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Thursday, November 15    

2:10 PM The sky continues to open up and my workouts are beginning to get more challenging. Today I couldn't run outdoors so I worked out for about 30 minutes at the Y before driving to the doctor's office to get my annual flu shot. I would not be surprised if there's flooding again like we had when Hurricane Michael passed through our area a month ago. Thankfully, the road to my farm hasn't washed out -- yet. In South Boston, one of the highways crossing the Dan River is closed. Things seem to be going from bad to worse. Crazy. I'll never forget what a California earthquake feels like. Or waking up at 2:00 in the morning in Hawaii and evacuating to higher ground because of a tsunami warning. Folks, stay safe out there. My heart is breaking for all those affected. Our poor area!

On a happier note, I have now officially signed up for the Skinny Turkey Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day in Wake Forest. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that the half marathon is my favorite race distance. Is it just me or does 13.1 miles seem just the right distance? I truly don't know if any or all of this matters, but I do know that now that I'm 66 I approach life differently than I did even 5 years ago. One thing I'm learning is to not get so focused on my pace that I forget to enjoy the race and the scenery. We live in a time and day that allows for almost unlimited opportunities to become fit and stay active. We're also aware that the only reason to try out a new sport (like running) is to enjoy it and because we expect it to be fun. I am so looking forward to this race. The neighborhood we'll be running through is awesome. Plus, so far I'm the only guy over 65 who's running the half -- which means that the odds of me placing first in my age division have skyrocketed. SCORE!

Any other tips for running a half?

Do Doritos count as running fuel?

I can't wait to run a 5K with my grandkids!

6:15 AM I am so enjoying reading Basic Christian -- John Stott's biography. I especially loved this quote on p. 82:

We have [wrote Stott] an unmistakable, inescapable responsibility towards our neighbors who are strangers to Christ and his gospel of grace. This responsibility is clearly shared by the whole congregation.

Then he adds:

The task of evangelism cannot be delegated to the few. Worship and witness go hand in hand.

Finally, he concludes:

We cannot play at this.

Then there's this story on p. 115. At the end of a two-month speaking tour in Australia, Stott suddenly came down with laryngitis. That night he was scheduled to speak one last time. With his throat raw, he whispered a prayer: "I beg you to take it away from me." The Lord seemed to reply: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Stott saw that a thousand students had shown up to hear him. He stood up and began to speak softly, unable to modulate his otherwise sonorous voice or convey his personality, all the while praying "Fulfill your promise to perfect your power through my weakness!" At the end of his address, Stott issued an invitation for the students to surrender their lives to Christ. The response was immediate. Later someone told him, "Do you remember that final service of the 1958 mission in the University Great Hall when you lost your voice? I came to Christ that night."

Suppose you were in the same situation. And suppose your response was, "Lord, I don't want this laryngitis. I know Your power is perfected in weakness, but I'll forgo that honor for now, thank You very much. I can't stand not being able to talk. Please just take it away!" What is this person saying? My will be done. I'll serve You Lord, but on my conditions.

That happened to me once when I was living in Basel. I had been asked to give a lecture on Ephesians at the Bibelschule Walzenhausen on Lake Constance, and when I boarded my train in Basel I lost my voice. Thus began the "mental skirmishing" --  me filled with resentment and self-pity, while the Lord was calling me close to His side. "Will you also go away," I could almost hear Him say, "or will you come with Me?" To be a Christian is to follow Christ unconditionally. And when we make those choices with the freedom of the will that God gives us, we find, as did Stott, joy and peace in serving Him. What if we say No? We forfeit the grace of God and become a sulking child. I've been there more times than I'd like to admit. I'm slowly learning to accept my infirmities and to thank God for whatever aspects of my weaknesses I can honestly thank Him for, including His unfailing love and presence.

The next chapter in the book: Stott confronts the excesses of the Charismatic Movement.


5:10 AM A few thoughts on publishing in response to some graduate students:

1) If it's worth writing, it's worth publishing. This includes your master's thesis and doctoral dissertation. I know that some might disagree. They feel that a student's writing should "mature" before he or she publishes. I'm not so sure. My first journal article was based on my master's thesis. My first book was my doctoral dissertation. I encourage my students to begin publishing while in school -- and many do.

2) Review, review, review. Books, that is. It's the easiest way to get into print, and you get a free book besides. I began writing book reviews for journals such as the Grace Theological JournalCriswell Theological Review, and JETS. I did this while I was a doctoral student. Later my reviews appeared in JBL and Novum Testamentum. At our school I ask my students to consider writing one review each year.

3) Set goals. When I graduated from Basel in 1983, I prayerfully set the following goals: One book review every year, and one book every 5 years. If you aim at nothing you'll hit it every time. Don't be afraid to set goals --  and to set them high.

4) Respect the scholarly guild, but don't fear it. Go where angels fear to tread. My second book was on the integration of linguistics and New Testament Greek. It is still in print in a second edition. What right did I have to write a book on linguistics? None whatsoever. But nobody else had written a book on New Testament Greek linguistics, I needed one for my classes, so I gave it a whack. It seemed to open the floodgates for others, more competent than myself, to write their own books on the subject.

5) Shoot for the stars. That is, send your articles to the better known journals. Why not? The worst they can say is No. That's how you get published in BiblicaNew Testament Studies, and Novum Testamentum. If you think you can't, you won't.

6) Consider publishing your own website. It's by far the cheapest and easiest way to get your ideas out to a wide audience -- literally overnight.

In short, if you are called to scholarship, you are called to writing. Of course, the least important thing you will ever write is your dissertation. It's merely the launching pad for a lifetime of research and writing.

Happy writing!

4:50 AM Woke up this morning with these words on my lips: "O Master let me walk with Thee, in lowly paths of service free."

Monday, November 12    

8:20 AM My daughter Kim is a horse-lady. They own two steeds. Yesterday after lunch we got to talking about all of our crazy horse-related experiences, including the times we had "unplanned dismounts." Can any of you out there identify? Why do we expose ourselves to such punishment? Only because the horse is probably the most wonderful animal to come from our Creator's hands. I so miss my horses Cody (Arabian) and Traveler (Thoroughbred). Traveler used to race in California. He knew only one speed. Wow. What a unique creature.

Have you read about "Beautiful Jim Key"? He was known as the smartest horse on earth. He could cite Bible verses, tell you the time of day, and even spell words. He and his owner William Key performed before astonished audiences between 1897 and 1906. His owner was a former slave who advocated for the gentle treatment of horses. Children by the millions joined the "Jim Key Band of Mercy" and pledged "I promise to be kind to animals." I never had to use a whip on either of my horses. You see, the goal of good horsemanship is to become a partner with your steed. And when you attain that goal, there's nothing like it in the world. I don't ride much anymore. It's not that I'm too old to ride. It's that I'm too old to fall! But I will never forget all those years riding cross country on my wonderful horses.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of the horse.

7:24 AM So, what to blog about? Yesterday I jotted down a brief introduction to the book of Philippians. I try to do this for every book I teach. Despite attending Bible-believing and Bible-teaching churches, many of us have difficulty grasping and explaining the big picture. I am an unashamed "fan" of having our students be able to write out in a single paragraph the message of the book they're studying. Is there a unified focus? Is there one overriding theme? What is the "linguistic macrostructure" of the writing? How would you finish this sentence: "Mark's is the Gospel of _________"? Or, "What is the message of Luke?" Studying the New Testament requires seeing both the forest and the trees. There's both forest-work and tree-work to be performed. So, for what it's worth, here's what I've come up with for Philippians:

Paul's Letter to the Philippians was written while the apostle was a prisoner and at time when the church in Philippi was troubled by false teachers and internal divisions. Paul pleads with his readers to have the humble attitude of Jesus Christ rather than to be controlled by pride and selfish ambition. He reminds them that their heavenly citizenship requires them to work together for the advance of the Gospel. He writes of the joy and peace that God gives to those who live in union with Christ and who put the needs of others before their own, as Christ did. After a lengthy introduction (1:1-11), the letter divides itself into body proper (1:12-2:30) and body subpart (3:1-4:9), and concludes with words of thanksgiving and personal greetings (4:10-23). Paul is confident that since God began a work of grace in the lives of the Philippians, He will continue to work in them and sustain them as together they hold forth the life-giving word in the face of opposition and suffering.

This summary is based on my detailed examination of Philippians published years ago in Novum Testamentum. I've also put together a Power Point on the subject. As for my class on Philippians next semester, I've begun brainstorming assignments. What can I do that is new? What will best help my students master not only the message of Philippians but better understand the language of the New Testament? Thus far I've come up with a few ideas. See if you like them.

  • Memorize the "heart of Philippians" (2:1-4) in Greek.

  • Learn by heart the unique vocabulary of the Greek text.

  • Memorize the principal parts of the irregular verbs found in the letter.

  • Listen to my audio files of the book (see my Greek Reading Room).

  • Read the book aloud in at least 5 English versions in one sitting. Do the same in Greek.

  • Work through the spiritual applications of each paragraph. (For example: In Phil. 1:5, Paul says the Philippians had become partners with him in the Gospel. What did that look like then? And what might that mean for you personally?)

Incidentally, I've taken a stab at practical application here:

Of course, many of you are Greek geeks, and I'd love to get your ideas as well. Send me an email and let me know your thoughts.

The motto over the entrance to Plato's Academy reads:

Ἀγεωμέτρητος μηδεὶς εἰσίτω

This might be rendered, "Let no one without a knowledge of geometry enter." I recall that at the University of Basel it was just assumed that students had a working knowledge of numerous subjects, including Greek and Latin. It's wonderful to see so many students on our campus eager to learn the languages. Many have had to overcome severe deficiencies in their previous schooling. To all of my pupils who are working so diligently this semester, hang in there and do well. I hope many of you get the 110 Award on your next exam!

P.S. Today on campus is the memorial service for one of my former colleagues. Logan Carson was a good friend and a wonderful mentor to so many. He is now in the presence of the One he served so faithfully!

Sunday, November 11    

7:24 PM After attending church today with my daughter and her family, we decided to dine at one of those all-you-can-eat-buffets in town. If the restaurant's purpose was to fill the customer's belly as cheaply and quickly as possible, it certainly succeeded today. I'm here now to tell you that I am dealing with major toenail trauma.

No, this is not a picture of ET (from the movies).

I'm going to lose this nail eventually. I'm too big of a wimp to pull it off, but I read somewhere that if I soak it I can expect to be rid of it sooner rather than later. Got the tub water running now. Meanwhile, let's play the toenail game:

T: Toenail -- why you doin' this to me??!!

O: One day you will fall off.

E: Egads! That can't happen soon enough!

N: Non-runners: do y'all know how bad I'm hurtin' right now?

A: Aaargghhh!

I: If I need to, I'll have my doctor pull you off! (Marshall Ulrich actually did this.)

L: Later I'll frame you for posterity.

Oh, and did I mention that my other toenails look just as bad? My other toes are so callused that you can't tell the nail from the callus. But hey, long as I can run, I'm good. Pretty feet are overrated anyway.

Let's not start talking about bunions.



7:40 AM With Thanksgiving approaching, did you know that Becky was a descendent of Governor William Bradford? This is one reason we named our home Bradford Hall. (Her dad is named Bradford as well.) Did you also know that William Bradford loved the Hebrew language and that Hebrew almost became the official language of America? Note the inscription in Hebrew on his tomb. It says, "The Lord is the help of my life."

What a blessed ancestry. I've only just begun researching my family tree on my father's side. I've gotten as far back as the Miller family who, during the Civil War, farmed along a creek in western Maryland called the Antietam.

5:30 AM I'm taking the day off from running. In fact, I'm taking the whole week off. It's not that I'm feeling bad. In fact, just the opposite. Other than an achy toenail, my body has recovered nicely from yesterday's exertions. So today it will be church and then lunch with family. This is going to be a busy week on campus, but next week is Thanksgiving Break. I'm toying with the idea of doing a half marathon on Thanksgiving Day. It's called the Skinny Turkey Half Marathon and the course takes you through the scenic Wakefield Plantation in Wake Forest. The race is a fundraiser for the "Just Think First" program that tries to raise awareness on topics that affect teens such as gangs, alcohol, drugs, and peer pressure. Somewhere I read that the average American consumes about 2,000 calories during Thanksgiving dinner -- which is like eating two and a half double quarter pounders in one sitting. So pounding the pavement before dinner on Thanksgiving Day might not be a bad idea. You know, hobble then gobble. By the way, shout outs to those running the Athens Marathon today. Can you imagine running the original marathon course?

This morning I was wide awake at 4:00 am. That's what happens when you are fast asleep by 7:30 pm. I'm in the book of Philippians this morning. Paul's message is a very simple one: A life of love and service to others is far more important than a comfortable life. Christ emptied Himself for the sake of others, and so should we. This is all, of course, a work of God's grace (1:6). And yet it raises many practical questions. Am I helping others fulfill the Great Commission? With whom am I partnering in the cause of evangelism and church planting? Am I putting first things first (1:10)? What are my priorities? In what do I rejoice the most? Paul had been "put" by God in prison to serve Him. Where have I been put so that I can be involved in other people's lives? Are there situations in which I am the only person around who can help meet a need? Do I expect, like Paul, that God can use me in any situation? How did Christ's relation to His Father shape His willingness to look our for the interests of others and not just His own? Why do I grumble and complain so much when I'm specifically commanded not to (2:14)? How well am I holding forth the life-giving word? What does it mean to "put no confidence in the flesh"? Paul saw his credentials as a "loss." Do I? Do I really know Christ and the power of His resurrection? We often talk about ourselves as "having been saved." But what aspects of our salvation are still pending? What does it mean to "agree in the Lord" (4:2)? Why is Paul so serious about us showing our "reasonableness" to others? What does it look like for the "peace of God" to be present in my life? Paul doesn't rejoice because he was in need and things suddenly made a turn for the better when the Philippians sent him some money. He rejoices because their gift proves that their faith is genuine. Do I remember this principle when I give to others? Is my ultimate motive to please God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift?

Paul's little letter to the church in Philippi should challenge all of us to renounce covetousness, materialism, and luxury, and to care sacrificially for others in need. I, Dave Black, have to choose today between God and mammon. I can't have both a good life and a good conscience simultaneously. Affluence is not sinful, but we cannot keep it without smothering our conscience. To the wealthy, Paul commanded, "Do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share" (1 Tim. 6:18). He doesn't tell the wealthy to become poor. But he doesn't allow them to stay rich either. As pilgrims on this earth, we should travel light and live simply. Do I do this? Nope. But I want to learn how. I want to be free of anything that would distract me from serving God and others. Our God is a generous God. If His love dwells in us, as it did in the Philippians, we will take action when we see a genuine need we can help meet, to the degree we are able.

May God help us all to grow in generosity and live in contentment!

Saturday, November 10    

6:25 PM Hey folks! Marathon #11 is now in the books. (Or at least it's on my blog.) Next stop: The Dallas Marathon in exactly 4 weeks. Care for some trivia? The country with the slowest average marathon time is India (5:00:34). When I saw that statistic, I realized I was from India. How could my parents and birth certificate have lied to me? Here's another fact: I am the best slow runner I know how to be. Every time I run, I give it my all. And I hope you will too. Because it's late and I'm not a little tired (litotes -- like it?), I close with a few random pics from today's record-breaking marathon in Richmond. (I'm sure somebody broke a record, even if it wasn't me.)

Lance Armstrong swallowed more than 13 energy gels when he ran the New York Marathon in 2006. Since I can't stand energy gels, I opted to get my carbs the night before.

Recognize this place? It's the state capitol building. I wanted to stop in and say hello to Gov. Northam, but I was running a bit behind schedule.

Since I had accidentally lined up with the half-marathoners about a half mile away from where I was supposed to be, I had to make a mad dash to get to my corral. Here I am having just fallen in at the very back of the last corral. To be fair, I probably would have started out here anyway.

As you can see, the weather was perfect for running.

"First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."

The James River in all her beauty.

I couldn't agree more, sir. 

Finished! (That's a double entendre, hehe.)

Finally, let's play the "Guess the Seminary" game. Bet you can't guess it!

Friday, November 9    

7:45 PM Random musings ....

1) News alert: Tomorrow's weather is predicted to be perfect for a marathon. (Except for the wind.)

Fall and spring are always iffy seasons for runners. You have to be prepared for anything. At April's Boston Marathon, the weather was miserably cold and rainy. I imagine every runner contemplated dropping out. Several elite runners did. The rest looked like the wounded after a battle, slogging along in a death shuffle. That's all I'm going to say about that. Except that if I do ever write a book about running, it will be called: How Runners Weather the Weather. Be sure to check back here tomorrow for my post-race report -- if and when I regain consciousness.

2) Have I convinced you to attend our linguistics conference next April? This is the BIG DOG. A half century of relative neglect has put us New Testament guys and gals far behind in this area. We have a long ways to catch up. I confess I felt very foolish when I published my book on linguistics 30 years ago. I am in no sense a specialist in the field into which I trespassed. Thankfully, our speakers are anything but novices. Moreover, each topic we'll be discussing is complex and has in every case attracted an extensive literature. One or two topics are even, one might say, explosive.

I'm extremely grateful to my colleague Ben Merkle for the immense amount of time and energy he's invested in helping me prepare for this event, and to all those in our PR department who have assisted us. Our prayerful hope is that the conference will stimulate a new generation of Greek students to think more linguistically about some of the big issues in New Testament Greek studies today.

Go here for the speakers' lineup and registration. See you in April.

3) If you're a Greek student, be sure to avail yourself of all the bells and whistles at our New Testament Greek Portal, which is very professionally managed by my assistant Noah Kelley. There comes a point, no matter how proficient you've become in your Greek studies, when you sort of want to give up. At our Greek Portal, I do my best to remind you that when the going gets tough, the tough get going (I just made that up).

4) While in Richmond today I might visit of a couple of the museums there. After all, other than the expo, I'll have plenty of time to kill. One place I've always wanted to visit is the Edgar Alan Poe Museum on Main Street. Poe ("Master of the Macabre") created the short story genre, or so I'm told (I know nothing about him). I also understand a black cat named Edgar roams the property. If so, that's so Poesome.

That's all folks! Have a great weekend! 

Thursday,  November 8    

5:58 PM And then there was one .... Yep, only one day to go to the Anthem Richmond Marathon -- Richmond being about as close to "my home town" as I suppose it can get. I'm excited for another run and especially another long run. I remember running this race last year. I felt good for the first 18 miles or so, but the last few miles were pure torture. Every part of my body was hurting. You want to stop and just sit down. But I could feel the finish line reeling me in. The crowds cheering. The grandstand seating. The long finisher chute. Hearing the announcer. Being caught up in the pure emotions of the runners all around you. You realize you have just completed a marathon! It was, in a word, fantastic. It was, in two words, really fantastic.

After all this running, I might actually start to think of myself as a runner.

11:46 AM Marathon training is going well, thanks for asking. This is not me, by the way.

After working out at the Y, I had a great 5 mile run. My toenail held up quite nicely, so it looks like I might be good to go on race day. The fall scenery was beautiful, as always.

Afterwards I enjoyed some Arroz con Pollo in South Boston. Hey, for only 5 bucks, you can't pass up such a good deal.

Up next: Begin writing the syllabus for my Philippians course in the spring. I love having goals propel me.

What are you working on? 

7:44 AM One of the hardest things in life is saying no. But there are times when it's the right thing to do, and the sooner we make up our minds, the better. I'm going to try a 5 mile run today to see how my toenail holds up. If it gives me problems I think I may have to bow out of the Richmond Marathon this weekend. I'll find another trough to put my snout in. It's not that I don't want to run in the race on Saturday. I love marathons. I love the death shuffle that begins around mile 20. I love the degree of preparation it takes to participate in a race of that distance. I love accomplishing goals, especially when they are hard-earned ones. (They say the degree of discomfort experienced after 20 miles in the marathon is the worst that most men, and most women outside of childbirth, will ever experience.)

When I was in high school, I rarely studied. I must have attended high school (I have a diploma, right?), but mostly I surfed. When I got to Biola in 1971, I knew I was in for a gignormous challenge. I had to actually study -- or I would lose my scholarship. When I had to drop out of my beginning Greek class because I couldn't understand a word the prof was saying, I was so discouraged I even thought about dropping out of school. After all, the heart and soul of being a student is pushing hard, being determined, and fighting through adversities. Dropping Greek was devastating. On the "College Embarrassment Scale" of 1 to 10, I'd rate that moment a 52. I was incredibly demoralized and discouraged. But even then, God was preparing me to be a Greek teacher. At the very least, I can listen sympathetically when a student tells me how they are struggling with the language. It was also a lesson in pedagogy: Keep everything on the bottom shelf, and never assume your students know anything about how languages work.

Thankfully, God intervened in the nick of time. Someone told me that Moody Bible Institute in Chicago had a cassette tape Greek class replete with proctored quizzes and exams based on a super-simple textbook by a man named Ray Summers. The rest, as they say, is history. I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams that Greek could actually be so much fun. I was treated like the dumb stupid novice that I was when it comes to languages, and I aced both Greek 1 and 2 before taking my second year of Greek at Biola. A year later, I was hired to teach Greek there. My shock and surprise swelled to an astronomical level. That moment was the beginning of so many amazing experiences that have come to my life because I am a Greek teacher. I can't begin to imagine how different my life would have been if I had given up on Greek after my first sour experience at Biola. I didn't recognize it at the time, but I actually was capable of learning this language. How much are each of us capable of what we don't realize yet? You know, folks, every so often you have those moments in life that end up shaping the person you become. This was one of those moments for me.

In the past two weeks I've had several students meet with me to discuss their future academic goals. Many want to go on for doctorates in New Testament and Greek. Some of them have well-meaning friends who have told them, in essence, "You're crazy. It's more likely to give birth to a baby elephant named Hannibal than to go to graduate school and expect to get a job teaching Greek afterwards." The problem is: These students have fallen head-over-heels with Greek. It's in their DNA. I remind them that there are countless people just like them who went on to earn doctorates (some from prestigious European universities) and are now teaching New Testament and Greek fulltime. They had the courage to jump off the proverbial cliff, and then proceeded to soar. I made that leap of faith when I moved to Basel in 1980. So my message for these students is a very simple one. If something is worth doing, do it now. Don't wait. You never know what tomorrow will hold. Live your life to the fullest each and every day. Live it full of faith and in a way that you won't look back with regrets, thinking about all the things you wish you would have done. That's one reason I want so much to run the marathon this weekend. As many runners can attest, your first 5K race is merely a planted seed that later blooms into a 10K, a 10-miler, a half marathon, and then marathons. What I find so inspiring at a marathon is the mentality of the runners. Everyone is amazingly positive despite the adversity and exhaustion. A marathon has a way of challenging you to your core. All of your outside protective layers are peeled away like an onion, and you are left alone with your doubts and fears. But step after grueling step, you finally make it to the finish line.

Student friend, don't minimize the will of God for your life in any way, shape, or form. Don't put God in a box ("Well, I could never study at Cambridge." Oh really? Many people just like you have.) Expect that you will have to dig deep toward the end of the race. But when you get there -- oh my, here's nothing like it. Have faith that you have what it takes to succeed. Ignore the naysayers. The important trait you need to have is a willingness to follow God's will for your life (as you best understand it) and a willingness to do whatever it takes to finish.

Just ask any marathoner.

P.S. A copy of It's All Greek to Me: Confessions of an Unlikely Academic to the first 3 people to email me.

Wednesday, November 7    

5:55 AM Which is more beautiful? This rainbow I saw last night....

Or this passage from Philippians 3....

This is obviously a trick question. One picture can be no more beautiful than the other any more than I can love one of my grandchildren more than I love the others. The beauty of the rainbow is obvious. But what about these verses from Philippians? Do you see what I see? The alliteration? The assonance? The asyndeton? The irony? The paronomasia? The lexical repetition? Before I studied Greek, I never viewed the Bible as a collection of texts written by master word-artisans. Reading Adele Berlin and Gene Nida was like being struck by lightening. They (and others) opened a whole new world of understanding for me. My main takeaway? The Bible was not given for our information and transformation only but also for our reading pleasure. It is filled with hyperbole, imagery, sarcasm, symbolism, etc. Often I am so preoccupied with hermeneutical questions that I overlook the literary richness of the Bible. I have taught the book of Philippians many times and have still not lost the sensation and sweet taste of the author's prose (and, in places, poetry). That's the reason, perhaps, behind my decision to teach rhetorical analysis to my exegesis students. Like a good modern author, Paul always has his readers in mind when writing. He is far from being artistic for artistry's sake. And that is always appreciated. This morning, as I read Philippians 3 again, there was magic again, words with great power, like Poe's The Purloined Letter. We students of the Bible have the key to the door, to the richness of the text. And we owe it to people like Berlin to remind us where we had left the keys.

Tuesday, November 6    

4:48 PM I just got the link to my granddaughter's chorale as it performed on Friday night. Go here to watch some pretty incredible music. #proudgranddad.

1:54 PM So what to do? I've got another marathon scheduled for this Saturday. But there's just one hitch. The big toe on my left foot is causing problems. UGH. The toenail there is about 3 times the normal size of a toenail. In fact, I think my normal toenail gave birth to triplets. The resultant monstrosity is big enough to warrant a birth certificate. It feels like somebody is jabbing an ice pick into my toe. Having cruddy toes is a normal part of running long distance races. Your feet are sore for several days and your toes look like sausage links. But toenail issues are another matter altogether. You might remember that both of my big toenails fell off last year. I'm hoping they will do the same. And soon.

NOTE: No photos. You're welcome.

12:18 PM So you think you can't run a marathon? Here are 4 inspiring stories of last place finishers. Now go. And do.

12:14 PM Jon and Matthea sent me the recipe to "Slow Cooker Bottom Round Beef Roast." I just put it in the crock pot. Please wish me success. This is the first roast I've ever tried to cook.

9:20 AM I arrived at RDU yesterday at 3:00 pm and then taught my night class at school before driving home this morning to vote. The weekend with family was just what I needed. Why did it go so well? First of all, I refused to be alone. Was that easy? No way! When I arrived in Birmingham I had retreated so deeply into my emotional protective cocoon that I felt like a turtle about to be hit by a car. But slowly I began to crawl out of my shell. I know that my tendency is to "be tough" and handle all of my troubles by myself. This is precisely why I forced myself to be with family over the weekend. I knew I needed interaction. I needed to surround myself with people who love me. There is nothing heroic about grief. It is just plain hard work. Your emotions are frozen, and motion in any direction feels like the world is covered with solid ice. But we don't need to weep in silence. It helps to deal with your pain by being in community. If grief is a statement that you loved somebody, it's also a statement that you are loved by somebody. When we're grieving, we need to find someone to listen to us, talk to us, hold our hand, even cry with us. I experienced all of this and more over the weekend. But it wouldn't have happened had I remained curled up in a fetal position.

Other things I did right:

1) Music. For me, listening to music gives my feelings and thoughts shape and meaning. With such a jumbled array of feelings, I find it therapeutic to bask in song and artistic beauty. The day I arrived in Birmingham I attended my granddaughter's chorale concert at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. It was a marvelously uplifting performance. Later we sat in my daughter's living room and watched YouTubes of great music like Gabrielli's Aria della Battaglia and Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium. Becky and I always loved to attend the NC Symphony together. Music meant so much to her. When we grieve, God doesn't want us to forget the past. He doesn't want us to forget the good times, the hard times, the joys and sorrows you shared with your loved one. I will always feel connected to Becky through music and the arts.

2) Running. Grief has a tremendous mental and emotional component to it, but the physical aspect of grieving can't be overlooked. Knowing that I would be visiting with them, and knowing how much I loved to run, my daughter Matthea and her husband Jon arranged for us to do a 10K in downtown Birmingham on Saturday morning. We were slow, but we had so much fun running together. The weather turned out to be ideal for a race. Running has taught me so much about grieving. I've come to realize that my body will go only as far as it needs to go. If I'm running a marathon, my body is done after 26.2 miles. If I'm running a 5K, it calls it quits after mile 3.1. The same thing happened in my 31-mile ultra. Despite the fact that I am a slow runner, I have a great deal of tenacity and even stubbornness. Another thing about running: It involves suffering. Through running, I've learned how to embrace suffering. A race tells you it's possible to suffer and keep going. Even at the aid stations, you don't hang around. You get in, get your fluid, and get out. Running is all about forward motion. So is life.

3) Smiling. Yes, I said smiling. Research has proven that endorphins and serotonin are released into your body when you smile. Endorphins are natural pain relievers. And serotonin creates a natural high. When I arrived in Alabama, I was grumpy and quiet. But you try spending 4 days with 5 rambunctious and happy grandkids without breaking out in joyous laughter. Not possible!

4) Feeding my face. Call it comfort food if you like, but it works. I can't tell you how many times we went out for a meal -- Mexican, hot dogs, even Ethiopian. Of course, my daughter also cooked at home. For me, the dinner table is a place of community. I find eating alone alienating. In many countries like Ethiopia, mealtime is considered sacred. It's incredible how uplifting these meals with my family were. "Day by day," says Acts 2,"they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts." God created meal-time as a unique experience designed to foster fellowship.

5) Rest. I spent every afternoon sleeping. I needed it too. Fatigue is easy to spot. It shows on our faces and in our demeanor. Therefore, adequate sleep is essential when you're grieving. And I had plenty of it -- thanks to the boys for giving Papa B their room for the weekend.

6) Dogs. The Glasses have two of them. I cherished every moment with them. It's amazing how pets become part of our families. My heart still aches over the dogs I've lost through the years. I could never imagine life without them. Being social creatures, they help you cope with loneliness. Jon and Matthea's dogs are so cute. They have a Corky and a Sheltie. Both are hearty, spunky, determined breeds. "Without dogs, our houses are cold receptacles for things. Dogs make a fire warmer with their curled presence. They wake us, greet us, protect us, and ultimately carve a place in our hearts and history. Our reflection, our lives, are often referenced in parts defined by the all-too-short lives of our dogs" (Paul Fersen, In the Presence of Dogs). Amen to that.

In short, this weekend was a challenging, inspiring, and rewarding adventure. I tried to imagine what Becky's reaction would have been had she been there watching me. I think she would have been proud of me. There were incredibly difficult parts of the weekend, but I was happy that I coped so well with my grief. My soul was filled with happiness by being with family. I'm consistently amazed at how much my kids love me. On weekends like this, my mind never truly shuts down. Even though I came through the experience stronger than when I went in, I'm still in the middle of a race. Though I may not be moving very fast, I'm proud of myself for still being out there on the "course," as it were. I'm consistently surprised at what can be accomplished when you just keep moving forward and don't give up. Of course, it's all God's grace. If you are a Christian, grieving for you is different. It's always infused with hope. And the foundation for this hope is found in only one place: The Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of loss. He is the Lord of comfort. He is the Lord of suffering. And He is the Lord of restoration. I have made the choice to follow this Lord. You and me -- we are kingdom people, following this matchless Savior along the downward path of brokenness and humility. I pray you would never forget what a friend you have in Jesus. I close with a few photos. God bless!

This is Galana. She's my Sheba's daughter. What a sweet puppy.

Three people who don't know how not to be runners.

Race day was bright and sunny.

This is perhaps the best Ethiopian restaurant in town.

Their food was so delicious. On our platter, I made sure we had Becky's favorite dish, kai wat.

Matthea is a marvelous cook. Here we are enjoying a scrumptious pot roast.

On Sunday morning we sang "It Is Well" just before Jon got up to give the message. Coincidentally, that was perhaps Becky's favorite hymn.

Everyone, meet Karis Lynn. Isn't she the most precious baby you've ever seen? All of my grandkids are like that, of course.

Matthea's fabulous art gallery. Such amazing talent. More here.

A visit to Gus's Hot Dogs makes everything right.

Friday, November 2    

7:45 AM I woke up tired this morning, physically drained. And why not? Four weeks ago -- a half marathon. Three weeks ago -- an ultramarathon. Two weeks ago -- a 52-mile bike. One week ago -- a marathon. And this weekend? You know when you have a tough day coming and you dread it? It has to take place, but you still lose sleep over it. Loss is just plain tough. It's hard to understand, deal with, work through, endure. God allows it for a reason but does that lessen its pain? If you ever feel the need to pour out your grief before Him, believe me, I understand. This morning, at 5:00 am, sitting on my front porch in the dark, I read the last chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes. Holy cow. What can we learn from this?

  • That aging and death are inevitable.

  • That God disciplines us because He loves us too much to let sin destroy our lives.

  • That, like the Philosopher who wrote this book and who "studied proverbs and honestly tested their truth" (v. 9), so we too can speak openly and honestly about our pain.

  • That reverence for God is not a feeling, it's a choice.

  • That you can be confused and still trust Him.

  • That God doesn't despise our fragility but created us with real, raw emotions like sorrow.

  • That suffering has a noble purpose.

Exactly five years ago this morning, to use the words of the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes 12, the silver chain snapped, the golden lamp fell and broke, the rope of the well came apart and the water jar was shattered. A body returned to the dust of the earth, and the breath of life went back to God, who gave it to her. A major part of our lives was ripped from us, and just as it takes time to heal from surgery, it takes time to heal from loss. But no matter what our loss may be, the words of the Bible remain true:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.

Let me mention four things that have helped me cope with grief through the years. Maybe they can help you cope with your own losses as they come to you in life:

Be yourself. Others may try to "fix" you, but you don't need fixing. Embrace your grief and learn from it. It is a great teacher.

Expect to be overwhelmed from time to time. Grief is like that giant wave that pummeled me at Sunset Beach years ago. When waves break, they smother you, and you struggle to survive. But waves eventually run out of energy. They expend their power and calm returns. Struggling against a wave is an exercise in futility. You must yield, accept, and even embrace it. The quicker you do that, the more you will recover.

Force yourself to look to the future. Turn your heart and mind to what God still has in store for you. I am grateful my kids helped me to see the importance of doing this. "Daddy, why not start running?" "Daddy, why not go back to Hawaii and surf again?" "Daddy, we'd like you to come and visit us for Thanksgiving." By forcing ourselves to look to the future, we begin, little by little, to cope with the past.

Help others. One way God carries our burdens as His children is by sending someone into our lives who's experienced something similar to what we have experienced. All around us are people who are hurting, who have needs (spiritual or financial), and when we reach out to them, we help not only them but ourselves.

Suffering is one of the hardest parts of our faith. But beauty after ashes is possible. Becky died with her family by her side. We wept over her still-warm body. Then we sang a hymn and prayed, expressing our gratitude to God for her life and that finally she was in pain no longer. I quietly asked everyone to leave the room. I caressed Becky's hand one last time, reluctant to let her go. I wept as I said a final goodbye to my beloved friend and partner. Then I left the room to plan her memorial service. Becky would have been surprised at how many people attended her homegoing celebration on campus. But I wasn't surprised. Becky was an honest and decent human being whom everybody admired.

I have many more special memories to offer, but this is not the place or the time. I miss you so much, my darling Becky. I wish you could be here to enjoy your grandchildren like I can. But I bet you're watching everything from above and smiling. I grieve for my adulthood without you, but I accept it. I'm so glad we were always together, perhaps in sickness even more than in health. I have no right to feel self pity. Your life was a pure blessing to me. You taught me about so many things and I will hold on to every one of those truths. I can't imagine having another intimate relationship. At this point in my life, I have plenty to do just keeping up with our kids and grandkids. I know that your spirit of love and generosity lives on in their hearts, and for that I am grateful. I hope that someday I can learn to trust God like you did. Deep down, I know that losing you will help me to discover who I am, now that I am on my own. I love you, sweetheart. I hope you can hear/see/feel that.

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Becky Lynn Black.

Thursday, November 1    

8:54 PM What a fantastic day. Had lunch with some seminary friends then got up hay with Nate and Jess late into the night (and into the rain that appeared out of nowhere). I'm sopping wet and have never been happier. Tomorrow's the big day (Year 5!) and man am I missing her. Number of times I counted my blessings today: 10,340. Some of my clearest and fondest memories of Becky happened here on the farm. What a wild ride we had establishing Rosewood! You know, sometimes the best memories are created when not everything goes quite right, when you have to step outside of your comfort zone, when you are trying to do something you've never done before -- like farming. Like yin and yang, we were misfits, but happily married misfits. On the other hand, we were so much alike. She was an adventurer, like me. She was deeply caring, like me. She loved life, like me. Not every moment we had together was perfect, but they all contributed to the man I am today. There are many good memories. I love you, Becky. I shall cherish the moments we had together forever.

7:12 AM As I sit here writing this blog post I'm thrilled out of my gourd. We just added an exegesis course to our spring 2019 lineup at the seminary. It will be a study of Philippians. I will be the teacher. The class will be offered during Spring Break, the week of March 4-9 from 8:00 to 5:00. The evidence is pretty conclusive: when students take 4 or 5 courses over a 15-week period, the completion rates are lower than when they take a weeklong intensive. I wish I could have taken intensives in seminary but back then courses were taught 3 times a week for 15 weeks ONLY. I am far from being an expert in Greek pedagogy, but I've taught enough summer and J-term Greek classes to know that immersion courses lead to some of the best results that seminary language programs can offer. Besides, I'm a Baptist. ("Immersion" courses. Get it?) Of course, intensive classes are by definition, well, intense. The schedule is punishing. But just think: After 5:00 pm you get the rest of the day off. On the other hand, you just might find the evening hours boring. After all, you live, study, and do practically everything else with your teacher and classmates for 8 hours each and every day for a week. This is highly conducive to relationship building. So, intensive classes are great -- if you are a passionate, dedicated, and ambitious language learner. Thankfully, we have tons of students like this at Southeastern.

As I prepare the course syllabus, I have to make a major decision: Which textbooks to require? I've used Hawthorne in the past but this time around I almost certain will use Will Varner's Philippians: A Linguistic Commentary.

Let's talk about how good this book is.

  • It's sure and steady.

  • The author is a seasoned New Testament scholar.

  • It is comprehensive without being wordy.

  • The Greek insights are plentiful and rich.

  • Special attention is given to such important topics as textual criticism, verbal aspect, discourse analysis, and semantics ("Wie der Text spielt").

  • The author fairly assesses others' views while rightly putting stress on his own.

  • I especially love the way the author provides a brief but rich introductory overview of the theme of the letter.

In every way, Will Varner's commentary on Philippians is one of the best you can find today. The approach is conservative without being obscurantist, instructive without being pedantic. For example, this is the bottom of p. 15.

Here the author discusses in detail Codex Vaticanus in Phil. 1:1. He points out such interesting features as the itacism of "Timothy," the dieresis in the right margin (indicating a variant reading), and the attempted "correction" of a later scribe who attached the letter nu to the left margin. This is genius. And it's super easy to follow. What else? How about paragraph summaries. I wish more commentaries did this. (This is a strength of Hawthorne's work.) How about constant reference to the Septuagint. How about the attention the author gives to discourse markers such as conjunctions. If you want a more detailed and professional review, you'll have to go elsewhere. I don't have time to do that here.

By the way, it's so good to be back on the farm. This was my view this morning from the porch.

I never tire of my little refuge. The most peaceful place in the world is on the seat of a Massie Ferguson 135. When Becky and I moved here 16 years ago, it was the right time. I said, "This is the last stop. This is where I belong."

Chore time :)

Wednesday, October 31    

8:15 PM I so love it when we have guest speakers in my classes. This week featured two of my favorite colleagues and dearest friends: Matt Mullins, who teaches English, and Ronjour Locke, who teaches preaching. Dr. Mullins spoke to us about how we should read the Bible as literature.

Dr. Locke talked about "James and Justice."

Both lectures opened the door to some wonderful discussions. How many times have you heard a really interesting lecture and just couldn't wait to ask a question or make a comment? So a thousand thanks to these dear friends of mine for spending some of their uber-precious time with my students. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (as they say) ....

I'm prepping for my trip to the great state of Alabama to visit family. On this, the fifth anniversary of Becky's passing, I just couldn't stay at home. I have no doubt that while my body will be in Birmingham my mind will very much be here at Bradford Hall, thinking about Becky and the 37 years we spent together as husband and wife. This has been a very lengthy time of adjustment for me, and while I'm still failing at aspects of it I think I've make good progress. I've noticed the following changes in my life:

Mentally: I can concentrate again. I'm more focused and can get tasks done quicker than the time right after Becky's death. I've recovered my intellectual curiosity and have even been doing quite a bit of writing lately. I'm learning to use my brain power more efficiently again and to rest my mind when I need to by getting outdoors and losing myself in creation.

Physically: At age 66, I think I'm more aware than ever of the unused capabilities resident in my body. I feel like I haven't yet reached my peak as a runner and athlete. My health has never been better. Unfortunately, I'm carrying more weight than I want to, but at least I have no double chin -- yet.

Emotionally: I'm happier than I've been in a very long time. I still struggle with grief and sadness, but I believe I smile more than I have in a while and I find myself laughing out loud at funny things. I love having a lot of people in my life with whom I can share my feelings, and I spend every day trying to think up ways I can better love and serve them. I treasure the support system God has given me in my family and I enjoy showing them how much I love and appreciate them.

Spiritually: This is a hard one. Needless to say, I've learned a lot in the past five years about myself. I believe my life has changed for the better. The struggle in my soul is still not fully resolved, but God's loving sovereignty is no longer a mere abstraction to me. I thank Him every night that He has answered my prayers for relief from those difficult days right after Becky died. While suffering has in one sense made my belief in God more difficult, and while I haven't found an explanation for the loss that befell our family, I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that God is real and that He came all the way from heaven to earth to live among us and share our pain. I have made peace with God's sovereignty, and I know He was there to welcome Becky into heaven. As strange as it may sound, I believe that today I am experiencing greater joy than I've ever had before, even in my sorrow. I've even had people tell me how grateful they were to find genuine community in the midst of their suffering because of something I said or wrote. I am terrified to think that my words might have that kind of effect, yet I cannot imagine not writing about my experiences. I've found in the body of Christ genuine community and great fellowship among others who are trying to make sense of their loss. It is very moving to me to hear their stories, and their testimony is a reminder that God delights to create and sustain community for broken people like me. I believe with the 17th century English poet John Dryden that "none would live past years again." For me, the past isn't all doom and gloom. My life has been pleasant and overall quite joyful. But I have no desire to live in the past because today and tomorrow hold the opportunity to become better and to become more. If aging brings problems, it also brings solutions. If I can't remain young, I can remain fresh. In the September of my life, I am all that the past has taught me, and every year has become an asset. I may never be 36 years old again, but it no longer matters because I've learned that age doesn't matter, it's running your race that counts. Each one of us is unique in the eyes of God. Thus we make every day count for Him. To have a death worth dying, you must have a life worth living. Even at my age, I know there's another chapter to be written, one that will not only allow me to do things that will bring me personal satisfaction but will also be of help to others. Whether it's teaching my classes or fundraising to combat some disease or being supportive of my kids and grandkids, I know the Lord will show me ways to stay involved with the world and find a place of continued usefulness. Becky would have expected that of me, and that's exactly what I expect of myself. The one thing I won't do is sit at home and brood. The realization that the fifth anniversary of Becky's death is here won't keep me from celebrating the life she lived or from concentrating on so much in my life that is good. This is the message I hope to convey to anyone who reads my blog: Yes, Becky's death has left a huge emptiness in my life, but I am strong, and as I continue to move through the stages of grief I hope that my life will give strength to others.

Monday, October 29    

11:54 AM Hey folks! Got time for a brief race report? As you know (if you keep track of all the stuff I do), I spent the weekend up in the DC area for the Marine Corps Marathon. I ran my first marathon in 2016. Before then I had done about 8 or 9 half marathons. But marathons have a certain appeal about them that halfs don't. The event itself was seamless and pretty chill. As is my habit, I took the back roads to DC on Saturday morning. The weather was cold and overcast but that didn't dampen my spirits. After all, I was about to run the Marine Corps Marathon! On the way up I stopped at numerous roadside historical markers. When I arrived in Port Royal on the Rappahannock I had lunch at the quaintest diner you will ever see. I got to the expo at Harbor City at around 2:00 pm. I was expecting the parking to be a nightmare but it was the opposite. I got in and grabbed my race bib then headed to Springfield and my hotel room and dinner (Mexican -- scrumptious). Parking Sunday morning in Chrystal City went off without a hitch and I boarded a bus for the race start at the Pentagon. The gun (a howitzer, no less) goes off and we start running. Had I had a notepad with me, I imagine I would have jotted down thoughts like:

This climbing is killing me. The race is actually starting with a brutal uphill from mile 1 to 2!

Check out the crowd support. I can't even begin to describe how amazing you guys are.

Mile 4 and my legs are still cooperating with me.

My goodness, the weather is PURFECT!

I love running. Who ever said running is hard?

Mile 6 and the course is still packed. I've never been in such a crowded race. I'm loving this!

Mile 10 and I'm still calm and laid back. This is FUN!

Mile 13.1, the halfway point in the race. I'm welling up with gratitude to be doing this.

Oh no. The Blue Mile. Picture after picture of the fallen. I slow down and read each picture, noting the names and dates of death. Too many young faces in these photos. Run strong, Dave, for those who can't.

Is that really the Washington Monument?

The sun is now out. Most beautiful thing I've seen all day.

I am gulping down water. Seems I can't enough of the stuff.

Mile 20. Can this please be over? Who ever said that running is easy?

Miles 21-25. Okay, one last push to the finish. You can do this, Dave.

Mile 26. So close! Going uphill again. Do not stop now. Do. Not. Stop. Why in the world do people run marathons?

I want to finish as strong as I can. I cross the line with head held high. I don't beat Oprah's time, but I'll take what I got.

The Marines can't wait to place a medal around my neck. I ask for a photo.

So, marathon #10 has come and gone and it's time to move on. My feet hurt and I feel exhausted just typing that. They say that about 1 in every 100,000 people actually die while running a marathon. In a race with 30,000 people, this meant that about one third of a person died. That third of a person were my legs. In all honesty, there were some pretty hard parts to the course. Then again, the monuments were amazing. Not to mention the cheering crowds. I gave it 100 percent. I am at peace with the world.

Pix (of course):

Oh, the traffic in rural Virginia! And to think: I could have been stuck on the interstate.

Why we run. Lots of great and worthy causes out there.

The energy at the start of this race was so amazing. I was overcome by nerves by this time. Can I actually do this? The MCM was on my bucket list for some time. It was finally time to experience it!

Happy runners. There were 7,981 first time marathoners. Obviously, suffering loves company.

The Blue Mile -- a highly emotional section of the course commemorating fallen service members.

Smile for the camera!

Oorah!!! Hundreds of volunteers holding American flags. At this point in the race you're beaming with pride, chest puffed out a little.

I finished! Coolest medal ever. These guys and gals kept me going. At every aid station, they served with the devotion of a NASCAR pit crew.

The Lord provided this restaurant not 10 minutes from my hotel. The food, service, ambience -- everything was outstanding.

I left them a copy of Becky's book. I hope it will be a blessing to them!

Thanks again for joining me on my journey. I'm sore and stiff but it was worth every mile. What an experience!

Saturday, October 27    

8:40 AM Alright. Marathon #10 is in sight. Oorah! Have I trained hard enough? How will the weather affect me? Will my toes hold up? Can I stay focused on hydration and fueling? Will I spread my energy evenly throughout the race? Folks, if you're taking the risk of doing something as crazy as running a marathon, things aren't always going to go your way. It's inevitable. That's why I love marathons. You never know how you're going to do until mile 20. At that stage in the race, you have to focus on the mile you're running at that very moment, and not how many more you still have to go. You will have to dig deep toward the end of the race. You'll have to look into your soul for a level of perseverance you've never had to call on before. But it's there. It's all about relentless forward progress. The weird thing is, for everybody you ask out there on the course "How ya doing?", the answer is always amazingly the same. "Great!" That's because they're focusing only on what is going right and not on what is going wrong. Optimism is prevalent, even rampant. Nobody is making us do this. It's our choice to suffer. All races -- including the race of life -- have one thing in common: the finish line. All of us begin at the starting line, and each step takes us closer to home. Running a marathon is a crash course in gratitude, stamina, patience, suffering, and the rewarding feeling of knowing that, with God's help, you've pushed through impenetrable walls and come out victorious on the other side. The point is, there's no way to lose a marathon. Everyone who runs one wins. The medal they'll put around my neck will be the same medal they'll put around 30,000 other necks. Even if you don't read my name in the news tomorrow after the race, it won't mean that I didn't win.

Thanks so much for following my journey. You also running the MCM tomorrow? If so, I'll see you at the back of the pack, Lord willing!

Friday, October 26    

12:42 PM This Sunday is not only the Marine Corps Marathon but, just as importantly for a language nerd like me, the birthday of Erasmus of Rotterdam, who in 1536 was buried with great fanfare in Basel. (If you're ever in Basel, you can visit his grave in the city's famous Cathedral.) I'll never forget, as a New Testament student in Basel, being taken to the subbasement in the university library and having Erasmus's Novum Instrumentum Omne placed in my hands for examination up close and personal.

This was the very first Greek New Testament to be published. The year was 1516, and the place was Basel. With its second edition, the name was changed to Novum Testamentum Omne. With the third edition, the (in)famous "Heavenly Witnesses" passage of 1 John 5:7-8 was included. The Erasmus Greek New Testament formed the basis for most of the translations of the New Testament in subsequent centuries until it was replaced by other texts. In 2016, Houston Baptist University celebrated the 500th anniversary of the publication of Erasmus's Greek New Testament with a special conference on their campus.

I've been particularly blessed to have been allowed to teach New Testament Greek for 42 years. During these past 4 decades, I've seen a great deal of change in the fabric of our society, including evangelicalism. It's been an exciting adventure of faith. Perhaps the most thrilling part of my ministry is teaching Greek overseas. I'm very grateful for the work Erasmus (and his publisher Froben) did in seeing to it that the Greek New Testament was available to a wide reading audience. Most of all, I want to thank God for Erasmus's successors in the field of New Testament textual criticism, who have worked tirelessly to see to it that students have at their fingertips the very words of the New Testament, disagreements as to which words are original and which aren't notwithstanding. Having myself been a student in Basel is perhaps why I have a special fascination with all things Erasmus. Situated in a historic university city, I began to develop a deep love for the language of the New Testament that has never left me. I thank God for my professors there and the gracious way they treated a fledging scholar. To equip and then send students into a lifetime of service for Christ and their fellows is one of the most treasured privileges that has come my way in all my years on this earth. Soli Deo gloria.

11:30 AM This article in the New York Times made me smile. More and more aging Americans are entering marathons. To be honest with you, I want to run into my grave. So what if I'm an "older" runner? I'm actually just getting started. I enjoy and appreciate being able to run. I would love to keep running into my golden years. Actually, I'd like to run until I'm 100 if I can keep the injuries at bay. That way I can rack up the medals just be outlasting the competition! Yesterday one of my daughters and her 4 kids were here helping me clean the house. One of the kids asked me if she could put on my race medals. When I saw her with all those medallions I practically fell over.

For the love of Pheidippedes! Maybe I should join a heavy metal band.  

So why do I run?

Sustained exercise is the single most important thing you can do for your health as you age. Activity, not speed, is what counts. My race goal is simply to finish each race with a smile on my face. If I feel lousy, I don't push it. After all, I didn't start running until I was 62. Is that "old"? I don't think so. After all, "Old is always 10 years older than you are now." Even if I'm not very fast, my marathon times are extremely consistent. The other men in my age group massacre me at every race. That's fine by me. I just want to age "race-fully." This will sound boring, but on Sunday I'll go out there and compete against the guys in my age group, and it will be a reminder to me that no matter how old we are chronologically, we are only as old as we feel. The 60s definitely bring a new perspective on life. Your goal is to see and do as much as you can, while you can. Plus make better choices than you did in the past and not let things stress you out as much. While running, I love the outlet of being within yourself, smelling the fresh air, and just thinking about your next step. I always feel better after a run. Always. If I can run, I can do anything. Running is cathartic and makes me feel free. I keep running because it's therapeutic.

I love the words on this shirt. It's true.

Running has made me more mentally strong and made me appreciate life so much more. I run to feel the wind on my face and to unwind and to remind myself that I have a great Creator God who made the beauty I see all around me when I'm running. Plus it's a good excuse not to spend so much time in front of the computer. Running is now a part of who I am, like my balding scalp and my gray hair and my crooked teeth and my ugly toenails and my super outgoing personality (hehe). Running makes me very, very happy! My kids have run a few races themselves, which is super awesome. I continue running because I just can't stop. I guess it's in my blood. I've come to think of running as a gift from God. I especially like running because it's hard, and I like hard. I learn a little more about myself every race. Running helps improve your life. I know that from experience. I had a great experience running my first marathon in Cincy to raise money for cancer research. Every marathon since then has been a great experience. Right now I am in misery until race start on Sunday. That is the power of the marathon.

No matter how much you think you may hate exercise, my friend, start out slowly and you will gradually realize how much it can improve your life. Always be grateful for every step the Lord allows you to take, even when it's crazy hard and miserable and you want to keel over. The key is to keep moving!

9:20 AM I sometimes find myself regretting that I grew up on the windward side of O'ahu. The weather there was always predictable.

Daily temps, year-round, averaged 75. And unlike the leeward side of the island, where Honolulu is, it never got hot. You could expect a daily rain shower or two, but then the sun would return just as quickly as it departed. Sometimes it would rain while the sun was shining (we called this "liquid sunshine"). Even the "rainy season" (January to March) never got too wet. Plus, when it rained, the ocean got smooth and glassy, and the surf was magnificent. The weather here in Virginia is anything but predictable. You might call it wild and weird. It defies patterns and forecast models. Take a look at the daily historic temps and you'll see what I mean. Sometimes there's a 50 degree difference between record highs and lows. I have seen 80 in December. Last year we were getting up hay well into that month. NOVA is especially unpredictable. The weather for the race on Sunday is now predicted to be rainless, but I'm not holding my breath. A nor'-easter is brewing and who knows when it will be over. Again, there's very little "normal" weather around here.

One thing I do know is that I'll be driving up to the race expo tomorrow in the rain. Why they hold the expo so far from the race venue is anybody's guess. It's not near the start, finish, or any other part of the race. Packet pickup is being hosted by the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Harbor City. If you're staying in Arlington you can take a shuttle to the expo from selected metro stations. Since I won't be driving up there until tomorrow, I've decided to drive directly to Harbor City via I-85/I-95 and then catch Hwy. 301 north of Richmond, a drive that will take me through a very historic part of Maryland, including the sites where John Wilkes Booth stayed during his flight from the authorities in April of 1865. Once I pick up my packet in Harbor City, I'll cross the Potomac on I-95 and find my way to my hotel room in Springfield. On race day my current plan is to drive to Arlington early Sunday morning and hopefully find a place to park near the Pentagon, where the race begins. I plan to give myself plenty of time to park and pass through security.

In other news, a week from today (Nov. 2) will be the five-year-aversay of Becky's homegoing, and I plan to commemorate it in Alabama with my daughter and her family. While there we'll attend my granddaughter's chorale concert and do a 10K race together. It's hard to believe it's been five years. Five years ago I said goodbye to my wife of 37 years. Five years ago I ventured into the scary new world of widowerhood. Five years ago I was trying to sort through the good and the bad and the just-plain-confusing world I found myself suddenly thrust into. I could write forever about my feelings and experiences and emotions on that day and I still wouldn't be able to properly convey to you how good the Lord was to me that day and every day since. Miracles don't always look like a dead man coming out of a tomb or dozens of fish jumping into a boat. A miracle can be gazing into the future and seeing nothing but darkness and still believing that grace is available to you. It can be family and friends and neighbors and colleagues coming to a memorial service in Wake Forest to help you adjust to a severe trauma that swept over you like a tidal wave. It can be the realization that the death of a loved one can become grace discovered and grace experienced in the unfolding aftermath of that loss. Five years ago I knew that God was listening to my prayers. I knew that His heart was breaking with mine, and I knew He could do the miracle we all were praying for. My life, it seems, has come full circle. I've spent the past five years getting my feet under me again, learning the ropes of being a bachelor, gaining in confidence and even becoming comfortable with my new life. And while I hated to lose Becky to cancer, I'm holding on to the fact that healing doesn't always occur in this life. I have found the courage to go on. Like the weather in Virginia, my emotions change on a dime. I have no power to control the circumstances that changed my life forever. But I can decide to trust God. And, as it turned out, I've found a new life that's truly good.

I am now, more than ever, thankful.

Thursday, October 25    

8:45 AM Hear about this? An island in the Hawaiian archipelago has disappeared after being devastated by Hurricane Walaka. This is what East Island used to look like.

Not anymore. It's gone. Then there's this: A new island has formed off the Big Island of Hawai'i due to Kilauea's recent eruption. Hilton will have to wait -- the island is only 30 feet wide -- but I guess in the island-making business, you lose some and you win some.

By the way, the name of the island that's disappeared is Papahānaumokuākea. Why this name? Go here to read its interesting history. Did you know that Hawai'i is the only state to have two official languages -- Hawaiian and English? Pidgin (which I can speak) is a third "unofficial" language. I love the Hawaiian language even though I am a rank beginner when it comes to its mastery. The language has only 8 consonants and 5 vowels. In addition, you'll often see two special symbols when reading Hawaiian words: the 'okina and the kahakō. The 'okina looks like our apostrophe and functions as a glottal stop. So if you're ever asked "How are you?" in Hawaiian ("Pehea 'oe?"), the answer will be "Maika'i, mahalo." Older books on the Hawaiian language would sometimes write the word maika'i as maikai, but saying "my kai" is incorrect. It's "my ka eee." The kahakō (macron) indicates a long vowel, as in kāne (kaa nay), meaning "male" or "man," as opposed to kane (ka nay), which means "skin disease." Today, there's a great revival of interest in learning Hawaiian in the Islands. If I had more time, I'd love to master it. In the meantime, however, I'm content with Pidgin. Here's a sampler from the Hawaiian Creole New Testament -- just for fun! ("Puka" means "hole," and "pau" means "finished.")

7:50 AM Good Thursday morning! How do I summarize the Charismatic Movement, a topic so large that massive tomes continue to be written about it? My takeaways are so vast, I can't find the words to bring my thoughts together. After reviewing the four major positions (see below), I asked my NT class, "What to do?" I realize some of you are hoping for a simple answer to a complicated question, something with aplomb, but that's not where I am. Here are five suggestions I offered my students yesterday:

1) Try to locate yourself on the spectrum.

2) Be respectful of those who are at different places on the continuum.

3) Pray for greater unanimity among these four groups.

4) Seek to live more explicitly supernatural lives.

5) Read widely in this area of theology.

I offered the following short bibliography of works I think would be beneficial to anyone interested in this subject. At least one is written by a cessationist. Others by continuationists.

  • Clint Arnold, Three Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare.

  • Dan Wallace and James Sawyer, Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

  • Richard Gaffin, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?

  • Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit.

  • Craig Keener, Miracles.

  • Gerald Hawthorne, The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus.

  • Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today.

  • Michael Green, I Believe in the Holy Spirit.        

  • Gordon Fee, 1 Corinthians.

  • Siegfried Schatzmann, A Pauline Theology of Charismata.

I might add this book to the list.

It grew out of a conference held at TEDS in 1989 in which representatives from among evangelical scholarship were asked to pour over a wide range of theological viewpoints. Robert Saucy represented Biola/Talbot. I came from Grace West in Long Beach. It was great to reconnect with many old friends: Bruce Demarest, Millard Erickson, Vernon Grounds, Wayne Grudem, Stan Gundry, Kent Hughes, Roger Nicole, Stan Porter, Ron Sider, Moisés Silva, Robert Thomas, Harold O. J. Brown, Harold Hoehner, Don Carson, and others. The purpose of this working consultation was to unite evangelicals in their commitment to the great truths of our faith. As I recall, the meetings were bathed in constant prayer for greater unity and amity in the body of Christ. We asked, "What can we affirm despite the many things that divide us?" Believe me, it was a joy to watch evangelical scholars of various stripes -- dispensationalists and covenant theologians, charismatics and non-charismatics, Arminians and Calvinists -- amicably discuss their differences and then unite around a commitment to evangelism, discipleship, and sacrificial service to a needy world. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is everything.

I wonder if such a conference might be helpful in today's divisive climate.

Wednesday, October 24    

7:40 PM Odds and ends ....

1) We read Jason Meyer's Confessions of a Functional Cessationist in our NT class today while discussing the history and theology of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement. Using Wayne Grudem's helpful spectrum, we pondered the four major positions (Cessationist, Open But Cautious, Third Wave, Pentecostal/Charismatic). We also discussed Paul's teaching about tongues in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The church at Corinth still has a lot to teach us about our contemporary church situation, that's for sure. There are, I think, many advantages to espousing Jason's view, including the corrective he issues in his essay. Read it and see if you don't agree.

2) Yesterday I enjoyed lunch with a Korean student at the Seoul Garden in Raleigh and we chatted endlessly about the church in Korea.

Did you know?

  • In the year 1900 only one percent of the country's population was Christian. Today almost one-third of South Koreans are Christian.

  • Religious restrictions in South Korea are lower than in the U.S.

  • Three-fourths of Korean Americans are Christian.

  • South Korea is second only to the United States in the number of missionaries it sends out across the world.

I've taught 6 times in Korea and can't wait to get back someday.

3) Trivia: Neil Armstrong's sons Rick and Mark have cameo roles in the movie First Man starring Ryan Gosling. See if you can spot 'em at Mission Control.

4) Today was the perfect day for a run or a bike but I was too busy to do either. (Raise your hand if you use the "I'm too busy" excuse too.) Try not to be too jealous of my sloth, however, for tomorrow I shall verily make all things right again. In the meantime, I think I'm a bit obsessive about this weekend's weather. Okay, I'm very obsessive about it. Yesterday the meteorologist in DC was telling everyone we'd have rain on race day (i.e., Sunday). Today they're a little more optimistic that the sun will peek through the clouds. I've lived in Virginia long enough to know that the weather can change on a dime. Right now I'm planning on running in cool (and possibly rainy) weather. Here's the current weather map for Arlington, VA.

Let's see what they say tomorrow. And on Friday.

5) #25888. That's my bib number for Sunday's marathon. Not that anyone is even faintly interested.

So, how's your week going?

Monday, October 22    

6:45 AM I had just arrived in Basel. The year was 1980. I went to look for my major professor, Herr Professor Dr. Bo Reicke, in the library archives. We greeted each other warmly, exchanged some small talk, and then he said he'd like to go out for a cup of coffee. "Darf ich Ihnen begleiten?" I asked. "Darf ich Sie begleiten?" came the gentle correction, and off we went to sip coffee in one of those wonderful coffee houses overlooking the Rhine.

That little encounter reminded me that:

  • Europeans, unlike Americans, will correct your grammatical mistakes. 

  • My Doktorvater was a kind and tenderhearted soul.

  • I needed to improve my German.

German was the mother tongue of neither my professor nor me. Yet we spoke German with each other during my sojourn in Basel because it was the official language of the university. When I contemplated my mistake that morning, I asked myself, "How could you have made such an obvious faux pas? You know full well that begleiten takes the accusative case and not the dative for its direct object." Then it dawned on me. I was speaking German but thinking in Koine Greek, in which the verb "follow/accompany" takes the dative. It's just one of those "irregularities" of language you have to get used to. So when I saw that Rod Decker had published a list of the most common verbs in the New Testament that take the dative for their direct object, I knew I had to link to it here.

I'd like to state the obvious. To learn a foreign language, you have to swallow your pride. You have to be willing to make mistakes. In public. And be corrected. In public. To quote an expert on the subject of making mistakes in public (me):

The second essential quality needed to master a foreign language is lowliness of mind or humility. It is the opposite of pride and hubris. Take, again, my week-old German sentence, "Ich will sprechen Deutsch." As anyone who has studied German knows, the syntax of my sentence was backwards. In German the object comes before the infinitive: "Ich will Deutsch sprechen." I had gotten the words right but the word order wrong. And that was hardly the last mistake I made. But if you want to learn a foreign language you must be willing to actually use it, even if it means making mistakes and even if others have to correct you.

My hugest, biggest, most gignormous mistake in learning foreign languages? Being too much of a coward to try them out in public for fear of being corrected. Pussy cat! Why does anybody worry about something as silly as that? I say, I'm glad I'm trying to learn foreign languages. The thrill has been in the journey to get there. And know what? You never arrive. You will always be making mistakes. And hopefully learning from them.

6:04 AM "For me."

With these words on my mind, I awoke this morning. They're from one of my favorite verses in the New Testament:

I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself FOR ME.

Of all the names and titles of Christ --

  • Alpha and Omega

  • Almighty One

  • Advocate

  • Bread of Life

  • Cornerstone

  • Faithful and True

  • Bridegroom

  • Good Shepherd

  • Great High Priest

  • King of Kings

  • Lamb of God

  • Light of the World

  • Messiah

  • Savior

  • Son of Man

  • Resurrection and the Life

  • True Vine

"The One who gave Himself for me" may just be my favorite. As I lay on my bed praying this morning, I knew that Christ had ruined my life forever. He changed the rules of the game by saying He was the only way to God, and that anyone who follows Him would reciprocate His love and self-giving. "You know, Dave," I said to myself, "Jesus loved you and gave Himself for you so that you might love Him this day and give yourself for Him."

There's no tremendously deep point to be made from this. If you have the faintest doubt that Jesus loves you, don't. Christ was ridiculed, beaten, mocked, and killed -- on your behalf. Knowing that my sin prompted such sacrifice and that Jesus feels the pain when I hurt others or fail to serve Him sacrificially, I am trying to adopt a more intentional attitude in my waking hours. "Lord Jesus, You're at my side every step of the way. Your faithfulness knows no end. Without Your cross, I would get exactly what I deserve, a one-way ticket to hell. Your love is not based on feelings. It's based on the historical fact You died for my sins, were buried, and three days later were resurrected. That's the definition of true love. Because of the cross I can know that Your love will last with me always. Now please, Spirit of Christ, enable me this day to provide an inkling of what that love looks like to others. When it comes right down to it, I'm pretty lousy at loving others. Please allow me to love others at least as much as I love myself."

You want something new? I'll give you something new: Before you get out of bed in the morning, talk to God. Don't just jabber off a few bless me's. Worship the One who gave Himself FOR YOU.

Sunday, October 21    

7:16 PM One of the reasons I enjoy studying Greek so much is the way I keep learning new things about the language. So ... cue to Granville Sharp!

Anyone who has had a couple of semesters of Greek knows that name. His "rule" helped to affirm the teaching about the deity of Christ found in the New Testament. But Granville Sharp was much more than a grammarian -- a fact I should have realized because Dan Wallace published an entire essay on this subject many years ago. Sharp is best known as being a prime force behind the abolitionist movement in England. In other words, as a Christian, he had a strong sense of social responsibility. I have always felt that the Gospel Commission of our Lord Jesus must remain primary in all we do as followers of Christ. Yet it's just as evident that the Jesus of the Great Commission is the Jesus of social compassion. The One who went about "teaching and preaching" (Matt. 4:23; 9:35) also went about "doing good and healing" (Acts 10:38). Our God wants us to love not only justly but to get our hands dirty in the service of the Gospel. In the past century and more, the commitment of evangelicals to social action has grown exponentially. Jesus' kingdom, while not of this world, was and is a radically different social organization whose values challenge the political status quo. He expects us to get out into the world, which is the arena in which we are to witness and serve, suffer and die if need be for the sake of the Gospel. Just because I feel myself called to a teaching and writing ministry doesn't mean I can claim to have no social responsibility. That's one reason I love to run marathons for charity. Perhaps that's also why our Lord emphasized the role of servant leadership and equated greatness with service. If all people are created in the image of God, then they must be served and not exploited. Herein lies one of the greatness dangers, in my view, of academic study and programs. People take precedent over projects and programs. We are to serve not our own interests but the interests of others. Although He was Lord of all, Jesus put on the apron of servitude. No study of Greek is authentically Christlike that isn't marked by this same spirit of humble service. I find myself crying out to God to give me this vision. I pray that the Lord would give me eyes not only to see the billions of people who have never heard of Jesus but the further billions who are oppressed, alienated, poor, hungry, disadvantaged, those who are suffering from illnesses that might be curable if we all banded together and worked hard enough to find a cure, those whose babies are dying for lack of basic obstetric care, and so forth. Our Christian documents tell us that God wants His people to be enriched by their service to others. "But the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). May God help us to grow in generosity and live in service to others in His name as did Granville Sharp.

8:10 AM Confession: Yesterday's ride was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I felt about 80 percent instead of my normal 100 percent. It was a lot rainier than I had anticipated. My legs were tired and sore. But despite the rain, a flat, and riding in the dark, we pushed through and completed 52.6 miles before pigging out on Ethiopian cuisine. 

The trailhead in Jamestown (Mile Zero).

The motivation.

Right now I'm chillaxing and getting caught up on my reading. One site I check somewhat regularly is Nerdy Language Majors. If you want to keep up-to-date on what they are saying about Greek, this is your clearing house. I notice there's been a lot of discussion lately about such matters as verbal aspect, deponency, and pronunciation. This is as it should be. Each of these areas (and many more) is hotly debated today. One of the most notable movements in Greek studies in the past four or five decades has been the recovery of a linguistic perspective on the language of the New Testament. By now most of us are convinced that linguistics is not a threat but as asset to New Testament studies. Yet our historical neglect has put us far behind, and there's a lot of catching up to do. My own contribution to the debate was my 1988 publication Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek (Baker), which I was presumptuous to write if for no other reason than I hardly consider myself a linguist. Thankfully, the Lord seemed to use that book as an impetus to get other much more qualified voices into the debate. Since 1988, many people have assisted me in my thinking, including my friends Johannes Louw, Stan Porter, Randall Buth, Thomas Hudgins, and Stephen Levinsohn. All these -- and several others (Michael Halcomb, Rob Plummer, Con Campbell, Jonathan Pennington, Mike Aubrey, Steve Runge, and Nicholas Ellis) -- were invited by Ben Merkle and myself to participate in a conference on our campus next April called Linguistics and New Testament Greek: Key Issues in the Current Debate.

Need for this conference should be obvious. Topics to be discussed include verbal aspect, voice (including deponency), pronunciation, word order, the perfect tense, and discourse analysis. I express my cordial thanks to each of these scholars for agreeing to produce a paper for our conference. Ben and I will collect these essays and include them in a book designed for third semester Greek (the publisher is Baker). Throughout the book a distinction will be made between an author's setting the scene and their own reflection and analysis. We thus hope that the need for a current overview of the field will be filled. You are cordially invited to attend the conference on April 26-27 (Friday evening to Saturday at 1:00 pm). To register you can go here. Both dinner and breakfast are included, and there will be plenty of time to meet and greet the speakers.

I'm not going to blog in-death about it now, but the subject of mediocrity has been on my mind lately. Not sure why. Maybe because we're halfway through the semester and students (and teachers) are getting tired. Once again, as we slogged out the miles on our bikes yesterday, I was reminded that God gives strength to the weary and that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. It's only as we stand in the shadow of the cross that we can keep our inner fires burning brightly. It seems to me that we need to repent of our mediocrity because it dishonors God and is incompatible with our Christian faith. To be sure, we can't excel at everything. We are all well aware of our limitations and shortcomings. But we also believe in the power of God to change us. When I was in seminary, I had a prof who once told us, "Don't ever settle for anything less than your God-given potential. Allow Him to stretch you in your service for Him and others." We need, then, to seek His face and do His will with all the passion and energy He gives us. Only then can we expect to hear those most coveted of all words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." I am forever grateful to that prof in seminary. He not only talked about excellence with his students, he modeled it. I want to do better at this. With God's help, I will.

P.S. My toes have now been officially declared a Disaster Area. Federal funding is on the way. They look like they got into a fight with a lawnmower. Even the pedicurist can't clip my toenails. They say they need a chainsaw. Missing toenails. Black toenails. Bunions. My feet are a mess. If I don't do something and do it now, I will inevitably pierce the inside of another toe with a sharp nail during the marathon next weekend.

At any rate, my feet are apparently entertaining.

Saturday, October 20    

9:45 AM For some reason I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning. But it's nothing a good cuppa can't solve.

My friend Jason and I are still on for today's ride from Jamestown to Richmond. Here's the current weather.

All that should change by the time we start -- partly sunny skies with only a small chance of rain. However, rain or shine, here we come. We've already paid for the shuttle anyhow. (I can pretty much concoct a good excuse for almost anything I do.) Right now I have to prepare for myself a hearty breakfast. On tap are eggs, potatoes, toast, and corned beef hash. I can't live without my eggs. So satisfying and nutritious. That will be our last meal until we arrive in Richmond, where we hope to dine on some authentic Ethiopian fare before driving home.

Last night I reread this fantastic study of the "faithful sayings" in the so-called Pastoral Epistles. It was published in 1979, a year before Becky and I arrived in Basel.

At that time I was reading every doctoral dissertation I could get my hands on. When I ended up doing a study of Pauline lexicography, it was partly due to the influence of George Knight's work. Just out of curiosity. Have you read his commentary on the PE? I hear it is very good (co-authored as it was with Howard Marshall).

Anyhoo ....

My calves are cramping just thinking about biking 51 miles. Wish us well!

Friday, October 19    

8:24 PM Just had a great time with Nate and Jessie getting up hay. We worked long after dark. Now it's time for dinner and then a nice long sleep before I try to bike 51 miles tomorrow. Tonight my back is a little tight. Probably picked up too many bales. I have never had chronic back trouble and I don't plan to start any time soon. For some reason, God's blessed me with a fairly strong back. But it's not invincible. Gradually, I'm learning to take care of my whole body. I keep it together by getting lots of rest, eating pretty well, and running my races at a reasonable pace. Huge believer in balance here. But I also don't think you should pamper your body all the time. I can't and won't exist that way. Doing no exercise is bad for you. Doing too much exercise is bad for you. The same could well be said about anything else in life. Most of us are on the doing too little side of the equation. I suspect that "extreme exercise" isn't a problem for many Americans. That said, a lot of injuries are overuse injuries. I may have overdone it a bit tonight. I need to do a better job of listening to my body. But in the end, I'll take the risk of performing hard physical activity over a sedentary lifestyle any day.

No doubt, however, that it was a gorgeous evening to get up hay.

12:20 PM Today was going to be a rest day but that's gone out the window, but I'm not complaining (much). Driving into town to run errands, I couldn't help but take this picture of my neighborhood.


Love it! The scene set a wonderful tone for my whole day. It reminded me of why I enjoy country life so much. My first love is doing "city" kinds of thing like teaching and writing and running races. But there's a country boy side to me that often surprises me. It's like living in two worlds, if you will  -- the Food Lion culture and the Harris Teeter culture. And, to be honest, I also miss the climes of the island I was born on. (Kailua, we need to get reacquainted soon.) My advice for you is to try and live in both worlds as much as you can. Both have a lot to offer, and each needs the other (in my humble opinion). If you're anything like me, you're often too busy to stop and smell the hay. Pick a destination, be it a park or a mountain, and go for it. Life is far too short not to. When I get so busy that I can't enjoy a view like the one I saw this morning, then I'm simply too busy.

9:40 AM Sheba and I just enjoyed a walk on the farm on a crispy fall morning. The donks were so happy to see me! (Or maybe it was the carrots?)

Before going for a run I just have to say thank you to a few very special people:

1) My colleague Brent Aucoin, who lectured on "Race Relations" in our NT class on Wednesday. (We were studying Philemon and slavery.)

2) My OT colleague Mark Rooker, who spoke to our Hebrews class on the significance of Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8.

3) Alex Stewart, who's visiting us for a semester from Tyndale Seminary in the Netherlands, who spoke in our Hebrews class on perseverance and the place of good works in the Christian life. (Alex is the author of an excellent book called Perseverance and Salvation.)

4) My publisher at Energion for sending me copies of Becky's book in Mandarin, which I'm giving away to practically every Chinese speaker I know.

5) The cooks at the Seoul Garden in Raleigh, whose squid dish almost made me call 911 it was so deliciously hot.

6) To my buddy Rob, with whom I've worked for many years. Your legacy is more far-reaching than you will ever know, my friend.

Thanks to all but thanks especially to Jesus for walking with me, always.

8:04 AM "Not because they are easy, but because they are hard." With these words of JFK, the movie First Man ends.

But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? [Laughter.]

We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard ....

As we saw last week in our Hebrews exegesis class, to live the Christian life is to choose "hard." As in H-A-R-D. No one can expect to live a lifetime entirely free of disappointment and suffering, much less the one who chooses to follow the downward path of Jesus. You will have to endure the bad you do not deserve. But you will also experience undeserved grace. God gives life, even in the midst of the hard. I will say that in the past 5 years I have never had to dig so deep in my entire life. But I never once thought about quitting. I realized that pain and suffering aren't reasons to give up but reasons to keep on going. Not just during an ultramarathon but in life. In a lot of ways, running mirrors life for me. It makes you stronger. When Becky died, death screamed at me. The pain was so great because it demonstrated the supreme value of what you lost. You wondered, "Will I ever hear any sound other than that scream of death?"

Today, that scream has become a whisper. But I never want to forget that scream of pain. God uses pain to reclaim us as His own, no matter how lost or lonely we may feel. This is the goal set before me as a blogger. I want you to read my words with your own life in mind. No matter what you're experiencing, you are not beyond God's reach. During the storm last week, many trees were blown over. But others remained standing, weathered and beautiful, alive in their newly-tested strength. Eternal life isn't just something "up there." It's grace revealed in the here and now, in the storms of life.

My story -- our story -- is being gradually transformed into a weather-beaten and graceful tree. We keep going, not because life is easy, but because it's hard.

6:55 AM Yesterday was a busy one, with trips to the post office, bank, store, gym, family, and the theater in Raleigh to watch First Man. I thought Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy did a stellar job of portraying Neil and Janet Armstrong.

I've read reviews that say the movie depicts both as too cold, their relationship as taking up too much precious film time. I couldn't disagree more. The stresses on marriage today are the same as they've always been: selfishness, bitterness, unforgiveness, misunderstanding of each other's motives. Nor can one bring back the dead to life (they lost their daughter Karen to cancer -- a thread that is the most heart-breaking one in the film) -- or recover the marital bliss perhaps you once had. As an astronaut family, once you make the decision to fly into space, there is no going back. You either face the future together or you don't. Neil and Janet Armstrong reminded me that, however difficult it may be, marriage is one of the greatest blessings of the Lord.

The wordless ending to the film will leave you speechless as well -- and shedding a few tears if not many. There is nothing like looking your spouse in the eye and, in silent communication, telling him or her you love them. This film is far more than a movie about our landing on the moon. It's more than just impeccable cinematography. It's an emotional gut-punch. See it as a married couple if at all possible, but see it you must. Films like this one truly remind me of just how much our nation (and families) are capable of when we put our minds and souls into something. I was 17 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I've been trying to walk on my "moons" ever since, thanks in part to the inspiration I've drawn from men and women like him. 

P.S. Jason Clarke as Ed White was magnificent. I kept asking myself, "Is this same the actor who played Ron Hall in Everest?" How can an Aussie have such a perfect American accent?! I guess that's why they call them actors.

Thursday, October 18    

7:44 AM It feels soooooooo good to be back on the farm after having lived either on campus or in a hotel room for the past 11 days. Today I've got "normal" work to get caught up on -- banking, grocery shopping (had to throw everything in my freezer and refrigerator away), post office, gym, check van tires, etc. Tomorrow we're getting up hay, and then on Saturday a friend and I are biking the 51 miles of the Virginia Capital Trail. I've done this once before and it was super fun. You start out in Richmond, take a shuttle to Jamestown, and then cycle back to your car in Richmond, traveling through 400 years of history along the way. We may even stop at a couple of the plantations on our way. Next weekend, of course, is the historic Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington. This will be my first time running the MCM. I'll be using the Galloway Method as I've done in the past: run and then walk, to a ratio of about 3:1. I know this race isn't going to be a PR for me. It's too hilly. But Phoenix might be (all downhill). However, in both races, I'll run for the love of the sport and not for a record. At the MCM, you might even want to slow down at the famous Blue Mile. If I can finish proud and happy I'll be satisfied. (Semper Fi!) Meanwhile, I've booked my hotel room for the Richmond Marathon in November and my flights for the Dallas Marathon in December, where I'll be staying with mom and dad in Murphy (just outside of Plano). Between now and then I've got a race in Birmingham, AL, in which I'll be joined by my daughter and her husband. It's "just" a 10K (ahem).

Well, gotta go. I must be boring you something crazy.

P.S. What? Not bored enough? This will certainly do it!

Wednesday, October 17    

8:08 PM Hello everyone. It's been a while. This blog has pretty much bitten the dust but not because I haven't wanted to write an update. First, I was on campus teaching all last week. And second, we were without power from last Thursday night until yesterday. Hurricane Michael paid us an unwanted visit, and at least 7 tornadoes ripped through our area causing significant damage with pockets of catastrophic damage. 600,000 customers were left without service. Kudos to Dominion Virginia Energy for working tirelessly to restore power since Thursday. These guys and gals are heroes.

So, let's start where I last left this blog....

As you know, the High Bridge Ultramarathon was my A-race for this fall. And on Saturday I ran it – and finished.

An epic, epic, epic race! I'm so happy and grateful to God. My ultramarathon experience actually started many years ago, when I knew I had to keep active after Becky passed away. So I signed up for the race and I'm glad I did. I parked in Pamplin and got on the bus and was driven 31 miles to the trail head in Burkeville.

Before I knew it, the race had started.

I found that there were two things going through my head when I began to get tired during the race. "Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." Boy did I need that verse. The other was, "There's pizza at the end." By the end of the race, I just kept telling myself, "You can make it one more mile, Dave. Just take it one mile at a time." Unfortunately, right before the end there's a long hill you have to climb. My legs started to cramp up on me. At this point I was just trying to finish. But I knew that if I was going to reach my race goal, I couldn't slow down. All of a sudden there was a crowd of people shouting wildly. They were rooting FOR ME. I crossed the finish line so grateful to be done. (I could finally get that pizza I'd been dreaming about.) I was ecstatic with the outcome, despite the harsh trail conditions I experienced (remember, we'd just had a major storm and there were leaves and branches all over the trail).

I felt an immense sense of gratitude to God. After all, it was He who gave me the strength and will-power to finish. I drove home with the satisfaction that I ran the best race I could. It reflected the training I had put in and the level of fitness I'm in. Above all, I was uninjured. The weather was perfect. The race organization was superb. Whenever I experienced a really low moment, I would inevitably come to an aid station where the volunteers were bending over backwards to help you refill your water bottles and prepare a PBJ for you to refuel with.

I learned to be mentally tough and to keep going. In the end, I think I executed the best ultramarathon that was in my body. Thanks to all my friends who were sending me texts and emails during the race. Thank you, family, for your love and support. And thank you, Becky, for inspiring me to take up running. I may have been there physically running without you, but you were always there in spirit.

Overall, the High Bridge Ultra was a fairly flat and easy course for my first ultramarathon experience and I would recommend it to anyone. Do you have to be fast? Most emphatically, no! I'm not a fast runner. In fact, I do not even consider myself to be an ultramarathoner. Or a marathoner. Then why do I do these races? We live in a country where we are constantly being reminded of how unhealthy we are – our love for fast food, our laziness, and inactivity, etc. So if something comes your way that will help you to make your life better, why not try it? Running a marathon or an ultra is the ultimate "Take a hike!" to being unhealthy. Some of my family members have just started this journey to better health, and they're discovering they can do more than they ever thought they could. At least they're getting out there and trying. And that's what this sport is all about. Yes, I suppose there are some runners who assume that marathons and ultras are to be run and not walked. What do I care? The last time I checked, you just have to cover the distance. And that's true whether you're running your first 5K (3.1 miles) or your first 50K ultramarathon (31 miles). I knew there was a cutoff time (and it only makes sense to have one), and yes, I knew I could be asked to stop running by the race director. But that's just a chance you have to take. You're a big boy. You can handle failure and disappointment. Thankfully, when I hit the 19-mile cutoff point, I was an hour and 40 minutes early. Sure, when I finally did finish the race, most everyone else had been dining on pizza and veggie burgers long beyond I arrived at the refreshment table. Nobody cared in the least. There's plenty of room in the running community for slow runners like me. Run, walk, crawl – I'll do whatever it takes, folks.

On Saturday, when I crossed the finish line of the toughest race I've ever been in, the race director couldn't wait to personally congratulate me. He knew that every person who started the race that day had their own personal goals and the mere fact that you crossed the finish line later than others didn't change that fact in the least. Your "fast" is probably someone else's "slow" anyway. For me, running has never been about pace. It's about covering the distance in the allotted time, accomplishing a big hairy audacious goal, and finishing the race upright and under your own power. In Saturday's race, the last-place finisher came in at 9:39. That's two hours slower than when I crossed the finish line. It's all about personal achievement and individual goals. My goal was to finish in under 8 hours.

Maybe someone else's was to finish in under 10. So what? I'm doing MY thing, not anyone else's. The fact is, I'm friends with some really fast runners, and not one of them has ever been anything but encouraging to me. I think everyone who wants to try an ultra or a marathon should do so. Even if you fast-walk it. That's far more exercise than most people get in a week. You know, there's a moment right before water boils and water freezes. It's an infinitesimal point at which a seismic change is about to take place, yet it still lies dormant, just below the surface. It's a point at which you have one last chance to change things, for better or worse. So I think it's wonderful that so many people want to experience a long distance race. I say to all, go for it!

In gratitude to God, who made my race possible, I made a donation to help fight lung cancer. It's part of my fundraising page for the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon this month. If you'd like to join me in this effort, my LUNGEVITY page is here. I've almost reached my goal!

Speaking of marathons, I've put together my marathon schedule for 2018-2019. My philosophy? If there's a race you know you really want to do, you better do it now before life gets in the way. I used to think my goal was to run 8-10 marathons every year. All that has changed. I probably would get burned out mentally or injured physically if I tried that. My goal now is a more modest one. I'm not interested in most of the "marathon majors" like Berlin or Paris or London. I've been to Europe many times and I don't feel the need to return. Instead, my heart is set on competing in a few races that everyone raves about. So here's my lineup (in its "current manifestation," that is).

  • Marine Corps Marathon (Oct. 28, 2018)

  • Richmond Marathon (Nov. 10, 2018)

  • Dallas Marathon (Dec. 9, 2018)

  • Phoenix Marathon (Feb. 9, 2019)

  • Boston Marathon (April 15, 2019)

  • Flying Pig Marathon (May 5, 2019)

  • Chicago Marathon (Oct. 13, 2019)

I love marathons. Each time I line for up for a race I think of the many times I've stood there before. No matter how many lows I go through I know I'll eventually come out on the other side. Each marathon I run shapes me into a better person, just as my many travels mold me. Whenever I run, I want to run because I love to run, because I love the challenge, and because I know God is granting me the strength. I know that one day I may never feel like running again. That will be okay too. Even if I never take another step, I will always have happy memories of my races. I expect that running will always be a part of my life, but even if it isn't, I’ll always be a runner.

On a (somewhat) related note, here's my "Greek Exegesis of Hebrews" class from last week, just after we had enjoyed lunch together at the Forks Cafeteria in downtown Wake Forest, thus culminating a fun (and arduous) "marathon" of study from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm every day, Monday through Friday.

If there's one thing I took away from our study of Hebrews it's the need to be constantly encouraging one another in the body of Christ, as Heb. 3:13 reminds us ("Encourage one another"). Especially when we see a fellow believer struggling to hold on to his or her faith, we need to come alongside them to support one another in the race of life. As we saw in class, Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that we need to give (and receive) encouragement from other Christians. And this is to be a habit of life, not something we do occasionally. See this couple?

I fell in with them during Saturday's race and they paced me for several miles. Sometimes I would take the lead, sometimes they would. But we drew strength and encouragement from the mere presence of each other's company. And as an added side benefit, you experience more clearly the "team" nature of the sport. Although each of us runs an individual race, in another sense we all run it together. My prayer for myself after teaching Hebrews for a week is that I will stop being so focused on myself and learn how I can become an encourager to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Who do you know who needs strength today? Encourage them! After all, Paul clearly says in Rom. 15:14, "You have all the knowledge you need and are able to instruct one another."

Well, I know I've gone on way too long in this blog post. I'm really not one to yak forever about my running with the people I meet every day. Nobody has ever told me I talk too much about running. And if they should ever do so, that's fine. I'll talk to them about Greek instead. That will clear the room like nobody's business.

Monday, October 8    

4:52 AM Yes, it's really 4:52 am. It's also a new week, which means it's time to write down my weekly goals. Not just think about them. Research reveals that you are infinitely more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. I learned this lesson late in life. Let's face it. I'm a guy who grew up in Kailua, Hawaii. Nuff said. Shaka bruddah and all that. Time doesn't exist in the Islands (the Hawaiian Islands, that is; Manhattan, Staten, and Ellis are different stories). Since then, however, I've become a huge fan of goal-setting. When you write down your goals, be sure they are realistic, challenging, and specific. Don't just say "I want to run 2 marathons in 2019." Write, "I want to run Boston and Chicago in 2019." Doing this could actually change your life. Here are some of my goals for the week:

  • Survive this week of teaching.

  • Go the distance this weekend.

  • Stop putting off that decision.

  • Decide whether or not to accept an invitation to go to Cuba.

  • Decide between Honolulu and Dallas this December (marathon, that is).

  • Read through Hebrews nonstop 5 times.

  • Laugh out loud.

  • Eat Ethiopian food.

  • Wash and dry my clothes.

  • Eat 3 bananas.

  • Belch as loud as possible (when no one's around, of course.)

  • Ask God every day to enable me to please Him.

  • Apply to run Boston and Chicago in 2019.

  • Adjust my goals as needed.

By the way, I have a phenomenal book to give away. It'll go to the first person who requests it. Or, if you don't like book giveaways, you can go ahead and buy it yourself ($11.99 paperback, $1.99 Kindle). U.S. residents only.


Sunday, October 7    

4:42 PM Man alive. It's only 6 days until my first ultramarathon. I'm getting oh-so-close. I hope I've got the momentum I need to carry me through. By now, it's hard not to believe that I was once a spectator and not a participant in sports. The best advice I ever got after Becky died was, "Keep active, Dave." Early on, that became my philosophy. Keep calm and plow ahead. Run your race. Stay the course. Don't look back.

Running for a cause bigger than yourself is one of the sport's greatest gifts to us runners. When I ran my first marathon that raised $7,000 for UNC Cancer Hospital, I thought to myself, "Now that wasn't so hard." This month I'm running the Marine Corps Marathon to raise funds to help beat back the awful scourge of lung cancer. I've never heard anybody say anything negative about charity runners, except perhaps those who run at Boston. Even then, you criticize a charity runner at Boston, you're in the minority. Those of us who changed our lives for the better through running understand the need to run for a cause. No, I'm not running to change the world. (Only Jesus can do that.) I'm not running to heal the sickness in our political system that is broken perhaps beyond repair. This month I'm running to maybe, just maybe, ensure that a family might not have to go through what my family went through when Becky was diagnosed with cancer.

And so this month has become sort of a watershed for me. It's the month I will attempt the impossible. So if you see me on the High Bridge Trail this coming weekend, plodding along at the back of the pack, digging deep to make it just one more mile, don't be surprised at my persistence. For those of us who started running later in life, the sport of running transcends any single race. As runners we approach all of life with a new perspective and accept the demands and challenges of the sport as opportunities to become a better person. Moreover, if you're a Christian runner, you can ask Christ to fill the empty place in your life and He will. What's impossible for us is possible for Him. As Heb. 1:1-4 reminds us, He created a stunning universe and bathes it in His love. And now He whispers in our ears, "With my help and strength, all things are possible." 

12:40 PM Hebrews, Hebrews, Hebrews. Been eating, drinking, and sleeping this writing for the past several days. I simply can't get enough of this book -- the only letter in the New Testament that is technically a "word of exhortation," or a homily. By the way, have you ever read Hebrews in one sitting? Or listened to it all the way through as an audio file? I have. It takes about 45 minutes to listen to it in its entirety. Which, for you pastors out there who are constantly been told to limit your Sunday morning messages to 30 minutes, you now have indisputable and unassailable proof for the 45-minute sermon!

So then, I woke up early this morning with one thing on my mind -- Hebrews, what else? -- but I also had an insatiable craving for two of those marvelous pancakes you can only get at Denny's, so I drove to Henderson in the great state of North Carolina where I inhaled my hotcakes in about two minutes and then put the final touches on my lectures over Hebrews for the week. Our course is not based on the English Bible but (as you might have guessed) completely on the Greek text of Hebrews, which means that rather than jumping head first into the exegesis of the text I'm going to ask my students to translate some practice Greek sentences into English for me as a sort of pre-test to see where they stand in terms of their proficiency in the language. This is necessary because everyone has had different beginning Greek teachers and textbooks and you can't exactly assume that everybody has attained the same general level of proficiency. I'll be focusing on participles for the simple reason that the New Testament in general and Hebrews in particular is, we might say, "participle-loving." In other words, before delving into the text of Hebrews this week (which is the equivalent of running a marathon), we're going to do some warm-up exercises and some "stretching" if you will. The book of Hebrews itself says we are to "train" our senses in order to move on to perfection (5:14), and in 6:1-3 the author doesn't say "Let's leave aside all the difficult subject matter and return to the basics." On the contrary, he moves in the exact opposite direction. No more milk, y'all! Let's go on to the meat! Take them Children's Menus away! It's time to order from the Adult Menu!

In addition, I want to remind my students that in class we'll be taking a linguistic approach to the Greek language, even though I am hardly an expert in Greek linguistics, having never taken a a course on the subject. But I've learned tons from linguists and consider linguistics an absolutely indispensable tool to add to our toolbox as exegetes of the New Testament. Not all agree with me, of course, perhaps the most notable example being a dear friend of mine who used to teach in California. However, I agree with Moisés Silva that linguistics can and should be integrated with the so-called "secular" science of linguistics and that such integration works to our advantage and not to our disadvantage. Interestingly, the church father Clement of Alexandria, in discussing Heb. 1:1 ("God spoke in many forms and in many ways"), took this to mean that God has not only spoken through the Old Testament but also through philosophy (Platonism especially), although he did insist that Scripture is always to be the final criterion for truth. The following is taken from Clement's Stromata, Book 1, chapter 5 (titled "Philosophy the Handmaid of Philosophy"). First the Greek:

And here's the English:

Now let's be clear about something. Being a linguist doesn't mean that you speak many different languages. People who can do that are called polyglots. All polyglots are, in some sense, linguists, but not all linguists are polyglots. Linguistics is indispensable because it can help us speak and think more logically and systematically about how language works -- all languages, including the Greek of the New Testament. That's why, in addition to parsing verbs and looking up words in a Greek dictionary, we'll be discussing such matters as verbal aspect, word order, rhetorical devices like paronomasia and alliteration, and the discourse structure of Hebrews. The use of linguistics in seminaries is continuing to grow, and is often cross-disciplinary in scope. Are all the questions about Greek linguistics answered? Of course not. But fear ye not: we're holding a major conference on this subject in April of next year, to which all of my beloved readers are most cordially invited.

Commentaries will also help us negotiate the waters of Hebrews this week. I've already mentioned my favorite commentaries on Hebrews. But each of them needs to be read with caution. Much of scholarship nowadays is simply repeating arguments that we may have picked up from another scholar or in seminary. In one major evangelical commentary on Hebrews I read this morning, I noted that the writer dismissed the Pauline authorship of Hebrews in a single footnote by citing such "evidence" as "the author uses different formulae to introduce quotes from the Old Testament" -- an assertion that's easily refuted (see p. 5 of my book The Authorship of Hebrews):

Moreover, the author's characteristic method of introducing OT quotations ("he says," or something similar) is paralleled in 1 Cor. 6:16; 15:27; 2 Cor. 6:2; Gal. 3:16; Eph. 4:8; 5:14, reflecting the preferred rabbinic formula indicating speech rather writing.

In other words, the use of "he says" would not be expected so much in a "letter" per se as it would be in a "sermon" that was delivered by Paul and perhaps recorded and published as a written text by Luke, as argued by Pitts and Walker ("The Authorship of Hebrews: A Further Development in the Luke-Paul Relationship," Paul and His Social Relations, eds. Stanley Porter and Christopher D. Land [Leiden: Brill, 2013] 143-84).

So why am I telling you any of this? There's a 100 percent chance you won't post this to Instagram. I'll tell you why I love Hebrews. Because it challenges me to grow up in my thinking. If Jesus is the heart of the new community, people are its building blocks, and the church can only be as strong as each individual member of the building is. Of course, this is holy territory. It takes more than linguistics and rethinking age-old arguments to make Hebrews come alive in the twenty-first century. But don't let that stop you from trying. There is no alternative to careful study of the text. We may be imperfect, but we have a perfect Teacher and a perfect Textbook, thank goodness.

P.S. This morning I noticed that it was 32 miles from Denny's back to my farm.

That's the distance some crazy people will try to run next Saturday in an event called an ultra. Oh my. Don't these people have any sense at all?

Saturday, October 6    

1:44 PM Three years ago I ran my first half marathon. Today I completed my 16th. That's an average of one half marathon every 2.25 months. The crazy adventures I've had while running halfs keep me coming back for more. Whenever I start feeling lazy, or that I'm tired of all this running business, I remember how great it feels to finish a grueling 13.1 race. Plus, sometimes in addition to the finisher's medal you get an accessory that says you won first place in your division. I am living proof that it really is possible to reach a big goal like running half marathons without being super fit, super athletic, or super fast. That's when you realize what this running thing means in your life. Finishing a half marathon reminds you that you can finish what you start, to be strong, to not whine, and that God can make your personal dreams come true. Moral of the story: Even if you never liked to run growing up, running will embrace you anyway if you give it a try. And, once you start, you'll be coming back for more. Just lace up and go.

A few pix:

1) At the starting line on a cool fall morning.

2) Now here are some really athletic-looking runners.

3) The first of two bridges over the historic Appomattox River.

4) I hadn't gone 4 miles when the winner of the race comes flying by me. Everyone was cheering him on loudly.

5) Mile 12. Still pushing hard.

6) Nice swag.

To sum up: Overall I had a great morning and a reminder that:

  • Not every race is a PR.

  • I love Farmville.

  • Never start out too fast.

  • Always cheer for your fellow racers.

  • You can't control how you feel on any given day, so just go out and enjoy the race.

  • If you have a family that supports your hobby, you are one blest person.

  • The sport of running welcomes everybody (and every body).

  • "The most effective way to do it is to do it" (Amelia Earhart).

  • Races bring people together (not a bad thing in our fractured political climate).

  • Hang around for the awards ceremony because it's a great chance to celebrate each other's personal wins.

I really had to dig deep during this race but I feel it was the perfect "long run" for me to do before I face the challenge of next weekend's 31-miler. If you're looking for a fun local race with gorgeous weather, this is the one for you.

Time to nap before getting up hay. :-)


5:00 AM Off to the races. "For in Him we live and move and have our being."

Friday, October 5    

7:32 PM This panorama captures only about half of the field we've been baling the past three days and we're still not finished.

If it doesn't rain tonight we can try and complete this cutting tomorrow. Then it's off to the next field. Grateful for dry days after a long wet spell. Right now I need to grab some supper then turn in early since I've got to leave the house early in the morning.

Enjoy your weekend!

10:58 AM I just spent about 3 hours in Hebrews and 1 hour weight lifting. And I'm starved, even though I had a huge breakfast this morning. I have neither brain fatigue nor tired muscles, but I do have an insatiable hunger. Funny how mental exercise is as taxing on you as physical exercise is.

Off to mow. After lunch, that is :-)

6:10 AM The weather at start time (7:30 am) for tomorrow's half marathon is predicted to be 70 degrees with overcast skies but without rain. Winds will be light and variable. Dry conditions will prevail in our region until Thursday, which means we're getting up hay every evening from now until the Second Coming. Bottom line is: Nobody really knows what the weather will be like save One. Runners run in all kinds of weather, including freezing rain (as in April's Boston Marathon). Am I a little obsessive about the weather? Probably. You have to be when you spend so much time outdoors. Sometimes I'll run a race in lousy weather, as I did on New Year's Day 2018 in Allen, TX, where the temp was 1 degree. It was definitely my least favorite race but one I'll talk about forever. 

The guy behind me is actually smiling.

I try not to use weather as an excuse not to run, though if the humidity is too high I might bow out of an event. The St. George (Utah) Marathon was hot but the humidity was practically nil. Lightening is another thing altogether. That's a no-no. I am actually terrified of it -- and we get lots of it in the summer. Any weather but thunderstorms. Otherwise, I run in every type of weather and will even run in the rain. Oh, one other surface I won't run on is ice. It's just not worth the injury. It's pretty rare around here but we do get ice occasionally. I know some people who run in icy conditions and I just have to roll my eyes because that is dumb. My motto for the fall and winter is: "The temps may drop but my running won't stop." You just have to get out the front door before your brain knows what you're doing.

The moral of the story is simple and basic: Don't stop going outdoors just because the weather isn't perfect. I'm ready for cool temperatures. One big tip would be, wear a hat. You won't believe how it keeps your whole body warm.

Four additional thoughts for now:

1) Here's another great quote from John Stott's biography. Stott once wrote:

God's purpose is to make us like Christ. God's way of making us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I hope that encourages you. It does me.

2) From Craig Keener's commentary (on Heb. 1:1-4, p. 93):

The elevated style of Hebrews' exordium suits the grandeur of its subject matter: the exalted Son of God.

I'll have much more to say about this in class on Monday.

3) Here are some of the "towel-and-basin" ministries my NT students are performing this semester as part of their grade.

  • Serving with "Hope Reins" (an equestrian ministry for abused children).

  • Working with recovering drug addicts.

  • Serving at an assisted living home.

  • Volunteering at a local elementary school.

  • Working at a local Share Shop.

  • Working with single moms through "Hands of Hope."

  • Working with Sunday International Together (SIT) to serve international students.

  • Delivering meals to the home-bound.

Note: These are all voluntary ministries for no pay. I could say a lot more of why I'm requiring these works of service. It's through serving the Lord that we develop our spiritual muscles. And there are as many types of service as there are tastes and abilities. The main thing is to show our love for the Lord by giving ourselves in service to Him. All Christians are called to fulltime Christian service. Without service there can be no growth into Christian maturity.

4) Finally, look what was published this week.

I am soooo blessed! God gives His people a special capacity to cope with their problems. He clearly did with this Becky. God may be seemingly not there, but He is actually always there, even at the moment of death.

To order Becky's book in either English, Spanish, and (now) Mandarin, go here.

Thursday, October 4    

7:50 PM Today I had the joy of having lunch in town with one of my sons (meat-lovers pizza no less).

Then I got up hay with another.

Those of us who live in the country may have our fast food restaurants and our fast cars, but everything else moves slowly, as in crawling. Even filling up the gas tank takes forever. This has to be the slowest gas pump in the state of Virginia.

But who cares? No one is in a hurry. When the truck battery died out in the field, I drove my car into town to get a new one and the guy at the register? My next door neighbor. We chewed the fat (of course) and then I drove back to the farm. And didn't see another car. Think about that for a moment.

Life in the slow lane.

Living in rural Virginia is teaching me how to be happily unproductive, to embrace quality over quantity, to spend time with people, to slow down and enjoy life. Rural living is not just a lifestyle but a Weltanschauung. It's where we live, to be sure, but it's also the place we call home. Space between mail boxes. Actually seeing the stars. Crops growing right up to the front steps. Petunias planted in tractor tires. Slowing down for horse-drawn buggies. Goofing off with your grandkids.

Most of us wouldn't trade it for the world.

8:42 AM Next Monday we'll be covering Heb. 1:1-4, Heb. 2:1-4, and Heb. 3:1-6 in our Hebrews class. Here are the commentaries I've been reading in preparation for class (these also happen to be my fave commentaries on the book):

  • Bill Lane

  • Paul Ellingworth

  • Philip Hughes

  • F. F. Bruce

  • Don Hagner

  • Kent Hughes

  • Tom Schreiner

  • Craig Koester

  • Harold Attridge

It's this latter volume I'm requiring my students to purchase for the course. I like Attridge's commentary because it's:

  • Scholarly.

  • Current.

  • Respectful of genre.

  • Keen on looking at the discourse structure.

  • Faithful to the Greek.

  • Sensitive to the rhetorical level of language.

  • Succinct.

  • Technical.

  • Good at digging down far into the text.

  • Famous for its excellent footnotes.

I'm amazed at the author's scholarly ability and his mind for this sort of work. Not everyone can (or should) write a New Testament commentary. I've passed up offers in the past to write commentaries on both Hebrews and Philippians. I'm just not cut out for the job. But I'm thankful that others are. Be forewarned, however: Attridge is not loathe to use technical terms in abundance (salvific, protological, exordium, paraenetically, alliteration, assonance, pejorative, catena, Sitz im Leben, misconstrual, periphrasis, a fortiori, etc.). No doubt, as we read Attridge, we'll be learning English in addition to Greek.

P.S. Below is the opening of Hebrews in Codex B (Vaticanus). For "bearing" (pheron) in 1:3, the original hand of B reads "revealing" (phaneron).

This reading was later "corrected" by some scribe. As you can see in the margin (barely -- sorry for the small photo), a third scribe rebuked the earlier "corrector" with the words, "You ignorant and wicked man, leave the original alone; don't change it!" (or perhaps more literally, "You unlearned troublemaker, forgive the ancient one; don't convert him!").

Note, too, the placement in Codex B (and in our earliest manuscripts in general) of Hebrews right after 2 Thessalonians -- the position Hebrews, I believe, should have had in the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament but doesn't. Instead, Hebrews is placed at the end of the Pauline epistles. The Tyndale House Greek New Testament is supposedly based on Tregelles, but the latter placed Hebrews after 2 Thessalonians.

6:40 AM Yesterday in our NT class I began a discussion of the history and theology of the Pentecostal Movement, beginning with Montanism and then moving forward through church history (Wesley, Revivalism, the Holiness Movement, Pentecostalism, Neo-Pentecostalism, the Third Wave, etc.). When we meet again after the break, I hope to lead the class in an in-depth look at 1 Corinthians 12-14. In doing my research and exegesis, I've been helped by those who've gone before me, especially Carson, Blomberg, Donald Gee ("the historian of the Pentecostal Movement"), R. A. Torrey, D. L. Moody, Bruner, John MacArthur, J. P. Moreland, and Craig Keener. I'll be encouraging my students to read both Strange Fire and its response, Strangers to Fire. Michael Green's I Believe in the Holy Spirit is also very helpful. If the current evangelical renewal in our churches is to have a lasting impact, then there has to be much explicit attention given to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, the issue of tongues has divided us. Some nod their assent. Others turn away in disgust. However, wherever the Holy Spirit is at work, truth matters. I don't hesitate to say that anti-intellectualism and Scripture study are mutually incompatible. The Spirit is "the Spirit of Truth." Yet if Acts 2:42 can refer to the teaching of the apostles, Acts 2:43 can refer to their many signs and wonders. What is the application of all of this to us? How much continuity and discontinuity is there between the book of Acts and the church of today? Wherever we end up on the spectrum of beliefs, one thing will be clear: The Spirit of God always leads the people of God to honor of the word of God. And He does so in a most loving manner. Neither the "tongues" person nor the "knowledge" person" nor the "faith" person (1 Cor. 13:1-2) can do without love. They will never make others feel small or unwelcome. This is because theological knowledge without Christ's love is a poverty-stricken distraction. "Love is not irritable" (1 Cor. 13:5) -- a truth that the divisive Corinthians needed to be reminded of. Today, this very day, regardless of our theological persuasions, we can do no better than to ask the Spirit of God to shed His love in our hearts and overflow to God, to our brothers and sisters in the church, and to outsiders (Rom. 5:5).

P.S. From 1971 to 1998, I lived in Southern California, which at the time might have been the world center of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, so I got to see the debate firsthand. Polemics on both sides were rife. The teachers at my largely non-Charismatic school (Biola/Talbot) asked us students to keep an open mind and to keep the Scriptures front-and-center in our thinking. I am glad they did so, and I will forever be grateful to them.

Wednesday, October 3    

8:40 PM I have a mostly healthy relationship with food, but tonight I splurged and had a hot fudge sundae at the MacDonald's in town after I went grocery shopping. It tasted sooooo goooood. I really can't ever imagine going through life without chocolate. I've pretty much disregarded the scale at this point :-) I've got 4 busy weekends of activity and I don't plan on not enjoying food during my training. I'm working out, resting, and eating a fairly decent diet, so I don't really care what the scale says. I eat to live instead of live to eat -- except, of course, when I get a craving for sundaes. Then, all bets are off. My body is a temple and I want to treat it right, but everything in balance, no? Big props to those of you who have forsaken all processed foods. I wish I could do that too. One step at a time ....

7:20 PM A brief photo update:

1) Moisés and Betsy Gomez hosted me for dinner on Monday night. Betsy cooked the best Dominican Republic food I've ever eaten.

2) Meanwhile, last night my Old Testament colleague Tracy Mackenzie and I enjoyed some fabulous Ethiopian food.

3) And today my colleague Miguel Echavarría blessed our New Testament class with a lecture on "The New Testament and Immigration." Miguel teaches New Testament and Greek and directs our Hispanic Leadership Development program.

My thanks to all.

My runs have been horrible this week. Did I say "runs"? I haven't done a single run since my race last Saturday and my quasi-run on Sunday. I felt rushed every day just to get my work done. Maybe you've been in the same boat this week. Just slogging through life, one day at a time. Tonight I'm mentally toast. My training plan screams at me constantly. Tomorrow I'm going to sleep in, rest up, and then get in a lift and a bike, Lord willing. After that, I hope to feel more energetic. I sense that some great runs are just around the corner. I don't know about you, but I'm at my worst physically when I'm at my worst mentally.

How has God blessed you this week?

How has He helped you face your unique challenges?

Are you resting in your God-breathed worth?

Monday, October 1    

6:10 AM It's official folks. I registered this morning for the High Bridge Half Marathon this Saturday in Farmville. I've never competed on this trail before though I've trained here beaucoup times. This will probably be the last half I run this year unless I decide to do Race 13.1 in Raleigh on Dec. 8. But that's the Dallas Marathon weekend. I don't have a time goal for this race. I'm considering it a warm-up for the ultra I'm doing in Farmville a week later so I will probably just take it easy. If you've never visited the High Bridge Trail, I highly recommend it. You will 100 percent love it. It's such a beautiful environment.

Speaking of a beautiful environment, it's time to get to campus. I expect bumps in the road this week. Don't you? The key is to just go with the flow. Instead of resisting problems, embrace them and see what the Lord is trying to teach you. I'll do the same. (Hopefully.)

5:45 AM Early in his pulpit ministry at All Souls in London, John Stott began a practice he continued for his entire career. He began a regular practice of inviting somebody to critique his messages. Each time he preached, someone would write out a full response with either a criticism or a commendation. Stott ask his reviewer to be especially sensitive to two questions (Basic Christian, p. 66):

"Is there a real message here, something vital, relevant, gripping?"

"Has the message gone across -- or was it too heavy , too complicated?"

Personally, Stott felt himself too heavy, too theological, for the average listener. But when I listen to his sermons, my reaction is the opposite. When I listen to Stott, I always come away with the impression of a man who was accurate, credible, intelligent, competent, likeable, and believable. His excitement about his subject shines through with unmistakable clarity. Authenticity is always evident. It can be hard to be passionate about something you do week in and week out. But Stott never lost his passion. Moreover, there are no "ahhs" or "umms" when Stott speaks. He speaks in a conversational tone. His sermons are short and sweet. He was given only 30 minutes for his sermons at All Souls. You won't find a wasted word in his messages. His words are easily digestible. I imagine that were he alive today, people would put down their devices, stop their texting or reading their emails, and truly listen. Finally, here's something I noticed about almost all of his sermons. He repeats himself. He says something. Then he says it again. Then he says it a third time by way of review. You can easily take away his main points because you know what they are!

It takes a lot of practice to become an effective public speaker. I have a long way to go to master it. But one way to improve is by emulating the characteristics of great public speakers.

Who do you listen to?

What makes them such good speakers?

What is it about the way they speak that makes you want to listen?

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