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Tuesday, January 19

5:42 AM On deck this week: Greek exam over 7-11 today, exam over 12-13 tomorrow. Thursday we start our NT 2 class -- Acts to Revelation. This week we'll discuss The Jesus Paradigm and then attempt to define "church." In Greek we'll focus on the middle and passive voices, along with the so-called deponent verbs. Ah, "deponency" -- the excuse (along with "perfective" in place of "aoristic") to justify another edition of your Greek grammar or producing a new one. Actually, there's nothing much new here in terms of application. Today I'm taking a day off from physical activity. Tomorrow I'd like to get in a run. Thursday I'm in class and then driving home. My focus right now is on writing, writing, and more writing. What, if anything, are you doing to make your life exactly what you want it to be right now? This will mean being very selective with where you put your mental energy, what you spend the precious minutes of the day doing, and who you spend your time with. Be careful with your choices. Make each day count. I'm going to try and do the same. If you're a parent, remember that you'll never get the time you have with your children back. Embrace it now. Our lives here on earth are very limited. However cliché as it may sound, don't sweat the small stuff. For as many years as God gives me, I want to be the most fit, kind, happy, generous, and adventurous soul I can be.

Do you see a common theme here? It's all about running the race of life with resilience. All of it.

Monday, January 18

5:26 PM Today I decided to bike the Virginia Capitol Trail again, this time starting at its terminus in Richmond. My goal was to cycle at least 30 miles in honor of my daughter's husband Tino, who turns 30 this month. The trail starts out following the James River.

Eventually you head inland where there are any number of route options. Today I chose to do a roundtrip to the Malvern Hill Battlefield. As you can see, I was able to get in my 30 miles, and a little more.

So -- this one's for you Tino. Happy BIG THREE OH! I love you!

P.S. My baby donk Gobus has perfected the art of begging for carrots. I think she'd force her entire body through the wire mesh if she could. So sweet.

8:10 AM Okay, folks, time to lace up the shoes and get outdoors on this drop-dead gorgeous day for a long bike ride. Where to? No idea. Too many options. I'll post a report later. Why do I do this? Frankly, I simply don't have time NOT to do this. My life is so busy that I would fall apart if I didn't engage in exercise of some sort. This Wednesday J-term ends. On Thursday the new semester begins. Next week I will be teaching 7 classes. There is no possible way I could keep this kind of a schedule without exercise and rest. I am an amateur athlete, pure and simple. The origin of the word amateur is a Latin root meaning "to love." By definition, we run and bike just for the love of the sport. On any endurance challenge, you have to overcome not only the physical fatigue but also your natural resistance to it. Part of you wants to keep going even when another part of you wants to quit. To run the race of life, you have to be a good sufferer. What I hope for from my athletic activities is to gain stamina so that I can enter the classroom week in and week out fresh, fit, and full of enthusiasm. I race because I love competition. But I realize that once the race is over and I've put my medal on the banister at home to collect dust, the earth did not stop turning, no one else really cared, and it was only a race after all.

Still, the memory is a keepsake. It lives within me. You can drive a car from Henderson, NC to Richmond, VA on I-85 in any one of four or five speeds indicated on the gear shift. But the drive is best done in a gear that is meant for fuel economy. To drive the distance in second gear would mean engine wear, fuel waste, and much lower speeds. There are things in my life I must do in second gear. Cleaning the house is one of them. And then there are things I can do in overdrive. Teaching is one of them. My goal as I age is to throw off as many of those lower-gear activities and embrace the overdrive ones, because they are the core of my giftedness. The fate of the world or the future of the planet hardly depends on my daily exercise. I run and bike simply because I am a runner and a cyclist.

How about you?

Sunday, January 17

1:08 PM This morning, while running my 8 miles, I thought about how Jonah tried to "run" from the Lord.

I can resonate with that. God is inviting all of us to share his mission with him, but we can be quite reluctant to join him in that enterprise. There is so much of Jonah in me. I too am self-centered. I too am comfort-prone. I too have resources that can take me either to harsh, hot Iraq or to the lush coast of Spain.

I recall checking the thermometer one night when I was in Iraq. It read a "mere" 123 degrees Fahrenheit. I say "mere" because it was nighttime and the temperature had fallen considerably. I can also recall being invited by the University of Madrid to give a 30 minute lecture during the religion department's summer semester on the famous Costa del Sol. Poor me, had to enjoy a week of swimming and sunbathing on the playas of Spain in order to talk for a half hour about Gnosticism in John. Jonah is a normal sort of believer to whom the Lord is trying to pass on the burden of global missions. The book of Jonah is in the Bible because we really need it. It's an extraordinary story -- God mobilizing an Israeli from the backwaters of Palestine to evangelize 120,000 Iraqis. Jonah was a very experienced and successful prophet -- as long as he was working in his own country and among his countrymen. Jonah can get all upset about a plant and God wants to know why he, the Lord, can't get out of sorts over a wicked nation he will have to judge unless it repents. The Lord's really concerned about their lostness and he longs to be gracious to them. And so God works on Jonah, and he works on you and me. The God who calls us is the God who pursues and equips us with extraordinary patience. He is determined to use us despite all of our warts and weaknesses.

Do you see any similarities between Jonah and you? How do you honestly feel about sharing your faith? Are you fearful? So was Jonah. Are you comfort prone? So was Jonah. Are you imperfect? So was Jonah. God loves you still. This is our God, folks. Jesus' very last words when he was on this earth were, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." In ascending order, he began with where they were and then moved to the entire region and world. All these thoughts were rumbling around in my brain as I ran today. Are you on an alternate route in life, Dave? Has your faith stalled? Are you favoring comfort over calling?

My friends, we must take what we know and move forward by faith, despite being both imperfect and inadequate. Like Jonah, let's give God the chance to show himself faithful. He does not forsake his own. We can run, but we can't hide.

6:55 AM This morning I'm continuing my deep dive into Jonah chapter 1. So many interesting comparisons to be made between the Hebrew and Greek texts:

  • Hebrew: Jonah goes down into the sides of the ship

  • Greek: Jonah goes down into the "belly" of the ship

  • Hebrew: Jonah was sound asleep

  • Greek: Jonah was snoring

  • Hebrew: Jonah says, "I am a Hebrew"

  • Greek: Jonah says, "I am a servant of the LORD"

I'm also going through the Greek verb system in chapter 1. I'm sure you can't wait to hear that the chapter has 62 indicative verbs, 8 imperatives, 6 subjunctives, 4 infinitives, and 3 participles. There are 36 aorist tense verbs, 8 present tense verbs, 3 future tense verbs, and only 2 perfect tense verbs.

Where does chapter 1 fit in the overall structure of the book? Take a look at this outline:

  • Chapter 1: Jonah Fleeing

  • Chapter 2: Jonah Praying

  • Chapter 3: Jonah Preaching

  • Chapter 4: Jonah Learning

I like Swindoll's outline as well:

  • Chapter 1: Running from God

  • Chapter 2: Running to God

  • Chapter 3: Running with God

  • Chapter 4: Running against God

The message is simple and straightforward: God loves all people, even the enemies of Israel.

Should we not love them as well?

The chapter contains many familiar Greek grammatical constructions:

  • Postpositioning of adjectives

  • Semitic use of "saying"

  • Telic infinitives

  • Aorist imperatives (the default tense)

  • Imperfect tense verbs to highlight the story line

  • Intensifying prepositional prefix morphemes

  • Hortatory subjunctives

  • Subjunctives of emphatic negation

  • Cognate accusatives ("they feared a great fear")

We will cover all of this material during our first day of class, in which I am tasked with introducing the Greek text of Jonah. The following week my co-teacher Chip Hardy will introduce the Hebrew text. Thereafter there will be student presentations.

As you know, it wasn't until I was 16 that I realized how important it is to study the Bible.  Today I'm discovering that the discipline of the mind is not unlike the conditioning process I go through whenever I do physical exercise. Just as I keep my body active so that it doesn't atrophy, so my mind is being stretched on a regular basis. Reading my Greek and Hebrew daily is one form of intellectual discipline. I love nothing better than to retreat into my home library and just read. I am constantly exposing myself to writers who are better and smarter than me. In their presence it is often wisest just to listen and learn. Chesterton once said of Abraham Lincoln:

This great man had one secret vice far more unpopular among his followers than the habit of drinking. He had the habit of thinking. We might almost call it the habit of secret thinking, a dark consolation like that of secret drinking.

There is an art to Bible study, and it begins by asking the right questions of the text. This is what I'm doing with the book of Jonah and it is a delight.

Saturday, January 16

11:10 AM I once read about a certain painting. During World War I, a signalman had been sent out to repair a cable broken by shellfire. Just as he accomplished his task he was killed. In his stiffening hands he held the cable's ends together. The picture had the caption, "Through."

That picture is a parable of what it means to be a teacher. Basically, I see my job as connecting my students to their source of power, the word of God. I'd much rather equip them with a tool for Bible study than tell them what the Bible means. Seminary means primarily access to God mediated by prayerful study; and it is the Bible that makes that access possible, not the books we write about the Bible. My assignment is to help students get "through" to God, to wean themselves, if you will, from their human teachers. "He must increase but I must decrease" would, I think, be a good motto for anyone who is called to the teaching profession. Only the word of God, through the Spirit of God, can get us "through." Alas, I cannot do that. Equip you I can, but you have a far better Teacher than me. The Bible is unique because it secures that access to God that all our paltry books can only foreshadow.

Follow the Rabbi, dear student. Offer your mind to him today. Ask the Spirit to make the Bible come alive in your life. Commit to daily time in the word. May that mark your legacy in 2021.

7:22 AM New Testament 2 begins next Thursday. It's all about becoming New Covenant Christians, about following the downward path of Jesus, about towel and basin ministries that attract not-yet Christians to the Good News.

Information leads to internalization and finally to implementation.

The famous painter Henri Matisse once said, "Artists should have their tongues cut out." An artist's message should come through on the canvas, not through the chatter of words. I can hear the apostle saying to Timothy and Titus, "If you need to, cut out your tongue and do your ministry, not only talk about it. Let the sheer demonstration of your kingdom lifestyle be what impacts the lives of others."

The first book my students will read this semester is this one:

A few quotes if I may:

  • Orthodoxy is incomplete -- a disastrous aberration even -- without orthopraxy.

  • God is calling out a people who are committed to living lives of genuine obedience to Christ.

  • Anyone who tries to make Jesus into a conservative or a liberal must be reading a different Bible than the one I know and love.

  • It is my conviction that only when the church keeps its involvement nonpartisan can it go about its legitimate business of serving humanity.

  • Power has ruined America. Not only on the liberal left. Now it seems to have done the same for the religious right.

  • By "followers of Jesus" I do not mean mere admirers of Jesus, but people radically committed to following his example and teachings-- a minority group, if you will, within a culture created by Christian majority groups.

  • Neither passive withdrawal nor pro-establishment politicking will do.

  • The American church has forgotten this servant role of Christianity. We attempt to exploit the powers rather than persuade them to conform to the way of Christ.

  • It is relatively easy to follow Jesus to the cross, but it is considerably more difficult to follow him on the cross.

As I stand before my students and listen to them talk about their churches and ministries, I see these questions in their hearts and hear them in their voices. What is keeping us from obedience? Selfishness, comfort, expediency, church tradition, fear of rejection, control. These have kept me bound for years, but they cannot accompany the downward path of Jesus. Unless you leave all behind you can't be a real disciple.

So that's what our class will be all about. Will we study the theme and date of Romans or the discourse structure of Hebrews? Absolutely. Will we accept Jesus' invitation to be a disciple worthy of him? Stay tuned.

Friday, January 15

4:14 PM I'm back on the farm again. What a great feeling after a busy but blessed week on campus. The rain has begun falling, nothing heavy, just a slow "farmer's rain." It's going to be a perfect evening for reading von Siebenthal's grammar -- pages 1-57 to be exact, since that's what the students have to read prior to our first day of class.

Gotta keep an hour ahead of the hounds, right? Then there's this book.

I checked it out from the library hoping it will help me as I prepare a chapel message in April on Jesus and the age 30 transition. What else have I been up to besides teaching and writing? Well, here are some of my notes from Jonah 1.

It's been so much fun rereading this book and observing the different constructions the writer has used to communicate his message -- including subject fronting for emphasis (or topicalization), periphrastic constructions, aorist imperatives (but then he all of a sudden slips in a present imperative!), prepositional prefix morphemes on verbs (one third of all the verbs in chapter 1 have a preposition attached to them, most of them with a simple directional force, but there's at least one compound verb where the prepositional prefix morpheme seems to take on an intensifying function), telic infinitives (in the aorist, of course), any number of Semitisms, one genitive of relationship, etc.

Lovely.

I love what I do. I love doing it here on the farm. I love the remoteness, the simplicity, the scenery, the animals, the mystery and intrigue of the books I read in front of the fireplace at night. The farm forces me to slow down and do it all a bit differently -- less rushed and more intentional, it seems to me. We all know that finding your motivation to really get busy and accomplish things in life takes a good old-fashioned "just do it!" attitude. I get so tired of hearing myself and others making all kinds of excuses for not doing the things they want to do or promised themselves (or others) they would do. Living is a decision. It's not a negotiation, so just get out there and do it. You just make healthy living a part of your life and get on with it.

By the way, I got this email today and it makes me so happy.

Over $700,000 was raised for the family of Brian Sicknick. I couldn't be prouder of my fellow Americans. Listen, Dave, you whiner. There are thousands of people out there who can't even walk let alone run, so just be grateful you get to be active. This is the walk of faith the New Testament talks about. God is using every last trial in your life to build your faith. Will I choose to believe what I can't yet see? I hope so!

Thursday, January 14

6:20 AM Back to campus today. I almost said, "Back to the humdrum of everyday life." But you know what? The rhythm of daily living feels good. It's a lot like running (there he goes again -- another running analogy!). Even when you're suffering from a few aches and pains, it feels good. Even when you are pushing your body, it still feels good. You know in your heart of hearts this is the right thing to be doing.

Students, take heart. So you go to class every day, Monday through Friday. Each day another chapter. Each day another quiz. Each day more vocab. All too quickly the thrill disappears. The joy doesn't last. No longer satisfied with the miracle that is occurring in our lives by the mere fact that we can get out of bed every day, we begin to complain about the "rut" we're in. The road to discouragement begins with a single word: ingratitude. As soon as we lose a grateful spirit, life sours. Frustration and failure follow. I like what Jim Elliott said: "Wherever you are, be all there." Wherever that is, that's where God has placed you. All of us are somewhere. My students are just beginning their careers. I'm nearing the end of mine. Where you are doesn't make you a better person. It just tells you where you are. If you don't like where you are, try and get out of your rut and decide to move forward where you want to be. But don't berate yourself (or the Lord) for where you are. We all want to be better. But it's by accepting where we are and then deciding where we want to be that we avoid the pitfall of ingratitude. The alternative is to set yourself up for failure.

My friend, I hope you're finding out who are are and who God meant you to be. In time, and with care and patience, you will get closer and closer to the essential you. Give thanks today for where you are. Then give thanks to God for the holy discontentment to move forward from there.

Wednesday, January 13

5:50 PM I began the week with a quote by the one and only Emily Dickinson in my mind: "Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door." I have come to the point in my life where I live one day at a time, opening every door the Lord presents to me and welcoming what's on the other side with open arms. Even at the start of a crazy near year, God is making all things new. Take a look at this -- the sunset I witnessed while driving to campus Monday morning. Oh. My. Goodness.

Or how about this -- these newly arrived books I checked out yesterday from our stellar seminary library.

Or the joy of mailing these books to a friend and fellow Greek teacher in Israel.

Or the excitement of seeing that the latest issue of Filologia Neotestamentaria, "my" journal (I had the joy of co-founding it), had finally arrived.

It's an issue that just happens to have my review of Henry von Siebenthal's truly outstanding Greek grammar. (Write me if you'd like a copy of the review.)

Then, in Greek class, we had the joy of introducing the imperfect and aorist tenses.

 

And did I mention the deep dive I'm doing in the Greek text of Jonah for our Septuagint class?

Or the bike ride I managed to squeeze into my busy schedule yesterday?

It would have been much longer had the Neuse River not overflowed its banks.

To top it all off, this afternoon I drove home, fed the animals, and then got in a happy little run in South Boston.

That's how simple my life is, folks. You just open every door the Lord gives you. Each one, by God's grace, is a gift. It's the way he makes everything new. How bold one gets when one is assured of God's love. I am devouring life. After all, it goes by all too fast. Which makes every open door all the sweeter.

Monday, January 11

6:25 AM Mile 7 of our Greek marathon begins today. Folks, the further you run in life, the stronger you get. The Bible says, "Let us run with resilience." I enter the classroom today with great vision of the possibilities in my students' hearts and minds. I can't bear the thought of a man or a woman leaving unfulfilled potential on the course. Yes, there are defeats and setbacks. You learn from yesterday's experiences and press on in the strength of the Lord. In a sense, I'm making their lives unpleasant now (quizzes and exams) so that their future Bible study experience will be pleasurable. Demanding? You bet. Humbling? Of course. No always fun? Yes, but always fulfilling. It's worth it class. This week we run miles 7-11. Let's run with resilience.

Finishing my first 31-mile ultramarathon ... one step at a time.

Sunday, January 10

12:56 PM Hey folks. Just did a 5K at the track while listening to Sunday's message from the book of Revelation. While I was running and praying, I remembered that I had three copies of Crossway's Greek Scripture Journal -- Mark, Luke, and John -- that I wasn't doing anything with. These little books are perfect for note-taking as you read and study your Greek New Testament.

I'd rather you had them than let them sit on my bookshelf collecting dust. Let me know which one you'd like and it's yours for free. I'll take requests until Wednesday at 6:00 pm. Kindly include your snail mail address when you write. Sorry, but North American readers only. You can write me at dblack@sebts.edu.

9:48 AM Looking forward to our second week of Greek 1. We begin tomorrow with a review exam over chapters 3-6, focusing on present and future tense verbs and the first and second declensions. My students have already gotten farther than I did when I took beginning Greek for the first time. I could memorize everything, but the concepts of conjugation and declension just didn't click. That's why I try to take a down-to-earth approach to teaching Greek. I try and explain how and why the Greek language works. But I don't promise instant fluency. The thing I can't stress enough is that language learning is a process much like running a marathon. You have to make progress slowly. You have to "run the mile you're in" and not look too far ahead. You start with nothing and then build from there. Above all, your motivation will determine the level you can attain. The bottom line is that you don't have to be a genius to learn a foreign language. You don't have to be well-educated or young or have some kind of innate language ability. You just need (1) to be motivated and (2) to work hard.

Speaking of working hard, this week I'm putting the final touches on the seven classes I'm teaching this spring. That's in addition to writing 4-6 hours a day and trying to get in 30 hours of training each week. Little wonder I'm way behind on house work -- or I should say "houses" work because I have two large dwellings to care for. So much to do, so little time. I've taken inspiration from men like John Glenn, who was the first man to orbit the earth. He asked to be rocketed back into space at the age of 77. Of course, he had to earn his place aboard the shuttle Discovery. The fact is, John Glenn was able to pass the same rigorous physical exam every year since his mission 36 years earlier. The most common refrain you'll hear from men my age is "But I don't feel old!" We older Americans are not only living longer but are participating creatively in a variety of activities. We don't want to simply retire. We want to rewrite the script completely. We want to be active, engaged, and useful. We want to pursue our passions. I still very much see myself as a work in progress and an explorer -- not a finished product to be collected and put on a shelf. I think the greatest gift I can give my children is a dad who is active and optimistic about the future, a dad who instead of growing dormant in old age shows the opposite reaction. This will mean saying no more often than I do -- no to doing things that aren't edifying or useful. You ask, "Then why spend so much time blogging?" Blogging is for me an outlet. I write not only about the events in my life but about my feelings and my emotions. For me, a blog is an online diary. It's a place to share your hopes, dreams, and opinions with your online friends. My blog, of course, is part of a larger website where I hope people can find essays and other content that will encourage them in their daily walk with God. There is no one in my life more intimate to me than he is. Jesus has been God's greatest gift to me. I often think about this when I go out for a run or sit down and write another chapter in one of my books. Where is God speaking in the busyness? He is right here, sharing together with me my scarred life. This is what intimacy is supposed to be like. We are wired by our Creator to mirror the intimacy of the Trinity. Every day allows us to taste just a little bit more of that. I want to add that having Jesus at the center of your life may well be the most important testimony we followers of Jesus have. The question is always: "What would Jesus have done in the situation?" I recall the story of the time Stanley Jones penned a response to a harsh critic. He was determined to be honest and vent his feelings of hurt. When he offered his friends a chance to read his letter, one of them wrote across the top "not sufficiently redemptive." Jones tore up the letter. Every one of us longs for relationships that are as intimate and honest as Jones had with his close friends. I have found that when we keep the kingdom first (which I don't always do), everything else falls into place.

The older I get, the more I have come to appreciate and value the men in my life that belong to my inner circle and who are always there for me. They may well be the most important treasure I will ever possess this side of heaven. "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" wrote Shakespeare. My students need to see in me a man who is more than a Greek teacher. They need to see a man who can model for them the opposite of the lone ranger mentality, a man who is humble enough to pursue the downward path of Jesus. When the great Albert Schweitzer was asked why he traveled third class whenever he travelled by train, he said "Because there's no fourth class." I find that my ego is disciplined most when I listen carefully to those who love me most. This is a preemptive strike against sameness and sourness, against hiding behind a shell of a false identity. I don't think I'm unique in this. The few bloggers I read do much the same thing.

Thank you for joining me on this incredible journey. With Walt Whitman, "I tramp a perpetual journey." I started blogging because I love to write and wanted an outlet. My only "rule" for blogging is that I keep it honest and don't force anything. Even if I blog less and less as my life gets busier this spring, I don't plan on going anywhere soon. Thanks for hanging with me.

Saturday, January 9

5:38 PM My heart sank when I learned that a police officer was killed while defending the U.S. Capitol from violent insurrectionists calling themselves "patriots." Makes me furious.

I always like to channel my anger in a positive direction, so today I drove to Farmville.

There I ran a private fundraiser to honor the memory of Brian Sicknick. I pledged to donate 10 dollars for every mile I ran to the fundraiser set up in his memory. I ended up running a half marathon.

With all of you, I mourn this tragic and needless death and send my deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and fellow officers. I donated 131 dollars. As a reader of my blog, would you consider donating $13.10 -- a tenth of that -- to this worthy cause? Here is Officer Sicknick's Go Fund Me page.

Someone has said, "The days are long but the years are short." 2021 already feels tortuously long. I can't believe it's only been 9 days. My run today symbolizes a hope for the healing of our nation and honors a man who was courageous, strong, and I'm sure loved by many. I will run to show my respect and to find connection and community with my fellow Americans. It SO didn't have to happen.

6:50 AM Language learning is difficult. Languages have never come easily for me. Not sure why. Maybe I just don't have a high language aptitude. But that doesn't mean you can't learn a foreign language. If you're struggling with language acquisition, here are a few tips to take into account:

1. Realize it's going to be messy. As I've often said, nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. It's all too easy to take the lazy way out. Don't.

2. Reach out. This is a community effort. Tutorial help is always available in my classes. My Greek Portal offers dozens of helpful tools as well. Learn with a study partner if possible.

3. Keep yourself motivated. Remember that reading your New Testament in Greek is not an end in itself. It's a tool God can use to change you from the inside out.

4. Two for one. If you already know another language, use that knowledge to help you study Greek. Spanish verbs are like Greek verbs. German nouns are like Greek nouns. Your previous learning will help your new endeavor.

5. Vocabulary similarities between languages. Take advantage of the fact that Greek and English are sister languages. Use cognates and derivatives in English to help with your vocabulary acquisition in Greek.

6. Practice makes perfect. One of the reasons we find learning a foreign language so difficult is because it requires sustained, consistent practice. Work at becoming disciplined with your study habits and you will find that the process becomes a whole lot easier.

7. Get outdoors. Too much stress is bad for your memory. Let your brain chill out by taking a long walk or working out at the gym. This will make it easier for you to stay on the study train.

8. Avoid the shiny object syndrome. Collecting dozens of Greek grammars that sit on your shelf might look good but these resources are useless because you never read them. Stick with one beginning grammar and master it.

Happy language learning!

Friday, January 8

4:52 PM Our Greek class is off to a great start. So proud of all of them. While they were running their "marathon," I was training for mine at the Neuse River Trail, only a 10 minute drive from campus.

I somehow managed to get in two runs despite the frenetic pace of life this week.

I had a blast.

After all, if running isn't fun, why do it? The same applies to studying Greek. For me, running comes down to equal parts of inspiration, dedication, and perspiration. I imagine my Greek students feel the same way. My oh my, it takes work to learn Greek! Or to do anything well in life. Runners run. It's as simple as that. Greek students study Greek. In the end, there's a calmness in being a runner or a Greek student for that matter. There's a quiet confidence that comes from knowing you are willing to keep taking the next step and then the next step until you achieve your goals. For me, seeing my students at the starting line on Monday, and then watching them finish mile 6 of their 26-mile (chapter) marathon today, is so rewarding. They have sacrificed much to take on the challenge. Kudos to you all!

Monday, January 4

6:35 AM A good reminder from John Stott (The Living Churchp. 103):

There are to be no gurus in the Christian community -- only pastors (shepherds). But how do shepherds feed their sheep? The answer is that they don't! To be sure, if a newborn lamb is sick, the shepherd will doubtless take it up in his arms and bottle-feed it. But normally shepherds do not feed their sheep; they lead them to good, green pasture where the sheep feed themselves. Thus all preaching should lead people to the Scriptures and encourage them to browse there for themselves.

One more reason to teach Greek to the flock.

Sunday, January 3

4:45 PM Ever seen the picture of Albert Einstein having a merry old time riding his bike? It was taken in Santa Barbara in 1933.

Einstein was once quoted as saying, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you have to keep moving." Tomorrow, my Greek students will have a chance to do just that. There will be no to little time to stop, and certainly no time to go backwards. Our pace is a lesson per day rather than the normal lesson per week. And I dare say, the vast majority of students will do well if not very well. That's because they know themselves. They know that they are the type of student that tends to learn best in an intensive course. I'm like that. I would rather take 1 course every 3 weeks than 5 courses every 15 weeks. I like to focus on one subject at a time.

Time is not static. It won't wait for us if we fall behind in a Greek class. Migrating birds know this. They are able to prepare for and successfully travel thousands of miles by eating properly and storing sufficient fat for long-term energy. Likewise, taking Greek will teach you much more than Greek. For many of us, Greek will also teach us time-management skills and self-discipline. Wow -- three benefits for the price of one!

Tonight I pulled out the roll sheets for the class and began praying for each student by name. Let's press on together. It's not an easy road we travel, but we travel it together. And it's the Holy Spirit who makes sure we don't run on empty.

8:38 AM Hey folks! Are you a teacher? I am. And it's "Back to School Day" tomorrow. What should be our basic attitude as teachers toward our students? A famous quote from Martin Luther comes to mind. He said:

Ein Christenmensch ist ein freier Herr über alle Dinge und niemand untertan. Ein Christenmensch ist ein dienstbarer Knecht aller Dinge und jedermann untertan.

This is from his great booklet Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen

I supposed we could render the German as:

A Christian is the most free lord of all and subject to no one; a Christian is a dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone.

Christian freedom is no more freedom to do what I please in reference to my old sinful nature as it is to do what I please in reference to my neighbor. Freedom does not allow us to ignore or neglect the needs of our fellow human beings. We are commanded to both love them and serve them. I have often told my students, "You're not here to serve me; I'm here to serve you. You don't exist to make my life easier; I exist to make your life easier." What I'm trying to get across is that, even though they are my students, I see them first and foremost as persons for whose good I must be willing to sacrifice my time, energy, and convenience. I had teachers in college and seminary who loved their students that way. After I had completed my second year of Greek during summer school at Biola, my elderly Greek teacher, who used a cane, knowing that I was leaving for Hawaii the next day, hobbled all the way across campus to my dorm room and up a flight of stairs just to hand me my graded final exam and to congratulate me on a job well done. That memory is seared into my brain. The popular image today of a teacher as a cold and cruel taskmaster is completely foreign to the teaching of the New Testament. We are through love to become each others' slaves (Gal. 5:13).

Fellow teachers and fellow students, if we love one another we will serve one another. The marks of love -- please note, Dave! -- include patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and faithfulness. To truly love our students is not to exploit them for ourselves but to serve them sacrificially for their good. Of course, some will try and take advantage of you, but I'm not talking about them.

So there you have it. My secret sauce for successful schooling. 

Saturday, January 2

6:45 PM Today, to celebrate the new year, I decided to bike to one of my favorite spots on the planet.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the visitor center was open again, and that people entering the building were all wearing facial coverings.

There is so much history along the Virginia Capital Trail that it's hard not to stop and read the historical markers.

As you can see, although the day started out cloudy and dreary, it turned into a glorious day.

My round trip from Charles City Court House to Jamestown was just over 40 miles -- not too bad of a start for my 2021 cycling mileage.

Afterwards I just had to stop in Petersburg and pig out on some beef brisket and fries.

As if to add icing to the cake, the Lord presented me with this view when I got back to Clarkesville -- "my fair city."

It's as though he's stalking me with his goodness. He also helped me suppress my urge to go all out on my ride. Instead, I was happy to see that I was able to ride at a very manageable heart rate.

My God is good. So is yours. Let us rejoice and be glad in him today.

6:50 AM I told you 2021 was going to be a good year. I mean, I get to teach a whole bunch of students how to read their Greek New Testament. It all kicks off on Monday in my Greek J-Term class. Then 3 Greek classes in the spring, one in the summer, two in the fall, etc. etc. etc.  It starts with learning how to read the Greek letters.

Then how to translate verbs.

Then nouns, and so forth. 26 chapters, like 26 miles in a marathon. One chapter/mile at a time. That's why I show this clip each and every time I start a new Greek class. If crossing a marathon finish line will change your life, how much more will studying God's word!

Many believers are sensing God calling them to learn Greek this year. Is God saying the same thing to you?

Friday, January 1

6:10 PM I think I've finally made up my mind. Lord willing, my next marathon will be ... the Jackson River Scenic Trail Marathon in Covington, VA, on June 5, 2021. This was the event I had to miss last June because of the pandemic, so I'm already signed up for the 2021 race. Of course, if the Flying Pig in Cincy goes live (instead of virtual) in May, I will also plan to do that one.

You never forget your first marathon. I recall talking to one of my colleagues on campus who had run a marathon in his earlier years. He went on for 20 minutes about what that race had meant to him. The decision to run a marathon is not made lightly. You realize you're doing what 999 people in 1,000 couldn't do. For elite runners, the marathon takes just over 2 hours. For the rest of us, it may take anywhere between 3 and 7 hours. If you're a back-of-the-packer like me, you're not really interested in your finish time. You also don't mind how difficult the race is. In fact, you didn't choose to run a marathon despite its difficulty but because of it. The marathon has been likened to the Mount Everest of running. Every runner dreams of completing at least one. But, like climbing Everest, you can't stand at the top without an arduous and well-planned climb. The marathon allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Someone has said that the marathon is the classic trial for people void of talent but determined to finish. A few memories:

1. The start of the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati.

Though running is mostly a solitary sport, races are a time to find the connectedness you enjoy with others who share your hopes and dreams.

2. What a moment it is when you finish a race, as I did here at the Chicago Marathon in 2018.

You realize that the only thing that separates those at the front of the pack from those at the back of the pack is the time it takes you to finish. You are all marathoners!

3. I've raced the Dallas Marathon twice.

The course is a challenging one. Somewhere you find the calm confidence to finish along with 40,000 other runners who accepted the challenge to overcome the distance.

4. The Marine Corps Marathon was the most emotional of the 16 marathons I've run so far.

At mile 12 you run the famous Blue Mile that honors fallen soldiers. Their photos are there, often accompanied by family members. The finish is up one last hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial. The traditions of this race are like those of no other.

5. Here I am in the finishers' chute at the St. George Marathon in Utah.

It was a PR for me. Without a doubt, it was the most gorgeous desert scenery (once the sun came up and you could actually see anything).

The physical toll exacted by a marathon is enormous. Success is the result of hundreds of intermediate steps rather than a single, giant leap across the finish line. There is nothing in this world quite like it. I hope one day you will be able to experience it as well.

12:50 PM I started off the New Year with a 5K run at the track.

Like everyone else, I want to be challenged this year. Like everyone else, I want to see how much effort I can put into chasing down my dreams. Like everyone else, I realize that America is a sedentary nation, that the current "fitness boom" is really only a marginal phenomenon, and that the runners and cyclists you see on the road represent only a very small portion of American society. Like everyone else, I know just how hard it is to take responsibility for your own personal fitness and health. And like everyone else, I realize that the only way to live long and stay healthy is to take care of the bodies God has given us just as we take care of the cars that we drive. It is our own decision, my friend, to be active or sedentary. To age fast or age slowly.

I am no expert, but please, for the love of your family, consider becoming active in the new year. All you need to do is exercise for 30 minutes at a comfortable pace three times a week. That's it. I support any call for moderation. This was the Greek ideal. They had a saying: "Mēden agan" -- "Nothing in excess." Similarly Paul writes "Let your moderation be known to all." Eat with moderation. Exercise with moderation. Don't try to get all your tasks done at once. Take time for prayer and Bible reading. Balance work with rest. I know how blessed I am to have the kind of schedule that allows me time for exercise when I'm not writing, teaching, or working on the farm. I can get up early and write or stay up late and write. I know the night before exactly what kind of a workout I will do the next day. My class schedule is fixed so I know when and where I need to be in top form for teaching. I have learned that just because somebody calls me I don't have to talk with them (or answer their email). I used to say yes all the time but now I know how to say no.

Bottom line is: If you want to be active, you will be. It doesn't mean it will be easy. Exercising regularly will probably call for some lifestyles changes on your part. But think of the benefits not only to your physical health but to your emotional and psychological health as well.

So, now what? That's a question only you can answer, my friend. All it takes to begin is a single step.

8:32 AM Social distancing today, yes on New Years Day, but not all is lost as I will be enjoying these tamales and Spanish rice my daughter brought me for lunch, topped off with freshly baked cookies. God is good.

7:40 AM One of the greatest lessons in faith I've learned comes from Max Lucado and his "Story of the Stump." Perhaps you haven't heard it yet. The tale is about a Georgia farm boy named Bill who found a stump he wanted to cut up for firewood. He crowbarred it for hours but it wouldn't budge. He was still struggling when his father came home from work. "I think I see your problem," his father said. "You're not using all your strength." Bill exploded in frustration. "I've been working on this stump for hours!" "No," said his father. "You're not using all your strength." Bill was confused. "Daddy, what on earth do you mean?" His father said, "You haven't me asked me to help yet."

What's that stump in your life that needs pulling up this year? Extracting the stumps in our lives is hard work. Take a moment and turn to the Father for help. No, don't put the crowbar away. But before you use it, open your heart to God. As you know, I love the book of Philippians. Its author was a brilliant yet humble man who knew a thing or thing about facing down God-sized obstacles in ministry. Yet even in prison he could say, "Because the Lord is near, we can be anxious for nothing." We can take each and every problem to God because he is as near as the air we breath.

May I urge you to do this today? I needed to. Yes, it's only the first day of the New Year and the old anxieties are already creeping into my heart again. The human mind can't be full of God and full of fear at the same time. So let's go to Daddy today, shall we? Let's celebrate his goodness, ask for his help, and leave our worries with him. He loves his children. And "he holds all things together by his powerful word" (Heb. 1:3). He can hold us together this year.

Remember what Peter says: "Cast all your cares upon him, because it matters to him about you" (1 Pet. 5:7). Last year I did a pretty good job of casting some fears of mine upon him. Less so with others. This morning, one particular hard stump kept taunting me. So I prayed, "You said you would help me, Father. Would you?" Whether immediately, gradually, or ultimately, I know he will answer that prayer. And so I'm ready to start my day, with the words of Saint Patrick on my lips:

I arise today through God's strength to pilot me, God's mighty hand to uphold me, and God's wisdom to guide me.

Happy Stump Renewal Year to all,

Dave

Thursday, December 31

12:50 PM I'm an avid reader, as many of you are. So I thought I'd collect and photograph some of the books I read in 2020 that I enjoyed the most.

Mind you, these are 13 out of hundreds of books I read this past year. Each has helped me get perspective on some topic or issue I was working through/thinking about. I'm pretty much a huge fan of these authors, even when I disagree with them (Scot McKnight and I do not agree on a whole lot).

One of them even had the audacity to call for an end to church buildings (hmm, maybe like Bonhoeffer did?). Two of these authors are Greek grammarians, and we all know how much people love them.

The book by James McWhorter merits a nod because it's about language and how language works, and because he discusses these subjects with both aplomb and humor.

And what can I say about Malcolm Muggeridge? You've never heard of him, right?

Reading Muggeridge is dangerous. He might actually change the way you think about Christianity.

Muggeridge was always talking about the bankruptcy of politics and how materialistic societies are prone to hero-worship. Having by and large ceased to believe in God, we pay increasing obeisance to the king or the president, creating a kind of ersatz religion. Little wonder he was banned from the BBC.

Behind the Ranges is about missionary J. O. Fraser.

It's a must read. It was a required textbook back in the day at Biola. It was Fraser who famously said: "I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel that it would be truer to give prayer the first, second, and third place, and teaching the fourth."

Finally, where would an educator be if he or she didn't work on their craft? That's why I was delighted to have picked up at a library sale somewhere Suskie's Assessing Student Learning.

So there you have it. I am never happier than when I am reading a good book. How about you? What titles did you read in 2020 that you'd recommend? Let us know on your blog or Facebook page.

8:42 AM Today I'm focused on figuring out my race and training schedule for next year. I don't yet know what that will include. So I thought I'd take a glance at the past year to see how many miles I managed. Here are my May My Run stats for 2020.

Hard to fathom that I averaged 4 workouts and 25 miles each week in 2020. The 1688 mile total is the largest since I started using a Garmin watch. As you can see below, most every year I've been bumping up my miles:

  • 2015: 298 miles

  • 2016: 1022 miles

  • 2017: 1139 miles

  • 2018: 1512 miles

  • 2019: 1270 miles

  • 2020: 1688 miles

This year was made possible by many people who supported my efforts. Neither running nor life is ever a solo project. Of course, each of us is ultimately responsible for our results, on the race course and elsewhere, but we owe so much to others for their support. My family has been there for me the whole year. I appreciate their support on the journey. They know me yet they still love me unconditionally. I hope, in return, I might have inspired them to pursue their own goals with passion. Thanks to all the doctors, physical therapists, and specialists who took such great care of me when I was injured in April. You allowed my body to recover to keep digging deeper. Thank you to all the race organizers who put on great events. Above all, thank you, Lord, for caring for me this year and teaching me many lessons about life through my running. I love running, and by your grace I hope to always be able to do it.

Running is so much like life. You do the best you can and don't let the setbacks defeat you. Perhaps you've heard of the "Serenity Prayer" -- you know, the one that asks God to grant you the serenity to accept the things you can't change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I'm so thankful to the Lord for teaching me this year that age is just a number if we learn to listen to our bodies and adapt to its changing needs. With his help, I hope to do a better job of that this coming year.

I will let you all know how it goes.

6:55 AM Here's a contrast to ponder on this New Year's Eve. The prodigal wasted his substance.

Mary wasted her perfume.

Has there ever been a greater temptation to wasteful living than today? We squander away our time, our health, our wealth. Our body, mind, and soul waste away as a result. O, the prodigal in me!

In the eyes of Jesus' disciples, Mary's anointing of Jesus was also a waste. The dictionary defines waste as "an act or instance of using or expending carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose." Waste means too much, but we can never give Jesus too much.

Lord Jesus, in 2021, I long to love you extravagantly. You are worthy of all I give you. Kill off the Scrooge in me that laments generosity. Let my wealth (such as it is) no longer be spent on ostentatious church buildings or on a wasteful lifestyle. Instead, may I give myself to you daily and then give my gifts to the needy in your Name. Selfless service to others in the cause of the gospel was the order of the day in the early church, and it must be for me. O, may 2021 see nothing less than a continual giving of self and time and talents to others. Strip away what falsely defines me and replace it with what is real. May I follow in your footsteps as never before, and may I cover myself in the dust of your feet. 

For the great glory of your name I pray. Amen. 

Wednesday, December 30

5:38 PM I had some business to do in Farmville today and while I was there I thought I'd get in a run. I decided to run to Tuggle and back, which turned out to be just over 11 miles.

Time to get back to writing. So far it's been a great day. Hope yours is going well too.

6:10 AM I was listening recently to a sermon over the last 12 verses of Mark. I was a bit surprised to find such a sermon, because most scholars argue against the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20. The preacher said little enough about the controversy in his message (all well and good), though what struck me was his attitude. He dismissed the evidence in favor of the shorter reading with the mere wave of the hand. He did the same thing when he came to the signs and wonders Jesus mentions in verses 16-17. The preacher merely asserted, "These gifts are not for today," as if his assertion could deal fairly with a controversy that has engendered the writing of untold books both pro and con the genuineness of the sign gifts for the church today. Now to be sure, I happen to agree with the preacher that the passage under consideration is both original and inspired (see my book Perspectives on the Ending of Mark), and that today's church should affirm the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture over against any claim to the contrary by those who would seek to add their prophetic words to those of the Bible. That said, it seems clear that while the primary sense of "apostles and prophets" in the New Testament is that of organs of direct revelation, we should be ready to acknowledge that there are apostolic and prophetic ministries in the church today. Paul clearly teaches in 1 Thessalonians that we are neither to reject prophecy nor accept it outright but to test everything, to sift it, to weigh it against the plain truth of the Scriptures and against the gospel of free and saving grace that comes only through Jesus Christ.

I bring this up because last night I was again reading Bruce Metzger's thrilling autobiography and was interested to see that he, along with ten other Presbyterian leaders, were asked to serve on a special committee on the work of the Holy Spirit.

The committee gave its final report in 1970. Metzger cites the report's conclusion. I give it here because I think it is both balanced and full of spiritual wisdom:

We therefore conclude, on the basis of Scripture, that the practice of glossolalia should be neither despised not forbidden; on the other hand it should not be emphasized nor made normative for the Christian experience. Generally the experience should be private, and those who have experienced a genuine renewal of their faith in this way should be on guard against divisiveness within the congregation. At the same time those who have received no unusual experience of the Holy Spirit should be alert to the possibility of deeper understanding of the gospel and a fuller participation in the gifts of the Spirit -- of which love is the greatest.

This is a splendid doctrinal and pastoral summation of what the Bible teaches about the "charismatic" gifts. This should humble both Charismatics and non-Charismatics. It should also motivate us to the loving care of all God's people. This came home to me on one of my six trips to teach in South Korea, where the Presbyterian church is largely non-Charismatic but whose congregations sometimes contain a goodly number of parishioners who speak in tongues. The pastors there, most of whom were cessationists, asked me if I might give them some guidance on how to deal with the matter both scripturally and pastorally. As a result, I developed a 4-hour lecture on "The History and Theology of Pentecostalism." I felt this was a good opportunity for the Korean church to practice MRI (mutual responsibility and interdependence). Occasionally I share this lecture with my students here in the hope that it will persuade them to treat more thoughtfully, more systematically, and more lovingly this controversial subject in their own churches.

I will now add Dr. Metzger's statement to my lecture. 

Tuesday, December 29

11:48 AM Wrote for 2 hours this morning, then ran for 5 miles. Now I'm back in my farm office, hard at work again. While running, I listened to this great interview with one of the world's leading trail ultra racers.

She happens, like yours truly, to be an educator in real life. Which reminded me: I read somewhere that most runners (professionals and non-professionals alike) are college educated. Hold on. Let's see if I can find that stat. Okay. Here it is:

  • 3/4ths of runners have a college degree.

  • This is notably higher than the national average.

This doesn't surprise me. Come to think of it, I don't believe I know a single runner who's not been to college. I don't know why that is. And I really don't even want to venture a guess. But when I consider that stat, my mind goes to another "stat" that I mention in the preface to my book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! Did you know that Bible study is for every follower of Jesus? You don't have to be a seminary graduate. You don't have to have an academic degree or several of them. You don't have to have a high IQ. You don't have to be of any race or ethnicity. You don't have to be physically strong or attractive. You don't have to be wealthy. You don't have to be of any age. You don't have to spend ten years on the mission field. You don't have to speak well before a group. That's not a requirement. None of these are. The only thing required is a willingness to learn.

Of course, you don't need my book (or anyone else's) to get started. You just do it. If you and I do it, maybe everyone will.

Monday, December 28

6:14 PM In case you didn't know, I'm a major to-do-list maker. I also like to set long-term/personal goals. Always write them down, too. I love reviewing my goals at least weekly. Some of my goals I blog about, others are just there on my calendar. Research shows that writing down your goals makes it infinitively more likely you will accomplish them. Today I set a very challenging goal, especially for someone who's as lazy as I am (Hawaii born and bred, you recall). I want to write at least 3-4 hours every day. I've even set target dates for the completion of my 2021 writing projects. Someone has said that goals that aren't frightening aren't worth having. I have asked the Lord not to allow my fears to keep me from reaching my goals. You have to keep your eye set on the prize. That said, I'm not going to sweat the small stuff. Life is more than writing. I'm just grateful I still have legs I can run on and fingers I can type with. If I'm able to get outdoors it's a good day. Don't ever take that for granted, Dave.

To all my buddies out there (you know who you are): Thank you for all of your amazing support and for sharing this journey. I have gotten so much good advice and encouragement from you and it has meant everything. (Yes, I am talking to you, daughter. Thanks for allowing me to talk your ears off today, sweetie.) The truth is, nobody achieves their goals effortlessly. Most of us have to work for what we have. This is what makes life so amazing. Something in our spirit sings when we go farther than we ever thought we could have.

Brother Lawrence once said, "We must turn to God in complete confidence in the hour of battle, abide strongly in the presence of his divine majesty, worship him humbly, and set before him our woes and weaknesses. And thus shall we find in him all virtues though we may lack all of them." That's a great thought to begin a new year with, don't you think?

 

6:45 AM Chuck Swindoll's sermon yesterday from Phil. 3 was a stirring challenge to stop living in the rear view mirror. "The one thing I do," writes Paul, "is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to live the life above." He then adds: "All of us who are spiritually mature should have this same attitude."

Here's what I took away from Chuck's message: The ability to let go of the past is a sign of maturity. I don't recall his exact words, but Chuck made it clear to the congregation at Stonebriar that he wasn't about to rest on his laurels, even though he's got a lot of laurels to rest on if he wanted to. At the age of 85 he's convinced he's got a lot of tread left on his pastoring and teaching tires. He said he also wanted to make 2021 more about Christ than about himself. He wanted to (my words, not Chuck's) know Christ as friend, trust him as Savior, and obey him as Lord.

How about you, my friend? The end of the year is a good time to consider the past -- and then promptly forget it. Retrospect must always give way to prospect. There is a new year to be greeted and a new chapter to be written. I am so excited to see what 2021 has in store for me. I know there will be surprises. Perils do not necessarily grow fewer as we grow older. Little wonder the Psalmist could ask God not to forsake him when he was old and gray-haired (Psa. 71:18). If 2020 was anything, it was another year of God's faithfulness. But it is a dying year, and there's no need to tarry by the casket of things past.

This week I'll be putting together my list of New Year's goals. Like Paul, I want to finish my course with joy (Acts 20:24). Why should I give my last year of full-time teaching anything less than 1,000 percent? Why should I just coast through my J-term class that starts in exactly one week? No, the students deserve better, and so does my Lord.

January 1, 2021 will be here before we know it. You just start at mile 0 all over again then launch out to see if you can complete all 52 miles of your ride.

There will be brand new mountains to scale and risks to take. Are you up to it?

There will be more Greek classes to teach in local churches both in Hawaii and elsewhere.

And yes, folks, there will be good food to be enjoyed -- without facial coverings!!!!

If I had only one encouragement for you this morning as you contemplate a new year, it would be to make sure you start each new day of the year with God. Many of us would never think of dashing out of the house without our breakfast, so why should we think we can plunge headlong into a perilous world with an unprepared soul? No, we can never get off to a good start without him. Meanwhile, let's forget those things that are behind us. That's the only thing to do with the past -- learn from it whatever lessons are to be gained, and then forget it. Instead, think of all the land that remains to be possessed, all the service that remains for us to do while we press on toward the mark. Make up your mind today about "this one thing." That will bring everything else into its proper place.

Love you and thank God for you!

Sunday, December 27

2:50 PM I am late to the sport of running, but I am loving it so much. A big "Thank you" to the Lord for giving me yet another great training run today in Farmville.

While exercising I heard two wonderful sermons. In the New Year, we can either wear our hurt or wear our hope. I am determined to wear only my hope in 2021. No more whining from me (okay, maybe once or twice). Max Lucado once said, "I'm sorry if you were inappropriately touched, intentionally mocked, or unfairly dismissed. I'm sorry if you ended up in Egypt. But if the story of Joseph teaches us anything, it is this: we have a choice" (Anxious for Nothing, p. 59). God, give me the courage to be a Joseph in the new year. I'm thanking you in advance!

7:05 AM And the winner of this week's Greek DVD drawing is:

Elliott in Germany.

The DVDs will go out as soon as I return to campus. Enjoy!

6:20 AM A video I watched recently was titled "Why are experts so often poor communicators?" Haven't you often wondered that yourself? I have. The presenter said there are four kinds of public speakers:

1. Those who have no skills and poor communication.

2. Those who have great skills and poor communication.

3. Those who have no skills and good communication.

4. Those who have high skills and great communication.

I loved this quote: "An actor is an expert in being someone else. A speaker is an expert in being themselves."

How rare it is to find a #4 type of communicator. Oh, they are out there. And they are not only "themselves," I would say they are their best self. They work hard on communicating empathy to their audiences. They have a knack for making the complicated simple without being simplistic. Practice may not make you perfect, but that's okay because nobody is expecting you to be perfect. Inspire, don't only inform. This is the goal every time you stand behind the pulpit or enter the classroom. Watch anything Chuck Swindoll says, or Haddon Robinson for that matter. O my goodness. So beautiful, so powerful, so inspiring. Role models for us all.

Saturday, December 26

9:25 PM My supper tonight, if I do say so myself, was delicious. I finished it in less than five minutes, eating rather faster than senior professors of New Testament and Greek are expected to. This evening I've been trying to plan my marathon for 2021. I would love to get back to the Flying Pig in Cincy.

This was my first marathon back in 2014. This would be my 4th time running it. I can honestly say this is the best of the 16 marathons I've done so far. Every detail is planned to perfection. Just be prepared for a tough but really gorgeous course. It's in May, and for now the race is still virtual, though the RD hopes that will change soon (don't we all). I love the faces in this video. Anybody can be active. Anybody can convince themselves that moving their body is better than not moving it. Whether you're 17 or 70, you future is in your hands. Actually, your future is in your feet!

5:20 PM While getting in an easy 5K walk today at the track I watched this fabulous lecture about the life and work of the famous Swiss theologian Emil Brunner.

The lecture is full of humorous anecdotes, like the time Brunner's friend Karl Barth told him, after Barth had listened to him preach, "Du bist sehr langweilig" ("You are very boring").

Actually, as the speaker in this video noted, whereas the typical lecturer in theology at the University of  Zürich may have had a total of 20 students attending his weekly talks, Brunner's audience numbered anywhere between 100 and 200. As a student in Basel, I can recall reading everything I could get my hands on written by Brunner and Barth. Brunner's theology was actually one of the three topics I had to prepare for when I took my orals at the end of my doctoral program. Brunner, like Barth, was widely travelled. He was especially involved in theological education in the U.S. and Asia. As the speaker says, "Ihm war die ganze Welt wichtig" ("To him the whole world was important"). I loved Brunner's works on the church, in particular his book Das Missverständnis der Kirche (The Misunderstanding of the Church).

"Eine Kirche, die nicht missioniert, hat demissioniert." This is a powerful statement in German. Good luck translating it into English with the same rhetorical oomph.

In Basel, much was made about the disagreement that happened between Brunner and Barth prior to and during the Second World War. Brunner felt there was a place for natural theology, whereas Barth insisted there could be no such thing. His response to Brunner's misreading of the Bible was a sharp "Nein" (see Barth's book by that name). You may recall that many Germans claiming to be Christians in the 1930s felt they could use history and culture to get behind Hitler and his nationalistic movement. Hitler was on the "right side of history," they argued, and so there was no need to maintain Christian principles. In short, the end justified the means. Opposed to this was a much smaller group of believers called the "Confessing Church" who insisted that only Jesus Christ is the Lord of the church and not any political leader, no matter how nationalistic he might be. We are looking only to Jesus for truth and direction, these believers said. Something to think about today for sure. In fact, I've often wondered if the time was ripe for another Barmen Declaration.

Right now, though, its time to enjoy some stir fry and the Banzai Pipeline :-)

9:42 AM Aren't you glad that when God wrote the New Testament he removed the expiration date? God's answer for troubled times has always been the same: come to me, come to my word, and there you will find strength and the guidance you need to take another step. That's what I'm finding to be true this morning, ladies and gentlemen, as I do another deep dive into a passage in my Greek New Testament, this time Matt. 9:35-38.

I may or may not ever get a chance to speak on this passage from a pulpit, but that's almost beside the point.

What personal Bible study does for you goes far beyond teaching and preaching. The more we read and study God's word for ourselves, the more it takes permanent residence within.

Here are some of the steps I take when I study a passage of Scripture (for what it's worth). First, I read the passage at least 30 times. This is what John MacArthur recommends in his excellent little book How to Study the Bible.

The first day, read it through. The second day, read it through. The third day, read it through. If you push through and stick with it for 30 days, he says, you will have a tremendous comprehension of the text. I have taken that advice to heart.

The next step is to look carefully at the Greek text.

What are the main verbs? What clauses are subordinate? Are there are any direct commands to be obeyed? How does the text flow from idea to idea? In German we say, seek to discover "wie der Text spielt" (not sure how to translate that). What individual words demand further study?

Then it's time to look at as many foreign language translations as you can. This morning I read the text in Hebrew, Latin, English, German, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Hawaiian Pidgin (of course!).

I wanted to see, for instance, how these versions translated the Greek word poleis -- "cities" or "towns"? Or how about the verb for "send out" in verse 38-- yep, here we have ekballō again. I'm allowing the Spirit to help move me forward from observation to interpretation to application. Remember: Bible study is a marathon, not a sprint. Sure, you've been traveling, but you need to keep moving forward. At some point you need to cut to the quick and determine the overall theme of your passage. I am convinced that if large pools of information don't get summarized for people, the significance of your passage is vaporized within minutes. I haven't come up with a sermon title yet, but I have compiled a list of titles from the interwebs, though I haven't read any online sermons yet and won't until I've complete a draft of my message.

I think I like the first title the best.

Does it look like I'm on the right track? Bible study can be exhausting but it's never exhaustive. So far I've covered only the bare facts -- but think of the insight they represent. The key is to remember that the Scripture itself gives you the basic outline of what the author is saying. So there's no need for us to impose on the text what the Scripture doesn't say.

Time for some exercise of the physical kind (I'm already tired mentally). The day is simply glorious. It's also a bit warmer than yesterday. Yes, I'm a cold weather wimp. A final reminder: If you haven't entered our book/DVD giveaway yet, I'm still accepting emails until 6:00 pm tonight.

Friday, December 25

2:28 PM We've gotten a lot of rain here lately so I gasped for JOY when I saw that the local rail trail was still open. It's getting cold here, as in very cold. I think the real feel was 22 degrees during my run today.

Virginia has issues. Of course, there's a certain part of the anatomy that tends to be fatty and that you would think would keep you warm but this is so not the case. Fat may be a great insulator, but it can't carry around your blood like your muscles can. Anyhoo, I layered up and everything turned out out fine.

This weekend's supposed to get up to 50 so I might try another long run on Sunday or Monday. During today's run my mind was on one thing and one thing only: What passage shall I speak on in chapel next semester? After all, this will be my last opportunity to address the entire student body before I retire. What a journey discipleship is. You never truly "arrive," do you? For a while I thought Heb. 1:1-2 would be a great passage to talk about -- our "encouragement," our "entanglements," and our "example." But today a passage from Matthew kept bouncing around in my subconscious and I let it rise to the surface so I could examine it. It's the passage that probably did more than any other part of the Bible to make Becky and me consider becoming followers of Jesus (rather than good Christians). And the passage is all about the Great Commission. No, not Matt. 28:19-20 but Matt. 9:35-38. I can't think of a clearer and more concise definition of missions -- the Where?, the What?, the Why? and the How?  Jesus told us exactly what to do and why. He also did what he told us to do (that's called leading by example). I truly believe I am a fulltime missionary of the gospel (not a professional, mind you, but fulltime all the same). So are you if you're an obedient follower of Jesus. Jesus loves the world so much. He died so that the lost sheep for which he had so much compassion could have a Shepherd. And get this -- he is relying on us loving them as though he were loving them through us. Jesus lived as an example. He is the perfect missionary. I so want to be like him. I'm going to take some time to pray about this and thoroughly explore my options before I decide. Meanwhile, in all humility and simplicity, let's keep on learning from the example of our Savior.

9:20 AM Last night I couldn't resist the urge to reread Bruce Metzger's delightful autobiography.

From the beginning of time, God had destined Bruce Metzger to become one of the world's leading New Testament Greek scholars. But everything has a beginning in time and space. For Metzger, it was his freshman year at Lebanon Valley College. (Never heard of it? Neither had I. But great blessings sometimes come in small packages.) In his book, Metzger tells the story of how he got involved in Greek. He says that all first-year students at the college were required to take a foreign language and "for some reason I chose the elementary course in classical Greek grammar." He goes on to state that the reason he chose Greek was something a pastor once said in a sermon to the effect that English translations can't always convey the meaning of the original Greek. Says Metzger, "I had never before realized that the New Testament was written originally in Greek." He later took additional courses in Greek and, upon graduation from college, decided to study Greek under the great A. T. Robertson at Southern Seminary in Louisville. However, before he could apply, he learned that Roberson had died in the summer of 1934. In due course, he applied to Princeton and the rest, as they say, is history. In 1938, at the ripe old age of 24, he would be asked by the president of the seminary to teach Greek to entering students who required instruction in beginning Greek. "In the autumn of 1938, therefore, I began the first of my forty-six years of teaching at Princeton Theological Seminary."

I was impressed with several things as I read this beautiful story of how Bruce Metzger embarked on his career. One of them is this: God values a slow, steady pace over a dash. Growing academically is a marathon, not a sprint. Friend, are you willing to go forward? To put in the effort? To be patient and wait for God to open the door for you? You can't just clap twice and expect to go from Greek student to Greek teacher. Two things happened to me when I was a student at Biola that utterly shocked me. First, I dropped out of my beginning Greek class after only two weeks. Second, a year later and with four semesters of Greek under my belt thanks to summer school, I was hired (at the age of 24, by the way) by Dr. Harry Sturz, the head of the Greek Department, to teach 11 units of Classical Greek at Biola. Forty-four years later I'm still teaching Greek. (God has an incredible sense of humor, doesn't he?)

A student once asked me, "Why should I bother to study Greek when there are so many English translations available today?" I replied, "That's a very good question. However, it is precisely because there are so many English translations available today, and none of them agree with each other, that now more than ever it's vital to be able to judge their accuracy against the Greek text." I am honest when I say I don't believe that you must know Greek to be able to understand the New Testament. I can think of handicaps far more serious than that (pride or sloth, for example). That said, have you ever considered taking a basic course in Greek? This year I taught Greek in one of our local churches. Before Covid hit, we had 45 people coming out every Monday night to study Greek with me for 2 hours. (They lasted more than two weeks, I might add.) But I was very clear with them that Greek is not the Open Sesame or the Abracadabra of New Testament interpretation that some make it out to be. "Greek," I told them, "won't necessarily tell you what the New Testament means. But it will limit your options."

I long to communicate to every Christian I can possibly reach that the living God has arranged a way to make it possible for you to learn how to read your New Testament in Greek. Are you willing? If so, I've produced a series of tools to get you started. It's never too late to start, either. When Benjamin Rice retired as a missionary with the China Inland Mission, he decided to learn New Testament Greek at the age of 80. Eighty! It is said that he kept a well-worn copy of his Greek New Testament in his pocket while waiting for public transportation. If an 80-year old could learn Greek, anyone can. That includes you. Here are some resources to get you going.

Learn to Read New Testament Greek. This is my grammar for beginners. It doesn't get any more basic than this. This book is short and to the point, and you don't need to buy an additional workbook; I’ve provided an answer key in the back of the book for all of the exercises.

It’s Still Greek to Me. So you've laid the foundation of beginning Greek. Now it's time to build on that foundation. This intermediate-level grammar will keep the Greek fires burning. You may even enjoy the lame puns in it ("To Koine Phrase," "Up the Greek without a Paddle," etc.).

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

My Greek DVDs. This professionally-edited set of 24 videos was recorded before a live class of seminary students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Don’t worry; everything is in English. The instruction is based on my beginning grammar, Learn to Read New Testament Greek. To learn more, please visit my New Testament Greek Portal.

Fellow believer, never forget what God is doing in our day. He's ordaining the ordinary. No longer is serious Bible study in the hands of a few. Every member gets to roll up their sleeves and dig in to grow even stronger in the Christian life. It's a fantastic new day, and I invite you to join the merry company of those who, like Prof. Metzger, "happened" to fall in love with this wonderful language.

P.S. In the spirit of Christmas, I want to offer you at no cost either a copy of my beginning grammar or a set of my instructional DVDs ($200 value). Simply write and tell me which one you'd like. I'll announce the winner of our giveaway tomorrow night at 6:00 pm. My email is dblack@sebts.edu. Please include your mailing address when you write.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24

5:50 PM What a great Christmas Eve service in Alabama with my son-in-law preaching, my granddaughter singing "O Holy Night," and my grandson operating one of the cameras.

Jon brought a wonderful message from Gal. 4:3-6.

"God is never early, he's never late, he's always right on time." Thank you, Jesus, for coming to this earth right on time. O Lord, I praise you that there is no place you will not go and no person you cannot reach. On this Christmas Eve, my prayer is that during this holiday season you will feel the presence of Immanuel in a deeper way than perhaps ever before. When Christ was born, so was our hope and peace. Whatever your need may be today, the Savior has appeared. With him, everything changes. Receive his grace today.

The icing on today's pre-Christmas cake was an email I got from Bagdogra, India today.

During the pandemic, the Peniel Gospel Team was able to distribute more than 7,000 Bibles to the same number of households. They write, "We are praying for Bibles and New Testaments so that we will be able to share and provide it to those who receive, accept, and believe in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We will be requiring a total of 25,000 Bibles in various languages and 50,000 New Testaments. One Bible costs $3 and a New Testament costs $1. When you spend $3 one family is getting an opportunity to read the Bible. Let us come together during this season to share and praise the name of our King."

I can't thank God enough for the Peniel Gospel team and ministries like it in India. These national Christians are taking up the banner of the cross where colonial-era missionaries left off. Thousands of individuals and churches in the West are praying for and supporting these nationals on the frontiers of faith. Maybe you're already one of them. If not, I invite you right now to consider living more simply and more creatively in order to support national missionaries. I especially plead with you young adults to choose to make your life count for the kingdom rather than succumb to the climb up the ladder. In order for us to make the necessary impact, we must send out hundreds of thousands more workers.

This is the kind of commitment and cooperation it will take to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. I am convinced of it. When all is said and done, the bottom line must be "the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11:5). If that is not done, we in the wealthy West have failed.

1:10 PM I pretty much run all year round -- rain, sun, snow, wind. The only thing I don't do is ice. Today's weather is wet and miserable outdoors. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny but freezing cold. Conundrum. Do I try to run today when it's warmer, or tomorrow when it's colder? I'd be lying if I said that a run in the rain is super appealing to me. But I need to run either today or tomorrow to stay on my training schedule. Oh well. I love being outside. I'll get there one way or another. Meanwhile, I've had a fairly productive day. This morning I wrote the preface to my book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! Why I wrote the preface before I finished the book I have no idea; it's just what I do. Then I began to deep clean the kitchen, interrupting myself to do some baking.

Then it was off to run a few errands, and now I'm back home enjoying a warm house and working on the kitchen again. Then I need to clean the rest of the house. So far, a very nice Christmas Eve.

How's yours going?

Wednesday, December 23

5:02 PM I did a quick 14-mile bike today thinking about all the blessings in my life right now.

The best is that my friend with Covid has been released from the hospital and will be spending the holidays with his wife and family after 3 long weeks in the hospital. Talk about a Christmas present. Also, this came today.

I cannot congratulate Todd Scacewater enough. I hope this book gets the wide reading it deserves. In addition, I know some of you will be spending Christmas Day by yourself this year, as I will be doing. Please remember to be authentic around those you love. If it hurts, it's okay to let them know. Always remember who you are in Christ. You belong. You are loved. You are valued. We have to renew our minds daily. The Bible says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. It's a battle, because the enemy is always planting thoughts in our minds that are contrary to truth. We have to counteract that with the Scriptures, the truth of God's word, and do it over and over again. Also, do things that are healthy for yourself. Above all, remember you have an audience of One. Don't try to please everybody. You can't please everybody. You'll wear yourself out if you try. Just get in the Scriptures. Keep your Bible open somewhere in your house so that during the day you can always just run back to the Scriptures. I hope you have a wonderful, spectacular holiday. Soak up every minute of the time you might get with people who make your heart smile. We never know what's around the corner, so live in the present. No regrets allowed.

7:45 AM What a lovely sunrise this morning. What an encouragement from the Lord.

I hope you are having a good week. Christmas is around the corner and we certainly have some great things waiting for us in 2021, so don't lose hope. We've survived a very tough year. Thanks be to God! For those who are suffering from injury or heartache, trust me when I say it gets better. Pain and suffering can lead to fulfillment if we let it. Often the key to getting out of a low spot is doing something for someone else. I promise that will lift your spirits. Life can be hard but don't give up, press on for the finish line and the better days to come. Regardless of our current circumstances there is One who is in control and thankfully it's not you or me! Yesterday I was studying Heb. 12:1-2 for a message I'm preparing and did a deep dive into the description of Christ as archēgos, usually translated forerunner or pioneer. An archēgos is someone who pioneers the way for others to follow. He's a trailblazer or, in a race, a pacer. Our direction as runners is to look at our pacer. In the marathons I've run, I've often run in a pace group. The pacers leading us had to be expert runners. They had to have finished numerous marathons at a pace much faster than the one they were leading. Because of their example and expedience, we trusted them to lead us to the finish line. Guys, let's press on together. God gave us a pacesetter to journey with us. And we have his wonderful word to show us how to run. God is good all the time. Keep on running.

6:15 AM I love this mantra of one of the world's leading ultra runners.

The way he gets to the finish line is by running for only 15 minutes. Than another 15 minutes. Then another. He never looks past the next 15 minutes. "Anyone can run for 15 minutes," he tells himself. And it's true. You can run for 15 minutes. I can too.

This is exactly how I write. I write for 15 minutes. If I'm not motivated to continue, I stop. If I need to stand up and go for a walk, I do. But my best writing is done in short chunks. 

Here's another thing I try to do: keep writing and editing separate. Writing is a right brain function. The writer creates. Editing is a left brain function. The editor analyzes. When I'm writing, I don't stop to improve that sentence or find a synonym for this word. I don't ask, "Is this readable?" I don't get hung up on the details. That's my job when I put on my editor's hat. So for what it's worth, my advice is: When you write, write. When you're done with that step, don't forget that editing is part of this process.

Tuesday, December 22

5:28 PM Not long ago I made a Power Point on Joe Hellerman's book When the Church Was a Family.

I had never heard the term "familification" before, had you?

Is it supernatural? You bet. This is Jesus-quality family love we're talking about. I think the more we deliberately show this kind of love to each other as brothers and sisters, the more it takes permanent residence within the body of Christ. May love be vicious in your family this Christmas. Ask the Spirit of God to move you forward from the negatives you may be focusing on to the positives. Love your siblings as Jesus loves them -- with a patience and gentleness that is amazing. We can start practicing love, peacemaking, and patience right where we are. Let's build bridges and not walls this holiday season. Familification is, actually, a huge part of our sanctification.

8:40 AM Here we go, here we go, ladies and gentlemen, a little replenishment on the morning after my long run, a day that promises to be bright and sunny with an unbelievable high of 52.

I'll take it, folks, I'll take it. Thanks for tuning in again. By the way, whereas I normally sleep from 9:00 pm to 5:00 am, I hit the sack last night at 7:30 and woke up at 6:30. I'm at that juncture in my marathon training block where it gets very difficult to balance that fine line between training and overtraining. Right now I'm placing emphasis on rest and recovery, sleep, stretching, foam rolling, and, course, pampering your legs.

Now when I say rest I don't mean inactivity. I will do a recovery walk later on. Still, today is mostly a rest day, and I can't tell you all the physiological and psychological benefits of resting while training. The goal is to achieve a higher level of fitness by alternating pushing yourself so that your body adapts to more stress and recovering sufficiently. Remember: The greater the intensity of training, the greater the need for planned recovery. The most important thing you can do in recovery is listen to your body. Your body will usually tell you what it needs, when it needs it.

So my body is resting today. That doesn't mean that my mind is doing the same. It's racing at about a million miles per hour as normal. I think it's going to be a productive writing day. I kind of like this balance between my racing goals and my writing goals. Some say that training for and completing a marathon is one of the toughest things you can do. Personally, I think writing a book is harder. But both challenge you to the core of your being to become the best you can be. And there's always more self-discipline to be learned and acquired through both running and writing. So it's a win win situation. I'm glad the Lord still allows me to do both!

Monday, December 21

7:02 PM It feels so amazingly good to have been able to get in my 20 mile long run today.

When I decided to get back into marathoning last August, I knew I would have to up the ante on my distance running. I actually feel like I could complete a marathon if one took place next week. I know I'm slow. But that doesn't mean I can't be a successful runner. My hugest, biggest, most gignormous goal for 2021? Stay healthy. This will involve attitude adjustments and balance, neither of which I'm necessarily good at. But we can always improve, right?

That's all I got for tonight. Gonna read a book and then crash. Whatever your goals are, shut up and move forward. And remember: Race against yourself only.

6:25 AM In my morning reading from Mark 7, Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders who insist that the people obey their petty rules.

"You ignore God's specific orders and substitute your own tradition," he says. Food, Jesus insists, can't harm your soul. You aren't harmed by what you eat but by what you think and say. It's the heart that pollutes. For food doesn't come in contact with your heart but only with your digestive system.

Then Mark adds an aside:

By saying this, Jesus showed that every kind of food was kosher (7:19).

This is easy to overlook, isn't it? But remember, Mark's Gospel is not his Gospel at all. It's Peter's. Yes, the same Peter who needed a special encounter with a sheet to convince him that no food is unclean (Acts 10) and to learn that God's will is larger and more encompassing than dietary laws. The oral law of the Pharisees was largely a surfacy law. The New Covenant operates on a much deeper level. Jesus takes the focus away from rules and regulations and puts it firmly where it belongs: on relationships.

What American values have we all chased after thinking they were biblical values? Sound familiar? Haven't we built a culture on selected parts of the Bible? One example: Politicians who pose as "good Christians" to advance their agendas. But above demanding our own agendas, Jesus call us to follow him, to learn from him, and to imitate his love.

Church leaders, create authenticity. Make opportunities for people to challenge mindless traditions. We have God's word (like the book of Mark) to show us how to make progress. Then follow Jesus. Only him. The Mishna urges, "Cover yourself in the dust of your rabbi's feet." May we follow that closely behind him.

Sunday, December 20

4:54 PM Right now I'm multitasking -- watching the Pipeline Billabong Pro Surfing Contest from Hawaii, and reading Mark's Gospel. Just saw a huge monstrosity of a wave at the Pipe. Then I saw this monster of a sentence in Mark 5:25-28:

Rarely does Mark show such subordination. The English would read something like this:

And a woman being in a flow of blood for twelve years and having endured much suffering at the hands of many doctors and having spent all of the things that she had and was not even one bit improved but rather grew worse, after hearing the things concerning Jesus and after coming in the crowd behind touched his garment, for she kept saying, "If I touch even his garments I will be made whole."

Now that thar is some subordination of clauses. Seven feminine participles in a row. The only main clause is "A woman touched his garment." Pretty cool.

Back to the Pipeline. Gabe Medina just got barreled. Those Portuguese dudes are crushing it.

1:14 PM Been pouring over According to Mark lately. Mark 8 is the key turning point in that Gospel. That observation is not unique with me. All agree that the focus of Mark's Gospel is on the cross. It will climax in Jesus' pronouncement in chapter 10 that he did not come to be served but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many (10:45). But it is in chapter 8 where Jesus first reveals to his follows that his Messiahship is not going to be a warrior kind of rule that would defeat the Romans and establish God's rule on earth. No, Jesus came to conquer much greater foes than Roman soldiers. He came to defeat sin and death itself. "The Son of Man must suffer," he said, "and be rejected and be killed and after three days be raised." Peter then rebuked Jesus because he couldn't understand how Jesus' death could be part of God's sovereign purpose and plan. So Jesus rebukes Peter and adds: "If you truly want to be my disciple, Peter, you have to deny yourself and take up your cross as I must take up mine, and you must keep on following me."

The cross is at the very heart of Jesus' Messiahship, and it is to be at the heart of our discipleship. That's the message of Mark's Gospel in a nutshell. It's the very essence of Jesus' teaching. Bonhoeffer puts it beautifully this way: "When God calls a man or a woman, he bids them die." There is a cross at the center of our Christian life. Moreover, it is only in denying ourselves, our self-centeredness, that we can discover ourselves. If you are determined to live a selfish life, you will lose yourself, says Jesus. But if you're willing to lose yourself, to give yourself away in the service of God and of others, then you will find yourself.

It might be that some of us need this reminder at Christmas time. Some of us are asking for a Christianity without a cross. But there is no Christianity without the cross. And what I need constantly to do is to read and reread Mark's (that is, Peter's) portrayal of Jesus' life, at the very heart of which is the cross. For both Christ and us, the very same principle operates: Self-denial is the only way to self-fulfillment. There will be no reign without pain, no crown without a cross, for suffering is the path to glory. Without Christ's suffering, and without ours, the salvation of humankind will not be accomplished.

Are you familiar with the name Calvin Stowe?

He was a professor of Greek at Dartmouth College. But he was best known for being the husband of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom's Cabin became one of the most poignant denunciations of slavery ever written. Once, when his wife was touring England, he preached to a large crowd on Anti-Slavery Day. He rebuked his listeners for being hypocrites. You are proud, he told them, because although you abolished slavery years ago, 80 percent of the cotton picked in America is bought by you English. Slavery would die out, he said, if only you would boycott its cotton. He concluded his message by asking his audience a simple question: "Are you willing to sacrifice one penny of your profits to do away with slavery?" The crowd booed.

You've heard me say this a thousand times before, but I believe with all my heart that unless we in America divert the majority of our resources directly to the 10/40 window, selflessly partnering with local churches there and encouraging indigenous missionary movements, another year will come and go and nothing will have changed. My mind boggles. How could we possibly fail such a calling. The most unreached areas already have a host of missionaries recruited and trained for evangelism and church planting. They are ready to do this work intercultural, near-culturally, and cross-culturally. Yet the majority of work is yet to be done. This Christmas, I am determined to move forward as never before, believing the Lord will enable me to send out many more workers into the ripe harvest fields of Asia.

At this season of the year, might I encourage you to seek the Lord and see if he's asking you to help support one or more of these native missionaries. With as little as $30 per month you can begin to help support one of them, sending them to an unreached village that's waiting to hear the gospel -- the "Wonderful News" that Mark mentions in the opening verse of his Gospel. What better way to obey Jesus Christ's directive to evangelize all the world (Mark 16:15)?

Messiah, Son God,

Break me of the need to busy myself pursuing a life of ease and a sense of self-worth based on my accomplishments. Make me secure in who you are and who you have made me to be. Teach me what it means to truly follow you, to take up my cross, and to deny myself. I desire to be characterized by generosity. Give me the grace to see the needs of the lost billions and to share with them the many good gifts you've given me.

In your holy name, amen.

9:10 AM If you've been praying for my friend with Covid/pneumonia, I've got some good news. He's taken a definite turn for the better in the past 24 hours. I'm reminded of the words of Alan Redpath: "Much of our praying is just asking God to bless some folks that are ill, and to keep us plugging along. But prayer is not merely prattle; it is warfare." Thank you for joining me in fighting the good fight of prayer on behalf of my dear friend. The family is hopeful he can be home by Christmas. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

8:54 AM I continue to be very, very impressed with both of these books, ladies and gentlemen.

They are so on top of how verbs work in Greek and especially in Mark. Generally, here's what these scholars are saying:

  • The aorist tense views the situation in summary as a complete event without regard to its progress or lack thereof.

  • The imperfect tense views the situation as in progress without regard for its beginning or end.

  • And the perfect tense depicts a state of affairs that exists with no reference to any progress.

I know I've talked about the following verses before, but here in Mark 5:11-13, the four verb forms marked in yellow are aorists, whereas the verb form marked in green is imperfect.

In his commentary, William Hendriksen writes: "Here Mark suddenly changes the tenses of the verb. So far he has very briefly stated four incidents, four summary facts: gave, came out, went into, rushed down. It is as if he, in very rapid succession, showed us four snapshots. Then we are shown a slow-motion picture movie: one by one we see the (approximately) two thousand pigs chocking to death in the sea, until all have drowned."

I still have the memory of standing on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, watching in my mind's eye, as our tour guide called it, the first "swine dive" in history. Jesus has invaded Gentile territory and has shown there's no place into which the kingdom of God does not extend. Healing, compassion, evangelism -- all rolled up into one story. Glory to the Lord!

Saturday, December 19

6:36 PM How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! is half way done. Praise God. I hope this book will be easy and glorious to read. Do you ever stop to meditate on just how wonderful it is that we have the Bible? I do. It seems as though my entire life has been an apprenticeship for this moment. As a teenager, I loved the Bible. Looking back, I think I read it all the time. I loved the feeling of listening to the very words of God as they rose up to meet me from the pages of my Good News Translation. When there was no reason to read my Bible, I read it anyway. How about you? Rediscovering the simple pleasure of Bible study as an adult is a strange, frustrating, wonderful, confusing, and ultimately immensely satisfying preoccupation. "Adult-onset" Bible readers are made, not born. Bible study, like life, is alternately easy and hard, good and bad, exciting and boring. Sometimes it's made up of long periods of dreadful sameness interrupted by moments of pure exhilaration. These moments are available to us every time we open our Bibles. In the end, being a Bible student is no more complicated than that. To be a Bible student, you simply have to study your Bible. What you will read in my book is just about everything I know about Bible study and just about everything I know about myself. It's every discovery I've made, everything I've learned, including the mistakes. There are no secrets. It's just you and God's word. But millions of Christians have gone before us. We can do this!

Tomorrow I get to write about the text of the New Testament. About why there are 2,000 significant variant readings in the New Testament. About the different approaches to resolving a textual problem. And about why this is relevant and important. If you feel a "but" rising up, believe me, I know what you're thinking. But I hope you'll consider my arguments. This stuff matters.

2:04 PM Yes, I stopped and got a cheeseburger at Dairy Dell today as a takeout. With extra onions, tomatoes, and lettuce. Oh my, was it ever good. It was awesome and SO appropriate for someone who just ran 5K in frigid temps.

How many calories was the burger? I don't know and I don't care. My philosophy is: Eat when you get hungry. See how simple? Step number 2 is: Think about what you'd really like to eat in that moment. What would truly satisfy you. It could be a bowl of soup or a grilled cheese sandwich or a cheeseburger. Tonight I will cook Indian food because that's what I'm in the mood for. And throughout the day I'll drink lots of water. I don't think my diet is too bad. I eat quality (except for when I don't). Listen to your body; this is the best way to know what it needs nutrition-wise. Trust your body to be honest with you. Yes, it might crave something sweet and fatty from time to time, but eventually it will want something healthy.

On the drive home I ran across a couple of Phoenician deities in our neighborhood.

I believe they're called "Baals." You will never see these unless you take the side roads. Since we're on the topic of dumb country jokes ....

  • What do you call a sleeping bull? Bulldozer.

  • What did the mama cow say to the baby cow? It's pasture your bedtime.

  • Why do cows have hooves instead of feet? Because they lactose.

  • What do you call a cow with no calf? Decaffeinated.

  • Why did the pig dump her boyfriend? Because he was real boar.

Okay, back to writing.

8:55 AM Yes, writing makes you hungry.

Friday, December 18

7:22 PM Okay, so I've been writing for 5 hours now. I'm tired. It's not that I don't know what I want to say. It's trying to put it in language everyone can understand. My goals are to (1) use everyday English wherever possible, (2) keep my sentence length down to an average of 15 words, (3) imagine I am talking (not writing) to my reader, (4) use short words, and (5) be concise. In my universe, the written word is a keystone of learning. Writing in plain language doesn't mean you have to overly simplify the concepts you're presenting. Not at all. It means presenting the concepts in a clear and straightforward way. Sentences should only include necessary information. Long sentences blur their main point. A book should have an easy flow to it. Let's see -- who to emulate in this regard? Archibald Hunter. Tom Wright. Eugene Peterson. Helen McInnis. George Eliot. George Orwell. Mark Twain. Twain's style is always conversational. He's the smart guy who's always making fun of himself. "Never use 'very.'" "When in doubt, strike the adjective out." And on and on it goes. There's a good reason Twain's been called "the father of American literature." I mean, did you ever read his "Letters from Hawaii," which he wrote when he was a complete unknown?

He called my home state "the loveliest stream of islands that lies anchored in any ocean." Yes, that is an actual sentence. Twain lived in Hawaii for 6 months. I lived their for 19 years. But I think both of us could say "in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago." Of my beloved Diamond Head he wrote, "How strong the rugged outlines of the dead volcano stand out against the clear sky!" Of Maui he wrote, "I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five." Watching the sunrise atop Haleakala (house of the sun) he explained, "It was the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed."

Who writes prose like that today? Not me. But if Twain could succeed as a newspaperman, I can work my tail off to do the same as a teacher. Come on, scholars, let's get with the program. Simple language decreases a student's cognitive load. It improves information retention. And yet we persist in jargon and gobbledygook. Oh well.

I'm done writing for the night. Time to read what someone else has labored over. Before I go, let me see if I can find a paragraph I wrote today to share with you. Okay, here's one. Good night!

I agree with those who say that the best term to use to define a Gospel is "theological biography." Virtually everything in the Gospels was included for a theological reason. This does not make the Gospels any less historical or biographical. But no Gospel was written merely to present historical facts. The facts are certainly there, but they are always interpreted in such a way as to bring out the significance of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Always remember that none of the Gospels is complete in and of itself. Each presents the Lord's life in a slightly different light. So to know Christ's entire life we have to study all four of these accounts. The good news is that everything of importance that God wants us to know about the life of our Lord is found in these four books.

12:20 PM Big news, outdoor peeps! I finally got back on my mountain bike after about an 8 month hiatus.

I had been doing all my cycling on my fancy and super light-weight road bike but decided to finally get the mountain rider overhauled and up and running again. I tell you, it was so different riding this clunker of a bike -- so heavy and so hard to pedal when you're used to flying along. Other than that, today I finally got around to working on chapter 4 of my book and I just finished the section on genre. But I am antsy for another big outdoorsy thing. I think I might try to run 20 miles this weekend. The trails have never looked more beautiful, cold but touched with the slanting sunlight you get in the northern hemisphere.

Okay. Just cooked me some Chinese stir fry. Time to scarf it down and then get back to writing. Them juices is flowin'.

8:12 AM "Here begins the wonderful news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God."

This one sentence alone from The Living Bible fully justifies the value of this version of the Bible. Talk about nailing it.

Also, here's a shout out to Rod Decker, whose handbook is a must read for anybody studying Mark.

Rod notes both the external and internal evidence in favor of the reading "the Son of God" in Mark 1:1 and puts to rest, once and forever, the notion that these words should be printed within brackets in our Greek New Testaments. Way to go Rod!

Now, in my Greek New Testament, Mark 1:1-8 is titled "The Preaching of John the Baptist." Good, but bland. The question here is, what is the discourse function of this paragraph in the book? Well, in my humble opinion, Mark is setting up a deliberate contrast between the Messiah and his messenger. As I said on this blog a couple of days ago, Jesus isn't just another prophet in a long line of prophets. He is the fulfillment of all prophecy, the very first word out of his mouth being "Fulfilled!" Think of the ministry of John the Baptizer and that of Jesus as being the landing on a stairway.

John's ministry and that of Jesus overlap for a period of time. But whereas John brings to a close the Old Testament prophecies, Jesus' ministry inaugurates the ministry of the New Testament. So how can we improve upon the section title here? Here are some options:

  • ISV: "John the Baptist Prepares the Way for Jesus"

  • CSB: "The Messiah's Herald"

  • La Bible du Semeur: "Préparation du ministère de Jésus"

  • O Livro: "João Baptista prepara o caminho"

  • Neuer Genfer Übersetzung: "Johannes der Täufer -- Jesu Wegbereiter"

The idea is: PREPARATION (John) ... FULFILLMENT (Jesus)! I'd say this. Question everything about your translations, even their paragraph titles. Some are helpful, others not so much.

Well, are you ready for some in-depth Bible study in the New Year? Ask the Lord to journey with you as you begin the ultimate road trip. Offer him now your commitment to start moving forward as never before. This begins with you.

Thursday, December 17

5:08 PM Saw this gourd on my run today and thought immediately of Jonah. 

The prophet is throwing a pity party, all because of his prejudice. To Jonah, judgment withdrawn seemed very wrong and so he became angry. Nineveh deserved destruction, not salvation. The equivalent today might be ISIS. And they get off scot free? God's a softy. Weak. Too gracious. Note to self: Everyone and everything in the book of Jonah is quick to obey God -- the storm, the sailors, the great fish, the Ninevites, the gourd, the worm -- except for the man of God. Jonah is more concerned about a plant than about people. The lesson God drove home to me on my run?

Watch out, Dave. You can be an international missionary and still not be a global Christian. You can do good but not know the heartbeat of God, who says, "You're angry and concerned for one plant, Jonah. Shouldn't I be concerned about 120,000 souls?"

God's heartbeat challenged my prejudices today. The God of the Old Testament is a global redeemer. The God of the New Testament is the same. God so loved the world -- not just Israel, but the foreigner, the wicked. How far I go is not the litmus test of a global Christian. Do I love as God loves?

If your local church has 150 in attendance, then your local church sends out 150 missionaries every Sunday. The only question is, do we go with God's heartbeat?

2:15 PM Just back from running errands and a 5 mile run at the trail. I took the back roads today.

Time to slow down, Dave, and smell the sweet gums. As I enter the final two weeks of 2020, it's my opportunity to reflect back on the year -- to celebrate the victories, embrace the failures, appreciate the new friends I've made, and remember my growth as a person, a Christian, a runner, a dad, a teacher. I hope young men will read this blog because it might help them better understand the passages they will experience when they get into their fifties and sixties. If you know these passages are coming you might be less resistant to change and more open to the benefits that aging can bring. My life has moved from competing to connecting. I no longer try to define myself by being the breadwinner or decision maker or through my physical attributes and strength. I'm more interested in real relationships, in nurturing friendships, in spiritual growth and godly attributes. I want and need friends to hold me accountable and to encourage me to live the life of the Spirit, to model servanthood, and to stay active in God's service. I have begun to pray Scripture, like Psalm 33. I often engage in sentence prayers -- one or two sentences at a time. I delve deeply and regularly into the Bible, both what it meant then and what it means today. It's a narrow road we travel, but the Bible is a safe guide. According to Heb. 12:1-2, Jesus makes the journey possible. He designed the race course and sets the example of how we can finish it. It's like today's run. Nowadays I can easily run 5 or 10 or even 15 miles without stopping. You simply find your rhythm, hit your groove, and everything else falls into place. So it is with the Christian life. It is found while moving. You get to know yourself, who you are, who God made you to be. I teach people how to fall in love with God and his word. This is my little niche in life. It's who I am.

My friend, God's a smart one. He's got a plan just for you too. Don't think he's forgotten about you. The Holy Spirit has blessed you with something unique. Something invaluable. Don't rest until you find it. Than be prepared to let it go. At some point, God will ask for it back. In the meantime, we are merely servants, plain and simple.

9:14 AM Excellent essay here by Jacob Cerone on Jonah 1:4c and its literary artistry. In Jacob's words, "Careful attention to the details pays rich dividends." Agreed! By the way, in our LXX class, one of our two required textbooks is Jacob's Into the Deep.

It's basically a comparison between the Hebrew and Greek texts of Jonah. Jacob also delves into discourse analysis in a big way. Kudos, Jacob!

8:54 AM Care to give it a try?

8:34 AM Just finished writing the schedule for our LXX class.

  • Jan. 26: Introduction to course (Greek)

  • Feb. 2: Introduction to course (Hebrew)

  • Feb. 9: Jonah 1:1-3

  • Feb. 16: Jonah 1:4-11

  • Feb. 23: Jonah 1:12-17

  • Mar. 1-5: Spring Break (Exam over Jobes and Silva)

  • Mar. 9: Jonah 2:1-4

  • Mar. 16: Jonah 2:5-10

  • Mar. 23: Jonah 3:1-4

  • Mar. 30 - Apr. 3: Easter Break (Vocabulary Exam)

  • Apr. 6: Jonah 3:5-10

  • Apr. 13: Jonah 4:1-3

  • Apr. 20: Jonah 4:4-11

  • Apr. 27: Sight Reading of Selected Texts in the LXX

  • May 4: Sight Reading of Selected Texts in the LXX

  • May 11: Final Exam over Jonah

Even if you're not taking the class for credit, you might consider auditing it. It will be great fun. My co-teacher is Chip Hardy (Ph.D. University of Chicago).

By the way, you'll love this YouTube!

 

7:20 AM As I implied yesterday, I am so ready for another road trip. Of the mission trip kind. In 2020 I had to cancel trips to Asia (to teach), Hawaii (to start a Greek class), and Princeton University (for a lecture). Wanderlust might be my middle name. Was this not so in the first century as well? Harnack (The Mission and Expansion of Christianity, p. 13) speaks of "the ubiquitous merchant and soldier -- one may add, the ubiquitous professor." Travel was commonplace. And why not? The Romans had built 52,000 miles of roads whose safety was practically guaranteed (though, yes, there were still robbers and bandits). The situation is the same today. Becky's parents took 6 weeks to travel to Ethiopia by freighter. I can fly from Dulles to Addis or from Detroit to Beijing in a matter of hours. Never before has travel been safer or easier -- until Covid hit. Cultural exchange goes on even when it's unnoticed. Here I am lecturing to a group of students in the Linguistics Department at the University of Yerevan in Armenia. My topic was the morpho-syntax of Greek as applied to John 1:1. My audience were all not-yet Christians.

Then there's the revolution in mass communication. A year or so ago someone asked me why I hadn't been writing as much as I had in the past. He meant books and journal articles. I'm actually writing more than ever. It's just that the delivery vehicle has changed. I can write a book and maybe 3,000 people will read it in a year. I can publish a blog post and that number will read it in a day.

Jesus put no restrictions on the Great Commission. "Having gone on your way therefore, teach all the nations, making them your pupils" (Matt. 28:19a, Wuest). The Good News is to be carried to every nation (there are currently 195 of them) and class of people. A church with a New Testament dynamic is one that is going places. The New Testament writings clearly show that the early church saw itself as a charismatic (lower case "C") community and not an organization or institution. Within this community, the Holy Spirit produced the varied, multi-colored charismata. Each Christian saw him or herself as a change agent of God's plan for a new humanity. As such, the church is cross-culturally valid and can be implanted and grown in any human culture. This is because the church is an organism that transcends any particular cultural form. The Antiochian pattern of Acts 13:1-4 is one that will continue to be repeated until Christ returns. By "pattern" I mean that the church itself is a missionary structure. Where the church is, there are missionaries. And where missionaries are, there the church is. We can never go to another culture and leave the church behind. What we can (and must) leave behind are the parachurch forms that are peculiar to our own culture. The American standards we wrap ourselves in are stripped away.

Go on and try it. Transform your Jerusalem. Then tackle the ends of the earth. Once Covid is over, I ask myself, "Will I become a full-circle believer again?" Even now I am asking God for opportunities to serve him abroad once this scourge is behind us. I am spending time praying about my own journey of discipleship. I am asking boldly for the power of the Holy Spirit to enrich my gifts for use and empower me to carry on Jesus' mission. Our King has made it possible.

My friend, ask God today to prepare you for a paradigm shift in your life in 2021. This journey requires sacrifice. Ask God to make you willing to accept that. The American Way of Life is perishable. God's kingdom is forever.

Wednesday, December 16

9:25 PM I'm not really sure how to translate the title of this book I'm reading tonight.

"Migratory Birds Turn Back"? No, that's too scientific. How about, "Wanderers Return Home." That's better. You see, the book's about a Swiss family with 10 kids, 6 of whom were adopted in Ethiopia, where the family lives until they return to Switzerland years later. My favorite chapters thus far are:

  • Abschied tut weh

  • Hass und Liebe

  • Wo ist meine Hiemat?

  • Im Land der Kaffeebohne

  • Gott führt weiter

  • Schadenfreude

  • Im Heimathafen

  • Zu Hause

Ah, "Zu Hause." I wonder if I'll ever feel "at home." I'm a fellow wanderer, pure and simple. I could probably live anywhere, including Ethiopia (17 trips there, mind you).

Wasn't it just yesterday that Becky and I were living off of injera and wat? Or maybe not. Maybe it was indeed years ago.

The times, they are a-changin', and you just have to get used to that. I will never forget Ethiopia. There's more beauty there than you can ever imagine. It's impossible not to feel the weight of history as you visit the ruins of Gondar or the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. Harsh battles were waged over these places. But what I try to understand is this: God is in the moves of our lives. All of them. The places themselves are indifferent. Hawaii never knew I left her for California. La Mirada never realized I had gone to North Carolina. The mountains I climb don't care about me. The rivers are indifferent. People come and they go. So anyway, I like this story about a bunch of wanderers from the Swiss countryside who end up back there after sojourning in Africa. There's something about being "home" that you just can't get anywhere else. It's both a feeling and a truth.

Can world travel change your life? I think so. But still, there's no place like "zu Hause" -- home.

4:16 PM Thank you, Mr. FedEx man. 

10:28 AM FYI: The course objectives for my Zoom Greek 4 course in Israel starting in February.

As you can see, we're going through Philippians along with my books on exegesis, linguistics, and textual criticism. Today I'm working on the course schedule. What an honor and joy to be teaching this class.

8:22 AM Doing another deep dive in Mark 1 this morning, ladies and gentlemen. I simply can't enough of God's word.

Today my question is: What does the use of the present tense in the imperatives of verse 15 indicate?

Very helpful here is a book you may not be aware of but it's one of the best Greek grammars out there.

Thankfully Goetchius was around when I was in college and seminary. I loved his linguistic approach. I heartily recommend reading it. The bottom line is that verbal aspect is vitally important, but it is more nuanced than we often make it out to be.

Right now it's icing outside so it will be an indoorsy kind of day for sure. Hope to knock out chapter 5 today, if I can stay focused. I just need to look at winter differently, not as though it's stealing summer from me. There's more time to sit beside the fireplace and read, to bake muffins, to write. Summer (and the beach) will always be my first love, but winter -- I'm giving it another chance.

Tuesday, December 15

6:58 PM And the winner in our book giveaway is ....

Shannon in Indianapolis!

Thanks to all who entered our drawing. If you didn't win this time, don't worry. We'll have another giveaway soon.

6:10 PM Today, though it was cold, the sun just wouldn't go away. It rolled lazily across the sky, whispering, "Come out and play." Below me, the earth took on the form of crushed gravel as I ran.

My goal was 12 miles.

No, my goal was to use my run as an excuse. An excuse to pray for my friend whose lungs are going through the ringer in an ICU in Pennsylvania. I figured if he can push his lungs to their max, I can push mine too on his behalf. Call it a prayer run if you like, but that's what I did for 3 hours -- I prayed for my friend to be healed, for his lungs to start working on their own perfectly again. Afterwards I was greeted in Farmville by a reminder of Christmas.

It's a reminder that "God is with us" in the person of the Comforter, the Power for all things, the One who inspired the words of Col. 3:2-3: "Let heaven fill your thoughts; don't spend your time worrying about things down here. You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God." This old world is passing away. So are we. The only things that matter are things that pertain to his kingdom. It's God working within us that makes the difference. And so I asked the Father to work in and through my friend, in sickness or (my preference!) in health, but to do far more for him than he would ever dare to ask or dream of, infinitely beyond his highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. Do this, Lord, because his heart is to serve you and your kingdom work in the world. As the sun shone down on me today, may the Son shine on him in his hospital bed. Because right now, all I can do is pray. And run.

8:54 AM Know what? I have a hankering to do some mountain climbing again. I wish I knew why the mountains call to me more than most people I know. Why I will drive 5 or 6 hours for a 2 hour climb. Why a day off feels wasted unless I'm active. Why it feels like the clock is ticking down the time so rapidly. I know there are people out there who are just the same way because I've met them on blogs. What fills you up is just getting out in the wilderness. The mountains are too far away for a casual outing so I have to plan ahead. And the cold weather is starting. We're expecting snow in much of Virginia tomorrow, possibly even where I live. It's been a very wet winter so far. However, I feel blessed that I am well enough to exercise. There are so many people I know who are desperately in need of a jog or a walk. Maybe it's because I was raised in a fit community (Hawaii is an outdoorsy place), but it's shocking to see what the average American looks like today. I just wish people knew how good it feels to be active. My time off from work is so precious to me, and I spend so many hours in front of a computer screen, that I simply can't stay indoors for very long. I would hate to start living otherwise. I've been through enough (and so have you) to never adopt a Pollyanna view of life. We all face our own unique struggles. But one thing we have in common is the need for balance in our lives. Years ago, when I was a different person, I thought the only thing that mattered was teaching and writing. Then I rediscovered creation. It's a place to get down to essential thoughts, spend some time alone with God, wrestle with your demons, sing loudly and badly, and eat whatever you like. Friend, don't let your work get in the way of this. Soon my "free time" will be a thing of the past -- J-term Greek, then seven classes this coming semester. Until then, I'm eager to spend time with my wonderful Creator in his wonderful creation. How much is enough? I really don't know the answer. As I trail race, I watch the young people and hope they will still be active when they get to be my age, countless, impossible decades from now. And that's just how I feel about this winter, guys. Someone asked me recently, "You sure do travel a lot. Where all have you been?" I thought for a moment. Then it came to me: "Everywhere." Everywhere that matters. I hope you get there too, my friend. 

8:02 AM Don't forget about our book giveaway (see yesterday's blog). I'll do the drawing tonight at 6:00 pm. Thanks to all who've already put their name in the hat. And yet there is room!

7:40 AM My Bible reading this morning was in Haggai and Zechariah. Is the Messiah there? How about Haggai's "The Desire of All Nations shall come" (2:7)? Or Zechariah's "my servant the Branch" (3:8), "the Foundation Stone" (3:9), "King and Priest" (6:13), "The Righteous One, the Victor ... riding on a donkey's colt" (9:7), or "my Shepherd" (13:7)? If you will read the Minor Prophets I believe you will receive one of the greatest blessings of your life. May we all search to be as sensitive to Christ in the Old Testament as we are when we come to the New. Beloved, isn't it wonderful to know that God knows all about us, but in spite of it all was willing to send the Desire of the Nations to forgive us and wash as white as snow! Praise God that he makes these simple little truths so easy to find that even a little child can find them because of their simple trust. In both Haggai and Zechariah the ruling King at the time was Darius, whom God has raised up "for such a time as this." I have stood before the tomb of Darius in Persia.

I have also stood before the empty tomb of King Jesus in Jerusalem -- our risen, ruling, returning Lord of Glory. O, come let us adore him! How could we help but worship  and adore him when he loved us and gave himself for us? Praise you, Jesus. We thank you for these wonderful promises scattered throughout your word. Lord, sometimes I think your promises are more than I can stand!

Monday, December 14

5:32 PM Beautiful evening for feeding the animals. But wet!

Earlier I had the joy of guest teaching a Greek class in Israel for an hour and a half via Zoom. Our subject? The importance and significance of verbal aspect and Aktionsart.

The rest of the day I spent editing the four chapters I've already written in my book. Here are the rules I'm following:

1) Keep your sentences short. The idea is to make three or four sentences out of my long 19th century interminable coal carrying trains that go nowhere fast and keep everyone bored to death because of their complex semotaxis.

2) Make sure every opening paragraph is no longer than 3-4 sentences.

Oops.

3) Ruthlessly prune adverbs and adjectives (except for the adverb "ruthlessly," of course).

4) Use positive rather than negative language. Don't say "not bad" when you mean "good."

5) Don't forget to break every one of these rules when you must. Saying "The movie was not bad" has a subtly different meaning than "The movie was good." To take a New Testament example, in Rom. 12:9, I prefer the negative "without hypocrisy" to "sincere."

6) Think about how you'll blog about the joy and pain of writing later. 

I usually go through 4-5 drafts of a chapter before I'm happy with it. Writers know the best writing begins to appear about the fourth time around. Always keep your imagined reader before you.

Okay. 'Nuff of that.

Really antsy to get outdoors for a run tomorrow. Remember how as a kid you loved running? Just because you're over 30 and so mature doesn't mean you have to stop having fun.

Later!

5:55 AM On deck this week:

1. Zoom Greek class in Israel.

2. Calculate final grades for the semester.

3. Complete chapter 5 ("Getting the Big Picture") of my book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! The sections in this chapter are:

  • Historical Background -- Essential!

  • Literary Context -- Indispensable!

  • Don't Forget the Genre!

4. Begin working on my 2020 taxes.

5. Continue my fresh translation of According to Mark.

6. Begin writing down my goals for 2021. By the way, do you know what the number 1 goal is for most people when they make New Year's Resolutions? Lose weight. Runners-up include:

  • Exercise regularly.

  • Write a book.

  • Fall in love.

  • Be happy.

  • Get married.

  • Travel the world.

  • Learn a foreign language.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Learn to cook.

  • Read more.

  • Graduate from college.

Here are a few of mine:

  • Grow my hair long and bungee jump with it.

  • Get a misspelled tattoo in Greek.

  • Win the Boston Marathon.

  • Sleep during faculty meetings.

  • Remember to write 2021 instead of 2020.

  • Win at least one election.

  • Find my abs.

  • Stop making lists.

Oh, how ya doing with your holiday shopping? Well, today, in the spirit of the season, I'm hosting a book giveaway. Make it a stocking stuffer if you like. The giveaway starts today and ends tomorrow night at 6:00. I'm giving away a copy of my latest book, Linguistics and New Testament Greek.

All you have to do is tell me why you want a copy (you enjoy being bored, you need a new bookend for your shelf, your spouse is a nerd, etc.). I will do the drawing tomorrow night. You can write me at dblack@sebts.edu. Be sure to include your snail mail address in your email.

On a more serious note, I have a very good friend in ICU with Covid-related pneumonia. The The doctors say that the next two days will be critical for him. I'd appreciate it if you'd whisper a prayer on his behalf when you read this. So many sad stories in 2020. How I long for Christ the King to come again in glory. Meanwhile, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13).

Sunday, December 13

6:42 PM My Ph.D. student Noah Kelley received his diploma today at his home church in Wake Forest. His wife Lois was so kind to send me this picture. Congratulations to both of you!

1:38 PM 7.89 miles today. Easy-paced walk. It was a gorgeous morning.

Listened to two wonderful sermons and one wonderful Christmas musical program. Can anything top the songs of the season? Remember: Be present in this life. Soak up every minute of time spent with people you love. You don't know what's around the corner. The time is now.

Melikalikimaka y'all!

6:45 AM This morning I decided to make Rom. 12:9-21 my theme passage for the New Year. The theme here is, if I can make up a word, "Jesus-ness." Jesus' love was never hypocritical. He sincerely hated what is evil. He not only held on to what is good but went everywhere doing it. He loved others warmly as brothers and sisters do. He worked hard and was never lazy (though he did take time for rest -- plus, just walking between villages must have been restorative). He served the Lord with a heart full of devotion. He let hope keep him joyful, was patient in all his troubles, prayed at all times. He shared what he had with those in need. He couldn't open his home to others because he didn't have an earthly home, but he shared Heaven with all of us. He asked God to bless his enemies, not curse them. He was happy with those who were happy and he wept with those who wept. He was never proud but accepted humble duties. When others wronged him, he never repaid evil with evil. He did everything in his power to live at peace with all. He never took revenge but let God's anger take care of it. He did not let evil defeat him; instead, he conquered evil with good. He taught us that we are to leave all vengeance with God, for that is his prerogative, not ours. Our responsibility it to seek peace, wash the feet of our enemies, and overcome evil with good.

The theme of Romans 12-16 is living in light of the gospel. It's one thing to believe the gospel. It's another thing to live it. Paul the intellectual (Romans 1-11) now becomes Paul the pastor (Romans 12-16). The Christian life does not end at the beginning. Every day after we decide to follow Jesus we must commit our lives to him anew. Without doubt, love is the greatest characteristic of Rom. 12:9-21. Then follow:

  • Sincerity

  • Discernment

  • Affection

  • Honor

  • Enthusiasm

  • Patience

  • Generosity

  • Hospitality

  • Good will

  • Sympathy

  • Harmony

  • Humility

  • Non-retaliation

It's a pretty comprehensive picture of what genuine Christian love is. I think we'd all be a lot happier if we loved one another like this.

Thank you, Jesus. It's like I was kidnapped and put on the wrong road, the road to hell, then you came and paid the ransom just to put me on the road to heaven. Hallelujah! Thank you, Father, for looking to and fro and seeing me and, in spite of seeing what I was, personally inviting me to be your child. I love you! Thank you, Spirit, for giving my power to live the Christian life and to be a witness for Christ. And thank you, God, for what you're doing in the life of every person who reads this blog. When we give you our first love, you give back far more than we could ever give you.

Saturday, December 12

5:52 PM Great day at the 2020 Lake Anna 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon. As you know, I opted to do the 10K because I was coming off a half last weekend. Question for ya. Did you know that the human body produces 2 million red blood cells every second? That's right, every second. Or that we humans have 30 trillion red blood cells in our bodies at any given time? Or that 84 percent of the cells in our body are red blood cells? Or that athletes generally have an increased total mass of red blood cells? As you know, red blood cells transport the oxygen in our bodies. When you exercise, the growth of new blood vessels improves blood flow, enhances oxygen and nutrient deliveries, and impacts the metabolic system's ability to "take out the garbage" or process waste products in your body. I imagined all these processes happening as I ran those 6.2 miles today. After all, I have been training long miles at a low heart rate in order to build my aerobic capacity. Would it pay off today? Here's what I'm discovering. I'm consistently racing faster with less effort. I normally train at about 4 miles per hour (that's a 15 minute pace). At today's event I averaged 5.4 miles per hour (that's about an 11 minute pace) on a really hilly and root-strewn course.  Not only that, but when I finished the race I felt like I could run it all over again. That is highly satisfying. The moral of the story is: Don't think you're wasting your time going out slow on your training runs. You've heard it a million times before. Running too hard and too fast is stressful. Stress takes a huge toll on the body and can result in a myriad of symptoms like chest pain and headaches. So if your activities are causing burnout, you're likely doing too much too soon.

At any rate, I was ready to rumble when I left the house at 6:30 for a three hour drive to parts north. It was great running weather and the venue was gorgeous.

The race was extremely well organized and the trails well marked at every turn.

Thankfully it wasn't cold, as in COLD cold. I get grumpy and ornery when I'm cold. I had never run this trail before so I had no idea what to expect, but there's a first time for everything. There were, as expected, roots galore.

I guess what I loved most about the race was the sheer act of running and watching your body perform at its highest level. I kept saying to myself over and over again, "Lord, thank you so much for letting me do this. I love it. I can't believe I get to do this."

I keep my mask on when running on a single track since you're likely to encounter other runners passing in either direction.

I started out at the back of the pack, going out slowly (my MO at every race).

But then I ended up picking off runners in miles 5 and 6 who had likely gone out a bit too fast. Here's the third or fourth runner I passed.

I finished in a respectable time for an aging behemoth, and I managed to keep my heart rate within a reasonable zone.

There weren't really any moments when I didn't feel super good.

In fact, I found myself speeding up during the second half of the race without even trying. I see that my fastest miles were miles 5 and 6. Maybe I'm learning how to pace myself after all!

Overall, I feel fit and strong, thank you Jesus. Those months of not running last summer are behind me and seem like just a blip on the radar screen. I don't say this to brag but to give you hope. The body has a remarkable God-given ability to heal itself given enough time. No matter what you're facing in life right now, you will heal. You will feel strong again. It won't happen overnight and it will be frustrating as all get out, but it will happen. Oh, it may not happen exactly like you want it to happen, but be kind to yourself and patient and watch God work. Trust me on this one.

So there you have it. Another fun day out on the course. Meanwhile, time to rest. If you are at all considering doing a trail run (even a 5K), do it. The energy, the views, the people -- it was all a dream today. Sometimes you need days like this just to remind you why you love the sport.

5:56 AM Got very little sleep last light. Typical before a race. Why would anybody drive 3 hours there and back for a silly run? Sometimes I believe my family thinks I'm crazy. Even Sheba is looking at me funny this morning. Hmm, see if she gets a tummy rub tonight. Yet even though they look at me sideways sometimes, I know one thing. They love me. They love me enough to worry about me. To care. To wish me luck. To respond with an emoji when I send them "yet another" post-race picture. This is what matters in life. Having people in your life that care about you and that you care about. I make sure that I tell my designated "child" where I'm going and what I'm doing. I usually text everyone when I'm done. In the meantime, I try not to worry about them. I'm reminded of the words of Winston Churchill: "When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of an old man who said that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened." 

Have fun today whether or not you're racing. And remember to whisper a "thank you" to the Lord for giving you people who care.

Friday, December 11

8:02 PM As we come to the end of another day, we're also coming to the end of another semester, my penultimate as a fulltime professor. Tonight I'm taking the opportunity to reflect on this day, and the prevailing thought and feeling that I'm going through is just one of gratitude. I think of all the people that helped me get to this point, from my awesome teachers in college and seminary, to my wife of 37 years, to my kids and grandkids, to my professors in Basel, to other people I met along the way at Biola and Basel and Wake Forest. It makes me overcome with emotion and thankfulness. You know, it wasn't the ideal career finish that I was looking for, but in many other ways my career has far exceeded my expectations and helped to crystallize the important things in life. It's not some arbitrary publishing goal or a plaque on a wall somewhere. It's the human relationships and the good in people. That's what I'm focused on tonight, and that has made my fall 2020 semester one I'll never forget. Crossing home plate today, feeling as joyful and satisfied as I do now, is an emotion I wish I could bottle up and experience over and over again. In a very imperfect year, fall 2020 was just the perfect finish. This was an amazing semester, and many of you were a big part of that. As with my running, in life I'm just a back-of-the-pack competitor struggling to overcome adversity time and again, inspired by watching others pushing though and never giving up. To all of you who inspire me, keep staying positive and living in the moment. I know I will remember your determination and grit when I need to dig deep.

Thanks for allowing me to share my journey, on bright and cloudy days, with all of you.

4:04 PM Tomorrow's race supports one of my favorite charities. The Semper Fi Fund provides urgently needed resources and support for combat wounded, critically ill, and catastrophically injured Armed Forces members. It was organized by a group of dedicated military spouses at Camp Pendleton in 2003 as a way to welcome home the first wave of wounded service members returning from Iraq.

This year their goal is to raise $10 million by December 31. So far they've raised a whopping $6 million. Tomorrow I'll be doing what I can to help them reach their goal. A wonderful race for a wonderful cause. Care to join us? If you live near Richmond/Fredericksburg, Lake Anna is close by. Here's the race link.

7:42 AM Super stoked about tomorrow's trail run, so der Herr will!

Weather promises to be perfect. Today it's back to grading and working on farm projects. Never seem to get caught up! 

6:58 AM Doing another deep dive in According to Mark this morning. Chapter 1. So rich. Do you know what the very first words of Jesus were after he began his public ministry? It's found right here in Mark 1:15.

The Good News Translation says, "The right time has come!" The ESV reads, "The time is fulfilled." Literally, Mark writes, "Fulfilled is the time."  Imagine that! The very first word out of the mouth of the Messiah is "fulfilled" (peplērōtai). Then Jesus adds, "The kingdom of God has come near!" This is what Mark calls the "gospel" in verse 14 -- the "Good News from God." So these words of Jesus are of the greatest possible importance. That's why we will camp out on them on the first day of my Greek 4 class in the spring semester. The whole Gospel of Mark can be summarized in two actions of Jesus: He announces the kingdom of God, and then he summons people to enter it. Announcement and summons. "The kingdom of God is among you," he said later. "What will you do with him?" The time long promised and foretold by the prophets in the Old Testament had at long last arrived. Jesus personally and publicly ushers in the kingdom of God. He wasn't just another prophet in a long line of prophets. No, he was the fulfillment of all prophecy. "Fulfilled" is his very first word! The prophets lived in the age of anticipation. "But you," said Jesus, "are living in the age of fulfillment."

The kingdom, not the church, is the central theme in the teaching of Jesus. No, not a territorial kingdom like the United Kingdom or the Kingdom of Nepal.

The kingdom of God can't be located on a map of the world. It is not a territorial concept but a spiritual concept. The kingdom of God is the rule of God through Christ the King in the hearts and lives of his followers. This kingdom brings with it total blessing and shalom -- and total demand. We must repent and believe the Good News. We must submit to Christ's rule and accept his values and the lifestyle of the kingdom (aka, the Christian counter-culture). This is what I have called the "Jesus Paradigm" elsewhere in my book by that title. His kingdom is spread not by soldiers but by witnesses (Acts 1:8) who go into all the world (Mark 16:15) and make disciples from among every nation on earth (Matt. 28:19-20). Our part is to repent (i.e., to change our minds about the Good News, to change our allegiance, to change the entire direction of our lives) and then believe that the kingdom has come with Jesus, that it has been inaugurated even though it has yet been consummated. To receive the kingdom is to receive Christ and submit to him as King.

This means that all work, not just church work, has the potential to be kingdom work. God sees all of us as equally important and necessary to his kingdom building. Arthur Holmes of Wheaton College, in his book All Truth Is God's Truth, writes, "If the sacred-secular distinction fades and we grant that all truth is ultimately God's truth, then intellectual work can be God's work as much as preaching the gospel, feeding the hungry, or healing the sick. It too is a sacred task" (p. 27).

Part of my own journey has been to discover that all that I do, whether farming or teaching or evangelizing a tribe in Ethiopia or washing the dishes can be kingdom work because I do it in obedience to what the King is asking me to do. (Brother Lawrence's calling was washing dishes and cooking meals.) I'll confess to you that I'm often too quick to dismiss feeding the donkeys as "kingdom" work. It's easier to say, "That's what I do at the seminary, not at Rosewood Farm." I think it's high time I started to lean into the kingdom of God a little more.

Few things will reorient your life like becoming a kingdom Christian, recognizing Jesus' kingship in all aspects of what you do. The kingdom of God is nothing other than the disciples of Jesus in the world as they embody his values and goals in every area of their lives. This is possible because the Christian life is life in the Spirit. Without Christ's Spirit it would be both inconceivable and impossible.

Our Jesus once walked among us in his flesh with power and great authority as King. May he do so again in our own day.

P.S. Here's the Hebrew of Mark 1:14-15 if you'd like to compare it with the Greek. We'll spend a lot of time in the Hebrew in our Greek 4 class.

Thursday, December 10

5:22 PM Hey friends. Spent the day on campus grading Greek exams. Then I did 3 miles at the track here in town. Now I'm cooking Chinese stir fry for supper since I am one hungry boy. While at the track this afternoon I listened to one of Chuck Swindoll's best messages ever. It was on Abraham's offering of Isaac -- how he needed to yield, to let go, even of his most precious possession.

Chuck gave 4 applications of the text to our modern-day lives. He mentioned the need to surrender our (1) possessions, (2) dreams and goals, (3) relationships, and yes -- ouch! -- (4) our vocation, our career, our occupation, our calling. "Sometimes it was a career that was very fulfilling, that was unique. You were in demand. Now life passes you by. It's hard to go on without that career to claim." Then he said this:

What are you clinging to? If the clinging is so tight that it's taken the place of your clinging to the Lord to supply your needs, it's too tight.

Let it go.

Let him or her go.

Finally, he concluded:

What you cling to is usually what God asks you to release.

What you release, God often replaces with something or someone even more valuable.

I tell you, that was the Lord speaking directly into my life. Directly. I am the one who doesn't easily yield to the will of God. By golly, I am a teacher. That's my life. That's my career. I've got thick tread left on these teaching tires of mine. Me retire? Are you kidding? But the Lord said through Chuck, "Give it up, Dave." That's plain enough, isn't it? "Dave, the battle is won. You can put your sword back where it belongs. Trust me. I am good. I will always do what is best for you. I am all-knowing. I know what's going on even if you don't. I am almighty. Nothing happens to you that I haven't ordained or permitted."

Dear friend, I pray for you. I pray you find your vocation and calling and the joy God meant for it to be in your life. Oh, may your hands find the work they were meant to do. But remember, one day he will call you into a place of obscurity, but even there you will find God in all the days of your life. I pray that he would open our eyes and ears to see and hear what he is asking up to give up today, remembering that what we release is often the very thing he replaces with something even more valuable.

P.S. You know, when I went to the track today I was planning on watching a YouTube video but it wasn't going to be a message by Chuck Swindoll. When YouTube opened, however, a link was placed before my eyes, and it was this very sermon. How many times does the Lord do that for us -- leads us to the exact message we need that moment, that day, that week? No, that wasn't a coincidence. I finished listening to Chuck's message with my hands open and a prayer in my throat, a fire in my bones, and an insatiable appetite to be transformed even more into the image of this wonderful Savior we call Jesus.

Enjoy your evening,

Dave

7:32 AM Today I was in John 15 in my morning Bible reading. On Tuesday I saw that I needed to be "in Christ" to enjoy stability, harmony, peace, and contentment (Phil. 4). Today Jesus is reminding me to live in him as a branch lives in the vine. He lops off every branch that doesn't produce, and he prunes those branches that bear fruit for even larger crops. How often did Becky do this with our fruit trees! A branch simply can't bear any fruit when severed from the vine. But Jesus says, "Whoever lives in me and I in him shall produce a large crop of fruit. For apart from me you can't do thing."

"In Christ." This doesn't mean "inside Christ." The picture is not of a person living in a house or a car parked in a garage. It's the picture of union with Christ, like a branch in a vine. It's a goal that's unattainable in its entirety and perfection, but that's no excuse for complacency on my part. To know Christ, to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering -- this should keep me occupied until he comes. It is not a pipe dream, a tantalizing will-o-the-wisp fantasy. I can actually know him better every day, I can experience increasingly his power, and I can enter more fully into his sufferings. It is a satisfying pursuit, though I will never reach it perfectly down here.

Fellow grapes, let's beware of any deals with the devil to make our mark in this world by a shortcut. The way is only by the cross and through abiding in Christ. 

Wednesday, December 9

3:04 PM Nice to see Nate and Jess today, plus Nolan, Bradford, Graham, Peyton, and Chesley. Love you all dearly!

Earlier I got in a 6 mile run while training for a 10K (6.1 mile) trail run this Saturday at Lake Anna.

It's soooo peaceful and quiet on this trail.

I love how its course takes you along the Dan River.

What do I while running?

Pray. Think. Listen to sermons. Or to rock music. Today I mostly meditated on the things I read yesterday in Brother Lawrence's book. Right now I'm going to take a power nap and then start on chapter 5 of my book. And tomorrow? Back to campus to finish my grading for the semester.

If you don't trail run you should. No cars, no noise except for the wind through the trees and the occasional bird chirping. I am so spoiled to have so many biking and running trails within a 2-3 hour radius of the farm. I love my simple/complicated life. I love coming home and finding family here. I love rewarding myself after a long run with a good home cooked meal (tonight: sirloin steak with baked potato). I know, I know. Broken record. But I really do love everything about my life right now. It's far from perfect, but it's where I need to be right now.

8:40 AM I loved Becky's expression "Cycle of completion." It was a chance for her to cross something off her to-do list. I love to do that too. Chapter 4? Check! Time to work on chapter 5.

My reward: 

Does anyone else have this problem of having to pig out after writing? I mean, writing makes me hungrier than running does. Busy brains mean hungry bodies I reckon. Yes, that is spam, by the way. I used to think it was bad for you. Then I learned that the U.S. state that consumes the most spam is -- you guessed it -- my home state of Hawaii, and the people of Hawaii have the longest life span in the U.S. So there you have it.  Now if they could only add Hostess Cup Cakes to the list of health foods.

6:50 AM Hey fellow Bible students! Here are three new Power Points we've just uploaded to my Greek Portal. Check 'em out if you're interested.

The first deals with the role and primary function of pastors/elders in the local church. The second is a reminder that the structure of a text is as inspired by God the Holy Spirit as are the words. And the final one is so helpful! You'd never think that even Greek teachers like me are unfamiliar with the actual Greek terms used in grammar. So if you're into Greek, have at it. Make plans right now for a committed life of Bible study and devotion in the New Year. His word is the only reliable blueprint for our lives.

Tuesday, December 8

5:05 PM Right now I'm watching a live surf meet at the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. It's in Portuguese. Thankfully, waves speak a universal language.

4:32 PM Today I've been reading a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Perhaps you've heard of him. He was a French monk who lived in the 17th century. He spent his days performing tedious chores in the kitchen of his monastery. As he cooked meals and scrubbed pots and pans, he began to fix his mind on the holy presence of God. He learned contentment while doing chores.

I think a verse in Philippians could well summarize what Brother Lawrence found to be true in his life. In Phil. 4:5 Paul writes, "The Lord is near." That might well be the key verse of Philippians chapter 4. What is the solution to instability in the church? "Stand firm in the Lord" (4:1). Only he can give the church stability. What is the solution to personal animosity and division? "Be of the same mind in the Lord" (4:2). It is the Lord who reconciles us when we disagree and divide. What is the solution to anxiety and worry? Prayer to the Father who grants to all his peace in union with Christ Jesus (4:6-7). And what is the solution to want and need? The contentment we find in union with the one who strengthens us (4:13). "In Christ" means nothing other than practicing his presence in our lives.

Stability. Harmony. Peace. Contentment. All "in Christ." In times of pressure and instability, we'll find the secret of stability. In times of dissension, the secret of agreement and reconciliation. In times of anxiety, the peace of God. In times of want, contentment. It's true y'all. I experienced this today in my own life. When this wretched Covid is over, I hope I do not soon forget the sweet times of enjoying the presence of the Lord in my big lonely house. He will give me shelter. He will hide me in his home. He will grant me his peace. He will give me joy.

My friend:

  • When life is crumbling down all around you, he will not forsake you.

  • When you are wounded by relationships, he will not give up on you.

  • When you are filled with worry and anxiety, he will not stop hearing you.

  • When you cry out to him with your needs, he will not forget you.

We have the best Savior. Know him. Get close to him. Let his mind be in you by keeping your mind in the Scriptures. Let him shape your thoughts.

"The Lord is near." And you are IN HIM. 

10:40 AM I don't know about you, but I hate sitting. I do way too much of it. This was my view all morning.

Typing away. If I suffer with back pain and poor posture, it's probably caused by too much sitting. Someone named Joan Vernikos actually wrote a book called Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. I'd order it, but then I'd have to sit that much longer at my computer desk. If what she says is true, well, I for one am not going to take it sitting down! Maybe I need a dynamic workstation (though standing all day in a static position isn't good for you either). Maybe I just need to get up and move about more. The fact that I do so much cycling doesn't help due to the bent-over position you're forced to maintain for hours. Studies have shown that even rigorous daily exercise doesn't mitigate the negative health effects of sitting, even for those who exercise regularly. So here's what I did this morning. I went out for a nice long walk on a beautiful day here in the Southland.

Then I fed the donks their daily carrot.

Then I began organizing my books.

As you can see, they are scattered everywhere. On the floor to my study.

On the library sofa.

On both the library sofas!

Later I'll get in a short recovery run. Then it's back to writing/typing. What a life. I love every minute of it.

Off to change the oil in my van. Cya!

10:02 AM What do you think about this translation? I include a whole section on it in my forthcoming book on how to study the New Testament.

7:46 AM "Here begins the wonderful story about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). Can you imagine a more beautiful beginning to a Gospel?

I just finished the weekly translation schedule for my Greek 4 class in the spring. We're doing about 25 verses a week in Mark. Many of us are getting a head start now. Even in the first verse of Mark there's so much to unpack. What is a euangelion? What does the name "Jesus" mean"? Should we use "Christ" or "Messiah" in English for the Greek Christos? Are the words "the Son of God" original?

Take the name Jesus. Here's a question I have. Why is it a common name in Spanish-speaking countries but so rare in the U.S.? The name is even found in Arabic countries (Isa/Issa). It's worth noting that in New Testament times "Jesus" was also a common name. Then again, have you ever met someone named "Joshua"? Both "Jesus" and "Joshua" derive from the Hebrew Yeshua. This means that, all told, Jesus (and its various iterations) is among the most common names in the world. Fascinating!

So much to study and learn. That's just like God, though, isn't it? Always stretching us, always giving us more to research and ponder and think through and then obey. The most beautiful part of all of this, however, is that when you love God more than anyone in the world, he will give you a greater love for his word and a greater ability to love others than you ever dreamed of. Hallelujah, Jesus, turn that floodlight on! And thank you, Father, for seeding your Son. You know what it's like to be human, to struggle, to go through tough times because you've been here. Because of that manger in Bethlehem, we have a friend in Yeshua!

Monday, December 7

6:56 PM A couple of days ago I watched a really interesting interview on the subject of exercise addiction. Before then I had never really considered that a person could become addicted to exercise. But after watching this interview, I'm convinced it's possible. For many adult-onset athletes, there's often a struggle to achieve balance in their athletic routines. Make no mistake, I am not immune to this over-training syndrome. Running can be just as much a self-destructive addiction as drinking, smoking, or taking drugs. When I first started running, I was convinced of my invincibility. Then I began to see that there is training on the one hand, and over-training on the other. Being an athlete means knowing not only what you are trying to accomplish, but also what you are trying to avoid. Eventually (and only recently) I learned that to be an athlete you need as much courage to say no to exercise as it does to say yes. More than ever I'm convinced that one of the greatest challenges an athlete faces is finding that all-too-elusive equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion.

When I first started running, I ran as fast as I could, as far as I could. I often wanted to push past what was comfortable. The result was that I often ignored the need for rest and recovery. But rest is essential. It gives the body a chance to recoup, to renew itself, and to build itself into a better body. My goal is no longer to run as fast as I can or as far as I can. My goal is to be who I am in myself and not in the minds of others. I'm trying to find the point that is "just right" for me. As I have matured as a runner, I've come to see that running can become just another source of negative stress in an already over-stressed life, or it can be a major stress-reliever. I was startled to learn that I could feel just as good about myself when I ran slowly as when I ran fast. In short, I learned the difference between distress and eustress. Distress is a bad kind of stress. Eustress (Greek eu- meaning "good" or "beneficial") is the opposite.

A carefully gauged running program works to optimize the body's eustress -- the optimum dose of daily physiological stress than builds health and imparts a feeling of satisfaction and wellness. But this presupposes the right amount of stress as well as adequate time for rest and recovery.

What we're after as runners is physical health that comes in carefully dosed levels of stress combined with rest. That's why I took today off from exercise of any kind after yesterday's half marathon. I am simply following the old coach's dictum: health = moderate stress + adequate rest. It's all about finding that "sweet spot" between no stress (complete inactivity) and excessive stress (over-training).

The bottom line? Stress can either kill us or make us healthier. Being a type-A personality, it's not my nature to do anything slowly. But I am changing, for the better I hope. There are a hundred reasons to start running, but for me one of the most important is the pure joy of the experience. After all, if it isn't fun, why do it? I am having the time of my life at this time in my life. From my earlier failures as a runner, I've learned what real success means. Real success is looking honestly at what you can do and being content with that. Let's face it, contentment doesn't sound very glamorous. It sounds almost as if you're giving in to laziness and apathy. Okay. How about we just call it balance? More is not necessarily better. Faster is not always healthier. We get out of balance mostly when we're doing too much or too little. It sometimes takes an injury or an illness to serve as a wakeup call. Folks, let's take care of ourselves, but let's do it in healthy ways. Believe me, I'm not saying I'll never get injured again. But I do think I now have in place some strategies to help me avoid that. It takes time to train hard. It also takes time to rest well. It takes time to recovery from a race. But one thing is certain, if you don't listen to your body, you're heading for trouble. You never realize just how important health is until it's taken away from you.

Cheers for a healthy 2021!

5:02 PM I love good books. I can stare at them all day.

Discussing Greek verbs with some students in Israel via Zoom. Shalom!

My weather app says snow is starting in three minutes. Snow???? I have no clue how to run in snow.

5:55 AM You can't control tomorrow. But you can plan for it. If ever there was a man who thought he had planned out his future, it was Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor exactly 79 years ago today.

But God had other plans for him. After the war he came to Christ. The rest, as they say, is history. Fuchida became an evangelist of the Prince of Peace and preached the Good News in many nations, including the United States.

Visit Pearl Harbor today and you can still almost smell the smoke. The man who led that attack is now a Christian? You've got to be kidding! Then some women started shouting "He has risen!" The one who laid down his life for sinners was alive. The price tag for our salvation read "Calvary," and he willingly paid it. As the Psalmist says, "The Lord frees the prisoners" (Psalm 146:7). That includes you and me too.

To read the amazing story of Mitsuo Fuchida, go here.

Sunday, December 6

3:55 PM Today's half marathon in Fredericksburg is in the books! I know it must get annoying to keep getting these updates about my races, but I love sharing these little victories with you. Did anyone else turn into one giant goose bump when they crossed the finish line today? I had three goals going into today's race. My C Goal was to finish, period -- running, walking, or crawling. My B Goal was finishing under the cutoff time of 3 and a half hours. My A Goal was coming in under 3 hours. Of course, I tried to remain flexible. But 9 miles into the race I could see that my pace was hovering around the 3 hour mark. All I needed was a little motivation to reach my A Goal! Per usual, I employed bribery. You see, a judicious dose of deferred compensation always works wonders. I told my body, "That take-home steak from O'Charleys is going to taste sooooo good!" And then the negotiations began. "I promise you, body, that if you will give me everything you've got now, I'll walk through the next aid station." Well, whatever I did, it seemed to work.

Oh, excuse me while I take a bite of my steak.

Today I started the race where I always do -- at the back of the pack.

I mean, as in the very last person. Unlike these whippersnappers.

My thinking is, since I'm probably going to finish last, I might as well start in last place. Alas, I was robbed of that honor by 10 runners who decided they would finish after I did, though I did manage to succeed in coming in dead last (10/10) in my age group (aka, the Methuselahs). Honor saved! This, by the way, is Hospital Hill.

It's famous among runners. With grim determination I decided to run all the way up, thinking all the while of one of Confucius's famous sayings: "He who runs uphill is slow." Clever.

Okay. Time for my body to finish its well-deserved steak. Still basking in the wonderful Christmas message I heard today. Merry Christmas, my friends!

The mighty Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg.

Saturday, December 5

7:42 AM Here are some interesting facts about the half marathon in case you didn't know.

  • The half marathon is 13.1 miles (= 21.1 kilometers).

  • The half marathon is second in popularity only to the 5K.

  • The half marathon has been the fastest growing race distance in the U.S. since 2003.

  • There are more than 1,500 half marathons in the U.S. every year.

  • The 2014 Brooklyn Half Marathon had over 25,000 finishers.

  • The half marathon is run in 8 different national parks.

  • The half marathon is not an Olympic event.

  • More women then men run in half marathons.

  • Most half marathons in the U.S. are in the month of October.

  • The median half marathon finishing time in the U.S. is 2:19.

  • My half marathon PR is 2:27.

I'll be participating in a half marathon tomorrow, Lord willing. Unbelievably, this will be number 25. I'll never forget my first half. The emotion for me at the end of the race was overwhelming. It made me realize that, by God's grace, I could finish whatever I set my mind to. It actually changed who I am. Tomorrow I plan on walking through every aid station and keeping my overall pace pretty slow. My goal is to have fun. At some point in the race I know this will be well-nigh impossible. You'll be tired and ready to be done. Smile anyway!

Enjoying the Tobacco Road Half Marathon in Cary, NC.

Friday, December 4

4:26 PM My donkette Gobus accepted her first carrot a few minutes ago.

Here she is munching away. What a sweetie pie.

The three donkateers!

3:42 PM It's amazing how our pets become a part of our family. Recently Sheba has begun sleeping outside the master bedroom.

I've not been able to sleep in that room since Becky passed away. Plus, I like to keep the master bedroom and bathroom available for guests. I wonder, does Sheba think Becky is still in there and she's waiting for her to open the door and greet her like she always did? Sheba has been failing a lot lately. She can't hear at all. Her eyesight is almost gone. She has arthritis. She's incontinent. We no longer go on walks together. I'm afraid she'll lose her vision altogether and if she does what will I do then? Fortunately I don't have to let go ... yet. Sheba's the most lovable dog I've ever had, and I've had a few. Seems like only yesterday she was bounding up the stairs during a thunderstorm to be with daddy. Thank God she still has an appetite and is mobile. If you have an aging dog you're caring for, God bless you. Pets are never just pets. They love us unconditionally and make us better people.

I love you, Sheba!

7:12 AM In Greek 4 this coming spring semester, we're wending our way through According to Mark. (That's its title, by the way!) I've therefore begun rereading Mark in Greek and in as many translations as I can get my hands on. This includes The Message (MSG).

Mark writes with a sense of great urgency. His favorite word is immediately. "There's an air of breathless excitement in nearly every sentence he writes," notes Eugene Peterson in his introduction to Mark. "The sooner we get the message, the better off we'll be ...." This reminds me of growing up in Hawaii, where foreigners are often called haoles. Haole is a Hawaiian word that literally means "without breath." The name first became associated with the settlers of the 1800s. I once heard somebody say, "The foreigners were always in a hurry to build plantations and ranches. To the native Hawaiians they seemed short of breath." I don't know if this folk etymology is correct (think: root fallacy), but I do know from experience that busy mainlanders often have difficulty adjusting to the slower pace of life in the Islands!

But I digress.

As I said yesterday, I just completed writing my chapter on Bible translations for my forthcoming book How to Make the New Testament Come Alive! Here are a few summary thoughts of mine:

  • There is no perfect Bible translation.

  • Be careful not to equate "literal" with "accurate." Literalness does not and cannot guarantee accuracy. No literal translation is completely literal, and no idiomatic translation is completely idiomatic.

  • Always read the preface to the Bible translation you're using. Getting to know its translation philosophy will be a big help to you.

  • If you do decide on using a preferred translation in your daily reading and study, don't use it exclusively of other translations. It’s best to use a variety of translations.

  • Prefer translations produced by a committee of experts in the original languages.

  • Don't ignore translations produced by individuals (TLB, MSG), but my advice is to use them only to supplement your primary translation.

This morning, as I said, I was in The Message. I was curious to see how Peterson translated the verb ekballei in Mark 1:12. This verb (from ekballō) is commonly used in the Gospels to describe the act of "driving out" demons -- i.e., exorcism. But is Mark 1:12 really saying that Jesus had to be forcibly "driven" into the wilderness? The ESV reads:

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

Other translations use "compelled" or "impelled." Here The Message has, "At once, the same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild."

Did you notice that all of these translations seem to have one thing in common? They all imply a bit of -- can I use the word? -- reluctance on the part of Jesus to move into the wilderness. He needed, therefore, to be pushed or driven there. My friend Jim Voelz, in his excellent commentary on Mark, writes this:

Note the violence of the image; both Matthew (4:1) and Luke (4:1) use a form of agō, "lead," in their accounts, which softens the action, as it were.

Without question, this interpretation is possible. And do remember: All translation invariably involves interpretation. While I certainly would not want to soften the blow of the term ekballei, I'm wondering if we really need to resort to a "violent" interpretation. Candidly, I think Jesus just needed a little "hurrying along" from his Father. You know, like when a dad tells his son to "scoot along" when he's dawdling. Is Jesus basking a little too long in the Father's praise: "You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life" (1:11, MSG). If so, it's time to get moving again!

This conundrum can be repeated many thousands of times when you begin to translate the New Testament. Small wonder there are so many English translations available today. The one thing we must not do, in my opinion, is provide a translation that tries to incorporate within it every possible meaning of the Greek term. This is the difficulty I have with Kenneth Wuest's The New Testament: An Expanded Translation. In his preface Wuest writes, "Some Greek words are so full of meaning that many English words are required to translate them." He offers an example from Rom. 12:1, which he first cites in the KJV:

Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed.

Then he provides his "expanded translation":

Stop assuming an outward expression that does not come from within yourself and is not representative of what you are in your inner nature but is put on from the outside and patterned after this age, but change your outward expression to one that comes from within yourself and is representative of what you are in your inner nature.

For the KJV's "Preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2), Wuest offers:

Make a public proclamation of the Word with such formality, gravity, and authority as must be heeded and obeyed.

This kind of translation borders on pure interpretation. As we will see in chapter 7 of my book ("How to Do a Word Study"), Wuest might well be committing an exegetical fallacy known as "illegitimate totality transfer."

In all candor, my friend, I've never found anything in life more difficult than translating the word of God. That's one reason I've pulled out my writing tools and am penning my little book on New Testament interpretation. I hope you'll find it helpful when it's published.

Thursday, December 3

5:38 PM 3-mile run this evening. Rest day tomorrow. Saturday is travel day. Sunday is the race. Just had a large bowl of beef stew. Off to read President Obama's bio. It's slow going. For a guy from Hawaii, the man sure can be cerebral. I enjoy that style of writing. Ya just have to slog through it. I will admit that I'm a book addict. I think I've read every presidential biography ever published. Some were good. Others terrible. I'm not referring to the content but to the writing style. But at least they provide an entertaining respite from the crazy news. If Covid was a marathon, I think it's fair to say we're at mile 20, meaning there's still a lot of hurt to go between now and the finish line. Thankfully there's good news about a vaccine. Despite it all, God is still inviting us to join him in his kingdom movement. If you're wondering how to make an impact this Christmas season, great or small, a ministry that would welcome your support is the Jesus Film. Their current goal is to reach every man, woman, and child in India with the gospel. Currently there's a matching grant up to $200,000. Go here to make a donation. If we can't give, we can pray. God invites us to do as much. "So let us come boldly to the gracious throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our time of need." 

Moving our generator from town to town as we showed the Jesus Film in the villages of the Guji tribe in southern Ethiopia.

11:34 AM Hey guys! Been a busy morning. The house is now completely swept and vacuumed. Plus, I finished a chapter in my book on Bible study. The chapter is called "Choosing a New Testament Translation."

I hope you'll find it helpful. What an hour for the church to hold forth the word of life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. But how can we hold it forth if we don't read and study it? May God bless you in the study of his precious word this day!

Wednesday, December 2

6:12 PM Well, it warmed up to 49 degrees, so off I went to the track to get in 3 miles. My body may have been in South Boston, Virginia, but my mind was wandering disobediently to a place 4,800 miles away. When I lived there, people would call it "paradise."

Dream on, Dave, dream on.

This, by the way, was my view driving home.

Not exactly the same thing. I don't live in Podunk, but you can see it from my front porch. I just had dinner, then spent time praying for the many people I know who have pressing needs. I don't often pray on my knees, but this evening I did. I guess I've never seen so many who are struggling. I knelt in a tsunami of groans. First, I repented of my lack of prayer, and my lack of faith. Then I thanked him for the things he's redeemed, the things he's healed, and the things he's refused to redeem or heal and leaves just the way they are for reasons unknown to me but known perfectly to him. When it comes right down to it, none of us lives in paradise. Our lives are an interim. Everything is a preparation for the next thing, the eternal Paradise. We won't "arrive" until then. But in the meantime, we can be moving forward, you and me, living out our faith in our own little worlds (Podunks).

That's the most hopeful thing I can think of right now. That's why I pray. And if I told you I would pray for you, I will pray for you. On my knees or not. It will get done. With you, I will praise the Father for the joy that comes from loss, from pain, from reaching bottom and then climbing back up.

I promise.

1:10 PM Here's Dr. Person hard at work on my feet. You should have seen him when he had the chain saw out.

Afterwards I went for a ride. It was so cold I had to turn around halfway. It's gotten cold, like really cold. Virginia has issues.

Right now I am doing -- NOTHING. I need a break. What, me rest????

7:34 AM Been a crazy morning already here at the Black ranch, ladies and gentlemen. Got some writing done, got caught up on paying bills (including my property taxes), answered emails, and now I'm getting ready to see the foot doc and then get in a ride now that I've got my road bike back. This morning's reading was in The Living Bible, in particular 2 Corinthians 10-13. I spent a lot of time in these chapters while I was writing my dissertation in Basel back in the Dark Ages. I love how TLB renders 2 Cor. 12:10:

For when I am weak, then I am strong -- the less I have, the more I depend on him.

I suppose the converse is true as well. The more I have, the less I depend on him. When it comes to learning this lesson, mine is a very imperfect story. I think the Holy Spirit is working on me though. I suspect I expect too little of him. Real life is a classroom for holiness. Life is not more + more + more = better. I have to confess though: Sometimes having less freaks me out. Less health. Less job security. Less time with family. But with God, less is always more, because it is more of what we really need. The gospel always dies in the toxic soil of self. There must be less of me, more of him. I needed that reminder today.

Well, seems December is off to a smashing success already!

Tuesday, December 1

5:36 PM "We would come sometimes into a place of such loveliness that it stopped us still and held us until some changing of the light seemed to bless us and let us go" (Wendell Berry).

3:24 PM News and notes ....

1) Spent the morning at school grading papers and exams. I love this!

2) Then I picked up my road and mountain bikes from The Bike Guy in Wake Forest. Both had a complete tune-up and are ready to rumble again.

3) My running/biking mileage was down last month but the weather did turn cold.

We're expecting rain later this week but I'm hoping we'll have clear skies for this weekend's half marathon in Fredericksburg. Praise the Lord for the ability to get outdoors and exercise. Speaking of which, I saw a wild turkey while running on Thanksgiving Day. I really did. It was still and quiet with just my breathing and the sound of my shoes on the trail. Remember, this stuff is free.

I was going to write today but I'm feeling supremely unmotivated. I think I'll watch a movie or something. Tomorrow I have an appointment with a podiatrist to have the calluses on my feet scraped off. Not looking forward to that. The price of being a runner I guess. I read this the other day:

Two people are hit by a bus and become crippled. One becomes a bitter shut-in, while the other becomes the warm, outgoing person everyone wants to be with. It's not about the bus. It's about you. Events don't determine a person's character. They reveal it.

Now if that doesn't put things into perspective.

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for reading!

6:45 AM Hard to believe, but on January 1, 2021 I will begin my 45th year of teaching. Three simple quotes have meant the world to me through these years. May I share them with you?

"Christian education is likeness education."

"Holy shoddy is still shoddy."

"Greek, Hebrew, and Latin all have their proper place. But it's not at the head of the cross where Pilate put them, but at the foot of the cross in humble service to Christ."

I first heard "Christian education is likeness education" in one of my Christian Education classes at Biola. I had just finished my B.A. in Bible and was beginning to teach Greek there while attending Talbot Seminary. Since I considered education a likely career path for me, I thought it might be a good idea to take a couple of classes in pedagogy. So that semester, while teaching 11 units of Greek, I took two undergraduate classes in education. The first was called "Tests and Measurements." Even today I find what I learned in that class helpful as I prepare quizzes and exams. The second class was "College Teaching Procedures." This is where the prof told me that "Christian education is likeness education." My mind went to the words of Jesus in Luke 6:40: "The student is not above his teacher. But when a student is fully trained, he will be just like his teacher." Since then, that has become one of my life verses as a teacher. I don't live up to it for sure. But I aspire to.

In that class we were required to read a book by the well-known American Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood. The book was called The Idea of a College.

In it the author made this profound statement: "Holy shoddy is still shoddy." Trueblood saw no reason why Christians shouldn't be as committed to excellence in their work as non-Christians are in theirs. Just because we are accepted in Christ "just as we are" is no excuse for shoddy work in the workplace. From that day on, excellence became my goal -- an unattainable one to be sure, but again, something I have aspired after.

I can't remember exactly where I first read the Scottish proverb about Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. But I do appreciate the point it's trying to make. Knowledge per se is worthless. Greek per se is abominable. It is only when we use our minds for the glory of God and in his service that acquiring knowledge and degrees makes any sense. Paul puts it this way: "We all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

What wonderful truths! There's no way you can Instagram them. Yet each makes me feel so fully alive. They challenge the socks off me. Through the years, I've found that they have been my life mottos in ways their original speakers couldn't have imagined. When I struggle with direction in my life; when I feel I have lost my way; when I get confused or angry or afraid, I come to them over and over again. I have turned to these three truths for comfort.

I now have a higher view of my calling as a teacher than ever before. It feels, actually, like I'm just getting started.

5:55 AM Up early per usual, sipping coffee and reading Psalm 112 this morning.

"Happy is the person who honors the Lord."

Lord, make me that person!

"He is not afraid of receiving bad news; his faith is strong, and he trusts in the Lord."

Lord, make me that person!

"He gives generously to the needy, and his kindness never fails."

Lord, make me that person!

I cannot convey the depth of hope the Psalmist always gives me. I believe in the Scriptures. I believe in the power of the word.

Monday, November 30

4:45 PM I just returned to Rosewood Farm after doing a 5K at the track in town. Rather than taking our "super" highway (Hwy. 58) home, I preferred moseying along one of our country lanes at a very slow speed, singing John Denver's Country Roads at the top of my lungs with the sun roof open.

Hey, just needing to blow off some steam after writing for 6 -- count 'em, 6! -- straight hours today and completing both the introduction and 2 (out of 11) chapters in my book on how to study the New Testament. On the way home, I stopped by Food Lion to buy me some well-deserved KitKats.

My dilemma now is, "Which of these books that came today should I read first?" (Biographies make me so happy.) Need to pray about that. Meanwhile, the donks await their carrots. C-ya!

6:05 AM For any of you out there who think you are "over the hill" simply because you are aging, well, here are the words of someone who might beg to differ.

I remember when she won the first ever women's marathon in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

She stood barely 5 feet tall. She weighed 100 pounds. She had had major knee surgery two weeks before the trials. She is the best of the best. My favorite quote from the interview?

I'm Joan Benoit Samuelson, and I'm an aging athlete, but I refuse to believe it.

From one aging athlete to another: Thank you. 

Sunday, November 29

7:10 PM Hi folks,

Well, after 7 hours of writing today I should take break, don't ya think? Problem is, when you're on a roll, you're on a roll. Plus, there are deadlines out there you know. Lord, help me to hang on! The good news is that my flesh may be tired but I'm soaring in mind and spirit. Earlier I went outdoors to feed the animals and noticed something I hadn't seen in a very long time. Must be due to the holiday weekend.

Covid has taken a huge hit on the airline industry. Pilots are now in great surplus for the foreseeable future, and the union is in a very weak position. Currently the only way out for the airlines is to shrink. I used to see contrails like this dozens of times a day. Not anymore. My prayers are with y'all in the airline industry. Hope things get better for you real soon.

Back to my book on Pearl Harbor. The attack is just about to begin. My dad, by the way, witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was born on Oahu in 1918 and lived in Honolulu at the time. He had just been inducted into the Army. What a way to enter the war.

2:24 PM The second best Christmas video you can watch this holiday season.

And here's the first. I mean, the absolute first (fast forward to 16:42). Please watch it with your entire family. You will be blessed.

1:56 PM Because of Covid I am avoiding indoor gatherings for now. But even as I attend the Sunday gatherings virtually, I still very much feel the presence of God. Today I listened to the service while getting in a 5 mile run and felt the Good Shepherd very close beside me. He let me rest in fields of green grass.

He led me to quiet pools of fresh water.

He guided me in the right path as he promised.

I know that his goodness and love will be with me all the days of my life, and his house will be my home as long as I live. Amen and amen!

7:20 AM "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God." Not the hand that's chastening you but the hand that's protecting you. "And he will exalt you at the proper time." Jesus said, "Whoever humbles himself will be exalted." "Having cast all your anxiety on him." All, the whole, every kind of anxiety and care. "Because he cares about you." Better, "It matters to him about you." Never think, "It doesn't matter to God!" It does, beloved!

I hope these verses have done as much for you as they did for me this morning. Because when I finish verses like these, I always feel like John in the book of Revelation: "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead." What a promise to know that our Savior cares for us. You matter to him!

Saturday, November 28

5:02 PM Here's a paragraph from my book I wrote today.

How often should we read the Bible? I'd say at least daily. The New Testament has a great deal to say about the "daily." We are to take up our cross "daily" and follow Jesus. The early Christians continued "daily" in the temple, and the Lord kept adding "daily" to their number. Jesus taught us to pray for our "daily" bread. Paul said, "I die daily." And in the Great Commission, the Lord promises to be with us (literally) "all the days," that is, day after day after day. My beloved, nowhere do we need to hear the word of the Lord more than in the "daily"!

Here's another one:

Begin your Bible time with prayer. Always bring your study of God's word under the scrutiny of his all-seeing eye. Many blunders of interpretation would never have been made if we had prayed as much in advance as we pined after the damage was already done. How foolish to think that we can do anything without him! Before you open your Bible, ask God to bless you. Just pray a simple little prayer like, "God, thank you so much for your word. May your Holy Spirit reveal the truth to me today. Not yesterday, not last year, but today." And he will do it!

I'm trying to get a little writing done every day. Do you realize that the more you put things off to later, the bigger the snowball becomes and it gets harder to start? Let's be real. Writing takes a lot of persistence. But the joys far outweigh the stresses!

4:16 PM Nice and easy walk today for 3 miles.

Then it was back to my writing pad. Right now I'm going to have some supper and then chillax. How's your day going? Mine's been fantastic praise God!

10:10 AM What personal qualities do I need in order to be able to study the New Testament accurately and with profit? This is the question I'm asking in chapter 1 of my book. Up until today, there were three such qualities: conversion to Christ, a Spirit-filled life, and diligence. Today, however, I felt led to add a fourth: a faithful prayer life. When you have come to personal faith in Christ, when you have learned to live in Spirit-filled dependence on God, when you have developed the Spirit-enabled ability called diligence, and when you see the need to bathe your study in constant prayer, then and only then will you be equipped to handle the rigors and experience the joys of New Testament study. Oh the hundreds of stories I could tell you about what God has done because simple, everyday believers like you and me have disciplined themselves to know his word in this way. It would thrill your heart! Therefore, it's absolutely vital that we continually develop these qualities. The Bible is our textbook for life. Let's not fail the exam!

Take diligence for example. I believe that every one of us must set aside time daily to study the New Testament in an intentional (rather than a haphazard) way. To do this well requires diligence. Undisciplined Bible reading should not be our habit! This shows lack of diligence. And it's a terrible habit. How often and where you study the New Testament is up to you and the Lord. You should decide on what to do only after careful prayer. But once you've made the decision to be regular in your study of the New Testament, you should adhere to it wholeheartedly.

When we are diligent in our reading of the New Testament, many problems can be avoided. One of them is the problem of carelessness. No one can be careless when reading the New Testament. This is because the very words of Scripture are inspired by God himself. None of them can be replaced or handled sloppily. In many cases, a careless study of the Bible will lead to a misunderstanding of important doctrines. At other times the result may be a superficial understanding of the text. When I was in high school I was asked to give a sermon in my home church in Hawaii. My assigned text was Luke 15:11-32 and the passage to be discussed was the "parable of the lost son." (Everyone knows that Luke 15 contains three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son.) However, when I saw that verse 3 mentioned "this parable" (singular), I began to look at the chapter a bit differently. Eventually I concluded that the chapter likely has only one overriding parable but one that seems to be told in three different but closely  interrelated stories. So if I were preach the "parable," I felt I would have to preach on all three stories. Secondly, I began to rethink what each story was about. Traditionally, the church has considered these stories to be about "the lost" -- a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son. My own study began to convince me that the focus was not so much on what was lost but rather on the qualities of the shepherd, the housewife, and the father. So I ended up calling them "The Story of the Faithful Shepherd," "The Story of the Diligent Housewife," and "The Story of the Loving Father." I also saw the need to point out in my message that this chapter occurs in the so-called "Central Section" of Luke's Gospel, where Jesus has set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem and, as he travels, does everything he can "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10 -- the key verse in Luke's Gospel).

So much more could be said but I have to stop for now. These are just a few initial thoughts on chapter 1 of my little book -- and I do mean to keep it short (under 150 pages). My thoughts right now are a bit scatterbrained but hopefully they will come together as I commit them to writing.

Appreciate you coming along on the journey!

8:38 AM So excited to be working on my book about how to study the New Testament this morning! Can you tell? Today I'm thinking a great deal about literary context. When you study any book of the New Testament, you want to see how that book is put together from beginning to end. This helps build your understanding of the book's structure and flow of thought. You also want to see how every paragraph in the book fits the whole. This is a way you build a systematic study of that book. This is far more preferable than launching into the study of a book piecemeal. Studying a book this way takes longer, but it's the better way by far, for you are now beginning to see both the forest and the trees. If you would like to see a practical application of this to a New Testament letter, go here

Aren't you awed, beloved, by God's amazing gift of the Bible? You should be! You're hearing directly from him and discovering truth for yourself. Your education or background aren't the issues. It's a matter of setting your heart on studying the New Testament and then disciplining yourself to achieve that goal. Don't forget that observation, interpretation, and application aren't ends in themselves. The ultimate goal is transformation. Bible study is a life-changing process. Haven't you found that to be true? I have! The Bible is our handbook for living! 

Back to my notepad :-)

7:15 AM Reading my Delitzsch Gospels this morning. I'm in Markos. What a treat. Markos is nothing less than the beginning of the good news of Yeshua the Mashiach. Yeshua came onto the scene in the Galil when Yochanan the Immerser was announcing the forgiveness of sins through repentance. One day Yeshua comes down from Netzeret and is immersed by Yochanan in the Yarden. And on and on.

I love how this reads. And reading it in Hebrew is even better. Immersion (tevilah) would, of course, have been well-known to the Jews of that day. They were accustomed to ritual cleansings. Why, then, should the Mashiach be immersed? Ah, the plot thickens! Here's my point. Throughout the four Gospels, God is giving us a record of real people in real life situations. When you study the cultural background of these writings, you gain a better realization of how they were rooted in the stuff of history. That's why the study of historical backgrounds is so important. That's why one of the courses I took when I attended Jerusalem University College in 1986 was called "The History and Geography of Palestine." That's why we spent weeks travelling literally from Dan to Beersheva. When you read the Gospels, my friend, pay attention to people and events. Keep track of locations in the narrative. Keep the historical context in mind. This includes the linguistic context as well!

Friday, November 27

6:02 PM Got in a 10-mile run this afternoon.

The joy, folks, is in the journey.

I don't run to get somewhere. I run because I need to and want to.

Nothing in the world is quite as satisfying as watching the ground beneath my feet.

It doesn't matter in the least where I'm going. It only matters that I'm moving. Today I wasn't headed anywhere in particular, and I wasn't in any hurry to get there either.

The trail is there ahead, inviting me to explore all the wonders it holds. While running, I feel that I am alive. Thank you, Lord.

7:55 AM Good morning, y'all. Did you have your fill of turkey yesterday? I know I did! Today my goal is to get in a run and then write. I seem to be driven these days by one verse and one verse only:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the man or woman who belongs to God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

I hope to write a book that will become a believer's launching pad for a lifetime of personal Bible study. I am convinced that the Bible tells us everything we really need to know about life. That's why we need to read it and study it for ourselves. There are many approaches to the study of the New Testament, but most of them seem to have three essential elements. In my book I'm calling them milieu, meaning, and message. We could also call them context, interpretation, and application. Or we could call them author, text, and reader. Or, as I do in my little book Using New Testament Greek in Ministry, the "view from above," "view from within," and "view from below." This last step -- applying the text to our daily lives -- was sorely lacking when I was taught exegesis in seminary. The typical exegetical term paper ended with interpretation, not application. This, I believe, was a fatal mistake. John Stott used to call university students "tadpoles" because you would think that all they had were heads! No! The best way to study the New Testament is through a process called hermeneutics. The goal is (1) to help you observe what the Bible says, and (2) to help you apply its life-changing message to your life. How I wish I was taught this when I came to Christ in 1960. You begin with the Bible, study it firsthand, and then recognize its authority in your daily walk. Simple steps, but not easy ones. But it's definitely worth it, as I hope my book will amply illustrate. The ultimate goal of personal Bible study is a transformed life that is based on a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. Let's go for it!

Saints, pray for me if you would as I begin writing this book and as I try to finish my book on the kingdom of God (Godworld). I pray that God would help me to write with a grateful heart. Yesterday reminded me how powerful God's grace is in our lives when we have a thankful spirit. Our God has been so gracious and merciful to me. Now he is looking for me to depend solely on him for the wisdom and strength I need. A book on Bible study is not just a call to study the Bible. It's a call back to him!

Thanks for visiting,

Dave

Thursday, November 26

6:12 PM Nice evening for a stroll on the farm. The colors were amazing.

Then my daughter dropped off dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. 

2:58 PM Easy 7-mile walk on another beautiful day here in Southside.

Running, racing, and walking have given me a crash course in gratitude, patience, perseverance, and the reward of knowing you've pushed through the walls and come out victorious on the other side. I'm no talented athlete. But I am stubborn. Grateful today that God makes us in all sizes, shapes, and temperaments!

Forced physical strength doesn't get you to the finish line. Healthy conditioning does. I have learned to do my runs and walks at very slow speeds.

Now I get a more profound, deeper sense of joy and satisfaction from my daily training outings than I ever did beating up my body in order to get a specific time on my Garmin watch. And did I mention -- I'm smiling the whole time?

11:02 AM Today I finalized the table of contents for my book on studying the New Testament. For what it's worth, here goes ....

8:15 AM Was in Colossians for my morning reading. Amazed at how often Paul refers to the giving of thanks. See 1:3, 1:12, 2:7, 3:15, 3:16, 3:17, and 4:2. Paul gives thanks:

  • For sisters and brothers in Christ who are demonstrating faith in Christ and living for him.

  • For all that God has done in saving lost sinners.

  • For the ability to continue to grow in Christ and make progress in holiness.

  • For all that Christ has done to make us one in him.

  • For the opportunity to fellowship with other Christians.

  • For the privilege of living for the glory of God.

  • For answered prayer.

Nowhere else in Paul's letters do we see such an emphasis on thanksgiving. A sevenfold thanksgiving in a letter whose theme is the supremacy and sufficiency of the Savior! All of us who know Jesus have the same reasons to overflow with thanksgiving as did the Colossians.

7:32 AM We were in Basel, living the dream. We spoke German, attended the German-speaking church, our friends were all Swiss. We enjoyed getting to know the country and its people. In fact, we loved living in Basel. Except for one thing: we were still Americans. As in, "Turkey is a must on Thanksgiving, even if you are living in Europe." Thanksgiving Day 1980 came around. There was no way Becky was going to be able to cook a turkey. Turkeys were completely unknown in Basel. But when I came home from school that Thursday, there on the dining room table was a moist, perfectly cooked turkey. No stuffing. No candied yams. No pumpkin pie. But who cared? We had our turkey. I looked at Bec and asked, "Where in the world ...?" Without saying a word, she just smiled at me, and I carved the bird.

#ThanksgivingMemories.

Wednesday, November 25

4:05 PM Last day of mowing for the year. #Grateful.

11:50 AM Today's 5K run. #Grateful.

8:35 AM Hey everybody. These past few days have been amazing. I've spent hours answering emails and even taking phone calls from some of you who wanted to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. Yesterday I got a call from a guy I went to Biola with back in the day. He too lost his wife to cancer so we had a lot to talk about. We just basked in the goodness of God. Seems my deepest hurts have come from relationships and so has my deepest healing. One thing's for sure: Jesus is as good as we ever hoped for. If you're alone this holiday season, I hope the Bible is a balm to your soul this day. I am desperate to see his true face, which is found only in his word. My friend, continue to walk the path of faith even though you do not have it all worked out. None of us do.

Last night I jotted down a couple more takeaways from Ray Stedman's biography. May I share them with you?

1) Stedman had a very simple preaching style. J. I. Packer once said Stedman would "chat it over with his congregation." Listen to any of his sermons and you will see that his voice was soft, his cadence natural. He was a "low key" speaker. Preacher friend, no need to affect a
"preaching voice" when you get up to speak. Just be yourself.

2) Stedman rarely stood behind the pulpit. He had an uncanny ability to relate to his audience.

3) Charles Swindoll once said of Stedman, "Ray never pulled rank, never polished his own trophies." Stedman's naturalness when speaking was matched by his humility.

4) Stedman was tempted by pride, as are most successful public speakers. In his own words, "As a pastor I must confess that I had to stop the practice of going to the door after a service and greeting people as they went out. I found that when I did it regularly, it fed my ego in such a way that I had a terrible battle with pride.... It is very easy for a pastor or teacher to perform his ministry for hidden reasons of personal prestige or glory." Amen to that!

I also wanted to say another word about the work in India I referred to yesterday. Let's remember that all Christian giving has symbolic significance. Just read 2 Corinthians 8-9. Paul looks beyond mere financial assistance to what that assistance will represent. The significance was more than geographical (from Greece to Judea, or from America to India) or economical (from the rich to the poor, or from the First World to the Third World). It was theological (from sisters and brothers in Christ to other sisters and brothers in Christ). In short, Paul is placing the wealth of some against the poverty of others and calling for an adjustment, that is, an easing of needs through the affluence of others. The goal is what he calls isotēs -- equality or justice. There needs to be a measure of equalization in our economic lives. And giving to causes outside the wealthy West contributes to this equality.

This means I am deeply praying about reprioritizing my giving in the future. Maybe also my standard of living in light of the needs abroad. No missionary work in India should be disadvantaged. It is a question of isotēs -- justice. My friends, I pray that our hearts would be broken. I pray for courage and humility and wisdom. I pray for the leading of God's Spirit in the North American church that we might walk in the company and conviction of his presence. I hope the church in the West will continue to move forward toward missional empowerment and embrace the needs of the Majority World as our own.

Will you pray with me for this to happen?

Tuesday, November 24

5:02 PM Every year around this time I pull off my shelf a massive volume called At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor.

The anniversary of this "date which will live in infamy" is coming up soon. In a story laden with ironies, perhaps one of the greatest is the fact that, a mere 20 days after Admiral Yamamoto put his plan to attack Pearl Harbor on paper, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo had been tipped off about the raid. Sometime in January, 1941, a rumor reached the Peruvian ambassador to Japan indicating that "the Japanese military forces planned, in the event of trouble with the United States, to attempt a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor using all of their military facilities." What steps did the U.S. Embassy take to trace the rumor to its sources? None. This would be the first but not the last of a series of warnings America had that its "impregnable bastion" on Oahu was going to be attacked by Japan. Yet we were caught napping  -- perhaps a reminder to us all that in life we should always expect the unexpected. Pearl Harbor was the result of meticulous planning on the one hand, and a vast store of intelligence badly handled on the other. Who could have seen it coming? Many in fact had, and had reported their findings, but to no avail. History often turns on such decisions, and who can know what lies ahead for us in 2021? I pray for you today, my friend. Oh, may your hands find the work you were created to do, regardless of the circumstances surrounding you. I pray that no matter what surprises overtake you, you would find God present in all the days of your life, and in all the places. I pray for the kingdom to come, for righteousness to tower, for swords to be beaten into plowshares, for the joy that will come in the morning.

Be blest tonight, my friend.

11:58 AM Today was cold and dreary as I completed a 5 mile run at the trail in South Boston. It's the way I relieve the stress in my life.

And we all have stresses. In fact, I dare say you and I will never live through a more difficult two-year period than 2020 and 2021. I call it the stress pandemic. For many of us, the stresses are economic. For others it concerns our health. For widowers like me, the isolation and loneliness can sometimes feel overwhelming. But it's not only important to do things to relieve stress. It's important to do things in the right way. Here's an example from my own life. The most important numbers I could share with you today about my run have nothing to do with distance, pace, or steps per minute. They have everything to do with heart rate.

You see, running can actually cause stress, not reduce it. Running is bad for you when you do it too often, or too fast, or at a constant high heart rate. I should know. This is how I used to train until I got injured. Since then, as you know, I've been using the low heart rate method of running. This is also called the 80-20 method or the MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) method. It used to be called the LSD method (Long Slow Distance). The idea is to do most of your runs at a low heart rate. Then, when you need to (i.e., on race day), you can run in a higher heart rate zone. This is important because the goal of exercise is not merely fitness. It's health. In fact, a person can be fit and not be healthy. That's a proven fact. The moral of the story is to be wise in how you go about reducing your stress. Don't fall prey to big numbers or fast times. When you stress your body like that, it can really mess with you and zap all your energy stores. This in turn can lead to all kinds of emotional and physical problems like headaches, high blood pressure, and GI issues. Everyone is different and the key is finding what works for you. One thing I have realized is that I definitely need to get outdoors on a regular basis. I need to enjoy the beauty of nature. I need to move my body. I need to be active. I hate it when I just sit around all day. I think low heart rate training has brought about the greatest shift to my body and to staying healthy. And moving from road races to mountain trail runs has only increased the joy I experience through running. Maybe none of these things are true for you. This mixture of things has worked for me. Take away from it what works (or doesn't work) for you. Let's just not forget that stress takes a heavy toll on our bodies and can result in a myriad of unwanted symptoms. Please take care of yourself out there. One day the pandemic will be a thing of the past and we can all go back to our (quasi) normal lives!

8:18 AM I was thrilled to get an email this morning from the Peniel Gospel Team in northeast India. Its director, my good friend Mammen Joseph, writes that because of the pandemic, more people than ever are at home, thus making gospel track and food distribution that much easier.

The PGT is currently supporting 375 national missionaries with financial and material support. As you know, I am a huge fan of the national missionary movement. I've written about that in my essay A New Day in Missions. The needs in India are great but so are the opportunities! Please consider supporting a missionary family today. What better way to celebrate the holidays? If you would like to read more about the work of the Peniel Gospel Team, here is their website. I just cannot recommend their work enough.

7:25 AM So what shall I blog about this morning? Let's see ... how about one of my favorite topics, the church? How would you answer this question: "What is a healthy church?" I would say the answer is (in part at least), "A healthy church is a biblical church." Wouldn't you agree? One of the chief characteristics of the early church was that it was a learning church. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). So I do not hesitate to say that a healthy church is one that is eager to learn all the truth it can and then submit itself to the apostles' teaching, which today is the word of God. As John Stott so often said, a healthy church is one in which the Spirit of God leads the people of God to honor the word of God. I love that!

One of the men in my life who sought to do this was Ray Stedman. Many of you have never heard his name. His 1975 book called Body Life changed my thinking about the so-called "ministry" just when I was starting seminary at Talbot.

As a pastor himself, Stedman was one of the first of my generation to say to his fellow pastors, "You cannot do it all -- and should quit trying." In a healthy church, the staff is not expected to do all the heavy lifting. They are not expected to take full spiritual responsibility for people. They realize that the healthier a church becomes, the less reliant the people are on programming and pastors. In a word, pastors "equip."

And that's the basic message of this biography of Ray Stedman.

I got it in yesterday's mail and have already devoured every page of it. When I heard Ray Stedman speak in chapel at Biola (which he often did in those days), I knew he was speaking emancipating truth. What's more, he gave biblical instruction a chance to actually work in his local church in Palo Alto. Here are a few of his ideas as highlighted in this biography:

  • The work of the ministry should be done by the people in the pews.

  • The role of pastors is to equip the saints to use their spiritual gifts.

  • Anything that promotes a hierarchical separation in the church is to be avoided.

  • The church is to be led by servant-elders who are responsible to Christ, the Living Head of the body.

  • Christ is the only head of the church. It is he who has distributed gifts and ministries among the whole people so that each one has a special gift to be exercised in the ministry of the church.

  • The word of God is a sufficient means for the Spirit of God to use in leading a person in understanding these truths.

  • Pastors are never to take the title "senior pastor" and are to refuse to operate on such a basis.

As I said, Ray Stedman fleshed out these ideas in his book Body Life. I believe this book still speaks a much-needed message to the church today. Billy Graham valued its message so much that he wrote the foreword. The plain truth is that all Christians are "in the ministry." When, then, needs to be done? "Pastors particularly," writes Stedman, "must restore to the people the ministry that was taken from them with the best of intentions."

Throughout the Christian centuries, no principle of church life has proved more revolutionary -- and more bitterly fought! -- than the declaration of Ephesians 4 that the ultimate work of the church in the world is to be done by the saints -- plain, ordinary Christians -- and not by a professional clergy or a few selected laypeople.

This, Stedman said, is the cure for Sunday spectatoritis. By the grace of God, we have all been chosen, appointed, and anointed. We are a special people, a holy nation, priests to our God. We are all clergy -- priestly ministers. Yes, this is true of my M.Div. students who ended up in the pastorate, but it is just as true of that M.Div. student of mine who ended up opening a bike shop in Wake Forest or my M.Div. student who opened a Chick-Fil-A in Wilkesboro. The call of God comes to every believer who has ears to hear. And according to Ephesians 4, it is Christ himself who is in the business of equipping as the head of the body. Nowhere in this chapter (or elsewhere) is it suggested that Christ has delegated his headship to certain church leaders who are responsible for the ministry and the life of others. The church, writes Stedman, is not a democracy but a theocracy. It is, in fact, a monarchy, and Christ's Kingship is not mediated through various levels of church government but comes directly to all his subjects. The only question is: Will we submit to him?

Ray Stedman's goal was clear: the abolition, not of the clergy, but of the laity. All the people of God -- the so-called clergy and the so-called laity -- must see themselves as ministers of Jesus Christ. Anticlericalism? Hardly. The liberation of all the people of God? Absolutely. My advice is simple: read and heed authors such as Stedman (and John Stott and Michael Green and F. F. Bruce) and then ask God to bring about a revolution in our day that will finally mobilize the whole people of God to do "the work of the ministry."

We can do this, church. We have the word of God. We have the Spirit of God. We can do this!

Monday, November 23

12:58 PM Cold day at the track.

9:10 AM Getting out the door, that's what it's all about folks. In this crazy year of life that we are all experiencing, all we gotta do is keep moving, keep moving forward. And all I want to do is help people stay motivated to crush their goals in life. No, it won't happen overnight. Everything on this earth takes time if you want to do it well. Patience is the name of the game. You all know that. And so we've got to keep pushing forward, hoeing the row that God has placed before us. For the next four weeks I'm going to be chasing down my writing goals. I have several projects I need to complete over the next several months. These include two major book reviews, finalizing the list of changes I might want to make to my beginning grammar, writing an article for our school's journal, and co-authoring a book on studying the New Testament. All this takes time, but our resident Teacher (the Holy Spirit) is ready to come alongside and help us. As for racing goals, I haven't forgotten to scour the internet for upcoming events. In fact, today I was able to register for this event in two weeks, which looks like an incredible race that takes you right through the battlefield and even onto the Sunken Road.

The event is Covid-restricted, meaning staggered corral starts, social distancing, no post-race awards, and masks required. Today I hope to get outdoors again. Time to relax, think, and ponder the goodness of the Lord. I love training! Learning so much about myself in the process. We HAVE to look at these small things in life. They are pure gifts of God. This whole crazy year of 2020 has given me a bit more time to stop and remember what really matters, and for that I am thankful. Truly it is the little things that count!  

7:58 AM My all-time favorite Christmas hymn.

Does it get any better than this? Sublime, just sublime. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

7:22 AM "Study it carefully, think on it prayerfully. Deep in your heart, let its oracles dwell. Study its mystery, slight not its history, no man ere knew it or loved it too well." I love Scripture, don't you? I love reading it, studying it, struggling to understand and apply it. I'm captivated by its brilliance, its cohesion from first page to last. No poet can match it, no novelist can surpass it.

Last week I was asked, "What is your favorite English translation of the Bible?" The answer came easily. How many of you knew that the answer would be the Good News Translation (GNT) -- aka Good News for Modern Man or Today's English Version? This was the version that had just come out when I first fell in love with the Bible (and its great Author) when I was 16. By God's life-saving grace, I've been reading the GNT for 52 years. I'm still reading it. When you read God's word, notice the details he wants us to see and believe and consequently do or to live. Here's just one example. Not long ago I did a deep dive into one of Paul's lists of sufferings. Here are the verses in Greek (2 Cor. 6:4-10).

The Greek reveals clear patterns between the lines. You will notice that Paul starts off with three lists of three items. Then he shifts to two lists of four items. Now read through the Good News Translation and note how the translators reproduced this pattern perfectly.

Here are the triplets:

  • Troubles, hardships, difficulties

  • Beaten, jailed, mobbed

  • Overworked, gone without sleep or food

And here are the quadruplets:

  • Purity, knowledge, patience, kindness

  • The Holy Spirit, love, truth, the power of God

Now take a look at The Message. Eugene Peterson nails it. Here are just the triads:

Structuring (which is what this is called) can help you understand the flow of thought in a passage. It can also help with Bible memory. It's an ideal first step in the overview process as you read, reread, and then soak in the text. The Bible is your textbook for life. Don't fail your final exam! To live the way God says to live involves hardships and suffering. That's Paul's point here. He is proving to be a man who is "adequate, equipped for every good work." He was also a "good writer." Good writing involves the arrangement of thoughts in such a way as to clearly convey the author's intended meaning to the reader. Think of the emails you write. You do the very same thing! Isn't it absolutely awesome the way God weaves the threads of truth throughout the Bible? So often when I study a passage of Scripture I have to pause and thank God for the beauty of his word and the wonderful privilege of studying it. Remember, the structure of a passage is as inspired as the words. Keep this truth before you as you study the Scriptures. It is foundational.

Well, my friend, this is only one of many reasons I enjoy reading the Good News Translation of the Bible. By the way, I'm so proud of you for making the effort every day to see truth for yourself. You will never regret it. God has a way of opening a new world to us when we approach his word with care and diligence, and you are bound to be grateful to him!

P.S. Here is my Power Point of 2 Cor. 6:4-10 should you care to be royally bored.

Sunday, November 22

4:35 PM This will be the first holiday season in many years that I won't be meeting with family due to Covid, though one of my daughters will be dropping off a turkey dinner for me. This book has been an incredible encouragement to me.

A few quotes:

  • Turn your loneliness into solitude and your solitude into prayer.

  • Loneliness is a wilderness, but through receiving it as a gift, accepting it from the hand of God and offering it back to him with thanksgiving, it may become a pathway to holiness, to glory and to God himself.

  • God has promised to supply our needs. What we don't have now we don't need now.

Elisabeth Elliot lost two of her husbands to death so she speaks about loneliness from deep personal experience.

Christianity detests isolation. Our faith is built on relationships. But isolation need not be loneliness. I know that's not a profound thought. But it's something to remember if you are celebrating Thanksgiving by yourself this year. 

1:12 PM Many of you might not know that I do not have a Ph.D. degree. That is, I do not possess a Doctor of Philosophy degree. My doctorate from Basel is called a D.Theol. -- a Doctor of Theology degree. I kinda like that. You see, we're all theologians. Theology is simply the study of God. It is acknowledging the Giver rather than simply his gifts. It is extolling his attributes and giving him glory. I can't think of a better way to do this than by giving thanks to God. The greatest delight of my life is just living -- writing, speaking, teaching, farming, investing in my family's life and the lives of others. It's a delight to be engaged in all the things God has called me to do. The worst thing I could do is fail to acknowledge him as the source of these blessings. Nothing will keep a life younger than being in touch with him on a daily basis. Trusting him. Thanking him. And this includes enduring loss as well as enjoying gain. Getting old is tough, but when you consider the alternative, it's not that tough! Nothing will keep a life younger than becoming a grateful person.

In 1863, an American president wrote the following words.

The year that is drawing to its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.... It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do thereby invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. 

Verbally, humbly, openly let us give thanks to God today. Learning more truth about God is a poor and cheap substitute for stopping and putting into action the truths about him we have already learned. Why not take a personal sabbatical from so many activities this week and concentrate your full and undivided attention for a day on your "beneficent Father"? Write a letter of thanks to him for the gift of his Son, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of his love. Perhaps that list could be expanded:

Dear God,

I'd just like to thank you for ____________________.

I'd also like to thank you for ____________________.

You've given me so many blessings and gifts, for example _________________.

In closing, I'd just like to say ___________________.

Love always, ______.

While you're doing this, don't forget to thank him for your troubles. The strongest steel has always gone through the hottest fire. The greatest joy always flows from the greatest sorrow. In the next few years, I will not be growing younger. But I want to be growing holier. And more thankful. The only way to ensure that is to give thanks today.

10:15 AM The donks don't have a care in the world. They know they will be fed and watered daily. They trust their owner. This is so exactly how the Father wants us to trust him! 

10:02 AM Wonderful time in the word this morning. I just cannot recommend it enough. I pray the refreshment of the Lord over each of you in Jesus today. Shortly I will be attending the fellowship remotely. Before then I've got to put some final touches on my spring classes. In case you were wondering, here is my spring schedule:

  • Monday 6:30 pm: Greek 2

  • Tuesday 12:30 pm: Greek 4

  • Tuesday 3:30 pm: LXX

  • Wednesday 12:30 pm: NT 1

  • Thursday 7:30 am: Greek 2

  • Thursday 12:30 pm: NT 2

That's right -- 6 classes. But that's not all. I just got off the phone with a Bible college in Israel. I have agreed to add another Monday course to my schedule. This will be a Greek 4 class that meets via Zoom at 12:30. When this wretched Covid is over I plan to teach Greek 3 and Greek 4 there in person. Ecstatic to see how God is raising up a group of students in Israel who are committed to going deeper in Greek. Great respect and love for the leaders involved in this ministry. One of them studied with me back in the day. Jesus, be highly exalted in my teaching this spring!

Bless y'all today!

Saturday, November 21

3:48 PM I just got back home after a day and a half of hiking. It was perfect weather for it. Plus, I needed the exercise. I hadn't worked out since Monday. I am beyond grateful to God for strong legs, a healthy heart, and two strong lungs. Yesterday I hiked to MacAfee Knob.

This outcrop of rocks is probably the most photographed spot on the Appalachian Trail.

It took me about an hour and 20 minutes to get to the top. On the way down I decided to challenge myself (you know me -- always needing challenges). I wanted to try and come in under one hour on the descent. By running, I was able to knock off about 40 minutes. Good training for my next mountain trail race!

On the summit, well, I couldn't get enough of the nature all around me.

How do you soak in views like this one?

As I looked at the mountain ranges spreading out before me, I kept thinking, "If the old creation is this beautiful, what will the NEW creation look like?" Oh my!

This morning it was off to the Mount Pleasant Trail near Amherst, VA. This hike is just over 6 miles.

I'd say it's a bit more challenging than the MacAfee Knob Trail.

But again, the vistas at the summit were out of this world.

As you can imagine, while out there on the trails you tend to think about all kinds of things. Yesterday and today my mind went back to the future -- to 2021 and what the new year might hold for me and my family. 2021 will be a year of major milestones:

  • I will turn 69 (nothing too surprising there; I get a year older every June).

  • I will mark 8 years without Becky (you never really get used to her not being around).

  • I will be formally retiring from fulltime teaching in July (now that was a bit of a surprise, but I'm a big boy and I can adapt).

What I have learned during my 68 (so far) years on this earth is that for something in us to grow, something else often has to die. I am eager to run the next stage of my spiritual marathon -- to move to the next season of my life --  without trying to live in the past. During 45 years of teaching, I can't tell you the number of times I messed up. I try not to forget those mistakes so that I can learn from them. But I'm not focused on the past. In the end, I did my best as a teacher. I ran hard. I ran with courage. I ran with faith. I ran looking only to Jesus. This is what I think I will be most proud of when July 2021 rolls around. Twenty-two years into detox from institutional religion, that feels pretty good. Sometimes during our life's journey, we don't realize we are experiencing a major turning point until everything around us has been turned upside down. That's pretty much how these past 6 years have been since Becky passed away. More than ever, I simply want to become a Jesus follower. This is discipleship, apprenticeship. The kingdom of God defies our tidy say a prayer and get out of jail card. The kingdom is the church breathing new life into death, just as next spring all the leaves will reappear on the trees I saw today. I can't wait to see those reborn trees, can you? And I can't wait to see how your life and how my life will rise again from the ashes as phoenixes. If there is any foundation on which to place our faltering feet, it has to be this one. God is making all things new. And as he does, he works tirelessly to draw the good and the best out of every single situation that has been marred by the brokenness of the world.

Friday, November 20

7:55 PM I love how the Living Bible renders Phil. 4:6:

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don't forget to thank him for his answers.

Don't forget to thank him for his answers. Max Lucado has written a wonderful little book called Before Amen.

In it he summarizes the gist of prayer in 6 short statements:

  • Father.

  • You are good.

  • I need help.

  • They need help.

  • Thank you.

  • In Jesus' name, amen.

He's talking about:

  • Salutation.

  • Adoration.

  • Supplication.

  • Intercession.

  • Thanksgiving.

  • Benediction.

Today I'm thinking a lot about thanksgiving and how it relates to everyday life. "It is the will of God that we give thanks in all circumstances," writes Paul elsewhere. Truth be told, gratitude is pretty easy when everything is going your way. When things go awry, we don't want to give thanks; we want an explanation from God. Prayer has more to do with using him to get what we want than enjoying him for who he is. Sometimes we want answers more than we want him. It's all about self: self-fulfillment, self-preservation, self-enhancement, self-care, self-protection, self-development. A thankful spirit takes a different approach. Gratitude means to rest in God's goodness through all the losses and heartaches of life. Gratitude means to face all of life with a spirit of trust. Gratitude means we pursue God more than we pursue the satisfaction he provides. Gratitude means valuing pardon for sin more than healing for our pain.

Funny thing is, I know all of this intellectually but I so rarely practice it. As I said, giving thanks is incredibly easier when everything is going your way and incredibly difficult when life sucks. For me, it's always a process. I have to go through a few ugly stages before I reach the point of gratitude. This morning, think of three things you are grateful for. Go ahead. Write them down. They may be:

  • Warm gloves

  • A well-paying job

  • A job, period.

  • The chance to be with wonderful people

  • Family

  • A car to take you back and forth to work

  • The physical ability to get out of bed

  • Dark chocolate

  • Tweenage kids who aren't beasts

  • Your spouse

  • Humor

I'm making my own list.

My life is not perfect. But I have so much to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is a reminder to give thanks. It's a reminder of something we should do every day.

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 19

7:12 PM Hey folks and welcome back to DBO! Today was the last day of in-person instruction for the fall semester. I will be not be back on campus before our January session. It was a blessed semester. I will miss my students.

Prepping for my lecture today over John 21:15-17.

I will also miss the trails in the Raleigh area. Yes, this week I decided it was time to get out of my biking rut and try a new section of the Neuse River Greenway.

It is a much more rural setting than the section near Wake Forest. Overall I was pretty happy with my distance.

The day was beautiful, and the trail was immaculate.

I will definitely be back. Next time I'd like to try and go at least 40 miles.

What a beautiful bridge.

This weekend I am beyond excited to be heading back into the mountains of Virginia to get some hiking in before the winter snows arrive. I may do MacAfee Knob again, and I am definitely thinking about doing Mount Pleasant near Buena Vista for the very first time. I will do my best to share pix with you here on this blog. Folks, it's time to lace up those hiking shoes and enjoy the good old outdoors while we still can!

Meanwhile, the holidays are quickly approaching. No big social gatherings for me this year. Oh, how I would love to hug my grandkids! Well, all in due time. I will probably spend more time in nature than with people. I love running outside when it's cold. The fall foliage gives me a new lease on life. You ought to try it. Freezes your nose off and that's always exciting. Seems I've lost my running gloves. And they weren't cheap. The moral of the story is to put things back where they belong when you're done using them. I can't tell you how many things I've lost because I've been lazy in this regard.

Now I'm off to watch 1917 for the umpteenth time. I love this movie, especially the cinematography. Ciao!

Monday, November 16

6:54 AM To my students: It's only 4 weeks to the end of the semester. Don't let fear, anxiety, or worry get in the way of your journey. Remember to keep having fun, stay calm, and keep your eyes on Jesus. We are all in this together and we are all going to give it our best! I am looking forward to seeing all of you this week in person. I want to send out a thank you to each and every one of you who have worked so hard this semester. Let's finish strong!

Sunday, November 15

1:20 PM Many students are at a place in life where they are wondering where the Lord would have them serve and what he would have them do with their lives. They are in the "seeking" mode but want to be in "settled" mode. I should know. I've been exactly where they are. I counsel such students frequently, and the three verses I always take them to are 1 Cor. 12:4-6. It is the Spirit, Paul says, who gives a gift to every believer. This is the question of "What?" Then the Son, the Lord Jesus, assigns places of ministry to every one of us. This is the question of "Where?" Finally, the power for service, and the results of service, are up to God the Father. This is the question of "How?" Never forget this, young person: God will take care of the what, the where, and the how. You can be sure of it. You might also be surprised by it. I did not ask to be a Greek teacher. I never sought that role. There simply arose a need at Biola for a Greek teacher and I was asked to fill the position. As it turned out, it became the start of a long and fulfilling career, which I have absolutely loved. I find it humorous that Bruce Metzger, that great Princeton New Testament Greek scholar, also claims to have "fallen" into his career. Almost as a fluke, if you will, he began teaching Greek at Princeton in the fall of 1938 and taught for 46 years. I think it's an amazing coincidence that we both were just 24 when we began our teaching careers.

My friend, God has a divine blueprint for your life too. He will put you right where he wants you to use your gift. Let me reiterate: It is the Spirit who gives you your gift. This ability comes from God himself. Nobody is left out; everyone has a gift. Secondly, it is the Lord Jesus who assigns ministries, that is, places of service. You need not be concerned about where you should go. You just go through whatever door the Lord opens for you. As for the results, Paul says, leave that to God the Father. He is in charge of the "outworkings." Your ministry may be limited and obscure, or it may have worldwide fame. But one thing you can be sure of: you can always count on God to be the one who is working in you.

10:15 AM I don't often require my students to memorize passages of Scripture. Maybe I should do this more often. Earlier today I spoke about the blessing of contentment in Christ. No passage of Scripture explains this as well as the verses below. Read them over and over again. I would even challenge you to commit them to memory. You say, "But I can't memorize!" Of course, actors memorize hundreds of lines. Many people do the same with the Bible. I have a Romanian friend who teaches at Midwestern Seminary who has memorized entire books of the New Testament. His name is Radu and he very kindly volunteered to translate for me when I visited Romania.

He has written a great deal about Bible memorization, including this essay: The Importance of Memorizing Scripture. The truth is, we remember what is important to us (Social Security number, birthdays, etc.). So read the following passage again and again. Take the memory challenge. I dare you.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

8:55 AM In Greek 3 this week we're finishing up the book of Philippians. We'll focus on 4:10-20, Paul's closing words to his dear friends in Philippi. He has just spoken about how Christians with disagreements and who are quarreling with each other (Euodia and Syntyche) can settle the matter (4:1-9). Simply put, they are "to agree in the Lord." They are to find common ground. As these two ladies agree to get together and begin talking through their disagreements, Paul is convinced that from this initial agreement they can begin to make progress toward reconciliation. Paul also calls on others -- the church as well as a man named Clement -- to help these women. When we have major disagreements in the body of Christ, the help and advice of others is often necessary. This verse is the basis for a true biblical counseling ministry. A third party can often help us look beyond our own disagreements. In addition, reconciliation requires "sweet reasonableness" or "bigheartedness" (v. 5). And we are to never forget: "The Lord is near." He is right there among us and is able to do this within us. This is what prayer is for (vv. 6-7). There is nothing too big or too small to bring to him. Whenever we pray, we lean on his grace and strength to do what we cannot do in ourselves.

Now, in verses 10-20, Paul's theme shifts. Here he unpacks for us the meaning of contentment.

It seems that Christians are always striving after something. And while there is a place for "divine discontentment" (see Paul's words in chapter 3 about striving toward the goal of maturity in Christ), Paul had learned that the major value in life was to love people and not things. This was the focus he had learned at last -- to live for the good of others whether he was poor or wealthy, sick or healthy, etc. This theme runs like a thread throughout the letter. Paul had learned that, in himself, he had nothing, was nothing, could do nothing. He had learned to face every circumstance as the Lord's choice for him in order for God to display his overwhelming ability in him (4:13).

All of this simply reveals the fact that I so rarely model contentment in my own life. I have forgotten that it's what God wants that counts, not what I want. And just as he always give himself to meet the needs of others, so I am to live with that same priority. I need to come to the place that whatever he wants, I want. I need to learn that he permits everything that comes to me so that I might experience the secret of being satisfied in him in every circumstance.

Isn't the Lord good to put up with me while I'm trying to figure life out? I look forward to discussing this chapter with my students on Tuesday. It will be fun sharing with them some of the lasting lessons I've learned as the Lord and I have gone through this chapter together.

7:40 AM This morning I am doing a deep dive into Romans 12. Here are some of the things the Lord is speaking to me about, particularly as they relate to my profession as a teacher.

Paul's list of spiritual gifts in verses 6-8 is pretty amazing. I think his main point is that when we discover our gift, we enjoy doing it. This means that if you are a teacher, teaching should not be difficult, painful work. It should be something you delight in doing week in and week out. You find fulfillment in doing it. And just what is the "it" that we are supposed to be doing? Let's look at the gifts Paul mentions here. They are, in this order, prophesying, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, giving, leading, and showing mercy. As teachers, there is a sense in which we engage in all of these activities. In its non-technical sense, "prophesying" is "the peculiar gift of explaining revelation" (Calvin). I had many teachers growing up who did this in an amazing way. I can still think of many who do this today. They bring such encouragement, strength, and comfort to others! Then there is the gift of serving. We've all had teachers with this gift. You love to be with them because they are always so eager to serve and help you. What a tremendous blessing they are to the body of Christ! Next, Paul mentions teaching. Teaching is the ability to impart information in such a way as to involve not only the mind but also the will. Then there is the gift of encouragement. This is a marvelous gift for a teacher. Barnabas had this gift. As you know, his name means "son of encouragement." In the New Testament he is always found with his arm around somebody. Ever known a teacher like that? Then Paul refers to the one who gives. "Let him or her give generously." These teachers view their time, energy, and possessions as opportunities to be used in the hands of God to bless and help others. Then the gift of leadership is mentioned. If that's your gift, Paul says, "do it with diligence." You can't wing leadership. People know when you are prepared and when you're not. Finally, there's the gift of showing mercy. These are people who delight in helping those who are neglected by others.

Notice that all of these gifts may be divided -- as they are in 1 Pet 4:10-12 -- into two basic groups:

  • Speaking gifts

  • Serving gifts

As I see it, then, these are the two basic functions of every Christian -- either you (primarily) speak or serve. Many times, however, you will be called upon to do both. As teachers, our calling is more than dispensing information -- writing books, giving lectures, and publishing journal articles and book reviews. Those things are important -- very important -- but the people we teach should come to understand that they are not merely minds to be filled but real people with real needs who need to be well cared for. 

This, I think, is a biblical picture of the ministry of teaching. Now I close with a question: How well am I doing this? Who am I, anyway? If God has called me to be a teacher, then let me teach by means of his strength and in his power. Let students see in me a man whose soul is no less vulnerable than theirs, who battles the same temptations they do, and who is equally susceptible to life's heartaches and suffering. I pray they may always see in me the right things -- simplicity, humility, love for Jesus -- and never the wrong things -- hypocrisy, showmanship, toxic authoritarianism. Fellow teachers of the world, let's make our classrooms beautiful again by using the ordinary tools that have always worked: prayer, honesty, truth, and selfless love.

Lord, I pray that you would help each of us teachers to discover who we are in you and then to fulfill that calling with the excitement, joy, and passion that only you can give. For Christ's sake I pray, Amen.

Saturday, November 14

4:08 PM Running. It's still something special. When you take that first step during your daily run, you can't bottle the energy. There's no other sport where I've felt just the joy, the intensity, the anticipation of what's going to happen. It's magical. The day Becky passed away, the "why" of my life changed. Running is now bigger than just me. I run with a sense of responsibility to our grandkids. I run to be there for these little human beings that eventually are going to hopefully be great persons. What I get out of running today is being able to give back to others what God has so graciously given to me. How kind he's been. I have family close by. I have my dog. I can step outside and go for a run in the country or go to the trail any time of the day that I want. I've had a good life. A successful career for me would mean crossing that finish line next July after 45 years of teaching still smiling, still happy, and still giving God the glory. There's a great deal you learn about yourself with every run you do but especially any distance over 10 miles. I feel the challenges make me so much stronger and give a lot of meaning to what I do. It's just another obstacle in life that you have to overcome, and life goes on. I truly think you come out of all of those experiences so much more rich. It doesn't mean that things will get easier. Life doesn't get any easier the older you get. It's just that you're a lot better prepared and equipped to handle all the situations life throws at you. And those situations will come. Life happens, and you gotta be ready. 

Pics from today's run:

First order of business: scraping the ice off the windshield.

This is what my drive to Farmville looked like on a "busy" Saturday morning. I'm not trying to make my friends in Raleigh or Wake Forest jealous or anything like that. (That's exactly what I'm trying to do.)

I began my run at the trail head in the hamlet of Rice, VA.

Cross the street, and you're off and running.

The views on the trail are awesome. Like this one.

And this one.

Occasionally you'll cross a deserted highway.

Or an equally deserted bridge.

Eventually you turn around and head back to your car.

I took this selfie at mile 12, still going strong.

By God's grace, my half marathon distance goal was achieved.

Back in town I saw this interesting sign. Looks like Dave Black being unmarried has a silver lining after all.

Oh well. Another day, another run. As usual, I got drawn in hook, line, and sinker. Throughout the run I offered a silent token of appreciation to the One who created all of this beauty. I enjoyed every step of my run because I ran it with him. Faith in Christ is a race. It's a marathon laden with difficulties. But at the end awaits an imperishable reward to all who persevere:

Christ himself.

5:58 AM This morning I was up early trying to complete an essay for our seminary journal and worshipping the Lord with Claudio Monteverdi:

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi. Quia per sanguinem tuum pretiosum redemisti mundum. Miserere nobis.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. For with your precious blood you have redeemed the world. Have mercy on us.  

The essay is actually an interview on why I ask my students to do rhetorical analysis in their exegesis of the New Testament. C. L. Lewis sums up my own attraction to literature when he writes that "in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and I am never more myself than when I do" (An Experiment in Criticism, p. 141). Lewis was unwittingly writing about me when he penned those lines. I could not listen to the video above without actually watching my soul adoring God. I cried a little -- actually cried! There's just something divine in this piece that reaches into the depths of my soul. It makes me pause and remember, "Be still and know that I am God." Music like this brings me so much hope and inspiration, joy and courage. How can human beings not like this kind of music? Where are our ears? How can we not love good poetry set to music? How can we settle for what goes for "worship" music today? Elgar owes as much to Voces8 as they to him. I am at a loss for words.

Thank you to all you dedicated musicians who perform such inspiring music. Thank you to Claudio Monteverdi for his fabulous composition.

And thank you to the authors of the Bible (and to its ultimate Author) who have produced books that are read so often and with so much enjoyment by so many people of all age groups. For you remind us that the Scriptures are not only readable, but enjoyable.

Friday, November 13

6:55 PM Even as the nation is awaiting a vaccine for the coronavirus, UNC is working around the clock on their studies of endometrial cancer. Today I had the great privilege of meeting with Dr. Victoria Bae-Jump of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Vickie (as she likes to be called) holds an MD and a PhD and is both a clinician and researcher at UNC. She has just launched a new initiative aimed at tracking 1,000 women in North Carolina with endometrial cancer to understand why the cancer is increasing in both frequency and mortality and why the disease is more deadly for some women than for others. The study is called the Carolina Endometrial Cancer Study. It merits my support for sure! While I was there I couldn't help but remember the hundreds of visits Becky and I made to Chapel Hill over the course of her illness.

Never was a patient treated better. God provided nothing but the best for her. If you read my blog, you know that I think health care in the U.S. is the best in the world. That said, even the best doctors can't cure every case of stage 4 cancer. In all seriousness, I am so grateful for the work Vickie is doing. Maybe, just maybe, her team will discover a new drug or treatment that will cure this type of cancer. I don't think that's likely. But our job isn't to worry about that but to be responsible with what the Lord has given us, including our financial resources. As for the health of our temples, folks, that's on us. Get regular physicals. Eat well. Get rest. Don't beat up your body. Give it the TLC it needs in the form of recovery time. If you are overweight, for goodness' sake, pay attention and talk to your doctor. Above all, let's stop stressing out. Let's joyfully accept the hardships God sends our way. A glad acceptance of hard things opens the way for glory and growth. The sorrows in my life, whether my own fault or someone else's, have given me the chance to learn a little more each time the meaning of the cross. Every trip to UNC was an opportunity to make the cross my home, my rest, my shelter, my refuge. "Happiness, heaven itself, is nothing else but a perfect conformity, a cheerful and eternal compliance of all the powers of the soul with the will of God" (Samuel Shaw). Every glad surrender of the self to Christ is a new death, like the tree's "loss" of its leaves so that fresh ones may grow and take their place. Glory to God!

Overall, a great day. Thanks for coming along.

5:15 PM The farm welcoming me home after a long day on the road.

It has never looked prettier.

8:15 AM My favorite verse as a blogger is 1 Cor. 14:3 because I think it summaries what a good blog should look like. Paul writes that we should "speak to people for their strengthening, encouraging, and comfort." Isn't that beautiful? The Living Bible says we are to "help others grow in the Lord, encouraging and comforting them." And Eugene Peterson puts it this way: "When you proclaim his truth in everyday speech, you're letting others in on the truth so that they can grow and be strong and experience his presence with you." I think the church ought to be a learning church. We ought to be "devoted to the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). Anti-intellectualism is wholly incompatible with New Testament Christianity. The Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of Truth," and wherever he is at work, truth will matter. A Christian is nothing less than a lifelong student of Scripture! The Bible is true everywhere or it isn't true anywhere. A worthy life involves obeying Scripture, loving as Christ loved, sharing the mercy of God with others, being "real" in ordinary conversations and regular encounters, and being true to our calling to demonstrate the gospel through the daily labor of being a good spouse and parent and employee. This is our calling. It is rarely famous work. No, we live out our calling in the little stuff of life that might not seem like much to us but it's much to God. Friend, let the rest of us grin at you while you live out the truth in your corner of the world. Don't be ashamed to follow Christ with abandon. Throw yourself into your work with no apologies. You were made to run. So run! Do not worry about status. There's only one status that counts, and that's "servant." Be willing to accept humiliations. They draw us nearer to our humble Savior. Never take yourself too seriously. Laugh at and with yourself. Thank God frequently, not just at Thanksgiving but often and always. Confess your sins freely. The test of love is obedience and we all fall short. Take time to get away to be with the Lord or life will overwhelm you. Let us offer ourselves to God as agents of change in this world, remembering that socially responsible Christians are always the fruit of evangelism. Put no man (or woman) on a pedestal. There are to be no gurus in the Christian church. All preaching and teaching should lead people away from us and encourage them to follow Christ and to read the Scriptures for themselves. Use Facebook to empower others and to bang the drum for simple missional living.

What I want for us is not to give up on life because of all the bad things that are happening in 2020. Don't let Covid be an excuse for you to whimper in a corner. Enjoy what you can enjoy. Be an encouragement to others whenever you can. Speak words of comfort into the misery all around you. Good things still exist in this world. You just have to decide to notice them and appreciate them.

Got so much more to say but I have to boogie. Have a great day in the Lord and, as always, thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, November 12

6:42 PM Amazing! We did it! 17 years of blogging as of tomorrow, Nov. 13. Absolutely grateful to God -- and for ALL of you being with me on this journey. Where have the years gone??? I blog because I think the world needs some more dreams. I hope you have God-sized dreams in this world to chase down and, yes, I certainly do. No matter how large or small your dreams, never let them die. For example, even after 5 years of running I'm still trying to perfect my running form, starting first and foremost with my cadence. Cadence is simply the number of steps you take in a minute. The optimum cadence is 180 steps per minute (spm), or 3 steps per second. I usually can do only about two-thirds of that since I'm so tall and so slow. You want to increase your cadence because when you are in the air you slow down and when you are on the ground you speed up. The most obvious way to increase your cadence is to shorten your stride. Easier said than done. For me this means reducing heel-striking and landing more on my mid-sole. I'm discovering that it takes months for the new muscle memory to kick in but I am gradually upping my cadence. Tonight I did a run at the track on a pretty dismal evening.

I was able to get my spm up to 172 believe it or not. That's a victory for sure! Will I be able to improve on that? I don't know. But this I do know: I want to find the rhythm that best harnesses the energy from my steps. I want to find what comes natural to me. In fact, as a runner my goal is nothing less than optimum health, not speed or pace or even cadence. Did you know that, despite all the health care we have in America, the health-adjusted life expectancy (HALE) for Americans is only 70 years, which doesn't even figure into the global top twenty? According to some studies, the average functional life span in the U.S. has started to decline. How do we reverse that? Even low to moderate levels of exercise can improve your health.

Time to play it smart and run healthy in this marathon training block. I'm still hoping for another 26.2 mile race in 2021. As for tomorrow, I'm seeing my cardiologist for my annual check up and then I am really looking forward to going to UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill to meet with the oncologist who is doing cutting-edge research on endometrial cancer. I'll visit her lab again and then make a small donation to UNC and her work. One of the absolute coolest things about the running community is the way we rally for each other and for various causes. There are literally hundreds of charity races around the world each year, and even though many of them have been canceled this year, we can still run a virtual race for charity as did I recently for UNC. Just think -- you get to donate to a charity of your choice by doing something you love. Doesn't get any better than that. I can't wait for my next official charity race. The community spirit at these events is always overwhelming. The running community is awesome and I love how we love and support each other. It's so much like the body of Christ in that way. I think I'll make "Running Gives Back" my new motto!

Well, it's time to feed the dog and check up on the donks. Again, thank you for being so supportive of me during the past 17 years of blogging. May the years ahead be as enjoyable for both of us!

4:05 PM Today I'm reworking my translation of a key passage in Philippians. I'm referring to 4:1-9. If I could summarize Paul's theme here it would be: "Yes, change your actions, but, more fundamentally, change your attitudes!" In a Philippian church marked by disunity, strife, and troubled hearts, Paul wants to see a congregation that is united, joyful, and at peace. So here's my translation of these powerful verses (here I try to bring out my position on the many debated expressions in this passage):

So then, my sisters and brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and my victor's crown, this is how you should stand firm in the Lord, my dear ones:

Euodia, I beg you, and Syntyche, I beg you: Be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, I also ask the entire congregation, as my faithful partner, to help these women because they fought at my side to spread the Good News, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the Book of Life.

At all times be joyful in the Lord! I will say it again: Be joyful!

Let everyone know how bighearted you are. The Lord is near.

Don't worry about anything, but in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests, and don't forget to give thanks. Then God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can grasp, will stand guard over your emotions and thoughts in Christ Jesus.

Finally, sisters and brothers, since there are things that are excellent and since there are things that deserve praise, keep pondering these things -- whatever is truthful, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and admirable. Keep putting into practice the things you learned from me, the traditions you received from me, the things you heard about me, and the things you saw me doing. If you do, the God who gives us his peace will be with you.

Lest you think I have nailed this translation, let me remind you of the struggle I had when translating many of the expressions Paul uses.

Is "brothers" being used generically for "brothers and sisters"? If so, why not reverse the traditional order and give deference to our sisters in Christ (something John Stott loves to do in his sermons)? Is the crown Paul mentions a ruler's diadem or a victor's wreath? Since the Greek indicates it is the latter, why not make that clear in our translations? In Greek the names Euodia and Syntyche are fronted for emphasis. Does that matter? If so, how can we indicate this in our translations? Does "faithful partner" refer to a man named Suzugos or to the church as a whole (Paul's "faithful partner")? You'll notice I think the latter interpretation is the correct one. Did these women "fight," "contend," or "struggle" alongside Paul? As you can see, I think Paul is alluding to the gladiatorial games (these women "fought" by Paul's side). "Be joyful" is my attempt to bring out what we call verbal aspect (the present tense of the imperative is used here). "Bighearted " could also be rendered "unselfishness" or "considerateness." "Don't worry" could also be rendered "Stop worrying." "Stand guard" is my attempt to bring out the image of a garrison of Roman soldiers standing guard.

"Since there are things" (instead of "if there are things") is my attempt to bring out the so-called first class condition in Greek. Again, both "Keep pondering" and "Keep practicing" try to bring out the Greek verbal aspect.

When I assess the blessings of being a Greek teacher, being forced to dig into the text again and again is one of the uppermost. Who knew that language could be so wonderful? Dear reader, nothing would make me happier than your own interaction with the text. Read as many English versions as you can find and then try and come up with your own translation. This will force you to make those sometimes hard exegetical calls. Commentaries will help you get started, but they are not there to do all the thinking for you.

United. Joyful. At peace. Oh my, how our churches could use Paul's instructions here! And so could our nation.

Monday, November 9

6:22 AM Today begins our final two weeks of class on campus. After the Thanksgiving Break, we will not be meeting in person again this semester. I am already missing my students and will do so until I see them again (or at least some of them) when I begin my J-term Greek 1 class on January 4. This week there is much to cover in each of my classes, beginning with the demonstrative pronouns in Greek 1, the first several verses of Philippians 4 in Greek 3, the books of 1-2 Peter in NT 2, and According to John in NT 1. As for the letter called 1 Peter, I think it will be appropriate in a seminary setting to delve into Peter's exhortation to his fellow elders in 1 Pet. 5:1-5 and then to all believers in 5:6-11. This is an extremely important passage if for no other reason than we all too often draw a hard and fast distinction between leaders and led, between "clergy" and "laity," as if they were two different degrees of Christian calling. Clericalism has been damaging to the health of the church throughout the ages because it has inhibited the members of Christ's body, each of whom is a priest and a minister, from contributing their own ministries and exercising their own gifts. On the other hand, anti-clericalism is no less a grave danger to the health of the church. The Bible is clear that there is a place, and a very important place, for pastoral oversight in the church. To me it's very significant that in verse 1 the apostle Peter, in writing to the elders in the different house churches, calls himself their "fellow elder." I'm thankful for that humility and I wonder if we couldn't profit from that example today. In essence, Peter is elevating these men and their ministries and identifying their work with his. He urges them to carry out their work with proper motives and to lead by example and not by authoritative domination. These elders are, moreover, equals. There is a parity among them that is belied by our modern use of the term "senior" pastor. Much more could be said. Elders bear an enormous burden today, as then. But when they can stand up and call the church to follow their example, as they follow Christ, they are doing exactly what the Lord has called them to do.

I'm looking forward to hanging out with my students this week. Their insights and comments make me laugh, cry, think, and help me stay inspired. As we begin a new week, let's remember that happiness is a choice and a result of our outlook, the people with whom we surround ourselves, and what (or who) we choose to focus on. What will this week look like? Maybe more in-person time with friends and family and less texts and email. Maybe more living in the moment and less forgetting to be present. Maybe more doing and less talking. Maybe more positive words coming out of our mouths and less negative ones. In any case, I hope your week is filled with joy, wellness, and success.

Sunday, November 8

7:54 PM Before calling it a day I wanted to express my thanks to all of you for your kind and tender words of sympathy and empathy as last week I commemorated the passing of my wife 7 years ago. She was loved by so many. I spent last week dealing again with the grief. You think you're past it but it comes back often, doesn't it? We realize how much people mean to us when they're gone. So thank you for your kindness as I grieved. It's all a part of God's discipline of his children. We might not have our way, but he has his way, and his design is to bring us into conformity with his plan for our lives. God is committed to our growth. Not to our happiness necessarily. Not to our comfort. But to our Christlikeness. He loves it when we respond to him as he instructs us, reproves us, corrects us, and trains us. Grief reveals the heart of our loving Lord. "For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies" (Lam. 3:31). Grief prepares the way for Christ himself. So grateful for that truth tonight. May each of us have a wonderful week in him.

5:25 PM Today's Veterans Day race kicked off at 7:30 at the John Lee Pratt Memorial Park in Stafford, VA, just across the Rappahannock River from the city of Fredericksburg. I lined up, per usual, at the back of the pack.

I knew the course would be hilly and I didn't want to get in the way of the faster runners out there.

It was a new course to me on another spectacular Virginia morning.

The view of the city of Fredericksburg was unforgettable.

I enjoyed a well-paced run at (for me) a nice clip. I finished in a very satisfying 1:11:43.

It felt great to be alive and running in one of our nation's most historic sites. I love America. Why? Because America is truly beautiful. We have it all -- beaches and islands and farms and cities and lakes and rivers and mountains and deserts and glaciers and volcanoes. Because all of us have the right to have our voice heard and our vote counted. Because even in hard times we stick together and fight for a better nation. For years I called the observance Veterans' Day. Shame on me. There is no apostrophe in the name. The day doesn't belong only to veterans. It's a day for all of us to honor the vets and the nation they fought and died for. I am thankful that you and I are fellow Americans. Let's never surrender our relentless belief and demand that this country would live up to her potential and promise. 

Saturday, November 7

9:32 AM Hallo Leute! Hear the one about the German tourist who said to his American waiter: "I am here since an hour. When do I become a fish?" Learning to speak a foreign language correctly (that is, idiomatically) is just plain HARD. This blog post is in no way intended to make fun of Germans who try to speak English. I have total respect for anyone who tries to speak a foreign language on any level. Lord knows how many times I've totally embarrassed myself when speaking German or French or Spanish. Most of the mistakes people make are caused by trying to translate literally from one language to another. If a German speaker says to me, "On the one side," this is really German, not English (we say "On the one hand"). This does not mean they are saying something "wrong." As long as I understand the other person, I'm happy! I think both Americans and Germans are pretty good at not correcting "small" mistakes. If you are not very good with a language you're trying to learn, it may be helpful to be corrected. But if we're not careful, correcting someone will come across as nitpicking. Please don't stop trying to speak a foreign language in public. Native speakers will never judge you for trying to master their language. Talk as much as possible, find people to talk with, and swallow your pride. Also, don't be embarrassed when other people do correct you. They usually mean well. It's the effort that counts. Even though I am quite fluent in German I still can't pronounce some German words the way I know they should be pronounced. Confidence is key. Even Germans struggle with all their language rules and grammar. It's important to speak, not to remain silent, no matter how weird you may sound. That's the only way to improve your skills. For example, in German you don't say "I was born in 1982." You just use the number ("Ich bin 1982 geboren").

Today there's an emphasis on teaching and learning Koine Greek as a living language. I haven't adopted this approach even though I am totally convinced that we should seek an active (not merely a passive) knowledge of language. Were I to teach "theological" German to Ph.D. students, the first thing I would do is get rid of their "Theological German" textbook and send the class to YouTube to learn how to speak modern German. Then why haven't I adopted the living language approach to Koine Greek? Very simple. If I could find merely ONE native speaker of Koine Greek, I would adopt that method at the drop of a hat. The truth is, nobody today really knows how to "fluently" pronoun ancient Greek. But as for a modern foreign language: Speak, speak, speak.

"But I make mistakes." Who cares? Practice makes perfect. (German equivalent: "Practice makes the master.") Overcoming your fear of making mistakes when speaking is the hardest part. If you don't have really bad luck and encounter some really grumpy person, you'll do fine.

Just speak!

7:20 AM For 44 years I've had the privilege of helping people discover the joy of reading the New Testament in Greek. Recently I spoke with one of my friends who's been teaching Greek longer than I have. He is 79 and still going strong, still teaching Greek fulltime in a college in Texas, still as passionate about the classroom as ever. I asked him how he was able to maintain his enthusiasm for teaching Greek after all these years. His reply was that he simply loved Greek. Teaching Greek wasn't something he had to do but wanted to do. Moreover, he said he'd be in love with Greek even if he never became a Greek teacher. He just loves the language. I think that's why I started my own journey as a Greek teacher all those years ago. When I got my first "A" in beginning Greek, I was hooked. Greek became an expression of who I was and who I am. I loved it.

When students leave seminary, many leave their Greek behind. I understand that. For some, languages don't come naturally. It's a struggle. For me, running is like that. When I'm in a race, I often see other runners who clearly were born runners. It is who they are -- gazelles. Me? Think tortoise or penguin. Often it's just right foot, left foot. In spite of that, I keep moving forward. Once you've felt the ecstasy of forward motion, you want to feel it again and again. At least that's what happened to me. At some point I went from being a person who runs to a runner. Unlike natural runners, running doesn't come easily for me. The seamless motion of legs and arms continues to elude me. My running is abrupt and clumsy. Still, I love it. Running -- all running -- is joyful in its own right.

My friend, where are you in life? Is where you are where you want to be? We all need goals. We all need to discover what God's plan for our lives is. Even today, I know that there is something out there that I haven't done yet that I want to do. Whatever it is, I want to discover it. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life coasting. When my teaching days are over, I will still love Greek. When my racing days are gone, I will still run, walk, or shuffle simply because I love to use the two legs God's given me. The magic of teaching or running is that it has inherent value on its own. We need to celebrate the accomplishment of every class taught and every run completed.

Steven Pinker, in his book The Language Instinct, says that if language didn't exist, people would be so driven to communicate with each other that they'd invent one.

As old and slow as I am, I am trying to become the best teacher and the best runner I know how to be. Every single day is a chance to improve. Every time I teach I try to do better. Every time I run I try to be better. I have discovered the primal joy of both activities.

I hope you find the same joy in your own endeavors.

Friday, November 6

6:06 PM There's an old saying that goes like this: "There are four things you can't recover: the stone after it's been thrown, the word after it's been said, the occasion after it's been missed, and the time after it's been spent." In other words, we have to carefully consider our actions, be slow with our words, enjoy the occasions, and utilize our time to the fullest. Wayne Dyer puts it like this: "Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed." Friend, God has given us the ability to choose what happens next in our lives. So if we realize that we've carelessly thrown a stone or spoken a word, we can humble ourselves and apologize. If we realize that we've wasted our opportunities and time, we can change. Do you have any regrets in life? Of course you do. We all do. Have you learned from your experience? Have I? Our words and actions reveal what kind of a person we are.

Don't exactly know why I have this on my mind today. I guess I'm just wondering if we all could be more patient with each other instead of being so consumed with our own agendas during this election cycle. Paul says, "Let your gentleness be known to all." Hendriksen translates this as, "Let your bigheartedness be known to all." Maybe it's time that we as individuals and as Americans work on our bigheartedness a little. Every day is a chance to do better and to choose what we say and how we act more carefully. We don't have all the time in the world to do this either. Once we say something hurtful it cannot be unsaid, and no amount of apologies can erase it completely. Take a minute to think where that other person is coming from. Many times I've gotten too caught up in the moment to really think things through before saying or doing something. For us Christians it should be second nature to be kind and to do the right thing all the time, but we still need to be reminded every now and then. Kindness is so important, isn't it?

Today I got in an 8 mile run at the local trail. It was a splendid day to be outdoors.

I'm gearing up for a 10K trail run on Sunday near Fredericksburg. It's a race celebrating Veterans Day and honoring our military. My daughter is married to a wonderful soldier. They're stationed at Fort Benning. Here I am with Tino after we ran the Army 4-Miler in DC a couple of years ago.

It was an amazing time. Tino is so much faster than me yet he ran beside me the whole race and we crossed the finish line hand in hand. Once again, I am so thankful for my family. We're not alone, folks, in this race called life.

On Sunday we should have great weather for a race. It will be a time for me to get recharged both physically and spiritually. I love being outdoors. God often uses these times to speak to me. At times my heart feels like it's being wrung until I feel helpless, but God is never far away. Becky's death was a crux (Latin for "cross") -- "crucial" to my living in harmony with God. I am not my own. I am bought with a price. Everything that happens to me is his business. The old life -- my self life -- is gone. The new life is a daily Yes to God. P. T. Forsyth wrote, "Our will alone is our ownest own, the only dear thing we can and ought really to sacrifice." The New Testament never for a moment denies the reality of suffering and hardship. But during times of suffering, nothing is more real than the presence of God.

There is nothing arbitrary about my life or yours, my dear friend. So whatever we do this weekend, let's respond in faith and receive the all-sufficient grace God offers. Okay?

7:50 AM Today, I'm grateful. I'm glad that my 68 year old body can still move. That my 68 year old body can hopefully run another marathon in 2021. That my 68 year old body can (maybe, just maybe) quality for Boston one day. That I still have classes to teach and books to write. That even though my house needs cleaning it isn't a total disaster. That God saw me through a difficult week as I remembered Becky. That today I can get outdoors and take in all the scenery and feel my body and the sensation of running. Something in the human spirit sings when you go further than you thought possible. When you rest in God's love and care. When loss becomes a glad surrender. When you see your students accepting responsibility and disciplining themselves. When you speak the blessings of heaven into the raw materials of who they are. When you do the patient work of distinguishing between the needs and the wants of others. When you learn to say "no" because you are drawing tight boundaries around your time and energy. When your friends do the relentless work of speaking truth into your life. When you grasp the endlessness of Christ's love and the extent of his mercy. When Jesus (and no one else) is your hero. When he transforms your idea of "being the greatest." When you see your wife's selflessness embedded in your children. When the classroom still excites you even though you've been teaching for many years. When you see pastors stop their posturing. When you see faint hints that the body of Christ is exchanging its concern for place, honor, and rights for blessing and honor and glory and power to the Lamb who sits on the throne.

This blog isn't just about running. It's about life. It's about fulfilling your God-given mission on this planet. And about doing the hard work to get there. That married couple who seems so happy and content? They have probably worked very hard to achieve and maintain that happiness and may have even gone through a seemingly irredeemably low point in their marriage. That person who has succeeded in their career? They likely put in many hours of hard work paying their dues. Things that are worth having in life don't come easily. But they are worth fighting for. "It is always the secure that are humble" wrote Gilbert Keith Chesterton. So to all the humble, happy, hard-working people in my life: Thank you. And to everyone who reads this blog today: Be kind. Be yourself. And love Jesus. I am cheering you on.

Thursday, November 5

7:16 PM Got time for a few thank you notes?

1) Thanks FedEx for keeping me well-supplied with weekend reading.

2) Thanks to Nafkot Ethiopian Restaurant in Raleigh for some delicious kay wat in memory of Becky.

3) Thanks to my assistant Rodolfo for smashing my latest "vegetable" power point.

4) Finally, thank you Jesus for being am amazing teacher. You are wise in every way. We bless you.

Tuesday, November 3

7:45 AM Okay, folks, let's get right into it. The Question of the Day is: What is your philosophy of Bible study, your ideology, the branches under which you operate when you approach God's word on a daily basis? I would argue that the most influential philosophy of Bible reading is the grammatical-historical approach adopted by thousands of people around the world. It is based on one simple concept, that of reading the Bible in both its historical and literary contexts and then doing a deep dive into the text itself using all of the grammatical tools available to you. We look at the textual variants. We look at the words. We look at the way words are put together (syntax). We look at the structure of our passage. We look for any rhetorical devices the author may have used. We finish by asking the text, "What is your message for me today?" As you read a passage of Scripture over and over again, you're going to begin to discover what your text is all about. If you're like me, you'll want to record your observations. Sometimes I do this in my Bible. At other times I use a notebook. Having your whole Bible handy is essential. Scripture is the most valuable commentary on Scripture. This is why studying the Bible book by book and continually reading through it is so helpful. Get into the habit of recording significant cross-references and highlighting them in some way in your Bible. Then investigate things you don't understand. I can't stress this enough. For example, yesterday I was reading a commentary on Hebrews. The author mentioned that the "race" in Heb. 12:1 is a "marathon" and not a "sprint." I can't tell you how many times I've read or heard this in a sermon. The fact is, there were no marathons in the first century. The longest foot race was only about 3 miles. The first marathon took place at the Athens Olympics in 1896. Again, you may not understand everything about the passage you're studying, but knowing how to ask questions of the text is crucial. When you've done your own work, then it's time to consult the scholarly work of others. Make sure these commentaries handle the text reputably.

So much more can and should be said but I have got to get back to campus. I came home last night so that I could cast my vote this morning at the local precinct in the big city of Nelson. What? Never heard of Nelson and its two buildings (the post office and convenience store)? You're really missing out, folks! Who did I vote for? That's easy. My grandkids and their future :-)

P.S. Can't get away without saying a big "Thank you" to everyone who expressed their sympathy and love to me these past two or three days. Y'all are the best. My pursuit of God is still not a smooth one. I'm just grateful there are others to share the bumps with me. I've discovered a very important truth about life during the process of grieving: In this life there is no escape from pain. Even if you live obediently, problems will arise. The temptation to resort to denial or human attempts to relieve the pain is very real. But what we need is not a plan to implement but a person to trust. I have found such a person in Christ. On this blog, as the Lord allows, I will continue to share my journey with you, the race God has set before me. My one goal in writing is perhaps best reflected in the words of George MacDonald, the famous Scottish author and poet: "If I cannot persuade you to understand a little more of Jesus Christ, my labor is lost in coming to you." We are here on this earth to know the Lord Jesus Christ more intimately day by day. There's no other reason for living. This truth is not academic to me. God has brought me through a severe mercy to deepen my awareness of my need for him. The world is too crazy a place to count on enjoying it. But it's a perfect place to find God and then to share his love with others.

P.P.S. In Greek 3 today we are finishing the third chapter of the book of Philippians. I once jotted down some "takeaways" from this great chapter. If you've ever worked through Philippians, you might be interested in reading them. My essay is called Lasting Lessons from Philippians 3. Lesson #5 is, I think, especially appropriate on an election day!

Monday, November 2

7:28 AM When Becky passed away, I told the kids I would continue to wear my wedding ring for a year and then decide if I would take it off. Well, I'm still wearing it. I feel naked without it. Like Becky, John Mark's mother Mary was a woman of means. Her house in Jerusalem had rooms large enough to accommodate a sizable guest list. It's very likely that her home was the venue of the Last Supper. She was also generous and wholeheartedly devoted to the cause of Christ. It was of such a mother that Mark was a son. To segue ....  Who can say how many daughters in the Lord my Becky mentored? Or how many orphans and widows she assisted? Or how many Ethiopians she served? The widow who "made the list" in 1 Timothy 5 was noted for practicing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, assisting the afflicted, and being devoted to "every kind of good work." Somehow I think that Becky, had she lived past 60, would have qualified for that list. The spiritual analogies are plain. The choice to become a spiritual mother is a choice to lose one's life in the service of Christ. Yet Becky was never over-awed by the task. Rather than dipping a toe at pool's edge and testing the temperature, she dove in head first. Spiritual parenting is not for the faint of heart. And now I must receive my loneliness and singleness as part of the price of being a servant of the Lord. It is a daily offering. Sometimes I feel like making it, and at other times I don't. Emotions are poor taskmasters. But there is no escaping the responsibility. Patience. Sacrifice. Protection. Provision. That is what fathers are for. Hosea wrote of God, "In you the fatherless find a father's love." What is your loss, my friend? Receive it willingly, as from God. Then offer it gratefully back to him. Be a father or a mother to others. You will still be alone but you will never be lonely. The tears, the pain, the grief are all part of the process he is at work on. This is why we can sing even in the midst of death. The oil of gladness will one day replace the mourner's tears. There will be garlands instead of ashes. If our cup of suffering overflows in Christ, so also through Christ our consolation overflows. Becky had to wake up every morning and fight to finish her race. Use her story to take your life's burden and hand it over to the Lord. Most importantly, use her faith to have a vision for your own future. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. And do it with a smile, every day.

I love you, Becky. I miss you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for saying "yes" when I proposed. What an amazing and inspirational woman you were. You were loved by so many.

Well, that's all I've got. Today is all I've got. And it's all you've got too. Let's make it a good one and finish what we start.

Dave

Sunday, November 1

6:18 PM The weekend is rapidly coming to a close but not before a few reflections on the coming week. Class preparation is so key for any teacher out there. Monday night in Greek 1 we'll be introducing the perfect tense system. In Greek 3 on Tuesday we'll finish the third chapter of Philippians and delve into the Greek indicative mood. Wednesday is a day I've been looking forward to for a very long time in NT 2 -- our discussion of Hebrews. Honestly, I don't know what to cover. I'll probably end up discussing the authorship of Hebrews, the structure of the letter, the warning passage in 6:4-6 (where the shift from the aorist tense participles to the present tense participles seems to hold the key to interpretation), and end up with a glance at what is perhaps the most beautifully constructed sentence in the Greek New Testament, Heb. 1:1-4. Finally, in NT 1 on Thursday we will cover According to Luke. Tomorrow, of course, will mark 7 years to the day since Becky went to her heavenly reward. I am nearly overwhelmed by the goodness of God, which knows no bounds. Jesus shoulders the pain with me. His love is so liberating; he is worthy of adoration each and every day. He has seen me through and I will never be the same. And so I pray for perspective on this short, fleeting life. I release my fears and offer what gifts I have to the world. I die not all at once but a little every day. True, there are other people in my life, but no one like her. In marriage I learned how to love. You never resume the way you lived and felt prior to the loss. But eventually you find your life enlarged by the loss, even as you continue to deal with it. However inadequate my words, I hope on this blog I have shared something of the mystery of marriage and the sufficiency of the gospel to help us through every loss in life. Above all, music has soothed my soul. God gives us a garment of praise when we mourn. And when loss becomes a glad surrender, we experience the power of the life of Jesus in these mortal bodies of ours. Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God in the kitchen of a monastery. I do so in a large and lonely house. God has marked out a line of duty for each of us. "Child, I am ever with you, and all that I have is yours," says the Father to us. What more can we ask for? 

8:55 AM Isn't it about time? To get rid of those silly and unnecessary square brackets in our Greek New Testaments, I mean. Case in point:

Here in Mark 1:1 the great majority of manuscripts, versions, and church fathers read "son of God." True, the words are omitted in one very early and important Greek manuscript (Aleph or Sinaiticus), but the words are found in Vaticanus and Bezae and in fact almost every Greek manuscript extant today. No English version that I'm aware of omits "son of God." And for good reason. Yet when one reads the Greek New Testament, unnecessary suspicion is cast on the originality of the words. As for the internal evidence, the reading is in harmony with the rest of Mark's Gospel (see 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61, 62; and 15:39). The shorter reading is likely the result of homoioteleuton, pure and simple. The beginning, then, of the good news about Jesus Christ also concerns "God's Son." This is beyond dispute.

Yes, methinks it's time to get rid of the square brackets.

7:40 AM "This is my friend, in whose sweet praise, I all my days should gladly spend."

6:45 AM Hello virtual friends of the internet world! This morning I'm doing a deep dive into Mark 1 in preparation for teaching through According to Mark in the spring.

Mark loves to use verbs that have prepositions attached to them. Why? Well, some of the prepositions have merely a directional force ("into," "down," etc.). But in Mark, you often find a prefix used with an intensifying force. Here's a partial listing that I put together.

Notice the verb in verse 36. It comes from the Greek verb katadiōkō.

Yes, I know, "Too much detail, Dave, too much detail!" Sorry, folks, but I can't help it. In his commentary on Mark, Jim Voelz renders this verse as follows:

And Simon hunted him down -- and those with him -- and they found him and say to him, "All are seeking you." And he says to them, "Let us go elsewhere into the neighboring market towns."

Why do I love Jim's rendering? Three things come to mind:

1) Unlike the vast majority of English versions, Voelz actually brings out the force of the prefix kat in katadiōkō. I can't thank him enough for that. This is much better than the NIV's "went out to look for him" or the ESV's "searched for him." Nope. They "hunted him down"! In the ISV, we rendered the verb this way:

Simon and his companions searched frantically for him.

2) In his translation, Voelz highlights the prominence of Simon Peter: "Simon hunted him down -- and those with him." It is the genius of Mark's Gospel to give Peter a prominent place -- which, of course, is actually Peter's Gospel! See also the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (chapter 8), the denial of Jesus by Peter (chapter 14), and even Easter Sunday morning when the women at the tomb are instructed to tell Jesus' disciples "and Peter" (16:7). Even here in chapter 1 of Mark, the healing of Peter's mother-in-law is a reminder of the importance of Peter in the narrative.

3) Did you notice Voelz's use of the present tense to translate certain Greek verbs? These are called "historical presents." Thus the ESV's "they found him and said to him" becomes Voelz's "they found him and say to him."

Welcome to the world of inductive Bible study! So many times my heart is filled with wonder as I see how God has put together his word. I sit in amazement and find myself thanking him over and over again for the privilege we his children have to possess his word and by his Spirit are able to see these things -- to discover truth for ourselves by carefully observing the text. How are you doing, my dear friend, in studying the Bible -- not just reading it through, although that is important, but studying it carefully so that you can handle it accurately? I often use the illustration of an onion -- taking it apart layer by layer until you reach the core. Well, I think Voelz has done a superb job of onion peeling, don't you? 

Right now I need to pick up the house before attending my service virtually. I am beyond excited to be visiting UNC Hospital in the very near future to make a presentation in honor of Becky. My heart craves for her. Perhaps the greatest thing I've leaned about life since her death is clarity. This matters, this doesn't. Right now, what matters is Jesus and all that he has provided for me, including these 123 acres. Yes, indeed, the rhythm of the farm is a healing balm in the otherwise frantic pace of life.

I do hope you have a relaxing and refreshing weekend. This is going to be one crazy week for sure.

Saturday, October 31

6:58 PM Worshipping the Lord tonight to the music of Edward Elgar.

 

Ah, the human voice, the first and most beautiful instrument on earth. It should be illegal for music to be this perfect. I expect to find this music in heaven. VOCES8 never disappoint. Their performance is immaculate as always. May God bless all who watch this video wherever they are in the world. Never have we needed God's perpetual light to shine upon us more than today.  

3:42 PM 'Twas a wonderful day for a run. I ran (without walking) 13.1 miles at the High Bridge Trail in Farmville.

What is so natural, so pacifying, and so nourishing to the mind and body as running? The day was cold, so the trail was empty.

Do I miss surfing? Of course I do. But that's one sport that's simply impossible for me because of where I live. But running -- ah, you can run anywhere. But let's be clear: physical endurance alone can't get you to the finish line. Only healthy conditioning of the body can. That's why I've done all of my training this year using the LSD method -- Long Slow Distance, also known as the Low Heart Rate Method or the Maffetone Method. Here running is done at very slow speeds in order to engender greater overall health and fitness. When we push our bodies to longer distances without the proper training and preparation, our chances of getting injured skyrocket. How we run is the primary culprit, not how long we run. I'm finally learning to run the correct way -- from my deep core muscles -- and letting the rest of my body relax.

What do I think about when I run? All kinds of things. Today I thought about:

  • Becky (of course!). I'm expecting a full-blown tears-down-the-face cry any day now. Listen, just because Jesus wasn't married doesn't mean he didn't fully understand widowers. Thank you Jesus!

  • My classes at the seminary. To be specific, my 4 classes this semester, my class this J-term, my 6 classes in the spring, my class next summer, and my 2 classes next fall. How can I improve my teaching? How can I better use electronic aids? How can I tweak my syllabi? So much to think about!

  • My writing. Are there any more major books the Lord wants me to write? If so, what are they?

  • My family. So much to think about. I pray that my kids and grandkids might be like clay in God's hands. I pray that God would make them teachable, flexible, and adaptable. I have this short season with them and it's flying by!

As I said, the thing I like about running is that you can do it anywhere. Just grab your shoes and your Garmin and you're off. I'm consistently amazed at what you can accomplish when you keep moving forward and don't give up. Today's run was an inspiring, challenging, and rewarding adventure. I tried to imagine what Becky's reaction would have been if she had been there watching me run. I think she would have been proud of me.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

7:30 AM One of the things I love about my NT 2 class are the "towel and basin" ministries that each student does during the semester. It's a way for us to love each other and to strengthen ourselves in healthy ways. This ministry must be (1) regular and (2) sacrificial (i.e., you are not paid to do it). Wonderful ... but don't expect it to be easy. I got the idea from my days as a student at Biola College (1971-1975). Each semester we were required to perform a "Christian service assignment" of some kind. Since the college was only about a half hour drive from Watts/South Central Los Angeles, I decided I'd play pickup basketball every Saturday.

I was strengthened in surprising ways. I discovered that people everywhere desire simply to be known and loved, to belong. Community is such a basic human need. According to Jesus, love is what it's all about (John 13:35). When I assess the effectiveness of my teaching, requiring towel and basin ministries is one of the uppermost. Honestly, it is one of my greatest joys as a teacher to read my students' reports. To my teachers at Biola: Thanks for getting me out of the library and into the world. Thanks for giving me depth. Thanks for putting the hard stuff in front of me. Thanks for reminding me that I can press extremely hard on the gospel and it will hold. Do we want to raise up disciples? Then we have to love people. The kids I worked with in Watts could smell a sham a mile away. We have to treat their concerns and needs with respect. If we fail to listen, we dismiss them from the church. If you have no idea where to start, try your own family. Begin with selfless acts of love and see what miracles happen.

6:58 AM I just cannot recommend the Psalms enough. They were used by Jesus. They were quoted by the writers of the New Testament. They were used in the worship of the early church. This morning I was in Psalm 1 before heading over to Matthew 28. Here in the first psalm we read that those whom God has blessed "find joy in obeying the Law of the Lord, and they study it day and night." My whole life has been devoted to developing materials to facilitate the serious study of the inerrant word of God. It all started in Hawaii, where I was privileged to sit at the feet of gifted Bible teachers. They made the Bible come alive with passion and interest. When I was 16, the Bible became precious to me. Every word, every jot and tittle, became crevices in which surprises were hidden. I also learned the importance of depending on the Holy Spirit of God when reading the Scriptures. The Spirit is not just the icing on the cake. He alone is the vital source of life and wisdom. I began to approach my reading of the Bible each day prayerfully. I asked the Holy Spirit to make the word come alive in my life. I also discovered some wonderful tools that make Bible study so much easier and less tedious. I especially began to read different translations in order to see how a passage can be rendered in different ways. This morning I was reading my copy of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels.

Remember that Greek participles can be translated as commands? Well, that's exactly what Delitzsch does in Matt. 28:19:

  • Go!

  • Make disciples!

  • Baptize!

  • Teach!

Of course, only "Make disciples" is in the imperative mood in Greek. But that doesn't make the other participles mere "suggestions"!

Let me issue a challenge to you today. Come up with one aspect of your life that needs to change, based on your study of God's word. Remember that the aim of all Bible study is to produce Christlike changes in our lives. Then study what the Bible has to say about that subject. Let God's Spirit begin to make that change in your life. I can assure you that God is not going to read the Bible for you. You have to decide if you really want to get into the Book, and when. As you dive into the word itself, take your time. Enjoy the experience. God's truth is there, and you will find it if you give yourself enough time.

Friday, October 30

8:20 PM Another beautiful evening.

6:22 PM Silva's book on lexical semantics is like an old friend -- you never tire of it. I grabbed it off my shelf and reread it on the porch this afternoon.

My, how things have changed since it first appeared in 1983! The bibliography cites only a handful of works available at the time: Barr, of course, and C. B. Caird, and J. P. Louw's Semantics of New Testament Greek, which appeared in 1982. I only wish I had had these works available to me when I was writing my dissertation in Basel on astheneia and its cognates in Paul.

That work was finished in 1982 and published under the title Paul, Apostle of Weakness in 1984.

I laughed out loud when I saw what I had written in Silva's work back in 1983, when I first read his book:

My study was way too narrow for a study of Paul's concept of weakness.

Here's what I'm finding: Research stands still in no field, least of all in the sciences. So thank you to Silva (and Barr and Louw et al.) for stimulating yours truly to delve a bit more deeply into the field. I'd also like to thank my colleague Ben Merkle for helping me put together this volume.

The same connective thread remains some 32 years after I published Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek. There is a reason New Testament Greek students study the science of linguistics: We believe that Greek is a language and can and should be studied as such. Silva described a powerful intellectual movement I cannot quit thinking about. And today, the tools available to us are so much more than I had when I was just starting out. You have the keys, students! Do not let anything stop you from studying linguistics. Sometimes things start off a little stiff, so be patient. My best advice is just to read anything you can get your hands on and be truthful. Trust me, no will be able to master everything there is to know about Greek linguistics. But we all can make a start.

Today I cannot teach one class, not one, without thinking of the debt I owe to scholars like Silva.

12:15 PM Like I said, I've been enjoying the book The Explorers. The "seven" characteristics of an explorer are -- in case you've forgotten -- curiosity, hope, passion, courage, independence, self-discipline, and perseverance. Becky had these traits in bucket-fulls. She was never reticent to step off into the unknown. She exuded optimism and hope. Passionate? What didn't she do with passion? Courage? Nothing intimated her. She was born independent. Her tastes were never influenced by others. Her self-discipline was amazing. As for perseverance, just read her book. I won't bore you with all the nitty-gritty details. As I watched her life, I thought about why we even want to do hard things as human beings. I mean, isn't it so much easier to sit on our sofas and not even attempt to move out of our comfort zones? Yes, easier (maybe), but not better. Easy is not the point. Obedience is. Love for God and for people is the whole substance of life. There's nothing that can even begin to compare with it. Run your race my friend. Say yes to life. Work hard. Don't bury your talents. God made you good at something for a reason. Let the rest of us smile at you while you chase down your goals. Let us be inspired by your life. Forget about pleasing everybody. Just please your Lord. That's what Becky tried to do with her life. She was an explorer at heart -- curious, hopeful, passionate, courageous, independent, self-disciplined, and persevering. I don't like people who minimize their potential. What are you good at? What gets your pulse racing? Find it and do it. Play your note. We are all cheering you on.

Becky Lynn Lapsley Black, I love you. Thank you for throwing yourself into life with no apologies. You were smart and able. Even getting sick wasn't a tragedy for you. You leveraged it for good. Thank God for that. I hit the jackpot when I married you. I will never be the same. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit. As I look back over the past 7 years, I see that no matter where I turned, I kept running into God. No, he did not give me an answer to the question of why he took you home. I don't think I'll ever comprehend that. But I have made peace with his sovereignty and goodness. I know you are in a far better place. You lived life to the fullest. Glory be to God.

 

6:58 AM Here at DBO we're anxious to help you any way we can with your Bible study. We have hundreds of essays you can peruse. We have published all of my major journal articles (with permission); these are free to print off as needed. On our Greek Portal we are always publishing new Power Points. We are anxious to help you because we know that you are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. The Bible is the living word of God. I've discovered that I'm constantly finding something new in its pages, regardless of how many times I've read it. Each day, I believe God has something fresh for us as we place ourselves under him. With every new trip through the Scriptures there's some new treasure to be found!

If you haven't visited our Greek Portal yet, I invite you to take a look today.

We're always posting something fresh there. Here are some new Power Points we used in our teaching this week:

1) The Text of Mark 6:20.

2) Major Characteristics of Mark's Gospel.

3) Sponsoring Native Missionaries in the Majority World.

4) On (Mis)Reading 1 Timothy as a "Pastoral Epistle."

Today I'm finishing writing up my final thoughts on Martin Dugard's excellent book The Explorers. Then I need to clean the house and get a workout in. As we go through the normal routines of the day, let's keep our hearts and minds open to the truth of God's word, whatever it may be. Let's recognize our biases and prejudices for what they are -- sin. It's so easy to approach the Bible with a variety of incorrect ideas without even realizing it. One thing I have learned through the years is that any time we leave the actual text of the Bible and instead embrace our own traditions, we get into trouble. The "Pastoral" Epistles is a good example. We need to read the Bible for itself. It's one story from beginning to end, and Jesus Christ is the center of it all. When I get to heaven I'm going to give its human authors a big hug. They have given us the plain truth. What a precious heritage we have!

Thursday, October 29

8:42 PM My view.

6:46 PM Hi. It's me again. Just popping in again when you thought I was gone for good. Nope. Just been teaching away. My theme this week on campus was, "The Bible is the word of God." That's really quite a statement, isn't it? If we really believed that, it would change everything. Moreover, the Bible isn't only inspired. It's profitable! It is given to instruct us and correct us and guide us and teach us truth. It is by far the best selling book in history yet we live in a world (and nation) that is filled with deception. More than ever, we Americans need to know what the Bible says and how to obey it in our own lives. How should we study the Bible? That's the question I try to answer week in and week out on campus in my classes. As I often say to my students, don't ever accept anything just because I've said it (or even because some other Bible teacher has said it). You have a much better teacher than me (or them). Research the Bible for yourself in the power of the Holy Spirit and you will be surprised what God wants to teach you. It's my premise that you will never be able to understand (and obey) the Bible by spending 45 minutes a week listening to a sermon. Nope. Ain't gonna happen. We need to be personally involved in dedicated Bible study. My classes are nothing more than attempts to provide people with tools to help them study God's word for themselves. Of course, this is impossible without his Spirit, but he is more than willing to fill us. We just have to ask.

Anyhoo, I'm back home again and mighty thankful too. This is where my R & R occurs each and every week. Here God literally makes me lie down in green pastures. It's where he leads me beside still waters. It's where he restores my soul. Tonight I will take time simply settling in. Hopefully I'll go back to work next week refreshed and revitalized. Jesus sought solitude not when there was nothing else to do but because of the essential need to make time for prayer despite all the things that cried out for his attention. Sometimes he would spend an entire night in retreat. Do you have a special place in your life where you can get away to be with God? I hope so!

This week I've been working very hard on letting things go. The politics. The election. Becky's passing. The cancelled trips and races. That's why I will run again this weekend. Only runners get how restorative and healing running is. So I run on. And bike on. And swim on. And hike on. And walk on. Some people feel unmotivated to run right now because there are so few races. I will run because I acquire a perspective on life that I can't get any other way than by being outdoors with the Lord.

Life is never boring when you're active. Case in point: Being interviewed by a good friend for his podcast.

I mean, seriously. How can anything be so much fun?

Tomorrow I hope to get in either a run, bike, or hike. I'm tempted to go to Harper's Ferry and climb to the Maryland Lookout. I love new hiking trails. But right now I have to get the house in order and check up on all the animals. And yes, tomorrow I'll be blogging more about Becky, in case you were wondering. I'm not sure there is one secret to having longevity in a relationship, but I do think working together for the gospel gives you both something to talk about, pray about, and (hopefully) laugh about. Plus, it helps you to speak the same love language.

More anon!

Monday, October 26

7:55 AM So how to commemorate? I've already had Ethiopian food in her honor. I've already run a race in her memory. I think I'll post a few anecdotes of our life together. Would that be okay? One of my favorite memories of Becky is attending a Lutheran Brethren church together in Anaheim while I was learning German in preparation for our living in Basel. Here she is with Frau and Herr Mittmann.

Paul Mittmann had served in the Wehrmacht during World War II. Like so many vets, after the war he and his wife relocated to Southern California -- to "Anna's Home." There they started a German-speaking congregation. On Sundays I would attend regularly before my own church service in La Mirada started. Mr. Mittmann and I would also meet in his home weekly for conversation practice. Eventually I preached (in German) several times to his congregation before moving to Switzerland. Herr Mittmann spoke the most beautiful German. It was he who enabled me to hit the ground running when I arrived in Basel. I am forever in his debt. Though Becky wasn't studying German at the time, she would often tag along to our meetings. She and Frau Mittmann really hit it off. Within three months of our arrival in Switzerland, Becky was speaking the language (here we are at dinner in Basel).

We both loved living in Basel. I felt as at home there as I did in La Mirada. Pictures like these remind me of why it's such a good idea to get out of your own culture.

More stories later ....

7:05 AM Only 7 days to go till "that" day. No, not the election. But that day. Odd, I still think I should be able to wake up in the morning and enjoy a cup of coffee with her on the front porch. It still seems so strange. Stuff like this reminds me to be grateful that God is absolutely sovereign. Because on the face of it, it feels and looks like a loss, a brutal reminder of the brokenness of the world we live in. Somehow I think Jesus would have understood. I look into the Gospels and see him weeping outside of the tomb of a man he was about to raise from the dead, fully present in the moment, sharing deeply in the grief of his friends. I think of the ones who stood vigil around Becky as she drew her last breath, present in her last moments, and I know this is the way life is meant to be. Jesus got dirty and he got hurt. He could have lived in a monastery but he didn't. Instead, he lived in community with brokenness. He loved the unlovable and wept with the mourners. I don't understand why I had to lose my wife at the age of 60. But I do know that Christ has overcome death, whether I feel it or not, whether I understand it or not. Victory over death has been won. How long? How long before he speaks the word and makes the world whole again? How long do widows and widowers have to groan before this old world had groaned enough?

When you see your loved ones today, hold them close and tell them that you love them. And don't stop singing. We must never stop singing to our God.  

In Basel.

In Egypt.

In Dallas.

In Hawaii.

Forever in my heart.

Sunday, October 25

5:40 PM We had a brief break in the weather so I was able to get in a 5K recovery walk today. The weather is teaching me to be flexible.

Meanwhile I just finished putting together a power point on (mis)reading 1 Timothy as a "pastoral" epistle. I'm also texting with family. This has been a very tough time for our nation and for our families. We must do what we can to help others out, to check up on friends and family members, and to remain optimistic. When things don't go as planned, you come up with a new plan. There are no excuses not to press ahead with life. Last night I finished this book.

In places it is heartbreaking. On page 80, Henry relates the story of his dismissal from the editorship of Christianity Today.

He determined at all costs to be a Christian gentleman in the midst of his disappointment. He wrote, "Mrs. Henry and I are reconciled to dismissal, both psychologically and spiritually, although I must say the hurt is deep." The worst blow, he went on to say, wasn't the involuntary termination after 12 years of sacrificial labor. It was the nullification of the opportunity to look into constructive alternatives while still employed. Of course, there was a silver lining, as Henry went on to become a faculty member at Eastern Baptist Seminary and then lecturer-at-large for World Vision. It's true that we all handle hardships differently. Some of us wallow in self-pity. Others are more proactive. What I do know is that once we move beyond the denial/anger stage (which is totally acceptable for a time), we begin to see the big picture and can return to our old optimistic selves.

2020 has been a time of tremendous change for many of us. Let's be there for each other. Focus on the blessings in your life right now. They are still there.

9:20 AM Hey, folks. Hope you're having a great day. The weather has turned cold and dreary -- a good day to attend my three virtual services and to work on class prep for the coming week. In NT 2 on Wednesday we'll take a deep dive into the "Pastoral Epistles" -- a misnomer if ever there was one. We'll also look at the controversy over whether or not pastors should be paid a salary (1 Tim. 5:17) and the problem concerning the genuineness of these three letters (i.e., the question of authorship). I know that's a lot to cover but, hey, this is important stuff, especially given how tenuous many aspects of our current ecclesiology are today. As for "double honor" referring to financial remuneration -- Gordon Fee, for example, says Paul is referring to "the same honor afforded to others, plus a stipend" -- we will examine the positions of Carl Hoch, John Polhill, F. F. Bruce, Roland Allen, and Richard Lenski.

Good stewardship of our resources is really the issue here. Generally speaking, financial support in the New Testament is assigned to traveling evangelists or to prophets, not to settled local clergy. And that only makes sense. Just think of world missions today. Around the world the Holy Spirit is raising up thousands of dedicated men and women who are bringing the salvation story to their own people. These national Christians are taking the banner of the cross where colonial-era missionaries left off. Some call them the third wave of the modern missionary movement. The impact of this continues to grow. More and more believers in North America are learning to live more simply and creatively in order to support native missionaries. I believe this is the kind of faith and commitment it will take to reach the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. I recall once reading about a church in North America that was building a new sanctuary for over $100 million dollars. My guess is that the same amount would be enough to practically guarantee that the gospel of Christ would be preached to an entire Indian state or among an entire people group in Ethiopia such as the Oromo or Amhara.

Years ago I had the privilege of having as a student a young man from Bagdogra, India. His parents had left Kerala in the south to begin a gospel ministry in the hard soil of northern India 4 decades ago. Today you can support a native missionary there for about one dollar a day. Years ago Becky and I got on board when we realized that the frontline work of missions in Asia has been taken over almost entirely by indigenous missionaries who are starting hundreds of new churches every week in the Two-Thirds World. These missionaries live simply, dress in the local clothing, and are able to share the Good News easily in the local language. And anyone can become involved. If each of us were to lay aside one dollar a day to help support a native missionary, I am convinced that there are enough potential sponsors to support all the native missionaries needed to evangelize the Two-Thirds World. When we look at the unfinished Great Commission and then compare it with our lavish lifestyles, how can we explain our lack of involvement? Undoubtedly the native missionary movement is the best hope for these unreached nations. In my many trips to Asia, the Middle East, and Asia, I have seen how God has called native missionaries to take the gospel into areas solidly controlled by traditional religions. When Africans share Christ with other Africans in a culturally acceptable way, the results are amazing. Six native missionaries Becky and I supported financially for three years in Northern Ethiopia planted four fully-indigenized churches in that period. If you're asking yourself, "Are native missionaries prepared to carry on cross-cultural evangelism?", the answer is a resounding yes -- and with great effectiveness. The transition is far easier than for someone coming from a Western culture. They often understand the culture, customs, lifestyle, and language much better than we do. And although social barriers continue to exist, they are much smaller and more easily overcome.

The upshot is this: Tens of thousands of native missionaries are being raised up by the Lord in all of these Two-Thirds World nations. Even more exciting is this: God is calling all of us to be part of what he's doing in these nations. We have it in our hands to make it possible for thousands of native missionaries to move out with the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. They will go to the lost if Christians in the West will only help. Missions is the primary task of the local church. If this is the case, then why should so many of our dollars stay in the U.S. to support salaries and church buildings? My exhortation this week will be: For the sake of Christ, we need to review the financial and mission polices of our local churches, with every believer reconsidering his or her own stewardship practices and submit them to the Holy Spirit's guidance in how best to support the global outreach of the Body of Christ. As Roland Allen has put it, "Foreigners can never successfully direct the propagation of any faith throughout a whole country. If the faith does not become naturalized and expand among the people by its own vital power, it exercises an alarming and hateful influence, and men fear and shun it as something alien. It is then obvious that no sound missionary policy can be based upon multiplication of missionaries and mission stations" (The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, p. 19).

Friends, we are facing a new day in missions, but it requires the cooperation of Christians in both the East and the West. I don't know about you, but I am more carefully examining each dollar I send for missions and asking, "Is there waste involved here?" During World War II, Americans proved that they could make astonishing sacrifices. They lived simply. Their gas was rationed. Factories were retooled to support the war effort. Production of durable goods like vacuum cleaners and kitchen appliances were banned until war's end. Hollywood studios went all out for the war effort. Even though the battles were fought far away, the daily lives of those on the home front were drastically changed.

Today, Christians live as peacetime soldiers. We will sacrifice to buy books, to listen to groups sing Christian songs, to travel miles to hear a Christian speaker. All the while, native missionaries are waiting to go to the next village with the gospel. Even as I write this blog post, I sense God is calling me to become a better steward of what he's given me. No doubt I can do a much better job. More than 2 billion people are waiting to hear the gospel. I want to see these people reached with the Good News. I know you do too. In India alone, nearly half a million villages remain without a Christian witness. How can native missionaries go to the lost unless someone sends them? Will we join together in ministering to them?

Saturday, October 24

1:24 PM As y'all know, I'm a huge fan of fundraisers. After Becky died in 2013, I went to Zermatt to do some high altitude climbing in the Alps to see if I could raise funds for UNC Chapel Hill Women's Cancer Hospital. My dream came through when I was able to present the hospital a check for $25,000. Two years later I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati -- my very first 26.2 mile race -- in order to add to that sum if possible. The race was perfect, exactly how I always imagined it would be. It was overwhelming! I'll never forget those cheering faces encouraging us runners to keep going. A month later UNC got another check, this time for $7,000. For today's 10K trail run, I decided that if I could finish under one and a half hours, I would donate $400 to UNC -- $100 for every year Becky was treated there. I apologize that I didn't get any pictures of the race itself since all of us were either going uphill or downhill as fast as we could. We had chosen to push ourselves and take on a challenge. We had chosen to do something outside of our comfort zone in order to feel more alive. When I crossed the finish line, I let out a strangled scream. I had beaten the clock! Now the tears really poured -- by God's grace, another fundraising goal achieved! It is my hope that my running will teach my grandkids to invest their time in worthwhile endeavors, to do hard things, and then to enjoy a reward. I never want them to stop challenging themselves. Runners run for many reasons. I began running to cope with a broken heart after Becky's death. With every step, through the sweat and the tears, I began to heal. Running has been my medicine. It's even a way I can pay back the people who worked tirelessly to try and save Becky's life. Running has a new meaning -- a new purpose for me. Now I train and run to be strong for my kids and grandkids when they need me. Running is how I lean into God, how I call myself back to him. I don't have to run away anymore. All I have to do is breathe. A few pix:

My trip to the Alps was unforgettable. My professional mountain guide cost me $640 per day. But he was worth every penny. After all, I came home safely.

This photo was taken at the starting line of the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincy. Mile after mile I fell in step with new friends. We talked about our favorite music and restaurants and exchanged funny stories about our children. We leaned on each other emotionally to get through the race.

I love how the race organizers today made everything as Covid-safe as possible. Masks were required, as was physical distancing. As you can see, we began running in waves of 6 runners. After one minute, the next wave would start.

The race was both brutal and beautiful. I had no idea it would be so hilly. I was even more surprised that I could run the uphills. When I first started running several years ago, I had no end of difficulty going uphill. One day I asked an experienced runner, "How do you learn how to run uphill?" His two-word answer made so much sense: "Run uphill"!

There's one thing I know for sure: The Lord was very good to me today to allow me to finish in under one and a half hours. I came in 48th out of 62 runners. My thanks to Susan and Laura for pacing me the whole way on an unfamiliar course!

In conclusion, I really do enjoy trail racing. It's my new love! I find that the up-and-down of the trails is surprisingly easier on my body than the hours on end you spend running on paved roads. Of course, you're always concerned about all the rocks and roots that you encounter on trails. But if you slow down a bit and be careful, you should do okay. Listen, hard days and slow miles come to all of us. But if we draw on the people around us, and especially on the Lord, we can all finish strong!

Friday, October 23

1:12 PM My good friend Mary Jacobs went home to be with the Lord this week. Here she is on one of her two trips with us to Ethiopia.

In case you didn't know, Becky and I partnered only with local churches in Ethiopia. Our goal was to connect local churches in the U.S. with local churches in Ethiopia. The partnership, we felt, should be long-term. Because of this philosophy of doing missions, we felt that relationships were critical. We simply came alongside the folks who lived there as humble servants, asking, "How can we best serve you?" Mary Jacobs was 80 years of age when she made her first trip to Africa with us. I clearly remember the Ethiopians saying to Becky and me, "Now we really know that you love us because you have sent us your very best."

Remember, in some places (like Ethiopia), age is valued, not youth. Even though Mary couldn't speak a word of Amharic, the people knew she had made a huge sacrifice of her time and energy to travel almost to Kenya just to love on the people there. She traveled with us on a bus and ate the food without a single complaint.

This was maybe the most unforgettable of my 17 trips to Ethiopia. There was much work to do, but we had plenty of co-laborers for the task.

We lived and worked among the people. I can only be thankful God's grace erased any cultural differences between us. Becky especially was an Ethiopian at heart.

For Pete's sake, she was raised there. Look at this picture.

It is gorgeous. This is missions, folks. Missions is not a program or a strategy or a method. Missions is simply people.

Just love people.

These were literally life-changing trips for all of us. Because no matter what skills and abilities you bring with you, the best we can give others is Jesus. Not rules. Not entertainment. Not money. Mary led with her life, not just her lips. She taught all of us to serve and to care about the world beyond the shores of "safe" America. I am grasping for words right now to describe what Jesus followers like Miss Mary meant to me. The next generation is screaming for role models like her.

Missions is crazy work, but it is good work. There is no coasting; you have to labor. Some parts of a trip are easier than others. Even when you face unimaginable hurdles, you fight your way back from disintegration and create something stronger than before -- with scars, of course. I hold myself supremely blessed to have known women like Mary and, yes, Becky. Theirs was not an easy path. But they were the Lord's. Like Jesus, they went to hard places and did hard things. Above all, they loved like him.

Church, love each other. That's about it. Do that and everything else will fall into place.

7:10 AM The map for tomorrow's 10K trail race near Richmond.

I like it. It looks challenging. It's like the first date you had with your future spouse -- exciting, exhilarating, and frightening. I spent most of my life thinking runners were lunatics. Now I am one. I've become just as crazy as they are. And just as content. Running is for everybody -- including lazy, quirky, opinionated people like me. Get's you out of your comfort zone, that's for sure. Do have to be talented to run? Are you kidding? Look at me. But the neat thing about being really bad at something is that you improve without hardly any work at all. With each step forward it becomes more difficult not to become a runner. Just try it and see for yourself. I'll never have a runner's body, no matter how many miles I run. Who cares? I'd rather have a runner's soul.

Gotta get this day started. Later!

Thursday, October 22

7:32 PM What's your favorite genre of books to read? Mine are autobiographies and books about how to study the New Testament. These two books came this week and I can't wait to dig into them this weekend.

I know books are getting a little archaic these days but I still believe we can get information from books and, more importantly, the inspiration and motivation to keep on running the race God has set before us. As for training, the Lord allowed me to get in two really good days of activity while I was in Wake Forest. One day I did a bike.

And the next day I did a run.

Today was a rest day. I'm a big fan of training -- and then resting at the right time during a training block. Training, like anything worthwhile in life, is incredibly fun to experiment with. The challenge is figuring out what works best for you and your body. One size most certainly doesn't fit all. We run hard, we rest, and then we pick up again. My long run this weekend is going to be another trail race, this time along the James River near the great city of Richmond. There's no luck in this sport, ladies and gentlemen. It's all about hard work and discipline and, yes, an off the chart work ethic. I'm a big fan of putting your head down and tuning out the noise when it comes to chasing down your dreams, figuring out your career path, and, yes, chasing down racing goals. Distance running has taught me to keep pushing my limits when things get tough. I always appreciate the outcome and the lessons running teaches me. This has crossover value to the whole of my life. The reward comes when, for example, you get the copies of your latest book in the mail, representing many, many hours of time and energy invested in a project.

Yes, folks, we work hard, and we also play hard -- like treating yourself to Ethiopian dinner after a long day of work.

Ever grateful, each and every day, to be able to get up in the morning and give it my all during the day, whether it's teaching or running. As far as the latter is concerned, proper shoes make a big difference. Running shoes that are affordable are difficult to find sometimes. I still seem to go through a pair of running shoes every 3 months, which means that it's always a good idea to have new shoes on hand.

Years ago I pulled the trigger on the New Balance brand and have never looked back. So far I have nothing bad to say about them. Even the price point seems reasonable. For me they are just the perfect shoe -- great cushion and not over-stabilizing. They provide the support that's needed and feel great on your feet. Every time I put on my running shoes I'm different in some way than the day before. Which means I'm really looking forward to tomorrow.

Anyhoo, it's been a good week thus far. I hope and pray it's been good for you too. My "flesh" may be tired but my mind and spirit are soaring. 

Keep thinking, growing, and loving!

Dave

Monday, October 19

8:50 AM Back to campus. On deck this week:

1) Grade exam over chapters 3-6 in Greek 1. Pass out a free copy of one of my books to everyone who got a perfect 110 on the exam. Introduce the aorist and imperfect active indicative and discuss the three Greek aspects: aoristic, imperfective, and perfective. (Yes, you up-and-coming-teachers of Greek: it's okay to use traditional nomenclature; see von Siebenthal.)

2) Translate Phil. 2:19-30 in Greek 3 class -- two Christlike men who lived for the sake of the gospel. Interestingly, more shrift is spent on Epaphroditus than on Timothy. We will also go over my Lasting Lessons from Philippians 2 in class and the chapter on semantics in my book Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek.

3) In NT 2, we will cover the Prison Epistles of Paul -- we'll focus on the discourse structure of Philippians, the destination of Ephesians, and legalism in Colosse and its solution (with special application to the Amish of North America and to our own situation as evangelicals).

4) In NT 1, we're in Matthew all week -- the church's initial gospel written by an eye and ear witness of the Savior.

5) I'm also meeting with my OT colleague Chip Hardy to finalize the syllabus for our LXX offering in the spring. Yes, we've decided to do Jonah. Super excited about that. 

I've been spending the weekend prepping for all of this, though I probably could have spent more time on it than I did. Sometimes on the weekends I lose focus. So what? Do we always have to be crazy overachievers with a flawless plan in place? Besides, I have all day today to put the finish touches on my classes for the week. That's plenty of time to make sure I'm as ready as I can possibly be to enter the classroom. As for my training/exercise plan for the week, it's pretty much what I always do. I will strive to get in two long bikes and one long run while in Wake Forest. If I miss a day, no sweat. It's not like I'm training for the Olympic Track Team or anything. The next race on my calendar is a 10K in Fredericksburg on Nov. 8, followed by another half marathon in Lynchburg on Nov. 21. Still undecided which full marathon I should sign up for in 2021. Actually, many of them are still cancelled, so looks like I will have to wait a couple more months before deciding. I can't wait to do another marathon. But gone are the days when I did 4 in one year. The real challenge is trying to fit in training in the midst of an incredibly busy schedule of teaching and writing. My guess is that many of you are more hard core balancers than I am. If you've got any tips for balancing work/home/training, feel free to send them my way. As I tell my students, if you want it to happen badly enough, it will happen. Just do your best with the time that you have. But be prepared to move out of your comfort zone to make it happen.

Trust you're off to a great start this week. Blessings on you as you wage the war of the love against everything that opposes it (including so many aspects of politics)!

Sunday, October 18

6:24 PM In two weeks I will commemorate the homegoing of Becky. There's nothing that can prepare you for the death of a spouse. Nothing. There's nothing that can prepare you for the way you will feel when you hold her hand for the last time and watch her take her final breath on earth. Nothing. There's nothing that can keep you from feeling torn apart and wondering if you'll be able to carry on. Nothing. Nothing except a family who loves you and cares for you and makes sure you're okay. Nothing except for the community of God's people who lift you up night and day in prayer. Nothing but friends and even strangers who send you emails and text messages telling you that you're going to be alright. Nothing except for the One who is weaving together the strands of your story and who will not rest until all things work together for your good and his glory, the One who allows you to take the loss into yourself and be enlarged by it, so that your capacity to live and to love and to know him intimately increases, the One who will continue to be present with you until the end of your life and into all eternity, the One who will one day wipe away your tears and heal your brokenness. Nothing but that. Nothing but everything.

8:54 AM Very excited to see this book in print.

Abidan was my former assistant and has been a pastor for many years in Henderson, NC. On the back cover I wrote:

In this much-needed study of New Testament textual criticism, Shah offers far more than careful historical scholarship concerning one of the most vexing questions in this field. While his analysis offers a first-class treatment of the concept of 'original text,' he also rediscovers ideas that speak to the current confusion concerning the overriding goal of textual criticism. The result of Shah's work is that rare academic book that is grounded in careful research and yet speaks powerfully to the church today about the proper role and goal of New Testament textual criticism. This is a scintillating book that I believe will prove vital to the church as it seeks to be faithful to its historical documents.

Heartiest congratulations Abidan on the publication of your first book. You can go here to order it from Amazon.

6:58 AM "Hallelujah! I want to express publicly before his people my heartfelt thanks to God for his mighty miracles. All who are thankful should ponder them with me. For his miracles demonstrate his honor, majesty, and eternal goodness." Ah, the magnificent words of my morning devotional, Psalm 11:1-3. As I ran yesterday, I poured out my heart to God. Despite all the hardships and disappointments of my life, there's so much to give thanks for. I thought a lot about gratitude and how it relates to both attitude and altitude. For one, they rhyme. For another, they allow us to invent worn out clichés -- "Do you have an attitude of gratitude?" But practicing gratitude goes back to the Bible. "Give thanks in all circumstances" writes Paul. Remember that the next time you're feeling crabby. Here's where I found gratitude as I slogged up and down the hills yesterday:

I am thankful for my health.

I am thankful for my job.

I am thankful for my family and friends.

I am thankful for a mind that can think logically.

I am thankful for foreign languages.

I thankful for the farm and animals.

I am thankful for the ability to run, because running is an analogy for life.

Whenever we think we've got the bull by the horns, it's a good idea to remember that none of our blessings are forever except for our salvation. Someday life will bite us in the behind in all of these areas. We value what we notice, folks. Yesterday I seemed to notice more than usual, and rightly so. This is the season of Thanksgiving. It's a reminder of something we should be doing each and every day. When was the last time you "expressed publicly before his people my heartfelt thanks to God for his mighty miracles"?

Speaking of gratitude, below is a book on Bible study that a friend of mine and I are writing. I am grateful for his partnership in this project. Our goal is to be simple without being simplistic. With this book, we believe that any Christian can become a careful and prayerful student of the New Testament. Once it's published we hope it will be the first of several books we will use in holding classes in local churches. My co-author is already a local church pastor who holds a doctorate in New Testament. We both are convinced that interpreting the New Testament is for every Christian. The secret is that there is no secret. The answers you are looking for when you study the New Testament lie somewhere between inspiration and perspiration. You just have to be willing to see where you are, decide where you want to be, and figure out how you want to get there. Don't misunderstand. Studying the New Testament is simple but it's not easy. You just need to know the rules of the road. Here's the book title and its table of contents:

How to Study the New Testament with All Your Heart and Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the New Testament

Introduction: The Importance of Prayer in Studying the New Testament

Part 1: Before We Start

  • The Joy of Studying the New Testament

  • Who Is Qualified to Interpret the New Testament?

  • It’s All Greek to Me: The Language and Text of the New Testament

  • The KJV and Beyond: How to Choose a New Testament Translation

  • Herman Who? General Rules for Interpreting the New Testament

  • Don’t Forget Genres: The Gospels and Acts, the Epistles and Revelation

Part 2: Fleshing Out the Rules

  • Understanding the Big Picture: Historical and Literary Analysis

  • Those Pesky Variants: Handling Textual Problems

  • There’s a Word for It: How to Do a Word Study (and How Not to Do It)

  • Moving Beyond Words: Observing the Grammar and Structure of the Text

  • The Medium Is the Message: Poetry and Other Rhetorical Devices

Part 3: Where Do We Go from Here?

  • Truth That Transforms: The Power of the New Testament in Your Life

  • The Goal: Becoming Obedient Followers of Jesus

Speaking of books, here's one I am thoroughly enjoying.

The author is Greg Thornbury, a young evangelical with the good sense to appreciate evangelicals of a previous generation. When he was at Union University, Thornbury organized a conference to consider the Henry legacy and invited several well-known speakers to help interpret that legacy. Henry was the first of his generation to move outside the narrow circles of fundamentalism. Rather than getting a seminary doctorate he chose to complete a Ph.D. in philosophy at Boston University. He helped establish a leading evangelical magazine called Christianity Today that was to be transcontinental, interdenominational, theologically affirmative, socially aggressive, and irenic. As Thornbury notes, "If Billy Graham was the heart of evangelicalism, Carl. F. H. Henry was its head."

In 1989 Henry organized a major 2-week conference at Wheaton called "Evangelical Affirmations." I was privileged to have been invited to attend. In those days, students were reading Henry plus a plethora of other authors: E. J. Carnell, Kenneth Kantzer, Colin Brown, Donald Bloesch, Gordon Lewis, Bruce Demarest, Norma Geisler, Millard Erickson, J. I. Packer, and John Stott. Rarely do I hear those names mentioned today, to our great loss as a church. So far I am enjoying this book tremendously. Reading it makes me want to read Henry again. In his book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, Henry wrote:

The message for a decadent modern civilization must ring with the present tense. It must confront the world now with an ethics to make it tremble, and with a dynamic to give it hope.

Well said, Dr. Henry, well said indeed. Finally (for now), have you seen this book by my friend Jim Voelz of Concordia Seminary? It's his magnum opus.

I'll be using it shortly in one of my Greek classes. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. Here Jim covers such topics as the basic characteristics of Mark's Greek, Semitic features, Hellenic features, complexity, sophistication, present tense verb forms to convey past historical events, asyndeton, patterning, scene setting, aspect, tense, voice, and vocabulary. I've gotten a wealth of information from this book and appreciate the author's devotional tone throughout. I think it will serve as an excellent resource for our class. If you're a Greek student, you'll want a copy for sure.

A concluding reminder: When you're going through a tough time, gently whisper (or scream), "Thank you!" I truly believe gratitude is something that can change our attitude in a split second.

Hope you all have a great Lord's Day.

Saturday, October 17

5:32 PM Well, folks, I probably won't ever have to run a half marathon trail race again because I have experienced the true Nirvana of running, and nothing can top what I did on a beautiful Saturday morning in October. Okay, I'll stop being so melodramatic. But it was something special. Yesterday I drove to the heart of Virginia. It's called the Blue Ridge. If you've never been there, you don't know what you're missing. There's even a Parkway you can use to drive right through the middle of it. I stayed in a quaint little motel last night. It's called the Village Inn and it's in the hamlet of Lovingston, along Hwy 29. What's not to love about a place that charges only 75 bucks for a quiet night's sleep? This was my view this morning as I left the motel.

Not very promising. Mostly fog and misty rain. But as soon as the sun popped into the sky, everything changed.

I knew the day would be perfect for running after all. As for the race itself, this is the only chart you need in order to understand it.

The race started at the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway and then ascended up to an FAA tower, at which point you turned around and descended 2,200 feet to the 6.5 mile turnaround. This means you also had to go back up 2,200 feet, making a grand total of 4,400 feet of vertical gain and loss. Was I ready for this challenge? I went into the race with three race strategies. My Plan A -- you know, the one that depends completely on a miraculous intervention by God -- would be to finish the race in under 3 hours. Plan B -- the goal that's most likely to happen on race day -- was to finish in under 3 and a half hours. Plan C -- aka the "Doomsday Scenario" -- was simply to finish the race within the time limits. Long distance races are always a big mystery to me. Every new mile offers a new challenge. Goals are simply points in your brain to help you take the next step and eventually take that last step over the finish line. I truly had no idea what to expect during the race. So I threw caution to the wind and embraced the unknown. I went into the event knowing I would give it my very best. I may not be the fastest sexagenarian out there, but I DO NOT GIVE UP.  Here are a few race shots to keep you utterly bored:

The start, with me (as always) bringing up the Covid-caution-induced rear.

The terrain was lovely.

Running past the vineyards.

Eventually you reached a gravel road, where you ran a good two-thirds of the race.

But the landscape made it all worth it.

The last hill you have to climb before you see the ...

FINISH LINE!

Post-race brisket burger and fries in Lynchburg. (Don't tell my kids about the Coke.)

After the race I felt like a kid again. Boy was that fun! I didn't come in first, but I didn't come in dead last either (like I thought I would). My time ended up being a respectable 3:06:43. I missed my Plan A goal by less than 7 minutes. Of course, when the race is over, the only question you need to ask yourself is, "Did I do my best?" Races are great places to find the best in yourself, the best in others, and the best in the sport of running. Because of Covid there weren't any post-race refreshments or awards, but I left the event savoring the experience. The miles I run in life are some of the most trusted companions I have. They remind me to find that as-yet untapped source of energy and enthusiasm within. Being a finisher simply means making peace with how far you've come and yet how far you still have to go.

Can't wait for my next trail race! 

P.S. During the race I spent most of the time praying. Well, giving thanks actually. Psalm 118 -- which I read early this morning -- was on my mind the whole time. God has been so good to me.

P.P.S. Later I'll tell you some more "stuff" I've been up to these days, including a new book project. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 15

6:20 PM Curiosity, writes New York Times best-selling author Martin Dugard in his book The Explorers, is the first step in exploring the world beyond ourselves. It "beats within all of us, for mankind is innately inquisitive."

His illustrations come from explorers like Gaspar de Portola, James Bruce, Daniel Boone, and James Cook, who discovered the islands where I was born and raised (the "Sandwich Islands"). "These were ordinary men doing extraordinary things, putting one foot in front of the other in the name of exploration." He adds that they "were insatiable in their desire to know all there was about the world around them." Curiosity was "the unscratched itch" in their lives. And for us lesser mortals today, it is vital to success in life.

As a teacher, I for one agree. We are there in the classroom not only to provide direct instruction about our subject matter. We are there to develop epistemic curiosity in our students -- knowledge that turns their curiosity on, which then triggers more curiosity. We often see it brimming over at the beginning of the semester. But then it begins to wane. Sadly, for some students it becomes extinct. They are there only for a diploma. Information drives out curiosity.

As a youth, I suffered from insatiable curiosity. How is the Bible the word of God? How was the island of Oahu formed? Can sand sharks kill? Is the Vietnam War just? After I moved to California the questions changed. Now I was asking life-changing questions like who should I marry or what field should I pursue for my career? Basel only notched things up. I need to write a dissertation but on what? And who will publish it when I'm done? Will I ever master Swiss German? Ah, learning a foreign language -- one of the greatest curiosity killers if only because we are too proud to speak the language and make mistakes in public.

I think what Dugard is suggesting is that in order to become curious we have to be aware of gaps in our current knowledge in the first place. The trouble is, it's so easy to go around thinking we know everything. But part of personal growth is being prepared to be curious. I look for curiosity in my prospective doctoral students as much as any other trait. But being curious all the way through life is even better. All of the great books in New Testament studies today (and these are very few and far between) are written by people who have stretched their curiosity to a maximum. They remind us that there's always more to learn and that our minds and imaginations are here to be astonished, wowed, and awed. Dr. Harry Sturz at Biola did that for me. Dr. Reicke did that for me in Basel. I hope, in a small measure, I do that for my students. While reading this chapter I kept saying to myself, "Yes!" and "Me too!" It's rekindled my own passion to be more aware of my own curiosity levels. A perfect place to start is by identifying simple clues in my life that point to true north.

Especially in an uncertain political climate, Dugard inspire his readers to rise above their self-doubts and make bold moves to change their lives. His advice is motivational and practical.

On to the next chapter -- Hope!

2:20 PM Just back from a very comfortable 8 mile workout to keep the legs fresh before Saturday's race. Every runner is different. I frankly do not have all the answers as to why we runners enjoy running alone. I think the joy of exercise is part of it. I think the fun we have is another. But at the end of the day, it's our love of the outdoors.

On days like today you feel like you have wings on your feet and the steps feel effortless. Loneliness does not creep in when you're at peace with yourself.

Marathon training is on the doorstep, ladies and gentlemen, and I am beyond excited to dig deep as I strive to chase down goals and dreams. Stay tough out there, y'all. You're going to need it to make it through the rest of 2020. And thank you for engaging with this blog on such a consistent basis. I will do my best to bring you valuable content as the Lord enables. Have a great day here on the internet and everywhere else!

9:12 AM Imagine a trail race in October next to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Now imagine a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. Add into the mix running at 4,400 feet of elevation. Put it all together and you get the annual 12 Ridges Vineyard 50K/Marathon/Half Marathon race this Saturday. Races are limited to 100 entrants for all three events. Somehow I managed to get an entry. Can't wait to experience the cool weather, the low humidity, and the post-race chardonnay (um, just kidding). Covid restrictions are firmly in place, meaning the event is cupless and masks are required at the start and finish (and even on the course if insufficiently distanced). I'm trying to be wise, so I signed up for the half only, though to be honest I was tempted to do the full marathon. I simply can't imagine running in a more beautiful setting. Thank you, Lord. You're so good to me!

The course map.

Meanwhile, I've been devouring this book.

I love reading books by non-Christians. Yes, they exalt the human spirit without acknowledging God, but they are no less readable (and interesting) for that reason. Here the author asks, "What are the traits of successful explorers? And can any of us use these traits in our own walk of life?" The quest to explore "spans the centuries," writes Dugard. "It is the link between Christopher Columbus and Steve Jobs." And you. And me. It's simply part of our human nature to want to show ourselves that we can do something we think is impossible. The author finds 7 traits common to all explorers. They are:

  • Curiosity

  • Hope

  • Passion

  • Courage

  • Independence

  • Self-Discipline

  • Perseverance

Explorers, he says, don't just display these traits. They display them in this order. Moreover, take one away -- any of them -- and an expedition is doomed to failure.

This book involves one of my passions -- understanding what drives us, all of us, to excel in life. What makes us step outside of our comfort zones? What draws people into the magnetic pull of new places, persons, things, rituals, and vistas? I just started this book and can't put it down. I'm so glad Chuck Swindoll quoted it in one of his sermons, otherwise I'd have never known about it. Thus far the book is an informative and eye-opening read. My plan is to comment on these 7 traits, one by one, in the days ahead. I love, love, love to read. I actually enjoy re-reading books I've already read because I notice all kinds of things I didn't notice the first time (or maybe I'm just forgetting a lot). I tend to read too fast and don't absorb. Not with this book. It's so good. John Stott once said that we Christians need to develop more opportunities for what he called "creative leisure." Even if unpaid, this is an authentic form of "work." For me, reading books is a good example of this.

Off to the bank and to get some exercise!

Wednesday, October 14

7:25 PM Yet another YouTuber using my grammar. Thank you, Abidan!

7:22 PM Ya gotta love this.

 

Oh for the days when our politicians could laugh at themselves!

6:10 PM Quick update because I'm tired.

I don't know about you, but I'm planning on exercising until I die. I'll build a track around the nursing home with a Depends changing station. I will also allow walkers (not people but those walking thingies) on the course. Until then, this course will do.

Tuesday? A 10-mile bike.

Yesterday? A 10 mile run.

The whole idea is to stay young as you age. Notice, I said as "you" age. Me? I'm just a kid at heart. I'm just gettin' going. Wowza!

By the way #1, these books came today:

I'm especially looking forward to doing a deep dive into Greg Thornbury's Why Should the Devil have All the Good Music? By the way #2, this was my view this morning as I walked from my dorm room to my office.

Have you ever seen a more beautiful campus? I haven't.

Whether music or architecture, I enjoy excellence. Beethoven's 5th is every bit as sacred as Handel's Messiah. The same God gave each composer his talents. Praise be to God!

Up next for moi? A 15 mile run. Yep, always pushing myself. As you know, there's a fine line between pushing yourself and accepting yourself. I still haven't found it. Keeps me young at least!

Monday, October 12

9:20 AM While growing up in Hawai'i, I never knew I lived on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere until my first trip to the mainland (the "Big" Big Island, as we used to call it). I was six, and man what a trip that was. We spent two weeks with my mother's Romanian family in Campbell, Ohio. My grandmother ran a convenience store on the first floor of her home, and everybody slept upstairs. Next door was the Romanian Community/Dance hall. During that time we squeezed every ounce of happiness we could out of the trip. We laughed until we died. We danced until we were sick. To be honest, I never knew being Romanian could be so much fun.

My next trip to the mainland was when I was 16. At the time, Greyhound Bus was offering a special deal for those who lived in Hawai'i and Alaska. It was called "99 Dollars for 99 Days." For three months we could go anywhere Greyhound travelled in the contiguous 48. As I recall, we started out in the Pacific Northwest and went all the way to Connecticut. When I returned to Kailua, I was a little wiser. I had seen things, I tell you. I would never again be content with my cozy island lifestyle. My new mantra was -- Show me something new. I was moving forward, adding layers, changing and growing. When I left for Biola in 1971, I never looked back.

Everything in life is a journey from A to B. Take Greek. This week we're having our first exam in Greek 1. I think my students are beginning to realize that studying a foreign language is more like a marathon than a sprint. It's a long process that takes lots and lots of time and effort. I wish I could clap twice and make a magic carpet descend from heaven to transport my charges from beginners to masters of the language. But life never works that way. That's why we chose this path called Christianity. We knew coming to Christ wouldn't be easy. He himself told us we'd have to count the cost. But for every sacrifice we make, it is returned a hundredfold in fellowship with our Maker.

This morning I'm leaving for Henderson, NC, for an interview on a podcast. The topic today is my little book Christian Archy. The book begins this way:

There is perhaps no clearer example of the church's misguided appropriation of the world that the god of nationalism. Instead of simply following Jesus, whose kingdom is marked by powerless love, we have attempted to use Christianity to support worldly power. And this means that the church has lost its way -- a transgression that carries with it an obligation on the part of every Christian to find his or her way back to the correct path.

As you know, the first and most important step on every journey is to pick your road. Where are you starting out from? Where do you want to end up? There are infinite possibilities out there, a road for every human thought and desire. But for Jesus, there is only one road. It is a very narrow road, and to enter it you must go through a very narrow gate. But it's the only road that leads to life. There is no place on this road for distractions. On the contrary, it's a revolutionary journey, this road we're on. On this journey our identity is no longer wrapped up in politics or the American Dream. No, Jesus strips all that away and replaces it with his kingdom (= archy) priorities. The great need of the hour is to understand the church as a Spirit-endowed organism that is cross-culturally and trans-nationally valid, not as an institution modeled after the world. Once this distinction is made, the normal growth and witness of the church can be planned for, and various structures of the church can be used effectively.

Each age of church history is unique but not in every way. We can learn much from the past, and especially is this true at a time when we are living under the pressure of the future in a way that has perhaps never before been true on planet Earth. I believe there are few movements in church history that are more relevant for today than the 16th century Anabaptists. The purpose of the body of Christ, they insisted, is to make Jesus visible in the world. In fact, in the present age, the church is uniquely the instrument of the kingdom of God in the world. Thus, service to the kingdom means service to the world through missional activity. Our priority must be to become the King's servants in the world. Local churches must begin to see themselves as satellite offices of the kingdom of God. Churches must get out of their salt shakers -- out of their self-centered fellowships that negate the very reason for their existence.

It all boils down to priorities. We must ask ourselves, "How would God have us use the resources he's given us to have the greatest possible impact on the kingdom?" What would happen if 90 million evangelicals in America would follow Jesus' example of unconditional love? It is the way of the cross (via crucis) that the disciple of Jesus must follow with no other motive than that the Master requires it. It was he who refused to conquer the kingdoms of the world by the means proposed by the Tempter. To limit Christianity to social activism would be to betray Jesus because he never placed his spirituality in the service of an immediate political end. The kingdom of heaven belongs not to the powerful and religious, but to the poor and childlike. It is only when we become active in obedience to the Suffering Servant that the ministry of reconciliation is seen in its true meaning and has its full freedom of operation.

Whether we accept it or not, whether the church makes it central or not, whether it seems true or not, Jesus taught that powerless love is the only basis on which to build his kingdom. There is no other "road" to follow if we are to see God (Matt. 5:8). Beloved, let's not use intellectual excuses to evade our responsibilities as disciples of King Jesus. In him we find a true Revolutionary who is quite capable of saving the world without using coercion of any kind.

Sunday, October 11

8:22 PM Right at this time yesterday I kept thinking, Will this rain never end? You know me. You know how I get when I can't run for 4 or 5 days. Antsy, to put it mildly. So this evening, when the rain stopped (or slowed to a sprinkle), I got in a run at the track. I managed 4 miles before it started raining again.

I was hoping that the rain would stop altogether but it didn't. I always do this "hoping" on runs. I hope I can do whatever I want to do. Once again, I was stymied. Why? Because God knew I didn't need a run longer than 4 miles! Finally I told him, Okay. You're the boss, not me. Which only made sense since one of my pastors in his virtual sermon was "encouraging" (aka chiding) me while I ran to remember that God designs the race we're running, not us (Heb. 12:1-3). True, we have to run it, but we don't have any say in how long it lasts, how much elevation gain (or loss) there is, or what the rules are. That's God's job. Our job? The speaker said three things:

1) Get rid of every weight that's holding you back. You know, innocent things. For me that's mostly having pity parties.

2) Deal with the sin that so easily besets you. The "sin" in this context (see chapter 11) is undoubtedly the sin of unbelief. "So Dave, what do you do when you encounter a fight, a struggle, a race (the word is agōn in Greek)? Do you trust me to get you through? Or do you crawl into the corner and sit there whimpering?" Folks, no matter how much we "plan," it's always tough to predict what will occur out there on the track or during the race itself. In other words, have a plan, but for the sake of all that is holy, be flexible! And that's definitely one thing I'm not! I don't like surprises!  

3) Focus on Jesus. Here the Greek word seems to mean, not merely "look unto Jesus," but "look away from everything that would distract you and fix your gaze upon Jesus." Why? For crying out loud, he's the one who both designed the course and finished running it! This is the endurance element of any successful training program. At this stage, the "Coach" is telling you that you need to work on a better aerobic base, stronger legs, less fatigue, and better fat burning. Your goals, strategies, and objectives have to work together. You have to be prepared to change your goals after the race has started. You have to keep your objectives firmly in mind. A bad strategy is worse than no strategy. Folks, after years of running, I've learned that true long-distance success is more about tenacity than talent. The older theologians had a special term for this: perseverance. And that's the word Paul uses -- "Let's run with perseverance the race that God has set before us." In other words: Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone! Effort is the key! Don't wuss out!

Friends, we are given the choice, day by day, to choose to run this way or not. Feelings will not help us very much. More often than not, it will call for principle over impulse. We have to be honest enough to recognize our feelings and to reject them when they are wrong. What constitutes a "successful" race? Where does it begin? Always with humility. Not in being served, but in serving. Not in self-actualization, but in self-surrender.

So it was back to the old drawing board for me tonight as I ran my measly 4 miles. I once heard an old saying that guaranteed the absence of boredom in life:

1) Have something to do.

2) Have someone to love.

We have both of these in Christ. He's given us work to do this week and people to love on. I never realized the pure therapeutic value of loving others until I lost Becky to cancer. Honestly, I don't think I could get through a single day without having someone to love. At least there is always Christ to love. And then there are our sisters and brothers in Christ. Finally, there are the lost. Whatever we do this week, whoever we love, let's put our whole heart into it, okay? Let's do it as though we are doing it for the Lord and not people, because we really do have a Master who will give us our heritage as a reward for our service.

Christ, be my Master this week.

Let me serve and love thee as I ought.

In your name, Amen.

10:20 AM If you're thinking about doing Ph.D. work in New Testament, you must absolutely get this book.

I used it when writing my master's thesis at Talbot ("The Address of the Ephesian Epistle" -- see my summary here) and I had it constantly before me when I began my own doctoral studies in Basel in 1980. Gamble's work is a model of academic research. Besides, he hits the nail on the head when he offers an explanation as to why Romans has come down to us in three versions: a 14-chapter version, a 15-chapter version, and a 16-chapter version. The shorter versions of Romans are all attempts to transform the letter into a catholic epistle meant to be read by all Christians everywhere and not only in Rome. This explains the omission of the words "in Rome" in Rom. 1:7, 15 in some manuscripts. Ditto for the omission of "in Ephesus" in 1:1. It is amazing to discover that all of the letters in the New Testament, though they may have very particular addressees, were ultimately intended to be read by all Christians everywhere. This is why you and I can read Philemon today without blushing or thinking, "I can't do this. I'm reading someone else's mail!" But in the earliest church, before the process of canonization had kicked in, the way you transformed Romans into a universal letter was by mechanically removing the place designations in its opening chapter and by omitting all the names in the last chapter.

Are you glad you know this?

9:10 AM In teaching Greek, it's always helpful to go from the known (English) to the unknown (Greek). I try to do this in my Learn to Read New Testament Greek. Sometimes, however, I will use illustrations from other Indo-European languages -- especially Spanish -- to make a point. That's because students, if they've learned a foreign language in high school, are more likely to have been exposed to Spanish than any other IE language. As we can see below, Spanish indicates the person who is doing the action by changes in the verb itself, which makes pronoun use optional. French, on the other hand, uses both verb endings and pronouns to get the point across -- much like a man who wears both suspenders and a belt. German does much the same thing as French. This means that a knowledge of Spanish, even a rudimentary one, can be very helpful when trying to master the Greek verb system, where pronouns are optional as well.

In linguistics, Spanish is known as a "pro-drop language." All this means is that pronouns can be dropped when they are grammatically inferable. Thus for tengo in Spanish (one word) we have I have in English (two words) and Ich habe in German (two words). We might say that English and German are "non-pro-drop languages" because they require the pronoun, though not in all instances. For example, instead of saying "I'm going home now. Do you want to come with me?" we could also say, "Going home now. Want to come with me?" This is very common in informal spoken English. Often it's the first person singular pronoun ("I") that's dropped. This is known as "conversational deletion," though sometimes a speaker will use it in more formal settings. A famous example is George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention:

Those were exciting days. Lived in a little shotgun house, one room for the three of us. Worked in the oil business, started my own. Moved from the shotgun to a duplex apartment to a house. Lived the dream -- high school football on Friday night, Little League, neighborhood barbeque.

When speaking English, I'm constantly dropping pronouns in the first person singular -- "Gonna," "Need to," "Should've." Here's a couple of German examples:

  • Wie findest du das? Kommt mir komisch vor.

  • How do find that? Sounds funny to me.

  • Lese gerade ein Buch.

  • I'm reading a book.

But you will rarely find this in formal contexts. Which other languages are "pro-drop" like Spanish? Here's a partial listing:

  • Japanese

  • Korean

  • Chinese

  • Italian

  • Portuguese

  • Modern Greek

English is not one of these! And this takes some getting used to when you're just learning Greek. 

Why am I boring you with this? I want to emphasize something about language -- the fact that it has architectural precision. Even the exceptions have "rules" behind them. In linguistics, morphology is the study of words, including how they are formed. That's why a good beginning grammar of Greek will always try and help the student understand the internal structure of verbs. Consider these the "rules of the road," much like when you were taking driver's ed and learning that "Yield" means that you have to yield and that a blinking red light is not an optional stop after all. You learned that signs have purposes that are best appreciated when you don't ignore them. Sure, learning to drive, like learning a new language, can be intimating. But don't let your fears hold you back. Just begin. Eventually you will love the word of God as never before! 

P.S. In my NT 2 class this week we will see that Paul wrote Romans, among other things, in order to enlist the church's help in his mission to Spain. My question is: Was Spanish spoken in Spain in the first century? Answer on Wednesday!

Saturday, October 10

12:42 PM Rom. 1:1-7 is a really neat passage. It's actually the longest opening greeting in all of Paul's writings. And it's written to a congregation Paul had never met! Why, then, its length? Where is Paul going with his run-on sentences?

This is where a careful analysis of the structure of a text can help us. No, I'm not talking about English-based sentence analysis, though I'm sure this has its place.

Instead, I love a method developed by my friend Johannes Louw of the University of Pretoria. He called it "colon analysis" (no, not that colon) based on a term actually used by the ancient Greeks. The idea is to identify all of the independent main verbs (even when they are merely implied) and then see how the writer expands on them. Since we'll be walking through this passage in class on Wednesday, I thought I'd share my own analysis with you. This is what exegesis looks like through the lens of colon analysis! What's not to love, I ask you? I haven't found a mortal who couldn't do this after a year of Greek instruction. I invite you to experience the joy that many of us experience when we do a deep dive into a text!

11:06 AM Years ago I began working on a journal article but let it lapse when I got busy farming. Today I resurrected the matter. The impetus for my research came from a remarkable footnote in the RSV that I had never seen before in any Bible translation. On Mark 7:3, the translators of the RSV write:

One Greek word is of uncertain meaning and is not translated.

Say what? How can this be? How can a Greek word not even be within reach of an educated guess? The word under discussion is pugmē. Here's the verse in Greek.  

The RSV left pugmē out when it rendered the verse as follow:

For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders.

Apparently, at least from what I can gather by reading the Greek text, the dative noun pugmē is trying to tell us how the Jews washed their hands. All the Greek has is "with a fist." Here are some other English versions:

  • NET: "a ritual washing"

  • ASV: "wash their hands diligently"

  • Young's Literal: "wash their hands to the wrist"

  • NIV: "ceremonial washing"

  • NLT: "over their cupped hands"

  • ESV: "wash their hands properly"

  • NASB: "carefully wash their hands"

Whatcha think? Purty interesting eh? Are you ready to head down this rabbit trail me? Stay tuned!

8:40 AM There's a fascinating new series on YouTube discussing the Amish and their history. It's called Breaking the Silence. I've watched all 6 parts and can tell you: This is a thorough critique of the Amish way of life, including their beliefs about salvation. In addition, the cinematography and editing are superb. The series delivers what I believe is an exceptionally hopeful and visionary picture of what the Amish can and should be. If we are indeed on the cusp of the next major reformation of the church in America, as I believe we are today, then our own churches have to come to grips with our slavish adherence to the traditions of men rather than the word of God. As the great A. W. Tozer once said, "The New Testament contains full instructions, not only about what we are to believe but what we are to do and how we are to go about doing it. Any deviation from those instructions is a denial of the Lordship of Christ." I found this series to be a compelling demonstration of this truth. I heartily recommend watching it.

8:22 AM Weekly interaction papers, yes weekly papers, ladies and gentlemen! That's what my wonderful NT 2 students write for me week in and week out. This coming week their paper is on the book of Romans. Their assignment reads as follow:

Read Romans in its entirety. Romans 12-15 contains a host of valuable expectations for everyday Christian conduct. What does Romans 12:9-21 in particular have to say about the Christian way of life?

That's right, folks. It's always best to read an entire NT epistle from beginning to end in one sitting if possible. That's how the original recipients would have done it. Notice, too, how Paul emphasizes the Christian faith as a way of living. For eleven chapters he's been unfolding God's great plan of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for sinners and was raised to life. Through Christ the Father is creating a new society -- a new humanity. Now the apostle moves on from the creation of the new society to the new standards that are expected of it. So he turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative) to what we must do and be in Christ (in the imperative). The shift is from doctrine to duty or, as Simpson puts it, "from the credenda ... to the agenda" -- from things to be believed to things to be done.

What's so interesting to me is that the majority of commands in Rom. 12:9-21 are not in the imperative mood at all. Paul uses the participle, the infinitive, and even adjectives to issue his injunctions in this passage. Why is that? And what does he hope to accomplish by "mitigating" his commands in that fashion? Come to class and find out! If you can't make it, here's a sneak preview.

I have a dream that my students will come away from this class session with a new appreciation of the church as God's new society and that they will begin to flesh out the New Testament reality that the church is a living organism and not an institutional organization. Let's make Jesus Christ the Head of the church again, folks, not in pious rhetoric but in living reality. May his supremacy be the mainstay, the focus, the pursuit of every Christian and every church. May every local church be transformed into spiritual families where the members know one another intimately, care for each other deeply, and rejoice with each other unfailingly, as we are instructed to do in Rom. 12:9-21!

Friday, October 9

8:04 PM These are fresh out of the oven -- blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry muffins for Sheba.

She practically inhales them. I'm glad she still has an appetite for certain foods. It hasn't been easy for me watching her age. Thankfully we have Becky's handicap ramp for her to get up and down the porch from. She gets weaker by the day. She is now incontinent. That's okay. I want her to eat and drink everything she can put down. For 17 years we've been inseparable. I have hardly known a day in this house without this sweet puppy. When I'm in my office and sitting at the computer, as I am now, she comes up to me and asks to be scratched. She is a fighter. Selfishly I want her to stay with me forever. What to do? One day at a time. Having pets is great but this part stinks.

Y'all know that writing is like therapy for me. So thanks for reading my words and allowing this platform for me to express my thoughts and emotions. Amazing how pets are part of the family. Letting go will be like losing a dear friend and companion. Thankfully that day hasn't come ... yet.

I love you Sheba girl. Thank you for loving me back.

7:30 PM Question for ya. We have Christology (the study of Christ). We have Pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit). Why not Patrology (the study of the Father)? Is our theology balanced? The study of the Father is usually subsumed under "Theology Proper." But why?

7:08 PM "A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn't the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn't flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic." Dresden James.

2:23 PM Okay, who is busier than I am? This morning I got a B12 shot, then ran 5 miles, then sent off an essay on Christmas for publication. Right now I need to go to the bank and then put the final touches on my lectures on 1 Corinthians for my NT 2 class next week. That same day we also have to talk about the book of Romans, aka The Cathedral of Christianity. This month I may have completely bitten off more than I can chew. But I have done it willingly and with gusto. Life is very full these days. Mt latest project? Answering interview questions for an upcoming issue of the Southeastern Theological Review. It's a special issue on "The Bible as Literature," and I've been asked to talk about my own philosophy of Bible translation and why we attempted to translate the poetry of the Greek New Testament as poetry in the ISV. This is keeping me very busy. I am disintegrating a bit, but I will persevere. I have the hardest time saying no and keeping myself from over-committing. I'm not so sure I would want it any other way though. Still, it's good to pause, take a deep breath, and enjoy the slow pace here on the farm. You see, if you want it to happen, it will happen. It may not be easy, but it's better than the alternative (doing nothing). Listen fellow whiners, we get to do what we do. And it won't last forever. Ask God how, what, and where to move forward in your life. Ask him to reveal to you any weak areas (like over-doing things!). He'll meet you at the next step and show himself faithful. My journey of faith is mine and yours is yours, but let's never stop moving or invent our own way. You don't want to miss out on his best. And neither do I!

8:58 AM I think there might be a spiritual lesson in this picture I took yesterday at the Antietam National Battlefield.

If you were a soldier on the field of battle that day, this is just about all you saw. The common soldier sees very little of the general engagement. It's impossible to see everything that's going on around you. You have your own part to play, and that task absorbs your entire attention. Add to the mix the billow of smoke expelled by thousands of muskets, and you can judge the direction of the battle only by sound.

Someone has said that the battlefield is the loneliest place that men share together. Isn't life like that, my friend? Isn't it easy to get so lost in the details of our lives that we fail to see God's big picture? Maybe you're struggling with God not wanting you to have something you feel is indispensable to your life and happiness. Maybe he has removed someone from your life and you don't understand why. Isn't it wonderful that God sees our beginning and end all at once? 2020 has been a year of change for all of us. I know it's been that for me. I see only the cornfield around me. But I'm trusting that God sees and knows the big picture. When one chapter in my life ends, another will take its place. Life will go on.

I pray for strength for us all as we face the changes in our lives. Remember that you are not alone. Thank God daily for the people in your life who pray for you and love you. Please pray for me too as I face change this year and next. Change is a part of life, but God always sees the bigger picture.

Lord, help me to trust you today with complete abandonment!

Thursday, October 8

7:48 PM Evening, guys! It seems like everyone has their nightmare story. I just added a couple more to my list, like getting a parking ticket in Shepherdstown, MD when I stopped for lunch in a local eatery and accidentally parked in the university parking lot (it sure looked like a municipal lot to me), or forgetting my Garmin battery recharger at home, or ending up with a noisy hotel room, or getting lost in Frederick. It may not be as bad as landing on the Hudson, but chances are you have had your own nightmare stories. Thankfully, the good things far outnumbered the bad. I'm happy to say that I accomplished my goal of hiking both the Monocacy and Antietam Battlefields (without getting lost once).

Suffice it to say that being on the actual field of battle gives you a brand new appreciation for what those men endured 150 years go. I can only wonder what it must have felt like to watch cannon balls emerge from the smoke or the strain of going into battle after being forced marched for 17 miles. At any rate, here are some additional pix of my trip before I get some much needed rest:

It took me only about 4 miles to cover the entire Monocacy Battlefield.

The Worthington House, much as it looked on the day of battle.

Switching now to Antietam, the battle began on the Poffenberger Farm.

As the fighting moved south, the soldiers entered the Miller cornfield.

They fought here for hours. I know I've mentioned this before, but I am a descendent of David Miller on my paternal grandmother's side (she was a Miller). Sorry to keep mentioning this, but it's my only claim to fame.

The famous Sunken Road.

And the even more famous Burnside Bridge.

Here's my favorite monument on the Antietam battlefield. After the Union soldiers had crossed the bridge, they were able to enjoy a brief break in the fighting.

This monument commemorates a young soldier whose sole duty that day was to carry hot coffee to his comrades. Nobody would have remembered him had he not become president of the United States and then the victim of an assassin's bullet.

Someone may say, "A monument for something as insignificant as serving coffee?" I imagine the men who received the coffee would have never asked that question.

The final battle that day took place here.

You can knock out a hike of the entire Antietam Battlefield in about 8 miles and 3 hours of walking.

Oh, did I mention that fall is very much in the air in Maryland?

When I got back to the farm, I saw that the kids had been busy getting up hay.

Hope they enjoy my little treat for them. Thank you for working so hard! 

So there you have it, folks. I've said it before. One of the best things about living in the good old U.S. of A. is that there's always a new adventure right around the corner. It never, ever gets boring. If I'm lacking challenge and excitement in other areas of my life, I know I can find it with exploring history.

P.S. I tried hiking the C & O Canal tow path but oh my goodness it was sooooo boring. Maybe I should have tried doing that hike first.

Wednesday, October 7

7:55 AM Good morning folks! My Bible time this morning was in Phil. 2:12-18, the passage we're studying next week in Greek 3. Oh my, what a passage! When I was a new struggling believer, I read this passage over and over again. I needed to be reminded that obedience in the Christian life is not only required but enabled. Not surprisingly, this went against the grain of the "throw a stick on the fire at the end of summer camp and rededicate your life once and for all to Jesus" philosophy of the day. Anyway, at some point I came to acknowledge that if I were to make progress in this thing called Christian living I would have to learn how to be filled with the Spirit. It's the only way to true wholeness, the abundant life that Jesus promised, and profound joy. This is what kingdom living is all about -- living in the way of Jesus, by his strength and according to his Spirit. I also have to add: we do this in community. My contention is that when Paul writes "God is always at work in you both to give you the desire and the ability to do what pleases him," the words "in you" are better rendered "among you." Yes, it's true that the Christian life is an individual matter between us and our God. However, we have to carefully guard ourselves against a lone ranger mentality that says, in essence, "I don't need you." We're called to imitate the Jesus who always went about with a group of men and women with whom he did ministry. And, in case we missed it, his commands "Love your enemies" and "Do good to others" and "Bless those who curse you" are in the plural. In Christ, God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters. In fact, the metaphor for the church that dominates the New Testament is the family. In contrast, the dominating metaphor in many of our churches today is the corporation, where you have a pastor (CEO), staff (upper management), and the people (employees). We give glib assent to the church as family but the very architecture of our worship centers encourages individual spectatorism. Recall what Paul says in this passage about the Philippians "doing all things without grumbling and complaining." Paul's passion for genuine community is contagious, and if your church family is healthy, you know your fellow brethren to the point where it's instinctive to show them affection and grace. By contrast, a dysfunctional church family shows little affection toward its members. There is no experience of verbal or nonverbal expressions of love. Are we really being honest to call our church a "family" when its members hardly even know each other?

The one thing I believe Paul is emphasizing in this passage is that only when we are genuinely unified as a church body can our witness to the world be effective. Paul envisions a people who shine like stars lighting up the sky in the midst of a world of corrupt and sinful people, whom we offer the message of life. Again, the way we do "one-anothering" makes all the difference! 

This whole passage in Philippians has a prophetic quality about it that I hadn't anticipated -- calling believers back to their beautiful, biblical, core identity as the family of God. I leave on my trip today excited, eager to dig deeper into this text in the days ahead. But it also leaves me profoundly unsettled, seeing mostly hostility and bitterness in the Christian Twitterworld. (Yes, there are exceptions!) I'm going to be praying about what all of this means for my own teaching and writing.

Blessings on you!

Dave

Tuesday, October 6

7:18 PM Today was a day for decisions. My friend can't climb tomorrow due to his work schedule so I've decided to forego Sharp Top and proceed into the great commonwealth (or is it state?) of Maryland to hike the battlefields I mentioned earlier. Let's see, the Monocacy Battlefield has the Ford Loop Trail and the Thomas Farm Loop Trail, while good old Antietam has the Union Advance Trail, the Battlefield Forest Creek Loop Trail, the Snavely's Ford Trail, the Final Attack Trail, the National Battlefield Trail, and the Burnside Bridge Loop Trail. Then it's off to the Point of Rocks parking lot where I hope to pick up the C & O tow path. No biking, no running, just walking. It's a great season of the year to be outdoors! You know me. Always up for the next adventure. The next tale to tell. The next story to blog about. And the next book to read, of course -- which tonight means anything about either of these two battles I can get my hands on. People growing up on the East Coast may take their history for granted, but I don't. Are you a history buff? When I was a kid I couldn't get enough of WW II history. Those were the days of the Rat Patrol and Combat! on TV.

Defending my home in Kailua against all her enemies, real or imagined.

When we lived in Basel it just wasn't possible for me to travel enough to visit historic sites such as Kaiser August (Caesar Augustus's HQ on the Rhine) or the Kappel Battlefield where Zwingli the Protestant was killed while fighting the Catholics. Does it matter how people in other times and places thought? Isn't history more of a problem than a solution? All Christians need to know at least church history. We need these earlier Christians. We can learn a great deal both from their insights and blind spots. We can grow by allowing them to instruct us. I take this trip hoping it will stimulate my study of history and allow me to expand, nuance, confirm, or correct my own convictions and assumptions about the past and the present. Historical thinking can relieve us of our narcissism. It can cultivate humility and love for truth. It might even help transform our lives more fully into the image of Jesus Christ.

Trips like these always give me much to ponder and ruminate over. Friends, during this time of Covid, we have to adjust our expectations and do what we can do. But we can never give ourselves permission to check out and eat donuts all day. Keep looking up and do the best you can!

2:04 PM U.S. Hwy. 58 runs for 508 miles between Virginia Beach, VA, and Harrogate, TN. It's pretty much my link to civilization. From it I can get to the Food Lion in Clarksville or my dentist's office in South Boston.

If you see more than 4 cars on Hwy. 58, it's considered a traffic jam.

This is the heart of Southside Virginia. Natives here like the open spaces. We have wonderful fishing, superb hunting, and the nicest people you will ever find. I had no idea that the land would claim me when I moved here with Becky 20 years ago. It gets in the blood. You are a caregiver. You husband the land the same way you take care of your children because it's in your care. The best part of living here is that you don't need a passport to enjoy an excursion to the Tobacco Heritage Trail. Today my plan was to do a recovery walk of 5 miles out and back, which actually turned into 7.8.

Seems they decided to open the newest part of the trail, thus extending the trail by 1.4 miles each way. A shout out to the Roanoke River Rails to Trail board of directors for maintaining this wonderful hiking/biking/horseback riding trail. Eventually it will total 160 miles and connect the counties of Brunswick, Charlotte, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Halifax. This section of the trail follows what was once the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which later became part of Norfolk Southern.

The new trail terminus. I do hope they extend it a few more miles.

They thought of everything, including picnic tables ...

... and hitching posts for your horses.

You see fields everywhere along the trail. These soy beans are ready for harvesting.

This region of Virginia is also noted for its hiking trails. Tomorrow a friend of mine and I are heading to Bedford to climb Sharp Top. The Peaks of Otter are among the most notable peaks in Virginia's Blue Ridge. Sharp Top is the most accessible and even has a shuttle you can take to the summit and back. Truly, Virginia is a hiker's paradise! As for the rest of the week, I'm still hoping to head north for some more hiking. The plan now is for me to hike both the Monocacy and Antietam Battlefields before getting in a few miles on the C & O tow path. We'll see!

7:45 AM Value, value, value, that's what it's all about ladies and gentlemen. Are you getting value from reading this daily blog? As you know, I blog only from my home computer, which is why you don't hear from me while I'm staying on campus teaching my classes. But when I'm home, I'm blogging. I do so from the place I know best -- a few acres of Virginia piedmont on which I am encamped for a few years in my wanderings through this thing called life. In fact, were I to summarize the goal of this blog, it would be to remind you of two vital facts:

1) We are all disciples of the Lord. As you know, the term mathētēs in Greek is a reminder that we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our Master, Jesus Christ. We are always and ever in a growing-learning relationship with him. We are students, not in an academic sense, as though we were sitting in a classroom at the seminary, but rather in the sense of being on a worksite, learning a craft from a master builder. Our goal is not merely to acquire information but skills.

2) We are all pilgrims on this earth. The Greek word for "pilgrim" (parepidēmos) reminds us that we are people who are going somewhere. We're on a pilgrimage to God, and the path is none other than Jesus himself, who said "I am the Road"  (John 14:6). None of us can get to the Father apart from him.

So there you have it in a nutshell -- why I keep this blog a-comin' atcha day in and day out. Jesus is alive and well, winking at us, inviting us to get up and dance to his music. Learn of me, discover me, dive into me, let me change your life, he says to us. Let me make the tiny corners of your daily life amazing. Let me show you the way ahead. Quit stewing about the past and begin kicking up your heels in the sunshine of my love and forgiveness.

As always, thanks for stopping by, expecting to find something of value here. I hope to never disappoint you. The longer we laugh and cry together, the stronger the journey gets!

Monday, October 5

8:08 PM Organizing my life -- that's what this day has been about. Overall, I'm ecstatic with the results. I was getting a little stressed by the disorganization in the house, and not having a woman here to whip everything in shape only added to the burden, if you know what I mean. Next step in getting organized is looking under all the beds! Of course, today my mind often went to Becky. If I'm being completely honest, I don't dwell on her every day. Life is so busy that sometimes I go a while without thinking about Becky. But today I was thrust back into all the emotions I experienced when I lost her 7 years ago. When she died, I realized that I faced a choice. I could either let her death ruin me, or else I could, as much as possible, learn and grow from it. I decided on the latter option. Here are some ways my life has been different:

1) I appreciate just how demanding house work is. If you don't stay on top of things, everything can get messy real soon.

2) I think it increased my empathy. I think I can understand people better today. I try to support and encourage my students who are going through tough times. I still have lots of room for improvement, but I'm trying.

3) It put things in perspective for me. I've learned how to turn my solitude into prayer. I've begun to know the strange peace that the world doesn't understand. I think I've even come to accept the gift of widowerhood that God has given me. Lord, is this the cake you need from me? Then I'll bake it for you. As well as I can, I lay all my desire before him to whom all desire is known and from whom no secrets are hidden.

I know that some of you have experienced a significant loss in your own life. Your temptations, and mine, are common to man. I believe God wants us to be happy, but in a much deeper sense than we can imagine. A loving hand is behind it all, a great tenderness even in the mist of the loneliness (and the messy house). All in all I'm satisfied with this "how to organize my life and thought processes" that I'm going through right now. I'm grateful for family and for peace. And with your prayers, I will continue to rest in him.

1:18 PM Time to clean house again if you know what I mean. Here's the deal. Three things -- today I'm going to throw out at least three things I haven't used in over a year. I'm going to start with my collection of empty book boxes.

Organization and efficiency is the name of the game, ladies and gentlemen. I'm challenging you to do the same. I don't care if it's a paper clip or your old TV set. Come on, let's get it done!

12:40 PM Just back from the post office and bank. Also got in an easy 5K walk on the local trail.

I believe this is called "active recovery." Running alone isn't enough to get you into shape. Just move and you will improve. And the perfect movement is walking.

Meanwhile, I'm still researching my races for 2021. Depending on what happens with Covid, there could be a huge number of marathons (and marathon PRs) next year. If you're like me, then you've got to have a race on the calendar at all times. I'm considering races in my area, of course, but I'm also casting a wistful eye on maybe running the Phoenix-Mesa Marathon again or even the Flying Pig in Cincy for the 4th time. However, there's no sense in actually registering for a race yet because of the high possibility of them being cancelled. So I'm stuck in no-man's land when it comes to my 2021 race schedule. I'm a goal person, always have been. I do like to have goals and expectations for myself of what I think I'm capable of doing. That said, I don't get super hung up on wanting to have everything planned in advance. Of course, no one but God knows what 2021 will hold for any of us. But barring anything major happening, I plan to get in another half marathon or two and at least one full marathon in 2021. I want to become a good runner, but I'm also a realist, especially at my age. Friend, no matter what your speed, it's your drive, your dedication, and so much more that aging can't take away from you that matters. Things hurt, it takes longer to recover, and there are so many other things that can be discouraging as well. You just gotta keep being active -- regardless of how fast or slow you are. As Amby Burfoot says, "Don't judge your running by your speed."

Life is never linear. It has so many ups and downs and plateaus. If only we could coast through and be done! But God has a better way. We need to disregard the naysayers. As they shout, "You can't!" God is whispering, "With my strength, all things are possible." Remember that, my friend. And remember that he is just a prayer away.

8:30 AM USA! USA! Sara Hall finished second in yesterday's London Marathon! In terrible conditions (severe weather issues, no crowd support due to Covid, etc.) I might add. She was the first American in 14 years to stand on the podium in London. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, at 37 she's still throwin' it down. Awesome job, Sara! Being a Jesus follower, note how she gives glory to God. Ya gotta love it!

As I near the end of my formal academic career, I desire to do the same. Maybe you recall Jesus' parable in Luke 17 about the servant who has just come back from the field. Does his master invite him to sit down and dine with him? Hardly. He says, instead, "Prepare my supper and wait on me while I have my meal. You can have yours afterwards." So with you, Jesus says. When you have carried out your master's orders, you should say, "We are merely servants and deserve no credit. We have only done our duty."

The world system has it all wrong in this regard, folks. We take credit for what we have done. Success is my accomplishment, not God's or anyone else's. We fail to recognize that all of our accomplishments are gifts of grace rather than the product of our own efforts or wisdom. I have now taught Greek for some 44 years. I have preached and taught in many foreign countries. I have published approximately 1 book every 2 years. My publishers have invested thousands of dollars in these books. Even more surprisingly, people have invested money in buying them. But when I get to glory, Jesus will not say to me, "Look at all you have accomplished, Dave!" No, he will say (I do earnestly hope and pray), "You were faithful, Dave. That's all that is important to me."

Success is a worldly word. Have I been successful in my career? Have you? Yes, I believe that God called me to the task of teaching and writing. But I am under no illusion that I have made any essential contribution to the kingdom. I will be forgotten, just as my own professors in seminary and grad school are forgotten today. The fact is, life is not about success. It's only about being faithful to what God has called us to be and to do. I think most of us would have to acknowledge that not much of what we have done with our lives can count as accomplishments before God, let alone before the world. We freely confess our own unworthiness. Jesus is on point (as he always is): it's not about getting credit. It's only about doing our duty. We are unprofitable servants.

As you know, yesterday I ran a half marathon. The challenge seemed staggering. You face the temptation to give up and drop out. It's one thing to fight for a while and then quit. It's quite another to go the distance and finish. The apostle Paul endured through every temptation, trial, and bout with discouragement and despair. Just before he was killed he wrote, "I've run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that's left now is the shouting -- God's applause! Depend on it, he's an honest judge. He'll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming" (2 Tim. 4:6-8, The Message). Paul had never heard about Nike or New Balance, but he knew enough about track and field to realize that he needed to run hard if he was going to finish the race. He could say, "I'm giving it everything I've got!"

Is the "fruit of faithfulness" lacking in your life, my friend? Perhaps you could take some time today to identity the obstacles that are holding you back. Ask God to help you overcome them. He's on your side. He's rooting for you to finish your race. How better can we witness to his grace in our lives than to say, "It wasn't my doing. It was all his doing. And he did it even despite me!"

Sunday, October 4

7:14 PM Evening walk.

5:44 PM Hi. It's me again. Let's get going on this race report, shall we, before I forget everything, being as old and senile as I am.

Now what was I saying?

I'm still learning how to be a runner, folks, so I love to share what I'm learning with you guys. The big news is that today's 13.1 mile half marathon is in the books. I feel privileged to have now run 23 half marathons, 16 full marathons, 5 triathlons, and one 32-mile ultra. Running a race longer than 5K involves overall health, smart training, discipline, and the blessing of the Lord for sure. After all, running a half takes over 25,000 steps.

Above all, I smile and try to enjoy the experience. The greatest marathoner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, says: "A smile is what actually ignites my mind to forget about the pain. That's the beauty of a smile." About 2 million runners entered half marathons in 2019 -- about 4 times the number of runners that finished a marathon. Generally speaking, the half marathon is safer than the marathon because there's less chance of injury from repetitive movements. Sure, I'm not fast, but as Abe Lincoln once put it, "I may walk slow, but I don't walk backwards." There's no need to hurry. After all, I'm training, not just for a race, but for the rest of my life. Here are a couple more pix of today's trail adventure:

The starting line. I began dead last as per usual.

These two ladies paced me for the first 3 miles. I eventually passed them and never saw them again.

Vigilance is required every step of the way. If a rock doesn't get you, a root will. I tripped a couple of times but, thankfully, never face planted.

The scenery. I can't even. 

Hills? Nobody said there'd be hills!

Is this Switzerland or what?

Well, thanks for putting up with all the pictures and babbling. I was very pleased with my results today. I finished in 3:12 -- a fairly respectable time for such a demanding course. In all honesty I loved every minute of the race. The most important thing was to keep moving forward without bonking or getting injured. The weird thing is, after mile 6 things got easier, or at least they didn't get any harder. Maybe all this training is paying off after all. The plan now is to give my legs two days off and then climb either MacAfee Knob or Sharp Top with a friend on Wednesday. If the nice weather holds, I'm praying about hiking the C & O Canal towpath later in the week. The towpath covers 185 miles along the Potomac River. I'm told it's one of the flattest trails imaginable and very well kept. If I do go there, I will probably try to hike at least 26.2 miles. 

Thanks for joining me on this journey, guys!

Saturday, October 3

5:32 PM The Pocahontas Trail Festival is going down tomorrow. This is an annual race that takes place at the Pocahontas State Park near Chesterfield, VA, about 2 hours from the farm.

Distances include the full marathon, the half marathon, a 10K race, and a marathon relay (4 teammates). I've signed up for the half. I have never done a trail half marathon and I can't wait. A demanding race in awesome weather? Perfection. Trail runs are the best. Running on trails is harder than running on roads in some ways, but spending a couple of hours in the woods is my idea of heaven. They even offer PBJs and cookies at the aid stations. I love our state parks. I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by such beauty. Lord willing, I'll report back tomorrow with an after-race blog post, ladies and gentlemen!

1:58 PM Just finished grading my NT 2 exams. You guys crushed it. Thanks to each and every one of you!

12:05 PM So thankful to God for the ability to do a 13.1 mile bike ride on a very beautiful morning.

Daily living, that's what it's all about, folks. The "ordinary" things we do in our lives are all part of the "extraordinary" that God has planned for us. Everyday "mundane" stuff (like biking or mowing the grass) is where we can and, I would argue, should find our fulfillment. We should never, ever, be bored, and no day should ever be merely "mundane." So yes, I'm trying to make the ordinary extraordinary here on my blog. As Chesterton once said, "The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children"!

Love you and thanks for stopping by!

7:48 AM "Be joyful always." That was my main takeaway this morning as I read the book of 1 Thessalonians in one sitting. Paul is so upbeat in this letter. And why shouldn't he be? Jesus is coming back. Segue to today. What space and time do we find ourselves in? I believe we are moving into a society that is qualitatively different from anything yet experienced by Americans. Although this time of upheaval is similar to the situation of the first-century Graeco-Roman world of the New Testament, circumstances are bringing us to an unprecedented history. We find ourselves in a substantially different world from even a year ago. The empirical evidence is undeniable. And the rate of cultural disintegration only accelerates. This means that unless there is a major intervention by God to stop this downward spiral, we are in for a very rough time. It's as though all of the political, social, scientific, and religious revolutions of the past 100 years have been crowded into one short span of time.

Enter the book of 1 Thessalonians. Paul is clear about the way God's hand has reached through the darkness in each of our lives. Even persecution can become a shard of hope in his hands. How Pollyanna it all sounds, but it's true. 1 Thessalonians is all about the way God redeems darkness and pain and brings something beautiful out of something horrible. Thank God I was wrong about everything when Becky died 7 years ago. Thank God that he used that experience as a preparation for a good thing in my life. And with growth comes great hope. We -- you and I -- are living "in the interim" between Christ's first and second comings. And if we're honest, we feel the ache of the "meantime" deeply. I really learned to pray when Becky passed away, out of necessity and fear. But now I get it. I believe in God because I have to. There is a particular beauty to this season of darkness in America. You feel trapped by the pain and the darkness, but there is something always calling you past the heartbreak, past the curse, past the despair, past the turmoil, and that thing is the joy of the Lord.

Paul was a spiritual father to the Thessalonians. They were his dear children. "We dealt with you one by one, as a father deals with his children, appealing to you by encouragement, as well as by solemn inunctions, to live lives worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory." I don't live for any worldly kingdom. I live for God's kingdom and glory. And that kingdom is about to break into the darkness. Our job is the prepare the way of the Lord, to build the landing strip, and to invite as many people we can to join us. Despite the disintegration of our day, Jesus is still in the business of making new men and women. He died that we might no longer live for ourselves. He wants to live his life in and though us, and thus to make us conduits of his peace. He will dispel the darkness, as soon as he can, but not before. The fear, the uncertainty, the pains of this life are a part of the process he is at work on. If we understand that, we will never become bitter about it. This fractured world will one day be exchanged for wholeness. This is why, with Paul, we can "be joyful always."

Friday, October 2

2:10 PM I am a fall fanatic. I love coming home to a warm house, lighting a fire in the fireplace, and settling down to an evening of reading. I love being able to get outdoors when the temps are cooler, like today. Here's my 5 mile run.

What a picturesque view. I love hot soup and crusty rolls. I love watching the deer rutting. I love knowing that Christmas music is right around the corner. I love pulling out my sweaters. I love watching the trees shed their leaves, a reminder that I too have to let go and open the door to a new season, and with it new opportunities.

I am a fall fanatic.

8:35 AM Shots fired ...

7:55 AM Hello bloggerites. If you've recently joined my readership, you'll think I'm a man obsessed with Bible study. That's because I am. This morning I was in Phil. 2:1-11 -- the heart of the epistle.

And what a wonderful passage it is in every way. Unity in the church is so needed today. But unity without humility is impossible. Knowledge never travels alone. It always has to be accompanied by love. Knowledge apart from love leads only to spiritual pride. Fellowship in the church should be a very close kind of fellowship. Having an inner disposition of harmony is fundamental. It is a oneness in love and aim. And it took a humble cross-bearer to show us the way. I wish every Christian would memorize Phil. 2:1-11 so as to be reminded day in and day out that oneness in the body of Christ cannot be achieved without lowliness of mind.

Of course, the Bible is not the only book I read. This came in the mail yesterday and I am eager to give it a look-see.

As you know, I weigh in on the side of grammars that are much more succinct than this one is, but hey, to each his (or her) own.

Finally, this week I met with my Old Testament colleague Chip Hardy to finalize the syllabus for our LXX course in the spring. Yes, it's going to be a study (in both Hebrew and Greek) of the great book of Jonah! I'm trying to think of some creative way to end this blog post, but all I can think of is to mention the book we'll be using for the class, written by one of my former students who is now completing his doctorate in New Testament in Germany.

Here he is reciting a passage from Ruth when he took my LXX class years ago.

God, out of his passionate love for the lost, is calling all of us to become Jonahs to a lost and dying world. The missional life is the only way to true wholeness, profound joy, and an abundant life. Why, then, instead of taking Christ to the world, do we prefer to argue about everything? This was the way paradise was lost. Yet Jesus still faithfully calls to life and to utter bliss those who follow his downward path. It is the way of the cross, but the only way that leads to resurrection.

Revolutionaries, live in the way of Jesus.

Blessings,

Dave

Thursday, October 1

8:02 PM Hello my intellectual internet friends. Just spent a wonderful week on campus teaching my classes and attending meetings. Did I mention having lunch with friends? Now it's time to switch gears. We're off all next week and the weather is supposed to be perfect for being outdoors. What to do? Well, races are coming back! So I've signed up for a half marathon trail run this weekend. As slow as I am at running, I keep doing it because I enjoy it. Then next week I'm trying to talk a couple of friends into climbing a Via Ferrata in West Virginia -- the same one I did a couple of years ago. Here's my GoPro in case you'd like to see what it's like.

What else? I'm toying with the idea of doing a longish bike ride of maybe 50 miles, though I don't know where yet. For me, cross-training on my bike brings many benefits. It improves my running performance, reduces the strain on my limbs, increases my overall fitness, reduces my risk of injury, and, well, makes my happy. Biking allows me to add variety to my training to avoid boredom and burnout. This Tuesday I ran 5 miles, on Wednesday I biked 14 miles, and then yesterday I ran 6 miles. I took today off as a recovery day. A change of pace and a change of place each week does wonders for me. How you cross train isn't as important as just getting out there and doing it. The good news is that if you use the same muscles over and over again (without overtraining them), they eventually get stronger. As it happens, a little less running and a little more cycling is actually making me a better and more efficient runner. Of course, racing is where the real fun begins. As I think about the half marathon trail race this weekend, I'm filled with terror, excitement, joy, calm, and panic. If you think about completing the whole journey in one bite, it will seem completely impossible. So you take it one mile at a time, breaking the race down into bite-sized chunks so it doesn't seem so hard. During a half marathon everybody gets a good taste of reality pie. Fast or slow, it's not a distance to underestimate, especially if you're going to be running on mountain trails. You have to take whatever talent you have and then go out and see what happens. Besides the training, this week I've got a dissertation chapter to read, a journal article to finish, and essay exams that require grading, not to mention farm work. So you see, there's a lot of variety coming up during the semester break. On the one hand, it's a time of rest and relaxation, but on the other hand, I will be as busy as ever (hopefully, in a productive way). Push yourself through too many hours of work and your brain starts to push back. You need to give yourself and your brain some rest. I tend to be a person who works around the clock simply because I can. Not very wise. One Harvard study showed that PTO (Predicable Time Off) was nothing short of miraculous in restoring one's mental health. Talking time off will actually help you to thrive in your life and your career. Even a Stay-Vaca can help.

In these days of chaos on the national scene and stress on the local scene due to Covid, it's so wonderful to be able to cock an ear toward heaven and, above the drone and din of the humdrum, listen for God's gentle voice calling your name. In times of trouble, our lifeline is Jesus. Grab on tight, my friend, and then pray like crazy!

That's all for now. Thanks for blogging in.

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