
The gardenias, that is. Except for pikake, gardenia is my all-time favorite scent. Loving' it!
6:40 PM I spend so much time on the road I can identify with this song. Great fiddle and banjo.
2:34 PM Today was a perfect day for a nice long bike ride -- sunny but no humidity. So off I went to Farmville. My first stop was at the Outdoor Adventure Store where I had purchased my mountain bike 6 months ago. I took advantage of the free tune-up that was offered. After a few adjustments (my seat was a bit too low, the back tire was a bit under-inflated for my weight, the chain needed a bit of lubrication), the bike worked to perfection.
The trail was surprisingly empty for a weekend. Here's what the bridge looked like.
About half way across I saw an older couple seated in a shaded area and stopped to chat. Earlier I had passed them and noted that the man was walking with a cane and had a considerable limp in his right leg.
We had a delightful chat and I rode away thinking, "When I'm 79 will I still be out walking on a sunny day?" I hope so. What an inspiration. As I peddled I thought about 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul tells us that we are to accept the gift that God had given us. If He has given you the gift of marriage, be thankful. If He has given you the gift of singleness, be thankful. If He has given you the gift of widowerhood, be thankful. As I rode along my heart was filled with joy, knowing that everything that comes from the hand of God is a good and perfect gift. No, I did not choose to be single on this Father's Day weekend, but this is the Father's will for my life and I have the privilege of accepting it with thanksgiving. As of today, I still have not moved very far along the "stages of grief," and I don't expect I ever will. Still, I am so very grateful that my capacity to deal with loss has grown exponentially over the past two and a half years. It no longer takes an effort to get out of bed, and despite Becky's absence I have discovered another world teeming with life. You know, life is more than a random sequence of experiences and events. It is more than tragedy and suffering. Because of Jesus, we can look upon our sorrows as openings that allow us to experience grace, which God always grants in our moments of greatest need. If I still have emotions like self-pity, I do not need to ignore them. But neither should I indulge them. As I have already pointed out on this blog countless times, suffering is normal and even potentially good and healthy for us. Loss can transform our lives if we allow God to use it to enable us to set a new course for our lives. I have placed my body upon the altar. Now I joyfully accept the power and sufficiency of God's love. I have come to realize that God is sovereign and that His sovereignty encompasses all of life. Not only is God bigger than my circumstances, He can make my life better through those circumstances. Thus I find reason to keep on going, to continue trusting, to believe with greater joy than I ever had before.
If today you are struggling to make peace with the loss of someone dear to you, keep Jesus at the center of it all. It is when we make Jesus first place in our hearts that our souls increase in their capacity for hope.
Friday, June 17
4:58 PM This and that ...
1) Only 3 weeks to go before I take flight for Switzerland, hope and fear mingling inside of me as I prepare to test the limits of my athletic abilities. I already feel utterly alive, filled with a passion for adventure and a desire to achieve something only a few years ago I would have thought utterly impossible. Whatever happens on this trip, I will be writing a new personal story that I'll regale family and friends with for years to come -- and mighty bored they'll be!
2) My alma mater, Biola University, is the focus of this essay called It's Going to be an Issue. Biola, Conscience, and the Culture War. In my view, the comments section reveals the only logical and appropriate response: The problem of conscience is solved once private Christian universities renounce government funding. Side note: The best thing a local church can do to maintain its right to speak freely to issues of social conscience is start paying taxes.
3) Doug Groothuis of Denver Seminary remembers his colleague Gordon Lewis in this touching tribute. I have always said to my students that if I were to write a systematic theology it would look at lot like Lewis and Demarest's Integrative Theology, which uniquely combines historical, biblical, systematic, apologetic, and practical approaches.
The language is clear and concise, and the issues covered are presented in ways that are easy to follow. This is not to say it's light on details. It's not. All of the fundamental doctrines are there -- and applied practically. Oh, you also get an excellent exposure to the development of doctrine in this book -- a subject that was called Dogmengeschichte when I was a student in Basel. If you're at all interested in theology, you need this book. It's the best of the bunch.
6:44 AM Losing a loved one to enemy fire during combat is, of course, devastating. But when the cause of the loss is fratricide ("friendly fire"), one can only imagine the torment. In his book Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer reveals how the U.S. Army was more interested in burying the truth than in illuminating it in the case of Corporal Pat Tillman.
Whether a hawk or a dove, you will find this book disturbing. The Army, the Pentagon, and the White House hoped the incident would fade away. Unfortunately for them -- but extremely fortunately for the American people -- Tillman's mother Dannie was determined to uncover what really happened to her son. Here is a powerful book that explains why the Army lied to the Tillman family and the nation and examines how the government's bungled response to the fratricide unfolded. In particular, Krakauer takes a close look at General McChrystal's role in the mishandling of the Tillman tragedy. Rather than telling the public the truth, Tillman's death was shamelessly exploited as a sales asset during a presidential campaign.
Regardless of one's personal views about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all can agree that the government owes it to the men and women who don the uniform to tell the truth. A book like this makes my blood boil. Friendly fire happens. But lying about it is inexcusable. Pat Tillman's life was an inspiration to us all. He left a well-paid career in the NFL to undertake extraordinary challenges. To honor his legacy, the Pat Tillman Foundation holds two running events each April in Tempe and San Jose. The distance is 4.2 miles -- the number Pat wore on his football jersey when he played for Arizona State University.
One day I'd like to run in one of those races.
Thursday, June 16
5:02 PM Hey folks! Thanks for blogging in. Sorry. Sorry! SORRY! But I just have to talk about my Greek students again. We just had our first exam in Greek 2 and already there was a perfect 110 score. I'm a teacher. And this is what thrills a teacher's heart. But do you know what else gets me excited? When I see students who struggle with language doing their very best with what they have. They are winners in my eyes too. The title of my forthcoming book Running My Race is rooted in the fact that our main job in life is to glorify God by doing our best with what we have -- not with what we wished we had. I'm so proud to know all of these students. As long as they keep trying their hardest, they're hitting the bulls eye.
On a personal note, my left knee (which I twisted during last Saturday's 5K) is slowly improving but I sure hate being idle. We Baby Boomers are like that, I think. We grew up in an "aspirin generation" where relief from pain was only a couple of pills away. Introduce the microwave, and patience went out the window. I have to keep reminding myself that patience is one of the trademarks of God's Holy Spirit in my life, and that God grows us through personal hardships and struggles. Patience is refusing to honk your horn when you get stuck behind a "country driver," it's sitting out a 5K you really wanted to participate in, it's waiting joyfully on God to resolve a strained relationship, etc. Amy Carmichael (one of Becky's favorite authors) once said that Christians are to be "the Lord's diehards, to whom can be committed any kind of trial of endurance, and who can be counted upon to stand firm whatever happens." You see farmers do this all the time (cf. James 5:7-8). So here I sit, waiting for the "fruit of patience" to ripen, gritting my teeth -- but with a big smile.
Finally, lately I've received a number of notes and emails just thanking me for writing this or that book or speaking to this or that group. I can't believe it. People are so kind to me. Such simple acts of kindness mean a lot. They matter. Your trail of kindness counts. Kindness is simply allowing God to work through us to touch other people's lives. It may mean a kind email or a warm smile or a sincere compliment or visiting the sick. So I just want to say "thank you" to all of you who have been so kind to write to me. Your kindness has motivated me anew to love others actively and practically. Kindness like that speaks louder than words.
Wednesday, June 15
6:59 AM What is your potential? God knew that Abram still had great potential at the age of 75. The legendary Ulysses came home from the Trojan Wars and tried to settle down. But he couldn't find contentment in sitting. He sought some "work of noble note" to be done.
What adventure still lies ahead for you? What mountain does God want you to climb? Regardless of your age, God wants to use you. Don't be content to mark your days in relative inactivity. Do something useful.
Tuesday, June 14
8:16 PM A Good Samaritan helps a fawn off the road.
5:40 PM I've been reading Jeff Shaara's new book The Fateful Lightening.
Jeff is one of my favorite writers. I love everything he does - - how he captures both the personal and political side of war, how he introduces us to notable historical figures, how he manages to bring the Civil War to life through dialogue especially, and how his "characters" always seem believable. (The one exception is Gods and Generals, whose dialogues are pretty corny and stilted. The movie was even worse.) The Civil War irrevocably changed the course of American history. This book describes Sherman's famous "March to the Sea." I have visited the battlefields described in the book. I have even reenacted the Battle of Bentonville, NC. I have been "up-close and personal" but reading this book is bringing me even closer to the men who fought in this theater of the war. Thus far it's been an enjoyable, easy read.
In the meantime, I've been arranging evacuation insurance for my trip to the Alps as well as making a list of clothes/gear that I'll need to take with me. This weekend promises some very nice, sunny, and mild weather, and I'd really like to climb Sharp Top but my left knee has been hurting me for the past three days. I'm letting it rest up today through Friday. Which means a break from walking, running, and cycling until I'm healed up completely. At my age you simply cannot let a problem become chronic if you can avoid it. I've also completed the grades for my Greek 1 class. The grades ran the gamut -- from Cs to As. There were even a few A+s. My assistant and I are hoping to post them to Moodle tonight -- so students, please feel free to check tomorrow morning. Let me just add a truism: Winning a race doesn't mean you did your best. It just means you did better than someone else. At the age of 64 I am aware of unused capacities resident in my body. I believe I can still develop my strength to a level I have perhaps never reached before. I think the same principle applies to brain sweat. Do your best. Always. And remember: sometimes your "best" is better than what you are doing now.
6:38 AM How do I say this? Too many us think that schooling is preparation for the life to which God is calling us. To me, this involves a fairly narrow definition of "ministry." Greek student, the "life worth living" starts now. This day. In Greek class. Christ has set us free to serve Him in our right-now lives. Today's work is our work. Today's quiz is our work. Today's studying is our work. This is our vocation, our calling. The classroom looks an awful like an altar to me. So enjoy Him today. Enjoy serving Him today. I pray for you. For honesty and guts. For perseverance and understanding. That perfect love will drive out all fear. That you would come to know the church's Senior Pastor (there, friend, I took your title!) deeply and intimately and would fall in step with His plans for your life and for your church. I pray that your families and your friendships will become sources of inspiration for you. I pray for authenticity. Be real. Be all there. Minister today. Don't wait for your "calling." Your calling is now.
Monday, June 13
7:45 PM It's after 7:30 and we just finished baling for the day. While the rice is cooking for my supper, how 'bout a little picture update?
1) Here's how the campus looked this morning as I arrived for the beginning of Greek 2.
2) And here's my office building.
3) Our outstanding achievement award winner in Greek 1.
She chose the best book in the stack, I see.
4) We were haying all afternoon. Here's load #1.
5) And load #2.
6) And finally load #3.
Think of the three bears: Daddy bear, mama bear, and baby bear.
7) I just love this shot of Maple Ridge framed by the truck door.
It strikes me as funny that all of this was brand new to me 12 year ago. Live and learn I guess. I'll tell you what, though. This is the life I love. It's only matched by the Jesus I love. What gifts.
Time to fry my stir!
6:48 AM We begin Greek 2 today -- a three week circus carnival of fun and laughter. (Yeah, right.) Woody Allen famously said, "Showing up is eighty percent of life." Well, whether it's due to motivation or momentum, I'm glad you're coming back. What sends me down the stairs of Binkley Chapel is the knowledge that Greek can make a YUUUGE difference in your life, as it has in mine. Do we really agree there's value in the enterprise we are relaunching today? Then let's make the most of it. I hope your time in class is rich with all kinds of new learning experiences and creativity and discipline. And let's not forget our churches. They wallow in biblical illiteracy. Treat your people with thankfulness, compassion, and appreciation. But never let them forget: The Bible is the trump card in all we do. Pay attention to what works; but never lose sight of the Master Plan.
Sunday, June 12
5:56 PM Look at all these wonderful bales just waiting to be picked up.
Four hours later and here's what I looked like.
We loaded three trailers and still didn't finish.
Well, there's always tomorrow.
P.S. I am now officially a redneck.
P.P.S. I don't believe in the divided life. People sometimes make a distinction between spiritual things and sacred things. Humbug. Picking up bales of hay today with my son was one of the most spiritual acts I've ever performed, I dare say. I did it in God's strength and for His glory alone (I hope). God is alive and well in every corner of creation. Be a partner with Him in every corner of your humanity and you will never be happier. Guaranteed.
9:55 AM You need to learn how to read ecclesiastical Latin.
Why? Because that is WDBWD.
9:48 AM A 360 degree view of the Breithorn summit. Incredible. See if you can pick out the Matterhorn in the distance.
9:42 AM As everyone knows, I have lots of thoughts about missions and about how missions ought to be carried out. I am weirdly protective of national churches wherever I go. I love the American missionary who simply "comes alongside" the churches in a country and does his or her best to work cooperatively with them. At the end of the day, I believe the cause of global missions is best served when there is a partnership between churches here and churches there. One of my sons just returned from a mission trip to Brazil. His congregation has had an ongoing partnership with churches in Brazil for years. A good friend of mine teaches regularly at a seminary in Cuba. For Pete's sake, why are we spending money on mission trips that are frivolous and that waste money, time, and resources? If we Americans are going to work with churches abroad, the partnership will need to be long-term in my humble opinion. This, in fact, is the gist of a wonderful essay that everyone had to read before they went to Ethiopia with me on one of the 17 trips I've made there in the past 12 years. It's called How (not) to be an American Missionary in Scotland and, though I think it may be a wee bit too harsh on Baptists, it needs to be read by anybody involved in international mission trips of any kind. The point of the essay is an obvious one: We should always start with the local community we wish to serve. This is true domestically as much as it's true internationally. But it will take some humble self-examination if we are to get there. When we travel abroad, let's help and not hinder the cause of the Gospel. At the very least we can ask, "Good brothers and sisters, how can we help you?"
8:44 AM While we're on the subject: Here's a good side-by-side comparison of the presidential candidates and their positions.
8:26 AM He's an endurance athlete. He's completed several Iron Man Triathlons. He's climbed Mount Everest. Who am I describing?
(Hint: He's running for the office of President of the United States.)
7:52 AM Morning folks!
Lord willing, in exactly one month from today my alpine adventure in Switzerland begins. My preparation consists mostly of finding a way to preserve physical, mental, and spiritual equilibrium. Like Epictetus, who made the best deal he could with life, I am coming to terms with the limitations of age. Take flying, for example. I used to love traveling to and fro by jet airplane. Now it is something to endure. Stoics may still enjoy flying, but we less Spartan personalities cringe whenever we have to fly for 15 hours. One thing is nonetheless certain. If we trust Him with all of our hearts, He will direct our paths. Life begins in hope and ends in wisdom. Completing the journey -- this will require will and perseverance, competence and faithfulness, love and compassion. The truth is that mountain climbing is a sport -- different from simply walking or even hiking. This means that I must pick my climbs to match my ability and training. I want my climbs to be a challenge. I always want them to test my personal limits of ability. But unreasonable risks are out of the question. All I want this July is a safe and enjoyable experience at the hands of an experienced guide. I have two goals: (1) Come home safely. (2) Summit. In that order.
In the month I have before leaving for Europe, my plan is to pull back a little on running. Running can be hard on the joints. Not so cycling or swimming. Mountain biking is a great sport as well. And, as with climbing, you have to keep your head up and your eyes moving. The rule is to ride a little bit scared -- and I seem to do that quite naturally. Biking, like mountaineering, is an injury-filled world, so you have to be cautious. It's a bit like horseback riding (which I did daily for 15 years). If horseback riding were a religion, there would be two major sects: the tourists and the racers. The tourists take their steeds out maybe once or twice a year and take long rides with other people whose horses are just as ill-behaved as theirs are. They go at an easy pace. The racers, on the other hand, go full out. They ride at maximum potentiality and intensity. Their goal is speed and endurance, not sight-seeing and chatting away with friends.
Of course, both the tourists and the racers are true horsemen. They both believe in their sport wholeheartedly. Both find riding meaningful in their lives. But there's a difference. For racers, riding is serious business. I have always belonged to the sect of the racers. I would ride cross country for hours at a time. Often, unplanned dismounts were unavoidable. But you quickly forget the fall and begin dashing away again at amazing speed. You become part of the machine you are riding. It is this oneness that I talked about in my essay My Horses, My Teachers.
When I decided to try and climb the Breithorn, the Allalinhorn, and the Matterhorn this summer, a friend wrote me, "Endurance is the most important part of climbing. You must pace yourself." He is absolutely right of course. My guide keeps telling his clients, "Langsam. Slowly. Keine Eile. No hurry. Kleine Tritte. Small steps." Patience is perhaps the Herculean effort in any climb. But the same is true of the 5K or the half marathon. Last weekend, when I completed my first half, I felt knighted. It's as though I had gone to the event a boy and come back a man. But yesterday I was reminded: It's not the length of the course that matters. Did you run your race? Did you achieve your goals? Did you enjoy yourself? Running does have its great moments. When you finish a race, there's a definite rush of adrenaline -- an uplift of mood and ego that provides a definite plus to your day. When I cross the finish line, I feel larger than life. Here's hoping I'll feel the same way after a week of climbing in the Alps.
I'll be climbing for Becky, of course. Wait till you the sign we're making. I'm hoping to unveil it on the summit. :-)
Saturday, June 11
5:28 PM What a great day it's been! So much love to my kids for making my birthday week tons of fun and sending me surprise after surprise. Much appreciation also to one of my publishers who sent me the contract today to Running My Race. I think people will like my new book, much like they do my blog ("Dave, we absolutely love your writing! It's wonderful! Now if you'd just tone it down in a place or two ...."). Today Nate and I also got up more hay. I am beloved in so many ways, not least by the Father who, on the same day, allows me the strength to run a 5K and get up bales of hay in 95 degree temperatures. Tomorrow and Monday: more of the same. When it's haying season, well, it's haying season.
Time for stir-fry!
11:32 AM After today's race I had a long conversation with a guy in his 40s who lives in Raleigh and works in IT. He's big into running -- marathons included. We both won first place in our respective age divisions. We laughed about how hilly today's course was. Factor in the humidity and the race really hurt. The guy I was talking to used to live in Florida, where the races are all FLAT. I told him I love that word. Here the races are all severely undulating. But hey -- if that's what it takes to run a 5K, that's what it takes. You can't haggle over everything. I'm trying not to make a big deal about the course designs of the races I do. After all, everything in life can't be a big deal. The fact is, we have difficult races. So what? Who really cares if the course always has hills?
Okay. I do.
Coming in first today meant a nice $20.00 gift certificate to Omega Sports. Here I am with the race organizers. Yes, we are h-a-p-p-y.
In fact, I'm so excited about running I'm thinking about getting a tattoo.
Not really. I'm speaking purely hypothetically, of course.
No I'm not.
Or am I?
5:30 AM Nice view at 5:15 am.
Friday, June 10
7:32 PM Listen.
Any old yahoo can talk about getting up bales of hay.
But squeeze a 64-year old goofus and beware -- BALING WARRIOR.
More coming tomorrow.
After THE RACE, of course.
Wonderful ... life is. Now it's time to cook supper. Stir-fry of course. It tastes so good you will cry.
3:20 PM My "thanks" to the person who sent me a link to the Beatles' hit "When I'm 64." I absolutely detest that song. I now can't get the tune out of my head. (I mean, I know I'm supposed to be able to cope with such things, being the great biblical scholar I am and all that, but the song is VERY CREEPY.)
3:12 PM Excited to be getting up more hay this afternoon and then running in the Inside Out 5K Run/Walk for Children's Mental Health at 8:00 in the morning. If you live near Cary, NC, come and join us. For more information, go here.
P.S. I counted 10 men over the age of 60 who are running in this race. The oldest is 84. He puts this lazy beach bum from Hawaii to shame.
6:48 AM Are you locked in a room with open doors?
Older people have unparalleled opportunities to develop latent interests and talents. People over 60 have produced some of the greatest works of art and literature. Growing older should not be boring. In our later years we have ample time to expand our horizons. The problem is within us. We become bored, and then we blame our boredom on others. "No one ever visits me." But if we take the time to pray and ask God to reveal to us His will, we may be surprised at our own creativity and ingenuity. Who knows? -- we may even surprise ourselves with our new-found gifts and interests.
Older people who are bored are locked in a room with open doors. But this doesn't just happen to older people. I see many youth who are stuck in a proverbial rut. Find the creative person you were always meant to be, my friend. Rekindle the latent gifts and buried talents God has given you. Last Saturday, after my half marathon, I was on a spiritual high. On Sunday, of course, I paid for it. Every muscle ached. But by Tuesday my legs felt stronger than they had ever felt before. I discovered that I could do it. I didn't know I had it in me until I tried. Thirty-something: put away your striving and insecurity. That's not the legacy you want. Get out and do something new. You might even try a 5K walk. Sure, you'll give your body a solid whack. But I promise you: you'll like it outdoors. You will stand taller, walk straighter, laugh louder, and perhaps even live longer.
Thursday, June 9
7:50 PM So, it turns out that yours truly turned 64 today. As you know, I'm kind of addicted to words, so today I think I'll just post a few pix and leave matters there. Here are some things I'll never forget:
1) Licking a childhood popsicle.
2) Knowing a beautiful woman.
3) Enjoying my wonderful steeds.
4) Mentoring some great doctoral students. Yesterday I had lunch with one of them at the Olive Garden.
5) Eating Mexican food. Last night I tried a new place in Wake Forest called Don Julio. The chili relleno was cooked to perfection.
6) Sharing Becky's book La Historia de Mi Vida with my servers, including Salvador.
7) Having lunch today with family. Pizza Hut served us like we were royalty.
8) Loving on my grandchildren.
9) Holding a deep conversation with my new grandbaby.
10) Getting up hay on my birthday.
Perhaps this is the greatest blessing of all -- to be able to be active at my age, and in good health, to try and make each day count, to be forever enlarging my life, not diminishing it, to operate at full throttle for the Lord in all He calls me to do, in the strength that He grants, for as long as He grants it.
Life is a practice run for heaven. It is with a great sense of expectancy that I look at my life today. Here and now, this very day, I can and must learn how to love. Love others. Love my family. Love my enemies. And love my God. Nothing makes sense anymore to me except for Jesus. "Who am I?" asked Bonhoeffer. "Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once?" Then he ended his meditations with these words:
Thanks to all of you dear people for your emails, gift cards, texts, love, trust, and friendship. Thanks mostly to God for making someone as undeserving as me His.
I am so blessed.
Wednesday, June 8
7:05 AM Two pics, two stories.
1) Last night I watched a war movie called Conspiracy on Amazon Prime. The movie is absolutely horrifying even though it doesn't have any graphic or disturbing images of combat.
It contains not a single gunshot and yet it is arguably one of the best "war" movies ever made. It's World War II, and what appears to be a mere business meeting consisting of the heads of a major corporation is actually a convention of sociopathic killers. It's a movie for everyone who has ever feared the machinations of behind-the-scenes government. In a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee, top Nazi official gather to plan the "final solution" to the "Jewish question." The fate of 6 million Jews is decided in less than an hour. Heydrich squelches all dissent and forces all the Reich ministers to fall in line with the SS. Kenneth Branagh is impeccably cast as Heydrich, but the entire cast is brilliant (including Colin Firth as Stuckart). You sit there in utter disbelief that men of such education and sophistication could actually plan the mass killing of innocent civilians so nonchalantly. Branagh has said that the movie was one of the most disturbing experiences of his career as an actor. I rate the movie an A+ for its eloquent script, historical accuracy, sublime setting (a German country estate), and impeccable acting. Here is the face of pure evil -- calm, chilling, grotesque, "civilized," and unflinchingly honest. Everyone who is mature enough to understand World War II should see this excellent movie.
2) A photographer sent me this pic yesterday. I'm approaching the finish line at last Saturday's 13.1-miler.
I had just realized I was going to finish the race in under 3 hours. For the love of everything wicking, if I can do something as bodacious as this, any one of you can too. Lean honestly into every difficult challenge in your life, because (believe it or not) there really is no alternative. Embrace new goals for yourself and see what the Lord will do.
Tuesday, June 7
1:44 PM Great day for cutting hay.
Today is also my day for writing. I cannot write a single word, not one, without absolute silence. That's why the farm is such a good place to write.
6:30 AM "Thank you for making a doll like me." (Teary-eyed as I type that. An incredible video.)
Monday, June 6
6:44 PM A few future fit, fun, fanatical, and fiendish 5Ks. Good causes all!
1) June 18: Miles for Medicine 5K in Cary, NC. Benefits NC MedAssist, a non-profit pharmacy that dispenses critical medications to any low-income and uninsured NC resident.
2) June 25: "Dress for Success" 5K and Fun Run in Cary, NC. Proceeds go to the SHRM Foundation, which funds human resources research to improve the employment environment for employees and businesses alike.
3) July 2: 4th Annual Run for Liberty 5K in Cary, NC. All profits go to the Amputee Coalition of America, the nation's leading organization on limb loss.
4) July 23: 3rd Annual Cantaloupe 5K in Ridgeway, NC. Proceeds benefit the Ridgeway Volunteer Fire Department and the Ridgeway Historical Association.
5) August 13: Raleigh Run for Life 5K. Supports Birthchoice, whose mission is to empower women and men to make informed decisions that respect the dignity and integrity of every human life.
Two of these I participated in last year. They were so much fun, you have no idea. I'm tickled to be able to do them again, Lord willing.
5:52 PM So what's it like to grow old (I turn 64 on Thursday -- that's old!)? On my 64th birthday I want to achieve several goals:
On my birthday I will realize again that I create my own heaven and hell, that I'm (under the Lord's guidance) the architect of my own future. When the Levites "retired" from service at the age of 50 (Num. 8:25-26), they didn't stop working. They began second careers by assisting and advising and ministering to their fellow Levites in the "tent of the meeting." I haven't retired yet, but already I feel I've reached a stage in life where I have a new freedom -- freedom to pursue new purposes, freedom to read and learn, freedom to interact socially in fresh ways, even freedom to pursue my mountaineering dreams (even if they sound absurd). At 64 I can be as active and involved in life as I ever was. At the age of 60, British author John Powys wrote, "My life's about to begin." I enjoyed the past 63 years. They were largely pleasant and joyful. Yet I would never want to relive the past because the past was only the beginning of a process. Today and tomorrow I can become better. We live to the extent that we function in healthy ways. How old I am is unimportant to me. Age is merely a state of mind.
So there you have it. What has gone before is past. But what has gone before has provided the experience, the creativity, the insight, and the courage to plow ahead into the future. I am my own man -- in some ways more than ever before. Praise be to God.
12:35 PM I love my Greek class. The zanier, the crazier, the happier the students are, the higher the class moves up on my Favorites List. I am floored by their aptitude and awed by their vision. Prioritize the word of God in your life, and that's what happens.
Side note: This is Seth.
He's in my current Greek class. During Saturday's half marathon, guess who should pass me up with a "Hey Dr. Black!"? Yep. Seth. How crazy is that? This was his second marathon. How profoundly "coincidental" that I should meet up with him during a race.
And so it goes in Greek. The best thing I can do is give them Jesus. I want to raise Him up -- so high that no one will ever think about putting something in motion in their church without His nod of approval. The best Greek students have interests that go far beyond Greek. They are involved -- in life, in their churches, in their families, even in their hobbies (like running races). As a teacher, you work hard to love them, teach them, stay tender and teachable yourself, and exalt the Lord. Believe me: this is the life I've always wanted to live. It's all I need. This Jesus life.
Thank you Jesus!
6:36 AM This and that ...
1) A thousand thanks to The Christian Reviewer for his kind review of my Learn to Read New Testament Greek. The Lego analogy is priceless.
2) D-Day, then and now. Some amazing photos.
3) A week of sunshine ahead. More haying. Yay!
4) Quote of the day by a master teacher of the New Testament:
5) Should you start with internal or external evidence when evaluating a New Testament textual variant? The discussion continues here.
6) I love running so much because it reminds me of the qualities that have always shaped a mature life: restraint, self-discipline, hard work, perseverance, and gratitude.
Sunday, June 5
8:04 PM Meet the Kelly Slater of the animal kingdom.
10:38 AM Quote of the day:
Read (or watch) 7 Reasons to Study Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek.
9:40 AM Odds and ends ...
1) Only one week left to go in our summer school Greek 1 class. As with yesterday's race, this is where you have to go the extra mile. It becomes a battle of me against me. It was once said of a champion race horse, "He makes the effort, and makes it more often." Don't be concerned with what others are doing. Just make the effort -- and make it more often. Do your best, and you will become the equal of anyone on earth.
2) I see that Jan Crouch has died. I also see that some are satirizing her life and death. Bad timing. I do not espouse the prosperity gospel, but a family is grieving the loss of a mother and grandmother. Dear church: We can exercise compassion without compromising our theology.
3) The 153rd anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is coming up in less than a month. For a list of free guided walks and talks, go here.
4) Must-do hike: Grandfather Mountain Trail.
5) Kelly Slater goes left at Sunset Beach. My stars!
Saturday, June 4
5:34 PM Michael Gerson asks,
Political Christianity has never had anything to do with Christ's teachings.
1:45 PM As you know, I've been wanting to do a half marathon (13.1 miles) for some time now. So today I competed. And it was more enjoyable than anything I had imagined. The first 10 miles were actually fun. But by mile 10 I was in agony. I kept going by counting to eight, step after step after step -- over and over again. The last mile and a half was brutal -- all uphill. In short order I was lapped by racers. But I had done what I had set out to do. My goals today were twofold:
1. Finish the race (you were given 3 and a half hours to complete it).
2. Finish under 3 hours if at all possible. I don't know why I picked that number. I just knew I would have to push myself to achieve that goal.
Just before the finish line I had to order my body to keep running. But the cheering did it. The screams of the crowd took my mind off the pain. Nothing hurt anymore. I had finished. And with a time of 2:49.
My thanks to all of you who prayed, sent notes of encouragement (even while I was racing -- I had my iPhone with me so I could read them in real time), and offered their advice. Thanks especially to Karen and Liz who encouraged me to eats lots of carbs for dinner last night:
Thanks, finally, to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina for sponsoring today's race. Apparently they think that fitness should be play. The music was great, as were the power drinks afterwards. I ran the half with 1,500 other like-minded people, young and old -- not even counting those who did the 5K and 10K instead. Here's the start of the race:
Please note: People are like herds of animals. When we see other people doing something and apparently enjoying it, it boosts own own desire to do the same thing. Raleigh has perfected the art of race organization. It's a largely fit culture. No, I'm not going to beat you over the head with a health and fitness speech. Example is still the most effective way to make a lasting convert.
Did I ever think of quitting?
I may fail. But Dave Black doesn't quit. Sure, half the field bested me. Sure, I will never win a race. But everyone who ran in today's half marathon is a winner in my book. Each of us -- from the first place finishers to those who finished dead last -- can rejoice in a personal victory. Because they didn't quit.
I've always excelled. But the important thing in life is to keep on competing.
P.S. I ran this race to honor Becky's 63rd birthday. Incidentally, UNC's lead researcher in the field of endometrial cancer, Dr. Bae-Jump, has just been quoted in a leading essay that appeared at the MEDPAGE TODAY website. It's called Two-Thirds of EEC Patients Benefit from Drug Trio. The essay details some promising clinical advances in the treatment of Becky's type of cancer. I am so proud of the work Dr. Bae-Jump is doing. If you would like to help, please go to the Becky Black Memorial Fund to Fight Endometrial Cancer page at the UNC website and prayerfully consider making a donation today. Thank you.
Friday, June 3
6:54 AM On Netflix last night I watched the movie Meadowland, the story of a married couple that quietly implodes over the disappearance of their son. It's theme (as far as I could tell) was a powerful one: No matter how many people surround us, we all grieve alone. A very strong performance was put in by Olivia Wilde as Sarah, who seems to encapsulate everything dark about grief.
When we lose a loved one, it not only alters the landscape of our lives but seems to deforest it. Your thoughts are incoherent. You weep in silence. The night is black. The wind grows stronger and stronger. And, because we have so few good role models for grief, we ask "How should I grieve?" These are just some of the complications you may face should you ever lose a loved one. I know. I've experienced them all. Yet I can still choose love and joy and beauty and to live life with relentless passion and thankfulness just the way I am. At some point you become free to move on. Some days you'll feel freer than others. And it's never easy. But in time you begin to take your emotional energy and invest it elsewhere.
A goodbye creates an empty space in our lives. This point the movie brought out extremely well I thought. I rate it an A+ for cinematography, an A+ for its musical score, and a solid A for acting.
Thursday, June 2
7:52 PM Our first magnolia blossom. Über-beautiful.
6:45 AM Watch Heartbreak on Everest. My heart goes out to this husband.
Wednesday, June 1
4:46 PM Read this today and thought of Becky: